The Indian Constitution banned the practice of untouchablity under Article 17 and the Schedule Caste/ Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989 was introduced to combat persecution and discrimination against Dalits and Adivasi (tribal) people. Despite the existence of these strong legal provisions, Dalit and Adivasi populations have found it virtually impossible to access their rights through the legal system. In this context, the Dalit and Adivasi Rights Initiative provides legal aid and rights-awareness to members of Dalit and Adivasi communities and uses the law to ensure that the violation of Dalit and Adivasi rights are addressed through the legal system.


This initiative works with the affected communities to set up legal aid centers in order to increase access to justice for Dalit and Adivasi populations. A crucial element of our work is creating awareness amongst these marginalized communities about their fundamental human rights through training programmes and publications in vernacular languages on Dalit/Adivasi rights and the law. Another significant component of this initiative is building a network of Dalit/Adivasi lawyers, while simultaneously sensitizing the judiciary to the needs and issues of populations marginalized by caste and tribal status. For this purpose, we organize 10-12 training programmes annually, in different parts of the country, which function as a forum for discussion, consultation, and sensitization.
This Initiative also files individual cases as well as public interest litigations in order to bring litigation on Dalit and Adivasi issues into the mainstream. We provide legal expertise in crisis situations by conducting fact-findings, rescues, and crisis-interventions in cases of atrocities. Our team has developed alliances with organizations, Schedule Caste/ Schedule Tribe unions and grassroots organizations; has engaged in advocacy and campaigns; and is part of the larger movement working for Dalit/ Adivasi rights in India.


The practice of untouchability and discrimination against Dalits/ Adivasis
Unorganised labour (Migrant Labour, Bonded Labour & Child Labour etc.)
Manual scavenging
Dalit/ Adivasi women`s rights
Protecting the rights of couples in inter-caste / intra-gotra marriages
Dalit/ Adivasi land rights
Affirmative actions/ Protective Discrimination
Special developmental schemes/ policies related to Dalit/Adivasi populations


The Dalit Rights Initiative at HRLN has been instrumental in bringing about some landmark legal decisions on Dalit/ Adivasi rights, which have positively impacted the lives of thousands of people around the country. Dalit populations are often forced into manual labour and scavenging (disposing of human excrement, animal carcasses, etc.). A decision passed by the Delhi High Court achieved significant results when the court directed the government to improve the safety conditions of sewer workers in Delhi. This case, however, also created a wider impact in the Dalit community, when the courts also directed that the state should aim towards completely phasing out of the employment of persons to clean sewers, on an emergent basis. (See: National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers Vs. MCD & Ors.)
Another public interest litigation filed in the Orissa High Court challenged the inaction of the Ministry of Forest and Environment and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs in implementing the Scheduled Tribe and Other Forest Dwellers (Reorganization of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. Our petition forced the authorities to pass orders in all pending applications under the Act within 3 months and clarified that each order should be verbally communicated to every applicant. (See: Digee Murmu Vs. Union of India)
Our team places particular emphasis on ensuring that the perpetrators of caste-based atrocities are held accountable for their actions through the legal system. In a historic judgment, the Giridh District Court granted life imprisonment with a cost of Rs. 25,000 seven persons responsible for killing a Dalit man. Such judgments set legal precedent and send out a hard-hitting message that the judicial system will grant no impunity to perpetrators of crimes against Dalits and Adivasis.
Our lawyers have filed a number of individual cases that have achieved significant large-scale results. For example, one of the major forms of discrimination against marginalized sections is the refusal of the police to lodge FIRs against upper-caste perpetrators. We have intervened in many such cases, securing court directions for lodging FIRs and carrying out investigations into cases of atrocities against Dalits/ Adivasis.