Put caste on UN meet agenda, says minister

INDIA'S OFFICIAL resolve to keep caste-based discrimination out of the agenda of the United Nations Conference on Racism beginning tomorrow in Durban received another jolt.

A Dalit minister in the Vajpayee government went public with his protest, today.

In a stinging letter to the Prime Minister, the Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, V Sreenivasa Prasad, warned that opposing discussion on the subject "would lead to further invisibility and exclusion of backwards and will force them to return to silence".

Prasad's determination to speak out may have a lot to do with the post-Tehelka dispute that has erupted between the dominant partner in the NDA, the BJP, and his party, the Samata Party. Not only has he tripped attempts by Vajpayee to build a code of conduct for NDA partners, which asks MPs to discuss their differences within the alliance, Prasad has chosen to circulate copies of his letter to the Press.

He has also exposed a running sore within the government over the Ministry of External Affairs' handling of the caste issue. The MEA, like the US State Department, has been criticised by liberal thinkers and leaders of discriminated groups of allowing diplomacy to hijack the UN Conference, which is essentially a forum to discuss social issues.

The government's position that caste is a "domestic issue" and does not constitute race has been debunked by even the National Human Rights Commission. Eduardo Falerio, a former minister of state for external affairs, said that the government has misunderstood the nature of the conference because it is also poised to discuss "related intolerance".

The official line is likely to face tough resistance from many non-government activists who have already reached Durban. The Indian delegation led by Minister of State for External Affairs Omar Abdullah makes its presentation on October 3.

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Referred by:Ram Kumar
Published on:30 Aug 2001
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