March 30, 2007Foreign AffairsPublic Policy

Dear UN, please put pressure on us

Preventing caste violence is a domestic issue. Internationalising it won’t help.

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Among Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s less intelligent utterances is the statement he made comparing untouchability to apartheid. Why? Because untouchability does not have official sanction in India (quite the opposite, in fact) and its moral repugnance is accepted by almost everyone—attested by the fact that it has no public defenders. This is not to say that untouchability does not exist, or that caste-based conflict is not a problem in several parts of the country. But comparing the situation in India to the systematic state-mandated racial discrimination in South Africa is not only applying the wrong label, but also wilfully making a wrong diagnosis. [See my comments on this blog]

Apartheid in South Africa was state policy across the country, and international pressure on the state helped overturn it. Untouchability in India is a social practice. It is more prevalent in some parts of the country than others. It is unlikely that international pressure will cause social change. If the criminals in Kherlanji didn’t care what the rest of India thought about them, why would they care about the rest of the world (and vice versa). Moreover, it is absurd to talk about apartheid in India where affirmative action for the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes is not only enshrined in the Constitution but has continued as public policy much longer than the founding fathers intended.

Time was when it was Pakistan that used to table allegations of human rights abuses’ against India at any United Nations forum that gave its diplomats a chance to speak. Not any more. Now even Indians derive satisfaction when some obscure UN body—speaking just like the NGO it has on board—decides to call upon the Indian government to ensure an immediate end to the violence on Dalits”. What’s more, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination used Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s apartheid remarks against the official position of the Indian government, which, incidentally was that caste violence was not the same as racial discrimination.

It’s almost like the Indian diplomats representing India at this circus were sent on a punishment posting.

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