Dinesh Prasad: Unrelenting Discrimination Warrior

Dinesh Prasad: Unrelenting Discrimination Warrior

“I will become a martyr for my community; it would be better than dying a natural death,” says 45 year old Dinesh Prasad from Kalnahin village in UP’s Maharajganj district. Dinesh belongs to the Musahar community, one of the most vulnerable and marginalised even among Dalits; they are part of the Mahadalits. Life was never going to be easy for Dinesh but none of his hardships has extinguished his desire to strive for the rights of his people.

Dinesh recalls harrowing instances of caste discrimination from his childhood days — eating boiled roots when there was nothing at home, being exploited by landlords and not being paid for their labour, the sexual harassment of women. He recollects how if anyone from his community   asked for their legit wages, they were punished by burying them waist deep in the scorching sun. They could neither go to the police or the court — the former was largely upper caste and for the latter they had no money.

Education for the Musahar community was a far-fetched dream, nigh impossible. It was with great difficulty that Dinesh managed admission in a school but here too he was always reminded of his social standing. He was determined — from selling tea to walking 16 kilometres to school he did everything possible to keep his education going. Unfortunately his financial conditions were such that he had to drop out of school in class 8th. He migrated to Delhi, Kathmandu, and Mumbai for work. He was married at 16.

As he grew older he became aware of his identity and the status of his community but he was still a few years from figuring a way out of it. In 2002, a survey by Action Aid showed the extreme state of poverty and deprivation of the community. He began attending meetings. In time he became a representative of his community, he formed women SHGs, and finally in 2005 formed the Musahar Manch in Badhya Mustakil, a village in Nichlaul block in the district. The Manch, which started with 25 members, served as a platform to discuss and redress issues of the community.

In 2009, he registered an NGO Musahar Seva Sansthan. It was important that the name resonated with the need of identity of the community. He remembers once when the community members took out a padyatra to just reiterate their identity. Dinesh believes this was important because people thought, “Must be some animal or pest, they could not be humans”. The question that started gnawing him was “how could one dream of having an identity when even survival/existence was a question?”

Today, his organisation helps people of the Musahar community fight oppression and discrimination. This has riled up quite a few people from the upper caste and he did receive a few threats. Undeterred he has continued working despite the threats and tough economic conditions. “I feel isolated and cannot feel my identity without my social work, unless I receive ten calls a day I do not feel as if I exist”.

Dinesh has become synonymous to hope and spirits for the people of his community today. Oxfam India worked with Dinesh to fight caste discrimination and train his community to understand their rights and entitlements and demand for what is rightfully theirs.

Oxfam India’s campaign #IndiaWithoutDiscrimination aims to create a fair and just society and discrimination warriors like Hemlata are our leading lights. Oxfam India is a movement of people working to end discrimination and create a free and just society.

Oxfam India is a movement to end discrimination. You can join this movement too.

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