The need of the hour is to build confidence among Dalits, said Manjula Pradeep, National Convenor and Director of Campaigns for National Council of Leaders and Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network (NCL and DHRDN), from Gujarat.
She was speaking at a public hearing on atrocities against Dalits on Saturday. Evidence, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Madurai, had organised the hearing. About 15 cases of atrocities against Dalits, reported across police stations in Thanjavur, Pudukottai, Madurai and other districts in Tamil Nadu, were taken up in the presence of a panel comprising writers, activists, advocates and faculty associates from academic institutions.
Ms. Pradeep claimed that crimes against persons from the scheduled castes (SCs) were on the rise in BJP-ruled States. Police personnel in these States were hand in glove with the accused, who represented a dominant community. In such challenging situations, the Dalits had to rise up intelligently and strategically. among themselves.
The Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women chairperson A.S. Kumari said more petitions had been received from rural parts of Tamil Nadu, which, she said, reflected that women were aware of their rights and responsibilities even if they were not academically qualified. She also urged women in urban areas to come forward and submit their grievances with the Commission, and promised redress.
In his opening remarks, A. Kathir, executive director of Evidence, said in the last 15 years, they had conducted 31 public hearings and taken up 3,500 cases across Tamil Nadu.
The objective of the hearing was to understand the plight and mental agony of the victims and their families. The idea of the public hearing was not to hurt or harm any person nor was it against the government. The Dalits, who had undergone humiliation in the hands of different stakeholders in the society, should have an opportunity to talk about their experiences. This would be a good beginning and learning experience to other weaker sections.
The panel members appreciated a few of the victims and their family members for tackling crises efficiently, which had enabled the police to book cases immediately and arrest the accused.
They wanted the judiciary to quickly expedite cases as it would discourage the offenders from indulging in violations repeatedly. The conviction rate was just 5-7 % in Tamil Nadu.
Evidence presented ₹1 lakh to Mahalakshmi, a teacher, who has been working for the upliftment of tribal children in Jawadhu Hills, Tiruvannamalai, since 2006. The teacher, in her acceptance speech, thanked the NGO for its timely intervention.
Ms. Mahalakshmi, popular in social media, had been instrumental in enrolling more children from the tribal community in the school, speakers said. Recently, children from the government school appealed to the Tiruvannamalai Collector to upgrade their school as higher secondary school. The news made headlines and drew the attention of the policy makers, they added. A booklet on caste-based sexual violence and state impunity was released on the occasion.