"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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Formed in 2000, the IDSN is a network of international organisations, national solidarity networks and affected country groups, campaigning against caste-based discrimination throughout the world, from the dalits of South Asia to the Osu of Nigeria and the Burakumin of Japan. Visit our website International Dalit Solidarity Network for more information.
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Saturday, September 27, 2003
The Himalayan Times (Nepal) - 24 September, by Shiva Bisangkhe
Aryan religious leaders and scholars called Brahmans developed the caste system. The system consists of four categories called varnas. The top varna was occupied by Brahmans. Then came the Kshatriyas (rulers, nobles and warrior class), followed by Vaisyas, engaged in banking and other kinds of business. The last varna was Sudra, and it included artisans and labourers. Many Dalits today are said to be the descendents of the Sudras and are considered to be untouchables.
The Muluki Ain 1854 (National Code) restructured Nepali society into fourfold caste hierarchy, namely Tagadhari (sacred thread wearing), Matuwali (liquor drinking), pani nachlne chhoiee chhito halnu naparne (untouchables, sprinkling of holy water not required for purification of the body) and at the bottom of the hierarchy was pani nachalne chhoiee chhito halnu parne (untouchables, sprinkling of holy water required for purification of the body). Legal provisions on punishments were set on the basis of a person's position in the hierarchy. Even though the Naya Muluki Ain abolished inhuman legal provisions in 1963, it could not do away with practice of untouchability as such.
To recall, in the initial Vedic period, there was no concept of untouchability between varnas. It is not yet revealed how this virus of the concept of 'untouchability' silently crept into Hindu social system and finally led to the alienation of a substantial sections of the population. Unfortunately it has become so much a part of our lives, that Nepalis people may pay no attention towards its ill effects on the society.
There are four million Dalit population in Nepal, but their share in the total cultivable land is only 1 per cent, thereby rendering many of them landless and homeless. Nearly 80 per cent of the Dalits live below poverty line. Literacy rate among the Dalits is 10.7 per cent whereas the national literacy rate is over 50 per cent. Their life expectancy is 42 years against 58 years at the national level. Similarly they have been excluded in the administrative and political structure of the country, including the Royal Nepalese Army. They do not have any place in judiciary and in decision making process. According to a finding, the Dalits have been experiencing 205 existing practices of caste-based discrimination. Out of which, 54 are related to denial, such as denial of entry, services, access to common resources, participation, social boycott.
One common problem among the Dalits is finding shelter. A case study can be narrated to throw light on the problem. Dil Bahadur Pariyar, a Dalit, has been a victim of discrimination, since he came to Kathmandu in 1992 and started living with his brother in Minbhavan, Naya Baneshwor. Even though he worked hard to earn his living and support his two wives and children, the society did not tolerate him. When he wanted to move on in life, he found no friends. He was received with disgust and unreasonable excuses by the biased houseowners wherever he went. Such societal pressures had even compelled him to succumb to immoral acts, like the time when he lied to his landlady that he was a Kshatri. The trick did not last long, as his original identity was revealed soon and he was thrown out of the house.
During our discourse, Dil Bahadur also told us another interesting but sad incident about finding a rented room for Dalits. In June 2002, his elder brother, Rana Bahadur, was living in Baneshwor. He maintained a good relation with the landlord, a Dalit sarki, higher in caste than a damai Dalit. Unfortunately one day, the landlord's 70-year old father died and Rana Bahadur and his family were asked to leave on religious grounds. But vacating on such a short notice was difficult for him. In order not to pollute the house with his presence, he left for his relative's home and sought shelter for 13 days until the funeral rituals were over. But at the end of 13 days, much to his surprise he was no more wanted back in the house which had already become a 'home' for him.
There are numerous stories like these which highlight the conditions Dalits are facing in Nepal. Dil Bahadur laments that like him and his family, there are many Dalits who have no choice but to fake their identities and struggle to be accepted in society. It is not only humiliating but also dangerous for them to reveal their originality, for one thing is for sure that the society is not going to tolerate them. At present, Dil Bahadur makes his living through tailoring business, but people look at him with suspicion all the time. He now lives in a rented room in Naya Baneshwor and runs the shop there. Financially he is secure, leading a contented life, but his worry is always about his accommodation. He continues to live under a mental torture that he can lose his shelter any moment.
Such events are common in Nepal because the scourge of caste system has gripped the country where a citizen in his own land is denied a roof because of his caste. Our socio-economic and legal structures are adverse to the interest of the Dalits. Instead of creating a harmonious living for all, it seems we are not ready to give up social evils like caste discrimination. And the point to note is that, it is not only the members of other communities who discriminate the Dalits, but is prevelent within the Dalit community itself. After all, Rana Bahadur's landlord was a Dalit himself.
One sad story of Dil Bahadur shows tragic reality of our society. Nearly a decade after the restoration of democracy in Nepal, the country is still not free from caste-based discrimination where one citizen is demeaning another equally rightful citizen. Some practical mechanism has to be designed to ensure that the rights of minorities are recognised and equally protected. The legal and The social mentality has to go through a drastic change for them to understand that no one can judge any other person on the basis of caste, class or race.
Bisangkhe is a Supreme Court advocate
The Scotsman - S2 Wednesday - Living in a world apart
The Scotsman - 24 September, by Catherine Simpson
Sixteen hours north of Madras, on the Bay of Bengal, a group of orphaned ‘untouchable’ schoolchildren take lessons in the shade of a banyan tree. With soulful eyes and winning smiles they are undoubtedly appealing, but the reality is that they are outcasts for much of Indian society, which vilifies and despises them purely because of the families they were born into.
Yet as they scratch their lessons on slates, learn a little English by rote and sing traditional songs in their native Telegu language, this group of 240 children are more fortunate than thousands of other ‘untouchable’ orphans could ever hope to be. For they are happy and loved, they are fed regularly and sheltered, they are being educated, and, as it happens, are smartly turned out in the pink and white summer uniform of Edinburgh private school Mary Erskine and Stewart’s Melville.
This bizarre cultural juxtaposition has been brought about by a group of Edinburgh friends who, for the past four years, have been dedicated to rescuing an ever-growing band of orphans from unimaginable poverty and have vowed to feed, clothe and educate them for as long as necessary.
Gillie Davidson is one of the founder members of the group that is now a registered charity known as Scottish Love in Action (SLA). In the summer of 1999 she and Dr Brian Barron, a dean at Edinburgh University, took a group of 23 young people from Greenbank Church youth group in Morningside to Tuni, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, south-east India. They planned to help ‘untouchable’ people (now known as Dalits) build a home-cum-school for orphaned and destitute Dalit children.
Davidson had heard about the work of Dr Christopher Premdas, himself a Dalit, who was trying to care for an increasing band of Dalit orphans in Tuni who were arriving at his door looking for food and shelter.
Most of the 250 million Dalits in India face prejudice and are denied health care, education and other basic human rights. Historically, they have done all the filthy work, like latrine cleaning and animal slaughtering, and are still shunned and discriminated against by the caste system, even though, in theory, this has been illegal since 1950. Recourse to the law is largely denied them as police regularly turn their backs when Dalits are beaten and even lynched.
Davidson adds, "Dr Premdas travels around remote villages in Andhra Pradesh trying to raise awareness among Dalits of their human rights. Christian Aid supports this work, but he urgently needed help with the orphaned Dalit children who regularly arrived at his home in desperate need, and were never turned away. We were determined to do what we could."
When the trip was suggested there was some opposition from concerned parents. "I was aware the most precious thing is someone else’s child and that nothing is without risk. So we had a meeting to discuss the pros and cons and I got an expert in to give all the gory details of the worst-case scenarios, including rabid dogs, poisonous snakes, heat exhaustion, and gastro-intestinal bugs. However most parents were reassured that all reasonable precautions had been taken and the trip was likely to be a positive experience overall," Davidson says.
Each young person was responsible for raising his or her own £400 air-fare. A further two years of fundraising raised £28,000 to build the shelter for the orphans, who were increasing in number by the week. The group wanted a hands-on approach, so even took lessons in bricklaying from an Edinburgh builder before they left.
On arrival in Tuni in 1999 they were welcomed and immediately christened "the white chickens from the other side of the world". A Dalit tailor measured them up and made two pairs of baggy pyjamas each to cover arms and legs in accordance with local custom. "We lived alongside everyone else. At that time the children were sleeping on the concrete floor of a compound that was part of Dr Premdas’s office.
"Meals were mainly rice and vegetables with chappatis. We tried to ignore the flies crawling over the cooking area that was in an old cowshed. Our water was boiled but despite this most of us had periods of illness during the visit," says Davidson.
The group immediately realised they had been naïve to believe they could lay bricks for the new building because doing so would rob a Dalit builder of the chance to earn a day’s pay. The people are so poor that if they don’t earn one day they don’t eat the next. So the visitors worked as general labourers instead and formed chain gangs to pass wicker baskets of building materials to the site. There was nothing mechanical to help, not even a wheelbarrow.
"It was exhausting and dehydrating work and by mid-afternoon we were always too tired to continue. Instead we took all 120 children (as there were then) into the coconut plantation and entertained them for a couple of hours. We organised giant hokey cokeys, taught them action songs, including ’YMCA’, and how to do a Mexican wave. The children loved it. They all craved attention and constantly clung to us wanting to play. We also spent time in small groups teaching them English words. Their desire to learn was intense," says Davidson.
The group had taken presents for the children including pens, make-up, jewellery, balloons and bubbles. "Some of them were so unaccustomed to being given anything that they looked at the present then tried to give it back. We were so touched that we gave them everything we could, including our own watches."
In the evenings, the group visited remote villages where they were entertained by Indian dancing displays. "Some of us reciprocated by dressing up in kilts, playing the bagpipes, singing and dancing eightsome reels. They would garland us in welcome and thrust their babies into our arms. It made you feel humble and powerless to be the object of such gratitude and trust.
"They were amazed that we wanted to help them and that we’d travelled so far to try to do so. They are used to being shunned by society. They are so reviled in some quarters that even if the shadow of a Dalit falls on a non-Dalit’s food, they will not eat it."
It was on one of the evening trips that part of the group had a devastating encounter. They came across the body of a five-year-old boy lying at the roadside. The child’s parents explained that he had been hit by a car. They had been unable to get the child to hospital because no-one would transport an ‘untouchable,’ but even if they had he would have been turned away from the hospital for being a Dalit.
"We all felt traumatised by that. There were many tears and we had to do a lot of talking to begin to come to terms with what we were seeing. Every night emotions would bubble to the surface because of the suffering we witnessed each day. It made us question what is really important in life.
"Lack of health care is a terrible blight on the Dalit people. When word got around that we had some simple medicines, people began to turn up with infected scabies and leg ulcers. I was a staff nurse for 17 years at St Columba’s Hospice, so fortunately I was able to help some of them.
"We’d taken small packs of sterile equipment to distribute to pregnant women, including string, soap and a razor blade. We had to impress upon them not to open the packages before the baby came. When you gave them a razor blade, they looked at you like you’d given them the crown jewels. It made me want to weep. So much misery can be avoided by something so simple.
"The children were fascinated at the differences in us. We were given a small container of water to wash with each day and had to do so behind a small screen. It wasn’t unusual to see a row of little faces watching intently over the screen to see what the ‘white chickens’ looked like underneath their clothing.
"The people we encountered were dignified and beautiful whilst living in the most impoverished circumstances. But I don’t want to glorify poverty. Poverty is never good. Their lives are tragic in many ways but they remain resilient. Although we don’t want to inflict Western standards on them, everyone has the right to human dignity.
"When we returned from our four-week stay in India, we realised that we had become very close to the children and we wanted to continue supporting them. We decided to set up a trust which Dr Premdas asked us to call Scottish Love in Action to raise enough money to feed, clothe and educate the children and pay the basic running costs of the new home-cum-school. For that we need a minimum of £18,000 a year; a daunting amount to raise."
The ground floor of the new building was finally finished in February 2000, two and a half years after the group’s visit. There are now 240 children living in it along with a handful of unpaid carers. Some of these children have been rescued from prostitution, others have been bought out of bonded-labour (a modern-day system of slavery, where a parent’s debt is passed to their child) or have been found living on rubbish dumps. Other pupils are mentally or physically handicapped, especially by polio, which is rife. A number of the children have Aids. Premdas has persuaded the local hospital to treat them, but in return has to barter sutures, donated by the medical supplies company Ethicon, that are highly prized in India.
Premdas regularly e-mails Davidson with news of the orphanage. His most recent bulletins have described the prolonged drought and horrendously high temperatures of over 50 degrees that have caused widespread misery.
Davidson passes this news on to other supporters of the orphanage who include the primary three pupils of Mary Erskine and Stewart’s Melville school in Edinburgh. When the school’s summer uniform was changed last year a parent suggested redundant uniforms should be sent to the orphans. Hence, a container of dresses, shorts and shirts were shipped to Madras, free of charge, by the freight company Danzas. A tailor in Tuni then ran up a few extra so all the orphans have new clothes in the style of their counterparts over 5,000 miles and a world away in Edinburgh.
The Dalit children are now taught to read, write and count and the older ones are taught skills like learning to drive an auto rickshaw and cooking, so they can eventually earn a living without being dependent on the upper castes. SLA has also sent 28 reconditioned sewing machines to set up a sewing co-operative.
Davidson says: "Most important is that the children are now safe, happy and loved. There is still a long way to go of course. We are constructing a second floor on the building to give the children more privacy and separate the girls and boys sleeping quarters. But the building work has recently had to stop because of a shortage of funds.
"We need donors who can spare just a little, regularly. The cost of a beer feeds a child in the orphanage for a week and £120 a year feeds, clothes and educates a pupil for a whole year. There are no salaried members of staff at SLA and all the money goes directly to the orphanage. I believe that the plight of the Dalits is the new apartheid. It’s possible to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the problem and guilty about it, but guilt is destructive and pointless. Instead we must realise that everyone can make a difference, however small."
SLA is a Scottish registered charity, No SC030516. Anyone interested in its work or who would consider supporting SLA can contact Gillie Davidson, c/o Scottish Love in Action, Greenbank Parish Church, Braidburn Terrace, Edinburgh EH10 6ES, or TJ Watts on 07796 174967.
Top marks, yet Dalits still struggle
Indian Express - 24 September, by Prachi Jatania
Sagar Shinde (16) was felicitated by the Harijan Sevak Sangh on Monday. But the tears in his eyes were prompted by frustration, not joy.
‘Harijans’ are now included in the Dalit category. Dalits include scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes, women, minorities and other marginalised sections of society.
Yet even with a caste certificate and a score of 80 per cent at the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examination, Shinde is having difficulty gaining admission into the Science stream. And the story is the same for many other accomplished Dalit students like him. ‘‘We too have to work towards our goals. Nothing comes easy,’’ says Sagar sternly.
The felicitation ceremony was organised to honour the achievements of harijan students with a first class and above in the SSC and Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) examinations. The S K Patil Sabhagriha at Congress House saw a full house, with almost as many tales of ongoing struggle.
Being a painter’s son and aspiring to be a doctor, Vinod Penkar (15) worries every day about his seemingly unattainable goal.
‘‘Although we have progressed, it’s mostly been in terms of high-profile government jobs. Others like us still struggle to make ends meet,’’ laments Vinod’s father, Chandrakant. His frustration is also fuelled by his inability to pay Rs 70,000 for his eldest son Rajan’s engineering degree. ‘‘He’ll have to quit in his second year. I simply can’t afford the fees,’’ he says.
Many Dalit parents believe that although the stigma of belonging to the caste has gradually diminished, the community has to work twice as hard to prove its abilities.
‘‘Even getting a decent job requires connections,’’ says Meena Bhilde, mother of Sheetal, who scored 71 per cent in her HSC.
‘‘And that’s if you manage to obtain the caste certificate,’’ adds a rueful Laxman Jadhav, another parent. Jadhav ran from pillar to post for six months to get his granddaughter Geeta’s caste certificate. Nevertheless, over 50 students, with parents in tow, beamed with pride as they walked up to the stage to receive their eagerly awaited prize—a clock.
‘‘I’m glad my community appreciates students’ achievements like other communities do,’’ chirped Shilpa Shindhe, who cleared her SSC exams this year. As Sagar, accompanied by his uncle Suryakant, accepted his prize, he had a message for his fellow mates.
‘‘I never gave up because I was confident about my capabilities. Don’t let anyone restrict your dreams within caste or class barriers,’’ he said. Earlier in the day, he received a revised mark sheet that read 90 per cent. The SSC Board had initially erred in the calculation of his marks.
Sunday, September 21, 2003
No compromise on SC, ST welfare issues: CM
Central Chronicle - 19 September
The Chief Minister Digvijay Singh has said that the Congress government has committed for the welfare of the Scheduled caste and scheduled tribe people and there will be no compromise on the issue of welfare at any cost.
He was addressing a state level convention of Sant Ravidas Van- shiya Dalit Samaj here at Ravindra Bhavan, on Thursday. He charged both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) with misleading the Dalit community and questioned about the Mhow declaration in interest of the dalits.
Mentioning about Dalit Agenda, Singh said that the government after much deliberation with the country's intellectuals, think- ers, scholars and representatives of the Dalit class had prepared Dalit Agenda to work in interest of the dalits, weaker section and those are on the margin of the society. The state government has started implementing it.
Home minister and organiser of the convention Mahendra Baudha, state congress president Radhakishan Malviya, state revenue minister Raghuvir Singh also addressed the convention and men- tioned the achievements of the congress government on the line of commencing welfare schemes for the Dalits.
Eight injured in caste conflict
Central Chronicle - 18 September
Eight persons were injured in a group clash between upper caste and dalits at Soyak village in Hoshangabad district on Wednesday afternoon.
Hoshangabad police have registered a case of rioting against nine persons of the upper caste people following clashes.
Meanwhile the upper caste Thakurs also filed a case against dalits at Seoni police station.
Jageshwar, Chhoteram, Lakhanlal, Ramesh Prasad, Vinod Kumar, Rewaram, Rambabu and Dashrath have been admitted at the district hospital with serious injuries.
Inter-caste love forces Dalits to flee village
New Indian Press - 16 September
Seven months after they fled their homes, hundreds of poor Dalits have been living in the open following tensions sparked by an inter-caste love saga in this village.
Many of the nearly 270 Dalit families are living in shanties they set up along a highway in Kaithal district, 150 km from state capital Chandigarh.
Others have sought refuge in a temple.
They all worry about their homes, crops and animals that they left behind in haste in February-March. The place where they now stay is 20 km away from their village.
Trouble started when a Dalit girl started living with a boy of the upper caste Jat community in Harsola.
The Dalits, who claim she did not marry the boy, asked the girl's parents to complain to the police. They claim the girl's father refused because he thought she had moved up the social ladder.
Alleged Balbir Singh, a Dalit farmer, "We asked the girl's father to lodge a police complaint as the girl was being forced by the Jats to stay with that boy. When the girl's father refused, we boycotted him socially."
"Then an angry mob of armed Jats attacked us during one of our meetings, and we had to flee with our family members."
Added another Dalit farmer, Bidama Singh, "After the attack in February, in which 19 Dalits were seriously injured, police arrested 14 upper caste men and some of us were told to return to Harsola.
"But the arrested men came out on bail in March and attacked the village again. That's when most Dalits had to flee."
They fled their homes, leaving behind their crops, which were ready for harvesting.
Bidama Singh said, "We were about to harvest the wheat and mustard that we cultivated as sharecroppers. The rich landlords harvested the crops, depriving us of our share. Our animals either died or were taken away by the Jats."
Ladoo, an 85-year-old Dalit woman, said she and the others were now forced to long distances to fetch water.
"Being women, we cannot sleep in the open and at least 15 of us take shelter in small shanties at night. It's unbearable when it rains and water trickles in."
Another woman, Nanni, who has five sons and four daughters, said tearfully, "I do not know how long we have to stay here and how to feed my children. How long can the temple afford to feed us?"
Nearly 30 children of these families are also suffering because they have not been able to attend school for seven months. Said Sushil, a Class 8 student of Government High School, Harsola, "I could not appear for my yearly test. We left our books when we fled and cannot study here." Some Dalits are trying to make leather footwear, while others look for work on farms. But the going has not been easy.
Said Pritam, "There is hardly a market for footwear here. Getting casual jobs at farms is also difficult as we are considered outsiders in this area."
The villagers said the district administration was turning a blind eye to their plight.
Complained Karamveer, president of the Haryana unit of the Confederation of Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes: "Officials blames the Dalits for leaving their homes, but is not prepared to ensure their safety."
A police official, however, said, "We have repeatedly tried to convince these villagers to return in vain.
"The situation in Harsola village is totally peaceful now. During the last seven months no untoward incidents were reported.
"Many villagers are willing to go back but their leaders, who want to politicise the issue, are preventing them."
Dalits forced to plough landowners' land
Kathmandu Post - 13 September
Dalits here who have no land to feed on, education to get employment and skills to run income-generating work are compelled to plough the field of landlords round the year just for a small quantity of cereal.
Dalits living in Galuwa, Ratnedanda of ward No-9 in Bhakunde Village Development Commitee of the district are compelled to work in land owned by others due to absence of their own land.
It is very disheartening to receive just 10 pathis of cereal for the strenuous toil and labour made for 12 months, says Dil Nepali. But what else can I do than till others, land when I don’t have land of my own, skills or education, laments Nepali.
This trend has been continuing since many generations and we have no other option than to work as porters or land tillers as we did not gain the skill of plying musical instruments or stitching clothes, says 71-year-old Himlal Nepali.
Some Dalits own land but very little and its product is not sufficient to feed the family for even one month.
There is a primary school near the Dalit village of ten families, but so far none of the Dalits have completed five standard of education.
Seti Nepali, who has been working as agriculture labour, is the highest paid in the area. He gets 16 pathis of cereal from his landlord every year and he has also received a portion of land for his own consumption.
But the 23-year-old fears that both the land and his annual payment would be gone after he gets old and finding hard to till the land. Many organisations in the district have been running income-generating programmes in the area but so far such programmes have not suited and benefited the poor Dalits.