Report on Recent Karachi Meeting Jan 17 – 18, 2006
Caste-Based Discrimination in Pakistan
1. Background information
Whereas the Dalits of India, formerly known as ‘untouchables’ have a long history of asserting their rights and fighting for improved livelihoods, this is not the case in Pakistan.
In India and Nepal Dalits and NGOs have formed national platforms to sensitize their societies and governments and assert their rights. The national Dalit platforms, concerned international organizations and solidarity groups have collectively through the International Dalit Solidarity Network raised their voices with the international community and demanded that caste-based discrimination be addressed as a major human rights challenge. In 2005, the United National Commission on Human Rights decided to adopt a decision of the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights to undertake a study on caste-based discrimination. Two special Rapporteurs, Prof. C. Chung and Prof. Y. Yokota were appointed to conduct the study and to prepare draft principles and guidelines for its elimination.
The main purpose of the visit and the workshop was to collate and discuss information about the discrimination of Dalits exercised in Pakistan and to start a dialogue with activists from Dalit communities and politicians, civil society and NGO persons. It was also planned to share experiences from Nepal and India about the work carried out for eliminating caste based discrimination in these countries.
The specific objectives of the workshop were:
I. To inform and involve Dalit representatives and communities; and NGOs on the Sub-Commission study process
II. For participants to share information and experiences on:
i. The situation of Dalits in Pakistan
ii. The situation of Dalits and other communities affected by discrimination based on work and descent
iii. National and international level advocacy
III. To start assessing research needs in support of the promotion and protection of Dalit rights in Pakistan and their inclusion in development; and identify possible resource institutions and NGOs.
2.3. Introduction to the UN Human Rights System
Prof. Chung presented the general UN Human Rights Framework, introduced and explained the role and interplay between the various actors; the governments, the charter and the treaty based bodies, the special mechanisms (such as the UN special rapporteurs); national human rights institutions, NGOs and affected communities.
Responding to questions from the participants Prof Chung said that mostly the National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) are supported by their own governments and work independently. She further said that only the Asia region has no Regional Human Rights Institution (RHRI), all other regions have their RHIs.
Prof Chung highlighted the developments in the UN leading up to current resolution on discrimination based on work and descent. On April 19, 2005 the United Nation’s Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution mandating two Sub-Commission members, Prof. Y. Yokota and herself, to conduct a comprehensive study.
Prof. Chung said that the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights had approved a decision to use the term “Discrimination on the basis of work and descent” to describe caste-based discrimination and analogous forms of discrimination. The Sub-commission had declared that such discrimination is a violation of human rights. The special Rapporteurs will prepare a report on the issue which will be submitted to ECOSOC/General Assembly.
The majority of the participants were not clear about the terms used; Dalits, Scheduled Caste, Hindu in the presentations of Prof. Chung and Rikke. In order to clarify the term to be used for Scheduled Castes of Pakistan in the workshop, the participants presented the following definitions, according to their knowledge and experiences:
• According to the Constitution of 1957, 40 castes of non-Muslims are regarded as Scheduled Castes. These are lower castes of Hindus.
• Dalits are the deprived communities which may include Hindu, Muslims, Christians, and Persians, etc.
• In the context of Pakistan, Dalits are the Scheduled Caste communities.
• Poor and deprived people of the society are considered as Dalits.
It was suggested that 435 Dalit sub-castes are found in South Asia but in the context of Pakistan, the declared Scheduled Castes are the Dalits and therefore, these Scheduled Castes will be considered as Dalits of Pakistan in the workshop.
It was pointed out that the Scheduled Castes Ordinance of 1957 was not followed by legislation.
3.1 The situation of Dalits in Pakistan
The second session was chaired by renowned advocate and human rights activist, Rochi Ram. Mr. Rochi Ram invited Surendar Valasai to present his paper on “The situation of Dalits in Pakistan”. Mr. Rochi Ram appreciated Surendar Valasi for presenting his comprehensive paper. Then the chair invited Mr. Bhuro Kolhi, advocate and Dalit activist to present his views. Finally Mr. Rochi Ram presented a paper on the situation of Dalits in Pakistan with the perspective of human rights in Pakistan.
The presenters highlighted the following information on caste-based discrimination:
Affected communities, number, location
Forms of discrimination and patterns of exclusion and marginalization
Constitutional, legal and policy measures to address caste-based discrimination
Shortcomings of existing laws and policy measures
Key problems – recommendations
3.2 Summary of findings
A summary of the information from the presentations as well as the discussions in the working groups and plenary is presented in the following:
41 Scheduled Castes are mentioned in the Scheduled Castes (declaration) Ordinance of 1957.
“Hindus and Scheduled Castes” are clubbed together under the Constitution. In official government statistics Scheduled Castes are registered as a group of its own but a large number also comes under the Hindu classification.
The largest Dalit groups are the Bheel, Kolhi, Meghwar, Oad, Lohar, Bagri, Balmeke, Jogi, Sansi, Rawra, Gahra, Kabutra, Guwaria, Sochi and Jathi. The majority of the Scheduled Caste population are found in lower Sindh (Tharparkar, Mirpurkhas, Umerkot, Hyderabad and Badin) and south Punjab, but some are also scattered thinly throughout Pakistan performing low status work as ‘Bangis’ in bigger cities.
In Sindh the following communities are found: Meghwar, Bheel, Kolhi, Oad, Lohar, Bagri, Balmikes, Jogi, Sansi, Rawra, Ghara, Kabutra, Guwaria, Sochi , Jatia; and in South Punjab:
Bheel, Meghwar, Bawirya, Balmeke.
Number of people affected
No accurate figure exists but the estimated number is between 2 and 3 million. It is assessed that between 70-90% of the Hindu population in Pakistan belong to Scheduled Castes.
The Scheduled Castes in South Asia have been discriminated against for thousands of years under the caste system of Hinduism, and the sanction of practices of untouchability and discrimination according to this ideology and the Manusmriti scriptures. The historical, social, religious and cultural past is similar to that of Dalits in India and so are the forms of discrimination suffered. The recent history with the partition from India in 1947 and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan did not change the situation for Scheduled Castes. The Hindus constitute a minority group in Pakistan, and the caste hindus, though small in numbers, dominate the minority politics and both Hindu upper castes and muslims have continued to dominate, exploit and discriminate the Scheduled Castes.
The location of Scheduled Castes mainly in Sindh and South Punjab near India reflects the border drawing at the partition. Due to tensions pertaining to the recurring conflict and wars between India and Pakistan, many upper caste people migrated to India. The Scheduled Castes did not have the means to do so resulting in the present day high percentage of Scheduled castes in these areas. Although high in numbers, they have not been able to assert their rights as citizens nor gain any political and societal influence.
Types of discrimination
Scheduled Castes/dalits of Pakistan are being discriminated against in every walk of life; socially, economically, culturally, religiously and politically. They are being denied their rights as equal citizens and do not enjoy any form of protection against discrimination. Offenders of atrocities and discrimination go unpunished. Scheduled castes are treated as impure and no laws has been passed prohibiting the practice of untouchability. Most if not all of the commonly known forms of discrimination against Dalits in India are also practiced in Pakistan.
The number of people living below the poverty-line from different Scheduled Castes in Pakistan was estimated by one of the presenters to be between 70 to 80 percent, who also stated that facts could only be obtained through a standard survey of their living conditions carried out by a reputable institution. A survey would in all likelihood document, that the prime root of the stark poverty among the Scheduled Castes remains caste-based discrimination and untouchability.
As stated by one of the presenters: “The Scheduled castes lead a miserable life, deprived of human rights and live in abject poverty”; and further: “We find untouchability, forced occupations, slavery, servitude, bonded labour to be too evident…. They are found in chains and fetters”. “About 80% of non proprietor agriculture tenants in Sindh province are from the Scheduled Castes.
Starvation is not unusual; a survey has found that a majority of those who enter into debt bondage don’t do it to get coverage for extraordinary expenditures such as medical assistance, but more often to survive the day.
Severe forms of discrimination against Scheduled Castes hence include forced occupation, slavery, servitude and bonded labour, which are all extremely common. Bondage in its harshest forms is found in Sindh (some estimates point at 1.7 million bonded labourers in Sindh alone), and about 80-90% of those in bondage are assessed to be from Scheduled Castes. The main exploitative sectors holding Scheduled Castes in bondage and slavery are agriculture (incl. so-called sharecropping), carpet/handicraft/weaving industry and brick kilns. Pakistan is on the ILO list of countries where there is the worst form of bonded labour and extensive use of child labour.
There is evident collusion between landlords, the police and administration and disrespect for the law for matters related to bonded labourers / Scheduled Castes resulting in a continuation and some say even expansion of this extreme form of human rights violation. The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act adopted in 1992; rules under this act issued in 1995, and a National Plan of Action for the Abolition of Bonded Labour have made little if any difference. Authorities at national and provincial levels continue to ignore the problem and district magistrates and law enforcement agencies in Sindh refuse to take action according to the law. The vigilante committees set up under the Bonded Labour Abolition Act are non-functioning.
The majority of Scheduled Castes people live in remote rural areas under feudal landlords working as labourers and peasant workers and as described above often in bondage. They are mostly landless and have very limited access to own land. Those who do acquire a little land are subject to harassment and threats. Kidnappings and forced conversions of young Scheduled Caste women occur frequently, reportedly with total impunity for the offenders and with the consent of the authorities. Scheduled Castes are subjected to the power of the landlords in all respects; and Scheduled Caste women are also subject to sexual harassment and rape.
Scheduled Caste villages are segregated from upper caste village, and Scheduled Castes are not allowed to use the same water sources as those used by upper caste Hindus and Muslims. Prohibition of access to public places and use of utensil, sharing of food, and other similar forms of denial of equal status and rights exist. Prohibition on intermarriage is strictly enforced.
Illiteracy rates are high; and few Scheduled Castes girls get education. Lack of access to schools, teacher absentism and low motivation, shortage of books and teaching remedies, the need to keep children at work in stead of in school, a tradition for keeping especially young girls away from any public life for fear of kidnapping leave Scheduled Castes with very limited access to schools and further education. It was felt that in areas with a majority of Scheduled Castes negligible efforts are made by provincial and local administration to cater for the communities. Education was seen a key priority by all participants.
No judge, magistrate or police officer has ever been appointed from the Scheduled Caste communities. No employment is reserved for them in any branch of government, state run corporation or the corporate sector at any level. Scheduled Castes are discriminated in the selection for employment in different governments departments and those who are employed suffer discrimination within the system. This is also the case for the few people with a Scheduled Caste background, who have reached a top position in the private sector.
Dalits also suffer in many instances from de facto disenfranchisement. During elections in 2002, those not persuaded by typical electioneering were routinely threatened and beaten by pro-government political party strongmen in order to compel them to vote for certain candidates. Already under the thumb of local landlords and police officials, Dalit villagers who did not comply, were victimized, beaten, and harassed.
Due to their status as minority second-class citizens, Scheduled Caste people sometimes unjustified become the target of the police and law enforcement agencies. Some of them are declared RAW agents (External Intelligence Agency of India) or have become victims of blasphemy laws without any justification.
Some Scheduled Caste communities (from for example the Kholis) do not have national identity cards, which cannot be issued to communities without permanent residence. (Kholis are often forced to migrate and live semi-nomadic existences). The consequences include lack of access to the minimum services and rights that citizenship right provides, including voter registration and access to obtain passports. Freed bonded labourers also have problems getting national identification cards as they rely on upper-castes to certify their ‘residences’ which they may not wish to do.
Due to caste discrimination affected people sometimes hide their identity or change their caste name.
Existing monitoring mechanisms to record cases of caste discrimination
There are no governmental or independent human rights mechanisms in place to monitor caste-based discrimination and cases of violations of against Scheduled Castes. No specific law has been passed to punish untouchability and caste discrimination and no public policies or governmental measures have been put in place to address or monitor this form of discrimination be it at national, regional or local level.
No organization in Pakistan works exclusively to address and monitor the situation of the Scheduled castes/Dalits.
The Scheduled Castes Federation of Pakistan works as a forum to raise awareness of issues concerning the Scheduled Castes of Pakistan, but it has no monitoring capacity nor programmatic activities.
The Human Right Commission of Pakistan and the National Commission of Justice and Peace through their work on human rights and specifically minority rights address some of the problems of the Scheduled Castes, but not comprehensively.
Pakistan Labour Research Institute has conducted several important surveys on the situation of bonded and forced labourers.
A Lahore based organization, ASR/IWSL, started work specifically on Scheduled Castes in 2004, and produced a booklet in Urdu (researched and written by Pirbhu Lal Satyani).
Thardeep Rural Development Organisation reaches out mainly but not exclusively to Scheduled Castes through its development programmes in Sindh.
Other local NGOs are focusing on freeing people from slavery; setting up safety nets and providing the basis for an alternative income to rescue people from getting into yet another bondage relationship. In this way they can be said to address and to some extent monitor some forms of discrimination.
In Pakistan no broader movement for the emancipation of the Scheduled Caste exists, as for example is the case in India. Grass-root mobilisation and organisation is limited.
Constitutional, legislative and administrative measures and their implementation
The Constitution of Pakistan guarantees equal rights of citizens and also prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste. However, there are no legal or administrative measures to address caste discrimination; no reservation for Scheduled Castes in the national parliament; the provincial assemblies nor local government.
An Ordinance was passed in 1957 called the Scheduled Castes (declaration) Ordinance with provisions for a 6 % job quota for Scheduled Castes in government administration and for two seats in the 217-member national assembly. The job quota was never implemented and the Ordinance was scrapped in 1998.
Lack of education is a major, if not the main, problem and access to education is one of the key solutions to a change in the situation for Scheduled Castes of Pakistan according to all participants.
Barriers to achieving justice and equality to Scheduled Castes
The lack of legislation and policy measures are evidently huge barriers. The barriers to achieving justice and equality exist at the level of the government and administration (nationally, regionally and locally); within the justice system and the law enforcement agencies; and in the lack of political initiatives to address the situation of Scheduled Castes, also their social and economic, and educational situation. The lack of justice by police and judiciary evidently perpetuates violations and offences against Scheduled Castes.
Further political participation is restricted, for example, access to political positions is sometimes forcibly denied by upper castes/other political players. Case stories on how Scheduled Castes’ political representation was suppressed by all means (including violence and false charges) were highlighted in the presentations.
The lack of educational opportunities and employment opportunities constitute other key barriers for justice and equality. With no quota system in employment and in parliament/assemblies for Scheduled Castes according to their population percentage, the possibility for political participation is limited.
Lack of involvement and participation to the members of Dalit communities in the planning of government schemes and programmes hinder a Scheduled Castes perspective and mainstreaming of their concern and priorities. It was also underlined that the high level of poverty and social deprivation and powerlessness among Scheduled Castes communities feed a negative spiral in terms of overcoming other barriers.
Low level of awareness of their rights and also opportunities, as well as lack of leadership and organization within Scheduled Castes communities was felt to limit the ability to mobilize for justice and change. Again it was pointed out that this is perpetuated by the high level of poverty and low levels of education.
Inter-caste discrimination is strong and appears to be as prohibitive as discrimination against Scheduled Castes as a group. Awareness about this phenomenon and the need to unite across sub-castes in order to be able to create any results was a key concern identified by the participants.
The media does not pay any attention to the issue but could potentially play an important role.
Various recommendations were proposed by the individual presenters and a composite overview is provided in the following:
- A census must be undertaken to assess the correct number of Scheduled Castes people
- A survey covering an evaluation of Scheduled Castes’ conditions in the fields of education, primary health, employment, land ownership, and other socio-economic factors
- Research on forms and mechanisms of caste-based discrimination
The Government should constitute a National Commission on Scheduled Castes as a statutory body to hear the complaints of caste and racial discrimination and take necessary actions;
Provision should be made to provide a remedy to complain before a tribunal against discrimination and failure to provide equal opportunity.
Legal Protection and Campaigns
The government should protect the Scheduled Castes from being threatened, exploited, victimized and provide easy access to legal remedies;
Agencies/mechanisms should be set up to monitor and protect against violations of such laws and international human rights conventions; (laws enacted such as the Tenancy Act and the Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act 1992, and some UN conventions and declarations have been recognized and adopted by the government, but they are not implemented).
A campaign should be undertaken to cover the concerned areas to secure Dalits the enjoyment of their civil rights to bring about the necessary social change. Issues of bondage, slavery and maltreatment should be highlighted in the campaign to create public awareness and opinion. A permanent commission could be set up to carry out the campaign.
The Government of Pakistan should allocate separate seats in regional assemblies and parliament for Scheduled Castes as per their population ratio;
Political parties must ensure due consideration to the issue of caste based discrimination and untouchability and make efforts to remove these where ever they are practiced; due representation to the Scheduled Castes in parties’ organizational structure and nomination to the senate and national assembly, provincial assemblies, and the district governments during elections must be given.
The Government should ensure justifiable presentation of the Scheduled Castes in national institutions and departments and jobs in both federal and provincial Governments; – some suggest a 6% job quota.
An agency should be set up to secure employment of the Scheduled Caste community.
Land should be allotted to landless Scheduled Castes peasants on a priority basis and ensure their ancestral lands fraudulently occupied by upper caste people; the proprietary rights of the plots Scheduled Castes are dwelling on since more than one generation;
Ensure education for Scheduled Caste and quality of education
Introduce “Human Equality” in the primary and secondary text books
Socio-economic development programmes should be initiated by both the Government and non-government levels with the support of international donors.
Representatives from Scheduled Castes communities should be involved in devising and implementing such programmes.
Federal, provincial and local governments must ensure a fair share of the budget and development initiatives to the Scheduled Caste communities especially in the social sector.
A separate fund should be created to assist the destitute, orphans, widows and poor individuals of Scheduled Castes under Pakistan Bait-ul-mal as per their population ratio;
Registered associations of Dalit castes should collaborate;
Awareness campaigns should be conducted: Documentation should be published and seminars meetings and conferences organised;
NGOs must employ Dalits;
Scheduled Caste youth should be involved in the work to mobilize and create awareness of the plight of Scheduled Castes;
Social inter-action must be promoted (untouchables suffer dual discrimination and are kept apart to constitute a separate and distinct entity);
Closer contact between the Scheduled Castes and non-Scheduled castes must be established and effective measures employed.
3.4 Plenary discussion
The following came out as points for discussion in plenary or as additional issues:
The correctness of the figures quoted in the papers was doubted by most of the participants and there was a general consensus that a census and research on Dalits and their situation were much needed.
The freed bonded labourers have lost their houses; they have left their villages and have to live in labour camps under very miserable living conditions.
The Constitution of Pakistan does not specify any punishment for one who practices untouchability and violates human rights
The elected Parliamentarians from Dalit communities do not promote the rights of their community in the Parliamentary Assemblies. They had remained inactive when they were in powers.
The deprived caste shall be given privileges in employment, education, politics, etc.
To ensure respect for their human rights all vulnerable groups should join hands and protest together.
MPs are often ‘landlords’ themselves or operate in close association with the landowners and exploiters of Scheduled Castes; their interest are mutual and hence there is no concern for the poor.
Kidnapping is a serious problem and there is no protection from the state. A workshop participant, Munno Bheel, narrated his story. He was working as a bonded hari in Sanghar district of Sindh in 1996. With the help of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) he was released from bondage together with 59 other haris. In 1998 the same ‘landlord’ kidnapped his mother, his wife, his brother, 2 sons and 2 daughters. They have not yet been released. All efforts have failed, even with strong support from HRCP using of all available local and national remedies, incl. charges, complaints and appeals with the police, public offices, judiciary and high level politicians. Anti-Slavery International had issued an appeal in 2000 and presently a Swedish NGO is involved in pressuring for their release.
Another example of kidnapping and forced conversion as narrated by a participant: “A girl from upper Sindh belonging to a Dalit community was kidnapped at gun point. After a few days with the kidnappers, she was presented before the magistrate in a court where she declared that she accepted Islam. If the custody of that girl had been given to heir parents after freeing from the kidnappers for few days she might not convert because she was pressurized and she took such step in fear. After getting relaxed from the fear of the captors, she decided to change her decision and wanted to come back to her parents but once again she was threatened with the murder of her parents and family members. Such stories are common in Sindh.
4.1 Research on Dalits in Pakistan
The existing research on Dalits in Pakistan is very insignificant and non-formal. There has been research/ surveys on bonded labourers by ILO and others, the child labour issue by TRDP, and in 2005 a booklet on Dalits in Pakistan by Pribhu Lal Satyani had been published. Analysis on social issues had been done by individuals, activists, and some NGOs.
There is a strong need to undertake research and there are a few good institutes which have the capability to do research on Dalits in Pakistan. These include:
• RAASTA Development Consultants
• PILER, Karachi
• TRDP (has mostly managed research – outsourcing to experts and researchers)
• Strengthening Participatory Organization
• Academia such as Social Works Departments of University of Karachi and Sindh
• Professional Research Institutes in Lahore and Islamabad
Before conducting the research, two things must to be assessed: Availability of resources for the research and time frame.
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