On Thursday, the European Parliament, which consists of elected representatives from the 28 member countries of the European Union, passed a resolution that condemned caste-based discrimination as a human rights violation.
The resolution represents a move to view caste as an issue not just limited to South Asian countries but as a global concern. In December, the European Parliament passed a similar resolution that criticized caste-based discrimination in India. The December resolution expressed “alarm” at the “persistently large number of reported and unreported atrocities and widespread untouchability practices, notably manual scavenging.”
It also called for action at multiple levels, asking the Indian authorities to act on cases of atrocities against Dalits, a section of society traditionally deemed as untouchable, and to enact stronger laws against such discrimination.
The resolution passed on Thursday seeks to present caste-based discrimination as a global challenge and elicit a commitment from European Union member states to incorporate concerns regarding caste in their engagement with “caste-affected” countries, including India.
India Ink spoke on the phone with Rikke Nöhrlind, the coordinator of the International Dalit Solidarity Network, which works to eradicate caste-based discrimination and is a vocal supporter of the resolution. Ms. Nöhrlind has been involved in the struggle for Dalit rights since 1999.
What led to the formation of the International Dalit Solidarity Network?
The I.D.S.N. was started in 2003 to address the gap in any key mission at the international level to identify caste discrimination as a human rights issue. A number of us who worked on situations in some of the caste-affected countries from inside or from outside through development support or human rights support realized there was a need to address this issue within the U.N. human rights system and through the major political structures like the E.U.
What makes caste a global human rights issue?
Caste needs to be recognized alongside other grounds of discrimination, like race, gender. It affects more than 260 million people. Caste discrimination is a global phenomenon. The highest number of people affected by this particular form of discrimination may live in India, but caste discrimination is practiced in other countries as well. It exists in Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Japan, and probably also exists in other countries in South Asia – but this is less researched.
In the Middle East, Yemen is a case in point. If you talk of other continents, caste systems exist in Mauritania, in Senegal, so we are moving outside the Hindu religion and its religious sphere.
While in South Asia caste discrimination has its roots in Hindu philosophy and religion and is sanctioned by the religion, it permeates into other religious communities as well. In Muslim-dominated communities, you would find caste discrimination and even in Christian churches.
Caste discrimination has been documented as being alive and thriving in the U.K., which has a large immigrant population from India and Pakistan.
Now there is legislation with provisions to tackle this form of discrimination with the British Parliament, that we hope would be enforced soon.
Caste discrimination carries a particular meaning in India. Can we call all the forms of discrimination you describe caste discrimination?