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DALIT in European Countries

                           “Aborigines of Australia, like Dalits,                               are victims of neglect”


Aborigines of Australia, like the Tribals and Dalits of India, are victims of neglect and callousness and dispossessed of their land and other means of livelihood by non-aboriginals. The community, especially the children, is in the midst of major problems, according to Howard Bath, Children's Commissioner, Northern Territory, Australia.
A well-known clinical psychologist, 58-year-old Dr. Bath has a long history of providing consultancy, clinical and training services relating to the needs of disadvantaged children and young people. His particular clinical interests include work with young people who have experienced developmental trauma and those with problems around aggression and sexuality.
He was in Madurai for a short trip to look at the programmes organised by Nanban, an organisation working among children hailing from marginalised sections of society.
Asked about the situation in Australia on child rights, he said that child rights issues are very important and always find a prominent place in the public discourse. In Northern Territory, the child rights issue becomes significant as more than 40 per cent of the people are Aborigines and three quarters of all the children abused are also from that community of Indigenous People. Neglect by not recognising their rights and their status as citizens were the major problems the community face, he said.
“In Australia, the biggest problem is not money but history; yes Aboriginals do not believe the non-Aboriginals and do not trust them because they dispossessed them of their lands, their culture and history. So, as far as child rights are concerned we are making Aboriginals to become representatives of their own cause.”
To the rescue
Urbanisation has somewhat helped the Aborigines as one could not find any tangible differences in their socio-economic status when compared with fellow inhabitants. However the problems remain in the countryside where they find it difficult to accustom with the changing environment and they do not want to come to cities but cities are going to them. On the similarities and differences with the Indian experience, he said that poverty is still a major link with neglect and abuse. Alcohol is another major contributor to the condition and this could be the similarity.
He also pointed out that there are very few social workers and psychologists working for child rights in India whereas in Australia even a small city like Darwin has close to 300 social workers and psychologists.

Axes of Words: Poetry of the Australian

Aborigines and Indian Dalits

Many things have changed with the passage of time but the power that words have over human minds remains unaltered and undiminished. Poetry communicates the living, pulsating life-experiences and aims at bringing about change. This is more applicable to it when it is committed to a cause. Aboriginal Australian and Dalit Indian poets and poems take a stance that is predominantly committed. “In a wholly racialized society, there is no escape from racially inflected language, and the work writers do to unhobble the imagination from the demands of the language is complicated, interesting and definitive” (Paul 60). They are driven by the dominant current of reactions against an exploitative system. They assert an individual, caste or racial-ethnic pride same as the various movements of the coloured peoples of the United States, South Africa or many other parts of the world. Australian blacks and Indian Dalits, who sometimes refer to their blackness too, have a core resemblance: they have been and are being very heavily discriminated against. These peoples, whose voices had been suppressed for a long time, and who had been marginalized completely, had a Blakean choice before them. They can either create their own system or be enslaved by that made by others. Instead of choosing to live as branded “infra” humans in a malevolent and maleficent system, they opt for liberty(limited initially but finally full) and equality, if not fraternity with amity, to begin with.

Only God has the hypothetical power of creating matter ex nihilo. He is the only exception to the law: “Nothing will come out of nothing.” All human products of imagination are definitely the outcome of the creative processes of human mind, but that site of creation (the subject as an entity) is itself the point where various intersecting lines of effect meet. It is a very interesting thing when two peoples separated by several hundred miles of oceans, without any definite and prominent socio-cultural exchange, produce literature that has themes that may be called mirror images, albeit with unique features of their own. This paper focuses only on the poems of the Australian Aborigines and Indian Dalits in English or translated into it from various Indian languages.

The history of oppression by the fair skinned man – although differing in details and extent – is shared by the Australian black and Indian brown-black peoples. Officially, India gained independence in 1947, so did the Dalits, in theory. Officially Australia changed its governmental assimilationist stance to the multicultural one in the 1970’s, so its indigenous people were recognized as equal humans with rights to dignity and liberty, in theory. The ground reality is different in both the countries. Untouchability was decreed unconstitutional in India on paper but the people of that caste were never freed of the stigma in practice. They continued being the unpurchased slaves of the upper castes because of the monolithic social structure of India. There is an uncanny parallel between the courses of the history of subjugation and exploitation of the two peoples. The responding voices are a legion, but their core concerns are conspicuous and clear, as is evident from an analysis of the poetry of the Australian Aborigine and the Indian Dalit. The hitherto dormant volcano of their heart erupts and the lava of their anger, discontent, frustration and angst flows out with force as in J. V. Pawar’s “Birds in prison”:

Shouting slogans to condemn or uphold
a blaze of fire marches forth
And forest fires take birth
in oceans that seek to oppose.
What obstacle shall now withhold
Our turning volcanic vein by vein
digging trenches
every inch of the terrain? (41)
The age old system of oppression and discrimination finds staunch opposition. Just like the Dalits, the Australian Aborigines too had been silenced by the forces far beyond their control because “just as the Crown’s acquisition of 1770 had made sovereign Aboriginal land terra nullius, it also made aboriginal people vox nullius” (Heiss and Minter 8). They resist in various ways and literature is one of them. Their poems assert their identity and the pride they take in it. They also emphasize their right to be treated as equals to their fellow mortals who claim themselves to be the more equals among the equals.
The dispossessed, those whose dignity was snatched away, reclaim it and don’t hesitate to snatch it back from the usurpers even violently, if the occasion demands it. Women, the doubly dispossessed, the subaltern among the subalterns, the invisible, yet irritatingly present entities of this discourse, have been subjected to the worse kind of oppression. Be they the subaltern of Australia or India, their voice is heard amid the tumultuous uproar of multitudinous voices. In fact, it has never been silenced completely, e.g. the Dalit women have never been so effectively silenced as their middle class counterparts from Hindu upper castes. The oral and performative aspects of their expressions cannot be discounted as they have had a strong tradition of lavanis and tamashas where they have presented their thoughts candidly, although they are new to the expression in the form of printed words.
History is theirs who have the power and means to write it. The ever silenced subaltern never gets the centre stage. Where all action is shown in progress they remain “invisible” as always. As Fanon or Malcolm X proclaimed, these voices assert that violence must be employed if needed, against the exploiters whose best interest is in maintaining the status quo through perpetuation of their hegemony. It is the process of maintaining the hegemony that has taken a lot of ideological support and practical methods that have congealed into policies. The policy of assimilation by dilution of the black racial traits through repeated exogamy was a matter of central concern for the white man, but it destabilized the identity of the watered down Australian Aborigine: “When two half-castes bred and bore a son or daughter, / The Koori connection was cut to a quarter” (Smith, B qtd. in Heiss 45). The same process also generated protest and assertion of the self-identity and pride:
I have no problem with who I am –
Not black, not white – a quarter-caste as they say-
I cannot choose a side, I will not be made to, my life is not a game.
Not black, not white, that’s why I write – I am not ashamed. (Carr qtd. in Heiss 46)
Like the Australian Aborigine, the Indian Dalit too had to face a challenge to his caste identity and responded in various manners. There are differences in the themes and concerns of the poetry of the two peoples as there are differences in their specific individual conditions in their countries. The Indian Dalit hadn’t had to face the curse of the stolen children, the risk of extermination (simply not a viable alternative, economically, for the upper caste people, as they lose those who do their free and dirtiest jobs), or that of assimilation (it would mean the dilution of the much valued pure blood). Therefore their poetry does not have the scars of those traumas. Specificities notwithstanding, the insults, wounds and scars these peoples do share give their voices the same intensity of pain and poignancy. Internalization of the prejudices of the dominant group and their assertion and perpetuation by the very people against whom the prejudices were held, is a common mechanism for survival. It creates a set of alienated people who neither belong to their people nor are accepted as equal by the others. Racial and social mobilization are excruciatingly slow and very unsure processes whose rate or outcome can never be controlled or predicted with certainty. Moreover, black skin with white mask (or Dalit skin with upper caste mask) is not a psychologically healthy combination. Neither is it right, ethico-politically and socially. The subaltern – dispossessed and silenced – belong to one mass. Their resistance to the phallogocentric social structure and their attempts at critiquing or deconstructing are very logical ends to the centuries old process of planned dehumanization. Multiculturalism, postmodern questioning of grand narratives and trends in upward social mobility have brought about many changes in the mind set of the people. How deep these changes have percolated and how fundamental in nature they are, has yet to be seen and tested. In the meanwhile, the longest march for a yet unreached goal must not stop.

The themes of hatred and resistance against the exploiters are very common in their poems. The voices of the subaltern, freshly raised, rising from the soil, raise disturbing issues. They prove that the grand narrative of the Enlightenment – the great ideals of “liberty, equality and fraternity” as the rational end of all social systems and the attainable or desirable state of existence – is only there to beguile the masses. In reality, for an Indian Dalit or an Australian Aborigine there is neither liberty nor equality, and fraternity is nowhere to be seen. Reason has been proven powerless in redressing the wrongs perpetrated by an iniquitous system of institutionalized exploitation. Therefore, the subaltern must catapult themselves to the stage of power play using any means whatsoever. Their language is charged with the power to burn the social customs and the desiccated traditions that have given them a life worse than that of animals.

The voices resisting exploitation are fully aware of their own strength and dignity. They take pride in their being what they are. Their identity and self-image are affirmed in their poems again and again, as Smith Taylor affirms:

We blackfellas are trying
To stand tall.
Our enemy the media
are always making us fall.
We have been stripped
of our pride.
We blackfellas must stand
as one
as the fight still goes on. (qtd. in Heiss 55)
Of course, hatred and anger are not the only things present in their poems. There is love too, as is seen in the following lines about a mother:

On her head, a burden. Her legs a-totter.

Thin, dark of body… my mother.

All day she combs the forest for fire wood
We await her return.
Mother is gone…
Even now my eyes search fro mother. (Nimbalkar 36)
Subjection and subjugation for generations turns an individual’s existence into an everlasting hell: a hell that is so unshakably embedded, so deeply programmed into the existence that it is assimilated and naturalized. Socio-political and psychological repressions of the most debilitating kind, stretched over centuries, take the form of the hands of unseen fate or karma for those who are hopelessly trapped in prisons called their own existence. They have been sentenced to death in life, day after day, every day of their life. A time eventually arrives – later, if not as soon as it should have come – nearly at the threshold level of tolerance, when life becomes unbearable and the blood boiling in the veins can simply not be contained any more. If revolutionary blood bath and anti revolutionary purges don’t follow, the blood takes the form of words and flows out as a cry of anger, anguish, anger, resistance, pride and a series of various human emotions that were repressed till then. The ideological apparatuses of the modern hegemonic states have tilted the balance of power so much towards the agencies that run nation states that any challenge seems at lest ineffectual in the last count, if not practically impossible. The intellectual pessimism arising out of this situation has generated theories galore. The petits recits (mini narratives) are the one that seem to be valid in the discourse the present paper is concerned with. The war against the structure that has successfully interpellated the thinking subject appears to be a contradiction in itself. The Dalit or the Aborigine is under a lot of socio-economic pressure for assimilation, if possible, with the dominant culture. The range of choices available to them is broad. They may identify with the dominant mastering discourse and internalize it to propagate it themselves later. They may remain neutral observers, or they may become active in resistance, raising their own voices in the public sphere, creating their own mini narratives. A stream of resistance, strong, conspicuous and continuous, can be seen originating from among the repressed. The war against an internalized and inherently exploitative system can only be fought with innovative tools, applying a series of methods available for the purpose. As Gene Sharpe recommends, the struggle has the best chances to be effective finally if it is peaceful and democratically committed. He speaks about action against repressive non-democratic regimes. Both Australia and India are democracies. Therefore, the insistence on peaceful and democratic methods seems to be more relevant as the pressure it builds will generate voices – both nationally and internationally – against the institutionalized exploitation and repression of the subaltern. Literature has always been a part of the move to persuade at the levels of both the state propaganda and that of the resistance. Although newly acquired as a weapon and it serves the same age old purpose for the cause of the subaltern whom everyone else has failed, and gives them hope, not false, but true:

In our colony-

Reforms get confused

Paths are bruised, schemes stumble
Now- only now have boys started learning.
They write poems- stories- Indian Literature
The axes of words fall upon the trees of tradition (Meshram 10)
Works Cited
Heiss Anita. “Writing aboriginality: Authors on ‘Being Aboriginal’”. A Comapnion to Australian Literature Since 1900. Ed. Nicholas Birns and Rebecca Mcneer. Camden House: New York, 2007. Print.

Heiss, Anita and Minter Peter. “Aboriginal Literature”. Macquarie Pen Anthology of Australian Literature. Ed. Nicholas Jose. Allen and Unwin: NSW, 2009. Print.

Meshram, Keshav. “In Our Colony”. Tr. V. G. Nand. Poisoned Bread: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Literature. Ed. Arjun Dangle. Orient Longman: Bombay, 1994. Print.

Nimbalkar, Waman. “Mother”. Tr. Priya Adarkar. Poisoned Bread: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Literature. Ed. Arjun Dangle. Orient Longman: Bombay, 1994. Print.
Paul, S. K. “Dalit Literature and Dalit Poetry: A Brief Survey”. Dalit Literature: A Critical Exploration.. Ed. Amar Nath Prasad and M. B. Gaijan. Sarup & Sons: New Delhi, 2007. Print.
Pawar, J.V. A Corpse in the Well: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Autobiographies. Ed. Arjun Dangle. Orient Longman: Bombay, 1992. Print.

Caste Abroad: Bringing Casteism to UK and USA

Word Caste is derived from the Portuguese word “Casta”, which means lineage, breed, or race. Few years back, very interestingly few major cases of discrimination came into light from the developed nations such as USA and UK. (In one case an Indian millionaire couple was caught for exploiting a maid”, “in another case a Hindu father set on fires his daughter’s house in USA because she married a lower caste person”, one another news was “A Boston graduate was molested and sexually abused by a Hindu Priest of a Hindu temple in Moshi, Tanzania”). Today again, I read one another news from the newspaper – The Tribune – which reported “Indian couple in UK alleges caste discrimination
Apart from all these there was news few days back that fanatic Hindus are strengthening their base in USA, UK universities through the Hindu students studying there. The mentality of these Hindus is if we can’t become like USA then what? We can make USA like India. I think one the same lines they have started working for! Around one in 25 people in the world experiences some form of caste discrimination. About 300 million people suffer caste discrimination throughout the world. More than half of these are in India.
Castes which earlier used to exist in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh etc countries, now these incidents show that caste has been exported from India to the many other developed countries. This rising trend should be the area of concern of all the governments & all those who are concerned about the basic human rights and good community relationships. Despite India’s objection, first time in 2001 Caste Discrimination was brought in front of whole world (by the people working for Dalit Rights) at the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) held at Durban. But still we see no change in the system, people those were suffering, still are suffering under the blot of caste system. When the darkness of casteism shed, no-body knows!
These incidents are not new, reports (July, 2006) of Dalit Solidarity Network UK (DSN) clearly showed Caste Discrimination prevailing in UK. When asked by DSN “Do you believe that Indian people in the UK follow the caste system?84.67% people said YES. 80% agreed that caste divide people. Even in UK, USA, Canada and many other countries there are separate Gurudawaras (Temples of Sikhs) i.e. Ramgarhia, Jat (upper caste in Punjab), and Ravidasi (followers of Guru Ravidas) people can be seen visiting different Gurudawaras same as it happens in Punjab (India). Where Sikhism is heading? Sikh Gurus have treated everyone with equality and worked to abolish caste system but today’s Sikh leaders have lost that track.
Another research by Mark Juergensmeyer from UK states that, “Caste relationships between caste groups seem to be upheld to a great extent…the rules of endogamy (marrying within the caste group) are still strictly followed”. People face discrimination in political, education, employment & health sector mainly (as it happens in India), though may be somewhat lesser or to the same extant. The former Mayor of Coventry, Ram Lakha, a Labour Councillor who is a Dalit, faced intense discrimination from ‘upper castes’ when he stood for election in a largely Indian ward. ‘During campaigning he was often told that he would not get people’s vote as he was a “chamar”. So he filed his nomination in a non-Asian constituency and was able to win.
Few other past incidents reported are as follows:
A shopkeeper in Wolverhampton, England, tells of an incident where a customer insisted that their change be placed on the counter to avoid contact with someone from a lower caste.
On a factory floor, in Wolverhampton, England, women from so-called upper castes will not take water from the same tap as a lower caste person.
“Caste has caused division and it does cause social devastation. The problem is that nobody has accepted the problem within this country (UK). Caste is one area which is totally swept under the carpet”.   — “The Caste Divide,” BBC Radio 4, April 2003
Rodiya community of Sri Lanka is considered as lower caste people, similarly Buraku community of Japan also have suffered same as Dalits are still suffering in India, but because of the Buddhism in Sri Lanka & Japan the condition of Buraku & Rodiya people is now somewhat better than the Dalits of India. It was considered that globalization will destroy the Caste but caste system is so deeply rooted in Hindu religious practices that there seems no such scope, wherever these Hindus will go, they will carry caste discrimination with themselves & will stop the development & harmony of that country. Is there any scope for human development if we continue to live with Caste Discrimination? As said by Dr Ambedkar that only escape is conversion from Hinduism, as such there is no use of living in the religion which teaches you discrimination & where there is no value of human & humanity.
Untouchables (Dalits) are made Religious, Economic and Political Slaves by means of Hindu Caste System. Noticing the new cases of caste discrimination in developed countries, I think it’s a hard time for the international leaders at UN to again rework on the present policies related to the “Caste Discrimination”. Also people who believed in “Basic Human Rights” from all over the world have to come forward to destroy “Hindu Caste System” and give justice to millions of people suffering since last thousands of years.

Class Warfare – Australia’s Untouchables

Yesterday I saw the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I give it five stars. This is not why I’m mentioning it in my post. One small part of the film got me thinking about the Australian class system, and why it is the way it is.
In the movie, there is a servant working at the hotel who is from the Indian ‘untouchable’ caste. I’ve always hated hearing about the caste system in India. Such entrenched disadvantage and discrimination is terrible for a society. That train of thought got me thinking about whether Australia has an ‘untouchable’ class, and, influenced by this article I read in the  SMH by Peter Hartcher, I’ve decided we do. But unlike India, where the untouchables are poverty stricken, Australia’s ‘untouchable’ class is the richest people in our society. It seems to be that this sub-set can do or say anything they like, and remain completely untouched by criticism or scrutiny.
As an example, apparently Clive Palmer, mining billionaire, can get away with saying that the Greens are financed by the CIA in a conspiracy to bring down the Australian coal industry (WTF!), and can then days later joke that he only said it to help the LNP’s chances in the QLD election that weekend. A party to which he has donated millions of dollars. Australian journalists report this all as if Palmer has every right to ‘play’ the media and the public in this way. Supposedly because he’s rich. So why does his wealth make him so untouchable? Why can he say and do anything he likes and the media will report it as genuine news, when anyone with half a brain can see that his only motivation in life is to further his own wealth? He’s not fighting against the carbon tax because he doesn’t believe in climate change. He just doesn’t give a shit that the climate is changing. As long as his wealth is growing, his needs are met. 
In Hartcher’s article, Greens leader Bob Brown was quoted as saying: “This (Clive Palmer’s comments) has generated more publicity in Queensland than the whole Greens campaign. Our campaign launch had zero coverage.” This situation is completely beyond ridiculous. Every time Palmer, or fellow mining billionaires, Rinehart and Twiggy open their mouths to let out a belch of tax hating, wealth loving, greed promoting, self-interested gibberish, the media report it as fact and such very important fact at that. Wake up people!
The Australian public on the whole have a very strange attitude towards class. I assume it’s similar in most western societies, where a large proportion of the middle class would like to think of themselves as upper class, and do their best to espouse this belonging by being derogatory about the working class. I see this attitude a lot through two of my passions – football and politics. I’m a passionate supporter of my football club, Port Adelaide. My club has a long and proud history of success (even if we are going though a bit of a dry period at the moment). I support this club because my grandpa did, and my dad and now my whole family. The club has working class roots and these days has a huge mixture of supporters from the very poor, to the very rich. Having been back in Adelaide for a couple of months now, I am reacquainting myself with the way that many in this city use snobbery about Port Adelaide to make themselves feel like they belong to a higher class. Basically, by being derogatory and rude about Port supporters, in most cases to our faces, they are making themselves feel like they must have achieved some sort of status in the world, as only those who aren’t working class could be in a position to degrade the ‘bogan ugg boot wearers’ from Port Adelaide. If I didn’t find it so offensive and downright annoying, it would be amusing. Similarly, I believe many people in this country vote for the Liberal party because they believe that this signals that they are not working class, and have thus achieved something in life. Little do they care, or try to understand, that the Liberal party doesn’t exist to support middle class Australia.
Perhaps the division between left and right wing in this country is much simpler than I am making it out.
 A study by Canadian academics has shown that “right-wing ideology forms a ‘pathway’ for people with low reasoning ability to become prejudiced against groups such as other races and gay people”. In my experience, you can add class to this list as well. All you people out there with low reasoning ability, who think Clive Palmer is untouchable because he is rich, and think that by being derogatory about Port Adelaide you are embedding yourself in a higher class, perhaps it’s time you had a think about what is motivating your prejudice.

Italy's Untouchable Caste

But Italy is also a country where a sense of community and solidarity play huge roles both in interpersonal relations and in the central government's policies. So, in the 1970s, the Italian government created le comunità montane, or "mountain communities." They were designed to be marked-off areas in the Italian highlands that would receive tax cuts, easy credit, and subsidies to alleviate the hardships of mountain life. In 2005, these communities received contributions of more than $240 million, or $28 per resident.
Rather than hand out the subsidies as prescribed, though, Italian politicians have applied the rather vague "mountain community" designation to any city, town, or village where political favor is for sale. As a result, the mountains have reached all the way to the sea. For example, in Palagiano, a small town in southern Italy that sits just 128 feet above sea level, those earmarked funds haven't ended up in the citizens' pockets; they've been used almost entirely to pay for new public offices and a small army of state bureaucrats called to "represent" the mountain communities.
The story of Palagiano opens the new book of two well-respected political journalists, Sergio Rizzo and Gian Antonio Stella: La Casta: Così i politici italiani sono diventati intoccabili (The Caste: How Italian Politicians Have Become Untouchable). According to Rizzo and Stella, veterans at Italy'sCorriere della Sera newspaper, Italian political life has been hijacked by what they have termed "the Caste," a political class of thousands of lawmakers who have devised rules that enrich themselves at public expense with little fear of oversight, accountability, or, in some cases, prosecution. The Caste, they claim, extends all the way to the president of the republic. But the breadth of the Caste is far greater than any one person or office. Rizzo and Stella report that members of Parliament continue to belong to the Caste even after they have resigned from office; that at least 16 of them have criminal records; and that Italy's presidential palace costs more than four times as much to operate as Buckingham Palace. The Caste is full of such charges, which the authors unearthed from hundreds of pages of official, unclassified documents. It is a stunning indictment of the privileges, costs, abuses, and waste in Italian politics.
Unsurprisingly, The Caste has become the center of political debate in Italy. For many, it is a conversation about Italian politics that began in 1992 with the criminal investigation of leading politicians on bribery and corruption charges, called Mani Pulite, or "Clean Hands." After the investigation, two of the main political parties -- the Christian Democrats and the Socialists -- collapsed and disappeared. Until The Caste came along, though, there had been no real catalyst for widespread public dissent about Italy's lawmakers. It has sold almost 1 million copies, an unthinkable number for this kind of political work, and has become, without a doubt, the book of the year in Italy.
Italians are fed up with the way their country has been run -- and, in flocking to bookstores in droves, they're expressing real disappointment in a way that's more immediate and effective than at the voting booth. In Italy, political leadership is not generated through a free competition of ideas, with parties presenting lists of candidates from which the most appealing can be chosen. Instead, the Caste decides who will be part of it and who will not. In the voting booth, people are faced with symbols of the parties and blocked lists of names: When a voter chooses Party A or Party B, he or she is not deciding who will be elected, because this choice is -- by law -- a prerogative of the heads of Parties A and B. For years, a standard reply was issued to anyone criticizing Italian parties and politicians' infinite generosity toward no one but themselves: "Politics has its costs, and that is the price of democracy." To be fair, a debate over the costs of politics is happening throughout Europe -- over how much the state ought to finance parties and what compensation should be given to those who handle public matters. But Italy's case is profoundly different from the rest of the European Union, because Italians simply do not have the chance to change the politicians they don’t like.
Rizzo and Stella chalk up Italian politicians' unique status partly to the economic guarantees that the Caste extends to its members. Every month, a senator receives somewhere between $16,800 and $18,200, which includes both a basic salary of $5,600 and a variety of immunities and privileges large and small, everything from free rides on trains and airplanes, to reserved seats at soccer games, movies, and plays. In theory, these are not astronomical stipends. The problem, however, becomes disturbingly evident once the level of compensation is compared with the perennially dismal state of Italy's public finances. For more than 20 years, Italian governments of all political persuasions have had to confront a public debt well above 100 percent of gross domestic product. That means that in 2007, Italy will have to pay $98 billion as interest on its debt, or almost 80 percent of what it spends to finance one of the best universal healthcare systems in Europe.
In so many other democracies, corrupt and wasteful politicians would simply be thrown out of office with the next election cycle. But adding to the resentment among Italians is the fact that the Caste doesn’t simply occupy a building in Rome or belong to a single party; politicians on both the left and the right belong to this self-perpetuating political class. Of course, there are exceptions. But the few ethical politicians face an almost hopeless struggle against this nomenklaturawhose roots permeate the entire country, from north to south, creating smaller Castes at the local and regional level.
Notably, the Caste has offered up very little in response to Rizzo and Stella's charges. In late July, the presidents of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies announced -- in grand style -- their intention to one day reform the parliamentary pension system and recall a $4,200 annual allowance for themselves, as measures to cut politicians’ benefits. Of course, it didn't help that members of Parliament were granted an automatic salary hike amounting to more than $280 a month just a few weeks later.
Indeed, the Caste's response has been so muted that it may have aggravated the problem. In September, public discontent was funneled into a protest led by a popular comedian, Beppe Grillo. Riding on the coattails of a recent Supreme Court ruling, in which it was decided that gracing someone with the supreme insult is not in fact punishable by law, Grillo organized a "F@#k You Day" throughout Italy, collecting signatures to present a popular-initiative law that would prohibit the election of politicians who have been convicted for criminal behavior and set a maximum of two five-year terms for parliamentarians. In one afternoon, he collected 300,000 signatures.
To this, the Caste reacted immediately, labeling the ballot initiative as the usual apathy and populist mistrust toward politics. Although the irony may have been lost on them, those politicians reacting with irritation toward the comedian’s petition only confirmed the perception that the Caste believes it alone should participate in Italian politics. But, with a million copies of Rizzo and Stella's damning indictment sold, the odds that Italians will simply stay put and watch have never been so low. Today, the Caste has never seemed less untouchable.

Centuries Of Discrimination: European Roma Linked To India’s ‘Untouchables’

Roma in France
Europe’s Roma community – better known around the world by the pejorative ‘Gypsy’ – descended from India’s Dalit, i.e., ‘Untouchable’ caste, according to research by Indian academics.

While the Roma’s links to India have long been established, particularly due to physical similarities and the existence of Sanskrit words in the Romany language, this study, published in the scientific journal ‘Nature,’ explicitly posits their connection to the Dalits -- the most oppressed and marginalized peoples in India – through the evaluation of 10,000 DNA samples taken on men across India and Roma males in Europe.
Researchers at Hyderabad's Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology – in collaboration with colleagues in Estonia and Switzerland -- found that the closest genetic match to European Roma men was discovered among Dalits living in present-day northwestern India.
If true, the assessment would suggest that the Roma have endured nothing but discrimination and persecution -- in both India and Europe -- for thousands of years.
Roma are believed to have migrated westward from India sometime in the early Middle Ages -- or perhaps as early as 600 AD -- moving through Persia, the near East and ultimately into Eastern and Central Europe. Along the way, they picked up words and customs from the various cultures they encountered.
However, what prompted them to leave India remains a mystery -- perhaps a desire to escape the oppressive Hindu caste system; or, conversely, a fear of the spread of Islam in India.
In contemporary Europe, the long nomadic Roma are principally ‘settled’ in eastern Europe, where they make up a sizable minority. But smaller Roma communities are also found as far north as Scandinavia and as far west as Britain and Ireland; and as far south as North Africa.
Ironically, the German word for Roma, "Zigeuner," derives from a Greek root which means "untouchable."
Dr. Toomas Kivisild of Cambridge University, who participated in the study, told the Daily Telegraph, that the study offers "evidence for the further interpretation of history of what kind of processes were triggering these [westward] movements [by Roma]".
Britain's Gypsy Council praised the study.
"We are Britain's first Non-Resident Indian community," said Joseph Jones, council spokesman.
"We're not outcasts here. I don't care if we are associated with Dalits -- I don't live in a community where caste exists. I do feel a bit Indian, I've always felt an affinity with Indians.”
Jones also urged Britain’s Indian-Pakistani immigrant community to embrace the Roma as their own.
Although well established in Europe for centuries, many Roma remain trapped in grinding poverty and face widespread prejudice.
According to Dr. Nidhi Trehan, an independent scholar and an expert on Roma, there are now somewhere between 6 to 7 million Roma in Europe (excluding Russia), with large populations in Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria and Hungary, where over 5 percent of the population is Roma.
In Slovakia, she said, almost 10 percent of the population in Roma (although many Hungarian-speaking Roma declare themselves as “ethnic Hungarians” in the census). Similarly, many Romanian-speaking Roma declare themselves as “Romanians” in the census, likewise with Bulgaria and Hungary.
In Western Europe, Spain has the largest percentage of Roma -- comprising its indigenous Gitano community and the ‘Hungaros‘ -- the later arrivals who came from eastern Europe in the late 18th century after emancipation from slavery.

Racial Classifications in Latin America
In the history of Latin America over the last 500 years or so, the relationships among three races have been a key factor.  In the beginning, there were the various indigenous groups.  Then came the European colonizers, who later brought black slaves from Africa.  The relationships among these racial groups have at times been tumultuous --- war, slaughter, subjugation, slavery, exploitation, miscegenation, ...  
The administration of the vast colonies was placed in the hands of nationals of the European empires.  These administrators were rewarded estates for their efforts, and naturally inheritance rights became a significant issue.  As a male may have multiple children with multiple women, the rights of these apparent heirs have to be defined, particularly when some of the mothers were not pure Europeans.  Under Spanish rule, the following detailed caste system was instituted in Mexico at one time.
  1. Mestizo: Spanish father and Indian mother
  2. Castizo: Spanish father and Mestizo mother
  3. Espomolo: Spanish mother and Castizo father
  4. Mulatto: Spanish and black African
  5. Moor: Spanish and Mulatto
  6. Albino: Spanish father and Moor mother
  7. Throwback: Spanish father and Albino mother
  8. Wolf: Throwback father and Indian mother
  9. Zambiago: Wolf father and Indian mother
  10. Cambujo: Zambiago father and Indian mother
  11. Alvarazado: Cambujo father and Mulatto mother
  12. Borquino: Alvarazado father and Mulatto mother
  13. Coyote: Borquino father and Mulatto mother
  14. Chamizo: Coyote father and Mulatto mother
  15. Coyote-Mestizo: Cahmizo father and Mestizo mother
  16. Ahi Tan Estas: Coyote-Mestizo father and Mulatto mother
To us, this does seem to be a obsessive-compulsive behavior of an extreme sort.  Today, the overt caste systems have been overturned by legislation, but that does not mean that social prejudices and economic exploitation are not present.  Even though overt racial oppression is no longer permissible by law, people may still hold personal opinions about members of other races based upon preconceived notions.
Now much of this is premised upon one's ability to classify people into the appropriate racial categories based upon physical appearances.  Unfortunately, this is difficult as there is not a clear-cut situation when any individual can be unambiguously classified into one (and only one) of a short list of racial classes.  A simple classification scheme based upon color --- white, black, brown and yellow --- ignores the various shades.
One way to derive a classification system is through self-definition, which presumably applies to others too.  In 1976, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) conducted a study to ask people to identify their own skin color.  Here are the 134 terms, listed in alphabetical order:
  1. Acastanhada (cashewlike tint; caramel colored)
  2. Agalegada
  3. Alva (pure white)
  4. Alva-escura (dark or off-white)
  5. Alverenta (or aliviero, "shadow in the water")
  6. Alvarinta (tinted or bleached white)
  7. Alva-rosada (or jamote, roseate, white with pink highlights)
  8. Alvinha (bleached; white-washed)
  9. Amarela (yellow)
  10. Amarelada (yellowish)
  11. Amarela-quemada (burnt yellow or ochre)
  12. Amarelosa (yellowed)
  13. Amorenada (tannish)
  14. Avermelhada (reddish, with blood vessels showing through the skin)
  15. Azul (bluish)
  16. Azul-marinho (deep bluish)
  17. Baiano (ebony)
  18. Bem-branca (very white)
  19. Bem-clara (translucent)
  20. Bem-morena (very dusky)
  21. Branca (white)
  22. Branca-avermelhada (peach white)
  23. Branca-melada (honey toned)
  24. Branca-morena (darkish white)
  25. Branca-pálida (pallid)
  26. Branca-queimada (sunburned white)
  27. Branca-sardenta (white with brown spots)
  28. Branca-suja (dirty white)
  29. Branquiça (a white variation)
  30. Branquinha (whitish)
  31. Bronze (bronze)
  32. Bronzeada (bronzed tan)
  33. Bugrezinha-escura (Indian characteristics)
  34. Burro-quanto-foge ("burro running away," implying racial mixture of unknown origin)
  35. Cabocla (mixture of white, Negro and Indian)
  36. Cabo-Verde (black; Cape Verdean)
  37. Café (coffee)
  38. Café-com-leite (coffee with milk)
  39. Canela (cinnamon)
  40. Canelada (tawny)
  41. Castão (thistle colored)
  42. Castanha (cashew)
  43. Castanha-clara (clear, cashewlike)
  44. Castanha-escura (dark, cashewlike)
  45. Chocolate (chocolate brown)
  46. Clara (light)
  47. Clarinha (very light)
  48. Cobre (copper hued)
  49. Corado (ruddy)
  50. Cor-de-café (tint of coffee)
  51. Cor-de-canela (tint of cinnamon)
  52. Cor-de-cuia (tea colored)
  53. Cor-de-leite (milky)
  54. Cor-de-oro (golden)
  55. Cor-de-rosa (pink)
  56. Cor-firma ("no doubt about it")
  57. Crioula (little servant or slave; African)
  58. Encerada (waxy)
  59. Enxofrada (pallid yellow; jaundiced)
  60. Esbranquecimento (mostly white)
  61. Escura (dark)
  62. Escurinha (semidark)
  63. Fogoio (florid; flushed)
  64. Galega (see agalegada above)
  65. Galegada (see agalegada above)
  66. Jambo (like a fruit the deep-red color of a blood orange)
  67. Laranja (orange)
  68. Lilás (lily)
  69. Loira (blond hair and white skin)
  70. Loira-clara (pale blond)
  71. Loura (blond)
  72. Lourinha (flaxen)
  73. Malaia (from Malabar)
  74. Marinheira (dark greyish)
  75. Marrom (brown)
  76. Meio-amerela (mid-yellow)
  77. Meio-branca (mid-white)
  78. Meio-morena (mid-tan)
  79. Meio-preta (mid-Negro)
  80. Melada (honey colored)
  81. Mestiça (mixture of white and Indian)
  82. Miscigenação (mixed --- literally "miscegenated")
  83. Mista (mixed)
  84. Morena (tan)
  85. Morena-bem-chegada (very tan)
  86. Morena-bronzeada (bronzed tan)
  87. Morena-canelada (cinnamonlike brunette)
  88. Morena-castanha (cashewlike tan)
  89. Morena clara (light tan)
  90. Morena-cor-de-canela (cinnamon-hued brunette)
  91. Morena-jambo (dark red)
  92. Morenada (mocha)
  93. Morena-escura (dark tan)
  94. Morena-fechada (very dark, almost mulatta)
  95. Morenão (very dusky tan)
  96. Morena-parda (brown-hued tan)
  97. Morena-roxa (purplish-tan)
  98. Morena-ruiva (reddish-tan)
  99. Morena-trigueira (wheat colored)
  100. Moreninha (toffeelike)
  101. Mulatta (mixture of white and Negro)
  102. Mulatinha (lighter-skinned white-Negro)
  103. Negra (negro)
  104. Negrota (Negro with a corpulent vody)
  105. Pálida (pale)
  106. Paraíba (like the color of marupa wood)
  107. Parda (dark brown)
  108. Parda-clara (lighter-skinned person of mixed race)
  109. Polaca (Polish features; prostitute)
  110. Pouco-clara (not very clear)
  111. Pouco-morena (dusky)
  112. Preta (black)
  113. Pretinha (black of a lighter hue)
  114. Puxa-para-branca (more like a white than a mulatta)
  115. Quase-negra (almost Negro)
  116. Queimada (burnt)
  117. Queimada-de-praia (suntanned)
  118. Queimada-de-sol (sunburned)
  119. Regular (regular; nondescript)
  120. Retinta ("layered" dark skin)
  121. Rosa (roseate)
  122. Rosada (high pink)
  123. Rosa-queimada (burnished rose)
  124. Roxa (purplish)
  125. Ruiva (strawberry blond)
  126. Russo (Russian; see also polaca)
  127. Sapecada (burnished red)
  128. Sarará (mulatta with reddish kinky hair, aquiline nose)
  129. Saraúba (or saraiva: like a white meringue)
  130. Tostada (toasted)
  131. Trigueira (wheat colored)
  132. Turva (opaque)
  133. Verde (greenish)
  134. Vermelha (reddish)
This scheme is unusable for practical purposes, since it is highly subjective and contains far too many classes.  We have printed this list precisely to demonstrate how absurd this is.
If we cannot let people classify themselves, then the alternative is to let others do it.  The Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica study is a pan-Latin American survey in which interviewers are sent to interview a representative sample of people in their homes.  As part of the interviewing process, the interviewer is required to classify the respondents into one (and only one) of seven racial categories: white, black, indigenous, mulatto, mestizo, asian and "Don't know".  Of course, this is not an exact science since there is no way to train people to classify 'correctly' (whatever that means) and/or  'reliably' (in the sense that different interviewers should come up with the same result).  For example, the difference between 'Indigenous' and 'Indian' may be less of a genetic issue than one about dress code.  That is to say, we freely admit that the results that we will present in the following are 'junk' science.
The following table shows the distributions of racial categories by geographical region in Latin America (the rows sum up to 100%)
Don't Know
Balance of Cen. Amer.
Balance of South Amer.

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(source: Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica 1998)
There are significant differences in the distributions of the racial categories by geographical region.  The uneven distributions are the result of the varied historical factors: such as the size of the indigenous populations (e.g. Aztec empire in Mexico, Incan empire in Peru, etc), the importation of black slaves from Africa to work in the agricultural fields  (e.g. high in Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Dominican Republic and Venezuela), the mass immigration from Europe (e.g. high in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay), etc.
The next table shows the distribution of Socio-Economic Level within each racial category (the columns sum up to 100%).
Level A
Level B
Level C
Level D
(source: Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica 1998)
The interpretation of such socio-economic data is highly problematic and controversial.  The data made it clear that the persons of white european descent have the best socio-economic conditions.  The big question is, Why?  Are they still reaping the benefits of five hundred years of exploitation, using their superior positions (in matters of government, military, business, religion and so on) to protect their interests?  Or are they inherently superior?  We don't pretend that we have the bullet-proof answer, and arguments about this issue are too often settled by bullets ..


Caste System in Europe

Caste is a word “which in most minds is most strongly connected with Hindu social order”, wrote A. L. Basham, while noting that this practice did not exist in the ancient India.[i] A study of writings by early twentieth century sociologists makes it obvious that the caste system was deeply rooted in European customs and laws until 200 years back. But tactfully this fact was suppressed by most of the later authors, and the caste system was projected on exclusively to India.
 Views of John Oman Campbell 
 The unjustifiable treatment and bullying of Hinduism in name of ‘caste system’ was criticized a hundred years back by John Campbell Oman, who was a professor of social sciences at Government College, Lahore at the end of the nineteenth century. He wrote,[ii]
“No little amused wonder and supercilious criticism on the part of Europeans has been aroused by the caste system of India, which has generally been regarded as an absurd, unhealthy, social phenomenon, without parallel elsewhere… but caste prejudices, and institutions based on such prejudices, are not wholly absent from social life outside India, even in the highly civilized states of the western World. And a little consideration of such indications of caste feelings will help us account in some measure for the more salient characteristic of the Indian system, or at any rate serve to clear our minds of certain unfounded prejudices and offensive cant…but it is nevertheless undeniable that, even in Europe, certain genuine hereditary caste distinctions have at various times been maintained by law, and are to be found there at the present day.”
“One much derided peculiarity of the Hindu caste system is the hereditary character of trade and occupations, and in this connection it is interesting to recall to mind that at certain epochs the law in Europe has compelled men to keep, generation after generation, to the calling of their fathers without the option of change.” (Oman, J. C.; pp. 63-64).
“ Englandan ancient enactment required all men who at any time took up the calling of coal-mining or drysalting,  to keep to those occupations for life, and enjoined that their children should also follow the same employment. This law was only repealed by statutes passed in the 15th and 39th years of the reign of GeorgeIII; that is in the lifetime of the fathers of many men who are with us today. A more striking European example of a compulsory hereditary calling, common enough in the Middle Ages and down to the last century in Russia, is that of the serfs bound to the soil from generation to generation. Then again there existed through long periods of European history, the institution of hereditary slavery, with all its abominations.” (Oman, p. 65)
A further study of European social history will reveal more of details how an extremely tyrannical and rigid caste system was operative in Europe with legal sanction, which of course functioned under the theocratic rule of Church.
Edward Alsworth Ross (Principles of Sociology, 1920 Ed.[iii] and 1922 Ed.) gives a detailed description of rigid and strict caste system of Europe, which lasted till the beginning of the nineteenth century. Ross noted that Europe had a strict caste system during the Roman Empire period, however, it had not been brought to Europe by the Roman conquests, but it was a product of forces within the European society (Ross, 1922, p. 322). Thus the Europeans of the “Middle Ages lived in their caste rather than in their people… Something of this spirit has lived on in Poland.” (Ross, 1922, p. 359).[iv]
“The tendency of the later empire was to stereotype society by compelling men to follow the occupation of their fathers, and preventing a free circulation among different callings and grades of life. The man who brought the grain of Africa to the public stores of Ostia, the labour who made it into loaves for distribution, the butchers who brought pigs from Samnium, Lucania or Bruttium, the purveyors of wine and oil, the men who fed the furnaces of the public baths, were bound to their calling from one generation to another… Every avenue of escape was closed… Men were not allowed to marry out of their guild… Not even a dispensation obtained by some means from the imperial chancery, not even the power of the Church could avail to break the bond of servitude.” (Dill, p. 194, quoted by Ross, 1920, p. 322).[v]
In Prussia, not only men, but land too belonged to castes, and land belonging to a higher caste could not be purchased by individual belonging to a caste lower than that. This provision was abolished by the Emancipation Edict of 1807 (Ross, 1922, p. 182).
Oman quoted from Ingram: “This organization established in the Roman world a personal and hereditary fixity of professions and situations, which was not very far removed from the caste system of the East…Members of the administrative service were, in general, absolutely bound to their employments; they could not choose their wives or marry their daughters outside of the collegia to which they respectively belonged, and they transmitted their obligations to their children… In municipalities the curiales, or the members of the local senates, were bound, with special strictness, to their places and their functions, which often involved large personal expenditure… Their families, too, were bound to remain; they were attached by the law to the collegia or other bodies to which they belonged. The soldier, procured for army by conscription, served as long as his age fitted him for his duties, and their sons were bound to similar service.” (Ingram, p. 75)
“In a constitution of Constantine (A.D. 332) the colonus is recognized as permanently attached to the land. If he abandoned his holding, he was brought back and punished; and anyone who received him had not only to restore him but to pay a penalty. He could not marry out of the domain; if he took for wife a colona of another proprietor, she was restored to her original locality, and the offspring of the union were divided between the estates. The children of a colonus were fixed in the same status, and could not quit the property to which they belonged.” (Ingram, p. 78, quoted in Oman, J. C., p. 64).[vi]

Max Weber’s Comparison of Hindu Caste and Untouchability with European Hereditary Guilds
 Max Weber found that the Vedic Indian society did not have anything like medieval European, or later Indian caste.
“Perhaps the most important gap in the ancient Veda is its lack of any reference to caste. The (Rig-) Veda refers to the four later caste names in only one place, which is considered a very late passage; nowhere does it refer to the substantive content of the caste order in the meaning which it later assumed and which is characteristic only of Hinduism.”[vii]
Max Weber was able to find similarities between modern Hindu castes and pre-modern European guilds. He wrote: “In this case, castes are in the same position as merchant and craft guilds, sibs, and all sorts of associations.”
“’Guilds’ of merchants, and of traders figuring as merchants by selling
their own produce, as well as ‘craft-guilds,’ existed in India during the

period of the development of cities and especially during the period in

which the great salvation religions originated. As we shall see, the salvation religions and the guilds were related. The guilds usually emerged within the cities, but occasionally they emerged outside of the cities, survivals of these being still in existence. During the period of the flowering of the cities, the position of the guilds was quite comparable to the position guilds occupied in the cities of the medieval Occident. The guild association (the mahajan, literally, the same as popolo grasso[viii]) faced on the one hand the prince, and on the other the economically dependent artisans. These relations were about the same as those faced by the great guilds of literati and of merchants with the lower craft-guilds (popolo minuto[ix]) of the Occident. In the same way, associations of lower craft guilds existed in India (the panch). Moreover, the liturgical guild of Egyptian and late Roman character was perhaps not entirely lacking in the emerging patrimonial states ofIndia.

“The merchant and craft guilds of the Occident cultivated religious interests as did the castes. In connection with these interests, questions of social rank also played a considerable role among guilds. Which rank order the guilds should follow, for instance, during processions, was a question occasionally fought over more stubbornly than questions of economic interest. Furthermore, in a ‘closed’ guild, that is, one with a numerically fixed quota of income opportunities, the position of the master was hereditary. There were also quasi-guild associations and associations derived from guilds in which the right to membership was acquired in hereditary succession. In late Antiquity, membership in the liturgical guilds was even a compulsory and hereditary obligation in the way of a glebae adscriptio, which bound the peasant to the soil. Finally, there were also in the medieval Occident ‘opprobrious’ trades, which were religiously declasse; these correspond to the ‘unclean’ castes ofIndia.”
“The merchant and craft guilds of the Middle Ages acknowledged no ritual barriers whatsoever between the individual guilds and artisans, apart from the aforementioned small stratum of people engaged in opprobrious trades. Pariah peoples and pariah workers (for example, the knacker and hangman), by virtue of their special positions, come sociologically close to the unclean castes of India.”
“Furthermore, caste is essentially hereditary. This hereditary character was not, and is not, merely the result of monopolizing and restricting the earning opportunities to a definite maximum quota, as was the case among the absolutely closed guilds of the Occident, which at no time were numerically predominant.”
“Let us now consider the Occident. In his letter to the Galatians (11:12, 13 ff.) Paul reproaches Peter for having eaten in Antioch with the Gentiles and for having wthdrawn and separated himself afterwards, under the influence of the Jerusalemites. ‘And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him.’ That the reproach of dissimulation made to this very apostle has not been effaced shows perhaps just as clearly as does the occurrence itself the tremendous importance this event had for the early Christians. Indeed, this shattering of the ritual barriers against commensalism meant a shattering of the voluntary Ghetto, which in its
effects is far more incisive than any compulsory Ghetto. It meant to shatter the situation of Jewry as a pariah people, a situation that was ritually imposed upon this people. For the Christians it meant the origin of Christian ‘freedom,’ which Paul again and again celebrated triumphantly; for this freedom meant the universalism of Paul’s mission, which cut across nations and status groups. The elimination of all ritual barriers of birth for the community of the eucharists, as realized inAntioch, was, in connection with the religious preconditions, the hour of conception for the Occidental ‘citizenry.’”

”By its solidarity, the association of Indian guilds, the mahajan, was a force which the princes had to take very much into account. It was said: ‘The prince must recognize what the guilds do to the people, whether it is merciful or cruel.’ The guilds acquired privileges from the princes for loans of money, which are reminiscent of our medieval conditions. The shreshti (elders) of the guilds belonged to the mightiest notables and ranked equally with the warrior and the priest nobility of their time.”

Thus a review of works of Oman, Ross, Dill, Ingram and Weber is enough to prove that the caste system existed in Europe throughout most of its history. On the other hand, we find that the caste system has a history of less than 1000 years in India.

The last untouchable in Europe

The only living Cagot traces the roots of her pariah people, who endured centuries of brutal prejudice for reasons no one can even remember

Sitting in her little house near Tarbes, in the French Pyrenees, Marie-Pierre Manet-Beauzac is talking about her ancestry.

For most people this would be agreeable, perhaps even pleasurable. For the 40-something mother-of-three, the story of her bloodline is marked with a unique sadness: because she belongs to an extraordinary tribe of hidden pariahs, repressed in France for a thousand years.
Marie-Pierre is a Cagot.
If the word "Cagot" means nothing to you, that is not surprising. The history of the Cagot people is obscure; some assert it has been deliberately erased. Marie certainly believes that: "To talk about the Cagots is still a bad thing in the mountains. The French are ashamed of what they did to us, the Cagots are ashamed of what they were. That is why no one, these days, will confess they are of Cagot descent."
Except, uniquely, for Marie-Pierre herself. She is probably the only person in the world willing to admit she is of Cagot blood. But it took her many years to realise what that meant. "When I first had children, I wanted to know where they came from – which means where I came from. And so I started researching, I traced my family tree back through the generations – through many villages and towns in the Pyrenees.
"And that's when I noticed certain names and trades in my background, lots of humble carpenters, basket-makers, poor people, people who lived in the 'wrong' parts of town. Soon I realised I was a Cagot. Though many argue what that really means."
As Marie-Pierre avers, the truth about the Cagots is obscure. The people first emerge in documents around the 13th century. By then they are already regarded as an inferior caste, the "untouchables" of western France, or northern Spain. In medieval times the Cagots – also knows as Agotes, Gahets, Capets, Caqueux, etc – were divided from the general peasantry in several ways. They had their own urban districts: usually on the malarial side of the river. These dismal ghettoes were known as Cagoteries; traces of them can still be found in Pyrenean communities such as Campan or Hagetmau.
For hundreds of years, Cagots were treated as different and inferior. In the churches, they had to use their own doors (at least 60 Pyrenean churches still boast "Cagot" entrances); they had their own fonts; and they were given communion on the end of long wooden spoons. Marie-Pierre adds: "When a Cagot came into a town, they had to report their presence by shaking a rattle. Just like a leper, ringing his bell."
Daily Cagot life was likewise marked by apartheid. Cagots were forbidden to enter most trades or professions. They were forced, in effect, to be the drawers of water and hewers of wood. So they made barrels for wine and coffins for the dead. They also became expert carpenters: ironically they built many of the Pyrenean churches from which they were partly excluded.
Some of the other prohibitions on the Cagots were bizarre. They were not allowed to walk barefoot, like normal peasants, which gave rise to the legend that they had webbed toes. Cagots could not use the same baths as other people. They were not allowed to touch the parapets of bridges. When they went about, they had to wear a goose's foot conspicuously pinned to their clothes.
Marie-Pierre sighs. "The Cagots weren't even allowed to eat alongside non-Cagots, nor share their dishes. Some said the Cagots were psychotic, even cannibals." As for marriage between Cagots and non-Cagots, it was almost impossible. Nonetheless, love affairs across the divide did occur – there are poignant songs from the 16th and 17th centuries lamenting these tragic misalliances.
On occasions, the bigotry was brutally enforced: in the early 18th century a prosperous Cagot in the Landes was caught using the font reserved for non-Cagots – his hand was chopped off and nailed to the church door. Another Cagot who dared to farm his fields (strictly verboten) had his feet pierced with hot iron spikes. "If there was any crime in a village," says Marie-Pierre, "the Cagot was usually blamed. Some were actually burned at the stake." Even in death, the discrimination persisted – the Cagots were buried in their own humble cemeteries; there is still one in Bentayou-Sérée, a tiny village north of Pau.
So where did the Cagots originate? And why did they suffer such bigotry?
Their provenance is opaque. That is partly because the Cagots themselves have disappeared from view. During the French Revolution, the laws against Cagots were formally abandoned – indeed many Cagots pillaged local archives and erased any record of their ancestry. After 1789, the Cagots slowly assimilated into the general populace; many may have even emigrated.
Nonetheless, there are historical accounts that afford an intriguing glimpse. Contemporary sources describe them as being short, dark and stocky. Confusingly, some others saw them as blonde and blue eyed. Francisque Michel's Histoire des races maudites (History of the cursed races, 1847), was one of the first studies. He found Cagots had "frizzy brown hair". He also found at least 10,000 Cagots still scattered across Gascony and Navarre, still suffering repression – nearly 70 years after the Cagot caste was "abolished".
Since Michel's pioneering work, various historians have tried to solve the Cagot mystery. One theory is that they were lepers, or contagious cretins. That would explain the rules against Cagots "touching" anything used by non-Cagots. However, this theory falls down on the many descriptions of the Cagots being perfectly healthy, even sturdy.
Another idea, as Marie-Pierre implies, is that the Cagots were slaves of the Goths who inundated France in the Dark Ages. From here, etymologists have deduced that "ca-got" comes from "cani Gothi" – "dogs of the Goths". But that idea fails to explain the many variants of the Cagot name, nor does it square with the geographical distribution. In fact, the Cagot name probably derives from "cack" or "caca", a term of abuse in itself.
Last year, a new theory emerged, propounded by the British writer Graham Robb in his book The Discovery of France. Robb suggests that the Cagots were originally a guild of skilled medieval woodworkers; in this light, the bigotry against them was commercial rivalry, which became fossilised and regimented over time.
So who is right? It's a confusing picture. But Marie-Pierre Manet-Beauzac, "the last Cagot in the world", has no doubts where she comes from: "I believe the Cagots are descendants of Moorish soldiers left over from the 8th century Muslim invasion of Spain and France. That's why some people called them 'Saracens'. I am quite dark, and my daughter Sylvia is the darkest in her class."
And her theory, of the Cagots being converted but still-distrusted Muslims, is supported by many French experts: because it neatly explains the religious disapproval of the Cagots. As for the geographical spread, that's probably linked to the St James pilgrim routes.
Marie-Pierre shows me a website where she is gathering information about Cagot life. She points to a list of villages associated with Les Agotes.
"Some like to say Cagots have disappeared. But this is not true. If you travel near Campan, for instance, you can still see the short, swarthy people descended from the Cagots. The 'pestiferous people'."
I ask Marie-Pierre if she will let me use a picture of Sylvia – and the rest of her children. She shakes her head. "I'm sorry but no. It is OK for me to admit where I come from. But if people knew about my children's background, it might be difficult for them."
She gazes out of the window, at the distant green Pyrenees. "In some places, the hatred lingers. Even now. The Cagots may be silent but I can still hear it."
Other vanishing peoples
The Aromanians/the Vlachs
Whilst they date back to the Roman colonisation and its people are spread across much of the Southern Balkans, their language, Aromanian, closely related to Romanian, is believed to be almost extinct. Evidence of the culture lives on; with festivals celebrated in Greece today.
The Rusyns
1.2 million Rusyns are estimated to be living in Europe with over half the population in Ukraine. Ethnically not recognized by the Ukraine due to Czechoslovakia's communist regime of the 1950's, a time when their Greek Catholic Church was also eradicated. The people are famed for their beautiful wooden churches and ethnic pride is on the rise in Slovakia where they also dwell.
The Sami
The indigenous population also known as Laps are spread across northern Sweden, Norway and Finland, the tribe have populated Scandinavia and Russia for at least 2,500 years. Strongly associated with reindeer herding which continues today, with just under 3,000 still practising in Norway

Dalits in the United Kingdom

After the second world war substantial immigration took place from nations and countries of the former British Empire largely including the Indian Subcontinent, which now consists of modern day Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Immigration to the United Kingdom was largely driven by post World War II labour shortages. Among the South Asian immigrants were Dalits, and like the rest of the Subcontinent diaspora, they settled and established their own communities.
The report conducted by the Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance in collaboration with theUniversity of Hertfordshire, the University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University, and reported by The Guardian alleges that caste discrimination is "rife" in theUnited Kingdom. The report claims that this conclusion was reached via surveys and focus groups. The report also alleges that casteism persists in the workplace and within the National Health Service and even at the doctors surgery.
British Indians are, however, divided on the issue of the prevalence of caste discrimination in Britain, and discrimination claims are disputed by the Hindu Council of the UK who assert that the issue was being "manipulated" by Christians and other anti-Indian activists eager to convert Hindus from their faith.
Hindu groups assert that caste issues will be resolved in a generation and that it is dying out and that there is a trend in inter-caste marriages that should resolve the issue.Some believe that caste discrimination is non-existent. Some have stated that the government does not have the right to interfere in the community's internal affairs. The Hindu Forum of Britain conducted their own research and concluded that caste discrimination was “not endemic in British society”, and that these reports aim to increase discrimination by legislating social interactions and personal choices that are expressions of people's freedom, and any barriers should be removed through education and awareness, not through legislation.
Two reports were conducted on the matter. The first report was conducted by the Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance in collaboration with academics from the universities of Hertfordshire and Manchester and the Manchester Metropolitan University. The second report was conducted by the government organisation NIESR the National Institute for Economic and Social Research.
The first report conducted by the ACDA and reported by The Guardian and The Telegraph found that the Caste system is widespread and affects tens of thousands of people at work,at schools within the National Health Service[111] and even at the doctors surgery.A second report was conducted and authorised by the government through NIESR, the National Institute for Economic and Social Research. The study has found evidence that caste discrimination and harassment is likely to occur in Britain. Evidence has been found in respect of work and the provision of services. Whilst not ruling out the possibility of caste discrimination in education, no incidents enabling a conclusion that caste discrimination was likely to occur in education were found. The report found favourable aspects for anti legislation groups in using educational methods instead of legislation. However, non-legislative approaches were ruled less likely to be effective in the private sector and would not assist those where the authorities themselves were discriminating. One of the criticisms of discrimination law in caste discrimination cases would be the difficulty there would be in proving caste discrimination and harassment. Legislation not only provides structures for redress but also leads to much greater understanding of the issues and reduces the acceptability of such discrimination and harassment.
In addition, more recent studies by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research on alleged caste discrimination in Britain admit to being largely inconclusive, and that any caste discrimination was "not religion specific and is subscribed to by members of any or no religion".Equalities Minister Helen Grant has expressed concern that there is insufficient evidence of caste-based discrimination in Britain to require specific legislation, and Shadow Equalities minister Kate Green has also said that the impact is on a relatively small number of people] Religious studies professor Gavin Flood of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studiesconcludes that the Hindu community in Britain is particularly well integrated, and that necessitates the loosening of caste ties. Also, casteist beliefs are prevalent mainly among first generation immigrants, with such prejudices declining with each successive generation due to greater assimilation.
Currently the amendment is still under consideration and a verdict for the caste discrimination clause section 9 (5)a has not yet been delivered. Opinions are being sought from both Hindu and Sikh groups in the UK who are both for and against anti caste discrimination legislation.

Indian Caste System Imported To Britain? Dalits Say Yes, Upper Caste Hindus Say No

on July 12 2013 

When millions of immigrants from South Asia migrated to the United Kingdom in the past fifty years, many Hindus and Sikhs brought along their ancient attitudes towards caste. Illegal in India, caste prejudice remains deeply embedded -- not only on the sub-continent, but also in the global Indian Diaspora, including Britain, where some 400,000 Dalits (or "Untouchables") currently live.
In April of this year, the British government passed landmark legislation to ban caste discrimination in the country under the Equality Act, to protect U.K.’s Dalit community from prejudice from other Hindus.
Under India’s complex and ancient caste customs, the Dalits are at the very bottom of society -- so low that they are not even considered part of the system. Historically, Dalits have suffered immense discrimination, poverty and marginalization by upper-caste Hindus and others. They have traditionally been forced to work at the most dangerous and dirtiest jobs that higher-castes would not deign to perform.
The new British law -- designed to prevent such mistreatment within its large Indian immigrant community -- is unusual since it was one of the few that did not address the racism and prejudice often faced by South Asians from the host white Britons, but rather tackled discrimination issues within the immigrant community itself.
However, now, as reported by The Independent newspaper,  a Conservative minister is allegedly seeking to weaken or defeat the new law due to pressure from Hindu groups in Britain who oppose the legislation and insist that caste” is not the same thing as “race.”
Equalities minister Helen Grant wrote a letter to Hindu organizations in which she suggested that the laws concerning Dalits could potentially be removed from the books if it is deemed to be unnecessary after a period of five years.
“I made no secret … of my disappointment that it has been necessary for the Government to concede to making an order to include caste as an element of race in the Equality,” Grant wrote in a letter to the Alliance of Hindu Organizations dated May 9.
“We remain concerned that there is insufficient evidence of caste-based discrimination to require specific legislation. We also have concerns that incorporating caste into domestic law – even in the context of anti-discrimination – may send out the wrong signal that caste is somehow becoming a permanent feature of British society.”
Indeed, Grant (who, ironically, is black) seemed to suggest that caste prejudice does not exist in Britain to any great degree, making the new law subject to revisions or even repeal.
”We have the option of removing it from the statute book,” she flatly declared.
Grant’s letter has sparked an outcry from some quarters which support the inclusion of caste prejudice in the equality laws.
“It’s entirely improper that the minister who’s supposed to be implementing the legislation -- and initiating the consultation -- is making it clear she’s opposed to the whole process,” said Liberal Democrat MP Lord Eric Avebury, whose party supported the law.
Dalit activists in the U.K., who hailed the April legislation as an important breakthrough, are now concerned by the latest developments.
“Until this legislation is [finally codified into law], the thousands of Dalits who say they are discriminated against will have no recourse to justice,” said Meena Varma, director of the Dalit Solidarity Network UK.
“Grant’s tactic seems to be to kick the whole thing into the long grass until five years have passed and the Government can scrap the legislation.”
The Independent cited the case of Vijay Begraj, a British-born Dalit, who filed a case of caste discrimination three years ago after he was subject to abuse and harassment by other Hindus at a solicitor’s office in Coventry where he and his wife Amardeep (a Sikh Jat, a much higher caste) both worked.
“Hindu groups say there’s no issue of caste discrimination in Britain but it’s nonsense,” Begraj said.
In 2005, the New Internationalist blog interviewed several British Dalits who detailed incidents of prejudice and discrimination (both subtle and blatant) which they had endured at the hands of upper caste Hindus and Sikhs. For example, British women of Indian upper-caste descent working in a shop in the city of Wolverhampton refused to drink water from the same tap as Dalit women. In some cases, Dalits allege they were either denied promotions or jobs by upper-caste employers when their origins were revealed.
Jeremy Corbyn, a Labour Party MP who is not a Dalit but advocates for them, told the Indian Express newspaper that caste prejudice was “exported to the U.K. through the Indian Diaspora. The same attitudes of superiority, pollution and separateness appear to be present in South Asian communities now settled in the U.K.”
Corbyn added: “I represent a constituency in Central London where this is much less prevalent unlike in many other places outside where it is a serious human rights violation, one that is difficult to prove unless the legislation is in place.


Although caste discrimination is most common in South Asia, this form of discrimination is also widespread in the UK. Evidence has been found that South Asians who have relocated to the UK, tend to bring the caste system, and inherent discrimination, with them when they move. Caste discrimination is therefore reproduced within South Asian communities in the UK.
It has been estimated that there are at least 250.000 Dalits living in the UK. The exact figure, however, is unknown due to issues concerning identification as a ‘Dalit’, lack of detailed research and the absence of caste data in the census.
While culture-specific menial occupations, such as for example manual scavenging, are not known to be pursued by Dalits in the UK, the ‘untouchability mindset’ persists and UK based Dalits are victims of several forms of direct and indirect discrimination. Dalits and lower castes in the UK are subjected to discrimination in education (in the form of pupil-on-pupil bullying) in the workplace and in the supply of goods and services (such as healthcare and in treatment in shops). Furthermore, caste based discrimination occurs in worship, religion and politics. The more direct forms of discrimination manifests itself in incidents of violence and public harassment.
Comprehensive studies (see below) confirm the existence of caste discrimination (see below) in the UK. In April 2013, after a prolonged campaign by civil society organisations, the UK government finally decided to outlaw caste discrimination.

UK: The secret scandal of Britain’s caste system
Posted on June 26, 2011
Why isn’t the Equality and Human Rights Commission taking action against this prejudice?
You can tell that speakers are preparing to say something scandalous when they assert that “militant atheists” are the moral equivalents of the religious militants that so afflict humanity. Trevor Phillips, whose flighty management of the Equality and Human Rights Commission is becoming a scandal, was no exception when he announced last week that British believers were “under siege” from “fashionable” atheists.
If his claim that “people who want to drive religion underground are much more active, much more vocal” contained a jot of truth, we would have read the following stories in the days after his intervention.
• Inflamed after reading an acerbic passage by Richard Dawkins, “fashionable” Belfast atheists decide to lay siege to Catholic homes in the Short Strand area of the city. They terrify its residents and attack the police with petrol bombs and fireworks. (As it was, the riots were the work of Belfast Protestants motivated by a hatred of Catholicism. They were met by Republican IRA “dissidents”, filled with an equal hatred of Protestantism.)
• “Vocal” Iraqi secularists decide that they want to drive the Shia Muslims in Baghdad underground. They ignite bombs in a Shia market during its busiest time of the week and a mosque, killing 40 in all. (As it was, the murders were the work of al-Qaida in Iraq, which regards Shia Muslims as heretics and was determined to demonstrate again that no one is as murderously “Islamophobic” as Islamists are.
• Free-thinking Americans decide they have had enough of religious leaders laying down the law. They descend on the New York State Senate and heckle and jostle a woman rabbi as she tries to influence a debate on gay marriage. (As it was, the heckling and jostling was done by Orthodox Jews, who said the rabbi had no right to speak for Judaism because she was a lesbian.)
Since the end of communist-inspired persecutions in all the old socialist countries bar China and North Korea, religious hatred has become unique among the prejudices. Overwhelmingly, it is directed by the religious against the religious. Domineering believers threaten members of their own faith when they break taboos by experimenting with new thoughts and ways of living. Or they engage in sectarian conflicts with other religions.
Trevor Phillips’s attack on “fashionable” atheists for exercising their right to speak their minds shows he does not begin to understand modern sectarianism. From his ignorance flows a cowardly refusal to face down those who would bully and harass others, as a story that deserves more attention than it has received shows.
British Asians, secularists and Liberal Democrat and Labour politicians have been trying for years to persuade the government to tackle caste discrimination. They have had no success because the treatment of untouchables is one of the great unmentionables of British politics. They are certainly the victims of a form of religious prejudice – the sanction for the oppression of lower castes in a pre-ordained hierarchy comes from Hindu creation myths. Yet caste prejudice does not fit easily into established views of how discrimination works, because caste divisions exist among Sikhs, Muslims and Christians whose families came from the sub-continent, as well as Hindus.
Faced with the prospect of confronting the prejudices of core supporters, the Labour government preferred holding on to seats to living by liberal principles and backed away from extending anti-discrimination law to cover caste. With Labour gone, campaigners for just treatment for tens of thousands of British Asians have a glimmer of hope.
They are trying to persuade the coalition to take seriously a study of bullying and harassment conducted by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. It is a dispiriting read – little more than a list of pointless cruelties. The Indian supervisor of an NHS worker discovers that he is from a lower caste and makes his life such a misery he becomes ill under the pressure and is suspended; a social services care worker refuses to help an elderly woman wash herself because the old lady is from a lower caste and so it goes on through dozens of examples.
The casual observer of British politics might have thought that a voluble quangocrat, who is always willing to fill empty airtime with heart rending cries for greater equality, would have denounced caste prejudice with unembarrassed vigour. For once, however, Phillips is silent. A search of the Equality and Human Rights Commission records shows that it ignores caste discrimination in Britain.
When I phone its press office to ask why, its public relations officers fail to return my calls. Without hearing his side of the story, I can only guess that Phillips does not like admitting that ethnic minorities as well as white people are capable of prejudice. He may worry, too, that an honest stance would require him taking on religious lobbyists, such as Hindu Council UK, which questioned “the existence of caste discrimination in the UK” on Friday and claimed that the issue was being manipulated by Christians eager to convert Hindus from their faith.
In this instance, Phillips not only refuses to campaign for the disadvantaged, but is alleged to hinder those who do. Keith Porteous Wood, of the National Secular Society, said he had been “no help at all. Advances we have made have been despite him, not because of him”. The normally mild-mannered Lib Dem peer Lord Avebury said that “Phillips has played an ignoble part in suppressing this issue.”
From the leftish point of view there is no good ground for keeping Phillips in post. The liberal left ought to know that caste discrimination is a greater evil than class discrimination because, whatever an individual’s accomplishments, he or she can never escape from the hereditary curse. It ought also to feel a tinge of shame that when the victims of prejudice try to start a new life by coming to Britain, they find that the old prejudice follows them here – and that the Equality and Human Rights Commission will do nothing about it.
From a Tory standpoint, the case against Phillips is as easy to make. When the government has had to raise taxes and cut spending, what purpose is served by carrying on spending taxpayers’ money on Phillips? With a bit of luck, left and right will soon agree that removing him from an office he is unfit to hold is a “fashionable cause” everyone can support.
The Observer| Nick Cohen | Sunday 26th June 2011

Touching the untouchable
BRITAIN'S House of Lords defends its role as upper chamber of Parliament by pointing to the extraordinary breadth of knowledge within its ranks: these days a colourful mixture of political appointees, Anglican prelates and scions of ancient families. The claim has grown more plausible since the elevation of some prominent figures from ethnic minorities, such as Baroness Flather (pictured above), who comes from a Hindu background but is now active in the British humanist movement. At a debate this week on stamping out caste discrimination among Asian-origin people in Britain, she spoke with grim and impressive frankness about the situation in her homeland. At the time of Indian independence in 1947, she recalled, there was a mood of optimism about the prospects for equality.
"There was a great hope that the caste system would die out. It has not done so but has got worse. People have killed their own children because they have married a person in a different caste. There are organisations in Delhi that find and bring back young people who run away from their villages to escape the wrath of their parents. They pick them up and bring them to their parents who have them killed. It is horrible."
She was speaking in support of a successful move by some distinguished lords to defy the government by insisting that caste-based discrimination be included in Britain's equality legislation. An amendment to that effect was approved by 256 votes to 153; for the change to become law, it will need to be approved by the House of Commons as well. The government has acknowledged that the country's 480,000 citizens whose background is   Dalit (the group formerly known as untouchables) face discrimination, albeit not usually of the ghastly sort described by Lady Flather. But the current government line is that a campaign of education will deal with the problem. After this week's moral victory, lobby groups that defend the interests of the British Dalits are now determined to convince the government that a change in the law is essential.
So what sort of disadvantage is a Dalit likely to face in Britain? One well-publicised case concerns a young couple in the Midlands town of Coventry, both of whom were lawyers working for an Asian-run practice. Vijay Begraj, a Dalit, and his wife Amardeep, from a higher caste, said their bosses objected to their inter-caste marriage, and made life unpleasant; he claims he was unfairly dismissed. Their case has foundered on a technicality but a change in the legislation would revive it. Sat Pal Muman, chairman of the lobby group Caste Watch UK, says he knows of equally insidious but subtler cases, falling short of dismissal. His wife once worked for a small Asian-run manufacturing firm where she incurred hostility, and was excluded from the kitchen, when she declined to say what her caste background was. As a result she left the firm. 
In their debate, the well-informed and multicultural nobles cited many other cases. Lord Harries, a retired Anglican bishop who moved the amendment, said he knew an Indian-born medical technician, working for Britain's National Health Service, whose "life was made hell" by an Asian boss after questions arose over his family background. The aggrieved man's trade union said it was not possible under the present law to bring a case for discrimination on caste grounds. Lord Singh of Wimbledon, a  Sikh, quoted the founder of his faith as saying: "Ask not a person's caste but look to the inner light within."  He added: "While I have the greatest respect for a sister faith, I believe that Hinduism without the old-fashioned concept of caste will be infinitely stronger. Similar negative cultural clutter exists in all our different faiths." Lord Deben, a Tory convert to Catholicism, demanded to know: "Is it right that a person who is a subject of Her Majesty in this country shall not be able to claim against discrimination when they would be able to in India, Nepal or indeed in Bangladesh?"
The laws and constitutions of south Asian countries are not, in practice, enough to provide the Dalits with the protection they desperately need. But changing the law and practices in Britain—whose colonial yoke is sometimes blamed, rightly or wrongly, for exploiting and exacerbating India's social divisions—would be a good start.

Hinduism, Britain and caste

Arguments over caste spread from India to Britain

THE LIST of things on which Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the British Labour party, disagrees with David Cameron is, of course, very long. But here is one that you may not have thought about, unless you happen to be a politically active member of the Hindu or Sikh community in Britain. Mr Corbyn is a long-standing and passionate advocate of the Dalits, people from India who complain of being treated terribly by their compatriots because of their low status under the caste system; such discrimination was supposedly abolished by independent India's constitution but it remains a powerful social reality.
Indeed, advocates of the Dalits remember him gratefully as one of the first British politicians to take up their cause. Specifically, Mr Corbyn wants British law to prohibit discrimination on grounds of caste, a step which the government seems reluctant to take, and one which some prominent British Hindus adamantly oppose. These opponents insist that the existence of caste discrimination in Britain is unproven, and that outlawing it would be an insult to the Indian community.  
In 2012, Mr Corbyn told parliament
Dalits are the largest group of people in the world who are systematically discriminated against on the basis of their descent and caste. They perform the worst jobs in the dirtiest conditions, and have the shortest life expectancy, the lowest level of education, the worst housing and the lowest pay and employment levels of any group in India, or indeed, the rest of the world.
Since becoming opposition leader he has, of course, had many other concerns, but he reaffirmed his commitment to the Dalit cause on October 14th at the Annual General Meeting of the Dalit Solidarity Network, a lobby group of which he is honorary chairman. The group says it speaks for hundreds of thousands of South Asian people in Britain who remain vulnerable to discrimination, mostly at the hands of fellow South Asians, because of the low miserable status they are accorded by the rules of caste: both Dalits (who stress they are still looked down on even if they leave Hinduism for another religion) and the Ravidassias, a category of Sikhs.
All this matters more than ever because a political battle over the Dalit question may soon come to a head in Britain after simmering for a long time. Arguments over whether Britain should explicitly outlaw maltreatment on grounds of caste have been in progress since at least 2010 when an Equality Act made it illegal to discriminate (in the treatment of employees and customers, or the provision of state services) on a familiar list of criteria, including race, ethnicity, religion and gender.
In its initial version, the Act said that the government "may" add caste to the catalogue of protected characteristics if the need were to become obvious. Then in April 2013, after some lively debate in both Houses of Parliament, the government reluctantly agreed to a new forms of words, spelling out that it "must" add caste to the list. But the consultation process needed before that change takes effect, which could be completely finished in a matter of weeks, has been dragged out, and it is still in progress.
The latest twist in the saga involves a judgment by a British employment tribunal. A couple of Indian origin had to pay £180,000 to a former domestic worker who alleged she had been underpaid and maltreated, over a period of five years, after moving with her bosses from India to Britain. The couple were of Hindu heritage though at least one of them had become Buddhist; the maid was Christian. The plaintiff alleged that she faced discrimination on grounds of both religion and caste, and a series of British tribunals found both claims legitimate. Through a tortuous line of reasoning, it was accepted during the hearings that consideration of caste was just about permissible under existing British law. The government apparently saw this as an opportunity to escape a nasty dilemma. 
In their recent pronouncements, Mr Cameron's ministers have been hinting they no longer need to add the word "caste" to the Equality Act because it has now been established in case law that caste is already a legitimate area for complaints over discrimination. Even as things stand, "case law provides potential protection for someone wishing to claim caste discrimination," said Baroness Williams, speaking for the government in July. Lord Anthony Lester, a respected human-rights advocate, has dismissed that argument, saying that one employment tribunal hardly counts as case law, and legislation is still needed. 
Meena Varma of the Dalit Solidarity Network says she believes that Hindu lobbyists are pressing the government "at the highest level" to drop the idea of legislating against caste discrimination. On the other other hand, the list of people and bodies who still think that Britain should outlaw caste discrimination is also quite impressive; not only Mr Corbyn but Anglican bishops, some respected Liberal Democratic and Conservative peers, the National Secular Society, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Navi Pillay, who till recently was UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
So the Labour leader is not alone in his concern for the Dalits, whether in India or Britain. But as he may soon discover, people who speak out for the wretched of the earth can get themselves called all manner of unpleasant things, from neo-colonialist to Orientalist. Being caught in the middle of a South Asian argument can be an unpleasant experience for a British politician of any ideological persuasion.


From Wikipedia
"Agote" redirects here. For the Argentine physician, see Luis Agote.
The Cagots (pronounced: [ka.ɡo]) were a persecuted and despised minority found in the west of France and northern Spain: the Navarrese Pyrenees, Basque provinces, Béarn, Aragón, Gascony and Brittany. Their name has differed by province and the local language:CagotsGézitainsGahets, and Gafets in Gascony; AgotesAgotak, and Gafos inBasque country; Capots in Anjou and Languedoc; and CaconsCahetsCaqueux, andCaquins in Brittany. Evidence of the group exists back as far as AD 1000.
Cagots were shunned and hated. While restrictions varied by time and place, they were typically required to live in separate quarters in towns, called cagoteries, which were often on the far outskirts of the villages. Cagots were excluded from all political and social rights. They were not allowed to marry non-Cagots, enter taverns, hold cabarets, use public fountains, sell food or wine, touch food in the market, work with livestock, or enter the mill.They were allowed to enter a church only by a special door, and during the service, a rail separated them from the other worshippers. Either they were altogether forbidden to partake of the sacrament, or the Eucharist was given to them on the end of a wooden spoon, while a holy water stoup was reserved for their exclusive use.They were compelled to wear a distinctive dress, to which, in some places, was attached the foot of a goose or duck (whence they were sometimes called "Canards"). So pestilential was their touch considered that it was a crime for them to walk the common road barefooted or to drink from the same cup as non-Cagots. The Cagots were often restricted to the trades of carpenter, butcher, and rope-maker.
The Cagots were not an ethnic group, nor a religious group. They spoke the same language as the people in an area and generally kept the same religion as well. Their only distinguishing feature was their descent from families identified as Cagots. Few consistent reasons were given as to why they should be hated; accusations varied from Cagots being cretins, lepers, heretics, cannibals, to simply being intrinsically evil. The Cagots did have a culture of their own, but very little of it was written down or preserved; as a result, almost everything that is known about them relates to their persecution.Their cruel treatment lasted through the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Industrial Revolution, with the prejudice fading only in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Origin and etymology

The origins of both the term "Cagots" (and "Agotes""Capots""Caqueux", etc.) and the Cagots themselves are uncertain. It has been suggested that they were descendants of theVisigoths, and the name Cagot derives from caas (dog) and "Goth". Yet in opposition to this etymology is the fact that the word "cagot" is first found in this form no earlier than the year 1542. 17th-century French historian Pierre de Marca, in his Histoire de Béarn, propounds the reverse – that the word signifies "hunters of the Goths", and that the Cagots were descendants of the Saracens. This theory was comprehensively refuted by the Abbé Venuti as early as 1754.
Another theory is that the Cagots were descendents of the Cathars, who had been persecuted for heresy in the Albigensian Crusade. A delegation by cagots to Pope Leo X in 1514 made this claim, though the Cagots predate the Cathar heresy. Perhaps this was a strategic move. In limpieza de sangre statutes such stains of heresy expired after four generations and if this was the cause of their marginalisation, it also gave grounds for their emancipation.
One early mention of the Cagots is from 1288, when they appear to have been calledChretiens or Christianos. Thus, another theory is that the Cagots were early converts to Christianity. The hatred of their pagan neighbors continued after they themselves converted, merely for different reasons. Another possible explanation of their nameChretiens or Christianos is to be found in the fact that in medieval times all lepers were known as pauperes Christi, and that, whether Visigoths or not, these Cagots were affected in the Middle Ages with a particular form of leprosy or a condition resembling it, such aspsoriasis. Thus would arise the confusion between Christians and Cretins. However, early edicts apparently refer to lepers and cagots as different categories of undesirables. By 1593 the distinction was explicit. The Parlement of Bordeaux repeated customary prohibitions against them but added when they are lepers, if there still are any, they must carry 'clicquettes'.
In Bordeaux, where they were numerous, they were called ladres, close to the Spanishladrón meaning robber or looter, similar to older, probably Celtic term bagaudae (or bagad), a possible origin of agote.
The alleged physical appearance and ethnicity of the Cagots varied wildly from legends and stories; some local legends (especially those that held to the leper theory) indicated cagots had blonde hair and blue eyes, while those favoring the Arab descent story said cagots were considerably darker. One common trend was to claim that cagots had no ear lobes, or that one ear was longer than the other.
Graham Robb finds most of the above theories unlikely:
Nearly all the old and modern theories are unsatisfactory... the real "mystery of the Cagots" was the fact that they had no distinguishing features at all. They spoke whatever dialect was spoken in the region and their family names were not peculiar to the Cagots... The only real difference was that, after eight centuries of persecution, they tended to be more skillful and resourceful than the surrounding populations, and more likely to emigrate to America. They were feared because they were persecuted and might therefore seek revenge.
A modern theory of interest is that the Cagots are the descendents of a fallen medieval guild of carpenters. This theory would explain the most salient thing Cagots throughout France and Spain have in common: that is, being restricted in their choice of trade. The red webbed-foot symbol Cagots were sometimes forced to wear could have been the guild's original symbol. There was a brief construction boom on the Way of St. James pilgrimage route in the 9th and 10th centuries; this could have brought the guild both power and suspicion. The collapse of their business would have left a scattered yet cohesive group in the areas where Cagots are known.


Holy water font for Cagots in Oloron cathedral, Béarn
Cagots were forced to use a side entrance to churches, often an intentionally low one to force Cagots to bow and remind them of their subservient status. This practice, done for cultural rather than religious reasons, did not change even between Catholic and Huguenot areas. They had their own holy water fonts set aside for Cagots, and touching the normal font was strictly forbidden. These restrictions were taken seriously; in the 18th century, even a wealthy Cagot had his hand cut off and nailed to the church door for daring to touch the font reserved for "clean" citizens.
Cagots were expected to slip into churches quietly and congregate in the worst seats. They received the host in communion only at the end of a stick. Many Bretons believed that Cagots bled from their navel on Good Friday.
An appeal by the Cagots to Pope Leo X in 1514 was successful, and he published a bullinstructing that the cagots be "[treated] with kindness, in the same way as the other believers." Still, little changed, as most local authorities ignored the bull.


The nominal though usually ineffective allies of the Cagots were the government, the educated, and the wealthy. It has been suggested that the odd patchwork of areas which recognized Cagots has more to do with which local governments tolerated the prejudice, and which allowed Cagots to be a normal part of society. In a study in 1683, doctors examined the Cagots and found them no different from normal citizens. Notably, they did not actually suffer from leprosy or any other disease that would justify their exclusion from society. The Parliaments of Pau, Toulouse and Bordeaux were apprised of the situation, and money was allocated to improve the lot of the Cagots, but the populace and local authorities resisted.
In 1709, the influential politician Juan de Goyeneche planned and constructed the manufacturing town of Nuevo Baztán (after his native Baztan Valley in Navarre) near Madrid. He brought many Cagot settlers to Nuevo Baztán, but after some years, many returned to Navarre, unhappy with their work conditions.
It was not until the French Revolution that substantive steps were taken to end discrimination toward Cagots. Revolutionary authorities made clear that Cagots were no different from other citizens, and de jure discrimination generally came to an end. Still, local prejudice from the populace persisted, though the problem at least began to decline.
During the Revolution, Cagots had stormed record offices and burned birth certificates in an attempt to conceal their heritage. These measures did not prove effective, as the local populace still remembered. Rhyming songs kept the names of Cagot families known.

Modern status

Today the Cagots no longer form a separate social class and have largely assimilated into the general population. Very little of Cagot culture still exists, as most Cagots have preferred not to be known as such.
There was a distinct Agote community in Navarre up to the early 20th century, with the small northern village called Arizkun in Basque (or Arizcun in Spanish) being the last haven of this segregation, where the community was contained within the neighborhood of Bozate.
Because the main identifying mark of the Cagots was the restriction of their trades to a few small options, their segregation has been compared to the caste system in India.


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