Case highlights racism and discrimination against indigenous minorities from India's north-east

India protest over student 'hate crime' death in Delhi

Hundreds of people have protested in Delhi against the beating and subsequent death of a university student from north-eastern India.

Officials say 21-year-old Nido Tania was beaten on Wednesday by shopkeepers who had ridiculed his appearance. He died the next day.

Two people have been taken into custody.

The case has highlighted racism and discrimination against indigenous minorities from India's north-east.

The Delhi police have been accused of being slow to respond to the assault on Mr Tania, who was reportedly on holiday in the Indian capital.

Protesters, many of them students, gathered outside a police station on Saturday near where Mr Tania was attacked in the south Delhi suburb of Lajpat Nagar.

He was the son of a member of the Arunachal Pradesh state assembly.

Indigenous people from India's north-east, who are ethnically closer to people in Burma and China, often say they encounter racism and discrimination in the rest of the country.

Harappa Civilisation not violence free

Research at Appalachian State University USA indicates that there seems to be clear signs of internal and structured violence within what had previously been thought to be a ‘perfect‘ and peaceful society.

The picture above is of the ruins at Mohenjodaro in Sindh another of Indus major cities.

This pattern can conservatively be interpreted as evidence for social hierarchy at Harappa, but it appears likely that structural violence—unequal power, uneven access to resources, systematic oppression, and outright violence—also existed here.

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Caste Discrimination to be outlawed by Equality Bill

Caste discrimination is to be outlawed in the UK, Business Secretary Vince Cable has announced in what is a U-turn on previous government policy.

The House of Lords has voted twice for legal protection to be given to the estimated 400,000 Dailts - so-called untouchables - who live in the UK.

MPs overturned the first Lords vote, but after peers again backed the plan on Monday, there has been a rethink.

Mr Cable said caste would in future be treated as "an aspect of race".

Keith Porteous Wood, of the National Secular Society, said: "We are delighted that the government has accepted that discrimination against caste should enjoy the same statutory protection as all other forms of protected characteristics.

"This is a victory for the Lords and their emphasis on protecting human rights."

Campaigners had said legislation was needed because thousands of people suffered abuse and prejudice because they were considered low caste.

They said existing laws offered no protection and said caste divided society unfairly, with those at the bottom expected to do dirty, poorly paid work while also being expected to - and forced to - look up to and respect higher castes.

Those arguing for action said such discrimination was outlawed in India and should be banned in Britain too.

In the House of Commons debate earlier this month the government acknowledged the existence of caste discrimination in Britain.

But equalities minister Jo Swinson told MPs: "This is an issue that is contained in the Hindu and Sikh communities. That's why we are working with those communities to address these problems."

She warned of concern that legislation could increase stigma rather than ease the problem and said that was why the government favoured tackling caste prejudice through an education programme instead.

During the debate many MPs backed the protestors.

Conservative MP Richard Fuller said: "This is a straightforward issue, caste discrimination in the work place is wrong and the people who suffer from it deserve legal protection. That's it. Beginning and end."

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said that caste discrimination was "completely unacceptable".

The government has asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission to examine the nature of caste prejudice and harassment, and consider what other action might be helpful.

The commission will publish its findings later in 2013.

Outlaw Caste Discrimination say Lords

Stamping out the caste system

Touching the untouchable

BRITAIN'S House of Lords defends its role as upper chamber of Parliament by pointing to the extraordinary breadth of knowledge within its ranks: these days a colourful mixture of political appointees, Anglican prelates and scions of ancient families. The claim has grown more plausible since the elevation of some prominent figures from ethnic minorities, such as Baroness Flather (pictured above), who comes from a Hindu background but is now active in the British humanist movement. At a debate this week on stamping out caste discrimination among Asian-origin people in Britain, she spoke with grim and impressive frankness about the situation in her homeland. At the time of Indian independence in 1947, she recalled, there was a mood of optimism about the prospects for equality.

"There was a great hope that the caste system would die out. It has not done so but has got worse. People have killed their own children because they have married a person in a different caste. There are organisations in Delhi that find and bring back young people who run away from their villages to escape the wrath of their parents. They pick them up and bring them to their parents who have them killed. It is horrible."

She was speaking in support of a successful move by some distinguished lords to defy the government by insisting that caste-based discrimination be included in Britain's equality legislation. An amendment to that effect was approved by 256 votes to 153; for the change to become law, it will need to be approved by the House of Commons as well. The government has acknowledged that the country's 480,000 citizens whose background is Dalit (the group formerly known as untouchables) face discrimination, albeit not usually of the ghastly sort described by Lady Flather. But the current government line is that a campaign of education will deal with the problem. After this week's moral victory, lobby groups that defend the interests of the British Dalits are now determined to convince the government that a change in the law is essential.

So what sort of disadvantage is a Dalit likely to face in Britain? One well-publicised case concerns a young couple in the Midlands town of Coventry, both of whom were lawyers working for an Asian-run practice. Vijay Begraj, a Dalit, and his wife Amardeep, from a higher caste, said their bosses objected to their inter-caste marriage, and made life unpleasant; he claims he was unfairly dismissed. Their case has foundered on a technicality but a change in the legislation would revive it. Sat Pal Muman, chairman of the lobby group Caste Watch UK, says he knows of equally insidious but subtler cases, falling short of dismissal. His wife once worked for a small Asian-run manufacturing firm where she incurred hostility, and was excluded from the kitchen, when she declined to say what her caste background was. As a result she left the firm. 

In their debate, the well-informed and multicultural nobles cited many other cases. Lord Harries, a retired Anglican bishop who moved the amendment, said he knew an Indian-born medical technician, working for Britain's National Health Service, whose "life was made hell" by an Asian boss after questions arose over his family background. The aggrieved man's trade union said it was not possible under the present law to bring a case for discrimination on caste grounds. Lord Singh of Wimbledon, a Sikh, quoted the founder of his faith as saying: "Ask not a person's caste but look to the inner light within."  He added: "While I have the greatest respect for a sister faith, I believe that Hinduism without the old-fashioned concept of caste will be infinitely stronger. Similar negative cultural clutter exists in all our different faiths." Lord Deben, a Tory convert to Catholicism, demanded to know: "Is it right that a person who is a subject of Her Majesty in this country shall not be able to claim against discrimination when they would be able to in India, Nepal or indeed in Bangladesh?"

The laws and constitutions of south Asian countries are not, in practice, enough to provide the Dalits with the protection they desperately need. But changing the law and practices in Britain—whose colonial yoke is sometimes blamed, rightly or wrongly, for exploiting and exacerbating India's social divisions—would be a good start.

Dalits Face Widespread Discrimination

Dalits are at the bottom of the Hindu caste system and despite laws to protect them, they still face widespread discrimination in India, writes Natalia Antelava.

As the glass flew across the room and straight into the wall, a dozen or so men stopped drinking their tea.

Dr Vinod Sonkar threw money on the counter - enough for the tea he drank and the glass he had smashed - and walked out.

Dr Sonkar's soft voice turns angry as he describes the scene.

For years, he says, he worked hard to leave behind his childhood of poverty, abuse at school and teasing at university.

By the time he had walked into the Rajasthan teashop, he had turned his life into a success story.

He had a PhD in law and a teaching position at a Delhi university.

Yet, as the shop owner handed him his tea, he asked him what caste he belonged to.

"I am a Dalit," Dr Sonkar said.

"In that case, wash your glass when you are done," the shop owner said.

"He didn't want to touch whatever I had touched. I made it impure. I am an untouchable," says Dr Sonkar.

Margins of society

India is well known for its caste system, but not many associate the world's biggest democracy with what Dr Sonkar, and many other Dalits, call an apartheid-style state.

"Unfortunately the Indian government, made up of the upper castes, has successfully convinced the international community that caste discrimination is an internal, cultural issue. But the truth is, it affects the very way this country is run," Dr Sonkar says.

Dr Sonkar, who in his thesis compared affirmative actions in India with those of post-apartheid South Africa and the United States, argues that in India despite all legal provisions, 15% of the population is still kept on the very margins of society because of untouchability.

India's constitution banned the practice of untouchability - in which members of India's higher castes will not touch anything that has come in physical contact with the Dalits, the lowest caste.

Recently, an organisation called Video Volunteers, which runs a network of community correspondents throughout India, launched a campaign called Article 17, named after the constitutional provision that banned untouchability.

They are now preparing to file a lawsuit in the Supreme Court and ask the government to take steps to stop untouchability practices.

The campaign and the lawsuit are based on video evidence gathered by Dalits themselves.

The short clips that come from all over India include a man who complains that a local barber refuses to cut his hair, a group of children who are forced to eat lunch separately from their classmates and women who walk for hours to fetch water because they are not allowed to use the public tap in their village.

None of the footage on its own is particularly dramatic, but the persistent, systematic discrimination that it documents is deeply disturbing.

'Slowly changing'

"It's like you are born with a stamp on your forehead and you can never get rid of it," says Amit, one of the community correspondents.

Amit's village in the northern state of Haryana is just a three-hour bumpy drive away from the capital, and yet Dalits here are not allowed to enter temples or visit houses of the upper castes.

"Today, here in Haryana, we the Dalits are still being tied to trees and beaten by upper caste people. Police do nothing because none of the policemen are Dalit," Amit says.

Amit and his neighbours admit that things are slowly changing.

There are now laws protecting Dalits and affirmative action programmes. And Dalits have worked hard to increase their political power - several states have even elected Dalit chief ministers.

But, only a very few manage to break out of the cycle of poverty and caste that they are born into.

Untouchability helps to lock Dalits, who traditionally do the dirtiest manual jobs, in their occupations.

Even if a Dalit scavenger can afford to buy a cow and sell milk or open a shop, for example, upper caste customers are unlikely to buy any of the produce.

In Amit's village Ladwa, like in most of India, no Dalits own land although his friend Vimal has moved into a house he bought from the upper caste members.

It's a spacious, solid building but the neighbourhood has changed.

"As Dalits moved in, all upper caste neighbours moved out, so the prices have really come down," Vimal says.

But, he admits that discrimination is not limited to the upper caste, within the Dalit community there are many sub-castes and hierarchies.

"We also need to stop discriminating against each other and to be more united as we fight for our rights," adds Vimal.

'Still broken'

For many Dalits education is the only way out of poverty, but that isn't easy.

Dr Vinod Sonkar completed one of his degrees via a correspondence course because he found teasing in the classroom unbearable.

Today, Dr Sonkar is the only Dalit professor in his university.

I ask him to name an influential Dalit academic. He can't. A big name journalist? There isn't one, he says. A Supreme Court judge? Two out of hundreds appointed in the last 65 years.

In Sanskrit, the word Dalit means suppressed, smashed, broken to pieces.

Sixty-five years after Indian independence, Vinod Sonkar tells me: "We are still Dalit, still broken, still suppressed."