Amid widespread outrage over the gang rape and brutal killing of a young Dalit woman in UPs Hathras, latest data published by the National Crime Records Bureau suggests an overall increase in crimes against Dalits.
As the fight to end caste-based discrimination takes a louder voice, let's look at these strong and fearless women who have dedicated their lives towards fighting for the social, economic and political rights of Dalits, especially women.
1. Radhika Vemula
Rohith Vemula's mother, Radhika, turned a social activist after her son died of suicide at the University of Hyderabad. She has been actively campaigning for the rights of Dalits, especially students.
2. Ruth Manorama
Manorama is a Bengaluru-based social activist, who founded National Federation of Dalit Women in 1995, an NGO that promotes the rights of Dalit women.
Through her work, Manorama has mobilised thousands in support of the rights of the Dalit women and has travelled throughout India advocating for the Dalit women and building coalitions between various social movements. In 2006, she also received the Right Livelihood Award (Alternate Nobel Prize) presented by the Swedish Parliament for her commitment to achieve equality for Dalit women.
Talking about the recent Hathras rape case, she told HuffPost India:
This is happening to the Dalit people and Dalit women for 74 years since Independence. Violence has escalated in India. Dalit women are like fodder in all kinds of atrocities. They violate Dalit women’s dignity in order to shame the whole community. If you want to shame the community, shame the women. They rape and kill them. And we can’t do anything.
3. Cynthia Stephen
A Dalit activist, writer, social policy researcher, and an independent journalist, Cynthia works in the areas of Dalit studies, affirmative action and educational policy. She has worked tirelessly to voice her concerns and fight for the cause of women and especially Dalit women.
She writes fiercely and demands an overhaul of the systemic forces which keeps Dalit women out of the power corridor.
4. Gauri Kumari
A lawyer by profession, Gauri Kumari has been working with the All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch since 2008. She has been practicing as an advocate with the Munger Civil Court in Bihar for 19 years. Just last year, she became first ever woman Vice President of the male-dominated Munger Bar Council.
She was also the first woman to become a member of the Juvenile court in Bihar and worked for six years continuously for juvenile justice.
5. Kiruba Munusamy
An advocate practicing in the Supreme Court of India, Kiruba is also a social, political and judicial activist striving for social justice. She works towards eliminating all forms of discrimination, oppression and inequalities in the society.
During her career, she has filed several public interest litigations to demand judicial intervention in the issues of human rights violation and to restore the fundamental rights of the public at large.
She has also started a training centre for human rights litigation where lawyers, including women from disadvantaged communities, can be trained with professional skills and provided with a co-working space to act independently.
This. In the fight for justice for #HathrasVictim, many listed Dalit women handles to amplify our voices. Few non-Dalit women were also named and none of them came up with the truth as @artwhoring did.— Kiruba Munusamy (@kirubamunusamy) October 4, 2020
Isn't appropriating our identity and growing exploiting our space casteism? https://t.co/lVJWN9NTm8
6. Beena Pallical
Currently the General Secretary of Dalit Aarthik Adhikar Andolan, Beena has always been instrumental for the inclusion of Dalit and tribal women in policy formulation.
She has been working with the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights for the last 10 years and her efforts are directed towards securing economic rights for Dalit women.
Speaking at the Youth Ki Awaaz Summit in 2018, she stressed on several facets of casteism in India. Concluding her address, she said:
If for 24 hours, all Dalits and Adivasis in the country stop working, just for 24 hours, the country will crash. It’s the fastest growing economy , let’s not forget the hand contributing to it.
10 dalit women raped in a day! Pple if this does not make u stand up then i dont know what will!!!! https://t.co/UY1z8T7NoN— Beena Pallical (@sitara1) October 4, 2020
7. Manisha Mashaal
Manisha is a first generation learner in her family and has two degrees to her name – a Bachelors and Master of Arts in Women’s Studies. Starting in 2005, she became a strong voice for the Dalit community over the years.
An anti-caste activist on the ground level, Manisha founded the Swabhimaan Society, an NGO working for the rights of Dalit women. The organisation, today, is home to some 100 young Dalit women, many of whom are rape survivors.
8. Thenmozhi Soundararajan
Born to Indian parents, Thenmozhi Soundararajan is a Dalit rights activist based in the US. On learning that she is a Dalit, the plight of the community, back in India, affected her and she made a documentary film on caste and violence against women as a part of her college thesis.
I send love and healing to all of my Dalit kin who are heartbroken, and depleted from the violence of Caste Apartheid. I send this image of #Phoolandevi who people often forget also had an infectious joy and and incredible laugh. To joy in the face of genocide. pic.twitter.com/ZGgPEEF3Ow— Dalit Diva (@dalitdiva) October 5, 2020
Also a transmedia storyteller, songwriter, hip hop musician and technologist, she has used storytelling to speak about casteism within the Indian diaspora.
She is also the Executive Director of Equality Labs, an art and technology startup supporting South Asian religious, cultural, and queer communities in the United States and South Asia.
Subjected to caste-discrimination at an early age, these women have become the voice of the Dalit community and a force to reckon with.