National Geographic : 2010 Feb
' was lled with dread. Her parents had decided that after the Hindu festival of Akha Teej, in April, she would return to live with her husband and his family. " e boy is very bad," she had told me. She said that he and his mother had forced her to work all day on the bellows, and he'd beaten her when she resisted. But Kanya knew that divorce was unthinkable for a woman in her position. "I can't do anything," she said. "If I stay here I'll su er. If I go there I'll su er. It's all a matter of destiny." Kanya's powerlessness is compounded by her gender, but it is shared to some degree by all the Lohar, whose low social standing leaves them vulnerable to the pressures and prejudices of rural India. One a ernoon I turned up at the campsite to learn that the Lohar had been vis- ited the day before by followers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, India's main Hin- du nationalist group. Extremists from the group had gotten wind of my presence, assumed that I was a Christian missionary, and threatened to beat me. e Lohar were plainly terri ed and pleaded with me to leave. Eventually I was able to make clear that my purpose was journalistic, not evangelical. Local RSS workers apologized and even accompanied me to meet with the Lohar, who by now had moved a second time, to a trampled pasture on the outskirts of another village. e RSS urged the Lohar to cooperate, but my relations with the blacksmiths never really recovered. Wary from the start, they saw little reason a er the trouble with the RSS to tolerate me any longer. "You give us a handful of our, and yet you're writing so much," Kartar said, glaring. "Go now. We've had enough of you." One a ernoon I drove out from Jaipur in a nal attempt at reconciliation. Unfortunately, Lallu and Kailashi were not around to lend support. ey had taken a bus to the Rajasthan capital, where Kailashi hoped to nd treatment for her chronic cough and fever. The others would hardly speak to me, and some turned their backs at my approach. I took the hint and walked back to my car. "Don't come back," Kar- tar shouted. Before I drove away, I turned and looked at the Lohar for the last time. Business had dried up and their forges had all gone cold. Tomor- row, or perhaps the next day, they would pack up their carts and move on, as they had done so many times before. But for now they just looked listless and weary. They looked like travelers who had reached the end of the road. j John Lancaster was East Asia bureau chief for the Washington Post. Steve McCur ry co ve red the Haz ara people of Afghanistan for the February 2008 issue.