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29 Hum. Rts. Q. 167 (2007)
"Dalit Rights Are Human Rights": Caste Discrimination, International Activism, and the Construction of a New Human Rights Issue

handle is hein.journals/hurq29 and id is 169 raw text is: HUMAN RIGHTS QUARTERLY
Dalit Rights are Human Rights:
Caste Discrimination, International
Activism, and the Construction of a
New Human Rights Issue
Clifford Bob*
This article analyzes recent efforts by India's Dalits (Untouchables) to trans-
form centuries-old caste-based discrimination into an international human
rights issue. Comparing early failures and later successes in international
activism, the article demonstrates that the Dalits have achieved limited but
important advances among transnational NGOs, international organizations,
and foreign governments since the late 1990s. What explains these suc-
cesses-and what lessons does the Dalit experience hold for other groups
seeking to transform domestic grievances into internationally recognized
human rights issues? The article makes two primary arguments. First, organi-
zational changes among Dalit activists played a major role in these successes,
most importantly the formation of a unified Dalit network within India and
the subsequent creation of a transnational solidarity network. Second, rhe-
torical changes played a key role, as Dalits moved from their long-standing
focus on caste-based discrimination to a broader framing within the more
internationally acceptable terminology of discrimination based on work
Clifford Bob is Associate Professor of Political Science at Duquesne University. He is the
author of The Marketing of Rebellion: Insurgents, Media, and International Activism (Cam-
bridge University Press, 2005) and has contributed to several edited volumes including
Globalization and Human Rights (Alison Brysk ed., Berkeley: University of California Press,
2002). His articles have appeared in such journals as Foreign Policy, American Journal of
I terational Law, Social Problems, and Journal of Human Ri.hts.
For comments on earlier versions of this article, I thank Elizabeth Hanson, Julie Mertus,
Jeremy Pressman, James Ron, Henry Thiagaraj, Claude Welch, and Richard A. Wilson. I
presented parts of the argument at the University of Connecticut's Human Rights Institute in
2003, the 2003 International Studies Association annual meeting, and the 2002 American
Political Science Association annual meeting.
Human Rights Quarterly 29 (2007) 167-193 © 2007 by The Johns Hopkins University Press

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