PUCL Bulletin, October 1999

Disenfranchisement of the dalits

We are publishing in this issue a report from the Tamil Nadu & Pondicherry State branch of the PUCL about widespread violence in some 50 villages to terrorise the Dalit voters so that they may not cast their vote. Houses were burnt, cattle were slaughtered, polling booths were captured, many people were injured. Newspapers have reported widespread terror tactics against the Dalits in many States during the ongoing elections to the 13th Lok Sabha.

We are also publishing a statement on a 291 page report released by the Human Rights Watch, a few months ago, titled Broken people: Cast violence against India's untouchables.

There may be a State or two where no serious incident took place. But this would be an exception. A de facto disenfranchisement of the dalits is the only term that can be used to describe poll violence against them. At one or two places the dalits successfully organised protest against these terrorist methods, but generally it ends with an ineffectual appeal to the Election Commission.

Newspapers are full of reports for the past few days about Lalita Oraon, a maid who, till the other day, was said to be in the employ of one Amrit Lugun, an Indian diplomat in Paris. It is reported that this tribal girl from Bihar, was not paid any money. The facts of the case are a matter of investigation. What is important is that the government machinery seems to be busy denying anything and every thing being published in French newspapers. It seems that the poor victim has to confront the might of the GOI. One, she is a servant, and two, she is a tribal!

The least that the human rights activist can do in this regard is that they relentlessly investigate and expose such intimidation against the dalits whenever they come to know of them. No doubt, as the protest and resistance grows, the intimidation will rise. But then that is the only course the hands of the insensitive administration can be forced. Enforcement of rights needs to be forced.

What is more important is that we aim at bringing about a change in personal attitudes. The beginning has to be made in the family. Our family structure is autocratic and undemocratic. Women and children, amongst family members, have less rights. Servants are slaves. Lalita Oraons can be treated as dirt the moment they enter the employ of an urban upper class family. Individual and family attitudes perpetuate the traditions as well as train the future generations. Fight for rights and equality should not be confined to meetings and conferences. It should be rooted at home. It is not so much a matter of speaking and writing about; it is more a matter of practising.

Home | Index