The New Dalit – Neeta Vaid, Valmiki Sadan

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The New Dalit - Neeta Vaid, Valmiki Sadan

She wants other people to bow before her.

[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

When she was in the 10th standard, she wanted to be an air hostess. Now she is in the 12th, and wants to be an IAS officer.

“Air hostesses have to bend their back for other people,” says Ms Neeta Vaid, a 18-year-old school girl who lives in Delhi’s Valmiki Sadan, popularly known as Dalit Colony. (This story is the second of a five-part series – The New Dalit, The Changing World of Delhi’s ‘Untouchables’.) “But district magistrates make other people bend towards them.”

For someone whose father is a driver and mother a sweeper, this back-bending business certifies honour, prestige and power. “If you become successful and commanding, no one will ask about your background,” Ms Vaid says.

While no one in her relations has risen to such heights, Ms Vaid is expected to make the breakthrough. Papa wants her to be an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer and mummy thinks she can do it. The girl’s life now completely revolves around ‘Mission IAS’. She has grown so obsessed with “my father’s dream” that her favourite teacher is not her favourite merely because she teaches well, but also because her husband happens to be an IAS officer.

All sacrifices seem to be worth it. Reading may not always be fun but if that cracks the code, so be it. “I don’t read for enjoyment but for gaining knowledge,” she says. “I regularly read the Time magazine.” Since this weekly American magazine is priced at Rs 100, Ms Vaid has to go to a library, which is a 5-minute walk away from home, and she ends up spending around three hours there everyday.

Indeed, her every hour is carefully scheduled. There seems to be no carefree moment. When out, she is either at the school or in the library. If at home, she’s most probably watching NDTV 24/7, the uppity English language TV news channel. “So that I can learn to speak English better.”

To her, it is important how people talk and carry themselves. That’s why Ms Vaid doesn’t plan to vote for Mayawati, India’s most popular Dalit leader, in the national elections scheduled later in 2009. Mayawati is often disdained in upper caste Delhi living rooms as a corrupt politician.

“I’m put off by her way of dressing and especially the way she talks,” Ms Vaid says. “If Mayawati becomes India’s prime minister, we would most likely have Delhi invaded by cows and buffaloes from the countryside.”

There is another reason why Mayawati must count out Ms Vaid from her scheme of things. “Mayawati just talks Dalit, Dalit, Dalit and that reduces us to being just that,” she says, “but hello, we are also Hindus, also Indians.”

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