IDSN Newsletter May/June 2010


Dalits continue to be victims of numerous atrocities in India, where so-called ‘honour killings’ have recently claimed the lives of inter-caste couples. A new report provides evidence that huge sums have been diverted from Dalit welfare programmes to finance the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October. And the caste issue is being vigorously debated in the country’s media and political circles in connection with the upcoming census, which may include more questions on caste origins.

On the international arena, IDSN presented a proposal for an EU policy framework to eliminate caste discrimination during a hearing in Brussels, and in Geneva, the 14th session of the UN Human Rights Council is under way. Once again, international NGOs are attempting to draw attention to the issue of caste discrimination.

International News

IDSN briefs EU working group: An IDSN team visited Brussels in early May. The main event was a hearing on caste discrimination in COHOM, the EU Council’s working group on human rights. IDSN representatives made a presentation during the COHOM meeting and called on the EU to engage more strongly in the international efforts to eliminate caste discrimination. To take the process further forward, IDSN has prepared a draft EU policy framework for the elimination of caste discrimination.

Dalits lack access to justice, says ALRC: The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) has submitted a written statement for the interactive dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers during the 14th session of the Human Rights Council. The statement focuses on access to justice in Nepal, Bangladesh and India. It notes that access to justice in Nepal “remains a remote perspective for disadvantaged groups, including Dalits” and contains references to two cases where investigations of crimes against Dalits have been mishandled by the police. Read the statement here

OHCHR report refers to caste: The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, published the report on her office’s activites and results in 2009 on 28 May. The report included the following reference in the chapter ‘OHCHR in the field’ on page 127: “In Nepal, the High Commissioner publicly advocated for measures to end caste-based discrimination and called for capacity development for caste institutions and groups.” Click here to download the report

AI mentions Dalits in Annual Report: Amnesty International’s recently published annual report ‘The State of the World’s Human Rights’ mentions caste discrimination in India as well as Nepal. The country entry on Indianotes that members of Dalit communities face “attacks, social boycotts and discrimination in accessing health, education and legal services.” In the country entry on Nepal, AI notes that discrimination persists with impunity despite “the state’s declared support for the UN Draft Principles on eliminating discrimination based on work or descent.”

Main National News


Caste bias may have caused ‘honour killing’: A 22-year old journalist, Nirupama Pathak, may have been murdered by her family because she intended to marry someone from a lower caste. Her mother has been arrested on suspicion of smothering her daughter to death. Read more here

Inter-caste couple stoned to death: An inter-caste couple have been stoned to death in a village in Andhra Pradesh. Swapna Reddy, 22, who was from an upper caste, and Sunkara Srinivas, 32, a Dalit father of two, were allegedly attacked and killed by her relatives. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has strongly condemned the murders, calling them “one more proof to the stark reality of the continuing practice of caste-based discrimination and caste prejudices in India.” Read the AHRC statement here and click here for press reports

Huge sums diverted from Dalit welfare to Commonwealth Games: A report from the Housing and Land Rights Network questions the rationale of spending huge sums of money on the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi this October. In 2009-10 alone, appr. 46 million Euros were diverted from Dalit welfare programmes to expenditures related to the Games. Read more here

Census debate divides India: The issue of whether to include questions of caste origin in the upcoming census of India’s population is being furiously debated in the media and political circles. Dalits and indigenous people (officially known as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) have always been counted in the census, but now there are also plans to include so-called Other Backward Classes – and possibly even all castes – for the first time since 1931. IDSN has collected a number of articles on the issue. Click here for press clippings

Dalits fear return to Haryana village: A large number of Dalits from the village of Mirchpur have sought refuge in a temple in New Delhi. They are afraid of returning to their village after an attack by an upper-caste mob that cost two lives and many injuries and resulted in much destruction. Read more here

The caste system and CSR: An article on caste and corporate social responsibility (CSR) in India, published on the CSR-Asia website, makes the case for including caste in CSR-policies. It quotes extensively from a report by the Dalit Solidarity Network UK and contains a number of suggestions on how companies can be more caste-conscious. Read the article here

HRW report on maternal health care: A new Human Rights Watch report on the lack of accountability in reproductive health care includes references to India where almost a quarter of the world’s maternal deaths occur. The report states that “access to maternal health care is particularly difficult for Dalit and tribal communities.” They are often not admitted to government health facilities, and complaints are ignored. Click here to read the report

Death and life on the Ganges: Santosh Kumar Mallick, 23, burns bodies for a living. In return he gets approximately half a dollar per corpse as well as heart problems, breathing difficulties and the stigma of ‘untouchability’. Santosh is a member of India’s ‘Dom’ caste and one of the main characters in a gripping feature story in the Asia Times. Click here to read the article

Petition calls for presidential reaction to student suicides: The Campaign for the Elimination of Caste Discrimination in Educational Institutions is requesting the President of India to intervene in cases of Dalit suicides at universities. An online petition to President Pratibha Patil has gathered more than 500 signatures so far. The petition mentions a number of cases where Dalit students have taken their own lives as a consequence of harassment and discrimination. Click here to view and sign the petition

New helpline for Dalit students: The Insight Foundation has launched a telephone helpline for Dalit and Adivasi students in higher education as well as a student web portal and a mentorship programme for the same groups. Among other things, the helpline will try to council students on cases of caste discrimination and prejudices they face on campuses. Read more here

Press clippings: Burning baskets of shame – The Hindu Magazine; An endless fight against manual scavenging – The Hindu; A blinkered vision – Hindustan Times; D is for Dalits… – Times of India; Dalit teacher kills self after insult – Times of India; Impoverished Indian communities fight for education – News Blaze; His cherry blossom moment – India Today; Caste discrimination aggravates water crisis – Kalinga Times


Durga Sob – Nepal’s trailblazing Dalit feminist: The New Internationalist magazine recently published an interview with Durga Sob, founder and president of the Feminist Dalit Organization (FEDO), a national associate of IDSN. She is also a member of IDSN’s Executive Group. Durga Sob talks about her own background and the achievements of Nepal’s Dalit women in recent years. Read the interview here

Minister breaks up inter-caste marriage: A state minister of the Government of Nepal is reported to have ordered the administration in his home district to forcibly separate an inter-caste couple. Read more here


Dalit village attacked by Muslim men: A quarrel between youngsters from the Rishi community – traditionally considered ‘untouchables’ – and a group of Muslim men resulted in an assault on a Rishi village. Following an exchange of words at a festival, the Muslim men attacked the village, beating up a number of people. One of the attackers has reportedly been arrested. Read more here

Press clippings: Breaking the confines of social discrimination – The Daily Star; Integrate Dalit children into mainstream education – The Daily Star


Legislation stressed for SC Hindus: Dalits in Pakistan are in urgent need of legislation that can secure them access to basic human rights. Such was the conclusion of a policy forum held in Islamabad by the Scheduled Caste Rights Movement (SCRM). Among the problems that Dalits – officially known as Scheduled Castes – encounter are lack of access to land, lack of equal political participation and forced conversions. Click here for a press report and read more about the SCRM here

Sri Lanka

If Sri Lankan Tamils had an Ambedkar: Sri Lanka’s Tamils are deeply divided by caste. In this article, Basil Fernando of the Asian Human Rights Commission argues that Tamil leaders have failed to address the caste contradictions within their community. Read the article here

United Kingdom

Caste article shortlisted for media award: On 1 June, the UK Section of Amnesty International announced the winners of its 19th annual Media Awards. One of the shortlists in the ‘Nations and Regions’ category was the article ‘Caste out’ by Mary Griffin of the Coventry Telegraph. While the piece did not win, it has created a lot of attention to the issue of caste discriminaton in the United Kingdom. Read the original article here


Nepal conference going ahead in June: The previously announced international conference, “Envisioning New Nepal: Dynamics of Caste, Identity and Inclusion of Dalits”, will take place in Kathmandu on 20-22 June. The conference is organised by the Samata Foundation in collaboration with various international organisations. Read more about the conference here

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