ByÂ Kayonaaz Kalyanwala:
Untouchability. You may think that this horrendous practice has disappeared from 21st century India, an India that is running towards socio-economic development. You may think that caste identities no longer govern people’s lives. Look around you, caste based discrimination carries on in the most insidious ways possible–in matrimonial ads; when people won’t share a meal with a ‘lower caste’ person; in the fact that Dalit women are sexually assaulted because they are thought of as property; when a Dalit can be fired from a government job for entering a temple; in the fact that across rural India, there are separate wells for Dalits.
Did you know that it is a criminal offence to indulge in any act of Caste based discrimination or to treat someone as an ‘untouchable’?
Yet, the offences carry on and go almost unnoticed and unacknowledged. People who indulge in the practices are aided by government machinery. The police rarely do Dalits the courtesy of recording the caste-based atrocities they dare to report. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes, the statutory body created to safeguard Dalit rights, is in such a deep slumber that it took them two years to just acknowledge the masses of evidence of untouchability that Video Volunteers had sent them!
So yes, it looks grim on the field. Just the sheer volume of instances that our Community Correspondents find to document across India is mind-boggling. Can you imagine how many cases of Dalit atrocities, small or grievous, go unheard each year? Fighting untouchability has been at the core of Video Volunteers work; our very first campaign was ‘Article 17: A campaign to end untouchability’.
In the past year, we’ve spent some time re-examining the campaign to see how it can bring a bigger impact for a larger number of individuals and communities. In the mean time, our Community Correspondents, many who are Dalits, have been busy documenting and fighting for the rights of their community. Despite the dangers of the job, these Correspondents tirelessly work to correct the historic wrongs faced by their people. They spend days motivating often scared communities and individuals to report cases to the police. They then spend countless hours persuading officials to take action.
For many of these activists 2013 has been a year where the tide starts to turn in their favour; it is the year when several seemingly small victories, each one hard-fought, have given cause to Dalits in many parts of the country to celebrate. In the uphill task that is putting an end to untouchability, these small victories give us hope to carry on as the storm continues to rage on:
In early 2013 Chanchal, a feisty young girl stood up for herself from her hospital bed after surviving an acid attack and asked for your help to get justice. This had happened because she, a Dalit girl, had refused the sexual advances of some ‘upper caste’ boys.
Community Correspondent, Varsha reported her story from Patna and after 70,000 of you signed a petition, Chanchal’s attackers were put in jail, where they are to this date. Her case has been put in the ‘fast-track’ court (it won’t get lost in the Amazon that is the Indian legal system). Among a multitude of victories, the campaign resulted in getting Chanchal the first few corrective surgeries and continued medical compensation for her and her sister. Chanchal’s story also set off a chain reaction and resulted in several campaigns to stop such attacks, like regulating acid sale in India. See the story here.
When one woman, hell bent on defying age-old discriminatory practices, teams up with a community journalist, equally eager to bring change to his community, amazing things can happen. Lambodar’s video that reported the story of Pushapanjali Suna, an Anganwadi worker who was fired from her job for entering a temple is a fine example of this. Lambodar used every possible means he had, to ensure that Pushpa was reinstated as an Anganwadi worker. From getting his media friends on board to convincing the Child Development Programme Officer in charge of Anganwadis to visit the village, he knocked on every door.
Pushpa is once again in charge of the village Anganwadi and has been paid the salary she was denied for two years.
As India celebrated its 66th Independence Day, the Dalits of Dandva Baddi Village in Bihar, were under attack from the ‘upper caste’ people. Just goes to show how relative the concept of independence is. Community Correspondent Amarjeet heard of the skirmish and rushed to record video testimonies of the affected. Constant following up with the District level authorities and a 2000 people strong protest ensured that the police reports against perpetrators were lodged and that the families were compensated. Read more here.
Have you ever wondered why a majority of sewage workers in India work without protective gear? The association of them being ‘impure’ has gotten so hard-wired into society that when their rights get violated, no one gives it a second thought. With few other options to earn a livelihood they brave the situation, picking up rotting waste, human excreta and cleaning sewers with bare hands and feet. For sewage cleaner Ganesh Namdeo, feeling disgusted or inferior was not an option. Changing the practice however, was an option.
Two years of constant efforts on the part of our Community Correspondent Rohini Pawar brought four Dalit sewage workers in Walhe, Maharashtra, the protective gear they had wanted for 20 years.
India claims to be secular. How then, does an idol symbolizing Hinduism find its way into a government institution? How does a person lose his job for touching it? How does no one respond to his family’s appeals for more than 6 months? A video made by Lambodar got back Debraj Baraik, a Dalit sweeper, his job at a college in Odisha.
After Lambodar had managed to bring this second Impact, making right the wrongs of the caste-system, he told us in a phone interview:
“I wanted the world to see what hell my people were living. It was tough to not get overcome with emotion. But we’re a country wholly caught up in caste-based chaos. Fixing this problem is a complete conundrum. We can’t indulge in emotion. The only option is to speak out. Wherever, whatever can be changed, will be changed. I will change it. With this video, I’ve made a huge difference directly on only one man’s life. But along with him, his family celebrates, our community wins. I’ve sensed my people getting tired of this constant struggle for survival. I sense a time for change. It’s exciting that I can be a part of this change, lead it, by being a Community Correspondent.”