“History shows that where ethics and economics come in conflict, victory is always with economics. Vested interests have never been known to have willingly divested themselves unless there was sufficient force to compel them.” - B.R.Ambedkar

It is a well known fact that the consciousness about Constitutional provisions and law enforcement agencies among the Dalits is indeed low and that is one of the reasons which remains as a stumbling block to their emancipation.

Moreover, startling evidence reveal that the empowerment of Dalits has always resulted in a concurrent increase in their opposition as well.

Atrocity cases happen when Dalits try to avail themselves of legal resources; assert their right over common property resources, their occupation, right to participate in cultural life, their right to vote etc.

This being the reality, Dalit Foundation, India and Peoples Watch (NGOs which work among Dalits) have been for so many years organising a National Training Programme on Dalit Human Rights Monitoring.

It is one such effort to instil and inculcate the legal as well as human rights aspects among grassroots activists and campaigners of Dalit cause.

The ten-day training programme is under way at PILLAR centre in Nagamalai Pudukottai here in Madurai where 56 members from Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka Orissa Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu are participating.

All the members are basically Dalit activists who are working at a grassroot level in theor respective states and this training programme provides them a chance to become “informed Dalit activists,” said Pandian, Coordinator, Dalit Foundation, India.

The members had interactive sessions on Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989. However the salient feature of the training programme is going on a fact finding mission to get experienced in a professional way to handle atrocity cases.

Sisir, from Orissa, went to Namakkal district to investigate an alleged case of forceful displacement of Dalits where the local panchayat council had decided to socially ostracise a Dalit family which questioned their rights over land. Sisir says, “Cases have been filed under SC/ST POA, 1989 but there has been no progress.”

Swaranjali, of Maharashtra, went to Goundanallur village in Erode district to investigate a case of a murder of dalit youth. She found how the victim's mother fearing backlash has restrained herself from even filing a complaint.

Indira of Tuticorin district went to Nedungulam in Virudhunagar to investigate an alleged case of caste clash between Dalits and caste Hindus. Using her gained experiences as a trainee she was able to gather information from the police and question them on the sections under which cases have been filed.

Murugesan, Jessintha, Esakkimuthu, Jegadeesan (from Tamil Nadu), Prakash (Maharashtra) and Manjula (Karnataka) also shared their experiences of being part of this training programme and how significant is it for the Dalits and Dalit activists to be conscious about the legal aspects. Many activists shared that “Even if they lodge a complaint under the S.C. /S.T. Act, the police ask the caste Hindus to lodge a counter complaint so that a criminal case is filed against the Dalits, too.

Henri Tiphagne, Executive Director, Peoples Watch, who imparts training to the members, said that the essential aspect of this training is to make ‘human rights defenders out of Dalit activists.' Dalit activists are members who have experienced some sort of discrimination and the protest element is there within them but the effort is to make them think beyond their own experience and to form a pattern where they could think about discrimination from a wider perspective.

This includes documenting the discrimination and human rights violation, handling cases in a professional way, fact finding experiences and recording the statements of victims and perpetrators, which would provide a broader understanding.

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