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Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Representing the District of Columbia

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Norton to Introduce Resolution Calling on Congress to Condemn Discrimination Against Dalit People

Apr 10, 2014
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – In advance of the April 14 birthday of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a freedom fighter for the Dalit people, the office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today announced that Norton will introduce  a resolution when Congress returns from recess condemning Dalit untouchability, the practice of birth-descent discrimination against Dalit people, which is still widely practiced in India, Nepal, the Asian diaspora and other South Asian nations, and calling on these countries to recognize the human rights of the Dalit people and end all forms of untouchability within their borders.  Despite Dr. Ambedkar’s instrumental work that led to Article 17 of the Constitution of India 1949, which abolished untouchability and its practice in any form, discrimination against Dalits persists today.  In India alone, a crime is committed against a Dalit every 18 minutes.  The discrimination has existed for more than 2,000 years and has included educational discrimination, economic disenfranchisement, discrimination in medical care, and increased vulnerability to poverty, hunger, violence, rape, and humiliation. 

Norton has chosen to announce the introduction of this legislation during a week when she is offering a series of remarks on the House floor to commemorate D.C. Emancipation Day, April 16, the day when slaves in D.C. were emancipated in 1862.  Many Dalit people suffer extreme inequality unknown in this country, but D.C. residents, like the Dalit people, are treated like second-class citizens in their own country, without the same rights as others.

“In commemoration of Dr. Ambedkar’s birthday and life’s work, and with the continuing acts of gross inequality against the Dalit people, my resolution calls on Congress forthrightly to oppose the discrimination and condemn the practice of Dalit untouchability in all of its forms throughout the world,” said Norton.  “District residents, who are treated as second-class citizens, are particularly sympathetic to the mistreatment of the Dalit people in their own country.”

In January, three organizations – The Quander Historical Society, Gye Nyame and Dalit Freedom Network – held a Declaration of Empathy Signing Event for the modern day slaves in India in cooperation with Norton’s office.  The organizations drafted a Declaration of Empathy for the Dalits calling for an end to their enslavement.  Norton delivered remarks at the event and was among the first signers of the declaration.

Norton applauded Dr. Ana Steele, the Dalit Freedom Network’s former executive director, for working with her office to bring the organizations together to sign the Declaration of Empathy, and all of the organizations for carrying on Dr. Ambedkar’s mission and leading the effort to abolish discrimination against the Dalit people.

The text of the resolution follows.

HOUSE RESOLUTION

Condemning Dalit untouchability, the practice of birth-descent discrimination against Dalit people, which is widely practiced in India, Nepal, the Asian diaspora and other South Asian nations,  and calling on these countries to recognize the human rights of the Dalit people and end all forms of untouchability within their borders.

Whereas untouchability, recognized as discrimination and social stratification based on a combination of heredity and work, is a form of discrimination and exclusion against Dalit people founded on ill-conceived notions of Dalit impurity, Dalit pollution, and Dalit inequality;

Whereas Dalit untouchability continues to be widespread and persistent in India, Nepal, and throughout South Asia and in the Asian diaspora in nations such as Nigeria, Senegal, Mauritania, Yemen and Japan, affecting an estimated 260 million people worldwide, with the highest number of victims found in South Asia;

Whereas discrimination against the Dalits, or “untouchables,” has existed for more than 2,000 years in India alone and has included educational discrimination, economic disenfranchisement, discrimination in medical care, and increased vulnerability to poverty, hunger, violence, rape, and humiliation;

Whereas the status of untouchability significantly increases a Dalit’s vulnerability to debt bondage, forced labor, child labor, domestic servitude, commercial sexual exploitation and all forms of human trafficking and modern-day labor enslavements;

Whereas according to Human Rights Watch and India’s official National Family Health Survey, Dalits are among the poorest of the poor, living on less than $1.25 per day; most of India’s bonded laborers are Dalits; and half of India’s Dalit children are undernourished, 21 percent are severely underweight, and 12 percent die before their 5th birthday;

Whereas in India alone a crime is committed against a Dalit every 18 minutes;

Whereas untouchability and birth-descent discrimination in all its forms are prohibited by international human rights law as proclaimed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Labor Organization Convention No. 111;

Whereas Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, born on April 14, 1891, was a freedom fighter and advocate for ending the practice of untouchability;

Whereas Dr. Ambedkar was the father and architect of the Constitution of India 1949 and Article 17 abolishes untouchability and its practice in any form;

Whereas under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, to which Nepal has been a State party since 1971, the Government is obligated to prohibit discrimination based on descent, which includes untouchability, as a form of “racial discrimination”;

Whereas in March 2010, The House of Lords in the United Kingdom passed the Equality Bill empowering the government to treat birth descent discrimination as ‘an aspect of race’;

Whereas the European Union Parliament Resolution on Caste-based Discrimination of 2013 condemns the practice of untouchability and the continuing human rights violations committed against people suffering from social hierarchies and birth-based discrimination;

Whereas at the Dalit-Minority International Conference on December 27, 2006, Prime Minister Singh of India became the first leader of his nation to compare the condition of Dalits with that of black South Africans under apartheid, stating, Even after 60 years of constitutional and legal protection and support, there is still social discrimination against Dalits in many parts of our country…. Dalits have faced a unique discrimination in our society that is fundamentally different from the problems of minority groups in general. The only parallel to the practice of untouchability was apartheid in South Africa”;

Whereas Human Rights Watch and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the New York University School of Law released a report in February 2007 describes the discrimination against Dalits or “untouchables” as a hidden Apartheid;

Whereas despite the numerous laws enacted for the protection and betterment of the Dalits, Dalits are still considered outcasts in South Asian society and in the Asian diaspora and are treated as such;

Whereas the National Commission on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in India has declared that many of the reported cases of atrocities against Dalits end in acquittals;

Resolved that the House of Representatives –

  1. condemns the practice of untouchability and the discriminatory treatment of the Dalits in South Asia and the Asian diaspora;
  1. calls on the Governments of India, Nepal, and other South Asian nations and the Asian diaspora to end all forms of untouchability and discrimination of the Dalit people, and to ensure respect for internationally recognized human rights for these minority groups within their nations; and
  1. demands that the international community put pressure on the governments of nations that still practice Dalit untouchability to take every necessary measure to end this horrific practice and to protect the fundamental rights of all Dalits within their borders