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Canada's Untouchables; a Comparison of India's Caste and Canada's First Nations

In: Social Issues

Submitted By Loretta2112
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Canada's Untouchables!

Perri Klass is a young doctor who is just out of medical school in the United States. In her story India (2005), she talks about coming face to face with the grim realities of poverty and poor health in the third world; she compares them to her experiences in the first world. Klass implies that the health issues in India do not exist in North America. She states that in her world, where she got her medical training, "all children are supposed to grow up" with only a few exceptions to the rule (p.104). My intent is to confirm that Canada has a similar group of people living in poverty and poor health, and that the problems of India exist in our first world country too. I will do this by identifying the poorest people of each country and show how each group suffers from social and economic exclusion. I will also clarify how the health of each group suffers, and demonstrate how these groups are marginalized.
Social exclusion can be defined as, 'the process through which individuals or groups are wholly or partially excluded from full participation in the society within which they live' (Thorat, 2007, n.p.). Dalits (formerly known as the 'Untouchables'), of India and most of the Natives (ironically, they are also known as North American Indians) of Canada live under adverse conditions and poverty. In India the Dalits are the poorest of the poor. They have been kept from getting an education and from possessing land. They are left to do the heavy manual labour, and menial jobs for survival (Azad, n.d., n.p.). When they are employed, they receive lower wages than other castes. Dalits have a poverty rate of 35 percent compared with 15 percent in other castes (Thorat, 2007, n.p.). In Canada, the First Nations are some of the poorest in the country. They have always been wards of the federal government, living on reserve land to which they have no ownership. Some natives negotiated treaties with the government and the lands that were given to them, were to be managed on their behalf until they were "civilized" enough to govern themselves. The unemployment rate for the natives in 1995, was four times higher than the national average. Of the ones that were employed, their average earnings were 50 percent lower than the national average. The few natives that successfully landed a job in management, were paid one and a half times less than a non-native (Shah, 2004, p.269). The natives also have a 23.5 percent child poverty in comparison to 11.2 for the rest of Canada (PSAC, 2008, n.p.).
The people of India and the First Nations in Canada are dying from preventable diseases, because of poverty, lack of vaccinations, malnutrition, and poor sanitation. About 90 percent of deaths in children under five years, are preventable in India. Neo natal mortality (45%) is the biggest killer, followed by diarrhoea (20%) and acute respiratory infections (19%) (IBN, 2010, n.p.). India also leads the world with the most cases of tuberculosis with nearly two million new cases each year, and every day a thousand people die of the disease. It is the signature disease of poverty, which is passed easily in poorly ventilated spaces (Azad, n.d., n.p.). In Canada, native infant mortality is up to four times higher than that of non-native babies. With sudden infant death syndrome in the lead, followed by respiratory infections, then injuries (Shah, p. 274). Third world diseases, such as tuberculosis run rampant on reserves, 8-10 times the rate of the Canadian population. Diabetes is on the rise and it is suspected that the natives buy 'junk food' before nutritious food because of cost, junk food is cheaper because it is easier to ship (PSAC,2008, n.p.). At any one time, close to 100 First Nation communities must boil their water, leaving them with little or no access to drinking water and sanitation
Marginalization occurs regularly in both countries, despite the fact that state governments in India have abolished untouchability, just as the Canadian government banned segregation. But reports show that the practice is very much alive in India and in Canada. In India, there are unwritten rules regarding the Dalits, for example; caste Hindis board buses before the Dalits, the buses do not stop in Dalit areas, the Dalits are not allowed to use the bus shelters, and the postmen do not deliver postal articles to the Dalits (Azad, n.d., n.p.). In Canada, the marginalization is more prominent in the health care system. The Canadian Press (2010) reported on an extensive study of infant mortality in Manitoba. The study found that "the death rate for aboriginal babies was more than twice the Canadian average and didn't improve no matter how close their mothers lived to sophisticated health-care-facilities". The lead researcher, Zhong-Cheng Luo of the University of Montreal, was puzzled by his findings. He assumed that with more sophisticated health care facilities, which is associated with higher incomes, should also indicate healthier babies. He surmised that "...there is some barrier to accessing better care... Those barriers could include language or culture". In our area, about 5 or 6 years ago, there were a number of young mothers with babies who were sent home from the hospital emergency, the hospital staff decided that the babies were fine and just had a cold virus. Within a day or two, the babies died. Autopsies revealed that the babies died of SIDS. Out of the five babies that died that year, only one got an inquiry. Another baby that died was a twin, and when the second twin started to display symptoms similar to the first one, the baby was then allowed to go to a paediatrician. The paediatrician found that the second baby was in the first stages of meningitis, he also implied that the first twin may very well have had meningitis too. In March 2009, Sue Bailey from the Toronto Star, interviewed Dr. Janet Smylie, from the University of Toronto. Dr. Smylie spoke of stereotypical and racist treatment received by native people. She told a story about, when she was working in a hospital in Toronto; a young native woman phoned in, the woman was anxious and had a heavy accent. The triage nurse called Dr. Smylie and told her "There is something wrong with your patient. I think she is retarded". Dr. Smylie stated that these stories are just "a little too frequent" in Canada (Bailey, 2009, n.p.). As a member of the native community, I suggest that it is the way the natives are treated when they attempt to see a doctor, is what keeps them from seeking medical attention.
Poverty and social exclusion are factors that are overlooked when considering poor health in any country. Unfortunately, these issues have no boundaries, they are found in every country of the world. When Klass wrote her story, her trip to India was her first glimpse into seeing the real world; and when she insinuated that the issues India faces with poverty and poor health don't exist in our first world, she was speaking her naive thoughts before she got to see some of her own country's poor people. After she went back to her 'world', she may have found that the native people do indeed die from preventable diseases. The similarities between the Dalits of India and our Native people are many; they are suffering and dying from preventable diseases, they are the poorest in their countries, and they experience social exclusion on a daily basis. India's Dalit population is far greater than the total population in Canada, and the natives consist of only 2 percent of all Canadians. When comparing the billions of people in India to only a few million people of Canada, it would seem to be worse because of the numbers. Researcher's and governments know what the problem is, but they don't really know why, or how to deal with it. The governments of India has made attempts to reduce infant mortality, but it was insufficient because of the social exclusion of the "untouchables". Dr. Smylie (a researcher) suggests that "the high infant mortality rate amongst the natives is caused from the social deprivation and not genetics" (Bailey,2009, n.p.) India's progress is very slow in improvements for the Dalits, because of being a third world country and it being very hard for the citizens to change their way of thinking concerning the caste system. Thorat (2007) wrote in his article that the "direct and indirect effects of discrimination points out a need for research to develop policies to help combat the prejudice, and thus reduce poverty". Maybe that is the way it needs to be approached. Sadly, our history with respect to the treatment of the native people is not something in which we can take pride. The attitude of racial and cultural superiority led to the suppression of the natives, and we must recognize the impact of these actions on the once self-sustaining nation. Then we may be able to combat the prejudice and the poverty that exists in our own back yards.

Kahn, A. (2005). Clone mammals...clone man? In S. Scott, D. Perkins, & E. Rothwell (Eds.). Intersections (2nd ed.), pp 91-93. Toronto, ON: Pearson Education.…...

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