This happened at IIT Kanpur. On 15 June 2017 at about 8.30 am IST.
I stay on campus at SBRA (Single Bed Room Apartment) provided for married scholars of Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IIT Kanpur). The campus was all set to receive the President of India, and dignitaries like PT Usha, MS swaminathan, Mriganka Sur, and Ajay K Sood. The spirit of scientific scholarship was tied to trees in the form of led bulbs and illumination chains. Humble proclamations scientific knowledge was proclaimed on large posters on all walls. We printed huge flux boards to celebrate invention of new eco-friendly initiatives in our laboratories. We were about to consecrate knowledge, education and scientific spirit. Hundreds of youngsters would be awarded their degrees the following days. They will move to different parts of the world holding the tricolour, singing glory to the nation and its high intellectual range and amplitude.
Meanwhile, I needed to drink some water- a petty human need. You see, we all have such needs irrespective of our status, knowledge, number of degrees and amount of power wielded on others. So I went to collect some 'purified' drinking water at the SBRA. There are only two taps for drinking water for SBRA residents. People from around SBRA also collect water from these taps- including maids, construction workers, vendors and passers by.
I was walking to the drinking water taps. There are two taps that give 'purified' drinking water. I saw that a worker from the construction site of Girls Hostel-2 was collecting water from one of the taps. He must have been working. There is dust on him. The other tap was idle. There was another woman-saree clad-waiting a few feet away from the taps, with an 'I-don't-care' attitude on her face. I wondered, why she was waiting while one tap was free. Since the other tap was free, I started collecting water from that one. I thought, may be she wants water from that specific tap! Some people have very specific choices. This pipe. ONLY. I was mistaken. It became clear when the labourer left, carrying his filled bottles and specks of dust back to the construction site.
When he left, she came up, carefully opened the tap with the tips of her fingers, collected some water in an empty steel mug, and began washing the tap thoroughly. When the ablution was over, she began filling her big Milton cooling flask! I hope you understood what the disease was! I pitied the saree-clad woman with an 'I-don't-care' expression. She needs education, I thought. What is wrong with her? What is so polluted about the construction worker? After all, she is collecting water from the tap installed by people like him. And she stays in a building constructed by people like him! Baah! And the campus was filled with ribbons (many of them saffron in colour) and posters and flux boards talking about scientific spirit and state-of-the-art inventions!
This is not the end of the story. I was thinking it was the 'labourer' status that made her wash the polluted pipes. I was mistaken. AGAIN! When I left with my bottles, I turned and saw that she was washing the tap I used! Wha...! Yes. She washed the tap I used, carefully opening the tap with the tips of her fingers. Then she began collecting water from that tap too! Oh no, I was mistaken. She was not particular about collecting water from the other tap! So, I am also untouchable. I too pollute what I touch (I am glad that water could remove the pollution caused by untouchables though). Good. I turned and walked feeling happy that I became one with the construction worker. After all, I am also an untouchable black South Indian!
Meanwhile, somewhere in the universe, so-called gods, angels, deities, holy spirits and their minions were being burned on stakes erected by people who worshiped their images in their holy buildings on Earth!