IDSN Newsletter March/April 2010


Important developments are taking place in caste-affected countries. The Indian media have debated the merits of internationalising the struggle against caste discrimination. The UK is moving towards a historic decision to make this form of discrimination illegal, and elsewhere, there is increasing momentum towards taking this human rights issue seriously. Meanwhile, Dalits continue to be victims of terrible atrocities – a sad fact that highlights the importance of placing caste discrimination firmly on the global human rights agenda.

The IDSN Secretariat has completed its move to new premises. Prior to the move, a successful IDSN Council meeting took place in Geneva. Enthusiastic participants from many countries engaged in lively and constructive discussions and also found time to celebrate the 10th anniversary of our network.

International News

UN expert welcomes caste guidelines: The UN Independent Expert on minority issues has welcomed the draft UN Principles and Guidelines for the elimination of caste discrimination in her recent report to the UN Human Rights Council. This strong expression of support was praised by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) in the interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the 16th of March. Read more here

CERD urges Japan to protect Buraku rights: Discrimination against the Buraku community is still an issue in Japan, and the government should take effective steps against it, says UN Anti-Racism Committee. Read more here

Pax Romana makes strong HRC statement: The human rights organisation, Pax Romana, has urged the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to take steps to promote the use of the draft UN Principles and Guidelines for the elimination of caste discrimination. In a statement during the 13th session of the HRC in March, Pax Romana made a number of recommendations to the HRC and called on governments to implement existing laws against caste discrimination. Read the statement here


UN references to caste discrimination: UN human rights bodies have extensively addressed the issue of caste discrimination in reviews of caste-affected countries, thematic debates, reports and recommendations. IDSN has issued two new compilations to document these references by UN treaty bodies and the Universal Periodic Review mechanisms by the Human Rights Council. Click here to view the compilations

IDSN comment piece published on Telegraph website: The website of a major UK newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, has published an IDSN comment piece, in which India is being urged to support international efforts to end caste discrimination. Read the comment piece here

Dalit documentary viewed by 100,000: More than 100,000 viewers have watched the powerful short documentary ‘I’m Dalit how are you?’ on Youtube, a film that reveals the inhuman and humiliating conditions that India’s Dalits are forced to endure. Click here for more information

IDSN analyses caste, descent and race: IDSN has issued a position paper on the interrelations between caste, descent and race arguing that the debate on whether caste is similar to race is unproductive and that it is time to move beyond semantics. Caste – and related discrimination and exclusion – is a unique phenomenon that warrants separate and distinctive treatment in the UN human rights system. Read more here

IDSN tenth anniversary: IDSN celebrated its tenth anniversary surrounded by members and associates at the IDSN Council meeting in Geneva on the 10th March. An endorsement of the struggle against caste discrimination/struggle for Dalit rights by Archbishop Desmond Tutu also marked this special occasion.
Click here to see the press release

Main National News


Haryana killings cause outrage: A 17-year old disabled Dalit girl and her 60-year old father were burnt alive as a mob set fire to 18 Dalit homes in the village of Mirchpur in the Indian state of Haryana. Long standing tensions between upper caste Jats and Dalits in Mirchpur are believed to have been the cause of this atrocity.Read more here

Debate on internationalising the caste issue: This spring, the Indian mass media have been engaged in a vigorous debate on the merits of involving the international community in the struggle against caste discrimination. The debate has been given further impetus by the British move towards making caste discrimination illegal in the United Kingdom. Read the press clippings here

Sixteen men sentenced to death for killing Dalits: A Bihar court sentenced 16 members of an upper caste militia group to death on 7 April for the brutal massacre of 58 Dalits in Jehanabad District in 1997. Ten others were given life sentences, while 16 were acquitted. Among the victims were 27 women and ten children. The judge described the case as a “stigma on civil society and rarest of rare cases of brutality”. Crimes against Dalits are often committed with impunity. Read the press clippings here

India’s Dalits celebrate Dr. Ambedkar: On 14 April, Dalit communities across India celebrated the 119th birth anniversary of the spiritual father of the Dalit movement and architect of the Indian constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Click here for details

Dalit focus at literary festival: This year’s Jaipur Literary Festival included special sessions with Dalit writers, whose works are gradually becoming more popular. Read press reports from the festival here

Women’s empowerment in India: Since being elected head of her Haryana village six years ago, Roshni Devi, a 36-year old Dalit woman, has transformed its fortunes. Houses have been built for poor women, and the village is no longer plagued by alcoholism. Read the Guardian Weekly article here

Press clippings: Interlinkages between caste and sexuality – Women’s Feature Service; 12-year old Dalit killed for stealing wheat – The Hindustan Times; Manual scavenging continues despite ban – Chandigarh Tribune; The Dalit treasure hunt – Business Standard; Principal thrashes Dalit boy – Times of India; Police role in increased violence against Dalits – The Hindu; Pune exhibition to help Dalits script success stories – DNA;Kumar wanted to scrap SC/ST act – PTI; SCs, STs let down by ministers – ExpressBuzz; Huge backlog in SC/ST recruitments – The Hindu; Vulnerable sections ignored in budget allocations – The Hindu


Nepal army kills three Dalits: Two Dalit women and a 12-year child were shot dead by army personnel in Bardiya National Park on 10 March. The victims were part of a larger group of labourers who were collecting tree bark when soldiers and forest guards opened fire against them. The three Dalits were allegedly captured, and they were subsequently found dead. The army claims that the labourers were heavily armed poachers, but the survivors dispute this claim. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and several Nepalese NGOs, the evidence points towards an extrajudicial execution. Read the AHRC urgent appeal and the Dalit NGO Federation report on the incident

Landmark verdict in Dalit discrimination case: Three major organisations in Nepal have welcomed a judgment in a case involving a caste-related assault. The perpetrator was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment.Click here for more information on the case


Mass exodus of Dalits after forced conversion: Kidnappers have abducted a 15-year old Dalit girl, forced her to convert to Islam and made her marry a Muslim landlord. The case has caused an uproar among Dalits in Sindh province and made 400 of them leave their ancestral village for another area. According to the Dalit activist, Sono Khangarani, kidnapping Dalit girls and forcibly converting them is common in Pakistan. Dalits encounter discrimination from Muslims as well as upper-caste Hindus. Read more here

Rape victim threatens suicide: A 17-year old Dalit girl, who was abducted and gang-raped by armed men in January, has threatened to kill herself unless the culprits are brought to justice. The four men who allegedly took part in the crime have been granted pre-arrest bail, and the victim’s family accused the police of obstructing the case. Civil society protests have reportedly not resulted in further action from the authorities. Read the Asian Human Rights Commisson urgent appeal and click here for press clippings


Dalits demand end to discrimination: Dalits have demonstrated in the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka, demanding an immediate end to caste discrimination. Among their demands are a law against discrimination. The demonstration took place on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on 21 March. Read more here

Sri Lanka

Caste origins of Sri Lankan authoritarianism: The veteran human rights advocate Basil Fernando of the Asian Human Rights Commission has given a comprehensive interview to the Sri Lanka Guardian on the connection between the caste system and the political problems in Sri Lanka. He argues that the strict separation between castes has undermined democracy and led to a return to authoritarianism. Read the first three parts of the interview here

United Kingdom

UK moves closer to ban on caste discrimination: In a historic move, the House of Lords has paved the way for legislation that will make caste-based discrimination illegal in the UK. Such a ban would also serve as an example to other countries. Click here for more information

The Netherlands

Dutch minister answers caste questions: The Dutch Government is addressing caste discrimination in its bilateral dialogues with India and through EU channels. Foreign Minister M.J.M. Verhagen recently answered questions on the issue in Parliament. Click here for more details

Dutch back UN measures on caste: The Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Maxime Verhagen, made a strong statement on caste discrimination at the 13th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva. Read more here

Research and publications

International mobilisation of Dalits: Dr. Corinne Lennox, lecturer in human rights at the University of London, presented a paper on the international mobilisation of Dalits at the IDSN council meeting in Geneva. She argued that caste-affected groups have managed to secure international recognition of their concerns by building a strong transnational advocacy network. Click here for more information

Caste and untouchability in South Asia: A new working paper from the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies (IIDS) focuses on caste discrimination in four countries – Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.Download the document here


Nepal conference postponed: The conference ‘Envisioning the New Nepal’, which was to be held in Kathmandu in late May, has been postponed until further notice. We mentioned the conference in our previous newsletter and will keep you updated on further developments.

New contact details for IDSN Secretariat: Our new address is listed below. These are the staff phone numbers:

Rikke Nöhrlind, Coordinator + 45 2970 0630
Maia T. Ingvardson, Programme Officer + 45 6043 3431
Kim Wiesener, Communications Officer + 45 6043 3433

Gitte Dyrhagen will be on maternity leave until 1 March 2011.

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