The US State Department published its Report 2015 on human rights practices in India, which provides a comprehensive overview of the human rights situation in the country. The report covers areas of deprivation of life, detention, torture, trial procedures, violence, freedom of speech, assembly and religion, cultural rights, freedom of movement, refugees, political rights, workers’ rights, and discrimination against vulnerable groups, including women, Dalits, indigenous, LGBTI, children, people with disabilities and those affected by HIV/AIDS.
The report’s summary states: ‘The most significant human rights problems involved police and security force abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape; corruption remained widespread and contributed to ineffective responses to crimes, including those against women, children, and members of scheduled castes or tribes; and societal violence based on gender, religious affiliation, and caste or tribe.’
The report’s notable achievement is in its ability to reflect the significance of the issue of caste-based discrimination on Dalit communities in India. It notes that regardless of special quotas and benefits Dalit communities continue to face impediments in education, jobs, access to justice, freedom of movement, and access to institutions and services. ‘Crimes committed against Dalits reportedly often went unpunished, either because authorities failed to prosecute perpetrators or because victims did not report crimes due to fear of retaliation.’
Due to the lack of implementation of the existing laws to protect Dalit communities, they continue to face violence, and significant discrimination in access to services – health care, education, temple attendance and marriage. “Untouchability” practices prohibit ‘Dalits from walking on public pathways, wearing footwear, accessing water from public taps in upper-caste neighbourhoods, participating in some temple festivals, bathing in public pools, or using certain cremation grounds’.
The report alarms of the situation of Dalit women, who are disproportionally affected by the poor health infrastructure, denied the right to own land by tribal systems, and face disturbingly high rates of rape incidents (five-fold increase in Gujarat from 2001-14). The report also highlights that in spite of legal prohibition a disproportionate number of Dalit community members work as manual scavengers, and the majority of sumangali-bonded labourers came from Scheduled Castes, yet of those, Dalits were subject to additional abuse.
The US State Department has also referred to caste-based discrimination in its 2015 reports on Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Department makes a significant reference to caste in its report on Nepal, outlining restrictions that Dalit communities experience in access to legal representation, post-earthquake relief, lack of political representation, discrimination in employment opportunities, and intersectional discrimination faced by Dalit women. The report on Pakistan noted that low-caste communities are among the vulnerable groups, and the report on Bangladesh highlighted that Dalits ‘had restricted access to land, adequate housing, education, and employment’.