An uncommon woman champions her people’s rights and returns land to 120 families.
In an atypical situation, Anjali, a Dailt woman, becomes a Panchayat leader. Passionate about Dalit rights, a fighter, she comes across a case of village land being misused by a higher caste co-villager and takes him to court. A year later she wins the case, regains the land and allots it to Dalit families for housing. The story might sound humdrum but the odds of a Dalit women being able to join politics and then winning a case against a higher caste person are not high. ‘Dalit’ and ‘woman’ – that makes two struggles. Anjali, is acutely aware of this and has worked doubly hard to find success in her work. Her efforts have paid off. On a morning village walk, while speaking to fellow villagers, Anjali takes time off to answer calls on her cellphone as the congratulations pour in from villagers, family and friends. It’s a daunting image. People stand all around, waiting to squeeze in a word of thanks, or even just a ‘hello’, as Anjali, her petite frame draped in a sunshine yellow sari, meets them with a big toothy smile.
While Anjali is driven by her struggle and of those she is surrounded by, her support comes from the Human Resource Development Foundation (HRDF), a non-profit organisation that mainly works for Dalit rights. Her fight for justice could have cost her a lot more time and effort had Anjali fought it alone. Since Anjali is illiterate, HRDF educated her about her rights and explained the details of the Right to Information Act (RTI) so that she could file an application.
For Thenbakkan village, Anjali’s victory brings much cheer. The Dalits of the village have long been oppressed. “They need a lot of support”, says Mani Manickem, the Community Correspondent who visited Anjali in her village to cover this story. “They (Dalits) struggle for everything. The higher caste people in the village don’t let them rise.” Anjali’s success secured 6.2 acres of land for 120 Dalit families – land that they can rightfully call their own. Many have already moved onto this land and built their new homes. Their children now have better access to schools and they even find some space for play. For Anjali, this was a struggle she made to help people who like her have continuously faced oppression. Earlier Panchayat leaders, being of higher castes were indisposed to helping Dalits in the village and so it took a Dalit to fight it.
Mani Manickem, the Community Correspondent who covered this story understands Anjali’s struggle as he is a Dalit too and has faced similar situations in his own life. As a child Mani accompanied his mother who worked as a domestic help in ‘rich households’. ” I would see how my world was different from theirs”, he recalls. “The comforts they had, the toys and books made me realise how little I had.” But what struck him the most was when he realised that the children in these houses his mother worked at were all being tutored by their mothers while his own mother was illiterate and so Mani spent his after-school hours reading by himself. But it paid off. Mani became the first person in his family to receive an education. His childhood, his struggles as a Dalit have made him want to help other people like him. He hopes that by covering a story like Anjali’s, he will inspire other people to bring about justice in the caste system.