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