I encountered this sweet young lady with a beautiful smile as I was walking along the backstreets of Varanasi. She said hello in English as she passed in a lovely quiet voice and, although I don’t usually stop people and ask to take their photograph, I felt impelled to run after her and see if she would let me. She was very shy about it so I just got a quick snap. She then moved on without even expecting any money so I had to run after her again to give her some rupees.
A guy was passing and I think he was about to tell me that I should give her something because he opened his mouth and then said “Ahh” as he saw me reaching for my purse. I was glad that he was looking out for her because this beautiful lady was carrying a huge sack full of rubbish, which means that she is of the underclass – a Dalit , or ‘crushed one’ (previously known as the untouchables) whose role in life is to do this kind of work that the four main caste members consider beneath them. I’m not an expert on how the system works these days (officially it has been banned but it still seems to be very much in existence) but it made me so sad that such a lovely, gentle young woman who showed friendliness without expecting anything in return (which is unfortunately very unusual in Varanasi) should be compelled to live a life of drudgery and, presumably poverty, because of the caste that she was born into.