16 December 2017

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09/29/2006 INDIA

Christian woman from Tamil Nadu receives award for her fight on behalf of Dalit women

Interview with Ruth Manorama, a Christian women from Tamil Nadu, who won the 'Alternative Nobel' for her commitment to outcaste women in India. "Their life is deprived of any human dignity, they endure oppression, they are marginalised. This is why I work on their behalf".

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Ruth Manorama is known as the Voice of India's Dalit Women. For her commitment to their cause, she received the 2006 Right Livelihood Award, also know as the 'Alternative' Nobel Prize*.

The 42-year-old Christian woman from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, heads the National Federation of Dalit Women. She has taken part in numerous international meetings to promote the rights of Indian outcaste women. In 1995 she played an important role in the 4th United Nations World Conference on Women held in Beijing (China). She kindly gave AsiaNews this interview.

What made you get involved so actively on behalf of Dalit women?

Their life is deprived of any human dignity, they endure oppression, they are marginalised. This is why I work on their behalf—so that they can be guaranteed a better future. I am Christian and Jesus is my inspiration. He taught us equality, peace and justice.

Can you describe the situation of outcaste women in today's India?

Women are considered second class citizens; their contribution to society is either undervalued or even denied. All social indicators—for example literacy and unemployment—show that Dalit women are at the bottom. When it comes to victims of violence, they are at the top of the list.

Is there any difference between cities and the countryside?

Life for rural Dalit women is really hard. Health facilities are inadequate, dignified jobs are in short supply and economic conditions are really bad. The situation in the cities is not much better. It is mostly Dalit women who manually scavenge latrines in terribly unhygienic conditions. In India the practice was banned in 1993 but the law has not really made any major dent in the situation.

In addition to being humiliating, the practice raises serious social and health-related questions. Not only are Dalit physically ostracised but so are their children. It is one more reason for being treated as an outcaste. For them getting a basic education is very difficult. It is an unfair social system, one that considers a cow's life more precious than that of a human being from a lower caste.

What is the government doing to improve their conditions?

Often political authorities don't really want to rehabilitate these women. There are programmes . . . on paper. Funds have been allocated for Dalit development but nothing happens. Higher social classes are deaf and indifferent to their plight. They'd rather talk about a united India launched on path making it one of the world's major economic and political powers. But that is only half of the truth.

Has any powerful force tried to interfere with your work?

I am not alone. The National Federation of Dalit Women helps me in giving Dalit women a voice.

What do you think of the latest discrimination imposed on Christians?

I think they [Christian Dalits] should get the same rights as Hindu Dalits. What is granted in the name of caste should not be denied on the basis of religion.

What happens now that you won the Alternative Nobel Prize?

Winning the prize will give the Dalit cause greater visibility in India, especially as far as women are concerned. We must fight apathy and acknowledge that Dalit women live in pitiful conditions and that we must integrate them into society.

*The Right Livelihood Award was established in 1980 in Sweden by Jakob von Uexkull, a writer and former Member of the European Parliament. It honours groups and individuals who, through personal sacrifice, uphold the principles of 'Right Livelihood' despite opposition by those in power, who might see them as an obstacle to their rule.

See also

18/12/2006 INDIA
Minorities Rights Award for 2006 goes to Fr. Cedric Prakash
The Jesuit priest, who heads the Prashant Centre and has already collaborated with AsiaNews in the past, receives the award in recognition of his work in favour of human rights in the country, especially in Gujarat.

26/09/2014 SRI LANKA
'Alternative Nobel' goes to Sri Lankan Catholic Basil Fernando
A member of the Asian Human Rights Commission, he was chosen for the 2014 Right Livelihood Award in view of "his tireless and outstanding work to support and document the implementation of human rights in Asia."

19/10/2006 INDIA
Dalit women successfully get temple priest removed for discrimination
For three years the priest had prevented Dalits from entering the temple. Women protested and successfully got a Dalit appointed as head of temple committee.

14/02/2006 INDIA
An outcaste will address the United Nations

Girija Devi, a dalit committed to fighting alcoholism in her village in India, will address the UN at the end of the month. The woman can barely write and speaks only in a local dialect. Her organization against alcoholism has changed the life of her local community.

26/05/2017 19:06:00 INDIA
Sister Annmary helps "untouchable" women find work in Odisha

The nun belongs to the Congregation of the Union of Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 2014 she was the first Catholic to arrive in Boudh district. Since then, she has taught children, and helped women learn to sew. For the first time, 30 women went to a government office.

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