Friday, November 12, 2004

Gibb tells of (dalit) child shelter 'horrors'


REALITY TV show millionaire Johnny Gibb has spoken of the horrors he witnessed at a refuge for "untouchable" children in Southern India.

Mr Gibb, an officer with Lothian and Borders Police, has spent much of the last year at the refuge in Andhra Pradesh, run by the charity Scottish Love in Action (SLA).

The refuge is home to 320 orphans born as untouchables, or Dalits, who would otherwise be living on the streets.

And the first winner of television’s £1million Survivor challenge said he was stunned by the poverty and prejudice the children have to face every day.

Dalits face horrendous prejudice and are denied health care, education and other basic human rights. Historically, they were put to unwanted jobs, like latrine cleaning and animal slaughtering, and today they are still shunned and discriminated against.

Police regularly turn their backs when Dalits are beaten and even lynched, and they are so reviled in certain quarters that if their shadow falls on non-Dalit’s food, no-one will eat it.

During his stay, Mr Gibb witnessed this prejudice first hand, when a doctor at the local state hospital refused to clean and stitch a serious head wound for a child from the orphanage. Instead he ordered the cleaner, who was sweeping the floor, to do it.

"This kind of rejection is very common for the majority of Dalits," said Mr Gibb. "I met a woman whose two sons are at the refuge. Her husband died of Aids some months ago and she herself had only months to live.

"She had the most amazing courage and dignity and as she was sitting on the steps holding her sons, the tears were rolling down her face."

Mr Gibb also met Jyothi, 11, and heard how the young girl had been the child of a Dalit mother and upper caste father. The father was disowned by his family for marrying a Dalit, but after some years, they feigned forgiveness and invited him to bring his family to stay.

After a few days, his parents lured Jyothi and her mother into the countryside for a picnic and murdered the mother, drowning her in a river.

Jyothi’s father was broken by the tragedy and abandoned her in a town 65km away. She was taken in by a stranger as a servant, but he took her to the orphanage a year later to avoid paying a dowry for her.

Mr Gibb last night hosted a charity auction at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange, part of a fundraising fashion show for the refuge, which needs to raise £38,000 a year to keep feeding, clothing and educating the destitute children in their care.

Sixth form girls from George Watson’s College, male pupils from Boroughmuir High School and members of the Edinburgh Accies rugby team all modelled one-off creations designed by fashion students at Edinburgh College of Art.

Actress Siobhan Redmond hosted the event, which also featured hats designed by Primary Three pupils from Mary Erskine and Stewart Melville and made up by Fabhatrix. All the profits from the show will go to cover the cost of looking after the ever increasing number of children cared for at the refuge.

Many of them were found begging in the streets, sleeping in railway stations or scavenging on rubbish tips. Some have been rescued from prostitution, while others have been bought out of bonded labour, a modern day system of slavery where a parents debt is passed to their child.

Gillie Davidson, 59, a founder member of SLA, said: "The children in our home are safe, happy and loved, but numbers continue to increase. There are no salaried members of staff at SLA and all the profits from the fashion show, and all the funds we raise, will go directly to the orphanage.

"I believe that the plight of the Dalits is the new apartheid. But with help we can make a difference, however small."

Source:, November 12, 2004


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