Social Issues

Nonprofit denounces caste-based discrimination in northern Sri Lanka

Colombo, Nov 16 (EFE).- A Sri Lankan human rights organization on Wednesday joined the United Nations in denouncing caste-based discrimination in the north of the island, inhabited mostly by Tamil people professing Hinduism in the Buddhist majority nation.

“This is not a new problem. This is an issue that has been going on since Sri Lanka was colonized. No one is talking about it. There are areas in the rural parts where people belonging to lower castes are not even allowed to drink water from certain wells,” Arun Siddharth, founder of the nonprofit Jaffna Civil Society Centre (JCSC) told EFE during an event in Colombo.

Siddharth underlined that discrimination against those from the lower rungs of the Tamil caste system affects other areas, such as education or employment in northern Sri Lanka.

Moreover, the region is among the lesser developed parts of the country, which is still recovering from the impact of the civil war between the Army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) guerrillas a decade after it got over.

Siddharth, who belongs to one of these discriminated castes, spoke of problems while enrolling his six-year-old son in a Hindu school near his home, as he was rejected without any explanation while other children from distant areas were readily accepted.

“None of the politicians who are in parliament are from lower castes. They don’t represent our problems. They are staying silent,” he said.

Siddharth pointed out that Sri Lankan law prohibits caste-based discrimination, yet “we still find it hard to get good jobs, or promotions, find schools for children, and even go into temples.”

A Hindu religious leader from the Northern Province, Adiyar Vipulananda, explained to EFE that discrimination occurs even while entering certain temples.

“This should stop. We are all people,” he told EFE.

The JCSC allegations come after the recent presentation of a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Tomoya Obokata, on the economic difficulties of low caste citizens in the island nation.

According to Obokata, who visited Sri Lanka between November and December 2021, many people among oppressed castes have been forced “to work for dominant-caste employers” in conditions that “may amount to forced labour, servitude or other slavery-like practices.”

The rapporteur also highlighted the use of “offensive language” against people from low castes, the lower chances of economic improvement or violent incidents that often go unpunished.

Like in neighboring India, the Tamil society in Sri Lanka is divided into a hierarchical caste system based on birth rooted and in Hinduism.

In the book “Casteless or Caste-blind?” by Kalinga Tudor Silva, P.P. Sivapragasam and Paramsothy Thanges on the caste system in Sri Lanka, and published in 2009, the authors noted that the Vellalar community is at the top of the system.

At the lowest level, five castes – comprising around 18 percent – are traditionally subjected to a long list of prohibitions many of which have been eliminated today while some still persist, according to the authors. EFE


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