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2020 Projects

Caste in International Law

Ben Gellman ’22
Major: History

Ben Gellman ’22

Major: History

Faculty Collaborator: Purvi Mehta, History

My research focused on how caste appears in international law. The background and context of the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) in 1965, was a crucial part of this understanding; the term ‘descent,’ which appears in Article 1 of ICERD, is used as the basis for international prohibitions on caste-based discrimination and other analogous forms of discrimination. Beginning with the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s (CERD’s) 1996 application of the term ‘descent’ to caste in India, the criteria of ‘descent-based’ discrimination and discrimination based on ‘work and descent’ have been used in international forums like the 2001 World Conference against Racism and the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights to group discriminatory systems of inherited class and occupational status. To better understand the use of the term ‘descent’ in ICERD, I researched the historical context of ‘descent,’ which was part of the Indian delegation’s amendment intended to help clarify the concepts of nationality and national origin, in ICERD. The term ‘descent’ appearance in the Indian Constitution, in a list that also includes the term ‘caste,’ and in British “Government of India Acts” spanning from 1833 to 1935 can help inform further analysis of the relationship between ‘descent’ and ‘caste’ in international law and in South Asia.

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