At least 250 million people worldwide face horrific and dehumanising discrimination based solely on the fact of their birth and inherited status, said Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues.
Izsák-Ndiaye was referring to caste-based discrimination. Caste refers to a strict and hierarchical social system often based on notion of purity and contamination. In the first comprehensive report to look caste-based discrimination, she said the system leads to severe human rights abuses.
“The resulting extreme exclusion and dehumanization of caste-affected groups translates into individuals and communities often being deprived of, or severely restricted from enjoying those most basic civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights,” she said.
While the highest number of communities affected by caste-based discrimination are concentrated in South Asia, particularly India and Nepal, this kind of discrimination can be found in Africa, the Middle East, and the Pacific region, and in diaspora communities.
The report describes how people from so-called “lower castes” are often limited to certain occupations that are considered polluted or menial by others, including scavenging, sweeping and disposal of dead animals. It also focused on how women and girls are particular vulnerable to caste discrimination. They are frequently subjected to violence, particularly sexual violence, trafficking and early/forced marriage.
Often, attempts to challenge the inequality and injustice derived from caste systems, result in violence against caste-affected individuals and retaliation against their communities, Izsák-Ndiaye said. Such actions include inter-caste marriages, demands for land and labour rights and calls for greater political participation.
“The shadow of caste and its stigma follows an individual from birth to death, affecting all aspects of life,” she said. “In many societies discussing these practices is taboo. We need not just legal and political responses but ways to change the mind set of individuals and the collective conscience of local communities.”
The report makes a number of recommendations including awareness raising campaigns and national and local levels to sensitize the public and affected communities against caste discrimination and monitoring of caste discrimination by national human rights bodies.
“I hope that my report will be used as an advocacy tool in supporting the efforts of caste-affected communities and others who are tirelessly working to relegate caste discrimination to history,” she said.
14 April 2016