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Dalit Rights

Rights of Dalits

Situation of Dalits in Gujarat
The ‘dalits’ literally means oppressed; are officially known as scheduled castes (SC), the castes that were untouchable prior to India’s independence. The dalits are also known as ‘harijan’ (people of god); people who are aware of rights and ‘citizen’ status in Republic of India, prefer to be addressed as ‘dalits’. The population of dalits is 16% of the total population in India while about 8% in Gujarat.

The notion of ‘impurity’ as per varna vyavastha (caste system) leads to ‘untouchability’ and social discrimination of dalits. Dalits are further divided into sub castes due to internalization of caste ideology and they practice discrimination among themselves. The manifestations of social discrimination are underdevelopment, landlessness, limited access to public places and high level of illiteracy among the lower castes in the pyramid of scheduled castes. Therefore, ‘social inclusion’ is the key to development and empowerment of dalits in India.

BSC started working with dalits in Bhalbara region (central Gujarat) in late 1970s and learnt that ‘social inclusion’ approach demands creation of assets, access and control over production systems and reducing dependence of dalits on upper castes with better economic status and greater political participation. The ‘principle of cooperation’ was adopted for institutionalizing agenda of ‘social inclusion’ and in all 10 cooperatives were established in the region – 4 Tree Grower’s Cooperative, 2 Fisheries’, 3 Agriculture and one for Women’s Saving & Credit; over and above these, a federation of cooperatives was established by 1980s. Under these cooperatives, about 1100 acres of land was allotted by the government.

With economic empowerment of dalits in Bhalbara region, the caste conflicts were inevitable as the hegemony of the upper castes were challenged. The ‘Golana case’ is well known for dalit massacre and BSC’s fight for justice. In all 4 dalits were killed, 16 grievously injured and several houses were burnt by the upper caste in 1986 and the legal battle was fought upto Supreme Court and in 2006, 16 upper caste people were convicted.

The domain of ‘rights of dalits’ then included atrocities on dalits and the Government of India enacted a law for protection of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. However, the implementation of this law is very poor and dalits have been continued to be discriminated in various walks of life – overtly and covertly.

At present, ‘hijarat’ (fleeing native village) and social boycott are two major problems faced by dalits in Gujarat. Awareness of caste based discrimination among Dalits is increasing and their assertion is also increasing to demand their rights/ to fight against discrimination. Dalit leadership still operates from the victimhood mindset and is emancipatory in their approach.  This leads to beneficiary state of mind and disables them to influence larger socio-eco-political processes.

Despite Constitutional Safeguards and Social Welfare programmes and schemes for Scheduled Castes, their underdevelopment and atrocities on them are persistent based on discriminatory practices and prevalent mindset in India.

We have been working with dalits with ‘social inclusion’, ‘empowerment’ and ‘right based’ approaches. The key strategies are: spreading awareness; mobilization & organization; legal support & action for justice; creating cadre of community leaders perspective & skill building through trainings, review meetings and exposure trips; and advocacy for the rights including dialogue with the government, work as ‘pressure group’ for policy changes and networking with subject experts and civil society organizations (CSO).

The activities carried out are for increase in political participation; enhancing skills and empowering Social Justice Committee under local governance system, i.e. Panchayati Raj; documentation of human rights violation and fighting legal cases for justice; getting access to basic amenities and benefits of government schemes; organizing mass events like public hearing, social audit, rally, dharna; conducting trainings; collective dining to promote dalit unity; and exposure trips.

BSC and Banaskantha Jilla Dalit Sangathan (BDS)

BDS is a people’s organization promoted by BSC and was registered in 2002 to address the issues of the Dalits in the district. It works in 500 villages of 10 Talukas of Banaskantha. With the strength of more than 5,000 members at present, the organization is involved in mobilizing and organizing Dalits in Banaskantha to address people’s issues, strengthening Dalit movement at taluka and district levels.

BDS takes up issues of discrimination and gender atrocities; Dalit unity among 9 Schedule castes; supports to organize protests to highlight injustices to state institution and human rights organization through the help of mass media. BDS also engaged in legal interventions through relevant litigation forms for policy advocacy; in implementing relief and livelihood programmes in extremely drought prone areas, thereby enabling the people to take up the question of development of their region as a Right’s issue. Similarly, it works for increasing the access of dalits, the marginalized and the poor families for their socio-economic rights; and creating a cadre of community leaders to strengthen dalit movement in Gujarat.

BSC has been involved in capacitating the organization to identify issues, draw out strategies for campaigns, provide information for advocacy and negotiate with various stakeholders.

BDS integrates its activities with the activities of women’s saving and credit cooperatives which are promoted by BSC in 6 Talukas (Hadad, Vadgam, Palanpur, Vav, Tharad, Dhanera) of Banaskantha. However, these 6 women’s cooperatives are functioning autonomously now. On 30th September, 2008 there were 8,200 members from 353 villages of 6 cooperatives with total fund of Rs. 70,47,830/-.

Land as an empowerment tool for dalits
Land ownership is a critical issue for Dalit in Banaskantha; this includes private (cultivable land) ownership and public land (pasture, for cemetery, housing, etc) ownership.

The land allotment under Land Ceiling Act is slowed down from year 2000 but those who were given land between 1985 and 2000 in Vav, Tharad and Dhanera taluka; of them, about 60% do not possess land. One of the main reasons for non-possession is that they scared of original land owner who is either Rajput or Patel.

Separate land for crematorium for dalits is not allotted in each village; dalits bury the dead and therefore they required separate land a graveyard. 


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