In this interview, UN-NGLS speaks with Paul Divakar of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights and Wada Na Todo Abhiyan, about issues of inequality and discrimination in the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 process more broadly. Mr. Divakar reflects on the topics raised during OWG7, and shares his organization’s plans for OWG8.
UN-NGLS: Having followed the post-2015 processes so far and attended the most recent session of the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), what are your reflections on the current state of the process? Regarding the theme of climate change and disaster relief reduction in particular, what are your impressions of progress made in the discussion?
Paul Divakar: Compared to the previous process of MDGs, this consultation process has been highly participatory and much more transparent than before. I would like to commend the Secretary-General, Member States, and the various UN bodies who have made this process widely visible to the countries and the civil society therein.
There are challenges which need to be addressed. Issues of social inequality are not discussed sufficiently. Representation and the voice of NGOs from the South are hardly heard. There should be more space for NGOs to negotiate and provisions to ensure resources to Asia, Africa, and Latin American countries to ensure their access and participation to this process. Issues of exclusion, social identity, or intersectionality of multiple identities don’t seem to find a place. It is necessary to unpack these factors and also individually mention different types of social inequalities like caste rather than putting all of them under a uniform label.
Under climate change, the vulnerable position of marginalized groups should be highlighted as they are the first to be affected by natural disasters which are the results of drastic climate change. The element of disaster risk reduction is not at all figured in any current framework. In the sustainable development agenda, this term needs to be unpacked more because in the context of India, not every ‘poor’ person will be vulnerable to frequent hazards but may be able to recuperate from effects of disasters, whereas those who are socially marginalized and excluded even in normal times suffer the brunt of nature’s wrath. It is important to see what we mean by development because what we call natural disasters are also not completely ‘natural’ but ‘human-induced’ due to ill-conceived planning and catering to private interests at the cost of local people.
Additionally, the accountability of communities that triggered and contributed the most to climate change needs to be increased and there should be specific measures taken to ensure an equity approach to the communities worst affected by climate change.
UN-NGLS: Your work on the post-2015 agenda so far has focused on addressing inequalities and achieving human rights for all, particularly traditionally excluded communities and those affected by caste-based discrimination. How will you be contributing to the eighth session of the Open Working Group, which will include a focus on Promoting Equality, including Social Equity and Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment?
Paul Divakar: In the OWG process, Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA) has facilitated participation of Southern voices to the sixth and seventh OWG sessions, specifically on the right to development, human rights framework, disaster risk reduction and climate change. WNTA along with Dalit rights, child rights groups, gender rights groups, disability rights groups, and groups working on the rights of the ageing and women in conflict have planned strategic interventions with experts and panellists for the upcoming 8th session of OWG on the theme, “Promoting equality, including social equity, gender equality and women’s empowerment.” We are organizing a panel discussion on the 5th February in the afternoon, on “Promoting Social Equity through Addressing Discrimination Based on Gender, Caste, Race, Ethnicity, Disability, Descent and Work.” Several leaders from the South and champions of these issues are detailing the situation and contributing suggestions to the OWG process. This will also help us to draw some recommendations specifically on caste and descent and work-based discrimination which could be submitted to the Co-Chairs of the OWG session.
UN-NGLS: In both the UN-NGLS regional consultation and your remarks at the 22 September launch of the consultation report, you mentioned the need for the UN to formulate a universal definition of inequality. Can you expand upon this idea?
Paul Divakar: The current definition of inequality primarily addresses the issues of class inequality rather than any other forms of inequality like work- and descent-based discrimination. It is important to evaluate the definition in terms of whether it is inclusive enough or not; if not, then the whole process is not democratic in nature. The post-2015 agenda must redefine the definition of inequality to address all forms of it. Without individual mentioning of caste, gender, disability, etc., no tailor-made recommendations will be formulated, and these issues require such measures. So with utmost urgency these issues must be taken up in such framework. Regarding ‘inequality’ the UN should set out specific indicators/directives for the Member States to report on their progress on measures adopted to address the issue of inequality. Under such an umbrella framework, the issues of caste, descent and work-based discrimination in South Asia, Japan (Burakumin Community), Africa and also the issues pertaining to Africans and Asians in particular in the North also need to be carefully and individually addressed.
UN-NGLS: What, in your opinion, are the major priorities for the SDGs and the post-2015 agenda more broadly? What elements are missing from the discussions thus far?
Paul Divakar: There should be a holistic definition of equality with special mention of caste-based discrimination as it affects 260 million people in the world, and a proportion of this magnitude cannot be denied nor ignored nor hidden under other frames. Another major area that has been left out is financial accountability, transparency, and participation of both State and corporations. This requires special attention as corporations have direct impacts on various human rights; therefore, there needs to be a framework to ensure all rights are respected. Through the sustainable development framework, multinational corporations must be required to report on the social, environmental, and economic impact of their activities. No matter what is reported, evidence has shown time and again how rules are flouted and bent to make way for big corporations, taking away people’s land and access to natural resources. Large-scale landgrabbing takes place to satiate the needs of industries while corporate social responsibility activities are then carried out after taking away the sole source of livelihood from those very communities. The Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) Policy has been used very arbitrarily without seeking people’s participation in decision-making. Therefore, reporting alone would not suffice. Substantial monitoring mechanisms should be constituted by the governments along with civil society organizations, academics, experts, and people themselves.
UN-NGLS: As the first phase of the OWG is nearing its conclusion, what are your reflections on both the process and the content of the discussions? Do you have any suggestions on UN-civil society engagement moving forward, based on these reflections?
Paul Divakar: Civil society organizations’ access to this process has been limited, and the process has not encapsulated their views from a broad-based framework. The post-2015 process should be evaluated in terms of how much it has included grassroots voices. The choices of experts should also be reconsidered, to ensure a diverse representation of experts, particularly from the South.
N. Paul Divakar is an activist, economic rights expert, and human rights defender and advocate for Dalit rights. He is currently the General Secretary of Dalit Arthik Adhikar Andolan / National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR). He is the serving a second term as convenor of Wada Na Todo Abhiyan, a platform in India articulating the concerns of governance, accountability, and inclusion. Mr. Divakar has been actively engaging with communities in strengthening access to justice, gender concerns especially on the intersectionality of gender and caste, financial accountability, transparency, and participation. He was the Co-Chair of International Dalit Solidarity Network from 2000-2007 to raise and address the issue of exclusion and discrimination of Dalits in the UN, European Union and other international fora.