Following IDSN’s ECOSOC accreditation last year, we were delighted to formally sponsor and host our first side event at the UN 53rd Human Rights Council. It took place on Wednesday 5 July 2023 and focused on ‘Addressing the intersection of caste and gender-based violence in South Asia’. The side-event was co-sponsored by International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), Lutheran World Federation (LWF), FORUM-ASIA, Minority Rights Group and Human Rights Watch (HRW), and supported by Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network (DHRDNet), The Blue Club, Feminist Dalit Organisation (FEDO), National Council of Women Leaders (NCWL).

Speakers at the event included Dalit women leaders: Ms Sarita Barmashakha from the Feminist Dalit Organisation (FEDO) in Nepal and Ms Priyadharsini Palaniswamy from The Blue Club and Ms Manjula Pradeep from Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network (DHRDNet) from India. The event was opened by Hannah Wu, Chief of Women’s Rights and Gender Section, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The event was well attended by civil society and Member States, with roughly 30 NGOs attending and 10 Members states and was livestreamed to Twitter. If you missed it, you can go back and watch it here.

Panelists discussed the latest developments and forms of sexual violence faced by Dalit women and girls, challenges faced by survivors and activists in their attempts to access justice, and recommendations for addressing this issue. The event brought the issue of caste-based sexual violence in South Asia into the international spotlight; and highlighted the challenges and barriers to accessing justice faced by Dalit survivors in the region.

Manjula Pradeep focused on the intersectionality between caste and gender-based violence. She noted that there are 97.9 million Dalit women in India, positioned lowest in the caste ladder. Most crimes against Dalit women, notably physical and sexual violence, are intrinsically tied to their caste. In her recommendations, Manjula called for recognition of caste-based sexual violence as a systemic crime, regular reviews of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act, disaggregated data on crimes against Dalit women and a law to protect Human Rights Defenders.

Sarita Barmashakha gave some critical insights on the current state of Dalit women in Nepal. A FEDO​ study reported 21,687 incidents of violence against women in one year, with 2,681 from the Dalit community. She noted that such figures only represent reported cases, underlining the dire need for systemic change to address this grave issue. Ms Barmashakha also spoke about FEDO’s great work in Nepal, mobilising over 2,100 grassroots women’s groups and 800 frontline leaders, however, more needs to be done. She recommended that the government of Nepal ensures the effective implementation of the Caste-Based Discrimination and Untouchability Act and called for universal access to quality education for all Dalit students. The Government of Nepal must take decisive actions to enhance the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals prioritising the inclusion and empowerment of the Dalit community.

Priyadharsini Palaniswamy spoke about the “caste-based digital divide” in India – this digital divide is also prevalent throughout South Asia. She highlighted the inequality in access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) based on one’s caste. ICTs allow marginalized people to participate in the global economy and to have a share of the economic gains. They also enable oppressed communities to participate in the socio-cultural spheres. However, this online presence opens them up to hate speech. Perpetrators target the Dalit community using casteist slurs and abuse. She called for National Digital Literacy Mission, to focus on caste-based digital divide and provide speedy access to ICTs for the Dalit people, especially Dalit women and LGBTQIA persons. In addition, the Government of India should make online caste hate speech a punishable offence. All governments need to hold social media platforms accountable for allowing harmful content and collaborate with them to take down any content that might cause caste clashes or lead to caste discrimination.

The event successfully highlighted the need for international attention and action to address human rights violations stemming from caste and gender discrimination and violence. It also underscored the need to hold authorities accountable to human rights obligations and implementation of protections, remedies and legislation.

You can see the live tweets of the speakers below and on our Twitter page