We as Dalit women pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.

Acceptance speech – Ruth Manorama

Hon’ble Deputy Speaker Ms Birgitta Sellén of the Swedish Parliament,
Hon’ble former member of the European Parliament and founder of the Right Livelihood Award Mr Jakob von Uexkull, Hon’ble Members of the International Jury of the Right Livelihood Award, Hon’ble Ambassadors, Diplomats, Guests and friends from Sweden and other countries, colleagues, family members, Co-awardees of the Right Livelihood Award, Ladies and Gentlemen,at the outset I want to register my appreciation and heartfelt thanks for conferring the Right Livelihood Award 2006 to me.

Being a Dalit myself and representing the marginalized, indigenous people of India, identified during the British rule as “depressed classes” and now known as Dalits, I am privileged and honoured to accept this prestigious award.

I should emphasize that this award given to me is indeed a fitting recognition of the future empowerment in the social, economic and political life in India for the Dalit community and in particular the Dalit women.

By recognizing me you have recognized the ongoing struggles of the Dalits and Dalit Women, who have taken a big and bold step to move from the ‘margins’ to the ‘centre’. The award opens up new avenues and visibility globally to the aspirations of women of the Dalit community, who may be the most evident example of marginalization standing at the bottom of the social hierarchy of the Indian society.

On this momentous occasion, I must mention that Sisters in the women’s movement, comrades of the Dalit movement, human rights advocates and numerous social movements in India as well as abroad have felt proud and jubilant by the award.

Particularly the mass organizations which I represent in Bangalore, women in the slums, the urban poor, and the unorganized sector of labour felt very happy by the prize. It also created a lot of interest in the civil society, academic institutions, development agencies and the media.

I dedicate this award to the 200 million Dalit people through out the length and breadth of India who are involved in this historical struggle for rights and freedoms.

It would be appropriate in this context to remember the heroic struggles that were undertaken by the great social reformers during the British rule, who were able to identify the plight of the depressed classes.

One of the most prominent of these reformers, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, has been in the vanguard of the movement. In this juncture I have to mention with great pride that the constitution of India which came into force on 26th Jan 1950 was drafted by a committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Ambedkar, himself a member of the Dalit community.  The Indian constitution is committed to the promotion of social justice and has several important provisions to uplift the socially and educationally backward classes and weaker sections of society.

I consider this award to be a symbol of solidarity and providing us hope to continuously fight against inequality, injustice and oppression meted out to the Dalits for more than 3000 years, by the age old social order, namely the caste system.

The continuation of the practice of casteism and untouchability in traditional and modern forms led to ever-present violations of human rights. Despite legal provisions the institution of untouchability continues to govern the socio-economic and political realm in our country.

Eighty million Dalit women in India encounter the cumulative impact of discrimination in their day to day lives.

They are denied of their dignity, livelihood and social security and everything that is humane and just.

Women continue to suffer discrimination based on ‘work and descent’, which lead to social exclusion, physical separation, degrading of occupation like manual scavenging, violent appropriation and sexual control by men of the dominant caste, evident in systematic rape of Dalit women and perpetuation of forced prostitution in the name of religion through the Devadasi system.

The state and non state upper caste actors act with impunity, violating domestic and international human rights law.

Dalit women have to grapple with the discrimination due to caste hierarchy and untouchability on the one hand and extreme economic deprivation and poverty on the other coupled with political, legal and religious-cultural discrimination. They are thrice alienated, by caste, being lower than others; by class, being the most poor and by gender, due to patriarchy.

A very serious issue is that the Dalits face persistent chronic poverty. Landlessness among Dalits has increased; land reforms in favour of Dalits have come to an end; privatization has taken the process of land distribution; there are more Dalit wage labourers; urban Dalits have moved from regular labour to casual labour; privatization has increased unemployment for urban Dalits.

Globalization induces reduction of government spending on public health, education and basic services, which will have a direct impact on Dalit women. The withdrawal of these resources therefore refrain the government from fulfillment of its constitutional obligations.

Moreover, in the present context of globalization and the deliberate ideological project of economic liberalization with a crumbling social protection system and increase in job insecurity – what is the future of the Dalits?

The consequence is that the Dalit will suffer further grinding poverty, exclusion and discrimination.

Dalit women believe in promoting a massive cultural movement to cleanse the minds of people of caste notions and implant in its place the attitude of liberty, equality and fraternity, which has been enshrined in our constitution.

They also reiterate that the cause for violence and atrocities are linked to dependency relationships. Therefore, investing land in the hands of the rural Dalit women, and providing housing facilities for the urban poor women is crucial. Since large numbers of Dalit women workers are in the unorganized sector including agriculture, provision of social security gains a momentum.

In order for Dalit women to attain liberation and dignity, it is crucial for them to acquire higher education and social, political and economic upliftment, capacitating for leadership and decision making positions, and that they are brought on par with the general population in terms of overall development.

We, Dalit women, call upon the international community to undertake and support all possible measure to fight the widespread discrimination, violence and impunity committed against Dalit women.

Dalit women’s rights are a global responsibility. Silence surrounding violence must end. I hope you will be our partners to stand up for freedom, inalienable rights to human dignity and equal status for all in the society.

Our sufferings encourage us to have a common cause with other oppressed and struggling people of the world.  We as Dalit women pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.

“To bounce like a ball that has been hit became my deepest desire,
and not to curl up and collapse because of the blow.”
(Bama 2005).

Dr. Ruth Manorama
84/2, 2nd Cross, 8th Main Road
3rd Block, Jaya Nagar East
Bangalore, 560011
Fax: +91 80 2663 0262