Saturday, April 5, 2008

FFDA submits alternate report to UN ESCR on DNTs

FFDA submitted its alternate report to UN Committee on Economic Social Cultural Rights along with other alliance partners.

The full text of the report can be downloaded from FFDA and UN

Friday, February 15, 2008

Starving ‘Gangsters’

In a state administered by a Dalit, the most oppressed of the Dalits have been arrested under the Gangsters Act, says VB RAWAT

THE UTTAR PRADESH Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act is one of the most potent weapons in the arsenal of the state police. Strangely, three Dalit activists of the Musahar community — Ram Chander, Prasad and Kailash — were arrested under this Act on January 27, 2008. They were members of the Social Development Foundation. The charge was that they were caught “redhanded” brewing illicit liquor. The police claimed to have recovered three drums of illicit liquor from the Malwabar Musahar colony in Baghauchghat village, Deoria district.
Extreme impoverishment forces the Musahars — a community that has unfortunately come to be known as the “rat-eaters” — to resort to become labourers in this trade. However, the illicit liquor trade is not managed by the poor Dalit labourers but by the influential brick-kiln owners who wield political clout. Many Musahar families are bonded labourers at brick kilns and are forced into brewing liquor by their masters. The traditional occupation of the Musahars was hunting out rats from burrows in the fields. In return, they were allowed to keep the grain and chaff recovered from the holes. In times of scarcity, the Musahars would resort to eating rats. Why is the Gangsters Act being invoked against the most discriminated among the discriminated? That it happens in a state governed by BSP leader and Dalit icon Mayawati makes a mockery of democracy.
In June 2007, passing through this Musahar basti, I found that more than 200 children in the village had no access to either formal or informal education. Electricity poles had been erected here more than 10 years ago, but the village remains in the dark. The community owned no land. During the colonial period, the police would arrest them for petty thefts and they were listed as a Criminal Tribe. Despite denotification, the police mindset has not changed and they treat Musahars as criminals. Even the administration continues to use Musahars for unpaid work.
With no job opportunities, Musahars do not have the numbers to influence the political climate of their village, leave alone the state. Their “votes” have rarely mattered. Members of the community have also not been receiving any benefit from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).
The Social Development Foundation started an informal school in the area last year. More than 225 children attend the school, including some older girls who have been abandoned by their husbands. During summers, one could see even children of the community asking for toddy. Seeing their enthusiasm for education and their subhuman conditions, an NGO, MCKS Food for the Hungry Foundation, decided to provide a mid-day meal to the children in SDF’s informal school. This scheme is being run by the elders in the Musahar community and women help in the cooking and feeding. The Musahar children remain hungry in spite of the world’s largest feeding programme for schoolchildren. Often the mid-day meal offered in the school is the only meal that the Musahar children get to eat all day.
It was at this juncture — when the SDF began changing the situation with the active participation of village elders — that news of the arrest came in. Ramrati, an elderly widow, had been mobilising the community to give up making illicit liquor. Participating in many SDF programmes, Ramrati was keen to ensure the children studied and moved ahead.
HER HAPPINESS was short-lived, since the police arrested her only son Ram Chander, aged 45. Ram Chander has four children aged eight, five, three and two. He was a day labourer and his family was dependent on him. The other person arrested was Prasad, aged 20, also the sole breadwinner of his family of a mother, two children and a wife. The third arrested, Kailash, 28, is similarly placed. The fact that Musahar children were seeking to move out of traditional occupations forced upon them was not acceptable to the local administration. The men of the community are constantly lured back to brew illicit liquor.
It is obvious that the Musahars do not have the resources to brew illicit liquor for sale. Most Musahars do not even have a small hut to live in. While governments across the country are inviting liquor companies to invest in their states, the Musahars have been branded gangsters for no fault of theirs.

Source: The Tehelka

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Friday, January 11, 2008

Christmas Gift for the Homeless

Thursday, 20 December 2007, 9:50 am

One of the world’s most persecuted indigenous tribes will receive nearly one thousand pieces of Kiwi clothing for Christmas.
For over eighty years under British rule in India, the entire Pardhi tribe were classified ‘criminal’ based on anecdotal evidence from corrupt police. Despite removing the label in the 1950s, Pardhi still face widespread discrimination and harassment by authorities.
Today, around 60,000 Pardhi live on the streets in Mumbai. Less than two per cent are literate and nearly one in five is a child beggar.

Sister Rosamma says that despite working with the destitute for over 25 years, the Pardhi are her toughest challenge yet.
“Years of oppression by the government has resulted in thousands of homeless. The caste system in India means that Pardhi are not allowed to attend school, own land, and if they are dying, you can’t call an ambulance. With no running water or toilet facilities for the homeless, it’s not surprising that most Pardhi suffer from extremely poor health. They give birth on polluted pavements and after a lifetime of begging and struggling, most of them die on the streets.
Sister Rosamma started the Tejaswi Trust in Mumbai five years ago to raise money for street-schools for the Pardhi children.
“We started off by holding informal street-based classes near Pardhi street-communities and the children love it. It gives them a chance to learn the alphabet, sing songs, draw, and paint but also gives them a chance to be listened to, which in a harsh environment is very important.”
JK Kids Clothing founder Ben Sproat was delighted to help Sister Rosamma by giving her nearly $15,000 worth of clothing to take back to Mumbai.

“Every year we donate hundreds of pieces of clothing to local organisations but this was the first time we’d had a request from an international charity. We were just in the process of clearing out our stock rooms so it was perfect timing.”
Sister Rosamma says the clothing will go to the local missions that she begs into housing her Pardhi street kids.
“It’s hard enough finding places for the children to live, let alone money to feed them, so to receive such beautiful clothing for the children is truly amazing. This Christmas present will mean so much to the families and orphans that have nothing.”
Pardhi Tribe Background
In 1871, the British passed the Criminal Tribes Act, meaning that just being born into the Pardhi Tribe made you a criminal. Police were given sweeping powers to arrest them and watch over their movements.
The British felt that branding tribes criminal was the only way to guarantee ‘public peace’ and made their decisions based on anecdotal evidence from police. By the late nineteenth century, these so-called criminal tribes became convenient scapegoats. By acting against them, the state could keep up the pretence of law enforcement, even if a lot more crime occurred and remained unpunished.
Unfortunately, negative attitudes towards Pardhi have long outlived the British administration in India, even though a newly independent India repealed the Criminal Tribes Act in 1952. Pardhis continue to be referred to as criminal by government officials and reporters. The police continue to round them up every time there is a crime in the area and too often police harassment results in death.
Without doubt, there are Pardhis who commit crimes. In fact, part of the blame lies in the fact that years of oppression mean that simply having a normal life is just not an option. Many Pardhis say that local schools do not allow their children to attend classes. If they do manage to get into a school and graduate, jobs are almost impossible to get. For Pardhis there is little hope they will ever be seen as ordinary Indians.

Source: Scoop Independent News