Photo: Hans Jørgen Brun
Laureate 2007

National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights

Defenders of the downtrodden

The 2007 Rafto Prize was awarded to the Indian organization The National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR). Vincent Manoharan (centre), Secretary General of the NCDHR, Dr. Vimal Thorat (left), Co-Convenor and Paul Divakar (right), Convenor received the award on behalf of the organization. The NCDHR received the prize for its work to promote Dalit rights and for its efforts to make the international society aware that discrimination and oppression resulting from caste prejudice is a serious violation of human rights.

Of India’s 1,3 billion citizens,  215 million are labelled Scheduled Castes, and to various degrees considered  ‘impure’ or ‘untouchable’. These people call themselves Dalits, meaning ‘the downtrodden’. For thousands of years they have suffered humiliation, discrimination, and exclusion by being born into a social and cultural system which fundamentally conflicts with the notion that all human beings are born free with equal rights. The forms of caste-based discrimination vary largely between localities. It traditionally includes that Dalits are only allowed to work in occupations with low status and income, primarily occupations requiring the handling of ‘impure’ material, such as garbage, human and animal waste, animal skin and products of the soil. Dalits customarily; have to live segregated, are often also segregated in schools and in the workplace, are not allowed to hold real estate as property, are not allowed to use public utilities such as roads, water, temples and public office buildings. They are disproportionally poor, undereducated, and victims of violence. Many Dalits work as bonded labour, or in forms of modern day slavery. Caste-based discrimination is prohibited by law in India, but still prevalent, and especially in rural areas.

The NCDHR was established in 1998 and  is now a coalition of four movements, each working to overcome different aspects of caste discrimination:

Dalit Ardhik Adhikar Andolan (DAAA) is the Movement for the promotion of economic, social, educational and cultural rights of Dalits. It uses the Union and State Government budgets as the main vehicle for tracking the administration of entitlements for Dalits. It addresses policy makers and executives in order to improve policies and ensure accountability and transparency.

All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM) is the Movement for the rights of Dalit women, who often suffer double discrimination as Dalits and as women, and who are also often among the most exposed targets of caste-based violence in the form of sexual assault by members of higher castes. The movement challenges the nexus of patriarchy, caste, culture and class oppression, all of which contribute to the exploitation and marginalization of Dalit women.

National Federation of Dalit Land Rights Movements (NFDLRM) was initiated by more than 250 Dalit land rights initiatives from 16 states, and coordinates efforts to secure land rights and livelihoods for Dalits.

National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ) works to ensure that the criminal justice administration system secures access to justice for those affected by caste-based atrocities and violence. The movement works to  secure proper legal responses and economical remedies for survivors and victims of violence and other violations.

The National Dalit Watch in Disaster Risk Reduction: Works to monitor Disaster Response and Preparedness for Inclusion & Equity, to develop tools and methods for documenting and mitigating the vulnerability of Dalits when preparing for and responding to disasters.

NCDHR works internationally in three areas. It uses UN mechanisms to address caste-based discrimination through several treaty bodies and charter based mechanisms. It participates in the Human Rights Council and other bodies in order to advance relevant interventions. It works with international human rights organizations to address grave atrocities, and campaigns for strengthening the criminal justice administration. Much of this work is conducted together with the International Dalit Solidarity Network IDSN, where NCDHR is a member. The IDSN has a Norwegian member organization called the Dalit Solidarity Network, DSN-Norway. The Rafto Foundation is a founding member of the DSN-Norway.

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