The 5th Human Rights Defenders Tulip is assigned to the Indian Dalit-activist Marimuthu Bharathan. Dalits are the untouchables, people at the bottom of the social ladder, who fall outside the so called caste system and have barely any rights. In total there are about 260 million Dalits, mostly living in India.
No passport for the winner
The award ceremony will be held on 9 January in The Hague. Bharathan himself cannot be present at the ceremony, because the Indian government refused to give him a passport. Reason for this refusal is the alleged involvement of Bharathan in the murder of twenty Dalits, for which he was arrested in 2009. Indian human rights organizations strongly deny these allegations.
Bharathan is director of the Human Rights Education and Protection Council. This organization helps to set up and supports self-help organizations of Dalits, including Dalit women. The recent brutal rape of a woman in New Delhi brought sexual violence, especially against women from the Indian middle class, to the attention of the world. The fact that many Dalit women face brutal (sexual) violence on a daily basis gets less (media) attention. In many areas, landlords or men of a higher caste can abuse and rape Dalit women with total impunity.
Dalit-activists under fire
Defenders of the rights of the Dalits in India work and live in dangerous conditions. The UN human rights rapporteur Margaret Sekaggya described it as follows: “I was deeply shocked by the situation of Dalit activists and very impressed with their work and courage. They face death threats, extrajudicial executions, public caste-related insults and destruction of their property and possessions. “
Cordaid is delighted that Marimuthu Bharathan has been awarded the Human Rights Tulip. Cordaid’s Stephanie Joubert: “Cordaid is currently Chairman of the Broad Human Rights Consultation (BMO), a coalition of Dutch civil society organizations that stand up for human rights defenders around the world, people like Bharathan. And for many years now we have been defending the rights and strengthening the position of Dalit women in India.”
Support for the struggle of women’s organizations
Joubert: “The fact that the Human Rights Tulip goes Bharathan is great news. It makes clear that the problems of the Dalits in India are critically monitored by The Netherlands. It also brings the difficult situation of human rights defenders in India to the foreground. Bharathan getting no passport to receive his prize is just one example, but it goes much further. Many human rights defenders are threatened in their work. Finally, it is great news because also women and women’s organizations benefit from it. Bharathan fights all kinds of human rights violations against Dalits, including sexual violence against Dalit women. Many of Cordaid’s partner women’s organizations, such as Women in Governance, work with Dalit women. Of course they want rapists to be judged and punished. But they also ask for the police and security sector to be reformed. And they call on the Indian government’s responsibility to protect women and Dalit women in particular. Awarding the Human Rights Tulip to Bharathan also strengthens Cordaid and women’s organizations in our common struggle.”
Read more about the Human Rights Tulip Award.
Do you want to read more about what Cordaid does for Dalits in India? Read how we partner with organizations to ensure that Dalits in Indian disaster areas to better prepared for disasters (PDF)