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

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At January 9, 2005 at 3:08 AM, Blogger Dalit Rights said...

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.

 
At January 9, 2005 at 3:09 AM, Blogger Dalit Rights said...

India's "untouchables" gather dead

By Terry Friel

NAGAPATTINAM, India (Reuters) - 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 percent 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.

Source: Reuters, January 03, 2005

 
At January 9, 2005 at 3:10 AM, Blogger Dalit Rights said...

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

 
At January 9, 2005 at 3:12 AM, Blogger Dalit Rights said...

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

 
At January 9, 2005 at 3:13 AM, Blogger Dalit Rights said...

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

 
At January 9, 2005 at 3:14 AM, Blogger Dalit Rights said...

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

 
At January 9, 2005 at 3:14 AM, Blogger Dalit Rights said...

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

 
At January 9, 2005 at 3:15 AM, Blogger Dalit Rights said...

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

 
At January 9, 2005 at 3:18 AM, Blogger Dalit Rights said...

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

 
At January 9, 2005 at 3:18 AM, Blogger Dalit Rights said...

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

 
At January 9, 2005 at 3:19 AM, Blogger Dalit Rights said...

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

 
At January 9, 2005 at 3:20 AM, Blogger Dalit Rights said...

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

 
At January 9, 2005 at 3:21 AM, Blogger Dalit Rights said...

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

 
At January 9, 2005 at 3:21 AM, Blogger Dalit Rights said...

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

 
At January 11, 2005 at 9:41 PM, Blogger Dalit Rights said...

Dalits of MGR Nagar give up on fishing

Cuddalore: The backward Irular community here now hesitate to go for fishing because their upper caste neighbours are unable to do so in the aftermath of tsunami devastation out of fear of retribution.

"The collector met the Irular community at the MGR Nagar yesterday when they told him that they were unable to catch prawns and other such small fishes in the river as they usually do, out of their long embedded fear of retribution from the upper caste fishermen whose nets and boats had been destroyed in the tsunami," Relief Commissioner of this district, C K Gariyali, said.

"The collector reassured them and instructed the village panchayat to make sure that the Irular community continue their livelihood as normal," she said.

As motivation, Collector Gagandeep Singh Bedi reportedly gave the community members Rs 100 for a fresh catch of prawns.

The Irular community, who were traditional rat and snake catchers, also submitted to Bedi a list of demands which included a fresh plea to issue them an 'Irular certificate' that will help them to get better facilities for higher education.

The request for group houses for the community, flood banks, more 'balwaadis' or day care centres, an exclusive cyclone centre also feature in the list. They have also asked the administration to put a stop to the prawn cultures in the area which they claimed salinated the soil.

Source: Sun News, January 12, 2005

 
At January 11, 2005 at 9:51 PM, Blogger Dalit Rights said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At January 11, 2005 at 9:53 PM, Blogger Dalit Rights said...

Tsunami and Caste

THE reports that dalits in some of the tsunami-devastated villages of Tamil Nadu are being discriminated against in the distribution of relief are very distressing, indeed. They are no less agonising than the devastation caused by the tsunami itself. Segregation of dalits and denial of basic rights to them has been the undeclared cornerstone of the political society in Tamil Nadu. However, few could think even in this hour of common tragedy, dalits would be hounded out of relief camps, denied food and water, and not even allowed to use the relief-camp toilets owing to the prejudices prevailing among the victims of other castes that their entry into the relief camps would pollute the sanctity of the camps. The hatred towards these dalits is so acute that the upper caste survivors, forgetting the old value that the disasters and tragedies bring people closer, are ill-treating them and denying them the aid meant for all victims.While Ms Jayalalithaa just after the tsunami struck promised equal treatment, irrespective of caste and creed, to all her people, what is happening in her state belies her claim; on the contrary, what is clear is the discriminating upper caste orientation of the state machinery. Else how could the authorities of a girls’ school in Thanjavur ask the dalits to leave the school just after four days of the disaster? What is worse, for forcing them out of the relief camps, the higher caste survivors and volunteers have been resorting to the old tirade that the dalits were playing mischief and committing theft in the villages. This is their obsession against the dalits that speaks; otherwise how a tsunami-hit survivor who has lost everything, his home and hearth, could come out with such absurd and illogical allegations? What is more shameful is that the officials who have been supervising the relief operations have been mute spectators to the discrimination by the higher caste survivors.

The magnitude of the hatred for dalits could be gauged from the simple fact that one of the lower castes, the Meenawars, a fishing community who suffered immense loss in men and material, did not allow dalit victims to sleep in a marriage hall where they were put up by the government authorities. Of the 6,000 people who died in Tamil Nadu when the tsunami struck, the number of dalits is around 500. They were daily wage-earners working in agricultural lands which are now destroyed. In Keshavapalayam near Nagapattinam, no aid has flowed to the 83 dalits’ families. The field co-ordinator with the Human Rights Forum for Dalit Liberation, Mr S Kuruppiah said that in some of the villages, the dead bodies of untouchables were removed with reluctance. Ironically, the dalits are sought after for burying the dead of the fishing community.

In the beginning, it was argued that the government of Tamil Nadu must borrow the relief technology from Orissa which has got the expertise as the state has to face such occasions in the past. It was pointed out that the distribution of relief should be handled by government officials of the affected districts and collection of the material should be entrusted to the unaffected districts. The direct involvement of the government officials must not have brought such discriminating situation. Mr M Bharathan of Manitha Urimai Kalam has evidence of it: “The tsunami relief assistance, distributed by political parties, local parish priests and even fishermen associations, have failed to reach these victims”. In fact, the dalits had to face discrimination in the matter of rescue operations. The victims belonging to higher castes were sheltered at more safer relief centres.

Disasters put the collective approach and humanitarian attitude of the society to test. And it is seen clearly that the Tamil Nadu society has failed the test; it has allowed violation of basic human principles which govern and guide a civilised society. The government cannot escape its responsibility. While it first failed to reach the aid to the dalit victims, it also failed to punish the discriminators, the perpetrators of the inhuman crime. The Jayalalithaa government has virtually left these children of God to the mercy of God. This is condemnable. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister must intervene immediately to provide equitable relief to those who live at the bottom of society. She must reorganise and reorient the relief distribution system and bring them at the centre of the relief operation. She must ensure that they are not denied their right to survival as they too are citizens of India. Relief is pouring in: the Prime Minister has given Rs 400 crore to the state for extensive relief and rehabilitation. Now, it is the duty of Ms Jayalalithaa to ensure that the aid reaches all, and promptly.

Source: The Navhind Times, January 10, 2005

 

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