India has failed to respect, protect and ensure the fundamental rights of its Dalit population, says its own governmental and non-governmental agencies. Recently, a civil society delegation of India met the Chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Caste, Dr P.L. Punia, and submitted a memorandum seeking justice for a young Dalit Kamlesh. Kamlesh, a six-year-old little girl from in Uttar Pradesh, was tossed into the burning fire by the members from the upper caste community three years ago. Her crime was that she walked by the house of an upper caste family early in the morning. She is still waiting for justice and the culprits are freely moving around, as the court closed the case for lack of witnesses. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that a Dalit did not get justice. It has become a routine in India that violators of minority rights get away without any punishment. Her case is just one example of the discrimination and oppression that millions of Dalits suffer in India. Dalits are considered impure in Indias caste system and their status has often been associated with jobs considered as dirty labour, such as removing carcasses and cleaning sewers and latrines. The countrys 164 million Dalits also encounter other forms of discrimination, from not being allowed to touch produce in a shop to not being able to own land, even though India outlawed the caste system in its Constitution in 1950. Dalits suffer routine violation of their right to life, security of person and protection of the State, through state sponsored or sanctioned violence. Caste motivated killings, rape and other abuses are a daily occurrence in India. Between 2001-2002, about 58,000 cases were registered under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. A 2005 government report states that there is a crime committed against a Dalit every 20 minutes. This figure represents only a fraction of the actual incidents, since many Dalits do not register cases for fear of retaliation by the police and upper caste individuals. In the rare instance if a case does reach the courts, the most likely outcome is acquittal. Indias official data reveals that during 1999-2001, as many as 89 percent of the trials involving offences against the Dalits resulted in acquittals. According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the law enforcement machinery is the greatest violator of Dalit rights, and the torture and killing of Dalits in custody, rape of Dalit women, and the looting of the Dalit property are condoned or at best ignored by them. Despite the quotas system for government employment, they rarely rise above traditional Dalit occupations. The existence of quotas often fuels the upper caste disdain for Dalits. In the private sector, even the educated ones have to struggle to succeed. In many communities, the upper caste members still expect Dalits to perform their traditional occupations without pay. According to unofficial estimates, more than 1.3 million Dalits, mostly women are employed as manual scavengers to carry away human waste from dry pit latrines. In several cities, Dalits are lowered into manholes, without any protective gear, to clear sewage drains, resulting in more than 100 deaths each year from inhalation of toxic gases or from drowning in excrement. Dalit children are subjected to human rights abuses. These children are common victims of bonded labour practices, even though it is outlawed in India. When Dalit families become indebted to moneylenders, their children are often forced to work off these debts. Due to the low wages that these children get, they can rarely even earn enough money to payback their debts and break free themselves from labour obligations. Additionally, Dalit girls are selected for the practice of Devdasi or marriage to temple deities. As a part of Devdasi, these girls must serve in the temple and perform sexual services for temple workers. Although India is obligated under several international instruments to uphold Dalit rights, there is little enforcement to ensure that it meets the obligations under the International Law. First, as a UN member state, India is bound to the provisions in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Articles I and II of UDHR state: All human beings are born free, and equal in dignity and rights, and that the human rights protected in the UDHR belong to everyone without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status." India is violating its obligations under the UDHR, as it has failed to protect the Dalits against discrimination, degradation and violence. Second, India has also failed to meet its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which it ratified on April 10, 1979. Not only does the ICCPR protect against discrimination of any kind", including discrimination based on social origin", but it also protects against torture, degrading treatment, arbitrary arrest, detention, and promotes equality in the courts and equal protection of the law. In failing to respect and ensure Dalits rights, India is not complying with the ICCPR. Third, India has failed to protect Dalit workers in accordance with its obligations under the International Labour Organisation Convention (No 107), which it ratified on September 29, 1958. Under Convention 107, India is obligated to protect the institutions, persons, property and labour" of members of tribal or semi-tribal populations. Finally, Dalit children, who are forced into bonded labour, or the practice of Devdasi, are protected under the provisions in the Convention of Rights of the Child of 1989 (CRC), which it ratified on December 11, 1992. In Article 32, the CRC protects against economic exploitation" and the performance of any work that is likely to be hazardous or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development." Both the practices of child-bonded labour and the practice of Devdasi violate its commitment under the CRC. Consequently, Dalits are converting their religion in order to get honour and prestige in the society. They are joining Buddhism to escape from the caste system. No country can claim itself to be a democracy until and unless it has a civilised society of equality, as democracy is not only a governing system, but also provides guarantee for citizens constitutional and human rights. The Indian government has done nothing remove caste prejudice and provide justice to the poor and powerless. The so-called true democratic India needs to shake up its tranquilised conscience The writer is a freelance columnist.