Narayan Lakshman reporting in The Hindu
The first Global Conference on Defending Dalit Rights kicks off with a spirited discussion steps away from Capitol Hill and a plan to march to the White House over the weekend.
Even as the Dalit community continues to face oppression in parts of India, a major conference aimed at defending Dalit rights worldwide kicked off in the U.S. capital this week, which included a spirited discussion steps away from Capitol Hill and a plan to march to the White House over the weekend and set up a human chain of solidarity and dignity there.
The same week that the first Global Conference on Defending Dalit Rights took place, a key resolution was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives “Condemning Dalit untouchability, the practice of birth-descent discrimination against Dalit people, which is widely practiced in India, Nepal, the Asian diaspora, and other South Asian nations, and calling on these countries to recognise the human rights of the Dalit people and end all forms of untouchability within their borders.”
The resolution, H.Res.158, noted that discrimination against the Dalits existed for more than 2,000 years in India and included educational discrimination, economic disenfranchisement, discrimination in medical care, and increased vulnerability to poverty, hunger, violence, rape, and humiliation.
Lawmakers including resolution sponsor Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Norton cited reports of rights group Human Rights Watch and other surveys which argued that Dalits were among the poorest of the poor, living on less than $1.25 per day, that most of India’s bonded labourers were Dalits, and a large proportion of India’s Dalit children were undernourished, severely underweight, and faced relatively higher rates of child mortality.
The harsh realities of the Dalit community in India were also the focus of attendees and speakers and the global conference, who came from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, Canada. Malaysia, Japan, France, and almost all 50 states of the U.S.
One of them, Dalit rights activist and Robert Rauschenberg Fellow Thenmozhi Soundararjan said to The Hindu, “The movement is poised for a tremendous growth. In no other time in History have Dalits been so unified to ending this violence in our lifetime. With our leadership and the support of civic and intergovernmental allies we feel now that our only obstacle is the obstruction of the Indian government itself in implementing the constitutional protections and laws that were written to ensure human rights for all. Until this happens, we will in Dr. Ambedkar’s words, Educate, Agitate, and Organize until caste and caste discrimination is annihilated.”
The global conference being held in Washington is organized around five themes: international mechanisms and the obligation to end discrimination, violence, and inequality; best practices and challenges: empowering Dalit civil society; legislative approaches to ending caste, work, and descent-based discrimination; universal measurement and advocacy framework including the caste freedom index; and gender equality and the power of Dalit women.
After discussions around these themes during Thursday and Friday attendees will march to the White House for the human chain on Saturday morning, following which a press conference will be held at the site.