IDSN urges President Barack Obama to raise the issue of caste discrimination on his upcoming visit to India

15 October 2010
Dear Mr. President,

The International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) promotes the elimination of caste discrimination, assisting affected communities to claim their human rights.

We would like to draw your attention to this pressing issue of caste and descent based discrimination before your visit to India next month. It is one of the largest and most serious human rights problems in the world today.

An estimated 260 million people around the world, mainly Dalits in South Asia, are affected by caste discrimination, which in its consequences resembles that of South Africa’s apartheid and racism. Although caste is distinct from the concept of race, both types of discrimination produce comparable forms of political, economic, and social exclusion.  Exposed to dehumanizing practices, segregation and a system of ‘graded inequality’, members of affected communities experience systemic discrimination, and often severe violations of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Despite longstanding constitutional, legislative and affirmative action measures in India, the problem persists in that country, as in the other caste-affected countries.

Countries and regions previously ridden by gross forms of discrimination, such as your own country, Mr. President, and Southern Africa, went through vigorous struggles to free them-selves of this scourge. In the last stages of their struggle, they were supported by international solidarity movements and ultimately, the international community. At the UN, India was at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid.

Today, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay, expresses her deep concern for people affected by caste discrimination, reminding us that caste is the very nega-tion of the human rights principles of equality and non-discrimination.

IDSN believes that caste discrimination warrants separate and distinctive treatment in the UN human rights system, and in an important step in this direction, UN experts have proposed a comprehensive set of UN Principles and Guidelines for the effective elimination of discrimination based on ‘work and descent’. Last year, Ms. Pillay called upon the international community to support such efforts and urged the UN Human Rights Council to adopt the guidelines.

We hope that you, Mr. President, will make your contribution to the Dalit human rights cause by urging the Indian government to take all available measures, supported by effective means for their implementation, to end caste discrimination and secure full and equal access to justice, services, development and ownership for all the citizens of India.

On behalf of all members and associates of IDSN, and affected communities, we appeal to you also to urge the Indian government to endorse international efforts to end the practice of ‘untouchability’ and other forms of discrimination based on work and descent.

An expression of support, Mr. President, and engagement with political leaders on this important national and international human rights agenda would be a much needed and decisive contribution to the Dalit struggle for rights and dignity, not only in India, but all over the world.

We will end our appeal with Ms. Pillay’s words: “The time has come to eradicate the shameful concept of caste. Other seemingly insurmountable walls, such as slavery and apartheid, have been dismantled in the past. We can and must tear down the barriers of caste too.”

We hope, Mr. President, for your support, too.

Yours sincerely,

Rikke Nöhrlind
Co-ordinator – IDSN

Vijay Parmar
National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights – India

Encl.:  Note with link references to more information is available from: