Exerpts of Ambassador (ret.) Scott H. DeLisi’s Remarks a the Consultation Program of the Global Forum Against Caste Discrimination on ensuring Dalit rights for Democracy, Dignity and Justice On the occasion of 52th international Day for elimination of racial discrimination
Aurora, Colorado, March 18th, 2017
“Thank you for the warm welcome, and thank you to Global Forum Against Caste Discrimination for allowing me to share a few thoughts on the occasion of the 52nd International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
It is my honor to be standing here with colleagues who care about the effort to end caste-based discrimination and racism but, even more, it is an honor to join hands with men and women who care about human dignity and who seek to make a difference in the world in which we live.
As someone who lived in South Asia for years, I saw the reality of caste-based discrimination. I felt compelled, as you do, to make an effort to address this unjust practice; a practice that disregards our common humanity and that violates the fundamental rights of all that are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
During my years of service in Nepal and elsewhere in South Asia I worked closely with many Dalit leaders and, from them, I learned about the tremendous societal prejudice facing members of their community. Particularly in rural areas, Dalits continue to struggle for equal rights. Dalits in Nepal – and throughout South Asia – are among the poorest members of society and lack the same opportunities – educational, professional, and economic – enjoyed by other citizens.
In some cases grinding poverty forces Dalit women into commercial sex work where they are at risk of disease, violence, and further societal ostracism but what are their options when the survival of their family is at stake. Dignity vs survival – a stark choice and one that is forced on them by those who refuse to see them as individuals with aspirations, but rather as beings consigned to a lesser status by a caste structure that steals their hope and dreams
The impact of this discrimination is of course devastating to the affected communities but, what people often fail to realize, is that it imposes costs on society as a whole as well. Those who condone or practice discrimination on the basis of caste fail to see that the nation loses a hidden treasure when the skills and intellect of so many citizens go untapped and unrealized. And any nation that fails to care for such a large segment of its population, that rejects their basic humanity and denies them fundamental protection of law and basic respect, has failed in its first duty to its people and is diminished as a society.
Overt and institutionalized discrimination, such as we see when dealing with caste-based discrimination, puts us on a slippery slope and creates a mindset that makes it easier to diminish any group with whom we disagree. “They are different, they aren’t as pure as us, as smart as us, as deserving as us. ” You’ve seen it. You’ve felt it. And you know it is not right.
These are issues that Americans feel quite strongly about. And we should. We have our own bitter legacy in American history of institutionalized slavery and overt discrimination. We fought a bloody civil war in the United States to rectify the slavery issue, and we are still fighting today to address discrimination in its many forms. You heard issues discussed throughout the recent presidential campaign about institutionalized racism and today there are debates about “white privilege” that raise troubling reminders of past times.”
“In the past 50 years there has been progress on some of these concerns in Nepal as well. A 1963 revision to the civil code made untouchability illegal and decreed all Nepalis to be equal under the law. And, while I served as Ambassador in Nepal, the parliament passed the Caste-based Discrimination and Untouchability Act in 2011, which went even further and criminalized caste-based discrimination.”
“In Nepal, our Embassy fought for Dalit rights, and we practiced what we preached. Within our Embassy we had long-standing programs to promote ethnic diversity in our hiring practices and to prevent discrimination from occurring. Our hiring policies focused on making sure that the people in the Embassy reflected the rich mix of Nepal’s population. We also had an internship program that brought in interns from disadvantaged communities and backgrounds — not as an act of charity but because we valued the importance of diversity and knew that it would make us stronger, better, and more effective in all we did.”
“That new Nepal has no room for caste-based discrimination, and the youthful partners who will shape that future comprise an audience that you must engage and work with. You need the energy and vision of youth who are willing to be constructive agents of social and political change……….”