Friday, March 23, 2007


1. Thousands Of Hindus Vow To End Caste Divide

NEW DELHI, INDIA, March 10, 2007: Leaders of several social groups from within the Hindu community, the Dalits included, were among the 4,000 who gathered at the open air theater in Pragati Maidan here Friday evening and took a pledge to end the caste divide that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar warned would harm India's progress in the long run. A seven-point action plan that Ravi Shankar unveiled at the meeting and which the thousands of men and women accepted with their right hands outstretched included an immediate end to the ban on the entry of Dalits ("Untouchables") into Hindu temples in parts of India. The other aspects of the action plan are ending the practice of keeping separate utensils for the use of Dalits in eateries and also providing religious and spiritual education to Dalit children. "The anger of the past should not engulf us and divide the country. The fear and communication gap between communities is what is keeping us apart," he said in a brief a ddress. "We must accept the reality and reconcile the differences." "What we have started today will resonate across the country and unite the people. When leaders come together and take a vow, the people will follow them," he added. "My main concern is how to bring people together. "

The organizers pointed out that months of painstaking hard work had gone into the 'Truth and Reconciliation Conference,' with Ravi Shankar--whose Art of Living Foundation has millions of followers across the world--reaching out to the leaders and activists of a wide variety of social groups in the Hindu fold. Ravi Shankar pointed out that many were unaware that Dalits had contributed immensely in the development of Hindu scriptures. "Historically, many of the revered rishis were Dalits. The authors of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, Maharishis Valmiki and Vyas respectively, were Dalits. The narrator of the Puranas, Soot Maharishi, was a Dalit.... We need to make the people realize that discrimination is not sanctioned by religion."

Despite legislation making discrimination against Dalits a crime, the offense continues in large parts of India. Many young Dalits have today joined the ranks of Maoists in sheer disgust, convinced that mainstream India does not care for them. Speaker after speaker at the conference praised Ravi Shankar for his initiative and promised to spread the action plan in their areas of influence. But Udit Raj, a civil servant-turned-social activist, cautioned that it would need more than a public pledge to end caste discrimination. "The fact is that the Dalit community to which I belong has no representation in the capital market, in the share market. There is hardly any Dalit among the leading journalists in this country. Can I forget all that?" he said, describing the state of a community that for centuries was considered untouchable by high caste Hindus and consigned to demeaning wo rk.


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