News

Mar 21 2016

DSN-UK at the United Nations Human Rights Council 15 and 16 March 2016

by Meena Varma in News

The International Dalit Solidarity Network working with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues to combat caste-based discrimination. On 15 March 2016 the SR on Minority Issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, presented her annual report to the Human Rights Council, which focused on caste-based discrimination. She encouraged all caste-affected states to take progressive and instrumental steps to protect caste-affected communities. The report highlighted that individuals and groups ascribed to the lowest strata by their caste status share minority-like characteristics, such as marginalised position, stigma and the use of minority protection mechanisms by self-identifying as minority groups. The SR indicated that 250 million people worldwide suffer from caste-based discrimination, with the highest numbers in South Asia but also present in Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific. Dalits and similar communities from the lower-caste strata face various human rights violations: use of violence, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence to oppress them; obstacles in accessing justice systems; political marginalisation; restriction in accessing religious sites; hindered labour mobility; slavery, including trafficking and sexual slavery; forced and bonded labour; restricted access to adequate housing, water and sanitation; limited access to health services and education; and unequal access to humanitarian assistance in disaster and recovery situations. This was the first milestone report at the United Nations level on caste-based discrimination and states had different reactions to it. At an interactive dialogue session with the SR the representative of India questioned the SR’s on Minority Issues mandate and stated that she was in breach of it to include caste-based discrimination. Nepal concentrated on its positive efforts to address caste-based discrimination and “untouchability” practices. Sri Lanka highlighted its invitation to the SR and stated that the report is ‘inaccurate’ and ‘misleading’. Mauritania outlined that slavery has been abolished and there is no marginalisation or caste-based discrimination of any group in the country. Bangladesh also emphasised its efforts to protect ethnic and religious minorities, but suggested that ‘not all disadvantaged groups are minorities, such as homeless’, therefore there has been some ‘confusion with the concept of minorities, diverting attention from where it should be’. Many states spoke in support of the report expressing their concern at the extent of caste-based discrimination and recognised it as a major cause of poverty, inequality and social exclusion. In a strongly worded statement, Switzerland said that caste discrimination was unacceptable in 2016. Norway called on states to implement legislation effectively. We were disappointed to note that the US took the opportunity to raise the question of Tibet with China and that the United Kingdom did not respond or raise any questions during the Interactive Dialogue regarding the issue of caste discrimination in the UK. Minority Rights Group International, Human Rights Watch and International Dalit Solidarity Network issued a combined statement welcoming the report on a ‘long neglected issue of systematic discrimination’. The SR replied to the comments emphasising that minorities definition is ‘a liquid and changing definition’ based on self-identification of the groups. She noted that she was disappointed that the Sustainable Development Goals failed to include minorities but was hopeful that more efforts and attention will be paid to caste-based discrimination following her report.

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Feb 16 2016

DSN-UK tribute and thanks to the much beloved Lord Eric Avebury

by Danni Kleinaityte in News

We all have our own personal and professional memories of the much beloved Lord Eric Avebury. The pictures below indicate a time of triumph and celebration, with Eric at its heart and centre. It was 23 April 2013, St George’s Day – the day that commemorates the time when one man took on the mighty dragon. And so too in 2013, when the little known Dalit campaign to address caste discrimination in the UK took its protest to the streets and Parliament Square. We took on the might of the Her Majesty’s Government who had steadfastly refused to activate a clause in the Equality Act that would provide legal protection for victims of caste discrimination – in the same way that it did for race, religion, gender, transgender and other protected characteristics. Members of CasteWatch UK, Dalit Solidarity Network UK, Voice of Dalit International, Federation of Ambedkarite Buddhist Organisations UK, Central Valmik Sabha UK, Indian Christian Concern and Dr Ambedkar Memorial Committee GB, as well as scores of regional and community organisations met at the rally on Tuesday 23 April. The date will now live in all our memories forever. The carnival atmosphere was evident as we heard at 2.30pm that the UK Government had laid down their amendment to use the Ministerial power to trigger the legislation in the Equality Act 2010 to outlaw discrimination on the basis of caste, providing much needed legal protection to victims of caste discrimination in the UK. Amendments tabled by the then Business Secretary Vince Cable in the House of Commons stated that the Equality Act will “provide for caste to be an aspect of race”. The government had conceded on the principle and tabled an amendment, which requires the Secretary of State to bring forward regulations to include Caste as an aspect of Race (under Section 9(5) of the Equality Act) within two months of enactment of the Enterprise Regulatory and Reform Bill. The Bill was enacted 2 days after the protest on 25 April 2013. Lord Avebury had joined the ‘protesters’ in Parliament Square before the news had filtered through. The protest then became a time to celebrate. Lord Avebury said’ This is all the more terrific for being totally unexpected!’ Eric and other members of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Dalits were so key to this victory. Without their unerring support and commitment we would never have seen this day. Sadly our regret is that Eric passed away before the current Government had addressed many of Eric’s own Parliamentary Questions on the implementation of the caste legislation – which was agreed by Parliament and across all parties now shockingly nearly 3 years ago. We will keep fighting for the will of Parliament not to be ignored and for the caste legislation to be implemented. Eric would expect nothing less. We will miss him greatly.   Meena Varma Director Dalit Solidarity Network UK

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Feb 15 2016

Great sadness at the passing of Lord Eric Avebury

by Meena Varma in News

Lord Eric Avebury campaigned for many unpopular causes. He was a true champion of the fight for Dalit rights in the UK and campaigned tirelessly for Clause 9(5)(a) to be implemented in the Equality Act. At the time of his death he was Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Dalits. Dalit Solidarity Network UK, its members and supporters salute you Eric. You will always be remembered. A lasting and wonderful tribute can be read on Eric’s blog.    

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Feb 10 2016

DSN-UK and READ share their first-hand experience and knowledge of debt bondage in India with a Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequence

by Danni Kleinaityte in News

  The International Labour Organisation’s report ILO Global Estimate of Forced Labour 2012 estimates that 20.9 million people are victims of forced labour. In 2009 annual report SR on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences stated that bonded labour is a form of slavery and one of ‘the most traditional and widespread forms of forced labour’. Article 1 of the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery defines debt bondage or bonded labour as ‘the status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of his personal services or those of a person under his control as security for a debt, if the value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied towards the liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined’. Information gathered on bonded labour by the SR in 2009 indicates that the practice occurs when ‘a person offers his/her labour services in exchange for the repayment of a debt’ and gets coerced into working in exploitative conditions with long working hours, low wages, no days off, etc. SR identified a number of root causes: first, poverty plays a crucial role because people have no other way of subsisting; second, isolations, lack of guidance, and lack of contract with institutions and authorities create extremely vulnerable situation, which facilitates exploitation and forced labour; third, low levels of education of the concerned population puts them in a vulnerable situation where they are not able to understand the nature of their debts, control them in any way or understand their rights as workers, not able to negotiate minimum wages, maximum daily work hours, holidays, frequency of pay and methods of payment; fourth, bonded labourers are from most socially excluded groups who suffer additionally from discrimination and political disenfranchisement; and fifth, populations that have limited access to land for their traditional income-generating activities are more likely to become bonded labourers. ILO research also indicated a clear link between long-standing patterns of discrimination and forced labour, especially in India where the overwhelming majority of bonded labour victims are from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. In 2013 Dalit Solidarity Network UK funded by TRAID (Textile Recycling for Aid and Development) started working in partnership with Rights Education and Development Centre (READ) to End the Sumangali Scheme in South India, where textile and garment products are made for big brands and retailers by girls and young women from low caste backgrounds under exploitative conditions. Girls and young women are recruited by brokers to join the so-called ‘Sumangali Thittam’ or ‘Marriage Scheme’, promised they would receive a considerable amount of money at the end of three to five years of employment. This exploitative scheme is tantamount to bonded labour because employers withhold part of the workers’ wages until the end of the ‘contract’. Workers are severely restricted in their freedom of movement and privacy. The majority of the workers are Dalit (outcaste) girls younger than 18, from poor families who are lured in with the promises of a decent wage and the lump sum payment upon completion of the contract that may be used for their dowry. This January DSN-UK and READ completed the Special Rapporteur’s questionnaire on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences questionnaire on bonded labour, sharing their first-hand experience and knowledge of the Sumangali Scheme. The submission will be published on the website of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences and included in the thematic report on debt bondage.   DSN-UK will also publish the completed questionnaire on our website once it has been made public by the Special Rapporteur.

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Feb 03 2016

DSN-UK submission to the International Development Select Committee inquiry on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) highlights the absence of attention to caste-based discrimination

by Danni Kleinaityte in News

World leaders, including UK Prime Minister David Cameron, in September 2015 pledged a commitment to achieving them. Following this, the International Development Committee launched an inquiry into how SDGs should be implemented in the UK and invited written submissions from interested organisations and individuals. DSN-UK made a joint submission with Asia Dalit Rights Forum, highlighting that although the SDGs are formulated to ensure that ‘no one is left behind’, caste-based discrimination was excluded from the final draft.  The framework needs to take into consideration the world’s most vulnerable people, including Dalits, who are disproportionally affected by intergenerational poverty and hierarchical exclusion, preventing them from accessing justice and development programmes. The submission made recommendations to include caste-based exclusion to goals 1, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 15, 16 and 17, and use disaggregated data, including caste, in the SDGs follow-up and monitoring process. The Chair of the International Development Select Committee, Stephen Twigg MP, emphasised during the  5th session, some of the challenges that Dalits and other repressed groups like LGBT people in Uganda face, and asked the Secretary of State for International Development ‘None of this is easy.  Where it can be particularly difficult is when there is a strong social norm against a minority….How do you best take that forward in the context of development and humanitarian assistance, where there is a set of universal rights to which countries are signed up and yet, in some of the countries that we are rightly supporting, there are strong social norms against religious or sexual minorities in those countries’. Justine Greening MP stated that Department for International Development (DFID) works at grassroots level until there is some momentum. She also highlighted the need for disaggregated data to better understand what the DFID programmes are delivering. However, the Government has no plans to introduce a national action plan or set a taskforce to implement the SDGs but rather will include some of the relevant goals into the existing priorities. Sadly this might result not only in a missed opportunity to address caste-based discrimination in the UK but also in the DFID programmes overseas.   The joint DSN-UK and the ADRF submission is also available in a pdf format here.

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Jan 06 2016

Thank you

by Danni Kleinaityte in News

We would like to thank Mrs Wilson for her generous donation to DSN-UK. It is the first donation received this year! It will make an enormous difference to our work.  

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Dec 21 2015

Human rights discussions between PM Cameron and PM Modi

by Danni Kleinaityte in News

Just before India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the UK in November this year Rob Marris MP wrote to the UK Prime Minister Mr David Cameron, highlighting some of the human rights concerns in India, including the treatment of Dalits. The letter can be accessed here. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office replied stating that Prime Minister David Cameron did discuss human rights with Prime Minister Modi during his visit and the FCO will ‘continue to work collaboratively with the Indian government on a range of important issues, including the promotion and protection of human rights’. A full reply can be found here.

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Dec 21 2015

Members of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Dalits continue to raise the issue of caste discrimination to Her Majesty’s Government

by Danni Kleinaityte in News

Following the Lord Harries of Pentregarth Parliamentary question on the assessment of human rights situation in India the House of Lords debated the situation on 7 December 2015. The debate highlighted issues of access to justice for Dalits, violence against women and treatment of minorities. The full transcript of the debate is available here. To read all Parliamentary questions and answers submitted in relation to caste discrimination both in the UK and overseas in this parliamentary session please click here.

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Dec 02 2015

8th session of the UN Forum on Minority Issues and Dalit discrimination

by Meena Varma in News

DSN Director, Meena Varma attended the UN Forum on Minority Issues as part of a delegation from Minority Rights Group International. MRGI held its Council meeting just prior to the Forum. The current MRGI Council Chair is Gay McDougall, the first UN Independent Expert on Minorities and member-elect of the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and  Meena is the Vice Chair of the Council. Over 500 participants attended the 8th session of the Forum on Minority Issues in Geneva on 24-25 November 2015, which analysed a range of issues relating to minorities in the criminal justice system and looked for new solutions to prevent and respond to atrocities and violence crimes committed against minorities around the world. On 24 November Mr Ramesh Nathan, Secretary General of National Dalit Movement for Justice made a very powerful intervention at the Forum on caste based discrimination and crimes committed against Dalits: ‘I would like to present the issue of 260 million Dalits in Asia who are traditionally regarded untouchable or as outcasts. They continue to be discriminated and serious crimes are committed against them raging from verbal abuse of outcaste names, physical assault, murders, arson, social and economic boycotts, naked parading, burning, mass killing, gang rapes, forcing to drink urine and eat human faeces and etc.’ Mr Ramesh highlighted that although a large number of countries in Asia, including India and Nepal, have legal protection and “special laws” are put in place, those legislations are largely ineffective in implementation and ‘Dalits continue to suffer caste based discrimination and violence in all spheres of life’.  Moreover, ‘caste biases are deeply embedded in criminal justice administration system’ and enforcement, especially ‘police officers, exhibiting their caste and clearly perpetrating atrocities’. What is even more worrying is that Dalit activists often are accused of being terrorists and posing a threat to the national security. On the same day at a Side event, organised by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) and the Permanent Mission of Austria to the UN, the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Ms Rita Izsák spoke on Combating impunity and the need for effective justice system action on behalf of minorities. In her presentation Mr Izsák emphasised some of the crimes committed against minorities and stated that Dalit women have been ‘victims of impunity’. The Side event identified that lack of minorities’ representation as decision makers in criminal justice system prevents minorities from accessing remedy and fair compensation. On 25 November Ms Durga Sob from Feminist Dalit Organisation in Nepal spoke at the Forum on Minority Issues, calling for increased Dalit participation in justice sectors, stronger Dalit NGOs and wider campaigning to increase awareness on caste based discrimination. Ms Manjula Pradeep, Executive Director of Navstajan organisation, outlined the persistence of violence against Scheduled castes and Dalits in caste affected countries, especially India and Nepal, unequal protection, structural inequality, and serious and sustained human rights abuses. She also outlined some of the serious challenges that Dalit and Scheduled caste women experience and loose hope due to prevalence of lawlessness and impunity. In her conclusion Ms Manjula suggested to include caste based discrimination in some of the prepared recommendations, such as 27, 42 and 55, in recognition of caste affected minorities. Over the two days the wide variety of presentations at the Forum on Minority Issues indicated the severity of violence and atrocity crimes committed against minorities, including Dalits, and reiterated the need for the proposed recommendations. The UN Forum on Minority Issues provides a unique and inclusive venue for dialogue and for the elaboration of practical recommendations from all participants: UN Member States from all regions, minority communities, experts from UN bodies and specialized agencies, international organizations, academics and other experts. A set of recommendations stemming from the session on preventing and addressing violence and atrocity crimes targeted against minorities will be presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2016.    

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Nov 18 2015

Post PM Modi’s visit to the UK, we evaluate the reception

by Meena Varma in News

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his official visit to the UK last week, was met with an outpouring of support from many in the British Indian community – mostly Hindus. PM Modi received red carpet treatment from the UK Prime Minister David Cameron and an ecstatic greeting from 60,000 of his fans at Wembley Arena on Friday 13 November. All this mirrored by an increased opposition from many others of that community – including Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus as well as a demand from the Nepalese community to ‘stop the blockade’ and free many of the poorest Nepalese from poverty and starvation. Alongside Human Rights and Dalit organisation these latter groups were at the forefront of a campaign against the UK welcoming the Indian Prime Minister by controversially projecting “Modi Not Welcome” on to the Houses of Parliament. Following that thousands of individuals and organisations’ representatives demonstrated outside No. 10 Downing Street and Parliament Square on Thursday, 12 November, under the slogan #ModiNotWelcome. One of the major concerns of the Indian prime minister’s critics is his leadership of the state of Gujarat over a decade ago when a pogrom by Hindu nationalists saw as many as 1,000 killed, mostly Indian Muslims. Modi was accused of condoning the violence and as a result was banned from Britain, the European Union and the US for 10 years. Those protesting were also deeply concerned about the escalation of intolerance, intimidation and violence against Dalits, Muslims, Christians and women, as well as erosion of cultural and academic freedoms since Modi came to power in 2014. A large number of the UK academics researching development in India, UK based human rights NGOs and activists called for the human rights abuses on Modi’s watch to be questioned in the public domain. The Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn and 50 British MPs have now signed an Early Day Motion, urging David Cameron to address human rights issues in India during his talks with Modi. Jeremy Corbyn was expected to raise the issue of the human rights situation in India with Mr Modi during their private meeting on Saturday 14 November. There has also been criticism for academics and intellectuals in India about the authoritarian side of Modi’s rule. In October, 40 prominent Indian writers returned top national awards in protest over a “climate of intolerance” in India. For many Dalits here in the UK they have called the inauguration of the Ambedkar house in North London as an act of hypocrisy. They are shocked that the hero and father of the Dalits who converted to Buddhism should be appropriated in this way. He spent much of his life condemning Hinduism – its practices and rituals which in India alone treated 160 million people as ‘outcastes’ and ‘untouchables. Read here the response of UK Dalit organisations to Modi’s inaugurating of the Ambedkar house. Nevertheless, David Cameron and Narendra Modi concentrated on signing trade deals and increasing its collaboration on a range of issues but human rights. The protesters, on the other hand, vowed to continue their campaign and stand in solidarity in their fight for human rights for all.

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