. . . . . . "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, September 20, 2005  
Prosperity Sharpens Caste Animosities

Inter Press Service
19 September 2005

Alka Arya

The acrid smell of assorted burnt matter still hangs heavy over the Dalit (broken people) quarter of this town, three weeks after it was torched by upper caste men who cared little that New Delhi, the capital of a country that aspires to world leadership, lies barely 90 kms away. In one of the burnt-out houses sits Jewanti, alone and still traumatised by the devastating attack on her neighbourhood by men from the upper caste Jat community, seeking revenge for the murder of one of their kind, allegedly by a Dalit . ''What was our fault? I am so scared of being a Dalit. We have nothing left here and we are not safe anywhere,'' Jewanti sobbed, indicating the blackened walls of her two-storey, with everything combustible in it reduced to ashes and valuables missing. About the only recognisable object in Jewanti's home is a badly- singed motorcycle that belonged to her son who, like most of the 1,500 inhabitants of Balmiki Basti (Dalit quarter), is yet to return for fear of renewed violence.

If no one died in the ferocious Aug. 31 attack, it was because the residents of the 150-house Balmiki Basti were encouraged by police to flee the day before--a pathetic acknowledgement of the fact that it is Jats (who are mostly farmers and landowners) who call the shots in northern Haryana state in which Gohana falls. ''Anyone can see that the police knew of the attack and that, despite having a 200-strong force in the area, preferred to stand back and watch the looting and arson,'' said Subhash Gatade who led a 15-member fact-finding mission from the 'Committee to Oppose Atrocities on Dalits' to Gohana last week. ''The police were supposed to protect us from the Jats, but instead spread the word that we were to move out and most of us went to the homes of relative in other parts of the town or as far away as Delhi to save our lives,'' said Ravi Kumar, one of the few Dalits who has had the courage to return to the site.

Geeta, an employee with the Gohana Municipality, was still asleep when the Jats, armed with lathis (bamboo staffs) and cans of petrol and kerosene descended on the Balmiki Basti on the morning of Aug. 31. ''My husband and I managed to get together some clothes and essentials and rush our two young children, through a side lane, out of the Balmiki Basti,'' Geeta said.


Asked why the Dalit homes were not protected, the state assembly legislator from Gohana, Dharampal Malik told IPS: ''The district administration did not realise the gravity of the situation''. But, the fact is that soon after the murder of a Jat youth, Baljeet Siwach, on Aug. 27, allegedly by a Dalit, tension began to build up in Gohana, forcing authorities to deploy the Haryana state police in strength around the town. ''The police stood by and watched our houses being burned down because we are Dalits and not socially acceptable, while the Jats are very powerful in Haryana,'' said Inder, a Dalit labourer.

Until about three years ago, Inder and his wife Sunita were involved in manual scavenging (official euphemism for handling human waste) which Dalits are supposed to do, according to caste rules framed 3,000 years ago. Hindu scriptures separate people into the four hereditary castes of Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaisyas (traders) and Sudras (labourers). Dalits fall outside the four-fold caste system and are regarded as 'untouchable' in a system sociologists say is more pernicious than apartheid ever was in South Africa. The plight of the Dalits, who number 160 million in India's billion plus population, has been attracting international attention in recent years and well-known human rights organisations, starting with Amnesty International, have recorded their continuing misery.

According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, more than 100,000 atrocities, including murder and rape, are committed each year against Dalits, although this happens mostly in the conservative rural areas rather than urban settings like Gohana. The Indian government is sensitive to international criticism on the subject and in September 2001 moved to block caste from the agenda of the U.N. Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa, rather than openly discuss it, as demanded by leading Dalit organisations. ''More than half-a-century after India gained independence and freedom for all Indians, most Dalits not only continue to live deprived lives, but any modest prosperity that has come their way is begrudged by upper caste groups,'' said Nandu Ram, professor of sociology at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in the national capital.

According to Inder, who now whitewashes walls for a living, in Haryana, the Jats do not want to see Dalits empowered and there has been simmering anger against the increasing prosperity of Dalits, as they take advantage of affirmative action to get themselves educated and secure white collar jobs. It is not uncommon to see Dalits, who have government jobs and seats in parliament and state legislatures reserved for them as part of affirmative action written into the constitution, holding down jobs in banks and other public institutions and living normal lives. At the Balmiki Basti, the houses were modest, but most were equipped with modern conveniences like television sets, refrigerators and cars and the inhabitants forward-looking with children in schools and money in bank accounts.

Rampal, a member of the Gohana Municipal Board, said it was the newfound prosperity of the Dalits that attracted the ire of the feudal-minded Jats. ''They want us to remain forever subservient and regard us as thieves--everytime something goes wrong, they set the police on us and we get a hiding''. Shalendar, a 22-year-old man, sees a larger game in the attack. ''They (Jats) are trying to capture the Balmiki Basti because the value of the land on which it stands in the heart of the town has gone up and become prime property''. According to Shalendar, the name Balmiki suggests subservience and vulnerability although it was meant to have higher connotations because Balmiki was a Dalit poet who lived in ancient times and is credited with writing one of Hinduisms great epics, the 'Ramayana', which tells the life and times of the warrior deity Rama. Balmiki Bastis exist in many northern Indian towns and cities and although they may differ in the level of affluence of its inhabitants, they are synonymous with ghettos for socially-underprivileged people.


An earlier attempt to get the Dalits to move out of the area, extending over two acres, failed after a court of law upheld the rights of the Dalits over the land. ''Ever since they lost the court battle, the Jats have been trying to get us to vacate the land and now by burning down our houses they are sending us a signal that we are not going to be safe here,'' said Kara, who is studying for a masters degree in computer application. As a nation-wide outcry grew over the incident, Haryana state chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, himself a Jat leader, announced 3,000 US dollars as interim relief against each house that had been burned down and ordered the public works department (PWD) to rebuild the houses.

High adminstrative and police officials have been suspended or transferred out of Gohana as it became apparent that they had blatantly sided with the rampaging Jats. But the troubles faced by the Dalits go much deeper than burned down homes, government compensations and punishment for biased officials. ''My daughter is studying in a public school and doing well in science. Her classmates borrow her notebooks but will not share her lunch because she is a Dalit. This is painful for her and for me too,'' said Geeta, a homemaker. ''My brother Rakesh was a veterinary doctor with the Haryana government. Wherever he went, people were friendly and would invite him to their homes--that is until they come to know that he is a Dalit. Finally, he emigrated with his family to Toronto and is now doing well there and is happy,'' said Jayram a schoolteacher.

Read the full article

7:30 AM

Monday, September 19, 2005  
Shobha Warrier in Chennai

September 15, 2005

Mary Kalyani has a simple question for the authorities: "Why are we treated like dogs and not like human beings?"

Kalyani, who lives in Chennai, is one of the thousands who lost everything to the tsunami that unleashed death and destruction across South Asia on December 26, 2004. She is also a Dalit -- the lowest strata of the caste hierarchy -- and not from the fishing community.

A United Nations study conducted in conjunction with the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank estimates that 20 percent of the tsunami-affected people are not fishermen, but engaged in agriculture and small and micro enterprises.
Most of them are Dalits.

Tsunami: Waves of destruction
Generally, fishermen live close to the sea. Dalits live next to them and work for the fishermen when they go out to the sea. The unwritten law is that only the fishing community can fish in the sea. Other communities can only help them. So, Dalits assist fishermen in making nets and selling their catch. Many Dalit women carry fish to the towns to sell. Dalits also cultivate on 'borrowed' land.
"Dalits lost their houses, their cultivation, everything (to the tsunami). Because they are not into fishing, these losses were not taken into consideration at all by the government," said V Karuppan, a former civil servant who is the convener of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights. "That was the first discrimination the Dalits faced."

In urban areas, mainly in places like Chennai, the fishing community live in government-allotted houses. They rent out the area in front of their houses to Dalit labourers. So, in these areas, it is not the fishermen but the Dalits who live close to the sea, but on illegal, unauthorised land.

Tsunami: picking up the threads
"I have been living in this area for the last 16 years. We lost everything to the tsunami," says Ramani, a Dalit who lives in Uroorkuppam in Chennai. "The fishermen drove us away from temporary shelters. They did not even allow us to have the food the government and the NGOs (non-government organisations) distributed. The government says only the fishermen lost everything. What about us, people who have voter's id card, ration card and electricity card? Do we exist only when they (politicians) need our votes?"
Sudhamma, who lives in Thiruvanmiyoorkuppam in Chennai, echoed Ramani. "When an NGO gave us food, the fishermen started abusing us; they even snatched the food that we had accepted," she complained. "We spent days and nights on the footpath -- we were not allowed inside the temporary shelter."
When Vallimayil, who works as a maid, asked some government officers for help, they allegedly asked her: 'Are you willing to do anything?'

Limping back: tsunami marriages
"This is the kind of humiliation we have to face," she said.
Karuppan said there were instances when the police refused to record the information about missing Dalits, while they did register FIRs – first information reports – about missing fishermen.
The NCDHR, the Human Rights Forum for Dalit Liberation and the Dalit Mannurimai Kootamaippu held a national public hearing in Chennai on discrimination against Dalits in tsunami relief and rehabilitation. The organisers informed the gathering that though the Tamil Nadu government had issued nearly 175 Government Orders after the tsunami, none took into account relief and rehabilitation for Dalits.
GO 583 speaks of livelihood and refers only to fishermen while GO 8 refers only to 'marine' fishermen. What about the backwater fishermen, some of whom are Dalits, the organisers asked.
"Because the GOs refer only to fishermen, relief did not reach the Dalits," said Karuppan.

Despair, anguish and hope
It was also alleged that when the government was assessing tsunami damage in the first half of January, livestock owned by Dalits was not taken into account.
"Only when they (Dalits) blocked roads and put intense pressure was a re-enumeration started," said one of the organisers. "The outcome: The government wrote that the Dalits had no evidence of possession."

The question that was raised at the public hearing was: If there are fishermen next to the sea, and they have a total of 15 GOs that identify them as affected and there are two GOs for the sake of farmers who live further inland, why is it that the band of labourers who live physically between these two communities have no GOs that speak about their plight?

The organisers blamed the fishing community too for discriminating against the Dalits. About 210 Dalits had to walk 21 km to Mayiladuthurai when fishermen drove them out of a temporary tsunami shelter in Seerkazhi district, it was alleged. "The government officials turned a blind eye to it. The same thing happened in Tharangambadi district. Here, the Dalits were not given food for three days," said one of the organisers.

The heroes by the sea
The Dalit forum has asked for a white paper from the government about how much money was spent on fishermen and how much on Dalits. "Similarly, Dalits did not get the 60 kg rice and Rs 1000 a month promised by the government though the fishermen got both," said an activist.
The tsunami waves brought in seawater as much as 3 km inland. As 22,000 hectares of agricultural land was inundated, the winter crop that was ready for harvest in January was completely destroyed. The soil turned brackish, rendering it unfit for agriculture. The NCHDR estimates the loss to agriculture and livestock in India at over $37 million.
But Rajeswari of Odaikuppam, like Kalyani, has a smaller problem. "All that we had saved is gone with the waves. But according to the government, we don't exist.

Link to the article

1:45 PM

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