October 20, 2004
Start of campaign
Members of Parliament for strong action against caste discrimination
Two Dutch members of the European Parliament, Mr. Max van den Berg (Social Democratic Party and Mr. Erik Meijer (Socialist Party) and one member of the Dutch Senate, Mr. Sam Pormes (Green Left Party), all spoke out strongly against caste discrimination. Mr. van den Berg, who is the chairperson of the Development Committee of the European Parliament, felt that human rights issues should be on the agenda, and also a part of trade negotiations. Even though people might see this as protectionism, he feels that 'protectionism for human rights' is a good idea when nothing else works. Mr. Meijer feels that international agreements that are not implemented should have economic consequences. Pormes said that the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals should be used to assess if Dalits are improving their position, e.g. with regard to education of Dalit girls and the reduction of poverty amongst them.
Campaign "Stop Caste Discrimination - Support the Dalits"
The campaign "Stop Caste Discrimination - Support the Dalits" is an initiative of the 'Dalit Network Netherlands (DNN)', a network of six Dutch non-governmental organisations. The campaign aims to inform the Dutch public that caste discrimination is a very serious worldwide human rights problem and seeks to convince the Dutch government, the European Union and the UN of the necessity to develop an active policy. This is being done in close co-operation with the International Dalit Solidarity Network, of which DNN is a member.
On 9 October DNN launched a petition campaign strongly urging the Dutch government and the European Union to make caste discrimination a priority in political, economic and development relations with countries where this human rights problem exists. It also asks them to maximise their efforts to effect an active United Nations policy to fight caste discrimination, including the creation of a Special Rapporteur and to ensure that European companies operating in caste-affected countries have an active anti-discrimination, recruitment and schooling policy for Dalits.
In his speech at the opening conference Mr. Gerard Oonk, spokesperson for DNN and co-ordinator of the India Committee of the Netherlands, called upon the audience to become active participants in the campaign, e.g. by informing others and by collecting signatures in support of the petition. He stressed that the campaign is the expression of international solidarity with the movements of Dalits that are fighting against their humiliation and oppression: "It will be a long struggle, but it certainly helps if we support the Dalits in India and elsewhere. Together with others we have booked results on issues like child labour and corporate accountability, so why not on caste discrimination?"
Public survey: Dutch against caste discrimination
According to a public opinion survey held by a reputed Dutch organisation (TNS NIPO) two out of three people in The Netherlands, when explained in neutral terms1 what the caste system is, are of the opinion that caste discrimination is a human rights problem that is of concern to the whole world. Of the people interviewed 9% would certainly and 43% would probably be willing to support some kind of action against caste discrimination such as signing a petition or demonstrating. Before explaining to anybody in the survey what a caste system is, two out of every five people came up with associations like: excluded people, place in society determined by birth, apartheid, rich and poor, part of Hinduism, inhumanity and 'a reprehensible hierarchical system'.
De Klerk: Special Rapporteur on Racism should be allowed to visit India
In his speech Mr. De Klerk defined caste discrimination as a form of discrimination based on work and descent, which comes under the Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. He added: "Of the 260 million outcastes in the world a minority lives in countries like Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Japan and some African countries. The majority, around 170 million people, lives in India. Violence against Dalit women is a frequently occurring and serious problem. Dalits are publicly humiliated and often have to do the dirtiest jobs. They are hardly paid for the services they provide and often perform forced labour. Mixed [caste] marriages and even meals prepared by outcastes are not accepted by the majority of the population." Mr. De Klerk further pointed to the gap between the existence of (good) legislation and the failure implement it. He however welcomed the initiative of the present Indian government to make equal opportunities for outcastes, tribals and minorities one of its priorities. "We will follow the progress made" he said, but "we should also give the Indian government some time to implement its policy intentions."
Referring to the broadening and deepening relations of the European Union with India in various areas, as reflected in the recent Communication from the European Commission entitled 'An EU-India Strategic Partnership' Mr. De Klerk said that 'human rights should be part of it '. He admitted however that this process started very slowly as the dialogue about bilateral human rights issues is very sensitive. This, he said, made the EU decide to start discussions on multilateral human rights issues first.
When asked if there should be a Special Rapporteur on caste discrimination under the aegis of the Human Rights Commission, Mr. De Klerk said that The Netherlands 'is not against it'. He did feel however that there are already too many Special Rapporteurs and that The Netherlands was in favour of the present Special Rapporteur on Racism, Mr. Doudou Diène from Senegal, taking up the issue. Mr. De Klerk strongly supported the request of Mr. Diène to visit India, Pakistan, Nepal and Japan.
download documentary I'm Dalit - How are you?: http://www.indianet.nl/imdalithowareyou.html.
speech of Human Rights Ambassador Piet de Klerk (in Dutch): http://www.indianet.nl/pdeklerk.html.
DNN, Mariaplaats 4, 3511 LH Utrecht; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
1 'The caste system is a system by which people are classified by birth. There are for main castes and a group that are called 'outcastes', 'untouchables' or 'Dalits'. In the past there were also called pariah's. Most outcastes have - because of their position - to deal with various different forms of discrimination. There are about 250 million outcastes in the world.'