A photo exhibition and seminar in the UK Department for International Development (DFID) highlighting the issue of caste discrimination and the presentation of One World Action’s Sternberg Award to the Dalit Women’s Forum in Dhaka, are some of the events taking place to ensure a much needed focus on Dalit issues in the UK around December’s Human Rights Day.

Photo: One World Action

The exhibition at DFID, produced by One World Action, runs from the 6th to 13th of December and focuses on Dalit communities in Bangladesh. It has been organised to recognise Human Rights Day on December 10th and the issue of caste discrimination as a human rights abuse.

DFID has given critical support to Dalit organisations across South Asia and the exhibition is meant to urge the international community and the UK Government to “do more to tackle caste discrimination and to raise awareness about the need to endorse and implement the UN Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination Based on Work and Descent.”

The exhibition culminates in a seminar at DFID entitled “Dalit Rights in Action: Towards the UN Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination based on Work and Descent .“ Meena Varma, Head of the Dalit Solidarity Network – UK, will be speaking at the seminar.

On the 14th of December the prestigious OneWorld Action Sternberg award will be presented to Moni Rani Das, on behalf of Dalit Women’s Forum in Dhaka Bangladesh, for outstanding contribution to development and human rights. Moni Rani Das is the Co-ordinator of the Dalit Women’s Forum, an organisation that works to raise awareness about Dalit women’s rights, create equal opportunities, and arrange training of Dalit women to empower them to stand up for their rights.

“We want our children to have the opportunities of education, to be teachers, doctors and engineers – the chances we could never dream of,” explains Ms. Rani Das.

According to One World Action there are around 5.5 million Dalits living in Bangladesh – they are discriminated against because of their ‘untouchable’ caste status and live in extreme poverty, deprived or excluded from adequate housing, health care, sanitation, transport and from participating in public spaces.  Attention to their rights is desperately needed for as Ms. Rani Das comments, “If you are not considered to be human, human rights do not apply to you.”

Dalit Women’s Forum is a part of a wider Dalit rights movement in Bangladesh, playing a key role in organising their communities and demanding change in Bangladesh.

In November, IDSN Coordinator Rikke Nöhrlind, travelled to Bangladesh alongside OneWorld Action’s Asia Regional Coordinator, Bethan Cobley, to take part in the annual meeting of the Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Rights Movement (BDERM). Ms. Nöhrlind was very encouraged by how Dalit activists are mobilising and says that, “BDERM has come a long way in a very short span of time; they have already been able to mobilize at the grass root level in 10 divisions, their policy demands are noted by the decisions makers and they are gaining press coverage for Dalit issues.“ Ms. Nöhrlind also adds that, “It is very encouraging that several donor agencies to Bangladesh now pay specific attention to poverty and human rights issues of the Dalits in their development cooperation.”

More information and previews:

See a PDF preview of the “Dalit Rights are Human Rights” exhibition

Read the One World Action briefing paper in connection with the exhibition

More information on the the One World Action Sternberg Award presented to the Dalit Women’s forum Dhaka – including background information on Dalits in Bangladesh

Read IDSN’s page on Dalit Women in Bangladesh

Read an article in the Guardian highlighting the struggle of Dalit women in Bangladesh