IDSN Newsletter November 2010


The issue of caste discrimination is receiving welcome and significant international attention in a number of places. In Nepal, the UN has joined forces with local human rights bodies to urge the government to ensure access to justice for Dalit victims. In India, a British cabinet minister has heard the stories of former manual scavengers. On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Dalit activists called on the international community to pay attention to the plight of Dalit women who suffer from violence and discrimination. And Barack Obama’s recent visit to India presented the international media with an opportunity to examine the flipside of India’s economic boom, while the US President himself cited Dalit hero Dr. Ambedkar as an example of someone who could overcome adversity. In a couple of weeks, Dalit representatives from a number of countries will be present at the UN Forum on Minority Issues. Their struggle continues – at home and abroad…

International News

Activists call for end to violence against ‘untouchable’ women: On the United Nations Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November,  Dalit women activists urged the world to pay attention to the plight of women subjected to horrific acts of violence because of their caste and gender. Read more here

UN Special Rapporteur seriously concerned about caste system: The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, Githu Muigai, has expressed his serious concern about the continuing existence of the caste system and described caste discrimination as a form of “societal” structural racial discrimination. Read more here

UK cabinet minister meets former manual scavengers: During a visit to India, the UK Secretary of State for International Development, Mr Andrew Mitchell, has interacted with Dalit community members in a village in Madhya Pradesh. Read more here

Barack Obama mentions Ambedkar: During his recent visit to India, the US President said the following about the great Dalit leader in a speach to the Indian parliament: “We believe that no matter who you are or where you come from, every person can fulfill their God-given potential, just as a Dalit like Dr. Ambedkar could lift himself up and pen the words of the constitution that protects the rights of all Indians.” Read more here

Main National News


Campaigners demand end to manual scavenging: Manual scavengers from across India gathered at a in New Delhi on 1 November and demanded immediate government action to end manual scavenging once and for all, rehabilitate former manual scavengers and apologise for decades of suffering imposed on this group.Read more here

Casteism among Indian Muslims: In 2007, Masood Alam Falahi , a student at Delhi University, wrote a 600-page pioneering study in Urdu on caste discrimination among Indian Muslims. Very little has been written on this topic, but the reality is that ’high caste’ Muslims continue to be dominant in ways that are remarkably similar to the caste system among Hindus. Academic Yoginder Sikand has begun to translate the book into English. Download the first chapter here and find the rest of the chapters here

Empowerment for Dalit girls: On 21 November, 2,138 Dalit girls graduated from Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), a three month vocational course that teaches them a number of skills and enables them to resist caste discrimination when they return to their villages. The training scheme, which means ’Dalit Empowerment Centre’ is run by the two NGOs, Navsarjan and Janvikas. In the coming ten years, 10,000 Dalit girls are expected to finish DSK. Click here for an article on DSK and read more about the programme here

BBC explores flipside of ‘incredible India’: In the wake of US president Barack Obama’s visit to India, Mike Thomson, a BBC Foreign Affairs Correspondent, did a series of reports on the country for the highly respected radio programme ‘Today’. In Thomson’s first two reports – on poverty and manual scavenging – he paid a lot of attention to the caste issue. By clicking on the links below you can listen to his radio reports and read his corresponding web stories: India growth ‘passing many people by’; India’s forgotten people (caste-offs); ‘Dirty, horrible job’ of manual scavengers; India’s forgotten people (scavengers)

Dalit issues debated in ‘The Hindu’ newspaper: A column by S. Viswanathan, Readers’ Editor of The Hindu, has triggered a lively debate among the newspaper’s readership. Mr Viswanathan expressed support for the idea of reservations for Dalits in the private sector and also stated that there is more awareness of caste discrimination than 20 years ago while calling on the media to investigate systemic oppression, exploitation and discrimination in greater depth. Click here to read the columns

Increase in crimes against Dalits: The National Crime Records Bureau of India has published its 2008 crime report, which includes statistics of crimes against Scheduled Castes – the official term for Dalits. The figures show an increase in crimes against Dalits from the previous year. Click here to read the report

Press clippings: Untouchability still exists in various forms – Coastal Digest; Eighty two percent of rural India still lacks basic amenities – Times of India; Dalit and Muslim voters deprived of right to vote in Bihar – PTI;Manual scavenger’s daughter forced by teacher to eat trash – ExpressBuzz; Dalits allege denial of temple entry – The Hindu; Dalits in Gengavalli block to enter temple – The Hindu; India’s untouchables to build temple to Goddess of the English language – Telegraph; India district bans cell phones for unmarried women – AFP


Government urged to secure access to justice for Dalits: Following a joint mission to Siraha district of Eastern Nepal, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR-Nepal) and two human rights bodies, including the National Dalit Commission (NDC), have urged the government to act immediately to ensure access to justice for victims of caste and gender discrimination. Read more here

Microcredits – a way out of oppression: Kamu Sunuwar, a Dalit mother of two, has gained acceptance from her village through her involvement in a microcredit project. Finnish journalist Elisabet Back has written Kamu Sunawar’ story and kindly allowed IDSN to use the material. Read the article here

New book on Nepal’s Dalits: ’Dalits of Nepal: Towards Dignity, Citizenship and Justice’ was released on 8 November. Its authors have sought to understand what caste discrimination looks like, its historical legacy of keeping many millions of Nepal’s citizens unable to read and to properly feed their families, and how Dalits, in spite of these violations of human rights, seek ways to protect themselves and to live with dignity in an otherwise intolerable social order. Read more here

Press clipping: Caste is with you – República


Baseline survey on Dalit human rights: The Dalit rights NGO Parritran has carried out a baseline survey on the human rights and living conditions of Dalits in a number of villages in Southwestern Bangladesh. The study forms part of a project that aims to empower Dalits. It contains a number of recommendations for the long term improvement of the lives of Dalits such as protection from exploitation and social discrimination, increased access to education and health care and a stronger emphasis on political involvement. Click here to download the survey

News blog on atrocities against Dalits: The Dalit rights group, Parittran, publishes a news blog with information on atrocities against Dalits in Bangladesh. Recent stories include  an incident where Dalit houses were set on fire and an attack on a Dalit woman. Read the news blog here

BDERM holds annual meeting: The Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Rights Movement (BDERM) held its Annual General Meeting on 26 November. The AGM was attended by Dalits from all corners of the country, a sure sign that BDERM has come a long way in its brief existence. It is now a succesful movement, and its demands are noted by decision makers.  We will bring you a report from the meeting in the next issue of this newsletter.


Caste away by floods: Hundreds of thousands of Dalits are thought to have been affected by this summer’s disasterous floods in Pakistan. Many of them faced caste discrimination during relief efforts. They were denied access to camps as well as food because of their Dalit background. This article in the News on Sunday sheds light on the issue.

United Kingdom

Co-operation is the road to ethical investment: In a recent comment piece on ethical investment, the Guardian website cites an example of a bank deciding to adopt a proactive policy on caste discrimination when investing in India. Read the comment here

Press clipping: Caste violence in the UK – WFS

Events coming up

UN Forum on Minority Issues: The third United Nations Forum on Minority Issues will take place in Geneva on 14-15 December. The Forum will focus on ‘Minorities and effective participation in economic life’, an issue which is very relevant to Dalits who are mostly denied access to the same economic opportunities as dominant castes. A sizeable group of Dalits will take part in the event. Click here to read more about the Forum

Dalit rights are human rights: A photo exhibition, a seminar on Dalit rights and the presentation of an award to a prominent Dalit campaigner from Bangladesh will ensure a much needed focus on Dalit issues in the UK in December. The exhibition, organised by One World Action, will feature at the Department for International Development (DFID) for one week from 6 December. It will conclude on 13 December with a seminar on ’Dalit Rights in Action’. The following day, Moni Rani from Bangladesh will receive One World Action’s 2010 Sternberg Award on behalf of Dalit Women’s Forum, Dhaka. She will also take part in a briefing for MPs on the issue of caste discrimination. Read more here

UN Human Rights Day acclaim human rights defenders: The theme for this year’s UN Human Rights Day on 10 December is human rights defenders who act to end discrimination. Human rights defenders acting against discrimination, often at great personal risk to both themselves and their families, are being recognised and acclaimed on this day. This topic is very relevant to Dalits who often face resistance when attempting to defend their rights. IDSN will post news about relevant events on our website. Read more about Human Rights Day here

NACDOR organises Dalit Dignity March: Thousands of Dalits and other marginalised groups will march to the Indian parliament in New Delhi on 5 December to highlight the plight of the socially excluded. The ’Dalit Dignity March’ is organised by the National Conference of Dalit Organisations (NACDOR) and takes place one day prior to the death anniversary of the revered Dalit leader, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. The participants in the march will present a list of demands to the government.

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