Indian Dalit caste members go on hunger strike at WCAR

Durban- South Africa (PANA) -- Members of the Indian Dalit "untouchable" caste on Thursday announced that they have embarked on a hunger strike at the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) to ensure their concerns are addressed in the final conference declaration.
A group of about 50 Dalits held a protest march outside the Durban Convention Centre where they expressed concern that the Indian government would attempt to block a paragraph in the declaration calling on all states to eliminate discrimination based on work and descent.
Group spokesman Vincent Manohran, said he was concerned because work on the contentious paragraph had been repeatedly delayed in working group sessions.
"We are untouchables in our own country - we refuse be untouchables at this conference as well," Manohran said.
On Wednesday, a Dalit, Murugesen Manimegalai, told the conference that her husband was elected President of the Village Council in Melevalavu, but members of the upper castes said he wouldn't last six months because of his caste.
After six months in office, he and seven other Dali men were separated from the non-Dalits and brutally murdered on a bus.
Witnesses feared coming forward with information and the police claimed that the men responsible disappeared.
Only after three years of protests by Dalits were the men arrested.
Manimegalai was left destitute, and widowed, along with the wives of the other Dalit men.
While the government of India has put in place a legal framework to protect Dalit rights, the discrimination against them remains a cultural reality.
There are more than 145 million Dalits in India, comprising 15.
8 percent of the population.
Dalits often live in divided villages, separate from areas occupied by higher castes.
They may not use the same wells, visit the same temples and churches, drink from the same cups in tea stalls, or claim land is legally theirs.
More than 100 000 cases of rape, murder, arson, and other atrocities against Dalist are reported in India each year.
The sexual slavery of Dalit girls and women continues to receive religious sanction.
Dalit girls in India's southern states are ceremonially dedicated or married to a deity or temple.
Once dedicated, they are unable to marry, forced to become prostitutes for upper- castes and are eventually auctioned into urban brothels.
Officially, one million Dalits are manual scavengers who clear faeces from public and private latrines and dispose of dead animals.
Unofficial estimates are much higher.

06 سبتمبر 2001 17:11:00

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