Statement by India under Item 5: Prevention of Discrimination

Mr. Chairman,

As this is the first time my delegation is taking the floor, allow me to congratulate you and the other members of the Bureau. We are confident that with your wide knowledge, vast experience and wise counsel, the Sub-commission can look forward to a very successful and productive session.

Mr. Chairman,

We have read the Working Paper prepared for the Sub-Commission by Mr. Eide and Mr. Yokota on discrimination based on "work and descent". The paper puts an artificially narrow construction on this term by focusing almost exclusively on the caste issue. The question of discrimination based on work and descent is manifestly a much wider one. Selective treatment of one of its various manifestations brings into question the utility and efficacy of such an approach.

The paper contains several references to India, many of which, unfortunately, reveal a lack of proper understanding of the underlying issue. India has never downplayed the gravity of the problem of discrimination based on caste, or of the social inequity suffered by its victims. They represent a particularly vulnerable section of our society. The Constitution of India itself recognizes the problem. It incorporates provisions to redress the situation by a mix of protective measures and affirmative action. The provisions in the Constitution in this regard are nothing short of revolutionary. Time does not permit me to elaborate the extensive policy, legal, social and institutional safeguards that have been in place since our independence 57 years ago, the underlying objectives of which are remedy, protection and empowerment.

It needs to be understood clearly by those outside India who seek to pronounce on the issues, that it is impossible to change a social structure that has evolved through a complex interplay of societal practices over thousands of years, in a few decades. The tools of change are in place. They are available within the Indian democratic polity itself, and are constantly being used and refined in order to quicken the pace of change. But there is no magic wand that one can wave.

Our constitutional and legislative enactments outlawing discrimination of any kind are, indeed, universally admired. Given the size and population of India- and, inevitable, the deep roots of any long standing societal practice- the task of enforcement is not always easy. We are disappointed, therefore, at the paper's lack of appreciation of our commitment to eradicating discriminatory practices based on caste, and of the magnitude of the challenge we face as we strive to remedy the effects and of the social injustice that centuries of such practice have wrought. Clearly, a complex sociological issue, that has its roots in the way society evolved since ancient times, cannot be resolved by the paper's simplistic prescription.

Let me assure the members of the Sub-commission that the Government and people of India remain fully committed to the ideal of a society without any discrimination, where every citizen- irrespective of religion, language, caste, place of birth, or gender- is treated as an equal. We do not seek inspiration or guidance from outside- for the simple reason that corrective forces within the country are sufficiently robust to ensure that there is no let up in the pursuit of our cherished goal.

We do not believe, therefore, that evolving a set of principles and guidelines within the framework of the Sub-Commission, can contribute positively to this process. Indeed, we fear that the proposal contained in the Working Paper might in some way hinder it. It would be a travesty to treat this issue as a straight forward human rights question.

Mr. Chairman, the Sub-Commission's agenda and resources are over-stretched. This proposal contained in the Working Paper addresses an issue that is covered by other bodies of the UN. Both on account of duplication and its focus essentially on a specific country, such an initiative would breach the boundary of the Sub-Commission's mandate as reiterated by the Commission on Human Rights. We would therefore advice against proceeding with the proposal.

Thank you.

To resolution "Discrimination based on work and descent" of UN-Sub-Commission Human Rights

India Committee of the Netherlands / Landelijke India Werkgroep - August 27, 2004