Wed, Feb 14, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Untouchables still suffering, Human Rights Watch says


Indians at the bottom of India's Hindu caste system are attacked, raped and killed daily because of their status, even though the rigid social hierarchy has been outlawed for decades, an international human-rights group said yesterday.

India has a strikingly uneven record of battling discrimination against its 165 million "dalits," or untouchables.

A former president and the current chief justice are dalits, but another 1.3 million earn a pittance clearing human excrement off train tracks.

Five decades after the caste system was outlawed, the vast majority of dalits remain relegated "to a lifetime of discrimination, exploitation and violence, including severe forms of torture," Human Rights Watch said in a report written with the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University's law school.

"India needs to mobilize the entire government to make good on its paper commitments and end caste abuses," said Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch's Asia director.

Indian officials were not immediately available for comment.

The report offered a slew of examples of violence against dalits, such as the case of a man beaten so badly last month -- after demanding that his daughter's rapists be tried -- that both his legs and an arm had to be amputated.

According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, 58,000 cases of abuse against dalits were registered in India between 2001 and 2005.

But the figure is thought to be a fraction of the real number because most dalits are afraid to report such incidents, fearing retribution from higher-caste Hindus or authorities, the report said.

It cited a 2005 Indian government estimate that crimes are committed against dalits every 20 minutes.

Hinduism divides people into social castes, and dalits, who have no caste, are considered society's lowest members.

Hindus make up about 84 percent of India's 1.1 billion people. There are also caste-like divisions for Muslims, who account for 13 percent of India's people, and Christians, who make up 2.4 percent.

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