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How the state of Dalits compares with that of the African Americans

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Race in the American society came about from forceful relocation of Western Africans into the North American continent as slaves to fulfill a supply gap of agricultural laborers. Later the other races came to immigrate into the country looking for better opportunities of employment and for better life. Thus America became a melting pot of different cultures, and ethnic groups. However being of color especially being a black- being identified as a black meant being a victim of racism which promotes the belief that one race is inferior to another on the basis of color which meant that the colored race is inferior in beauty, character, intelligence. People of color are subjected to individual and institutional discrimination- made a victim of gas-lighting.

While India is a diverse country- it’s diversity comes about due to caste varieties, religious varieties, communal varieties, varieties in physical appearance. India is a salad bowl- where every ethnic, religious,  caste goup retains it’s unique cultural identity. While Indians have reservation, American society have affirmative action program. The caste is a system brought about by citizens of the same country while race is an idea brought about the colonizers. Although many scholars argued caste, tribe, religion rigidified due to British anthropological ventures for administrative purposes. The notion that the Aryan race comprising of Eurasian population who had migrated and settled in India and devised the caste system to retain their superior position to the natives who came to be known as Shudras or Dalits –is a product of early Indologists like William Jones upon the discovery of similarities between the Greek and the Sanskrit language. Further Indians also suffered a similar fate to that of the Western Africans- in the form of indentured labor, where laborers from India were sent to British, French and Dutch colonies. Indians were shipped and had a contract of 5 years to work as an indentured laborer in the colonizers’ overseas colonies- in the sugar, cotton fields, similar to the Atlantic slave trade. The indentured labor system only ended in the 1917. 3 million Indians were sent as indentured laborers in the intervening time period between 1824 and 1920.

Frantz Fanon had said that the colonized often emulated the ways of the colonizer. He recounts how he was admonished as he spoke in Creole French, instead of French since “French” was the exalted language of the colonizer. Similarly Sir Macaulay had noted that a single shelf of books from a good British library is better than the whole corpus of Indian and Arabic literature and knowledge. He had further said that books which had factual data or general principles were in no match to that of the Western books. Here comes the cause of the xenocentrism of the colonized people.

With the collapse of slavery in America and independence of India- the American and the Indian societies were left to form their new rules which would govern the societies devoid of the old power structures. Although efforts were made in both for an egalitarian society, old power structures and mind sets remained. In India the constitution abolished untouchabilty- enacted reservations. In America the battle for the colored was far from over with the civil war, although the constitution abolished slavery, gave them the status of citizens and the right to vote. Inspite of these, the southern states kept the blacks disenfranchised by implementing literacy tests and poll taxes and violence on the blacks were condoned by white supremacist groups like Ku klux Klan. The civil rights movement of 1940s-1960s envisioned an egalitarian society.

India had and still has “untouchability”, while the American society was plagued by the Jim Crow laws- which mandated racial segregation in public spaces- like public transport, school, restaurants, drinking fountains. Their racial segregation bears similarity to the concept of purity and pollution which governs the caste system of India, where even the shadow of the Dalit is to be avoided- which meant strict segregation of public spaces, and rules of commensality, endogamy. The first move against the racial segregation came in 1954- Brown vs Board of Education- the supreme court mandated the abolition of segregation in public schools. Many schools in actuality remained segregated. In 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white in a bus where she had seated herself in the white section. This individual action led to a year long bus strike in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1960 came the Greensboro sit-in where a group college going blacks in North Carolina refused to vacate their seats at the counter of Woolworth which was reserved for the whites- where blacks were instructed to stand and consume their eatables. This incident precipitated the occurrence of similar sit-ins all over the state and the country. In 1964 President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, which disallowed discrimination in employment on the basis of color, race, gender, religion, place of origin. In 1965 came Voting Rights Act which allowed blacks to vote, and prevented the use of literacy test as a voting requirement. In 1968 came Fair Housing Act preventing discriminating against people of color in matters related to renting, selling and owning of housing property.

Blacks and Dalits who experience many forms of exclusion often feel the need to re-assert themselves in the cultural sphere. The Dalit panther movement of 1970s inspired from the Black Panther movement of America gave rise to a rich corpus of Dalit literature, while Harlem renaissance of Blacks during 1920s and 1930s gave rise to a cultural explosion of black literature, music, theater. The Dalit movement produced many Dalit writers who espoused the cause of the Dalits and gave birth of to a literature different from the mainstream Marathi literature which excluded the Dalit perspective and narrative. Such authors include Namdeo Dhasal, Namdev Dhasal, Arun Kamble, Raja Dhale, Urmila Pawar. Dalit literature soon blossomed in other languages- Tamil, Kannada, Bengali, Hindi, Telugu. Similarly the Harlem movement produced authors and musicians of the likes of Louis Armstrong, Paul Robeson, Hughes Langston, and many more. The world got Jazz and Hip Hop from the excluded people of color.

So how do the status of Dalits compare to that of the Blacks? Behavior of people towards these groups are determined by their class position as well. Urban, educated blacks of upper class are far less likely to be discriminated than ghettoized poorly educated blacks. Same goes for Dalits. Although both face discrimination at some level. American blacks are more likely to be stopped and frisked, pulled over, prone to police violence. While Dalits are also more prone to police violence, discriminatory practices faced in the class rooms- at primary, secondary and tertiary levels and in workplaces. The prisons of America have a history of incarcerating a disproportionate number of people of color. The old power structures still influence the American penal system. In India too, our prison population bear witness to the fact that Dalits, Tribes and Muslims are more likely to be incarcerated. Dalits and the other marginalized groups often lack the social and cultural capital along with economic capital to access more effectively the judicial services. According to National Crime Records Bureau’s 2014 report SCs, STs, and Muslims account for 55% of the population in prisons waiting for trial. Same goes for America- which has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with majority of it’s incarcerated population belonging to the colored races. America’s rate of incarceration is higher than the most repressive regimes in the world such as China, Russia, Iran.

Along with the modern criminal justice system, institutional and individual bias in both countries perpetuates and reinforces beliefs of racial superiority.

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        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

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        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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