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European Parliament passes resolution treating casteism on par with discrimination based on race, religion, gender

By Our Representative
In a resolution with far-reaching implications for Indian policy makers, the European Parliament, which met in Strasbourg, Austria, has declared that caste-based discrimination in several Asian countries, including India, should be treated on par with other grounds of discrimination such as “ethnicity, race, religion, gender and sexuality”. Passed after a debate opened by Green member of European Parliament (MEP) Eva Joly, prior to adopting the resolution, several MEPs argued that “goods from caste-affected countries should be boycotted”, the International Dalit Solidarity Network said in a statement from its office in Copenhagen.
Tabling the resolution, Joly, who is chair of the Committee on Development, said that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had compared caste discrimination in his country to South Africa’s apartheid. “Despite this declaration, despite the abolition of ‘untouchability’ in the Indian constitution, despite laws, 260 million people worldwide is suffering daily from atrocities committed with complete impunity,” Joly said.
Labeling it “one of the biggest paradoxes of the 21st century”, Liberal MEP Leonidas Donskis noted that “it is imperative to ensure that the fight against caste-based discrimination becomes part of the standard EU human rights language and is systematically included in the Union's efforts worldwide.” Another MEP, Paul Murphy, said the way forward was to encourage Dalit activists who want to confine “this barbaric feudal remnant to the dustbin of history.”
 The resolution says that caste discrimination should be seen in the context of international human rights conventions which relate to “contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” Looking at caste in “a socio-religious context, as in Asia, where those who fall outside the caste system are considered ‘impure’ and ‘untouchable’ by nature”, it adds, “more broadly” it is a “system of rigid social stratification into ranked groups defined by descent and occupation; whereas discrimination based on work and descent.”
The European Parliament resolution expresses serious concern over the fact that “despite the steps taken by the governments of some caste-affected countries to provide constitutional and legislative protection and introduce special measures against caste discrimination and untouchability, caste discrimination continues to be widespread and persistent, affecting an estimated 260 million people worldwide.”
Pointing out that “caste-based discrimination exists in numerous countries across the globe, with the highest number of victims being found in South Asia”, it regrets, “there are large concentrations of victims in other areas, including Africa, the Middle East and the diaspora community”, too. It notes “non-implementation of legislation and policies and the lack of effective remedies and effectively functioning state institutions, the judiciary and police included”, saying these “remain major obstacles to eliminating caste-based discrimination.”
Saying that caste-based discrimination in “severe forms of social exclusion, poverty, violence, segregation, physical and verbal abuse linked to prejudices and a concept of purity and pollution” continues and “untouchability practices remain widespread and are taking on modern forms”, the resolution notes, this has led to communities facing “restrictions in “political participation and serious discrimination in the labour market.”
The resolution specifically expresses “serious concern” over “the violence perpetrated against Dalit women, often do not report such violence for fear of threats to their personal safety or of social exclusion.” It says, Dalit women face “multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination based on caste, gender and religion”, adding, they are subjected to “forced conversions, abductions, forced prostitution, and sexual abuse by members of dominant castes.”
While noting that in India “mandatory affirmative action has to some extent contributed to the inclusion of Dalits in the public sector”, the resolution adds, “Lack of protective non-discrimination measures in the labour market and the private sector adds to exclusion and growing inequalities”. It refers to the International Labour Organisation documents to say that “overwhelming majority of bonded labour victims in South Asia are from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes”.  This type of labour, it adds, is “particularly widespread in the agriculture, mining and garment production sectors, which supply products to a number of multinational and European companies.”
Pointing out that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines and the ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility, “specifically mentions caste-based discrimination as a serious form of discrimination”, the resolution urges the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to “mainstream the fight against caste-based discrimination in EU legislation, policies and programming documents and to adopt operational guidelines for its implementation.” OECD is the apex body of western developed countries.
Expressing alarm  that “in certain countries perpetrators of such discrimination hold high-level government positions”, the resolution recommends that the European Union (EU) should “carry out a systematic assessment of the impact of trade and/or investment agreements on groups affected by caste discrimination, and address these issues with industry representatives, government authorities and relevant civil society organizations.”

The resolution calls for “the inclusion of caste-based discrimination as a human rights issue in future EU human rights policies, strategies and action plans” adding, there should be a “stronger support for development projects combating caste-based discrimination as a serious human rights violation that exacerbates poverty, and to take this form of discrimination into account in all projects with a focus on education, women, access to justice, political participation or labour.” 

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