7 January 2015
Ms. T. Alagurani, who also goes by Rani, has worked for Evidence for the past five years as a Human Rights Researcher for the Women Witness Programme, which is part of the Preventing Violence Against Dalit Women and Promoting Social Justice project that Evidence implements with support from the Swallows India Bangladesh. During my internship period at Evidence I had the chance to sit down with her and ask her a few questions about her work with the Women Witness Programme.
- How did the idea for the Women Witness Programme come about?
The Women Witness Programme started in July of 2009. Before this Evidence did not have a specific gender focus in any of the programmes, but after a review of the organisation’s work in 2009 we found out that the general focus of our projects was inadvertently leaving out Dalit women in many cases. So we realised that we need to have a specific gender focus in order to provide justice for and create self- confidence amongst Dalit women. We also did a study investigating violence against Dalit women and found that they suffer from so many different kinds of discrimination and violence. Dalit women experience a triple marginalisation in society and are exposed to everything from sexual and verbal assault to untouchability and land rights violations. We came to the conclusion that the cases involving Dalit women as the affected persons needed to be classified differently and to have their own special unit.
- How does the Programme work?
As part of the programme we collect facts from secondary and primary sources about cases involving Dalit women and follow up on them to bring justice for the women. We began networking with other organisations and social movement members, asking them to report cases involving violence or atrocity against Dalit women to us. All of a sudden many more cases began to come forward relating to discrimination, untouchability, and atrocity against Dalit women than Evidence had seen before.
- What did you think when so many cases relating to Dalit women began to be reported?
I think that before only the most ”serious” cases involving Dalit women, those involving murder or rape for example, were being prioritised. With this specific Dalit women’s perspective the whole spectrum of atrocities is being taken into account, everything from verbal abuse and untouchability issues involving Dalit women are being taken more seriously and given attention now.
- What is the most challenging part of your work?
To get Dalit women to speak out about their issues and break their silence is very difficult. Women face many obstacles when they come forward about incidents of discrimination, harassment or violence. There is a social stigma attached to many of these types of incidences and therefore women often experience feelings of guilt or shame, or even retaliation from the community if they break their silence. This is very difficult and needs more work. It is hard to safeguard the women from re- victimisation by the rest of society. There therefore needs to be more work with sensitisation and awareness of Dalit women’s perspectives – especially amongst government officials and professionals like doctors and lawyers.
- And what do you think is the best part of your work?
Through the Women Witness Programme, as well as our Dalit Women Advocacy Programme, lots of women’s groups have formed. Through these groups women are able to come together and support each other – they can stand together to take up their issues.
- What are you looking forward to in 2015?
For the coming year we need to provide even more training for women and develop new strategies for how to involve greater numbers of women and other organisations and groups working on similar issues in the programme. When women who are affected by violence, discrimination, and other atrocities can come together their self-confidence increases, so we need to organise even more women’s groups. I would also like to involve more non-Dalit women and Dalit women panchayat presidents in the programme.
- One final question, in your view, what is the ultimate vision of the programme – what is it that you are working towards?
Dalit women should have the right to restore their self-dignity. They should be able to freely access resources and claim their rights. Dalit women should not have to suffer from atrocities and violence.
Interview by Emilia Sternberg Autumn 2014 intern