Advocacy statements

Caste and modern slavery practices in India

  • Date / 2022
  • Location / India
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights

Oral statement

International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 51st Session (12 September – 7 October 2022)

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery

We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s insightful report, particularly his clear inclusion of those discriminated against on the grounds of caste or descent-based slavery.

Over 90 per cent of bonded laborers in India are Dalits or Adivasis, who work not for an income but to pay off a debt.[1] Over 1 million Dalits are manual scavengers forced to perform the demeaning and unsanitary job of disposing human waste. Dalits are prevented from changing jobs, gaining an education, owning land, or organizing for labor rights, allowing this cycle of pervasive inequality to continue over generations.[2]

Even modest policies to address discrimination in India, such as the affirmative action programme, face strong resistance from ‘upper castes’ opposed to progress.[3]

India’s constitution guarantees the protection of the rights of the marginalized, but the last few years have seen the rise of ‘extraconstitutional’ forces spreading hatred and pushing a divisive majoritarian agenda. While we welcome the fact that caste is increasingly featured on the UN agenda,[4] this must be accompanied by a strong condemnation of all those who spread hatred and prejudice against minorities in India.

Thank you.


[1] https://idsn.org/study-finds-dalits-working-in-forced-and-child-labour-in-indias-garment-industry/

[2] https://idsn.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Submssion-2021-FoAA-HRC50.pdf

[3] https://www.counterview.net/2016/06/top-hindutva-theorist-declares-against.html

[4] This is despite the fact that caste is not mentioned in any international human rights treaty, and in her report to the 50th session of the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism regretted the fact that the “the 2030 Agenda completely ignores caste and descent-based discrimination” (A/HRC/50/60).

Suggested academic reference

'Caste and modern slavery practices in India', Humanists International

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