Committee on International Relations
U.S. House of Representatives
Henry J. Hyde, Chairman

CONTACT: Sam Stratman, (202) 226-7875, October 5, 2005

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India’s Unfinished Agenda: Equality and Justice for Victims of Caste System
 Smith Schedules Thursday Oversight Hearing

BACKGROUND:  Since independence, India has promised to bring equality to more than 150 million citizens who are defined as Dalits or untouchables and tribal peoples. While Dalits are generally ethnically indistinguishable from higher castes, deeply ingrained societal prejudices and practices cause them to become more likely victims of crime, violence, coercion, religious discrimination and persecution, sexual abuse and human trafficking. Often Dalits and non-caste tribal members do not report acts of violence and abuse for fear of reprisals or the inability to pay bribes as demanded by local police officials. While traditional notions of caste-defined interpersonal relationships are beginning to break down in modernized urban settings, caste still remains a key indicator of opportunity within India. Despite the Indian government’s extensive affirmative action policies, which aim to open government service and education to Dalits and tribes, most have been left behind by India’s increasing prosperity. Dalit women are particularly vulnerable because they are considered to be the very bottom of India’s complicated caste, gender and class-based hierarchical system. Dalit girls are often forced into prostitution as devadasis, female servants of god, a practice in which they are “married” to a deity or temple where they are forced to have sex with upper caste men; they are eventually sold into prostitution.  India’s current reformist government appears much more committed to ameliorating the serious human rights abuses perpetrated against Dalits and tribal peoples, but much, much more remains to be done.   

WHAT:                             Subcommittee Oversight Hearing:
                                         
India’s Unfinished Agenda: Equality and Justice for 200 Million Victims of the Caste System
                                          U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chair

WHEN:                             2:00 p.m. Thursday, October 6, 2005

WHERE:                           Room 2172 Rayburn House Office Building

WITNESSES:                   Udit Raj, Ph.D.,
                                           Chairman, All India Confederation of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Organization;

                                           Kancha Ilaiah,
                                           Professor of Political Science Osmania University, India;

                                           Indira Singh Athwale,
                                           All India Confederation of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Organizations;

                                           Joseph D’Souza, Ph.D.,
                                          
President, Dalit Freedom Network;

                                           T. Kumar,
                                           Advocacy Director Asia and Pacific, Amnesty International.

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