CASTE-BASED DISCRIMINATION IN SOUTH ASIAJune 2009 SITUATIONAL OVERVIEW, RESPONSES AND WAYS FORWARDStudy commissioned by the European Commission to the International Dalit Solidarity NetworkTHIS REPORT MAY ALSO BE CONSULTED ON THE EUROPEAID WEBSITE AND AT WWW.IDSN.ORGPhoto: Jakob Carlsen
CASTE-BASED DISCRIMINATION IN SOUTH ASIA IDSN is a network organization that works on a global level to eradicate caste discrimination. In caste-affected countries, network movements try to mobilize their governments to fulfill their human rights obligations. In Europe and the United States, national Dalit Solidarity Networks and international associates raise international awareness and stimulate action by governments and multilateral institutions. E X E C U T I V E S U M M A R Y The study was commissioned to the International Dalit Solidarity Network by the European Commission in advance of its workshop on Indigenous peoples, minorities and Dalits in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 15-17 June 2009. Caste discrimination is one of the most serious human rights issues in the world today, adversely affecting more than 260 million people globally. The majority of people suffering from caste discrimination are Dalits (or „outcastes‟) living in South Asia. The caste system is a strict hierarchical social system based on underlying notions of purity and pollution. Those at the bottom of the system, who call themselves Dalits, suffer discrimination influencing all spheres of life and violating a cross-section of basic human rights including civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights. Caste-based discrimination entails social and economic exclusion, segregation in housing, denial and restrictions of access to public and private services and employment, and enforcement of certain types of jobs on Dalits, resulting in a system of modern day slavery or bonded labour. The study finds that among the most serious impediments to addressing caste discrimination is either a lack of law or a de facto denial of equality before the law, resulting in the lack of protection of caste-affected people against violent attacks and other crimes, and impunity for such crimes. It is furthermore concluded that caste discrimination is not only a serious violation of human rights but also a major obstacle to achieving development goals. Victims of caste discrimination are routinely denied access to water, schools, health services, land, markets and employment. The exclusion of Dalits and similarly affected communities by other groups in society lead to high levels of poverty among affected population groups and exclusion, or reduced benefits, from development processes, and generally precludes their involvement in decision making and meaningful participation in public and civil life.