Selective targeting of Navsarjan for its advocacy for Dalit people is abhorrent and anti-democratic

A Dalit activists’ meeting in Amrargadh village, Shihor taluka, Bhavnagar district, resolving to submit memorandum to the President and the Prime Minister against FCRA cancellation

Dalit rights activists across Gujarat have been sending messages to President Pranab Kumar Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, among others, expressing their deep anguish over cancellation of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) license to Navsarjan Trust, Gujarat’s premier Dalit rights organization. They have submitted their messages to local government offices of Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Amreli, Botad, Gadhahda, Viramgam, Godhra, Anand, Naidad, Dholka, Jasdan and Dhoraji, while more in line.

Text of one of  the memorandums submitted by Dalit activists under the leadership of Kantilal Ukabhai Parmar to Amreli district collector, requesting restoration of the  FDRA licence (Registration No 042040075R) of Navsarjan Trust, Gujarat:

We the undersigned members of the Dalit Community of Gujarat State condemn the Government’s action on 15th December 2016 to cancel the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) registration of Navsarjan Trust, a well-known non-governmental organization based in Gujarat.

We emphatically affirm that Navsarjan is not involved in any undesirable activities that are aimed to prejudicially affect the harmony between religious, racial, social, linguistic, regional groups, castes or communities.   To the contrary, for the past 27 years, Navsarjan Trust  has been a critical force to uplift the Dalit community and has been a dedicated advocate for Dalit rights as provided by  the Indian constitution and laws.

gadhada1Indeed, the Dalit community in Gujarat and beyond have come to depend on Navsarjan Trust to provide essential services and advocacy on behalf of our uniquely vulnerable community. As part of Navsarjan Trust’s work on the social and educational development of the Dalit community in Gujarat, it has filed approximately 16 petitions in the Gujarat High Court to advance Dalit and tribal rights.  After the High Court issued an order in one of Navsarjan Trust’s petitions, the Government of Gujarat set up the Safai Kamdar Corporation with an allocation of 125 Crore rupees.  Through another Navsarjan Trust petition and resulting order by the Gujarat High Court, the state government also awarded around 6,000 acres of land to economically-disadvantaged Dalit people who had been unable to obtain agricultural land.

The major activities (programs) undertaken by Navsarjan Trust in remote areas of Gujarat state and achievements are as below:

(1)  Strengthening community based organizations: Given the fact that the causes behind the violations of the human rights are systemic and structural in nature and that the community has historically continued its struggle to strengthen its own organization as a tool for negotiation, Navsarjan has brought in an element of education and pedagogy learnt by others across the globe to further strengthen the community based organizations. Most of its cadres come from the community. The organizing has thus far been around the following concrete economic and social concerns:

(2) Land reforms implementation: In Gujarat Navsarjan has through community organization backed by judicial intervention created a visible impact entitling Dalits with about 11000 acres of land and the program continues.

viramgam-and-gadhada(3) Wages that can ensure a life with dignity: Causing implementation of prescribed wages required organization of laborers cutting across caste and in that sense redefining the ‘community’. Navsarjan has through various strategies, legal-organizing-non cooperation etc., ensured that the workers are paid better wages. The results at a larger scale are not satisfactory as yet.

(4)  Abolition of Manual scavenging: The protest against the practice that began in a single village helped the community to shed their fear. Navsarjan filed a class action suit that ordered constitution of a lawyers body to investigate. The body confirmed the existence of the practice. The High court ordered the State to present concrete and time bound program of action to bring the inhuman practice to an end and ensure rehabilitation of 42000 scavengers. This resulted in Gujarat becoming the first state to endorse and make applicable the Act which was never implemented and allocation Rs. 1500 million to rehabilitate the scavengers. Navsarjan spearheaded the movement and collaborated with other civil society groups backed by the media to ensure that the inhuman practice is brought to an end in the entire country. After 18 years of struggle the law has been adopted by almost all States and the Parliament has amended the law to make it effective that addresses almost all concerns that Navsarjan had raised.

(5) Abolition of untouchability and annihilation of caste:

(a) Addressing caste violence through use of law

(b) Undertaking thematic programs which facilitates coming of people from various castes to come together and work together.

(c) Education with masses to explain the link between the caste and poverty; caste and under development

gadhada(6) Women: Leadership, Violence and dignity: Navsarjan has upheld the non-negotiable principle of equal and effective representation of women at all levels. While it continues as a priority to take up the cases of violence against women, as a strategy it has created forums in the villages where women lead the struggle for women dignity. Representation of women is an overarching program in all the other programs. Several programs can be listed under this theme:

(i) Navsarjan had undertaken a major campaign in the form of a social journey from village to village. The program was titled as ‘campaign to end violence against women’. A total of 287 villages of 40 Talukas and 11 Districts were covered over 45 day campaign. During the village programs 1485 village women who acted as local leaders were honored. The campaign ended with total participants as 41409 and 1818 women paid subscription to join the local village organization as the members of the village women justice commission.

(ii) Navsarjan, in collaboration with other organizations,  did a major report on the status of Dalit women in the local-self-government.

(iii) 17 children’s books on gender equality.

(iv) Setting up of the ‘Mahila Adhikar Panch’ (Women’s rights councils) at the village level is an important program of Navsarjan and more than 500 women rights councils have been set up in the project areas.

(7)  Education: Navsarjan has set up three primary schools (grade 5-8). In past 9 years it has enrollment of over 2000 children. Navsarjan trust’s Schools are running in Sami, Patan district, Rayka, Ahmedabad district and Katariya, Surendranagar district.

(a)  Adding to a national campaign of No Plastics in schools,  Navsarjan school launched the campaign: No Caste; No Plastic. There is a web page too on the campaign. The day also marked as fund raising event for the school and we have been able to raise about 0.45 Million INR towards the campaign from the local community and some local philanthropists. The message however has traveled to a wide area because of the coverage it received in the newspapers.

(b) Navsarjan does close monitoring of the school to ensure they do not discriminate Dalit children. It also works to activate the school management committees apart from regular meetings with teachers and elected office bearers of the local self government for improving the quality of education.

(c)  Navsarjan has set up volunteer based programs in the village that consists of a children library and an informal school called ‘Bhimshala’. The objective of the program is to set up a community based system where children are motivated, to ensure that they do not drop out of the schools and the children can access the books and other educational material. More than 500 Bhim shalas have been set up in the project areas.

(d) In the past Navsarjan had scanned all the State curriculum books for content of caste and gender prejudices. It had done this also for the value education books available in the market. This had created an impact motivating civil society to raise voice against such prejudices in the books for children.

(e) Vocational education: Navsarjan set up a vocational school for Dalit students to learn new skills. In past 13 years the school has 8004 graduates with 82.5 labor success rate when last measured. The vocational school now has been registered as a separate organization named as Dalit Shakti Kendra.

Navsarjan Trust further creates awareness among Dalit and tribal communities in remote areas through education and mobilization on constitutional and basic human rights. Navsarjan Trust operates three schools in Rayka village (Ahmedabad), Katariya village (Limbadi) and Sami (Patan) that provides much-needed education for Dalit children in these areas.  Navsarjan Trust also established a vocational training centre called Dalit Shakti Kendra at Nani Devati village near Sanand, Ahmedabad district. Over the past sixteen years, Navsarjan Trust provided self-employment training to around 9500 students through the centre, including training on photography, videography, tailoring, carpentry, fabrication, Driving, and basic computer skills. Dalit boys and girls from across India come to the centre to obtain training, which demonstrates that Navsarjan Trust’s activities are not detrimental to national interest.

Navsarjan Trust fulfills all the criteria required for FCRA registration—which is demonstrated by the fact that its licence had been regularly and repeatedly renewed in the past. The decision to cancel the registration is nothing more than an effort to bully the organization into silence, motivated by an anti-Dalit agenda, and a political vendetta against Dalit advocates.  This selective targeting of Navsarjan Trust for its advocacy on behalf of Dalit people is particularly abhorrent and anti-democratic, especially anti Dalit decision where 80 people are working they have lost their employment through the Navsarjan Trust.

It is needed to continue work of Navsarjan Trust for interest of Dalit community and large public interest in Gujarat State which are running last 27 years.

Navsarjan Trust has no hidden agenda.  Its work is aimed at uplifting the Dalit community people from historical poverty, opposing the practice of untouchabilty, protesting caste-based violence on inflicted Dalit people using the remedies provided by the Indian constitution and laws.  We the Dalit community from Gujarat State therefore demand that the Navsarjan’s FCRA license be restored so that it can continue its vital work in supporting and uplifting the  Dalit community.

Similar representations have also been made to leaders of political parties, including  Amit Shah, Sonia Gandhi and Mayawati

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