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Dalit/Untouchable in Asia

Countries in Asia:

There are 48 countries in Asia today, according to the United Nations. The full list is shown in the table below, with current population and subregion (based on the United Nations official statistics).
Not included in this total of "countries" and listed separately are:
  • Dependencies (or dependent territories, dependent areas) or Areas of Special Sovereignty (autonomous territories)

Dependencies or other territories

Bangladesh's recommendations – session 4
Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Rights Movement (BDERM) &

International Dalit Solidarity Network (ISDN) response


Pursue its efforts, despite constraints, with the assistance and cooperation of the internationalcommunity, to combat poverty, particularly among women, including material and non material poverty in terms of exclusion

In Bangladesh Dalit women face multiple forms of discrimination and violence as a result of both their caste and gender, and are particularly vulnerable. Dalit communities are often deeply patriarchal with severe restrictions placed on women’s rights, mobility and freedom, particularly in relation to marriage. Many girls marry young, are unable to leave their homes without being accompanied and have no financial independence. Dalit women who are  allowed to work are mainly sweepers or cleaners and face regular abuse from both employers and the public. The standard government maternity leave is 4 months but Dalit women often are denied leave or only receive 2  months. According to CEDAW General Recommendation 28,  protection from discrimination under the Convention encompasses not only grounds explicitly mentioned but also other grounds such as age, class, caste, race and ethnicity. To address multiple forms of discrimination against women, states parties must legally recognize and prohibit such  intersecting forms of discrimination and their compounded negative impact on the women concerned. They also need to adopt and pursue policies and programmes designed to eliminate such occurrences, including, where appropriate, temporary special measures in accordance with article 4, paragraph 1, of the Convention and General Recommendation No. 25. 

Take steps to eradicate child labour such as finalizing the National Child Labour Policy and implementing the plan of action to eliminate the worst forms of child labour
Bonded labour and child labour represent a human rights problem in Bangladesh. Many Hindu Dalits and Muslim Dalits are, to a larger or smaller degree, bound by loans from employers. The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labour; however, the GoB does not enforce this prohibition effectively. There is no law that uniformly prohibits child labour and as a result, the phenomenon is widespread in practice. A labour force survey conducted by the GoB in 1996 revealed the existence of 6.3 million child labourers. In the draft UN principles and guidelines for the effective elimination of discrimination based on work and descent, it is recommended that "national and local governments, corporations, labour groups, and international labour, financial, and development organizations should collaborate to ensure concrete mechanisms for the prevention, identification and eradication of exploitative labour arrangements and the implementation of rehabilitation schemes for forced, bonded and child labourers with special attention to caste-affected communities" (para. 38).

Take steps to further strengthen the National Human Rights Commission and the Anti-corruption Commission to ensure that they will be able to operate independently and effectively
The National Human Rights Commission should incorporate the Dalit issue as an aspect of its work as a national human rights monitoring mechanism. To promote the socio-economic status of Dalits and other excluded groups in Bangladesh, the Government should form a special Dalit Commission or create a special cell in the National Human Rights Commission to oversee the affairs of Dalit and other excluded groups.

Create job opportunities and provide social services to face development challenges and combat poverty
The Dalit and excluded communities continue to work in some of the most menial, low paid dangerous jobs in Bangladesh, such as cleaning toilets and emptying the septic tanks of others. Unemployment and  underemployment are major issues particularly given the lack of skills, training and education. In a recent survey of the cobbler community it was found that 53% earn between 2,000-3,000 taka a month. Dalits who live and work in tea plantations face specific forms of discrimination. Many live in bonded labour or are paid extremely low wages (approx 30 Taka per day) and are unable to afford adequate food, health-care or to educate their  hildren. To ensure better access to employment, there should be quotas established for Dalit representation in the private and public spheres as enacted in other caste-affected countries, including reservation of job quotas in government and non-government services.  
Continue the efforts to draw up a national plan to provide health care to all without discrimination
The Dalit community in Bangladesh do not have equal access to health care, and live under horrible conditions. The majority of Dalits live below the poverty line, lagging behind in all development indicators (e.g. maternal mortality rates are much higher amongst Dalit women). In urban areas Dalits usually live in so called ‘colonies’ in slum like conditions with often three generations of 8-12 people living in one small room. Around 60,000 Dalits living in Dhaka have inadequate water and sanitation. The majority of Dalits are landless and in rural areas live in houses built with straw and mud, often on common land, under constant threat of eviction. The GoB is recommended to endorse and make use of the draft UN Principles and Guidelines (…) which is a guiding framework..
Pursue its positive efforts to promote and protect the right to education, including the education of girls

Despite the GoB's efforts to promote the right to education, most Dalit children do not complete formal education, with the majority attending for only one or two years. School enrolment rates are as low as 10%, with drop out rates of those that did attend school at around 95%, (national enrolment rates are 85%). Poverty and caste discrimination within schools from both teachers and students are key reasons why Dalit families choose for their children to work rather than attend school. In one survey 82% of Hindu Dalits and 84% of Muslim Dalits had experienced discrimination by the time they had started school and many experience discrimination in schools, for example being forced to sit on the floor or to clean toilets. Despite the Government’s recent  education policy which committed them to educate children in their mother tongue, this is still not being implemented. Also there is no provision made for Dalit children to learn Bangla which is also a major barrier to them attending schools. In 2009, the CRC Committee strongly recommended that "the principle of non-discrimination, as provided for under article 2 of the Convention, be fully and vigorously applied by the State party and integrated into the implementation of all other articles to guarantee, without discrimination, the rights set out in the Convention. The Committee further recommends that the State party take the necessary measures to ensure that efforts to address persistent discrimination and reduce disparities are adequate and effective in the family, schools and other settings, and in particular among marginalized and excluded children, including girls, children of ethnic minorities and refugee children." In the draft UN principles and guidelines for the effective elimination of discrimination based on work and descent, it is recommended that "national and local governments should take all necessary measures to ensure equal access to free quality primary and secondary education for children from affected communities, as well as equal opportunity to receive tertiary education. Effective special measures should be enacted for affected communities in admissions to public and private higher education institutions" (para. 46).
Issue and implement a standing invitation to all special procedures
Since the review in 2009, the Government of Bangladesh has received several requests for country visits by Special Rapporteurs without extending invitations. BDERM and IDSN urge the GOB to extend a standing invitation to all Special Procedures as they serve as an important mechanism to monitor and promote human rights implementation in the country, as was the case of the visit by the Independent Experts on water and sanitation and extreme poverty in December 2009, where they visited Dalit communities in so-called "colonies" in the ghetto areas of Dhaka. 

Build with international support the national capacities to fulfil the reporting obligations to treaty bodies
Several periodic reports to the treaty bodies are long overdue, including the reports to the CAT, CCPR, CESCR, and CERD. BDERM and IDSN urge the GoB to comply with its obligations to report to the treaty bodies, and urge the GoB to include disaggregated data based on caste in its periodic reporting to the treaty bodies.

Continue its efforts to strengthen its national human rights mechanisms and continuously upgrade its laws, policies and institutions in the area of the promotion and protection of human rights
In order to eliminate discrimination against the Dalit community, the GoB should declare the practice of ‘untouchability’ in public and private places against the Dalit community a punishable crime, using model legal acts from other caste affected countries (e.g. India  and Nepal), and on the basis of existing human rights frameworks, such as the CERD General Recommendation 29 on descent. Furthermore the GoB may decide to make use of a comprehensive framework to address caste discrimination, the draft UN principles and guidelines to elimination discrimination based on work and descent, and endorse it in the Human Rights Council as a model framework for developing a comprehensive national action plan to eliminate caste discrimination.
Continue combating discrimination and violence against women and girls by elaborating effective laws and implementing them effectively
As a signatory to the core international human rights treaties, including the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the GoB has the obligation to promote and protect human rights for all, including those discriminated on the grounds of caste as affirmed in CEDAW General Recommendations 25 and 28. In particular, the Government should observe its general obligations under the CEDAW Convention and seek guidance on how to eliminate this form of discrimination from CEDAW General Recommendation (reference) and Concluding Observations. In the Concluding Observations by CEDAW in 2011 (reference), the Committee expressed concern "at the very limited information and statistics provided on disadvantaged groups of women and girls, including minority women such as Dalit women, migrant women, refugee women, older women, women with disabilities and girls living on the streets. The Committee is also concerned that those women and girls often suffer from multiple forms of discrimination, especially with regard to access to education, employment and health care, housing, protection from violence and access to justice."

Investigate complaints concerning discrimination against members of minority religions, while developing educational and awareness programmes addressing these human rights violations.
The GoB must enforce and implement legislation protecting Dalit women and girls in Bangladesh from attacks and harassment effectively and such cases should be investigated promptly and adequately with the perpetrators being swiftly brought to justice and held accountable for their crimes.  

Adopt a comprehensive strategy to combat all forms of violence against women and girls
The GoB should adopt a comprehensive strategy to combat all forms of violence against women and girls, taking into consideration specific measures aimed at combating violence and discrimination against Dalit women and other excluded groups. In the draft UN principles and guidelines for the effective elimination of discrimination based on work and descent, it is recommended that "National and local governments should introduce and apply special measures to eradicate the persistence of social and cultural stigma of impurity and pollution that de facto precludes marriages between members of affected and non-affected communities and, in some societies, gives rise to violence, collective punishment and social exclusion against couples from different communities" (para. 22).

Redouble its efforts and allocate more resources to address the problem of violence against women and children in this area, in particular through increasing women's empowerment, public awareness, education and training as well as increase vigilance and monitoring by the relevant authorities
To promote the socio-economic status of Dalits and other excluded groups in Bangladesh, the GoB should form a special Dalit Commission or create a special cell in the National Human Rights Commission to oversee the affairs of Dalit and other excluded groups.

Ensure that women's rights are protected, through effective implementation of existing laws, the development of a comprehensive national action plan to combat violence against women and the adoption of a family code complying with the provisions of CEDAW
The GoB should enact and effectively imlpement laws and develop a comprehensive national action plan to fight violence against women, including Dalit women and other excluded groups. Such framework should be developed in compliance with the obligations under CEDAW, and take into consideration the provisions on caste in CEDAW Recommendations 25 and 28. The development of a national action plan could take general could take guidance from the draft UN principles and guidelines for the effective elimination of discrimination based on work and descent, which is a comprehensive framework that proposes general and specific measures to be taken by governments to effectively eliminate caste discrimination. 

Adopt a comprehensive approach to address violence against women and girls and to take effective measures to protect them

Continue to place emphasis on poverty alleviation and eradication, on women's empowerment and children's rights

The GoB should pay adequate attention to the human rights sitation of marginalised groups, including Dalit women and children, in all assessments, including census, data collation, planning, and implementation of any human rights, development and humanitarian programmes. 

Continue its efforts to protect and promote human rights in compliance with international standards 

On paper, Bangladesh has a progressive Constitution which guarantees the equal rights of all citizens; irrespective of sex, caste, religion, ethnicity, or race. Bangladesh has ratified all major international human rights treaties and conventions including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights,
s a progressive Constitution which guarantees the equal rights of all citizens; irrespective of sex, caste, religion, ethnicity, or race. Bangladesh has ratified all major international human rights treaties and conventions including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. However Dalits and other minority communities across the country continue to experience caste discrimination, social exclusion and practices linked to  untouchability. Caste discrimination is a systematic human rights abuse that leads to poverty, violence, inequality and exclusion. Perceived as polluted or inferior, Dalits are prevented from participating in political, economic, social and cultural life. The word ‘Dalit’ literally means broken or oppressed and has been adopted by people who were formally known as untouchable, outcaste or Harijan across South Asia. 

Recommended the full involvement of civil society in the follow-up to this review

Civil society, including the Dalit community and other excluded groups, should be fully included in the follow up to the review, as well as in the implementation of recommendations and mid-term reporting.

Take further steps to address discrimination against vulnerable groups

The Dalit community in Bangladesh is considered ‘unclean’ in society, and are therefore forced to live separately from other so called ‘clean’ groups in their own neighbourhoods; a circumstance exacerbated by the GoB’s rule of housing in a particular locality. Dalits are not allowed to rent or build houses outside these designated localities. They are regularly denied entry to the temples and religious activities of non-Dalits, to tea shops and restaurants, to houses of non-Dalits, playgrounds, movie theatres, burial grounds, social gatherings, music concerts, and cultural events. Dalit sometimes also face severe forms of human rights violations, including abduction, rape, torture, destruction of houses, land grabbing, eviction from land, threats and intimidation. The GoB Discrimination shoould therefore recognise and take further steps to address discrimination against the Dalit community in Bangladesh as a serious impediment to the enjoyment and fulfillment of human rights in Bangladesh.

Take steps to devise a national strategy for delivering justice, to include the police, the judiciary, civil society and government

As a signatory to the core international human rights treaties, the GoB has the obligation to promote and protect human rights for all, including those discriminated on the grounds of caste, work and descent. In effect, legislation protecting Dalits in Bangladesh from attacks and harassment must be enforced effectively and such cases should be investigated promptly and adequately with the perpetrators being swiftly brought to justice and eld accountable for their crimes. In particular, the Government should observe its general obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and seek guidance on how to eliminate this form of discrimination from CERD General Recommendation XXIX on descent-based discrimination from 2002, and the draft UN Principles and Guidelines on the effective elimination of discrimination based on  work and descent. 

Continue to implement identified measures, plans and policies focusing mainly on poverty eradication

The GoB has taken some steps to mainstream a Dalit perspective into its development policy, e.g. by including Dalits and excluded communities in the national Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. However, there is still a serious need for producing disaggregated data on caste as recommended by the CEDAW Committee in 2011 and in accordance with the provisions in CERD General Recommendation 29 on descent. In the CEDAW Concluding Observations from 2011, the Committee recommends that the State party "collect disaggregated data on the situation of disadvantaged groups of women facing multiple forms of discrimination and adopt pro-active measures, including temporary special measures, to eliminate such discrimination and protect them from violence and abuse".  The GoB should furthermore adopt and implement adequate measures to ensure that the Dalit community is part of the development initiatives to eradicate poverty as a necessary means to achieving the Millenium Development Goals in 2015. 
 and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. However Dalits and other minority communities across the country continue to experience caste discrimination, social exclusion and practices linked to  untouchability. Caste discrimination is a systematic human rights abuse that leads to poverty, violence, inequality and exclusion. Perceived as polluted or inferior, Dalits are prevented from participating in political, economic, social and cultural life. The word ‘Dalit’ literally means broken or oppressed and has been adopted by people who were formally known as untouchable, outcaste or Harijan across South Asia. 

Recommended the full involvement of civil society in the follow-up to this review
Civil society, including the Dalit community and other excluded groups, should be fully included in the follow up to the review, as well as in the implementation of recommendations and mid-term reporting.

Take further steps to address discrimination against vulnerable groups
The Dalit community in Bangladesh is considered ‘unclean’ in society, and are therefore forced to live separately from other so called ‘clean’ groups in their own neighbourhoods; a circumstance exacerbated by the GoB’s rule of housing in a particular locality. Dalits are not allowed to rent or build houses outside these designated localities. They are regularly denied entry to the temples and religious activities of non-Dalits, to tea shops and restaurants, to houses of non-Dalits, playgrounds, movie theatres, burial grounds, social gatherings, music concerts, and cultural events. Dalit sometimes also face severe forms of human rights violations, including abduction, rape, torture, destruction of houses, land grabbing, eviction from land, threats and intimidation. The GoB Discrimination shoould therefore recognise and take further steps to address discrimination against the Dalit community in Bangladesh as a serious impediment to the enjoyment and fulfillment of human rights in Bangladesh.

Take steps to devise a national strategy for delivering justice, to include the police, the judiciary, civil society and government
As a signatory to the core international human rights treaties, the GoB has the obligation to promote and protect human rights for all, including those discriminated on the grounds of caste, work and descent. In effect, legislation protecting Dalits in Bangladesh from attacks and harassment must be enforced effectively and such cases should be investigated promptly and adequately with the perpetrators being swiftly brought to justice and eld accountable for their crimes. In particular, the Government should observe its general obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and seek guidance on how to eliminate this form of discrimination from CERD General Recommendation XXIX on descent-based discrimination from 2002, and the draft UN Principles and Guidelines on the effective elimination of discrimination based on  work and descent. 

Continue to implement identified measures, plans and policies focusing mainly on poverty eradication

The GoB has taken some steps to mainstream a Dalit perspective into its development policy, e.g. by including Dalits and excluded communities in the national Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. However, there is still a serious need for producing disaggregated data on caste as recommended by the CEDAW Committee in 2011 and in accordance with the provisions in CERD General Recommendation 29 on descent. In the CEDAW Concluding Observations from 2011, the Committee recommends that the State party "collect disaggregated data on the situation of disadvantaged groups of women facing multiple forms of discrimination and adopt pro-active measures, including temporary special measures, to eliminate such discrimination and protect them from violence and abuse".  The GoB should furthermore adopt and implement adequate measures to ensure that the Dalit community is part of the development initiatives to eradicate poverty as a necessary means to achieving the Millenium Development Goals in 2015. 

Bangladesh came into existence as an independent state only 32 years ago. Historically however it has a multifaceted heritage, enriched by its ancient Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim roots. It is through this deeply rooted psycho-social heritage that untouchability has been ingrained into the social fabric of the country. Traditions of hierarchy and patronage, the strongholds of the caste system, remain strong among Bengalis irrespective of their caste and creed. Even religions have failed to ensure social equality due to centuries of cultural indoctrination and present political convenience. Of course many people will deny that a caste system still exists in Bangladesh. There are several reasons behind this “Caste-blindness.”
It is generally understood by people that caste system is only associated with the Hindu Community. Therefore, the common belief is that besides and beyond Hinduism the caste system
cannot exist. But this is not true. In reality a “Caste mentality” if not the actual caste system strongly exists among Bengali people. For example people engaged in some particulars menial jobs such as cobblers, sweepers, palanquin bearers, weavers, potters are discriminated against and looked down upon by society at large. People engaged in these occupations are known as muchis, methors, beharas, napits, jolas, pals etc. all of which are derogatory words in Bengali. Social regulations are imposed upon them as to restrict inter-dining, inter marriage with other groups. Even household gods (deities) are different from those of high caste Hindus. Popular faith among Muslims (known as Sufi Islamic practices) and doctrinal faith (Known as shariat Islamic practices) are manifestation of this sectarian division on the Islamic religious domain. Similarly the Christian community in Bangladesh is often described as “Old Christians” “New Christians” and “Adivasi/Tribal Christians.” All these sectarian discussions represent hierarchical stratifications of Bengali society which are simply a reflection of caste mentality.
Secondly in Bangladesh demographic analysis has always focused on the line of age, sex and religion. Cultural minorities, social minorities are relatively a new terminology in our social science. Political change for over half a century has played a greater role in removing these terminologies and thereby perspectives from the constitution as well as from official books and records. During British rule special provisions were made for “the scheduled caste” or “the depressed class” in the then Indian Constitution. After the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 India continued to keep provisions and gradually inserted many other clauses in its constitution to ensure the rights of the scheduled castes. However in the case of Pakistan (and the than East Pakistan) the “Basic democrats” structure of local government introduced by the than president Ayub Khan in 1960 replaced the “Caste-wise” system of government which existed in many places and did away with caste as a political organization. The consequences have been far reaching and wide. Caste blindness in the then East Pakistan and in today’s Bangladesh has been promoted by the state. Unfortunately the caste minorities neither could integrate themselves with the mainstream nor could the mainstream ensure social equality for them.
The third reason for this blindness is mass poverty. Social scientists and development planners have always tried to understand poverty from the view of needs and their fulfilment. Therefore all development initiatives were undertaken on the basis of enhancing livelihood and purchasing capacity of the poor. As a result the whole process has been counter productive for caste minority. In fact, there has hardly been any attempt to see poverty from the perspective of social inequality.
Yet caste blindness may be even wilfully procured by today’s government for ideological purposes. On the one hand being Bangladesh a Muslim country to state that the caste system is still a problem is to diminish the brand of Islam lived out in the country, particularly on the international scenario. Secondly, since the caste system was basically a political structure whose pillars were patronage and hierarchy, and since today’s Bangladesh’s political scenario still relies on those same pillars it may even be that the caste system or mentality comes in handy to today’s political needs!
A baseline survey, ‘Religious Ethnic Minority Groups of South west Bangladesh, conducted by Reza Shamsur Rahman (sponsored by Uttaran in 1993) revealed that there are at least 20 such minority groups in Khulna and Satkhira districts. These groups are the Bajondars, the Beharas, the Bhagobenees, the Bunos, the Dias, the Dhopas, the Hazams, the Jeles, the Kaiputras (or Kaortas), the Namasudras, the Nikaris, the Pandra Kshatrias, the Parois, the Patnis, the Rajbangshirs, the Rishis , the Fosua, the Shahjee, the Shikaris, the Tele and others. Among them the Rishis and the Namasudras constitute the major part of their total population. Caste system has literally out-casted these small groups of people who are popularly known as Muchi or, less derogatorily, Rishi.
They usually live at the edge of villages. Since they are still considered unclean, they live separately from other ‘clean’ groups in their own village. They might live next to either Hindu or Muslim neighbourhoods, but they are only allowed to live in the most undesirable areas, which nobody else covets. However, small groups have migrated to towns in an attempt to find better livelihoods. Access to drinking water is also restricted if not denied to Rishi communities in some areas. Rishis are not allowed to take food on the some plate which is served for “higher” caste people in many local restaurants.
Education for the Rishis is a difficult and sometime painful experience. Their children are not welcomed into neighbourhoods or schools as they are considered polluted and polluting. Shame, guilt and trauma are the way of living for many young learners of the Rishi community. Their elders are illiterate and thus not aware of the importance of education. To many, education is a luxury. Girls are particularly the worst victims of illiteracy. Females dropout rate from primary school is relatively higher among Rishi people.
The economic situation of most Rishi families is vulnerable. Their job opportunities are limited. They hardly possess any land. Their occupational skills, except for few trades, are poor. They are not often hired as agricultural labours because often they are not apt to the task. Earth cutting, loading and unloading goods, pulling rickshaws or vans, shoe shining, making bamboo and cane furniture etc. are the main activities of the Rishi. Employment opportunities for Rishi communities are gradually shrinking due to commercial production of commodities that were previously produced by Rishi people. Even some services offered by Rishi people in the near past are now taken over by non-Rishi people by investing more capital and introducing modern machineries and equipments. As a whole the Rishi communities have failed to adapt with the changing economic scenario, becoming poorer.
A recent study, “THE RISHI COMMUNITY OF SATKHIRA” conducted by Caritas Development Institute depicts the same picture as mentioned in the above paragraphs, detailed with facts and figures.
In the sample of 1990 Rishi households selected from 87 villages of 33 unions of Ashasuni, Kaligonj and Kalaroa thanas of Satkhira district, it was found that agriculture contributed to 3.75% of the Rishi total annual income while other non-agricultural activities contributed to 96.24% of their total annual income. Seasonal unemployment mostly for 2-3 months in the rainy season was another of the finding. The asset base of the Rishi people came out to be very limited. Fifty percent of the respondents had some savings but mostly below Tk. 500. Most of the sampled households received loans from NGO groups and local moneylenders within the range of Tk. 500 and 5000 and mainly for purchasing bamboo and cane and sustaining thus household expenditure.
The literacy rate was found to be of only 30% (male 36.31%, female 23.15%), that is, half the national literacy rate. Development interventions by both GOs and NGOs were found to be extremely inadequate, except for some credit programmes by some NGOs. Last but not least, the Rishi people were deprived of social and legal rights. They had no social participation and were not given access to social functions by the majority community. Early marriages and dowry were prevalent in the Rishi community. Local influential men, Hindu or Muslim, dominated the Rishi people. Sometimes they grabbed their lands and/or threatened to evict them. These were some of the findings.

Dhaka Dalits push for anti-discrimination law

"Untouchables" in Bangladesh hope proposed legislation can help combat years of marginalisation.

 Last updated: 18 Jan 2014

Most dalits live in poor quality housing and work in jobs considered dirty [Syed Tashfin Chowdhury/Al Jazeera]
Dhaka, Bangladesh - Rickshaw-pullers in Dhaka will take their passengers inside almost any residential colony. But one loyal customer was surprised when a puller refused to enter Ganaktuli City Colony, a dilapidated area housing more than 3,000 members of the Dalit population. The Dalits were once known as "the untouchables" in many parts of South Asia.
This sort of ongoing discrimination has taken a toll on more than 6.5 million Dalits in Bangladesh. Due to their profession and identity, the Dalits - the term comes from the word dalita or "oppressed" - are still not allowed to rent houses outside their communities.
Although younger generations of Dalits are increasingly educating themselves, many say they are not able to get jobs commensurate to their training, due to discrimination.
But a draft anti-discrimination law, which could be approved by June, has the potential to improve life for members of the marginalised community, human rights activists have said.

Poor conditions

The Ganaktuli Colony originally housed a tuberculosis hospital, but after the institution relocated to another area, members of the Dalit community were moved into the abandoned buildings.
Three or four families are residing in each of the 260 rooms. "We are fortunate, as we have nine people living in our room," said Sunayana Rani, a 37-year-old housewife. Her husband works as a cleaner at the Ibrahim Cardiac Hospital and Research Institute in Central Dhaka. Dalit populations across South Asia are mostly confined to low-level service jobs as cleaners, corpse bearers, leather workers, or cobblers.
"Besides my husband and kids, I share the room with my father-in-law, mother-in-law and the family of my brother-in-law," she said. "At night, my husband and I sleep in the kitchen while his parents sleep on the balcony."
None of the rooms in the five old buildings have attached bathrooms. "On each floor of the buildings, we have two washrooms at the staircases, one for male and another for female," Moni Rani Das, president of the Dalit Women's Forum, told Al Jazeera. Water for domestic use needs to be dragged in buckets from the two water tanks.
"Women and men have to bathe under the open skies in water from the tanks, which is very unhealthy," said Sunayana. "But we have no alternatives as we cannot get water from other areas nearby."


Jony Das, a 35-year-old resident, said: "Despite informing the government authorities time and again, they have not repaired any of the broken water and sewerage pipes.
"We do not like this lifestyle, but there is no option. Nobody will rent us houses in other areas," he added. Das and others from his generation are now daring to pursue studies, some even achieving degrees in law and other prestigious fields. "But this does not help much, as we mostly reach the interview level in public organisations. After that, we are never even called," he said.

The discrimination often occurs through the address that the recruiters find on the CVs of Dalits, he said.
Mukul Ranjan Sikder, president of Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Rights Movement (BDERM), said members of the community were still struggling to be recognised as human beings.
"Despite having education, most of the youths have to stick to their father's and grandfather's professions, which are looked down upon by the society," he said.
On the education front, Moni Rani believes things are improving, if slowly. "We did not have this privilege [to go to university] even ten to twelve years back," she said. "We were not even allowed into the Hindu temples for worship back then."
Besides mostly Hindu families, one building of the six in Ganaktuli houses Muslim Dalits who also perform menial work.
Dalits residing in nine other areas of Dhaka are in a far worse state than those in the Ganaktuli neighbourhood, said people of the community. "Although discrimination has decreased in Dhaka, it exists full-scale in the rural areas still," said Moni Rani.
Historical injustices
The roots of the Dalit populations found in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal - as well as in the US, the UK and other European countries - can be traced to Uttar Pradesh, India.
Dalits, a fairly new term that the population now uses to self-identify, were previously known asNamashudras, among other names. The names acted as labels that excluded the population from the four recognised castes of Hinduism in India - Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (military), Vaishyas (business) and Shudras (artisans and labourers).
The caste system in India stemmed from the division of occupations, which were stratified to signify social esteem, with the Brahmins being the most esteemed and the Shudras the least.
At the time, the Namashudras [now Dalits] were called "the untouchables". According to studies on migration in South Asia, after facing cruelty in their homeland, Dalits began migrating from India to other South Asian countries as far back as 1605.
A considerable number migrated into what is now Bangladesh between 1835 and 1940, during a British-sponsored urbanisation plan. They worked in jobs such as road sweeping, clearing sewage, shoe repair and tea harvesting. This historical legacy of working in low-paying, difficult jobs continues today.
New laws
To improve the lives of Dalits, rights groups have been pushing for legislative changes, particularly the proposed anti-discriminatory law.
"We have been researching on the law for the past two years and we launched it in January through a seminar," Dr Shah Alam, a member of the Law Commission of Bangladesh, told Al Jazeera. "The law will be an umbrella law which will address not just discrimination faced by Dalits, which is discrimination due to profession and identity, but also other forms of discrimination including religion, race, gender, physical disabilities," he said.
Zakir Hossain, chief executive of Nagorik Uddyog, a rights group, added: "Even if it is an umbrella law, it will still be a great development for the Dalit population."

Al Jazeera

Dalits of Bangladesh: Destined to a life of humiliation 
International Dalit Solidarity Network 
A User’s Manual to a Life of Degradation Most children are born with a sense of possibility. Even the poor have the right to dream of a life that’s better than their parents’ – or at least different from it. But in the case of Bangladesh’s Dalits, such dreams would amount to pure fantasy. If your father is a sweeper, you are likely to become a sweeper too. The sons of barbers are barbers; the cobblers will see their children grow up as cobblers. So, what is wrong with ”job security” and inheritance of skills in a poor country with limited access to education? The problem is the attached status as “untouchable” in the eyes of the majority of the population. As a Dalit, you are equipped with a user’s manual to a life of daily humiliation. You will be told where to live and which playgrounds, tea shops and burial grounds you can and cannot use. The manual dictates which houses you are not supposed to enter to greet the mother of a newborn baby or a couple on their wedding day. You will be acutely aware that many toilets are inaccessible for you – and for your children at their schools. And if you should meet a non-Dalit at the local market, you might be instructed to carry her shopping bags home. The Dalits’ manual to life even defines the appropriate distance to keep at a funeral of somebody you might have known your entire life, but whose “higher status” will prevent you from staying more than a few minutes to offer your condolences. Both the Muslim majority and Hindu minority in Bangladesh have a hierarchical caste system with discrimination, exclusion and practices of untouchability against "the lower castes". The estimates of their numbers vary from 3,5 to 5,5 million. Of course, this user’s manual doesn’t exist in writing. It doesn’t have to. The rules governing the daily humiliations of Dalits are so inherent that both the oppressor and the oppressed know them instinctively. But, as a first step to combating discrimination, these practices have now been documented, in detail, by Bangladeshi researchers in a unique study for the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies (IIDS) in association with the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN). The study reveals a pattern of descent and work-based discrimination so widespread that it is rarely questioned by the practitioners and is de facto sanctioned by the State. The constitution’s ban on discrimination is not enforced; discriminatory practices are still in place in a number of government run institutions. At a time when Bangladesh is busy positioning itself in the global economy, internationally condemned practices such as child labour are rampant and often fuelled by caste-based discrimination. This is not just problematic for the poor but for the future of an entire nation.

Two Religions, Similar Problems

 Caste systems and discrimination against so-called “untouchables” are traditionally regarded as part of Hindu culture and certainly originate in Hindu scriptures; but in Bangladesh, these traditions and practices have also been adopted by the Muslim majority. In addition, an unknown number of Christian Dalits live in Bangladesh. Members of these “low castes” have been known by terms such as “untouchables” and “scheduled castes”. However, they increasingly refer to themselves as Dalits — “broken people” — to emphasise the fact that they have been deliberately exploited, oppressed and destroyed through generations. Since ancient times, they have held jobs such as fishermen, sweepers, barbers, washers, dyers, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, cobblers, oil-pressers, boatmen, weavers, hunters, sawyers, butchers, gardeners, tailors and drum beaters. These are all important positions for the functioning of any society but they are widely regarded as menial. Hindu and Muslim Dalits share a number of problems and challenges but also differ in some respects. The Hindus suffer double discrimination as members of a religious minority in the Muslim nation as well as because of low 2 status within their own communities. A Regional Study This fact sheet and the underlying study of Bangladesh's Dalits are part of a regional study on castebased discrimination undertaken by the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies (IIDS) in association with the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN). The regional research covers four countries; Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The landmark reports are available at and The Bangladesh study’s main findings are highlighted on the following pages in the “Challenges and Recommendations” sections. 3 Discrimination based on religion includes the State’s attempt – through its discriminatory laws – over many years to strip the Hindu community of its land as well as attacks and abuse by radical Muslims. But, when it comes to discrimination based on work and descent, the Hindu Dalits generally suffer the most. Nevertheless, the IIDS study does reveal a number of areas in which Muslim Dalits experience more severe discrimination than their Hindu counterparts – most notably in school. This seems caused by the fact that, whereas the Hindu Dalits normally attend schools built specifically for their communities, the children of Muslim Dalits are more likely to join non-Dalits in their education. Discrimination in relation to salaries is another area where Muslim Dalits report greater discrimination than Hindu Dalits.

Survival is a Balancing Act

 The Sweeper Colony in the Agargoan area of Dhaka is built on stilts: the 98 minute shacks are connected by walkways of slippery bamboo poles to keep their 500 inhabitants above the frequent flood waters of the area. Pragmatic measures are the order of the day here. Much the same can be said about the social system that created this nightmare of a neighbourhood and keeps it alive. The sweepers in Dhaka are typically descendants of Hindus imported from present-day India by the former British colonial masters in order to do menial work. The Sweeper Colony is evidence that Bangladesh’s independence did not effect much change in this regard. Some of the inhabitants are employed by the same Public Works Department that established the colony but never supplied it with safe water and electricity. The close correlation between employment, housing and identity often prevents Dalits from improving their status. In Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, even the cholera infested Sweeper Colony is seen as a valuable foothold in the capital. The shack comes with the job, and the sweepers thus find it hard to imagine or establish any other career for themselves and their children. As “untouchables”, Dalits are in any case rarely allowed to rent or build houses in the “pure” areas elsewhere. The study by IIDS documents how Dalits have been conditioned to accept this system. Acceptance has been perpetuated to such an extent that only a minority regards the lack of access to other work as discrimination. The study also reveals that the sons of Dalits very often inherit the profession of their father. This affects their level of education – schooling and even literacy are not regarded as necessities in most of the traditional occupations of Dalits. Discrimination against Dalit children in schools puts a further damper on any ambitions of education. And experience tells the Dalit community that even the graduates among them will battle to find a job. This powerful combination of tradition, discrimination by society and the Dalits’ own acceptance of their fate as unavoidable leaves people balancing on bamboo poles above the muddy waters of unpredictability and possible progress. A moment of play and laughter in the Pangu PWD Sweeper Colony in the Agargoan district of Dhaka. In the rainy season he better cling on to the stilts the colony is built on – bad sanitation and flooding in the colony brings diseases deadly for Dalit children like him. Proportion of Hindu Dalits who have no education at all. The figure for Muslim Dalits is 61%. (IIDS study with 250 respondents, 2007) Proportion of Hindu Dalits whose families have lived in the same location for more than 30 years. For many of them housing is closely related to their professions – and often they are not allowed to live elsewhere. The corresponding figure for the more mobile Muslim Dalits is 49,4%. (IIDS study with 250 respondents, 2007) 64% 70,9% The Devil is in the Detail Dalits in Bangladesh have limited access to most things – from clean water to electricity. The IIDS study reveals that only a minority enjoys even the simplest conveniences such as telephones (8,6% and 9,3% among Hindu and Muslim Dalits respectively), radios (10,3% and 8,0%) and bicycles (16,6% and 12,0%). Yet the most striking feature of Dalits’ existence is not the extreme poverty that they share with billions of people around the world. What makes the life of Dalits particularly unbearable are the practices of untouchability and the daily humiliation through caste-based discrimination. The IIDS study documents a number of these practices in painstaking detail. Dalits are often prevented from entering the homes of non-Dalits – 29,2% of Hindus and 45,3% of Muslims report moderate to strong discrimination in this regard. Resistance only increases if they should ask to use the toilet; moderate to strong discrimination is experienced by 39,4% and 34,7% respectively. Dalit children are the victims of similar discrimination in the toilets of public schools. Only 30% of the interviewed Hindu Dalits have never met resistance when wanting to enter a house to greet the mother of a newborn baby in the community: the corresponding figure for Muslims is 28%. Newly-wed couples are even more inaccessible to Dalits: only 9,7% Hindu and 22,7% Muslim Dalits have not experienced discrimination in their attempts to extend congratulations. 46,3% and 70,7% of Hindu and Muslim Dalits respectively have had to carry plastic bags for non-Dalits whom they have met at the market. This is just one of the practices of dominance. Others include having Dalits touch the feet of non-Dalits with their foreheads — a degrading act that is particularly enjoyed by the intimidator when others are present to watch. And so the discrimination continues throughout life and even after death: 40,6% of Hindu and 53,7% of Muslim Dalits have met with discrimination at public graveyards when trying to bury members of their family. 4 Proportion of Hindu Dalits who have experienced resistance to marriage with other religions. The corresponding figure for Muslim Dalits is 85,3%. (IIDS study with 250 respondents, 2007) Immaculately clean after a good scrub, yet regarded as “dirty” by the surrounding society. Dalits have been living in the Bilkana Dalit colony for 80 years under miserable conditions, but have little chance of moving to a better place due to strict segregation. Bangladesh 4,5 million or 3-4 percent of the total population 90,3% Land Grabbed from Hindu “Enemies” Some forms of discrimination against Hindu Dalits in Bangladesh are closely connected to the historically hostile relationship with neighbouring India and its Hindu rulers. The land laws are arguably the most poignant example. The formation of Pakistan (divided in East and West Pakistan of which the former later became Bangladesh) in 1947 was based on the “Two Nation Theory” which regards Hindus and Muslims as two separate nations by every definition. Hostilities towards Hindus increased rapidly, and a large number fled to India. The government of Pakistan used the opportunity to take over so-called “evacuee property” in 1949, 1951 and 1957. Subsequent legislation in this regard, including the Vested Property Act passed in 1974 by independent Bangladesh, all had one thing in common: it gave the State the right to confiscate any land from people who were deemed enemies of the state. Since much of the Hindu minority’s land in Bangladesh was co-owned by alleged enemies in India, it was an easy target. Extensive research by Professor Abul Barakat of Dhaka University indicates that 925 050 Hindu households were affected and the community lost a total of 6 640 km2 of land. It ended up in the hands of just 0,4% of the population, mostly powerful politicians among the ruling Muslims. As a consequence of this practice, an estimated 5,3 million Hindus emigrated between 1964 and 1991. The increasingly controversial Act was finally repealed in 2001 and replaced by the Vested Properties Return Act. However, implementation of this law has been slow and opposition parties have called for its repeal. Meanwhile, the spirit of the old Act lives on in widespread attacks on the Hindu population perpetrated by radical Muslims. As a consequence of the extensive confiscations and the delayed return of the land, landlessness is widespread. Lack of land often also means lack of access to credit and prevents Dalits from acquiring other capital assets such as decent housing. This problem is shared with Muslim Dalits even though they never had to face any of the discriminatory land acts.

The Younger Face of Discrimination

 Countries that are truly developing regard improvements in education as an important benchmark for success. In Bangladesh, however, the most noticeable trend is that more and more children go to work rather than to school. The last official count, done by the State in 1996, found 6,3 million child labourers between the ages of five and 14 years. This is the equivalent of 19% of the total child population. A large number of these working children are Dalits for whom this development has alarming consequences. Instead of becoming the new generation with a better future through education, the children simply become the ever-younger faces of the old dynamics of caste-based discrimination. There are many reasons for this. Poverty forces Dalit families to use any available means to increase the household income as fast as possible: investing in the future through education is seen as a luxury that a poor family cannot afford. Meanwhile employers in an increasingly competitive economy – locally as well as globally – welcome any chance to increase the workforce and decrease the salaries. Many see child labour as the answer. According to the Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum, children do 430 different kinds of work of which 63 are hazardous. These include ship breaking, prostitution, collection of shrimp fries, working in brick kilns, slaughtering animals, smuggling and political violence. 5 Proportion of the land 53% owned by Bangladesh’s Hindus which was lost as a result of the Vested Property Act and similar legislation. (Professor Abul Barakat, 1997 and also Gupta R.D., 2007) The police suggest that between 15 000 and 20 000 children are engaged in street prostitution; an estimated 250 000-300 000 – mainly girls – are working as maids in Dhaka which could be considered to be forced labour. Other children are exported to the Middle East and used as jockeys in camel races. Discrimination against Dalits in Bangladesh’s schools is part of the reason that work is often regarded as more attractive than education. 81,7% of Hindu Dalits and 84% of Muslim Dalits in the IIDS survey have experienced discrimination as early as at the time of admission to school. Once admitted, the pattern continues with Dalits reporting widespread discrimination from teachers as well as other students. Thus the old patterns of caste-based discrimination contribute to lowering the age of the new victims by pushing them into the labour market instead.

A Nation Shuns Its own Potential 

Ideally, election campaigns should be a time of hope and an opportunity for politicians and voters to swap promises of a better future for support, all in mutual respect. For many Dalits of Bangladesh, however, elections are often synonymous with violence. If Dalits participate in rallies for a particular candidate, they are frequently threatened or beaten after the election. Some are prevented from visiting the polling stations out of fear that they will vote for the “wrong” candidate. And, if someone should win an election without the support of non-Dalit Hindus, that person could face severe problems. This is all reflected in the IIDS survey. 31,4% of Hindu Dalits and 50,7% of their Muslim counterparts feel discriminated against when participating in political activities. Not surprisingly, this leads to negligible representation of Dalits in all spheres of government. This lack of willingness to let Dalits make their own choices and be heard in the political arena is only one symptom of a larger exclusion that amounts to missed opportunities, not just for the individual, but also for the State. Particularly Hindu Dalits feel that they are not taken seriously, even when they have skills to offer to society. The stereotyping of Dalits as unable to perform more advanced jobs is perpetuated by the State. Hindu representation in the bureaucracy and among officers in the army (1,6%) and the police (6%) is way below their 20% proportion of the population. The negative attitude towards Dalits even spills over into the micro-credit programs that have made Bangladesh world famous as a pioneer in the fight against poverty. Dalits are less relied on as debtors because most of them don’t have permanent jobs and land for dwellings, all resulting in a limited capacity to form groups and to save the required small amounts every week. This is all evidence of society’s pervasive insistence on treating Dalits as liabilities rather than possible assets. Without a serious change in this overall attitude, individuals as 6 well as the nation will forever be deprived of the full potential of millions of Dalits. Most Dalit children work and don’t go to school. These children in Rainkhola Bangladesh Sanjakta Harijon Colony are lucky, but their situation may change in an instant. The Dalit community is struggling to avoid being forcibly removed from the area by the government. 445 226Number of street children in six cities in Bangladesh. They are homeless orphans or abandoned and frequently exploited as forced or bonded labourers. (Baseline survey by ARISE, 2001) 37,5% Proportion of street children interviewed who have been the victims of sexual harassment. (Baseline survey by ARISE, 2001) 82,3% Proportion of Hindu Dalits who feel discriminated against by NGOs and their micro-credit programmes which are world-famous as pioneers in the fight against poverty. The proportion of Muslim Dalits with the same experience is 56%. (IIDS study with 250 respondents, 2007)


 State, Caste and Human Rights The constitution of Bangladesh declares that Islam is the State religion, but bans discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Social exclusion is nevertheless practised over the entire country. The recently repealed Vested Property Act had a hugely discriminatory effect on Hindus. It gave the government the right to administer land formerly known as “enemy property” which was confiscated from Hindus since the formation of East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh) in 1947. Implementation of the Vested Properties Return Act from 2002 has been slow. Recommendation: The legislation protecting Dalits from attacks, harassment and misbehaviour must be enforced effectively and offenders prosecuted. As a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the government should observe its general obligations and also implement CERD General Recommendation 29. A separate Dalit commission should be established to formulate policies to address caste discrimination and improve to lives of Dalits. Economic and Social Status of Low Caste vis-à-vis Other Castes The Vested Property Act and its predecessors forced an estimated 5,3 million people to emigrate from 1964-1991. Much of their land is now in the hands of powerful politicians. The remaining Hindu Dalits have very few capital assets, a fate they share with Muslim Dalits. Roughly 95% of them earn less than the national average, and they usually need to pay bribes for introduction to any kind of employment. Both Hindu Dalits (63%) and Muslim Dalits (48%) have to take regular loans because of poverty. Recommendation: Dalits should be leased government land on a long-term basis and supported by loans to build housing. Strong social mobilisation should be generated to uphold the status of Dalit professionals who are not only essential but real assets to society. There should be quotas for the employment of Dalits in the private and public spheres. Nature and Extent of Untouchability and Discrimination in Social and Cultural Spheres Many Hindu Dalits’ and, to a lesser degree, Muslim Dalits are denied access to a vast number of public and private facilities, including water sources. This pattern is repeated when it comes to religious facilities and practices and other social functions such as community feasts, weddings and funerals. Things touched by Dalits are often sprinkled with water to make them pure again. Recommendation: A strategy should be developed by government and NGOs in collaboration with Dalit organisations and other stakeholders to give Dalit communities access to benefits and services enjoyed by other citizens and an educational campaign against practices of caste discrimination implemented. Untouchability and Descent-Based Discrimination Both the Muslim majority and Hindu minority in Bangladesh have a hierarchical caste system with discrimination, exclusion and practices of untouchability against both Hindu Dalits and Muslim Dalits. The estimates of their numbers vary from 3,5 to 5,5 million. Most of the Hindu Dalits are descendants of Indians brought to the country since 1608 by the Mughal regime and – later – the British Colonial regime as menial labour. Recommendation: Vulnerability of Dalits should be properly identified. Intervention must be undertaken to create a positive attitude towards Dalits and their families in society. All photographs by Jakob Carlsen. Design by Anette Oelrich. PUBLISHED BY IDSN, SECOND EDITION, JUNE 2008. Economic and Market Discrimination Dalits of both religions are often forced to work for non-Dalits without being paid because they, at times, are dependent on their help. A vast majority of Dalits experience discrimination when trying to get a loan from a bank or a moneylender – and even from the micro-lending NGOs that Bangladesh is world famous for. Recommendation: A sustainable livelihood approach should be adopted for Dalits to generate human, natural, social, financial and physical assets. Proper employment opportunities should be reserved for Dalits in all sectors. Discrimination in Political Sphere Dalits of both religions are often kept out of politics and decision making. They find it difficult to organise trade unions, elect their own leaders and vote in elections where they are commonly threatened with violence to vote against their will – or bribed to vote for a particular candidate. Dalits experience that the government has no programmes for eradication of poverty and discrimination among them. Neither do donors of development usually include Dalits in their formulation of politics and programmes. On top of being discriminated against and ignored, Dalit communities – particularly the Hindus – are frequently victims of active brutality such as rape, torture and burning of houses, all perpetuated by non-Dalits and often fundamentalist Muslims. Recommendation: Dalits should be encouraged to be involved in policy making. Provisions should be made in Parliament to prioritise the protection of Dalits during natural disasters and societal hazards such as riots. Discrimination in Education More than 80% of Dalits experience discrimination in admission to school: some Dalit parents are actively discouraged by teachers from sending their children. Dalit students are denied anything from scholarships to selection for sport teams and are teased by teachers and non-Dalit students. Hence their dropout rate is high. Bullying is a particular problem for Muslim Dalits who meet more non-Dalits at school than Hindu Dalits do. Dalits are not encouraged to become teachers themselves. Recommendation: Initiatives to create awareness among Dalits regarding social education should be undertaken by government, NGOs and media. Scholarships should be properly allocated for Dalit children in order to encourage higher education. Quota systems for Dalits should be implemented in all public and private educational institutes. Bonded Labour Bangladesh does not have large-scale bonded or forced labour as some other countries in South Asia. However, 26% of Hindu Dalits and 35% of Muslim Dalits are, to a larger or smaller degree, bound by loans from employers. The Constitution of Bangladesh prohibits forced or compulsory labour, including that performed by children; however, the government does not enforce this prohibition effectively. Child labour is a massive problem. A survey in 1996 revealed the existence of 6,3 million child labourers between the ages of 5 and 14 years while 19% of all children are economically active, often in hazardous jobs or prostitution. Trafficking of bonded labour to the Middle East and Pakistan is an increasing problem. Recommendation: Effective implementation of existing constitutional provisions and special legislation, including the Factories Act and Shops and Establishments Act, and enacting of specific provisions against bonded labour. Multiple Discrimination of “Low Caste”/“Untouchable” Women Bangladesh was one of the first developing countries to establish a Ministry of Women’s Affairs. But women’s lives are still overwhelmingly controlled by men, and the hardships experienced make Bangladesh one of only four countries in the world where women live shorter lives than men and are outnumbered by them. In some cases, religious Fatwas prevent women from voting. Furthermore, both Hindu and Muslim laws control the veiling of women and their invariably limited judicial rights in marriage, divorce and dowry. Recommendation: Advocacy programs by government and NGOs should empower Dalits and Dalit women in particular to secure protection and establishment of their human rights. Income generation schemes and relevant initiatives should be undertaken nationally for Dalit women and children.

'A Tragedy of Dignity': Life as One of Bangladesh's 'Untouchables'

Living here means being condemned to poor sanitation, limited employment opportunities, and debilitating floods. The slum is dense with humans living in buildings that are structurally unsound and the area is not served by municipal waste collection.
Within the slum, Basfurs are the lowest of the low — even their neighbors avoid coming in contact with things they have touched, won't share their water, and sometimes even refuse to speak to them.
Bangladesh has a population of over 150 million people. Almost 90 percent of those are Muslim, and Hindus are the largest minority, making up just over nine percent. The country's constitution grants the rights of all citizens regardless of caste, race, sex, religion, or place of birth, but in reality being born at the bottom of this system has long-lasting consequences.
Munni and Ratan Basfur with three of their four children outside their home. Photo by Tom Pietrasik/Oxfam.
A 2013 study by Mazharul Islam and Altaf Parvez pointed out that while sample surveys indicate that there are between 5.5 and 6.5 million "Dalit" people, designated as "untouchables," living in Bangladesh, the country's census does not record information about them. The report notes that "the lack of concrete data contributes to the invisibility, marginalization, and disempowerment of these communities," and prevents any moves to politicize the issue, including claims for "special measures, representation, or participation in policy making, development, employment, and equality of access to basic services."
The Basfurs can usually only get casual work. Existence at the lowest levels of the social hierarchy means they have the least access to political recourse, and therefore they are often overlooked for service provision by the local government. Religious minorities often lie at the bottom of the caste system and a language barrier can exist too. Many older Horijon Polli residents speak only Hindi, while those who are younger and more educated may speak Bengali as well. 
Ratan Basfur, 32, works as a casual cleaner for a hotel and for Mymensingh's Municipal Authority, for which he earns $36 per month. He is increasingly frustrated, an emotion that bursts out as he talks.
"We're looked down on," he stated. "That is a challenge. We are not connected to the rest of the world."
"People are always in disagreement here," Ratan said. "There are two communities here, one is Horijon and the other is Basfur. Horijons are perceived to be a better community, of a better caste, and they usually live in a better environment. A Horijon will not enter our house, they will not touch what we've touched, or eat what we eat. But we eat what they've touched. 
"Horijons are usually better educated than Basfurs, even though we do similar work. There is a caste system even among us — in the same slum — which divides us. Horijons look down on us, as we are considered a lower class."
The Basfur's teenage daughter. Photo by Tom Pietrasik/Oxfam.
The word "Dalit" comes from Sanskrit, and translates to "those who have been broken and ground down deliberately by those above them in the social hierarchy." Dalit people can be found across South Asia and discrimination against them, as a social group, has become increasingly politicized. 
"There is a growing civil society movement to defend and ensure the rights of Dalits in Bangladesh," Rikke Nöhrlind, executive director of the International Dalit Solidarity Network, told VICE News. "Young Dalits, including young women, are increasingly getting organized to stand up for their rights and claim an education." Nöhrlind added, however, that most do not have the resources to maintain what is a "significant struggle, so we are still only seeing a few managing to break out of their traditional caste occupations and economic status."
Nöhrlind said that a considerable amount is being done by Bangladeshi human rights defenders to urge the government to "enact special anti-discrimination legislation, collect data on the welfare of Dalits in the country, enact quota systems, special measures, and budgets for Dalits, as well as cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms to end caste-based discrimination and exclusion."
However, the group's designation continues to have both subtle and shocking consequences. A 2011 report published by South Asians for Human Rights found that violence towards members of lower castes was on the increase. The incidents recorded included murder, rape, the denial of access to public places, physical torture, land grabbing, forceful conversion, the looting of houses, and discrimination in schools.
Nöhrlind also noted that Dalit women are particularly hard hit, "as they suffer triple discrimination on the grounds of caste, gender, and religion."
A rubbish dumping area in Horijon Polli. Photo by Tom Pietrasik/Oxfam.
Around half of all Horijon Polli residents don't have access to a toilet connected to their living quarters. Queues for the one open public toilet block in the Basfur area can last between three and five hours each morning. Children defecate in a drain in the slum.
As there are no showers, some women wash fully clothed using water from the well.
Munni Basfur works three cleaning jobs. She wakes at 4am to clean the street, employed casually by the city government. Then she moves on to a pharmaceutical company to do a two-hour cleaning shift, and does another half an hour's work in a store.
She spoke about one of the biggest concerns of the sweeper class — the fact that they've condemned their offspring to a life in the lowest caste. There have even been reports of untouchables sending their children away and encouraging them to change their names, in the hopes that the next generation can escape the stigma that has plagued their parents.
The Basfurs' four children all currently attend school. Munni remarked: "If someone asks me what my mobile number is I cannot tell them, because my parents didn't teach me. I want my children to learn numbers."
With certainty, she said that she has no way to help her children find employment. "I don't know what their future holds, their fate is a question I can't answer."
Ratan Basfur outside his home in Horijon Polli. Photo by Tom Pietrasik/Oxfam.
Her 14-year-old daughter Chandra is in Year 7 in school. Chandra — whose name has been changed — loves playing sports, particularly badminton and football. She is often forced to sit in the back of the schoolroom with other children of the sweeper class. Their classmates aren't allowed to touch these children.
Chandra said this has impacted on her, and that she has "learned at school how to be clean and how to behave with people. If you live in a clean place you won't have diseases. I try to keep the home clean and clear, and I try to keep my little brothers clean, as well as the environment."
While Chandra finds the practicalities of her home life can be difficult, she added: "I actually like living here, because you always like the place you're born in. My whole family is here with me."
Chandra would like to graduate "at least from college," a dream she says her father has acquiesced to for the moment. "My parents treat us boys and girls equally but most parents do not. Some girls are not allowed to go outside — but boys can go wherever they want," she continued.
"I can only go to school alone. If I want to go somewhere else my parents take me… When I'm older my parents will marry me off and I'll not be allowed this freedom then either. My husband will have to take me. Here — I don't mind. My mother has my safety in mind.
"But maybe when I'm married off I might resent this and want more freedom to do my own thing," she added. "It's difficult to really be someone here, because girls are married off at such a young age. The law says 18, but it's not enforced here. So I'll be married young."
Munni cooks breakfast with her son, age two. Photo by Tom Pietrasik/Oxfam.
Luke Henrion, an Oxfam commissioning editor who traveled to Bangladesh late in 2014 to work with the inhabitants of Horijon Polli, told VICE News that many of the people he met were as much embarrassed about their situation as angry at the unjustness of it. Older people were "more frustrated than the young people," he said. "For the young people it was all they knew. It seemed that life got harder the older you got, the more responsibility you had and the kids just carried on playing, but they were playing in really squalid conditions. Every time it flooded they were having to play in sewage water from the drain."
Henrion's overwhelming impression, he said, was of a "huge kind of tragedy of dignity, especially for the women who have to queue for four or five hours in the morning to use a tiny, dilapidated block of pit latrines, which then get horribly flooded when there's rain."
Because of the lack of proper drainage in the slum, rain often results in floods, and 15 minutes of deluge is all it takes to start to engulf Ratan and Munni's house. Munni explained: "The water comes up 1.5 feet every time it floods. During monsoon, the drain outside our house gets inundated. The water level exceeds even my bed. We have to raise it up on bricks, and sleep above the soiled water. For two days we can be stuck up on the bed on bricks."
Ratan also highlighted the constant fear of disaster and its resultant tragedy. "I am 32 right now," he said. "In my 32 years I have seen 10 slums completely burned by fire. That's also a scare. The houses are small and just beside each other. If one room catches fire it doesn't take much time to spread."
Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd

Police trying to cover up Rishipara raping

Investigation reveals five, not two, were raped on January 6 morning
Jessore police have turned the gang raping of at least five Dalit women into stories of two ordinary rapes, trying to bury a part of the spate of post-election violence against minority people, investigation reveals.
Evidence suggests that police tried to bury the incidents altogether until the matter was revealed in the media in the early hours of January 8 – two days after the rapes at Rishipara of Monirampur in Jessore.
The local police also allegedly influenced the stories of the victims in two cases filed, making them sound like ordinary incidents of rape. The three other victims mysteriously changed their previous statements and are now denying to have been raped.
The police took three days to have medical examinations of the two complainants, significantly reducing the chances of finding any evidence at all, which ultimately led to the conclusion that there had been no rape.
However, contradictions in the first information reports (FIRs) filed by the two victims, video footage recorded by local journalists and statements of witnesses still substantiate that at least five women of the families of two neighbouring brothers were raped on the same night.
The victims are the wives of the two brothers, their daughters, and a daughter-in-law.
We decided to leave the village and not to file any case as we barely have a hand-to-mouth existence and cannot bear the cost of running a case,” said the husband of a victim. The victims are Dalits,members of the Rishi community, who are cobblers by profession and are socially considered at the lowest tier in the Hindu caste system –the “untouchables.
Neighbours suspect when one of the families left the area with all their belongings the morning following the rape, the other took shelter in a date orchard near Rishiparawhere they had bought three kathas of land.
The Rishiparaincident took place three days after some 300 families of Malopara village of Abhaynagarhad been driven away by the activists of Jamaat-e-Islami, its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir and their key ally BNP.
“The question is whether the rapestook place at all. Does a husband lie with his wife the next day she was raped?” saidMonirampur police station’s Officer-in-Charge Mir Rezaul Hossain in his first reaction to a question asked by thisreporter about the rape.
Rezaul went on speaking in the same manner at his office on January 14 evening, claiming that those women had come up with the stories of rape for getting money or aid.
Rape is not a matter for them [Dalits]. They do not hold it [having sex] in high regard like us. They can compromise their honour for anything, for mere fun!”
“They make a mountain out of a molehill. They lie a lot,” Rezaul said. The OC insisted that the number of rape victims – three – as mentioned in the FIRs was not true and it would be two, and that too was “highly doubtful.
The Dhaka Tribune has copies of the FIRs filed by two rape victims – one of the daughters and the daughter-in-law, who mentionedthe name of a third victim.
The half-page FIRs sound incomplete, only describing that seven to eight masked men stormed into their houses around 1:30am and 2:30am on Wednesday and that only one of them raped the complainants. The other members of the group held the family members hostage for an hour.
The name of a fourth rape victim appears in the statement of Ashutosh Mandal, a member of the Village Defence Police posted in the area. He told the Dhaka Tribune that he had encountered the family while they were leaving the village the next morning.
Video footage recorded during a visit to the area by two local journalists on January 9, a copy of which is available with the Dhaka Tribune, shows the fifth victim.
I addressed them as my sons and begged for not dishonouring me, but they defiled me!” cries one of the mothers in the footage.The husband of a victim is seen saying: “They entered the house one after another.”
Ashutosh said: “I heard three men raped…[name withheld].”
He confirmed that the Monirampur upazila Nirbahi officer had been informed by Union Parishad Member Afzal Hossain around 3:30pm on Wednesday.
Police visited the area twice that evening,” said Govinda Das, one of the youths who have been guarding the area at night since the incident. However, OC Rezaul  claimed that he had not learnt of the matter until Thursday evening, a statement that contradicts that of the district’s Police Superintendent Joy DevBhadra, who told the Dhaka Tribune: “We came to know about it in the evening of January 8 [Wednesday].
A local journalist said police had forced the two complainants to lodge stories of being raped by a single man in the case as a case of a gang rape would have caused further backlash against the law enforcers’ failure to protect Hindus.
“But they could not hide it entirely as the media had already interviewed some of the victims,” said a journalist.
According to the two complainants, they had not been taken to the police station until Thursday night and had their tests done two days later, on Saturday morning.
Jessore General Hospital Superintendent Yakub Ali and several forensic experts told the Dhaka Tribune that the chances of finding rape evidence in the body of a victim were slim after 24 hours, especially in the case of married women.
The Dhaka Tribune has copies of the medical tests that found no proof of rape.
The case could have been proved in another way – by examining the clothes the victims were wearing during the violence. However, police appear not to have even considered this method.
“I do not see any hope because of the role police are playing,” said Niranjan Prasad Biswas, chairman of Haridaskathi union.
Police have arrested two people who are not even suspected by the victims.
The four suspected by victims are still at large.
Although the police claim that the two arresteesare activists of the BNP and Jamaat, the one identified as a Jamaat activist is known as a supporter of the Awami League in the area.

Derogatory and ambiguous references to “Muchis” in primary schools’ final examination

It was apprehended that during the final examination of primary

education, what in Bengali is called Somaponi Porikkha, the word Muchi,
a highly offensive and derogatory word to indicate the members of the cobblers’
caste (a former outcast group which goes under the general denomination
of Dalit) has been used in a way offensive to the people. During the
exam of Hindu religion and moral education, the question no. 7 of the
first exercise so read: “At your home the Durgapuja festival (the
greatest religious festival of the Hindus of Bengal, ndr.) is going on.
At that time a Muchi comes and asks to take part in the festival. What

will you do?” Four the possible answers among which the student must

choose one: 1. I will ask my father. 2. I will let him join in. 3. I

will discourage him from joining. 4. Fearing the others’ reaction, I

will not let him join in.

On the 3 of December The Rishi (the proper and non-offensive name of the

“Muchi” of south west Bangladesh) community strongely protested the

happening, requesting the government to punish those responsible in the
education ministry. For the occasion gatherings were organised by both
the Bangladesh Dalit Parishad aided by Paritran in different parts of
the country, including Dhaka. The pictures in the slideshow above depict a number of
“Muchi” of Tala bazar in the Satkhira district carrying out a token
strike to protest the event. Below the pictures the text paper
incriminated is also shown.

The Crying of a Dalit Son – A case study

Milon Das, Director

Tala, Satkhira

Satkhira district is situated in the Southwest part of Bangladesh. Here 33% of the remaining Hindu community is made up by Dalits. Belonging to different castes and groupings these Dalits are known as Bhuputra, Kaiputra, Kaora, Rishi, Tahsildar etc. Taken together they are variously pointed out as Antaj (i.e. the last ones) or just simply outcaste. The single factor differentiating Dalits from others is their low caste status determined by their low birth. Milon Kumar Das was born in one such low caste, the Rishi, cobblers or leather workers by tradition. This traditional occupation, already discarded by his family, was what however identified Milon and his family as untouchable. This family lives in Laksampur village in Tetulia union of Tala upazila in the district of Satkhira. Milon is the only male offspring. His family used to live at subsistence level, deprived of any social amenity and opportunity. Indeed in those days life for so called untouchable people was subhuman. Milon’s family was no exception. His father earned a living by driving a three-wheeler cycle to carry around goods here and there, the kind of three-wheelers that are still quite common on the roads of today’s Bangladesh as well. Due to both social ostracism and parents’ ignorance, dalit children did not use to go to school in those days. Somehow, Milon overcoming a series of insurmountable obstacle for a boy of 6-7 years of age, managed to get enrolled in a primary school. Milon himself and his father more than him, were convinced to go to school by an Italian Xaverian Father, Luigi Paggi. After entering school, Milon got along well with both high caste Hindu and Muslim classmates. One day, when he was reading in class 5, together with his friends, Milon went to the restaurant of a certain Babu Binoy Kumar Gosh. To his surprise he had noticed that his friends were been served food on plates while his own food was been given to him wrapped up into a piece of paper. Similarly, while his friends were given water in glasses he was denied the glass and was served water in a different container. When Milon enquired about the difference in treatment the owner, Babu Binoy, replied: “You are a son of a Muchi (i.e. a derogative word for the Rishi people) and if I gave you water in a glass nobody would ever come to this restaurant!” The 12 years old Milon was shocked and seething with rage snatched the glass from Binoy Babu’s hand and broke it into pieces by throwing it on the floor. Milon who had burst out crying was rebuked and beaten by the restaurant owner. Nobody among the present had the courage to say anything. On top of that a salish (i.e. local arbitration) was arranged in Nowapara. In that arbitration Milon was fined for the damage to the restaurant. At the same time he was also cautioned not to act like that in future. If he did, his whole family would have paid for it with social ostracism.

Although Milon was a good student he was never recognised as such in his class. Generations after generations have suffered and continue to suffer because of caste discrimination. Dalits have no legal voice and socially and economically they simply are exploited. Milon is but just one case of serious caste discrimination and human rights violation in Bangladesh. Milon Das eventually completed his primary education fighting against this sort of social barriers caused by his so called untouchability status. Though a meritorious student, he never managed to secure the 1st place in his class. He is the son of a Muchi, how could he dare?

The Life and Days of (Dalit) Sweepers in Bangladesh

Dirtiness, garbage, bad smell and nasty bio-products are part of their lives

Muzibur Rahman Masud, Daily Jugantor, Bangladesh
About 3.5 million sweepers belonging to the Dalit (so called lower cast of the Hindus) community across the country including the capital have been passing an inhuman and sub-standard life amid unbearable pains, enormous sufferings, serious accommodation problem and deep uncertainty. The number of Dalit people only in the capital is about half million. The sweepers or Dalits, one of the 44 scheduled cast communities, is the most neglected section of the society.

No authority is there to look after the sweepers who passes their nights only to wake up in the morning to clean the dirties and city garbage. They have been working for 365 days of the year but their reserved colonies are being occupied one after another by musclemen. They have been deprived of all types of civil facilities including education and health care services. They have been passing their days in unbearable sorrows and sufferings without electricity, pure drinking water and supply of gas. The recruitment of sweepers in government jobs has also been decreased. The shanties in their colonies are not hygienic so that their children have been suffering from different type of diseases. The female sweepers are being raped and oppressed frequently during their work in the night. The City Corporations and police stations are not taking actions against the culprits despite repeated complaints, rather, they are being oppressed by the authorities.

The Telegu and Kanpuri speaking sweepers have no educational or health care service centre in their colonies. The pregnant sweepers have no maternity leave, even there is no maternity or mother care facilities in the colony. Some of these colonies have few numbers of primary schools but there is no adequate language teacher. Some of non-government organizations (NGO) have been collecting huge amount of money but it is not being used for their welfare.

The government slogan ‘Education for All’ carries little value there. For these reasons, some of the Dalit guardians have sent up their children to nearby schools and colleges by changing their identity and address. There is no space for walking, enough drainage system in the colonies. In this condition, the sweepers in deep frustration. They have submitted memorandums containing their various demands to the authorities even to the Prime Minister but no results came yet. They have also failed to the Mayor of Dhaka Sadek Hossain Khoka and Local Government and Co-operatives Minister Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan despite repeated attempts.

In earlier days, they used to enjoy life by drinking liquor, taking ganza and country-made liquor but it became a daydream for them today. They have no money to buy liquor. They have no money for colourful function during the marriage ceremonies. Even the members of the Shawtal community arrange pleasure-festival along with liquor and ganza after the death of a Shawtal to forget the pain. They join the function cheerfully and enjoy it. They consider that the death free detached the men from all types of sufferings and made him free from all hardships and problems. On the other hand, they arrange a weeklong .mourning programme after the birth of a child considering that the newborn baby would face enormous sufferings during his lifetime.

Shyama Proshad, a sweeper leader told this reporter that the secret meaning of the festival with the death is different. We do it to forget the sorrows. All these information here revealed after this journalist visited the Ganoktuli, Dayaganj, Dhalpur, Sutrapur, Agargaon and Mohammadpur sweeper colonies.

Dateline: Ganoktuli Sweeper Colony

Over one lakh sweepers live in the Ganoktuli Sweeper Colony located on a piece of 20 acres of land by the side of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) Headquarters at Pilkhana. The people are living, among them 50 percent are sweepers. The colony was erected only for the sweepers but local terrorists, muscleman and drug traders and mostly heroin, liquor and ganza sellers have occupied a major portion of it. Local influential persons have already forcibly captured about two acres of colony land.

The condition of entire colony is nasty and unhygienic, discomfort environment. Life is here very difficult more than the imagination. The residents of the colony have been passing their days in inhuman condition live in their small shanties along with serious bad smell of dirt and garbage. Scarcity of pure drinking water all over the colony is so high. Water supply to the colony is dirty. There are only four to five water taps in the colony. Whole daylong queue surrounding these taps is a common scene. They bath here and collect their drinking water from these taps. There is no separate arrangement for the females. The dustbin is located in front of the slum house due to scarcity of land. The minor boys and girls used to respond the nature’s call on the roadside drains. The kids and band of pigs used to play together. They wash their dishes and other kitchen instruments by the drain water. The mosquitoes and flies gathered on the dirt. There is no scope to fresh breath because of the huge congested slum house in the colony. There are over 100 unauthorized make-shift centres of country made liquor, ganza, Phensidyl and heroin outside the colony. Terrorist and violent acts here centering the drug business are common phenomenon. The local musclemen under the direct shelter of law and order forces run the drug business, so that nobody dared to protest them.

Local people said that there is no health care centre in the colony. There is only a primary school but the scope of education of the sweepers children is limited. There is no teacher who has some expertise on their language. Lashkar, a member of the Dalit community alleged that their children are neglect and harassed in the school. So that they loss their interest in the school. The availability of drugs in the colony made the juveniles and teenagers drug addict. Even they have been becoming vagabond, terrorist and musclemen.

Dayaganj Sweeper Colony

Dayaganj Sweeper Colony is located in the old party of the capital. About 50,000 sweepers reside with fear and uncertainty. Most of the areas of the colony have already been occupied by the miscreants and rest part is now under threat of eviction. The Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) authorities have built a market there evicting the sweepers but they were not given even a single position. Local terrorists are threatening to capture the rest portion of the colony. Fearing terrorist attacks, some of the sweepers have already left the colony. Local influential groups have set up drug selling centres showing the sweepers.

Local police officials with a regular gap raid the drug spots and arrest the innocent sweepers but the culprits influential quarters remain untouched. There is no way to lead healthy life in the colony because of scarcity of electricity, supply of water and other basic facilities. The garbage and dirt is everywhere and huge congested slum houses made them helpless human being.

Agargaon PWD Sweeper Colony

About 1000 sweeper families have been passing their measurable days on a small land near Dhaka Orthopedic Hospital in the city’s Agargaon area. The normal breathing would be hampered seriously if any body enter into the colony. There is no room for walking inside the colony. They have been living here by erecting shanties by bamboo and sacks. The government recently circulated eviction notice on them without ascertaining any reason. They are counting days for more sufferings. They have been paying Taka 2 everyday to the local police to stay here. The musclemen of nearby BNP Basti are running a drug spot using the sweepers. The entire western side of the colony has already occupied by the miscreants. They have been collecting tolls for the cleaners for their staying in their own colonies.

Dhalpur Sweeper Colony

The situation is comparatively better here than the other sweeper colonies in the capital but the real sweepers are now under threat here. About 2000 families of Kanpuri speaking sweepers have been living in the colony on 6.7 acres of land. At least 200 slum houses of the colony have already been captured by local influential persons. The real sweepers are now under threat. The sweepers were allocated the colony after constructing eight rows of 10/10 feet houses. A good number sweeper have been already left the colony in the face of threat by the local terrorists and influential political leaders.

Local people alleged that most of the houses of this colony and nearby City Palli are now drug-selling centre. After evening, the gathering of drug addicts and anti-social elements with liquor, heroin, ganza and Phensidyl is a regular phenomenon here. The drug syndicate used to sell huge quantity of liquor worth about Tk seven to eight lakhs everyday. Scarcity of electricity and pure drinking water is a common picture. They pass their lives in between the light and darkness of the colony.

Spotlight-Mohammadpu Sweeper Colony

About 1000 sweepers are living in Mohammadpur Sweeper Colony with 200 houses of different shapes but the sweepers are not allowed to stay here. These houses have already been captured by miscreants and made it as dens of drug peddlers. Drugs like alcohol, ganza, heroin and Phensidyl worth about Tk four to five lakhs are being sold here everyday. Many sweepers were evicted from their house at gunpoint for selling drugs in their houses. Dirt and garbage cover the entire colony. It is very difficult to live here like a wet place. Not only in these colonies, there are a good number of lower cast Dalit people of the Hindu community have been passing their measurable days and lives in Mirpur, Shyampur, Gulshan, Islampur and Badda areas of the capital.

While visiting the colony, this reporter met the President of Bangladesh Dalitas Human Rights B G Murti who narrated the lives of the lowers of the lower cast Hindus. BG Murti said that the sweepers have been engaged in cleaning profession by birth and tradition. “We are the citizens of this country, we fought for the independence of the country, whereas we have been identified as untouched.” he said. He claimed that about 35 laks of sweepers and lower cast people like cobbler, shoe-maker, smith and kamars have been staying all over the country. Our people have been engaged throughout the day to clean up the government offices, hospitals, educational institutions, different private and non-government offices and roads under city corporations and tea gardens of the country, whereas we do not have enough food for feeding our children, BG added. The scope to enter into the government jobs has been shrinking day by day. In most of the cases, the non-professionals have been capturing the posts of sweepers by offering bribes.
The Dalit leader alleged that we have been deprived of the government jobs as the government has decided that no man would be appointed as sweeper without having a class eight-pass certificate. The present government so far recruited about 3500 sweepers in different offices but there is only a boy from the community. Not only that the boy from the sweeper community also paid a handsome amount of money to the employer for the job.

He alleged that we are being ousted from our colonies, the law and order agencies don’t hear to us. It seems we are not the citizens of this country. The sweepers have no permanent job, they have been working on daily basis. There is no leave for a day in a month. We have been forced to work even in the Eid Day and Puja-festivals, but our salary is maximum Taka 2000 to 2500.

BG Murti told that a large number of sweepers in different colonies are now infected by different critical diseases and became drug addicts. A good number of children have already died of different diseases. At least a male sweeper is being tortured or a female sweeper is being raped everyday by terrorists and musclemen.

Shamsul Huda, Executive Director of Alliance for Development Support & Cooperation, a rare organisation working with Dalit people told this reporter that the sweepers are deprived of all type of facilities from the government. As per the constitution of the country, a member of the sweeper community is granted all of his basic and citizens’ rights but they are far away from the constitutional rights.

According to the international convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination (CERD) agreement, the government is bound to fulfill the basic needs of employment, housing, education and health care services of the lower cast people. But, only before the election, the ruling and the opposition parties come to them but after the election nobody inquired about them. The government and semi-government offices have been recruiting non-professional people as sweepers, though there are a clear-cut rule for recruitment of sweepers from the Dalits community. Even after liberation till 1975, they were allowed to enjoy three-month leave and had awarded money for drinking and other facilities but those are daydream for them.

B. Samuddram, a witness of over 100 years

B. Samuddram, a 125 years oldman of Agargaon Sweeper Colony told this reporter that during the British regime about 50 sweeper families sent to Pakisthan from Kanpur, Nagpur and Andhra provice of Indian when the toture and opression on the lower cast people were alamingly increased. They were initially appointed as sweeper to the Dhaka Samity. Later, more sweepers came to them from those provices. The migrated lower cast people had engaged in different sectors as sweepers as there was a few people to be appointed as sweeper. There are about 3.5 million sweepers in the country, he claimed adding that though their forefathers are from different countries but now they are all Bangladeshi citizens.

Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky

Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky (Russian: Серге́й Леонидович Магнитский; 8 April 1972 – 16 November 2009) was a Russian accountant and auditor whose arrest and subsequent death in custody generated international media attention and triggered both official and unofficial inquiries into allegations of fraud, theft and human rights violations. Magnitsky had alleged there had been a large-scale theft from the Russian state sanctioned and carried out by Russian officials. He was arrested and eventually died in prison seven days before the expiration of the one-year term during which he could be legally held without trial. In total, Magnitsky served 358 days in Moscow's notorious Butyrka prison. He developed gall stones, pancreatitis and a blocked gall bladder and received inadequate medical care. A human rights council set up by the Kremlin found that he was beaten up just before he died. His case has become an international cause célèbre and led to the adoption of the Magnitsky bill by the US government at the end of 2012 by which those Russian officials believed to be involved in the lawyer’s death were barred from entering the United States or using its banking system. In response Russia blocked hundreds of foreign adoptions. In early January 2013, the Financial Times editorialised that "the Magnitsky case is egregious, well documented and encapsulates the darker side of Putinism" and endorsed the idea of imposing similar sanctions against the implicated Russian officials by the EU countries.

In 2013 the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a D.C-based nonprofit news organization, obtained records of companies and trusts created by two offshore companies which included information on at least 23 companies linked to an alleged $230 million tax fraud in Russia, a case that was being investigated by Sergei Magnitsky. The ICIJ investigation also revealed that the husband of one of the Russian tax officials deposited millions in a Swiss bank account set up by one of the offshore companies.
Magnitsky was an auditor at the Moscow law firm Firestone Duncan.] He represented the investment advisory firm Hermitage Capital Management, which had been accused of tax evasionand tax fraud by the Russian Interior Ministry.He was a specialist in civil law.
Over the years of its operation, Hermitage had on a number of occasions supplied to the press information related to corporate and governmental misconduct and corruption within state-owned Russian enterprises. Hermitage's company co-founder Bill Browder was soon expelled from Russia as a national threat. Browder himself has indicated that he represented only a threat "to corrupt politicians and bureaucrats" in Russia, believing that the ouster was conducted to leave his company open for exploitation, In November 2005, Browder arrived in Moscow to be told his visa had been annulled. He was deported the next day and has not seen his Moscow home for 10 years.
On June 4, 2007, Hermitage's Moscow office was raided by about 20 Ministry of Interior officers. The offices of Firestone Duncan were also raided. The officers had a search warrant alleging that Kamaya, a company administered by Hermitage, had underpaid its taxes. This was highly irregular as the Russian tax authorities had just confirmed in writing that this company had overpaid its tax. In both cases, the search warrants permitted the seizure of materials related only to Kamaya. However, in both cases the officers illegally seized all the corporate, tax documents and seals for any company which had paid a large amount of Russian tax including documents and seals for many of Hermitage's Russian companies.In October 2007, Browder received word that one of the firms maintained in Moscow had a judgement against it for an alleged unpaid debt of hundreds of millions of dollars. According to Browder, this was the first he had heard of this court case and he did not know the lawyers who represented his company in court. Magnitsky was given the assignment of investigating what had happened.

Exposing the scandal

In his investigation Firestone Duncan auditor Magnitsky came to believe that the police had given the materials taken during the police raids to organized criminals who then used them to take over three of Hermitage's Russian companies and who then fraudulently reclaimed $230m (£140m) of the taxes previously paid by Hermitage. He also claimed police had accused Hermitage of tax evasion solely to justify the police raids so they could take the materials needed to hijack the Hermitage companies and effect the tax refund fraud. Magnitsky's testimony implicated police, the judiciary, tax officials, bankers, and the Russian mafia. In spite of the initial dismissal of his claims, Magnitsky's core allegation that Hermitage had not committed fraud—but had been victimized by it—would eventually be validated when a sawmill foreman pled guilty in the matter to "fraud by prior collusion", though the foreman would maintain that police were not part of the plan. Before then, however, Magnitsky had himself been brought under investigation by one of the policemen he had testified was involved in the fraud. According to Browder, Sergei was "the 'go-to guy' in Moscow on courts, taxes, fines, anything to do with civil law."
According to Magnitsky's investigation, the documents that had been taken by the Russian police in June 2007 were used to forge a change in ownership.The thieves then used forged contracts to claim Hermitage owed $1 billion to shell companies. Unbeknown to Hermitage, those claims were later authenticated by judges. In every instance, lawyers hired by the thieves to represent Hermitage (unbeknown to Hermitage) pled guilty on the company's behalf and agreed to the claims, thereby obtaining judgements for debts that did not exist; all while Hermitage was unaware of these court proceedings.
The new owner, based in Tatarstan, turned out to be Viktor Markelov, a convicted murderer released just two years into his sentence. The company's fake debt was used to make the companies look unprofitable in order to justify a refund of $230 million in tax that the companies had paid when they had been under Hermitage's control. The refund was issued Christmas Eve of 2007. It became the largest tax rebate in Russian history. Hermitage contacted the Russian government with the investigation's findings. The money, which was not Hermitage's, belonged to the Russian people. Rather than opening a case against the police and the thieves, the Russian authorities opened a criminal case against Magnitsky.

Illness and death

Magnitsky's grave
Magnitsky was arrested and imprisoned at the Butyrkaprison in Moscow in November 2008 after being accused of colluding with Hermitage. Held for 11 months without trial, he was, as reported by The Telegraph, "denied visits from his family" and "forced into increasingly squalid cells." He developed gall stones,pancreatitis and calculous cholecystitis, for which he was given inadequate medical treatment during his incarceration. Surgery was ordered in June, but never performed; detention center chief Ivan P. Prokopenko later indicated that he "...did not consider Magnitsky sick...Prisoners often try to pass themselves off as sick, in order to get better conditions."
On November 16, eight days before he would have had to have been released if he were not brought to trial, Magnitsky died for reasons attributed first by prison officials as a "rupture to the abdominal membrane" and later to heart attack. It later emerged that Magnitsky had complained of worsening stomach pain for five days prior to his death and that by the 15th was vomiting every three hours, with a visibly swollen stomach.On the day of his death, the prison physician, believing he had a chronic disease, sent him by ambulance to a medical unit equipped to help him, but the surgeon there — who described Magnitsky as "agitated, trying to hide behind a bag and saying people were trying to kill him" — prescribed only a painkiller, leaving him for psychiatric evaluation. He was found dead in his cell a little over two hours later. According to Ludmila Alekseeva, leader of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Magnitsky had died from being beaten and tortured by several officers of the Russian Ministry of Interior.
Journalist Owen Matthews described his suffering in Moscow's notorious Butyrka prison.
According to [Magnitsky's] heartbreaking prison diary, investigators repeatedly tried to persuade him to give testimony against Hermitage and drop the accusations against the police and tax authorities. When Magnitsky refused, he was moved to more and more horrible sections of the prison, and ultimately denied the medical treatment which could have saved his life.
 According to Russian news agency RIA Novosti, Magnitsky's death "caused public outrage and sparked discussion of the need to improve prison healthcare and to reduce the number of inmates awaiting trial in detention prisons."
An independent investigatory body, the Moscow Public Oversight Commission, indicated in December 2009 that "psychological and physical pressure was exerted upon" Magnitsky. One of the Commissioners said that while she had first believed his death was due to medical negligence, she had developed "the frightening feeling that it was not negligence but that it was, to some extent, as terrible as it is to say, a premeditated murder."
An official investigation was ordered in November 2009 by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.] Russian authorities had not concluded their own investigation as of December 2009, but 20 senior prison officials had already been fired as a result of the case. In December 2009, in two separate decrees, Medvedev fired deputy head of the Federal Penitentiary Service Alexander Piskunov and signed a law forbidding the jailing of individuals who are suspected of tax crimes.Magnitsky's death is also believed to be linked to the firing of Major-General Anatoli Mikhalkin, formerly the head of the Moscow division of the tax crimes department of the Interior Ministry.Mikhalkin was among those accused by Magnitsky of taking part in fraud.Opalesque TV released a video on February 8, 2010, in which Hermitage Capital Management founder Bill Browder revealed details of Sergei Magnitsky's ordeal during his eleven months in detention. The Russian Untouchables group prepared a film about one of his prosecutors, Artem Kuznetsov. On 25 June 2010 radio-station Echo of Moscow announced that Russian Ministry of Internal AffairsDepartment for Own Security started investigations against Lieutenant Colonel Artyom Kuznetsov, who has been accused of improper imprisonment of Magnitsky. The investigation was in response to appeal by the Hermitage Capital Management and United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. In February 2011, the investigation, which had not yet identified any suspects, was extended to May.
In November 2010, Magnitsky was given a posthumous award from Transparency International for integrity. Magnitsky, according to the awards committee, "believed in the rule of law and died for his belief."A film produced to highlight Magnitsky's persecution has been shown to the American Congress and British, Canadian, German, Polish, and the European parliaments.
In July 2011, Russia’s Investigate Committee for the first time acknowledged that Magnitsky died because prison authorities restricted medical care for him. Russian authorities also opened criminal cases against the two doctors who treated him; Dr. Dmitri Kratov, the chief medical officer at Butyrskaya Prison, and Dr. Larisa Litvinova who managed Magnitsky's treatment towards the end. Dr. Kratov was demoted soon after Magnitsky's death and was charged with involuntary manslaughter from negligence and is facing five years in prison. Dr. Litvinova may receive up to three years in prison if convicted of causing death through professional negligence. An independent prison watchdog commission reported that the prison doctors were pressured by investigators to deny treatment and Dr. Litvinova disclosed to the Public Oversight Commission that she was trying to get approval for Magnitsky’s treatment. However, investigators looking into the death of Magnitsky cleared Oleg F. Silchenko, who oversaw the investigation of Magnitsky, of any wrongdoing. Charges of professional negligence against Dr. Litvinova were dropped due to thestatute of limitations issues. On December 23, 2012, as the trial neared its end, the prosecutor conducting the trial against Dr. Kratov suddenly reversed course and sought acquittal, citing no direct connection between the Kratov's actions and Magnitsky's death. On 28 December 2012, a Tverskoy court found Kratov not guilty of negligence causing Magnitsky's death, thus complying with the prosecution's request.
In February 2012, the Russian police announced their intention to resubmit charges of tax evasion against Magnitsky for a second trial. If accepted by prosecutors this would be the first posthumous trial in Russia. William F. Browder, who lives in London, would be a co-defendant tried in absentia.
On 11 July 2013, a court in Moscow found Magnitsky guilty of tax evasion in a posthumous trial. The court also found Magnitsky's onetime client, the US-born British investor William Browder, guilty of evading some $17 million in taxes.
The evidence that Sergei Magnitsky was falsely arrested and detained as an act of retaliation by the officers he had testified against is given in the complaints filed by Magnitsky and his lawyers challenging his arrest and detention.  These complaints clearly explain why the case brought against him could not possibly be true and why there were no grounds to arrest or detain him. The complaints document that the officers had no credible evidence to support their claims and that they were concealing evidence from the courts which demonstrated his innocence. The complaints also document his terrible treatment in pre-trial detention. None of these complaints were ever considered by authorities. They simply rejected them without cause as soon as they were filed.

Increasing international tension

In late 2010, international attention to the matter intensified, with the European Parliament calling for 60 officials believed to be connected to Magnitsky's death to be banned from entering the European Union and the Parliament of Canada resolving to deny visas to and freeze the Canadian assets of allegedly involved officials. The EU Parliament has also urged members to freeze assets of officials, while similar measures are under consideration in the United States. In October 2010, US Senator John S. McCain co-sponsored the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act, which would forbid entry to the US to 60 individuals named in court documents related to the Magnitsky case. McCain says the law will help to "identify those responsible for the death of this Russian patriot, to make their names famous for the whole world to know, and then to hold them accountable for their crimes." The law is considered analogous to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 in the precedent it hopes to create. In July 2011, the US stated that dozens of Russian officials were barred from entering the United States due to their involvement in the death of Magnitsky.
The Russian Foreign Ministry described the Canadian resolution as "an attempt to pressure the investigators and interfere in the internal affairs of another state",] while in a November statement the head of the lower house's international committee Konstantin Kosachyov criticized the European Parliament's conclusions, indicating that sanctions violated the "presumption of innocence" principle and should wait the resolution of the Russian court. Bloomberg reported in December that, according to an Interfax story, "identical measures" would be taken by Russia if a European Union ban was put into place. In mid-December, the European Parliament passed the resolution allowing the officials to be banned by member states and their assets to be seized.
In January 2011, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Méndez, opened an investigation into Magnitsky's treatment and death.
In June 2012, the United States House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee passed theSergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 (H.R. 4405. A bipartisan bill, it imposes "visa and banking restrictions on Russian officials implicated in human rights abuses". The legislation was to be taken up by a Senate panel the next week. In July 2012, Vladimir Putin said that he was concerned about this bill.
In November 2012 in the United States, similar provisions were attached to a House bill normalizing trade with Russia. On 6 December 2012, the US Senate passed the House version of the law.
Similar acts are being considered in the UK parliament and Irish Dáil.
In December 2012, the Russian parliament passed a bill which was widely regarded by mass media, including Russia's media, as retaliation for the Magnitsky bill. Russia's bill signed into law by Putin on December 28, 2012, banned, inter alia, Americans from adopting Russian children.
In the 2013 meetings of the World Economic Forum, the issue surfaced at the highest level, with Reuters reporting that before Medvedev gave his opening speech, some 78 percent of respondents voting in an audience packed with hundreds of Western executives and politicians agreed that Russia's biggest problem was weak government and corporate governance.

Untouchability in Japan
The concept of hinin (non-human) was first used in the Nara period (710-784) when a member of the nobility was labelled a non-human for taking part in a treacherous plot against the Emperor. In addition, those who escaped from labour or other services to the Imperial family were caught were also referred to as non-humans. Later, persons for economic reasons became beggars, vagrants or vagabonds were also called hinin.
There was a list of eta-hinin which in the order of prestige ran like the following; local chiefs of ghettos, blind masseurs, dancers, plasterers, monkey-showmen, stone cutters, umbrella makers, river boatmen, mountain guards, material dryers, writing brush makers, straw raincoat makers, puppet showmen and brothel madams.1
Hinin thus was originally a person in Japan who was disobedient by way of struggling for power or was completely powerless and was living on the edge of society and law. In either case he or she represented a threat to the existing law and order.
The epithet eta meaning much filth in Japan first appeared in the feudal Kamakura period (1185-1333). A minority that was not differentiated from the Eta class were the hinin (non-humans), but later also came to include lower groups which included leather workers, tanners and butchers as well as dyers of cloth material and makers of bamboo goods, entertainers, prostitutes and travelling diviners as well as undertakers and tomb guards
In Japan the word Sandals (Chandal) was and is even in modern times inscribed, in the fashion of hate crime, on the tomb of a Burakumin in order to mark it out as that belonging to Burakumin (eta) community. Historically, Chandal is probably the most impure grouping both in Hindu and Indian Buddhist tradition.  This concept travelled from India to Japan via the Buddhist tradition.
The Japanese Buraku people however have never accepted the theory of purity and pollution on its face value, as an explanation of untouchability in Japan. A statement from the Burakumin literature is unequivocal:
The present Burakumin are not just composed of the descendants of the former Eta and Hinin, but were also socially reproduced after the so called Emancipation Edicts
The Burakumin people do not accept any religious explanation for the practice of pollution taboos either:
The overemphasis of the religious aspect and the attempt to explain the discrimination of particular caste merely by their profession finally leads to reducing the occupations of discrimination castes to just those connected with death or blood (butchers, knackers, tanners, hangmen, grave-diggers) and, on the other hand, to excluding other castes from the pursuit of such professions however this does not fit the historical facts since, as can be proved, only a portion of the Eta in the Tokugawa era worked in these professions, but many were active in agriculture or as guards and as guards and had nothing to do with the above mentioned professions. On the other hand, for example, the tannin of white deer skin (shirakawa) in the area of Osaka, was not the responsibility of the Eta, but of craftsmen, belonging to the caste of the ko
Neither can it be overlooked that hunts or animal-baiting “games” like the inuoimomo, practiced by the ruling classes, were not the object of social discrimination, or that, in the Tokugawa era, the people were forbidden to consume beef but several daimyo and even the sh?gun quite often obtained it from the Hihone hab (now Shiga prefecture). Here it may be seen that the forming of certain religious notions, justifying caste discrimination, is also subject to the ruling classes and can be manipulated by them
It is not the pursuit of certain occupations, despised by social consciousness, which is decisive for the decline to discriminate against castes, but the social standing of these castes has forced them to pursue despised and undesirable occupations. Furthermore, certain professions became the object of social contempt by the very fact that they were imposed on the discriminated castes and had to be pursued by them…...
….Some of the professions belonging to the monopoly of the discriminated castes, like bamboo or straw, processing, can not be brought into any connection with religious taboos. An interpretation underrating the socio-political connection between castes and professions and seeking to explain the professions pursued by discriminated castes simply “by religious reasons” can offer no plausible explanation as to why bamboo processing for example became the monopoly of the Eta
In Japan as in India, it is not because the people who were doing degrading tasks that they were untouchables; it is rather that they are borne into a family which is part of a clan or caste which as historically forced to do these degrading tasks and this enforcement was and is being carried out by other means in the present.
Question is would the Indian Untouchables and the Japanese Burakumin continue to stay in their situation if they were to be given the choice?
For this we have to examine the situation where they refuse to do their assigned tasks. In India doing so frequently lead to and still leads to various punishments. In the Indian countryside beatings, raping women, killing of men women and children, burning of houses wholesale destruction, and ritual humiliation such as forced to eat human excreta, stripping women naked and forcing them to march are not uncommon.  Traditional punishments which were inhumane and cruel for the slightest insubordination were written into the religious texts and implemented by the major dominant caste, overseen by the local Brahmin and ultimately backed up by the king. Some apologists of the caste system and untouchability used to argue that these prescribed punishments were of theoretical nature and that they were never put into practice. This raises the question as to why these were incorporated into these texts in the first place. A comparison with modern day ground reality would indicate that these punishments are mentally hardwired into the minds of the oppressors from a very early age. One writer had asked the question that unless evidence was coming to the contrary, it had to be assumed that these written laws were fully functioning when it was required for them to be.
Brahminical law-givers enjoined upon the ruler to ensure proper observance of caste duties, and inscriptional evidence shows that brahmanized rulers took pride in championing the  varna-  dharma and actively intervened in regulating caste hierarchy. After all, it was a status system which could not be delinked from the question of power
So what did the ruling classes both in Japan and in India gain by these discriminating measures?
The Burakumin, robbed of their right to work by discrimination, function as a reserve army, the existence of which enables the employers to hire labour without great cost according to the economic situation prevailing, or, to make them redundant again without provoking great social conflicts – since the majority of Burakumin live in a state of permanent semi-unemployment and are therefore forced to accept even the smallest wage, their existence has the effect of keeping wages low. Their function as wage deflators, on the other hands, favours the reproduction of a discriminatory consciousness and thereby causes a split in the working population.
Untouchability is a cornerstone of the caste system which is continuously hierarchical with theoretical 4 varnas with the untouchables being considered outside of thevarna scheme; at least in theory; but inside of it for all other purposes.
The caste system in the feudalism of the (Japanese) Tokugawa era thus also fulfilled this function of “divide and rule”. By codifying society in castes the aim was to exclude uncontrollable social changes which could have led to a threat to the ruling regime. In this very fact, the cause for the formation of the Eta and Hinin castes must be recognised.
Similar arguments have been put forward pertaining to the lower castes and untouchables in India.

The repression of menial castes, and securing their structured dependence, made agricultural labour cheap and it also reduced the cost of artisanal products and services; for artisan castes had a depressed status with restricted mobility; and hereditary transmission of skill reduced the expenses on training etc. lowering the wage cost as a whole.


From Wikipedia
Burakumin (部落民?, "hamlet people"/"village people", "those who live in hamlets/villages")is an outcast group at the bottom of the Japanese social order that has historically been the victim of severe discrimination and ostracism. They were originally members of outcast communities in the Japanese feudal era, composed of those with occupations consideredimpure or tainted by death (such as executioners, undertakers, workers in slaughterhouses, butchers or tanners), which have severe social stigmas of kegare (穢れ or "defilement") attached to them. Traditionally, the Burakumin lived in their own hamlets or ghettos.
The term 部落 buraku literally refers to a small, generally rural, commune or a hamlet. People from regions of Japan where "discriminated communities" no longer exist (e.g. anywhere north of Tokyo) may refer to any hamlet as a buraku, indicating the word's use is not necessarily pejorative. Historically the term was used for an outcast community that was heavily discriminated against officially and formally.
Hisabetsu-buraku被差別部落discriminated community/hamletis a commonly used, politically correct term, with people from them called hisabetsu-burakumin (被差別部落民 "discriminated community (hamlet) people") or
hisabetsu buraku shusshin-sha (被差別部落出身者 "person from a discriminated community / hamlet").
Burakumin部落民hamlet peopleis either hamlet people per se or an abbreviation of people from discriminated community/hamlet. Very old people tend to use the word in the former meaning. Its use is sometimes frowned upon, though it is by far the most commonly used term in English.
Mikaihō-buraku未解放部落unliberated communitiesis a term sometimes used by human rights pressure groups and has a degree of political meaning to it.
Tokushu buraku特殊部落special hamletswas used in the early 20th Century but is now considered inappropriate.
A widely used term for buraku settlements is dōwa chiku (同和地区 "assimilation districts"), an official term for districts designated for government and local authority assimilation projects.
The social issue surrounding "discriminated communities" is usually referred to as dōwa mondai (同和問題 "assimilation issues") or less commonly, buraku mondai (部落問題"hamlet issues").
In the feudal era, the outcaste were called eta (穢多, literally, "an abundance of defilement" or "an abundance of filth"), a term now considered derogatory. Eta towns were calledetamura (穢多村).
Some burakumin refer to their own communities as "mura" ( "villages") and themselves as "mura-no-mono" (村の者 "village people").
Other outcaste groups from whom Buraku may have been descended included the hinin (非人—literally "non-human"). The definition of hinin, as well as their social status and typical occupations varied over time, but typically included ex-convicts and vagrants who worked as town guards, street cleaners or entertainers.
In the 19th century the umbrella term burakumin was coined to name the eta and hininbecause both classes were forced to live in separate village neighborhoods.
The term burakumin does not refer to any ethnic minorities in Japan.

Historical origins

There are many theories as to how and in which era the outcaste communities came into existence. For example, it is disputed whether society started ostracizing those who worked in tainted occupations or whether those who originally dropped out of society were forced to work in tainted occupations.
According to the latter view, displaced populations during the internal wars of the Muromachi era may have been relocated and forced into low-status occupations, for example, as public sanitation workers.
The social status and typical occupations of outcaste communities have varied considerably according to region and over time. A burakumin neighborhood within metropolitan Tokyo was the last to be served by streetcar and is the site of butcher and leather shops to this day.
At the start of the Edo period (1603–1867), the social class system (more properly, a caste system, since it was based upon birth and not upon economics) was officially established as a means of designating hierarchy, and eta were placed at the lowest level, outside of thefour main divisions of society. Like the rest of the population, they were bound by sumptuary laws based on the inheritance of their social class. The eta lived in segregatedsettlements, and were generally avoided by the rest of Japanese society. 'Eta' were never allowed to change caste, unlike the other castes who, depending on special circumstances, could move into a different class.
When dealing with members of other castes, they were expected to display signs of subservience, such as the removal of headwear. Physical contact was considered absolutely taboo and required ritual purification for the non-eta person. In an 1859 court case described by author Shimazaki Toson, a magistrate declared that "An eta is worth 1/7 of an ordinary person." They could be killed with impunity by members of the samurai caste.
Historically, eta were not liable for taxation in feudal times, including the Tokugawa period, because the taxation system was based on rice yields, which they were not permitted to possess. Some outcasts were also called kawaramono (河原者, "dried-up riverbed people") because they lived along river banks that could not be turned into rice fields.
Since the taboo status of the work they performed afforded them an effective monopoly in their trades, some succeeded economically and even occasionally obtained samurai status through marrying or the outright purchase of troubled houses, although their status as former 'eta' would have to be kept secret. Some historians point out that such exclusive rights originated in ancient times, granted by shrines, temples, kuge, or the imperial court, which held authority before the Shogunate system was established.

End of the feudal era

The most famous leader of the BLL, Jiichirō Matsumoto (1887–1966), who was born a burakumin in Fukuoka. He was a statesman and called "the father of buraku liberation".
The feudal caste system in Japan formally ended in 1869 with the Meiji restoration. In 1871, the newly formed Meiji government issued a decree calledSenmin Haishirei (賤民廃止令 Edict Abolishing Ignoble Classes) giving outcasts equal legal status. It is currently better known as the Kaihōrei (解放令Emancipation Edict). However, the elimination of their economic monopolies over certain occupations actually led to a decline in their general living standards, while social discrimination simply continued. For example, the ban on consumption of meat from livestock was lifted in 1871 in order to "westernise" the country, and many former eta moved on to work in abattoirs and as butchers.
However, slow-changing social attitudes, especially in the countryside, meant that abattoirs and workers were met with hostility from local residents. Continued ostracism as well as the decline in living standards led to former eta communities turning into slum areas.
There were many terms used to indicate former outcastes, their communities or settlements at the time. Official documents at the time referred to them as kyu-eta (旧穢多"former eta"), while the newly liberated outcasts called themselves shin-heimin (新平民"new citizens"), among other things.
The term tokushu buraku (特殊部落 "special hamlets", now considered inappropriate) started being used by officials in 1900s, leading to the meaning of the word buraku("hamlet") coming to imply former eta villages in certain parts of Japan.
Movements to resolve the problem in the early 20th century were divided into two camps: the "assimilation" (同和 dōwa?) movement which encouraged improvements in living standards of buraku communities and integration with the mainstream Japanese society, and the "levellers" (水平社 suiheisha?) movement which concentrated on confronting and criticising alleged perpetrators of discrimination.

Post-war situation

Although legally liberated in 1871, with the abolition of the feudal caste system, this did not put an end to social discrimination against them nor their lower living standards becauseJapanese family registration was fixed to ancestral home address until recently, which allowed people to deduce their Burakumin membership.
The long history of taboos and myths of the buraku left a legacy of social desolation and since the 1980s, more and more young buraku have started to organize and protest against alleged social misfortunes, encouraged by political activist groups. Movements with objectives ranging from liberation to encouraging integration have been tried over the years to put an end to this problem.


The number of Burakumin asserted to be living in modern Japan varies from source to source. A 1993 investigative report by the Japanese Government counted 4,533 dōwa chiku (同和地区 "assimilation districts" - Buraku communities officially designated for assimilation projects), mostly in western Japan, comprising 298,385 households with 892,751 residents.
The size of each community ranged from under five households to over 1,000 households, with 155 households being the average size. About three quarters of settlements are in rural areas. The distribution of discriminated communities varied greatly from region to region.
According to a survey conducted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in 2003,[3] 76% of Tokyo residents would not change their view of a close neighbor whom they discovered to be a burakumin; 4.9% of respondents, on the other hand, would actively avoid a burakumin neighbor. There is still a stigma attached to being a resident of certain areas traditionally associated with the burakumin and some lingering discrimination in matters such asmarriage and employment.
The Buraku Liberation League (BLL), on the other hand, extrapolates Meiji-era figures to arrive at an estimate of nearly three million burakumin. A 1999 source indicates the presence of some two million burakumin, living in approximately 5,000 settlements.
In some areas, burakumin are in a majority; they account for over 70 percent of all residents of Yoshikawa in Kōchi Prefecture. In Ōtō in Fukuoka Prefecture, they account for over 60 percent.
Japanese government statistics show the number of residents of assimilation districts who claim buraku ancestry, whereas BLL figures are estimates of the total number of descendants of all former and current buraku residents, including current residents with no buraku ancestry.

Discrimination in access to services

While in many parts of the country buraku settlements, built on the site of former etavillages, ceased to exist by the 1960s because of either urban development or integration into mainstream society, in other regions many of their residents continued to suffer from slum-like housing and infrastructure, lower economic status, illiteracy, and lower general educational standards.
In 1969, the government passed the Special Measures Law for Assimilation Projects to provide funding to these communities. Communities deemed to be in need of funding were designated for various Assimilation Projects (同和対策事業 dōwa taisaku jigyō), such as construction of new housing and community facilities such as health centers, libraries and swimming pools. The projects were terminated in 2002 with a total funding of an estimated 12 trillion yen over 33 years, with the living standards issue effectively resolved.

Social discrimination

Cases of social discrimination against residents of buraku areas is still an issue in certain regions. Outside of the Kansai region, people in general are often not even aware of the issue, and if they are, usually only as part of feudal history. Due to the taboo nature of the topic it is rarely covered by the media, and people from eastern Japan, for example, are often shocked when they learn that it is a continuing issue.
The prejudice most often manifests itself in the form of marriage discrimination, and less often, in employment. Traditionalist families have been known to check on the backgrounds of potential in-laws to identify people of buraku background. These checks are now illegal, and marriage discrimination is diminishing; Nadamoto Masahisa of the Buraku History Institute estimates that between 60 and 80% of burakumin marry a non-burakumin, whereas for people born in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the rate was 10%.
Cases of continuing social discrimination are known to occur mainly in western Japan, particularly in the Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, and Hiroshima regions, where many people, especially the older generation, stereotype buraku residents (whatever their ancestry) and associate them with squalor, unemployment and criminality.
No discriminated-against communities were identified in the following prefectures:Hokkaido, Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Akita, Yamagata, Fukushima, Tokyo, Toyama, Ishikawa, and Okinawa. Hokkaido and Okinawa have had their own separate history of discrimination of their native ethnic groups the Ainu and the Ryukyuans, respectively.

Yakuza membership

According to David E. Kaplan and Alec Dubro in Yakuza: The Explosive Account of Japan's Criminal Underworld (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1986), burakumin account for about 70 percent of the members of Yamaguchi-gumi, the biggest yakuza syndicate in Japan.
Mitsuhiro Suganuma, an ex-member of the Public Security Intelligence Agency, testified that burakumin account for about 60 percent of the members of the entire yakuza.

"Tokushu Buraku Chimei Sōkan" incident

In November 1975, the Osaka branch of the Buraku Liberation League was tipped off about the existence of a book called "A Comprehensive List of Buraku Area Names" (特殊部落地名総鑑 Tokushu Buraku Chimei Sōkan). Investigations revealed that copies of the hand-written 330-page book were being secretly sold by an Osaka-based firm to numerous firms and individuals throughout Japan by a mail order service called Cablenet, at between ¥5,000 and ¥50,000 per copy. The book contained a nationwide list of all the names and locations of buraku settlements (as well as the primary means of employment of their inhabitants), which could be compared against people's addresses to determine if they were buraku residents. The preface contained the following message: "At this time, we have decided to go against public opinion and create this book [for] personnel managers grappling with employment issues, and families pained by problems with their children's marriages."
More than 200 large Japanese firms, including (according to the Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Centre of Osaka) Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Daihatsu, along with thousands of individuals purchased copies of the book. In 1985, partially in response to the popularity of this book, and an increase in mimoto chōsa (身元調査, private investigation into one's background) the Osaka prefectural government introduced "An Ordinance to Regulate Personal Background Investigation Conducive to Buraku Discrimination".
Although the production and sale of the book has been banned, numerous copies of it are still in existence, and in 1997, an Osaka private investigation firm was the first to be charged with violation of the 1985 statute for using the text.

Burakumin rights movement

As early as 1922, leaders of the Hisabetsu Buraku organized a movement, the "Levelers Association of Japan" (Suiheisha), to advance their rights. The Declaration of the Suiheisha encouraged the burakumin to unite in resistance to discrimination, and sought to frame a positive identity for the victims of discrimination, insisting that the time had come to be "proud of being eta".
The declaration portrayed the burakumin ancestors as "manly martyrs of industry." To submit meekly to oppression would be to insult and profane these ancestors. Despite internal divisions among anarchist, Bolshevik, and social democratic factions, and despite the Japanese government's establishment of an alternate organization Yūma movement, designed to undercut the influence of the Suiheisha, the Levelers Association remained active until the late 1930s.
After World War II, the National Committee for Burakumin Liberation was founded, changing its name to the Buraku Liberation League (Buraku Kaihō Dōmei) in the 1950s. The league, with the support of the socialist and communist parties, pressured the government into making important concessions in the late 1960s and 1970s.
In the 1960s the Sayama Incident (狭山事件), which involved the murder conviction of a member of the discriminated communities based on circumstantial evidence (which is generally given little weight vs. physical evidence in Japanese courts), focused public attention on the problems of the group.
One concession was the passing of the Special Measures Law for Assimilation Projects, which provided financial aid for the discriminated communities. Also, in 1976, legislation was put in place which banned third parties from looking up another person's family registry (koseki).
This traditional system of registry, kept for all Japanese by the Ministry of Justice since the 19th century, would reveal an individual's buraku ancestry if consulted. Under the new legislation, these records could now be consulted only in legal cases, making it more difficult to identify or discriminate against members of the group.
In the 1980s some educators and local governments, particularly in areas with relatively large hisabetsu buraku populations, began special education programs which they hoped would encourage greater educational and economic success for young members of the group and decrease the discrimination they faced. Branches of burakumin rights groups exist today in all parts of Japan except for Hokkaidō and Okinawa.
"Human Rights Promotion Centers" (人権啓発センター) have been set up across the country by prefectural governments and local authorities; these, in addition to promotingburakumin rights, campaign on behalf of a wide range of groups such as women, the disabled, ethnic minorities, foreign residents and released prisoners.
Even into the early 1990s, however, discussion of the 'liberation' of these discriminated communities, or even their existence, was taboo in public discussion.

Buraku Liberation League and the Zenkairen

The Buraku Liberation League is considered one of the most militant among burakumin's rights groups. The BLL is known for its fierce "denunciation and explanation sessions", where alleged perpetrators of discriminatory actions or speech are summoned for a public hearing before a panel of activists.
Early sessions were marked by occasions of violence and kidnapping, and several BLL activists have been arrested for such acts. The legality of these sessions is still disputed, but to this date the authorities have mostly turned a blind eye to them except in the more extreme cases.
In 1990, Karel van Wolferen's criticism of the BLL in his much-acclaimed book The Enigma of Japanese Power prompted the BLL to demand the publisher halt publication of the Japanese translation of the book. Van Wolferen condemned this as an international scandal.
The other major buraku activist group is the National Buraku Liberation Alliance (全国部落解放運動連合会 Zenkoku Buraku Kaihō Undō Rengōkai, or Zenkairen), affiliated to theJapanese Communist Party (JCP). It was formed in 1979 by BLL activists who were either purged from the organization or abandoned it in the late 1960s due to, among other things, their opposition to the decision that subsidies to the burakumin should be limited to the BLL members only. Not all burakumin were BLL members and not all residents of the areas targeted for subsidies were historically descendent from the out-caste.
The Zenkairen often came head-to-head with the BLL, accusing them of chauvinism. The bickering between the two organisations boiled over in 1974 when a clash between teachers belonging to a JCP-affiliated union and BLL activists at a high school in Yoka, rural Hyōgo Prefecture, put 29 in hospital.
In 1988, the BLL formed the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR). The BLL sought for the IMADR to be recognized as a United Nations Non-Government Organization, but in 1991, the Zenkairen informed the United Nations about the alleged human rights violations committed by the BLL in the course of their 'denunciation sessions' held with accused 'discriminators'.
According to a BLL-funded think tank, when suspected cases of discrimination were uncovered, the Zenkairen often conducted denunciation sessions as fierce as those of the BLL. Nonetheless, the IMADR was designated a UN human rights NGO in March 1993.
On 3 March 2004, the Zenkairen announced that "the buraku issue has basically been resolved" and formally disbanded. On 4 March 2004 they launched a new organisation called "National Confederation of Human Rights Movements in The Community" (全国地域人権運動総連合 'Zenkoku Chiiki Jinken Undō Sōrengō') or Zenkoku Jinken Ren.

Religious discrimination

According to BLL sources, nearly all Japanese Buddhist sects have discriminated against the burakumin. Zenkairen disputes this.
Jodo Shinshu Buddhism was the original supporter of lower castes. The side-effect of this liberating philosophy, however, was that it led to a series of anti-feudal rebellions, known as the Ikkō-ikki revolts, which seriously threatened the religious and political status-quo. Accordingly, the political powers engineered a situation whereby the Jōdo Shinshū split into two competing branches, the Shinshu Otani-ha and the Honganji-ha. This had the consequence that the sects moved increasingly away from their anti-feudal position towards a feudal one.
Later the state also forced all people to belong to a specific Buddhist school according to the formula:
the imperial family is in Tendai, the peerage is in Shingon, the nobility is in Jōdo (Honen's followers), the Samurai is in Zen, the beggar is in Nichiren, and Shin Buddhists (Shinran's followers) are at the bottom.
In consequence the Honganji, which under Rennyo's leadership had defiantly accepted the derogatory label of 'the dirty sect' (see Rennyo's letters known as the Ofumi/Gobunsho) now began to discriminate against its own burakumin members as it jostled for political and social status.
In 1922, when the National Levelers' Association (Zenkoku-suiheisha) was founded in Kyoto, Mankichi Saiko, a founder of the movement and Jodo Shinshu priest, said:
We shouldn't disgrace our ancestors and violate humanity by our harsh words and terrible actions. We, who know how cold the human world is, and how to take care of humanity, can seek and rejoice from the bottom of our hearts in the warmth and light of human life.
After many petitions from the BLL, in 1969 the Honganji changed its opinion on the burakumin issue. Zenkairen, which split from the BLL in 1968, regrets this decision.
Religious discrimination against the burakumin was not recognized until the BLL's criticism sessions became widespread. For example, in 1979 the Director-General of the Sōtō Sect of Buddhism made a speech at the "3rd World Conference on Religion and Peace" claiming that there was no discrimination against burakumin in Japan.

Notable burakumin

  • Tōru Hashimoto, politician, lawyer, the 52nd Governor of Osaka Prefecture, and former Mayor of Osaka city
  • Jiichirō Matsumoto, politician and businessman who was called the "buraku liberation father"
  • Ryu Matsumoto, politician of the Democratic Party of Japan, a member of the House of Representatives in the Diet (national legislature)
  • Toru Matsuoka, politician of the Democratic Party of Japan, a member of the House of Councillors in the Diet (national legislature)
  • Manabu Miyazaki, writer, social critic and public figure known for his underworld ties
  • Kenji Nakagami, writer, critic, and poet
  • Hiromu Nonaka, chief cabinet secretary (1998–1999)
  • Rennyo, the 8th Monshu, or head-priest, of the Hongwanji Temple of the Jōdo Shinshūsect of Buddhism
  • Takashi Tanihata, politician serving in the House of Representatives in the Diet (national legislature) as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party
  • Tadashi Yanai, founder and president of Uniqlo

Cultural references

In High and Low (Japanese title 天国と地獄 Tengoku to jigoku, literally "Heaven and Hell"),a movie adapted in 1963 from Ed McBain's King's Ransom, Akira Kurosawa made a political statement by having the main character work as a shoe industry executive who rose from humble origins as a simple leather worker, clearly implying (to Japanese audiences) his burakumin status
The plight of the burakumin has also been presented in Hashi no nai kawa (橋のない川 "The River With No Bridge") a novel by Sue Sumii (住井すゑ), which received several film adaptations, in 1969, 1970 and 1992. The title refers to the fact that areas in which burakumin lived were often separated by a river, but bridges to cross were rarely constructed.
In the 1975 novel Shōgun by James Clavell, the crew of a European ship is housed in aneta village because of their uncleanliness and bad manners. The pilot of the ship, after being educated in the ways of the Japanese Samurai class, comes to detest them as well.
Author Lian Hearn depicts a fictional feudal country highly similar to that of Japan's own history in the three-book series Tales of the Otori (2003–2004). The series depicts a caste system wherein "untouchables" live outside of mainstream society. The protagonist develops a friendship with one such outcast, a tanner who lives and works with other tanners in riverside settlements.
In the House M.D episode "Son of Coma Guy", House mentions wanting to become a doctor because of meeting a burakumin, a janitor in the hospital House had to bring a friend to as a teenager. The janitor turned out to be the only one who could diagnose the infection killing House's friend. Although the man was disliked because of his job and social status, the other doctors would still defer to him because he was "always right", thus inspiring House (who is constantly rude and abrasive) to value knowledge over social graces.
In Laura Joh Rowland's Sano Ichiro series, burakumin (naturally still referred to by the Feudal name "eta") appear regularly. Sometimes they are criminals, and other times merely unseen witnesses. In The Concubine's Tattoo, Sano speaks with the chief of a small burakumin community named Danzaemon and notes that the man has a regal bearing about him despite his status. He even thinks to himself, "But for the misfortune of his birth, what a fine daimyo he might have made! It was a blasphemous thought, but Sano could more easily imagine Danzaemon commanding an army than Tokugawa Tsunayoshi."
In the book Rising Sun, Michael Crichton depicts a character (Theresa Asakuma) who is a burakumin descendant. Along the storyline, bits and pieces of history of this people are described to the reader.
In Cloud of Sparrows, by the Japanese-American writer, Takashi Matsuoka, and later in its sequel The Autumn Bridge, burakumin are often mentioned by the old name 'eta'. They are described as filthy beggars, more animal than human, and their life has no apparent value to the samurai, a fact that baffles the Christian missionaries visiting Japan in the novels.
The award winning 2008 Japanese movie Okuribito (Departures), features the main character Daigo who becomes a professional embalmer. Despite Daigo having no mentioned ancestral background, the film portrays a sense of strong lingering discrimination for the work. As such he tries to hide his new profession from everyone, including his wife, who becomes disgusted and leaves him when she learns the truth.

Caste, Ethnicity and Nationality:
Japan Finds Plenty of Space for Discrimination

A key issue emerging in the run-up to the 2001 World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) is the refusal of some States – particularly in the Asia-Pacific region – to acknowledge the persistence of racial discrimination in their own backyards even as many of them point an accusing finger at other States. Japan is one State where an increase in Gross Domestic Product has not led to a corresponding rise in measures to tackle the scourge of discrimination. If the WCAR is to succeed, States such as Japan need to take a critical look at policies that have served to reinforce historical prejudices within their own societies as well as those abroad.

Japan has five major minority groups: Burakumin (a caste-based group); Okinawans (an indigenous group); Ainu (an indigenous group); Japanese-born Koreans; and migrant workers from other countries. Discrimination against many of these groups has its origins in the imperialist and feudal periods in Japan’s history. In the eighth century, the Japanese expanded their territory into the lands of the Ainu and Okinawans, two indigenous groups whose lands have now been annexed into modern day Japan. Discrimination from Japan's feudal society also exists against the “outcasts” called the Buraku. Up to this point, there have been no Burakus and only one Ainu in the Diet, Japan’s national parliament. For 35 years, Korea was under Japanese control. During World War II, Japanese soldiers forced many Korean women into sexual slavery. Migrant workers have arrived in Japan in search of a better life, but instead have faced a great deal of discrimination from Japanese employers, the government and Japanese nationals. Doka seisaku, a policy in which a nation endeavours to make the lifestyles and ideologies of the people in its colonies conform to its own, has affected many of these minority groups. Japan has also followed a peculiarly dual policy with regard to minority groups: forcing assimilation into the cultural mainstream on the one hand and developing measures to segregate them on the other.

One of the first peoples to be assimilated – but not accepted as equals –were the Ainu. Traditionally hunter-gatherers, the Ainu were the first inhabitants of some outlying islands. They are currently concentrated in the northernmost island of Hokkaido. Thought to be of Caucasian origin, they make up less than 0.05 percent of Japan's population. Until the eighteenth century, Japanese relations with the Ainu – following failed attempts to conquer them – were restricted to trade and, later, intermarriage. It was only in the eighteenth century that the Japanese established their authority over the Ainu islands, then known as Ezo. The island of Ezo was turned into a Japanese vassal state and was renamed Hokkaido. This was followed by a concerted effort to integrate the Ainu into Japanese culture – including making proficiency in Japanese mandatory – which continued well into the nineteenth century. Under the Hokkaido Kyu-Dojin Protection Act of 1899, all schools were segregated with Ainu being taught Japanese history by Japanese teachers who had no consideration for Ainu culture and values. After about forty years, the educational system in that form collapsed because Ainu children slowly stopped attending school, placing them at a great disadvantage in Japanese society. Today, most Ainu fall on the lower end of the economic ladder and often perform cleaning and other menial chores for much wealthier Japanese. A segregated school system still exists in Japan, but a small shift in educational policies allows those Ainu students who are interested to continue their education.

The twentieth century saw a number of efforts by the Japanese government to revive Ainu culture, including an acknowledgement of the Ainu as an indigenous group with its own culture and language. Currently, only a small number of Ainu are active in the preservation of their culture, and the majority of the Ainu people cannot afford to devote themselves to preservation activities.

The treatment of the culturally distinct Okinawans is another significant concern. Together, the 160 islands of the Okinawan Perfecture in the East China Sea, of which 48 are inhabited, are called the Ryukyu Islands. Today, Okinawa houses approximately 1.3 million people who have a distinct culture and language from mainstream Japanese. Their slightly darker skin colour and Chinese cultural influences have been prejudicially used to distinguish and discriminate against them.

Despite previous efforts by the Okinawans themselves, including adapting to Japanese names and even hairstyles, they continue to face significant discrimination. Japanese atrocities against the loyal Okinawans during the Pacific War convinced the islanders that they were merely expendable assets for the mainland Japanese. Now, the desire to assimilate into Japanese society has been replaced by a new pride in their culture and traditions. Okinawans perceive themselves as a separate people who simply live in Japan. American entrance into Okinawa was the catalyst for a re-evaluation of their attitudes toward mainland Japan. Okinawans generally harbour more animosity toward mainland Japan than toward the American military which has been stationed since the end of WW II and occupies 20 percent of the island. Okinawans feel that the rest of Japan should share in the burden of providing land for the American military. American military presence in Okinawa has also led to intermarriage between Okinawan women and American men. Children of mixed blood have faced even greater discrimination than their Okinawan relatives. According to Japanese law, children of mixed Okinawan and American blood do not qualify for citizenship; they have consequently remained stateless.  

Japanese traditions that distinguished between "acceptable" and "unacceptable" occupations remain the core element of conflict between the majority and the numerically largest and physically least visible minority group called Burakumin or Buraku. During the Tokugawa era, Japan's population was ranked in four tiers based on neo-Confucian ideology. Modern day Buraku people descended from the two lowest groups – comprising beggars, itinerant entertainers, fugitives, and those performing tasks such as animal slaughter and disposing of the dead. They have accordingly inherited the prejudice inherent in the rigid caste system. Ethnically, linguistically, culturally and religiously, the Burakumin, who make up about two percent of the population, are indistinguishable. Unfortunately, this social context has both stigmatised the Buraku and forced many to attempt “passing” for mainstream Japanese. Burakumin who are caught trying to “pass” are severely punished. The punishment is often in the form of social ostracism experienced in the workplace and through discriminatory graffiti in public places.

The Burakumin continue to be disadvantaged. Although advances have been made, Japanese society, in general, still views Burakumin as being destined to live an unsavoury life. The workplace, educational and governmental institutions continue to perpetuate these biases, placing the Burakumin at a disadvantaged position in society. Employers in all sectors continue to refuse hiring a person if he or she is Buraku. Discrimination has not been confined to employment, but affects all aspects of the Burakumin’s lives, including social services, housing, and social relations. As one indicator of societal prejudice, wedding engagements are often broken off because either the bride or groom is discovered to be Buraku. The Buraku are segregated into ghettos pre-dominantly located in the Awaji district. Despite government efforts to address the situation, poor supervision of project implementation has prevented any significant improvement in their living condition. Educational and environmental standards are lower in these ghettos. The rate of high school dropouts is significantly higher among Burakumin.

A labour shortage in 1989 forced Japan to open the door to foreigners. Foreign labour – mainly from China, Iran, Malaysia, Peru, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand – comprises about 1.5 percent of the workforce. Wages of undocumented workers in Japan are low compared to those of average Japanese workers. According to the Immigration Bureau of the Justice Ministry, which issues annual statistics in a report entitled "Regarding Cases of the Violation of the Immigration Control Act", 80 percent of undocumented workers receive less than 10,000 yen a day. Contrasting this with the statistics of the Labour Ministry on Japanese workers, who receive on average 16,000 yen per day, it is easy to see that migrant workers are being used as cheap labour by Japanese companies. The Minimum Wage Law and Social Insurance apply to foreigners who work in Japan. However, Japanese companies generally neglect to pay social insurance that foreign workers are entitled to have. Workers who remain in Japan undocumented after their visas expire run an even greater risk because companies can easily find loopholes that enable them to avoid paying such illegally overstaying foreign workers. These undocumented workers are often reluctant to protest, as it would result in their deportation.

Foreign workers, even if they are not permanent residents, are also legally entitled to workman's compensation for accidents. Both the Labour Standard Law and the Workers Accident Compensation Insurance Law are applicable to migrant workers, but workers rarely receive compensation for job-related accidents. According to the Japan Civil Liberties Union, less than 10 percent of undocumented workers who experienced a work-related injury received compensation.

In 1910, Japan invaded Korea and began its 35-year-long colonisation. Many Koreans were kidnapped from their homeland, taken to Japan and used as slave labour. Japan’s colonisation is the historical root of the discrimination against Koreans that followed. From 1920 to 1934, Japanese authorities initiated a project in Korea to increase rice production. However, a major proportion of the rice produced was exported to Japan, resulting in famine and a devastated economy. Many Koreans, therefore, voluntarily migrated to Japan in search of employment.
Today, even third- and fourth-generation Koreans who are born in Japan are considered Korean nationals and foreigners. Long-time residents can now apply for Japanese citizenship and be naturalised under the 1950 Nationality Act, but they must first show "proof of assimilation". The government's assimilation policy was directed towards the elimination of Korean ethnic consciousness. Japanese was the only language allowed to be spoken in public. Koreans were forced to give up their names and adopt Japanese ones. Most Korean youths today go through some sort of identity crisis. The post-war Japanese government moreover negated both Koreans’ rights as Japanese citizens and as foreigners at the time of the San Francisco Treaty in 1952. Discrimination by the Japanese kept alive the Koreans' wish to return to Korea. Korean parents in the meantime built schools for their children that taught Korean history, language and customs in preparation for their future return to Korea. However, Japanese authorities clamped down, claiming there was no need to be educated as “foreigners” if the Korean children were Japanese citizens. While shutting down Korean schools on the one hand the government stripped Koreans' right to vote in 1945 and in 1947.

The Alien Registration Law requires fingerprinting of foreigners and an obligation to carry their Alien Registration Certificate at all times. Even permanent residents are obliged to follow the Alien Registration Law. Violators may be imprisoned with hard labour for up to one year or fined 200,000 yen. By early September 1983, 28 foreign residents, 24 of whom were Korean, refused to be fingerprinted. The Japanese Ministry of Justice responded to the Korean students’ defiance by refusing to issue them re-entry permits and arresting them.

Japan has yet to provide adequate reparations for the abuses committed against Korean “comfort women.” During World War II, approximately 200,000 women, most of whom were Korean, were forced to service Japanese soldiers in army brothels as so-called comfort women. The Japanese government has established the Asian Women's Fund to compensate the victims, but this has been criticised by international non-governmental organisations. Post-war Japan has both a moral and a legal responsibility as a state to apologise publicly and to compensate the victims. A resolution passed by the UN Sub-Commission reiterates that "states must respect their international obligations to prosecute perpetrators and compensate all victims of human rights violations" the remedy for which cannot, according to international law, be extinguished by peace treaties, agreements, amnesty or similar means.

Societal attitudes, which lie at the root of discrimination, need to be altered, while domestic and international legal provisions need to be implemented if racial discrimination is to be eliminated in Japan. While changing societal attitudes takes more time, the government can begin with short-term measures such as ratifying and implementing international conventions. Japan ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) in 1995, but with a reservation to Article 4 (a) & (b). Japan is yet to ratify: (1) the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families; or (2) the First and Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In March 2001, Japan completed its state periodic report before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In its concluding observations, the Committee criticised Japan’s conspicuous lack of domestic legislation to implement its obligations under ICERD:

The Committee is concerned that the only provision in the legislation of the State party relevant to the Convention is article 14 of the Constitution. Taking into account the fact that the Convention is not self-executory, the Committee believes it necessary to adopt specific legislation to outlaw racial discrimination, in particular in conformity with the provisions of articles 4 and 5 of the Convention.

With its commitment to pacifism and its contribution to development-related issues, Japan is perhaps best placed among Asian nations to lead the struggle against racism. It can do so only by first changing itself.

-Human Rights Features

Casteism in Pakistan

Published in The Friday Times, Pakistan

It is a cliché now to say that Pakistan is a country in transition – on a highway to somewhere. The direction remains unclear but the speed of transformation is visibly defying its traditionally overbearing, and now cracking postcolonial state. Globalisation, the communications revolution and a growing middle class have altered the contours of a society beset by the baggage and layers of confusing history.

What has however emerged despite the affinity with jeans, FM radios and McDonalds is the visible trumpeting of caste-based identities. In Lahore, one finds hundreds of cars with the owner’s caste or tribe displayed as a marker of pride and distinctiveness. As an urbanite, I always found it difficult to comprehend the relevance of zaat-paat (casteism) until I experienced living in the peri-urban and sometimes rural areas of the Punjab as a public servant.

I recall the days when in a central Punjab district, I was mistaken for a Kakayzai (a Punjabi caste that claims to have originated from the Caucasus) so I started getting correspondence from the Anjuman-i-Kakayzai professionals who were supposed to hold each other’s hands in the manner of the Free Masons. I enjoyed the game and pretended that I was one of them for a while, until it became unbearable for its sheer silliness and mercenary objectives.

It was also here that a subordinate told me in chaste Punjabi how the Gujjar caste was not a social group but a ‘religion’ in itself. Or that the Rajputs were superior to everyone else, second only to the Syeds. All else was the junk that had converted from the lowly Hindus (of course this included my family). My first name is also a matter of sectarian interpretation. Another subordinate in my younger days lectured me on the importance of sticking together as the ‘victims’ of the Sunni majoritarian violence of Pakistani society. Mistaken as a Momin I also got a chance to know intra-group dynamics better, and also how closely knit such groups are and what they think of others. This reminds me of the horrific tales our domestic helper used to tell us about the Shi’ites, and as children we were scared to even go near a Moharram procession, until one day my Sunni parents fired her for poisoning their children’s minds.

My personal inclinations aside, for in the footsteps of the great Urdu poet Ghalib, I view myself as half a Shia, this has been a matter of concern. Can I not exist as a human being without being part of a herd? Obedience to hierarchies, conformity and identification with groups are central tenets of existing in Pakistan.

At a training institution fifteen years ago, where a group of us were being taught how to become ‘officers’, a colleague cooked up a fanciful story about me. In the lecture hall, I had argued for a secular state, quoting Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech and had highlighted the shoddy treatment of the minorities in Pakistan as a betrayal of the Quaid’s vision. This imaginative colleague circulated the rumour that the reason for my political views was that I belonged to the Ahmaddiya Jamaat. One could of course talk of the marginalised only if one was a part of that group. Otherwise why should we care, semi-citizens that we are!

In the twenty first century, Punjab’s entire electoral landscape is still defined by caste and biradari loyalties. In the 1980s, General Zia ul Haq’s machinations spearheaded a second social engineering in the Punjab by resuscitating the demons of clan, caste and tribe.

Party-less elections helped Zia to undermine the PPP but it also gave enormous leeway to the state agencies to pick and choose loyalties when election was all about the elders of a biradari. His Arain (a non-land tilling caste) background became a topic of discussion as many Arains used this card to great personal and commercial advantage during his tenure. This is similar to what the Kashmiris have perceived under the multiple reigns of the now rechristened (in a democratic sense) Sharifs of the Punjab, who are proud Kashmiris.

Why blame the Punjabis only? In the early years of Pakistan, the migrants from India had set the ground for the politics of patronage along ethnic and group-lines. Karachi became divided into little Lucknows, Delhis and other centres of nostalgia. Employment opportunities and claims of property, as several personal accounts and autobiographies reveal, were doled out on the basis of affiliation to pre-partition networks – Aligarh, Delhi, UP qasbaas and Hyderabadi neighbourhoods. The same goes for the smaller units of Pakistan. Small wonder that the Bengalis ran away from the Pakistan project, despite being its original initiators.

We pride ourselves on being a nuclear armed Islamic state that broke away from the prejudiced Baniyas whose abominable caste system was inhuman. But what do we practice? Who said casteism was extinct in Pakistan? My friends have not been allowed to marry outside their caste or sect, Christian servants in Pakistani households are not permitted to touch kitchen utensils, and the word ‘choora’ is the ultimate insult after the ritualistic out-of wedlock sex and incestuous abuses involving mothers and sisters or their unmentionable anatomical parts. A Sindhi acquaintance told me how easy it was to exploit the Hindu girls at his workplace or at home. And what about the many blasphemy cases in the Punjabi villages, the roots of which are located in social hierarchies and chains of obedience.

The untouchables of the cities and the villages are called something else but they remain the underbelly of our existence. Admittedly these incidences are on a lesser scale than in India. That simply is a function of demographics. Even Mohammad Iqbal, the great reformist poet, lamented in one of his couplets:

Youn tau Syed bhi ho, Mirza bhi ho, Afghan bhi ho
Tum sabhi kuch ho, batao tau Mussalman bhi ho!
(You are Syeds, Mirzas and Afghans / You are everything but Muslims).

Enter into a seemingly educated Punjabi setting and the conversation will not shy away from references to caste characteristics. For instance, I once heard a lawyer make a remark about a high-ranking public official, calling him a nai (barber) and therefore branding him as the lowest of the low. One of the reasons for Zardari-bashing in Sindh, has to do with the Zardari tribe’s historical moorings. They were camel herders as opposed to the ruling classes with fiefs.

When the young motorists playing FM radio, mast music, arranging dates on mastee chats, display the primordial caste characteristic on their windscreens, one worries if the ongoing change process can deliver a better society. Superficial signs of change cannot make up for the need for a secular educational system, equality of opportunity and accountability of political elites and their patron-state that use casteism as an instrument of gaining and sustaining power.

More bewildered, I wonder where I belong. Bulleh Shah has taught me that shedding categorisations is the first step towards self-knowledge. But I live in a society where branding and group labels are essential, if not unavoidable.

For this reason I am peeved that I still don’t know who I am.

Raza Rumi blogs at and edits Pak Tea

With Pakistan’s Hindu Dalits facing increasing violence

KARACHI, Pakistan – Long accustomed to discrimination, Pakistani Hindu Dalits in the Sindh Province of Pakistan, located in the southern part of the country, are fighting discrimination on two fronts due to their status as non-Muslims in a Muslim state and their low caste standing. Dalits have also been traditionally regarded as “untouchable” in the Hindu religion.By Zia Ur Rehman
A recent incident involving the violent exhumation of a Dalit from a Muslim graveyard underscores the discrimination that Dalits face in Pakistan. On October 6, a group of Pakistani Dalits buried Dalit artist Bhooro Bheel, who was killed in a traffic accident, in a Muslim graveyard in the Pangrio area in central Sindh, which has a long tradition of burying Hindus from Dalit communities. After the funeral, an Islamist group meeting at a nearby mosque called for the corpse to be removed. Shortly afterwards, a mob dug up the body and desecrated the grave.
In another incident, a young Dalit woman, Kakoo Kohli, was shot dead on November 28 in the Umarkot district, in northern Sindh. Kohli’s family members and the Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network (PDSN), a network of over 30 organizations supporting the rights of marginalized groups, particularly minorities and lower castes, claimed that she was killed by the same suspects who had allegedly gang-raped her six weeks ago. They also claimed that the suspects were still roaming freely in the area despite an ongoing criminal case against the perpetrators.
“Although marginalized groups generally belonging to minority communities are threatened in many areas in Pakistan, Dalits, who are officially known as ‘scheduled castes,’ are the worst victims of the violence and discrimination, particularly in lower districts of Sindh province,” said Zulfiqar Shah, Secretary General of the PDSN.
According to the country’s 1998 census, there are approximately 333,000 Dalits in Pakistan. However, interviews with Dalit activists and minority rights groups suggest that today, the country’s Dalit population could be as high as two million. There is no formal way of knowing the Dalit population, however, since Pakistan has not taken a population census since 1998. Still, many of the country’s Dalits are concentrated in the Sindh Province, with smaller numbers in the western province of Balochistan and the southern part of the Punjab province.
“Dalits are basically a cluster of 42 castes. The most popular are Bheels, Kohlis, Meghwals, Bagdis and Odhs, with low incomes and low purchasing power. They comprise 85 percent of the total Hindu population,” said Sanjesh Dhanja, the president of the Pakistan Hindu Seva Welfare Trust (PHSWT), a Hindu rights group.
The Dalits’ “untouchability” also prohibits them from accessing public places. ”Neither Hindu nor Muslim barbers will shave Dalits or give them a haircut,” said a Dalit engineer who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Hindus and Muslims won’t eat food prepared by the Dalits, either,” said the engineer. “Such practices concerning untouchability are very common in Sindh.”
Many Dalit women in Pakistan are also victims of sexual abuse, kidnapping and forced religious conversions. During the last few months alone, local newspapers have published over a dozen news stories about sexual violence against Dalit women in the Sindh province. The majority of Dalit families in Pakistan even avoid sending their daughters to school out of fear that they will be abducted and subjected to forced religious conversions, said Dhanja.
According to a survey conducted by the PHSWT, Dalit parents prefer that their daughters work as farmhands, tending to livestock instead of getting an education – even at the primary school level – out of the fear that they will be harassed or worse. Dhanja added that many Dalit women have been victimized not only by Muslims, but also by a small population of upper caste Hindus.
Bonded labor in Pakistan is widespread, particularly in the agricultural and brick-kiln sectors, with the majority of laborers in these sectors coming from the country’s Dalit communities. According to a report from the Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research (PILER), a labor rights organization based in Karachi, the combination of poverty, belonging to a low caste and being non-Muslim are the main factors contributing to the harsh conditions and treatment of Dalit laborers in Pakistan.
Dalit activists also complain that Pakistan’s Dalit population suffers for not having any political leadership to vouch on its behalf. Rather, Hindu politics in Pakistan are dominated by Hindus from upper castes, with most elections to the country’s parliament being based on wealth. “Upper class Hindus do not raise their voices against the atrocities of the majority Dalit community in the parliament because in many cases, they are themselves involved in it,” said Faqira Bheel, a resident of Tharparkar, located in the southeastern part of the Sindh Province. Also to their detriment, there are few temples in Pakistan in which Dalits can worship, and they are prohibited from praying in temples that cater primarily to Hindus from upper classes.
However, the recent desecration of a Dalit corpse and the killing of a Dalit woman have sparked a massive campaign by Sindh’s civil society organizations and rights groups to raise awareness of the problems plaguing Pakistani Dalits.
Political parties, civil societies and minority organizations in Sindh have organized protest rallies, denounced the incidents and visited the locations where they occurred in a show of solidarity with the Dalit community and the families of the deceased.
After the incident where Bheel’s corpse was desecrated, Aksaryati Hindu Panchayat, a Hindu rights organization, organized a march against religious militancy in October with the support of Sindh’s political parties and civil society groups. According to local media reports, participants in the march walked from the Mirpur Khas district to Hyderabad district, a distance of approximately 70 kilometers.
Expressing concern over the atrocities against the Dalit community, participants in a December 7 protest held outside the Karachi Press Club said that Dalits were the indigenous inhabitants of Sindh but were being treated as untouchables, harassed because of their religious beliefs.
“Unfortunately, the rape of Dalit women is considered as an act ‘for granted’ because of their low social status in Pakistani society,” said Mahnaz Rehman, the leader of the Aurat Foundation, a women’s rights group that operates throughout the country. “Government is unable to take action against the influential and wealthy landlords involved in raping and other atrocities,” Rehman added.
Experts say that the situation the Dalit community faces is not much different than that facing minorities in other South Asian countries, particularly India. However, two years ago, Nepal adopted the Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability Bill, a landmark law protecting the rights of Dalits. In a similar move, the British government decided in April that the Equality Act, a set of anti-discrimination laws first enacted in 2010, would protect against caste discrimination to ensure the safety of Dalits in Diaspora communities.
Pakistani rights groups also demanded that Pakistan’s government form a National Commission on Scheduled Castes to hear the complaints of caste and racial discrimination, following up these complaints with the necessary and required action.
There are many steps that the Pakistani government needs to take to alleviate the suffering of Dalits in the country. Unfortunately, it has taken very public and gruesome attacks on Dalits to launch discussion of initiatives designed to improve their living conditions.
A first step towards doing so would be to hold a caste-wide census to enumerate the different groups in the caste system. This should be followed up by providing these groups with proper representation in Pakistani Parliament based on population ratios. Such a move would ensure that the voices of all Pakistanis are heard at the national level, and see that the injustices facing minority groups are acknowleged and properly addressed.
Zia Ur Rehman is an award-winning journalist and researcher based in Karachi, Pakistan. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The National, Central Asia Online, The Friday Times and The News, among other publications. 


In Pakistan Dalits are known as Scheduled castes which are 40 in Nos. (Presidential Ordinance to declare certain non-Muslim castes to be scheduled castes, issued on Nov.12, 1957 by Ministry of Law). Mostly in majority, Meghwar [(Meghwal) also known as Harijan in District Tharparkar], Kolhi, Bhil, Walmikis (Bhang’s), Oadhs, Bagri’s etc; these communities are most depressed class poorest of poor class in Pakistan society. Generally their story is not much different from what is told about them in SAARC region. The social and cultural history of this disadvantaged/neglected community.

In Pakistan movement for emancipation of this depressed class is not existent as compared with India and other SAARC countries. In Sindh Province of Pakistan these Dalits / Scheduled caste are concentrated in Mirpurkhas Division , i.e. Mirpurkhas, Umerkot, Sanghar, Tharparkar, Badin, however they are living in other parts Upper & lower Sindh and Southern Punjab (mostly Rahim yar khan Division (Cholistan) Siraiki belt), Lahore city and also scattered in other parts of Pakistan. 

The list of Scheduled castes gazette issued on 12-11-1957.

1. Ad.Dharmi 2.Bangali 3.Barar 4.Bawaria 5.Bazigar 6.Bhangi 7.Bhanjara 8.Bhil 9.Chamar 10.Chandal 11.Charan 12.Chuhra or Balmiki 13.Dagi and Kolhi 14.Dhanak 15.Dhed 16.Dumna 17.Gagra 18.Gandhila 19.Halal-Khor 20.Jatia 21.Kalal 22.Khatik 23.Kolhi 24.Kori 25.Kuchria 26.Mareja or Marecha 27.Megh (war) 28.Menghwar 29.Nat 30.Odh 31.Pasi 32.Perna 33.Ramdasi 34.Sansi 35.Sapela 36.Sarera 37.Shikari 38.Sirkiband 39.Sochi 40.Wagri 

It can be said that in Pakistan problems of Scheduled castes are not identified nor basic data about them is collected and tabulated at the Government level but approximately the Dalits are 1.7499% of total population i.e. [ 2842349 out of 162419946 ( about 3 million) ].

No legislative measures have been considered by the Government.Althgough UN declaration of HR (1948) and fundamental rights and principles of policy are listed in Part II of the Pakistan constitution of 1973 provide both for recognition and eradication of discrimination and legal measures has been taken.

The untouchability is the major problem and exists in all over world. We find untouchability, forced labour, (Beggar), Servitude, Slavery, Bonded Labour, to be too evident. About 80% of non proprietor agriculture tenants in Sindh province are from Dalits (Scheduled caste).

Since last 20 years servitude of bonded tenants has surfaced and for whom the HRCP has fought and continue to fight and thousands have achieved freedom from forced Labour. They found in chains while foreign journalists have accompanied the police, Magistrate and Human Rights activist. There are about 700 thousands families such scheduled caste families are engaged on forms owned by feudals and Zamindars.

In many parts of Pakistan these Scheduled castes peoples are treated as Untouchables and no law has been paid punishing practice of untouchability. No seats are exclusively reserved for them in National Assembly, Senate, Provincial Assemblies and nor any newly established District Government (Local Government System)

In Pakistan roughly 3 millions are Dalits 

population, belonging to various castes, and are 

scattered in all over Pakistan.

In the speech Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah the founder of Pakistan assured / declared that Muslim League would protect the rights of Dalits and he assured them of full security. Accordingly Jogendra Nath Mandal a Dalit from East Pakistan was appointed as the leader of the constituent Assembly of Pakistan and first law minister of the country. It means that Jinnah was genuine in his concern (Jinnah was Khwaja by profession the businessman Skins of halal or dead animals). [The Quaid had also give 6% job quota in the Federal services to the scheduled castes. But in 1998 Nawaz Sharif Government converted the Scheduled caste job quota into Minorities Quota due to the influence of Upper caste Hindu and Christian MNA’s in National Assembly session.] However things begin to change after Jinnah’s death and in 1953 Mandal resigned from cabinet and migrated To India. This was an indication of the growing intolerance towards minorities/dalits in the post Jinnah Pakistan . Now days minorities lead a bleak existence in Pakistan , the worst sufferers among them, being the country’s Dalit Dalits of Pakistan are the unfortunate people having no political leadership. 

About 90% of Pakistan Dalits work as land less agriculture (means on ½ or 3/4 share), laborers and sweepers in urban areas. In the urban areas the huts of sweepers (valmiki) are located in separate settlement. In rural areas the huts of Dalits are located in separate settlements outside the main village and they generally lack even basic amenities like water supply, drainage, telephone, road, transport facility etc. Large number of Dalits also led a nomadic existence, traveling from village to village in search of job. Many Dalits live in temporary structure in the lands of landlords for whom they work and they can be expelled from there when ever the landlords wish, having no little to the land. They generally earn a pittance and often forced into free labour by powerful (police patella or supported) upper caste Hindus (Thakurs) and also Muslim feudal lords. Many Dalits eke out a miserable existence as bonded laborers, being heavily indebted to landlords and money lenders (Banias). If they protest against false indebt ness or refuse to give the free labour, the false fictitious police cases lodged against them and the police don’t protect them. Local Administration (police, Revenue and Judiciary) get bribe from them and routinely harass them and supports to Upper caste and even forcibly take away their cattle and other such belongings. This type of practice is exists in all over Pakistan but mostly in practice in Chachro, Nagar parkar, Diplo, Mithi, Tehsils District Tharparkar and now a days it is on peak point because Arbab Ghulam Rahim is Chief Minister of Sindh Province whose mother is Thakurs family and he is Sardar of Nohrio Brotheris and alliance with all other castes like as Sameja, Sama, Khosa, Nareja, Dohat, Rahooman, Sangrasi, Thakurs and other Baloch tribes who are settled in Tharparkar and follows him and he or his relatives give the protection through police and Administration.

Land mafia in big cities like Hyderabad, Karachi, Lahore, Sukkur, Jaccobabad often forcibly grab the land on which Dalits setup their huts and in other rural areas of Tharparkar the land of upper caste Hindus who have been migrated to India in war 1971 & 1965 cultivating Dalits since last 40 years with the collision of land revenue official (Patwari).

In most places Dalits have no temples and are not allowed to pray in the temples of upper caste Hindus. Dalits have no/little places for burns the dead bodies. In big cities some parts were reserved for Dalits now they have been come into centre and many of these (graveyards & Temples) illegally occupied by local influential Muslims.
In Primary Schools in the villages, dalit students discriminated from the first day when he enrolled, the Muslim or upper caste Hindu teacher writes his half name with his fathers name and routinely faces discrimination and not allowed to sit on the wooden bench and to use utensils that are used by other students. Dalit students are often badly treated by upper caste Muslim teachers up to college level from where branches divide to Professional Education. If a one dalit student is more intelligent he gets nice marks in theory then he will be pushed back in practical/viva voce and he can’t be successful in his aim. Despite being the poorest of the poor, they don’t receive any scholarships from Government in the name of Scheduled caste scholarship. Further, owing to desperate poverty few % of Dalits can afford to send their children for higher education, and generally, children withdrawn from schools at an early age to engage in manual work to help supplement the family’s meager income. In many cases Dalits don’t send their girls to school/College/University fearing that they might be kidnapped, rapped, or forcibly convert to Islam.
In towns and cities Dalits generally live in the poorest / non-developed / in squalid slums. There are no organizations working among them for their welfare, and lacking a strong political leadership of their own, they are not able to effectively assert their voice in demanding their rights from the state or from the upper castes dominated society. Many of Dalits have no Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC) and could not get due to complicated method or bribe, so that can not access various Government Development/support schemes or programmes. Government facilities for religious minorities are almost monopolized by the country more powerful and organized Christian and upper caste Hindu communities leaving the Dalits Untouched.
Because of acute poverty, rampant illiteracy, discrimination, and the absence of Dalit movements as in India, Dalits in Pakistan have no political influence at all. Mostly Dalits are not allowed to freely vote for candidate of their own choice or contest in election freely. They are often forced by powerful upper caste Hindus (Thakurs, Brahmins, Lohana.) and Muslims of any caste land lords to vote for particular candidates, and if they refused they are pressurized into leaving their homes or beaten up or false / fictitious police cases lodged against them.
The problem of Dalit political marginalization is complicated by the acute division among the Dalits, with various Dalit castes practicing untouchability among them themselves. For its part, the Pakistan state prefers to promote the economically and socially more influential upper caste Hindus as leader of the Hindus instead of trying to promote an alternate Dalit Leadership which is high % in population of other upper caste Hindus. In new parliament System President of Pakistan has announced the joint Electoral system and seats reserved for Non Muslims (0/100) in Senate, (10/342) in National Assembly, Provincial Assemblies 1.Punjab (8/371), 2.Sindh (9/168), 3.NWFP (3/124), 4.Balochistan (3/65). The selection Methodology of Non Muslims was the nomination by Election contesting Political parties. In Pakistan there are 3 big parties, Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarian (PPPP), Muslim League (Nawaz), Muslim League (Q), out of these only one ML (N) given ticket to dalit Mr.Kirshan lal Bhil in National Assembly, and in Sindh (PA) MQM has given ticket to Mr.Poonjo mal Bhil, but both are crippled they can not support to their dalit brothers.
In Pakistan Dalits like other minorities are also victims of religious discrimination by both i.e. upper caste Hindus as well as Muslims. In eateries matters in the rural areas of Sindh owned by both upper castes Hindus as well as Muslims, Dalits are forced to use separate utensils marked on word dalit caste (Kolhi, Meghwar, Bhil),broken and are expected to wash them themselves after use. When they visit hospitals, for treatment they generally left unattended and being considered as untouchables, are not allowed to touch utensils meant for public use there.
In District Tharparkar and other parts of Sindh untouchability is at par even Hindu or Muslim Barbour (Naie / Hajam) doesn’t shaving/tonsure of Dalits.such type of practice is still remains in rural area and small towns of Sindh. In district Tharparkar near to border line of India in villages Dalits have no right to fetch the water from well of upper caste Hindus/Muslims they can’t graze their cattle in the land without their permission, they can’t wear any good quality cloth, turban, their females cannot wear golden/silver ornaments they cant ride on horse/camel at the time of wedding ceremony they cannot sit on cot in their homes, though in the Otaque/houses of upper caste Hindus / Muslims gives/allows no any chair, cot, Farasi, Dari. In some cases they are not allowed to sit on the open space without any carpet (Farasi) where dogs and donkeys move and excrete without any restriction.


1. The Government of Pakistan should try to insert “Treatment towards Dalits” in SAARC countries as one of the barometers to judge SAARC members’ commitment to human rights and its International Reputation as a nation.

2. The Government of Pakistan should launch a caste wise and even sub caste wise census operation to enumerate the different castes and sub caste of the different Scheduled Caste / ST/Backward Castes.

3. The Government of Pakistan should allocate separate seats in the Parliament for Scheduled Castes as per their population ratio to ensure their voice is heard at the National level. Four seats in National Assembly, Four in Sindh Assembly, two in Punjab Assembly and one each in NWFP and Balochistan Assemblies exclusively for Scheduled Castes. 

4. The Government of Pakistan should constitute a National Commission on Scheduled Castes to hear the complaints of caste and racial discrimination and take necessary and required action. 

5. The Government of Pakistan should ensure justifiable representation of Dalits in National institutions and Departments like PIAC, Banks, DFIs, Pakistan Steel, etc. and jobs in both Federal, Provincial and District governments. 

6. The Government of Pakistan should allot land to landless Dalit peasants on priority basis and get vacated their ancestral lands fraudulently occupied by upper caste Hindu / Muslims people in Tharparker district or where ever they have. 

7. The Government of Pakistan should create a separate fund for helping the destitute, orphans, widows and poor individuals of Scheduled Castes under the Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal / Social Welfare as per their population ratio, and Scholarships to the Scheduled caste students. 

8. The Government of Pakistan should protect the Scheduled Castes from being threatened, exploited, victimized, and dislodged from their ancestral abodes by the other caste people on any pretext, which is directly or indirectly connected to caste prejudice, by providing them easy access to legal remedies.


Yoginder Sikand

In the previous part of this article I had summarized some of the findings of probably the first-ever in-depth study about Pakistan’s Dalits, the country’s most dispossessed and vulnerable religious minority. Zulfiqar Shah’s alarming report, titled ‘Long Behind Schedule: A Study on the Plight of Scheduled Caste Hindus in Pakistan’, strikingly summarizes the harrowing conditions of Hindu Dalits in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. If caste and religious prejudice account in large measure for their harrowing plight, Shah argues that the attitude of the Pakistani state towards the Dalits is no less responsible.

Shah notes that the Pakistani state continues to refuse to recognize the very existence of caste and caste-based discrimination, which makes it virtually impossible to compel it to address the specific problems of Dalits. Ironically, he argues, caste is alive and thriving in Pakistan, even among the country’s overwhelming majority Muslims. Most Pakistani Muslims, he says, belong to and identify with one or the other caste and are acutely conscious of caste differences and hierarchies among them. Often, even entirely Muslim localities are specific to a particular caste group. The vast majority of poor Muslims in Pakistan belong to ‘low’ caste groups, and it is rare, almost impossible, he says, to find ‘high’ caste Muslims among the poorest of the poor. Yet, the reality of caste and caste-based discrimination, even among the country’s Muslims, are denied by the Pakistani state by regularly invoking the claim that caste is un-Islamic, and that, therefore, it simply does not exist in Islamic Pakistan, which, it rhetorically insists, is a society based on ‘Islamic values’. Consequently, the Pakistani state has made no legal provisions to empower the oppressed ‘low’ castes, whether Muslim or Hindu or to criminalize caste-based discrimination and untouchability, that remain widespread, the report says, across Pakistan.

Being Hindu and ‘low’ caste, Pakistan’s Dalits have been most badly hit by this denial by the state of caste. Since caste-based discrimination is not recognized by the state, the report says, there is no legislation against it. Nor is it possible to take legal proceedings against discrimination based on caste. ‘And, as a consequence’, the report adds, ‘impunity is widespread. Abuse of Dalits, from forced labour to rape, is considered a free-for-all.’

Being pathetically poor and illiterate, relatively small in number, divided into various castes, and, moreover, non-Muslim, the report explains that the Dalits of Pakistan are politically powerless. They have almost no presence in the country’s parliament or state legislatures. In any case, their acute poverty rules out the possibility of Dalit candidates standing for elections, which is expensive business in Pakistan, as in India. Additionally, it is unlikely that political parties would offer tickets to non-Muslim candidates, especially Dalits, for that is a sure way to lose elections. Since political parties rely heavily on the support of powerful landlords, mostly Muslims but also, in some places ‘upper’ caste Hindus, whom they cannot dare displease, and most Dalits work as landless laborers for such landlords, they are reluctant to address Dalit issues, many of which have to do with the oppression that they are subjected to by their masters. Addressing Dalit concerns such as forcible conversions to Islam is also politically risky for political parties who fear a violent backlash from mullahs and their supporters.

Pakistan’s Dalits have no effective organizations to lobby for their rights. Political parties do not take them seriously, and their minority wings are dominated by Christians and ‘upper’ caste Hindus. Hindu organizations in the country are dominated by rich ‘upper’ castes, who are indifferent, if not hostile, to Dalit advancement, and so Hindu political representatives rarely, if ever, take up Dalit concerns. Another reason for their political marginalization is that the population of the country’s Dalits, so the report says, has been grossly under-estimated in the census records, which put their numerical strength under 400,000 while their actual population may be more than two million. Hence, the report argues, nine-tenths of Pakistan’s Dalits have either been ignored in the census or else wrongly marked as ‘upper’ caste Hindus or put into other categories, thus further marginalizing them in a system where access to development schemes and political power is determined by a community’s population. This deliberate downplaying of their numbers, the report says, owes, in part, to discriminatory attitudes of Muslim and ‘upper’ caste Hindu census enumerators who wish to underestimate Dalit numbers. Additionally, due to neglect or deliberately, vast numbers of Dalits are denied voter identity-cards, and so elected representatives simply ignore them. This also leaves them unable to access the few government-funded development projects that exist.

The extreme political disempowerment of Pakistan’s Dalits, added to deep-rooted prejudices against Hindus, account, in large measure, for the virtual absence of any state-sponsored development programs for Dalits, the report contends. Unlike in India, there are no specific development schemes for ‘low’ castes (whether Muslim or Hindu) in Pakistan, nor is a share of government jobs reserved for them. The Pakistani state, the report laments, has undertaken no affirmative action measure to address the pathetic lives of the Dalits, the country’s most vulnerable minority. Indeed, it alleges, Dalits are ‘being discriminated against in [the] government’s development policies.’ Money given to elected representatives to spend on development activities in their constituencies rarely, if ever, reaches the Dalits. This neglect is also replicated in international donor-sponsored poverty-alleviation schemes in the country. The report notes that in various parts of southern Pakistan, where the bulk of the country’s Dalits live, Dalits, far from gaining at all from the development process, have turned into victims of development schemes, being displaced from their lands as a result of mega projects.

Like other religious minorities in the Islamic Republic, Pakistan’s Dalits, who are additionally discriminated against on account of their extreme poverty and ‘low’ caste status, suffer the pangs of being non-Muslim. The country’s Constitution itself discriminates against all non-Muslims, as it does against women, the report stresses. The Constitution, the report contends, provides no protection to minorities in general, and to Dalits in particular. Basic rights, including protection of minorities and the promotion of social and economic well-being of citizens, are included in the non-binding ‘principles of policy’, rather than the legally enforceable section on fundamental rights, and, moreover, are overshadowed by religious provisions that call for all laws to be in conformity with Islam. The Federal Shariat or Islamic Law Court has the right to turn down any law it considers repugnant to Islam. This, the report says, ‘has further weakened chances of seeking justice against any discrimination’, particularly if the victims are non-Muslims. All these discriminatory provisions, the report insists, are a complete violation of various international human rights agreements to which Pakistan is a signatory.

Like other non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan, Dalits are sometimes targeted  by Muslims under the country’s draconian blasphemy laws, being falsely accused of traducing Islam and its prophet (an act punishable with death or life imprisonment) in order to settle personal scores, the report reveals. Even trivial acts, leave alone major forms of defiance or protest, can lead to hapless Dalits being hounded under these laws. The report cites some such cases, including one involving a Dalit man who was threatened with trial under the blasphemy law if he did not beg an apology from the entire village for having slept with his feet pointed westwards, in the direction of the Muslim holy city of Mecca!

Although many of the forms of dispossession and discrimination that Pakistani Dalits suffer from are similar to those faced by their brethren in India, there are no legal mechanisms in Pakistan to address them. Thus, untouchability is not regarded as a punishable offence, and there is no legislation at the provincial level to protect the rights of Dalits who are routinely denied entry to public places, and access to water sources or common utensils in eateries on account of their caste and religion, which remains a pervasive practice.

The report concludes with a long list of recommendations, directed particularly at the Pakistani state, to act on to address the manifold problems of its Dalit citizens. These include proper and accurate enumeration of the country’s Dalit population; recording data broken down by caste and other relevant categories gathered by the government; criminalizing caste-based discrimination through a law that allows prosecution of perpetrators and banning untouchability by law; instituting programs to economically empower Dalits, including through a quota system in jobs and educational institutions; providing Dalits legal possession of their homes and arranging interest-free loans for them; distributing state land to landless Dalits; providing scholarships and other forms of assistance to Dalit students; ensuring that all political parties involve Dalits in decision-making, possibly through a law making representation of Dalits mandatory; reserving seats in all levels of government, including the judiciary and law enforcement departments, for Dalits; eliminating all religious biases from school textbooks; implementing the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act and ensuring immediate rehabilitation of released bonded laborers; instituting a commission to investigate incidents of rape, kidnapping and forced conversion to Islam of Dalits and punishing their perpetrators, including Islamic clerics who abet such cases; ratifying relevant international human rights treaties, complying with reporting obligations and inviting international rapperteurs; and taking effective measures to stop targeting Dalits as ‘Indian agents’.

In all, an impressive list of what seem absolutely necessary demands, but given ground-level realities in the ‘Land of the Pure’, we may be sure that this well-meaning report and the recommendations that it proffers will meet with deafeningly loud silence, if not thunderous opposition.

Caste and captivity: Dalit suffering in Sindh

Daughters of another god
by Amar Guriro
It is a story of fear and helplessness, unending torment and unrelenting tribulations: Dalit parents are left without a voice or access to justice while their daughters are kidnapped and converted
Neelam Kolhi outside her home located near Samaro town in Umerkot district. She was kidnapped and forcibly converted but later a court ordered her return home. The family is impoverished as can be seen by their makeshift hut. -Photos by Amar Guriro Neelam Kolhi outside her home located near Samaro town in Umerkot district. She was kidnapped and forcibly converted but later a court ordered her return home. The family is impoverished as can be seen by their makeshift hut. -Photos by Amar Guriro
Fear makes perfectly good people provide perfectly valid justifications for ultimately vile practices.
Dalit communities settled in Sindh have adopted the practice of early marriages: girls as young as 11 are forcibly married off with the rationalisation that they’ll be kidnapped or even raped if they are single. If she is kidnapped, then she is converted and married off to a Muslim man. In most cases, despite protests by parents and Hindu rights activists, the family will never see the girl again.
Frightened parents, therefore, wed their daughter at an early age to reduce the risks of their daughters being kidnapped. It is, after all, a matter of continuing lineage, faith and culture.
Thirteen-year-old Neelam Kohli could also have fallen prey to the same vicious cycle but she has been the exception to the rule: kidnapped and converted about two years ago, she was able to return to her family on the directives of a court.
She is alive and well today, her conversion has not been deemed legal, and she is not burdened with pregnancy either since she couldn’t bear children when she was raped. But her parents are now unable to find a suitor for her, since their community says Neelam was in the kidnappers’ custody for a month or so.
Neelam Kohli used to be a resident of a slum settlement called the Bheel Colony, situated near Kot Ghulam Muhammad town of Mirpurkhas district. She was kidnapped in September 2014, while her peasant parents were tilling the land. In her testimony later on, she named a local influential, Akbar Khokhar, and his two friends, Javed Kokhar and Dalho Kohli, as the kidnappers. The accused took her to a local madressah, where she was converted.
Her parents approached the police and lodged an FIR against her kidnapping. The case was reported in the Sindhi media and also found traction on social media. Local Hindu groups protested in favour of her recovery and ultimately, she was brought to a local court, where her parents proved her age. She was 11 at the time. The court issued directives to free her and allowed the parents to take her home, but no action was taken against the accused and they were allowed to walk free.
After Neelam’s return, her father Nemoon decided to migrate from their colony: the three influential predators were still out and around, and they could kidnap Neelam once again. The family left Bheel Colony and moved to Samaro Town of Umerkot district, where they live now.
Despite around two years having passed since Neelam’s return, the family is still living in fear. The place where they live now is owned by a local landlord and is in close proximity to the native village of Pir Ayub Jan Sarhandi, a Sindhi cleric, famous for forced conversion cases.

“A section of the [Hindu Marriage Bill] says that if any Hindu woman, even if she is married and has children, has converted to Islam, her Hindu marriage will be considered illegal. Many influential people will exploit this section

“We are frightened that someone will again come and kidnap her, and maybe this time around, we will not be able to bring her back,” says Neelam’s mother, Hanjoo Kohli. Her house comprises two smallsized makeshift huts surrounded by a thorn fence. They rarely leave their village.
Sitting with her is Hanjoo Kolhi, her mother. -Photos by Amar Guriro Sitting with her is Hanjoo Kolhi, her mother. -Photos by Amar Guriro
The fear of girls being taken away and converted has only been reinforced by the new Hindu marriage legislation that was passed by the provincial assembly in February, 2016. Although the Hindu Marriage Bill codifies marriage laws for an estimated 7.5 million Hindus living in Sindh, the question of kidnapping-for-conversion has been evaded by lawmakers.
“A section of the bill says that if any Hindu woman, even if she is married and has children, has converted to Islam, her Hindu marriage will be considered illegal. Many influential people will exploit this section,” explains social worker from Lyari Town, Karachi, Seema Rana.
“We were very happy about finally getting a law that will help reduce forced conversion cases, especially of lower-caste Hindus, but we were wrong. This bill has many flaws, and we demand that certain sections of the bill might be amended, so the Hindus may get some legal protection against forced conversion,” says Seema Rana.
In recent years, the number of kidnappings-for-conversion cases has been increasing in Sindh. Most of these cases go unreported in the mainstream media; there isn’t much interest in the state machinery to solve such cases either, as the majority of them belong to lower caste communities or ‘untouchables’ as they are more commonly known.
“Every year, around 1,000 to 1,200 Dalits girls — approximately 100 every month —are kidnapped and forcibly converted. The numbers could be more but there is no any mechanism to calculate the actual figure,” says renowned Dalit activist Surendar Valasai, who is also the advisor on minority affairs to Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Patron-in-Chief of the PPP.
Most areas where lower caste Hindus live have no basic facilities, and women have to walk miles everyday to fetch water for their families. Most areas where lower caste Hindus live have no basic facilities, and women have to walk miles everyday to fetch water for their families.
Valasai explains that when a Dalit girl is kidnapped, her parents, instead of lodging a case in any police station, are forced to sit with the opponent while local feudal lords sweep the matter under the rug in the name of Jirga. He says most of these Dalits are very poor and are unable to highlight their plight.
Abdul Hai of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) Sindh chapter agrees that a large number of forced conversion cases of lower caste Hindus is taking place but is going unreported. “We haven’t been receiving forced conversation cases as rich Hindus deal with these cases on their own; poor Dalits are also unable to reach us,” he says.
According to official estimates in 2011, with a 7.5 million-strong population, Hindus are the biggest religious minority of Pakistan and the majority lives in Sindh. Unofficial estimates put the number higher. But various Hindu rights organisations estimate that around 6.8m or 90 pc of them are lower caste or ‘untouchables’.
Some of these lower caste Hindus are scattered in southern Punjab as well as the northern districts of upper Sindh (including Sukkur, Ghotki and Jacobabad), but the vast majority of them are in different districts of lower Sindh, particularly in Mirpurkhas division (Tharparkar, Sanghar, Umerkot and Mirpurkhas).
They are poor, uneducated and have no access to basic facilities such as drinking water, sanitation and even schools. Most of them are either living on a local influential’s land or that of the government. In most of these districts, the Sindh government has been unable to provide land ownership to these vulnerable communities.
In Tharparkar district, around 700,000 or almost half the total 1.6m population are Hindus; around 80pc of those Hindus are lower caste communities, such as Meghwars, Kohlis and Bheels. Whenever there is drought, which has now become frequent, these lower caste Hindus travel to nearby districts which are irrigated on River Indus, in search of food for themselves and fodder for their livestock. In these districts, they work as temporary farm workers on the lands of powerful Muslim landlords. Despite working day and night, on most occasions these poor Dalits are not given their due share in the crop.
“After a drought hits Thar Desert, these Dalits become internally displaced people. They walk hundreds of miles with their livestock, to find some employment as agricultural workers with a powerful Muslim landlord. But in many cases, work is forcibly extracted out of them; they are often not paid, and eventually, are pushed into bonded labour,” says rights activist Veerji Kohli.
Although a majority of Pakistani Hindus are lower caste, almost all Hindu parliamentarians are from the upper caste, which creates a set of dichotomies: who becomes the voice of Dalits in Sindh?
In total, there are 37 representative seats that have been reserved for religious minorities in various legislatures: 10 seats in the National Assembly, four seats in the Senate, nine in the Sindh Assembly, eight in Punjab, and three each in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Of these 37 reserved seats — meant for Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and other minorities — 20 are occupied by Hindu parliamentarians, 16 of whom are upper caste Hindus. In essence, they represent the 9pc of the total Hindu population in Pakistan.
The shrine of Pir Pithoro in Pithoro Town in District Umerkot is exclusively a shrine for lower caste Hindus The shrine of Pir Pithoro in Pithoro Town in District Umerkot is exclusively a shrine for lower caste Hindus
Pakistani Hindus, like other religious minorities, have dual vote rights in principle. But in reality, they have no right to vote to elect their own representative, as seats for religious minorities are kept as reserved. Distribution of these seats is at the discretion of political parties’ leadership, and therefore, most upper-caste Hindus, majority of them well-off and privileged, are nominated to these seats.
“Dalits are poor and can’t pay huge amount in party funds as upper caste Hindus usually do. As a result, they can’t reach the assemblies and thus their voice is not heard in the assemblies,” says Veerji.
In fact, Dalit exclusion and discrimination at the hands of upper caste Hindus is as much a concern for lower caste Hindus as the persecution inflicted from elsewhere. They are not allowed to sit or eat with any upper caste Hindu, and therefore in Mirpurkhas district, there are separate tea stalls or restaurants for these lower caste communities. It is for this reason that Mirpurkhas, Khipro, Sanghar, Umerkot and other cities of Mirpurkhas division are dotted with restaurants and shacks named “Hindu Hotel”, “Kohli Hotel”, “Bheel Hotel” and so on.
Similarly, lower caste Hindus have their own places of worship, where annual mass gatherings of Dalits are held. Rarely would any upper caste Hindus visit these temples or shrines. The shrine of Pir Pithoro in the Pithoro town in Umerkot District, and the Rama Pir Temple in Tando Allahyar, are both examples of exclusive sites of worship for Dalit Hindus.
But Sant Neeno Ram Ashram, a shrine of local saint in Salamkot town of Tharparkar district, provides the uglier side to the dynamic: managed by upper caste Hindus, this shrine is frequented daily by a large number of lower caste Hindus. Even in matters of worship, Dalits face discrimination: instead of food being served on plates, upper caste Hindus distribute food on old newspaper. Even in devotion, Dalits in Sindh are children of a different god.
The writer is a journalist based in Karachi. He tweets @AmarGuriro

On the run

by Aslam Khwaja
Its a case of once bitten, twice shy for families whose loved ones have been kidnapped or pushed into bondage
Some 28 years ago, young Meeran was captured by zamindar Lal Mangrio in tehsil Dhoronaro, Umarkot district, along with her family — her father, four brothers and four sisters. She was released some seven years ago. But when her family planned to marry her off within their community, the zamindar’s son, Ibrahim Mangrio, kept her; later on, he and his henchmen would sexually assault her. Meeran now has two children.
When she gave birth to a girl, the zamindar wanted the infant, named Meerzadi. Upon her refusal to comply, he allegedly poisoned the seven-month-old baby.
About five years ago, Meeran gave birth to a boy named Hanif. Today, she is on the run from the zamindar, who is after the boy now. Recently he offered her Rs100,000 for the child but she refused. She lives by constantly changing her place of residence in fear of the zamindar.

After employing Lalio Kohli’s family for two to three years as peasants, a zamindar near Umarkot declared that her family had incurred loans of Rs50,000 from him and kept them in chains. One night, this family fled from the zamindar’s private prison but were captured by the landlord’s armed men. Lacho’s husband, Lalio Kolhi, was beaten badly and separated from his family.
Most cases of forced Dalit conversions are not reported in the mainstream media nor do they find attention at the government level. Most cases of forced Dalit conversions are not reported in the mainstream media nor do they find attention at the government level.
Upon enquiring about her husband, she was told that he was working on the fields. After some time, the Umarkot police raided the area and many workers were freed but there was no trace of Lacho’s husband. She is still searching for Lalio.

Chandar Kohli alias Javed Shaikh was rescued from bonded labour by rights activists in District Thatta. He had been kept in bondage by a landlord named Luqman Palari for Rs200. He worked for two years without any payment.
When rights activists Ghulam Hussain and Lalee Kohli received information about Chandar Kohli slaving away in bondage, they proceeded to the village to rescue him. Despite heated arguments and threats issued by the landlord, the activists successfully rescued the peasant.
Lalee narrates that at one point, both parties were ready for a physical confrontation. One of the landlord’s managers claimed that the local administration will do nothing against them; his belief was that they could extract bonded labour out of anyone who was in debt, even if the amount owed was as little as Rs5.
Chandar was taken to a residential colony for freed bonded labour in Hyderabad. He set up a life there; he was happily married with three children and working independently on a farm.
About nine years ago, some preachers contacted him and drove him to Karachi. They offered him a better life and a Muslim woman’s hand in marriage if he converted to Islam. Unable to deal with the trappings of the caste system, he was attracted by the glamour of urban Muslim life and subsequently converted.
But at home, Chandar’s wife refused to become Muslim and went to live with her parents instead. Meanwhile, those who had helped Chandar convert distanced themselves. Today, Chandar faces an unusual dilemma: he is officially a Muslim citizen, and according to Islamic laws, he cannot become Hindu again. His family is still not willing to convert.
The writer is a social science researcher. He tweets @AslamKhwaja

Living at the edge

by Mansoor Raza
In October, 2013, the dead body of a low-caste Hindu named Bhuro Bheel from Pangrio, Badin was exhumed from the graveyard on the pretext that low-caste Hindus cannot be buried in a graveyard used by Muslims. Bhuro was killed in a road accident.
According to a press report “…local clerics instigated the mob to dig out the body by repeating that a ‘non-Muslim was buried in a Muslim graveyard’.” The clerics mentioned were in fact seminary students from a nearby town, who came armed with weapons to carry out the task, say locals. Bhuro’s body lay under the sky for nearly eight hours before it could be retrieved by members of the Dalit community.
In another case, Manoo Bheel from Thar has been on hunger strike since 2003 to recover nine family members who have gone missing. His family had migrated to an irrigated area after a drought but in the 1980s, he started working with a zamindar in district Mithi as a working partner.
After some years, the zamindar claimed that Manoo had taken an advance, so he refused the payment of his wages. Instead, he sold Manoo and three of his brothers and two of his in-laws with their families —21 family members in total —to another zamindar in Sanghar district. Despite some administrative measures, Munno Bheel is still in search of justice.
According to the 1998 census, the population of religious minorities in Pakistan was around six million or 3.7pc of the total population. Hindus and Christians constitute 83pc of religious minorities, with Hindus outnumbering Christians by a small margin. About 93pc of Hindus live in Sindh.
In 1956, the government of Pakistan declared about 32 castes and tribes as schedules castes in the country. The majority of them are lower-caste Hindus, such as Kohlis, Meghawars, Bheels, Bagris, Balmakis, Jogis and Oadhs. Most low-caste Hindus are in menial jobs and associated with low-end agricultural services.
The spatial distribution of those, widely, is Rahimyar Khan and Bhawalpur districts in Punjab and Tharparkar, Mirpurkhas, Umerkot and Badin districts in Sindh.

In 1956, the government of Pakistan declared about 32 castes and tribes as schedules castes in the country. The majority of them are lower-caste Hindus, such as Kohlis, Meghawars, Bheels, Bagris, Balmakis, Jogis and Oadhs.

Many of these communities face the brunt of vulnerability when a natural disaster strikes. Worldwide, disasters affect poorest of the poor most, as they live in hazardous areas, don’t have monetary cushions for rehabilitation and are discriminated in aid delivery. All those holds true for Pakistan’s Dalit population as well — these factors became glaringly obvious in the aftermath of the 2010 floods, where reportedly, they were denied access to relief goods on one pretext or another.
The low-caste Hindus are caught up in a vicious cycle. Ending their woes is not possible without political mainstreaming, but students of political science know very well that performance in political spheres is heavily dependent on the economic well being of a community, particularly when it comes to minorities.
Minorities thrive in excellence and it comes with educational achievements. The literacy rates of Dalits, according to a report, are only 26pc as compared to national rates of 58 to 70 per cent.
Economic impoverishment, discrimination and spatial distribution of population are big impediments for these wretched of earth to perform. Upward social mobility is not possible without owning modes of production as defined by service capitalism, which in turn relies heavily on advance education system for its survival. Discrimination also means usurpation of due social capital, another loss to the community.
Traditionally in South Asia, caste tends to define professions as well. It has worked for quite long in a barter economy, but with the advent of the culture of cash economies, the former started collapsing. The global consensus on the values of human rights also brought the issue of birth-descent discrimination to the fore. The values of free-market are also at loggerheads with traditional mindsets.
Moreover, a secular contract between a citizen and the state demands removing all shades of discrimination based on caste, class, gender, ethnicity and sect.
In Pakistan’s case, the State has all the necessary instruments at its disposal and has all the moral justification to support the downtrodden.
Will it act or not is a different question, one defined more by political will.
The writer is a freelance researcher with a specific interest in subaltern narratives and the functioning of urban centres in Asia. He can be reached at

Pending bills, lingering agony

by Hasan Mansoor
Two proposed laws to safeguard minorities are pending before the Sindh Assembly ... what kind of relief do they provide?
Forced conversions of non-Muslim Pakistani girls has not spared Dalits either, many of whom are equally anxious to migrate from Pakistan to India as upper caste Hindus from the northern parts of Sindh. To stop the rot, provincial legislators have sought to provide some protection for minorities through two new laws — the Sindh Forced Conversion Act and the Sindh Minorities’ Rights Commission Bill — but both are pending with the Sindh Assembly. Here is a detailed look at what these proposed legislations have to offer:

Sindh Forced Conversion Bill

The bill against forced conversion of girls from minority faiths has been pending in the Sindh Assembly for more than a year now, waiting for a nod from a standing committee to table it in the house.
“This bill caters to all the minority faiths,” says Shahnaz Sheedi, provincial coordinator of the South Asia Partnership (SAP-PK), which champions for minority rights in the country. “It takes care of all Hindus, including those belonging to scheduled castes.”
Indeed, this bill provides a common forum to tackle the issue of forced conversions instead of segregating Hindus in Dalits and upper castes.
The text of the bill states the provincial government would issue a notification to law enforcement agencies, relevant bodies, institutions, committees and commissions to ensure the enforcement of the Act. Effective protocols would be formulated including those relating to minorities, health, education, women, social welfare and labour, to address the issue of forced conversion; support services would not be limited just to shelter, legal aid, medical aid etc for the support of aggrieved persons.
The law will define forced conversion as an act by which a person is forced to adopt another religion under duress, force, coercion or threat.
Any case of forced conversion before a court would be disposed of within 90 days. The law has stipulated punishments for any person who forcefully converts another person: the offender would be liable to imprisonment for a minimum of five years and maximum of life imprisonment and a fine to be paid to the victim.
“Whoever performs, conducts, directs, brings about or in any way facilitates a marriage having knowledge that either or both parties are victims of forced conversion shall be liable to imprisonment of either description for minimum three years and a fine to be paid to the agreed person,” reads the draft bill.
The law would define the age for conversion, according to which no person would be deemed to have changed his/her religion until attaining the age of majority. Besides, any minor who claims to have changed his/her religion before attaining majority would not be deemed to have changed his/her religion and no action would be taken against him or her for any such claim made by the minor. However, such clauses would not extend to circumstances where parents or guardians of minor decide to change religion of the family.
In a case of forced conversion, the accused, in addition to a charge of forced conversion would also be liable, where applicable, for offences which may include but not be limited to: child marriage under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013; forced marriage under Section 498B of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) 1860; rape under sections 375 and 376 of the PPC 1860; kidnapping, abducting or inducing a woman to compel for marriage etc under Section 365B of the PPC 1860; kidnapping or abducting from lawful guardianship under Section 361 of the PPC; kidnapping or abducting a person under the age of fourteen under Section 364A of the PPC 1860; kidnapping or abducting in order to subject person to grievous hurt, slavery etc.; and bonded labour under relevant sections of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1992.
For rescue, custody and special procedures for aggrieved persons, a police officer upon receiving information of a case of forced conversion may take into custody the aggrieved person and produce her or him before the court within 24 hours. Besides, if it appears to a court from information given by a credible source that an offence of forced conversion has been or is being committed, the court would order the police to search for the victim and rescue them.
For security reasons, special measures could be put in place, which included holding the trial in a secure location, taking the aggrieved person’s statement and evidence in a secure location; providing police protection during transport of the victim to and from court; and initiate immediate and fast tracked divorce proceedings in cases of forced conversion through marriage if the accused is found guilty upon the consent of the victim.
The court would take measures to provide security to prosecution witnesses, investigating officers, prosecutors, victim, her or his family and judges during the pendency of investigation and trial.

Sindh Minorities’ Rights Commission Bill

This bill is also lying with a standing committee of the Sindh Assembly, which is weighing some of its clauses before sending it to the law ministry for it to be tabled formally before the house.
After the passage of this bill, the provincial government will constitute the Sindh Minorities’ Rights Commission, comprising of a chairperson from a minority community, who has been or, qualified to be a judge, of high court or person having knowledge of, or practical experience in the matters of rights of minorities and human rights.
Seven other members will also be nominated by the Sindh government. Five of the members, including the chairperson, will be from among the minority communities; at least two women, two activists from civil society; and one each from youth and lawyers.
The commission will be headquartered in Karachi, and in future regional offices would be established at divisional and district levels. It will examine the working of the various safeguards provided in existing laws and recommend ways to ensure their effective implementation. It will also monitor the implementation of policies and schemes of the Sindh government for the welfare of minorities.
Heroes from minorities, who have served for country, will be identified by the commission and recommended to be taught in educational syllabi. The commission will monitor minority rights, constitutional and legal rights, legislation, development, 5pc quota in jobs, political participation, dignity, hate material, ensure justice, and promote inter-faith harmony.
It will also look into specific complaints regarding deprivation of rights and safeguards of minority communities and take them up with the authorities.
The commission will hold direct investigation and inquiry in respect of violation of human rights of a person belonging to a minority group; and devise a plan of action for the protection of human rights of minorities in Sindh.
The commission can take cognisance on a petition presented to it by a victim or any person on one’s behalf, inquire into the complaints of violation of human rights of any person belonging to minorities or abetment thereof, or negligence in the prevention of such violation, by a public servant.
It can intervene in any proceeding involving any allegation of such violation pending before a court. The commission will have judicial powers to decide and investigate any time and demand for any document from all institutions (wherever permissible by the government).
While inquiring into the complaints of violation of human rights, the commission can call for information or report from the provincial government or any other authority or organisation; it would have all the powers of a civil court trying a suit under the code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (Act V of 1908), for summoning and enforcing the attendance of witnesses and examining them on oath, discovery and production of documents, receiving evidence on affidavits, requisitioning any public record or copy from any court or office, issuing commission for the examination of witnesses or documents etc.
The commission would be deemed to be a civil court to the extent that is described in sections 175, 178, 179, 180 and 228 of the PPC. Every proceeding before the commission would be deemed as a judicial proceeding; thus it would be a civil court for the purposes of Section 195 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898.
The commission may, for an investigation into a matter, utilise the services of any officer or investigation agency with the prior approval of the government and that officer or agency would be under the direction and control of the commission;
After the inquiry, the commission could recommend to the provincial government for prosecution against the concern person(s), and recommend for grant of immediate interim relief to the victim etc.
The commission would preserve the identity of a victim, informant etc where necessary for the purpose of security.
For the speedy trial of offences arising out of violation of human rights of the religious minorities, the Sindh government would notify a court of sessions to be the human rights court for a district to try such offences. The Sindh government would appoint an advocate to be special prosecutor for conducting cases in that court.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 13th 2016. 


Vinod Mubayi and Raza Mir

The unrelenting attacks on Dalit, progressive, and minority students in universities all around the country by right-wing thugs in cahoots with the police, orchestrated by the Central government, continue unabated. The latest episode is taking place, once again, in the University of Hyderabad (UOH) with brutal attacks by police on students protesting the return of the Vice Chancellor Apparao who had been sent on leave pending an enquiry against him for his role in the death of Rohith Vemula in January. Vemula, a Dalit post-graduate scholar in the university, had been hounded and discriminated against by the university administration to the point where he took his own life, an act that has been labeled an “institutional murder.”

Last month the focus was on JNU in New Delhi where several students were charged by the police under the law of sedition that dates back to the time of the British Raj. Notwithstanding the fact that the very idea of a “seditious utterance” runs counter to the principle of free speech enshrined in the Constitution, different governments since the time of independence have let this colonial law remain on the books largely because it gives them a convenient handle to harass and intimidate political opponents. Under the current, authoritarian BJP regime, the use of this law for emasculating the opposition and harassing those who dare to voice their opinion can be expected to increase. Already, numerous students and professors have been dragged into court and slapped with charges based on false, manipulated, and doctored video “evidence.” Although many of the JNU students who were charged last month have now been able to get bail, their future life will be shackled by having to face trial. Exceptional and gifted individuals can, of course, use this opportunity to lay bare the false and hypocritical face of the administration as the president of the JNU students union has done, but the chilling effect of such prosecution on the right to free expression of an average person can hardly be discounted.

The UOH event shows graphically the devious and malign role being played by the HRD ministry, which controls central universities all over the country. After Vemula’s death, an inquiry instituted by the ministry led to the VC being sent on leave while his role was being investigated. Under the administration of the acting VC, the university was slowly returning to normal. However, Apparao suddenly returned to reclaim his position a few days ago; the vast majority of the students, barring a minority belonging to BJP’s student wing ABVP, naturally protested as they feared that Apparao would tamper with evidence to exculpate himself before the inquiry cold be completed. However, the students and the faculty’s protest was met with a brutal assault by the Telengana police. There were many injuries and several students are hospitalized. The administration also cut of power and water to the hostels and closed the messes leaving the students with no place to stay or eat. In all this, it is very likely that the HRD ministry was complicit. Despite the fact that the VC had originally been the target of an enquiry and sent on leave pending an investigation, the fact that the ministry not only allowed him to return but acquiesced in all the other repressive and violent actions of the police shows its true character.

A parallel controversy is being created over slogans pertaining to the government’s, or rather the RSS, concept of nationalism. A Muslim legislator in Maharashtra was expelled from the assembly for refusing to say Bharat Mata ki Jai (victory to Mother India), which has obvious Hindu religious overtones, rather than the secular slogan Jai Hind. This form of harassment based on petty cultural nationalism is not unique to India. It has manifested in other countries when attempts are made to coerce ethnic, linguistic, religious, minorities to adopt the cultural symbols of the majority. However, what is happening in India is the enforcement of this cultural nationalism by street thugs allied to the RSS and its vast array of fronts and groups like Bajrang Dal or assorted senas and the tacit endorsement of their actions by the police responding to their political masters. This is the slippery road to fascism that all votaries of democracy and freedom have to be mindful of.

Finally, it needs to be noted that the repression against Adivasis and their supporters by the BJP government in Chhattisgarh is intensifying. Earlier, the courageous activist Soni Sori, a member of AAP, was targeted by unknown assailants, very likely police agents, by having a toxic chemical splased on her face. Now the police are even targeting journalists who have written about police atrocities. Respected human-rights activists like Malini Subramaniam and now Bela Bhatia are being literally forced out of the state. A well-known commentator has written that all the provisions of the Indian Constitution as well as the directives of the Supreme Court coming to a grinding halt at the borders of this state! Not that they are being observed more meticulously elsewhere under the Modi regime.


Manu Bheel, a Dalit, was freed from bonded labour in 1996. His family then worked as wage labourers, but in 1998, nine of his family members were kidnapped, allegedly by men sent by his former landlord. The case is still unresolved, and Manu Bheel’s symbolic hunger strike has become a symbol of the plight of Pakistan’s Dalits.Photo: Jakob Carlsen


Dalits in Pakistan mostly belong to the Hindu minority and fall victim to double discrimination due to their religious status – as non-Muslims in a Muslim state – as well as their caste. As in neighbouring India, they are officially known as ‘scheduled castes’ and suffer numerous forms of abuse, from bonded labour to rape. Crimes against them are often committed with impunity.
An illiterary rate above 75 per cent is the norm, and poverty is rampant. In the Sindh and Punjab provinces, the majority of Dalits live as bonded and forced labourers enslaved by landlords. The only reservation policy is a reinstated six per cent quota for minorities in public services, which is not being enforced.
Officially, the number of Dalits is approximately 330,000 (as of 1998), but according to researchers the real figure may be as high as two million. However, these data do not include ‘lower castes’ within the Muslim community, living under similarly depressed conditions.
For more information Download the IDSN briefing note on Pakistan (2014) 

Key issues

Dalit women in Pakistan fall victim to sexual abuse, abduction and forced religious conversion. They suffer triple discrimination due to their gender, religion and caste.
Forced and bonded labour in Pakistan is widespread, particularly in agriculture and brick making. The majority of bonded labourers come from marginalised communities, including Dalits.

Dalit Women

Dalit women suffer multiple discrimination at the intersection of caste and gender discrimination.
“The reality of Dalit women and girls is one of exclusion and marginalisation … They are often victims of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights violations, including sexual abuse and violence.They are often displaced; pushed into forced and/or bonded labour, prostitution and trafficking.” UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo

Multiple discrimination

Dalit women are often trapped in highly patriarchal societies. The severe discrimination they face from being both a Dalit and a woman, makes them a key target of violence and systematically denies them choices and freedoms in all spheres of life. This endemic intersection of gender-and-caste discrimination is the outcome of severely imbalanced social, economic and political power equations.
“The combination of caste and gender makes millions of Dalit women extremely vulnerable to discrimination and violence, including rape” Human Rights Watch

Violence and rape

Dalit women suffer from severe limitations in access to justice and there is widespread impunity in cases where the perpetrator is a member of a dominant caste, above the Dalits in the caste system.Dalit women are therefore considered easy targets for sexual violence and other crimes, because the perpetrators almost always get away with it.
For example, in India, studies show that the conviction rate for rapes against Dalit women is under 2% compared to a conviction rate of 25% in rape cases against all women in India.
“Great, now you have proof that you enjoyed yourself” – the reply of an Indian court judge to a gang raped Dalit woman, upon seeing a video of the rape filmed and distributed by the dominant caste rapists and presented by the woman in court as evidence of the rape.

Denied justice, access to education, health and other services

Sanctioned impunity on behalf of the offenders is a key problem. Police often neglect or deny the Dalit women of their right to seek legal and judicial aid. In many cases, the judiciary fails to enforce the laws that protect Dalit women from discrimination.
Caste and gender discrimination in the delivery of education health care, water, sanitation and other basic services are also major obstacles for Dalit women severely impacting on their welfare and opportunities. This discrimination has been documented repeatedly by UN agencies and major international human rights and development NGOS.
“Non-implementation of legislation and policies and the lack of effective remedies and effectively functioning state institutions, the judiciary and police included, remain major obstacles to eliminating caste-based discrimination” European Parliament 2013 Resolution on Caste

Born into modern slavery and prostitution

Dalit women often work in modern slavery and are key targets for trafficking. They are often used as debt slaves in brick kilns, garment industries and agriculture. 98% of those forced into the dehumanising work of manual scavenging, removing human waste by hand, are also Dalit women. Dalit women may also be born into temple prostitution as ‘Devadasis’ (sex slaves) in India or be branded prostitutes in Nepal due to their caste status.

Fighting back

Dalit women are uniting against one of the world’s most gruesome and effective systems of oppression – the intersection of caste and gender discrimination.
Dalit women movements across the world are growing stronger and are connecting to each other and reaching out to decision-makers and people of the world.
They are asking the international community and people of the world to come together and stand beside them, and to speak up to end the global silence that is allowing this gruesome form of discrimination to persist.
”Let them not rape us every day and murder us. Make the police give us our rights. I will fight for all those who are abused and dead and I hope if my turn comes someone will be there to fight for me.”Manisha, Dalit woman, human rights defender


Dalit villagers cannot cross this road because of caste laws. Bihar, India. Photo: Jakob Carlsen
Dalit villagers cannot cross this road in their village because of caste inequalities.Photo: Jakob Carlsen.

The Dalits, also known as “untouchables”, are often limited from equal and meaningful political participation due to the persistence of discriminatory practices and their weak economic, social and political position in caste-affected countries such as India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Dalit women are particularly vulnerable and marginalised as they suffer from multiple discrimination – as women, as poor and as Dalits.
While some governments have enacted constitutional safeguards and affirmative action to promote equal access and opportunities, e.g. reservation policies in public sector employment, implementation of such laws and programmes remains weak and insufficient.
Some governments have yet to introduce legislative measures,  while others are in the process of establishing systems of proportionate representation in the restructuring of the state.
Videos – Caste Discrimination and Political Participation
Below is a video dealing with caste discrimination and political participation.                                     Visit IDSNs YouTube Channel for more videos on other themes/countries.

Latest documentation links on caste & political participation

caste & politics

  • Dalit cousins assaulted by supporters of Jat candidate, 1 critical (The Times of India)
  • Nepal’s growing divide over adopted Constitution (The Hindu)
  • House seeks govt reply on police suppression of Dalit protest in Nepal (Kathmandu Post)
  • Nepal: Constituent Assembly must urgently revise Constitution Bill to guarantee human rights (ICJ)
  • Nepal: Do Not Ignore Voice Of Dalits (OpEd – Eurasia Review)
  • Police action against Kathmandu protest organised by Dalit lawmakers and rights activists
  • Rise and fall of India’s ‘untouchable’ rat-catcher turned politician forced to resign after angering party’s boss | National Post
  • Rise and fall of India’s ‘untouchable’ rat-catcher turned politician forced to resign after angering party’s boss | National Post
  • Dalits vote under police protection (The Hindu)
  • India: Democracy in a Gutter, Literally. (Asian Human Rights Commission)
  • South Asian parliamentarians join together to fight caste discrimination
  • Arrest of 15 Dalit and Adivasi activists protesting against the government’s broken promises (IDSN News, 2013)
  • Political Paticipation in the 2013 Elections in Nepal – IDSN briefing paper
  • Pakistan: Dalits demand representation (IDSN, 2013, News)
  • IDSN and FEDO submission to the UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice (IDSN and FEDO, 2012, Submission)
  • IDSN: Pakistan: Dalits call for affirmative action (IDSN, 2012, News)
  • Caste Discrimination and Harassment in Great Britain (NIESR, 2010, Publication)
  • Caste Discrimination as a Danish Focus Area (DSN-DK, 2008, Recommendation)
  • Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas (Government of India, 2008, Publication)
  • Opinion Poll in the Netherlands: Companies and Government Should Take a Stand Against Caste Discrimination (DNN, 2009, Press)

Tanka people

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Tanka people
Total population
4,569,000 [1]
Regions with significant populations
ChinaGuangdong, Guangxi, Fujian, Hainan, Zhejiang
Tanka dialect of Yue Chinese,
Fuzhou dialect of Eastern Min Chinese(Fuzhou Tanka), other varieties of Chinese
Chinese folk religions (including Taoism,Confucianism, ancestral worship and others) and Mahayana Buddhism.

Traditional Tanka people clothes in a Hong Kong museum
Tanka people
Chinese1. 蜑家/疍家
2. 艇家
3. 水上人
4. 曲蹄
5. 蜑民
6. 曲蹄囝
Literal meaning1. Dàn (egg/vermin/..., used only as proper noun in Modern Chinese) families
2. boat households
3. people on water
4. crooked hoof, bowlegged
5. Dàn people
6. crooked hoof children; bowlegged children
The Tankas (simplified Chinese: 疍家;traditional Chinese: 蜑家; pinyin: Dànjiā;Jyutping: daan6 gaa1) or boat people are an ethnic subgroup in Southern China who have traditionally lived on junks in coastal parts of Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian, Hainan, and Zhejiang, as well as Hong Kong and Macau. Though many now live onshore, some from the older generations still live on their narrow boats and pursue their traditional livelihood of fishing. Historically, the Tankas were considered to be outcasts. Since they were boat people who lived by the sea, they were sometimes referred to as "sea gypsies" by the Chinese and British. Tanka origins can be traced back to the native ethnic minorities of southern China who may have taken refuge on the sea and gradually assimilated into Han culture. However, Tanka have preserved many of their native traditions that are not found in Han Chinese culture.
A small number of Tankas also live in parts of Vietnam. There they are called Dan and are classified as a subgroup of the Ngái ethnicity.

Note on the term
The term Tanka is now considered derogatory and no longer in common use. These boat dwellers are now referred to in China as "on-water people" , or "people of the southern sea" (Chinese: 南海人). No standardised English translation of this term exists. "Boat People" is a commonly used translation, although it may be confused with the similar term that applies to Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong. The term "Boat Dwellers" was proposed by Dr. Lee Ho Yin of The University of Hong Kong in 1999, and it has been adopted by theHong Kong Museum of History for its permanent exhibition.
Both the Tanka and the Cantonese speak the Cantonese language. However Tanka living in Fujian speaks Hokkiens Min Chinese.
"Boat people" was a general category for both the Tanka and the Hoklo, who also made their living on boats. They spoke different dialects, and the Hoklo originated from Fujian. The Hoklo used the term Hoklo to refer to themselves, while the name Tanka was used only by Cantonese to describe the Tanka.
There were two distinct categories of people based on their way of life, and they were further divided into different groups. The Hakka and Cantonese lived on land; the Tanka and Hoklo lived on boats and were both classified as boat people.
The differences between the sea dwelling Tanka and land dwellers were not based merely on their way of life. Cantonese and Hakka who lived on land fished sometimes for a living, but these land fishermen never mixed or married with the Tanka fishermen. Tanka were barred from Cantonese and Hakka celebrations.
British reports on Hong Kong described the Tanka and Hoklo living in Hong Kong "since time unknown". The encyclopaedia Americana described Hoklo and Tanka as living in Hong Kong "since prehistoric times".

Mythical origins

Some Chinese myths claim that animals were the ancestors of the Barbarians, including the Tanka people. Some ancient Chinese sources claimed that water snakes were the ancestors of the Tanka, saying that they could last for three days in the water, without breathing air .

Baiyue connection and origins in Southern China

Main article: Baiyue
The Tanka are considered by some scholars to be related to other minority peoples of southern China, such as the Yao and Li people (Miao).The Amoy University anthropologist Ling Hui-hsiang wrote on his theory of the Fujian Tanka being descendants of the Bai Yue. He claimed that Guangdong and Fujian Tanka are definitely descended from the old Pai Yue peoples, and that they may have been ancestors of the Malay race. The Tanka inherited their lifestyle and culture from the original Yue peoples who inhabited Hong Kong during the Neolithic era. After the First Emperor of China conquered Hong Kong, groups from northern and central China moved into the general area of Guangdong, including Hong Kong.
One theory proposes that the ancient Yue inhabitants of southern China are the ancestors of the modern Tanka boat people. The majority of western academics subscribe to this theory, and use Chinese historical sources. (The ancient Chinese used the term "Yue" to refer to all southern barbarians.) The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition, states that the ancestors of the Tanka were native people.
The Tanka's ancestors had been pushed to the southern coast by Chinese peasants who took over their land.
During the British colonial era in Hong Kong, the Tanka were considered a separate ethnic group from the Punti, Hakka, and Hoklo. Punti is another name for Cantonese, who came from mainly Guangdong districts. The Hakka and Hoklo are not considered as Puntis.
The Tanka are compared to the She people by some historians, practising Han Chinese culture, while being an ethnic minority descended from natives of Southern China.

Yao connections

Main article: Yao people
Chinese scholars and gazettes described the Tanka as a "Yao" tribe, with some other sources noting that "Tan" people lived at Lantau, and other sources saying "Yao" people lived there. As a result, they refused to obey the salt monopoly of the Song dynasty Chinese government. The county gazetteer of Sun on in 1729 described the Tanka as "Yao barbarians", and the Tanka were viewed as animals.
Wolfram Eberhard suggested that the Yueh are related to the Tanka, that the Chinese admixture in the Tanka is due to the Tanka prostitutes serving Chinese, and that the Tanka replaced their own culture with Chinese culture, including the Chinese language.
In modern times, the Tanka claim to be ordinary Chinese who happen to fish for a living, and the local dialect is used as their language.


Some southern Chinese historic views of the Tanka were that they were a separate aboriginal ethnic group, "not Han Chinese at all". Chinese Imperial records also claim that the Tanka were descendants of aboriginals.Tanka were also accused of being "sea gypsies".
The Tanka were regarded as Yueh and not Chinese, they were divided into three classifications, "the fish-Tan, the oyster-Tan, and the wood-Tan" the 1100s, based on what they did for a living.
The three groups of Punti, Hakka, and Hoklo, all of whom spoke different Chinese dialects, despised and fought each other during the late Qing dynasty. However, they were all united in their overwhelming hatred for the Tanka, since the aboriginals of Southern China were the ancestors of the Tanka. The Cantonese Punti had displaced the Tanka aboriginals, after they began conquering southern China.
The Chinese poet Su Dongpo wrote a poem in which mentioned the Tanka.
The Nankai University of Tianjin published the Nankai social and economic quarterly, Volume 9 in 1936, and it referred to the Tanka as aboriginal descendants before Chinese assimilation. The scholar Jacques Gernet also wrote that the Tanka were aboriginals, who were known for being pirates, which hindered Qing dynasty attempts to assert control in Guangdong.

Scholarly opinions on Baiyue connection

The most widely held theory is that the Tanka are the descendants of the native Yue inhabitants of Guangdong before the Han Cantonese moved in. The theory stated that originally the Yueh peoples inhabited the region, when the Chinese conquest began, the Chinese either absorbed or expelled the Yue to southern regions. The Tanka, according to this theory, are descended from Yue who preserved their separate culture.
A minority of scholars who challenged this theory, deny that the Tanka are descended from natives, instead claiming they are basically the same as other Han Cantonese who dwell on land, claiming that neither the land dwelling Han Cantonese nor the water dwelling Tanka have more aboriginal blood than the other, with the Tanka boat people being as Chinese and as Han as ordinary Cantonese.
Eugene Newton Anderson claimed that there was no evidence for any of the conjectures put forward by scholars on the Tanka's origins, citing Chen, who stated that "to what tribe or race they once belonged or were once akin to is still unknown".
Some researchers say the origin of the Tanka is multifaceted, with a portion of them having native Yueh ancestors and others originating from other sources.


Chinese colonisation and Sinicization

The Song dynasty engaged in extensive colonisation of the region with Chinese people.
Due to the extensive sinicisation of the Tanka, they now identify as Chinese, despite their non-Chinese ancestry from the natives of Southern China.
The Cantonese exploited the Tanka, using their own customs against them to acquire fish to sell from the Tanka.

Ming Dynasty

Macau and Portuguese rule

Main articles: Macau, History of Macau, and Macanese people
Tanka woman in Macau
The Portuguese, who were granted Macau during the Ming dynasty, often married Tanka women since Han Chinese women would not have relations with them. Some of the Tanka's descendants became Macanese people
Some Tanka children were enslaved by Portuguese raiders.
The Chinese poet Wu Li wrote a poem, which included a line about the Portuguese in Macau being supplied with fish by the Tanka.
When the Portuguese arrived at Macau, women from Goa (part of Portuguese India), Siam, Indochina, and Malaya became their wives, rarely were they Chinese women.The Tanka women were among the only people in China willing to mix and marry with the Portuguese, with other Chinese women refusing to do so.
The majority of marriages between Portuguese and natives was between Portuguese men and women of Tanka origin, who were considered the lowest class of people in China and had relations with Portuguese settlers and sailors, or low class Chinese women.[64] Western men like the Portuguese were refused by high class Chinese women, who did not marry foreigners.
Literature in Macau was written about love affairs and marriage between the Tanka women and Portuguese men, like "A-Chan, A Tancareira", by Henrique de Senna Fernandes.

Qing dynasty

Tanka. Tankia (tan'ka, tan'kyä), n. [Chinese, literally, 'the Tan family or tribe'; < Tan, an aboriginal tribe who formerly occupied the region lying to the south and west of the Meiing (mountains) in southern China, + kia (pronounced ka in Canton), family, people.] The boat population of Canton in southern China, the descendants of an aboriginal tribe named Tan, who were driven by the advance of Chinese civilisation to live in boats upon the river, and who have for centuries been forbidden to live on the land. "Since 1730 they have been permitted to settle in villages in the immediate neighbourhood of the river, but are still excluded from competition for official honours, and are forbidden by custom from intermarrying with the rest of the people. (Q&es, Glossary of Reference.)
The Tankas originally included many refugees to the sea and were considered a non-Chinese aboriginal ethnic group, classified by the Qing government as "mean". TheYongzheng Emperor freed them and several other "mean" groups from this status in a series of edicts from 1723 to 1731. They mostly worked as fishermen and tended to gather at some bays. Some built markets or villages on the shore, while others continued to live on their junks or boats. They claimed to be Han Chinese.
The Qing edict said "Cantonese people regard the Dan households as being of the mean class (beijian zhi) and do not allow them to settle on shore. The Dan households, for their part, dare not struggle with the common people", this edict was issued in 1729.
As Hong Kong developed, some of the fishing grounds in Hong Kong became badly polluted or were reclaimed, and so became land. Those Tankas who only own small boats and cannot fish far out to sea are forced to stay inshore in bays, gathering together like floating villages.

Lifestyle and culture

Always there is plenty to see, as the Tanka. the people who live in the boats, are full of life. They are an aboriginal tribe, speaking an altogether different language from the Chinese. On the land they are like fish out of water. They are said never to intermarry with landlubbers, but somehow or other their tongue has crept into many villages in the Chiklung section. The Chinese say the Tanka speech sounds like that of the Americans. It seems to have no tones. A hardy race, the Tanka are untouched by the epidemics that visit our coast, perhaps because they live so much off land. Each family has a boat, its own little kingdom, and, there being plenty of fish, all look better fed than most of our land neighbours. Christianity is, with a few rare exceptions, unknown to them. The only window of our Chiklung house gives the missioner a full view of the village life of some of the boat tribe. The window at present is just the absence of the south wall of the little loft to the shop. Wooden bars can be inserted in holes against robbers.
Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America in 1921
Before leaving the market, by special invitation we had a swim from off one of the sampans (a term used around Canton: here "baby boat" is the name). The water was almost hot and the current surprisingly swift. Nevertheless the Tanka men and boys go in several times a day, and wash jacket and trousers, undressing and dressing in the water. They seem to let the clothes dry on them. Women and girls also jump in daily.
Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America in 1921
Masonry was unknown by the water dwelling Tanka.

Canton (Guangzhou)

The Tanka also formed a class of prostitutes in Canton operating the boats in Canton's Pearl River which functioned as brothels, they did not practice foot binding and their dialect was unique. They were forbidden to marry Chinese or live on land. Their ancestors were the natives of Southern China before the Chinese expelled them to their current home on the water.

Modern China

During the intensive reclamation efforts around the islands of Shanghai in the late 1960s, many Tanka were settled on Hengsha Island and organised as fishing brigades.

Under British rule in Hong Kong

Hong Kong boat dwellings in December 1970.
In 1937, Walter Schofield, then a Cadet Officer in the Hong Kong Civil Service, wrote that at that time the Tankas were "boat-people [who sometimes lived] in boats hauled ashore, or in more or less boat-shaped huts, as at Shau Kei Wan and Tai O". They mainly lived at the harbours at Cheung Chau,Aberdeen, Tai O, Po Toi, Kau Sai Chau and Yau Ma Tei.
Elizabeth Wheeler Andrew (1845–1917) and Katharine Caroline Bushnell (5 February 1856 January 26, 1946), who wrote extensively on the position of women in the British Empire, wrote about the Tanka inhabitants of Hong Kong and their position in the prostitution industry, catering towards foreign sailors. The Tanka did not marry with the Chinese, being descendants of the natives, they were restricted to the waterways. They supplied their women as prostitutes to British sailors and assisted the British in their military actions around Hong Kong The Tanka in Hong Kong were considered "outcasts" categorised low class.
Ordinary Chinese prostitutes were afraid of serving Westerners since they looked strange to them, while the Tanka prostitutes freely mingled with western men. The Tanka assisted the Europeans with supplies and providing them with prostitutes. Low class European men in Hong Kong easily formed relations with the Tanka prostitutes. The profession of prostitution among the Tanka women led to them being hated by the Chinese both because they had sex with westerners and them being racially Tanka.
The Tanka prostitutes were considered to be "low class", greedy for money, arrogant, and treating clients with a bad attitude, they were known for punching their clients or mocking them by calling them names. Though the Tanka prostitutes were considered low class, their brothels were still remarkably well kept and tidy.A famous fictional story which was written in the 1800s depicted western items decorating the rooms of Tanka prostitutes.
The stereotype among most Chinese in Canton that all Tanka women were prostitutes was common, leading the government during the Republican era to accidentally inflate the number of prostitutes when counting, due to all Tanka women being included. The Tanka women were viewed as such that their prostitution activities were considered part of the normal bustle of a commercial trading city. Sometimes the lowly regarded Tanka prostitutes managed to elevate themselves into higher forms of prostitution.
Tanka women were ostracised from the Cantonese community, and were nicknamed "salt water girls" (ham sui mui in Cantonese) for their services as prostitutes to foreigners in Hong Kong.
Tanka women who worked as prostitutes for foreigners also commonly kept a "nursery" of Tanka girls specifically for exporting them for prostitution work to overseas Chinese communities such as in Australia or America, or to serve as a Chinese or foreigner's concubine.
A report called "Correspondence respecting the alleged existence of Chinese slavery in Hong Kong: presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty" was presented to the English Parliament in 1882 concerning the existence of slavery in Hong Kong, of which many were Tanka girls serving as prostitutes or mistresses to westerners.
Ernest John Eitel claimed that all "half caste" people in Hong Kong were descended exclusively from Europeans having relationship with Tanka women, and not Chinese women. The theory that most of the Eurasian mixed race Hong Kong people are descended only from Tanka women and European men, and not ordinary Cantonese women, is backed up by other researchers who pointed out that Tanka women freely consorted with foreigners due to the fact that they were not bound by the same Confucian traditions as the Cantonese, and having a relationship with European men was advantageous for Tanka women. The ordinary Cantonese women did not sleep with European men, the Eurasian population was formed only from Tanka and European admixture.
The day labourers settled down in huts at Taipingshan, at Saiyingpun and at Tsimshatsui. But the largest proportion of the Chinese population were the so-called Tanka or boat people, the pariahs of Sonth-China, whose intimate connection with the social life of the foreign merchants in the Canton factories used to call forth an annual proclamation on the part of the Cantonese Authorities warning foreigners against the demoralising influences of these people. These Tan-ka people, forbidden by Chinese law (since A.D. 1730) to settle on shore or to compete at literary examinations, and prohibited by custom from intermarrying with the rest of the people, were from the earliest days of the East India Company always the trusty allies of foreigners. They furnished pilots and supplies of provisions to British men-of war, troopships and mercantile vessels, at times when doing so was declared by the Chinese Government to be rank treason, unsparingly visited with capital punishment. They were the hangers-on of the foreign factories of Canton and of the British shipping at Lintin, Kamsingmoon, Tungkin and Hongkong Bay. They invaded Hongkong the moment the settlement was started, living at first on boats in the harbour with their numerous families, and gradually settling on shore. They have maintained ever since almost a monopoly of the supply of pilots and ships' crews, of the fish trade and the cattle trade, but unfortunately also of the trade in girls and women. Strange to say, when the settlement was first started, it was estimated that some 2,000 of these Tan-ka lieople had flocked to Hongkong, but at the present time they are about the same number, a tendency having set in among them to settle on shore rather than on the water and to disavow their Tan-ka extraction to mix on equal terms with the mass of the Chinese community. The half-caste population in Hongkong were, from the earliest days of the settlement of the Colony and down to the present day, almost exclusively the off-spring of these Tan-ka people. But, like the Tan-ka people themselves, they are happily under the influence of a process of continuous re-absorption in the mass of the Chinese residents of the Colony.
During British rule some special schools were created for the Tanka.
In 1962 a typhoon struck the Tanka and Hoklo boats, with hundreds being destroyed.
During the 1970s the number of Tanka was reported to be shrinking.


Shanghai, with its many international concessions, contained prostitutes from various areas of China, including Guangdong province, this included the Tanka prostitutes, who were grouped separately from the Cantonese prostitutes. The Cantonese served customers in normal brothels while the Tanka served customers in boats.


...always enlivened by the fleet of Tanka boats which pass, conveying passengers to and fro, between the land and the Canton and Hong Kong steamers."
Japan and the Japanese: a narrative of the US government expedition to Japan under Commodore Perry in 1859
Our next picture shows a Chinese tanka boat. The tanka boats are counted by thousands in the rivers and bays of China. They are often employed by our national vessels as conveyances to and. from the shore, thereby saving the health of the sailors, who would be otherwise subjected to pulling long distances under a hot sun, with a liability ot contracting some fatal disease peculiar to China, and thus introducing infection in a crowded crew.[115]
Ballou's monthly magazine, Volume 8 in 1858
"We arrived here on the twenty-second, and dispatched a boat to the shore immediately for letters. I received three or four of those fine large letters which are the envy of all who see them, and which are readily distinguishable by their size, and the beautiful style in which they are directed. You cannot imagine the delight with which I devoured their costents. I am glad you wrote so much of our dear pet. 0, my Dita, the longing I feel to take the dear little thing to my heart is agonising! Yesterday I was on shore, and saw a beautiful child of about the same age as ours. I was almost crazy at the sight. Twenty months old! How she must prattle by this time! I fancy I can see her trotting about, following you around the house. What a recompense for the hardest toil of the day would it not be to me, could I only lie down on the floor and have a good romp with her at night!
"And now for Macao, and what I saw, felt, and did. You probably know that a very numerous Chinese population lives entirely in boots; some of them so small that one pities the poor unfortunates who live so miserably. They are born, grow up, marry, and raise children in these boats. You would be astonished to see mothers, with infants at the breast, managing the sails, oars, and rudder of the boat as expertly as any sailor. The tanka is of very light draft, and, being able to go closo in shore, is used to land passengers from the larger boats. As we neared the shore, we noticed small boats pulling toward us from all directions. Soon a boat, "manned" by two really pretty young girls pulling oars, and a third sculling, came alongside, calling out earnestly, 'Takee me boat!' 'Takce me boot!' They had beautiful teeth, white as ivory, brilliant eyes, and their pretty faces, so earnest and pleading, were wreathed in smiles as we gave them the preference over others that joined us from all quarters, clinging to the sides of our large boat, and impeding our headway. The boatmen tried in vain to drive them off One brute of a fellow splashed repeatedly a poor girl, who. though not at all pretty, had such a depth of meaning and such a sad expression in her eyes and face as charmed me completely. It would have interested any one to hear her scold back, and to see the flashing of her eyes, and the vivid expression in every feature. When I frowned at our sailor, the sudden change in her face from anger to smiles, the earnest 'tdkee me boat,' as she caught evidence of sympathy from me, was beautiful. We were assailed with these cries from so many, and there was such a clamour, that, in self-defense, we had to choose a boat and go. The first-mentioned girls, on account of their beauty, won the majority, and their boat was clean and well furnished, which is more than could be said of many of them. I caught the look of disappointment which passed over the features of the girl I have described, and it haunts me even now. Trifling as it, appeared to us, such scenes constitute the great events in their poor lives, and such triumphs or defeats are all-important to them.
"Upon entering the tanka boat, we found the mother of the young girls, and a young infant dressed heroically. The infant was the child of the prettiest one of the girls, whose husband was away fishing. The old woman was quite talkative, and undoubtedly gave us lots of news!
"They had a miniature temple on the bows of the boat, with Joss seated cross-legged, looking very fat, and'very red, and very stupid. Before him was an offering of two apricots, but Joss never deigned to look at it, and apparently had no appetite. I felt a sincere respect, however, for the devotional feeling of these poor idolaters, recognising even there the universal instinct which teaches that there is a God.
"I called upon the commodore, who received me with great courtesy, and gave me a very interesting account of the voyage out, by the way of Mauritius, of the Susquehanna, to which I was first appointed. She has gone on to Amoy.
"I made the acquaintance of a Portuguese family, named Lurero. The young ladies are quite accomplished, speaking French, Spanish, and Italian, but no English. They came down to receive the visit of our consul and lady, who called while I was there. Mr. Lurero gave me some specimens of a soap-fruit, and showed me the tree. The fruit is an exceedingly fine soap, which, without any preparation, is used for washing the finest goods.
"We expect to hear of the sailing of the 'Japan Expedition' by the next mail. When Commodore Perry arrives, we shall be kept so busy that time will fly rapidly, and we shall soon be looking forward to our return home, unless Japan disturbances (which are not seriously anticipated) delay us.
"I did not tell you of my visit to 'Camoens' Cave,' the principal attraction of Macao. This 'cave' was the resort of the distinguished Portuguese poet Camoens, who there wrote the greater part of the ' Lusiad.' The cave is situated in the midst of the finest wooded walks I ever saw. The grounds are planted beautifully, and immense vases of flowers stand around. The grounds are not level, but lie up the side of a slope or hill, irregular in shape, and precipitous on one side. There are several fine views, particularly that of the harbor and surrounding islands."
I will here reproduce the following additional items regarding Camoens, from the pen of Walter A. Hose: —
"Macao had a particular interest for me as the first foothold that modern civilisation obtained upon the ancient shores of 'far Cathay,' and as the birthplace of one of the finest epic poems ever written. ... On one of those calm and beautiful nights peculiar to sub-tropical climes, I stood alone upon the white sea-wall, and no sound fell upon my ears save the whirring monotone of insects in the trees above the hills, the periodical chime of bells from anchored ships, and the low, sweet cadence of the incoming tide. I thought it must have been such a night as this that inspired Camoens when he wrote,
Life of Capt. Joseph Fry, the Cuban martyr: Being a faithful record of his remarkable career from childhood to the time of his heroic death at the hands of Spanish executioners; recounting his experience as an officer in the US and Confederate navies, and revealing much of the inner history ... in 1875

Korean caste system

The baekjeong were an “untouchable” outcaste group of Korea, often compared with the burakumin of Japan and the dalits ofIndia and Nepal. The term baekjeong itself means “common people.” In the early part of the Goryeo period (918 - 1392), the outcaste groups were largely settled in fixed communities. However the Mongolian invasion left Korea in disarray and anomie, and these groups saw the beginning of a nomadic period.
Before the Mongol invasions in mid-thirteenth century the outcastes in Korea, called the kolisuchae, were divided very lightly into two camps; the hwachae or suchae, who hunted and butchered, and were seen as crude; and the chaein, who were principally actors, entertainers, kisaeng, minstrels, prostitutes, and so on, and were sometimes described as “frivolous.” Near the end of the Goryeo era the term hwachae-suchae replaced kolisuchae to refer to the outcastes, before the groups were divided into separate classes altogether, the hwachae and the chaein, who were then seen as distinct groups. Initial attempts by King Sejong to assimilate the outcastes of Korea were a failure, and they were forced to live in ghettos outside mainstream habitations.
Throughout the history of the Joseon Empire, the baekjeong were forced into specific professions like dog catching, killing feral dogs, and performing executions. They were also considered in moral violation of Buddhist principles, which lead Koreans to see work involving meat as polluting and sinful, even if they saw the consumption as acceptable. The group had long suffered severe social discrimination in Korean society. The baekjeong were seen as a contemptible and polluted people that others feared and avoided meeting. Restrictions on how the baekjeong could compose themselves served to mark their lower status. These restrictions were numerous, and included forbidding the use of ornamental hairpins by women, and requiring that sandals be made of straw rather than leather. The extent to which they were seen as a polluted people is well-illustrated in the fact that their corpses were kept in separate graveyards so as not to mingle with those of the yangmin dead. By the end of the Joseon dynasty, legal reforms were underway to emancipate the status of the baekjeong. However, this legal equality did not equate to social equality. Many remain segregated from larger society, and conditions have worsened in some respects.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, there was an increasing impetus on human dignity and liberalization. Of particular importance was the growth of certain religions supportive of change. However, the baekjeong had benefited much less from these changes than other groups, such as the slaves. The other major religious influence on human rights came through Christianity. Some missionaries had success converting baekjeong to Christianity, emphasizing that everyone has equal rights under God. However, everyone was not equal for the Christian congregation, and protests erupted when missionaries attempted to integrate them into worship services, with non-baekjeong finding such an attempt insensitive to traditional notions of hierarchical advantage.
Beginning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the baekjeong began to resist the open social discrimination that existed against them. The Hyŏngp'yŏngsa was launched in Chinju on April 23, 1923 through the alliance of wealthy or educated baekjeong and non-baekjeong proponents of change, advocating for “the abolition of classes and of contemptuous appellations, the enlightenment of members, and the promotion of mutual friendship among members.” It advocated both for individual civil rights as well as communal fellowship. Thus, the Hyŏngp'yŏngsa pursued both an equality of human rights and the right to assimilate into the broader public, even as it worked to forge a common identity. The Hyeongpyeongsa finally disbanded in 1935, claiming the movement's aims had successfully been met. Although today the traditional occupations of the group are considered acceptable, the caste continues to be seen and treated as polluted by larger society.


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