• Aksheyaa Akilan

ERROR 404: Equality Not Found, Data not found, change not measured

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, that each time ended, either in the revolutionary reconstitution of society at large or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”

― Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto

For those who stumbled upon this article to without an understanding of what caste is and for those who think they know, this is how the term “caste” is addressed according to Report of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues (by Rita Izsák) "a strict hierarchical social system that is often based on the notions of purity and pollution, in which individuals placed at the bottom of the system may face exclusion and discrimination in a wide range of areas. The concept of “caste system” is primarily associated with the South Asian region, where its existence is linked to the religiously sanctioned social structure of Hinduism, which identified four original and endogamous groups, or castes, called varnas.”[1]

Slavery or menial jobs seemed to be a common denominator for those considered on the lower end of the hierarchy in any country. For centuries, caste has dictated almost every aspect of Hindu religious and social life, with each group occupying a specific place in this complex hierarchy in India. Undeniably, untouchability still exists. Maybe not the same kind there once was. A different mode or manner has been adopted. For example, not using the same utensils, not letting them touch furniture, and not allowing them in places of worship. In fact, discrimination is so bad that shooting teenage boys to death if they happen to enter places of worship to pray, has become the new normal. [2]

Dalit women children being rape, trafficked, abused, assaulted or worse, tortured and killed. Dalit persons with disabilities, not taken into homes, shelters, institutions, raped, lynched in broad daylight. Dalit men being given minimum wage work as a “safai karamchari”[3] (which means a person engaged in, or employed for any sanitation work and includes his/her dependants according to the National Safai Karmacharis Finance & Development Corporation). Despite the existent of the Safai Karamchari Act, and all it stands for, there has been a trend wherein the people who take up these jobs happen to be from the same caste.

So really, how many more people will be shot, lynches, raped, abused, assaulted, before we decide enough is enough? At this rate, HOW will we meet the sustainable development goals?[4]

In the Global scale, The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has been instrumental, as it first addressed discrimination based on caste and on similar forms of social hierarchy as a form of discrimination based on descent, as provided in article 1 (1) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and has also addressed the issue in its reviews of affected States. The adoption of general recommendation No. 29 (2002) consolidated the Committee’s interpretation of article 1 (1) and formulated a global definition of caste-based discrimination: “discrimination based on caste and analogous systems of inherited status”

In its general recommendation No. 29 (2002), the Committee requested States to “establish statutory mechanisms, through the strengthening of existing institutions or the creation of specialized institutions, to promote respect for the equal human rights of members of descent-based communities”.

Hence, in 2004, India established the National Commission for Scheduled Castes as a separate body[5] with a wide-range of functions, including monitoring implementation of legislation on scheduled castes, investigating complaints and reporting periodically on the status of implementation of legislation. The question still arises, how much impact has the Commission made? How much have they done to curb this social evil and attack its very roots? How much has the attitude changed? Where is the data for the same?

In 2007, India had its review with The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Concluding Observations stated, “The Committee regrets the lack of information in the State party’s report on concrete measures taken to implement existing anti-discrimination and affirmative action legislation, as well as on the de facto enjoyment by members of scheduled castes and scheduled and other tribes of the rights guaranteed by the Convention.”[6] It can also safely be said that the nation regrets this too. Reporting lack of data seems to be a pattern across different Committees. Maybe, we’d just file this other things we do not have data for.

Discrimination based on caste and analogous systems is deeply embedded in interpersonal and communal relationships in caste-affected countries. This is the first thing we should be tapping into as a nation and as a society. Therefore, overcoming it will not only require legal and political responses, but also community-based approaches aimed at changing the mindsets of individuals and the collective conscience of local communities.

The Report of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues (by Rita Izsák) [7] recommends that formal and informal community education and open dialogue from an early age are essential elements to ensure that the principles of human dignity and equality generally are accepted and respected. However, it is deeply disheartening that one of the most widely followed curriculums in India The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) chose to omit the chapters on Gender, Religion and Caste from the final exam due COVID19 constraints. [8]

The report also stated 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. They are disproportionately subjected to dire human rights violations, including violence and, particularly, sexual violence, trafficking, early and/or forced marriage and harmful traditional practices. Detailing such issues, the report stated that “Caste-affected States should urgently take robust action to eradicate such violations through, inter alia, the enactment and effective implementation of specific legislation and the adoption of special measures, policies and programmes to address the entrenched situation of marginalization and exclusion experienced by women and girls owing to their caste.”

In the same light the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommended the State party to effectively prosecute and punish perpetrators of acts of sexual violence and exploitation of Dalit and tribal women, sanction anyone preventing or discouraging victims from reporting such incidents, including police and other law enforcement officers, take preventive measures such as police training and public education campaigns on the criminal nature of such acts, and provide legal, medical and psychological assistance, as well as compensation, to victims, back in the year 2007.

However, to date, there is no disaggregated and reliable data on this.[9] As far as reported cases go, it is said that 4 Dalit women are raped every day[10]. What is reported and recorded is all we have. [11]

Speaking of reported cases, an important point elucidated by the report states “Law enforcement officers should receive training to identify and adequately respond to cases of caste-based discrimination, particularly those involving caste based violence. Rapid-response protocols should be developed and implemented by police officers to attend to victims and conduct in situ investigations. Criminal penalties should be established for law enforcement officers who neglect or intentionally decide not to investigate and/or prosecute complaints filed by individuals regarded as “low caste”. Recruitment of members of affected communities into law enforcement agencies should be encouraged, including through the establishment of a quota system for caste-affected individuals.”

The State/National Human Rights Commission/s[12] come into play here. All violations of human rights by the state are addressed by the SHRCs and NHRC. However, the brutal cases of police assaulting and raping women happen to be on the news frequently. So, how much of an impact are these “trainings” having, if at all any?

This article might not elucidate solutions to the problem and instead talks about the amalgamation of things going wrong, focusing on the lack of data. How much have we progressed as a nation since the last review by the “Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination”? How much change has taken place since the report on minorities? How do we measure anything without data? What a convenient mask to hide behind.

[1] https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/013/73/PDF/G1601373.pdf?OpenElement [2] https://www.indiatoday.in/crime/story/up-dalit-teen-shot-by-upper-caste-youth-for-praying-at-temple-in-amroha-1686909-2020-06-08 [3]https://nskfdc.nic.in/en/content/home/faq#:~:text=What%20is%20the%20definition%20of%20Safai%20Karamcharis%3F,and%20includes%20his%2Fher%20dependants. [4] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300 [5] http://www.ncsc.nic.in/ [6]http://docstore.ohchr.org/SelfServices/FilesHandler.ashx?enc=6QkG1d%2fPPRiCAqhKb7yhsgU0zkGW3DaEaEZzdGAfeNjaQkporzAddUxC4lWuaHQI%2fa2rFrSfdTflXZNxVfPK2In4pk6yEaETwOuqs2KqTD4UBHoaYzs5VDvOKrUoqbzE [7] https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/013/73/PDF/G1601373.pdf?OpenElement [8] https://www.business-standard.com/article/education/cbse-syllabus-reduced-list-of-chapters-deleted-in-history-political-science-know-complete-revised-cbse-syllabus-for-class-9-10-11-12-120070800661_1.html [9] https://www.hrw.org/reports/1999/india/India994-11.htm [10] https://www.newindianexpress.com/thesundaystandard/2019/may/19/four-dalit-women-are-raped-every-day-with-several-on-multiple-occasions-1978741.html [11] http://www.dalits.nl/pdf/HRC-11_briefing_note_-_Violence_against_Dalit_Women.pdf [12] https://nhrc.nic.in/

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