Dalit Atyachar Virodhi Samanvya Samiti (DAVSS)

Newsletter May – Aug 2003

In the new millennium, age-old practices and prejudices seem to have found ways to co-exist with extreme modernisation. Newspapers regularly feature reports of violence, harassment, injustice and even murder of Dalits in various parts of the country. Such bigotry manifests itself at many levels, from access to basic facilities in the village/locality to issues of temple entry and very forcefully in cases of inter-caste marriages and even the right to live.

To cite a few examples…

250 Dalit families of Harsoula village in Haryana have been driven out of their ancestral lands by the upper castes, never to return. In Dulina, some Dalits were beaten to death by the upper caste residents. In Rajasthan, the Dalits of Chakwada are not allowed to bathe at the village pond while in Bharthala, upper caste residents fought the entire community on the issue of a Dalit bridegroom’s right to ride the ritual ‘ghodi’ (mare). In Jalandhar District of Punjab, a power struggle to control gurudwaras led to violent attacks and even killing of ‘Dalit’ Sikhs by ‘Jat’ Sikhs. In Dehradun, Uttarakhand, upper castes who could not tolerate the marriage of a girl from their own community to a Dalit boy, killed not only the couple, but also the boy’s father. Even the capital city of Delhi and its surrounding areas are no exception to such violence. Many colleges and hostels in Delhi have seen instances of harassment, segregation and violence against Dalit students. Students of the Gwyer Hall hostel beat up and tortured a Dalit sweeper, while in the University College of Medical Sciences (UCMS) Dalit students have been allotted a separate living floor and a separate dining table. 

In fact, two recent incidents in Delhi highlighted the urgent need for a political response and caused a broad platform of several Delhi-based groups to come together under the banner of the Dalit Atyachar Virodhi Samanvya Samiti (DAVSS)*.

About two years ago, a girl of the Jat community and a Dalit boy from Narela in Delhi chose to marry, but ran away from home, apprehending trouble. The girl’s family lodged a false complaint of abduction against the boy and started harassing the boy’s family, aided by the police. When the runaway couple learnt about what was happening at home, they returned and the case was dismissed in the High Court. No legal action has been taken against the culprits and the guilty police officers for filing a false case. Instead, the girl was forcefully taken back to her natal home and pressurised to change her statement.

In another incident from the same area, a girl from the same extended Jat family ran away with another Dalit boy. This provoked a vicious response from the upper caste Jats. The family of the Dalit boy was implicated, as also two family members of the Dalit boy of the earlier case – this despite the fact that this family was not even related to the family of the Dalit boy in question! The fate of the couple is still not known.

In both cases, the police and the powerful Jat family harassed and uprooted the Dalit family forcing them to take shelter elsewhere. In all these cases, political parties, the police and the judiciary, along with the state administration, invariably uphold and support the actions of the upper castes. We have seen the same powers at play during the trial of the upper caste men, accused of raping Bhanwari Devi (Rajasthan), especially in the form of the outrageous declaration by the Sessions Court that a Dalit woman could not have been raped by an upper-caste man because she was untouchable!

Intervening in the two Narela cases, DAVSS held protests at various levels from the DCP’s office to the PM’s office and demanded that fraudulent FIRs against the Dalit family be withdrawn and that immediate legal action be initiated against the culprits and the guilty police officers under the SC/ST Oppressions Act, 1989. Despite the publication of a detailed account of this incident in national dailies, the oppression did not end. Representations to the NHRC, the SC/ST Commission, and Minorities Commission have also failed to bring justice to the victimised families, or provide security to the young couples. DAVSS has stressed the need to assert women’s right to exercise their choice and decisions on issues relating to their lives. Clearly, such incidents provide a glimpse of a very deep-rooted nexus between traditional dominance and political and economic powers, which calls for a serious political response.

The DAVSS also organised a convention on Anti-Dalit Caste System in New Delhi on 19th July, 2003, which focused on the spread of casteism and its increasing impact on our lives. The eminent panel, consisting of activists, academics, journalists and a former judge, echoed deep concern caused by the current political scenario in the country. As a DAVSS leaflet states, “The Hindu cultural revivalism of the 1990s has not only increased religious fascism, but also strengthened anti-Dalit sentiments by highlighting reactionary practices and values like untouchability, cow protection, etc. On the one hand, Togadia is mobilising Dalits against the Muslims by distributing them ‘trishuls’ (tridents) to ‘hinduise’ them; yet on the other hand in Dulina, the Sangh Parivar actively colludes with the police in the killing of Dalits in the name of cow protection.” Such contradictions are further heightened by the reality of political parties that woo Dalits as an electoral constituency, without any measures whatsoever to secure their rights.

The perspective paper of DAVSS shared at the Convention stated, “The Brahminical patriarchal system established certain norms and institutions in such a manner that caste and gender were not only intertwined but also defined, shaped and reinforced each other. This structure used women to play an important role in maintaining the caste identities and boundaries. The patriarchal norms and attitudes ensured perpetration of the caste system by means of compulsory marriage within the caste. They established different rules and regulations for women at all levels of the caste hierarchy. The sexuality of upper caste women was subjected to strict controls. Notions of ‘purity’ and ‘pativratya’ were added to it, for women to be worthy of adulation and respect. The breaking of these norms was seen as the breaking of the caste system. Thus, these norms and rituals were used to maintain the caste and gender inequality by consent and violence.... The myths about the killing of Shambhook, the cutting of the thumb by Eklavya, using threats to bend Gargi into submission during a discourse on the shastras, are some examples of consent and violence. In fact, setting of different cultural norms and rituals for marriage and sexuality of upper and lower caste women is also linked to the exploitation of Dalits. These norms prohibit remarriage of upper caste women to prevent transfer of property and Dalit women are forced to serve as concubines. Brahminical patriarchy thus uses these norms and rituals to control women, property and land”.

The need of the hour for us as women’s groups to sharpen our understanding of the deep inter-linkages between the resurgence of casteism and rising communalism, to strengthen our bonds with the Dalit movement, especially the Dalit women’s movement. Only then can we hope to mount a meaningful response to the challenges of our times.

* The DAVSS comprises PUCL, CADAM, AIPRF, AICTU Satya Shodhak Samaj, Bigul, Mazdoor Dasta, Sandhaan, Justice Party, Samajik Nyaya Morcha, RPI, Badalti Duniya, RPI [B], Inquilaabi Mazdoor Front, Aarohi, Kraantikari Mission, Inquilaabi Naujawan Sabha, Samajwadi Shikshak Manch, Dalit Lekhak Sangh, Delhi Municipal Workers’ Union, Social Development Foundation, Sarvahara Party Nepal, PSU, Stri Adhikaar Sangathan, Socialist Front, Saheli, DSU.