Untouchability In Our Minds

We clean your garbage while you roam well-groomed. For the crime of cleaning, you named me scavenger. When you step into rain water, does that change your caste? We are stabbed at street corners. Our lives end in hard labor.

Understanding your own culture is not enough to understand the world.  Though we are social creatures, we tend to congregate with like minded and economically paralleled people.  Think of your own social group.  How diverse is it?  Sometimes encountering people of other beliefs is not possible when your daily life takes you on a predicted course.  Traveling has as many definitions as there are people in the world.  Some enjoy going places simply to get away.  Others want to be surrounded by beautiful scenery.  Traveling for you might be learning a new language, sampling 'exotic' food, or being catered to at an all-inclusive resort.  Of the few reasons that threaten to undermine a vacation, traveling with closed eyes tops the list.

Segregation and oppression might be believed to be things of yesteryear, however, these acts are practiced both vociferously and discreetly throughout the world.  Maybe you did not know that slavery exists today, just labeled differently; modern day slavery.  There are an estimated 27,000,000 people held in bondage, including first world countries like the USA.  The total number of slaves might be a gross underestimation because of its hidden nature.

On the other side of the spectrum is a more openly expressed form of oppression, the Indian caste system.  The above documentary chronicles this practice across the country.  Those belonging to the the lowest caste are know as the Untouchables.  One Swami in the video argues, "The caste system is the very spine of the Hindu religion.  Caste is not a discriminatory system, though you claim it is.  This is a purely scientific system, and it is in the interest of society.  This is a system that leads to the betterment of society."  When Dalits (those belonging to the lowest caste) were interviewed, they unanimously agreed that they were being openly oppressed.  When buying tea (the staple beverage), for example, Dalits are given glass cups to use.  They are not only expected to sit away from the higher castes but also had to clean their own vessels, while those of higher castes were served stainless steel.

Being served glass or stainless steel to enjoy hot tea may seem rudimentary when thinking about this topic - when I see a Bugatti Veyron cruising past my Geo Metro, feelings of torment do not engulf me- but if your culture embraces this pastime then it becomes apparent that this practice is degrading.  Further, in some villages, when a Dalit walks into a higher caste's designated real estate their footwear must be removed, and only proceed barefoot for fear of punishment.

As we wander about the world thinking that every mindset is wired the same, the only realization when confronted with an extraordinary scenario, food, or action, is that, 'this is weird.'  But it will only be weird because the mind was shut off to that non-existent element.  In fact, that very bizarre thing is actually someone else's norm.  Coming to understand what makes others tick will only enhance an interaction with a foreign entity.

This is where oppression and travel become grafted.  Upon entering a foreign space all eyes are set on you.  The way you walk, the clothes on your back, the money that comes out of your pockets, the words that leave your mouth, or the actions you do imprint an image into the onlookers memory.  These movements will be the way not just you, but those similar to you will be remembered.  As an ambassador, your demeanor determines whether or not those who walk in your steps are greeted with suspicion or open arms.

Entering into a new environment with a little cultural awareness goes a long way.  It will make that experience highly rewarding for you because locals will be more keen to want to interact with you, and also that cultural exchange will enhance the other's perspective about foreigners, setting a positive bar for the next traveler.



Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.
-Mark Twain