January 11, 2005
Dalits Face Severe Discrimination in India’s Tsunami Relief Efforts
NGO and news reports from the affected areas reveal that members of the higher-caste fishing communities are barring Dalit entry into relief camps or forcibly expelling them from their only place of refuge. The government has also denied Dalits equal relief. Government officials have, for instance, refused to provide water, food and shelter alongside fishing communities in Nagapattinam district, Tamil Nadu. Registration of missing and deceased Dalits by officials hardly takes place and ex-gratia payments to the kin of deceased have not been provided. In Tarangambadi district, Tamil Nadu, camps have been segregated along caste lines as a result of this discrimination.
India’s National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) and Human Rights Forum for Dalit Liberation (HRDFL) have documented the lack of rehabilitation efforts in severely damaged and destroyed Dalit villages, including in Nagapattinam district. While restoration of drinking water, roads, and public health and communication services in the fisher community has begun, no such efforts have been initiated in Dalit areas where the debris has yet to be cleared. Campaign representatives have raised these concerns with local and state level authorities. “We demand that Government and NGOs that rehabilitation occurs in an equitable and unbiased manner and that Dalits receive their share of assistance,” says Vincent Manoharan, NDCHR General Secretary.
In addition to suffering severe discrimination, Dalit manual scavengers have been “assigned” the task of removing decaying corpses often without any protective gear such as masks, gloves or even shoes. Manual scavenging is an occupation that is exclusively performed by Dalits in India as it is deemed too “polluting” for other castes.
The National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights has now formed monitoring cells in all affected Dalit areas to monitor the actions of both the government and NGOs to ensure Dalits equal access to relief and rehabilitation. While some state and district level authorities have responded with concern, hardly any special measures have been taken to prevent systematic discrimination.
The members of the International Dalit Solidarity Network wish to express deep empathy with all the victims of the Tsunami disaster. We urge all relevant authorities, relief organisations and communities to respect Dalit rights and Dalit dignity by providing equal access, equal support and protection in relief and rehabilitation operations. Discrimination against Dalits in the aftermath of the Tsunami disaster is but one manifestation of the overall, daily disaster of caste-based discrimination. Therefore IDSN appeals to the international community to pay much more attention to this enormous human rights problem and to contribute seriously to the elimination of caste-based discrimination.
Link to appeal from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights: www.idsn.org/Tsunamiappeal.doc
and to IDSN www.idsn.org.
Vincent Manoharan, General Secretary-NCDHR; + 91 (0) 11 309 66 234, cell: + 91 (0) 11 258 63 166
Rikke Nöhrlind, Coordinator, IDSN; + 45 29 70 06 30
The International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) is a network of national solidarity networks, national advocacy groups from affected countries and international organisations* concerned about caste discrimination and similar forms of discrimination based on work and descent. IDSN brings together organisations, institutions and individuals and links grassroots priorities with international mechanisms and institutions to make an effective contribution to the elimination of caste discrimination.
* Human Rights Watch, the Lutheran World Federation, the International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, Anti-Slavery International, the Minority Rights Group, Asian Human Rights Commission, the International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs and the World Council of Churches.