Row over ‘untouchable’ Indian dog


BBC South Asia

24 September 2010 Last updated at 19:26 GMT

Row over ‘untouchable’ Indian dog

Police in India are investigating claims that a Dalit woman has been ordered to pay compensation to the high-caste owners of a dog she fed.

Sunita Jatav with Sheru

Sunita Jatav fed Sheru some leftover bread

The woman says the village council wants her to pay a fine of 15,000 rupees ($330) for feeding the dog, which the owners have now kicked out. They are reported to have said the dog is “untouchable”, but deny being motivated by caste considerations. Although widespread, discrimination against Dalits is an offence in India. Dalits, who make up nearly 20% of the Indian population, say little has changed despite the government enacting various laws banning caste-based discrimination. ‘He got very angry’ The incident took place in Malikpur village in Morena district in central Madhya Pradesh state. “I made some roti [Indian bread] and took it to my husband who works in a farm. After I had fed him, we had some leftovers which I gave to the dog,” the Dalit woman, Sunita Jatav, said. She said the owner of the dog, Amrutlal Kirari, saw her feeding him. “He got very angry and said ‘You’ve fed my dog, it has become an untouchable now’.” Mrs Jatav said Mr Kirari left the dog, a black mongrel called Sheru, tied to a pole outside her house. On Monday, the village council met and decided that Sheru had been defiled and hence Mr Kirari should be paid 15,000 rupees as compensation, Mrs Jatav alleged.

On Tuesday, she approached the district collector of Morena who ordered an inquiry into the incident. Senior police officer in the area, Baldev Singh, told the BBC that he was investigating the matter. He said Mr Kirari had alleged that after eating the bread, Sheru fell ill. Mr Kirari said he abandoned the dog at Mrs Jatav’s house so she could look after it and nurse it back to health, Mr Singh added. Dalits – formerly untouchables – are considered at the bottom of the Hindu caste system. Any discrimination against them is an offence and punishable by law.




India’s top court cracks down on tradition of “honour killings”


20 Apr 2011 15:02

Source: Trustlaw // Nita Bhalla

honour killingsThe bodies of Sunita Devi (L), 21, and her partner Jasbir Singh, 22, lie on the ground after they were killed by villagers in an “honour killing” in Ballah village in the northern Indian state of Haryana. REUTERS/Stringer

    By Nita Bhalla

    NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) – India’s Supreme Court has called for an end to customary practices which promote “honour killings”, saying the brutal tradition of parents killing their children to protect their so-called reputation is “barbaric” and “shameful”.

    Khap Panchayats — community groups comprising elderly men which set the rules in Indian villages in regions such as Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan — are often seen as instigating such murders in these highly traditional regions. Yet these village councils have no legal sanction.

    Activists say cases of families lynching men and women,who engage in relationships with those of a different caste or religion, to salvage their perceived honour are widespread in India’s conservative northwestern belt.

    “We have in recent years heard of Khap Panchayats which often decree or encourage honour killings or other atrocities on men and women of different castes or religion, who wish to get married or have been married …” said a bench comprising of Justices Markandeya Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra on Tuesday.

    “We are of the opinion that this is wholly illegal and has to be ruthlessly stamped out,” said the two judges who were hearing a case of caste discrimination.

    Any opposition to Khap Panchayats diktats are met with harsh punishment, including public beatings or ostracism. Political parties rarely speak out against these councils which form a major vote bloc for many of them.

    Despite India’s rapid modernisation and growing cosmopolitanism, which has been driven by accelerated economic growth, discrimination against low-caste communities known as Dalits and minority faiths such as Muslims persists in this predominately Hindu country.

    The intermingling of caste and religion remains a taboo — not only for largely rural illiterate populations, who have lived under a system of feudalism for centuries, but even for educated, well-off families in urban India.

    In May last year, India’s media highlighted the case of 22-year-old journalist Nirupama Pathak who allegedly was killed by her mother in their home in the eastern state of Jharkhand, after she was found to be pregnant by her lower caste boyfriend.

    India’s top court judges have now directed all administrative and police departments to ensure that couples in such relationships are not harassed or subjected to violence, adding that inter-caste marriages are in the national interest and would help dismantle India’s age-old caste system.

    “There is nothing honourable in such killings, and in fact they are nothing but barbaric and shameful acts of murder committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons who deserve punishment,” said the judgement. “Only in this way can we stamp out such acts of barbarism.”

ಭೈರಪ್ಪರಿಂದ ಹಿಂದೂ ಧರ್ಮದ ವೌಢ್ಯಗಳಿಗೆ ಬೆಂಬಲ: ಸಿಎನ್ನಾರ್

ಸೋಮವಾರ – ಜನವರಿ -24-2011

ಬೆಂಗಳೂರು, ಜ. 23: ಎಸ್.ಎಲ್.ಭೈರಪ್ಪನವರು ಬಹುತೇಕ ತಮ್ಮ ಎಲ್ಲ ಕಾದಂಬರಿಗಳಲ್ಲಿಯೂ ಹಿಂದೂ ಧರ್ಮದ ಅರ್ಥವಿಲ್ಲದ ವೌಢ್ಯ ಆಚರಣೆ ಗಳನ್ನು ಬೆಂಬಲಿಸುತ್ತಾರೆ ಎಂದು ಪ್ರೊ.ಸಿ.ಎನ್. ರಾಮಚಂದ್ರನ್ ವಿಷಾದಿಸಿದ್ದಾರೆ.

ನಗರದ ಕನ್ನಡ ಸಾಹಿತ್ಯ ಪರಿಷತ್‌ನ ಸಭಾಂಗಣದಲ್ಲಿಂದು ನವಕರ್ನಾಟಕ ಪ್ರಕಾಶನದ ವತಿಯಿಂದ ಹಮ್ಮಿಕೊಳ್ಳ ಲಾಗಿದ್ದ ಡಾ.ಕೆ.ಎಲ್.ಗೋಪಾಲ ಕೃಷ್ಣಯ್ಯ ಅವರ ‘ಡಾ.ಎಸ್.ಎಲ್.ಭೈರಪ್ಪನವರ ಕಾದಂಬರಿಗಳೊಡನೆ ಧರ್ಮ-ಕರ್ಮ ಜಿಜ್ಞಾಸೆ’ ಕೃತಿಯನ್ನು ಅನಾವರಣ ಗೊಳಿಸಿ ಅವರು ಮಾತನಾಡಿದರು.
ಭೈರಪ್ಪನವರು ತಮ್ಮ ಗ್ರಹಭಂಗ ಕಾದಂಬರಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಹಿಂದೂ ಧರ್ಮಕ್ಕೆ ವಿರುದ್ಧವಾಗಿ ಮರುಮುದುವೆಯಾಗುವ ಕ್ಯಾತಾಯಿನಿಗೆ ಮೂರು ಸಲ ಅಕಾರಣ ವಾಗಿ ಗರ್ಭಪಾತ ಮಾಡಿಸಿ ಸಾಯಿಸಿದ್ದಾರೆ.

‘ದಾಟು’ವಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಜಾತೀಯತೆ ಯನ್ನು ವಿರೋಧಿಸುವ ದಲಿತ ಸಮುದಾಯದ ಮೋಹನ್‌ದಾಸ್‌ನು ಗರ್ಭಗುಡಿಯನ್ನು ಪ್ರವೇಶಿಸುವಾಗ ಮೂರ್ಚೆ ಹೋಗುತ್ತಾನೆ. ಹಿಂದೂ ಧರ್ಮದ ನಂಬಿಕೆಗಳ ವಿರುದ್ಧವಾಗಿ ಈಜುವ ಪ್ರತಿಯೊಂದು ಪಾತ್ರಗಳು ಅವಸಾನ ಹೊಂದುವಂತೆ ಚಿತ್ರಿಸಿದ್ದಾರೆ ಎಂದು ಅವರು ಆರೋಪಿಸಿದರು.

ಕವಲು ಕಾದಂಬರಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಕೂಡ ಬೈರಪ್ಪನವರು ಸ್ತ್ರೀಪಾತ್ರಗಳೆಲ್ಲವೂ ಹಣದಾಸೆಗಾಗಿ ಯಾರಿಗಾದರೂ ತಮ್ಮ ಮೈ ಮಾರಿಕೊಳ್ಳುವಂತೆ ಹಾಗೂ ತಮ್ಮ ಗಂಡಂದಿರನ್ನು ವಿನಾಕಾರಣ ಕಾನೂನಿನ ಇಕ್ಕಟ್ಟಿಗೆ ಸಿಲುಕಿಸುವ ಖಳ ಪಾತ್ರಗಳಂತೆ ಚಿತ್ರಿಸಿದ್ದಾರೆ.

ಅವರು ನಮ್ಮ ದೇಶದ ಕಾನೂನುಗಳನ್ನು ಇನ್ನೊಮ್ಮೆ ಅಧ್ಯಯನ ಮಾಡುವುದು ಒಳ್ಳೆಯದು ಎಂದು ಅವರು ಅಭಿಪ್ರಾಯಪಟ್ಟರು.

ಯಾವುದೆ ಧರ್ಮ ಎಲ್ಲ ಕಾಲ ಘಟ್ಟದಲ್ಲಿ ಒಂದೆ ರೀತಿ ಇರಲು ಸಾಧ್ಯ ವಿಲ್ಲ. ಆಯಾ ಕಾಲದ ವಿವಿಧ ವರ್ಗಗಳು, ಸಾಮಾಜಿಕ ಸ್ಥಿತಿಗತಿಯನ್ನು ಆಧರಿಸಿ ಧರ್ಮ ಸ್ಥಿತ್ಯಂತರಗೊಳ್ಳುತ್ತಲೆ ಇರುತ್ತದೆ. ವೈದಿಕ ಧರ್ಮವು ಸಾಂಸ್ಕೃತಿಕ ಹಿಂದೂ ಧರ್ಮಕ್ಕಿಂತಲೂ ಪುರಾತನ ವಾದ ಇತಿಹಾಸವನ್ನು ಹೊಂದಿದೆ. ಹಿಂದೂ ಎಂಬ ಶಬ್ದದ ಕೂಡ ಪರಕೀಯ ರಿಂದ ಬಂದುದಾಗಿದೆ ಎಂದರು.
ಬುದ್ಧ ವೈದಿಕ ಪುರೋಹಿತಶಾಹಿ ಧರ್ಮವನ್ನು ವಿರೋಧಿಸಿದರೆ ಹೊರತು ಹಿಂದೂ ಧರ್ಮವನ್ನಲ್ಲ. ಕಾಲಕಾಲಕ್ಕೆ ಬದಲಾಗುವ ಧರ್ಮ ನಮ್ಮನ್ನು ರಕ್ಷಿಸು ತ್ತದೆ ಎಂಬುದನ್ನು ನಂಬುವುದಾದರೂ ಹೇಗೆ ಎಂದು ಅವರು ಪ್ರಶ್ನಿಸಿದರು. ನೂರಾರು ವರ್ಷಗಳ ಹಿಂದೆ ಮುಸ್ಲಿಂ ಮಹಾರಾಜರು 2 ಸಾವಿರ ದೇವಾ ಲಯಗಳನ್ನು ನಾಶಗೊಳಿಸಿದರು.

ಅವರ ವಾರಸುದಾರರಾದ ಇಂದಿನ ಮುಸ್ಲಿಂರು ಈ ದುಷ್ಕೃತ್ಯಕ್ಕೆ ಬಲಿಯಾಗಬೇಕೆಂಬುದು ಭೈರಪ್ಪನವರ ಆವರಣ ಕಾದಂಬರಿಯ ವಾದವಾಗಿದೆ.

ಆದರೆ ಫರ್ಗುಶನ್ ಎಂಬ ವಿದೇಶಿ ವಿದ್ವಾಂಸ ಶೇ.99ರಷ್ಟು ಹಿಂದೂ ಧರ್ಮದ ಅನುಯಾಯಿಯಾಗಿದ್ದು ಕೊಂಡು ಹಿಂದೂ ಧರ್ಮದ ಕುರಿತು ಸಾಕಷ್ಟು ಗ್ರಂಥಗಳನ್ನು ರಚಿಸಿದ್ದಾರೆ. ಆದರೆ ಅವರು ಹಿಂದೂ ಧರ್ಮದ ವಾರಸುದಾರರಲ್ಲ ಎನ್ನುವುದನ್ನು ಭೈರಪ್ಪನವರು ಗಮನಿಸಬೇಕು ಎಂದು ಅವರು ಹೇಳಿದರು

Courtesy : Varthabharathi

Caste no bar (SC/ST excuse)Wedded to untouchability, even in cyberspace


COIMBATORE: sample the way untouchability is making it to cyberspace: ‘Caste no bar (SC/ST excuse)’. The entry, made by a girl as part of her profile posted on, horrified city resident P Jayan. “I wonder how the website management allowed the client to post such an entry. It’s an affr ont to the country’s Scheduled communities,” Jayan told Express.

On Monday, he called up the girl’s mother. That night, he found the profile having been yanked off the site.

Portal founder Murugavel Janaki raman says BharatMatrimony has been neutral towards caste and religion. “If we sight an objectionable entry, we modify the description and educate members on the subject.”

Jayan doesn’t see this as an isola ted case. He claims many matrimony sites bear similar entries. He now plans to move a court seeking directions to all such portals to moderate content to prevent untouchability.

K Samuel Raj, State secretary of the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front, says he is surprised to learn that untouchability had crept even into matrimonial portals. A rec ent survey by the Front had found untouchability in 82 different forms across the State, but it did not include cyberspace. Terming the issue as ser ious, he said his Front would take it up with the government.



Resisting indignity


Safai karmacharis are set to end their two-decade-long movement for a life of dignity on a victorious note.


Valmiki/Balmiki women

ONE OF THE Balmiki women who undertook the bus yatra to Delhi, with a picture of B.R. Ambedkar.

DECEMBER 31, 2010. As revellers across the world prepare to celebrate the end of the first decade of the new millennium and the start of a new year, a million women across India will be celebrating not the end of a calendar year but the end of a centuries-old degrading and inhuman occupation – lifting of night soil, euphemistically referred to as manual scavenging.

This is the result of India’s most moving campaign since Independence. The Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) is a movement for dignity and justice for India’s safai karmacharis or Balmikis. It was Mahatma Gandhi who raised the question for the first time, over a century ago, in 1901, at a Kolkata meeting of the Indian National Congress. Several Prime Ministers declared they would eradicate manual scavenging. Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, who was reportedly obsessed with ending the obnoxious practice, got the Eradication of Manual Scavenging and Dry Latrines Act passed in 1993. He also created a commission to deal with the problem and allocated crores for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers. Seventeen years after the Act, the demeaning work of removing human excreta with a broom, pieces of tin sheet and a bucket or basket is finally ending.

This has been achieved more because a band of determined people from the community launched the Safai Karmachari Andolan than because politicians or bureaucrats took the initiative. The team of mostly young people from the community, led by a frail, soft-spoken, but charismatic Balmiki leader, Bejawada Wilson, its convener, put in motion a strategic plan about 15 years ago.

First came an awareness-building exercise at the grass roots. A team of youngsters from the Balmiki community were mobilised and trained to spread the message throughout the country that manual scavenging and dry latrines had been made illegal since 1993. They went from house to house, slum to slum, district to district, convincing Balmiki women to throw down their brooms, to stop cleaning excreta. Wilson then appeared, exhorting them to give up their degrading occupation for the sake of dignity.

“The Collector can be jailed for allowing dry latrines in his/her district, no one can force you to clean them,” Wilson told them. The women were stunned when they first heard that it was punishable under law to make them clean excreta manually. When they were asked to share their experiences, it was like a dam burst. Years of pent-up anguish and emotion gushed out. “No one ever asked us how we felt, or how we suffered all these years,” they said. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, the women repeated the same story, with slight variations.

Lakshmi from Tamil Nadu recalls: “I came from a village, so when I got married to a boy from the town, my friends were envious. ‘Now you’ll become a city girl with TV and electricity,’ they teased me. The wedding was fun. The music, food, new clothes, dressing up. When the festivities ended, my mother-in-law said, ‘The wedding is over, it’s time to go to work.’ In the village, everyone went to the fields in the morning to defecate. But not here in the town, I had never seen a huge latrine like this. I did not know our people cleaned excreta in this manner. I vomited for months. Could not eat my food. Gradually I got used to it. I hated it, but there was no choice. Even today, the sight of dal makes me throw up. It reminds me of what I cleaned for years.”

The SKA then launched a campaign to destroy illegal dry latrines. In 2003, the SKA with 18 other organisations, filed a public interest litigation (PIL) petition in the Supreme Court. They sought eradication of manual scavenging, liberation of all safai karmacharis from their degrading jobs and initiation of measures for their rehabilitation. A shameful and scandalous game ensued. After several delaying tactics, which prolonged the case over many years, the government finally took some action. But it was not to end manual scavenging but to subvert justice. In an attempt to cover up the States’ failure to implement the 1993 Act, almost all of them submitted false affidavits stating that manual scavenging and dry latrines were non-existent in their territories. They implied the SKA was lying. The Supreme Court asked the SKA to furnish proof of the existence of dry latrines and manual scavenging.

The SKA embarked on a nationwide survey to gather proof. Wilson recalls: “This wasn’t just a survey. It was a question of our life, of human dignity.” An army of 1,260 SKA activists panned out to 274 districts in 18 States. They went from house to house photographing and documenting evidence. They took pictures and video footage of individual house owners with their names and door numbers and the names and photographs of the women who cleaned their private latrines. They were aided by NDTV; the TV channel aired the footage, to the embarrassment of the house owners. The unintentional “name and shame” campaign made people, especially in Punjab and Haryana, quickly demolish the dry toilets.

S.R. Sankaran, the legendary Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer who was Wilson’s guide and mentor and a co-founder of the SKA, personally wrote letters to every Collector under whose jurisdiction dry latrines still existed. Some took action. Many were indifferent, callous and brusque.

Intensification of campaign

In 2004, the SKA decided to intensify its campaign by destroying illegal dry latrines. In Andhra Pradesh, there was a dry latrine in the Nizamabad Yellareddy court, used by lawyers and judges. “You cannot demolish this,” the authorities told them. “You will be arrested.” “We can and we will,” SKA campaigners retorted. “It is illegal; it is not supposed to exist!”

Sankaran declared, “We should have a closing date. We cannot go on forever.” Wilson saw the ‘Countdown to the Commonwealth Games’ signboards and decided Campaign 2010 had a nice ring to it. And December 31, 2010, sounded like a great deadline.

The 2010 Campaign began with plans for an all-India bus yatra in October 2010. Five buses drove triumphantly into Delhi on October 31. One had started from the northernmost part of India, Kashmir; another from the southern tip, Kanyakumari. The third meandered from Dibrugarh to Delhi, and the fourth from Orissa. The last bus was from Dehradun in Uttarakhand. There were 250 safai karmacharis from 20 States. They converged on the Vishwa Yuva Kendra, Chanakyapuri, exhausted but victorious and happy, after a marathon, month-long mission. They had undertaken the pilgrimage through 172 districts, exhorting every Indian Balmiki, from bastis throughout the country to throw down their brooms and vow that they would never clean human excreta again.

On October 7, 2010, the SKA received a huge blow. Their mentor, Sankarangaru, as he was fondly called, suffered a heart attack and died. The poor from every corner of Andhra Pradesh, whom he had served, turned up in their thousands to mourn the passing away of a man who had touched the lives of millions. But his dream lived on, soon to be realised.

Some 1,000 safai karmacharis from 20 States, who until recently had worked as manual scavengers, assembled in New Delhi on November 1 and resolved to return to the capital on January 1, 2011, if their demands were not met. At a meeting at Mavalankar Hall, they shared their experiences and put forth their demands.

As each bus appeared, at Chanakyapuri, yatris were greeted and garlanded by a cheering band of supporters and well-wishers. They clambered down travel-weary but triumphant, shouting the slogans they had learnt from different States. “ Rookhi sookhi khayenge, maila nahi uthayenge!” they yelled. (We’ll eat half a dry roti but never carry filth again.)

The slogans were sometimes difficult to decipher, but once you sorted out the myriad languages, they were upbeat and infectious. The effect was cacophonic – Bengali and Marathi merging with Oraon and Ho from Jharkhand, Kashmiri mingling with dialects like Bhojpuri, Oriya and Punjabi. The southern presence was pronounced and loud – Telegu, Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada.

Bejawada Wilson, convener of the SKA. He carried to the logical end an action plan he helped put together 15 years ago to eradicate manual scavenging.

The yatris had been together for an entire month. Many had picked up a few phrases of each language. They learnt new customs, new food habits and new languages. Tamilians shouted Johar (from Jharkhand), but strangest of all was to hear Punjabis and Kashmiris shouting “Velaga Velaga Velaga vay”, a victory cry from the deep South. North Indians ate sambar and idlis, while southern Balmikis learnt to enjoy aloo paranthas for breakfast.

Few of these women had ever left the slums they were born in or travelled, except to a relative’s house for a wedding or a funeral. Yet the fervour and emotion generated by this mission to end manual scavenging had given them the courage to embark on a totally unknown journey, hundreds, even thousands of kilometres away, to a distant dream – to Delhi. Several had taken babies and small children with them. Each person who disembarked from the buses looked exhausted but exhilarated. Each one had grown in confidence and self-esteem. The excitement and pride were palpable.

People poured out of the buses and into the hall. The women were invited to take the stage. The first was Narayanamma from Andhra Pradesh. In October 2000, The Hindu reported Narayanamma’s plight as she cleaned a 400-seat dry latrine in Anantapur town. The toilet was immediately demolished, and Narayanamma became a crusader in the fight to end manual scavenging. Ten years later she glows with pride and joy as she speaks about her fight for justice for her people.

Umayal from Puddukottai district in Tamil Nadu is all of 20 years old. She spent a month on the bus with her two-year-old daughter Sandhya. Tiny, with delicate, perfect features, she rapidly became the darling of the media after her firebrand speech. “I started doing this work when I was around 10 years old,” she began. “Once, I was working for some people and they would not let me sit on the mat. I had to sit far away in a corner on the floor. I wept and thought, I am untouchable because of the filthy work I do. When the SKA people came here and asked us to stop this work, I was only too happy to do so. I received a bank loan and now buy and sell coir. Even if someone offers me one lakh rupees, I will never do this work again.”

When Wilson took the microphone to speak, his words, deriving from his years of experience as a member of the Balmiki community, came straight from the heart. He said: “How many of our women have wept tears of shame as they did this filthy, humiliating work to feed their children? Our grandmothers, mothers, aunts, wives, sisters and daughters. They crept out from back doors, believing their touch pollutes. Today, with no promise of livelihood, no guarantee of rice or roti, they have bravely thrown down their brooms, those symbols of shame and oppression. They have travelled through the length and breadth of this country begging our people to do likewise. To throw down their buckets, baskets and brooms to liberate their children and future generations from life-long shame and oppression.”

A list of demands were announced, aimed at helping safai karmacharis to rebuild their lives with dignity. “If the government does not accept our demands within 60 days, we will all come to Delhi and stay put here until our demands are met,” Wilson declared.

The main demands were that the government must apologise to all safai karmacharis for the violation of their dignity and the degradation of an entire community over centuries; all dry latrines must be demolished; those violating the 1993 Act and forcing safai karmacharis to do manual scavenging must be punished. They also demanded that the government must release Rs.5 lakh for the rehabilitation of every safai karmachari, a separate Rs.10,000 as immediate relief, five acres of land, and Antyodaya cards and houses. A special pension for women safai karmacharis who were single, widowed or aged was also demanded.

There were loud cheers when Wilson issued his ultimatum to the government. There was a feeling that it was possible for the safai karmacharis to realise their dream. The dream does seem less impossible now. Wilson has appeared in national dailies, on television, even in British newspapers; he has held meetings with Ministers, senior IAS officers, the National Advisory Council and the Planning Commission. On October 23, an NAC meeting chaired by Sonia Gandhi issued a note ordering a crackdown on manual scavenging, with specific directions for State governments to end the shameful practice. An outline for rehabilitation was also issued.

A padayatra, launched on December 1 and culminating in Delhi on December 31, will bring this historic campaign to an end. After December, the SKA will start a “name and shame” campaign, naming Collectors who are guilty of dereliction of duty.

Few people took Wilson seriously when he started his work in 1987 in Kolar in Karnataka. The SKA has since spread to Kanyakumari, to Kashmir, to Kumaon. Its campaigners have persuaded lakhs of women to throw down their brooms, bringing down the number of manual scavengers from 13 lakh to three lakh. It has taken more than two decades, but he has achieved what even Mahatma Gandhi failed to do.

To dream an impossible dream takes courage. Yet this simple, unknown man with a small team of people has managed within two decades to sweep away the degradation of centuries for one million women with little more than the power of persuasion. It places him in the company of giants like Gandhi, Mandela and Martin Luther King. A bit over the top? Some people would say so. But not those one million Balmiki women.



NDC-OHCHR-Nepal launch observation on the Untouchability Bill


Wednesday, 8 December 2010,

We are concerned over the process of drafting and submission of the Bill: NDC, OHCHR-Nepal

Kathmandu – On the occasion of the Human Rights Day, the National Dalit Commission of Nepal (NDC) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal (OHCHR-Nepal) released today an analysis of the draft Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability Crime Elimination and Punishment Act, entitled, “NDC and OHCHR-Nepal Observations on the Untouchability Bill”.

With this document, the NDC and OHCHR-Nepal, make an assessment of the draft bill and offer a set of recommendations to the Legislative-Parliament and other relevant actors to ensure consistency of the proposed bill with national and international human rights standards.

Non-discrimination and equality are core human rights principles and Nepal is a state party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The Convention obliges the Government inter alia, to prohibit discrimination based on descent, including caste-based discrimination. The Interim Constitution of Nepal and other legislation also prohibit any discrimination based on caste and untouchability. The draft bill should fill the gaps of the current legislation to ensure effective prosecution of criminal offense based on caste-based discrimination and untouchability and compensation for the victims. In particular, it should be revised to incorporate appropriate penalties and statutes of limitations corresponding to the seriousness of each offence, an essential way to ensure the right to an effective remedy for the victims.

“We welcome the submission of the draft bill on Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability Crime Elimination and Punishment to the Legislature-Parliament as a very positive step forward which offers an opportunity to make Nepali legislation consistent with international standards,” stated in a joint press statement released today by NDC and OHCHR-Nepal, adding, “if the current gaps are corrected, the proposed law could become a key tool to curb the deep-rooted practice of castebased discrimination and practices of untouchability in Nepal.”

“We insist however that the process of drafting and submission of the Bill makes the object of meaningful consultations with key stakeholders and the general public,” said Bijul Kumar Biswakarma, the chairperson of NDC, and Anthony Cardon, Officerin- Charge of OHCHR-Nepal, adding, “the NDC and OHCHR-Nepal urge the Legislature-Parliament and the Government of Nepal to make public the content of the draft bill to seek views from concerned stakeholders and to incorporate their concerns and recommendations in the draft Bill”.

Recasting Hinduism for the 21st century


It is important that Hindus take the lead in acknowledging the damage that caste discrimination does and resolving to tackle it


India Dalit HinduDalits at the National Conference of Dalits in New Delhi. Photograph: Manish Swarup/APCaste has become the convenient “hook” to hang the Hinduism portrait since Hinduism, that “rolling caravan of conceptual spaces”, is too complex a religion/way of life for the “people of the book” who have reigned supreme the past two millennia. Unfortunately, caste being the complex conundrum that it is, Hinduism almost always is seen through the prism of caste. 

In a newly published report, the Hindu American Foundation tackles the issue of caste discrimination, and of the immediate and urgent need for Hindus to acknowledge that caste is not an intrinsic part of Hinduism; that continuing caste-based discrimination is a major human rights problem; and only Hindus, through reform movements, through an activist agenda, and through education can rid Hindu society of the scourge of caste-based discrimination.

While there will be naysayers in the Hindu community, who wish to get into their bunkers and fight a rearguard battle to “defend” Hinduism from what they see as a concerted campaign of vilification by Christian missionaries, Muslim fundamentalists, Marxist Hindu haters, and a global-capitalist-western hegemony, it is important that Hindus bell the casteist cat themselves. In this regard, the HAF report points out that caste-based discrimination is a serious human rights issue in the Indian subcontinent, and that over 160 million people, whom the Indian government categorises as “scheduled castes” (SCs), suffer from discrimination by not only a variety of Hindu caste groups but even by “upper caste” Christians and Muslims after they have converted to Christianity or Islam.

The Indian constitution, whose chief architect, BR Ambedkar, was himself a member of the scheduled castes, outlaws “untouchability” – the act of segregating and ostracising a social group by literally prohibiting physical contact with members of the SCs. Alas, India is hobbled by a weak and sometimes dysfunctional judicial system, and therefore acts of discrimination against the SCs (or Dalits, as many of them prefer to call themselves) either go unpunished or ignored.

Other lawlessness in India goes unpunished but the challenge of dealing with caste-based discrimination has been the most disheartening. This is especially so in rural areas where caste dynamics continues to play havoc. In 2008, for example, according to the Indian government, there were 33,615 human rights violations of various types – from the denial of entry into temples to denial of service in wayside restaurants, and from bonded labour to the exploitation of women.

HAF’s report therefore begins with an important point: that Hindus must acknowledge that caste arose in Hindu society, that some Hindu texts and traditions justify a birth-based hierarchy and caste bias, and that it has survived despite considerable attempts by Hindus to curtail it. It notes that caste-based discrimination represents a failure of Hindu society “to live up to its essential spiritual teachings,” that divinity is inherent in all beings, and that caste is not an intrinsic part of Hinduism.

Sure, untouchability is practiced not just by Hindus in India and Nepal but by non-Hindus in Yemen, Japan, Korea, France, Somalia, and Tibet. But the sheer number of people who are discriminated against in India makes this a uniquely Indian and Hindu problem. Fishing in India’s troubled waters are therefore missionaries who for long have sought to make India Christian, and the left/Marxist forces in India who see only Hinduism as a problem but not religion per se. In recent decades, and especially after George W Bush became president, there was a surge in monies funneled into India for planting churches and converting Hindus. Organisations like the Dalit Freedom Network, led by and catering to mostly Christians, have gone on overdrive and sought to categorise SCs as non-Hindus and therefore arguing that they are not converting Hindus to Christianity.

HAF’s report, a first of its kind by a modern Hindu advocacy group, provides readers a handy but grand sweep of the problem of caste – from its origins to its role in the past and at present, its use and abuse, and reform movements from the earliest by the likes of Basaveshwara to the great 19th- and 20th-century reform movements like the Arya Samajmovement, and reformers like Jyotiba PhuleNarayana GuruMahatma Gandhi, and others.

Noting that there are defenders of the caste system, not just the curmudgeon and cruel among Hindus, but the likes of Voltaire and Diderot who fought against the monotheistic intolerance of Christians and Muslims, to sociologists like Louis Dumont who argued that the “distribution of functions leads to exchanges”, to the great Indophile,Alain Daniélou who argued that caste does not equate to “racist inequality but … a natural ordering of diversity,” the HAF report argues that a birth-based hierarchy is unacceptable, that inequities against and the abuse of the Dalits/SCs is a human rights issue, and that the solution to this social ill is available within Hindu sacred texts themselves, and that Hindus should be at the forefront of putting an end to the system of birth-based hierarchy as well as taking the lead in energising the Dalit community to fight discrimination.

As the British seek to draft a new bill of rights, and from what one hears,equate caste with racism, similar to what was sought at the United Nations Durban conference on racism and racial discrimination, as western Europe and US-based missionary groups ratchet up the calls for actions and sanctions against India, and as we move into a new era of global interaction, it is time for Hindus to act.