My first brush with social media was in 2012, when I was in 11th grade and Facebook was all the rage among my peers in Delhi. One day after school, I logged into the website and started browsing the posts that some of my classmates had put up. One comment on a post by a classmate left me stunned for years to come.
“Dhobi ka baccha hai kya?” he had written in Hindi. Translation: Are you a Dhobi’s [washerman’s] kid? The comment triggered years of internalized shame and abuse in me.
Dhobis are members of the Dalit community, who fall on the lowest stratum of the caste system, the longest-running social hierarchy system in the world. The community has been intergenerationally marginalized.
I am a Dhobi. Growing up, my parents were very clear that I could never reveal my caste identity to anyone. “Log chhi chhi karenge,” they told me. People will express disgust at you. But the concept truly hit home the day I saw that comment. I knew I could never reveal my identity to anyone — offline or online.