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UN official criticizes "caste-based" rape, murder in India; Human Rights Watch wonders if Modi will act

Navi Pillay in Geneva with Dalit rights activist Manjula Pradeep
By Our Representative
Addressing the UN Human Rights Council at Geneva, Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has sought to link the recent rape and murder of two teenage girls in Katra village of Uttar Pradesh with what she called sigma of “double assault of caste-based and gender-based discrimination”. Pillay told the conference, cosponsored by Human Rights Watch, that this stigma is further compounded by “discrimination based on their occupation and other socio-economic factors, including whether or not they are migrants.”
“They are at very high risk of sexual violence, forced labour, slavery, trafficking and other human rights violations, including violations of the rights to food, water, sanitation, healthcare, education, adequate housing, and equal participation in political, economic and social life. And all too often abuses of their rights are committed with complete impunity”, Pillay, whose term at the UN ends in August 2014, said.
Referring to the way these girls were “attacked, raped, and at dawn their bodies were found hanging from a tree”, she said, “The villagers were so convinced that this crime would not be adequately investigated that they sat under the girls’ bodies to prevent authorities from taking them down until the suspects were arrested”, adding, the event exposes “the brutality and violence that Dalit girls and women face, as well as specific dangers related to lack of safe sanitary facilities.”
Praising India’s civil society, Pillay said, thanks to their campaign, the murder of the two girls in Katra “generated widespread outrage, and the authorities have taken vigorous action to investigate it”. However, she regretted, “In practice, many such cases, in many countries, have not been properly investigated or prosecuted.”
Pillay advised those present that efforts to prevent incidents like this “will require considerable work, including a strong legal framework”. There have been “commendable efforts” to tackle the issue of discrimination based on caste, such as stronger laws to combat manual scavenging in India”, she pointed out, adding, “But there is a fundamental need for renewed effort to train law enforcement, the judiciary and other key duty bearers to ensure that cases are properly handled.”
Saying that “outrage” against incidents such as these is not enough, Pillay insisted, “We must take real and focused action to mend our societies’ dramatic failure to support the rights of people of discriminated castes, particularly women and girls.” He added, “Caste-based discrimination fundamentally undermines human dignity. It damages the full spectrum of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the persons concerned – who today amount to some 260 million people, globally."
She said, “This violation of human rights, which is intensified by stigma, is not restricted to one region or one religious community. Caste-based and similar forms of discrimination are a serious concern in South Asia, but they are also prevalent in other parts of Asia, as well as in Africa, the Middle East and – as your action and advocacy clearly demonstrate – in Europe.”


Human Rights Watch tells Modi to deliver

Meanwhile, top US-based rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW) , referring to this event as also several others has wondered whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who campaigned as a leader who can deliver, would “take the initiative to press the police and the criminal justice system to be more responsive to cases of sexual violence” in India.
In a strongly-worded commentary, HRW said, “Modi is a controversial figure in Indian politics. Because he was accused of dereliction of duty or even complicity during religious riots in 2002 when he was heading the administration in Gujarat state, many are deeply skeptical that he will promote human rights while prime minister.”
Saying that rights protection is an “integral part” of the “ability to deliver good governance”, HRW insisted, “Millions of voters have vested their faith in the new prime minister to revive the economy, create jobs, address poverty, and restore India’s stature in world politics. Among his challenges is to take the many good policies in India to create a more rights-respecting society, still divided by caste, ethnicity and religion.”
“He can make a start by ending government inaction surrounding rape, while demanding accountability not only for perpetrators of such heinous crimes but for those charged with enforcing the law”, HRW concluded.
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Also read: Two teenage labourers gang-raped in Gujarat's Vapi 

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