Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Inequality and the Caste System in India

Student Blog #5: Inequality and the Caste System in India

...but there the laws of religion, the laws of the land, and the laws of honour, are all united and consolidated in one invariable system, and bind men [sic] by eternal and indissoluble bonds to the rules of what, amongst them, is called his [sic] caste.
Edmund Burke (1852:310)

Just the other day, the Starphoenix ran a story about a couple in India who were attacked with machetes for having married outside their caste. The wife remains in intensive care while the husband sadly succumbed to his wounds. Despite being caught on CCTV cameras the attackers remain at large (The Starphoenix 2016).

Discrimination based on caste – including prejudice against “untouchables” or “Dalits”, “backwards castes”, and other markers of difference based on descent – is a significant social justice issue in contemporary Indian society. Caste is a complex system of social stratification which allows for little, if any, possibility for social mobility outside of the particular caste into which one is born. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) approximately 260 million people are affected by caste-based discrimination worldwide, most of whom reside in the South Asian countries of Nepal and India (HRW 2016). Low caste people regularly suffer discrimination in many forms, including perpetual extreme poverty, degrading and humiliating work, violence enacted by upper caste militias and police, and obstacles towards accessing education. Furthermore, women experience additional discrimination due to intersections between caste, gender, and poverty, which put them at even greater risk of sexual assault, forced sex work, violence and indignity through crimes from which the perpetrators walk with impunity (HRW 2016). Despite caste-based discrimination being rendered illegal under India's constitution since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, corruption within the justice system and ineffective bureaucracy makes filing complaints and seeing justice enacted remains prohibitively complex and ineffective for most people.

Last summer I had the opportunity to connect with a very interesting organization working to end caste-based discrimination in the villages surrounding the city of Varanasi, India. The Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) was started in 1996 by Lenin Raghuvanshi and his wife Shruti Nagvanshi, along with musician Pandit Vikash Maharaj, poet Gyanendra Pati, and historian Mahendra Pratap. I was lucky enough to get to meet with Dr. Raghuvanshi for an afternoon to hear about his personal story and the projects in which the PVCHR are involved, and I was inspired by their breadth of scope and creative approaches to community-based social justice work.

What initially prompted me to seek out the PVCHR was a personal question that I had about the appropriateness of applying universal human rights – which I regarded as a Western construct – in non-Western cultural contexts. It is not that I was in any way in support of exploitation based on caste due to reasons of cultural relativism, but rather skeptical of the use of the language of human rights by aid organizations that apply western interpretations of human rights to developing countries. While there are certainly examples from the last six decades to suggest that human rights language can be mobilized for imperial purposes, my brief time at PVCHR helped to shift my thinking towards the possibility for social justice initiatives to use the language of human rights in an effective culturally attentive way through community based work.

Though textual evidence confirms that forms of the caste system have existed for hundreds of years in the Indian subcontinent, the contemporary form of right-wing Hindu nationalism which promotes casteism – known as the Hindutva movement as championed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) organization – was formed in the 1920s as a manifestation of British colonialism (The Kashmir Scenario 2014). Alternatively, PVCHR identifies tolerant, plural, and syncretic threads in Indian society throughout history, promoted by famous figures such as Kabir and Raidas in the 15th century. As such, the question of caste politics is open to change from within the society itself and to assert alternative forms of political, social, and religious identity against fascist political currents is by no means an imperial act, but is rather a radical act of social justice. Rauna Kuokkanen notes a semantic distinction, used by the International Indigenous Women's Forum (FIMI), between “harmful traditional practices” and “violence in the name of tradition”, which I think illuminates the realization that I experienced while listening to Dr. Raghuvanshi and other people at the PVCHR (Kuokkanen 2014:133).

While the work of the PVCHR began as an advocacy group for low-caste peoples it has grown to include intersectional initiatives working against neoliberal capitalism, nationalism, and fascism, towards supporting justice for women, Muslim minorities, children's rights to education and food, labour groups such as auto-rickshaw unions and weaver's cooperatives, and victims of police torture, to name a few (PVCHR 2011). The PVCHR are just one example of grassroots organizations around the world working to enact change where the official avenues fail to deliver justice to marginalized groups. While I remain skeptical about some of the “official” mobilizations of human rights discourse I believe that the language of human rights can offer a framework for grassroots social justice struggles.

- Thomas Seibel


Burke, Edmund. 1852. The Works and Correspondence of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, Volume 7. London: Francis and John Rivington.

Human Rights Watch 2016.

The Kashmir Scenario. April 13th, 2013. “The need of the hour is to create new dynamics and debate within India: Lenin Raghuvanshi”. URL:

Kuokkanen, Rauna. 2014. “Confronting Violence: Indigenous Women, Self-Determination, and International Human Rights”, in Indivisible: Indigenous Human Rights. Joyce Green, ed. Fernwood Publishing: Halifax.

The Starphoenix. March 15th, 2016. “Graphic video shows Indian 'untouchable' hacked to death after marrying upper-caste woman”. URL:

PVCHR 2011. “Call for a neo-Dalit movement to overthrow feudalism, neo-fascism and neo-liberalism through a popular action”. URL:

#pvchr #leninraghuvanshi #lenin #u4humanrights

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

About case of Criminalization of Human Rights work of Lenin Raghuvanshi

We (I as survivor of criminalization of human rights work and Entire family of PVCHR) heartily congratulate Mr. Henri Tiphange for receiving Amnesty International Germany Human rights award. It is one of the auspicious moments for the human rights movement in India. I again congratulate Mr. Henri Tiphange and appreciate his remark in interview at Deutsche WelleThe challenges that are faced by human rights defenders in India are plenty. The first and the most important is the criminalization of human rights work, for instance, by registering a series of false cases.”
 But in my case there was a mysterious and selective silence by the human rights groups, Human Rights defenders (except few such as Mr. Subodh Raj Pyakurel, Nepal) and National Human Rights Commission.
About case of Criminalization of Human Rights work of Lenin Raghuvanshi:
PVCHR congratulates Mr. Henri:
Interview of Mr. Henri:

Monday, April 18, 2016

For Indian activist, papal visit to Lesbos’ refugees reveals the hypocrisy of Muslim rulers,-papal-visit-to-Lesbos%E2%80%99-refugees-reveals-the-hypocrisy-of-Muslim-rulers-37256.html

For Indian activist, papal visit to Lesbos’ refugees reveals the hypocrisy of Muslim rulers

Lenin Raghuvanshi heads the Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights. Pope Francis’s humanitarian trip to the Greek Island highlighted the plight of migrants. According to the activist, fascist politics rule the Middle East where Muslim leaders are rich with oil, but ignore the plight of their peoples.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Lenin Raghuvanshi, director of the Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) in Varanasi, spoke to AsiaNews about Pope Francis’ trip to Lesbos. For the Indian activist, "Pope Francis is the most powerful and humble advocate of diversity and pluralism in the world".
On the Greek island, the pontiff spoke about the migrants’ “tragic situation”, which is one of the “most serious humanitarian crises since the end of the Second World War ".
"The pope's visit has turned the spotlight on the hypocrisy of Muslim political leaders in the Middle East where, thanks to oil, power and wealth are concentrated in a few hands,” said Raghuvanshi reacting to the pope’s reproach to rulers for their negligence towards refugees.
“As the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates get rich, they ignore the distressing and painful conditions of their Muslim brothers and sisters in the Middle East."
For the PVCHR director, Francis’ humanitarian visit to the Greek island "highlighted the suffering and the tragedy of migrants, bringing the world's attention to their plight.”
“As the religious leader of millions of Catholics in the world, the pope took a real and positive step towards the Muslim world.”
The pope, he added, "stressed the urgent need for dialogue and reconciliation between Christianity and Islam. Through the visit to Lesbos, a simple and yet great gesture, he generated confidence and pluralism between Christians and the Muslim world."
However, the “tragedy of migrants clearly reveals” the “fascist politics” and attitudes of the region’s Muslim political leaders towards the suffering of their own people, Lenin Raghuvanshi said.
Mideast rulers “ignore the conditions of extreme deprivation of the people.” They “are like tyrants who hijack religion and proclaim themselves as religious leaders."
“Thus, there is not much difference between clergy and caliph who crush and oppress their own Muslim people in complete violation of the dictates of Islam."
"The Islamic leaders literally scorn pluralism. The Middle East, with all its sectarian complexity, is rife with extremism.”
“As human rights advocates, we question the elites of the Islamic Middle East, who are not contributing financially to the needs of migrants and asylum seekers in Europe."
By contrast, "we praise and we welcome the steps taken by His Holiness towards creating a better and safer world". (NC)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Over 10 Mn Bonded Labourers in India Trapped in the Dark Dungeons of Inhumanity

Over 10 Mn Bonded Labourers in India Trapped in the Dark Dungeons of Inhumanity

It is inhuman that over 10 million bonded labourers have little or no hope. Trapped in the dark dungeons of debts, they are being ruthlessly exploited. The perpetrators of the crime enjoy impunity. Lenin wrote an Open Letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking his intervention to end this inhumanity. As we celebrate the 125th Ambedkar Jayanti (birth anniversary), this gross violation of human rights and dignity calls for proactive action. Different Truth hopes that all this will end soon. Here’s the copy of the letter, sent to us, by his wife and co-activist, Shruti.
Dear Prime Minister,
My name is Lenin Raghuvanshi and I am writing to you on behalf of Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR).
I wanted to take this opportunity to bring to your attention issues that concern the problem of bonded labour and labour trafficking in our country.
As you may be aware, bonded labour and labour trafficking are violent forms of human trafficking where a person’s fundamental rights – guaranteed under the Indian Constitution – are illegally taken away because of a debt or other obligation. The Ministry of Labour and Employment’s draft Central Sector Scheme for Rehabilitation of Bonded Labour cites the Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index and states, “Bonded labour is prevalent throughout India with families enslaved for generations.” Studies indicate that there are around 1o.1 million to 10.4 million bonded labourers and forced labourers in India. Bonded labour has been legally abolished in India under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act of 1976 (BLSA).
The BLSA is still a helpful tool to combat bonded labour. Just a few weeks ago, 564 labour trafficking victims from Chhattisgarh and Odisha were rescued from bonded labour in a Tamil Nadu brick kiln. The owners of this brick kiln were arrested under the BLSA and Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code. One of the owners, a repeat offender, was arrested in 2011 for violation of the BLSA but was released on bail soon after. In keeping with the provisions of the BLSA, 373 labourers have already received their release certificates from the Revenue Divisional Officer. These documents entitle the rescued survivors to rehabilitation packages from their respective state governments. As per existing rehabilitation schemes, Rs. 20,000 is provided as relief assistance from both the Centre and State (50:50). Effective and immediate rehabilitation to rescued and released bonded labourers is a necessary requirement under Article 21 and 23 of the Constitution.
The latest draft of the Bonded Labour rehabilitation scheme – awaiting final approval from the Ministry of Labour and Employment – proposes several good changes to the existing scheme. However, this draft also proposes disbursement of rehabilitation funds from Centre to State on condition of mandatory reporting of quantum of penalty. Currently, poor coordination between relevant departments and complexities of inter-state bonded labour cases are known to result in delays in rehabilitation amounts reaching released bonded labourers. Unless various aspects of bonded labour are taken into account and fully addressed, the proposed changes to the rehabilitation scheme would delay rehabilitation assistance for workers found in bonded labour across different states in India.
At a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Workshop on Eradication of Bonded Labour in Bhubaneshwar this January, NHRC member Justice Murugesan asserted that linking disbursement of rehabilitation funds to perpetrator convictions would be detrimental. Convictions take a long time in bonded labour cases, if they happen at all, and they rarely deter the criminal. Many times offenders may not be traced or identified thereby hampering a trial. As MP Varun Gandhi pointed out in a speech in Parliament this February, “Recidivism occurs and [rescued bonded labourers] fall back into bonded labour”, if rehabilitation funds are released only after convictions. Additionally, if state governments only receive reimbursement when a perpetrator is convicted – while still remaining obligated to rehabilitate bonded labourers upon rescue – district administrations may be less willing to rescue and rehabilitate labourers.
We believe that further clarifications and revisions to the Ministry of Labour and Employment’s rehab scheme draft are imperative to ensure that survivors of bonded labour receive their full rehabilitation compensation in a timely manner and are not left vulnerable to re-bondage.
Furthermore, we would also like to see the Ministry of Labour and Employment open up the amendment of BLSA Rules to discussions with civil society organisations. We believe that joint collaboration between the government and civil society will be key towards successfully eradicating bonded labour in India.
Thank you for your time.
Lenin Raghuvanshi

Pix from Net

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A news

In press at Jaipur