A highly anecdotal and touching account of caste-based discrimination in India by an “untouchable born in Andhra Pradesh”, who emigrated to the United States at the age of 26, is creating a buzz in publishing circles here.
The book, titled “Ants among Elephants”, has been written by Sujatha Gidla, an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Madras, who is currently working as a conductor with the New York subway. The book details memories of growing up as a Dalit woman in India. Gidla also lists many instances of “discrimination and humiliations” that Dalits in India are customarily subjected to.
In the introduction of the book, the author writes that she was born in Kazipet, a small town in the then state of Andhra Pradesh. Her parents were college lecturers but they were “untouchables”.
According to excerpts available on the publisher’s website, Gidla compares the case of “untouchables” in India to the racism against blacks in the US.
“The untouchables, whose special role — whose hereditary duty — is to labour in the fields of others or to do other work that Hindu society considers filthy, are not allowed to live in the village at all. They must live outside the boundaries of the village proper. They are not allowed to enter temples.
“Not allowed to come near sources of drinking water used by other castes. Not allowed to eat sitting next to a caste Hindu or to use the same utensils. There are thousands of other such restrictions and indignities that vary from place to place. Every day in an Indian newspaper you can read of an untouchable beaten or killed for wearing sandals, for riding a bicycle,” Gidla writes.
Major US publications, including the New York Times, have reviewed the book and have commented on its “insightful” understanding of India’s social and cultural fabric.
According to a news report in NBC-2.com, Gidla’s grandparents converted to Christianity at the onset of the 20th century and were educated at Canadian missionary schools. Gidla, too, with the help of Canadian missionaries, studied physics at the Regional Engineering College in Warangal, in what is Telangana today. She also pursued a researcher course in applied physics at IIT-Madras. In the US, she initially worked as a developer in software design, then moved to banking but lost her job in 2009 during the economic crisis. Finally, she took up the job of a conductor at the New York subway.
The book has been published in the US by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan publishers, and is yet to enter the Indian market.