All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM), a platform initiated by National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), is a national platform that solely works on issues for Dalit women. AIDMAM’s engagement is with law and governance and operates on the grassroots level, as well as working on leadership and capacity building for Dalit women at the national level.
FII Content Editor Mahika got an opportunity to interview Anju Singh, National Coordinator at AIDMAM.
FII: Can you tell us about how AIDMAM came about?
Anju: In 1998, there were many movements working on Dalit issues. At the 2000 Durban conference, Dalit issues were addressed for the first time in an international platform and it was very successful. Following which, our leaders such as Paul Divakar and Ruth Manorama decided that there should be a platform for Dalits at the national level – that is how NCDHR came about.
After some time, Vimal Thorat and Ruth Manorama felt that the issues of Dalit women were being left behind and that a separate space was needed to talk about and address the issues of Dalit women. Consequently, in 2006, AIDMAM was formed, inaugurated by Ruth Manorama and Vimal Thorat.
FII: Since AIDMAM places emphasis on the overlap of caste, class and gender, can you comment on the importance of intersectionality within politics?
Anju Singh: When it comes to the intersectionality of caste, class and gender, AIDMAM takes intersectionality very seriously – it’s not just a theory. Ruth ma’am first told me about intersectionality. We have been sure to implement this since. We did not read about intersectionality in books. After learning, we implemented this at the ground level.
In 2015, we toured the United States of America. We met our Black sisters, shared experiences with each other and learnt about police brutality and racial violence. We could relate to them. In the US, its race, for us here in India, its caste.
FII: Can you explain your monitoring process and what are the networks that let you keep an eye on incidents of violence against Dalit women?
AS: Like you all know, our children are subject to so much violence. Even in the duration of this interview, I was receiving updates on my phone of incidents of violence against Dalits, say somebody got raped in one district, somebody got murdered in this district. That is the extent of violence against Dalits.
Our job is not to showcase the violence against us, but to hold responsible parties such as the government accountable. To remind the government that it is their duty to prevent such violence. We have a dedicated team on the field, comprising of mostly Dalit women. There are about 3 men on the team as well. This team very closely monitors violence. When there are incidents of violence, they immediately conduct a fact-finding mission and state advocacy measures.
State apathy towards Dalit women is immense. Our complaints don’t get lodged and we are chased away from the police station. In the duration of our campaign, we compiled many cases, formed a memorandum and submitted it to various Deputy Commissioners (DC).
We were in Panipat, Haryana and were submitting the memorandum to the DC. Our group comprised of leaders as well as survivors. We wanted to raise awareness of the gravity of the violence. In front of us, the DC dissed us (while being recorded on video) and said that the survivors get themselves raped and then go on to file false cases.
When people like District Magistrates talk like this, how can we hope for justice for Dalit women from such agents? Just filing FIRs and receiving compensation is not our idea of justice for Dalit women. Yet, we are still stuck fighting for such basic legal amenities. When FIRs get filed, they get filed in the wrong sections and then that is another struggle altogether. When the sections are correct, survivors have counter-charges filed against them. Till the charge sheet isn’t filed, sections in the case get removed and the case becomes weak, undoing all of our hard work.
The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 is a very strong act but its implementation doesn’t happen properly, which weakens our cases and hampers us from getting justice.
FII: Can you comment on the composition of the core team working in the field?
AS: We do not have a separate team for fact-finding. AIDMAM has its own people who are working in the field, monitoring incidents of discrimination and violence. In this process, the team gathers data as well. What we receive from them becomes a crucial part of the data in our cases.
FII: Can you comment on the reach you have on the field and how networking is conducted?
AS: Our team works in the field daily. They have formed strong bonds with the villagers. So when an incident happens, the team is immediately informed over the phone. In places where we don’t have a reach yet, social media has helped. We have direct networks, we have local media to aid us, sometimes our local activists inform us. We have a strong group of volunteers.
FII: Can you comment on the obstacles you faced when initiating the process of ensuring that Dalit women are appointed as the Sarpanch?
AS: After the 73rd amendment to the Constitution, women got the right to contest elections. That power is usurped by someone from a dominant caste. But even today in 2017, Dalit women become Sarpanches, but they do not have any power. They are also subject to backlash and violence after contesting and winning elections: their children get kidnapped, their husbands get murdered, women get raped – which we have brought up in public hearings. Again Dalits get left behind.
The title of Sarpanch is then rendered superficial. Even if she has struggled to get to such a powerful position, the Dalit woman Sarpanch is still extremely vulnerable. She may be a Sarpanch, but she is still a Dalit. There have been incidents where despite being a Sarpanch, they have not been allowed to sit on the chair in the Sarpanch office or hoist the flag on 15th August.
Recently, last independence day a Dalit woman Sarpanch in Madhya Pradesh was not allowed to hoist the flag. Laws, its amendments and occupational power do not eradicate caste-based violence. But what I saw on the ground was very heartening, where Dalit women are fighting back. They will again go on to contest elections, which is very inspiring to see.
FII: Can you comment on AIDMAM’s engagement with law and how to ensure who can access the institution of law?
AS: The process of law is failing us. Despite all the hard work we put into gathering cases, filing FIRs, ensuring that all the right sections are applied – the arrests still don’t happen, the culprits who wreak havoc on our girls walk free. There was an incident of gangrape in Haryana. After protesting and filing numerous applications, the perpetrators were arrested and again walked free. They went back and assaulted another woman.
Our movement is coming up with innovative ways to strengthen the process of law and to hold the government responsible. Even if we ensure that just the SC/ST POA Act is strongly implemented, our situation can improve vastly when it comes to fighting cases.
SC/ST POA Act has specific clauses that apply to Dalit women, which do not get applied. It is a very strong Act. There was a coalition of National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ), AIDMAM and some 50 organisations who were responsible for the 2015 amendment to the Act after immense hard work. But the situation has not improved. We follow Babasaheb’s Constitution with so much respect and hope, but the government is indifferent to us.
FII: How does AIDMAM sustain itself?
AS: AIDMAM has good funding. But for Dalit women’s issues, the funding is not adequate, and people do not want to fund. AIDMAM’s sustainability is from a core pool of funding, which is used for fellowships, travel and fact-finding.
As for funders, there are some individuals, there is support from international organisations such as Mama Cash and South Asian Women’s Fund and the Azim Premji local fund has supported us a lot. AIDMAM no longer does project-based work which affects our funding.
AIDMAM prefers to work on leadership building and grassroots activism. If we get into project-based work, it will have its own conditions and will prevent us from doing our grassroots work. For the women who work with us, we have to see them through. Hence, we cannot be a project factory and rely on project-based funds.
FII: Since AIDMAM has been so involved with law and governance, we wanted to ask what is AIDMAM’s take on separate electorates for Dalit women?
AS: The discussion around Women’s Reservation Bill is being based on a 50% divide. But in this 50%, how much of this will Dalit women have? Under this 50%, there is a specific ratio that should be set aside for Dalit women. It’s obvious which direction the power takes and Dalit women will again get left behind. 33% or 50% – but will Dalit women be able to take center stage?
FII: Can you tell us a little bit about the upcoming AIDMAM conference?
AS: On 19th and 20th December, AIDMAM will organise a conference for Dalit women by Dalit women. Our goal is for Dalit women to come together on one platform and share their experiences and talk about their rights. It is crucial that we have a platform for only Dalit women. Where our experiences are concerned, in other such public spaces, either Dalit women do not get their own space and if and when they do, Savarna women hijack this space.
We have invited Dalit women from all over India – professors, artists, students, grassroots activists, etc. This conference will happen in collaboration with The Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre.
We have various themes such as digital security and economic rights. We will have a cultural program with Dalit artists. We wish that funding agents come to the conference and set up their stalls and talk about their process, and how those of us working on the ground can reach out to them. You can read more about the conference here.