ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Caste Out, Yet Again

The official Indian delegation again blocked all mention of caste at the UN conference against racism.

The recently concluded Durban Review Conference organised by the United Nations in Geneva to assess the work done to implement the decisions of the 2001 World Conference against Racism held in Durban has been a largely staid affair. Except for the predictable walkout and tumult over I ranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s statements against Israel, the entire conference was almost entirely unreported in the mainstream media. Most readers would remember the i ntense public debates and acrimony over the terms and outcomes of the Durban conference. In that context, it was a bit surprising that the first such global conference on the issue of racism and other related discriminations in eight years should be such a quiet affair.

In September 2001, the most contentious issue for Indians was the demand for the inclusion of caste discrimination as a specific form of racism. The National Democratic Alliance government of that time, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), blocked any reference to caste in the documents of the Durban conference u sing a combination of legal and academic arguments and the diplomatic power of the “emerging superpower”. It was obvious that behind these official positions lurked the deep resistance of Indian official nationalism to stand up to global scrutiny, a r esistance which often cloaks itself under some form of antiimperialism. As dalit activists and others who campaigned for the inclusion of caste in the conference against racism, racial d iscrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance argued, caste discrimination is among the most obvious and significant of d iscriminations based on descent, work, and social grouping in the contemporary world. Caste discrimination did not only affect people in India, despite all the constitutional guarantees and policy measures, it also had a considerable presence in other south Asian countries as well as some others.

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