Dalits Media Watch – News Updates 30.12.10

Dalits Media Watch

News Updates 30.12.10

Dalits denied pattas, driven out: Study – Express Buzz


National Action Forum for Social Justice organises seminar – The Pioneer


SC/ST Commission Visits Deceased Dalit Sisters’ Home – Out Look India


Discrimination at the Puri Temple – South Asia Mail


Left in the cold – Front Line


Express Buzz

Dalits denied pattas, driven out: Study


Express News Service

First Published : 30 Dec 2010 04:04:27 AM IST

CHENNAI: A study conducted by the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) has revealed that families belonging to Scheduled Castes in Chennai have been struggling for the past several decades to get pattas for their lands.

The report on the field study done in 31 localities in Chennai between September and October was released on Wednesday by TNUEF president P Sampath and general secretary K Samuelraj. Denial of patta was a primary problem faced by them, the report stated. Their demand for pattas has not yielded results despite struggling for the past half-a-century. They have been fighting for pattas in many areas, including Kumarasami Rajapuram and M S Nagar in Egmore, Korukkupet, Sikkanderpalayam, Perambur, Mettupalayam, Kolathur SRP Colony and Dharmapuram.

Under the guise of removing encroachments, the oppressed people were being driven out of their traditional residential areas. Also, the benefits of urbanisation have not reached them. There were no adequate toilet facilities forcing them to defecate in the open, the report stated. The facilities in the hostels meant for Scheduled Caste students too were appalling.

Dalits were being driven out of places where they had traditionally lived. They were being forced to live in tenements of just 120 sq ft size in new residential areas in Sholinganullur and Semmancherry, the report pointed out.

The Pioneer

National Action Forum for Social Justice organises seminar


December 30, 2010 9:11:48 AM


To discuss on problems faced by people belonging to SC/ST and OBCs’, National Action Forum for Social Justice organised a seminar in Dehradun on Wednesday. National Scheduled Caste Commission Chairman PL Puniya was the chief guest on the occasion.

While addressing the gathering, Puniya said that after the 61 years of implementation of the Constitution, the exploitation of Dalits is still continuing in various parts of country. Untouchables still exist in various states of the country including Uttar Pradesh, Harayana, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Punjab, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and others. Mid-day Meal cooked by the Dalits (Bhojan Mata) is being boycotted at various places, which can be read in newspapers and TV news channels. The execution of Central and State Government sponsored schemes including rations, scholarships, pensions, reservations; food for works and others for SC/ST is very poor in various states.

The purpose of the seminar is to create awareness among the people about their rights and how to get it. In addition to that State Government should ensure that welfare schemes are being reached to the beneficiaries. "The people belonging to SC/ST should be given reservation in private sectors also.

While talking to The Pioneer State President SP Singh said that people belonging to SC/ST are facing huge problem to get their caste certificates as they are being asked by district administer to submit a proof of ancestors caste certificates (before 50 years).

The Central and State Government should make a committee, who will review the welfare schemes run by both Governments for the welfare of the SC/ST and OBCs. He said that the poor farmers belonging to the SC/ST, especially in Haridwar districts are being exploited by the administrative officers. He demanded that the State Government should submit the reports to the commission what action was being taken against those officers who were responsible for it.

State Opposition Leader Harak Singh Rawat said that the Central and State Government welfare schemes are not reaching to the beneficiaries. He alleged that the BJP-led Government failed to provide basic rights to the people belonging to SC/ST and OBCs.

Among those present on the occasion were Hira Singh Bisht, Lal Chandra Sharma, Prabhat Dabral, Subodh Uniyal, Vinod Nautiyal, Anail Kumar Sharma, Madan Rawat, Bhupendra Kumar, Sharad Bahuguan and others.

Out Look India

SC/ST Commission Visits Deceased Dalit Sisters’ Home


Chairman of the SC/ST Commission today visited Kothiwal Nagar here to take stock of the situation after two Dalit sisters were charred to death allegedly by a mob on December 18.

P L Punia, the chairman of the Commission, talked to the victims’ relatives and summoned the District Magistrate, DIG, SP (city) and Circle Officer (city), Moradabad, to appear before the Commission on January 10.

"The case of the Dalit sisters being burnt was an open case of murder, while the local administration has tried to mould the case into that of an accident or suicide," Punia told PTI.

He said in a similar case of crime against Dalits in Delhi, the Police Commissioner had summoned the Deputy Commissioner of Police and Secretary, Social Welfare, R K Srivastava, who was arrested after ignoring the summons.

On a question on the status of Dalits in India, Punia said that while the position of the Dalits is not satisfactory in any state, it is the worst in Uttar Pradesh, even though the state’s Chief Minister Mayawati belongs to the Dalit community.

The Moradabad case of atrocities against Dalits is "horrible", he said, adding, it shows the status of the Dalits in the state.

Talking about the facilities available to the SC/STs, Punia alleged the funds for the benefit and uplift of SC/STs are being diverted to works like development of roads, medical colleges and even the Commonwealth Games.

Reservation was also not providing good jobs to those belonging to the backward castes, Punia said.

The Commission has started an awareness campaign to make Dalits aware of their rights, he said.

South Asia Mail

Discrimination at the Puri Temple


By Dr. Anuradha Sharma

On 28th December, 2010 the report came to me like a bolt from the blue that Katie Leonard with her pal was detained at the temple of Puri. I have never visited the shrine of Jagannath and would not like to visit a place that categorizes people on the basis of their nationality. India has given right to its people to visit religious places. Even this is incomprehensible that the policies of a holy place inflict restrictions on the foreigners.

These pundits, who have damaged the culture of the country for centuries and left us to bemoan on the fate of reservation and a long list of dalits, are not ashamed on their part played in shaping a painful history for this country. A culture, that sings for universal peace and Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam, is seemed hollow when it’s deities inside the tight security are polluted by the entry of an American student.

A Lord has polluted by the entry and He is made pure by washing again drawing the student out of the temple premises. This discriminatory history goes back when in the same temple Late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was not allowed to enter though she was an Indian. Hindus are not those who follow the Hindu religion but those who live in Hindustan. Have the authorities ever asked every Hindu before framing such biased policy for the temple.

I am not aware about the constitution of Jagannath Temple but I am proud of the cultural heritage of this country that says “Atithi Devo Bhav” (guests are God). We daily watch a few advertisements promulgating the values of “welcoming guests”. Born and brought up with the culture of humanity I could never digest this discrimination based on religion. The establishment that hates humans cannot be welcomed. If it is something that prohibits entry of living souls into the temple it is not something normal. I am of the firm conviction if there is anything anti-human then it should be changed immediately.

I pray for those mentally sick priests of the temple to get well soon from their indefinable psychological complexes. God must give them insight to recognize the unfathomable beliefs of the culture of India. Philosophers have said that Hiduism is not a religion it is a way of life. Common souls like me only can pity those who do not know the depth of religion and pose themselves as the pillars of the religion.

Last month when I visited Canada I had very good experiences. The people I met there took extra care so that I may not get a bitter experience or bring black image of their country back home. I feel we fail in doing the same.

(Anuradha Sharma is a lecturer at a College, in India and writes poetry in English and Hindi both. Her poems and research papers have appeared in many journals, anthologies and news papers in India and abroad. Lately she has completed her Research Project funded by UGC and has been selected for Associateship by IIAS, Shimla. Bharat Times honored her by Woman of the Year Award. She has received honorary degree Doctor of Humanity by an Institution in Florida. She is also nominated for an international Who’s Who. )

Front Line

Left in the cold



A convention of Muslim organisations calls for speedy implementation of the Ranganath Mishra and Sachar reports.

“I AM a domestic worker and have four children, the youngest is six months old. My husband is a rickshaw-puller, he remains ill most of the time and so I have to work. My eldest daughter is six years old – she looks after the other children when I am gone. We have no ration card or any other proof of identity – I cannot get my daughter admitted to school as they demand proof of birth and identity. I have neither. They ask money for making a ration card or giving admissions. I live on rent and do not know when my hutment will get demolished. I have worked in many places in Delhi and the National Capital Region ever since I remember.”

These are the words of Rukhsana, 30, a Muslim and a migrant. She has not heard either of the Ranganath Mishra Commission or the Sachar Committee report.

In the tenure of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, the years 2006 and 2007 assume special importance as two important reports pertaining to minorities, particularly Muslims, were prepared by two commissions with the intent of framing remedial policies for the uplift of the indigent sections among them.

On December 4, the National Convention for Muslim Rights, held by leading Muslim organisations, along with representatives of political parties in the capital, urged the Union government to implement without further delay the comprehensive recommendations made by the two commissions.

The organisations included the Kolkata-based Democratic Forum for National Integration, the Delhi-based Muslim Intelligentsia Forum and the Hyderabad-based Awaaz . The delegates, comprising academics and experts, political party representatives and State government functionaries, concluded unanimously that the Union government had developed cold feet on the recommendations of the two commissions. Among the speakers were K. Rahman Khan, Deputy Chairman, Rajya Sabha; Syeda Saiyidain Hameed, Member, Planning Commission; Maulana Anisur Rahman Qasmi, Member, All India Muslim Personal Law Board; Zahid Ali Khan, editor of Hyderabad-based Siasat; and Anwar Pasha, Associate Professor at the Centre for Indian Languages, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, headed by Justice Ranganath Mishra, was notified on October 29, 2004. The first UPA government, backed by the Left parties, had made a commitment in its Common Minimum Programme “to establishing a National Commission to see how best the welfare of socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities, including reservation in education and employment, is enhanced”.

The commission was to suggest criteria for identifying socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities and recommend measures for the welfare of these sections, including measures such as reservation in education and government employment, and suggest constitutional, legal and administrative modalities for the implementation of the recommendations. It submitted its report on March 10, 2007, and it was tabled two years later, in December 2009. The irony is that the report was tabled without an action-taken report, which made it unclear whether the recommendations had been accepted or not by the Union government.

“We wrote not once but four times asking for a debate on the Ranganath Mishra Commission recommendations. I raised this at every session of the Rajya Sabha,” said Ali Anwar Ansari, a Rajya Sabha member from the Janata Dal (United). He pointed out that it was on the instructions of the Supreme Court that the terms of reference were expanded to include the Dalits among Muslims.

“Both the commissions had concluded that the Muslim community was not a monolith and homogenous one. The Sachar Committee used terms like Ashraf, Ajlal and Ajmal from the Arabic to show that the community was socially stratified,” he said. Ansari lauded the West Bengal government’s decision to give 10 per cent reservation for Muslims in government jobs. Nearly 85 per cent of the Muslim population in the State was covered under reservation, explained delegates from the ruling Left Front in West Bengal. In Andhra Pradesh, where a similar step was undertaken, the Supreme Court, in an interim order, upheld the validity of 4 per cent reservation to backward members of the Muslim community.

The Ranganath Mishra Commission said: “Since the minorities – especially the Muslims – are very much under-represented, and sometimes wholly unrepresented, in government employment, we recommend that they should be regarded as backward in this respect within the meaning of that term as used in Article 16 (4) of the Constitution.” The commission recommended 15 per cent reservation for backward minorities in education and jobs, with 10 per cent earmarked for Muslims (as they constituted 73 per cent in the total minority population in the country) and 5 per cent for other minorities.

Delegates at the conference demanded the speedy implementation of the commission’s recommendation of 10 per cent reservation for socially and educationally backward Muslims and the extension of the benefits of reservation available to the Scheduled Castes among Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists to their counterparts among Muslims and Christians. In a resolution, the delegates demanded that any additional allocation should be made from the open quota without disturbing the present quota fixed for Other Backward Classes and the S.Cs. If necessary, the government should initiate the process for a constitutional amendment to ensure that over 50 per cent reservation can be provided, they said.

Shocking revelations

The Sachar Committee, a high-level committee on the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community in India, was constituted in March 2005. It came up with shocking revelations about the low status of Muslims, who had slipped behind the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in terms of socio-economic and educational indicators. Delegates at the convention said that a complete review of the implementation of the committee’s proposals and a debate in Parliament were needed. They asked why the government had ignored the widespread demand, which was also made by the National Minorities Commission, for a 15 per cent budgetary sub-plan for the development of the Muslim community. They pointed out that the government had not even accepted the M.A.A. Fatmi Committee’s recommendations. (Fatmi, who was a Minister of State in the Human Resource Development Ministry, headed a high-powered committee that prepared an action plan.)

The Sachar Committee’s report was tabled in the Lok Sabha on November 30, 2006. Nine months later, on August 30, 2007, “follow-up Action on the recommendations of the Sachar Committee” was placed in Parliament, but no discussion was held despite a demand from political parties.

Speakers at the conference observed that the follow-up action did not contain any new policies or mention time-bound targets or a clear-cut financial allocation. What was reiterated and emphasised was the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme for the welfare of minorities, which pre-dated the Sachar Committee’s recommendations. And the situation seemed to have improved only marginally in some sectors. The government had set up a three-year timeline in 2007 for ensuring 15 per cent priority-sector lending by banks to members of the minority communities; by 2010, only 13.77 per cent lending was achieved.

Similarly, 90 districts with a concentration of minority communities were identified for the implementation of a Multi-Sectoral Development Programme for Minorities (MSDP). Political parties, including the Left parties, had demanded that blocks be identified as units for the implementation of the programme instead of entire districts. In any event, these 90 districts, selected under the “targeted” policy, covered only 35 per cent of the Muslim population. The allocation, too, was meagre. The Eleventh Plan had envisaged an allocation of Rs.30.5 crore for each district over five years for the development of the minorities; of this, only Rs.1,440.29 crore was released for 89 districts until November 30, 2010, which came to slightly over Rs.16 crore a district, almost half of what was allocated by the Plan.

The scheme for providing quality education in madrasas was allocated Rs.325 crore under the Eleventh Plan, but an outlay of only Rs.95 crore was made over a period of three years. The delegates from West Bengal pointed out that the State’s budget provision for madrasa education for a single year, 2009-10, was Rs.526 crore, surpassing the Plan period’s total allocation for five years. Even the total expenditure of Rs.7,000 crore on all Central and Centrally sponsored schemes for the minorities over five years constituted a minuscule 0.32 per cent of the total outlay for the Eleventh Plan. And less than half of what was allocated had been spent in the first three years of the Plan period.

P.S. Krishnan, former Member Secretary of the National Commission for Backward Classes, said that in Hutton’s (J.H. Hutton’s census of 1931) Census report, only the untouchables among Hindus were included as such; the untouchables in other communities were not considered. He recommended that a portion of the Plan should go to the minorities with specific allocations to Dalits and backward Muslims. The Minister of State for Minority Development and Madrasa Education in West Bengal, Abdus Sattar, said that the Union government refused to consider a sub-plan for minorities despite the Sachar Committee placing Muslims below the S.Cs and the S.Ts in some indicators.

The Chairman of the West Bengal Minorities Development Finance Commission, Mohammad Salim, made a fervent plea for a discussion in Parliament on the Sachar Committee recommendations. “Conditions were created so that no discussion takes place. The appeasement theory has been laid bare by the findings of the report,” he added. Salim also pointed out that the MSDP was a brainchild of the United Front government, and the Left parties had insisted that the block should be the unit of implementation for it to be effective. The demand, made more than a decade ago, was still valid, he said.

“The Sachar report is a diagnostic one; the Ranganath Mishra report is the operative part,” he said, adding that the government needed to act on both with equal urgency.

Focussing on the issue of education for Muslims, M.A.A. Fatmi said that he was “disturbed” that the recommendations of his committee pertaining to education were not even considered. The recommendations had addressed all areas including adult literacy and higher education.

“We said that wherever there was a population of 250, a school should be opened; we recommended that Kendriya Vidyalayas be opened in Muslim majority areas and that an Urdu university be started. Had that happened, this would have helped lots of Muslim children,” he said.

Annihilation of Caste and the Sham of Parliamentary Politics

December 28, 2010


Annihilation of Caste and the Sham of Parliamentary Politics

Speaker: Anand Teltumbde, Writer and Activist

9.30pm | 9 December 2010 | Kaveri Mess | JNU

The recent victory of Nitish Kumar in the last Bihar Assembly has been dubbed by the otherwise rabidly casteist corporate media as a ‘victory of the backward castes’. This is because Nitish Kumar himself belongs to the backward Kurmi caste. The brahminical corporate media celebrates Nitish Kumar because they know that JD(U) being a key ally of the BJP, this ‘victory’ is yet another triumph for the highly reactionary and casteist feudal classes of Bihar, constituted primarily by the Bhumihars, Rajputs, Brahmins and the landed sections of the Kurmis. Nitish Kumar is just another poster boy of the brahminical ruling classes, riding on a sham propaganda of ‘development’. The Mayavatis, Nitish Kumars, Karunanidhis of the country have always championed their backward and oppressed identity, as they indeed hail from castes which have been historically oppressed and denied of their basic means of sustenance, democratic rights or a life of dignity. Question is, after 63 years of parliamentary politics, have they at all been effective in transforming the material conditions and social relations in which the dalits, tribals and the most oppressed are forced to live in even today?

Caste atrocities continue unabated: The parliament and all its ruling parties have watched with silent complicity every time a dalit is killed by the caste-Hindus, when a dalit woman is raped to subdue the oppressed castes, or the dalit’s villages are raged to the ground to reassert the oppressive caste hegemony. These are just a few forms of atrocities and violence in which casteism manifests to capture media attention, to be again receded to the oblivion of everyday life, normalized and accepted as a part of our social reality. According to a survey by the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, 27 atrocities against dalits are perpetrated every day, 13 dalits are murdered every week, 5 dalits’ homes or possessions burnt every week, 6 dalits kidnapped or abducted every week, and 3 dalit women raped every day, 11 dalits beaten every day. Only the most gruesome of these incidents get reported in the mainstream media which has always served as a loyal mouthpiece of the brahminical and feudal ruling classes. The rate of conviction in cases of dalit atrocities is a dismal 15%. It took 12 years for the Patna lower court to sentence those responsible for the Laxmanpur-Bathe massacre, and even then it left unpunished the real perpetrators. The CBI too absolved the BJP and NCP members involved in the Khairlanji massacre, and no case was filed under the Prevention of SC/ST Atrocities Act. The police routinely refuse to register complaints of atrocities and violence against the dalits, let alone taking action against the guilty perpetrators of the dominant castes. While the formal institutions of justice have proved to be an ally of the casteist forces, the parallel ‘justice system’ of the dominant castes: the Khap Panchayats or the village panchayats, regularly punish members of oppressed castes through social boycotts, denying work, corporal punishment and even executing death sentences.

The material conditions in which the dalits are forced to live are getting worse every day. According to even Government sources, which always underplay the distress of masses, admit that two-thirds of dalit households are landless (According to the draft paper of the Ninth Five-Year Plan, 77% of dalits and 90% of the adivasis in India are either ‘absolute landless’ who own no land, or ‘landless’). Unemployment and underemployment is the highest among the dalits and ‘backward’ castes, with a very high number being employed as landless workers in the villages. Even in urban areas the percentage of regular income earners among dalits is abysmally low, with most of them employed for manual works as contract workers. 60% of the dalit wage-earning households in rural areas and 70% in urban areas fall below the ‘Poverty Line’. The only area where the dalits constitutes a majority is in the job of safai workers where their presence is a staggering 73%. Even today in almost all states of India, dalits especially dalit women are made to do manual scavenging, whereas 88% of seats for SC & ST in class I / II government jobs have not been fulfilled. Likewise, OBC representation in university faculty across the country is a mere 1%. The Arjun Sengupta Report shows that 88% of all SCs and STs, 85% of all Muslims and 80% of all OBCs survive on less than Rs.20 per day. Those belonging to the ‘upper’ castes, who demographically are just about 15% of the population, have a complete stranglehold over the means of production, including land, and over all available opportunities of state-funded employment and education. They constitute the bulk of the industrialists, senior executives, bureaucrats and landlords; controlling 96% of industry and trade, and 71% of agricultural land and natural resources. According to the report of Working Group on Development of SCs drafted during 8th five year plan, since the inception of five year plans in India less than 2 percent of the total expenditure has been spent on the SC, ST and OBCs combined. Non-plan spending on social services has fallen by 16 per cent in the 2010 budget. Within this miniscule budget, the specific allocation for SC, ST and OBC has decreased from 7.06% to 2.89%. This is all that Indian parliamentary ‘democracy’ could achieve in the last six decades for dalits, OBCs and religious minorities.

NONE of the parliamentary parties have worked towards what Dr. Ambedkar had envisioned:
the annihilation of caste. They rather systematically and opportunistically reinforced this oppressive structure for their own electoral ends. The discontent and pressure from below has forced the government to very reluctantly legislate reservation, but like most of the pro-people legislation, this too has become a dead letter. During the Mandal Commission days, both Congress and BJP had openly opposed reservation, while the ‘Official Left’ had maintained a very dubious, opportunistic dithering between conditional support and opposition. Even those parliamentary parties which claim to champion the dalit cause, like BSP, SP, JD(U) etc., have reduced the fight against the prevailing brahminical social order to the fight for reservation and representation. While reservation is indeed important, by its very nature it only benefits the comparatively better-off section of the oppressed castes who could afford some education, leaving out the vast majority of the dalits and other oppressed sections out of its purview. Reservation is only one step towards the goal of a just and exploitation-free society. This has to be a part for the struggle for a revolutionary transformation of the society, without which the aim of annihilation of caste will remain ever elusive.

All parliamentary parties are ruthlessly pursuing the imperialist agenda. All of them support SEZ, land grab and corporate loot of resources. None of the states in India have so far seen successful land distribution among landless dalits. Even the ‘left’ ruled states where claims to land reform is trumpeted every now and then, in reality the so-called land reforms were instrumental in promoting a particular form of agricultural economy- the cash crop based economy- binding it more closely to the international imperialist market nexus. In whole of post ‘land-reforms’ Kerala for example, the dalits, dalit Christians and Muslims comprise the vast majority of those dispossessed from land or excluded from land reforms. 85% of the dalits in Kerala where the CPM has trumpets its fraudulent land reform are landless.

Real political power for the dalits and other oppressed masses therefore can not come through parliamentary means but through the revolutionary movement. The parliament, the courts, the government, the police, etc. have all systematically helped in maintaining the status quo of the present brahmanical system, where dalits are deprived of even the minimum human dignity and livelihood. This is particularly true of India’s countryside, where most of the dalits live, and daily face the brunt of feudal oppression. The state has also co-opted a small section of the dalits who have been successful in improving their own class-status, who serves the present brahminical system rather than serving the interests of the dalits. To democratise the society, to end the continued violence on dalits and other oppressed majority of our society, to entrust the means of production to the real producers, and for the annihilation of caste there needs to be a unity of the anti-caste movement and the revolutionary movement to overthrow the present oppressive social order.

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PMARC : Dalits Media Watch – News Updates 26.12.10


Controversial wall near dalit colony demolished in Coimbatore – The Times Of India


Homegrown hero – Hindustan Times


The Times Of India

Controversial wall near dalit colony demolished in Coimbatore


TNN, Dec 26, 2010, 03.56am IST

COIMBATORE: In a swift move, the Coimbatore district administration pulled down a controversial wall that had been erected around a dalit colony in Nagarajapuram village in Veerakeralam town panchayat which was blocking the residents’ access to the main road.

"A portion of the wall has been demolished. About 30 feet from the southwest end and 23 feet from the southeast end were demolished from the 500-metre-long and eight-foot-high wall," said Veerakeralam town panchayat executive officer R Duraimani. Because of the wall, around 2,000 dalits and tribals living in the locality have had to take a 1.5-km detour to reach the Thondamuthur-Coimbatore main road.

About 500 dalit families in the village had petitioned the district collector against what they called "an untouchability wall" raised by a non-dalit land owner. The dalits also claimed that the wall had been erected on the portion of a private land which had been reserved for public use. As the protests swelled, the tahsildar and executive officer of the town panchayat rushed to the village for inspection on Friday.

A day after the protest, the district collector ordered portions of the wall to be brought down in the presence of police officials around 10am on Saturday.

According to the executive officer, a real estate agent, Vijayakumar, bought the property adjacent to Nagarajapuram village and divided his 2.5-acre plot into 31 sites and received approval for construction from the local planning authority (LPA). However, he erected a wall outside the boundary of his compound on reserved panchayat site. "We have reopened the path and general public will have total access to the main road," added Duraimani.

Hindustan Times

Homegrown hero


Tithiya Sharma, Hindustan Times

New Delhi, December 25, 2010

First Published: 23:39 IST(25/12/2010)

I’m back in the country. My 5th day here started with an eight hour drive through potholed highways and dry, uninspiring landscape from Pune to Beed district in Marathwada region in Maharashtra. Just outside Beed the landscape changed. It was green and there were sturdy crops of maize, sugarcane and cotton everywhere. I was introduced to a lady everyone called Tai. She’s been married to the man I’m here to meet since she was five years old. He’s had that privilege since he was eight.

Born into a ‘Mang’ family, Eknath Dagdu Awad has led a life long struggle for Dalit rights. His parents, sister and he were bonded labourers. They spent their days in service to the village — clearing carcasses of dead animals and working in the fields for a handful of grain or stale leftovers. Eknath, or ‘Bau’ as everyone calls him spent the first decade of his life hungry, abused and a complete non entity. Name callings, beatings and hard physical labour were a staple of his life as a lower caste child.

"I grew up the son of a beggar, and I frequently saw my parents being abused. I didn’t even know that protesting was an option. My parents toiled day and night their entire lives, humbly accepting atrocities as their fate." But, when you know better, you do better.

I had an awakening through my education, he says — "Meri padhai se mein jagruk hua". "I knew I had to keep learning, no matter what. I fought every step of the way, for scholarships, for leave of absence and the bigotry that came with being a ‘Mang’."

Bau saw success early in his career, while working for local NGOs. In 1985 he established the Rural Development Center to focus on Human Rights, Economic Empowerment of Dalit, Land Encroachment, Social Justice, and participation and partnership in governance.

In the past 25 years, RDC has led massive projects like the Jamin Adhikar Andolan through which 50,000 landless Dalit families were allotted grazing land to farm on. The ‘Campaign for Human Rights’ initiative has assisted victims and had brought to book hundreds of perpetrators of atrocities like rape, murder and forced labour. The Bal Hakka Abhiyan, started in 1997 works to ensure that Dalit children are not deprived of their rights to education and has pushed child labour into oblivion in the area.

RDC’s work has uprooted the archaic social order and this made Bau rather unpopular with money lenders, Zamnidars and politicians. They can no longer charge a monthly interest of 25 rupees per 100 lent, nor get labour for less than minimum wage, and now they wouldn’t dare line up the Dalits and force them to cast their votes.

In 2004, half a dozen men, armed with swords and daggers attacked Bau in broad daylight. "Death will come soon. I just hope that I die in my struggle to help the Dalit community," Bau says.

The next day, I visited families whose fortuned had changed in the past decade. Sipping tea with an old timer, Kaka, and listening to his stories. Kaka’s seven grandchildren are in school. His wife and three daughter in-laws are members of the Mahila Mandal, where they pool finances to start small businesses. Kaka himself is harvesting three crops a year. His sons no longer have to migrate in search of seasonal farming work. They even bought an Autorikshaw that’s both- family transport and a source of income. They own their own cattle, and there’s even room for some indulgences like a television and weekly ice cream treats for his grand children. Kaka is a happy man.

Walking back from the village to the RDC, I witness the legacy Bau will leave behind; school going children, prosperous homes and every one walking free and unafraid.

The son of a beggar, Bau has, in his lifetime, helped the Dalit community rise.

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