Tuesday, February 13, 2007

[PAST] TIME FOR INDIA TO FREE DALITS

UNTOUCHABILITY OUTLAWED...ON PAPER. Today, Human Right Watch released a report chastising India for its continued inaction--and too frequent assault--on its dalits. Untouchability was outlawed five decades ago as part of India's dramatic Gandhi-led nonviolent movement for freedom and democracy. But due to its Hindu-based caste system--an ancient religious- and culturally-entrenched practice that stratifies people in lock-tight classes and entirely locks out "untouchables"--the laws against untouchability are primarily on paper only.

AP STORY. The AP story is worth a brief read and fuller reflection.

INCREDIBLE NUMBERS. Many sociologists and serious observers estimate that India's dalits (downtroddens) make up nearly 300,000,000 people (roughly, the entire population of USA), nearly twice the conservative number stated in the AP story regarding the Human Rights Watch report.

OVERCOMING DIVISIONS. Having just ridden a bicycle 2,000 miles through the heart of India, this situation is both clear and heartbreaking. Dalits themselves seem to be divided against each other--some accept their lot, some organize to challenge for their rights peacefully, some organize for more forceful approaches, some hope that education is their ticket out of their plight of extreme poverty if not out of their non-caste caste. But if dalits can unify their voices and votes, they have hope of changing history. Their struggle, however, may be no less epic, momentous or gut-wrenching and bloody than India's movement to oust Great Britain or the Civil Rights Movement actions in America in the 1960's.

IMPLICATIONS FOR CORPORATIONS. If India, like China, is to vie for credibility and economic prominence on a global scale, basic human rights conditions must be addressed seriously, carefully, and healingly. Transnational and Western-based--yes, American--corporations that are stumbling over themselves to take advantage of India's low wage rates and budding IT and engineering workforce could take the lead in insisting that untouchability be functionally removed and India's dalits redeemed.

IMPLICATIONS FOR AMERICAN CONSUMERS. Unfortunately, the short-term financial bottom line instead of the long-term human bottom line appears to be the interest of the folks who bring us Windows, laptops, mp3 players, video game players and a thousand and one amenities we demand be available to consumers at the lowest possible price. The low prices that drive the stock market demands and dividends of wealthy investors are exacting a high price in the lives of common laborers and dalits in India and other peoples of the world.

WATCH AND PRAY. Let us pay attention to this situation and consider what we may do--or no longer do--to encourage the realization of freedom for India's dalits.

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