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Urban Casteism: Guwahati Telugu Speakers Long for Equality

Caste-based discriminations aren’t usually noticeable in these urban setups as many of such cases go unreported. But, such discriminations start right from homes, where maidservants are served in separate utensils.

Guwahati being the only metropolitan from the northeastern region, changing shape each day and expanding to be a major economical hub for the region. The city over the years is seen adopting the so-called modern lifestyles, which usually happens to be misconceptualised with westernisation. The city’s new addition would be trendy cafe-bristos and pricy breweries. Amidst all the blooming pricy lifestyles, ‘casteism doesn’t exist in the urban’ sails as a common notion.

Caste-based discriminations aren’t usually noticeable in these urban setups as many of such cases go unreported. But, such discriminations start right from homes, where maidservants are served in separate utensils. These discriminations remain deep-rooted with behavioural traits of the citizens. The discussion of the caste system only takes a role when it comes to reservations and everyone would put in their half-baked ideas of the caste system and its existence. 

Guwahati has an area named ‘Harijan Basti’ right in the city heart of the Ulubari area. Its history could be traced back to the 1960s, where a few families migrated from the state of Andhra Pradesh. These families came looking for daily-wage labour jobs back in those years. Eventually, the migration paced up over the years and currently over a hundred Telugu-speaking families reside in the colony, which also is known as Telugu Colony. 

Caste

Caste comes into play as these migrant families belong to a Dalit caste who were later employed by the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) as sanitation workers. The next two generations of those families took up similar jobs and lived in the slum settlements near the Nehru Stadium. These slums were converted to two-storey building blocks under the Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) in 2003 by the municipality. 

Sagar Rao, a 28 years old resident said, “I was born and raised in Guwahati. My father had served here all his life but casteist discriminations were something we’ve all faced at some point in time. Though with the new generations these taboos happen to be less prevalent”. Sagar, a third-generation Guwahati-raised Telugu speaker, now runs a bakery business in the city. “I’m ashamed to let others know about my address. I wish to own a property outside this colony someday”, Sagar added. 

Living Conditions

The GMC employee colony right next to the GMC technical workshop which connects the Gandhi Basti area via Islampur has always been a road less taken. The roads still accommodate huge potholes and have hardly ever seen streetlamps. The colony is stuffed with about 60-70 families, with 1 BHK apartments provided to each of them. As informed by a resident, only a handful managed to complete graduation, and others mostly high school dropouts due to lack of competition and motivation. The youth from the colony are now mostly into the service sector, delivery jobs and other logistical help. 

The casteist ideologies fill out in every mind, where surnames are read and addresses are asked to be identified. The society holds several casteist taboos, no matter how woken or modern it shows. The ideas of modern society don’t come with keeping up with fashion trends or modern amenities. Society needs to sow seeds of liberal ideas and acceptance as to make a healthy living society. The urban upper-caste holding power positions need to stop abusing the privileges, make room for the minorities to represent and uphold multiple ideas. An equal society with equal rights, with no caste discrimination, though seems a farsight reality, but something that long awaits our attention. 

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