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Low-caste Indian girl's fingers chopped for picking spinach

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Monday December 25, 2006

New Delhi- A 10-year-old girl from India's lowest Hindu
caste had her fingers chopped off for stealing a few spinach leaves
from the field of an upper-caste farmer, a news report said Monday.
The attack took place in a village in Bhagalpur district of
India's eastern Bihar state last week, the Hindustan Times newspaper

Khushboo's parents had sent her to look for herbs along a railway
track as they had nothing to eat at home. The girl strayed on to the
farm belonging to Pankaj Rai, an upper-caste villager, and picked a
few leaves, Khushboo's father said.

Rai and a group of men seized Khushboo's sickle and chopped off
all the fingers of her right hand, her father said in a report to the
local police.

A villager later found Khushboo unconscious and bleeding, and
rushed her to a doctor.

The girl survived the attack but her family has fled the village,
fearing further trouble. Khushboo's father lodged a complaint
with the local police naming Rai and some others before he left.

The police in Bhagalpur said they would arrest the people named in
the complaint. "We will get results. This is terrible," Bhagalpur
police official JS Gangwar said.

India's archaic caste system, which first segregated people
according to occupation and later to bloodline, dates back more than
3,000 years.

Khushboo's family belong to a group called Dalits - or former
untouchables - that occupies the lowest rung of the caste ladder and
comprises about 16 per cent of India's 1.1 billion population.

They still perform the most menial tasks like cleaning sewers and
manually disposing of nightsoil.

In villages, Dalits are usually landless labourers like Khushboo's
parents. They are paid a pittance and face constant discrimination.
Dalits are often not allowed to share amenities such as village wells
with the upper castes.

There have been some changes to the rigid system, but generally in
urban centres. An affirmative-action policy since independence has
seen Dalits moving into higher education and holding government jobs.

Some Dalits have also held high offices. KR Narayanan was India's
first Dalit president and held office from 1997 to 2002. KG
Balakrishnan, also a Dalit, is slated to become chief justice of
India's Supreme Court in January.

But those relative gains by caste mates did nothing to help a
hungry little girl named Khushboo in Bihar state last week.

© 2006 - dpa German Press Agency