"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.
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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.
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Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Marrying across Somalia's caste lines
12 December 2006
By Mohammed Olad Hassan
The family of Sahal Abdi-kafi no longer talk to him following his wedding to his long-time girlfriend Zamzam Ahmed, a member of Somalia's lower caste Yahar community.
Sahal says the Islamist edict persuaded him to go ahead with the wedding
Despite his family's strong disapproval, the couple went ahead with their marriage, encouraged by an edict from the Islamist group which has taken control of the capital, Mogadishu, and much of southern Somalia this year after 15 years of lawlessness.
Sahal and Zamzam had been seeing each other secretly for five years but neither ever really believed their romantic dream would end in marriage.
"We were very different - in lifestyle, in thinking, in tastes," said Sahal, who runs a big electronics shop in Mogadishu's main Bakara Market and who comes from a prominent family of merchants.
In contrast, Zamzam's father has died and her mother sells the popular stimulant khat.
"Yet we fell in love, we expected the heavens to fall when my parents would come to know of our affair, we expected the worst and were prepared for the worst," Salal says.
After centuries of deep divisions, cross caste weddings like Sahal and Zamzam's are now becoming more common.
Union of Islamic Courts leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed recently said Somalis should marry good Muslims, whatever caste they were from, in an effort to break down centuries of prejudice.
"Islam recommends choosing your partner according to whether they follow their religion and whether they are of good character but not because of their social level," he said.
Sahal, 35, supports the Islamists and says Mr Ahmed's speech convinced him to go ahead with the wedding, despite his parents' opposition.
Somalia's caste system is extremely complicated.
While some members of the lower castes, such as the Yahar, Midgan, Eyle, Boon, say they face constant discrimination, several members have risen to occupy prominent positions in society.
Many members of the lower castes perform jobs such as metal-working, hunting with dogs, shoe-making and hairdressing.
Marriage is the area where traditional prejudices remain strongest, with men who marry lower caste women often ostracised by their families.
Sahal knew his family would be upset by the wedding and felt unable to tell them that he and Zamzam had gone ahead and tied the knot.
When he did break the news, his father immediately told him to divorce his new wife and choose another, higher caste, woman.
"My parents promised me they would pay a large amount of money for the cost of my wedding if I married a woman of my caste, but I could not disown my beloved one," he said.
"She is beautiful, polite, obedient to me, pious and God-fearing, so there was no reason not to marry her."
Zamzam says she only knew that she loved Sahal and never thought about their difference in social background.
She said it was beyond her wildest dreams to see herself sharing a life with Sahal.
"Love knows no age, no caste, and no creed. There can be no other explanation why Sahal could have fallen in love with me," she said.
"However, he married me against the wishes of his parents, jeopardising his relations with his relatives and friends and that of the community he comes from," she added.
"Finally, he was mine and I was his. Sometimes life is indeed like a Bollywood movie," she said, smiling.
Link to the article
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Dalit atrocity cases: Just 15% convictions
Times of India
12 December 2006
NEW DELHI: When the Prime Minister termed continuing atrocities on Dalits a "national disgrace" at the week-end conclave of chief ministers, he was not way off the mark. Not only are caste-inspired crimes refusing to end, even the redress mechanism is failing to deliver.
Consider this. The conviction rate under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act is 15.71% and pendency is as high as 85.37%. This when the Act has strict provisions aimed as a deterrent. By contrast, conviction rate under IPC is over 40%.
The high acquittal rate appears to be a direct fallout of police delay in booking the guilty. A study on POA Act, by S Japhet of National Law School, has laid bare reasons behind the low conviction, while also revealing how ground is prepared for acquittal at the investigation stage itself.
Of the 646 cases studied by the NLS team from POA courts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, 578 were disposed of and 68 are pending. Just 27 of the decided cases resulted in conviction; 551 in acquittal. On the whole, 13 acquittals were reported from AP and TN each, and one from Karnataka. The study notes that while POA cases are disposed of possibly as fast as those under IPC, with an average period of two-and-a-half years, the police all along appeared to facilitate acquittal rather than conviction.
While an average six days were taken to file an FIR, it took as many as 260 days on average to file chargesheets in cases of atrocities against Dalits. Maximum period for chargesheeting under CrPC is 90 days. The long delay at this stage, the study says, proves crucial in the final adjudication.
Southern states have set up exclusive courts to deal with POA offences besides designating certain courts like district sessions courts as special courts to facilitate Dalit cases.
These exclusive courts have improved the situation to an extent but, on the whole, conviction rates remain abysmally low. On an average, the study found that arrest of the main accused took 25 days in exclusive courts and 98 days in designated courts. "They are neither given top priority nor are investigations completed within the shortest possible time,"it states.
Also, more than 450 days are taken by the two types of courts to start the hearing after the submission of chargesheet. The report says, "Huge intervals between various stages of case processing need some serious attention because they are working against the whole idea (of justice to Dalits)." The nature of offences, too, are an eye-opener. The second most common offence under the POA Act — after atrocities to humiliate — is outraging of modesty of SC/ST women. As the study notes, "It indicates a tendency to use the dominant caste position to sexually exploit Dalit women."
Link to the article
Monday, December 11, 2006
Long behind schedule
The News on Sunday
10 December 2006
It is a case of being twice condemned for the Dalits -- the ostracised group within a minority
By Zulfiqar Shah
It was a hot August day last year when I boarded a Kundri-bound bus at Mirpurkhas. A few minutes later, the bus stopped to pick up passengers. As the door opened, three women clad in traditional Thari clothes accompanied by six children entered and made their way to the middle of the vehicle. There were no vacant seats and the group stood there -- the children clinging tightly to their grownup escorts. The bus motioned forward.
It stopped again half an hour later, this time picking up four women in more fashionable attire. They sure woke up the chivalrous gentleman inside the conductor. He nudged the men sitting around asking them to make room for the 'ladies'.
Two stops, two batches of women... It was as vivid a contrast as placing the sober images of modern life against the fast unfading shades that are indigenous to Thar.
For someone from among the passengers that was a bit too strong to take. "Can't you see that there are other women on board who have not been given seats?," he said to the conductor, gesturing towards the four Thari women and their six little companions, and drawing a none too gentlemanly remark in response.
"Oh they! They may remain on their feet. They are Kholhi. They are Bheel."
An argument ensued, one man against another -- one just a whistle blower, the other a powerful conductor. Finally someone did intervene -- on behalf of the status quo... "It is okay for women belonging to a scheduled Hindu caste to stand."
Known as Dalits, the women and their families are quite used to this type of treatment. They are settled mostly in lower Sindh, particularly in the districts of Mirpurkhas, Umerkot and Mithi. Looked down upon by the religious majority, the Dalit population is ostracised by the members of the privileged Hindu castes.
Pakistani law lists 40 scheduled castes tribes including Bheel, Bagri, Balmeke, Menghwar, Kholhi, Oad and Bhangi. The Constitution of Pakistan promotes equality among its citizens, rejecting any discrimination on the basis of caste, creed or religion. The reality however is quite the opposite. Some castes are widely discriminated against, humiliated and even assaulted.
"Discrimination on the basis of caste is very much there and we Dalits are its worst victims," says Surrender Velasai, president of the Scheduled Castes Federation of Pakistan. He says the impression that there is no caste-based discrimination in Pakistan is misleading and this has put Dalits in a very difficult situation. "This impression has led to a situation where we have no safeguards like the ones adopted by Dalits living in other countries."
Unlike what is the case in India, there is no clear-cut law in Pakistan against caste-based discrimination or about 'untouchables'. This prevents litigation.
"There is no specific law in Pakistan to condemn discrimination against members of scheduled castes," says Rochi Ram, a senior lawyer and member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). "Caste is not an issue. Nobody wants to talk about caste in Pakistan."
He says there are no seats reserved for scheduled castes in the assemblies or the Senate. "No one belonging to a scheduled caste has ever been appointed a judge or a magistrate in the country."
According to the findings of Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP), an NGO working in Thar, a majority of the freed bonded labourers living in camps near Hyderabad are scheduled caste Hindus. There are an estimated 1.7 million bonded labourers in Sindh and an overwhelming majority of them is from scheduled castes.
"Entitlement of land is another issue confronting scheduled castes in Pakistan particularly in rural Sindh. Most of the scheduled clans living in the villages have no entitlement rights despite the fact that they have been living here for ages," says Dr Sono Kangharani, head of TRDP. Denial of share in economic opportunities and forced conversions of girls are other forms of discrimination that these scheduled castes are routinely subjected to, he adds.
A presidential ordinance -- Scheduled Caste (declaration) Ordinance 1957 -- provided for a 6 per cent quota for scheduled castes in government jobs but the law was never implemented until it was scrapped in the late 1990s. Pakistan is among a score of countries in the world where caste-based discrimination exists; yet Pakistan has not signed the UN Convention on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
The state may argue that there can be no caste discrimination in a Muslim country since Islam teaches equality. The reality is that the scheduled castes are treated here as third-rate citizens. "It is double discrimination they are faced with -- as non-Muslims and as Dalits," says Rochi Ram.
I. A. Rehman, director HRCP, reiterates that backwardness cannot be overcome unless and until all citizens are treated equally. "Until we are able to protect the rights of all citizens, prosperity and development is not possible," he said at a recent consultation held in Karachi.
He demands of the government to ratify the UN Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights without any further delay. Pakistan has signed the convention but is still shy of ratifying it. The day it does that, it will be bound to bring changes in its laws and policies. Or so it is hoped.
Scheduled Castes Federation of Pakistan calls for specific laws that prohibit discrimination against Dalits as well as formation of a body like a national commission on the status of scheduled castes to rectify the situation.
"Specific measures are required to increase the socio-economic status of scheduled castes as most of them are living in extremely adverse conditions. There must also be some seats reserved in the assemblies for scheduled castes," says Velasai.
Dr Sono says quota in the judiciary, law enforcement departments and participation in the democratic process are also equally important if the state and other actors are sincere in bringing scheduled castes out of the present state of denial and deprivation.
Link to the article