Monday, November 01, 2004

Scheduled Castes reduced to 'client group': NHRC

In a scathing report on the prevention of atrocities against the Scheduled Castes released Tuesday, the NHRC says the underprivileged community has largely been treated by state formations as a "client group to be associated with its activities as a symbolic gesture".

Besides government institutions, Indian political parties have also come in for their share of flak.

While parties might pitch for Scheduled Caste and Dalit leaders for the top posts, they never enjoy the kind of autonomy their upper caste colleagues have, the report says.

The report, prepared by former civil servant K.B. Saxena, criticises the centre and state governments as well as mainstream political parties for failing to provide avenues for assertion by scheduled castes -- who comprise 16.37 percent of the country's population.

"When the Scheduled Castes have taken to alternative forms of mobilisation, such as joining the radical left movements, the state has been particularly hostile and even repressive, rather than reflecting on its failure which has led alienation of these group from mainstream," it states.

The NHRC takes a dig at political parties who boast about pushing scheduled caste leaders to top posts saying that the concessions and reservations given were a matter of constitutional necessity or political compulsion.

Under the constitution, 15 percent of government jobs are reserved for the Scheduled Castes and 7.5 percent for the Scheduled Tribes.

"It is so done as a symbolic act rather than as a genuine desire to equalise opportunity for them. As a matter of fact, mainstream political parties have failed to provide avenues for assertions by scheduled castes within their hierarchy," says the report.

Even a Scheduled Caste chief minister fails to make a difference in this backdrop.

"(A Scheduled Caste chief minister) is extremely reluctant to take strong and decisive measures benefiting his community as it may displease the dominant communities supporting him and destabilise his own position."

"This dilemma underlines the bitter truth that capture of political power also does not assure that radical changes would take place in the lives of the scheduled castes vis-�-vis the rest of the society," the report adds.

The NHRC has also slammed anti-conversion laws passed by some state governments, saying that it was just an effort from the state and upper caste Hindus to "freeze their status and identity as untouchables".

It says the growing trend of religious conversion was a result of the disenchantment with the "caste- based prejudices and inequalities that have penetrated into hierarchy" of religious groups.

The report predicts that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's much talked about job reservation for the Scheduled Castes in the private sector would not materialise.

It has urged the government to engage the private sector in serious discussions on how to facilitate the entry of the neglected communities in employment, trade and commerce as a party of an affirmative action strategy.

Copies of the report, that includes several recommendations to improve the status of the marginalised communities, have been sent to the prime minister, cabinet ministers, Planning Commission and chief ministers urging them to take immediate action.

Source: Indo-Asian News Service, November 1, 2004

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