"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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Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Caste in a discriminatory mould
Scheduled castes in three districts of southern Punjab share their tales of socio-economic and political deprivation
The News - Jang Group
By Zulfiqar Shah
Kanji Ram Menghwar, a young member of Sadiqabad district council, has good news to share with his scheduled caste community: the government has declared Hindu festivals like Holi and Dewali as official holidays. He came to know of this in his meeting with Ejazul Haq, minister for religious affairs. He held a copy of the notification provided by the minister like a sacred document.
For a community, which stands at the bottom in social and economic indicators and has been a victim of social exclusion on the basis of caste and religion, even this simple government gesture was like a dream come true.
Sadiqabad, Rahimyar Khan and Bahawalpur, three districts of southern Punjab, which also share borders with Sindh, have a sizeable population of scheduled castes -- Bheel, Kolhi, Menghwar, Balmaki and Jogi.
These castes, which are commonly considered minority within minority, rarely see people from majority faith around them interacting or discussing issues concerning their socio-economic and political deprivation. If and when such a rare opportunity is provided, they just burst out. This is what exactly happened last week at a day-long consultation on 'caste- based discrimination' held in in Rahimyar Khan that brought together about 50 men and women from scheduled castes.
They have so many stories to tell -- ranging from complaints of downplaying their number in population census to forced conversion. The worst comes in the shape of refusal of food and other services at common places or what's commonly known as 'untouchability'.
According to population census report of 1998, the only authentic government document on the population prepared a decade ago, scheduled caste population in Rahimyar Khan and Bahawalpur districts is 17459 and 876 respectively.
But quoting this data is like abusing the community, which is already marginalised. "These figures are totally wrong," comments Bhayya Ram Anjum, who has twice contested the election for provincial assembly. "There are more than 50,000 Hindu registered voters in Rahimyar Khan, ninety per cent of whom are scheduled castes," is his angry response to the official data.
Lala Mehar Lal Bheel, a former MPA, shares Ram's anger: "The population census data is absolutely incorrect. We have raised this issue time and again but nobody listened." In his view, this is the beginning of discrimination meted out to the scheduled caste population. "When our actual numbers in population are not accounted for, what else may we expect."
They agreed that a large portion of those described as scheduled castes have wrongly been included in Hindu (Jati) category. During census, people are usually asked about their caste and they reply by saying: 'Hindu'. This way those scheduled castes that did not specifically describe them as such are counted in the boarder category of Hindus.
According to census report total population of Hindus in Pakistan is 21,11,171. Of this only 332,343 are identified as scheduled castes and rest as Jatis (upper castes). But Lala Mehar says the fact is quite opposite. "More than 90 per cent of Hindus in Pakistan are scheduled castes. That means our population is around two million even according to government figures."
There are also chances that many of the scheduled castes are completely left out during the head-count due to their social invisibility. "In many cases we are even not considered humans; what difference does it make if we are not included in census," says Nathu Ram, a young participant of the consultation.
Scheduled castes in this part of the country, young and old and women and men, say they face discrimination and hatred in every walk of life with no one talking about this issue. "Every body hates us; often we are asked to sit on floor in hospitals and other places," says Kanya Lal, 30, from a basti near Rahimyar Khan. "We are told that we are Menghwar and deserve this treatment."
Kanya Lal gets emotionally charged when he shares how a nurse refused to treat his sister when they went to a local private hospital after a severe pain in her teeth. "She said she won't pollute her hands by touching my sister."
It's interesting to hear such stories despite tall claims by state and non-state actors that there is no question of caste-based discrimination in Pakistan. In reality exclusion on the basis of caste is present in its worst form. The scheduled caste Hindus particularly Kolhi, Bheel, Menghwar, Bagri, Balmaki face discrimination in the shape of untouchability. They are often termed achoot (untouchable) by faithful Muslims and also by upper caste Hindus.
This discrimination haunts them from Tharparker in the bottom of Sindh to Rahimyar Khan in southern Punjab. There is hardly any change in the pattern of social, economic and political exclusion and forms of discrimination against this group of citizens -- regardless of which part of the country they reside.
They are not welcome at hotels and restaurants to share utensils and barbers refuse to offer them services. In some instances they have been physically humiliated when eating in hotels when they dared to break this rule.
"My friend and me were literally beaten up in Khanpur when we attempted to eat in a hotel," says a young man who doesn't want to be quoted by name. He says he and his friend were eating in a hotel in Khanpur but were pushed out when some other clients pointed that we were non-Muslims.
Similarly, a young student of pre-medical shares how scheduled caste Hindu students are described as polluted. "The most frequent comment is that we do not take bath for months and emit a bad smell," says Shankar.
The day-long candid interaction with the group suggests that they face discrimination at both public and private spheres. Add to the injury is complete silence particularly on the part of so called intellectuals and liberals from majority religion.
It's actually the caste system coupled with class. Discussions with different groups suggest that there may be a little space for the highly educated which is a rare breed anyway; uneducated and poor Hindus are the worst victims. These are literally broken people and there would be no harm to describe them as Pakistani Dalits.
Scheduled caste women say they are easily identified from their dresses and face multiple discrimination. "When we go to bazaar, we are asked not to touch the things but ask the price from a distance," says a woman participant. "We also face discrimination in public transport and are treated like second class citizens." They also complain of sexual harassment.
A look at the demography of these communities reveals that both in Sindh and Punjab, they are residing in districts near the Indian border. The assumption is that upper caste Hindus left the country at the time of partition but these dalits couldn't because they did not have the means to do so. Ironically, scheduled castes in these two areas are in the same condition regardless of the development of the area.
For instance, the conditions of Kolhi, Bheel and Menghwar in district Rahimyar Khan is not different from that of the same castes in Tharparker and Umerkot, despite the difference in development indicators of the two areas -- district Rahimyar Khan is supposedly better-off.
"They live in pathetic conditions," says Bushra Khanum, a Multan based social scientist who has recently conducted a series of field visits to the area as part of a research study. "They live in literally inhuman conditions." She says of the 20 bastis (villages) visited by her, majority has no basic amenities including health facilities and sewerage. "Hardly two or three bastis had a primary school and that too in bad conditions."
She says, in Chak No 115, women had to walk a long way just to bring drinking water. "These communities are really poorest of the poor. Their biggest demand was a common toilet." Toilets and latrines are a frequent demand of excluded population groups including scheduled castes and bonded labour but the government development programmes have no provision for this basic facility.
Unfortunately, these Pakistani dalits are also not visible in donor-prescribed development programmes -- as reflected from their obviously pathetic conditions. Heavy funding by multilateral donors has also failed to target these communities.
Though the state of Pakistan has promised equal treatment to minorities and even the national flag carries a white portion, a symbol of minorities, that promise has yet to be fulfilled.
Obviously, there is widespread poverty in Pakistan and Muslims may make majority of the poor because of their size of population; social exclusion on the basis of caste, religion, work, ethnicity and gender is rampant.
There is an urgent need to break the culture of silence on the issue. The debate and discussion would need a follow-up strategy to bring in rapid change in the lives of those ignored for decades.
Link to the article
India asked to implement UN recommended steps to end discrimination against Dalits-- rights bodies
Associated Press Pakistan
13 March 2007
The Indian government should take immediate steps to implement the recommendations of a United Nations committee that found persistent violence and discrimination against Dalits -- the "untouchables", a group of international human rights organizations said Monday.
The organizations include Human Rights Watch, the Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law, and the International Dalit Solidarity Network.
On March 9, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) issued its Concluding Observations regarding India's compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The Committee's report found that "de facto segregation of Dalits persists" and highlighted systematic abuse against Dalits including torture and extrajudicial killings, an "alarming" extent of sexual violence against Dalit women, and caste discrimination in post-tsunami relief.
The Committee called for effective measures to implement laws on discrimination and affirmative action, and sought proper protection for Dalits and tribal communities against acts of "discrimination and violence." The Committee has given India a year to respond to four of its recommendations, including its recommendations on how India can end widespread impunity for violence against Dalits, and Dalit women in particular.
"The UN Committee's concluding observations confirm that India has failed to properly protect Dalits and tribal communities," Brad Adams, Asia Director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "This is a prime opportunity for India to give its own policies on discrimination some meaning. Laws need to be implemented, and those who violate them must be prosecuted."
The Concluding Observations were issued following two days of hearings in Geneva on February 23 and 26 between Committee members and the Indian delegation. During the hearing, Committee members uniformly took issue with the Indian government’s refusal to acknowledge that caste-based discrimination is covered by the Convention and is an issue of international human rights concern.
In particular, the Committee called on the Indian government to:
The Concluding Observations reflect the Committee's disappointment with India's presentation before the Committee on February 23 and 26, HRW said. Despite India’s Solicitor General Goolam Vahanvati's claim to the Committee that the government is "deeply conscious and concerned about caste and is fully committed to tackling this at every level," it said, the Indian delegation resorted to a semantic debate on the difference between caste and race to support its erroneous assertion that the Convention only covers race-based discrimination.
- Introduce mandatory training on the application of India's Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act for police, judges and prosecutors, and take disciplinary measures against those who fail to implement this law.
Ensure the protection of witnesses and victims to caste-based crimes and ensure their immediate access to effective remedies.
Prosecute and punish perpetrators of sexual violence and sexual exploitation of Dalit women, and sanction anyone found preventing or discouraging victims from reporting such incidents, including public officials.
- Eradicate the social acceptance of caste-based discrimination through public education and awareness campaigns.
Ensure equal access to healthcare, safe drinking water, and other public services.
Investigate all alleged cases of discrimination against Dalits in post-tsunami relief and compensate or retroactively grant benefits to victims of such discrimination.
Take effective measures to reduce dropout rates and increase enrollment rates among Dalits at all levels of schooling by providing scholarships and by ending classroom segregation.
Ensure proper enforcement of reservations or quotas to counter the under-representation of Dalits and tribal communities in government and public services.
Adopt measures to enhance Dalits' access to the labour market, including by extending the reservation policy to the private sector.
Repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that, while providing the armed forces with widespread powers to search, arrest and shoot suspects, leading to allegations of human rights abuses, has immunity provisions under which troops cannot be prosecuted unless authorized by the Central Government.
In its Concluding Observations, "the Committee reaffirmed that discrimination based on the ground of caste is fully covered by article 1 of the Convention.” It cited its position expressed in General Recommendation No. 29, "that discrimination based on "descent' includes discrimination against members of communities based on forms of social stratification such as caste and analogous systems of inherited status which nullify or impair their equal enjoyment of human rights."
"The Indian delegation's arrogant rejection ofwell-documented abuses against Dalits before UN
experts in Geneva mirrors India's systematic denial of Dalit rights at home," said Professor Smita Narula, faculty director of the Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice. "India once again squandered an opportunity to enlist the support of experts in its efforts to ensure equality in law and practice for its citizens."
Committee members characterized India's position as a "broken record," a "step backwards," and cautioned that India should not "confuse growth with development." Sicilianos reminded the government that "change cannot be achieved by legislation alone." The Committee also highlighted its concern over "abuses at the local level" for which "radical measures" were necessary.
"Instead of sidestepping its responsibilities, India should welcome assistance from the international community to eliminate caste-based discrimination," said Rikke N.hrlind, coordinator of the International Dalit Solidarity Network. "The fact that European Parliament strongly urged its own institutions to address caste discrimination in all EU-India relations reflects growing worldwide concern about India’s 'hidden apartheid'."
More than 165 million people in India continue to be subject to discrimination, exploitation and violence simply because of their caste, the HRW said.
Link to the article
Labels: CERD, India