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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

Monday, November 06, 2006  
YEMEN: Hear Our Voices: "I hate my classmates calling me a servant"

Yemen AlertNet
05 Nov 2006

Source: IRIN

SANAA, 5 November (IRIN) - Akhdam [servants in Arabic] are, as the rest of Yemen's population, Arabic-speaking Muslims but because they do not belong to any of the three main Arab tribes that make up traditional Yemeni society, they are the lowest social caste in the country. They are marginalised and face economic hardship although the government says that it does not discriminate against them. Most of them live in mud-straw houses, tents, tin shacks and some are homeless. The majority are illiterate and are unemployed in the poverty-stricken country.

In most cases, Akhdam men, women and children survive by begging. Those with jobs work as road sweepers, porters, cobblers and shoe polishers.

Mainstream Yemeni society see them as slaves. According to legend, they are the descendants of Ethiopian invaders who briefly occupied Yemen some 1,500 years ago. With the abolition of slavery in Yemen in 1962, the Akhdam [singular khadem] are now all free but face widespread discrimination. It is estimated that there are some 500,000 Akhdam in Yemen [total population about 21.5 million]. Some 100,000 of Akhdam live on the outskirts of Sana'a.

IRIN spoke to three people from the Akhdam community who live in what is called "Akhdam City" in Sana'a, Yemen's capital.

Ahmed Yousof Mohammed Ali, 31. "I am married with three children. But I don't have a job. I live in poverty, and everyday I look for a job. If I find one, it is always to sweep the streets, or clean a house or office. I have to get any job so I can get food for my family. People have a bad image of us as we live isolated as if in a nest. We really need free education for our children as well as free medical services. If I don't have money, I can't go to hospital for medical treatment. The government should give us jobs as well.

Sharifa Ahmed ,60. "Every year, the General People's Congress [Yemen's ruling party in Yemen] gives us basic food. But this year the party hasn't offered us any support. Food is our main need. Our new house is better than the one we used to live in, but the situation now is worse than before. We have no water, no electricity and no food.

These three basic needs require money which we lack. At the end of each month, we have to pay water and electricity bills which we can't afford. Should we pay the [water and electricity] bills or should we pay for a visit to doctor, for textbooks, or above all, for a loaf of bread? We have had no water or electricity for three months as they have been cut off. Even charitable associations are no longer supporting us. How then can my husband and I maintain our 12 children?"

Fawaz Abdu Abdullah ,13. "The most difficult problem for me is when my classmates call me khadem [a servant]. I hate this the most and I hate them only for that very reason. I know they call me so deliberately to pick a quarrel with me, or provoke me or both.

Actually, we [the children of Akhdam community] don't have many friends.
I need a good education. Textbooks are not free. So far, the school administration has not given me any textbooks. Even our education is marginalised."

Link to the article

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