The Bhopal Conference: Charting A New Course For Dalits For The 21st Century
Held at Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India, 12-13 January 2002
We-- intellectuals and activists assembled at the Bhopal Conference, 12-13 January 2002, to deliberate the issues concerning the welfare of and justice to the 250 million --are:
Declaring our belief in Babasaheb Dr. B. R. Ambedkar's ideal of Social Democracy and his prophecy that, "A democratic form of Government presupposes a democratic form of society. The formal framework of democracy is of no value and would indeed be a misfit if there was no social democracy",
Endorsing the ideals of civil society enshrined in the Constitution of India, particularly its Preamble that declares the Indian State's commitment to Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity,
Recognising that the tenets established by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and various other charters of the United Nations which our nation has acceded to also emphasise the same principles,
Recognising also the tribals' legitimate and historical rights over forest and forest-produce,
Acknowledging the role of tribal communities, particularly tribal women, to the protection and conservation of the country's rich biodiversity and natural resources as well as its culture and civilisation
Acknowledging also the need to ensure that SCs and STs are given due representation in all bodies of decision making,
Recalling the struggles that Babasaheb had waged for the emancipation of his people and the historic rights he had won for them,
Mindful of the fact that even after 54 years of Independence, the Dalit community is denied of its basic human rights and is also at the receiving end of the most brutal and oppressive forms of discrimination and exclusion,
Reaffirming that concerted action by society as a whole - especially coordination among the political leadership, officials and grassroots activists - is necessary for the over-all development of the most oppressed of India,
Bearing in mind the responsibility to take forward our struggle at this critical juncture in spite of the fact that most political formations are reluctant to pursue any policy favourable to the Dalits,
Recognising that the social consensus over the Dalit cause - reluctantly agreed upon at the time of Independence - has by and large broken down,
Convinced that informed and democratic discourse at all levels is essential to re-negotiate a new consensus over redeeming the pledges of the founding fathers of the Republic to do justice to Dalits,
Convinced also that the national psyche and public discourse in the country accepts uncritically the rigid hierarchy and discrimination caused by caste and thereby denies that caste is a major source of prejudice and brutal violence,
Emphasizing that Babasaheb's stress on struggle through democratic and constitutional means is relevant today,
Regretting that the post-Ambedkar Dalit intelligentsia has failed both in carrying forward his emancipatory movement as well as making a dent in the country's intellectual life,
Recognizing the need for Dalits to make common cause with other liberation and human rights movements in and outside the country,
Conscious of the hurdles that caste-Hindu society - and its tentacles in government, media, voluntary sector, etc., - is likely to hurl at any serious movement that challenges the entrenched system of discrimination and exclusion,
Noting that women - especially Dalit women - represent the most oppressed sections of our society, and that they face multiple forms of discrimination, including caste-based, religious and patriarchal ideology and practices,
Welcoming the winds of change the world over that are conducive to Inclusion, Equal Opportunity, Diversity, Democratisation and Civil Society, and against discrimination, stereotype, stigma, exclusion and caste society,
Hoping that this country will no longer remain an exception to the global norm of Progress, Equality, Justice, Peace and Social Harmony, and
We hereby Solemnly proclaim that while we rededicate ourselves to work in unison to achieve basic rights of Dalits, we are convinced that unless the following issues are resolved no amount of activism on our part and pro-active measures from the State can liberate the community from the scourges of untouchability and exploitation.
We therefore demand....
1. Ensure that each Dalit family will own enough cultivable land for socio-economic well-being. The government should pursue all possible measures including the distribution of surplus land, government revenue lands and temple lands within a specific timeframe. If the need be, the government should purchase cultivate land and distribute it among Dalits.
2. Enact legislation and enforce it stringently to enable Dalits have an equitable share in the appropriation and use of the rural and urban common property resources. The law must be amended to ensure that lengthy litigation with the ulterior motive of denying Dalits of legal redressal, is not resorted to.
3. Enact legislation and enforce the right of Dalit agricultural labourers to living wages, to gender parity in wages, to job security, to better working conditions and welfare measures, and ensure punitive measures against offenders.
4. Appoint Statutory Committees at the national and state level to identify within specified time-frame all the Depressed Class lands occupied by non-Dalits, to assess the quantum of compensation to be paid by non-Dalits for their illegal utilization of lands, to identify the original owners and their nearest kith and kin for restoring these lands back to them, to expedite legal proceedings in courts specially appointed for this purpose against the illegal occupants and to ensure punitive measures against them.
5. Ensure the restoration of the alienated lands to the tribals, restore their rights over forest and forest-produce, provide them with compensation and rehabilitation measures, extend resources and capacity building measures for gainful utilization of their lands and forests and make those Dalits displaced due to construction of dams/developmental projects as shareholders of such enterprises.
6. Democratise the capital so as to ensure proportionate share for SCs and STs. Make budgetary allocation for SCs and STs to enable them enter the market economy with adequate investment resources, and develop their capacities and skills for such market enterprises.
7. Enforce with stringent measures the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 and abolish forthwith child labour to ensure freedom with dignity for all the Dalits, and accordingly make suitable amendments in the appropriate legislations.
8. Amend Art. 21 of the Constitution of India: Fundamental Rights so as to include the following rights for all citizens, but with special emphasis for SCs and STs, and on the basis of two criteria, namely low economic income and without religious discrimination: the rights to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of women and men equally, including food, safe drinking water, clothing, housing, public health and medical care, social security and social services; the right to living wage and the right to own 5 acres of cultivable land or to gainf! ul employment.
9. Implement compulsory, free and high quality education for all Dalits immediately, make allocation of funds proportionate to the number and level of the illiterates, ensure compensation to those families which forfeit their income from child-labour, increase the number and amount of scholarships, and provide better infrastructural facilities in SC and ST schools and offer market-oriented vocational and technical education.
10. Make the reservation quota applicable in all the public and private educational institutions from primary to technical and professional levels. Every SC/ST child with low income-base must be given quality free-education at State's expense. And every English medium school must implement Diversity in Admissions.
11. Recognize SC and ST women as a distinct category among women, and accordingly make segregated data on Dalit women available in census reports, action taken reports and progress reports, evolve national and state level perspective plan for mainstreaming SC and ST women in developmental programmes, market enterprises, financial allocation, reservation facilities in education, employment and health facilities, and mandate the National and State Commissions for SC and ST and for Women to study and report specifically the status of SC and ST women in their annual reports.
12. Implement effectively in letter and spirit the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 & Rules1995, especially with regard to atrocities against Dalit women, and accordingly prosecute the dominant caste leaders and their minions who stoke the fire of caste clashes and the police officials acting in connivance with them. In cases of atrocities against SC/STs, a system of collective punishment has to be evolved as oppressors enjoy community support and protection and escape the law.
13. Ensure diversity or SC/STs' due representation in all public institutions of India, whether universities or academic or autonomous or registered bodies. Those institutions, which do not abide by the principle of Affirmative Action, must lose recognition and state funding. All private industry/ corporate houses must accept and implement Diversity in workforce immediately.
14. Ensure that in all state and national budgets allocations are made as per the proportion of SC and ST population and penal action taken against unutilisation or diversion of funds meant for these sections.
15. Every government and private organization must implement Supplier Diversity from socially disadvantaged businesses and Dealership Diversity in all goods and services.
16. The State must assume sole responsibility in protecting the SCs and STs. The State must identify those atrocity prone areas and deploy forces. In addition, provide arms licences to the SCs & STs as stipulated in the Atrocities Act for self-defence purposes, make the setting up of Dalit self-defence groups from village onwards mandatory, and specially train Dalit women to handle weapons in self-defence against the perpetrators of crimes and atrocities.
17.Eliminate the humiliating practice of manual scavenging on an urgent footing through effective rehabilitation, alternative and sustainable employment measures and developmental programmes, and prosecute violators of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, especially the gross violators Railways, Defence and Urban Local bodies.
18. Make it statutory for Parliament and State Assemblies to debate on the Annual Reports of the National and State level Commissions for SC/ST and Safai Karamcharis within the following year, and ensure that these annual reports and the action-taken reports of the government are made public.
19. Make reservation mandatory in the private and corporate sector in the same proportion as in the public sector and government institutions and develop the capacities and skills of Dalits to help them cope up with the demands of these different sectors.
20. Implement policy of reservation to SCs and STs at all levels of judiciary and defence forces. And make transparent appointment processes in Judiciary by doing away with the nomination system.
21. Bring out a Truth Paper in two years on the status of reservation during the past 25 years and place it before Parliament and State Assemblies for debate, and on a war footing fill immediately all the backlog posts meant for Dalits and that, too, only with Dalit candidates.