The Dalit Shakti Kendra organised Jai Bhim drama competition, an annual event in which Dalit children from different schools prepare plays and skits and display them. This year, prominent Gujarati theatre personality Aditi Desai and Navsarjan director Manjula Pradeep participated at the event and gave away awared to the winning teams. The plays mainly centres around fight against caste discrimination and untouchability, need for equality among different sections of society, equal status to women, and reflected how superstitions and exploitation still rule the roost in our society. Here are a few of the photographs of the event:
The Fifth National Convention of the Right to Food Campaign was held at the sprawling campus of the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), where about 1,800 people participated on 1-3 March 2014. Students and teachers of the DSK worked as volunteers, helping out participants in every possible way to ensure that they did not face any difficulty during their three-day stay with them at the campus. Following the convention, a nationwide consortium of NGOs alleged that failure of the Gujarat government resulted in the state’s poor show in providing food security to its citizens. The convention adopted a resolution, which said, “In Gujarat, 77.24 lakh families are entitled to get the cover of National Food Security Act (NFSA) for procurement of 25 kg food grain per month. At present, Gujarat provides subsidised grain to only 7.35 lakh families under Antyoday Anna Yojna (AAY) and 24.35 lakh below poverty line (BPL) families.”
The Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK) and the Prashant – A Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace organised a seminar on top sociologist Rudolf C Heredia’s book, “Taking Sides: Reservation Quotas and Minority Rights in India”, published by Penguins, at Gujarat Vidyapeeth, Ahmedabad. Widely proclaimed as “a thoughtful and comprehensive analysis of the complex matter of minority reservations”, participants at the seminar, including Prof Ghanshyam Shah, Prof Shalini Randeria, and others argued on the need for combining class struggle with rights of different communities and castes. Prof Randeria stressed on how the issues on women’s rights faced a paradoxical situation – while women must be collectively part of the fight for the rights collective of the vulnerable communities (Dalits, tribals and minorities), they face a patriarchal society within.
A UNICEF-sponsored social policy working paper, “Understanding Capacity-building Needs: Current Models for Excluded Communities”, three Gujarat-based senior social activists Gagan Sethi, Jahnvi Andharia and Nupur, describe how the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), which runs vocational training centres for youth from the disadvantaged communities in Gujarat, owes its existence to the efforts and vision of Martin Macwan, who had been extensively involved with the Dalit movement at the grass roots, national and international levels. “The DSK focuses on self-development and ensures that the trainees learn skills to earn their livelihood and become, therefore, truly part of a self‑propelling movement. The DSK is a demonstration of how goals of environmental, economic and educational sustainability are incorporated in the various programmes it runs”, the policy paper, which was prepared in 2012 with the active involvement of Janvikas, one of the partners of the DSK, says.
This 13-minute video highlights what prompted activists of the Navsarjan Trust led by Martin Macwan to set up Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK) in Gujarat, India, and how it has helped empower the socially and economically vulnerable sections. It also shows why there is a particular need to empowerment young women through vocational training, so that they could become self-reliant and attain livelihood with self-respect and dignity, pushing behind the hierarchical social order to which they were subjected to for centuries. It gives valuable glimpse into the change in the lives of some young women, who have attain training at the DSK.
In an interview published in http://www.minorityvoices.org/, titled “Social activism is like onion-peeling — you successfully peel one layer, but then comes another one”, Martin Macwan, director, DSK, explores his role as a social activist after completing 25 years in the Dalit movement, He says, he was convinced that the leadership must change. A social movement needs new blood to bring in new ideas, which is the reason why he founded Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK). Through the DSK, he is involved in training teachers in our primary school programme and conducting training on gender relationships, power and community in the DSK training for 1 ,000 young men and women annually. “When they come here, they can hardly say their names. When they go back to their villages, they can become leaders”, he tells the interviewer. “Apart from that, I am writing textbooks used by the 30 000 children participating in our primary school programme”, he adds.
On February 14, 2011, Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), embarked upon a two-week journey to India to visit with several partners of the Unitarian Universalist Holdeen India Program (UUHIP) and with leaders of the Unitarian Union of North East India (UUNEI). In a blog posted on the UUA website, Rev. Morales reflected upon his visit to the Dalit Shakti Kendra, his interaction with DSK founder Martin Macwan, students and teachers. His interaction found that those involved in training were were “smiling, proud, confident, joyful”.
Kathryn Ramsay, Minority Rights Group’s Gender Programme Coordinator, during her to the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK) learns how the training the girls receive at the DSK “equips them with skills to do jobs outside their traditional ‘caste occupations’ (demeaning jobs forced on them because of their caste). “It also teaches them about equality and empowers them to challenge the discrimination they face”, she writes in a blog. Ramsay narrates how all of the 2138 women and girls who received training at the DSK were invited at for a celebration of their achievements. “Girls from the Valmiki community – the lowest sub-caste of Dalits whose traditional caste occupation is cleaning out human excrement by hand from dry toilets – were invited as an encouragement to them to join training programmes like the DSK”, she says. She found that in total around 800 Dalit women and girls turned out, along with some Muslim and indigenous women who have also received training at the DSK. A testament to the value these women place on the DSK is that so many travelled from all over Gujarat (some for over 7 hours) and at their own expense, to attend the event.
A based on experiences at the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), the study “Dalit Girls’ Education in India” (2008), by Theresa Ferry says, “Dalits, formerly known as ‘untouchables’, are one of the most marginalized groups in Indian society. Dalit girls in particular have been viewed in Indian society as passive victims of caste and gender discrimination. Some Dalit groups, however, have considered Dalit girls as having agency to make choices in their lives.” The study considers what Dalit girls have to say about discrimination against them as well as the role that education plays in overcoming that discrimination. This qualitative study involves observing and interviewing seven Dalit girls at the DSK, apart from interviewing Dalit leaders in India, and analyzing literature to understand interrelated factors among caste, economic status, and gender. The results of this study suggest that education can help Dalit girls to find more economic opportunities and overcome hardships in their lives, but the extent to which education can help them overcome caste and gender discrimination is questionable.
The Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK) has introduced the Ecosan project on its campus at Nani Devati village, which soon became an example of sustainable system of clean sanitation, writes http://www.cleanindiajournal.com/. Designed inhouse, the toilet centre is attached with a bio gas plant. Begun in April 2007, about 22 toilets are connected to the plant and 150 students use it daily. The biogas generated from this plant is used in the kitchen. As part of the school sanitation system, the DSK introduced urine diversion dehydration toilet. This toilet complex has a total of eight toilets, four urinals, four washbasins and two laundry areas. Out of the eight, four are used for bathing and the other four as toilets. Pre-treated grey water is reused for gardening. Grey water collected from bathrooms, washbasins and a laundry area passes through a vertical flow filter filled with organic matter like saw dust, wood chips, dust, rice husk, straw, etc. The compost and urine are used as fertiliser and to amend the soil in the kitchen garden.