[ezcol_1third][/ezcol_1third] [ezcol_1third][/ezcol_1third] [ezcol_1third_end][/ezcol_1third_end]
Travelling to India last year and visiting the Hope Foundation really opened my eyes to a very different way of living. I would like to share a very different experience which deeply moved me that involved the caste system in India.
After leaving the children and projects of Hope, our charity partner, I travelled with my brother Anthony and his partner, Matt, to Varanasi, the ancient spiritual centre of India. As we approached this medieval town on the Ganges, we were surprised by what saw. There were crowds of people everywhere, poorly dressed, with children looking extremely dirty and I must admit, I felt a little scared. By this stage of the trip I had seen slums, rubbish dumps, so why was I feeling this way? I’m still not sure to this day but I suspect it was a combination of not having our charity there with us, and the number of people who approached us in such a foreign, old town. Little did we know that we would experience first-hand the caste system in India during our trip in Varanasi.
On leaving our cab we looked ahead to the ghats (steps leading to the River Ganges), as we knew we had to make our way down these to take a boat down the river to our hotel.
As we focused on getting ourselves down to the boats that we could see waiting for us, we were approached by numerous young children selling their wares and adults who just wanted to greet us. Whilst being a little challenged with all this attention, a young 17-year-old man who shall remain unnamed in our story made his way to us and asked if we are going to the hotel. Little did we know, this would mark the beginning of what would be our real journey on the Ganges, learning first-hand about the realities of the caste system in India.
We were grateful for our hotel pickup and once our bags were loaded on, off we sailed in our diesel smoke spilling boat where the fumes literally took one’s breath away. Now that we could relax, we started to notice the numbers of people bathing and washing their clothes in the river. I even caught a glimpse of a man brushing his teeth in this river which I had expected to be really filthy, however it looked quite clean. Whilst we soaked up the lives of the locals as we motored past, we were left breathless viewing the most extraordinary, ancient buildings that lined the Ganges river.
The Ganges is a famous river where the Indians bury their dead, but not before taking a body part and throwing in into the river as the Indians believe that it is how the soul is released to heaven. This is karma. Matt was sure he felt a body part under the oar when he was rowing on another occasion. During our river trip we began to connect to our 17-year-old young man sent by our hotel.
We learnt his story. From the age of five he had sold cards to make a living and help support his family. He is the oldest of three children and his father drinks often and in the past would beat this beautiful youth. Next year, our new friend will attend university as he wants to be a travel guide. During our conversation we had planned to have this young man to be our walking guide of Varanasi the next day. We were all pleased with our plans. Unfortunately the hotel learnt of our plans and told us we could not go with our young man because he was the boat boy (the caste system in India at play). We knew that our friend was not working the next day and so he was available to take us. The hotel wanted us to use their boy even though this was a complimentary service of this establishment. Finally, after a heated discussion we finally won our choice.
That was not to be the last time we would experience this situation with the caste system in India. The next time was when we wanted to take our young man to dinner as he had gone way beyond his duties, such as taking us to the ATM on his day off. We asked our friend to pick a good restaurant and off we went. When we entered the restaurant the manager looked at us when we asked for a table of four and shook his head. Then he pointed at our friend and again shook his head. An Indian language was being spoken so we were having some trouble understanding. When we questioned the manager’s communication he pointed to a sign on the wall saying “no boat people” (lower level in the caste system). We told the manager that this was our guest and we were paying, however we were still refused entry. Our friend then suggested we eat and he would wait outside which we would not accept at all.
This was our second moment of seeing the caste system in India at work. Did you know that even in death the caste system prevails? Those at the lower level of society are cremated at the bottom of the stairs, and then those higher up in society will be cremated higher up the steps.
It is difficult not to be judgemental in all of this. Anyway, food for thought and in our next blog I will tell you more about the caste system in India.
50 Faces Exhibition
Our New Video
Here is our new video we have made which only goes for 35 seconds and we would love your help to share this with your communities to spread awareness for the underprivileged children and families we are helping.
You can make a huge difference just taking a few moments to help spread awareness of these forgotten children and families.
Thanks for caring,