Ruth Manorama
( 2006 , Inde )

…pour son engagement en faveur de l'égalité des femmes dalits et pour avoir réussi à mettre en place des organisations de femmes efficaces et engagées destinées à militer pour leurs droits au niveau national et international.

We as Dalit women pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.


En Inde, les femmes dalits souffrent de trois oppressions principales : le genre, du fait d’une société extrêmement patriarcale; la classe, puisqu’elles sont parmi les communautés les plus pauvres et les plus marginalisées; et la caste, puisqu’elles viennent de la caste la plus basse, les « intouchables ».

 

Par le biais de ses nombreuses activités au sein de différentes organisations, Ruth Manorama a œuvré à une plus grande mobilisation et à un plaidoyer plus effectif en faveur des droits de ces femmes dalits. Grâce à son expertise des traités internationaux relatifs aux droits humains (telles la Convention sur l’Elimination de la Discrimination à l’égard des Femmes et la Convention pour l’Elimination de la Discrimination Raciale) Ruth Manorama a notamment réussi à porter la question de la violence et de la discrimination sexuelle subie par les femmes dalits auprès de diverses plateformes, y compris les comités de l’ONU.

Contact

Dr. Ruth Manorama
84/2, 2nd Cross, 8th Main Road
3rd Block, Jaya Nagar East
Bangalore, 560011
INDIA

Fax: +91 80 2663 0262

http://www.nawoindia.org/

Biography

Dalit women in India

Dalit women in India suffer from three oppressions: gender, as a result of patriarchy; class, from being from the poorest and most marginalised communities; and caste, from coming from the lowest caste, the ‘untouchables’. Although discrimination on the basis of caste is against the Indian constitution and prohibited by many laws, its practice is still widespread, especially in rural India.

Manorama’s career

Ruth Manorama is a Dalit woman. Born in 1952 in Madras, her parents escaped the worst consequences of being Dalits by becoming Christians. In 1975 Manorama took a Master’s degree in social work from the University of Madras and has trained in both the community organisation methods of Saul Alinsky and the conscientisation methods of Paulo Freire. In 2001 Manorama was granted an honorary doctorate “for the distinguished contribution made to church and society” by the Academy of Ecumenical Indian Theology and Church Administration.

Manorama has been consistently associated with a range of issues – the rights of slumdwellers, domestic workers, unorganised labour and Dalits, and the empowerment of marginalised women. She stresses the interconnectedness between these issues, and the common cause that marginalised people share the world over.  Her work crosses the borders between grassroots movements, mass mobilisation, and international movements.

Manorama’s working life has been spe …

Dalit women in India suffer from three oppressions: gender, as a result of patriarchy; class, from being from the poorest and most marginalised communities; and caste, from coming from the lowest caste, the ‘untouchables’. Although discrimination on the basis of caste is against the Indian constitution and prohibited by many laws, its practice is still widespread, especially in rural India.

Manorama’s career

Ruth Manorama is a Dalit woman. Born in 1952 in Madras, her parents escaped the worst consequences of being Dalits by becoming Christians. In 1975 Manorama took a Master’s degree in social work from the University of Madras and has trained in both the community organisation methods of Saul Alinsky and the conscientisation methods of Paulo Freire. In 2001 Manorama was granted an honorary doctorate “for the distinguished contribution made to church and society” by the Academy of Ecumenical Indian Theology and Church Administration.

Manorama has been consistently associated with a range of issues – the rights of slumdwellers, domestic workers, unorganised labour and Dalits, and the empowerment of marginalised women. She stresses the interconnectedness between these issues, and the common cause that marginalised people share the world over.  Her work crosses the borders between grassroots movements, mass mobilisation, and international movements.

Manorama’s working life has been spent on organisation building, mobilisation of people and advocacy on behalf of Dalit women through a large number of organisations. She is:

  • General Secretary of Women’s Voice, founded in 1985, to work with women in slums, struggling for land, shelter and survival rights of the urban poor.
  • President of the National Alliance of Women, set up following the Fourth World Conference of Women in Beijing in 1995 to monitor government performance on its various commitments to women and lobby for change.
  • Joint Secretary of the Christian Dalit Liberation Movement, formed in the 1980s to mobilise Christian Dalits for affirmative action.
  • Secretary of the Karnataka State Slum Dwellers Federation.
  • Secretary for organisation building of the National Centre for Labour, an apex organisation of unorganised labour in India.
  • President of the National Federation of Dalit Women (NFDW), set up in 1995.

In addition, she has a number of regional and international roles (Asian Women’s Human Rights Council, International Women’s Rights Action Watch – Asia – Pacific, Sisters’ Network).

She has also been a member of the Karnataka State Planning Board, the State Commission for Women, the Task Force on Women’s Empowerment of the Government of India and a number of other state and national bodies.

Manorama’s work in these different roles consists of organising and educating people, and speaking on behalf of the marginalised. She travels all over India, co-ordinating their efforts, lobbying and advocating, and building alliances between movements.

Working for the rights of the deprived

In the 1980s and 1990s, Manorama was at the forefront of mass struggles against eviction and the ‘Operation Demolition’ by the State Government of Karnataka. She led mass processions of 150,000 people along with other activists, demanding the protection of the roofs over their heads, a fair deal of security and safety and allowing them to live legally and with dignity. On behalf of the Slum dwellers, Manorama was involved in legal cases at the High Court as well as the Supreme Court of India. Since then, she has been working with the urban poor protecting and voicing their rights.

Empowering women’s groups

Manorama has been involved in Women’s Voice and mobilised the women at the grass-root levels since the 1980s. She has been consistently urging the Indian Government for pro-poor policies like providing infrastructure and basic amenities to the poorer women who are living in slums. In more than 120 slums, women are now mobilised, trained and capacitated to face the issues on their own and take leadership in their communities as well as in society. Women are also trained to protect their rights against violence, discrimination and deprivation.

Championing the cause of the Dalits

Looking at the deplorable conditions of the Dalits, Manorama felt it is necessary to work with the Human Rights organisations to advance the emancipation of Dalits. She has participated in several struggles against human rights violations, for land rights and for the cause of Dalit women. The Dalit women in the rural areas as well as in the slums suffer unique violence and discrimination. This led Manorama to form a special platform to address their concerns. In 1995, the National Federation of Dalit Women (NFDW) was established as a platform for Dalit women. It allows them to articulate the social ostracism and exclusion, powerlessness and poverty, violence and discrimination, which they daily experience. The work of the NFDW has had effect: Today, the Dalit women are recognised in the movements as leaders, Dalit women are able to organise themselves autonomously and independently, and they now demand a National Perspective Plan to be created for Dalit Women in India.

Working for the rights of unorganised labour

With consistent effort, Manorama has built an organisation for the women workers, unionised them, and struggled to provide minimum wages. She serves as one of the Secretaries of the National Centre for Labour (NCL), which has brought the issues of the informal sector of labour to people’s attention and lobbied for a Comprehensive Welfare Bill and social security measures.

Protecting and promoting human rights internationally

Through her expertise on the International Human Rights Treaties (such as the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention to Eliminate Racial Discrimination) Manorama has exposed violence and gender discrimination faced by Dalit women at various platforms including the UN committees. The concerned committees recommended that the Government of India take appropriate and suitable action to eliminate this discrimination.

Manorama has several times held public hearings to monitor human rights violations and demand accountability from the Government. Manorama articulated issues of discrimination against Dalits and Dalit women particularly at the International UN Conferences, e.g. in Beijing and Durban.

 
 

Interview with Dr. Ruth Manorama (September 22, 2006)

Q: What is the situation of Dalit Women in today’s India?

A: The situation of Dalit Women in India is unique in nature. Age-old caste discrimination and prejudices operate to keep the Dalit women poor, illiterate, dependent, subjugated, oppressed and victimised. They display the poorest social indicators and dismal social and economic achievements. They lack access to resources such as water, common grazing grounds, roads and playing fields especially in the rural areas. Though they form the backbone of India’s agricultural workforce, growing food for everyone, they lack the means to eat one square meal a day. Their dwellings are always outside the boundaries of the main village. Hence they are always at the mercy of upper caste landlords for getting water, firewood, fodder, employment, mobility and even to purchase basic necessities.

Q: What do you do to help them?

A: The women in the community who are part of the organisation are enabled and capacitated through the training programmes to deal with these issues. The National Federation of Dalit Women continues to organise leadership-training programmes and provides skills in organising and information on legal protection to fight against caste discrimination. They were also given information on how to access socio-economic programmes for their upliftment, many women leaders of The National Federation of Dalit Women organise village, taluk, district level meetings to articulate their problems and seek solutions from governments and building strong networks among themselves.

Q: What were your own experiences with being a Dalit Woman?

A: One is always reminded which social hierarchy you come from – be it at school, university or church. If you are a Dalit, people look down upon you as if you come from a very dirty and polluted background. One cannot escape caste even though you study in the urban cities in English-speaking institutions. Especially when you are at the age of marriage caste determines whom you have to marry; this is part of all Indian women’s lives. When I was grown up I realised how difficult it is to establish myself as a Dalit woman in the women’s movement because the higher caste women (who dominate the women’s movement) tend to think that they are the seat of knowledge and intelligence and they only could provide essence to the feminist discourse. Because of my effort I overthrew this dominance and contributed to the formation of the Dalit feminism.

Q: The discrimination of Dalits is very deeply rooted in Indian society. How can you change these old prejudices? What do you do to make people listen?

A: According to me the caste hierarchy itself is founded by men for appropriation of wealth, status, and opportunities, to subjugate and oppress other human beings. There is no scientific validation in keeping the caste statuesque. This needs to be challenged by educating the people who face discrimination and prejudices in their day-to-day lives. An intensive human rights education for all communities needs to be provided to overcome the old prejudices.

Q: Can the Right Livelihood Award help to further your cause?

A: By awarding me the Right Livelihood Award you will be providing the recognition not only to the set of issues that I am working on, but recognising the rights, dignity and the due socio-economic-political share of the Dalit women who are at the bottom of the social hierarchy in India.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

To build the Dalit Women’s organisation strongly and to establish alliances across other discriminated communities.
Political representation and participation of women, particularly from Dalit communities, in all decision-making bodies to be enhanced.
Developing new and young women leadership.