Saturday, September 20, 2003

The 'Dalits' of Japan come calling

By Radha Venkatesan

Chennai Sept. 19. They are the Dalits of Japan - the Burakus. And they have come calling on the Dalits of Tamil Nadu. They have come to tell their story of "discrimination" and learn about the tales of discrimination in India.

In the hierarchical society of Japan - it was so at least until a few decades ago - the Burakus were engaged in handling animal carcasses and scavenging. They were sub-divided into the "eta" (filthy) and the "hinim" (inhuman).

"Though we are natives of Japan, we were discriminated against in various forms. And the discrimination continues even now, in subtler forms," says Isao Takeuchi, secretary-general of the Miyoto council of the Buraku Liberation League. He heads a four-member Buraku delegation which is on a visit to Tamil Nadu.

For centuries, the Burakus bore the discrimination in silence, "believing they were born lowly." An article written by a local government official sneering at their "filthy living conditions" spurred them into organising a protest. The effect was a Special Measures Law enacted by the Japanese Government to provide financial help and improve the living conditions of the Burakus.

Nearly five decades later, 90 per cent of the three million Burakus are literate and several among them have found their way into the higher echelons of the bureaucracy and the Diet, the Japanese Parliament. Nonetheless, the techno-marvel that is Japan is yet to drive out social discrimination. Isao says: "Even now it is difficult for the Burakus to get jobs. Business houses maintain a directory of Buraku towns and reject candidates from those towns. In schools, derogatory slogans are scrawled on the walls. On the website, statements such as `Death to Burakus' pop up quite often."

It is difficult even now for a Buraku man or woman to marry outside the community. Even in death they suffer. Buddhist priests often give a new name for the dead, sometimes that of an animal, he claims.

Source: The Hindu, September 20, 2003


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