Dalits still suffer in Bihar


One of the most pressing issues facing India is the quest for social equity. The struggle to end caste discrimination, and to ensure that India's Dalits are able to live a life of dignity, enjoying equal access to educational facilities and equal opportunities in the job market is of paramount importance. But what role can the so-called international community play in this regard? In recent years, the UN has often been a part of the problem rather than the solution. While the UN failed to prevent the bombing of Yugoslavia, the destruction of Iraq took place under the auspices of the UN.

Both the Indian and the international media have paid considerable attention to the debate on whether caste discrimination is also a form of racism. As the controversy rages within India, one of the most important questions that should be asked is - what are the real solutions. How can international conferences or UN agencies or the so-called "World Community" of nations help India's most discriminated and oppressed communities.

But how much of the discussion on the problems of caste in India acknowledges this crucial and essential aspect of the problem? Is there any real attempt at addressing the colossal crime that was colonial rule and exploitation? Are the world's former colonial powers willing to pay compensation to those who suffered most? How about a fund that would pay for the education, housing and healthcare of those in India living below the poverty line? How about free access to technologies and capital that could assist India in solving it's perennial water and power shortages? How about the oil-rich nations (who use hundreds of thousands of Indian workers to pump their oil) helping out by providing subsidies to India for buying oil (at least at cost), if not at a discount?

In fact, there are many concrete ways in which the international community could help. Even a cursory look at where caste discrimination in India is most egregious will show that caste discrimination tends to be greater in areas of the country that are very densely populated, and relatively less urbanized and industrialized. Wherever the economy is stagnant, social problems are aggravated. Thus, problems of caste discrimination are greatest in states like Bihar (pop. density 880 per sq. km), UP (689) and Tamil Nadu (478). Compare these to Australia (2), Brazil (20), US (30), South Africa (36), Turkey (85), or Italy (193).

Nations particularly perturbed about India's caste problems could provide a very simple solution. Allow the migration of India's dalits, offer them jobs, or adult education classes for a year or two, and allow them to integrate with dignity into their societies. Instead of drawing away India's best educated, accept India's weakest citizens. Even other developing nations could make such an offer, especially since the vast majority of them are much less densely populated when compared to India.

But the truth is that no one who bemoans India's caste problems wants to actually lend a helping hand. Rich industrialized nations that accept India's well-educated are far less open when it comes to accepting less-qualified relatives, and even spouses can face lengthy processing delays. The oil-rich nations of the Middle East exploit India's poor to the hilt, yet they are not even willing to offer Indian Muslims (let alone other Indians) permanent visas or any form of protection from discrimination or exploitation. There are virtually no rights for workers or workers compensation schemes for even the most blatant forms of social discrimination or ill-treatment.

India's dalits indeed face all manner of deprivations and discrimination within India. But India as a nation also remains deeply deprived and discriminated by the so-called "world community". One cannot solve one without solving the other. A lot of sociologists and intellectuals from nations more fortunate than India can feel superior that they don't have such problems - but if they really cared to solve the problems, they would be spending less time making pompous speeches and passing meaningless resolutions.

For centuries, when India was a relatively prosperous and advanced nation, (in 1750, India's share of manufactured output was 25%) - India welcomed immigrants and the oppressed from many countries, allowed them to form settlements, and permitted them to follow their own customs and religious beliefs. Syrian Christians, Persian Zorastrians, Arab Muslims and Jews, Armenians, Central Asians, Afghans - a host of nationalities and peoples migrated to India. Even those who came as conquerors and invaders were eventually absorbed into the Indian mosaic of ethnic, religious and cultural diversity.

Those in the so-called "international community" who wish to "teach" India how to solve it's internal problems might instead do better to learn a bit from India's generous history, and reciprocate in kind, through concrete and practical measures, rather than pass smug judgments about India's social "backwardness".


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