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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



























DALIT SOLIDARITY NEWS
 
Friday, October 13, 2006  
India's Untouchables turn to Buddhism in protest at discrimination by Hindus

The Independent
13 October 2006

By Justin Huggler in Delhi
Across India this month, thousands of Hindus from the former Untouchable castes are converting to Buddhism in protest at the continuing discrimination they face. Mass conversion ceremonies are being held throughout the month, from Delhi in the north, to Hyderabad in the south. Organisers are claiming that more than 100,000 people have already converted.
Conversion is a highly charged political issue. Several states have passed laws this year making it harder to convert, and the mass ceremonies will infuriate Hindu nationalist parties that have been campaigning to stop lower caste Hindus changing their religion.

But for many Dalits, as Untouchables are now known, conversion is the only way to escape the oppression they still face in Hindu society. Untouchability has been illegal in India since independence, but it is still commonly practised. In many villages Dalits are not allowed to drink clean water from a well. In some areas, tea shops keep a different glass for Dalits to use, so higher-caste Hindus are not "polluted" by drinking from the same vessel, even after it has been washed. After the 2004 tsunami, Dalit survivors in Tamil Nadu were prevented from sharing water in relief camps.

Dalits are converting in large numbers this year because it is the 50th anniversary of the conversion of their most important leader of modern times, B R Ambedkar, who first called on Dalits to become Buddhists in order to escape discrimination.
When Mahatma Gandhi was leading non-violent protests against British rule, Ambedkar was using the same methods to demand equal rights for Untouchables. He was critical of Gandhi, and outspoken in his attacks on Hinduism.

"These people are converting as a protest," says Sakya Ponnu Durai, one of the organisers of the mass conversion ceremonies. But Mr Durai, a Dalit who himself converted two years ago, says he has wholeheartedly become a practising Buddhist. "After converting, I have much more satisfaction," he says.

Many of those converting are doing so to escape the menial jobs traditionally assigned to Dalits. Under the rigid rules of the caste system, it is difficult to change to a job reserved for a higher caste. Although this is no longer the case in the cities, in villages it is still practised. Many Dalits are forced to work as scavengers and latrine cleaners.

Mr Durai was more fortunate: his father was in the Indian military and was able to give him a good education in Chennai. But he says he still faced discrimination.

Even at university, Mr Durai says he was badly beaten by higher-caste students enraged that a Dalit had got better marks than them. Today, he is a federal government worker in Delhi. He is fully aware that conversions are a potentially explosive issue. Hindu nationalist parties are unhappy with the large numbers of lower-caste Hindus converting, not only to Buddhism but also Christianity.

This year several states, including Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, have introduced laws that anyone wishing to convert will have to obtain official permission first. Gujarat, home to some of the most hardline Hindu groups, has introduced a more controversial law under which Buddhism is considered part of Hinduism.

In a separate rally this weekend, not connected to the conversion ceremonies, thousands of Dalits plan to burn the new laws.

By a strange irony, as well as the 50th anniversary of Ambedkar's death, the conversions are taking place amid controversy over the funeral of the Dalits' most powerful political leader, Kanshi Ram. Ram had also converted to Buddhism, but some of his relatives objected when his cremation was carried out according to Buddhist rites.

Across India this month, thousands of Hindus from the former Untouchable castes are converting to Buddhism in protest at the continuing discrimination they face. Mass conversion ceremonies are being held throughout the month, from Delhi in the north, to Hyderabad in the south. Organisers are claiming that more than 100,000 people have already converted.
Conversion is a highly charged political issue. Several states have passed laws this year making it harder to convert, and the mass ceremonies will infuriate Hindu nationalist parties that have been campaigning to stop lower caste Hindus changing their religion.

But for many Dalits, as Untouchables are now known, conversion is the only way to escape the oppression they still face in Hindu society. Untouchability has been illegal in India since independence, but it is still commonly practised. In many villages Dalits are not allowed to drink clean water from a well. In some areas, tea shops keep a different glass for Dalits to use, so higher-caste Hindus are not "polluted" by drinking from the same vessel, even after it has been washed. After the 2004 tsunami, Dalit survivors in Tamil Nadu were prevented from sharing water in relief camps.

Dalits are converting in large numbers this year because it is the 50th anniversary of the conversion of their most important leader of modern times, B R Ambedkar, who first called on Dalits to become Buddhists in order to escape discrimination.

When Mahatma Gandhi was leading non-violent protests against British rule, Ambedkar was using the same methods to demand equal rights for Untouchables. He was critical of Gandhi, and outspoken in his attacks on Hinduism.

"These people are converting as a protest," says Sakya Ponnu Durai, one of the organisers of the mass conversion ceremonies. But Mr Durai, a Dalit who himself converted two years ago, says he has wholeheartedly become a practising Buddhist. "After converting, I have much more satisfaction," he says.

Many of those converting are doing so to escape the menial jobs traditionally assigned to Dalits. Under the rigid rules of the caste system, it is difficult to change to a job reserved for a higher caste. Although this is no longer the case in the cities, in villages it is still practised. Many Dalits are forced to work as scavengers and latrine cleaners.

Mr Durai was more fortunate: his father was in the Indian military and was able to give him a good education in Chennai. But he says he still faced discrimination.

Even at university, Mr Durai says he was badly beaten by higher-caste students enraged that a Dalit had got better marks than them. Today, he is a federal government worker in Delhi. He is fully aware that conversions are a potentially explosive issue. Hindu nationalist parties are unhappy with the large numbers of lower-caste Hindus converting, not only to Buddhism but also Christianity.

This year several states, including Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, have introduced laws that anyone wishing to convert will have to obtain official permission first. Gujarat, home to some of the most hardline Hindu groups, has introduced a more controversial law under which Buddhism is considered part of Hinduism.

In a separate rally this weekend, not connected to the conversion ceremonies, thousands of Dalits plan to burn the new laws.

By a strange irony, as well as the 50th anniversary of Ambedkar's death, the conversions are taking place amid controversy over the funeral of the Dalits' most powerful political leader, Kanshi Ram. Ram had also converted to Buddhism, but some of his relatives objected when his cremation was carried out according to Buddhist rites.

Link to the article

7:53 AM

 
Dalit’s land allotted for dental college

Hindustan Times
October 11, 2006
THE STATE Government has allotted five-acre prime land near Misrod on the City outskirts to senior BJP leader Kailash Narayan Sarang’s son Vivek Sarang for opening of a dental college. The land was allotted to Vivek’s society within two months of receiving application for the purpose.

The land, the market value of which is nearly Rs 5 crore, is in possession of a Dalit family since 1930. The Government first declared it as the Nazool land and then handed it over to Vivek Sarang’s society — Institute of Applied Sciences of Fundamental Research Society — on September 26 this year.

It didndn’t cost the society a single penny as premium. However, an annual rent of Rs 2,42,760 has been fixed on the land. The present owner, Premlal, moved the district civil court to seek an injunction on the Government decision.

On the other hand, District Collector S K Mishra maintains that the land was allotted in keeping with the Government policy laid down in 1997 providing for allotment of free land for setting up of a medical or a dental college. He said the land was given to Premlal’s family in exchange of his services as kotwar of the village but now Misrod village has come under urban area and therefore, post of kotwar in the village stands abolished and land retrieved from him by the Nazool Department.

He said the application for the land allotment was processed fast so that Vivek could present a proposal for opening of dental college to the Medical Council of India in this academic session.
“If we had delayed allotment of land, he would have been able to present the proposal in 2007-08,” he said. Although the Dalit family is still in possession of the land, revenue inspector (RI) Suresh Singh furnished a certificate in the court stating that the land was demarcated and handed over to Vivek Sarang.

The certificate stated that the land was devoid of any trees or crops. The situation on the ground, however, is different. More than hundred trees and a standing crop of millet sown by the Dalit family could be seen from the road itself.

Now, revenue officials are allegedly threatening Premlal and 12 other members of his family to immediately vacate the land, forcing the family to hire an armed guard for security.
When contacted, Vivek Sarang, however, claimed that the land had been allotted to him after completion of all the formalities. “The land had been retrieved from Premlal way back in 1998 but he continued to live there,” he told the Hindustan Times. Vivek said, “Whenever I try to do something, some controversy crops up because I happen to be a politician’s son”.

Link to the article

7:49 AM

Monday, October 09, 2006  
Anti-dalit villages in TN gear up for panchayat polls

Mumbai Mirror
6 October 2006

Administration takes steps to ensure free and fair elections in the dalit-reserved villages refusing to accept panchayat presidents from lower castes

Jayaraj Sivan
With the panchayat elections in Pappapatti, Keeripatti and Nattarmangalam villages in Madurai district and Kottakachiyendal village in Virudhunagar district in Tamil Nadu just a week away, the authorities are gearing up to ensure a free and fair polls in the areas.Posing serious challenges to the law enforcers, these Dalit-reserved villages have been refusing to accept Dalits as panchayat presidents for more than a decade.

As mandated by the Constitution, the authorities are once again gearing up for polls in these villages, for the 18th time since the enactment of the Panchayati Raj Act, to elect people’s representatives.While the State Election Commission could successfully hold elections for the post of 12,618 village panchayat presidents in 2001, of which 2,959 were reserved for scheduled castes and 93 for scheduled tribes, these four villages went without presidents because no Dalit dared to contest fearing the wrath of dominant caste Hindus, especially the Thevar community.

Only once, in 1996, Nattarmangalam had a Dalit president. Last year, Keeripatti, too, showed signs of a change with V Azhagumalai, a Dalit fielded by the upper-caste Hindus, getting elected. But in no time, he put in his papers, making a mockery of the democratic system.

All these years, the government has been firm not to yield to the majority community’s demand for de-reservation. To ensure that nothing goes wrong this time, the district administration has made elaborate arrangements. Keeripatti and Kottakachiyendal have already elected their presidents unopposed.

Madurai district collector T Udayachandran said: “Democratic process is seen in the villages this time. Since we shifted the venue for filing the nomination papers from the panchayat offices to the Revenue Divisional Office at Usilampatti, a lot of candidates are in the fray. “Using the government officials from the same villages as ambassadors, we are educating the masses. To infuse confidence in the people, we have provided round-the-clock police patrolling and all the candidates have been provided personal security. Some of the polling booths have been relocated to Dalit-dominated hamlets to help them cast votes without fear.”

Link to the article

8:09 AM

 
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