UN Expert criticizes India’s sanitation drive for exacerbating manual scavenging (2017)

The UN Expert on Water and Sanitation, Léo Heller, has stated that the failure to end the practice of manual scavenging in India coupled with the construction of more non-flush toilets, is contributing to an increase in the discriminatory practice of manual scavenging, where the lowest castes are made to undertake the duty of cleaning excrements from non-flush toilets by hand. The statement forms part of Mr. Heller’s official statement on his November 2017 mission in India.

Special Rapporteur on housing, visit to India, 11-22 April 2016

Following her visit to India April 11-22, the Special Rapporteur on housing as a component for the right to an adequate standard of living, Ms. Leilani Farha, released a press statement wherein she expressed her concern about India’s legacy of discrimination against scheduled castes and tribes.

Referring to the discrimination against scheduled castes, women and religious minorities the Rapporteur stated that: “The majority of those who are homeless or are residing in slums with the worst housing conditions are members of these and other vulnerable groups. Scheduled castes and tribes comprise 22% of India’s population but are over-represented amongst the poor. Despite affirmative action programs and “reservations”, these groups continue to be stigmatized and discriminated against. Manual scavenging, though outlawed many years ago, continues to be a reality for some with implications for their housing status.”  

To address caste-based discrimination in the context of housing, the rapporteur made the following recommendations to the government of India:

  • Central and state governments should put in place effective and timely mechanisms to collect data on evictions, including with disaggregation of the persons who are evicted by age, gender, disability, caste, religion. Similarly, effective collection of data on homelessness, on residents of slums and on living conditions should be systematically updated. This information should be made public and serve as a basis for policy design and monitoring of compliance with national and international human rights law.
  • Enact legislation to curb all forms of de facto housing discrimination against any individual or groups, especially religious and ethnic minorities, women, dalits and migrants, both for rental and house ownership.

Special Rapporteur on violence against women, visit to India, 22 April – 1 May 2013 

Between 22 April – 1 May 2013  the Special Rapporteur on violence against women visited India where she met with several Dalit women. In her press statement from 2 May 2013 she outlined how Dalit women experience some of the worst forms of discrimination and oppression, and that there is a culture of impunity for violations of the rights of Dalit women in the country, that is supported by a number of recommendations from various UN bodies.

Please find the report of the Special Rapporteur here (A/HRC/26/38/Add.1), released April 2014 and a document of caste references in the reports of the Special Rapporteur on her mission to India and Bangladesh.

NGO submissions and statements:

In September 2011, the Government of India issued a standing invitation to UN Special Procedures.

 Since 2005, the following mission reports have been prepared by Special Rapporteurs after their country visits to India (on invitation by the government):

  • SR on summary executions, April 2013: In his report A/HRC/23/47/Add.1 from his India visit in 2012 the UN Special Rapporteur on summary and extrajudicial executions, Mr. Christof Heyns, outlined how “Vulnerable persons, including women, are at particular risk of killing (edit. being killed)”, including the scheduled castes. Accordingly Dalits are at particular risks of being killed in situations of killings related to communal violence, honour killings, deaths resulting from excessive use of force and inter-marriages. In relation to his findings he made recommendations to secure a particular focus and inclusion of vulnerable groups such as women and members of lower castes, as well as fighting impunity. See also press statement from India visit 2012
  • SR on the situation of human rights defenders, March 2012: Report
    A/HRC/19/55/Add.1 and country visit statement 2011. In her report on her visit to India in January 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, raised particular concern for the situation of Dalit human rights defenders and noted widespread deficiencies in implementation of laws to protect human rights defenders. She recommended that specific attention should be given to vulnerable groups like Dalits by all authorities, and a that a particular protection programme should be set up for marginalised groups, including Dalits.
  • SR on freedom of religion and belief, March 2008: Report (A/HRC/10/8/Add.3). The Special Rapporteur expresses concern about the eruption of communal violence in the states of Orissa and Gujarat, and appeals to the authorities to step up efforts to prevent communal violence and sanction impunity of communalized police forces at the state level.
  • SR on right to health, Nov-Dec 2007:  Final report (A/HRC/14/20/Add.2)and preliminary report (A/HRC/7/11/Add.4). The mission focused on the issue of maternal mortality with a view to understanding the steps taken by India to reduce this phenomenon. The final report notes that disadvantaged groups, including ‘Scheduled Castes’ also known as Dalits, suffer from lack of access to health care, but also commends the Government of India for taking its commitment and obligationsto enhance access for all seriously (para. 36).
  • SR on the right to food, August 2005: Report (E/CN.4/2006/44/Add.2).The report contains several references to the link between caste-based discrimination and chronic undernourishment, malnutrition and starvation deaths in India.

Requests for country visits to India by UN Special Rapporteurs

Several Special Rapporteurs have requested country visits to India. For a status quo on pending requests and confirmed visits, visit the OHCHR website here

More information

Read UN treaty body recommendations on caste discrimination in India

Read the recommendations from the Universal Periodic Reviews of India

Read more about the work of the UN Special Procedures to highlight caste discrimination