The world will not achieve the eight major anti-poverty goals by 2015 unless Dalits, most of whom are poor, are included in the equation.

A Dalit rights campaigner at a march in New Delhi. This photo was included in the MDG report from One World Action.

The outcome document from the high level summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in New York from 20-22 September failed to include references to caste discrimination. However, there was plenty of debate on this important human rights issue prior to the summit, and a number of NGOs spoke out on the situation of Dalits in India and elsewhere.

The British NGO One World Action published an MDG paper with an emphasis on women, which contains numerous references to Dalits. The document states that “Dalit women face particularly severe economic deprivation, high levels of illiteracy, and are extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Despite this, they are often invisible in policy responses and interventions designed to achieve the MDGs.”

The paper analyses the eight Millennium Development Goals and notes that the plight of Dalits has serious implications for achieving a number of these goals. Among the examples given are poverty, malnutrition and lack of access to health and education for Dalits – all consequences of caste discrimination.

In India, a civil society campaign holding the government accountable for achieving the MDGs also published a report prior to the summit. The report criticises the government for not addressing the issues – such as the situation of Dalits – that are blocking the prospects of fulfilling the MDGs by 2015.

The report states that “acute levels of deprivation combined with greater likelihood of exclusion from social welfare services and poverty reduction measures mean that members of scheduled caste groups (i.e. Dalits), particularly children, are more likely than the rest of the population to die prematurely.” It also notes that due to caste discrimination, Dalits have limited access to education and resources such as water.

Warning against MDG failure

A number of groups in India are scrutinising the government’s MDG record. Ashok Barti, the national convenor of Dalit rights NGO, NACDOR, made the following observation in a newspaper interview prior to the summit: “If India does not achieve the MDGs, the world will not achieve the MDGs; and if Dalits and tribals do not achieve the MDGs, India will not achieve the MDGs. So we need to get our priorities straight.”

Elsewhere, the mandate holders of the UN Special Procedures issued a strong statement prior to the summit in New York. The 26 experts stated that unless the MDG process has a stronger focus on human rights, it will fail.

While not addressing caste discrimination directly, the mandate holders warned that the present focus of the MDGs could give states “incentives to focus on those easily reached rather than on marginalised people. This could exacerbate exclusion. Progress towards the MDGs should aim to correct discrimination, not reinforce it.”

This warning would certainly apply to the exclusion of Dalits and is in accordance with IDSN’s position on the MDG issue: that the goals will not be achieved if Dalits and other groups that suffer from caste-based discrimination continue to be excluded from the process.

Getting back on track – One World Action MDG paper

MDGs in India 2010 – a Civil Society Report

MDGs in India 2010 – Dalit references in Civil Society Report

India holds government accountable for MDGs

“Without human rights, Millennium Goals will fail,” say UN Human Rights Experts

UN Millennium Goals website