Dalit Rights

Over one-sixth of India’s population — some 200 million people — live a precarious existence, shunned by much of Indian society because of their rank as “Untouchables” or Dalits. The Indian Constitution banned the practice of untouchablity under Article 17 and the Schedule Caste/ Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989 was introduced to combat persecution and discrimination against Dalits and Adivasi (tribal) people. Despite the existence of these strong legal provisions, Dalit and Adivasi populations have found it virtually impossible to access their rights through the legal system. In this context, the Dalit and Adivasi Rights Initiative provides legal aid and rights-awareness to members of Dalit and Adivasi communities and uses the law to ensure that the violation of Dalit and Adivasi rights are addressed through the legal system.

What HRLN Does

This initiative works with the affected communities to set up legal aid centers to increase access to justice for Dalit and Adivasi populations. A crucial element of its work is creating awareness amongst these marginalized communities about their fundamental human rights through training programmes and publications in vernacular languages on Dalit/Adivasi rights and the law. Another significant component of this initiative is building a network of Dalit/Adivasi lawyers, while simultaneously sensitizing the judiciary to the needs and issues of populations marginalized by caste and tribal status. For this purpose, it organizes 10-12 training programmes annually, in different parts of the country, which function as a forum for discussion, consultation, and sensitization.

This initiative also files individual cases and public interest litigations to bring litigation on Dalit and Adivasi issues into the mainstream. It provides legal expertise in crisis situations by conducting fact-findings, rescues, and crisis-interventions in cases of atrocities. Its team has developed alliances with organizations, SC/ST unions and grassroots organizations, has engaged in advocacy and campaigns, and is part of the larger movement working for Dalit/ Adivasi rights in India.

Main Concerns

·      The practice of untouchability and discrimination against Dalits/ Adivasis
·      Unorganised labour (Migrant Labour, Bonded Labour & Child Labour etc.)
·      Manual scavenging
·      Dalit/ Adivasi women’s rights
·      Protecting the rights of couples in inter-caste/ intra-gotra marriages
·      Dalit/ Adivasi land rights
·      Affirmative actions/ Protective Discrimination
·      Special developmental schemes/ policies related to Dalit/Adivasi populations
 

HRLN Impact

HRLN uses the judicial system to assert the rights of the Dalit community. The creation of pro-Dalit government policies and schemes are a result of increased pressure due to landmark legal decisions.

Dalit populations are often forced into manual labour and scavenging (disposing of human excrement, animal carcasses, etc.). A decision passed by the Delhi High Court achieved significant results when the court directed the government to improve the safety conditions of sewer workers in Delhi. This case, however, also created a wider impact in the Dalit community, when the courts also directed that the state should aim towards completely phasing out of the employment of persons to clean sewers, on an emergent basis. (See: National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers Vs. MCD & Ors.)

The HRLN team places particular emphasis on ensuring that the perpetrators of caste-based atrocities are held accountable for their actions through the legal system. In a historic judgment, the Giridh District Court granted life imprisonment with a cost of Rs 25,000 to seven persons responsible for killing a Dalit man. Such judgments set a legal precedent and send out a hard-hitting message that the judicial system will grant no impunity to perpetrators of crimes against Dalits and Adivasis.

HRLN lawyers have filed a number of individual cases that have achieved significant large-scale results. For example, one of the major forms of discrimination against marginalized sections is police refusal to lodge FIRs against upper-caste perpetrators. The initiative has intervened in many such cases, securing court directions for lodging FIRs and carrying out investigations into cases of atrocities against Dalits/ Adivasis.

·      HRLN lawyers in Haryana are fighting over 60 cases of caste-based atrocities in the districts of Sonipat, Hissar, Panipat, Jind, Rohtak, Karnal, Ambala and Bhiwani. These cases include cases of sexual violence against dalit women.

·      In collaboration with the Maitri Network, HRLN is working on a 4-year project providing legal assistance to Dalit, Adivasi and vulnerable women in need of care and protection in 26 districts in the five states: Maharashta, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu.

·    
  HRLN over the last decade, has taken steps to ensure greater degree of inclusion in its attempt to build a cadre of lawyers from marginalised communities such as Dalit, Adivasi, Muslims, and sexual and ethnic minorities in its workforce, over the last decade particularly through its two programs

1.     Student for Human Rights

2.     Young Lawyers Programme


For this, a bursary scheme exists which helps defray expenses that a student from marginalised community may incur otherwise incur to gain a similar work experience.
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