“A social movement that only moves people is merely a revolt. A movement that changes both people and institutions is a revolution,” says Martin Luther King Jr.
Social movements across the world run on a fundamental principle of making a change in the society. With the spread of education and awareness especially among deprived and backward communities, social movements gained a unique character of protest through academia and art.
Socially excluded communities, which includes Dalit community in India, are fighting to re-establish their position in the society. According to the International Dalit Solidarity Network, there are an estimated 260 million Dalits worldwide. Dalits live across South Asia especially India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka; and in communities that migrated from South Asia across the globe.
The year 2022 marked several achievements for the Dalit community in India. From Ashwini K.P, a Dalit woman, appointed as the UN rapporteur to 200 Dalits embracing Buddhism in Karnataka, the community has come a long way in fighting casteism and casteist atrocities.
1. Ashwini K.P becomes the first Dalit woman rapporteur as an independent expert on racism, xenophobia and related intolerance
In the 51st session of the UN held in November, Ashwini K.P became the first Dalit woman rapporteur as an independent expert on racism, xenophobia and related intolerance for a term of three years. Owing to her persistence, grit and dedication, Ashwini was endorsed by a 57-member UNHRC (Geneva) and was one of the three-member shortlisted and recommended by the Consultative Group.
It was HRC’s president, Federico Villegas, who nominated her to the Council. At an international level, this not only meant a win for the Dalit community but gave reassurance to all other marginalised communities that they too are heard in mainstream society.
2. Over 450 Dalits renounced their caste and religious identity
During the month of October this year, over 450 Dalits, both men and women, renounced their identity and Hindus in Karnataka’s Sholapur to get rid of the tag of untouchables. The event was organised by Golden Cave Buddha Vihar Trust and was held on the eve of the 66th Dhammachakra Pravartan Din (when Ambedkar adopted Buddhism in 1956).
Secretary of the Trust, Rahul Hullimani, said that 457 Dalits embraced Buddhism by taking the 22 vows as propagated by Ambedkar. This movement gave strength to all members of the community as they broke and reclaimed their power in society by letting go of a religion that discriminated against them.
3. The 14th of April 2022 marked the 66th birth anniversary of Dr BR Ambedkar
Several took to the street as part of a cultural resistance event, organised by several groups in Karnataka. A massive convention took place in Bengaluru at the National College grounds where Dalits in blue came together to protest against their upper caste oppressors.
The wide-scale event was against the backdrop of various atrocities and the practice of untouchability in a Karnataka village after a man allegedly put cow urine to purify a tank that a Dalit woman drank water from.
4. Dalit women to challenge caste-based prejudices
A group of Dalit women in Sukhpura Mour village of Punjab have united to earn a livelihood through knitting to challenge caste-based prejudices that deterred them to earn. These women have successfully knitted themselves a lucrative livelihood through their hosiery skills, allowing them to escape caste-based discrimination and abuse. This knitting group comprises 18 women.
Clothing companies in Ludhiana — a major hub of hosiery — place orders for sweaters with this group and provide them with wool. They are paid per sweater. The women divide work amongst themselves based on the availability of knitting machines. At present, only seven women in the village of nearly 2400 have knitting machines while the rest sew woollen. Women owning a machine get Rs 50 to Rs 60 per completed sweater. The ones without a machine help out in sewing the knitted pieces. They are paid Rs 15 to Rs 20 per piece.
5. Dalit students march forward against the rising hostel fees
On the 10th of December 2022 thousands of students belonging to Dalit and tribal communities came together and carried out massive processions against rising hostel fees provision of inadequate facilities in colleges in the city of Kochi. The students claimed that the protest, which was to support various tribal welfare organisations such as ‘Adi Shakthi Summer School, a collective of Adivasi and Dalit youths under the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha (AGMS)’, is a strategic tactic to fight against the ‘social exclusions and marginalisation’ they face in various domains. While the monthly allowance is only Rs 3,500 for tribal students who are staying in hostels other than the ones run by the government, it is only Rs 1,500 per month for Dalit students.
Students said the amount is not adequate to meet the basic expenses like hostel and mess fees. They demand the government to make campuses and SC and ST departments tribal-Dalit-queer-friendly. They accused a tribal extension officer in Ernakulam for discriminatory actions, who, unnecessarily involved in the matters of the women’s hostel and the daily activities of the students. They demand the department to take action against the officer.
Thus, the challenges that the Dalit communities face are multifold and these movements are a testament to the courage and fortitude of the members in the community.
The year 2022 gave us powerful moments against caste and class hegemony, and it’s high time we remind ourselves with the words of B R Ambedkar that, “every man who repeats the dogma of Mill that one country is no fit to rule another country must admit that one class is not fit to rule another class.”
Disclaimer: This is by no means an exhaustive or representative list. Suggestions to add to the list are welcome in the comments section.