Caste in Delhi, Not in Durban
-- By Rajindar Sachar
We have witnessed a series of seminars and consultations, not with a view
to drawing up a programme how to eradicate discrimination against Dalits
but whether caste discrimination should be included as an item of agenda
of discussion at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination,
and Related intolerance (WCAR) being held at Durban. I find this an exercise
Judged by any measure,
it is not even arguable that the worst of discrimination and deprivation
is the usual lot of Dalits. This shameful attitude of Hindu society towards
Dalits made Swami Vivekanand cry out in anguish, "India's doom was
sealed the very day it invented the word "mlechha" wand stopped
from communion with other ...O Indians... Forget not that the lower classes,
the cobbler, the Sweeper, are thy flesh and blood, thy brothers".
But not withstanding all this, the evil of casteism has the vicious habit
of persisting. Dr Lohia was, therefore, insistent that sustained efforts
be made to put Dalits into positions of power, and warned of the damage
the caste system had done to India, and how she may rid herself of it.
This pain was also reflected in 1982 in a judgement of the Delhi High
Court, which, justifying that in the matter of allotment of land by the
Government, priority be given to Dalits said: "Our social system
has had, it must be remembered, to live down centuries of caste exploitation
and sub-human existence to which this large chunk of our population, i.e.,
Harijans were condemned". A question may well be posed as to why
then I see no utility in caste discrimination being discussed at Durban.
Though I am prepared to admit that discrimination against Dalits may sometimes
be worse than many instances of racial discrimination, to equate Dalits
as a separate race is to evolve a theory that India is a mixture of various
races. That we are a multi-religious and a multi-cultural nation is a
reality. But we are not multi-racial-like the US, which colonised Indians
in America, or like Australia and New Zealand, which colonised the Aborigines
and the Maoris. To pick out any particular segment the population as a
separate race is illogical.
No, we cannot wash off our sins of caste discrimination by passing the
buck to the UN. I am against providing an excuse to the Hindu society
to absolve itself of its shame and guilt by purporting to put forward
an excuse that discrimination against the Dalits is not a cancer within
Hindu religion, but a question of racial discrimination.
The Dalit Christians too have expressed their resentment at being discriminated
by other Christians in being denied facilities like a common church and
common burial grounds. Should not Christian groups feel concerned as to
why the religion of Christ, who treated all beings as children of God,
and who has inspired millions of us in the fight for equality and universal
brotherhood, permits this discrimination? Are we running away from our
collective shame by saying that Dalits constitute a separate race in India
and, therefore, are discriminated against by all religions-Hinduism, Islam
or Christianity. I refuse to lessen my guilt as a Hindu at the treatment
meted in the past and in the present by Hindu society, in calling Dalit
a separate race. I must continue to wear the cross, till I redeem Dalit
dignity and rights.
No, we do not have to go to Durban to know the reality of caste discrimination.
Commendable work has been done by some NGOs which last year held a public
bearing on this aspect. Violation of the Human Rights of the Dalits is
perpetrated not only by the State but also by dominant castes. More disturbingly
they found that in Kerala, the CPI and the CPI (M) workers were threatened
by dalits who had left their party to join the Dalit movement and also
instances of forbidding temple entry to Dalits by the upper castes.
No, it is not a question of concealing from the international community
this evil, which is so well documented. Nor it is it the devilish design
or the present Central Government to avoid discussion on caste at the
international forum. As far back as 1996, the Committee on Elimination
of Racial discrimination (CERD) noted that the then Indian Government,
in its report, had claimed that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
does not fall within the scope of the convention. The United Front Government
in its communication of September 1997 to the Special Rapporteur repeated
the same stand.
The euphoria that a programme of action could have been defined at Durban
to fight caste discrimination is to deliberately shut one's eyes to the
motivation and purpose of the organizers of WCAR. The United Nations publication
mentions that the drafters of the UN Charter were well aware of the dangers
of racism which had become so clearly evident in the years prior to the
2nd world war and which, during that war, reached an unimagined level
of horror in the systematic and wholesale extermination of people for
reason of race alone.
In 1991, in a note by the UN Secretary General, the need to proclaim the
Third Decade to Control Racism was emphasized as new conflicts along Racial
and ethnic lines have come about, among others, because of: (a) intensified
migration from Third World and Eastern Europe countries which suffer economic
stagnation; (b) conflicts over economic resources, in developed as well
as developing countries; (c) exacerbation of old racial conflicts and
prejudices by racist groups, which in some countries have gained power
and legitimacy by election to public office; (d) increase in western countries
of Russian discrimination such as that which occurred with respect to
immigrants from the middle east and north Africa during the Gulf War.
The fact sheet of the World Conference has highlighted that racial discrimination,
ethnic conflicts, and widespread violence persist in various parts of
the world. In recent years, the World has witnessed instances of, "ethnic
cleansing". Racial minorities, migrants, asylum seekers, and indigenous
people are persistent targets of intolerance. Right since 1945, the concept
of Racial Discrimination has been the discriminatory treatment by Europe
and the developed World of Asians, Africans, and people from developing
The shame of the Dalit discrimination is certainly an issue of Human Rights
and can and should form legitimately, the subject matter of discussion
at any International World Conference on Human Rights. But to purport
to include caste in the WCAR would really take away the pressure from
the Racist policies of Europeans, like the treatment meted out by Clemens
to Turkish immigrants, and to the Racial attacks on people of Asian origin
settled in the UK by the white hoodlums.
I fear no practical benefits will accrue to the Dalit movements; instead,
in the bargain, it may weaken the fight against Racism, which is spreading
in the developed World against the poor of the south. I would rather suggest
that the Central Government be pressurised to hold an International Conference
on Dalit discrimination, with emphasis on how to eradicate it. NGOs engaged
in the work of Racial Discrimination from outside the country should also
be invited. Let the shame of our treatment of Dalits be exposed to public
My disagreement is only with those who want to fight the battle at Durban.
If all the energy that has been put in just to place this item on the
agenda at Durban had been spent in fighting and exposing the discrimination
at the ground label, a good deal of ground would have been covered. It
is not jingoist nationalism that urges one to speak against the Durban
discussion, but the sheer purposelessness of it. We must accept that the
biggest hurdle in the fight against casteism is that out society is still
seeped in a feudal mindset.
The Brahmanical caste system must be uprooted, and a Satyagraha launched
for breaking the barrier of temple entry and ending the practice of separate
wells. But the battle has to be fought in Delhi, not Durban