By Anuradha Nagaraj
CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Efforts to combat discrimination against India's lower castes, religious minorities and women must begin in the classroom, with children holding the key to ending deep-rooted prejudices, a human rights campaigner said.
According to the Amnesty International's annual report for 2015-16, gender and caste based discrimination and violence has "remained pervasive" in India, with increasing censorship and attacks on freedom of expression over the last year.
"Equality has to be taught in classrooms. We have to invest in fostering values of human rights," lawyer and human rights activist Henri Tiphagne told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Tiphagne, founder of the non-profit group People's Watch, which documents human rights violations in India and provides legal assistance to victims, is drafting a curriculum to teach primary school children ideas about human rights through games.
In a program first developed by People's Watch in 1997, human rights was integrated in the teaching of English, maths and science in schools in 18 Indian states. Around half a million children are now being taught about rights and discrimination in their classrooms.
"It's a good sign because 20 years back, human rights was a bad word. It had a negative connotation," Tiphagne said by phone from Madurai in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
India today has numerous laws to protect the rights of individuals with more than 100 institutions monitoring various facets of human rights across the country.
"And yet the violations are increasing and getting more sophisticated. Even in case of torture, the beatings are done in such a way that the evidence is lost or reduced," he said.
"But the biggest casualty in recent years has been the attacks on freedom of association, assembly and expression."
In 2015, charities came together to oppose the use of an opaque, "draconian" law on foreign funding by the Indian government to muzzle criticism of initiatives such as industrial projects affecting the poor and the environment.
"There is a clampdown on civil society but there is no question of giving up. And we need young people to take this struggle forward," said Tiphagne, who this year won Amnesty International Germany's 8th Human Rights Award.
"For that they need to understand the essence of equality in everyday life, starting from kindergarten."
(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)