"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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Friday, January 07, 2005
Tsunami can’t wash this away: hatred for Dalits
January 07, 2005
In Ground Zero, Dalits thrown out of relief camps, cut out of food, water supplies, toilets, NGOs say they will start separate facilities
There's something even an earthquake measuring 9 on the Richter scale and a tsunami that kills over 1 lakh people can’t crack: the walls between caste.
That’s why at Ground Zero in Nagapattinam, Murugeshan and his family of four have been living on the streets in Nambiarnagar. That’s why like 31 other families, they have been thrown out of relief camps. That’s why they are hounded out of schools they have sneaked into, they are pushed to the rear of food and water lines, given leftovers, not allowed to use toilets or even drink water provided by a UN agency. That’s why some NGOs are setting up separate facilities for them. Because they are all Dalits.
They are survivors from 63 damaged villages—30 of them flattened—all marooned in their own islands, facing the brunt of a majority of fishermen who are from the Meenavar community—listed in official records as Most Backward Class (MBC)—for whom Dalits are still untouchable.
The Indian Express toured the camps to find an old story of caste hatred being replayed in camp after camp:
• In the GVR Marriage Hall Relief Camp, Dalits cannot drink water from tanks put up by UNICEF. The Meenavars say they ‘‘pollute’’ the water.
• In the Nallukadai Street Relief Camp, a Meenavar Thalaivar, or leader, grabbed all cartons of glucose biscuits delivered by a Coimbatore NGO. The Dalits were told: these are not for you.
• At Puttur Relief Camp, the Meenavars have hoarded family relief kits, rice packets, new clothes and other relief material. When the Dalits asked for some, they paid a heavy price—they had to spend the night on the road.
• At the Neelayadatchi Temple Camp, Dalits are not allowed inside the temple, especially when rice and cash doles are being handed out.
• Dalits from three villages taking shelter at Ganapati cinema hall in Tharambagadi are thrown out every night because the Meenavar fisherwomen say they did not ‘‘feel safe’’ falling sleep with Dalits around.
• So 32 ostracised Dalit families took shelter in the GRM girls’ school in Thanjavur. But four days ago, even the school asked them to vacate saying it was due to re-open.
Those doing the discriminating brush all this aside. Says Chellayya, a Meenavar fisherman at a Tharambagadi camp: ‘‘These Dalits have been playing mischief, going back to the villages and looting houses. That’s why we don’t want them around here.’’
To which Dalit activist K Darpaya says: ‘‘What’s left in the houses for Dalits to take? And where will they keep the loot even if we assume they have taken something? In the relief camps? On the road side?’’
There’s an irony here. For, the district administration and relief agencies have to depend on the strong network of Meenavar fishermen to disburse aid and relief. But so rampant has the discrimination become that relief in-charge for Nagapattinam district Shantasheela Nayar, Secretary, Rural Development, is deputing District Adi Dravidar Welfare Officers to relief camps.
‘‘They will look into the problem and report back on what can be done to put an end to this. We certainly do not discriminate but if the fishermen themselves are doing it because of their local status, what can the government do?’’ says Nayar.
Talk to some of the victims and instead of bitterness and anger, there is grief and helplessness.
‘‘In Nagapattinam, three relief camps we went to denied us shelter saying they had no space. At the Nataraja Damayanti high school, the watchman refused to let us in,’’ says Murugeshan.
At first, the families did not understand why but as door after door slammed in their faces, it became clearer. They approached their local municipal councillor K Tilagar. ‘‘He assured us we would be given shelter soon but he disappeared,’’ says another survivor Anjamma.
In the neighbouring GVR camp, Dalit fishermen said they are being nudged out of relief and compensation queues. ‘‘We are inside the camp but kept in the far corner. Whenever officials and trucks come to give food, we are left out because nobody allows us to get near the trucks. Some men form a ring around us and prevent us from moving ahead in the queue,’’ says Saravanan, a Dalit survivor.
‘‘The Meenavars are more privileged as they get to sleep inside the rooms and are first to receive food and water. We have to sleep outside in the verandahs or in the open ground,’’ says Jivanana.
Kesavan, a Dalit of Nambiarnagar, says he was prevented from drinking water from a plastic tank put up in the hamlet on Monday. ‘‘We are forced to bring water in plastic cans from outside the village. The Collector’s office has put up the tank here and provides clean water but it is not for us,’’ he says.
V Vanitha, a Class X Dalit student, says adolescent girls are prevented from using toilet areas at Tharambagadi. ‘‘Small children have no problem but it is an ordeal for us. There are no toilets here and they prevent us from going to the area which serves as an open toilet,’’ she says.
Says activist Darpaya: ‘‘Dalits are not allowed to drink water from tanks put up by UNICEF. Even in relief camps, Meenavars don’t want to sit with Dalits and have food. Some of them manage to get rice but other relief items coming in like biscuit packets, milk powder and family household kits are denied to Dalits.’’
Says M Jayanthi, a coordinator of South Indian Fishworkers Society (SIFS): ‘‘Dalits are facing discrimination in all relief camps where they are present. But society does not want to raise the issue as it would complicate things further. Without making it public, we are opening separate facilities for Dalits exclusively,’’ she says.
Sevai, an NGO-based in Karaikal, Pondicherry, 20 kms from Nagapattinam, is the first organisation to address the issue.
Coordinator R Indrani says: ‘‘Since Dalits are not receiving sufficient food and water, we have started cooking for them in separate kitchens. They come from wherever they are taking shelter and we provide them whatever they want. We are also considering separate camps for them.’’
Several NGOs which noticed the problem raised the issue during their meeting with District Collector M Veerashanmugha Moni. ‘‘But no one is willing to take up the matter at the field level as this could complicate things. We don’t want friction between the two castes by trying to address it during this crisis,’’ says the team leader of NGO Accord, which is working among Dalits.
link to the article
Thursday, January 06, 2005
PSHRC orders probe by ADGP in Dalit youths case
4 January 2005
The Punjab State Human Rights Commission today ordered Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Crime, to probe into allegations by three Dalit youths of Ferozepur district that they were forced to drink urine.
Adjourning the matter to February 8, the Commission directed the ADGP to submit his report three days before the next date."ADGP (Crime) would ensure through one of its responsible officer that no harassment is caused to the complainants," the Commission said. The delegation of Punjab unit of the BJP led by General Secretary of the state unit, Vijay Sampla, met the PSHRC Chairman and presented the three youths before him. The delegation demanded action in the case.The boys alleged that they were being harassed and tortured following a tussle with some local boys and as part of the torture were "forced to drink urine and liquor." PTI
Read the full story
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
Dalits made to drink urine
The Indian Express
4 January 2005
Upper-caste landlords abuse 3 youths over cricket dispute
In a shocking incident, a fight over a cricket match between schoolboys escalated into a full-fledged caste war that led to three Dalit boys being forced to drink urine by upper-caste landlords in Ferozepur district.
Presenting the three ‘victims’ — Gurbax Singh (20), Bittu Singh (16) and Piara Singh (12) — at a press conference here today, state BJP leaders said the incident took place at Patrewal village near Abohar. All the victims belong to the Rai Sikh community.
Jagir Singh said it was during a cricket match that his son Nanak, a Std VIII student, picked up a fight with his upper-caste classmate, Amardip Singh. Nanak’s relatives visited Amardip’s residence, but were abused and forced to leave. ‘‘Amardip’s father, Gurdip Singh Jakhar, even threatened to teach us a lesson,’’ Jagir said.
‘‘A few days later (on November 27 last), a group of Jakhar landlords accosted our relatives who had come from the neighbouring Bulla village,’’ Jagir said, adding while his younger brother, Balwinder, managed to flee, three other boys — Gurbax, Bittu and Piara — were dragged to the residence of the sarpanch, Gurdas Singh, where the landlords urinated in their juttis (shoes) and forced them to drink it at gunpoint. Gurbax said: ‘‘Apni jutti vich peshab kar ke saanu pin nu kiha’’ (They urinated in their shoes and made us drink it).
Later, the boys were handed over to the police where they were kept in custody for eight days. When a former panchayat member, Malkiat Singh, went to meet the sarpanch to seek the boys’ release, he was asked to produce two relatives of Nanak Singh. Later, two uncles of Nanak, Balwinder Singh and Kulwant Singh, were kept in police custody for 11 and eight days, respectively. Sarpanch Gurdas Singh denied the incident, saying he was not in the village that day.
Link to the article
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
Body hunt left to the low caste
January 04, 2005
NAGAPATTINUM, India: They are the "untouchables", the lowest of the low in India's ancient caste system. No job is too dirty or too nasty.So, now they are the ones cleaning up the rotting corpses from last week's tsunami.
The vast majority of the 1000 or so men sweating away in the tropical heat to clear the poor south Indian fishing town of Nagapattinum, which bore the brunt of the giant wave, are lower-caste dalits from neighbouring villages.
Locals too afraid of disease and too sickened by the smell refuse to join the grim task of digging friends and neighbours out of the sand and debris. They just stand and watch the dalits work.
Although it has been a week since the tsunami hit, and the destruction was confined to a tiny strip by the beach and port, the devastation was so fierce that bodies -- located by the stench and flies -- are still being discovered daily.
"I am only doing what I would do for my own wife and child," says M. Mohan, a dalit municipal cleaner as he takes a break to wash off some of the grime of the day's work.
"It is our duty. If a dog is dead, or a person, we have to clean it up."
Mohan and other sanitation workers from neighbouring municipalities are working around the clock to clear Nagapattinum, for an extra 64c a day and a meal.
The smell of death still hangs heavily, mixing with the sea breeze and the almost refreshingly tart smell of the antiseptic lime powder that has turned some streets and paths white.
More than 5525 people -- close to 40 per cent of India's estimated 14,488 fatalities -- died along this small stretch of pure white beach, where the huts of poor fishermen were built down to the sand at the top of the beach.
Caste still plays a defining role in much of Indian society. More than 16 per cent of India's billion-plus people are dalits. Despite laws banning caste discrimination, they are still routinely abused, mistreated and even killed.
They do the jobs others will not: toilet cleaning, garbage collection, cow skinning.
For Mohan, illiterate, uneducated and low caste, the only way to get a government job and the security and pension that come with it, was as a municipal sanitation worker.
In the early hours of the tsunami disaster, he and his colleagues worked feverishly to clear the thousands of bodies without gloves, masks or even shoes in some cases.
Now, they are better equipped. But no mask ever stops the gagging smell of rotting human flesh, which becomes almost overpowering as the body is dug out, lodging deep in the back of the mouth. Each new body discovered is painstakingly prised free of the wet sand, torn palm thatch and debris, mostly by hand.
It is sweaty, backbreaking work. Shifting sand and rubble make just standing hard. It is done slowly, carefully and patiently with a delicate respect for the victim.
But there is no dignity.
Read the full article
Monday, January 03, 2005
13 parties issue white paper on untouchability
The Rising Nepal
1 January 2005
Thirteen political parties of the country [Nepal] have made collective commitment against untouchability and caste discrimination. A white paper issued Friday aims at celebrating 2005 as Elimination of Untouchability Year and the years 2005-2015 as Untouchability Elimination Decade.
The parties making the commitment are the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, NC-D, RPP, NSP, NWPP, Janamorcha Nepal, CPN-ML, NSP-Anandidevi , CPN-Marxist, Nepal Samata Party, Hariyali Nepal Party and the Nepal Dalit Sramik Morcha.
Speaking on the occasion were representatives of various organisations. The programme was presided over by Lancau Nepal and Human Rights and Environment Protection Nepal (HUREP). The programme was presided over by advocate Ratna Bahadur Bagchand.
Link to the story