What We Do
DSN-UK works towards equality and social justice for Dalits both in the UK and worldwide in other caste-affected countries. We raise awareness and support Dalit demands for justice – through an effective advocacy programme. As part of this, we run seminars and meetings on caste at the Department for International Development, in Parliament, with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, at Party Conferences, with Trade Unions and Diversity and Inclusion departments. DSN-UK provides a platform for the voices of those affected by caste to be heard – through speaker tours, producing and disseminating campaigning information, influencing the media and launching urgent action appeals.
We hold governments, organisations and companies accountable to the international and national pledges and promises they have made. Our strategic priorities are:
Encourage UK Parliamentarians to engage with the Dalit Cause
DSN-UK actively works with members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords to ensure that the issue of caste-based discrimination is kept on the agenda. As part of this, DSN-UK Director Meena Varma co-ordinates the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dalits, enhancing our lobbying opportunities.
As one of DSN-UK’s priorities, we have been working hard for over 10 years to get the law changed in the UK, and this has involved a significant amount of time lobbying MPs. The result of this effort was that the government agreed to include ‘caste’ in the Equalities Act 2010. Although this was eventually overturned, the duty has yet to be repealed.
Apart from tying to ensure protection for Dalits in the UK, we also work to encourage the government to tackle the issue globally during interaction with foreign governments, and to impress upon them that UK MPs find the continuing existence of caste-based discrimination unacceptable.
Assist businesses to address caste discrimination in supply chains
DSN-UK aims to encourage businesses operating in caste-affected countries to introduce measures to address the risks of economic exploitation and caste-based discrimination throughout their supply chains. We have raised the issue of discrimination in employment practices at the shareholder meetings of UK businesses in India, including Barclays, HSBC and Shell.
We are delighted to have close ties to a number of organisations that focus on the impact of international businesses in caste-affected countries. Our work with BOND and the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) has given us an opportunity to provide significant input to a number of reports on caste-based discrimination in supply chains, which is then used in turn to educate commercial organisations on the hidden problems and raise awareness of what changes need to be made in order to combat them.
We have also been involved in several schemes ‘on the ground’, including the Sumangali scheme in Tamil Nadu. We now advise and support international brands to develop guidelines for good business practise. You can read more on our corporate work here.
Support International Advocacy efforts at the UN, EU and other institutions
DSN-UK aims to support international advocacy efforts at the UN and EU, as well as other international institutions to draw attention to the plight of caste-based discrimination. DSN-UK works closely with the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) to achieve this, and we continue to press for global change, with our Director frequently in Brussels and Geneva to ensure that our voice is being heard.
IDSN has been seeking United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) status for many years now, and despite attempts to block membership, has actively participated in a number of reports issued by the UN, and met with Special Rapporteurs to highlight the changes that need to be made. IDSN and DSN-UK facilitate the submission of shadow reports and supports joint NGO statements to several UN human rights bodies.
As part of IDSN we are extremely proud to work with a number of other Solidarity Networks, including from Norway, Finland, Germany and India, and it is hoped that our joint voices can make significant change. More information on international advocacy is available on the IDSN website.
Increase media attention on all aspects of caste discrimination
DSN-UK has worked hard to keep the media interested in the plight of Dalits both here in the UK and abroad. As a consequence, we have been quoted in a number of newspaper articles and documentaries, amongst them Priyanka Mogul’s ‘CasteAside’, BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme, the BBC’s Asian Network, the Sunday Times, the Economist, the Guardian – even a newspaper in Lithuania!
Our advice has been sought out by a number of television companies, including the BBC and Endemol, to ensure that the subject of ‘caste’ is being handled both comprehensively and sensitively. And, as mentioned above, journalists frequently ask for background information or a direct quote for articles.
Providing expert advice on caste discrimination
We are fortunate enough to be considered a significant resource for those wishing to explore the issue of caste-based discrimination, and provide guidance to international development organisations and institutions, businesses, government officials and individuals.
We frequently receive requests from visiting academics, PhD and Masters students – even school pupils – from all over the world to discuss how caste works and what we are doing in the UK to confront the problems that it brings.
Furthermore, because of our involvement in the APPG for Dalits, politicians who wish to have a greater understanding can always access our expertise. We have given talks at trade union meetings, theological seminars and participated in debate panels, and send out regular newsletters to inform those interested in both UK and global news.
Strengthening the network
We organise meetings on caste at the Department for International Development, in Parliament, with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, at Party Conferences, with Trade Unions and Diversity and Inclusion departments.
We are a member of BOND, the UK network for organisations working in international development, which unites over 400 organisations to drive global change. We have been an active participant in the Caste and Development Group and have contributed to their report Caste and development: Tackling work and descent based discrimination to achieve the SDGs for all. With a view to the 2019 regional and global forums on the Sustainable Development Goals, the report examines some of the barriers that caste presents to the achievement of selected SDG targets and proposes a ‘caste-sensitive’ approach to sustainable development. Similarly, we work closely with the Ethical Trading Initiative, including as part of their Tamil Nadu Working Group.
DSN-UK is the one stop shop for all things related to caste-based discrimination!