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Copenhagen, 24 November 2006


International Conference seeks urgent action
on discrimination and violence against Dalit Women

Dalit women from South Asia are determined to "transform their pain into power". That was the main message of the two day international conference held in The Hague on the 20th and 21st of November 2006. It was the first international conference to discuss the issues of discrimination and violence against more than 100 million Dalit women. In "The Hague Declaration on the Human Rights and Dignity of Dalit women" the participants urged the governments of Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as well as the international community to support their struggle.

In South Asia, Dalits – known as "untouchables" and "outcastes" - have endured caste discrimination for centuries. The situation of Dalit women, one of the largest socially segregated groups in the world, is shocking. Dalit women are among the poorest; they face ‘triple discrimination’, as Dalits, as women and as poor. The caste system declares them intrinsically impure and “untouchable” and generally they are subjugated by men. Dalit women comprise the majority of manual scavengers, labourers who clean human excrements from dry toilets. Dalit women are targets of extreme violence, including sexual assault and forced prostitution.

Violence and impunity
In the City Hall of The Hague Dalit women presented shocking and heart-breaking testimonials about the violence perpetrated against them and the impunity which followed. Authors of the study "Dalit women Speak Out - Violence against Dalit women in India" presented their findings of a three-year comprehensive study on forms, magnitude and the systematic pattern of violence which is accompanied by equally systematic patterns of impunity. The study revealed that only one percent of perpetrators are convicted in courts.

Physical and sexual violence against Dalit women is not only systemic, but also affects the majority of Dalit women. The study documents how rape, murder, physical assault and humiliation of Dalit women are intentionally used to maintain the oppression of the Dalit community by the dominant castes. Impunity is the key problem that Dalit women face today when they try to seek justice after violence is perpetrated against them. As stated in the Hague Declaration: "Perpetrators enjoy virtual immunity from prosecution as the police, who often harbour caste prejudices, wilfully neglect to enforce the law".

Often, Dalit women have protested and resisted although that has not been recognised and recorded. However, defiance is increasing. "Dalit women today are not merely passive victims; the current mood seems to be not one of mere acceptance, but determined to transform their pain into power", the Hague Declaration empathically states.

The Hague Declaration
In the Declaration the participants of the Hague conference call upon the governments of Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to support the women in asserting their rights. The governments are called upon to address the failure of the justice system to protect Dalit women and to implement measures to close the vast socio-economic gap between Dalit women and the rest of the population. The recommendations include: implementing an independent complaint mechanism to address the atrocities against Dalit women; establishing organisations to discuss social, domestic and development issues in their community; taking strong measures to give land to Dalits, which is to be registered in the name of Dalit women (or jointly with men); eradicating practices of manual scavenging and the Devadasi system of ritualised prostitution; allocating sufficient budget to full primary and secondary education of all Dalit girls and ensuring the reduction of pre-natal mortality, infant mortality and maternal mortality among Dalit women. The participants also urge the governments in South Asia to launch national campaigns for the elimination of caste.

International community should act
The participants in the Hague Conference also call upon the international community, including the UN human rights bodies, the UN organisations, the EU, bilateral aid agencies and NGOs to act upon the recommendations of the Hague Declaration. In particular they are asked to express their outrage at the caste-induced systematic practices of untouchability and atrocities against Dalit women. It also calls upon the international community to ensure that, at the latest in 2015, the large ‘development gap’ (e.g. in terms of poverty) is closed between Dalit women and girls and the ‘general population’. Finally, the ILO is asked propose measures against the systematic violation of the four fundamental labour rights where Dalit women and girls are concerned.

Following the National Conference on Violence Against Dalit Women in Delhi on 7 and 8th March 2006, Justitia et Pax Netherlands, Cordaid and CMC in collaboration with the Dalit Network Netherlands (DNN), the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (India), the National Federation of Dalit women, the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) and other Dalit and Women’s rights organizations responded to the request of Dalit women and organized the International Conference on the Human Rights of Dalit women on 20 and 21 of November 2006 in The Hague, The Netherlands.

For further information please contact:
Stephanie Joubert, Dalit Network Netherlands: +31 610753170
Paul Divakar, National Campaign On Dalit Human Rights: +91 9910046813
Rikke Nöhrlind, IDSN: + 45 29700630

India Committee of the Netherlands / Landelijke India Werkgroep - November 28, 2006