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I noticed a debate on the BBC World Service website about Untouchables and the caste system in India.  Is this system an abuse of human rights and should the international community press India for reforms?  I have also been reading in the National Geographic magazine about Untouchables or Dalits to use the name they prefer.  The article includes a photo of a man who works clearing sewers without any protective clothing.  When he wants to wash after emerging from a sewer many people refuse to give him water.  His face seems to look calm and resigned rather than angry.

That picture shows just one example.  If you are a Dalit in India you have a very rough deal to say the least.  Your human rights are not respected.  You can only do the most dangerous or unpleasant work, you are shunned by many people and you are likely to be punished if you dare to use facilities that are barred to you such as fishing in a certain pond.  Punishment in this case might mean having acid thrown over you.  The Indian constitution and law does not allow this discrimination and  cruelty but this is what often happens in practice.

The caste system has deep roots in India and is linked to Hindu beliefs, that a person belongs to a certain caste and cannot change.  A system that has been in place for centuries if not thousands of years will not be quick to die away.  Gandhi tried and failed to overturn it.  One encouraging trend is that the Dalits (see this Wikipedia entry) are organising themselves to protect their rights and are using the law as part of this.

Update: See the 29 Dec. 2009 article from the Guardian on India's silent prejudice.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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