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Publication | Report/Paper

Political and Electoral Participation of Dalits in South Asia

Survey Report

Electoral systems empower the people to choose their leaders. Inclusive participation in the electoral system is essential to the functioning of democratic institutions and processes. However, in many parts of South Asia, the history and remnants of the caste system continue to affect the lives and political and electoral participation of those at the bottom of the hierarchy, such as Dalits. This report comprises an analysis of survey data of Dalits across South Asia with questions on elections-related issues and South Asian countries' legal framework affording Dalits equal political participation, particularly in Nepal. Six in-depth interviews with key informants from the Election Commission of Nepal, the Nepal National Dalit Commission, and other Nepali electoral stakeholders informed the survey findings.


Political and Electoral Participation of Dalits in South Asia is an outcome of the collaborative efforts of the International Commission for Dalit Rights (ICDR) and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). All rights reserved.

Permission Statement: No part of this work may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of ICDR and IFES.

This report is made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under Award No. AID-367-LA-17-00001. The contents of this assessment are the sole responsibility of ICDR and IFES and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

Table of Contents


Introduction and Methodology


  • Participation
  • Representation 
  • India and Nepal 
  • Bangladesh 
  • Pakistan and Sri Lanka
  • Recommendations for Governments
  • Recommendations for Electoral Management Bodies


  • International and Regional Human Rights Frameworks 
  • India’s Legal Framework Nepal’s Legal Framework
  • Legal Frameworks in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka

About ICDR

ICDR International is a leading global movement of people striving to eliminate Caste, Race or Work, and Descent-based Discrimination (CRWDD), inequality, and injustice. We campaign for the rights and dignity of nearly 300 million Dalits, marginalized and underprivileged people worldwide who face CRWDD and social exclusion. With over 255 members across the globe, ICDR collaborates, networks, and provides technical support for its associates, civil society, government agencies, and communities. We continue to promote diversity, equity, inclusion, civil rights, dignity, and nondiscriminatory law. ICDR mobilizes the global legal community to support and protect Dalit rights, reform caste-biased justice systems, and provide technical legal support for lawyers, civil/Dalit rights advocates, and a range of victim communities. We empower Dalits, racial minorities, and marginalized and underprivileged people, who often face disproportionate challenges and obstacles in living a dignified life. Through a Media Fellowship program, ICDR investigates, exposes discrimination, educates, and mobilizes the journalists, media, and public for changes in policy and to transform societies. ICDR is a nonprofit organization [501(c)(3)] under the United States tax code based in Washington, D.C., and has several field offices across South Asia in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal.

About IFES

IFES advances democracy for a better future. We collaborate with civil society, public institutions, and the private sector to build resilient democracies that deliver for everyone. As a global leader in the promotion and protection of democracy, our technical assistance and applied research develops trusted electoral bodies capable of conducting credible elections; effective and accountable governing institutions; civic and political processes in which all people can safely and equally participate; and innovative ways in which technology and data can positively serve elections and democracy. Since 1987, IFES has worked in more than 145 countries, from developing to mature democracies. IFES is a global, nonpartisan organization based in Arlington, Virginia, USA, and registered as a non-profit organization [501(c)(3)] under the United States tax code.


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