For United Nations anti-Dalit discrimination akin to racial segregation

11Apr07

UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination calls on Indian government to find a solution to segregation. Caste discrimination also has a religious dimension.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has called on the Indian government to ensure an immediate end to violence against Dalits and repeal the ‘Armed Forces Special Powers Act’. For the UN committee, which held two sittings in Geneva on February 23 and 26, violence against Dalits in India amounts to racial discrimination.The CERD report was issued this month. It found that “de facto segregation of Dalits persists” and highlighted systematic abuse against them, including torture and extra-judicial killings, an “alarming” extent of sexual violence against Dalit women, and caste discrimination in post-tsunami relief.

The report also mentioned “the Indian delegation’s arrogant rejection of well-documented abuses against Dalits before UN experts in Geneva,” adding that it “mirrors India’s systematic denial of Dalit rights at home,” said Smita Narula, faculty director of the Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice and a member of the committee.“India once again squandered an opportunity to enlist the support of experts in its efforts to ensure equality in law and practice for its citizens,” she added.

CERD experts noted that during their meeting on December 27, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh likened the practice of untouchability in India to apartheid in South Africa.“After this statement, I sincerely feel that the official position (of the Indian delegation . . .) is simply untenable,” said Committee Chairman Linos-Alexander Sicilianos. However, the Indian delegation represented by noted lawyer and Solicitor General Goolam Vahanvati refused to acknowledge any analogy between caste and racial discrimination.

CERD gave India a year to respond to four of its recommendations, including one on how it can end widespread impunity for violence against Dalits. The Indian government responded saying that was “deeply conscious and concerned about caste and is fully committed to tackling this at every level,” Mr Vahanvati said.“Our commission welcomes the UN’s report on the situation of the Dalits,” said Fr G. Cosmon Arokiaraj, executive secretary of the Commission for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Castes (SC/ST/BC) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.

“For the UN the government’s inaction is a sign that India lacks the political will to make positive efforts to eliminate the atrocities perpetrated against Dalits. The report also notes discrimination made on grounds of religion. Although the constitution of India guarantees the equality of all citizens, Christian Dalits have experienced religious discrimination,” he told AsiaNews. “Recently, Mr. Fakirbhai Vaghela, the acting chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes said that once an individual adopted Islam or Christianity, he did not face the social stigma of untouchability, and hence should not fall within the purview of reservation. [But] Vaghela’s statements do not reflect realities of Dalit Christians on the ground,” Father Arokiaray said. “Being Dalit does not flow out of a personal religious attitude, but from the surrounding society that ‘crushes’ some members because of their birth and assigned fate.”

“I am glad,” Fr Arokiaray explained, “that the UN report highlights this disparity based on religion. Christians of Scheduled Caste origin suffer the same socio-economic and political disabilities as their counterparts in other religions due to the traditional practice of untouchability and change of religion does not change their socio-economic status. The UN’s report should force the government to accept the fact that Dalits face discrimination in each and every sphere of socio-economic life. Even though India has signed the UN Declaration, the report shows that it pays lip service to human rights. [Hence] the duty of the UN should not be merely to find out short-comings but rather go further and use its clout and influence to make the government act.”

Source: Aseanews



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