India denies ‘caste’ as factor of gender inequality

Draws angry reaction from civil society organisations

November 19, 2014 12:52 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:04 pm IST - Bangkok:

India on Tuesday changed the word caste to “social origin” in the draft Asian and Pacific ministerial declaration on advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment at the conference under way here to review the goals of the Beijing platform for action 20 years later.

The text will be finalised over the next two days after the Ministers from the region debate on it.

When the Asian and Pacific conference on gender equality and women’s empowerment opened on Monday, India did not object to the word caste in para 12 of the draft text which reads, “Recognising that gender-based discrimination occurs in and of itself and that it is often linked to other forms of inequality related to such factors as age, race, ethnicity, religion or belief, health, disability, class, caste, sexual orientation and gender identity, occupation, migrant and legal or other status, and that the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination can compound experiences of injustice, social marginalisation and oppression.”

However, on Tuesday when the para was reviewed for objections along with para four on the words “sexual orientation and gender identity” which was replaced with the phrase, “men and women in their diversity,” it was pointed out that India wanted the word caste replaced and this was indicated by Indian officials at a group meeting to sort out objections in the two paras raised by some countries.

There were no issues on this subject raised by other countries and the change was accepted. Observers present during the smaller meeting to discuss the para said it happened very suddenly and the matter was not raised earlier.

The large number of civil society organisations present reacted with anger at the change and said it was not the first time that India had refused to acknowledge caste at a U.N. meeting.

‘Not the same thing’

Activist and writer Ruth Manorama told The Hindu that “social origin” is not the same thing as caste. She said “para 12 addresses inequality and sociologically the words social origin do not mean caste. This is a para that talks of discrimination and caste is the longest form of hierarchy leading to inequality. Caste exists in the subcontinent and other countries.”

“If the Indian government wanted to change the word caste, it could have used a United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination definition which says ‘descent and work-based discrimination’ instead of social origin,” Ms. Manorama said. “The word caste is in the Indian Constitution, so why replace it here,” she asked. By doing this the government was denying caste as a point of discrimination, she added. At the U.N. World conference on racism, in 2001 in Durban, India refused to accept that caste-based discrimination amounted to racism.

Indian embassy officials refused to comment on the matter and the government representative, Additional Secretary Preeti Sudan was not available for comment.

The conference was organised by the U.N. Women and U.N. Economic and Social commission for the Asia Pacific (ESCAP).

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