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Monday, 26 February, 2001, 16:14 GMT
Caste row splits earthquake appeal

The Gujarat disaster has left 300,000 people homeless
By the BBC's Naresh Puri

Low caste Hindus and Sikhs in Britain are withholding money raised for survivors of the Gujurat earthquake because they say their people in India are not receiving help due to their status in Indian society.

Twenty-two temples associated with the so-called Dalits are boycotting the main charitable appeals claiming their people are starving while high caste Hindus are getting most of the aid.

The boycott follows reports that the Dalits are being refused food and shelter because they are considered "untouchables".

"Some of the high castes say we are the lowest of the low because we are at the bottom of the caste system," said Gurmel Singh Chambers, the President of the Guru Ravidass UK - an umbrella group for low caste temples.

22 temples are boycotting the main appeals

"We are still regarded as the untouchables even though it's illegal under Indian law to discriminate against Dalits.

"We have heard about many cases of discrimination, in one village in Gujurat a food tent was set up and the high castes ate as much as they could and they refused to hand over even the leftovers to the Dalits who hadn't eaten for four days."

Guru Ravidass UK has already raised 30,000 and has handed the money over to charity but now the temples are holding on to thousands more because aid is not reaching some of their people.

It's not just Dalits who are suffering, Muslims are complaining of the same prejudice.

Zafar Sareshwala an Indian businessmen from Gujurat has been highlighting the plight of his people.

We have come across so many Muslims who have been refused food and shelter

Zafar Sareshwala, Indian businessmen from Gujurat
He said: "My family is involved in the relief efforts and we have come across so many Muslims who have been refused food and shelter.

"In some cases Muslims have been told that if they recite Hindu scriptures then they can have some food. This is terrible everybody must be united we have all suffered."

Targeted relief efforts

The alleged discrimination concerns Action Aid, one of the organisations involved in helping the survivors of Gujurat.

Salil Shetty, chief executive of Action Aid, said: " We are targeting our relief efforts at the Dalit community because of the reports of discrimination.

"It's been confirmed that the higher castes are receiving more of the aid than the lower castes."

The Indian authorities have said that there are only a few cases of Dalits being refused food and shelter.

"We are calling for unity, we will not tolerate discrimination," said Navdeep Suri, spokesman for the Indian High Commission in London.

"We must remember that there have been many stories of Hindus and Muslims donating blood for each other and people irrespective of caste or religion are helping to rebuild mosques and temples," he said.

But the Dalits are not convinced. Gurmel Singh Chambers said: "We will try and find one of our own organisations in India which will distribute the money that we have raised, it will go to our people."

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