by Claude Moraes (PSE)
to the Commission

Subject:     Caste-based discrimination in India

Dalits, formerly called untouchables, suffer from every conceivable form of discrimination. They are classed as below the lowest group of the social caste system in India and are not allowed to live with, marry or even drink the same water as those born into high-caste families. On 10 October 2002 at the third EU-India Summit, the EU issued a declaration with India, affirming a mutual commitment to strengthening human rights and to maintaining continual bilateral dialogue on the issue. Just days after this declaration, five Dalits were beaten to death by upper-caste locals for skinning dead cows (something which they do to earn a living) due to a rumour that they had illegally slaughtered the animals. This incident exemplifies the caste tensions and continuing caste discrimination that characterise life in rural India.

What specific measures does the EU envisage taking in bringing pressure to bear on the Indian authorities to stop the widespread discrimination and repression suffered by India's repressed castes?

Does the Commission agree that discussion in the EU should be more strongly promoted in order to sufficiently address the issue of caste-based and related forms of discrimination, and what steps are likely to be taken towards this?

Answer given by Mr Patten
on behalf of the Commission
(30 January 2003)

The Commission is aware of the many cases of caste discrimination that, regrettably, still persist in modern India. Nevertheless, important progress has been made. For example, India's most populous state (Uttar Pradesh) has a female Dalit as Chief Minister, something that would have been inconceivable not too long ago.

As the Honourable Member rightly points out, the joint Press Statement at the 2002 Union-India Summit in Copenhagen reiterates the firm commitment by both partners to maintain a dialogue on human rights. This endeavour is already followed up in all high level meetings between the Union and India.

It should, however, be remembered that India is a democracy governed under the rule of law and that the press is free and active. The internal debate is the most important vehicle for change in this area. Furthermore, India has the world's largest and oldest affirmative action programme. Not only are jobs in government or places at university reserved for the people on the basis of their caste, but also 85 out of 535 seats in parliament are reserved for Dalits.

From a more pragmatic perspective, the Commission funds numerous projects in India under the European Initiative for Human Rights and Democracy, with several of them targeting Dalit and other disenfranchised communities.

Furthermore, the Commission contributes to India's education system with a major grant of € 200 million. The Commission firmly believes that by assisting India to reach its Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal elementary education, with a special focus on the 'hard to reach' such as children from Dalit and tribal backgrounds, Dalits will ultimately have better chances to fulfil positions in Indian society at all levels.

India Committee of the Netherlands / Landelijke India Werkgroep - March 13, 2003