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Dalits speak out against violence and discrimination

Michael Briggs, Christian Aid Campaigns and Education Officer writes about recent visit to India with team of educators from Ireland.


CA Ireland magazine spring-summer 2015

I had travelled to India with three educators from Ireland, north and south, Francine Magill, Brighid Golden, and Ruth Logan.

While there, we visited Christian Aid partners who are working to improve the lives of marginalised and discriminated communities.

On one of our visits, we took part in a village meeting in Ranga Reddy District, is a district in the Indian state of Telangana. We arrived to a large crowd having what looked like a joyous celebration.

As we stepped out of the cars, they threw flower petals over us started singing and dancing, welcoming us with such a joy I have rarely come across.

It was soon clear though, that the main celebration was not about, or for us.

It was for Dalit Sthree Sakthi (DSS), a local organization with the vision of a society in which Dalit women have real equality, equity, dignity, rights and resources.

Dalit women are often oppressed, discriminated against and exploited under the caste, class and gender structures.

So DSS have created platforms for Dalit women to discuss and share their stories and challenges with others.

These support meetings have spread to over 2,400 villages, including slums, in seven districts.

The stories that were shared by victims of rape, abuse, beatings and many other atrocities were hard to voice and difficult to hear.

And for those telling the stories, it was empowering, as the community listened to them and stood beside them in their suffering.

 

We were deeply moved by their courage and strength

A young girl who had been discriminated and bullied by her school teachers and attempted suicide by dousing her body with kerosene and setting herself alight.

A woman whose husband had been arrested for a crime he had nothing to do with and tortured into confession.

A pregnant woman beaten simply because she was a Dalit.

DSS also offers legal expertise to those who have suffered violence. Since its beginnings, they have processed over 10,000 cases including gang rapes and murders.

Unfortunately, it has often been the case that the accused is simply fined and let off if they belong to a higher caste. 

DSS has engaged with the media and held public demonstrations to highlight and further raise awareness of the injustices suffered by the Dalit women.

The staff and many volunteers of DSS have seen, and will continue to see many dark days and know that they have struggles ahead.

However, as Ruth Logan, secondary school teacher from Wallace High School, Lisburn stated, 'There is no time for self-pity – grit and determination to fight for justice are evident in this community.'  

We realised, DSS’s work is all-consuming for those involved and its staff, volunteers and members are utterly inspirational in their energy and commitment as step-by-step they transform an atmosphere of fear and discrimination into one of joy and celebration.

If you would like to become involved in supporting this project in India please contact Sarah Leeman in the Belfast office sleeman@christian-aid.org

CA Ireland magazine spring-summer 2015 

Brighid Golden, Ruth Logan and Francine Magill photographed with some of the inspirational DSS volunteers who devote their time and energy to demand rights for Dalit women, children and men at village, district and state level.

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