India's 'Untouchables' Find Discrimination in Tsunami Afterm

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India's 'Untouchables' Find Discrimination in Tsunami Afterm

Postby iranazadbad » Sun Jan 09, 2005 1:37 am

By the way, Ghandi supported and promoted the caste system.

India's 'Untouchables' Find Discrimination in Tsunami Aftermath

By Jeremey Reynalds

Despite the ravages from the recent tsunami, an already oppressed group of Indians is still suffering severe discrimination.

According to the Dalit Freedom Network (DFN), some Indian officials have been refusing Dalits relief help while their families are dying of starvation.

According to a DFN official, in some communities members of the Dalit caste are not even numbered among the dead.

However, DFN is gearing up to help those affected by the tsunami in the southern Indian State of Tamil Nadu. The group is collecting funds to take to India so much needed supplies such as blankets, rice, oil, lanterns, kerosene, chlorine tablets and basic clothing can be given to the tsunami survivors.

The DFN web site explained what it means to be a Dalit (or an "Untouchable") in the Indian caste system.

"A Dalit is not considered to be part of the human society, but something, which is beyond that. The Dalits perform the most menial and degrading jobs. Sometimes Dalits perform important jobs, but this is mostly not socially recognized. Dalits are seen as (pollutants) for higher caste people. If a higher caste Hindu is touched by an untouchable or even had a Dalit's shadow across them, they consider themselves to be polluted and have to go through a rigorous series of rituals to be cleansed."

According to DFN there are approximately 250 million Dalits in India, or 25 percent of the entire population. "This means," DFN reported, "that in a country where everybody is supposed to have equal rights and opportunities, one out of four people is condemned to be untouchable."

DFN said that Dalits rank at the bottom of the Indian caste system. The Brahmins are first, "the priests and arbiters of what is right and wrong in matters of religion and society. Next come the Kshatriyas, who are soldiers and administrators. The Vaisyas are the artisan and commercial class, and finally, the Sudras are the farmers and the peasant class. These four castes are said to have come from Brahma's mouth (Brahmin), arms (Kshatriyas), thighs (Vaisyas) and feet (Sudras)."

The Dalits come last. As DFN reported, "They literally have no caste. They are the untouchables ... which means (an) oppressed, downtrodden and exploited social group."

Dalits lack adequate access to basic food, health care, housing, clothing, education and employment. According to the DFN web site, "Officially, everybody in India has the same rights and duties, but the practice is different. Social backwardness, lack of access to food, education and health care keeps (Dalits) in bondage (to) the upper castes."

A recent Reuters story illustrated some of the difficulties faced by the Dalits, many of whom are cleaning up the now decaying corpses from the tsunami.

According to Reuters, "Locals too afraid of disease and too sickened by the smell refuse to join the grim task of digging friends and neighbors out of the sand and debris. They just stand and watch the dalits work. I am only doing what I would do for my own wife and child," M. Mohan, a dalit municipal cleaner told Reuters, "as he (took) a break to wash off some of the grime of the day's work. It is our duty. If a dog is dead, or a person, we have to clean it up.'"

Mohan and other sanitation workers from neighboring municipalities, reported Reuters, have been working around the clock to clean up their town, for an extra 50 cents a day and a meal.

The Reuters story vividly portrayed the still horrifying conditions. "The smell of death still hangs heavily, mixing with the sea breeze and the almost refreshingly tart smell of the antiseptic lime powder that has turned some streets and paths white."

The mission of DFN, according to its web site, "is to empower the Dalits in their quest for social freedom and human dignity by networking human, financial and informational resources."
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