Thursday, 20 February 2014

Lord Alton calls for caste discrimination to be made history

Lord David Alton has called on the international community to make caste discrimination history. Addressing an international conference in London titled Christiana responsibility to Dalits and caste discrimination, Lord Alton declared that “caste should be recognised as a root cause of trafficking, of modern day slavery and poverty and unless we raise the profile of the oppressed Dalits nothing will change.” Supported by CAFOD, Voice of Dalits International, CARJ and Migration Bishop Patrick Lynch the conference heard how Dalits make up 200 million of the Indian population (one sixth) and exist in 132 countries. Dalits also make up a sizeable number of Indians living in the UK, where discrimination was outlawed under the Equalities Act (2010). The Global Slavery Index has confirmed that around half of the world’s slaves are in India – some 13.9 million out of a global total of 29.8 million, and that most are Dalits or Tribals. In the Hindu caste system, they are regarded as subhuman—lower even than animals and left fighting a largely unknown struggle for emancipation. “Evidence points to 80-95% of bonded labourers (the vast majority of the 'modern slaves' in India) being Dalits, 99% of ritual sex slaves (the 250,000 temple prostitutes known locally as Devadasi or Jogini) being Dalits, and the majority of those trafficked into brothels or into domestic servitude being Dalits or Tribals,” said Lord Alton. “If you are a Dalit in India you are 27 times more likely to be trafficked or exploited in another form of modern slavery than anyone else.” Lord Alton revealed that it is estimated that every day three Dalit women are raped; Dalit women are often forced to sit at the back of their school classrooms, or even outside; on average every hour two Dalit houses are burnt down; every 18 minutes a crime is committed against a Dalit; each day two Dalits are murdered; 11 Dalits are beaten; many are impoverished; some half of Dalit children are under-nourished; 12 per cent die before their fifth birthday; 56 per cent of Dalit children under the age of four are malnourished; their infant mortality rate is close to 10 %; vast numbers are uneducated or illiterate; and 45% cannot read or write. The peer challenged the aid agencies to change their approach to caste. “In India you can’t make poverty history unless you make caste history. As we examine what has been achieved through the Millennium Development Goals and the plight of the global poor the professional development agencies need to take a long hard look at the way they target poverty. As they think beyond 2015 they need to listen, rather than impose, and develop a cross thematic framework for addressing the curse of the caste system,” said Lord Alton. “Some of these agencies need to radically rethink their mindset and priorities. They will be far more effective in tackling poverty if they tackle social exclusion. The churches, too, need to play a more decisive role in recognising the existence of caste and its consequences – in India but in the UK too, where 50 per cent of our estimated 1 million Dalits are considered to be poor.” Lord Alton cited education as a key way of addressing caste discrimination. “Education is still the best hope for social transformation. Once people are empowered by education, they can begin to address issues of poverty, lack of dignity, discrimination and other dehumanising attitudes,” said Lord Alton.

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