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16 October, 2008

ALRC criticizes India’s opposition to civil society participation in international fora

The following is a statement issued by the Asian Legal Resource Centre, Hong Kong:

The deliberations of senior Indian politicians during the National Integration Council Meeting held in New Delhi on 13 October contradict India's positions in international forums like the UN. The council of ministers who met in New Delhi this week resolved that the country will protect, at all costs, the foundations of secularism, equality, social, economic and political justice and fraternity among all communities. The meeting was held in the context of increasing violent incidents of religious and caste intolerance in India.

The above cited statement contradicts the view expressed by the Indian Government’s delegation at the UN. In a recent meeting held at the UN, India opposed the participation of national and international NGOs working against racial and other contemporary forms of discrimination. This includes caste-based discrimination in the forthcoming Durban Review Conference.

During the PrepCom meetings for the Durban Review Conference held in Geneva between 6-17 October, the Indian delegation vehemently opposed the accreditation of national human rights organisations like the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), Swadikar and the international advocacy group the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN).

India's opposition was on the grounds that caste-based discrimination does not fall under the scope of the International Convention against Racial Discrimination (CERD.) The activities of the organisations, therefore, do not fall under the objectives of the Durban Review Conference as such. India ratified the CERD on 3 December 1968. This means that India is bound by the treaty obligation to prevent all forms of racial discrimination, both domestically and internationally. Ratification of the treaty also means that India is bound to promote the scope of the operation of the treaty and the further development of the jurisprudence associated with the treaty.

One such document that affirms that caste discrimination falls under the scope of the term 'descent' mentioned in Article 1(1) of the CERD is General Recommendation 29 issued by the CERD Committee in 2002. The General Recommendation categorically states "that discrimination based on 'descent' includes discrimination against members of communities based on forms of social stratification such as caste [emphasis added] and analogous systems of inherited status which nullify or impair their equal enjoyment of human rights...." The full text of the General Recommendation is available here. This position has been reaffirmed several times by the Committee, the latest being an examination of India in 2007, and report by the Special Rapporteur on racism.

The opposition to accrediting NGOs working on caste-based discrimination contravenes the voluntary pledge made by the country promising the promotion, protection and fulfilment of human rights and human values. The pledge was made during India's contest to the UN Human Rights Council. Of specific relevance in this context is the part where India reiterates that it "will continue to encourage efforts by civil society seeking to protect and promote human rights." A complete text of the pledge is available here.

The opposition however did not succeed. The NCDHR, Swadikar and the IDSN were accredited in the PrepCom session with support from the EU spearheaded by the French delegation. France, on behalf of the EU, argued that this form of discrimination does fall under the objectives of the Durban Review Conference. NGOs working on these issues should not be excluded on these grounds. One delegation even mentioned that this would be “discriminatory” and “against the spirit of the Durban Review Conference”. Several other states called for broad civil society participation. The discussion was broadcast live by the UN, of which a summarised text of the discussion is available here.

During the discussions in this meeting, India claimed that it is willing to engage in discussions with members of the civil society at home concerning issues that must be discussed during the Durban Review Conference. However, according to information at the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), no such consultations to date have not been formally organised by the Indian government. There has been no invitation to mainstream NGOs, working on caste-based and other contemporary forms of discrimination, to present their views in preparation for the Durban Review Conference.

India's lack of interest in fostering international human rights mechanisms is further exposed by it’s refraining from promoting universally accepted norms at the domestic level. India has thus far not extended an open invitation to any of the mandate holders under the UN special procedure mechanisms. They have not responded to the questions put forward by the CERD Committee following the examination of India's report in 2007, as otherwise required. This fact adds more credibility to the argument that India, like some other poorly performing member states in the UN uses international human rights mechanisms only for short-term political gains and discreditation of opposing states.

India desperately tries to portray an image of a state that promotes pluralism, equality and fraternity. In comparison to its immediate neighbours, like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, China and Afghanistan, India might be ahead on many fronts. However, the perpetual curse of India, from which most of its inequalities and double standards emanate, is the practice of caste.
A society that has its roots embedded in a caste system cannot easily move forward in ensuring democratic values. The meaning of democracy does not begin or end with an election - the concept of democracy implies much more. A caste system, on the other hand, is not only an impediment to democratic values but is also the legitimisation of inequality shrouded with religion. The mere signing of a human rights document or the making of pledges promising the protection and promotion of human values are of no use in ending discriminatory practices.

What India requires is a strong political will to neutralise this 3000 year-old inhuman practice. But this is what India clearly lacks. Opposing participation by the civil society in discussion forums is most certainly not the way to go forward.

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About the ALRC: The Asian Legal Resource Centre is an independent regional non-governmental organization holding general consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is the sister organization of the Asian Human Rights Commission. The Hong Kong-based group seeks to strengthen and encourage positive action on legal and human rights issues at the local and national levels throughout Asia.


sanjay said...

India is fundamentally correct in her approach. The caste system is not the issue, rather it is caste based discrimination. In the same way that one cannot claim that race is "wrong" and "we must do away with race" merely because racial discrimination exists.

B.R.P.Bhaskar said...

Unlike race, caste is an instrument devised by some ancient, evil mind with a view to securing advantages for one's own tribe and heaping disadvantages on others. The beneficiaries of the system would naturally want to perpetuate it -- especially when they know that they cannot retain their privileged position without this prop.

sanjay said...

Your concept of race is, of course, flawed. Race is very definitely a social and a legal construct.

For example, within the United States, the term "white" is an umbrella term officially employed by the United States Census Bureau, Office of Management and Budget and other U.S. government for the classification of American citizens or resident aliens "having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa".

Why does the U.S. include Middle East & North Africa in the "white" category? Perhaps to make Jesus officially a "white"; perhaps to "whiten" the area around the Nile so that the History channel can peddle the myth about the Nile delta being the "cradle of modern civilization" as a white race thing.

Anyway, back to the point. Your understanding of race is flawed and you understand caste & India even less. Using emotive and prejudicial language to defend racial discrimination exposes this poverty of understanding.

Anonymous said...

The article mentions about the '3000 year old' social system in the last para. Do you have any documentary evidence of that date? Indian civilization dates back more than that and who created the social inequity since last 3000 years?

Yes, caste-based discrimination is the problem we face, not the caste. Gurudevan fought against caste based discrimination, or did he fight any castes as our marxist morons want us to beleive? BRP Sir, at least once use your minimum common sense. Look @ the Orissa incident , it is again the caste based discrimination which is the root cause though the media thinks otherwise.

I am proud of my lower caste and its unique culture & traditions, but the 2 evil Ms in our society - Marxists and missionaries have an existence only if they discriminate and divide people based on castes and it is a shame that people like BRP supports these vermins.
""You have the right to form your own opinion but not to take liberties with facts" - Please remember this too when posting such fraudulent articles. At least once you try to post some genuine factual article here


B.R.P.Bhaskar said...

sanjay: You are confusing race with some instances of politically motivated use of race. Such politically motivated acts do not nullify the scientific data available on the subject of race. Incidentally, there are also instances of politically motivated use of caste. A good example is the absence of Kshatriyas (barring a small number of people who claim Pandyan origin) and Vaisyas in Kerala. Evidently when the caste system was introduced in the region, the Vedic establishment denied Kshatriya status to members of the local fighting forces. Racial and occupational differences exist everywhere but caste is a wholly Indian invention. No ancient sacred text of India sanctions discrimination based on descent. Yet the Vedic establishment, using the caste system, enforced such discrimination for centuries and it continues to produce defenders of the caste system.

Anonymous (Jairam): You have been coming and expressing your views here for quite some time. I am still to find a single argument by you which is based on a point of fact, and not on some fable. With so much communal poison and hatred in your mind, it is not surprising that you cannot see the distinction between fact and fable. Since I do not share your intolerance, this blog will continue to be open to you to express your views.

sanjay said...

Bhaskar: Contrary to your claim of a "scientific data on race", modern science has completely dislodged the whole notion of 'race'. Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, perhaps the most distinguished geneticists of the 20th century, has completely demolished scientists' attempts to classify human populations into races in the same way that they classify birds and other species into 'races'.

Otoh, in her book "How Jews Became White Folks", Karen Brodkin shows how the social construction of racial identity has been delineated & changed over time in America. She points out that racial inferiority has been ascribed to waves of immigrants only when they were used as unskilled labor.

A real-life example of the social construction of race: Barack Obama has been labeled as "black" from childhood even though he is 50% white, well before he had any political aspirations.

In any case, rather than collaborate with foreigners to misrepresent your own country & culture, it would perhaps be more appropriate for an Indian to set the record straight.

sanjay said...

Bhaskar: One of the things you could set straight, rather than misrepresent India to foreigners, is that the word dalit has no official standing under the Indian constitution. This is despite the fact that Dr. Ambedkar, a so-called dalit, was himself a key framer of the Indian Constitution.

As a comparative aside, no black man was allowed to even touch - let alone frame - the U.S. constitution when it was adopted in 1787 even though slavery existed in America since 1607.

You could educate the ALRC foreigners that under the Indian constitution, 'dalits' are all classified as SC or ST. Articles 330 and 332 of the Indian Constitution provides for reservation of 78 seats in the Lok Sabha and 540 in the Vidhan Sabhas for the Scheduled Castes (SC)/ Scheduled Tribes (ST).

As of 1994 (this percentage has almost certainly increased since then), the total representation of SCs in services covering A to D Groups has risen from 13.66 per cent in 1974 to 16.9 per cent in 1994, which, in fact, is more than their population share of 16.5 per cent. For STs, their participation in administration increased from 2.81 per cent in 1974 to 5.48 per cent in 1994.

The representation of the SCs/ STs has increased sharply in Government decision making, especially at the senior level of Group A posts where decisions are taken.

India's affirmative action program has been perhaps the most successful in the history of modern nations. Enitre groups/ castes are willing to give up their lives to be officially re-classified as the lowest possible caste/ outcastes so as to become eligible for the benefits of India's affirmative action program.

B.R.P.Bhaskar said...

Sanjay: The real problem is not that foreigners are misrepresenting India and Indian culture but that entrenched socio-political groups here have been doing the job far more effectively than any forigner ever did. It was not foreigners who were responsible for keeping India and Indians ignorant about the Indus Valley Civilization and Asoka until comparatively recent times. In fact, foreigners helped to bring out information that had been lost to India and Indians. When information about the Indus Valley civilization came to light, the Vedic establishment in India and its foreign supporters sought to appropriate credit for it. The effort has not been given up yet, but more and more scholars in India and abroad now subscribe to the view that it was the work of the non-Vedic tribes. I am glad that your dislike of dependence on foreign authorities does not prevent you from citing them in support of your position on race.