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#DalitWomenFight against Caste-Based Violence at UNHRC 38

#DalitWomenFight against Caste-Based Violence at UNHRC 38


Asha Kowtal  




#DalitWomenFight against Caste-Based Violence

United Nations Human Rights Council 38
21st June 2018, 12:00 – 13.30
Room XXVII, Palais de Nations, Geneva


Even as the world celebrates the 70th anniversary of #UDHR (Universal Declaration on Human Rights 1948) the question that remains to be asked is whether caste crimes will ever be considered as a global human rights crisis that should be addressed by the United Nations?



In the past, there have been several references to caste violence made by the UN treaty bodies including CEDAW, the Universal Periodic Review and the UN Special Procedures. In her statement, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay pointed out, ‘Due to pervasive sexism combined with their caste status, women from discriminated caste groups have limited access to land, inheritance and other economic resource and their usually higher illiteracy rates further exacerbates their economic vulnerabilities’. The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Ms. Rashida Manjoo, recollected her country visits to India, Bangladesh and Azerbaijan in 2013, and reiterated the urgent need for state accountability to address the underlying causes of inequality and oppression to bring justice to the women subjugated on account of caste. The European Parliament had also passed several resolutions condemning the growing caste violence in India and made a strong call of solidarity to survivors of caste based sexual violence in particular.


Dalit movements in India have been relentless in the struggle to ensure that domestic legal mechanisms offer some respite to a community that continues to be brutally assaulted and stripped of life and dignity. This includes monitoring of specific legislations, lobbying for amendments to the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act in 2015 and the recent uprising against the Supreme Court judgement which dilutes this powerful legislation.


Every year, the National Crime Records Bureau, India, reports that most crimes committed against Dalits were crimes against Dalit women. ‘In our experience of monitoring violence against Dalit women, the ineffectiveness of criminal justice system compounded by wilful negligence by the police to investigate the cases within the prescribed legal framework is evident’, said Prof. Vimal Thorat, Convenor, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.


Dalit women in particular have been organising , stepping up the ground level campaigns, initiating new processes for supporting survivors and demanding state accountability in cases related to caste based violence, apart from lobbying with international mechanisms.


Dr. Ruth Manorama, National Convenor, National Federation for Dalit Women(NFDW) and Recipient of Right Livelihood Award(Alternate Nobel Prize), 2006,  recounts the years of struggle to bring caste violence into the ambit of International Human Rights fora. She says, ‘ the constitutional remedies, legal provisions, development schemes, institutions, and mechanisms mandated to protect women of the community are ill-designed; they remain rusty and useless in delivering justice to survivors of caste-based violence. Post the World Conference against Racism,  Dalit women have always seized every opportunity to engage in dialogue and raise awareness about our specific issues. However, the blockading by India is severe.’’


At the UNHRC 38,  #DalitWomenFight against  Caste-Based Violence on 21st June 2018, activists from India released a campaign video and a report:‘Voices against Caste Impunity: Narratives of Dalit women in India’. The campaign has presented barriers to justice encountered by survivors and their families through witness accounts of few cases from Haryana and Rajasthan. The event presented before the international human rights community about the unchallenged state impunity in India, challenges and proposed strategies for the way forward.


The event attempted to locate new footholds for Dalit women to actively engage and build pressure within the UN system. Rita Izsak-Ndiaye, during the tweetathon hosted by @dalitwomenfight reiterated the need for communities, activists and campaigns to constantly engage with the special procedures and treaty bodies. The UN and other allied human rights organisations together with grassroots communities can enable to create pressure under which Government policies can be shaped and improved. We must not give up our collective efforts to put an end to caste-based discrimination.’


Through this event, Dalit women from India have made a strong call to international human rights organisations to break the silence on caste related issues. Dalit women are seeking support and solidarity from allies towards building a global campaign to end violence and discrimination.


Vrinda Grover, advocate Supreme Court of India commenting on the pattern of impunity in cases of caste based sexual violence presented at the side event observed that “the failure of courts to provide justice to India’s most discriminated and vulnerable women compels us to probe the underlying systemic and institutionalised challenges” and called out for strong(er) actions by civil society as well as UN mechanisms to urgently address these gaps.


Dalit women human rights defenders in India who are facing major risks, continue to courageously take on the battle against caste. ‘Our narrative is not of victimhood; we want to make it known to the world that our fight is against those who spread venom and bias which obstruct our right to life. #dalitwomenfight is one such initiative that attempts to foreground the voices of Dalit women from our villages to the United Nations’, said Asha, General Secretary, All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch.


Further. she adds, ‘My country cannot continue to pitch itself as a global player, while it continues to hide heinous crimes against my sisters deep within its belly. We will call out the hypocrisy of merely placing legal and development approaches to tackle deep seated oppression that manifests itself most brutally on our lives. This has to end ! We urge all of you to stand with us even as we take on difficult challenges.’


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