About the Book
Human civilizations have come a long way in struggling for emancipation from all forms of exploitation, abuse, oppression, exclusion and marginalization of the fellow-beings. There are situations in the social environment that precipitate inequality and injustice, adding to vulnerabilities and impoverishments, hardships and miseries to certain sections of society, which, even after much of efforts, are not resolved amicably — such circumstances call for social action.
The present work is a humble attempt to document the process of intervention that led to empowerment of the Dalits in Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh, India. Under the aegis of People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) – a civil society initiative, a few committed and motivated workers mobilized the downtrodden and oppressed Dalits and gradually ‘empowered’ them to take charge of their lives. It is the process towards developing model villages while addressing the social inequalities that had shackled the lives of most underprivileged and marginalized people in the community.
Empowering people who have been socialized and conditioned for ages to be resource-less, powerless and voiceless victims to the dominant upper caste, who have accepted that poverty, chronic malnutrition, abuse, exploitation and injustice as their fate, who struggle, almost unendingly, throughout their life to somehow gather two square meals to keep their body and soul together, is indeed a arduous task. It required more than a decade’s unflinching hard work, consistency and commitment to see some positive change in the lives of Dalits in the area of intervention. The present work has tried to sketch that process of social action, which challenged the elitism, thereby changing the social order to be more egalitarian. This work records the changing identity among Dalits through the process of empowerment in Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh, India.
About the authors: One of the author, Dr. Archana Kaushik, is a social work educator, teaching at Department of Social Work, University of Delhi. And, the other – Ms. Shruti Nagvanshi has been a field practitioner, the managing Trustee and Co-founder of PVCHR. Shruti Nagvanshi, has been a part of the team that led the intervention that is being talked about in the book. She has witnessed the entire journey of empowerment that has come among many lower caste people collectively termed as Dalits. The experiential reality shared by Shruti is amalgamated with conceptual and theoretical perspectives and presented in this book by Archana, using her knowledge as social work educator.
USP of the book: The literature, in general, and social work literature, in particular, is full of manuals and books on community organization and empowerment, Dalit empowerment and related topics. However, there has always been dearth of materials emerging out of field practice that facilitate testing, verifying, accepting or rejecting theories in the light of experiences from the field. In this manner, this is a unique and enriching joint venture of an academician and practitioner in social work discipline. Human service professions, such as social work, can grow only if academics and field practice are strongly interconnected, complement, contribute and give insight and foresight to each other to rectify, improve and make itself suitable to meet the demands of fast changing socio-cultural milieu. While, the divorce or disconnect between the two would engulf both theory and practice, making them redundant and eventually extinct. It is in this backdrop, that the present work bears its significance. It depicts the interventions and strategies that have worked well in the field and hence have critical importance for academia. The book highlights the process of community empowerment.
The purpose of documenting the process of Dalit empowerment in the book is to facilitate social workers and other human service professionals to gain an insight into the challenges and problems change agents encounter in social action and approaches, strategies and models of intervention that ‘work’ in empowerment of deprived and marginalized groups and communities. For social planners and policy makers, the present work would provide enough food for thought and analysis that may result in planning of pro-poor and responsive policies and programmes. The social work educators, practitioners and students would appreciate the theoretical perspectives on different aspects of empowerment of downtrodden people gained through fieldwork practice. Hopefully, it would enrich their teaching, learning and practice.
Contents of the book: A brief outline of the book is delineated here. It is important to note here that the names mentioned in the book, in various case studies, excerpts of interviews and interactions with Dalit and marginalized people, have been camouflaged to protect their identities.
What it means to be born as Dalit in rural India? How taking birth in a particular family has almost complete bearing on access to resources and power? How rural people respond to authority – whether administrative, legal or charismatic? How caste system perpetuates domination and subjugation in myriad of ways? What is the psyche of the Dalit and how caste-based interiority is internalized? What is the relationship dynamics between Dalits – the oppressed and marginalized and upper caste – the oppressors? And how this relationship is defining and confining access to resources, decision-making power and opportunities to development and empowerment? The chapter one titled, ‘the context’ tries to answer these questions and pictures the backdrop of rural socio-cultural milieu where intervention efforts for empowerment of Dalits have been made.
The chapter two ‘praxis to practice’ lays out the theoretical framework that has guided our action. It conceptualizes the term empowerment, its salient features and components. It provides sociological and psychological perspectives to the process of empowerment from powerlessness and vulnerability. It presents the modalities and models we followed in making the marginalized groups and communities aware, conscientized and ready to act for their rightful dues.
Chapter three – In Belwa village, Dalits could never participate in the political process of electing their leaders, which is one of the basic rights of every major Indian. For years together, the upper caste leaders forged their votes and continued their unquestioned authority and control in grassroots governance. A few years back nobody could ever imagine that the Dalits of Belvan, who have been oppressed and suppressed, marginalized and excluded, could even voice their concerns. The social action carried out in the village ensured mobilization of Dalit community and their first victory as they marked their impressions on the ballot papers. It is the process of Dalit-empowerment from being led passively to becoming change makers. They not only acquired their right to vote but also nominated their own candidate in elections, who became the new village head.
Chapter four ‘from starvation deaths to healthy living’ describes another process of social action in Badagaon in Pindra block where there were many reported and unreported cases of starvation deaths of Dalit children and the government machinery was totally indifferent and apathetic. It highlights how consistent and long struggle changed the system and now Badagaon is a model village in terms of ensuring Right to Health to Dalits. Similar interventions were carried out in many other villages and many lives could be saved with timely intervention.
Chapter five sketches the role of young children bearing the torch of struggle for change with unflinching motivation and spirits, themselves becoming the role models for adults. Children’s parliament was constituted.
Chapter six – Weaving Destiny through yarns of hardship – captures the plight and struggle of weavers who weave banarasi sarees, but are left with poverty, pain and grief. Their hands weave enchantingly gorgeous sarees but their life is filled with ugliness of impoverishment and poverty.
Chapter seven ‘from bondage to liberation’ is a case study of three brothers in Belwan village who were bonded labourers as children and depicts the process of their struggle, action and freedom. This event triggered enthusiasm among the bonded labourers, their families and social workers working for their rehabilitation and had ripple effect.
Chapter eight – Surviving torture to defending human rights – highlights the cases of police torture on innocent Dalits and their fight against their victimization. There have been numerous instances when police, without any proof, put Dalit inhabitants behind bars on the smallest pretext. The role of testimonial therapy and the process of uniting village fellow-men to collectively fight against perpetrators of torture have been highlighted in this chapter.
The last chapter ‘Seeing Change’ summarizes the entire process of intervention and depicts the way forward. It opens up the issue of ‘neo-dalit movement’ that attacks caste system in a dynamic way.