July 12.pdf
Tata Institute
Volume 73, Issue 3
Social Sciences
July 2012
Advocacy Initiatives for Dalit Rights
The author explores the Dalit struggle for empowerment and development vis-a-vis the
strategies adopted. In India, various movements and parties representing the lowest
ranking dalit caste groups have employed different strategies in their struggle against
social, economic and cultural discrimination. Dalit organisations are now becoming in-
creasingly aware of the benefi ts of networking among themselves, which can be an
effective strategy for advocacy of Dalit rights. This article highlights the use of the ‘tran-
snational advocacy network strategy’ by dalit movements today for exerting pressure
on decision makers, both at the national and local level.
Santosh More is a IInd Year MASW Student, School of Rural Development, Tata
Institute of Social Sciences, Tuljapur, Maharashtra.

“Their inhuman atrocities have carved caves in the rock of my heart.
I have been silent all the years listening to the voice of right and wrong.

But now I will fan the ames of human rights”.
The above mentioned lines are taken from a poem titled ‘Caves’ by Jyoti
Lanjewar, a Dalit woman poet.
The term ‘Dalit’ literally means untouchables or outcastes of society
who have been systematically and institutionally deprived of their civil,
political, economic, social and cultural rights. Existing at the bottom of
the Indian caste system, they bear the additional brunt of class and gender
discrimination and are subject to caste oppression, poverty, and political
subordination. Structural inequalities have resulted in the deprivation of
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410 Santosh More
equal rights and opportunities in social, economical and political spheres
of life. Consequently, Dalits are engaged in the unorganised and self-
employed sector; marked by overwork, low and unequal wages, and
absence of social security or maternity bene ts.
Besides caste based discrimination and exploitation, existing patriarchal
systems make Dalit women more vulnerable to exploitation inside and
outside the home (Jogdand, 1995). The condition of Dalit women is
best re ected in the above mentioned poem “I have been silent all these
years…” by Jyoti Lanjewar.
Employing, national level advocacy interventions, the All India Dalit
Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM), a forum for Dalit women, is ghting
against caste, class and gender hierarchical oppression in collaboration
with the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR).
This paper focuses on two issues—livelihood security and human rights
violations of Dalits living in the Marathawada region of Maharashtra.
Justifi cation of the Advocacy Rationale
Spearheading the cause of the Dalits, the AIDMAM undertakes action
research and advocacy on Dalit rights. Although it took two long years of
struggle to get the accused in the Khairlanji Massacre case convicted, the
case was not registered under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe
(Prevention of Atrocities Caste) Act SC/ST (POA) Act for lack of evidence.
Also, the women who were either assaulted and raped or murdered, did not
receive any justice for lack of evidence. In such cases, advocacy can enlist
the support and participation of a wider section of society.
Advocacy initiatives can be directed towards the following:
• Reformulating the policies pertaining to the development of Dalits in
such a way as to bring about concrete and time-bound strategies and
programmes for the socioeconomic and political upliftment of Dalits.
• Ensuring Dalit people have equal access to the criminal justice system.
• Ensuring that the fundamental rights of Dalits are protected in all
situations and rapid measures are taken to ensure justice.
At the core of the issue of deprivation and disempowerment of the Dalits
in Marathawada, is the question of sustainable livelihoods. The vicious
cycle of deprivation and disempowerment has been the basis for Dalit
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Advocacy Initiatives for Dalit Rights 411
struggles against oppression. The return of land rights to Dalits can pave
the way for securing livelihoods and economic sustainability.
Combining Rights, Productivity, and Capability
To address the issue of livelihood security of the Dalits, a broad strategy
addressing the issue of rights as well as the issues of productivity and
capability of the marginalised sections needs to be devised. Thus, a three-
pronged strategy based on a combination of the following three aspects is
1. Securing and protecting rights to access and control resources—
natural and man-made;
2. Ensuring development, adaptation, and extension of appropriate
mechanisms for enhancing the productivity of the local natural re-
sources; and
3. Developing the capabilities of the local marginalised communities
to exercise their rights and effect enhancement in the productivity of
their resources.
However, as demonstrated by the Dalit struggle for lands, the issue of
rights is primary and fundamental to developing this strategy. Primacy
has to be given to the issue of rights; however, only securing rights is not
Further, this comprehensive strategy to address the issue of rights,
productivity, and capability needs to be adapted to ground realities. Only
then can meaningful action programmes for direct intervention be created,
both at the level of policy and practice change.
The activities described under objective one are mainly designed to
strengthen the working capacities of the workers. The knowledge and the
skills imparted will instill con dence among them. The following steps are
proposed to build the capacities of the workers.
• It is proposed to appoint a resource organisation / resource persons / to
impart appropriate skills and knowledge to the Dalits.
• The team will identify the areas for training in consultation with the
experts / resource organisation.
The activities stated under objective two would mainly deal with
legalising ownership of grazing lands. The animators appointed at
each of the villages will collect the necessary information, supportive
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412 Santosh More
proofs/documents and prepare individual claim les to be forwarded
to the government. The animators at the village level will be supported
by the Assistant Coordinators at the taluka (block) level. One Assistant
Coordinator will be responsible for about 100 villages. He will monitor
and supervise the work of about ve animators, each responsible for 20
villages. The claim proposal les with required documents and proofs
will be submitted to the concerned tehsildar along with a covering letter
addressing the subject. The copies of the same will also be forwarded to
the following of cials and of cers.
1. Deputy District Collector
2. District
3. Divisional
4. The State Secretary for Revenue
5. The Revenue minister
6. The Chief Minister.
The Assistant Advocacy Coordinators will facilitate the design and
organisation of the required training programmes, identify capable
resource persons, initiate collaboration and assistance from of cials of the
taluka and district revenue departments.
The bene t acrued from the trainings include:
• The organisation members will became familiar with the available legal
provisions and the Government Resolutions (GRs) passed for land
entitlement processes.
• Strengthen the cohesiveness of the organisation.
• Enable people to collect the required documents and proofs within the
time frame.
• The organisation can undertake effective follow up steps at taluka as
well as district level.
• The monthly meetings of the organisation for land rights can create an
environment for land legistation.
• The organisation will enhance the activities / strategies to implement
the applicable government schemes. The Jamin Adhikar Andolan
(JAA) is working towards the promotion of sustainable livelihoods,
socioeconomic empowerment of Dalits as well as for equal opportunities
in village governance.
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Advocacy Initiatives for Dalit Rights 413
The JAA work comprises research, advocacy, governance, risk
management and compliance (GRC), and micro nance management.
The work undertaken under the research and advocacy components
generated important information regarding encroachment/occupation of
more than 1,00,000 hectares of total grazing land in Marathawada by
landless Dalits.
“Legalising the ownerships of the landless Dalits on the occupied
grazing lands in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra” is a part of
the above stated advocacy policies and concepts of the JAA. The JAA
movement has inspired and encouraged landless Dalits to strengthen the
Although the landless Dalits have encroached and established
occupancies over the gairans/grazing lands, they are not yet legal owners.
They are always afraid that the government can claim ownership and
deprive them of the land. The landless Dalits holding patches of gairans/
grazing lands do not have information and knowledge about the available
legal provisions, Government Resolutions and other formalities that need
to be undertaken while getting the land legally entitled in their names.
Being illiterate, they are not aware about the documents required and the
means to acquire them. Also, the Dalits are frequently in con ict with
local villagers as they are not the legal owners of the occupied lands. As
a result, the villagers often destroy Dalit land and crops; very often by
torching the land.
A disproportionate number of the atrocities and human rights violations
registered annually under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act are
against Dalits. On an average, 27,000 incidents of serious atrocities and
human rights violations are registered annually under the SC/ST (POA)
Act. A national level study conducted among 500 Dalit women revealed
that violence against Dalit Women by the dominant castes is intentionally
perpetrated to sustain the continued oppression of the Dalit community.
The study showed that less than one percent of the perpetrators were ever
convicted in courts. The available data on the situation of Dalit women
presents quite a disturbing picture: 27 atrocities against Dalits every
day, 13 Dalits murdered every week; ve Dalit homes or possessions
burnt every week; six Dalits kidnapped or abducted every week; three
Dalit women raped every day; 11 Dalits beaten every day; and a crime
committed against a Dalit every 18 minutes. (NCDHR-2010).
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414 Santosh More
The above statistics speak for themselves. Out of the 1,47,000 SC/ST
(POA) cases pending in the courts in 1998 in India, only 31,011 were
brought to trial. Such delay is endemic to the Indian judicial system.
Even if cases make it to trial, the POA also suffers from abysmal rates of
conviction. Out of the 31,011 cases tried under the POA in 1998, only a
paltry 1,677 instances or 5.4 percent resulted in a conviction and 29,334
ended in acquittal. This might be compared to the conviction rate in cases
tried under the Indian Penal Code: in 1999, 39.4 percent of cases ended in
a conviction and in 2000, 41.8 percent. (NCDHR , 2010)
Why Atrocities
Atrocities are largely perpetrated by the perceived need to “teach the Dalits
a lesson”. The extreme inhuman torture perpetrated on Dalits in Bihar,
Andhra Pradesh, Utter Pradesh and Rajasthan is evidence to the crime.
The atrocities include denial of land rights, rape of women, violence,
murder and illegal arrests by the law enforcement machinery. According
to the 1990 report of the National Commission for SC/ST’s, atrocities are
mostly caused over land disputes, bonded labour, unemployment, and
Various Forms of Atrocities
The various forms of atrocities in icted on Dalits include: beating;
tonsuring; cutting-off ngers, chopping off nose and ears; stripping and
parading victims naked; public humiliation; lynching, burning people
alive, breaking of bones, amputation of hands and legs; looting, burning
homes, destruction of property; rape of women, assault, eshing out;
murders, forcing Dalits to drink or eat inedible substances such as human
excreta; dumping carcasses or other waste matter in their premises and
polluting drinking water sources used by them; and implicating them in
false cases.
Advocacy Initiatives
Awareness of the Laws
It has been seen that despite the laws that exist in the Indian Constitution,
people are not able to use these laws to seek justice. Lack of awareness
is a major determining factor for accessing the justice system, which
includes the judiciary and the police, the concerned lawyers and advocates
(Kohanke, 1982). The medium of disseminating information on laws
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Advocacy Initiatives for Dalit Rights 415
has to be effective and people friendly—in terms of coverage—and
consequently, raise public consciousness. These could be done through:
a) Poster
b) Documentaries
c) Street
d) Rallies
e) Pamphlets and news bulletins
Training of Different Stakeholders
Apart from creating mass awareness among the general population, it is
also important to train and sensitise the various important stakeholders on
the laws enshrined in the constitution. The stakeholders include members
of the Gram Panchayat, youth groups, teachers and students, various
committess like the Mohalaa Committees and other government servants.
Being in uential people of the community, their services can go a long
way in creating violence/con ict free villages.
Networking is a process for initiating and maintaining contact with like-
minded individuals and organisations who share common goals and agree
to work together. It is important that the issue gets wide publicity because
that is the only way it can gather mileage and momentum. This publicity
will have to be mass based and at the same time also focus on the target
groups that the network plans to work with. Making and keeping the issue
visible is of critical importance for achieving legal reforms. To actually
achieve changes at these levels, pressure will have to be sustained on the
policy makers. Another reason for publicity is to garner more membership
and, if possible, convert the fence sitters into active supporters.
Networking with Lawyers
Finding appropriate lawyers to represent Dalit atrocities is very dif cult,
as providing evidence is tough. Moreover, as Dalits are economically
backward, very few can afford the legal fees.
Lobbying and Networking with Organisations
It is imperative to identify organisations working in the same eld as they
become the potential base for membership and support. Lobbying with the
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416 Santosh More
state machinery becomes more sustained and effective with the combined
efforts of organisations that share a common vision or ideology.
Although advocacy will not solve the structural inequalities that exist in
the caste dominated Indian society, it can empower people with suf cient
knowledge on their rights and raise public consciousness.
According to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, “The progress of any community
should be measured in terms of the progress made by its womenfolk”.
“For ours is a battle not for wealth or for power.
It is a battle for freedom.
It is the battle of reclamation of human personality”.
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar
Jogdand, P.
: Dalit Women, Issues and Perspectives, New Delhi: Gyan
Publication, New Delhi.
Kohanke, F.
: Advocacy Risk and Reality, Pub Med, 1(2), 1–2.
National Campaign on : Violence against Dalits, New Delhi.
Dalit Human Rights,
Available, online at http//:www.ncdhr.org.in.
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