NEWS 2002

 

 

THE CASTE ISSUE

NGOs from Nepal, Japan, Senegal or India addressed CERD on the caste issue at the UN in
Geneva

International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism

Ms Brimbelle Grandcolas (Intern, IMADR Geneva office), Geneva, the 9th of August.

Friday the 9th of August, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination concluded its
discussion on discrimination based on descent with a number of Committee Experts expressing the need to urge States parties to implement positive measures against such discrimination. The Committee is expected to adopt recommendations on discrimination based on descent on the
basis of the discussions held on the 8th and 9th of August before concluding its three-week session on 23 August.


Article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
stipulates that the term "racial discrimination" should mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.

An appropriate definition of the word "descent"

On Thursday the 8th of August the Committee heard presentations from representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).


The first speech was a joint statement on behalf of IMADR, WCC, MRG, and 26 other organizations. According to this statement, we should focus on the definition of racial discrimination and descent but also look at eliminating it. The different countries such as Japan, Nepal, Senegal, India, Burkina Faso, and Pakistan are highly diverse in geography and history but share key elements on the descent issue.

Those common points are for example the concept of purity, the restrictions on intermarriage or the
inherited manual role. Professor Murakami from the University of Osaka and part of the IMADR Japan Committee also studied the precise meaning of the term "descent". He said that there were three possible interpretations of the word "descent". The first interpretation was that the word had the same meaning as the other four grounds for racial discrimination, thus denying a distinct meaning of the term. A broad interpretation was a sound one, which would allow the word descent to play an appropriate role. However, that interpretation amounted to ignoring the interpretation of CERD. In
view of the importance of the interpretation of the Committee, it was appropriate to adopt the interpretations of the Committee insofar as they were reasonable.

Shigeyuki Kumisaka, of the Buraku Liberation League, explained the background of the discrimination against Buraku people in Japan. The rigid discriminatory policies, which divided and ruled the population under this caste system, emerged with feudal Japan in the early Edo period. Mr Bhagwan Das, president of Dalit Solidarity Peoples insisted on the notion of visibility: "caste is not visible but race is visible, race is a product of geography whereas caste is a product of religion." He explained that even though India has the best laws for affirmative action it is not effective; the problem lies elsewhere in the elements of the religion.

Yogesh Varhade the President of Ambedkar Center for Justice and Peace stressed the importance of the Hindu religion that says that people are not all born equal. He gave examples of the injustice towards Dalits in India such as gang rape, murder, torture, looting or even violent acts in which Dalits where forced to eat animal excrement. Paul Divakar from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights who was the moderator for a press conference on the theme of "global caste discrimination" held at the UN on Thursday, focused on the fact that it was India that insisted on the inclusion in article 1 of CERD of descent in order to cover caste. Without this inclusion, victims of the most widely
practiced discrimination would not have had a forum internationally. He then asked CERD to name this problem as a primary form of based discrimination and firmly bring it under CERD.

Affirmative action : a good solution?

A representative of the South Asia Human Rights Documentations Centre (SAHRDC), asked the Committee to correct the narrow focus of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action to address discrimination based on descent. The final document addressed discrimination against people of African and Asian descent, but failed to refer to caste discrimination as a form of discrimination based on descent. D.B. Sagar Bishwakarma, President of the Nepalese Dalit NGO Federation, thought that despite the fact that descent-based discrimination was unconstitutional in Nepal and that Nepal had ratified many international conventions pertaining to anti-discrimination, descent-based discrimination was a day-to-day reality in the country.

Commitment from the State was not strong and as result, the enforcement part was very weak. P.P. Sivapragasam, of the Human Development Organization, said that Sri Lanka was one of the few countries in the world that adopted discrimination on the grounds of citizenship for the Indian Tamils only. The other ethnic groups automatically became citizens by birth or through living in the country. The Indian Tamils were made stateless by default and had to prove that their fathers were born in Sri Lanka. Even though Sri Lanka and India had reached many agreements to solve the problem of the stateless Tamils, the discrimination still goes on.

Dalit women faced double discrimination

According to Burnad Fathima Natesan, of the Tamil Nadu Women's Movement, a Dalit women explained to us how once, high caste women hadn't used a toilet but an iron pot overnight and how they offered the excrement in the pot to two dalit men forcing them to eat it. When they refused they were branded with a red-hot iron rod. Ruth Manorama, of the National Federation of Dalit Women condemned the absence of legal protection for Dalits. She called the international community to take
affirmative actions towards the Dalits. Hajamma Sandanakoti, of Vivastha Vethireka Sanghatan, said she was born into the Madiga community, one of the scheduled caste communities in India.

The marriage of a Jogini woman was a formality. It did not matter whom she was married to. It was a passage for her to be used by anyone for sexual enjoyment. Many Jogini women were forced into prostitution. Jaya Lakkinenni, of the Vedika, said that Dalit women living in southern India were subjected to discrimination by the dominant higher castes. She thinks that if Dalits were economically better off, their rights might have been respected. Durga Sob, of the National Dalit Commission
(Nepal) described the double discrimination against Dalit Women from gender and caste discrimination.

They are physically abused and economically exploited by the high caste men. According to P.L. Mimroth, of the Society of Development People for Social Justice, the incidents of atrocities and caste-based discrimination on Dalits are increasing day by day in Rajasthan despite the constitutional provisions. Prasad Sirivella, of the Dalit Human Rights Watch confirmed that the caste system and the practice of untouchabililty are still perpetuated in the Indian society. The economic system
of India allowed the members of the lower castes to be excluded and marginalized. Discriminatory practices continued despite the economic development of the nation.

The caste system also exists in Africa

This discussion gave the opportunity to the experts to see that the caste issue has also existed in Africa for a long time from different African speakers. First Kalidou Sy, of RADDHO (Senegal), said that the caste system is a social construction and not only due to the division of labour. Thus all discriminated people are close-minded. They close themselves sociologically. They are brainwashed with the speech of the society about their lower status. They have their life dictated by the "higher community".

Professor Asha A. Samad, of SAFRAD-Somalia Association, thinks that caste has been an integral part of Somali society for centuries. She described that caste stratification is a daily component of Somali society, in the smallest nomad villages, in towns, in cities, in refugee camps, as well as in the overseas Somali communities.

To be a Midgan-Madibhan or an outcaste person in Somali society means to suffer life-long indignities, to be deemed impure, unlucky, sinful, polluting, and thus meriting the disdain, avoidance, and abuse of others. Victor Dike (Nigeria) said that in his country, particularly in the Igboland, whose population was about 27 million; people were divided into slaves and non-slaves -- the freeborn. Any person from the freeborn could not touch those members of the slaves for fear of being contaminated. Those who were born under the caste system remained in the caste system.

The Government doesn't want to talk about it because the society considers it part of their culture to
discriminate against those people. Ilgilas Weila, of the Timidria (Niger), said that in Niger there were only 10 ethnic groups with each practising a caste system within its own group. Among the ten ethnic
groups that made up Niger's Republic, four of them practised caste systems in accordance with the occupation they practised traditionally. Inter-communal marriage was influenced by the caste system.

An inter-communal marriage could be disastrous in a small village and the barrier of the caste system could not be broken. A member of a caste could only marry from his own caste and not from another caste. Adam Hussein Adam, of the Centre for Minority Rights Development, said that there was a caste system within the Indian community in Kenya. There were four distinctive forms of castes being practised among themselves, in spite of their small number in the country. Those belonging to lower castes within the Indian community were subjected to oppression.

All the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) addressed the descent matter, contending, among other things, that more efforts were needed to teach tolerance and harmony; that greater steps were needed to protect religious minorities; and that approaches to combating violence against women should include attention to the special problems suffered by women of lower-caste groups.