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Women being beaten, raped, stripped naked and paraded through their villages and a rape case as barbaric as the 2012 Nirbhaya case. These and a whole host of other atrocities were what the women marching for self-respect, and to end violence against Dalit and Adivasi women in the state of Odisha, India, came across on their path to justice.

Odisha YatraThe march (Yatra) took place from the 1st of June to the 10th of June and passed through 11 districts in the state of Odisha. The march was organised by the national level Dalit Women’s movement – AIDMAM, following on the from the previous Dalit Women Self-Respect marches in Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Maharashtra states. This march in Odisha united Dalit and Adivasi women together to fight for justice.

The men and women marched to fight the escalating vicious cycle of caste and gender discrimination that subjects women to violence, rape and violations of their basic human rights. The march empowers women to stand up for themselves and fight for justice.

In a press conference General Secretary of AIDMAM, Asha Kowtal, commented on the march saying,

“I have come across full spectrum of caste violence. The women have particularly been at the receiving end in Odisha in the last 10 days. To my utter shock, I have met survivors and victims of every type of violence, including kidnap, rape, murder, sexual assault, stripping, beating, verbal abuse, untouchability and discrimination,” said Asha Kowtal, General Secretary of AIDMAM, addressing a press conference here.”

Ms. Kowtal spoke of a rising violence against Dalit and Adivais women in the state amidst wilful negligence from the side of the police and judiciary and gave an example saying,

“In a recent chilling and inhuman crime, no headway has been made to apprehend perpetrators of the alleged rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl in Sargipally village of Bolangir district. The rape was as barbaric as the Nirbhaya case in New Delhi. But the police are silent and soft on perpetrators of caste-based violence.”

The Yatra in Odisha was organised after AIDMAM had been inundated with calls and reports, from Dalit and Adivasi women in Odisha, of the worsening caste atrocities against them and the lack of action from police officials and others meant to ensure justice. At times police were also found to be directly complicit in the crimes and in covering them up.

Speaking to TwoCircles.net Ajay Kumar Singh, convenor of Odisha Forum for Social Action said,

“For the last 10 days, the Dalit Adivasi Mahila caravan visiting village to village, town to town, meeting victims and survivors and community representatives; from civil society groups to district administration. The message seems to be loud and clear; fear and insecurity have seized the victims, survivors, making mockery of criminal justice delivery system for the Dalit and Adivasi women as the perpetrators seem to be at large with impunity while the officials seems to be callous and indifference to the cases giving rise to untold and increased violence.”

“The administration, if not complicit, seems to be indifferent towards the issues of Dalit women. Sure, the caravan has set in motion for securing justice for the victim survivors as well as strengthen human rights defenders to work vigorously for the cause,” he said.

In their memorandum presented in Odisha, to safeguard Dalit and Adivasi women from atrocities, AIDMAM demands the following.

Strengthening the implementation of SC/ST PoA Act:

  • All complaints of atrocities, especially rape and sexual harassment must be treated with the utmost seriousness and investigated without any delay. Any police or other officials who do not practice this and those who actually obstruct the delivery of justice must be punished under Section 4 of SCs & STs (PoA) Act.
  • The victim must be rehabilitated in every way possible. Proper compensation should also be made available to them and, where ever feasible, the victims should be given government jobs as per Rules 12(4) of SCs & STs (PoA)

Provide adequate protection to the victim’s family:

  • Exclusive Special Courts to be set up in all the district and ensure speedy trial to try the cases so that justice is not delayed and the victims, their families and witnesses do not face harassment and suffer further trauma
  • An experienced criminal lawyer be appointed as special public prosecutor for atrocity cases as provided under the section 15 of SCs & STs (PoA) Act
  • As the number of rape cases in Odisha are increasing day to day, the state and the police must take proactive steps to create an atmosphere and environment to ensure that girls and women are safe. One suggestion is creating awareness and spreading the message, through posters, wall writings and radio and television messages that any sexual harassment and assault on women is an offence and strict action will be taken.
  • Expansion of atrocity prone area to 37 districts in Odisha, take immediate assessment of the situation and take immediate measure as per the Rule 3 of SCs & STs (PoA) Act.

Budget allocation and expenditure for Dalit and Adivasi Women:

  • Special Component Plan should be legislated in the state of Odisha. As much as 50 % budget should be reserved for women and direct schemes for their empowerment should be introduced.
  • Education of women should be promoted by setting up special hostels for the girls of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in each block, extending the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalas up to the graduation level, providing full scholarships to the SC/ST girl students in private schools.
  • The survivors of caste atrocities, sexual assaults should be supported by setting up survivor support mechanism, provision of special budget should be made for the same.

Strengthening institutional mechanism for protection of Dalit women:

  • The State Commission on Women, State Commission on SC, State Commission on ST, The Mahadalit Commission should conduct meetings on quarterly basis to discuss about the violence against dalit/adivasi women and strategise to address and reduce the same.
  • To include representatives of Dalit movements/activists/lawyers in the committees for review of the cases pertaining to Dalit/Adivasi women.

 

News articles on the march

Dalit women travel through Odisha to map caste violence against Dalit women (TwoCircles)

Yatra against caste violence (The Hindu) – Dalit women allege the State police were indifferent to the sufferings of victims belonging to the lower caste

Dalit women slams govt for caste violence (The Statesman)

 

Other IDSN News on Dalit women’s activism and marches

Dalit women fight for their rights with marches and mass events in Nepal and India (December 2014)

Dalit women go viral to tell the world their story (April 2015)

Dalit women ignite the audience at the Women in The World Summit in New York (April 2014)

Dalit women in India stage month-long march for justice (March 2014)