Indian human rights group wins Norwegian prize

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OSLO, Sep 20 (Reuters) A Norwegian human rights body, which has four times anticipated the Nobel Peace Prize winner with its own award, chose today an Indian group fighting for the rights of casteless people to receive its annual prize.

The Thorolf Rafto Foundation for Human Rights honoured India's National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) for promoting the rights of Dalits, a name adopted by India's 167 million people labelled ''impure,'' ''casteless,'' or ''untouchable.'' The foundation praised the NCDHR ''for its efforts to emphasise that the discrimination and oppression resulting from caste prejudice is a serious violation of international human rights''.

It acknowledged that the caste system is ''an intrinsic part of Hinduism, the world oldest religion''.

But it added: ''Millions of Indians are born into a social and cultural system which fundamentally conflicts with the notion that all human beings are born free with equal rights''.

The Rafto Foundation said that many people in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka faced similar discrimination based on their heritage, religion or profession.

The NCDHR says it fights for 260 million people across Asia.

''In the years to come, the cause of Dalits and similarly oppressed people, abused because of their descent, is something that will occupy those concerned with human rights across the world,'' NCDHR official Paul Divakar said, welcoming the prize.

Four Rafto laureates, Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi, East Timor's Jose Ramos-Horta, South Korea's Kim Dae-Jung and Iran's Shirin Ebadi, subsequently won the Nobel Peace Prize.

The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner will be announced on October 12 in Oslo. Only nominations received by a February deadline are considered for the Nobel prize, and the NCDHR was not known to be among them.

The Rafto prize, awarded yearly since 1987, comes with 8,985 dollars and is prsented in November.

REUTERS SKB RN1738

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