January 30, 2010

What would you do?

If you
Are thrown out of your village
Cannot draw water from the well
Are abused
In the screaming, echoing afternoon
Told to break stones
In place of real work
Are given leavings to eat
What would you do?

If you
Are told to drag away
Animal carcasses
Carry away the filth
Of a whole family
Given hand-me-downs to wear
What would you do?

If you
Are kept far from books
Far from the threshold
Of the temple of learning
If you are hung up like Jesus
On a blackened wall
In the light of an oil-lamp
What would you do?

If you
Have to live
In a hut of mud and straw
Which can be flattened by a breath
Or swept away in a night of rain
If you are told to sleep
In knee-deep water
What would you do?

If you
Have to swim against the current
To open the doors of pain
And do battle with hunger
Send your newlywed women
To the landlord’s mansion
On the first night
What would you do?

If you
Are denied in your own land
Made slave labour
Stripped of your rights
Your civilisation burned away
The pages of your glorious history
Torn to shreds
And thrown away
What would you do?

If you
Cannot vote
Are beaten bloody
Beaten in the name of democracy
And at every step reminded of
How insignificant your race is
If your life stinks
If your hands are raw
And yet they tell you
Dig canals, dig drains
What would you do?

If you
Are insulted in public
Your property is snatched away
In the name of religion
Your women told
To become devdasis
And made prostitutes
What would you do?

Your fair complexion
Would be burned black
Your eyes would be dry, dead
You could not write on paper
Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram.
Descendant of the gods, you
Would be lame, a cripple
If you had to live thus for ages
Like me
What would you do?

By Dalit poet and fiction writer, Omprakash Valmiki; Translated from the Hindi by Pratik Kanjilal. [Source]

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