The unseen Dom women

#1 Nov 24th, 2017, 22:04
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Simple Chaudhary at her home. Photographs by Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Quote:
Khushi Chaudhary sits cross-legged with her deep-green ankle-length skirt tucked between her legs as she grinds a crayon into the ground pensively. It is recess time in school and she is sitting on the road that frames the institution’s lawns.

“I wish I was a boy,” says the 13-year-old. Khushi belongs to a low-caste community of corpse-burners, called the Doms, in Varanasi. Currently in class VII, she has one more year before her parents pull her out of school. “I cannot study beyond class VIII. My parents have only one goal set for me: marriage.”

Like other girls her age in her community, Khushi wakes up at the crack of dawn. She braids her shoulder-length hair into a tight plait and busies herself in helping her mother light the fire and prepare breakfast for the family. Her father sleeps on a wooden bed that occupies half of their small 9x9ft home. Her three brothers sleep on the floor. While the boys are allowed to sleep in, Khushi kneads the dough to roll out chapattis to be cooked on a griddle. The kitchen is a makeshift room on the terrace, which is also where Khushi and her mother sleep.

She cleans the utensils before getting ready for school. Her classes begin at 8am and end at noon. When she returns home, she quickly washes her face and fills water in a bucket, which she will throw across the floor of the house and clean with a bristled broom.

In the city of Varanasi, the Doms are a poor community that by tradition are bound socially and professionally to burn the dead. The men work at Manikarnika ghat and Harishchandra ghat—two of the city’s open cremation grounds. The former is considered to be the holiest, and an important cremation ground for devout Hindus. At the age of 12, the community’s boys are trained to lay the corpses on wooden pyres and set them alight using a long bamboo stick. Amidst rows of decomposing bodies, burning pyres and insufferable heat, the Dom men work for hours at a stretch. They numb their senses by drinking copious amounts of alcohol and smoking cheap ganja. In this community, the men are the breadwinners. While they are at liberty to roam the streets, their women remain out of sight, confined within the walls of their home.
Mint

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