Is the World Watching ?
(By Hasan Mansur)
Over 170 million Dalits and 70 million tribals, together constitute 24 per cent of the Indian population. The tribals are now victims of globalisation with the multi- nationals encroaching on their abode.
The Asian Human Rights Commission has documented how not a day passes without two Dalits getting assaulted every year, two Dalits murdered, three Dalit women raped and two Dalit homes burnt.
To understand caste with all its ramifications, one needs to be acquainted with the thoughts of Baba Saheb Ambedkar. He described caste as an integral part of the Hindutva ethos, characterised it as anti-social and in an incisive phrase called it 'graded inequality'. He wrote of this society as bereft of conscience and charged it with moralistic unconcernedness. He analysed it in the following terms : "A population which is hide bound by caste…which is infected by ancient prejudices which flouts equality opf status and is dominated by notions of gradations of life, a population which thinks some are high, that some are low. Can it be expected to have the right notions even to discharge bare justice?" Further he added : "Dalits - not that they have large properties to protect from confiscation. But they have their own persons confiscated. The socio-religious disabilities have de-humanised the untouchables and their interests at stake are the interests of humanity." The worst evil inflicted on the Dalits is untouchability which Ambedkar forcefully described as, "to observe untouchability is a risk as dangerous as to bear live coals on their tongue."
The Dalits are pitted against a remorseless community whose theology is Manuvada. It is Ambedkar again who spelt out what Manuvada is : "It is the Indian face of fascism thriving on inequality, macho masculinity, with scant regard for women, power fuelled through violence. Since its theory is rooted in the conviction, killing the body is no violence since the soul is immortal, it become a sanction for violence". Today it is a votary of globalisation. 170 million Dalits and 70 million tribals, together constitute 24 per cent of the Indian population. The latter who are in the process of losing their right to shelter, evicted from the forests, deprived of its resources which is their natural habitat are now victims of globalisation with the multi-nationals encroaching on their abode. Dalits have been victims of Manuvada for over thousands of years and they have been subjected to murder, arson and rape. The Asian Human Rights Commission has documented how not a day passes without two Dalits getting assaulted every year, two Dalits murdered, three Dalit women raped and two Dalit homes burnt. Dalits constitute the largest single community in the world that is afflicted with absolute deprivation. They have seemingly few safeguards enshrined in the Indian Constitution and a special legislation called The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and yet to quote one instance in 1995, 35,262 crimes were registered on these, 188 for murder, 2157 for grievous hurt, 1143 for rape, 724 cases for arson. Is it not ironical that caste is not regularly on the agenda of the Commission on Human Rights.
Sometime in 2001, there has been planned a World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenobia and related intolerance. This has triggered a debate in India whether caste is synonymous with racism. In fact the government of India's report on the Committee on Elimiantion of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) clearly notes though caste may not equivalent to race, it falls within the purview of Article 1 of the Convention due to the clause on descent. Right now, the Indian state is not prepared to equate caste with race for fear that the hidden apartheid - that of untouchability - would be in the open for all to see. The Commission on Human Rights in the document titled "Discrimination based on Descent - Discrimination against Dalits" in its 56th session stated that : "In Asia, one of the persistent forms of racial discrimination is discrimination based on descent including caste discrimination in South Asia." Earlier in its 49th session held in August-September 1996, as it reviewed India's 10th to 14th periodic reports under the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination affirmed that the situation of SC and ST falls within the scope of the Convention.
The World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Tolerance and the Preparatory Committee held in Geneva during May 1-5, 2000, made the following statement : "The World Conference must state with precision and insistence that rights of persons of African descent, indigenous people, lower castes and national minorities are human rights. It is not sufficient repeatedly to affirm the values of equality as several generations of politicians, law-makers and lawyers have done, the recognition of Afro-Latins, indigenous people, lower caste such as Dalits must be accompanied by specific protection and compensatory policies, legal rights must enhance the living conditions of the families of those groups, through legislation against racial bias in employment, discrimination in pay and incentives and aiming to curb police violence against them."
The UN Sub-Commission on the promotion and protection of human rights in its resolution dated 31st July 2000 stated that : "The World Conference focus inter-alia on the situation of racism. Racial discrimination, xenophobia related intolerance and ethnic conflict and other forms of discrimination such as contemporary forms of slavery that are based on race, colour, social class, minority status, descent, national or ethnic origin or gender, including topics such as the link between different forms of slavery and racial and other discrimination based on descent, minority status, national or ethnic origin, gender."
In India, the Sangh Parivar has mobilised pseudo-social scientists and pseudo-historians (including the NRIs flushed with more money than intellect), to fabricate theories to refute Aryans coming from Central Asia and to claim all Indians (except of course the Muslims and Christians) are indigenous people. This is to escape the odium that the Aryans themselves are aliens. This unholy exercise drives them to refute the idea that caste is race. To claim Aryans are of one race or Aryans, Dalits and tribals are of one race flies in the face of logic. It is obvious that race and caste are synonymous.
In the context of the UN Convention against Elimination of Racial Discrimination lies the assertion by Dalits to bring caste-based discrimination under the ambit of international instruments. Since India ratified CERD in 1969, it is perfectly constitutional, lawful and democratic for the victims of discrimination to approach the UN and seek redressal. No country in the world can for long be contemptuous of public opinion, national and international. Dalits shall henceforth let the ruling powers know that the world is watching and by making violations of human rights illegitimate, they can help diminish their extent and intensity.
(The writer is President of Karnataka PUCL and human rights activist).