keeps Dalits from accessing disaster relief ( The New Humanitarian )

Historically disenfranchised, they are denied aid and equal protection.

A Dalit woman standing outside her house, which has a blue tarpaulin roof, typical of Dalit houses in Narasinghpatana, in the eastern state of Odisha, where many are still awaiting government compensation three years after disaster struck.

When devastating floods hit India’s western state of Kerala in 2018, Seena’s family had nowhere to go. After water submerged their home, Seena, her parents, and her brother walked three kilometres to the nearest relief centre at a temple, only to be told they weren’t allowed to enter. In 2019, when Cyclone Fani ravaged Bijoy’s house in the eastern state of Odisha, the wage labourer walked to a relief shelter with his family and was also turned away.

Though these incidents took place on opposite coasts a year apart, they have a common denominator: caste. Both families come from the Dalit community, which – along with Adivasis, or Indigenous peoples – is the lowest rung in the world’s oldest social hierarchal system, which vertically stratifies Indian society. Fearing violence against them for speaking out, both Seena and Bijoy asked to be referred to by pseudonyms.

“Your caste determines what kind of treatment you will get during a disaster,” Sangram Mallick, an activist and co-founder of Ambedkar Lohia Vichar Manch, an NGO working on caste-based issues, told The New Humanitarian.

Historically marginalised, many of the 280 million Dalits that form 20 percent of India’s population today still live on the fringes of society. About a third of the population remains impoverished, according to the UN, and they often continue to be shunned by so-called oppressor castes who hold power at both the village and federal levels.

Viewed by members of the other castes as “untouchables”, Dalits particularly struggle during disasters, when community members bar them from accessing shared water and sanitation facilities: Since the Hindu religious belief operates on strict lines of purity, there is a belief that a Dalit touching a common water source will “pollute it”.

As climate change continues to bring worsening floods, droughts, cyclones and more to India, the government is being called upon to do more to protect against caste-based discrimination. A sweeping study released in September by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights warned that “climate apartheid” was likely to hit Dalits and Adivasis the hardest, and outlined “systemic inadequacies and disregard in involving their participation in disaster/drought risk management.”

“[Indian] society has its dysfunctionalities, and disaster or any kind of crisis just accelerates these dysfunctionalities,” Sarbjit Sarota, a disaster risk reduction specialist at UNICEF India, told The New Humanitarian.

This story was originally published in . Read the full story here

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