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.

Mr Mitchell met with Dalit representatives in the village of Kothri. (Photo courtesy of Jan Sahas Social Development Society)

Discrimination against Dalits was the primary focus of attention during Secretary of State Mitchell’s visit to the village of Kothri in Madhya Pradesh on 26 November. The UK Cabinet Minister met with members of the Dalit community and was briefed on issues ranging from manual scavenging to atrocities, banded labour, land rights and discrimination against Dalit children at government schools.

The Secretary of State for International Development talked to a group of women who had escaped from the degrading practice of manual scavenging. They have now been rehabilitated and are working in various professions – such as cooks in government schools. One had even managed to win an election to her village council. Nevertheless, they still face caste discrimination.

A former manual scavenger, Shoba Bai, presented a memento depicting burning baskets to Mr Mitchell. These symbolise the struggle against manual scavenging. She appealed to him to support liberated manual scavengers as well as people still involved in the practice.

Mr Mitchell’s visit to India comes at a time when there is considerable focus on caste discrimination in his home country, which has a large South Asian diaspora population. The outcome of a government funded research project on caste discrimination in the UK will decide whether this form of discrimination will be made illegal.

In a separate development, a Member of the European Parliament for the West Midlands has become the first to respond to an appeal from a number of signatories – including NGOs One World Action and Dalit Solidarity Network-UK – to take a proactive role in making caste discrimination a priority human rights issue in the EU.

Michael Cashman, an MEP from the Labour Party, stated that caste discrimination is wrong – and wrongly ignored. He promised to continue his support for the issue in the European Parliament’s Development Committee.

IDSN information on manual scavenging

UK Department for International Development

Jan Sahas Social Development Society

One World Action letter campaign