Dispatches From Bangladesh

Nicholas Schmidle in Slate:

Screenhunter_02_apr_19_1425Khokan belongs to a caste of Hindus known as “Mushaheris,” a Sanskrit word meaning mice-eaters. The Mushaheris are Dalits, the lowest of the low, according to the Hindu caste system. They were known as untouchables before the Indian subcontinent became politically correct. Some say that if so much as the shadow of a Dalit touches a person from an upper caste, the aristocrat should bathe thoroughly to cleanse any impurities. Dalits, numbering about 1 million in Bangladesh (and well over 100 million in Hindu-majority India), are socially immobile. Potential employers shy away from hiring someone labeled an untouchable by their co-religionists. Men and women are usually left toiling as brick-breakers. Yet the wages from breaking bricks are meager—around 70 cents a day—and not enough to buy meat. To compensate for protein deficiencies, Dalits hunt and eat anything they can find. Mice are the most common, thus the name “mice-eaters.” But mouse season recently ended, Khokan said. Kuchia were abundant. He ran off to retrieve the spoils of yesterday’s hunt: two barbequed eel heads, skewered on a knobby twig.

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