Caste: Racism in all but name?

Published on Times of India, by Shobhan Saxena, TNN, April 26, 2009.

The Indian government may gloat over the diplomatic triumph that caste-based discrimination was not equated with racism at Geneva’s World Conference on Racism this week.

The conference, dubbed Durban II, had a shaky start. The US stayed away, the Israelis staged a walkout as Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began to mock the Holocaust. But the real shocker was reserved or scores of Dalit activists camping outside the conference venue. On Friday, the five-day meeting ended  ithout including ‘Dalits’ in its resolution. It was a major blow to some Scandinavian countries and groups like Human Rights Watch, which have been demanding that India’s caste-based discrimination is racism by another name.

New Delhi may be celebrating. For now, it has stymied the nations and NGOs it sees as interfering in “India’s social fabric”. But question remain. Why does the world see us as racist and why do we claim that caste and race are different social categories. Who is wrong? Both are right, says Dalit ideologue and writer Chandrabhan Prasad. “Caste and race are not the same, but their implications are same — discrimination on the basis of one’s birth.” He blames “stupid NGOs” for the outcome in Geneva, saying it was a mistake to equate caste with race. “It’s a technical point, which the Indian government exploited to its advantage”.

The tussle over ‘caste and race’ has continued for years. In 2001, the Indian government and some Dalit groups came to blows just before Durban I, a conference on ‘‘racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance’’. Ever since, activists pushed the cause internationally, arguing that Indian Dalits were like the blacks in the US till the 1950s because they faced problems in the workplace, at school and in temples. Additionally, the Indian lower castes are said to face violence, rape and other hate crimes every day … (full text).

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