. . . . . . "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, March 31, 2005  
Dalits discriminated in India: UN

31 March 2005

Ehtasham Khan in United Nations

A report submitted at the ongoing annual UN session on human rights in Geneva, Switzerland, raising concerns about the way the Dalits or low-caste Hindus are treated has irked India.
Presenting a report on adequate housing, United Nations Special Rapporteur Miloon Kothari said certain sections of the world's population faced multiple forms of discrimination.
He said: "The Dalits - a community facing historical caste-based discrimination and disenfranchisement in India, Nepal and to some extent Pakistan - suffer extreme human rights violations, including with regard to land and housing rights."

"A majority of Dalits are still prevented from owning land and are forced to live on the outskirts of villages, often on barren lands. While the struggle for Dalit land rights is growing, land reforms intended to benefit the rural poor and Dalits have been ineffective due to weak legislative provisions, inadequate implementation, and a lack of state commitment."

Vernor Munoz Villalobos, Special Rapporteur on right to education, expressed his concern regarding discrimination against Dalits in education.
In his next report, he said, he would deal with discrimination in education with regard to vulnerable groups such as the Dalits, who suffered from lack of education.
The discrepancies in educational opportunities did not respect the priorities provided by many governments in the realization of the right to education. Security in schools should also be considered as part of the human right for education, he said.

Reacting to the report, Indian representative Debarata Saha said the remark of Villalobos surprised India.
Saha said in India extraordinary measures have been taken to ensure that discrimination on the basis of caste was not allowed.
"There was discrimination, but this was positive discrimination, on the lines of affirmative action, with the aim of uplifting those who had suffered from historical discrimination," Saha said.

There was a possibility that the special rapporteur had in mind the issue of social practices of discrimination, which fell outside his mandate, as the right to education was the responsibility of the government, and this was not the same as social practices, Saha said.

"The special rapporteur should confine himself to his mandate, which covered rights of the individual with regards to education in the context of the state."
Several Dalit organisations from India and other parts of the world participating in the session have alleged discrimination.

Link to the article

7:28 AM

The Akhdam: Living through centuries of inequality

Yemen Observer, Vol.VIII Issue 11
19 March 2005

By Shane Bauer

The 45 meter street slum, set as asides as an akhdam quarter,carries the dubious distinction of being one of the poorest neighborhoods in Sana'a. SANA’A - The akhdam, as the black skinned, overwhelmingly street-cleaning Yemenis are called, have a similar reputation to the gypsies in Europe, in that they are outsiders in their native land. In the eyes of the public, they are perpetual foreigners and permanent “others,” but their history in the country they live in traces back too far to be recollected. And like the gypsies, they carry the negative stigma of being dirty, immoral and lazy.

But the comparison to the romantic gypsies may be too idealized, for their position may be more similar to the “untouchables” of India, a social class so despicably low that they are mostly shut out from the rest of society. They are almost always kept at arms length, and any chance of social integration is next to impossible. Their name, akhdam, is the plural of the Arabic term khadim, which literally means servant, a term far predating their common occupation nowadays as sanitary workers and garbage collectors, and is given to any Yemeni-born person with black skin, especially in the north of the country.


In Sana’a they are generally centered in the six shantytowns located around the city. One of the largest is located on 45 Meter Street, virtually in the shadows of the multi-million-dollar presidential mosque, and is made up of squat cinderblock buildings and shacks made from scrap materials. It sits on a waterway that fills up in the winter, turning the pathways into rivulets and dirt floors into muck, and the whole settlement into a breeding ground for disease.
According to Abud Ali Al-Bahkalin, a garbage collector and the aqil, or neighborhood administrator, at the 45 Meter Street slum, the government moved them there from their previous home on Khawlan Street in 1994.

Asked if he favored his way of life, he responded with astounded and sarcastic laughter. “No way! Who would prefer this life?” Then he added, “The current situation is really bad. Our salary is so weak that we can’t live like the rest of society. We make about 12,000 rials a month and we need 7,000 to 11,000 to pay rent. The rest comes from God.”

Al-Bahkalin, like many others, wished that he could find better work, but says that his chances are slim. “It’s impossible for blacks to work outside of the municipality. Where will we work? I applied for the Ministry of Youth and Sports, but my folder is still waiting.”

Many, however, don’t even have the advantage of marginal employment. According to a 1997 Oxfam study, well over fifty percent of akhdam heads-of-household are unemployed. In addition, most of the children don’t attend school largely due to financial reasons, namely the need of their parents to have them contribute to the financial support of the family. According to Al-Bahkalin, the ones that do go to school usually drop out because of excessive abuse and racial discrimination by the other children, while the ones that stay “study until middle school and quit.”
“What is the point of continuing if we can’t afford to put them through university?” he balked. “One book might cost 5,000 rials. That’s almost half my wage!”

Many attribute the status of the akhdam to centuries of illiteracy, age-old racial discrimination, and inherited class conditions. Their history, however, is mostly unknown and highly controversial, being based on a combination of educated guesses, cultural convictions, and ethnic and tribal affiliations.

The story of the “black Yemenis” has no mention in Yemen’s history books. It is largely believed that they were descendents of the period of Ethiopian influence in Yemen between the first and sixth centuries AD, predating the coming of Islam. When the Ethiopian general Abraha was eventually defeated, many Ethiopians were said to have stayed, soon to become slaves in South Arabia. After slavery was abolished with the birth of the Republic of Yemen, their social position remained relatively the same.

The issue of history remains a strong dispute among the akhdam themselves. While some agree with the Ethiopian theory, many firmly deny any African ancestry or existence of slavery and say that they are just as much Arabs as any Yemeni, tracing their origins to tribes in the Tihama or Hadhramaut.


Although the aqil of the Samsara, Ali Abdullah Said, stresses that they hold the same rights as any Yemenis and face no discrimination at an official level, he said that their economic situation is deteriorating. “Four or five years ago the government cancelled our status as official employees. Now we work from day to day with no guarantee that we will work tomorrow, and we have no workers rights,” he said. He went on to say that the price hikes that have happened successively over the past ten years have really hurt the akhdam, whose wages have remained unchanged.

Al-Bahkalin took a firmer stance, saying “We demand that the government improve our situation, including clean, livable housing, official worker’s status, schools in our neighborhoods, and water.” At the same time he expressed his lack of hope that their demands would be met and said that he wants international organizations to come and review their situation.
The amount of support from international non-governmental organizations for the akhdam is small, and indeed some akhdam refuse it altogether, saying that they must get themselves out of their own situation. Nevertheless, Australian-based CARE International has taken an interest in them. CARE has been running projects with the akhdam since June of 1998 including literacy classes, social and income-generating activities for women such as craft making, and community empowerment projects which consist of the setting up of local councils to deal with community affairs.

According to community empowerment project coordinator Abdul-Wahab Al-Fadeel, the problem with their projects is that once the funding stops, the activities do likewise. Their recent efforts have therefore been focused on more sustainable ways of community development. In their latest project, CARE has set up the three offices of Dar Taam, Sahaba, and Al-Harith, to represent the akhdam and deal with internal affairs. The organization provided them with computers and office equipment and trained people in bookkeeping, administration, planning, voluntary work, funds collecting, proposal writing, and computer skills. In addition, they provided two water trucks to each of the three organizations. These are used to supply the six shantytowns in Sana’a with clean water and to generate income for the community to support the cost of literacy classes.

He says that there are many hurdles facing the development of the akhdam, and in a way their poverty is self perpetuating, commenting that it is difficult to alleviate themselves from poverty when “the fist thing they think about is ‘how do I eat?’”

“In my opinion,” he added, “education is the main separation between them and other Yemenis. The problem is that they aren’t skilled.”
Al-Fadeel thinks that the future of the akhdam looks brighter, though. The percentage of literacy among them is improving, as is their provision of basic services. The government has recently set up an area called “White City” near the American embassy where it has provided many with free and low cost housing with electricity, water, and telephone networks.
“These people have motivation,” says Al-Fadeel. “Throughout my work I have touched it.” Regarding the work of CARE, he commented, “When I first came, I found them without anything. Now I can say that we have accomplished our goals 100%.”

It seems that many of the stereotypes about the akhdam have become so deep-rooted that many have come to accept their situation on top of a hopelessness that things will ever change, some even deny that there is any problem at all. In a shantytown just outside of Bab Al-Yemen, aqil Al-Jamal sat in his room for chewing qat, the place where he deals with the day-to-day issues that arise in his community, and defended the pride of his people. With a strong voice of authority, he denied that their poverty was a result of racial discrimination, saying, “God created people with their colors and gave them their lot in society. He created us black and created black people poor all over the world.”

Everyone else in the room looked up as if in protest, contemplated the thought for a second, then quietly nodded their heads in unsettled agreement as if they had all found the justification to let them settle comfortably back into their armrests.
Copyright (c) 2004 - 2005 Yemen Observer Newspaper

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7:18 AM

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