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Caste Discrimination Among the Victims of the Earthquake

This is the headline carrried out by many major networks and papers in India and around the world. We all sympathised with the victims of the earthquake in Gujarat. The world communites came together to wipe out the tears of the people of Gujarat. Indians in India and around the globe came forward to help their own people to offer them relief and comfort. Many international organizations have been very generous in helping India in dealing with this natural tragedy. We still love our people and would like to continue our support and help in everyway we can. Inspite of all these monumental help to the people of Gujarat, we are shocked to hear what happens among those people even in this most tragic time. Major networks and news papers have brought disturbing facts about the situation there. It is reported that people continue exercise caste distinictions among the victims even at this painful time. Here are some reports:

BBC Report:

By the BBC's Naresh Puri

Low caste Hindus and Sikhs in Britain are withholding money raised for survivors of the Gujurat earthquake because they say their people in India are not receiving help due to their status in Indian society. Twenty-two temples associated with the so-called Dalits are boycotting the main charitable appeals claiming their people are starving while high caste Hindus are getting most of the aid. The boycott follows reports that the Dalits are being refused food and shelter because they are considered "untouchables". "Some of the high castes say we are the lowest of the low because we are at the bottom of the caste system," said Gurmel Singh Chambers, the President of the Guru Ravidass UK - an umbrella group for low caste temples. 22 temples are boycotting the main appeals "We are still regarded as the untouchables even though it's illegal under Indian law to discriminate against Dalits. "We have heard about many cases of discrimination, in one village in Gujurat a food tent was set up and the high castes ate as much as they could and they refused to hand over even the leftovers to the Dalits who hadn't eaten for four days." Guru Ravidass UK has already raised 30,000 and has handed the money over to charity but now the temples are holding on to thousands more because aid is not reaching some of their people. It's not just Dalits who are suffering, Muslims are complaining of the same prejudice. Zafar Sareshwala an Indian businessmen from Gujurat has been highlighting the plight of his people. We have come across so many Muslims who have been refused food and shelter Zafar Sareshwala, Indian businessmen from Gujurat He said: "My family is involved in the relief efforts and we have come across so many Muslims who have been refused food and shelter. "In some cases Muslims have been told that if they recite Hindu scriptures then they can have some food. This is terrible everybody must be united we have all suffered." Targeted relief efforts The alleged discrimination concerns Action Aid, one of the organisations involved in helping the survivors of Gujurat. Salil Shetty, chief executive of Action Aid, said: " We are targeting our relief efforts at the Dalit community because of the reports of discrimination. "It's been confirmed that the higher castes are receiving more of the aid than the lower castes." The Indian authorities have said that there are only a few cases of Dalits being refused food and shelter. "We are calling for unity, we will not tolerate discrimination," said Navdeep Suri, spokesman for the Indian High Commission in London. "We must remember that there have been many stories of Hindus and Muslims donating blood for each other and people irrespective of caste or religion are helping to rebuild mosques and temples," he said. But the Dalits are not convinced. Gurmel Singh Chambers said: "We will try and find one of our own organisations in India which will distribute the money that we have raised, it will go to our people."

News from CNN, Associated Press

Caste marks survive India's killer quake

There's one structure that can't be shaken in India, even by a killer earthquake -- the caste system. While the body count continues and the country begins a national census, traditions remain. The town of Lakhond has six distinct tent camps for the earthquake homeless, all separated by caste or religion. The needs are overwhelming. The quake killed more than 17,000 and left behind 1 million homeless, according to a United Nations estimate. More than 60,000 were injured and survivors are in need of medical care, food, water and shelter. Yet when relief groups showed up to hand out aid, town leaders presented them with six lists of residents: four different Hindu castes, the untouchables -- lower even than the formal caste system -- and Muslims. All the camps are separate. Relief effort a challenge With the pattern repeated across the zone in western India ravaged by the January 26 quake, relief groups find themselves wrestling with the country's ingrained social hierarchy to get help to everybody -- even untouchables. "The whole issue of making sure all the castes are included has been a challenge," Graham Saunders of Catholic Relief Services said Wednesday as workers handed out buckets, soap and other aid to people in the town. Officially, India's traditional caste system -- a social hierarchy with Brahmans at the top and the so-called "untouchables" at the bottom -- has been illegal for decades, and discriminating against someone on the basis of caste in employment and housing, for example, can wind up in court. Unofficially, however, the social order in the countryside remains strong, determining how most people live, with whom they marry and socialize. So while modernization and urbanization have blurred the lines between castes somewhat in the cities, in places like the quake-damaged villages of Gujarat the divisions are clear, and greatly complicate the already enormous challenges of getting relief to victims.

Hierarchy hampers distribution

In the aftermath of the disaster, necessities are scarce and everyone is desperate for help. Those at the top of the pecking order use their connections and prestige to get the pick of the goods. "Whatever the distribution of aid, it first goes to the upper castes," said Mayuri Mistry, a Catholic Relief Services worker in Gujarat. The social hierarchy is only one of the problems with aid distribution. There have been complaints in the quake zone that political connections are playing a big role in determining who gets help. The French group Medicins sans Frontiers has a cultural anthropologist in Bhuj, near the epicenter, to coach workers on how to navigate the region's social landscape. "Indian villages look like a mess, but you know by the house what caste lives there," said Pilar Duch. "You cannot think that a village is homogeneous. If you don't know that, you can make a mistake."

Indian Express,Thursday, February 8, 2001

Quake can't shake caste system

The streets are strewn with rubble and house after house is a useless heap of stone. But there's one structure that can't be shaken in India, even by a killer earthquake - the caste system. The town has six distinct tent camps for the earthquake homeless - all separated by caste or religion. When relief groups showed up to hand out aid, town leaders presented them with six lists of residents: four different Hindu castes, the untouchables - lower even than the formal caste system - and Muslims. All the camps are separate. With the pattern repeated across the zone in western India ravaged by the Jan. 26 quake, relief groups find themselves wrestling with the country's ingrained social hierarchy to get help to everybody - even untouchables. "The whole issue of making sure all the castes are included has been a challenge,'' Graham Saunders of Catholic Relief Services said Wednesday as workers handed out buckets, soap and other aid to people in the town. Officially, India's traditional caste system - a social hierarchy with Brahmans at the top and the so-called "untouchables'' at the bottom - has been illegal for decades, and discriminating against someone on the basis of caste in employment and housing, for example, can wind up in court. Unofficially, however, the social order in the countryside remains strong, determining how most people live, with whom they marry and socialize. So while modernization and urbanization have blurred the lines between castes somewhat in the cities, in places like the quake-damaged villages of Gujarat the divisions are clear, and greatly complicate the already enormous challenges of getting relief to victims. In the aftermath of the disaster, necessities are scarce and everyone is desperate for help. Those at the top of the pecking order use their connections and prestige to get the pick of the goods. "Whatever the distribution of aid, it first goes to the upper castes,'' said Mayuri Mistry, a Catholic Relief Services worker in Gujarat. The social hierarchy is only one of the problems with aid distribution. There have been complaints in the quake zone that political connections are playing a big role in determining who gets help. The needs are overwhelming. The 7.7-magnitude quake killed more than 17,000 and left behind 1 million homeless, according to a United Nations estimate. More than 60,000 were injured and survivors are in need of medical care, food, water and shelter. The French group Doctors without Borders has a cultural anthropologist in Bhuj, near the epicenter, to coach workers on how to navigate the region's social landscape. "Indian villages look like a mess, but you know by the house what caste lives there,'' said Pilar Duch. "You cannot think that a village is homogeneous. If you don't know that, you can make a mistake.'' Her colleague Olaf Pots spent the day Wednesday moving from village to village northeast of Bhuj, assessing needs and handing out blankets, tarps for tents and water buckets. But it was more than just a matter of dropping piles of aid off at each village and moving on. First he met with village leaders and figured out how many people lived in the town and what castes were represented. Then came the hard part: deciding whether to hand over the goods to the top man in the village, distribute them among the leaders of the various castes in the town, or simply go door to door to make sure everyone got their share. In Gada, a hilltop hamlet, Pots had a lengthy negotiation with village elders, peppering them with questions about the castes there and wringing from them guarantees that they would distribute the aid fairly. A key to success is making sure there is enough to cover everyone in a village, so there is no fighting over short supplies. For example, the sub-chief of Gada, Jiva Manda Rabari, assured Pots that he would see that the village's four untouchable families would get their share - provided supplies were sufficient. "You have to give us enough if you want them to get something,'' he said, adding that he would turn away deliveries that could not provide everyone with some relief. In some towns, international organizations rely on local groups to police distribution. In nearby Traya, Pots struck a deal with the village elders to let a member of a local women's development group supervise the handing out of blankets, tarps and water bottles. In Lakhond, the leader of the untouchables there, Ramesh Kumar Hamirbhai, said he had no major problems with the distribution of aid so far, though he said the tradition of separating aid deliveries by caste caused unnecessary complications. He said he preferred the way some international groups were operating, by gathering everybody in one place and handing out relief one person at a time. "This is the best system,'' he said. "This way, each and every person gets help.'' AP

Reflection:

The whole world is extending love, comfort, support and healing to the victims but the Indians show contempt, discrimination to their own people by discriminating the dalits and other lower caste people.

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