Human Rights Watch slams India for caste abuses

WASHINGTON: Slamming India's decision to block caste as an issue at the Durban conference on racism, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the government to fully enforce laws aimed at ending abuses against lower castes.

In a report released ahead of the August 31 U.N. World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) at Durban, HRW says the government should "establish a program and timetable to enforce the abolition of 'untouchability'."

India's 160 million untouchables, also known as Dalits, "endure near complete social ostracisation" and most live in "extreme poverty, without land opportunities for better employment or education," it says.

It points out that a U.N. sub-commission on human rights passed a resolution on discrimination based on work and descent, which would qualify caste as a topic of discussion at the conference.

Despite this the Indian government has tried to censor discussion of caste at the conference and at all meetings leading up to it, says the Washington-based body.

India has "sent numerous people to non-governmental meetings who have used influence within U.N. human rights bodies to sabotage any reference to caste in conference documents."

The HRW report notes that "India's caste system is perhaps the world's longest surviving social hierarchy," and says the practice has corollaries in other South Asian countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The report, which also points out caste-related abuses in Japan, Nigeria, Senegal and Mauritania, says in India, "untouchability is reinforced by state allocation of resources and facilities."

Despite a constitutional abolition in 1950, the practice of "untouchability - the imposition of social disabilities one persons by reason of birth into a particular caste - remains very much a part of rural India."

The reports says migrant Indian communities in Britain, the U.S., Suriname and Mauritius also practice caste-based discrimination.

It quotes government statistics saying an estimated one million Dalits in India were manual scavengers (a majority of them women), who clear faeces from public and private latrines and dispose of dead animals.

"Unofficial estimates are much higher," it says, naming manual scavenging communities such as the "Bhangis in Gujarat, the Pakhis in Andhra Pradesh and the Sikkaliars in Tamil Nadu."

"An estimated 40 million people in India, among them 15 million children, are working in slave like conditions in order to pay off debts as bonded labours."

Illiteracy still plagues almost two-thirds of the Dalit population. It says most Dalit victims in India are landless agricultural labourers -- constituting about 86 percent of the community.

Pointing out the government's failure to implement reservations for lower castes, it says: "Of the total scheduled caste reservation quota in the Central Government, 54 percent remains unfilled. More than 88 percent of posts reserved in the public sector remain unfilled as do 45 percent in state banks.

"Since the early 1990s, violence against Dalits has escalated dramatically in response to growing Dalit rights movements." Some 90,925 cases of crimes against scheduled castes were registered across India between 1995 and 1997.

The rights body urges the government to monitor and publicise the extent to which laws to end caste discrimination have been implemented and allocate adequate funds for programs for the socio-economic and educational support of socially underprivileged communities.

It says the government should ensure greater participation by affected communities in civil administration.

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Referred by:Benjamin.P.Kaila
Published on:30Aug2001
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