Dutch parliament urges end to caste discrimination
Published on : 29 July 2011 - 4:09pm | By Johan van Slooten (Photo by
Alexandre Paris [flickr.com])
Dutch parliament supports a proposal to combat caste discrimination
which is still rife in South Asian societies such as India, Bangladesh
and Nepal. It has urged Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal to work
with South Asian governments to improve the position and life of the
250 million 'Dalits'.
Dalits are the victims of violations of fundamental human rights, says
the Dalits Netherlands Network (DNN), which works closely with Indian
Dalit organisations. "The position of Dalits in a country like India
is a huge human rights problem," says Gerard Oonk of the DNN. "It has
long been seen as an indigenous phenomenon, but it's much more than
that. It's about basic human rights which are violated here."
There is a clear Dutch connection between the position of the Dalits
in South Asian society and the Netherlands, says Mr Oonk. "Dalits
suffer disproportionally from violations of labour rights in the
supply chain of Dutch companies, including in garments, seeds and
natural stone. There's a big trade relationship between the
Netherlands and the region."
Pressure on India and other countries should therefore come from the
trade field, says Mr Oonk. "We've already made a lot of progress when
it comes to child labour. Many Dutch companies are aware that they
can't buy goods in India from suppliers who employ young children. Now
they should also be aware that caste discrimination on the work floor
is also unacceptable."
"Dutch companies are relatively quite active with regard to corporate
social responsibility in their international operations," Mr Oonk
says. "I am working to make them realise that this issue also falls
under that responsibility."
Mr Oonk says that The International Dalit Solidarity Network, of which
the DNN is a member, has developed concrete guidelines to work on the
issue. These are known as the Ambedkar Principles, named after a
famous Dalit leader.
Through caste discrimination, many Dalits are simply unable to find
good employment and are therefore relegated to poorly paid jobs, or to
no jobs at all. "We see sub-human wages and working conditions, forms
of slavery; everything that you can imagine," according to Mr Oonk.
The DNN admits that pressure from the Netherlands only is not enough
to change a system that is so ingrained in South Asian societies. "We
can't do it on our own of course, so the Dutch government should seek
cooperation with other EU member states," says Mr Oonk. "The UN Human
Rights Council also has a pivotal role to play here."
But while the international community may do its utmost to implement
some changes, it's ultimately the mindset of the people that should be
changed – not an easy task, says Mr Oonk. "This can only be done by
local organisations in caste-affected countries. They are however
seeking our moral and political support to achieve that. Together it
will lead to changes."
"Also, in many cases it's simply a matter of implementing laws and
regulations that already exist. It's the international community or
organisations like ours to raise that awareness," Mr Oonk adds.
"Indian NGOs also begin to realise that they have to work with the
governments to achieve things. That will ultimately lead to better
results than not working together at all."
During a recent visit to India, Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal
raised the issue of children's and women's rights, but not the fate of
Dalits. "We regret that, but we're confident that the Dutch government
will highlight the issue in the future, together with the EU and
UNHCR," says Mr Oonk.
The Dalit Netherlands Network is not the only organisation that works
against caste discrimination in South Asia. Last month, a group of
international organisations staged the Conference on a Decade of Dalit
Rights. In its end declaration, the conference said that "those
affected by caste-based discrimination will keep knocking at the door
of the UN to be able to enjoy their inalienable, universal human
rights", adding that this requires the commitment of the global
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