Make Caste History – International Conference on Dalits and Caste Discrimination – London February 2014 – 2016 Catholic Church document.

 

“Long overdue statement and a very welcome one. It is abhorrent in the 21st century that any human being should be seen as an untouchable.” -Alton

Dalit Christians face discrimination and untouchability, admits Indian Catholic Church – Firstpost

www.firstpost.com

A policy document released by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) contained admissions of the Indian Catholic Church accepting for the first time in history that Dalit Christians face discrimination and untouchability

http://www.firstpost.com/india/dalit-christians-face-discrimination-and-untouchability-admits-indian-catholic-church-3157454.html

 http://indianexpress.com/article/india/church-says-dalit-christians-face-untouchability-discrimination-4427658/

 

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON DALITS & CASTE DISCRIMINATION: February 2014, London.

Also see article (page 30 ) Justice Magazine, Spring Edition:
http://www.justicemagazine.org/jm/index.php/read-the-magazine

The London Conference - Make Caste History

The London Conference – Make Caste History

It's not people who should be made untouchable but the caste system

It’s not people who should be made untouchable but the caste system

David Alton – Professor the Lord Alton of Liverpool.

Make Caste History

Cast out Caste - Make Caste History

Cast out Caste – Make Caste History

On a visit to West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi I spoke about the plight of India’s untouchables, the Dalits, and the forms of exploitation and slavery which stem from the caste system. Dalit is a term which derives from a Sanskrit word meaning “broken” or “crushed”.

200 million Dalits in India make up one sixth of India’s population and one thirty fifth of the world’s population. Dalits live in 132 countries, including countries like the UK, where South Asians have migrated.

Take Dalits and Tribals together, both of whom fall outside the caste system and experience discrimination: they comprise a quarter of India’s population and one twenty fourth of the world’s population.

Dalits live in grinding poverty

Dalits live in grinding poverty

Lest you think that these are historic questions let me make absolutely clear that hardly a day passes without some new horror perpetrated against the Dalits.

These are just some of stories taken from the Indian newspapers in the last seven days: Dalit woman burnt by employer for resisting rape in Bulandshahr- India Today; 5 held for gang rape of dalit girl near Dindigul- The Times Of India; Dalit woman assaulted, stripped in Hassan village- The Hindu Dalits, death and the fight for dignity – DNA; Dalit women in Haryana to march for redressal of cases of atrocities committed by upper caste men- Two Circle; Dalit Beaten Up for Touching Caste Hindu- The New Indian Express; Children protest against discrimination at school- The Hindu; No clean water for Dalits?- Kashmir Times; Sorcery slur on Dalit family- The Times Of India; Over 39,000 cases filed under Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Act in 2012: Business Standard

Two hundred years ago, on 22 June 1813, six years after he had successfully led the parliamentary campaign to end the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, William Wilberforce made a major speech in the House of Commons about India.

William Wilberforce called for the abolition of the caste system 200 years ago

William Wilberforce called for the abolition of the caste system 200 years ago

He said that the caste system,

“must surely appear to every heart of true British temper to be a system at war with truth and nature; a detestable expedient for keeping the lower orders of the community bowed down in an abject state of hopelessness and irremediable vassalage. It is justly, Sir, the glory of this country, that no member of our free community is naturally precluded from rising into the highest classes in society”.

Two centuries later the caste system which Wilberforce said should be abolished – and which the British during the colonial period signally failed to end – still disfigures the lives of vast swathes of humanity.

India's Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh

India’s Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh

India’s Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh has trenchantly and rightly argued that, “untouchability is not just social discrimination; it is a blot on humanity”.

What Gandhi had to say about untouchability

What Gandhi had to say about untouchability

Today, I would like to pay particular tribute to some of those who work tirelessly to combat caste, especially the work of Voice of Dalit International and the Dalit Freedom Network, particularly its international President Joseph D’Souza – whom I first met after he had joined forces, in 2006, with other Christian leaders after five Dalits were lynched for skinning a dead cow.

Dr.Joseph D'Souza with Archbishop Rowan Williams

Dr.Joseph D’Souza with Archbishop Rowan Williams

In New Delhi those leaders joined a protest, met the parents of the victims and provided their families humanitarian assistance. Dr.D’Souza said: “The statement we were making was that these Dalits were human beings, and that it was the caste system that consigned them to work with animals—a statement in direct contrast to that of a Hindu nationalist leader, who said that a cow was more valuable than a Dalit.”

In my study at home in Lancashire, I have a small terracotta pot given to me by Dr D’Souza. Such pots must be broken once a dalit has drunk out of them so as not to pollute or contaminate other castes. This is the 21st century. It is not the pots which need to be broken, not the people, but the system which ensnares them.

It's not the terracotta pot which needs breaking but the caste system

It’s not the terracotta pot which needs breaking but the caste system

Dr D’Souza rightly says:

“If we are not intentional about bringing change and transformation in lives and society it will not happen. To love people is to act on behalf of them”.

As Parliament considers the new Bill on modern slavery, reflect that the Global Slavery Index, published in October last, confirmed that around half of the world’s slaves are in India – some 13.9 million out of a global total of 29.8 million, and that most of them are Dalits or Tribals. In the Hindu caste system, they are regarded as subhuman—lower even than animals and left fighting a largely unknown struggle for emancipation.

Global Slavery Index 2013

Global Slavery Index 2013

Evidence points to 80-95% of bonded labourers (the vast majority of the ‘modern slaves’ in India) being Dalits, 99% of ritual sex slaves (the 250,000 temple prostitutes known locally as Devadasi or Jogini) being Dalits, and the majority of those trafficked into brothels or into domestic servitude being Dalits or Tribals.

Dalits, including children, are turned into modern day slaves

Dalits, including children, are turned into modern day slaves

If you are a Dalit in India you are 27 times more likely to be trafficked or exploited in another form of modern slavery than anyone else. Much of this is brilliantly documented in Dalit Freedom Network’s booklet, “Half the World Slaves?”

Half the world slaves?

Half the world slaves?

According to CNN, India’s former Home Secretary, Madhukar Gupta, “remarked that at least 100 million people were involved in human trafficking in India”, whether for sex or for labour.
The head of the Central Bureau of Investigation said that India occupied a unique position as a source, transit and destination country for trafficking, and that it has more than 3 million prostitutes, of whom an estimated 40 per cent are children. These statistics are hugely significant: the situation in India simply must be at the heart of the global fight against trafficking
Caste should be recognised as a root cause of trafficking, of modern day slavery and poverty and unless we raise the profile of the oppressed Dalits nothing will change.

Dalits are trafficked and exploited. Who will raise their voice on their behalf?

Dalits are trafficked and exploited. Who will raise their voice on their behalf?

To prepare me for this conference, Voice of Dalit International were good enough to send me a copy of Dhananjay Keer’s admirable biography of Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar who was born into a family of untouchables in 1891.

Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar who was born into a family of untouchables in 1891

Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar who was born into a family of untouchables in 1891

When Dr. Ambedkar died on December 7th, 1956, Prime Minster Nehru adjourned the Lok Sabha for the remainder of the day having told parliamentarians that Ambedkar had been controversial but had revolted against something which everybody should revolt against – all the oppressing features of Hindu society.

Nehru with Ambdekar

Nehru with Ambdekar

Dr. Ambedkar, the architect of Indian Constitution once remarked that “Untouchability is far worse than slavery, for the latter may be abolished by statute. It will take more than a law to remove the stigma from the people of India. Nothing less than the aroused opinion of the world can do it”

that “Untouchability is far worse than slavery, for the latter may be abolished by statute. It will take more than a law to remove the stigma from the people of India. Nothing less than the aroused opinion of the world can do it”

that “Untouchability is far worse than slavery, for the latter may be abolished by statute. It will take more than a law to remove the stigma from the people of India. Nothing less than the aroused opinion of the world can do it”

Ambedkar’s life was a life of relentless struggle for human rights. Born on a dunghill and condemned to a childhood of social leprosy, ejected from hotels, barber shops, temples and offices; facing starvation while studying to secure his education; elected to high political office and leadership without dynastic patronage; and to achieve fame as a lawyer and law maker, constitutionalist, educator, professor, economist and writer, illustrates what the human spirit can overcome.

In 1927, the young Ambedkar famously led a march to the Chavdar reservoir, a place prohibited to Dalits. On arriving at the reservoir, he bent down, cupped his hands, scooped up some water, and drank—an act completely forbidden by the caste system. The Brahmins, or upper castes, responded by furiously pouring 108 pots of curd, milk, cow dung, and cow urine into the reservoir – a ritual act which they claimed would “purify” the water polluted and defiled by untouchables.

Ambedkar could so easily have taken the path of violent revolution, spurred on by bitter hatred or a need for revenge – but although others regarded his shadow as a sacrilege and his touch as a pollutant, he demonstrated why it is the caste system which deserves to be put beyond human touch not the men, women and children condemned by it.

Ambedkar made untouchability a burning topic and gave it global significance. For the first time in 2500 years the insufferable plight of India’s untouchables became a central political question. Among untouchables themselves he awakened a sense of human dignity and self respect. He repudiated the helplessness of fate, the impotent, demoralised incapacity that insisted that everything is pre-ordained and irretrievable.

Ambedkar made untouchability a burning topic and gave it global significance. For the first time in 2500 years the insufferable plight of India's untouchables became a central political question.

Ambedkar made untouchability a burning topic and gave it global significance. For the first time in 2500 years the insufferable plight of India’s untouchables became a central political question.

He began a war against a social order that allowed caste to condemn millions to a life of irreversible servitude and social ostracism. This was an existence he had shared. “You have no idea of my sufferings” he once said. Having personally experienced life below the starvation line, the effects of destitution and squalor, the humiliation of ejection, segregation, and rank discrimination, “having passed through crushing miseries and endless trouble” Ambedkar determined to challenge these evils by entering political life: becoming renowned as a scholar-politician, sadly, a combination so little in evidence today.

Ambedkar understood that the great nation of India would never achieve its potential if it remained disfigured and divided by caste. Without freedom to marry, who they would; to live with, who they would; to dine with, who they would; to embrace or touch, who they would; or to work with, who they would, the nation could – and can – never be fully united or able to fulfil its extraordinary potential.

“the roots of democracy” are to be found “in social relationships and in the associate life of the people who form the society.” He said that “if you give education…the caste system will be blown up. This will improve the prospect of democracy in India and put democracy in safer hands.”

He believed that “the roots of democracy” are to be found “in social relationships and in the associate life of the people who form the society.” He said that “if you give education…the caste system will be blown up. This will improve the prospect of democracy in India and put democracy in safer hands.”

Education is still the best hope for social transformation. Once people are empowered by education – as Ambedkar was himself – they can begin to address issues of poverty, lack of dignity, discrimination and other dehumanising attitudes. Do not underestimate the power of good quality, English-medium education taught from a worldview that emphasises values such as dignity, equality, acceptance, human worth, and self-esteem. I say English-medium because this is the preserve of high castes, and it is still the language of opportunity – the language of higher education, government, and commerce.

Once people are empowered by education – as Ambedkar was himself – they can begin to address issues of poverty, lack of dignity, discrimination and other dehumanising attitudes

Once people are empowered by education – as Ambedkar was himself – they can begin to address issues of poverty, lack of dignity, discrimination and other dehumanising attitudes

India is to be admired for providing near-universal education, and there has been a rise from 7 per cent to 13 per cent in those entering higher education, but many agree that teaching remains poor and only 20 per cent of job seekers have any vocational training.

Even these opportunities tend to be denied to the dalits and the 84 million tribal people, who suffer discrimination and marginalisation. This vast expanse of humanity, trapped in a time warp, appears wholly unconnected to and at variance with India’s sophisticated economic and technological advances—and is certainly at variance with the advertising slogans, “Amazing India” and “Incredible India”.

Incredible India

Incredible India

Amazing India - but not incredible or amazing for dalits.

Amazing India – but not incredible or amazing for dalits.

What is truly amazing and incredible in this day and age is that “the cruel shackles” of the caste system, this “detestable expedient … a system at war with truth and nature” should persist in 2014.

While still a young man of twenty, Ambedkar perceptively wrote: “Let your mission be to educate and preach the idea of education to those at least who are near to and in close contact with you.” He said that social progress would be greatly accelerated if female and male education were pursued side by side. He later insisted that “We will attain self elevation only if we learn self-help, regain our self-respect, and gain self knowledge.”

He supported Britain’s war effort against the Nazis because he said it was a war between democracy and dictatorship. He linked it to the battle for the removal of caste: “the battle is in the fullest sense spiritual…it is a battle for freedom. It is a battle for the reclamation of the human personality.” He told his audience to “educate, agitate and organise.”

While still a young man of twenty, Ambedkar perceptively wrote: “Let your mission be to educate and preach the idea of education to those at least who are near to and in close contact with you.” He said that social progress would be greatly accelerated if female and male education were pursued side by side. He later insisted that “We will attain self elevation only if we learn self-help, regain our self-respect, and gain self knowledge.” He said dalits should

While still a young man of twenty, Ambedkar perceptively wrote: “Let your mission be to educate and preach the idea of education to those at least who are near to and in close contact with you.” He said that social progress would be greatly accelerated if female and male education were pursued side by side. He later insisted that “We will attain self elevation only if we learn self-help, regain our self-respect, and gain self knowledge.”
He said dalits should “educate, agitate and organise.”

Ambedkar rightly perceived the negative effects which caste has on economic development – and in his booklet “Annihilation of Caste” he argued that caste deadens, paralyses and cripples the people, undermining productive activity by frequently denying opportunities to those with natural aptitude and through the entrenchment of servitude. Caste amounts to the vivisection of society.

The Annihilation of Caste b y Dr.Ambedkar

The Annihilation of Caste b y Dr.Ambedkar

Ten years ago the deadening effects of caste were recognised by the Department for International Development (DFID).

In a Policy Paper they stated that ‘Caste causes poverty’, and ‘gets into the way of poverty reduction’; that caste ‘ reduces the productive capacity and poverty reduction of a society as a whole’; and that ‘poverty reduction policies often fail to reach the socially excluded’, Dalits ‘unless, they are specifically designed to do so’.

David Cameron with Manmohan Singh

David Cameron with Manmohan Singh

Yet these clear and coherent priorities scandalously failed to make any appearance whatsoever in the Millennium Development Goals and although the post-2015 High Level Panel Report, chaired by David Cameron, does include a section on “Other Vulnerable Groups” and the one group mentioned by name are the dalits, we need to say and do far more. The Panel was right to argue that there is a need for “Legislative and institutional mechanisms to recognise the indivisible rights of indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, dalits and other socially excluded groups must be put in place” but how is that reflected in our day to day priorities, diplomacy and policies?

Dalits constitute 40% of the global poor and are denied of DFID Funding, because they largely live in India, which simply doesn’t make the policy priorities. This becomes a new form of untouchability.

One development worker, with 14 years experience of working among Dalits, says that “95% of development time, energy and resources are wasted on combating … a ‘general Caste mindset’…stipulating how different segments of caste based society should live as touchables or untouchables, humans or sub-humans. The whole life of more than 50% of the population, from morning till night, from birth to death, is predetermined.”

In India you can’t make poverty history unless you make caste history. As we examine what has been achieved through the MDGs and the plight of the global poor the professional development agencies need to take a long hard look at the way they target poverty. As they think beyond 2015 they need to listen, rather than impose, and develop a cross thematic framework for addressing the curse of the caste system.

The churches, too, need to play a more decisive role in recognising the existence of caste and its consequences – in India but in the UK too, where 50% of our estimated 1 million Dalits are considered to be poor.

The churches, too, need to play a more decisive role in recognising the existence of caste and its consequences – in India but in the UK too, where 50% of our estimated 1 million Dalits are considered to be poor.

Some of these agencies need to radically rethink their mindset and priorities. They will be far more effective in tackling poverty if they tackle social exclusion. The churches, too, need to play a more decisive role in recognising the existence of caste and its consequences – in India but in the UK too, where 50% of our estimated 1 million Dalits are considered to be poor.

Ambedkar also saw the role which religion could play in shaping attitudes and behaviour. He repudiated Marxist atheism and refused to be forced into a repudiation of religious faith because of its distortions. But he was scathing when he saw religion as a cause of human suffering.

He attacked Hindu priests who refused admission to Dalits to their temples and was scathing about those Christian churches which had imported the caste system into the segregation of believers. And of Islam he said:
“The brotherhood of Islam is not the brotherhood of man. It is the brotherhood of Muslims for Muslims only. For non Muslims there is nothing but contempt and enmity.”

He said that from his study of comparative religion there were two personalities who could captivate him – the Buddha and Christ.

Towards the end of his life he would convert to Buddhism as a protest against the failure of Indian religious leaders to reject the caste system and insisted that the spiritual dimension of mankind is bound up with 1) the sanction of law and morality (“without either society is sure to go to pieces”) ;2) that religion must be in accord with reason; 3)that religion must recognise the fundamental tenets of liberty, equality, and fraternity; and 4) that religion must not ennoble poverty.

Pope John Paul II said:

Pope John Paul II said: “Any semblance of a caste-based prejudice in relations between Christians is a countersign to authentic human solidarity, a threat to genuine spirituality”

In considering their response to caste and the Dalits any Christian from the Catholic tradition, or those running Church agencies, should ponder carefully the words of Pope John Paul II:

“At all times you must continue to make certain that special attention is given to those belonging to the lowest castes, especially the Dalits. They should never be segregated from other members of society. Any semblance of a caste-based prejudice in relations between Christians is a countersign to authentic human solidarity, a threat to genuine spirituality, and a serious hindrance to the Church’s mission of evangelisation.”

Let them also reflect that violence against Dalit Christians has intensified in recent years.

Violence against Dalit Christians has intensified in recent years. In 2008, two women—one of whom was seven months’ pregnant—were gang-raped in Nadia village, Madhya Pradesh

Violence against Dalit Christians has intensified in recent years.
In 2008, two women—one of whom was seven months’ pregnant—were gang-raped in Nadia village, Madhya Pradesh

In 2008, two women—one of whom was seven months’ pregnant—were gang-raped in Nadia village, Madhya Pradesh. The village leader ordered the act after the women’s husbands refused to renounce their Christian faith. On January 16, 2006, Christian homes were set on fire in Matiapada village, Orissa. Instead of the arsonists being brought to justice, the Christians were imprisoned for nine days under the state’s anti-conversion law.

dalit women exploited and abused
Through Dr.Ambedkar’s colossal labours caste began to decay but even now it has not died. On April 29th 1947 the Constituent Assembly of India declared “Untouchability in any form is abolished and the imposition of any disability on that account shall be an offence.” The New York Times compared it with the abolition of slavery and the freeing of the Russian serfs. The News Chronicle in London praised it as one of the greatest acts in history.

Although untouchability was barred by the constitution, the system was not dismantled. Most of the worst forms of exploitation are proscribed by statute, but all too often the laws are simply not implemented and the police further entrench, rather than protect against, caste prejudice.

This point was made repeatedly in the concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in May 2007.

“The Government of India’s continued ignorance about the depth of the problem and inadequacy in addressing untouchability and meeting its legal obligations in regard to the abolition of untouchability”.

“The Government of India’s continued ignorance about the depth of the problem and inadequacy in addressing untouchability and meeting its legal obligations in regard to the abolition of untouchability”.

A damning verdict was reached also by an in-depth report by the Robert F Kennedy Centre, entitled Understanding Untouchability: A Comprehensive Study of Practices and Conditions in 1,589 Villages. It describes,
“The Government of India’s continued ignorance about the depth of the problem and inadequacy in addressing untouchability and meeting its legal obligations in regard to the abolition of untouchability”.

Some individual dalits have reached high positions in Indian society, not least Justice K G Balakrishnan, who rose to become the senior judge of India’s Supreme Court, and Ms Meira Kumar, who became the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the lower House of India’s Parliament. But these are exceptions. As I heard first hand from dalits I met in India even where they are securing some kind of elementary education the opportunities for educational progress later and employment opportunities are all to frequently still blocked to them.

Consider for a moment what must be one of the most appalling and disgraceful forms of labour anywhere in the world, known euphemistically as manual scavenging. It involves cleaning human excrement from dry latrines and is uniquely performed by dalits as a consequence of their caste. The number engaged in this occupation is not known for certain, but it may be as high as, or higher than, the equivalent of the population of Birmingham.

Manual scavenging involves cleaning human excrement and is uniquely performed by dalits as a consequence of their caste. The number engaged in this occupation is not known for certain, but it may be as high as, or higher than, the equivalent of the population of Birmingham.

Manual scavenging involves cleaning human excrement and is uniquely performed by dalits as a consequence of their caste. The number engaged in this occupation is not known for certain, but it may be as high as, or higher than, the equivalent of the population of Birmingham.

Tens of millions of India’s citizens are subject to many forms of highly exploitative forms of labour and modern-day slavery. This often plays into the problem of debt bondage and bonded labour, which affects tens of millions. It perpetuates a cycle of despair and hopelessness, as generations are bonded to the family debt, unable to be educated and unable to escape. Tragically, the debt is often the result of a loan taken out for something as simple and essential as a medical bill.

Caste perpetuates a cycle of despair and hopelessness, as generations are bonded to the family debt, unable to be educated and unable to escape

Caste perpetuates a cycle of despair and hopelessness, as generations are bonded to the family debt, unable to be educated and unable to escape

At times, Britain and India have had a turbulent relationship; but what is often called “the idea of India” is one that continues to captivate and enthral anyone who has been fortunate enough to travel there.

“The idea of India” is one that continues to captivate and enthral anyone who has been fortunate enough to travel there.

In 1949, India and Britain were founding members of the Commonwealth, which exists to promote democracy, human rights, good governance, and the rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multiculturalism and world peace. Britain and India are democratic nations with many shared values as well as significant common economic and security interests. Bilateral trade is worth more than £13 billion annually. Our cultural, sporting, linguistic and historic links—some of which have required colonial ghosts to be laid to rest—underline the values that bind us together.

In 1949, India and Britain were founding members of the Commonwealth, which exists to promote democracy, human rights, good governance, and the rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multiculturalism and world peace. It unites us in so many things - including a love of sport.

In 1949, India and Britain were founding members of the Commonwealth, which exists to promote democracy, human rights, good governance, and the rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multiculturalism and world peace. It unites us in so many things – including a love of sport.

Yet, in 2014, while India is a rising world power and is rightly gaining a reputation for innovation and excellence in many fields, what its Prime Minister calls a “blot on humanity” disfigures India’s reputation and has become one of the world’s greatest human rights challenges.
Millions of people remain imprisoned by the bondage of what Wilberforce described as “the cruel shackles” of the caste system. Those shackles inevitably lock their prisoners into the most menial forms of labour, trap them in servitude and leave them susceptible to innumerable forms of exploitation.

And consider the people who are represented by the statistics.

Dr.Ambedkar wanted dalit women to receive education. It is estimated that every day three dalit women are raped; dalit women are often forced to sit at the back of their school classrooms, or even outside.

Dr.Ambedkar wanted dalit women to receive education. It is estimated that every day three dalit women are raped; dalit women are often forced to sit at the back of their school classrooms, or even outside.

It is estimated that every day three dalit women are raped; dalit women are often forced to sit at the back of their school classrooms, or even outside; on average every hour two dalit houses are burnt down; every 18 minutes a crime is committed against a Dalit; each day two Dalits are murdered; 11 Dalits are beaten; many are impoverished; some half of Dalit children are under-nourished; 12% die before their fifth birthday; 56 per cent of dalit children under the age of four are malnourished; their infant mortality rate is close to 10 %; vast numbers are uneducated or illiterate; and 45% cannot read or write; in one recent year alone, 25,455 crimes were committed against dalits, although many more went unreported, let alone investigated or prosecuted; 70 per cent are denied the right to worship in local temples; 60 million dalits are used as forced labourers, often reduced to carrying out menial and degrading forms of work;

Segregated and oppressed, the dalits are frequently the victims of violent crime. In one case, 23 dalit agricultural workers, including women and children, were murdered by the private army of high-caste landlords. What was their crime? It was listening to a local political party, whose views threatened the landlords’ hold on local dalits as cheap labour. The list of atrocities and violence is exponential.

India is the world’s largest democracy—home to one-sixth of the world’s population. It can be proud of its many fine achievements. Like all our democracies, it is a work in progress, and there are many bright spots. India produced one of the first female Heads of Government; a dalit, Dr.Ambedkar, wrote the constitution; a female dalit became a powerful politician; a Muslim has been head of state four times; and a Jew and a Sikh are two of India’s greatest war heroes. So an astounding amount has been achieved.

However, India cannot be proud of the more general fate of the dalits, the caste system, or the extremism which feeds off ostracism and alienation and which threatens modern India.

Although Dr. Ambedkar was able to have India’s Constitution and the laws framed to end untouchability, for millions and millions of people, many of those provisions have not been worth the paper on which they are written.

Ambdekar’s own struggle may now be history; caste is not. In our generation it is surely time to make caste history.

Dr.Ambdekar's own struggle may now be history; caste is not. In our generation it is surely time to make caste history.

Dr.Ambdekar’s own struggle may now be history; caste is not. In our generation it is surely time to make caste history.

Yanbian University of Science and Technology Lecture, September 2012. Turning Dreams Into Realities.

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“Turning Visions Into Reality – Dream, Plan, Achieve.” Yanbian University of Science and Technology, Jilin, September 2012. Delivered on the 20th anniversary of the foundation of the university at Yanji in North East China.

 https://davidalton.net/media/  – click here for power point presentation to accompany talk (scroll down list to Yanbian (YUST)  Lecture.

http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/NewsUpdate/index_124527.htm

It is a great pleasure for me to be at Yanbian today at the invitation of your founder and President, Dr. James Kim – for whom I have the highest admiration.

Dr.Kim says “I believe in the power of education”– and so do I. Dr.Kim believes that “education can plant seeds of the values that are critical in reaching our desired end. These values include understanding; respect; sacrifice and reconciliation.” I believe that too.

We also both know the truth of the Chinese proverb that says “if you want to plant for one season, plant a seed; if you want to plant for ten years, plant a tree; but if you want to plant for life, give a young man or woman an education.”

 The purpose of education must be – as my own university in Liverpool puts it – to help young people dream, plan and achieve – to turn your dreams into realities.

What Has Gone Before

Almost three thousand years ago, in the Book of Joel (2:28) comes the prediction that “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams; your young men shall see visions.”

   And in the Book of Proverbs (29:18) it states that “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

   What those sentiments anticipate is a generation of leaders who will speak with insight, have a clear vision of the future, govern wisely and act justly in both promoting the common good and in providing security and protection for their people.

Writing in the same millennium as Joel, Confucius offered sage advice about how anyone hoping to enter public life should first prepare:

  “To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.”

A similar thought was captured by Mahatma Gandhi who said:You must be the change you want to see in the world”

   The Nobel Peace Laureate and eighth President of South Korea, Kim Dae Jung, understood the importance of personal transformation as the preparation for political life. In his Prison Letters, he wrote that:

“We have to be reborn every day and make fresh progress every day. The object of our conquest is ourselves. We have to fight and conquer that self that is complacent, the self that tries to escape, the self that is arrogant and the self that is carried away by a single moment of success.”  

   For tomorrow’s leaders – that is your generation – facing today’s challenges – what Gandhi was signifying was the centrality of personal transformation.

 

Life Without Values

  Without such change, political life can be a game of charades where its participants are seduced by the allure of power; where, in a Faustian Pact to obtain self advancement, they trade the principles they once espoused and the ideals they once embraced.

  A key objective for tomorrow’s leaders must be the promotion of harmony: harmony in our world, between nations, between cultures, between beliefs, between mankind and the natural world. When we bring together of our thoughts, our words and our actions, that is harmony.

Harmony and Peace

The Asian belief in the centrality of harmony is something which the West needs to understand and embrace. In ancient Chinese Taoist thought all reality is determined by constantly changing relationships and by the harmonious complementarity of the two primal principles of Ying (the receptive, feminine, the earth) and Yang (the creative, masculine, heaven).

Hinduism sees the idea of ahimsa as pivotal.  Ahimsa proclaims a rejection of the use of force and all that is harmful. For Mahatma Gandhi the ancient ahimsa was promoted as non-violence in all spheres of life including the political realm.

A second objective must be compassion and the promotion of peace.

For the Buddhist all life is suffering.  But karuna – the concept of compassion in Buddhism – mitigates the suffering through an outpouring of compassion and encourages each encounter with humanity and nature to be based on loving-kindness.

For Jews the Hebrew word shalom (like the Arabic word salaam derived from the same word stem) has a more substantive meaning than the English word peace. Jews use the word as a benediction or a blessing and the implicit prayer that the person so greeted will reach a place of contentment, happiness wholeness and inner peace.

The New Testament develops this understanding of the Old Testament message of peace.  Jesus’ nativity is proclaimed as peace on earth; God’s kingdom is to be the kingdom of peace and righteousness; the Beatitudes praise the peacemakers as blessed and Jesus intensifies this message through the command to love one’s enemies. The disciples are told to speak peace in the name of Jesus after His Resurrection He greets the disciples with the words:”Peace be with you!”

Without this inner peace, and inner calm, which so many of the world religions foster, it is not possible to promote peace among the nations or within a nation; or to forestall chaotic anarchy and conflict.  But, once you have experienced this inner pace and inner harmony the challenge is to take it into the service of the world.

Service Not Power

 Political life should revolve around the concept of service, not power.

  Politics needn’t be a dirty game of power hungry self-seeking, personal gain, manipulation and deceit. If it does become an avaricious dirty game it will be because those who are playing it do not have clean hands. Politics is only as good as the people who enter it; only as good as their vision; only as good as their conduct.  The quality of what they do will depend on their willingness and capacity to become the change they wish to see in the world. 

  The sophistry is sometimes offered to the aspiring politician that, if only they can climb a little higher up what the nineteenth century British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli described as “the greasy pole” of politics (“I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole”), and then they will be in a position to change things.   But, by then, usually, the only thing which has changed is the would-be leader him or herself – and not in the manner which Ghandi had in mind.   If they have failed to master themselves, the effect of power on an individual can be disastrous.  

 

 

 

 

Politics As A High Calling

Aristotle, the author of the classical work “Politics”, saw political leadership as a high calling and the father of democracy held that shame would attach to those who refuse to play their part.

Aristotle insisted that that everyone should pursue virtue and work for the common good – koinonia – a rich word which implies active participation, common unity, relationships and sharing of gifts.

 Koinonia is not about constitutions or civic structures of government but about the qualities in mankind which made civic co-existence a possibility. It is about our inter-connectedness with Aristotle writing in “Politics” we are “not like solitary pieces in chequers”.

 

 

 

The Ancient Virtues

Aristotle’s ancient virtues remain for me the key to building a civil society:

Justice

Wisdom

Temperance

Courage

Magnanimity

Tolerance

Munificence

Prudence; and

Gentleness

But these were not theoretical qualities. Koinoinia requires action and through engagement and deeds we both learn and change.

From Virtue To Action

Let me give an example from British history of one man who entered political life and who, although he never became Prime Minister or the leader of a political party, made a profound difference to the koinonia – to the common good.William Wilberforce lived from 1759 to 1833 and entered Parliament as the youngest MP. Wilberforce was motivated by his religious beliefs but once said that “A private faith that does not act in the face of oppression is no faith at all.”

He identified the slave trade – traffic in human beings, sold for profit into lives of abject misery – as the greatest humanitarian cause of the day.  For forty years he dedicated himself to the abolition, first, of the Trans Atlantic slave trade and then to slavery itself. When he was on his death bed he was finally brought the news that the law had been changed by Parliament and that the trade had been abolished.

By and large, those who led the campaign for abolition of the trade were men and women of deep religious conviction, notably the Quakers, Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharpe, Olaudah Equiano, Josiah Wedgewood – who created the medallion “Am I Not a Man and Brother”, John Newton, the Liverpool ship’s captain and slave trader who changed his mind and last composed “Amazing Grace” – the Liverpool MP William Roscoe and William Wilberforce himself.

Estimates of the numbers of Africans sold into slavery vary but over nearly four centuries about 12 million people were forcibly transported into bondage.

 Between 1701 and 1810 around 5.7 million people were taken into slavery, 2 million coming from the Slave Coast, where Benin is situated.  Around 39% went to the Caribbean, 38% to Brazil, 17% to South America and 6% to North America.

 Many of the slaves shipped out of Africa from the Bight of Benin were taken to the port of Ouidah, which is situated near Cotonou, the present capital and which I visited .Not since I visited the holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem in Israel had I experienced such harrowing emotions.

 In the total Atlantic trade, British ships are estimated to have made 12,000 voyages and to have carried 2.6 million slaves.

 In his Journal of a Slave-trader, John Newton wrote:  “I have no sufficient data to warrant calculation but I suppose not less than one hundred thousand slaves are exported annually from all parts of Africa, and that more than one half of these are exported in English ships.”

 The last letter written by the great John Wesley was to Wilberforce and asked “what villainy is this?” which allowed the enslavement of Africans. Wesley told Wilberforce to put his trust in God and to work for an end to such evil – “a scandal of England of religion and of human nature.”He told him to be a force for change and an “Athanasius contra mundum”literally to be like the 4th century Christian Bishop, Athanasius, “Athanasius against the world.”  Take a stand: be willing to pay a price. Take on the whole world if necessary. Be a sign of contradiction.

 What We Can Learn From Wilberforce

 

  Wilberforce’s story has great relevance to anyone interested in entering public or political life. His was the first great campaign for human rights and human dignity. It involved painstaking research; the production of newsletters and leaflets; fundraising; the creation of logos and eye-catching public awareness; posters; press reports;  public meetings; marketing and publicity; lobbying; petitions; boycotts; and parliamentary and political action at every level.

Wilberforce needed persistence – it took 40 years – and tempted though he was, he didn’t give up at the first discouragement and defeat. He couldn’t have done it by himself – it needed coalitions and alliances. It needed intelligence and passion. He invoked the importance of combining pressure and prayer. Wilberforce identified a priority – what he believed to be the greatest injustice and a cause to which he should give his life in political service and he made it his chief concern – rather than the gadfly’s approach, jumping from one fashionable or faddish cause to another.

The Relevance Of This Story For Today

 

If we want to put principles of common humanity and the pursuit of the common good into practice today we should first identify the cause to which we should devote ourselves. For some it will be the freeing of people’s held in oppression; for others it will be the safeguarding of the created world; for others it will be standing up for the dignity and sanctity of human life or opposition to the capricious use of capital punishment, arbitrary detentions or corrupted legal processes; for some it will be the championing of people with disabilities, or a despised minority, or an economically or socially disadvantaged group; for others it will be holding leaders to account, opposing corruption, working for democracy or freedom of expression, belief or conscience.

Wilberforce once said “If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.”

If he were here today he would return to the cause of the suffering of his fellow creatures and to the question of slavery. Consider the following:

  • 27 million people enslaved today
  • ILO say this includes 8.4 million children
  • 700,000 trafficked every year
  • Debt Bondage affects 20 million people
  • Forced labour, child labour, economic servitude, racially motivated and caste based slavery all still persist throughout the world At least 12.3 million people are victims of forced labour worldwide
  • 80% of the 700,000 people trafficked annually are women and children
  • Human trafficking is the third largest source of income for organised crime (after arms and drugs)
  • Trafficking generates  an average of $7 billion per year: one year it was put at $32 billion

The popular myth is that slavery is a thing of the past, but more people are trafficked today than were enslaved in the entire history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Most people assume that the slave trade was long since consigned to the dustbin of history by William Wilberforce.

In reality the trade in human beings is a rapidly growing scourge that affects countries and families on every continent.

Those trafficked may be forced into prostitution or to work as domestics, as labourers, or market traders and in a variety of other jobs. Recent research suggests that, at an absolute minimum, hundreds of women and children are being trafficked into the UK each year.

The UN believes it is the second largest criminal activity in the world, second only to drug smuggling; that it nets $36 billion a year to the traffickers; and that 100,000 Modern Day Slaves are trafficked around the European Union each year.

. People have been transported into many forms of slavery and not from choice.

They include children who are pawns in debt bondage whose alcoholic or drug dependent parents get a lump sum payment from traffickers to take their children to London or other cities to ‘educate them’. In fact the education is in how to commit ATM theft, pick-pocketing and shop lifting.

Then there is sex trafficking. Girls mostly, with threats of violence to themselves and their families if they try to escape or keep money from their ‘clients’ (2,200 brothels in London alone); and the cannabis factory boys – many brought in from Vietnam.

Of the 15,000 domestic workers coming to Britain a year, approaching 700 are likely to have been abused in some way.

Without political pressure from the highest level, fighting human trafficking will continue to be a low priority for the police. If the police find a gang that deals with arms or drugs, they are likely to be dealing with human trafficking as well. The criminal gangs are sophisticated, flexible, and not short of money. Demand and abuse go hand in hand. There is big money to be made by trading in people who – unlike drugs or arms – are recyclable.

 

Human Rights, Human Life, Human Dignity

 

But human rights abuses come in many forms and closer to home, in China there will be situations crying out for a twenty first century William Wilberforce- champions of human dignity, of good ethics, of the safeguarding of precious resources, of the principle of duty, and many other noble and good causes which promote the common good. Your task is to find the cause which needs you to champion it.

While you are students at YUST you must be equipped to reach beyond academic attainment. Young people must have the opportunity to think, enquire, debate and understand how decisions will affect their lives and the future of their nation. They need to have lain before them potential ethical dilemmas, moral conundrums, technological and scientific challenges, the rapidly changing pace of living – and world crises, ranging from hunger, to global warming, to the exploitation of finite resources.

Education of the citizen must above all underline the moral significance of self-knowledge – as agents in the way we live and affect others. We need citizens who embrace the idea of individual moral responsibility for their actions.

Unless we are able to conceive of ourselves as an agent or agents with regard to how we behave, it will be impossible to develop any sense of responsibility or judgement in the way in which we use science.

Gaining that sense is important, for it is often the case that a new scientific discovery can be put to good, ethical uses that can improve our lives, but will also have more sinister, unethical applications that will cause harm. In other cases a technology may be clearly beneficial in principal, but must be deployed with care, lest unintended side effects end up doing more harm than good. This is why it is important that the next generation of scientists are given a good moral education, so that they can be mindful of and differentiate between the different applications of their work, and carefully consider the ethical implications of the discoveries they make.

Let me give one example of what I mean.

In the last few decades, climate change has become a serious issue for the international community. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that the planet is changing in ways that will adversely affect lives everywhere, but particularly those in less well developed countries, such as the equatorial African states where droughts are set to increase in frequency – we need only consider the events of this year, where many lives have been lost in countries like Somalia and Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa – where I have travelled  – to understand the devastation this will cause – or the island nations of the Pacific, who could be swallowed up by the ocean entirely if sea levels rise as many scientists predict they will. Make no mistake, this is an issue that respects no borders and that all nations ignore at their peril.

Climate change is an unfortunate side-effect of the industrial age, a product of our short-sightedness in seizing short term benefits at the expense of the future. But just as it arose from the products of scientific progress, so the answers will come from the scientific community and from your generation. But you must always guard against corruption and the debasing of ethics.

It is a sobering thought that more than half of the participants at Hitler’s 1942 Wannsee Conference, which planned what was called “the final solution to the Jewish question” – that is the extermination and murder of Europe’s Jewish people – were either medical practitioners or in receipt of other academic doctorates. Nazi collaborators included a cast of scientists, doctors, judges, lawyers, philosophers and academics. It’s so very easy to be corrupted.

In other cases, scientists may feel that what they are doing will lead to a useful outcome – a new treatment, a better understanding of the disease. Yet this does not mean that all methods are acceptable.

The seductive scientific argument that “if only” you would permit us to do this or that experiment we might make any number of useful discoveries gets dangerously close to a form of blackmail. It relies on the old canard that the end will justify the means; that unethical experiments may be used for seemingly ethical reasons. There is also an assumption that modern man is far too sophisticated and far too decent to fall into the sort of monstrosities characterised by the Nazi scientists. Yet, history teaches us that vain gloriousness and hubris attended by vanity and conceit are often the trump cards when men seek to justify their unethical actions.

So, you need to be champions of change whilst preserving the highest ethical standards and ideals. Nothing in science – whether it be physics, cosmology, evolutionary biology or neuroscience – can lead to the conclusion that the universe is bereft of meaning or intelligence or that we can be other than guardians and custodians during our brief sojourn on our small part of this great creation.

Einstein asserted that misuse of science could only be countered “by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. …I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith.”

The first words of the Confucian classic, “The Great Learning”, says that “The way of great learning consists in manifesting one’s bright virtue, consists in loving the people, consists in stopping in perfect goodness.”

That love of the “the great learning” at the service of humanity should inform all that you do at YUST and inform your lives as you seek to turn your visions into reality and to change the world.

Let me draw to a conclusion.

Change doesn’t just happen by itself; and it may come at a price.

 

Change Doesn’t Happen By Itself

As a teenager I felt especially challenged by the killing at Memphis on April 4th 1968 of Dr. Martin Luther King, then aged 39, who five years earlier had given his landmark speech – “I Have a Dream” – in which he described the American Constitution and Declaration of Independence as a promissory note:

“A promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “inalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of colour are concerned.”

Fundamental change in the USA, Europe, and in South Africa’s apartheid regime – how we view colour and race – was ushered in by King’s sacrificial entry into political life. But he understood the price that would be paid to bring change:

“Change,”he said, “does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”

Those who believe that politics is about grandstanding, sound-bites, personal aggrandisement, the pursuit of power, or a charmed life will rarely develop King’s bent back but nor will they have the satisfaction of bringing an idea or a great cause to birth.

Two months after Dr.King’s assassination Robert Kennedy also paid the ultimate price in championing civil rights and opposing racial segregation. Kennedy’s religious faith led him to a profound belief in the importance of individual actions, that each of us is made in God’s image (Imago Dei), is, therefore, of inestimable worth, and that we should neither be discouraged by seemingly impossible odds or by the intractable nature of the challenges we face:       

“Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one person can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills, misery, ignorance, and violence. Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation.” (Robert Kennedy).

Looking at the world today, there are no shortage of great challenges:  – 800 million people racked by starvation or despair, living below any definition of human decency; at egregious violations of human rights,  from Iran to North Korea – where I have travelled several times; famine in Somalia and the Sahel; unspeakable violence in Syria and Nigeria, Congo and the Sudan; and at the domestic challenges in Britain which I describe in a lecture entitled “The Condition of England Question”, which include 1 million young people not in education, employment , or training,  and over 2.6 million without work – a 17 year high in a flat-lining economy and 1 million elderly living in toxic loneliness who don’t see a friend or a neighbour during the course of a typical week.

 We can very easily overawed – like the boy in Louis Stephenson’s rhyme who is dejected by the one-damn-thing-after-anotherness of life and despairs that “the world is so big and I am so small I do not like it at all at all”.   As Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said: “In this life, we cannot do great things, we can only do small things with great love.”

I often remark that we are not great boulders but small stones – and that it is small stones that must first move for a landslide to happen.  To take up this challenge, as Gandhi had it, we must become the change that we desire to see; and be encouraged by Winston Churchill’s observation that “to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

Politics should always be a campaign of service where the love of power is replaced by the power to love. Politics should always be about service not self-seeking; virtue not vanity; speaking up for the powerless, not narrow partisanship; respectful of opponents, not the silencing of dissent; tolerant of difference, not the crushing conscience and not blindly accept the dog whistle of people who want you to follow them.

 

A Price To Be Paid

There may also be a price to be paid if you commit yourself to political service. Think of Kim Dae Jung’s years in prison. In the end he was not executed but political leaders may well have to pay the ultimate price.

Think of the fate, 18 months ago, of Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti and the Punjab’s Governor, Salman Taseer. One was a Christian, the other a Muslim. They stood together in opposing prejudice, terror and intolerance. Both were murdered.

Bhatti sensed the almost inevitable consequence of his courageous words and actions.

He said that his stand would “send a message of hope to the people living a life of disappointment, disillusionment and despair” adding that his life was dedicated to “the oppressed, the down-trodden and the marginalised” and to “the struggle for human equality, social justice, religious freedom and the empowerment of religious minorities’ communities.”

 The story of Shahbaz Bhatti is a one which should inspire us all. He was called to a political life and in the end he laid down his life for his friends: standing against a world which he knew to be unjust and which needs to change.

Shahbaz Bhatti life and death reminds us that change comes at a price. John Henry Newman captured this though when he reflected that:

 “Good is never accomplished except at the cost of those who do it, truth never breaks through except through the sacrifice of those who spread it.” 

  Like Dr.King and Robert Kennedy or Kim Dae Jung, Shahbaz Bhatti sacrificed himself for his beliefs and in the service of others.  Like Gandhi, his own life represented the change he wanted to see.  Most of us will never be called upon to make the supreme sacrifice but let us never forget Aristotle’s warning that shame will attach to those who refuse to play their part; and that evil triumphs when good men and women do nothing.  As Dr.Martin Luther King once observed: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” while Dietrich Bonheoffer, who died at the hands of the Nazis warned that “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself.”

So, to turn today’s dreams into tomorrow’s realities you will need courage and determination; you may need to go against the tide; to speak out and behave with intelligence and compassion.

You will need to cherish your dreams: to dream; to plan; and then to achieve.   I can think of few places where you will receive a better preparation to meet those challenges than Yanbian University of Science and Technology.

 

Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool is Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University and has served in both Houses of the British parliament for the past 33 years. Image

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