Related LinksMore on Dalits
India: Gauri's story
In recent years Dalit and human rights organizations have shed light on the daily abuses suffered by almost one-fifth of the population of India. Unfortunately however the widespread practice of untouchability is often excluded from discussions and monitoring of human rights violations in the country.
Since 1989 MRG partner organisation Navsarjan Trust has been working to visibilise and eliminate discrimination based on untouchability practices and to ensure equality of status and opportunities for all, regardless of caste, class or gender.
Between Bhuj and Mundra in the Kutch (also spelt as Kachchh) region of Gujarat State in North West India lies Vanki, a large rural village with a Jain temple and a small square at its centre.
Gauri Ben (Ben is Gujarati for sister) used to run a small stall selling vegetables in the square. Gauri is from the Dalit community, who number some 30 families, whilst the majority of the village is from the Darbar community (around 150 families). Based on the traditional caste system of untouchability, Dalits are not allowed to enter the Jain temple, even though legally they are entitled to, so Gauri decided to make an official application to worship at the temple.
Gauri paid dearly for her actions. One day, while working at her stall, Gauri and her husband, who is blind, were attacked and viciously beaten with a stick by a member of the Darbar community. The incident was witnessed by 125 people who stood by and did nothing to stop it. Gauri suffered a broken arm and a badly damaged knee whilst her husband was also gravely injured. When I visited them they were still recovering from the attack and unable to work some weeks later.
Navsarjan social workers Kalpesh and Preeti are involved in Gauri's case by supporting the community as a whole, as well as providing her with legal representation as she tries to bring a successful prosecution against the perpetrators. Gauri will need all of her strength and determination to see the process through in order to receive justice and fulfill her constitutional rights.
Photographs and text: Andy Martinez, who travelled to Gujarat to visit Navsarjan Trust on an MRG Minority Voices bursary.
Click on image for larger view