In the movie Masaan, Vicky Kaushal plays the role of a boy who keeps aspirations in a constrained society. He belonged to the Dom community of Varanasi which cremates bodies on the ghats of Benaras.

A community which is far from being privileged and in fact is a century old caste of untouchables. As a Dalit community, they often suffer from societal discrimination.

Vicky Kaushal in a still from Masaan.

Who are they?

Doms are normally found near Manikarnika Ghat and Raja Harishchandra Ghat, the two most important crematoriums in Varanasi.

An estimated 100 bodies are cremated daily at Manikarnika, where a pyre burns 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Across Varanasi, nearly 200 bodies are burned every day.

The Laws of Manu, an instruction manual for Hindus apparently states that Brahmins must never come in contact with any untouchable and must maintain their purity. It also states that one who touches the dead body has contaminated himself and thus shall not be touched by a higher caste.

Therefore Doms fall into the category of untouchables.

Doms in Varanasi hardly ever break away from the profession that has run through their families because it is profitable, due to the spiritual significance of India’s holiest city to Hindus.

“It stems from the devotion to rituals and adherence to caste, it will not change. Thousands of Indians visit the city in the hope to die on the banks of the river to avoid rebirth”, says Ashis Nandy, a noted Indian social scientist.

The Doms poke at the fire, maintain it and wait till all logs burn out and then collect the ash.

Doms of Benaras

When Doms die, usually another male family member takes over the business of the final rites. Their life is to live in the world of the dead.

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The dark side

No one wants to be near a dead body, but that is what gives the Doms their source of income and in fact the reason why they choose to do it- because when no one else will, the income is all theirs.

And yes because people will die.

People in their old age come to Benaras thinking they have few days to live and must die at a place which is considered the holiest of Indian cities. Everyone is awaiting death.

Munshi Ghat, Varanasi, India

But other than an income which can depend from meager to decent (like that of the Dom Raja) there is no life outside.

Their status and living conditions are worse, even money cannot uplift it because they belong to a certain community that society comes face to face only when death brings them there.

However, they have made peace with the fact that society is not going to include them and also the fact that the need and desperation for inclusion ignites the supremacy of the higher castes.

Caste is a reality

Modernity does not mean that the caste system has died or its evils have been warded off. It is a livid reality.

We still live at a time and a place where people would look for your surname to judge your caste. Caste and living standards are the basis of our interactions even now.

And this is here where fear emanates, where the courage to stand against the society and wish for what otherwise the society has denied you, dies.

Because, they say “Sapne vo dekho, jinhe poora karne ki aukaat ho”.

-“Dream what your status allows you to”

They don’t know that someone’s aspirations are decided by their will, not status.

Image Credits: Google Images

Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Wikipedia

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