Item 9 – Question of the violence of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world

Mr. Chairman,

On behalf of Asian Legal Resource Centre I would like to bring to the attention of this Commission human rights violations suffered by the Dalits in India.

Those who were once called Untouchables in India now call themselves ‘Dalits’, meaning ‘the oppressed. Indeed, they are one of most oppressed groups that history has ever known. They comprise 17% of the Indian population. In sheer numbers, the problem affects at least 170 million men and women. However, this figure excludes those Dalits who have become Muslims or Christians. After a thousand years of exclusion from society they continue to be in limbo in Indian society, despite the legal abolition of untouchability. The only employment they can freely enter into is scavenging. No one disputes the fact that the benefits of development have not gone to them but rather to the other castes, which enjoyed the privileges always. The Constitution proposed achievement, equality, fraternity and liberty. The President of India recently raised a frank question on whether the Constitution has failed India or the leaders of theNation have failed the Constitution. As a Constitutional review is now taking place, there is an anxiety that aspects of the Constitution that were particularly directed towards negating some of the repression of Dalits and others may be revised to the disadvantage of these groups.

To the Dalits, in order of seriousness, the problem of discrimination is only next to the problem of recovering their manhood/womanhood. The discrimination against the Dalits is practiced on a scale the extent of which is impossible for an outsider to imagine. There is no field of life where the Dalits and upper castes come into competition in which the former is not subjected to discrimination. And this discrimination is of the most virulent type.

In the past in matters of social relationships, discrimination took the form of barriers against dancing, bathing, eating, drinking, wrestling and worshipping, which put a ban on all common cycles of participation. Today, the same barriers still continue due to the failure of the state to take adequately strong measures to transform the social condition of Dalits. Cases of Dalits killed or harassed by their upper caste neighbours for wearing foot-ware, women raped because they dare to make an attempt to get more education, young Dalits punished for daring to be self-assertive V these things are still common.

Dalit discrimination is maintained by keeping Dalits landless. Dalit discrimination cannot make a significant breakthrough without a real attempt at land reform that grants land to Dalits.

In fact, no one today disputes the extreme form of discrimination involved in caste discrimination in India. However, the argument is that since the reasons for discrimination are not colour, race, ethnicity, or gender, there should be no recognition of what happens to these millions of people. Thus a form of discrimination that is even worse than slavery and apartheid goes without a response from the international community, simply because of real or alleged limitations of definitions. Can the international community explain its inability to act to eradicate this form of discrimination against these hundreds of millions of people using pure matters of definition? The Asian Legal Resource Centre submits that to take such a position is to abandon the very conceptions of justice and law that form the foundation of international human rights law.


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The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) works towards the radical rethinking & fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in Asia, to ensure relief and redress for victims of human rights violations, as per Common Article 2 of the International Conventions. Sister organisation to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the ALRC is based in Hong Kong & holds general consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the United Nations.

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