‘Of particular concern is caste-based discrimination which is still deplorably widespread, despite efforts by the government and the judiciary to eradicate this practice. I note that in 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh strongly condemned the practice of “untouchability” and compared it with apartheid. Moreover, Dalits, as well as tribal peoples, continue to live in abject poverty. Policies and measures that have been established to ensure relief for these groups, their access to justice, and accountability for perpetrators of abuses against them, have neither sufficiently alleviated their conditions, nor have they satisfactorily curtailed the climate of impunity that enables human rights violations. This is an area where India can not only address its own challenges nationally, but show leadership in combating caste-based discrimination globally.’
Mrs. Pillay, a citizen of South Africa with ancestors from India, also referred to the plight of low caste/Dalit women by saying:
‘I am also impressed with the Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan case which, I am sure, is well known to many of you, as it encapsulated and addressed some of the challenges of multiple forms of discrimination, as well as violence against women. Let me simply recall here that in Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of a lower tribunal which had acquitted the five aggressors of a rape victim because the tribunal did not find it credible that upper caste men would sexually abuse a lower caste woman. The woman appealed to the Supreme Court which ruled in her favor on the ground that the local government had neglected to protect her constitutional rights. Crucially, the case engendered legislative changes benefiting working women and promoted greater enforcement of women’s rights.’
In her speech the UN High Commissioner, while recognizing Indian democracy, free press and active civil society and judiciary, also talked about a range of other human rights issues which – like caste discrimination - she called ‘structural national problems’. These included the position of women, the position of Muslims in India, the hundreds of unresolved cases of disappearances in Kashmir and the laws that ‘criminalize homosexuality’ as well as ‘constrain peoples sexuality and conduct on the basis of obscenity laws’.
Mrs. Pillay also criticized the Armed Forces Special Powers for its ‘excessive emergency powers’ and urged India to accede to the optional protocols to human rights treaties like CEDAW and CRC which establish complaint procedures.
Click here for the complete Statement by Navanethem Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights.
See also press release IDSN: India must show leadership in combating caste-based discrimination, says UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (Mar 25, 2009).