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Tsunami and Caste

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    The following articles tell some disturbing stories of how the caste system remains intact even in the midst of tragedy. Caste antagonism in providing relief?
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 6, 2005
      The following articles tell some disturbing stories of how the caste
      system remains intact even in the midst of tragedy.

      Caste antagonism in providing relief?
      TIMES NEWS NETWORK[ SATURDAY, JANUARY 01, 2005 10:45:55 PM ]

      CHENNAI/CUDDALORE: The aftermath of the tsunami in Tamil Nadu has
      thrown up some touching examples of communal amity, but it has also
      how deep caste antagonism runs.
      Travelling across the affected areas, one regularly hears of examples
      of communal amity. One example that keeps cropping up in conversation
      with NGO activists working in the area is of the Jamaath, a Muslim
      organisation, which has been running four relief camps in the
      area of Cuddalore district.
      The overwhelming majority of the victims are non-Muslims but that has
      not prevented the Jamaath from giving them three meals a day for over
      three days. Considering there are an estimated 40,000 people in these
      camps, that's quite an achievement.
      The same NGO activists also tell stories which are depressing,
      of how Dalits are losing out in the relief effort. Some claim they
      come across cases where others have prevented Dalits from entering
      relief camps.
      I did not personally come across any such case, but I did hear
      fisherwomen in several places talking dismissively of the food being
      by relief workers as "stuff that may be good enough for some of the
      others, but is beneath our dignity to eat". The veiled reference to
      Dalits is hard to miss.


      Caste is in its new avataar in India

      A sea-change has taken place in society, according to one perception.
      'Nothing much has changed', is another viewpoint. That difference and
      debate on the issue are quite fascinating. Anthropologist Dr. P.K.
      presented his analysis in his talk on the topic 'Living on a
      in Indian society'? In the monthly lecture programme sponsored by
      Rangsons Group in Ranga Jnana Vinimaya Kendra on Vani Vilas Road,
      Mysore, on
      Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2004. Highlights are published here. — Ed.

      Indian scenario represented by society nowadays is quite different
      what it was before independence in many ways. Discrimination among
      people on the basis of class and caste have led to ill feelings. The
      are perhaps healed, but the scars persist.

      It is neither easy nor right to make any generalisations about India
      because of wide diversity of its people and their culture. Travel
      the country provides an excellent means of educating oneself about
      people of India and their life.

      India's history is long and piquant. It has been distorted by many.
      still seem to live in our history.

      Value system

      Evaluation of value system in a society is often done by the factors
      good, bad, auspicious, happy or otherwise. Quite often the factor of
      manners displayed towards one another becomes the tool of evaluation.
      always hear that the value systems have changed.

      The foremost harbinger of change in our value system was adopting of
      the egalitarian Constitution, guaranteeing equality and adult
      forcing the people's representatives to go to them with folded hands
      once every five years. Reservation for jobs, school admissions and
      in the Assemblies of States, Parliament and Panchayats not only set
      apart a place for the backward classes but also enlarged the social
      of the country.


      Joint family system has virtually disappeared. Marriage age of girls,
      literacy, life expectancy have risen. The housewife is a virtual
      in the family. The child is more computer-literate than adults in the

      Landlordism that prevailed all over the country was got rid of by
      reforms, bringing to end the exploitation of the client by the

      In certain pockets, movements were launched to protest the
      discrimination based on castes. Development activities were
      undertaken towards
      providing shelter for the economically weaker sections, education for
      and healthcare measures.

      Tremendous manpower with higher learning is now available. Advances
      have been made in communication and transport making connectivity
      people and networking of regions quite easy. Structural changes are
      taking place resulting in much churning, raising the aspiration level
      of the
      people at large.


      Some sort of hostility, openly in some pockets, has emerged between
      erstwhile exploiting and the exploited. Traditional occupations of
      rural populations have either disappeared or moved to urban areas,
      leading to large scale migration. Tension in society is also coming
      to the

      Loyalty, submission, respectful behaviour towards the male head of
      family have diminished. He is challenged for his viewpoint about life
      and all issues. Decision-making has become more consultative, with
      exerting influence. Men have accepted women as bosses.

      Network of relationships on the lines of the joint family system
      continues during special events such as wedding, religious functions
      death ceremonies. These relationships reflect caste loyalties.
      are mostly settled on caste basis everywhere in India. They are also
      performed as per tradition.

      Dowry — both giving and receiving — is rampant, across all
      and religions. It is even blessed by the clergy in some religions.
      Begetting of sons is still considered important.

      Millions of people are still below poverty line. Gap between the rich
      and the poor has become enormous. Exploitation is unabated but
      disguised. The factor of caste has remained alive and is in its new
      avataar. The
      concept of inequality pervades. Inter-caste differences have led to
      exclusiveness in society. Even those who belong to weaker sections
      not accepted the concept of equality.

      Unless the value of inequality based on class and caste is frontally
      attacked, the Indian social revolution will not be complete. One of
      reasons for that not to happen is adherence to rituals, tied down to
      caste system. This, in spite of tremendous changes that have taken
      place in Indian society.


      Body hunt left to the low caste
      January 04, 2005
      NAGAPATTINUM, India: They are the "untouchables", the lowest of the
      in India's ancient caste system. No job is too dirty or too nasty.
      So, now they are the ones cleaning up the rotting corpses from last
      week's tsunami.
      The vast majority of the 1000 or so men sweating away in the tropical
      heat to clear the poor south Indian fishing town of Nagapattinum,
      bore the brunt of the giant wave, are lower-caste dalits from
      neighbouring villages.
      Locals too afraid of disease and too sickened by the smell refuse to
      join the grim task of digging friends and neighbours out of the sand
      debris. They just stand and watch the dalits work.
      Although it has been a week since the tsunami hit, and the
      was confined to a tiny strip by the beach and port, the devastation
      so fierce that bodies -- located by the stench and flies -- are still
      being discovered daily.
      "I am only doing what I would do for my own wife and child," says M.
      Mohan, a dalit municipal cleaner as he takes a break to wash off some
      the grime of the day's work.
      "It is our duty. If a dog is dead, or a person, we have to clean it
      Mohan and other sanitation workers from neighbouring municipalities
      working around the clock to clear Nagapattinum, for an extra 64c a
      and a meal.
      The smell of death still hangs heavily, mixing with the sea breeze
      the almost refreshingly tart smell of the antiseptic lime powder that
      has turned some streets and paths white.
      More than 5525 people -- close to 40 per cent of India's estimated
      14,488 fatalities -- died along this small stretch of pure white
      where the huts of poor fishermen were built down to the sand at the
      top of
      the beach.
      Caste still plays a defining role in much of Indian society. More
      16 per cent of India's billion-plus people are dalits. Despite laws
      banning caste discrimination, they are still routinely abused,
      and even killed.
      They do the jobs others will not: toilet cleaning, garbage
      cow skinning.
      For Mohan, illiterate, uneducated and low caste, the only way to get
      government job and the security and pension that come with it, was as
      municipal sanitation worker.
      In the early hours of the tsunami disaster, he and his colleagues
      worked feverishly to clear the thousands of bodies without gloves,
      masks or
      even shoes in some cases.
      Now, they are better equipped. But no mask ever stops the gagging
      of rotting human flesh, which becomes almost overpowering as the body
      is dug out, lodging deep in the back of the mouth. Each new body
      discovered is painstakingly prised free of the wet sand, torn palm
      thatch and
      debris, mostly by hand.
      It is sweaty, backbreaking work. Shifting sand and rubble make just
      standing hard. It is done slowly, carefully and patiently with a
      respect for the victim.
      But there is no dignity.
      The almost unrecognisable body of a naked woman, one foot still
      surprisingly wet, clean and white as if she had just stepped from a
      bath, is
      carried on a mat to the beach.
      There, a small bonfire is lit with a tyre and palm leaves. She is
      heaved on top. Another mat provides a pitiful attempt at modesty.
      pitch-black smoke drifts to the sky. No one knows who she was. With
      fear of an epidemic, there is no time to find out.
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