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Human Rights and Role of India Towards Prevention of Discrimination

Dealing with site discrimination, wherein a group of people are given a specific social rank... linked to one or more traditional occupations[,] remains one of the most significant human rights challenges facing the world today. Perhaps no country understands the difficulty of the fight to end caste discrimination more than India, which, even after decades of democracy, has yet to effectively end the practice. Despite efforts to end caste discrimination through international and domestic measures, more than 165 million people in India alone still suffer discrimination and various types of degrading treatment because of their caste associations.

In contemporary India, the social structure continues to be described as entirely based on the caste system. This caste system is not only based on structural inequalities between the high caste and low caste untouchables but also involves social isolation and exclusion from participation in social, political and economic processes and development of society.

Caste discrimination sees its victims excluded from using:

village wells, temples, and tea shops, forced to subordinate themselves before upper caste neighbors, discriminated against in land and housing allocation, and prevented from participating in local government institutions.

In 2007, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) stated that it had reports of arbitrary arrest, torture and extrajudicial killings of members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes by the police, and about the frequent failure to protect these groups against acts of communal violence. In just a two year period, from 1994 to 1996, almost 100,000 incidents of abuse committed against lower caste people were reported to police in India.

Even this vast number severely under-represents the actual levels of discrimination. Victims frequently fail to register formal complaints out of fear of retaliation, blatant police bias, or a lack of understanding regarding their rights. The lives of those affected are often devastated by this discrimination. Dalits and other low caste people, especially women, have been prevented from standing as candidates in elections, denied access to land, excluded from schooling, forced to work in the lowest level jobs, and continue to suffer from higher levels of poverty than other groups.

Understanding Caste Division

Over centuries of sociological development, the South Asian caste system has created hierarchies and divisions between castes on every level of interaction. The caste system�s origins are debated, yet its effects are indisputable. While it was suggested in 1996 that [c]aste is no longer an important agent of social placement or control, ritually, politically, economically, and even physically, the system divides and arranges peoples vertically according to their caste associations. These divisions have led to exploitation, inequality, and suffering for millions of the region�s inhabitants.

Low caste and Dalit people today are still segregated, barred from using common resources such as wells, and prevented from entering Hindu temples. These large communities have been subject to racial profiling and police brutality and live every day of their lives treated as second class citizens by individuals, communities, and sometimes even their government. The reasons behind the continuation of these practices are not monolithic, but they might be grouped into a few major categories. The first reason for the continuation of these practices is a lasting reliance on caste identifications inspired by society, politics, and the system of reservations. Second, these practices continue due to minimal relative improvement in the economic situations of most low caste and Dalit peoples.

The Law and Institutions dealing with Caste in India

India is a country with a constitution that guarantees non-discrimination and complete equality before the law. The Indian parliament has enacted legislation to support the constitution, and the Indian Supreme Court is active in trying to combat human rights violations. There is an extensive set of measures in place to grant economic benefits, set reservations, and institute affirmative action for disadvantaged groups in politics, government service, and education.

The government also created the National Human Rights Commission to deal with human rights violations. Nevertheless, institutions and instruments alone are insufficient. While good laws and progressive institutions play a useful role implementing good measures, there must simultaneously be positive statements by the government and other actors to set the tone for society to accept and internalize the ideals behind such measures. about ending caste discrimination on many occasions, including the following statement in 2006 by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh: The only parallel to the practice of untouchability was Apartheid in South Africa. Untouchability is not just social discrimination.
  1. The Constitution

    Any survey of the institutions and instruments dealing with caste in India must begin with the present constitution of the country. The 1950 Indian Constitution attempted to improve the legal status of low caste and Dalit peoples in India. While it is difficult to argue that anyone expected caste identities to disappear after the introduction of the constitution, at the time, many believed that with democracy and the start of modernization, caste would decline in importance. This viewpoint was expressed by Dr. Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Indian Constitution as follows: On the 26th January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions.

    In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has [so] laboriously built up. Despite the promising new beginning at the introduction of democracy to India, for many lower caste members, the realities of daily life have hardly improved at all, suggesting that enumerating rights alone has not been enough to actually force change to take place
  2. Roles of the Courts

    Like the constitution, the record of the Indian courts has also had mixed results in struggling to end caste discrimination. For instance, the judgments of the Indian Supreme Court reveal that the court is dedicated to ending the practice of caste discrimination. Yet, these judgments also reveal an internal struggle with giving up traditional notions of caste identity. Evidence of the inability to get past traditional notions of caste barriers can be found in a number of cases.

    In Patil v. Additional Commissioner of Tribal Development, for instance, a pair of sisters applied to university as members of a scheduled tribe; both sisters were admitted. Upon further review later in their college careers, they were found to be members of a backward caste instead of a scheduled tribe, which meant their applications should not have been considered among those taken to fulfill reservation requirements for scheduled tribes. In a strongly worded decision, the court denounced the efforts of spurious tribes to snatch away positions that should be reserved for those with genuine claims.

    In order to conclude what caste or tribe the Patil sisters legally belonged to, the court relied on ethnological research. By taking this approach, the justices implied that the government should approach identity and communities through categorizations based on the traditional system of divisions. This therefore incorporates the social stratifications the court wishes to eliminate into the workings of the state.
  3. The National Human Rights Commission of India

    In 1993, the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) was created by the Protection of Human Rights Act. The NHRC was given the broad task of conducting inquiries into violations, reviewing laws and policies, and taking the lead in human rights education. Eighteen state-level commissions were also created. Those fighting to end caste discrimination hoped that these commissions would lead to a closer review of caste discrimination violations by civil servants, as well as help India better understand and apply international standards of human rights. Generally, these expectations have not been met.

To a large extent, the NHRC has been timid in opposing the government. It has often shied away from identifying discriminatory trends among government actors and has shown a lack of will to assert itself on issues that the government does not wish to see publicly addressed. The various state commissions have never developed into institutions with significant influence largely due to a lack of cooperation between the NHRC and the various state institutions.

Furthermore, the NHRC has disappointed those who had hoped that caste discrimination would be an important focus of the NHRC. From 2004 to 2005, only 583 of approximately 25,000 cases registered with the NHRC were considered within the context of Atrocities on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Many of the other complaints certainly could have fallen under this category but were listed under other groupings. The 2004-2005 annual report also extends only two pages to the discussion of human rights abuse against the Scheduled Castes.

Even with India�s extensive legal protections for all citizens and guarantees of equality, widespread caste discrimination persists. Given the scope of the problem and the massive challenge it presents, India has suffered from insufficient political will and institutional commitment to truly address the problem of caste discrimination. India must undertake several major reform initiatives. India should reevaluate its system of reservations and benefits.

Adjustments to the system need to de-emphasize the traditional caste definitions in the methodology for identifying benefit recipients in order to limit the relevance of traditional caste identity. Instead, emphasis should be placed on economic prerequisites so that it is truly the most disadvantaged who benefit.

These changes should be coupled with a new wave of education campaigns both to inform the victims of their rights and to increase knowledge of the laws against discrimination to potential perpetrators. It is also vital for India to begin a significant overhaul of its lower level courts and local police to finally end all discrimination practiced by public servants. Education campaigns for judges and police officials should be complemented by meaningful sanctions taken against those who violate the rights of any Indian citizens.

These measures would certainly be a major challenge for any Indian government to undertake. India realizes this and therefore most politicians prefer to avoid drastic action and instead deflect criticism by referencing India�s progressive constitution and legal protections of the disadvantaged to suggest that everything has been done to solve the problem.

This lack of political will presents the principal reason there is a need for greater international engagement with India on the issue of caste. This is crucial, as India has been able to avoid international scrutiny and serious discussion on caste discrimination. The international community must assail India with an honest and strict assessment of its failures to combat caste, and its impact.


    Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Deepanshu Verma
    Awarded certificate of Excellence
    Authentication No: MA113441860922-14-0521

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