. . . . . . "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

Tuesday, February 01, 2005  
Caste woman’s marriage to Dalit no ticket for poll quota

The Tribune
January 31 2005

The Supreme Court in a significant judgement has ruled that a forward caste woman has no right to contest election from a constituency reserved for backward classes merely by marrying a person from these communities, saying this would defeat the very purpose of Article 332 providing electoral reservation for people belonging to the SC and ST candidates.

“We have difficulty in accepting the position that a non-tribal who marries a tribal could claim to contest a seat reserved for tribals. Article 332 of the Constitution speaks of reservation of seats for STs in legislature. The object is clearly to give representation in the legislature to ST candidates, considered to be deserving of a special protection,” a Bench of Chief Justice R.C. Lahoti, Mr Justice G P Mathur and Mr Justice P.K. Balasubramanyan said.

“To permit a non-tribal under the cover of marriage to contest such a seat would tend to defeat the very object of such reservation,” the court ruled. The judgement came on an election appeal by a Telgu Desam Party’s former woman MLA, Sobha Hymavathi Devi, whose election to the Andhra Pradesh Assembly in 1999 was set aside by the A P High Court on the same ground.
In her petition before the High Court as well as the apex court, she had gone to the extent of claiming the birth of her and her five siblings as a result of “illicit” relation between her mother, a ST woman and her father belonging to a forward caste. This, she had made a ground to claim the representation benefit as a ST candidate contending that she had inherited her mother’s caste rather than that of her father’s because her parents were not legally married.

The Bench took serious note of politicians stooping so low to get elected by hook or crook, saying “we wish to express our dismay at the extent to which a person could go to sustain her seat in the legislature. The appellant (Sobha) brands her five siblings and herself as illegitimate and her mother a concubine.”

While recognising that a woman on marrying a person of a particular caste in our “rigidly” followed caste system becomes a member of the family of the husband, but it was important that the community must grant her right to represent it in the legislature.

link to the article

7:49 AM

Monday, January 31, 2005  
Under the Same Sun


[Zeynep Toufe runs the blog Under the Same Sun and is at the World Social Forum 2005 in Porto Alegre. This was taken from her blog.]

Just when I was beginning to wonder if all that jet fuel was worth coming to these large meetings, I stumbled onto one of those events that can only be experienced in person -- one that is so powerful that it's hard to put into words, but I will try.
I attended a panel organized by the Dalit, the so-called untouchable castes, of India. It's very hot here and one is physically thirsty, which is hard to ignore since it's so physical a need. I think, similarly, many of us in rich countries lead lives that leave one's soul feeling thirsty -- but unlike physical thirst, you can learn to ignore it until someone gives you a cool, clear glass of "water" drawn from a different kind of well. Then you remember.

As I briefly mentioned in the earlier post, such big meetings are a very mixed bag. No real interaction is possible in the big panels. They are crucial, especially for having a sense of what many global movements, at least the portion that comes to these events, are thinking about. Plus, I now have a lot of info about a lot of important info on upcoming events and campaigns. In that sense, I have a lot of useful contacts that I will put to good use over the next year. Still, it all leaves one wondering if one would miss anything if all the names, contact info and talks were simply transcribed and posted online.

So, yesterday afternoon, tired, hot, severely underslept, I stopped by a panel entitled "Land Rights" -- it had a little subtitle which mentioned the "Dalits," commonly known as the "untouchable castes" of India. I normally roam through many panels in any given session: I listen a bit, pick up literature and move on -- there are so many simultaneous events and I want to make the best use of my time here. I have some superficial knowledge of the situation of the Dalits, and I know many South Asians -- mostly from the educated diaspora, of course. Plus, like all people that ever go to a large city, I interact with many South Asian cab drivers, food stall workers, convenience store clerks, etc. So, I have an image in my mind.

I stepped into the tent and the first thing that struck me was the people. I just sat down and thought, wow, I have never met any of these people. I have never encountered them. Not as cab drivers, not as university professors. There were about a few dozen of them mingling around and they were all black. Actual black. Black as in an ebony color rather than the usual range of browns that I associate with South Asians. It was very striking.

Paul Divakar, of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights moderated the panel and gave the first talk. It's really the difference between "knowing" something in the abstract and sitting there, looking at a human being and feeling in your heart that this is the ugly truth of this world. Of course I knew the dalits were discriminated against. Still, I felt crushed by the weight of just listening to him explain how they were thought of as the "polluted people," how they were always denied land so that they would be forced to be semi-slaves to the landlords and the dominant castes, how they were forced into occupations considered unclean by the others such as collecting the dead, cleaning up human waste, skinning cows and garbage work in general, how they were to this day beaten up, killed, tortured and raped if they dared to claim a bit of the rights that were accorded to them on paper, how everything was arranged to continue this situation in perpetuity... It was hard listening to it; these people lived it. And you knew it was true. It's just one of those things; you just know this person is telling you a truth.

And the difference between this panel and the the panels by experts, NGOs, even activists from richer countries came up very quickly. At appropriate times, Paul broke into slogans, enthusiastically joined by the Dalit in the crowd. It was one of the most sincere, the least contrived instances I have even encountered of people shouting slogans. I think I have become jaded a bit with all the big demonstrations I have attended in the U.S. I keep feeling almost bored in some of them. I mean, we yell stuff but we don't really mean it. We're not really going to try to stop the Bush administration from waging war. Not really. We will finish the rally and all go home. And all the marchers know this. So does the administration. I I feel fake yelling "No Blood for Oil," or "No War." There will be blood for oil and there will be war because we will allow it. All we are going to do is yell and then go home and do very little else.

So, the Dalits breaking into slogans really shook me because it was like being handed a cup of actual homemade soup after eating a lot of fake, highly-processed versions that come in cans or plastic from supermarkets. All of a sudden, you think, ah, this is what it was meant to be. This is what a slogan is. This is what it sounds like. This is how it is shouted. This is how it is joined. That was processed cheese.

After Paul, a dalit woman from Nari Gunjan, Sudha Varghese, took the floor. Paul introduced her by saying don't be fooled by her size, she fights a good fight -- physically too. She quietly told of struggles of the Musahar community, which apparently means those who catch and eat rats. (This was something I encountered in Chiapas villages: some of the Mayan ethnic groups look down upon the Tojolobal, another ethnic Mayan group because they believe them to be rat-eaters.) Instead of denying that they eat rats, something the Tojolobal will vehemently deny, she explained what the name of her group meant and simply said, yes, I have shared that tasty meal with members of my community. And went on to explain how, after many years of struggle, they had managed to have a little bit of access to a small section of irrigated land, how that had angered the nearby landlords, and how the landlords had managed to obtain eviction orders for the Dalit. In response, the women of the community put their bodies between the bulldozers and their huts whenever the bulldozers showed up and refused to move. So far, through great unity and a lot of fighting, she says, they have managed to stay put for the last two years.

She told of other instances where a woman in the community was badly beaten up for daring to ask for a bit more in wages. The woman had had the courage to bring charges against her high-caste abuser. Alas, all her family was threatened so badly that she withdrew the charges -- to no avail. Her two daughters were raped and she was told that her husband was going to be killed too. The family fled, escaping barely with their lives. She talked about how common such atrocities are, how there are great laws on the books that are never implemented, and how they barely cling to survival by banding together.

I felt the audience was shell-shocked after Sudha's talk. You get this sense in your heart that every word is true and you don't know what to say or do. Cry? Apologize? Run? After her talk, the translation system needed fiddling so there was a break at which point ... three drummers and a singer appeared from the audience, took the microphone and broke into a song! It was like those stereotypical Indian movies! And all the Dalits joined in and all of a sudden we found ourselves in the midst of a mini-festival. I remember thinking that this was the most uncynical space I have been in a very long time -- and it comes from people who face such massive injustice that one could hardly blame them if they lost all hope, and hated the world that mistreats them so horrifically. Often, one hears people talk of apathy and cynicism as resulting from lack of success. How can that be if these people who have mountains to move, and faced such crushing oppression for thousands of years, do not display a shred of apathy? You feel it sitting there, listening: they are fighting hard, they are struggling against it all with every ounce of their being. They're unfazed. They aren't "moving to Canada," as it were.

Many speakers talked about how "globalization" made things much worse for them. I want to write some more about that at some point, the numbers were really striking. It's clear that the neo-liberal machine is decimating communities like these that were marginally surviving to begin with. Some speakers spoke of how this neo-liberal "advanced capitalism" was strengthening feudal institutions like the caste system. They had solidarity speakers who came from other discriminated people like the plantation workers in Sri Lanka and the Quilombola people in Brazil, descendents of escaped slave communities. They talked about the Buraku community in Japan who faces similar discrimination.

As the speakers were revolving, I noticed a white man, neatly-dressed and clean-shaven, sitting among those waiting to speak. He had this "I stay in an expensive hotel paid by my big NGO" look on him. He was introduced as working at the U.N., in Geneva, for the Lutheran World Federation. I braced for the semi-boring NGOspeak that I had heard so much of the last few days. Hah. He got up, took the microphone and promptly shouted "Jai Bhim!" -- and the dalits joined him with enthusiasm. It was the most unexpected thing coming from a person who looked like he did: I thought, wow, he has gone native! And who could blame him! I was reminded of that scene in Dances With Wolves when "Lt. John Dunbar," captured by the army after having spent a long time among the Sioux, suddenly refuses to speak English and keeps repeating "My Name is Dances With Wolves; I'm a Sioux" as the soldiers beat him up. (I later learned Jai Bhim means "Long live Bhim!" and "honours Bhim Rao Ambedkar, a political leader from the independence era who introduced an affirmative-action programme for Dalits in the Indian constitution.") He sat down after a short speech interrupted by many slogans, initiated by him or the Dalit...

Paul Divakar closed the panel by talking about a few things that had impressed him in Brazil. One, he said, was driving along the highway and seeing how much of the land had fences, meaning people had ownership of that land. His people, he said, longed for that. That bit of land which would give them the dignity, would free them from being at the mercy of the dominated castes. I had never thought of looking at fences with a longing. I normally think of fences as a negative thing. But I understood what he was saying. It is their dispossession that reduces their lives to semi-slavery. In fact, many of the Dalit speakers reiterated this point: without land, we will not be treated as human beings of any worth. He talked about meeting with the landless peasants in Brazil and finding how common their feelings were. Second, he said, he noticed that the garbage carts weren't mechanized. He said he saw a garbage worker pulling along a huge cart. Why, he asked, does a society which has cars, trucks and so much mechanization will let a man pull garbage like that? It was very appropriate that he, coming from a people forced into garbage cleaning, would notice that while we probably all see the same thing without the appropriate heavy heart. He also talked about an eight-story building the homeless had occupied at the center of Porto Allegre during the WSF to register their protest with the current government. His group went there and put a Dalit flag on the third floor. That's the Dalit, he said: the landless, the homeless, the dispossessed.

Towards the end, Paul also made a point of talking about the proposal forms that the WSF has been distributing. I had looked at the forms and rolled my eyes. The WSF is at once an open space, but also an institution a tightly controlled by a few, powerful groups which have long resisted calls from many people that the WSF turn partially into a body that can adopt resolutions and declarations. We come, we talk, we go. We don't even have a declaration that says we oppose the war on Iraq! There is a lot of dissatisfaction with this state of affairs. So, these "proposals" on single sheets of paper are to be placed onto the "murals of proposals" in various tents and it's unclear what will happen to the tens of thousands of papers that will be filled in this manner. It really feels like a symbolic measure with no teeth to shut up the critics. By now Paul had dropped Dalit issues and was urging people to fill out these proposals. "If we don't participate, our voices will have no chance" he said, basically.

Once again, it was so uncynical that I didn't know what to feel. Well, first and foremost ,of course, he's right. I should write down a proposal or two. Maybe they won't even be read. Maybe they will receive a hundred thousand pieces of paper that say we want to be able to make collective declarations. Who knows? But the right attitude is to participate fully and forcefully, whatever the structure.

So, as they opened up the panel to questions and comments, I got up and thanked them and told them how I was on the verge of being overwhelmed --and almost bored-- with all the panels, and the long speeches, and the meetings. That I was deeply grateful for being subjected to their infectious determination. I urged them to continue to travel in person to such meetings. I tried to explain what a privilege it felt like to be in their presence. Afterwards couple of them pulled me aside and interviewed me on tape on this topic, I suspect to explain to their members back at home why all this travel is not a waste of their few resources. They did explain that, of course, cost was a real issue for them but they have so far found that it is worth it and that they try to bring as many people as they can afford. I got my very own "Dalit Rights" black armband, which I'm wearing along with the "Global Call to Action Against Poverty" white band as I type this, and we exchanged email addresses, handshakes and hugs.
Then, of course, they sent us off with a song.

Link to the article

9:12 AM

Expectations From Dalit Commission

The Rising Nepal
31 January 2005

By Prem N. Kakkar

THE National Dalit Commission has finally activated after remaining dormant for almost ten months. Bhagat Bishwasi has been nominated to head the commission. This is a step that must be welcomed as the Commission had become rudderless having been only a name in recent times. It must be believed that now the commission will focus on the areas that matter to the Dalit group.


The formation of the Dalit Commission was with the intention that it would be able to suggest ways and means to address the problems being faced by the Dalits. At the same time its formation was hailed because of its possible results. It was felt that the Commission consisting of the Dalits themselves would be active to do the works deemed essential for uplifting their group. However, after so many years not much has been achieved except the controversies regarding it. Though there are mixed reactions regarding the present restructuring of the Commision, it must taken as a step to revive its potential of contributing in raising the status of the Dalits in conformity to the Constitution.

The uplift of the Dalits is not only an issue to be looked into by the Commission but brainstorming has also to be done by the civil society and the human rights activists besides the government itself. Despite the government’s efforts and the constitutional provisions, for the Dalits a life of dignity and the right to lead a life as any other Nepali citizen has not materialized to the extent desired. This was echoed during the celebration of 56th International Human Rights Day last month. The Dalits, as per the constitutional provisions, should be able to enjoy all the rights that have been guaranteed. But this has proved elusive for them even today. There are regular news reports regarding their discrimination and ill treatment by people from the other strata of the society. There are news reports of Dalits not being allowed to enter temples and if they do they are beaten up or undergo other severe punishment. This is quite unnerving for the government, human rights activists, the civil society, social workers and others who have been working relentlessly for the establishment of the Dalits’ rights in practice. Their efforts to ensure the Dalits rights are praiseworthy but there is still a long way to go for hundred per cent result.

The barbaric practice of discrimination against Dalits continues with the dalits being rated as second class citizens. This shows that despite the laws of the land the upper class people are practicing the age traditions that discriminates between human beings. For their inability to find strong supports they are also exploited besides being secluded for the mainstream society. This is a situation where the government’s efforts alone are not enough, the support form everyone is needed. The government’s concern for their welfare led to the formation of the Commission over three years ago, but among other reasons the past members could not project themselves as seriously involved in the task that they were nominated for. In the meanwhile three precious years have been waste during which time many measures could have been devised and implemented for the welfare of the group. It seemed like a ritual fulfilled with the output desired remaining unfulfilled. Now that the Commission has found its full form, the need for it to become actively concerned with the issues facing the Dalits ought to be reviewed and necessary steps formulated.

Any commission is formed with the intention of giving a full attention to the concerned issues and problems and arrive at relevant solutions. A ritualistic approach must give way to a result-oriented one. Responsibility The members of the Commission must not be elated by being appointed to the commission but work to identifying the Dalits’ problems and sit down to see how they can be solved. A very great responsibility is on their shoulders and they must be able to justify it. The perks of being in the commission must not deviate them from their duties to see the welfare the people belonging to their own fraternity.

Read the full article

8:20 AM

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