Report Highlights Double Oppression of India’s Dalit Women
Wednesday, June 11, 2008 12:29 PM

Human Rights Watch and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the New York University School of Law have produced a “shadow report” to document human rights abuses against people belonging to the Dalit, or “untouchable,” caste in India, which were ignored by India’s recent periodic report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. According to the shadow report, India’s position that caste discrimination cannot be equated to discrimination on the basis of race or descent, both of which are prohibited by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), directly contradicts the Committee’s interpretation of the Convention.

The report exposes many gender-specific forms of discrimination against Dalit women. Compared to Dalit men, women have unequal access to education, health care and other services, employment opportunities, and the justice system. They are frequently sexually assaulted by the police, often as a form of punishment of their communities or their male relatives, and crimes committed against them by private actors go unpunished. Failure to investigate, prosecute, and win conviction in rape cases increases the rate of sexual violence against Dalit women by signaling to potential perpetrators that their crimes will be greeted with impunity. Through the system of devadasi, girls, often before puberty, are ceremoniously dedicated or married to a deity or temple, forced into sexual exploitation by members of higher castes, and ultimately auctioned to urban brothels. While girls in the devadasi system are prohibited from marrying, many others are forced into early marriages by economic need and the fear that they will be raped, thereby becoming unmarriageable. According to the report, by failing to address the rampant human rights abuses against Dalit women, the Indian government is not meeting its obligations under the CERD.

For the full report, click here.

Compiled from: “Hidden Apartheid: Caste Discrimination against India’s ‘Untouchables,’Human Rights Watch and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the New York University School of Law, February 2007.