Seminar on Relief and Discrimination - Statement
DALIT SOLIDARITY NETWORK (UK)
This Statement comes from a Conference attended by fifty representatives of Dalit communities in the UK, aid agencies, human rights bodies, the Indian High commission and other concerned institutions, on 5th May 2001, on the subject of Relief and Discrimination after the Gujerat Earthquake.
We deplore the continued existence of caste discrimination in Asia, and particularly in India after more than fifty years of independence. The earthquake in Gujerat affected the Dalit communities more seriously because of the poverty and oppression under which they labour. Dalits are doubly affected because of the mental pressure of untouchability on top of this great tragedy. The earthquake has provided a dramatic illustration of caste oppression, and now offers a tremendous opportunity to overcome past divisions. We therefore view with very grave concern reports of discrimination in the distribution of assistance in the aftermath of the earthquake in Gujerat. We look for the building of new communities on a basis of equality in the reconstruction process.
We are deeply troubled about the following recent reports:-
1) That assistance did not reach certain villages or areas of villages occupied by Dalits or other minorities;
2) That people from the so-called higher castes raised money from everyone but distributed it largely to their own communities, and also diverted state assistance to their 'own' caste people;
3) That agents of extremist groups sought to control the distribution of aid and prevent it reaching Dalit communities;
4) That state and government agencies did not ensure that distribution went first to those in greatest need, because of historical conditions almost always Dalits;
5) That certain villages were given a lower classification in terms of damage they suffered because they were inhabited by Dalits or other minority communities;
6) That reconstruction projects may be taking place divided on caste lines instead of the reconstruction work being used as an opportunity to overcome caste divisions.
We therefore ask the following questions.
Of the Indian Government.
Are you monitoring the distribution of relief and the progress of construction work to ensure there is no caste discrimination? Will you subsequently provide a report of this monitoring process? Are you ensuring that those not receiving assistance from their communities abroad or from NGO's are getting effective and long-term assistance? In the light of the issues thrown up by the earthquake, what are your long-term plans for overcoming caste discrimination in Gujerat and elsewhere in India?
Of the UK Government
Have you informed the Indian Government that discrimination by caste is not acceptable in the use of UK Government assistance in Gujerat?
How are you monitoring the situation to ensure this is the case?
How are you overcoming caste discrimination in the relief programmes to which UK Government money is contributing?
Of the aid agencies
Are you ensuring that your relief and reconstruction work after the Gujerat earthquake is not subject to any caste bias? How?
Are you seeking to overcome caste divisions in the reconstruction work? How?
What proportion of Dalits are among your staff both for relief and ongoing development work in Gujerat and the rest of India?
What are the specific ways in which agencies are planing to address caste discrimination in the light of the March 2001 DEC Report, especially in relation to point 5, stating that 'we shall respect culture and custom'?
We urge the international community to continue to press the Indian authorities to act more effectively to challenge caste discrimination and to eradicate an evil which bears too many similarities to the apartheid system, which was so abhorrent to the world community of the last generation. Caste is the apartheid of today.
VODI / DSN