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State of the World's Minorities 2008 - India

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 11 March 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2008 - India, 11 March 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48a7eae3c.html [accessed 21 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

During its 60th year of independence, India was slammed by the UN for failing to prevent caste discrimination. In March 2007 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) strongly criticized India for its treatment of its 165 million lower-caste Dalits. CERD accused India of widespread abuses against Dalits, saying they faced discrimination in housing, schooling and public positions. In a report released in New York, CERD said that Dalits, also known as 'untouchables', were made to work in degrading conditions. The UN report followed a resolution in the European Union (EU) Parliament in February, which found Indian legal protection of Dalits 'grossly inadequate'.

Violence against Dalits continued through 2007. According to the Dalit Freedom Network (DFN), every year 10,000 cases of violence against Dalits, ranging from attacks and rape to killings, are recorded. In August rioting broke out in Haryana province after a Dalit boy was gunned down by three unidentified gunmen. The World Organization against Torture, a coalition of international NGOs fighting against torture, in October issued a statement calling for urgent action against the harassment of Dalits in Kolathur, a village in Tamil Nadu. The villagers have been attempting to speak out against the health and economic impact of an illegally located aquafarm in their village. In Bhilvara district in Rajastan, a Dalit man was murdered because he refused to withdraw a case against a person from a dominant caste for the rape of his wife, DFN said.

But 2007 also saw some significant political victories for the Dalits. In India's biggest state, Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati, who heads the Dalit Bahujan Samaj Party and is a Dalit herself, was elected Chief Minister for the fourth time. But this year's victory had added significance as her party gained a majority in the province without the support of bigger political groups. In January K.G. Balakrishnan, a Dalit, was appointed as Chief Justice to head the country's judiciary.

Like low-caste Dalits, India's tribal Adivasis also face issues of discrimination and inhuman treatment. November 2007 saw nationwide outrage sparked as the media reported that an Adivasi woman was stripped in public and assaulted during a demonstration in Guwahati in Assam. Adivasis had been protesting in Assam, calling for constitutional recognition as a 'scheduled tribe', which would give them greater legal status.

Religious minorities, mainly Muslims and Christians, in majority Hindu India, were also victims of violence and persecution in 2007. In May thousands of Christians took to the streets of India's capital New Delhi, calling on the government to stop violence against the religious minority. The DFN reported on its website that some 4,000 people had been arrested by police and temporarily detained during the protest.

Muslim minority groups in September launched protests against the government for its failure to implement recommendations of the Sachhar Committee report. The report, released in 2006, recognized the discrimination against minorities and called for a series of government measures to bring an end to it. In May explosions in a mosque, Mecca Masjid, in Hydrabad, killed 11 people. Police fired live ammunition and shot and killed five people in subsequent rioting that broke out in the city in protest against the government's failure to protect minority places of worship.

Another major concern for minority groups has been the adoption of anti-conversion laws in four Indian states. In October the state of Himachal Pradesh became the fourth to usher in 'anti-conversion' laws. The controversial Act requires any person wishing to convert to another religion to give prior notice of at least 30 days to district authorities. The laws are expected to largely affect non-Hindu religious minorities.

One major victory for minorities came from India's southern state of Tamil Nadu, which in September announced a 3.5 per cent quota for backward classes of Muslims and Christians in government and educational institutions.

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