. . . . . . "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, May 19, 2005  
UN rapporteurs to energise movement for Dalit rights

17 May 2005

Rahul Kumar OneWorld South Asia

The recent announcement by the UN Commission on Human Rights to appoint two special rapporteurs to tackle the deep-rooted problem of caste-based discrimination is a shot in the arm for activists fighting for the rights of the Dalits, the oppressed classes, in India. The two rapporteurs, who have been given the title of Special Rapporteurs, will undertake a three-year study and will draft a set of principles and guidelines to eliminate this form of discrimination. National Convenor of the National Conference of Dalit Organisations (NACDOR) Ashok Bharti calls this a positive development and says: “This is for the first time that the world community has accepted caste discrimination in India as an issue. It clearly shows that UN feels that discrimination exists in south Asia and that it is an important issue to be taken up.”

It has been a long and torturous road for Dalit activists who have been reaching out to the international community, particularly the UN, since decades. The issue of discrimination was first taken up in the early eighties when Dr Lakshmi Narain Berwa gave a testimony before the UN on behalf of the Dalits – Knocking for Human Rights: Persecution of Untouchables is no Internal Problem of India. The World Conference On Racism (WCOR) in South Africa in 2001, better known as the Durban Conference, put a global spotlight on casteism in India. Bharti says: “We argued that if apartheid could be taken up and accepted as an international issue why could casteism, which is similar to apartheid, not be taken up as one. After all both flourish on open and blatant discrimination and the Dalits in India are many times more in number.”

The Advocacy Secretary of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) – which is a network of Indian Dalit organisations - Dr Umakant says: “The Vienna Declaration of 1993 declares that any violation of human rights in any part of the world is an international issue. It was then that we realized that such a discrimination exists not only in India but also in many other parts of the world, including Japan, Brazil and even African countries.” NCDHR had raised the issue of caste-based discrimination at the Durban Conference and found that the Indian government had tried to brush aside casteism as an internal matter of India during the Durban conference. It also sought to underplay the existence of caste-based discrimination and tried to hide behind various constitutional provisions that uphold the rights of the oppressed people in India.

NACDOR’s Bharti says: “The negative attitude of the Indian government came upfront during the conference when the Nepal government accepted that they have a problem of discrimination at hand while the Indian government tried to deny that the problem existed.” The Regional Humanitarian Values Coordinator of the International Red Cross, and the coordinator for the Reducing Discrimination Initiative Programme, Bijoy Basant Patro, says: “The UN system is in a better position to work with, advocate, plead with and persuade the governments across the world.

This development takes place at a good time when there is a discernable change, for the better, in the Indian government's perception to this issue since the Durban meet.” Activists also feel that this initiative of the UN will provide a true picture of the pitiable conditions of the Dalits in India and will also force the government to take concrete action on alleviating their misery. NACDOR plans to utilize the opportunity to meet up with the special rapporteurs along with partner organisations. It is also preparing a status report on India’s Dalits and will hand it to the rapporteurs. Bharti says: “We are identifying issues, charters, planning presentations and preparing testimonies of people. We also plan to conduct public hearings of people against whom atrocities have been committed. Over the last 50 years, nearly five lakh atrocities have been committed in the name of caste in India.” Patro says: “The appointment of the rapporteurs could not have come at a more opportune time because globalization and economic reforms have hit the poorest of the poor harder. These people are at a disadvantage, they lack of opportunities and they have been left behind even as other sections have benefited from these economic changes.”

“The rapporteurs need to take the time to evolve a common statement by all civil society and political stakeholders and evolve a strategy through a participatory process. This strategy should look at providing access to education, access to skills and equal access to employment. But these are also very politically loaded issues, which means that a level of neutrality and impartiality of the organisation would be particularly important and it is here that the UN’s role is important,” Patro adds. With the expectations of Indian organisations and activists rather high, the two Special Rapporteurs - Prof. Yozo Yokota from Japan and Prof. Chin Sung Chung from South Korea – have quite a job cut out for them. The UN, which has become deeply involved in the issue now, has since the year 2000 undertaken at least three studies on discrimination, which it describes as work and descent-based discrimination.

Dr Umakant described the background to this far-reaching decision: “After studying these three papers, the UN decided to conduct a full fledged study in August 2004 and prepare a guideline to eliminate discrimination. The Sub-Commission on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, which is headed by eminent Indian lawyer and former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee, recommended the setting up of two special rapporteurs to the Commission on Human Rights.” Dr Umakant says: “The Commission on Human Rights meets once in a year for six weeks and this year it met between March 14 – April 22 and decided to appoint the Special Rapporteurs. This recommendation was accepted unanimously by all the countries.”

He also emphasized upon the role of the Kathmandu summit in influencing the UN’s decision over casteism. An international consultation - Establishing Dalit Rights in the Contemporary World; the Role of Governments, the United Nations and the Private Sector – took place in Nepal last year in which activists and human rights organisations adopted the Kathmandu Dalit Declaration. The declaration provided concrete proposals for the governments, the UN and development organizations and the private sector to eradicate discrimination and this also played its role in influencing the UN.

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11:53 AM

Tuesday, May 17, 2005  
Caste System - A Historical and Analytical Overview

17 May 2005

by: Rajnikant Lahri

Caste System - A Historical and Analytical Overview by: Rajnikant Lahri
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In India various racial groups have found refuge and shelter. The sakas, Hunas, Kushans and Mongols even the Christians led by Saint Thomas and Jews and Parses found a refuge in India and made it their homeland. India thus became a melting pot of various groups, which merged in the main stream of Hindu philosophy. Hindus adopted a very safe and liberal course of assimilating these people without any loss to their originality. Each group was to develop the best in it but not at the cost of the other and then assimilate all the best in the larger community life of Hinduism. This brought forth a number of idols, deities, rituals and also certain distortions in the Varna system of the society. The Hindu Varna system is not at all caste -equivalent. It indicates a division. There exists all over the world one sort of division or the other in every society, as it is inevitable for social growth. Each individual is possessed of a particular ability by nature. He may well perform a physical labor, or may be a thinker, writer or an artist. Another may like trade and industry or any other material activity. According to these tendencies, the social categories have been found. Lord Krsna in Geeta (IV-13) says,’that the four varnasa have been created by Him according to differentiation of Gunas and Karmas. These four varnas are –1- Brahmin 2- Kshatriya 3- Vaishya and 4- Sudra.
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Varna means different shades of texture or color. They represent mental temper. There are three Gunas –1- Sattva 2- Rajas and 3- Tamas Sattva is white, Rajas, red and Tamas is black. These in combination constitute the group or class of people all over the world with temperamental differences .The above classification is based on this assumption Vedvyas in the above couplet, says in the same breath,’ By the differentiation of the mental quality and physical action of the people ‘(1) Not by a birth is a man Brahmin, but by cultivating good intentions and noble thoughts alone, one can ever aspire to Brahminhood.’(2) The type of man’s actions, the quality of his ego, the color of his knowledge, the texture of his understanding, the temper of his fortitude and the brilliance of his happiness define one’s caste and varna.


Today people have mistaken caste for varnas and treat them as identical. Varnas are God -created. They are conditioned with one’ actions and desires based on Gunas. Whereas caste is man made. It is a social institution and can easily be changed and framed according to social needs. Caste – by – birth system was never the original intent nor the basis upon which the varnas were actually divided. Sutra says,’ A person should be engaged only in a field of activity that he is capable of doing.’(3)

Today we have miserably failed to understand who a Brahmin is. Generally we believe that one is born by birth in a certain caste. This belief has keenly been propagated and protected by the west as it serves their vested interest of divide and rule or weakens a strong nation in making. Vajra Suchikopanishad tries to remove this misunderstanding. It clearly states that one cannot be a Brahmin either by its being, birth, physical equipment of body and color or by wisdom and knowledge or by religious action even. Hindus believe in rebirth and countless yonies of birth. So the very idea of a being born is one birth as Brahmin is unscientific. Even the physical body structure does not make one a Brahmin. The body is made of matter and matter acts uniformly in every clime and time. Every body is so born and there cannot be any difference.

The ill-found belief that the Brahmin is fair, Kshtriya is black, Vaishya yellow and Shudra dark black is entirely baseless. Even the cremation and last rites of all of us are the same. The possession of a super brain, knowledge and wisdom also is not the monopoly of Brahmin alone. Vishwamitra, the warrior, was a talented seer and not a Brahmin. So were Kabir, Dadu, Raidas Nabhadas, Meera and hundreds of others. We have to remember that even a wise talent loses its right path and goes astray.

Vajra suchikopanished clearly states that a Brahmin is one who lives and moves in Brahma. He stands far above the pair of opposites. In joys and sorrows, pain and pleasure, pride and prejudice, he is unmoved and he is the one who has conquered the vasana and desires and is free from ego, ‘I’ness or ‘Ido’ness. The one so equi-poised is indeed a Brahmin.

Thus it is evident that Varna is not caste. Caste is really a custom. There has been indiscriminate crossover form one Varna to the other; from Brahmin to Sudra and vice versa. There has always been a steady flow of change. The real existence of caste may be occupational, tribal, or racial or sectarian but it was never a replacement of Varna system.

It is indeed disheartening that a system, which is based on very sound principles, has come to result in such an evil. Whosoever is responsible for this, it is a sad affair. It is indeed annoying to note that the basic principles of Varna system were distorted beyond any controlled limit in due course of time. During the foreign rule, it was the caste system that stood firm like a rock in support and defense of our religion and culture. It lost its metal when the spirit of exclusiveness was perpetuated by the group of vested interests who gained political and economic mileage over their fellow beings. It soon degenerated into an instrument of oppression and intoleration, throwing to wind all norms of human behavior and fellowship. It distanced man from man with a clear- cut division of population even in small villages.


India is a developing nation. It has to rise above discrimination and safeguard the guarantee of equal rights and treatment as enshrined in the constitution, to all its citizens irrespective of caste, creed and color or sex. India is aware of the need. In an economically prosperous and politically secure India, the boundaries among its people are bound to vanish with a ready flow and crossovers. The watertight compartments only stink. There has to be a flow and mixing as it ever was. With the spread of education and religious values, the man –made concentration of caste will fall like a sand-hill. The present day problem of caste is a social problem of Hindus and it is for them to solve it and no one else can do it. India strives for a social awakening and awareness; there are ample chances for a growth of a well- knit Hindu society devoted to understanding of fellowship and mutual respect.

The present reaction against the caste discrimination can not be easily rejected. A reconsideration of this principle in modern context, is the need of the day. The system itself is not to blame. It is pure and perfect. There is no evil motive underlying it. It is sound and healthy, provided we treat Varna as distinct from caste.

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7:41 AM

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