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Apply anti-atrocities Act on Dalit Muslims, Christians: UN anti-race panel tells GoI

By Rajiv Shah 

In a controversial move, which runs contrary to the current Modi government policy, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which falls under the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in a new report has asked the Government of India (GoI) to ensure that the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act 2015 – called anti-atrocities Act – should be applied to not just those Dalits which are supposed to part of Hindu religion.
The report, dated August 25, forwarded to Counterview, calls upon GoI to take into account “intersectionality” of the Dalits, insisting on providing “information on steps taken to ensure that Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians and all members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes who have converted to another religion are eligible for affirmative action benefits and benefit from the provisions of the Scheduled Casts and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.”
Called “advance unedited version”, the report, which has been released following an 11-page joint submission to the CERD by several human rights organisaations – Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network, National Council of Women Leaders, National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ), International Dalit Solidarity Network, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, and Minority Rights Group International – however is not clear whether it considers “affirmative action” as offer of reservation for “non-Hindu” Dalits, which is their major demand.
Reiterating its 1999 stance which stated “that discrimination based on ‘descent’ includes discrimination against members of communities based on forms of social stratification such as caste and analogous systems of inherited status which nullify or impair their equal enjoyment of human rights”, the CERD wants GoI to “provide information” whether the constitutional and statutory provisions “for a prohibition of racial discrimination”, as it had defined, is being followed.
In their submission, the civil society groups had complained: “Despite the consistent position held by the Committee, by UN Special Procedures and by the OHCHR, India has regularly contended that discrimination based on caste cannot be considered racial discrimination”, pointing out, the latest GoI stance was no different – as seen in its contention dated July 15, 2020 on Contemporary Forms of Racism.
The five-page CERD report does not stop here. It wants the GoI – which it addresses as “state party” as it is one of the signatories to the UN convention on eliminating racism – to send information on rights enjoyed by Dalits and Adivasis under “national and international law”, including measures taken to “implement existing anti-discrimination and affirmative action legislation, and the concrete impact of such measures, disaggregated by caste, tribe, gender, State/district and rural/urban population.”
The information, it adds, should include “disaggregated data on the percentages of the Union, State and district budgets allocated for that purpose and on the effects of such measures on the enjoyment by members of tribals’ “right of ownership, collective or individual, over the lands traditionally occupied by them”.
The report seeks details on steps taken to “prevent and investigate allegations of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings including ‘fake encounters’, and sexual and other violence against members of scheduled castes and scheduled (SCs and STs) and other tribes by the police, the military and other State security forces”, as also information on disciplinary action has been taken against “police and other law enforcement officers who violate their duty of protection and/or investigation in relation to crimes against” SCs, STs “and other tribes.”
The report wonders whether there have been efforts to “ensure that the enforcement of lockdown restrictions by the police in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic do not discriminate against persons belonging to marginalized communities”, including SCs and STs, even as seeking information “on measures taken to effectively prevent acts of violence including sexual violence and exploitation of Dalit and tribal women, children and girls, often perpetrated by men from dominant castes, both in public and private settings.”
CERD has sought details on discrimination of SC-STs during lockdown restrictions by the police in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic
Especially referring to “steps taken to prevent and prohibit exploitative labour arrangements that Dalits are subjected to”, the CERD seeks information “effectively implement the Bonded Labour (System) Abolition Act and the amended Child Labour Act, protection of “domestic workers belonging to SC, ST and other tribes” under labour laws, addressing issues related to their “abuse, exploitation, trafficking and forced labour”, and and “measures taken against the employment of manual scavengers” under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act (2013).
The report seeks “information on measures taken to address discrimination” of SC, ST and other tribes in relation housing and access to adequate and affordable land, access to water and sanitation, including safe drinking water and access to shared wells and public taps, access to ration shops, adequate health care facilities and reproductive health services.”
Referring to the right to education, the report says, the GoI should provide information on dropout and enrolment rates among Dalit children, scholarships or other financial subsidies, discrimination against Dalit pupils by teachers and fellow students, classroom segregation, use of derogatory caste terms, forcing them to perform manual work such as cleaning toilets and picking up garbage, discrimination regarding access to drinking water and midday meals, and so on.
Other issues on which CERD seeks information include measures taken to “ensure that the process of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam does not lead to statelessness, detention or arbitrary deprivation of citizenship”; measures taken to “adopt and implement a national refugee and statelessness legislation consistent with international standards”; and end the systematic use of alleged indefinite detention of Rohingyas in India; and information move to “repeal” the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in Kashmir.

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