Dalits residing in South Asia constitute 220 million out of 260 million people worldwide who belong to communities that are discriminated against based on work and descent, said a report. Of these 220 million Dalits, 201 million are residents of India, constituting 16.6% of the country’s total population.
The report was unveiled in India during a press conference—Global Forum to Address Traditional and Modern Forms of Slavery, Casteism and Antigypsyism—in New Delhi on Friday, October 11. The speakers present at the conference were Thol Thirumavalavan, Lok Sabha MP and member of International Parliamentarian Forum on Discrimination based on Work and Descent, Paul Dibvakar, Chairperson of the Global Forum on DWD, Beena Pallical, executive director of Asia Dalit Rights Forum, and Dr V A Rameshnathan, general secretary of National Dalit Movement for Justice.
Recently, the International Congress on Discrimination based on Work and Descent, Casteism, Anti Gypsyism, and Contemporarary forms of Slavery (ICDWD) was held in New York from September 20 to 23. DWD is estimated to affect over 260 million people worldwide, constituting over 3.45% of the global population, in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, and North America.
The United Nations (UN) defines DWD as “Discrimmination based on work and descent in any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on inherited status such as caste, including present or ancestral occupation, family, community or social origin, name, birthplace, place of residence, dialect, and accent that has the purpose of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, or any other field of public life”.
A report presented at the ICDWD pointed out that in India, caste is used as a social mechanism to organise people into caste groups, wherein their status in society is determined as immutable by and from birth. It said, “Based on the concept of purity and pollution, Dalits are engaged in the most unclean and menial occupation. There are over 1.2 million Indians involved in manual scavenging; of these, over 95% are Dalits, who are compelled to undertake this inhuman and degrading task under the garb of traditional occupation.”
The ICDWD, which took place concurrently with the UN General Assembly, was attended by 114 delegates from 21 countries, including activists, academics, community leaders, parliamentarians, and human rights organisations, who gave a call demanding a UN declaration on the elimination of discrimination based on work and descent. The Global Forum on DWD was constituted at the Congress.
Paul Divakar, the convenor of the forum, said, “The inequalities experienced by the DWD communities span all spheres of their lives, viz. education, hunger alleviation, health, water and sanitation, employment, voting rights, equal access to land and housing, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, and environmental health, which are represented in the SDGs through definite goals. It is long overdue that the member countries bring forth a UN Declaration for elimination of Discrimination based on Work and Descent.”
The declaration calls on the states to:
1. Establish, implement and strengthen various legal and policy frameworks, administrative and judicial instruments in order to accelerate equality and justice for all;
2. Eradicate all forms of direct or indirect discrimination against DWD communities and women in particular;
3. Enact and strengthen national laws and policies that promote gender equality and prevent gender-based discrimination and violence;
4. Ensure accountability of all crimes against women and to end the culture of impunity;
5. Promote rights and entitlements of children and youth of DWD communities in order to develop their potential to grow as full-fledged citizens;
6. Ensure equitable and proportional representation in governance to members of DWD communities, especially the women;
7. Evolve and implement plans, policies and programs in public and private sectors aimed towards sustainable economic empowerment of DWD communities;
8. End all including state sponsored violence and repression against DWD communities to ensure they live a secured life of equality and dignity;
9. Establish an independent body of members of DWD communities in order to monitor and review the implementation process of Sustainable Development Goals, 2030.
Thirumavalavan said at the press conference, “The Indian government fails to realise that casteism is a real issue being faced by millions of people in this country. We, Parliamentarians, should raise these issues nationally and globally, only then will steps be taken to eradicate DWD.”
Divakar said, “Unlike most other countries with communities facing DWD, India has a legal framework to eliminate caste-based discrimination. However, it is the responsibility of the government to implement these laws. And it is our duty to make sure that the government does that.”
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