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Dalit women and girls often suffer the greatest indignities – most of India’s 1.3 million so-called ‘manual scavengers’ are female. For those unfamiliar with the euphemism, manual scavengers clean up the excrement of other castes with their bare hands to eke out a meagre existence. So I was very keen to meet some of these women and try to understand how they live. You might be surprised to read I came away with some hope! Thanks to a partnership between the DFID-funded Poorest Areas Civil Society (PACS) programme and the Jan Sahas Development Society (which literally means ‘people’s courage’), Dalit women are being helped to stand up and demand their rights as human beings. Thousands of families have been helped out of manual scavenging and trained in alternate employment. Jan Sahas also brings violence against Dalit women to the attention of the government and media. Of course there is a long way to go yet. I spoke with some Dalit women who had been raped by men from upper castes and are struggling to receive any justice. Though they worked up the courage to report the crimes against them to the police, they and their families have been repaid with threats and intimidation, not just by their rapists but the police themselves. Nevertheless, I found hope in that more and more Dalit women and girls are standing up for themselves and demanding their rights. And when I asked what they thought about their future prospects, it was really heartening to hear a group of Dalit children tell me they were confident their future is going to be brighter than their mothers’.
Following a ‘cast out caste’ campaign by the Dalit Solidarity Network in the United Kingdom, demanding that UK political parties make their position on caste clear, the Liberal Democrats and Labour party are showing clear support for outlawing caste discrimination in the UK.
The UK Government’s action on tackling caste discrimination in India was the topic of a debate on the 26th November in the UK House of Lords. Many Lords spoke out passionately against caste-based discrimination and asked that the UK Government in its relations with India take-up fighting caste-based discrimination.
Evidence of Caste Discrimination in the UK revealed
"It is increasingly clear for example that the maintenance of this social system provides competitive advantage to South Asia, particularly India, in the globalising political economy. Caste-based apartheid underpins the “camp coolie” and “Sumangali” systems allowing the powerful to enslave with impunity vulnerable workers, often young Dalit women and girls, and hence to derive considerable profits from their enslavement. Each of us in this room is also benefiting from that enslavement as it allows, amongst other things, the provision of cheap clothes to our high streets and so, each of us is probably clad in at least one garment that has been produced in some part through the labour of enslaved people. Making the issue of caste-based apartheid undiscussable insulates it politically and allows the elite greater security in their feudal level of aristocratic privilege: how can something become a political issue if one cannot even give voice to the question?"