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Dalits Fight Tsunami Daily

By Udit Raj

13 January, 2004
Indian Express

This is in response to the expose in The Indian Express, ‘‘Tsunami can’t wash this away: hatred for Dalits’’ (IE January 7). Many justify their Hindu way of living while repeating various cliches like ‘‘Our living is simple and plain’’, ‘‘Sare jahan se achha Hindustan hamara’’, ‘‘We practice non-violence’’ and ‘‘are unlike people of materialistic society’’. We are so hypocritical that we justify poverty, hunger, slavery in the name of culture and tradition.

The tsunami in Nagapattinam and other places has shattered many lives. What is even more shocking is the social catastrophe that has been revealed with Dalits not being given access to relief and rehabiliation. Caste continues to be a social catastrophe in India, no less than a tsunami for Dalits and, of course, for those also who are real patriots. The Indian Express reporter can be called a true patriot because he was moved by horrible, discriminatory situations when people are sought to be divided even at the doorstep of death. This is how India was enslaved. All invaders had smooth passage to the throne and the worst part is that it has not been realised till today.

The Nagapattinam district is worst affected in Tamil Nadu and tsunami-affected Dalits have been thrown out of relief camps. The Meenavar community, a backward caste, has unleashed terror and discrimination, and most of the Dalits have not been allowed to share the relief material like food, shelter, medicine, toilets and others. Dalits are forced to carry water in plastic bags and are not allowed to use the water from tanks put up by the UNICEF. ‘‘Relief is now being virtually dumped in some of the camps here. So even the kids carry a few stoves, mats, vessels and other relief material to sell in other villages,’’ quotes The Indian Express.

Tamil Nadu is known for a successful social movement under the leadership of Ramaswami Naicker ‘Periyar’. What does it suggest? Who can say that India has had truly transformative social movements? An American, namely Nancy Ricks, running the Dalit Freedom Network, emailed me and felt sorry that Dalits are being discriminated against in the time of calamity. Some of the NGOs are disappointed to carry out relief works, thinking that when the cause of humanity is itself at stake why is caste or creed important? Two human rights activists, John Dayal and Sunil Sardar, both Christians, carried out relief work in Nagapattinam for a week and brought back horrifying reports of rampant caste discrimination. Aid provided by NGOs, government and international organisations have all been grabbed by dominant castes.

What is more surprising is that the government initiated separate camps for Dalits and others. Is this in the spirit of the Constitution which says that the state will not practice any kind of discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, sex and race. Human beings don’t just need to fill the belly, cover the body and have shelter. Human beings require respect, dignity, generosity too, and the absence of the latter reduces them to the level of animals. If humanity does not exist, how humanitarian is it to serve tsunami-affected people? Let them be like any other creatures of nature.

The real unaddressed question is how long will caste be ignored? A social category which damaged the country for millennia. The caste system enslaved the country. The caste system works against a principle held sacred in other countries, namely the dignity of labour. Those who worked in the fields, made houses, constructed roads, drainage, reared cattle became ‘‘untouchables’’ and inferiors. Parasites on the economy were given respect and jobs in the administration. Why should a sweeper sweep if it makes him inferior, why should a shoemaker engage in leather work? Why then should an Indian keep public places clean if it lowers his caste status to do so?

One hundred and two invaders from Kabul or any other part of the world could easily subjugate this vast country because society was divided into myriad groups. Caste hierarchies have eaten into the vitals of the nation. Because of caste, we could not develop agriculture, industries, infrastructure, science and technology. As long as caste exists, India’s polity is not going to be healthy whosoever tries, and whatever best efforts are done. Let us honestly handle caste tsunami which is perpetual besides this rare one.

The writer is national chairman of the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations and Indian Justice Party











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