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Does India deserve international curbs?

by Chandrabhan Prasad

A novelist friend has just returned from Oxford. She was there to attend a Dalit-related talk where the UN-sponsored World Conference Against Racism, to be held in Durban this year, came up for discussion. She wondered why European scholars were not easily prepared to equate caste-based discrimination with that of race. Another friend, who works for a popular American daily and visits the US quite frequently, echoed similar views.

Read More Their experience left me perturbed. I grappled for reasons and thought that thousands of Varna students/academics/journalists/artists, who visit European and American universities, might not be telling the truth about the Chaturvarna order, untouchability or Dalit exclusion. My doubts were confirmed when I read opinions of two prominent Varna social scientists. Andre Beteille has argued that "Race is a biological category with physical markers." To legitimise his viewpoint, he has quoted Franz Boas, a famous American anthropologist. Mr Beteille, a noted anti-Hindutva sociologist, accuses the UN of "moral and political irresponsibility".

Dhiru Bhai Seth, a rabid Mandalite and intellectual cousin of "culture scientist" Suhel Seth, is arguing that "from theoretical, sociological and scientific viewpoints, the Indian caste system cannot be equated with Race." According to him, "Race is a biological phenomenon and caste a socio-cultural construction." If Varna intellectuals can argue on these lines back home, they must be painting a fairly brighter picture of the caste order outside India? Or else, how come the Western world is so ignorant about the viciousness of India's caste system!

Consider what the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights [NCDHR], the organisation spearheading the campaign, is saying. "While Race and Caste are dissimilar in origin and form, the implications are the same or even worse in case of caste. For caste system has a divine sanctity. The practice of Dalit exclusion is more ruthless, discriminatory and vicious." Then why can't Race and Caste be equated as both believe in exclusion and denial? Whom is the Government and intelligentsia teaching that Race is a biological phenomenon and Caste a socio-cultural construct? Why are they not talking about implications?

For Dalits, history has been painful. For 3000 years, the caste order had a socio-religious mandate, which predestined Dalits' exclusion and humiliation. Now, after 50 years of legislated freedom and Constitutional mandate of creating a society where JUSTICE prevails in all walks of life, Dalits are still left to shoulder the dirt of the caste order.

Of 100 SCs, 63 are uneducated and of every 100 STs, 70 are illiterate. Of every 100 SCs, 49, and of every 100 STs, 33, are landless agricultural labourers. Of the total SC land holdings, 87 per cent, and of STs, 65 per cent are in the small and marginal category. Only 21 per cent ST land holdings are irrigated as against the national average of 45 per cent. Hardly any Dalit will benefit from the government's food-grain procurement policy. Who then will be selling truckloads of wheat/rice at the mandis? In other words, Dalits are no where in the agrarian economy.

Is there any Dalit millionaire? Is any Dalit paying taxes over Rs 1 crore annually? We don't know! But there are over a 100 Black billionaires in the US. Of the total companies registered in the US [1.72 Crore], 12.5 per cent are owned by Racial/Ethnic minorities. Do we have any Dalit industrialist? There is not a single known Dalit journalist in any of Delhi's leading papers. But, in America's Wall Street Journal, with a daily print-run of 17.52 lakh, 17.1 per cent journalists are racial/ethnic minorities. Other major dailies-USA Today, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post-all have a significant number of Black journalists hired under the Affirmative Action Programme. Have you seen any US TV channel without Black anchors/news readers/artists? Remember, most American TV companies, including Hollywood, practise a policy of Affirmative Actions!

While University of Delhi has only one percent Dalit teachers, at Harvard University, 13.67 per cent teachers are racial/ethnic minorities. And it has produced 38 Nobel laureates! Most US companies, IBM, Microsoft, Coca Cola, General Motors, General Electric, etc have a sizeable Black/Ethnic minorities hired under Affirmative Action Programme. US business establishments have to submit an annual report about the Racial/Ethnic composition of their work force. Even former President Bill Clinton had a Black in his business delegation. But, Varna intelligentsia finds Race based discrimination uglier than that of Caste!

The only option is internationalising Dalit plight. Apartheid ended in South Africa more due to international than internal pressures.

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