. . . . . . "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

Friday, April 23, 2004  
22 April 2004
In Yemen, lowest of the low
by Marguerite Abadjian

Caste: At the bottom of the social and economic ladder are the Akhdam, street sweepers and beggars, held down by prejudice and despair.

SANA'A, Yemen - The walled shantytown near the Old City here makes a horrifying impression:

Houses made of refuse, families as large as 15 living in one room, children eating what appears to be dirt, pools of disease-laden water, piles of garbage and human waste buzzing with flies, the stench. The scene followed Aisha Sulaiman even after she was far away. She couldn't forget it.

It is a place where children have gotten high snorting crushed glass. They beg barefoot on the city streets - the soles of their feet callused and evidently immune to the blazing asphalt, fired by the incessant Yemeni sun.

Sulaiman, like many of the shantytown residents, belongs to the lowest social caste in Yemen, the Akhdam. The Arabic word Akhdam means servants, and for centuries they have felt discrimination and isolation from mainstream society.

Though conditions have improved somewhat over the past few years, many in mainstream society still stereotype them, considering them lowly, dirty, ill-mannered and immoral.

Even their plates are considered dirty. "Don't eat with the Akhdam because worms come out of their plates," the saying goes.

While there is no official record of the number of Akhdam in Yemen, they are considered to be the country's largest and poorest minority. Unlike all others in Yemen, they do not belong to a tribe. They are poorly educated and are not allowed to marry into higher social castes.

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7:47 AM

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