Dalits ask Government to abolish caste-based discrimination


Special Correspondent

India urged to ratify the U.N. Convention against Torture

More than 10 countries raised specific questions concerning
caste-based discrimination

It cannot be considered a form of "racial discrimination": Solicitor-General

JAIPUR: Dalit activists who attended a dialogue on the Universal
Periodic Review (UPR) of the U.N. General Assembly's Human Rights
Council in Geneva this past month have called upon the Union
Government to take urgent steps to abolish caste-based discrimination
and ensure effective implementation of laws for protection of
Scheduled Castes.

A five-member delegation of Dalits took part in the debates on the
report of the Working Group on UPR for India in Geneva between June 9
and 13.

P. L. Mimroth, chairman of the Centre for Dalit Rights, Jaipur, led
the group, while India was represented by Swashpawan Singh, Ambassador
and Permanent Representative to the U.N. Office.

Mr. Mimroth said on his return here that India had for the first time
admitted in a U.N. forum the existence of discrimination and
marginalisation on the basis of castes and tribes. The Permanent
Representative to the U.N. also stated that action at the government
level to end discrimination was not enough and other stakeholders were
being engaged to address the gaps.

"Mr. Singh's admission in the U.N. body is a long-awaited indication
of the Centre's intent to do something for protecting the rights of
Dalits," said Mr. Mimroth, adding that it was high time the Centre
initiated measures to stop violation of Dalit rights in the areas of
access to education, health care, housing, employment and freedom of

More than 10 countries raised specific questions or recommendations
concerning caste-based discrimination in India. This seemed to be a
"strong message" to the Centre that the international community was
deeply concerned about the persistence of this form of discrimination
that affected more than 16.7 crore Dalits.

Addressing the meeting, National Human Rights Commission's
representative Aruna Sharma called upon India to ratify the U.N.
Convention against Torture. She said policemen at the lower rung in
the hierarchy often resorted to torture and harassment of people
detained on suspicion of involvement in crimes.

However, Solicitor-General G. E. Vahanvati said the caste-based
discrimination could not be considered a form of "racial
discrimination" because the caste system, which was unique to India,
was not racial in origin.

The Dalit delegation affirmed that the change in India's stand in the
U.N. body had taken place following concerted efforts and strong
protests by Dalit organisations.

"Only a decade ago, India's representatives in the global forums were
in a denial mode. They used to describe the occurrence of caste-based
discrimination as isolated incidents," said Mr. Mimroth.

The Netherlands representative, Robert-Jan Sieben, called upon India
to inform the Human Rights Council not only about the progress made on
recommendations it agreed to but also on the efforts on
recommendations it did not agree to.

Besides Mr. Mimroth, other members of the delegation were Manas Jaina,
Director, Development Initiative, Orissa; Bulu Sareen, national
coordinator, European Initiative for Democratic and Human Rights
(EIDHR) Project, New Delhi; Kewal Uke, State coordinator, EIDHR
Project, Maharashtra; and M. Thangave, convenor, Vijuthangal Sanstha,
Tamil Nadu.

They also attended a series of conferences on human rights, civil
rights, justice and discrimination held in the U.N. Office.

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