India’s caste system is among the world’s oldest forms of social stratification. The system traditionally divides the population into rigid hierarchical groups and dictates their life since their birth: from their social status to the jobs they can do, and even who they can marry and who they cannot. The Dalits or ‘untouchables’ are left out of the caste system and are considered impure. This group faces the strongest discrimination and exclusion from the society.
Caste differences are taken very seriously, especially in Tamil Nadu, which is considered a “caste sensitive” state. Inter-caste interaction is limited, settlements segregated and inter-marriage prohibited.
To help Participants see each other as unique human beings with common issues to overcome and to develop empathy towards each other, through better understanding ,an essential step towards
The Exchange programme is mainly directed to women from the villages to overcome segregation and discrimination of certain sectors of the society and foster togetherness at the inter-village level.
A women’s SHG from a caste background visits a Dalit group in their settlement or vice versa. They spend the day together cooking, eating, playing games and sharing their experiences. Groups discuss their preconceived notions and learn from each other, and
Women of Vanur block villages continue to occupy an underprivileged position in every dimension of life, either it is social, economic or political.Furthermore, Caste-based violence and clashes are rising in districts such as Villupuram district. As a result, women from Dalit communities and Scheduled Castes are even more devalued and excluded socially, which has substantial detrimental psychological consequences on their self-esteem and self-confidence.
Post the visit, friendships have continued to grow and villages have developed inter-community relationships leading to a new generation of villagers with reduced caste prejudice.
We have seen an improved communication amongst different societal groups facilitating an inclusive and integrated approach to development and cultivating a strong sense of community and collective identity .
Stories of Hope
My group received a scheduled caste group, Apperumpet, in our village. Even though we do have scheduled caste members living in our village who come to the agriculture fields for work, normally we do not take anything from the workers and when we want to give them something we give it to them on a banana leaf and not a plate. The scheduled caste is not allowed in our house either. Initially we did not want to receive or visit a Dalit club, but eventually everyone was convinced. First we received a Dalit club and we spent the entire day together sharing our problems, experiences, and playing. Everyone was full of joy. Our club members mingled freely without hesitation and everyone ate the prepared food. At a later time we went to visit the scheduled caste village and again there was lots of fun again.
My experience with the caste exchange program was a positive one. From the schedule castes in Tamil Nadu people never visit caste houses; we are not allowed. Then our self help group was to receive a caste group, Sigaram group, during an exchange. We made all the arrangements and collected money from each member for event expenses. We were very nervous the caste group would not speak with us or eat the food we prepared. We made chicken biriyani, a special food, that day. About 40 women came from two different self help groups. They were all very friendly and visited our houses. They ate what we offered them and had lots of fun during the cultural programs and the exchanging of our experiences and problems. Some of the caste women spoke with us about their family problems. Afterwards we all felt that this day was a very memorable, pleasant experience. We were able to have this opportunity because of the training of Village Action and we are very happy.