Caste, untouchability sure to figure at meet

Despite lobbying and pressures from official India, there is no way in which the issues of caste and untouchability can be kept out of focus during the World Conference against Racism (WCAR),taking place in Durban between August 31 and September 7. Even if official India finally succeeds in getting the issues out of the formal agenda, these will certainly figure prominently in the three-day NGO forum planned to take place before the WCAR proper begins. This is so even with the far more contentious issues of equation of Zionism with racism, the situation in West Asia, and the question of reparations for slavery to be paid by erstwhile colonial countries to the colonised countries, in particular on the African continent.

These issues have a greater immediacy in South Africa than the relatively remote issues of caste-based discrimination or the minority problems in India. A rally organised in Durban on Sunday by a South African organisation called `Palestinian Support Movement' called on the Government to use its influence to isolate Israel internationally.

Reports from Geneva, confirmed by the spokesperson for South Africa's Department of Foreign Affairs on Sunday, suggest that the issue of reparations for slavery and colonialism will not be on the agenda of the WCAR.

The apparent quid pro quo is that the developed countries will support the so- called `Millennium Africa Recovery Programme', whose authorship is attributed to the South African President, Mr. Thabo Mbeki. However, speaking over the SABC TV on Sunday, the South African Foreign Minister, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said that it was unrealistic to expect that the WCAR would not discuss the situation in West Asia or the issue of reparations for slavery.

Even Zionism, the one issue over which the U.S. has threatened to boycott (or at least downgrade its representation) at the Conference, was still on the agenda, she said. The U.S. stand has been criticised by the SACP and the trade union federation, Cosatu, both partners of the African National Congress in the tripartite alliance.

Indeed, the freewheeling debates on these issues in the NGO forums outside the formal agenda of the Conference are bound to be more lively and attract more media attention than the more formal deliberations of the Conference itself. An Independent Media Centre supported by various South Africa-based pressure groups linked directly and indirectly to international lobbies will be covering the deliberations of the NGO forum. > In so far as South Asia is concerned, 79 of the nearly 1,500 NGOs that have been accredited to the WCAR, appear to have a stake in South Asian social and political issues. 46 of these are based in India and one more, Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin, is U.S.-based. The remaining 32 are from Nepal (12, including one which has an explicit Dalit orientation), Sri Lanka (7), Pakistan (5), Bangladesh (4) and Bhutan (4). Many of them are expected to come to Durban

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Referred by: Benjamin P Kaila
Published on:, 22 Aug 2001
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