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Dalit Diaspora Joins The Fight

By Vivek Kumar

The Indian Express
24 May, 2003

The Dalit diaspora has all of a sudden become visible. Yet another Dalit international conference was successfully concluded earlier this month in Vancouver, Canada, with the help of the Dalit diaspora in different parts of the world. This is the fourth such conference organised since 1998. The first one was organised in Malaysia, by the Dalit International Organisation in October 1998. It was followed by a two-day international conference on Dalit human rights in London in September 2000 by the Voice of Dalit International (VODI). VODI organised another International Dalit conference in India in February 2003. Besides, Dalits also participated in the World Conference Against Racism in Durban.

Three factors have contributed to the new visibility of the Dalit diaspora. One, increased communication facilities because of the information revolution. Log on to, webmaster@ etc. and you can find out all about them. Two, the strengthening of civil society, with NGOs, both at the international and national level, taking keen interest in issues related to Dalits and other marginalised sections. And lastly, the intervention of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, World Bank, and other international and national institutions for maintenance of human rights of Dalit and other deprived sections. Based on the issues discussed in these Dalit international conferences, it is possible to arrive at an objective assessment of the present nature, scope, success and failure of the Dalit movement. We can also list the challenges faced by the Dalit movement in the 21st century.

Faced with atrocities within the Hindu social order, at the outset, Dalits in India face a challenge: Should they remain within the Hindu fold or convert to Buddhisim or to any other religion? The Dalit leadership has failed to give any clear cut direction to its followers. Further, the Dalit movement today faces a challenge from the communal forces, an issue on which these conferences have only voiced their concern without coming out with a strategy. The second challenge for the Dalits is how to face the onslaught of the processes of globalisation, privatisation, liberalisation etc. The rolling back of the state is making reservations for the Dalits under Article 335 of the Indian Constitution redundant. On the other hand, with the coming of MNCs, the demand for management, engineering, computer application degree holders is increasing, which Dalits can’t cater to. One, because they are late starters in the realm of education and secondly, technical education is expensive which Dalits can’t afford.

There are two paths suggested by the Dalits to tackle the aforesaid problem. One, capture political power by forming an independent party and implement your own agenda. This is being mooted on the basis that the Constitution gives the Dalits rights at par with other citizens, including the right to vote. The only effort which Dalits must make is to get these rights implemented in letter and spirit, which is possible only by forming a government. But the irony is that Dalits on their own do not have the numbers to form a government. So they must enter into alliances with some other political force. And it is difficult for them to find suitable allies.

The other path is that of diversity-supplier in recruitment. Recruitment diversity, which is now restricted to the government and public undertakings, will arguably extend into the private sector. Here, one can argue that if the rights enshrined in the Constitution were not fulfilled in the last 52 years, who can take the guarantee for the private sector?

How to bring the diverse facets of the Dalit movement into a state of dialogue is another challenge. Today the Dalit movement has diversified its nature and scope. There is the Dalit political and socio-religious reform movement, movement of Dalit bureaucracy, Dalit intellectual movement, which includes a number of magazines, journals, internet magazines and conferences etc. Today we also have international Dalit organisations led by the Dalit diaspora which are trying to raise issues confronting the Dalits. They have taken up matters concerning Dalits with the World Bank, IMF and UNHRC.

Another challenge for the Dalit movement is to bring Dalit women in its fold. Generally it is said that though the Dalit woman is triply exploited on the bases of caste, class and gender, yet she enjoys greater gender equality in comparison to women of other castes. Even so, Dalit women and their issues are absent from the Dalit movement. To spread the Dalit movement in regions like Orissa, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Bihar, and create consciousness among the different castes other than the Mahars and Chamars, is another huge challenge confronting the Dalit movement. The international conferences have been successful in creating a greater visibility for the plight of the Dalits at the international level. Yet, unless the Dalit leadership is prepared to face the challenges faced by the Dalit movement back home, its development will be crippled.

Vancouver Declaration: International Dalit Conference

Adopted Unanimously
ByThe International Dalit Conference Vancouver, BC, Canada,
May 16-18, 2003

WE, THE DALITS, from all over the globe having assembled at the International Dalit Conference, to deliberate the issues concerning the 250 million Dalits (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) of India and their future in the 21st century,
INSPIRED by that great thinker and philosopher of the oppressed, Babasaheb Dr. B. R. Ambedkar,

REDEDICATE ourselves to his mission to bring about a democratic and peaceful transformation of India whereby all its citizens, irrespective of their gender, caste, creed, language and region, will enjoy the fruits of equality and justice,

WHEREAS the world has entered the third millennium and is progressing towards accomplishing the goals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, and whereas India has failed to eradicate untouchability and caste and descent-based discrimination and is yet to achieve basic fundamental human rights,

CALL UPON the Dalits of the world to unite in their activism in the true spirit of interfaith and multiculturalism, and resolve to work tirelessly for the upliftment of the community,

AFFIRM that every human being has the inherent right to life and dignity and that Black is Beautiful and Dalit is Dignified,

MINDFUL of the fact that the Dalits and tribals, accounting for a fourth of India's one billion population, continue to be the victims of manifold discriminations and violence,

MINDFUL also that women belonging to these sections are the victims of gender-caste discrimination,

SINCERELY BELIEVE that the caste problem is not the problem of Dalits alone but also of the entire nation and without the Annihilation of Caste and the elimination of other primordial identities, India will not be able to realize its full socio-economic potential and claim its rightful place among the community of nations,

UPHOLD our unwavering belief in the Indian Constitution as well as the unity and integrity of India,

TAKE cognizance of the universal ideals enshrined in several international and national covenants and treaties - from the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights to the Bhopal Declaration – and

ENDORSE wholeheartedly the Bhopal Declaration in letter and spirit,

AFFIRM our mission to support the struggles of oppressed people worldwide and muster all possible support from anywhere for the advancement of the Dalit cause,

RESOLVE to propagate knowledge of Babasaheb as a philosopher of emancipation to all the oppressed anywhere in the world, and to fulfil the pledge,

RESOLVE also to build our own educational, cultural and other institutions for the advancement of the community, we

REDEDICATE ourselves to institutionalize the process started in the Conference through constant coordination and by setting up a formal institutional structure for better networking among the Resident and Non-Resident Indian Dalit community as well as to make use of international institutions and processes to sensitize the world about the plight of the Dalits and Tribals in India,

WE therefore Demand,

1. The rightful and proportionate share of Dalits and tribals in India's national institutions, wealth and capital must be recognized. Economic exclusion hitherto practised in the name of caste must be done away with. The community should have equitable access to means of production and economic empowerment.

2. Since no development is possible without gender justice, women of these groups must be given priority in all developmental activities. They must have formal, legally sanctioned rights on par with men.

3. Private Corporations and Multi-National Corporations operating in India must recognize and accept their social responsibilities.

4. The United Nations and its affiliates, and non-governmental agencies concerned with human rights, social and economic development, must recognise that the Dalits are a special group and create separate Dalit divisions managed by the Dalits themselves. Their programmes and projects should have special Dalit components as well as special focus in their reports.

5. Dalit Studies must be included in Indian and international educational and research institutions, especially in North America and Europe, and universities should recognise the need to admit Dalit students on priority.

6. The World Bank and other International Financial Institutions should attach conditional special component clause and must ensure the rightful share of the Dalits in the funds they lend to India for socio-economic and sustainable development.

7. The international governmental and non-governmental development aid agencies should focus on Dalit development and empowerment with initiatives to be inbuilt in their system and adopted in the funding programmes.

8. Sustained efforts must be made at the United Nations to expedite the process of formally equating caste-based discrimination with Racial discrimination.

9. Untouchability is practised in many countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. No effort must be spared to address the problem by the world community.

10. Reorganize the National and State Commissions for SCs and STs as the SC and ST Vigilance Commissions and the decisions of these Commissions should be binding.

11. All laws, rules and regulations meant for protecting the rights of the Dalits must be included in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution of India, to prevent unjust and lengthy litigation process which always goes against the community.