Vienna clash may put caste in global spotlight

26 May 2009, 0420 hrs IST, Subodh Ghildiyal, TNN

NEW DELHI: Caste fingerprints on the sensational Vienna shootout among Sikhs could result in renewed international pressure for recognition of caste-based discrimination as a global concern, with many hinting at a revived clamour for treating casteism as racism.

The ghost of Durban conference in 2001, where India fought back a determined and coordinated bid by NGOs to recognise casteism as racism, may raise its head again. Only this month, Indian government is said to have rebuffed a fresh offensive from Scandinavian countries
underlining their stand on caste-race parity.

The move came in the run-up to two-day review of Durban racism conference last month, taking India by surprise. The Indian stand on the controversial issue has been that while caste system is a form of discrimination, it could not be equated with racism. It has cited its constitutional commitment against casteism as proof of its credentials.

But dalit lobbies say that Vienna bloodshed has blown holes in the argument that caste was an Indian phenomenon, firmly showing that it had spilled out on global platform along with the diaspora. Says Vivek Kumar, who teaches sociology in JNU, "Caste has moved beyond India
with Indian diaspora as the latter does not move as individuals but takes its cultural baggage along. There is growing evidence that caste is showing its face in other countries."

Dalit groups concede that not much may change on the issue immediately as Indian voice is influential in global fora. But, they add, growing evidence of presence of caste on global platforms, like incidents in Vienna, would put pressure on India. "We will raise the issue through NGOs across the world," said Ashok Bharti, who runs National Conference of Dalit Organisations.

The intra-Sikh violence is reported to be a perennial point of conflict as Ravidasi Sikhs have floated their own gurudwaras, attracting hostility from upper caste Sikhs. The hotbed is Europe, Canada and UK. The problem could be serious in future owing to sheer numbers. An estimate puts Sikh population in UK between four to five lakh, of which one-third are said to be dalits.

Sources said caste was getting recognition as an issue outside India. There is a strong demand from sections of dalit diaspora in UK, Canada and US that governments enact laws to deal with caste-related crimes as with race-related crimes. These are countries with huge Indian-origin population, including Sikhs. In UK, Caste Watch has been formed to detail cases of caste-related crimes.

For India, the pressure from Vienna could be serious in the wake of post-Durban Conference pressure that casteism falls in the category of work and descent and was akin to racism. Massive pressure from NGOs in Durban Conference on Racism in 2001 was resisted by India. However,
the UN Council on Human Rights appointed special rapporteurs to report on caste discrimination in India.


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