June 4, 2008
European Parliament hosts meeting on caste discrimination in South Asia, 04-06-2008
Brussels, June 4 , EuAsiaNews - Representatives of the Dalit community in India as well as defenders of Dalit human rights in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Europe have urged the European Union (EU) to support the cause of the Dalits in fighting discrimination.
Representatives from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh speak on caste discrimination in the European Parliament (photo by Jakob Carlsen)
"India is called the largest democracy in the world but 167 million Dalits are facing all kinds of atrocities," Vincent Manoharan, General Secretary , National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, told the hearing on "Caste Discrimination in South Asia" held at the European Parliament (EP) in Brussels on Tuesday evening.
Representatives from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh speak on
caste discrimination in the European Parliament (photo by Jakob Carlsen)
He noted that "144 forms of untouchability practices exit in India," and said he expects the EU to act fast to end these discriminations.
Manoharan said there were many laws and legislation in India for the protection of the scheduled castes but there implementation "was weak."
The hearing was sponsored by four Members of the European Parliament, Margrete Auken from Denmark, Jean Lambert from the UK, Maria Martens from the Netherlands and Claude Moraes from the UK in cooperation with the Denmark-based International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN).
Auken said that last year, the EP was one of the first international institutions to adopt a resolution on the situation of Dalits in India, but caste discrimination is a huge problem in the rest of South Asia as well as in many other parts of the world.
"We must show much more support to the struggle against caste discrimination and it's time that the European Union move from rhetoric to action," she stressed.
Manjula Pradeep, executive director of Navsarjan, a Dalit organization in Gujarat,said "India is being ruled by castes not by laws."
"There is one incredible India and one untouchable India," she said, adding that " what we are claiming from the EP is justice."
Zulfiqar Shah, Senior Research Associate, Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, said the state of Pakistan denies existence of any kind of discrimination based on caste and race because Pakistan claims to be a society based on Islamic values.
"However, the reality on the ground is quite different and the country is divided on ethnic, linguistic and sectarian basis," he said noting that the estimated 2 million population of scheduled castes are facing double discrimination, from the majority Muslims and from the upper-caste Hindus in Pakistan.
Pushkar Khati, program director of Anubhav media and board member of the Dalit NGO Federation, Nepal, said the Dalits in Nepal were facing "similar discriminations as in India."
"End of monarchy does not mean end of Hindu feudalism in Nepal", he said.
"It is time that the European Union develops an appropriate and comprehensive response to one of today's largest human rights problems," said Rikke Nohrlind, coordinator of IDSN.
"Several United Nations bodies have dealt with this issue extensively - many times with active involvement from EU member states," noted Nohrlind.
Erich-Wilhelm Muller , Director for Asia including Central Asia,EuropeAid from the European Commission said he supported the dialogue process between the civil society and the governments to deal with the problem.
Professor Farzana Islam, department of Anthropology at Jahagirnagar university, Dhaka spoke about the plight of the estimated 5.5 million dalits in her country, while Tudor Silva, professor of sociology at university of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, said his country does not have Dalits like in India but there were three case systems and that it was not easy to deal with this problem.
He urged the EU to come out with some policy statement on the subject.
A diplomat from the Indian embassy and another from the Bangladesh embassy in their brief interventions said the reports presented on the situation of the Dalits did not reflect the real picture on the ground.
Michael Cashman, an MEP from the UK, in closing remarks reffering to the discriminations against the Dalits said "this barbarism has to end."
A preview of documentaty on human rights defenders fighting caste discrimination in India made by the Dutch FATUSCH production was shown to the audience.
The hearing ended with a reception for a 4-day photo exhibition titled "We are not untouchable - 260 million reasons why Europe should act."