Tsunami 2004: Making Things Worse – Lesson on caste discrimination in post-Tsunami relief

Two years after the devastating 2004 tsunami hit coastal areas of Asia, Dalit Network Netherlands published a report documenting that discrimination on the basis of caste in the aftermath of the tsunami is an unquestionable fact.  The testimonies of Dalit victims of the tsunami all along the Indian coast of Tamilnadu show remarkable consistency, pointing to a systematic and predictable type of discrimination.

These testimonies are backed up by previously published reports by NGOs, a major National Public Hearing, reports by Indian journalists, and dozens of interviews with the various stakeholders conducted during the course of this research.

The discrimination was present at all phases of the recovery process, from the denial of rice, the refusal to share emergency shelter, the removal of bodies, and the relief materials provided, through to the compensation and provision of livelihood assistance and housing.

The report “Making Things Worse” shows that discrimination began in the first week after the disaster and was still very much in evidence in January 200, more than one year after the tsunami. It provides information, evidence and analysis of caste discrimination in post-tsunami recovery operations in Tamilnadu, India, and furthermore provides a series of recommendations to assist ethical agencies to avoid repeating the same mistakes in future disaster relief operations.

It is demonstrated that unless government, Church bodies or NGOs have an analysis, strategies and training programmes designed to counter caste discrimination, which is so deeply entrenched in Indian society, they will effectively reinforce it.