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  • Low-caste communities continue to face threats of violence, eviction and withholding of wages, human rights groups say.

    Low-caste communities continue to face threats of violence, eviction and withholding of wages, human rights groups say. | Photo: Reuters

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Caste-based discrimination leads to extreme exclusion, dehumanization and economic impoverishment, according to a new U.N. report.

At least 250 million people worldwide still face appalling and dehumanizing discrimination based on caste and similar systems of inherited status, warned a new United Nations report.

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“This is a global problem affecting communities in Asia, Africa, Middle East, the Pacific region and in various diaspora communities,” said U.N. Special Rapporteur Rita Izsák-Ndiaye in a news release on Tuesday.

He also stressed that “caste-based discrimination and violence goes against the basic principles of universal human dignity and equality, as it differentiates between 'inferior' and 'superior' categories of individuals which is unacceptable.”

The term "caste" refers to a strict hierarchical social system often based on notions of purity and contamination. The expert report describes how people from "lower castes" are often limited to certain occupations which are often deemed "polluting" or menial by others, including manual scavenging, sweeping and disposal of dead animals.

Presenting a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Izsak Ndiaye stated that the stigma from caste carries over into many facets of life including access to justice, education, housing, political participation, and work.

The highest numbers of affected communities are concentrated in South Asia, particularly India and Nepal, according the report.

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“Unfortunately, in many cases, attempts to challenge these prohibitions or the unlawful consequences derived from caste systems, which are hereditary by nature, result in violence against caste-affected individuals and retaliation against their communities,” the special rapporteur said.

There have however been some positive developments, such as constitutional guarantees, legislation and dedicated institutions to monitor and overcome caste-based discrimination.

“I hope that my report will be used as an advocacy tool in supporting the efforts of caste-affected communities and others who are tirelessly working to relegate caste discrimination to history,” the U.N. official said.

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