Tag Archives: caste

Focus on Sri Lanka

2 Aug

Hannah Davies, Director, One World Action.

Emerging from a decade-long brutal civil war, the human rights record in Sri Lanka has been under the spotlight over the last few months. Women human rights activists in Sri Lanka have played an important role in lobbying, both for women’s rights as well as for a more robust rights culture where all people are respected – regardless of ethnicity, gender or caste.

We’re highlighting here three inspiring Sri Lankan women who have, in their different ways, been fighting for human rights.

Challenging traditional roles and values in the wake of conflict

Shereen Xavier is the Executive Director of Home for Human Rights. She comes from Jaffna, Sri Lanka`s most conservative city, and returned there in 2007 two years before the defeat of the Tamil Tigers. Her father was a civil rights lawyer and she continues his work at Home for Human Rights where she campaigns for Tamil rights and provides free legal advice.

While conflict between the Sri Lankan state and the Tamil Tigers cost thousands of lives, as is often the case during war, it also opened up a space for women to challenge strict cultural roles that had been imposed on them.

According to Sherine Xavier, women often had to take a lead role as many men were killed, imprisoned, or forced into fighting.  Women therefore took on double burden: running a family and taking decisions. Most women had to adjust the second role. But, in part because of women’s rights activists, the rest of society began to give women more space: in many homes women now make decisions including about health and education of family members which used to be the role of men.

In addition to changes for women, the conflict also challenged the caste structure. Many of the Tamil rebels came from lower castes so high-caste Tamils were forced to rethink caste divisions as part of the broader struggle.

More information:


Rethinking women’s rights from the developing country perspective

Kumari Jayawardena is a leading feminist figure and academic inSri Lanka.

Jayawardena is the author of several books, including Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World, a book that is widely used in Women’s Studies courses around the world.

In the book she describes women’s rights movements in Asia and the Middle East from the 19th century to the 1980s, focusing on Egypt, Turkey, Iran, India, Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, Koreaand the Philippines.  She argues that it is not a foreign ideology that is imposed on developing countries but that each has its own distinct character in Asia and the Middle East that links women’s struggle for equal rights with broader movements for political and civil rights.

She currently teaches in the Masters Programme in Women’s Studies at the Colombo University and is a Senior Fellow of the university’s Graduate Studies Institute.

Jayawardena’s books and articles have been translated into Sinhala and Tamil. She plays an active role in women’s research organizations and civil rights movements inSri Lanka, and is presently the Secretary of the Social Scientists’ Association, a group of concerned scholars working on ethnic, gender, caste and other issues

More information


Campaigning for civil rights

Another rights activist inSri Lanka is Suriya Wickramasinghe, Secretary of the Civil Rights Movement. Among other campaigns she played an active role in advocating for the abolition of the death penalty.

The Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka was among the first organizations to suggest that agreement on human rights protection and monitoring should be an essential component of peace settlements and should pave the way for agreement on other issues:

“It has always been the firm conviction of the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) that the proper securing of human rights throughoutSri Lanka, both in law and as a practical reality, must be an integral part of any political settlement of the conflict.”


New campaign on women’s leadership launched today

23 Jun

Today One World Action is launching a new campaign to find One Hundred Unseen Powerful Women who change the world. We want to highlight the achievements of women around the world who make a difference in ways that are not always visible or recognised. The campaign will showcase innovative modes of leadership by women who might not be in conventional positions of power but who use their resources creatively to challenge, question and change their lives and the lives of those around them.

100 Unseen Powerful Women Who Change The World

Complementing existing lists of rich and powerful women, we want to shed more light on the ways women can have an impact in many different walks of life and show how women can be, and are, active participants in society leading to positive political, social and economic and change.

We are asking you to nominate women you think should be included in our list of One Hundred Women. Our scope for nominations is as broad as the strengths of the women pushing for change. Whether they are community activists, artists, inventors, educators, health workers or entrepreneurs, we want to hear about the women who people think have made a difference to their communities and to pay tribute to their efforts. We want to celebrate the significant changes women make through their bravery, commitment and leadership.

I would like to introduce Durgabai Vyam – the first woman to be nominated for the list:

Durgabai Vyam is one of the innovative artists of the controversial graphic novel Bhimayana – a novel that confronts caste discrimination against Dalits in India. Caste discrimination denies Dalits, basic human rights and confines them in a system that rates them as less than human.

Durgabai Vyam

Durgabai has played a pivotal role bringing to light the often taboo subject of how Dalits are treated and has exposed the many costs – emotional, psychological and physical – of caste discrimination. Through her compelling use of traditional graphic art, Durgabai’s artistic skill provides the book with a unique and powerful vision.

Through her work Durgabai has taken risks: she has transcended the boundaries of the traditionally western genre of graphic novels by refusing to confine her art within conventional boxes. Durgabai’s innovative style challenges perceptions of the acceptability of caste discrimination and encourages dialogue by confronting societal values. Using her artistic vision to visually stimulate change, Durgabai has paved the way for further discussions which highlight and challenge caste discrimination, giving a voice to Dalits through this vibrant and compelling piece of work.

For more information and to nominate your unseen powerful women please go to: https://oneworldaction.wordpress.com/100-unseen-powerful-women/  

We will be awarding prizes to the top ten women within several categories. To donate to the campaign fund, which will also support One World Action’s work to empower women leaders around the world, please visit the following page: http://www.justgiving.com/OneHundredWomen  

Or text POWA00 followed by £2, £5 or £10 to 70070

“Untouchable” in Mayfair: Challenging discrimination with the launch of Bhimayana

13 Apr


The Nehru Centre at the heart of London’s Mayfair is renowned for events promoting Indian high culture. It’s a beautiful building in the classical 18th century style and was once owned by the Duke of Cambridge. The lease now belongs to the High Commission of India.

It was not, therefore, the obvious place to launch a book about someone “untouchable”. But on April 12, One World Action co-hosted the launch of a graphic novel that tells the story of the life of Dr. Ambedkar: the largely forgotten hero of the Indian Independence movement and drafter of the Indian constitution but also a Dalit (formerly known as “untouchables”).

The central message of the book – Bhimayana – is a challenge to discrimination based on caste. It is drawn in a vivid traditional style and was two and half years in the making. The two artists Subhash and Durgabai Vyam worked with Navayana Publishing and its dynamic director Anand to create a powerful story interweaving the life of Dr. Ambedkhar with contemporary experiences of untouchability.

Artists Subhash and Durgabai Vyam

For One World Action the production of the book and the story it tells provided an opportunity to draw attention to Dalit rights and enabled us to take our campaign against caste discrimination in a new direction.  One World Action provided a small grant to Navayana and the artists to finance the production of the book.

As the speakers at the launch pointed out, caste discrimination is one of the most pernicious and hidden forms of discrimination in the 21st century. To be “untouchable” is to be less than human and Dalit children grow up with the message that they are not equal. Celebrated historian of India Patrick French stressed how 160 million Dalits were still invisible in many parts of Indian society – even after over 60 years of independence. Poet Meena Kandasamy spoke of her own experiences of discrimination and read a poem about the experience of a young Dalit girl being attacked for drinking water at school from the wrong pot. And over 100 guests were able to view the work and learn for themselves more about the life of Dr. Ambedkar as well as the work that One World Action does to promote the rights of Dalits – particularly women and girls.

In spite of its incredible economic development and growing political power, caste discrimination is still a taboo subject in India. It was therefore fitting that Bhimayana’s ground-breaking international launch took place at The Nehru Centre – the heart of the Indian cultural establishment – putting Dr. Ambedkar into his rightful place as a hero of modern India.

One World Action: Dalit Rights are Human Rights

Support One World Action in ending caste discrimination

Navayana publishing house