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
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
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;"
-- Mathew Philip; Maya Ramachandran; MC Raj & Jyothi; Mc_ Jyothi;
Michele Stephenson; Miloon Kothari; Mimroth, PL , July 25