(March 2013)

Report Dalit Network Netherlands 2012

From: Annual Report International Dalit Solidarity Network 2012 (p. 32)

The Dalit Network Netherlands continued its political lobbying efforts in 2012 – with some very positive results. DNN contributed to a range of questions by MEPs, the European Parliament’s resolution on caste discrimination in India, and questions in the Dutch Parliament on the issue. The commitment by the new Dutch Foreign Minister to take up the Dalit issue in the EU can be considered a particular achievement.
Annual Report IDSN 2012
Annual Report IDSN 2012

The network also highlighted the lives of thousands of Dalit girls in the Tamil Nadu textile industry who are working under bonded labour conditions under the so-called Sumangali or Camp Coolie system. This issue has been a cornerstone of DNN advocacy efforts.

DNN raised awareness of Dalit issues through regular updates in Dutch and English on its website, the distribution of news articles to around 6.500 recipients, providing input for a 45-minute television programme on Dalits (featuring IDSN/DNN partner Navsarjan) during prime time and exposure among the members of the Dutch Council of Churches. The Dutch language version of the film We are not untouchable and the booklet Untouchable? were used in much of this work.

The new Dutch government that was formed in November appears to pay more attention to caste discrimination than the previous one that had actually downgraded the Dalit issue. Although the new human rights policy is not expected until the spring of 2013, the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Frans Timmermans, made clear – during the annual budget session – that he considers the issue very important.
"The topic of discrimination based on work and descent has – as far as I am concerned – to be put higher on the agenda of the European Union. The European Parliament has recently adopted a very relevant resolution about the position of Dalits and I think that we can also better shape European policy on that basis," he said.

This was a positive signal compared to the policy of the previous government. Despite a motion on the Dalit issue being adopted by Parliament and the promise of the Minister of Foreign Affairs to implement it, very little was done between 2010 and 2012. The positive policy shift can obviously be attributed to the change of government, but would probably not have occurred without DNN intervention.

Corporate social responsibility has over the years become an important topic in Dutch public and political debate. The India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) has played a significant role in raising this issue with both Dutch and international companies and with the Dutch government. ICN has increasingly integrated the caste/Dalit perspective in its own research on economic sectors like the garment, natural stone, leather and seeds industries.

One of the issues that were intensively raised through campaigning and advocacy – and attracted a lot of attention in 2012 – is the bonded (child) labour and exploitation of young Dalit and other low-caste girls and women in the South Indian textile and garment industry. The fact that most of the exploited girls/women are Dalits was explicitly analysed and raised in DNN publications – especially the report Maid in India – and in advocacy efforts aimed at industry (almost 40 garment brands), the European Union, the Dutch government, a number of UN Special Rapporteurs and the media.

Letters were sent to companies to which about half replied, questions were asked in the Dutch and European Parliament, the issue was raised in parliamentary debates and the media (including Indian media). Exploitation of Dalit girls in the textile industry has thus become a major CSR issue and has helped to raise the understanding of the public, the business world and policy makers on the intersection between labour rights exploitation and the vulnerable position of Dalits/Dalit girls in the labour market.

These efforts have also had an impact on the position of the Dalit girls themselves. The DNN report Maid in India says that "the Sumangali scheme is abandoned at Eastman [one of the major Indian suppliers], that freedom of movement for hostel workers has improved and that wages are relatively high at Eastman." There have also been some improvements in other companies, although the structural problems remain.

It is also relevant to mention here that the (independent) jury of the National Dutch Human Rights Award in 2012 selected a Dalit activist from Tamil Nadu, Mr Marimuthu Bharathan. This is an indication of the fact that the Dalit issue is now more recognised and accepted in The Netherlands as a major human rights issue.

Another expression of this fact is the 45-minute programme on Dalits on prime-time television as part of a number of media reports on India.

The activities of DNN depend very much on individual members, especially the India Committee of The Netherlands as co-ordinator of the Network. However, a number of partners continued to support Dalit organisations and/or Dalit related activities in caste-affected countries and the work of ICN on behalf of the Network. ICN continued to represent DNN in the IDSN Council and Executive Group in 2012. The DNN coordinator actively contributed to IDSN’s work by participating in advocacy efforts at EU level, including meetings with MEPs, European Commission officials and others.

DNN issued several publications, including the Maid in India report, and also prepared a Dutch version of the photo exhibition We are not untouchable. The DNN coordinator gave a number of media interviews, particularly to Dutch media, but also to the Hindustan Times in India.

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