'Caste discrimination is racism and more'

A group of 40 academicians, jurists, NGO representatives and civil society organisations, who met at a one-day conference at the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi, on May 7, 2001, denounced the subcontinent's caste system as ``worse than racism''. In a statement, they said the meeting took serious exception to the Government's moves to scuttle a discussion on caste in the forthcoming World Conference Against Racism organised by the United Nations to be held from August 31 to September 7 in Durban, South Africa.

On reports that the Government may not allow NGOs and independent groups to go to South Africa to participate in the conference, they said this was more characteristic of authoritarian regimes. The Government had never satisfactorily disclosed its real compulsions in opposing an international discussion on caste. The ruling caste elite seems to fear that such international scrutiny will expose India's failure in eliminating this 3,000-year-old evil.

Ms. Savitri Kunadi, India's permanent representative to the U.N. office, has put on record the official position that the caste system does not fall within the purview of racial discrimination. To characterise caste as an internal matter and to term any discussion on it as an intrusion on sovereignty goes counter to historical facts. The participants at the Delhi meet were clear that `caste is race plus'. Inflicted by birth, sanctified by religion, glorified by tradition, caste has had brutal repercussions for a fifth of India's population.

The legal system has consistently recognised and acknowledged caste discrimination as a form of racial discrimination. Articles 13, 15, 16, 17, and 19 establish parallels between discrimination based on caste and race. Article 341 includes races among Scheduled Castes: ``The President may... specify the castes, races or tribes or parts of or groups within castes, races or tribes which shall... be deemed to be Scheduled Castes.''

The nine-judge Constitution bench in the case of Indira Sawhney vs. Union of India (1992 (Supp) 3 SCC 217 at 714) defines caste thus: ``A caste is nothing but a socially homogeneous class. It is also an occupational grouping, with this difference that its membership is hereditary. One is born into it. Its membership is involuntary. Even if one ceases to follow that occupation, still he remains a member of that group.''

In recent years, the U.N. has acknowledged and addressed the caste issue. In 1996, it held that ``the situation of SCs/STs falls within the scope of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination''. The 52nd U.N. Sub-committee in Geneva in August 2000 unanimously passed a resolution to prepare a working paper on `Discrimination Based on Caste'. The Government opposed all these resolutions. But, on apartheid in South Africa, it occupied the high moral ground and was in the forefront of the campaign of sanctions and boycotts. The U.N. bodies will be failing in their duty if they do not take up this issue at the Durban conference.

(The signatories include Prof. T.K.Oommen, Dr. Ambrose Pinto, Mr. John Dayal, Mr. M. Gopinath, Dr. R.M. Pal, P.L. Mimroth and Dr. I. Thirumali.)

Read a more detail that we published earlier on this

Referred by: Mukundan CM
Published on: May 16, 2001
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