Minister for inclusion of caste at Durban meet

NEW DELHI, AUG. 30. The Union Minister for Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution, Mr. V. Sreenivasa Prasad, today urged the Prime Minister to consider including `caste' while formulating India's view for the Durban conference on racism starting tomorrow.

The Government insists the issue cannot be discussed despite requests from several NGOs with the Left parties supporting the demand to allow a discussion on caste-based discrimination in the week-long conference.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Mr. A.B. Vajpayee, the Minister said the central issue was whether caste was a form of discrimination and, if so, whether India should oppose a discussion on it at the U.N.-sponsored conference.

He said no one could dispute that caste system existed in the country regardless of the official policy. He said several judgments relating to caste-based discrimination against SCs and the remedies against the same showed that caste was recognised and acknowledged by the judicial decisions as prohibited grounds of discrimination.

Mr. Prasad argued that since the Government had constantly acknowledged the existence of caste-based discrimination, he saw no harm in this being discussed at the conference. He said caste discrimination fell within the ambit of human rights and just as human development indicators, such as health and education were monitored by the world bodies, there was no harm in allowing such organisations to monitor caste discrimination as well.

``Opposing any discussion on such issues in world bodies will only lead to further invisibility and exclusion of SCs/STs and will force them to return to silence, which itself would be damaging,'' he said while requesting the Government to take these views into consideration while formulating India's official position.