The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Thursday, January 20, 2005
The tsunami untouchable story
It would be against all the Plawg rules to delve into this - faraway place, don't know the language, breaking news, all that stuff - but I wish someone would.
Working from the Poor Man's Lexis, the first big story was from Reuters on January 3 about untouchables on the coast of Tamil Nadu collecting the bodies of victims that their higher caste brethren would not touch. (Not really a story - now, if the Brahmins had rolled up their sleeves...)
Then, we get an op-ed from a guy called Jeremy Reynalds which passes on the views of the Dalit Freedom Network  that
some Indian officials have been refusing Dalits relief help while their families are dying of starvation
Not an allegation made by the Reuters piece.
Then we get some more along the same lines - a Daily Telegraph piece with no attribution at all (not even to Agencies), for instance, with lede
India's untouchables, reeling from the tsunami disaster, are being forced out of relief camps by higher caste survivors and being denied aid supplies.
Then, on January 14, Human Rights Watch issued a press release calling on the Indian government to counter discrimination against untouchables in aid distribution.
And yesterday, the Washington Post had a piece from their Delhi correspondent Rama Lakshmi under hed Tsunami Opens Fault Lines in Old Caste System with some on-the-spot reporting from Nagapattinam District in Tamil Nadu .
There is also a January 10 piece from the Navhind Times (in Goa, the other side of the country from Tamil Nadu) with further details of discrimination, and an attack on the Tamil Nadu government for failing to ensure equitable distribution of aid.
The caste system in India is highly politicised - or rather, the political system is caste-icised. And, for all their being at the bottom of the caste hierarchy, untouchable parties can have serious political clout in some states .
There's a clear need for some investment in reporting here: the interest in the story, now the initial, picture-driven newsgasm is over, is in understanding the complexities of a society utterly unfamiliar to westerners.
Clearly, the Post have their man on the spot - giving her only three bylines in the last fortnight is somewhat disappointing, though.
Probably, what is needed is something like a New York Times Magazine cover story - in style and length. (We are now entering Druther County...)
Oddly, I was tipped off about the Post story listening to Janeane Garofalo ranting on radio (some GOP Congressmen claiming that discrimination against the untouchables was a proof of the moral superiority of Christianity, or some such nonsense - if it's happened, the story doesn't have it ).
That show is an incredible waste of time for the eons of airtime spent on empty rants, where there is so much of interest to the left to talk about - but only with the investment of some time and curbing of presenter egos .
You will see references to Scheduled Castes - thus identified by the Indian constitution as qualifying for varieties of affirmative action.
As a measure of the complexity of the system, one may consider 'the Schedule' - the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 (as amended) - a thousand and more names, I'd estimate.
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