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Onderstaand artikel is gepubliceerd in/Published in: Dalit International Newsletter, October 2004      

Dalit Network Netherlands on the campaign trail

by:
Gerard Oonk

On October 9th 2004 the Dalit Network Netherlands (DNN) officially launches its campaign, "Stop Caste Discrimination - Support the Dalits." It is a three-year campaign by several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) coordinated by the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN). The campaign will combine informing the Dutch public about the situation of Dalits in countries affected by caste discrimination and advocating an active policy by policy makers in the (Dutch) government and the European Union. As ICN is also working on issues of labor rights, as well as child labor and education, it will also work on those issues from the angle of the plight of Dalits. For example, while campaigning on the implementation of labor rights by multinational companies in India, as well as in their sub-contracting chains, we will also draw attention to the need for a non-discrimination affirmative policy that creates job opportunities for Dalits on non-exploitative terms.

The present campaign is in fact a continuation on a larger scale of activities for Dalit human rights, that started in 1998 when the National Campaign on Dalit Ruman Rights (NCDHR) asked us to join the signature campaign addressed to the Indian government to "cast out caste." Since then, especially around the World Conference on Racism in Durban, ICN together with other Dutch NGOs raised the issue with both
"A recent survey among a sample of the Dutch public by a reputed opinion poll agency greatly encouraged us"
the public and policy makers in The Netherlands, the United Nations, and the European Union. ICN has played an especially active role in getting the European Parliament to take a stand. With other DNN members and other NGOs it has also lobbied with the Dutch government for an active policy against caste discrimination as part of its development and economic relations with caste affected countries.

One positive result has been that our Minister of Foreign Affairs in a letter to ICN and the Dutch Parliament recently expressed his concern about caste discrimination and the need for this issue to be taken up by the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, Mr. Doudou Diène. However, the Dutch government has not been very active in addressing the issue in the Human Rights Commission and at the EU level. DNN has urged the Dutch government, presently chairing the European Union, to raise the issue of caste discrimination at the EU-India Summit which takes place on October 14th in The Netherlands. The chance that this will happen is small, as mentioning caste discrimination during the EU-India Summit in 2002 caused an uproar among the Indian delegation and a diplomatic 'scandal' of sorts.

At the start of the Stop Caste Discrimination campaign on October 9th, five days before the EU Summit, DNN will organize a political debate with speakers from the NCDHR, the European and Dutch Parliament as well as the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The main question is of course, "how can we in The Netherlands/Europe contribute towards ending caste discrimination, exploitation and violence?" Among other planned activities are an exhibition and a book on "Dalit Lives in India," urgent appeals on specific cases, approaching the written and audiovisual media with material, and informing the public at numerous public meetings and festivals. Much more will follow.

A recent survey among a sample of the Dutch public by a reputed opinion poll agency greatly encouraged us that it will be possible to ultimately have a positive effect on Dutch and European policy with regard to caste discrimination. Seven out of ten people felt that caste discrimination is a human rights problem that should concern the whole world. The majority of the people who felt like that, said that they would certainly (9%) or most likely (43%) support actions that would contribute to its elimination. It is now our challenge as DNN to further inform and mobilize all those people in solidarity with Dalits the world over. For updates, see www.indianet.nl/english.html.

Gerard Oonk is the Coordinator of the India Committee of the Netherlands



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India Committee of the Netherlands / Landelijke India Werkgroep - 29 november 2004