India faces disgrace at Durban

INDIA IS still divided over the issue of caste even as the United Nations Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance is round the corner.

The recent Muzzafarnagar incident in which a Brahmin boy and his Jat lover were hanged for having a affair which defied caste traditions, has rocked New Delhi's official position that caste should be left out the ambit of the Durban conference.

Like the United States, India too is struggling to keep its experience of racism and intolerance out of international scrutiny. This has attracted the ire of a large number of Dalit organisations, MPs of leading political parties, and leading NGOs. The Government maintains that caste is distinct from race as it has its origins in functional divisions of ancient Indian society. Moreover, the government is committed to eliminate caste-based discrimination.

That is not enough, says Praveen Rashtrapal, the Congress MP. He has urged the UN to see through the Indian Government's claims on "consensus" on the issue. The Government did not take all parties into confidence, according to him. Smita Narula of the NGO, Human Rights Watch, says caste-based discrimination was Asia's "hidden apartheid" and affected about 250 million people in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Japan and some African countries.

Though the ruling BJP is silent on the issue, a number of its MPs feel that it is high time the Government modified its "ostrich like attitude". A senior party leader feared there may be a adverse fallout in the Uttar Pradesh elections if the Government does not officially acknowledge the phenomenon of caste-based intolerance and press for its inclusion in the draft declaration of the conference to be held in Durban from August 31 through September 7.

The third preparatory committee meeting for the conference is now underway in Geneva. The conference is planned as a unique and important opportunity to create a new world vision for the fight against racism in the 21st century. It will focus on action-oriented and practical steps to eradicate racism and suggest measures for prevention, education and protection.

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Referred by: Mukundan C.M.
Published on:August 9, 2001
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