The Disproportionate Effects of Covid-19 on Dalits
7th May 2020
The UK is mostly an incredibly generous population – even in this time of crisis where job uncertainty is rife and financial security is a thing of the past, we continue to donate not just to causes in the UK, but also those across the world who require help to deal with Covid-19 and its implications.
However, in caste-affected countries, history has taught us that when it comes to distributing aid, Dalits are often those most in need and those most often denied access to relief and state benefits. They may already be living in highly crowded spaces with limited access to clean water and sanitation; are the first to lose their jobs as daily wage labourers, home-based workers or modern slaves; live hand-to-mouth with no savings or food to spare; and have difficulty accessing healthcare. With higher rates of malnutrition, they generally have a weaker immune system and are therefore at higher risk of being severely affected by the virus.
So, as members of the public, what can we do to ensure that assistance is given to those most in need? The simple answer is to put pressure on governments and companies with global supply chains in caste-affected countries.
Governments can be encouraged to comply with the UN core human rights treaties and ILO fundamental conventions, including providing support to high-risk communities such as migrant workers, many of whom are Dalits. They can also put pressure on companies to act in a way that mitigates the impact of the crisis on vulnerable workers.
As far as companies are concerned, we can urge them to continue to pay wages where possible or provide suitable severance, especially where local governments cannot step in to assist. If they are able to provide support where needed for provision of food, clean water and healthcare by cooperating with suppliers, this should also be done. Perhaps mostly importantly, they should insist that their suppliers conform to the WHO’s recommendations on health and safety guidance to protect workers from Covid-19.
At some point, the world will come out of the crisis. However, once national recovery efforts are underway, it is essential that governments ensure that Dalits and other minorities are included in the process to rebuild their countries. The disproportionate effect on Dalits of both lockdown and vulnerability to the virus itself must be confronted, so that the most marginalised are protected. A number of excellent reports have been prepared by Hope for Justice and Anti-Slavery International that highlight just how much the vulnerable are open to further abuse in times such as these.
As many of us sit at home wondering how to use up an excess of time, writing a letter to the UK Department for International Development, the Department for International Trade and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, registering concern about the plight of Dalits, can make a cumulative difference. We have the opportunity to reshape the world – so raise your voice and make sure that our government is reminded that equality does not exist for all, but can do with the right international pressures.