The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has confronted India at the UN Human Rights Council for its failure to address Caste-based discrimination.
IHEU guest representative, Yogesh Varhade, highlighted Caste-based discrimination as a human rights violation, which affects hundreds of millions of people. In his statement, echoing the words of the last High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, Varhade called for the wall of Caste to be torn down.
The statement to the UN comes in the wake of 29 students being arrested for protesting cuts to provisions for education of Dalits and Adivasis in the country.
Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have raised serious concerns over the issue of Caste discrimination in their respective annual reports this year.
Caste systems divide people into unequal and hierarchical social groups. Caste-based discrimination involves massive violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and affects an estimated 260 million people worldwide.
Whilst the division of a society into Castes is a global phenomenon not exclusively practised within any particular religion or belief system, Varhade’s statement concentrated on India where the vast majority of those suffering Caste discrimination live. In India, Caste discrimination is traditionally rooted in the Hindu Caste system, according to which Dalits are considered ‘outcasts’ or ‘untouchables’.
Between 2005 and 2010, there were 4,724 murders and 11,678 rapes of Dalits, and 217,077 “atrocities” (including arson, abduction, beatings, and other severe abuses) committed against them.
Several UN bodies have reaffirmed that Caste-based discrimination is prohibited by international human rights law and that it is a global human rights phenomenon, which needs be addressed comprehensively through existing human rights mechanisms. In 2009, the UN Human Rights Council published a report following a UN study on discrimination based on work and descent. That report contained draft Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination based on Work and Descent, which the International Community has yet to adopt formally.
Varhade’s statement on behalf of the IHEU follows below in full:
International Humanist and Ethical Union
United Nations Human Rights Council, 28th Session
Agenda Item 9: General Debate
Thank you Mr President
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said: “All victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and springboard for action.”
Accordingly, we want to bring to the attention of this Council the situation of 250 million Dalits who remain marginalized and persecuted in India, despite protective laws, and despite the Indian Constitution.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in August 1996 recommended that India undertake an on-going public programme of education, aimed at “eliminating the institutionalized thinking of the high-Caste and low-Caste mentality”. Nearly 20 years later, any efforts toward this undertaking have failed, for Caste discrimination remains rampant.
It is a system of discrimination, in existence for 3,000 years that thrives in rural areas – and often quietly practiced in the cities also. The main challenge to Indians is whether they can tear down “this wall of Caste”, as called for by the last High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.
According to National Crime Bureau records, between 2005 and 2010, there were 4,724 murders and 11,678 rapes (that is a rape every fifth hour) and under the Prevention of Atrocity Act, 217,077 “atrocities” which also include arson, abduction, beatings, and other severe abuses, such as parading Dalit women naked in the streets.
Whilst India pursues the principle of one person, one vote, in its political realm, it has forgotten equality in its social and economic structures: there is no dignity for those behind the wall of Caste. I ask, as Dr. Ambedkar did, “How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril.”
Thank you Sir.
Yogesh Varhade is Chief adviser and founder the Ambedkar Centre for Justice and Peace (ACJP) and has spent 40 years of contributing to the field of Human Rights. His work at the ACJP has concentrated on educating civil society about Caste. He is also a consultant on the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals.