Social Justice

African Americans to “Declare Empathy” with Dalits, in Historic Commemoration of King Birthday

On Wednesday, January 15, 2014, in commemoration of the 85th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an historic event will occur in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill. Beginning at 3pm, descendants of some of America’s most prominent African American Legacy Families will join U.S. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Congressional members and staff, and representatives of Dalit Freedom Network in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center’s Congressional Auditorium to sign “The Declaration of Empathy” which addresses the modern-day oppression and enslavement of the Dalit people of India.

The Dalits, India’s so-called “Untouchables,” are history’s longest standing oppressed people. Today, there are an estimated 250 million Dalits in India still being subjected to harsh and inhumane treatment that rivals the worst aspects of historical slavery. In 2007, the U.S. Congress passed House Concurrent Resolution 139, “expressing the sense of the Congress that the United States should address the ongoing problem of untouchability in India.”

Now, several prominent African American Legacy Families, descendants of those who directly experienced unspeakable degradation and brutality during the dark days of American slavery, wish to voice their own concern and empathy for those families suffering the misery of being trapped in modern-day slavery. The Quander Family (descendants of the slaves of George Washington) is joining together with descendants of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Banneker, among others, in a spirit of unity and solidarity to assert that African Americans and fellow Americans should oppose the modern-day enslavement of the Dalits and declare empathy with their plight. Also, expected to attend will be descendants of Solomon Northrup, whose autobiographical memoir was the subject of director Steve McQueen’s widely-acclaimed 2013 film “12 Years A Slave.” This event will become a milestone in the history of the contemporary abolition movement.

“The Declaration of Empathy” event is a collaborative effort between Gye Nyame, Inc. (a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that focuses on cultural and educational advancement), Dalit Freedom Network-USA (a nonprofit dedicated to ending the subjugation of the Dalits in India), and Quander Historical Society (which represents the descendants of George Washington’s slaves). Rohulamin Quander, President of the Quander Historical Society, states, “The Quander Family, like other African American families, still feels the pain and sting that institutional discrimination visited upon us. With this Declaration of Empathy, we stand in solidarity with the oppressed Dalit people of India. Until they are free, none of us is, indeed, free.”

As a lead-in to this event, Howard University’s African American Studies Department will host a Round Table/Panel Discussion in the Browsing Room of Founders Library on the afternoon of Tuesday, January 14th, beginning at 1pm. Topics to be explored include the past efforts of Dalit individuals and organizations to reach out to black Americans, having long identified their struggle with African Americans’ struggle for civil rights, and how to now forge meaningful and mutually beneficial contacts and associations based on the continuing struggle for civil and human rights.

By hosting “The Declaration of Empathy” event on the birth date of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the conveners intend to magnify and draw upon the courage and conviction of the historic human rights champion. During a sermon given at Ebenezer Baptist Church on July 4, 1965, Dr. King reflected upon his journey to India, and acknowledged the parallel between African Americans and Dalits, stating, in part, “Yes, I am an untouchable, and every Negro in the United States of America is an untouchable.” Through declaring empathy with the oppressed and downtrodden of India, participants of “The Declaration of Empathy” signing event hope to further the possibility that slavery, in all of its aspects, will someday be dredged from the human reality, for once and for all.

Media is invited and encouraged to attend and report on this timely and critical story. For more information please contact press coordinator Mikuak Rai by calling (202) 276-3099 or emailing .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/01/prweb11454166.htm

Posted on: December 31, 2013

 


African Americans Call for End to Oppression of Dalits in India with “Declaration of Empathy”

On Wednesday, January 15, 2014, in commemoration of the 85th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an historic event will occur in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill. Beginning at 3pm, descendants of some of America’s most prominent African American Legacy Families will join U.S. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Congressional members and staff, and Dalit Freedom Network in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center’s Congressional Auditorium to sign “The Declaration of Empathy,” which addresses the modern-day oppression and enslavement of the Dalit people of India.

The Dalits, India’s so-called “Untouchables,” are history’s longest standing oppressed people. Today, there are an estimated 250 million Dalits in India still being subjected to harsh and inhumane treatment that rivals the worst aspects of historical slavery. In 2007, the U.S. Congress passed House Concurrent Resolution 139, “expressing the sense of the Congress that the United States should address the ongoing problem of untouchability in India.”

Now, several prominent African American Legacy Families, descendants of those who directly experienced unspeakable degradation and brutality during the dark days of American slavery, wish to voice their own concern and empathy for those families suffering the misery of being trapped in modern-day slavery. The Quander Family (descendants of the slaves of George Washington) is joining together with descendants of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Banneker in a spirit of unity and solidarity to assert that African-Americans and fellow Americans should oppose the modern-day enslavement of the Dalits and declare empathy with their plight. This event will become a milestone in the history of the contemporary abolition movement.

Rohulamin Quander, President of the Quander Historical Society and event producer, states, “The Quander Family, like other African American families, still feels the pain and sting that institutional discrimination visited upon us. With this Declaration of Empathy, we stand in solidarity with the oppressed Dalit people of India. Until they are free, none of us is, indeed, free.” According to Dr. Ana Steele, President of Dalit Freedom Network and event co-producer, “The Declaration of Empathy is the culmination of a tremendous commitment on all our parts to bring the Dalits’ plight into the public square, and what we hope will be the beginning of an international groundswell of support for their freedom.”

By hosting this event on the birth date of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the conveners intend to magnify and draw upon the courage and conviction of the historic human rights champion. During a sermon given at Ebenezer Baptist Church on July 4, 1965, Dr. King reflected upon his journey to India, and acknowledged the parallel between African Americans and Dalits, stating, in part, “Yes, I am an untouchable, and every Negro in the United States of America is an untouchable.” Through declaring empathy with the oppressed and downtrodden of India, participants of “The Declaration of Empathy” signing event hope to further the possibility that slavery, in all of its aspects, will someday be dredged from the human reality, for once and for all.

Media is invited and encouraged to attend and report on this timely and critical story.

For more information please contact press coordinator Mikuak Rai by calling (202) 276-3099 or emailing .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

http://www.prweb.com/releases/Declare/Empathy/prweb11406890.htm

Posted on: December 13, 2013

 


Voting with their feet: Dalits have emancipated themselves by fleeing to the cities

Home to over 500 bullocks a decade and half back, this village is left with just six bullocks. It means India’s serfdom has ended in this village. Dalits are no more under the command system of the village Thakurs. A no-fly zone to vultures, Dalits have come out of one of the most humiliating practices enforced on them for centuries — they no longer lift or skin dead animals. Animals are now buried causing extinction of vultures.

It is all over, laments Gulab Singh, a Thakur and once a landlord. The very system has collapsed, he rues.

This village is located on the Azamgarh-Gorakhpur road, some 10 km towards Gorakhpur. Food-source equality has taken place in this village. Coarse cereals like barnyard millet, finger millet, sorghum, kodo, foxtail millet, and pearl millet are extinct here.

“Let cattle relish coarse cereals,” says Chunni Lal, a Dalit in his late 50s. “Ham log bahut bhugte in mote anaj ko (we had enough of these coarse cereals),” he adds.

Among 129 Dalit houses in the village, there are 109 girls aged ten and above. Only four of them work on Thakurs’ farms. Three of them are destitute sisters whose father had passed away suddenly a few years back.

According to Shakti Singh, a worldly-wise young Thakur, 10-15% farmland has not been taken for paddy plantation this season. Majdoor milte hi nahi — it’s hard to find labour, he adds.

Of the 43 Thakur families, none employs regular labourers. Not long ago, an average landlord family employed a halwaha who tilled the land and his entire family took care of the crops from seeding to weeding out. The charwaha took buffaloes/cows for grazing and milked them. The duwariha waited at the door.

An elderly Thakur is upset that they are nobody today. One could see in his eyes nostalgia for a bygone era when they were virtual kings. This is a social class that ruled this part of the countryside till a couple of decades back.

Take the case of farm work, for example. Till recently, it was women-centric. Barring ploughing and digging, most farm work would be done by Dalit women. In this village at least, the Dalit women seem to have completely withdrawn from farm work.

As almost all girls and young women go to school, there is no way they could be farm labour. In fact, they don’t even work in their own lands, adds Chunni Lal.

“They have started to become our partners,” says Shakti Singh. The young Thakur refers to the phenomenon of Dalits becoming sharecroppers with Thakurs. From the 129 Dalit families, 22 are in a sharecropping arrangement with the upper castes.

“Now, they are refusing to be even partners,” he adds.

Shakti Singh is right. A research team from the Centre for the Advanced Study of India (CASI), University of Pennsylvania, had studied this village as well in 2007. The study, led by Devesh Kapur, focussed on mapping changes in food habits, lifestyle and occupational patterns post-1990 amongst Dalits in two blocks of the state. The CASI researchers had found 49 Dalit families in this village in sharecropping arrangement with Thakurs. That number has now come down to 22!

The triumph of Dalits with regard to their walkout from the farm in this village has had echoes in other walks of life as well. Of the 109 Dalit kids who are enrolled in primary education, 59 go to private schools and 50 to government schools.

” Hamare bachchon ko vidyalaya chahiye, bhojanalaya nahi ” (our kids need schools, not eateries), says Chunni Lal. He turns rhetorical and says, “Shunt government schools out of the village and bring in private schools.”

This village story is a stereotype buster. But certain trends seem to be universal through the Hindi-speaking belt. Dalit kids in government schools are entitled to get a Rs 300 scholarship annually, in addition to free books/stationery, free uniform and free mid-day meal, etc. And yet, a majority of them here have opted for private schools where they have to pay for everything.

What’s the trigger that led Dalits of this village to proclaim their own emancipation?

Chunni Lal says that the postman has brought about the revolution we are now witnessing. “Yahi sach hai,” nods another Dalit in his 70s. Shakti Singh also confirms that the postman straightaway goes into the Dalit basti.

From the 129 Dalit households in this village, 126 youth have migrated to towns. The CASI study shows that the number of Dalit migrants was 62 in 2007. In other words, 64 more Dalit youth fled their villages. In five years the number has doubled.

When observed in the context of the changes in the economy since 1991, it is evident that economic expansion (thanks to reforms) triggered Dalits’ migration to cities, resulting in their emancipation.

To take an example, during the last five years not even one birth has taken place at home among Dalit households. All deliveries have taken place in hospitals. Chunni Lal says, “You have to be a Dalit to understand this.”

He also says, “We have not become equal to them (Thakurs) but we have become free of them.”

One must say ‘Amen’ to that!

Chandra Bhan Prasad and Milind Kamble are respectively mentor and chairman of Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI).

Times of India
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/Voting-with-their-feet-Dalits-have-em ancipated-themselves-by-fleeing-to-the-cities/articleshow/26867003.cms

Posted on: December 5, 2013

 


Dalits form 32% of Tamil Nadu slum dwellers

CHENNAI: Dalits account for nearly 32% (18.55 lakh) of the 58 lakh slum dwellers in Tamil Nadu, according to the slum census for 2011, released by the Census Commissioner on Monday. About 13.5 lakh slum dwellers in the state are in Chennai. In comparison, in Punjab, about 39% of slum dwellers are dalits, the report said.

Despite all efforts taken by the state government to rehabilitate slum dwellers, especially those living in Chennai city, there has been a decadal growth in the number of dalits living in slums because slum resettlement efforts have not matched the pace of migration of workers from rural to urban centres in the state. Also, in most places, the government has not been able to protect its own land retrieved from slum dwellers in past resettlement drives. While as per the 2001 census, about 25% of slum dwellers in the state were dalits, it has gone up by 7% since then.

A few other states and Union Territories also have similar track record. For instance, in Himachal Pradesh only 15% of slum dwellers were dalits a decade ago. But it has gone up to 30% now. Also, 30.7% of slum dwellers in Chandigarh are dalits. In Haryana it is 29.9% and in Tripura 28.8% of slum dwellers are dalits. Since 2001, across the country, there has been a 37% increase in the dalit population in slums. While there were only 96.73 lakh dalits living in slums in 2001, their numbers went up to 1.33 crore in 2011. The overall population of slum dwellers has also gone up by 25%, from 5.23 crore to 6.54 crore, in the last one decade.

However, there has been a slight improvement in the male-female ratio among dalits in slums. While there were 957 dalit women for every 1000 dalit men in 2001, the number of women has gone up to 985 going by the latest census. Sex ratio for dalits in slums is far better than other urban communities, the report says.

In Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir, dalits comprise less than 15% of slum dwellers.

“Dalits are the worst affected lot among those who migrate from rural areas to urban centres,” said former MLA and dalit activist D Ravikumar. Dalits find housing in urban centres unaffordable. Many who have migrated from Perambalur and other central Tamil Nadu districts to Chennai to work as load men at Koyambedu market sleep in front of the shops they work in, said Ravikumar.

The census report says dalits living in slums are mostly unskilled or semi-skilled workers. Most of them work in the construction sector. They cannot hire a pucca house with the salaries they earn, said Ravikumar.

Maharashtra has the maximum number of slum households (24.99 lakh) as well as slum population (1.18 crore) in the country. Andhra Pradesh comes second with 24.31 lakh households and 1.01 crore population, followed by West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. Tamil Nadu, has 14.63 lakh slum households.

Times of India
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Dalits-form-32-of-Tamil-Nadu-slum-dwellers/articleshow /23377468.cms

Posted on: October 2, 2013

 


Dalit Families to Get Back Land Papers After 25 Years

Kathmandu

Thirty-five Dalit families of Martadi, Bajura, are about to get back their land ownership certificates held by the local branch of Nepal Food Corporation (NFC) as collateral for the past 25 years.

“My father, like many others, trusted a trader named Dil Bahadur Karki with the papers. The NFC took in the documents and allowed Karki to transport rice from Achham to Bajura in 1988. Karki, however, ran away with the goods and the NFC retained our papers,” said Binod Bishwokarma of the village.

With the whereabouts of Karki unknown, the Dalit families then fought a court battle with the NFC and lost, added 27-year-old Bishwokarma. The NFC refused to hand the papers back until it received the payment of the rice, which amounted to Rs 537,736 with interest.

“The Dalit families could not collect that amount. Consequently, they were barred from carrying out land transactions. They could not even sell any agricultural produce. Because land is the only source of food for the Dalit s, we decided to take up their cause,” said Suman Piya, an official at the Food-first Information and Action Network (FIAN) Nepal, an organisation which works to ensure right to food.

According to a press statement issued by the FIAN Nepal, discussions between the Dalit families and the concerned stakeholders began in late 2011. The Ministry of Local Development was the first government body to design a construction project worth Rs 300,000.

The villagers participated in the project and handed the sum they earned to the NFC. In late 2012, the NFC itself agreed to write off 50 percent of the interest. Then in May this year, the District Development Committee agreed to design a project worth Rs 150,000 to help the Dalit families pay the remaining amount.

“In a few days, we are holding a big ceremony to mark the return of our land documents,” said Bishwokarma.

Despite repeated attempts, the Bajura-based NFC officials could not be reached.

eKantipur.com, June 18, 2013

Posted on: June 18, 2013

 


Dalits tell woes to commission, demands justice for atrocities

By: Balwinder Kumar

In a state where the government is making tall claims of the providing good administration to the people a minor girl is struggling to get a case registered against a man who allegedly made obscene remarks on her despite trying to establish relation with her. Following her refusal the man

threatened her and her family.

The victim was one of 28 others belonging to schedule castes, who allegedly reported atrocities by the upper caste , to Rajesh Bagha, chairman of the state commission for scheduled castes, during a public hearing at Ambedkar bhavan on Tuesday.

The programme was organised by Dalit Dastan Virodi Andolan (DDVA), an NGO, working for the dalits. Narrating their stories, the victims told the commission that the police did not take any necessary action against the culprits, and demanded justice from the commission.

The minor while complaining to the commission said that the incident took place on September 5 when her mother, Balwinder Kaur, who had been working as a domestic help in the house of the accused fell ill, and sent the victim to work in her place.

She along with her 10 years old younger brother went to the house. The accused finding her alone passed obscene comments on her and also tried to establish a relation. But she managed to flee for the house and narrated the incident to her mother who also stopped going to his house.

She said that now the accused has been threatening her and the family of not telling the incident to anyone and also forcing them to join work again. The case was also not registered, she said.

Another gang rape victim from Ferozepur district while narrating her story said that after six people of her village Basti Dulla Singh raped her, the police booked six upper caste persons identified as Bhakhshish Singh and his five other accomplices but only none of them was arrested.

Sukhwinder Kaur(36) of Taran Tarn complained against a brick kiln owner Harpal Singh of Machhike village of Taran Taran who misbehaved with her in Khem Kharan police station in front of ASI Narinder Singh when she went there in support of bonded labourer who were rescued from the brick kiln of the accused.

She said that this incident occurred in February, 2011 and since then she had made various representations to the deputy commissioner, SSP Taran Tarn but no case was registered.

Pawan Kaler a victim of Nangal Fida village in Jalandhar said that he along some other people were attacked by upper caste men in the village on June 20 after their one of them defeate an upper caste man in a village wrestling match. He said that they stioll feel threatened in the village.

In a similar case Hakam Singh(25) complained that some upper caste men attacked him after he stopped playing kabbadi in their club as he was not given due share in cash prize money.

Gurmel Singh of Nayan Kalan village of Patiala district and Sidhoria Khan of Kaithal, Haryana told the commission how they were forced to work as bonded labourers.

Jai Singh the patron of DDVA said that such public hearing have been arranged only to ensure that that the commsion takes prompt action against the accused.

Rajesh Bagha said that the commission would ensure justice for the victims and would also take preventive measures to curb such incidents in future.

Jalandhar, Hindustan Times, September 11,2012
http://www.hindustantimes.com/Punjab/Jalandhar/Dalits-tell-woes-to-commission-demands-justice-f or-atrocities/SP-Article1-928202.aspx

Posted on: September 11, 2012

 


Social inequality the real culprit in India’s ‘shameful’ malnutrition problem

By Stephanie Nolen

It’s the grim statistic that just won’t budge: new child malnutrition numbers are out for India, and there is no good news to be had.

The exhaustive door-to-door survey covered a fifth of India’s children and found that 42.3 per cent of children under the age of five are underweight for their age, 58.8 per cent are stunted and 11.4 per cent are so severely underfed as to be considered “wasted.”

These figures are significant in part because some Indian nationalists reject the findings of international organizations that have warned that the child malnutrition situation is not improving even as the economy has grown at nearly 10 per cent per year over the last decade.

In fact, about as many Indian children are malnourished now as were at the beginning of the economic liberalization period two decades ago: the number has declined at best by two or three per cent.

One person who has refused to let the malnutrition figures get lost in the gloss of “India Shining” is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who chose to personally release this report and called the figures “a national shame,” saying “despite impressive growth in our GDP, the level of undernutrition in the country is unacceptably high.”

Prime Minister Singh noted that the policy tools employed by government to date have not had the impact envisioned. The report findings suggest that the persistent problems of sclerotic bureaucracy and corruption continue to hamper those policy initiatives – for example, almost every village surveyed had an anganwadi community health centre. But while these are supposed to distribute dried rations to children in need, and feed those children cooked meals once a day, only half of the centres actually had the food supplies they were supposed to receive.

As the Globe reported in 2009, the reasons why India continues to have such high malnutrition rates have less to do with levels of poverty than they do with persistent social inequality, particularly between men and women.

The reason, according to research from the International Food Policy Research Institute, that many much poorer African nations nevertheless have better-nourished children than India does is that in those African states, women have much more autonomy in terms of personal mobility, work and household spending, and as a consequence, their children eat better. A child under five is almost twice as likely to be underweight in India as is a child in sub-Saharan Africa.

This survey also drew out the explicit connections between malnutrition and other aspects of development such as education and sanitation. It found that while nearly half of children of illiterate mothers are malnourished, only a third of children of mothers who had 10 or more years of education are.

The survey compared households in the best-performing districts of the most developed states with the worst districts in the poorest states; in the best districts, half of all mothers said their family members washed their hands with soap after they used the toilet, while only a fifth of mothers in the worst districts said they did so – even though almost all households said they had soap. Chronic diarrheal disease is a key cause of malnutrition.

The Globe and Mail, January 20, 2012

Posted on: January 20, 2012

 


India’s exploited child cotton workers

By Humphrey Hawksley

The noise was deafening and air in the factory in northern Gujarat was so thick with cotton dust it was like a snowstorm at night.

Women and girls, some no more than 10 or 11, fed machines with raw cotton picked from the nearby fields.

It is a process known as ginning – one end of a commercial supply chain that ends up as clothes and textiles in high street shops around the world. Globally, annual revenues from the industry are measured in the trillions of dollars.

Many household-name retailers concede they do not know exactly how the cotton they use is farmed and processed. Yet, for years, labour activists here have campaigned for their help.

“The workers’ lives are terrible,” said Jignesh Mevani, an activist who was our guide. “They are not paid the minimum wage. There are no safety precautions. There are many children.”

Filming openly, children were easy to find in both the ginning factories and the cotton fields.

One was Kali Gamar, wearing a worn yellow dress, her arms covered in scratches from the cotton bushes. She thought she was 10, but wasn’t sure.

Her expression was flat, her eyes dull as, almost robotically, she prised open cotton buds, one after the other. She was with her older sister, Ashi, who said she was 20.

“We came here four or five months ago from Rajastan,” said Ashi. “Now we live here. The work is hard. We don’t know where our parents are. They are working somewhere.”

In one of the ginning factories, we found Versha and Pryanka. They were both 11 years old, far away from home and too shy or frightened to speak.

An adult worker, Gauri, explained they had been sent there through a labour agent by their parents.

“They came some months back,” she said. “They don’t get paid. The money must go straight to their parents.”

Some estimates put the number of cotton child workers in India as high as half a million.

“A third of the workers may be children,” says Sudhir Katiyar, who runs the campaigning organisation Prayas Centre for Labor Research and Action.

“Children are at every stage of the process, seeding cotton, picking it and ginning and beyond, too,” he says.

Mr Katiyar refers to the cotton dust in the ginning factories as “the horror of the white cloud”, as it can cause lung disease at an early age.

By law, he says, masks and safety equipment should be provided to all workers. Children should not work until they are 16.

There have been cases of them falling asleep through exhaustion and suffocating in the piles of raw cotton.

Workers are paid just over $2 (£1.30) a day, when they should be paid $7 for a 12-hour shift, Mr Katiyar insists.

From the ginning factories, the cotton is spun into thread from which textiles are made.

It is at this stage that the supply chain becomes a completely different world.

Mandhana Industries in Tarapur, two hours from Mumbai, is a supplier to many European brands.

Its plant is clean and modern, with an abundance of posters promoting good working practices. Staff wear protective masks and clothing.

“We have a social programme,” says Mandhana president Ajay Prakash Bhatnagar. “We have doctors and health care. We take care of everything.

“I think this is why we get so many repeat orders again and again. Our customers are happy with the way we operate.”

Usually companies like Mandhana track their supply chain to the spinning mills, while high street retailers track back to their immediate suppliers. Little or no scrutiny is made of the ginning factories and cotton fields.

None of the retailers we contacted agreed to be interviewed on this issue.

But Arcadia, owner of outlets such as Top Shop, BhS and Miss Selfridge, issued a statement saying: “We are committed to ensuring that the workers in our suppliers’ supply chains are treated fairly.

“When customers buy our goods they must be sure that they have been produced under acceptable conditions.”

Marks and Spencer said it did not break down what percentage of its raw cotton was traceable and guaranteed to be free of unacceptable labour practices.

“All our suppliers must adhere to our ethical standards as a condition of working with us,” it said in a statement. “We do not tolerate abuse of these standards.”

The company says, however, that it intends to be able to trace the source of its cotton by 2015.

Child labour has been reported in all the major cotton growing countries – China, India, Pakistan, Brazil, Uzbekistan and Turkey.

In response to the BBC findings in Gujarat, the British government said businesses were encouraged to remain vigilant about the work conditions for products they buy from overseas.

BBC News, January 19, 2012

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-16639391

Posted on: January 19, 2012

 


Dayal Wins Human Dignity Award

Read full article at Joseph D’souza’s blog:

Dr John Dayal has won the Maanav Adhikaar Paaritaushik (Human Dignity Award) in memory of Professor M. M. Guptara. Dr Dayal has spent his life in investigating, and then helping individual cases of human rights abuse, as well as struggling against structural human rights abuse aimed at whole groups (such as Dalits, Muslims and Christians), and fighting organized human rights abuse – for example in Vadodara and in Orissa. At a time in our nation’s history when we have been struck down from the heights by the current global crisis as well as by the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, it is important not only to celebrate the strengths and beauties of the various cultures in our country, but also to recognize individual efforts to cleanse our country of its evils.

“Over several decades, and at the cost of his own health and finances, Dr Dayal has helped people regardless of ethnicity, gender, economic status, religion or any other criterion. That is something surely worth celebrating,” said Professor Prabhu Guptara.

Recognizing that the award is only a token, the Guptara family deeply appreciates Dr. Dayal’s lifetime of exceptional efforts and service to our country.

Posted on: December 15, 2008

 


Dalits in Gujarat say their dead have no place to rest in peace

Original article from ExpressIndia.com by Shubhlakshmi Shukla.

Banaskantha Runi, nearly 25 km from the Rajasthan border, is a village that has always acted as a breeding ground of politicians. Although the village has seen a lot of development, the Dalits have a different story to tell. Their main complaint—they do not know if their dead are actually laid to rest.

Unlike high-caste Hindus, who have well-developed crematoriums, thanks to the Rs 5 lakh grant under the Panchvati Yojana of the state government, Dalits from nine separate categories still follow their age-old custom of burying the dead. But their burial ground has been encroached upon by the village high school that has left little space to bury the dead. The story is similar in over 60 villages under Dhanera taluka of Banaskantha district.

Varsha Ganguly, who heads the Ahmedabad-based Behavioural Science Centre (BSC), said: “The divide is evident, even in the eyes of the government. The reason: in the Hindu religion, last rites are always understood as cremation. The government has not even cared about regularising burial lands for Dalits.”

The divide exists everywhere in the state. According to the BSC, there are nearly 18,100 villages in Gujarat; of these around 5,000 have no legal burial ground for the Dalits.

Bharat Dhabi, a resident of Runi said: “They have funds for the upper castes—those who cremate their dead—but not for our community. We have been using the burial ground for a century now.”

He added, “Runi Gram Panchayat had allotted around 8.5 acres of land to Matrushree Vidyalaya—a private high school. However, the school authorities have encroached upon nearly 1.5 acres.”

Elsewhere, in Ruppur village under Chanasma taluka of Patan district, Valji Patel of the Council for Social Justice recounts how a Dalit burial ground located there was taken over by the Nirma trust. Incidentally, Karsan Patel, the founder of Nirma, belongs to this place, said Patel.

Even as Dalits have been burying their dead for such a long time now, it is not regularised by the state government. As a result, the land is now considered a wasteland, Patel said. Interestingly, the price of burial lands at Ruppur has increased. The reason: with the construction of a national highway connecting Chanasma and Patan, around 1.5 acres of Dalit burial land came to the front.

“Settlements were made between the Gram Panchayat and the trust, and the land was given to the latter, last year, to develop a garden,” Patel said. He added: “We started a 30-day agitation at the collectors office and also filed a petition in the high court, last year.

Inquiry was ordered against the district collector. Land, however, was not allotted. Instead of the piece of land lying adjacent to the highway, a small patch in the interior of the village was given to the Dalits .”

The institute has now taken this matter to the Supreme Court, said Patel.

Despite the fact that the Revenue Department had passed a Government Resolution in September 1989 to consider 1972 as the year for earmarking land for burial, nothing seems to have been done so far.

“Apart from the Revenue Department, the Dalits have to approach the Health Department also to regularise land for burial, but this provided the decaying bodies do not spread any disease. Quite ironically, Gram Panchayats in several villages have allotted residential land that are in close proximity to burial lands,” said Manu Pandya, a local volunteer associated with BSC.

In Odha village of Banaskantha district, the Gram Panchayat has allotted a residential zone just adjacent to the previously existing burial ground.

Leela Solanki (40), a widow from Odhav village witnessed a gory scene when the body of her three-year-old son was accidentally exhumed by the plough of a farmer from the Patel community. “My husband was alive when the incident happened a few years ago. He died a few days later,” she said.

Fakir Vaghela is the state’s Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment of SCs and Socially and Economically Backward Classes. He also holds the portfolio of Sports and Youth and Cultural Activities. Although Vaghela is aware of this problem faced by the Dalits, he was unaware of the status. P Panneervel, Principal Secretary, State Revenue Department, was not available for his comments.

The reality, at the end of the day, is that the tale of woes of the Dalits does not seem to have an end right now. When asked about this, Leela said: “My son, Mahesh, and I work as farm labourers. We get two bags of wheat in lieu of our work on which we have to survive for a few months. I have to fill my stomach before I can fight for the dead.”

Posted on: December 1, 2008

 


ATTACK IN MUMBAI: DFN PARTNERS - DFN and OM INDIA PERSONNEL SAFE

All Dalit Freedom Network (DFN) partners with Operation Mobilization (OM) India and their personnel, friends and associates are safe after a night of terrorist attacks in the city of Mumbai on India’s west coast left dozens dead and hundreds injured.

Starting at approximately 8:30p local time, multiple coordinated bombings and shootings occurred in high profile places across Mumbai throughout the night. 5-Star hotels, hospitals, train stations and taxicabs were hit. For the first time in recent history, it seems foreigners (specifically American and British citizens) were the prime targets, some even being taken hostage (but released later). Sadly, the historic Taj Mahal hotel near Mumbai’s Gateway to India was bombed and was still burning in the morning hours.

News is still emerging as to the extent of damage, injuries and loss of life, as well as the nationality of those injured or killed. The American and British Embassies have not yet put out any statements or cautions for their citizens traveling within India.

OM India confirms that its Indian personnel plus its international friends are safe. OM and its associate International Bible Society and Send the Light (IBS/STL) were hosting several meetings with author Philip Yancey. Those meetings have now been canceled, but those visiting for the meetings are safe.

International friends are operating with caution and avoiding high profile places for the time being.

Questions may be directed to Dalit Freedom Network: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Sincerely,

The Dalit Freedom Network Team

Dalit Freedom Network
in association with OMCC / aicc / SC-ST Confederation

Posted on: November 27, 2008

 


Can Love Conquer Caste?

Can Love Conquer Caste?
By Emily Wax, Washington Post Saturday, November 22, 2008

NEW DELHI—She was a gutsy student leader known for hunger strikes and provocative street theater at universities across the country, exposing the plight of India’s beleaguered lower castes. He was a worldly gadfly with a passion for ending nuclear proliferation and exposing environmental crimes.

They fell in love in Iraq nearly 18 years ago while campaigning for peace before the Persian Gulf War. Their romance bloomed, and within three months they were engaged.

But their marriage a year later ushered in another war: In tying the knot, they openly defied India’s deeply entrenched taboos against inter-caste marriage. Anita Pharti, now 42, came from the Dalit caste, still known as untouchables, the lowest in India’s social order. Her husband, Rajeev Singh, 45, is a Rajput, traditionally a landholding caste that had for centuries ruled over Pharti’s peasant community.

“My family was completely aghast,” Singh recalled, sitting with Pharti in their cozy living room, where they have helped clandestine inter-caste couples elope. “My father said he wouldn’t let it happen. But I felt so sure about Anita. We were able to fight back. But we were the lucky ones. Many still get murdered for this.”

Even though India legalized inter-caste marriage more than 50 years ago, newlyweds are still threatened by violence, most often from their families. As more young urban and small-town Indians start to rebel and choose mates outside of arranged marriages and caste commandments, killings of inter-caste couples have increased, according to a recent study by the All India Democratic Women’s Association.

In the past month, seven so-called honor killings have targeted inter-caste couples. In the latest incident, a Hindu youth in Bihar was beaten by villagers this week and thrown under an oncoming train because he sent a love letter to a girl of a different caste. The attacks continue despite decades of government decrees intended to dismantle the bulwark of caste, which is widely seen as the glue of traditional Indian society but is considered among the most corrosive features of the emerging new India.

“The recent rise in violence actually shows that the younger generation—especially women—are slowly gaining individual freedom in marriage. But the older generation still cling to the old ways where marriage is still a symbol of status, not emotional love,” said Shashi Kiran, a lawyer in India’s Supreme Court who married outside her caste and is handling several honor-killing cases. “It shows a society still in transition and wrestling with deep change.”

As part of a controversial incentive for inter-caste couples to marry, the government recently began offering $1,000 bonuses. That’s nearly a year’s salary for the vast majority of Indians. Smaller cash payments first started in 2006 after a Supreme Court ruling in which judges described several high-profile honor killings as acts of “barbarism” and labeled the caste system “a curse on the nation.”

“The government is again deeply concerned over the low rate of conviction and high rate of acquittal of those people involved in incidents of atrocities on people belonging to lower castes,” said Meira Kumar, the minister for social justice and empowerment, who is from a lower caste. “This is not the only way to end the caste discrimination, but one has to start somewhere.”

B.R. Ambedkar, the country’s most famous Dalit leader and chief architect of the Indian constitution, called for an end to caste consciousness more than 60 years ago. He promoted inter-caste marriage as the most practical way to blur caste lines and render them irrelevant.

Despite India’s egalitarian veneer, there remains an invisible separation between the country’s upper and lower castes that lasts from birth to death. Meals are rarely shared between Brahmins and Dalits, the top and bottom brackets of the caste system, which also….click here to read full article and see photo.

Posted on: November 24, 2008

 


Yes, we can!

From the Times of India, 16 November, 2008. To read full article, click here

Beyond business

When I told people that I was working on a book, they assumed it was a memoir of my business career, or my take on management strategy. They looked quizzical (and were probably alarmed) when I said that I was writing a book on India. Businessmen, after all, do not usually make good public intellectuals. I console myself that I am but an accidental entrepreneur, who if he had not walked into the office of the charismatic N R Narayana Murthy in late 1978 in search of a job would probably have at best languished in a regular nine-to-fiver while living in a New Jersey suburb, taking the daily train to Manhattan.

The way I see it, the fact that I am not a specialist of any particular stripe, whether in history, sociology, economics or politics, may actually give me a broader viewpoint on our most significant issues. At a time when our arguments are so polarized, what we need might indeed be an avid amateur, and someone who can avoid the extreme ends of the debate.

While this is a book on India, this is not a book for people fascinated with Indian cinema and cricket — I would not be able to add very much to either topic, colourful as they are. Instead, I have attempted to understand India through the evolution of its ideas. I think that no matter how complicated, every country is governed through some overarching themes and ideas — an intricate web of shared, core beliefs among a country’s people is, after all, what unites them.

The ideals of French nationalism, for instance, the notion of the United States as the land of opportunity and the emphasis on ‘harmony’ in Singapore were all dominant ideas that shaped the economic and social policies of these countries.

India in particular, for all its complexity, is a country that is as much an idea as it is a nation. The years of colonialism have meant that India has not evolved through a natural arc; disparate regions were brought together by the ideas, good and bad, of British administrators and Indian leaders. My first glimmer of the power of these ideas came when I was five years old. I understand this in hindsight, of course. One day my father bundled all of us into his Austin motorcar and drove us to a rally.

It was 1960, the Congress session was being held in Bangalore, and we were there to see the charismatic Jawaharlal Nehru. As a towering leader of our independence struggle and the country’s first prime minister, his stature both within the country and outside was immense — to a whole generation, he was synonymous with India. My memory of standing on the sidelines, caught up in the large crowd and waving at this thin, intense man is an unforgettable one.

Growing up in those days, it was very easy to believe in the idea of a nurturing government and public sector. A paternal, socialist state would own companies which would create wealth and the wealth would be used for the betterment of society. Why allow wealth to be created in private hands where it would probably be used for nefarious purposes? It all made perfect sense. The logic of it, especially coming from the benevolent patriarch Nehru, appeared unimpeachable. My father,.....click here to continue reading.

Posted on: November 21, 2008

 


BBC Interview of Dr. Joseph D’souza

Dr. Joseph D’souza – President of All India Christian Council and International President of Dalit Freedom Network was interviewed on BBC, which was broadcasted last week.
The interview is available by clicking here.

Posted on: November 19, 2008

 


The audacity of hope

Original article from The Times of India by Shobhan Saxena

Hope is a tricky word. It never guarantees anything, but it makes the world go round. Hope was the only possession of the skinny lad with dark skin and a funny name, starting with B, when he arrived in New York, wondering if America had a place for him, too. During his years at Columbia, as he majored in political science, the young man learnt a few important lessons from some American greats. Emerson taught him that “consistency is a virtue of an ass”. From Abe Lincoln, he learnt that freedom is worth dying for.

As he pored over history books, he became sad and angry. And he came out of the campus craving for Change — not just for himself but for his people who hadn’t been free as long as he could remember. The name of this man was Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, and the year was 1913. Barack Obama came out of the same university with the same degree 70 years later, with the same mantra on his lips: Change.

As he gets ready to assume the most powerful office on this planet, a few sceptics are wondering if Obama is a product of the Black movement for civil rights. To be fair, he has never claimed that legacy. He is not the son of a descendant of those Africans who were abducted from their land and sold as slaves in the New World, where they shed sweat as whips lashed and bloodied their skin.

Obama might have avoided invoking names like Malcolm X in his stump speeches for practical reasons, but the blacks see him continuing the lineage of King, X & Company. But, they aren’t the only ones who look up to him; the Dalits of India, too, see Obama as a symbol of Black Power, a phenomenon they closely identify with. After all, America’s black movement has had a great influence on the Dalits’ fight for their rights.

So impressed was Ambedkar with Lincoln that when he launched a political party for Dalits, he called it the Republican Party of India — his tribute to Lincoln, the GOP leader who fought for ending slavery in the US. “Like Dalits in India, the blacks in US also faced discrimination in public transport, schools and jobs. When Ambedkar saw this, he could empathise with them and he supported their struggle,” says Chandrabhan Prasad, Dalit activist and writer. “Even after he came back to India, Ambedkar kept following the black movement in the US.”

The fifties were feverish — for blacks in the US and Dalits in India. Fired up by the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr, the blacks began to believe that being born in America didn’t make them American. So, they began to fight for their rights. In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery. In 1956, King began to walk for the freedom of his people. In 1963, more than 200,000 people joined King’s March on Washington and listened to his “I Have a Dream” speech with tears in their eyes. In India, Ambedkar closely followed the King’s moves and led more than 500,000 Dalits to take refuge in Buddhism in 1956.

During the next couple of decades, the blacks and the Dalits moved on parallel tracks, often influencing and guiding each other. As Dalits veered towards Buddhism, many blacks moved to Islam or erected their own churches; the word Negro — a symbol of slavery — was replaced by Black. The Dalits too dumped the term Harijan “as a symbol of Gandhi’s upper caste politics”. As Dalits got some benefits of reservation, black Americans too fought for affirmative action and got it in 1965. In 1970, when Dalit Panther was founded by Namdev Dhassal, it was inspired by Black Panthers.

Posted on: November 9, 2008

 


Hindu Threat to Christians: Convert or Flee

From the NY Times by SOMINI SENGUPTA

BOREPANGA, India — The family of Solomon Digal was summoned by neighbors to what serves as a public square in front of the village tea shop.

They were ordered to get on their knees and bow before the portrait of a Hindu preacher. They were told to turn over their Bibles, hymnals and the two brightly colored calendar images of Christ that hung on their wall. Then, Mr. Digal, 45, a Christian since childhood, was forced to watch his Hindu neighbors set the items on fire.

“Embrace Hinduism, and your house will not be demolished,” Mr. Digal recalled being told on that Wednesday afternoon in September. “Otherwise, you will be killed, or you will be thrown out of the village.”

India, the world’s most populous democracy and officially a secular nation, is today haunted by a stark assault on one of its fundamental freedoms. Here in eastern Orissa State, riven by six weeks of religious clashes, Christian families like the Digals say they are being forced to abandon their faith in exchange for their safety.

The forced conversions come amid widening attacks on Christians here and in at least five other states across the country, as India prepares for national elections next spring.
The clash of faiths has cut a wide swath of panic and destruction through these once quiet hamlets fed by paddy fields and jackfruit trees. Here in Kandhamal, the district that has seen the greatest violence, more than 30 people have been killed, 3,000 homes burned and over 130 churches destroyed, including the tin-roofed Baptist prayer hall where the Digals worshiped. Today it is a heap of rubble on an empty field, where cows blithely graze.

Across this ghastly terrain lie the singed remains of mud-and-thatch homes. Christian-owned businesses have been systematically attacked. Orange flags (orange is the sacred color of Hinduism) flutter triumphantly above the rooftops of houses and storefronts.

India is no stranger to religious violence between Christians, who make up about 2 percent of the population, and India’s Hindu-majority of 1.1 billion people. But this most recent spasm is the most intense in years.
It was set off, people here say, by the killing on Aug. 23 of a charismatic Hindu preacher known as Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, who for 40 years had rallied the area’s people to choose Hinduism over Christianity.
The police have blamed Maoist guerrillas for the swami’s killing. But Hindu radicals continue to hold Christians responsible.

In recent weeks, they have plastered these villages with gruesome posters of the swami’s hacked corpse. “Who killed him?” the posters ask. “What is the solution?”

Behind the clashes are long-simmering tensions between equally impoverished groups: the Panas and Kandhas. Both original inhabitants of the land, the two groups for ages worshiped the same gods. Over the past several decades, the Panas for the most part became Christian, as Roman Catholic and Baptist missionaries arrived here more than 60 years ago, followed more recently by Pentecostals, who have proselytized more aggressively.

Meanwhile, the Kandhas, in part through the teachings of Swami Laxmanananda, embraced Hinduism. The men tied the sacred Hindu white thread around their torsos; their wives daubed their foreheads with bright red vermilion. Temples sprouted.

Hate has been fed by economic tensions as well, as the government has categorized each group differently and given them different privileges.

The Kandhas accused the Panas of cheating to obtain coveted quotas for government jobs. The Christian Panas, in turn, say their neighbors have become resentful as they have educated themselves and prospered.
Their grievances have erupted in sporadic clashes over the past 15 years, but they have exploded with a fury since the killing of Swami Laxmanananda.

Two nights after his death, a Hindu mob in the village of Nuagaon dragged a Catholic priest and a nun from their residence, tore off much of their clothing and paraded them through the streets.
The nun told the police that she had been raped by four men, a charge the police say was borne out by a medical examination. Yet no one was arrested in the case until five weeks later, after a storm of media coverage. Today, five men are under arrest in connection with inciting the riots. The police say they are trying to find the nun and bring her back here to identify her attackers.

Given a chance to explain the recent violence, Subash Chauhan, the state’s highest-ranking leader of Bajrang Dal, a Hindu radical group, described much of it as “a spontaneous reaction.”
He said in an interview that the nun had not been raped but had had regular consensual sex.

On Sunday evening, as much of Kandhamal remained under curfew, Mr. Chauhan sat in the hall of a Hindu school in the state capital, Bhubaneshwar, beneath a huge portrait of the swami. A state police officer was assigned to protect him round the clock. He cupped a trilling Blackberry in his hand.

Mr. Chauhan denied that his group was responsible for forced conversions and in turn accused Christian missionaries of luring villagers with incentives of schools and social services.
He was asked repeatedly whether Christians in Orissa should be left free to worship the god of their choice. “Why not?” he finally said, but he warned that it was unrealistic to expect the Kandhas to politely let their Pana enemies live among them as followers of Jesus.

“Who am I to give assurance?” he snapped. “Those who have exploited the Kandhas say they want to live together?”
Besides, he said, “they are Hindus by birth.”

Hindu extremists have held ceremonies in the country’s indigenous belt for the past several years intended to purge tribal communities of Christian influence.

It is impossible to know how many have been reconverted here, in the wake of the latest violence, though a three-day journey through the villages of Kandhamal turned up plenty of anecdotal evidence.

A few steps from where the nun had been attacked in Nuagaon, five men, their heads freshly shorn, emerged from a soggy tent in a relief camp for Christians fleeing their homes.
The men had also been summoned to a village meeting in late August, where hundreds of their neighbors stood with machetes in hand and issued a firm order: Get your heads shaved and bow down before our gods, or leave this place.

Trembling with fear, Daud Nayak, 56, submitted to a shaving, a Hindu sign of sacrifice. He drank, as instructed, a tumbler of diluted cow dung, considered to be purifying.

In the eyes of his neighbors, he reckoned, he became a Hindu.

In his heart, he said, he could not bear it.

All five men said they fled the next day with their families. They refuse to return.

In another village, Birachakka, a man named Balkrishna Digal and his son, Saroj, said they had been summoned to a similar meeting and told by Hindu leaders who came from nearby villages that they, too, would have to convert. In their case, the ceremony was deferred because of rumors of Christian-Hindu clashes nearby.

For the time being, the family had placed an orange flag on their mud home. Their Hindu neighbors promised to protect them.
Here in Borepanga, the family of Solomon Digal was not so lucky. Shortly after they recounted their Sept. 10 Hindu conversion story to a reporter in the dark of night, the Digals were again summoned by their neighbors. They were scolded and fined 501 rupees, or about $12, a pinching sum here.

The next morning, calmly clearing his cauliflower field, Lisura Paricha, one of the Hindu men who had summoned the Digals, confirmed that they had been penalized. Their crime, he said, was to talk to outsiders.

Posted on: October 13, 2008

 


The oppression of untouchables is modern India’s shame

From the Sunday Herald by Andrew Duke

Noon in Karimnagar, central India, and already it’s over 40 degrees. A queue of 2000 wedding guests wait patiently in the sun outside a covered courtyard decorated with lotus flowers and ornate drapes. The women wear brightly coloured saris and fan themselves as they chat; the men, clad in sharp, 1970s-cut suits, dab at their foreheads. From time to time, a VIP is whisked along to the front of the line. I know these people are important because they have bodyguards, and their bodyguards are carrying sub-machine guns.

Everyone here knows who these people are, and why this wedding ceremony is so significant. Before the betrothed marry, they will undergo a controversial religious conversion and the congregation of well-wishers, family members, politicians, academics and writers are here to show their support.

Deekonda Tirupathi and his bride-to-be, Sucharitha, are converting to Buddhism because they are Dalits, members of society rooted below even the bottom rung of India’s complex hierarchical system. Above them, four main Hindu classes, or varnas, occupy their own places in life: the priestly Brahmins; then the ruling class, the Kshatriyas; next are the Vaishyas, the artisans and traders; then follow the Shudras, labourers and servants. Those born without varna are seen as sub-human, or, as they used to be referred to, “untouchable”, their lives restricted to menial jobs and duties deemed impure in Hinduism: they alone work leather, dispose of dead bodies, handle carcasses, clear human and animal excrement.

Our wedding couple are the latest in a long line of Dalits who hope to rid themselves of the stigma of “untouchability” and be accepted as equals by adopting a new religion. They follow in the footsteps of one of the country’s greatest thinkers, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, a Dalit lawyer and scholar who went on to become the main architect of India’s constitution.

Ambedkar’s attempts to reform the system in the 1940s and 1950s came under attack from an unlikely source: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi – later Mahatma Gandhi, celebrated peace campaigner, spiritual leader and father of the nation.

Gandhi’s hope of finding a solution to the problem of untouchability without dividing Hindu society sat at odds with Ambedkar’s intention of direct political action: Ambedkar’s demands that Dalits should form separate electorates were initially accepted by the ruling British but he was forced to back down after Gandhi began to starve himself to death in protest.

Ambedkar did, however, manage to ensure that a quota system was introduced in education, politics, the law and public service before his disdain for caste-based Hinduism led him to convert to Buddhism in the late 1950s. “Ambedkar said if a Dalit is to be empowered, the only true way is to leave Hinduism,” Tirupathi tells me. “Since Ambedkar converted to Buddhism and I follow him, I am leaving Hinduism and embracing Buddhism.”

But for the vast majority of the estimated 180 million Dalits (16% of India’s population), everyday life is about basic survival.

“What can we do?” asks Vimalemma Mari, a widow since 1983. “We have families to support and no choice of what work we do.” I meet Mari as she starts work in a northern suburb of Hyderabad. Every day, seven days a week, the 52-year-old mother of six joins an army of women across India in the unending task of sweeping litter and dust from the nation’s roads. A gangmaster – her boss – circles the neighbourhood on a motorbike checking all the sweepers are pulling their weight.

A couple of metres beneath Mari’s feet, 27-year-old Padma Rao begins his job of clearing the drains of human waste with his bare hands. Once the task is complete, his colleagues pull him out. He lets me take his photograph but, as a friend explains, he doesn’t want to talk to me about his life because he is too embarrassed. He looks at me apologetically, gulps some fresh air and is lowered into another drain.

For their efforts, Mari and Padma will be paid around £1 a day.

Discrimination against Dalits, although outlawed, is deeply ingrained. “In rural areas it is still very dangerous for a Dalit to allow his shadow to fall across an upper-caste man – it is the biggest crime a Dalit can commit,” says Moses Vattipalli, himself a Dalit. “It results in very severe punishment, sometimes death. In villages, all Dalits live together on the east side because the wind flows from the west. This way, members of the upper caste will not have any wind or sound coming in from the direction of the Dalits.”

Vattipalli, 31, manages a website documenting the problems faced by Dalits. Much of the site catalogues violence – the beatings, acid attacks, rapes and murders – as well as day-to-day discrimination. “At my village school,” says Moses, “I was told again and again that I was a Dalit boy, and so I was unfortunate. In class we would sit separately and couldn’t share anything. Teacher would abuse me and beat me with sticks – when the upper-caste boys got something wrong, I got the beating. We weren’t allowed to drink in the same place and I had to bring my own tumbler. I was always angry, always asking, Why was I born a Dalit’ ... thinking it would have been better if I hadn’t been born.”

Despite everything, Vattipalli made the most of his education and left his village to work overseas. But moving away from the rural areas does not guarantee acceptance. “Discrimination in the city is different and can be more severe,” says Vattipalli, who now lives with his wife and daughter in Secunderabad. “In the villages you know what is happening and can be careful; here it is psychologically oppressive and dehumanising. They always ask your name: they find out you are a Dalit, then treat you differently.”

But that doesn’t stop thousands seeking work in the major IT and industrial centres each year, especially places like Hyderabad, nicknamed Cyberabad, home to Hitec (Hyderabad Information Technology Engineering Consultancy) City. Here, confidence in India’s future is reflected in the mirrored buildings housing the likes of General Electric, Microsoft and Dell. In the shadow of these multinationals, small shanty towns of itinerant workers have grown up, providing temporary shelter for those lucky enough to be given work.

Others fall into the trap of bonded labour. A few miles north of Hyderabad is a settlement unofficially known as Pipe Village. The encampment consists of discarded pipes beside the factory that produced them. Inside the pipes live the factory’s Dalit workers. Mostly from rural villages, they were enticed by the prospect of a job, accommodation and a loan to help with the move. What they got was a 12-hour day, a pipe to live in and a long-term debt that ensures they stay put.

According to a 2006 survey by the Hindustan Times, 48% of villages still deny Dalits access to water, while three-quarters of villages do not permit Dalits to enter non-Dalit homes. Meanwhile, a third of public health workers refuse to visit Dalit homes. It’s perhaps unsurprising that the contentious process of religious conversion appeals.

“Every day thousands of Dalits choose to embrace a new religion,” says Dr Joseph D’souza, international president of the Dalit Freedom Network. “Dalits are primarily choosing Buddhism or Christianity, although some have chosen Islam. Changing their religion means they – and more important, their children – think of themselves differently. Instead of following holy texts which say they were created only for one role in life and are of lesser value than others, now they learn about a creator who made them equal and truly free. This mental change impacts on their behaviour as they attempt new careers or fight for dignity by embracing their legal rights.”

This growth in confidence has, however, set those with a vested interest in preserving the status quo on a collision course with reformers. “Just 7% of the population rules the majority of India,” says Moses Vattipalli. “When the 93% gain empowerment, the minority fear they will lose everything.”

Realising the threat, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindu heartlands of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu introduced laws to severely restrict conversions, while others, including the state of Gujarat, have attempted to reclassify other faiths and bring them into the fold of Hinduism.

“When the small number of fundamentalist Hindus who want to rule all India and continue to oppress Dalits saw these conversions to Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism, they feared they were losing manpower and growing weaker,” says Vattipalli, himself a convert to Christianity. “They realised that soon they would become the minority and said that the other three religions were in fact branches of Hinduism.”

But that assertion met with little sympathy. “The other religions said no, we are not part of Hinduism so long as there is the caste system,’” says Vattipalli.

As their strength has increased, Dalit leaders and support groups have taken their battle further afield to help shift domestic policy.

“The Dalit movement is at a turning point in history,” says D’souza. “Most Westerners have never heard of Ambedkar, Phule, or Periyar, who were great Dalit leaders and writers. But since 2000, influential bodies such as the United Nations, the US Congress, the UK parliament have issued statements condemning caste discrimination. We are gaining momentum. We are gaining recognition that caste is similar to apartheid and deserves the involvement of the international community.”

Unsurprisingly, the talk over lunch at the wedding in Karimnagar is dominated by the topic of change. But any transition from such deeply entrenched positions may prove painful. If the caste system were to be abolished folowing next year’s crucial elections then, according to Vattipalli: “There may be clashes with Hindu fundamentalists because the Hindu scriptures are everything for them.”

His words seem to be have been born out after recent conflict in the states of Orissa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh. Trouble in Orissa alone left 13,000 people without homes when Anti-Christian violence flared up after local Hindus accused Christian Dalits of murdering a controversial holy man. Claims of forced conversions were also levelled at the Christians. (Both allegations have been vehemently denied). During the most recent clashes, one Christian woman was left dead and scores of others were injured.

So far the outbreaks have been relatively contained, given the size and population of the country, but Moses Vattipalli fears that Dalit empowerment may prompt reprisals.

“Dalits will be angry because of injustices and oppression spread over the last 3000 years,” he warns. “There could be bloodshed, even civil war.”

But Dalit campaigner D’souza takes a different view. “Of course, any group of people that has been oppressed for thousands of years is tempted to take revenge, but I’m confident that Dalit leaders will follow the example of Gandhi and, even more so, BR Ambedkar,” he says. “They will respond with a firm but peaceful defence of their rights and human dignity.”

Posted on: October 13, 2008

 


Where Bibles are Burnt

Click here for the video report

The Indian state of Orissa, in the east of the country, is the theatre of a religious war that few people talk about, the traditional religious flashpoint in the country being between Hindus and Muslims.

But FRANCE 24’s reporting team came here to hear the horrific stories of people who say they are the victims of a new kind of profound religious bigotry. The hatred stems from the extremist teachings of a Hindu guru named Swami Laxmananda Sarazwahti. Since his murder in August, attacks on Christians have multiplied. Sarazwahti claimed that Christians, backed by the USA and Europe, were trying to take over India. Extremist Hindus blame Christians for the guru’s murder. These Hindus and Christians have lived side by side for 20 years, but due to the poisonous words of Sarazwahti and the fervour of his followers, violence soon followed his death. His organization, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, lives on and Indians who have converted to Christianity are especially targeted. Christians in Orissa have seen their churches vandalised and, their villages razed to the ground; 32 people have been killed. Some have even been burnt alive. Most of these Christians have left their ruined villages altogether and have gone to refugee camps for shelter. But they do not feel safe there, and for good reason: Hindus armed with sticks and knives have been trying to steal their food.

In this climate of fear, conversions to Hinduism are on the rise. Some say the violence can be traced back to the nationalist Hindu party BJP coming to power in 2000. They say the BJP is orchestrating and encouraging the violence. The situation is unlikely to improve soon, since the BJP is hoping for a third mandate in elections in Orissa early next year.

Reprinted by permission FRANCE 24

Posted on: October 9, 2008

 


Khairlanji Dalit Murders: 6 Get Death Sentence

Original article from Deccan Herald.

Ending intense nationwide speculation, the trial court here on 24 September 2008 slapped death sentence on six of the eight convicts in the sensational Khairlanji Dalit murder case while ordering life imprisonment for the remaining two.

The six convicts found guilty of brutally murdering four members of a Dalit family in Khairlanji village of Maharashtra’s Bhandara district are Sakru Mahagu Binjewar, Shatrughan Issam Dhande, Vishwanath Hagru Dhande, Ramu Mangru Dhande, Jagdish Ratan Mandlekar and Prabhakar Jaswant Mandlekar. The two sentenced for life imprisonment are Shishupal Vishwanath Dhande and Gopal Sakru Binjewar.

A frenzied mob of about 50 villagers attacked the house of Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, a Dalit farmer 29 September 2006 evening and lynched four members of his family including his wife Surekha, young daughter Priyanka and two sons Sudhir and Roshan.

While the Central Bureau of Investigation handling the case had filed the charge-sheet only against 11 of the original 47 accused and discharged 36, the court had acquitted Purushottam Titirmare, Mahipal Dhande and Dharampal Dhande in its ruling 15 September 2008. The court had also dropped the charges of atrocity and conspiracy against the accused.

On 20 September 2008 first ad hoc sessions judge SS Dass had heard the arguments on the quantum of sentence from both sides in which special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam had demanded death sentence for all eight convicts for the ‘frozen blooded’ murder while defence lawyers Sudip Jaiswal and Neeraj Khandewale had pleaded for leniency in view of the convicts’ clean past record.

While Khandewale and Jaiswal said they would challenge the verdict in the appellate court, the reaction of Nikam could not be immediately known.

Find out more information about the Khairlanji murders.

Posted on: October 8, 2008

 


Khairlanji Ruling is Not Fair to Dalits

Original article from Times of India.

Many Dalits across the state are expressing unhappiness with the Khairlanji verdict, with several of them saying the charges made under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act should have been upheld.

Republican Party of India (Kawade) chief Jogendra Kawade said, “I am really unhappy and unsatisfied with the judgement. One must not comment on the judiciary, but I feel that the judgement is not fair to the Dalits. I cannot understand why none of the accused could be punished under the atrocities act. We feel that the government is supporting casteist forces and now they must set up a judicial commission like the Srikrishna Commission to probe this incident.” Kawade also said Dalits must arm themselves for self-protection in cases where the government fails.

While IAS and IPS officers chose to stay silent, finance wizard and Pune university vice-chancellor Narendra Jadhav demanded stringent punishment for the accused.

A Dalit activist and assistant professor of TISS, Shailesh Darokar, said, “The CBI and police had arrested 34 people and just 11 were charge-sheeted. The court has acquitted three people. I hope they punish the rest with a death sentence or a life imprisonment.”

Deputy Chief Minister RR Patil has tried to soothe Dalit tempers and said the government would ask the CBI to seek legal opinion and challenge the acquittal of the three accused. “We will demand stern punishments for the accused,” he said.

MPCC general secretary Nitin Rau, who is a Dalit MLA from Nagpur, said he had been flooded with angry calls. “The court has struck down the charges under the atrocities act. My followers are repeatedly asking me why the Act was formulated. Besides, I am also surprised that three people were acquitted. During the debate it was also said Bhaiyalal Bhotmange’s daughter was not molested. If she was not molested, why were her clothes removed. We are not happy with the verdict. I am unhappy,” Rau said.

Rajendra Gavai of the RPI (Gavai) said if the police had been prompt, alert and cautious, all 11 people would have been proved guilty and evidence of rape and atrocity against SC/ST would have been also obtained.

Find out more information about the Khairlanji Murders.

Posted on: October 7, 2008

 


India’s Anti-Christian Violence Unparalleled Among World Democracies

For Immediate Release

Orissa violence continues unabated and enters seventh week. Despite Supreme Court ruling, police neglect duties.

NEW DELHI – October 4, 2008 – Despite the deployment of thousands of central and state law enforcement troops, the violence in Orissa continues to inflict daily casualties and massive damage to Christian properties.

Rev. Madhu Chandra, All India Christian Council (aicc) Regional Secretary, said, “The death tolls are climbing, but less than a hundred are confirmed. Perhaps this is why the Orissa attacks haven’t gained international attention the worst violation of the freedom of religion in any democracy in recent history. What most people don’t realize is the goal of the attackers is to inspire fear. The attackers believe India is only for Hindus and their stated purpose is to convert people to Hinduism or force them to leave. To accomplish this, they only need to kill one or two people in each village or church. This is clearly terrorism and ethnic cleansing, but few Indian leaders are admitting it.” Most of the victims are Dalits, formerly known as untouchables, from a tribe called Pano.

Dr. Joseph D’souza, aicc president, said, “The events of the last month, not only the anti-Christian attacks but the negligence of government, would be sad if it happened in a dictatorship or a totalitarian regime. The fact that it’s happening in the world’s largest democracy makes it infinitely sadder.”

Some police, mostly in rural areas, are neglecting their duties. For example, a Roman Catholic nun was raped amidst mob violence on Aug. 25, 2008, in Kanjemandi village between Raikia and Balliguda, Kandhamal District, Orissa. A medical examination of the nun conducted that night at the Balliguda Hospital confirmed rape. Both the victim and a priest, who tried to defend her and was severely beaten, tried to file cases in the Nuagaon police station. Their “First Information Report” (FIR) was rejected. Eventually, the same FIR was accepted at the Balliguda police station. But, in spite of numerous eye witnesses, police didn’t investigate until 38 days after the attack and made four arrests yesterday.
India’s Supreme Court said on Aug. 8, 2008 that any police officer who turns away a person without registering his or her complaint could face contempt of court charges and imprisonment (see “Cops understand only crack of whip, says Supreme Court” by Dhananjay Mahapatra, Times of India, Aug. 9, 2008). Justice B.N. Agarwal and Justice G.S. Singhvi instructed victims to appeal to their local chief judicial magistrate or the chief metropolitan magistrate. Ironically, the decision was scheduled for review on Aug. 25th, the same day as the attack on the nun.

“We demand that the officials in Orissa follow the law. We know multiple cases where Christians have tried to file cases with police after being attacked and the police turned them away. Police say they are overwhelmed and don’t have time to file cases or investigate since they must focus on maintaining order. But surely they realize that, unless crimes are promptly punished, the perpetrators are indirectly encouraged to continue their crimes. Justice is being denied to hundreds of victims,” said Chandra.

There has been no news about a second rape case. A young nun of the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Roman Catholic diocese working at Jan Vikas Kendra, a social service centre near Nuagaon, was reportedly gang raped by mobs on Aug. 24, 2008.

Similar violence lasted about a week over Christmas 2007. Some are calling it “Christian-Hindu clashes” but media reports and aicc Orissa state leaders confirm that Christians are the overwhelming victims and are not instigating attacks. There are scattered reports of Christians firing guns in self-defense. The current violence is entering its seventh week since it began on Aug. 23, 2008 after the killing of a controversial swami by unknown assailants. Extremist groups blamed Christians for the murder.

The violence spread to at least ten other states and has affected hundreds of churches and thousands of Indian Christians. Within Orissa, the violence spread to almost half of the districts, and then was contained to Kandhamal District. But now attacks are spreading again with incidents reported in Gajapati and Boudh districts in the last few days.

Other examples of recent violence include:
Sept. 26th – G. Udayagiri, Kandhamal District: A young Christian man named Rajesh Digal was on his way home from Chennai. While walking with his Hindu friend, they were attacked. The Hindu man was stabbed but escaped. Rajesh was buried alive.
Sept. 30th – Rudangia, Kandhamal District: About 60 houses of Christians were burned in the morning, and one Christian lady was shot and killed while seven others were injured.
Oct. 2nd – Sindhipakali, Kandhamal District: At 8 p.m., mobs attacked the village and set Christian houses on fire. They stabbed and killed a father and his teenage son in 9th standard (grade). Both were Dalit Christians.

Across Orissa, aicc leaders have reliable reports of 315 villages damaged, 4,640 Christian houses burnt, 53,000 Christians homeless, 57 people killed including at least 2 pastors, 10 priests/pastors/nuns seriously injured, 18,000 Christians injured, 2 nuns gang-raped, 149 churches destroyed, 13 Christian schools and colleges damaged.

The All India Christian Council (http://www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders

For more information, contact:
Madhu Chandra, aicc Regional Secretary, New Delhi
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
 

Posted on: October 4, 2008

 


India’s Civil Society Defends Christians in New Delhi Rally

About 15,000 people joined Peace & Solidarity Rally on International Day of Non-Violence
“Killers of Mahatma Gandhi are the same killers of Christians in India,” said Swami Agnivesh
Union Minister Lalu Prasad promised to bring up the anti-Christian violence in Parliament
Over 50,000 homeless Dalit & Tribal Christians in Orissa demanded refugee status from UNHCR

About 15,000 Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Buddhists including politicians and civil society leaders joined the Peace & Solidarity Rally on the International Day of Non-Violence which falls on the 139th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, India’s ‘Father of the Nation’. The protest highlighted recent anti-Christian violence in India.

Addressing the rally, Swami Agnivesh said, “The very killers of Mahatma Gandhi are the same killers and abusers of Christians in Orissa, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and other parts of the country. The killers – the Hindutva fascists – do not represent the peace loving Hindu society. Rather they are damaging the Sanatam Dharma [Hindu way of life].”

India’s Union Minister of Railways, Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav, broke his silence over anti-Christian violence across India. Addressing the rally, he said, “I will personally meet the Prime Minister and discuss the implementation of Article 355. I will also bring up the anti-Christian violence in Parliament and debate the hatred of Hindutva forces.” Article 355 of India’s Constitution allows the central government to warn a state government to stop internal disturbances or face federal action and possible dismissal.

In the morning, the Chief Minister of Delhi, Mrs. Sheila Dixit, showed her solidarity and expressed concern and pain over the anti-Christian violence. She condemned the Hindu fanatics who are responsible for widespread crimes and causing damage to properties owned by the Christian minority.

Other dignitaries who participated in the rally included Mr. Oscar Fernandez, Union Minister of Labor; Mrs. Teesta Setalvad, General Secretary of Mumbai-based Citizens For Justice & Peace; Dr. Udit Raj, Chairman, All India Confederation of Scheduled Caste / Scheduled Tribe Organisations; Dr. Valson Thampu, Principal of the prestigious St. Stephen’s College of New Delhi; Mr. Sitaram Yechury, senior leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist); Ms. Shabnam Hashmi, senior leader of ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy). There were additional speakers from Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu communities.

The rally concluded seven days of a “Sit-in Protest” organized by the Christians of Delhi and the NCR (National Capital Region). Major contributors included the Delhi Federation of Catholics and the All India Christian Council (aicc). Beginning on Sept. 26, 2008 at 10 a.m and ending today at 6 p.m., there was 152 hours of constant prayer and protest at Jantar Mantar – a park in the center of New Delhi – to express solidarity with victims. Most of the victims are Dalits, formerly called untouchables and officially categorized as Scheduled Castes by India’s government.

Rally participants shouted “Ban Terrorists, Ban Bajrang Dal,” “Ban Vishwa Hindu Parishad,” and “Ban Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh” as they marched along a 5 km route from Jantar Mantar to Raj Ghat, a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi. Since the surge in violence beginning in rural Orissa on Aug. 23, 2008 after the murder of a controversial Hindu swami by unknown assailants, civil society groups, human rights activists, and various religious leaders have increasingly called for these Hindutva fundamentalist groups to be banned as terrorists.

Yesterday, a delegation led by noted film maker Mahesh Bhatt along with Christian victims from Orissa met the United Nations High Commission on Refugees in New Delhi and demanded refugee status for over 50,000 homeless Christians. The delegation included Dr. Abraham Mathai from the Indian Christian Voice and Dr. John Dayal, aicc Secretary General.

The toll of violence against Christians from Aug. 23 to Oct. 2, 2008:
BIHAR: 1 Church damaged; CHHATTISGARH: 4 Nuns assaulted; JHARKHAND: 1 Church attacked; KARNATAKA: 4 (of 29) Districts affected, 35 Churches damaged or destroyed, 20 Nuns and women injured by police; KERALA: 4 Churches damaged; MADHYA PRADESH: 4 Churches destroyed or damaged and 4 schools vandalized; NEW DELHI: 2 Churches damaged; ORISSA: 14 (of 30) Districts affected, 315 Villages damaged, 4,640 Houses burnt, 53,000 Homeless, 57 People killed including at least 2 pastors, 10 Priests/Pastors/Nuns injured, 18,000 Men, women, children injured, 2 Women gang-raped, 149 Churches destroyed, 13 Schools and colleges damaged; PUNJAB: 3 Christians harassed and imprisoned by police on false charges; TAMIL NADU: 4 Churches damaged; UTTAR PRADESH: 3 Pastors and a pastor’s wife beaten; and UTTARAKHAND: 2 Christians murdered.

The All India Christian Council (www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.

Posted on: October 2, 2008

 


India"s Civil Society Defends Christians in New Delhi Rally

About 15,000 people joined Peace & Solidarity Rally on International Day of Non-Violence. “Killers of Mahatma Gandhi are the same killers of Christians in India,” said Swami Agnivesh. Union Minister Lalu Prasad promised to bring up the anti-Christian violence in Parliament. Over 50,000 homeless Dalit & Tribal Christians in Orissa demanded refugee status from UNHCR

imageNEW DELHI – October 2, 2008 – About 15,000 Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Buddhists including politicians and civil society leaders joined the Peace & Solidarity Rally on the International Day of Non-Violence which falls on the 139th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, India’s ‘Father of the Nation’. The protest highlighted recent anti-Christian violence in India.

Addressing the rally, Swami Agnivesh said, “The very killers of Mahatma Gandhi are the same killers and abusers of Christians in Orissa, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and other parts of the country. The killers – the Hindutva fascists – do not represent the peace loving Hindu society. Rather they are damaging the Sanatam Dharma [Hindu way of life].”

India’s Union Minister of Railways, Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav, broke his silence over anti-Christian violence across India. Addressing the rally, he said, “I will personally meet the Prime Minister and discuss the implementation of Article 355. I will also bring up the anti-Christian violence in Parliament and debate the hatred of Hindutva forces.” Article 355 of India’s Constitution allows the central government to warn a state government to stop internal disturbances or face federal action and possible dismissal.

In the morning, the Chief Minister of Delhi, Mrs. Sheila Dixit, showed her solidarity and expressed concern and pain over the anti-Christian violence. She condemned the Hindu fanatics who are responsible for widespread crimes and causing damage to properties owned by the Christian minority.

Other dignitaries who participated in the rally included Mr. Oscar Fernandez, Union Minister of Labor; Mrs. Teesta Setalvad, General Secretary of Mumbai-based Citizens For Justice & Peace; Dr. Udit Raj, Chairman, All India Confederation of Scheduled Caste / Scheduled Tribe Organisations; Dr. Valson Thampu, Principal of the prestigious St. Stephen’s College of New Delhi; Mr. Sitaram Yechury, senior leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist); Ms. Shabnam Hashmi, senior leader of ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy). There were additional speakers from Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu communities.

The rally concluded seven days of a “Sit-in Protest” organized by the Christians of Delhi and the NCR (National Capital Region). Major contributors included the Delhi Federation of Catholics and the All India Christian Council (aicc). Beginning on Sept. 26, 2008 at 10 a.m and ending today at 6 p.m., there was 152 hours of constant prayer and protest at Jantar Mantar – a park in the center of New Delhi – to express solidarity with victims. Most of the victims are Dalits, formerly called untouchables and officially categorized as Scheduled Castes by India’s government.

Rally participants shouted “Ban Terrorists, Ban Bajrang Dal,” “Ban Vishwa Hindu Parishad,” and “Ban Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh” as they marched along a 5 km route from Jantar Mantar to Raj Ghat, a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi. Since the surge in violence beginning in rural Orissa on Aug. 23, 2008 after the murder of a controversial Hindu swami by unknown assailants, civil society groups, human rights activists, and various religious leaders have increasingly called for these Hindutva fundamentalist groups to be banned as terrorists.

Yesterday, a delegation led by noted film maker Mahesh Bhatt along with Christian victims from Orissa met the United Nations High Commission on Refugees in New Delhi and demanded refugee status for over 50,000 homeless Christians. The delegation included Dr. Abraham Mathai from the Indian Christian Voice and Dr. John Dayal, aicc Secretary General.

The toll of violence against Christians from Aug. 23 to Oct. 2, 2008:
BIHAR: 1 Church damaged; CHHATTISGARH: 4 Nuns assaulted; JHARKHAND: 1 Church attacked; KARNATAKA: 4 (of 29) Districts affected, 35 Churches damaged or destroyed, 20 Nuns and women injured by police; KERALA: 4 Churches damaged; MADHYA PRADESH: 4 Churches destroyed or damaged and 4 schools vandalized; NEW DELHI: 2 Churches damaged; ORISSA: 14 (of 30) Districts affected, 315 Villages damaged, 4,640 Houses burnt, 53,000 Homeless, 57 People killed including at least 2 pastors, 10 Priests/Pastors/Nuns injured, 18,000 Men, women, children injured, 2 Women gang-raped, 149 Churches destroyed, 13 Schools and colleges damaged; PUNJAB: 3 Christians harassed and imprisoned by police on false charges; TAMIL NADU: 4 Churches damaged; UTTAR PRADESH: 3 Pastors and a pastor’s wife beaten; and UTTARAKHAND: 2 Christians murdered.

The All India Christian Council (http://www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.

For immediate release

Posted on: October 2, 2008

 


Flood victims face caste discrimination

Original article from BBC News.

image

Hundreds of thousands of people are still homeless after floods hit the Indian state of Bihar last month. Some of the victims face the additional hardships that come from being members of the low caste dalit community. Rajan Khosla of the charity Christian Aid has been meeting some of them in the village of Mirzawaa, where 500 families live in temporary shelters.

“Let me be born again as an animal rather than as a harijan (dalit). We face more humiliation than they,” says Tetar Rishidev, a dalit from Mirzawaa village, in the district of Supaul.

After the floods in Bihar millions of people lost their homes, belongings and even family members. But for the dalits of Bihar there is further misery: the caste system.

In Mirzawaa village, Sakal Sadah is a dalit.

Today – unusually – he is happy. There is a food distribution and his family will get food. His children have been surviving on some leftover rice once in a day.

Sakal Sadah is a landless agriculture labourer and earns about 40 rupees (80 cents) for a 12-hour day.

image

Now he’s worried: “Where will I get work now? Everywhere is water. No one is going to employ me, I am a harijan.”

Hundreds of dalit families are in the same situation as Sakal: they have been hardest hit by the Bihar floods.

In this emergency, when everyone should be provided with food, certain groups are denied access.

The plight of these communities in remote, rural areas is very serious – especially in the feudal state of Bihar.

They cling to the little they have. Many families have left behind one male member to keep an eye on their house and belongings.

Segregated society

Asdev Sadah, an elderly dalit, stayed behind to guard the house of his upper caste employer.

“I used to work in their fields,” he said.

“They wanted me to watch their house and belongings. I have to listen to them. They will provide my family food and work once they come back.

image

“I have nothing left in my house – because it was made of mud it has already collapsed. My malik’s (employer’s) house is strong and they have stuff kept inside.”

It seems a strange sort of society where an old man stays back, without food or shelter, taking numerous risks to guard the house of his feudal lord.

But Asdev no doubt knows full well that in this segregated society, there is no other support system for him and his family.

The relief camp in Sabela School in Madhepura is run by one of Christian Aid’s partner organisations who are doing all they can to help.

It was set up because organisers knew there were many dalit villages in the area.

I met Jamuna Devi and Puliya Musamaar here.

image

They told me that they were not allowed to use the hand pump to get water as it belonged to upper caste people.

The same upper caste people also asked the camp organisers to move displaced people away because as dalits they would contaminate the entire place. Their request was refused.

“When will people understand we are also human beings?” Puliya asked. “We need food and water, our children also feel hungry.”

I asked one of the aid agencies running another relief camp whether they would have a dalit cook.

Their response was negative. They felt that not everyone would eat food cooked by dalits.

Christian Aid and its partner organisations are including two dalits in the cooking teams in the relief camps they run – thus ensuring that they are not excluded.

Everyone needs food in this crisis situation, so why should people like Sakal Sadah, Jamuna Devi and Puliya Musamaar be so discriminated against?

And if Asdev Sadah can work in the fields and loyally guard the house of his higher-caste employee, then why people should refuse to eat food cooked by them?

We have to challenge the system. I know the problem is gigantic. But efforts need to be made. Each one of us has to make a step forward.

Another aid agency working in this area assured me that they tried to treat displaced people equally.

The critical point is that while equality may be an accepted philosophy it can only happen once people also agree in practice to be equals.

Equality means that all people should get food and their rights and dignity are respected.

But flooding and discrimination seem to have taken those rights away.

Posted on: September 12, 2008

 


United States Legislators Concerned about Violence Targeting Christians in Orissa

For immediate release

HYDERABAD – September 6, 2008 – Seven United States members of the House of Representatives sent a letter on Sept. 4, 2008, to India’s Ambassador to the U.S., Ronen Sen, expressing concern about attacks on Christians in Orissa state. Also, on Sept. 3, 2008, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom called for action to stop the violence and accountability within India.

There are still sporadic reports of anti-Christian attacks from the eastern state of Orissa. The violence has entered its 15th day despite the emergency deployment of Central law enforcement troops. Attacks began on Aug. 23, 2008, after the murder of a controversial Hindu swami by unknown assailants.

Dr. Joseph D’souza, President of the All India Christian Council (aicc) said, “The global community is alarmed at the breakdown of law and order in Orissa, and rightly so. The widespread, continuing attacks on innocent Christians and violations of their human rights is unprecedented in India’s history. We welcome the concern of US politicians and all global citizens who believe in freedom of religion. As a proud Indian, I’m grieved that our democratic ideals are being hijacked by religious extremists.”

The seven American legislators were: Trent Franks, Chris Smith, Bill Sali, Robert Aderholt, Bob Inglis, Mark Souder, and Joseph R. Pitts. Excerpts of the letter: “We unequivocally condemn the murder of the Swami, yet we are also appalled to see how mob violence has taken root so quickly once again… The reports of brutal killings and the widespread destruction of property…are extremely disturbing and we strongly urge the Government of India to maintain a strong security presence to guarantee the protection of vulnerable communities which are facing the immediate risk of violence and death. …We urge the Government of India to take immediate steps to investigate these events and bring justice for the victims of the violence. In order to prevent future attacks, it is imperative that the government also address the climate fostering these attacks. India, with its great religious diversity, faces considerable challenges with communalism, but a democratic government must work to ensure the security and freedom of all its citizens.”

Past international condemnation includes last week’s statement by the Italian government and the Vatican as well as a joint letter by Human Rights Watch, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and Dalit Freedom Network to the U.K. Foreign Secretary, U.S. Secretary of State, French Foreign Minister, and European Commissioner for External Relations. “We also welcome the condemnation of the riots by civil society Hindu leaders like Swami Agnivesh, President of the World Council of Arya Samaj, and Mahesh Bhatt, noted Bollywood film producer, and others,” said D’souza. On Friday, Sept. 5, 2008, Swami Agnivesh returned from a fact finding trip to Orissa and told reporters in Delhi that the attacks on Christians were “very similar” to the 2002 violence against Muslims in Gujarat.

On Thursday, Sept. 4, 2008, India’s Supreme Court instructed the Orissa government to control the violence, and the Orissa authorities promised to halt a procession by the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad or World Hindu Council) on Sept. 7, 2008. However, VHP leaders told Indian journalist they still planned to hold the “Shraad Yatra” on the 16th day of the swami’s death, a traditional funeral rite performed by Hindu sadhus. Previously, Christian leaders from all major denominations and church networks called for a day of prayer and fasting across India on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2008.

The Supreme Court was hearing a case filed by Roman Catholic Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar seeking a Central government investigation into the riots. The Central government publicly approved the idea, but the Orissa state government must initiate a request for the probe and has, so far, declined. The only other way to start an investigation is through a court order.

On Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2008, Minister of Home Affairs Shivraj Patil visited the epicenter of the violence, Kandhamal District, and promised compensation for the victims.
Lakshmanananda Saraswati, a Hindu swami and VHP leader, was killed by unknown assailants on Aug. 23, 2008. VHP leaders publicly blamed Christians and mobs attacked Christians in at least 12 of 30 districts in the eastern state of Orissa. Christian leaders reported, as of Sept. 3, 2008, at least 4,014 Christian homes destroyed in 300 villages, an estimated 50,000 people displaced, two pastors and 24 other Christians killed, one nun gang raped, and over a hundred churches burned. See dedicated webpage at: http://indianchristians.in/news/content/view/2332/45/

From Dec. 24, 2007-Jan. 2, 2008, attacks in Kandhamal district killed at least four Christians and destroyed over 100 churches and 730 Christian homes. Most of the victims were Dalits, formerly known as untouchables.
The All India Christian Council (http://www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.

Posted on: September 9, 2008

 


Citizen’s Delegation meets President of India; Demands Central Government Action on Orissa

New Delhi, September 1, 2008, 18:25 hrs

A Citizen’s Delegation met President Pratibha Patil on Monday morning calling upon her to enforce Article 355 of the Constitution of India on Orissa so that the Chief Minister Naveen Pattnaik administration takes adequate measures to protect Christians in the state from Hindutva violence.

The best legal opinion available. according to the delegation, was Article 355 which calls for imposition of President’s rule and New Delhi takes over reins of power. Article 355 reminds both New Delhi and state governments of their duties to protect States against internal disturbance and should be brought into force now.

The delegation reminded the President that the violence that has continued against Christians in Orissa from 23rd August till today justifies the use of this Article. The violence far exceeds that of Christians 2007, the delegation told the President, reminding her that she had a big role to play at this juncture.

In fact, violence has spilled out of Orissa into neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. In Orissa, it is not confined to Kandhamal but has affected other districts. In Kandhamal, fifty thousand people are hiding in forests or are in a few refugee camps, hiding from murderous gangs seeking to kill them or convert them to Hinduism, Over 4,000 houses have been completely destroyed apart from close to a hundred small and big churches which have been torched.

(Picture: Delegation meeting the President of India, Sep 1, 2008) image

The Citizen’s Delegation, the first such to meet the President, was led by film maker Mahesh Bhatt , Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind President Maulana Mahmood Madani, MP, and Orissa Archbishop Raphael Cheenath. National Integration Council member Dr. John Dayal, Delhi Archbishop Vincent Concessao, Maharashtra Government State Minorities Commission vice chairman Dr. Abraham Mathai, Jamiat leader Mohd Faruqi, All India Christian Council regional secretary Rev. Madhu Chandra, Delhi Catholic Archdiocese Federation President Adv. Jenis Francis and Mumbai’s Catholic Social Forum secretary general Joseph Dias were the other members.

The President gave the delegation a patient hearing and said she would have their demand for Article 355 examined. She said the government had briefed her on steps which had already been taken. Mr. Bhatt told the President that the State government was in a coma; its police totally complicit in the violence and the Sangh Parivar was running havoc.

Maulana Madani said it was a matter of security of India’s minorities. It was India’s concern for its minorities that had brought it respect internationally, and it was the object of deep concern globally. Archbishop Cheenath, Dr John Dayal and Dr Mathai briefed the President in detail about the Sangh violence in the state which has continued after the murder of the VHP vice President Lakshmanananda Saraswati.

Note: Attached were excerpts from letter to the President of India. See: http://indianchristians.in/news/content/view/2357/47/

Following are excerpts from the Memorandum Citizen’s Memorandum to the President of India:

Letter to the President of India from Citizen’s Delegation
 
Following are excerpts from the Citizen’s Memorandum to the President of India:

September 1, 2008
Shrimati Pratibha Patil
The President of India

Your Excellency,

You are aware of the still continuing carnage against the Christian community, mostly Dalits and Tribals, in the Kandhamal district of Orissa and in several other districts including the state capital of Bhubaneswar since 23rd August 2003 following the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati, reportedly by Maoist groups who have been operating in the state for some time. The violence has now spread to some other states, especially Madhya Pradesh.

Nine months after attacks in Kandhamal District on Christians of Dalit, Hill peoples and Tribal ethnicity celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, we are deeply saddened by a repeat of the violence in the month of India’s Independence. The Christmas 2007 attacks claimed the lives of at least four Christians, and we verified the destruction of at least 105 churches and 730 Christian homes. The current spate of violence will exceed these totals as it continues to spread into other districts. Our estimate from Ground Zero is of close to two dozen people dead, one a Hindu girl burnt to death working for a Christian orphanage, a Nun has been gang raped, religious men and women personnel humiliated, beaten, tortured, some close to death, while policemen have looked on, or have been absent. We appeal for the restoration of law and order. But the root cause must also be addressed.

We, the secular civil society community, perceive that the great nation of India is at a tipping point. The groups, which favour a “Hindu Rashtra”, have made Orissa their laboratory, as they earlier did Gujarat. The so-called saffronisation of the state has been the subject of well-documented academic and socio-political studies. We entreat you, as President of the Republic, to enforce the rule of law upon Sangh Parivar organisations which blatantly flaunt their divisive agenda. Specifically, we call upon you to bring the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, and Bajrang Dal under the rule of law.

As Orissa authorities have repeatedly said there was ample circumstantial evidence of Maoist involvement in the killing of VHP leader Lakshmananada Saraswati and four others on August 23rd. Additionally, someone who identified himself as Azad, a leader of Maoist outfit, People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army claim responsibility for the killing as Times of India carries the news on August 30 referring to an interview with a leading Oriya daily on August 29.[1]

Yet Praveen Togadia, VHP general secretary, told an international journalist on August 27, “It is clear that the church killed the Swami.”[2] Gouri Prasad Rath, Orissa state VHP secretary, said, “This attack is the handiwork of the Christians.”[3] Subhash Chavan, national co-convener of the Bajrang Dal, said, “The police are trying to hide the truth by blaming the Maoists.”[4] An unnamed RSS spokesperson said, “This is an attack by the agents of Christian missionaries, whose attempts at forcible conversions the Swamiji countered.”[5] RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav told CNN IBN on Tuesday night6 that Christians were behind the murders. Perhaps based on a media report7, Madhav The final word lay with RSS supreme Kupahalli Sudershan who in a Press Statement faxed to the Media called the late VHP vice president a martyr for “stopping Christians from carrying on coversions.”

These types of irresponsible statements must be met with the full force of the law. They are all culpable for penal action under IPC 295A for the crime of creating enmity between communities and religions. This would benefit not only Orissa, but the nation.

We sincerely wish Swami Saraswati was not murdered and he still might be alive if the state government had followed the recommendations of the National Commission for Minorities. The NCM urged the authorities to examine the speeches of Swami Lakshmananada to determine whether they amount to incitement to violence.[8] [9] We are confident that, if this had been done, the swami would have been jailed and protected from coming to any harm.

Your Excellency, the violence in Orissa continues without adequate police forces to stop mobs which break curfew and harm innocent civilians, chasing our fellow countrymen and women like animals in the forests where they have taken refuge since August 24. Today the irresponsible leaders of hardliner Hindu nationalist groups are damaging our great democracy and secularism of the nation.

We request you to order the Union Government and the State Administration to take legal action against the irresponsible organisations which called the bundh on Monday, Aug. 25, 2008 and have passively watched their members wreak havoc. They must, of course, fully investigate the murder of the VHP vice president.

This is to request you to use your powers as President of India, and the tremendous force of your good offices, to impress on the Central Government to rush adequate Union forces, including contingents of the Armed Forces if required, to restore law and order and governance in the Kandhamal region.

The consequences of any further delay, we the secular civil society fear, may be catastrophic for the small Christian community in the State in particular, for peace in Orissa in general, and for the fair name of India as a secular country

Yours Sincerely and Most Respectfully,

[The delegation included: Bollywood film producer Mahesh Bhatt, Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind President Maulana Mahmood Madani, MP, Orissa Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, National Integration Council member Dr. John Dayal, Delhi Archbishop Vincent Concessao, Maharashtra Government State Minorities Commission vice chairman Dr. Abraham Mathai, Jamiat leader Mohd Faruqi, All India Christian Council regional secretary Rev. Madhu Chandra, Delhi Catholic Archdiocese Federation President Adv. Jenis Francis, and Mumbai’s Catholic Social Forum secretary general Joseph Dias]

[1] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Maoists_claim_Orissa_killing/articleshow/3423908.cms
[2] “Indian state erupts in violence after Hindu shot”, by Saeed Ahmed, CNN, Aug. 27, 2008.
[3] “Orissa on edge, VHP scoffs at Maoist theory”, see above
[4] “Orissa tragedy takes a backseat, hunt starts for scapegoat”, by Soumyajit Pattnaik, Hindustan Times, Aug. 25, 2008.
[5] “Orissa: Bandh-related violence claims 9,” by Krishnakumar P., Rediff.com, Aug. 26, 2008.
[6] “Blind Faith? Fragile Peace Blown to Bits”, CNN-IBN debate, Aug. 26, 2008, 10 p.m. IST.
[7] “Widespread anger in Kandhamal”, The Pioneer, Aug. 25, 2008.
[8] “This mischievous [VHP & Sangh Parivar anti-conversion] campaign has created an atmosphere of prejudice and suspicion against the Christian community and Christian priests and organizations. The role of the Sangh Parivar activists and the anti-conversion campaign in fomenting organized violence against the Christian Community deserves close scrutiny.” From “Report of the NCM visit to Orissa, 6-8 January 2008”, http://ncm.nic.in/pdf/orissa%20report.pdf.
[9] “The recommendation made by the NCM team that visited Orissa in January, 2008 that the State Government must look into the speeches of Swami Lakshmanananda to determine whether they amount to incitement to violence does not appear to have been acted upon.” From “Report on the Visit of the Vice Chairperson, NCM to Orissa, 21-24 April 2008”, http://ncm.nic.in/pdf/VC%20Tour%20Report%20of%20Orissa.pdf.
 
The All India Christian Council (http://www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.
 
Released by

The All India Christian Council
Madhu Chandra
Regional Secretary, New Delhi

Posted on: September 2, 2008

 


Even in flood, India’s `untouchables’ last rescued

Original article from the Associated Press by Gavin Rabinowitz.

In the two weeks since a monsoon-swollen river burst its banks, ancient prejudices have run just as deep as the floodwaters. India’s “untouchables” are the last to be rescued — if at all — from a deluge that has killed dozens and made 1.2 million homeless.

Dalits, the social outcasts at the bottom of the Hindu caste ladder, have borne the brunt of the devastation as the rampaging Kosi River swamped hundreds of square miles in northern India after it overflowed and shifted its course dozens of miles to the east.

On Sunday, one Dalit, Mohan Parwan ran up and down a half destroyed bridge that has become the headquarters for rescue operations in this town near the border with Nepal, desperately scanning arriving boats for signs of his family.

Dozens came in but each time he was disappointed.

Parwan, 43, is from a Dalit village just 2 miles away but completely cut off by a deep lake created by the swirling waters. As the village headman, he was put on the first rescue boat that came and was promised his wife, four children and the rest of the community would follow.

“It’s been six days and since then no boat has come from the village,” he said, tears welling in is eyes.

Dalits have long been shunned, holding a status so low they are considered outside the complex caste system that is all pervasive in India, dividing people into hundreds of groups defined by livelihood, class and ethnicity.

Even India’s emergence as a global force — fueled by it’s economic growth and high-tech hubs — has failed to break down the barriers and stigmas that hold them down.

When it comes to rescue operations, it appears Dalits are at the bottom, too.

In Triveniganj, Dalits huddled together in a small group at the end of the bridge away from everyone else. They said rescuers were saving the upper castes and the rich first, leaving their people to suffer without food and clean water.

“We are 200 people on a roof for days. Two children fell in and drowned. No one is coming to help us,” said Kishore Ram, 22, who got out on one of the few boats to visit his village.

“The officials don’t listen to us little people. We can’t offer bribes and influence, I’m just a poor student,” Ram said.

Hearing about the flood, Prithvi Chand Baswan, a 38-year-old Dalit, rushed home from the neighboring state of Punjab where he works as a farm laborer, searching for his wife and six children, ages 3 to 12. Four miles from home, he was stopped by flooding.

“People from the village say they are sheltering in the temple, but I can’t get to them and they won’t send a boat for a Dalit village,” he said, holding his head in despair.

Ravindra Prasad Singh, a state government official coordinating rescue work in Triveniganj, about 875 miles east of New Delhi, the capital, denied that Dalits were being ignored.

“It’s ridiculous. They are lying,” he said, but he could not explain why only a single boat of Dalits had come in during all of Sunday afternoon even though they make up more than half the region’s people.

On Monday, other government officials acknowledged there was a serious problem with Dalits being ignored, but said they were working to fix it.

“We are aware of these complaints,” said Prataya Amrit, a top disaster management official in Bihar state, the scene of the flooding.

Amrit said greater resources were being sent to Dalit majority areas like Triveniganj and army and navy officers were now handling rescues to ensure less abuses.

The military “presence will instill a lot of confidence,” he said. “In an operation of this magnitude you can’t distinguish between rich and poor.”

Officials also commandeered private boats in an effort to prevent richer and higher castes from monopolizing the vessels.

India’s treatment of Dalits is a long and bitter history of good intentions and little progress.

Caste discrimination has been outlawed for more than a half century, and a quota system was established with the aim of giving Dalits a fair share of government jobs and places in schools. But their plight remains dire.

Most Dalits, like Parwan, live in destitute villages of rickety mud and thatch huts with no electricity or running water, kept down by ancient prejudice and caste-based politics.

In much of rural India, people from lower castes are barred from using upper-caste drinking wells, kept out of temples and denied spots in village. Ignoring the prohibitions is often met with violence.

In times of calamity, their situation is no better.

“Caste hierarchy is a source of deep emotions in India. In the face of these emotions it is difficult for the law or the army to do anything,” said Chandrabhan Prasad, a New Delhi-based caste expert. “The rescuers have their caste loyalty and will try rescue their own first.”

Faced with indifference and even hostility from many officials, one group of Dalits gave up waiting for help and waded into the neck-deep water in search of their kin.

“What can we do?” Parwan said, after being angrily shooed away by Singh for again asking to be given a boat to help his village.

“I’m just a Harijan,” Parwan added, using a euphemism for Dalits coined by Indian pacifist icon Mohandas K. Gandhi. It means “child of God.”

Posted on: September 1, 2008

 


Communal violence is sequel to Dalit assertion

Original article from the Deccan Herald by R Akhileshwari, DH News Service, Hyderabad.

The violence in Orissa against Christians is not communal as it is being generally portrayed, rather it is against the perceived empowerment of the Dalits, according to human rights activists.

Speaking to Deccan Herald on phone from the affected areas, the AP-based activists explained that the anger against the Dalits and Tribals, who have been the main targets of Hindu fundamentalist groups and organisations, was against the increasing empowerment of the traditionally oppressed people.

“The Church is seen as the instrument of this change and is therefore being targeted,” said Father Thomas Palliphanem of the A.P based People’s Action for Rural Awakening.

Dalit assertion that is visible in many ways like wearing better clothes and speaking English language is not to the liking of the entrenched merchant-fringe Hindu fundamentalist groups who have aligned themselves to ‘teach a lesson’ to the Dalits, according to the activists.

Economic Reason:

Dr Sirivella Prasad, general secretary of the National Dalit Movement for Justice who has been visiting the affected areas since last December when the attacks began, said the visible economic improvement in the status of Dalits and Adivasi families was not to the liking of the upper castes.

For instance, in Brahmanigam village in Kandhamal district where the attacks started last December, the first and foremost targets of the attackers were the shops belonging to a group of young men who formed “Ambedkar Vanijya Sangh”.

“The violence then slowly spread to institutions which are supporting this process of empowerment which is mainly the Church,” said Dr. Prasad.

In another village, Barakama which like Brahmanigam has 90 per cent Christian population, the youth told the human rights activists that wearing “good clothes” and speaking English fluently was ‘unbearable’ for the Hindu upper castes. “By giving a communal colour to the attacks, everybody is comfortable,” Dr. Prasad observed.

Meanwhile, 5000-odd Christian schools and colleges in Andhra Pradesh were shut on Friday in protest against the attacks on Christians in Orissa.

According to the All India Christian Council here, about 50,000 Christian denominational institutions were closed in response to a joint call for by All India Christian Council, Catholic Bishops Conference of India, the Evangelical Fellowship of India and the National Council of Churches in India.

Christian leaders are also calling for a day’s prayer and fasting across India on the coming September 7.

Posted on: August 30, 2008

 


Massive rally in India’s capitol and nation-wide closure of Christian schools

For immediate release

New Delhi, August 29, 2008

Reports of attacks from the eastern state of Orissa are decreasing, but many rural villages remain cut off from communication and being attacked at night. Outside Orissa, the Indian Christian community engaged in several peaceful protest actions to highlight the breakdown of the rule of law and governance. After six days of rioting, the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, broke his silence and called the violence a “national shame”.
 

“We are thankful that we did not receive any reports of new attacks last night. However, there are literally thousands of displaced Christians whose homes were destroyed in the mob violence. Hundreds more are afraid to return home,” said Rev. P.R. Parichha, All India Christian Council (aicc) Orissa state president. “The violence in towns and cities seems to be over, but the villages face the strong possibility of more attacks since security forces are spread thin. We still are requesting military intervention,” said Parichha.

Media reports said Orissa officials estimate 4,000 Christian families are homeless. The death toll, currently at 17, is expected to raise as troops secure rural areas. The violence, which at one point spread across 12 of 30 districts in the state, now seems to be contained to Kandhamal District, the epicenter of similar attacks during Christmas 2007.

In protest of the collapse of governance and the rule of law in Orissa, about 10,000 Christians rallied in New Delhi this morning and were joined by Muslims, Buddhists, and progressive Hindus. Protestors tried to march to Orissa Bhavan (the official state government guest house in the capitol), but police issued a localized curfew to stop the rally. Attendees were forced to regroup at the Teen Murti traffic circle, but eventually reached Orissa Bhavan.

Udit Raj, a major Dalit leader, and other non-Christian human rights activists clearly explained that the violence in Orissa is not because Christians are fraudulently converting people. That allegation is simply lie and hate propaganda.”

Civil society leaders suggested India needs an investigation into why Hindu nationalist organizations – who have converted tribals and Dalits in a major campaign – are not being held accountable under Orissa’s 1967 Freedom of Religion Act. “We must confront the fictional idea of “re-conversions”, created by Hindutva activists, which ignores the fact that these people’s ancestors were animists and not Hindus,” said Rev. Madhu Chandra, aicc Regional Secretary and a member of the rally’s organizing committee.

Also, an estimated 30,000 Christian schools across India closed their doors on Friday. The goal was to make millions of children – and their parents – aware of the evil of communal violence and the damage it is doing to the world’s largest democracy. Aicc and major church networks which called for the closure encouraged people to pray for victims as well as perpetrators. Much of the Indian press inaccurately reported that only Roman Catholic schools were closed.

Christian leaders are also calling for a day of prayer and fasting across India on September 7, 2008.

In the aftermath of the murder of a Hindu swami by unknown assailants on August 23, 2008, mobs attacked the Christian community across the eastern state of Orissa. Media reports and eye witness accounts from aicc leaders indicate thousands of Christian properties burnt, sexual assaults of nuns, and pastors killed in their homes. See dedicated webpage at: http://indianchristians.in/news/content/view/2332/45/

From Dec. 24, 2007-Jan. 2, 2008, attacks in Kandhamal district killed at least four Christians and destroyed over 100 churches and 730 Christian homes. Most of the victims were Dalits, formerly known as untouchables.

The All India Christian Council (http://www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.

For more information, contact Sam Paul, aicc Secretary, Public Affairs, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), +91-9989697778

Release by

Madhu Chandra
Regional Secretary

Posted on: August 29, 2008

 


Unprecedented Anti-Christian Violence Spirals Out of Control in India

HYDERABAD, August 28, 2008, 23:15 hrs

For immediate release
 
Reports from eastern India of burning Christian homes, murdered pastors, and massive destruction of Christian property continued for a sixth day. All India Christian Council (aicc) leaders in Orissa state reported 17 Christians are dead and expect the figure to rise when communication is made with remote regions.

“Differences over religion cannot be blamed for these crimes. We are distressed at the defiance of law and order by Hindu fundamentalist leaders and their public comments which are spreading lies and hate. Their unpardonable excuse is that followers are uncontrollably angry about Christian conversions in the region,” said Dr. Joseph D’souza, aicc President. “We are also deeply troubled by the state and central government’s inadequate response. The fact that identical attacks happened in the same area exactly nine months ago is unbelievable. What will convince authorities to protect human rights and enforce constitutional guarantees?”

Although some state authorities claimed there were no new attacks, the situation continues to spiral out of control, especially in rural villages. Yesterday police were given shoot on sight orders in Kandhamal District, the epicenter of the violence, because mobs were violating curfews. Also, the Minister of State for Home Affairs, Mr. Prakash Jaiswal, was supposed to visit affected areas. But his trip was canceled due to security concerns. Aicc had reliable reports of increased violence in Gajapati District in the southern part of the state.

Today Human Rights Watch, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), and Dalit Freedom Network (DFN) sent joint letters to the U.K. Foreign Secretary, U.S. Secretary of State, French Foreign Minister, and European Commissioner for External Relations urging them to issue statements of concern about the anti-Christian attacks in Orissa. CSW and DFN are aicc partners in Britain and the USA, respectively. France currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Yesterday, in his afternoon address at Vatican Square, Pope Benedict XVI said he was deeply saddened by the violence against India’s Christians. A senior Vatican official called the attacks “a sin against God and humanity” according to one newspaper.

A seven member inter-denominational delegation from the aicc Orissa state chapter met with the governor, Mr. Murlidhar Chandrakant Bhandare, for about 30 minutes this afternoon. “We apprised him of the situation and requested emergency deployment of the army, compensation for the victims, rebuilding of houses and churches, construction of relief camps, and restoration of the rule of law,” said Rev. P.R. Parichha, aicc Orissa state president. This evening the aicc Secretary General was scheduled to meet Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of the ruling Indian National Congress Party in Delhi.

The aicc is supporting the call from major Indian church networks to close all of India’s Christian schools on Friday, August 29, 2008. The groups want children – and parents – to learn about the situation in Orissa and realize that communal divisions are harmful for India. They have encouraged people to pray for victims as well as perpetrators. It is estimated that about 30,000 schools will close their doors across India.

Christian leaders are also calling for a day of prayer and fasting across India on September 7, 2008.

In the aftermath of the murder of a Hindu swami by unknown assailants on August 23, 2008, mobs attacked the Christian community across the eastern state of Orissa. On Monday, a 12 hour strike called by hardliner Hindu nationalist organizations resulted in the spread of violence. Media reports and eye witness accounts indicate thousands of Christian properties burnt, sexual assaults of nuns, and pastors killed in their homes. See dedicated webpage at: http://indianchristians.in/news/content/view/2332/45/

From Dec. 24, 2007-Jan. 2, 2008, attacks in Kandhamal district killed at least four Christians and destroyed over 100 churches and 730 Christian homes. Most of the victims were Dalits, formerly known as untouchables.

The All India Christian Council (http://www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.

For more information, contact Sam Paul, aicc Secretary, Public Affairs, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), +91-9989697778
 
Release by
 
Madhu Chandra
Regional Secretary
9868184939

Posted on: August 28, 2008

 


Indian state erupts in violence after Hindu shot

Original article from CNN, by Saeed Ahmed.

image

The remote east Indian state of Orissa, historically a tinderbox of Hindu-Christian tensions, erupted in violence this week after gunmen killed a Hindu leader and mobs burned churches in retaliation.

Four days of communal clashes left at least nine people dead. Authorities have imposed a curfew and ordered security forces to shoot violators on sight.

Pope Benedict XVI “firmly condemned” the fighting and urged the state’s residents to “re-establish with the members of the various communities the peaceful cohabitation and the harmony that has always been the distinctive mark of the Indian society.”

The Hindu leader, Laxmananda Saraswati, and four others were killed Saturday in the Kandhamal district when up to 30 gunmen barged into a Hindu school and opened fire, Orissa’s chief minister’s office said.

Authorities have not definitively determined who killed Saraswati, but they detained five Christian people after the incident, said Sukanta Panda, spokesman for the chief minister.

The government said the killings may have been the work of Maoist rebels, but hardline Hindus blamed the Christian minority.

They took to the streets in anger, rampaging through predominantly Christian neighborhoods, ransacking shops and torching houses. They chopped down trees to block roads, making it difficult for police to reach trouble spots. Christian residents fought back.

By Wednesday, an eerie calm prevailed, but both Hindu and Christian leaders said they were bracing for the worst.

“The state is a mute spectator to the violence that has been unleashed in the Christian community,” Joseph D’Souza, president of the All India Christian Council, said Wednesday.

Amit Sharma of the hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) said Hindu people in the area had taken the death of the Swami (religious leader) “very seriously, and now they are going to pay them back.”

Orissa, on the east coast of India, is a poor state with a population of about 36.7 million: 94 percent are Hindu, with little more than 2 percent Christian.

However, for thousands, converting to another religion—such as Christianity or Islam—is the only way out of the confines of Hinduism’s centuries-old complex caste system.

The caste system dictates a Hindu’s lot in life, elevating some to positions as priests and labeling others as “untouchables.”

Some Hindu groups accuse missionaries of bribing or forcing Hindus into converting.

“There is no forcible conversion,” said D’Souza of the All India Christian Council. “This is nothing but pure political hate propaganda against the Christians when the root problem is, of course, caste oppression.”

The simmering anger sometimes boils over, with deadly consequences.

In 1999, a Hindu mob burned to death an Australian missionary, Graham Staines, and his two children while they slept in their car.

At Christmas, clashing groups killed four people and burned several churches in Kandhamal.

D’Souza said Saraswati “piloted” the Christmas communal violence and had carried out a “vicious campaign against the Christians.”

Sharma said missionaries were threatened by Saraswati’s growing influence.

“He was doing a good job of propagating the bright points of Hinduism, and the missionaries were not able to convert the tribal people as effectively as they were doing previously,” Sharma said. “So they decided to do away with him.”

Investigators, however, have raised the possibility that Maoists rebels may be to blame.

The rebels, who claim to be fighting for the poor and the dispossessed, have been battling the government in an insurgency that has resulted in thousands of casualties since the late 1960s.

However, Hindu groups insist Christians was behind Saraswati’s death.

“It is clear that the church killed the Swami,” said the Hindu council’s general secretary, Praveen Togadia. “The rest of what happened is something the government needs to investigate and tell the people of India.”

On Monday, Hindu hard-liners declared a general strike, prompting banks and markets to close across the state.

Mourners marched to a Christian orphanage and set it on fire. A 20-year-old woman who was teaching children burned to death, Panda said.

The next day, armed Hindus and Christians fired at each other, resulting in four deaths, he said.

Both sides said the communal violence had destroyed Christian churches and Hindu temples.

The violence spread to the state capital, Bhubaneshwar, about 140 miles (225 km) away.

Father Pius Fernandes said mobs threw stones at a children’s school and ransacked a nearby college.

“I would say the violence is seven times worse [than in December],” he said. “I mean, the government is trying its best. But it’s like a mad frenzy. They are just destroying everything.”

Posted on: August 27, 2008

 


Updated List of Violence Against Dalit Christians in Orissa

The aicc is maintaing this list to keep the world informed of the ongoing persecution of Christians, largely Dalits or Tribals, in India. This list is being updated daily as more incidents occur. Go to this link to see this list.

If you would like to help the victims, please click on the donate button now.

Posted on: August 27, 2008

 


Tragic & Widespread Anti-Christian Violence in Eastern India

For immediate release

Government authorities unable to stop Hindu nationalists from wreaking havoc

HYDERABAD – August 26, 2008 – In the aftermath of the murder of a Hindu swami by unknown assailants, mobs attacked the Christian community across the eastern state of Orissa. On Monday, a 12 hour strike called by hardliner Hindu nationalist organizations resulted in spreading violence. Media reports and eye witness accounts indicate several Christians were killed and hundreds of Christian properties burnt.

“Local leaders of the All India Christian Councill have lost count of the churches damaged, Christian homes vandalized, and pastors or priests beaten. On August 26, 1910, Mother Teresa was born. Today, exactly 98 years later, we are deeply saddened that her legacy of peace and compassion are being ignored by society in the state of Orissa,” said Dr. Joseph D’souza, President of the All India Christian Council (aicc).

Large numbers of police and Rapid Action Force troops were deployed over the weekend, yet twelve of thirty districts were reportedly affected by the violence. According to reports collected by the aicc, at least five people have died, one nun was raped, and hundreds of churches, Christian homes, Christian non-profit organizations’ offices, and Christian schools were heavily damaged or destroyed. See list at: http://indianchristians.in/news/content/view/2325/45/
Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) leader Lakshmanananda Saraswati was killed during an attack at an ashram in the hills of Kandhamal District, Orissa, on August 23, 2008, Saturday night. The elderly swami spent several decades in the district. He routinely criticized missionaries for conversion activities and sought to “re-convert” tribals and Dalits. aicc leaders as well as major networks of churches in India, including the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and the Evangelical Fellowship of India, condemned the killing of the swami and called for his attackers to be arrested and punished.

D’souza said, “The Orissa state government must restore order and prevent VHP activists from carrying out attacks and violating the rule of law. Then they must file cases against the perpetrators and push for rapid convictions. Lastly, we need fair and just compensation to victims, and we appeal to the Prime Minister to visit the victims as soon as possible.” “Today hardliner Hindu nationalists say they cannot control their followers who are simply unleashing their frustration with unethical missionaries. Police say they cannot put officers in every village to protect Christians. Behind all the excuses, the reality is that there is a complete collapse of governance in Orissa,” said John Dayal, aicc Secretary General and Member of the National Integration Council. “It is the duty of the President and Prime Minister of India – as well as state governments – to protect the life, liberty, and property of every citizen. We hope and pray they will act before more innocent people are killed.”

Yesterday, on Aug. 25, 2008, the aicc appealed in writing to various authorities including the Prime Minister, President, Minister of Home Affairs, and various Orissa state government officials such as the Chief Minister and Home Secretary. A delegation of both Protestant and Catholic Christians met the Minister of Home Affairs, Shivraj V. Patil, yesterday, Monday, evening. He offered federal resources but said he was awaiting the required request from the state government.

Orissa is ruled by a coalition government which includes the Bharatiya Janata Party, widely known as a party which embraces the creation of a Hindu homeland. Unlike many other states, Orissa has not set up a state commission for minorities which would investigate discrimination and violence against non-Hindu religious adherents.

From Dec. 24, 2007-Jan. 2, 2008, attacks in Kandhamal district killed at least four Christians and destroyed over 100 churches and 730 Christian homes. Several dozen women were sexually harassed and assaulted, and more than 40 shops belonging to Christians were looted and destroyed. Most of the victims were Dalits, formerly known as untouchables.

India’s National Commission for Minorities issued a report after visiting Orissa on January 6-8, 2008 and again on April 21-24, 2008. They noted that caste-based discrimination played a role as well as an anti-conversion campaign conducted by Hindu extremists which “has aimed to prevent the conversion of tribals and Dalits to Christianity.” They faulted state government officials for not preventing the violence. Aicc leaders issued two reports. For these reports and other resources, please visit: http://indianchristians.in/news/content/view/1947/45

The All India Christian Council (http://www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.

For more information, contact Dr. Sam Paul, aicc Secretary Public Affairs

Posted on: August 26, 2008

 


The Outsiders

Original article from Tehelka.com by SHOBHITA NAITHANI.

FOR AKSHAY (name changed), his admission in 2002 to the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, (IIT-D) was an achievement whose magnitude has less to do with his being Dalit than with the fact that he has battled schizophrenia since his early teens. Diagnosed in 1997, Akshay has been through years of therapy, which his doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) have certified to have had 95 percent success. His struggle with this complex, mind-debilitating illness, however, meant that it took him six years to reach third-year studies at India’s premier engineering institute.

This May, Akshay went to his professor of Applied Mechanics to request an attendance waiver because he hadn’t been keeping well. A sensitive response is what one would have expected, particularly from a person of the sophisticated calibre IIT professors can be thought to possess. What Akshay received, instead, was a reprimand of stunning crudity. “Every second beggar on the street is a schizophrenic,” he claims the professor told him. “IIT has no room for such people. Degree engineer ko milti hai, bimaar ko nahin (engineers get degrees, not the sick).” Then came the crowning blow: “The only reason you’re here is because of reservations.” The stunned 24-year-old stood speechless.

But worse was to come. Akshay’s name, along with those of 19 other IIT-D undergraduates, was struck off the institute’s rolls earlier this month because his “performance was below the required minimum level for continuation”. This is the first time the institute has asked so many students to leave; 12 of them are Dalits. Akshay, a bank clerk’s son from Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh, doesn’t deny the fact that he hadn’t done well, but insists that the institute must examine the reasons for his poor show. “I sought support but all I got was a dressing-down for being a Dalit,” he says. “I can’t get over that, and I can’t understand why the faculty is not more supportive.”

Along with AIIMS, IIT-D was at the vanguard of anti-reservation protests in 2006, when the human resources development ministry sought to expand reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in State-funded institutions of higher learning. The anti-quota campaign reached a nadir of vulgarity when IIT-D students took to articulating their protest by pretending in public places to mend shoes and sweep roads, implying that these “low” professions (to which Dalits have traditionally been confined) would be the upper-caste IIT aspirant’s only career options were the quota law to be enforced. Propaganda through SMS and e-mail was a highlight of the campaign — these and other inspired ideas were, it was later found, the brainchild of a Gurgaon-based public relations firm, which had offered to help out.

Resentment of backward-caste students is apparently endemic at IIT-D, and comes not just from peers but the faculty as well. Where professors are meant to guide students through the institute’s demanding course work, many of them actively demoralise those from disadvantaged backgrounds. “The IITs were never democratic,” avers a former student, who asked not to be named. “I don’t mean in terms of functioning, but in their attitude towards students.”

The 20 students expelled this year were also obliged to vacate their hostels without delay. Some left without questioning. One decided to fight back. Last December, Ravinder Kumar Ravi achieved passing marks in a subject he was later informed he had failed. He approached the Dean with the initial mark sheet, but, he says, “the Dean took no heed and said the teacher’s word was final”. He then went to the teacher concerned (whom he doesn’t wish to name); she subsequently e-mailed the Dean to explain that the discrepancy had occurred because she had missed one of Ravi’s assignments, which had caused his grade to fall from D to E. “Is it not perverse that the same teacher who gave me passing marks at first found cause to fail me later?” Ravi asks.

Read the rest of the article.

Posted on: June 29, 2008

 


Dalit women invisible citizens: Report

Original report from The Hindu Newspaper.

JAIPUR: A fact-finding mission’s report on the status of dalit women in Rajasthan released here on Monday has brought to light the critical denial of rights to them on the basis of caste as well as gender. Dalit women were found having very little access to livelihood, food, water, sanitation and the government’s welfare programs.

As untouchables and outcasts, dalit women invariably face caste-based discrimination. As women, they face gender discrimination, and as poor, they face class discrimination, affirmed the report prepared by two leading dalit and women’s rights groups.

The Centre for Dalit Rights (CDR) and the Programme on Women’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (PWESCR) conducted field surveys in five localities inhabited by dalits in Jaipur and Dausa districts to assess “exclusion and subordination” of dalit women. “Dalit women are restricted to the bottom of the society, impoverished and invisible as citizens,” noted the report.

Releasing the report here in the presence of dalit activists, academicians and community leaders, State Assembly Speaker Sumitra Singh admitted that “systematic denial” of right to education, training, land and livelihood resources during the 60 years of Independence had led to exclusion of dalit women from all socio-economic and political fields. Ms. Singh called upon the dalit groups to exert pressure on government functionaries to provide health care, nutrition and other basic services in the dalit-dominated areas. “Access to education will surely enable dalit women to assert their rights and improve their living conditions,” she said.

The 39-page report said all dalit communities in the State were suffering from the practice of untouchability and deliberate segregation. The fact-finding teams visiting the five areas found that dalits lived in ghetto-like structures within the segregated areas away from the general population.

CDR chairperson P. L. Mimroth said that there was a complete lack of information about the State programs and schemes and entitlements for dalits under them. With dalit men and women being unable to access these sources, the government functionaries had a sense of complacency and no concern for accountability.

The dalit habitations covered by the field surveys were the Jhalana Doongri Kachchi Basti, Jaipur; Bagarion Ki Dhani, Pachala; Kadwa Ka Bas, Dudu (all in Jaipur district) and Raigar Mohalla, Gudalia; and Raigar Basti, Dausa city (both in Dausa district).

Preeti Darooka of PWESCR said the only occupations available and traditionally allocated to dalit women were those that no one else would prefer to do. “The fact-finding clearly demonstrates that in spite of various laws and schemes for dalits, not much is being done on the ground to address the day-to-day hardships faced by dalit women,” she said.

The report demanded that the State government develop a monitoring system to recognise the discrimination faced by dailt women in all walks of life. There should also be a redress mechanism to deal with the complaints of violation of rights and dalit women should be made aware of their legal rights.

The report also underlined the need to bring about “radical changes” in the mind-set of people who see nothing wrong in the customary practices of social exclusion of dalit women. It said the government should ensure that dalit children had access to education without being discriminated.

Posted on: June 24, 2008

 


Caste as race

Original article from IndiaTogether.org.

Over the years, the Indian government has been steadfast in its unwillingness to consider caste-based discrimination as racial discrimination, despite the many arguments in its favour. Ipshita Sengupta reports.

The Government of India reiterates its position that ‘caste’ cannot be equated with ‘race’ or covered under ‘descent’ under Article 1 of the Convention – India’s 15th-19th Periodic Report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

Discrimination based on ‘descent’ includes discrimination against members of communities based on forms of social stratification such as caste and analogous systems of inherited status which nullify or impair their equal enjoyment of human rights. Therefore, the Committee reaffirms that discrimination based on the ground of caste is fully covered by Article 1 of the Convention. – CERD, concluding observations on India’s Periodic Report.

These contradictory statements show where India stands as far as caste-based discrimination is concerned. In 2002, the United Nations’ (UN) Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in its general recommendation no.29, expanded the meaning of the term ‘descent’ in Article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), to include discrimination based on caste. The convention, which came into force in 1969, has been ratified by 173 countries, including India. Despite this, and despite the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights reiterating that discrimination based on work and descent is a form of racial discrimination, the Indian government’s stand on this issue has remained the same: caste is not race.

The CERD, an independent panel of experts established under the international convention on racial discrimination, monitors how well signatories are implementing the convention, through periodic reports submitted by State parties. The CERD provides “concluding observations” on these State reports.

India’s reluctance to consider the issue seriously is clear from the way it has treated its responsibilities as a signatory to the international convention. Though periodic reports are due to the CERD every two years, all of the reports from 1998 to 2006 were submitted to the committee only in 2006 as a joint 15th-19th periodic report. When this report came up for review at the CERD’s 70th session meeting at Geneva in February-March 2007, many activists were hoping that there would be a change in the Indian government’s position.

However, it soon became clear that neither the heated debates on descent-based discrimination at the Durban World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in 2001, nor the criticism that the government has faced from various quarters including the CERD, and international civil society and Dalit groups in India, have made any impact. Despite the arguments advanced in favour of treating caste-based discrimination as racial discrimination, the Indian government has refused to budge from its stand.

India’s joint periodic report detailed the legislative and policy measures in place currently to address racial discrimination, but did not offer an impact assessment of these measures. On caste-based discrimination, the government reiterated its stand that as the Indian Constitution did not consider caste and race to be the same (Article 15 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of race and caste and lists them as separate categories), they could not be conflated.

Non-government organisations, individuals and civil society coalitions, which had submitted alternate reports – known as shadow reports – to the CERD, rejected the government’s stand. These reports mentioned several instances of caste-based discrimination faced by Dalits.

A joint report by the United States-based Human Rights Watch and Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice, titled Hidden Apartheid: Caste Discrimination against India’s ‘Untouchables’, pointed out that more than 165 million persons in India faced discrimination while accessing education, health, housing, property, employment and equality before the law simply because of their caste. The report, dated February 2007, documented India’s “systematic failure to respect, protect, and ensure Dalits’ fundamental human rights”.

Discussions and dialogues on India’s periodic report at the CERD’s 70th session were focused on the issue of caste-based discrimination and the plight of India’s Dalit population. The Indian delegation, which was led by India’s permanent Ambassador to the UN Swashpawan Singh, Solicitor General Goolam E Vahanvati and academic Dipankar Gupta, among others, tried to establish on sociological grounds that caste was different from race and could not be equated under any circumstances. Gupta denied that caste fell under the term ‘descent’ as described in the convention. The Indian delegation’s stand digressed from the discussion at hand, which was whether caste-based discrimination was similar in nature to descent-based discrimination, and whether the convention covered such discrimination.

The CERD, in its observations on India’s report presented at the session, rejected India’s stand on caste-based discrimination. The committee criticised the government for failing to provide information on steps taken to implement anti-discrimination and affirmative action laws and policies. The panel also insisted that the government present such details in its next periodic report.

The CERD also expressed concern that India did not recognise the country’s tribal population as “distinct groups entitled to special protection under the Convention”. It recommended that India “strengthen its efforts to eradicate the social acceptance of caste-based discrimination and racial and ethnic prejudice, eg by intensifying public education and awareness raising campaigns, incorporating educational objectives of inter-caste tolerance and respect for other ethnicities, as well as instruction on the culture of scheduled castes and scheduled and other tribes, adequate media representation of issues concerning scheduled castes, tribes and ethnic minorities, with a view to achieving true social cohesion among all ethnic groups, castes and tribes of India”.

Despite CERD’s tough stance, India has been unwilling to engage in a constructive dialogue on caste-based discrimination. Most recently, in April 2008, when the UN Human Rights Council conducted a mandatory review of the human rights records of its member countries, India stated that caste-based discrimination was not racial in origin. India’s periodic report to the UN’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), which monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, had a similar tenor. In its concluding observations in a review of the report, conducted in May 2008, the CESCR noted that India had failed to address “persistent de facto caste-based discrimination” despite boasting of several legislative measures.

According to the Crime in India Report 2006, prepared by the National Crime Records Bureau of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the crime rate against SCs recorded an increase of 3.6 per cent in one year, with the number of cases reported rising from 26,127 in 2005 to 27,070 in 2006.

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, referred to as the POA Act, aimed at penalising discriminatory acts against these groups, has remained ineffective. Despite the high incidence of crime against SC/STs and the strict penal provisions contained in the POA Act, the number of cases registered under this Act remains low. In 2006, 8581 and 1232 cases were registered across India under the POA Act for atrocities against SCs and STs respectively. The average conviction rate for crimes against SCs/STs is also dismal low at 27.6 per cent (SCs) and 28 per cent (STs), although the charge-sheeting rates are high.

While India’s defiance of monitoring mechanisms like the CERD points to a complete lack of political will to adopt international standards and implement domestic laws to overcome discrimination, it also points to another failure. The country’s non-cooperation with international mechanisms, at some level, also points to the failure of the United Nations’ human rights mechanisms to ensure enforcement of international human rights norms.

Posted on: June 8, 2008

 


Bihar, where water’s divided on basis of caste

By Prabhakar Kumar via CNN-IBN.

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(WATER WOES: Muslims, backward castes and upper castes all have separate wells in Bihar’s Vaishali district.)

It’s a known fact that in some areas of Bihar, people from different castes live in separate colonies. But the caste divide doesn’t end there. Now water too is being divided on the basis of caste.

Kulhara village in Bihar’s Vaishali district has six drinking water wells. And in the scorching summer, Janpatia Devi’s family doesn’t have a drop to drink. That’s because she is a Dalit, and the well in the village meant only for her community has gone dry.

Wells — the only source of drinking water in this village — are divided on the basis of caste. but Dalits get the worst deal.

“The water is not potable at all. It is dirty but we have no other choice,” Sunita Devi, a distraught villager, says.

And dry wells mean a half-kilometre trek to nearby villages to fetch water.

“There are three wells. One well’s water is not potable and people don’t let us draw water from the other two. I went there yesterday but they threw my bucket,” Binda Devi, another villager, says.

With nothing being done so far to stop this mindless division, caste has also coloured the village waters.

Posted on: May 30, 2008

 


Dalits remain unempowered

By Rashme Sehgal via The Asian Age.

Panchayati raj has allowed a critical mass of 5.4 lakh dalits enter the mainstream panchayat system but they remain an unempowered lot. A report on the state of panchayats (2007-8) has highlighted that the practice of untouchability continues even during gram panchayat meetings where they are made to sit separately and drink tea and water from separate glasses.

The report, sponsored by the ministry of panchayati raj, cites examples of several violent incidents in which dalits have tried to assert their rights.

One such example is of a dalit sarpanch Bholaram, who was battered to death in the village of Phooljhar close to Raipur because the villagers were not happy with a dalit sarpanch.

Even in a state like Tamil Nadu , there have been complaints of dalit panchayat members being done to death by uppercaste Hindus.

Ten Scheduled Caste panchayat presidents in Tirunelvelli district have recently complained that their lives are under threat from uppercastes.

Four villages in Madurai district of Tamil Nadu which saw Dalits elected are witnessing accelerated caste tension.

Following panchayat elections in October 2006, P. Jaggaiyan, president of Nakkalamuthanpatti village was done to death because he refused to oblige the `upper caste vice-president ‘ by being a rubber stamp president. This was followed by the death in suspicious circumstances of M. Servaran, president of the Maruthankinaru village panchayat. He was found dead near his house on February 9 2007.

Several other dalit panchayat heads in different districts of Tamil Nadu complain of not being allowed to function by their deputies and other caste members.

Dalit women also face similar discrimination. The report cites the example of Savita Ben, sarpanch of saddha gram panchayat in Himmatnagar taluka of Sabarkantha district in Gujarat who took part in several development activities but was suspended from her post on one pretext or the other.

Another way to prevent dalit members from functioning is to introduce no-confidence motions against them. Last year, 34 no-confidence motions were introduced against dalit heads of panchayats in Chattisgarh alone.

This has led a Dalit Mukti Morcha activist to conclude that `whenever dalits come to power, their posts are declared null and void so as to prevent them from exercising their rights’.

This problem is heightened by the fact that the majority of elected SC representatives in the BIMARU states are illiterate. State governments have set up social justice committees to protect the interests of SCs, STs and backward classes but these committees remain only on paper.

Posted on: May 30, 2008

 


Heaven Can Wait

Posted on: May 24, 2008

 


A Nation’s Lowest Women Work Under Severe Degradation

Original article by Shuriah Niazi with Lys Anzia for the Women News Network (WNN).

“In some urban slums of many major cities of India, and more so in the case of semi-urban areas, dry toilets are a sad part of the common reality,” said Dr. Sam Paul, National Secretary of Public Affairs, All India Christian Council, a human rights organization based in Secunderabad, India, in a recent report for the All India Christian Council on March 28.

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(CAPTION: Manual Scavenging Girl, India – Matt Corks 2006 image)

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UN-HRC), at a 2002 meeting of the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, said, “Public latrines – some with as many as 400 seats – are cleaned on a daily basis by female workers using a broom and a tin plate. The excrement is piled into baskets which are carried on the head to a location which can be up to four kilometers away from the latrine. At all times, and especially during the rainy season, the contents of the basket will drip onto a scavenger’s hair, clothes and body.”

In spite of the modernization of many parts of India, the age old custom of using dry – non-flush – toilets have exposed many bio-hazards to women in India who work as manual scavengers. Manual scavengers are, “exposed to the most virulent forms of viral and bacterial infections which affect their skin, eyes, limbs, respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. TB (tuberculosis) is rife among the community,” continues the UN report.

This is only a fraction of the suffering women manual scavengers face today in India. Labor slavery, severe discrimination and lack of the most basic human rights are only some of the challenges.

A 2005, US Department of Health, report states that disease for women manual scavengers can be “passed directly from soiled hands to the mouth or indirectly by way of objects, surfaces, food or water soiled with feces.”

Women working unprotected are in grave danger of contacting countless diseases through their daily and close contact with human waste. Some of these diseases, in addition to TB, include: campylobacter infection, cryptosporidiosis, giardiasis, hand, foot and mouth disease, hepatitis A, meningitis (viral), rotavirus infection, salmonella infection, shigella infection, thrush, viral gastroenteritis, worms and yersiniosis.

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(CAPTION: Cleaning the sewers of India)

Facing the dangers of daily contact, “Ninety percent of all manual scavengers have not been provided proper equipment to protect them from faeces borne illness,” said a recent, Jan 2007, report on safety by India’s TISS – Tata Institute of Social Sciences. This includes safety equipment like gloves, masks, boots and/or brooms.

The use of hands by women manual scavengers, along with the certainty that they will have direct skin contact with human waste, is a very dangerous combination that is contributing to serious health conditions. Chronic skin diseases and lung diseases are very common among women manual scavengers.

To add to the danger, “Removal of bodies and dead animals is the third most common practice of manual scavenging, preceeded by sewerage sweeping, and the carrying of night-soil by basket/bucket or on the head,” continued the 2007 TISS report.

In spite of its being “illegal” the practice and use of manual scavengers continues in many low-income urban and rural parts of India today.

But the law is clear.

The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrine Act of 1993 states that, “No person shall engage in or employ for or permit to be engaged in or employed by any other person for manually carrying human excreta; or to construct or maintain a dry latrine.”

Read the rest of the article.

Posted on: May 16, 2008

 


Dalit woman manual scavenger Film

Originally posted on WNN.

This 2003 film, shows the degrading conditions for a Dalit woman manual scavenger. Without protective gloves, masks or shoes she works to clean the dry latrines.

Posted on: May 16, 2008

 


Spring 08 Newsletter

Download the Spring 08 Newsletter to find out the latest news on DFN’s involvement with the Dalits in India.

Posted on: May 11, 2008

 


The Old Order Rules

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 18, Dated May 10, 2008

The realities that Dalits in our countryside face are not unknown, and the media is full of stories on the topic, but mostly on issues that are sensational and ‘newsworthy’; that is to say, ‘atrocities.’ But the daily deprivation and oppression they encounter, which do not evoke overt protests or create news, often gets ignored.

Tikamgarh, a remote district of Madhya Pradesh with a large Dalit population, is a case in point. Tucked away in the Bundelkhand plateau bordering Uttar Pradesh, the total population of Tikamgarh district as per 2001 census is 12.02 lakhs, out of which Scheduled Castes constitute 24 percent and Scheduled Tribes 4 percent. The district’s literacy rate is 56 percent, while female literacy rate stands at 41 percent. The Human Development Index (HDI) of 2001 for Tikamgarh District stood at 0.468, ranked a dismal 42nd out of MP’s 45 districts.

The SC population consists of Ahirwars (locally referred to as Chamars), Kumhars (potters), Banskars (bamboo craftspeople) and Mehtars (sweepers), and constitute the poorest segment of the local population. Most have very little landholding and whatever land they do own lies fallow due to consecutive years of drought and fast depleting groundwater. The marginal farming activity no longer supports them even for subsistence and their major source of income today is wages for daily labour in the villages or nearby towns.

Caste hierarchy is strikingly visible in the villages of Tikamgarh even today. Dalits and Adivasis here have little say in local decisionmaking, and their control over Common Property Resources (CPRs) is minimal. Grazing lands, old village tanks constructed by the ninth century Chandela kings and other common property resources such as drinking water wells and so on are completely controlled by higher castes such as Brahmins, Thakurs, and Yadavs. The traditionally skewed social structure not only keeps Dalits and Adivasis deprived of their rightful access to livelihood resources but also to public goods, such as their due share in the government’s development and welfare programmes.

Tikamgarh is one of the initial 100 districts in which works under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) were launched. But despite the government’s assurance of a minimum 100 days of employment, the programme has failed to benefit people in many of the hamlets here. Take the case of Bairwar, where the landless community of Banskars — who form the majority of local inhabitants — have all got job cards, but not employment as assured by the Act. The work carried out under the scheme in Bairwar was construction of cement roads, which is heavy on material components and hardly generated wage employment. The Banskars say that the treatment they — especially their womenfolk — received from the contractors and the village sarpanch was so demeaning that they would rather not work in the village, but in cities like Jhansi, Gwalior or Delhi. While net earnings are not much in the cities, and life is tougher, at least their Dalit identity does not matter so much there. The village sarpanch, on the other hand, claims that the Banskars prefer to work in the villages even if work is available locally, since they have taken a liking to the cities!

THE INSTANCE of Bairwar illustrates the dismal reality of panchayat-level governance in Tikamgarh. Many of the panchayats here are reserved for Dalits and women, but none of these sarpanchs actually exercise any authority; official documents are often signed by husbands in the case of women, and upper castes in the case of Dalits. In many such villages, a visitor asking to meet the sarpanch would invariably be pointed towards the house of a Brahmin or a Thakur, irrespective of who the actual sarpanch is.

The story is no different in the rest of Bundelkhand, where the systematic deprivation enforced on lower caste communities continues unabated. On the other hand, the economy has been liberalised and market forces have been freed, and are entering the rural landscape like never before. The common view is that the old order is changing, and giving way to a new one. But in villages such as Bairwar, traditional social relations form the basis for economic transactions, and the old order still holds firm. How likely is it that the State — which is unable to protect the weakest from a predatory feudal order — can guard them against an equally predatory market order?

Posted on: May 10, 2008

 


Dalits segregated, walled off in Madurai village

Original article from IBN Live, by Shambhavi Rai.

It’s crime of another kind in a village in Madurai in Tamil Nadu – one of caste divide. There’s even a wall that separates the upper caste from the Dalits in the village.

It’s a reality that people of Uthapuram village in Madurai have been waking up to since 1989. The 600 m long 10 m high brick wall that separates the Dalit colonies in the village from the colonies of the Pillaimars or the upper castes.

Dalits have been denied access to many common resources in the village.

Villager Muniappan says, “Until last April, the wall was even electrified-we came to know after a bird died of electrocution-but after government intervention the wires were removed.”

But the wall of separation still exists. The Dalits have separate community halls, crematoriums and water taps and are not allowed to take part in temple functions.

Posted on: May 4, 2008

 


A 6 year old girl thrown on fire for being ‘lowest class’

Original article from CNN.com.

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Dalits, or “untouchables,” are victims of discrimination in India despite laws aimed at eliminating prejudice.

A man, incensed that a 6-year-old girl chose to walk through a path reserved for upper caste villagers, pushed her into burning embers, police in north India said Wednesday. She was seriously burned.

The girl is a Dalit, or an “untouchable,” according to India’s traditional caste system.

India’s constitution outlaws caste-based discrimination, and barriers have broken down in large cities. Prejudice, however, persists in some rural areas of the country.

The girl was walking with her mother down a path in the city of Mathura when she was accosted by a man in his late teens, said police superintendent R.K. Chaturvedi.

“He scolded them both and pushed her,” Chaturvedi said. The girl fell about 3 to 4 feet into pile of burning embers by the side of the road.

The girl remained in critical condition Wednesday.

The man confessed to the crime and was charged with attempted murder, Chaturvedi said.

The assault took place in India’s Uttar Pradesh state, about 150 km (93 miles) south of Delhi. The state is governed by Mayawati, a woman who goes by one name and is India’s most powerful Dalit politician.

Her Bahujan Samaj Party seeks to get more political representation for Dalits, who are considered so low in the social order that they don’t even rank among the four classes that make up the caste system.

Hindus believe there are five main groups of people, four of which sprang from the body of the first man.

The Brahmin class comes from the mouth. They are the priests and holy men, the most elevated of the castes.

Next is the Ksatriyas, the kings, warriors and soldiers created from the arms.

The Vaisyas come from the thighs. They are the merchants and traders of society.

And the Sudras, or laborers, come from the feet.

The last group is the Dalits, or the “untouchables.” They’re considered too impure to have come from the primordial being. Untouchables are often forced to work in menial jobs. They drink from separate wells. They use different entry ways, coming and going from buildings.

They number about 250 million in India, about 25 percent of the population, according to the Colorado, U.S.-based Dalit Freedom Network.

“Dalits are seen to pollute higher caste people if they come in touch with them, hence the ‘untouchables,’” the group says on its Web site. “If a higher caste Hindu is touched by, or even had a Dalit’s shadow fall across them, they consider themselves to be polluted and have to go through a rigorous series of rituals to be cleansed.”

Recent weeks has seen a rise in violence against Dalits in Uttar Pradesh, CNN’s sister network, CNN-IBN, reported Wednesday.

Posted on: May 1, 2008

 


Dalit groom asserts his rights

Original article from The Hindu newspaper.

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For the first time: The marriage procession of a Dalit young man making its way towards the house of the bride under police protection in a Rajasthan village over the weekend.

In a rare instance of self-assertion, Dalits in a remote and dusty village of Rajasthan challenged the centuries-old dominance of higher castes and flouted the prohibition against public celebration of their weddings over the weekend. They took recourse to the law and order machinery for protection of their rights.

Chaudaki Pakhar village in Dausa district – 100 km from here – witnessed the first-ever marriage procession in which a Dalit bridegroom mounted a mare and a band party walked with it blowing trumpets and beating the drums. Senior district and police officers, along with 50 policemen, accompanied the procession.

The family of the Dalit bride, Urmila Bairwa, had informed the Centre for Dalit Rights (CDR) here that Dalits in the village were willing to break the barrier of caste and wanted to make a public display of their merriment. No Dalit in Chaudaki Pakhar was earlier allowed to take out a marriage procession with the bridegroom riding on a mare.

CDR chairperson P. L. Mimroth contacted the district administration and sought protection for the Dalits’ marriage procession, saying the social practices of discrimination against Dalits had no legal sanction. He pointed out that it was the Government’s responsibility to defend Dalits against threats held out by dominant castes.

A CDR team landed in the village on Saturday and accompanied the marriage procession of Anil Bairwa, who came from the nearby Ghotya Ka Baas village. The procession wound its way through the main streets of Chaudaki Pakhar in full view of the higher caste villagers who could not object to it in view of a heavy police deployment.

The wedding festivities continued through the late evening until the newly-wed couple and their relatives left the village. Police were deployed all over the village throughout the day.

Mahuwa Sub-Divisional Officer Pokhar Mal, Deputy Superintendent of Police Richhpal Singh, Tehsildar Pramod Jain and Mandawar police station in-charge Radheyshyam Kumawat accompanied the police contingent.

CDR Director Satish Kumar – applauding the timely intervention of Dausa Collector Rajesh Yadav to safeguard the rights of Dalits – said here on Monday that the incident had proved that the rule of law, if implemented in its true spirit, could help end discrimination against Dalits and change the mind-set of dominant castes.

Posted on: April 30, 2008

 


Dalit beaten by upper caste villagers for smoking

Original article from IBN Live.
by Hemender Sharma

Halki Bai, a Dalit woman from Madhya Pradesh’s Biharipura village, does not have any idea where her husband and son have gone. The only thing she remembers is an attack on their house allegedly by the village Thakurs.

She said her husband was mercilessly beaten up and asked to leave the village with a warning not to show his face again.

“The Thakurs do not behave properly with us. It is not just this incident, they do not allow us to fetch water and we are forced to carry our shoes on our heads while passing in front of their houses,” Halki Bai said.

The immediate provocation for the Thakurs’ action was apparently a Dalit smoking without taking permission during a funeral procession. Halki Bai is not the only woman whose husband has been forced out of the village. All male members of the 15 Dalit families in the village have fled and individually reported to the police.

On Saturday, it was the turn of Chaaokiri Chaudhary who alleged the police refused to listen to any complaint against the Thakurs. “I have been forced out of the village. I want justice. I want to go back,” Chakori said.

Meanwhile, SP of Jabalpur Markand Devaskar denied the allegations by the Dalits and said, “There are some complaints and we have taken action but there is nothing like Thakurs forcing the Dalits out of the village.”

Almost all political parties including the ruling BJP in Madhya Pradesh are trying to woo Dalits to make a good votebank. These votes can make the decisive difference but when it comes to making a difference in the life of a Dalit, no one seems to be bothered.

(With inputs from Deepesh in Jabalpur)

Posted on: April 20, 2008

 


Satara’s caste ‘wall’ broken down

Original article from NDTV.com.

Just a couple of days ago, on Dr Ambedkar’s birthday, the villagers in Satara in Maharashtra were threatening to kill themselves over a caste wall that divided their lives.

But two days later, after NDTV reported the incident, the 150 m long wall built by upper caste villagers, came down and a passage was created to let Dalits access a community hall, meant for them on the other side of wall.

After the protests, the district administration came to a mutual agreement so that access to the community hall would be kept open and the keys of the hall would be with the Bhimnagar village Sarpanch.

‘’The people from both villages were told in a meeting that although the law requires it, you must give a five-feet passage,’’ said Uttam Kamble, Sarpanch, Bhimnagar.

The wall, built over three years in the village in Satara in western Maharashtra, separated two villages on caste lines. In the village Darre lived the upper caste Marathas and Bhimnagar village is dominated by the Dalits.

But on Wednesday, villagers from both the areas decided to bury the hatchet and bring down the wall.

Three years ago, a local court had allowed the wall to be built but all it needed was positive action and compassion for this divide to be broken down between two communities.

Posted on: April 16, 2008

 


Dalit throats the most thirsty

Original article from The Times of India.

On Ambedkar Jayanti, Dalits in Babajipura village, 40 km from Surendranagar, were hesitantly standing near the village well, hoping that a higher caste person would come and draw water for them. Dalits themselves are not allowed to draw water here.

On Monday, TOI visited two villages in Saurashtra where caste still decides who gets access to drinking water. The lower you are in the caste hierarchy, the thirstier you are likely to be in this semi-arid region.

In Babajipura – a village dominated by Koli Patels – Dalits have their separate well, but the water was contaminated last month, allegedly by some miscreants. They now have to rely on the mercy of higher caste people to get water from the other well.

“Villagers decided that Dalits could take water from their well but they cannot draw it themselves,”say Laxman Shenva.

A Dalit woman from the village said, “We have to hope that a woman with a good heart comes that way while we are waiting and agrees to draw water for us. Some people even refuse us.”

In Tavi village, 18 km from Lakhtar, Dalits were given water connections 10 years ago. But, they got water for only for the first four days! Says Nandu Vadher, a Dalit, in the village dominated by Rajputs, “Our pipeline has been blocked by upper caste people.”

The well meant for Dalits has also been contaminated. Because they are not allowed to even venture near the other well – located in an upper caste neighbourhood – they now have go to the Narmada canal two km away and draw water from there.

Posted on: April 15, 2008

 


Dalits threaten suicide over caste wall

Original article by NDTV.com.
By Prasad Kathe

Around 100 Dalit families in Maharashtra’s Satara district threatened to commit suicide on Monday – Dr Ambedkar’s birthday.

The Dalits are protesting against a 150 meter long wall erected by upper caste people from their village. The wall confines the Dalits to one area.

The situation was brought under control by the police but the root cause of the problem – the wall – persists.

The wall separates Bhim Nagar from Darre Nagar – the Dalits from those of the upper caste Marathas.

Built three years ago, villagers from Bhim Nagar allege the wall encroaches upon their part of the village and it blocks their access to a community hall, which was built for them.

‘’We want access into the community halls. But we will abide by the courts order,’’ said Uttam Kamble, member, Bhim Nagar Panchayat.

But solving the dispute is not going to be simple. The upper caste community has won a court order that allowed them the construction of the wall

But the Dalits still believe their cause is just and the wall must go. It is this desperation that led them to threatened mass suicide before the police brought the situation under control.

Maharashtra led the campaign against social discrimination under Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. But on the day of his 107th birth anniversary, a protest has brought to attention the forces that continue to divide people, which shows that much still remains to be done to bring in social equality.

Posted on: April 14, 2008

 


A Stubborn Pride

Original article from Tehelka Magazine.
By John Thomas

It is with a laugh that Sanjay Kumar narrates his story — not because it is an amusing story to tell, but because it helps him confront his past and move ahead in life with dignity. If it were not for laughter, he would very likely have given up, letting ‘fate’ decide the course his life would take, like so many others in his community do. Sanjay, a chamar by caste, was the first in his family to pass the Intermediate. He grew up in Kolkata, where his father Guru Prasad was a migrant labourer
at the Bata factory.

Forced to take voluntary retirement in the early 90s following the mechanisation of the factory and the related cutting down of work force, Guru Prasad then shifted to Japla, in Palamau district of Jharkhand. He eventually settled down there, barely sustaining himself and his family as a vendor of satthu or roasted gram flour. Even as a child, Sanjay was determined to study as much as he could, regardless of the poverty at home and the hostile environment created by upper caste teachers and peers at school. Much to his classmates’ envy, he consistently came first in class from elementary school onwards.

Having developed a love for reading, but with little access to books, he would often stand by magazine stands reading, until shopkeepers shooed him away. Many a time, he would borrow money from friends just to buy books; Premchand was an early favourite. Used to the relative anonymity of Kolkata, it was in middle school in Japla that he first encountered the demon of caste. On his first day at school, the upper caste class monitor and teacher demanded that he, like other Dalit students, sweep the classroom floor. Angered by the demand, Sanjay firmly refused, for which the class teacher beat him. He did not budge, and finally the teacher withdrew his demand. He would need to demonstrate this resolve again and again in the tough years that lay ahead.

In class seven, disturbed by chronic teacher absenteeism in his school, Sanjay organised some of the students and did a successful signature campaign demanding that teachers take their classes regularly. The reaction of an upper caste teacher to this act of ‘rebellion’ was revealing: “Saale bahut padakku bante ho, utake patak denge ki kohre ki tarah phat jaoge.” (“Trying to act studious? I’ll slam you so hard you’ll break into pieces”) Around the time he got to high school, his family was hit by an acute financial crisis. There were times when money would not come for months, and Sanjay often had to survive on just milk and bread.

The situation got worse when he entered Intermediate in Patna. Caste atrocities on Dalit students in the hostels made him opt for a rented room, which meant more expenses. His father being unable to support him now, he took up jobs, first as a peon in a film distributor’s office, later, as a courier boy, and so on. In between jobs, when the pocket was totally empty, there were days when he would go without any food whatsoever. During his undergraduate studies, the situation got so desperate that he went to Silwasa in Dadra Nagar Haveli to work as a watchman at a factory. Disgusted by the abuses his supervisor hurled at him for reading, he soon left his job and returned to Patna. Ridicule, especially on caste lines, was something he could never tolerate, even if it meant losing a job.

Through all this, Sanjay kept himself up to date with studies, wrote exams and pursued his love of reading. He completed graduation and post-graduation with a first class, yet, when it came to finding a job, his caste once again posed a problem. He finally landed a job as an ad-hoc lecturer in a private college run by an upper caste management in Noida, but only because he had concealed his caste identity. Sanjay went on to do a B. Ed from Delhi University and an M. Phil in Education from Jawaharlal Nehru University; he now looks forward to a career in academics.

He’s grateful to some of his teachers in both institutions, who created a conducive atmosphere for him in a system that is unfriendly to his dreams. Yet, finding himself illequipped in an academia where ‘excellence’ is often measured by one’s knowledge of the English language, he had toyed with the idea of dropping out. But he knew that to do such a thing would be to go back on all that he had struggled for since his childhood.

In a sense, Sanjay’s story itself is a form of laughter. Laughter tinged with irony, directed at a situation where upper caste students, faced with reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs in higher education, try very hard to portray themselves as ‘victims’ of an unjust situation.

Posted on: April 9, 2008

 


A house divided

Original article from Frontline Magazine, by S. VISWANATHAN.

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PHOTOGRAPH: Social Awareness Society for Youth
Victims of caste violence at Eraiyur.

This year’s Holy Week (March 16 to 22), the week that precedes Easter Sunday, was observed as “untouchability protest week” in parts of northern Tamil Nadu. This was in response to a call given by the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) and the Dalit Christians’ Liberation Movement to highlight the plight of Dalits in the Christian community. At least 10 churches in Cuddalore and Villupuram districts had to go without or curtail the ceremonies that usually begin with Palm Sunday, celebrated in commemoration of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In some places Dalits hoisted black flags atop churches and in a few others they locked up the places of worship. Demanding justice to Dalit Christians, VCK general secretary Thol. Thirumavalavan led a demonstration on March 19 near the Bishop’s House in Puducherry, the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Pondicherry and Cuddalore.

The immediate provocation for the protest was violence against Dalits by “upper caste” (Vanniar) Christians at Eraiyur in Villupuram district on March 9. In the police firing that followed, two Vanniar Christians were killed.

Dalit Christians of the village have been on a fast since March 7 demanding that the Archbishop recognise the Sagaya Matha Chapel they had built for a new Dalit parish in the village. Their complaint was that they were not treated as equals by the Vanniar Christians within the Church of Our Lady of Rosary, the present Eraiyur parish church, located in the centre of Eraiyur. Archbishop Anthony Aanandarayar was firm that there could not be two churches for the same order in one village.

On the third day of the fast, on March 9, angry Vanniar Christians carrying sticks, poles, iron rods, stones and other weapons stormed the Dalit colony in the village. Over 30 Dalits were injured and about 80 of their houses were damaged.

The two Vanniar Christians killed in police firing were innocent onlookers, it is said. In the mob retaliation, seven police personnel, including the Superintendent of Police, A. Amal Raj, were injured. The State government has ordered payment of compensation to the families of the firing victims, although the Dalits, who were injured and lost property, are yet to receive any assistance from the government. Worse, they complained, the Vanniar Christians had subsequently imposed a social and economic boycott of the Dalits. Most of the Dalits in the village are agricultural workers who depend on the land-owning majority community (Vanniars) for their livelihood, and they are now jobless.

Vanniar Christians, who are angry about the police firing, accused the clergy of standing in the way of “maintaining certain traditional practices” and threatened to convert to Hinduism. The Archdiocese has initiated a dialogue with Vanniar Christians and Dalit Christians. Meanwhile, the parish church administration has ordered the closure of the church until the return of peace. The Eraiyur parish has a 300-year-old history behind it. Eraiyur is one of the earliest Tamil Nadu villages in which Christianity took root in the second half of the 17th century. A note on the parish, published on the website of the Archdiocese of Pondicherry and Cuddalore states: “The first Catholic community was established in the 17th century when Christianity began to grow around 1660. Eraiyur began to grow in Catholic faith.”

“The building up of the first Catholic community,” the note further says, “was the hard work of Rev. Fr. Freyre who was a Jesuit priest.” The priest went to Eraiyur around 1679 and met the people in and around the village. They used a small house as the place of worship. “But because of the rule of Maratiar [Marathas] these people were tortured and also because of a great famine they began to move away from Eraiyur and settled near Salem. It is not known when the second Catholic community in Eraiyur was built,” the note says. It, however, mentions Fr. Beschi among the priests who stayed in the village and converted more people to Christianity.

Fr. Costanzo Beschi (1680-1746), a Jesuit missionary from Italy, gave himself a Tamil name, Veeramaamunivar, and authored a classical Tamil epic, Thempavani, in honour of St. Joseph. Eraiyur became a separate parish in 1870. The Church of Our Lady of Rosary at Eraiyur was built in 1894.

Dalits account for about 70 per cent of the 25 million Christians in India, but caste-based discrimination against them is not uncommon. This despite repeated appeals from the Church leadership against such practices. Eraiyur is no exception to discrimination, particularly because Dalits, both Christian and Hindu, are in a minority in the village dominated by Christian Vanniars. (Christian Vanniars number about 20,000; the Christian Dalit population is less than 1,500.) There have been instances of caste clashes in the Eraiyur parish, which has the distinction of having produced 30 priests and 55 nuns.

Read the rest of the article.

Posted on: April 9, 2008

 


Dalit women forced to swallow excreta

Original article from Times Of India.

DHANBAD: Days after a widow was paraded naked in a village here for entering a temple, two Dalit widows have been forced to swallow human excreta by villagers who blamed them for being responsible for an outbreak of chicken pox.

Police arrested four people on Sunday for violating the Jharkhand Anti-Witchcraft Act, 2001 and Prevention of Atrocities on SC/ST Act after they tortured Rashmi Devi (60) and Samri Devi (65) in Manaydih village, 15 km from Dhanbad. Samri Devi is a sweeper in a local branch of a nationalized bank.

“It was because of superstition. The villagers, including the son of one of the victims, believed the elderly women were practicing witchcraft,” said Vinod Kumar, an officer at Barwaadda police station.

The trouble started after the four-year-old son of Koleshwar Das, one of the villagers, died two days ago. The family of Das suspected it was because of the “witchcraft” of the two elderly women.

The villagers caught the women on Saturday forced them to eat human excreta. They alleged that the women were a “curse on the village” and chicken pox had spread in the area because of them.

Last Thursday, another widow from a backward community was paraded naked in Ranwatand village, 35 km from Dhanbad, for entering the village temple. The culprits said a widow had “no right to enter a temple”.

Posted on: April 7, 2008

 


Atrocities in Bihar on the Rise

Original article from The Times of India.

Altogether 3,091 cases of atrocities on scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are pending in Bihar till January 2008.

According to official figures available from the state headquarters in Patna, of the 3091 cases, 378 cases were reported from Muzaffapur.

In 2007, there was rise in cases of atrocities on them as compared to previous years, official sources admitted.

Altogether 1932 cases of atrocities on scheduled castes and scheduled tribes were registered during 2007 against 1729 in 2006.

Of the cases registered during 2007, one related to murder, 11 to rape, 8 arson, and 67 under the SC/ST Atrocities Prevention Act 1989 and others under the Indian Penal Code.

Posted on: March 21, 2008

 


Dalit kids face bias: Group

Original article from The Asian Age newspaper.
By RABINDRA NATH CHOUDHURY

Bhubaneswar, March 19 : Dalit children are being treated as untouchables in the government-run schools in a coastal district of Orissa. They are not permitted to sit with the upper-caste children while taking mid-day meal.

This shocking disclosure was made by the Ambedkar-Lohia Vichar Manch, a rights body espousing the cause of the dalits in the state. A fact-finding team of the body, which visited the government-run schools in the coastal district of Kendrapara recently, found how small children belonging to scheduled castes are facing caste bias in these primary educational institutions.

The team has submitted its report to the National Commission for Scheduled Caste seeking action against the authorities of these schools for treating dalit children shabbily.

“The caste bias has permeated into social milieu mainly in villages. Ironically, it is in the government-run primary schools that impressionable minds of small children are vitiated in caste cauldron,” the fact-finding report stated.

“In some schools, the dalit children are served mid-day meal only after the children belonging to general castes have taken their lunch, ” the report said.

Posted on: March 19, 2008

 


Caste difference contributes to violence against Dalit women - Central India

Posted on: March 17, 2008

 


NDTV News Report

Linked from WNN.

Dalit women and their families in Bapcha village in Shajapur district of Madhya Pradesh are living in fear. The pressure from the powerful is so strong that violence is usually not reported or greatly “under-reported”. This is an NDTV news production from Sept 2007.

Posted on: March 17, 2008

 


Created Equal?

Linked from Listen Up TV.

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Listen to the program

A multi-million dollar kidney transplant scam and its victims. We’ll examine religious realities in India that set people up to be sold for body parts.

We’ll also examine atrocious vulnerabilities amongst the poorest people in the world’s largest democracy. India is prosecuting the latest of an underground kidney trafficking ring that shocked the world.

Today we’ll learn about the people targeted for exploitation: those known as Dalits and scheduled caste’s. We’ll find out why they’re vulnerable to the most violent of human rights abuses. And we’ll hear a plea to speak out on their behalf after the trail of their misery found its way to Canada.

THE CONTEXT

A suspected mastermind accused of a shocking crime. Amit Kumar, is alleged to have coordinated the theft of human kidneys for sale in markets around the globe. Over 500 people from underprivileged castes in India were victimized in the scandal. Some desperate for money, sold their kidneys. Others were forced at gunpoint and drugged as their kidneys were surgically removed, then sold to wealthy recipients around the world.

In India, it’s led to nationwide revulsion. Charges of “crimes against life and health” were laid against Kumar, who made his home in Canada where he was known as a medical doctor and where he kept his money and family.

Indian police said teams of kidney scouts roamed labour markets in Delhi and cities in India’s poorest state, searching for potential donors for the kidney scam. Implicated in the case are 20 paramedics, five nurses, three hospitals, 10 clinics and seven police charged with accepting bribes.

Kumar denies all wrong doing. News reports here, say emails he had been receiving suggest Kumar was getting transplant inquiries from Canada.

Posted on: March 16, 2008

 


Dalits face discrimination in southern Tamil Nadu

Original article from webindia123.com.

When young Raji, a Dalit, took her one-and-a-half-year-old son to the vaccination centre in her village in southern Tamil Nadu, the baby was denied polio drops. Two new studies have found that despite all the talk of equitable distribution of resources, the condition of Dalits in the region remains dismal.

The pulse polio campaign, for instance, is a free nationwide drive of the government meant to cut across caste and religion to eradicate polio. But if you are a Dalit like Raji, your baby can be denied even these life-saving drops.

Raji’s family belongs to Keelavilanchampatti village in Sivaganga district, about 550 km south of Chennai.

After the child was denied polio drops Feb 10, an outcry in the local media made the police register cases against six people in the village. Raji’s son was then given the polio drops under the hawk eye of the police.

But the story of discrimination was far from over.

Four Dalit families in this village, including Raji’s parents, were given two acres of land under a government free-land scheme some eight months ago. The upper castes wanted the families to donate their land to the village, which the Dalit families refused to do.

As a result, the Dalit families and their relatives were boycotted by the village and not allowed to take even water from the village taps.

In Madurai district’s Vadugapatti village, to bury their dead Dalits have to walk half a kilometre on a narrow bund strewn with thorns that separates an upper caste man’s rice field.

“The thorn bushes were planted to prevent Dalits from touching the paddy crop,” Muthaiya, 70, told local media.

“I want to be buried in peace. I don’t want fights with big caste Hindu landowners over my body.”

“Even to get ration, we had to get a separate shop. Upper caste people did not allow us to collect ration from the common village public distribution shop. There is always a fight if we try to do that,” he added.

At a time when Tamil Nadu posts a seven percent growth rate and 75 percent literacy, stories of anti-Dalit atrocities continues to appear in the local media here.

On Feb 2, a Dalit girl, 16, was kidnapped from Kachirayanpatti village near Madurai and raped by an upper caste man. The girl’s father, Andisamy, complained to police and the girl underwent a medical check up at the government hospital in Madurai, which confirmed rape.

But police took no action against the culprit identified by the victim.

The Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front has done a random survey across 20 of Tamil Nadu’s 30 districts, and is now preparing to launch a state-wide campaign to abolish manual scavenging, which still continues.

The Front’s study found that eight million Dalit households lacked proper toilet facilities. Human waste is still carried here as “headload”, the study said.

Releasing the study here last week, P. Mohan, Madurai MP, told the media 107 teams had surveyed the living conditions of Dalits in 47 villages in February second week and found all of them practise untouchability. “Discrimination comes in many forms and is practised in ways unknown before,” the member said.

In Andarkottaram and Thaniamangalam villages, postmen do not deliver post to Dalits and barbers and washer-men refuse them their services.

In Uthapuram village, a 500-m long wall separates Dalit houses from the rest of the village.

The “double tumbler” system is in vogue, a practice by which Dalits are served tea/water in separate tumblers or coconut shells at teashops.

Dalits cannot join temple festivals, use footwear and their bulls cannot win in `jallikattu’ runs.

A Madurai-based NGO, Evidence, this week released yet another study of Dindigul district that said, “Untouchability is practised in all 60 reserved administrative units (panchayats) in the district”.

The Government Statistical Handbook 2006 inspired the study carried out by Evidence. The handbook had recorded 60 panchayats in this district as “atrocity-prone”.

“This prompted us to look at the districts carefully,” Evidence director A. Kathir told the media here. The Handbook says 538 villages in Tamil Nadu are “atrocity prone” and 152 of these are highly sensitive caste conflict hotspots.

After surveys in January and February, Kathir said, “Not just 500 but as many as 4,000 such villages exist in Tamil Nadu.”

Posted on: February 27, 2008

 


Sonia takes on Dalit mantle

Original article from MSN News Online.

Pointing out that Dalits continued to be discriminated and facing atrocities, Congress President and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Thursday pledged to work for empowering them.

“I pledge before you my commitment to work to see to ensure that all Dalits regardless of where they are living in the country are completely empowered,” she told a massive rally at the Marine Drive Grounds here.

Addressing the Kerala Pulayar Mahasabha rally (KPMS) of the Dalits here, she said it was tragic that in several parts of the country, atrocities against Dalits, especially women, were still continuing and they were being discriminated and denied access to education, she said.

The UPA government had introduced a bill in Parliament to give statutory status to reservation in government jobs for Dalits and had launched a special recruitment drive to fill the backlog of reserved vacancies. Over 50,000 vacancies had been filled through direct recruitment or promotions, she said.

Gandhi said a co-ordination committee had been formed for holding talks with industrialists to chart out a voluntary scheme for employment of Dalits in the private sector.”We have been and will remain committed to work for the security and prosperity of the Dalits”, she said. “A great deal needs to be done. The challenge is still ahead of us and will be met,” she said.

Posted on: February 15, 2008

 


The cross they bear

Original article from The Economist print edition.

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THE blackened shell of a burnt car lies in the yard of Radha Bai’s farm in this bucolic village of whitewashed houses and unhurried bullock carts in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. On January 16th, as she prayed with a large group of Christians, a mob of Hindu extremists arrived. They chased worshippers away, set fire to a car and ten motorcycles and, says Mrs Bai, threatened to cut her “into pieces”.

In recent weeks Hindu extremists in India’s “tribal belt”—where missionaries have long sought to convert traditionally animist forest-dwellers—have stepped up a vicious anti-Christian campaign. Over Christmas in neighbouring Orissa mobs set fire to 55 churches and 600 houses. Asghar Ali Engineer, of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, a Mumbai think-tank, calls it the worst anti-Christian violence independent India has seen.

Ramesh Modi, Chhattisgarh state president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, which propagates “Hindutva”, or “Hinduness”, says that Christians are “responsible for the violence themselves”. Missionaries in the area, he says, are converting Hindus illegally. Chhattisgarh and Orissa are among several Indian states to have laws banning forced conversions.

It is true that an expansionist evangelist movement is in full swing in India’s tribal belt. Its targets are tribal people, Hindus, even Christians, many of whom say they have switched churches to join independent Pentecostal groups. Officially, fewer than 3% of Indians are Christian. But Arun Pannalal, of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, reckons the true proportion may be twice that. Christian converts often claim to be Hindus to keep access to government jobs and college places “reserved” for Hinduism’s lower castes. Most Indian Christians are dalits, at the bottom of the caste system, once known as “untouchables”.

Mr Pannalal, whose own church belongs to the Anglican Communion, regrets the proselytising style of some pastors, and their habit of ripping into Hindu gods from the pulpit. They lay themselves open to accusations of illegal conversion. More than 230 people have been arrested on conversion charges in the state in the past two years. But Mr Pannalal says very few cases go to court “because the conversions are not forced and there is no case”.

As in other religious conflicts in India, the trouble between Christians and Hindus in the tribal belt has more to do with politics than theology. In Orissa, the Christmas violence was mostly directed at Catholics, who tend not to proselytise. But identifying religious minorities as a common enemy has proved an effective rallying cry for right-wing Hindu groups.

In December the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won elections in the western state of Gujarat, where it has had a well-documented hand in the persecution of Muslims. Christians in the tribal belt believe Hindu extremists have been emboldened by its success. Later this year, Chhattisgarh itself goes to the polls. Christians fear more violence.

Posted on: February 7, 2008

 


Dalit Advocates Caedmon’s Call to play at CBC

Original article by Monica Hooper from The Cabin.net.

Caedmon’s Call will be in Conway on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Reddin Fieldhouse on the campus of Central Baptist College. Cost of admission is $15 with a college ID, $25 for general admission and $25 for artist circle.

Former member Derek Webb, who has been recording solo material, will be a part of Caedmon’s Call’s tour to promote their new album, “Overdressed.” Webb and his wife wrote “Ten Thousand Angels” which was featured on the Jan. 10 episode of Grey’s Anatomy. “It’s nice to have (Webb’s) sound and his style back on our record,” drummer Garett Buell said.

“When we started the band we were college students or just out of college. Nowadays most of us have kids and family responsibilities, which makes it hard to tour… and it put a whole other level onto life. So we tend to write about that. And this record definitely references a lot of what we’re dealing with in life,” Buell said.

Caedmon’s Call is often referred to as a community rather than a band because of the many people who play on their albums and the communal ideology of the band.

Buell explained that the band has been playing together around 15 years. They have a devoted fan base, most of whom belong to The Guild, a collective of Caedmon’s Call fans.

“Our audience has grown with us, since they were in college (when we began the band),” Buell said. “Our fans are great, we collected them when we where young, and they stay there with us no matter what the industry trends are they always stay faithful. We’ve always tried to harbor a relationship with the people who love our music.”

Buell said that the band likes to talk to people who attend their concerts. He added that in the early days the band would take fans to Waffle House after shows. These days, Caedmon’s Call converses with fans through The Guild’s online site, accessible through http://www.caedmonscall.com.

Caedmon’s Call are heavily involved in missionary work as well. In the past, Buell said the group worked with Blood, Water Mission, started by Christian Rock group Jars of Clay, to install clean water wells in impoverished areas of Africa.

The band’s most recent mission is working with the Dalit Freedom Network.

“India took precedence because we found out what was going on with the Dalit people in India. They are the lowest caste, or actually not even considered a part of the caste system because they’re considered less than animals (by the upper classes),” Buell explained.

The Dalits make up about a third of India’s 40 million people. They live in poverty and are poorly educated.

Caedmon’s Call traveled to India and met with other groups and musicians, some of whom contributed to the band’s folk-pop sound.

“We are trying to expose what’s going on over there publicly. And we also developed the Share the Well Foundation to work with Dalit Freedom Network in the United States” and other missions in India, Buell said.

“And we’re trying to promote community in those Dalit areas where we can build schools and give them proper education in their own language,” Buell said.

Caedmon’s Call brings clay cups that Dalit children must drink from on their tour.

“They have to drink out of these clay cups, because when they are done with them they have to smash them on the ground and break them because they don’t want an upper caste to come and accidently drink from one of those glasses because they would become unclean,” Buell said. “They are treated like an atrocity, a side show, there.”

Overall, the idea of the Share The Well Foundation is central to the band’s message, “to change the perspective, change the church culture, and what it means to be a believer, from sitting in the safety of a pew to impacting a hurting world,” says Cliff Young, the band’s leader.

“We live so well here (in the United States). We’re so fortunate and blessed to be in a country like this and be able to grow up in a country like this. ... We wanted to nudge people to think outside the four walls of this country,” Buell said. “We’re called to love our neighbor and show the love of Christ to the rest of the world. And I think that’s what Jesus meant to do, to really show love use what you have to help. And it changes you.”

For tickets to Thursday’s Caedmon’s Call concert, call 800-205-6872.

Posted on: February 4, 2008

 


Caste complicates progress for India’s Dalits

Original article by Peter Hodge from Eureka Streets Online.

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‘I am zero when it comes to caste,’ says Moses Vattipalli. ‘I was told again and again that I was not fit, I was a Dalit, untouchable, low-caste man, and leatherwork, that is my caste-work.’

A rare case among Dalits to have escaped the same work as his father, 30-year-old Moses is Assistant to the National Administrator of the All India Christian Council. One of his tasks is to record abuses against Dalits on the organisation’s website. ‘Every day I have things to report,’ he says. ‘Every day killing, every day a Dalit was raped, humiliated, beaten up.’

This picture of caste-based oppression is at odds with common perceptions of modern India as an economic tiger and IT superpower. Few Dalits have reaped the benefits of the recent boom, due to lack of education and ongoing discrimination that mocks the outlawing of ‘untouchability’ in the Indian Constitution.

Like most Dalit children, Moses’ education about caste status began early. In his own village, he knew not to take water from the well the upper-caste people used. But when visiting another village he unwittingly drew from the wrong well. ‘Those people scolded me because I went there while they were drawing water. I came home crying.’

The Dalits in Moses’ village are isolated on the eastern side. ‘When the wind blows, the wind of the Dalits should not touch the upper-caste people,’ explains Moses. Visiting the village shop, he had to stand at a distance so the shopkeeper would not be contaminated. ‘When I asked for something from the shop they used to pack it and throw it. If I catch it, I catch it, otherwise things would fall on the ground and we have to collect them from the mud.’ Similarly, payment would be thrown to the shopkeeper and the change tossed back.

The general rule in Indian culture that respect should flow to elders is skewed by caste. It was painful for Moses to see his father treated with disrespect by upper-caste children. ‘I used to feel so embarrassed. My father might have had a problem, but he didn’t do anything because Dalits think it’s their fate.’

Children growing up under such conditions develop a sense of inferiority. That is precisely the intention. ‘There were many times, I was told I am a Dalit and equal to any other animal,’ says Moses.

On one occasion Moses was treated worse than an animal. He and his father had been invited to an upper-caste wedding. Moses was performing well at school and expected to be treated well. He was in for a rude shock. ‘When the time for the feast came they asked us to sit on the mud where the cattle and cycles travel.’ Not wanting to upset the people who had invited them, they stayed. ‘There were people walking that way and I remember the sand and dirt was coming into our food. It was such a humiliation.’

As his education began to empower him, Moses sensed the contradiction between his knowledge base and the respect afforded to him in the village. He argued with an upper-caste colleague in senior high school: ‘I shouted at him, and he went and complained to his parents. His parents came and shouted at my parents and my parents shouted at me. Ultimately, I had to realise what is my place.’

Freedom, to some extent, came when he moved to the city, where his caste identity wasn’t so obvious from his family name. Further emancipation came from his study of the Bible; he took solace in the Christian perspective that, contrary to his upbringing, everyone is born equal.

Two years travelling on the Christian ship MV Doulos, where he was one of a multicultural crew, exposed him to a different world, where he could be judged more by his ideas and behaviour than his birth. ‘I had a difficult re-entry, because your friendships, your way of socialising, was totally different on the ship to back home.’

The most insidious characteristic of the caste system is the deliberate attempt to brand each human with a designation that determines their dignity and life expectations. ‘It’s always in the back of my head that I’m a Dalit and I’m not a first class citizen,’ says Moses. The system he describes as ‘evil’ continues to haunt him and all Dalits. ‘We can run away from it but we can not get rid of it.’

Moses married and has a young daughter. With his colleagues at the All India Christian Council and Operation Mercy Charitable Company, he is working to educate Dalit children and help Dalit families develop economically, so that his daughter may grow up in a different India.

There is a positive correlation between abuses of Dalits and regions where there have been improvements in the living conditions of Dalits. With extremist Hindu groups like Rastriya Swam Sevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad unlikely to back down, further empowerment will come at a cost.

Still, Moses is committed. ‘I want to work with my people, help them, encourage them.’ For Moses, there is no next life. He decided long ago to make the most of this one.

Posted on: February 1, 2008

 


India’s Supreme Court Delays Justice for Millions of Dalits

Original article from AICC.

HYDERABAD – On January 23, 2008, a three-judge panel of the Supreme Court of India postponed a decision on lawsuits by Dalit Christians and Muslims for full Constitutional rights. The plaintiffs have asked for Scheduled Caste status. Scheduled Caste status brings special government benefits such as reserved places in educational institutions and government jobs. The central government’s lawyer asked for eight more weeks to refine their recommendations for any change in policy. The justices approved the request.

“Millions of Christian and Muslim Dalits are quite frustrated by yet another delay in the Supreme Court verdict. Comprehensive studies have found that Dalits – even when they embrace another religion – face the stigma of caste. We are becoming worried that politics are triumphing over justice,” said Dr. Joseph D’souza, President of the All India Christian Council (aicc).

Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanian requested more time to study information submitted by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC). The three-judge panel set the next hearing for March 26, 2008 and, interesting, was headed by Chief Justice K. G. Balakrishnan, who became India’s first Dalit Chief Justice in January 2007.

The NCSC supports the recommendations of the National Commission for Religious & Linguistic Minorities, known as the Misra Commission. In mid-May 2007, the Misra Commission said a clause in a 1950 law should be dropped to delink status from religion. The “Constitution (Scheduled Caste) Order”, one of many Presidential Orders given in 1950, only awarded government benefits to Hindus. It was later amended to included Sikhs and Buddhists in 1956 and 1990, respectively. Courts have often considered Sikhism and Buddhism as offshoots of Hinduism. The Commission’s decision was based on a two-year study of the socio-economic and educational condition of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims.

But the NCSC has said any new reservations should not encroach on the existing 15% allotted to Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist Scheduled Castes. A new government policy will be difficult to craft given the current reservations (15% for Dalits, 7.5% for Tribals) and changes already proposed (27% for Other Backward Castes) which total 49.5%. An earlier apex court ruling limited reservations to 50% of available positions in public sector institutions or jobs.

Media reports quoted one judge, seemingly justifying the repeated delays, as saying, “There is no urgency as the Presidential Order of 1950 has been challenged. You have come after more than 54 years.”

The next hearing will be the twelfth time the court looks at the case since it was filed in April 2004. The aicc has given logistical and other support to the main plaintiff. The case on Dalit Christians (Writ Petition Civil No. 180 of 2004) has been combined with two other Dalit Christian cases (Writ Petition Civil No. 625 of 2005, and 94 of 2005) and a Dalit Muslim case (Writ Petition Civil No. 47 of 2006). Thus, a ruling on this case will affect millions across India.

Another solution to the dilemma would be an order from the Executive Branch or legislation passed by the Indian Parliament. While there is no Parliamentary activity, the main plaintiff in the Supreme Court, Mr. Franklin Caesar, told the aicc that he and others are working to influence the Prime Minister. In late August 2007, Ms. Mayawati Naina Kumari, the Dalit Chief Minister of India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, wrote a letter to the Prime Minister urging him to overturn the Presidential Order of 1950.

In December 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was lauded by Dalit leaders as the first Prime Minister in India’s history to openly equate treatment of Dalits with South Africa’s apartheid. However, there is no indication that he will take action.

The All India Christian Council (http://www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.

Posted on: January 24, 2008

 


Orissa govt failed to protect Christians: panel

Original source from IBN Live.

New Delhi:

Commission members Dilip Padgaonkar and Zoya Hasan, who toured Khandamal to probe allegations by Christians, said in Delhi on Thursday that the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) “vitiated” the atmosphere in the district but refrained from blaming it for the attacks.

“The Government and the local officials had been warned of trouble as early as on December 22 but they did not take any action and the result was the large-scale violence,” said Padgaonkar in a press conference.

“It was an organised and pre-planned attack on the Christian community,” he said.

An important reason for the violence was the rivalry between the Kui tribals and Pana Christians. “Some Christian groups (Panas) have been asking for inclusion in the scheduled tribe (ST) category to get benefit from the reservations that go with the status,” Hasan said.

The Kuis are against this demand on the ground that they are ethnically different from the Panas. “Kuis have also been agitated because Scheduled Caste (SC) Christians allegedly obtained false certificates to benefit from the reservations,” Hasan said.

Padgaonkar said two strikes called by two separate organisations on December 26 fuelled the violence. Another important factor was the anti-conversion campaign conducted by VHP and Sangh Parivar for the last few years.

When asked whether the riots were planned, Padgaonkar said, “There was enough evidence to suggest that the outbreak of violence in Khandamal was organised.”

“An anti-Christian atmosphere was created and there was large-scale destruction of Christian property.” He alleged that the local administration did not take appropriate and quick measures to control the mob.

Padgaonkar said 2,000 trees were cut in two hours to block roads leading to the riot-affected areas. “This was done to delay the patrol parties from reaching the riot-affected areas. It shows that the riots were organised,” he was quoted by IANS as saying.

“Rehabilitation package announced by the Orissa government should be reviewed to provide rehabilitation keeping in view the actual loss suffered by the victims of violence,” the delegation members said.

Posted on: January 17, 2008

 


Desperate lives

Original source from The Week.

By Kavitha Muralidharan

Pazhaniyammal cannot enter temples. She cannot walk with her slippers on in streets dominated by upper-caste Hindus. She is not allowed even to sit on the benches in the local tea shop, which still follows the two-tumbler system-glass tumblers for Dalits and steel ones for the upper-caste Hindus. “They cannot accept the fact that a Dalit heads the panchayat,” she says.

Pazhaniyammal’s is not an isolated case. A study by Evidence, a Madurai-based NGO, points to rampant discrimination in Madurai, Theni, Sivaganga, Perambalur, Cuddalore, Salem and Erode districts. In several villages, Dalits are not allowed to sit in government buses if an upper-caste Hindu is around.

Dalits in hundreds of villages still walk barefoot on public roads, fearing upper-caste Hindus. “There is an undeclared ban on wearing slippers in streets where they live,” says Balamurugan, panchayat president of Madurai’s Kodimangalam village. Even the panchayat president has to carry his slippers in his hands when he walks through those streets.

Caste bias is rampant even in government offices. Kathir, director of Evidence, says: “We found discrimination in government offices in 11 of the 86 panchayats that we studied. Dalits are not allowed to stand in queue with upper-caste Hindus in ration shops or post offices.”

“Dalit panchayat presidents have no powers. They cannot even sit in their official chairs.” Agrees K. Karuppan, president of the Thullukutti Nayakkanur village panchayat in Madurai: “I was kicked off my chair by an upper-caste clerk. Since then, I have never sat in that chair.”

The fate of U. Jaya, president of the Kaanur village panchayat in Sivaganga district, is no different. “When I tried to sit in my official chair, the vice-president and panchayat officials abused me. I complained to the district collector but it did not make any difference. The officials still threaten me, and warn me to stay off meetings.”
In Thullukutti Nayakkanur, some tea shops serve tea to Dalits in coconut shells. Says Guruammal, a villager: “The Dalits are served tea in shells, which the tea shop staff would not even touch. When tea is served, we have to hold our shells one foot below. And we keep the shells on the thatched roof of the shop.”

Karuppaiah of Kodimangalam village rues his fate. “We pay the same money, yet are served in different tumblers,” he snaps. “Worse, we have to wash our tumblers.”
Forget tea, the Dalits of P. Amma-patti village in Madurai are tormented at public taps. Says Singaperumal, the panchayat president: “Our women are abused when they try to get water from the tap. We cannot take water when upper-caste Hindus are present.”

According to the Evidence study, in some villages, upper-caste Hindus sexually exploit Dalit women.

Even Dalit children are not spared: Several Dalits in Kaayalpattu village of Cuddalore district send their children to schools outside their village as they are ill-treated by teachers and upper-caste students in their village.

“According to a state government report, discrimination against Dalits exists in various forms in 538 villages,” says Kathir. “Apart from that, in every village we visited, the Dalits-including the aged ones-are addressed by their names even by the upper-caste children.”

The apathy of officials makes matters worse. About seven lakh complaints are filed every year across the state but most complainants go unheard. Says Kathir: “They fear that things might go wrong if they act tough.”

Posted on: January 13, 2008

 


Rally taken out against Kandhamal violence

Original source from a staff reporter of The Hindu Newspaper.

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(Photo: Ashoke Chakrabarty)
IN PROTEST MODE: Activists of All India Confederation of SC/ST taking out a rally against Kandhamal violence in Bhubaneswar on Thursday.

BHUBANESWAR: A fortnight after the communal violence engulfed several remote villages of Orissa’s Kandhamal district, church leaders and hundreds of villages, who claimed to be victims, staged a demonstration here on Thursday raising slogans against ‘sangh parivar groups and apathetic State administration.’

All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations (AICSO) and All India Christian Council (AICC) took out the rally which was participated by several leaders from Christian community from Master Canteen Square to Lower PMG Square.

Speaking to media, AICSO Chairman Udit Raj said: “I don’t think that the State government, led by Naveen Patnaik, is a secular government since BJP is the ruling alliance.”

He flayed the State government for its reported announcement of probe into violence through the perspective of involvement of Left wing extremists. “The State government does not have any proof of any NGO having links with extremists groups. And they even lack evidence of connection with naxalite groups with churches. The allegations are baseless,” Mr. Raj said. State government should produce proof of its claims, he dared.

Several priests of Churches described as to how the victims of violence spent their days of horror in forests.

They said several families had to consume roots and leaves and drink dews deposited on leaves.The State-level coordination committee on communal harmony, which met here on Thursday, recommended putting a grievance redressal mechanism in place for the communal disturbances. Moreover, such forum should also be activated in panchayat, block and district level in order to act proactive manner to prevent communal disturbance in the State, it said.

Meanwhile, Orissa State Disaster Mitigation Authority (OSDMA), which was pressed into service to carry out relief and rehabilitation programmes after violence broke out, said distribution of food, winter clothes and other necessary articles were going on in full swing.

Single window system approach had been adopted for distribution of relief and all types of facilities were made available at the three relief camps, it said.

Posted on: January 11, 2008

 


Speakers at Historic Rally Demand Orissa Government Tell Truth about Christmas Attacks on Christians

Written by AICC
Thursday, 10 January 2008

For immediate release

About 10,000 protestors from all religious backgrounds; speakers slam Orissa government for blaming Naxalites involvement and limiting Christian NGOs relief efforts

BHUBANESWAR – Jan. 10, 2008 – Today about 9,000-10,000 people marched to the Orissa State Assembly building in Bhubaneswar to protest Christmas attacks on Christians and demand justice for victims. Rally speakers demanded the Orissa state government stop making allegations about Christian association with an outlawed Maoist rebel movement and allow Christian churches and groups to provide direct relief to victims.

“Some people have characterized the violence as a Hindu-Christian clash. This is wrong. Dalit Christians were clearly the targets and innocent victims. The state government has also made baseless accusations that some Christian NGOs are aligned with Naxalites. The authorities must write a white paper or give proof about these sensitive issues instead of spreading rumors,” said Dr. Udit Raj, National Chairman, All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations. Naxalites are Maoist rebels who often attack government installations throughout central India. Most are disenfranchised Dalits or Tribals.

Christian leaders expressed concern about relief efforts for the devastated Christians in Kandhamal District. “Orissa’s government should allow direct relief projects by churches and Christian NGOs. Currently, we are being told we can only distribute blankets, food and other supplies through the District Collectors. We are deeply concerned this will delay needed assistance and could create opportunities for discrimination or corruption,” said Dr. Joseph D’souza, President, All India Christian Council (aicc). “There is no logical reason to ban the direct involvement of established, peaceful Christian organisations that are already registered with the government.”

Bishop Joab Lohara of the Free Methodist Church said, “We are worried about reports that aid to the homeless Christians still in relief camps is not being fairly distributed. We appeal to authorities to be even-handed in their compensation to victims of this horrific violence. They have suffered enough already.”

The “Stop Violence Against Christians Rally” was sponsored by the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations and the aicc. Protestors met at Master Canteen Chowk and marched to the Orissa State Assembly. Speakers included Raj, D’souza, Lohara, as well as Muslims, progressive Hindus, and Buddhists.

Rally organisers also announced they would set up a “Communal Harmony Monitoring Group” which will closely watch relief and compensation for victims and report progress to the national offices of the aicc and SC/ST Confederation. Dr. Udit Raj also demanded that any enquiry commissions set up by the Orissa government include representatives from both the aicc and SC/ST Confederation since they represent Christians and Dalits, respectively.

In the last few days, aicc leaders released two fact finding reports on the anti-Christian violence after visits to rural Orissa. Newly confirmed cases of arson, murder, and assault make this violence qualify as the largest attack on the Christian community in the history of democratic India. Both reports show that the Dalits – formerly known as untouchables – were the main group affected by the violence. Reports are at:

http://indianchristians.in/news/content/view/1826/45/ and

http://groups.google.com/group/JohnDayal/browse_thread/thread/17aef1aebe4f1e70

According to media reports, three investigators appointed by India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) are currently in Orissa. A Christian delegation, including an aicc leader, met with the NHRC chairman on Dec. 31, 2007 in New Delhi to request the visit.

The violence allegedly began when Christians in Bamunigaon village in Kandhamal district of Orissa began to celebrate Christmas Eve on Dec. 24, 2007. Local Hindu fundamentalists opposed the event and a quarrel ensued. Also, a Hindutva leader, Swami Saraswati, was attacked by unknown assailants—he alleged they were Christians. The next day a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)-affiliated group called for a strike and VHP members began attacking Christians across the state.

The All India Christian Council (http://www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.

For more information, contact:
Benjamin Marsh
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
(919) 841-8280

Posted on: January 10, 2008

 


Upper caste girl’s relatives pierce Dalit boy’s eyes

Original article from IBN Live.

The Nanded district police have arrested six of the girl’s 12 relatives allegedly involved in the assault under the Atrocities on Scheduled Castes (Prevention) Act and are on the lookout for others accused of the assault, sources said.

The enraged relatives of the 15-year old girl, Premala Jadhav, who admitted the dalit youth Chandrakant Gaikwad and his friend Milind Jondhale in two hospitals in Nanded in an apparent attempt to keep the crime under wraps, also warned Gaikwad’s parents against approaching the police, according to the sources.

Chandrakant and Milind told the police that Premala’s relatives caught them in Milind’s house in Khamareddy in Andhra Pradesh, where the three had fled last Saturday, and brought them to Sategaon in a jeep.

The assaulters had gagged Chandrakant and Milind while beating them all through the night of January 5 and piercing their eyes, said the police sources.

“When we fainted from severe thrashing, they sprinkled water on our faces to bring us back to consciousness and beat us up again,” the sources quoted Chandrakant and Mlind as saying.

“We have made the arrests on the basis of the two young men’s statement and started interrogating the accused in what looks like a clear case of atrocity falling under the ambit of the act,” Superintendent of Police Ravindra Singhal said.

Singhal said, while it is true that Chandrakant has sustained injuries in both his eyes and Milind in one, the version that their eyes were pierced is not true.

“The hospital authorities are yet to tell us about the severity of the wounds and whether the two young men stand a chance of regaining their eyesight,” he added.

While Chandrakant’s parents refrained from registering a complaint for fear of reprisal, the police took the action on their own following a tip-off received by Deputy Superintendent of Police Vasant Jadhav, the sources said.

Posted on: January 9, 2008

 


Dalit beaten for trying to enter UP temple

Originally article from The Times of India.

Shailendra Tiwari, the priest, allegedly attacked and abused the Dalit, Sudhir Kumar of Gangapur village under Bidhnoo police station, as he tried to enter the temple for a puja at the local temple. He was accompanied by three friends – two men named Bablu, both from Gangapur, and Dharmendra of Rajivnagar.

Tiwari did not act alone; he had his friends Rajan Dixit and Shiv Singh Yadav join him in physically attacking and preventing Sudhir and his friends from entering the temple. “They not only assaulted us but also threatened us with dire consequences and demanded money to purify the temple,” said Sudhir. “The priests used filthy language against us,” he further alleged.

News of the assault created immediate tension in the village with Dalits holding a meeting in which they decided to inform senior district administration officials about the incident and renew attempts to enter the temple.

“We requested the police officers to act against the priest and others involved in beating up Sudhir,” a village Dalit said. “We are going to enter the temple,” he added.

The incident took place in an area where the Dalit-Brahman collaboration had worked well for the BSP, enabling it to sweep the constituencies in rural Kanpur. BSP’s Brahmin candidate, Anil Shukla Warsi, won the by-election for the Bilhaur Lok Sabha seat. His wife, Pratibha Shukla, represents Chaubepur in the assembly.

Posted on: January 9, 2008

 


Facts Emerge on Christmas Violence in Orissa: 730 Homes, 95 Churches Destroyed, 4 Dead, More Missing

For immediate release:

Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India – All India Christian Council (aicc) leaders released two reports on the anti-Christian violence in Orissa which began on Christmas Eve. Newly confirmed cases of arson, murder, and assault make this violence qualify as the largest attack on the Christian community in the history of democratic India. Both reports show that the Dalits – formerly known as untouchables – were the main group affected by the violence.
Four leaders from aicc chapters in Orissa visited the affected villages from January 3-5 and released their report on Jan. 7, 2008. The report says 95 churches were vandalized or destroyed, 730 Christian homes burnt, and four Christians killed with many still missing and presumed dead. To view the entire Fact Finding Report, see:http://indianchristians.in/news/content/view/1826/45/

On Jan. 5, 2008, aicc Secretary-General John Dayal released a white paper after visiting the area. Advocate Nicholas Barla, a lawyer and human rights expert, and Mr. Hemant Nayak, a social scientist and human rights and development activist, were also part of the fact finding team. They concluded that the attacks on Christians included simultaneous, planned violence by extremist Hindutva supporters and complicity and consistent incompetence by police and local authorities. To view the entire white paper, see:http://groups.google.com/group/JohnDayal/browse_thread/thread/17aef1aebe4f1e70

According to media reports, two members from India’s National Commission for Minorities (NCM), Dileep Padgaonkar and Zoya Hasan, are currently in Orissa to investigate the violence. Aicc leaders met with the NCM chairman on Dec. 27, 2007 in New Delhi.

“We are saddened to acknowledge the violence in Orissa will go into the history books as an unprecedented attack on Christians in India. The tragedy is deepened by proof that the violence was avoidable if the authorities had enforced the rule of law,” said Dr. Joseph D’souza, aicc President.

Together with the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations led by Dr. Udit Raj, the aicc will hold a “Stop Violence Against Christians Rally” in Bhubaneswar, Orissa, on January 10, 2008. Protestors will meet at 10am at Master Canteen Chowk and march to the Orissa State Assembly for a public meeting. Confirmed speakers include Dr. Udit Raj, Dr. Joseph D’souza, Bishop Joab Lohara of the Free Methodist Church, and victims from Orissa.

“Many have expressed outrage with the authorities and Hindutva extremists whose actions hurt innocent people during Christmas – a season of peace across the world. But we must express our anger and frustration in a peaceful manner. I invite all Indian citizens of good will to join the “Stop Violence Against Christians Rally” on Thursday,” said D’souza.

The violence allegedly began when Christians in Bamunigaon village in Kandhamal district of Orissa began to celebrate Christmas Eve. Local Hindu fundamentalists opposed the event and a quarrel ensued. Also, a Hindutva leader, Swami Saraswati, was attacked by unknown assailants—he alleged they were Christians. The next day a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)-affiliated group called for a strike and VHP members began attacking Christians across the state.

The All India Christian Council (www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.

The Dalit Freedom Network’s mission is to partner with the Dalits (India’s Untouchables) in their quest for religious freedom, social justice, and human dignity by mobilizing human, informational, and financial resources. Their website is: www.dalitnetwork.org

Posted on: January 8, 2008

 


Fact Finding Report by aicc Orissa Chapter

Posted on: January 7, 2008

 


Chennai Leaders Express Solidarity with Fresh Victims of Anti-Christian Attacks in Orissa

HYDERABAD – Jan. 2, 2008 – Today the All India Christian Council (aicc) led a rally in Chennai to protest the anti-Christian violence in Orissa. Several civil society leaders, including Dalit and Muslim leaders, expressed solidarity with the victims. Meanwhile, violence resumed overnight including attacks on at least two Christian villages and the estimated death toll has increased.

Today’s rally in Chennai, opposite the Central General Hospital and in front of Memorial House, included about 1,000 leaders from both Christian and non-Christian organisations. Pastor Titus Kumar of Vision for Orissa gave an eye-witness report with video footage of the destruction and havoc caused by extremists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Other speakers included: Dr. Joseph D’souza, aicc President; Rev. K.B. Edison, aicc Tamil Nadu chapter President; Bishop Ezra Sargunam, Evangelical Church of India; and Mr. Umar Farooque, the Islamic Federation for Change.
“Although the government and media are saying the attacks on Christians have stopped, rural pastors with mobile phones contacted us in the last few hours with news of fresh attacks. We are devastated to report that there were at least two attacks last night,” said Dr. D’souza. “As I talk with Christians in Orissa, it is clear the death toll has been underestimated. We have reliable but unconfirmed reports of up to 70 Christians killed or missing and presumed dead.” Official reports from the Orissa authorities have put the death count at about four to six people.
Independent act finding teams continue to be blocked from entering affected areas. Police allegedly cannot access troubled rural areas due to roadblocks. The federal government has only dispatched a handful of troops, reportedly because the Orissa government is not requesting assistance. However, media reports said the Minister of Home Affairs visited the area today, but his findings have not been released. Aicc leaders in New Delhi were told the National Commission for Minorities scheduled a team to arrive on Jan. 8, 2008, and the National Human Rights Commission is deputing a team as soon as possible.

At the rally, many cries were heard for the state government of Chief Minister Neevan Patnaik to step down in light of continuing attacks against Christians – most of whom are Dalits and Tribals. Also, leaders demanded that the Orissa government increase the promised amount of compensation for families of those murdered from 100,000 to 500,000 rupees.

“The Orissa police and politicians seem focused on blaming Christians or Naxals for the violence. We anticipate the findings of Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil. We implore authorities to act now and save innocent lives instead of assigning blame. We condemn any violence – whether done by Hindus or by Christians. But the world must know that, contrary to media reports, there is no evidence that Christians attacked Hindus—including Swami Saraswati,” said Sam Paul, aicc Secretary of Public Affairs.

The violence allegedly began when Christians in Bamunigaon village in Kandhamal district of Orissa began to celebrate Christmas Eve. Local Hindu fundamentalists opposed the event and a fight ensued. Also, a Hindutva leader, Swami Saraswati, was attacked by unknown assailants—he alleged they were Christians—near Daringbadi while he was traveling. The next day the VHP called for a strike and its members began attacking Christians across the state.

Reports collected by the aicc as of Dec. 30, 2007, indicated 65 churches burned down, 600 Christian homes destroyed, hundreds of Christians forced to flee into forests to save their lives, and thousands homeless. The aicc obtained a copy of the complaint filed with police in Bamunigaon village by Roman Catholic priest Thomas Nayak, whose church was one of the first attacked on Christmas Eve. He names twenty-two attackers who are all allegedly part of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), a sister group to the VHP, and says that Swami Saraswati visited the area on Dec. 9, 2007 and planned the attacks.

The aicc and the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations will organise a protest rally in Bubhaneshwar, Orissa, on January 10, 2008. Details are to be announced soon. A press conference yesterday, Jan. 1, 2008, in Bubhaneshwar included statements by film maker Mahesh Bhatt, National Integration Council member John Dayal (also aicc Secretary-General), and Abraham Mathai, Vice Chairman of the State Commission for Minorities, Maharashtra.

The aicc will engage in relief work as soon as curfews are lifted and the affected villages are accessible. Relief plans call for rebuilding churches, Christian homes, and distribution of blankets and food for people who have been hiding in forests for days.

The All India Christian Council (www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.

Posted on: January 2, 2008

 


Black Christmas


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The police guarding a church at Darigibadi in Phulbani district, on December 26.

On December 24, when the world was preparing to celebrate Christmas, the Kui-speaking tribal people of Orissa’s Kandhamal district were getting ready for a 36-hour bandh beginning the next morning. But even as preparations were on, the bomb of hatred that had been ticking for long went off, ripping the communal fabric of the district.

Trouble apparently began when a section of Hindus opposed the preparations for Christmas. Following this, a group of Christians allegedly attacked Swami Lakshmananda, a local Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader, who was on his way to perform a yagna in the Brahmanigaon area of the district. Activists of the VHP retaliated by setting ablaze churches and other Christian institutions, and houses belonging to members of the community. The VHP also called for a four-hour, State-wide bandh the next day in protest against the attack on its leader. The bandh coincided with the one that was called by the Kui Samaj Samanwaya Samiti.

The Kui Samaj has been agitating against the alleged granting of Scheduled Tribe (S.T.) status to Dalits in the district, which has a sizable Christian population. The vast majority of the Dalits in Kandhamal are Christian whereas only a small section of the tribal population has embraced Christianity. The divide between the tribal people and the Dalits has widened in recent years with the VHP repeatedly contending that religious conversion was at the root of the trouble in the central Orissa district.

As the agitating tribal people felled trees on all roads leading to the district on December 24 night to enforce their bandh beginning from the next day, VHP activists put their organisation’s stamp on the Kui Samaj agitation and went about vandalising churches and prayer houses.

Prayers were not held in any church in Kandhamal on Christmas day. One person was killed and over 30 people were injured in the clashes between the two communities.

Caught unawares, the administration imposed a curfew on Phulbani, the district headquarters, and three other towns – Brahmanigaon, Baliguda and Daringibadi. Prohibitory orders were enforced in the remaining areas of the district. In Bhubaneswar, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik appealed to the people of Kandhamal to maintain peace and harmony.

It was only on December 26 that the State government took up the matter seriously and deployed additional forces in different parts of the district. The situation, however, did not show any improvement as the police could not enter most of the areas because of roadblocks put up by Kui Samaj members.

When Kandhamal was burning, on December 26, leaders of the ruling Biju Janata Dal were busy at a massive rally in the State capital, Bhubaneswar, on the occasion of the 10th foundation day of the party. At the rally, Naveen Patnaik, who is also the BJD president, reiterated his party’s resolve to realise the dream of his father, the late Biju Patnaik, of building a prosperous Orissa.

Patnaik, however, took time off and reviewed the Kandhamal situation at the State Secretariat twice that day. The government said three companies of the Central Reserve Police Force had been called in from other places in the State to restore peace in Kandhamal.

As Kandhamal remained cut off from the rest of the world for the fourth day on December 27, the Chief Minister flew to Phulbani and held a review meeting, which was attended by Director General of Police Gopal Chandra Nanda and top officials of the police and the administration.

On his return, Patnaik told reporters in Bhubaneswar that the situation in the district had normalised to a great extent. Admitting that churches and prayer houses had been damaged or burnt down in the district, he said more than two dozen people were arrested and action was being initiated against the offenders. In reference to the tribal agitation, Patnaik said that his government would look into the grievances and take necessary steps to resolve the issue.

Patnaik, however, appeared to be unaware of the fresh violence that was occurring around the same time in Kandhamal. By evening, reports started pouring in that at least a dozen more churches and prayer houses had been burnt during the day. Besides, three persons were reportedly killed in police firing when an armed mob, said to be VHP supporters, attacked the Brahmanigaon police station. A mob attacked the police station after the police personnel tried to prevent them from attacking members of the Christian community. A senior officer was injured in the police station attack. Fresh trouble began in Brahmanigaon after the body of a child was recovered from the locality earlier in the day.


KAMAL SINGH/PTI

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An All India Christian Council demonstration in New Delhi on December 27 demanding that the safety of Christians in Orissa be ensured.

Confirming the death of three persons in police firing, a top official said that the police had opened fire in self-defence. Confronted with reports of the damaging and burning down of more than 40 churches and prayer houses by December 27 evening, he said the exact details were not available. It was difficult for the administration to keep track of incidents taking place in remote hilly areas, he explained.

Police stations were also attacked at Phiringia and Tikabali and many police vehicles were burnt by mobs. It was difficult to assess as to whether the attackers were Sangh Parivar members or Kui tribal people, an official observed.

On December 27, a delegation led by Raphael Cheenath, Archbishop of Cuttack and Bhubaneswar, met the Chief Minister and submitted a memorandum stating that Christians were not safe in Kandhamal. The representatives of the community, who claimed that at least 50 churches had been damaged over the previous four days, also demanded an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the incidents. The VHP alleged that Hindu places of worship were also attacked in some places.

As violence continued in Kandhamal, the Opposition parties and other organisations criticised the government for its failure to maintain law and order. They also blamed Patnaik for being soft on the Sangh Parivar because the Bharatiya Janata Party was a partner in the two-party coalition government.

Four days after Kandhamal smouldered, Patnaik went on a damage-control exercise. He ordered a judicial inquiry into the violence in Kandhamal on December 28. He, however, clarified that only one person had been killed in police firing the previous day and not three persons as had been reported in the media. Only one body had been recovered, he added.

Soon after Patnaik ordered the judicial inquiry, Steel and Mines Minister Padmanabha Behera, who hails from the violence-hit district, resigned from his post. The government also appointed a new District Collector for Kandhamal.

The dropping of Behera from the Cabinet was one of the demands put forward by the Kui tribal people. Behera belongs to the Dalit community. The Kuis have also been demanding the appointment of a direct Indian Administrative Service officer as Collector instead of an officer who was promoted to the cadre.

Posted on: January 2, 2008

 


Details emerge in deadly Oak Forest arson case

BY STEFANO ESPOSITO Staff Reporter


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(STNG)

In a hearing at the Markham courthouse Tuesday morning, Subhash Chander was ordered held without bond by Cook County Judge Martin McDonough in connection with the arson and murder of Chander’s pregnant daughter Monika Rani, 22; her husband Rajesh Kumar, 30; and their son Vansh.

He was charged Monday night with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of intentional homicide of an unborn child in the Oak Forest blaze. It was unclear whether a second man questioned in the fire would be charged.

The fire that gutted a 36-unit building was set Saturday night at the Le Claire Station Apartments in Oak Forest.

The fire had some residents jumping from second-floor balconies to escape the flames and left dozens of people homeless.

Witnesses saw two men pouring accelerant in the hallway outside the Aroras’ apartment moments before flames engulfed the building. Lab tests completed Monday by Illinois State Police showed that the accelerant was gasoline and that it matched gasoline found on the clothes of the two suspects.

Earlier Monday, Oak Forest Police Chief Dennis Olszewski had declined to say whether the men were related to the victims. Police said the investigation was hampered because the suspects didn’t speak English well.

Rani’s uncle lived in the same building as the young family and her father lived in a building 50 yards away—two doors down from a second apartment Rani and Arora shared until August, friends said.

Arora, who worked at gas stations in Chicago Heights and Steger for five years, was “a good person,” Raj Bains, who owns gas stations in the area, said. When customers heard news of the cashier’s death, many were moved to tears, Bains said.


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Subhash Chander, 57, was ordered held without bond in connection with the arson and murder of his pregnant daughter in Oak Forest. (STNG)

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The victims of the weekend arson at a south suburban apartment complex were identified as Monika Rani, 22, Rajesh Arora, 30, and their son Vansh, 3. (STNG)

Posted on: January 1, 2008

 


Suffering of Orissa’s Christians Presented to National Human Rights Commission of India

Note: As the majority of Christians in India are Dalits, DFN takes a special interest in publicizing cases of persecution of Christians, as well as any form of religious persecution among the Dailts of India, whether they are Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or Sikhs.

Press Release from the All India Christian Council

For Immediate Release

HYDERABAD – Dec. 31, 2007 –Today a Christian delegation met with Justice Shri S. Rajendra Babu, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), in New Delhi. The delegation requested action to stop violence against Christians in Orissa and help victims recover. The chairman promised to send a fact finding team immediately. At the same time, two fact finding teams which include aicc leaders continue to be turned away by Orissa police.
The delegation led by Archbishop Vincent Cancessao included: Dr. Udit Raj, National Chairman of the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations; Fr. Dominic Emmanuel, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI); Rt. Rev. Karam Masih, former Bishop of the Church of North India (CNI); Ms. Lansinglu Rongmei, Christian Legal Association (CLA); and Mr. Madhu Chandra, Regional Secretary of the All India Christian Council (aicc). They delivered a memorandum with fourteen recommended actions to deal with anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal district and other parts of rural Orissa which erupted on December 24, 2007.
“Our leaders in Orissa and media reports both indicate that attacks on Christians were not spontaneous but preplanned by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other Hindutva groups. Also, the state government misled the people of India by making repeated statements that the situation was under control. It is tragic. Orissa burned while politicians talked,” said Dr. Joseph D’souza, aicc President. “It seems that most attacks have ceased and now it’s time for all parties and all authorities to help the innocent victims,” said D’souza.
Dr. Udit Raj, National Chairman of the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations and a Buddhist, said, “Hindutva leaders say the violence is a response to conversions by Christian missionaries. But this is a lie. Christian missionaries are targeted by Hindutva and upper caste forces because Christians truly provide education and social upliftment services to Dalits and tribals in rural Orissa.”

Massive violence against Christians began on Dec. 24th, Christmas Eve. As of Dec. 30, 2007, the aicc had collected reports of 65 churches burned down, 600 Christian homes destroyed, hundreds of Christians forced to flee into forests to save their lives, and thousands homeless. Despite promises by state and central government leaders during meetings with aicc leaders, the violence continued for at least six days.

“According to some reports, the Orissa government has promised to give 1 lakh (about USD $2,631) compensation to the families of people who died. If true, we welcome this first step. However, Christian leaders have been united in asking authorities for at least 5 lakhs (about USD $13,158) per victim and we hope this request is honored,” said Sam Paul, aicc Secretary, Public Affairs.
An aicc fact finding team headed by John Dayal, aicc Secretary-General and Member of the National Integration Council, tried to reach the hardest hit areas over the weekend. On the evening of Dec. 29, 2007, Inspector General of Police Pradeep Kapoor turned away the team while they were passing through the town of Phulbani. Efforts by another Christian delegation to visit Baminigaon on Dec. 30, 2007, called the epicentre of the trouble, were unsuccessful as well due to police curfews.
John Dayal, aicc Secretary-General and member of the National Integration Council, said, “First-hand accounts of the violence in the Kandhamal district are needed because rumors, absence of authentic media reports, and often inaccurate government accounts of the casualties have left people confused. Our fact finding is important part of building long term peace and harmony and to ensure proper relief, compensation, and rehabilitation.”

Timeline of past events:
•On Dec. 31, 2007 a delegation including an aicc leader met Justice Shri S. Rajendra Babu, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, in New Delhi.
•On Dec. 30, 2007 candle-light vigils and protest marches were held by Christians in many cities including Delhi (est. attendance 4,000) and Hyderabad.
•On Dec. 30, 2007 the aicc Jharkhand chapter delivered a memo to the state Chief Minister and Governor to request action.
•On Dec. 29, 2007 a delegation including aicc leaders met the Vice President of India, Mohammad Hamid Ansari, in New Delhi and appealed for action by the Central Government.
•On Dec. 29, 2007 a six-person fact-finding team headed by aicc Secretary-General John Dayal is turned back by Orissa police.
•On Dec. 28, 2007 John Dayal reaches Bhubaneswar and holds press conference along with aicc Orissa chapter President Rev. P.R. Parichha and other Christian leaders.
•On Dec. 28, 2007 the Governor of Chennai received a memorandum from the aicc Tamil Nadu chapter demanding action.
•On Dec. 27, 2007 large rallies of Christians and non-Christian civil society leaders were held in numerous cities across India including about 1,000 people in New Delhi.
•On Dec. 27, 2007 a delegation including aicc leaders met the chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, Mohamed Shafi Qureshi, in New Delhi.
•On Dec. 27, 2007 a delegation including aicc leaders met the Minister of Home Affairs, Shivraj V. Patil, in New Delhi.
•On Dec. 27, 2007 an aicc-led delegation met the Orissa Chief Minister, Neevan Patnaik.
•On Dec. 25, 2007 Sam Paul, aicc Secretary, Public Affairs appeals to the President of India in writing.
•On Dec. 24, 2007 John Dayal, aicc Secretary-General appeals to the Prime Minister of India and other officials in writing.

The violence allegedly began when Christians in a village 150 kms from Phulbani, the headquarters of Kandhamal district, began to celebrate Christmas Eve. Local Hindu fundamentalists opposed the event and a fight ensued. Also, a Hindutva leader, Swami Saraswati, was attacked by unknown assailants—allegedly Christians—near Daringbadi while he was travelling. The next day the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) called for a strike and its members began attacking Christians across the state.

The All India Christian Council (http://www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.

For more information, contact:
Benjamin Marsh
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
(919) 841-8280

For immediate release

Posted on: December 31, 2007

 


Fact Finding Teams Tell of Unprecedented Anti-Christian Violence in Orissa

HYDERABAD Dec. 30, 2007


Roads continue to be blocked by Hindutva fundamentalists and police curfews prevent fact finding teams from traveling. Confirmed reports from one village give a sense of the carnage which is likely being under-reported. In Barkhama, a village near Baliguda in Kandhamal district, three pastors emerged after hiding in the jungle for five days and reported: – over 100 Christian homes destroyed – two Christians killed and burnt in front of the local church and another murdered in a market on Christmas Eve – at least fifteen Christians missing and suspected to be killed and buried in the nearby forest


An aicc fact finding team headed by John Dayal, aicc Secretary-General and Member of the National Integration Council, has been unable to reach the hardest hit areas due to police curfews. On Dec. 29, 2007, Inspector General of Police Pradeep Kapur forced the team to leave the affected areas due to safety concerns. Efforts by a Christian delegation to visit Baminigaon, called the epicentre of the trouble, were unsuccessful as well.


We continue to plead with leaders of the worlds largest democracy to uphold the rule of law and protect Christians in rural Orissa. The governments actions seem to be too little, too late. We are distressed that radical Hindutva groups justify their violent attacks on innocent victims especially children by saying they are protesting forced or fraudulent conversions. Similar claims over the past decade have always been proven false. But the bottom line is that religious differences are never an excuse for violence, said Dr. Joseph Dsouza, aicc President.


We are deeply worried by media reports that police and other local authorities in Orissa stood by and watched attacks on Christians. Some media commentators have said the violence is a combination of politics, caste-based discrimination, and religious vendettas. Whatever the motivation, we must not forget that innocent people mostly Dalits and tribals are suffering right now, said Sam Paul, aicc Secretary, Public Affairs.


Upcoming events:

– a Christian delegation including aicc leaders will meet Justice Shri S. Rajendra Babu, Chairman of India’s National Human Rights Commission on Dec. 31, 2007 at 12:30pm

– a major protest rally to be held in Chennai, Tamil Nadu onJanuary 2, 2008

– another rally is planned for in Bhubaneswar, Orissa to be organized by aicc and the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations; details to be announced.



Past events:

– On Dec. 30, 2007, candle-light vigils and protest marches were held by Christians in many cities including Delhi and Hyderabad.

– On Dec. 30, 2007 the aicc Jharkhand chapter delivered a memo to the state Chief Minister and Governor to request action.

– On Dec. 29, 2007 the Governor of Chennai received a memorandum from the aicc Tamil Nadu chapter demanding action.

– On Dec. 29, 2007 a delegation including aicc leaders met the Vice President of India, Mohammad Hamid Ansari, and appealed for action by the Central Government.

– On Dec. 27, 2007, large rallies of Christians and non-Christian civil society leaders were held in numerous cities across India including about 1,000 people in New Delhi.

– On Dec. 27, 2007, a delegation including aicc leaders met the chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, Mohamed Shafi Qureshi.

– On Dec. 27, 2007, a delegation including aicc leaders met the Minister of Home Affairs, Shivraj V. Patil.

– On Dec. 27, 2007, an aicc-led delegation met the Orissa Chief Minister, Neevan Patnaik.



The violence allegedly began when Christians in a village 150 kms from Phulbani, the headquarters of Kandhamal district, began to celebrate Christmas Eve. Local Hindu fundamentalists opposed the event and a fight ensued. Also, a Hindutva leader, Swami Saraswati, was attacked by unknown assailants—allegedly Christians—near Daringbadi while he was travelling. The next day the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) called for a strike and its members began attacking Christians across the state.


The All India Christian Council (www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.


The Dalit Freedom Networks mission is to partner with the Dalits (Indias Untouchables) in their quest for religious freedom, social justice, and human dignity by mobilizing human, informational, and financial resources. Their website is:

Posted on: December 30, 2007

 


All India Christian Council appeals attack on Christians in Orissa

Greetings from the All India Christian Council.

Our Orissa Chapter had been in touch with us about the massive destruction and fear caused by the fundamentalist forces of Orissa in the Districts of Kandhmal and Phulbani.

Since 24th December 2007 just in two days time where the celebrations of Christmas are disturbed at gunpoint, I was informed that 13 Churches in total were demolished or razed to the ground and 3 Christians shot dead and several others injured.

Our local leaders tried to contact the The District Collector and the Superintendent of Police of the District of Kandhamal who are confessing their inability to stop the violence and bloodshed of the Christians and are unable to maintain the law and order.

The District collector and Superintendent of Police of Phulbani have warned our Christian pastors not to come near the Christian places as they are unable to provide security to them. The situation is getting worse by hour and I request your kind intervention in this matter.

If the State Government is unable to control the situation the deployment of Army should not be ruled out before more people get killed and to restore peace and order in the Districts. The affected are poor Christians that are celebrating the birth of Jesus and are soft targets of the RSS and Sangh Parivar fundamentalist elements in the local places.

Madam, I am obtaining the full details of the Churches demolished in a few hours which will be passed on to you.

Thanking you for your kind intervention.

Sincerely Yours,

For more information, contact:
Benjamin Marsh
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
(919) 841-8280

Posted on: December 25, 2007

 


DFN Social Justice Updates

Dalit widow fired from position as cook because students refused to eat food prepared by her “polluted” hands
On December 16th 2007, school officials fired a Dalit cook because students had refused their mid-day meals. While the older students attempted to justify their decision by claiming that the food was “unhygienic,” an investigation revealed that the food was perfectly acceptable to consume. Younger children were more open with their reasons, and declared that they would not eat food prepared by a lower caste woman. Officials believe the boycott is being encouraged by a high-caste village leader and are hesitant to re-hire another Dalit cook for fear that the protests will continue. Their willingness to surrender to community pressures is evidence of the persistence and power of caste-stigma.
Read More here.

Dalit leader murdered by strangulation
On December 14th, 2007 a Dalit village leader in Lapra was strangled to death by “unidentified assailants.” His body was found near a canal the next morning. The police chief claims the death is related to “old rivalries” and will not acknowledge the role caste played in the attack.
Read More here.

Gap between male and female literacy rates is growing, especially in India
A UN report released Wednesday addressed the increasing literacy gap between male and female children of the world. According to the report, South Asian countries, including India, are among the worst for educational equality. Poverty is cited as the primary reason for the disparity, as many poor families who rely on their children for labor and income will send only their sons to school. The report emphasizes that education and employment opportunities will play a vital role in the economic development of these countries, but suggests that the continued exclusion of females from this process could have severe consequences.
Read More here.

The situation for the GSCC pastor in Bihar continues to worsen
If it was not enough for the GSCC pastor in Bihar to be physically attacked and thrown into jail for his commitment to follow Christ, he and his wife are now facing urgent medical problems. While he is suffering from a kidney stone that may require an operation, his wife is in immediate need of surgery for a gal bladder stone. Her surgery will cost Rps. 12,000 or more. Because the pastor was forced to pay Rps. 700 for his release from jail, they have no money for the medical treatments they so desperately need.

Posted on: December 21, 2007

 


Over 10,000 Dalits Demand Reservations in the Private Sector, Judiciary, and Armed Forces

Press Release from the All India Christian Council

New Delhi, December 11, 2007 – Over 10,000 Dalits from across India assembled at Ramlila Ground, New Delhi, on December 10, 2007, and pressed the Government of India to provide reservations [affirmative action] in the private sector, judiciary, and armed forces, as well as to enact a reservation bill and fill up the backlog of vacancies for SC/ST [Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes] employees.

Christian communities, headed by the All India Christian Council (aicc), took part in preparations for the rally and stood in solidarity with the Dalits.

Addressing the rally, Dr. Udit Raj, National Chairman of the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations, said, “The UPA [United Progressive Alliance] government has done nothing significant to uplift Dalits so far.”

In a memorandum submitted to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, Dr. Raj urged the government to implement the Reservation Act without delay and asked why it had not been passed even after the Standing Committee headed by E. M. Sudarsana Nachiyappan had submitted its report in Parliament in 2005.

The memo also demanded the filling of a backlog of vacancies for Dalits in the government sector. Dr. Raj said, “The Prime Minister told me in a recent meeting that 53,000 posts have been filled. But this is nothing considering the number of backlogged posts.”

On reservations in the private sector, Dr. Raj said, “Under pressure from the government and the Confederation, the Committee appointed by the CII [Confederation of Indian Industry] under the chairmanship of J. J. Irani made recommendations to provide education and training to Dalits. So far, little has been done in this regard.”

Dr. Raj also said that out of a total of 610 judges, only 20 belong to the Dalit community. “All judicial services should be introduced as provided under Article 312 of the Constitution to ensure participation of Dalits in the higher judiciary,” he said.

The aicc stands in solidarity with the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations’ overall goals and is specifically committed to empower Dalits through education. Members of the aicc have about 70 English-medium schools in Dalit villages across India.

The All India Christian Council (http://www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.

Released by
Mr. Madhu Chandra
Regional Secretary, aicc

Posted on: December 16, 2007

 


NRI recruits Dalits for US jobs

From the Times of India

NEW DELHI: During his childhood days in rural Karnataka, Michael Thevar often trudged barefoot deep into the forest to collect firewood. He would sell the timber to pay school fees and support his family. Now a successful NRI, he employs young Dalits and tribals to work as professional social workers, counsellors and therapists for his flourishing US-based healthcare staffing agency.

Thanks to him, Dalits such as Dinesh Dalvi, who often studied for his master’s degree in a graveyard next to his Mumbai slum — “That was the only peaceful place I could find,” he says — get to work as a behavioural therapist abroad earning about $3,000 a month. Thevar’s company, Temp Solutions Inc, based in Philadelphia, already has 13 Dalit workers on its rolls. He has selected another 35 SC or ST candidates with postgraduate degrees in social work to join him by October-November next year.

“Indian society doesn’t provide equal prospects. I wanted to give an opportunity to those from the lowest strata of society. That’s my mission,” says Thevar, an OBC who himself lived in a slum when working for his bachelor’s degree in social work from Mumbai’s Nirmala Niketan college.

Thevar arrived in the US in 1992 as an international exchange scholar with merely $18 in his pocket. He began as an alcohol and drug counsellor and went on to become a director of admissions at a Pennsylvania hospital. In 2000, he started Temp Solutions Inc, which has become a rapidly growing healthcare staffing agency in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. His wife Sushama, a Dalit, is also a healthcare professional and co-owner of the company.

Posted on: December 12, 2007

 


A gift for India’s inter-caste couples

By Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 4, 2007

BAIRAGHAR, India — Plenty of women may feel they deserve an award for marrying their husbands, but Madhavi Arwar is actually getting one—from the Indian government, no less.image

Not that her husband, Chandrashekhar, is a bad sort. In fact, he’s a good-looking guy, holds a steady job at an insurance company and dotes on their apple-cheeked son.

But he is also a Dalit, or an “untouchable,” the lowest of the low under India’s ancient caste system. Madhavi is not a Dalit, and for marrying “down” the social ladder, she is entitled to $250 in cash, plus a certificate of appreciation.

“I was a bit amazed that even for a thing like marriage, they were giving money,” Madhavi, 33, said as she sat in her living room here in central India.

The windfall is part of the government’s campaign to chop away at the barriers of caste, the complex hierarchy wherein a person’s place in society is determined purely by birth.

As India struggles to modernize and transform itself into an important world player economically, officials know they need to erase these age-old divisions and expand opportunities for social mobility for all the country’s 1.1 billion people, including the majority who have historically been considered low-caste and oppressed.

Mandatory quotas in education and public-sector jobs have been in place for years. Now private companies, the engine of India’s rapid economic growth, are also looking to train and hire more employees from lower-caste backgrounds.

The integration efforts have enjoyed some success, especially in booming….read full article by clicking here.

Posted on: November 5, 2007

 


National Association of Evangelicals Puts Forth a Statement of Conscience Concerning the Dalits

Written in Conjunction with the Dalit Freedom Network, Historic Statement Calls for Action on Behalf of Dalits in South Asia

imageWashington, DC – The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) Board of Directors on Thursday, October 11, 2007 unanimously agreed to put forth a Statement of Conscience Concerning the Dalits. This Statement is the third Statement of Conscience from the NAE and the first dealing with the crisis of Caste abuse and Untouchability in India.

The Statement was written in conjunction with the Dalit Freedom Network (DFN) and was presented to the Board by DFN International President Joseph D’Souza. Dr. D’Souza introduced the Statement with a broad overview of the present challenges facing Dalits and encouraged the leaders around the room to rise to the challenge of facing the world’s largest and oldest form of mental and spiritual slavery.

The response was overwhelming, said Dr. D’Souza. NAE’s leadership understands the critical nature of anti-Dalit persecution and has risen to face it with this strong statement.

There are those who suggest that to judge the practices of another culture is unsuitable, and a violation of tolerance. But moral absolutes do exist, there is justice and injustice and evangelicals intend to stand up and demonstrate Christ’s own love for the poor and the oppressed around the world, said Richard Cizik, NAE Vice President for Governmental Affairs.

The Statement of Conscience Concerning the Dalits begins with a broad overview of Caste and the abuse that follows from its hierarchical mindset, including physical violence against Dalits, economic discrimination, social discrimination, and religious persecution. The Statement then contains a moving “Call to Action” for all Christian leaders to publicly acknowledge the discrimination facing the Dalits and to call on the Government of the United States to work with Indian leadership to end Caste discrimination. Significantly, the Statement calls on the Government Accounting Office to prepare a report detailing the effects of foreign aid on the Dalits and calls on the State Department to produce a report dealing solely with the issue of Caste discrimination in South Asia

The Statement of Conscience Concerning the Dalits is available from the NAE’s website (http://www.nae.net) and from DFN’s website at the bottom of this article.

The mission of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) is to extend the kingdom of God through a fellowship of member denominations, churches, organizations, and individuals, demonstrating the unity of the body of Christ by standing for biblical truth, speaking with a representative voice, and serving the evangelical community through united action, cooperative ministry, and strategic planning. Founded in 1942, the Association is currently led by president Leith Anderson, senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, MN. NAE represents more than 45,000 local churches from 61 different denominations and serves a constituency of millions.

The Dalit Freedom Network’s mission is to partner with the Dalits (India’s Untouchables) in their quest for religious freedom, social justice, and human dignity by mobilizing human, informational, and financial resources. Their website is: http://www.dalitnetwork.org

NAE 2007 Statement of Conscience Concerning Dalits-Adopted 10-11-2007.pdf

Posted on: October 25, 2007

 


Nick News with Linda Ellerbee and DFN’S Kumar Swamy Travels to India

NEW YORK, October 10, 2007 – With one billion people, India is the world’s largest democracy, often cited as an example to developing nations. India, however, has a dirty little secret—a caste system that still excludes more than 150 million people, known as Dalits. What’s it like to be a Dalit kid?

Award-winning journalist Linda Ellerbee travels to India to give American kids a first-hand look into the world of the Dalits on Nick News’ The Untouchable Kids of India, premiering Sunday, October 21, at 8:30 p.m. (ET/PT) on Nickelodeon.

In India, if you’re born Hindu, which 80% of the population is, you’re automatically assigned a place in India’s 3000-year-old caste system. But then there are the Dalits, the outcasts, or as they had been more commonly known, the untouchables – people deemed so far below the rest they’re considered to be sub-human. And although it has been illegal in India to practice “untouch-ability” since 1950, inequality and segregation still occur.

“We’ve seen kids here in America fight racism. Now we’re watching kids in India do the same,” said Ellerbee. “It’s inspiring.”

Viewers meet Sangeeta, a 12-year-old girl who lives in a village where Dalit and non-Dalit are strictly segregated. As Sangeeta explains, “The upper caste people would not want me drinking water from their well. The children are telling me don’t come over here. I am ashamed about my caste. I am getting angry.”

Next, viewers are introduced to 15-year-old Jagdeesh who lives in a Dalit village totally isolated from the main village. Jagdeesh has had trouble with people in the main village. “They are threatening that if I pass through their village they will definitely make sure that I am beaten up very badly.” He hopes the government will help correct the injustices Dalits face.

Many Dalits are now refusing to be victims. Neeru is a young girl who makes films about her experiences, hoping to educate both Dalits and non-Dalits. Neeru’s controversial films have been banned in the past; however, that doesn’t stop her from continuing to make movies. Neeru says, “When I see the work which is being done, I am proud about it. Even I can do something. I am worth something.”

Lastly, we meet Jayesh and Ashish, two 14-year-old boys who became friends before they knew they weren’t supposed to. Jayesh is Dalit. Ashish is a member of an upper caste. Ashish says, “I want to tell every one of them to please stop all of this, we are all one, we should remain one.”

Says Ellerbee, “Can they change their world? As Gandhi said, ‘you may never know what result may come from your action, but if you do nothing, there will be no result.’

Nick News, which last year celebrated its 15th year anniversary, is the longest-running kids’ news show in television history, and has built its reputation on the respectful and direct way it speaks to kids about the important issues of the day. Over the years, Nick News has received more than 20 Emmy nominations and numerous Emmy wins. Most recently, in 2007, “Private Worlds: Kids and Autism” won the Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Programming. In 1994, the entire series, Nick News, won the Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Programming. In 1998, “What Are You Staring At?” a program about kids with physical disabilities, won the Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Programming. In 2002, “Faces of Hope: The Kids of Afghanistan,” won the Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Programming. In 2004, two Nick News Specials, “The Courage to Live: Kids, South Africa and AIDS” and “There’s No Place Like Home,” a special about homeless kids in America, were both nominated for the Outstanding Children’s Programming Emmy. In 2005, it won the Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Programming for its show, “From the Holocaust to the Sudan.” Nick News, produced by Lucky Duck Productions, is also the recipient of three Peabody Awards, including a personal award given to Ellerbee for her coverage for kids of the President Clinton investigation. The series has also received two Columbia duPont Awards and more than a dozen Parents’ Choice Awards.

Nickelodeon, in its 28th year, is the number-one entertainment brand for kids. It has built a diverse, global business by putting kids first in everything it does. The company includes television programming and production in the United States and around the world, plus consumer products, online, recreation, books, magazines and feature films. Nickelodeon’s U.S. television network is seen in almost 94 million households and has been the number-one-rated basic cable network for 13 consecutive years. Nickelodeon and all related titles, characters and logos are trademarks of Viacom Inc. (NYSE: VIA, VIA.B).

Posted on: October 18, 2007

 


Wall Street Journal - Dalit Converts face Discrimination

From the Dalit Freedom Network

DFN International President Joseph D’Souza is quoted in this front-page article from The Wall Street Journal on September 19, 2007. The article contains insightful coverage of the discrimination that Dalit Christians and Muslims face on a daily basis. The Dalit Freedom Network has been advocating on their behalf in the US before the Congress, at the White House, and with the State Department through our advocates in Washington, DC. Additionally, DFN’s partner, the All India Christian Council (aicc) works tirelessly in New Delhi to change state and local Indian laws to better reflect India’s commitment to religious freedom and democracy.

One of the main forms of discrimination against Dalit Christians and Muslims comes from the Reservation system, which the Journal article calls an affirmative action program. The Indian government reserves a percentage of government jobs and university openings for members of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes. Christians and Muslims, however, are strictly excluded from the program. If a Dalit has earned one of these jobs or student positions and then becomes a Christian or Muslim, that person will lose his/her job or position. Thus, many Christian and Muslim Dalits feel compelled to hide their religious identity.

As the article says: “India’s Supreme Court is currently reviewing several challenges filed by Christian and Muslim Dalits that could result in an overturning of the affirmative-action exclusion.” The Supreme Court is supposed to rule on a case on November 28th dealing with Christian Dalits receiving their federal benefits. This judgment has been postponed several times for several different reasons given by the government.

At the core, however, the government has been extremely reluctant to see Reservation benefits extended to Christians and Muslims for fear of losing Hindu support and thus losing their parliamentary majority. DFN and the aicc work closely with Christian and Muslim leaders across India to see Reservation extended to people of all faiths in India.

Joseph D’Souza is quoted near the end of the article in a section discussing the partnership between Muslims and Christians in fighting discrimination. He has gained the attention of international media for his willingness to work with people of all faiths to see religious freedom protected and Untouchability defeated. Dr. D’souza has stood on a platform with Islamic, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, and secular leaders and spoken on how to fight Dalit discrimination for people of all faiths.

One powerful way in which Dr. D’souza leads joint efforts to address caste is through huge community gatherings in which people from all castes and creeds eat from a common plate of rice and curry; traditionally, Dalits and non-Dalits will not eat together.

“This is a real physical demonstration against caste discrimination,’ says Joseph D’souza, the president of the All-India Christian Council, who has organized many of these gatherings.

There is a related picture set here from The Wall Street Journal.
This media coverage is a confirmation of the importance of the work of the DFN and her partners. We are proud to highlight this article for you with the hope that you will share with others.

For more information or to contact Dr. D’souza, please email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or call 1-866-921-1333

Posted on: October 5, 2007

 


Quota: judiciary can’t be an exception, says panel

by a legal correspondent of The Hindu on Aug. 18, 2007

NEW DELHI: The Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law Ministry has recommended reservation for Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes in judicial appointments.

In its 21st report on the Judges (Inquiry) Bill, 2006, tabled in both Houses of Parliament on Friday, the committee, under the chairmanship of Congress MP E.M. Sudarsana Natchiappan, said that like all other institutions, judiciary should also be covered by the principle of reservation.

The committee said: “Such a coveted institution [judiciary] should also exhibit the reality of the social milieu in which it has been created. It cannot live in isolation in ivory tower and remain outside the ambit of constitutional provisions. The Constitution provides for reservation to socially and educationally backward citizens in all institutions of State, such as legislature and executive through Articles 15 (4), 16, 38, 46, 340 and 93rd Constitutional Amendment.”

It said: “Accordingly, a percentage of seats are reserved for socially and educationally backward sections in Parliament, Legislative Assemblies, local bodies, Central and State Civil Services, including IAS and IPS, public sector units, Central and State governmental departments and in all public and private educational institutions, except in minority and religious educational institutions.”

Quoting from the report of the national commission to review the working of the Constitution, the panel said: “Out of 610 judges in various High Courts [at the relevant time], there are hardly about 20 judges belonging to the SCs and STs.”

“It is true that judges are appointed in accordance with the provisions of Articles 124 and 217 of the Constitution. These Articles do not make any specific provision for reservation for any caste or class of persons.”

It said, “Through a shrewd process of manipulation, the Indian judiciary has been keeping the competent persons of the downtrodden communities from the purview of appointment of Judges.”

The panel noted that judiciary was manned and operated by judges and other judicial officers.

“When Executive and Legislature are brought under the ambit of constitutional reservation, it is but natural that judiciary, the third pillar of democracy, should also be covered by the principle of reservation. Otherwise, it creates a dubious distinction among the three pillars of democracy. They [SCs/STs/OBCs] need to be given equal opportunity in all walks of life for participation in every sphere. Judiciary cannot be an exception.

“The reservation principle should be inclusive of judiciary. This alone can bring constitutional balance between the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. Then only the real cause of social justice can be served.”

“The appointment of judges from all strata of society will have a tremendous impact on the social fabric of judiciary itself. After all, judiciary has to reflect the aspirations of the people,” the committee said and wanted the Government to consider this issue earnestly.

Posted on: August 24, 2007

 


The caste system - India’s apartheid?

by Balakrishnan Rajagopal,
From The Hindu

In what was perhaps a controversial but telling comparison, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on December 27, 2006, likened discrimination against Dalits in India to the apartheid system in South Africa. A couple of months later, in February, Indian officials were busily denying the existence of caste discrimination and untouchability, in February 2007 in New York, before a leading U.N. human rights body — the committee in charge of monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Indian Solicitor General flatly denied that caste discrimination was something the outside world should care about. This attitude of the Indian bureaucracy flatly flies in the face of not only the Prime Minister’s own statement, it does not fit in with India’s own track record in dealing with caste discrimination against Dalits, which should not make it act defensively but should make it more determined to wipe out such practices. This attitude also reveals a knee-jerk negativist mindset that the Indian foreign policy establishment has developed over the years towards international human rights, which needs to change.

It is well known that caste discrimination against Dalits is rampant in India. In an overt form, it is both a political reality and social fact. Dalits are subjected to violence, especially in rural areas, their women raped, and their land stolen. Dalits perform the most dangerous and odious forms of labor in Indian society including that of manual scavenging (removing human or animal waste) or performing low-end ‘dirty’ wage labor in tanneries. For the past two years, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) team has been working with Navsarjan, a leading Dalit rights NGO (non-governmental organization) in Gujarat, documenting the socio-economic and health consequences of manual scavenging in Gujarat, and has designed new technological and planning solutions to the problem that go beyond the simple adoption of more anti-discrimination or sector-specific laws and policies. In Gujarat, the legal route has been pursued as much as possible, through public interest litigation and government orders. Nevertheless, the data reveal that the number of manual scavengers has kept increasing and is likely to be between 50,000 and 60,000 in Gujarat alone. Research indicates that social and economic discrimination against Dalits persists to an alarming degree despite all the laws in the books. For example, in the village of Paliyad in Gujarat, where the MIT-Navsarjan team has been working, data indicate that more than 40 per cent of manual scavengers are frequently or always denied access to the marketplace, thus preventing normal economic activity or labor mobility.

Dalits are poorly represented in the professions, business, media, and the higher levels of the government including the police, the army, and the judiciary. Recent studies based on available data indicate, for example, that 47 per cent of the Chief Justices of India have been Brahmins (who constitute 6.4 per cent of the population) as have been 40 per cent of all the other judges. There is also rampant social discrimination against Dalits, including through the caste-ridden system of ‘arranged’ marriages. There is little social mixing of forward castes with the Dalits through shared festivals or even routine social interaction. Residential areas tend to be segregated along caste lines, especially in rural areas where most people still live. Caste discrimination against Dalits is deep-rooted in society and the economy and quick-fix solutions through the law alone will not help. Measures against discrimination are complicated by the fact that there is increasing evidence of intra-caste differentiation among Dalits, with some sub-castes like manual scavengers suffering significantly more discrimination. For example, in the village of Paliyad, the water source for 47 per cent of manual scavengers is a 30-minute or longer walk from their homes, while for a majority of non-scavenger Dalits that time is only five minutes or less of travel. Distance to water collection affects health, economic productivity, and gender equality.

The Indian government delegation that appeared before the U.N. human rights body cited a litany of laws that have been passed to end caste discrimination and atrocities against Dalits. This much is, in fact, true and India should certainly take much pride in the establishment of a formal system of equality through laws. The political gains made by Dalit parties in recent years can also be celebrated as a healthy example of the virtues of Indian democracy in ending social ills. But, in practice, these laws are poorly implemented. The Indian delegation refused to share data on implementation with the U.N. body, which it is legally obligated to do. Instead, the government delegation argued that ‘descent-based discrimination’ does not constitute racial discrimination under the specific U.N. treaty in question, the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

This is a misguided position. India’s own Prime Minister has compared caste discrimination to apartheid, which is the worst example of racial discrimination. India should also not forget that its current position goes against much of the history of the last 50 years of human rights law making. The irony is that it was India that suggested the definition in the CERD be expanded for ‘descent-based discrimination’ to include caste when the treaty was being drafted. India’s current position simply disavows its own history.

India’s position before the U.N. human rights body also typifies its overall attitude towards the place of human rights in its foreign policy. Nervous, Third Worldist, lacking confidence in its own democratic credentials, India constantly sides with the likes of Zimbabwe and Sudan at the U.N. on human rights issues. In international politics, as in domestic life, one is often judged by the company one keeps. There is no reason why India should not recover the moral high ground it occupied in the first few decades after Independence, suffused with the glow of Gandhian anti-colonialism, and often taking a leading position on human rights issues of the day. Instead, it has abandoned the human rights agenda to the west. On the issue of caste discrimination against Dalits, India’s recalcitrant and nervous attitude is only reminiscent of similar attitudes adopted by the government of the U.S. in its treatment of minorities or the white South African state over apartheid. It is no wonder that the Prime Minister aptly compared caste discrimination to apartheid.

Nervousness about being accused of racial discrimination is understandable but the Indian bureaucracy is too quick in biting its finger nails. The Prime Minister’s reference to apartheid should fan the flames of moral outrage at caste discrimination, rather than acting as a panic button. India has a proud history of battling South African apartheid and was the first nation to put the apartheid issue on the agenda of the U.N. General Assembly in 1948, when no nation dared to criticise the ‘internal affairs’ of other nations. Having taken a principled stand in foreign policy against racial discrimination and apartheid, India should not hide behind a false sense of Third World sovereignty in discussing the real problems of how to effectively end caste discrimination in a complex society.

How to end caste discrimination against Dalits is a profound issue because its roots go to the structural importance of caste for the operation of Indian society and the economy itself. After decades of legislating to end caste discrimination, it is legitimate now to ask: can one end caste discrimination without ending caste itself? If so, what does that imply for policy making and law? Caste discrimination exists because people continue to believe in caste. Indian democracy is, paradoxically, a culprit. By encouraging the formation of democratic participation along the lines of identity, caste is, in fact, reinforced every time India goes to the polls. The recent electoral gains of the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh must be seen in the context of this double-edged nature of caste. It may be hard to imagine Indian society and state outside of the system of caste. Even Dalit Christians, Sikhs, and Muslims find that caste discrimination continues to exist after they have acquired different religious identities. Yet caste discrimination against Dalits, in all its forms, is a stain on the idea of a modern India, and needs to be eliminated effectively.

While the Indian Constitution outlawed untouchability and caste discrimination, it did not abolish caste itself. This was realized by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the father of the Indian Constitution, who called for the ‘annihilation of caste’ itself. It may be time for the government and society to reorient themselves towards this goal and begin the process of ending India’s system of apartheid.

(The writer is Ford International Associate Professor of Law and Development and Director, MIT Program on Human Rights and Justice. He is currently leading a collaborative effort between MIT and Navsarjan, a major Dalit NGO in Gujarat, on the elimination of manual scavenging.)

Posted on: August 21, 2007

 


Now, Bharti to train SC/ST Engineers

From the Times of India

NEW DELHI: Bharti Enterprises is set to train and employ engineers from the SC/ST bracket on preferential basis, in the process becoming the second big player embracing a voluntary affirmative action plan.

The social justice ministry and Bharti Enterprises are joining hands in an endeavor that was set rolling by Infosys last year. The IT giant had trained 88 engineers at its Bangalore premises of which 79 have found work in top industrial houses. The social justice ministry has sent a list of 170 SC/ST unemployed engineers to Bharti after its CEO Sunil Bharti Mittal wrote that his business house be given names of persons who could be trained for absorption.

The ministry has sought to know the locations of training centers, as Bharti has establishments across the states and apprenticeship could be in multiple regional centres according to the domicile of candidates.

Training SC/ST professionals seems to be emerging as a new way for corporates to prove their credentials with regard to marginalized sections after they successfully resisted demands for private sector quota from champions of Dalit rights. However, the debate on the primacy of “merit” in the private sector provoked questions from social justice ministry and activists who felt that the private sector was tilted against SC/STs.

Corporates have argued on the “employability” quotient of engineering, management and other SC/ST professionals. It has been said that their non-English background saddles them with handicaps from being accepted in the private sector, which leans towards the English-speaking, urbane sections with a degree of comfort in corporate functioning.

Infosys kicked off the program, in partnership with the social justice ministry, to train the engineers whose names were given by the latter. While around Rs 1 crore was spent on training, around Rs 36 lakh was the estimated cost of boarding and lodging for the candidates. Corporates feel such programs would go some distance in neutralizing the hostility against them in the pro-poor sections.

Bharti has taken a cue from the Infosys experiment. In the wake of the success of its six-month training program and the goodwill generated for the company, the IT giant has expressed a desire to devise ways to institutionalize it. The company has decided to spread the training for 2007-08 to five new places, including Bhubaneswar and Pune.

Posted on: August 6, 2007

 


Poverty makes their future uncertain

From The Hindu

TIRUNELVELI: Three Dalit students from below poverty line families in the district have scored high marks in the Plus Two examinations and secured seats in government medical colleges on merit. But uncertainty prevails over their continuing higher studies due to abject poverty.

The meritorious students are N. Mallika, R. Muthupandi and S. Esakki, all hailing from Vasudevanallur, a small town about 75 km from here on the Tenkasi–Madurai National Highway.

Mallika, daughter of E. Natarajan, laborer in a stone quarry in Kerala, bagged the first rank in her school with 1,126 marks.

Mallika applied for medicine since she had scored 193 in physics, 196 in chemistry and 192 in biology and got a seat in Tirunelveli Medical College.

Similarly, Muthupandi (1,084 out of 1,200) and S. Esakki (1,093) have got seats in Tuticorin and Kanyakumari government medical colleges.

But their hereditary property of poverty has kept these three students away from entering the medical colleges.

“While Muthupandi’s parents are working in a brick kiln, Esakki lost his father, M. Santhiyagappan, only in December 2006 after a prolonged illness for about 17 years,” said Veerapuththiran, an advocate in Vasudevanallur.

Posted on: July 25, 2007

 


First Dalit CJ to swear in first woman Prez

From the Times of India

NEW DELHI: On Wednesday, the country’s pluralism will be on display with the first woman President in Pratibha Patil taking oath in the presence of the first Dalit Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan.

And this rare coincidence happened in a year when Mayawati steered her party, on her own steam, to a convincing victory in the assembly elections in India’s largest state to become its Chief Minister. No doubt there have been Dalit CMs earlier too, but their achievements were dependent on the discretion of the high commands of different parties.

The country took 57 years to elect a woman President, who will be the 12th to occupy the top Constitutional post, and to see a Dalit heading the judiciary – the 37th CJI.

Though K R Narayanan was the first Dalit to become President, he was administered the oath of office by the 27th CJI, J S Verma. Zakir Hussain, the first Muslim to become President, after Dr Rajendra Prasad and Dr S Radhakrishnan, was administered the oath by 10th CJI, K N Wanchoo. Dr B R Ambedkar, a Dalit, had led a team of experts that framed the Constitution adopted by the country on January 26, 1950, envisaging equal opportunities to all sections of society without any discrimination on grounds of gender, caste and creed.

With Dalits already getting the posts of President and CJI, the only other important post that has still remained out of reach for them is that of Prime Minister. Popular Dalit leader from Sasaram, Jagjivan Ram, had almost come within striking distance during the post-Emergency era.

The author of the Janata Dal victory in 1977, Jaiprakash Narayan, had wanted Ram to head the government for he had made a mark as an able administrator during his stints as Agriculture and Defence Minister. Had JP stuck to his line, the country would have had its first Dalit PM three decades ago.

Posted on: July 25, 2007

 


All India Christian Council (aicc) disappointed at the delay in granting equal rights to Dalits.

From the All India Christian Council (aicc)

NEW DELHI , JULY 24, 2007

Christian leaders have expressed dismay at another eight-week delay to the resolution of the case in the Supreme Court pleading to grant equal rights to the Dalits irrespective of the religion they profess. Dalits who embrace Christianity or Islam surrender their status as ‘Scheduled Castes’, and are thereby excluded from the Scheduled Caste net of the government for ‘reservation’.

In the previous hearing in April 2007, the Government’s delegation told the Court that they were waiting for the report of the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission before they decided on extending ‘reservations’ to Christians of Dalit background. On 19 July 2007, Mr. Shanti Bushan, the counsel for the Petitioner Organization “Center For Public Interest Litigation”, along with Mr. Ram Jethmalini contended before the bench that the UPA government was deliberately delaying the decision on the recommendations of Justice Rangnath Misra Commission submitted to the government in May 2007. The bench comprised Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan, Justices R V Raveendran and Dalveer Bhandari.

The Government’s delegation informed the court that the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission report will be referred to the National Commission of Scheduled Castes for their concurrence and will come back to report to the Supreme Court within eight weeks. “We trust that actions will follow the assurances given to the Court,” said Dr. Sam Paul, National Secretary, All India Christian Council.

Dr. John Dayal, Secretary General of All India Christian Council led a delegation to meet with Dr. Buta Singh the Chairman of the National Commission of Scheduled Castes, who assured the delegation that the matter of reservations to Dalit Christians will be looked at compassionately.

“On behalf of thousands of Christian leaders, and 1.6 Crore Dalit Christians, we appeal to the National Commission of Scheduled Castes to honor the findings of Justice Ranganath Misra Commission which did a thorough job of studying this issue,” said Dr. Joseph D’ Souza, President All India Christian Council. The Justice Misra Commission said:, “…..we recommend that para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 – which originally restricted the Scheduled Caste net to the Hindus and later opened it to Sikhs and Buddhists, thus still excluding from its purview the Muslims, Christians, Jains and Parsis, etc. – should be wholly deleted by appropriate action so as to completely de-link the Scheduled Caste status from religion and make the Scheduled Castes net fully religion-neutral like that of the Scheduled Tribes.”

Posted on: July 24, 2007

 


Manual Scavengers, Victims of Caste Pyramid

From CNN-IBN

New Delhi: The focus on this week’s 30 Minutes is perhaps the most degrading practice of 21st century in India – a practice that deprives thousands of their fundamental right to live with dignity.

Meet Bhuri with her broom and a basket, every morning she makes her way to the upper caste houses in her village – Gohad in Madhya Pradesh.

Her job is to clean toilets, pick other people’s excreta. Bhuri is a manual scavenger. She has been scavenging for last 10 years soon after she got married.

Bhuri says, “I used to hate the foul smell, I used to vomit after a while I got used to it. Now it’s not a problem.”

Molded into submission Bhuri has responsibilities – the four children and a husband who barely makes enough money to keep the home fires burning. “My husband gambles and drinks. I go to work and he just drinks. Sometimes I have to beg for food to feed my children, “ Bhuri adds.

The Valmikis of Madhya Pradesh, the Bhangis of Gujarat, Pakhis in Andhra and the Sikkaliars of Tamil Nadu are all manual scavengers.

Their daily job is to pick up other people’s excreta from dry toilets using brooms and baskets. This is not something they choose to do but something they’re born into – because they are at the very bottom of the caste pyramid.

More than 50 such women in Gohad go to work with brooms and baskets every morning. They’re all from Dalit sub castes. They all got married into scavenging families. And the job came as a legacy – passed on from the mother-in-law to the daughter-in-law.

Ladkunwar, who was working as a scavenger says, “I had to do it because women in the family did it. My mother-in-law forced me into it.”

Cleaning dry toilets and manually removing human waste is a violation of human rights and dignity and a punishable offence. The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act of 1993 says – offenders can face a jail term of up to one year or fined Rs 2000.

But 15 years on, the ground reality is that this law is far from being implemented.

Valmikis don’t have too many options. If they wish to take up another occupation, it is not allowed. Born into a Valmiki family you can only become a sweeper or a scavenger.

Even a minute in this overpowering stench seems too long but thousands across the country have been doing this every morning for years now. These women go through the worse possible form of caste oppression. Even in the 21st century, caste hierarchy and untouchability prevent them from rising to any other job.

“There’s no other work for Valmikis in this village because we’re untouchable. Who will give us a respectable job?” Ladkunwar questions.

Shame comes with very little money these scavengers scrape a meager Rs 10 to Rs 20 per month from every house they clean. Come afternoon and they go back to the same houses this time scavenging for food.

Bismillah, a resident of Gohad, believes in God and in the caste-system. Picking up human waste is the domain of the downtrodden. Ironically, till some time back, Bismillah was herself discriminated against – for belonging to the minority community.

Bismillah says, “Who will clean? If the sweeper gets better work then who will do this work?”

Click here to view the IBN video on Manual Scavenging

Posted on: July 23, 2007

 


US House of Representatives Passes Historic Resolution on Untouchability

by Ben Marsh, Social Justice Coordinator, Dalit Freedom network

July 23, 2007

House Concurrent Resolution 139 (see downloadable file below) is the First Official Statement on Untouchability by US Congress

Washington, DC – The House of Representatives today passed HCR 139, “expressing the sense of the Congress that the United States should address the ongoing problem of untouchability in India,” by voice vote this afternoon.

The resolution is the first of its kind from the United States Congress. Sponsored by Congressman Trent Franks and Co-Sponsored by thirty-three leading human rights advocates in Congress including Congressman Tom Lantos, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the bill contains historic language on untouchability in India, including a lengthy findings section detailing the effects of untouchability and caste abuse on outcastes in India.

The resolution calls on the United States government to work with India to address the problem of untouchability by raising the issue of caste discrimination through diplomatic channels and encouraging US businesses, USAID, the State Department, and other US programs and organizations working in India to take every possible measure to ensure Dalits are included and are not discriminated against in their programming.

“We have seen history made in this resolution,” said Nanci Ricks, Executive Director of the Dalit Freedom Network. “This resolution should encourage all Dalits suffering under caste discrimination in India. The United State Congress has heard of the atrocities of caste and has responded. We hope that the United States Government and US businesses working in India will heed this statement by the House and will join with the Dalit Freedom Network in fighting the effects of caste across India.”

Dr. Joseph D’souza, President of the Dalit Freedom Network, praised the leadership of Congressman Franks and the many others whose active support of the Dalit cause made HCR 139 possible: “without the leadership of Members of Congress like Congressmen Franks, Wolf, Smith, Sali, Tancredo, Pitts, and Congresswoman Kilpatrick in sponsoring Dalit events, film screenings, and hearings and directing their staff to advocate on this issue with vigilance, this historic moment would have never happened. They and the many others who have worked to make this resolution a reality have earned the gratitude of millions of Dalits across India.”

The resolution will face a concurring vote from the Senate soon.

The Dalit Freedom Network’s mission is to partner with the Dalits (India’s Untouchables) in their quest for religious freedom, social justice, and human dignity by mobilizing human, informational, and financial resources.

Download House Concurrent Resolution 139

Posted on: July 23, 2007

 


Scavenging Deeply Rooted in Caste System

From CNN-IBN

New Delhi: The country has not been able to do away with the dehumanizing practice of manual scavenging because the issue is not just about poverty or lack of awareness. Manual scavenging is deeply rooted in caste and attempts to stop the practice are still resisted.

CNN-IBN travelled to another village – Navrol in Madhya Pradesh to meet Shantibai. She’s a manual scavenger and she hates her job. She has been doing this for 20 years because this is what her ancestors did.

Shantibai says, “We have been doing this for years. Our ancestors did it so we’re also doing it.”

For this work that she finds extremely repulsive, Shantibai is not even paid regularly.

“We get food grains when the crop is good. This year there was a hailstorm, what will we get?” Shantibai adds. Here in Navrol, manual scavengers are paid in kind. During harvest, they’re given food grains in exchange of an entire year of work. But many like Shantibai have not received anything in the last 2-3 years due to crop failure.

And being Valmikis, they’re at the bottom of the caste ladder and are not allowed to do any other work.

Shantibai tried her best to shrug the scavenger’s tag but people in her village wouldn’t allow ‘the untouchable’ to touch another job.

But all hope is not lost. Many have taken up the struggle against manual scavenging and the caste system and regained some of their lost dignity.

Battobai from Malanpur in Madhya Pradesh has found her lost voice. After marriage, she was forced into scavenging by her mother in law. Often locked up and denied food when she refused to work.

But last year her case was taken up by a local NGO and she successfully quit scavenging. Today she knocks doors of other scavenger women cajoling them to a better life.

Battobai says, “I tell people what will they eat in a salary of Rs 10 per month from each house? I tell them if they quit this job, they can earn up to Rs 50 a day.”

But even after quitting this work, Battobai finds that untouchability remains untouched.

“They say just because we’re not scavenging anymore we can’t become Thakurs. We will always remain Bhangis,” Battobai adds.

Ramvati also a manual scavenger gave up the disgraceful work two years ago. She’d much rather sweep the local police station than go back to cleaning other people’s toilets.

Battobai and Ramvati may have had the courage to fight the system. But activists say, even today the country has as many as 13 lakh manual scavengers.

Safai Karamchari Andolan convenor Bezwada Wilson says, “We have enough money to convert the toilets. The main problem is we want to start we actually practice untouchability everywhere. Even the civil society and the government -everybody feel that, untouchables when they are cleaning the dry latrines there’s nothing wrong because they are meant for that. They can only do these jobs.”

And sure enough the local government in Gohad, Madhya Pradesh refuses to even acknowledge the presence of manual scavengers in the area.

Gohad BJP MLA Lal Singh Arya says, “There is not a single manual scavenger in Gohad.”

So even as laws are being flouted and human rights violated, the state simply chooses to look away.

Posted on: July 23, 2007

 


Dalit Painting Expo

by a staff reporter of The Hindu

CHENNAI: Headless bodies, flames, snakes and skulls characterized the paintings at a 4-day exhibition that opened at the Lalit Kala Academi here on Thursday. Thatched houses in villages, deities and faceless women and children too abounded, seeming to reflect the angst and oppression of an entire community. Painted by 25 students from government fine arts colleges in Chennai, Puducherry and Kumbakonam, the 50 paintings reflect the students’ interaction with the villagers of Pappapatti, Keeripatti and Nattaramangalam, where the reservation system for Dalits in panchayats had failed for 10 years. The students also interacted with the widows of the Melavalavu murders of 1997. These interactions inspired the students to paint, according to P. Mohan Larbeer, Principal, Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary which along with the Dalit Resource Centre, is organizing this exhibition. This was the third time the exhibition is being held — the first two were in Madurai. The organizers plan to take it to Bangalore next.

Film editor B. Lenin said the paintings showed denial of rights to the Dalits. V. Deva Sahayam, Bishop, Church of South India, Madras Diocese, inaugurated the exhibition. R. Christodas Gandhi, Secretary to the Department of Social Reforms, participated.

Posted on: July 20, 2007

 


Reservation for Dalits: SC directs govt to take decision on recommendations of R N Misra Committee

From Indlawnews.com

AICC Editor note:

Hi Friends,

India’s Dalit Christians are once again disappointed at the hearing of Supreme Court of India on July 19 by giving 8 weeks time to Indian Government to take decision on Mrisa Commission Report on whether the Scheduled Caste origins who are converted to Christians should be given the Scheduled Caste status as it is given to Sikh and Buddhist Scheduled caste members.

Indian Churches need to answer the question asked by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan on Caste existence within Indian church. Social Scientists, Researchers, Activists have found out that caste exists within Indian church. Non scheduled caste/tribe leadership of Indian churches need to confess that caste exists within Indian church. Not to get judgment in our favor but to tell the reality.

Senior advocate Ram Jethmalani responded to Senior Shanti Bushan presentation of the case that it is political power that has kept the Dalit Christians away from Presidential Order list.

Interestingly, Additional solicitor general Gopal Subramaniam said that the matter of granting Scheduled Caste status to Dalit origins converted to Christianity must be consulted to Scheduled Caste Commission, who have actually said not in favor of Dalit Christians earlier.

“How long will the Dalit Christians’ birth, fundamental and constitutional rights be kept denial?” is the million dollar question, Indian Dalits are asking for last 57 years.

Madhu Chandra

19 July 2007

The Supreme Court has directed the central government to take a final decision within eight weeks on the recommmendations of Justice R N Misra committee recommending that benefits of SC/ST reservations should also be extended to dalits belonging to all religions including dalit christians at par with the SCs including Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists.

A counsel for the “Petitioner Organisation Centre For Public Interest Litigation” contended before the bench comprising Chief Justise K G Balakrishnan, Justices R V Raveendran and Dalveer Bhandari that the UPA government was deliberately delaying the decision on the recommendations of Rangnath Misra committee submitted to the government in May 2007.

Senior counsel Shanti Bhushan also contended before the court that only the Christain dalits are being denied the benefits SC reservation which is discriminatory and violative of Article 14 of the constitution.

After hearing the counsel and the Additional Solicitor- General appearing for the centre issued the directions when it was brought to the courts’ notice that earlier Congress and National Front government had already introduced a bill in parliament for the implementation of the long standing demands of Christians.

Posted on: July 20, 2007

 


Few takers for Dalit Christian quota at St Stephen’s

From The Delhi Newsline

New Delhi, July 18: ST Stephen’s College’s new admission policy seems to have attracted very few takers.

The policy that reserves 10 per cent of the college’s total student intake for Dalit Christians, has managed to attract just nine students to the college, which is just about two per cent of the total intake of 498 students this year.

While the total intake in the Christian category is almost 40 per cent this year, the college has not been able to fill up all 49 seats in the Dalit Christian category, with the remaining seats in the category going to the non-Dalit Christian students. This, despite the fact that the college admitted all the applicants under the Dalit Christian category, college’s media advisor Vinod Chowhdury says.

College’s cut-off list for undergraduate admissions this year offered a relaxation of 15 per cent for students coming from SC/ST and Christian categories in courses like Sanskrit, Economics, History, English, Philosophy, and BA Programme. For courses like Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, and BSc programme, Christian students were given a relaxation of 20 per cent while a 20 per cent relaxation was offered for Physics.

So, what accounts for the low number of applications under the category despite the advantage given? Chowdhury says there was very little information on the policy as it was introduced just before the college began its admission process. “Let’s be quite honest. Yes, the announcement (on the policy) was made quite late so many people didn’t quite get to know about it. Then, there was enough confusion on Dalit Christian certificates as there is no legal word on the category. But what is more important is that we admitted all applications under the Dalit Christian category,” he says.

Chowdhury admits the decision to introduce the policy from the academic year 2007-08 was “hasty” but hopes the number of applications under the category will improve next year. “Indeed in my view, some more time should have been given but to call it a failure will be unfair,” he says.

Meanwhile, contrary to the intake in the reserved category for Dalit Christian students, the admissions under the Sports quota have exceeded the prescribed 5 per cent reservation with 39 students as against 25 seats. “Students under the category are absolutely outstanding — many are international players,” he adds.

Posted on: July 20, 2007

 


Consider Dalit Muslims as SCs’

By PARUL CHANDRA

New Delhi, July 18: In what could be a political hot potato for the Centre, the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM) has recommended that both dalit Muslims and dalit Christians should be considered as belonging to the scheduled castes (SC) category. At present, neither are considered part of the scheduled castes unlike their SC counterparts who are either Sikhs or Buddhists.

The five-member commission, headed by former Chief Justice Ranganath Misra, had submitted its report to the government in May. The report, however, is yet to be made public, with the government saying it will do so only after it has been tabled in Parliament.

Significantly, the report isn’t unanimous with the commission’s member secretary, bureaucrat Asha Das (Retd), having given a dissent note.

The report has also suggested a slew of measures which it says are “legislative actions” required “in the interest of the welfare of minorities” or to implement the commission’s recommendations. Among them are the enactment of a detailed law to enforce Article 30 of the Constitution which grants minorities the right to establish and administer their educational institutions.

The commission would also like to see amendments to the National Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1993, and a “review of the laws and rules, processes and procedures, relating to selection of OBCs at the Central and state level.

It also wants a a “to clothe with statutory status and judicial enforceability the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme for minorities, 1983”. The commission was constituted in 2005 to suggest measures for the welfare of the socially and economically backward among religious and linguistic minorities. The issue of whether dalit Muslims and Christians should be considered among the scheduled castes referred to it later as an additional term of reference.

In view of this, the commission has suggested that para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes Order, 1950) which originally included only scheduled castes Hindus and later included Sikhs and Buddhists “should be wholly deleted by appropriate action so as to completely delink the scheduled caste status from religion and make the scheduled castes net fully religion neutral like that of the scheduled tribes”.

As the commission notes, “once a person has been included in a scheduled castes list, a willful change of religion on his part should not adversely affect his or her scheduled castes status, as that would in our opinion conflict with the basic constitutional provisions relating to equality, justice and non-discrimination on religious grounds as also with the spirit of the old and time-tested Caste Disabilities Removal Act of 1850.”

Also, as the report says, “any religion-based discrimination in selecting particular castes for affirmative action will conflict with the letter and the spirit of the constitutional provisions.”

Posted on: July 20, 2007

 


St. Stephen’s: education and social conscience

by Reverend Valson Thampu, Principal of St. Stephen’s College

Only 7 per cent of India ’s children in the relevant age group can afford the luxury of higher education of any sort. The discourse on 9 per cent GDP growth needs to be humanized and humbled with this corollary: who benefits from it and what needs to be done, via education, to ensure that economic development is coupled with distributive justice and human dignity?

Against the backdrop of ongoing media rumblings about the St. Stephen’s College admission guidelines for 2007-2008, Vir Sanghvi called for a national debate (Hindustan Times, July 1, 2007) on the subject. I welcome the proposed national debate for two reasons. First, what is not debated is hardly understood. “A little knowledge,” said an English poet, “is a dangerous thing.” Advocacies in partial knowledge lead us from what little light we have to greater darkness. Secondly, the culture of wholesome debate is in a state of decline at the present time. Debate is basic to democracy. The alternative to debate is violence — by which sound prevails over sense. Symptomatically, the format for debate in a popular TV Channel is named ‘Big Fight’!

What holds the field in the domain of minority rights today is the 2002 judgment of the Supreme Court of India’s 11-judge bench in T.M.A Pai Foundation & Ors. vs. the State of Karnataka and Ors. This judgment holds: To effectuate Article 30(1), minority educational institutions, while giving preference to students of that community, may admit students of non-minorities up to 50% . . .” It is thus obvious that admission from all other communities and categories to a minority educational institution should not exceed 50 per cent. This is so because, as the Supreme Court acknowledges, admissions have a shaping influence on the character of an institution. A minority institution loses its minority character when the minority community becomes a minority in that institution. Article 30(1) is meant, primarily, to enable religious and linguistic minorities to meet their educational needs.

According to the Guidelines for Admission 2007-2008, 40 per cent of the seats in St. Stephen’s are set apart for Christian applicants and an equal percentage for non-minority applicants. Both admissions are done strictly on the basis of inter se merit. Of the remaining 20 per cent of seats, 5 per cent is meant for sports admissions and the remaining 15 per cent accommodates social justice (SC/ST students). It is out of the 40 per cent seats for Christian applicants that 25 per cent (or 10 per cent of the total seats) is set apart for Dalit Christians. The admission of Christians from socially degraded backgrounds, or Christian Dalits, does not therefore affect the interest of non-minorities in any way.

Those who know St. Stephen’s College — the vision of its founding fathers in the late 19th century, its history, its traditions and, in particular, its commitment to nation-building and social transformation — will appreciate that the college wants to regain its temporarily misplaced social conscience and be a catalytic agent for activating the social and intellectual assets that remain frozen in the underprivileged segments of our society who comprise the ‘un-shining’ bulk of India’s population.

St. Stephen’s was never intended to be a bastion of prestige and privilege. It was intended to be a prophetic intervention in the unfolding destiny of India in an attitude of profound respect to the vibrancy of India ’s spiritual heritage.

St. Stephen’s was subversive of the colonial project, as is evident from the fact that at the earliest opportunity an Indian Christian (S.K. Rudra) was appointed Principal. In turn, he motivated C.F. Andrews to join Gandhiji’s struggles: first, to uphold the rights of Indians in South Africa and, later, to lead India to freedom. St. Stephen’s understands education as ‘liberation’ and not as a market-driven commodity. Arguably, it is the latter that underlies the idea of merit today.

The foremost tragedy in this country is not illiteracy. It is a system of education — from the primary level to higher and professional education — that perpetuates the status quo, aggravates social cleavages, obstructs national integration, and shuts the door on the hopes and aspirations of the poor. A veneer of legitimacy is cast over this systemic injustice with the label of ‘merit.’ Merit, as an American billionaire said some years ago, often implies little more than the accident of being “conceived in the right womb.” The time has come for us to make a distinction between ‘individual merit’ and the merit of a society. A meritorious society is one in which the hidden merit of all its members is enabled and expressed fully. Seen in this light, we are an ‘anti-merit society.’ Our very notion of merit militates against merit in the social sense. It is high time we shifted from a hierarchic to a democratic and socially pro-active idea of merit, the sort of merit that would have found favour with the Father of the Nation.

I am deeply concerned that Christian educational institutions all over the country are losing their Christian character. It needs to be stated unapologetically that the Christian engagement with the educational empowerment of India , hugely in excess of its numerical strength and economic resources, flows naturally from the genius of the biblical faith. Jesus came to “preach the good news to the poor” and to “set the captives free.” His stated goal was that all people (not just the elite) must have “life in its fullness.” God, according to Jesus, is in solidarity with the oppressed and the suffering; and being in solidarity with them is the essence of being ‘poor in the spirit,’ which, according to the Beatitudes, is the secret of blessedness.

Seeking profit and prestige via education is utterly incompatible with the soul of Christian education. It is in its vision, priorities, and purposes, and not in the syllabi, that education becomes Christian. This may seem like ‘modified communalism’ to the custodians of class and caste privilege, but those who get intimidated by this discourse become irrelevant to Christian education. Writ large over the teachings of Jesus is the ever-challenging insight that the pursuit of profit will perforce result in the denial of the poor and the forfeiture of the contextual relevance of Christian education.

I am not only a Christian; I am a law-abiding citizen, first and foremost. The dilemma I face is whether or not I am free to obey the law of the land within the matrix of prestige in education. Respect for the rule of law is, sadly, not a strong point in our society yet. Not infrequently, people showcase their clout by defying the law. The verdicts of the Supreme Court have the effect of ‘law declared.’ They are binding on citizens, regulatory authorities, and governments. As a law-abiding citizen of India , I am bound by the pronouncement of the Supreme Court of India to which I have to give effect, whether or not it humours certain lobbies.

It will be frightfully embarrassing if teachers and other self-styled custodians of excellence in education cry wolf against implementing the law of the land. Nobody has said yet that the Admission Guidelines for 2007-2008 fall foul of law. It is only assumed tacitly that the prestige of St. Stephen’s exempts it from the pronouncements of the Supreme Court regarding the rights and responsibilities vis-À-vis minority rights. That is dangerous and unacceptable.

The proposed national debate should not mistake a tree for the forest. It should not be about a few seats this way or that in St. Stephen’s. It should be about the mythology of higher education in this country and the operative socio-political consensus that conspiratorially excludes the vast majority of young men and women from the fruits of national development and material progress. Only 7 per cent of India ’s children in the corresponding age group can, as of now, afford the luxury of higher education of any sort. The discourse on 9 per cent GDP growth needs to be humanised and humbled with the corollary as to who is benefiting from it and what needs to be done, via education, to ensure that economic development is coupled with distributive justice and human dignity. “A system that enables,” wrote President Lyndon Baines Johnson in the 1960s, “a man born of a poor peasant as I was some sixty years ago to become the President of the U.S. is the system that deserves to be ranked among the best philosophies of the world.”

Let me conclude with an episode from Admissions 2007-2008, if only because this can give a human face to the proposed national debate. Looking timid but eager, a young man walked into the Principal’s office to attend the interview. From the space designated in the application form asking the applicant to state his or her interests and goals, these words stared at me: “I want to eat good food…” My heart stopped for a moment. The applicant had 76 per cent. Given his background, ‘good food,’ was the ‘object of desire’ for him. My heart whispered: “Here is the reality that needs to be at the centre of the national debate on education.”

If only St. Stephen’s could empower a few more young men and women to find food, even good food, for the stomach not less than for the mind, its motto (Ad Dei Gloriam, or To the Glory of God) would be fulfilled. If, in the process, the prestige of the institution dims a little in the short term, so be it.

Posted on: July 12, 2007

 


Ambedkar may dwarf Statue of Liberty

From The Times of India

LUCKNOW: UP chief minister Mayawati appears to be hell-bent on taking Dalit pride to new heights.

Government’s decision to demolish the Ambedkar Sports Complex has fueled speculation that she wants the area to install a statue of BR Ambedkar that would be higher than the nearly eight-story Statue of Liberty.

The UP government is already hunting for an architect who will be capable of casting Ambedkar higher than the 46.05 meter Liberty designed by French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi more than a century ago.

The country’s top architects have already been contacted and have been asked to submit their designs for building the statue.

One of the architects confirmed he had been asked to submit his designs for building a statue. He, however, refused to divulge design specifications and the cost involved fearing losing the contract.

“I am not sure whether the government has finalized as to who would be designing the statue,” the architect said, on condition of anonymity.

Sources also said that after the stadium is demolished the administration may order a private housing colony in the vicinity to be bulldozed too for Mayawati’s fanciful project. The redesigned Ambedkar Udyan would then include the above area besides the Satkar Bhawan.

A senior official in Mayawati’s secretariat denied any such move. But another government functionary said that a statue was definitely being planned there. Whether it will be on the lines of Buddha’s of Bamiyan or Statue of Liberty is unclear, he told TOI.

The lease of the land on which Satkar Bhawan, a corporate guest house, is located, was surrendered to the state government in early June. The land was leased out to the corporate major in 2003 during Mayawati’s last regime. Construction of the guest house had then cost the exchequer an estimated Rs 25 crore.

While the structure would put the state capital on world map, the expenditure on such projects would surely raise the hackles of the opposition. The chief minister is already facing a strong criticism for allotting Rs 322 crore in the state budget for renovation work in Ambedkar Udyan. It is, however, not clear whether the statue would come up from the allotted corpus or from other sources.

Mayawati’s obsession with Ambedkar Udyan has been telling on government officials. She has already suspended as many as three top government officials for their laxity in its upkeep during the three years of Samajwadi Party rule. The BSP supremo often visits the park to take stock of the renovation work.

Posted on: July 12, 2007

 


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