By Udit Raj
13 January, 2004
is in response to the expose in The Indian Express, Tsunami
cant 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 dont 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, Indias
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