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India

A group of Dalits are lined up in front of the public road through their village which caste ‘laws’ prevent them from crossing. Photo: JAKOB CARLSEN

Introduction

Caste discrimination is a highly politicised and sensitive issue in India. Despite constitutional safeguards and special legislation for the protection of the country's 201 million 'scheduled castes' (the official term for Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Dalits), violations of their fundamental human rights continue on a massive scale. The extreme and violent crimes – known as ‘atrocities’ - committed against Dalits, and the widespread impunity for perpetrators, do not fit well with India’s image as the world’s largest democracy.

India responds to international attention to caste discrimination by referring to it as an ‘internal issue’ and a ‘family matter’ that the UN does not need to deal with, especially since constitutional and legal protective mechanisms are in place. However, an increasing number of countries and high ranking UN officials disagree with this attitude, as implementation of national legislation in India remains weak, and conviction rates are shockingly low.

According to the 2011 census, Dalits – officially known as ‘scheduled castes’ – constitute 201 million people. These figures do not include Dalits who have converted or are born and raised within a non-Hindu religious community. It is therefore more than likely that the total Dalit population – including the millions of Dalit Muslims and Christians - by far exceeds the official 201 million.

Key issues

Dalit women: A significant proportion of India’s Dalit women face verbal abuse, physical assault, sexual harassment and assault, domestic violence and rape.

Bonded labour: The use and abuse of Dalit bonded labourers remains endemic within a range of occupations. Children are particularly vulnerable.

Forced prostitution: Young Dalit girls suffer systematic sexual abuse in temples, serving as prostitutes for men from dominant castes.

Manual scavenging: An estimated 1.3 million Dalits in India make their living through the vile, inhuman and outlawed practice of manual scavenging.

Political participation: Dalits are often limited from equal and meaningful political participation.

Non-implementation of legislation: Legal mechanisms to protect Dalits are in place, but their implementation remains very weak. Consequently, atrocities against Dalits are almost inevitably committed with impunity. Read more here

Recommendations

Database

IDSN has created an extensive database on caste-based discrimination.

Other resources

  • The uncertainties of life… : Living through Waters of Dejection. A Study of caste discrimination in relief work following when the Yamuna floods occurred during the Commonwealth Games hitting the people living in low lying areas, mainly inhabited by Dalits. The study was published in 2010 by National Dalit Watch of the NCDHR, which Monitors Disaster Response and Preparedness for Inclusion and Equity. NDW blogspot >>

Videos - Caste Discrimination in India

Below are a selection of videos dealing with caste discrimination in India. Visit IDSNs YouTube Channel for more videos on other countries/themes.

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