9 September 2008
Greetings Sisters and Brothers,
How are you? A few days ago I posted an email entitled "Crimes Against the Dalits." It was just a short email that listed how many Dalits are regularly murdered, raped, beaten, and burnt alive. The email was sent to me from India. Most of the responses that we received indicate that most of us still don't have adequate knowledge of the Dalits. Indeed, many people in India itself have an insufficient knowledge of the Dalits. This brief email attempts to address some of the confusion.
The word "dalit" means crushed, broken, and oppressed. It is a term applied to the people commonly known in India as untouchables and outcastes. The official Indian name for them is Scheduled Castes. The Dalits are the centuries' old victims of the Hindu caste system. In India itself they have different names depending on the part of the country that they are located in. Some of these names are Bhangi, Mahars, Pariahs, and Mang,
By the standards of race and ethnicity that we use in the United States most of the Dalits would be considered Black. Thus, they are sometimes called the "Black Untouchables of India." The word Dalit itself is a fairly new word that the people themselves began to use about forty years ago. It is an attempt at self-definition.
The existence and plight of the Dalits has been acknowledged for centuries. Indeed, many have argued that the existence of untouchability can be found in India for more than two-thousand years and is largely the result of the ancient Aryan invasions of India beginning more the three thousand ago.
The greatest leader of the Dalits has been Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. He was a remarkable man and even wrote the Indian Constitution. Dr. Ambedkar is revered by the Dalits. He referred to the Dalits as Depressed Classes. He had an extremely low opinion of Mohandas K. Gandhi. Many Dalits share this view.
For the past thirty years or so I have attempted to study the Black presence in India, particularly India's Black Untouchables. The word "untouchable" implies that the touch, and sometimes even the mere presence, the shadow, and the sound of the voices of these sisters and brothers will cause pollution to high ranking Hindus.
There are something like three-hundred million Dalits in India. They are the largest oppressed minority in the world. Most of them live in hundreds of thousands of small villages scattered across India.
Although Untouchability was officially abolished in 1950 real change has been very slow and even now seldom a day passes when I don't get a report about Dalits being humiliated by rape, being forced to eat human excrement, and drink human urine.
Like all people, the Dalits want respect and basic human rights. The assaults committed against them and the humiliations meted out to them are age old practices and attempts to keep them in their humble place.
But where there is injustice there is resistance. Indeed, some of the most celebrated recent organizations in India are known as the Dalit Panthers. These sisters and brothers were inspired by the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and named themselves as such. Dalit Panther organizations have established themselves in various parts of India including the states of Maharashtra and Kerala.
I regard the struggle of the Dalits of India as not only noble, just, and heroic but as an integral part of the global struggle for the freedom of all of Africa's children--those at home and those abroad. My esteemed brother Nnamdi aka Kenneth King shares this belief. Thus, we regularly post articles about the little known but ongoing struggle against this age-old oppression.
The crimes against the Dalits are ordered by high ranking Hindu land owners and carried out by criminals and thugs in their pay. The crimes are most often overlooked by India's criminal justice system. Few people are prosecuted for these crimes and even fewer convicted.
Perhaps the most brutal aspect of the system is that the Dalits are indoctrinated to believe that they themselves are responsible for their own victimization. They are told that through the laws of karma and rebirth that they did something in previous lifetimes and are consequently born as Dalits, Untouchables, Outcastes. This is the evil nature of India's Hindu caste system. Indeed, Dalits sometime refer to Hinduism as "sanctified racism."
I have worked to promote the cause of the Dalits for most of my adult life and have taken three trips to India to study and learn and share lessons. Some of you have asked, "what can we do?" I have asked that same question to the Dalits themselves and the answer that I am consistently given is "tell people what is happening to us." I have tried to do precisely that and thus the email that you received.
So spread the word. Educate yourself. And let the world know that a huge percentage of our people are terribly oppressed in the nation called India and are crying out for help.
I hope that this short email addresses some of your questions and concerns. If you go to my Global African Presence Web Site you will many articles written for and by Dalits. There are bibliographies and reading lists.
So, my sisters and brothers, my plea is that you educate yourself so that you may effectively educate others. That is what we are trying to do.
In love of Africa and African people--those at home and those abroad,
Runoko Rashidi Okello
http://www.cwo. com/~lucumi/ runoko.html