Who are the outcasts of India? The Life Association helps build futures and saves lives.
You are invited to a special film showing of The Jungle Book and Slumdog Millionaire on 28th January 2017 at Cinema and Co, Swansea. The film event will raise funds for the Life Association, raise awareness about the Dalit people, and even help them buy goats thanks to a Swansea University student! More information and booking below.
One of the founders of The Life Association, Simon Hawthorne has written this piece. Here he explains the caste system and how the charity is helping the Dalit people.
We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. It is sometimes hard to believe, isn’t it? To know what it means to live at the other end of the world’s wealth, we may look to India, which still remains on the list of countries affected by poverty. In fact, 1 in 3 of the world’s poor live there and it continues to suffer more malnutrition than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.
Yet to visit India today, it is easy to believe the posters that speak of ‘booming’ India. Their airports are amongst the finest in the world, and there is no shortage of 5-star hotels in the major cities of this vast country – or millionaires to frequent them. But 70% of the population live in rural India where poverty remains a very real issue.
There is, though, another defining issue that traps the Indian poor in their poverty. This is the caste system – India’s ordering of society. Quite simply, within Hinduism, you are born into a particular caste or group. At the top are the Brahmins, or priestly caste, and along with the Kshatriya’s – the next caste down – they make up the new booming, middle-class of India. Below that are the Vaishya’s or traders who may also benefit from India’s new found wealth. If you are born a Sudra though, at the very bottom of Indian society, your job prospects are likely to be extremely limited. But another group exist – numbering as many as 250 million – that were formerly known as untouchables, but prefer to be known as Dalits, meaning downtrodden or oppressed. They are literally outside the caste system – where our word outcast comes from – and for most of them – earning more than a few £1.’s a day will be a struggle. Though caste discrimination was banned in 1955, it remains the case that a job application, even for a Government job, will require your caste to be declared, which will inevitably influence the outcome.
If you are born a girl in India, you are particularly vulnerable to the effects of poverty and are 5 times more likely to die before the age of 5 than a boy. Boys are often preferred and as such, better health, education, and food are provided for them. Whereas a son will be expected to be able to contribute to the family, an expensive marriage dowry will have to be found for the daughter, which makes her a liability from birth.
As a result, if the ‘bread-winner’ of the family becomes sick, it is common to sell the daughter into employment to provide medicine, rather than have the rest of the family starve. Once in this form of bonded labour, punitive interest is applied to the debt, making it virtually impossible for the child to be released. According to Save the Children, an estimated 15 million children in India have been sold into bonded labour – a modern day slavery – most are girls and almost all are Dalits. Sadly, many of these children end up being sold on into prostitution.
For centuries, Dalits have been expected to drink and eat with separate vessels from the higher caste so as not to ‘pollute’ them. This has traditionally meant that chai or coffee be served in disposable clay pots. One organisation, based in the UK, has taken this symbol of their oppression and launched a brand, trading as Dalit Goods Co and featuring beautiful clay pot candles, hand-crafted by Dalits living in the Dharavi slum, then filled with scented beeswax.
The brand was launched as the trading arm of Life Association, to raise awareness of the Dalit plight and to support the charities work. Life Association is a UK registered charity that for 23 years has been building schools and children’s homes for Dalits in India and has recently opened a hospice in Kolkata. According to founder and trustee Simon Hawthorne – “In a country that is a nuclear power, has a space programme, and enjoys 7% growth year on year, it is easy to forget that Poverty in India remains a harsh reality for multi-millions. In Kolkata, if you are unfortunate enough to come to the end of your life with no money or family to care for you, then you may literally die in the gutter. Many are sent by the Police to Government hospitals, but this in itself can be a death sentence as staffing levels are so low and conditions so poor that you may soon die from neglect. Our small hospice is a drop in the ocean of need and was set up to provide clean sheets and good food and palliative care for the poor at the end of their lives. But we have found that 75% of those who were considered terminal in the Government hospital will recover with simple medication, love and hope. This lead us to begin fund-raising for an old people’s home and job creation for those strong enough and willing to work.”
Life Association’s most recent project has been a partnership with local Swansea student, Tanya Wigley who is studying Human Rights and Development at Swansea University. Tanya had visited a pastor in Vellore in Tamil Nadu who wished to educate children in his village. After Tanya fell ill with Dengue fever, she was cared for by Life Association staff and after visiting one of their projects in Andhra Pradesh, invited the charity to adopt the project that Tanya had visited in Vellore. This has allowed Tanya to gift aid donations and together with Life Association has launched a sponsored goat programme which will give independence and valuable income to women in the village. According to Tanya; “it is difficult for rural women to find work and it is often back-breaking agricultural employment that they have to turn to. Our goat programme is seen as ‘money in the bank’ because it can provide milk for the family, be bread for meat and gives women a new level of independence.”
28th January 2017 – film event at Cinema and Co
3.30pm: The Jungle Book will be shown at ‘Kid’s Club’ in the afternoon, with breakout activities such as henna hand painting, hair braiding, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to have a yoga session…! Cost £12 for a family pallet to sit on.
Pop up Indian kitchen afterwards, with reasonable prices.
8 pm: Slumdog Millionaire Tickets are £8
Photography from India will be displayed on the walls throughout. The photography will be on sale also, as a ‘secret auction’, individuals bid and the top price, presuming it is over the minimum bid, retrieves the photo.
The event will be fundraising for Bloom project of Life Association, to support Tany’a goat project.
You can book your tickets now at http://www.cinemaco.co.uk .