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Pakistan: Dalits In Peril

By Chander Kumar

24 March, 2012
Countercurrents.org

The Dalit community in Pakistan is native to this land, and has beenhere for the last more than 5000 years. Even though Hindusconstitute a minority community In Pakistan, the majority of Hindus are Dalits,i.e. more than 85% of the total population of Hindus are Dalits. The evidence of their presence in the region can be found from one of the world’s most ancient civilizations--Mohen jodaro. It is also known from the Buddhist Holy scripturesthat Gautama Buddha’s father Maharaja Shuddho Dhan married a Dalit community girl of the Kolhi tribe. This is the woman who gave birth to Mahatma Gautama. The Holy scriptures of Hinduism like The Ramayana also mentions Dalits such as Shabri Bhil and Walmake Rushi.

In Pakistan, Dalits live in all the five provinces i.e Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtoon Khuwa and Gilgit Baltistan. It is found that the majority of Dalitslive in Sindh, while Punjab is second in terms of Dalit population. Balochistan is third and Khyber Pakhtoon Khuwa and Gilgit Baltistan host the smallest numbers.

Dalit students, labors, workers, advocates, teachers, drivers, social activists and some other professionals also reside in Karachi.

The total population of Dalits as estimated in Pakistan is more than 7 million, out of which more than 3.5 million dwell in Sindh. 70% of them are associated with the agricultural workforce and the remaining 30% are laborers in various industries, or contractual road workers. Among this 30%, a few are also shopkeepers, public prosecutors, doctors, teachers, engineers and clerks.

All these castes are also known as Scheduled Castes, which means ‘untouchables’. According to Hinduism,these groups are marked as the lowest categories of society. The term untouchable itself is vile word, and it can have a psychological impact on someone to whom it is being applied. It is a word which does not take into account the personal history of an individual. One can even suggest that a word like this can lead someone to suicide or to some criminal activity.

Every religion of the world gives a message of peace, equality and unity. Religion and the secular thought teaches us that every man and woman is equal in the eyes of Lord, no one is superior to the other and superiority does not rely on their pomp but on their creed and doings.

The Royal mandate of the Dalit Development Programme endeavors to improve the plight the people of the Dalit community and render them with basic rights such as healthcare and education.

Several investigations by the members of Dalit Programme identify the following as the major problems Dalits face in Pakistan:

1. Caste discrimination
2. Lack of education
3. Health facility
4. Computer and technological skills
5. Water shortage
6. Unemployment
7. Lack of labor and wage
8. Life as a prisoner or a servant
9. Child labor and child marriage

The following sections examine some of these problems in detail.

CASTE DISCRIMINATION:

The major problem of caste discrimination is mostly found in the region of Badin, Umerkot, Sanghar, Thatta and Tharparkar. In these districts, a young Dalit individual of any age cannot enter the premises of hotel or restaurant. They are first asked where are they going and who theyare.If someone responds by saying they belong to the Dalit sections, it becomes impossible for them to enter the premises of these hotels. In some hotels admission is possible, but Dalits are allotted a completely separate set of utensils.

Many members of the Dalit society detest such acts, but they are helpless because of landlords and other powerful personalities.

There are a few private schools at Mithi in which admission for Dalit students is prohibited, even though there is no clear rule forbidding Dalits. Authorities do not openly reject the admission of Dalit students, but when Dalit students go for admission, they are told that the school has limited seats and they should apply the next year. However, if any student of Banya (Brahmin or Khatri) family goes to the same schools he or she is almost always admitted.

In Tharparkar at Mithi there are also a few English and computer language centres where only members of upper caste families are considered to be eligible for admission and a Dalit candidate cannot get admission.

In the district Badin as well, Dalit children face discrimination in the field of education. They are unable to get admission even in government schools. Many of the government schools in villages are used by landlords as their godown for the seasonal production of their crops .In the remaining schools (also government schools) Dalit children are not supposed to get admission. They are often blatantly asked to go and work in the fields.The landlords ask who will tend the fields if they come to schools.
Due to this, Dalits are bound to work day and night, and even after that, they cannot even afford food or basic amenities. Children are caught in the cycles of their parents’ debt, and are constantly denied the right to education.

Due to low literacy rates in many areas of the Sindh, Dalits are blatantly cheated by their landlords This is true not only of remote areas but wherever Dalits live.

LACK OF EDUCATION:

Education guides and shapes the lives of human beings, but Dalits are being denied a right to it.

As has been mentioned earlier, 70% of our community belongs to the agricultural workforce. The majority of these people have the desire to educate their children. Whenever they work for a landlord and perform well,the landlords try to keep them in bondage and do not give them their annual or semi-annual savings completely therefore farmers run away. In this way, farmers constantly move from one place,leaving their children’s education incomplete. In some areas, Dalitchildren are allowed in schools only because some Dalits students and professionals hold high posts there.

Senior analysts of Dalit community suggest that due to drought conditions in Tharparkar more than 42% of total population leave their homes in search of livelihood, which is unprecedented in any other region of the world.

Many social organizations are no doubt working for the betterment of the Dalits’ future, but many real problems have not been addressed. Only if one leads the life of real Dalit would the gravity of problems be realized.

OTHER ISSUES:

Dalits suffer twofold for every social problem in Pakistan. In terms of access to water, healthcare, technology, or employment opportunities, Dalits lag behind all other sections. Partly owing to their own customs, but mainly because of government and public apathy, Dalits remain on the boundaries of society. Their condition calls for urgent attention from the government, and a drastic change is required in society itself so that these populations can attain their basic human rights in the near future.

Notes:

1. The majority of Dalits reside in the following districts of Sindh: Badin, Ghotki, Jacobabad , Karachi, Khairpur, Matiari, Noushehro Feroz, Qambar nad Shahdadkot, Shikarpur, Tando Allahyar, Tharparkar, Umerkot, Dadu, Hyderabad, Jamshoro, Kashmorem, Larkana, Mirpurkhas, Benazirabad (Nawabshah), Sanghar, Sukkur, Tando, Mohammad Khan, Thatta.

2. The above figures are estimated by the senior analysts of Dalit community whereas there is no official or authorative figure provided by the government The total number of Dalit castes as declared by the government of Pakistan is 42, which are as follows:
Ad dharma, Bangali, Barar, Bawaria, Bazigar, Bhangi, Bhanjra, Bhil, Chamar, Charan, Chuhroar Balmiki, Chanal, Dagiand koli, Dhanak, Dhed, Dumna, Gangra, Gandhila, Halakhor, Jatia, Jogi, Khatik, Kori, Kalal, Kolhi, Kuchria, Marecha/ Mareja, Meghwar, Menghwar, Nat, Odh, Parsi, Parna, Ramdasi, Sami, Sansi, Sapela, Sarera, Shikari, Sirkiband, Sochi, and Wagri

Chander Kumar is a dalit activist from Pakistan. He can be reached at ckumar.kolhi@hotmail.com




 


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