I first met the Dalit Foundation in 2004 and have since learned quite a bit about their work to empower Dalits across Asia. They have a very high profile board with each member being very committed to the Dalit cause. I have worked with the Foundation on two cases stuides publications to date and been very impressed with the work that they are doing at grass roots level. recently on a visit to their offices in Delhi, I met with their staff group and heard directly about their work with Dalit communities. I also had a very moving visit to two of their villages projects to see at first hand how their work impacts at the local level.
They are very professional yet committed to the core ideology of social justice and equity. Their governance systems are very good. They have one of the strongest board comprises of senior most persons from the Indian civil society.
I met Dalit Foundation as a donor in 2006. They were being supported by the Foundation that I work for. For me this is one of the more meaningful work that we support, and it rooted in many spheres of my life. At the personal level, right from my childhood as an Indian woman I have witnessed the multifarious, obvious, insidious ways that caste system work in India. It is a complex form of systemic discrimination against some people who are born in what are called 'lower' castes - the untouchables as they were called. To provide dignity to their caste identity, the untouchables inverted their name to "DALIT" to give a strong political identity. Dalit means the 'weak' that recognizes the reality of their situation and at the same time uses this precise identity to make a point for social change and transformation. I recall as a woman activist, attending a women's meeting in a remote village in the state of Rajasthan. I was a visitor meeting women's groups to discuss their challenges of managing a range of reproductive health issues in the face of extreme deprivation and poverty. We were seated in a room in a mud house, and there were some women who peeped from the outside through the window. I called them inside to join us, and they would not. I was told there were the untouchable women and if they entered the room it would 'pollute' the rest of the women who were of a higher caste. This is analogous to racial segregation.It was an atrocious practice, and I was a visitor to the village...Instead of talking about health, I started discussing the caste system with the upper caste and it was shocking. They were incensed with me and called me an 'outsider' who should not interfere, and that was the end of my opportunity to discuss health issues. I had to leave, but not without realizing the extremity and stubborn of social forces that reinforce archaic beliefs and systems. The segregation for the Dalits mean that they are prevented from accessing common sources of water, schools, health centres that are often located in upper caste areas. This is one instance, and I have seen the caste system been practised in villages in different parts of India narrowing the chances of lives and livelihoodsof the Dalits. It is evident from my story that to change this system, support and empowerment of the Dalit community is a very important strategy. The Dalit Foundation does exactly that by giving small grants to organizations based at the community level to work on these issues so that a process of social change and transformation can be triggered at the very local level so that oppressive and discriminatory practices can be altered forever...the battle is long, and Dalit Foundation does all the support and hand-holding with groups on the ground to make it happen.
I have had a professional relationship with the Dalit Foundation since 2005, when I came into the board chair and executive director as part of a Ford Foundation program to build the capacity of philanthropies. I have since collaborated with the organization through Foundations for Peace, a network of philanthropies working on building peace in divided societies. As a result of these experiences, I have become a personal donor to the organization, agreeing to give a specific sum each six months. I have visited the field to see the unjust social circumstances that oppress the Dalit community. The Dalit Foundation is working with one of the most serious issues in the world in which a quarter of a billion people are systematically discriminated against, and results in spoiled lives and wasted opportunities. There is a clear theory of change, and the Foundation is effective in dealing with the problems in the poorest communities, but it needs support to tackle them more effecively
Dalit Foundation works to uplift the daily lives of the Dalits of India, formerly known as the Untouchables. It is the only granting organization working exclusively on Dalit rights. I had a general knowledge of the problems Dalits face in every day life, but my experience with the Foundation has opened my eyes to the complexity of the issue. Discrimination, lack of basic human rights, and atrocities perpetrated against the lowest rung of society are rampant in rural India. It is impossible to untangle one issue to work on without addressing the fabric of society. I have been impressed with the far-reaching impacts of Dalit Foundation's work. The organization takes a holistic view of Dalit rights and makes sure to provide not only funding to its partners, but also conceptual and institutional support.