Caste-Hate Speech – A Culture of Silence and Violence

Caste-based discrimination affects more than 260 million Dalits worldwide. Caste-hate speech is currently on the rise across different social media platforms, and should be acknowledged as a specific form of hate.

Defining Caste-Hate Speech

Ritwajit Das, author of the blog. Photo: Ritwajit Das.

Where there is caste discrimination, there will always be caste-hate speech. A new report on caste-hate speech recently published by the International Dalit Solidarity Network defines caste-hate speech as “any communication form such as speech, writing, behaviour, codes, signs, or memes that manifest hierarchies, invoke humiliation, serve to dehumanise, incite discrimination, degrade self-worth or perpetuate discrimination and are often the sources of physical, mental or material violence to a person or a group based on caste identity.” Everyday communication is a key part of maintaining caste order.

Caste-based discrimination affects more than 260 million Dalits worldwide who suffer from the hidden apartheid of segregation, exclusion and discrimination. Caste-hate speech works on two levels: One - to uphold the supremacy of the oppressor or dominant caste, and two – to reinforce the sub-consciousness of the oppressed caste, especially Dalits, in accepting their inferior status as the natural order - being suppressed, exploited and dominated. Caste-hate speech has resulted in a “culture of silence”, with the aim to make Dalits passive, subservient and psychologically powerless. Caste-hate slurs, insults, incitements and objectionable insinuations make Dalits extremely vulnerable in socio-cultural situations. Dalit women are especially targeted as they suffer intersectional discrimination, encountering misogynistic hate and gendered stereotypes as well as those related to caste and socio-economic status. Caste-hate speech can, in its worst forms, lead to extreme violence. In recent years, it has been spreading like wildfire online as a means to oppress Dalits.

"Dalit women are especially targeted as they suffer intersectional discrimination, encountering misogynistic hate and gendered stereotypes as well as those related to caste and socio-economic status."

Global Targeted Advocacies on Caste-Hate Speech

International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) works on a global level for the elimination of caste discrimination by linking grass-root priorities with international mechanisms and institutions, especially the UN and EU. IDSN has had a significant impact globally to ensure that caste discrimination is seen as a critical human rights issue which must be addressed. The network works in synergy with its global member organisations, affiliates and associates, to bring forward the impact of caste-hate speech and discrimination. IDSN has successfully lobbied, occupied intervention spaces and presented statements including recommendations with its members from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and other international human rights networks to further the significance of discriminatory aspects of caste-hate speech in key UN events like the 13th Session – Forum on Minority Issues and 22nd EU-NGO Human Rights Forum on "The Impact of New Technologies on Human Rights".

On March 22, 2021, at the UN-HRC 46 side events, IDSN launched the aforementioned report on Caste-Hate Speech – Addressing Hate Speech Based on Work and Descent at the side event "#EndCasteHate – The Impact of Online Caste-Hate Speech". The video stream of the event has over 700 views and featured panel talks from the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Caste-Hate Speech Researcher and Dalit Women Human Rights Activists from Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India and over.

Global Implications on Caste-Hate and Caste-Based Discrimination

In the report to the Human Rights Council Forty-Sixth session on Minority Issues, the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Dr. Fernand de Varennes, identified the importance of addressing discrimination, exclusion and other violations of human rights involving particularly vulnerable minorities, such as the Bidoon, Dalits and Roma. The Special Rapporteur also mentioned that hate speech disproportionally affects many vulnerable communities, like persons of African descent, Asian communities, Dalits, Rohingya and Roma. Dr Fernand de Varennes also recently shared his concerns on the rise of caste-hate speech and violence.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and acclaimed author Isabel Wilkerson of the book Caste: The Origin of Our Discontent mentions in her NY Times feature that “The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power – which groups have it and which do not. It is about resources – which groups are seen as worthy of them and which are not, who gets to acquire and control them and who does not. It is about respect, authority and assumptions of competence – who is accorded these and who is not.”

#NoCasteLeftBehind

Caste-hate speech is on the rise across different social media platforms – which is the de facto normalisation of caste-hate speech as a means to oppress and humiliate Dalits. Caste-hate speech should be acknowledged as a specific form of hate. It needs to be tackled in a global regulatory framework so that states cannot evade their human rights obligations. It should also be recognized a protected characteristic in all international covenants related to human rights and hate speech, and caste-affected countries should place it in relevant legislation by inclusion by targeting, by empowerment and by transparency – consciously supporting and strengthening the agencies of Dalits.

The NHRF invites different actors within the human rights field to contribute on this blog. The opinions expressed here are those of the authors.

Photos: IDSN/Jakob Carlsen.

Illustration: Venus Thokchom/Dalit Women Fight.

Dalit History Month

Every April, Dalit History Month is celebrated around the world to put focus on the important events and people in the history of Dalits. Inspired by Black History Month, a group of Dalit women started the Dalit History Month in 2013. Read more here.