During disasters, Dalits are systematically excluded from relief and rehabilitation efforts

6619978391_38d237d074_o-960x500By Paul Divakar and Rajesh Kumar Singh*

At the very onset we congratulate the government of India for organizing the 2nd National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) on the 15 and16th of May that deliberated on “Disaster Risk Reduction for Sustainable Development: Making India resilient by 2030”. The meeting has brought together the whole range of India’s DRR community from Government, Parliamentarians, Local Self Governments, Media, International Organizations, NGOs, local community representatives, scientific and academic institutions and corporate businesses to prepare a future road map for Disaster risk reduction in India.

While it is heartening to note that in the debates and deliberations of the 2nd NPDRR the GOI has tried its best to arrive at a comprehensive set of actions to fight with DRR, there has been a serious lapse in deliberating on and recognising the vulnerabilities of Dalits and other socio-economically excluded communities in disaster prone areas, thus enhancing the possibility of further exclusion. Experiences of such exclusion have been systematically and continuously recorded during every major disaster in the country since the Tsunami of 2004 and the most recent Varada cyclone through vigilant monitoring tools. These experiences borne out by hard data have highlighted the degree to which, Dalits have been systematically excluded from relief and rehabilitation efforts.

It has also revealed the consistent pattern of discrimination and exclusion faced by vulnerable communities and groups in all interventions pertaining to disaster response, mitigation and risk reduction. Thus a large number of people affected by disasters are excluded due to various forms of vulnerabilities created by social stratification and discrimination imposed by caste, gender, age, ethnicity and sometimes religion as compared to other poor communities in the following ways:

  • Lack of information, early warning and timely communication systems on the impending danger by the authorities;
  • Discriminatory evacuation services leaving out or even charging Dalits for boat services;
  • Single women headed families, the elderly and children of families with adults having migrated for work were left without any assistance;
  • Non-enumeration and delayed enumeration leading to underestimation of losses;
  • Enumeration process carried out by officials sitting in panchayat offices where not all Dalits could gain entry for participation;
  • Dalit victims who moved away to distant safer locations were not treated as flood affected people during the time of enumeration by the officials.
  • The path to reach the rescue shelters is through the residential settlements of the dominant caste communities who would not allow Dalits to pass through during the time of floods.
  • Inappropriate registration of the losses of Dalit agricultural laborers (share croppers) and salt pan workers by officials, especially where the Dalit houses per se were not affected, but agriculture crops and salt pans were damaged but not recognized While being excluded in all the above ways, Dalits were also found to have been employed to clear slush from the colonies and residential settlements of the dominant caste groups under programmes like MGNREGA, for which they were not even paid their wages.
  • No proper grievance redress for Dalit victims who were denied due compensation against their losses and damages;
  • Political rivalry leading to caste clashes during disaster response;
  • Instances of the scheduled tribes (STs) who lost their cattle having gone unregistered by officials under the false pretext that STs live only on forest produce and don’t rear animals;
  • Houses categorized as ‘hutments’, as most houses of Dalits have thatched with mud walls, leading to eligibility for only low compensation;
  • Death and loss of infants during floods unrecognized because births and deaths registration are not done in a timely manner in Dalit colonies;
  • DRR activities did not take place in Dalit colonies and the communities were not aware of the National Disaster Response Fund/State Disaster Response Fund norms or assistance from the government.

Looking into the absence of effective provisions to prevent or mitigate this form of discrimination and exclusion, Dalits are left with no legal recourse. We, as a group of civil society/humanitarian actors demand that the GOI takes effective steps towards inclusion of these vulnerable groups as follows:

Encourage a common approach: Working with other humanitarian actors operating in the sub-region or local area to build a common approach to addressing caste-based discrimination across interventions from disaster reduction, to response and recovery.

  1. This should include the use of participatory methods such as Participatory Vulnerability and Capacity Assessments (PVCAs), social equity audits, participatory needs assessments, post-disaster needs assessments and inclusion monitoring and accountability tools.
  2. It should include the collation of disaggregated data for assessments purposes, monitoring, regular information sharing as part of co-ordinated disaster prevention or response strategy and the development of strong networks of good practice.
  3. It should seek to represent the delivery of existing sector-wide standards and build up a community of best practice on addressing caste-based discrimination that can further inform these standards.

Build on existing accountability commitments across the sector: Incorporating a strong focus on reducing the risk of caste-based discrimination to the delivery of accountability standards like Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP). For example:

  1. Including reference to addressing caste-based discrimination in its accountability framework and implementation plan for the accountability framework.
  2. Ensuring appropriate understanding of caste-based discrimination as part of staff competency requirements.
  3. Ensuring appropriate targeting and engagement of excluded groups for information sharing commitments.
  4. Incorporating appropriate mechanisms for addressing caste discrimination (such as vulnerability mapping or inclusion monitoring tools) in delivering on participation commitments.
  5. Having a specific approach to complaints mechanisms and complaints handling that takes into consideration the context of caste discrimination and how it can occur in the delivery of a programme and in the handling of complaints about that programme. This could include an inclusion monitoring tool as part of regular accountability reviews and complaints handling reviews throughout the project phase.
  6. Building a strong organisational commitment to learning and continual improvement in accountability and addressing caste discrimination both within HAP certified agencies and across the wider sector.

Tailor participatory approaches for programme planning with a good analysis of the risk of caste-based discrimination in different sectors: Using relevant participatory tools for assessment of the context and the risk of caste-based discrimination for programming at all stages of intervention, from vulnerability assessments and disaster risk reduction work to preparedness, response and recovery of particular importance are:

  1. Understanding pre-existing vulnerabilities of Dalit and other excluded groups, and the cross-cutting issues of e.g. gender, age and ability that will also affect members of these groups.
  2. Collecting and using dis-aggregated data through participatory information gathering and needs assessments.
  3. Understanding the issues of documentation and formal identification.
  4. Understanding the particular context of risks of discrimination related to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), medical aid and provision and preparation of food.
  5. Understanding the context of forced labour and economic exploitation.
  6. Understanding specific challenges related to settlements, housing and shelter, including in terms of documentation.
  7. Understanding context and discrimination risks related to caste-based violence and protection, with a particular consideration given to gendered dimensions within caste-based violence.

Remain aware of the particular vulnerability of Dalit women and the cross-cutting issues that affect exclusion: It is essential to ensure recognition of and action against the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination against caste-affected women. Cross-cutting issues of gender, age, ability and any factors that may affect vulnerabilities and access to disaster prevention and response programmes must be duly considered.

Policy and legislation

Support the development and implementation of inclusive and appropriate disaster management laws and policies at local, national and international level that enable the effective targeting of marginalised and excluded groups for disaster prevention and response, with a specific focus on caste-based discrimination.

Recognise principles of inclusion in laws: Government laws and policies to address disaster risks and response must be developed and implemented in line with commitments to the Hyogo Framework for Action and internationally recognised standards like ICRC/NGO Code of Conduct and HAP. These must include appropriate measures to address caste-based discrimination and its role in aggravating vulnerability and undermining disaster preparedness and effective response. In order to do this government laws and policies should:

  1. Explicitly recognise the context and specific needs of vulnerable groups, including Dalits and other marginalised groups.
  2. Explicitly recognise humanitarian principles that guide emergency aid and international standards for the delivery of that aid including SPHERE and HAP.
  3. Require the inclusion of representatives of Dalits and other marginalised groups, at national, sub-regional and local level in the development and execution of government disaster laws and policies. This should include their representation in relevant bodies and committees.

Build institutional structures and procedures for inclusive disaster prevention and response: Steps and procedures should be laid down through specific operational guidelines so that complete inclusion of Dalits and other marginalised groups is ensured as a non-negotiable entitlement. Requirements should be in accordance with the HAP commitment to accountability and transparency and include:

  1. The officers of state agencies and humanitarian agencies should be trained and expected to recognise the societal processes of caste-based exclusion at work in communities and hence should directly reach out to these affected communities and vulnerable groups, avoiding any mediation of people from the powerful dominant communities.
  2. Government agencies should seek to collect and use disaggregated data including information on marginalised groups defined by gender, caste, ethnicity, age and disability.
  3. Legislated requirements for the inclusion of representatives of Dalit and marginalised groups on village level committees.
  4. Establishing of village level information systems to enable the timely flow of information on Government schemes to vulnerable and excluded populations, and the articulation of the needs of vulnerable groups to the district administrators.
  5. Establishing complaint mechanism through Help Desks or complaint boxes placed in intervention areas to allow beneficiaries to report or complain of discrimination or any other issues and check corruption to address the issues at the very start.
  6. Provision of legal aid to victims of human rights violations based on caste, ethnicity or gender.

Monitor for inclusive policies

Government legislation and policies should include measures for independent monitoring of their disaster prevention and response strategies, with a specific focus on inclusivity and addressing caste discrimination.

  1. Working with international agencies and across the humanitarian sector national governments should support the appointment of committees or ‘Ombudspersons’ to look into grievances related to exclusion of caste-affected communities in disaster prevention and response programmes.
  2. Adequate guidelines and procedures should be laid down and administrative facilities provided for such committees to fulfil their functions effectively. Their recommendations should be binding for the executives, and governing boards of organisations should be liable to monitor the implementation of the recommendations for inclusive practices.

*National Dalit Watch – National Campaign for Dalit Human rights (NCDHR)


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