Ethnic & Caste Segregation: Deepening Social Divisions in India & Europe

By Nikhil Verma

On June 2014, a tattered body with a swollen face was dumped in a shopping cart in North Paris. After having found the lying body on the road, Ion Vardu Sandu, 49, a Roma mechanic, said that “he was barely breathing, and his eyes were closed.” In the following sentence, he added “but he was also a notorious thief. Teens like him steal and give Romani people like us a bad name.” The body belonged to a 17-year-old Roma known as “Darius” and who went into a coma.
Two months earlier, more than 7000 kilometres away, in the village of Kharda, India, Nitin Aage, a 17-year-old boy was found hanging on a tree. Nitin was a ‘Dalit’, and his only mistake was to speak to a girl from an upper-caste community. All 13 men who were accused of Nitin’s murder were acquitted in 2017.
But what killed Darius, Nitin and million others like them? Is it the dehumanisation, the stigma or the fear of loss of dominance? While the magnitude of the violence varies, the undercurrent remains the same. A similar social hierarchy can be observed in other parts of the world. The condition of Buraku in Japan, African-Americans in the US, Osu in Nigeria – groups that also suffer prejudice in their respective countries – also mirror the terrible condition of ‘Dalits’ in India, and ‘Roma’ in Europe. Racial and caste discrimination manifest themselves in ways that are demeaning to the core of human existence.

Caste & Race

In an essence, caste and race are contemporaries. Segregation, discrimination and violence along with a social status determined by birth occur in these societies. The Indian discriminative order is based on the notion of ‘Sanctioned Impurity’ often reiterated through menial jobs such as manual scavenging and leather tanning by Elitist Brahminical upper-caste forces; the African-American varies and is based on the notion of an inferior subhuman race and often reiterated through violence – termed as untamed ‘savages’ by European settlers who encountered native population.
However, in terms of similarity, both ‘Dalits’ and ‘Roma People’ stand at the lowest level of the socio-economic hierarchy in respective continents of Asia and Europe. Both groups are intentionally excluded from consumer markets, employment and housing. Both ‘Caste’ and ‘Race’ impose enormous barriers in civil and political rights.
Babasaheb Ambedkar and Martin Luther King Jr. were fighting against the oppression of their own kind. But while King was able to humanise white people, Ambedkar couldn’t emulate the same in the Indian ethos due to Gandhi’s intervention on a multitude of legislative and social fronts – most famously his persistence to keep Dalits in the Hindu fold by denying them a separate electorate, the communal award and subsequently blackmailing Ambedkar to sign the Poona Pact through his hunger strike[1]. While political activism has been able to consolidate ‘African-Americans’ in the US, unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the Indian social fabric.
This is evident from the fact that Dalits sit separately in government schools in 37.8% of the villages. In 27.6% villages, Dalits were prevented from entering police stations, In 25.7% of the villages, they are prevented from entering ration shops, and in 33% of the villages, public health workers refuse to visit Dalit homes.
In the case of Roma, there is pervasive illiteracy or semi-literacy (e.g., half of Roma adults in Greece, 35% in Portugal, and 25% in France report being illiterate) and extremely low-rates of completion of secondary schooling (from 77% to 99% of surveyed Roma across 11 European countries do not have an upper secondary school diploma). Continue reading “Ethnic & Caste Segregation: Deepening Social Divisions in India & Europe”

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The EU & Minority Languages Promotion

By Roberta Ragucci

The European Union is home to 60 regional or minority languages which are threatened and risk to disappear. Language can constitute more than just a communication tool, as it can be regarded as a bearer of culture and traditions. In such a culturally diverse environment, where the EU can be seen as an engaging multicultural mosaic, is the diversity constituting a key point for our sense of communality? Or is the presence of multiculturalism representing an obstacle for a potential homogeneity?

One of the most varied and endangered linguistic minorities in Europe is the Sami. The Sami is an indigenous people living today in a territory which extends on four countries (Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway), in a region called Lapland. Sami livelihood and economy was mainly based on the reindeer husbandry, coastal fishing, and hunting. Thus, due to their need to follow reindeers, they have never lived in one and only big community, setting up several smaller communities instead. Consequently, their nomadic life led to the development of different Sami languages, at least ten, which cannot be classified simply as dialects of the same language. Nowadays, the Sami language which counts the larger number of speakers is the North Sami, followed by the Lule Sami and South Sami. It belongs to the finno-ugrian linguistic family and it is commonly divided into three branches, depending on the grade of mutual intelligibility they can reach.

Since the establishment of borders in the Scandinavian peninsula and Russia, the Sami population quickly became a minority and encountered all the correlated difficulties as, for instance, the prohibition to speak their own language and the obligation to learn the new majority (“national”) languages. This was a consequence of the development of the agricultural activities, which implied a progressive settlement in the most Northern-most areas where the reindeers used to graze, and the wish to reach a certain homogeneity amongst the territory after the drawing of new borders. Thus the Sami people was considered a threat to the in-borders safety and homogeneity of the now “national” population. Continue reading “The EU & Minority Languages Promotion”

Internship Experience and Advice 2015-2016

Debora Guanella
Edited by Ann Keefer

Galicia Jewish Museum
September, 2015-January, 2016 Kraków

Since the very beginning of my MA Euroculture experience, I have made very clear my intention of pursuing the Professional Track to address the lack of study-related working experience in my CV. Within the wide range of topics covered during the first and the second semester, I was particularly interested in questions of cultural memory and heritage, their preservation and their role in building national / group identities. These were the two main reasons that led me to move to Kraków during the third semester to work as full-time intern at the Galicia Jewish Museum.

The Galicia Jewish Museum is an innovative cultural institution opened in April 2004 in Kazimierz, the Jewish district of Kraków, Poland. It is a registered charitable foundation in Poland (Fundacja Galicia Jewish Heritage Institute) and it was founded by the British photojournalist Chris Schwarz in collaboration with  Anthropology Professor Jonathan Webber. The Museum’s mission is not exclusively to commemorate the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, but also to present and to celebrate the Jewish contribution to the history and culture of Polish Galicia with its two permanent photographic exhibitions Traces of Memory and An Unfinished Memory. One of the Museum’s main goals is to challenge the widespread misconceptions regarding the Jewish presence in Poland and to promote the contact  between Jewish and Polish cultures. In order to achieve its aims the Museum also hosts conferences, panel discussions and workshops on Jewish history, Jewish culture, antisemitism, Holocaust studies and intercultural dialog.

My work at the museum primarily consisted of giving tours of the permanent exhibition Traces of Memory and welcoming visitors at the reception desk. The role of the guide is not only to tell the story behind some selected photographs or to suggest possible interpretations, but also and especially, to explain to the visitor how to read the exhibition’s sections in combination with one another. Further tasks may vary depending on the interns’ individual skills and on what is going on currently  at the Museum. The other tasks I carried out for the Education Department included preparing reports of feedback surveys, translating texts from English into German, organising ice-breaker and entertainment activities for visiting groups, leading workshops and training new interns.

Overall, working at the Galicia Jewish Museum has been a very positive experience. The atmosphere was relaxed and stimulating, the museum’s staff helpful and, most important, the interns’ work was valued and trusted by everyone.

Based on my personal experience as a third semester Euroculture intern, here are some suggestions I would like to share with those MA Euroculture fellow-students wishing to follow a placement at the Galicia Jewish Museum or at a similar institution: Continue reading “Internship Experience and Advice 2015-2016”