Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Rajasthan body to raise Dalits' issues at World Social Forum

Jaipur: Rajasthan Social Forum, a joint body of several civil society organisations, would raise issues like atrocities against Dalits, displacement of tribal communities and privatisation in water and power sectors at the World Social Forum to be held in Brazil later this month, it was announced here today.

The issues would be raised by the delegation from Rajasthan at the world meet being held at Porto Alegre in Brazil from January 26 to 31, a spokesman of RSF said.

RSF, constituted in 2002, will be holding a convention here on January 15 to adopt a resolution to be presented before the world forum, the spokesman said.

The resolution would cover a broad range of social and economic issues like atrocities against Dalits, land reforms, displacement of tribal communities, employment, communalism, food security and women and child development.

The state convention would be addressed by Magsaysay award winner Aruna Roy, retired judge of Rajasthan High Court V S Dave and dalit rights leader P L Mimroth.

Source: Press Trust of India, January 12, 2005

Spotlight on crime against Dalits

by MONOBINA GUPTA

New Delhi: A conference organised by the social justice and empowerment ministry today took up the atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Tribes, especially Dalits.

Social justice minister Meira Kumar pointed out that the conviction rate in cases registered under the Protection of Civil Rights Act is a mere 3.75 per cent. Besides, 75 to 77 per cent cases of crimes against Dalits remain pending despite the existence of special and designated courts.

Union home minister Shivraj Patil, who was also present at the conference, acknowledged that the system was not delivering justice and existing laws safeguarding the rights of backward classes may have to be changed or tightened.

Between 1998 and 2002, the number of crimes against Scheduled Castes, in violation of the Protection of Civil Rights Act and the Prevention of Atrocities Act, shot up from 724 and 7,443 to 1,018 and 10,770.

In the case of Scheduled Tribes, the number of crimes under the Prevention of Atrocities Act rose from 709 to 1,800 in this period. In 2003, 90 per cent of crimes registered under the Act happened in nine states — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh.

Dalit activists have been persistently underlining the need to enforce existing laws and also get new ones enacted to remove caste prejudices and improve their lot.

A group of Dalit activists met in Bhopal three years ago and laid down a charter of demands, which later came to be known as the Bhopal Declaration.

It demanded that reservation for SCs and STs be applicable in public and private educational institutions from primary to technical and professional levels.

“Every SC/ST child with low income base must have free, quality education at the state’s expense,” was the declaration demand.

It also asked for affirmative action from the private sector. “Reservation should be made mandatory in the private and corporate sector,” it said.

The UPA government has not taken any step for private sector job reservations so far.

Source: The Telegraph, January 12, 2005

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

'Upper caste' people thrash Dalits, scribes

Rajbiraj: A group of "upper caste" people today manhandled Dalits who had reached the Madhpati VDC to enter a local temple at Kanakpur in Saptari district. They also thrashed a group of journalists who had gone to cover the event.

Local correspondent for Kantipur daily, representative of the INSEC year book Prakash Khatiwada and The Himalayan Times reporter and district vice-president of FNJ Jitendra Khadka were injured in the attack.

The Chaudhary, Yadav and Shah castes have banned the Dalits from performing pooja in the temple. A group of Dalits tried to enter the temple today with the help of the January Chetana Dalit Sangam, a local NGO working for the Dalits.

Om Bahadur Khadka, Indra Narayan Chaudhary, Acch-mital Chaudhary, Shanti Devi Chaudhary, Bindi Lal Chaudhary, Manpur Chaudhary, Dorkilal Shah, Nathuni Shah and Samful Chaudhary reportedly attacked them. A group of ‘upper caste' hooligans also used abusive language before manhandling the journalists.

Officiating SP Sanjaya Singh Basnyat said security forces who had reached the spot after three hours arrested Om Bahadur Khadka, Indra Narayan Chaudhary, Dorik Lal Shah, Soman Yadav, Bindeshwor Chaudhary, Bodhi Chaudhary, Kishun Shah, Shanti Devi Chaudhary and Hariya Devi Chaudhary.

Source: The Himalayan Times, January 11, 2005

Monday, January 10, 2005

Manual scavengers crave for alternate employment

Jaipur: Fifteen-year-old Reeta's eyes light up at the mention of sending her to a sewing class. She would love to do anything else to earn a living than help her mother with the stench-filled job of disposing human filth.

Reeta has been cleaning toilets that have no flushing facilities every morning ever since she was nine. She carries the heavy load on her head to a distance of about a kilometre before dumping it at an isolated spot.

With a family of nine members to support, and with her father Rajesh injured in an accident some time ago, there was no way Reeta could allow her mother to do the job alone or think of even continuing with school.

Therefore, the mention of an alternative means of livelihood makes her eyes shine with hope, reports Grassroots Features.

"A sewing class - oh yes I'll love to go. Do you think I can actually sew clothes and earn a livelihood? Can this be a reality?" she exclaims.

Chanda, who like Reeta belongs to the Balmiki community, overcomes her nausea for the stench-filled job by chewing on tobacco.

Though this work is difficult, hazardous and degrading, Chanda, 25, cannot quit as she has no alternate means of livelihood. Her husband has been jobless for quite some time. Most of the time she is the only regular earning member in her family of three, including a small child.

Chanda and Reeta along with several other manual scavengers live in Indira Colony - a world of dirt and squalor - not far from the picturesque Jal Mahal (Water Palace) in Jaipur.

The Balmiki community faces the worst discrimination as the work is considered most degrading. Even some dalits consider families like hers untouchables.

Maya, who lives in Orain town of Uttar Pradesh, has a similar story and a similar routine. Maya cleans the toilets of 40 families and gets Rs.10 (23 cents) per family per month, earning a meagre Rs.400 ($9) for her lowly job.

Though it is more than a decade since the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, was passed prohibiting construction of non-flush toilets and employing scavengers, these people have still to be given alternative means of employment.

At the time of the enactment of this legislation or soon after, the total number of scavengers in the country was estimated at 653,000.

A National Scheme of Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers and their Dependants was launched in 1992 by the government.

A review of this scheme in 2003 by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in 2003 said, "Achievements so far at best can be described as sporadic, uncoordinated and generally poor, without the strength required for catalysing the future course."

The CAG report mentions estimates of scavengers that are somewhat higher than what is given in plan documents while the number of rehabilitated people is lower than what is provided in the plan documents.

It says, "As against 600,000 scavengers identified in urban areas, the ministry reported having liberated only 37,340, i.e. 6.2 percent."

More than Rs.6 billion ($138 million) was spent under the National Scheme of Liberation and Rehabilitation of Scavengers and Their Dependants in the last decade.

In other words about Rs.10,000 per scavenger has already been spent by this single scheme, apart from additional funds spent to help weaker sections/scheduled castes.

According to the CAG report in Andhra Pradesh, an inspection revealed that 24 of the 28 rehabilitation units in Cuddapah district, which were financed during 1997-98 at a unit cost of Rs.80,000 to Rs.100,000 each, were non-existent.

In Assam, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal, the beneficiaries who were assisted under the scheme were not listed in the survey records.

Source: Indo-Asian News Service, January 10, 2005

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Caste is in its new avatar in India


A sea-change has taken place in society, according to one perception. 'Nothing much has changed', is another viewpoint. That difference and debate on the issue are quite fascinating. Anthropologist Dr. P.K. Misra presented his analysis in his talk on the topic 'Living on a revolution in Indian society'? In the monthly lecture programme sponsored by Rangsons Group in Ranga Jnana Vinimaya Kendra on Vani Vilas Road, Mysore, on Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2004. Highlights are published here. — Ed.

Indian scenario represented by society nowadays is quite different from what it was before independence in many ways. Discrimination among people on the basis of class and caste have led to ill feelings. The wounds are perhaps healed, but the scars persist.

It is neither easy nor right to make any generalisations about India because of wide diversity of its people and their culture. Travel across the country provides an excellent means of educating oneself about the people of India and their life.

India's history is long and piquant. It has been distorted by many. We still seem to live in our history.

Value system

Evaluation of value system in a society is often done by the factors of good, bad, auspicious, happy or otherwise. Quite often the factor of manners displayed towards one another becomes the tool of evaluation. We always hear that the value systems have changed.

The foremost harbinger of change in our value system was adopting of the egalitarian Constitution, guaranteeing equality and adult franchise, forcing the people's representatives to go to them with folded hands once every five years. Reservation for jobs, school admissions and seats in the Assemblies of States, Parliament and Panchayats not only set apart a place for the backward classes but also enlarged the social base of the country.

Changes

Joint family system has virtually disappeared. Marriage age of girls, literacy, life expectancy have risen. The housewife is a virtual dynamo in the family. The child is more computer-literate than adults in the family.

Landlordism that prevailed all over the country was got rid of by land reforms, bringing to end the exploitation of the client by the patrons.

In certain pockets, movements were launched to protest the discrimination based on castes. Development activities were undertaken towards providing shelter for the economically weaker sections, education for all and healthcare measures.

Tremendous manpower with higher learning is now available. Advances have been made in communication and transport making connectivity among people and networking of regions quite easy. Structural changes are taking place resulting in much churning, raising the aspiration level of the people at large.

Hostility

Some sort of hostility, openly in some pockets, has emerged between the erstwhile exploiting and the exploited. Traditional occupations of the rural populations have either disappeared or moved to urban areas, leading to large scale migration. Tension in society is also coming to the forefront.

Loyalty, submission, respectful behaviour towards the male head of the family have diminished. He is challenged for his viewpoint about life and all issues. Decision-making has become more consultative, with women exerting influence. Men have accepted women as bosses.

Network of relationships on the lines of the joint family system continues during special events such as wedding, religious functions and death ceremonies. These relationships reflect caste loyalties. Marriages are mostly settled on caste basis everywhere in India. They are also performed as per tradition.

Dowry — both giving and receiving — is rampant, across all communities and religions. It is even blessed by the clergy in some religions. Begetting of sons is still considered important.

Millions of people are still below poverty line. Gap between the rich and the poor has become enormous. Exploitation is unabated but disguised. The factor of caste has remained alive and is in its new avataar. The concept of inequality pervades. Inter-caste differences have led to exclusiveness in society. Even those who belong to weaker sections have not accepted the concept of equality.

Unless the value of inequality based on class and caste is frontally attacked, the Indian social revolution will not be complete. One of the reasons for that not to happen is adherence to rituals, tied down to the caste system. This, in spite of tremendous changes that have taken place in Indian society.

Amidst tragedy: Caste politics hamper relief

Chennai: In Tamil Nadu's Nagappatinam district, people are accusing the government of bias in relief operations.

The people of Kesavan Palayam, a remote village, 40 kilometers from Nagapattinam are totally dependent on the relief trucks for two square meals a day.

But for the residents of this village, even that is not a certainty.

In the tsunami-affected districts where aid has been pouring in from all sides, the villagers allege that the relief work has been slow perhaps because of their caste.

"First few days we were allowed to stay in the camps. But then we were asked to leave because we are the lower caste," said a local.

Caste sentiments

For these people, who have nothing to turn to, the arrival of relief trucks with political messages only fuels their anger.

In a society where the caste divide is as old as time itself, it is the fuelling of caste sentiments by political activists that takes the focus away from the need of the hour.

"Hindus give relief only to Hindus and Christians to Christians. While collecting donation, Christians refuse to give us money," said Vijay Kumar, Political Activist.

Truth or propaganda?

Dismissing these allegations as propaganda, the district administration says no such complaints have been brought to their notice.

Eleven teams have been made to look after the relief work and priority is being given on the basis of damage that the villages have suffered and not on the basis of caste.

"People have their own agenda. Maybe somebody's agenda is to draw mileage out of all this. As far as the team of officers deputed is concerned, our agenda is very clear. It is to provide relief to all citizens," said Vivek Hari Narayan, Zone Collector, Nagapattinam.

Source: NDTV news, January 09, 2005

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Low caste survivors denied food and water

By Rahul Bedi

Thousands of low caste Indian "untouchables" are being denied food, water and shelter by higher castes in camps for tsunami survivors.

Around 5,000 Dalits from the worst hit area south of Madras have been kept from aid agency water tanks and pushed to the back of long food queues.

Fishermen from the higher Meenavar caste also turned the Dalits, who they employed as labourers before the tsunami, out of shelters, gave them leftovers to eat and prevented them from using lavatories.

At one camp outside Nagapattinam, the Dalits were accused of polluting drinking water supplied by the United Nations and were told at another that biscuits being handed out were not for them.

When the Dalits asked for food packages and clothes, they were pushed away and forced to sleep on a nearby road because upper caste women said they did not "feel safe" with them around.

"There are no toilets here and the upper castes even prevent us from using the area which serves others as an open toilet," said V Vanith, a Dalit teenager.

An aid worker, Miss R Indirani, said: "Since the Dalits are not getting sufficient food and water, we have started separate kitchens. We are also converting separate camps."

Dalits, a third of India's billion population, prop up its 3,000-year-old Hindu caste system, which is topped by Brahmans. A majority live below the poverty line and have no homes. They are associated with "unclean" jobs such as scavenging and cleaning lavatories and were involved in disposing of the bodies of many victims of the tsunami.

Source: The Telegraph, January 08, 2005

Tsunami aftermath — the depraved face of humanity

—Miranda Husain

When various groups exploit mass-scale tragedy for their own opportunistic ends, we know we are confronting human nature in its most grotesque form. Rather than being isolated incidents, they represent an emerging pattern of human depravity

As the world continues bickering over whether or not the US has been stingy in its tsunami-relief donation, it seems to have paid little attention to the dark side of human nature emerging from the aftermath of devastation and destruction.

India, for example, has been boasting to the outside world that its 'go it alone' approach to relief operations inside the country have proved successful. Yet if we scratch just beneath the surface, reality shows itself to be of a different hue.

The BBC reported this week that operations to recover bodies from the Indian fishing village of Nagapattinam were given exclusively to the Dalits, the lowest of the low in India's caste system. With locals reportedly refusing to engage in the recovery mission, apparently too afraid of the risk of contagious disease and too overwhelmed by the stench of death, it was left to India's unfortunates to get their hands dirty — quite literally. Indeed during the first days of the operation, they worked without gloves, masks and sometimes even without shoes to recover the dead. Their reward -- An extra 50 cents a day and a meal!

Such incidents serve to deconstruct the notion of a human solidarity emerging from the ruins of devastation and suffering. For it seems that even a disaster such as this cannot shake the caste system that is woven tightly into the very fibre of the world's largest democracy. Instead of coming together to work for the common good, to unite in a common grief, the disaster has simply further consolidated India's social hierarchy.

India is not the only country to have shown its inhuman side in the aftermath of tragedy. In Sri Lanka, for example, where the tsunami has rendered nearly one million people homeless, a local women's group, Women and Media Collective, reported that women and girls seeking refuge at the various shelters set up throughout the country had been the victims of molestation and gang rapes.

Somehow such security violations of women and girls appear more shocking and barbaric than those carried out during a period of prolonged conflict. For even though such acts can never be tolerated, it is easier to understand them in the context of power relations. War is, after all, man-made disaster. A natural disaster is different. It knows nothing of power relations. It simply seeks to kill and devastate indiscriminately. And in a cruel twist of fate, peoples are rendered equal through their suffering and loss, with one's tragedy mirrored in the eyes of the other.

Thus when various groups show no hesitancy in exploiting mass-scale tragedy for their own opportunistic ends we know we are confronting human nature in its most grotesque form. For these are not isolated incidents that have been reported. Rather, they are the beginnings of an emerging pattern of human depravity.

In many affected areas, authorities believed that their primary challenge would be to ensure that aid reached those who needed it most. Yet they now realise that just as important is the need to step up security around makeshift shelters and hospitals to keep criminal gangs at bay and prevent them from preying on the most vulnerable and weak.

When 12-year-old Kristian Walker disappeared from his hospital bed in Thailand, hopes that he had been taken by a well-meaning individual who wanted to help him return to his native Sweden soon disappeared. The country had to finally acknowledge that there was a very real possibility that he had been abducted to be later sold on to sex trafficking rings.

The Indonesian government has suspended the transfer of any children below the age of 16 years from Aceh province, following reports of criminal gangs befriending orphaned children or those separated from their relatives to lure them into sex trafficking rings.

The UNICEF spokesman in Indonesia, John Budd, recently highlighted the growing problem, telling the BBC that there had been one confirmed case of a child being smuggled from Aceh province to the nearby city of Medan, as well as unconfirmed reports of up to 20 other children being taken to Malaysia and possibly hundreds to Jakarta. He said he had also been made aware of an SMS text message doing the rounds in different Asian countries, advertising the opportunity to buy 300 Aceh orphans.

Once again, western political commentators, outraged at the way the post-disaster scenario is emerging, have missed the point and channelled their anger at the wrong quarters.

Some have criticised western media for providing unbalanced coverage of the victims, claiming that undue emphasis has been placed on the fate of western tourists while that of hundreds of thousands of locals has been largely ignored, except in statistical terms. While there might be truth in this claim it hardly seems that, given the more pressing issues to address, now is the appropriate time to debate the matter.

George Monbiot, writing in The Guardian on January 4, has brought to people's attention the fact that the US donation of $350 million is no more than what the Bush administration would spend in a day and a half "blowing people to bits in Iraq". Certainly there is need to compare certain countries' war and aid budgets. Yet if we make this the central focus of current discourse, we will simply engage in a useless war of words, while the real suffering goes on, with stories untold.

Source: Daily Times, January 08, 2005

Caste away

Crack down on those who discriminate against Dalits in relief operations.

Disasters test a society in diverse ways. They take proof of the country's preparedness to spring to the rescue of people struck by nature's fury. In the relief and rehabilitation operations undertaken, they extract an account of the norms and principles society lives by. In extremis, every social faultline, every crevice between assertion and action is magnified — for government and civil society, for survivor and faraway observer. This is why reports of almost systematic exclusion of Dalits from the relief operations in Tamil Nadu are doubly distressing. As this newspaper documented on Friday, in many relief camps in Nagapattinam families are being turned away simply because they happen to be Dalit. They are refused water from tankers, relief material distributed at temple camps, and refuge in makeshift shelters.

There are any number of provisions on the statute books that allow the authorities to step in to ensure access to the needy, irrespective of their caste — and equally importantly, to ensure that perpetrators of this kind of discrimination are punished. In the tsunami-affected villages of Natapattinam, those perpetrators are said to belong to a majority fisherman community that is providing the manpower in distribution of relief supplies. This can in no way be used by the administration as an alibi for inaction. Reaching assistance to the last man is the government's duty — and in this case, clearly, it involves battling caste oppressions. It could, in fact, be a transformative process.

The aftermath of disasters often highlights the interface between distress and hope. This one is no different. In recent days, victims — and in the way of most natural calamities, the poorest and most vulnerable — have spoken of chances of a different future. In Nabiarnagar village in Nagapattinam, fishermen and women have pleaded with relief workers to take their children away to a better education, to the possibility of jobs less at the mercy of the elements. Temporary shelters and common kitchens, too, could be instruments to strike at caste prejudice. natural calamities render the most vulnerable the most badly hit. They already live on the margins, making compromises with safety buffers for the sake of survival. Once disaster strikes they have the slightest recourse to any form of insurance. This is why they must be at the centre of rehabilitation measures. It would, however, amount to a criminal offence if, in the delivery of relief, they were sidelined because of their caste status.

Source: The Indian Express, January 08, 2005

Even Govt divides survivors on caste, says it's practical

Nagapattinam: Powerful Meenavars have own camps, not the time for social amity experiment, says official.

by RAJEEV P I

NAGAPATTINAM: Doors are being slammed in the face of Dalit survivors here—and the Government is quietly doing some of the slamming.

Yesterday, The Indian Express reported how Dalits from 63 affected villages are facing the brunt of the powerful Meenavar fishermen (a Most Backward Class): being thrown out of relief camps, pushed to the rear of food and water lines, not being allowed to take water from UNICEF facilities and in some cases not even being allowed to use the toilet.

Now it's been learnt that the Government, instead of ensuring justice, was reinforcing this divide—both caste and communal.

In fact, a day after the killer waves struck and thousands began pouring into these camps, revenue officials were asked to quietly go about dividing the victims and report to their superiors.

They were asked to see that the numerically powerful and politically significant Meenavars had their "exclusive" relief camps. The equally battered Muslims, Dalits, Nadars, Pillais, Devars and other lower castes— mostly non-fishermen— were shunted into camps of their own. This has since been accomplished in most parts of this district. When asked how the Government could endorse this discrimination, Nagapattinam Sub Collector Dr Umanath said that this was a conscious decision and a practical one. "There are the real divisions and distrust among the communities," he told The Indian Express today, ‘‘a crisis like this is no time to experiment with casteist and religious amity." The Government, Umanath said, just could not risk putting them up all together. When asked what the risk was, Umanath declined to comment. His defence that this is a "practical" decision has few takers. "This is sad. The Government is actually re-inforcing the ancient divides and hatred. Until the tsunami, they could at least tolerate each other. See what happens when this whole thing gets over, now," says Father Gunalan, pastor of Asia's first Protestant Church, the 298-year-old New Jerusalem Church in Tarangambadi, one of the worst-hit coastal villagers.

Gunalan said it was appalling to see those belonging to different communities stopping relief trucks on the road and diverting them to the relief camps of their own community. The camps of the powerless denominations bore the brunt of this.

Another fallout is that villages in neighbouring coastal stretches that the waves spared now have bargain deals. "Relief is now being virtually dumped in some of the camps here. So even the kids carry a few stoves, mats, vessels and other relief material to sell in other villages." The pastor says some Muslim homes were looted in the area soon after the waves struck. "That was ironic. The first people who went around helping survivors of all communities and rushing people to hospitals were men of the Tamil Muslim Munnetra Kazhakam," he said.

Many Muslim families had fled their homes, but are now coming back. "We have now our own security system in place. Our men take turns to guard our area day and night," says Abdul Haleem, president of the Tarangambadi Muslim Jamaat. He said seven looters were caught and handed to the police, on Tsunami day. "We foiled an attempt even last night."

One of the relief camps that the Government gave to the non-Meenavar communities here was the local Jnanapoo Illam School. Most of its occupants had lost their homes to the waves. This morning, officials came knocking with the District Collector's order asking them to vacate, and they meekly did.

With nowhere to go, to plead, they trudged to the Tehsildar's office, a few kilometres away in Porayar. A few hours later, officials there said all of them have been asked to go to the village's only movie hall, converted into a camp. At this Ganapathi movie hall, a few Meenavars at its entrance said they had asked these people to go away to a neighbouring marriage hall. But they were not allowed in there, either. And no one claimed to know where these 180-odd men women and children eventually went.

Source: The Indian Express, January 08, 2005

Tsunami or not, Govt still ignores the Dalits

NAGAPATTINAM: Doors are being slammed in the face of Dalit survivors here - and the Government is quietly doing some of the slamming.

On Thursday, this website's newspaper reported how Dalits from 63 affected villages are facing the brunt of the powerful Meenavar fishermen (a Most Backward Class): being thrown out of relief camps, pushed to the rear of food and water lines, not being allowed to take water from UNICEF facilities and in some cases not even being allowed to use the toilet.

Now it's been learnt that the Government, instead of ensuring justice, was reinforcing this divide-both caste and communal.

In fact, a day after the killer waves struck and thousands began pouring into these camps, revenue officials were asked to quietly go about dividing the victims and report to their superiors.

They were asked to see that the numerically powerful and politically significant Meenavars had their "exclusive" relief camps.

The equally battered Muslims, Dalits, Nadars, Pillais, Devars and other lower castes- mostly non-fishermen- were shunted into camps of their own. This has since been accomplished in most parts of this district.

When asked how the Government could endorse this discrimination, Nagapattinam Sub Collector Dr Umanath said that this was a conscious decision and a practical one. "There are the real divisions and distrust among the communities," he told this website's newspaper on Friday, "a crisis like this is no time to experiment with casteist and religious amity."

The Government, Umanath said, just could not risk putting them up all together.

When asked what the risk was, Umanath declined to comment.

His defence that this is a "practical" decision has few takers. "This is sad. The Government is actually reinforcing the ancient divides and hatreds. Until the tsunami, they could at least tolerate each other. See what happens when this whole thing gets over, now," says Father Gunalan, pastor of Asia's first Protestant Church, the 298-year-old New Jerusalem Church in Tarangambadi, one of the worst-hit coastal villagers.

Gunalan said it was appalling to see those belonging to different communities stopping relief trucks on the road and diverting them to the relief camps of their own community. The camps of the powerless denominations bore the brunt of this.

Another fallout is that villages in neighbouring coastal stretches that the waves spared now have bargain deals. "Relief is now being virtually dumped in some of the camps here. So even the kids carry a few stoves, mats, vessels and other relief material to sell in other villages."

The pastor says some Muslim homes were looted in the area soon after the waves struck. "That was ironic. The first people who went around helping survivors of all communities and rushing people to hospitals were men of the Tamil Muslim Munnetra Kazhakam," he said.

Many Muslim families had fled their homes, but are now coming back. "We have now our own security system in place. Our men take turns to guard our area day and night," says Abdul Haleem, president of the Tarangambadi Muslim Jamaat. He said seven looters were caught and handed to the police, on Tsunami day. "We foiled an attempt even last night."

One of the relief camps that the Government gave to the non-Meenawar communities here was the local Jnanapoo Illam School. Most of its occupants had lost their homes to the waves. This morning, officials came knocking with the District Collector's order asking them to vacate, and they meekly did.

With nowhere to go, to plead, they trudged to the Tehsildar's office, a few kilometres away in Porayar. A few hours later, officials there said all of them have been asked to go to the village's only movie hall, converted into a camp.

At this Ganapathi movie hall, a few Meenawars at its entrance said they had asked these people to go away to a neighbouring marriage hall.

But they were not allowed in there, either.

And no one claimed to know where these 180-odd men women and children eventually went.

SC COMMISSION DEPUTES CHENNAI DIRECTOR TO REPORT

Taking note of this website's newspaper report on the way Dalit survivors are being ostracised, chairman of the National Commission of Scheduled Castes said here on Friday that the panel's director in Chennai has been asked to visit the areas and take action.

Said chairman Suraj Bhan: "I have prepared a note for the commission's Tamil Nadu representative, Kannagi Packianathan. We shall ask our director in Chennai on Saturday to herself visit the spot and take necessary action."

In Chennai, too, NGOs and relief agencies met on Friday to grapple with a problem that's not only hampering relief but undermining the credibility of the official establishment.

Sources who attended the meeting in Chennai told this website's newspaper that caste confrontations came up for discussion when John Kurien from the Thiruvananthapuram-based Centre for Development Studies explained the "peculiar aspects" of relief distribution among fishermen.

It was then that various NGO representatives working specifically in Nagapattinam pointed out that Dalits were feeling discriminated against. A few voluntary organisations narrated details of several incidents that have occurred over the past three or four days in which the Meenavars, the majority fishing community, and the Dalits have virtually come to blows over relief.

Sources said two key points were highlighted. First, the community panchayats of the Meenavars were very well-organised and were in a position to "play on the sentiments" of NGOs unfamiliar with the terrain and could bag a bulk of the relief for their own.

Not only were the Dalits scattered and leaderless, they have also been prevented from approaching NGOs to talk about their plight.

It was also pointed out that NGOs or NGO activists operating in the area for the first time were not aware of the dimensions of the caste problem.

They were choosing the easy way out of looking at the entire coastal population as part of a large fishing community. The ground reality was, however, different. It was a "multiple caste structure."

Said a senior member of Action Aid India, who attended the Chennai meeting: "What is positive that even leaders of established bodies of South India Fish Workers Federation like Vivekananda have agreed that the discrimination in relief would not be tolerated."

Said Gopalananda Maharaj, supervising the massive relief operation mounted by the Ramakrishna Mission from Belur Math near Kolkata:

"We have a policy of making it absolutely clear that we understand no barriers between human beings." Harry Sethi, director, external affairs, Care India, said they are watching the situation unfold in all four districts of Tamil Nadu where they are working.

"We shall move in with relief material and our rehabilitation package once we identify the most deprived target group."

Source: Newindpress.com, January 08, 2005

Friday, January 07, 2005

Tsunami: 'Disaster tourism' on the rise

NEW DELHI: They come in hordes with truckloads of relief material and a newfound urge to serve, but their presence is doing more harm than good in many areas hit hard by the December killer tsunamis of India.

As unseemly as it sounds, these well-meaning people have spawned a new industry - disaster tourism.

The massive inflow of charitable organisations and aid volunteers to the tsunami-hit areas of Tamil Nadu, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Kerala, Pondicherry and Andhra Pradesh is what is now being seen as the second giant wave.

And overzealous volunteers, obsessed with the need to "do good" are making things worse - in many places.

"They are coming in large numbers, with loads of loads of relief material but no idea as to what they need to do," said AID-India volunteer Ravi Shankar, who has taken a break from his teaching assignment at an Indian Institute of Technology.

"We call it disaster tourism." he said.

Shankar hastened to clarify that help was more than welcome. "We need as many people as we can get, but they have to come with a proper understanding of what they have to do and face."

Said Sanchita, an advertising professional, "People should know that all relief workers must take immunisation and antibiotics as a precaution against epidemics."

Aspiring volunteers are being adviced to be equipped with disaster overall suits, sleeping bags, safety helmets, gloves, water-proof boots, masks, mosquito repellents and first aid boxes.

"Most volunteers do not want to dirty their heels in the muck," remarked Shankar, referring to the elaborate precautions listed for the aid workers.

As one volunteer observes, the eagerness to give and help has not really helped. More often than not, it is like the act of washing one's sins.

Old clothes, now forming another type of trash heap in the battered districts, has become the biggest yet most useless display of compassion for the tsunami victims.

"Organisations are just collecting tonnes of old clothes and dumping it," says N.K. Singh, spokesman for the International Red Cross Society.

Some of these do-gooders have gone on a spree to "adopt-a-village".

"Often that means they take care of one afternoon meal for a village, spend perhaps a day and disappear, leaving giant banners to advertise their deed," said a relief worker from Mumbai who is working in Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu.

Banners and posters cover relief trucks and walls in and around villages, often advertising that an organisation has "adopted the village".

Some nomadic agencies are wont to swamp the affected villages with relief material, then move off without looking back.

When relief trucks come calling, a huge crowd gathers around them and a fight usually ensues over packets of food grain, medicine and utensils. The winners are those with muscles or belonging to a higher caste.

"Unless there is proper coordination and sincerity, I am afraid relief workers will end up doing good to none but themselves." said Singh.

Source: The Times of India, January 07, 2005

Tsunami can't wash this away: hatred for Dalits

In Ground Zero, Dalits thrown out of relief camps, cut out of food, water supplies, toilets, NGOs say they will start separate facilities.

JANYALA SREENIVAS

NAGAPATTINAM: There's something even an earthquake measuring 9 on the Richter scale and a tsunami that kills over 1 lakh people can't crack: the walls between caste.

That's why at Ground Zero in Nagapattinam, Murugeshan and his family of four have been living on the streets in Nambiarnagar. That's why like 31 other families, they have been thrown out of relief camps. That's why they are hounded out of schools they have sneaked into, they are pushed to the rear of food and water lines, given leftovers, not allowed to use toilets or even drink water provided by a UN agency. That's why some NGOs are setting up separate facilities for them. Because they are all Dalits.

They are survivors from 63 damaged villages—30 of them flattened—all marooned in their own islands, facing the brunt of a majority of fishermen who are from the Meenavar community—listed in official records as Most Backward Class (MBC)—for whom Dalits are still untouchable.

The Indian Express toured the camps to find an old story of caste hatred being replayed in camp after camp:

• In the GVR Marriage Hall Relief Camp, Dalits cannot drink water from tanks put up by UNICEF. The Meenavars say they "pollute" the water.

• In the Nallukadai Street Relief Camp, a Meenavar Thalaivar, or leader, grabbed all cartons of glucose biscuits delivered by a Coimbatore NGO. The Dalits were told: these are not for you.

• At Puttur Relief Camp, the Meenavars have hoarded family relief kits, rice packets, new clothes and other relief material. When the Dalits asked for some, they paid a heavy price—they had to spend the night on the road.

• At the Neelayadatchi Temple Camp, Dalits are not allowed inside the temple, especially when rice and cash doles are being handed out.

• Dalits from three villages taking shelter at Ganapati cinema hall in Tharambagadi are thrown out every night because the Meenavar fisherwomen say they did not "feel safe" falling sleep with Dalits around.

• So 32 ostracised Dalit families took shelter in the GRM girls' school in Thanjavur. But four days ago, even the school asked them to vacate saying it was due to re-open.

Those doing the discriminating brush all this aside. Says Chellayya, a Meenavar fisherman at a Tharambagadi camp: "These Dalits have been playing mischief, going back to the villages and looting houses. That's why we don't want them around here."

To which Dalit activist K Darpaya says: ‘‘What's left in the houses for Dalits to take? And where will they keep the loot even if we assume they have taken something? In the relief camps? On the road side?"

There's an irony here. For, the district administration and relief agencies have to depend on the strong network of Meenavar fishermen to disburse aid and relief. But so rampant has the discrimination become that relief in-charge for Nagapattinam district Shantasheela Nayar, Secretary, Rural Development, is deputing District Adi Dravidar Welfare Officers to relief camps.

"They will look into the problem and report back on what can be done to put an end to this. We certainly do not discriminate but if the fishermen themselves are doing it because of their local status, what can the government do?" says Nayar.

Talk to some of the victims and instead of bitterness and anger, there is grief and helplessness.

"In Nagapattinam, three relief camps we went to denied us shelter saying they had no space. At the Nataraja Damayanti high school, the watchman refused to let us in," says Murugeshan.

At first, the families did not understand why but as door after door slammed in their faces, it became clearer. They approached their local municipal councillor K Tilagar. "He assured us we would be given shelter soon but he disappeared," says another survivor Anjamma.

In the neighbouring GVR camp, Dalit fishermen said they are being nudged out of relief and compensation queues. "We are inside the camp but kept in the far corner. Whenever officials and trucks come to give food, we are left out because nobody allows us to get near the trucks. Some men form a ring around us and prevent us from moving ahead in the queue," says Saravanan, a Dalit survivor.

"The Meenavars are more privileged as they get to sleep inside the rooms and are first to receive food and water. We have to sleep outside in the verandahs or in the open ground," says Jivanana.

Kesavan, a Dalit of Nambiarnagar, says he was prevented from drinking water from a plastic tank put up in the hamlet on Monday. "We are forced to bring water in plastic cans from outside the village. The Collector's office has put up the tank here and provides clean water but it is not for us," he says.

V Vanitha, a Class X Dalit student, says adolescent girls are prevented from using toilet areas at Tharambagadi. "Small children have no problem but it is an ordeal for us. There are no toilets here and they prevent us from going to the area which serves as an open toilet," she says.

Says activist Darpaya: "Dalits are not allowed to drink water from tanks put up by UNICEF. Even in relief camps, Meenavars don't want to sit with Dalits and have food. Some of them manage to get rice but other relief items coming in like biscuit packets, milk powder and family household kits are denied to Dalits."

Says M Jayanthi, a coordinator of South Indian Fishworkers Society (SIFS): "Dalits are facing discrimination in all relief camps where they are present. But society does not want to raise the issue as it would complicate things further. Without making it public, we are opening separate facilities for Dalits exclusively," she says.

Sevai, an NGO-based in Karaikal, Pondicherry, 20 kms from Nagapattinam, is the first organisation to address the issue.

Coordinator R Indrani says: "Since Dalits are not receiving sufficient food and water, we have started cooking for them in separate kitchens. They come from wherever they are taking shelter and we provide them whatever they want. We are also considering separate camps for them."

Several NGOs which noticed the problem raised the issue during their meeting with District Collector M Veerashanmugha Moni. "But no one is willing to take up the matter at the field level as this could complicate things. We don't want friction between the two castes by trying to address it during this crisis," says the team leader of NGO Accord, which is working among Dalits.

Source: The Indian Express, January 07, 2005

India's untouchables denied aid and shelter

India's untouchables, reeling from the tsunami disaster, are being forced out of relief camps by higher caste survivors and being denied aid supplies.

More than 6,000 people, including 81 Dalits or untouchables in India's rigid caste hierarchy, died when tsunamis struck southern India's coastal district on December 26.

The ferocious wall of sea water destroyed swathes of farm land and the Dalits, who were daily wage earners working in agricultural lands, no longer have any employment.

At Keshvanpalayam, the Dalits had only flattened homes to show while survivors elsewhere enjoyed relief supplies such as food, medicines, sleeping mats and kerosene.

No government official or aid has flowed into the village which houses 83 Dalit families.

Cranes and bulldozers cleared the debris of a neighbouring fishing community, but they are yet to reach the Dalit village.

Chandra Jayaram, 35, who lost her husband to the tsunami, said her family had not received the promised government compensation of 100,000 rupees (£1,211 ).

"At the relief camps we are treated differently due to our social status. We are not given relief supplies. The fishing community told us not to stay with them. The government says we will not be given anything as we are not affected much," Jayaram said.

S. Karuppiah, field coordinator with the Human Rights Forum for Dalit Liberation, said in some of the villages the dead bodies of untouchables were removed with reluctance.

"The government is turning a blind eye," he said. "When Dalits bury the dead they are not given gloves or medicines but only alcohol to forget the rotten stench."

Another activist, Mahakrishnan Marimuthu, who heads the non-governmental Education and Handicraft Training Trust, said tsunamis dealt a double blow to the caste.

"They lost their jobs, houses and relatives. On the other hand the social discrimination is proving to be worse," he said.

The government denied the allegations and said it was providing relief to every tsunami-affected family.

"There is no intention of closing down any camps and we are providing relief to each and every family. We will provide temporary shelters as these relief camps are getting overcrowded," said Veerashanmugha Moni, Nagapattinam's senior government administrator.

The United Nations Children's Fund UNICEF said government, relief agencies and aid workers did not discriminate against the Dalits but the caste issue always exists.

"All the aid going in is distributed the same way to all survivors. The social discrimination has been there during normal times," said Amudha, who heads a team of UNICEF volunteers in Nagapattinam.

"After the disaster happened it is still continuing. That is nothing new," she said.

Source: The Telegraph, January 07, 2005

Help sans bias, urges Centre

NEW DELHI: Defensive about reports that Dalits were being thrown out of relief camps set up for tsunami-hit people in the southern states, the Union government on Friday urged that people view the larger picture of the national effort at helping the needy.

Reacting to a newspaper report from Nagapattinam, information secretary Navin Chawla said that the Centre "cannot preclude stray cases of discrimination", at a critical time when both human strength and frailty could come to the fore.

But it did not take away the burden and the seriousness of the national effort that was underway.

The news report said that at some places in the affected areas, Dalit families had been thrown out of relief camps, not allowed to draw water from the common source and also denied food.

The overall death toll on the 13th day came close to the 10,000 mark, touching 9,995, but far short of the initial six-digit speculation. Tamil Nadu remained the worst-hit with 7,941 people dead, while the figure jumped up to 1,196 in the case of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, that experienced a few more aftershocks on Friday.

Source: The Times of India, January 07, 2005

India's untouchables forced out of relief camps

KESHVANPALAYAM, India (AFP) - India's untouchables, reeling from the tsunami disaster, are being forced out of relief camps by higher caste survivors and being denied aid supplies, activists charged.

Kuppuswamy Ramachandran, 32, a Dalit or untouchable in India's rigid caste hierarchy, said he and his family were told to leave a relief camp in worst-hit Nagapattinam district where 50 more families were housed.

"The higher caste fishing community did not allow us to sleep in a marriage hall where they are put up because we belong to the lowest caste," Ramachandran said.

"After three days we were moved out to a school but now the school is going to reopen within three days and the teachers drove us out," he said.

"Where will I take my family and children? The school had no lights, toilets or drinking water," available for the displaced.

More than 6,000 people died when tsunamis struck this southern Indian coastal district on December 26 and activists said that included 81 Dalits, who were daily wage earners working in agricultural lands.

The ferocious wall of sea water destroyed swathes of farm land and the Dalits no longer have any employment.

At Keshvanpalayam, the Dalits had only flattened homes to show while survivors elsewhere enjoyed relief supplies such as food, medicines, sleeping mats and kerosene.

No government official or aid has flowed into the village which houses 83 Dalit families more than 30 kilometres (20 miles) from Nagapattinam town.

Cranes and bulldozers cleared the debris of a neighbouring fishing community, but they are yet to reach the Dalit village.

Chandra Jayaram, 35, who lost her husband to the tsunamis, said her family has not received promised government compensation of 100,000 rupees (2,174 dollars).

"At the relief camps we are treated differently due to our social status. We are not given relief supplies. The fishing community told us not to stay with them. The government says we will not be given anything as we are not affected much," Jayaram said.

S. Karuppiah, field coordinator with the Human Rights Forum for Dalit Liberation, said in some of the villages the dead bodies of untouchables were removed with reluctance.

"The Dalit villages are in most places proving to be the preferred choice of the fishing community to bury the dead. If the Dalits ask for relief materials the government says they can only give the leftovers," Karuppiah said.

"The government is turning a blind eye," he said. "When Dalits bury the dead they are not given gloves or medicines but only alcohol to forget the rotten stench."

Another activist, Mahakrishnan Marimuthu, who heads the non-governmental Education and Handicraft Training Trust, said tsunamis dealt a double blow to the caste.

"They lost their jobs, houses and relatives. On the other hand the social discrimination is proving to be worse," he said.

The government denied the allegations and said it was providing relief to every tsunami-affected family.

"There is no intention of closing down any camps and we are providing relief to each and every family. We will provide temporary shelters as these relief camps are getting overcrowded," said Veerashanmugha Moni, Nagapattinam's senior government administrator.

The United Nations (news - web sites) Children's Fund UNICEF (news - web sites) said government, relief agencies and aid workers did not discriminate against the Dalits but the caste issue always exists.

"All the aid going in is distributed the same way to all survivors. The social discrimination has been there during normal times," said Amudha, who heads a team of UNICEF volunteers in Nagapattinam.

"After the disaster happened it is still continuing. That is nothing new," she said.

Vijaya Lakshmi, spokeswoman for South India Federation of Fishermen Societies, agreed and said one could not wish away a centuries-old caste system when a disaster struck.

"If they (Dalits) are comfortable by staying separate they will," she said.

Source: Yahoo News, January 07, 2004

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Wrong, Lord Desai & Prof Sen

Lord Meghnad Desai thinks India is a collection of nationalities. These, he says, find political articulation through regional or caste-based parties that together detract from India’s potential for growth through exclusive focus on distribution.

He therefore advocates a grand coalition of the Congress and the BJP, both with a unitary vision of the Indian nation and therefore capable of focusing energies on stepping up the rate of economic growth, which will solve the problems that the smaller parties seek to solve through distribution.

Lord Desai aired his opinion at a dialogue with Prof Amartya Sen, organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry at the Capital earlier this week.

Prof Sen disputed his friend's vision of Indian nationhood and commended a change in policy priorities to improve public health and education as the key to faster growth. Both the labour lord and the Nobel laureate are mistaken.

The strategy of industrialisation led by state ownership and machines that make machines, Desai argued, stunted economic growth but pandered to the incumbent elite.

The decision to leave traditional society alone was based on the presumption that growth and industrialisation would perform the job of modernisation in due course.

Aborted growth led the subaltern ‘nationalities' to use the space offered by universal adult franchise to form their own political parties. In this fragmented polity, the Congress or the BJP can form a government only with the help of these parties, the primordial loyalty of whose members is to a caste/region/language/ethnic identity and not to India, unlike in the case of the major national parties.

This dependence on ‘distribution-first' parties leads to a drain of national resources away from production enhancing investment. Therefore, the two parties with a unitary vision of Indian nationhood should come together at least for five years, to kick-start accelerated growth.

This Desai thesis has many holes in it. Desai tends to conflate all group identities with nationalities. As Sudipto Mundle pointed out, significant drain of public resources is effected by groups such as farmers and exporters, who cannot be identified as nations by any stretch of the imagination.

Besides, castes can even be defined only in terms the larger collective, India, and in relation to other castes. Brahmins, for example, are a pan-Indian group who would lose their specific identity if there were no hierarchy of other castes to dominate in ritual authority.

Similarly, Dalits would not be Dalits if there were no caste hierarchy to be at the bottom of. Now, nations define themselves of themselves, not in relation to one another.

Leaders like Lalu Yadav or Mayawati do not even represent all Yadavs or all Dalits. To be consistent with his definition of any group represented by a Third Front party as a nation, Desai would have to call the Yadavs of Bihar one nation, and the Yadavs of Uttar Pradesh, another, and recognise the Dalits represented by Paswan as a nation distinct from the nation of Dalits represented by Mayawati.

Nor are regional parties like the DMK or the AIADMK distribution-first profligates. Under their dispensation, Tamil Nadu has emerged as one of the best-governed, fastest growing states of the country.

Desai's biggest fallacy is the notion that BJP's idea of nationhood is pro-growth. Hindutva condemns minority religious communities to second class status, and is prepared to reinforce that subordination, if necessary, through state-sponsored violence as in Gujarat.

The distribution of political power, financial and communication channels and dispersal of potentially destructive technology in the modern world together offer the targets of such attempted subjugation assorted means of violent resistance. Hindutva is a prescription for schism, not prosperity.

If Desai is wrong, it does not mean that the ‘tossed salad' view of Indian nationhood is right. The good thing about this dish is that each individual element retains its separate identity while yielding a collective taste distinct from the individual flavours.

But it's a poor metaphor for the collective of multiple identities that constitute India, because India's multiple identities are dispersed in a hierarchy of power. The Thakur and the Dalit do not quite bond the way cucumber does with cabbage.

Prof Sen conceded this, even while harping on the ancient lineage of the idea of India as a union of diversities. However, his stress on health and education as the antidote to this inequality of power abstracts away the reality of oppression faced by the Dalits.

Such brahminism, too, impedes growth and welfare by blacking out another part of the remedy: empowerment of the subaltern through organisation and political representation. Political agency armed Keralites to acquire literacy, not benign enlightenment.

Source: The Economic Times, January 06, 2005

Food for thought: Kids cast in prejudice

MIDNAPORE: Caste prejudice is alive and cooking in the heart of Bengal. And what's worse, if that’s possible, is that children are being indoctrinated by their parents, who are leading a "protest" against the food served to schoolchildren as part of the midday meal scheme because the cook is from a "lower" caste. Though 14 students of Hossainpur Primary School in Bakhrabad gram panchayat of Narayangar block, Midnapore West, had their midday meals in the school premises today, resentment prevails among villagers over the cook's caste.

Seventeen students attended school today, but three left without eating, possibly on the same ground. Over 20 students, who were present yesterday, informed school authorities of their decision to boycott the midday meal. The school's strength is 55, but attendance is low because examinations are over, Narayangar BDO Mr Dhananjoy Samanta said.

The midday meal programme was to have been introduced on Monday as per a Supreme Court order. But villagers said that food cooked by an Adivasi could not be eaten by their children, the BDO said. A local self-help group run by Adivasi women, the Rani Rashmoni SHG, was given the responsibility of cooking the meal. The group was selected since it belongs to Grade I and is near the school, a requirement stipulated in government guidelines, Mr Samanta said. But, some parents wrote to the school authorities, saying their children won't eat if the food is cooked by Adivasi women. Thereafter, the BDO, accompanied by panchayat samiti sabhapati, gram pradhan and other local officials met the villagers yesterday and urged them to allow their children to eat the food cooked in school. Some villagers agreed. Mr Mr Samanta said he hoped others would also change their minds.

Source: The Statesman, January 06, 2005

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Now, ghettoisation on caste lines

By SUDHAKAR RAO

SURAT: Sanjay Mehta, a diamond worker, had bought a house at the newly-built Shivdarshan Society in an upper middle class locality of Puna Gaam in Surat in April. After he paid about Rs 3.38 lakh, which was part of the bungalow's cost, he was forced to give up the house when some residents found out his caste.

"When the residents learnt that I was not from their caste, I started getting threat calls and eventually I had to withdraw my offer and take back my money," says Mehta.

As if community-based ghettoisation was not enough in Gujarat, caste-based ghettoisation is becoming a harsh reality in an outwardly progressive city like Surat. Social scientists believe this could be the revival of the hegemony of particular classes, who feel threatened by cosmopolitanism.

Some of the signboards outside housing societies blatantly say, "Ahiyan Patel sivaay koiye rehvu nahi ke koine bhaade aapvu nahi, koi jaat na ghar nu levad devad karvu nahi" They are mostly visible in areas like Katargaam, Varachha and Punagaam.

The ghettoisation is to such an extent that if an outsider moves into the area, the residents revolt. Even during the TOI team's visit to such areas, a group of residents took objection and started asking questions.

Laxmanbhai Mehpani, a Patel staying in the Shivdarshan Society says, "The mental make-up of the people is such that nothing can be done about this." A drug store owner, Sanjay Bhayani, who lives in the Shiv Shakti society in Puna Gaam, says, "We don't want non-Patels to stay here." He argues that if Varachha is dominated by Saurashtra Patels, Pandesara is identified with Oriyas, Palanpur Patia with Maharashtrians.

"Surat is one of the more cosmopolitan cities where some castes are feeling threatened, as a result of which such polarisation develops," says Satyakam Joshi, a well-known sociologist.

Former president of the Surat Bar Association Babu Rayka says, "There is a traditional conflict between certain castes, so this is mainly to keep off rival castes from their localities."

Local MLA Dhirubhai Gajera, who represents Surat city (north), feigned ignorance about the banners in Katargaam and said, "I will not comment until I see the banners." Water resources minister Narottam Patel, who represents Choryasi, which covers the Unn Gaam area, said, "I am not aware of such a thing and cannot comment on the issue sitting in Gandhinagar. If such a thing is happening, then it is wrong."

Source: The Times of India, January 05, 2005

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

'Dait women failed to secure jobs as cooks in schools'

Kendrapara (Orissa): An organisation for the welfare of dalits here has alleged that some dalit women failed to get the jobs of cooks under the mid-day meal (MDM) scheme in primary schools because of the apprehension that students from upper castes might skip the free meals, if the food is cooked by them.

Despite the "existence of a government guideline" to recruit women, preferably from among the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, they had been ignored in most of the 1427 primary schools in the Kendrapara district, Rabi Behera, secretary of the Ambedkar-Lohia Vichar Manch, said.

"On the contrary, women belonging to upper castes had sneaked into school kitchens relegating the claims of dalits," he claimed.

There were very few schools where lower caste women ran the school kitchen. They were in places predominantly inhabited by harijans, he said.

"Casteism may have been abolished as per the constitutional guidelines, but government officials are openly patronizing this social evil," Behera alleged.

Senior officials said the matter was being investigated.

The manch leader threatened that his organisation would take up the matter with the national commission on SCs and STs for redressal of the "injustice" meted out to them.

Meanwhile, the district collector Hemant Sharma said that complaints about school children skipping the meal cooked by dalit women had earlier been received and the matter was officially deliberated at a high level meeting.

"No specific direction or instruction has been issued to recruit women of upper caste as cooks," Sharma said.

However, he admitted that there was some veracity in the allegations.

SourcE: Press Trust of India, January 04, 2005

Urine-drink slur in Punjab caste spat

GAJINDER SINGH

Chandigarh: A village in Punjab appears headed towards caste conflict barely 19 months after a Jat refusal to let Dalits use a gurdwara in Talhan near Jalandhar sparked widespread violence.

The spark has been provided this time by a spat between two students on a cricket field that prompted the family of an upper caste pupil to allegedly beat up relatives of his Dalit schoolmate, force them to drink urine and get police to imprison them.

Three Rai (Dalit) youths — Gurbux, 20, 16-year-old Bittu and Piara, 12 — today alleged that an upper caste Jakhar (Jat) family of Fazilka’s Patrewal village beat them up, abducted them from near a bus stand, forced urine down their throat and had them imprisoned.

Their only offence was that they are brothers-in-law of Kulwant, the uncle of Nanak, whose November 22 spat with Amarjit Singh has sparked the current crisis.

"We had gone there for some work concerning land on November 27 when we were surrounded by some men, including Gurdeep Singh, the father of the boy Amarjit with whom Nanak had a tiff. We were beaten up and taken to the residence of the sarpanch, Gurdas, where we were first forced to consume alcohol which none of us had ever touched before and stripped. Then they urinated in their shoes and made us drink it too as punishment for Nanak’s decision to quarrel with an upper caste boy," Bittu said, crying.

The youths' nightmare did not end there. The police came along, caned them and threw them behind bars for eight days. Kulwant and Nanak’s father Jagir were jailed for 11 days,

Gurbux, Bittu and Piara were also told dacoity charges would be slapped on them if they did not apologise to Gurdeep.

"We were abused and continue to get threats. We do not know what the SHO has done with the papers he made us sign on December 15 when he asked us to compromise and forget the matter," Jagir said.

Kulwant said no case has been registered against Gurdeep yet despite repeated requests to senior police officers at Ferozepur. "The police is not doing anything because we happen to be weak. They are only listening to the upper castes and adhering to their dictates," he added.

Nanak's father demanded that a case be registered against Gurdeep and the sarpanch and SHO get the sack. He added that they would approach the Punjab State Human Rights Commission for justice. "We are also human. We too want to live with dignity. We are being held guilty when we are not at fault," Kulwant said.

State BJP general secretary Vijay Sambla, who accompanied the villagers from Patrewal, said the National Scheduled Caste Commission would be approached. "This is a blot for all Indians. There has been no police action till date against those who are perpetrators of the crime because they happen to belong to the upper caste," he said.

Asked why they had kept quiet for over a month, Jagir said they had expected justice at the village level. "But we find there is no one to help us."

Dalits make up 30 per cent of the state's 2.4 crore population.

Source: The Telegraph, January 04, 2005

Dalits made to drink urine

Upper-caste landlords abuse 3 youths over cricket dispute

CHANDIGARH: In a shocking incident, a fight over a cricket match between schoolboys escalated into a full-fledged caste war that led to three Dalit boys being forced to drink urine by upper-caste landlords in Ferozepur district.

Presenting the three 'victims' — Gurbax Singh (20), Bittu Singh (16) and Piara Singh (12) — at a press conference here today, state BJP leaders said the incident took place at Patrewal village near Abohar. All the victims belong to the Rai Sikh community.

Jagir Singh said it was during a cricket match that his son Nanak, a Std VIII student, picked up a fight with his upper-caste classmate, Amardip Singh. Nanak's relatives visited Amardip's residence, but were abused and forced to leave. "Amardip’s father, Gurdip Singh Jakhar, even threatened to teach us a lesson," Jagir said.

"A few days later (on November 27 last), a group of Jakhar landlords accosted our relatives who had come from the neighbouring Bulla village," Jagir said, adding while his younger brother, Balwinder, managed to flee, three other boys — Gurbax, Bittu and Piara — were dragged to the residence of the sarpanch, Gurdas Singh, where the landlords urinated in their juttis (shoes) and forced them to drink it at gunpoint. Gurbax said: "Apni jutti vich peshab kar ke saanu pin nu kiha" (They urinated in their shoes and made us drink it).

Later, the boys were handed over to the police where they were kept in custody for eight days. When a former panchayat member, Malkiat Singh, went to meet the sarpanch to seek the boys' release, he was asked to produce two relatives of Nanak Singh. Later, two uncles of Nanak, Balwinder Singh and Kulwant Singh, were kept in police custody for 11 and eight days, respectively. Sarpanch Gurdas Singh denied the incident, saying he was not in the village that day.

Source: The Indian Express, January 04, 2005

Monday, January 03, 2005

Shunned, these Dalits gather tsunami dead

Nagapattinam: They are the "untouchables"; the lowest of the low in India's ancient caste system. No job is too dirty or too nasty, and they are the ones cleaning up the rotting corpses from last week's killer tsunami.

The overwhelming majority of the 1,000 or so men sweating away in the tropical heat to clear the poor south Indian fishing town of Nagapattinam, which bore the brunt of the giant wave, are lower caste dalits from neighbouring villages.

Locals too afraid of disease and too sickened by the smell refuse to join the grim task of digging friends and neighbours out of the sand and debris. They just stand and watch the dalits work.

Although it has been a week since the tsunami hit, and the destruction was confined to a tiny strip by the beach and port, the devastation was so fierce that several bodies -- located by the stench and the flies -- are still being discovered daily.

"I am only doing what I would do for my own wife and child," says M. Mohan, a dalit municipal cleaner as he takes a break to wash off some of the grime of the day's work.

"It is our duty. If a dog is dead, or a person, we have to clean it up."

Mohan and other sanitation workers from neighbouring municipalities are working around the clock to clear Nagapattinam, for an extra 50 cents a day and a meal.

The smell of death still hangs heavily, mixing with the sea breeze and the almost refreshingly tart smell of the antiseptic lime powder that has turned some streets and paths white.

More than 5,525 people -- close to 40 percent of India's estimated total 14,488 fatalities -- died along this small stretch of pure white beach, where the huts of poor fishermen were built down to the sand at the top of the beach itself.

DIRTY JOBS

Caste still plays a defining role in much of Indian society.

Over 16 per cent of India's billion plus people are dalits. Despite laws banning caste discrimination, they are still routinely abused, mistreated and even killed.

They do the jobs others won't -- they clean toilets, they collect garbage, they skin cows.

For Mohan, illiterate, uneducated and low caste, the only way to get a government job and the security and pension that come with it, was as a municipal sanitation worker.

For some Indians, untouchables are less than human.

Just over two years ago, five dalits were lynched near New Delhi after a rumour spread that they had killed and skinned a cow, revered as sacred in India.

An autopsy was conducted on the cow -- none were done for the dalits -- which confirmed the story their friends told: the cow had died of other causes and they were skinning it legally.

In the early hours of the tsunami disaster, Mohan and his colleagues worked feverishly to clear the thousands of bodies without gloves, masks or even shoes in some cases.

Now, they are better equipped. But no mask ever stops the gagging smell of rotting human flesh, which becomes almost overpowering as the body is dug out, lodging deep somewhere in the back of the mouth.

Each new body discovered is painstakingly prised free of the wet sand, torn palm thatch and debris, mostly by hand.

It is sweaty, backbreaking work. Shifting sand and rubble make just standing hard. It is done slowly, carefully and patiently with a delicate respect for the victim.

But there is no dignity.

The almost unrecognisable body of a naked woman, one foot still surprisingly wet, clean and white as if she had just stepped from a bath, is carried on a mat to the beach.

There, a small bonfire is lit with a tyre and some palm leaves and she is heaved on top. Another mat provides a pitiful attempt at modesty. Acrid, pitch-black smoke drifts to the sky.

No one knows who she was. With the fear of an epidemic, there is no time to find out.

Source: The Indian Express, January 03, 2005

Sunday, January 02, 2005

How Right is it to review discrimination in crisis and even death?

by Annie Namala
[On behalf of the NCDHR/HRFDL/Dappu/SKA team that visited 2nd January 2005]

The Tsunami has left a trail of death and devastation. It will be a long time before lives and livelihoods are re-built, for some it will never be the same again. We went in with the deep sense of being part of the same humanity bonded by grief, compassion and courage to be confronted by some of the painful deep cracks in our society. While the Tsunami knew only geographical boundaries in its trail, we found the deep entrenched boundaries of caste and discrimination dividing the affected people even in their deep hours of grief and helplessness. We have also been torn by a deep sense of dilemma whether this is really a time one can bring up these issues? But deciding that deep challenges are also great opportunities, we place the facts of caste discrimination and untouchability practices that continue to prevent our society from emerging into its true potential. As this is also the time of re-building and re-constructing, this article is written with the hope that we can delve deeper to re-construct our society around egalitarian, non-discriminatory, democratic values with true honesty and stiff determination.

A team consisting of Mr. Karuappan, Mr. Vincent Manoharan, Mr. Paul Divakar, Mr. Sakya Umanathan, Ms. Gunaseeli from NCDHR, Mr. Rameshnathan, Mr. Ravichandran from HRFDL, Ms. Annie Namala from Dappu and Ms. Deepti Sukumaran and Mr. Bezawada Wilson from Safai Karmachari Andolan visited the Tsunami affected coastal Tamil Nadu from 28th December to 1st January.

The report is prepared by Annie Namala on behalf of the team.

The last days of 2004 left us with the devastating Tsunami. The death toll of tens of thousands, with the highest of children, rends those visiting the affected areas and even those seeing the devastation on news. Tsunami has taken a heavy toll on coastal people-their lives and livelihoods will take a long time, much effort to get on track again, and it will never be the same for many of these families. The silver lining on the dark clouds is the spontaneous response of people from across all spectrums rushing with cooked food, clothes and immediate necessities to the affected people. Nearby villages cooked food and rushed them to the camps, while from far away groups of people organized food items, dry rations, clothing, bed sheets and other necessary items along with volunteers coming and distributing them wherever they were guided. While the government was primarily involved with clearing the debris, removing the dead bodies and providing medical relief, civil society took on the job of providing other relief materials. From within the shadow of death and devastation, one felt the strength of being part of the same humanity, bonded by grief, compassion and insurmountable courage.

Is this time to bring to sound a discordant note in this symphony of grief, compassion and courage? I am not sure if I can be pardoned for bringing to light some deep cracks in the frame? I would not blame those who will lash out anger, criticize for being exclusive, judge as being righteous and least pass on for being untimely and credit me with a negative bend of mind. If I do not accept these genuine reactions, my effort only proves their point.

On 29th morning a team of us reached Tharangambadi, one of the worst hit areas. Dead bodies and carcasses were still on the beach. More than 300 people are dead in and around this village. Whole villages have been swept away, plastic pots and entangled nylon nets told their stories. The living had moved to the camp sites, while a few went around wailing looking for kith and kin. We went to the camps, local high school/kalyana mandapam opened up to house the people, where one could not go beyond a few sentences without people breaking down. In the midst of it all they acknowledged the support of known and unknown people from everywhere.

While returning from a camp, we came across Mr. Selvaraj from Kesavapalem who had come back for the first time after the Tsunami to survey what was left of his home and neighbourhood. He repeated how the sixty families of his colony in Kesavapalem had fled and was now in the camp at Thudaripet. He said that being Dalits and living about 50 meters away from the beach, the death toll in their village was about 9 people. He said seeing the water rushing in as a huge wall of water, the people just fled, holding on to nothing except their children and the old. The sound of the hissing water was enough, no one even dared take a second to look back.

Does distress and calamity blur caste lines?

We visited the Thudaripettai camp along with Selvaraj. It is situated about 8 km away from the Dalit village. The community hall and nearby church housed about 513 people from Kesavapalem, Velipalem, Karantheruvu and Pudupalem villages. To our surprise all were Dalit families with their children. The local angan wadi teacher and a few youth were organizing the camp. Niveditha transports running buses and a school in the area and the Muslim youth association from Parangipeta, a nearby village were providing cooked food. Some clothes had also been supplied and a nearby hospital had sent some medicines. They reported that even after 3 days, the government officials were yet to visit them or enumerate the 16 deaths that had occurred across the four villages and the loss of homes, animals, other livelihood, ration cards, pattas. Most of all they were concerned about the loss of books, uniforms and pens and how their children would be able to prepare for the coming exams in March 05. On asked why they did not go to other camps that were nearer in the town, they expressed their fear and anxiety of tensions that could erupt on caste and gender issues especially in these times of grief and relief operations. Fisher communities treat Dalits as untouchables and lower to themselves and Tsunamis do not erase the caste barriers of separate habitation, separate dining, separate water sources, pollution in touch and food and Dalit girls and women being of easy virtue. Hence they preferred to huddle together in their separate - exclusive or excluded space.

A hierarchy on the dead similar to that for the living?


Anxious about the need to bring these issues to the administration, we moved to the Divisional Revenue Office at Poraiyur, about 5 kms from Thudaripet. The DRO was away and other officers and staff were available. When we reported about the camp and the need for the government officials to make the visit, the TSO (responsible for the civil supplies and assisting the DRO) said that the government had instructed the families to go to the other three camps in the town as they could not operate another camp. As the families were not willing to do so, they were not in a position to spare any manpower to service the two camps in Thudaripettai.

Strange it is to note that these officials have to go beyond Thudaripettai to reach the relief camps in the town, Thudaripettai being nearest to the DRO's office. The officials line was that death and devastation of Dalits is not severe and should not distract the relief process at large. There was no time to look into the smaller issues now. There was very little one could do to explain that they have a bigger problem at hand if unfortunate incidents would occur in any relief camp and the Dalits were sparing them anxiety from another quarter and the least they could do was to meet out justice and perform their duty without bias in recording death and loss of every family be it fisher community or Dalits. Can one erect a hierarchy of deaths where death in the fisher family is more costly to the family than a death in the Dalit family or can we grade the dead like we grade the living along caste lines? We literally had to threaten the officials that we would go to the media before they agreed to visit and provide relief to the camps housing Dalits in Thudaripettai.

On 30th we visited the camp at Melaiyur near the historical Poompugar of the story of Kannagi and Kovalan. The local high school is doing a good job of organizing relief here and we met the headmaster and local panchayat president who were personally overlooking the relief operations. From our experience of the day before we asked them if there were any Dalits in the camp. They said they would not be able to say, there were a few and some had gone back to their villages and as Dalit houses were not destroyed like that of the fisher community, most Dalits would have gone back. Will sharing begin where needs end?

We next visited Vanagiri village with a large population where most 5000 are fisher community and about 300 Dalit population. A large number of the fisher community's houses have been destroyed and so also a large proportion of their boats and nets. There have been 32 deaths among the fisher folk and 1 Dalit death. About 60 Dalit houses have also been destroyed with loss to livestock and livelihood. Some of the families had come to the village and were trying to re-organise themselves.

The village has a main road from which parallel roads run separately housing Dalit and fisher community along the roads. Part of the Dalit colony is thus as near to the water as that of the fisher community. All have lost their livelihood as boats have been destroyed, no one will have the courage to enter the sea for some time to come and the agricultural lands have been inundated with sea water. All suffered the similar vacuum sense.

As we watched, trucks of food and clothing came to the village and were getting distributed among the fisher community. The Dalits who ran after the lorries came back empty handed. They further complained that since morning three-four trucks had come to the village and the fisher community did not allow any of them to give any relief to Dalits. The standard question was - how many deaths are there among you? Some people had brought idly and pongal in the morning, but though it was already past 11 a.m. no one in the Dalit colony, not even children had anything to eat. We went into the huts which were all wet and devoid of anything (clothes, utensils, fire- place, grains) that made it a home.

They showed us a freshly made heap of earth, behind one of the Dalit houses, where a dead body from the fisher community was buried without the knowledge or permission of the family. Just then three police officials came that way, as yet another body was spotted near the debris. The Dalits along with us reported to the officials about the buriyal, to be told - "why did you not stop it when it happened? After everything is over why do you want to make it an issue at this time?" The officials did not feel the need to listen to the Dalits and like most of us felt this is not the time to raise these issues. They did not feel that burying the dead body by the Dalit household was an uncalled for act of domination that needed to be addressed than asking the Dalits to keep their peace in the face of an injustice to them.

The stench of undying untouchability


Further the evening of 30th we came to Nagapattinam, which is the worst affected area. Officials report about 7000 deaths, while NGOs working in the area report close to 14,000. Many bodies are still buried in the sand and debris. The government machinery is busy trying to unearth and bury the dead bodies bringing in about 700 sanitary workers from Tiruchi, Palani, Pollachi and Madurai. We met with these members who work as permanent and contract municipal workers with these municipalities. On 27th early morning (around 3.30 a.m.) they were woken up at their homes and transported on lorries to Nagapattinam. Mr.Palani from Tiruchi Municipality said that when they heard about the devastation from their supervisor, they were more than happy to come and work as if it had happened to their own municipality. Would they not do it if it had been their own families?

They were however very unhappy the way they were treated - their day started at 6.30 am and went on till 6 p.m. They were housed in the local office rooms where there was not enough place and many of them slept in the bus stands and even on the footpaths. They were not given gloves, masks or gum boots so essential to go into the debris and unearth the bodies that were already blotted, rotting and all but falling apart as they tried to put them into the JCP and put them into the pit after 4 days, and ironically supplied to even passers by. The stench was unbearable and even the army found it difficult to do the operation after the first two days. As NDTV put it though cast away from society as the least and the untouchable, it is again these scavengers that do the work of unearthing the bodies that neither man nor machine is able to do and give it a burial. After the days work clearing debris and dead, they have no toilets to wash themselves, have not been supplied with soaps and have a makeshift bath under whatever way side tap or nearby tank.

They also complained that arrangement for their food is also not made and they were forced to request for food from the relief supplies, which was more charity to them. On the 30th when we visited them at 11 pm at night they were still waiting for their food, while the cooked food was being served to other relief workers and they had to wait for common dining is still not on the government agenda even after 50 years of abolishing untouchability in the Constitution. One of the top officials reported in the media that professionals from Neyveli Lignite Corporation would be brought in to help with the removal of the dead. While some of them did come, even on the 1st evening, it was the scavengers who were doing this work while the experts were standing at a distance or operating the JCPs. One has no quarrel with the bringing in of professional municipal workers to help at this calamity, but to look at only the scavenging community to do this and treating them the way when they are clearly doing something others are unable to do is an indication of the greater stench of an undying caste system of hierarchy, untouchability, discrimination and purity-pollution ideas, still buried under the sands of our Constitution.

Tsunami and after


The Tsunami has been devastating, bringing a sad close to 2004. Families will take a long time to once again get their bearings. Some may not recover during a life-time. We are all helpless and humbled by the power and fury of nature. There is however no time to lose, lives have to be re-built. Along with the re-building of the lives can we hope to re-build upon new values of equality, non- discrimination, respect for each other, ability to recognize each other's contribution into our lives, build upon a truly secular, egalitarian, humanitarian and democratic society envisaged in our Constitution and the best of human traditions possible. Truly re- build and re-construct with honesty and courage.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Caste antagonism in providing relief?

by SHANKAR RAGHURAMAN

CHENNAI/CUDDALORE: The aftermath of the tsunami in Tamil Nadu has thrown up some touching examples of communal amity, but it has also revealed how deep caste antagonism runs.

Travelling across the affected areas, one regularly hears of examples of communal amity. One example that keeps cropping up in conversation with NGO activists working in the area is of the Jamaath, a Muslim organisation, which has been running four relief camps in the Parangipettai area of Cuddalore district.

The overwhelming majority of the victims are non-Muslims but that has not prevented the Jamaath from giving them three meals a day for over three days. Considering there are an estimated 40,000 people in these camps, that's quite an achievement.

The same NGO activists also tell stories which are depressing, stories of how Dalits are losing out in the relief effort. Some claim they have come across cases where others have prevented Dalits from entering relief camps.

I did not personally come across any such case, but I did hear fisherwomen in several places talking dismissively of the food being provided by relief workers as "stuff that may be good enough for some of the others, but is beneath our dignity to eat". The veiled reference to the Dalits is hard to miss.

Source: The Times of India, January 01, 2005