News: Nov 14, 2012
Ruth Manorama is standing up for the most oppressed group of people in India – the Dalits, or the casteless. They are victims of hidden racism, quite similar to the former South African system.
Manorama is one of the main speakers during Global Week at the University of Gothenburg.
Tuesday’s seminar with sociologist Håkan Thörn and Indian human rights activist Ruth Manorama was titled Hidden Apartheid. Thörn and Manorama visited the Faculty of Arts together with Swedish Dalit coordinator Hans Magnusson and Indian professor Sukumar Narayana.
In today’s India there is hidden apartheid, despite the country’s modern and democratic constitution, which grants all people equal value.
The Indian Dalit population comprises some 200 million individuals. They have been victims of discrimination, oppression and persecution for many centuries. Moreover, they are at the bottom rung of society, and are the poorest and most oppressed of all groups in India. Officially, the Dalits have the same status as everybody else, but in practice they are still facing severe hardship.
‘The Dalits are victims of oppression, violence and persecution in India. Many are killed and women are raped. The police often pretend they don't see the violence. The Dalits face discrimination in three important ways: they are poor, they belong to the lowest caste and they are at the bottom rung of society. They are forced to carry out the filthiest and most disgusting work in their communities,’ says Manorama.
Manorama is 59 years old and one of India’s leading human rights activists. She has been involved in the Dalit situation for 30 years. As a result of her work she was awarded the alternative Nobel Prize – the Right Livelihood Prize – in 2006. Manorama is one of the founders of the National Federation of Dalit Women, which was established in 1995, and Women's Voice. She has also been strongly engaged in women’s rights, both nationally and internationally.
‘The casteless and untouchables make up one of the largest and longest oppressed minority groups in the world. And the women suffer the most.’
A total of 400 000 crimes against Dalits have been registered in a report. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg, according to Manorama – despite the law established to protect discriminated groups.
‘I’m fighting for these people’s right. They live in extreme poverty but deserve something much better. After all, they produce food for the whole country.’
With great engagement and lively gestures, Manorama told the audience about her work for equal treatment of Dalit women.
While India’s apartheid is invisible, the system in South Africa was unequal in terms of both race and politics. One similarity though is the oppression and discrimination of certain people.
Håkan Thörn’s research primarily concerns globalisation and social movements. Based on his new book titled Anti-apartheid and the Emergence of Global Civil Society, he described the importance of global networks that are fighting apartheid.
‘The development of new media played a very important role in the battle against apartheid in South Africa,’ says Håkan Thörn. ‘It drew the attention of Western media to the anti-apartheid movement and thus made it well-known internationally, and it enabled ANC to start its own radio station. As a direct result, thousands of South Africans formed various groups and networks and everybody started working towards the shared goal of abolishing apartheid.’
In addition to extensive international boycotts, it was banks’ refusal to grant loans that finally put an end to the regime, according to Thörn.
In response to the question of what Sweden can do to help, Manorama ended with a call for international support:
‘We need international solidarity – that the whole world gives attention to the injustice that the Dalits are facing. The caste system must be abolished entirely and this will require international support. We should all get angry and not sit still like Buddha.’
Caption: Ruth Manorama has become one of the Dalit women’s primary advocates in the world. Sukumar Narayana, professor of political science at Dehli University, is also a strong supporter.
Photo: Thomas Melin
Caption 2. Håkan Thörn, who has studied global networks during the apartheid era in South Africa, showing posters used to protest against the country’s regime.
Photo: Thomas Melin
Translation: Debbie Axlid