Gurpreet Singh: We are all untouchables

Comments4

As social-justice activists gear up for the Community March Against Racism on March 23, 2013, I have launched a Facebook group "We Are All Untouchables!!!".

It's in solidarity with Dalits—the oppressed classes of India—who continue to be treated as "untouchables'' by the so-called upper-caste peoples in the world's largest secular democracy.

Despite all the progress and development in India, Dalits not only continue to face a social boycott but are also forced to indulge in manual scavenging for living. It is shocking that Dalits still face segregation in public places, especially in rural India, in accordance with the age-old caste structure that bars them from visiting temples or even taking food or water from community kitchens or public wells.

In many parts of India, Dalits are not served at barber shops or allowed to ride motorbikes or walk in shoes in the presence of the "upper-caste'' people. 

In spite of a ban on untouchability and manual scavenging under Indian laws, these practices go on. This is due to a lack of political will.

Thousands of Dalits who are forced to indulge in manual scavenging are marching in India, seeking end to this inhuman trade. It's difficult for them to get out of it, due to a lack of work opportunities for those considered untouchables by potential employers, who might otherwise offer dignified jobs.

This all reflects very badly on a state that is supposed to be secular. It is pertinent to mention that this caste-based oppression is rooted in the Hindu religion. Yet it is accepted in a secular society. Even other modern religious groups have accepted it as a social reality.

The hypocrisy is also reflected by the fact that sexual violence against Dalit women by the rich and influential upper-caste men is very common.

In a nutshell, the attitude of treating Dalits as pests or as those born to serve those who consider themselves as culturally superior is at the root of this problem.

"We Are All Untouchables'' was formed with the consensus of Dalit activist friends on the 64th Republic Day of India. It was felt that the Indian establishment has been indifferent toward caste-based oppression, which is as brutal as racism. To break this silence, it is important for everyone to speak up against this injustice.  

The members of the group have resolved to join the march and take placards and signs bearing slogan "We Are All Untouchables''. Whether you are Dalit or not does not matter. What matters here is that if you want to see an end to untouchability, show your solidarity and join this group.

Incidentally, this year's annual community march coincides with the anniversary of the hanging of three Indian revolutionaries: Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and Rajguru. They were executed on March 23, 1931 for killing a British police officer in occupied India.

This year's march also coincides with the 25th death anniversary of Paash, a prominent progressive Punjabi poet who was gunned down by religious extremists in India in 1988.  

Both Bhagat Singh and Paash opposed caste-based oppression in their own ways.

Bhagat Singh wrote a very powerful essay on the question of untouchability while continuing his struggle against Imperialism under the pen name Vidrohi (Rebel). He denounced casteism permitted by religious preachers.

Likewise, Paash condemned social inequality in his poems and by offering education to the "untouchable" students—defying the social code imposed by dominant society.

Showing up at the Community March Against Racism will be a fitting tribute to these revolutionaries.

Gurpreet Singh is a Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.

Comments (4) Add New Comment
bud66
"SHOWING UP AT THE COMMUNITY MARCH AGAINST RACISM WILL BE A FITTING TRIBUTE TO THESE REVOLUTIONARIES."
If it was about Racism I might even show but it sounds like that that agenda is now being hijacked.
I admire Mr Singh's sense of social fairness; and wanting to be a positive influence in making the world a better place. Almost Mother Theresa like; except that she went to the problem, giving up the comforts of Rome.
About the book title--Canada's 9/11--I think NOT.
To use 9/11 as a metaphor is; I think, the ultimate MISUSE
of a tragedy for ones own purposes.
I personally would question your ability to be objective regarding "Lessons learned"
9/11 was a direct attack on the USA on USA soil by an outside force.
Sheik independence is an India issue. Sadly; it is yet another religious conflict--Secular is the only hope--separate church and state. Thankfully; even the British Monarch is finally addressing this issue; we can only hope it will be another step forward in settling the N.Ireland conflict.
Air India was an Indian plane, all be it there were Canadians on board--much like Swiss Air.
Given Canada's international commitment to "the rule of law" millions of Canadian tax dollars were spent on an issue that belongs to India--not US--and never a thanks; only that we didn't do enough.
Air India casualties/tax $ spent=x$
Downtown east side women's casualties/tax $ spent=y$
I'm guessing the x is a larger number than y.

"THE HYPOCRISY IS ALSO REFLECTED BY THE FACT THAT SEXUAL VIOLENCE AGAINST DALIT WOMEN BY THE RICH AND INFLUENTIAL UPPER CASTE MEN IS VERY COMMON".
Are the DALIT predominantly of one particular religion???
What is your point Mr Singh?
The Monarchy?
Past Imperialism?
Class or equality?
Race or equality?
A separate Sheik state?
4 out of 5 OK
As to the Separate state; that issue needs to be dealt with in India; we have our hands full trying to get Quebec into [or out of] the fold.
22
19
Rating: +3
dave19
The wacky conspiracy theory that 9/11 was a attack on the U.S. by an outside force is quite ludicrous. Anyone today who is too afraid to admitt it was an obvious false flag operation fails the litmus test of credibility.
17
30
Rating: -13
bhagath
it was soooooooooooo gooooooooood
14
20
Rating: -6
Queen Lizzy
Why a picture of a terrorist on this article. Just because he does not look like one does not mean he did not bomb the parliament or did not kill police officers and innocent civil administrators and he is a revolutionary in your eyes while those who lost their loved ones in those acts of violence carried out by him and his accomplices were left to mourn them all their lives. Also, nowhere did he oppose the caste system itself but untouchability which is a totally different concept. Also, many a saints and prophets in india especially the bhakts and Sikh gurus opposed the caste system itself even in medieval times(most of these so called revolutionaries were only following them) why no mention of them just because they are spiritual figures and don't fit into the rigid and fundamentalist Marxist narratives?
17
11
Rating: +6
Add new comment
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.