IDSN Newsletter July 2010


It may be summer vacation season in some parts of the world, but as the size of this newsletter demonstrates, the struggle against caste discrimination is not on hold. In June, IDSN appealed to UN Special Procedures mandate holders to intensify their efforts to address caste discrimination, and a delegation of civil society representatives from India met a large number of Special Rapporteurs. There has been a lot of activity in Nepal, including an international conference which covered a number of important Dalit issues. In India, the number of poor people – including Dalits – appears to be much higher than official figures. And in London, two documentaries on caste discrimination have premiered recently.

International News

IDSN appeals to UN Special Rapporteurs: IDSN has called on UN Special Procedures mandate holders to intensify their efforts to address caste discrimination. The appeal was launched prior to the mandate holders’ annual meeting in Geneva in late June. Representatives of the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR), including a representative from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), travelled to Geneva for the meeting to engage in discussions with Special Rapporteurs and other UN experts. The team met 17 mandate holders and also had a meeting with the Ambassador of India to the United Nations in Geneva. We shall bring you further news about the meetings of the WGHR with the Special Rapporteurs in our next newsletter. Read more here

MEPs meet Dalits in Nepal: A delegation from the European Parliament visited Nepal in late May. The group was led by Jean Lambert, Chair of the Parliament’s South Asia Delegation. During the visit, she and other MEPs met civil society groups, including Dalit representatives. According to Bakhta Bishwakarma, a leading Dalit rights activist, a number of concerns were raised during the meeting, including the participation of Dalits in the constitution-building process and the socio-economic condition of Nepal’s Dalit population. Mr Bishwakarma and his colleagues urged the EU to intensify its work on caste discrimination. Read the IDSN proposal for an EU policy framework to eliminate caste discrimination

Child labour: EU’s India policy under scrutiny: Two new reports on child labour in the Indian seed industry have prompted a Dutch member of the European Parliament to ask questions about the EU’s relations with India – including the issue of Dalits. Read more here

Main National News


Conference on Dalit issues in Kathmandu: From 20-22 June, the Samata Foundation organised a three-day international conference. It brought together scholars, policians and activists working on Dalit issues across Asia. Titled ‘Envisioning New Nepal: Dynamics of Caste, Identity and Inclusion of Dalits’, the event aimed a creating a dialogue between Dalits and non-Dalits. Read more here

NGOs submit report to UN mechanism: The report from three coalitions of Nepalese NGOs to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review contains a number of recommendations to the Nepalese government on how to address caste discrimination. One such recommendation is the immediate enactment of a law to eliminate ‘untouchability’ practices and discrimination against the country’s sizeable Dalit population. Read more here

UN pushes for action in discrimination cases: The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal (OHCHR) and the National Dalit Commission (NDC) have urged local authorities to implement two landmark verdicts in discrimination cases against Dalits. During a joint mission to Nepal’s eastern region, the OHCHR Nepal and the NDC expressed serious concern that this had not happened, but received assurances that the verdicts would be implemented at the earliest. The first verdict relates to the attacks against 12 Dalits in a temple, the second to the assault of a Dalit groom during a wedding ceremony. Read the OHCHR-NDC press release here and a press report here

AHRC calls for Dalit-friendly constitution: The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has issued a statement urging Nepal’s major political parties to properly address the issue of Dalits. Noting that the parties seem unwilling to draft a constitution that respects the rights of Dalits, the AHRC stresses the need for specific provisions that will put a definitive end to the caste system. Read the statement here

Dalit dies from police torture: Sanu Sunar, a 46-year old Dalit, died on 25 May after being subjected to torture while in police custody. An investigation by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) found that police officials were responsible for his death. The report also claimed that the incident did not take place because Sanu Sunar was a Dalit. However, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) noted that “many police officers and members of the upper caste consider a Dalit’s life less valuable.” Read the AHRC appeal here and the NHRC report here

Villages declared ‘untouchability’-free: Dalits and non-Dalits dined together at a celebration to mark the status of two villages, Ranhkupiple and Bhagawati, as ‘untouchability’-free zones. The declaration was made in order to root out discrimination. Read the press report here


Two thirds of India’s Dalits are poor: The UN and Oxford University have launched a new poverty measure that adds indicators such as health and education to traditionally used income formulas. According to the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), 66 percent of India’s Dalits are poor. Read more here

Delhi couple victims of ‘honour killings’: A teenage girl and her Dalit boyfriend have been brutally murdered in a suspected ‘honour killing’ in Delhi. Such crimes are relatively rare in the Indian capital, however, many such cases are not reported. Read more here

Killers of Dalit family escape death sentence: The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has released a statement criticising the verdict in a brutal case of mob-lynching of a Dalit family. A high court in the state of Maharashtra recently commuted the death sentences of six men to life imprisonment for a period of 25 years for murdering a Dalit woman, her two sons and her daughter in the village of Khairlanji in 2006. AHRC did not oppose commuting the death sentences, as “capital punishment is unacceptable in any civilised society”, but criticised the court’s unwillingness to consider the killings a caste-based atrocity. Read the AHRC statement here, press clippings here and a BBC report here 

Census debate continues: The intense media debate on whether to include additional questions on caste in the census of the Indian population has continued throughout the summer. The issue has also been covered in international publications such as The Economist newspaper. Caste in doubt – The Economist; The big deal about caste – Livemint; Who is afraid of caste census? – Deccan Chronicle; Caste in Census: Hypocrites All! – F & B News; Caste question on census angers Indians – CNN

National consultation on disaster response: The National Dalit Watch (NDW) of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) and Sphere India co-organised a national consultation on the exclusion of Dalits from disaster response. The consultation took place in Delhi on 18-19 June and aimed at bringing together civil society organisations, International NGOs, experts in the field of disaster response, government and UN officials and others to discuss inclusive solutions for Dalits in the aftermath of disasters. Read more here and read the programme here

Seminar on reservation in education: A one-day seminar on the status of reservation in education was held in New Delhi on 22 July. It sought to strengthen the implementation of the constitutional reservation policy for Dalits and other groups who face impediments when applying to enter universities and other educational establishments. One of the speakers was Paul Divakar, general secretary of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR). Click here for a brief summary and a background note

Caste in globalised India: The Mint business newspaper has published a five-part series of articles on the changing role of caste in globalised India. While there is little focus on the many negative aspects of the caste system, the series does make clear that caste is still significant in Indian society. It ends with the following quote by sociologist Satish Despande: “One of the crowning ironies of 21st century India is that claims of being casteless are today the unmistakable signs of an upper caste identity.” Links to the five articles: Rise of India’s caste warrior; The business of caste in India; Caste-based organisations go global; Rising divorce rates renew interest in same caste unions; The contemporary meanings of caste

Press clippings: High-caste Indians against Dalit cooks – The National; Dalit girl paraded naked in Mumbai – Times of India; Five thousand Dalit Christians and Muslims rally against discrimination – AsiaNews; MPs contest figures on manual scavengers – The Hindu; Dalit lynched for stealing cell phone – Times of India;Future bright for young outcasts – The Daily Item; War on beggars – Frontline; Sexually harassed Dalit seeks justice – Times of India; Dalits withdraw kids from school – The Pioneer; Caste is still the tie that binds India – The Guardian


Three Dalit peasants murdered in Sindh: The son of a landlord is alleged to have killed three Dalits in the district of Umerkot, Sindh Province. Herchand Oad, 50, his female relative Tulchan and Loono Mal Bheel , a rickshaw driver, all died from gunshots. There are different versions of what happened – one is that Herchand had demanded his rightful share of the harvest from their landlord, apparently throwing him into a rage. Read the press clippings here

Two books pay tribute to Dr Sono Khangharani: Two books have been published to highlight the contribution to social development and poverty alleviation of Dr Sono Khangharani. Known as ‘Dr Sono’, the development specialist and social activist is respected across Asia as an expert on the causes of poverty in the region, especially the Thar Desert and rural Sindh. A Dalit, he grew up in very modest circumstances and faced caste discrimination, but his achievements have made him a role model for Pakistan’s Dalit community. The books, The Voice of the Desert and A Ray of Hope, both portray the life, work and experiences of Dr Sono. Click here for a press report and here for the website of Dr Sono’s organisation, TRDP

Sri Lanka

Caste origins of Sri Lankan authoritarianism: Veteran human rights advocate Basil Fernando of the Asian Human Rights Commission argues that the strict separation between castes has undermined democracy in Sri Lanka and led to a return to authoritarianism. We linked to the first three parts of his comprehensive interview in the Sri Lanka Guardian in the March/April edition of this newsletter. Read parts 4-6 of the interview here

United Kingdom

Forbidden love: no redress for couples divided by caste: Caste discrimination is being practiced daily in Asian communities across the UK. The Times newspaper has investigated the phenomenon, describing a ‘forbidden’ romance between a Dalit man and a high caste woman. The couple gave a briefing to a committee of the House of Lords when lawmakers were on the verge of outlawing caste discrimination.  Read the article here

Mary Griffin wins award: Mary Griffin, a reporter with the Coventry Telegraph, has won the British regional press award for race reporting, presented by the National Union of Journalists. She has written a number of articles about caste discrimination in Bangladesh and the UK over the past year. The article “Caste Out” – about caste discrimination in Coventry – won her the award. Read the article here

Events and films

Women’s conference on marginalised communities: The National Alliance of Women (NAWO) in India will be bringing together women leaders from Dalit, Tribal and Muslim communities for a conference in New Delhi from 4-6 August. The purpose is to promote a dialogue between these three marginalised communities and build alliances. One of the driving forces behind this event is the prominent Dalit and women’s activist, Ruth Manorama, who is also president of NAWO. Read more here

New documentary on ‘Hidden Apartheid’: A new documentary by the Indian-New Zealand filmmaker, Mandrika Rupa, examines the caste-based inequities which exist in India as well as Indian immigrant communities in the West. The 70-minute film ‘Hidden Apartheid had its first showing in London earlier this month and is now being offered to a number of international film festivals. Read an interview with Mandrika Rupa here and click here for the film’s website

‘India’s Forgotten Women’: A new British documentary on the exploitation and oppression faced by Dalit women in India premiered at a special screening in London on 1 July. Directed by Michael Lawson, the film ‘India’s Forgotten Women’ uncovers evidence of violence, rape, trafficking, bonded labour and other atrocities. The film will be shown again at the Frontline Club in London on 9 August. Click here for the film’s website andhere for a press clipping

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