IHEU Speaks Out on Caste at the UN

  • Date / 22 March 2005

IHEU’s executive director Babu Gogineni spoke at the UN Commission on Human Rights on 21 March 2005. He called for the appointment of a UN expert commission to examine the plight of lower caste peoples in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Statement by Representative Rajaji R Babu GOGINENI, Monday 21st March 2005

Commission on Human Rights: 61st Session. (14 March – 22 April 2004)
Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and all forms of Discrimination (item 6)

Mr Chairman

As Executive Director of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, I am making this statement on behalf of our 13 Indian Member Organisations.

Caste is a discriminatory and oppressive system. It victimizes the majority of Hindus, but its worst effects are felt by the Dalits in India, the nearly 200 million of our fellow human beings who are considered untouchable. They live in segregated colonies throughout the country, are traditionally excluded from sacred rites, and all social contact with the higher castes. The Caste system has been sustained by Hindu religious orthodoxy, is pernicious and all-pervading.

Discrimination against untouchables was outlawed in the Indian Constitution, and the state has tried to redress the wrongs. Legislation and programs of affirmative action have been introduced.

Though the situation of the Dalits has undoubtedly improved during the last 50 years, bonded labour, scavenging and religious prostitution (devadasis) have not been eliminated. Merely criminalising untouchability has proven inadequate. The entire Caste system must disappear before significant progress can be made. We are faced with a deep-rooted cultural system that will require new, creative initiatives if it is ever to be eliminated. We urge the Government of India to bring progressive NGOs into partnership, and to accept international discussion of this issue: the plight of the victims of the Caste system comes fully within the work of the UN Human Rights Commission.

We recognise that this problem is not confined to India. We, the International Humanist and Ethical Union and its Indian member organisations, call for the appointment of a UN expert commission to examine the plight of lower caste peoples, particularly in Indian society, but also in Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. And we urge you to consider appointing a UN Special Rapporteur on the abuse of the human rights of the lower castes throughout the sub-continent.

Our humanity will continue to remain diminished while we allow so many millions of our fellow humans to be brutally victimized, and their victimization to be ignored by the international community.

Thank you

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