The Government of India continues to defy commonsense by refusing to accept caste based discrimination is discrimination defined in the International Convention on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The Indian delegation to substantiate this position also made a statement that Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vyshyas, Soodras and Dalits no more exists in India. The independent experts reviewing India`s 15 to 19 periodic reports to the CERD Committee in Geneva refused to accept this and tried to persuade the delegates to accept the mistake in their position. India`s report was being reviewed by the UN treaty body, the CERD Committee, in Geneva on 23 February. The Indian contingent is led by the Indian Ambassador to Geneva along with a team of experts including the Solicitor General of India and Professor Deepankar Gupta and other senior government officials. The CERD Committee will continue its review on 26 February.
In the opening statement before the Committee by the government, the Ambassador tried to pitch a note of achievements the country has made in allegedly eliminating descent based discrimination in the country. The Ambassador also emphasized that discrimination based on caste in India does not come under the mandate of the CERD. Following the same line of argument, the Solicitor General of India, in a vain attempt, drew the attention of the Committee to the constitutional provisions that prevent racial and caste based discrimination but emphasized that caste based discrimination is outside the scope of review. The supreme lawyer of the country, having exhausted all reasonable resources of legal intellect, but unable to find a tenable excuse to defend his government`s stand, had to depend upon the information provided in the internet website Wikipedia to define race in his futile attempt to define racial discrimination.
In a continuing tone to defy the accepted legal premises of defining the term discrimination based on descent Professor Deepankar Gupta tried to explain to the independent experts of the CERD Committee that caste based discrimination does not exist in a large scale in India. Professor Gupta tried to convince the experts through his scholastic knowledge that in India liberty and equality is guaranteed by law. According to him any rich Indian could defy the tenets of caste hierarchy in India and this he opined as the proof of the absence of caste based discrimination in India. Finding difficult to substantiate his position any further he drew the example of the kings and maharajas in India defying the caste hierarchy when they wanted to marry, outside from the caste structure. He further stated before the Committee that according to his knowledge Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vyshyas, Soodras and the Dalits no more exists in India, but a homogenous and casteless society is that what India has today.
The CERD Committee`s Country Rapporteur Mr. Linos-Alexander Sicilianos however responded to these arguments by asking the Indian delegation to help the Committee by providing reasonable and sensible explanations to the questions put up by the Committee in response to the state party report. The complete text of the additional questions raised by the experts is available at http://www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cerd/docs/LOI-india.pdf Mr. Sicilianos while drawing the attention of the Indian delegation to its previous and well settled position that caste based discrimination is within the mandate of the CERD also requested the Indian delegation to report to the Committee on specific issues such as (1) extra judicial punishments enforced upon minorities in India, (2) manual scavenging, (3) poor medical facilities available for the dalits and the tribal communities, (4) double discrimination of dalit women by forced prostitution, (5) internal displacements of dalits, (6) looting and other atrocities committed by law enforcement agencies like the police (7) the mechanisms to foresee proper implementation of law (8) impunity and custodial torture, (9) discrimination practiced during the tsunami relief and (10) the gap between what that has been guaranteed in the constitution and what that is been practiced. The Rapporteur also drew the attention of the delegation to the 2004 report of the National Human Rights Commission where the Commission has raised concerns about the atrocities committed against the members of the scheduled caste and the scheduled tribe.
The Rapporteur also drew the attention of the delegation to the statement made by the Prime Minister of India on 27 February 2006 during the Dalit and Minority Conference where the Prime Minister himself admitted that the only parallel to untouchability was apartheid practiced in South Africa. The Rapporteur also expressed his opinion that the stand taken by the Government of India is untenable, and that, why the Committee should not consider a recommendation to initiate an early warning and urgent action procedure against India on cases initiated under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 in the north-east and those charge-sheeted under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The Rapporteur also expressed his eagerness to know about the status of refugees, particularly those from Burma and Kashmir.
Followed by the concerns raised by the Country Rapporteur, subject experts of the Committee raised questions concerning several issues. The experts requested the Indian delegation to enlighten the Committee regarding the principles by which a particular community is termed as a scheduled caste or a scheduled tribe. The experts further requested the delegation to explain what are the legal measures in place to prevent caste based discrimination in India. Of particular significance was the concern expressed by the expert from South Africa Ms. Patricia Nozipho January-Bardill regarding the Government of India`s official position of defiance regarding the practice of caste based discrimination by denying its existence and asked the Government officials to persuade the government to seek the assistance from expert bodies like the CERD to eliminate caste based discrimination from the country. The expert from Brazil Mr. Jose Augusto Lindgren Alves pointed out to the government delegation that even though India worked hard during the Durban World Conference against Racism, the country is unfortunately more known for its antagonizing position on caste based discrimination.
Prior to the opening session by the government there was an NGO briefing for the subject experts which was represented by representatives of several NGOS from India and other countries. The government delegation is expected to reply to the questions and concerns raised by the experts of the Committee on 26 February.
The Asian Human Rights Commission is closely monitoring the session and its sister concern the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) is attending the sessio