NDTV, Sudhi Ranjan Sen. November 12, 2006 (New Delhi):
India's affirmative action is being questioned again. But this time, it's the pro-reservation lobby and they are saying that India's current reservation policy is unfair.
In fact, the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), which is demanding reservations for Christians as well, is now equating caste with race and arguing that caste discrimination amounts to racism.
Based on that, they are approaching the international community seeking sanctions and curbs on aid to India.
"Caste is kind of Racism and excluding Christians is a conspiracy," said Paul Diwakar, NCDHR Convenor.
Their logic seems to have some takers in the United Nations. And the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination sent two special rapporteurs to India, who have submitted an interim report which says:
"Another issue that should deserve social attention is the failure to extend reservation to Dalit Christians. Such form of discrimination by the state deprives the Dalit Christians of the right to seek civil protection and safeguards provided to all Dalits under existing legislative acts."
In fact in August 2002, the UNCERD had said, "Descent-based discrimination, such as on the basis of caste and analogous system of inherited status, violates the Convention."
The Netherland-based International Dalit Solidarity Network has launched an awareness campaign in the West.
They have approached the European Parliament and politicians in the US demanding action against India.
"The UN has accepted caste is equal to race but as far as we are concerned the two are different and should not be equated," said Narendara Kumar, an NGO member.
But can caste-based discrimination be equated with racism?
"The Constitution makes a difference between race and caste. Equating the two for reservations is not correct," said Ashok Kumar Panda, Senior Counsel and Constitutional Expert.
Although the debate does not seem to have many takers, it flies in the face of India's affirmative action in place for the last 50 years.
And to say the least, it has far-reaching consequences and can directly affect India's economy march.