Human Rights Watch Honors Advocate For India's "Untouchables"

(New York, November 10, 2000) -- On Tuesday, November 14, Human Rights Watch will give its highest recognition to Martin Macwan, a lawyer and activist from India who is working to dismantle India’s hidden apartheid and create protections for its most vulnerable people, the Dalits.

The Indian government has long failed to prevent widespread violence and discrimination against some 160 million people at the bottom of caste system. Dalits -- or untouchables -- continue to live in segregated colonies and perform demeaning caste-based occupations. They cannot enter the higher-caste sections of villages, may not use the same wells, wear shoes in the presence of upper castes, drink from the same cups in tea stalls, or lay claim to land that is legally theirs.

Dalit children are frequently made to sit in the back of classrooms and make up the majority of those sold into bondage. Attempts by Dalits to claim their legal rights or disturb the status quo are met with large-scale violence, destruction of property, and sexual violence against Dalit women. Dalit villagers have been the victims of many brutal massacres in recent years, often with the complicity of the police. Mr. Macwan’s work has been wake-up call to the international community about the suffering of the Dalits.

The 2000 Human Rights Watch Annual Dinners in New York and Los Angeles will honor five human rights defenders from around the world. Through their perseverance these individuals fought for justice in India, Russia, China, Jordan, and Sierra Leone. Often, they risk their lives to defend their fellow citizens from abusive governments and armed forces. Human Rights Watch works with these brave individuals on the ground as part of our defense of human rights in more than 70 countries around the world.

Human Rights Watch is a non-profit, international monitoring group with headquarters in New York. It accepts no financial support from any government, directly or indirectly.

Background on Martin Macwan

Martin is the Convenor of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights and the head of Navsarjan Trust, an organization in India's western state of Gujarat. Navsarjan works with Dalits, or untouchables in more than 2,000 villages, providing services ranging from legal aid to potable drinking water, to the the implementation of land reform and minimum wage legislation. The National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights has enlisted grassroots organizations in 14 Indian states and 11 countries to advocate on behalf of the 160 million Dalits. In December 1999, the campaign submitted 2.5 million signatures to India’s prime minister demanding the abolition of untouchability and enforcement of national legislation. The movement -- which is likened to the movement for civil rights and racial equality in the United States in the 1960s -- is the first of its kind in size and scope for Dalits in India.

For more information, please read our report, Broken People: Caste Violence Against India’s “Untouchables,” at:

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