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An Untouchable Accommodation?

By Revd. B J Alexander

21 September, 2005

Dalit Solidarity Network UK Report 2005 entitled Caste Discrimination and the Private Sector incorporates some startling information to prospective investors in South Asia. The Corporations while planning to out source some of their operations for example to Mumbai, Bangalore or any such South Asian city is invited to draw their attention to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to which most countries had committed to.


In a post-enlightenment; post-modern world it is sad indeed to witness that human kind still has to deal with issues such as race and caste conflicts. Human attitudes sadly seem to have not much altered! It seems, at least in majority of people – both in the developing and the developed world, education has not done much to make this paradigm shift. Caste discrimination continues in employment, education, healthcare, housing, land rights, and the criminal justice system. This Report however, is trying to advance The Ambedkar Principles [A set of Employment Principles entitled after the prestigious Dalit leader – Dr. B.R. Ambedkar] with the aim that it would equip foreign investors to address caste discrimination in South Asia.


According to this Report caste discrimination in India affects over 260 million people. At least 50 million others are affected in other countries of South Asia and Japan and several African countries. On the basis of an investigation conducted by the UN Commission on Human Rights in April 2005 - this Report believes on the positive side, that resistance to discrimination on the basis of caste is growing. However, it also tempers the enthusiasm by observing: “Dalits are threatened, beaten, or even murdered as they defy the dominant caste structures”. [Emphasis mine]

The disgraceful practice of restricting mobility of labour across caste occupation and thereby not permitting re-adjustment of employment opportunities is still alive. This Report finds that “Caste becomes a direct cause of much ‘voluntary unemployment’ among high castes and ‘involuntary unemployment’ among the low castes”.

Arvind Vaghela, 24, holds a masters degree in economics from Gujarat University in Ahmedabad. The best job Vaghela could get was one done by generations of his family: road sweeper.

Prakash Chauhan, 32, another sweeper, who has a degree in commerce. “This job is for life” he shrugs, “But it was my father’s life. Our parents had a dream that education would mean we would not have to do the jobs they did. It did not turn out that way”.

Chandra Bhan Prasad, a writer who has inspired many new affirmative action programmes in India is quoted to have said: “If Oprah Winfrey had been born in India she would have remained chained to poverty rather than become one of the world’s richest women”.

Shyam Babu, a research fellow at the Rajiv Gandhi Institute notes: “No one can tell from your appearance that you are a Dalit. The same cannot be said of African Americans. It’s more subtle, he points out. “Once you know some one’s name and where they are from, most Indians can identify your caste. The basic bigotry is the same: you assume an entire ethnic group is incompetent”.

Discrimination is visible in the public sector. A qualified Dalit journalist was not given the opportunity to undertake television work.

In India there is not a single Dalit millionaire; not one news paper editor nor a newscaster even the university professorships are closed to Dalits!

Dalits or those discriminated against ‘by work or descent’ (as UN puts it) are also found in Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Similarly affected groups exist in Japan, Somalia, Senegal, Nigeria and number of other countries.

This Report underlines the issue of human rights abuse in the contemporary world by giving the figures of those who are at the receiving end. There are some 180 million Dalits in India, another 90 million ‘Scheduled Tribes (STs) who suffer similar plight. Altogether it’s estimated some 300 million people affected world wide by this dehumanising form of discrimination.


This Report recommendation as follows:

Private Sector Companies which are operational in or out sourcing to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka or other countries of South Asia should endorse the Ambedkar Employment Principles.

Trade Unions should seek to bring pressure to bear on international companies.

The Governments of South Asia should adopt anti-discrimination legislation, ensure it is applied, and include all those in caste-affected communities, of whatever faith, in that legislative protection.
The UK and other EU Governments should include discussions of caste discrimination in all their contacts with the countries of South Asia as an essential element in the battle against poverty and for human rights.

Adopt the Ambedkar Principles in their development and other operations in South Asia.

On a personal level, one would benefit, in teaching the next generation of South Asians (Particularly: India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal) the incompatibility and the irrationality of caste, race, gender, human sexuality and all forms of discrimination and human rights abuses. What stops us from believing that humans are created in the image of the Divine? The slave-chains would be broken in the generations to come, as Bob Marley prophesied, when only we emancipate our selves from mental slavery.











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