Ending Modern Day Slavery for Dalits in India

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September 17, 2016

Within India’s diverse and complex social fabric, the Dalit community has long been the country’s most persecuted, excluded and abused population. Deeply entrenched cultural norms and traditional beliefs around caste in India mean that Dalits – currently an estimated 3.4 million in India – are still seen by many as the “untouchables” who are destined to live and work on the fringes of society. Dalit women face the brunt of this discrimination, and routinely face staggering abuse and some of the highest rates of sexual violence, leaving them vulnerable to poor health and extreme poverty. One of the most humiliating forms of exploitation of Dalit women is the practice of manual scavenging, the job of cleaning human excrement from dry latrines with their bare hands, which many in India still believe Dalits are born to do, even though this officially became illegal in 2013.

Yet Dalit women across India have started to emerge from the shadows and demand equal rights, marking a major shift in India’s history, and one that would not have been possible without the campaigning of local groups the Fund supports, like Jan Sahas, who spearheaded the Dalit movement. Trailblazing groups like Jan Sahas, set up by Dalits to challenge India’s out of touch beliefs on caste and to empower Dalit women, have long been using innovative approaches to their work. For example, the Fund is supporting Jan Sahas to provide support and legal counsel – usually only available to the right in India – to Dalit women who are survivors of rape. They then train many of these same Dalit women to become volunteer “barefoot lawyers” to travel around and support other victims in the Dalit community, offering strength, solidarity and a voice to many women who have typically suffered in silence.

Jan Sahas has also successfully helped thousands of Dalit women to abandon manual scavenging and seek new employment, and supported them to lead peaceful demonstrations across India to raise awareness of their plight. Years of hard work and support from the Fund has brought a wave of change, and these frontline groups need support more than ever to help end modern day slavery of Dalits once and for all.