Advocacy statements

Caste discrimination and the practice of manual scavenging

  • Date / 2018
  • Location / India
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 9: Follow-up and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action


International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 37th Session (27th February – 23rd March 2018)

General Debate on Item 9 (Durban Declaration)

Mr President,

Caste discrimination is a pernicious and deeply ingrained form of structural discrimination, involving massive violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Caste systems, based on the doctrine of inequality, divide people into unequal and hierarchical social groups and are inherently contrary to the very essence of the Durban Declaration. 

Caste-based discrimination takes many forms, one of which being restrictions on occupation. Those at the bottom, known as ‘Untouchables’ or Dalits, are restricted to the most menial, dirty and dangerous jobs as defined by the caste hierarchy. One such job is manual scavenging, the practice of manually cleaning, carrying, disposing or handling human and animal excreta from dry latrines, sewers and streets, using brooms, small tin plates and baskets carried on the head. 

Since Dalits are considered to be polluted by reason of their birth, the task of removing human and animal waste is allocated to them and strictly enforced. They have to work in filthy, abhorrent and life-threatening conditions and are socially ostracised by most of society.

Over 180,000 households in rural India are involved in manual scavenging and seven manual scavengers died in the first week of 2018, highlighting the failures of previous and current government attempts to end this dehumanising practice.

Although India has an extensive body of legislation, outlawing caste-based discrimination and the practice of manual scavenging, political will to ensure implementation is lacking and discrimination from the village level up to the government level continues unabated. 

We urge this council to put all possible pressure on India to ensure decision makers at all levels take action to stop caste-based discrimination in reality and the human rights violations that it brings with it.

Suggested academic reference

'Caste discrimination and the practice of manual scavenging', Humanists International

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