Mahadalits & Dalits of Bihar
Dalits constitute nearly 15 percent of Bihar's population of 83 million. The poorest Dalits were declared Maha Dalits in Bihar. A government commission has identified 21 of the 22 Dalit sub castes, including Musahar, Bhuiyan, Dom, and Nat as Maha Dalits. They constitute 31 percent of the Dalit population in the state. The commission has not included four Dalit castes - Paswan, Pasi, Dhobi and Chamar - in the Maha Dalit category. These four constitute 69 percent of the Dalit population in the state. A few months ago Nitish Kumar announced a special package of Rs.3 billion ($76 million) for the socio-economic development of the poorest among Dalits. He set up a commission in August last year for the welfare of certain Dalit castes that are socially and educationally more backward than others. Bihar is the first state to constitute a commission to study the status of the neglected Subcastes among Dalits and suggest ways to uplift them. The commission in its first interim report to the government a few months ago painted a bleak picture of the Dalit sub-castes. The report said there were no high school teachers or senior officials from these castes in the state despite reservations in government jobs for them.
- 21 Mahadalits Castes -Bantar, Bauri, Bhogta, Bhuiyan, Chaupal, Dabgar, Dom, Ghasi, Halalkhor, Hadi, Kanjar, Kuraria, Lalbegi, Mushar, Nat, Pan, Rajwar and Turi., Pasi, Dhobi, Chamar
- 1 Dalit Caste - Paswan
Who are Dalits ? & What is Untouchability?
Who are Dalits?
The word “Dalit” comes from the Sanskrit root dal- and means “broken, ground-down, downtrodden, or oppressed.” Those previously known as Untouchables, Depressed Classes, and Harijans are today increasingly adopting the term “Dalit” as a name for themselves. “Dalit” refers to one’s caste rather than class; it applies to members of those menial castes which have born the stigma of “untouchability” because of the extreme impurity and pollution connected with their traditional occupations. Dalits are ‘outcastes’ falling outside the traditional four-fold caste system consisting of the hereditary Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra classes; they are considered impure and polluting and are therefore physically and socially excluded and isolated from the rest of society. Dalits represent a community of 170 million in India, constituting 17% of the population. One out of every six Indians is Dalit, yet due to their caste identity Dalits regularly face discrimination and violence which prevent them from enjoying the basic human rights and dignity promised to all citizens of India. Caste-based social organization extends beyond India, finding corollaries in Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, as well as other countries outside of South Asia (see below). More than 260 million people worldwide suffer from this “hidden apartheid” of segregation, exclusion, and discrimination.
What is “Untouchability”?
India’s Constitution abolished “untouchability,” meaning that the dominant castes could no longer legally force Dalits to perform any “polluting” occupation. Yet sweeping, scavenging, and leatherwork are still the monopoly of the scheduled castes, whose members are threatened with physical abuse and social boycotts for refusing to perform demeaning tasks. Migration and the anonymity of the urban environment have in some cases resulted in upward occupational mobility among Dalits, but the majority continue to perform their traditional functions. A lack of training and education, as well as discrimination in seeking other forms of employment, has kept these traditions and their hereditary nature alive.
Types of Untouchability Practices & Discrimination
- In the name of Untouchability, Dalits face nearly 140 forms of work & descent-based discrimination at the hands of the dominant castes. Here are a few:
- Prohibited from eating with other caste members
- Prohibited from marrying with other caste members
- Separate glasses for Dalits in village tea stalls
- Discriminatory seating arrangements and separate utensils in restaurants
- Segregation in seating and food arrangements in village functions and festivals
- Prohibited from entering into village temples
- Prohibited from wearing sandals or holding umbrellas in front of dominant caste members
- Devadasi system - the ritualized temple prostitution of Dalit women
- Prohibited from entering dominant caste homes
- Prohibited from riding a bicycle inside the village
- Prohibited from using common village path
- Separate burial grounds
- No access to village’s common/public properties and resources (wells, ponds, temples, etc.)
- Segregation (separate seating area) of Dalit children in schools
- Prohibited from contesting in elections and exercising their right to vote
- Forced to vote or not to vote for certain candidates during the elections
- Prohibiting from hoisting the national flag during Independence or Republic days
- Sub-standard wages
- Bonded Labor
- Face social boycotts by dominant castes for refusing to perform their “duties”
Prevalence of Untouchability Practices & Discrimination
These statistics are taken from a survey of practices of untouchability undertaken in 565 villages in 11 major states of India. They clearly demonstrate that the inhumane and illegal practice of untouchability is still commonplace in contemporary India: In as many as 38% of government schools, Dalit children are made to sit separately while eating. In 20 percent schools, Dalits children are not even permitted to drink water from the same source. A shocking 27.6% of Dalits were prevented from entering police stations and 25.7% from entering ration shops. 33% of public health workers refused to visit Dalit homes, and 23.5% of Dalits still do not get letters delivered in their homes. Segregated seating for Dalits was found in 30.8% of self-help groups and cooperatives, and 29.6% of panchayat offices. In 14.4% of villages, Dalits were not permitted even to enter the panchayat building. In 12% of villages surveyed, Dalits were denied access to polling booths, or forced to form a separate line. In 48.4% of surveyed villages, Dalits were denied access to common water sources. In 35.8%, Dalits were denied entry into village shops. They had to wait at some distance from the shop, the shopkeepers kept the goods they bought on the ground, and accepted their money similarly without direct contact. In teashops, again in about one-third of the villages, Dalits were denied seating and had to use separate cups. In as many as 73% of the villages, Dalits were not permitted to enter non-Dalit homes, and in 70% of villages non-Dalits would not eat together with Dalits. In more than 47% villages, bans operated on wedding processions on public (arrogated as upper-caste) roads. In 10 to 20% of villages, Dalits were not allowed even to wear clean, bright or fashionable clothes or sunglasses. They could not ride their bicycles, unfurl their umbrellas, wear sandals on public roads, smoke or even stand without head bowed. Restrictions on temple entry by Dalits average as high as 64%, ranging from 47 % in UP to 94% in Karnataka. In 48.9% of the surveyed villages, Dalits were barred from access to cremation grounds. In 25% of the villages, Dalits were paid lower wages than other workers. They were also subjected to much longer working hours, delayed wages, verbal and even physical abuse, not just in ‘feudal’ states like Bihar but also notably in Punjab. In 37% of the villages, Dalit workers were paid wages from a distance, to avoid physical contact. In 35% of villages, Dalit producers were barred from selling their produce in local markets. Instead they were forced to sell in the anonymity of distant urban markets where caste identities blur, imposing additional burdens of costs and time, and reducing their profit margin and competitiveness.
Analogous Systems of Discrimination in Other Countries
Caste and analogous systems of social hierarchy operate across the world, particularly in Asia and Africa, subjecting millions to inhuman treatment on the basis of being born into a certain caste or similar social group. Though the communities themselves may be indistinguishable in appearance from others, unlike with race or ethnicity, socio-economic disparities are glaring, as are the peculiar forms of discrimination practiced against them. It is approximated that around 250 – 300 million people across the world suffer from caste, or work and descent based discrimination, a form of discrimination that impinges on their civil, political, religious, socio-economic and cultural rights. Common features seen in caste and analogous systems across the world include the following: (a) Physical segregation; (b) Social segregation, including prohibition on inter-marriages between caste groups; (c) Assignment of traditional occupations, often being occupations associated with death or filth, coupled with restrictions on occupational mobility; (d) Pervasive debt bondage due to poor remuneration for lower-caste occupations; (e) High levels of illiteracy, poverty and landlessness as compared to so-called higher castes; (f) Impunity for perpetrators of crimes against low-caste communities; (g) Use of degrading language to describe low-caste communities, based on notions of purity and pollution, filth and cleanliness; and (h) Double or triple discrimination against and exploitation of women of low castes on the basis of sex, class and caste. Below is a list of some communities in other countries around the world facing discrimination due to caste or some analogous social hierarchical system: Bangladesh: Methor community (traditionally sweepers and manual scavengers) Burkina Faso: Bellah community (traditionally slaves, unpaid manual laborers, to other caste ‘owners’) Japan: Buraku community (at the bottom of the Japanese class system; traditionally viewed as filthy and/or non-human) Kenya: Watta community (traditionally considered low, worthless, and consigned to a life of servitude from birth) Mauritania: Haratin community (these ‘black moors’ are considered slaves to the Bidan, or ‘white moors’, in Mauritanian society) Nepal: Dalit community (situation is essentially the same as that of Dalits in India) Nigeria: Osu community (traditionally the Osu people are ‘owned’ by deities and considered as outcaste, untouchable, and sub-human) Pakistan: Dalit community (like Dalits in India except in Muslim society there is no concept of ritual pollution; concepts of privilege and shame used instead) Rwanda: Twa community (at bottom of social hierarchy with no legal protections from discrimination and no representation in positions of power/authority) Senegal: Neeno & Nyamakalaw communities (largely blacksmiths and leatherworkers, they are considered impure and face explicit segregation and exclusion) Somalia: Midgan community (minority outcaste group facing violence, refusal of rights, and possessing no legal protections) Sri Lanka: Rodi/Rodiya & Pallar/Paraiyar communities (these groups face discrimination in employment, practices of social distance, and denial of access to resources) Source:NCDHR
Links to Dalit-related Human Rights Organisations Web-media, & Key Dalit (Legal) Reference Documents
Indian Institute of Dalit Studies (IIDS) - http://www.dalitstudies.org.in/ Delhi-based Dalit studies research institute established in 2002 to address the need for knowledge pertaining to issues of social exclusion and discrimination associated with caste, untouchability, ethnicity, and religious status. IIDS aims especially (a) to provide knowledge support to Dalit and other NGOS, (b) to produce research enabling the development of appropriate government policies for social inclusion and (c) to serve as a resource center for researchers, activists, and others.
Dalit Foundation – www.dalitfoundation.org/ The Dalit Foundation is a registered trust under Indian charity law. The Foundation was established in 2003 and is the first grant-making agency in South Asia whose mission, vision and program objectives focus exclusively on social change and justice for Dalit communities. The Foundation supports individuals, small community-based organizations, and networks that work to secure social change and protect the rights of Dalits in South Asia.
Dalit Solidarity Network – www.dsn-uk.org Based in the United Kingdom, DSN-UK is part of an international network campaigning for recognition of the problem of caste discrimination and action for its eradication. DSN lobbies, campaigns and educates politicians, development agencies, the media, companies and the public about caste and how they can take action to end this human rights scandal. DSN-UK started in 1998 as a network of individuals, groups, movements and agencies working in solidarity with Dalit communities in India .
International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) - http://www.idsn.org/ Formed in 2000, the IDSN is a network of international organizations, national solidarity networks and affected country groups, campaigning against caste-based discrimination throughout the world, from the Dalits of South Asia to the Osu of Nigeria and the Burakumin of Japan. The IDSN is based in Denmark and directs their advocacy and lobbying work especially towards the United Nations and European Union.
FORUM-ASIA (Asian Forum for Human Rights & Development) - http://www.forum-asia.org/ Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a membership-based regional human rights organization in Asia (headquartered in Bangkok, Thailand) and presently, it has 40 member organizations (including NCDHR) in 15 countries in Asia. Since 2004, FORUM-ASIA has been an “NGO in Consultative Status” with the UN. FORUM-ASIA strives to empower people by advocating social justice, sustainable human development, participatory democracy, gender equality, peace and human security through collaboration and cooperation among human rights organizations in the region.
Human Rights Watch – www.hrw.org Leading international NGO dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the globe. Have done a great deal of excellent human rights work on the situation of Dalits in South Asia.
Social Watch India - http://www.socialwatchindia.net/ Social Watch India is a New Delhi-based is a broad based network of civil society organizations, citizens and communities to build a process of monitoring governance towards professed goals of social development, particularly with respect to the marginalized sections of our country. Its focus is to monitor the functioning and efficiency of the key institutions of governance and their commitment towards citizens and principles of democracy.
Navsarjan - http://www.navsarjan.org/home.asp NGO based in Gujarat which has run successful state-level campaigns on the issues of Banning Manual Scavenging & Rehabilitating Scavengers, Drinking Water for Dalits, Implementation of Land Reforms, Implementation of Minimum Wage for Farm Workers, and Implementation of the Atrocity Act.
Dalit NGO Federation (DNF) of Nepal – http://www.dnfnepal.org/ Established in 1996, DNF is an umbrella organization of all Dalit NGOs in Nepal. It is a national forum for raising the collective voices of the Dalit community to ensure their rights, dignity and opportunity through policy influencing, networking and alliance building.
Ambedkar Center for Justice and Peace (ACJP) - http://www.ambedkar.net/default.aspx The ACJP is a United States-based global volunteer charity organization with its global headquarters at Tunkhannock, Pennslyvania, USA. Their aim aim is to follow the path of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in working to liberate Dalits through social work and human rights education so that they can lead their lives with dignity and develop into citizens who can make maj
Dalit Freedom SAKSHI Human Rights Watch - http://www.sakshiap.org/ NGO based in Andhra Pradesh doing excellent work on Dalit Human Rights
Network (DFN) – http://www.dalitnetwork.org/ United States (Colorado) based NGO, founded in 2003, with a presence throughout India, working mainly at the village level (especially on children’s education) and maintaining close ties with the All India Christian Council.
OneWorld South Asia - http://southasia.oneworld.net/ OneWorld South Asia provides media support to bring together a network of people and groups working for human rights and sustainable development across the globe.
Bihar Human Rights Commission - http://bhrc.bih.nic.in/ The Protection of Human Rights Act 1993, an Act of the Parliament, provides for establishment of the National Human Rights Commission at the national level and State Human Rights Commissions at the state level.
In the State of Bihar, the State Human Rights Commission was established on 3rd-Jan-2000 vide Notification No. 207. However, the Commission was formally constituted vide notification no. 6896 on 25.6.2008 when Shri Justice S.N. Jha, a former Chief Justice of the Jammu & Kashmir and Rajasthan High Courts was appointed as Chairperson and Shri Justice Rajendra Prasad, a former Judge of the Patna High Court and Shri R.R. Prasad, a former Director General of Police, Bihar were appointed as members with effect from the date they assume charge of this office.
MISCELLANEOUS DALIT RESOURCES
National Geographic Magazine Issue on “Untouchables” – http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0306/feature1/index.html This site contains great photos as well as links to Video & Multimedia presentations on Dalit issues. Human Rights Watch Report: Hidden Apartheid: Caste Discrimination Against India’s “Untouchables” http://www.hrw.org/reports/2007/india0207/ Broken People: Caste Violence Against India’s Untouchables – http://hrw.org/reports/1999/india/index.htm Perhaps the best book-length introduction to the ground-reality of the issues, violence, and discrimination presently faced by Dalits in India. Dalit-Related Videos Available on the Web: “I’m Dalit, how are you?” (11min) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBxy1R0jitM “The Untouchables – India” (9min) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_XUqieobFc&NR=1 or contributions to the development of India
KEY OFFICIAL LEGAL DOCUMENTS for the DALIT MOVEMENT
Relevant Articles of Indian Constitution - http://hrw.org/reports/1999/india/India994-15.htm Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 - http://hrw.org/reports/1999/india/India994-16.htm Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995 - http://hrw.org/reports/1999/india/India994-18.htm