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National Dalit Election Watch

by safdar — last modified 2009-04-15 11:32

NCDHR-NDMJ, in order to monitor political rights of Dalits, initiated the National Dalit Election Watch (NDEW) to diligently watch the elections in order to identify and report to the authorities concerned, such impediments to the free and fair exercise of franchise of Dalit communities, so that they can vote without fear of threat, intimidation and violence.

The struggle of the Dalits for justice, for their rightful place in Indian Democracy has reached a decisive stage. It has been a long drawn out movement for equality and dignity, elimination of untouchability from public and private spaces, and slow economic measures through constitutional, legal and policy instruments such as the reservation policy, Untouchability Act, SC / ST (prevention of atrocities) act, and special component plans. Despite Dr. Ambedkar’s untiring efforts, the concept of a separate electorate for the Dalits was never allowed to see the light of the day by the Brahmanical order; but Dalits still struggled with the limited means such as reserved constituencies and also the reservation of seats in Panchayats and local bodies under the 73rd  & 74th constitutional amendments.


Today we are witnessing unprecedented levels of political participation by Dalits in many parts of the country, a sea change in the power equations in some states through strategic social and political engineering which has its basis in electoral politics. The time tested equations of vote bank politics are being transformed with eloquent Dalit and OBC leaders emerging on the electoral and political scenario.

But equally powerful are the efforts to undermine the aspirations of the Dalit communities for political participation. Let us remember that the Brahmanical forces are threatened by this increasing aspirations and endeavours of the Dalits and other marginalized communities for political participation. This is bound to and is leading to violent backlashes from the anxious upper caste interests across the political spectrum. At the local level this increasingly manifests in rivalry among caste groups in the run up to elections, in an effort to secure the numbers game. This is also being accompanied by other forms of political mobilization by Brahmanical forces using polarization of society along communal lines, employing violence wherever required. The position of Dalit communities is precarious in this dangerous form of politics.

Even after 62 years of independence it is a travesty of justice that Dalit communities in a significant number of regions are unable to exercise their right of franchise in a free and fair manner as envisaged in the constitution. All this, in spite of the fact that our constitution guarantees equality before law, right of franchise to all citizens regardless of caste, creed, sex or religion; and in spite of the fact that we have excellent provisions against electoral offences in the Representation of the People Act, Cr.P.C. and the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

It is in this context that the National Dalit Election Watch (NDEW) is being conceived and instituted. The Right of Franchise is a fundamental right and it is through the exercise of this right that any democracy is sustained and strengthened. Through this nationwide initiative we intend to uphold one of the most crucial dimensions of the political rights of Dalits; eliminate a primary obstacle to their political participation and assertion. This initiative is expected to mobilize a large number of volunteers and eminent citizens across the country in defence of the right of franchise, leading to widespread political awareness among large sections of the Dalit population and society at large. We hope that NDEW would emerge as a significant civil society process that upholds and further strengthens our democracy.

Statement of Purpose

• The constitution of India gives all its adult citizens the right of franchise regardless of caste, creed, religion or sex.
• However our experience of having watched elections to the parliament, assemblies and panchayats over the years reveals that there are still very serious impediments to the free and fair exercise of franchise, particularly for the Dalits and other marginalized communities.
• The National Dalit Election Watch (NDEW) has been established to diligently watch the elections in order to identify and report to the authorities concerned, such impediments to the free and fair exercise of franchise of Dalit communities, so that they can vote without fear of threat, intimidation and violence.
• The NDEW will mobilize civil society organizations, leaders and activists, and community based volunteers to conduct this diligent watch of the electoral process so that any violation of this fundamental right is reported and appropriate preventive and punitive / corrective action is enabled.
• The NDEW, while it believes that this is an integral part of political participation of civil society, would steer clear of manipulations by political parties and or candidates.
• NDEW will strive to establish itself as a long term function that enables the Election Commission (EC) of India and the civil society at large to ensure that this fundamental constitutional and democratic right is protected without compromise, especially for the Dalits and the weaker sections of India’s electorate.

The broad strategies

• NDEW would first identify sensitive villages / habitats / hamlets / settlements of Dalits which have been facing threats, intimidation and violence to prevent them from voting or to pressurize them to vote in a manner against their choice. This would be done on the basis of local information collated from the communities who have been bearing the brunt of such violence unleashed mainly by upper caste vested interests.
• Efforts would be made to ensure that these vulnerable settlements are included in the vulnerability mapping done by the Election Commission so that adequate preventive action could be initiated before and during the elections
• Basic information such as (i) the modality of watching the elections, (ii) contact details of the officials, (iii) the manner in which incidents need to be reported to the State Control Rooms (SCR) and the National Control Room (NCR) and (iv) the format of lodging complaints with the EC officials would be disseminated through handbooks and communication material, and orientation programmes for organizations and volunteers.
• Concerned Citizen’s Groups (CCG) would be formed at the state and national levels
• The NDEW, through its State Control Rooms (SCR), the National Control Room (NCR) and the CCGs would constantly engage with the EC in terms of reporting violations and following up on the complaints lodged to ensure effective preventive, punitive and corrective action
• The NDEW would compile and document its experiences to review and improve its strategies and actions to be increasingly effective with each election.

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