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India's untouchables being denied flood relief, say aid agencies PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 03 September 2008

Dalits, the untouchables at the bottom of Hindu caste system, are the last to be rescued and are getting the smallest rations in the aftermath of the floods in north India, say aid agencies working in the inundated villages, reports The Guardian.

The lowest castes, who generally eke out a living on the fringes of Indian society, are said to be suffering "relief discrimination". Hundreds of thousands of people are huddling in relief camps after the Kosi river changed course in Bihar and swamped hundreds of square miles.

"We have seen that in districts such Supaul and Madhepura that boats out rescuing people either take the lowest castes last or do not take them at all," said Anuradha Maharishi of Save the Children.
 
"We have also recorded instances where (dalits) are not getting enough to eat. At the same time we have seen higher castes being rescued and getting supplies. It is unacceptable but a fact out there."
 
In one camp, it was reported that a dalit man was rescued by boat because he was the village headman, but his wife and four children were left behind despite promises to the contrary.
 
"It's been six days and since then no boat has come from the village," Mohan Parwan told Associated Press. Another group of dalits said rescuers were saving the upper castes and the rich first, leaving the lower castes to suffer without food and clean water.
 
When India created its constitution in 1950, "untouchability" was made illegal. But experts say it remains a degrading part of everyday life in Indian villages where the complex caste system remains all-pervasive.
 
Dalits in rural areas are often bullied and assigned menial jobs such as manual scavenging, removing human waste and taking away dead animals. There are frequent reports of untouchables being barred from temples, or being beaten for transgressing the social order.
 
"In the past, dalits would not even have been rescued," said Chandra Bhan Prasad, the only dalit columnist in the Delhi press. "They would have been left behind. In fact the cattle would have been taken and the dalits left … Bihar is a really backward place, an almost tribal area in these rural places. So it's no surprise."

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