Japan’s outcastes

For us from the subcontinent, realities of caste have forced us to become familiar with ways the social basis of an “occupational minority group” has the potential to run menacingly deep. The Burakamin of Japan–previously labeled as the more derogatory term, Eta (filthy mass), were individuals in the feudal four-tiered Japanese society who worked in instrumental occupations, such as leather workers, executioners, undertakers, butchers, sewage removers etc and have historically continued to be ghettoized.


This causes them to become the cheapest available labour for nuclear testing camps located outside cities, as the present Burakamin workers employed to clean and reassemble Fukushima post 2011 proves.


As this report notes:


In a system similar to the one that governed Black sharecroppers in the southern United States, Kitajima said these nuclear fill-ins have to give a portion of their salaries back to the contractors for “expenses.” “They move from one plant to another seeking the most dangerous jobs,” said Tanaka, who has studied the nuclear day laborers. “It is very difficult to follow their health needs since they are not permanent employees and no one monitors their health. And those temporary workers who have received radiation doses equivalent to the maximum allowable annual dose for a full-time nuclear worker are dismissed and cannot work again in the industry for a minimum of four years


Published last week, an article on BBC Asia brings to focus the prejudice faced by the Shibaura abattoir workers in Tokyo, as well as the irony that “the men here are dicing up some of the most expensive and highly prized animals on the planet. This is where Japan’s world famous wagyu beef is prepared.”




Timothy AmosEmbodying Difference published by Navayana asks some uncomfortable questions about what it means to live unequal. Is there really firm historical continuity between premodern outcaste and modern burakumin communities? Is the discrimination experienced by historic and contemporary outcaste communities actually the same? Does the way burakumin frame their own experience significantly affect mainstream understandings of their plight?


The lack of legal recognition of rights systematically thwarts any attempts of organized protest. Of course, the Ambedkarite Bhagwan Das knew this well and volleyed for a recognition of the struggles of the Burakamin at various world forums, notably the World Conference Against Racism held in Durban in September 2001.







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