'Dalit Rights are Human Rights': Caste Discrimination, International Activism, and the Construction of a New Human Rights Issue
Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 29, pp. 167-93, February 2007
27 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2006
This article analyzes recent efforts by India's Dalits (Untouchables) to transform centuries-old caste-based discrimination into an international human rights issue. Comparing early failures and later successes in international activism, the article demonstrates that the Dalits have achieved limited but important advances among transnational NGOs, international organizations, and foreign governments since the late 1990s. What explains these successes - and what lessons does the Dalit experience hold for other groups seeking to transform domestic grievances into internationally recognized human rights issues? The article makes two primary arguments. First, organizational changes among Dalit activists played a major role in these successes, most importantly the formation of a unified Dalit network within India and the subsequent creation of a transnational solidarity network. Second, rhetorical changes played a key role, as Dalits moved from their long-standing focus on caste-based discrimination to a broader framing within the more internationally acceptable terminology of discrimination based on work and descent. The article concludes by discussing broader implications for international human rights activism by other aggrieved groups.
Keywords: human rights, Dalits, Human Rights Watch, India, United Nations, transnational networks, NGOs, nongovernmental organizations, untouchables, transnational advocacy network
JEL Classification: K34, O19, O53
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation