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The Caste System influences lives in South Asia

Although caste based discrimination is prohibited in the constitutions of India and its neighbouring countries, over 3000-year-old tradition is difficult to weed out.

The caste is acquired by birth and cannot be changed even if education and financial success would change the walk of life. Caste defines working possibilities, marriage and social life. One thing above all is a taboo: having a meal with people from other caste groups is considered impossible.

The most important matter separating people is the impurity level. Four fifths of Indian people are above that level. People below the level are the casteless known as dalits who are considered untouchable and impure.

The companies working in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan have the responsibility to get adequate information on the caste system and the caste position of their employees. The most typical form of caste discrimination takes place in employment. The casteless are not even considered for the job.

Another way of discrimination against dalits is to pay them less for their work. Third way of discrimination is offering the casteless jobs that are dangerous and considered menial. Also services offered by the employer, such as housing, health care and education, often discriminate against the casteless, unless particularly overlooked.

The International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) works to reduce the discrimination against dalits. The organisation has developed checklists and other tools for companies operating in countries that have a caste system to prevent caste-based discrimination in the workplace. Finnpartnership’s Developing country database now includes the following IDSN material:

– Ambedkar Principles - Principles and Guidelines to address Caste Discrimination in the Private Sector.

– Dalit Discrimination Check - a tool for companies operating in countries that have a caste system. The tool helps to prevent caste based discrimination in business context

– Information packages on the position of the casteless in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka as well as in South Asia in general.

The Dalit Solidarity Network operating in Finland happily gives more information on the issue.

Mikko Malkavaara
Dalit Solidarity Network, Chairperson
mikko.malkavaara@diak.fi

Published 02.11.2011