"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 14, 2005
Defence personnel not touching bodies, charge rights groups:
12 January 2005
Accusing defence personnel and government functionaries in Tsunami-hit areas of practising "untouchability", civil rights groups today said only safai karmacharis were clearing the bodies and Dalits were being discriminated against in relief distribution. Over 8,000 safai karmacharis had been brought in from neighbouring districts of Nagapattinam and Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu to clear the decomposing bodies as Army, Navy and police personnel were not going near them,
General Secretary of the 'Safai Karmachari Andolan' Bezwada Wilson told reporters here. "Even in clearing of bodies, there is untouchability," he alleged. Shabnam Hashmi of human rights body 'Act Now' for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD) said, "If you are on relief duty, whether you are from the government, Army or Navy, you cannot say we will not touch the bodies."
"Volunteers from several local bodies are helping in clearing the bodies, but Army and Navy personnel are not doing it. Why is the government not condemning this," she asked. When contacted, officials at the Integrated Defence Service, which is coordinating the relief operations, declined to comment. N Paul Divakar of National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights claimed that relief was not reaching Dalit communities and unidentified bodies were being buried next to their houses. PTI
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Thursday, January 13, 2005
Impervious to tsunami
EDITORIALTIMES NEWS NETWORK
JANUARY 13, 2005
The way in which the Meenavars of Nagapattinam — Tamil Nadu’s powerful fisher-folk community — have invoked caste to exclude Dalits and other depressed communities from post-tsunami rehabilitation operations, runs counter to every canon of democracy. The administration’s tacit approval of such casteist discrimination is even more shameful. Condemned, such acts must be.
However, moral outrage should not obfuscate the real problem. That caste- and community-based patronage hinders delivery is an old story. Survival of the caste system signals failure of social development. A process of social transformation that leads to the germination of a functional democracy should be the principal feature of such development. Legislative measures to institutionalise delivery of education, healthcare and other social infrastructure would mean little if the idea of social transformation does not constitute its basis. A society that is governed by primitive social structures needs a new politics that can energise democracy if it has to become civil in the real sense of the word.
To expect the state to do everything in that respect, however, wouldn’t make sense. Ultimately, it’s up to the members of local communities to realise how retrograde social formations prevent them from accessing the fruits of modernity. The state, however, can do its bit to encourage the dawning of such consciousness.
In Nagapattinam, for instance, engendering cooperative action through relief work would have been a step towards altering the prevailing configurations of power. Ultimately, however, only economic development, which drives people away from traditional occupations into a variety of new ones and, over a couple of generations, break the correlation between caste and occupation, can prepare the material basis for eroding caste. With 72% of Indians still living in villages, after five decades of planned development, it is easy to conclude that development cannot alter caste. That is too facile, however. The bulk of our people still are engaged in pre-modern occupations. Swift, broadbased growth alone can alter the state of affairs.
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Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Natural Disasters May Yet Flush Out Caste Feelings
Inter Press Service News Agency
10 January 2005
India's rigid social divisions based on caste may have taken a knock as a result of intervention by voluntary agencies involved in relief work in areas hit by the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami which left over 10,000 dead and at least 600,000 either homeless or destitute on the coast of southern Tamil Nadu state.
''Relief agencies, particularly those that come in from outside the disaster area, have the advantage in that they can provide relief, neutrality and impartially,'' Bijoy Basant Patro spokesperson for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which is playing a lead role in the relief work in south and south-east Asia, told IPS. Officials at the UNICEF (United Nations Fund for Children) and other aid agencies now on the job in Tamil Nadu also said they did not discriminate between one group and another while carrying out relief work and distributing aid. ''We follow well laid down standards in making vulnerability assessments and if these assessments indicate that the Dalits (people at the bottom of the Hindu social hierarchy) in a particular area are most in need then we direct relief efforts to them,'' Patro said.
Patro added that experience in India has shown that Dalits are almost invariably the most vulnerable people during a natural disaster and also the least likely to be able to access aid when it becomes available -- especially through government agencies. But the Red Cross spokesperson also said that natural disasters offered a rare opportunity to improve the lot of Dalits and other marginalised people simply because that is about the only time their discrimination gets any attention at all.
Following the tsunami disaster in Tamil Nadu, newspapers and television channels were full of stories of how Dalits were being denied aid supplies and forced out of relief camps by higher caste groups who refuse to dine with them or live under the same roof even if it is just a tin sheet. The influential 'Indian Express' newspaper carried a front page lead story on Jan. 7 which said: ''There is something even an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale and a tsunami that kills over 100,000 people cannot crack - the walls between caste.'' The daily reported that in the relief camps of the port town of Nagapattinam, one of the worst hit centers, Dalits were not being allowed to drink water from tanks put up by UNICEF. In this area alone, over 5,925 people lost their lives and entire settlements were leveled to the ground when the killer waves struck. In the tsunami-hit areas, food and cash distributions normally take place in Hindu temples - often the only structures still standing, in the midst of a flattened landscape, because they are often built from solid granite. But news reports indicate Dalits are left out in these distributions due to the cruel fact that as 'untouchables' they are not allowed to enter the halls of worship.
These news reports have made the central government in New Delhi sit up and take note. On Sunday Cabinet Secretary B.K. Chaturvedi said the concerned state governments were being asked to ensure that Dalits and other weaker sections of society were not deprived while providing emergency relief and other essential aid.
Curiously it fell upon the Dalits to carry out much of the initial work in the immediate aftermath of the disaster such as carrying away dead bodies and disposing animal carcasses because upper caste people consider such work taboo and socially degrading. Ironically, after performing such tasks for a society struck by a colossal disaster the Dalits are shunned because the upper castes consider them as having done ''polluting'' work. Seldom is gratitude expressed to these people for having prevented an epidemic in the aftermath of the tsunami.
[...] As far as tsunami relief work goes, the National Conference of Dalit Organisations (NACDOR), which represents 300 Dalit bodies across India, has demanded that its representatives be present wherever relief and rehabilitation is taking place. ''This is the only way that we can ensure that Dalits get a fair share because most voluntary agencies are run by upper caste people who, in general, lack sensitivity towards Dalit issues and are not serious about getting relief to them,'' Ashok Bharti, national coordinator of NACDOR, told IPS. ''They want us to clear out their dead bodies and feces but when it comes to accepting relief they want to ensure that we are nowhere around simply because they cannot stomach the idea of sharing anything with us,'' Bharti said.
Leaders like Bharti are increasingly banking on support from international agencies especially after the Dalit issue received worldwide attention for the first time during the U.N. Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban in September 2002. ''We see the tsunami as one more opportunity to highlight the severe discrimination against Dalits, which the government is reluctant to acknowledge before the international community,'' said Bharti recalling that this group of Indians also faced a similar situation during the devastating earthquake that hit Gujarat in January 2001 and other recent natural disasters. (END/2005)
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Monday, January 10, 2005
Low caste survivors denied food and water
By Rahul Bedi in New Delhi
Thousands of low caste Indian "untouchables" are being denied food, water and shelter by higher castes in camps for tsunami survivors.
Around 5,000 Dalits from the worst hit area south of Madras have been kept from aid agency water tanks and pushed to the back of long food queues.
Fishermen from the higher Meenavar caste also turned the Dalits, who they employed as labourers before the tsunami, out of shelters, gave them leftovers to eat and prevented them from using lavatories.
At one camp outside Nagapattinam, the Dalits were accused of polluting drinking water supplied by the United Nations and were told at another that biscuits being handed out were not for them. When the Dalits asked for food packages and clothes, they were pushed away and forced to sleep on a nearby road because upper caste women said they did not "feel safe" with them around.
"There are no toilets here and the upper castes even prevent us from using the area which serves others as an open toilet," said V Vanith, a Dalit teenager.
An aid worker, Miss R Indirani, said: "Since the Dalits are not getting sufficient food and water, we have started separate kitchens. We are also converting separate camps."
Link to the full article
Low-Caste Tsunami Victims Denied Aid
In India, low-caste people denied food, water, toilet facilities in relief camps, say humanitarian aid workers.
Deutsche Presse-AgenturJanuary 7, 2005
New Delhi (DPA) - The killer tsunamis of December 26 washed away everything that people in southeastern coastal India held precious, but failed to obliterate deeply-divisive social caste lines.
This rigid, inherited social hierarchy determines which victims are entitled to relief supplies and an opportunity to rebuild their lives.
The dalits or "broken people" of southern Tamil Nadu state are doubly damned. They were battered by the tidal waves, and those who survived are being denied food, water, toilet facilities and space to recover in overcrowded relief camps, aid workers said Friday.
Stories of discrimination have poured out of several relief camps in Tamil Nadu, India's worst-affected state, which reported 7,932 of the country's 9,691 reported deaths.
More than 6,000 people died in Tamil Nadu's Nagapattinam district, where dalits were reportedly thrown out of relief camps and forced to eat stale food.
"The dalits are being discriminated against by the fishermen. In many relief camps the government is not given them aid, saying the dalits have not been affected by the tsunamis," said Ravi Chandran of Village Development Society (VDS), a non-government organisation.
Chandran worked in Nagapattinam, where more than 91,000 people live in 96 relief camps, and Cuddalore district, where more than 24,000 people are crowded into 38 camps. He said dalits formed 10 per cent of the affected population.
"We sent a petition two days back to the police and state government to speed up aid for the dalits because they were not receiving anything. There has been no response," Chandran told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa in a telephone interview from Nagapattinam.
"What is worse is that both the police and the affected fishermen are not allowing our people to deliver food and water to the dalits. About four days back police severely beat up and then arrested a dalit for taking rice from an aid agency. They even demolished what was left of his house," Chandran claimed.
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Discrimination survives disaster
8 January 2005
By Jay Shankar
INDIA’S untouchables, reeling from the tsunami disaster, are being forced out of relief camps by higher caste survivors and being denied aid supplies, activists charged yesterday. Kuppuswamy Ramachandran, 32, a Dalit, or untouchable, in India’s rigid caste hierarchy, said he and his family were told to leave a relief camp in worst-hit Nagapattinam district where 50 more families were housed. “The higher caste fishing community did not allow us to sleep in a marriage hall where they are put up because we belong to the lowest caste,” he said. “After three days we were moved out to a school but now the school is going to reopen within three days and the teachers drove us out.” More than 6,000 people died when tsunamis struck this southern Indian coastal district on December 26 and activists said that included 81 Dalits, who were daily wage earners working in agricultural lands which are now destroyed.
At Keshvanpalayam, the Dalits had only flattened homes to show while survivors elsewhere enjoyed relief supplies such as food, medicines, sleeping mats and kerosene. No aid has flowed into the village which houses 83 Dalit families more than 30 kilometres from Nagapattinam town. S Karuppiah, field co-ordinator with the Human Rights Forum for Dalit Liberation, said in some of the villages the dead bodies of untouchables were removed with reluctance. “The Dalit villages are in most places proving to be the preferred choice of the fishing community to bury the dead. If the Dalits ask for relief materials the government says they can only give the leftovers,” Mr Karuppiah said. “The government is turning a blind eye,” he said. The government denied the allegations and said it was providing relief to every tsunami-affected family. “There is no intention of closing down any camps and we are providing relief to each and every family. We will provide temporary shelters as these relief camps are getting overcrowded,” said spokesperson Veerashanmugha Moni.
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