Tuesday, August 27, 2002

U.N. panel condemns caste

By W. Chandrakanth

HYDERABAD Aug. 26. The United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD) has condemned the descent-based discrimination practised as caste in India and passed a resolution against it. The Indian Government had vehemently opposed the move arguing that the country had on its own initiated several measures that were having a positive effect, hence it was against the very discussion.

The resolution came at its convention in Geneva (the meet was held from August 5 to 23). An important spin-off from this would be that caste-based discrimination would be addressed by the U.N. bodies and within the parameters of iniquities being experienced by the Dalits and similar communities across the world.

This is bound to be a major set-back to the Indian Government which had maintained that caste cannot be equated to race all these years. At the same meet the Indian Government even suggested that the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mayawati, would not have risen to such a high office if discrimination had ever continued without checks.

The CERD meet in its General Recommendation No.XXIX dated August 22 said ``that discrimination based on descent includes discrimination against members of communities based on forms of social stratification such as caste and analogous systems of inherited status, which nullify or impair their equal enjoyment of human rights''.

Several organisations which fought for the inclusion of caste in one form or the other on the U.N. agenda all these years are happy over the developments. The National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) which received a copy of the recommendations on Sunday night termed the triumph as a ``certain defeat'' of the Indian Government which argued that descent-based discrimination should be interpreted within the framework of race only and not be diluted with the inclusion of any other form.

The following are some of the committee's other recommendations: educate the general public on the importance of affirmative action programmes to address the situation of victims of descent-based discrimination, encourage dialogue between members of descent-based communities and members of other social groups, ensure relevant judicial decisions and official actions take the prohibition of descent-based discrimination fully into account and take measures to address the special vulnerability of children of descent-based communities to exploitative child labour.

Speaking to The Hindu, national convener of the NCDHR, Paul Divakar, on Monday said though the recommendations were welcome the ground realities would not change unless the Government strictly enforced the Constitutional provisions and laws.

He appealed to the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, to set an example to the rest of the world by ensuring equal opportunities for Dalits for development. The NCDHR called upon the NHRC to ensure the compliance of the U.N. Committee declaration by the State.

Mr. Divakar also urged the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes commissions, the Women's Commission and the Election Commission to uphold and protect Dalit rights.

The NCDHR decided to coordinate its work with many Asian and African nations, which have discriminations of similar origins to collectively address the issue in future.

Source: The Hindu, August 27, 2002

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