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UN special rapporteur report wants "urgent, comprehensive" steps to combat caste-based discrimination

By Our Representative
In a development of major policy implication for India, United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, chose caste discrimination as the theme of her annual report to the UN Human Rights Council, which she presented at Geneva on March 15, 2016.
“Caste-affected countries must take urgent and comprehensive action to combat caste discrimination”, Izsák-Ndiaye says in her strongly worded report on what she considers as "world’s most serious human rights issues."  The report claims the problem affects more than 250 million people across the world, 201 million in India alone.
Titled ‘Minorities and discrimination based on caste and analogous systems of inherited status’, the report expresses serious concern about crimes against Dalit in India, quoting data from the National Crime Records Bureau to state that "crimes against individuals from scheduled castes increased 19 per cent in 2014 from the previous year."
Referring to manual scavenging as widely prevalent in South Asia, the report says, "In Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, street cleaning and the handling of human waste and animal carcasses are almost exclusively performed by Dalits."
Referring to India passing the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act in 2013, the report says, "The practice persists, institutionalized through State practice, with local governments and municipalities employing manual scavengers", adding, "This rigid and stratified allocation of work results in Dalits having not only limited job opportunities, but also lower wages, particularly in rural areas."
The report says, "In Bangladesh and India,  Dalits are often systematically excluded from access to water and sanitation", adding, "Dalits may be prohibited from fetching water; have to wait in different queues when accessing wells; and, in the event of water shortage, must give non-Dalits priority."
It continues, "Dalits may be subjected to large-scale violence and physical attacks by members of the dominant caste when attempting to access facilities in areas inhabited by them. Dalit women are particularly vulnerable to physical violence from members of the dominant castes while collecting water from public wells and taps."
The Special Rapporteur notes, “Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to caste discrimination, as they suffer from multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination owing to both their gender and unprivileged caste status.”
She asks caste-affected states to take “robust action to eradicate such violations”, she says, underlining, caste discrimination is so embedded in interpersonal and communal relationships that overcoming it will “require not only legal and political responses, but also community-based approaches aimed at changing the mindsets of individuals and the collective conscience of local communities.”
Calling it a global phenomenon infringing upon the basic principles of universal human dignity and equality, the report stresses that caste-affected groups suffer extreme exclusion and dehumanization and are often deprived of their most basic rights.
It identifies areas of particular concern in relation to caste-based systems such as the right to life; access to justice; political participation; freedom of religion; the right to work; contemporary forms of slavery; the right to housing, water and sanitation, health and education; and humanitarian assistance.
Welcoming the report, the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) and Human Rights Watch have said in a joint statement, “The UN Human Rights Council (HRC), its member states and UN bodies should work much harder to eliminate one of the world’s worst forms of discrimination.”
“Caste-affected states should endorse these guidelines as well and ensure their implementation; enact and enforce anti-caste discrimination legislation; pay specific attention to the issues of caste-affected women; and take action on caste discrimination in disaster relief operations”, the statement says.
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Download full report HERE

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