Caste, racism and manual scavenging in India

  • post Type / General news
  • Date / 25 March 2014

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) spoke at the 25th session of the Human Rights council today on the topic of caste and discrimination in India, reminding the government that caste discrimination is racism and a human rights violation which reflects atrociously on the reputation of the nation.

The full text of Roy Brown’s statement follows below.

UN Human Rights Council, 25th Session:
Agenda Item 9, Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
Speaker: IHEU Representative Roy W Brown, 25 March 2014

                                       Caste, racism and manual scavenging in India

Mr President,

Despite lip service paid for decades to its eradication by the government of India, manual scavenging – a euphemism for collecting human waste, often with their bare hands – remains the daily lot of tens of thousands of Dalits in India, 98% of them women.[1]

Dalit girlsTo force people into this kind of work amounts to a crime against humanity.[2] And yet for years  the Indian government either turned a blind eye to the practice or denied that it any longer existed.

[An act prohibiting manual scavenging was passed in 1993 but ten years later most manual scavengers had not heard of the law, and rehabilitation had not reached them. Yet in 2010 and 2011, the government stated in Parliament that manual scavenging no longer existed in India!][3]

Today, government organs like the Indian Railways and municipal corporations can get away with manual scavenging because most of the sanitation workers in India are on contract, a fig-leaf excuse.

Recently, the government allocated one billion Rupees a year (about $US 16 million) for the rehabilitation of manual scavengers, but none of this money was spent. Why not?

Surely Mr President, India, which portrays itself internationally as a hi-tech superpower, could eliminate the need for manual scavenging within a year, and for a fraction of the money spent on technology, if it chose to do so.

The reason that this practice continues is deeply rooted in the Indian caste system, [Dalits are at the bottom of the caste pile] – a system having its origins in racial differences going back thousands of years.

May we respectfully remind the government of India that international status is not based exclusively on military and technological prowess, but on how it treats the poorest and most vulnerable of its people.

Is it not time, Mr President, that the government and people of India grew beyond the racially-based,[4] stone-age system of caste, and recognised that all Indians share a common humanity and all are entitled to equal rights in law and in practice.

Thank you, sir.


[1]  http://www.amazon.fr/Unseen-Truth-Indias-Manual-Scavengers-ebook/dp/B00I5MC76U

[2]  http://www.icc-cpi.int/nr/rdonlyres/ea9aeff7-5752-4f84-be94-0a655eb30e16/0/rome_statute_english.pdf

[3]  Words in [brackets] could not be spoken in the time available.

[4]  CERD General Recommendation 29 (2002) states that “discrimination based on descent includes discrimination against members of communities based on forms of social stratification such as caste and analogous systems of inherited status which nullify or impair their equal enjoyment of human rights.”

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