Day 3: World Dignity Forum raises isues of gender and class discrimination Print E-mail
 Pakistan March 27  2006 -- Monday -- Safar 26, 1427

Denial of dignity to outcasts blocks progress’

Seminar demands visa-free world for labourers
By Aroosa Masroor Khan

KARACHI: Voices against discrimination, oppression, and racism were raised at a seminar ‘World Dignity Forum’ (WDF), a plenary of World Social Forum, on Sunday. The discrimination practices that promote social divisions among nationalities, cultural minorities and castes were discussed by different speakers at the forum.

Mukul Sharma, an Indian journalist and convener of WDF, said that Dalits, who are also known as the working class, have been degraded for years in the whole of South Asia. Instead of appreciating their struggle and guaranteeing them human dignity, they are treated as outcasts and untouchables. This barrier of discrimination is creating hindrance in the development of the South Asian region.

He said that industrialization, contrary to general belief, does not lead to increased employment because workers and peasants continue to be deprived of their rights to employment that ultimately leads to suicide.

He condemned the practice of globalization that allows free distribution of capital from one country to another but is opposed to the mobilization of labours to seek employment without a visa. "What sort of globalization is this where people can travel to different countries but are denied the right to employment?" he said.

I.A.Rehman, renowned Human Rights activist in Pakistan, stressed on the issue of dignity at work where the hierarchical system leads to degradation of labourers. He said that even though most South Asian states claim to be democratic nations, they are far from its practice because autocracy still exists in these countries in one form or the other. The rights of women and children are not safeguarded either.

He added that the extent of oppression is such that the unemployed are sent to jail, as stated in the country’s law. He said that farmers in Sindh are not allowed rights to their land that are often occupied by rich landlords.

"The schemes of housing colonies in all the countries are devised according to the economic status of the people, which is a clear proof of discrimination and internal differences that exist among us," he said.

Ashok Bharati, Coordinator of National Conference of Dalit Organisation in India, chanting the slogan ‘larkar layenge azadi (we will fight for freedom)’ said that bonded labour is an issue not only in Pakistan but also in Nepal, India, Bangladesh and other countries where Dalits are denied access even to places of worship. He specially emphasized on the rights of female Dalits.

"It is the responsibility of the governments to protect the destitute from cast discrimination because it harms the well-being of society where the poor become victims of inferiority complex," said Surinder Velasai, from Pakistan Schedule Caste Federation.

Phung, from Women’s Agenda for Change in Cambodia, spoke about the unfavourable policies of Asian Development Bank, saying they are not working towards the development of poor countries. In fact, they are making them poorer by proposing to privatize institutions of health and education.

She said that females in most countries are denied access to education because of their gender.

She also discussed the condition of working women in factories where lack of monetary benefits and security forces them to become sex workers, where they face further humiliation by men and the entire society.

Mannu Bhil, a farmer from Sanghar District, was also given the opportunity to condemn the act of a landlord who had kidnapped his entire family in 1998 and their whereabouts are not known till today. Mannu also went on a hunger strike for 1170 days but his appeal went unheard.

"Democracy promotes a culture of peace and militarism promotes a culture of weapons," said Dr Mesbah Kamal, who is an Associate Professor of History in Dhaka University.

He said that Dalits in Bangladesh have no access to jobs and when they opt for a business, people do not prefer to establish business relations with them either.

"The Dalits who live in slums also don’t have voting rights because their slums have no holding numbers and hence leaders tend to ignore their needs for basic amenities of life," he added.

Dr Sonu Kangrani, Executive Director of Thar Rural Development Programme, and Raj Kumar, a Dalit activist from Nepal, also spoke about the oppressed class in their regions.

The assumption that caste-based issues do not exist in the Muslim countries was proved wrong after the open discussion by representatives of the rural areas through the dignity forum. What is needed is a network of civil societies in South Asia that devise strategies and protocols to work against all forms of discrimination and a visa-free world for all the labourers, they concluded.