BJP: Bharatiya Janata Party
CEDAW Committee: Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
CERD: Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
CHR: Commission on Human Rights
CHRGJ: Center for Human Rights and Global Justice
FIR: First Information Report
ICERD: International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
NCDHR: National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights
NGO: Non-governmental organization
NHRC: National Human Rights Commission
POTA: Prevention of Terrorism Act 2002
UN: United Nations
VHP: Vishwa Hindu Prashad (World Hindu Council)
I. Summary List of the Critical Issues Pertaining to India's Periodic Report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
Human Rights Watch and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at New York University School of Law submit the following information to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (Committee or CERD) for consideration in its review of India's fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth periodic reports under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Convention or ICERD). This joint-submission is based on in-depth Human Rights Watch investigations on caste discrimination in India and the findings of Indian governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on caste-based abuses.
Discriminatory and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of over 165 million people in India has been justified on the basis of caste. Caste is descent-based and hereditary in nature. It is a characteristic determined by one's birth into a particular caste, irrespective of the faith practiced by the individual. Caste denotes a traditional system of rigid social stratification into ranked groups defined by descent and occupation. Caste divisions in India dominate in housing, marriage, employment, and general social interaction-divisions that are reinforced through the practice and threat of social ostracism, economic boycotts, and physical violence. This report focuses on the practice of "untouchability"-the imposition of social disabilities on persons by reason of their birth in certain castes. This practice relegates Dalits, or so-called untouchables (known in Indian legal parlance as scheduled castes), to a lifetime of discrimination, exploitation and violence, including severe forms of torture perpetrated by state and private actors in violation of the rights guaranteed by the Convention. Although the practice has been condemned by many Indian leaders, including most recently by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, unless the government accepts responsibility to end the widespread prejudice, crimes against Dalits will continue. India has consistently cited its numerous legislations and government policies as a measure of compliance with its obligations to end caste-based discrimination, choosing to ignore its failure to implement these measures which has resulted in continued, and sometimes enhanced, brutalities against Dalits.
Human Rights Watch and the CHRGJ respectfully request that the following issues be raised in the List of Issues addressed to the State Party and in the State Party examination.
In response to the Committee's request that the Government of India submit information on issues pertaining to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, India's periodic report states that "'caste' cannot be equated with 'race' or covered under 'descent' under Article 1 of the Convention." India's position directly contradicts the Committee's interpretation of Article 1 in General Recommendation XXIX that "discrimination based on 'descent' includes discrimination against members of communities based on forms of social stratification such as caste and analogous systems of inherited status." However, we welcome Prime Minister Singh's comment on December 27, 2006 that:
Dalits have faced a unique discrimination in our society that is fundamentally different from the problems of minority groups in general.The only parallel to the practice of 'untouchability' was Apartheid in South Africa. Untouchability is not just social discrimination. It is a blot on humanity.
We hope that this statement will prompt appropriate reforms in government policies.
On the basis of this information, we respectfully request that the following issues be raised with the State Party:
Elaborate upon the basis for India's position that descent-based discrimination does not encompass caste discrimination, including why India has not brought its definition of descent-based discrimination in line with the Committee's General Recommendation XXIX.
Elaborate on measures taken pursuant to General Recommendation XXIX, and monitor and report on such measures.
Provide data, disaggregated inter alia, by caste and gender on the enjoyment of Convention rights.
India's failure to ensure that all public authorities and public institutions do not engage in caste-based discrimination is widespread. Two examples exemplify this failure: treatment of Dalits by the police and discrimination in the provision of disaster relief. India's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)-a statutory government body that the Indian government describes as the apex national institution to protect human rights and redress grievances-has commented that the law enforcement machinery is the greatest violator of Dalits' human rights. According to the NHRC, widespread custodial torture and killing of Dalits, rape and sexual assault of Dalit women, and looting of Dalit property by the police "are condoned, or at best ignored." This problem is not a recent one. In 1979 India constituted the National Police Commission to analyze problems in police performance. However, the Commission's recommendations, which include recommendations specific to police abuse of Dalits, have still not been adopted. While the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act,1989 (hereinafter Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989) and the Supreme Court guidelines set out in the D.K. Basu case are available legal tools to prevent torture, illegal detention, or improper interrogation of Dalits, jurists, human rights activists and civil rights groups claim that a lack of political will and immunity laws that shield those responsible for human rights abuses from prosecution, allow the problem of torture and other forms of custodial abuse to continue unchecked.
Dalits are particularly vulnerable to arrest under draconian security laws. Additionally, under a theory of collective punishment, the police often target entire Dalit communities in search of one individual and subject the community to violent search and seizure operations. Dalit women are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence by the police, which is used as a tool to punish Dalit communities. Police also actively allow private actors to commit violence against Dalits with impunity, and at times, collude with private actors in committing such atrocities. Police systematically fail to properly register these crimes under the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 and the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1995.
According to separate investigations by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) and Human Rights Watch, India failed to protect Dalits from discrimination in the distribution of aid in the wake of two of India's largest natural disasters in recent years: the Gujarat earthquake in January 2001 and the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004. India has also failed to encourage integrationist movements or eliminate barriers between castes. It has allowed segregation in schools and housing, and has failed to faithfully implement constitutional and legislative abolitions of "untouchability" practices. Additionally, as Dalits increasingly organize to protest their discriminatory treatment and claim their rights, the government has consistently failed to protect Dalits against retaliatory attacks by upper-caste groups, including the rape of Dalit women, and has failed to address social and economic boycotts against Dalits, thereby further discouraging integrationist movements.
On the basis of this information, we respectfully request that the following issues be raised with the State Party:
Identify measures the government is implementing to ensure appropriate police reforms to eliminate police abuses against Dalits.
Indicate whether a timetable exists for India's ratification of the Convention against Tortureand Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Outline measures undertaken to implement the recommendations of the National Police Commission and the Supreme Court's D.K. Basu guidelines with particular attention to protection of Dalits from torture.
Explain factors that account for the low rate of convictions in cases brought by Dalits and measures taken to address these factors.
The extreme marginalization and persecution endured by Dalits necessitate efforts by the government to ensure their development and protection. Accordingly, under constitutional provisions and various laws, India grants Dalits a certain number of privileges, including "reservations" (quotas) in education, government jobs, and government bodies. Like many of the protective measures adopted, the reservation policy has not been successfully implemented for Dalits. Caste-based occupational distribution is reinforced in reserved government employment, with Dalits assigned primarily to the posts of sweepers. Reservations in higher education continue to be met with a great deal of resistance leading to under-enforcement. Additionally, there has been widespread public opposition to reservations for Dalits in local government bodies, often leading to acts of violence, including the rape and murder of Dalit candidates.
The NHRC has recommended that the government identify institutions that had not accepted reservations-including judiciary and defense forces-and develop measures to ensure that Dalit candidates have the opportunity to compete for these positions. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes-a constitutional body with jurisdiction to promote respect for the human rights of Dalits and tribal groups, monitor and investigate the observance of these rights, and secure appropriate redress when these rights have been violated-has stated that the private sector, which continues to enjoy government patronage, should also be brought under the purview of the reservation policy. According to government estimates in 2000, the unemployment rate for Dalits and tribal groups was double that of non-Dalits/tribals. Additionally, public sector divestment to private owners is estimated to have left 200,000 Dalit employees jobless. Dalits continue to be significantly underrepresented in most professional strata. Dalit representation in India's high industries, exports, imports, and electronic industries sectors is dismal.
The Government of India has also established several programs for the development of Dalits. According to the NHRC, however, the beneficial impact of these programs has been hindered by inadequate investment of public resources; non-utilization or diversion of funds earmarked for Dalit development; lack of programs specifically targeted to Dalit development; poor preparation of such projects; and a lack of monitoring of development programs, leading to the failure of many such programs to reach their target groups.
Additionally, India has failed to address the multiple axes of discrimination faced by Dalit women- including their unequal access to services, employment opportunities, and justice mechanisms as compared to Dalit men-and threats to their personal security, including through brutal acts of sexual violence and through the system of devadasi, in which a girl, usually before reaching the age of puberty, is ceremoniously dedicated or married to a deity or to a temple.
On the basis of this information, we respectfully request that the following issues be raised with the State Party:
Identify strategies for overcoming obstacles in the implementation of the reservations policy, including how the Government intends to ensure protection from retaliation for Dalit candidates in all local elections where seats are reserved for Dalits, including village council elections, and provide an update on the status of proposals to extend equal opportunity measures including reservations to other public spheres and the private sector.
Elaborate on plans to implement laws and government policies to secure the protection and development of Dalits, and of Dalit women in particular.
Residential segregation of Dalits is prevalent across the country, and is the rule rather than the exception. Segregation is also evident in schools, in access to public services, and in access to services operated by the private sector (as described under Article 5). In his 1999 Annual Report, the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance found "untouchability" to be "very much alive" in rural areas, as reflected in caste-based segregation in housing, schools, public services, public places, and in the prohibition against Dalits' use of shared water sources. A recently published survey investigating the extent of "untouchability" practices in 565 villages in 11 Indian states found that the constitutionally abolished crime of "untouchability" continues to profoundly affect the lives and psyches of millions of Dalits. "Untouchability" practices were documented in almost 80 percent of the villages surveyed.
On the basis of this information, we respectfully request that the following issue be raised with the State Party:
In light of General Recommendation XIX on Article 3 of the Convention, indicate specific measures that India has implemented to eradicate de facto segregation and the practice of "untouchability," and provide information on the impact of these measures.
In its periodic report, India indicates that "[n]o cases have arisen under the legislations for inciting racial disharmony or disseminating ideas of racial superiority." The absence of such cases must be questioned in light of the casteist and anti-Christian and anti-Muslim propaganda of the Sangh Parivar, which serves as the umbrella organization for Hindu nationalist organizations in India, including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps, RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, VHP), and the VHP's militant youth wing, the Bajrang Dal. These organizations bear collective responsibility for widespread violence against Muslims and Christians in India, and have disseminated propaganda targeting both Dalits and religious minorities. The political wing of the Sangh Parivar, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led the Government of India in alliance with other parties between 1998 and 2004, and continues to head several state governments.
Indicate measures undertaken by India to combat hate speech and other forms of propaganda inciting caste discrimination and violence, and discrimination and violence against religious minorities.
Indicate measures undertaken by India to prosecute and punish members of Sangh Parivar-affiliated groups responsible for atrocities against Dalits and religious minorities, including violent attacks, massacres, and forced "reconversions" to Hinduism.
Dalits' fundamental civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights are routinely violated by state actors and private individuals.
The right to equal treatment before the tribunals and all other organs administering justice
In the administration of justice, police, prosecutors, and judges fail to properly pursue cases brought by Dalits concerning discriminatory acts. This is evidenced by the high rate of acquittals and the large number of cases involving offenses and atrocities against Dalits still pending before the courts. Dalit women in particular lack sufficient redress for the crimes committed against them due to the caste and gender biases of India's law enforcement machinery.
The right to security of person and protection by the State against violence or bodily harm, whether inflicted by government officials or by any individual group or institution
The police have systematically failed to protect Dalit homes and Dalit individuals from acts of looting, arson, sexual assault, torture, and other inhumane acts such as the tonsuring, stripping and parading of Dalit women, and forcing Dalits to drink urine and eat feces. Much like cases of police abuse against Dalits, attacks by private actors often take the form of collective punishment, whereby entire communities or villages are punished for the perceived transgressions of individuals who seek to alter village customs or demand their rights.
Provide detailed information on any specific training for members of the judiciary, law enforcement officials and other public officials on the provisions of the Convention, as well as applicable domestic legislation, and their application to Dalits in particular.
Provide data on the number of cases of caste discrimination considered by courts since the State Party's last periodic report, case outcomes, and remedies (including civil remedies) available and granted to victims of caste discrimination.
Political rights, in particular the right to participate in elections-to vote and to stand for election-on the basis of universal and equal suffrage, to take part in the Government as well as in the conduct of public affairs at any level and to have equal access to public service
Dalits' political rights, especially the right to vote freely and the right to stand for election, have repeatedly been denied by upper-caste community members by booth-rigging and booth capturing, denial of access to polls, intimidation, and violence.
The right to freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association
Dalits' right to freedom of opinion and expression, and rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association are compromised by police abuse of Dalit activists, retaliatory attacks by private actors that are carried out with impunity, and social and economic boycotts against Dalits.
The right to form and join trade unions
Dalits' right to form and join trade unions is undermined by an unwillingness to register unions where workers are illiterate.
On the basis of this information, we respectfully request that the following issue be raised with the State Party:
Provide information (including statistical data, disaggregated by caste and gender) on the actual participation of Dalits in State institutions, including national and local government, the police, the judiciary, and in institutes of higher education.
The right to freedom of movement and residence within the border of the State and the right to leave any country, including one's own, and to return to one's country
Dalits' right to freedom of residence is severely curtailed by the practice of "untouchability" which often dictates where Dalits must live. Dalits' right to freedom of movement within India is curtailed by conditions that make Dalits vulnerable to migratory labor and by the forced displacement of Dalits in the aftermath of episodes of caste violence. Moreover, Dalits' right to leave India, while formally granted, is not substantively guaranteed due to Dalits' disproportionately low economic status and their inability to acquire relevant documents and the proof necessary, for instance, to make a passport.
The right to marriage and choice of spouse
Strict prohibitions on marriage and other social interaction between Dalits and the upper-caste routinely violate the rights of Dalits to marry and choose their spouse. These prohibitions on inter-marriage are a hallmark feature of the caste system and are designed to ensure rigid social norms of purity and pollution. Inter-marriages are frequently the flashpoint for conflicts and can be extra-judicially punished by upper-caste dominated panchayats (village councils) through public lynching of couples or their relatives, murder (of the bride, the groom, or their relatives), rape, public beatings, and other sanctions.
The right to own property alone as well as in association with others and the right to housing
The right to own property is systematically denied to Dalits. Landlessness-encompassing a lack of access to land, inability to own land, and forced evictions-constitutes a crucial element in the subordination of Dalits. When Dalits do acquire land, elements of the right to own property-including the right to access and enjoy it-are routinely infringed. Land reform legislation is neither implemented nor properly enforced. Dalits' efforts to secure land have been met with State violence or retaliation by private actors in the form of violence or economic sanctions. Dalits' right to housing is further undermined by residential segregation, discrimination in housing in urban environments, and the aforementioned violations of their right to own property.
Provide information on measures that are being taken to protect Dalits against displacement from their homes, to compensate Dalit victims of displacement, and to prosecute those responsible for committing atrocities to deter or punish inter-caste marriages.
Provide information on the successes and failures of land reform legislation and on efforts to ensure Dalits' right to own property, including on the nature of strategies that may be needed to maximize the effectiveness of land reform for Dalits.
The right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion
Dalits in India face a number of restrictions on their right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. Dalits are, for instance, routinely denied entry into Hindu temples. Even when such entry is sanctioned by the courts, priests and upper-castes resist such moves, often leading to violence. Dalits have responded to ill-treatment by upper-caste Hindus by converting en masse to Buddhism, Christianity, and historically, to Islam. However, the loss of constitutional privileges upon conversion (to Christianity and Islam) is a serious impediment to Dalits' freedom to choose their religion. In addition, the introduction of anti-conversion legislation in several states has made religious conversion extremely difficult if not impossible. Tragically, even conversion does not guarantee escape from their treatment as "untouchables" since "untouchability" is practiced across all faiths in India.
On the basis of this information, we respectfully request that the following issue be raised with the State Party:
Provide information on whether the State is reviewing and addressing the potential negative effects of anti-conversion legislation on the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and on whether the State is considering extending scheduled caste benefits to all Dalits, regardless of the faith they practice.
Rights to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work, to protection against unemployment, to equal pay for equal work, to just and favorable remuneration
The denial of the right to work and free choice of employment lies at the very heart of the caste system. Dalits are forced to work in "polluting" and degrading occupations such as manual scavenging and are subject to exploitative labor arrangements such as bonded labor, migratory labor, and forced prostitution. Dalit children are vulnerable to trafficking and the worst forms of child labor in these and other areas. Dalits are also discriminated against in hiring and in the payment of wages by private employers. Dalits' attempts to enforce their rights are met with retaliatory violence and social and economic boycotts. Laws designed to eradicate exploitative labor arrangements-such as the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, the Inter State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Service Conditions) Act, 1979, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, and the Karnataka Devadasi (Prohibition of Dedication) Act, 1992-and where relevant, their accompanying rehabilitation programs, are largely ineffective.
Outline how India plans to ensure effective eradication of exploitative labor arrangements and the effective implementation of rehabilitation schemes for Dalit bonded and child laborers, manual scavengers, and devadasis.
The right to public health, medical care, social security, and social services
Dalits are often refused admission to hospitals, or access to health care and treatment in violation of their rights to the highest attainable standard of health and social services. In a number of cases those who are admitted receive discriminatory treatment. In addition, caste-based occupations that Dalits are made to perform, such as manual scavenging and forced prostitution, frequently expose Dalits to serious and sometimes fatal health hazards. Manual scavengers are routinely exposed to both human and animal waste without the protection of masks, uniforms, gloves, shoes, appropriate buckets, and mops. This has severe repercussions for their health; the majority of scavengers suffer from anemia, diarrhea and vomiting, with 62 percent suffering respiratory diseases, 32 percent suffering skin diseases, 42 percent suffering jaundice, and 23 percent suffering trachoma, leading to blindness. Many scavengers have also died of carbon monoxide poisoning while cleaning septic tanks. In Mumbai, for instance, Dalits are lowered into manholes to clear sewage blockages-often without any protection. More than 100 workers die every year due to inhalation of toxic gases or drowning in excrement. Dalit women and girls who are forced to become devadasis, and ultimately auctioned to urban brothels, are at particular risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
The right to education and training
The right to education free from discrimination is not secured for Dalit children. 99 percent of Dalit students are enrolled in government schools that lack basic infrastructure, classrooms, teachers, and teaching aids. Dalit children face continued hurdles and abuse from teachers and fellow non-Dalit students, including through segregation both in classrooms and in the provision of mid-day meals. Dalit schoolchildren also face discrimination and discouragement from higher-caste community members who perceive education for Dalits as both a waste and a threat. Their hostility toward Dalits' education-which includes discrimination against Dalit teachers-is linked to the perception that Dalits are not meant to be educated, are incapable of being educated, or if educated, would pose a threat to village hierarchies and power relations. Additionally, Dalit children are often subjected to corporal punishment by their teachers. As the Special Rapporteur on the right to education noted in his report before the 67th session of the then-Commission on Human Rights (CHR), "teachers have been known to declare that Dalit pupils 'cannot learn unless they are beaten.'" Dalits' labor patterns (migratory and child labor) also adversely affect access to education. A combination of these factors results in low enrollment, high drop-out rates, and low literacy rates of Dalit students.
The right to equal participation in cultural activities
Dalits are prohibited from taking part in religious and cultural rituals and festivals, including through a ban on marriage processions on roads. Where Dalits are included in village ceremonies and festivals, their participation is limited to the performing of degrading tasks. Additionally, they are expected to provide services during rituals and festivals without remuneration.
The right of access to any place or service intended for use by the general public, such as transport hotels, restaurants, cafes, theatres, and parks
Dalits are denied equal access to a spectrum of places and services intended for use by the general public, such as police stations, government ration shops, post offices, schools, water facilities, and village counciloffices. As a result of segregation in water facilities, more than 20 percent of Dalits do not have access to safe drinking water, only 10 percent of Dalit households have access to sanitation (as compared to 27 percent for non-Dalit households), and the vast majority of Dalits depend on the "goodwill" of upper-caste community members for access to water from community wells. Dalits are also excluded from, or receive discriminatory treatment in, private businesses, including tea shops, food stalls, barber shops, and cinemas. Because of strictly enforced prohibitions on inter-dining, Dalits are made to use separate crockery and cutlery, and drink from separate tea glasses which they are then required to wash.
Identify measures to protect Dalits' right to health, including through ensuring greater access to health care services, and through eradicating the inhuman practice of septic tank cleaning, and other hazardous tasks performed by manual scavengers.
Identify steps taken to eradicate segregation, particularly in access to public services, and to address the violations of Convention rights occasioned by segregation, such as the right to water and the right to education free from discrimination.
In its periodic report, India cites to its constitutional provisions and legislative measures (which constitutionally must apply to all people irrespective of caste) that open its courts to victims of discrimination. In 2004 the NHRC released the findings of an in-depth examination of the implementation of protective legislation for scheduled castes. The report is a strong indictment of the government's failure to carry out its promises to protect Dalits from atrocities and violations of their fundamental rights and to grant remedies for rights' violations. On the question of remedies, the NHRC found that even where cases are properly registered, several states are not providing economic relief or compensation to victims of atrocities as is required.
Provide further information on the current situation regarding access to justice and right to remedies for Dalit communities, including the effectiveness of existing access to justice mechanisms and how the government intends to enforce the requirement of economic relief and compensation for victims.
Provide information on the composition, status, resources, and activities of the National Commission on Scheduled Castes and Schedules Tribes, including the number of complaints received (if any) and their nature, investigations by the Commission, and forms of redress provided.
Identify obstacles in the implementation of legislation designed to protect Dalits and strategies to overcome these obstacles, including the extent to which the State Party intends to incorporate the recommendations of the 2004 report of the NHRC on atrocities against scheduled castes.
There is a severe lack of public education and awareness of caste discrimination in India. Treatment of caste discrimination in textbooks and curricula may strengthen caste division and prejudice, as does the pervasive practice of segregation in government schools. Even progressive curricula either exclude any mention of caste discrimination or discuss the caste system in a way that suggests that caste inequities and discrimination no longer exist. School textbooks may similarly fail to mention caste discrimination, may attempt to justify the origins of caste discrimination, or may attribute the unequal situation of Dalits to the Dalit community. The problem is compounded by inadequate media representation of Dalit issues and the lack of Dalit journalists generally. Since caste-based discrimination is not as highly visible in urban settings, opinion makers, particularly the media, do not pay sufficient attention to the rampant and continuing practice in rural areas. The NHRC has found that the media "provides negligible space to plight/problems" of Dalits. Instead, these communities mostly receive media attention only when the discussion is focused on violent protests, backwardness, population growth, and lack of entrepreneurship and productivity, thereby perpetuating caste-based stereotypes.
How the government intends to ensure that all textbooks, curricular, and media representation of Dalits do not strengthen caste division and prejudice.
Indicate whether measures have been taken to disseminate the Convention and General Recommendation XXIX and to promote educational measures that combat caste discrimination.
Human Rights Watch and CHRGJ thank the Committee for its consideration of this information.
Human Rights Watch and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at New York University School of Law submit the following report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (Committee or CERD) for consideration in its review of India's fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth periodic reports under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Convention or ICERD).
Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, New YorkUniversitySchool of Law
CHRGJ is directed by Professors Philip Alston, Smita Narula, and Margaret Satterthwaite. Jayne Huckerby is research director. CHRGJ aims to generate substantive, cutting-edge, and sophisticated contributions to human rights research and legal scholarship, and to actively engage in public affairs by making original and constructive contributions to ongoing policy debates relating to human rights. It achieves these aims by undertaking rigorous legal analysis and disseminating studies in five key research and project areas: Detainees and the "War on Terror," Discrimination and National Security, Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, Extrajudicial Executions, and Transitional Justice. In its work on Discrimination, the Center and the International Human Rights Clinic (a program of the Center) have focused on caste discrimination in South Asia, collaborating extensively with the International Dalit Solidarity Network, of which Professor Narula is a co-founder. Professor Narula is also former researcher for South Asia at Human Rights Watch where she investigated and authored a number of Human Rights Watch's reports on caste discrimination and discrimination against religious minorities in India. Most recently, in August 2005, during the meeting of the United Nations (UN) Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, the Center released a 65-page report entitled The Missing Piece of the Puzzle: Caste Discrimination and the Conflict in Nepal, and in November 2005, provided an oral statement to the UN Committee Against Torture urging the Committee to investigate torture against Dalits in its State Party examination of Nepal. All publications and statements of the Center can be found at its website: www.chrgj.org.
Human Rights Watch
An independent, New York-based nongovernmental organization, Human Rights Watch conducts regular, systematic fact-finding investigations into human rights abuses in all regions of the world. Human Rights Watch examines human rights practices of state and non-state actors irrespective of their political affiliation, geopolitical alignments, ethnic or religious persuasions. It defends freedom of thought and expression, due process and equal protection of the law, and a vigorous civil society. Founded in 1978, Human Rights Watch today includes divisions that cover Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and Central Asia, and the Middle East in addition to its thematic divisions. It is supported by contributions from private individuals and foundations worldwide. It accepts no government funds, directly or indirectly. Kenneth Roth is the executive director and Brad Adams heads the Asia Division. Human Rights Watch has worked on caste-based discrimination in South Asia for almost a decade, but particularly since the 1999 publication of its report Broken People: Caste Violence Against India's "Untouchables." Human Rights Watch is a founding member of the International Dalit Solidarity Network and collaborates extensively with a number of Dalit rights groups in South Asia. It has recently been advocating for the protection of Dalits who are particularly vulnerable in situations of internal conflict. An armed conflict involving Maoists in Nepal, and a similar uprising in several Indian states in India by Maoist groups known as Naxalites, has placed Dalits at high risk of abuse from security forces, vigilante groups often acting with the support of the government, and militants. It has also documented the particular vulnerability of Dalits among children employed in the worst forms of child labor and among those living with HIV/AIDS. Human Rights Watch investigated the failure of the state to protect Dalits from discrimination in receiving relief and rehabilitation after the 2006 tsunami; its recommendations were submitted to the Indian government as it prepared its disaster management policy. All reports, editorials, and statements of Human Rights Watch are available on www.hrw.org.
This report focuses solely on the issue of caste discrimination in India in response to its conspicuous absence in the Government of India's combined report to CERD. The practice of "untouchability"-the imposition of social disabilities on persons by reason of their birth in certain castes-discriminates against more than one-sixth of India's population. Dalits, or so-called untouchables (known in Indian legal parlance as scheduled castes), are denied access to land, forced to work in degrading conditions, and routinely abused at the hands of the police and of higher-caste groups that often enjoy the state's protection. In what has been called India's "hidden apartheid," entire villages in many Indian states remain completely segregated by caste. In focusing on caste discrimination in India, this report acknowledges, but does not explore, the other pervasive practices of discrimination in India, including those that target religious minorities. In particular, Human Rights Watch has extensively documented human rights violations against India's Christian and Muslim community, including the state-sponsored massacre of over 2,000 Muslims in the state of Gujarat in 2002.
While the Government of India's periodic report cites specifically to Constitutional provisions prohibiting discrimination by the State-including on grounds of a person's caste-and generally to the existence of legislation enacting these provisions, this elaboration of its de jure prohibition on caste discrimination does not reflect the daily reality of the continued practice of "untouchability" and persecution of Dalits in India. Dalits are systematically discriminated against and abused by public authorities and private actors, who act without any fear of punishment as they rarely face sanctions for their violations of Dalits' fundamental rights.
The Committee itself has recognized that India is in breach of its international human rights obligations in its failure to bring an end to caste discrimination. In its Concluding Observations to India's tenth to fourteenth periodic reports, the Committee asserted that:
although constitutional provisions and legal texts exist to abolish untouchability and to protect the members of the scheduled castes and tribes, and although social and educational policies have been adopted to improve the situation of members of scheduled castes and tribes and to protect them from abuses, widespread discrimination against them and the relative impunity of those who abuse them point to the limited effect of these measures.
While tribal peoples in India, adivasis, face similar forms of discrimination, this report limits itself to caste-based discrimination based against Dalits or so-called untouchables.
Sources Used in this Report
This report draws on extensive investigations on the issue of caste discrimination conducted by Human Rights Watch in India; on information made publicly available by the Government of India through inter alia, a 2004 report by the NHRC on the "Prevention of Atrocities Against Scheduled Castes;" reports by the National Commission on Scheduled Tribes and Schedules Castes, the National Commission on Women, and the Annual Reports to the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, and the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989; and on Indian media and NGO reports, among other sources. Where relevant the report also draws attention to information from UN special procedures and treaty bodies that have noted with concern the prevalence of caste discrimination in India.
Availability of Information from the Government of India
The Indian government does not provide prompt and sufficient information on the situation of Dalits. Governmental agencies in India and the Indian Parliament itself have failed to make statistics available to the public in a timely fashion. In general, there are routine delays of between two to four years in the writing and tabling of reports from various national commissions. For example, at this writing, the most recent statistics available from the National Commission on Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes date from 2001-02 and were only made publicly available in 2004.
UN treaty bodies have repeatedly exhorted the Indian government to conduct periodic surveys on the reality of descent-based discrimination and provide both qualitative and quantitative data disaggregated by caste and gender in its reports to the committees, so far to no avail. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) has pointed to the Indian government's tendency to provide "very old" information. The State Party's failure to collect and record information on the enjoyment of human rights by Dalits is in itself suggestive of the government's inattention to the issue of caste discrimination.
Article 1: In this Convention, the term "racial discrimination" shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.
In response to the Committee's request that the Government of India submit information on issues pertaining to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, India's periodic report states that "'caste' cannot be equated with 'race' or covered under 'descent' under Article 1 of the Convention." As a result of this position, the periodic report contains no information on Dalits in India and the State Party provides that "As a matter of courtesy to the members of the Committee, if it so desires, the Government of India would be happy to provide information relating to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to them though not as a reporting obligation under CERD."
India's position directly contradicts the Committee's interpretation of Article 1 in General Recommendation XXIX that "discrimination based on 'descent' includes discrimination against members of communities based on forms of social stratification such as caste and analogous systems of inherited status." Furthermore, in its Concluding Observations on the reports submitted by India in 1996, the Committee affirmed "that the situation of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes falls within the scope of the Convention." In support of this interpretation, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance has included investigations on caste-based discrimination in his mandate.
Despite the Government of India's exclusion of caste discrimination in its periodic report to the Committee, the Government has recognized it as an issue in its reports to other international treaty monitoring bodies. In 2000 the CEDAW Committee expressed its concern "with the continuing discrimination, including violence, suffered by women of the Dalit community, despite the passage of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989." In response, the Government of India included the situation of Dalit women in its recent submission of its combined Second and Third periodic reports to the CEDAW Committee.
Nevertheless, the discussion of Dalit women in this report remains cursory, addressing the issue of violence against Dalit women by simply noting the passage of the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, and the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989. While the Government details its efforts on other issues in greater detail-including education, segregation, manual scavenging, bonded labor, and lack of access to land-the extent to which these issues remain a problem in India is alarmingly minimized.
Caste discrimination in India has also been raised as an issue of serious concern by a number of other treaty bodies and special procedures. In 1997 the Human Rights Committeenoted that scheduled castes in India "continue to endure severe social discrimination and to suffer disproportionately from many violations of their rights under the [ICCPR], inter alia inter-caste violence, bonded labour and discrimination of all kinds." And as recently as 2004 the Committee on the Rights of the Child was "deeply concerned at persistent and significant social discrimination against children belonging to Scheduled Castes and Tribes and other tribal groups." Additionally, the UN Special Rapporteurs on education, adequate housing, the right to food, violence against women, and torture have all included investigations on caste-based discrimination in their mandate and have cited India as a country of particular concern.
Because one's caste can be determinative of one's occupation, caste discrimination is also referred to as discrimination on the basis of "work and descent." The UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights passed a resolution in August 2000 reaffirming that discrimination based on work and descent is prohibited under international human rights law. In his 2001 report commissioned by that same resolution, Sub-Commission expert R.K.W. Goonesekere underscored that caste systems are inherently economic and social in their consequences and represent a deeply oppressive form of work and descent-based discrimination.In 2004 the Sub-Commission appointed two Rapporteurs to undertake "a comprehensive study on discrimination based on work and descent." The Rapporteurs were tasked with: determining the impact that the practices and policies of governments, local authorities, private sector entities, schools, religious institutions, and the media have had on discrimination based on work and descent; obtaining information on existing measures taken by governments, national human rights groups, the UN, and NGOs to combat discrimination based on work and descent; and drafting a set of principles or guidelines setting forth the measures necessary to effectively eliminate discrimination based on work and descent. The appointment of the Rapporteurs was approved by the CHR at its 61st Session in April 2005.
A.Condemn caste discrimination and undertake to pursue by all appropriate means a policy of eliminating caste discrimination
Article 2 (1): States Parties condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and promoting understanding among all races
The Government of India has not refrained from committing and supporting discriminatory acts against Dalits, and has failed to implement measures to end caste discrimination. India has failed to encourage integrationist movements and has not provided for the development and protection of Dalits, who as a result remain an extremely marginalized social group.
1.Refrain from committing discriminatory acts
Article 2 (1) (a): Each State Party undertakes to engage in no act or practice of racial discrimination against persons, groups of persons or institutions and to ensure that all public authorities and public institutions, national and local, shall act in conformity with this obligation.
India's failure to ensure that all public authorities and public institutions do not engage in caste-based discrimination is widespread. The discussion below focuses on two examples that exemplify this failure: treatment of Dalits by the police and discrimination in the provision of disaster relief. Further examples of this failure are dealt with throughout the remainder of the Report.
a.Dalits and law enforcement
In 2004 the NHRC characterized the law enforcement machinery as the greatest violator of Dalits' human rights. This problem is not a recent one. In 1979 India constituted the National Police Commission to analyze problems in police performance. However, the Commission's recommendations, which include recommendations specific to police abuse of Dalits, have still not been adopted. Police continue to detain, torture, and extort money from Dalits without much fear of punishment. According to the NHRC, custodial torture and killing of Dalits, rape and sexual assault of Dalit women, and looting of Dalit property by the police "are condoned, or at best ignored ..." Dalits who encounter the police are forced to listen to casteist name-calling, unfounded accusations on their character, and threats against their family and friends.
While under-reporting of police treatment (including torture) of Dalits means that the real magnitude is unknown, the national Preventing Torture project initiated by People's Watch, a Tamil Nadu-based NGO, asserts that Dalits suffer disproportionately at the hands of the police and are at high risk of being subjected to torture while in police custody. The Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989, and the Supreme Court guidelines set out in the D.K. Basu case (1997) are available legal tools to prevent torture, illegal detention, or improper interrogation of Dalits. Jurists, human rights activists, and civil rights groups, however, claim that a lack of political will allows the problem of torture and other forms of custodial abuse to continue unchecked.
i.Disproportionate targeting of Dalits
Dalits are disproportionately targeted by the police for a number of reasons. According to the NHRC, under a theory of collective punishment, the police will often subject entire Dalit communities to violent search and seizure operations in search of one individual. Dalit communities may also be perceived by the police as inherently criminal. Dalits and other poor minorities are disproportionately represented among those detained and tortured in police custody because most cannot afford to pay police bribes. Dalits are also likely victims of police misconduct because they are rarely informed of their rights, rarely have access to an attorney, and are not able to afford bail. Police officers' deeply embedded caste bias (most officers belong to the dominant castes) and a general lack of familiarity with legislative protections for Dalits further compound the problem.
State agencies have also colluded with private actors from dominant castes in committing human rights violations against Dalits. Through investigations conducted in 1997 in the state of Bihar, for example, Human Rights Watch found that government officials acted as agents of the Ranvir Sena (a private upper-caste militia) and turned a blind eye to their killings of Dalits.Soon after a massacre in Laxampur-Bathe village, Jehanabad district-in which the Ranvir Sena killed 61 Dalits, Naxalites (leftist guerrilla organizations advocating the use of violence to achieve land redistribution) retaliated by killing nine people suspected to be Ranvir Sena supporters. The police responded to the violence by harassing Dalit villagers who they accused of supporting the Naxalites. Rather than capturing Sena members, State security forces reportedly helped train militia members; in some cases, police accompanied the militias during their attacks on Dalit villages,disguising killings as "encounters."Upper-caste militia members, and the police who colluded with them, have rarely been prosecuted for their crimes.
ii.Improper use of security legislation against Dalits
Dalits are particularly vulnerable to arrest under draconian security laws. For example, in at least two states, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh, the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2002 (POTA) was widely used against Dalits, who were targeted for their caste status rather than any involvement in criminal or terrorist activity.
Dalit activists are also accused of being "terrorists," "threats to national security," and "habitual offenders," and frequently charged under the National Security Act, 1980, the Indian Explosives Act, 1884, and even older counter insurgency laws such the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act 1987 (commonly known as TADA). Dalit activists are often subjected to specious prosecutions, falsified charges, and physical abuse and torture following arrest. Further, following bouts of violence in Bihar between the Ranvir Sena and Naxalites, Dalits were held in preventive detention under India's Criminal Procedure Code Section 107 in excess of the maximum detention period of 24 hours. Similarly, following periods of escalated violence between upper-caste community members and Dalits in Tamil Nadu between July 1995 and June 1996, many Dalit youths were arrested under preventive detention laws like the Tamil Nadu Goondas Act and the National Security Act, 1980. Additionally, police also engage in what are called "encounter deaths," whereby young activists who allegedly support any of the Naxalite or radical left movement organizations are picked up, tortured to extract confessions, and then killed under the pretense of self defense. Though upper-caste community members have also been picked up by the police in this manner, they are usually not subject to such harsh treatment as a result of pressure from influential people belonging to their caste.
iii.Custodial abuse and torture of Dalits
Dalits, including those arrested for minor offenses, are often held in custody for long periods of time, occasionally at distant and isolated locations to avoid publicity, where they are frequently deprived of food and water, subjected to verbal abuse and humiliation, severe beatings, sexual perversities, and demeaning acts. Often the injuries inflicted can prove fatal. To cover up custodial deaths, police often claim that the person was killed trying to escape or that he or she died of natural causes. Dalits who survive the torture often end up permanently disabled and suffer social ostracism, as well as psychological and emotional trauma.
|Box 1: Police Abuse of Dalits detained in Tamil
In one notable incident in 2003, several Dalits were arrested on suspicion of murder and were held at the Thiruthuraippoondi and Thirukkalar police stations in Tamil Nadu between May 10 and 16. In a statement before the Tamil Nadu State Human Rights Commission, the group of Dalits described the abuse they suffered at the hands of the police. As reported by Frontline magazine, the statement included the following account:
The people alleged that they were beaten up and humiliated. The police used abusive language against the complainants, called them by their caste name, beat them with lathis [batons], and kicked them, they said. When one of them asked for water, a police officer asked for a bucket of water, dipped his shoes in it and asked the person to drink it, a statement said. Another victim complained that when he asked for water, a police officer urinated into his mouth.
iv.Police abuse of Dalit Women
Dalit women are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault and rape by the police. As with sexual abuse of Dalit women by upper-caste men, the sexual abuse of Dalit women by the police is used as a tool to punish Dalit communities as a whole. Dalit women have also been arrested and raped in custody to punish their male relatives who are hiding from the police. Police also routinely sexually abuse Dalit women during police raids as a means of exerting pressure on their male family members to surrender, give false evidence, retract their complaints, or silence their protests regarding police mistreatment. Investigations in Bihar and Tamil Nadu conducted by Human Rights Watch also confirmed that women have been beaten, arrested, and sometimes tortured during violent search and raid operations on Dalit villages. Medical personnel often collude in these cases by issuing false certificates that deny sexual assault or by including statements in the medical examination report that cast doubts on the credibility of the victim's complaint.
The case of Ms. Lebra is illustrative of this widespread problem. Ms. Lebra, a mother of three, was accused of stealing her upper-caste neighbor's jewelry in retaliation for refusing to give him crops from her land. When she was called in by the police for questioning, the police officer began molesting her daughter. When she tried to stop him, he grabbed Ms. Lebra's hair, pushed her down onto the ground and raped her.
v.Police Extortion and Looting
The routine practice of police extortion and looting is well documented. Police targeting of Dalits comes about through:
Illegal police raids on Dalit villages under the pretext of looking for suspects in the aftermath of caste conflicts. Human Rights Watch has documented a number of such instances.
Specific targeting of Dalit villages that enjoyed relative economic prosperity. This practice has been documented by Human Rights Watch's investigation of raids conducted in Gundupatti, Tamil Nadu in February 1998, where the police engaged in outright looting, stealing jewelry, clothes, cash, and consumables from the homes of Dalit villagers who enjoyed relative prosperity due to remittances from family members who were sent to work abroad. The looting served two purposes: to line the policemen's pockets; and to teach Dalits that they should not strive to increase their economic status.
The pretense of conducting kurki-japti (legal attachment of movable property). Such seizures do not follow the legal procedures for seizures, such as the presentation of a court order and list of materials to be seized, or the requirement that two witnesses be present during the seizure.
Acts of extortion often lead to violence. For example, in 2002 in the Jhajjar district in Haryana, police allegedly killed five Dalits after failing to extort money from them. The Dalit boys, from families traditionally employed in the skinning of dead cows, apparently "refused to pay extortion money for being allowed to carry animal skins." In 2003 three constables and a sub-inspector in Lucknow were suspended and charged with instigating the suicide of a Dalit man. The man committed suicide while being detained by police who were holding him with the intention of extorting money from him. In addition to violence, extortion and looting may begin a cycle of borrowing by Dalits that ultimately leads to a state of bondage (see Section VIII(E)(1)(b)).
vi.Failure of police to properly register crimes against Dalits
Police systematically fail to properly register crimes under the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 and the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1995. Improper and under-registration of Dalit cases is both a result of police officers' reluctance to entertain complaints by Dalits, as well as their lack of familiarity with provisions of the relevant legislation. For example, according to one study, out of 103 randomly selected atrocity cases against Dalits in the state of Andhra Pradesh from 1999 to 2003, First Information Reports (FIRs) were correctly registered in only 18 cases, while 29 were not registered at all. In 2002 India reported that in at least 15 states, between 0 - 2 cases had been registered under the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989. Similarly, the Government of India reported that in the same year that no cases were registered under the Protection of Civil Rights Act in 24 states and union territories. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes has concluded that "a large number of cases of atrocities go unregistered, mainly because of reluctance on the part of police officers to register the cases." The NHRC has confirmed that the lack of registered cases does not represent an actual reduction in the practice of "untouchability."
In addition to non-registration of cases, police routinely engage in improper registration of cases. Dalit cases are often generally registered under the Indian Penal Code, instead of the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 and the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989. Moreover, in a distorted interpretation of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, police officials require explicit mention of abuse by caste name for all atrocities.
Improper and under-registration of Dalit cases adversely affects case outcomes. Cases are less likely to be prosecuted and even when pursued, are more likely to result in acquittal when the police have failed to collect evidence. Perpetrators, if convicted, are punished with a lesser sentence, and/or are likely to be released on bail. Further, the appropriate relief may not be available when the proper sections of the law are not cited. More broadly, these problems have caused a loss of faith in law enforcement, which further diminishes the number of cases registered.
b.Discrimination in the provision of disaster relief
According to separate investigations by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights and Human Rights Watch, India discriminated against Dalits in distribution of aid in the wake of two of India's largest natural disasters in recent years: the Gujarat earthquake in January 2001 and the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004.
Following the Gujarat earthquake in January 2001, while the government allocated equal amounts of compensation and food supplies to all communities, agencies did not ensure that the assistance went to Dalit communities. Dalit and Muslim populations also did not have the same access to adequate shelter, electricity, running water, and other supplies available to the upper-caste population, to whom the government had provided far superior shelter and basic amenities. Reconstruction projects were also segregated along caste and religion lines.
Following the tsunami in December 2004, the NCDHR and the Human Rights Forum for Dalit Liberation-Tamil Nadu reported that during the initial stages of the relief process, Dalits were not provided proper and adequate guidance on how to gain admission to relief camps, were not given a fair share of relief aid, and were sometimes abused when they demanded equal treatment. Dalits' political voicelessness prevented them from convincing authorities of their losses who maintained that only higher-caste fishing communities were affected by the tsunami.
2.Refrain from supporting private actors committing discriminatory acts and prohibit and bring to an end caste-based discrimination by private actors
Article 2 (1) (b): Each State Party undertakes not to sponsor, defend or support racial discrimination by any persons or organizations.
Article 2 (1) (d): Each State Party shall prohibit and bring to an end, by all appropriate means, including legislation as required by circumstances, racial discrimination by any persons, group or organization.
The Committee has clarified the content of the States Parties' obligations with respect to private actors, stating that "to the extent that private institutions influence the exercise of rights or the availability of opportunities, the State Party must ensure that the result has neither the purpose nor the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination." In its periodic report India cites to sections of the Indian Penal Code that make punishable acts and statements by private actors instigating or promoting caste (and other forms of) discrimination. A number of other legislative efforts to end caste-based discrimination also apply to private actors as well as State actors. However, in relation to private actors' treatment of Dalits, the State Party has, inter alia, failed to:
ensure the security of Dalits, including through its failure to protect Dalits against retaliatory attacks (see Section VIII (B)(1)), its failure to properly register crimes against Dalits (see Section V(A)(1)(a)(vi)), and through its collusion with private actors and militias engaging in violence (see Section V(A)(1)(a)(i));
address infringements on social, cultural, and economic rights by private actors, including through failing to deal with violations of the right to work by private employers, including discrimination in hiring and wage payments (see Section VIII(E)(1)(f)), social and economic boycotts against Dalits (see Section VIII(E)), prohibitions on inter-marriage (see Section VIII(D)(3)(a)), and infringements on rights to equal participation in cultural activities (see Section VIII(E)(6));
ensure the exercise of political rights such as the right to vote and stand for election and freedom of peaceful assembly and association, by failing to address practices such as booth-rigging and booth capturing, denial of access to polls, and intimidation and violence to discourage participation in local elections (see Section VIII(C));
end the practice of segregation, including in housing arrangements and in privately run businesses (see Sections VI and VIII(F)); and
eradicate propaganda inciting caste-based discrimination (see Section VII).
The nexus between political leaders and upper-caste community members account to some extent for these failures and for the disincentive to address violations by private actors. For example, social and economic legislation to further Dalits' rights adversely affects the interests of the classes and castes to which political leaders either belong or represent; political leaders are either landowners themselves or have close political and social links with land-owners, and those relying on cheap or bonded labor, including child labor.
3.Reform state policies
Article 2 (1) (c): Each State Party shall take effective measures to review governmental, national and local policies, and to amend, rescind or nullify any laws and regulations which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination wherever it exists.
While the 1950 Constitution abolished the practice of "untouchability" in all its forms, and while specific legislation has been adopted to address caste-based discrimination, the information detailed in this report demonstrates that caste-based discrimination by State and non-State actors persists throughout India and that the State Party has failed to undertake sufficient law and policy review of the under-implementation of these measures.
4.Encourage integrationist movements and other means of eliminating barriers between castes, and discourage anything that strengthens caste division
Article 2 (1) (e): Each State Party undertakes to encourage, where appropriate, integrationist multiracial organizations and movements and other means of eliminating barriers between races, and to discourage anything which tends to strengthen racial division.
The Government of India has failed to encourage integrationist movements or eliminate barriers between castes. To the contrary, the government has turned a blind eye to segregation in schools (see Sections VIII(E)(5)(a) and VIII(F)(1)(c)), has encouraged segregation in housing (see Section VI(A)), including in relief camps following natural disasters (see Section V(A)(1)(b)), and has failed to faithfully implement constitutional and legislative abolitions of "untouchability" practices. Additionally, as Dalits increasingly organize to protest their discriminatory treatment and claim their democratic rights, the government has improperly used security legislation against Dalit activists (see Section V(A)(1)(a)(ii)), consistently failed to protect Dalits against retaliatory attacks by upper-caste groups, including rape of Dalit women (see Section VIII(B)), and failed to deal with social and economic boycotts against Dalits (see Section VIII(E)), thereby further discouraging integrationist movements.
B.Ensure the development and protection of certain groups or individuals belonging to them
Article 2 (2): States Parties shall, when the circumstances so warrant, take, in the social, economic, cultural and other fields, special and concrete measures to ensure the adequate development and protection of certain racial groups or individuals belonging to them, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. These measures shall in no case entail as a consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate rights for different racial groups after the objectives for which they were taken have been achieved.
The extreme marginalization and persecution endured by Dalits in India necessitate efforts by the government to ensure their development and protection. In its periodic report, the Government of India cites to Article 16 of the Indian Constitution, which empowers the State to make provision for the reservation of posts in government jobs in favor of any backward class of citizens. Accordingly, under constitutional provisions and various laws, India grants Dalits a certain number of privileges, including "reservations" (quotas) in education, government jobs, and government bodies. Like many of the protective measures described in this report, the reservation policy has not been successfully implemented for Dalits. Additionally, there has been widespread public opposition to reservations for Dalits in local government bodies, often leading to violence (see Section VIII(C)(2)), and in government jobs that are highly coveted because of the economic security they are perceived as offering, as are seats in higher education. Finally, Dalits who convert to Christianity or Islam risk losing their "scheduled caste" status and the few benefits it affords (see Section VIII(D)(5)(a)).
1.Failure of compensatory discrimination mechanisms and discrimination in public employment
Caste-based occupational distribution is reinforced in reserved government employment. The NHRC reports that Dalits occupy over 65 percent of the total government posts for safai karmacharis (sweepers)and only 16.7 percent of non-sweeper posts. Dalits are also discriminated against when being considered for promotions. Recently, the government has moved to create quotas for promotions for scheduled castes and other backward castes. While the Supreme Court upheld the move, it required that governmental authorities prove that these groups were poorly represented in government positions, that quotas be capped at 50 percent, and that prosperous lower-caste employees be excluded from the plan.
Reservations in higher education continue to be met with a great deal of resistance leading to under-enforcement. In the country's 256 universities and about 11,000 colleges funded by the University Grants Commission (an apex body of the Government of India), Dalits and tribals comprise only 2 percent of the teaching positions; about 75,000 teaching positions reserved for these communities remain vacant.
2.Proposals to extend reservations to other sectors
In its 2004 report the NHRC recommended that the government identify institutions that had not accepted reservations-including judiciary and defense forces-and develop measures to ensure that Dalit candidates had the opportunity to compete for these positions. In 2002 the Supreme Court had one Dalit out of 26 judges, while the High Courts had 25 Dalits out of 625 positions (see also Section VIII(A)(3)(b)). The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes has stated that the private sector, which continues to enjoy government patronage-through concessional land, financing, and excise and sales tax relief-should also be brought under the purview of the reservation policy.
According to government estimates in 2000, the unemployment rate for Dalits and tribals was double that of non-Dalits/tribals. Additionally, public sector divestment to private owners is estimated to have left 200,000 Dalit employees jobless. Dalits continue to be significantly underrepresented in most professional strata. Dalit representation in India's high industries, exports, imports, and electronic industries sectors is dismal. In response, civil society and government actors have supported the proposed extension of reservations in the private sector. However, there remains strong opposition to this proposal, both from private employers and certain political parties. Private employers have, for example, criticized the government for failing to provide Dalits adequate opportunities in education and instead imposing upon the private sector the obligation to employ individuals they deem unqualified.
3.Poor implementation of development programs
The Government of India has also established several programs for the development of Dalits. According to the NHRC, however, the beneficial impact of these programs has been hindered by:
inadequate investment of public resources;
non-utilization or diversion of funds earmarked for Dalit development;
lack of programs specifically targeted to Dalit development;
poor preparation of such projects; and
a lack of monitoring of development programs, leading to the failure of many such programs to reach their target groups.
The anti-Dalit bias of personnel in charge of implementing these programs has also hindered their effectiveness. Moreover, Dalits rarely participate in the formulation and implementation of development projects. Many Dalits are also unaware of the existence of such programs, further restricting their participation.
4.Inadequate development and protection of Dalit women
The obligation to ensure the development and protection of certain groups or individuals belonging to them is especially relevant for those individuals within the Dalit community who face multiple forms of discrimination. Dalit women face multiple axes of discrimination, with the NCDHR asserting:
Dalit women are often described as the oppressed of the oppressed, the violence and oppression on them being more complex and manifold even compared to Dalit men. There is [an] inseparable relationship between caste status, occupation and discrimination. The Dalit woman faces triple discrimination because she is an untouchable, of a poor class and is a woman.
CERD has also noted that forms of racial discrimination have a "unique and specific impact on women." For more on the violence against Dalit women see Sections V(A)(1)(a)(iv) and VIII(B)(2).
a.Lack of gender equity
Dalit women have unequal access to services, employment opportunities, and justice mechanisms as compared to Dalit men. In relation to employment opportunities, Dalit women are allotted some of the most menial and arduous tasks and experience greater discrimination in the payment of wages than Dalit men. The employment opportunities of professional Dalit women may also be limited by discriminatory practices that deprive facilities run by Dalit women of a customer or patient base or require accommodation of requests of upper-caste community members. In relation to services, Dalit women have less access to education and health facilities, ensuring that their literacy rate, and nutrition and health standards fall far below that of Dalit men and non-Dalit men and women. The number of Dalit women in decision-making positions is also very low, and in some central services, Dalit women are not represented at all. Benefits of various development programs for Dalits, such as distribution of land and other productive assets have essentially gone to Dalit males and have not improved the status of Dalit women. Investment in projects targeted to the development of Dalit women is also far lower as compared to those for men.
b.Forced Prostitution Devadasi system
The practice of devadasi, in which a girl, usually before reaching the age of puberty, is ceremoniously dedicated or married to a deity or to a temple, continues in several southern states including Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Literally meaning "female servant of god,"devadasis usually belong to the Dalit community. Once dedicated, the girl is unable to marry, forced to become a prostitute for upper-caste community members, and eventually auctioned into an urban brothel. The age-old practice continues to legitimize the sexual violence and discrimination that have come to characterize the intersection between caste and gender.
While India has adopted measures to abolish the practice and "rehabilitate" devadasis, these efforts have been largely unsuccessful. Legislative initiatives are poorly implemented.The societal perception of devadasis as women who are sexually available to men makes it more difficult for devadasis to approach the police with complaints of sexual violence. Moreover, the police themselves have been known to exploit devadasis.
The Joint Women Programme for the National Commission of Women has found that devadasi rehabilitation programs neither address the whole range of problems faced by devadasis, nor target the population they were intended to assist. Further, devadasis find it difficult to earn a livelihood outside the system because the rehabilitation programs do not provide adequate means of livelihood and skill development, and because financial assistance is often in the form of a loan which must be repaid. Most devadasis also lack access to a residential house, health care, or educational facilities for their children.
Article 3: States Parties particularly condemn racial segregation and apartheid and undertake to prevent, prohibit and eradicate all practices of this nature in territories under their jurisdiction.
Although there is no de jure policy of segregation in India, Dalits are subject to de facto segregation in all spheres, including housing, the enjoyment of public services (see Section VIII(F)(1)), and education (see Sections VIII(E)(5)(a) and VIII(F)(1)(c)). This widespread segregation has led to a description of the practice of "untouchability" as India's "hidden apartheid." However, India's periodic report fails to provide any information about segregation, instead confining the information provided under Article 3 to India's support for the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and its participation in the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intoleranceheld in Durban in 2001. Tellingly, India lobbied furiously against the inclusion of any references to caste discrimination, or discrimination on the basis of "work and descent," in the final conference documents.
A.Segregated housing colonies for Dalits
Residential segregation is prevalent across the country, and is the rule rather than the exception. Most Dalits in rural areas live in segregated colonies, away from the upper-caste residents. This segregation is not limited to rural environments (see Section VIII(E)(3)(b)). Government programs for Dalit housing maintain the existing spatial segregation. Basic residential services such as water are segregated by caste, meaning that Dalits are forbidden from using the water sources and toilet tanks used by non-Dalits. The State provides poorer quality facilities for Dalit colonies and sometimes does not provide any of the facilities that are provided to non-Dalit colonies; for example, medical facilities and the better, thatched-roof houses exist exclusively in upper-caste colonies. An extensive survey of 11 Indian states on the prevalence of "untouchability" in rural India (hereinafter the Untouchability in Rural India survey) found that Dalits were denied entry into upper-caste homes in more than 50 percent of villages studied.
B.Segregation in relief camps
Dalits are segregated in disaster relief efforts (see Section V(A)(1)(b)).
C.Segregation in schools
Dalit children and teachers are segregated from their counterparts in schools (see Sections VIII(E)(5)(a) and VIII(F)(1)(c)).
D.Segregation in public life
Dalits are prohibited from using public services and entering private businesses (see Section VIII(F)).
Article 4: States Parties condemn all propaganda and all organizations which are based on ideas or theories of superiority of one race or group of persons of one colour or ethnic origin, or which attempt to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination in any form, and undertake to adopt immediate and positive measures designed to eradicate all incitement to, or acts of, such discrimination and, to this end, with due regard to the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the rights expressly set forth in article 5 of this Convention
In its periodic report, India indicates that "[n]o cases have arisen under thelegislations for inciting racial disharmony or disseminating ideas of racial superiority." The absence of such cases must be questioned in light of the existence and activities of the Sangh Parivar, which serves as the umbrella organization for Hindu nationalist organizations in India, including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps, RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, VHP), and the VHP's militant youth wing, the Bajrang Dal. In addition to being responsible for discriminatory attacks against Dalits, these organizations disseminate propaganda targeting both Dalits and religious minorities. While these organizations bear collective responsibility for widespread violence against Muslims and Christians in India, these abuses are outside the scope of this Report. Concerning the dissemination of anti-Dalit propaganda, D.B. Parmar, a Dalit social worker in Gujarat, told Human Rights Watch in 2003 that the VHP had circulated pamphlets demonizing Dalit community members and calling on VHP members to attack Dalits. The VHP has also actively promoted community enmity between Dalits and Muslims. The political wing of the Sangh Parivar, the BJP led the Government of India in alliance with other parties between 1998 and 2004; this close relationship is indicative of both a failure to condemn groups that disseminate caste-based propaganda and potentially of the requirement under Article 4(c) of the Convention that State Parties shall not allow public authorities or institutions to promote or incite discrimination.
Article 5: In compliance with the fundamental obligations laid down in article 2 of this Convention, States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law
India has failed in its duty to eliminate caste discrimination and ensure the full enjoyment of the fundamental rights and equality before the law of Dalits guaranteed by Article 5. This next section closely details the particular rights violations suffered by Dalits. As a general point, it is important to highlight that the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, and the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 (two of the most important pieces of legislation for the protection of Dalits), have been rendered increasingly ineffective in their ability to protect Dalits from fundamental rights' violations because of the failure of state governments to properly implement the acts. State governments have made no serious efforts to identify areas where the practice of "untouchability" is prevalent, have done very little to make public and known the provisions of the acts, and have failed to periodically survey the acts' effectiveness. Moreover, the NHRC has concluded that there is virtually no monitoring of the acts' implementation at any level. Political leaders have also played a significant role in hindering the implementation of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989.
A.Duty to ensure the right to equal treatment of Dalits before organs administering justice
Article 5 (a): Right to equal treatment before organs administering justice
Dalits are frequently the victims of discriminatory treatment in the administration of justice.Prosecutors and judges fail to vigorously and faithfully pursue complaints brought by Dalits, which is evidenced by the high rate of acquittals in such cases. Dalit women suffer particularly as a result of the deficient administration of justice-rape cases are not prosecuted in good faith and Dalit women suffer both caste and gender discrimination in the courtrooms. Moreover, the number of Dalits appointed to judicial office remains low. Instances of "untouchability" and discrimination against Dalit judges by their non-Dalit peers have also been reported.
The failure of police to register or properly register crimes against Dalits (see Section V(A)(1)(a)(vi)) is a key way in which Dalits' right to equal treatment before organs administering justice is compromised at the outset.
a.Poor quality of prosecution under the Protection of Civil Rights Act and the Prevention of Atrocities Act
One of the principal ways in which the right of Dalits to equal treatment before organs administering justice is being denied is through the poor quality of prosecutions under the Protection of Civil Rights Act and Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989. The Government of India has itself noted this failure in its 2001-2002 Annual Report on the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989, which states that in 2002, only 2.31 percent of cases brought under the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 had resulted in convictions. The low rate of convictions, compared against the high number of atrocities reported against Dalits, speaks to the caste bias of prosecutors, as well as other organs of justice, including the judiciary.
b.Failure to prosecute rape cases of Dalit women
Dalit women, occupying the bottom of both the caste and gender hierarchies, are both uniquely susceptible to violence and particularly vulnerable to the infringements of their right to equal treatment before organs administering justice. Cases documented by the National Commission for Women, Human Rights Watch, local and national women's rights organizations, and the press, overwhelmingly demonstrate a systemic pattern of impunity in attacks on Dalit women. Dalit women are more likely to suffer violence and especially sexual violence, and are least likely to get redress in the courts. They are, in a sense, doubly victimized - first at the hands of their attackers, and then at the hands of judicial system that fails to offer them protection and redress.
A Dalit woman who is a survivor of rape will face significant obstacles in bringing her case to the attention of the police, and, in turn, the courts. She will likely face ostracism from her community and family, and she will have difficulty gaining access to the justice system. Further, even if a woman is able to surmount all these obstacles and convince the police to lodge a FIR, she will face new roadblocks at every step of the way. A Dalit woman is likely to be confronted with any of the following impediments to the successful prosecution of her case: unsympathetic doctors and police officers, difficulty in finding witnesses who are willing to risk their own safety by testifying, police officers and prosecutors who are bribed or pressured by the (usually more powerful) attackers, as well as having her case misfiled under more lenient sections of the Indian Penal Code or not being simultaneously filed under the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989. The combined effect of these hurdles is such that, even if her case is properly investigated, a Dalit woman will likely find that her attackers have been granted impunity.
In fact, as statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau demonstrate, conviction in rape cases is not only extremely rare, but becoming rarer - out of the total rape cases in which trials were completed between 1990-1993, in 1990 41.5 percent ended in conviction; the figure dropped to 34.2 percent in 1991 and to 33.8 percent in 1993. The failings of the prosecutorial arm are further evident in the disproportionately large backlog of rape cases (on average, 80 percent of rape cases remained pending for trial in 1994) and the comparatively low levels of conviction for the crime of rape as compared with less serious crimes of burglary and theft.
Certain states have provided some compensation to Dalit rape victims. As per the 2002-2003 Annual Report on the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989, during the year 2002-2003, the state government of Madhya Pradesh incurred an expenditure of Rs. 28.5 lakhs [US$63,808] for providing relief to rape victims, while the state of Maharashtra provided financial assistance in the amount of Rs. 19.68 lakhs [US$44,061].
It should be noted that the prosecutorial failure to investigate, file, and pursue cases involving rape against Dalit women has an injurious effect not just on the individual woman harmed in each instance of sexual violence, but more broadly on women and Dalit communities in general - prosecutorial failures empower potential perpetrators by signaling that crimes against Dalit women will be rewarded with impunity and also further disempowers marginalized communities by eroding their trust in the judiciary. Finally, prosecutorial failures in the context of cases involving rape against Dalit women encourage the use of rape as a tool to punish and silence Dalit communities.
a.Caste and Gender Discrimination by Judges
The prevalence of caste and gender bias among India's judges is another factor which imperils the right of Dalits to equal treatment before organs administering justice under Article 5 of ICERD. Such bias has resulted in improperly conducted trials, including acquittals that blatantly ignore evidence and witness testimony and entrench the system of impunity that greets perpetrators of violence against Dalits.
The case of Bhanwari Devi illustrates the role of caste and gender bias in India's justice system. A grassroots worker or sathin with the Rajasthan Government's Women's Development Programme (WDP), Bhanwari reported the child marriage of a 1-year-old girl. On September 22, 1992, in retaliation, members of the child's family gang raped Bhanwari in front of her husband. These individuals were acquitted, with the judge stating that since "rape is usually committed by teenagers, and since the accused are middle-aged and therefore respectable, they could not have committed the crime. An upper-caste man could not have defiled himself by raping a lower-caste woman." The individuals also received significant political support from the local BJP. In early 1996 an appeal of the acquittal was filed in the High Court, but as of November 2006, 14 years after the rape, the verdict remains. A survey conducted by Delhi-based NGO Sakshi found that 64 percent of judges believe that "women themselves are partly responsible for the violence they face." Gender discrimination is also evident at the Supreme Court level.b.Lack of Dalit Judges
Dalits' right to equal treatment before the courts is further imperiled on account of the fact that Dalits themselves are poorly represented in the judiciary. Statistics presented in the Fourth Report of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Schedules Tribes for the years 1996-97 reveal the magnitude of the problem. For example, while Dalits comprise roughly 16 percent of the population, in 1982, only four out of the 325 judges in all High Courts in India were Dalits (i.e. 1.23 percent of the judiciary). By 1993 the situation was only marginally better, with 13 out of 547 judges at the all India level being Dalits (i.e. 2.38 percent). In 2002 the Supreme Court had one Dalit out of 26 judges, while the High Courts had 25 Dalits out of 625 positions. Also illustrative of the lack of Dalit and lower-caste representation in the judiciary is the fact that Brahmins, who comprise just 5 to 9 percent of India's 1 billion people, fill 78 percent of India's judicial posts.
Caste and gender discrimination do not cease once a Dalit is appointed to a judicial position, as discriminatory attitudes prevail among judges themselves. The depth of anti-Dalit sentiment in the judiciary is particularly well illustrated by an incident that took place in July 1998 in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where, as the Times of India reports, an Allahabad High Court Judge had his chamber "purified with Ganga jal" (water from the River Ganges) because it had earlier been occupied by a Dalit judge.
c.Large number of cases involving offenses and atrocities against Dalits still pending before the courts
The failures of implementing Article 5 of ICERD with respect to caste are further evinced by the disproportionately large numbers of pending cases involving offenses and atrocities against Dalits. The Sixth and Seventh Reports of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes reveal, respectively, that less than a sixth of such cases that reached trial stage in 1999-2000 were actually adjudicated, and that only 11 percent of the cases were disposed of during 2001-2002. The large number of cases concerning Dalits that are still pending before the courts suggests non-compliance with the Convention; the Committee has made plain that "guarantee[ing] the victim a court judgment within a reasonable period" is something that "States parties should ensure [in their] system of justice."
d.High rate of acquittals
The failures of implementing Article 5 of ICERD with respect to caste are also evinced by the disproportionately high rate of acquittals in cases involving offences and atrocities against Dalits. The Third and Sixth Reports of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes reveal, respectively, that in 1996, the conviction rate in these cases was 15 percent, while the acquittal rate was 85 percent, and that in 1999-2000 and 2000-2001, as much as 89 percent of cases resulted in acquittals. The Commission additionally found that only 11 percent of cases were disposed of during the year. Of those, 51 percent resulted in convictions. The small percentage of cases that actually reached the trial stage is a cause for concern. Additionally, the acquittal rates were still alarming in the states of Assam, Gujarat, Kerala, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttaranchal, Karnataka, and Haryana, where acquittal rates were as high as 97 percent. According to the Government's 2001-2002 Annual Report on the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 only 2.3 percent of overall cases brought under the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 resulted in convictions in 2002. Recent statistics released by the Home Ministry in December 2006 reveal that the pattern of acquittals continues: of the 833 cases registered under the Act in the state of Maharashtra in 2005, only 6.3 percent ended in conviction. In 2004 689 cases were registered in the state, with only 4.8 percent ending in convictions. In Gujarat, in the 1,301 cases registered in 2005, the conviction rate was a poor 3.8 percent. The state of Uttar Pradesh fared better: of the 4,369 cases registered last year, nearly half the offenders were convicted.
B.Ensure Dalits' right to security of person and protection by the State against violence or bodily harm, whether inflicted by government officials or by any individual group or institution
Article 5 (b): The right to security of person and protection by the State against violence or bodily harm, whether inflicted by government officials or by any individual group or institution.
India's obligation to ensure a person's right to security and to protect against violence or bodily harm applies to State and non-State actors. The nature and extent of abuse against Dalits by the police has been set out above in Section V(A)(1)(a). This section focuses on widespread violence against Dalits, including sexual violence against Dalit women, and the failure of Indian government to protect Dalits and ensure their security of person.
1.Widespread violence against Dalits
For Dalits, the right to personal security has been seriously undermined because of rampant attacks and violence committed against them. Media, NGO, and government reports reveal that the police have systematically failed to protect Dalit homes and Dalit individuals from acts of looting, arson, sexual assault, torture, and other inhumane acts such as stripping and parading Dalit women and forcing Dalits to drink urine and eat feces.For example, the government's Annual Report on the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 found that30,022 cases were registered against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes under the Act in 2001 and 27,894 were registered in 2002. As staggering as these statistics are, they represent only a fraction of the violence committed against Dalits. A number of factors, including lack of police cooperation, fear of reprisals, and difficulty in gaining access to the judiciary contribute to a reluctance or inability on the part of Dalits to report crimes against them. Systematic non-registration or improper registration of atrocities also accounts for under-reporting (see Section V(A)(1)(a)(vi)). Much like cases of police abuse against Dalits, attacks by private actors often take the form of collective punishment, whereby entire communities or villages are punished for the perceived transgressions of individuals who seek to alter village customs or demand their rights. Retaliatory attacks for such challenges are rife (see
This violence or bodily harm against Dalits takes many forms. The offenses made punishable by the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 provide a glimpse into the types of retaliatory or customarily degrading treatment Dalits receive. The offenses include:
Forcing members of a scheduled caste or scheduled tribe to drink or eat any inedible or obnoxious substance;
Dumping excreta, waste matter, carcasses or any other obnoxious substance in their premises or neighborhood;
Forcibly removing their clothes and parading them naked or with painted face or body;
Interfering with their rights to land;
Compelling a member of a scheduled caste or scheduled tribe into forms of forced or bonded labor;
Corrupting or fouling the water of any spring, reservoir or any other source ordinarily used by scheduled castes or scheduled tribes;
Denying right of passage to a place of public resort;
Using a position of dominance to exploit a scheduled caste or scheduled tribe woman sexually.
Despite these offenses being criminalized under the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 the systematic non-implementation of these provisions by the police (see Sections V(A)(1)(a) and V(A)(1)(a)(vi)) results in a continued pattern of violence, as is borne out in media reports. For example, a survey of Indian media during a six-month period in 2006 illustrates the extent and brutality of violent crimes against Dalits:
"Dalit leader abused for daring to sit on a chair"
"Dalit worker beaten on suspicion of theft"
"Dalit lynched while gathering grain"
"Dalit beaten for entering temple"
"UP Dalit girl resists rape, loses arm as a result"
"Dalit tries to fetch water beaten to death"
The need for India to address violence and bodily harm by private actors has also been documented by the UN special procedures. On June 8, 2004, the Special Rapporteur on racism, jointly with the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, sent a letter of allegation to India concerning a group of 200 people who attacked a Dalit settlement in Kalapatti village, Coimbatore district, Tamil Nadu, on May 16, 2004. According to the Special Rapporteur on racism's 2005 Annual Report:
The Dalits' homes were reported to have been attacked by upper-caste villagers using swords and other weapons. Allegedly, inter alia, they pushed the Dalits to the ground, stomped on them, used degrading caste names to refer to them, sexually assaulted the women and attempted to pull off their saris. Other specific incidents mentioned were that an 8-month-old baby was thrown against a wall, a 75-year-old man was attacked, and a middle-aged woman was hit on the head as she attempted to protect her son. Close to 100 houses were said to have been burnt, money and jewels were stolen, and cattle owned by the Dalits were reported to have been killed. In total, 14 Dalits were allegedly admitted to the CoimbatoreMedicalCollegeHospital. Many Dalits are said to have tried to escape but were prevented from leaving the settlement. Fears have been expressed for their security.
When a Dalit man from the Dholapur district of Rajasthan, refused to sell bidis (hand-rolled cigarettes) on credit to the nephew of an upper-caste village chief, the upper-caste family retaliated by forcibly piercing his nostril, drawing a string through his nose, parading him around the village, and tying him to a cattle post.
When Dalit agrarian labor activist Bant Singh, whose daughter was gang-raped in 2002, defied landlords' threats and local upper-caste leaders in seeking prosecution against those who gang-raped his daughter, the landlords retaliated by violently attacking him, beating him so badly that both his arms and one of his legs had to be amputated; the remaining leg was permanently disabled.
When Dalits from Amachiyarpatti village in Tamil Nadu resisted Thevars' demand that they use coconut shells at tea stalls to prevent them from drinking out of the tea tumblers used by caste Hindus, Thevars retaliated by torching and burning Dalit houses in their village.
When Dalits from the Dalit colony of Veludavur village in Villapuram district, Tamil Nadu, demanded their right to participate in a government auction of common properties in Veludavur, members of seven neighboring caste Hindu villages attacked their colony, destroying 400 huts, attacking women, children, and the elderly, and displacing 700 Dalit families.
When a 16-year-old Dalit rape survivor from Sahalwada village in Madhya Pradesh, refused to withdraw the complaint she had filed against her attacker, he retaliated by pouring kerosene on her and setting her on fire.
When a Dalit argued with an upper-caste farmer in Kothapally village in Andhra Pradesh, the upper-caste villagers attacked 80 Dalit families in retaliation. When the same Dalit man then went to the police to report the incident, a social boycott was imposed on all of the Dalits from Kothapally; they were thrown out of their village and denied every opportunity to earn their livelihood.
2.Violence against Dalit women
The nature and extent of police abuse of Dalit women has been dealt with above in Section V(A)(1)(a)(iv). Dalit women are also especially vulnerable to violence by private actors who commit violent offenses with impunity. As the majority of landless laborers, Dalit women come into greater contact with landlords and enforcement agencies than upper-caste women, rendering them more susceptible to abuse. Landlords use sexual abuse and other forms of violence and humiliation against Dalit women as tools to inflict "lessons" and crush dissent and labor movements within Dalit communities. For example, upper-caste groups will engage in mass rapes of Dalit women or in retaliation against Dalits who strive for political empowerment or violate customary injunctions. In their attacks on Dalit communities, Ranvir Sena members committed acts of sexual violence against Dalit women. Human Rights Watch has documented a massacre of Dalits committed in Laxmanpur-Bathe, Bihar (see Section V(A)(1)(a)(i)), in which women were raped and mutilated before being killed. According to the Tamil Nadu Women's Forum, Dalit women are butchered, raped, and killed during caste riots.
Dalit women also comprise the majority of victims of gang rapes in India. Human Rights Watch reported that on April 5, 2003, for example, four upper-caste men abducted a 14-year-old Dalit girl from her home just outside Jaipur, Rajasthan, and gang-raped her over a period of three days. Upon her return to her village, the village's upper-caste community threatened to remove her family if they reported the incident. Dalit women are also singled out for other indignities, like being paraded naked, even for petty disputes. These indignities have symbolic significance. For example, Human Rights Watch reported that on November 3, 2003, a Dalit woman in Kishanganj, Bihar, was paraded half-naked by a group of people who wanted to teach a lesson to her family for not relinquishing their claim to a piece of land.
Vulnerability to sexual violence also results from Dalit women's lower economic and social status, leading many Dalit women to turn to prostitution for their survival. Other forms of abuse result from superstitious beliefs, according to which Dalit women may be branded as witches and blamed for certain mishaps in the community. Aside from the humiliation ofbeing branded as a "witch," Dalit women are also punished for these mishaps, for example by being made to eat feces and drink urine, by having their teeth pulled out, by having chili pepper put in their eyes, and by being beaten severely enough to result in death.
Both the root causes of this abuse and the resulting social, physical, and mental trauma Dalit women suffer highlights the particular vulnerability of Dalit women which merits special protection by the State. However, rather than ensuring Dalit women's development and protection, India has failed to punish perpetrators and in some instances, has even directly participated in abusive acts. Cases documented by India's National Commission for Women, by local and national non-governmental women's rights organizations, and by the press, reveal a pattern of impunity for attacks on Dalit women. However, due to uninterest, ignorance of proper procedure, or their own caste biases, the police have failed to register or properly investigate many cases of attacks against women. In all cases of attacks on women documented by Human Rights Watch, the accused state and private actors escaped punishment; in most cases, attacks were neither investigated nor prosecuted.
While women in India generally face obstacles in prosecuting rape, if a woman is poor, belongs to a lower-caste, and lives in a rural area, it is even more difficult for her to gain access to the justice system. Those who are able to pursue cases of sexual assault face entrenched biases at every stage of the process. These obstacles exist whether the acts are carried out by mobs or by individuals.
For example,in October 2006, a mob of 60 upper-caste villagers stormed the Bhotmanges home as they were preparing dinner in Kherlanji village in Bhandara district. Fourty-four-year-old Surekha, her daughter Priyanka, and sons Roshan and Sudhir were dragged from their home, stripped naked, beaten and taken to the village square. At the village square, both women were raped for over an hour, after which all four family members were hacked to death. More than a month later, the police have yet to take action against the primary perpetrators of these crimes.
Another case illustrative of the obstacles to justice was presented at the National Public Hearing held in 2000 by the NCDHR. In this particular case, Ms. Gangawati testified that after being raped at gunpoint in her own home, her unsuccessful attempts to get the local police to register her case required her to petition the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and the NHRC. While the latter directed the district police to conduct an enquiry, the local police officer avoided filing her case for months, and even after her case was finally registered, no action was taken against her attacker.
C.Ensure Dalits' political rights
Article 5 (c): Political rights, in particular the right to participate in elections-to vote and to stand for election-on the basis of universal and equal suffrage, to take part in the Government as well as in the conduct of public affairs at any level and to have equal access to public service.
While Dalits now exercise their franchise in greater numbers than upper-caste community members, their right to vote freely and to stand for election is still not fully guaranteed. These rights have repeatedly been impeded by booth-rigging and booth capturing, denial of access to polls, intimidation, and violence.
1.Booth-capturing and denial of entry to polling booths
Dalits' right of political participation is denied through the decades-old practice of "booth-capturing," whereby ballot boxes are stolen by hired hands. For example, in the 1998 national parliamentary elections in Bihar, the Election Commission had to order re-polling in over 700 voting stations after more than 1,100 people were arrested for booth-capturing and tearing up of ballot boxes. The Untouchability in Rural India survey found that in some 12.3 percent of villages, Dalits are still denied entry to polling booths.
2.Intimidation and violence in voting, standing for election, and conduct of public affairs
The 1998 Bihar elections also demonstrate the role of violence and intimidation in elections: in the first phase of elections 15 people were killed and dozens more were injured going to the polls; seven more deaths and further intimidation was reported during the second phase. The violence in Bihar serves as but one example of a widespread practice: according to a 1996 Associated Press report, armies formed by local politicians have intimidated villages during every election in the underdeveloped farmland of northern India. The Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) reported that on August 6, 2006, seven Dalit women from a village in Bihar were allegedly raped at gunpoint by upper-caste landowners for refusing to vote for an upper-caste landowner's wife in the local elections.
Violence and intimidation are also used to prevent Dalits from standing for election. In October 2005 a Dalit woman, Prabhati Devi, was burned alive for contesting a panchayat (village council) election against an upper-caste candidate in Mirzapur district in Uttar Pradesh in defiance of a local politician's warning not to contest. In June 1997 the Dalit leaders of the Melavalavu panchayat in Tamil Nadu-who were elected to seats constitutionally reserved for Dalits-were murdered by members of the higher-caste Thevar community, signaling that the ceding of power would not be tolerated by those displaced from their positions on the council. Thevars also threatened Dalits with "economic sanctions" should any of them file for the position of panchayat president, a sanction that would effectively leave Dalits without employment or access to economic or social services in villages in that area.
Those Dalits who are in positions of public office are often unable to properly discharge their public functions. For example, in November 2006 the Asian Human Rights Commission reported that Prem Narayan, a Dalit village head of Vajidpur village in Uttar Pradesh, had been facing discrimination, intimidation, threats, and physical violence in his attempts to discharge his duties as a village head.
3.Denial of entry to public offices
According to the Untouchability in Rural India survey Dalits are also denied entry to panchayat offices in some 14.4 percent of the 499 villages surveyed, which has the effect of denying them access and a right to be heard at the most immediate level of government.
D.Ensure Dalits' other civil rights
1.Ensure Dalits' right to freedom of movement and residence within the border of the State
Article 5 (d) (i): The right to freedom of movement and residence within the border of the State.
Dalits' right to freedom of movement and residence within India is curtailed by residential segregation, by conditions which make Dalits vulnerable to migratory labor, and by the forced displacement of Dalits in the aftermath of episodes of caste violence.
a.Forced Migration of Dalits
For Dalits, among the poorest and least powerful of India's inhabitants, the choice of where to live is rarely a choice in any meaningful sense. Because Dalits are rarely able to own land (see Section VIII(D)(4)) they are unable to produce their crops for their own consumption or sale in the market. Given the limited amount of jobs and resources in India, and other economic hardships such as droughts, Dalits are often forced to migrate in search of work.
b.Forced displacement of Dalits
The right of Dalits to enjoy freedom of movement and residence is further eroded by large-scale forced displacements of Dalit communities following episodes of caste-based violence. In a typical scenario, Dalit villages are attacked by neighboring upper-caste villagers. Dalits are assaulted during the attack, while their homes and property are looted or destroyed. Dalits then settle in and languish for months in temporary and inadequate homes on government property. The police offer little in terms of security in these cases, either ignoring Dalit calls for help, or actively participating in the violence and looting. Redress is not to be found from the local government either-aside from distributing nominal amounts in compensation or promising construction of new homes, little is done to help the displaced Dalits return home or to prosecute those responsible for the attacks.
The 1997 displacement of Dalit villagers from Mangapuram, Virudhunagar district, Tamil Nadu, illustrates the general pattern of Dalit displacement following caste-based violence. Prior to 1997 Mangapuram was home to 3,000 higher-caste Thevar and 250 Pallar (Dalit) families. On March 7, 1996, Thevars attacked Pallars, 150 Pallar houses were set on fire, and a Pallar man was burned alive. Pallars later destroyed several Thevar houses. In retaliation, Thevars threw petrol bombs into the Pallar residential area. On June 10, 1997, the deputy superintendent, a Thevar, attempted to force Pallars out of the village, colluding with hundreds of Thevar villagers who attacked the Pallars and set their houses on fire. The displaced Pallars took refuge in nearby villages, with 300 individuals housed in 250 poorly constructed huts, and another 200 housed in 70 huts. No action was taken against the Thevar police officials or villagers responsible for the attacks and the ensuing displacement.
In 2003 a mass displacement of all 275 Dalit families from Harsola village in Haryana's Kaithal district followed an attack on the village by upper-caste men. Congress leaders who brought the case to the attention of the NHRC cited the "irresponsible" statements of local officials, such as those indicating that Dalits "were enjoying the situation and were not interested in returning to their homes."
A fact-finding report by People's Watch-Tamil Nadu and Dalit Human Rights Monitoring revealed that in 2004 the Dalits of Kalapatti village in Tamil Nadu were forced to flee after an attack by upper-caste Hindus in which over 100 Dalit homes were burned and other property was destroyed.
2.Ensure Dalits' right to leave any country, including one's own, and to return to one's country
Article 5 (d) (ii): The right to leave any country, including one's own, and to return to one's country.
Dalits' right to leave India, while formally granted, is not substantively guaranteed, due to Dalits' difficulty in acquiring relevant documents (such as birth certificates) and other proof necessary to get a passport.
Dalits can suffer reprisal attacks against the families of those who are able to travel for employment abroad and send remittances back home. Caste-based prejudice has led to attacks against Dalits who become economically better off because of such remittances. Many Dalits in the village of Kodiyangulam, Tamil Nadu, for example, have been sending family members to work in Gulf states in an attempt to rise above their economic oppression at home. But according to the London paper The Guardian, on August 31, 2005, the Dalit villagers were assaulted by hundreds of rampaging policemen, who poisoned their well and destroyed the possessions accumulated over a lifetime of hard work. In a similar episode in Tamil Nadu in 1999, Dalits returning with money from jobs in the Gulf states and elsewhere found themselves attacked by landlords and police when they tried to buy land for their families.
3.Ensure Dalits' right to marriage and choice of spouse
Article 5 (d) (iv): The right to marriage and choice of spouse.
Rigid social norms of purity and pollution are socially enforced through strict prohibitions on marriage or other social interaction between castes, in violation of Dalits' right to marry and choose their spouse. These prohibitions on inter-marriage are a hallmark feature of the caste system. Inter-marriages between Dalits and non-Dalits are frequently the flashpoint for conflicts and violence.
a.Prohibitions on marriage between Dalits and non-Dalits
The Untouchability in Rural India survey concluded that "the most severely sanctioned public activity is a Dalit marriage procession passing through the village street." Wedding processions in northern India are symbols of joy, prosperity, and power, and often include large parties of family and friends accompanied by musical bands and dancing. Dalit wedding processions were banned in more than 47 percent of villages surveyed, as were festival processions in more than 24 percent of villages. The same survey also reported that in at least one village in Alwar district in Rajasthan, no marriage ceremonies for Dalits had taken place in several years as the upper-castes refused to allow any baraats (wedding processions) to come to the village. Adding to Dalits' humiliation, in 8.4 percent of villages surveyed in the study, Dalits must seek the permission of the upper-castes to marry, and in up to another 10 percent of the villages Dalits are compelled to seek blessings on their marriages from the upper-castes. These acts of public subordination-informal sanctions surrounding marriage activities which upper-caste members are freely permitted to carry on in public-are one of the most harshly enforced and widespread "untouchability" practices to continue today. As a result of the bans on marriage celebrations, many Dalit weddings are carried out quietly without the traditional forms of celebration.
Condemnation for marriage between Dalits and caste members can be quite severe, ranging from social ostracism to punitive violence, including large-scale attacks on Dalit communities. Dalits who have married "above" their caste have reportedly been forced to break all ties with their families. In Attirpa, Kerala, a Dalit girl reported that although she was happy in her marriage she was no longer permitted to see her parents or her natal family. It seems that in instances where marriage between Dalits and caste-members is permitted, the caste family may condition it on rejection of contact with the Dalit family.
Marriages between Dalits and non-Dalits are frequent flashpoints for conflict. Upper-caste dominated panchayats (village councils) have been known to extra-judicially punish inter-caste marriages between Dalits and non-Dalits through public lynching of couples or their relatives, murder (of the bride, the groom, or their relatives), rape, public beatings, and other sanctions. In May 2000 in Hardoi district in Uttar Pradesh, a police constable enraged by his daughter's marriage to a Dalit was joined by other relatives in shooting and killing four members of his son-in-law's family. On August 6, 2001, also in Uttar Pradesh, an upper-caste Brahmin boy and a lower-caste Jat girl were dragged to the roof of a house and publicly hanged by members of their own families as hundreds of spectators looked on. The public lynching was punishment for refusing to end an inter-caste relationship.
b.Forced prostitution and rape of Dalit women as an impediment to marriage
The rape of Dalit women by landlords and the caste-based practice of prostitution (see Section V(B)(4)(b)) deny Dalit women the right to marry as there are strong social taboos in India against marrying a woman who has had previous sexual relations; once a woman has been raped, she becomes unmarriageable.
Although child marriage is illegal in India, the practice remains rampant, particularly in underdeveloped regions where economic pressure may force families into marrying off children at early ages in order to lighten the economic burden on families with daughters. This is often the case among Dalits. A 12-year old Dalit girl, Chenigall Suseela, was married off by her parents without her consent in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, in 2003. Two years later she ran away from her husband, whom she claimed abused her, and threatened to commit suicide if forced to return. Suseela desired to return to school and sought help from the police and appealed to village elders. After initial refusal by elders from both her and her husband's village, Suseela's persistence and determination resulted in what is thought to be the first annulment of a child marriage in India in June 2005. Suseela's case is significant as she faced opposition to claiming her right to not be married in childhood and to choose her spouse due to her status as a Dalit and seemingly received little help from the police when she reported her situation. Sadly, there are many more Dalit children who are forced into early marriage by economic need and do not have the resources to demand their rights.
The prevalence of rape in villages also contributes to the greater incidence of child marriage in these areas. Early marriage between the ages of 10 years and 16 years persists in large part because of Dalit girls' vulnerability to sexual assault by upper-caste men and by parents' fear that their daughter will not be marriageable once she is raped.
d.Inequality of women in family law
India's marriage and divorce laws still do not grant equality to women despite the Constitution's guarantees to women of equal rights, liberty, justice, and the right to live with dignity.
4.Ensure Dalits' right to own property alone as well as in association with others
Article 5 (d) (v): The right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
The right to own property is systematically denied to Dalits. Landlessness-encompassing a lack of access to land, inability to own land, and forced evictions-constitutes a crucial element in the subordination of Dalits. When Dalits do acquire land, elements of the right to own property-including the right to access and enjoy it-are routinely infringed. Land reform legislation is neither implemented nor properly enforced. Dalits' efforts to secure land have been met with State violence or retaliation by private actors in the form of violence or economic sanctions.
a.Landlessness: lack of access to land, inability to own land, and forced evictions
Denial of the right to own property is at the very core of the caste system. R. Balakrishnan, then-Chairman of the Tamil Nadu State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes told Human Rights Watch:
The caste system is an economic order. It prevents someone from owning land or receiving an education. It is a vicious cycle and an exploitative economic arrangement. Landowning patterns and being a high caste member are co-terminous. Also, there is a nexus between being lower-caste and landlessness... Caste is a tool to perpetuate exploitative economic arrangements.
The Special Rapporteur on housing has also expressed his concern with the extreme violations of Dalits' human rights, including with respect to land and housing rights. The Special Rapporteur's 2005 Annual Report notes: "A majority of Dalits are still prevented from owning land and are forced to live on the outskirts of villages, often on barren land."
Denial of the right to own property is also practiced through forced evictions. On February 2, 2003, for example, 7,000 Dalits were evicted from their residences at BeliliousPark, in Calcutta, West Bengal. To make way for a development and beautification scheme envisioned for the park, an approximately 500-strong Rapid Action Force, accompanied by ambulances, fire brigades and two or three bulldozers, forcibly entered the Dalit community in Belilious Park, evicted 700 families, and demolished hundreds of brick houses, a school building, temples, and statutes.
A lack of access to land keeps Dalits in a state of economic dependency. Most rural Dalits are agricultural laborers who are economically dependent on their employers and therefore less likely to report abuse. Economic dependency on agricultural jobs also makes Dalits more susceptible to seasonal migratory work patterns (see Section VIII(D)(1)(a)).
b.Prevention of access to, and enjoyment of, own property
Even Dalits who do own land often do not have access to it, or are otherwise prevented from enjoying it. For example, a 1996 study by a NGO, which undertook a door-to-door survey of 250 villages in the state of Gujarat, found that, in almost all villages, many had no record of their land holdings, those who had title to land had no possession, and those who had possession had not had their land measured or faced illegal encroachments from upper-castes.
c.Failure of land reform legislation and efforts
Land reform laws that were intended to provide reparations for the historic landlessness of Dalits have failed due to a lack of political will and bureaucratic commitment, loopholes in the laws, the tremendous manipulative power of the landed classes, excessive interference of courts, and problems in ensuring that oral tenancies are truthfully recorded in land records so as to enable implementation of the land to the tiller policy. The Special Rapporteur on housing has also attributed this failure to the government, noting "weak legislative provisions, inadequate implementation, and a lack of State commitment." The evidence of this failure is clear; for example, Dalit landlessness is estimated at around 75 percent. Of surplus land collected pursuant to land reform laws, only 69.5 percent has been distributed, of which Dalits have received only 34.6 percent.
d.State suppression of movements requiring land reform and retaliatory violence and economic sanctions against Dalits by private actors
See Sections V(A)(1)(a)(ii); VIII(B) and VIII(E) respectively.
5.Ensure Dalits' right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
Article 5 (d) (vii): The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Dalits in India face a number of restrictions on their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Caste-based human rights violations that are the subject of this report are often given religious sanction under the theory that Dalits must live segregated lives and perform menial occupations because they are born into a caste outside of the Hindu varna system. As a result, Dalits are routinely denied entry into Hindu temples (see Section VIII(F)(2)(b)). Dalits have responded to ill-treatment by upper-caste Hindus by converting en masse to Buddhism, Christianity, and historically to Islam. The loss of constitutional privileges upon conversion, however, serves as a serious impediment to their freedom to choose their religion. Additionally, most Dalits are ultimately unable to escape their treatment as "untouchables" regardless of the religion they profess. The introduction of anti-conversion legislation in several states has further made religious conversion extremely difficult if not impossible. Finally, Dalits may become targets of forced "reconversions" to Hinduism by sangh parivar groups.
a.Loss of constitutional privileges upon conversion
While the Indian Constitution grants certain constitutional privileges to Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh Dalits (see Section V(B)), the same benefits do not extend to those who convert to Christianity or Islam. Dalit Christians and Muslims lose their "scheduled caste" status even though they are unable to escape discriminatory treatment from Christians and Muslims. Many Dalit Christians must pray in separate or segregated churches, bury their dead in separate cemeteries, and endure discrimination by non-Dalit priests and nuns.
Descendants of Dalit converts to Islam also face discrimination at the hands of Muslims who trace their ancestry to Arab, Iranian, or Central Asian origin. Descendants of indigenous converts are commonly referred to as ajlaf or "base" or "lowly." Further, upper-caste Muslims often deny Dalit Muslims entry to graveyards for burial. The continued practice of "untouchability" against Dalit Christians and Muslims undermines the argument that these communities should lose constitutional privileges upon conversion, and have led to charges that the Indian government's practice of assigning scheduled caste status on the basis of religion amounts to religious discrimination. Additionally, Dalit Christians and Muslims may be subject to multiple forms of discrimination on the basis of their caste and religion, a risk that has increased with the rise of Hindu nationalism in India.
Dalits' right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is explicitly denied through legislation that prohibits or impedes religious conversion. Seven states, a majority of them ruled by the Hindu nationalist BJP-Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu-have introduced legislation designed to make conversion difficult or virtually impossible. Four of the anti-conversion laws explicitly stipulate harsher punishments where the convert is a Dalit, tribal, female, or a minor. Critics have argued that such bills represent a political move by Hindu nationalist groups to maintain their Hindu vote bank. Notably, mass "re-conversions" to Hinduism engineered by VHP, often using threats and coercion, are allowed under these laws.
6.Ensure Dalits' right to freedom of opinion and expression
Article 5 (d) (viii): The right to freedom of opinion and expression.
Dalits' right to freedom of opinion and expression is compromised by police abuse of Dalit activists (see Section V(A)(1)(a)(ii)), retaliatory attacks by private actors that are carried out with impunity (see Section VIII(B)), and social and economic boycotts against Dalits (see Section VIII(E)). These actions often result when Dalits refuse to carry out caste-based tasks or seek to defy the social order; they frequently entail punishment of entire communities. As the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes surmises: "Whenever Dalits have tried to organize themselves or assert their rights, there has been a backlash from the feudal lords resulting in mass killings of Dalits, gang rapes, looting and arsoning" of Dalit villages.
7.Ensure Dalits the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association
Article 5 (d) (ix): The right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
Though the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association is enshrined in Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, Dalit protests are often met with police violence or arbitrary arrest and detention. Dalit activists have been detained and charged under draconian national security and anti-terrorism laws (see Section V(A)(1)(a)(ii)). In addition, police have made use of the Sedition Act, embodied under Indian Penal Code Section 124A, to prohibit peaceful meetings and protests. A number of such protests emerge in response to the desecration of statues of prominent Dalit Dr. B.R. Ambedkar by upper-caste community members resentful of these statues in public spaces. As one of the chief architects of India's constitution and a Dalit leader, statues of Dr. Ambedkar represent to Dalits the potential for "education, success, contribution to the political world of India, courage, [and] empowerment through relationship to government" When Dalits have protested such vandalism, the police and upper-caste community members have often responded with violent attacks and arbitrary arrests.
In November 2006 the entire state of Maharashtra was engulfed in protests by Dalits after upper-caste community members desecrated a Dr. Ambedkar statue in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. While the mob violence, including the burning of a train, cannot be justified, the reprisals were extreme. In response to the protests, a Dalit youth was lynched, and the police opened fire in Osmanabad, killing two people. Moreover, a curfew was declared in four cities, where large-scale violence had erupted. In light of the violence, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has convened a meeting for the United Progressive Alliance-led government to review the progress of development projects for Dalits.
The Ramabai Killings
The Ramabai killings of July 1997 are a notorious example of the use of excessive force by the police in response to peaceful and democratic protests. On July 11, police opened fire on a crowd of Dalits protesting the desecration of a statue of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in their settlement in Bombay. According to Human Rights Watch's investigations, the firings-in which 10 people were killed and 27 were injured-were both unprovoked and caste motivated. The incident led to significant unrest throughout the state of Majarashtra, including rioting and social boycotts against protesting Dalits. According to the Times of India, "the people owing allegiance to the ruling alliance parties had made determined efforts to terrorize and punish the Buddhists [converted Dalits] for having dared to protest against the shameful act of desecration of the Ambedkar statue." In one such instance, a Dalit woman was stripped and paraded naked around Karanja-Ghadge village in Wardha district, and later allegedly framed for murder by the police after she complained of her ill-treatment.
E.Ensure Dalits' economic, social and cultural rights
Article 5 (e): Economic, social and cultural rights.
Dalits' economic, social and cultural rights are routinely infringed by State and private actors with respect to all elements of the right to work (including in particular the right to free choice of employment and just and favorable conditions), the right to form and join trade unions, the right to housing (through segregation, discrimination in urban environments and limits on the right to own property), the right to access particular servicesin a non-discriminatory manner, the right to education and training, and rights regarding equal participation in cultural activities, such as wedding processions.
One practice that particularly influences the overall enjoyment of economic and social rights is the upper-caste imposition of social and economic boycotts against Dalits as a form of retaliation for assertion of rights. These boycotts are reinforced by the panchayat (village council) who levy fines against upper-caste individuals who refuse to participate.
In April 1998 upper-caste community members-reportedly angered by the election of a Dalit to the local panchayat and by Dalit attempts to increase their participation in village politics and activities-imposed a complete social boycott against Dalits in a village in Gujarat. Upper-caste community members were instructed not to supply anything, even basic necessities, to Dalits, and landowners were told to fire Dalit farmhands. Any upper-caste person found to be in violation of the boycott was fined and threatened. When Dalits tried to file a complaint for authorities to intervene, they were told that political pressure on police meant that a complaint could not be registered. Dalits continued to be denied basic necessities such as access to potable water, milk, and other daily needs even after the cases were filed.
1.Ensure Dalits' rights to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work, to protection against unemployment, to equal pay for equal work, to just and favorable remuneration
Article 5 (e) (i): The rights to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work, to protection against unemployment, to equal pay for equal work, to just and favorable remuneration.
The denial of the right to work and free choice of employment lies at the very heart of the caste system. Denial of free choice of employment and allocation of labor on the basis of caste are fundamental tenets of the caste system and are integral to sustaining caste inequality and hierarchy. Dalits' talents, merits, and hard work are of little consequence in a system where occupational status is determined by birth. Dalits are forced to work in "polluting" and degrading occupations such as manual scavenging and are subject to exploitative labor arrangements such as bonded labor, migratory labor, and forced prostitution. Dalit children are also vulnerable to child labor in these and other areas. Dalits are also discriminated against in hiring and in the payment of wages by private employers. Dalits' attempts to enforce their rights are met with retaliatory violence (see Section VIII(B)) and social and economic boycott (see Section VIII(E)).
In its combined Second and Third periodic reports to the CEDAW Committee, the Government of India reports that merely "stray cases [of bonded labor] are reported from time to time." This is in direct contradiction to the overwhelming amount of evidence of the Dalit community's continuing vulnerability to bonded labor. The government neglects to even mention caste discrimination in discussing indebtedness among the Dalit community, instead pointing to their poverty and to alcoholism as one of the reasons for their continued indebtedness and exploitation. Additionally, the effectiveness of the Government's measures is not critically examined. While the government reports on the number of scavengers, bonded labors, and the like who have been "rehabilitated," it fails to estimate the number of Dalits who remain victims to these dehumanizing practices. Still, the government does acknowledge that it "has a lot more to do to fulfill the Constitutional commitment of raising the status of [Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes] to that of the rest of the population."
Manual scavenging is a practice by which Dalits remove excreta from public and private dry pit latrines and carry them to dumping grounds and disposal sites. Though long outlawed, the practice of manual scavenging continues in most states, and will continue as long as dry latrines are used. In 2002-03 the Union Ministry for Social Justice and Empowerment admitted the existence of 6.76 lakh (676,000) manual scavengers in India and the presence of 92 lakh (9,200,000) dry latrines, spread across 21 States and UnionTerritories. According to unofficial estimates, the number of manual scavengers in India may be as high as 1.3 million. Manual scavengers are employed by private and public employers, including the military engineering services, the army, the railways, and other organs of the state.
The occupation of manual scavenging is both caste-based and hereditary. It is also the only economic opportunity available to many Dalit women hailing from scavenger sub-castes, with the result that more Dalit women and girls work as manual scavengers than Dalit men. Manual scavengers are at the very bottom of the caste hierarchy; they also face discrimination from other Dalits who treat them as "untouchables," creating an unquestioned "'untouchability' within the 'untouchables'" The entrenched discrimination against manual scavengers makes it difficult to find alternative employment pursuant to government rehabilitation schemes, and even more difficult to convince scavengers that they are able to take on, or are "worthy of performing," different occupations.
Manual scavenging is characterized by hazardous working conditions and health hazards. A manual scavenger from Paliyad village, Ahmedabad district, Gujarat, described how in the rainy season, the "water mixes with the feces that we carry in baskets on our heads, it drips onto our clothes, our faces. When I return home, I find it difficult to eat food. But in the summer there is often no water to wash your hands before eating. It is difficult to say which [season] is worse." Manual scavengers are routinely exposed to both human and animal waste without the protection of masks, uniforms, gloves, shoes, appropriate buckets, and mops. This has severe repercussions for their health; the majority of scavengers suffer from anaemia, diarrhea, and vomiting, with 62 percent suffering respiratory diseases, 32 percent suffering skin diseases, 42 percent suffering jaundice, and 23 percent suffering trachoma, leading to blindness. Many scavengers have also died of carbon monoxide poisoning while cleaning septic tanks. In Mumbai, for instance, Dalits are lowered into manholes to clear sewage blockages-often without any protection. More than 100 workers die every year due to inhalation of toxic gases or drowning in excrement. The fear of being fired by municipality officials keeps manual scavengers from demanding higher wages or sanitary instruments.
Manual scavenging is neither justly nor favorably remunerated, and several family members (usually women and girls) often have to be engaged to do the work assigned to one individual. As a result many families have to borrow money from their upper-caste neighbors and consequently go into bondage (see Section VIII(E)(1)(b)). In addition, almost no compensation has been delivered to the families of manual scavengers who are killed cleaning sewers.
These problems have not been alleviated by the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, or its rehabilitation program. For example, an increase in the number of dry latrines since 1989, ineffectiveness in the training program and a lack of co-ordination among responsible ministries mean that despite the fact that the Act was intended to be fully implemented by October 2, 2002, only 151,930 out of the total 676,009 manual scavengers identified as of 2004 by the NHRC have been retrained and 394,638 have been rehabilitated. These failures reflect a fundamental lack of political commitment in the effort to eliminate manual scavenging. They have necessitated the filing of a public interest litigation petition on behalf of manual scavengers before the Supreme Court in 2003 seeking the enforcement of the Act. This petition alleges that manual scavenging still exists, including in public sector undertakings, and urges the Court to issue time-bound directions to the Government of India and to state governments to take effective steps to eliminate the practice and to simultaneously formulate and implement comprehensive rehabilitation plans. The lack of political will of state governments to implement the Act was evidenced in 2004 when the Supreme Court requested the court presence of Secretaries of seven states for failure to file responses to the petition. In response to the Supreme Court order, many states reported to the Court that no dry latrines existed in their states.
There are an estimated 40 million bonded laborers in India, of whom 15 million are children. The vast majority of these laborers are Dalits or tribals. Bonded labor is sustained by the caste system, in particular through the traditional expectation of free labor and/or inadequate remuneration for work, the lack of Dalit ownership of land, social and economic boycotts levied by upper-caste community members (see Section VIII(E)), police extortion and looting (see Section V(A)(1)(a)(v)), and by acts or threats of violence that prevent Dalits from reporting abuses against them (including that they are being held in bondage).
Bonded labor also results from indebtedness to employers or moneylenders on whom Dalits must rely because of inadequate wages and because of the reluctance of institutional agencies to lend to the poor in general and to Dalits in particular. Under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, payment of less than minimum wage for the purposes of working off a debt also amounts to bondage. Most agricultural laborers Human Rights Watch interviewed for a report published in 1999 were paid between Rs. 15 and Rs. 25 (US$0.38 to $0.63), or two to three kilograms of rice, per day, well below the minimum wage prescribed in their state. In 2002 Human Rights Watch interviewed Dalit villagers in Uttar Pradesh who weave saris on looms owned by traders and who are forced to labor on agricultural lands. "We have very little land, less than five acres," a Dalit woman told Human Rights Watch. "Yes, of course we work on the landlords' land." In exchange for a day's labor, a worker receives five kilograms of wheat, worth about Rs. 40 (U.S.$0.83). "They don't even measure the five kilograms," one man complained. "They just fill up a sack and bring it out to us."Another man explained that they couldn't survive on the money earned from this and from sari weaving, so they had to take loans from the traders.
While the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 seeks to abolish all agreements and obligations arising out of the bonded labor system, the extent to which bonded laborers have been identified, released, and rehabilitated in the country is negligible. For example, out of the 3000 cases filed under the Act in Punjab since 1998, only 10 have completed the judicial process. Debt relief legislation has been similarly ineffective, with the NHRC concluding that "the beneficial provisions of law, which could at least reduce debt burden of Scheduled Castes [,] have not been made use of to reduce the incidents of atrocities against Scheduled Castes related to indebtedness." Rehabilitation programs for individuals who have been released from bonded labor are not successful due to their failure to ensure substantial alternative employment, implement rehabilitation immediately after release, and ensure timely provision of benefits.
c.Forced Migratory Labor
The susceptibility of Dalits to forced migration for work has been outlined in Section VIII(D)(1)(a). Migrant laborers are particularly susceptible to abuse and exploitation; they are seldom paid the minimum wage, work long hours, live in subhuman conditions, and suffer physical abuse if they try to escape their place of work. These dangers have not been addressed by the Inter State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Service Conditions) Act, 1979. Rather, the NHRC has identified this Act as the least successful of all labor laws. The NHRC attributes this failure to legal loopholes and to the apathy of political leaders in both sending and receiving states.
d.Forced Prostitution the Devadasi System
Dalit girls and women are additionally vulnerable to exploitative labor in the form of forced prostitution (see Section V(B)(4)(b)).
While a survey conducted by India's National Sample Survey Organization between 1999 and 2000 calculated 10.4 million working children, unofficial estimates reach 100 million. A majority of these children are Dalits. Dalit children are more likely to end up as child laborers due to their extreme poverty, the discrimination they face in schools, and the need to support their families, including after episodes of violence in which their families' economic assets have been destroyed.
A number of factors make Dalit children especially vulnerable to the types and effects of exploitative labor described above. For instance, migratory labor is especially pervasive amongst Dalits, and children are often expected to work alongside their parents in day-labor jobs. Dalit children also perform bonded labor. Fourteen-year-old Ashish M. working in the silk industry told Human Rights Watch that he could not leave his loom owner because he was paying off an advance, which in two years he had reduced from Rs. 2,500 (U.S.$25) to Rs. 475 (US$9.90). "The owner pays, but deducts for the advance," he said. "He deducts but won't write off the whole advanceWe only make enough to eat." Dalit children, and girls in particular, are also exposed to the risks associated with manual scavenging both because of the hereditary nature of the work, and because they often must step in to assist their parents with their jobs. The health risks for child manual scavengers are manifest (see Section VIII(E)(1)(a)). Health risks are also endemic to the practice of devadasi which is directed at the prostitution of Dalit girls (see Section V(B)(4)(b)).
While child labor laws (in particular the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986) are generally not sufficiently enforced, Dalit children remain especially vulnerable to bonded and other exploitative labor arrangements. The NHRC has found that, at least in Andhra Pradesh, there is a lack of credible efforts by political leadership to ensure exemplary punishment of employers who use child labor. This lack of accountability results from a number of factors, including the fact that upper-caste community members dominate local political bodies, the police and the judiciary, bonded labor vigilance committees, and child labor committees responsible forenforcing relevant laws. Apathy and corruption also contribute to a denial of the problem by many government officials. In some cases, the violations against Dalit children result from gaps in the law. For example, Dalit children are forced to work in industries considered "polluting," such as the leather industry, which is outside the Act because the Act does not cover home-based work or consider the leather industry hazardous. Rehabilitation programs accompanying the Act also fail to adequately address child labor because they suffer from a lack of political commitment, non-enforcement, and weaknesses inherent in the Act itself.
f.Discrimination in hiring and wage payments
Private employers routinely discriminate against Dalits both in hiring and in the payment of wages. This discrimination is felt acutely by Dalit women (see Section V(B)(4)(a)). The Untouchability in Rural India survey revealed that in 36 percent of the villages studied, Dalits were denied wage-paid employment in agriculture and in one-third of the villages were excluded from construction labor on the grounds that upper-caste community members did not want Dalits to "pollute" their homes. In 25 percent of the villages, Dalits received less than the market wage rate for their labor. According to NCDHR, "untouchability" was also practiced in the payment of wages such that "the Dalits received wages in cash or kind from a respectable distance so that physical touch of a Dalit was avoided." Even well-educated Dalits are not immune from discrimination by private employers.
Neither the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, nor the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, sufficiently guard against these disparities. Specifically, the NHRC has concluded that the objectives of relevant laws have been soundly defeated by an inadequate and unresponsive enforcement machinery, the dominant social and economic position of the employer, a dilatory and ineffective adjudication process, the lack of alternative employment opportunities, and the absence of government support. Additionally, gaps in protection derive from the fact that the Minimum Wages Act does not apply to employers who employ less than 1,000 workers and employers do not need to pay the minimum wage in cash if their payment of wages in kind have been customary and their continuance is necessary. The latter provision is particularly problematic for agricultural laborers, a majority of whom are Dalits. Dalits seeking the protection of these labor laws also risk retaliation, including being fired or physically assaulted.
2.Ensure Dalits' right to form and join trade unions
Article 5 (e) (ii): The right to form and join trade unions.
Dalits' right to form and join trade unions may be jeopardized in several ways. First, the Registrar of Cooperatives, the government agency in charge of overseeing the administration, working, and development of cooperatives, has been unwilling to register a cooperative whose workers are illiterate-which Dalits often are, and in disproportionately greater numbers than the rest of the population (see Section VIII(E)(5)(c)). Second, the Registrar will often "suspect" economic activities where no product is manufactured, and are unlikely to register such cooperatives. This negatively affects the millions of Dalits who are employed in various service-oriented occupations as rag-pickers, manual scavengers, cleaners, day laborers and the like. Finally, Dalit workers are often excluded from the government's employment classificatory schemes, which define "worker" as someone with an employer. Dalits who do not have employers are not classified as workers, and are therefore unable to form or join any unions.
3.Ensure Dalits' right to housing
Article 5 (e) (iii): The right to housing.
Despite the Committee's clarification that States Parties must "[t]ake measures against discriminatory practices of local authorities or private owners with regard to residence and access to adequate housing for members of affected communities," Dalits' right to housing is continuously undermined by deeply entrenched segregation, discrimination in housing in urban environments, and violations of their right to own property.
See Section VI(A).
b.Discrimination in housing in urban environments
In urban environments, Dalits' right to housing is compromised by caste discrimination. For example, the unwillingness of upper-caste urban dwellers to live near or with Dalits means that Dalits seeking housing in urban areas will typically face a litany of questions from potential landlords seeking to determine their caste status. Similarly, housing developments built by Dalits or occupied by Dalit residents fare adversely in comparison with the demand and price for comparable housing.
c.Violations of Dalits' right to own property
See Section VIII(D)(4).
4.Ensure Dalits' right to public health, medical care, social security, and social services.
Article 5 (e) (iv): The right to public health, medical care, social security and social services.
Caste-based occupations that Dalits are made to perform, such as manual scavenging (see Section VIII(E)(1)(a)), and forced prostitution, routinely expose Dalits to serious and sometimes fatal health hazards, including exposure to HIV/AIDS. In addition, Dalits are frequently refused admission to hospitals and denied access to health care and treatment.
Being refused admission to hospitals, health care and treatment is a key way in which the Dalits' right to public health and social services is denied. The Untouchability in Rural India survey found that Dalits were denied entry into private health centers or clinics in 74 out of 348 villages surveyed, or 21.3 percent of villages. Overall, the study found that in 30-40 percent of the villages surveyed, public health workers refused to visit Dalit villages. In 15-20 percent of villages, Dalits were denied admission to public heath clinics, or if admitted received discriminatory treatment in 10-15 percent of the villages.
The study also reported that Dalit women deal with government officials most frequently in attempting to access healthcare for themselves and their children and often encounter discrimination from auxiliary nurse-midwives and anganvadi workers (community development workers). Dalits are denied entry to clinics, charged fees for services that should be free, and anganvadi workersmay even refuse to visit Dalit hamlets.
In Uttar Pradesh, anganvadis (community centers) are known to practice "untouchability" and as a result pregnant women are forced to go without health care. Doctors at the local hospital in Pandalam Thekkekara, Kerala, are seen to spend much more time treating upper-caste women than the Dalit women. In Attirpa, Kerala, a non-Dalit anganvadi workerreportedly discriminated against her Dalit colleague.
The general discrimination against Dalits in health care can also contribute to or exacerbate serious health problems such those associated with HIV/AIDS. Although HIV/AIDS affects a heterogeneous group of people in India, some of the risk factors (particularly "migration and mobility" and "low status of women") point to a disproportionate impact on marginalized groups such as Dalits. Dalit women and girls who are forced to become devadasis are at particular risk of contracting HIV. Existing inequities and the stigma that accompanies HIV/AIDS also mean that Dalits infected by HIV/AIDS are vulnerable to increased social stigma and discrimination in access to education, health care, and other services as compared both with other Dalits and with non-Dalits who are HIV-positive.
5.Ensure Dalits' right to education and training
Article 5 (e) (v): The right to education and training.
Dalit children face considerable hardships in schools, including discrimination, discouragement, exclusion, alienation, physical and psychological abuse, and even segregation, from both their teachers and their fellow students. CERD has also noted the effects of this type of disparagement in stating "that the degree to which acts of racial discrimination and racial insults damage the injured party's perception of his/her own worth and reputation is often underestimated." Caste discrimination persists even in institutions of higher education. Dalit children's right to education is further eroded by their poverty and the generational repetition of under-education. A majority of Dalit children must work to help ensure their families' economic survival. In addition their parents are far more likely to be illiterate.
While the Constitution requires free and compulsory education for all children until age 14, the right to education free from discrimination is not secured for Dalit children. 99 percent of Dalit students are enrolled in government schools with substandard facilities that lack basic infrastructure, classrooms, teachers, and teaching aids. Dalit schoolchildren also face discrimination and discouragement from higher-caste community members who perceive education for Dalits as both a waste and a threat. Their hostility toward Dalits' education-which includes discrimination against Dalit teachers-is linked to the perception that Dalits are not meant to be educated, are incapable of being educated, or if educated, would pose a threat to village hierarchies and power relations.
a.Segregation in classrooms and discrimination by teachers
Dalit children's right to education free from discrimination is constantly undermined by the treatment they receive at school. Teachers maintain and impart discriminatory attitudes in their classrooms, forcing children to sit in the back of the room, segregating Dalit children from non-Dalits during lunchtime, forbidding non-Dalit children from sitting next to Dalit children or touching their plates (see Section VIII(F)(1)(c)), expressly limiting Dalit student participation in class, requiring Dalit children to take on additional custodial duties, subjecting them to verbal abuse, and grading them with unjustifiably low marks.
Additionally, Dalit children are often subjected to corporal punishment by their teachers. As the Special Rapporteur on the right to education noted in his report before the 67th session of the then-Commission on Human Rights, "teachers have been known to declare that Dalit pupils 'cannot learn unless they are beaten.'" These practices serve to discourage and alienate Dalit children, contributing to their high drop-out rates. Even more perniciously such practices serve to instill and reinforce Dalit children's sense of inferiority, erode their sense of personal dignity and force them to internalize caste distinctions.
b.Low enrollment and high drop-out rates of Dalit students
As a result of their discriminatory treatment, large numbers of Dalit children drop out of school, especially in the early elementary stages. Though the Committee has made clear that States Parties should "[r]educe school drop-out rates for children of all communities, in particular for children of affected communities, with special attention to the situation of girls," the statistics for the enrollment of Dalit children, especially girls, are a cause for distress. According to the 2002 India Education Report, school attendance in rural areas in 1993-1994 was 64.3 percent for Dalit boys and 46.2 percent for Dalit girls, compared to 74.9 percent among boys and 61 percent for girls from other social groups. According to a 2001-2002 report prepared by the Indian government, "the drop-out rate in Scheduled Castes during 1990-91 was as high as 49.35 percent at primary stage and 67.77 percent at middle stage and 77.65 percent at secondary stage." The statistics for higher education are no less alarming-the same government report states that enrollment of Dalit students at graduate, post-graduate and professional/research/PhD levels is "abysmally low," at 8.73 percent, 8 percent, and 2.77 percent respectively.
Discrimination in schools and the resulting drop-out rates for Dalit children are intimately linked to child labor. A social worker in Karnataka told Human Rights Watch: "A child will say to his or her parents, 'The teacher told me not to come tomorrow, that I am no good for studying.' Instead of asking why the teacher has said this, the parents will send the child to work."
c.Low literacy rates for Dalits
Low literacy rates for the Dalit population are a clear indication of the ways in which the school system fails Dalit children. The 2001 population census shows that the literacy rate among Dalits is 54.70 percent compared to 68.81 percent among others. Illiteracy in turn results in a lack of gainful employment options for Dalits.
d.Labor patterns (migratory and child labor) affect Dalits' access to education
Migratory labor serves as a hindrance to education in that it prevents Dalit children from being able to continuously attend school and, ultimately, from being able to advance with their class (once students miss 18 days, they are no longer allowed to advance in the same grade). Dalit parents generally take their children with them while searching for labor, and older boys and girls are expected to either work alongside their parents or stay at home to care for younger siblings. Though the attendant problems of migratory work are visited on non-Dalit agricultural workers as well, they are especially pervasive among Dalits, who are overwhelmingly landless and engaged in agricultural work, and thus uniquely susceptible to forces that push them into migrant labor (see Section VIII(D)(1)(a)).
e.Discrimination in Higher Education
Caste bias erodes Dalit students' right to education even in institutions of higher education. In September 2006 allegations of caste-based discrimination and intimidations surfaced at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, India's premier medical institute. In written complaints submitted to the director of the Institute, two first-year Dalit students complained of casteist remarks and various forms of harassment and intimidation from senior upper-caste students. The complaints were accompanied by a memorandum signed by 40 students, recounting similar incidents of harassment and intimidation. Similarly, Dalit doctors at the GuruTegBahadurHospital have written about a "biased attitude towards reserved category junior residents." The incidents of caste-based discrimination in institutions of higher learning are illustrative of the depth and breadth of anti-Dalit sentiment in education, and show that such biases transcend the rural/urban divide and affect the entirety of the education system, from elementary schools to universities.
f.Discrimination against Dalit teachers
Like Dalit students, Dalit teachers also face rampant discrimination; they too are segregated for purposes of food and water consumption. Discrimination against Dalit teachers has at times turned violent. In December 2005 Satyanarayan Prasad, a Dalit teacher, was assaulted in a village in Bihar by members of the dominant caste who could not accept the fact that their children were being taught by a Dalit. Prasad suffered serious head injuries as a result of the assault. When she attempted to lodge a complaint with the police, the police termed the incident as "insignificant."
6.Ensure Dalits' right to equal participation in cultural activities
Article 5 (e) (vi): The right to equal participation in cultural activities.
a.Dalits prohibited from taking part in religious and cultural rituals and festivals
The denial of Dalits' right to equal participation in cultural activities is a core component of the caste system. The very fact of being a Dalit signifies being in a subordinate position vis-vis the rest of Hindu society, and exclusion from cultural activities is a clear way of demonstrating this separateness. Consequently, Dalits are routinely prevented from taking part in religious and cultural rituals and festivals, with clashes ensuing if they chose to disobey the prohibitions. The various ways in which the marriage ceremony is circumscribed are illustrative of such prohibitions; Dalit bridegrooms are not permitted to partake in the marriage tradition of riding a mare through the village, and Dalit marriages in general must be performed very quietly, without the public pomp and processions that usually accompany upper-caste weddings. The Untouchability in Rural India survey found that out of the 483 villages surveyed, a ban on marriage processions on roads was in place in 47.4 percent of villages, while a ban on festival processions on public roads was in place in 23.8 percent of villages.
b.Compulsory, exploitative, and degrading nature of rural Dalits' participation in cultural activities
On the rare occasions when Dalits are included in village ceremonies and festivals, the compulsory and degrading manner of their participation also speaks to the inequality they suffer. For example, during the Marama village festival in Karnataka state, upper-caste Hindus force Dalits to sacrifice buffalos and drink their blood, and to then mix the blood with cooked rice and run into the village fields without their chappals (slippers). Also, the participation of Dalits in the ceremonies of their villages often amounts to little more than exploitation, as village custom mandates that Dalits render free services in times of death, marriage, or any other village function.
F.Ensure Dalits' right of access to any place or service intended for use by the general public
Article 5 (f): The right of access to any place or service intended for use by the general public, such as transport, hotels, restaurants, cafes, theatres and parks.
The pervasiveness of residential segregation in violation of Article 3 of the Convention has been detailed in Section VI(A). Dalits are also denied equal access to a spectrum of places and services intended for use by the general public. They are excluded from or receive discriminatory treatment in private businesses, including tea shops, barber shops, village shops, and cinemas. The extent to which these practices violate Article 5(f) was noted with particular concern by the Committee in 1996 in the following terms:
The Committee is particularly concerned about reports that people belonging to scheduled castes and tribes are often prevented from using public wells or entering cafs or restaurants and that their children are sometimes separated from other children in schools, in violation of article 5(f) of the Convention.
The table in Appendix I of this report reveals the magnitude of the denial of Dalits' access to places and services intended for use by the general public.
1.Denial of access to state-run places or services
Dalits are routinely denied access to police stations, government ration shops, post offices, schools, water facilities, and panchayat (village council)offices.
a.Denial of Entry to Police Stations
The Untouchability in Rural India survey found that Dalits were denied entry into police stations in 27.6 percent of villages surveyed. This denial also enables violations of other rights guaranteed by the Convention, including Article 2(1) (see Section V(A)), Article 5(a) (see Section VIII(A)), Article 5(b) (see Section VIII(B)), and Article 6 (see Section IX).
b.Denial of Entry to Government Ration Shops & Post Offices
The survey also found that in 25.7 percent of villages surveyed, Dalits were denied entry to government ration shops that sell food at affordable prices to the poor, thus depriving them of access to food. Dalits were also forbidden to enter post offices in 19.2 percent of the villages surveyed.
c.Segregation in schools
Segregation in schools undermines Dalit children's right to education free from discrimination as guaranteed by Article 5(d)(v) of ICERD. Dalit children are routinely forced to sit in the back of the classroom, and are segregated from non-Dalit children during lunchtime. Even Dalit teachers may be segregated from non-Dalit teachers in accessing food and water during lunchtime (see Section VIII(E)(5)(a)).Segregation encourages high drop-out rates among Dalits and perpetuates "untouchability" practices by teaching non-Dalit children that "untouchability" is both an acceptable and necessary practice. This segregation is particularly evident in the Mid-Day Meal Scheme.
The Mid-Day Meal Scheme was initiated following a Supreme Court order as a means of addressing hunger and malnutrition among schoolchildren. However, according to a study conducted by the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar-where a third of India's Dalits live-have refused to implement the program. Programs have also been closed because of upper-caste community opposition; upper-castes have also opposed the hiring of Dalit cooks for the program. Where the program is in place, Dalit students' access to food has been restricted. In many places, the program has been organized in a higher-caste locality, away from the Dalit locality. In two locales in Tamil Nadu, the meals are provided in a temple, "raising immediate questions of exclusion for Dalit children, who are generally forbidden entry into temples, as well as for other non-Hindu children." In October 2006 an article in the Indian Express quoted a primary school student, Shailesh Solanki, as follows: "We are not allowed to sit with children of the other castes. We are always asked to sit separately. This is done every time we are served food at . Even the food served to us is less in quantity." Objections to the segregation of Dalit students in the mid-day meal program have been dealt with punitively. For example, in December 2003, a school district in Gujarat transferred seven Dalit teachers out of the district for objecting to this segregation.
d.Denial of access to water and irrigation facilities
One of the most basic and most harmful ways in which segregation through "untouchability" is imposed upon Dalits is through denial of access to water. Dalits are not allowed by their higher-caste neighbors to draw water from the same wells or hand-pumps as non-Dalits. More than 20 percent of Dalits do not have access to safe drinking water, only 9.84 percent of Scheduled Castes households have access to sanitation (as compared to 26.76 percent for non-Scheduled Castes households), and the vast majority of Dalits depend on the "goodwill" of upper-caste community members to allow them to access wells, which are almost always situated in upper-caste colonies and villages.
Denied adequate quantities of potable water, Dalit women may need to travel long distances to obtain the amounts necessary for the survival of their families, resulting in the infringement of other fundamental rights, such as the right to the highest attainable standard of health, the right to adequate food, and the right to gain a living by work. Lack of sufficient water and adequate sanitation facilities devastates the health of entire communities. Furthermore, for the large numbers of Dalits who are dependent on land for their sustenance, the inability to access water for irrigation purposes has enormous consequences on their livelihood and sustenance. The Untouchability in Rural India survey found that in slightly more than a third of some 466 villages surveyed across 11 states, Dalits were denied access to irrigation facilities and thus prevented from tending to fields that they cultivate. Finally, the deprivation of a basic human right such as water is a constant reminder of the inherent indignity of India's caste system
2.Denial of entry to privately run places or services intended for use by the general public
Many privately run businesses, such as cafs, restaurants, cinemas, and hotels practice forms of "untouchability." Private individuals also enforce "untouchability" in their homes, as well as in public spaces, including public streets, market places, temples, and even in cremation or burial grounds.
a.Prohibition on Inter-Dining between Dalits and non-Dalits
The prohibition on inter-dining operates in restaurants, hotels, tea-stalls, and schools in addition to private homes. The Untouchability in Rural India survey found that in over 70 percent of villages surveyed, the prohibition against inter-dining is prevalent; the practice was reported in each of the 11 states studied. In many tea-shops and dhabas (food stalls), separate crockery and cutlery are used for serving Dalits. The "two-glass system," whereby Dalits use a separate set of glasses for tea-drinking which they are then required to wash, is practiced in nearly a third of all villages surveyed in the report.
Velmurugan, a Dalit boy, and Ramesh, a non-Dalit, are friends from school. Velmurugan is often invited to study with Ramesh at his home, as Velmurugan's home in the Dalit colony does not have electricity and the street lamp outside his house is often broken. Velmurugan is the brighter student, and he helps Ramesh with his homework. However, Velmurugan must always sit outside the house on the floor below the elevated platform of the veranda, where Ramesh sits. At dinner-time, Ramesh is called inside to eat with his family. On the rare occasions on which Ramesh insists that his friend partake in the meal, his parents stipulate that Velmurugan must eat outside and off the plate that is kept for the Dalit housekeeper. Velmurugan is asked to wash the plate before and after he eats.
b.Denial of Dalits' Entry to Temples
Denial of Dalits' entry to Hindu temples by private individuals is pervasive; the Untouchability in Rural India survey documented this practice in each of the 11 states studied. The rate of prevalence was as high as 64 percent on average, with the practice occurring in 94 percent of villages surveyed in the state of Karnataka. This is the case despite the fact that the denial of temple entry is one of the most strongly resisted forms of "untouchability", in relation to which numerous campaigns and court cases have been waged. Denial of access to temples implicates the right to free exercise of religion (see Section VIII(D)(5)) and access to public activities that are held in temples, such as the Mid-Day Meal Scheme discussed above (see Section VIII(F)(1)(c)).
c.Untouchable even in death
In one incident recorded in the Untouchability in Rural India survey, upper-caste community members constructed a wall to divide the village cremation ground (ghat) of Gwali Pallasia (Indore district, Madhya Pradesh) that had once been shared by Dalits and non-Dalits, forcing Dalits to use another ghat some distance away. This segregation is strictly enforced; an attempt by Dalits to use the village ghat resulted in beatings, ransacking and looting, followed by a boycott, denied participation in village activities, and evictions after Dalits registered complaints with the police.
d.Discrimination in public streets and market places
Dalits are perpetually subjected to humiliation and degradation through informal but strictly imposed caste codes that regulate their dress and their behavior in the presence of upper-caste community members. Dalits are denied equal access to public streets and areas by upper-castes. Dalit men are often forced to stand in the presence of upper-caste men on roads, or to bow to them. Dalit women often adopt a humble demeanor and maintain a submissive posture to show respect to upper-castes. Dress codes are imposed by upper-castes, which forbid Dalits from wearing new or brightly colored clothes. Clean clothes are also often forbidden by the upper-caste in rural India. In some upper-caste neighborhoods, Dalits are expected to remove their shoes and dismount from bicycles when on public streets.
Article 6: State Parties shall assure to everyone within their jurisdiction effective protection and remedies, through the competent national tribunals and other State institutions, against any acts of racial discrimination which violate his human rights and fundamental freedoms contrary to this Convention, as well as the right to seek from such tribunals just and adequate reparation or satisfaction for any damage suffered as a result of such discrimination.
In its periodic report, the Government of India cites to constitutional provisions and legislative measures that open its courts to victims of discrimination. These measures include legal services for the indigent and the setting up of people's courts. While the government has enacted such measures, their utility is belied by the insidious nature of caste-based discrimination that has been documented throughout this report, and by the country's own National Human Rights Commission-a body that India characterizes as the apex national institution to protect human rights and redress grievances. On the particular issue of lack of effective remedies for Dalits, the Commission has found that even where cases are properly registered under the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 several states are not providing economic relief to victims of atrocities as is required. The NCDHR has also found that Dalit victims have often been unable to benefit from this requirement because police will purposely downplay charges and register atrocities against Dalits under the Indian Penal Code instead of the Act, in order to circumvent the compensation requirement. These are but a few examples of the systematic discrimination Dalits endure before all institutions of law enforcement-the very bodies responsible for ensuring their protection (see Section VIII(A)).
Article 7: States Parties undertake to adopt immediate and effective measures, particularly in the fields of teaching, education, culture and information, with a view to combating prejudices which lead to racial discrimination and to promoting understanding, tolerance and friendship among nations and racial or ethnical groups, as well as to propagating the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and this Convention.
In its Periodic Report, India indicates that it has devoted "considerable attention and space to constitutional provisions related to fundamental rights" in curricula and in developing policy guidelines for media "to ensure that racial or other prejudices are not propagated." The treatment of the caste system in textbook and curricula, along with inadequate media representation of Dalit issues and the lack of Dalit journalists generally, suggest that the government's efforts have so far been inadequate. In addition, the widespread practice and acceptance of caste-based segregation in government schools (see Sections VIII(E)(5)(a) and VIII(F)(1)(c)) may send the strongest and most intolerant message of all.
A.Textbook and curricula in public and private schools distort the caste problem in India
The treatment of caste discrimination in textbooks and curricula can strengthen caste division and prejudice. For example, a report by the Mumbai-based NGO KHOJ found that even progressive curricula either exclude any mention of caste discrimination or discuss the caste system in a way that suggests that caste inequities and discrimination no longer exist. School textbooks may similarly fail to mention caste discrimination, may attempt to justify the origins of caste discrimination or may attribute the unequal situation of Dalits to their "ignorance, illiteracy and blind faithbecause they still fail to realise [the] importance of education in life."
B.Inadequate media representation of Dalit issues and lack of Dalit journalists
While Dalits, together with tribals, make up nearly 25 percent of the country's population, the NHRC found that the media "provides negligible space to their plight/problems." Beyond reports of major instances of violence, there is a lack of any sustained reporting of their problems and efforts to include their voices. Instead, these communities mostly receive attention when the discussion is focused on backwardness, population growth, lack of entrepreneurship and productivity, thereby perpetuating caste-based stereotypes. Part of the problem of representation of Dalit issues in the media lies in the lack of Dalit journalists. There is only one nationally prominent Dalit journalist, Chandrabhan Prasad, who has written about the structure of discrimination against Dalits.
Under-educated, severely impoverished, and brutally exploited, Dalits struggle to provide for even their most basic daily needs. Dalits must also endure daily threats to their physical security from both state and private actors. The violence by upper-caste groups against Dalits have two major causes: the "untouchability" and discrimination upper-caste community members practice on a daily basis and the desire of upper-caste community members to protect their own entrenched status by preventing Dalit development and the fulfillment of Dalits' rights. A review of the political, social, economic, and cultural status of Dalits in India shows the State Party to be in violation of its obligation to respect, protect, and ensure Convention rights to all individuals in its jurisdiction. India routinely denies Dalits the rights and privileges that many of its other citizens take for granted.
This failure stems from the refusal to recognize that Article 1's prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of "descent" encompasses social stratification on the basis of caste. Discrimination is entrenched in a number of facets of the government-from the discriminatory practices of law enforcement, prosecutors and judges, to the failure to eradicate segregation in public services, including schools, and in residential arrangements, to the failure to successfully implement programs to ensure the development and protection of Dalits, including in particular Dalit women. The State Party has also failed to ensure that private actors, in particular upper-caste community members, observe the prohibition on discrimination. Retaliatory violence, social and economic boycotts, and exploitative labor conditions enforced by private actors are unchecked, resulting in violation of Dalits' rights to personal security and other rights that are notionally guaranteed by the Constitution and various legislative measures. The widespread practice of "untouchability" and the violation of Convention rights it entails necessitate that India undertake comprehensive review and reform of the existing law, polices, and practices that enable the extreme marginalization and persecution of Dalits to continue unabated.
Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, New YorkUniversitySchool of Law
The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law is enormously grateful to the following individuals for their work and/or assistance in the preparation of this Report:
Smita Narula, Assistant Professor of Clinical Law, NYU School of Law; Faculty Director, Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, NYU School of Law; and former Senior Researcher for South Asia at Human Rights Watch.
Principal authors and researchers:
This report was researched by Stephanie Barbour, Tiasha Palikovic and Jeena Shah as part of the International Human Rights Clinic at NYU School of Law. The report was co-authored by Stephanie Barbour, Tiasha Palikovic, Jeena Shah, and Smita Narula.
Substantive review and comment on the Report was provided by:
Jayne Huckerby, Research Director, Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, NYUSchool of Law.
Research assistance was provided by:
Additional assistance was provided by:
Human Rights Watch
The report was reviewed by members of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch.
Overview of the Forms/Sites in which Untouchability is being Practised in Rural India, by Degree of Prevalence
More than 50% of Villages
45-50% of Villages
30-40% of Villages
25-30% of Villages
20-25% of Villages
15-20% of Villages
10-15% of Villages
Less than 10% of Villages
Denied entry into non-Dalit houses
Prohibitions against food sharing
Denied entry into places of worship
Ill-treatment of women by other women
Denied access to water facilities
Ban on marriage processions
Not allowed to sell milk to cooperatives
Denied barber services
Denied laundry services
Ill-treatment of women by non-SC [scheduled caste] men
Denied work as agricultural labourer
Cannot sell things in local markets
Denied visits by health workers
Separate seating in 'hotels'
Denied access to irrigation facilities
Separate utensils in 'hotels'
Discriminatory treatment in police stations
Separate seating in Self-Help Group
Denied entry into police stations
Denied carpenter's services
Denied entry into PDS [Public Distribution System] shops
Denied access to restaurants/ hotels
Forced to stand before upper-caste men
Paid lower wage rates for same work
Ban on festival processions on roads
Denied home delivery of letters
Segregated seating in schools
Denied entry into private health clinics
No access to grazing/fishing grounds
Tailor refuses to take measurements
Buying of pots from potter
Separate drinking water in schools
Discriminatory treatment in post offices
Cannot wear new/bright clothes
Shops: No touching in transactions
Denied access to public roads/passage
Denied entry into PHCs [Primary Health Centers]
Not allowed to use umbrellas in public
Schools: SC students and non-SC teacher
Schools: SC teachers and non-SCstudents
Denied entry into panchayat [village council] office
Ban on wearing dark glasses, smoking, etc.
Schools: SC teacher and non-SC student
Public transport: No seats/last entry
Separate lines at polling booth
Denied entry into polling booth
Cannot use chappals [slippers] on public roads
Discriminatory treatment in PHCs [Primary Health Centers]
Denied access/entry to public transport
Separate times at polling booth
Discriminatory treatment in private clinics
Compulsion to seek blessing in marriages
Forced to seek upper caste's permission for marriages
Cannot use cycles on public roads
Denied entry/seating in cinema halls