Many of the 17 goals are highly relevant to the hundreds millions of people who suffer caste and descent based discrimination around the world. However, the final agenda fails to explicitly consider the implications of caste-based discrimination, which constitutes a massive barrier hindering the eradication of poverty and stifles the pledge to “leave no-one behind”.
In 2013 a group of UN Experts underlined the importance of considering caste-affected groups in the implementation of the 2030 Development agenda and to promote “tailored action to lift them out of poverty and close the inequality gap between them and the rest of society”.
In 2016, the Special Rapporteur on minority issues presented a comprehensive thematic report examining caste-based discrimination as a global phenomenon. The report concludes that discrimination on the basis of caste and analogous systems is a major cause of poverty, inequality and social exclusion of affected communities and recommends that states should consider including caste specific indicators in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development to ensure that the SDGs and their targets address the situation of caste affected groups.
In May 2016, the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) published a paper on “Human Rights in the Follow-up and Review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. Section 4.3 on “Measuring discrimination” refers to the recommendations by the Special Rapporteur encouraging states to consider including caste-specific indicators. Furthermore, DIHR recommends that “development of specific indicators and data collection initiatives should be considered when defining additional national indicators and approaches to supplement the global framework. Such an approach could imply, for example, the development of indicators to address caste-based discrimination”.
IDSN recommends for states affected by caste discrimination to develop specific indicators on caste and use disaggregated data for the implementation and monitoring of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
SDGs relevant for caste-based discrimination
Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
This goal should take into account the links between inequality and various forms of discrimination and social exclusion, including caste-based exclusion. Caste-discrimination is a major cause of inequality and poverty and perpetuate poverty in affected communities, which are in need of targeted attention in the implementation of the SDGs.
Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable development
Marginalized groups face particular problems in gaining access to food. People from caste-affected communities, especially children, are disproportionately affected by malnourishment. Untouchability practices leading to segregation and prohibitions against food sharing are central components in the type of discrimination that Dalits and other caste-affected groups are facing every day. Furthermore, caste-based discrimination has implications for access to land, services, resources, and humanitarian aid (see the IDSN publication on Equality in Aid).
Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Discrimination and social exclusion severely affect the health of children and women from marginalized groups, who are often prevented from accessing health services. People affected by caste discrimination are often forced to take on dangerous jobs with high health risks e.g. manual scavenging. These jobs lead to infections or injuries. In many cases health professionals will not attend to people ascribed to the lowest caste strata.
Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Marginalization of caste-affected groups translates into considerable disparities in educational opportunities, educational attainment and treatment by school teachers. This type of discrimination parred with inadequate support in government schools and pressure to earn money make Dalits and other caste-affected groups more likely to drop out, thus creating a self-sustaining system of discrimination against caste-affected groups. Many are forced into bonded labor and trafficking.
Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empowerment of all women
This goal should take into account the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and make them even more vulnerable to violence, abuse, neglect and deprivation. This would include the intersection between gender and caste. Women from caste-affected groups present the worst health outcomes in terms of life expectancy and access to maternal care, nutrition and incidence of infections.
Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Discrimination and social stigma prevent large groups of people, including groups affected by caste-based discrimination, from adequate access to water and sanitation. Societal rules about untouchability prevents people affected by caste discrimination from using water fountains and existing toilets.
Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
The relationship between inequality, caste discrimination and poverty cannot be understated. Caste discrimination is a serious human rights violation infringing on the basic principles of universal human dignity and equality, as it differentiates between “inferior” and “superior” categories of individuals. In order to achieve income growth and ensure effective implementation of social protection policies, special measures to curb caste discrimination should be applied in the implementation of the 2030 development framework.
Goal 16. Promote peaceful inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice and build effective accountable and inclusive institutions for all
Caste violations and other forms of discrimination stratify societies and induce conflict and violence. Caste-based biases in society and the criminal system hinder access to justice and prevents caste affected group from seeking redress due to fear of reprisals.