The Potential and Limitations of the Treatment of Caste Discrimination in International Human Rights Law

  • Wankhede Asang
doi: 10.32566/ah.2023.1.3


This paper critically evaluates all the developments that lead to the making of caste discrimination an issue in international human rights law (IHRL) – both as racial discrimination and as an issue of the minority rights regime. It explores the reasons why such developments and the politics of it have proven to be insufficient in cause and totality in addressing the rampant abuses of the human rights of Dalits. While focusing on the obvious limitations of the minority rights regime in including Dalits as a minority, it weighs the limitations and the potential of the existing IHRL corpus in addressing caste discrimination. The paper will first outline the genealogy of caste discrimination in IHRL, which will provide a descriptive account of all the developments. I identify the treatment of caste in terms of a “violating norm” and as a “violation sub-category”. Then the paper seeks to engage with the theory on the limitations and critiques of IHRL, to argue that there are theoretical and legal-doctrinal fault lines in the conception of caste discrimination as a sub-set of descent-based racial discrimination both normatively and interpretatively. To support this argument the paper explores reasons for the failure of IHRL in critical legal thought – which outline the triumph of cultural and social pressures in the society over the language of IHRL. Following this, a novel attempt is made to develop the concept of “cultures of oppression” as a central theme in imagining a “Dalit critique of IHRL” which in my opinion is not only a normative contribution to the critical discourses in reimagining IHRL which is more responsive to the problems of Dalits, but also provides a new outlook for human rights movements to combat caste discrimination.


caste discrimination minority rights human rights social change international law

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Wankhede, A. (2023). The Potential and Limitations of the Treatment of Caste Discrimination in International Human Rights Law. Acta Humana – Emberi Jogi Közlemények, 11(1), 49–66.


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