Dalit Christians are not receiving aid, and that some drowned or died of hunger in the worst monsoon flooding in centuries.
The All India Christian Council (AICC), a nation-wide alliance of Christian denominations, mission agencies and other groups, said it was concerned that "dominant castes" in India’s ancient system of Hinduism are "vehemently preventing the draining of water from flood-affected villages populated by Dalits."
Dalits are seen as the ‘lowest castes’ by Hindus and Dalits who converted to Christianity are treated as 'outcastes' by militants, BosNewsLife learned. The AICA said the situation was especially serious in the Kawas and Malva areas in the Barmer region of the troubled Indian state of Rajasthan.
"Even in this hour of common tragedy, government engineers fear violent backlash from the dominant communities if machines are used to pump out water from the Dalit localities. This is indeed a very distressing trend and needs to be condemned by everyone," the AICC added.
GOSPEL FOR ASIA
Gospel for Asia, another mission group, said its "Compassion Services launched relief efforts in the four most-affected states," adding that "over 4,000 families have received aid from 300 GFA staff members, missionaries and Bible college students."
It described the devastation as "India's worst monsoon flooding in history" and said it had begun providing rice and other food items as well as "blankets, clothes, building materials and vocational supplies—and the Good News of Jesus Christ."
At least one million people have lost their homes to floods in eastern India, according to estimates. The AICC and other officials accused India’s government of failing "in every sense to provide basic aid to the voiceless Dalits" who “lost their people, houses and animals."
It said that while "massive aid is being pumped in by Government Institutional Aid Agencies, NGOs and the public at large for the flood-affected dominant castes, very little is reaching the Dalit victims."
In a statement the Centre for Dalits Rights and the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights said they also received complaints that Dalits are expelled from relief camps.
"Dalits have been denied food and water and are not allowed to use the relief camp toilets, accommodation and common kitchen facilities." The groups linked the situation to the "prejudices prevailing among the victims of dominant castes that the entry of Dalits into the relief camps would pollute their sanctity."
AICC Secretary General John Dayal said the same caste bias was evident during the devastating 2001 earthquake, which killed up to 30,000 people in the town of Bhuj in the Indian state Gujarat, where “the State Government’s housing plans isolated Dalits into ghettos in the guise of tradition.”
The bias was allegedly also seen again in the tsunami relief operations where the All India Christian Council – Catholic Union- Truth-seekers International team said they had to "expose nationally and internationally the practice of reserving most of relief for upper castes."
In an unrelated incident, a Dalit man died of starvation in a village in the eastern state of Bihar after 'higher caste' authorities refused to allow food supplies there, the AICA said. "Hardeo Manjhi ,45, died of starvation in the Kochi village September 10.
"Villagers have complained that government-sponsored food items were not distributed for the past two months in the village." It cited a World Bank report saying that nearly 40 per cent of Bihar's people live below the poverty line.
Besides reports of discrimination of Dalit Christians and other Dalits, violence and intimidation against women increased. In one incident, two Dalit women in the tense state of Madhya Pradesh were last week assaulted, stripped and one of them raped, the AICA. Police have reportedly not made any arrests yet. (With BosNewsLife News Center, BosNewsLife Research and reports from India).