The D word has become common on television today. No, we’re not talking about Dons; they are a matter of the past. It’s the Dalit (untouchable) who has suddenly become dearer to television producers.
Kashi, Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo, Bairi Piya and Uttaran – all of these shows have a Dalit protagonist.
Another pillar lending support to Dalits is Contiloe Films, which aims to highlight the ills of caste discrimination through the story of Bitto. Pallavi Gupta, a Brahmin from Delhi , will be seen playing an untouchable in the show.
TellyCafe’s Mayur Lookhar caught up with the young actress at the show’s launch. Excerpts from the interview:
Pallavi G-u-p-t-a! You probably belong to an upper caste, don’t you?
Yes, I’m a pure Brahmin. We come from the family of Parshuram.
Did your family approve of your decision of playing a Dalit, seeing as you are Brahmin?
My parents were absolutely fine with it. They don’t discriminate against lower castes. My nani, on the other hand, has always discriminated between humans. She would be livid if any one of us drank in the same glass as that of the jamadarni (sweeper). Subsequently she’d opt for a bath. Her way of looking at things isn’t good which is why I want her to watch my show. Hopefully, it will bring some change in her attitude.
As a child, how did you react to seeing elders discriminate against the Dalits?
Back then, I didn’t understand untouchability but I always wondered why my mother, dadi would fret that much at the sight of a maid. I used to be scolded by my mother if I drank in the same cup as the jamadarni’s. These things would irritate me quite a lot. Hopefully, I’ll be able to change people’s attitude towards the Dalits through my show.
Urban casteism isn’t too severe but it’s mainly the quota system for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in educational institutions that upsets those from open category?
Yes, that’s true. However, the quota isn’t limited to SC/STs alone. Private colleges have their own reservation. I studied in National College , Mumbai. When I was filling the form, I was asked if I was a Sindhi. Since I’m not, I was told to fill in the open category and that made me unlikely to get an admission as Sindhi students would be given preferences. This left a bad taste in my mouth. Similarly, Mithibai College has reservation for Gujaratis. Other colleges have reservations for Marathis, Punjabis and so on.
However, don’t you think reservations are necessary for the upliftment of the SC/STs?
As a human being, I’m simply against any kind of reservation. Education is everyone’s right but reservation isn’t the solution. It widens the gap between the people.
Do you seriously think that a TV show or a film can change the ground realities?
Yes, why not? After playing such a character, I can relate to the Dalits. I know what it fees like to go to bed without food to eat. Through Ramayan, Arun Govil and Deepika Chikhalia acquired divine status. People really started to worship them. That’s the impact of television. You can spread your message to the masses.
How can you bring about a change when most of such shows return to the comforts of Mumbai after shooting in the small town for just a month?
Ideally, I agree with you. Shooting in Bihar would have helped us in giving the first hand account of the situation. However, the location is decided by the channel and the production. We actors have no say in it. While we may not be shooting right on the scene of action, what we’re showing isn’t plain fiction either.
Apparently, on one side you’re showing the plight of the Dalits. On the other hand, you’re patenting the Thakurs as evil men. Surely, not all people from upper caste are like this?
That’s true but there’s no denying that these atrocities do happen. In fact, they just aren’t limited to the Dalits. The Thakurs also dislike the girl child. I can testify to it. I come from a family where the matriarch would insist on putting salt into the mouth of the girl, so that she dies. My nanny loves my cousin brothers a lot more than me. Till date, my nanny has never even hugged me.
A Thakur assaulting a Dalit. While some may sympathize with the victim, a few (presumably urban Thakurs) might find sadistic pleasure in watching such atrocities. They might wish they also had such a privilege.
That’s a threat too. However, they should think twice before assaulting any woman. Women these days are also very strong. Have you ever seen a Haryanvi, Marathi or Punjabi woman fight? These women can put the men to shame. Aurat ko ladna aata hai, use kamzor mat samjho (A woman knows how to fight, don’t consider her meek).
Suppose, in future, you fall in love with a guy, who later reveals to you that he’s a Dalit. Would you still marry him?
The caste simply doesn’t matter to me. However, I wouldn’t appreciate any lies. Caste and religion bias is one thing that I’ve been hearing right since my childhood. Muslims are typecast as bad human beings and terrorists. Come on! Hindus can be terrorists too. I believe in what My Name is Khan showed. There’s no such thing as a bad Hindu or a bad Muslim, but it’s the human being who is bad.
Finally, have you found your secular guy?
(Laughs) No, I’m still single. Let’s see who God has in store for me.
-Mayur Lookhar/Sampurn Wire