Indian waste pickers are struggling to obtain information or equipment to inform and protect them during the coronavirus pandemic. Thomson Reuters has run this article by IDSN Ambassador Aidan McQuade and IDSN’s Ritwajit Das, looking at the current challenges faced by Dalit waste pickers in India. While this article looks at India, similar situations are found in other South Asian countries.
As COVID-19 sweeps across the world it is crucial that we ensure that relief, health services and awareness raising efforts are inclusive and accessible to all irrespective of caste, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or other factors. While time is of the essence in the response to COVID-19, taking a moment to ensure that high risk communities such as Dalits are included and addressed in global, national and local responses to COVID-19, can save millions of lives. IDSN and its members have documented discrimination in relief in relation to numerous disasters in the past including flooding, droughts and earthquakes, where Dalits have been left behind, not provided relief materials on an equitable basis and not given equal access to healthcare, shelter or rehabilitation due to ingrained stigma and discrimination. There is a high risk that COVID-19 will also be widespread in caste-affected countries and it is therefore crucial that the unique nature of caste discrimination and the discriminatory practice of untouchability are taken into account. Therefore, Dalit communities and civil society organisations must be consulted and included in planning and implementation efforts to mitigate the serious repercussions of COVID-19. The statement issued by IDSN outlines eight key factors that make Dalits a particularly high-risk group and offers eight key recommendations for state and non-state actors.
A new report by Homeworkers Worldwide finds Dalit women working in global leather supply chains being subjected to discrimination, insecure work, low wages and labour rights abuses, including sexual harassment.
Press Release – Ethical Trading Initiative – UK - Remaining silent about caste discrimination in global supply chains is fueling modern slavery, child labour and the exploitation of workers in South Asia, according to new ETI Base Code guidance for companies published today.
Inequality in employment along caste and gender lines is a massive obstacle to alleviating poverty and inequality in India, finds the Oxfam India report ‘Mind The Gap – State of Employment in India’. The report documents striking disparities in wages and opportunities. The report also highlights the strong links between caste and gender discrimination and forced, bonded and child labour as well as hazardous work.
“Looking at the labour hierarchy means looking at the caste hierarchy. You are just as unlikely to find any upper class Hindus performing manual labour as you are to find high-risk jobs not being performed by lower castes, Dalits (untouchables) or Adivasis (tribal populations),” says Gautam Mody, secretary general of the New Trade Union Initiative. Every day three workers die in the factories of India. A sewer and gutter cleaner dies every week. None of them are of high caste.
This Policy Brief reports on oppression and discrimination against Dalits (the ex-untouchable castes) and Adivasis (tribal groups) perpetuating labour exploitation and land alienation, entrenching poverty and inequality in India. Dalits (officially called Scheduled Castes by the Indian Government) and Adivasis (Scheduled Tribes), account for 200 million and 100 million people respectively, together making up one-quarter of the Indian population, and one in twenty-five of the global population. This brief is based on research carried out across India by the Programme of Research on Inequality and Poverty, Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics.
Conducted by leading labour experts at the University of California. Key findings: 99.3% of the workers are either Muslims or belong to a heavily subordinated community, called a “Scheduled Caste.” 99.2% of workers toil in conditions of forced labour under Indian law, which means they do not receive the state stipulated minimum wage. In fact, most workers received between 50% and 90% less than the state-stipulated minimum wages. Only a handful of males working near the city of Jaipur received proper wages for their work. 95.5% of workers are female.
An extensive study on home-based garment workers in India found 99 per cent of workers toiled in conditions of forced labor under Indian law, with over 99 per cent of the workers found to be either Dalits or Muslims. The prevalence of child labour was over 15 per cent and many cases of bonded labour were also documented. 85 per cent of the workers supplied global brands.The report “Tainted Garments: The Exploitation of Women and Girls in India’s Home-based Garment Sector” was conducted by leading labour experts at the University of California.
Social accountability initiatives fail to bring improvements for workers in the South Indian textile industry. New report from ICN finds that complaint mechanisms have not remedied labour rights violations affecting girls and young women.
Dalits in India have for centuries been forced into working without proper tools or protective gear to clean dry latrines, sewers and septic tanks, a practice known as ‘manual scavenging’. This is not only demeaning but also extremely dangerous work and activists have been campaigning for many years for the proper implementation of laws banning the practice and rehabilitating those who have been engaged in it. This past month it has been uncovered that in the Delhi municipality alone, there has been an alarmingly high number of deaths of sanitation workers lowered into the city’s sewers with no equipment to protect them. Activists are sending the message that India must #stopkillingus and that the caste-based practice must end now.
A new report by Anti-Slavery International documents widespread slavery in India’s brick making industry and finds that the majority of workers are Dalits. Whole families, including small children, work 9-12 hour days in debt-bondage with little recourse to justice. The report finds that discrimination and exclusion, along with the way brick kiln moulders are recruited and paid, underpins the widespread existence of slavery in the kilns and the limited opportunities for workers to escape.
For centuries a hereditary system of servitude has forced members of the Haratine ethnic minority to be subjected to slavery in Mauritania, working without pay as cattle herders and domestic servants, despite an official ban. In March, Mauritania sentenced two men to 20 years in prison and one woman to 10 years in prison for enslaving their fellow citizens. These three rulings are extraordinary in the West African country, which has exceptionally few prosecutions for slavery. IDSN welcomes the verdicts as a sign of progress in the country.
A report released by the India Committee on the Netherlands finds that workers in India’s leather industry suffer serious labour and human rights violations. Most of the 2,5 million leather workers are found to be Dalits and Muslims, exploited due to their marginalised status. India supplies leather to huge global brands.