UN Special Rapporteurs to Give Fillip to Struggle
for Dalit Rights
Deputy Director, One World South Asia
The recent announcement by the annual United Nations Commission
on Human Rights (CHR) to appoint a Special Rapporteur to tackle
the entrenched problem of caste-based discrimination is a shot
in the arm for activists fighting for the rights of the Dalits,
the oppressed classes, in India. The two rapporteurs, will undertake
a three-year study to draft a set of principles and guidelines
to eliminate this form of discrimination.
The Convener of
the National Conference of Dalit Organisations (NACDOR) Ashok
Bharti applauded the development, saying that: For the first
time the world community has accepted caste discrimination in
India as a relevant issue. It clearly shows that the UN realises
that discrimination exists in South Asia and is an important issue
to be dealt with.
It has been a
long and torturous road for Dalit activists who have been reaching
out to the international community, particularly the UN, for decades.
It was taken up in the early 80s when Dr. Lakshmi Narain Berwa
gave a testimony before the UN: on behalf of the Dalits
Knocking for Human Rights: Persecution of Untouchables is no Internal
Problem of India.
The World Conference
On Racism (WCOR) in South Africa in 2001, better known as the
Durban Conference, put a global spotlight on casteism in India.
The National Campaign
on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) raised the issue of caste-based
discrimination at the Durban Conference and found that the Indian
government had tried to brush away casteism as an internal matter.
It also sought to underplay the existence of caste-based discrimination
and tried to hide behind various constitutional provisions that
uphold the rights of the oppressed people in India.
Declaration of 1993 declares that any violation of human rights
in any part of the world is an international issue. It was then
that we realised that such a discrimination exists not only in
India but also in many other parts of the world, including Japan,
Brazil and even African countries, said Dr. Umakant, Advocacy
of the Rapporteurs could not have come at a more opportune time
because globalisation and economic reforms have seriously hit
the poor harder. These people are at a disadvantage, they lack
opportunities and they have been left behind even as other sections
have benefited from these economic changes.
need to take the time to evolve a common statement by all civil
society and political stakeholders and formulate a strategy in
a participatory way. This strategy should look at providing access
to education, skills and employment. These are politically loaded
issues which means that neutrality and impartiality is vital.
With the expectations
of organisations and activists rather high, the two Special Rapporteurs
- Prof. Yozo Yokota from Japan and Prof. Chin Sung Chung from
South Korea have quite a job cut out for them. Since 2000
the UN has undertaken at least three studies on discrimination
and then decided to conduct a full fledged study in August 2004
and to prepare a guideline in eliminating discrimination. The
Sub-Commission on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, which
is headed by eminent Indian lawyer and former Attorney General
Soli Sorabjee, recommended the setting up of two special rapporteurs
to the Commission on Human Rights.A positive step forward has
been taken, what remains to be seen is whether this will culminate
positively as well and make a difference to the lives of Dalits.