Bihar 2007. Photo: Jakob Carlsen.

The European Union and its member states are among the world’s largest donors and provide aid to caste-affected countries, including Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Yemen. In such countries, patterns of exclusion and marginalisation of caste-affected communities prevail in development processes and relief efforts unless special precautions and measures are taken.

Sometimes, aid efforts even do harm to the situation of Dalits and other caste-affected groups. After the 2004 tsunami, affected fishing communities of a dominant caste in India were rightly assisted, but the Dalit communities that depend on the dominant caste community for work were not. After relief efforts, Dalits lost their main means of sustaining life.   

Caste discrimination in aid efforts is a paradox since caste-affected communities often constitute the poorest of the poor that many aid efforts are carefully designed to help. Mechanisms of exclusion and discrimination often become a hindrance to reaching out to Dalits. In fact, caste discrimination is in many instances the root cause of poverty.

Denial of basic human rights

As marginalisation of caste-affected groups is founded on structural injustices and denial of basic human rights, it is necessary to address the underlying causes to avoid distorting or undermining the impact of aid programmes intended to address poverty and marginalisation.

Failure to overcome the particular development challenges stemming from caste discrimination are linked to a lack of recognition of the problem, lack of relevant strategies, policy analyses and tools, as well as a lack of involvement of Dalits in development processes and as staff.

EU institutions, member state governments, relief agencies and NGOs must act proactively to overcome ‘caste blindness’ and confront caste discrimination. If caste barriers in society are not taken into account, development and relief efforts will continue to be caste-biased.

Special measures must be applied in development and relief programmes, as well as in other forms of cooperation, to avoid a repetition of the engrained patterns of discrimination against Dalits and their exclusion from development and relief benefits.

A study requested by the European Parliament’s Committee on Development, was conducted in 2010 to address the anti-discrimination policies of the EC development cooperation.  The study entitled “Discrimination and Development Assistance” examines to what extend EC development policies contribute to combating discrimination of marginalised groups through a review of country strategy papers, thematic strategy papers, communications and guidelines.

The study concluded that the EC policies are mostly “confined to combating ethnic, racial, religious and gender discrimination” and pointed to a need to give further attention to LGBT and disabled people’s concerns. The study did not carry a single reference to caste-based discrimination. Dalits or other people affected by ‘discrimination based on work and descent’ were invisible.  Among the ten country papers examined were those of India and Bangladesh.

IDSN call for EU framework

Since caste discrimination is a predictable outcome when undertaking development and relief efforts in caste-affected countries, IDSN has persistently urged the EU to develop a framework and operational guidelines for addressing caste discrimination in its activities.

In 2012, the EU provided support to a case study on addressing caste discrimination in humanitarian response and  the development of specific recommendations for humanitarian actors. A comprehensive case study wasundertaken by National Dalit Watch/National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights and consortium of partners in India. A summary report “Equality in Aid” with guidelines will be published late 2012.

Caste discrimination in humanitarian response was also addressed at an International Consultation on Good Practices and Strategies to Eliminate Caste Based Discrimination held in 2011. The following specific Recommendations to eliminate caste-based discrimination in humanitarian response formed part of the Consultation Declaration and Recommendations.

More information

Documentation on caste and humanitarian aid