. . . . . . "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. Visit the International Dalit Solidarity Network at www.idsn.org

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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. SUBMIT DALIT NEWS HERE

Wednesday, December 10, 2003  
Expressindia - Delhi Newsline

Less in numbers, more in menial jobs

Express News Service
New Delhi, December 5: YOGESH and Siyaram are busy sweeping the red carpet. These Dalit migrants are from a village near Aligarh. As a stark life-sized exhibit near them — part of the ongoing photo and poster exhibition on the state of Dalits titled Hidden Apartheid — states that nearly half the sweepers in India are from the Dalit community. A number greatly out of proportion considering they are only 16 per cent of the population.

The exhibition, organised by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) and the NGO Anhad (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy), is timed to coincide with a Dalit Swadhikar rally of Dalits and human rights activists setting out tonight from Delhi to reach Mumbai for the World Social Forum on January 16.

Flagging off the rally, former president K.R. Narayanan argued that the condition of the Dalits was the touchstone of the condition of India since it revolved around fundamental issues of access to basic resources and livelihood in a time of growing disparities, evident in the rise in the number of Dalits below the poverty line.

Praising the NCDHR’s he expressed hope that the exhibition would ‘‘awaken peoples’’’ conscience.

Researched and designed by social activist Shabnam Hashmi and designer Pervez, the exhibition powerfully depicts the numerous disadvantages that the Dalit community in India continues to face. The show draws attention to their low numbers in secondary schools and universities, government bodies and academic posts, and on the other hand their high representation in menial jobs.

Drawing extensively on newspaper articles and government reports, it juxtaposes national statistics with studies of individuals who are battling discrimination and violence — a woman panchayat leader, a family who dares to enter the village temple, a scavenger.

2:09 PM


The Hindu
Growing Dalit resistance

Praveen Swami

Jat landlords and Dalits clash in Punjab once again, a clear sign that Dalit patience is coming to an end across the State. FOR over 400 years, the village pond has been at the centre of life in Hasanpur in Sangrur district. On one side of it lie the homes of the upper castes, mainly Jat landlords; on the other, those of the Dalits who work on their fields. Cattle are brought here to be watered and to graze; cow dung is dried on the shores; and the long grass on its banks makes for a sheltered community latrine. Children play on the fringes of the pond and the last rites of the dead are performed on its banks. Through this pond runs an invisible line: the landlords live and die on its northern bank, the Dalits on the southern shore.

On October 11, that line was breached, sparking off the most violent caste clashes in Punjab since the Jat-Dalit confrontation in April at Talhan near Jalandhar. Twenty people, mainly Dalit women, were injured in Hasanpur when they got together to stop a Jat farmer from ploughing the dry bed of the pond, which he had taken on lease from the village panchayat. No one agrees on what started the fighting - the Jats insist that the Dalits used force to block their clansman from exercising his right, and the Dalits alleged that the farmer forced women off the common land they had used for decades.

If the string of caste clashes in Punjab are any indication, Dalit consciousness in Punjab is being revolutionised, a fact that could have far-reaching consequences. In Hasanpur itself, Dalit anger had been simmering for at least a year, and it centred around the pond and the Shamlat land (common land) surrounding it. Early this year, upper castes in the village, with the support of 12 neighbouring panchayats, built a gaushala, a hospice for aged and ill cows, on the banks of the pond. The gaushala was built over a sewage drain that ran from the Jat quarter of the village into the pond, forcing realignment of the drain. The Dalits believed that the new alignment of the drain was intended to insult a Dalit temple that was being constructed nearby. The Jats responded by pointing out that the Dalits had also made use of Shamlat land for building the temple, an ashram, a cremation ground, and a road leading to Dalit-owned small farms. The new alignment of the drain, they insisted, was a necessity, not a statement of caste supremacy.

In April, even as the dispute simmered on, the panchayat decided to lease out the pond land. The decision was well within the village body's legal rights, but controversial nonetheless. Although some Dalits participated in the auction, a Jat farmer, Jagtar Singh, won the lease. He began flattening the pond bed, and demanded that Dalits using areas along the shore to dump agricultural waste and dry dung move out of what was now his land. "Next," claims Hasanpur Dalit Jit Pal Singh, "he would have claimed that we could not graze cattle around the pond, or take them to the water to be bathed. The pond is essential to our livelihoods, and we just did not accept the right of the panchayat to give it up for the use of just one person."

Between April and October, the local administration made several unsuccessful efforts to resolve the issue. The Jats, according to the Dalits, stepped up the pressure with an economic blockade, refusing to employ local workers on their fields. The claim is refuted by the Jats, who point to the presence of several Dalit workers in their homes. The administration responded by imposing legal restrictions on the right of villagers to assemble on the Shamlat land, hoping to stave off a caste clash. Jagtar Singh, however, insisted on pressing his rights to the leased land, saying he had spent over Rs.100,000 on having the pond bed levelled and cleared of scrub. The Dalits, too, continued using the Shamlat land.

On October 10, Jat leaders complained to the local police about Dalits using the pond bed. The next day, fighting broke out. "The Dalits gathered in their ashram with swords and lathis," says Jat Harjit Singh, a local Jat, "and so we were forced to defend ourselves." Given the fact that most of the victims were Dalit women, this claim seems incorrect. All the17 persons charged by the Sangrur police with rioting and atrocities against Dalits are Jats, a clear sign of just what took place on the day. According to police records, Jat leaders gathered at the community's gurdwara in the village and called for action against the Dalits. Six suspects have so far been arrested and have obtained bail.

Prompt police intervention, unlike in Talhan, probably helped stave off more violence. "I'm from a peasant background myself," says Sangrur Senior Superintendent of Police Gurdeep Singh Dhillon, "which helped me understand the sensitivities in Hasanpur and speak directly with community leaders". A deal was hammered out, meeting almost all major Dalit demands. The Jats conceded the Dalits' right to use the road to their fields, and use part of the Shamlat land to dry dung and dump agricultural waste and to build a Balmiki temple. The pond land itself was denied to all under the deal. Jagtar Singh has moved the courts to seek execution of his lease.

Chauvinism of this kind seems to be driven by the growing ability of Dalits to stand up for their rights. While most of the recent incidents of violence have taken place in Punjab's Doaba region, where Dalits are relatively affluent, their counterparts in southern Punjab also seem to be building the foundations of resistance to landlord fiat. Although none of the Dalits in Hasanpur receives foreign currency remittances, a common phenomenon around Jalandhar, four of the 140-odd families have members in government service, and another dozen own small businesses. That Dalit patience is coming to an end across Punjab is clear.

Efforts by the State government to broker compromises have generally failed. In August, for example, two Dalit representatives were nominated to the Talhan shrine's management board, in an effort to defuse tension. Funds have been received for development, but the Dalits still feel sidelined. Amarjit Singh, one of the two Dalit representatives, recently noted that Jat members on the board continued to ignore Dalit demands for a share of the pie. "For instance," he said, "I had requested them to arrange for the repair of some faulty streetlights in a Dalit area and the removal of garbage from near the village pond, but this was not done."

The events in Hasanpur show that the State government may finally be waking up to the need to take sides - but whether this realisation has dawned early enough to assuage Dalit anger remains to be seen.

© Copyright 2000 - 2003 The Hindu

2:03 PM

Associated Press

Pope Criticizes Hindu Caste System Christian leaders in India have hailed Pope John Paul II's recent critique of the Hindu caste system.

In a meeting at the Vatican, John Paul told Roman Catholic bishops from India to reject divisions based on caste. "At all times, you must continue to make certain that special attention is given to those belonging to the lowest castes, especially the Dalits," he said.

Dalits are Hindus at the bottom of the Indian caste structure and have been converting to Christianity in large numbers.

"Customs that reinforce caste division should be sensitively reformed so they may become an expression of the solidarity of the whole Christian community," the pope said.

Bishop A.M. Chinnappa, chairman of the bishops conference's panel that deals with castes, said the church would focus its energies on bringing "justice to lower caste members who have been suffering for generations."

The conference has acknowledged caste-based practices are still found in the church. Of the 164 bishops in India, seven are Dalits. In some regions, caste segregation is still practiced in worship.

1:39 PM

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