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Challenges for Dalits in South Asia's Legal Community

A three-part report examining the challenges and opportunities available for the Dalit justice defenders’ community across South Asia in Nepal, Bangladesh, and India.

Map of South Asia highlighting Nepal, Bangladesh, and India

Map of South Asia highlighting Nepal, Bangladesh, and India

“Untouchability” or the segregation a certain class of people based on their lineage has persisted over centuries such that members of the “untouchable class” or “Dalits” are still subject to social, economic, and political discrimination today. While the condition for Dalits has improved in some ways over time across South Asia, Dalits still face serious challenges in entering certain professional fields. While many international organizations have examined the condition of Dalits overall, little attention has been paid to the legal profession specifically.

This report evaluates the lack of representation of Dalits in the justice sector and its impact on access to justice for the Dalit community at large, proposing both regional and country-specific recommendations to improve this situation. Each chapter in the report utilizes a similar methodology by relying on desk research as well as structured interviews with the Dalit justice defenders’ community. Additionally, the report’s authors are either members of the Dalit community or have worked directly with the community to assist in issues related to the justice sector. 

Chapter 1: Nepal

With nearly three million Dalits in the country, Nepal has an opportunity and a legal obligation to increase the representation of Dalits in the justice sector. While certain legal provisions have been created to help the Dalit community, its members still face discriminatory challenges when pursuing jobs in the nation’s civil service, including its police force. Further, with only five Dalit judges in the nation and few members of the community practicing law, Dalits are not effectively represented in the state’s judicial institutions and law enforcement agencies...

Read the full Nepal chapter for more

Chapter 2: Bangladesh

There are between 5.5 to 6.5 million Dalits in Bangladesh. The Dalit community is subject to sociopolitical discrimination and, most importantly for this report, lack proper access to justice and representation in the legal community. Dalit rights are significantly hindered by structural constraints within the legal and political system of Bangladesh, which are further exacerbated by social biases. Despite constitutional guarantees and promises from the government, Dalits in Bangladesh lack the social, political, and economic capital to overcome these constraints and make these guarantees a reality...

Read the full Bangladesh chapter for more

Chapter 3: India

The largest population of Dalits in South Asia resides in India, with nearly 200 million people in the community. Several legal safeguards have been created to protect the Dalit community from historically prevalent social, economic, and political discrimination. Yet, in practice, these forms of discrimination still persist, often in the justice sector and legal community. While there has been a great deal of research on the general forms of discrimination faced by the community, few reports have exclusively studied the Dalit experience in the Indian justice sector...

Read the full India chapter in English for more

Read the full India chapter in Hindi for more

Regional Findings

Based on the findings of these reports, ending caste discrimination and untouchability practices requires policy and legislative reform, continuous action, and strong commitment from key stakeholders at the domestic and international level. Dalit citizens in these three countries will have better access to justice only if domestic and international institutions collaborate to address both implicit and explicit biases in the legal profession...

Read the full Regional Findings for more