FLORIDA, October 30, 2012— Yesterday, we learned about the almost unimaginable reality of modern slavery.
Now, Yogesh Varhade, president of the Ambedkar Centre for Justice and Peace, explains the horrors of contemporary apartheid.
Even though the Indian government has outlawed caste-based discrimination and initiated affirmative action programs to help Untouchables, have either of these policies proven to be effective?
What about globalization? Will it play a role in relegating India’s caste system to the pages of history?
How has the international community reacted to the crises associated with caste-based discrimination? Can such bigotry be remedied during the yearsahead?
If so, how might this take place?
Joseph F. Cotto: The Indian government has outlawed caste-based discrimination. It
has also initiated affirmative action programs to help Untouchables. Have either of these policies proven to be effective, from your standpoint?
Yogesh Varhade: Caste-based discrimination, though outlawed by the Constitution, is not implemented with the will of the government.
The National Crime Bureau of India has recorded crimes against Dalits from 2005 to 2010. Out of a total of 217,077 recorded crimes, there have been 4724 murders and 11678 rapes of Dalit ladies.
And for every one recorded, nine go unrecorded as per NGO estimates. This is a grim picture of reality!
Affirmative action programmes, known as positive discrimination, are good in the Constitution. There is a 22.5 percent reservation in jobs and education as per the population. The reality is that at classes three and four, which are mainly helper and clerical level posts, all vacancies are filled. At classes two and one, positions which are administrative posts, vacancies are not filled as per quota with the excuse that suitable candidates have not been found. This happens even though an Untouchable candidate was qualified and available.
So, Hindu officers fill up positions with their kith and kin on a temporary basis and later make them permanent.
Other Hindus have a fake certificate identifying themselves as Dalit, which is obtained through bribery. They occupy a Dalit senior officer’sposition and enjoy all the benefits. Some are found after many years and punished but many more are still hidden.
Cotto: Can the caste system reasonably be abolished during the yearsahead? If so, how might this take place?
Varhade: The first reality is that with the caste system being the foundation of Hindu religion, it cannot be completely abolished. Every Hindu has a caste of which he is proud except the lowest of the low — the Untouchables.
Many Untouchables converted to major religions to get out of the caste system. These religions include Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, and others.
95 percent of Islam followers are of lower caste origin, so also are 95 percent of Christianity followers. Nonetheless, they carried the baggage of the caste system in tact with them. The psyche of low and high caste needs to be changed.
Secondly, India must apply law and order which is broken. This will force the people to change their attitudes. Long term human rights education is a must to eliminate institutionalized thinking of high and low castes.
Madam Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, passed a resolution to break the wall of caste in 2009. Like apartheid in South Africa, as well as the Berlin Wall, this hidden apartheid of South Asia could be broken.
Cotto: How has the international community reacted to the crises associated with India’s caste system?
Varhade: Since India became financially sound (6.5 percent to 9 percent GDP over the last eight years), all countries need to have a trade pact with India. There is also talk about India being a superpower. However, the West has given the signal that India must address social justice for the poor.
The United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Sweden, Japan, and others have now started to question India on the caste system. They have to mobilise the opinion of Western civil society against India for this sub-human treatment of its own people.
Since no oil is involved, traditionally there has not been not much attention from the West. The West has neglected India’s caste system and UN Diplomacy has taken the lead. This needs to change. The UN and Western civil society has an obligation to free the Untouchables from this bondage.
Cotto: Do you believe that globalization will play a role in the caste system being relegated to the pages of history?
Varhade: Globalization did not help much but allowed well educated Brahmins to take charge of multinationals.
So, all of the best jobs go to Brahmins and those in the high caste. Affirmative action in the West has not been applied in India by American, Canadian, or British companies. This needs to be lobbied in their own countries. The Indian government does not produce jobs any more due to globalization.
All job growth is in the private sector. So, lobbying can be done in the aforementioned countries.
Cotto: Now that our discussion is at its end, many readers are probably wondering how you came to be an advocate for socioeconomic betterment in India. Tell us a bit about your life and career.
Varhade: Dr. Ambedkar wasthe greatest humanist and intellectual giant of twentieth century India. He was an educationist, a jurist, reformer, philosopher, statesman, and chief architect of the Indian constitution. He is my hero who I met in 1954, when I was 13 years old. Under him, I became Buddhist in 1956 along with one million people.
My parents were cotton mill workers. Because of reservations in education, I received a degree Pune University and had a desire to go to a foreign country. So, I left for Germany in 1967, where I worked in the steel, machine tools and aeroplane industries. In 1970, I landed in Canada and went into the auto business.
Despite this, I was constantly thinking about how I could improve the lives of my people back home.
In 1991, I attended a meeting in the UN called “Working Group On Indigneous People.” Since then, I have never stopped attending UN and other world forums to highlight the plight of the Untouchables.
In 1993, the caste system and untouchability were highlighted at the UN Human Rights Conference in Vienna. This got a lot of global attention. Many members of parliament from the European Union showed great joy and support for our work. In 1995 was the World Summit on Social Development at Copenhagen where local media gave lot of publicity to caste system, as well as other atrocities such as child labour, bonded labour and child prostitution.
In 1996, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, a UN treaty body, invited us to participate in their discussion. We convinced CERD global experts that India is a total failure insofar as abolishing the caste system and protecting Untouchables are concerned. For the first time, India was scolded for its negligence and many solutions were recommended. India has not yet followed up in a real sense.
In 1997, we approached the Committee on Civil and Political Rights when it was discussing Indian issues. We submitted the violations of our civil and political rights. CHR gave a lot of recommendations in our favour, again holding India responsible for its failure.
Then, in 1999 and 2000, we submitted a report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The organization immediately asked India to produce disaggregated data about our concerns, implement the right to an education, abolish both child and bonded labour, as well as eradicate child prostitution.
In 2001, the UN World Conference Against Racism at Durban took place. The Ambedkar Centre was invited and because of our work, the caste system was discussed. The media gave lots of publicity, along with many interviews. This was the second time that the caste system got major attention.
India could not hide this caste-based discrimination under the carpet anymore.
In 2002, CERD again discussed India. The country’s efforts were found to be inadequate for which it received bad report card. In 2005, the World Summit on Information Society at Tunis took place where the right of every child to access internet technology was approved. ACJP was a part of the forum.
In 2009, we submitted news about the pathetic condition and bare survival of Dalits to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. CESCR toldIndiato address the rights of Dalits and made many recommendations.
In 2012, India faced a periodic review where the ACJP was very active and lobbied very hard. Eleven countries posed questions to India and sixteen countries asked about subjects such as child labour. India finally accepted eighty-five recommendations out of the 180 made by Human Rights Council members.
Every free thinker who wants to help liberate 100 million children and 250 million Untouchables from slavery should ask their representatives in government to be a part of this process and pressure India to accept a UN HRC resolution to break the wall of caste.
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