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Dalit Woman Activitists

Fighting the odds

Name: Anita Vijay Jambhulkar.
Age: 38 years
Qualification: Std VIII
I, Anita Jambhulkar, have lived in Nagpur Chawl since my birth. My elder sister had a love marriage, and so I was married off at the age of 14 years, without taking my opinion, to man who was handicapped. That is why, in spite of being interested in learning, I was forced to give it up. Since I was married early, I also became a mother quite early; I have 2 daughters and one son.
Current Activities:
After marriage, to fulfill my economic responsibility, I took up work in an NGO and undertook several activities. The activities I have undertaken so far include the following:
  1. Workshops on mental and physical health of young girls.
  2. Classes for young girls to help with their education.
After working with young girls for 5 years I have understood the problems faced by young girls as well as Dalit women. And I have developed interest to work on these issues. And therefore I took up Para-legal education in Chetna Mahila Vikas Organization. I have made use of this education while working on family issues; I also worked to help Dalit women achieve civil rights.
I had to manage both social and household responsibility. I had to manage the increasing costs of living and rearing the family, which included their health and education as well. My husband being handicapped could not earn well and making ends meet was becoming increasingly difficult. At the same time I was appointed as a counselor in Janvahi Mahila Sanghatan.
I have organized several protests against domestic violence, illegal sale of liquor, as well as ‘taala todo, annaj baato’.
While getting the caste certificate for my son, I realized the difficultly one has to face while getting these legal documents, without which many facilities are unavailable to the people. Therefore I decided to work for the SC, ST, NT, DNT’s to get their ration card, caste certificates and voter’s identity card.
I have also worked with ‘Nagri Vasti Vikas’ and helped 20 to 30 families, widowed women and young students to get subsidies and loans.
I have also worked with ‘Nari’ organization which works on the issue of HIV/AIDS, where I have worked as a peer educator.
Future Plans:
  1. To encourage and motivate youth to take up education.
  2. To provide information regarding governmental schemes to Dalit, NT, DNTs and widows, and to help them get it.
  3. To set up self-help groups for women empowerment.
  4. To help women who have been victims of domestic violence.

Mundava Settlement – their problems and issues

Name: Suman Shankar Gaikwad
Age: 38 years
Caste: Takari
Educational Qualification: STD – X
I am Suman Shankar Gaikwad, I have been working in the field of social work for the last 10 years. I belong to middle class society. I have two children. I have been interested in social work since I was in school. In school, I had seen discrimination happening against a girl, but at that time I was not aware of discrimination, but then I helped the girl by organizing a protest against the teacher. After I finished STD- X, my parents got me married. After marriage I came to live in the Mundva Settlement. Mundva Settlement was set up during the British period, in 1947, which comprised of nomadic and de-notified tribes including kaikadi, wadar, Pardhi, kanjharbhat, ramoshi, takari, etc. all these castes were kept together because they were considered as criminal tribes. While living in this settlement, I realized that the problems of these communities were very serious and grave in nature. The people did not get their civil rights; they did not get rationing cards, caste certificates, etc.
The condition of women is also very serious. The youth are also misguided. There are problems of lack of education, alcoholism, superstition and health problems are faced by the people. When I understood these problems I wished to work on them.
Current Activities:
  1. I established ‘Zopadpati Suraksha Dal Mahila Agadi’, and have tried to solve various social problems.
  2. Solved the problem of water and electricity availability.
  3. Helped 300 families to get their rationing card, caste certificate and voting cards.
  4. Helped to get subsidy and loans from social welfare department and Khadi Gram Udyog, for small scale business.
  5. Adult learning classes for women were started by me, to help educate women.
  6. I helped to implement the schemes of NABARD through Gram Panchayat.
  7. At village level I established 7 women’s self help group and helped them to get loans for employment generation.
  8. I am also working on the issue of grazing land.
  9. Whenever the police arrest anyone belonging to the de-notified tribe, I help them, by informing the government officials as well as reporters and help those who are arrested by getting justice.
These are the activities which I have conducted in my community.
Future Plans:
My future plans include the following:
  1. Women Empowerment – social, economic, political and cultural development thru self-help groups.
  2. To give legal education to women. To develop interest among young girls regarding education.
  3.  To spread awareness about health issues to young girls.
  4. The Nomadic and De-Notified tribes do not get their civil rights, due to which they can not avail of different government schemes; therefore I wish to work on these issues.
  5. The various sub-castes have differences amongst themselves and also among other castes; I wish to work to reduce the differences among the various castes.

  1. Ranjeeta Ganesh Pawar
  2. (Lamani Community)
  3. Mother Tongue: Lamani, Marathi
 Awards:  Jeevan Gaurav Puraskar-2007, Uddhovrao Yuva Puraskar-2009
Ranjeeta was born in 27/11/1984. Originally Ranjeeta is a native of Osmanabad. Her father in Ex-military person. She was born in Assam as at that time her father was deputed in Assam. There are eight members in Rajeetas family including her parents, three sisters & two brothers .her father was patriarchal so they give all opportunities to the sons and he looked after the needs of the son’s and neglected the daughters.
Ranjitas mother is a very kind hearted lady & has great affection for her daughter and supported to daughter .But Ranjitas father is an orthodox person & behaves in the same manner. They are Lamaan by caste & as per tradition & rituals of their caste; her 3 sister got married at an early age. Their education came to an end with their marriage but their brothers were allowed to continue their education. There was discrimination not only with regard to education, but also other things.
They lived in ‘Tanda’ in osmanabad. ‘Tanda’ means ‘people of Lamaan families stay in group of 10-15 families outside the village’.
Educational Background:
 Since childhood Ranjeeta was a girl with daring & determination .Her primary education up to 4th standard to place in the school in ‘Tanda’ & the passed in merit. The educational facility in ‘Tanda’ School is only up to the 4th Standard so after that student from Lamaan caste has to go to school in the village for further education. 
Primary school on ‘Tanda’ in meant only for boys and girls in the ‘Tanda’ because of this there was no difference of caste or teasing related to caste. Ranjeeta never experienced this difference. When Ranjeeta joined village school in the 5th standard then she faced this difference on the basis of caste, students of Maratha caste used to tease the Lamani Students based on caste & even teachers would make them sit on last benches only because they belong to the ‘Tanda’. But she never liked this practice hence; she was demanding and never sat on the last bench.
She was a leader in the school from 5th to 10thStandard. This was not tolerated by one of the teacher & he abused her by using un-parliamentary words, beat her & also threatened her for being leader of the class. Instead of getting frightened of this incidence, Ranjeeta went straight to the principle & told him the details of the incidence. Thereafter no teacher dared to scold Ranjeeta.
Ranjeeta use to take active part in social and sports events of the school. She proved meritorious in this too. It was very good period for her from 5th to 10thstandard. She also received championship award for her overall performance during this period.
People in ‘Tanda’ were of same opinion that as per custom of Lamaan caste, girls should not get higher education .Her father also denied for her higher studies. But Ranjeeta was very firm on her stand & her mother also convinced her father. She decided to join science branch but there also because of strong opposition from her father she took admission in Shri Krishna College, for commerce in 11th standard. Unfortunately she failed in English hence she suffered from lot of depression & tension. But she consents herself saying that “failure in the first step to success”. I cannot lose my heart as I wish to do lot many things for my caste. Then after she again appeared for examination & got through. She already had plans in her mind about future. She used to love teaching small children of the ‘Tanda’. She used to give informal education to these children.    
One day she realized that if, she wish to continue teaching skills. By doing D.Ed, my teaching skill may be developed, so with this intension she decided to join D.Ed. Ranjeetas brother also D.Ed & for his admission as well as for getting job, her father gave donation. Ranjeeta was aware of this & she vowed that she will not give donation for getting admission for D.Ed fortunately she stood in merit list of women’s college of education for which she did not paid any donation & in due course she completed her D.Ed.
Education of girls in ‘Tanda’ use to stop as soon as they attain puberty & they also get married at an early age of puberty. Almost 90% of the girls in ‘Tanda’ get married before they became mature by age. Only Ranjeeta could learn because of her determination & daring. People from her ‘Tanda,’ use to scold & pass comments at her father. They also instigate him to get her marry & what is the use of educating her? Her father was also of same opinion. But her mother contributed lot for her education & always gave every support to Ranjeeta. As days passed, her father’s attitude changed & he also started co-operating her.
Turning Point:
Right from childhood, Ranjeeta experienced inhuman treatment not only in family because of being girl but in society also as a girl from Lamaan caste. In her worst condition of her cast & she also realize that she must do something for her own people.
Actually she started thinking on this when she was in 11th standard. Ranjeeta mother was member of self of group which running by ‘Vikas Sanstha’. She was aware of problem faced by women’s. Ranjeeta also started working for this organization as a voluntary. Ranjeeta likes to work with children & she used to give informal education to them at the same time Lamaan language is used maximum on ‘Tanda’ & therefore most of the children don’t have knowledge of Marathi language so she used to teach them Marathi also.
Therefore working with them she realizes that they are deprived of basic needs & also schooling material. So she decided to raise funds for this. She started the collected fund from Doctor, Engineers, teachers and businessmen in Osmanabad, she was collected in terms of the money and cloth for helping the children. Then after she was not satisfied about only collected fund and fulfilling the needs of children hence she decide to opening the orphanage for children and this idea she discuss with ‘Vikas Sanstha’ president . He agreed to this idea.
 After this she took help of Balaji, Prem, and Babita for collected the fund for started the orphanage. After this they started in the year 1995.After sometime Ranjeeta left town for her D.Ed studies resulting in loosing contact with orphanage got financial aid and they forgot people who put initial efforts & drove them out.
After this incidence Ranjeeta, Balaji, prem, decided to work on their own instead of working under someone else. So they made foundation of ‘Samarthya Sanstha’ in this year 2008.    
By this time Ranjeeta was force to get married by her family members. Ranjeeta had already decided that she will marry a boy from other caste. Because she knew that if she married a Lamaan boy then she will have to work as a teacher hence she was not agree. While working for organization she used to attend many workshops. In such a workshop she met Mr.Rajendra Jadhav, who proposed her for married. Mr Rajendra was also working as social worker. Both decided to marry but Ranjendra is belonging to ‘kaikadi’ caste while Ranjeeta is belonging to ‘Lamaani’. So it was difficult to agree their family members for this marriage. They spend entire year to convince their family members. At least they married in satara on 29th may ,2009. Rajendra help to Ranjeeta for their working.  
Now Ranjeeta started working with people from Laman , Vadar, Mahar Lamaan, Mahar mang & Muslim. She was decided to work on breaking difference based on caste and humiliation on the some. At the same time she decided to fights for stopping inhuman treatment & to give rights to people of backward class to stop difference by gender & to give equal rights for living to male and female .she also wanted to give equality in education to children from backward class.
Ranjeeta and her team is working with women and children and young generation. As on date they have formed 100 self help group from 45 Tanda and help them to get loan from banks to open the business like glossary shop, floor mill, Tailoring shop, Bag manufacturing, animal husbandry.ect.
Youth from Lamaani community was not getting proper guidance. So considering them as a major link or cause to improve community, they started different type’s education for this youth. They also started library on ‘Tanda’ for youth. Special programme are arranged to bring awareness of girl education. They have found changed in certain things after started working in community, such as now female taking education up to collage level. Majority women and families taking borrow the money from lenders on the interest. But after formation self help group women saving the money hence this is helpful for crisis situation. In past, women were not allowed to be member of ‘Panchayat’ and youth use to remain away from this. But now women are part of ‘Panchayat’ and younger generation is also taking active part.
 In 2007, Ranjeeta was appointed as members of ‘Tanta mukta police samiti” for resolve the common problem of community in police station. And mostly they solve the women’s problem in different area. As per as women problem are concerned, Ranjeeta thinks that through the problems of ordinary women are solved problems of ‘Dalit’. Women will continue as they are not educating. As also, as long as politics bases on castes in there women from community will remain as it is.
The challenges yet to overcome: 
  • To start resource centre for youth and give them training for developments of this community youth.
  • To sale/ market product prepared by women from self help group for empowerment.
  • To prohibited the child marriage this community.
  • To bring awareness of family planning
  • To increase the no of girls going to school & also to help them for higher education.
  • To reduce the abortion rate in this community.

Grace Banu

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Dalit and transgender activist Grace Banu from Tamil Nadu, India
Grace Banu is a Dalit and transgender activist. An Electrical and Electronics Engineering (EEE) student, she is the first transgender person to be admitted to an engineering college in the state of Tamil Nadu. As of 2014, she is studying at Sri Krishna College of Engineering.
Grace Banu was born and raised in Tuticorin district, Tamil Nadu. A Dalit, she says that from early in her schooldays she was not allowed to attend the regular hours of 9.30 am to 4 pm. She was told that in order to attend school she had to agree to come in to school at 10 am, after all the other students were in and settled, and leave at 3.30 pm before others finished. Other students were told that they would be punished if they interacted with her. This kind of untouchability, based on both her caste and gender identity, caused her to attempt suicide and give up on the idea of finishing school.
Banu's family rejected her in 2008 when she told them of her gender identity.
Despite financial difficulties and discrimination from classmates and teachers, Banu undertook a Diploma in Computer Engineering. She was the first transgender person to be admitted to an engineering college in the state of Tamil Nadu.
Banu struggled financially to remain in college, in part because she was not receiving any support from her family at the time. Responding to a call for help, a local businessman launched an online campaign raising funds for her to complete the course.

Professional life

After completing her Diploma with honours (95%), Banu was selected to work for a software firm when she had excelled at a campus interview. While she worked as a programmer in this firm, she quit the job due to discrimination.
She filed a Right to Information (RTI) to find out if Anna University accepted transgender students. On finding out that they did not, she applied against their rules anyway and was given admission to a private affiliated college, Sri Krishna College of Engineering.


Banu believes that ultimately Reservation, dedicated places for members of different groups, is key to the uplift of transgender people. "No amount of temporary governmental and non-governmental schemes can have the transgenerational impact that reservations can have. Reservations are the only way," she says. She has been advocating for Dalit and transgender rights, demanding along with other transgender people for reservation based on gender identity as well as caste.
Banu insists that the intersectionality of these oppressions matter. She believes that Dalits can be transphobic and that the transgender community replicates structures of caste privilege. She says that upper-caste transgender people bring Brahminism into transgender cultural, community and organising spaces. Despite their oppressions, upper-caste transgender women dominate all the positions of leadership, call the shots and define the needs for the whole community." Denying caste in the transgender community is like "hiding a whole pumpkin in a plate of rice," she says.
Banu was active in voicing concerns and questioning the death of a fellow transwoman named Tara (Thara), who burned to death in Chennai.
  • Sunita’s struggle
  • ( from Pardhi Community)
  • December 17, 2009 by Manuski                                                                         

  • Sunita Eknath Bhosale was born in Shiroor. Her family consists of the five members, father-mother, two sisters, and one brother. Sunita came from a socio-economically backward family.  Sunita and her family lived in very poor conditions. Her father used to earn his living from hunting, which is the traditional work of fase-paradhi, the fase-paradhi community is stigmatized and criminalized by calling them thieves. Her mother was handicapped with her left hand due to which she could not contribute in household chores, Sunita being eldest amongst the children, the responsibility to handle the house was on Sunita at a very tender age. When she was 3 years old her father died, Sunita’s mother did menial work to earn the living for family but when she could not work due to her physical disability, she earned the living from begging.                                        

  • Mother could not keep up with her failing health thus the responsibilities to earn the living came over to Sunita. She worked as a laborer in a farm for Rs. 10 per day for a year; she then worked in a sugar factory. This was a heavy work of lifting containers full of stones on her head. She had to leave this job and she also began begging for a living.Even though sunita was the earning member of the family she experienced discrimination from her mother’s side. Her mother was patriarchal in her interactions with daughters. She looked after her son’s needs and almost neglect the daughters.

  • Today sunita’s sister is married and her brother works in a national defense academy as a gardener.
Educational Background
Sunita started schooling when she was 8 years old. During her school years she faced discrimination from the classmates and teachers who belonged to upper caste. In the school the responsibility to fill the drinking water was on the upper caste Maratha community children. Sunita was not allowed to drink the filled water but she had to go all the way to the hand pump and draw water from there. She was always teased on her caste name; her school mates would humiliate her for begging. Sunita was very rebellious. She would not tolerate the teasing and humiliation but she and her brother would beat the kids who had teased her. Sunita and her sisters were school drop outs; sunita did her schooling up to the 6th grade and her sister till the 4th. The poor family conditions and patriarchy were the main reasons why sunita and her sisters could complete the studies. Their brother made it to graduation in arts.
Turning point
When sunita was 14 years old she attended a conference organized by Manavi Hakka Abhiyan.[1] This conference has a very huge influence on sunita. Eknath Awad and Rajendra Kale were the main speakers of the conference. Listening to these speakers speaking problems of Fase-Pardhi community sunita felt encouraged to work for upliftment of her community. While she was motivated to work she was also anxious if she can do a lot with her low education and poverty stricken family background. She took inspiration from the story of a great writer Anna Bhau Sathe who went to school only a day and a half whereas she had studied till the grade 6.
Sunita started working with the activists Vilas Bhosale and Popat Chavan. She started actively participating in marches against atrocities and women’s meeting held in manavi hakka abhiyan. She gradually realized that the situation of fase paradhi is very critical and grim. She saw that Fase paardhi are the people who constantly migrate due to which they don’t own a house or a land, they don’t get their names registered in the election list and they don’t even have a ration card. There was a high number of child marriage, lack of education and no family planning, lack of health care facilities were the main problems that were observed by sunita.
Moreover Fase paradhi are stigmatized and criminalized. It was being seen that whenever there would be a crime in a village police and the whole village would first target and attack the fase paradhi community members. The atrocities by villagers and police were severe. Sunita felt a great need to work on these issues due to which fase paradhi are marginalsed. She visioned dignity, equality and rights for fase paradhi communities which were denied to them. She worked on these vision delegently and she observed that fase paradhi community is getting settled at one place and stabilizing which ensures trust amongst villagers for the community. They have ration cards and their names are registered in election list. She also saw a big number of fase paradhi children are getting enrolled in school.
 Today sunita is head of ‘Tanta Mukta Samiti[2]’; with the help of this committee sunita resolves the conficts amongst the villagers and fase paradhi. Not only has this but sunita also resolved the conficts of Non-Dalit women. She talks of specificity of violence and atrocities on fase paradhi women; she thinks fase paradhi women are more vulnerable than Non-Dalit upper caste women because of the low caste they belong to. She also feels that solving problems of women won’t help fase paradhi women as it’s a problem of caste and gender. She wants to ensure the rights of fase paradhi community.
Future Plans
  1. Creating a networking of activists at Maharashtra level.
  2. Putting pressure on the state to create a special mahamandal for fase paardhi community.
  3. Eradicate the stigma of criminalization of the fase paradhi community.
  4. Appealing the government for the creation of hostel facilities for fase paradhi children to encourage them in education.
  5. Abolishing the ‘jat panchayat’ prevailing in the fase paradhi community.
  6. Encouraging the active political participation of fase pardhi community.
  7. Helping fase paradhi youth to become class one officers.

Ratna Ma: Fighting for her rights

Dalit women of Moinabad Mandal, however, receive little success in securing work under MGNREGA. Ratna Ma says her demands for work under MGNREGA to Mandal officials have so far been unanswered. She explains the triple discrimination she experienced: “I am a single widowed woman, on top of that, I am a Dalit, so it is always difficult to find work – no one wants to employ you”.
Unlike many others, Ratna Ma possesses half an acre of land where she plants paddy and grows flowers. Apart from tending to her small landholding, she works for other landowners for a payment of 60 rupees per day. Under MGNREGA, Ratna Ma will be entitled to a minimum wage of Rs. 100. Ratna Ma says she has been given a job card which entitles her to work under the scheme but no work has come her way.
Ratna Ma has attended workshops held by DSS on three occasions in the past one year. “It was the first time Dalit women had come together to discuss important issues, ” says Ranta Ma, as she attended the Moinabad Mandal Development Office to demand work under MGNREGA with Bina, a staff member of DSS.
Ratna Ma has two sons, a 23 and 20 year old, who are also dependent on her. “It’s frustrating when the next generation also have to sit idle. Caste is the main obstacle for me and my sons not getting work under MGNREGA,” she states angrily.
Ratna Ma says “so far nothing has been solved”. Yet, Ratna Ma is prepared to go to any level to fight for her rights. “I am prepared to go to the Chief Minister. Under MGNREGA, I could work at the Angan Wadi centres, look after children or help in serving midday meals to school children. I can also be paid to work on my small landholding which will be eligible as ‘work’ under MGNREGA.”
The event ended on a high note echoing the determination of women like Ratna Ma.
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Dalit women tour Germany and the US to raise awareness of caste violence

In an effort to raise global awareness and engagement on the issue of caste-based violence and discrimination, particularly against Dalit women, a group of Dalit women leaders have toured through Germany and the United States this past month with more tour dates coming up. The women are using visual storytelling through photographs and videos, participating in seminars and engaging on social media via #dalitwomenfight to bring their message to an international audience.
#DalitWomenFight 2015 North American Tour
After the success of the Dalit Women’s Self-Respect tour in 2014 in India, a number of Dalit female activists have come to the United States highlight struggle of Dalit women in seeking justice and “breaking the silence on the epidemic of caste based sexual violence.”
The North Ameican tour features Dalit rights activists Manisha Devi, Sanghapali Aruna and Asha Kowtal. The tour also includes a photo exhibition by New York-based artist Thenmozhi Soundararajan. These women have been involved in the Dalit women’s self respect marches that have been taking place in India throughout 2014 and also in 2015. The organisers write on their website:
“The Dalit Women’s Self-Respect movement is India’s largest historic challenge to caste-apartheid and caste-based sexual violence. In 2014, Dalit women and activists who have had enough of India’s epidemic of caste violence, jumped into jeeps, cars, bikes, and rickshaws and traveled state to state in the largest freedom ride to demand an end to caste based violence in Indian history. At each stop activists comforted survivors, confronted perpetrators, and called out corrupt public officials and the State who are responsible for this violence. As a result of our organizing, the conversation of India’s failure to implement the rule of law for all has spread to over 50 cities in the last year alone
A national delegation of field organizers working on the front lines to end caste apartheid are in the U.S. this September and October seeking justice for Dalit women, by breaking the silence on the epidemic of caste based sexual violence.
Join the Dalit Women’s Self Respect Movement on this historic delegation, where these activists working on a transnational grassroots campaign to end caste based patriarchy will speak further on their demands to India and collaborators across the world to implement the rule of law for all and an end to the impunity faced by Dalits.”
The #DalitWomenFight 2015 North America tour has already visited Philadelphia, New Jersey, Washington DC, Boston and New York and upcoming stops on the tour include Berkeley, Stanford, San Francisco, Los Angelse, Utah, Seattle, Chicago, Austin and Detroit.
All events are free and open to the public.  More information and details of events are available on the Dalitwomenfight Facebook page . A website for the movement has also been launched on with more information as well as photos and illustrations.
Germany tour
In Germany, in early Septemeber, Asha Kowtal from All India Womens Rights Forum (AIDMAM), Nusrat Khan and Michael Gottlob from Amnesty International (AI) India, Germany and the Dalit Solidarity Network in Germany (DSiD) organised a series of events to highlight caste discrimination and caste-based violence against women.
According to the organisers the facts shared with German students and other people in the five different cities visited shocked many in the audience but also spurned solidarity among the listeners who wished to support the struggle.
“In the past decades we have been lobbying so much on different levels, we have been speaking to so many decision makers – be it in European countries, be it EU, be it at UN level”, Asha Kowtal from AIDMAM said, “I feel it is time to explore new approaches A global movement is needed to make a change, to bring pressure about decision makers. We have to make more contact with these interested people in your countries who are prepared to be part of our global movement,” Asha concluded.
“Amnesty InternationaI are taking a closer look at the structural and caste-based dimension of violence against women – particularly in rural areas”, Nusrat Khan from Amnesty International shared in her discussions.

ChitCChitralekha attacked

On January 31, 2014, Chitralekha (the dalit woman autorickshaw driver from Payannur, Kerala, who has been fighting CITU/CPM men and who has faced repeated attacks from them in the past) and her family were again attacked at her home by a group of CPM goons belonging to its youth wing. Her husband is now in police custody facing trumped up charges and she lives in constant fear. This is her account of what happened.
After I wrote about how a crowd attacked me on May 18th, 2013, and how my husband was attacked on October 21st, I was attacked again on January 31. This time it was a small fight between me and a small Gurkha boy grazing goats in the field in front of my house that led to the attack. The attack was carried out by a group of DFYI workers (youth wing of CPM) from Kandamkolangara, Aandankoyil and Kunjumangalam.
The boy used to allow his goat to graze in front of my house and we always used to ask him not to do so. That day also I did the same and he threw a stone at me and again let the goats come into my house, where they destroyed all the plants that I was trying to grow. When he did this, I tied the goat and scolded him. Suddenly he took out a knife and started threatening me. At this point my husband who heard the noise came out and shouted at him. He then ran away.
Later we were told that he and a group of DYFI people reported to the police that my husband and I had attacked this boy and had tried to kill him. The group then came back to my house and started throwing stones at my house and breaking my auto rickshaw. Ayyappan sir, the Dalit activist who had always stood by my side from the very beginning, had come to my house then for a visit. He saw the crowd leaving my house when he came in. Then he called the police and the police came and they also took my written complaint about being attacked. The next day they even came to take evidence at my house. They then asked me to bring my auto to the station so that the motor vehicle inspector could look at it.
However, suddenly on the early morning of February 5th they came and arrested my husband Shreeshkanth. He was charged with many offenses like attempt to murder, housebreaking, attack on a minor etc. Many cases have been slapped on him. Now as far as I can make out, he has been arrested under the following sections - 308, 323 - 343, 354, 353. Today he was refused bail in Payannur. We will have to try again day after tomorrow for bail in Thalasserry court. At the same time, the boy whom we supposedly attacked is still grazing goats in front of my house and he is still allowing the goats to eat up all my plants. He is totally unhurt and able to earn his livelihood. Similarly all the people who attacked me are also walking free, doing various jobs. Only my husband is in jail and I am here without even able to get my auto back.
Actually till now all the attacks against me were well covered in the Malayalam media. This was a great help to me and this had helped me survive till now. However, this time very few of the media reported my case. People belonging to RMP (Revolutionary Marxist Party, whose leader, T P Chandrasekharan, was recently hacked to death by CPM) told me that the media has been instructed not to report my case. So, no one even knows about this case.
I also can see that they are attacking my husband more and more now, instead of directly attacking me. However, the police says that I too will be arrested in a few days on the same charges as my husband. They are trying to finish us off by sending us to prison like this. The media and other activists are also not coming forward to question this constant injustice that is being done to me.
I am now living in the constant fear of getting arrested.

WTh        That I have to say: Chithralekha

On May 18th, 2013, Chitralekha (the dalit woman autorickshaw driver from Payannur, Kerala, who has been fighting CITU/CPM men and who has faced repeated attacks from them in the past) and her family were attacked at her home by a mob of 30 plus men, including her neighbors. This article is her account of what transpired on that day.

Eramangalathu Chitralekha

chithra savari

On May 18th I was on my way to the railway station to take my daughter to her hostel in Trivandrum. We wanted to catch the Malabar express at night. It is because I am afraid to keep her here that I am sending her so far off to study. The time would have been around 8, 8.15. Some Bengali workers were there in my house as some construction work was happening in my house that day.

We had just got out from the house into the narrow road in front of my house. Suddenly Ravi, Manoj, Pradeepan and a few others came forward to attack us. When my brother resisted they started beating him up. I took the auto and ran inside with my daughter. My husband Sreeshkanth was in the house as he was sick with diabetes. My brother also came running in. By then they had called people over the mobile and a crowd gathered in front of my house.

The compound in front of my house was filled with people. Around 30 people would have been there. They were scolding us loudly from outside. "Come out we will hack you to pieces," they said. "You don't know the CPM people of Thaayathu Vayal (a neighbouring area) if you play with us we will cut your leg" they said. The Bengali workers in my house are witness to all this. Though they ran away on seeing the crowd, they are ready to talk about all that they have seen to anybody, including the police. They told me this today.

When we called the police, instead of asking us what happened, they kept teasing us saying "where is your house" and "we don't know the way to your house." They very well know my house and still they were making fun of me like this. The crowd was screaming loudly from outside. They started breaking the glass of the house. They damaged my auto. Tore its hood.
They stood outside and started threatening us loudly. We called the police again and again. They must have heard the sound of people shouting and still they didn't do anything. We thought the crowd was going to kill us. In desperation I called many friends and a message was posted on the facebook page of SAVARI, asking everyone to call the Payannur police station. Many people called the police. The police told different stories to different people. To some they said that they didn't know me. To some they said they have already gone there. To others they said they don't know the way to reach my house. All these are lies. Because I have gone to the Payannur police station several times to give various complaints. The police there know me very well. Maybe because they were getting calls from many places the police soon came to my house. And as if they knew about it the crowd left.
The first thing the police asked when they arrived was about whom we had called. All the people who came to attack us had left by then. We could only tell them the names of the four people we knew. But we told about how the crowd had said – don't play with CPM people from Thaayathu vayal and how there were around 30 of them. We also have now given a written complaint. A police man there told us that attacking a person's house is a non-bailable crime.
Yet inspite of this the police only caught Ravi. He is a full time CITU worker. It is only because many people called that Ravi was caught. He was just in the police station for one hour. It was a huge crowd that attacked us. They themselves were saying that they were CPM people. We told the police this. But why would the police, who themselves are part of the CPM ever catch the real culprits?
Now the police are making up the story that it was our family members who attacked at us. Now they are saying that this is not a CPM or CITU attack. That this was just a dispute over the pathway in front of my house. It is being said now that there was some ceremony happening in Ravi's house and that I had blocked the way to his house with my auto.
Someone like Venugopal (KM Venugopal) who knows all my problems from the beginning to end, it is sad that he is spreading such false news on Internet. I don't know who Venugopal is afraid of, but the false police story is gaining strength because of this. Anyways everyone should know what I have to say. That is why I am writing this.
The police is now spreading the story that this is a road dispute and that it involves my relatives, and thus it is a personal matter and has nothing to do with the CPM. Social activists who have stood by me in my struggle against the CPM are also spreading this police story on Facebook without even a critique.
What I have to say is that this police story is a total lie.
I don't have any dispute with Ravi regarding the small strip of road before my house. That road in front leads only to my house. My house is the last house in the area where I am living. Ravi lives much ahead. He cannot use the road in front of my house to get to his house. In fact, if he uses this road, he will just lose his way. The people in the house just beside my house can use this way to get into their compound. However, I have a clear agreement with them over this. I do not have any dispute with them regarding this way. They are ready to say this to anyone, and they told me this even today.
CITU/CPM has used this false road dispute case and tried to harass me before also. In 2012 December CITU/ CPM had attacked me like this with Ravi in front. I had given a case against that too. Ravi is an active member of CITU. He also is from the Pulaya community to which I too belong. That is why the CPM is using him like this. The CPM has always used marginalized OBCs and Dalits to get their work done. I have given 7 cases against them from the time my auto was burned. The police only arrested one Thiyya man and now Ravi who belongs to the Pulaya community. People like Ajith who gave leadership to all these attacks are roaming free even though there is an arrest warrant against him based on the Prevention of SC/ST Atrocity Act.
Now the next lie is that Ravi is a family member. Even through marriage, both Ravi and his wife are not my family members. The police have used this lie to dilute many cases before also. In December 2012 when Ravi and company beat me up, the police took the same stand. Many people who were with Ravi then and who manhandled me were not even Dalits. The police still sent a report to the higher ups saying that they were all Dalits and there were my family members.
It is because of such stories that I am not getting any justice from the police.
In this, the locals and many intellectuals are all colluding with the police. They know that if they don't do so, they too will be attacked by the CPM. Many people cannot stand by me because of this fear. That is why I often also have to come out for support. In the beginning they even turned my own brother against me and kept him with them. But now he somehow escaped their trap. That is why now he is the one who gets most beaten up. Even in this case, he is the most injured.
CPM always followed this tactic. First they would attack me and then make up stories that made me look like I was the culprit or was in the wrong. When in 2005 I brought out the casteist violence of CITU in the auto stand, they put posters all over my locality saying that I was a bad woman. The news spread even to distant auto stands. Now everyone thinks that I was a bad woman and that is why the CITU was trying to control me. Now because of this, I can't even talk to anyone here. Even many newspapers and channels have this opinion about me.
Whatever is done to me, how many ever people beat me up in broad day light, I am said to be blamed for it. In January 20th 2012, CITU people beat me up on the main road. They then called the police and they also beat me up. This happened when we had stopped the auto to buy some medicines. But they made up this story that my husband and I were drunk and we were being a nuisance to people. This story spread throughout Payyannur. It is after a Fact Finding Committee comprising of some prominent people, came to Payannur from outside, and proved that I was attacked for no reason and that I was not drunk that the CITU/ CPM version was exposed
In short, this time too, what the police are saying is a total lie. There is no dispute whatsoever regarding any pathway. On the contrary, around 30 people attacked me, and they themselves kept saying that they are CPM people from a nearby area called Thaayathu Vayal. We called the police for around one and a half hours and still the police didn't come. It was after we called others and the news spread on Facebook that many people started calling the police station, forcing the police to come. When you reduce all this to a mere road dispute, the police and the social activists are being blind to the violence that the CITU/ CPM has been unleashing on me for years.
It is through such attacks and threats that CPM is ruling over Kannur. They have attacked not just me, but many women auto drivers from marginalized communities. A few years ago, they have even burned another Dalit woman's auto. Everyone knows that the CPM not only attacks women who drive autos, but others too. The case of the great man Kallen Pokkudan is the most famous. He has struggled against the CPM for years. They have often used Dalits against him too.
It is not my fault that the attacks on me are not stopping. It is CPM that should change to stop this. And the police and the intellectuals should stop supporting the violent casteist politics of CPM in various ways. We have to save the Dalit men who are trapped in this. Everyone has to see how in spite of having no resources I am struggling hard to bring up my children and to give them an education. It is not me who is to blame. It is the people who are attacking me in this cruel manner who are to be punished.
If you keep blaming me like this, it is only to hide the criminal acts that are happening. The people against whom I have registered cases have to be punished. The society should also understand my situation and stand by me in my struggle against CITU/ CPM.
This is what I have to say.

Background note:
Chithralekha was born into a pulaya family, which is a Dalit caste in Kerala. Chithralekha's husband Shreeshkanth is a Thiyya (an OBC caste). Both his family and the dominant Left party (CPM) structure were against Shreeshkanth marrying Chithralekha as she is a Dalit. Yet the couple went ahead and got legally married.
In their attempt to make a better living, they resorted to what many Dalitbahujans of moffusil towns easily choose: an auto-rickshaw. The auto-rickshaw was bought in Chithralekha's name in October 2004 under the Prime Minister Rojagar Yojana (PMRY) and she decided to drive it herself. Chithralekha also decided to operate from within the ambit of the Payyannur college stand itself. Payyannur is a busy town which has witnessed some of the most glorious moments in the communist and Naxal struggles against human oppression.
However, Chithralekha's caste and gender identity made it impossible for her to fit into the scheme of this liberated moffusil town. The CITU (the leftist trade union, already angered by her caste violation of marrying above her caste) acted against her by delaying her membership card in the auto stand.
In January 2005, she was given the card and she started driving the auto. However, her fellow drivers (mainly from the OBC caste) started creating problems just within one week of her public career on the city roads. In spite of harassment, Chithralekha turned out to be a competent driver and became very popular with her customers, especially women. When she started her career there had been a coin operated phone at the auto stand where the customers would call for drivers. Soon, Chithralekha started getting the most number of calls from this phone. This, she feels, disturbed her fellow male auto drivers
After a few months, she bought a mobile phone and now people started calling for her even more than before. This made the drivers feel even more threatened. They broke the glass of the autorickshaw and tore its hood. Next day, at the auto-stand, when Chithralekha protested, she was beaten up. She complained about the incident to Rameshan , a fellow auto driver and the secretary of the local branch of CITU, but to no avail. Then Chithralekha complained to the police.
The male auto-drivers gave a counter complaint against her saying that she drinks, uses drugs and parks the vehicle near college in vacant places implying that she is a sex-worker. The auto-drivers and the left cadres were so enraged against her for taking the matter to the police that she was again verbally abused at the auto station and Rameshan even tried to run over Chithralekha with his auto. However, she escaped the attack but sustained minor injuries and had to be hospitalized.
Another complaint was lodged against Rameshan and he was arrested. Immediately, CITU members unleashed a poster campaign in support of him. They pasted posters and wrote on the walls of the panchayat hall that Chithralekha and her mother were "loose" women. A few days later, the final blow was dealt when Chithralekha's autorickshaw was burned to ashes in the middle of the night. She was also threatened that she would also be similarly burned.It is highly significant to note that this was the second such incident of a Dalit woman's auto rickshaw being burned in that town.
With the help of Ayyappan Master, a Dalit activist, Chithralekha lodged a complaint against six CITU members. The case was registered under IPC 143, 147, 148, 341, 352, 324, 294 (B), 506 (1), SC/ ST S3 (1) XI R/W and 149. Two of the accused were arrested but soon came out on bail. This issue created a tremendous uproar in Kerala.
From then chithralekha has been fighting the CITU/CPM in Kannnur. She has been attacked, beaten up and even arrested many times. She however holds out against all these attacks along with her husband and still drives her auto in Edattu, though she is socially ostracized and can hardly make her ends meet.

Dalit women’s rights activists to 

present accounts of caste violence 


The report highlights that Supreme Court ruling in the SC/ST Act would make legal recourse more inaccessible for Dalit women.

  Shalini Nair | New Delhi | Updated: June 20, 2018
Dalit women’s rights activists to present accounts of caste violence at UNHRC Asha Kowtal, general secretary of a coalition of All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch, said the point was to bring to the fore narratives of Dalit women and start a dialogue in the context of socio-economic vulnerability, within which sexual violence increases. In a first, Dalit women rights activists will present witness accounts of “aggravated caste based-violence and impunity in India” at the United Nations Human Rights Council this week.

The coalition will also release a report titled ‘Voices Against Caste Impunity; Narratives of Dalit Women in India’ on July 21st in Geneva. Using data from the National Family Health Survey (4th Round), it illustrates how 33.2 percent of Scheduled Caste (SC) women experience physical violence since the age of 15 as against 19.7 women in the ‘Other’ category. In comparison, the data shows that the proportion is 26.3 percent for Scheduled Tribes (ST) women, 29.2 percent for women from Other Backward Classes.

It states how following the recent Supreme Court directive, the already poorly-implemented SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act) will render legal recourse and justice even more inaccessible to Dalit women. The report presents several individual testimonies of caste-based sexual violence as also instances of the patriarchy and casteism faced by survivors at the hands of the police and the courts. It highlights the fact that of all kinds violence faced by Dalit women, brutal sexual violence is the most common.

“Dalit women are facing various kinds of extremely brutal violence and a culture of collusion between different authorities to protect perpetrators of crimes against dalit women,” it states while asserting that the SC/ ST Commissions are not adept at addressing the gendered nature of atrocities while the National Commission for Women lacks an understanding of issues of caste.

Asha Kowtal, General Secretary of the coalition All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch said that let alone address issues specific to Dalit women, India has been stonewalling any discussion on caste ever it was raised at the United Nations World Conference in Durban in 2001. She added that several international organisations have failed to look at the link between gender and caste. “The point is not to shame India but to bring to the fore narratives of Dalit women and start a dialogue on the context of socio-economic vulnerability within which sexual violence increases. In the absence of any system domestically to deal with this kind of violence, we want to raise it within the international human rights framework,” said Asha who added that until now the Dalit rights movement in India was mainly male-led and it is only in recent years that Dalit women are leading from the front

A panel of experts hearing the testimonies at Geneva will look at ways to take the issue forward through the UN system. These include Rita Isazk-Ndiaye, Member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and Ms. Dubravka Šimonović, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women among others.

Emerging leader in Dalit Community

Somati B.K is treasure of  Srijana Dalit women group – Krishanpur-5, Kanchanpur District.  She was born in 2040-10-15 Jhalari VDC, Kanchanpur, she had study up to 3 class in India, her family weak financial condition was stop her  further education. than after her marriage in Krishanpur VDC, She has 6 family member among that 2 son, 2daughter, husband and herself. She has house wife and her husband is business man.

She had to be house wife and restrict herself within house and involving whole day in house hold chores. FEDO was formation of group on 2069/08/08 B.S in her community, she has have opportunity to involve as treasure of Srijan Dalit women Group. After that, FEDO has been provide the various of training (leadership training, Human rights training and women rights training) and frequently attend the lobby and advocacy meeting with various stakeholder, that all enhance her capacity and self confidence to motivated herself. Due to this motivation she has part of several Group, various committee and member of UML CPN ward committee member. She is realize the importance of participation and leadership, aware about the allocate budget and support and service from the government.

Now, Her active participation and self confidence was recognize herself in VDC, which was support to her  involve in various committee, that are ward citizen forum member, Member of health management committee and executive member of cooperative. She has been participation in all VDC level program and lobby and advocacy of Dalit women issue. Now, she well knows person in VDC level.  Finally she is proud to be part of FEDO, She expresses her heartily gratitude to FEDO for made her as respected social activities in society.
Emerging Activist of Dalit in the Community

Lalita B.K was born in 2042 in Doti, she has completed her School leaving certificate (SLC) in 2060 B.S. she has 2 son, 3 Daughter among her 11 members of family. Her husband teaching as a teacher in the Primary school. After passed out SLC exam in 2060 B.S, immediately she got married at the age of only 18 years. Hence she used to be house wife and restrict herself within house and involving whole day in household chores. She has been limit within house and she was not able to do anything for herself because of social taboo. Even she has neither idea to join groups or organizations in the VDC nor any knowledge about human rights, women rights and leadership due to limited understanding and extreme poverty.

During 2012, Feminist Dalit Organization (FEDO), Kailali formed Dalit women group under the implementing project ‘Increasing Dalit Women’s Political participation for sustainable peace in Nepal’ in Mashuriya VDC, Shankarpur, she had have chance to got the position of President. She did have opportunities to attend to various interactions, seminars, training and meeting organized by FEDO, enhance herself motivation then after she was realized the importance leadership. During this period she gained confidence that helped to become an active member of various committees in all most sectors (Member in Ward Citizen Forum, Secretary in Citizen Awareness Centre, Ward president of Land rights Forum, Member in VDC Integrated Planning Committee, Member in Kailali FM monitoring Group, VDC farmer federation and party member of CPN UML) in VDC.

Before this program she has been fear of facing social activities and issue, now she has become a women activist in the community where she supports other women, she is feeling proud to be a part of FEDO which is enables her to live dignity and prestigious life.


FEDO encouraged me leadership for Dalit Women: Yasoda Darnal

Yasoda Darnal was born on 2044 in Pokhara, Kaski in a good economic family. As her father occupation was tailoring. Due to patriotically thinking she studied till class five and got married.

She was married to Amar Darnal in 2061. She lives in khaskarkando with her two daughters and husband. The economic condition of her family is good as her husband is in Nepal police.

In 2069 Banke FEDO formed group were she became treasure and use to participate in the issue like (Local structure, sanitation, citizenship, birth certificate, Forest user group, school management committee, Inter caste marriage). She got knowledge on this different issue. She got different trainings like (training on leadership, saving and credit) and got involved in lobby meeting in different government offices. She got motivation and got membership in UML party, member of VDC level network. She is also involved in tailoring in her own home.

Now she is empowered and encouraged five women to make citizenship and birth certificate and two women made birth certificate and similarly she encourage to other women for their right and have became an example in the VDC.


n activist on parental role

Kalpana B.K. was born in 2046 in Kailali, she is reading in Bachelor's degree in Kailali. She has 1 son, 1 Daughter among her 8 members of family. Her husband is a business man.
She got married at the age of only 18 years after passed out SLC exam in 2064 BS. Even she had joined college after the marriage but prevailing traditional mindset and social taboos, she did not get any opportunity to contribute the community and bound within the house hold chores. Lacking of information about rights and leadership, she did not have any ideas to move ahead. Once she had been orally nominated as member at her nearby community forestry committee but she did not experienced meeting, decisions and services at there. Due to lacking of knowledge and rights she couldn’t argue for that attitude.
During 2012, Feminist Dalit Organization (FEDO), Kailali formed Dalit women group under the implementing project 'Increasing Dalit Women's Political participation for sustainable peace in Nepal' in Malakheti VDC Teghari, and she had have chance to got the position of Secretary. She did have opportunities to attend to various interactions, seminars, training and meeting organized by FEDO, enhance herself motivation then after she was realized the importance leadership. During this period she gained confidence that able to stand as a responsible member of several sectors like (Secretary in the same Community Forestry Users Committee, Member in School Management committee, Member of Account committee in cooperative and Teacher in primary boarding school). Apart from this, she did have contributed to marginalize Dalit of her community through coordination i.e.; provide mushroom farming from her community forestry committee; provide support to pig farming-beekeeping-tailoring training from MADE Nepal and VDC joint program. She have contributed her community in education also, i.e. conduction of informal education, adult informal education, Montessori classes, etc.
According to her verdict, she was unable to stand towards community and even was not able to put her thought in several program but now she is confident that she has been capacitated to raise her voice for her community and gained so many skills and also changed her way of thinking and according to her all credit goes to FEDO. She is advocating to female to live dignified life. Also she has committed to aware her community women by providing knowledge and skill of education and leadership.
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From Slavery to Self Reliance: A Story of Dalit Women in South India

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BhagyaAmma, a Madiga Dalit woman and former ‘devadasi’ (temple slave), has found economic self-reliance by rearing goats in the Nagenhalli village in the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS
BELLARY, India, Apr 21 2015 (IPS) - HuligeAmma, a Dalit woman in her mid-forties, bends over a sewing machine, carefully running the needle over the hem of a shirt. Sitting nearby is Roopa, her 22-year-old daughter, who reads an amusing message on her cell phone and laughs heartily.
The pair leads a simple yet contented life – they subsist on half a dollar a day, stitch their own clothes and participate in schemes to educate their community in the Bellary district of the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka.
But not so very long ago, both women were slaves. They have fought an exhausting battle to get to where they are today, pushing against two evils that lurk in this mineral-rich state: the practice of sexual slavery in Hindu temples, and forced labour in the illegal mines that dot Bellary District, home to 25 percent of India’s iron ore reserves.
Finally free of the yoke of dual-slavery, they are determined to preserve their hard-won existence, humble though it may be.
Still, they will never forget the wretchedness that once defined their daily lives, nor the entrenched religious and economic systems in India that paved the way for their destitution and bondage.
From the temple to the open-pit mine
“Walk into any Dalit home in this region and you will not meet a single woman or child who has never worked in a mine as a ‘coolie’ (labourer)." -- Manjula, a former mine-worker turned anti-slavery activist from the Mariyammanahalli village in the Indian state of Karnatake
“I was 12 years old when my parents offered me to the Goddess Yellamma [worshipped in the Hindu pantheon as the ‘goddess of the fallen’], and told me I was now a ‘devadasi’,” HuligeAmma tells IPS.“I had no idea what it meant. All I knew was that I would not marry a man because I now belonged to the Goddess.”

While her initial impressions were not far from the truth, HuligeAmma could not have known then, as an innocent adolescent, what horrors her years of servitude would hold.

The devadasi tradition – the practice of dedicating predominantly lower-caste girls to serve a particular deity or temple – has a centuries-long history in South India.

While these women once occupied a high status in society, the fall of Indian kingdoms to British rule rendered temples penniless and left many devadasis without the structures that had once supported them.

Pushed into poverty but unable to find other work, bound as they were to the gods, devadasis in many states across India’s southern belt essentially became prostitutes, resulting in the government issuing a ban on the entire system of temple slavery in 1988.
Still, the practice continues and as women like HuligeAmma will testify, it remains as degrading and brutal as it was in the 1980s.

She tells IPS that as she grew older a stream of men would visit her in the night, demanding sexual favours. Powerless to refuse, she gave birth to five children by five different men – none of whom assumed any responsibility for her or the child.

After the last child was born, driven nearly mad with hunger and despair, HuligeAmma broke away from the temple and fled to Hospet, a town close to the World Heritage site of Hampi in northern Karnataka.

It did not take her long to find work in an open-cast mine, one of dozens of similar, illicit units that operated throughout the district from 2004 to 2011.

For six years, from dawn until dusk, HuligeAmma extracted iron ore by using a hammer to create holes in the open pit through which the iron could be ‘blasted’ out.

She was unaware at the time that this back-breaking labour constituted the nucleus of a massive illegal mining operation in Karnataka state, that saw the extraction and export of 29.2 million tonnes of iron ore between 2006 and 2011.

All she knew was that she and Roopa, who worked alongside her as a child labourer, earned no more than 50 rupees apiece (about 0.7 dollars) each day.
One of hundreds of illegal open-pit iron ore mines in the Bellary District in India that operated with impunity until a 2011 ban put a stop to the practice. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS
One of hundreds of illegal open-pit iron ore mines in the Bellary District in India that operated with impunity until a 2011 ban put a stop to the practice. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS
In a bid to crack down on the criminal trade, police often raided the mines and arrested the workers, who had to pay bribes of 200-300 rupees (roughly four to six dollars) to secure their release.

In a strange echo of the devadasi system, this cycle kept them indebted to the mine operators.

In 2009, when she could no longer tolerate the crushing workload or the constant sexual advances from fellow workers, contractors and truckers, who saw the former temple slave as ‘fair game’, HuligeAmma threw herself on the mercy of a local non-governmental organisation, Sakhi Trust, which has proved instrumental in lifting both her and her daughter out of the abyss.

Today all her children are back in school and Roopa works as a youth coordinator with Sakhi Trust. They live in Nagenhalli, a Dalit village where HuligeAmma works as a seamstress, teaching dressmaking skills to young girls in the community.

Caste: India’s most unsustainable system

The story may have ended happily for HuligeAmma and Roopa, but for many of India’s roughly 200 million Dalits, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.Once considered ‘untouchables’ in the Indian caste system, Dalits – literally, ‘the broken’ – are a diverse and divided group, encompassing everyone from so-called ‘casteless’ communities to other marginalised peoples.

Under this vast umbrella exists a further hierarchy, with some communities, like the Madiga Dalits (sometimes called ‘scavengers’), often discriminated against by their kin.

Historically, Madigas have made shoes, cleaned drains and skinned animals – tasks considered beneath the dignity of all other groups in Hindu society.

Most of the devadasis in South India hail from this community, according to Bhagya Lakshmi, social activist and director of the Sakhi Trust. In Karnataka alone, there are an estimated 23,000 temple slaves, of which over 90 percent are Dalit women.

Lakshmi, who has worked alongside the Madiga people for nearly two decades, tells IPS that Madiga women grow up knowing little else besides oppression and discrimination.

The devadasi system, she adds, is nothing more than institutionalised, caste-based violence, which sets Dalit women on a course that almost guarantees further exploitation, including unpaid labour or unequal wages.

For instance, even in an illegal mine, a non-Dalit worker gets between 350 and 400 rupees (between five and six dollars) a day, while a Dalit is paid no more than 100 rupees, reveals MinjAmma, a Madiga woman who worked in a mine for seven years.

Yet it is Dalit women who made up the bulk of the labourers entrapped in the massive iron trade.

“Walk into any Dalit home in this region and you will not meet a single woman or child who has never worked in a mine as a ‘coolie’ (labourer),” Manjula, a former mine-worker turned anti-slavery activist from the Mariyammanahalli village in Bellary District, tells IPS.
Herself the daughter and granddaughter of devadasis, who spent her childhood years working in a mine, Manjula believes the systems of forced labour and temple slavery are connected in a matrix of exploitation across India’s southern states, a linkage that is deepened further by the caste system.

She, like most official sources, is unclear on the exact number of Dalits forced into the iron ore extraction racket, but is confident that it ran into “several thousands”.

Destroying lives, and livelihoods

Annually, India accounts for seven percent of global iron ore production, and ranks fourth in terms of the quantity produced after Brazil, China and Australia. Every year, India produces about 281 million tonnes of iron ore, according to a 2011 Supreme Court report.
Karnataka is home to over 9,000 million tonnes of India’s total estimated reserves of 25.2 billion tonnes of iron ore, making it a crucial player in the country’s export industry.

Bellary District alone houses an estimated 1,000 million tonnes of iron ore reserves. Between April 2006 and July 2010, 228 unlicensed miners exported 29.2 million tonnes of iron ore, causing the state losses worth 16 million dollars.

With a population of 2.5 million people relying primarily on agriculture, fisheries and livestock farming for their livelihoods, Bellary District has suffered significant environmental impacts from illicit mining operations.

Groundwater supplies have been poisoned, with sources in and around mining areas showing high iron and manganese content, as well as an excessive concentration of fluoride – all of which are the enemies of farming families who live off the land.

Research suggests that 9.93 percent of the region’s 68,234 hectares of forests have been lost in the mining boom, while the dust generated through the processes of excavating, blasting and grading iron has coated vegetation in surrounding areas in a thick film of particulate matter, stifling photosynthesis.

Although the Supreme Court ordered the cessation of all unregistered mining activity in 2011, following an extensive report on the environmental, economic and social impacts, rich industrialists continue to flout the law.

Still, an official ban has made it easier to crack down on the practice. Today, from the ashes of two crumbling systems – unlawful mining operations and religiously sanctioned sexual abuse – some of India’s poorest women are pointing the way towards a sustainable future.

From servitude to self-reliance

Their first order of business is to educate themselves and their children, secure alternative livelihoods and deal with the basic issue of sanitation – currently, there is just one toilet for every 90 people in the Bellary District.
Dalit women and their children, including young boys, are working together to end the system of ‘temple slavery’ in the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS
Dalit women and their children, including young boys, are working together to end the system of ‘temple slavery’ in the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

The literacy rate among Dalit communities in South India has been found to be as low as 10 percent in some areas, but Madiga women are making a massive push to turn the tide. With the help of the Sakhi Trust, 600 Dalit girls who might have missed out on schooling altogether have been enrolled since 2011.

Today, Lakshmi Devi Harijana, hailing from the village of Danapura, has become the first Madiga woman in the region to teach in a college, while a further 25 women from her village have earned their university degrees.

To them, these changes are nothing short of revolutionary.

While some have chosen to travel the road of intellectual advancement, others are turning back to simple skills like sewing and animal husbandry.

BhagyaAmma, once an exploited temple slave who also worked in an illegal mine for several years, is today rearing two goats that she bought for the sum of 100 dollars.

She tells IPS she will sell them at the market during the holy festival of Eid al-Adha – a sacrificial feast for which a lamb is slaughtered and shared among family, neighbours and the poor – for 190 dollars.

It is a small profit, but she says it is enough for her basic needs.

Although the government promised the women of Bellary District close to 30 billion rupees (about 475 million dollars) for a rehabilitation programme to undo the damages of illegal mining, the official coffers remain empty.

“We have received applications from local women seeking funds to build individual toilets, but we have not received any money or any instructions regarding the mining rehabilitation fund,” Mohammed Muneer, commissioner of the Hospet Municipality in Bellary District, tells IPS.

Not content to wait around, the women are mobilising their own community-based, which allocates 15,000 rupees (about 230 dollars) on a rolling basis for families to build small toilets, so that women and children will not be at the mercy of sexual predators.

Also in the pipeline are biogas and rainwater harvesting facilities.

As Manjula says, “We want to build small models of economic sustainability. We don’t want to depend on anyone – not a single person, not even the government.”
Edited by Kanya D’Almeida


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