IDSN has issued a position paper on the interrelations between caste, descent and race. It argues that the debate on whether caste is similar to race is unproductive and that it is time to move beyond semantics.
A new IDSN position paper states that caste – and related discrimination and exclusion – is a unique phenomenon that warrants separate and distinctive treatment in the UN human rights system.
The position paper has been underway for some time and is being issued at a very appropriate moment. In recent weeks, the Indian media have engaged in a debate on the merits of internationalising the issue of caste discrimination. The debate has focused on the draft UN Principles and Guidelines for the elimination of caste discrimination – a framework that the Indian government opposes – but has also included the question of equating caste with race.
Several UN human rights bodies and experts have confirmed that caste discrimination falls under the scope of the UN race convention (ICERD), as this convention includes discrimination based on descent. IDSN aligns itself with this position. Nevertheless, IDSN considers caste to be distinct from the concept of race, although both types of discrimination produce comparable forms of political, economic and social exclusion.
Ultimately, the argument on the similarities between caste and race is an unproductive debate on semantics, the position paper concludes. States have a duty to protect the rights of citizens against all forms of discrimination, including caste discrimination, regardless of the ground on which discrimination is exercised.