NGOs try to put Dalits on UN list
New Delhi April 24: Foreign funds siphoned through non-government organisations are being used to exert sufficient pressure on the United Nations to include caste based oppression in India as part of the accepted agenda against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. These groups have also been demanding a special UN rapporteur on caste in a concerted bid to internationalise the issue.
The government of India which has been resisting this pressure has come up against international human rights groups and specific Dalit organisations which have been stepping up the campaign for the UN acceptance of what they describe as “occupation and descent based discrimination against Dalits.”
Several preparatory meetings have been held for the finale at Durban in September this year where the effort will be to include caste as part of the official declaration of the UN World Conference against Racism.
The point person of the sponsored campaign appears to be Martin Macwan who has been honoured by the Human Rights Watch in New York last year. He has also received the Robert F Kennedy award for human rights in Washington.
He has presented papers, at various international fora focusing attention on the plight of the Dalits, and making a passionate case for the UN endorsement of caste. Significantly, Macwan is not as well known in India although he runs a Gujarat-based NGO.
A Dalit leader with recognised grassroot experience in India was particularly critical “of these people who use our problems to network abroad.” On condition of anonymity, this otherwise plain speaking leader who has organised several major rallies to focus attention on the plight of the Dalits in Delhi and elsewhere told the Deccan Chronicle that “these people with no base get on the international bandwagon, why don’t they work for their people here.” He said President K R Narayanan had told him that it was important for the struggle for equality to remain indigenous and that “we should fight for our rights on our soil.”
The United Nations has not been playing a direct role in encouraging the campaign for inclusion of caste in the overall agenda against racism. However, at several preparatory meetings organised as the run up to the Durban Conference, the concerned NGOs have built up a systematic campaign for the inclusion of Dalit oppression by highlighting caste based discrimination and oppression within India.
At the first preparatory committee meeting at the United Nations in Geneva last year, UN High Commissioner for HR and Secretary General of the World Conference against Racism Mary Robinson admitted that in her view as well the Dalit issue requires attention.
A regional preparatory meeting held at Teheran last month witnessed an intense campaign by the NGOs for the expansion of the definition of racism to include “discrimination based on descent.” The terms caste or Dalit were, however, not included in the final resolution adopted at this meet.
Interestingly, the UN sub commission on human rights has already appointed an expert to study racial discrimination in relation to the caste question. At a meeting organised recently in Delhi, CPI leader D Raja took the bit in his mouth by cautioning against the organisations efforts to internationalise the issue of caste-based oppression. He also spoke out against the usage of foreign money in what should be an indi-genous struggle for equal rights.
Several preliminary meetings have been held in different parts of the world, including Iran and Geneva, where voluntary groups have hotly debated the issue. Several western NGOs have been active in spearheading the campaign to include caste as descent, including the better-known HR Watch and The Lutheran World Federation.