Dalit March

mk gandhi

Dalit Arts & Culture

International Instruments

India's international legal obligations with respect to the right to adequate housing are set out in a body of binding international treaties, which India has ratified. These include the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

First, as a UN Member State, India is bound to the provisions in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The first two articles of the UDHR state that " all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights" and that the human rights protected in the UDHR belong to everyone " without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status." The UDHR protects the following rights: the right to " life, liberty, and security of person" (Article 3); the right to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 5); the right of equality before the law (Article 7); the right to effective remedy for the violation of fundamental rights (Article 8); the right to fair and public hearings (Article 10); and the right to be free from " arbitrary interference with. . . privacy, family, home or correspondence" and attacks upon a person' s " honour and reputation" (Article 12). Because India has still failed to protect Dalits against discrimination, degradation, and violence, India is violating its obligations under the UDHR.

Second, India has also failed to meet its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which it ratified on April 10, 1979. Not only does the ICCPR protect against discrimination of " any kind" including discrimination based on " social origin," but it also protects against torture, degrading treatment, arbitrary arrest, detention, and promotes equality in the courts and equal protection of the law. In Article 2(1), State Parties to the ICCPR pledged to " respect and ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant." Article 2(2) requires States " to adopt such legislative or other measures as may be necessary to give effect to the rights" in the ICCPR. Although India' s domestic laws address many of the rights articulated in the ICCPR, these rights are often not enforced with regard to Dalits. In failing to " respect and ensure" Dalit rights, India is violating its legal obligations under the ICCPR.

The Human Rights Committee (HRC) was established through the ICCPR to monitor State Party compliance. Although India did not sign the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, and the HRC does not have jurisdiction to review human rights complaints made by individual Dalits, the HRC does have the power to comment on India' s ICCPR obligations as a whole. In 1997, the HRC found that India was violating its obligations under the ICCPR through its treatment of Dalits because, despite the existence of legislation to protect them, Dalits still " endure severe social discrimination" and face " inter-caste violence, bonded labour, and discrimination of all kinds." The HRC further recommended that India adopt measures such as educational programs at the national and state levels to combat discrimination.

Third, India continues to violate its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which it ratified on December 3, 1968. CERD' s protections extend beyond state discrimination and require States Parties to " prohibit and bring to an end, by all appropriate means, including legislation, as required by circumstances, racial discrimination by any persons, group or organization," as stated in Article 2(1)(d). While Indian domestic law is designed to protect Dalits, the fact that Dalits often do not benefit from these laws demonstrates India’s failures under CERD. Compliance is monitored by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD Committee), which reviews periodic reports written by States Parties, conducts hearings, and issues comments on inter-state and individual complaints. Although Indian Dalits cannot bring individual complaints to the CERD Committee because India did not submit to such jurisdiction under CERD, India is still subject to the reporting powers of the CERD Committee. In its 1996 report, the CERD Committee specifically found that Dalits fell within the scope of CERD because its jurisdiction under Article 1 extends beyond " race" to cover " descent." The CERD Committee found that India allowed Dalits to be discriminated against and allowed those violating Dalits' rights to operate with impunity.

Fourth, India has failed to protect Dalit workers in accordance with its obligations under the International Labor Organization Convention (No. 107) Concerning the Protection and Integration of Indigenous and Other Tribal and Semi-Tribal Populations in Independent Countries (Convention 107), which it ratified on September 29, 1958. Under Convention 107, India is obligated to protect the “institutions, persons, property and labour" of members of tribal or semi-tribal populations. Although Convention 107 does not explicitly define the term “tribal," in Article 1(2), it defines “semi-tribal" as " groups and persons, who, although they are in the process of losing their tribal characteristics, are not yet integrated into the national community." Article 1 further states that Convention 107 applies to tribal and semi-tribal populations that “are at a less advanced stage than the stage reached by the other sections of the national community, and whose status is regulated wholly or partially by their own customs or traditions. . . ." A sizable population of Dalits is actually misclassified members of indigenous groups. As such, Article 15 of Convention 107 specifically provides for their protection against labor discrimination, including access to employment, equal pay for work of equal value, industrial hygiene, and prevention of employment injuries.

Finally, Dalit children who are forced into bonded labor, or the practice of devadasi, are protected under the provisions in the Convention of the Rights of the Child of 1989 (CRC), which India ratified on December 11, 1992. In Article 32, the CRC protects against “economic exploitation" and the performance of " any work that is likely to be hazardous. . . or to be harmful to the child' s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development." Both the practices of child bonded labor and the practice of devadasi violate India’s obligations under the CRC.

Although India is obligated under several international instruments to uphold Dalit rights, there is little enforcement power to ensure that India meets its obligations under international law. Most of the international enforcement mechanisms for Dalits involve making recommendations to the Indian government and publicizing its failures to uphold international obligations in order to shame India into compliance. Because India considers international intervention into such matters to be an unlawful interference with sovereign domestic affairs, enforcement of international law is slow and often has minimal influence on India.