Dear UN, please put pressure on us

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

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.

12 thoughts on “Dear UN, please put pressure on us”

  1. Let’s not fool ourselves by thinking this is an act of stupidity on the part of the Manmohan singh and other diplomats. this is a well thought out move to further the interests of the leftist-NGO-Missionary mafia in the country.

  2. May be the world should impose sanctions on India using Manmohan’s words and ask for legal remedies against apartheid practiced in Bharat – now that would be a supreme irony! 🙂

    More seriously though, the remedy to this type of caste practice have to come from within Hinduism – no amount of UN speeches (and slamming and celebrations)and local laws will help. And for that everyone has to join in and do their part instead of standing on the outside and pointing fingers.

    And this is one more case for rapid urbanization.

  3. I start with 50:50 on most any proposition. In this case I agree more with PoliteIndian than with you.

    * agreement with Nitin:
    – UN pressure doesnt directly help Dalits.
    – caste discrimination by itself is an internal issue.
    – extreme punitive measures can be counterproductive.

    * disagreement with Nitin:

    – comparison with Pakistani charges not warranted for the actions of those who appreciate UN activity on dalit issues. Any implicit charge of unpatriotism is unfair.

    * agreement with (what I read as the stance of) PI:

    – may help embarrass the Shining Indians who would perhaps like to sweep it under the carpet as an internal issue.
    – may help hit Shining Indians where it hurts, business ties, foreign govt. contracts etc.

    * General:

    I am not thinking of across-the-board sanctions etc. Imagine an Indian company, maybe even Govt. or PSU entities, had to submit to some international certification that it did not discriminate on caste grounds to get these business opportunities.

    I would like to compare not to apartheid but to the racial discrimination in southern USA. It amazes me that they undid that in about 40 years. You do need to ask yourself why nothing even remotely close has happened here in 60 yrs.

    The US change happened from within and there is no direct substitute for it. Some international pressure will help though.


  4. The problem is in our villages. The change should happen there. And this change has to be brought by us and not by any world circus.. How to bring about that change is the question.

    Maybe by the time Mayawati becomes India’s PM we will have a solution to this one too.

  5. Nitin, I am wondering what will happen, can the UN impose sanctions on India for abuses on dalits, considering the Indian state opposes it. Interesting. Im wondering what UN action/State action can be taken to end it, and nothing.

  6. The problem, as RS said, is our villages. It will be a while before the villages disappear. I advocate the urbanization of the population of India. But then if Indians had been that smart, India would not have been this poor, or its leaders so retarded, would they?

  7. I am not thinking of across-the-board sanctions etc.

    Good to know! Although on what grounds would those sanctions be sought, is quite unclear to me. Neither the Indian republic nor any of its states sanction any discrimination, as Nitin has noted.

    Imagine an Indian company, maybe even Govt. or PSU entities, had to submit to some international certification that it did not discriminate on caste grounds to get these business opportunities.

    Firstly, one would think most Indian businesses that engage in international trade or intend to do so wouldn’t be so foolish as to discriminate on grounds of caste. Corruption and nepotism is one thing, but institutionalised caste discrimination in PSUs? Remember, we are talking about corporations or businesses, not attitudes of individuals within them. Even if genuine bigots exist, they are aware of the consequences of being outed.

    And certification? Every damn certificate has a price. Anyone can put in policies on paper, but real progress is measured by results. I don’t see too many black Americans on the cover of business publications even today. Saying so doesn’t make it so.

    This is our problem, we have to find the answers on our own.

  8. Nanda Kishore,

    1. I was thinking aloud and that is not a perfect scheme I had.

    I expect there will be a difference between certification by people who genuinely find caste discrimination morally repugnant vs. those who implicitly believe in caste hierarchy and recognize and operate within caste boundaries on a day-to-day basis.

    This first category of people may not be amenable to bribery to fake certificates. If it takes foreign intervention (by accredited UN agencies) to realize sufficient ppl in this category, I am Ok with it.

    This is basically a vote of no-confidence in the current situation.

    2. I found some shocking stories( google for “I am a Dalit how are you” or “the Shit economy”) and value their problems more than any false pride in a *Shining India*, thus I would be OK with screening that video in the UN General assembly for example.

    Nitin has already made an indirect aspersion on the patriotism quotient in such activity (the Pak comparison). I would be OK with being labelled that way.

    I realize there will be insignificant tangible benefit from such a screening. But getting *Shining Indians* apoplectic and into defensive denial will be worth it. Maybe out of 10 such guys, 1 or 2 will actually step back and try to do something about it.

    That will be better than zero.


  9. Jai, the point is that having the UN involved wouldn’t actually help IMO. Whether or not some people would be offended at the internationalisation of the issue because it would hurt their pride, the issue is quite likely to become nothing more than a stick to be wielded against India in certain forums. International agencies are hardly in a position to understand the complexities of the social, political and economic landscape in India. The emphasis has to be on reform within, not international pressure, because that is the only way to a more just society. If we cannot do this, we may as well give up on the idea of India.

  10. Jai,

    You are reading too much of “other half” (now deceased god rest its soul). You make two assumptions

    1. “India Shining” guys dont care.
    2. Just because “India whining” guys care (allegedly), it means something.

    The thing is, “caring” doesn’t mean a thing. You can cry and wring your hands as much as you want over plight of oppressed, it is not going to change their situation. Only correct ideas are going to change the situation. And UN intervention is one hell of asinine idea.

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