An international conference on discrimination in India's caste system, held in New Delhi, has called upon the Indian government and the international community "to end this crime against humanity."

The New Delhi conference, organized by the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), also demanded that the issue be put on the agenda of the United Nations conference on racism, to be held in South Africa at the end of August. Some delegates claimed that the Indian government was taking action to ensure that the caste system was kept off the U.N. conference agenda.

The main victims of the caste system are India's 180 million Dalits, whose status is considered so low that they do not even have a caste. Dalits, along with tribal people, are officially referred to as members of "scheduled castes and scheduled tribes."

Caste prejudices against Dalits are widespread in India. In many areas Dalits live in segregation from the upper castes, even though India's rich classes rely on the labor of the scheduled castes. Many menial and degrading tasks are reserved for Dalits.

"The participants of the Global Conference strongly condemn caste (occupation and descent based) discrimination and the practice of untouchability—which is the source of immense human suffering and the cause of gross human rights violations," said the declaration from the conference, held from March 1 to 4.

Sponsored by three dozen Indian and international groups, the conference was held "in preparation" for the U.N. World Conference Against Racism—Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance" (WCAR). Several church groups, including the National Council of Churches in India, sponsored the New Delhi conference.

"Our objective is to create greater visibility ...

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