Dalits and English : Prof. Kancha Ilaiah

Kancha Ilaiah

The democratic nation proved that the fears of lower castes were wrong. They enrolled into regional language education in a big way.

One bright morning in 1960, when I was about eight, a newly appointed single teacher came to my house. My mother had already cleaned our courtyard called ‘vaakili’ and was sprinkling the dung water all around the courtyard. I was about to assist my elder brother in untying the cattle and go along with them for grazing. The teacher asked my mother to send me and my elder brother, who was about 10, to school. What she told him shocks every one of us in retrospect: “Ayyaa — if we send our children to school to read and write devil Saraswathi will kill them. That devil wants only brahmins and baniyas to be in that business.”



For centuries the so called goddess of education was against the dalit learning, reading and writing in any language. She was the goddess of education of only the high castes — mainly of the brahmins and baniayas. But the lower castes, who were denied of education treated her as a devil that would kill their children if they go to school.

The notion that she kills us was so deep that my grandmother fought with my mother for she was terrified of our imminent death, after I and my brother — not my sisters in any case — were sent to school. She used to pray Pochamma — our village goddess — that she should protect us from Saraswathi. Within a few months after we were sent to school my grandmother died of a future shock that we would not survive at all.

The democratic nation proved that those fears of lower castes were wrong. They got into regional language education in a big way. The goddess of Sanskrit education was adopted by lower castes as their goddess of regional language education too. Several school teachers across the country — many of them were OBC teachers — installed Saraswathi photo even in government schools, ignoring the fact there could be a muslim or a christian or any other minority students in the schools.

It is a known fact that there were several hindu teachers who made humiliating remarks about muslims and christians that they do not have goddess of education like Saraswathi and hence inferior in educational values. Saraswathi Shishumandirs have cropped up all over the country. In the ’70s and ’80s the aggressive ownership of ‘matru bhasha’ (mother tongue) theory and adoption of Saraswathi as goddess of Indian education had acquired a nationalist overtone. So militant was that nationalism that any opposition to installing Saraswathi’s portrait in the schools and colleges would only invite fist blows.

The right wing student organisations started installing her portrait in the university departments. The regional language departments made Saraswathi an educational-cultural symbol. Unmindful of the secular constitution of the nation even the university teachers — mainly of regional language departments sporting a visible saffron tilak on the forehead, began to treat others who operate outside that cultural norm as inferior.

A walking goddess

With the increase of women teachers in schools, colleges and universities Saraswathi was made almost a walking goddess in the nation. Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Guru Nanak whose life though revolved around education to all humans never appeared on the nationalist map of education.

While the majority OBCs, some dalits and tribals began to worship Saraswathi in regional educational centres — of course on the real pooja day the priest talked to her only in Sankrit, in spite of the fact, that under her sharp and well decorated nose that language died to a point no return, except that soliloquous priest nobody understands the slokas, she has become goddess of all Indian languages.

While the historical backwards were enjoying their new status of proximity to mythical Saraswathi, the living Saraswathi in the company of her cousin Laxmi shifted her real operative base to the other world, called colonial English world. The backward class people of India, as of now, have no entry so far.

The recent decision of the Central government to introduce English teaching from class one in all government schools will enable all the lower castes of India are going to enter into a new phase of English education. Though this method of English teaching does not take the dalit-bahujan and minority community children to the level of convent educated upper castes, it makes a new beginning of dreaming for egalitarian education in future.

English education is the key for adopting the modernist approach suitable to the globalised India. The upper castes have handled the contradiction between English and their native culture quite carefully. But when it comes to teaching English to the lower castes they have been proposing a theory that English will destroy the ‘culture of the soil’. Having realised the importance of English the Central government has taken a right decision.

However, the next stage should be moving towards total abolition of the gap between the private English medium schools and the government schools in terms of both infrastructure and teaching methods. Even about the language both the public and private schools must be brought under two language formula of teaching 50 per cent syllabus in English and the other half of the syllabus in the regional language across the country.

(The writer is D.Director, CSSEIP,  Maulana Azad National University, Hyderabad)



RAJA OF CORRUPTION-Hurting the dalit cause : Prof. Kancha Ilaiah



By Kancha Ilaiah
Our democracy is not only fragile but corrupt. But that does not absolve any dalit leader indulging in a massive corrupt practice.
The Indian nation is reeling under corruption of all varieties — financial, moral and ethical. Unfortunately former minister Raja’s corrupt contracting of the communication networks called 2G spectrum scam has not only shaken the UPA government but affected the moral credibility of DMK politics and more so that of the dalit ideology.

Raja is not only a dalit but has grown up in the Dravidian ideological framework. Why did he pursue politics of this level of corruption? Did he do it at the instance of the DMK leadership or on his own? I cannot imagine that a politician of his age and background could do it without the knowledge of the top DMK leadership.

The DMK has its origins in the socio-political culture of Periyar Ramasami Naikar’s movement. The DMK has moved far away from it. We have been haunted by the corrupt image of Lalu Prasad and Mayawati for quite some time now. The scope to justify their deeds as individual aberrations tainted our ideological vision also. Of course, we cannot write off such corrupt practices of the dalit-bahujan leaders as some historical inheritance of the same brahminic practice as the practice sustains outside the realm of ‘sramanic’ practices.

Gautham Buddha gave us a moral code that one’s own property should be an external image of one’s labour power that must get invested into it in varied forms. He was not totally opposed to private property but opposed to private property accumulated by exploiting the labour power of others.

Periyar, Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Ambedkar inherited the moral ethics of Buddha. DMK and Bahujan Samaj Party are the political expression of these great leaders of depressed classes. When these parties are heading the state institutions what ethical, moral and financial policies should they follow?

Marx also believed in a similar theory that the private property of a person should not go far beyond one’s own family labour power. Any property accumulated in any other form outside the realm of labour power of one’s own family is nothing but exploitation. The kind of political corruption that Raja or Kalmadi or Ashok Chauhan or Yeddyurappa got involved in amounts to plundering of the national resource that got generated with the investment of mass labour power of the nation into it.

If it were to be China or any other western democratic system, such political leaders either would have been hanged or they would have been jailed for their entire lifetime. In a country like the USA the jail term may be 120 years or 140 years whereby whatever could be the life span of that particular individual, he/she cannot come out of the jail till he/she dies. The Indian laws of punishment do not follow such a course. Life sentence at best means one would be in jail for 14 years.

Double punishment

The culture of punishing less for major crimes of corruption of the magnitude that we witness today has been inherited from the historical culture of ignoring or giving marginal punishments for such practices. Should not that legal trend change now? As Kanshi Ram used to say that if upper castes with proven history of corruption indulge in corruption they should be punished severely and when the state is being run by the representatives of the poor and oppressed they should be punished more because they were supposed to help the poor more. Raja, if proven guilty deserves double punishment because his moral duty was to work for the welfare of the poor more than the others. Obviously this he did not do so.

Of course, the present market economy seems to force every section to get into the network of corrupt accumulation of private capital. The culture of massive corrupt accumulation of family wealth seems to have become a normal mode of political life of politicians. May be this is part of third world democracy.

Our democracy itself is not only fragile but corrupt at the very base of it. But that does not absolve such massive corrupt practice of a dalit leader who emerged out of the political formation of the kind that DMK is.

B R Ambedkar thought that the Indian corruption is imposed by the brahminic intelligentsia, as they lived off the ‘dakshina’ economy. Those politicians who have come from the productive communities have acquired an ideological education that more you earn more respect and stature you acquire irrespective of the means you adopt for acquiring the wealth.

If Ambedkar and Jagjivan Ram, having come from the dalit-bahujan background provided one kind of example, Raja, having come from the same dalit background and having grown from the ranks of Periyarite party seems to set another example.

Culturally we have lost a moral ground that Buddha, Phule, Ambedkar and Periyar handed down to us. The political formations that emerged out of their ideology and practice must reset on a course of fresh debate about the political and social morality they set in motion. If these political parties along with communists also do not observe the cultural ethics of non-corruptibility where will the nation go?



NEPAL: Discrimination continues against Dalits

Dalits are still regarded as “untouchables”

KATHMANDU, 24 December 2010 (IRIN) – Dalit communities, the lowest of the 100 caste groups in Nepal, continue to be marginalized, despite the fact that caste-based discrimination was abolished in 1963, activists say.

“Untouchability and discrimination were legitimized by the state over a century ago,” said Bhakta Biswakarma, national head of the advocacy group, Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization (NNDSWO).

“Today we see the state doing little to change the situation. Discrimination against the Dalit as the untouchable caste is still practised so rigidly – especially in the remote areas.”

The 1854 Civil Code, introduced by the Rana regime, explicitly declared the Dalits untouchable, the lowest status within the Hindu social hierarchical structure.

This imposed strict regulations on where the Dalit were allowed to live (they could not enter temples or use the same tap water as higher castes), forbad them from education and from participating in community festivals.

Those who defied the law of untouchability were punished; the state imposed the practice of discrimination on society, said Suman Poudel, an official with the Dalit NGO Federation (DNF).

Little has changed for the estimated 23 Dalit communities in the country’s hill and Terai regions, despite the propagation of legal rights.

Impoverished and neglected

Dalit communities have the lowest human development rankings in the country: 49.2 percent live below the poverty line compared with a national average of 31 percent, according to the World Bank.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) says discriminatory labour practices persist in the Terai, where the majority of Dalit live. During annual harvest seasons (March-May and September-November), high-caste landlords reportedly continue to use debt bondage to secure unpaid labour from Dalit labourers.

In the Terai, many Dalits are landless and live on less than US$1 a day, Poudel said, while UNDP assessments reveal that their annual per capita income is less than half that of higher castes ($764 to $1,848) across the rest of the country.

With a literacy rate of less than 33.5 percent above grade six (against 67.5 percent among higher-caste Brahmins), and high rates of school dropout, improving the social condition of Dalit communities is a challenge.

Weak implementation

And while caste discrimination was officially abolished in 1963, experts say the government has been weak in enforcing the ban.

“There are a plethora of policies and laws that have been drafted to protect the Dalit,” said Oxfam’s Robert Sila, a social inclusion and civil society expert. “But there is no seriousness on the government side when it comes to implementing these policies.”

One of the pillars of the government’s poverty reduction strategy for a long time has been social inclusion, but there is little evidence of that, Sila says.

However, Sudha Neupane, under-secretary for the gender equality and social section of Nepal’s Ministry of Local Development, says the government is focusing heavily on combating discrimination.

“The government is very sensitive to the issue of discrimination against the Dalit,” Neupane said.

A starting point would be addressing the controversy over population size. Government statistics show that the Dalit make up nearly 13 percent of the 29 million population, although the Dalit put that figure at more than 20 percent.

“A government cannot effectively address the needs of a population if it doesn’t have their exact numbers. It should do a fresh census to determine the real numbers,” said Sila.

Nepal’s last national census was done in 2001 and a new one is expected in 2011.


Theme (s): Human Rights,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Proud to be a Dalit: A quiet revolution is underway in the Dalit world[Telegraph News Calcutta]

A quiet revolution is underway in the Dalit world — assertiveness is replacing defensiveness. Many Dalits, buoyed by prosperity, are flaunting their caste on their sleeves and celebrating it in rap and pop albums. Seetha and V. Kumara Swamy look at how Dalits are changing the way the world looks at them
STANDING TALL: Cars with a defiant chamar or chamar da munda scrawled on windshields are common in Jalandhar; (below) P. Nagrare started an engineering college along with other Dalits; (bottom) H. Bhaskar, who set up Kota Tutorials, says he is proud to be a Jatav

Sons of chamars are six feet tall
Riding bikes at the speed of bullets
And making headlines everywhere

Upcoming Punjabi singer Lovely Bhatia’s Chadadh Chamaran Di (Rising Chamars) is a big hit in parts of Punjab. That’s not surprising, for the song is the anthem of the young Dalit.

You can be imprisoned, under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, for using the word chamar — a term for a scheduled caste community that traditionally worked with leather — as an abuse.

In parts of Punjab, though, rap and pop albums celebrating the chamar identity are the new rage. Cars and scooters sporting a defiant chamar or Chamaran da Munda (son of a chamar) stickers are a common sight in Jalandhar.

“When I was young, I feared saying that I was a chamar, thinking that my colleagues would look down upon me. But now I say that I am proud to be a chamar,” says Sriram Prakash who, after retirement from the Punjab police, has been working with a Dalit religious group, the Ravidasias.

It isn’t just in Punjab. Agra’s Harsh Bhaskar, 32, who set up the multi-city Kota Tutorials and the Edify Institute of Management and Technology, outside Agra, declares he is “proud” to be a Jatav. J.S. Phulia, who runs a Delhi-based shipping and logisitics firm, says: “We don’t want to be servile.”

Alongside atrocities by upper castes in villages and discrimination in the work place, another chapter is being written in the Dalit story — assertion is replacing defensiveness. In Punjab, the assertion is in your face; in other parts of the country, it is quieter, but palpable.

“Dalits are sick of taunts about their poverty, their so-called unclean habits and their dependence on reservations for education and jobs,” says Dalit writer and activist Chandrabhan Prasad. “They want to change these impressions.”

What is more, Dalit entrepreneurs are expanding, and even have their own apex body — the Pune-based Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Dicci), which has over 400 members.

Dalits are also setting up schools and colleges — often as an avenue for helping the community. Pradeep Nagrare, secretary of the Nagpur-based Nagarjuna Institute of Engineering Technology and Management , says the idea for the institute, where 60 per cent of students are Dalits, came from the Babasaheb Ambedkar National Association of Engineers, a group of scheduled caste engineers. “If we have to take Babasaheb Ambedkar’s mission forward, it can only be through education,” he says.

Dalit movements seeking to change lives have taken various forms, says S.S. Jodhka, professor of sociology at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. Political mobilisation saw the rise of the Bahujan Samaj Party, human right struggles focused on atrocities and discrimination while socio-economic development dealt with education and business. Religious movements have ranged from Dalits embracing Buddhism to the recent Ravidasia assertion in Punjab, spearheaded by followers of Ravidas, a 15th century saint who belonged to the chamar community.

The hub of the Ravidasia movement is Dera Sachkhand, near Jalandhar. A huge Ravidas temple is being built in Jalandhar, young men sport T-shirts and headbands with the Hari symbol of the Ravidasia community. Dalits in Punjab — Sikhs and non-Sikhs — are being encouraged to list Ravidasia as their religion in the 2011 census.

The movement grew as a reaction to years of discrimination. Dalits, who tilled the fields of Jat Sikhs, were not allowed inside the latter’s gurdwaras. So small gurdwaras mainly for Dalits cropped up. “The Jats of Punjab have been asserting their identity for long; it’s our turn now,” says Manohar Lal Mehey, an industrialist who proudly displays the Ravidasia symbol on his Mitsubishi Lancer. The movement got a fillip after the killing of a sect leader by upper caste Sikhs in Vienna, Austria, last year led to widespread violence.

The trigger wasn’t so specific in the case of Dalit entrepreneurship, which is mainly a post-1990s phenomenon. The shrinking government sector, after liberalisation was launched, reduced regular job opportunities. Simultaneously, as companies began outsourcing activities to become more competitive, avenues opened up for non-business communities.

Phulia, for instance, started as a typist at a logistics firm in Delhi but now runs a Rs 4-crore company. The son of a foreman in the Haryana state electricity board started Signet Freight Express Pvt. Ltd in 2004 with Rs 900 from his savings and Rs 12 lakh borrowed from friends and relatives.

He remembers how a colleague in an office where he once worked asked him his caste. “When I said I was a chamar, he thought I was joking. Why should I joke, I asked? Why can’t I be a chamar?”

The earlier generation, he says, felt “inferior” because it didn’t know its history. “Now people are aware that a scholar such as Sant Ravidas was from our community, that our tradition is also rich. So there is pride in our caste,” says Phulia, whose three children study at a public school in Gurgaon.

Many young Dalits see business as a way of proving to themselves and the world that they are capable of earning a living with dignity as well as generating employment for others.

In a March 2010 study, Dalits in Business: Self-employed Scheduled Castes in North-West India, Jodhka found 80 per cent of the people he surveyed were in the 20-40 age group and most were first generation entrepreneurs.

Reservation in education and jobs has given a leg up to the community. But there is a reluctance to continue depending on quotas. “Reservations created a neo-middle class,” says Jodhka. “The children of those sections, who have grown up proud in middle class localities, are uncomfortable with parents wanting benefits based on quotas.”

Devanand Londhe, the son of a retired soldier who worked as a farm labourer and a watchman, studied civil engineering in Kolhapur University as a quota student. After graduating, he refused to register himself with the employment exchange. He worked as a consultant at various international organisations and then set up an export-oriented unit once he had enough money. “Yes, reservations are still important for many, but a lot of young people want to make it on their own,” he says.

Help has also come from the prosperous Dalit non resident Indians (NRIs). The Ravidasias were among the first communities to migrate to the West, points out Ronki Ram, reader, political science department, Panjab University. The deras, the sect’s sprawling complexes, have largely been funded by NRI Dalits. The diaspora has also helped spread the message of Dalit capitalism. “Dalit entrepreneurs say they want connections, not concessions,” says Prasad.

Dicci, says founder-chairman Milind Kamble, was set up in 2005 because mainstream business chambers couldn’t understand the problems Dalits faced. Dalits, he stresses, need communication and marketing skills as well as networking opportunities. So, in early June, Kamble and Prasad arranged for 10 Dalit entrepreneurs to make presentations to Tata Motors on how they could be part of the automobile major’s supply chain.

There is a frank acknowledgment that Dalits will have to look out for their own — 42 per cent of the respondents in Jodhka’s study admitted that they faced discrimination in business (63 per cent said they faced it in their personal lives). “We feel discriminated as Dalits even today,” says Nagrare.

But Bhaskar has a different take. “Failures always look for excuses. If I have not succeeded in something, I will look within myself for weaknesses. I will not blame my caste.”

Sushil Kumar, a school dropout who is now the managing director of Ghaziabad-based Simlex Engineers Pvt. Ltd, agrees. “We as a community are victims of discrimination even today, but I don’t believe in looking back. I know that I can make a difference and I am trying it here.”

Could the multiple strands of Dalit movements come together and help the community realise its potential? And give rise to more Bhaskars who refuse to be burdened by their caste? “I don’t want to prove anything to anyone,” he says. “I just want to look at myself with respect when I see myself in the mirror.”

Crtsy: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1100905/jsp/7days/story_12898243.jsp

An amazing story on the India Today website seems to think that appointing Dalit cooks in schools is a deliberately divisive move by a state government. K S SUDEEP hoot

Casteist reporting
An amazing story on the India Today website seems to think that appointing Dalit cooks in schools is a deliberately divisive move by a state government. K S SUDEEP marvels at Piyush Srivastava’s interpretation.
Posted Tuesday, Jul 27 11:40:59, 2010
Note: The original story on the India Today website which prompted this critique has since been changed, and some of the lines mentioned here have been dropped.

So those kids were all living happily together. They were friends, caste and class did not matter. And then some “Dalit cooks” came and divided them.

That is what this report on the India Today website as well as in Mail Today’s epaper   tries hard to convince us. Titled “Dalit cooks divide UP schoolkids”, the report by Piyush Srivastava explains how the introduction of Dalit cooks in schools led to a “bad situation” in Uttar Pradesh.

“Mid-day meals prepared by Dalit cooks has created such a bad situation in UP that upper caste students are leaving government schools in droves – so far the number is 1,000..”

The report goes on to give us some glimpse into the history and tells us how BSP had piggybacked on the support of Dalits and Brahmins to come to power in UP and how the Mayawati government failed to live up to its promises.

“..But once there, Mayawati and her party failed to bridge the gap between  the upper castes and the Dalits. Rather than achieving social harmony, it has led to increased casteism as is evident from the fact that the students have been boycotting schools over Dalit cooks…”

Very funny, but in a very sad way. It is the upper caste and OBC people who refused to eat food that the dalits cooked. And Sri Srivastava concludes that it is the Dalit cooks (and the government that ordered appointment of these Dalit cooks in schools) who are responsible for the “increased casteism”.

Some parts of the report are factually misleading as well. For instance, it says:

” ..this [continuing instances of violence and boycott] has mounted pressure on the BSP which had passed a diktat making it compulsory for every government school to appoint a Dalit cook where there are two vacancies.”

It is not that the BSP government had a fancy idea one day and gave a “diktat” of their own to appoint Dalit cooks in the schools. There are Supreme Court orders regarding recruitment of cooks from marginalized communities. However, I think it is a commendable effort on the UP government’s side that they went ahead and implemented these orders. One such order says; “In appointment of cooks and helpers, preference shall be given to Dalits, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.”

http://www.sccommissioners.org/courtorders#mdm ]

That is not all. The report even swears by Mahatma Gandhi in an all out attempt to ridicule the Mayawati government.

“..What is worrying is that Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals about a classless society seem to have been forgotten.

And this is no isolated incident.

In July 2009, upper caste students in at least 15 villages of Kannauj  had stopped going to government schools. This year, the OBC students, too, joined them when schools reopened after the summer vacation..”

Seriously, who is coming in the way of an “ideal” society? Some poor dalit cooks? Or some people who consider themselves to be “upper-caste” and superior to others and refuse to eat the food cooked by others, more than 60 years past our independence? Or media like India Todayand journalists like Piyush Srivastava?

[Thanks to my friend Kuffir for sharing the link to the India Today article on facebook. Thanks to Oommen for pointing out the SC orders regarding appointment of cooks.]


Protesting Dalits smear themselves with human excreta

To save their humble homes, protesting Dalits smear themselves with human excreta
Protesting Dalits smear themselves with human excreta
Savanur (Haveri dist), July 20, DHNS
What can be said of a system that forces a community to inflict upon themselves the lowest form of humiliation, just so they are allowed to live in their own homes?
for a cause: Members of the Bhangi community poured human excreta over themselves on the Savanur Town Municipal Council premises on Tuesday. DH PHOTOA basic right, taken for granted with no second thoughts for many, is a struggle for the Bhangi community in Savanur. The community members went as far as pouring human excreta over themselves, so that their voices are heard and as a sign of protest against those trying to evict them from their homes.


For the past 70 years, four families of the Bhangi community, who work as night soil workers, have been living in huts built on land belonging to the Savanur Town Municipal Council (TMC).

At a meeting some time ago, the TMC decided to evict the families and build a commercial complex in its place. Ever since, the TMC has employed various devious ways to force the families out of their homes.

Starting with an oral directive, the TMC has resorted to cutting water connection to the families, dumping waste in front of their homes, barging into their homes, insulting their women and threatening them.

The community members, who are treated as the lowest among the dalits, submitted an appeal to the sub-divisional officer in January against their eviction and have ever since submitted numerous appeals to the government over the past seven months.

Finding no sympathisers in the system for their cause, the community members finally resorted to this extreme form of protest on Tuesday.

The families submitted an appeal to the Assistant Commissioner on Monday demanding
temporary water connection. But they were asked to pay the TMC Rs 2,000 for each connection.

Helpless, the community members took out a mock funeral from their homes in Kamala Bangadi to the TMC on Tuesday. At the TMC, three members of the community  poured human excreta over themselves and begged for water to clean themselves.

Officials apathy

As if this was not heart-wrenching enough, none of the officials at the Town Municipal Council came forward to receive their appeal.

A verbal duel ensued between TMC officials and Dalit Sangarsha Samithi activists. TMC Executive Officer H N Bajakkanavar defended the TMC, saying they never tried to evict the Bhangis, but added that TMC would provide houses for them under various housing schemes.

He also said only illegal water connections were cut off. However, the DSS pointed out that several illegal water connections in the town were untouched and only those feeding Bhangis were cut off. “This is harassment against a community that is still treated like untouchables,” they said.

When no official accepted the appeal from the Bhangis, the latter cleaned the toilets in the TMC premises.

They then went to the Revenue Department and submitted their appeal to Tahsildar Prashanth Nalavar.


Nepal: Combating Violence against Dalit Women of the Terai


Dr. Hari Bansh Jha

Many of the Dalit organizations in Nepal believe that the population of the Dalits in the country’s total population of 23,151,423 is 20 per cent. However, the census report 2001 shows that the population of the Dalits is only 14 per cent (3,241,199) of the country’s total population. A breakdown of the Dalit population reveals that the Dalits of the Terai origin like Dom, Dusadh, Halkhor, Chamar, Tatma, Khatwe, Musahar and Bantar is only 36 per cent (1,166,831) against 64 per cent population of the hill-based Dalits like Damai, Kami, Sarki and Gaine (2,074,367)Studies show that violence against women is rampant all over Nepal. As much as 95 per cent of the women in the country are victims of one or the other form of political, economic and domestic violence. Yet the problem of violence against Dalit women of the Terai is more serious in nature as compared to other communities.

Even after the restoration of multi-party democracy in Nepal in 1990, there has not been any remarkable change in the socio-economic status of the Terai Dalits. Worse among these people is the condition of the Dalit women, who are triply oppressed by the so-called high caste people, patriarchal social system and the Dalit males. Most of these women are tortured mentally, physically and sometimes even killed on one or the other ground.

The Dalit women of the Terai fail to safeguard their interests and make protest for their rights as they are weak. Because of the caste system, the Dalits are divided among themselves. Education among the Dalit women is only 6 per cent or so. In certain Dalit caste such as Musahar the literacy rate is as low as 4 per cent. Drop-out rates among the school-going children is higher among the Dalit girls. Representation of these women in administration and political bodies is almost nil.

As the Dalit women of the Terai are voiceless, their plight is often overlooked. The I/NGOs, government and civil society are least concerned about their problems. With this view in mind, the Centre for Economic and Technical Studies (CETS) in cooperation with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) conducted seminar on “Combating Violence against Dalit Women of the Terai” on October 28, 2003 at Janakpur to create awareness in the society to combat violence against the Dalit women. The seminar was a continuation of the support extended by FES to CETS for the Dalit cause in Nepal.

With a view to suggesting measures for combating violence against Dalit women, the seminar intended to discuss the general situation of violence against Dalit women, review the nature of economic exploitation with these women, assess the discriminatory practices against them in educational institutions, find out the factors that restrict them from attending the schools, and analyze the social problems, including the dowry system and witchcraft which add to the suffering of the Dalit women.

To achieve the above objectives, the seminar was organized at the seminar hall of Chamber of Commerce and Industries at Janakpur on October 28, 2003. The distinguished participants and resource persons of the seminar represented various segments of the society, including the Dalit women and men, academic institutions, media, political parties, NGOs, etc.

Opening of the seminar was made by the welcome speech of Hari Bansh Jha, Executive Director, CETS. In his speech, Jha welcomed all the guests and participants and highlighted the objectives and programmes of the seminar.

Among the galaxy of participants in the seminar, four papers were presented, which included Basant Kumar Vishwokarma’s paper on Overlooking the Education of TeraiDalit Girls, Ram Chandra Sah’s paper on Violence against Dalit Women of the Terai in Social Sector, Prakash A. Raj’s paper on Violation of Political Rights of Dalit Women of the Terai, and Hari Bansh Jha’s paper on Economic Violence against the Dalit Women ofthe Terai.

During the floor discussion, a number of intelligent questions were raised. Apart from the Dalit women, intellectuals from various walks of life also took active part in discussion. Sumitra Devi Mahara and Ram Baran Paswan from the Dalit community discussed in detail the different forms of violence against the women of their community. Namo Narayan Jha, Bishnu Kunwar, Lalan Jha and Roshana Khadka made useful comments and suggestions on different ways and means to combat violence against Dalit women.

It was concluded in the seminar that the concerned agencies should take effective measures to provide employment opportunities to the Dalit women, apart from improving their traditional caste-based skills. For a fixed period of time, they should be given reservation in jobs, educational institutions and political bodies. Dalit women of the Terai should also be given due representation in various Dalit-based organizations and National Dalit Commission. A separate data-base should be prepared on the Dalit women of the Terai and they should be given due focus in Human Development Report or any report prepared nationally or internationally. Pressure groups should be formed to impress upon the government to execute the Dalit-related programs of the 9th and 10th Plan.

Experts of the Janakpur seminar also added that the education of the Dalit girls and women should be promoted through poverty-eradication schemes. Religious movement should be started to enhance Dalit’s role in the society. Legal machinery should be made effective to punish those who indulge discriminatory treatment with the Dalits in public places. All such people who torture the Dalit women on the ground of dowry, witchcraft or any such fake base, should be penalized. But more than all this, it is needed that certain seats should be reserved for the Dalits and Dalit women in the Parliamentary and local elections. There should be provision for certain reserved constituencies where only Dalits are eligible to become candidates, although all communities could vote for candidates for such constituencies.

(Dr. Jha is Nepal’s senior economist)

2008-04-30 07:04:24