The issues and problems faced by Dalit women are as wide as the nation itself. Dalit women’s position in the Indian society is neglected, pathetic and sorrowful because of various forms of discrimination that is faced by Dalit women.
Dalit women face triple exploitation, first as a woman, then as a Dalit and then being poor. The patriarchy which operates within Indian society has treated her as Dalit among Dalits. Most of us, Dalit women, in rural and urban contexts, have been oppressed by Savarna women in many ways, both in personal and professional lives oppression of Dalit women continue. So, Dalit women are marginalized within the marginalized.
Mainstream feminism in India is controlled or propagates the ideology of so-called upper-castes or you could call that Savarna feminism, which is as dodgy as everything else propagated by so-called upper castes. The Dalit woman is never given space or platform to speak and habit of Savarna feminists to speak for Dalit women is disgusting, as if Dalit women can’t speak for themselves!
Further, Savarna feminists are not willing to interrogate their religion’s oppressive ideologies: Hinduism is the bedrock of the caste system. Feminists those call themselves intersectional must be willing to interrogate Hinduism’s oppressive ideologies towards Dalits. This includes questioning festivals, rituals, and beliefs that are steeped in Hinduism. These Savarna women who lead feminist organisations and popular discourses on gender are typically those who come with caste and class privileges. DBA has no space in these organizations. Savarna Indian feminists display selective outrage for sexual crimes.
Before looking at the contemporary Dalit feminists’ views, let’s take a brief look at the history Dalit women’s plight. Devdasi is a tradition of dedicating girls as sexual slaves to the temples, such practice can still be found in many parts of India. According to the 2015 report, there were around 80,000 devadasis in just two states – Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
It was Dr Ambedkar who insisted on education for Dalits and lower castes. According to Dr Ambedkar, education alone would enable the untouchables to fight untouchability and discrimination. Savitribai Phule, a noblewoman on a mission to educate downtrodden, who carried an extra saree (to change after so-called upper castes would have thrown cow dung and rubbish on her so that she stops teaching so-called lower castes) to the school where she taught marginalised children. Walking to the school and back, people flung dung and dirt on her.
Our history has taught us the myriad possibilities for liberation. Educated Dalit women took initiatives to organize Dalit women to revolt against such discrimination not only in the society as a whole but also within the so-called emancipatory movements and feminists groups.
The 1990s is a crucial decade for feminist politics in India. There has been a radical shift in feminism discourse when Dalit women began to demand their representation. Dalit assertions emerged at different points in different regions of the country. It was a combination of mass movements, powerful writings about caste oppression, and electoral politics.
After a long struggle, the National Federation of Dalit Before Women (NFDW) was formed in 1995 with the help of Ruth Manorama in Bangalore. Dalit Mahila Sanghatana was formed by Dalit women in Maharastra in 1995. Various other small groups to associations were formed by Dalit women to organize themselves and fight for their rights.
Dalit Feminism can be understood through the struggle of Dalit women activist who has voiced caste and gender intersectionalities and criticised mainstream feminist for being blind to caste atrocities committed on Dalit women on a daily basis.
I am taking an honest effort to understand Dalit Feminism and their struggle for equality and justice in a society that on one hand, worship woman as ‘shakti’ and on the other, dominant castes in the society put women in temples as devadasi. Sending love, courage and appreciation to all the beautiful Dalit Feminists fighting against all the odds. Keep fighting for your rights!
The author could be reached at @Bhaujan_connect on Twitter