Indian Politics

5 reasons you should be following India’s jaw-droppingly enormous elections

It’s been argued that 2014 will be the biggest year in the history of democracy, with more people than ever before going to the polls to decide their own fate.

Nowhere is that tag more obvious than in India, which is seeing a truly enormous number of people voting between April 7 and May 12. After the votes are counted May 16, we’ll know who Indians have elected to their parliament. Whatever party has a majority, or is able to form a majority coalition, will form a government from which a prime minister will lead the country.

Even for those who know nothing about India, this really looks to be one of the most fascinating political events this year, and not just because of its scale. The election is taking place in an increasingly important tech-savvy country, with vital issues of economic problems and nationalism at stake, and a choice between a world famous name and a controversial outsider. It’s a fascinating moment in democracy, and one that shouldn’t be ignored.

Here’s what you should know.

The staggering numbers

As we mentioned before, India’s election is ridiculously huge. For example, on Thursday, the biggest day so far, the BBC reported that more than 110 million voters were eligible to cast votes. That’s almost double the number of people in the United Kingdom, and 30 million less than the entire population of Russia.

Crazier still, Thursday’s figure is just a small part of the broader whole. In total, 815 million people are eligible to vote, as shown in the graphic below, produced by the Indian Embassy in Washington.

As you can probably imagine, organizing 815 million people to vote is a difficult procedure: More than 930,000 polling stations are being set up around the country, with 11 million personnel. In the state of Uttar Pradesh alone, the election will cost 3.7 billion rupees, or $61.5 million, the New York Times reported. That also helps to explain why the election has been staggered on nine days over about a month.
It’s an election of firsts

As the graphic above explains, for more than 100 million people, it’s their first chance to vote. That is a big factor, and the candidates are aware of it: This map, produced by the 545, shows where election rallies are being held vs. the number of new voters in each state:

In another new twist, the election will be the first to allow non-resident Indians to vote (though they will still have to travel to India to vote), and voters will be allowed to answer “none of the above.”

One of the most interesting shifts, however, is the sudden role of technology in the election. Five years have passed since the last election, and in that time circumstances have clearly changed: An SMS alert system called COMET will be used, for example, and Facebook is believed to have been a key factor in getting young, urban voters more engaged that in previous votes (read more about that over at Buzzfeed).

The price of an onion may play a key role

Indian laborers carry onions toward waiting vehicles at a wholesale market yard in Hyderabad in August 2013. (Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images)

Readers of the financial press may have noticed a lot of headlines coming out about the price of an onion in India over the past few months. “Rains may defeat govt’s efforts to calm onion prices quickly” ran one Reuters headline in October. “India to Import Onions for First Time Since 2011 as Prices Surge” Bloomberg wrote a couple of months before.

It sounds strange, but we should remember these questions now, as onions might be a good way to think of one of the key issues in the Indian elections: The economy.

While India was one of the famous BRICS (along with Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa), it’s lagged behind the expectations of others, especially China (the Goldman Sachs economist who coined the label later said that India was the biggest disappointment of the lot).

In 2013, a record 35 percent of Indians polled felt that the national economy was getting worse, according to Gallup, and Pew reports that 89 percent of people felt that rising prices were a “very big problem.”

As Soutik Biswas wrote for the BBC this month, the wildly varying price of an onion in India (it’s reported to have inflated 270 percent over 2013) is one very clear example of the weakness of the Indian economy: in particular, highlighting how India’s farming economy is reliant on favorable weather and how prices are inflated by a complex supply chain.

It’s become a political issue, with the 2010 “onion crisis” still held against the ruling Congress Party, but onions have a history in India. When Indira Gandhi was swept back to power in the 1980 election, her rallying issue was the price of the onion, and when she won, people called it “the Onion election.” Within two years of her election, rising onion prices caused her own political crisis.

The familiar name: Rahul Gandhi

Congress party vice president Rahul Gandhi waves to his supporters during a public rally meeting for the upcoming Lok Sabha election in Bangalore, India, 07 April 2014. The world’s largest elections began in India 07 April with millions of voters casting ballots in the first phase of the five-week long polls, officials said. Over 76 per cent of the 7.7 million eligible voters exercised their right to vote in six constituencies of the north-eastern states of Assam and Tripura, deputy election commissioner Alok Shukla told reporters in New Delhi. About 815 million Indians are eligible to vote in the elections to choose lawmakers to the 543-member Lok Sabha or lower house of parliament. The elections staggered over nine phases are due to end May 12. Votes are to be counted on May 16, and results expected to be known the same day.

Rahul Gandhi waves to his supporters during a public rally for the upcoming Lok Sabha election in Bangalore, India, on April 7. (Jagadeesh NV/EPA)

You probably recognize the name here. Rahul Gandhi is often referred to as the “heir apparent” or a “scion” of India’s most prominent political dynasty. His grandmother and father were both prime ministers of India. Now, as head of the Congress Party, Gandhi is facing his biggest test, as he is expected to carry the party into the elections during a time it has been marred by economic incompetence and damaging corruption scandals.

Gandhi, who has been a member of India’s parliament since 2004, was elevated to the head of his party last year. Since then, he has tried to distance himself as a different candidate, indicating a generational shift of sorts in India’s politics, in which a majority of politicians are 60 years and older and have been in politics for decades. Although many in his party wanted him to have a prominent role sooner, he was seen as someone who was shy, often being referred to as the “reluctant prince.” Gandhi’s campaigning in some of the most important states during the state elections last year was seen as a failure, as the Congress party performed poorly, raising doubts about his leadership abilities.

Earlier in January, Gandhi appeared for his first formal interview almost a decade after entering politics. During his interview, he expressed his vision for India, focusing primarily on empowering women and mobilizing the youths, but he failed to address why his party was unable to tackle corruption.

Gandhi has campaigned aggressively this year, trying to woo younger voters. During his speech in Rajasthan last month, he promised that his party would give opportunities to new and young faces to represent their people. With polls showing rival Narendra Modi in the lead, Gandhi has lately launched a series of blistering attacks on his opponent. “He will divide the nation into pieces, and make people fight against each other,” he said of Modi during an election rally in Chhattisgarh.

With a faltering economy, his party’s reputation is already in jeopardy. If Gandhi loses to Modi, which many say is bound to happen, that would likely mean the long-held family grip on one of India’s most powerful political parties will also slowly start to slip away.

The favorite: Narendra Modi

Chief Minister of the western Gujarat state and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi© is surrounded by commandos during an election campaign rally in support of the BJP candidate for Darjeeling constituency, on the outskirts of Siliguri on April 10, 2014. Indians have begun voting in the world’s biggest election which is set to sweep the Hindu nationalist opposition to power at a time of low growth, anger about corruption and warnings about religious unrest. India’s 814-million-strong electorate are forecast to inflict a heavy defeat on the ruling Congress party, in power for 10 years and led by India’s famous Gandhi dynasty.

Narendra Modi is surrounded by commandos during an election campaign rally in support of the BJP candidate for the Darjeeling constituency on the outskirts of Siliguri, India, on April 10. (Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Gety Images)

The man who will most likely become the leader of world’s largest democracy sleeps only about 3.5 hours a night, admits to being a workaholic and says he has no time to read books and no pastimes or any other activities except for early-morning yoga.

For some in India, Narendra Modi is a role model, a muscular administrator who has the competence to turn around the nation. As a chief minister of the state of Gujarat, Modi was credited for rooting out corruption and promoting rapid economic growth, making it an investment hub for international companies.

But for others, Modi is an extremely controversial figure (as our former colleague Max Fisher puts it, much of the world seems afraid of him) with a worrying Hindu nationalist history. During the riots in Gujarat in 2002, Modi was accused of not only failing to prevent them, but going as far as encouraging Hindu mobs to massacre nearly 2,000 Muslims. Modi’s visa to the United States was revoked in 2005 and has been denied one since then for largely that reason. However, if Modi wins the election, it would put the United States in a difficult position because he would automatically qualify for a diplomatic visa (A-1 status) as head of state.

India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has in some measure gambled by giving Modi the candidacy for prime minister, with a belief that the wounds of the 2002 killings have healed and people have moved on. So far, it has proven to be a good gamble for the Hindu nationalist party, as India has seen massive support for Modi. But at the same time, there are fears that in taking a risk with Modi, BJP is alienating the Muslim population, who make up 15 percent of India’s voters.

But if his campaigning across the country is any sign, Modi seems to have done his homework. According to the 545, Modi is the only candidate who has visited several key states that are home to a total of about 23 million first-time voters. Drawing that demographic to support him will be key, as his competitors Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal are also seeking to attract young voters.

That’s it for now. India’s voting will continue until May 12. The votes will be counted May 16.

By Adam Taylor and Anup Kaphle
Washington Post
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/04/10/5-reasons-you-should-be-following- indias-jaw-droppingly-enormous-elections/

Posted on: April 11, 2014

 


Dalit manifesto focuses on land rights, education

Even as major parties are fine-tuning their political manifestoes for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Kerala will get a dalit manifesto, drafted by four young dalits, following a successful Facebook campaign.

The final version will be available online (https://www.facebook.com/dalitmanifesto) on Wednesday after a nine-day Facebook campaign that began on March 10.

In its approach (relying exclusively on social media) and focus this would be a rare step in Indian electoral arena.

The dalit manifesto sets a six-point agenda for political parties in Kerala. It broadly focuses on land, education, housing, health and entrepreneurship. The key demands of the dalit community are:

1. Land for agriculture in villages and commerce and industry in urban areas.

2. Educational stipends and grants should be increased not merely nominally, but corresponding to price index and inflation.

3. Wherever government, semi-government and private organizations set up industrial and commercial shopping complexes on land given free by the government, dalits should be given a stake in real estate

4. In IT parks and corridors, there should be an exclusive incubation park for dalit entrepreneurs.

5. Extend reservation rights to dalits among Christian and Muslim communities.

6. Make Ambedkarism part of the curriculum, deviating from the current practice of treating Ambedkar as the architect of the Constitution.

The campaign is the brainchild of V B Ajay Kumar, a rights activist; Jeevachaithanyan, a software engineer; P S Pradeep, a multi-media student; and Prashant Koliyoor, an activist.

“A manifesto is an important document in governance even though the common man as well as political parties tend to disregard them. When we began this, we wanted to collate the aspirations of the dalit community. This has been an encouraging exercise. It’s the first campaign among Kerala’s online dalit community and we have received overwhelming response, close to 5,000 daily,” said Ajay Kumar.

Kerala has two reserved Lok Sabha constituencies for dalits – Alathur and Mavelikkara.

Both LDF and UDF, the two leading political alliances in the state, have fielded dalit candidates in these mandatory constituencies but have ignored dalit community in the remaining 18 parliament seats.

Ajay Kumar, director of RIGHTS, an NGO based in Thiruvananthapuram, said the project has not been carried out with the backing of dalit organizations. “We will not hold a press meet (since it costs a minimum of Rs 3,000), but will release the document online. It will be interesting to watch the response of frontline parties such as Congress, CPM and BJP,” he said.

By: John Cheeran
Times of India
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kochi/Dalit-manifesto-focuses-on-land-rights-education/ articleshow/32259952.cms?cfmid=11000000

Posted on: March 19, 2014

 


Nation pays homage to Ambedkar on his 58th death anniversary

President Pranab Mukherjee led the nation in paying homage to Bharat Ratna Baba Saheb Dr. B R Ambedkar on his 58th death anniversary here today.

Mukherjee offered floral tributes at the statue of Baba Saheb at Sansad Bhavan Lawns in the Parliament House complex this morning.

Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and Congress President Sonia Gandhi also offered tributes to the Father of the Indian Constitution, Dr. Ambedkar.

A number of functions are being organised to mark the occasion also known as Mahaparinirvan Diwas.

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar popularly also known as Babasaheb, was an Indian jurist, political leader, philosopher, thinker, anthropologist, historian, orator, prolific writer, economist, scholar, editor, a revolutionary and one of the founding fathers of independent India. He was also the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of Indian Constitution.

Dr. Ambedkar was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, in 1990.

Business Standard
http://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/nation-pays-homage-to-ambedkar-on-his- 58th-death-anniversary-113120600132_1.html

Posted on: December 6, 2013

 


Ramdas’ pro-Dalit gesture a gimmick: Vishwanath

A day after the BJP launched a padayatra to Bangalore ahead of its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s rally, Mysore MP Adagooru H Vishwanath on Wednesday accused former minister S A Ramdas of playing to the gallery by projecting himself as an honest leader.

Puncturing the BJP leader’s vision about the country’s progress, Vishwanath alleged that it is all a gimmick of the “land-grabber” to recast his image after his defeat in the assembly polls in May.

Referring to Ramdas’ two-day stay at a village in Hunsur taluk last week, the senior Congress leader said, “He tried to project himself as pro-Dalit by staying at a Dalit’s place at Kattemalalawadi. But where did he eat? He had dinner at a Brahmin’s place and then went to the Dalit’s place to spend the night.”

Vishwanath’s taunts came as Ramdas-led padayatra reached Mandya district.

The Congress leader even took swipe at Modi, saying he doesn’t know basic history, referring to the BJP leader’s recent gaffes at his campaign rallies. On Sunday, Modi got the names of freedom fighter Shyamaji Krishna Varma and Jan Sangh (which later became the BJP) founder Shyama Prasad Mookerjee mixed up at a rally in Kheda, Gujarat.

Arguing that Modi didn’t know about the founder of his party, Vishwanath said, “A person who doesn’t know the history of the nation cannot write history.”

Alleging that the Gujarat chief minister had paid a US-based firm Rs 150 crore to run his election campaign machinery, he added that Modi is trying to project himself as the nation’s savior. “But he should remember that this is no presidential polls like in the US,” said Vishwanath, criticizing the BJP for collecting money for Modi’s Bangalore rally on November 17.

Turning his ire towards the BJP thereafter, he said the party has been misleading the public. “At the peak of Ram Mandir movement, the BJP collected one brick from one family [to build the Ram temple]. Where are they (the bricks) now? This exposes their hollow promises.”

Taking a dig at the popular acronym of NaMo for Modi, Vishwanath said, “NaMo stands for Nanage Mosa (I’ve been cheat)”. His reasoning: That Modi “cheated” BJP stalwarts L K Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley by shattering their dreams of becoming the party’s prime ministerial candidates.

Times of India
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-11-14/mysore/44072752_1_narendra-modi-bjp-lead er-l-k-advani

Posted on: November 15, 2013

 


Poverty looming large ahead of India 2014 vote

India’s growing economy has a darker side. The disparity between the rich and poor is growing. The country of 1.2 billion has more than 78 million homeless people. 30 million of them live in capital New Delhi. The urban population is growing faster due to rapidly growing wave of migrations. According to an economic survey New Delhi still continues to be an attractive destination for those seeking better employment – 75,000 people come to Delhi every year.

India’s urban population has doubled in last 20 years. The average rent of an apartment in the country is around 177 dollars. Over 90 million have less than a dollar a day to spend. Poverty is accompanied by many other problems including illness, illiteracy, drug abuse and forced labour among the homeless.

The economic progress means little to them. Every year 7,200 children including infants are raped. Many run away from home. They are forced to scavenge garbage for a living.

Industrial growth is almost stagnant. The new jobs are created only in the service sector which require higher education. The university seats are limited. Only a small number of the youth mange to get useful education. Things might change in the future. National elections are just six months away and poverty has once again become a political issue.

Observers say government plans to supply the poor with low-cost housing have not yielded desired results. Now, with real estate prices soaring, having a permanent roof for many people remains a distant dream.

To view video click on the link below:
http://www.presstv.ir/detail/2013/10/06/327990/poverty-looming-large-ahead-of-india-2014-vote/

Sanjay Sethi
PressTV

Posted on: October 7, 2013

 


Why India’s Next Prime Minister Will Be a Woman

In Indira Gandhi, India last had a woman prime minister three decades ago. India’s fragmented polity of today places one of two women, J. Jayalalithaa or Mayawati (who goes by a single name), in pole position to become premier after next year’s federal elections.

Much attention is currently on Narendra Modi, the just-annointed prime ministerial candidate of India’s principal opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Disillusionment with the ruling Congress is widespread. Its leadership too seems resigned to not regaining power. All it wants to do is thwart Modi from winning.

The Indian parliament’s electable chamber has 545 seats, and because of the country’s incredible diversity of language, religion, caste, and ethnicity, no single party has won an outright majority since just after Indira Gandhi’s death. Either the Congress or the BJP usually win roughly between 150 and 200 seats and then cobble together a coalition. In rare instances, one of the two main parties has propped up a smaller player to lead the government.

The euphoria of Modi’s supporters is unbound. They are already presuming that he has become prime minister. But the BJP will need to cross 200 seats to make a realistic bid for power, and there is no reason to believe that it will reach the number (183 seats are the most it has won as yet). Eighty seats alone come from a single state, Uttar Pradesh (UP), where the BJP was mauled in local elections just over a year ago. It has no local leadership worth the name there. Modi is popular among sections, but he is an outsider from the state of Gujarat, which is far removed from the Hindi heartland of which UP is the very heart.

The ruling Congress has also just started providing food grains at highly subsidized rates to much of the the country’s poor, who comprise almost 70 percent of the population. While the program may not propel it back to power, it promises to be a game changer. The BJP has typically appealed to the Hindu middle classes; the Congress to the poor. The Congress hopes that the food program will re-energize its base, allowing it to win between 130 and 150 seats, whereupon it can scupper the BJP’s chances.

Modi’s polarizing personality makes it difficult for the BJP to attract allies. Aligned currently with it are only two small parties, which can deliver but a small number of seats. Even if the BJP wins 200 seats on its own, it still needs 73 more for parliamentary majority.

The only other outside leader to have shown open affinity for Modi is J. Jayalalithaa, chief minister of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. But she has serious pretensions of her own of becoming prime minister. She did not make any public comment to felicitate Modi on his recent elevation, indicating that she is no mood to play second fiddle.

Jayalalithaa won a resounding victory in her state two years ago, and has retained her popularity through populist schemes. Her opposition remains in shambles, so she can hope to garner 30 out of the nearly 40 seats from her state. While she consorts with Modi, she has been careful not to get tainted by his anti-Muslim image. And more than three decades in politics has made her an opportunist. She would not hesitate to jettison Modi and the BJP for the Congress were that to fructify her chances of becoming prime minister.

The other regional leader with burgeoning potential is Mayawati, a woman from the untouchable caste, who led UP until she badly lost local elections a year ago. But major missteps by her victorious adversaries have rekindled a longing for her. With both the BJP and the Congress weak in UP, Mayawati can easily aspire to about half of UP’s 80 seats.

India lacks no shortage of regional chieftains who would like to become prime minister, but no one else seems to be in a position to win between 30 and 40 seats. Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of the large state of Bihar, seemed to have been one such but his dramatic divorce with the BJP over Modi’s promotion promises to cost him Hindu votes. Other local leaders such as Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mamata Banerjee shone briefly, but their star appears to have waned.

Assuming that Modi gets 180 seats, he will need about a hundred more seats to form the government. If both Jayalalithaa and Mayawati win 30 seats each, and both decide to support Modi, he still lacks 40 seats. Some minor parties may come to his side, but he remains anathema to most major ones, so he will find it difficult to bridge the deficit.

The BJP could, of course, ask Modi to step aside as its prime ministerial candidate, and nominate in his stead someone more agreeable to allies, but after leading the BJP to its near all-time high of seats, Modi will not take the affront lightly. Compromise has never been his strong suit.

In any case, with the BJP at 180, Jayalalithaa and Mayawati will start fancying their own chances. Why support Modi when they can themselves have the crown? But if both win 30 seats, each would want to lead the coalition, and exclude the other from the mix. With 30 seats from one of them, and 180 from Modi, 60-odd seats would still be required from the same parties who do not want to be associated with Modi.

The Congress then becomes the party of choice for Jayalalithaa and Mayawati. Cobbling together an alliance would be so much easier. Were the Congress to pick up 140 seats, another 30 seats (from Jayalalithaa or Mayawati) leaves a gap of around 100-odd seats, a number that may appear daunting, but one that can be made up with a number of big regional parties. Additionally, the Congress knows that its own house is in bad order, and would to want to lick its wounds for some time, so it might be more accommodating to a small party than a resurgent Modi would be.

One can thus arrive at three conclusions. First, unless the BJP wins 200-odd seats, it could find it well nigh impossible to lead a government. Second, the Congress seems happy to play spoiler to Modi by actively seeking to prop up a smaller party. Third, the Congress’s abdication and Modi’s unpalatability will incline any regional leader with 30 seats to lean on the former to make a play for the prime minister’s job. With just about half a year to go for national elections, Jayalalithaa and Mayawati lead the pack of regional contenders for premiership. India could well have a woman prime minister after decades.

Sunil Sharan
Huffington Post
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sunil-sharan/why-indias-next-prime-min_b_3931866.html

Posted on: September 17, 2013

 


Political Parties Ignore Dalit Issues

State president of the Kerala Dalit Federation (KDF) P. Ramabhadran has said that the coming Lok Sabha elections will prove that the Dalits are a force to reckon with.

Mainstream political parties were under the impression that the Dalits were not capable of deciding the victor in an election. This would be proved wrong in the coming Lok Sabha elections, he said inaugurating a State-level leadership conference of the KDF here on Monday.

Mr. Ramabhadran said that each Member of Parliament was given Rs.5 crore annually for carrying out development work in their respective constituencies.

It was mandatory that 22 per cent of that be utilised for the welfare and development of the Dalit sections. But the reality was that a majority of MPs did not utilise even 2 per cent of the amount for the Dalits.

He alleged that some of the MPs from the State who had solicited the support of the KDF during the last Lok Sabha election were now totally ignoring the Dalits.

Mr. Ramabhadran was particularly critical of Wayanad MP M.I. Shanavas in this connection.

He said that it would be better for the United Democratic Front to hand over the Wayanad seat to a Socialist Janata Party candidate in the coming Lok Sabha elections. All political parties conveniently forgot the promises made in the election manifestoes.

If at least some of the promises had become a reality, the living conditions of the Dalits would have been much better, he said.

KDF State general secretary K.P.C. Kuttan presided.

The Hindu
http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/political-parties-ignore-dalit-issues-forum/articl e5113379.ece

Posted on: September 12, 2013

 


Will Telangana see a dalit CM from Congress?

August 2, 2013

The question is uppermost in the minds of observers as the Centre gets down to dividing Andhra Pradesh, with Congress having last put a dalit in the top post over three decades ago – Jagannath Pahadia in Rajasthan.

The new state has a strong presence of dalits along with OBCs and Reddys in a diverse social mix favourable for Congress. With the likelihood of Telangana becoming a reality by the year-end, Congress may find it alluring to hoist a dalit CM to send a signal to the community nationally ahead of the 2014 elections.

The choice of a dalit from Telangana as deputy CM in Andhra Pradesh has long held out the possibility, first raised by Telangana Rashtra Samithi after it became a political force in 2004. Congress made another dalit from Telangana deputy speaker of the assembly.

SCs/STs comprise 24.7% of Telangana’s population while the share goes up to 26.9% outside Hyderabad.

Congress leaders believe the choice of CM would depend on the combination the party opts for after division. If Andhra continues to have a Reddy at the helm, the chances of Reddy claimants would be bleak in Telangana.

But if the party plumps for a non-Reddy (like Kapu) in Andhra, thinking the Reddys would anyway side with YSR Congress, then a Reddy would be in contention in Telangana.

Significance is attached to Congress recently passing a law on SC/ST sub-plan, making it mandatory for state ministries to spend on dalit welfare in proportion to their population. The stress on dalit agenda is seen as dictated by the exodus of the community to Jaganmohan Reddy, largely because they identify the welfare schemes with his late father YS Rajasekhara Reddy.

A dalit CM from Congress ranks has become a near impossibility, contrasting poorly with Mayawati who is the product of a bahujan movement dedicated to weakening the grand old party’s hold over the community.

Congress insiders and observers believe that Telangana presents the best chance to end the barren patch that keeps coming up for sniggers and which questions the party’s commitment to political empowerment of the weaker caste.

The recent Karnataka elections came tantalizingly close to giving a dalit CM, with PCC chief G Parameshwara seen as a strong claimant for the top post. But Parameshwara failed to win his assembly seat.

By Subedh Ghildiyal
Times of India

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-08-01/india/40960734_1_telangana-rashtra-sa mithi-ysr-congress-dalit-cm

Posted on: August 2, 2013

 


6% growth not enough given India’s poverty level: Subbarao

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will announce its economic growth estimates for the current financial year (2013-14) on May 3, when it announces its annual monetary policy, RBI governor D Subbarao said here today.

“Various investment banks and think tanks have projected the growth numbers for this year at slightly higher than last year’s growth rate of five per cent. Many international governors have told me that India’s growth rate would be about six per cent this year. We have not yet made our projections. We will announce them on May 3,” he said.

He was speaking on “India’s Macroeconomic Challenges – Some RBI Perspectives”, organised by the Federation of Karnataka Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FKCCI).

He added even six per cent growth was not sufficient and the country should aspire for higher numbers at eight -nine per cent or even a double-digit growth, “though it was not possible to achieve it next year”.

“For a country, which by whatever estimates, has at least 300 million people below poverty line, a six per cent growth is just not enough.”

We need to grow at eight per cent or nine per cent and indeed a double-digit growth year on year for the next 10 years in order to bring those hundreds of millions of people above the poverty line,” he said.

He further added it would not be possible to achieve 10 per cent growth immediately in the next year. “I am not suggesting that we are going to grow at 10 per cent next year. It is not possible. But we must aspire for that,” he said.

“For a long time, we have seen our East Asian tigers such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea and Taiwan growing at eight – nine per cent and 10 per cent. We were quite dismissive saying they were small economies and India is a large economy and it cannot grow at that high rate. But China has demonstrated it emphatically, consistently for the last 15 years that a large economy can grow year-on-year at above 10 per cent and that is both a challenge and an opportunity for India. We need to grow at a faster pace in the next 10 years,” Subbarao said.

India’s long-term growth drivers are intact like demographic dividend, young population, the capacity levels and the rising productivity levels that can lead it on a high growth rate, he said.

“India growth story is intact. But India growth story is not inevitable. If we don’t do right things in the right time, we will squander an opportunity. It is very important we think through all the short term and medium term challenges so that we exploit the potential of this country,” Subbarao added.

Business Standard, April 6, 2013

http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/6-growth-not-enough-given-india-s-po verty-level-subbarao-113040600389_1.html

Posted on: April 6, 2013

 


India needs 8% growth to deal with poverty, unemployment: PM

By FP Staff

During his 30-minutre reply to President Pranab Mukherjee‘s address in Parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised that India will return to a growth path of 7-8 percent in the next two years as the UPA government has opened up the path for economic reforms.

He also agreed with the president that India needed high growth rate of 8 percent to solve the problems of poverty and unemployment, adding that his government is doing its best to achieve inclusive growth.

“Throughout UPA, govt social expenditure high to include inclusive growth.. Slow growth is not here to stay,” he said.

“We are confident that the growth will bounce back with our efforts to 7 to 8 percent. If leader of opposition, colleagues reflect calmly they will conclude that the path we have chosen is the right path,” he said.

“The Congress government in early nineties opened up our economy and the path of economic reforms to create an environment for rapid industrialization,” he said while replying to the debate on the motion of thanks to the president’s address.

“Mr. Jaitley should be more objective in assessing work of UPA government whether agriculture, growth rate or industrialization as the record of the UPA speaks for itself and we don’t have to go in more details,” he said.

Attacking the opposition, Manmohan Singh said: “When men are full of envy they disparage everything, whether it be good or bad.”

Singh also replied to a host of issues raised by the Opposition including the country’s economy, development, terrorism and foreign policy besides internal security.

Talking about foreign policy, Singh referred to Pakistan and made it clear that normalisation in relations cannot take place unless the terror infrastructure is dismantled there.

In order to break the logjam over National Counter Terrorism Centre, he offered to work with states to evolve a consensus on this crucial security measure.

Rejecting the Opposition charge that Government was not dealing effectively with internal security, Singh asserted that there would be no compromise in dealing with terrorism.

“All political parties need to speak with one voice in dealing with terrorism. In order to bring about a broad national consensus, we will work with state governments in respect to the proposal for setting of NCTC,” he said in Rajya Sabha.

The setting up of NCTC has been hanging fire for last three years because of strong resistance by Opposition-ruled states, which contend it would encroach upon the powers of the states. In the wake of the Hyderabad blasts, Government is again initiating efforts to set up the NCTC.

Jaitley had yesterday taken a dig at the government and asked it not to convert the NCTC into a slogan. “I believe that there are no two points of views that we should not make any compromise in dealing with terrorism,” the Prime Minister said.

Firstpost, March 8, 2013

http://www.firstpost.com/economy/india-needs-8-growth-to-deal-with-poverty-unemployment-pm-6 53200.html

Posted on: March 8, 2013

 


Malnutrition in children is one of India’s biggest challenges: PM

Describing malnutrition in children as one of India’s biggest challenges, the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, said on Wednesday that his government is taking several steps in many dimensions to tackle the problem.

Addressing the nation on the occasion of the country’s 65th Independence Day from the ramparts of the historic 17th century-built Red Fort, Dr. Singh said: “Malnutrition in children is a big challenge for us. We have taken steps in many dimensions to deal with this problem.”

He added: “In the last eight years, the number of mothers and children benefitting from the ICDS has doubled. The process of making the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) more effective is in its last stages and will be completed in the next one to two months.”

He also said that it was a matter of pride and satisfaction that the government’s mid-day-meal scheme provides nutritious meals in schools for about 12 crore children everyday, and described it as the biggest scheme of its kind in the world.

It was also a matter of satisfaction to note that in the last one and half years, no new case of polio has come to light, and now India does not figure in the list of countries affected by this disease, Dr. Singh said.

Commenting on the achievements of the National Rural Health Mission, which the UPA regime had launched in 2005, Dr. Singh said the government would continue to endeavour to extend health services to each and every village in the country.

“Today, this mission is being implemented with the help of 10 lakh health personnel, including 8.5 lakh Asha workers. After the success of the National Rural Health Mission, we now want to expand the scope of health services in our towns also. The National Rural Health Mission will be converted into a National Health Mission which would cover all villages and towns in the country. We are also formulating a scheme for distribution of free medicines through government hospitals and health centres,” Dr. Singh said.

The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) is a government sponsored programme, and is India’s primary social welfare scheme to tackle malnutrition and health problems in children below six years of age and their mothers.

The main beneficiaries of the programme were aimed to be the girl child up to her adolescence, all children below six years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers.

The gender promotion of the girl child by trying to bring her at par with the male child is a key component of the scheme.

A majority of children in India have underprivileged childhoods starting from birth. The infant mortality rate of Indian children is 47 and the under-five mortality rate is 93. Twenty-five percent of newborn children are underweight among other nutritional, immunization and educational deficiencies of children in India. Figures for India are substantially worse than the developing country average.

National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) is a program for improving health care delivery across rural India.

The mission, initially mooted for 7 years (2005-2012), is run by the Ministry of Health.

The scheme proposes a number of new mechanisms for healthcare delivery including training local residents as Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA), and the Janani Surakshay Yojana (motherhood protection program). It also aims at improving hygiene and sanitation infrastructure.

Noted economists Ajay Mahal and Bibek Debroy have called it “the most ambitious rural health initiative ever”.

The mission has a special focus on 18 states Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Madhya Pradesh, Nagaland, Orissa, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tripura, Uttarkhand and Uttar Pradesh. (ANI)

Newstrack India, August 15, 2012

http://www.newstrackindia.com/newsdetails/2012/08/15/109-Malnutrition-in-children-is-one-of- India-s-biggest-challenges-PM.html

Posted on: August 15, 2012

 


Need second freedom struggle against hunger and disease: President

New Delhi: The nation needs a second freedom struggle to ensure that India is free forever from hunger, disease and poverty, President Pranab Mukherjee said Tuesday.

“We need a second freedom struggle; this time to ensure that India is free forever from hunger, disease and poverty,” the president said in his Independence Day eve address.

He said while education is the seed, economy is the fruit and if education is provided, hunger, disease and poverty will recede.

He said this is possible if the young are given the chance.

“We are a nation that is becoming younger both in age and spirit, this is an opportunity as well as a challenge. The young thirst for knowledge that will lift their skills; and for opportunity that will put India on the fast track to the first world. They have the character, they need the chance,” he added.

“Education is the seed; and economy is the fruit. Provide good education; disease, hunger and poverty will recede,” he said.

“As I said in my acceptance speech; our motto must be : All for knowledge and knowledge for all. Vision cannot be an open-ended vista; it must be focused on our youth,” he added.

Newstrack India, August 14, 2012

Posted on: August 14, 2012

 


India’s new President Pranab Mukherjee vows to fight poverty as he’s sworn into office

By Associated Press

NEW DELHI — Political veteran Pranab Mukherjee pledged to fight widespread poverty and work to alleviate hunger as he was sworn in Wednesday as India’s 13th president in an elaborate ceremony in Parliament.

The position of president is largely ceremonial, but Mukherjee would have a key role in determining who forms the next government in the event of a hung Parliament after elections in 2014.

The 76-year-old Mukherjee is a top leader of the Congress Party who resigned from his post as finance minister to run for president. He was elected last week by national and state lawmakers.

Mukherjee traveled to Parliament on Wednesday in a bulletproof limo escorted by an honor guard on horseback and security jeeps. His arrival was greeted by the blaring of bugles.

The Chief Justice of India’s Supreme Court S. H. Kapadia administered the oath of office in the flower bedecked central hall of Parliament. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi and Singh’s Cabinet colleagues were present at the ceremony.

Soon after Mukherjee was sworn in, soldiers sounded a 21-gun salute amid loud applause from the hundreds of lawmakers who attended the event.

Mukherjee pledged to work for development and create opportunities for young Indians to rise out of poverty.

“For our development to be real, the poorest of our land must feel that they are part of the narrative of rising India,’” he told lawmakers. “We must lift those at the bottom so that poverty is erased from the dictionary of modern India.”

He urged lawmakers to focus on removing hunger from a country where nearly half of children under the age of 5 suffer from malnutrition.

“There is no humiliation more abusive than hunger. Trickle-down theories do not address the legitimate aspirations of the poor,” he said.

Mukherjee, who replaces Pratibha Patil, India’s first woman president, will serve a five year term.

Mukherjee has been a Congress Party stalwart since 1969 and a key troubleshooter in managing its fractious coalitions.

At different times he has served as foreign minister, defense minister and finance minister, the latter twice.

His latest term controlling the finance portfolio from 2009 was marred by slowing economic growth, a weakened currency and rising inflation. India’s economic growth of 5.3 percent in the last quarter was the slowest in nine years.

Mukherjee’s win in the presidential election comes as a boost for the ruling Congress party, under pressure due to corruption allegations against several ministers and demands that it take more action against graft.

The Washington Post, July 25, 2012

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/indias-new-president-sworn-into-office-in-e laborate-ceremony/2012/07/25/gJQA7NuA8W_story.html

Posted on: July 25, 2012

 


Indian prisons - rhetoric and reality

By Ningthi Mangsatabam

The portrayal of prisons in our reel world is that of a four walled, impossible to exit station. It is often a depiction of two contrasting facets: one showing that the convict is a dreaded criminal who is just too reluctant to change, and the other demonstrating lots of innocent masses caught in a crime jam by an archaic criminal justice system. While on one hand prisons are shown as places with dehumanising conditions, at other times they are painted as huge fortified walls of concrete with abundant space for song and dance where there is no trace of disease and filth. But in contrast, the grave reality of prisons and their state is immensely numb and not dealt with in a broader term with reference to the purpose they were construed.

According to the Prison Statistics Report 2000, India has about 2,48,115 prisoners in total to the available capacity of 2,11,720; Uttar Pradesh topping it with 49,885 inmates. Prisons in India are still governed by the century old Prisons Act 1894 and the Prisoners Act 1900. The application of a century old law in the changed socio-political scenario is absolutely bizarre, and is out of tune with the entirely transformed picture of human society. During the past some decades several organisations, intellectuals and committees set up for jail reforms have expressed their views on the importance of reviewing the Act which is not comprehensive.

The new thinking on prisons has been duly summarised by the dictum that convicted persons go to prison as punishment and not for punishment (Charles Shobraj vs. Superintendent, Tihar jail, AIR 1978, SC 1514). The condition of a substantially large number of prisons continues to be bad, dehumanising and violative of the residuary rights of inmates. There has been a plethora of recommendations for the improvement of these conditions both from recommendatory bodies and from the apex judiciary but a large chunk of these recommendations has not seen the light of the day.

Overcrowding is the greatest practical hindrance to efforts of reforming the Indian prison system. Some prisons house as much as three times more inmates than their capacity. Prisons in general are housed in dilapidated age-old buildings with its management in the hands of an untrained, disgruntled, over-worked and insufficient staff. Constraints of inappropriate working conditions weigh over opportunities for correctional work.

During my recent visit to a prison, I saw what I had never expected to see. Even though the building stood fortified, it did ask for much do-up. The pillars were old enough to have seen four generations of prisoners. The barracks looked unkempt and least maintained. One single cell housed three times the capacity making it too uncomfortable for the inmates to even move about, apart from the fact that they slept in shifts. Those small coops, called cells, contained people from all walks of crime — petty thieves, murderers, bride burners, scamsters, anti-socials and a whole sty of undertrials.

The most evident showcase was the lot who thought they were at the wrong address. When I asked one of the inmates what he was there for, he said “I don’t know, I was having my lunch at home when they arrested me on the ground of murder.” Who the victim was, he never knew. One of the prison staff said that cases like these were rare.

The next corner of the prison housed women prisoners. According to the Prison Statistics Report 2000, women inmates constitute 3.42 per cent of the total inmate population in the country. In India social customs make women ex-offenders more vulnerable to suspicion and rejection. The stigma of having been in prison has more adverse after-effects for women than for men. They are always looked down upon by everyone — their family members, the prison staff, as well as society. They are forced to adapt and survive in this unfriendly and indecent ambience.

Women are disowned by their families and there is always lack of a helping guardian. As a result many of them are confined as undertrials for want of a surety. Being uneducated and lacking legal awareness they are often given unduly long detentions.

Out of the total inmates just a few seemed to repent their wrongdoings and were seriously exploring legal ways to exit for good. They consulted private lawyers who charged hefty and unaffordable fees and did the least to solve anything. The lawyers commissioned under free legal aid never visited and never cared for the inmates.

The condition of prison staff is none the better. They have a long story about their own deplorable existence. Most of them have been stagnating in the same position for more than ten years without any opening for promotion or change. Due to terrible paucity of staff, those supposed to be on security duties are on ministerial tasks. Salaries and other service conditions are unjustifiably lower than those of their counterparts in other sister organisations. Even training which is so essential for jobs in correctional institutions is conspicuous by its absence in most cadres.

It is time to think of better networking, effective prison reforms and their true application, education and overall societal contribution to the improvement of prison conditions. We must seek solutions both in the prisons and outside in society. Public funds now being wasted on unhealthy institutions called prisons need to be better spent on sensible pay-offs.

The Hindu, April 20, 2004

http://www.hindu.com/op/2004/04/20/stories/2004042000251700.htm

Posted on: May 1, 2012

 


Has the time come to elevate Ambedkar over Gandhi?

By Abhay Vaidya

Like it happens every year, yet another birth anniversary of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar passed by this 14 April, less than 10 days ago. The occasion was a day of high celebration and festivity primarily for Dalits across the country. For the rest, it was just another holiday, a little less enjoyable because it fell on a weekend.

As the man who emancipated the untouchables and other depressed classes and freed them from a 2,000-year-old curse, it is debatable whether Ambedkar’s stature in India stands taller than that of Mahatma Gandhi’s.

Even 60 years after Independence, the caste system has a stranglehold on large parts of Indian society and rears its head at the time of marriage. Innocent youngsters, even from well-educated families, are reprimanded if they try to break the caste barrier by attempting love marriages. Sometimes, they are even put to death in the name of “honour killing” — predominantly a north Indian custom that has now become visible even in a state like Maharashtra that was in the forefront of the social reforms movement.

Ambedkar thought very deeply about the caste system and — 85 years ago, during the 1927 Mahad satyagraha — spoke of inter-caste marriages as a lasting solution to the caste problem. As he said, “We need to pull away the nails which hold the framework of caste-bound Hindu society together, such as those of the prohibition of inter-marriage, down to the prohibition of social intercourse so that Hindu society becomes all of one caste. Otherwise untouchability cannot be removed nor can equality be established…”

Born as an “untouchable” in the Mahar sub-caste, Ambedkar went on to secure scholarships and study at Columbia University, the London School of Economics and at Gray’s Inn, UK, from where he became a Bar-at-Law.

When he entered public life in India and began fighting for the liberation of the depressed classes, he tirelessly exhorted the poor to doggedly pursue education and become self-reliant. He established the People’s Education Society and opened a string of educational institutions and night colleges to provide the poor with access to education. This constant emphasis of his on education continues to be relevant even today, especially when India is debating the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009.

Ambedkar’s message to his followers was to “educate, agitate, organise”. Dalit leaders today seem to only agitate for anything and everything. AFP

What has happened in India today is that this extraordinary crusader, architect of India’s Constitution and one of the founding fathers of the nation, has been reduced to an icon of just one section of Indian society. This is perhaps best exemplified by what happens in prominent cities of Maharashtra on 14 April when Ambedkar Jayanti gets reduced to a noisy street event of the Dalits with cacophonous, slow-moving processions causing irritating traffic jams on busy roads.

Instead, the occasion ought to be one of intense soul-searching for the nation with a reflection on his thoughts and ideas and new initiatives and programmes to further weaken the caste system. One cannot expect the Dalit community to take the lead in this as it is politically and intellectually fragmented and trapped in inter-personal rivalries and jealousies.

Ambedkar’s most critical satyagrahas were the 1927 Chavdar Lake movement at Mahad to bring access to public sources of drinking water, the Kalaram temple-entry movement at Nashik and the symbolic burning of the Manusmriti – the ancient book of law of the Hindus which ordained the caste system. The final blow that he delivered against the caste system, six weeks before his death, was his mass conversion to Buddhism as a way to secure freedom from tyranny in Hindu society.

Politically, Ambedkar was bitterly opposed to Gandhi and was seen as pro-British as he gave priority to securing rights for the depressed classes over anything else. His most famous clash with Gandhi was over separate electorates for the depressed classes announced by the British government in 1932.

Arun Shourie’s Worshipping False Gods takes an uncharitable view of Ambedkar, questioning his patriotism and criticising his politics and rivalry with Gandhi while completely ignoring his stupendous work in bringing dignity and self-respect to the untouchables.

On the other hand, Ramchandra Guha’s Makers of Modern India, is in agreement with Ambedkar’s biographer Dhananjay Keer. Keer wrote that it was for the first time in 2,500 years that someone like Ambedkar had emerged to focus the world’s attention on the civic, social, political rights and liberties of the untouchable castes “who had been treated worse than animals”.

What Ambedkar did was to awaken “in them a sense of human dignity, a feeling of self-respect and a burning hatred of untouchability that was worse than slavery,” says Guha quoting Keer.

In an essay in 1945, Why the Untouchables distrust Gandhi, Ambedkar said that Gandhi’s anti-untouchability campaigns failed because he was primarily seen as a political leader and his campaign was looked upon as “a fad if not a side-show.” Therefore, said Ambedkar, “Hindus respond to his political biddings but never to his social or religious preachings…” Ambedkar also maintained that Gandhi failed because “he did not go beyond sermons on untouchability”.

In all fairness to Gandhi, Guha notes that in spite of the bitter criticism from Ambedkar for nearly two decades, it was Gandhi “who seems to have been personally responsible” for Ambedkar’s selection as India’s first law minister after Independence.

Ambedkar’s message to his followers was to “educate, agitate, organise”. Dalit leaders today seem to only agitate for anything and everything. Although possessed by the larger issue, Ambedkar also touched upon the issue of empowerment of women and rather evocatively said, “The progress of the country should be measured by the progress of women”.

The people of India are being unfair to Ambedkar when they see him as a leader of the Dalits alone. He ranks amongst the foremost icons of modern India. His birth anniversary ought to inspire schools, colleges and the society at large to reflect on strategies to weaken if not erase caste barriers, the value of education and the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity that he said form the bedrock of the Indian Constitution.

By “fraternity” he meant the spirit of oneness among Indians, not separated by linguistically-driven chauvinism, religion and caste.

April 23, 2012, Firstpost

http://www.firstpost.com/india/284957-284957.html

Posted on: April 23, 2012

 


For India’s Lowest Castes, Path Forward Is ‘Backward’

By Geeta Anand and Amol Sharma, Published: December 9, 2011

HASNABAD, India—Decades ago, Siraj Gazi’s grandfather changed his last name of Chowduli to the higher-caste Gazi. He hoped it would erase the social stigma of his low-caste roots.

Today, 23-year-old Mr. Gazi, a college graduate, is trying to prove that he is, in fact, a Chowduli—a surname so low, it is akin to a racial epithet here.

“My grandfather wanted to stop people from looking down on us as ignorant and backward,” says Mr. Gazi. “But to get a better job, I’m willing to go back.”

Despite India’s expanding economy, the fruits of rising wealth—and opportunities for economic and social mobility—have largely bypassed many rural areas like Mr. Gazi’s fishing village near the Bangladesh border.

So India is trying to engineer advancement for its underclass through a vast and growing affirmative-action program. To decide who should benefit, officials are adapting a means of categorization long viewed by many as one of the great evils of Indian society: the Hindu caste system.

Since 1993, India has almost doubled, to 2,251, the number of groups on its official list of “backward classes” that are entitled to 27% of central-government jobs and university admissions, and a varying proportion of state jobs. Officials are in the process of classifying roughly 200 more groups as officially “backward” so that they benefit as well.

And for the first time in 80 years, the nation is conducting a “caste census,” tallying India’s thousands of sub-castes. A caste census has long been taboo, for fear it would reinforce discrimination. But this year, lower-caste groups forced the government’s hand. Their hope: The tally will show low-caste numbers are much higher than thought, justifying more government benefits and perhaps even job quotas in the private sector.

For centuries, caste determined not only peoples’ social status but their marriages and occupations as well. The hierarchy is based on four broad caste groups (topped by the priestly Brahmins), each divided into thousands of subgroups. An Agarwal from the Bania caste married within that group and grew up to become a businessman; a Yadav would herd cattle. Members of the Paraiyar group—from which the word “pariah” is derived—performed menial labor and because they were considered unclean, lived outside of villages.

Across India’s estimated 6,400 sub-castes, the system came to define a person’s socioeconomic status. It continues to serve fundamental economic needs: Absent strong market forces or public institutions, people use caste networks to obtain jobs, loans and housing.

But caste can be fiercely discriminatory. Communities developed incentives to maintain their rung on the caste ladder, lest those below pass them.

Even though the lowest social group, the Dalits—once known as “untouchables”—has produced some successful businesspeople, it still lags well behind higher classes who have twice the median household income, a recent survey shows.

Around the time India opened its economy 20 years ago, ending decades of Soviet-style central planning, it also set out to create a society of equal opportunity. It did so by more than doubling the quota of jobs and seats in government colleges reserved for disadvantaged castes. India’s lower castes—a huge voting bloc—have used their newfound influence to express frustration at their lack of economic mobility as the economy races ahead.

The danger in using caste as a development tool, critics say, is that the government is perpetuating ancient divisions that still run deep. Just this April, the Indian Supreme Court in a wide-ranging ruling blasted the caste system as “a curse on the nation,” saying “the sooner it is destroyed, the better.” That ruling outlawed India’s unofficial courts that sanction “honor killings,” in which families kill young lovers who are from different castes rather than suffer the stigma of a marriage across caste lines.

India’s Constitution guarantees equality to all. But it also enshrines caste-based affirmative action for Dalits, known in legal terms as “scheduled castes,” and for indigenous forest-dwellers, known as “scheduled tribes.” In time, the government created a third group, the “Other Backward Classes.”

There are limits: People earning more than $9,000 a year are considered part of a “creamy layer” that doesn’t get benefits. But overall, almost half of all government jobs and college seats are reserved for the disadvantaged.

Among the Hindu groups now petitioning the government to be considered “backward” are the Devangas in the state of West Bengal, traditional weavers whose name means “those who make clothes for God.”

“Granting the status of ‘backward’ isn’t necessary if everyone is allowed to shine in life—but in reality this opportunity is lacking,” said M. Kesava Rao, the acting administrator at a high school serving mostly Devangas. The group is already recognized as “backward” by the state; it wants national recognition to qualify for federal quotas as well.

The Devangas migrated generations ago from the south of India to work in West Bengal’s jute mills. But the jute business is declining. A lack of other industries leaves them with little hope for social or economic mobility.

In Serampore, a town an hour’s drive north of Kolkata, about 6,000 Devangas live in tiny, pastel homes. Sewage flows along open drains lining dirt footpaths. Inside, women sit at pedal-operated sewing machines, making sari blouses they sell for about four cents each. Only one in five of the women can read at a primary school level, government figures show.

Kondaka Kameshwar Rao, 42, who is married with two children, is among the better-paid Devangas. He earns $140 a month operating a winding machine at a surviving jute plant.

But he can’t afford private tutors for his children, 11 and 14 years old. In the overcrowded classrooms of India’s public schools, tutors are key to scoring high enough on college exams to gain admission.

The only avenue Mr. Rao sees to give his children the economic mobility he lacks is to get the family “backward” status. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of,” he says. “Not everyone is Brahmin.”

India is unique in having such a complex social system to identify people in need. Yet critics say the affirmative-action program promotes inter-caste resentment as India’s 1.2 billion people compete for too few jobs.

China, which also struggles to lift its rural poor, has taken a different approach, investing more heavily in public health, education and infrastructure. While China had a head start—opening its economy roughly a decade earlier than India did—it outranks India in measures including poverty and maternal mortality. India is also pouring more money into schools and rural-employment programs.

Being categorized “backward” in India is no guarantee of benefits. Despite the job quotas, many people still can’t meet minimum requirements to get hired. Even most of the lowliest jobs in most state offices require an eighth-grade education, which many people lack.

In the Hasnabad area, where 750 Chowduli families live on the edge of ponds and canals, 40% of students don’t show up to elementary school for half the year, teachers say, when their parents travel to work in brick kilns several miles away.

The Chowdulis are Muslim, and therefore outside of the traditional Hindu caste system. But the word “caste” is routinely used by government experts to refer to social strata in underprivileged Muslim communities. West Bengal state, where the Chowdulis live, has nearly doubled its number of backward classes to 108 the past two years, largely by the inclusion of Muslim groups.

The Chowdulis already have state “backward” status. Now, like the Devangas, they are seeking federal recognition to benefit from more quotas.

Siraj Gazi, the young man who wants to change his name back to Chowduli, is the first member of the community whom anyone in the area can remember getting a college degree. He paid full tuition—all told, about $200 for a three-year degree at a state school.

Not even his degree has helped him land a decent job. He works part-time in a plant that filters arsenic out of drinking water. Thus he has been trying for two years to get an official government certificate identifying him as a Chowduli to gain the advantages of “backward” designation.

“I’m willing to go back and suffer people’s insults because the name is going to help me to get a job,” he says. “The truth is that even when we didn’t have the Chowduli name, people knew we were Chowdulis.”

His uncle, Mohammad Iman Gazi, lives down a mud path a five-minute walk away. He remembers the day several decades ago when he and Siraj’s grandfather decided to drop Chowduli as their last name. “We wanted to get some respect,” he says.

After the change, “We were still looked down upon, but we didn’t get looked down upon as much,” he says, standing in his two-room brick house, which he was able to build after winning $400 in the lottery a few years ago.

He says he will never change his name back to Chowduli. But if the younger generation sees something to gain, he says, he won’t stand in their way.
His own biggest regret, he says, is that he was so poor when his two sons were in school that he made them drop out at age 10 to work. Now they’re stuck in the tailoring industry, lacking the education to benefit from new opportunities.

One son, Mohammad Rafiq Gazi, 22, says he wanted to become a doctor, but his father couldn’t feed his family on the $15 a month he earned wading into a nearby canal and scooping fish into a net. Today, 12 years after quitting school, he earns $30 a month sewing women’s clothing.

“I don’t like the job, but there’s nothing else to do,” he says. “The job is always sitting, 16 hours a day sitting.”

He supports his community’s effort to attain “backward” status even though it might not help him personally. He wouldn’t qualify for most jobs reserved for “backward” groups because he lacks the required eighth-grade schooling.

The government would do better to invest in schools and teachers, especially in rural areas, rather than promise jobs to people who aren’t qualified, says Anirudh Krishna, a public-policy professor at Duke University who studies poverty in India. “The government is just taking a symbolic shortcut,” he says. “This is a crying scandal.”

Today Rafiq daydreams about setting up his own garment shop. His older brother did so about three years ago after selling some goats for about $300 to buy several sewing machines. On a recent afternoon at his brother’s one-room factory, six boys ages 11 to 16 sewed red frocks.

But Rafiq doesn’t have the goats, or the savings, to buy his own machines, he says, so he feels stymied. “What will be the end?” he says.

Nobody in the family of his college-educated cousin, Siraj, can explain exactly why they pushed him to keep studying toward his degree. He graduated this year with a bachelor of science, majoring in geography.

“We’re illiterate,” says Siraj’s stepmother, Murjina Bibi, “so we don’t really know what things he can do with an education.” But the family is “very proud” of his degree, she says. “We hope he can find a good job.”

Siraj’s part-time work in the arsenic-filtering plant pays him about $3.20 a day. His goal is to move up to “any kind of permanent job I can get that has job security,” he says.

Asked what job that would be, he pauses to think. The only employers he knows of in the area are a kiln and an ice factory, he says.

At length, Siraj says, “The best thing I can hope for is a government job” of the type he might get more easily with the “backward” status that the Chowduli surname will confer. “Beggars can’t be choosers.”

—Krishna Pokharel and Arup Chanda contributed to this article.

The Wall Street Jounal, December 9, 2011

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204903804577080700006684514.html

Posted on: December 9, 2011

 


Some Dalits vote for first time

Originally published as “Dalits, STs vote for first time”, The Hindu, April 24, 2009.

HYDERABAD: Thanks to the strict enforcement of law by the electoral and police officials, Dalits and Scheduled Tribes [ST] in 49 villages in Chittoor district [of Andhra Pradesh state] exercised their franchise for the first time since Independence on Thursday.

Disclosing this to reporters here, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) I.V. Subba Rao quoted a report sent by Chittoor Collector in this regard. Five villages—Kalicherla, Patooru, Siddavaram, Kothkaadapalli and Paapepalli—under Chandragiri Assembly segment were among those in which Dalits and STs exercised franchise for the first time.

In another incident at Koratamadi village in Nandyal Parliamentary constituency, the CEO intervened and ensured that Dalits, STs and other weaker sections cast their votes following a complaint that they were being prevented from doing so.

Following yet another complaint to the electoral authorities, police arrested some persons and booked cases against them for assaulting and preventing 400 Dalits from voting at Thundur in Bhimavaram constituency.

The CEO said that a similar case was also reported from Kadapa district.

Posted on: April 24, 2009

 


Dayal Wins Human Dignity Award

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

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

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

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

Posted on: December 15, 2008

 


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

Original article from ExpressIndia.com by Shubhlakshmi Shukla.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: December 1, 2008

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Dalit Freedom Network Team

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

Posted on: November 27, 2008

 


Can Love Conquer Caste?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: November 24, 2008

 


Yes, we can!

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

Beyond business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: November 21, 2008

 


BBC Interview of Dr. Joseph D’souza

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

Posted on: November 19, 2008

 


Hindu Threat to Christians: Convert or Flee

From the NY Times by SOMINI SENGUPTA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: October 13, 2008

 


The oppression of untouchables is modern India’s shame

From the Sunday Herald by Andrew Duke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: October 13, 2008

 


Where Bibles are Burnt

Click here for the video report

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

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

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

Reprinted by permission FRANCE 24

Posted on: October 9, 2008

 


Khairlanji Ruling is Not Fair to Dalits

Original article from Times of India.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find out more information about the Khairlanji Murders.

Posted on: October 7, 2008

 


India’s Anti-Christian Violence Unparalleled Among World Democracies

For Immediate Release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: October 4, 2008

 


India’s Civil Society Defends Christians in New Delhi Rally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: October 2, 2008

 


India"s Civil Society Defends Christians in New Delhi Rally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For immediate release

Posted on: October 2, 2008

 


Flood victims face caste discrimination

Original article from BBC News.

image

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

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

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

In Mirzawaa village, Sakal Sadah is a dalit.

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

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

image

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

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

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

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

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

Segregated society

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

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

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

image

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

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

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

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

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

I met Jamuna Devi and Puliya Musamaar here.

image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: September 12, 2008

 


United States Legislators Concerned about Violence Targeting Christians in Orissa

For immediate release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: September 9, 2008

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 1, 2008
Shrimati Pratibha Patil
The President of India

Your Excellency,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours Sincerely and Most Respectfully,

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

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

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

Posted on: September 2, 2008

 


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

Original article from the Associated Press by Gavin Rabinowitz.

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

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

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

Dozens came in but each time he was disappointed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In times of calamity, their situation is no better.

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

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

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

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

Posted on: September 1, 2008

 


Communal violence is sequel to Dalit assertion

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

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

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

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

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

Economic Reason:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: August 30, 2008

 


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

For immediate release

New Delhi, August 29, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Release by

Madhu Chandra
Regional Secretary

Posted on: August 29, 2008

 


Unprecedented Anti-Christian Violence Spirals Out of Control in India

HYDERABAD, August 28, 2008, 23:15 hrs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: August 28, 2008

 


Indian state erupts in violence after Hindu shot

Original article from CNN, by Saeed Ahmed.

image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The simmering anger sometimes boils over, with deadly consequences.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: August 27, 2008

 


Updated List of Violence Against Dalit Christians in Orissa

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

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

Posted on: August 27, 2008

 


Tragic & Widespread Anti-Christian Violence in Eastern India

For immediate release

Government authorities unable to stop Hindu nationalists from wreaking havoc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: August 26, 2008

 


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

 


The Outsiders

Original article from Tehelka.com by SHOBHITA NAITHANI.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of the article.

Posted on: June 29, 2008

 


Caste as race

Original article from IndiaTogether.org.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: June 8, 2008

 


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

 


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

 


Dalits threaten suicide over caste wall

Original article by NDTV.com.
By Prasad Kathe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: April 14, 2008

 


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

 


Dalit kids face bias: Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: March 19, 2008

 


Caste difference contributes to violence against Dalit women - Central India

Posted on: March 17, 2008

 


NDTV News Report

Linked from WNN.

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

Posted on: March 17, 2008

 


The cross they bear

Original article from The Economist print edition.

image

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

 


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

 


Dalit, Brahmin bonhomie still a dream

Original article from NDTV.com (India’s largest English TV station).
By Supriya Sharma

image

For someone who has just opened his innings in politics, Nakul Dubey is remarkably assured. Until last year, he was just a legal assistant to SC Mishra, Mayawati’s powerful Brahmin advisor and the man who crafted the unlikely but effective BSP-Brahmin alliance.

Today Dubey is minister with not one but seven portfolios and yet when asked for an interview he refused.

‘’We are not allowed to talk to the media,’’ he said and added that party chief Mayawati alone can talk.

So, in the Cabinet does Maywati alone take decisions? Surrounded by his supporters, it’s a question Dubey is compelled to take on.

‘’Our party chief does not interfere in decision-making,’’ he said.

It’s a tricky subject since tied to it are questions of whether in the BSP Brahmins have any real power.

‘’Brahmins are intellectually sharp and don’t stick around if they don’t benefit. They know their interests lie with the BSP,’’ said Dubey.

Coalition of castes

It’s one of Mayawati’s toughest challenges to balance the coalition of castes that have propelled her to absolute majority in the Vidhan Sabha.

While on the surface, the ministry seems like equitable representation, numbers are not the same as influence. And as far as influence goes, it’s seen as dominated by Brahmins.

Not just the Cabinet. Across positions of power evidence of what the other castes resent as infiltration of Mishra’s friends and relatives, but what Brahmins see as validation of promises.

That same uneasy balance found in the booklet that lists Mayawati’s achievements in the last six months.

Her flagship Ambedkar Village Scheme, first taken up in 1996 to target Dalit majority villages, is now a Rs 10,000 crore scheme extended to all.

It’s only further at the back of the brochure that her political origins make an almost token appearance – a series of memorials and structures dedicated to her mentor. It is a desperate attempt at an older symbolism of Dalit empowerment.

In caste eclipsed UP, caste-neutral policies, many would say, are signs of political maturity. But what about BSP’s loyal Dalit voter who are wooed on aggressive promises of Dalit empowerment? Does he see this as dilution of the Dalit agenda?

Hanuman Prasad Rawat is a school teacher. He is among the first to join the BSP and epitomises the current schizophrenia of its Dalit voter – disturbed and anxious but still loyal.

The loyalty, Rawat says, comes from seeing the fruits of Dalit consolidation.

‘’There was a time when we were not allowed to draw water from the village well or live with the others. I remember as a school teacher, I could not touch the tumbler, and had to drink water poured out by someone else. But after the BSP united us, we have been able to fight for our rights,’’ said Rawat.

But here is the irony. The BSP’s brand of militant Dalit politics made it possible for the Dalit to take on the upper castes.

But now as the same upper castes become political partners, what does the Dalit do when faced with the same old realities of being seen as social unequals.

In Rawat’s village, women have gathered to celebrate a birthday. The family is Brahmin and like others of the community, last year they voted for BSP.

But ask who is invited, they accept only fellow upper castes.

‘’They have courted us for political power, but do not give us the same social rights. The dalit has reached the door of the upper castes but not their kitchen,’’ said Rawat.

It’s this contradiction that will test the BSP’s future in UP more than anything else.

Posted on: January 15, 2008

 


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

Written by AICC
Thursday, 10 January 2008

For immediate release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: January 10, 2008

 


Fact Finding Report by aicc Orissa Chapter

Posted on: January 7, 2008

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

Reports collected by the aicc as of Dec. 30, 2007, indicated 65 churches burned down, 600 Christian homes destroyed, hundreds of Christians forced to flee into forests to save their lives, and thousands homeless. The aicc obtained a copy of the complaint filed with police in Bamunigaon village by Roman Catholic priest Thomas Nayak, whose church was one of the first attacked on Christmas Eve. He names twenty-two attackers who are all allegedly part of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), a sister group to the VHP, and says that Swami Saraswati visited the area on Dec. 9, 2007 and planned the attacks.

The aicc and the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations will organise a protest rally in Bubhaneshwar, Orissa, on January 10, 2008. Details are to be announced soon. A press conference yesterday, Jan. 1, 2008, in Bubhaneshwar included statements by film maker Mahesh Bhatt, National Integration Council member John Dayal (also aicc Secretary-General), and Abraham Mathai, Vice Chairman of the State Commission for Minorities, Maharashtra.

The aicc will engage in relief work as soon as curfews are lifted and the affected villages are accessible. Relief plans call for rebuilding churches, Christian homes, and distribution of blankets and food for people who have been hiding in forests for days.

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

Posted on: January 2, 2008

 


Black Christmas


image
The police guarding a church at Darigibadi in Phulbani district, on December 26.

On December 24, when the world was preparing to celebrate Christmas, the Kui-speaking tribal people of Orissa’s Kandhamal district were getting ready for a 36-hour bandh beginning the next morning. But even as preparations were on, the bomb of hatred that had been ticking for long went off, ripping the communal fabric of the district.

Trouble apparently began when a section of Hindus opposed the preparations for Christmas. Following this, a group of Christians allegedly attacked Swami Lakshmananda, a local Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader, who was on his way to perform a yagna in the Brahmanigaon area of the district. Activists of the VHP retaliated by setting ablaze churches and other Christian institutions, and houses belonging to members of the community. The VHP also called for a four-hour, State-wide bandh the next day in protest against the attack on its leader. The bandh coincided with the one that was called by the Kui Samaj Samanwaya Samiti.

The Kui Samaj has been agitating against the alleged granting of Scheduled Tribe (S.T.) status to Dalits in the district, which has a sizable Christian population. The vast majority of the Dalits in Kandhamal are Christian whereas only a small section of the tribal population has embraced Christianity. The divide between the tribal people and the Dalits has widened in recent years with the VHP repeatedly contending that religious conversion was at the root of the trouble in the central Orissa district.

As the agitating tribal people felled trees on all roads leading to the district on December 24 night to enforce their bandh beginning from the next day, VHP activists put their organisation’s stamp on the Kui Samaj agitation and went about vandalising churches and prayer houses.

Prayers were not held in any church in Kandhamal on Christmas day. One person was killed and over 30 people were injured in the clashes between the two communities.

Caught unawares, the administration imposed a curfew on Phulbani, the district headquarters, and three other towns – Brahmanigaon, Baliguda and Daringibadi. Prohibitory orders were enforced in the remaining areas of the district. In Bhubaneswar, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik appealed to the people of Kandhamal to maintain peace and harmony.

It was only on December 26 that the State government took up the matter seriously and deployed additional forces in different parts of the district. The situation, however, did not show any improvement as the police could not enter most of the areas because of roadblocks put up by Kui Samaj members.

When Kandhamal was burning, on December 26, leaders of the ruling Biju Janata Dal were busy at a massive rally in the State capital, Bhubaneswar, on the occasion of the 10th foundation day of the party. At the rally, Naveen Patnaik, who is also the BJD president, reiterated his party’s resolve to realise the dream of his father, the late Biju Patnaik, of building a prosperous Orissa.

Patnaik, however, took time off and reviewed the Kandhamal situation at the State Secretariat twice that day. The government said three companies of the Central Reserve Police Force had been called in from other places in the State to restore peace in Kandhamal.

As Kandhamal remained cut off from the rest of the world for the fourth day on December 27, the Chief Minister flew to Phulbani and held a review meeting, which was attended by Director General of Police Gopal Chandra Nanda and top officials of the police and the administration.

On his return, Patnaik told reporters in Bhubaneswar that the situation in the district had normalised to a great extent. Admitting that churches and prayer houses had been damaged or burnt down in the district, he said more than two dozen people were arrested and action was being initiated against the offenders. In reference to the tribal agitation, Patnaik said that his government would look into the grievances and take necessary steps to resolve the issue.

Patnaik, however, appeared to be unaware of the fresh violence that was occurring around the same time in Kandhamal. By evening, reports started pouring in that at least a dozen more churches and prayer houses had been burnt during the day. Besides, three persons were reportedly killed in police firing when an armed mob, said to be VHP supporters, attacked the Brahmanigaon police station. A mob attacked the police station after the police personnel tried to prevent them from attacking members of the Christian community. A senior officer was injured in the police station attack. Fresh trouble began in Brahmanigaon after the body of a child was recovered from the locality earlier in the day.


KAMAL SINGH/PTI

image

An All India Christian Council demonstration in New Delhi on December 27 demanding that the safety of Christians in Orissa be ensured.

Confirming the death of three persons in police firing, a top official said that the police had opened fire in self-defence. Confronted with reports of the damaging and burning down of more than 40 churches and prayer houses by December 27 evening, he said the exact details were not available. It was difficult for the administration to keep track of incidents taking place in remote hilly areas, he explained.

Police stations were also attacked at Phiringia and Tikabali and many police vehicles were burnt by mobs. It was difficult to assess as to whether the attackers were Sangh Parivar members or Kui tribal people, an official observed.

On December 27, a delegation led by Raphael Cheenath, Archbishop of Cuttack and Bhubaneswar, met the Chief Minister and submitted a memorandum stating that Christians were not safe in Kandhamal. The representatives of the community, who claimed that at least 50 churches had been damaged over the previous four days, also demanded an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the incidents. The VHP alleged that Hindu places of worship were also attacked in some places.

As violence continued in Kandhamal, the Opposition parties and other organisations criticised the government for its failure to maintain law and order. They also blamed Patnaik for being soft on the Sangh Parivar because the Bharatiya Janata Party was a partner in the two-party coalition government.

Four days after Kandhamal smouldered, Patnaik went on a damage-control exercise. He ordered a judicial inquiry into the violence in Kandhamal on December 28. He, however, clarified that only one person had been killed in police firing the previous day and not three persons as had been reported in the media. Only one body had been recovered, he added.

Soon after Patnaik ordered the judicial inquiry, Steel and Mines Minister Padmanabha Behera, who hails from the violence-hit district, resigned from his post. The government also appointed a new District Collector for Kandhamal.

The dropping of Behera from the Cabinet was one of the demands put forward by the Kui tribal people. Behera belongs to the Dalit community. The Kuis have also been demanding the appointment of a direct Indian Administrative Service officer as Collector instead of an officer who was promoted to the cadre.

Posted on: January 2, 2008

 


Over 10,000 Dalits Demand Reservations in the Private Sector, Judiciary, and Armed Forces

Press Release from the All India Christian Council

New Delhi, December 11, 2007 – Over 10,000 Dalits from across India assembled at Ramlila Ground, New Delhi, on December 10, 2007, and pressed the Government of India to provide reservations [affirmative action] in the private sector, judiciary, and armed forces, as well as to enact a reservation bill and fill up the backlog of vacancies for SC/ST [Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes] employees.

Christian communities, headed by the All India Christian Council (aicc), took part in preparations for the rally and stood in solidarity with the Dalits.

Addressing the rally, Dr. Udit Raj, National Chairman of the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations, said, “The UPA [United Progressive Alliance] government has done nothing significant to uplift Dalits so far.”

In a memorandum submitted to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, Dr. Raj urged the government to implement the Reservation Act without delay and asked why it had not been passed even after the Standing Committee headed by E. M. Sudarsana Nachiyappan had submitted its report in Parliament in 2005.

The memo also demanded the filling of a backlog of vacancies for Dalits in the government sector. Dr. Raj said, “The Prime Minister told me in a recent meeting that 53,000 posts have been filled. But this is nothing considering the number of backlogged posts.”

On reservations in the private sector, Dr. Raj said, “Under pressure from the government and the Confederation, the Committee appointed by the CII [Confederation of Indian Industry] under the chairmanship of J. J. Irani made recommendations to provide education and training to Dalits. So far, little has been done in this regard.”

Dr. Raj also said that out of a total of 610 judges, only 20 belong to the Dalit community. “All judicial services should be introduced as provided under Article 312 of the Constitution to ensure participation of Dalits in the higher judiciary,” he said.

The aicc stands in solidarity with the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations’ overall goals and is specifically committed to empower Dalits through education. Members of the aicc have about 70 English-medium schools in Dalit villages across India.

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

Released by
Mr. Madhu Chandra
Regional Secretary, aicc

Posted on: December 16, 2007

 


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

 


Wall Street Journal - Dalit Converts face Discrimination

From the Dalit Freedom Network

DFN International President Joseph D’Souza is quoted in this front-page article from The Wall Street Journal on September 19, 2007. The article contains insightful coverage of the discrimination that Dalit Christians and Muslims face on a daily basis. The Dalit Freedom Network has been advocating on their behalf in the US before the Congress, at the White House, and with the State Department through our advocates in Washington, DC. Additionally, DFN’s partner, the All India Christian Council (aicc) works tirelessly in New Delhi to change state and local Indian laws to better reflect India’s commitment to religious freedom and democracy.

One of the main forms of discrimination against Dalit Christians and Muslims comes from the Reservation system, which the Journal article calls an affirmative action program. The Indian government reserves a percentage of government jobs and university openings for members of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes. Christians and Muslims, however, are strictly excluded from the program. If a Dalit has earned one of these jobs or student positions and then becomes a Christian or Muslim, that person will lose his/her job or position. Thus, many Christian and Muslim Dalits feel compelled to hide their religious identity.

As the article says: “India’s Supreme Court is currently reviewing several challenges filed by Christian and Muslim Dalits that could result in an overturning of the affirmative-action exclusion.” The Supreme Court is supposed to rule on a case on November 28th dealing with Christian Dalits receiving their federal benefits. This judgment has been postponed several times for several different reasons given by the government.

At the core, however, the government has been extremely reluctant to see Reservation benefits extended to Christians and Muslims for fear of losing Hindu support and thus losing their parliamentary majority. DFN and the aicc work closely with Christian and Muslim leaders across India to see Reservation extended to people of all faiths in India.

Joseph D’Souza is quoted near the end of the article in a section discussing the partnership between Muslims and Christians in fighting discrimination. He has gained the attention of international media for his willingness to work with people of all faiths to see religious freedom protected and Untouchability defeated. Dr. D’souza has stood on a platform with Islamic, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, and secular leaders and spoken on how to fight Dalit discrimination for people of all faiths.

One powerful way in which Dr. D’souza leads joint efforts to address caste is through huge community gatherings in which people from all castes and creeds eat from a common plate of rice and curry; traditionally, Dalits and non-Dalits will not eat together.

“This is a real physical demonstration against caste discrimination,’ says Joseph D’souza, the president of the All-India Christian Council, who has organized many of these gatherings.

There is a related picture set here from The Wall Street Journal.
This media coverage is a confirmation of the importance of the work of the DFN and her partners. We are proud to highlight this article for you with the hope that you will share with others.

For more information or to contact Dr. D’souza, please email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or call 1-866-921-1333

Posted on: October 5, 2007

 


Tamil Nadu gives rights to religious minorities, but needs to grant Dalit rights

[Editor’s Note: The following is an abridged press release issued by Dr. John Dayal, Member of the National Integration Council, Secretary General of the All India Christian Council, and President of the All India Catholic Union, in response to the announcement of the Tamil Nadu government on Sept. 13, 2007 that it will give a seven percent quota for Muslims and Christians as part of an existing program for “Backward Communities”. Now Dalit and non-Dalit members of the Muslim and Christian faith will have increased opportunities. However, this doesn’t address the core issue of equal rights for Dalits of all faiths.]

The Christian community in Tamil Nadu will surely welcome the decision of the state government to provide a reservation (affirmative action) within the existing Backward Communities reservations. We also welcome the Chief Minister’s exhortation to the Central government to grant similar rights to Christians and Muslims elsewhere.

On the face of it, reservations on the basis of religion may seem an anathema in non-sectarian India where the Constitution guarantees equality in all sectors of life. However, in most states, there is a wide chasm between the privileged castes and communities, and religious minorities and others who have minimal representation in state employment and developmental resources.

Tamil Nadu long ago recognised that certain communities suffered from developmental inequities irrespective of their religious affiliations. It also recognised that governments had to make determined thrust to ensure that affirmative action promised in independent India reached these communities and was not diluted because of judicial or administrative ceilings.

However, these new reservations do not quench the demand of the Christians of Dalit origin that they be given the same privileges, including reservations, as are given nationally to Dalits who profess Buddhism, Sikhism or Hinduism.

The lawsuits of several Dalit Christian groups (and at least one Dalit Muslim) are now before the Supreme Court of India. A hearing is expected later this month. In a May 2007 report, the National Commission for Linguistic and Religious Minorities recommended granting all Dalits full rights under the Scheduled Caste laws. Dr. Buta Singh, Chairman of the National Commission on Scheduled Castes is now considering the so-called “Misra Report” and has in his public statements promised full rights to Dalit Christians and Muslims.

Classification under the Scheduled Caste provisions of India’s Constitution is much more than mere reservations in jobs or educational institutions. For example, Scheduled Caste status brings the protection of law to Muslims and Christians, to their widows, and those injured in caste violence. At present, Christian Dalits suffer as much as anyone else in caste violence, but are unelgible for relief.

The Tamil Nadu government must tell the Central government that their credibility suffers if Scheduled Caste status is not given to Dalit Muslims and Christians because of their religious affiliation.

Posted on: September 15, 2007

 


Quota: judiciary can’t be an exception, says panel

by a legal correspondent of The Hindu on Aug. 18, 2007

NEW DELHI: The Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law Ministry has recommended reservation for Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes in judicial appointments.

In its 21st report on the Judges (Inquiry) Bill, 2006, tabled in both Houses of Parliament on Friday, the committee, under the chairmanship of Congress MP E.M. Sudarsana Natchiappan, said that like all other institutions, judiciary should also be covered by the principle of reservation.

The committee said: “Such a coveted institution [judiciary] should also exhibit the reality of the social milieu in which it has been created. It cannot live in isolation in ivory tower and remain outside the ambit of constitutional provisions. The Constitution provides for reservation to socially and educationally backward citizens in all institutions of State, such as legislature and executive through Articles 15 (4), 16, 38, 46, 340 and 93rd Constitutional Amendment.”

It said: “Accordingly, a percentage of seats are reserved for socially and educationally backward sections in Parliament, Legislative Assemblies, local bodies, Central and State Civil Services, including IAS and IPS, public sector units, Central and State governmental departments and in all public and private educational institutions, except in minority and religious educational institutions.”

Quoting from the report of the national commission to review the working of the Constitution, the panel said: “Out of 610 judges in various High Courts [at the relevant time], there are hardly about 20 judges belonging to the SCs and STs.”

“It is true that judges are appointed in accordance with the provisions of Articles 124 and 217 of the Constitution. These Articles do not make any specific provision for reservation for any caste or class of persons.”

It said, “Through a shrewd process of manipulation, the Indian judiciary has been keeping the competent persons of the downtrodden communities from the purview of appointment of Judges.”

The panel noted that judiciary was manned and operated by judges and other judicial officers.

“When Executive and Legislature are brought under the ambit of constitutional reservation, it is but natural that judiciary, the third pillar of democracy, should also be covered by the principle of reservation. Otherwise, it creates a dubious distinction among the three pillars of democracy. They [SCs/STs/OBCs] need to be given equal opportunity in all walks of life for participation in every sphere. Judiciary cannot be an exception.

“The reservation principle should be inclusive of judiciary. This alone can bring constitutional balance between the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. Then only the real cause of social justice can be served.”

“The appointment of judges from all strata of society will have a tremendous impact on the social fabric of judiciary itself. After all, judiciary has to reflect the aspirations of the people,” the committee said and wanted the Government to consider this issue earnestly.

Posted on: August 24, 2007

 


First Dalit CJ to swear in first woman Prez

From the Times of India

NEW DELHI: On Wednesday, the country’s pluralism will be on display with the first woman President in Pratibha Patil taking oath in the presence of the first Dalit Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan.

And this rare coincidence happened in a year when Mayawati steered her party, on her own steam, to a convincing victory in the assembly elections in India’s largest state to become its Chief Minister. No doubt there have been Dalit CMs earlier too, but their achievements were dependent on the discretion of the high commands of different parties.

The country took 57 years to elect a woman President, who will be the 12th to occupy the top Constitutional post, and to see a Dalit heading the judiciary – the 37th CJI.

Though K R Narayanan was the first Dalit to become President, he was administered the oath of office by the 27th CJI, J S Verma. Zakir Hussain, the first Muslim to become President, after Dr Rajendra Prasad and Dr S Radhakrishnan, was administered the oath by 10th CJI, K N Wanchoo. Dr B R Ambedkar, a Dalit, had led a team of experts that framed the Constitution adopted by the country on January 26, 1950, envisaging equal opportunities to all sections of society without any discrimination on grounds of gender, caste and creed.

With Dalits already getting the posts of President and CJI, the only other important post that has still remained out of reach for them is that of Prime Minister. Popular Dalit leader from Sasaram, Jagjivan Ram, had almost come within striking distance during the post-Emergency era.

The author of the Janata Dal victory in 1977, Jaiprakash Narayan, had wanted Ram to head the government for he had made a mark as an able administrator during his stints as Agriculture and Defence Minister. Had JP stuck to his line, the country would have had its first Dalit PM three decades ago.

Posted on: July 25, 2007

 


Reservation for Dalits: SC directs govt to take decision on recommendations of R N Misra Committee

From Indlawnews.com

AICC Editor note:

Hi Friends,

India’s Dalit Christians are once again disappointed at the hearing of Supreme Court of India on July 19 by giving 8 weeks time to Indian Government to take decision on Mrisa Commission Report on whether the Scheduled Caste origins who are converted to Christians should be given the Scheduled Caste status as it is given to Sikh and Buddhist Scheduled caste members.

Indian Churches need to answer the question asked by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan on Caste existence within Indian church. Social Scientists, Researchers, Activists have found out that caste exists within Indian church. Non scheduled caste/tribe leadership of Indian churches need to confess that caste exists within Indian church. Not to get judgment in our favor but to tell the reality.

Senior advocate Ram Jethmalani responded to Senior Shanti Bushan presentation of the case that it is political power that has kept the Dalit Christians away from Presidential Order list.

Interestingly, Additional solicitor general Gopal Subramaniam said that the matter of granting Scheduled Caste status to Dalit origins converted to Christianity must be consulted to Scheduled Caste Commission, who have actually said not in favor of Dalit Christians earlier.

“How long will the Dalit Christians’ birth, fundamental and constitutional rights be kept denial?” is the million dollar question, Indian Dalits are asking for last 57 years.

Madhu Chandra

19 July 2007

The Supreme Court has directed the central government to take a final decision within eight weeks on the recommmendations of Justice R N Misra committee recommending that benefits of SC/ST reservations should also be extended to dalits belonging to all religions including dalit christians at par with the SCs including Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists.

A counsel for the “Petitioner Organisation Centre For Public Interest Litigation” contended before the bench comprising Chief Justise K G Balakrishnan, Justices R V Raveendran and Dalveer Bhandari that the UPA government was deliberately delaying the decision on the recommendations of Rangnath Misra committee submitted to the government in May 2007.

Senior counsel Shanti Bhushan also contended before the court that only the Christain dalits are being denied the benefits SC reservation which is discriminatory and violative of Article 14 of the constitution.

After hearing the counsel and the Additional Solicitor- General appearing for the centre issued the directions when it was brought to the courts’ notice that earlier Congress and National Front government had already introduced a bill in parliament for the implementation of the long standing demands of Christians.

Posted on: July 20, 2007

 


DFN Partner Announces Law and Policy Database

From the aicc

June 27, 2007

Free website contains laws on religion, untouchability, and human rights.

Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India – The All India Christian Council today announced the publication of a comprehensive database of laws and policies regarding religious freedom and human rights in India. The database is the first of its kind and contains documents, including anti-conversion laws, which were previous unavailable to the public.

“This is a unique contribution by the All India Christian Council to the world of human rights,” said Nanci Ricks, President of the Dalit Freedom Network. “This is a valuable tool for anybody working on human rights in India.”

The database is the result of hundreds of hours of effort from aicc researchers and volunteers. It is free for all. “This website is the groundwork for great human rights advances in India,” said Moses Parmar, North India Director for the India Christian Council. “We will continue adding to the database as more laws are found.”

In addition to completing the database of anti-conversion laws and statues related to Caste, aicc researchers plan on adding a section on “forms of discrimination” which will contain laws regarding manual scavenging, child labor, and other violations against Dalits in India.

Posted on: June 29, 2007

 


Sonia meets PM, Maya on Prez nominee

By the Times News Network in affiliation with The Times of India

NEW DELHI: Congress stepped up efforts on Monday to firm up a consensus on its nominee for the presidential elections with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meeting Sonia Gandhi and the Congress chief holding crucial discussions with BSP boss and UP chief minister Mayawati, who is camping in the Capital.

There were important strategy sessions in the Congress camp, with party managers assigned to oversee the presidential elections – external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, senior leader Ahmed Patel and defence minister A K Antony – meeting Sonia to brief her on feedback from UPA constituents and supporting parties.

With home minister Shivraj Patil’s candidature drawing a lukewarm response in some quarters, an uncertainty has crept into the presidential stakes even though it is felt that reservations about the home minister are not insurmountable.

It is expected that in her interactions with important UPA leaders like DMK chief M Karunanidhi, who will be in the Capital on Tuesday, Sonia is likely to probe Patil’s acceptability. Consultations with the Left will follow.

With there being some fluidity over Congress’s candidate, party leaders suggested that the choice was not yet sealed. Even though the odds might seem to favour Patil, there could be other nominees if turbulence over the home minister increased. The possibility of power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, another Maharashtra Congressman, being in the race for Rashtrapati Bhavan was not being ruled out.

Congress sources said that apart from the Left, CPI in particular, the view that Patil was a ‘political lightweight’ was shared by some UPA parties. But while Shinde is not seen to be a political heavyweight, his Dalit credentials could help Congress make a point. Mukherjee, who is the Left’s preference, is still not in contention. He is seen to handle key liaison jobs in government and when it comes to the ‘loyalty’ quotient, Shinde and Patil are at the top of the heap.

Sonia’s meeting with Mayawati on Monday was seen to be critical as BSP’s 60,000-odd electoral votes can help ensure a safe passage for Congress. Sonia made a point by driving to Mayawati’s residence, according the Dalit leader importance due to an ally whose support in essential for Congress.

Coming as it does soon after UP governor T V Rajeswar turned down permission to prosecture Mayawati in the Taj Heritage Corridor case on the advice of Centre’s top law officer Gopal Subramanium, the inference of Sonia calling on Mayawati was obvious.

Posted on: June 12, 2007

 


Gujjar unrest: Life in Delhi paralysed

From the Times of India. Click here for full story

NEW DELHI: There was chaos in the Indian Capital and its suburbs on Monday with Gujjars demanding Scheduled Tribe status blocking highways, burning buses, disrupting road and rail traffic and inconveniencing thousands of commuters.

Life in much of the Capital and its surrounding areas was paralysed with Gujjars demanding a change in their status and the resultant quotas in jobs and education taking to the streets during the daylong protest.

“We used mild baton charge and fired teargas shells in Badarpur and Mehrauli areas in south Delhi after protesters started throwing stones on policemen,” a senior police official said.

However, the situation was gradually coming under control, he said.

“After the morning’s incidents, we have managed to clear roads and traffic movement is smooth everywhere,” he claimed.

But train traffic was thrown completely out of gear as the movement spilled over from Rajasthan.

Northern Railway cancelled seven trains, including the Shatabdi Express, Sampark Kranti Express and the Jaipur-Delhi-Jaipur express, after the protesters blocked tracks near Ajaibpur and Dadri in Uttar Pradesh.

At least 25 trains – among them the Haridwar-Ahmedabad mail and the Ahmedabad Rajdhani Express – were also affected due to protests.

“We have cancelled seven passenger trains to avoid any damage to life and property. The action was taken in the wake of the ongoing agitation,” said Rajesh Khare, a spokesperson of Northern Railway.

Special trains to the Rajasthan capital Jaipur have been planned for the convenience of passengers.

Monday began with thousands of protesters blocking vehicular movement on the Delhi-Karnal highway, Gurgaon-Faridabad highway and roads coming in from the satellite towns of Faridabad and Gurgaon, leading to many thousands stuck in traffic snarls.

Angry mobs gathered near Aya Nagar in south Delhi, close to the suburb of Gurgaon, stoned the police and set at least two Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses on fire. The protesters shouted slogans and burnt effigies of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje.

There were similar incidents in every corner of the Capital. Buses were burnt near the border with Uttar Pradesh in east Delhi’s Ghazipur and Khajoori Khas areas.

The Delhi-Noida border near Dallupura and the Delhi-Ghaziabad border near Loni also witnessed people burning tyres and blocking roads.

Traffic came to a standstill on the vital Noida-Delhi link road near Mayur Vihar in east Delhi as hundreds of protesters ensured that no traffic got through an entire stretch leading up to the Akshardham temple.

Trouble also erupted at the busy Ashram Chowk in south Delhi. Police detained at least 60 members of the Gujjar community from Ghittorni village for blocking the busy Mehrauli-Gurgaon road, trapping office goers on their way to work in the satellite town or those coming into the capital.

There were also protests in Azadpur and Wazirabad in northwest Delhi, Peeragarhi in west and Sonia Vihar in east Delhi.

Following the protests, police beefed up security at roads along the Delhi border with neighbouring states and capital-bound vehicles were diverted.

“We have diverted all vehicles coming from neighbouring states and traffic cops have been stationed at all points to regulate traffic flow,” Deputy Commissioner of Police (Traffic) H.P.S. Virk said.

On Sunday, Delhi’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) legislator Ramvir Singh Bidhuri led hundreds of people in a protest near Jantar Mantar and in another meeting of the All India Gujjar Mahasabha, where it was decided to call for a shutdown.

The protests that originated May 29 in Rajasthan have also spread to Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. The mass anger is directed against the Rajasthan government for having fired at Gujjar mobs, leaving at least 20 people dead.

Also, five people were killed and 20 injured on Friday in clashes between Gujjars and Meenas in Rajasthan’s Dausa and Karauli districts, taking the death toll to 25.

Posted on: June 4, 2007

 


Guruvayur shuts doors on non-Hindus

From IBN Live by Naveen Nair

Watch video by clicking here

imageThiruvananthapuram (Kerala): The head priest of the Guruvayur temple, Sathisan Namboodiripad, has made it clear that non-Hindus will not be allowed into the temple.

“Temple traditions are not such that they should be changed with the times. The purpose of this meeting was to make this clear,” he said.

The latest debate over the entry of non-Hindus inside the Guruvayur temple was sparked off by the temple performing purification rites, after Ravi Krishna, Union Minister Vayalar Ravi’s son visited the temple.

The reason given was Ravi being married to someone from a Christian family. But now Ravi Krishna has a new spin to the story.

“I’m an OBC and that is why they did not allow me in. I am willing to take the matter to court,” says he.

The Left government in Kerala too may not give up on the debate. On Monday, the government spoke of a possible legislation to allow non-Hindus in temples and clearly promises to keep the temple entry issue alive.

Posted on: June 2, 2007

 


Thousands of Christians “Arrested” in Peaceful Protest Against Growing Anti-Christian Violence

For immediate release

May 29, 2007

NEW DELHI, INDIA – May 29, 2007: More than 4,000 protesters marched through the streets of India’s capital today to call for the Union Government of India to break its silence on violence against Christians across the country. The rally, called “Stop Violence On Christians”, was organized after two recently televised attacks on Christians and an increase of anti-Christian incidents in the first few months of 2007.

The rally started at 10am at Jantar Mantar near the Parliament in New Delhi. Rally organizers had expected 2,000 people, but attendance was estimated at 5,000. Speeches demanded human dignity and constitutional rights for the Christian community and other repressed minorities. Minorities are facing harassment from Hindutva fundamentalists and, in many cases, local government officials.

The Station House Officer, Parliament Street Police Station, said he had “arrested” approximately 4,000 people at 1:05pm and released them at 2:10pm. It is standard practice for protesters who obstruct traffic to be detoured into the police station yard. They are temporarily detained for their own protection and allowed to state their demands to police authorities.

“This was the first time since November 1997 that such large numbers of Christians have been arrested in the Parliament Street Police Station. It was incredible to see Catholic nuns, Protestant pastors, civil society activists and more singing Christian songs of liberation within the police station,” said John Dayal, Secretary General, All India Christian Council (aicc).

Large numbers of Catholics and Evangelicals were joined by Muslims, Buddhists and progressive Hindus, leaders of various women’s organizations, students groups from several universities, and Christian lawyers, teachers, and professors. Rally organizers reported attendees from at least seven states in India.

Dr. Joseph D’souza, President of the Dalit Freedom Network and the All India Christian Council, said, “The diversity of protesters, from several religious communities, different Christian denominations, and even civil society groups, show that India’s citizens want a truly secular India. People should be able to practice their faith without violent attacks. The government’s silence in the face of recent anti-Christian incidents is not only an injustice, it is dangerous.”

Christian leaders fear copycat attacks could come in the future due to silence by government authorities after recently televised beatings of pastors. Throughout the morning crowds chanted, “Prime Minister, your silence kills”.

At 12:15pm, crowds began a march to present a memorandum of demands to the Prime Minister of India. However, a majority of the attendees were detained at the Parliament Street Police Station. Organizers said that they decided not to submit the memorandum as originally planned. Instead, it will be released as an open letter to the government.

Recent victims of anti-Christian violence spoke, such as Rev. Walter Masih from Jaipur, Rajasthan, whose beating by masked attackers on April 29, 2007 was broadcast nationally. Rev. Masih walks with a limp due to the attack and shared his experience with the crowd inside the police station with the help of a police PA system.

Throughout the day, other speakers protested the recent wave of violence, demanded immediate implementation of the Misra Commission recommendations, and even proposed new legislation.

Bishop Karam Masih, Bishop of Delhi, Church of North India (CNI), said, “Today I don’t come as a CNI leader. I come as a Christian. All denominations should unite until all the anti-Christian atrocities stop.”

Dr. Ms. Begum Fatima Shahmaz, India Peace Organization, said, “Those parties and groups who are persecuting Christians should be treated as terrorists. It is unacceptable to attack others based on a difference in spiritual beliefs.”

Dr. Udit Raj, National Chairman, All India Confederation of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Organizations, said, “Today there is a special unity of Christians and Dalits around the country. We, Dalits, have been attacked for thousands of years and you have been recently attacked. Christians have given much to this country so I want to teach you how to be united, and, if you are united, we can stop the attacks.”

Mr. Mudra Rakshas, noted Hindi writer and theatre artist, said, “Because of the increasing attacks, we need a new law that tells police how they should handle people who are mistreating Christians. We should agitate until the new law comes.”

The Misra Commission, officially called the National Commission for Religious & Linguistic Minorities, recommended last week that the Union Government change a 1950 law which restricts government benefits to Scheduled Castes who are Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist. Scheduled caste is the official term for the Dalit or, formerly “untouchable”, community. Millions of poor Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians would benefit from the change and the recommendations will likely affect pending cases before the Supreme Court of India.

The All India Christian Council (aicc) was a co-sponsor of the rally. Other organizers included several Christian groups and the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organizations.

The aicc said meetings similar to the Delhi gathering were planned for today in Mumbai and smaller cities like Nagpur and Pune. They also confirmed that yesterday, in 23 of 25 districts in Andhra Pradesh, protest marches were held under the leadership of local aicc chapters.

In 2006, there was an incident of harassment or violence against Christians approximately once every three days. In the first four months of 2007, there has been an attack every other day on average, according to records kept by the aicc. In addition to the televised attack on Rev. Masih, an attack by Hindutva activists on two pastors in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, was televised on May 9, 2007.

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

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

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 30, 2007

 


Lawyers tie, beat up boy in court

From IBN. Click here for video

Full story by clicking here.

imageNew Delhi: After the public attack on co-accused in the Nithari murders, Moninder Singh Pandher, outside the Ghaziabad court in January, lawyers in Uttar Pradesh took law into their own hands yet again.

A young boy was beaten mercilessly by lawyers after an argument on Tuesday in the premises of an Agra district court.

The 22-year-old boy, Vinod, had come to the court to sort out a dispute with a relative, Ravinder, who is a lawyer in the Agra court. Vinod is the brother-in-law of Ravinder’s elder brother.

After a heated exchange, Ravinder and Vinod reportedly exchanged blows.

Soon after, the lawyers ganged up and beat up the boy mercilessly for more than an hour after tying him to a tree.

They reportedly shaved a part of his head and even spat on his face.

“We have registered an FIR and will be looking into the case. We are in touch with the Agra SSP,” said DIG Agra Range, Kamal Saksena.

The Bar Council of India has taken a serious note of the incident and sought FIR details.

Posted on: May 30, 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 (http://www.ncrlm.com), 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 (http://www.dalitnetwork.org) 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: http://www.ibnlive.com/videos/39465/pastor-attack-media-under-scanner.html

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: http://www.ibnlive.com/videos/39994/vhp-activists-beat-up-two-priests.html

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: http://www.dalitnetwork.org

Letter text:

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

PMO, South Block

Central Secretariat, New Delhi

And

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

Sd/-

Dr Joseph D’souza
President
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

 


Mayawati sets eyes on Delhi now

TIMES NEWS NETWORK[ MONDAY, MAY 14, 2007 03:16:15 AM] Read original article by clicking here

LUCKNOW: While subtly making her intentions clear that her eyes were now set on the Prime Minister’s chair, Mayawati said that she was in favour of quota for religious minorities and economically weaker among the upper castes.

Having tasted blood with her Dalit-Brahmin-muslim political alliance, securing a majority in the UP assembly, she has gone ahead in an aggressive bid to keep her party’s caste alliance together.

Addressing her maiden press conference after being sworn in as the chief minister, she said, “We would welcome any move by the central government to provide reservations to the minorities and the economically-weaker sections from the upper castes.”

She said that providing reservations was the prerogative of the Union government, but if it does not make a move on it, her government would work for the development of these weaker sections. With a complete majority on her side brought about by her unique feat of stitching together a rainbow caste alliance, Mayawati said her party cadres are now looking towards Delhi.

“We have secured a complete mandate in UP and the results show that the road to the Centre is clear,” she said. Mayawati pointed out that the BSP is doing well in other states also and the results point out that power at the Centre is now within their reach.

She announced that all decisions taken by the Mulayam Singh Yadav government, after the announcement of polls on February 21, have been revoked by her, soon after taking charge as the CM. “All illegal acts of the Yadav government would be probed and strict action will be taken against those found guilty. However, there would be no political vendetta.”

She said that her government would work for a fearless, corruption free and socially just government and focus on the development of the state. “The unemployment allowance to the youth would be done away with and jobs would be provided instead.”

She said that the high-profile UP Industrial Development Council, which was chaired by Amar Singh, would be scrapped. The economic development of the state would be the thrust area and new industries would be promoted, she added.
To end the Jungle Raj that had come about during Mulayam Singh Yadav’s regime, Ms Mayawati would launch a campaign to throw the criminals behind bars.

“Gunners provided to criminals during the SP regime would be removed immediately,” she said. Eyeing her core Dalit vote bank, Mayawati announced that job quotas which remained vacant during earlier governments would be filled through a special drive.

The bureaucracy, which has always been on tenterhooks during earlier Mayawati regimes, was in for some relief as Mayawati said, “officers are warned to carry out their duties diligently. But those who do not work properly would not necessarily be transferred. But strict action would be initiated against them.”

Posted on: May 14, 2007

 


Dalit Woman Emerges Electoral Winner in India’s Largest State

For Immediate Release

11 May 2007

Even as India is celebrating the 150 years of the first revolt of independence against the British in 1857 the lady called as Sister
Mayawati is to become Chief Minister in India’s largest state- Uttar Pradesh (UP). This is the state that has traditionally given India most of her Prime Ministers.

imageIn what is possibly one of the most intriguing elections in recent Indian history, Mayawati’s party, the Bahujan Samaj Party or BSP (translated-the party of the majority community of the oppressed castes), won an absolute majority in India’s largest state-Uttar Pradesh with a population of about 170 million people.

While analysts try to make sense of the election result, everyone is agreed that Mayawati cleverly took the majority of the Dalit votes in the State along with good sections of the Muslim and the Brahmin votes. Her strategy lay in reaching out to the Brahmins, whom she earlier had attacked fiercely as the perpetrators of the caste system, but now lay marginalized with the completely caste driven politics of UP. The Backward Caste ‘Yadav’ vote largely went to the runner up party, the Samajwadi Party (SP) which ruled UP for the past few years.

Even though Brahmin politicians ruled the State for nearly 45 years, it is in the wake of the caste churning and caste politics in UP of the last 15 years that the ruling Brahmin castes have been marginalized politically as their caste percentage in UP is that of a minority. It is a curious twist of history that the Dalit leader offered the Brahmins some honor while at the same time offering development and prosperity to the Dalits and other oppressed groups.

The media has often lampooned Mayawati for her imperious style, luxurious living, extravagant spending, and as a politician who would ally with any party to get to political power. Earlier, her party members have deserted her to join other parties due to the lure of power and money. She now has 5 years to keep her flock together and govern one of India’s most complex states where law and order has become a huge problem. UP is the state where the 30 children were kidnapped, abused and killed recently. The media also criticized her in the past for supporting the Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the wake of the Gujarat carnage. At that time, she was firmly aligned with the Barantya Janata Party (BJP).

Whatever her politics, Sister Mayawati has a tremendous opportunity to address the educational needs of Dalits, to ensure justice for Dalits where caste-discrimination is still going on in UP, to invest in a globalized English medium education for Dalits, to give Dalit Christians their due in her State, and maintain religious freedom in the State of UP for the next five years. UP and Bihar are the two large Hindi states in north India where there is religious freedom. She has promised development for the downtrodden. She must go some distance in delivering on her promises to the people if she wants to fulfill her stated dream of becoming the Prime Minister of India one day.

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 11, 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

 


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

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

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: http://www.dalitnetwork.org

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

 


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

 


Chhattisgarh passes Anti-Conversion bill

By Indo Asian News Service

The legislation, which is an amendment to Freedom of Religion Act, 1968 that was retained by Chhattisgarh when it was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in November, 2000, was passed after a heated debate and exchange of allegations between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and opposition Congress legislators.

The new law, Chhattisgarh Religion Freedom (Amendment) Act, 2006 requires that those wishing to convert their religion have to seek permission of local district magistrate 30 days in advance. The district magistrate will accept or reject the request after studying the case.

The legislation is widely seen as a move by the BJP government to check the alleged growing influence of Christian missionaries in vast tribal areas in north and south of the state. The BJP governments in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan too have enacted similar laws.

While Congress legislators alleged the BJP government had a hidden agenda and the legislation was aimed to whip up communal feelings, Home Minister Ramvichar Netam said the new law would have stronger impact on containing forceful conversions, mainly in remote and backward areas where ‘external elements are trying to destroy the country through conversions’.

The new law says that cases of those who converted their religion under force but reverted to their original religion would not be categorised as ‘forceful conversion’ and they would be exempted from punishment.

Posted on: August 3, 2006

 


Industry Proposes Dalit Jobs Plan, Rejects Quotas

Friday, July 28, 2006

MUMBAI: Indian Inc has decided to stand firm against any dilution of its right to hire competent people for jobs in the corporate sector.

However, it has simultaneously decided to announce a time-bound action plan to develop business opportunities for Dalits and improve education and job skills among them.

In separate presentations made to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and social welfare minister Meira Kumar on Wednesday, officials from the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry (Assocham), explained their action plan for the first year.

The highlights of the CII-Assocham action plan include the mentoring of at least 100 scheduled caste/scheduled tribe (SC/ST) entrepreneurs in the very first year and partnering with non-government organisations to develop primary education in 104 districts with a pronounced SC/ST population.

According to industry sources, the prime minister indicated that when there was voluntary action, legislation on job quotas may not be needed.

There was, however, no independent confirmation from the prime minister’s office about what he told the industry team, which included JJ Irani, head of the CII-Assocham joint task force on inclusiveness for scheduled castes and tribes.

The report will be formally unveiled on Friday at a press conference.

by Priti Bajaj
Click here to go to DNAINDIA.com

Posted on: August 1, 2006

 


Letter to National Commission for Minorities on Tirupati Issue

6 July 2006

To
Jenab Mohammad Hamid Ansari
Chairman
National Commission for Minorities
Lok Nayak Bhawan,
New Delhi 11003

Re:

1. Harassment of Nuns and Christian workers at Bus Stops, Rail Station in Tirupati government-owned areas

2. Request to have the Constitutionality of the Seven Tirumala Hills reportedly being out of bounds to Christians

3. Ending hate campaign against Christians in Andhra Pradesh

Copies to

1.Union Ministers of Minority Affairs, Law, Home affairs and Social [Women] Welfare

2.Mr. M P Pinto, Member, NCM

Dear Ansari Saheb

Greetings

I am glad the Commission has been given its full complement of Members at last, including a member to represent our community, the Christians.

I am making this formal complaint to you regarding a sustained hate campaign by the religious fanatics of the so-called Sangh Parivar in Andhra Pradesh, directed as much against the Church as against certain local politicians who may profess the Christian faith, and in particular Chief Minister Rajshekhar Reddy.

While I am sure the Mr. Reddy can take adequate care of himself and counter the campaign – carried out in the media as also on the grassroots level – helpless Christian workers, ordinary people, cannot. Nuns and Pastors have particularly been victimized and targeted. There have been several incidents in the state in the last six months.

The worst scenario is in the area of the Tirumala hills in Andhra. To the best of our knowledge, the TTD temple owns 10.33 sq. miles of land on two hills. This land is in the control of, and is administered, by the mandir trust, or Devasom Board.

We have absolute respect for the sense of reverence of our fellow citizens of all faiths. No Christian has ever been known to have, knowingly or unwittingly, desecrated any holy place of any religion anywhere in India. Nor have we demolished any place of worship. We instinctively obey, in a sense of the honouring the Holy, exclusivity that may occur or be enforced by certain sects for their places of worship which are barred to others. There are, also, well accepted laws and regulations on setting up religious institutions and places of worship separated by regulated and notified distances so as to maintain communal amity [with the exception of some historical places where, for instance, a mosque or temple may adjoin each other.]

There cannot, of course, be any question of public places, such as Bus stops, Railway stations, and in fact inside buses, being barred to Indian citizens of any and all faiths.

And yet, goons of the Sangh Parivar have taken upon themselves to be the local religious police – in connivance with some ranks of the Andhra State police, to harass Christian workers in the guise of stopping their missionary activities or `conversions.’

Serious questions remain. Are we also barred from schools and hospitals in civil and government urban and rural areas in any part of our motherland because that region is deemed to be holy by one sect or religion and is administered by a charitable religious board. Christians, and their places of worship, exist in such holy cities as Panipat, Kurukshetra, Amritsar, Ajmer and another place you would care to name. There never has been trouble or harassment.

This is to request you to have the NCM, or the Union Law Ministry, or the Law Commission, examine the Constitutionality of laws or local regulations that bar any citizen’s movement, profession and charity and social work in such areas.

The Catholic Nuns who were attacked, detained illegally by the police and later let off, were on a humanitarian task which is their charisma as Sisters of Charity, the Order founded by Nobel Laureate, the Blessed Mother Teresa. The Nuns have been doing their charitable work in SVRR hospital, Tirupati since 1986.

As by now you know [and I am attaching herewith several news reports of the incident], on 25 June 2006, four Sisters had been to Ruyya hospital at Tirupati to distribute some fruits and to pray the sick people. On 27 June 2006, as usual the Nuns – Sr. Maria Julia, Sr. Chriselda, Sr.Emma Felesia and Sr. Reena Francis – went to SVRR Hospital at 5.30 pm to visit poor patients. Two of the Sisters went to the orthopaedic ward, interacted and consoled a boy of 14 years who had met with an accident. Then they moved to another patient.

In the meantime a man enquired about their intention of visiting the patients. While the Sisters were answering, suddenly a crowd of around 40 people came with a video camera and press reporters. They started accusing the Nuns of evangelising and converting patients to Christianity. The Nuns were taken to the main building where a huge crowd gathered around them. They shouted slogans against the Nuns and the Christian religion. The Nuns were allowed neither to leave the hospital premises nor to contact their superiors. Their bags were opened and checked for any pamphlets and other material related to evangelisation. But they could not find any such material, except a prayer book.

The Nuns have the documents including commendations by the Superintendent and other authorities of the hospital to take care of patients, particularly abandoned children and patients of terminal cases (AIDS). This only shows that there has been good rapport between the hospital authorities and the Nuns for the past 20 years. The Police arrived at 8 pm and took them to Alipiri police station by an auto and retained them till 10 pm.

The detention of the Nuns in the police station after the dusk is a violation of human rights. By this action the police have flouted the Supreme Court directives that women should not be taken into custody between sunset and sunrise.

The Nuns are on record to say they have forgiven the culprits.

India prides itself on its rule of law. Surely the law must prevail even in these cases.

I am sure you, and other departments of the Government of India, will look into this incident and it ramifications for the health of secularism in our country.

With warm personal regards

Sd/-
Dr. John Dayal
Secretary General

Sd/-
Dr. Joseph D’souza
National President

Sd/-
Rev. G.Samuel
President – AndhraPradesh

Media Release by Mr. M. Madhu Chandra, PRO – All India Christian Council, New Delhi 9868184939

Posted on: July 7, 2006

 


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