It was lovely today to finally visit the office of Evidence, a non-profit organization that advocates for Dalit (outcaste) and women’s rights. I first encountered them in 2012 and have followed their work since. In my draft novel, Evidence and its staff are characters in my story! I’ll have to see how the director feels about that- it may be best to re-name them for purposes of fiction.
Evidence’s mission is to fight discrimination against Dalits and poor women. Cases involve rape, murder, burning of homes, stealing of land and other violence. Their name points to their work; they do research and document atrocities. They also intervene in cases using sympathetic attorneys, counsel victims and offer support, and do public education.
It was moving to see the pictures on the walls and busts on tables of Martin Luther King, Che Guavera, Jesus, and Dr. Ambedkar, a well-known Dalit activist during British days who helped to draft the Indian constitution. There were also references to Periyar, a 19th century Dalit activist who preached against the evils of Hinduism and spoke for women’s rights.
Evidence was founded in 2005 by Kathir and has been consistently funded by Scandinavian foundations and now the European Union. Isn’t it interesting that NGOs in India receive very little support from indigenous donations? There are multiple reasons: there isn’t a history of locally supported NGOs in the country; wealthy donors prefer to fund their own projects, run by their own staff, with their name in prominence; and human rights work that involves challenging the establishment (governments, politicians and the police) is too controversial to touch. A recent government regulation has also limited foreign donations to Indian NGOs.
Evidence’s staff comprise both Dalits and non-Dalits as well as men and women, with four investigators and a small administrative staff. Kathir is Catholic; the rest of the staff claim the Hindu religion but certainly do not support the caste system! I asked them whether they think the “reservation” system (affirmative action in government and public colleges for lower-caste people) has been more beneficial or has helped to reinforce the caste system. They felt this system was positive but that general education and activism is required in order to really change hearts and minds in India.
Because they are Evidence, they maintain lots of documents! They keep a file on each case, and another file for cases that involve the courts. The color coded system represents violence against women, violence against Dalit men, land theft cases, and files of information obtained from governments through the Right to Information Act.
Their database tracks each case with the victim’s name and caste, the perpetrator(s) names and caste, the location and nature of the “atrocity”, the services they provided, and outcomes.
Do consider a donation to Evidence. You can contact your bank and transmit a donation to the following account:
Name of Account: Media Institute for National Development Trust
Name of Bank: CANARA BANK
Name of Branch: Paravai
Account number: 1460101027468
Swift code: CNRBINBBUFM
IFSC Code: CNRB0001460
Address of bank: Canara Bank, R.S.No.288/22, Main road, Oormatchikulam, Paravai, Samayanallur, Madurai – 625402.