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Centre for Dalit Human Rights

Atrocities against Dalits—such as practices of untouchability, assaults, rapes, and murders—are all too common in Gujarat, and Navsarjan works to legally prosecute them. 

The Center for Dalit Human Rights (CDHR), based in Ahmedabad, is the semi-autonomous legal wing of Navsarjan, working to register and prosecute atrocity cases and cases of violence against both Dalits and non-Dalits. 

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Though The Scheduled Castes and The Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act provides substantial protection to Dalits, the Act remains largely un-enforced due to both ignorance and active obstruction on the part of Gujarat’s law enforcement, judiciary and executive agencies.  The CDHR organizes mass gatherings of victims of atrocities at the district level in order to help individual victims circumvent obstacles inhibiting their cases from moving forward and determine larger patterns of un-enforcement of Dalit-protective legislation.  

Similarly, the CDHR has organized Public Hearings for victims of atrocities to voice their grievances.  These events serve to help Dalits (and non-Dalit activists and journalists) understand the types of hurdles they face in registering atrocity cases, particularly as a result of police apathy or active antagonism, refusal of the government to provide a legally-mandated special Public Prosecutor in atrocities cases, and overall government inaction, among other reasons.

The CDHR does not limit its legal advocacy to the state level.  If a case is particularly grievous, and the government is obstructing the victim’s access to justice, the CDHR will represent that case to the National Human Rights Commission, along with other national human rights mechanisms.  

The CDHR has also collected an enormous amount of data on human rights abuses and other issues, including:

  • Implementation of The Scheduled Castes and The Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, from 1990 to 2008
  • Cases of domestic violence registered with the police from 2006 to 2007
  • Cases of violence against women registered with the police from 1995 to 2007
  • Deaths in police custody from 1997 to 2007
  • Deaths of manhole workers from 1997 to 2007
  • Total number of sanitary workers in Gujarat
  • Maternal mortality from 2006 to 2007

 

In addition to the Center for Dalit Human Rights in Ahmedabad, Navsarjan maintains legal cells within its taluka offices with the objective of providing legal assistance to Dalit women and men who can hardly find, let alone afford, a lawyer. Navsarjan aims at promoting awareness of legally protected rights at a community level through village meetings and community training programs. As empowered individuals become aware of existing laws and of their rights, dependence on Navsarjan decreases, as they begin confidently approaching the authorities on their own.

One of Navsarjan’s key efforts in this regard is the training of village paralegals, or “barefoot lawyers” to help make the communities aware of their rights.  These village paralegals register and pursue cases of atrocities when they happen, without assistance from Navsarjan. 


Impact:

  • By intervening in cases of atrocities, CDHR has ensured that cases of atrocities are properly registered and investigated by the police and effectively prosecuted by the government, and that victims of atrocities are sufficiently compensatied.   
  • Through its media advocacy, CDHR has sensitized the media with regards to the number and types of atrocities committed against Dalits.
  • By pressuring government officials to intervene in cases of atrocities against Dalits,  CDHR’s efforts have also resulted in some degree of government sensitization on issues facing Dalits, including the non-enforcement of Dalit-protective legislation.   
  • More urban, as well as rural, Gujaratis are becoming aware of their human rights through community meetings, empowering them to register complaints of human rights violations on their own.
  • Village paralegals are sufficiently trained to register cases of atrocities and combat untouchability on their own.

 

Challenges:

  • While the number of convictions in atrocities cases are increasing, the prison sentences perpetrators face remain lower than what is mandated by law.  
  • A number of obstacles continue to exist delaying the timely and accurate registration of First Information Reports (FIRs)—absolutely crucial for the investigation and prosecution of a crime.  In particular, for atrocities cases: Police officers seldom care about atrocities cases; Police officers believe that Dalits are registering false cases; Police officers are unaware of provisions of The SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act or its existence altogether; Police officers turn a traumatized victim’s statement into the FIR rather than the carefully drawn complaint submitted by CDHR on behalf of the victim.
  • The State of Gujarat continues to lack a special public prosecutor for atrocities cases, as mandated under The SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
  • Judges and prosecutors often try to relieve themselves of their duty to prosecute and punish offenders by pressuring victims of atrocities to settle their cases out of court. 
  • The accused in atrocities cases often file cross-complaints against Dalit victims, complicating the cases and slowing them down considerably.