UN Panel regrets de facto caste-based discrimination and non-implementation of economic,
social and cultural rights in India
22 May 2008, New Delhi, INDIA
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CECSR) issued its Concluding
Observations related to the periodic review of the Government of India on 16 May 2008. The
Concluding Observations specifically mention caste-based discrimination as one of the main obstacles
of the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in India. In paragraph 14, the Committee
notes “with concern the lack of progress achieved by the State party in combating the persistent de
facto caste-based discrimination that continues to prevail in spite of the legal prohibitions in place,
most notably the 1989 Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act”.
The Committee further noted with equal concern that despite the legal prohibition in place, including
the 1993 Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (prohibition) Act, the
1976 Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, and the 1986 Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation)
Act, serious forms of forced and exploitative labour still prevail. The Committee thereby
recommended the State party to launch a national campaign to abolish manual scavenging and other
degrading forms of work and to provide information on the results achieved in its next periodic report.
The Committee also expressed deep concern that “in spite of the Constitutional guarantee of non-
discrimination as well as the criminal law provisions punishing acts of discrimination, widespread and
often socially accepted discrimination, harassment and/or violence persist against members of certain
disadvantaged and marginalized groups”, including women, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes,
and indigenous peoples, as stated in paragraph 13.
In the Concluding Observations, the Committee expressed its concern about the absence of effective
mechanisms to coordinate and ensure, at both federal and state levels, administrative and policy
measures relating to economic, social and cultural rights, which constitutes a major impediment to the
equal and effective implementation of the Covenant in the State party (para. 10). As noted in
paragraph 11, the National Human Rights Commission and the State Human Rights Commissions are
not supported by adequate financial and other resources and the mandate of the Human Rights Courts
that have been set up does not cover violations of economic, social and cultural rights.
The Committee, while expressing concern at large number of people being left out of the rapid
economic growth, requested the State party to submit in its next periodic report updated annually
collected comparative data disaggregated by sex, age, caste, ethnicity, religion and by region regarding
all provisions in the Covenant, paying particular attention to the marginalized and the disadvantaged
individuals and groups.
The Interactive Dialogue between the Committee and the Government of India, on which the
Concluding Observations are based, was held on 7-8 May. The nine-hour examination, which took its
point of departure in a national report that covered a lengthy period of twenty years due to numerous
delays, was conducted in a thought-provoking manner. The Committee expressed grave concern about
the manner in which the Indian delegation responded to the issues raised by the Committee. Generally
the answers given by the delegation referred to national policies and plans, which the State Party has
set up to protect vulnerable groups. However, there was almost a systematic refusal to speak about the
challenges faced by the state in the implementation phase, as was the case in the examination of India
before the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in February 2007.
After the examination, the General Secretary of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights
(NCDHR), Mr. Vincent Manoharan commented that “the response from the Indian delegation, besides
generic and defending in nature, gave the impression that the Government does not attach adequate
importance to this international covenant, which covers a whole range of rights that are meant to
ensure a decent, protected and dignified life and livelihood of the poor, marginalized, excluded and
Ms. Rikke Nohrlind, Coordinator of IDSN, also expressed that “the lack of commitment to implement
laws against caste based discrimination has further opened up the scope for intervention by UN human
rights bodies to hold India accountable for its international treaty obligations and responsibility to
promote and protect human rights of Dalits and other marginalized sections”.
The National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) and the International Dalit Solidarity
Network (IDSN) are concerned about the fact that the Dalit community has moved little ahead on
economic, social and cultural affairs. Through the submission of an alternate report prepared by
NCDHR and many other grassroots organizations in India, it has been pointed out that the lack of
accountability and effectiveness of the system ultimately leads to a state of impunity for perpetrators of
human rights violations against Dalits in India. NCDHR and IDSN recommend the Committee
Members to follow-up on the CERD Concluding Observations issued in 2007 and to initiate a General
Day of Discussion on the socio-economic status of Dalits. NCDHR and IDSN also urge the Committee
to support the draft Principles and Guidelines for the effective elimination of discrimination based on
work and descent.
For More Information, Contact: Ms. Gitte Dyrhagen, IDSN (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) and Dr. Umakant,
NCDHR (Email: email@example.com)