By Francis Wong
Hong Kong, 7 June (ENI)--Asian human rights advocacy groups say the recent stoning to death of an Indian couple after one of them was deemed to have married someone from the lowest caste is a is a "grim reminder" of how strong the caste system still is in the world's second-most populous nation.
The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission said in a message sent to ENInews on 28 May that the death of Swapna Reddy, raised in a Hindu upper caste family, and her husband Sunkari Sriniwas offers more proof of, "the stark reality of the continuing practice of caste-based discrimination and caste prejudices in India".
The Asian commission said the couple was stoned to death on 26 May following strong opposition by Reddy's family to their marriage. The husband, Sriniwas, was a Dalit, people once deemed to belong to the "untouchable" caste.
Six people were arrested after the slayings, including the parents of Reddy, according to the online news site India-server.com on 28 May.
India has enacted laws to counter caste-based discrimination that dates back 3000 years, but the AHRC said, "Though India boasts about some of its senior bureaucrats, a former president, chief ministers and constitutional court judges, including the former chief justice, as members of the Dalit community, in reality, the effect has been only symbolic.
"The fact that the parents of a woman went to the extent of stoning their own daughter to death for marrying an untouchable Dalit, underlines the fact that mere legislation will not end caste-based discrimination," the commission said.
The AHRC said India is both "defiant and sensitive" to national and international criticism on everything related to caste-based discrimination, while refusing to show "sensitivity in dealing with the issue at the domestic level".
Bijo Francis, the programme officer of the South Asia Desk of the AHRC/Asian Legal Resource Centre, told ENInews on 1 June that the "caste system is one of the [most] cruel violations of human rights, and it is very typical in India and throughout Asia".
He said that churches have a key role to play in addressing the social ill, including by providing education, care for the people who suffer, and struggling for justice.
Sunita Suna, the Asia-Pacific regional women's coordinator of the World Student Christian Federation, told ENInews the "caste system is a shameful thing" that needs to be denounced by all churches.
"It is not easy to uproot the caste system, it involves power politics in the society," said Suna. "Therefore, all the churches and movements in India should come out and speak out publicly against the system."
Stressing the role of local and grassroot efforts, she appealed to international communities and Christian groups to support Indian churches in the struggle against the system.
The International Dalit Solidarity Network marked its tenth anniversary on 10 March, saying that in the struggle for Dalit rights there have been some gains in international momentum, including an endorsement by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
"Much, however, remains to be done if one of the world's most serious human rights issues, which affects 260 million people, is to be eliminated," Tutu had said in March. "In 2001, I noted that India was at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid and expressed the belief that the Indian people would want to end the scourge of caste discrimination.
"I still hope that this is so, and I strongly urge the Indian government and my own government to endorse international efforts to end the practice of 'untouchability', which is a blot on humanity. Such support would be a boost to the struggle for Dalit rights, not only in India, but all over the world," said Tutu. [630 words]
[COURTESY TO ENI AS SOURCE]