THE MARGINALIZED: Internationalizing Dalits’ rights


Dalits in Nepal have suffered immensely due to the age-old caste-based discrimination which has not only forced them to live undignified lives but has also deprived them of having a say in state affairs. This has led to a growing dissent among Dalits, with people from this community fighting for their rights since a long time. Despite the continuous struggles, Dalits continue to be deprived of their basic human rights.

As the movement is gaining ground in the country, the plights of Dalit community in Nepal have now become the subject of international scrutiny as well, with many international organizations throwing their hats in support of this Nepali community.

One such development is the recent South Asian parliamentarians’ meet which concluded in Kathmandu this week. The members of parliament from Nepal, India and Bangladesh came together to discuss the practices of caste-based discrimination in the region and came up with the Kathmandu Declaration following the conclusion of “South Asia Parliamentarians’ Conference on Dalit Concerns: Enabling Equity and Inclusion,” held in Kathmandu on December 8.

In its Declaration, the South Asian Parliamentarian Forum on Dalit Concerns (SAPFDC) has expressed its solidarity with around 260 million Dalits in the world, of whom about 210 million have South Asia as their home. Recognizing the Dalits’ contributions to the freedom struggles and in nation building throughout the region, the Declaration hailed Dalit youth in particular, as they have gradually and increasingly become aware of their rights and entitlements, and have begun to articulate them without fear.

Despite many efforts, however, Dalits continue to face caste-based discrimination and violence and are denied their rights to decent livelihood and just wages, quality education and adequate healthcare, as SAPFDC has said in the Declaration, adding that Dalits have been deprived of effective participation in governance institutions and legitimate promotion in government employment.

“Considering the vast progress of humanity in science and technology, education and healthcare, communication and connectivity, we cannot keep quiet and be spectators to this situation,” it further said, adding, “We state unambiguously that we are with our Dalit sisters and brothers in being their powerful voice precisely because of the obligation they have placed on our shoulders as their elected representatives and their spokespersons.”

The day-long conference called for the recognition from the States of the region of people discriminated against on the basis of caste, and provide them with necessary benefits.

One of the major issues discussed, and later adopted in the Declaration, was the reservation for Dalit community. It urged the governments to provide reservation at all levels of governance, including parliaments, state legislatures and local governance, in proportion to their population percentage in the respective countries, and give due recognition to the rights and entitlements of Dalit women in all areas.

It further called for appropriate policies and legislations to safeguard the rights to livelihood, security of life and property, education and employment, land and housing, entrepreneurship and asset building and enact legislations for separate budgetary allocations in proportion to the population of the Dalit communities in the respective countries.

The parliamentarians, who have signed in the Declaration, include Thirumavalan of India, newly-elected parliamentarians of Nepal Dal Bahadur Sunar and Ram Dayal Mandal, and Israfil Alam, Ruby Rahman and Apu Ukil of Bangladesh.

EU resolution
The issue of Dalits and caste-based discrimination is not only limited to South Asian countries, as even the European Parliament recently endorsed a resolution to express their serious concern for the plight of the people who have been discriminated against on the basis of their caste.

The European Parliament passed a resolution on October 10 this year against the caste discrimination with regard to international human rights conventions, including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and General Recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It adopted the resolution in connection to the draft UN Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination based on Work and Descent, published by the Human Rights Council, and in regard to the serious concerns, observations and recommendations of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights over caste discrimination.

It clearly mentioned that this caste discrimination is an outcome of a system of rigid social stratification which is prohibited by international human rights law as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the CERD, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child and International Labour Organisation Convention No 111.

Despite the steps taken by the governments of some caste-affected countries to provide constitutional and legislative protection and introduce special measures against caste discrimination and untouchability, caste discrimination continues to be widespread and persistent, affecting an estimated 260 million people worldwide, according to the EU resolution.

“Caste-based discrimination exists in numerous countries across the globe, with the highest number of victims being found in South Asia. However, there are large concentrations of victims in other areas, including Africa, the Middle East and the diaspora community.”

It says that non-implementation of legislation and policies and the lack of effective remedies and effectively functioning state institutions, the judiciary and police included, remain the major obstacles to eliminating caste-based discrimination.

“Despite the efforts of governments and, increasingly, of some international agencies, castes continue to suffer from severe forms of social exclusion, poverty, violence, segregation, physical and verbal abuse linked to prejudices and a concept of purity and pollution,” it further stated, adding that the untouchability practices remain widespread and are taking on modern forms; whereas affected communities face restricted political participation and serious discrimination in the labor market.

Passing the resolution, the EU Parliament has called on the governments and authorities of caste-affected countries to take note of the draft UN Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination based on Work and Descent, to take all necessary measures to eliminate and prevent caste-based discrimination, to address any implementation gaps at the federal, state, regional and local levels and to implement, amend or introduce special legislation and policy measures for the protection and promotion of the rights of Dalits and similar caste-affected groups.

In its resolution, the EU Parliament has also condemned the continuing human rights violations committed against people suffering from caste hierarchies and caste-based discrimination, including the denial of equality and of access to legal system and to employment, continued segregation and caste-induced barriers to the achievement of basic human rights and development.

It has welcomed the report by Githu Muigai, the UN Special Rapporteur on racism, and stressed that all victims of caste discrimination throughout the world should receive the same attention and protection and all forms of racism and discrimination should be addressed with the same emphasis and determination, including in Europe.

The social exclusion of Dalits and similarly affected communities leads to high levels of poverty among the affected population groups and to exclusion, or reduced benefits, from development processes, it added.

The EU Parliament resolution has called for the inclusion of caste-based discrimination as a human rights issue in future EU human rights policies, strategies and action plans and provide stronger support development projects combating caste-based discrimination as a serious human rights violation that exacerbates poverty, and to take this form of discrimination into account in all projects with a focus on education, women, access to justice, political participation or labor in relevant countries.

It has also urged the EU member countries to raise the issue of caste-based discrimination at the highest level with the governments of the affected countries during bilateral summits and other international meetings.

“It encourages the EEAS to strengthen its policy and human rights dialogues and promote joint initiatives to eliminate caste discrimination with the governments of states, such as India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, where caste-affected communities are subjected to so-called ‘untouchability practices’, and, more broadly, to combat discrimination based on work and descent, which occurs in various countries, including Yemen, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, and Somalia.”

UNHCHR’s concerns
Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), Navi Pillay, while speaking at the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance, House of Lords in London, said that caste-based discrimination is of immediate concern to the UNHCHR as it has denied one quarter of a billion women, men and children worldwide their most fundamental entitlements.

Covering caste-based discrimination in equality legislation by itself will not end the harassment, bullying, humiliation and exploitation, she has further said. “We must couple existing law with renewed political and social commitment to legal principles, and also methodically and efficiently engage the international and national working mechanisms to advance its implementation.”

“Let us push hard to raise more awareness, amongst the authorities and the people, of the catastrophic human impact of caste-based discrimination, especially on women and the young,” she further added. “Therefore, efforts need to continue to call for further progress and denounce caste-based discrimination in multilateral and bilateral contexts on the international stage.”
Published on 2013-12-13 10:07:43


Internationalizing the Dalits’ Movements

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