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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

UN Special Rapporteur Rita Izsák Says Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims are Casts in Sri Lanka

(Rita Izsák, Image from face book)

United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák in her report to the on going 31sst session of Human Rights Council says that  three  parallel  caste  systems (Sinhala,  Sri  Lanka  Tamil  and  Indian Tamil  groups) coexist in Sri Lanka. The government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has responded tot his completely inaccurate statement and invited her to visit Sri Lanka to find out the real situation.

Making a statement at the 31st session the GoSL has said that “especially in the context of factually incorrect reference to Sri Lanka in the Report, we welcome the visit of the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues to Sri Lanka, as such a visit will certainly enable the Special Rapporteur to engage with all concerned in my country to obtain the factual position in this regard and accurate information which will clarify and clear misconceptions pertaining to the areas mentioned in this report”

The paragraph of the Rita Izsák’s report on Sri Lanka follows:

In  Sri  Lanka,  three  parallel  caste  systems (Sinhala,  Sri  Lanka  Tamil  and  Indian Tamil  groups) coexist; caste  discrimination  is  found  in  each  one.  Within  the  Sinhala system,  lower-caste  groups,  including  the  Rodi,  have  low  levels  of  education,  suffer extreme  poverty  and  lack  of  assets  and  are  under  continued  pressure  to  pursue  hereditary caste  occupations, such as removing dead animals and dirt.(19)

In the  Sri  Lanka  Tamil caste system, the  bottom  stratum is  comprised  of  a  myriad  of  groups  collectively  labelled  as Panchamar and regarded as “untouchables”. Population displacement due to war and the 2004 tsunami  has  resulted  in  a  large  internal  displaced  population  in  the  Jaffna  peninsula, with  a  disproportionate  presence  of Panchamar groups  now  in  camps for  internally displaced persons.(20)

The caste system among Indian Tamils traces its origins to their arrival to the  plantations  as  indentured  labourers  during  the  colonial  era  and  presents  unique characteristics,  which  differ  from  the  traditional  Indian  caste  system.  Some  features  are common, however, including  the  avoidance  of  inter-caste  marriage  and  the  link  between lower castes and greater levels of poverty.

19 Kalinga Tudor Silva and others “Caste discrimination and social justice in Sri Lanka: an overview ” working paper series, vol. III, No. 6 (Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, 2009), pp.3–6.

20 Paramsothy Thanges and Kalinga Tudor Silva, “Caste discrimination in war -affected Jaffna society” in Kalinga Tudor Silva and others, Casteless or Caste -blind? Dynamics of Concealed Caste Discrimination, Social Exclusion and Protest in Sri Lanka (International Dalit Solidarity Network Indian Institute of Dalit Studies and Kumaran Book House, 2009), pp.50-77.

The government statement further says that ” it is completely incorrect to state that people in Sri Lanka are under pressure to follow caste based employment. Untouchability, as stated in the report is not a feature one would find in Sri Lankan society at all. The term “Dalit” has no relevance whatsoever in the context of Sri Lanka. There is no community or caste identified by such nomenclature in Sri Lanka. As pointed out in Paragraph 110 of the Report, the Constitution of Sri Lanka in Article 12(2) specifically prohibits discrimination based on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any such grounds”




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