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

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