Subject: [fem-women2000 83] NGO Statement 28th Oct on Rights-Based Approach/Dalit Women
From: lalamaziwa <>
Date: Sat, 30 Oct 1999 23:43:18 +0900
Seq: 83

Statement by Women's Voice and National Federation of Dalit Women: 

Under Agenda Item5 (b) on the Rights-Based Approach to the Empowerment
of Women, at the ESCAP High Level Meeting for Beijing +5; October 28,

Dear Chairperson and Distinguished Participants, Sisters,

While we are committing and reaffirming our hopes of the Beijing
Platform for Action into concrete actions that help us move from
injustice and inequality, we are bringing one of the vital concerns of
women's human rights from our sub-continent, namely that of 'Dalit'
Women, the 'Untouchables' to your attention.

1. They constitute about 250 million people and half of them are women,
the most marginalised in the caste hierarchy of our societies. Among the
large-scale violations of human rights perpetrated on Dalit people are
the burning of their homes and fields, murder, torture and assault of
women, molestation and rape, and deaths in custody. These occur in spite
of Constitutional guarantees abolishing untouchability and ensuring
protection of the human rights of all Indian citizens. Victims of bonded
labour, child labour, prostitution and of the Devadasi system (sexual
slaves dedicated to temples) are drawn largely from Dalit communities.
Dalits live in separate colonies, cut off and distanced from other
communities and localities. Even today, inter-caste marriages lead to
large-scale violence. Dalits do not have access to public wells, or to
public eating-places. They have to use separate glasses for drinking tea
or coffee at village restaurant in some states of India. Atrocities and
violence against Dalits basically arise in the context of 'keeping
Dalits' in their place, within the social hierarchy mediated by caste
and untouchability. These forms of violence amount to racial

2. The growing self-awareness and self-reliance of Dalits promoted by
the government's policy of reservations, renaissance ideologies within
the Dalit community, participation of Dalits in struggles for
recognition and so on have threatened the vested interests and
privileges of the hitherto dominant non-Dalit castes. Raising
consciousness of Dalits and their resistance on a wide range of issues
such as distribution of surplus state land, minimum wages, dignity and
justice have led to brutal caste-based violence and massacres against
Dalits and Dalit women in particular.

3. The oppressed Dalit people confront barbaric atrocities and violence,
denial of their basic needs and land rights, infringement of civil
liberties and most important of all denial of their status as human
beings. They live with dehumanising living and working conditions,
impoverishment, malnutrition and poor health conditions, a high level of
illiteracy and continuing social ostracism. Despite the existence of
Constitutional rights and other protective laws which are meant to
address their problems, Dalit communities continue to live in extreme
poverty, perform menial and low-paid jobs such as scavenging and suffer
>from the lack of access to basic amenities and resources.  We strongly
feel that the denial of such basic needs is a gross violation of the
social and economic rights of the Dalit people.

4. We strongly recognise that the Dalit women are thrice alienated on
the basis of their class, caste and gender. The Dalit women have to
grapple with discrimination due to caste hierarchy and untouchability on
the one hand, and extreme deprivation and poverty on the other, as well
as with political, legal and religio-cultural discrimination. 

We therefore urge this august Assembly to 

- recognise the concerns and aspirations of the most marginalized women
of the region, such as Dalit women, and to evolve effective policies and
programmes to approach the human rights of such marginalized groups in a
holistic manner;

- recognise 'Dalit rights as Human Rights' and give equal status to the
250 million individuals who represent this section of humanity in our

- take steps to explicitly and Constitutionally guarantee equal rights
to Dalit people in all the countries of the Asian region where they are
presently domiciled;

- to act with greater force and with political will to bring to book
those who perpetrate acts of violence against Dalit people, both state
and non-state actors, and to deal stringently with all incidents of
caste-based violence.

Ensuring that justice must be done to Dalit people, and especially to
Dalit women, should, we urge, be a primary concern of this meeting, in
keeping with the commitments to equality and human dignity set out in
the Beijing Platform for Action.

Thank you.

Mrs. Ruth Manorama

Voice of Women; National Federation of Dalit Women,
Asian Women's Human Rights Council.

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