Jo Khan Khatik lives in Howaldarpur Village. Howaldarpur is a community consisting of about 20 families, half of which are Chidimaar caste and half which are Khatik. While both castes are considered “impure” traditionally, the Chidimaar occupy a slightly higher position on the caste hierarchy. This supposed superiority leads to disputes, discrimination and tension in their small community.
Reasons to explain why the Chidimaar perceive themselves as somehow better than the Khatik are complicated. There are religious justifications, but most simply there is the traditional job of the Khatik. Khatik caste families are traditionally pig farmers. As pigs are considered a dirty and impure animal therefore their masters must also assume some of that impurity. So Jo Khan Khatik suffers prejudices against him and his family for their keeping of pigs, only Jo Khan does not have any pigs. In fact there is only one family in Howaldarpur who keeps pigs.
As I was trying to focus my interviews of the traditional work and jobs of the people I met, I was curious as to why the entire village had abandoned pig farming. Jo Khan Khatik has an answer ready that was difficult to argue with; “I do not have enough food to feed my children, so how should I feed animals?”
Without the resources to continue their traditional work, the Khatik have fallen back like so many people on manual labor and other jobs that create some minimal income. Jo Khan Khatik and his family mostly collect and sell firewood to earn money. Before it had been a family affair, and all of the women and children in the family would accompany the men. Recently collecting firewood in the forests has been made illegal as the forests are being strictly protected. There are more guards in the forests now that make it more dangerous to go and collect wood there. So now only the men go while the women stay home meaning their already meager income has now been cut almost in half.
Jo Khan’s situation is dire, but in fact he is better off that many in Howaldarpur. Mishiri Khatik started an argument with Jo Khan during the interview because Mishiri wanted Jo Khan to stop complaining because Jo Khan’s family has their own house with enough rooms for the entire family.
Mishiri Khatik is perhaps the oldest looking man I have ever met in my life. His thin, frail frame seems to struggle to support his every step and movement. Mishiri had interrupted Jo Khan and clearly wanted to talk. His conversation faded in and out of coherence and other impatient villagers soon told him to be quiet and listen. Before falling silent Mishiri did tell my friend Amol, the translator for the day, his age. Amol could hardly hide his surprise. Still looking slightly awestruck Amol turned to me and said “He thinks he is only 60 years old.”
Posted By Mark Koenig
Posted Aug 30th, 2007