IU Impact: Justice For Woman Who Defied Caste Discrimination

Fresh out of the Video Volunteers training camp, Lambodar started his journey as a Community Correspondent with a hard-hitting video. When one woman, hell bent on defying age-old discriminatory practices, teams up with a community journalist, equally eager to bring change to his community, amazing things can happen. Here is how it all unfolded.

“Pushpanjali Suna works as a caretaker at the local anganwadi (child care center) in Bharuamunda village, Odisha. In 2010 she had completed two years of tirelessly taking care of the children of the village. Anganwadis are government-run centers meant for young children. They function as pre-schools and provide a range of services like free food and healthcare.

Apart from her identity as a caretaker, Pushpa is also defined by her identity as a Dalit woman and driven by a desire to break the boundaries that had been established for her. Like in large parts of India, in Bharuamunda too, the upper caste rules. Here, historically a Dalit cannot enter a temple. Pushpanjali took it upon herself to challenge this status quo and in early 2010, for the first time, she entered the temple to pray. She returned two more times.

This defiance of Pushpa’s created havoc in the upper caste community. On 21st June 2010, the villagers called for a meeting and prohibited her from entering the temple then onwards. Subsequently, the anganwadi center she had been running was shut down.

I had heard about Pushpanjali’s story and the injustice against her, and really wanted to do something to help her. I am also a Dalit, and an activist. I had been where Pushpa was many times as I myself faced and fought discrimination. I wanted to support her. The ‘how’ and ‘what’ defied me at that point in time.

It was about two years later that I got called for the IndiaUnheard training camp in Odisha. When I completed my training as a Community Correspondent with Video Volunteers, I wanted to revisit this story. I thought that maybe with the use of my camera I might be able to do something now. So, I set out to find Pushpa.

Two years had passed since the village meeting that had halted Pushpa’s work running the anganwadi center. She now had no source of income and was struggling to support her family. She agreed to give an interview.

After meeting the villagers and recording their interviews, I met Jhinakumari Patra, the Child Development Project Officer (CDPO), Khaprakhol Block. I introduced myself as a Community Correspondent and told her the details of Pushpa’s case. I asked her to immediately take action to rectify the unjust treatment given to Pushpa.

Simultaneously, I shared the information about this case with my friends who work as journalists in the print media. This was a strategic move because when they started calling the CDPO and the villagers to enquire about details of the case, it built pressure on them to take some action.

Meanwhile, Pushpa and I tried to explain and convince the villagers that every individual has the right to enter any public place and should not be discriminated against on the basis of caste. It is a criminal offence to do so under Article 17 of the Indian Constitution. The fact that they had gone so far as closing the anganwadi center while trying to ‘punish’ Pushpa was unacceptable!

Pushpa’s courage and our persistent efforts eventually brought the CDPO to visit the village. She came to the village, met the villagers and discussed the issue at hand. At the meeting the members of the village council, village elders, community leaders and other residents were present. We explained to them the importance of the Integrated Child Development Scheme under which anganwadis are established. We also explained that it was a crime to dismiss Pushpa from her job by virtue of her being a Dalit.

Eventually Pushpa was reinstated as an anganwadi worker. The CDPO immediately released her salary that had been withheld for the past 2 years. The rest of the salary is due to be released soon. Having faced much financial trouble in contributing to the functioning of her family over the past two years, she was relieved that her salary was released.

Discrimination on the basis of caste is widespread in my society. It is a structural evil. Pushpa’s victory is a small step towards a society with no discrimination.

Working with her on this issue has made me realize the power of my camera. I was lucky to have created an ‘impact’ with the first ever video I made as it helped me learn a lot. I have a strong tool to support my drive to work towards a equal and just society. The road is long but with more defiant women and men like Pushpa my children at least, will inherit a better world.”

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