States affected by caste discrimination should develop specific indicators on caste and use disaggregated data for the implementation and monitoring of UN Global Goals says the International Dalit Solidarity Network, in the submission to UN Special Rapporteur on Minorities report in connection with the Human Rights Council’s 47th Session.

Read the full submission here >>

UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues

Minorities, Equal Participation, Social and Economic Development, and the 2030 Agenda for SustainableDevelopment 

Submission from the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) – June 2021


Many of the 17 goals are highly relevant to the hundred millions of people who suffer caste and descent based discriminationaround the world. However, the final agenda fails to explicitly consider the implications of caste-based discrimination, which constitutes a massive barrier hindering the eradication of poverty and stifles the pledge to “leave no-one behind”.

Several UN Experts have underlined the importance of the 2030 Development Agenda to consider caste- affected groups and promote “tailored action to lift them out of poverty and close the inequality gap between them and the rest of society”.

In 2016, the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues presented the first ever comprehensive Special Procedures report examining caste-based discrimination as a global phenomenon. The report concludes that discrimination on the basis of caste and analogous systems is a major cause of poverty, inequality and social exclusion of affected communities and recommendsthat states should consider including caste specific indicators in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for sustainabledevelopment to ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals and their targets address the situation of affected groups.

Recommendations relating to Caste-Based Discrimination

IDSN has worked intensively with the SDGs. It has made the following relevant recommendations[1]:

IDSN recommends for states affected by caste discrimination to develop specific indicators on caste and use disaggregated data for the implementation and monitoring of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere

This goal should take into account the links between inequality and various forms of discrimination and social exclusion, including caste-based exclusion. Caste-discrimination is a major cause of inequality and poverty and perpetuates poverty in affected communities, which are in need of targeted attention in the implementation of the SDGs.

Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable development

Marginalized groupsface particular problems in gaining access to food. People from caste-affected communities, especially children, aredisproportionately affected by malnourishment. Untouchability practices leading to segregation and prohibitions against foodsharing are central components in the type of discrimination that Dalits and other caste-affected groups are facing every day.Furthermore, caste- based discrimination has implications for access to land, services, resources, and humanitarian aid (see theIDSN publication on Equality in Aid).

Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Discrimination and social exclusion severely affect the health of children and women from marginalized groups, who are often prevented from accessing health services. People affected by caste discrimination are often forced to take on dangerous jobswith high health risks e.g. manual scavenging. These jobs lead to infections,injuries and death. In many cases health professionals will not attend to people ascribed to the lowest caste strata.


Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

Marginalization of caste-affected groups translates into considerable disparities in educational opportunities, educational attainment and treatmentby schoolteachers. This type of discrimination parred with inadequate support in government schools and pressure to earnmoney make Dalits and other caste-affected groups more likely to drop out, thus creating a self-sustaining system ofdiscrimination against caste-affected groups. Many are forced into bonded labor and trafficking.


Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empowerment of all women

This goal should take into account the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination against Dalit women, making themeven more vulnerable to violence, abuse, neglect and deprivation. There should be a specific focus on the intersection between gender and caste. Women from caste-affected groups present the worst health outcomes in terms of life expectancy andaccess to maternal care, nutrition and incidence of infections Dalit Women mobilize around the world to claim their equal rights and greater political participation. [2]


Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

Discrimination and social stigma prevent large groups of people, including groups affected by caste-based discrimination, fromadequate access to water and sanitation. Societal rules about untouchability prevents people affected by caste discriminationfrom using water pipes and sanitation facilities.


Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries

The relationship between inequality, caste discrimination and poverty cannot be understated. Caste discrimination is a serious human rights violation infringing on the basic principles of universal human dignity and equality, as it differentiates between “inferior” and “superior” categories of individuals. In order to achieve income growth and ensure effective implementation ofsocial protection policies, special measures to curb caste discrimination should be applied in the implementation of the 2030development framework.


Goal 16. Promote peaceful inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice and build effective accountable and inclusive institutions for all

Caste violations and other forms of discrimination stratify societies and induce conflict and violence. Caste-based biasesin society and the criminal system hinder access to justice and prevents caste affected group from seeking redress due to fear ofreprisals.


A Rights-Based Approach to Sustainable Development

Since development should be rights-based, a number of obstacles for enjoyment of rights on equal footing have beenobserved. Racial discrimination and racism are concrete obstacles to implementing the SDGs. The ICERD (Article 1.1) definesracial discrimination as:

“any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equalfooting, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other fieldof public life.”

In line with Article 1.1 ICERD, the CERD has defined in General Recommendation 29:

“Confirming the consistent view of the Committee that the term “descent” in article 1, paragraph 1, the Convention does not solely refer to “race” and has a meaning and application which complement the otherprohibited grounds of discrimination,

Strongly reaffirming that discrimination based on “descent” includes discrimination against members ofcommunities based on forms of social stratification such as caste and analogous systems of inherited status which nullify or impair their equal enjoyment of human rights.”

Since intersectionality is a key component for the SDGs, Article 1 of the CEDAW should be taken into consideration:

“[…] the term “discrimination against women” shall mean any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other

As regards Dalit women, the numbers are staggering[3]:

  • 40% of Dalit women live in poverty (SDG1)
  • 5 years in average is how much less a Dalit woman lives compared to other women in India (SDG 3)
  • 90% of Dalit girls are not in school in Pakistan (SDG4)
  • 125 million Dalit women are affected by intersectional caste and gender discrimination worldwide (SDG5)
  • 2% of the rape cases, when a Dalit woman is a victim, result in convictions (SDG 16)

For centuries Dalit women have been targets of violence and rape. If Dalit women, or other members of their community, dare to challenge caste hierarchies and traditional caste roles it is often Dalit women that bear the brunt of the reprisals from the dominant castes, in the form of violence, naked paradings, beatings, rape, or destruction of property. Minority Rights Group International reported a study finding that 70% of cases of atrocities against Dalit women were committed as Dalit women tried to assert their rights and challenge caste and gender norms.

Political space for women subjected to intersectional caste and gender discrimination is very limited. Even when seats have beenreserved for Dalits, as is the case in India and Nepal, they are either left unfilled or often do not transform into meaningfulparticipation for the women elected due to stigma and discrimination. Across caste-affected countries in South Asia, Dalit women’s movements are challenging the systems that have been oppressing them for centuries using protest marches, sit-ins,online grassroots activism, awareness raising events and numerous other new and traditional ways of getting their concernsheard.

Moreover, equality and development are at the core of Article 5 of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development, whichreads:

“States shall take resolute steps to eliminate the massive and flagrant violations of the human rights of peoplesand human beings affected by situations such as those resulting from apartheid, all forms of racism and racialdiscrimination, colonialism, foreign domination and occupation, aggression, foreign interference and threatsagainst national sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity, threats of war and refusal to recognize thefundamental right of peoples to self-determination.”

More specifically, the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, in a dedicated study on caste-based discrimination has underscored that, while manifestations of this violation occur through different ways in different countries, the severity of the experience of such discrimination inherently contradicts the principles of human dignity, equality and non-discrimination. Inspecific because individuals are placed in lower positions vis-à-vis others, regarded as inferior and non-human. Such extreme exclusion and dehumanization results in severe restrictions of enjoyment of the most basic most basic civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. TheRapporteur draws the following recommendation:

Discrimination on the basis of caste and analogous systems is a major cause of poverty, inequality and social exclusion of affected communities. In the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,States should consider including caste-specific indicators to ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals and their targets address the situation of affected groups.[4]

The Role of Business

Business activities, can be a tool for empowerment or a device for perpetration of caste-based discrimination, thus hampering the SDGs fulfilment. In the past decade, the UNGPs have provided an authoritative framework – “Protect, Respect and Remedy” – for governments and business enterprises to prevent, address and remedy adverse human rights impacts of business activities. There is a growing recognition of the UNGPs as a means to help business implement their responsibility to respect human rights. In our view, although the UNGPs have given visibility on the human rights obligations regarding business enterprises, by compiling the existing international human rights norms, a decade has passed without adequate focus on themost marginalized and vulnerable workers.

The business and human rights agenda needs to take in caste discrimination as a priority issue. The most common exploitation of workers from caste-affected communities, include (a) the use of children and bonded labourers (debt slaves), working underhazardous conditions for a minimal pay; (b) discrimination in employment practices – applicants from caste-affected communities never considered for skilled or managerial jobs; (c) discrimination in the services and utilities offered by an employer, such as housing, health care, and education and training; and (d) misappropriation of land belonging or allocated tocaste- affected communities. IDSN has developed or participated in the elaboration of important tools to help eliminate caste discrimination by business activities and are key resources to be used, such as the Ethical Trading Initiative Base Code Guidance on Caste in Global Supply Chains, and The Ambedkar Principles aimed at assisting foreign investors in South Asia, including aset of employment principles as well as a set of additional principles addressing economic and social exclusion of Dalits in South Asia. The Dalit Discrimination Check is a web-tool developed specifically to help companies identify and prevent discrimination and exploitation of Dalits in their Indian operations and suppliers. The ISO 26000 standard on social responsibility refers to discrimination based on caste and the obligation of private sector actors to contribute to eliminating such practices. The draft UN Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination based on Work and Descent are a comprehensivelegal framework developed to eliminate caste discrimination globally. Based on existing international human rights principlesand obligations, the framework proposes general and special measures to be taken by multiple stakeholders, including private sector actors.

There are of course challenges to effectively implement the UNGPs, in the context of the SDGs. This is the particular case of marginalized and vulnerable groups that suffer disproportionately the impacts of business human rights violations or abuses. Dalit girls and women and other low caste groups recruited under the “Sumangali Scheme” suffer multiple rights violations inthe spinning mills in India, which supply the global garment industry. Employees were found to work a 68-hour week, with nocontracts or payslips, no education and no bonus. They were locked inside factory and dormitory compounds during workingand non-working hours. Agriculture employs more bonded labourers than all other industries and services combined. In India itaccounts for 85% of bonded workers. A 2017 ILO study found Dalits to be particularly vulnerable to exploitation in the sugar cane industry, where bonded and child labour were common, and the work undertaken highly dangerous. Dalits working in tea plantations in Bangladesh and India suffer below minimum wages, hazardous work and long hours. Focus should be on the non-discrimination component, enshrined as a principle of the UNGPs. Thus, marginalized social sectors, such as Dalits, should be given priority in the debates of effective implementation of these principles, through a bottom-up approach, consultation with members of these sectors, focused training and awareness raising. Overall, attention should be given to the specific means bywhich those groups are impacted by business violations and abuses.

From our experience, structural challenges relate to structural discrimination ingrained in many societies, reflecting businesspractices that perpetuate discrimination. Conversely, reinforcing the non- discrimination clause of the UNGPs can be a powerful tool of social mobilization and change. A more focused approach on how the UNGPs can be a tool contributing to the achievement of the SDGs can be of great added value, with a particular focus on gender.



[3] IDSN, Caste and Gender Justice, available at: Justice-Low-Res2.pdf

[4] UN Doc. A/HRC/31/56, para 126.