CASTE campaigners in India have welcomed European support for an
end to "apartheid" conditions in the subcontinent.
MEPs last week adopted a strongly worded resolution calling on
EU institutions to put caste discrimination on a par with
discriminations such as ethnicity, race, religion, gender, and
sexuality. They also expect the EU to consider it in legislation
and human-rights policies, and to raise it at the highest level
with governments of caste-affected countries.
A wide cross-section of members condemned the practice; some
advocated a boycott of goods from affected countries. Speakers were
critical of current EU commitments on the issue, although the EU
commissioner Cecilia Malmström said that it was being tackled.
Eva Joly, who chairs the European Parliament's Committee on
Development, reminded members that the Indian Prime Minister,
Manmohan Singh, had some years ago compared caste discrimination in
his own country to apartheid in South Africa.
"Despite this declaration, despite the abolition of
'untouchability' in the Indian constitution, despite laws, 260
million people are suffering daily from atrocities committed with
complete impunity," she said.
The lowest castes in India, such as the Dalits, are often forced
into dangerous or menial work, and Dalit women frequently face
physical abuse. The International Labour Organisation estimates
that the majority of bonded labour victims in south Asia are from
lower castes; and forced and bonded labour is widespread in the
agriculture, mining, and garment-production sectors.
An International Dalit Solidarity Network board member, Manjula
Pradeep, said: "We agree with the many parliamentarians who say
that more could be done. Caste discrimination is one of the world's
most serious human-rights problems, and we believe that the EU can
play an important role in ending it."
The convener of the Churches Dalit Support Group and a DSN-UK
Trustee, the Revd David Haslam, said: "Since Dalit solidarity work
was started in the UK in 1999, this is the strongest position taken
by any elected body in Europe. However, as a long-time campaigner
against apartheid South Africa, I am aware that really tough
political and economic action needs to be taken if countries which
harbour massive human-rights abuses are to be encouraged towards
the fundamental changes needed."
The recently created group Methodist Women in Britain plans to
raise £50,000 by 2016 for the Church of North India to use in its
work supporting Dalits, and particularly for the education of Dalit
girls and the funding of self-help groups for women.
The group's president, Linda Crossley, said: "We are focusing
our efforts on the needs of the Dalits, because they have
experienced discrimination and oppression for centuries. We believe
that through advocacy, awareness, and solidarity we can help to
bring about change."