Monthly Archives: February 2016

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

16th February 2016

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.

Eric Avebury

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


Dalit Solidarity Network UK

Great sadness at the passing of Lord Eric Avebury

15th February 2016

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.



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

10th February 2016


Special Rapporteur, Urmila Bhoola

Special Rapporteur, Urmila Bhoola




This September, Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur (SR) on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, will present to the Human Rights Council a thematic report on debt bondage. As a result, she invited various stakeholders such as international and regional organisations, national human rights institutions, UN agencies, non-governmental organisations, research institutions and businesses to complete a questionnaire on debt bondage practices.


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.


Untitled[/ezcol_1half] [ezcol_1half_end]Read logo[/ezcol_1half_end]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.

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

3rd February 2016


In the 5th oral evidence session for the inquiry into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), on 11 January 2016, the International Development Committee questioned Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening MP. She reported on the Government’s progress and summarised its approach towards implementation of the SDGs based on received oral evidence.

In September 2015 the UN Member States formally accepted SDGs, replacing more narrow Millennium Development Gaols, which were signed in 2000 and expired at the end of 2015. SDGs include 17 universal measurable goals, 169 targets and yet to be agreed indicators, that should shape global and national political agendas of developed and developing countries until 2030. The new SDGs intend to reduce inequality and bring transformative change that should ‘leave no one behind’.



Justine Greening MP, Picture: Russell Watkins/DFID


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.