A panel discussion was organised by Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle and Center for Human Rights and Subaltern Studies on ‘Fighting Legal Battles and Empowering the Communities Legally’ on 22nd February 2018 in National Law University Delhi. The objective of this program was to encourage interaction and the participation of the student community with the people and organizations which have undertaken noble initiatives creating a positive impact on the communities around us. The panelists were Manjula Pradeep, human rights activist, lawyer and former Executive Director of Navsarjan Trust; & Paul Diwakar, former General Secretary of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR).
Ms. Pradeep has been involved in human rights work for the past two decades and is one of the foremost leaders of the Dalit movement in the country. Under her leadership, Navsarjan Trust received Times of India Social Impact Award in the field of ‘Advocacy and Empowerment’ in 2013. Mr. Diwakar, an Economic Rights expert, has also served as General Secretary of Dalit Arthik Adhikar Andolan focusing on Economic Rights of Dalits and working on Budget Analysis and Advocacy for implementation of Special Component Plan and Tribal Sub Plan.
The speakers addressed the questions regarding issues which the marginalized communities have to face and how their interaction has been with the Indian Legal System.
Ms. Pradeep discussed the struggles of the manual scavengers and the legal battles that various organisations have been fighting for over two decades for their liberation. She emphasized on how the system has failed them as they still are the direct victims of the caste system and systematic oppression in the country. She raised concerns regarding the safeguards for manual scavengers not being implemented and no step being taken by the government or society for its eradication.
Mr. Divaker elaborated on constitutional safeguards and legal provisions for protection of marginalized communities. He explained the financial, social and accessibility constraints that dalits face on approaching legal system and the laws providing safeguards to these communities such as SC/ST Atrocities Act has been diluted by a Supreme Court decision (Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra). Mr. Divaker also reviewed the financial aspect of indifference, through the lack of a fair share in union budget for the marginalized communities, and the misuse of whatever allocation is made. The panelists stressed on the need for empowering these communities through education and awareness.