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Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 00:34 GMT 01:34 UK
Racism conference 'could look at caste'
The member of a party fighting caste discrimination in India sleeps under a tree
Castes are based on a 3,000-year-old Hindu system
By Ayanjit Sen in Delhi

The Indian National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Monday said the forthcoming United Nations conference on racism would be an opportunity to discuss human rights issues, including the issue of caste.

Indian village
The caste system is observed across India
The Indian Government has said that the caste system cannot be compared to racism or apartheid.

The NHRC said the UN conference could be constructive to the promotion and protection of human rights issues, including the eradication of what it called discrimination based on caste, descent and race.

Speaking to the BBC, NHRC spokeswoman Maushumi Chakraborty said the World Conference against Racism, which begins in the South African city of Durban on Friday provided an opportunity for the international community to deal with existing issues of inequality.

Ms Chakraborty said the commission felt that discrimination on any grounds under the Indian constitution - which include race, caste and descent - was an assault on the dignity and self-worth of people.

She said it was also a violation of human rights.

Observers say the views of NHRC - which is participating in the forum as observer - is significant in view of the government's stand that caste is not the same as race and should not be discussed at the conference.

Junior Foreign Minister Omar Abdullah had previously said the 3,000-year-old Hindu system of social hierarchy could not be equated with racism.

But members of the suppressed castes say India is refusing to put its experience of racism and intolerance under international scrutiny.

Smita Nuarula, Human Rights Watch
"It's a shame on the international community that it has not got onto the agenda"
See also:

16 Aug 01 | South Asia
India rejects caste 'racism' debate
11 Aug 01 | South Asia
India caste row deepens
08 Aug 01 | South Asia
Couple hanged for forbidden love
23 Feb 01 | South Asia
Indian 'apartheid' condemned
07 Mar 00 | South Asia
Court rules out caste differences
28 Sep 99 | South Asia
Dalits' political awakening
08 May 00 | South Asia
Arrests over India caste deaths
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