On Saturday morning, our partner SASY took us to meet some Dalits from various rural communities around the Pondicherry area.
They had come to share their stories with us – stories of discrimination, torture, murder and injustice. The mood was sombre as each person described the atrocities that had happened to them and their families.
In rural communities there are no schools for older children, so many have to leave their families and stay in hostels close to where the schools are. Young Dalits in these hostels are often discriminated against and are victims of violence.
We heard how one couple were told that their 17 year old son had committed suicide. This was not the first Dalit ‘suicide’ in a hostel. They were not allowed to see their son’s body and, because they were Dalits, there was no investigation by the school and no police enquiry. The case was closed.
Another young woman quietly told us how her husband was violently taken from their home one night. He was tortured and killed. Once again there was no enquiry or investigation.
Although these stories were told in a language I did not understand, the language of pain and sadness is easily translated. I could see the anguish in these people’s eyes and faces but I could also see their strength and determination to fight for justice.
That’s where SASY, Christian Aid’s partner comes in. SASY is working with these families and others to make sure that their cases are investigated and that Dalit victims and survivors see justice done.
As we were leaving, Kashturi – whose husband was killed – grasped my hand and whispered in English: ‘Ravi, my husband was called Ravi’. It was a very poignant moment. I was humbled by Kashturi’s quiet dignity and inner strength. She is determined to get justice for Ravi and hopefully, with support from SASY and Christian Aid funding, that will happen.
In a complete contrast to the morning’s meeting we went to visit another SASY project – this time a cashew nut processing business.
This business is run by a Board of 10 Directors, all of them Dalit women.
They were definitely the most enthusiastic and vibrant group of directors I have ever met.
They told us how running the business had changed their lives. One woman had never left her village and surrounding area before and now she travels all over India in her sales and marketing role. All the women are knowledgeable about all areas of the business world – finance, sales, marketing, HR, quality control and so on.
Their status has changed within their community. They now get more respect because not only are they bringing more money in to their families but they’re also employing local people too.
Their passion and enthusiasm for their work was infectious. Before too long they were asking about ideas on how they could expand and become more efficient. I came away motivated and inspired, wondering if similar businesses could be set up in other Dalit communities.
The third group of people we met on Saturday were representatives of a Men’s Federation and a Women’s Federation. They told us how SASY, supported by Christian Aid, encouraged small groups of Dalit men and women to form self help groups that later became the larger Federations.
They have now formed committees within these Federations with various roles and responsibilities, all of which are dedicated to improving the lives and rights of Dalits within the area. For example, as ‘untouchables’ Dalits may not receive blood from other castes, so the men overcame the problem by setting up their own blood donation group.
During the 4 hour drive back to Chennai I had time to think over all that I had seen and heard throughout the day. It was an emotional day, at times very sad but it was also really uplifting and motivating to hear how our partner SASY is working with the Dalit community to really change their lives. That inspired us all to keep on supporting these people further.