Dealing with site discrimination, wherein a group of people are given a specific social rank... linked to one or more traditional
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
but also involves social isolation and exclusion from
participation in social, political and economic processes and development of
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
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 systemís 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 regionís
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.
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.
The ConstitutionAny 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
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
Roles of the CourtsLike 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
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
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.
The National Human Rights Commission of IndiaIn 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.
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 Indiaís 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
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 Indiaís 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
Authentication No: MA113441860922-14-0521