MASSIVE RALLY IN BIHAR DEMANDS SOCIAL JUSTICE FOR LOW CASTE GROUPS

India
1991-03-22 00:00:00

Some 35,000 people marched in Patna, eastern India, March 9 to demonstrate growing solidarity among "dalits" (people from the low castes) and seek social justice for them.

"Dalit ekta zindabad (long live dalit unity)," shouted the rallyists who flocked to the Bihar state capital, 1,101 kilometers southeast of New Delhi, for an annual convention March 8-9.

Dalit, meaning trampled upon in Sanskrit, is a term used for the once untouchable low castes that have been exploited in economic, social, cultural, political and religious spheres.

The convention was organized by the Bihar Dalit Vikas Samiti (BDVS, Bihar dalit development committee), an extension service of New Delhi´s Jesuit-run Indian Social Institute.

BDVS, founded and directed by Jesuit Father Jose Kananaikil, has some 50,000 member families in Bihar´s eight districts and New Delhi´s 15 slums.

It has eight regional offices, 500 village units and 100 full-time volunteers to carry out its programs.

According to the 1981 census, India has 105 million dalits -- 15.7 percent of the population. Bihar, one of the country´s least developed states, has more than 10 million dalits, mostly landless agricultual laborers.

"Father Kananaikil has shown the way -- leading a massive movement of the oppressed people of this land," Gautam Sagar Rana of the ruling Janata Dal (Peoples Group) party told the rally.

Sadhu Saran Suman, principal of a college in Barh, 64 kilometers east of Patna, where BDVS has its headquarters, said Father Kananaikil´s movement "was of people struggling with life."

Father Kananaikil urged the dalits at the convention to take responsibility for removing the social evils among them.

Noting that only 10.4 percent of dalits are literate compared to the national average of 36 percent, the 56-year-old priest urged each BDVS family to "resolve to remove illiteracy from their own families within one year."

The nine-year-old BDVS plans to make the entire state of Bihar fully literate within five years. Its program coordinator Basant Kumar told UCA News that the samiti has made more than 62,000 adults and 140,000 children literate since they launched the program in March 1990.

"The movement is picking up momentum despite financial constraints and government apathy," he added.

BDVS members pledged to make their families literate in a year.

They said they would also identify and rehabilitate bonded laborers in their villages, try out-of-court settlements of village quarrels, educate villagers against borrowing from traditional moneylenders and against working for minimum wages as agricultural laborers.

Father Kananaikil told UCA News that moneylenders charge villagers between 72 to 120 percent interest on loans. He also said the poor are harassed by the upper caste rich through false litigations.

"To overcome these social evils, the samiti has devised cooperative societies, income-generating activities, self-employment oriented training programs and legal aid cells at every regional center," BDVS spokesman Gyaneshwar Das told UCA News.

"We have gone four times to the Supreme Court to fight our people´s cases," he added.

END

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