Monday, May 13, 2002

Over 200 Dalits convert to Sikhism in MP

Monday, May 13, 2002 (Guna):

In Madhya Pradesh's Guna and Vidisha district more than two hundred Dalits have converted to Sikhism in order to free themselves of discrimination by the upper castes--a tradition that has been prevalent for years.

Though this has not yet led to a change of mindset, more Dalits look all set to convert to Sikhism.

80 year old Dangal Rai is now Dangal Singh. All his life, he says, he has suffered discrimination from upper caste Hindus and has now decided to convert to Sikhism.

"We were not allowed to enter the temples and were shunned by everybody," said Dangal Singh.

The village of Deomari is a VIP constituency in every sense of the word. It is part of Jyotiraditya Scindia's parliamentary constituency and also part of the Raghogarh assembly constituency represented by Chief Minister Digvijay Singh.

But here too, Dalits have been traditionally discriminated against and four families in this village alone have converted to Sikhism. Many of the villagers say their first introduction to the religion came when migrant labour from the village went to Punjab.

Conversions have since been reported from 11 villages in Guna district and four villages in Vidisha district.

"In January alone 42 people converted. In March at least 200 people converted," said Giani Bhajan Singh, Guru Singh Sabha, Guna.

Dalits here are still learning to tie the turban and the basics of a new religion but the outward changes have still not resulted in a change of the mindset through which others see them.

"Even today after conversions we still have problems. We are still shunned and humiliated," said Nishan Singh.

Earlier conversions to Buddhism had been reported but this is the first time there has been such large-scale conversions to Sikhism. Critics say this could be a case of coercion with factors like free food provided by Gurudwaras being used to win over poor villagers.

The matter has also been raised by the BJP in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly and a memorandum has been submitted to the governor. However, the villagers who have converted maintain this is not a question of opportunism but an issue of basic respect and of their right to be treated as equal.

Source: NDTV, May 13, 2002

Thursday, May 09, 2002

Dalit purohits break upper class bastion in UP

Rahul Shrivastava

Thursday, May 9, 2002 (Lucknow):

A silent revolution is unfolding at the Sanskrit Sansthan in Lucknow. A three-month course in Purohitya or specialists in Hindu rituals has just ended and those who have gained the expertise are set to break the traditional Brahmin hold.

"In this, non-Brahmans and people of the backward castes have also participated. There is a lot of enthusiasm as this has been a secret till now. Knowledge was limited but now they have the opportunity to learn," said Sachchidanand Pathak, Director, UP Sanskrit Academy.

The academy ran these courses through 100 centres in 60 cities. Out of the 3,000 students, more than 40 per cent were Dalits and backwards. Those who trained the participants believe these students showed keener interest.

"For the backward classes, there is a lot of enthusiasm as now they will be able to know the rituals properly, practice them and be part of the mainstream," said a teacher at the academy.

The brahminical hierarchy might smirk at the concept of a Dalit purohit and it will probably be a long way before Dalit purohits become regular practitioners. But right now knowledge is potent power.

"The youth are studying Sanskrit. It is not always possible to get a Brahmin everywhere. If there is no Brahmin in our village, what can we do? Now our boys are learning Sanskrit. Now, we can do pujas and even get marriages performed by them," said a student.

Interestingly, the course run by the academy was funded by the Central Human Resource Ministry. Though the cause might have been creating greater Hindutva consciousness, it has ended up triggering some kind of social engineering.

Source: NDTV, May 9, 2002

Wednesday, May 08, 2002

Social marginalisation of Dalits in Gujarat

Shikha Trivedi

Wednesday, May 8, 2002 (Ahmedabad):

The social marginalisation of Dalits has seen them take two completely different roles in the riots in Gujarat: both of protectors and attackers.

In villages of north and central Gujarat where both the dalits and the muslims have shared the impoverishment, the two communities have stuck to each other. But the picture is violent in cities like Ahmedabad where the social marginalisation forced them to take on another role.

In the Sardarpura massacre in Mehsana district, 29 people were burnt to death after being locked into a room. More lives would have been lost if it had not been for their dalit neighbours led by 70-year-old Someshwar Pandya a former sarpanch. And this angered the local VHP and Bajrang Dal activists.

Someshwar Pandya said, " A team from Taluka panchayat came to assess the damage, to organise relief for families of the dead. I was helping them. The Hindutva leaders did not like it."

Two weeks ago the frail Pandya was thrashed with sticks in a busy market place. He lives but is now blind.

The people who attacked him and the men, women and children of Sardarpura were the same high caste Patels.

In these riots across the villages of north and central Gujarat linkages between dalits and muslims of a shared impoverishment and a social marginalisation held strong, but in big towns and cities the same protectors, turned murderers.

"In previous riots very few dalits actively participated but today they are fully involved. Because earlier they had not been accepted by the mainstream hindus, but in recent years they have been completely co-opted," said a resident of the area.

The process has taken close to two decades and its origins lie behind the locked gates of Ahmedabad's textile mills.

More than half the workers in Ahmedabad's textile mills were dalits and muslims. After the industry's decline, nearly 70% of them lost their jobs. Urban anxieties of space and livelihood began to put new pressures on old neighbours forced to inhabit the edge.

Significantly, the upper caste leadership of the BJP with the help of the RSS chose this period in Gujarat in the mid-80s to expand its social base The dalits, rootless and unemployed were easy recruits into the saffron brotherhood.

Valjibhai Patel, Dalit leader said, "Today 64% of the dalits in Gujarat are literate which is only 1% less than the general category. But there are no jobs. In these riots this army of educated but unemployed dalits have been used by the VHP and Bajrang Dal.�

For a majority of the dalits communalism and rioting is only a means of livelihood or the brandishing of a new found hindu identity. The truth is that in Ahmedabad even today dalits cannot find a house in a Savarna neighbourhood or a job in a private firm. They are treated as social outcasts ironically except by those whom they have targeted.

Source: NDTV, May 8, 2002

Five Dalits killed in Bihar

Wednesday, May 8, 2002 (Patna):

In continuing violence on Dalits in Bihar, five Dalits were gunned down by the Jaynandan Yadav faction of the outlawed People's War Group (PWG) at Bhadaura village in Patna district.

Armed with sophisticated weapons, PWG rebels stormed the village, 45 kms from Patna, late on Tuesday night and shot down five Dalits, Additional Director General of Police, Ashis Ranjan Sinha said.

Three members of a family were among those killed.

Enmity was stated to be the reason behind the killing. No arrests have been made so far in this connection.

The incident took place less than 48 hours after the killing of six Rajasthani Dalits, engaged in expansion and modernisation work of the Sone canal, at Diliya village in the same district on Sunday.

On May 1, four Dalits were killed by notorious Badku Mia gang for refusing to serve liquor to the gang leader's father at Puraina village in Gopalganj district.

Source: NDTV, May 8, 2002