Reaching out to the Untouchables

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I remember first hearing about India's "untouchables" during a first-semester, freshman-year class on eastern religion. (There's an embarressing story about 18-year-old me becoming obsessed with The Dharma Bums; let's save that for another time.) The idea of a caste system can—and did—seem hard to fathom to a present-day college kid in the US, but only because it is formalized, right? Informal castes are of course everywhere, and in every country. 

In early fall, I took a rare trip across Lake Washington to meet Ajit George. Agit lives in the Seattle area because his fiancee came here for a job—like a lot of us, he has no real ties to the PNW. But from an office in his Factoria apartment, Ajit runs a remarkable project first started by his father. Their Bengalore-based Shanti Bhavan school aims to intervene in the poverty cycle that has plagued the Dalit—the so-called untouchable caste—for generations.

If I had any prejudices going into the interview, it was that Ajit might stick to the party line—success stories, why readers should donate—and refuse to be forthcoming about the ugly and hard and confusing parts of such a project, not to mention how maddening it must be to work for your dad. But he was more than ready to throw it down, more than willing to share his doubts and his failings and his father-boss frustrations, and I wished I could have sat chatting with him at that rickety table outside Factoria's most hard to find Tully's all day. 

Anyway, You can read my interview with Ajit at Seattle Met