“Sewerage workers, traditionally Valmiki Dalits, employed by civic bodies such as the Water Board, Public Works Department (PWD), and Municipal Corporations, have, for generations, relentlessly toiled, continually risking their health and life to ensure upkeep of the sewerage system. But save for hurt, exploitation and untouchability, they have received little in return. Despite proactive orders of the Gujarat High Court (2006) and Madras High Court (2008), the implementation of the directives remains unrealised, in the wake of frequent deaths.
“The task of inspecting, repairing, unblocking and maintaining sewers exposes workers to the sordid, sewage gunk that is generated in our homes, factories, hotels, hospitals and workplaces each day — an odorous mix of human excrement, food waste, plastic, used sanitary materials, and industrial effluents. This rotting refuse ferments to produce noxious gases, commonly methane, hydrogen sulphide and nitrogen oxide, which routinely threaten the workers’ lives besides causing respiratory, gastric, spinal and skin diseases.
“To guard themselves against exposure to these gases, most workers express a strong preference for protective gear such as full body suits. However, maintaining that the ‘unlettered’ workers fail to appreciate such technology, most Water Board officials approach the issue of workers’ safety with unabashed negligence. Some alcohol, the workers say, is the first buffer against this gaseous attack, for without it, it is unthinkable to survive the nauseating odour. Often what passes off as safety equipment is an oxygen cylinder, the weight of which, not cushioned by a body suit, is too burdensome and inconvenient for workers to work with.
“‘It is not our death that we fear but the fate of our families after our death.’ This is what Delhi’s Jal Board branch workers say — every one of them. This is the workers’ deepest insecurity, compounded by the complete absence or wretched provisioning of social security support.”
“Beyond improving the looks of young men, Bangalore’s, and urban India’s, increasingly narcissistic culture has had an unexpected, more profound effect on society. It has freed an entire generation of hairdressers from the burden of their caste tag, giving them dignity, even celebrity. Members of the traditional chaurika caste, who stood among the lower rungs of India’s social order for doing ‘impure’ hair work, are now much sought-after hair professionals.
“‘We are no longer known by the derogatory barber or hajam terms,’ said Ramesh Babu, 42, who has clipped men’s hair for over two decades. Hajam is Urdu for barber. He now owns several salons and runs a luxury car rental service, often arriving in his personal Rolls Royce Ghost to trim clients’ hair. ‘We want to eliminate these disparaging labels entirely.’ [...]
“It’s a stark contrast from when his grandfather practiced the profession, making house calls in a village in Bangalore’s outskirts. His customers — who were men, as women back then kept their hair long — always paid in kind, usually grain and vegetables. [...]
“Many customers will still have a ‘cleansing’ bath straight after a haircut.
“But the past stigma about the profession is definitely fading. Proof is in Mr. Kambaya’s thriving training classes for the younger generation of his caste people, where the emphasis is on polish and demeanor. ‘The sessions will help them prosper in the stylish surroundings of high-end salons and reap the rewards of their inherited skill,’ he said.
“Mr. Kambaya wants his children to carry on his forefathers’ professional legacy. His daughter, a management student, will start assisting him as soon as she is finished with school.”
“Blacksmithing is one of the last vestiges of caste-based hereditary occupations. It is practiced by a few families at Nagamalai Pudukottai on the Madurai-Theni highway. They make tools for agriculture and construction purposes.
“Their spades, hoes, picks and trowels attract customers from all over south Tamil Nadu. S. Krishnamoorthy (50) and his wife Chithra (45) belong to the fourth generation of a family of blacksmiths. [...]
“[Chithra’s] ancestors [...] were brought to Nagamalai Pudukottai [...] as the village did not have a blacksmith then. ‘It was part of the system to have various service castes within a village, and we were given land to stay and thus have remained here for the past 100 years,’ says Lakshmi (70), [Chitra’s grandmother].
“Though the blacksmiths traditionally — within the Hindu hierarchy — did not have power over land, they were the ones who made all agricultural tools such as hoes, spades, plough tips and picks, the mainstay of the village economy. [...]
“The advent of tipper lorries and earthmovers has resulted in decrease in demand for hoes. Six men used to carry a hoe each to unload sand from a lorry. Now a single person with a hoe can complete the work, he said.”
“Over 300 Dalit families of Deveerahalli Village, of Kudimenahalli Panchayat, in Krishnagiri district allege that they are being denied work by intermediate castes of the village and of six other nearby villages. The reason behind this, they say, is that a Dalit youth in their area had fallen in love with a girl of an intermediate caste from Sathinayakkanpatti under Damodarahalli Panchayat.
“The girl is back with her parents after the youth’s parents wanted her to go back, as they feared the type of mob furywhich was unleashed on three colonies in nearby Dharmapuri districtover a similar issue in November last year. But, the boycott of the Dalits of the Krishnagiri village continues though the affair had come to light in December and the girl had gone back to her home.
“Intermediate castes have banned Dalits from working on their agriculture fields, brick kilns and other income-earning activities since then. The decision to bar them from such forms of employment was allegedly taken by a ‘khap panchayat’ — a council of older persons who issue decrees to their community members on matters such as marriage — consisting of the leaders of seven villages, in and around Sathinayakkanpatti and Deevarahalli, on December 24 last year, alleged A. Manikandan, district convener of Naam Tamizhar Katchi.
“Many Dalits, who have also taken up the lands of intermediate caste on lease, for cultivation of crops, lost lakhs of rupees due to the economic boycott. They were not allowed to step into the farm lands.”
“Though the Kols are anthropologically tribal, they are recognized as a Scheduled Caste in Uttar Pradesh. Not only has this deprived them of their traditional source of living–the forest, it has largely left them dependant and landless, languishing in silica quarries and sand mines. [...]
“Landless and dismayed by the rocky terrain that makes cultivation difficult, the Kols settle down close to silica mines, crushing stones for much of the day and bearing a nomadic existence. Over the years, a large number have contracted lung diseases like silicosis and tuberculosis. Some have lost limbs or sustained crippling injuries during the blasting of the rocks. [...]
“In most cases, the landlords provide the Kols space to work and live, and in return deduct portions from their silica mining. Kol women are also invited to serve as domestic help for no or minimum remuneration. They often endure the most of police apathy, with reports of them facing sexual harassment and violence going unheard or unreported. ‘When we go with complaints, we are shooed away and asked to come back later,’ says Indu Kol.
“However, the Kol’s most grim concern remains the forest department’s restrictions on the use of forest produce. Generally, they require permission to plant or use trees such as neem, amla and mahua. The Kols complain that they face harassment from the authorities even if they collect the twigs and barks and sell them. According to Amarnath Kol, who works with a local Kol organization, at least eight Kols have been booked by the forest department for carrying wood for sale. [...]
“Today, Kols are mostly followers of Hinduism. They claim their descent from Shabari, who in the forests of modern day Chattisgarh fed berries to Lord Ram and Lord Lakshman during their exile. As the legend suggests, the Kols have a close relationship with the forest.
“This bond was disrupted in the 19th century by the British East India Company, which indulged in deforestation and introduced zamindari to extract revenue from their forests lands. The Kols protested violently, in what is known as the Kol Rebellion (1831-32), where a British Major is said to have noted their ‘courage and daring.’”
“Tears rolled down Gowramma’s cheeks as she narrated how her husband, a Dalit, was beaten up and threatened with dire consequences allegedly by ‘upper caste’ people for refusing to continue with the traditional profession of their community.
“Her husband, Rangaswamy (38), a daily wage worker, has been admitted to the government hospital at Channarayapatna after he was beaten up at Baddikere in Channarayapatna taluk on December 17.
“‘They ripped his clothes off, tied him up to a pole and beat him up severely. They also threatened to harm our two school-going daughters if he refused to obey their orders,’ Ms. Gowramma told The Hindu here on Thursday.
“‘All this began after he refused to go around the village beating a drum to inform the residents about a village festival scheduled for next week. A few people came to our home in an autorickshaw around 10.30 a.m. on December 17 and took him away. I ran behind the auto only to find my husband being beaten up,’ she said.”
“One of modern India’s great shames is the official failure to eradicate ‘manual scavenging,’ the most degrading surviving practice of untouchability in the country. Merely because of their birth in particular castes, the practice condemns mostly women and girls, but also men and boys, to clean human excreta in dry latrines with their hands, and carry it to disposal dumps or lakes or rivers. Many men also clean sewers, septic tanks, open drains into which excreta flows, and railway lines. [...]
“The 2012 Bill explicitly prohibits construction of dry latrines, and employment of manual scavengers, as also the hazardous cleaning of a sewer or a septic tank. But cleaning railway tracks has not been included, and ‘hazardous cleaning’ is defined not by employers requiring workers to manually clean sewers or septic tanks, but requiring them to do so without protective gear. Our objection to manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks is not just of compromising worker safety – which is no doubt important – but of human indignity, which would continue even if such manual cleaning is done with protective gear. And it is unconscionable to let the railways off the hook.
“For sewer workers and railway workers, liberation will come by introducing technological changes which will render the occupation humane, dignified and safe, and also ensure that human beings do not have to make any direct contact with excreta. Technologies are available globally which both the Indian Railways and municipalities could invest in, which would obliterate the requirement for human beings to manually handle excreta. The fact is that central, state and local governments do not make these public investments, because human beings are available to perform this work cheaply, propelled by their birth in most disadvantaged castes and lack of other livelihood options.
“The 2012 bill places a duty of survey on all local authorities, but the past experience is that State Governments are mostly in denial. They usually reject community findings, even when backed by strong evidence. This can be prevented only if there is a continuous system of joint surveillance, beginning with a joint survey by designated teams of government officials and community members.”
“The new law would prohibit the building of non-flushing toilets that must be emptied by hand, and prescribes a one-year jail term and/or a fine of up to 50,000 rupees (S$1,000) for anyone who employs a manual scavenger.
“It also requires local authorities to monitor the implementation of the law and sets out tough sanctions if municipalities employ sewer cleaners without protective gear and equipment. [...]
“Bindeshwar Pathak, of the sanitation charity Sulabh International, says the legislation could prove helpful, but that the final test will be on the ground.
“‘In India there are many laws that have not helped so far, like (the one to prevent) dowry. Dowry cases are still going on, there is child labour,’ he said. [...]
“He says there has not been a single successful prosecution under the 1993 Act. [...]
“Vidya Rawat, director of the Delhi-based Social Development Foundation, which works with scavengers, [...] says the only solution is for the government to find jobs for the scavengers, requiring an extension of a vast affirmative action programme which reserves positions for the low-castes and marginalised tribes.
“‘Rehabilitation programmes don't work,’ he added. ‘If a community woman leaves her work and opts to open a tea shop, no one will go to drink at her place.’”
“Shobha, 25, who goes by one name, is a widow who supports her elderly mother and her two children on a salary of 5,000 rupees ($96) a month. The family lives in a tiny room in a Cox Town slum. Shobha owns exactly two pieces of furniture: chairs foraged from the very garbage dump she visits, stuffed with the garbage she’s handed most often – paper and plastic bags.
“Shobha is clearly poor. But her circumstances are made more acute by the fact that her profession is despised and deemed fit only for people of the so-called low castes. She’s a Dalit, as are most of the city’s pourakarmikas. And like her, they’re illiterate, unskilled and chose garbage collection because their parents were pourakarmikas too. Many feel they’re equated with and treated like the garbage they collect. ‘I tried to explain the new rules to one housewife,’ said Shobha. ‘She replied, “You’re no one to talk to me.” Then she flung a bottle at my head.’
“The impact of Shobha’s poverty on her physical wellbeing is clear. The impact on her job is clear too. She signs in for an eight-hour shift at 6:30 a.m. But long before that she joins a queue of people to draw water from a public tap. She could hardly have slept well the previous night — her room doesn’t have electricity, so to keep from stifling, she leaves the door open. Fear of intruders keeps her awake. During the monsoon, rain sweeps in.
“By the time she reaches work, Shobha is tired and often filled with hopelessness. But she’s responsible for manually cleaning approximately 1.5 kilometers (almost 1 mile) of road and collecting garbage from about 500 households.
“The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (B.B.M.P.), or municipal corporation responsible for the city’s civic governance, has only 2,000 pourakarmikas on its rolls. These ‘permanent’ workers, as they’re known, are protected by labor laws. But since the 1990s the B.B.M.P. has hired only temporary pourakarmikas through contractors, and so the majority of pourakarmikas like Shobha aren’t covered under labor laws. They’re paid irregularly, cannot comfortably afford basic amenities, and are even expected to acquire their work tools.
“Shobha goes through four brooms a month, at a personal expense of 160 rupees. To save money, she scoops up trash with pieces of metal, cardboard or Styrofoam, which, like the containers into which she haphazardly empties waste, are foraged from the dump. If she can’t find a container, she uses plastic bags.
“Even permanent pourakarmikas are only given thin gloves to wear, but Shobha must handle all sorts of waste — wet, dry, and hazardous — with her bare hands. On her feet she wears the sort of slippers most people would consider too flimsy to venture outside with. In these she tramps down roads and wades ankle deep into dumps wet with animal excrement.”
“A caste council in a village in Rajasthan’s Udaipur district ordered residents to ostracize 40 Dalit families when one of them disobeyed its diktat to stop constructing a new house, police said. [...]
“‘A Dalit family was constructing a house in the village. The neighbour who belonged to Rajput community objected to the construction of a sun shed and demanded that the entire portion of the house on his side be razed down,’ said a police officer.
“He added that when the family did not raze down the portion, the neighbour approached the caste council in the village.
“‘It slapped a fine of Rs.21,000 on the dalit family and ordered to expel all the 40 families belonging to Dalits in the village from the society. It means that they would not be able to mingle with others and would not be able to buy grocery items from the shops. Supply of milk, water and other items were also prohibited,’ said the officer.”
“There has been a revolt against the illegal and inhuman system of manual scavenging in Pandharpur in Maharashtra. Young men of the Mehtar caste, who have traditionally been manual scavengers for over 100 years, have refused to continue with the degrading system, ending decades of humiliation.
“Every year close to 1 crore ‘Waris’ or pilgrims, gather in Pandharpur. In the absence of any sanitation infrastructure, the administration coerces member of the Mehtar caste to work as manual scavengers.
“Despite a ban on manual scavenging, this practice has been on in Pandhrapur for more than 100 years.”
“I am Roma, but for many years I denied my origins for fear of being called a Gypsy. I grew up in Romania, where one meaning of tigan — tzigane, Zigeuner, cigány, cigan, ‘Gypsy’ in other European languages — is ‘a person who engages in harmful or illegal activities.’ The name comes from a medieval Greek word that means ‘untouchable,’ and derivatives — like ‘gypped’ or ‘gypsy cab’ — refer to stealing and cheating.
“My parents and grandparents were well aware of the negative stereotypes of the Gypsies as rootless thieves and beggars, and they took pains to protect me. As a little girl, my mother dressed me in pale colors and cut my hair short so I would not look like a Gypsy. My father warned me never to steal, and to always associate with smart people. I can understand why my grandfather, a blacksmith, was so proud of buying a ‘corner of the village’ and building houses for his children. My grandmother was a healer — not through magical powers but by volunteering to take people to the best doctors in the capital.
“Still, all these efforts couldn’t stop my classmates’ parents from reproaching my first-grade teacher for giving the highest award to me, a Gypsy. That confirmed my grandfather’s belief that there is no use acting ‘as if I were an official from the Ministry,’ as he would put it, since there was ‘no such thing as a Gypsy teacher, priest or lawyer.’ He too wanted to be like ‘the others,’ but he was also aware of the invisible limits that kept Gypsies separate. [...]
“About 700 years ago, when the Roma first entered Europe, the locals assumed the dark-skinned people were from Egypt — hence the English ‘Gypsies.’ In fact, they originally came from northern India, and ‘Roma’ is what they called themselves. [...]
“My family didn’t speak Romani or follow the nomadic lifestyle. However, my grandfather was a blacksmith, a common Romani occupation. My mother’s light skin allowed me to conceal my roots, but my father, whose darker skin would have drawn attention, avoided coming around my school.
“Today, most Roma are settled, like my family, but they have not yet found their place in the world. A majority of the Roma cannot find jobs, decent housing or decent medical care. Many Romani children do not attend school; according to a 2011 Unicef report, only about a fifth of Romani children in Europe attend primary school. And many of those who do are bullied and do not dream of becoming professionals or earning awards.
“Many Roma continue to roam. Some do so, because settling down would mean losing their source of livelihood; others because they have no place to go. As the poorest and most stigmatized people in Europe, they have no choice but to remain on the fringes. Whatever the advantages of permanent settlement, they are dwarfed by immediate needs.”
“[O]ut of the 66 Dalit castes [in the state of Uttar Pradesh], only four including shoemaker (cobbler) caste — called Ravidasi or Harijan in some parts of India — Pasi (watchman of feudal lords/toddy tappers/some of them tame pigs), Dhobi (washerman) and Kori (weaver) have become visible in democratic politics. The rest are invisible. Even among the more visible Dalit castes, the cobblers and Pasis have grabbed most of the space. [...]
“The cobbler caste, the largest Dalit community in U.P., constitutes 56.20 per cent of the total Scheduled Caste population, which is 21.1 per cent of the State’s total population (2001 census). It has emerged as one of the dominant castes among Dalits.
“The caste took to education in a big way in pre-Independence years. That helped its members find jobs in cities, in turn helping in their rise as a political caste after Independence. When Kanshi Ram emerged on the scene, the caste already had a middle class, community leaders and the makings of an intelligentsia. They were a ready-made cadre for the party in its initial phase. The cobbler caste thus made up a chunk of the BSP, and succeeded in cornering the benefits of Dalit political empowerment. However many other Dalit castes like Jogi, Nat (wanderer), Musahar (who make items out of leaves), Kanjar (mat weaver), Dom, Domar, Hela (sweeper), Basor (basket weaver), and Bansphor (bamboo basket maker) are so insignificant despite their numerical strength that they cannot make their presence felt in U.P’s vote bank politics and continue to face exclusion.
“Aside from these castes, there are others found in lesser numbers like Bahelia (bird hunter), Khairha (woodcutter), Kalabaaz (songster), Balai (farm labourer), Majhwar (musician), Hari (basket maker) and Sansiya (musical instrument repairer). They are not visible in any political or governance strategies, and lack a presence in the political sphere. While conducting research, it was observed that communities which are not educated, and which do not have leaders, caste histories and heroes are unable to create their own identities which can make their communities assertive in democratic politics.
“Within Dalits, the term ati-Dalit (lowest of the low) has become a part of the vocabulary of the Dalit intelligentsia as a result of this exclusion.”
“If there is any government department where the caste system is the most prevalent even today, it is that of conservancy [workers, says Haralkar.
“‘Around 90 per cent of the 40,000-odd conservancy [sanitation] workers in Mumbai are Dalits. The department has even unofficially made 100 per cent reservation for Dalits. These families have been sweepers for generations because only Dalits have, through history, been known to clean filth with bare hands. I have been trying to break this vicious cycle,’ he says.
“With housing being one of the biggest issues in the city, sweepers have over the years encouraged their children to continue with the profession so that they can continue living in the staff quarters.
“‘Such is the extent of hopelessness and neglect among these people that they opt for the easiest way out. As per municipal service rules, conservancy jobs can be inherited and that is what they do. They never try to break away from poverty and stigma,’ says Haralkar.”
“There are about 30.000 conservancy workers employed by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation of Mumbai. The high number of official deaths (247 fatalities last year, 5 every week) is due to extremely poor safety conditions. Mumbai, India.”
“Pinki Rajak, a 22-year-old member of the Dhobi community, which traditionally washes and irons clothes, caused outrage among her group's elders when she accepted a lowly sweeper's job at a local school near Raipur, Chhattisgarh. [...]
“Sweeping work in India, including shoe polishing, is reserved for members of the Chamar ‘untouchable’ caste, along with other ‘dirty' jobs like ‘night-soil carrying’ of human waste and tannery work. The Dhobis however are regarded as a ‘cleansing’ caste, said Dr Vidhu Verma, a caste expert at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“[The caste] elders believed [Ms Rajak] had stigmatised them by associating them with one of India's lowliest and most shunned castes.”
“Nearly 300 km from Raipur, the stigma of a ‘menial’ job is threatening to blow apart the lives of 22-year-old Pinki Rajak and her family. A member of the dhobi samaj (washermen community) in Koriya district’s Bardiya village, Pinki invited the wrath of her people for accepting the job of a sweeper at a school.
“The community has handed the family an ultimatum: Forget the job or be ostracised for 60 years. Quitting the job is not an option for Pinki.
“Repeatedly ill-treated by her husband, she had returned home to her parents. But her father Budhulal Rajak, who has a small cycle repair shop, already has three daughters, a son and wife to support.
“After endless rounds of offices, Pinki finally got this job.
“Then the community struck — notwithstanding Budhlal’s position as a regional secretary of the samaj. Pinki’s husband Kapil Dev was told that he would not be allowed to live with her till she quits the job.
“‘No one can live without money. Why should the caste system be tied to employment now?’ said Pinki.”
“Maregoan Village has a population of approximately 2000 individuals. Out of these, 100 families are of the Ahirwar community. Dalits make up most of the agricultural labourers in this area, where Ahirwars (Chamars) compose a majority of the Dalits. The Ahirwar are classified as a Scheduled Caste in India. Ahirwar are spread across Gadarwara and in nearly all adjoining villages, playing an important role in the socioeconomic activities of the region. The Lodhi community in Maregaon village belong to what is termed in India as the ‘Other Backward Class’ (OBC). They own farmland and generally hire Ahirwar to cultivate their fields.
“Division of labour in the community has resulted in the imposition of certain menial and lowly occupations upon the Ahirwar. For centuries, the Ahirwar have been tasked to do ‘dirty’ jobs such as carrying the carcasses of animals. Despite the necessity of such workers, and for forcing them to take up such jobs, the Ahirwar are seen as being polluted by death and greatly despised. The Ahirwar are made to live in a hamlet separated from the main village.
“In 2009, the Ahirwar Samaj Mahaparishad built a consensus among the Ahirwar community to abandon the practice of carrying the carcasses of animals and shake off the label of ‘untouchable’ imposed by the dominant castes. This decision was first acted upon by three or four individuals and was soon claimed by other Ahirwar. In response, individuals from dominant castes began a social and economic boycott against the Ahirwar. The Ahirwar were not permitted to pass through the village and were forced to take a longer route in order to travel to other villages. The Ahirwar were prohibited from taking rations from the local shopkeeper; even the local milk vendor was intimidated by the Lodhi into not selling milk to the Ahirwar. The Ahirwar were even more cruelly persecuted through the denial of water from the hand pump located near the village temple. Prior to their decision to abandon the practice of carrying animal carcasses, the Ahirwar were still permitted to use this hand pump because there had been two at the time and the villagers were not facing a shortage of water. Today, the Lodhi have fenced in and put wire around the temple and areas surrounding it – this includes the hand pump the Ahirwar depended on for their water. In addition to such mistreatment and deprivation, the Ahirwar were further prohibited from using water from a communal water tank. This tank was also fenced in with wire by the Lodhi. The Ahirwar's cattle were also not permitted to partake of water from the tank. The Ahirwar face a severe shortage of water at this present time.
“Children of the oppressed castes are forced to clean the school while children from dominant castes are not. The school also discriminates through seating arrangements in class. To exacerbate the situation, the cook engaged in preparing the Mid-Day-Meal in Maregaon Village is a Lodhi. Despite efforts by authorities to relieve malnutrition in the area by implementing a Mid-Day-Meal scheme, the Ahirwar children who most require the sustenance are discriminated against. They are served only leftovers, if there are any, and the food is given to them from a distance. The Ahirwar children are also forced to bring their own plates while other students from the dominant castes are served from plates provided by the school. The children from the Ahirwar community are also fed insufficient amounts of food and punished for asking for more.”
“Sabitri Nepali was initiated into the traditional vocation of the Badis before she turned 14. Now, at 30, she is baffled by the changes taking place in a country struggling to climb out of a feudal past and transform into a modern, democratic republic.
“‘My family has survived on this trade for generations. My mother was a sex worker and I continued with the family profession. It was normal for us,’ Sabitri tells IPS in this remote village in Kailali district, 700 km west of Kathmandu.
“Badis, estimated to number 50,000, live in the western districts of Nepal but find work in the towns and cities of Nepal and neighbouring India, including Kathmandu, Mumbai and New Delhi.
“Four years ago the Nepal government banned the Badis from pursuing their traditional occupation after it came under pressure from local communities fearing that the districts where there were Badi concentrations were turning into red light areas.
“But, the government made no move to implement the ban, with the result that local communities formed monitoring groups backed by vigilantes that used violent methods to compel the Badis to give up their sole means of livelihood.
“‘We defied the ban and continued with our traditional occupation. How could we survive without incomes? Think about our children,’ says Kalpana Badi, 35, who like many others uses a surname that readily identifies her caste and her profession.”
“Authorities in Yemen are yet to resolve the ‘marginalization’ of the minority Akhdam people, weeks after thousands protested in the capital Sana’a over low pay and lack of work contracts, say community members.
“‘The Akhdam are not simply second-class citizens,’ a protester said from his tent in Change Square. ‘They are more like fifth- or sixth-class citizens; the lowest class in the whole republic.’
“Despite speaking Arabic and practising Islam in the country for over 1,000 years, the Akhdam, who prefer to be called Al Muhamasheen, or ‘marginalized ones’, have never felt a part of the majority.
“The most visible marker of the Akhdam’s status in Yemeni society is the menial occupations they perform. Men roam the streets on 10-hour shifts sweeping and collecting rubbish, while women and children collect up cans and bottles and beg for handouts. [...]
“The prospect of democratic reforms envisaged in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plan which pulled Yemen from the brink of civil war in 2012 raised hopes that the situation would improve for the Akhdam people, but little has happened yet.
“In early April 2012, for the second time in as many months, some 4,000 street sweepers in the capital went on strike in protest over unfulfilled promises by the government to raise their pay and extend their daily contracts. After only a few days off the job, Sana’a's streets became like an urban landfill site, forcing interim Prime Minister Mohammed Basindawa to negotiate with the disenfranchized group.
“Nabil, a 30-year-old street sweeper living in Mukhayyim Aser, an Akhdam slum near the presidential palace, told IRIN a day after the prime minister promised permanent contracts to the temporary workers, ‘Basindawa has not changed anything.’
“‘My friend has been working as a street sweeper for 35 years and still does not have a job contract,’ he added. ‘That’s why we’re on strike.’”
“Jamal Al-Obeidi, a secondary school mathematics teacher amongst those listening to [Akhdam spokesman] Maktari's speech in early March, expressed typical views in answer to a reporter's questions.
“‘I have nothing against him,’ he said. ‘I would talk to him in the street, I might give him some of my money, but I would not invite him to my home. He is a Yemeni, but he is also a Khadim (servant). God meant for it to be that way.’ [...]
“Prevailing prejudice holds that the men are lazy and unscrupulous, unfit for respectable work; the women, unclean and promiscuous, scrounge off the generosity of others, the conventional wisdom goes.
“‘If a dog licks your plate you should clean it," advises a proverb, "but if it is touched by a Khadim, then break it.’”
“Indian law offers limited safeguards and limited enforcement to protect such children, and public attitudes are usually permissive in a society where even in the lowest rungs of the middle class, families often have at least one live-in servant.
“‘There is a huge, huge demand,’ said Ravi Kant, a lawyer with Shakti Vahini, a nonprofit group that combats child trafficking. ‘The demand is so huge that the government is tending toward regulation rather than saying our children should not work but should be in school.’
“The International Labor Organization has found that India has 12.6 million laborers between the ages of 5 and 14, with roughly 20 percent working as domestic help. Other groups place the figure at 45 million or higher. Unicef has said India has more child laborers than any other country in the world. [...]
“Mala Bhandari, who runs Childline, a government hot line for child workers, said India’s urbanization and the rise of two-income families were driving demand for domestic help. Children are cheaper and more pliant than adults; Ms. Bhandari said a family might pay a child servant only $40 a month, less than half the wage commonly paid to an adult, if such servants are paid at all.
“Indian law deems anyone younger than 18 a minor. But the Juvenile Justice Act of 2000 also creates a loophole: Children between 14 and 18 are allowed to work a maximum of six hours a day in nonhazardous work. Children younger than 14 are prohibited from working as servants, a statute that is widely flouted. Employers are required to provide daily education and document the child’s daily break hours, though most families ignore such requirements because enforcement is largely nil.
“‘What happens within the four walls of a home, nobody knows,’ said Ms. Bhandari, who contended that while abuse was not the norm, it was not rare. [...]
“Societal attitudes toward servants are often shaped by ingrained mores about caste and class. Many servants, especially children, come from poor families among the lower Hindu castes or tribal groups, often from poor states like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal. [...]
“Raj Mangal Prasad, a children’s welfare official in New Delhi, said the government was not staffed to carry out raids to look for illegal servants. But if it were, Mr. Prasad estimated, several thousand cases would probably be discovered throughout the capital. He estimated that one household out of 20 employed an under-age servant. ‘It’s plain for everyone to see,’ he said. [...]
“But Mr. Kant, the lawyer with Shakti Vahini, said the courts rarely issued harsh judgments in cases involving the rights of domestic help.
“‘There is a general feeling that we need these people,’ Mr. Kant said. ‘Cases aren’t taken so seriously. There is no fear of the law.’
“Fourteen-year-old Ravi used to be a beneficiary under the Self-Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS) 2007 as his mother cleaned toilets in the village. One day, when she gathered enough courage to quit the job, Ravi's scholarship funds were stopped and she faced hostility from the villagers who said, ‘If you don't clean our shit, then who will?’ Belonging to a family of six siblings, daily life has become difficult for Ravi. His mother is not getting any other job due to the stigma attached to her past one.
“This scholarship, which requires families to be engaged in manual scavenging for at least 100 days in a year, provides a perverse incentive to Dalit households to continue in the occupation. Once the families stop practicing it, the scholarships are also stopped. [...]
“In the absence of a proper mechanism in the implementation of the scheme, the survey found the presence of scheming middle men working in connivance with fraudulent bank officials.
“Middle men or commission agents would visit Dalit bastis telling households to sign on so and so papers as the government had chosen them as beneficiaries of a new scheme. The beneficiaries would never get to know the loan amount, sanctioning officer or other details of the transactions. After a while, the middle men would revisit them and hand over Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,500. Many of these people did not even know why they were being given the money or how much money had been borrowed in their names. In Madhya Pradesh, around 68 per cent of the beneficiaries were taken for a ride by the brokers, in Uttar Pradesh, 63 per cent and in Rajasthan 62 per cent. [...]
“It came to light that Muslim communities such as Hela and Halalkhor have been completely ignored by Government programmes. These caste groups inhabit several states and have been as much a slave of this exploitative tradition as the Dalit Hindu communities.”
“Upper-caste people have allegedly socially boycotted these [thirty-two] families [in Nayakanur village] under the pretext that they refused to sweep cow dung at the house of an upper-caste family. Though the controversy has been there it came to light now since one of the dalit families lodged a complaint at Navalgund police station alleging their social boycott.
“According to police sources Basappa Madar, 64, was working as servant with Andanigouda Patil. Basappa and his wife recently refused to continue working for Patil family. Then, Patil allegedly asked the other families in the village not to give Basappa and his wife any employment. When dalit families questioned this, Patil asked his fellow villagers not to give work to any of the dalit families and even to boycott them socially.”
“The landlord instructed shop owners in the village, not to provide any foodgrains and tea to the dalits. They were prevented from fetching water from the tank, and threatened with hefty fine and other punishment for disobeying him. This prompted all dalits to desert the village, and evoked strong criticism from religious heads and the public.
“‘We don’t have any agricultural land, and earn our livelihood by working under the landlords, as bonded labourers. All dalit men are working as farm labourers, in the lands of landlords, and women are employed as maids in their houses. Our children are also employed in the houses of landlords. They get food grains instead of wages in return. We have been living under fear, and the harassment has been going on for many years,’ said forty-two year old Dalit Basappa Madar.”
“Police have failed to book perpetrators under the SC/ST atrocities law in the case of a Dalit family that was allegedly harassed and publicly beaten by caste Hindus in K Thattumal Village, Kumbakonam. In fact police helped the main accused get an anticipatory bail.
“K Rajamanikkam (39) and his wife Radha had worked as bonded labourers at a brick kiln owned by Thalaiparamasivam of Devanachery. Thalaiparamasivam had promised the couple Rs 15,000 for one year’s work. But, after a year, he refused to let them leave. Instead he claimed they owed him money [...], Rajamanikkam’s sister 44-year-old Vijaya said. [...He] demanded Rs 10,000 rupees to free them from his control.
“‘We borrowed Rs 10,000 and paid him. But in five days, he and his associates Murugan and Loganathan, came and beat us with logs. My brother sustained a head injury and my hand was broken,’ she said.
“‘When they approached the Swamimalai police station, the police recorded Vijaya’s statement, but obtained her signature without even reading out the statement to her,’ said A Kathir, Executive Director of Evidence, an NGO that works for Dalit rights. When the Evidence team examined the case, they found the police had invoked neither the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against the aggressors nor booked them under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act.
“According to Kathir, most Dalits and other people from the subaltern community worked as bonded labourers in the brick kilns owned by caste Hindus in Kumbakonam, but action had not been initiated by the police or district administration.
“Worse, Rajamanikkam moved from Thalaiparamasivam’s brick kiln only to end up a bonded labourer in another brick kiln.”
“A mere 100km from the shiny malls and housing estates of New Delhi, three upper-caste men murdered a Dalit labourer this week for refusing to obey an ancient feudal law demanding he toil their land for free.
“The body of 42-year-old Karam Chand was then paraded on a bicycle through the village of Nirgajani, in Uttar Pradesh, as a macabre warning to other ‘untouchables’ that the writ of a modern state did not extend into the heart of rural India.
“The system of begari–in which low-caste Indians were obliged to provide unpaid labour to landed classes–was officially outlawed by the Indian government in 1976.
“According to reports this week, Chand was attacked after refusing the demands of three brothers–former employers–to help harvest a wheat crop.
“Chand’s son Monu, who was working alongside his father on their own land when the attack occurred, said: ‘My father refused them because they didn't pay him anything for earlier work. They had declared that we would have to follow their order or leave the village.’
“When he refused, the trio attacked, chasing Chand into a temple, where he was shot. ‘They hauled his dead body on to a bicycle and took out a procession. They were shouting that anyone who defied their order would be killed,’ said Monu.
“While local police spokesman Jawahar Singh confirmed the son's account, he insisted ‘such incidents are far and few between.’
“But he conceded the village was predominantly a stronghold of the Jat caste, a group which continues to defend the caste Panchayat system of local governance, which doles out summary justice, such as honour killings, for alleged caste crimes.”
“Peter McGill mentions those Japanese outcasts, the burakumin (LRB, 31 March). One of the ‘unclean’ occupations they were assigned was undertaking, a point delicately made in the Oscar-winning Japanese movie Departures. A newly married young man finds himself unemployed and applies for a job without knowing it involves ritually preparing the dead for burial. Although he soon overcomes over his disgust at coming into such close contact with corpses, it takes his young wife considerably longer. To avoid offending its Japanese audience no mention is made of burakumin, and so subtle was the film’s handling of the theme, it eluded most Western viewers. I no longer raise the subject with Japanese friends as I have found that, when I do, they pretend not to hear me.”
“An increasing number of Dalit women in Banke district are attracted towardsan annual labour contract called Balighare Partha locally under which so-called high caste people give food in return to their hard work and service.
“Until recently the age-old Balighare occupation was dominated by Dalit men. Prem Kala BK of Chisapani-9 is an example of increasing number of women taking up this profession mainly by women from Bishwokarma community among other Dalit castes.
“Lately she has started working in her forge, where only her husband used to work till some time ago. She melts metal in the forage and crafts kitchen utensils and sickles, knives, hoes and other traditional weapons of neighbours. In return, she gets rice, maize or millets (as per her choice) for her whole year’s works from them.
“Sewing clothes as well making hand drums and other musical instruments are also part of Balighare system in existence in the district from ages taken up by Dalit people as their one of the major sources of livelihood.”
anti-caste: In the balighare partha system, one of several traditional forms of caste-based labor extraction in Nepal, members of (low-ranking) artisan castes provide services to upper-caste landholders in exchange for one meager allotment (perhaps ten, fifteen, or twenty-five kilograms) of inferior food grain annually at harvest time.
“Dal Man Bishwokarma, a resident of Rautaha village in Udayapur, not only manufactures domestic weapons and equipments used in farming but also repairs them. He provides his service to 21 Bishta families. However, he gets only 10 pathis [about 50 kilograms] of maize once a year from each of them.
“During festivals like Dashain and Tihar, Bishta families provide Dal Man with a mana (one mana is roughly equal to half a kilogram) of rice and Rs 20 each. His family has to survive on this meager income for the whole year. ‘With this income, I find it difficult to make ends meet even for six months,’ he said. ‘For the rest of the year, I have to go somewhere else to work as a laborer.’
“The tradition, which exploits Dalits’ labor, is still in fashion mainly in Bhutar, Nametar, Bhalayodada, Panchawoti, Dumre, Barre, Iname, Jante, Thanagau and Laphagau villages. Harka Bahadur Pariyar, a resident of Jaate village where 24 Dalit families are stuck in this tradition, said, ‘We have been surviving like this for generations.’”
“The scourge of untouchability has raised its ugly head in Hosapura village of Malavalli taluk, Mandya district, where a group of ‘caste' Hindus allegedly created ruckus over the appointment of a Dalit as a valve-man.
“The incident took place early last week and threatened to split the community on caste lines. Police have arrested three persons in this connection but this served only to escalate the tension as ‘caste' Hindus questioned the ‘temerity’ of the Dalits to lodge a police complaint against them.
“Sources said the genesis of the tension could be traced to the decision of the Gram Panchayat Secretary Siddaraju, who appointed Venkatesh, a Dalit, as the valve-man to release water to the village. When a group of persons saw Venkatesh releasing water, they raised a hue and cry on the ‘propriety’ of using the water released by a ‘Dalit valve-man,’ said sources.
“As a result, tension built up in the village and a section of the aggrieved community lodged a police complaint, following which three persons, identified as Shivu, Basavaraj and Prakash were arrested and later released on bail. Irked by the ‘audacity’ of the Dalit community, they have been allegedly boycotted by people from other communities, sources said.
“However, Shivaramu, Social Welfare Officer of Mandya told The Hindu that he had visited the village and inquired into the incident which presented a different picture.
“He said the village community had strong political affiliations and was split along party lines. ‘It transpired that the appointment of a Dalit was not the issue. The warring groups wanted one of their confidantes to be given the job of the valve-man. However, a few outside elements gave a caste twist to the appointment of Mr. Venkatesh, which led to tension following which three persons were arrested and later released on bail,’ Mr. Shivaramu said.
“‘I visited the village twice after the incident was reported and the allegations of Dalits being denied work in agricultural farms was false. Landlords and landless labourers are mutually dependent and one could not do without the other,’ he added. Mr. Shivaramu said the situation was now under control and the district administration has ensured supply of groceries and other essential commodities to the Dalit colony.”
“Based on the findings of a three-month study that it conducted in the district from December-end, the NGO Dalit Women Empowerment Forum states that roughly 60 per cent of the district’s Dalit children — 8,000 of 13,300 — are deprived of education.
“Children from poor Dalit families make the most of the illiterate children.
“According to Gita Sunar, the forum chairperson, most of these children are from landless families. They have been working as khaliya and haliya (farm labourers) to make a living. The report states that 468 Dalit families of the district have been working as haliya and 126 families have been working as khaliya.”
“The Haliyas (literally, ‘one who tills land’) are enslaved within a system of bonded labour, and are forced by a landlord or ‘master’ to execute various hard labour duties (usually agricultural) for many years, often for an entire lifetime. Other than the agricultural work, Haliyas fulfil a range of duties, including making tools (such as spades, knives, and sickles) out of iron, grazing animals, sewing clothes, making utensils and pots, and so forth. The labourers are not paid a wage for their extensive work; often they are only provided with a small amount of food. Extreme poverty and debt in the western and far western regions of Nepal has relegated many members of the lower castes, known as Dalits, to Haliya status.
“Haliyas are forced to till a small patch of land in order to repay a debt, and are often held captive with their entire families. The enslaved Haliyas typically have no direct association with any debts; in the overwhelming majority of cases, the laborers are held because of debts accumulated by their ancestors over many generations. Such debts are often so excessive that a Haliya’s work over an entire lifetime will not generate sufficient revenue to even marginally reduce the interest incurred on the debts. [...]
“Despite being malnourished, Haliyas are expected to perform extraordinarily demanding labor duties. According to a custom known as Doli, they must carry exorbitantly heavy wooden carriages on their shoulders for hours at a time. Another custom (Khali) dictates that Haliyas are entitled to no fresh food at all–only leftover goods from the harvest. Despite working excessively long hours to fulfill grueling tasks, Haliyas typically receive only a bowl of white rice per day for their labor. [...]
“The overwhelming majority of Haliyas are Dalits. In fact, Nepal’s system of caste discrimination remains a direct factor leading to both the origins and continuation of the Haliya system.”
“Although the government outlawed Haliya practice on September 6, 2008, unsurprisingly most of them are still working for their landlords.
“‘When the Kamaiya system [of bonded labor in the Tarai region] was outlawed in 2000, it actually liberated the landlords, not the bonded labourers,’ says Laxman Kumar Hamal, member secretary of the Freed Kamaiya Rehabilitation Execution Committee at the Ministry of Land Reform (MoLR). ‘The same mistake has been repeated in the case of Haliyas.’
“For instance, the form that is being used to collect data on Haliyas does not require landlords to express commitment to help rehabilitate the tillers, which officials say is a serious oversight that will create problems in rehabilitation.”
“A series of papers presented at the national seminar on ‘Dalit households in village economies’ painted a grim picture of deprivation among Dalits in rural India. These papers, based on a series of village studies since 2004, pointed to Dalits’ relatively poor access to official sources of credit, their lack of command over assets and amenities, and lower levels of employment and income.
“Commenting on the papers, Abhijit Sen, member, Planning Commission, pointed out that the value of these village studies — conducted by the Foundation of Agrarian Studies (FAS) and other researchers — was enhanced by the fact that they were not aimed at finding out how Dalits were faring exclusively in socio-economic terms. Instead, the extent and nature of deprivation among Dalits was being demonstrated as a part of a study of agrarian relations in the country, in which caste played an important role.
“Drawing on data from all the village surveys conducted by the FAS, Vikas Rawal, Associate Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, pointed out that ownership of land accounted for an overwhelming proportion of the value of assets among Dalits as well as non-Dalits. There is ‘a huge disparity’ in the levels of landholdings between the two social groups, he observed.
“[...] V.K. Ramachandran, Professor at the Sociological Research Unit, ISI, Kolkata, said, ‘Caste not only matters, but is right up there as a major explanation for inequality.’”
“As many as 500 Dalit families belonging to Saligrama village in K.R. Nagar taluk have been in dire straits following social ostracism by members of an ‘upper caste’ community for the last two weeks. [...]
“The immediate cause for the social boycott of the Holayas was a petty incident. Some cattle belonging to the ‘upper caste’ community was found grazing on the land belonging to one Govindaraju, a Dalit. Govindaraju took objection to the cattle being on his land as he was entirely dependent on the land for his livelihood.
“Govindaraju had an altercation with members of the ‘upper caste’ community on the matter, which led to him being assaulted. Govindaraju immediately filed a police complaint seeking protection. The ‘upper caste’ members feeling that he had ‘exceeded his limits’ by daring to file a police complaint, decided to boycott the Dalits from September 26.
“The incident came into the public domain after a fact-finding committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), led by State secretariat member Maruti Manpade, visited Saligrama on Monday and shared their findings with the media.
“The team visited the village and discovered that all Dalits had been dismissed from their jobs while those who employ their women folk as housemaids were asked to pay Rs. 2,000 for not abiding by the diktat of the ‘upper caste’. ‘What is worse is that those who brought this “violation” to the notice of the “leaders” were rewarded with Rs. 500,’ according to Varalakshmi, who was part of the CPI(M) team. The CPI(M) members said the Dalits in Saligrama were being denied work in farms while those who were working as lorry drivers, auto drivers and electricians had lost their jobs.”
“On 20 July 2010, some manual scavengers of Savanur, a small town in Haveri district of north Karnataka performed a novel act in protest against their helplessness. They smeared themselves with human excreta in public before the municipal council office. [...]
“The issue was simple, so at least the people in Municipal Council of Savanur thought and ignored it. But it spelt virtual death to Dalits. They were suddenly asked by the Municipal Council to evict the land they lived on for generations just to construct a commercial complex there. The orders in terms of law were illegal but who would contest the authorities. The Dalits kept on pleading but their plea fell on deaf years.On the contrary, to pressure them the Municipal authorities cut off their water connection. Poor Dalits who belonged to the Bhangi sub-caste, would be forbidden to take water from any other source because of their untouchability. Buying it was out of question as they barely subsided on a pittance thrown to them for cleaning dry latrines. What may appear simple to others was thus a death knell for them, which drove them to the desperate act of daubing themselves with human excreta.The sensational act attracted media and thereby swarms of politicians. The ministers came, held meetings, issued orders and at least temporarily saved the Bhangis from devastation. As it happens, the action taken may prove to be mere wash up as suspected by the PUCL (Karnataka) fact finding (preliminary) report on the incident.”
Former Independent journalist Sarah Harris has made a documentary about India's temple prostitutes – Devadasi are young girls who are dedicated to a Hindu deity at a young age and support their families as sex workers.
The first instalment of the four-part exclusively online documentary “Prostitutes of God” goes live today on VBS.tv.
Harris talked to The Independent Online about making the film:
“I first went to India after I left The Independent three years ago. I wanted to run away and do something really different, so I went to volunteer with a charity in southern India which rescues victims of sex trafficking.
“On my very first day there I stumbled into a meeting of Devadasi prostitutes. I was told that they were temple prostitutes, but didn’t have any understanding of what that meant. [...]
“The only thing that has changed since the Devadasi practise was made illegal in 1988 is that the ceremonies have been driven underground. It’s still very common in some parts of India. A Westerner wouldn’t know to look at the girls that they are Devadasi, but Indians know on sight who they are and what they do. Really it comes down to caste. [...]
“Girls from the Madiga caste, otherwise known as the ‘untouchable caste,’ have really limited prospects. They can be agricultural labourers, sewage collectors or prostitutes, essentially. As prostitution is the most lucrative, a lot of Madiga women get into sex work.”
“Price of caste arrogance: an unkempt look with crumpled clothes and overgrown beards and hair.
“All because the majority Thevars of Irunjirai, located 80km from Madurai, had warned the village’s lone dhobi not to press Dalits’ clothes.
“The dhobi has shut shop and fled the village of 130 families and so has the barber, fearing the same diktat from the Thevars.
“‘Now we have no choice but to travel by bus to the nearest town to get a haircut or shave. Almost no one here bothers to get his clothes ironed any more,’ rued K. Paandi, a Thevar.
“A. Periasamy, the dhobi, said: ‘The Thevars had asked me not to iron Dalits’ clothes or else they would boycott my shop.’
“When he still went ahead and ironed a Dalit farmer’s shirt, the matter was dragged to the village panchayat which issued Periasamy a warning last January ‘to respect the majority sentiment.’
That scared barber Maarimuthu too into turning away his Dalit customers.
“‘Since the Thevars outnumber all other communities put together in the village, I could not afford to antagonise them,’ Maarimuthu said. [...]
“Village headman V. Murugesan, a Thevar, blamed the Dalits for ‘blowing the issue up’ and complaining to the district administration.
“‘The panchayat was ready to resolve the issue amicably but once the district authorities started arm-twisting our barber and dhobi, they moved out. And our villagers refused to support outsiders plying their trades here.’”
“[A]s the country debates the idea of a caste-based census and policymakers grapple with the possible political ramifications of such data-gathering, the relevance of caste as an economic entity remains intact, says Tirthankar Roy, professor at the London School of Economics and the author of Company of Kinsmen, a book that examines how enterprise and entrepreneurial communities adapted to globalization.”
“Claiming that economic cooperation was the basis of defining caste, Roy says that ‘these (caste-based) groups are protecting access of outsiders to assets—be it skills, people, capital... sometimes successfully, sometimes not. They are guilds, rooted in blood, rather than rules. The ties run so deep that if anyone breaks a business rule, they can be excommunicated from the community.’”
“Indigenous groups and Dalits continue to be at the bottom in most indicators of well-being, the Muslims and the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) occupy the middle rung, while forward caste Hindus and other minority religions are at the top. The ‘Human Development in India: Challenges for a Society in Transition’ survey has found this.
“[M]ore than three out of 10 forward caste and minority religion men have salaried jobs, compared with about two out of 10 Muslim, OBC and Dalit men, and even fewer Adivasi men.
“Dalits and Adivasis are further disadvantaged as they either do not own land, or mainly low-productivity land. Not surprisingly, these income differences translate into differences in other indicators of human development.
“Dalits have long laboured at the margins of a society that depends on that labour, but that has often excluded them. Although some Adivasis in the northeast fared better, other Adivasis living in extremely remote locations have been left out of the recent economic progress or forced to migrate, only to work as low paid labourers. In some cases, such as for the OBCs and the Muslims, historical disadvantages have been exacerbated by structural shifts. A decline in artisan incomes has affected the Muslims disproportionately, while agricultural stagnation has affected the OBCs.”
“There is a body of research on discrimination in rural areas and on the continuation of caste barriers to economic and social mobility in village India. There is a myth, however, that caste does not matter in the urban milieu and that, with the anonymity of the big city and with education and associated job and occupational mobility (assisted by affirmative action), traditional caste-based discriminatory practices disappear. This book explodes that myth in a set of chapters that focus on the formal labour market. These chapters use methodologies developed in the United States to study racial discrimination, and are written in collaboration with scholars from the U.S. [...]
“In another chapter, Jodhka and Newman report on detailed interviews with human resource managers of 25 large firms in New Delhi. All the managers insisted that hiring was solely on the basis of ‘merit,’ and old practices such as hiring kin or members of the same community did not exist.
“At the same time, every hiring manager said ‘family background’ (including the educational level of parents) was critical in evaluating a potential employee. This is clearly discriminatory, for Dalit applicants may not have the same social and educational background as those from the upper castes. As the authors note, ‘one must take the profession of deep belief in meritocracy with a heavy dose of salt.’”
In an article titled "A battle won" (November 7-20, 2009), Frontline magazine reported that after a month of agitation filled with "unprecedented violence" by caste Hindus, the untouchables of Chettipulam village in Tamil Nadu had been allowed to enter the local Hindu shrine "under tight police protection" on October 27.
"Two months after the Dalits of Chettipulam were ushered into the Ekambareshwarar temple by the district administration, they are not finding work.
"The village has placed a Samudaya Kattupadu, or unwritten social control, against engaging Dalit labour, said a police source. Dalits do not find jobs in all seven Kadus (administrative divisions) of Chettipulam.
"There were attempts to pressurise people from nearby villages to exclude Dalits from labour.
"'A Dalit man, who was de-weeding a field, was asked to leave after a Caste Hindu refused to work on the same field,' says Pushpavalli, a Dalit woman, who was relieved as domestic help.
"According to a Revenue Department official, the tacit agreement among Caste Hindus is real, though it would never be acknowledged.
"Dalits have not entered the Ekambareshwarar Temple after October 27, when they were led in by the district administration as the State watched."
"The Thuruburei village is inhabited by around 500 families. Out of them 20 families are ‘washermen’ or ‘Dhobi’ by caste. Pradeep Sethi, an aggrieved dalit of the village said the upper castes have targeted 10 ‘Dhobi’ families who refused to bow down to the diktat of upper castes.
"It is alleged that the upper castes have barred them from using the village well, tubewell, grocery shop etc.
"They are not being allowed to harvest the crop in their field.
"As per Mr. Sethi, the tussle between the dalits and upper castes of the village had started more than a year ago.
"The ‘Dhobi’ families had demanded hike in the yearly payment made by the upper caste families.
"Each upper caste family was paying Rs. 20 [44 cents] per year to the designated washerman families to wash clothes throughout the year.
"Ten ‘Dhobi’ families had demanded the allowance to be hiked to Rs. 50 [$1.09] per year."
An untouchable caste in Madhya Pradesh that mainly does agricultural labor has also traditionally been made to clear away the rotting carcasses of animals. This summer in the city of Gadarwara in Madhya Pradesh and surrounding villages they decided to stop doing this work, which is not only disagreeable but is considered to be unclean and degrading.
"Since the issue of removing carcasses of dead animals has been raised they have declared a virtual blockade of the community. Taking advantage of the confused laying of public road No. 128, the dominant castes have created such a situation that the Ahirwars [untouchables] are not able to come out of their houses. The community has been ‘imprisoned’ in its own native village. [...]
"1. There is ban on them on making any purchases from the only provision shop in the village.
"2. They are not allowed to get water from a public tap.
"3. Ban on travel by public transport
"4. Stopping vegetable and food vendors, newspaper boys including dhobis (washermen), nais (barbers) from entering Dalit localities
"5. Stopping access to flour mills for grinding corn
"6. Ban on entering the Village Panchayat Bhavan"
With even greater consequence for the well-being of this economically dependent community of landless sharecroppers, they have been denied any share of the harvest from the crops they raised on land leased from the uppercaste landlords, reducing them to near-starvation.
In another village nearby, members of the dominant caste dumped dead animals in the center of the segregated untouchable living area and threatened to "cut down the hands of anybody who dared to touch" them. So the carcasses putrified there, making everyone sick and causing breathing problems among the elderly.
In the same village the community was banned from the fields and paths surrounding their homes, which is all owned by uppercaste people. They are not even allowed to set foot on the land they use to relieve themselves.
"Thousands of Indians from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other states bordering Nepal swarmed to the Himalayan republic’s southern plains Tuesday to attend a notorious Hindu fair there and sacrifice animals and birds in the hope their wishes would be fulfilled.
"While a debate began to grow in Nepal about the Gadhimai Fair in Bara district and the wanton cruelty it inflicted on animals, the festival drew its strength from zealous Indian attendees who have been flocking to it every five years in a bid to circumvent the ban imposed on animal sacrifices in their own states. [...]
"Ram Mahato, 37, who also came from Sitamarhi, planned to watch the execution of the animals, visit the circus and drink his fill of local liquor that has also been doing brisk sale underground despite an official ban on it. He had not heard of Maneka Gandhi, let alone her plea to the Nepal government to ban the quinquennial slaughter at Gadhimai. Neither had he heard that six people, including one from Motihari, had died after consuming adulterated hooch.
"'Gandhi?' he asked, scratching his head. 'Is she related to Indira Gandhi? But then, they have everything, unlike us. They can afford not to seek the blessings of the goddess.'"
anti-caste: Also prominent in the campaign against the Gadhimai festival has been Brigitte Bardot. South Asian peasants are as likely to take account of her sensibilities in religious matters as she, quite rightly, was of theirs in her career as an international sex symbol.
The ceremony, which takes place over the course of two weeks every five years, attracts up to a million devotees who dispatch more than 200,000 animals—the equivalent of a slow week at Cargill, especially around this time of year.
It is said to be especially popular among untouchables, who are typically barred from Hindu temples and so have little access to ritual services.
It is the local untouchables of the chamar (tanner) caste who traditionally skin and carry away the carcasses, preserving the meat for their own consumption and processing the hides for sale as leather. At the last festival some of the chamars were organized by a non-governmental organization to boycott this work as demeaning. This year, according to the Kathmandu Post, "[a]lthough the festival organisers had hired a contractor to clear out the carcasses, people from the Chamar community chased the contractor and took away the remains themselves." These contradictory responses display the cruel paradox of the untouchable condition—the very activity on which they depend for their livelihood is "unclean" and degrading.
Neither Brigitte Bardot, Maneka Gandhi, nor any of the activists concerned for the lives of several hundred thousand water buffaloes, goats, pigs, chickens, pigeons, and rats seem to have anything to say about the oppression of this community, nor about the insecurity and want that drive so many in this region and around the world to seek solace in religious superstition.
photo by rpb1001 (from a remarkable set on Flickr)
"Bharatkumar Chandubhai, 13, who lives in Aslali village said, 'I study in a government school in my village. Even I faced the wroth of being a Dalit. I am told to clean up urinals in my school once a week.'"
"The study, conducted by a team of city-based think tank Indian Social Institute, found that 97 per cent of the 'safai karamcharies' in Delhi do not know about the 1993 Act that prohibits employment of manual scavengers.
"It also revealed that though nearly all of the over 50,000 sanitation workers belong to the Dalit community, 88 per cent of them were unaware of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which was enacted way back in 1989."
"Just days after a woman was stripped in public, an influential upper caste landlord ran a car over seven Dalit women for refusing to work in his farmland. The shocking incident took place in Sheikhpura district of Bihar last evening.
"Police said a local landlord Sonu Singh asked a group of female labourers to work in his field at low wages which the latter refused. Sources said, when the Dalit women were returning home in the evening after work, the accused drove his Ambassador car over them, injuring all the seven women. The injured have been admitted to the local government hospital in Sheikhpura.
"This is the third major incident of atrocities on women in the last one week. On Saturday, a Dalit woman was stripped and beaten up after her goat strayed into the field of a landlord in Sitamarhi district."
"Dalit participation in social activities has improved, with 591 invited for wedding feasts. But the improvement stops there. Around 29% said they wait for others to finish eating before they can eat while 20% non-SCs said they expected SCs to wash their plates after eating.
"The primitive manifestations of untouchability still exist, even if they are on the wane. In the survey, 7% respondents said they were barred from entering main streets of villages while 7% said they could not wear sandals and walk in front of a dominant caste member. In fact, 9% revealed they had to talk with folded hands and 29% said they had to stand up in respect.
"A sore point of old caste segregation was bar on entry of SCs in non-Dalit houses. While 82% revealed they were allowed in, around 18% were still not.
"A big section of non-SCs said they would not allow SCs into their houses while an equal number refused to comment, showing the sensitivity was not easy to overcome. SC women work as maids in other caste homes but a majority said they were not allowed inside. Many in Karnataka, MP and Rajasthan named Brahmins and Konkani castes as barring their entry while in Bengal, 34 different OBCs were identified.
"As many as 20% said they were not served food and water in non-Dalit homes while 24% claimed being served in separate vessels. At least 25% non-SCs concurred with the claim.
"Dalit children are still growing with the stigma of being from inferior class. While seating arrangements are common in schools, SC kids in many cases are asked to take the back benches. Also, many are served midday meals separately from other children.
"The bias showed when over 40% non-SC respondents agreed there were no SC teachers in their village schools.
"Vestiges of mediaeval society became apparent when upper castes and OBCs, if only a handful, revealed they served SCs in towels or their upper garments; while some poured water directly into the cupped Dalit hands for drinking instead of giving a tumbler. A few cases showed that barbers used separate instruments for haircut of Dalits.
"The survey was carried out in six states and 24 villages, a mix of those with highest and lowest crimes under PCR Act. [...]
"For all the empowerment, Dalits in the countryside are still forced into services seen as 'menial' — 154 of 553 Dalits performed drumbeating, 42 grave digging while 97 were into making chappals [leather sandals]. As many as 78 said they were asked to carry out animal sacrifice and 57 said they were sweepers."
"Citing one instance, the study says a dog had fallen into this well and died. The dalits were left with no option, but to consume the toxic water after removing the carcass. 'Even in such inhuman conditions, dalits are not allowed to enter the main part of the village and fetch water from the tubewells situated inside the village, where the upper castes live,' the study says."
"Across Tamil Nadu, mortuary work seems to be set aside exclusively for dalits. The only members in post-mortem rooms from other castes, are doctors. Due to an acute shortage of mortuary staff, hospitals engage casual workers to do autopsies and to remove unclaimed bodies, in addition to using the services of the in-house sanitary workers. Casual workers too are mostly relatives of dalits working in the hospitals. Their only source of income is the occasional ‘tip’ from relatives of the deceased who come to collect the bodies after post-mortem. [...]
"Among permanent hospital workers, few non-dalits volunteer for mortuary duty. “Only dalits are assigned work in mortuaries. Others refuse to work there. For them, it is taboo to even touch dead bodies,” says Viduthalai Veeran, a dalit activist. Veeran is a senior leader of Adhi Thamizhar Peravai, an outfit that works among Arunthathiyars, a dalit sub-sect in Tamil Nadu.
"Many Arunthathiyars are employed as sweepers and scavengers in municipal corporations and other local bodies. They also work in government hospitals doing the same work. Many take up the work after futile hunts for ‘respectable’ jobs."
"The Ministry of Railways told the court that until they install washable aprons at stations and totally sealed toilet systems, 'manual scavenging cannot be totally eradicated', but offered no time frame. Many defence establishments flatly denied any dry latrines. Municipalities possibly threatened municipal employees to retract from their earlier affidavits and claim that were employed for other tasks.
"These official falsehoods have been nailed by moving, detailed affidavits, often with stomach-churning photographs, by countrywide activists of the Andolan. Many of these should be compulsory reading. From Ahra, Bihar, unlettered Dinesh Ram, now 15 years old, has been doing this work since he was nine. He tells the Court, 'I hate this work. I do not feel like doing it. But my problem is that I do not know any other work'. Ramrakhi, who has worked since she was 10, says, 'The gas emitted by the shit has spoilt my eyes, and my hands and feet also swell. It sticks to my hands and makes me nauseous'. Chinta Devi, like many others, says she hates this work, but has to pursue it to raise her children.
"Kokilaben, a sanitation worker in Kadi municipality in Mehsana, Gujarat, testifies in an affidavit to the Court, 'The human excreta discharged by people on the road is collected by me in a large bowl with the help of a broom and tin plate and stored in a trolley. When the trolley is full, I drag (this with the help of) my daughter and my husband… I carry the human excreta stored in plastic bucket on my head and while doing so the dirt falls on my body…I fall sick frequently… If I refuse to remove waste, I get suspended from duty by the Nagarpalika'."
"The trouble started when some Dalit labourers were asked by a group of Jats in Mandoda village to cut wheat crop in their fields and they refused. Infuriated by their refusal, the Jats allegedly attacked their homes and fired at their women and children, injuring seven."
"A Dalit was allegedly held captive and thrashed for six days in Nalanda - the home district of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar - after he refused to work in the fields of an upper caste man.
"Not only were his wife and minor daughter forced to work in his place during that time but the family was also turned away by the local police when it tried to lodge a complaint, he has alleged.
"'My only crime was that I refused to work in their fields as they were giving just one kilogram of food grain in return for 10 to 12 hours of toil,' an official at a special police station for Scheduled Castes (SCs) in Biharsharif near here, quoted Manjhi as saying.
"'The helpless and poor like me are not free people. We have to live under the shadow of fear and at the mercy of people like Abhay Singh, who tortured me to teach a lesson to me and others so that we don't raise our voice,' Manjhi told police."
"These apart, the study found some quirky restrictions on Dalits. They were, for instance, forbidden from keeping male dogs. In some villages, during the temple festival Dalits were supposed to stay hidden from caste Hindus. The two-tumbler system, under which Dalits and non-Dalits were served tea in different vessels, was still prevalent in teashops in many places and in some village eateries Dalits were compelled to sit on the floor.
"Their job includes sweeping the streets and offices, clearing clogs in the sewerage lines, cleaning up manholes, water reservoirs, hospital wastes and handling unidentified dead bodies. Many of them are employed in crematoriums.
"'This used to be my family's profession for the last 200 years since we were brought here from India [by the British]. Cleaning is the only work we have learnt to do,' said Shankar Das Pollati Apparo, president, Telegu Community Development Society.
"'Today we are being replaced by the mainstream population. Mostly Muslims especially those who can pay bribes are taking over our job although there are regulations that jaat (traditional) sweepers should be given priority,' he added."