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MEPs back call to end ‘apartheid’

18 October 2013


Symbol: Indian children play next to an elephant statue dedicated to dalits, at Ambedkar Park, which was opened to the public in Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, at the begining of this month. The park was built during the rule of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government and includes statues of elephants, the political symbol of the BSP, as well as statues of dalit leaders 

Symbol: Indian children play next to an elephant statue dedicated to dalits, at Ambedkar Park, which was opened to the public in Noida, on...

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."

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