India urged to ratify the U.N. Convention against Torture
More than 10 countries raised specific questions concerning caste-based discrimination
It cannot be considered a form of “racial discrimination”: Solicitor-General
JAIPUR: Dalit activists who attended a dialogue on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the U.N. General Assembly’s Human Rights Council in Geneva this past month have called upon the Union Government to take urgent steps to abolish caste-based discrimination and ensure effective implementation of laws for protection of Scheduled Castes.
A five-member delegation of Dalits took part in the debates on the report of the Working Group on UPR for India in Geneva between June 9 and 13.
P. L. Mimroth, chairman of the Centre for Dalit Rights, Jaipur, led the group, while India was represented by Swashpawan Singh, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the U.N. Office.
Mr. Mimroth said on his return here that India had for the first time admitted in a U.N. forum the existence of discrimination and marginalisation on the basis of castes and tribes. The Permanent Representative to the U.N. also stated that action at the government level to end discrimination was not enough and other stakeholders were being engaged to address the gaps.
“Mr. Singh’s admission in the U.N. body is a long-awaited indication of the Centre’s intent to do something for protecting the rights of Dalits,” said Mr. Mimroth, adding that it was high time the Centre initiated measures to stop violation of Dalit rights in the areas of access to education, health care, housing, employment and freedom of faith.
More than 10 countries raised specific questions or recommendations concerning caste-based discrimination in India. This seemed to be a “strong message” to the Centre that the international community was deeply concerned about the persistence of this form of discrimination that affected more than 16.7 crore Dalits.
Addressing the meeting, National Human Rights Commission’s representative Aruna Sharma called upon India to ratify the U.N. Convention against Torture. She said policemen at the lower rung in the hierarchy often resorted to torture and harassment of people detained on suspicion of involvement in crimes.
However, Solicitor-General G. E. Vahanvati said the caste-based discrimination could not be considered a form of “racial discrimination” because the caste system, which was unique to India, was not racial in origin.
The Dalit delegation affirmed that the change in India’s stand in the U.N. body had taken place following concerted efforts and strong protests by Dalit organisations.
“Only a decade ago, India’s representatives in the global forums were in a denial mode. They used to describe the occurrence of caste-based discrimination as isolated incidents,” said Mr. Mimroth.
The Netherlands representative, Robert-Jan Sieben, called upon India to inform the Human Rights Council not only about the progress made on recommendations it agreed to but also on the efforts on recommendations it did not agree to.
Besides Mr. Mimroth, other members of the delegation were Manas Jaina, Director, Development Initiative, Orissa; Bulu Sareen, national coordinator, European Initiative for Democratic and Human Rights (EIDHR) Project, New Delhi; Kewal Uke, State coordinator, EIDHR Project, Maharashtra; and M. Thangave, convenor, Vijuthangal Sanstha, Tamil Nadu.
They also attended a series of conferences on human rights, civil rights, justice and discrimination held in the U.N. Office.