07/28/2007, 00.00
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US House declares caste discrimination illegal

by Nirmala Carvalho
In a July 23 resolution the US Congress invites its most important Asian trade partner to recognise the rights of the Dalits and Tribals. The Catholic Church asks for particular attention to be paid to the Christian Dalits, victims of an even more embedded marginalization.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The US House of Representatives has passed a historic resolution pledging to outlaw caste discrimination in India – one of its "closest allies" which is likely to impact organizations in India that do business with or receive funding from the US government. The bill is now before Congress for ratification.

The resolution, proposed on May 2, was passed on July 23. The introduction of the resolution followed a damning report on the scale of caste discrimination in India by Human Rights Watch and the Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice, released in February of this year. The report highlights the fact that caste discrimination affects around 200,000,000 people categorised as Dalits (untouchables) and Tribals (indigenous peoples) and that although Article 17 of the Indian Constitution outlaws untouchability, in reality the practice still exists and is widespread. The resolution states: "It is in the interests of the United States to address the problem of the treatment of the Dalits and Tribals in India in order to better meet mutual social development and human rights goals”.

The move has the full backing of the Indian Bishops Conference: Fr. Cosmon Arokiaraj, Executive Secretary, Catholic Bishops, Conference of India states that:  “The Indian church whole heartedly welcomes this resolution and Church in India is pleased that the resolution has been passed”. While on the one hand, the Indian Church is “pleased that the US is the conscience keepers of the Dalits and Tribals”, on the other hand, “sadly- there is a more urgent need for us to have ‘conscience-keepers here in India, this calls for people to be more committed for the cause of the equality of dignity for the Dalits” -a cause very close to the heart of the Indian Church. In this regard the Church hopes that the US government will promote a resolution for the Christian Dalits which sanctions “equality for a caste which are victims of the Indian state discrimination-on the basis of religion”. The Church also welcomes the initiative launched by The National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM), which has “recommended extension of reservation to Dalit Christians and Muslims” in a report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh two months ago.

The resolution approved in Washington also urges US citizens working in India to “avoid discrimination towards the Dalits in all business interactions" which includes a ban on discussing issues of caste during bilateral and multilateral meetings. Congressman Franks who proposed the resolution said in an address to the House: "This Congress must urge an end toe social discrimination: “untouchability is an unacceptable practice in America's largest trading partner and close ally” in the Asian region. We must ensure that as a government and as a people in no way encourage or enforce untouchability through our policies with India or through our foreign direct aid”.


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