The discrimination and abuse against the 200 million Dalits in India, which prevented many Dalits from exercising their right to vote in the election process, will continue to be one of the major challenges that the ruling Congress Party will face as election fever settles.

Voting is over in the massive Indian elections 2009 and the ruling Congress party have won by a significant margin and will continue to rule the country.

Throughout the elections there have been reports of discrimination against Dalits (also known as “untouchables”) trying to vote. The National Dalit Election Watch (NDEW), an initiative launched by the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), has monitored thousands of polling stations nationwide and has registered complaints associated with discrimination against Dalits.

“Through this election we have seen a clear pattern of violence and abuse against Dalits preventing them from exercising their right to vote. The Dalits who have resisted and asserted their rights have had to pay a heavy price,” comments Sirivella Prasad, General Secretary of the National Dalit Election Watch.

NDEW has registered hundreds of incidents of election violence against Dalits who have been threatened, abused and prevented from voting and also violently attacked after the polls. “This is gross abuse of the basic right to vote and this violence must be viewed in the overall context of large-scale discrimination and abuse faced by Dalits in India,” says Prasad.

The large-scale discrimination and abuse that Prasad refers to will continue to be one of the major challenges that the ruling Congress Party will face as election fever settles. The hope of India’s 200 million Dalits for a better and fairer existence now continues to rest in the hands of Manmohan Singh and his government.

In December 2006 Singh publicly stated that “The only parallel to the practice of untouchability was Apartheid in South Africa. Untouchability is not just social discrimination. It is a blot on humanity”. During a recent visit to India, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay, took note of this commitment and strongly recommended the Government to “show leadership in combating caste-based discrimination globally”.

While there are plenty of laws to protect the Dalits and policy measures in place in India, implementation is deeply lacking. Dalits are among India’s poorest and most vulnerable people and the human rights violations against Dalits should be one of the first issues to be addressed as the Government takes up work again.

IDSN therefore urges the Government to rise to the challenge and take leadership in overcoming one of the biggest human rights problems in the world today, and deal with caste discrimination immediately in a concrete and effective manner. The Government of India should demonstrate its international commitment to addressing this human rights problem by following up on recommendations by UN human rights bodies and by accepting the outstanding requests for country visits made by several UN Special Rapporteurs in recent years.

More information:

Read the Concluding Observations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to India (February 2007)

Read more about caste discrimination in India