Members of Indian civil society participating in the United Nations-Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) conference in Bangkok have alleged that the official delegation from India insisted that the word ‘caste’ not be mentioned in the outcome document of the meet.
The conference, centred around womens’ issues in Asia and the Pacific, was aimed at setting out a fresh agenda for the 20-year anniversary of the Beijing Conference (Beijing 20+) in 2015.
The Indian activists alleged that on the second day of the conference, the official delegation insisted that ‘caste’ be replaced by ‘social origin’.
Asha Kowtal of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, who was present at the conference, said the official delegation explained the change, saying “it’s an internal matter of India”. “If the Constitution mentions it, why should we not acknowledge it? There has been this hesitation in wanting to project a sanitised version of things in India,” says Kowtal.
Fatima Burnard of Tamil Nadu Dalit Women’s Organisation said: “The Dalit issue is for real and with 160 million Dalits, it is a world issue. It can’t be hidden by not using the word ‘caste’. We are saddened by the approach of this government.”
About 27 unofficial Indian delegates, comprising civil society representatives, said the official Indian delegation over-emphasised the impacts of national budget allocations for women under different schemes. Critical issues related to implementation of the schemes and accountability for institutionalized practice of impunity were ignored, they said.
They also alleged that the official delegation short-shrifted them. They added that Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi “rejected” the memorandum of the civil society participants as “too general” and “suggested that the Civil Society Organisation groups can use it to justify their foreign trip”.
The activists told mediapersons that the official team played up government schemes like Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. “Violence against women was not addressed at all. Instead, the official delegation glorified campaigns like Swachh Bharat. Gravity of prevailing sexual violence, appalling condition of reproductive health, discrimination faced by women due to social and cultural norms, degrading sex ratio, feminization of poverty and several related issues acting as crucial barrier to women’s equality qualify to figure in the India’s official deliberation.”
The Union Minister or members of the official delegation were not available to respond to the allegations.