Putting Caste on Notice

Barbara Crossette in The Nation:

ScreenHunter_12 Oct. 31 09.32 Navi Pillay, the South African judge who became the United Nations high commissioner for human rights last year, is moving to the forefront of a campaign to free more than 250 million people from the indignities and horrors of caste discrimination. No previous commissioner has dared to openly take on this pernicious system, the majority of whose miserable victims live in India.

“This is the year 2009, and people have been talking about caste oppression for more than a hundred years,” Pillay says. “It's time to move on this issue.”

For Pillay, who is of Indian descent, the subject of caste has been hidden too long by obfuscation on the part of governments, not only in India, that have successfully argued in UN conferences that existing international conventions against human rights abuses do not apply. Caste did not figure in the official conclusions of a conference on racism and other forms of intolerance in Durban in 2001, after intense lobbying by India, and remained on the periphery of a review of that conference earlier this year.

That being the case, Pillay said in an interview in her New York office on a visit from her headquarters in Geneva, there may well have to be a new international convention written to apply directly to caste.

More here. [Thanks to Ruchira Paul.]