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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 42, October 9, 2010

Letter to President Obama

Thursday 14 October 2010, by A K Biswas

Dear President Obama,

Subject: Implementation of Concurrent Resolution of US Senate on Untouchability in India

We have learnt from media reports that accompanied by the US’ First Lady, Michelle Obama, you are scheduled to pay a state visit to India in forthcoming November. I, on my own behalf as well as on behalf of over three hundred million people belonging to the Scheduled Caste (also called Dalits) and Scheduled Tribe communities, who are the underprivileged and discriminated humanity at the bottom of Indian society, extend a warm welcome to you. On this occasion, we respectfully remind you of the Concurrent Resolution [H. Con. Res. 139: 110th session] of the US Senate expressing a sense that the United States should address the ongoing problem of untouchability afflicting a population in India as large as the aggregate population of the USA. As a Senator, you are too aware of the contents and connotations of the said Resolution to warrant its reiteration. Nonetheless, a brief reference to the Resolution would refresh your memory.

The Concurrent Resolution of July 24, 2007 fully recognised that the vast multitude of population of India are denied and deprived of their fundamental rights including right to life, dignity and security, equality of treatment due to the widespread practice of untouchability. They are discriminated in quality education; equitable employment opportunities and subjected to brutal atrocities—physical, mental as well as psychological—that block all avenues for their upward mobility in life and station. The aforesaid Concurrent Resolution dwelt on the atrocities as follows:

1. ‘.......Untouchables’, now known as the Dalits, and the people of the forest tribes of India, called Tribals, who together number approximately 200,000,000 people, are the primary victims of caste discrimination in India;

2. “......discrimination against the Dalits and Tribals has existed for more than 2000 years and has included educational discrimination, economic disenfranchisement, physical abuse, discri-mination in medical care, religious discrimination, and violence targeting Dalit and Tribal women;

3. “......Article 17 of the Constitution of India outlaws untouchability;

4. “despite numerous laws enacted for the protection and betterment of the Dalits and Tribals, they are still considered outcasts in Indian society and are treated as such; moreover, in practice, Dalits and Tribals are frequently denied equal treatment under the law;

5. “...... Dalit women suffer both caste and gender discrimination as a result of the deficient administration of justice and are often raped and attacked with impunity;

6. “......the National Commission on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes has declared that many of the reported cases of atrocities against Dalits and Tribals end in acquittals;

7. “......despite the fact that many Dalits do not report crimes for fear of reprisals by the dominant castes, national police statistics averaged over the past five years by the National Commission on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes show that 13 Dalits are murdered every week, five Dalits’ homes or possessions are burnt every week, six Dalits are kidnapped or abducted every week, three Dalit women are raped every day, 11 Dalits are beaten every day and a crime is committed against a Dalit every 18 minutes;

8. “.......many Dalits girls are forced to become temple prostitutes who are then unable to marry and may be auctioned to urban brothels, and many women trafficked in India are Dalit women;

9. “.......low-caste unborn females are targeted for abortions;

10. “according to Human Rights Watch and India’s official National Family Health Survey, most Dalits and Tribals are among those poorest of the poor living on less than $1 per day; most of India’s bonded laborers are Dalits; and half of India’s Dalit children are undernourished, 21 percent are `severely underweight’, and 12 percent die before their 5th birthday;

11. “.......Dalits and other low-caste individuals often suffer from discrimination and segregation in government primary schools leading to low enrollment, high drop-out, and low literacy rates, perhaps linked to a perception that Dalits are not meant to be educated, are incapable of being educated, or if educated, would pose a threat to village hierarchies and power relations;

12. “.......the Dalits and Tribals maintain higher illiteracy rates than non-Dalit populations; and

13. “.......the HIV/AIDS epidemic is India is massive and Dalits and Tribals are significantly affected by HIV/AIDS.”

In a nutshell, the instances explain and illustrate the predicaments encountering life of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in every nook and corner of India. The contents of the Resolution drive one to believe like the British philosopher Thomas Hobbes that the life of Dalit as well as tribal communities in India is “solitary, nasty, brutish and short”. With unmitigated discrimination, exploitation and inequality against so vast a population since ages, no country can hope to prosper and remain peaceful or attain peace and stability, essential for growth and prosperity. This makes India the darkest spot to warrant attention for safeguarding human rights and dignity urgently.

It hardly needs to be stressed that immediate solution to these perilous problems calls for global attention. The US Senate, in the stated circumstances, adopted the following strategies on its part to address these burning issues in the interest of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes of India:

(1) raising the issues of caste discrimination, violence against women, and untouchability through diplomatic channels both directly with the Government of India and within the context of international bodies;

(2) encouraging the United States Agency for International Development to ensure that the needs of Dalit organisations are incorporated in the planning and implementation of develop-ment projects;

(3) ensuring that projects that positively impact Dalit and Tribal communities, especially Dalit women, are developed and implemented;

(4) ensuring that cooperative research programs targeting rural health care, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and rural technology contain proper focus on the Dalits and Tribals;

(5) ensuring that anyone receiving funding in India from the United States Government—

(A) is aware that it is United States Government policy that caste discrimination is unacceptable, and that the United States is committed to eliminating it; and

(B) treat all people equally without engaging in caste discrimination;

(6) ensuring that—

(A) qualified Dalits are in no way discouraged from working with organisations receiving funding in India from the United States Govern-ment, and that transparent and fair recruitment, selection, and career development processes are implemented, with clear objective criteria; and

(B) procedures exist to detect and remedy any caste discrimination in employment conditions, wages, benefits or job security for anyone working with organizations receiving funding in India from the United States Government;

(7) encouraging United States citizens working in India to avoid discrimination toward the Dalits in all business interactions; and

(8) discussing the issue of caste during bilateral and multilateral meetings, including congressional delegations.

WE, for whom these momentous Resolutions were adopted in the august House, are completely unaware of follow-up actions, if any, taken by the US authorities in this behalf and the outcome thereof. Your official visit to India furnishes the perfect opportunity to acquaint and appraise ourselves of the action on these resolutions that can go a long, very long way to uplift the fate and fortune of three hundred million Indians. By adopting the Concurrent Resolution, the US lawmakers and the people alike have befriended the faceless Dalit and tribal communities.

I can paraphrase the epoch-making speech of Reverend Dr Martin Luther King, Jr and say I too have a dream that my 300 million fellow Dalit and tribal men and women will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the tag of their caste or tribe but by the content of their character. We can never be satisfied as long as the Dalit and tribal people are the victim of horrors of social inequality and deprivation; economic and educational discrimi-nation, exploitation and oppression. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of harsh treatment and atrocities, cannot gain access to every opportunity available to Indians in the high end of the social ladder. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Dalit and tribal communities’ basic mobility from circumscribed social ghetto to the wider world of freedom are effected through equal opportunity for education and employment. We are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream investing true meaning and new life to three hundred million Dalits and tribals of India.

We, therefore, urge upon you to grant an appointment for interaction with a delegation of Dalit and tribal thinkers and activists during your forthcoming state visit to India. The proposed delegation, comprising some 8-10 members, would wait upon you for suitably briefing the travails of their life and times obtaining in India. The Dalit and tribal communities of India expect as well as demand full and complete implementation of the strategies adopted by the august US Senate in the interest of the downtrodden of India.

May I, on behalf of three hundred millions of Indians, once again request you to please grant us an opportunity to call on your with a delegation and brief their conditions during your forthcoming visit to India?

With regards,

Yours most sincerely,

A.K. Biswas

To

President Barack Obama,

United States of America,

White House, Washington D.C.

Dr A.K. Biswas is a former Vice-Chancellor, B.R. Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur, Bihar. He can be contacted at e-mail: born.bengali@gmail.com

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