The unlikely configuration of a powerful community video (Untouchability Caught on Camera) produced by a determined videoactivist, a change.org petition by one of India's leading social activists and a blockbuster television program hosted by a Bollywood superstar came together to put an end to the 2000 year old practice of 'untouchability' in a village in Rajasthan.
The video chronicled married Dalit women in the village removing their slippers and holding it in their hands as they crossed an "upper caste" neighborhood. The practice is described alternatively as a 'law' and a 'tradition', even though Article 17 of the Indian Constitution states clearly that "Untouchability" is a punishable offense.
The combined efforts of the Community Correspondent on the ground, the over 5000 people who signed the petition online and the national zeitgeist created by the TV show, persuaded the District Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police to personally visit the village to conduct a public hearing condemning the practice. The people promised the DM that there will no more complaints from the village. The practice was declared 'abolished.'
This is how it all unfolded....
On the 14th of April 2012, Video Volunteers launched the ARTICLE 17 campaign to End Untouchability. Our Community Correspondents produced a series of 22 videos which documented untouchability practices across the nation. Even as the national mainstream had a tendency to term caste discrimination and "untouchability" as 'a thing of the past' and 'non-existent', the campaign once and for all proved that it was alive at all levels in society. In rural and urban India, in schools and colleges, in public spaces, in life and in death, in your homes, streets and neighborhoods. Children separated along caste lines at schools, violence against Dalits, ghettoization of dalit neighborhoods, everyday discrimination at barbershops and public water taps - the powerful campaign videos provided documented proof that the 2000 year old caste system was embedded in the consciousness of modern India.
The campaign's 'ask' was to urge the National Commission for Schedule Castes, (the government body that is constitutionally appointed to direct and implement the safeguards against untouchability), to enforce the law and prosecute cases of untouchability. Our correspondents who made the videos organized public screenings and signature campaigns in their communities. An online petition was launched on change.org to petition the Chairperson of NCSC. The petition continues to be alive with over 2700 signatures. Our repeated attempts to contact the NCSC have failed to elicit any response from them.
On the 8th of July, 2012, Video Volunteers Director Stalin K. appeared on the popular Aamir Khan-hosted TV show Satyamev Jayate's episode on caste issue titled Dignity4All. The response from the public, online and offline, to the episode and Stalin's stint on it was overwhelming. People were reaching out wanting to get involved and do their bit to further the campaign to end Untouchability in the country.
It was time for Video Volunteers to launch a second campaign. This time, the video selected was 'Untouchability Caught on Camera' by our Rajasthan correspondent Sunita Kasera which showed Dailt women in Dangariya village, District Karuali, Rajasthan being forced to remove their slippers while passing through the so-called "upper caste" neighborhoods. The petition was titled Remove Untouchability from Karauli (Rajasthan) #Dignity4All. The petition requested the Karauli DM to look into the matter, eradicate the practice of 'untouchability' and support the women in their struggle for dignity.
The DM Bishnu Mallick was contacted. He took immediate action and made a trip along with our correspondent Sunita and the Superintendent of Police to village Dangariya from Karauli. He called a Public Hearing on the misleading tradition that forced women to take off their footwear when they pass through so called “upper caste” neighborhoods. Villagers promised the DM that there will no more complaints from the village and that the practice will be abolished in Dangariya. He sent a press release to all the police stations and village heads in District Karauli, informing them about this incident and how untouchability is a punishable offense in the Indian constitution, as per Article 17.
The DM issued the following statement- "Untouchability is a crime and its practice in any form is forbidden under the law. The District magistrate is vigilant and very sensitive to this issue. Strict action would be taken against those who practice this inhuman acty which denies dignity and equality to human beings. The District Administration is thankful to you for highlighting such an issue being practiced as a custom in Dangariya and wishes you best of luck for your crusades against untouchability. Thank you"
Every 18 minutes a crime is committed against a Dalit. Every day, 3 Dalit women are raped, 11 Dalits are beaten, 2 are murdered and 2 Dalit Houses are burnt in India. Public health workers refused to visit Dalit homes in 33% of villages. Dalits were prevented from entering police station in 27.6% of villages. Dalit children had to sit separately while eating in 37.8% of Govt. schools. Dalits didn’t get mail delivered to their homes in 23.5% of villages. Dalits were denied access to water sources in 48.4% of villages because of segregation & untouchabilty practices. There are now 28 Article 17 videos. And just 1 impact. There has been no response from the National Commission.
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The practice of manual scavenging violates Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which guarantees the ‘Right to live life with dignity.’
“Over the last 12 years, Video Volunteers has produced more than 600 video reports on caste and untouchability, across India.