Dr. Kwame Nantambu

Caste-driven victimization in India

System is based on teachings of Hinduism

By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
June 15, 2005

Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, Satnarayan Maharaj has publicly stated that Indian- Trinbagonians "are fighting discrimination", while Opposition leader Basdeo Panday corrobates by emphasizing that "we have seen blatant acts of discrimination and victimization in the country" against Indians.

It is against the backdrop of such real and/or imagined charges that it becomes very instructive and illuminating to look one's self in the mirror and examine the comparable plight of a particular segment of India's society today.

According to Hillary Mayell of National Geographic News in an article titled "India's 'Untoucables' Face Violence, Discrimination" dated 2 June 2003:

"More than 160 million people in India are considered 'untouchable'--- people tainted by their birth into a caste system that deems them impure, less than human."

"Human rights abuses against these people, known as Dalits, are legion. A random sampling of headlines in mainstream Indian newspapers tells their story: 'Dalit boy beaten to death for plucking flowers'; 'Dalit tortured by cops for three days'; 'Dalit 'witch' paraded naked in Bihar'; 'Dalit killed in lock-up at Kurnool'; '7 Dalits burnt alive in caste clash'; '5 Dalits lynched in Haryana'; 'Dalit woman gang-raped, paraded naked'; 'Police egged on mob to lynch Dalits.'"

" Dalits are not allowed to drink from the same wells, attend the same temples, wear shoes in the presence of an upper caste or drink from the same cups in tea stalls."

"India's untouchables are relegated to the lowest jobs and live in constant fear of being publicly humiliated , paraded naked, beaten and raped with impunity by upper-caste Hindus seeking to keep them in their place. Merely walking through an upper-caste neighborhood is a life-threatening offense."

"Nearly 90 per cent of all the poor Indians and 95 per cent of all the illiterate Indians are Dalits."

"Statistics complied by India's National Crime Records Bureau indicate that in the year 2000, 25,455 crimes were committed against Dalits. Every hour two Dalits are assaulted; every day three Dalit women are raped, two Dalits are murdered and two Dalit homes are torched."

"No one believes these numbers are anywhere close to the reality of crimes committed against Dalits, because the police, village councils and government officials often support the caste system, which is based on the religious teachings of Hinduism. Many crimes go unreported due to fear of reprisal, intimidation by police, inability to pay bribes demanded by police or simply the knowledge that the police will do nothing."

"There have been large-scale abuses by the police, acting in collusion with upper castes, including raids, beatings in custody, failure to charge offenders or investigate reported crimes."

In 2000, "68,160 complaints were filed against the police for activities ranging from murder, torture and collusion in acts of atrocity, to refusal to file a complaint. Sixty-two per cent of the cases were dismissed as unsubstantiated; 26 police officers were convicted in court."

"Lack of enforcement, not enforcement of laws designed to protect Dalits, is lax if not non-existent in many regions of India. The practice of untouchability is strongest in rural areas, where 90 per cent of the country's population resides. There, the underlying religious principles of Hinduism dominate."

"Hindus believe a person is born into one of four castes based on Karma and 'purity'---- how he or she lived their past lives. Those born as Brahmans are priests and teachers; Kshatriyas are rulers and soldiers; Vaisyas are merchants and traders; and Sudras are laborers. Within the four castes, there are thousands of sub-castes, defined by profession, region, dialect and other factors."

"Untouchables are literally outcastes; a fifth group that is so unworthy it doesn't fall within the caste system. Although based on religious principles practiced for some 1,500 years, the system persists today for economic as much as religious reasons."

"Because they are considered impure from birth, untouchables perform jobs that are traditionally considered 'unclean' or exceedingly menial and for very little pay. One million Dalits work as manual scavengers, cleaning latrines and sewers by hand and clearing away dead animals. Millions more are agricultural workers trapped in an inescapable cycle of extreme poverty, illiteracy and oppression."

"Although illegal, 40 million people in India, most of them Dalits, are bonded workers, many working to pay off debts that were incurred generations ago."

"In 1999, these people, 15 million of whom are children, work under slave-like conditions hauling rocks or working in fields or factories for less than US$1 a day."

"Dalit women are particularly hard hit. They are frequently raped or beaten as a means of reprisal against male relatives who are thought to have committed some act worthy of upper-caste vengeance. They are also subject to arrest if they have male relatives hiding from the authorities."

"A report released by Amnesty International in 2001 found an 'extreme high' number of sexual assaults on Dalit women, frequently perpetrated by landlords, upper-caste villagers and police officers. The study estimates that only about 5 per cent of attacks are registered and that police officers dismissed at least 30 per cent of rape complaints as false." "The study also found that the police routinely demand bribes, intimidate witnesses, cover-up evidence and beat up the women's husbands . Little or nothing is done to prevent attacks on rape victims by gangs of upper-caste villagers seeking to prevent a case from being pursued. Rape victims have also been murdered. Such crimes often go unpunished."

"Thousands of pre-teen Dalit girls are forced into prostitution under cover of a religious practice known as Devadasis, which means 'female servant of god'."

"Within India, grassroots efforts to change are emerging, despite retaliation and intimidation by local officials and upper-caste villagers".

"In August 2002, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UN CERD) approved a resolution condemning caste or descent-based discrimination (in India). But at the national level, very little is being done to implement or enforce the laws" that would prevent or eradicate rampant, blatant acts of caste-based-driven discrimination/victimization.

"In some states, caste conflict has escalated into caste warfare and militia-like vigilante groups have conducted raids on villages, burning homes, raping and massacring the people. These raids are sometimes conducted with the tacit approval of the police."

Truth Be Told: The stark reality is that ethnic-caste-based discrimination /victimization do exist in India; however, racial discrimination /victimization does not exist because all the castes /groups are of the same racial hue, namely, non-white, people of colour.

Truth Be Told: As they "rally around Bas," UNC supporters must be reminded that martyrdom is honestly earned and/or bestowed; it must never be surreptitiously, contemptuously, expediently and egotistically self-anointed.

Truth Be Told: Neither Nelson Mandela nor Mahatma Gandhi were ever charged with corruption while holding public office and the alleged receipt of a "£25,000 reward" is not the genuine financial status of an "innocent, poor dad."

Shem Hotep ("I go in peace").

Dr. Kwame Nantambu is a part-time lecturer at Cipriani Labour College.

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