India: N. V. Ramana, a young dalit, is not afraid to talk anymore

Monday 22 March 2010 by Frères des Hommes

Who would dare go and see the local authorities to ask for water taps in the village, for a title deed for land cultivated for generations, or for access to the temples like everyone else in the population? Not one of the 1,400 inhabitants of the Dalit quarter of the village of Thettu would have dared do that a few years ago. And yet the 1950 Constitution bans any discrimination against caste members. So, theoretically, the Dalits have the same rights as the rest of the population.

Today, as N. V. Ramana, a young inhabitant of the village tells it: “We have learnt how to assert our rights. We know whom to ask and how in order to address the different problems met by our community.” In this Andhra Pradesh village, the inhabitants have been struggling for almost 25 years to put an end to the discriminations they endure just because they are Dalits. N. V. Ramana is 27 years old. He remembers: “When I was a child, I was afraid to speak to higher-class members. I didn’t dare to leave the village.” But with his family he attended village meetings organized by a local association, Rural Development Society (RDS), a member of Fedina. And little by little, he gained more self-assertion, “I began to talk, to discuss about my situation. I was about 18 when that change began.”

A major step was reached in 2007, when a village committee was created with Dalits, non-Dalits and tribal populations to administer the village. The committee has already made it possible to set up water taps in the Dalit quarter. 16 families were granted 20 acres of land in 2008 and the Dalits have been allowed access to the temples at long last.

Thanks to RDS’s support and to the will of his parents, both farm hands, N. V. Ramana was among the first youths of his generation to go to college. He now works for the Indian Post Office in a neighboring town. But he has chosen to live in the village, “because it was important for me to remain here. If I had gone to live in town, when given the opportunity to go to college, I would have felt as if I abandoned my people.” He encourages young people not to drop out of school and he is thne one who speaks to the authorities, “as I have learnt how to speak in public”. Lately, N. V. Ramana has become committed to older people “because they have no rights and no one to care for them”.

Les habitants dalits du village de Ramana.

This article has originally been published in French in Résonances, December 2009

To read the other articles of this issue (in French), click on this link.

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