Indo-German Friendship for Dignity of Dalits

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The Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) and the Indo-German Society (IGS), Affiliate Remscheid, organised the 50th Anniversary of IGS, on February 12-13, 2016, at Varanasi. The chairperson, Helma Ritscher, won the hearts of one and all. She spoke about collaborations and friendships. Here’s a report by the Different Truths News Service (DTNS).

The Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) and Malaviya Center for Peace Research, Banaras Hindu University (BHU) organised peoples’ celebration of 50th Anniversary of Indo-German Society (IGS), Affiliate Remscheid, on February 12-13, 2016, at Varanasi.

On this occasion, Helma Ritscher, chairperson, IGS, Affiliate Remscheid, Germany, in her inaugural speech, said, “It is a great honor for me, to celebrate together with all of you today and with the many invited guests the 50th anniversary of our IGS Remscheid here in Varanasi. In Germany, we will start the celebration in June 2016 in the town hall of Remscheid, where we will have Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi as our guest of honor.”

Showing a brochure, brought out on this occasion, she added, “This brochure tells the story of the extraordinary friendship and harmonious cooperation between the PVCHR and our IGS Remscheid, since early 2002, when we met each other for the first time.

“At the time of our first meeting, the PVCHR was at the beginning of its development to become a recognised organisation for human rights. Our Society from Remscheid had experience since many years: we organised numerous events and projects in which we wanted to explain and show the diversity of the Indian culture and its unique traditions, past and present to the German public. We also organised an exchange between Indian and German schools: thanks to pen pal-friendships and project work, the students were able to overcome prejudices, create a better understanding for each other, and develop an appreciation of each other’s culture. We were convinced, to be good mediators between the two cultures.”

Global March

Helma elaborated, “That changed abruptly with the ‘Global March1998’, which was initiated by Kailash Sartyarthi, as the international coordinator. Here I want to add, that Sartyarthi was honored for his tireless efforts against the exploitation of children in South Asia and his fight for the access of all children to education with the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2014.”

Detailing about the Global March, Helma, stated, “The Global March brought child laborers from different parts of the world for the first time to Geneva, Switzerland, to the meeting of the ILO (International Labour Organization). They should get the opportunity, to talk for themselves about their rights and against intolerable child labor. They also came with thousands of thumbprints they had collected on their way to Geneva, as an evidence of solidarity.

“We suddenly became aware of our global responsibility for the fate of this world’s suffering children, particularly children in India. The examination of ‘child labor’ and the lives of the marginalised and neglected Dalit-Communities showed us quite plainly, that we also had marginalised them in the programs of our IGS Remscheid – until the Global March.”

Human Rights

She explained, “The issue of human rights was immediately on the agenda of our society. From this moment on, we actively participated in the Global March, updated the theme in Remscheid schools through information material and organised a day of action in the city center. One of our activities was a charity concert of the esteemed musicians and brothers Prakash, (who unfortunately died), Subhash and Vikash Maharaj of Varanasi. We know each other since 1983. Today, we share a deep friendship and a multifaceted cooperation. Vikash Maharaj, founder and vice-president of human rights organisation PVCHR at that time, invited me after the concert to Varanasi to meet the founder of the PVCHR, Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi.

“Unfortunately, it took four more years, until I met Dr. Lenin and the PVCHR for the first time. The Global March had already given me an insight into the discriminatory situation of the Dalits, but to see the situation with my own eyes shocked me even more. However, how happy the crowd of children greeted when I arrived at the villages – the people were so friendly! From this moment, the cooperation between PVCHR and our society was decided: The promotion of Dalit in the struggle for their rights and their appreciation as equal human beings became the main topic of the affiliate Remscheid.”

Tracing the history of cooperation, Helma, stated, “Beginning in 2007, the IGS utilised public funds of the German government in North Rhine-Westphalia and sponsors from Remscheid, to enable the construction of social and educational facilities in the villages around Varanasi, like Ayer, Baghwanala and Shivrampur. In the more distant village Raup, a community center was built for and by the Dalit community, headed by Dr. Lenin and the PVCHR.

“One year before, in 2006, our affiliate and the PVCHR had started an educational initiative between a student team of a Remscheid Gymnasium and Dalit students. The Remscheid-students have campaigned on public actions to promote the struggle of their Dalit friends for equal rights. Today, the German students are grown up but still engaged on sustainable projects. One of them, Henrik Sadlowski, will come in March for the third time to Varanasi – to be with the PVCHR and his Dalit friends.”

Bridge of Friendship

Speaking on the friendship, she emphasised, “Over the years, an indestructible bridge of friendship has been created. This bridge brought Dr. Lenin also to Remscheid, where the Lord Mayor in the town hall received him. Moreover, on behalf of our IGS, I have been here in India for many times. In all the years, I attended some inaugurations of important buildings, like the ‘Savitri Bai Puhle Women Centre’, in 2012.

“After this opening ceremony in Baghwanala, the ‘Helma Ritscher Education Scholarship Fund’ was initiated, by PVCHR, as recognition for the work of our society and our commitment to education for all children. The scholarship, as a long-term and sustainable initiative, offers underprivileged boys and girls the opportunity to receive continuing education. Deeply impressed and moved by the idea I accepted this honor.”

She added, “Tomorrow (Feb 13), I will share happiness with all the young people who have successfully graduated with the help of the ‘Helma Ritscher Education Scholarship Fund’. It will be a great honor to me, to handover the ‘Certificate of the Indo-German Society Remscheid’ to the young Dalit graduates.

“A certificate as a symbol of recognition and as a sign, that they are equal, emancipated and well educated Indian citizens, with rights and dignity.”

Her closing remark was greeted with loud applause, when she said, “But, why a German celebration in Varanasi? It’s because Germany and India, Remscheid and Varanasi, IGS and PVCHR live in our hearts – today and in future!”

IGS: One of the 31 Affiliates in Germany

A document detailing the work of IGS stated that it is a task for all affiliates to bring people from both countries closer together. The affiliates want to highlight knowledge and understanding of modern India in the German public and inform about the traditions and diverse religious, ethnic and cultural sources of India. It is important that every affiliate is looking for its own way to build a bridge between India and Germany.

This year, the IGS Remscheid is celebrating its 50th anniversary and all the achievements of the past years in a special way. The society celebrates with the people in Germany and Varanasi, which decisively influenced the character of the society since 2002: Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi and his organisation PVCHR. It is the smallest part of the 50 years old history, but it has become the most important one and the main topic of the affiliate: the examination and turning to the global theme human rights, such as the right of all children to receive an education and promotion. This is the route and the goal at the same time.

The Banaras Declaration

The seven-point Banaras declaration stated:

  1. Endorse and support Banaras Declaration1on 9th August, 2014 at Kabeer Mulgadi
    Math, Varanasi. We urge UNESCO world heritage committee to declare plural
    and inclusive history of Varanasi as a living heritage of the pluralism and
    inclusive culture.
  2. Let’s continue to promote the mutual understanding between our people in general
    and youths in particulars. Only then our societies can withhold the influences of
  3.  Explore and highlight the potentials of multi-culture, diversity, pluralism and, in
    particular religious diversity as a resource for peace rather than a barrier.
  4. Desiring that Governments of world embodies the aspirations of the People, aver
    he need for greater efforts for promoting the sovereignty of the People and
    violence free world through democratic values and structures.
  5. We are concerned by the increase in human trafficking (including children,
    women and marginalized communities) in the region and call for receiving
    countries to take on responsibility for repatriation and compensation of the
  6.  We affirm that discrimination based on gender, caste, creed, ethnicity and
    differently-abled is a major obstacle to meaningful participation of People.
  7. We believe a child’s right to survival and health is of paramount importance to the
    progress of the society, and maintain that the child’s right to development be
    upheld through free and compulsory education, including vocational training, and
    recreation without discrimination for all and in a child-friendly environment.

The Banaras Declaration was jointly signed by Helma Ritscher, chairperson, Indo-German Society Affiliate Remscheid, Germany and Lenin Raghuvanshi, founder and CEO, Peoples Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), India. Other signatories were Marius Kurtz, founder and CEO, Plurismoe.V., and Sukria UG (haftungsbeschraenkt), Germany.


Pix by Shirin Shabana Khan