IHEU’s president Roy Brown spoke at the UN Commission on Human Rights on 7 April on behalf of Representative Michele Vincent.
INTERNATIONAL HUMANIST AND ETHICAL UNION
UNION INTERNATIONALE HUMANISTE ET LAIQUE
Statement by Representative Michele VINCENT, Thursday 7 April 2005
Read for her by Main Representative, Roy Brown
Commission on Human Rights: 61st Session. (14 March – 22 April 2005)
Integration of the Human Rights of Women (item 12)
[The words in square brackets  were not spoken.]
We wish to draw the attention of the Commission once again to the question of the systematic discrimination and abuse of Dalit women in India: as women, untouchable and living in poverty, the “thrice-damned”.
We refer to numerous written submissions to the Commission and Sub-Commission [by organisations such as the Asian Legal Resource Centre and the South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre. For example, see E/CN.4/2005/NGO/56, /59, /107, /121].
From these reports it is apparent that the efforts of the Government of India have been less than effective in eliminating discrimination against, and abuse of, Dalit women. Far from being eliminated, abuse and violence against Dalits have been on the rise in recent years as they have attempted to assert their legal rights.
In this context it regrettable that on 29th March, the Indian delegation to the Commission should have expressed surprise that the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education intended to address the issue of Dalits, claiming that while the right to education was the responsibility of the Government, social practices of discrimination fell outside the remit of the Special Rapporteur. Indian Dalit women and girls number more than 80 million. The Indian delegation must be aware that government affirmative action programs have had negligible impact on their lives, and that in many rural areas more than 90% of Dalit women remain functionally illiterate.  The Government clearly has a responsibility to address the social practices of discrimination that have so far negated its efforts.
Many thousands of Dalit women and girls suffer daily abuse and violence at the hands of men, both family members and members of the upper castes. Child marriage of girls as young as 9, whilst illegal, is commonplace. Furthermore, the total hypocrisy of the notion of untouchablity is revealed by the millions of Dalit women forced into prostitution, many living virtually as sex slaves, used mainly by men whose religion teaches that they will be defiled by any such contact.
Thousands of cases are reported annually of the stripping and public parading of Dalit women, of homes being burnt, of wells polluted, and of men and women being beaten and sometimes killed by upper caste gangs, frequently aided and abetted by agents of the state.
We welcome the recognition by the Commission [as evidenced by the appointment of a special Rapporteur on discrimination on the grounds of work or decent, and by the report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education] that this issue falls squarely within its mandate, and we urge the Government of India to recognise its responsibility not only for legislation and affirmative action in favour of Dalits, and Dalit women in particular, but for the effective implementation and enforcement of these measures.
[Ref: 1. See for example, http://www.saxakali.com/Saxakali-Publications/dalit1.htm]