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The world is looking at caste discrimination, finally

Little girl in India

Every child in India, and the world, deserves to grow up with equal rights. Sumanth Garakarajula under a Creative Commons Licence

I remember writing a great deal about caste discrimination back in 2001. It was the lead-up to an anti-racism conference in Durban, and the debate hinged around whether discrimination based on caste should be included in the programme. The government of India, predictably, said ‘caste is definitely not race’. But the debate helped bring caste out of the shadows.

For me, it was a no-brainer. Casteism is infinitely worse than racism. It dominates every vestige of life in India for Dalits. The fact is that while American white supremacists may detest black people, they are definitely not allowed to go around killing or raping them with impunity. Therein lies the difference.

In India, Dalits are raped and murdered everyday, but it doesn’t make the news. And the dominant caste rapists and murderers are rarely prosecuted. In the 1991 Rodney King affair, American police were not allowed to get away with brutality. They were finally indicted and imprisoned for beating up King even though he was dismissed as an ex-prisoner and drug addict by the police. King became an iconic figure,  representing a historic moment in the United States. Justice for Dalits remains a pathetic joke in India. Indictment in Dalit or adivasi cases are the exception rather than the norm.

So it’s good news that external, international forces are working to prod an indifferent, at best, Indian government to take another look at the casteism still prevalent in India 66 years after our independence. The European Parliament adopted a strongly worded resolution on caste discrimination on 10 October in Strasbourg, meaning that caste-based discrimination is now recognised as a human rights violation.

The International Dalit Solidarity Network has campaigned long and hard for this. The resolution sends an important message of solidarity to Dalit organizations in South Asia, which have worked tirelessly over the years to place caste discrimination firmly on the international human rights agenda. It mentions numerous states where caste discrimination exists, including India and its neighbours in South Asia as well as countries in Africa. the Middle East and Europe, underlining that this is a global problem.

The newly passed resolution calls on EU institutions to recognize and address caste discrimination on par with other grounds such as ethnicity, race, religion, gender and sexuality; to include the issue in EU legislation and human rights policies; and to raise it at the highest level with governments of caste-affected countries.

Some years ago, Jeremy Corbyn, a British Labour MP, read out excerpts from the New Internationalist May 2005 issue on Combatting Caste to the British parliament. It resulted in a policy change on government aid to India: the Department for International Development (DfID) was issued directions to ensure that aid money went directly to Dalits and adivasis, the most marginalized groups in India. It’s a good feeling when our words help in the struggle for change.

We wish the Dalits all success in their ongoing battle against caste discrimination. And we wait, impatiently, to see the outcome of this resolution. 

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