Human Rights of Dalits – The Need for International attention

International Conference on Dalit Human Rights 16 – 17 September, 2000


The International Conference on Dalit Human Rights organised by VOD International at Shri Guru Ravidass Community Centre at 28 Carlyle Road, Manor Park, London, in association with the Dalit Solidarity Network UK and the communities of Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha, Bhagwan Valmiki Welfare Trust and the Ambedkarite organisations in UK, has appealed to the United Nations and Government of India to take steps to stop atrocities against Dalits (the Untouchables) in India. The Conference has appealed to the international community to intervene immediately to stop all kinds of Human Rights violations particularly those faced by Dalits in India. To this effect, the Conference has adopted a declaration called ‘London Declaration’, which forms part of this short report.

Mr. Ramdas Athawale, Member of Parliament, inaugurated the two-day conference. He drew the attention of the participants to the deplorable plight of the Dalits in India even after 53 years of independence. He called for concerted efforts by the Dalit communities abroad, particularly in the UK for creating awareness in the West and building up pressure on the Government of India to implement the laws and safeguard the interest of the Dalits. Giving the keynote address, Rev. David Haslam, the Chair of the Dalit Solidarity Network, UK, narrated the numerous instances of human right violations in India and India’s efforts to oppose the move to include Caste in the agenda of the forthcoming UN Commission on Race in 2001. He equated Caste with Race. Speaking in the opening session, Dr. Balchandra L. Mungekar, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Bombay, highlighted the importance of Dalit Human Rights, explaining the social and economic context of the Dalits in India. He appealed to the Dalit communities in the UK to think positively for planning and supporting programmes for the economic and social development of their less fortunate brethren in India. Mr. N.C. Naithani, the representative from the Indian High Commission, focused on the need for more measures for uplifting the Dalit communities. Welcoming the delegates and participants, Ms. Irene Beckett, Chairman of VOD International, called for unity amongst Dalits world-wide. She endorsed the belief of Dr. Ambedkar in liberty, equality and fraternity and said everyone has a moral obligation to examine the Caste system and the effects on the Dalits.

The Conference was fruitful with deliberations of various aspects and issues pertaining to the Dalits in India, in its various sessions. It started with a session on Dalits and Human Rights. Mr. Yogesh Varhade, the president, Ambedkar Centre for Justice and Peace, USA and Canada, pointed out the violations of Basic Human Rights of Dalits in India, despite all the UN resolutions, and the laws in India. He further said that the practice of untouchability is still prevalent in different forms in India and the existence of Caste System accentuates the practice and consequent atrocities against the Dalits. Chairing the session, Mr. V.T. Hireker, President, Ambedkar Centre for Justice and Peace, UK called for immediate attention of UN and the International Agencies to the genocide taking place in India in the name of Caste system and untouchability.

Speaking on Constitution and Dalits, Dr. Sreenivasan, president, Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations, UK said that India has a good constitution and set of laws and rules, but the lack of implementation of these laws and rules is the basic problem faced by the Dalits. He called for the pressure from international community on the Government of India for the proper implementation of its own laws and rules. Chairing the session, Mr. M.S. Padda, Secretary General, Bhagwan Valmiki Trust, UK, expressed the concern about the plan for constitutional review in India, which is against the interest of Dalits and the denial of their constitutional rights established by the efforts of Dr. Baba Sahib Ambedkar, the all time leader of Dalits in India.

The Plenary Session was chaired by Ms. Lawerncia Kwark, Project Officer, CCFD, France, who stressed the importance of the affected community to stand together at the India level and the international level. Dr. Mungekar presented a paper on Educational Situation of Dalits. He emphasised the need for special attention on the educational progress of the Dalits as a means for safeguarding their basic Human Rights. Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Satpal Muman, General Secretary, Ambedkar International Mission,

pointed out the prevalence of Caste System amongst the Indian communities in UK and called for the attention of the authorities concerned to stop such practices, treating it as racism. Dr. J. Muthumary, Professor and Head of the Department of Botany, University of Madras, who spoke next explained how the Dalit women face double atrocities and humiliations in India under the caste system. The situation of Dalit women are more alarming and deserving very serious attention. Prof. Vaman Nimbalkar explained the work of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) in India and sought the support of the international community in its struggle for Basic Human Rights of Dalits.

The second day started with the paper on the Role of Overseas Dalit Organisations. Mr. M.S. Bahal, General Secretary, Ambedkar International Institution, reminded the representatives of different the Dalit organisations to think and plan to help their brethren in India so as to enable them to capture political power. Presiding over the session, Mr. P.C. Sondhi of Ambedkar International Mission, requested the various Dalit groups such as Ravidassias, Valmikies, Ambedkarites and Christian Dalits to come together on a common platform to support the struggle of Dalits in India. Dr. V. Anand spoke on Racism and the perceptive of Dr. Ambedkar.

Northern Aid Agencies and Dalits, which was altogether a new subject, was handled by Mr. Leo Bashyam, Head Asia Desk, Christian Aid, UK. He suggested the need for a body that will co-ordinate, network, communicate, and share information with the various advocacy groups working on Dalit issues in the north. Agencies in the North, taking into account of the peculiarities of Dalits should design appropriate strategies to support the struggle of Dalits for social and economic development. Chairing the session, Ms. Catherine Gaudard, Freres des Hommes, France, explained her experience of working with Dalit and stressed the need for increased attention of donor agencies to the problem of Dalits.

Mr. M.C. Raj, Director, REDS, India, presented the Plan for the Millennium for the Dalits in India. He explained the process of Globalisation and Brhminisation. In this context he elaborated the various sub plans of Dalitisation for the socio-economic, religious, cultural and political development of the Dalits. Chairing the session, Mr. Eugene Culas of VOD International stressed on the need for specific and concrete programmes from all the Dalit communities and their organisations in UK and abroad for their brethren in India.

The conference has discussed the Plan for the Millennium by dividing into four groups. Several suggestions emerged out of it, including the need for united action in the future by all the UK based Dalit groups – in the form of a secular organisation called VODI- UK under VOD International, to co-ordinate the efforts of all the Dalit organisations in UK for the cause of the promotion of Dalits in India.

Addressing the concluding session of the conference, Mr. G.S. Chambers, President, Supreme Council of Ravidass Sabha in UK and Abroad, called for the unity among the Dalit organisations in UK for tackling the problems faced by Dalits. He has also stressed the need for international efforts as well as pressure building from within to stop violation of Human Rights of Dalits. Mr. Jeremy Corbyn MP presided over the concluding session. He explained some of his efforts to take the issue to the UN Commission on Race. He wanted the Government to implement the provisions of all the international covenants to which India is a party and thereby stop all atrocities against Dalits. In the Valedictory Address, Mr. Ramdas Athawale MP from India wanted the unity among the Dalit movements and organisations in India for which he requested the help of all the Indians in UK. Dr. Balchandra L. Mungekar, the Vice Chancellor of University of Bombay spoke on the social and economic repercussions of Globalisation on the life of Dalits. He compared the Caste System to Capitalism, which denies the rights and privileges of the lower class to the benefit of the upper class, (which are synonymous to lower castes and upper castes in India). In the context of the present situation of increasing exploitation of Dalits, he called for immediate and integrated attempts from international community to consider the problems of Dalits with topmost priority.