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Bihar rises for dignity of Dalit women

by admin last modified 2014-10-09 09:52

Hundreds of Dalit women participated in the Dalit Mahila Swabhiman Yatra in Gaya and Munger districts of Bihar to highlight their demand for security, justice and dignity.

Dalit and marginalized women in India over the last few decades have emerged as primary catalysts for protests against, and as challengers of, the caste-based discrimination in our society. With all the devastating effects of caste discrimination on the status of women, women have never lost sight of the fact that meaningful change for them cannot come through reform but only through the total elimination of the caste discrimination. The All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch’s Dalit Mahila Swabhiman Yatra strives to bring that change and give women the dignity they so truly deserve at a time when the government’s decisions are among many obstacles impeding women’s efforts to achieve full equality.

AIDMAM- National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights  (NCDHR) General Secretary Asha Kowtal told an energized crowd, “Through this karavan, we want to send an important message to the Government – that we are not ready to pull back on or abandon our rights.” AIDMAM Bihar State Coordinator Gauri Kumari asserted, “The police and the government have taken crimes against the community casually. It should stop now.” Kowtal and Gauri were speaking at a public meeting in Gaya attended by hundreds of Dalit women at the second phase of the Dalit Mahila Swabhiman Yatra launched in September 2014. The yatra emphasizes on identifying and building leadership, involving multiple stakeholders who envision a just society wherein the structures of caste and patriarchy are dismantled - and crack the culture of state impunity. In addition, the yatra aims to establish the linkages between violence and larger community assertions for land, water and other resources including access to political power.

JD(U) MLA from Barachatti, Jyoti Manjhi, who too participated in the meeting, said, “If we want change, we will have to get rid of our inhibitions and stand up for our rights.”

Many of the participants shared their tales of struggles for justice; some were speaking out for the first time publicly. One such woman was Urmila Devi, Mukhiya of Ajaan village. The 25-year-old Dalit woman’s husband was arrested by the police after he was falsely accused of having Maoist links and carrying out an attack on the police and other government officials on 19 July. “We had blocked the National Highway 2 in protest against police atrocities on Dalit women and we had gheraoed the policemen present on the spot.” “All of a sudden, without any provocation, the police opened fire and killed two people, including a woman. Then the police picked up my husband  and 16 others, including two schoolboys, and accused them of having Maoist links and carrying out an attack on the police when we never attacked anybody. We had only gheraoed the policemen.”

For the last two months, Urmila Devi has been running from pillar to post seeking justice. “I know my husband is innocent and I want him to be released but nobody has come forward to help us.”




Urmila Devi says that her husband assisted her in her work as a mukhiya and now everything has come to standstill. “It is a ploy by the dominant Rajputs of our village. They do not want me to continue as the Mukhiya, and so they targeted my husband in collusion with the police and accused us of having Naxal links.”




Rakhi Devi, an anganwadi sevika, had to ward off sexual advances made by the mukhiya of her village, Suresh Yadav. “Because I am a Dalit woman, he thought he could get away with whatever he wanted to do. i even had to resign from my post because i could not take his harassment anymore.” However, when Rakhi Devi filed a case in court against the Mukhiya for harassing her and told the court that she had been forced to resign from her job, the court’s directive was that she be soon reinstated as an anganwadi sevika as she had not resigned out of choice but out of force. “I have got back my job, but Yadav has got off scott free and continues to visit my centre and harass me but I will fight till the end.”

In Munger, Asha Devi, another village mukhiya, was threatened by dominant caste men in her village because she was at the helm of affairs and was getting development work done for the Mahadalits in her village. “I had gone to supervise roadworks when the dominant caste men came and assaulted me and my son. When i went to the police station with my profusely bleeding son, whose head was smashed, the police initially refused to lodge an FIR against the men. It was only after hours of pleading that they finally lodged an FIR.” It has been two years since the incident but the men have still not been arrested. “They have further threatened me and my family of dire consequences if we do not pay up Rs 6 lakhs,” added Asha Devi. She has sent a copy of the threat letter to all district officials but to no avail. “We live in fear and we do not go out much. I especially came for this programme here because I want people to know what we Dalits have to go through and be a part of this movement so that we women can unite ourselves and seek justice.”

Former Mukhiya Vijay Paswan, who spoke to the hundreds of women participants in Munger, said, “Dalits need to be aware of their rights and one of the most effective ways to do this is by educating them. Education and awareness is key to empowerment.”

The first phase of Dalit Mahila Swabhiman Yatra was launched in February 2014 and covered the states of Haryana, Bihar and Odisha to pierce through the reality of Dalit women’s lives, their constant threats of being raped, paraded naked, prohibiting their opportunities, access to resources and failure of state machinery to provide them with security measures to ensure justice.

The yatra will visit Dalit and marginalised communities and hold intense discussions to learn and unlearn in the process. ‘This is the only way the anti-caste movement led by Dalit women can be strengthened. Through our political interventions, diplomatic and national advocacy, and Dalit women's leadership programs we envision nurturing of Dalit women activists, who are the leaders of a national movement for Dalit self-respect and dignity, added Kowtal

The following months will be a critical time to anchor the perspectives of our community leaders including Dr BR Ambedkar. Active educating, organizing and agitating by the community to challenge the caste-Hindu perpetrators of violence and exclusion will be the key focus.

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