"If you wish to bring about a breach in the system, then you have got to apply the dynamite to the Vedas and the Shastras, which deny any part to reason; to the Vedas and Shastras, which deny any part to morality. You must destroy the religion of the shrutis and the smritis. Nothing else will avail."
– B. R. Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste
In a crucial scene in Satyajit Ray's 1955 film Pather Panchali, we see the young Apu, slate in hand, being instructed in writing by his father Harihar, who is probably occupied with writing his own play for the village festival. In the same room, but at a distance, Apu's elder sister Durga's hair is being plaited by their mother Sarbajaya, as they softly converse about the impending marriage of a friend of Durga's. All this while their old widowed aunt Indir Thakrun is seated outside the room, busy with her thread and needle. The traditional demarcations of gender are perfectly in place here. The two males are engaged in writing, while the women are involved in their daily 'feminine' chores. In an earlier scene, we had seen Apu in the village patshala where the local grocer teaches his all-male class and runs his business simultaneously. Ray subtly hints at the gender discrimination by showing a girl, of about the same age as Apu, arriving to buy grocery for her home, and stealing a furtive glance at the boys taking lessons.
Besides gender, this rural space is also charged with the traditional signifiers of caste. Both Harihar and the schoolmaster wear the 'sacred thread' across their chest – as markers of their upper caste, Brahmin status – and we hear about Harihar officiating as priest in rich families of the neighbouring villages. Growing up in such an environment, Apu could not but be aware of his identity as a male Brahmin that entitles him to the kind of education denied both to women and the lower castes in pre-independence India.