. . . . . . "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

Friday, September 30, 2005  
Winds of change - Dalit priests no longer impossible

Hindustan Times
September 29, 2005

Aabshar H QuaziKota,

The times are changing. People from backward communities, till a few years ago forbidden to enter some of the temples, are today being trained to become temple priests and are even performing private pujas. This is happening in Rajasthan's Kota district at the instance of the Rajasthan Sanskrit Academy and a Kotabased institute - Sanskritam.

Young Dalit boys are being exposed to various disciplines in Hindu priesthood as well as to the related subject of astrology. Though the training is not very extensive, Sanjay Sharma, a spokesperson for Sanskritam said, "We hope that some of the boys would go on to become priests and get absorbed in temples across the country".

At a 20-day camp held recently, nearly a dozen boys from different backward communities and some forward communities like Rajputs participated enthusiastically. Astrology and courses in religious rituals till now were the sole preserve of the forward Brahmin community. If there were objections to "untouchables" gaining access to divine knowledge, the Academy muted it as a tribute to the changing times.

Convenor of Sanskritam, Pandit Shyamanand Mishra told Hindustan Times, "Right to imbibe the knowledge of Vedas is not the sole authority of any sect or caste. It is ultimately in the interest of the backward community youth to learn priesthood for social change."

Asked if he was being "courageous" in trying to break into an upper caste bastion, a backward caste student, Rakesh Kumar, said: "Everyone is a Shudra by birth. Religious texts say that the caste system came into existence depending on ones deeds and action (karma)."

Asked if he thought he would be accepted as a priest, Rakesh said that he too would use the Pandit suffix for advertisements. Rakesh has also taken lessons in astrology and aims to become a perfect priest. Another backward community student, Suresh Kumar Patel was confident enough of becoming a complete professional.

Sharma said the institute has been holding training camps since past four years and the number of dalit students joining the course have gone up drastically. He accepts that not a single case of appointment has come to the notice of the institute so far.

Link to the article

7:25 AM

Tuesday, September 27, 2005  
Belkhed: the riots & wrongs of caste

The Hindu
27 September 2005

P. Sainath
The Bhagwan Dattamandirin Belkhed, Akola, was built by Dalits when they were still Hindus. It was ostensibly the focus of the fiery violence there earlier this month. The real reasons? Caste, the decline of organised Dalit politics, the crisis in agriculture, and wage conflicts — all played a role.

IT'S TOO small to be much of a temple. But at some 5 x 4 x 5 ft the Bhagwan Datta mandir was big enough to figure in the caste violence that rocked Belkhed village earlier this month. One in which over 20 houses in this Akola village's Dalit basti were torched, destroying 15 and badly damaging the rest. "They ransacked my house, then set it on fire," says a still traumatised Lilavati Bhatkar. `They' refers to Belkhed's dominant community, the Malis. Raibai Gavai cries as she shows us the rubble that was her house. Not only were the houses razed, property was looted or destroyed too. For some, that meant everything they owned.

The Dalits here are impoverished agricultural labourers. Some of these tiny, ruined dwellings housed 12 or more people. The over 150 families in the basti have homes bunched together, often joined by common walls. The flames must have spread quickly. "It was the Pola (worshipping of cattle) festival day," says Liladhar Bhatkar. We passed several oxen that week, painted purple-pink for the occasion. "The Malis brought their cattle to this mandir in a procession. They have never done that before. Some of them, badly drunk, abused us. Then they stormed these houses in a big mob."

"They burned their own homes," a huge group of people speaking to us in the Mali basti insists. Dinesh Deokar is a member of the Bhagwan Datta trust, which he claims owns the mandir in the Dalit basti. "We've been there before but this had never happened. They stoned and attacked us. They even tried to damage the Ambedkar statue in front of the mandir and blame it on us." A temple in a Buddhist basti? Caste Hindus amongst its trustees? A mandir on Dalit turf that caste Hindus would visit? An Ambedkar statue next to it? Attacks on Dalits in Akola — a Dalit stronghold? It's as complex as it gets. Belkhed is where a past of deep oppression meets a present full of risk and contradictions.Belkhed itself has no history of open caste violence. Yet, its balance is a fragile one. The Malis are landowners. The Dalits, landless workers. Wages are dismally low. Male Dalit workers get Rs.30 and the women just Rs.20 a day. With agriculture crashing across the region, the Mali farmers, too, are in decline. That process and its class tensions, too, get reflected in caste animosity towards the workers.

The mandir was built by the Dalits when they were still Hindus. That is, before 1956, when they followed Dr. Ambedkar into Buddhism. It, however, stayed on their soil. And this did not matter much. Caste Hindus mostly avoided their basti. Only Hindu Dalits who had not converted would go there. And that was that. The decades after 1956 saw the rise of a new politics in Vidharbha. More so in Akola. "This region saw a strong political assertion amongst Dalits," says Madhu Jadhav a veteran journalist in Akola. "Their organised strength posed a challenge to the land-owning Patils of different castes." The Dalits of Belkhed, amongst others, shook off the chains of a past of unspeakable misery. They were still very poor. But the worst excesses of landlord cruelty could now be fought off. Untouchability did not vanish. But it was pushed back. There were even a few inter-caste marriages. And some land struggles. These were a confident people. Akola emerged a strong Dalit political centre. Republican Party of India candidates for this Lok Sabha seat crossed the 40 per cent voting mark in the late 1960s. Some Assembly seats here have often been held by the RPI and even by Prakash Ambedkar after he broke away to form the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangha. Dalits over these decades had found their dignity and a firm voice. So much so that even non-Dalit parties often ran Dalit candidates in elections. The zilla parishad chairman has been, more than once, a Dalit from the BJP or Shiv Sena. Dalit-led parties too, put up Mali candidates. In short, a pragmatic sharing of political space. This underlay Prakash Ambedkar's move for a grouping across caste lines that included the Malis. It came to be called the "Akola Pattern" and even worked for a while. However, while caste tensions were played down, they were far from eliminated.

The past decade saw setbacks. Like much of the country, the region saw an aggressive right-wing Hindu assertion. And a decline of organised Dalit politics as the RPI and others splintered in factional wars. The Akola pattern frayed. Prakash Ambedkar's defeat in the last Lok Sabha poll also mirrored these realities. In this milieu, the remnants of an ugly past have re-surfaced. Add to this the crisis in agriculture and sharpening wage conflicts. There could be other Belkheds as landowners try shifting their problems on to the backs of already poor workers.

House rebuilding has begun. But Belkhed's Dalits remain vulnerable. "We can't sleep safely at night," says Chandrakala Ingle in the basti. "What's worse, they are boycotting our labour. This trouble over the mandir is hurtful."

Other angles
The fuss over the mandir has other angles, though. The tiny structure sits on 534 square feet of land. And more space adjoins it. All of this is within the Dalit basti and is right on the vital road leading in and out of Belkhed. At least one better-off Mali landlord views that as prime real estate. "Basically three or four people on either side had a dispute over this land," says Superintendent of Police S.D. Waghmere. "They managed to convert that into a wider conflict." The police also arrested 44 persons who are now out on bail.In the Mali basti they complain of police brutality. They show us the doors police broke down to drag out suspects late at night.

And women in shock from that raid. "Some 200 people have fled the village," they say. However, when police first entered the basti, they were attacked by the Malis. It was after this that the police cracked down. And policemen, too are in the Akola hospital, lying alongside the injured Dalits and Malis.


Read the full article

8:13 AM

Muslims infected by caste virus

The Times of India - Editorial
26 September 2005

The history of Islam in India is well over a thousand years old. It has beautifully blended into the background of its adopted land. But this Islam and its practitioners are not a homogeneous entity, as is widely believed. There is a great deal of diversity in the manner in which Islam is practised and perceived throughout India. However, one of these practices, which goes against the basic grain of Islam, is the caste-based discrimination practised by certain sections of Muslims in India. Chapter 49, verse 13 of the Holy Qur'an makes it clear that Islam does not recognise the caste-based social stratification practised by some sections of Muslims in India.

However, it should be acknow-ledged that this discriminatory practice among Muslims, observed more in north India than south India, is not as pronounced, oppressive and widespread as amongst the Hindus. But that is hardly comforting. The fact that discrimination based on caste lines exists within the Muslim community of India is bad enough. Most Indian Muslims are descendants of untouchable and low caste converts, with only a small minority tracing their origin to Arab, Iranian and Central Asian settlers.

Muslims who claim foreign descent assert a superior status for themselves as ashraf or noble. Descendants of indigenous converts are, on the other hand, commonly referred to contemptuously as ajlaf or base or lowly.

Going by this classification, an overwhelming 75 per cent of the Muslim population of India would fall into the category. It is ironical that conversion to the egalitarian faith of Islam has not helped their cause. The ajlaf, especially in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, continue to be discriminated against by the Muslim upper caste.

The ill treatment meted out to lower and backward caste Muslims has led to a movement for recognition of the lower caste Muslims as scheduled castes or dalit Muslims, on a par with the dalits in the Hindu society. The leaders of this movement have demanded reservations for dalit Muslims based on the concept of positive discrimination enshrined in Article 341 of the Constitution.

The V P Singh government implemented the proposals of the Mandal commission, which recommended reservations in government jobs and educational institutions based on caste. This was followed by large-scale pro- and anti-Mandal demonstrations all over the country, mainly involving the student community. While the reservations provided succour to many belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes, it also sharpened the already existing divide between the caste Hindus and dalits.

The animosity — fuelled by centuries of discrimination against dalits and the recent reservation policy where the caste Hindus felt shortchanged — is quite visible even to the undiscerning eye. There can be no denying the existence of caste-based discrimination among Indian Muslims.

However, demanding a separate identity and other benefits based on caste is no panacea for this inequity. It will only end up providing another dimension to the already existing divisions within the community. Aren't schisms based on Shia, Sunni, Deobandi, Barelwi, Ahl-i-Hadith, Jamaati etc enough that Muslims now seek to create categories like dalit Muslim and forward caste Muslim? Let us look at a hypothetical situation where caste-based reservation is replicated in the Muslim community. To begin with, it would require the identification of dalit Muslim castes. This process, in my opinion, would present a scenario where a set of Muslims, especially those coming from south India would either say that they are not dalit Muslims or would express their inability to identify the caste they belong to for the simple reason that they don't have a caste.

It would be nothing short of a shock for this casteless Muslim to find that de-spite sharing his reverence for Allah, his Friday namaz, and belief in Islamic tenets with the dalit Muslim, he is different from the dalit Muslim, simply because he doesn't have a caste — something that has no religious sanction. The Muslim community should squarely face up to caste stratification in its midst. The only way to fight this inhuman practice is direct action — a movement against anyone practising, promoting or legitimising caste-based stratification. The writer researches on issues concerning Indian Muslims.

Link to the article

6:58 AM

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