by Rikke Nöhrlind
The situation of Dalits in India and Nepal and the overall situation of Dalits in other caste-affected countries.
(more information can be found on www.idsn.org).
4.1 The situation of Dalits in India
The largest number of Dalits is found in India. The official statistics on Scheduled Castes indicate a population of 170 million; unofficial estimates go up to 260 million. Dalits in India are assigned menial work as their ‘traditional occupation’: Leather workers, cobblers, manual scavengers (safai karamcharis); sweepers; cremation workers; drummers to bring news of the dead; removers of dead animal carcasses; and similar jobs. Most of the Dalits are landless agricultural labourers.
The forms of discrimination are many and include segregation in housing; prohibition on inter-dining and inter-marriage; notion of purity / pollution; separate tumblers for Dalits in tea stalls and discriminatory seating arrangements and separate utensils in restaurants; segregation in seating and food arrangements in village functions; widespread impunity for crimes and atrocities committed against Dalits by non-Dalits; the Devadasi system of ritualised temple prostitution of Dalit women; prohibition on entry into dominant castes’ houses; violence and sexual harassment against Dalit women; discrimination in access to health services; discrimination against and segregation of Dalit children in schools, e.g. in sitting arrangements; restricted access to water taps and to land; discrimination in access to public places, e.g. post offices, public health centres, roads, public transport, government schools, public bathing ponds, etc.
In spite of a range of constitutional provisions and acts, the government has failed to protect Dalits and to safeguard their rights. Impunity for offences and atrocities against Dalits and disrespect for the law remain among the main barriers for a change in the situation of Dalits in India. The constitutional and legal provisions in India include:
• Constitution Provisions (Articles 14 to 25, 46, 330, 332, 335, 338)
• Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955
• Child Labour (Prohibition and regulation) Act 1986
• Minimum Wages Act 1948
• Protection of Human Rights Act 1993
• National Commission for Women Act 1990
• Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules 1995
4.2 National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR)
The movement for Dalit rights has a long history in India and a multitude of organizations, including Dalit organisations, NGOs, movements and people’s organizations deal with caste discrimination in various ways. One of the most important initiatives in recent years has been the establishment of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.
The NCDHR was formed in 1998 by a coalition of Dalit human rights women and men activists, NGOs, academicians, and people’s organizations and institutions from different parts of India. The NCDHR was conceptualised at a workshop, reviewing the implementation of the SC/ST Act, in Bangalore, along with Human Rights Watch. NCDHR set out to end untouchability and casteism in both the government and civil society.
Since its inception, the NCDHR has organised a series of national level consultations, led a campaign “Caste Out Caste” and produced a manifesto and a charter of Dalit Human Rights. NCDHR has addressed the government and the state level administrations, the international human rights community, the United Nations and civil society organizations calling for recognition, protection and promotion of Dalit rights as human rights.
Importantly, in 1999 NCDHR produced comprehensive documentation on caste based discrimination in India , “Black Paper: Broken Promises and Dalits Betrayed” based on official Government records, national Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes’ reports and studies across the country of the status of Dalit human rights and an indictment of the State for the denial of Dalits’ rights in six key areas: livelihood, education, land and labour, gender equity, reservations and employment, and life and security.
Several memorandums have been sent to the Government and relevant commissions, and efforts made to initiate a dialogue with both politicians and state administration. Since 2000 NCDHR has organised various national public hearings on Dalit human rights violations; highlighting forms of caste discrimination and atrocities. In connection with the World Social Forum held in Mumbai 2004 NCDHR organised the Dalit Swadhikar Rally, which reached out to millions of Dalits and non-Dalits covering nearly 30,000 km and 20 Indian states.
The main, present activities of NCDHR include:
A Dalit Human Rights Monitoring Program: Dalit Human Rights Activists across the country have been trained in monitoring human rights violations, preparation of fact finding reports and in providing support in immediate interventions.
A Program for Dalit Rights to strengthen Dalit Human rights bodies at state level.
Dalit Legal Interventions and legal advocacy for protecting Dalit Human Rights
Campaigns for Reservation in Private Sector and to stop Violence against Dalit Women
Documentation on discrimination and atrocities against Dalits and lobby at state level, nationally and internationally
Further information on NCDHR see www.dalits.org
4.3 The Situation of Dalits in Nepal
There are about 25 Dalit sub-castes in Nepal and their population constitute approximately 4.5 million (21% of the total population). In Nepal the term Dalit is fully accepted and promoted by Dalit NGOs as the term that shall be used officially.
Forms of discrimination are many and include:
Segregated habitations; notions of purity and pollution, low/ inferior status of Dalits; prohibition of sale of milk and running of tea stalls, hotels or restaurants. Dalits are excluded from the army, the administrative and diplomatic services, and political structures; they are denied free access to public places, water taps, schools and temples. Impunity for atrocities committed against Dalits is common; social boycott is used as a method to punish Dalit community; enforcement of non-paid duties; discrimination at workplaces, e.g. in dining and accessing water points. No Dalits are employed in policy and the judiciary and only recently have they started to be accepted in the army.
• Untouchability was declared illegal in 1963 in the Civil Code, but was not made punishable until the Constitution of Nepal, in 1990, declared caste discrimination as a punishable offence.
• No legislation exists to enforce this constitutional ban. Though Arts. 11 & 26(10) of the Constitution of Nepal call for equality in Nepalese society, these provisions are not enforced.
• National Dalit Commission has been set up in 2002 to monitor State’s compliance with international instruments as regards Dalits.
4.4 The Dalit NGO Federation
The Dalit NGO Federation (DNF) in Nepal was established in 1996 as an umbrella organization with about 200 members. DNF is a registered organisation with many programmes, covering areas such as advocacy and lobby; documentation on caste discrimination and various related themes; capacity building support to membership organizations; monitoring of Dalit human rights and legal protection and litigation. DNF advocates for reservation in employment and education
DNF is supported by major bilateral agencies (including DFID and DANIDA). DNF has also been able to establish a good working relationship with some UN agencies. Dalit media organizations and information networks are fairly strong; and radio programmes effectively are used for awareness raising and discussions on caste discrimination.
DNF seeks to promote proportional representation and to counter both inter-caste discrimination. On DNF’s initiative an assessment was made of the recruitment policies of UN agencies present in Nepal with a view to removing barriers to Dalit employment. Research commissioned by DNF has shown that only 2-3% of development funding in Nepal is directed to Dalits.
A research report prepared by the Center for Global Justice and Human Rights, New York University, has documented that caste is a central, but hidden, issue in the outgoing conflict in Nepal, and that Dalits are victimized by both sides of the conflict.
Another interesting initiative from Nepal is a cross-party white paper in which 13 political parties declared that they would combat caste based discrimination within their own party ranks, as well as at national level. This initiative came from the Lawyers Association against Untouchability (LANCAU).
4.4 The International Dalit Solidarity Network
IDSN which is a coalition between national advocacy groups in South Asia, national Dalit Solidarity Networks in Europe and USA and international human rights and development organisations.
The objectives of IDSN are to:
• Ensure global recognition of Dalit Human Rights
• Fight caste discrimination and similar forms of discrimination by raising awareness and building solidarity
• Influence policies of governments, international bodies and institutions, including the UN, EU and multilateral bodies
• Facilitate the international advocacy of the Dalits and other caste-discriminated communities
• Monitor enforcement and implementation of anti-caste discrimination measures
The national advocacy groups currently consist of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights in India, the Dalit NGO Federation of Nepal and the Human Development Organisation of Sri Lanka, as well as the Buraku Liberation League of Japan (represented through IMADR).
Dalit Solidarity Networks have formed in the US, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, France, Denmark and Sweden. The solidarity networks consist of development and human rights organisations and committed individuals, and they work nationally to create awareness of caste discrimination and to influence government policies.
International Associates are international human rights and development organisations concerned with caste discrimination. The international associates currently include: Human Rights Watch; IMADR, International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism; Lutheran World Federation; Anti-Slavery International; Franciscans International; Minority Rights Groups International; Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative; The Asian Human Rights Commission; ICMICA/ Pax Romana; and FORUM-ASIA and World Council of Churches.
Members must of course endorse the aims and objectives of the IDSN, and active involvement in carrying out IDSN actions plans is also a requirement to all members. Furthermore, members must demonstrate a genuine representative role within their countries.
New national platforms and networks can become members on the basis of the same criteria, provided that they have been formed with the primary purpose of pursuing Dalits rights work; caste discrimination or discrimination based on work and descent and that they have a national level scope of work. The applying body/federation must consist of a network or coalition of no less than four organisations or groupings, whereof at least three must be nationally recognised. The applicant shall provide information to the IDSN about the nature of its work, structure of network/platform, constituency, aims and objectives and in what form contributions can be made to the work of IDSN.
Governing bodies of IDSN
The highest governing and decision making body of the IDSN is the Council. Each member of IDSN has one representative in the Council, though with the exception that NCDHR has two due to the key role of this organisation and the fact that India has by far the largest population of Dalits. The Council further has representatives of international associates and advisors with a special contribution to make, though only members have the right to vote at meetings. The Council meets at least once a year. The Council appoints four members to serve in the Executive group, and in addition the IDSN Coordinator is an ex-officio member.
The importance of IDSN in the international perspective to influencing UN as per following:
UN and other multilateral bodies
Being a rights based network, the IDSN considers the UN to be important because international standards, principles and guidelines for human rights are established with the UN. Governments are obliged to report to UN mechanisms to the extent that they are party to treaties. Furthermore, UN bodies and agencies are influential in their respective operations in-country and internationally.
IDSN facilitates input, contributions and participation of Dalits/other affected communities to relevant UN events; organize meetings, conferences, hearings and other events, provide documentation/reporting on caste discrimination; lobby experts and governments and builds alliances with other groups. Among other things, this is done by providing input to country reviews in treaty bodies such as CERD through so-called shadow reports and to submit input, documentation and cases to special procedures. IDSN has for example engaged with the UN Special rapporteurs on Contemporary Forms of Racism, on the Right to Education, on the Right to Housing and the Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders.
Currently, support for the Sub-Commission process and the two Special Rapporteurs appointed by the Commission of Human Rights to carry out a study on discrimination on the basis of work and descent is a main component of this programme. Activities include facilitating input from civil society, providing research and documentation and organising workshops with relevant actors to engage with the Special Rapporteurs.
The IDSN carries out lobby and advocacy with EU institutions to influence policies and programmes on development aid, trade, political and human rights dialogue with affected countries and EU’s stance in international forums such as the Commission on Human Rights. Thus IDSN interventions target both parliamentarians and officials in Brussels, and EU Representations in affected countries as well as member states.
Networking and Co-ordination
Activities under this program include ensuring an information flow among members, organizational strengthening, building alliances with affected groups and ad hoc lobbying as opportunities arise in new areas. Dalit Solidarity Networks lobby their governments simultaneously to ensure maximum pressure, and work with news media as well as support production of documentaries, exhibitions, conferences, etc. to reach out to the general public and public institutions with the message that caste discrimination is a major human rights problem that must be addressed.
The Private Sector program seeks to influence the corporate sector, with a special emphasis on Western companies with engagement in caste-affected countries, to include the issue of caste in their Corporate Social Responsibility policies. A key tool is the Ambedkar Principles, a set of employment principles developed by the network (available at www.idsn.org/ICCBD.html).
IDSN does not fund national level activities or organizations; provide scholarships or implement projects or programs at country level.
International Consultation on Caste based discrimination
In December 2004, IDSN and the Dalit NGO Federation organised a three day Consultation on caste discrimination in Kathmandu. It brought together government representatives, UN experts / agencies, National Human Rights Institutions, Dalit leaders/ reporters/NGOs, Multi- and bilateral donors, Dalit victims, Private sectors, International NGOs, IDSN members – solidarity bodies and the media in order to explore measures to promote implementation of relevant laws, regulations, policies and recommendations to end caste-based discrimination as a key human rights responsibility of governments, civil society and the international community.
The Consultation had adopted the Kathmandu Dalit Declaration which contains the Consultation’s recommendations to governments of caste-affected countries, National Human Rights Institutions, the United Nations, aid agencies, the European Union, financial institutions, transnational corporations and NGOs. The Kathmandu Dalit Declaration is a challenge to decision-makers to be in solidarity with the victims of caste abuse around the world. Rikke recommended that attention be given to this document for inspiration and recommendations (www.idsn.org/ICCBD.html).
Finally Rikke said that bringing an end to caste discrimination would be the human rights’ victory of this century and reduce the poverty suffered by hundreds of millions of people dramatically.
Most of the raised questions were regarding the clarification of some points in the presentation but one question remained largely un-answered: “Is there any example of the steps taken for eliminating the issue of inter-caste discrimination?” There are initiatives in India to learn from and DNF has made it a priority to address inter-caste discrimination by ensuring fair representation it is own representative organs and in staff composition.