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.
Members of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Dalits continue to raise the issue of caste discrimination to Her Majesty’s Government
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.
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.
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.
The letter in full is as follows: To the Prime Minister of India, Panchavati, 7 Race Course Road, New Delhi 19 August 2015 Dear Shri Narendra Modi, We are deeply shocked by the recent horrifying revelations about the massacres of Dalit and other oppressed-caste people in Bihar and are writing to you to express our dismay that you have so far neither spoken out against the killers and their accomplices nor taken any action against them. The revelations caught on camera by the news portal Cobrapost’s are briefly as follows: The Ranveer Sena, the upper caste landlord army in Bihar, perpetrated a number of major massacres of Dalits and oppressed caste people including at Bathani Tola, Laxmanpur Bathe, Shankarbigha, Miyanpur and Ekwari, between 1994 and 2000, brutally murdering some 144 men, women and children simply for demanding basic rights and dignity and for supporting the Communist Party of India(Marxist- Leninist) . Ranveer Sena commanders (formerly acquitted by the Patna High Court) boasted in recorded interviews not only that they committed these massacres but that they were backed by top BJP leaders who were their political patrons and funders. They also confessed that powerful politicians helped them get arms and military training from serving and retired Indian Army men and that they had the support of former Prime Minister (the late Chandrashekhar), and top BJP leaders including former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, former Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, former Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar, Sushil Kumar Modi and Vice President of the BJP, CP Thakur. The Ranveer Sena commanders also said on camera that Brahmeshwar Mukhiya masterminded all the massacres of poor Dalit women and children. Yet, as you know, the BJP’s Giriraj Singh has shamelessly described Brahmeshwar as Bihar’s Gandhi. The Amir Das Commission, which was set up in 1997, after the Laxmanpur Bathe killings, to investigate these massacres was disbanded in 2005 by Nitish Kumar of the JDU, then in alliance with the BJP, in order to appease and shield his erstwhile BJP allies. As you may know the Patna High Court acquitted all the perpetrators claiming there was ‘no evidence’, and that eyewitnesses were lying. The statements of the acquitted men to Cobrapost prove that the eyewitnesses told the truth. Can such horrific violence be tolerated in a democratic country? Unfortunately your lack of action on this issue gives the shocking message that Dalit and oppressed caste lives do not matter in India. We urge you therefore to act urgently to ensure: that the Ranveer Sena commanders who continue to walk free and boast about the murders they have committed are arrested and charged that all the politicians including senior BJP politicians who are named in the Amir Das Commission report are dismissed from their posts, arrested and charged that the Army and ex-Army personnel who trained and armed the banned Ranveer Sena terrorists are also brought to justice. yours sincerely, Meena Varma (Dalit Solidarity Network) Arun Kumar (Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisation, UK) Davinder Prasad (CasteWatchUK) Ramesh Klair (Sri Guru Ravidass Global Organisation for Human Rights) Ravi Kumar (Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance) Amrit Wilson (South Asia Solidarity Group)
We were delighted that DSN-UK patron John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich tabled the following question for answer by the Government. And Lord Harries specifically raises the issue of exclusion of Dalits and Minorities – politically, economically and socially Asked by The Earl of Sandwich To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the government of Nepal following its adoption of a new constitution on 20 September. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, the chargé met the Prime Minister on 15 October and relayed our key messages: that the adoption of a new constitution is a milestone; that we hope dialogue continues to reach an agreed position that meets the concerns of all Nepali citizens; and the importance of resolving border blockages to enable the distribution of humanitarian assistance. My right honourable friend Hugo Swire wrote to former Prime Minister Pandey on 24 September and my right honourable friend Desmond Swayne made a statement on 13 October. The Earl of Sandwich (CB): I thank the Minister for her reply. I know that she will join me in congratulating the Nepalese Government after many years of civil war, an earthquake this year and virtual political stagnation in this bicentenary year. However, is she not concerned about the effects of the fuel blockade on the Indian border and New Delhi’s possible interference? Does she agree that the UK needs to help Nepal to reassert her independence and to restore the confidence that business and tourism now demand? Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, it has been the policy of this Government and preceding Governments to encourage a peaceful resolution of power and to support the development of a new constitution. With regard to the blockade to which the noble Earl refers, our acting ambassador in Nepal, along with EU and other like-minded countries’ heads of mission, has regular dialogue with the Indian ambassador to Nepal. Our British high commissioner to India, James Bevan, called on Indian Foreign Secretary Jaishankar on 7 October and raised with him the question of Nepal. We agreed that we would continue to engage with India and seek to work with it to help resolve the crisis of the blockade. Baroness Northover (LD): My Lords, I start by thanking Oxford University for translating the Nepalese constitution for me. Is the noble Baroness as pleased as I am to see gender rights and—for the first time in the region, as I understand it—LGBT rights enshrined in the constitution? Will the UK Government congratulate the Nepalese Government on this major step forward in human rights? Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I entirely agree and endorse what the noble Baroness has said. Of course, our remaining concern must be to ensure that the constitution is put into effect. Because of the recent elections, that is still a matter to be resolved. Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con): Will the Government be the first in discouraging the Nepalese Government from imposing massive tariffs on aid flows into their country? Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, it is true that the Nepali Government rely very heavily on the charges on goods going into their country. My noble friend is right to point out that Nepal relies heavily on aid from others, including from the UK, and I am sure it respects the importance of that. For example, on 25 June at the international donors’ conference in Kathmandu, the DfID director for Asia, Beverley Warmington, announced a commitment of £70 million in total from the UK. It is important that the Nepali Government work closely with us in delivering that. Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Lab): My Lords, is the Minister aware of the concerns that were recently expressed by the United Nations about the potential effects, as winter sets in, of the current fuel and food shortages in Nepal, and the likelihood of a very serious humanitarian crisis? Does she share the widely held view that the Nepalese Government are slow to approve aid distribution and are leaving the earthquake victims to fend for themselves? Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I have seen reports such as those that the noble Baroness has carefully described. The World Food Programme has an agreement with the Minister for Supplies to fly in fuel from Calcutta—that is a recent development—but there would still be challenges in storing and distributing the fuel once it had arrived. The noble Baroness points very properly to the importance of the Nepali Government ensuring that there is fair distribution. Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB): My Lords, the Minister may be aware that the Dalits, who were expecting much greater representation under the new constitution, are bitterly disappointed by it. They represent some 13% of the population and have suffered centuries of discrimination and marginalisation. Will Her Majesty’s Government, in their relationships with the Nepalese Government, encourage them to take positive steps—economic, political and social—to ensure that the Dalits and other minorities are fully included in the development plans for the country? Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, the noble and right reverend Lord raises a very important point. As I alluded to briefly in my first Answer, our view is that the constitution must be right for all the people of Nepal, not only the Dalits but the various groups along the Terai area of the border with India. I am aware that there are serious matters in that regard which still need resolution. Baroness Morgan of Ely (Lab): My Lords, we are very pleased that the new constitution has improved the position of women in Nepalese society, but can the Minister say whether it is true that under the new constitution it will be difficult for a single mother to pass on her citizenship to her child? Have the Government conveyed any opinion on this matter to the Nepalese Government? Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Baroness has raised that issue because we are concerned that the provision on citizenship by descent remains gender-discriminatory in its present form, and I hope that there will be further discussions about that. We are also concerned that the wording on religious conversions could be used to prosecute free expression by religious groups. So a good start has been made but there is much still to do. The Earl of Sandwich: There are unresolved human rights violations left over from the civil war. Will the Government support the idea of a truth and reconciliation commission? Baroness Anelay of St Johns: Indeed, there are such concerns, and the UK has always supported the peace process in Nepal. We fully support the idea of a truth and reconciliation commission provided that it is independent and competent and that it abides by international law. We welcome the Supreme Court ruling earlier this year on the amnesty provisions of the Truth and Reconciliation Act, and we encourage the Government in Nepal to comply with this ruling.
DSN-UK successfully held its AGM on Wednesday. 14 October 2015. Our thanks to all those who came, especially the Parliamentarians who took time out of their busy day to support the cause. #EndCasteDiscrimination Read the report of the meeting here. DSN-UK Review of the year 2014-15 is available here.
The much anticipated ruling on the Tirkey v Chandok case came out last week. And was found in favour of the victim, who suffered terrible abuse at the hands of her employers – proving that caste discrimination does exist and that Ms Tirkey was a victim of domestic servitude and slavery http://atleu.org.uk/our-recent-cases/ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34330986 http://www.theguardian.com/law/2015/sep/22/woman-awarded-184000-in-uks-first-caste-discrimination-case http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/11882926/Low-caste-woman-awarded-183000-compensation-in-discrimination-case.html It was indeed an excellent outcome for the victim, but despite the fact that the judgement appears to allow for caste discrimination under race and ethnic origin, this case does not set a precedent and future cases may not be covered by existing legislation Caste-based discrimination legislation still desperately needs to be brought into force for clarity. Worse still for our campaign is that HMG may well use this ET outcome as an excuse to repeal the law. We have already been advised by one of Lords in the All Party Group who is a QC that The decision is of no value as a precedent and the government should not be allowed to use it as an excuse for defying the will of parliament. So great news and a great win for Ms Tirkey, BUT …….
With an overwhelming and unassailable majority in the very first round, Jeremy Corbyn MP and long-time supporter and defender of Dalit Rights is the new Labour Leader of the UK Parliament and Leader of the Opposition. This is a victory of honesty, principle and hope. Here at DSN-UK we are delighted that at last we have a champion of the just causes at the top table. The Labour Party position on discrimination is clear. We will be seeking their unconditional support for Dalit rights across the globe and to finally push this Conservative Government in to obeying the will of Parliament and implementing the caste discrimination legislation of the Equality Act 2010. Jeremy Corbyn MP, Labour Leader and next PM
UK Dalit organisations write to PM Modi about his silence and inaction over the role of senior BJP leaders in the Dalit massacres in Bihar
In the run up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UK, several of the UK’s foremost Dalit organisations have written to Narendra Modi, expressing their dismay about the recent revelations by investigative news portal Cobrapost. Their letter notes that senior BJP politicians were involved in the massacres of some 144 Dalit men, women and children in Bihar and that Mr Modi has so far neither spoken out against the self-confessed killers and their accomplices nor taken any action against them. Spokespersons from the organisations urge Mr Modi to act because his ‘ lack of action on this issue gives the shocking message that Dalit and oppressed caste lives do not matter in India’ . They urge him to act urgently to ensure that the self-confessed killers are brought to justice and that all the politicians, including senior BJP politicians, are dismissed from their posts, arrested and charged. Read the full letter here