H C Singh

Untouchability in Kuwait !

 It was surprising to read an article in Readers Digest of April 2010 that out of population of 2.5 millions there are 80,000 “Untouchables” in the rich Arab country, Kuwait. The article is written by an American who had spent seven months in Kuwait. On reaching Kuwait he was taken by a local taxi driver to his own one room house in the outskirts of Kuwaiti capital. Nick Walker wrote this article from his first hand experience, observations and intimate friendship with these “Untouchables” called Bedoons, a corruption of the Arab tribe called “Bedouin”, the famous nomads.

Walker says that these Bedoons are ‘dirt poor’. They don’t get employment in refineries of Kuwait as they are not considered Kuwaiti citizens. In fact they are stateless persons since 1961 when Kuwait got independence. Prior to 1961 these Arabs now known as Bedoons came from neighbouring Arab countries as workers. Their descendents, now second and even third generation still are stateless, have no nationality, no passport and no rights what so ever in Kuwait even though they have lived there for more than 50 years. This state of affairs would be unthinkable and even unacceptable in any other country and does not reflect a modern nation-state. These Bedoons therefore have to accept menial and low paid jobs even though in appearance they are no different from any naturalized Kuwaiti citizens.

Nick Walker had spent three months with this Bedoon family, which was comparatively better off than other Bedoons because its head was a taxi driver and not an ordinary menial, whose condition is ‘miserable’. However, Walker is delighted to observe unlimited natural love and affection of all the family members of this Bedoon family and compares with quarrels , dominance of one member over another in the family of his ‘American girl friend of the time’ in California. In Walker’s own words :

‘Kadejah (seven year old youngest of four sisters) beams with delight as I produce a handful of Quality, Street Chocolates. I know what she is going to do- she takes one to each sister and then to her dad. She runs back and gives one to Hidari and hands me the flat toffee. Hidari slides one into a pocket’. Walker further adds ‘they all sleep in one room in a row. I think of Nina and Alex (children of his American girl friend) in their ensuite designer bed room – Kadezah has fallen asleep Hidari holds her, Ayadha supports her head and Fatima shadows her from the sun. I turn back to the front and realise I am crying’. It is touching contrast in love and affection in a ‘dirt poor’ untouchable family of Kuwait and rich American family of California.

Now, from where we began, about untouchability in India. After independence under 1950 Constitution untouchability was banned in India. At the time of India’s independence in 1947, India’s population was 35 crores. To end even indirect untouchability, reservations were made for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes in the shape of “affirmative action”. This is in contrast to Kuwait where in 50 years no provision in the Kuwaiti Constitution was made to eliminate or even ameliorate the “Bedoon untouchabiity”. In 2010 India’s population has increased three fold to 105 to 110 crores. Though 30 percent Indians are now estimated to be living below poverty line yet because of the affirmative action many from SC/ST have risen to Chief Ministers of State besides many other by value of education are holding senior posts in civil services. This dual policy “affirmative discriminative action” of ban on untouchability and reservations for lowest castes amounting to nearly 40 percent has helped in all fields to be equal to other citizens. There is natural love and affection in all families in India.

 As a first step Kuwaiti Govt abolish ‘untouchability’ so that there are no Bedoons.


July 2, 2010 - Posted by | Untouchability in Kuwait | , , , , ,

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