In a first, Dalit women rights activists will present witness accounts of “aggravated caste based-violence and impunity in India” at the United Nations Human Rights Council this week.
The coalition will also release a report titled ‘Voices Against Caste Impunity; Narratives of Dalit Women in India’ on July 21st in Geneva. Using data from the National Family Health Survey (4th Round), it illustrates how 33.2 percent of Scheduled Caste (SC) women experience physical violence since the age of 15 as against 19.7 women in the ‘Other’ category. In comparison, the data shows that the proportion is 26.3 percent for Scheduled Tribes (ST) women, 29.2 percent for women from Other Backward Classes.
It states how following the recent Supreme Court directive, the already poorly-implemented SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act) will render legal recourse and justice even more inaccessible to Dalit women. The report presents several individual testimonies of caste-based sexual violence as also instances of the patriarchy and casteism faced by survivors at the hands of the police and the courts. It highlights the fact that of all kinds violence faced by Dalit women, brutal sexual violence is the most common.
“Dalit women are facing various kinds of extremely brutal violence and a culture of collusion between different authorities to protect perpetrators of crimes against dalit women,” it states while asserting that the SC/ ST Commissions are not adept at addressing the gendered nature of atrocities while the National Commission for Women lacks an understanding of issues of caste.
Asha Kowtal, General Secretary of the coalition All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch said that let alone address issues specific to Dalit women, India has been stonewalling any discussion on caste ever it was raised at the United Nations World Conference in Durban in 2001. She added that several international organisations have failed to look at the link between gender and caste. “The point is not to shame India but to bring to the fore narratives of Dalit women and start a dialogue on the context of socio-economic vulnerability within which sexual violence increases. In the absence of any system domestically to deal with this kind of violence, we want to raise it within the international human rights framework,” said Asha who added that until now the Dalit rights movement in India was mainly male-led and it is only in recent years that Dalit women are leading from the front
A panel of experts hearing the testimonies at Geneva will look at ways to take the issue forward through the UN system. These include Rita Isazk-Ndiaye, Member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and Ms. Dubravka Šimonović, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women among others.
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