Every year on March 21, a global movement gathers to fight prejudice and intolerance by marking the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
This provides an opportunity to explore the nuanced causes and consequences of modern racism, and renew an important commitment to combat discrimination.
Racial discrimination, beyond being a breach of human rights, has harmful effects on human health and well-being, and risks wider disruptions to social cohesion.
Racism is a reality and it is being perennially practiced and blatantly bloated in all societies across the geo-political spectrum in World Wide Web of equality, liberty and fraternity.
Racism attacks all-encompassing normative system and erodes all aspects of human values in life.
Primarily, racism is the most callous and conspicuous negation of human equality ordained by the collective wisdom in divinities, spiritualties and mundanities.
However, the citadels of racism are still alive and kicking in every nook and corner of the world and India is not an exception.
Brief History: International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination:
- The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on 21 March.
- On that day, in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid “pass laws”.
- Proclaiming the Day in 1966, the General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.
- In 1979, the General Assembly adopted a Programme of activities to be undertaken during the second half of the Decade for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination.
- The apartheid system in South Africa has been dismantled. Racist laws and practices have been abolished in many countries, and we have built an international framework for fighting racism, guided by the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
- The Convention is now nearing universal ratification, yet still, in all regions, too many individuals, communities and societies suffer from the injustice and stigma that racism brings.
Constitutional Provision against Racism in India:
- The Constitution of India is a document of high endowments that bequests civil liberties and human freedoms to all Indians to lead their lives in peace and harmony.
- Articles 14 and 15 are the most important guarantees ever envisaged by the Constitution of India whereunder Right to Equality that addresses the issues of discrimination and provide equal protection of laws in India.
- Article 14 further confers the Right to Equality before the law and equal protection of laws throughout the territory of India and Article 15 prohibits the discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
- However, the biggest irony against the menace of racism is that these rights are available to the citizens of India but only against the Indian State and not against the discrimination that is practiced and committed by private individuals.
- Moreover, Article 16 stipulates the equality of opportunity to all citizens of India. Further, Article 39 (a) gives rights relating to the means of livelihood sans discrimination.
New Forms of racism: Anonymity of the Internet:
Current forms of racism and discrimination are complex and often covert.
- Public attitudes to anti-racism have improved, as expressions of racist ideology have become less socially acceptable.
- Yet, the anonymity of the Internet has allowed racist stereotypes and inaccurate information to spread online.
- At the onset of the pandemic, traffic to hate sites and specific posts against Asians grew by 200% in the U.S.
- In India and in Sri Lanka, social media groups and messaging platforms were used to call for social and economic boycotts of religious minorities, amid false information accusing them of spreading the virus.
- Structural forms of discrimination, including micro-aggressions and everyday indignities, remain widespread.
- The use of new technologies and artificial intelligence in security raise the spectre of ‘techno-racism’, as facial recognition programmes can misidentify and target racialised communities.
- Prejudiced attitudes and discriminatory acts, whether subtle or overt, aggravate existing inequalities in societies.
- A study published by The Lancet drew attention to the social dimension of the COVID-19 pandemic and the greater vulnerability of ethnic minorities, who have been disproportionately affected.
- The World Health Organization has cautioned on the dangers of profiling and stigmatising communities that can lead to fear and the subsequent concealment of cases and delays in detection.
- Women and girls also carry a double burden of being exposed to racial and gender-based prejudices. Racial discrimination deepens and fuels inequality in our societies.
- To contribute to this important discussion and signify the need for urgent work, UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris hosted a Global Forum against Racism and Discrimination on March 22, 2021, in partnership with the Republic of Korea.
- The Forum gathered policymakers, academics, and partners to initiate a new multi-stakeholder partnership on anti-racism.
- The new proposed road map to tolerance calls for a multisectoral effort to tackle the root causes of racism through anti-racist laws, policies and programmes.
The way forward:
- UNESCO’s actions against racism through education, the sciences, culture, and communication offer an example of a way forward.
- UNESCO promotes the role of education in providing the space for young people to understand processes that sustain racism, to learn from the past, and to stand up for human rights.
- Through new approaches to inter-cultural dialogue and learning, youth and communities can be equipped with skills to eradicate harmful stereotypes and foster tolerance.
- UNESCO also offers master classes to empower students to become champions of anti-racism in their schools and communities.
- The International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities provides an additional platform for city-level planning and a laboratory for good practices in the fight against racism.
- Recent and new manifestations of racism and discrimination call for renewed commitments to mobilise for equality.
Racism will not be overcome with mere professions of good faith but must be combatted with anti-racist action.
A global culture of tolerance, equality and anti-discrimination is built first and foremost in the minds of women and men.
The constitutional construction of constitutionalism on human rights instil a sense of pride among We, the People of India.
The words of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan remain pertinent: “Our mission is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated.”