A HUNGRY 10-year-old girl from India's lowest Hindu caste had all the
fingers of her right hand chopped off by an upper-caste landowner for
taking a few spinach leaves from his field, the Hindustan Times
reported today.

The attack took place in a village in Bhagalpur district last week in
impoverished Bihar state in the east where caste prejudice against
Dalits – formerly called "untouchables" – is widespread and sometimes
results in violence against them.

Police in Bhagalpur, in eastern Bihar, said they would soon arrest
the upper-caste landowner who used a sickle to wound the girl whose
name was given as Khushboo.

"We will get results. This is terrible," said police superintendent
J. S. Gangwar, quoted by the newspaper.

Khushboo's father said that he and his wife – both labourers – had
nothing to eat in their house so they sent their daughter to collect
herbs that grew along a railway line.

"She just strayed (to the landlord's field) and plucked a few
leaves," Sukho Ram told the newspaper.

Dalits make up around 16 per cent of India's 1.1 billion population
and still face discrimination in rural areas from higher castes and
sometimes are victims of rape and murder.

They are not allowed to enter some Hindu temples.

But Dalits have also held high office. India's first Dalit president
K. R. Narayanan held office from 1997 to 2002.

Last week, law ministry officials said Justice K. G. Balakrishnan
would become the first Dalit chief justice of India's powerful
Supreme Court in January next year.

Affirmative action in colleges, universities and in government jobs
has benefitted a small section of Dalits.

But many work as labourers, sweepers and toilet cleaners.