Marginalized Dalit Communities - Journey Fraught with Struggle
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In the late 1840s, Savitribai Phule embarked upon a mission previously unheard of in the cultural and customary landscape of some peoples of the yet-to-become Indian Union. Having been educated on an equal footing with her husband, Jyotirao Phule, the Dalit couple used education as a fulcrum for social change. Savitribai became the first headmistress of the first girls’ school in Pune. In 1849, she and her husband started a school for women from the most marginalized Dalit communities in the west central region of the Indian sub-continent.
This was a journey fraught with struggle. Every day, as she walked out of her home to go to school, men would line up the street passing lewd comments, pelting stones, mud or even animal waste on her. She was not to be deterred. Alongside shaping a well informed society, Phule went on to organize women as well as male workers to raise consciousness on human rights and their dignity of life.
Their work for the freedom and equality of all inspired leaders like Dr. BR Ambedkar, chief architect of the Constitution of India, which came into force on January 26, 1950. A central tenet of the Constitution is self determination, which is why, for Dr. Ambedkar, the Indian nation gained true independence only on January 26, 1950, leaving behind, at least legally, the Brahminical (and other) laws and practices that had internally colonized the people. A nation, he had said, is no nation when its peoples are divided along such lines as caste (or patriarchy) with no equal opportunity for all people to develop.
Mere transfer of power from one head to the other is not enough—social, economic, cultural, religious and political liberation of the people of a nation is what makes it a free nation. 67 years since the birthing of the Indian Constitution, we are yet to attain this freedom. The nations that form this Union of nations, or the people who constitute it, continue to fight for their right to determine their own future through emancipation—not just from the boundary of the nation state, but, more significantly, from the norms that bind social beings disproportionately.
At the heart, it is the struggles and wins of the likes of Savitribai Phule in the 1800s or Atri Kar in 2017 that make us ‘free Indians’.
On January 23, a leader at the rally held in Dimapur, protesting the elections to Urban Local Bodies in Nagaland State, said that “Nagas are not Indians.” While that may be so, it is not customary laws alone that make Nagas “not Indian”—it is when every Naga person is set free through indigenous socio-cultural struggles that Nagas become a self determining nation where every person has equal opportunity to develop (themselves and the Naga nation).
Considering the field full of plastic waste left behind at the Dimapur protest site, or restricting women from participating in an unfair election process instead of cleaning up the election process itself, one is compelled to conclude that ‘Nagas’ and ‘Indians’ are merely different terms for similarly unf
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