6 Reasons Why Dalit Foundation Grants and Fellowships are Unique

This is a follow up of a post on www.p-sj.org by FRIDA stating reasons why their grants are unique. Reading FRIDA’s post, we at the Dalit Foundation were inspired to think about why our grants, which lie at the centre of our work for the Dalit Movement in India, are unique. Here are six reasons we came up with.


  1. BUILDING DALIT LEADERSHIP: We believe that the best solutions to Dalit problems lie within the community. We are therefore committed to building and supporting exemplary Dalit leadership, with a special focus on Dalit women. As a first step toward this commitment, our proposal submission process is very flexible and without any rigid format. Proposals are accepted in any language and the applicants decide and identify their own solutions in the proposal.


  1. EQUALITY is at the centre of our grant making: The project selection process, a key link in the process of grantmaking, is the first test of equality. As part of the selection process is a mandatory three-day visit to the area the applicant works in so that the evaluator lives with the applicant for two nights and sees for herself or himself the work and implementation of the practice of equality.


  1. JOINT OWNERSHIP: Every step of the way, the ownership of the grant making process is jointly shared between the applicant, their peers and the Foundation. It involves an open three-day interaction between all participants, a learning event for everyone including the foundation. During the process, a transparency matrix is used to evaluate the proposals which are discussed and jointly reconstructed if needed to make the solutions stronger. Similarly, once started, each project is jointly reviewed among peers (all the grantees) who discuss and help decide the future direction for each project.


  1. MORE THAN MONEY: Our support is more than just money and comes with capacity building trainings for all our grantees. It gives foundation partners additional opportunities to strengthen their leadership potential, sharpen their perspective and develop their skills. Peer learning, self-reflection and the value of equality are core aspects of perspective building, with the stress on gender equality and subcaste integration among the Dalits. The workshops, which are spread over the three-year support period, prepare partners to independently address issues of equality and social justice, stop atrocities against Dalits, and proceed towards their objectives undeterred.


  1. SELF MONITORING AND EVALUATION: The foundation does not impose any rigid evaluation indicators. The grantees self monitor their progress by setting milestones for themselves.


  1. SUSTAINABILITY: Caste and its discriminatory manifestations are deeply embedded in Indian society. The foundation’s mission thus cannot be accomplished in isolation. The mindset of the entire Indian society has to change. Understanding this, the Dalit Foundation has paid special attention to creating understanding and our grantees are encouraged to create a cadre of volunteers to continue the struggle for equality. To support this effort in the future, we will be providing skill building training to 10 volunteers identified by each of our grantees. Further, in order to reduce dependency on institutional donors, the grantees are trained to raise local resources as well as on good governance practices.


‘Dalit’ is a title the so-called lower castes of India use to describe themselves. The caste system divides Indian society into groups ranked by ritual status determined by birth and governed by the principles of ritual purity and pollution. Each caste is associated with a traditional occupation. The castes defined now as ‘Dalits’ are at the lowest rung of this ladder and are obliged to undertake the most degrading of occupations, such as manual scavenging – the removal of human excreta with a rudimentary broom and pan. These castes are considered so ‘impure’ that even their touch is defiling and they are subjected to the most extreme manifestation of caste discrimination, ‘untouchability’. While the practice of ‘untouchability’ has been constitutionally abolished, it is still rampant in many parts of India and Dalits continue to suffer routine exploitation and humiliation at the hands of the dominant castes.

Traditionally associated with Hinduism, caste has now become intrinsic to Indian society; it is no longer just a religious phenomenon but a social one too. Dalit communities have as a result been systemically pushed to the margins of society. Not only have poverty and deprivation followed as the inevitable result, but the lives of Dalits have been stripped of dignity too.

The Dalit movement manifests the resilience of the Dalit community and their resistance to caste oppression.