Celebrate Zero Discrimination – end caste-based discrimination

1st March 2019

Today is March 1st and we mark the celebration of Zero Discrimination Day. Set up by UNAIDS, it is an annual day celebrated by the UN and other international organisations. This year focuses on tackling discriminatory laws around the world.

With the strapline ‘Saving Lives, Leaving No One Behind’, it is a timely reminder that however far we think we have come in progressing past discrimination on the basis of race, religion, caste, gender, sexual orientation or disability, there remains much to be done around the globe.

Theoretically, there are a number of human rights treaties (including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) that states are obliged to adhere to, but differing cultural norms, political wrangling and a rising nationalism seem to trump the moral position that all of us are equal. However, there is more to this than being just another day that NGOs can use as an excuse for a campaign: there have been some significant successes achieved by focusing their efforts.

Although progress is undoubtedly being made – for example, in 2018 same-sex relationships were decriminalised in India – it is important not to rest on our laurels. In the case of India, while the issue of sexual orientation is finally being confronted head on, the protections against caste-based discrimination are being eroded: the reservation system that gave ‘untouchables’, now more commonly known as Dalits, better access to education and employment has recently been diluted by the government’s decision to allow a quota of impoverished so-called ‘higher’ caste citizens to benefit as well. In effect this has downplayed the centuries of discrimination suffered by 25 per cent of the population, forced to do the most menial and dangerous of jobs for little or no pay, and ostracised by the rest of the community, to the extent where they are not allowed to share the same drinking water, study in the same schools or live in the same area.

Dalit Solidarity Network UK is part of the UK BOND Caste and Development
group which is soon to launch a new report on Caste and Development: Tackling Discrimination Based on Work and Descent. A caste-sensitive approach is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda 2030 Leave No-one Behind. And its aim is to advance the SDGs for many millions of people across the world who would otherwise be overlooked.

So, despite the temptation to ignore the wider issues of the world, Zero Discrimination Day still has a major part to play on the road towards a global egalitarian society, and as individuals it is incredible what our actions can collectively achieve.