Page last updated at 15:30 GMT, Thursday, 13 December 2012

MEPs criticise Indian caste system

The practice of caste discrimination in India has been described as a "medieval relic", during the European Parliament's monthly human rights debate on 13 December 2012.

The caste system is a division of labour and power, primarily identified with traditional Hindu culture, although it is also found in some groups of Muslims, Buddhists and Christians.

Traditionally, members of India's higher castes such as Brahmins will not touch anything that has come in physical contact with the Dalits, the lowest caste, despite this practice of "untouchability" being banned under the country's constitution.

Irish socialist MEP Paul Murphy said that despite it being outlawed, "laws are one thing, the reality is quite another".

He claimed that many Dalits were forced into manual labour under a "divide and rule system by the ruling capitalist classes".

The human rights debate also dealt with the recent violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Rebel fighters, known as the M23 group, recently captured the eastern Congolese city of Goma, and have threatened to march on the capital Kinshasa.

Some 500,000 people have fled their homes since the rebellion began in eastern DR Congo, a region plagued by violence for years.

Romanian social democrat MEP Corina Cretu said there needed to be an "urgent reassessment" of the peacekeeping mission in the country.

"Two thousand UN bluecaps is not enough to deal with the situation," she insisted.

The M23 group is made up of fighters who deserted from the Congolese army in April following a mutiny.

They are mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group, a minority in eastern DR Congo.

Useful links:

Democracy Live's guide to how the plenary sessions work.

A disclaimer on the use of simultaneous interpretations, on the European Parliament's website.

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