. . . . . . "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

Thursday, January 29, 2004  
Left untouched: Dalits in India and at the WSF
Independent Media Center
By Zofeen Ebrahim 18/01/2004

Vimla Valmiky may have helped usher in the birth of scores of babies from the higher-caste Hindus, but every time she gets "the same uneasy feeling that they cleanse up after me to purify not just the baby and the mother, but the whole house by sprinkling the holy water all over the place," she says.

A traditional birth attendant who studied till Grade 5, the vibes she gets are all too real in this country born as a 'democratic' and independent state. The more than 260 million Dalits who live in India today are the most marginalised among the lot of scheduled castes.

She is here with some 20 other women, all of different ages and occupations, among the 25,000 or so Dalits from 20 states that have come together to be heard at the World Social Forum where caste as an issue will be one of the five main themes for its panels and protests.

According to Xavier Joe Freddie from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, a non-Dalit himself: "For some the journey started on December 6, 2003, with the launch of the historical Dalit Swadhikar Rally, a national rally of Dalits for the assertion of rights."

The rally started from four different points of India -- Jammu, Kanyakumari, Kolkata and Delhi -- and ended in Mumbai on Jan. 16.

Fifty-something, fragile Sahu Devi, with her salt and pepper hair has ventured out of her village in Barmer, Rajasthan state for the very first time. "It took me four days to get here," she explains as she squats on the dusty ground, unperturbed by the heat or the dust.

On the other hand, young Khatu Devi, who especially dressed up for the occasion in a bright yellow sari, a set of red bangles and a bindi, is loud and articulate. "We have come here to tell others to what extent are we discriminated. We want our rights and we think this forum is a place we can tell the world about our woes."

She seems well briefed. She works in a mine and for the next 10 days or so that she's taken off she will not be earning 50 rupees a day or cooking or taking care of her children or fetching the water. "But the price is not too high considering what we are getting in the bargain -- bringing about a change in the mindset of the people," she says optimistically.

Ghumpat Lal Mehra, who has been listening carefully to the women, feels it's time to interject. He says these women face double discrimination. They are not only poor women but to add to their problems, they are Dalits. "So, on the one hand they are untouchables, but on the other, the thakurs (upper-caste people) can touch them for their pleasure."

But the most prize-winning comment comes from Mahesh Panpalia: "Tomorrow if a thakur offers me water from the same pitcher, I'd be so stunned I wouldn't know what to do." Ghumpat Lal Meher, a Dalit, goes on: "And God forbid if I take a sip, all hell will break."

They can't imagine the dawn of such a day, not in the near future at least. They tell me of how in the past, not so distant past, say a few months back, Dalits actually ventured to fill water from pond that have been off limits -- and had to bear the brunt of that act. "Kerosene oil was poured over them and they were roasted alive."

So while they clamour for jobs, better prospects, elimination of bonded labour and a respectable share in the crop that they grow on the land "which has been given to us by the government" but which their feudal lords refuse to accept, they feel that real liberation can come only "if we can bring about a change with regards to the untouchability issue".


2:12 PM

Wednesday, January 28, 2004  
On the move
The Guardian, January 28, 2004

The World Social Forum brings together the poorest people on the planet. Randeep Ramesh in Mumbai hears new calls for the environment and social justice

The ebullient crowd of 100,000 that filled the streets of Mumbai, formerly Bombay, last week, represented not just a triumph of people power but of ideas. Led by hundreds of red-robed Tibetan Buddhist monks, the global gathering of the radical left at the World Social Forum (WSF) paralysed traffic in India's financial centre.

Although much of the fervour generated was directed at old foes, such as Coca Cola and the International Monetary Fund, there were new targets also. Oxfam launched its campaign for a global treaty against the proliferation of small arms, which the charity describes as "the real weapons of mass destruction".

The shape of the anti-globalisation movement has been altered forever by holding the WSF away from its "home", Brazil. Held annually from 2001 to 2003 in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, the WSF organisers decided that a move abroad was needed to build wider support, acknowledging that it had long been dominated by Europeans and Latin Americans. At the last meeting, only 200 people from Asia attended. This year, more than half were from Asia, which contains nearly half of the world's poor.

India was chosen not only for the large number of its activist groups and its historic stance as an advocate of poor nations but because the country has been liberalising its economy for the past decade and has seen the arrival of a growing number of multinational firms.

In particular, the issue of caste was a central theme of the six-day event in Mumbai. "We are suffering an injustice that means people are killed because of who they are," says Dr Umarkant, a researcher with the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies.

"We are the untouchables, the unapproachables, the unseeables of Indian society. If a Brahmin were even to look at us we will defile him. Yet we were promised 55 years ago that things would change and little has changed. So it is time to internationalise the cause."

Nearly 140 million Indians belong to the lowest caste known as the Dalits, or "the oppressed". The New York-based Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 100,000 atrocities, including murder and rape, are committed each year against Dalits, who, in the view of Hindu traditionalists, should not be allowed even to sit on the same bus seats as higher-caste Indians.

Many of the activists in Mumbai were unaware that they were surrounded by millions who were born into a system of "invisible apartheid" and were furious once they learned about Hinduism's centuries-old social hierarchy. Links were made between groups discriminated against in Japan, Nigeria and Ecuador.

India's government is extremely sensitive to criticism on the issue of caste. Three years ago, it moved to delete the word from the agenda of the UN conference on discrimination in South Africa. But, says Umarkant, "We are going to start raising this issue at every opportunity to embarrass the Indian government into action."


2:14 PM

Tuesday, January 27, 2004  
SBS, The World News, January 19, 2004

Anti-globalisation activists who have gathered in Mumbai for the World Social Forum have rallied for an end to discrimination against minority groups, such as those born into the Dalit caste in India.

Dalits occupy the lowest rung in the Hindu caste system, and, despite affirmative action policies for the past few decades, they still find it hard to move up.

Dalits have marched through the streets of India's financial capital with their feet chained to symbolise oppression.

In Bihar, a poverty-stricken and lawless state in India's north, caste disputes have accounted for more than 5,000 deaths in the past decade.

Around 100,000 delegates from around the world have converged upon Mumbai, previously known as Bombay, for the annual forum, which this year includes seminars on racism, caste and labour.


10:20 AM

WSF ends with plea for peace

TIMES NEWS NETWORK, January 22, 2004

MUMBAI: A dozen flags and thousands of hands swayed to the strains of the world's most famous peace song sung by Brazilian star Gilberto Gil at the closing of the World Social Forum at Azad Maidan on Wednesday night.

The words of John Lennon's 'Imagine' may have been in English but at the end of four days of anti-war rhetoric, the multi-national audience had no trouble understanding the plea to "imagine a brotherhood of man".

The performances culminated a day of protests and speeches against the US occupation of Iraq , which has dominated the Forum this year. Former President K R Narayanan lauded the WSF's "struggle against imperialism and globalisation", and noted the historical significance of the venue.

A video message from Nobel peace laureate Nelson Mandela was also screened, in which the former South African president said the struggle against apartheid showed what people power could achieve if it is committed to overcoming "all kinds of discrimination — gender, race, caste, class or ethnicity".

"It has broadened the focus from only globalisation and war, to other issues like patriarchy, religious fundamentalism, casteism and discrimination," said organising committee member Minar Pimple. Events on children's rights and the disabled were included for the first time.


10:14 AM

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