"Dalit Solidarity News" is an information project run by the International Dalit Solidarity Network. News stories are extracts from online newsservices. Link to the full story is found at the end of each blog.
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Saturday, June 14, 2003
What’s in a name? Discrimination for dalits
Hikmat Bahadur Nepali was studying in seventh standard before he walked out of school for Kathmandu to help his second brother as a child porter. Text books, no doubt, lured him, but not with searing pangs of hunger. He was forced to support his family too. Hailing from Maidi village development committee-3, Dhading, the 17-year-old Nepali is a dalit, an innuendo meaning -- at the lowest rungs of the discriminatory ladder. He has five elder brothers. Three of them live as squatters in other districts and one lives in India. The other one works as a porter in Kalimati vegetable market. His parents live with his second brother. The earnings from their little land and some cattle that they own is insufficient to meet the demands of the family. Therefore, all of them also toil as labour wageworkers in their village. Being a dalit, Nepali has trouble finding work sometimes. "If the local Sahus come to know that I belong to the dalit community, they refuse to hire me for a job. Therefore, I tell them that my caste is Nepal," says Nepali with a wry smile.
During his stay at Kathmandu he came in contact with Concern for Children and Environment-Nepal (CONCERN-Nepal). After counselling, he returned to his village to pursue studies. He joined class seven again upon his return. He now shares time between grazing cattle and studies. The CONCERN-Nepal bears his schooling expenses. Nepali's is one of the few tales of lucky dalit children who manage to find their way back home. He even bumped into an organisation working for the children to sponsor for his studies. Even in this day and age, thousands of children from the dalit community are treated as 'untouchables' in the society.
Dalits comprise 20 per cent of the total population of the country out of which only 13 per cent of them are literate. Enrolment of dalits in primary schools is less than 20 per cent, compared to 68 per cent for Nepali children in general. "If we are able to eliminate the discriminations against the dalits, I believe we would be able to eliminate the child labour in the country to a large extent," said Bijay Sainju, executive chairperson of CONCERN-Nepal.
Dalits barred from entering temple
Himalayan Times (Nepal)
Hundreds of Dalits, including political representatives, leaders and human rights activists, who were trying to enter the Samauji temple on Sunday, situated at Lalpur VDC in Kailali district, were barred entry even in the presence of the authorities. The Dalit Network, Development and Awareness Forum had initiated the visit to the temple. People belonging to the other communities present there misbehaved with the group who physically tortured several of them accusing one Padam Bishwakarma of inciting other local Dalits into the tussle. Meanwhile, chief district officer (CDO) Mathura Prasad Yadav said security forces have been deployed in the area and action would be taken against those involved in the incident. According to eyewitnesses, the people also pelted stones and beat the Dalits while they were returning back home after performing puja at the Durga temple after having failed to enter the other temple that was locked. Khadak Joshi, a local social activist was hurt in the incident. People even tried to snatch cameras from some photojournalists who had reached the spot.
Dalits seek a ministerial post
Himalayan Times (Nepal)
Twenty-two Dalit organisations today threatened to take to the streets if a Dalit leader of their choice does not feature in the Surya Bahadur Thapa cabinet to be formed shortly. There will be a "revolution of another kind" if Hasta Bahadur Bishwakarma is not included in the Surya Bahadur Thapa-led government. Hasta Bahadu is a Dalit leader and the vice-chairman of Nepal Samata Party. The Dalit leaders said they would submit a memorandum to the King prior to other protest programmes. The Dalit organisations on Saturday submitted a memorandum to the prime minister, demanding inclusion of Bishwokarma in the cabinet. The memorandum, however, did not specify the portfolio desired by them.
"It is essential to have at least one Dalit minister 'to turn the ceasefire into permanent peace'. The country is heading towards a critical situation due to political games the leaders have been playing," the memorandum states. Purna Bahadur Bishwokarma, the chairman of Integrated Development Academy, said: "The democratic leaders have turned their deaf ears to the cries of Dalits and social discrimination will not end until a Dalit leader is included in the cabinet."
"Hasta Bahadur has been active in organising Dalits in villages. It is our unanimous decision to have him included in the cabinet," he said. Surya Bahadur Budhapirthi, the chairman of Nepal Dalit Utpidit Kalyan Kendra, accused political parties of trying to fool Dalits by making a sister organisation of Dalits and using them for their purposes.
Talhan gurudwara standoff resolved
NDTV - 14 June, by Swati Maheshwari
The standoff at the Bhai Nihal Sing Gurudwara at Talhan near Jalandhar has been resolved for the moment. Earlier yesterday 200 Jat Sikhs had locked themselves into the gurudwara, threatening suicide if the gurudwara was taken over by the Punjab government. All those confined came out after the setting up of a management committee and a maryada committee comprising members of the gurudwara. The committees will work with the receiver appointed by the government for the functioning of the gurudwara.
Paramjit Kaur was one of the many women who locked themselves up in the gurudwara for more than 24 hours. After 24 hours of hard negotiations with the police surrounding the gurudwara, the people finally emerged throwing the gates of the gurudwara open.
"We told them it was an interim step and finally their own committees would control it," said Ashok Kumar Gupta, DC
Paramjit says they took this extreme step to protect the maryada or the tradition of the shrine from being violated; and allowing those Dalits who are not baptized Sikhs to become part of the management committee is also against the maryada.
"We have no problem if they are baptized Sikhs," qualified Paramjit Kaur, resident, Talhan.
Eighty per cent of the village population in Talhan is Dalit and they have been demanding an equal share in the management committee of the gurudwara that earns Rs 4 to Rs 5 crore in offerings every year.
For the moment, the crisis has been averted but for any sort of a long-term resolution of the conflict, the Dalits' demands for equality have to be met. As night falls, the deserted streets and the heavy police presence are a reminder of the continuing curfew in the village where the Dalit and the upper caste localities are clearly demarcated. There are separate gurudwaras for the lower and upper caste in most villages of Punjab even though Sikhism does not recognize the caste system. But this conflict indicates the fundamental tussle between the traditionally dominant groups and those challenging their dominance now.
Friday, June 13, 2003
Mass conversion of Dalits put off
The Hindu - 12 June, by Manas Dasgupta
The proposed conversion of some one lakh Dalits in Gujarat to Buddhism has again being postponed. The programme scheduled to be held in Vadodara on Sunday has been deferred till October 5, the Buddha Purnima day. While Bhante Sanghapriya, the general secretary of the Vishwa Bouddha Sangh, which had planned the mass conversion, blamed the ``lack of support'' from the district administration for the postponement, authorities said that he had been compelled to defer the programme for the fourth time, because of lack of response from the Dalits. Bhante Sanghapriya said the district administration had not responded to his request for security and the Vadodara municipal corporation had not given any on drinking water supply to the estimated one lakh people, expected to attend.
This, he claimed, had led to the postponement. He also claimed that at least 55,000 Dalits had signed a printed form declaring that they were embracing Buddhism out of their free will and not under any pressure or lure, a condition that will become an important component of all religious conversion programmes in the State once the freedom of the religion bill, passed by the state Assembly, is notified in the Government Gazette and becomes an Act. District authorities, however, denied Mr. Sanghapriya's charges. The District Collector, Bhagyesh Jha, said the Sangh had organised similar programmes thrice but had to cancel them for want of response, the last time being on April 14, the birth anniversary of Ambedkar, when the Sangh had planned a mass conversion in the same city but postponed it till June 15 at the last moment.
Contrary to its claim that it planned to convert a lakh of Dalits, the venue the Sangh had selected for the programme could not have accommodated more than 10,000. The district administration had made necessary arrangements if the Sangh was ready to go ahead with its programme. But the latter did not have the network to collect such a massive gathering nor three days before the ceremony was there any indication of such a large number of people converging in Vadodara, Mr. Jha said.
Dispute over management of Talhan Gurudwara
NDTV - 13 June
The Punjab government has appointed a receiver to temporarily take over the Bhai Nihal Singh Gurudwara in Jalandhar's Talhan village.
"Damdami Takshal has taken over the reigns of the gurudwara. However, section 145 of the relevant act has been promulgated on the gurudwara as per which the government has appointed a receiver who will manage the affairs of the shrine on day to day basis," Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said in Chandigarh.
The management of the gurudwara led to clashes between the upper caste Jat Sikhs and the Dalits. The area is still tense and under curfew. The row indicates a fundamental tussle that is taking place in the Punjabi countryside between the groups that have been traditionally dominant and those who now want a bigger slice of the cake. Raja Chahal has worked as a painter in the Bhai Nihal Singh Gurudwara for the last ten years. But things changed drastically this January when the upper caste Jat Sikhs decided to boycott the Dalit community. The committee of the Jat Sikhs managing the gurudwara asked Raja Chahal to sign a blank paper and say he had nothing to with this shrine.
When the clashes broke out Dalit bungalows were the first things that were targeted. It represents what the landowning Jat Sikhs resent the most, the growing prosperity among the Dalit community, thanks to their numerous relatives working abroad. Despite this they own just 2.5 per cent of agricultural land. In this village an increasingly assertive Dalit community decided to ask for their share in the gurudwara committee that controls annual offerings made to the shrine, a whopping Rs 4-5 crore. The Jat Sikhs who have been controlling it till now refused to give a share, despite recommendations made by the National SC/ST Commission.
It has meant considerable embarrassment for the Congress government. Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh and senior Congress leaders visiting Talhan were greeted by Dalits with black flags and protests. The government has largely held the BSP responsible for inciting rioters in these clashes. But in a state which has the highest percentage of Dalit population in the country more than 30 per cent parties like the BSP have failed to make an impact in elections till now. These are the first caste clashes seen in Punjab in recent times and the tension might not die down quickly with political parties trying to use this to make inroads in the significant Dalit population.
Punjab Govt. takes over gurdwara
The Hindu - 12 June
The Punjab Government today took over the control of Talhan gurdwara from Damdami Takshal after the arrest of ten persons from the Dalit and Jat Sikh communities even as the row over the management of the shrine continued.
After the arrests, the Government appointed a receiver to manage the affairs of Gurdwara Sahib Bano Nihal Singh falling in Talhan village in Jalandhar where caste clashes had erupted last Thursday.
"Section 145 of the relevant Act has been promulgated on the gurdwara as per which the Government has appointed a receiver who will manage the affairs of the shrine on a day-to-day basis," the Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh, told presspersons here.
Thursday, June 12, 2003
Caste on the couch
Outlook India - 12 June, by S Anand
Unwilling also to impose on friends – one a caste Hindu and the other a Brahmin-Christian – a young, scholastic Bhimrao did take recourse to impersonation. He faked a Parsi identity to take shelter at a Parsi inn, and was unceremoniously turned out when discovered. Humiliated by stick-wielding Parsis, Ambedkar said, "It was then for the first time that I learnt that a person who is an untouchable to a Hindu is also an untouchable to a Parsi".
Not much has changed in India since that time in 1918 even for an educated, urban dalit. A dalit continues to face the prospect of getting booted out of public spaces; but more shameful still, even today, a dalit is under pressure to pass for a non-dalit.
As much became evident to those of us not otherwise bothered by this at a seminar in Pune on ‘Caste and Discourses of the Mind’. Overseen by Sushrut Jadhav, a psychiatrist and medical anthropologist of dalit-chambar origin, currently at University College, London, and Pune-based Bhargavi P Davar, a Tamil-brahmin researcher on women’s issues in mental health and director of the Bapu Trust, the two-day seminar (14-15 December 2002) put caste on the couch. Dalits, brahmins, non-brahmins, Americans, Europeans and a Japanese grappled with the issues at hand. The seminar was, ironically, part-funded by a trust that takes its name from Sir Dorabji Tata, a Parsi.
A range of issues was debated. Does casteism lead to stigmatised identities? How are such identities contested/subverted? Does religious conversion diminish or further stigmatisation? If yes, how? What are the psychological consequences of casteism for victims and perpetrators? Are there indigenous dalit psychologies? Do indigenous dalit psychologies differ from historically ascribed ones? What shapes a dalit self? What are the parallels with oppressive and persecutory experiences of other communities worldwide? Do brahminical ideologies permeate Indian psychological theory?
For full story, go to: http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20030611&fname=anand&sid=1
Angry Talhan greets CM with black flags
Indian Express - 12 June
Black flags greeted Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, senior Congress leaders Dr. Manmohan Singh and Ambika Soni during their visit to Talhan village today. Later, the DC announced the setting up of a five-member committee to resolve the issue locally. The CM, on his maiden visit to the village, looked embarrassed as people raised slogans against him. He got ample flak from Jat and Dalit communities for failing to stop the violence. Police also kept mediapersons at bay. The anger came bubbling out the moment the visitors stepped into Shahid Baba Nihal Singh Gurdwara, their first stop in the village, where Jats told them how the Congress government allowed the problem to fester. At a joint press meet with the CM, Manmohan Singh said it was a social issue, which should not be politicised by anyone. After meeting representatives of Jats, Dalits and members of the Talhan panchayat, the panel constituted a committee to make recommendations to the government for resolving this issue at the local level. The committee will be headed by Parveen Kumar, PCS, Additional Deputy Commissioner, Jalandhar.
Dozen injured as Dalit groups clash in Phagwara
Outlook India - 12 June
About 12 persons, including nine women, were injured today in an intra-community group clash at Sangatpur village near here, police said. The clash took place between two dalit groups over the issue of land, they said, adding most of the injured belonged to one group. The feuding groups used swords, spears and lathis after a society land was legally transferred to a group, police said. When this group went to the land, they were allegedly attacked by 50 to 60 persons of the rival group, police said, adding these groups made contrary allegations.
Tuesday, June 10, 2003
Fuel for a fire
Hindustan Times - 10 June
Whatever the shortcomings of life in Punjab, antagonism between the Dalit community and the Sikhs was not one of them, since Sikhism offers an equalitarian social arrangement.
For most people, therefore, it was a nasty surprise to read about the violent clashes in and around Jalandhar between a section of the Sikhs and the local Dalits. The ugliness has now gone on for several days, suggesting the possible rupturing of the traditional social order, and may well also have economic undertones. It is a pity that the administration and the police were not able to nip the trouble in the bud, when warning signs were available.
The Dalit community in the state is a fairly sizeable one and includes those who became Sikhs. It is not, therefore, improbable that the trouble might spread if the authorities do not act with sagacity and resolve. Needless to say, the issue is sensitive, not least because the Dalit community is politically organised and coherent. The problem is said to be related to the management of an old Sufi shrine which is in the hands of the dominant Jat Sikhs of rural Punjab. Apparently, the Dalits want to have a share in its management. One probable reason is that the revenues accruing to the shrine are believed to be substantial.
The issue would then appear to be related to social and economic causes, rather than religion. While not always easy to tackle, questions of this type are more amenable to reason than those involving faith. Apart from using the administrative machinery to calm tempers, the state government may think it prudent to call upon political parties to exert a cooling influence. Continued tension can be in no one’s interest. The worst thing would be for any party to try and fish in troubled waters, tempting though this may be.
Why Dalits swap gods
The Statesman - 10 June, by Vishal Arora
WHY is it that only 'Hindu' organisations raise a hue and cry over the 'use of allurement and force' in mass proselytisations, especially of Dalits? And why do they ignore the need for liberating and empowering India's 250 million Dalits and other 'lower' sections of the society that could prevent them from converting? Apart from no evidence found thus far by investigative reports on the 'use of allurement or force' in the many incidents of Dalit conversions, Dalits themselves have asserted that they embrace other religions to live with dignity and get equal rights and opportunities.
For full story, click here
Monday, June 09, 2003
The Wheel's Turning
Dalits who bloodied their hands for Hindutva last year are turning to the Buddha
Outlook India - 16 June, by Darshan Desai
"When they need us to kill the Muslims, they ask us to shout 'Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain!' Once their dubious purpose is served, we are once again reminded that we are Dalits, the untouchables. Last month, five members of a Dalit family committed suicide at Rampir Tekra in Ahmedabad, compelled by starvation, but not a single saffron cap came to see their dead bodies. I will convert to Buddhism at the first opportunity."—Sanjay Parmar in Danilimda, Ahmedabad
Sanjay's anguish is shared by many disillusioned Dalits in Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Surat in Gujarat. Their angry voices can be heard in the urban ghettos as also in their isolated village enclaves. Many of those who responded to the VHP's post-Godhra call last year are doing a serious rethink. They are now realising that it was a grave mistake they made when they attacked innocent Muslims and bloodied their hands in the post-Godhra carnage. From a bloodthirsty mob to flagbearers of peace and moksha, the Dalits of Gujarat seem to be going around in a strange circle—from unreason to reason.
Sensing the rebellious mood among the Dalits, the Vishwa Boudh Sangh (VBS) is organising mass conversions to Buddhism this week in the state. This is a direct challenge to the VHP and chief minister Narendra Modi, who has turned his anti-conversion plank into a major Hindutva trump card. The VBS claims it will convert one lakh Dalits of Gujarat on June 15. However, a fresh round of conversions started in Vadodara on May 16 and has been continuing without too much publicity. All this has reportedly upset Modi. The police and the state intelligence have been asked to keep track of all conversions. The entire administration is on its toes.
For full story, click here
Sunday, June 08, 2003
Indian girl burnt alive
News24.com - 8 June
A 13-year-old girl was burnt alive in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh apparently over a property dispute her family was involved in, it was reported on Sunday. The victim, Sonia, was visiting her aunt in the state's Harora area where the incident occured. She was left alone with three cousins, while her aunt and uncle were at work. The three children who witnessed the gruesome incident said some men from the village barged into their house in the afternoon, poured parrafin on Sonia and set her on fire, the Hindustan Times newspaper reported. The incident threatens to snowball into a political controversy as it took place in the constituency of the state's chief minister Mayawati. The girl belonged to the Dalit community, which is a socially and economically backward community. The accused are believed to be Muslims, the report said. Mayawati, also a Dalit, has given the community various concessions, in land, employment and education. Sonia's relatives said the dispute was over a plot of land that had been allotted to them by the state government. Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India, also has a large Muslim population.