India might be the fifth largest economy in the world, but there is little sign of prosperity for rural Dalit communities in Tamil Nadu. Instead they face grinding poverty, violence and discrimination on a daily basis. Dalits once known as Untouchables are at the bottom of a caste system which is hard to escape.
“With your support, Dalit and Tribal or indigenous people in south India, are taking on their abusers. The Women Development Resource Centre is giving them the knowledge and support to challenge centuries of exploitation,” says Murray Overton, Christian World Service’s National Director.
Buneswari aged 38 lives in an area set aside for the Dalit community. The members are expected to use designated pathways to avoid others in the village. At school their children are separated, undertake the cleaning jobs and eat last. Buneswari finished school at standard three and then worked with her family in the burial ground.
Late last year her husband died. When she returned from the burial ground on the main road because there is no other, two women from the dominant caste shouted abuse at her. When Buneswari asked them to stop, one woman ordered her son to attack Buneswari’s son, Periyasamy. After beating him with a stick, the son proceeded to punch Periyasamy and his mother, and the women threw chili powder into their eyes.
When she reached home, the other Dalit women saw how beaten and bruised the two were. They marched to the police station and demanded action citing government legislation meant to protect Dalits and others. At first the policeman refused to register the case but he gave in when he saw that the women sangam or association members were determined.
“However much I try to help you people, the dominant caste has made all this their business and habit, they will not be stopped,” he told them.
The case continues with the women’s sangam supported by CWS partner, Women Development Resource Centre persisting in their demand for justice.
Training Dalit and Tribal people in their rights under Indian law is the first step in making long term change possible. Working together as a sangam supported by a network of lawyers and activists increases the likelihood of their success. More than 25,000 women are members of village sangam.
July 7, 2023
Image: CWS/Trish Murray