GP Connect & Global Peace Foundation through its Service and Development Initiatives, including community drive development as one of the effective approaches to addressing critical social issues, endeavours to achieve cultural harmony and peace. To achieve the principle of ‘All humankind is ‘One Family Under God’, it becomes essential to address such social evils, which disgrace the nature’s principle of human dignity.
One such social evil, which mars human existence, is the caste system- a rigid system of social stratification and social restriction based on one’s birth community. Dalits, meaning the ‘broken people’, inherit an outcast position in the four-fold social hierarchy, and therefore, considered ‘Untouchables’. They are called the untouchables as they are assigned the menial tasks which the so called dominant caste groups would detest, such as manual scavenging, i.e. clearing of human excreta with bare hands or jobs of sweepers, cobblers, barbers and rag pickers etcetera.
Even within this rigid caste system, Dalit women find themselves further down, subjected to marginalisation and exclusion from a dignified existence. There’s is a saga, penned by many, yet lived only by them. They are victims of gender based violence and caste based discrimination and violence, both. The misogynist strands to the caste system are carefully interwoven.
During a work visit to Bijapur district in Karnataka state of India, I met with a few women who are engaged with our work as community volunteers. Amidst the discussions, work planning and update, something struck me profoundly, increasing my curiosity to know more about those two women in the group, who very courageously disclosed that they were ‘Devadasis’ (similar to courtesan), hailing from the so called outcaste Dalit community. Unfortunately, the language barrier between us curtailed my ability to interact much with them.
ERADICATE THE DEVADASI SYSTEM
Devadasi, as the term implies, means ‘Servants of God’. Though traditionally under the system the devadasis (girls dedicated to deity) were meant to take care of the temple and perform rituals, additionally, perform dances as part of worship, the tradition was misogynist, and caste ridden, as in a big way, Dalit women were dedicated to the temples. With time, and with efforts of social reformers and activists, the practice was outlawed in the whole of India in 1988, on the ground that it supported prostitution. However, the practice is still existent in different parts of the country and in (North) Karnataka, where it was made illegal in law book way back in 1982.
I learned from the women that these devadasis survived on ‘Bhiksha’ (Alms). The priests, in the name of family prosperity, advised these Dalit families to dedicate the girl child to the temple. Once a devadasi, the mainstream society doesn’t much feel appropriate to interact with them. Their life is one of social stigmatisation, loneliness, self exclusion and marginalisation. They are not deemed fit for socially acceptable marriage alliances, and some gave birth to children out of wedlock, thus more number of unwed mothers, susceptible to immoral human trafficking. Amidst this, they came forward to accept to work as community volunteers was a valiant step.
This system, by itself, is a perfect prototype of the casteist and misogynist tradition, where those at the lower rung of the social hierarchy have to pay the price, and to be precise, Dalit girls, whose misfortune is decided at the hands of the dominant caste men or Brahmins (the priests/priestly class).
ANNIHILATE CASTE- MAKE GOVERNMENTS ACCOUNTABLE TO HUMAN RIGHTS OBLIGATIONS
Examples of caste discrimination exist across the globe including in Nigeria, Senegal, Mauritania, Yemen and Japan, and South Asia with 260 million reportedly affected worldwide (Caste discrimination: A global concern, Human Rights Watch report 2001).The same is reported widely now in the continents of the UK with Indian emigrants increasing in number. Caste-based discrimination is proactively recognised by the United Nations as Discrimination based on Work and Descent.
It is here that organisations like GP Connect & GPF could try to build international movement involving all sectors of society, governments, civil society groups and other likeminded peoples to promote the unity of the human family on every level. Dalit women’s emancipation can follow only after she is respected for being a human, a woman, protected against caste and other dehumanising traditions. GPF holds a potential of holding regional discourses on the same in caste affected countries, to bring about international pressure on the governments of these countries to institute proactive systems and law enforcement mechanisms to uproot the clandestine practise of devadasi, while bringing about changes in the thought processes would certainly take time.
Would like to end with a quote of President Obama on caste in November 2010, while in India, in his address to the Indian parliament:
"No matter who you are or where you come from… every person deserves the same chance to live in security and dignity".
"I am an ever optimistic and vibrant development professional, working for human rights of the marginalised sections in India, since 2006. I am based in the country's capital, and my work takes me to far flung regions of India, which gives me an opportunity to unmask the real picture on human rights violations of the poor and vulnerable communities. Besides working and writing for humanitarian causes, I am an ardent faith follower, a lover of God, and my perspectives on humanity are founded on this spiritual aspect of me. I focus my energy, each moment, to introspect and become a better human being. The principle I dwell on is, 'Spread Love and Hope to Humanity' regardless of differences and difficulties!" Lee Macqueen Paul