What is Buraku Discrimination ?

What is Buraku ?

Buraku is a Japanese word referring to village or hamlet. The word began to acquire a new connotation after the administration in Meiji era (1868 - 1912) started to use "Tokushu Buraku" (special hamlet) in reference to former outcaste communities. The intention was to negatively distinguish former outcaste communities from other areas.

At present the word "Buraku" is usually referred to as communities where discriminated-against Buraku people reside. On the other hand, the term"Tokushu Buraku" has been figuratively used from time to time in distinguishing a different society from a so-called ordinary society as well as in describing Buraku areas, resulting in fostering discrimination against Buraku people.

Origin of the Discrimination

Buraku people or Burakumin (min refers to people) are the largest discriminated-against population in Japan. They are not a racial or a national minority, but a caste-like minority among the ethnic Japanese.

They are generally recognized as descendants of outcaste populations in the feudal days. Outcastes were assigned such social functions as slaughtering animals and executing criminals, and the general public perceived these functions as 'polluting acts' under Buddhist and Shintoist beliefs.

When the social status system was established in the 17th century (early Edo era) in the form of three classes (warrior, peasant, townsfolk), those outcastes, origin of the present Buraku people, were placed at the bottom of the society as Eta (extreme filth) and Hinin (non-human) classes.

1n 1871, the Meiji government promulgated the 'Emancipation Edict', declaring the abolition of the lowest social rank. Nevertheless, this has never gone further than a simple statement, without any effective measures.

Buraku Liberation Movement

Confronting the continued discrimination, the National Levelers Association was founded by Buraku people in 1922 to unite and fight against daily occurrences of discrimination. As Japan, however, moved toward militarism and took sides in World WarU, the association was suppressed and stopped halfway.

After the war, Buraku liberation movements were reunited in 1946 under the name of the National Committee for Buraku Liberation, which later evolved into the Buraku Liberation League (BLL), the present name.

The Committee started to demand responsible local authorities to improve living environments of Buraku areas which were extremely poor as a result of the negligence of the government services. This struggle developed into a movement demanding a national policy on Buraku problems.

As a result, the Cabinet Dowa Policy Council clearly stated that the solution of the Buraku problem was a State responsibility, in their recommendation of 1965.

The Committee and subsequently the BLL successfully facilitated the national government to consecutively enact laws to improve the living environment of Buraku areas.

Reality of Buraku Discrimination Today

According to a 1993 government survey, there were about 1.2million Buraku people at 4442 Buraku communities nationwide. These figures, however, only represent those areas classified as Dowa districts. (Dowa districts refer to Buraku areas in terms of government policy administration). Actual figures are estimated to as many as 6000 Buraku communities with over 3 million population.

Although living standard of Buraku people became higher compared to the past, there are still gap between Buraku people and non-Buraku people. In addition, there are many incidents of discrimination, particularly in marriage and employment as well as discriminatory remarks and inquiries made by non-Buraku people, including public officials.

Fundamental Law for Buraku Liberation

In response to the campaign, the government enacted in December 1996 the Law for the Measures for Promotion of Human Rights Protection. It stipulates that the government shall establish the Council for Promoting Human Rights Protection, that is required to conclude a policy recommendation for the measures of human rights education and awareness-raising within 2 years, and for the relief measures for the victims of human rights violations within 5 years.

In addition, the government decided in February 1997 on the 5-year extension of the Law Regarding the Special Fiscal Measures of the Government for Regional Improvement Projects, which would expire in March 1997.

Thus the campaign is step by step pushing forward to the enactment of the Fundamental Law for Buraku Liberation.

International Solidarity

In 1988 the BLL, BLRI and other organizations concertedly founded the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), a non-governmental human rights organization devoted to prompting the rights of persons subject to racism and/or discrimination. IMADR is in consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

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