Study on 'untouchables' can help end human rights abuses, says Notre
February 9, 2010 BY JOAN FALLON (PhysOrg.com) -- The largest-ever
study on the Dalits -- the so-called "untouchables" of India --
reveals widespread caste-based discrimination in every aspect of daily
life, according to Christian Davenport, professor of peace studies,
political science and sociology at the University of Notre Dame's Kroc
Institute for International Peace Studies and one of the co-authors of
the research report.
"Dalits are widely abused, and they live lives of constant
humiliation, indignity and violence," Davenport said. "They also are
often deprived of water, food and health. It really is a kind of
institutionalized, slow genocide."
"Understanding Untouchability: A Comprehensive Study of Practices and
Conditions," just released by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice
and Human Rights and the Navsarjan Trust, uses data from 1,589
villages and 5,462 respondents in Gujarat, the westernmost state in
India. The three-year study combined the efforts of academics, human
rights activists and lawyers.
The report reveals that — despite Indian and international laws that
ban discrimination against the Dalits — the practices of segregated
housing, drinking water wells, places of worship and seating
arrangements in schools and public events are nearly universal. The
study also shows a pattern of "horizontal" discrimination among
sub-castes of Dalits.
"Approximately one out of every six people on earth is Indian, and one
out of every six Indians is a Dalit," Davenport said. "That's a
population that is roughly the equivalent of two-thirds of the United
States. This is no small problem of discrimination. It's a massive
human rights tragedy taking place in the world's largest democracy and
one of the most important countries in the world."
The research was envisioned by 2000 RFK Human Rights Laureate Martin
Macwan and RFK Global Advocacy Team members, including Davenport and
his collaborators Allan Stam at the University of Michigan and David
Armstrong at the University of Wisconsin.
"Having solid data and clear evidence of discrimination against the
Dalits is critical so that government officials, religious
organizations and human rights activists inside and outside of India
can address the 3,000-year-old problem," Davenport said.
Davenport is a scholar of political conflict who is working on
projects involving repression and state-dissident interactions in the
United States, Rwanda, India and Northern Ireland. He joined the Kroc
Institute in 2008.
More information: To read or download the report on the Dalits, visit
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