Minister pressed hard on India’s caste system.

Dalit Solidarity Network
Press release (21.12.00)

A delegation from the Dalit Solidarity Network (DSN) has met Peter Hain, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, to urge a more vigorous British Government response to caste discrimination in Indian society. Rt Revd Mano Rumalshah, General Secretary of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, stated that discrimination by caste on the Indian sub-continent is still affecting 300 million people. Dalit people, the former ‘untouchables’, are still restricted to the worst, dirtiest and lowest paid jobs. When they protest they are often violently suppressed. The Christian community suffers more than most because it seeks to offer some sense of dignity and humanity to the ‘out-castes’. Bishop Mano showed the Minister photographs of ‘scavenging’, the practice by which certain Dalit communities have to clean the dry toilets of the higher caste people, work which is regarded as polluting by the upper castes.

The Minister said he had already raised the caste issue with the Indian Government, in the context of a general concern for human rights. He was also aware of the atrocity at Kambalapalli, where seven Dalits were burned to death last March in their homes for protesting about caste oppression. No-one has yet been charged over their deaths.

Jeremy Corbyn MP urged the Government to raise caste oppression, and other related practices such as bonded labour, in international fora such as the UN Human Rights Commission, its World Conference on Racism to be held in South Africa next September and the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Revd David Haslam, DSN Chair, presented a copy of his book ‘Caste Out!’ to Mr Hain, who had been a fellow-anti-apartheid campaigner in the seventies and eighties. He said there were many parallels to apartheid in the caste system and suggested that casteism should also be raised in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the autumn of 2001. He urged the Government to monitor extremist organisations like the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), which Indian Christians say is in the forefront of organising attacks on Indian tribal and Dalit peoples. He said DSN also wants to raise caste discrimination with British companies operating in India.

Mr Hain promised that the issue would be monitored by his officials and agreed to consider the UK’s support for it being discussed, where appropriate, in the relevant international fora. Mr Corbyn told the Minister he was hoping to introduce an adjournment debate in the House of Commons in February, timed to coincide with the Global Conference on Caste being planned by the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights in New Delhi. The DSN is co-sponsoring the Delhi Conference, a preparation for the World Conference Against Racism to be held later in South Africa. Further information

Revd David Haslam - 020 7274 6633
Bishop Mano Rumalshah - 020 928 8681

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