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Race, caste bias, human rights aren’t 'internal matter' any more: Indo-US web talk

Dr Sydney Freeman Jr
By Our Representative
Speakers at a recent Indo-US web policy talk on Blacks in US and Dalits in India have agreed that fight against socio-economic discrimination cannot be an internal matter of a country, insisting on the need to “globalise” human rights. Jointly organised by the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI) and the University of Idaho, those who participated included Dr Sydney Freeman Jr, associate professor, University of Idaho, and Dalit rights leader Martin Macwan.
Participants agreed that there was a need to acknowledge that the murder of the African-American, George Floyd, by police personnel called for broader discussion on the implications of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the context of “vicious remarks” by such world leaders like Donald Trump who said, “Looting invites shooting”.
Recalling the teachings of Babasaheb Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Freeman, who is also former National Holmes scholar, said that inequality in US dates back to more than 400 years, when African-Americans were brought to the US to serve as free slaves. Even after 50 years, they were not considered as equal citizens and were devoid of amenities such as housing, jobs etc.
Though there is no explicit caste system in US, Dr Freeman said, caste system in the form of racism has developed over the years. Responding to a query on politics of hate in US, he replied, white people get nervous when they see Black persons standing up together.
“Even the police protect the interests of the whites in the community. Having the same fate of those of the Black people frightens them”, the senior US scholar said, admitting, however, that there is still “poor intersection between race and class”, adding, there is a need to recognise that “an average Black person can be the same as the average white person, as they get the same facilities.”
The nation of the poor is considered anti-national. People who speak for human rights are pushed behind bars without any evidence  
Speaking about this against the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Freeman said, “It is seen that many white people are out of work, i.e., poor whites are the same as poor Blacks”, adding, “Elite Black people who have resources also manipulate the situations in the delusion of peace.”
Martin Macwan
Macwan, who is founder of Gujarat-based NGO Navsarjan Trust and recipient of Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Award (2000), said that the fight against the 3,500-year-old caste system continues even today. “About 3,000 Dalit women are raped each year. People practice untouchability, but when women are raped, the same practice is discarded”, he added.
According to Macwan, even after 74 years of Independence, the end of slavery is a myth for Dalits. Referring to a Navsarjan Trust survey, in which where more than 98,000 respondents across 1,569 villages participated, he said, in 90.3% of villages, Hindu Dalits can’t enter temples. Despite reservations, Dalits are made to sit on floor in in local village bodies.
The survey also found that in 54% of the government schools, during the mid-day meal programme, which a state responsibility, there are separate queues for Dalit children. The survey was conducted in Gujarat which, he said “is considered as the model state for rest of India but has failed in fighting the deep-rooted systems of inequality”, he added.
Stating that the denial of untouchability by India’s policy makers “ignores ground realities”, Macwan regretted, “Even at the international level, the discrimination incidences are tagged as an internal matter of India”, underlining, “Globalization of human rights is as essential as globalization of markets.”
Macwan remarked that India is “one country and two nations”, adding, “The nation of the poor is considered as anti-national. The people who speak for human rights are pushed behind bars without any strong evidence.”
Recalling how India invests in resources to hide poverty as evidenced by the Trump wall constructed in Ahmedabad ahead of the US President’s visit in February third week, Macwan said, “Most of the ground realities are either manipulated or hidden in the academic world. The challenge is to get the true picture through data. Funds are not being spent on welfare, as depicted by official data records.”
Suggesting how education can help reduce discrimination, Macwan said, caste, race and other discriminatory practices are interwoven into India’s textbooks, adding, there is a need to develop a curriculum which is free of prejudices. He cite Dalit Shakti Kendra, which he has promoted off Ahmedabad, stating, here, youth people are trained employment skills alongside social and political awareness. The institution has trained over 10,500 students over the last 18 years.
Participating in the web talk, Dr Arjun Kumar, director, IMPRI stated how the words of Martin Luther King, “Justice should shower from each mountain, each river and each natural resource by each human being” and of Babasaheb Ambedkar, “Liberty, equality and fraternity are non-negotiable” are similar.
Others who participated in the web talk included Dr Nitin Tagade and Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and editorial director, IMPRI.

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