Marginal­ized Mi­nori­ties

In South Asia, so­cial ex­clu­sion has re­stricted many gen­er­a­tions of peo­ple to pre-de­fined, low or ‘pol­lut­ing’ pro­fes­sions, deny­ing them even their ba­sic rights.

Southasia - - Equality & Justice - By Manam Iqbal

The prac­tice of de­lib­er­ately keep­ing cer­tain eth­nic and re­li­gious mi­nori­ties at the bot­tom rung of so­ci­ety is com­mon­place in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. But the first world too is en­snared in this sub­tle but per­ni­cious prac­tice of dis­crim­i­na­tion. In the United States, for in­stance, many African Amer­i­cans con­tin­ued to face so­cial and eco­nomic re­pres­sion un­til re­cently.

In Europe, the Roma and other semi-no­madic groups that pre-date modern na­tion states, find them­selves dis­trusted and so­cially ex­cluded. In modern Ja­pan and in South Korea, the descen­dants of cer­tain fam­i­lies who his­tor­i­cally held ‘un­clean’ oc­cu­pa­tions re­main a stig­ma­tized group.

In the South Asian coun­tries, on sim­i­lar lines, the sys­tem of castes has en­slaved many gen­er­a­tions of peo­ple to pre-de­fined, low or ‘pol­lut­ing’ pro­fes­sions, deny­ing them even their most ba­sic rights; one of the most fun­da­men­tal of them be­ing the right to live with dig­nity.

In­dia has prac­ticed a sys­tem of castes or ‘varna’ since cen­turies with four main var­nas be­ing Brah­mins or priests, the Vaishyas or rulers, Kasha­triyas or trades­men and crafts­men and Shu­dras or those who serve as ser­vants of the above classes. Then there are the Dal­its. These peo­ple are not a part of these four var­nas and are thus lit­er­ally out­casts. Dalit is a term which has be­come syn­ony­mous with op­pres­sion. More than 90% of them are as­so­ci­ated with pro­fes­sions so low that they are deemed as ‘un­touch­ables.’

Un­touch­a­bil­ity, in modern un­der­stand­ing, has be­come more of a so­cial phe­nom­e­non than a phys­i­cal one. Although modern con­sti­tu­tions and le­gal codes of to­day are said to out­law the more vi­o­lent forms of so­cial ex­clu­sion, a ran­dom sam­pling of head­lines in main­stream In­dian news­pa­pers tell the Dalit story; “Dalit boy beaten to death for pluck­ing flow­ers”, “Dalit tor­tured by cops for three days”, “Dalit ‘witch’ pa­raded naked in Bi­har”, “Dalit killed in lock-up at Kurnool”, “7 Dal­its burnt alive in caste clash”, “5 Dal­its lynched in Haryana”, “Dalit wo­man gan­graped, pa­raded naked”, “Po­lice egged on mob to lynch Dal­its.”

These Dal­its are forced to work as man­ual scav­engers and clean­ers, with the govern­ment of­ten com­plicit in the sta­tus quo of their com­mu­nity.

A study un­der­taken in ur­ban In­dia by Sukhadeo Tho­rat and Paul At­tewell in 2007 called ‘ The Legacy of So­cial Ex­clu­sion’ sheds light on the ram­pant bias in the job mar­ket as well. The re­search found that most em­ploy­ers pre­ferred hir­ing a high caste Hindu rather than a Dalit for va­can­cies when both can­di­dates had the same qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

This is de­spite the fact that the In­dian con­sti­tu­tion banned the caste sys­tem in 1950; but the coun­try still has many ar­dent fol­low­ers.

In or­der to gain re­li­gious eman­ci­pa­tion and so­cial ac­cep­tance, many Dal­its con­verted to Chris­tian­ity at the be­gin­ning of the 19th cen­tury. Most, how­ever, could not get an ed­u­ca­tion or change their so­cial stand­ing. Like the Dal­its of In­dia, Chris­tians in Pak­istan are “on the front­line of the per­se­cu­tion and vi­o­lence against mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties” ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port by the Jin­nah In­sti­tute.

Due to marginal­iza­tion and a lack of op­por­tu­ni­ties, Chris­tians in Pak­istan, con­cen­trated in Sindh and Pun­jab, are as­so­ci­ated with me­nial pro­fes­sions as street clean­ers or sweep­ers. In fact, more than 90% of all street clean­ers in Pak­istan are Chris­tians who make a mere 2.4% of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion of the coun­try.

Is­lam as a re­li­gion is not based on castes but due to the long his­tory of in­ter­min­gling of Mus­lims and Hin­dus in the sub-con­ti­nent, the Brah­min idea of un­touch­a­bil­ity has per­me­ated among Mus­lims of the sub-con­ti­nent as well.

‘Un­touch­ables’ have been en­slaved for long in South Asia.

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