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Racial Caste Systems and Human Rights
This paper should explain and/or compare how the racial caste system is similar to racism and racial hierarchy in the United States. It must explain how 2 of the 4 I’s of oppression are used to perpetuate racism. It can do this through explaining historical oppression of black people (or people of color) through the understanding of slavery, education, mass incarceration and police brutality. It should then call upon international human rights law and the international human rights regime to do something about it.
The caste system — India’s apartheid?
In what was perhaps a controversial but telling comparison, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on December 27, 2006, likened discrimination against Dalits in India to the apartheid system in South Africa. A couple of months later, in February, Indian officials were busily denying the existence of caste discrimination and untouchability, in February 2007 in New York, before a leading U.N. human rights body — the committee in charge of monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Indian Solicitor General flatly denied that caste discrimination was something the outside world should care about. This attitude of the Indian bureaucracy flatly flies in the face of not only the Prime Minister’s own statement, it does not fit in with India’s own track record in dealing with caste discrimination against Dalits, which should not make it act defensively but should make it more determined to wipe out such practices. This attitude also reveals a knee-jerk negativist mindset that the Indian foreign policy establishment has developed over the years towards international human rights, which needs to change.
It is well known that caste discrimination against Dalits is rampant in India. In an overt form, it is both a political reality and social fact. Dalits are subjected to violence, especially in rural areas, their women raped, and their land stolen. Dalits perform the most dangerous and odious forms of labour in Indian society including that of manual scavenging (removing human or animal waste) or performing low-end ‘dirty’ wage labour in tanneries. For the past two years, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) team has been working with Navsarjan, a leading Dalit rights NGO (non-governmental organisation) in Gujarat, documenting the socio-economic and health consequences of manual scavenging in Gujarat, and has designed new technological and planning solutions to the problem that go beyond the simple adoption of more anti-discrimination or sector-specific laws and policies. In Gujarat, the legal route has been pursued as much as possible, through public interest litigation and government orders. Nevertheless, the data reveal that the number of manual scavengers has kept increasing and is likely to be between 50,000 and 60,000 in Gujarat alone. Research indicates that social and economic discrimination against Dalits persists to an alarming degree despite all the laws in the books. For example, in the village of Paliyad in Gujarat, where the MIT-Navsarjan team has been working, data indicate that more than 40 per cent of manual scavengers are frequently or always denied access to the marketplace, thus preventing normal economic activity or labour mobility.
Dalits are poorly represented in the professions, business, media, and the higher levels of the government including the police, the army, and the judiciary. Recent studies based on available data indicate, for example, that 47 per cent of the Chief Justices of India have been Brahmins (who constitute 6.4 per cent of the population) as have been 40 per cent of all the other judges. There is also rampant social discrimination against Dalits, including through the caste-ridden system of ‘arranged’ marriages. There is little social mixing of forward castes with the Dalits through shared festivals or even routine social interaction. Residential areas tend to be segregated along caste lines, especially in rural areas where most people still live. Caste discrimination against Dalits is deep-rooted in society and the economy and quick-fix solutions through the law alone will not help. Measures against discrimination are complicated by the fact that there is increasing evidence of intra-caste differentiation among Dalits, with some sub-castes like manual scavengers suffering significantly more discrimination. For example, in the village of Paliyad, the water source for 47 per cent of manual scavengers is a 30-minute or longer walk from their homes, while for a majority of non-scavenger Dalits that time is only five minutes or less of travel. Distance to water collection affects health, economic productivity, and gender equality.