The Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network (PDSN) has been instrumental in raising public awareness of caste discrimination in Pakistan in 2011 and creating a stir in the media. Media reports on caste discrimination have included issues such as bonded labour, untouchability, kidnapping and forced conversions of Dalits.
Media have also reported widely on discrimination in flood relief work in Pakistan following new monsoon rains, causing one of recent history’s worst disasters. Dalit communities were denied access to relief camps because of their caste and were forced to live under the open sky. The President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardai, has spoken out against this discrimination against Dalits in the on-going flood relief work saying that any discrimination in extending rescue, relief and rehabilitation operations to anyone on the basis of caste is unacceptable. Nonetheless the discrimination continued throughout 2011. PDSN has worked to support Dalit victims of the flooding and bring their plight to the attention of authorities, International NGOs and agencies involved in relief operations.
2011 also saw an increased visibility of Dalit women in Pakistan and Ms. Kalavanti Raja joined PDSN as Coordinator of the women’s wing of the network. Ms. Raja participated in several events, including the Dalit Women’s conference in Kathmandu, a South Asian Dalit conference in Bangladesh, and the IDSN International Consultation on Caste-Based Discrimination and council meeting in Nepal, where PDSN Coordinators also took part. She spoke at several events and monitored Pakistani media attention to the issue of caste discrimination, with regular updates to IDSN on the situation.
Jinnah Institute, a think tank working on minority issues, released a report in 2011 highlighting caste discrimination in Pakistan. According to the report the vast majority of Dalits in Pakistan do not own lands and work on daily wages, a consequence of them not having any permanent settlement. The report said, “One day, they are with one landlord, the next day with another. And this is how they spend a life of debt, with no accountability or education.” Their castes have translated into daily life. For instance, Dalits may be restricted to separate water wells in school, “from which also Muslims will not drink.” Dalits working in bonded labour continues to be a central issue in Pakistan. They are often forced to work under terrible conditions in what has been deemed ‘modern slavery’ with no view to ever repaying their debts. This form of slavery is particularly prevalent in the agricultural sector, construction work, mining and textile industries.