Thursday, February 11, 2010

Human trafficking in India Part II: Interview with Dr. Joseph D'souza

"India may appear to be simply another poor country. But it is a very complex culture with a root issue of caste discrimination behind some of our social ills. While we have numerous strengths, perhaps we have hidden our deepest problems due to shame or, because of colonial history, a fear of outsiders meddling in our culture." Dr. Joseph D'souza

If you have seen the movie "Slumdog Millionaire," you might have seen the glimpse of the truth behind the caste system and human trafficking in India. Though experts identify illiteracy, corruption, and bureaucracy are causes of human trafficking, the Dalits, people who belong to the lowest caste class in India, are the ones who are mainly vulnerable to the traffickers due to their lack of education. Therefore, according to the Dalit Freedom Network website, Dr. D'souza states that one cannot understand human trafficking in India without understanding the caste system in the society. He is one of the founders of the organization The Dalit Freedom Network and an expert in the field of the Dalits' human rights. I applaud his life-long commitment to the cause and his passion to serve the most vulnerable and marginalized people who cannot speak up for themselves in India.

Q: I know you are the head of the organization the Dalit Freedom Network as well as others. Can you tell us more about your organization?

The Dalit Freedom Network started in 2002 as a result of the cry of Dalits, formerly called untouchables, in India who asked myself and others to give them a voice outside the country. During our travels, we met some Americans who were sympathetic to the plight of Dalits and wanted to do more than complain about injustice. After consulting with Indian leaders, we decided to focus on several proactive projects. We accepted an invitation to start primary schools in at least 100 Dalit communities.

The key is that teaching is in English, the language which empowers Dalits to participate in India’s rapidly growing economy. Second is a medical initiative which ensures students – and their community -- are physically healthy. Third is an economic project to help Dalits provide for their families. This includes micro-loans, economic education, vocational training, and Self-Help Groups. Lastly, we continue to present the issue of Dalit slavery to government bodies and human rights groups through our activities in Washington, D.C. and other places. [Emphasis added]

There are many non-profit groups which are part of the Dalit Freedom Movement including Operation Mobilization. Each has different projects and initiatives, for example, OM USA is helping with a subsidized lunch program at the schools and much more.

Q: Many people are unaware of the issues of human trafficking in relations to the caste system. According to your article published on Sojournors, Slumdog Millionaire’s India: My Sobering reality, the 80% of the Indian population’s lives are subject to somewhat similar to what is described in the movie, “Slumdog Millionaire.” Why do you think that people are unaware of such fact?

Trafficking is a huge issue, both in terms of its negative impact on communities but also in terms of the massive size of slavery today. With all the general information coming from the UN, US State Department, and various non-profit organizations, I know it is easy to miss a particular issue like the nexus of caste and slavery. India may appear to be simply another poor country. But it is a very complex culture with a root issue of caste discrimination behind some of our social ills. While we have numerous strengths, perhaps we have hidden our deepest problems due to shame or, because of colonial history, a fear of outsiders meddling in our culture.[Emphasis added]

But I’m encouraged because the awareness has increased dramatically in the last few years
. For example, the UN International Labor Office said in the Report of the Director-General in 2005 that “…the overwhelming majority of bonded labor victims in agriculture, brick making, mining and other sectors are from the Scheduled Castes.” Scheduled castes is the official government term for Dalits. The US State Department has started consistently noting that Dalits are largest community victimized by trafficking in India. For example, the 2006 annual report for Trafficking In Persons said “traffickers usually targeted minors and Dalit women” for the sex trade.[Emphasis added]

Q: What has Indian government done to end human trafficking among the population of low caste system? Did you think that effort was effective? Why or why not?

The Indian government should be applauded for many laws they’ve passed to protect lower caste citizens. The laws heighten penalties for people who attack Dalits. There are good programs which provide economic assistance to poor Dalits who tempted by traffickers’ offers of a few hundred dollars for their sons or daughters. The problem is the implement of justice. The government is trying and must do more to educate police on helping Dalit victims, stop intimidation of witnesses, make sure resources get to the Dalits instead of corrupt officials, and that good judges make decisions in line with the rule of law. [Emphasis added]

Q: President Obama just proclaimed the month of January 2010 as a month to raise the awareness for human trafficking victims. Does an Incident like this affect the policies of Indian government at all in terms of rectifying current issues of human trafficking of Dalit people?

On the one hand, India’s government doesn’t like outside pressure and, for example, has publicly resisted efforts United Nations committees which try to enforce accountability in the area of human rights and the caste issue. On the other hand, there are good people in government who appreciate the truth being spoken by friendly countries like the United States. Comments by Obama or others could encourage them or even create enough momentum to change a policy. In the end, we believe that some international involvement will help especially when we look at the example of how apartheid ended in South Africa. [Emphasis added]

Q: How can international community respond or help the situation of human trafficking and the rights of Dalit people in India?

The U. S. Government could take the lead to address the size and scope of the slave trade in India. They can support efforts by non-governmental groups to combat slavery in India, including special training programs to sensitize and equip Indian authorities to prevent and prosecute human trafficking in India. Americans can encourage their politicians to work on these issues. The average citizen can also help by supporting pro-active efforts to stop trafficking such as sponsoring a child’s elementary education through the Dalit Freedom Network or the lunch program for students through OM USA.

For More Information
The Dalits Freedom Network
Dr. Joseph D'souza blog
Operation Mobilization

Posted on behalf of Youngbee Kim

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