Discrimination, marginalisation and denial of basic rights are issues that are all too real for women across the world. But what if you feel twice as discriminated against because of an outdated custom that still (unnecessarily) determines how you get to lead your life? This is the harsh reality Dalit women and girls face every day in India, even today. And thats precisely the issue Beena Pallical, the General Secretary of Dalit Arthik Adhikar Andolan, and a key activist with the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) is fighting against with everything shes got. From demanding policy changes to training Dalit women and youth about budget rights, her decade-long work at the NCDHR has contributed immensely to the Dalit rights movement in the country and the world.In conversation with Her Circle, Pallical revealed that her move to the NCDHR happened organically, even though she had no experience in social work. In fact, she had studied economics, done an MBA in marketing and was working in the corporate sector for 10 years. But as a Dalit woman, caste was always on her mind because of her lived experiences. What is this beast? Why do people refer to us and others? Why is there such a huge social inequality? these, she says, were some questions that constantly came up. At first, she joined the NCDHR to understand human rights better, but as she grasped more about identity politics and its socio-economic impacts, her own contribution became more nuanced.Suddenly I realized that social identity is not just an identity. But it comes with so much burden and pain on the one hand, and yet so much power on the other hand because so many families have broken the barriers, she says. Working with the NCDHR also helped Pallical understand her own history and identity as a Dalit woman better, while also setting her on the path to being a changemaker. Every day when I wake up now, I know that Im doing something that is making a difference in the life of a young girl or boy from the Dalit community. That, for me, is humbling too because Ive got the opportunity to do this, she adds.The Rights Of Dalit Women And YouthWhat many fail to understand is that working for the rights of an oppressed community is not a one-directional march towards progress. A lot of people, when they start working on Dalit issues, pick the violence aspect because the National Crime Reports Bureau data shows that there are almost 50,000 caste-based crimes that occur every year. Thats a huge number! Of those, women account for a big chunk, Pallical explains, while adding that she chooses to work on a different aspect. To be able to move ahead, we have to empower the Dalit community with housing, education, healthcare and jobs while fighting violence and other forms of injustice. For example, when a young woman is not able to access medical care because she doesnt have a job, it affects the entire family. For me, having that basic economic right and fighting for it is important because otherwise, it becomes a vicious circle, she explains.One of the ways she does this is to enable men and women from the Dalit community to access government schemes, scholarships, entitlement and rights. The idea is to turn around and say that hey, this is what caste discrimination has done, but this is not how it will remain. We will access entitlements, this is our right to development, she says. The single-most important thing for me is for the Dalit youth to be able to access higher education. Unless that happens, they will not be able to get employment or livelihood options. Thats what I focus on, apart from ensuring that Dalit women are able to access public entitlements due to them. And also to help them come up with their own entrepreneurial livelihood options as well.Understanding The Manifestations Of Caste DiscriminationFor the urban Indian citizen who does not belong to the Dalit community, understanding caste discrimination and its repercussions is often veiled by misconceptions and privilege. People often assume that caste only exists in the rural areas. Women in the rural areas maybe have a little bit more restrictions based on patriarchy, caste and class. She certainly has many more barriers to cross. But its still similar to the experience of Dalit women in urban areas, Pallical explains. If youre an educated woman like me, you are able to access some of your rights. But if youre a Dalit woman labourer who has moved to the urban centre for your livelihood, it is still going to be very difficult for you. Presumably, wed think her life will get better, but actually, its not. Shes still carrying those burdens of poverty, caste and patriarchy.A lot of young Dalit girls are also accessing education at urban centres, but they too face systematic discriminations. People ridicule you, continue to remind you that you have come here through reservations, and make you feel so low about yourself. Ive had so many cases where young boys and girls have explained how difficult people, even teachers, can make it for them. These things are still going on in urban settings.Making Benefits Count For The Dalit CommunitySo how can the Dalit community access benefits, overcome centuries of marginalisation and chart a new future? Thats the thing about India. We have a very beautifully crafted Constitution. We have so many legal mechanisms and policies, Pallical says. Accessing these and implementing these are very poorly done. These things should be accounted for in the planning stage itself. If theres a discrimination in the design itself of programmes, then thats also where we need to challenge it.Sensitisation of people in authority, Pallical believes, is also something that needs to be prioritised. There is a special mechanism called the Prevention of Atrocities Act, which only records crimes based on caste. So how do the police handle it when these cases come? Because even registering an FIR becomes so difficult for young Dalit women and girls. There needs to be a much more effective implementation of the policies. There are a lot of targeted budget plans, called Sub-Plans, which are meant for the community.So how do we ensure this money actually benefits the Dalit community? I think there has to be some accountability. This has to be from both sides. From the side of the government, and the communitys side also. We have to continuously keep on demanding accountability. Better monitoring of policy implementation needs to be done by every member of civil society. Above all, the people from the wider society need to be more conscious.I feel very bad when people say that oh, you all have reservations, the government is helping you. Firstly, we have to understand that the government is not doing charity. The policies are in place to undo the historic damage that has been done to my community. The atrocities, violence, denial of rights for centuriesthe policies are supposed to undo all that damage. In fact, in other countries, marginalised communities ask for repatriation to pay back what has been taken historically. Were not even going into that. Were just saying give us our basic rights, she insists.For those from Savarna backgrounds, Pallical has a simple suggestion: Acknowledge your privilege. Apart from that, you have to see how you can be an ally without appropriating the space. Give up some of that space that you have enjoyed for centuries at the cost of marginalised communities.For Dalit women, she has an invigorating message: Take your space at the table. You have to be at the tables in those rooms where theyre making policies, determining rights. Only then will our rights be reflected in those policies.Despite everything shes seen in life, Pallical remains hopeful about the future. I dream of the day when I can say that Im a Dalit woman, and nobody will look down on me. I dream of the day when Dalit girls can become active in media, in Bollywood, lead corporations, and not face discrimination, she says. And that cannot happen just because we are demanding it. It can happen if every citizen takes that onus of making a difference and empowering these communities. I dream of the day when we can build allies, representation and diversity.