Utrecht, 6 July 2001


To: Mr. N.N. Vohra and Mr. G. Frerichs - co-chairs of the EU-India Round Table - as well as other members of the EU-India Round Table

Dear Mr. Vohra , Mr. Frerichs and other members of the EU-India Round Table,

We are writing to you on behalf of the International Dalit Solidarity Network* (IDSN).

In the light of the upcoming India-EU Round Table of representatives of civil society in India and Europe, we would like to draw your urgent attention to the issue of caste discrimination and 'untouchability' in India. Caste discrimination and oppression affects the lives of at least 160 million people in India alone and another approximately 80 million in other countries.

We are addressing you as participants in the EU-India Round Table in the context of the Declaration agreed upon at the Summit between India and the European Union on 28 June 2000 in Lisbon. In this Declaration the following was said about the issue of human rights:
"We emphasize the importance of co-ordinating efforts to promote and protect human rights. In this respect we reaffirm the need to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, taking into account their universal, interdependent and indivisible character, as confirmed by our commitment to the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. We will also work towards the universal ratification and implementation of all major international human rights instruments. We shall continue to fully implement our obligations which we have undertaken under the UN instruments and agreements."

As IDSN we greatly welcome and fully support this commitment to the cause of human rights and hope that you, as representatives of civil society in India and the EU, will do your utmost to contribute to the implementation of this commitment.

We consider the discrimination of Dalits to be a very serious human rights issue of extreme importance. The Final Declaration of the Global Conference Against Racism and Caste-based Discrimination which was held in New Delhi in March 2001, called 'untouchability' a 'crime against humanity'. Please find this Final Declaration attached.

In various authoritative statements the United Nations has made it clear that caste-discrimination in India is still rampant and far from being adequately addressed by the various authorities.
Let us start by quoting one of the many concluding observations by UN human rights treaty bodies on caste discrimination in India:
"It is noted that although constitutional guarantees and legal texts exists to abolish untouchability and to protect the members of the scheduled castes and tribes, and although social and educational have been adopted to improve the situation of members of scheduled castes and tribes and to protect them from abuses, widespread discrimination against them and the relative impunity of those who abuse them point to the limited effect of these measures."
(Concluding observations on India of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination - CERD, 17-09-1996).

Last year one of the main conclusions of the Committee on the Rights of the Child with regard to India was that the caste system remains an obstacle to the realization of the rights of children. Similarly the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination of Women (CEDAW) has concluded that this system presents 'major obstacles' to the full achievement of the rights of women. A report published by Amnesty International last months about violence against Dalit and tribal women in India exposes this in painful detail.
A full compilation of comments by UN human rights treaty bodies on caste based discrimination in India will be added to this letter.

As you might be aware a debate is going on about whether and in what form the caste issue, or more broadly the issue of discrimination based on work and descent, should be dealt with at the upcoming World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) taking place in South Africa in early September 2001.

As the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimi-na-tion has unequivocally concluded in 1996 that caste dis-crimi-nation falls within the ambit of the respective Convention, it is self-evident that the WCAR should deal with this issue and come up with recommendations to fight caste discrimination.
Regrettably however, the Indian government has thus far refused to accept any reference to caste and descent based discrimination in the Declaration and Programme of Action of the WCAR. We wish to emphasize strongly that the demand of the IDSN and others to include caste-discrimination in the Declaration and Programme of Action of the WCAR is not directed against India as a country. We genuinely feel that it would rather strengthen the hands of the large number of people and policy-makers in democratic India, and other countries where it takes place such as Nepal, who genuinely want to see caste-discrimination and the crime of 'untoucha-bility' to come to an end. The government of Nepal has taken this approach. In its formal statement to the Asian Regional Preparatory Committee meeting for the World Conference Against Racism, held in Tehran in February 2001, the Government of Nepal acknowledged the persistence of caste-based discrimination.

The National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, the International Dalit Solidarity Network and various other organizations, referring to both UN agreements and the human rights paragraph in the Lisbon Declaration, strongly urge that the issue of caste discrimination be included in the process and outcome of the WCAR.
In May this year twenty members of the European Parliament from most of the political groups did the same. They wrote a letter (included) to commissioner Chris Patten to voice their concern that this issue might not appear in the Declaration and Programme of Action of the upcoming World Conference Against Racism (WCAR). In its annual Human Rights Report of this month the European Parliament supported this view.

The International Dalit Solidarity Network believes that civil society in both India and the EU can play a very important role in strengthening the struggle against caste discrimination. Therefore we kindly request you to take up the issue at the forthcoming Round Table and support the inclusion of caste-based discrimination in the Declaration and Programme of Action of the WCAR. We also hope that future EU-India Round Tables, in the light of joint India-EU co-ordination to promote and protect human rights in both the EU and India, will continue to devote attention to the issue of elimination of caste discrimination.

We would greatly appreciate your co-operation and look forward to your reaction.

Yours sincerely,

Gerard Oonk
(co-ordinator India Committee of the Netherlands)

on behalf of:

National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, India

DanChurchaid, Denmark

Platform Dalit Solidarity in Germany, including Bread for the World

Dalit Solidarity Network, United Kingdom

Anti-Slavery International, United Kingdom

India Committee of the Netherlands

* The IDSN is an initiative which emerged among national and international human rights and development organizations in response to the discrimination and struggle of Dalits (or so-called casteless people) in India and other countries of South Asia and elsewhere.

Organisations involved in the Network include, among others:

National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights-India
Human Rights Watch
International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
National Federation for Dalit Women - IndiaMBR> India Committee of the Netherlands
Voices of Dalits International, UK
Dalit Solidarity Forum - United States
Dalit Solidarity Network - United Kingdom
Ambedkar Centre for Justice and Peace - Canada
Dalit Liberation Education Trust
Dr. Ambedkar Centenary Movement - TN
Navsarjan Trust - Gujarat
Sakshi - Andhra Pradesh
Society of Depressed People for Social Justice - Rajasthan
People's Watch - Tamil Nadu
Asia Human Rights Commission
Anti-Slavery International
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation
The Lutheran World Federation
DanChurchAid, Denmark
Bread for the World, Germany

India Committee of the Netherlands / Landelijke India Werkgroep - July 9, 2001