NGOs hail SC directive to stop Devadasi system

It’s an open secret that has come to haunt the Karnataka government again. Taking note of the Devadasi system in the state, the Apex Court recently directed the Karnataka Chief Secretary to take necessary steps to prevent women from being forced into it. In spite of a ban on the age-old system, which human rights activists term akin to slavery, Devadasi dedication is still prevalent in the country.

Traditionally, a Devadasi is a woman dedicated to the worship and service of a deity or a temple for the rest of her life, but the system is believed to have allegedly become illegal prostitution. “It’s a shameful and sad reality. The Devadasi system is still prevalent in various pockets of Karntaka. After reading an article in a newspaper about the plight of former Devadasis, I decided to make the Kannada film Thippaji Circle, which is based on the real-life story of a Devadasi named Thippaji. She had revolted against the social evil and opened a small shop to provide education to her daughters. In Chitradurga, a circle is named after her, as a mark of honour to the brave lady,” says director Aditya Chikkanna.

The film, starring Pooja Gandhi in the lead role, faced legal trouble after the family of Thippaji took objection to the subject of the film. The shoot for the film was stopped after the team received a stay order against its making. However, the case was withdrawn in January, and the director says that the film is set to release in a month’s time.

Incidentally, the system has been banned by the state government for over three decades, when the Karnataka Devadasis (Prohibition of Dedication) Act, 1982 was implemented. But members of the Mahila Abhivruddhi Matthu Samrakshana Samsthe (MASS), a society for and run by former Devadasis in Belgaum district, say that without the support of the government and society at large, the system cannot be eradicated.

Founded in 1997 by Shobha Gasti with about 2,500 members (that has now grown to about 3,600), the society aims to sustain the momentum of a project initiated by the Karnataka State Women’s Development Corporation and Bangalore-based non-governmental organization MYRADA to bring social justice and equality to Devadasis in Belgaum district.

Seethavva Jodahatti, a former Devadasi and member of MASS says that the organization has managed to stop the practice in Belgaum, and is looking to achieve the same in 10 other districts of the state.

In fact, members of MASS recently demanded that the project to rehabilitate former Devadasis be returned to them. According to reports, the project was handled by Shobha’s team at MASS between 2002 and 2010, but was later handed over to a retired Child Development Project Officer (CDPO), leading to problems in its implementation.

Shobha has been quoted as saying, “We are people who have ourselves suffered as Devadasis and best suited to ensure that the system is completely rooted out. We don’t want just economic independence. We also want our children to be treated well.”

Besides Karnataka, the Devadasi system flourishes in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. To ascertain the exact number of Devadasis in Karnataka, the women and child development department conducted a survey during 1993-94 and found that there were 22,873 Devadasis spread across 10 districts.

By: Maitreyee Boruah
Times of India -directive-to-stop-Devadasi-system/articleshow/30500056.cms

Posted on: February 19, 2014


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).

Posted on: December 31, 2013


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 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


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, 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


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 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 (, 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 (, 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.


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.


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.


“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.


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:

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 (, 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


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


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:

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 (, 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 28, 2008


India’s Supreme Court speaks out on discrimination

Original legal correspondence from The Hindu.

The Supreme Court has deprecated the practice of upper castes denigrating the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and said “this is a disgrace to our country.”

“Our Constitution provides for equality which includes special help and care for the oppressed and weaker sections who have been historically downtrodden. The SC/ST communities in our opinion are also equal citizens, and are entitled to a life of dignity in view of Article 21 of the Constitution as interpreted by this court,” said a Bench consisting of Justices Altamas Kabir and Markandey Katju.

The Bench was dealing with a criminal appeal whether the use of the word `Chamar’ (an SC name) was an offence attracting the provisions of The Scheduled Castes and The Schedules Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

Writing the judgment, Justice Katju said: “In the age of democracy, no people and no community should be treated as being inferior. However, the truth is that in many parts of our country persons belonging to the SC/ST are oppressed, humiliated and insulted. This is a disgrace to our country.”

The Bench said: “The caste system is a curse on our nation and the sooner it is destroyed the better. In fact, it is dividing our country at a time when we must all be united as Indians if we wish to face the gigantic problems confronting us – poverty, unemployment, price rise, corruption, etc. The 1989 Act is a salutary legislative measure in that direction.”

The Bench said: “In this connection, it may be mentioned that in America to use the word `nigger’ today for an African-American is regarded as highly offensive and is totally unacceptable, even if it was acceptable 50 years ago. In our opinion, even if the word `Chamar’ was not regarded as offensive at one time in our country, today it is certainly a highly offensive word when used in a derogatory sense to insult and humiliate a person. Hence, it should never be used with that intent.

“In our opinion, calling a member of the Scheduled Caste `Chamar’ with intent to insult or humiliate him in a place within public view is certainly an offence under Section 3(1) (x) of the Act. Whether there was intent to insult or humiliate [a person] by using the word `Chamar’ will, of course, depend on the context in which it was used.”

In the instant case, a case was registered by Vinod Nagar, working as a driver, alleging that Delhi-based Swaran Singh, his wife and daughter insulted him, calling him `Chuda-Chamar.’ The Delhi High Court rejected the appellants’ plea to quash the framing of charge and the present appeal is directed against this judgment. The Bench said: “In a country like ours with so much diversity – so many religions, castes, ethnic and lingual groups, etc. – all communities and groups must be treated with respect, and no one should be looked down upon as inferior. That is the only way we can keep our country united.”

The Bench held that a prima facie case had been made out against Singh’s wife and daughter to proceed further with the trial, but not against him, first appellant.

Posted on: August 20, 2008


Indian Americans divided over invitation to Narendra Modi

Original article from

The Indian American groups across the United States are sharply divided over invitation sent to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to attend the second world Gujarati conference to be held in New Jersey.

While some organizations are working behind the scene mounting pressure on the US government to grant him visa to attend the meet, the coalition against genocide, an umbrella organization of some 25 bodies, has written a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking her to deny visa to the Chief Minister.

The invitation was sent by the Association of Indian Americans in North America (AIANA), organizers of the meet, but its President Sunil Nayak had said issuance of visa is a matter between American authorities and Modi. However, he had expressed the hope that Modi would be able to attend the three-day conference beginning from Aug 29 in which some 50,000 Gujaratis from the world over are expected to participate.

Modi was denied visa to the Gujarati conference in 2005 in view of anti-Muslim riots in the state for which some organisations had blamed him but he did talk to the delegates and press through a video link.

In its letter to Rice, the coalition against genocide requested her not to allow Modi to enter the United States “under any conditions” as, it said, circumstances under which he was denied visa earlier remain “largely unchanged” and “minority communities in the state continue face systematic human rights violations.”

“Modi has not only expressed no remorse for the 2002 violence; but he has continued to justify them, as he has a spate of extra judicial killings by his police. And, the state continues to persecute civil society groups who have been trying to speak up for the victims under very difficult circumstances,” said the letter.

The United States should not “unwittingly be the platform from which these unrepentant and yet ascendant forces in India exploit the opportunity to rally the support base among Indian diaspora communities and raise international legitimacy and standing,” it said.

It would be “dangerous” at this juncture of Indian political process to give Modi that “long denied and therefore much coveted window.” “As recently as April 2008, Modi enacted the anti-conversion law in Gujarat that effectively bars religious conversions, thereby crippling the provisions of religious freedom in the state,” the letter released by the coalition said.

Not only Modi, it said, was responsible for the death of over 2,000 Muslims and the displacement of 200,000 more, but “six years after the Gujarat-state sponsored violence, the Muslim community in Gujarat is subjected to a devastating economic and social boycott, institutionalized at every level.”

“Most have received little, if no compensation for the deaths of loved ones and loss of property; thousands are still displaced, without homes, work, or access to decent schools for their children. At the level of the courts too, Muslims in Gujarat have received little justice, barring a few exceptions; and the few that have managed to push their cases forward have met with threats, physical harm and harassment,” the letter alleged.

“Noting the prejudice extending at every level of the state apparatus, the supreme court ordered cases related to the 2002 massacres to be moved out of gujarat,” it said.

The organizations which signed on the letter include alliance for a secular and Democratic South Asia (ASDSA), Association of Indian Muslims of America (AIM), Campaign to Stop Funding Hate (CSFH), Coalition for a Secular and Democratic India (CSDI), Dalit Freedom Network (DFN), Dharma Megha inc, Gujarati Muslim Association of America (GMAA), Hindu Vaishnava Center for Enlightenment, India Foundation Inc, Indian Buddhist Association, Indian Muslim Council-USA (IMC-USA), Indian Muslim Educational Foundation of North America (IMEFNA), and Sikh American Heritage Organization (SAHO).

The conference would highlight business, culture, education and family values and would provide an opportunity to companies there to showcase their products and plans for possible business tie-ups.

Posted on: July 3, 2008


The Outsiders

Original article from 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

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.

(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.

(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.

(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

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.

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

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
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.

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.

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.


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.


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

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.


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

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

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


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.

(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: and

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 (, 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:

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:

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 (, 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:

Posted on: January 8, 2008


Fact Finding Report by aicc Orissa Chapter

Posted on: January 7, 2008


Educating India’s Untouchables

On the outskirts of Secunderabad, Pipe Village is home to a community of Dalits, India’s ‘untouchable’ caste. Here, behind the factory in which many of them are forced to work as bonded labourers, concrete drainage pipes and bushes form the structural basis of one of the world’s poorest villages. Peter Hodge went to visit the community and talk to members of Operation Mercy, an organisation dedicated to bringing hope and enlightment to India’s most underprivileged class

Original story at The Guardian
Wednesday January 2nd 2008
By Peter Hodge

The village is mostly empty when I arrive, escorted by Binu Varghese and Bright Ericherla who work for Operation Mercy Charitable Company, created to address the need for Dalit education. A few women and toddlers emerge to greet the strangers. The industrial clatter in the background indicates that the men are hard at work, most of them virtual slaves until their debts are repaid. If any of them run away a family member will be forced to take their place.

Most of the “untouchables” who live in this village accept their fate; their status in the Indian social system, sanctioned by the Hindu religion, has been drummed into them their whole life.

“They are exposed to everything here,” says Binu, who is the Human Resource Officer for the 67 schools run by OMCC, as he leads me through the tidy village. The Dalits here live in pipes. Most of the pipes are about 1.5 metres in diameter; a number have mud-brick extensions and doorways fashioned from scrap wood and metal. The smaller pipes are only 75cm in diameter and the tenants must crawl on their hands and knees to enter. On a corrugated iron sheet that forms the side of one of the houses, letters of the English alphabet are scrawled. A young boy, using a stick as his pointer, runs through the list for us from start to finish.

There are no toilets in the Pipe Village, only bushes populated by snakes and wild dogs. The factory allows the villagers to draw water from its tap, and once provided electricity – until it was discovered that the villagers were “abusing” it to watch television and listen to radios.

Bright, a Dalit himself, is the community development organiser for families and villages connected with the local school. Unlike many Indians – even those who have converted to other religions – Binu doesn’t know what caste he is.

Operation Mercy has earned the trust of the villagers, and so I feel welcome in the Pipe Village. The factory owners, however, would have been less than pleased to learn of our visit. Moses Vattipalli, who compiles records of abuses against Dalits for the All India Christian Council, tells me that the rate of abuses is often higher in regions where Dalits are making the most progress.

“These people don’t know how to read or write,” says Jose MD, of OMCC. “They never read a newspaper, and they don’t know what programmes exist.” Illiteracy and the prejudice of other castes have meant that Dailts were never able to lean on the Indian legal system. “Many people don’t know how to file a case,” Jose MD explains. “Even if they go to the police they wouldn’t know how to fill out a form.” OMCC sends lawyers into communities like the Pipe Village to educate residents about how the justice system can work for them.

I am taken to the stonecutter’s village on the edge of a quarry. Here, also, most of the men are bonded labourers. Stone shards shower down on the village when blasting is taking place. As this village is situated on government land, Operation Mercy has been able to install several sanitation blocks with septic tanks. They are kept in immaculate condition by the villagers.

OMCC has set up a tailoring school in the village for the young girls. Skills-training is vitally important for Dalits, Jose asserts. “If an investor comes from Australia, where are they going to put their money? My people are not skilled. How are they going to produce anything?” Without an employable skill, Dalits can’t even hope to find work in a big city. It is hoped that these girls, proudly displaying their portfolios of garments to me, will soon be in a position to sell their products.

Successes such as these have encouraged OMCC to embark on many different skills-training projects. One unit assembles solar panels; another trade is carpentry; along with marketing skills to help villagers sell their finished products. Many of the projects are for women, who are easy to reach in the villages and, after they are trained, are able to provide a second income stream for their families.

The organisation tries not to impose too many rules and regulations. “Many people have seasonal jobs,” says Jose. “They say: ‘When the next season comes we’ll pay.’” It is the responsibility of the whole community to repay loans, and almost 87% of the funds borrowed are repaid, according to Jose. “Once you become a boss and start telling them what to do, it doesn’t work in any community,” he says. “Each village has its own culture, its own nature. We ask them what they think and what they want us to do. They come and say: ‘No, this will not work, this is the way…’”

imageLater I visit the Good Shepherd School in Logos Bhavan, the centre where OMCC and its partner, the Dalit Freedom Network, have their offices. Bright takes me from class to class, where I see neatly attired students, happy, just a little cheeky, and almost completely engaged with their learning tasks. Here, children from the Pipe Village are learning about new possibilities. They are granted “the power to dream”, as Binu puts it, that their parents were denied. This generation of young Dalits, particularly those reached by organisations like OMCC, will not be so submissive to their fate.

Donate to the Pipe Village Toilet Project by clicking here.

Posted on: January 4, 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 (, 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


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 (, 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 (, 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 ( 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:

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


World Vision Report: Interview with Nanci Ricks

image When Nanci Ricks went on a church mission trip to India she was stunned by the treatment of the Dalits. They are the so-called “untouchables”—people born to a life of dehumanizing jobs and substandard living conditions as dictated by the Hindu caste system. Many are routinely abused. Ricks tells host Peggy Wehmeyer she came home to Colorado and formed the Dalit Freedom Network. It’s a non-profit organization that works to provide healthcare, economic development, and public advocacy to free the Dalits from a life of modern slavery. Listen to the 6 minute interview by clicking here.

Posted on: September 6, 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


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


Indian low-caste Hindus, nomads convert en masse

Reuters by By Krittivas Mukherjee

imageAbout 50,000 Indian low-caste Hindus and nomadic tribespeople converted to Buddhism before a vast crowd on Sunday in the hope of escaping the rigidity of the ancient Hindu caste system and finding a life of dignity.

Monks in orange and saffron robes administered religious vows to the converts as about half a million spectators, mostly Buddhists, cheered the ceremony at a horseracing track in downtown Mumbai.

Some of the converts were low-caste Hindus once considered as “untouchables” by the higher castes, but most were members of India’s numerous nomadic tribes.

Many of the tribespeople had their faces painted and ritually flagellated themselves before being asked by the monks to give up their practices and follow the non-violent path of Buddhism.

“Whatever may have been your religion until now, from today you will take refuge in the teachings of the Lord Buddha,” one told them. Continue reading by clicking here.

Posted on: May 29, 2007


India’s Bishops Praise U.S. Proposal on Castes

Resolution Decries Plight of Untouchables

MUMBAI, India, Read full article in Zenit News Agency – The World seen from Rome archives for MAY 15, 2007 – The bishops of India welcomed a resolution placed before the U.S. Congress that asked the lawmaking body to encourage an end to India’s caste system.

Republican Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona introduced the resolution May 2. In his presentation he called on “the Indian government and the world community to look with compassion upon India’s untouchables and reach out to one of the most oppressed peoples on earth.’’

In his address to the members of Congress, Franks called the caste system an “abhorrent form of persecution and segregation” that is particularly harsh on India’s Dalits—members of the “untouchable” caste—especially Dalit women.

“This Congress,” Franks argued, “must urge an end to the social discrimination and injustice faced by the nearly 250 million people known as Dalits in India.”

Franks told ZENIT why he brought this issue to light now: “The plight of the ‘untouchables’ in India is truly one of the most critical human rights issues of our time.

“Millions of these individuals are regarded as less than human and live in some of the most wretched conditions known to humanity.

“We are compelled by the unalienable truth that all men are created equal to contend for the rights of the poor and the oppressed, and it is to that end that I have and will continue to stress the urgency of the Dalits’ cause to Congress and to the world.”

Indian response

Although the resolution has not been adopted, AsiaNews reported that the Catholic bishops’ conference of India expressed its gratitude that the issue was brought to public attention.

Father Arokiaraj Cosmon, the executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Dalits, explained the tragic nature of the caste system, highlighted in the resolution.

“Dalits’ conditions are well-known both at home and abroad,” the priest said. “They are economically and socially ostracized, denied equal access to education and political life.

“Out of 250 million of them, there are 16 million who are twice as penalized because they are Christian.”

“Most violence visited upon Dalits affects women,” Father Cosmon continued. “They cannot report crimes, especially sex crimes, or ask for police assistance because what they say is not taken into consideration.

“Most lawyers and police officers come from the upper castes and are not well disposed towards victims.”

Still, Father Cosmon insisted that education could aid the plight of the untouchables: “While Dalit women are the most vulnerable group in society, if they can get an education and become aware of their rights, they will be better placed to educate their entire family and contribute to the necessary social and economic empowerment of all Dalits.”

Posted on: May 23, 2007


Panel Tells India’s Government a Dalit’s Faith Should Not Affect Assistance

NEW DELHI, INDIA – May 22, 2007: The National Commission for Religious & Linguistic Minorities’ oft-delayed report was released and the findings could drastically change life for India’s Dalit (formerly called “untouchables”) community. If the government accepts the Commission’s recommendations, decades of religious-based discrimination against the lowest-strata in India’s society will be reversed.

The Commission said a clause in a 1950 law should be dropped to delink status from religion. The clause had restricted government benefits to Scheduled Castes who are Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist. The Commission’s decision was based on a two-year study of the socio-economic and educational condition of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims.

The Supreme Court of India has repeatedly postponed judgments on cases brought by a Dalit Christian and a Dalit Muslim while the report was pending. The plaintiffs had asked for Scheduled Caste status. Scheduled Caste status brings special government benefits to Indians from Dalit, tribal, and low-caste background such as reserved places in education institutions and government jobs.

Dr. Joseph D’souza, International President, Dalit Freedom Network, said, “Finally, the Mishra Commission Report is before India’s Prime Minister and the government. It calls for Dalit Christian and Muslim reservation which was denied since the Order of 1950. It is high time that the government of India reverses the 1950 law which discriminated against Dalits on the basis of religion.”

The “Constitution (Scheduled Caste) Order” of 1950 only awarded government benefits to Hindus. It was later amended to included Sikhs and Buddhists in 1956 and 1990, respectively.

The Misra Commission (, a five-member commission under the chairmanship of retired Supreme Court Justice Ranganath Misra, was appointed by the government in March 2005 and officially called the National Commission for Religious & Linguistic Minorities. Its mandate was to examine criteria for defining “backwardness” among people of Scheduled Caste origin who had converted to religions other than Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. It was to suggest necessary constitutional, legal and administrative changes. Its tenure, originally for six months, had been repeatedly extended to May 15, 2007. The report was submitted and has now become public.

“We are one step closer to justice for all Dalits. It is our hope that the Government does not come up with any more delay tactics at the next hearing of the Supreme Court case brought by a Dalit Christian scheduled for July 19th,” said D’souza.

The Supreme Court of India hearing, which has already been postponed multiple times, was most recently delayed on April 3, 2007. The case was originally filed in 2004.

The case asks the Indian government to restore Scheduled Caste status to Dalit Christians and thereby allow them to receive national government benefits guaranteed them by the Indian Constitution. There is a similar case filed by a Dalit Muslim.

Hindu Nationalists, including most upper-caste communities, have opposed the restoration of Scheduled Caste status to all Dalits. They argued that it would encourage religious conversions of Hindus since exclusion of Dalit converts from Scheduled Caste benefits acted as a deterrent. Indeed, one of the five panel members, Ms. Asha Das, issued a dissenting opinion and said that giving Scheduled Caste status to Christians and Muslims would amount to inserting caste in religions which don’t recognize caste.

However, various studies conducted by the Misra Commission involving leading social scientists, politicians, and academicians indicated that Dalits continue to suffer caste-based discrimination, irrespective of their religion. In particular, Dalit Christians – even after their conversion – suffer social discrimination and remain in the same educational and economic condition as before.

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.

For more information, contact:

Ben Marsh, Washington D.C. Coordinator, Dalit Freedom Network

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

(703) 974-1243

Posted on: May 22, 2007


Indian News Captures Violent Attacks on Christians

For immediate release

May 14, 2007

Indian News Captures Violent Attacks on Christians

Attacks Prompt National Appeal to Congress Party for Protection and Justice

Two recent attacks on Christian leaders were captured by television film crews and have appeared on national news in the past week. The attacks have prompted a letter from Dr. Joseph D’Souza, president of the Dalit Freedom Network and the All India Christian Council, and other prominent Christian leaders to appeal to the Congress party for protection for Christians and justice for those who have been attacked.

In the first attack, Pastor Walter Masih was beaten in his small house in Jaipur, Rajasthan following his Sunday morning service. He was hit repeatedly by Hindu youth as his daughter cowered behind a door on April 29, 2007. Video of this attack is available here:

In the second attack, two priests were beaten by a mob of Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal, a Hindu nationalist organization, on May 8, 2007. Claiming that the priests were trying to convert local Hindus, the mob beat the priests and then carried them to a local police station to register charges against them under anti-conversion legislation. The police detained the priest but took not action against the mob who had beaten them. Video of the attack is available here:

Dr. D’Souza commented on these attacks in his letter:

“These images should have seared the conscience of the nation, but they have invited nothing more than a smug silence from all governments—the Congress chief minister in Maharashtra to the BJP chief minister in Rajasthan…. There is little doubt now that Hindutva extremists are running a series of planned attacks against the Christian community for over a year now.

The intensity of these attacks is increasing.”

The attacks are seemingly part of a push by Hinduthva (nationalist Hindu) organizations to use violence and oppression as a means of growing support for the BJP party in coming elections. After losing six seats in the recent election, many BJP supporters have called on the party to again focus solely on a Hinduthva agenda of anti-conversion and anti-Christian and Muslim violence.

Dr. D’Souza’s letter openly criticizes the Congress-rules government for not doing enough to protect Christian who supported the party in national elections. He writes:

“The fault indeed squarely lies with the Central Government which was voted to power by Dalits, minorities and the majority poor who hoped that the new UPA Government would at least insist upon the rule of the law and protect the minorities and Dalits. The lack of protection is all the more painful as the vast majority of Christian workers and communities in north India are Dalits, tribals or from the most backward castes. These are the communities which are bearing the brunt of the attacks.”

The full text of the letter is reprinted below.

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:

Letter text:

Hon’ble Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India

PMO, South Block

Central Secretariat, New Delhi


Mrs. Sonia Gandhi

President, Indian National Congress / Chairperson, UPA

10, Janpath, New Delhi

May 14, 2007

Dear leaders of the Indian Nation:

You must have been busy in the elections in Uttar Pradesh, but surely you would have seen television images of large mobs brutalising Christian pastors in various parts of the country this last fortnight. I wonder if you noticed the glee with which people in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, smashed their fists into the stomach of a helpless Tamil pastor on May 8. Others in the same mob proudly told the camera they were from Hindutva groups even as they rained blows at the head of the second pastor. Did you notice Pastor Walter Masih in his small house in Jaipur, Rajasthan, being hit repeatedly by lathi-bearing youth as his wide-eyed daughter cowered behind a door on April 29? The child is still traumatised. As, indeed, is the Christian community in India.

These images should have seared the conscience of the nation, but they have invited nothing more than a smug silence from all governments—the Congress chief minister in Maharashtra to the BJP chief minister in Rajasthan. In Madhya Pradesh, the women raped for being Christians on May 28, 2006, have wept in silence, even the police and TV refusing to listen to them.

There is little doubt now that Hindutva extremists are running a series of planned attacks against the Christian community for over a year now.

The intensity of these attacks is increasing.

Their own leaders have encouraged them to further violence by word, statement and support. Sadly, there has been no voice in authority which would discourage them; much less to caution them of punishment under the law of the land.

The deafening silence of the UPA Government in New Delhi when anti-conversion laws were passed in Gujarat and Rajasthan, and more recently by the Congress run Government in Himachal Pradesh, has in fact served as a tonic to the killer gangs and their hate-mongering leaders.

These anti-conversion laws demonise the Christian community as much as Muslims are elsewhere identified as ‘anti-national’ in the Hindutva propaganda. The present violence against Christian community in general, and pastors and priests in particular, takes us back to the dark days of 1998-2000 of the mass violence against Gujarat Christians and the brutal Orissa murder of Graham Stuart Staines and his young sons Philip and Timothy.

There is not a day but my colleagues in the All India Christian Council report anti-Christian violence from Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Karnataka and sadly, also from Andhra, Maharashtra and Himachal, the last three in control of the Congress. The most heinous of them all is sexual violence against Christian women, particularly in Orissa and Madhya Pradesh.

We fear this overwhelming cloud of hate and violence has in it the seeds of a much tragedy in the future. I hope and pray it will not lead to a massacre of my community possibly in some distant village area or in a Christian compound.

It is not enough for the Central Government to say that law and order is a State subject, while remaining a mute spectator of the violence against the micro minority Christian community. In all this violence, the community has never retaliated or taken recourse to any form of violence. There never has been a communal riot involving Christians anywhere in the country.

Chief Ministers of the concerned states, whatever be their political identity, cannot absolve themselves of responsibility in this tragic environment of hate and violence. The blame for the state of affairs lies squarely also on the Union Home Ministry in New Delhi which time and again has received complaints from bodies like the All India Christian Council and the All India Catholic Union.

What has the Union Home Ministry done about the violence against tribal Christians in Madhya Pradesh, in Chhattisgarh, in Rajasthan, and in Gujarat in the last six months? What has the Home Ministry done about the recent attack on Pastor Masih in Rajasthan or the workers in Kolhapur? What is it doing about the consistent attacks against the tribal Christians in Orissa?

The fault indeed squarely lies with the Central Government which was voted to power by Dalits, minorities and the majority poor who hoped that the new UPA Government would at least insist upon the rule of the law and protect the minorities and Dalits. The lack of protection is all the more painful as the vast majority of Christian workers and communities in north India are Dalits, tribals or from the most backward castes. These are the communities which are bearing the brunt of the attacks.

It is not too late. We feel the situation can be retrieved, the marauding mobs contained, and tragedy averted, if the Union government were to:

1. Repeal the anti-conversion law in Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh just as Chief Minister Karunanidhi revoked the anti-conversion law in Tamil Nadu as these laws legitimise demonising of the Christian community.

2. Issue statutory notices to State Governments, and especially the Governments of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh to give protection to Christian places of worship and Christian priests.

3. Book the perpetrators of hate crimes and violence against the Christians under the Indian Penal Code and deal strictly with them.

We are proud of India’s democratic traditions, and the Freedom of Faith it has nurtured since Siddhartha became Gautama Buddha. Independent India has codified the same tradition in its Constitution.

It is not too much that we seek as Citizens of India. Let there be rule of law, and let the Constitution prevail in every state of the Country.

God bless you


Dr Joseph D’souza
All India Christian Council

For more information, contact:

Ben Marsh, Washington D.C. Coordinator, Dalit Freedom Network

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

(703) 974-1243

Posted on: May 14, 2007


UK Parliament Debates Caste in Westminster Hall

For immediate release

May 10, 2007

UK Parliament Debates Caste in Westminster Hall

House of Commons Debate Witnessed by Dalit Family

The British House of Commons yesterday debated the ongoing problem of Caste oppression and Untouchability facing India’s Dalit and Tribal people. The debate lasted well over an hour and was initiated by Stephen Crabb M.P. (Preseli Pembrokeshire) and joined by several Members of Parliament from different parties. The debate included discussion on the recent atrocities at Khairlanji, exploitation of labor, and anti-conversion legislation. The debate, held to inquire specifically about the UK Government’s response to the Caste system, received an uninspired response from The Minister for Europe, Geoffrey Hoon.

The debate was attended by Sam Paul, a Dalit activist from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India, and his family. “It is inspiring to see these respected Members of Parliament to confront a problem that has hurt the Dalits for centuries,” said Mr. Paul. “The issue was very well debated and, though it is not an inherently British problem, I am glad to see the Parliament raise the issue as a friend of India. I hope the UK Government will raise this issue with British businesses in India so that they might hire and train Dalits and give support to Dalit small businesses and NGOs.”

Westminster Hall debates are a forum for Members of Parliament to raise direct questions with the Government on specific issues. This debate on Caste is the first of its kind in Westminster Hall.

Full text of the debate is available here: 50819000003

For more information, contact:

Ben Marsh, Washington D.C. Coordinator, Dalit Freedom Network

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

(703) 974-1243

Posted on: May 10, 2007


Stephen Crabb MP: Caste and Human Rights in India

imageFrom the, May, 2007

Stephen Crabb MP is the new Chairman of the Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission.

On 29th September last year the wife, daughter and two sons of Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, from the village of Khairlanji in the Indian state of Maharashtra, were dragged from their home and lynched in broad daylight.

After being bludgeoned to death by a mob, their mutilated bodies were dumped in a nearby canal. The female family members are believed to have been gang-raped before being murdered.

At the heart of this horrific case was a property dispute fuelled by a toxic mix of caste-based jealousy and prejudice. The killing of these Dalits, and the apathetic response by local police, led to violent protests and the case continues to receive attention from international human rights groups and media.

In February, while on a human rights visit to India with CSW, I was taken to Khairlanji by a group of Buddhist activists who had helped to disseminate information about the massacre in the first days after the event. I later met Bhotmange, now living under police protection, who fears that justice will never be served on those who murdered his family.

Khairlanji represents just one example of the systemic caste-based human rights abuse which still exists in India today, despite a constitutional and legal framework in which “untouchability” is abolished.

During my brief visit in February I was presented with a wide range of evidence of continuing discrimination against Dalits in the fields of education, employment, and access to health services and justice.

On virtually any statistical measure one can choose – literacy, malnutrition, infant mortality, sexual violence – Dalits fare much worse than the national average. Furthermore, Dalits are overwhelmingly the victims of bonded labour and human trafficking, two of the most serious forms of modern slavery.

In March the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission held a hearing in Parliament which took oral evidence directly from a delegation of Dalit representatives visiting the UK.

Last Tuesday we sought to present this evidence to Foreign Office Minister Geoff Hoon MP in a debate where I found myself being supported by the likes of Jeremy Corbyn MP in calling for the Government to use our friendship with India to help bring justice to India’s 200 million Dalits.

The importance of our relations with India is recognised on both sides of the House of Commons. I have previously argued in Parliament for a stronger trading relationship between the UK and India.

But the pursuit of close economic and political relations must not mean that we remain neutral on issues of caste. As Thomas Friedman says, globalisation has created a world which is now flat. India’s increasing global reach, through its trade and diaspora, means that it should expect the international community to take an interest in the condition of Dalits.

India is a beautiful and wonderfully diverse nation; it is also a truly remarkable liberal democracy. When we speak of human rights issues in India we are talking about a fundamentally different set of issues than those associated with the authoritarian regimes of Burma and North Korea.

In India there is a freedom to debate the issue of caste and an increasingly critical media which is responding to the new aspirations and values of young Indians.

Last December Prime Minister Manmohan Singh became the first sitting Indian prime minister to openly acknowledge the parallel between the practice of “untouchability” and apartheid in South Africa, describing it as a “blot on humanity”.

I am hugely optimistic about India’s future. But the societies that are likely to do best in the 21st century are those in which the conditions of freedom and social mobility are maximized.

Caste-based discrimination, which constrains the life chances of more than 200 million people, must have no place in the new India.

Posted on: May 7, 2007


Congressman Trent Franks Introduces Resolution on Untouchability

Washington, DC – Congressman Trent Franks today introduced an historic resolution on Untouchability in the United States House of Representatives. The resolution, when passed, will be the first official statement of Congress that Untouchability is an unacceptable practice in any modern democracy and that the United States Congress should do all within its power to ensure American Business and the United States Government are not discriminating against Dalits in their programs, hiring, and funding. The resolution was introduced on the 200th anniversary of the enactment of William Wilberforce-sponsored bill abolition the cross-Atlantic slave trade in the United Kingdom.

imageThe resolution was introduced shortly after a briefing with the Congressional Human Rights Caucus entitled Untouchables: The Plight of Dalit Women with testimony from DFN Executive Director Nanci Ricks; Joseph D’Souza, International President of the DFN; Kumar Swamy, South India Director of the All India Christian Council; Smita Narula, Executive Director of the Center for Global Human Rights and Global Justice at the New York University School of Law; and T. Kumar, Advocacy Director Asia & Pacific, Amnesty International.

imageThe testimonies were both moving and informative, as Mrs. Ricks highlighted the dehumanization facing Dalit women from before birth into their adult lives, Ms. Narula covered the systematic discrimination facing Dalit women at the national, state, and local levels in all areas of life, Mr. Kumar delved into the root causes of Untouchability and potential solutions, Dr. D’Souza spoke of Dalit girl sex trafficking and recent examples of violence against Dalit girls, and Mr. Swamy spoke of his experience as a Dalit in India and the violence he has personally seen perpetrated on Dalit women.

The speakers were unanimous in calling for a swift response from the Unites States Government. In particular, each called on the United State Congress to pass the resolution dealing with Untouchability introduced by Congressman Franks. Moreover, they called on US businesses to allocate jobs and training to Dalits, especially Dalit women, and to ensure that Dalits and low-caste people do not face discrimination in the workplace or in hiring. The panelists also highlighted the need for education for Dalit girls across India to afford them greater economic opportunity.

imageFollowing the briefing, Rep. Franks introduced the resolution with thirteen original cosponsors from across the political spectrum. In a moving speech, he called on his fellow Members of Congress to focus on “an ancient and particularly abhorrent form of persecution and segregation in one of America’s closest allies.” Echoing the December 27th, 2006 words of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he likened the Caste system in India to Apartheid in South Africa and called on the United States Congress to join with him in raising the issue with the Indian Government.

The resolution and briefing arrive following a flurry of action in the United Kingdom and in the European Union on the issue of Untouchability. Last month, the UK House of Lord and House of Commons took up the issue in a public debate while the Conservative Human Rights Commission held a groundbreaking hearing on Untouchability. In February, the European Union passed a resolution on Untouchability which called on the government of India to drastically improve its response to the egregious human rights violations caused by Caste and Untouchability.

“We are in the midst of a worldwide movement,” commented Dr. D’Souza following the briefing. “The world is just now awakening to the oldest and largest human rights atrocity. Now is the time for action, and we call on others to join with leaders like Congressman Franks in calling for movement by the United States Government and other world governments.”

For more information, contact:

Ben Marsh, Washington D.C. Coordinator, Dalit Freedom Network

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

(703) 974-1243

For immediate release

May 1, 2007

Posted on: May 2, 2007


1000 American High School Students Learn About Caste Discrimination and the Dalits

For Immediate Release from the Dalit Freedom Network.

image In American public high schools, the caste system is India is briefly studied and given only cursory attention. However, in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, over 1000 high school students at ThunderRidge High School (TRHS) attended a Dalit Awareness Day Assembly where speakers from the Dalit Freedom Network (DFN) gave a detailed report on the horrors of modern day apartheid. The 1st annual Dalit Awareness Day was instrumented by Elle Sweeney, a senior at ThunderRidge, as her Senior Project.

Elle, 18 years old, came up with the idea after visiting India with her mother, a physician, in 2002. They had traveled to Orissa to put on a medical camp sponsored by the Operation Mobilization India. There she first noticed the inequalities that were part of the Indian culture and it remained ingrained in her memories. Her mother has gone back every year since then and her father is one of the founding board members and current Director of Operations of the US-based Dalit Freedom Network. When it came time to come up with an idea for her required senior project at ThunderRidge High School, it was a not hard for her to decide.

“I knew about the Dalits firsthand and the suffering that they encounter in their everyday lives in India”, said Elle. “I also knew that 99% of my fellow students had not even heard the word ‘Dalit’ and most of the teachers also were not informed of the plight of the Dalits. I knew I wanted to do something to raise awareness at TRHS. No one had any idea that there are over 250 million Dalits being oppressed on a daily basis” She lobbied and got permission from the school administration to hold a Dalit Awareness Day with an all-school assembly.

The all-school assembly was optional for students and teachers to attend and Elle worked hard to promote and advertise the event. “I began three weeks before the assembly date and sent all the teachers a ‘Save the Date’ postcard with the photos of Dalit children on it. Two weeks before the assembly, I gave all 135 teachers a clay cup, the symbol that DFN uses as reminder of the discrimination in India. The week of the assembly, I emailed every teacher with the recent article from India about the upper-caste teacher sprinkling ‘gomutra’ or cow’s urine on 20 Dalit children. That really hit home for the teachers at TRHS.’ She also placed three photo-exhibits on the walls of the hallways of the school.

Still Elle was worried that no one might come.

imageWhen the time for the assembly came around, to Elle’s relief and amazement, almost the entire student body of TRHS came to the gymnasium for the assembly. “I almost cried”, said Elle. She fought back the tears to introduce the two speakers, Nanci Ricks, the Executive Director of DFN, and Moses Parmar, a leading Dalit activist from India. The students and teachers listened intently to a detailed explaination of the caste system given by Mrs. Ricks followed by first-hand stories of Dalit atrocities given by Mr. Parmar.

“I had never even heard of the Dalits,” said Kristin Gundy, 18 years old and a senior student, “And I can’t believe the world is letting this happen today.”

“I’m going to sponsor a Dalit child to go to school,” promised Anna Bird, 14 years old and a 9th grader.

Many teachers remarked how this would influence their teaching of the Hindu caste system and Indian society. They were grateful to have the speakers come and most importantly, were amazed at how intently the students at the assembly listened. “We went back to our classroom and had a discussion for the next 45 minutes on the Dalits”, said Mr. Jim Dollaghan, a social studies teacher.

Elle closed the assembly by saying, “We live in Highlands Ranch and take for granted that we can eat where ever we want, drink out of any cup that we want, go to school without discrimination, and get any kind of job that we can dream about. It is good for us to know that there are millions in this world who don’t have these rights. I hope that you all don’t forget what you heard here today and choose to do something about it.” Elle hopes to pursue a career working in Human Rights issues, perhaps in law.

For information about having a Dalit Awareness Day at your school or work, please contact the Dalit Freedom Network at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or calling 866-221-1333

Posted on: April 29, 2007


Ambedkar Jayanti - Students in India honor him by studying for 18 hours

Pia Chandavarkar in the Pune Newsline.

Pune, April 13: He spent his whole life learning, soaking in knowledge to empower his community. Today, revolutionary Dalit leader Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s inspiring message of shika, sanghatit vha, aani sangharsha kara (get educated, unite and struggle) was lived out by some 150 students from the Pune University and colleges across the city. imageTo mark Ambedkar Jayanti, which falls on Saturday, these students studied for 18 hours.

Early on Friday morning at 6 am, the University of Pune’s Jaykar Library saw some 150 students come together, to study at a stretch, barring a few short breaks, to finally shut their books only at midnight. The group, 30 of them girls, are students of courses like MA, MPSC and UPSC.

“Right till the end, Ambedkar spent most of his time reading and expanding his knowledge, and dedicated his life to fight for the rights of the Dalits. For students today, there is no better role model than Babasaheb,”said Sachin Sonawane, president of the Dr Ambedkar Post-graduate Students’ Association (DAPSA), which had organised the programme.

The seeds of the idea were sown during an executive committee meeting of DAPSA a month ago. “We were discussing what would be a suitable way to celebrate Ambedkar Jayanti, when we came up with this idea, and thought it would be an ideal tribute, since Ambedkar was essentially a student,” said DAPSA secretary Ajit Zodage.

And so the movement began. Volunteers and members of DAPSA went to canteens at the Pune University and colleges, motivating students to join the programme. “Posters were also put up at various places, and announcements were made during functions organised by DAPSA,” said Zodage. And the response has been encouraging.

“I have spent the whole day reading various gender-related issues throughout history and in social literature. It feels nice to be part of such a programme in honour of Ambedkar, whose life is so inspiring,” said M Com student Chaya Barve, who is studying a course in Women’s Studies at the University.

The students took short breaks every four hours, when they were provided with tea, fruits and snacks and a lunch break at 1 pm. “Other than that, we studied without stopping,” said Barve.

Posted on: April 26, 2007


Hearing on Caste Discrimination in India before British Parliament

Press release from the office of Stephen Crabb, British MP
Read the transcript of the hearing.

The Conservative Party Human Rights Commission held a hearing in Parliament yesterday on the plight of the Dalits or “untouchables” in India, in the week that Britain marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Four leading Indian campaigners presented detailed evidence of serious human rights abuses as a result of the caste system.

The Commission heard extensive accounts of bonded labour, discrimination, rape, sexual slavery, beatings and killings of India’s 250 million Dalits and “backward castes”.

Dr Joseph D’souza, International President of the Dalit Freedom Network, reminded the Commission that William Wilberforce, who led the Parliamentary campaign to end the slave trade, described the caste system in India as “a system at war with truth and nature”. The Dalits, said Dr D’souza, are facing a modern day slavery.

Indira Athawale, a women’s activist, said that Dalit women face sexual violence in a “culture of impunity”. She told of how two Dalit women were dragged from their homes in their village in Maharashtra on 29 September, 2006 and paraded naked through the streets to the village square, where they were reportedly gang-raped and murdered.

“If the social exclusion, dehumanisation, degradation, exploitation and oppression of Dalits is abhorrent and appalling, that faced by Dalit women is the worst of all,” Ms Athawale said.

India’s Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, has himself said that “untouchability is not just social discrimination, it is a blot on humanity”.

Stephen Crabb MP, the Chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, said: “We held this hearing in order to get first-hand knowledge about the real problems of caste-based discrimination that continue in that country today. We conducted the hearing very much in a spirit of friendship with India, recognising the long-standing and special relationship between our two countries. But we would not be a true friend to India and its people if we did not raise these very serious issues.

“We wish to encourage the Indian Government to act to end caste discrimination and give Dalits equal opportunities in employment, education and society. We urge the British Government to ensure that British aid is directed at empowering Dalits.

“We encourage British businesses investing in India to consider seriously ways in which their investments could be used to alleviate the poverty and discrimination which Dalits face, and to seek opportunities, working with groups in India, to bring an end to this injustice.

“We believe support is also needed to help establish Dalit media groups, to give a voice to these 250 million people who have been downtrodden for far too long.

“As India’s friends, we wish to say to India that bonded labour, sexual slavery, rape, beatings and killings of Dalits carried out with impunity is not acceptable in our modern, global age. We will do all we can to continue to highlight these concerns, and to encourage India to end this gross injustice.”

Posted on: March 30, 2007


DFN Delegation to Visit Europe during Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade

Press Release from the Dalit Freedom Network

Visit Coincides with Release of New Documentary on Dalits

Greenwood Village, CO – A delegation from the Dalit Freedom Network will travel throughout Europe during the commemorations of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in England. The delegation will participate in a historic hearing in Parliament in London and will visit Brussels and Norway during the three week tour. The trip coincides with the UK release of the film “Amazing Grace,” about the efforts by William Wilberforce to abolish slavery and with the premiere of a new documentary-film, entitled ‘India’s Hidden Slavery: Caste, Apartheid and Exploitation in the World’s Largest Democracy’, at the Vue West End Cinema, Leicester Square on Tuesday 27 March 2007.

The delegation includes Dr. Joseph D’Souza, International President of the Dalit Freedom Network; Indira Athwale, the Maharastra State President of the All India Confederation of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribe Organizations; Dr. Kancha Ilaiah, Professor of Political Science and Head of Department at Osmania University, Hyderabad and an expert on caste issues in India; and Moses Parmar, the North India Director of Operation Mercy Charitable Company.

Though slavery has been abolished, Caste slavery is still alive and well in India,” said Dr. D’Souza. “We hope that the Wilberforce film and the new documentary will inspire a new generation of abolitionists to join us in fighting Caste and Untouchability. As Wilberforce himself said, ‘the institution of caste is a system at war with truth and nature.’

The trip follows the February passage by the European Union Parliament of a resolution dealing with Untouchability.

Dr. Ilaiah, Ms. Athwale, and Dr. D’Souza have previously testified before the United States Congress in October, 2005 as part of a hearing on Untouchability in the House Subcommittee on Human Rights.

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:

Posted on: March 22, 2007


Indian Delegation Visits Europe to Highlight Slavery Amid Abolition Celebrations

by Daniel Blake.

Full article by clicking here in Christian Today, March 19, 2007

A delegation of Indian activists on behalf of the Dalit, formerly ‘untouchable’, community will visit London, Brussels, Edinburgh and Oslo during the UK commemorations of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade.

During their visit, the activists will highlight the plight of the 250 million-strong Dalit and tribal communities in India, who are the main victims of modern forms of slavery there.

Members of the delegation include Dr Joseph D’souza, the International President of the Dalit Freedom Network (DFN) and President of the All India Christian Council (AICC).

Dr Kancha Ilaiah will also be part of the delegation. Dr Ilaiah is Professor of Political Science and Head of Department at Osmania University, Hyderabad, and is a well-known and well-respected campaigner against caste-based discrimination and the oppression and exploitation of Dalits and ‘low’ castes.

Also Ms Indira Athawale, a prominent activist for Dalit women’s rights, will join the team. She has presented evidence to the US Congress on the oppression of Dalit women. She is the Maharastra State President of the All India Confederation of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Organisations, a tutor in two colleges affiliated to the University of Pune and the National President of the Phule-Shahu-Ambedkar Students’ Association, a college and university level organisation that brings together ‘low’ caste students.

Moses Parmar, the North India Director of Operation Mercy Charitable Company, will take his part among the delegation. Mr Parmar is a Dalit from Gujarat state, he leads a team of over 1000 people engaged in humanitarian and charitable work across north India, including 23 schools which primarily serve Dalit children, seminars for women on empowerment and legal rights, and dozens of micro-enterprise initiatives.

The delegation will be in Brussels from 19-20 March, the UK from 20-28 March and Norway on 29-30 March. While in the UK, they will be meeting with MPs, peers, religious leaders, the India All Party Parliamentary Group, advisors at the Foreign Office and the Conservative Human Rights Commission.

Members of the delegation will speak at the launch of a new documentary-film, entitled ‘India’s Hidden Slavery: Caste, Apartheid and Exploitation in the World’s Largest Democracy’, at the Vue West End Cinema, Leicester Square on Tuesday 27 March 2007. They will also attend the parliamentary launch of the film on Tuesday 20 March 2007.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas, says: “As we reflect on events 200 years ago in the UK, this is a critical time to re-examine modern forms of slavery and the slave trade. It is unrealistic to do this without looking at India, where millions are enslaved or suffer brutal labour exploitation. Perhaps there is more slavery in India than anywhere else in the world today. The victims of these horrific abuses are, overwhelmingly, the outcast Dalits, whose pleas we can ignore no longer.”

Posted on: March 21, 2007


Leaders pledge to unite against casteism

From the Times of India, Full article by clicking here

NEW DELHI: About 5,000 people, including several Dalit and Hindu leaders, pledged to work against untouchability and discrimination through a seven-point action plan at the first truth & reconciliation conference held in the Capital.

The conference was initiated by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living Foundation. Addressing the conference, he said, “Discrimination is not sanctioned by religion. Every Hindu should be educated about the fact that many sacred texts were written by Dalits… Fear and communication gap between communities is keeping us apart. We must reconcile differences.”

The seven-point action plan focuses on ensuring temple entry for Dalits, collective celebrations of festivals including community feasts, abolishing the practice of separate utensils for Dalits, empowerment of women from economically weaker sections of society, providing educational facilities to weaker sections, spiritual and religious education to Dalit children and equality and justice for all.

As a symbolic implementation of the plan, leaders partook in a community feast. Dalit leader and president of the Indian Justice Party, Udit Raj welcomed the initiatives.

He said Dalits would have to be integrated in all streams of society if caste discrimination were to be eliminated.

Raj advocated that the posts of the head of maths be filled by priests from every caste on a rotation basis.

The conference also featured a special exhibition on the contributions of Dalit maharishis in Hindu literature.

Notable examples are the two great epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata written by Dalit Maharishis Ved Vyas and Valmiki.

Posted on: March 15, 2007


Let my people go

Reprinted by permission | © 2007 WORLD magazine, all rights reserved | Subscriptions: 800-951-NEWS or

The abolitionists’ lament is older than William Wilberforce—whose anti-slavery campaign brought transatlantic slavery to an end 200 years ago this month—but today 27 million people live on in captivity, their lives worth far less than any colonial era slave.

By Priya Abraham. Originally published as cover article for Feb. 24, 2007 issue.

Premila’s parents sold their daughter for $18 on her 18th birthday. The buyer, from hundreds of miles away, said his Indian village had no good women to marry so he had to buy a wife. He took Premila as a concubine, then sold her into 10 grinding years of prostitution in two cities before rescuers returned the shattered woman to her home.

Premila is a modern slave, one of 27 million in the world today. Two hundred years ago, slaves were relatively scarce, expensive, and publicly owned by men holding title deeds to them. Today, they are plentiful and cheap like Premila—and much harder to spot.

This week Western countries celebrate the life of William Wilberforce, the pioneering abolitionist who labored 20 years to end the British slave trade, a fight he won on Feb. 23, 1807. Today’s abolitionists are no less tenacious but find their work is different: Unlike in Wilberforce’s time, slavery is illegal almost everywhere. Yet modern slavery flourishes because corrupt governments and law enforcers do not enforce the law.

The type of slavery Wilberforce and his American contemporaries knew was chattel slavery, in which one man owned another human being. According to the abolitionist group Free the Slaves, a slave in the American South in 1850 cost $40,000 in today’s dollars. Today, the average cost of a slave is $90. A growing world population with millions of poor means an ample supply of potential slaves that has driven down the price.

That means slaveholders may not need to keep slaves as a long-term, generational investment: If a slave falls ill or otherwise cannot work, he or she is easy to replace.

What does slavery in 2007 look like? Chattel slavery is now relatively rare, largely limited to parts of Africa. Most of today’s slaves—about 20 million—are in debt bondage, and mostly in the South Asian countries of India, Pakistan, and Nepal. Others in places such as Southeast Asia and Brazil are contract laborers, lured by promises of well-paying jobs but forced to remain in harsh, menial conditions. Forced marriages enslave women and girls. Human trafficking, which ensnares 600,000 to 800,000 people a year, is the newest slave trade and the world’s third-largest criminal business after drugs and arms dealing.

Bonded slavery works this way: A poor man takes a loan to pay for an emergency such as a funeral or family illness. He repays it with his labor, although unscrupulous lenders will not say for how long. Soon, as the original debt does not diminish, he realizes the lender has trapped him—and often his family—into working years or generations without pay.

Nagaraj was such a man. Desperate for work, he took a loan from a brick kiln owner who also bonded his wife and children. Nagaraj was devastated: At 12, he had worked with his parents for three years to pay off a debt, and now his family was in the same predicament.

Like his fellow slaves, Nagaraj and his family lived in a concrete cell at the brick factory. Six days a week, his family began work at 1 a.m., slogging 16 hours and working under the hot sun. He said he hated seeing his children work as hard as the adults and fall ill, growing up as another man’s property. If workers complained or bolted, the kiln owner beat them savagely.

In 2004, the Virginia-based International Justice Mission (IJM) worked with local authorities to raid the kiln, freeing 138 people, including Nagaraj and his family. The kiln owner faces prosecution, while Nagaraj and his wife now run their own brick-making business and send their children to school.

Nagaraj’s case is the kind IJM’s workers see often in South Asia. As modern-day abolitionists, IJM hires lawyers and human-rights advocates to fill a crucial if ironic niche in fighting slavery: They work to ensure local officials enforce laws.

Despite ample laws at the local, national, and international level against bonded labor and other forms of slavery, each case involves a long and hard fight. Where police and authorities are corrupt, they let the powerful prey on the poor, says IJM senior vice president of interventions, Sharon Cohn: “If a young girl in a poor community is a victim of sexual assault, the rapist often has better connections with the police than the family will,” she told WORLD.

In slave terms, if people come cheap, she says, then slaveholders should pay dearly in other ways—with jail time. Cohn says it takes grit and tenacity to pursue such prosecutions, where bonded labor easily blurs into sex trafficking. In IJM’s biggest success, staff and Cambodian police raided brothels in Svay Pak. They rescued little girls between the ages of 5 and 10. The pedophiles caught running the brothels have received prison sentences.

Freeing slaves is one hurdle abolitionists have to clear, but keeping them free is another. Sivakasi is a city in India’s southeastern state of Tamil Nadu, dubbed “Little Japan” for its matchstick, fireworks, and printing industries. Behind factory doors, however, are thousands of bonded child workers, making the city one of India’s worst slavery hubs.

Most of India’s bonded slaves are “untouchables”—Hinduism’s outcasts now more charitably known as Dalits, or the “downtrodden.” Dalits are desperately poor, and so most at risk for becoming enslaved.

The Dalit Freedom Network (DFN), an advocacy and charitable group, helps run a network of schools for Dalit children and, in Sivakasi, the students come from surrounding cottage factories.

They come, but not always regularly. Twelve-year-old Manjula is one such student. At first, her parents often pulled her from school to work in the factory, desperate for the extra cents a day she earned. Manjula began working with her parents at their local matchstick factory when she was 4.

The adults usually prepare the dangerous chemicals for the match heads—chlorates, phosphorus, and sulphur—and cut the sticks to size. The children work separately, typically in a 300-square-foot workroom lit dimly by a small, high window. The only ventilation is a concrete grille in the wall.

Though owners bribe local police to look away, the window’s strategic placement prevents passersby from looking in, since India bans children under 14 from working. The children sit in rows, peering at their matchsticks. They dip each in sulfur, lay it to dry—often on a newspaper—then place it in a match box. Dip, dry, dip, dry, goes the work, for 12 hours or more at a stretch. If the children meet the quota, they get less than $1. More reliably, they get chronic bronchitis and allergic skin rashes.

Manjula worked seven years in a matchstick factory and now labors to breathe sometimes. The school’s teachers cajoled her parents to let her stay in school, though her younger sister still has to work. Manjula had to start at kindergarten level, having never learned the alphabet or how to count.

When students like her miss class, teachers visit their parents and coax them into returning. More students skip school during the seasonal Hindu festivals, when demand for fireworks and matches is high. Sivakasi supplies three-quarters of India’s matches and almost all its fireworks.

Persuasion on the benefits of education doesn’t always work, said Albert Lael, national director of Dalit education for Operation Mercy Charitable Company, a partner with DFN. “The problem is [families] want their immediate needs met,” he said. ”[There’s] a long way to go because they don’t see the benefit they get in the long run.” Many Dalits have been slaves so long, they think only like slaves. Ask them what they want to do with their future, and they often name menial jobs.

Lael has loftier hopes. A Dalit himself, he sees the children and remembers his grandfather’s plight “was exactly like the kids in Sivakasi.” Canadian missionaries educated his family, and Lael now holds an MBA. But pulling other Dalits alongside him can be hard labor with few compensations, too.

DFN schools know to compromise. The parents of one student, 11-year-old Shiva, let him attend for seven years only because he also continues to work. So when school is out at 3 p.m., he dips and packs matches for another 12 hours. Exhausted, he struggles to do his homework and keep up. But school is a haven: fresh air and playtime, sports and lessons.

For years Afghan women have suffered under a slave system actually sanctioned in customary law called baad. Under baad, a family offers a daughter in marriage as a debt payment or as restitution for a crime. Womankind, a British nonprofit, reported last year that between 60 percent and 80 percent of Afghan marriages are forced. More than half of Afghan women marry before age 16, and some as young as 6.

Two seasons of drought and a bad winter mean Afghan families have turned more desperate in the last two years, with reports of some selling their daughters to feed their other children. In Helmand Province, which produces most of Afghanistan’s opium crop, some farmers cannot repay drug smugglers for loans to plant opium. So they turn to trading in women instead. Last November, the UN reports, a 25-year-old woman who had been traded for an opium debt turned an AK-47 on herself after suffering daily beatings from her husband.

Other bonded women who commit suicide, however, set themselves on fire. Medica Mondiale, a German group that helps women in conflict zones, found hundreds of cases of self-immolation in Afghanistan. Among some survivors, the group’s workers found women lying in hospital scarred and screaming with pain.

Medica Mondiale project manager Ancil Adrian-Paul lived in Afghanistan for the last year and recounted one case: A 17-year-old girl survived self-immolation after her father married her to a man in Iran who beat her. Once a girl marries, she leaves her family. The saying goes, “The only way you come back is in a white coffin.”

Desperate, the girl said a voice repeated to her, “Burn yourself, burn yourself.” When she awoke, she could not remember if the burning had been deliberate or accidental. The girl needs six more operations to repair her ravaged body, but she was speaking publicly about her experience.

Modern-day abolitionists admit they can free only so many slaves at a time from such conditions. Groups like IJM asked WORLD that specific locations of their work not be disclosed, lest the reports jeopardize their workers. And slave victims, including those in this story, use aliases to protect their families and their own lives from retribution at the hands of contemporary slave traders.

Twenty-first-century slavery may stretch in directions Wilberforce never imagined, but its crucial trait has not changed: One person still controls another completely using coercion, force, and restrictions on all movement. Like Wilberforce, abolitionists today have a keen eye for freedom—and they see plenty of work left to do.

For more information:

International Justice Mission:
Free the Slaves:
Dalit Freedom Network:
The Amazing Change:

Posted on: February 26, 2007


Christians and Dalits Mount Legal Challenge to Himachal Pradesh Anti Conversion Law

Dalit Freedom Network partner All India Christian Council to lead fight against unconstitutional law
For Immediate Release:

Greenwood Village, CO – Christians and Dalits decided to challenge the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act 2006 in the High Court at a state-wide meeting organized by the All India Christian Council at Shimla on February 22, 2007.

The Governor of Himachal Pradesh, Shri Justice Vishnu Sadashiv Kokje, signed the state law on February 19, 2007. The Bill was passed the state legislature on December 19, 2006. The law is unique as it was generated and passed by the secular Congress party while most other anti-conversion laws have been passed in states ruled by the Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Dr. John Dayal, member of National Integration Council and General Secretary of the All India Christian Council, spoke to the media at Shimla, “Fraternal Christian, Dalit and mass movement organizations have decided to take the issue as far as the Supreme Court if we do not get a favorable decision at the state level.”

“The Governor, Chief Minister, as well as the Congress leadership in New Delhi including Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, should rescind the Act which was given Governor’s assent two days ago in a surreptious manner without the matter being discussed at public forum, or even in the state assembly at any length,” continued Dr. Dayal. “It is a matter of shame and concern to Democratic India that a Congress-ruled state such a Himachal Pradesh has enforced this act to target Christians, Buddhists and other religions in the same way law have done in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.”

Dr. Joseph D’souza, President of the All India Christian Council, said, “This law is unacceptable and betrays the promises of the Congress party to address the needs of minority faiths across India. This law severely undercuts the fundamental right to freedom of religion, particularly for exploited Dalits and tribals. The assent of the governor amounts to an endorsement of the discrimination and persecution against religious minorities in Himachal Pradesh state.”

Mr. Rakesh Bahadur, North India Convener of the National Conference of Dalit Organizations, said, “The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill 2006 is targeted to those Dalits who want to get out of caste oppression by choosing the faith they like. This bill violates the fundamental rights of every Indian citizen provided in article 25 of Indian Constitution as well as article 18 of the UN’s Universal Declaration.”

The bill punishes anyone found involved in conversion by any fraudulent means with imprisonment up to two years and/or a fine of twenty five thousand Rupees. If Dalits or minors are involved, five years imprisonment and/or a fifty thousand Rupee fine is the penalty. Any members of religion wishing to change his/her faith is required to give 30 days prior information to district authorities or otherwise face punishment of one month imprisonment and/or a one thousand Rupee fine. However, any member returning back to previous religion is not considered violating this law.

Himachal Pradesh is the eighth state in India to pass an anti-conversion law. However, Tamil Nadu repealed its law in June 2006 and several states have not framed rules that outline the penalties if the bill’s provisions are violated.

The All India Christian Council (, 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:

For more information, contact:

Ben Marsh
Washington D.C. Coordinator
Dalit Freedom Network

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
(703) 974-1243

Posted on: February 24, 2007


Himachal Pradesh Governor Signs Anti-Conversion Legislation. DFN condemns draconian legislation

Press Statement from the Dalit Freedom Network.

For Immediate Release.

Denver, CO – The Governor of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, Shri Justice Vishnu Sadashiv Kokje, signed into law on Monday legislation that severely limits the fundamental rights of religious people across the state. The “Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill 2006” was passed by the Himachal Pradesh legislature on December 19, 2006. The law was unique as it was generated and passed by the secular Congress party while most other state-level anti-conversion laws were passed by the Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“This law is unacceptable and betrays the promises of the Congress party to address the needs of minority believers across India,” said Dr Joseph D’souza, President of the Dalit Freedom Network and the All India Christian Council. “This law severely undercuts the fundamental right to freedom of religion, particularly for exploited Dalits and tribals. The assent of the governor amounts to an endorsement of the discrimination and persecution against religious minorities in that state.”

Anti-conversion laws have been used in other states to justify vigilante violence against Christians and Muslims. Such laws require fees and legal paperwork for religious conversions but exempt conversions to Hinduism.

The Dalit Freedom Network is working closely with Christian Solidarity Worldwide UK and the All India Christian Council to mount a legal challenge to this and other anti-conversion laws.

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:

For more information, contact:

Ben Marsh
Washington D.C. Coordinator
Dalit Freedom Network

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Posted on: February 22, 2007


Thinking about others: Norfolk wrestler sponsoring children in India

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Norfolk High Wrestler Caleb Baber has spent the past year sponsoring four children in India. Through support from his relatives, Baber returned to the wrestling mat this season.
For Christians, their faith in Jesus Christ can lead them in different directions while still seeking common ground.

For Caleb Baber, his faith has led him on a journey with a goal of helping to make a difference in the lives of less fortunate children across the globe.image

Baber, a Norfolk High senior, has spent the past year sponsoring children in India through the Dalit Freedom Network. It’s an aspect of his life that perhaps isn’t as well known as his accomplishments on the high school wrestling mat.

The 160-pound wrestler is currently 19-7 on the season and ranked No. 2 in Class A by the Nebraska Scholastic Wrestling Coaches Association.

Baber returned to the mat this season after abruptly quitting wrestling during a 27-3 season last year. Why? Ostensibly it was because he began work part time after school as a waiter at The Meadows.

But there’s more to the story.

The money he earned wasn’t spent on himself. Baber needed the money as part of his quest to help make life better for some of India’s Dalit children – who are considered among that country’s outcasts.

“It didn’t make sense to me the whole time when I quit wrestling,” he said. “I was more successful last year than I am right now. I beat mostly everyone in the top six. I was headed toward the state championship when God spoke quietly for me to do something else. It sounded crazy to me. But I listened to Him and walked in obedience.”

Last July, Baber had the opportunity to visit India and the children he supports financially as part of mission trip sponsored by Christ Is King Community Church in Norfolk.

While in India, Baber and his friend, Jason Thomas, taught classes to first- and second- graders at a Good Shepherd school located in one of the villages.

“When I went to the village, it was obvious what side of town was Dalits and which side wasn’t,” Baber said.

It wasn’t until his arrival back to the United States when Baber realized one of the children who made an impression on him during his trip – named Bhargav – also was one of the Dalits he supports.

“Bhargav had a peaceful smile,” he said. “I recognized the name but wasn’t sure if he was one of the kids I support. He stood out from all the other kids during the week.

“It was really awesome to see the way God was with me. To go over there and see the kind of kids, especially Bhargov . . . it was amazing. Not one of the kids there took it for granted that they were receiving an education. They all love to learn. It made my decision to step away from wrestling last year worth it.”

After receiving encouragement from his family and friends during the offseason, Baber decided to make a return to the mat this year.

During the three-month wrestling season, Baber’s family has offered to help him assist with the support of the children. Baber, the second of three children of Marc Baber and Tami Tucker, missed wrestling.

He also wanted to spend his final Panther season wrestling with his younger brother, Levi, who transferred from Pierce.

Levi Baber, a Class B state qualifier last year, is a 135-pound wrestler on the Norfolk roster.

“I had that responsibility that I wasn’t just going to give up,” Baber said. “After talking with my family, they all wanted me to wrestle again. They decided to support those kids during wrestling season so I could wrestle and not have to worry about that.”

One can witness Baber’s spiritual side on and off the mat.

A two-time Class A state qualifier, Baber acknowledges that he once enjoyed dominating the competition. But his return to the mat this year now brings with it a desire by Baber to know Christ even more fully.

“I do want to wrestle to the best of my ability and I’ve been disappointed this year because I know I’m not yet (because of injuries),” he said. “But it’s not about me getting all the glory, it’s about Christ and doing everything for Him.”

When the wrestling season concludes in three weeks, Baber is looking to resume his duties of supporting the children in India.

Baber also is looking ahead to the future and spending time with his family in Northeast Nebraska before heading off to college.

He plans to attend Lee University, a Christian liberal arts school located in Cleveland, Tenn., in the fall. Once there, he plans to study theology. He wants to learn more about the Bible and what it says about God.

“When wrestling’s over, I’d rather start working again and start supporting the children on my own and save what little I can for college,” he said.

Posted on: February 6, 2007


Spokesperson of Nationalist Hindu Organization to Visit Washington, DC

Washington, DC – The National Spokesperson of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Ram Madhav, is set to visit the United States and attempt to meet with US lawmakers this coming Thursday and Friday, August 31-September 1. imageThe RSS, the world’s largest non-communist social organization, is organized around the concept of Indian Hindu Nationalism and the exclusion of all religious minorities in Indian political and social life. The RSS advocates the use of violence against religious minorities, especially Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs, and has been the organizing force behind violent campaigns across India for the past five decades. RSS members and affiliated organizations planned and executed the 2002 massacre of thousands of Muslims in Gujarat. Recently the organization has renewed a push through its affiliated political party, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), to pass anti-conversion legislation targeting Christians and Muslims. The laws, which are already in place in six Indian states, severely restrict religious expression and legitimate violence against Muslims and Christians who share their faith. The RSS was banned in 1948 for its involvement in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi but gradually regained power by advocating the use of violence against Muslims.

The Dalit Freedom Network calls on the State Department, the White House, and Congress to formally deny meeting with Mr. Madhav and thereby send a message that his organization’s activities are unacceptable in the eyes of the United States Government.

Press Release
Dalit Freedom Network, Denver, CO
August 29, 2006

Contact: Benjamin Marsh, Washington D.C. Coordinator, Dalit Freedom Network
Phone: 703-973-1243
E-mail: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Posted on: August 29, 2006


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