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"Untouchability" and Segregation

India's caste system is perhaps the world's longest surviving social hierarchy. A defining feature of Hinduism, caste encompasses a complex ordering of social groups on the basis of ritual purity. A person is considered a member of the caste into which he or she is born and remains within that caste until death, although the particular ranking of that caste may vary among regions and over time. Differences in status are traditionally justified by the religious doctrine of karma, a belief that one's place in life is determined by one's deeds in previous lifetimes.

Traditional scholarship has described this more than 2,000-year-old system within the context of the four principal varnas, or large caste categories. In order of precedence these are the Brahmins (priests and teachers), the Ksyatriyas (rulers and soldiers), the Vaisyas (merchants and traders), and the Shudras (laborers and artisans). A fifth category falls outside the varna system and consists of those known as "untouchables" or Dalits; they are often assigned tasks too ritually polluting to merit inclusion within the traditional varna system.7 Almost identical structures are also visible in Nepal.8

Despite its constitutional abolition in 1950, the practice of "untouchability"-the imposition of social disabilities on persons by reason of birth into a particular caste- remains very much a part of rural India. Representing over one-sixth of India's population-or some 160 million people-Dalits endure near complete social ostracization. "Untouchables" may not cross the line dividing their part of the village from that occupied by higher castes. They may not use the same wells, visit the same temples, or drink from the same cups in tea stalls. Dalit children are frequently made to sit at the back of classrooms. In what has been called India's "hidden apartheid," entire villages in many Indian states remain completely segregated by caste.9

"Untouchability" is reinforced by state allocation of resources and facilities; separate facilities are provided for separate caste-based neighborhoods. Dalits often receive the poorer of the two, if they receive any at all. In many villages, the state administration installs electricity, sanitation facilities, and water pumps in the upper-caste section, but neglects to do the same in the neighboring, segregated Dalit area. Basic amenities such as water taps and wells are also segregated, and medical facilities and the better, thatched-roof houses exist exclusively in the upper-caste colony. As revealed by the case study below on the earthquake in Gujarat, these same practices hold true even in times of great natural disaster.

Earthquake in Gujarat: Caste and its Fault-Lines

On January 26, 2001, a devastating earthquake rocked the northwest Indian state of Gujarat. Within days of the country's worst natural disaster in recent history at least 30,000 were declared dead and over one million were left homeless. In the months since the earthquake, residents of the state of Gujarat have been besieged by a man-made disaster: caste and communal discrimination in the distribution of relief and rehabilitation, corruption in the handling of aid, and political squabbling that has done little to help the earthquake's neediest victims.

Six weeks after the earthquake, Human Rights Watch visited the towns of Bhuj, Bhijouri, Khawda, Anjar, and Bhachau in Kutch, the state's most devastated district. In all areas visited by Human Rights Watch, Dalits and Muslims lived separately from upper-caste Hindus. Several residents and survivors told us, "we are surviving the way we lived, that's why we are in separate camps."

While the government has allocated equal amounts of monetary compensation and food supplies to members of all communities, Dalit and Muslim populations did not have the same access to adequate shelter, electricity, running water, and other supplies available to others. This was apparent in several cities near Bhuj, including Anjar and Bhachchau, where the government had provided far superior shelter and basic amenities to upper-caste populations.

The attention is now shifting to the process of rehabilitation and reconstruction of homes. As of this writing, it remained to be seen whether the government would construct integrated housing and give effect to its 1950 constitutional abolition of "untouchability."

India's caste system naturally finds corollaries in other parts of the sub-continent, including Nepal, Pakistan,10 Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. Within the Dalit community of Nepal, there are eight major caste groups and twenty-five identified sub-castes.11 Some NGOs estimate the Dalit population at 4.5 million, or 21 percent of Nepal's population.12 Despite their significant numbers, they continue to be victimized by reason of their caste.

Nepal's 1990 constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste (along with religion, race, sex, and ideology). However, an exception was created for Hindu religious practices. As a result, Dalits can and most often are legally excluded from Hindu temples and rituals.13 They are also often kept from entering hotels, shops, or homes, and are even excluded from cowsheds due to the belief that they will pollute the milking cows.14 In a high profile case in 2000, dubbed the "Gaidakot Milk Scandal," the upper castes of the Gaidakot Multipurpose Milk Production Co-operative Institution Limited refused to sell milk from an animal raised by a Dalit. Only after protests and the intervention of NGOs and human rights organizations were Dalits allowed to sell their milk to the cooperative.15

As in India, the government has committed itself to developing policies aimed at the social and economic advancement of the Dalit population. In 1998, the Independent Downtrodden and Oppressed Community Council was formed with the objective of coordinating policies and supervising programs to benefit Dalits. Nepal's Ninth Five-Year Plan also adopted several specific policies and programs for Dalit socio-economic development in the areas of education, health, sanitation, training and skills enhancement, and employment.16 On August 16, 2001, the prime minister of Nepal announced that the government would outlaw discrimination against lower-caste Hindus and pledged to pass new legislation to criminalize untouchability practices and enforce the pre-existing constitutional ban on caste discrimination. At this writing, specific legislation had yet to be proposed.17

Unlike India, which persistently argues that "the policies of the Indian Government relating to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes do not come under the purview of Article 1 of the Convention [on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination],"18 Nepal has provided detailed accounts of the country's problems with caste discrimination in several of its reports to CERD. In its fourteenth periodic report under ICERD, the government frankly acknowledged that, "for an overwhelming majority of people the caste system continues to be an extremely salient feature of personal identity and social relationships and, to some extent, determines access to social opportunities."19 It further stated that:

[R]acial discrimination in the society, especially in rural areas, is still in existence. So-called untouchables cannot even enter the houses of the people of so-called higher and middle-class castes. On one hand, they are socially suppressed by the upper classes and, on the other hand, they suffer from poverty; the intensity of poverty seems to be higher in socially backward people.20

At the Asian Regional Preparatory Meeting for the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Tehran in February 2001, the Nepali government also declared that the problem of caste discrimination should be addressed at WCAR.

Within Sri Lanka's majority Sinhala community, the Rodiya were historically excluded from villages and communities, forcing them into street begging, scavenging, and roving. Moreover, Rodiya could only wear caste-specific attire; were restricted from schools and public facilities; segregated at gravesites;21 and made to drink out of disposable coconut shells from local teashops so as not to contaminate the glasses of others.22 A history of exclusion has carried forward into present-day practices-Rodiya continue to reside in segregated communities with little to no interaction with upper-castes.23

According to the U.N. Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights' working paper on work and descent-based discrimination:

In Sri Lanka there are two caste systems, one for the Sinhalese and the other for the Tamils. Although they both have their origin in India, the Sinhalese caste system is not linked to the Hindu varna. It was an aspect of a feudal society which divided people "according to Descent and Blood" or according to their hereditary roles and functions. The caste system was a secular hierarchy.... Social distance was practised but the notion of pollution hardly existed. As an American scholar concluded, "The absence of the Hindu concept had rendered the Sinhalese caste system mild and humanitarian when judged by Indian standards."

The exception is the caste of Rodiyas or Rodi (meaning "filth") from very early times. Many legends surround their origin, all agreeing that they were banished for a heinous crime and condemned to a life of begging or, more accurately, soliciting for alms. They were denied land and work and subjected to many disadvantages and degrading treatment.24

Caste differentiation occurs in both of Sri Lanka's main Tamil communities (those descended from plantation workers of Indian origin brought to Sri Lanka by the British colonial government, as well as those with ancestors in Sri Lanka). Marriage bars persist, as do other social bans. Caste-based discrimination is sometimes applied to non-Hindus-including Tamil Christian and Muslim converts, and members of other minority groups. These tensions are exacerbated by conflict-driven displacement, which can place groups of varying caste backgrounds in closer proximity to another.25

Caste differences between Indian-origin Tamil plantation workers also remain prominent. Higher-caste workers will often refuse to touch food offered to them by "untouchables." "Untouchables" are also made to perform specific tasks during Hindu rituals that are particular to their low-caste status.26

Caste-based divisions of labor are central to several ethnic groups in many West African countries, including the Fulani, Mandinka, and Wolof communities. Various U.N. human rights treaty monitoring bodies have made at least passing reference to caste-based distinctions in Burkina Faso, Mali, Cameroon, and Mauritania. Outside of West Africa, caste in Burundi and Mauritius has also been noted.27 While this report limits its discussion in West Africa to Mauritania, Senegal, and Nigeria, in addition to the countries mentioned above, caste systems can also be found in Guinea, Guinea Bissau, the Ivory Coast, Gambia, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

Though caste systems exist within several ethnic groups in Senegal, this report confines itself to the Wolof community, the country's largest ethnic group. In July 2001, a coalition of Senegalese nongovernmental organizations held a national workshop on problems faced by caste communities in the country. The one-day meeting was in preparation for the World Conference Against Racism. Among the participants was well-known sociologist Abdoulaye Bara Diop, who has written extensively on caste systems among the Wolof of Senegal. He remarked: "When we speak of castes we think of India where the caste system rigidly structures all of society. Sub-Saharan African also knows castes, among which the griot are the most well-known." He went on to add that castes can be defined as hereditary, endogamous groups that are assigned specific occupations and governed by strict hierarchical relationships. All such characteristics can be found among the Wolof who are principally divided between the geer and the neeno.28

The Senegalese constitution proclaims the right of all citizens to equal protection of the law regardless of race, religion, sex, or origin, a reference to one's caste background (article 1), and prohibits all acts of racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination (article 5). Despite these constitutional protections, the extent to which neeno castes approach the courts for legal redress on discrimination claims is negligible.

Within the Igbo communities of southeastern Nigeria, the marginalization of those that have been categorized as Osu reportedly remains largely unchecked.29 The term "Osu" historically applied to individuals who were held to be "owned" by deities.30 Like caste distinctions in other societies, the distinction of Osu is automatically passed on by inheritance and descent and cannot generally be overcome. Osus cannot be distinguished from others on the basis of their physical appearance or their speech.31

Though Osu share the same legal status as other Nigerians-the Osu system was outlawed with the passage of the Osu System Law and the Laws of Eastern Nigeria in 1956 and 1963-members of the Osu community are still shunned as pariahs and denied social equality.32 Mostly landless, Osu can traditionally only marry within their caste, and are buried in separate cemeteries.33

Discrimination against Buraku, sometimes known as eta (variously defined as "pollution abundant" or "unclean") persists in Japan. Scholarly consensus today holds that the estimated three million Buraku who live in Japan today can trace their ancestry to those who became involved in occupations thought to be unclean during Japan's feudal Tokugawa era in the seventeenth century. These occupations included leather-making, a task shunned by Shintoists and Buddhists who felt that anything which involved the taking of life was unclean. The then-government codified such discrimination against Buraku when it explicitly deemed certain groups distinguished by their occupations to be eta and hinin ("nonperson"). These newly formed lower castes were then further forced into specific occupations. The etas were forced to dispose of dead cattle or take work as hide tanners and other leather-related crafts, while the hinin became security guards and executioners. Beginning in the early 1700s, the Japanese government established specific rules limiting the types of clothes and hairstyles that Buraku could wear, rendering them easily identifiable. Buraku were often prohibited from entering towns at night or frequenting certain religious sites.34 Their gravestones were also marked with names connecting them to slavery or cattle.35

The Buraku system was officially abolished by the Emancipation Edict of 1871, though discrimination against Buraku persists to this day. Following the edict, peasants rioted in protest at being ranked as equals to Buraku, setting fire to Buraku villages in western Japan and demanding that the edict be revoked.36 In modern day Japan, many Buraku still live in segregated communities in cities around the country, including major cities such as Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe.37 Burakumin continue to be characterized as "dirty" and "inappropriate" to associate with. They are even said to be of a different descent than the majority of Japanese people even though they are racially indistinguishable from the rest of the population.38

Today, the Buraku people are the targets of verbal abuse and incitement to violence, often in the form of graffiti or messages posted on the Internet with slogans like "Kill Buraku People" or "Exterminate Buraku People." Offensive emails are frequently sent to NGOs active on Buraku issues, such as the Buraku Liberation Movement.39

Segregation also continues to be a way of life for the Buraku people in rural areas in Japan, though in urban centers many have successfully integrated with non-Buraku communities.40

Caste and Marriage
Often, rigid social norms of purity and pollution are socially enforced through strict prohibitions on marriage or other social interaction between castes. While economic and social indicators other than caste have gained in significance, allowing intermarriage among upper castes, in many countries strong social barriers remain in place against marriage between lower and higher castes.

In India the condemnation can be quite severe, ranging from social ostracism to punitive violence. On August 6, 2001, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, an upper-caste Brahmin boy and a lower-caste Jat girl were dragged to the roof of a house and publicly hanged by members of their own families as hundreds of spectators looked on. The public lynching was punishment for refusing to end an inter-caste relationship.41 Inter-caste marriages can also lead to large-scale attacks on lower-caste communities. In May 2000 in Hardoi district in Uttar Pradesh, a police constable enraged by his daughter's marriage to a Dalit was joined by other relatives in shooting and killing four members of his son-in-law's family.42 Dalits who marry high-caste persons in Nepal in some cases reportedly have been imprisoned by local authorities because of false cases filed against them by members of the upper-caste families. Dalits are often forbidden from performing marriage or funeral rites in public areas or, in some areas, from speaking to members of upper castes.43

In both the Tamil and Sinhala communities of Sri Lanka, intermarriage between upper-caste and lower-caste persons is still socially discouraged.44 Matrimonial ads in Sri Lankan newspapers placed by Tamils and Sinhalese both routinely specify the caste background of the match that the family is seeking.

In Japan marriage remains a primary source of discrimination for Buraku people today.45 Suspicions that a person is of Buraku descent often lead to private investigations into his or her family background. These background checks are easy to conduct because family registries are easily obtainable, and Buraku names are distinct and recognizable. Upon discovering that the intended bride or groom is of Buraku descent, the marriage plans are often reportedly cancelled or condemned.46

Marriages are still expected to fall along caste lines for the Wolof societies of Senegal; a geer who marries someone from the lower castes may be ostracized.47 Even amongst the neeno, marriage within one's own caste is preferred, particularly amongst the griot community. In parts of southeastern Nigeria, marriage to an Osu by a non-Osu is highly discouraged and even condemned by society, while children of such a union are likely to be ostracized and mistreated.48

Caste and Labor
Allocation of labor on the basis of caste is one of the fundamental tenets of many caste systems, with lower-castes typically restricted to tasks and occupations that are deemed too "filthy" or "polluting" for higher-caste communities.

Among the Wolof of Senegal, the concept of caste is founded on occupational groups, and accordingly divides Wolof Senegalese into one of four categories, each of which are either hereditary or assumed upon marriage.49 The "superior" category of the geer was traditionally comprised of farmers, fisherman, warriors and animal breeders-they are still deemed society's noblest. They traditionally can only marry within the group, and are not allowed to practice the traditional professions of the lower castes. Although the lower-caste professions are divided among three distinct castes, they are collectively termed neeno and are thus distinguished from the geer.

The neeno are further divided into subcastes: the jeff-lekk are comprised of artisans while griots and jesters constitute the sab-lekk. A third category of the noole, who are relatively few in number, make up the servants and courtesans. The artisans are further divided into four sub-castes, namely blacksmiths or jewelers, shoemakers, woodcutters, and weavers. Beneath the neeno is the category of jaam or slaves-they are deemed to be outside the caste system.50 Over time, the migration of Wolofs to cities and larger towns has led to greater access to educational and professional opportunities for neeno castes, though serious problems remain.51

Sanitation jobs-including street cleaning and the handling of human waste and animal carcasses-are functions almost exclusively performed by Dalits in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

Dalits in Bangladesh-who originally migrated from India under British rule and remained after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947-work principally as municipal cleaners and domestic workers, lowly jobs that are shunned by the country's majority Muslim Bengali population.52 In the country's capital, for example, Dalits make up the majority of the 5,500 cleaners working for Dhaka City Corporation. They live in small, squalid quarters provided by the city corporation with no gas or electricity and are paid a little over U.S. $1 a day. Dalits also breed pigs for Dhaka's minority Hindu and Christian population and work as vendors and rickshaw pullers. 53

Indian-origin Tamils in Sri Lanka continue to face severe social discrimination. For many of the country's minority Tamils, little has changed occupationally since the eighteenth century when members of lower-castes from southern India were brought to Sri Lanka as captive labor to work on plantations and as city cleaners. To this day, the traditional division of labor continues to be perpetuated.54 At the bottom of the caste hierarchy in the Indian Tamil community are three untouchable castes. While Pallas and Nalavas can work on upper-caste land for wages, Paraiyars are predominantly engaged in "unclean" sanitation work.55 Plantation laborers also remain marginalized from economic, educational, and social opportunities, and suffer from poor health care and an inability to participate in political life.56

According to the subcommission's working paper on work and descent-based discrimination:

A recent allegation of discrimination based on descent is that made by Tamils of Indian origin employed mainly as tea estate workers in the hill country. With regard to wages, housing, sanitation, health and educational facilities, they were an oppressed group. Improvements have slowly been made as a result of government policies and powerful trade union action. Integration with the rest of society is more difficult owing to prejudice, but this is breaking down. There are signs of upward mobility through education and non-discriminatory laws. Caste distinctions exist among themselves and complaints have been made that workers (mostly Dalits) are kept out of trade union office by high caste supervisors.57

The Sri Lankan government's development and social welfare programs have also failed to integrate the Rodiya into mainstream society,58 leaving many to rely on menial wage labor as sanitation workers and hospital attendants.59

Most Dalits in India also continue to live in extreme poverty, without land or opportunities for better employment or education. With the exception of a minority who have benefited from India's policy of quotas in education and government jobs, Dalits are relegated to the most menial of tasks as removers of human waste and dead animals, leather workers, street sweepers, and cobblers. Dalit children make up the majority of children sold into bondage to pay off debts to upper-caste creditors.

According to government statistics, an estimated one million Dalits in India are "manual scavengers" (a majority of them women) who clear feces from public and private latrines and dispose of dead animals; unofficial estimates are much higher. Handling of human waste is a caste-based occupation, deemed too "polluting and filthy" for anyone but Dalits. Manual scavengers exist under different caste names throughout the country, such as the Bhangis in Gujarat, the Pakhis in Andhra Pradesh, and the Sikkaliars in Tamil Nadu. Members of these communities are invariably placed at the very bottom of the caste hierarchy, and even the hierarchy of Dalit sub-castes. Using little more than a broom, a tin plate, and a basket, they are made to clear feces from public and private latrines and carry waste to dumping grounds and disposal sites. Though long outlawed, the practice of manual scavenging continues in most states.

In November 1999, after a cyclone slammed into India's eastern state of Orissa, killing thousands and rendering millions homeless, the government brought in two hundred Dalit manual scavengers from New Delhi, and planned to bring five hundred more from other parts of Orissa, to load animal carcasses onto hand-drawn carts and take them away to be burned. Government officials had reportedly offered local upper-caste residents more than the daily minimum wage for each animal burned but they refused, citing the decayed conditions of the carcasses and the fact that the task was beneath them: they had "some self-respect left."60 As witnessed with the earthquake in Gujarat, even in times of natural disaster, the laws of "purity and pollution" prevail and the government's actions often reinforce the prejudice.

Discrimination against Buraku persists in Japan's economy. In a high profile case in 1998, according to Buraku civil rights groups, over seven hundred companies were discovered to have hired private investigators to unearth job applicants' Buraku origins, ethnic background, nationality, ideology, religion, and political affiliation.61 After factoring in each characteristic, an applicant was ranked from "excellent" to "advisable not to hire." However, a person discovered to be of Buraku origin was not rated and consequently not hired.62

Already years before, in 1975, the practice of selling "Buraku lists" had been exposed. Also compiled by investigative companies, these lists included information on the names and locations of Buraku households and were marketed to private companies for the purposes of screening job applicants and to families seeking to arrange and approve marriages.63 Some claim that the lists were used to counter the Buraku rights movement, which successfully campaigned for a standard job application for high school students, and for the prohibition of the discriminatory use of family registers to be legally mandated.64 Such lists were reported to be in circulation as recently as 1996.65

Debt Bondage and Slavery
The poor remuneration of manual scavenging, agricultural labor, and other forms of low-caste employment often force families of lower castes or caste-like groups into bondage. A lack of enforcement of relevant legislation prohibiting debt bondage in most of the countries concerned allows for the practice to continue unabated.

An estimated forty million people in India, among them some fifteen million children, are working in slave-like conditions in order to pay off debts as bonded laborers. Due to the high interest rates charged, the employers' control over records, and the abysmally low wages paid, the debts are seldom settled. Bonded laborers are frequently low-caste, illiterate, and extremely poor, while the creditors/employers are usually higher-caste, literate, comparatively wealthy, and relatively more powerful members of the community.

The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 abolishes all agreements and obligations arising out of the bonded labor system. It aims to release all laborers from bondage, cancel any outstanding debt, prohibit the creation of new bondage agreements, and order the economic rehabilitation of freed bonded laborers by the state. It also punishes attempts to compel persons into bondage with a maximum of three years in prison and a Rs. 2,000 (U.S.$43) fine. However, relatively few bonded laborers have been identified, released, and rehabilitated in the country.

In Pakistan the debt bondage system is most prevalent in the agricultural provinces of southern Punjab and Sindh. Most laborers in these areas are minority Hindus from lower castes.66 In a pattern similar to that practiced in India, the charging of exorbitantly high interest rates ensure that loans from landowners never get repaid. While the loan agreement is often made between the landowner and the male head of the peasant household, the work to pay off the loan is performed by the entire family, including women and children.67 Women have also been held in custody by landowners when bonded male members of the family leave the land or area, and have even been sold into marriage or prostitution should the male family member fail to return.68 As in India, children often inherit their families' debts and remain trapped in a cycle of debt bondage.69

A disturbing reflection of the slavery of centuries past is the well-documented practice of tying up or chaining bonded laborers to hinder their escape. Of the 7,500 bonded laborers reported to have escaped or been released since 1995 in the southern Sindh province, human rights organizations report that "several hundred" of them were found "tied up or in chains."70 Similarly, in 1991 the Pakistani army reportedly conducted a raid that unearthed the illegal detention of 295 laborers, including 132 children, all of whom were shackled each night. Most were only given flour and chili peppers as food and had no access to plumbing facilities or medical care.71 National legislation in Pakistan prohibiting these practices reportedly has done little to eradicate them. Provincial governments responsible for their enforcement have yet to establish mechanisms to put them into practice.72

According to the United Nation Development Programme's "Nepal Human Development Report 1998," despite legal pronouncements to the contrary, bonded labor has not been eradicated in Nepal. The report adds:

In the mid-western and far western hills, the debt-bonded agricultural labourers, haliyas, mainly from "untouchable" castes, work under this system. The Anti-Slavery International and INSEC73 in 1996 rarely observed haliyas from among members of the high caste groups.... Their report also revealed that in the regions noted above, members of "untouchable" households were charged very high rates of interest - as high as 10 percent/month - on loans forwarded by their landlords, while members of "high caste" households were generally charged only 2-3 percent/month. Such discrimination was designed to keep alive and intensify the system of debt bondage. The "low caste" Tarai groups like Musahar, Dusadh, Dom, Chamar, etc. face a similar problem: repayment of loans is actively discouraged by the landlords (ibid.). Because the primary interest of the landlord lies in continued cultivation of his land and in regular assurance of labour supply, his lending is not directed towards earning interest in cash (NRB 1988).74

The legacy of slavery as a form of caste and descent-based discrimination in Mauritania is an issue the government must do more to address.75 While President Maaouiya Ould Sid'Ahmed Ould Taya has brought public attention to modern-day slavery practices throughout the country-and while the government purports to have implemented relevant education and agrarian reforms-its record on enforcing slavery-specific legislation, and legislation promoting the civil rights of former slaves, is weak.76

Both the Arab and Afro-Mauritanian groups have long distinguished community members on the basis of caste, and both included a caste-like designation of "slave" within these systems. To this day a former "slave" distinction-particularly for the Haratines, Arabic speakers of Sub-Saharan African origin-still carries significant social implications. At best, members of higher and lower castes are discouraged from intermarrying. In Soninke communities, members of the slave caste are also buried in separate cemeteries.77 At worst, however, there is a widespread system of unpaid servitude required of communities whose members still self-identify as slaves. Though the government has long outlawed slave-like distinctions and practices, it has taken few steps to enforce these laws. A weak economy also leaves former slaves with few options other than remaining with the families of masters who owned their ancestors. 78 Caste systems similar to those found among the Wolof of Senegal can also be found among Soninke, Halpular, and Wolof Afro-Mauritanians.

Caste and Socio-Economic Disparities
Significant economic and educational disparities persist between lower and higher-caste communities in the countries highlighted in this report. Lower-caste communities are often plagued by low literacy levels and a lack of access to health care and education. A lack of formal education or training, as well as discrimination that effectively bars them from many forms of employment, and the nonenforcement of protective legislation, perpetuates caste-based employment and keeps its hereditary nature alive.

As of 1997, there were reportedly only two Dalit medical doctors and fifteen Dalit engineers in Nepal.79 The life expectancy rate of Nepal's Dalits is five years short of the national average of 55.80 Children face a higher incidence of malnutrition81 and the general population lacks access to clean drinking water or proper health services.82

Nepal's 1998 Human Development Report revealed that development indicators closely followed caste lines. Without a single exception, the lower the caste, the lower the life expectancy, the literacy rate, years of schooling, and per capita income.83 In 1999, Nepal's fourteenth periodic report to CERD also frankly and constructively highlighted the economic disparities that continue to persist between low- and high-caste populations:

[A]wareness creation, income generation, education and health facilities programmes were implemented to address the problems of the backward communities. However, the gap between so-called higher and lower castes has not narrowed. There have hardly been any changes in the society or the living standard of the poor. Consequently, the people of backward communities have felt discriminated against and could not believe that the Government was doing anything for their welfare and development. The main reasons for this are: lack of integrated programmes, weak implementation and sustainability, failure to mainstream backward communities and repressed people into the national development process, centre-oriented/based programmes rather than community-based/participatory programmes, little attention to human resource development and lack of encouragement to the development and modernization of traditional occupations and skills, lack of effective institutional mechanisms, etc.84

Access to Education
High drop-out and lower literacy rates among lower-caste populations have rather simplistically been characterized as the natural consequences of poverty and underdevelopment. Though these rates are partly attributable to the need for low-caste children to supplement their family wages through labor, more insidious and less well-documented is the discriminatory and abusive treatment faced by low-caste children who attempt to attend school, at the hands of their teachers and fellow students.

Over fifty years since India's constitutional promise of free, compulsory, primary education for all children up to the age of fourteen-with special care and consideration to be given to promote the educational progress of scheduled castes-illiteracy still plagues almost two-thirds of the Dalit population as compared to about one-half of the general population. The literacy gap between Dalits and the rest of the population fell a scant 0.39 percent between 1961 and 1991. Most of the government schools in which Dalit students are enrolled are deficient in basic infrastructure, classrooms, teachers, and teaching aids. A majority of Dalit students are also enrolled in vernacular schools whose students suffer serious disadvantages in the job market as compared to those who learn in English-speaking schools.85

Despite state assistance in primary education, Dalits also suffer from an alarming drop-out rate. According to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes' 1996-1997 and 1997-1998 Report, the national drop-out rate for Dalit children-who often sit in the back of classrooms-was a staggering 49.35 percent at the primary level, 67.77 percent for middle school, and 77.65 percent for secondary school.86

Rodiya children in Sri Lanka rarely study past elementary levels, if at all. Instead, their parents require them to realize their income-earning potential even as young children, and often prematurely take them out of school.87 Lower-caste Tamil plantation workers of Indian origin in Sri Lanka also have low literacy levels. According to a Sri Lankan activist only 65 percent of plantation workers can read or write, compared to a high 90 percent national average. Higher drop out rates among children of plantation workers stems partly from the employment of these children as domestic workers, hotel workers, or sanitation cleaners.88

The Buraku of Japan also suffer from lower levels of higher education than the national average, and higher dropout rates than the broader society. In particular, Buraku women report lower levels of literacy, high school and university enrollment, and employment.89 Special scholarship programs that bolstered national averages of Buraku education are expected to be phased out by March 2002, despite the considerable success they had in bridging the education gap between Buraku and non-Buraku.

In Nepal the literacy rate for Dalits is appallingly low at 10 percent for men and 3.2 percent for women, compared to a national literacy rate that exceeds 50 percent. According to the government's own fourteenth periodic report under ICERD, "The lowest literacy is among the occupational castes. Women constitute more than two thirds of the illiterates."90

Access to Land
Most Dalit victims of abuse in India are landless agricultural laborers who form the backbone of the nation's agrarian economy. Despite decades of land reform legislation, over 86 percent of Dalit households today are landless or near landless. Those who own land often own very little. Land is the prime asset in rural areas that determines an individual's standard of living and social status. As with many other low-caste populations, lack of access to land makes Dalits economically vulnerable; their dependency is exploited by upper- and middle-caste landlords and allows for many abuses to go unpunished. Landless agricultural laborers throughout the country work for a few kilograms of rice or Rs. 15 to Rs. 35 (US$0.32 to $0.75) a day, well below the minimum wage prescribed in their state. Many laborers owe debts to their employers or other moneylenders.91

Indian laws and regulations that prohibit alienation of Dalit lands, set ceilings on a single landowner's holdings, or allocate surplus government lands to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes have been largely ignored, or worse, manipulated by upper castes with the help of district administrations.92

Although many of Nepal's agricultural laborers are Dalits, Dalits also have a startlingly low rate of land ownership-only 3.1 percent of Dalits own more than twenty-one ropanies93 of land and collectively Dalits own only about 1 percent of Nepal's total cultivable land. Moreover, 90 percent of Nepal Dalits live below the poverty line, compared to 45 percent of the overall population. Their per capita income amounts to a paltry U.S.$39.60 while the rest of Nepalese average U.S.$210 per year.94 Nepali Dalits are among the world's poorest of the poor.

Political Representation and Political Rights
India's policy of "reservations" or caste-based quotas is an attempt by the central government to remedy past injustices related to low-caste status. To allow for proportional representation in certain state and federal institutions, the constitution reserves 22.5 percent of federal government jobs, seats in state legislatures, the lower house of parliament, and educational institutions for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

The reservation policy, however, has not been fully implemented. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes' (1996-1997 and 1997-1998) report indicates that of the total scheduled caste reservation quota in the Central Government, 54 percent remains unfilled. More than 88 percent of posts reserved in the public sector remain unfilled as do 45 percent in state banks. A closer examination of the caste composition of government services, institutions of education and other services, however, reveals what Dalit activists call an "unacknowledged reservation policy" for upper-castes, particularly Brahmins, built into the system. Though they represented only 5 percent of the population in 1989, Brahmins comprised 70 percent of the Class I officers in governmental services. At universities, upper-castes occupy 90 percent of the teaching posts in the social sciences and 94 percent in the sciences, while Dalit representation is only 1.2 and 0.5 percent, respectively.95

Dalits throughout India also suffer in many instances from de facto disenfranchisement. While India remains the world's largest democracy, for many of its Dalit citizens democracy has been a sham. During elections, many are routinely threatened and beaten by political party strongmen in order to compel them to vote for certain candidates. Already under the thumb of local landlords and police officials, Dalit villagers who do not comply have been harassed, beaten, and murdered.

Police and upper-caste militias, operating at the behest of powerful political leaders in India's states, have also punished Dalit voters. In February 1998, police raided a Dalit village in Tamil Nadu that had boycotted the national parliamentary elections. Women were kicked and beaten, their clothing was torn, and police forced sticks and iron pipes into their mouths. Kerosene was poured into stored food grains and grocery items and police reportedly urinated in cooking vessels. In Bihar, political candidates ensure their majority vote with the help of senas, civilian militias, whose members intimidate and kill. The Ranvir Sena, a private militia of upper-caste landlords, was responsible for killing more than fifty people during Bihar's 1995 state election campaign. The sena was again used to intimidate voters in Ara district, Bihar, during the February 1998 national parliamentary elections.96

Dalits who have contested political office in village councils and municipalities through seats that have been constitutionally "reserved" for them have been threatened with physical abuse and even death in order to get them to withdraw from the campaign. In the village of Melavalavu, in Tamil Nadu's Madurai district, following the election of a Dalit to the village council presidency, members of a higher-caste group murdered six Dalits in June 1997, including the elected council president, whom they beheaded.97

Unlike India, Nepal does not provide for reservations of posts or quotas in political bodies, civil sector jobs, and institutions of higher learning. Though they comprise over 20 percent of the population, lower castes are dramatically underrepresented in government. Since 1958, only fourteen Dalits in Nepal have become members of parliament (upper house) through a system of nomination, all of them men. Only one Dalit has been elected to the House of Representatives.98 Furthermore, there has been a dearth of Dalits in Nepal's administrative and judicial system; and discrimination continues to persist in the Nepal Royal Army.99 Conversely, according to an NGO study on discrimination against Dalits in Nepal, while Brahmins constitute only 16 percent of the population, they represent 57 percent of parliament and a staggering 89 percent of the judiciary.100 The result is that a full one-fifth of Nepal's population is effectively excluded.

In Sri Lanka, Indian-origin Tamils-who have resided in the country since the nineteenth century-can only become citizens through registration. They are denied the right to citizenship by descent to which the rest of the Sri Lankan population is entitled.101

Physical and Economic Retaliation
A principal weapon in sustaining the low status of Dalits in India is the use of social and economic boycotts and acts of retaliatory violence. Dalits are physically abused and threatened with economic and social ostracism from the community for refusing to carry out various caste-based tasks. Any attempt to alter village customs, defy the social order, or to demand land, increased wages, or political rights leads to violence and economic retaliation on the part of those most threatened by changes in the status quo. Dalit communities as a whole are summarily punished for individual transgressions; Dalits are cut off from community land and employment during social boycotts, Dalit women bear the brunt of physical attacks, and the law is rarely enforced.102

Since the early 1990s, violence against Dalits has escalated dramatically in response to growing Dalit rights movements. Between 1995 and 1997, a total of 90,925 cases were registered with the police nationwide as crimes and "atrocities" against scheduled castes. Of these 1,617 were for murder, 12,591 for hurt, 2,824 for rape, and 31,376 for offenses listed under the Prevention of Atrocities Act.103 Given that Dalits are often both reluctant and unable (for lack of police cooperation) to report crimes against themselves, the actual number of abuses is presumably much higher.104

India's National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes has reported that these cases typically fall into one of three categories: cases relating to the practice of "untouchability" and attempts to defy the social order; cases relating to land disputes and demands for minimum wages; and cases of atrocities by police and forest officials. Most of the conflicts take place within very narrow segments of the caste hierarchy, between the poor and the not so poor, the landless laborer and the marginal landowner. The differences lie in the considerable amount of leverage that the higher-caste Hindus or non-Dalits are able to wield over local police, district administrations, and even state governments.105

On the night of December 1, 1997, an upper-caste landlord militia called the Ranvir Sena shot dead sixteen children, twenty-seven women, and eighteen men in the village of Laxmanpur-Bathe, Jehanabad district Bihar. Five teenage girls were raped and mutilated before being shot in the chest. The villagers were alleged to have been sympathetic to a guerilla group known as Naxalites that had been demanding more equitable land redistribution in the area. When asked why the sena killed children and women, one sena member told Human Rights Watch, "We kill children because they will grow up to become Naxalites. We kill women because they will give birth to Naxalites."106

The senas, which claim many politicians as members, operate with virtual impunity. In some cases, police have accompanied them on raids and have stood by as they killed villagers and burned down their homes. On April 10, 1997, in the village of Ekwari, located in the Bhojpur district of Bihar, police stationed in the area to protect lower-caste villagers instead pried open the doors of their residences as members of the sena entered and killed eight residents. In other cases, police raids have followed attacks by the senas. Sena leaders are rarely prosecuted for such killings, and the villagers are rarely or inadequately compensated for their losses. Even in cases where police are not hostile to Dalits, they are generally not accessible to call upon: most police camps are located in the upper-caste section of the village and Dalits are simply unable to approach them for protection.107

Caste and Gender
Lower-caste women are singularly positioned at the bottom of caste, class, and gender hierarchies. Largely uneducated and consistently paid less than their male counterparts worldwide they invariably bear the brunt of exploitation, discrimination, and physical attacks. Sexual abuse and other forms of violence against women are often used by landlords and the police to inflict political "lessons" and crush dissent within the community. Lower-caste women also suffer disproportionately in terms of access to health care, education, and subsistence wages as compared to women of higher castes.

Dalit women in India and Nepal make up the majority of landless laborers and scavengers, as well as a significant percentage of the women forced into prostitution in rural areas or sold into urban brothels. As such, they come into greater contact with landlords and enforcement agencies than their upper-caste counterparts. Their subordinate position is exploited by those in power who carry out their attacks with impunity. Incidents of gang-rape, stripping, and parading women naked through the streets, and making them eat excrement are all crimes specific to Dalit women in India. Sexual violence is also linked to debt bondage in India, Pakistan, and Nepal.

According to a Tamil Nadu state government official, the rape of Dalit women exposes the hypocrisy of the caste system as "no one practices untouchability when it comes to sex."108 Like other Indian women whose relatives are sought by the police, Dalit women have also been arrested and tortured in custody as a means of punishing their male relatives who are hiding from the authorities.

Gender-specific violence is a problem of epidemic proportions among low-caste plantation workers in Sri Lanka.109 In Nepal, Dalit women are economically marginalized and exploited, both within and outside their families. As the largest group of those engaged in manual labor and agricultural production, their jobs often include waste disposal, clearing carcasses, and doing leatherwork.110 Despite their grueling tasks and long hours, exploitative wages ensure that Dalit women are unable to earn a subsistence living. In some rural areas Dalit women scarcely earn ten to twenty kilograms of food grain a year, barely enough to sustain a family.111 Many have been driven to prostitution. One caste in particular, known as badis, is viewed as a prostitution caste. Many Dalit women and girls, including those from the badi caste, are trafficked into sex work in Indian brothels.112

Under the devadasi system, thousands of Dalit girls in India's southern states are ceremonially "dedicated" or married to a deity or to a temple. Once dedicated, they are forced to become prostitutes for upper-caste community members, and eventually auctioned into an urban brothel.113 In Pakistan human rights organizations report that the rape of female bonded laborers is one of the most pressing problems facing the movement to end debt bondage. Not only is it a widespread, violent problem, but there is little legal recourse.114

In Mauritania, women are particularly burdened by the designation of "slave." While men are sometimes able to escape, and by law cannot be forced to return to their "masters," women are often forced to remain as their "masters" threaten to keep their children. The tenuous legal status of slave children also keeps women tied to their masters.115

Caste and the South Asian Diaspora
Caste has migrated with the South Asian diaspora to firmly take root in East and South Africa, Mauritius, Fiji, Suriname, the Middle East, Malaysia, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, North America, and other regions.116

Among migrant communities in North America and Europe, caste ideologies are perpetuated by families returning to India to seek out marriage partners within their own caste. U.S.-based matrimonial services, including regional conventions, are burgeoning alongside a growing population of Indian origin.117 Families openly advertise their caste preference in the matrimonial sections of Indian community papers in North America and Europe (a practice quite common within India as well), as well as on Internet matchmaking sites.

In the United States, a rising number of caste-based groups-each with chapters throughout many major cities-also points to the importance of caste as an identifier for migrant Indian communities. Such caste-based associations in the United States are providing funds and political support for a resurgence of caste fundamentalism in South Asia as well.118

In Britain emigrant Dalits must also worship in segregated temples and have thus formed an umbrella group for low-caste temples-Guru Ravidass UK.119 Twenty-two of these temples withheld (and ultimately redirected) funds raised for earthquake victims in Gujarat due to incidents of caste discrimination in the distribution of earthquake relief.120

Also in Britain caste tensions frequently erupt between high-caste Punjabis (Jats) and low-caste Punjabis (Chamars). Physical violence has also been known to erupt following intermarriage between the two communities.121 Caste consciousness becomes especially problematic given the sizable population of both Jats and Chamars in the United Kingdom. According Sat Pal Muman, a presenter at the September 2000 International Dalit Human Rights Conference in London, inquiries about one's caste background are often made in privately run or Jat-run educational institutions and places of employment. In the city of Wolverhampton incidents of upper-caste Jats refusing to share water taps or make any physical contact with lower-caste persons have also been reported. At a sports competition in Birmingham in 1999 Jats reportedly refused to eat food that came from the Chamar community.122

In Suriname, Indians of Dalit-descent continue to be largely distinguished by their various caste-based occupations.123 Chamars traditionally worked as drum beaters, beggars, hawkers, and shoemakers; Pallen as landless laborers; Dhobis as washers; Collies as porters; and Dasis as house servants. A higher-caste group includes Kurmis as cultivators, Ahir as cow herders, and Chettyar as weavers, barbers, shopkeepers, and moneylenders. The third and highest caste category consists of priests, scribes, and schoolmasters.124

In Mauritius, with its large concentration of people of Indian origin, social organization is based on family, kinship networks, and "to a not negligible extent, caste-based organization."125 Caste-based considerations have also been reported in the political and employment sector.126

Caste distinctions play a role in both private life and political organization within Malaysia's minority "Indian" community although the extent of its influence on Malaysian Indian society is the subject of considerable debate.127 Caste considerations are most obvious in the private sphere, particularly in the community's attitudes towards intermarriage. Many families seeking to arrange marriages place matrimonial ads that include caste requirements, and marriage brokers may be expected to take caste into account when finding suitable matches.128 As one researcher observed, "Caste has, indeed, such a strong hold in marriage matters that intercaste marriages between different categories of higher caste status sometimes do not take place with parents' approval, much less between higher and lower caste members. Abolition of caste discrimination in this area remains a distant dream."129 Though interactions outside the home seem to take place without much emphasis on caste, within the home contact with castes thought to be polluting may be quite limited. Some families, for example, refuse to dine with or accept food and drinks from people they suspect of being lower caste.130

Mass migration of higher and lower-caste Indians to Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and other Gulf states has brought with it vestiges of the caste system as well.

Failure to Implement Domestic and International Law
The practice of "untouchability," other caste-based discrimination, violence against lower-caste men, women, and children, and other abuses outlined in this report violate numerous domestic and international laws. International human rights law imposes on governments a duty to guarantee the rights of all people without discrimination and to punish those who engage in caste-based exploitation, violence, and discrimination.

In its August 2000 resolution, the U.N. Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights urged governments to ensure that "appropriate legal penalties and sanctions, including criminal sanctions, are prescribed for and applied to all persons or entities within the jurisdiction of the Governments concerned who may be found to have engaged in practices of discrimination on the basis of work and descent."131

The subcommission's working paper on work and descent-based discrimination noted a year later, "The laws are there, but there is a clear lack of will on the part of law enforcement officers to take action owing to caste prejudice on their part or deference shown to higher-caste perpetrators."132

Though constitutional guarantees and other national legislation banning caste discrimination suggest that various governments have successfully tackled caste-related violations, much of the legislation remains unenforced. Official condemnation alone has proven insufficient in many countries in abolishing caste-based abuses.

In India, for example, laws are openly flouted while state complicity in attacks on Dalit communities continues to reflect a well-documented pattern. India's own constitutional and statutory bodies, including the National Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, have repeatedly confirmed and decried the prevalence of the abuses outlined in this report. Other government authorities, however, have facilitated continued discrimination. Indeed it would be difficult to convince Dalits that, over fifty-four years after independence, the government had done anything to end the violence and discrimination that has ruled their lives. The message sent from the judiciary on caste discrimination is equally disturbing: in July 1998 in the state of Uttar Pradesh, an Allahabad High Court judge reportedly had his chambers "purified with Ganga jal," water from the River Ganges, because it had earlier been occupied by a Dalit judge.133

The state's failure to prosecute atrocities against Dalits is well illustrated by its manipulation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Enacted in 1989, the act provides for certain stiffer punishments for abuses against members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes when committed by non-scheduled caste or tribe members. Its enactment represented an acknowledgment on the part of the government that abuses, in their most degrading and violent forms, were still perpetrated against Dalits despite the constitutional abolition of "untouchability" four decades earlier.

The potential of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, to bring about social change, however, has been hampered by police corruption and caste bias, with the result that many allegations of caste crimes are not entered in police records. Ignorance of procedures and a lack of knowledge of the act have also affected its implementation. Even when cases are registered, the absence of special courts to try them can delay prosecutions for up to three to four years. Some state governments dominated by higher castes have attempted to repeal the legislation altogether.

In 1957 the government of Sri Lanka passed the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act making it an offense to deny access to various public places to persons by reason of their caste. A 1971 amendment imposed stiffer punishments for the commission of offenses under the 1957 act. According to the U.N. Subcommission's working paper: "Initially there were some prosecutions in the North but there was a tendency for the police not to take action against violations. In a celebrated temple-entry case, the Act was challenged as interfering with customs and ancient usages that prohibited defilement of a Hindu temple by the entry of low-caste persons. This argument was rejected by the Supreme Court and Privy Council."134

Unlike India's constitution, Sri Lanka's 1978 Constitution does not provide for community-based affirmative action. It does however prohibit discrimination on the grounds of caste, including caste-based restrictions on access to shops, public restaurants, hotels, places of public entertainment, and places of worship of one's own religion. Despite these constitutional prohibitions, serious problems remain.

Prohibitions on the denial of fundamental freedoms to Nigeria's Osu community are part and parcel of the country's constitution and domestic laws. Legislation abolishing the Osu system has been in force since the 1950s, and constitutional provisions prohibit discriminatory practices and promote equal implementation of legal protections.135 Nigeria has also incorporated the African Charter on Human and People's Rights into its national legislation, strengthening its commitment on paper to end discriminatory practices such as the Osu caste system. However, these laws remain largely unenforced.

According to the 1984 report of an expert to the then-U.N. Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, slavery "as an institution protected by law has been genuinely abolished in Mauritania.... Nevertheless... it cannot be denied that in certain remote corners of the country over which the administration has little control certain situations of de facto slavery may still persist."136 Still many human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have pointed to Mauritanian government inaction in enforcing its own ban on slave-like practices.

In their oral submission before the fiftieth session of the U.N. Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities in 1998, Anti-Slavery International stated that, "the government does not have a pro-slavery policy, but its silence and inaction on this issue allow centuries-old caste servitude to continue with impunity."137 In a 1999 letter Human Rights Watch noted the following on the enforcement of laws against slavery:

The government has not taken any forceful steps to remove what it considers the "vestiges" or "after effects" (sequelles) of slavery. While the courts have upheld individual rights in a few cases, judges have failed to enforce systematically the laws abolishing slavery, in some cases returning "slaves" to their "masters" even though this relationship in theory has ceased to exist. Few lawyers are able and willing to appear in court to defend the rights of "slaves." There is no law providing for the practice of slavery or forced labor to be an offense; while provisions in the 1980 law for compensation to be provided to slave-owners (but not slaves) have never been implemented, encouraging an attitude among "masters" that they need take no action to ensure substantive freedom for their "slaves."138

The success of legislation to combat caste discrimination in Japan may be coming to an end. To counter various forms of discrimination against the Buraku population, the Japanese government instituted the "Law on Special Measures for Dowa Projects." This series of reform efforts had considerable success in improving housing areas for Buraku communities and increasing education and literacy rates among Buraku children. As a case in point, from 1963 to 1997, the enrolment of Buraku children in high school and public vocational schools rose from 30 percent to 92 percent, while university and junior college rates rose from 14.2 percent to 28.6 percent.139 With the Special Measures set to lapse in March 2002, civil rights activists in Japan worry that that progress will be halted and have urged the government to consider the need for further such legislation.140

7 See generally, Ainslie Embree, ed., Sources of Indian Tradition: From the Beginnings to 1800 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988); Pauline Kolenda, Caste in Contemporary India: Beyond Organic Solidarity (Menlo Park: Benjamin/Cumming Publishing Co., 1978); M. N. Srinivas, ed., Caste: Its Twentieth Century Avatar (New Delhi: Viking, 1996).

8 A caste system amongst Bali's predominantly Hindu population also mimics India's caste system in structure though not in severity. While people still self-identify as belonging to particular castes, and culturally abide by certain caste norms, the extent of discrimination based on caste is unclear.

9 For more on caste-based violence and discrimination in India, see Human Rights Watch, Broken People: Caste Violence Against India's "Untouchables" (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999).

10 According to a 1979 study, Punjabi Christians of the sweeper caste were also reportedly treated as untouchables in Pakistan. Historically, Punjabi Christians belonged to a low-caste Hindu group called the Chuhras. After the partition of India in 1947, many migrated to Pakistan where they took on occupations that others considered to be impure, such as sweeping and scavenging. They were regarded and treated as untouchables, as were those referred to as Musallis, untouchable converts to Islam. Sweepers were confined to live in segregated areas, such as the slaughterhouse neighborhood in Karachi. Such neighborhoods were extremely poor and squalid. Members of the sweeper and other untouchable castes were also forbidden from entering Muslim tea houses. Pieter H. Streefland, The Sweepers of the Slaughterhouse: Conflict and Survival in a Karachi Neighborhood (Assen, the Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1979), pp. 13 and 15. The status of these groups in modern day Pakistan is unclear.

11 Padmalal Bishwakarma, "Caste Discrimination and Untouchability Against Dalits in Nepal," paper prepared by the Society for the Liberation of Oppressed Dalit Castes, Nepal, for the Global Conference on Caste Discrimination, New Delhi, March 1-4, 2001.

12 Ibid.

13 U.S. Department of State, 1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Nepal (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, February 25, 2000). The Constitution describes Nepal as a "Hindu Kingdom," though it does not establish Hinduism as the state religion.

14 D.B. "Sagar" Bishwakarma, "General Comments of Country Report for the United Nations Convention for Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination," paper prepared by the Academy for Public Upliftment for the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Preparation of NGO Country Report Under the U.N. International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

15 Ibid.

16 Rajendra Kalidas Wimala Goonesekere, "Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Indigenous Peoples and Minorities" (New York: United Nations, 2001) E/CN.4/Sub. 2/2001/16, para. 38

17 "Nepal Prohibits Bias Against Untouchable Caste," The New York Times, August 17, 2001.

18 Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, "Fourteenth Periodic Reports of States Parties Due in 1996: India," CERD/C/299/Add.3, para. 7, April 29, 1996.

19 Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, "Fourteenth Report of States Parties Due in 1998: Nepal," CERD/C/337/Add.4, para. 22, May 12, 1999.

20 Ibid., para. 38.

21 Nireka Weeratunge, Aspects of Ethnicity and Gender Among the Rodi of Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka: International Centre for Ethnic Studies, 1988), p. 61.

22 Ibid., p. 77.

23 Ibid., p. 77.

24 Goonesekere, "Prevention of Discrimination" (New York: United Nations, 2001), E/CN.4/Sub. 2/2001/16, paras. 28-29.

25 In research conducted by Human Rights Watch in Sri Lanka in 1999, displaced members of the Kuravar minority, a non-Tamil tribal group, complained that their Tamil neighbors were preventing them from using a village water supply because they were viewed as low caste or "untouchable." Sri Lankan Tamil internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Trincomalee also complained when they were forced to live in close proximity to Tamils of Indian origin, whom they considered lower caste. Human Rights Watch interviews, April 1999.

26 Oddvar Hollup, "Caste Identity and Cultural Continuity Among Tamil plantation workers in Sri Lanka," Journal of Asian and African studies, vol. 28, nos. 1-2 (1993), pp. 79-81.

27 See Appendix D.

28 "Conférence mondiale sur le racisme: Les castes, autre forme d'injustice," Le Soleil, July 16, 2001, available at (accessed August 15, 2001). Translated from French.

29 Victor Dike, "The Caste System in Nigeria, Democratization and Culture: Socio-political and Civil Rights Implications," African Economic Analysis, available at (accessed March 22, 2001); Constitutional Rights Project, "Osu Caste Practice in South Eastern Nigeria," working paper; Igwebuike Romeo Okeke, The `Osu' Concept in Igboland: A Study of the Types of Slavery in Igbo-Speaking Areas of Nigeria (Nigeria: Access Publishers, 1986).

30 Constitutional Rights Project, "Osu Caste Practice in South Eastern Nigeria," p. 2. In order to appease village deities, Osu were traditionally "sacrificed" or dedicated to them. They were confined to living in homes at the edge of town, so as to bear the brunt of any misfortune that might befall the village. Felicitas Aigbogun, "Osu Caste System in Nigeria," working paper, p. 2. After being dedicated to a deity, a common practice was to cut off a small part of the ears or fingers of the Osu as an identification mark. Okeke, The `Osu' Concept in Igboland, p. 60. It was commonly thought that any contact with an Osu was contaminating, and any person who touched an Osu automatically became an Osu. Ibid., p. 31.

31 Constitutional Rights Project, "Osu Caste Practice in South Eastern Nigeria," p. 3.

32 Dike, "The Caste System in Nigeria."

33 Jerome Njikwulimchukwu Okafor, The Challenge of Osu Caste System to the Igbo Christians (Onitsha: Veritas Printing and Publishing, 1993), p. 33.

34 Ian Neary, "Burakumin in Contemporary Japan" in Michael Weiner (ed.) Japan's Minorities: The Illusion of Homogeneity (London: Routledge, 1997), p. 55.

35 International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism and Buraku Liberation League and Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute, "Reality of Buraku Discrimination in Japan: History, Situation, Challenge," February 2001, pp. 7-8.

36 Ibid., p. 10.

37 "Kyoto," Encyclopedia Britannica Online,,
(accessed July 18, 2001).

38 Leslie D. Alldritt, "The Burakumin: The Complicity of Japanese Buddhism in Oppression and an Opportunity for Liberation," Journal of Buddhist Ethics, vol. 7 (2000), available at (accessed March 28, 2001).

39 Yuka Ishikawa, "Rights Activists and Rights Violations: The Burakumin Case in Japan," paper prepared by the Buraku Liberation League for the Global Conference Against Racism and Caste Based Discrimination, New Delhi, India, March 1-4, 2001, available at (accessed May 21, 2001).

40 Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute and Buraku Liberation League, Buraku People (Japan: Discrimination Against Buraku People).

41 Stephanie Nolen, "Cross-caste teen lovers brutally slain Families charged in torture, killing of Indian couple who defied ingrained tradition," Globe and Mail (Toronto), August 9, 2001.

42 Ramdutt Tripathi, "Arrests Over India Caste Deaths," available at, May 8, 2000 (accessed May 18, 2001).

43 Bishwakarma, "General Comments of Country Report for the United Nations Convention for Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination."

44 Weeratunge, Aspects of Ethnicity and Gender Among the Rodi of Sri Lanka, p. 77. See also, Oddvar, "Caste Identity and Cultural Continuity," pp.79-81.

45 Ishikawa, "Rights Activists and Rights Violations."

46 Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute and Buraku Liberation League, Buraku People.

47 Sherman Lewis, "The First Senegal," available at (accessed May 16, 2001).

48 Constitutional Rights Project, "Osu Caste Practice in South Eastern Nigeria," pp. 23-24.

49 "Wolof," Encyclopedia Brittanica, available at (accessed May 21, 2001); "Senegal Culture," available at (accessed May 21, 2000); "Senegal Overview," available at (accessed May 21, 2001); Lewis, "The First Senegal."

50 Lewis, "The First Senegal." See generally, Abdoulaye-Bara Diop, La Société Wolof: Tradition et Changement. Les Systèmes D'Inégalité et de Domination. (Paris: Karthala, 1981).

51 Ibid. Griots occupied a special place within the caste system because of their traditional roles as oral storytellers, singers, and conflict mediators. Griots were at once celebrated for their storytelling skills and deemed polluting because of the tasks that they performed-including circumcision, funeral preparation, and midwifery. Contact with griots-particularly through their sweat-was seen as socially polluting. Benhill, J., Ph.D. Thesis in Anthropology, Yale University, (accessed July 26, 2001).

52 "Bangladesh Dalit Hindus Fight for Jobs and Homes," Indian Express, September 20, 2000.

53 Ibid.

54 P.P. Sivapragasam, "Indian Origin Tamils in Sri Lanka: An Oppressed People" (paper prepared by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights for the Global Conference Against Racism and Caste Based Discrimination/Occupation and Descent Based Discrimination Against Dalits, New Delhi, India March 1-4, 2001).

55 Goonesekere, "Prevention of Discrimination" (New York: United Nations, 2001) E/CN.4/Sub. 2/2001/16, para. 32

56 Ibid.

57 Ibid., para. 36.

58 Weeratunge, Aspects of Ethnicity and Gender Among the Rodi of Sri Lanka, p. 78.

59 Ibid., p. 79.

60 Neelesh Misra, "Even for Money, Cyclone Survivors Won't Clear Bodies," Associated Press, November 12, 1999.

61 Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute and Buraku Liberation League, Buraku People; Ishikawa, "Rights Activists and Rights Violations."

62 Kenzo Tomonaga, NGO Report in Response to the First and Second Report Prepared by the Government of Japan Concerning the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Japan: Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute, 2000).

63 Ibid.

64 Ibid.

65 Ibid.

66 Dexter Filkins, "Serfs Cast Off Chains in Pakistan," Los Angeles Times, August 20, 1999. According to a report by the Asian Development Bank, bonded agricultural laborers in Sindh province in Pakistan, known as Haris, hail from lower caste and "untouchable" groups of Indian origin. In lower Sindh, many live in "unregistered villages" and so have no political rights. Many are illiterate and often ignorant of the laws that are meant to protect them. Haris work as contract laborers, migrant workers, and sharecroppers. Under current systems, Haris can never receive compensation worth more than one-fourth of the crop that they have farmed. Asian Development Bank, "Sindh Rural Development Project (TA 3132-PAK) Final Report, Volume 1," October 2000.

67 Human Rights Watch, Contemporary Forms of Slavery in Pakistan (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1995), pp. 12-13.

68 Ibid., p. 66.

69 To ensure the sustainability of the practice of debt bondage, landowners in Pakistan have also been known to bribe teachers to stay at home, instead of teaching at schools attended by the children of bonded laborers. A 1999 report found that "Pakistani newspapers and education groups have documented at least 5,000 `ghost schools'-many of them in rural areas-where no students study because landlords often pay the teachers to stay at home." Filkins, "Serfs Cast Off Chains in Pakistan."

70 Ibid.

71 U.S. Department of Labor: International Child Labor Program, "Forced and Bonded Child Labor," available at (accessed May 16, 2001).

72 U.S. Department of State, 1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Pakistan, (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, February 2000).

73 Informal Sector Service Centre.

74 United Nations Development Programme, "Nepal Human Development Report 1998," available at (accessed August 15, 2001). The kamaiya bonded labor system is also prevalent in western Nepal. According to the UNDP report, kamaiyas are "mostly landless and homeless, and belong to the Tharu ethnic group.... A kamaiya is heavily burdened with debts and often remains as such for a long period. Debts are inter-generationally transferable. Frequently, therefore, a kamaiya household remains in bondage through multiple generations." Ibid. In July 2000, the Nepali government responded to years of sustained advocacy by local NGOs and issued a decree canceling all debts arising from the illegal practice of bonded labor. The decree liberated thousands of kamaiya laborers but it remains unclear whether haliyas were affected. Many kamaiyas were forcibly driven from their homes and dispossessed of all their belongings as a result of landlord retaliation. As of February 2001, a lack of government rehabilitation services had kept many displaced laborers in makeshift camps that lacked adequate shelter, water, food, and sanitation. "On to the Next Phase of the Kamaiya Mukti Andolan," Spotlight, available at, November 24-30, 2000, (accessed May 17, 2001); Ramyata Limbu, "Lacking homes, freed peasants squat on gov't land," Inter Press Service, February 9, 2001.

75 Human Rights Watch/Africa, Mauritania's Campaign of Terror: State Sponsored Repression of Black Africans (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1994).

76 Ibid., p. 79.

77 "Mauritania: Compensation and Benefit Legislation," Economic Research Institute: Human Resource Codes and Laws, available at (accessed March 22, 2001).

78 Ibid.

79 Hira Vishwakarma, "Reservations for Nepal's Dalits," Kathmandu Post, July 27, 1997.

80 Bishwakarma, "Caste Discrimination and Untouchability Against Dalits in Nepal."

81 Bishwakarma, "General Comments of Country Report for the United Nations Convention for Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination."

82 Bishwakarma, "Caste Discrimination and Untouchability Against Dalits in Nepal."

83 See Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, "Fourteenth Report of States Parties Due in 1998: Nepal," CERD/C/337/Add.4, Annex, May 12, 1999.

84 Ibid.

85 National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, Black Papers: Broken Promises and Dalits Betrayed (India: National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, 1999).

86 National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Highlights of the Report for the Years 1996-97 and 1997-98 (New Delhi: Government of India, 1999). In a school in Dhandhuka town, Gujarat, India, for example, a thirteen-year-old Dalit boy was singled out among several students playing with his Brahmin teacher's scooter. The teacher told the boy's father, a manual scavenger, that he was going to expel the child from school. After much pleading on the father's part, the teacher allowed the boy to stay in school on the condition that the father sign an apology letter. As the boy re-entered the classroom, the teacher threatened the child, saying he would not allow him to study or amount to anything in life. Later that evening the boy was found dead on a railroad track, his body cut into three pieces by a train. In his pocket was found the following suicide note:

I would not have felt bad if the teacher had abused me. I would not have felt bad if the teacher had slapped me. But because he humiliated my father, I felt very bad and finally when he told me he wouldn't let me study or progress in life, I felt extremely hurt. If I am not going to be able to study and progress in life what is the meaning of living my life?

Human Rights Watch interview with Martin Macwan, Director of Navsarjan Trust, January 2, 2001. Macwan retained a copy of the suicide note after the incident.

87 Weeratunge, Aspects of Ethnicity and Gender Among the Rodi of Sri Lanka, p. 79.

88 P.P. Sivapragasam, "Indian Origin Tamils in Sri Lanka: An Oppressed People," paper prepared for the Global Conference Against Racism and Caste Based Discrimination/Occupation and Descent Based Discrimination Against Dalits, New Delhi, India March 1-4, 2001.

89 Buraku Liberation League and Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute, Reality of Discriminated-Against Buraku People in Japan and the Challenge Aiming for the Elimination of Discrimination (Japan: Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute, 2001).

90 See Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, "Fourteenth report of States parties due in 1998: Nepal," CERD/C/337/Add.4, Annex, May 12, 1999. According to the report, "occupational castes" mostly indicate the so-called "Untouchables" of the Hills and Tarai (plains part of the country).

91 Human Rights Watch, Broken People, p. 28.

92 Ibid., p. 28.

93 Approximately one hectare.

94 Bishwakarma, "Caste Discrimination and Untouchability Against Dalits in Nepal."

95 National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, Black Papers: Broken Promises and Dalits Betrayed (New Delhi: National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, 1999).

96 Human Rights Watch, Broken People, p. 4.

97 Ibid., p. 5.

98 Bishwakarma, "Caste Discrimination and Untouchability Against Dalits in Nepal."

99 Hira Vishwakarma, "Reservations for Nepal's Dalits," Kathmandu Post, July 27, 1997.

100 Dalit NGO Federation (Nepal), "Nepal Alternative Country Report 2001," paper submitted to United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination for Asian Regional Preparatory Meetings on the Occasion of the World Conference Against Racial Discrimination 2001, Teheran, Iran, February 17-21, 2001.

101 Sivapragasam, "Indian Origin Tamils in Sri Lanka: An Oppressed People."

102 Large-scale clashes between caste communities in Tamil Nadu's southern districts in recent years, for example, have often been triggered by Dalits' efforts to draw water from a "forbidden" well or by their refusal to perform a delegated task.

103 Under the act, atrocities are defined to include forcing members of a scheduled caste or scheduled tribe to drink or eat any inedible or obnoxious substance; dumping excreta, waste matter, carcasses or any other obnoxious substance in their premises or neighborhood; forcibly removing their clothes and parading them naked or with painted face or body; interfering with their rights to land; compelling a member of a scheduled caste or scheduled tribe into forms of forced or bonded labor; corrupting or fouling the water of any spring, reservoir or any other source ordinarily used by scheduled castes or scheduled tribes; denying right of passage to a place of public resort; and using a position of dominance to exploit a scheduled caste or scheduled tribe woman sexually.

104 Human Rights Watch, Broken People, p. 9.

105 Ibid., p. 4.

106 Ibid., p. 5.

107 Ibid., p. 5.

108 Ibid., p. 3.

109 Sivapragasam, "Indian Origin Tamils in Sri Lanka: An Oppressed People."

110 Bishwakarma, "Caste Discrimination and Untouchability Against Dalits in Nepal."

111 Dalit NGO Federation (Nepal) "Nepal Alternative Country Report 2001."

112 Durga Sob, "Caste and Gender Discrimination Against Dalit Women in Nepal," Feminist Dalit Organization. See also Human Rights Watch, Rape for Profit: Trafficking of Nepali Girls and Women to India's Brothels (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1995).

113 Human Rights Watch, Broken People, pp. 150-152. In reviewing India's third periodic report to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, submitted under article 40 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in July 1997, the Human Rights Committee regretted "the lack of national legislation to outlaw the practice of Devadasi, the regulation of which is left to the states," and added that "it appears that the practice continues and that not all states have effective legislation against it." The committee emphasized that the practice was incompatible with the ICCPR and recommended that "all necessary measures be taken urgently" toward its eradication. Consideration of Report by India to the Human Rights Committee, CCPR/C/79/Add.81, August 4, 1997.

114 Human Rights Watch, Contemporary Forms of Slavery in Pakistan, p. 72. If women bonded laborers seek legal recourse after sexual assault, they are subject to a series of laws that equate rape with adultery, an offense for which they can be punished under Pakistan's Hudood Ordinances. See Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani, The Hudood Ordinances: A Divine Sanction? (Lahore: Rhota Books, 1990).

115 Human Rights Watch/Africa, Mauritania's Campaign of Terror, p. 84; "Mauritania: Compensation and Benefit Legislation," Economic Research Institute: Human Resource Codes and Laws, available at (accessed March 22, 2001).

116 Prakash Jain of Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University has analyzed major clusters of the Indian diaspora. The following summary appeared in an article in the weekly magazine India Today:

There are approximately 15-20 million Indians across the globe. Other than Nepal, this population has emerged in five different ways. The first arose in the mid-19th and early 20th century when the British took Indian labour to raise sugar plantations in countries like South Africa, Mauritius, Trinidad, Jamaica, Guyana and Fiji. This numbers about 3.3 million. The second cluster of about 1.5 million in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Myanmar has descended from kingani/maistry labour. The third category numbering over two lakh [200,000] is made up of free passage emigrants, largely from Gujarat, who went to Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. The fourth group comprises workers in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and other West Asian countries, now estimated at about three million. The final group comprises around four million emigrants to the US, UK, Canada, Australia and other western countries.

Jairam Ramesh, "Ubiquitous Indians: The Indian Diaspora Living in Two Worlds is an Essential Feature of Globalisation," India Today, available at, May 1, 2000 (accessed May 16, 2001).

117 Moses Seenarine, "The Persistence of Caste and Anti-Caste Resistance in India and the Diaspora," available at (accessed May 14, 2001); Madhulika S. Khandelwal, "Indian Organizations in New York City," available at (accessed May 17, 2001).

118 Seenarine, Ibid.

119 Naresh Puri, "Caste Splits Earthquake Appeal," BBC News, available at, February 26, 2001 (accessed May 17, 2001).

120 Ibid.

121 Sat Pal Muman, "Caste in Britain," available at (accessed May 17, 2001).

122 Ibid. The Chamars, traditionally a Dalit caste of leather workers in India, dominate the shoe industry in England. Ibid.

123 Sandy Rao, "India's Hidden Apartheid: The Caste System and Its Continuation to the Caribbean and America," available at (accessed May 14, 2001).

124 Seenarine, "The Persistence of Caste and Anti-Caste Resistance in India and the Diaspora."

125 Thomas Hylland Eriksen, "Indians in New Worlds: Mauritius and Trinidad," Social and Economic Studies, No. 1 (1992) available at (accessed May 15, 2001).

126 Ibid.

127 Most Malaysians of South Asian descent are Tamils whose ancestors came from South India. But the term "Indian" also includes Sri Lankans, northern Indians and people from elsewhere in South Asia.

128 Wani Muthiah, "Pride and Prejudice," The Star (Kuala Lumpur), November 24, 1997.

129 Rajakrishnan Ramasamy, Caste Consciousness Among Indian Tamils in Malaysia (Selangor, Malaysia: Pelanduk Publications, 1984), p. 46.

130 Muthiah, "Pride and Prejudice." In the political sphere, caste was a driving force in a lengthy dispute between two prominent Malaysian Indian politicians, All Malaysian Indian Progressive Front (IPF) president Datuk M. G. Pandithan, and Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) party president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu. In 1988, Pandithan, then the MIC's vice president, was expelled from the party for accusing the MIC of practicing caste-based politics that favored higher castes. "Pandithan's dilemma - to be or not to be in MIC," Utusan Express, January 26, 2001. In 1997, Vellu rejected Pandithan's claim that "casteism is a deep-rooted issue in Malaysia which is silently but strongly being practised." Pandithan was particularly critical of the existence of some twenty-two registered caste-based associations in Malaysia dedicated to assisting members of their own caste socially and financially. These associations sometimes impose caste-based restrictions on members, such as banning exogamous marriages. Muthiah, "Pride and Prejudice"; Ramasamy, Caste Consciousness among Indian Tamils in Malaysia, pp. 74-75.

131 U.N. Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, "Discrimination Based on Work and Descent," E/CN.4/SUB.2/RES/2000/4, August 11, 2000. See Appendix A.

132 Goonesekere, "Prevention of Discrimination," para. 26 (emphasis added).

133 "LS Concerned at `Purifying' Act by HC judge," Times of India (Bombay), July 23, 1998.

134 Goonesekere, "Prevention of Discrimination," para. 34.

135 Constitutional Rights Project, "Osu Caste Practice in South Eastern Nigeria," pp. 16-17; Dike, "The Caste System in Nigeria."

136 Marc Bossuyt, "Slavery and Slavery-like Practices" (New York: United Nations, 1984) E/CN.4/Sub. 2/1984/23, paras. 38-39.

137 Anti-Slavery International, "Persistence of slavery in Mauritania and repression of anti-slavery activists," oral statement to U.N. Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities (delivered by Abdel Nasser Ould Othman Sid' Ahmed, translated from French original) August 1998.

138 Human Rights Watch, letter to John Rosenbaum, Assistant USTR for Trade and Development, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, May 14, 1999. See also Kevin Bales, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).

139 Buraku Liberation League and Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute, Reality of Discriminated-Against Buraku People in Japan and the Challenge Aiming for the Elimination of Discrimination (Japan: Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute, 2001), p. 60.

140 Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute and Buraku Liberation League, "Buraku People," (Japan: Discrimination Against Buraku People).

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