In what has been called Asia's hidden apartheid, entire villages in many Indian states remain completely segregated by caste. Caste-based abuse is also found in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Japan, and several African states.
In support of its assertions of Dalit abuse in India, the Human Rights Watch has documented the following abuses:
* Over 100,000 cases of rape, murder, arson, and other atrocities against Dalits are reported in India each year. Given that Dalits are both reluctant and unable (for lack of police cooperation) to report crimes against themselves, the actual number of abuses is presumably much higher.
* India's own agencies have reported that these cases are typically related to attempts by Dalits to defy the social order, or demand minimum wages and their basic human rights. Many of the atrocities are committed by the police. Even perpetrators of large-scale massacres have escaped prosecution.
* An estimated forty million people in India, among them fifteen million children, are bonded laborers, working in slave-like conditions in order to pay off a debt. A majority of them are Dalits.
* According to government statistics, an estimated one million Dalits are manual scavengers who clear feces from public and private latrines and dispose of dead animals; unofficial estimates are much higher.
* The sexual slavery of Dalit girls and women continues to receive religious sanction. Under the devadasi system, thousands of Dalit girls in India's southern states are ceremoniously dedicated or married to a deity or to a temple. Once dedicated, they are unable to marry, forced to become prostitutes for upper-caste community members, and eventually auctioned into an urban brothel.
Although there are laws in India to deal with caste-related problems of bonded labor, manual scavenging, devadasi, and other atrocities against Dalit community members, the reality is that such laws are widely ignored by the law-enforcement agencies and the perpetrators.
|Source: World Values Survey and Washington Post|
The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) now includes discrimination based on caste. Dating back to 1969, the ICERD convention has been ratified by 173 countries, including India. Despite this, and despite the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights reiterating that discrimination based on work and descent is a form of racial discrimination, the Indian government's stand on this issue has remained the same: caste is not race.
Ms. Navi Pillay, the South African judge who became the United Nations high commissioner for human rights last year, recently told Barbara Crossette of the Nation a story about a group of women who came to her in Geneva recently with a brick from a latrine they had torn down in protest against being forced to carry away human excrement in their bare hands. They wanted to make the point that despite India's frequent assertions that untouchables," who call themselves Dalits ("broken people"), were no longer condemned by birth to do this job, there were still tens of thousands of such latrines in the country, and the filthy, soul-destroying work continues.
Judge Pillay, a South African citizen of Indian descent, now wants to force the issue of caste the UN. "This is the year 2009, and people have been talking about caste oppression for more than a hundred years," Pillay says. "It's time to move on this issue."
Caste is now on notice: the UN has failed, she said, to educate people and change mindsets to combat the taint of caste. "How long is the cycle going to go on where those who can do something about it say, We can't, because it's the people, it's their tradition; we have to go slowly.
"Slavery and apartheid could be removed, so now [caste] can be removed through an international expression of outrage."
Here is a video about Dalits in India:
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