It is with great joy that we participate in the first celebration of the International Day for Dalit Solidarity on April 14, the birthday of B. R. Ambedkar, whose name has become synonymous with the call for Dalit liberation. We recognise this day as a day which manifests the growing realisation of people around the world of a grave wrong which has persisted for centuries against a large section of humanity and a growing realisation among the international community to face up to the task of eradicating it.
The wrong, indeed, is of the gravest kind, and it is hard to believe that such a wrong has not engaged the mind of the international community all these years. The level of inhuman treatment of the people known by such names as Sudras, “Untouchables,” low castes and “outcastes” in South Asia is hard to imagine and hard to express. However, it has remained hidden from the eye of humanity because of the deepest forms of silence imposed on the victims of caste through the severest of punishments. It has taken more than a century of effort by the representatives and organisations of victims of caste to bring the issue to the attention it is gaining today.
The civilisation of South Asia was one which grew and flourished quite early in human history. The development of languages, particularly Sanskrit, and literature and art many thousands of years before the common era remains a marvel. It was this flourishing civilisation though that collapsed with the development of the caste system through which a group of priests-Brahmins-gained supremacy over others and imposed complete domination over those classified as low caste people or “outcastes.” This domination was expressed through an interpretation of scriptures known then as the Vedas, spiritual texts that created a form of grading of humanity in which Brahmins achieved a superhuman position and lower castes and “outcastes” were reduced to subhuman and even a non-human position. Brahminism is, in essence, those theories and methodologies developed by Brahmins to acquire for themselves all of the advantages of society, such as land ownership, wealth and power. The result was a creation at the bottom of society of another group which was completely denied almost everything and which was reduced to the position of the dregs of humanity and the wretched of the earth. (These theories were known as the Doctrine of Chathurwarne-the Doctrine of the Four Castes.) Even the Indian government’s representatives openly admit that, despite attempts at constitutional and legal reforms during the 20th century, the problem has persisted up to now. Deeply engraved prejudices of the Brahmins and their associated castes stand as the obstacle for a democratic transformation on the basis of the recognition of the equality of all. Without recognising the depth of influence of these prejudices on those who have enjoyed all of the privileges of society without any restraints, it is not possible to understand the grave problems that are faced in achieving the basic liberation of the Dalit people.
For example, the amount of effort exerted by the Indian government to stop any discussion on caste at the forthcoming World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance and the preparatory meetings for it may sound irrational to those unfamiliar with the nature of caste prejudices in India and South Asia. However, the policy of silence imposed on the caste issue is a primary mode of social control in these societies. Thus, a global debate on the issue is so deeply feared. Furthermore, such a debate may finally alter the overt and covert rules by which silence is imposed on this issue in South Asian societies.
The pretext under which the objection is made is that caste discrimination is different than race discrimination. The falsehood of this statement has been exposed through many statements, which are available for anyone who is interested. We, however, wish to restate that any attempt to separate caste and race on a scientific basis is an intellectual endeavour to deny the human rights of a large section of South Asian society by rationalising this form of socio-economic violence. If there is a science which studies repression, the study of caste belongs to that science. Caste repression belongs to such categories of repression as slavery and apartheid. Moreover, the sheer cruelty involved ranks it with such events as the Holocaust and the crimes against humanity that have been committed in various countries. The sheer magnitude of the numbers of people affected-presently about 240 million-gives caste a special place among the cruellest practices that humankind has ever known.
We urge that this day be celebrated by activities of solidarity for the Dalits, that the day be recognised officially by the highest bodies representing humanity, such as the United Nations, and that this day be a reminder of the obligation that humankind owes to these people who have only known repression and discrimination, that it express the determination that is required to eradicate the caste system.
A concrete example of solidarity for Dalits is the birth of the Ambedkar Centre for Social Democracy in Sri Lanka today that will undertake research and advocacy on the caste issue as well as maintain a database and produce publications on this concern. To strengthen the international campaign to end the caste system, we want to encourage the creation of other similar organisations in Asia and elsewhere around the world.
It is for the reasons above that the organisations below join their names with those seeking to add the issue of caste to the agenda of the U.N. World Conference against Racism in August in South Africa and that they call for an end to the caste system in South Asia.
Let the Dalits be free, and let Brahminism end like apartheid!
Asian Human Rights Commission Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students