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International Law

The Hathras Case, Caste Discrimination in India and International Law

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ILO/A. Khemka

Over six months ago in September 2020, a 19-year-old Dalit woman was brutally gang-raped by the “upper-caste” men in Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh, and a month later succumbed to her injuries in a hospital in Delhi. Despite insidious efforts of impunity by the state, the accused were arrested. However, the family including other Dalits in the village continue to experience the endemic of caste discrimination. The village remains divided along the caste lines with “lower-castes” living on the periphery struggling to fight against the pernicious system.

Caste discrimination and violence emanate from the orthodoxy of the Indian caste system that is held as sacrosanct. It refers to the classification of people into four groups or Varnas: the Brahmins on the top, which consists of priests and teachers, followed by the Kshtriyas or the warriors, the Vaishiyas or the merchants and the last group the Shudras considered as outcastes. Shudras traditionally referred to as ‘untouchables’, now collectively known as Dalitsare singularly positioned at the bottom of the caste hierarchy. They are marginalised on the pretext of maintaining status quo in the society and are forced to live under deplorable conditions with little or no access to health, education and sanitation. Their socio-economic vulnerability and lack of political voice increase their exposure to potentially violent situations while simultaneously reducing their ability to escape.

In the similar vein, the question that writ large is, how long would the scourge of the caste system traumatise the Dalit community that makeup16.2% of India’s total population. Being relegated to the bottom of the class, caste and gender hierarchies, they form a majority of the landless labours and manual scavengers and their vulnerability is appropriated by those in power. The reason why the Hathras Case allured a lot of controversies was that the state agencies played an essential role in shielding perpetrators and launching fake propaganda of victimisation. This reaffirmation of the upper-caste hegemony by the state violates the domestic law as well as India’s obligation under International law. Hence, it becomes imperative to understand the relationship between caste and racial discrimination against the backdrop of international law.

Hathras Case and Violation of International Law

Violence against Dalits especially women  is used as a tool to inflict political lessons and crush dissents and labour movements for transgressing the caste hierarchies. The Hathras Case of Uttar Pradesh is one of such adversities that reveal a perilous side of the Indian social apparatus and the subsequent pattern of impunity. Despite the constitutional guarantee against any form of discrimination specified under the domestic law and the ratification of international covenants on racial discrimination, gender equality and human rights. Such incidents underscore India’s louche stand against discrimination both nationally as well as internationally.

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) 1965 as substantiated by India, under its Article -1 states that discrimination based on descent falls under the ambit of ‘racial discrimination’. Hence, applies to matters of caste discrimination also. In the Case of Hathras, there was a serious breach of the convention on various grounds by the police and the government. For instance, the Police did not take cognisance of the rape for eight days after the incident despite the request of the family and was reluctant to help when the victim was taken to the police-station .The family was also exhorted by the district magistrate to change their statement. This misconduct goes against Article 5(a) and Article 5(b)of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) which reads that victim should receive equal treatment before the organs administrating justice and must receive protection against violence respectively. Also, the lack of effective remedies provided by the state breaches Article 6 of the convention.

Further, the police allegedly cremated the victim without the involvement of her family members. It breached Article 2, para 2 of the CERD, which obligate state parties to take measures for prevention and enjoyment of human rights. The Government and police wrought an abhorrent pattern of impunity and State-sponsored Propaganda as they adamantly declined to accept if rape was actually committed simply based on the fact that the forensic report revealed the absence of semen in the body of the deceased. This was approbated despite the fact that forensic evidence can only be found up to 96 hours after the incident and that sample for the case was collected after eleven days. Thus, such impunity to the ‘upper caste’ men by the state organs seriously violates Article-2 and 4 of CERD that state shall not discriminate against the victim and condemn any sort of propaganda based on superiority of the caste respectively.

Such deleterious conduct by the state is not only in dissonance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination but also tramples upon various instruments of International Human Rights Law especially the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It also grossly violates the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Dalit Women stand at a point of intersectionality in the society, their subordination and violence unleashed upon them result from both sexual and caste discrimination. Hence, this ‘double jeopardy’ thesis exacerbates their plight.

These actions of the transgression of international law invite state responsibility as codified by the International Law Commission. The Commission elucidates that any such act is attributable to the state if it is committed by State organs, whether central or federal. The International Convention on All the Forms of Racial Discrimination also reflects on the application of domestic law. As Supreme Court of India has held in the case of Karmaa Dojree v. Union of India that the provisions of the Convention are of significance to protect fundamental human rights and must be read into constitutional guarantee against racial discrimination. Thus, what makes the Hathras Case, one of the most controversial cases is the grave violations of international responsibilities and demonstration of ‘upper-class hegemony’ by the state and its agencies.

Caste Discrimination as Racial Discrimination

A major point of contention while ruminating on caste discrimination as racial discrimination is, albeit in the language of international law caste discrimination is seen as the violation of the civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights, there is an absence of its legal recognition.

In 1996, India for the first time highlighted that the term ‘descent’ mentioned under Article 1(1) of the convention does not cover the domain of caste, thus, schedule castes and schedule tribes in India does not come under its purview. However, CERD in its Concluding Observations(2007) stated that the term ‘descent’ not only refers to ‘race’ but also include discrimination against members of community based on various forms of social stratification. The Human Rights Council in its report conducted by the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (2009) considered caste discrimination as‘ discrimination based on work and descent’. Likewise, the report of the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues (2016) attempted to explicate caste discrimination and emphasised that ‘while many caste-affected groups may belong to the same larger ethnic, religious or linguistic community, they often share minority like characteristics, particularly their non-dominant and marginalised position and the historic use of the minority like framework to claim their rights.’ This informs us that international law categorically view caste discrimination as a segment of racial discrimination. However, India continues to deny the applicability of the term ‘descent’ as inclusive of caste. The lacuna in the recognition of ‘caste’ as a separate identity and India’s denial despite negation is often considered to have a detrimental impact on a significant population of the country.

Caste- based violence similar to the case of Hathras lead to gross breach of international law and yet less often attract state responsibility. This is due to the fragmented legal response and absence of explicit reference to caste discrimination in international law. It is asserted that a comprehensive legal response could help overcome these challenges, not to say that the application of international law would ensure complete protection against caste-based discrimination and violence. But, at least could provide for international solidarity and subsequently better solutions.

Conclusion

The Hathras case of Uttar Pradesh like other similar cases of violence against Dalit women unveils the perennial notion of caste discrimination and the abhorrent pattern of state impunity to the perpetrators. These acts of caste discrimination are strongly condemned under international law, to which India has often reflected on quite evasively. Notably, various international conventions enunciating international law refers to such discrimination as a violation of human rights, albeit have not specifically mentioned it and has continued to reaffirm that discrimination based on descent includes discrimination based on caste. Hence, Dalits face huge challenges at the international level to draw adequate attention to caste discrimination and consequently bear perpetual atrocities at the national level. Therefore, Dalits aspire for international solidarity to consider varying factors of discrimination and a comprehensive legal response to bring caste-based discrimination into international focus.

I am a student pursuing a Post-graduate degree in Political Science major from Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow, India. My research interests include Gender Policy, Human Rights and International Relations. I have presented papers at various international conferences and have written articles in several online journals.

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International Law

Carl Schmitt for the XXI Century

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For decades, the scholars of international relations have confused the term “New World order” in the social, political, or economic spheres. Even today, few scholars confuse the term with the information age, internet, universalism, globalization, and  American imperialism. Unlike the complex categorization of the New World Order, the concept of the Old World Order was purely a juridical phenomenon. However, from standpoint of modernity, the term New World order is a purely ideological and political phenomenon, which embodies various displays such as liberal democracy, financial capitalism, and technological imperialism.

In his Magnus Opus “The concept of the Political”, Carl Schmitt lauded a harsh criticism on liberal ideology and favored competitive decisionism over it. This is why according to Schmitt’s critics; the whole text in “The concept of the political” is filled with authoritarian overtones. Nonetheless, the fact cannot be denied that it was the radical political philosophy of Carl Schmitt that paved the way for the conservative revolution in Europe. Even today, his writings are being regarded as one of the major contributions to the field of political philosophy from the 20th century.

Throughout his major works such as “Nomos of the earth”, “the Crisis of Parliamentary democracy”, “The concept of the Political” and “Dictatorship”, Carl Schmitt frequently employs unadorned terms such as ‘actual’, ‘concrete’, ‘real’, and ‘specific’ to apprize his political ideas. However, he advances most of the core political ideas by using the metaphysical framework. For instance, in the broader political domain, Carl Schmitt anticipated the existential dimension of the ‘actual politics’ in the world today.

On the contrary, in his famous work “The Concept of the Political” readers most encounter the interplay between the abstract and ideal and, the concrete and real aspects of politics. Perhaps, understanding of Schmitt’s discursive distinctions is necessary when it comes to the deconstruction of the liberal promoted intellectual discourse. However, the point should be kept in mind that for Schmitt the concept of the political does not necessarily refer to any concrete subject matter such as “state” or “sovereignty”. In this respect, his concept of the political simply refers to the friend-enemy dialectics or distinction. To be more precise, the categorization of the term “Political” defines the degree of intensity of an association and dissociation.

In addition, the famous friend-enemy dialectics is also the central theme of his famous book “The Concept of the Political”. Likewise, the famous friend-enemy distinction in Schmitt’s famous work has both concrete and existential meaning. Here, the word “enemy” refers to the fight against ‘human totality”, which depends upon the circumstances. In this respect, throughout his work, one of the major focuses of Carl Schmitt was on the subject of  “real Politics”. According to Schmitt, friend, enemy, and battle have real meaning. This is why, throughout his several works; Carl Schmitt remained much concerned with the theory of state and sovereignty. As Schmitt writes;

I do not say the general theory of the state; for the category, the general theory of the state…is a typical concern of the liberal nineteenth century. This category arises from the normative effort to dissolve the concrete state and the concrete Volk in generalities (general education, general theory of the law, and finally general theory of the knowledge; and in this way to destroy their political order”.[1]

As a matter of the fact, for Schmitt, the real politics ends up in battle, as he says, “The normal proves nothing, but the exception proves everything”. Here, Schmitt uses the concept of “exceptionality” to overcome the pragmatism of Liberalism. Although, in his later writings, Carl Schmitt attempted to dissociate the concept of “Political” from the controlling and the limiting spheres but he deliberately failed. One of the major reasons behind Schmitt’s isolation of the concept of the political is that he wanted to limit the categorization of friend-enemy distinction. Another major purpose of Schmitt was to purify the concept of the “Political” was by dissociating it from the subject-object duality. According to Schmitt, the concept of the political was not a subject matter and has no limit at all. Perhaps, this is why Schmitt advocated looking beyond the ordinary conception and definition of politics in textbooks.

For Schmitt, it was Liberalism, which introduced the absolutist conception of politics by destroying its actual meaning. In this respect, he developed his very idea of the “Political” against the backdrop of the “human totality” (Gesamtheit Von Menschen). Today’s Europe should remember the bloody revolutionary year of 1848 because the so-called economic prosperity, technological progress, and the self-assured positivism of the last century have come together to produce long and deep amnesia. Nonetheless, the fact cannot be denied that the revolutionary events of1848 had brought deep anxiety and fear for the ordinary Europeans. For instance, the famous sentence from the year 1848 reads;

For this reason, fear grabs hold of the genius at a different time than it does normal people. the latter recognizes the danger at the time of danger; up to that, they are not secure, and if the danger has passed, then they are secure. The genius is the strongest precisely at the time of danger”.

Unfortunately, it was the intellectual predicament at the European stage in the year 1848 that caused revolutionary anxiety and distress among ordinary Europeans. Today, ordinary Europeans face similar situations in the social, political, and ideological spheres. The growing anxieties of the European public consciousness cannot be grasped without taking into account Carl Schmitt’s critique of liberal democracy. A century and a half ago, by embracing liberal democracy under the auspices of free-market capitalism, the Europeans played a pivotal role in the self-destruction of the European spirit.

The vicious technological drive under liberal capitalism led the European civilization towards crony centralism, industrialism, mechanization, and above all singularity. Today, neoliberal capitalism has transformed the world into a consumer-hyped mechanized factory in which humanity appears as the by-product of its own artificial creation. The unstructured mechanization of humanity in the last century has brought human civilization to technological crossroads. Hence, the technological drive under liberal democratic capitalism is presenting a huge threat to human civilizational identity.


[1] Wolin, Richard, Carl Schmitt, Political Existentialism, and the Total State, Theory and Society, volume no. 19, no. 4, 1990 (pp. 389-416). Schmitt deemed the friend-enemy dialectics as the cornerstone of his critique on liberalism and universalism.

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International Law

Democratic Backsliding: A Framework for Understanding and Combatting it

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Democracy is suffering setbacks around the world. Over the past decade, the number of liberal democracies has shrunk from 41 to 32. Today, 34 percent of the global population lives in 25 countries moving in the direction of autocracy. By contrast, only 16 countries are undergoing a process of democratization, representing just 4 percent of the global population. Reflecting these troubling trends, USAID Administrator Samantha Power, during her confirmation hearing, highlighted democratic backsliding – along with climate change, conflict and state collapse, and COVID-19 – as among the “four interconnected and gargantuan challenges” that will guide the Biden Administration’s development priorities.

However, defining “democratic backsliding” is far from straightforward. Practitioners and policymakers too often refer to “democratic backsliding” broadly, but there is a high degree of variation in how backsliding manifests in different contexts. This imprecise approach is problematic because it can lead to an inaccurate analysis of events in a country and thereby inappropriate or ineffective solutions.

To prevent or mitigate democratic backsliding, policymakers need a definition of the concept that captures its multi-dimensional nature. It must include the actors responsible for the democratic erosion, the groups imperiled by it, as well as the allies who can help reverse the worst effects of backsliding. 

To address this gap, the International Republican Institute developed a conceptual framework to help practitioners and policymakers more precisely define and analyze how democratic backsliding (or “closing democratic space”) is transpiring and then devise foreign assistance programs to combat it.  Shifting away from broad generalizations that a country is moving forward or backward vis-à-vis democracy—which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to derive specific solutions—the framework breaks closing democratic space into six distinct, and sometimes interrelated, subsectors or “spaces.”

Political/Electoral: Encompasses the arena for political competition and the ability of citizens to hold their government accountable through elections. Examples of closing political or electoral space range from fraudulent election processes and the arrest or harassment of political leaders to burdensome administrative barriers to political party registration or campaigning.

Economic: Refers to the relationship between a country’s economic market structure, including access and regulation, and political competition. Examples of closing economic space include selective or politically motivated audits or distribution of government licenses, contracts, or tax benefits.

Civic/Associational: Describes the space where citizens meet to discuss and/or advocate for issues, needs, and priorities outside the purview of the government. Examples of closing civic or associational space include harassment or co-optation of civic actors or civil society organizations and administrative barriers designed to hamper civil society organizations’ goals including limiting or making it arduous to access resources.

Informational: Captures the venues that afford citizens the opportunity to learn about government performance or hold elected leaders to account, including the media environment and the digital realm. h. Examples of closing informational space consist of laws criminalizing online speech or activity, restrictions on accessing the internet or applications, censorship (including self-censorship), and editorial pressure or harassment of journalists.  

Individual: Encapsulates the space where individuals, including public intellectuals, academics, artists, and cultural leaders– including those traditionally marginalized based on religious, ethnicity, language, or sexual orientation–can exercise basic freedoms related to speech, property, movement, and equality under the law. Common tactics of closing individual space include formal and informal restrictions on basic rights to assemble, protest, or otherwise exercise free speech; censorship, surveillance, or harassment of cultural figures or those critical of government actions; and scapegoating or harassing identity groups.

Governing: Comprises the role of state institutions, at all levels, within political processes. Typical instances of closing the governing space include partisan control of government entities such as courts, election commissions, security services, regulatory bodies; informal control of such governing bodies through nepotism or patronage networks; and legal changes that weaken the balance of powers in favor of the executive branch.

Examining democratic backsliding through this framework forces practitioners and policymakers to more precisely identify how and where democratic space is closing and who is affected. This enhanced understanding enables officials to craft more targeted interventions.

For example, analysts were quick to note Myanmar’s swift about-face toward autocracy.  This might be true, but how does this high-level generalization help craft an effective policy and foreign aid response, beyond emphasizing a need to target funds on strengthening democracy to reverse the trend? In short, it does not.  If practitioners and policymakers had dissected Myanmar’s backsliding using the six-part framework, it would have highlighted specific opportunities for intervention.  This systematic analysis reveals the regime has closed civic space, via forbidding large gatherings, as well as the information space, by outlawing online exchanges and unsanctioned news, even suspending most television broadcasts.  One could easily populate the other four spaces with recent examples, as well. 

Immediately, we see how this exercise leads to more targeted interventions—support to keep news outlets operating, for example, via software the government cannot hack—that, collectively, can help slow backsliding.  Using the framework also compels practitioners and policymakers to consider where there might be spillover—closing in one space that might bleed into another space—and what should be done to mitigate further closing.

Finally, using this framework to examine the strength of Myanmar’s democratic institutions and norms prior to the February coup d’etat may have revealed shortcomings that, if addressed, could have slowed or lessened the impact of the sudden democratic decline. For example, the high-profile arrest of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in December 2017 was a significant signal that Myanmar’s information space was closing. Laws or actions to increase protections for journalists and media outlets, could have strengthened the media environment prior to the coup, making it more difficult for the military to close the information space.

A more precise diagnosis of the problem of democratic backsliding is the first step in crafting more effective and efficient solutions. This framework provides practitioners and policymakers a practical way to more thoroughly examine closing space situations and design holistic policies and interventions that address both the immediate challenge and longer-term issue of maintaining and growing democratic gains globally.

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International Law

Authentic Justice Thus Everlasting Peace: Because We Are One

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The ceasefire in the Israeli-Palestine conflict is a good thing. We thank God for it. Be it between two individuals or institutions or nations or the internal colonial and colonized, war does not do anything except cause more immediate or future mass misery and human destruction. Our continued memories of our interpersonal and international and internal colonial and civil wars and the memorials we erect to remember them recall and record wounds and pains we never get over. 

So it becomes a bothersome puzzle as to why we human beings still just don’t get that war like oppression leads to nowhere except to more human devastation. And we should have learned by now but have not that peacemaking like ceasefires mean nothing without justice.

 It is the reason why I constantly find myself correcting those who stress Peace and Justice.No Justice No Peace is more than a cliche.It is real politic emotionally, economically, socially, and spiritually.

Our American inner cities like those in every continent where culturally different and similar people live cramped impoverished lives and nations and colonial enclaves with such unequal wealth remind us of their continued explosive potentialities when peace is once again declared but with no justice.Everyone deserves a decent quality of life which not only includes material necessities but more importantly emotional and spiritual freedoms and other liberations.Not just the victors who conquer and rule and not just the rich and otherwise privileged.

 And until such  justices are  assured to everyone peacemaking is merely a bandaid on cancerous societal or International conflictual soars which come to only benefit those who profit from wars which are bound to come around again when there is no justice and thus peace such as  family destroying divorce lawyers, blood hungry media to sell more subscriptions , arms dealers to sell more murderous technologies, politicians needing  votes so start and prolong wars, and military men and women seeking promotion while practicing their killing capacities.

So if those of us who devoutly practice our  faiths or our golden moral principles,  let us say always and pray and advocate justice and peace always  as a vital public good  and  do justice then lasting peace in our personal lives and insist that national leaders, our own and others do the same in their conduct of international affairs and affairs with those who are stateless in this global world. 

All such pleading is essential since we are all brothers and sisters in the eyes of God who created all of us  in God’s image as one humanity  out of  everlasting divine love for all of us so we should love each other as God loves all of us  leading to desiring justice and thus lasting peace for each and every one of us.

This is difficult for those in international affairs to understand who take more conventional secular approaches to historical and contemporary justice and peace challenges as if our universal spiritual connectivennes  ( not to be confused with the vast diversity of organized religions)as human beings which makes us all brothers and sisters has no relevance. But if we are going to find true enduring peace we have no alternative but to turn our backs on increasingly useless secular methods which go either way, stressing peace then justice or justice then peace and understand how much we must begin to explore and implement approaches which we look at each other as spiritually connected brothers and sisters in which it is the expectation that peace only comes and lasts when  through the equal enjoyment of justices for every human being, we restore our universal kindred rooted in the everlasting love of God and thus for each other, no matter the different ways in which we define God or positive moral principles which originate in understandings that we human beings in all our diversities are one and thus brothers and sisters.

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