Saturday, August 18, 2007

Dalits in India

In an op-ed in the Hindu, Balakrishnan Rajagopal of MIT chides India for its ineffective implementation of its andi-discrimination laws, and for its inconsistent position in the UN forums when it comes to human rights issues:

The Indian government delegation that appeared before the U.N. human rights body cited a litany of laws that have been passed to end caste discrimination and atrocities against Dalits. [...] But, in practice, these laws are poorly implemented. The Indian delegation refused to share data on implementation with the U.N. body, which it is legally obligated to do. Instead, the government delegation argued that ‘descent-based discrimination’ does not constitute racial discrimination under the specific U.N. treaty in question, the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

This is a misguided position. India’s own Prime Minister has compared caste discrimination to apartheid, which is the worst example of racial discrimination. India should also not forget that its current position goes against much of the history of the last 50 years of human rights law making. The irony is that it was India that suggested the definition in the CERD be expanded for ‘descent-based discrimination’ to include caste when the treaty was being drafted. India’s current position simply disavows its own history.

India’s position before the U.N. human rights body also typifies its overall attitude towards the place of human rights in its foreign policy. Nervous, Third Worldist, lacking confidence in its own democratic credentials, India constantly sides with the likes of Zimbabwe and Sudan at the U.N. on human rights issues. ... [It] has abandoned the human rights agenda to the west. On the issue of caste discrimination against Dalits, India’s recalcitrant and nervous attitude is only reminiscent of similar attitudes adopted by the government of the U.S. in its treatment of minorities or the white South African state over apartheid.