February 21, 2007

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New report: 'Making things worse'

Lessons on caste discrimination from post-tsunami relief

An in-depth report on caste-based discrimination in the aftermath of the tsunami that hit the coast of Tamil Nadu, India, shows that many providers of recovery programmes unwittingly, carelessly or cynically contributed to a widening divide between caste fishermen and neighbouring Dalit communities. The study, completed over more than a year of research, involved visits to 31 Dalit communities along the Tamil Nadu coast, interviews with stakeholders, and analysis of reports by NGO and media sources.

The report, released today by Dalit Network Netherlands in co-operation with the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), was presented to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which monitors the implementation of the ‘Anti-Racism Convention’. The committee will review India’s compliance with the Convention on February 23 and 26. More generally the report offers a challenge to local and international NGOs, multilateral organizations, bilateral aid agencies, Church agencies and the Government of India to act now to prevent Dalits – the ‘untouchables’ of India – being left even further behind as a result of so-called ‘caste blind’ policies.

The report’s author, Timothy Gill explains: “Providers failed to recognise after the tsunami that what Indians describe as ‘fishermen’ is not an occupational group but a caste. Thousands of Dalits are doing fishing and other work along the coast and were devastated by the tsunami. But because their caste status prevents them from being officially or socially recognised as fishermen, they were not considered as victims. Worse, the dominant caste fishermen – be they Catholic or Hindu – used their influence to ensure that the Dalit ‘coolies’ that work for them were excluded from recovery operations. Agencies turned a blind eye to this discrimination, even long after being confronted with the reality, and continued to take the ‘easy option’ of providing assistance to caste fishermen at the expense of impoverished and highly affected Dalit families.”

Gerard Oonk, co-ordinator of the Dalit Network Netherlands adds: “This report should be a wake-up call for all those involved in disaster-recovery and development work in India: if you do not have a caste analysis and actively seek to include Dalits, you will make the bad situation of Dalits even worse. Untargeted aid has a tendency to end up in the hands of the dominant castes. All agencies must reflect on the post-tsunami exclusion of Dalits and implement policies that ensure such unethical practices are not repeated. The report provides recommendations to meet this challenge.”

"The report contains a series of specific recommendations to multilateral agencies, NGOs and the Government of India, including a recommendation to the Government to conduct an inquiry into its failure to ensure aid reached all victims equally. This is crucial in order to avoid a similar situation in the future", states Rikke Nöhrlind of the International Dalit Solidarity Network.

The report outlines and analyses caste discrimination by NGOs and the government in the emergency, relief and rehabilitation phases of post-tsunami recovery, and provides numerous case studies to illustrate the findings. Mr. Gill continues: “The news about Dalit exclusion in post-tsunami recovery operations is overwhelmingly bad, despite the media attention this problem has received. Nevertheless, the success of a small number of agencies who made the effort to reach Dalits certainly indicates that sensible post-disaster policies can effectively contribute to uplifting Dalit communities. Agencies should develop appropriate tools to this end, and mainstream Dalit inclusion in all of their South Asian programmes.”

Two other recent reports on caste discrimination

The report ‘Making Things Worse’ is published around the same time as two other reports on the discrimination of Dalits in India. On February 13, 2007 the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice together with Human Rights Watch published the 'Hidden Apartheid: Caste Discrimination against India’s ‘Untouchables’ '. See: Human Rights Watch is a member of IDSN.

On the 19th of February the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) published an Alternate Report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It can be found the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: The National Campaign on Human Rights is a member of IDSN.

For media enquiries, contact:
Tim Gill:
Gerard Oonk (DNN):, +31-30-2321340, website:
Rikke Nöhrlind (IDSN):, +45 35245080, mobile: 45 29700630, website:

The report can be found at:

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