It is not an unknown fact that caste dominates almost every aspect of life within Indian society. It not only determines where one falls in the social hierarchy but also who gets to live and die in dignity. Everyday casteism is at the core of the Indian social fabric and while the caste system might have been constitutionally derided in India, we keep living with the remnants of the Brahmanical varna-based hierarchy to date.
So much so that caste-based violence has continued to exist across the years despite modern India’s empirically false perception of a so-called ‘casteless society,’ one where caste is perceived and relegated to the realms of rural society.
It is within this sense of disillusionment and caste based oppression that Samarth’s debut graphic novel, Suit functions. An outcome of a project taken up in the final year of design school, the speculative piece of function tries to re-imagine a world where Safai Karamcharis are provided with safety equipment and social mobility.
The story follows Vikas, a young Dalit man who is a Safai Karamchari (sanitation workers), or rather a Suitwala, in the book, who tries to find life and meaning. By placing a Dalit safai karamchari at the core of the novel, Samarth tries to envision a story of hope, one where we can acknowledge and address the community and bring them back into our collective imaginations.
While the existence of manual scavenging is deplorable, it is a reality that continues to haunt our realities even in the 21st century. Most of the people engaged in this work belong to the lower castes or the Dalit community.
“For me, at that point, to really understand the shape that violence takes in our society, I had to find a point of confluence that really defines the extent to which oppression can be internalised and taken as a part and parcel of a democratic society. Out of the many that exist, manual scavenging and conservancy work has always been one of those aspects of our society that always feels like the darkest blotch on the values our society holds,” said Samarth.
“Ever since I saw Sudharak Olweʼs photo essay, In Search of Dignity and Justice, it has been a reality that I have been painfully aware of and since the photo essay is based in Mumbai, the city where I grew up, these images felt like pieces of a picture that I had missed the entire while I lived within the comforts of my class and setting” he added further.
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