Thursday, July 31, 2008

Activism and Dalit politics

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Activism and Dalit politics


31 July 2008, Thursday

DR LENIN Raghuvanshi is an icon in Uttar Pradesh among the Dalit community and the victims of caste based discrimination, torture and other types of exploitations. Lenin is convener of Peoples Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR). PVCHR was founded in 1996, with the objective of making child labour free villages. Lenin learned by working from the beginning that, structure of village in India is the ring of exploitation. His views on caste based exploitation, discrimination and social change took shape while he worked with child labourers and bonded labourers. He realised that caste, not class, was at work.

By the end of 1996, Lenin was championing the rights of lower-caste people. Early experiences taught him that confrontation was dangerous and not the most effective method. Increasingly, Lenin recognised caste in all kinds of social conflict and envisioned a movement that could break the closed, feudal hierarchies of conservative slums and villages by building up local institutions and supporting them with a high profile and active human rights network.

Instead of tampering with the symptoms, caste needed to be tackled by both its horns. On the one hand, he created a democratised structure for the voiceless to enable them access to the constitutional guarantees of modern India and on the other, his innovative advocacy forced the state’to sensitise its mechanisms to deliver social justice in a manner where justice is not only done, but perceived to be done.

Ensuring implementation of policy into practice regarding this, Lenin has initiated Jan Mitra Gaon, or the people-friendly village. These villages have durable local institutions that work to promote basic human rights in the face of continuous discrimination. Lenin has adopted three villages and one slum initially, which include reactivating defunct primary schools, eliminating bonded labour, promoting girls to get education. The approach of the organisation is two-fold: To have a strong grassroots organisation to work for democratic rights of those in marginalised communities and second, to create the structure and dynamics to receive the assistance of national and international institutions.

Lenin’s work marks a shift in the Indian human rights movement, which has been reluctant to address injustices in the name of caste as a fundamental human rights issue. He is one of only a handful of activists to declare that such discrimination goes against democratic principles by promoting inequality.

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