Dalit-Adivasi Women Rise Up: A Swabhiman Yatra Across Odisha
12 June, 2015
Dalit Adivasi Mahila Swabhiman Yatra travelled more than 3000 kms across 11 districts of Odisha, conducted more than 45 village/street meetings, several public rallies in towns and submitted memorandum at District Collectorate of all districts. The Yatra team comprising of Dalit leaders from Haryana, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, volunteers, leaders and cultural activists from Odisha and several Dalit Adivasi community women leaders who travelled from village to village, town to town, district to district are now witness to brutal and heinous crimes against Dalits & Adivasi's and Dalit women in particular.
We have shed tears and shared pain with the victims – survivors and their family members. We have shared the grief of losing lives of young daughters, mothers and wives to the clutches of the evil caste system.
The team has also expressed their anger and anguish at the utter failure of the Odisha police and administration in securing justice to the victims of caste violence. From wilful negligence of duties to the complicit in the violence against the women and young girls; and the indifference by the investigation officers, doctors, administrative officials was observed in several cases. It is shocking to note that the team came across with uncooperative police and officers who were unwilling to listen to the pleas of the victims-survivors.
Asha Kowtal, Gen. Sec. All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch expressed her disgust saying, ' Past ten days in Odisha reveals the full spectrum of caste violence, particularly the women. To my utter shock, I have met survivors and victims of every sort of violence, including kidnap, rape, murder, sexual assault, stripping, naked parading, beating, verbal abuse, untouchability and discrimination.'
Gayatri, a 27 year old rape survivor in Kendrapada district explained, ' I have been running from pillar to post demanding the arrest of the accused but there is nobody in the administration to hear my cries of justice. The perpetrator is scot free and I am struggling by myself to maintain my life and dignity.'
Violence against Dalit women is often a tool in the hands of the dominant caste people to induce fear, maintain status quo, control access to resources and reinforce the caste hegemony. Bodies of Dalit women are often the sites on which caste wars are fought. We have observed this in Zabara village of Jajpur district in which women are fighting hard to to save the common grazing land. Many of the women said, ' Instead of arresting the accused, who created hell for us by beating our people, the police have filed false cases against us. How can we expect a safe, secure and dignified life, when the entire system is working against us?'
Police inaction and purposeful negligence in the investigations reveal severe lapses in the implementation of the SC/ST PoA Act. Absolute lack of relief, legal support, compensations, pyscho social support has left the community in deep trauma, fear and state of hopelessness.
Ms. Anju Singh, National Coordinator, AIDMAM exclaimed, ' Where should we Dalits and Adivasi's go to seek justice? This is a utter shame of the Odisha Government for turning a blind eye to the severe caste atrocities. What is the use of special legal provisions when none of them are of any meaning for me and my community?'
We note that several instances of caste based violence against women. There is an increasing insecurity and vulnerability among the women and young children in different corners of Odisha such as the issues in a village in Jajpur district, where a small altercation involving Dalit youth led to violent attack by dominant caste people on Dalit colony; destroying houses and brutally assaulting the women and children. Worse still, the culprits went even to the extent; one of the Dalit women was stripped and paraded naked. She said, 'Not a single officer has visited us since the incident. In fact we are living in constant fear of the bullies. They have also imposed social boycott on us and we can't even go to the nearby shops. The violence has shattered our lives adding to already stricken by poverty..'
Young wives and mothers of little children are battling alone in search of justice for their murdered and seriously injured husbands. Both in Kendrapada and Jajpur districts, we learnt that there is no financial compensation and relief, no legal support nor medical assistance provided while the perpetrators have impunity. It is sad to note the police have closed their eyes.
In the recent chilling and inhuman case, there is no head way into the 15 years girl of Sargipally village in Bolangir district.
Caste is not cultural, but criminal. The caste based gender violence perpetrators seem to think otherwise.
These few instances of caste violence represent only the tip of the iceberg ! This cross section of cases of violence committed against Dalits Adivasi historically is deep seated in Odisha. Untouchability practices of various forms including discrimination in schools, anganwadi's, shops and hotels, access to water in public places, renting houses in villages and towns, entering places of worship are rampantly practised in many villages. There is huge surge of trafficking of young girls to other states due to rising of drop outs and abject poverty.
Ajaya Kumar Singh, Convenor - Odisha Forum for Social Action said, ' For the last ten days, the Dalit Adivasi Mahila caravan that visited from villages to villages, towns to towns, meeting the victims survivors to community leaders; from civil society groups to district officials. There is an overarching fear and insecurity not just among the victims survivors but also among the dalit adivasi communities as the perpetrators of the caste based gender violence make mockery of criminal justice delivery system The executives and the police if not complicit remain indifference and callousness to the atrocities giving rise to untold sufferings and increased violences. The caste based gender violences could only be addressed if civil society and human rights groups come together to make the duty bearers accountable as well as right holders aware of the due rights and equality. Sure, the Yatra has brought in a new energy to carry on the struggles for equity and dignity.
This 10 days caravan that ended in candle Rally in Bhubaneswar and intense mobilisation of community on the ground leaves us with the hope of collective action in breaking impunity by calling out the authorities to take immediate action in curbing violence against Dalit women and monitor the policies meant to protect and deliver justice to the victims-survivors.
1. Govt must strengthen the institutional mechanism (Exclusive Special Courts) for the protection and security of Dalit and Tribal women in the state through establishing the special cell through allocating special budgetary package for the same.
2. As the number of rape cases in Odisha is increasing day by day in the State, hence police must take proactive steps to create an atmosphere and environment to ensure that Dalits /Tribal girls and women are safe.
3. It is saddening to note that, there are no head ways for horrible inhuman tragedy to the Dalit young girls of Sargipali village of Bolangir. Hence we demand a stringent and urgent action against those perpetrators.
4. Adequate compensation and proper rehabilitation must be ensuring to the Atrocity victims along with a Govt job as per Rules 12(4) of SCs & STs (PoA).
5. Special Component Plan should be legislated in the State of Odisha. 50% budget should be reserved for women and direct schemes for their empowerment should be introduced.
6. Govt should amend the PoA Act and strengthen the implementation of PoA Act in the state.
7. Stringent punishment should be given to the Govt officers for their wilful negligence of their duties & responsibilities on deliver justice to the victims-survivors of caste based gender violences.
8. There is no representation of Dalits and Adivasi communities in all the existing commissions including Women Commission, Children Commission and other bodies; thus these commissions become cover up bodies rather ensure justice for the victims survivors even though they communities constitute nearly half of the population in the state.
9. The sexual violence and pregnancy cases against Dalit and Tribal minor girls in SC/ST Ashram schools are continuously increasing in different districts in the state. Hence we demand that Govt must set up a strong monitoring mechanism to ensure that, these children are safe and well protected.
10. Govt should establish hostels for the minority children of Dalit and Muslim origin in every block with a proportionate pre and post metric scholarship.
11. The officials purposefully interpreted wrongly in the FRA to deny the land rights to Dalits, who have been inhabitated in the same areas for centuries. Thus, we demand the land rights for the Dalits in the same.
12. It is a very sad thing that, due to the caste system and untochability practice in the state, the rented houses are not being provided to Dalits and Tribals resulting huge exclusion. Therefore Govt should amend the PoA to give justice to these marginalised communities in the state.
Asha Kotwal, General Secretary, All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch, New Delhi
Ajaya kumar Singh, Convenor, Odisha Forum for Social Action, Bhubaneswar