PUCL Bulletin, September 2001

Citizens call for abolition of caste and race based discrimination

The Most Hon'ble Chairperson & Members of the Third Preparatory Committee
To World Conference Against Racism (WCAR)
Dear Sir/ Madam,

The World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related Intolerance has once again brought a new ray of hope for the millions from various parts of the world, who have been subjected to discrimination on grounds of race and caste that are inhuman, unjust and illegal, and are against the legal and moral standards set up by specific country legislations, Regional Human Rights Charters, UN Charter of Human Rights and the various UN Covenants and Conventions.

Massive Discrimination: In Numbers, Substance, and Time Dalits are the largest and most significant segment of the discriminated world population. That 260 million people in South Asia alone, perhaps more than the population of some of the European countries, are systemically subjected to continuous discrimination based on descent and work should be a mind-boggling factor for any human being sensitive to human rights. Discriminated in multiple forms and in various aspects of life on grounds of work and descent, they ought to attract global attention, concern, and commitment. That they have been humiliated by gross violations of their rights for centuries should at least now, though far belated, awaken world conscience - that of peoples and governments.

In spite of five decades and more of Constitutional provisions proclaiming abolition and prohibition of such discrimination under country specific legislations in South Asian countries, there is hardly any change today in their living conditions and in their right to live a dignified life. A 160 million of them live in India alone. For them the right to equality and freedom is still a mirage.
In the context of the WCAR, the most shocking fact is that some nations which support the WCAR do not only deny the existence of discrimination based on work and descent but also apply various tactical measures in order to pressurize other nations to withdraw their statements - statements which ask for recognition of discrimination based on descent and work. This has been happening in recent weeks and months in spite of the fact that a good amount of progress has been made by the UN bodies to recognize and affirm unambiguously the existence of such discrimination.

The Dalit caucus is deeply concerned about the efforts of such nations to derecognize discrimination based on work and descent. This, no doubt, is against the spirit of the WCAR. It is against the UN Charter in letter and spirit. It is against the conscience of humanity.

The following summary is a reflection of the progress made towards recognition of such discrimination. It not only underlines the need for continued efforts but also makes it imperative for the III Prep Com to recognize and affirm discrimination based on work and descent.

I. India's Constitutional and International Commitment: Recognizes & Prohibits Discrimination, including caste discrimination and untouchability practices:

1.In the Chapter on Fundamental Rights, the Constitution of India takes a strong position upholding equality and against any form of discrimination (Art.14) More importantly, it is emphatic about doing away with caste discrimination (Art. 15 & 16), and more significantly its unambiguous commitment to abolish the discriminatory practice of untouchability against the Dalits is very pronounced (Art. 17).

2.In keeping with its Constitutional mandate India has ratified ICERD, ICCPR, ICESCR, CEDAW and various ILO Conventions, which contain provisions against discrimination.

3.The Indian position that "Caste Discrimination is not Racial Discrimination" was clearly responded to by CERD: "The Committee affirms that the situation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes falls within the scope of the Convention (Concluding Observations of CERD: India 17/09/96)

4.India has, in fact, accepted the practice of discrimination towards Dalits by saying "that a practice that is so old cannot be eliminated rapidly". (CERD/C/304/Add.13, Sept. 17, 1996).
II. UN Treaty Bodies: Recognition of and Pronounced Position on Discrimination against Dalits

5.Various UN bodies have verified and affirmed the existence of discrimination towards Scheduled Castes (that is, Dalits):
"The Committee notes with concern that despite measures taken by the Government, members of Scheduled Castes... continue to endure severe social discrimination and to suffer disproportionately from many violations of their rights under the Covenant, inter alia, inter-caste, violence, bonded labour and discrimination of all kinds. It regrets that the de facto perpetuation of the caste system entrenches social differences and contributes to these violations." (Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee: India. 04/08/97. CCPR /C/ 79/Add.81). The Committee is concerned with the continuing discrimination, including violence suffered by women of the Dalit community, despite the passage of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989" (Concluding Observations of the CEDAW: India. 01/02/2000. A/55/38, Para 74). "The Committee urges the Government to enforce laws preventing discrimination against Dalit Women and prohibiting the 'Devadasi' system. It urges the Government to introduce affirmative action programmes in such areas as education, employment, and health so as to provide life chances to Dalit women and girls and create an environment conducive to their progress. The Committee calls upon the Government to set a time-frame for these interventions and provide information on the progress made in the next report."(Concluding Observations of the CEDAW: India 01/02/2000. A /55/38, Para 75). "The Committee is concerned with the continuing discrimination, including violence suffered by women of Dalit community, despite the passage of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989" (CEDAW/C/2000/1/CRP. 3/Add.Dt.31.04.2000)
III. National Institutions and Leaders: Confirm Existence Today of Discrimination against Dalits.

6.The existence of discrimination towards Dalits has been recognized by various national bodies in India and by the National leaders. To quote only a few: "It is a matter of great concern and regret that in our society, its weakest and vulnerable segments continue to suffer from discrimination, exploitation and atrocities. Despite provisions for removal of disabilities and discrimination against the Scheduled Castes... provided in the Constitution of India, incidents of atrocities on members of the Scheduled Castes... continue to be reported from all parts of the country in varying numbers. Data (as per NCRB) indicate that, even after 50 years of Independence untouchability has not been abolished as provided in Article 17 of the Constitution and incidents continue to be reported. ... In many cases instead of 'physical' untouchability, there are instances of mental and social distancing". (National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Fourth Report, 1996-97 & 1997-98, Vol. I., pp. 231 & 232) "The Commission considers it deeply offensive to human dignity that the degrading practice requiring the manual handling of night soil is still allowed in our country, 50 years after Independence. Despite the launching of a nationwide scheme in March 1992 to free those engaged in such work, and to rehabilitate them in other occupations, implementation has remained dismal. (Annual Report of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) quoted in the Written Statement submitted to the UN Secretary General by the Commission of the Churches of International Affairs of the World Council of Churches, dated 21 January 2000). "The Dalits are in different stages of socio-economic development and are engaged in divergent forms of work for their living. The practice of such traditional unclean occupations as scavenging, carrying night soil, removing dead animals, leather work, beating of drums, etc. gave them a low position in the traditional caste hierarchy and they are viewed as occupying the lowest rung of the social ladder.

The vast majority of Dalits are landless and work as agricultural labourers and wage earners to work out their livelihood. Dependence on upper class land owners for agricultural labour and perpetual subjugation, force many of them to live as bonded labourers. ... The condition of the Dalit women in particular is deplorable. They are doubly underprivileged, being women and belonging to a Schedule Caste. They constitute the major work force doing hard manual labour and engage in agricultural operations and their exposure to outdoor work and interaction with cunning employers make them vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Abject poverty forces Dalit women to become 'Devadasi' the prevalent institutionalized prostitution system" (Mr. H. Hanumanthappa, Former Chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, quoted in the written Statement submitted to the UN Secretary General by the Commissioner of the Churches, on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches, dated 21 January 2000). "Untouchability has been abolished by the law but the shades of it remain in the ingrained attitude nurtured by the caste system. Though the provisions of reservation in educational institutions and public services flow from our constitution these provisions remain unfulfilled through bureaucratic and administrative deformation or by narrow interpretations of these special provisions... It is forgotten that these benefits are provided not in a way of charity but as human rights.

An Urgent Appeal
10. We, the undersigned, eminent citizens and human rights defenders, therefore, urge the Chair and Members of the 3rd Preparatory Conference to the WCAR to reinsert the following language into the Draft Declaration and Programme of Action as a separate section under Chapter X: Disadvantaged Groups - General/ Vulnerable Groups.

X. bis Discrimination on the Basis of Work and Descent "New 130 bis: The World Conference affirms that discrimination on the basis of work and descent involves a complex and deeply entrenched obstacle to the realization of the civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights of members of the affected communities, and that while most closely associated with caste systems in South Asia, this type of discrimination is encountered in other parts of the world as well". The World Conference therefore a. Calls upon the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to undertake an in-depth study of the question of discrimination on the basis of work and descent in cooperation with the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; b. Encourages Governments concerned to undertake public awareness raising and educational initiatives in order to promote positive changes in attitude towards and within communities discriminated against on the basis of work and descent;" (Barbados as on 11.05.01" New 109: To ensure that all necessary constitutional, legislative and administrative measures, including appropriate form of affirmative action, are in place to prohibit and redress discrimination on the basis of work and descent and that such measures are respected and implemented by all States authorities at all levels;"

(Switzerland: 1.06.01) -- Mathew Philip; Maya Ramachandran; MC Raj & Jyothi; Mc_ Jyothi; Michele Stephenson; Miloon Kothari; Mimroth, PL , July 25

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