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Navsarjan's History

Navsarjan is a grassroots Dalit organization dedicated to ensuring human rights for all. Our mission is to eliminate discrimination based on untouchability practices; ensure equality of status and opportunities for all, regardless of caste, class or gender; and to ensure the rule of law.

Origins…

Established in December 1988, Navsarjan started functioning as an organisation in 1989. Its primary focus has always been Dalits, which largely includes people previously known as ‘untouchables’—the most exploited class of Indian society.  As time passes, however, and trust of Navsarjan grows, other communities and castes have been approaching Navsarjan for legal assistance, as well.

The organisation has its roots in the 1970’s when the founding member of Navsarjan, Martin Macwan, was involved in a sustained effort to establish a consciousness within the Dalit community to fight social and economic exploitation. The educational process led the community to assert their land rights and question their unequal and unjust social relationships.

 

The Golana Tragedy…

 As a result of the programs, Dalits began to stand up and demand their rights.  In January, 1986, the feudal landlord Darbar community of Golana village in Anand District, unable to bear the loss of its social power, brutally attacked the Dalit community and those supporting them. Four of Martin’s colleagues were gunned down on the spot, eighteen others were badly wounded, and many houses were set on fire.

Thirteen long years of legal battle ensued, finally resulting in the life imprisonment of ten of the murderers. 

Though the loss of the community leaders was unbearable, the knowledge gained during this phase in securing social and legal justice was immense. It reinforced our resolve to pursue the struggle, strengthen the movement and helped define all future programs, including the establishment of Navsarjan.

Three basic lessons were learned from Golana, and serve as today’s guiding principles

1.     Violence against Dalits is a systemic phenomenon. It can only be countered through a broad-based organization and movement.

2.     The most crucial requirement in the movement is its leadership, which must be stable as well as sensitive to its communities. Such leadership best arises when it grows from the community itself. 

3.     The war is more psychological than physical. There is therefore a need for mass awareness programs on a continued basis, along with action-oriented programs.

 

Navsarjan Today…

Navsarjan is now solidly established in Gujarat, has built upon its foundation of fieldwork, and plays an active part in the overall Dalit movement in India and abroad.  It is recognized as being one of the most successful and groundbreaking Dalit organizations in India. 

Navsarjan works to help Dalits and other persecuted communities to escape the net of ideological deceptions through which the system has oppressed them for centuries and millennia.  Promoting self respect and dignity in all of its activities, Navsarjan now dedicates itself to a variety of programs. 

As both an organisation and a Movement, Navsarjan’s programs can hardly be distinguished from its other daily activities. Many of the programs have been carried out since the inception of the organization, and will be pursued for many years to come. They may, however, be improved or altered according to reviews.   

Navsarjan promotes the use of non-violent action to protest the Dalit situation.  Navsarjan provides services to both Dalits and non-Dalits.

  

Navsarjan’s Founder: Martin Macwan

Martin Macwan is the 2nd born child of a poor Dalit family of 11 children from Nadiad, Gujarat.  He worked as a child laborer for years, financing his education with hours of work in the fields.  After graduating from Gujarat University in 1980 with a degree in psychology, and two years later adding a law degree from S.P. University, Martin joined the Behavioural Science Center (BSC) in Ahmedabad.  With the BSC, he served as a lecturer and worked in the field with Dalits and other exploited peoples, including the Marijanas (a refugee tribe from Pakistan settled in the northern District of Banaskantha, Gujarat), and tribals from Bharuch District in South Gujarat.  The BSC attempted to address the problems of economic and social exploitation of the Dalits, raising awareness among their communities.

The tragic murders at Golana in 1986 had a profound effect upon Martin.  Over the bodies of his murdered colleagues, Martin vowed to dedicate his life to the fight against inequality.  After leaving the BSC, he set up Navsarjan as a charitable Trust in 1988 with the intent to pursue and intensify the fight to eradicate caste discrimination.  Since then, Navsarjan has grown; it is now active in 3,000 villages of Gujarat, and has won major victories both in and out of court, having a concrete effect on the lives of Gujarati villagers.

For his entire adult life, Martin Macwan has been involved extensively with the Dalit movement at the grassroots, national, and international levels.  As National Convenor of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) between 1999 and 2001, he led the Indian Dalit contingent to the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) in Durban. As treasurer and founding trustee of the National Centre for Advocacy Studies, and founding member and chairperson of both the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies and the Dalit Foundation, Martin has led the charge to facilitate cooperation between Dalit groups across India and South Asia, better train activists and leaders, and increase the amount and quality of research on Dalits at all levels in order to better combat inequality and discrimination. 

Winner of the 2000 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and recipient of Gleitsman Foundation’s Activist of the Year Award, Martin has also been honoured for his work by Human Rights Watch.