Have savarna feminists rejected markers of caste and patriarchy?

 

T. Sowjanya

sowjiA dalit woman colleague of mine came to the university campus wearing a mangalsutra one day and this forms the context for my discussion. An upper-caste feminist professor was a little inquisitive about the reason for wearing the mangalsutra. In a lighter mood, the dalit woman professor responded, "My parents-in-law came to visit me. They insist..." The mainstream feminist said that, "we fought such a great struggle against mangalsutra way back! And you still wear it?!" The dalit professor felt offended by this comment since it implied she was somehow a "lesser" feminist. She realized that the mainstream feminists' construction of their body is hegemonic in many ways in that it leads to the exclusion of lower-caste/class women studying and working in the urban universities.

It is not uncommon to find in the urban universities, many upper-caste feminists clad in ethnic, handloom clothing (either a kurti or saree), wearing terracotta/wooden/metal jewelry and a crimson red bindi on the forehead. This construction of upper-caste feminist body is partly a post-modern assertion of native culture by upholding the aboriginal skills of weaving and jewelry making. Mangalsutra is opposed by many feminists since it is a signifier of marital status of Hindu women. At the same time, it symbolically conveys that the woman is the property of her husband. Hence, the feminists' rejection of mangalsutra is a rejection of a manifestation of patriarchy in the name of tradition. But the question here is whether the mainstream feminists have rejected all forms of patriarchy. A bindi on the forehead is a marker of Hindu woman. Constructing Hindu woman figure as the Indian/native woman figure leads to the exclusion of other women. Similarly, many feminists have neither rejected bindi nor the religious/caste position that comes from the patriarchal family structures.

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Silenced by Manu and ‘Mainstream’ Feminism: Dalit-Bahujan Women and their History

 

On Sharmila Rege's First Death Anniversary, a Satyashodhak Review of her Last Book

(First published in 'Miloon saarya jani', online Marathi magazine, in July 2014)

Lata P MLata P. M.

(Translated from Marathi by Minakshee Rode, Nidhin Shobhana)

Dr. Sharmila Rege was the director of Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women's Studies Centre, University of Pune. On 13th July 2013, Sharmila passed away, after a long battle with cancer. She was well known in academic circles for her engagement with Dr.B.R. Ambedkar's writings and thoughts. On the occasion of her first death anniversary Lata P.M. writes this Satyashodhak review of Sharmila's last book 'Against the Madness of Manu'. Her analysis emerges from an innate knowledge of the region and its struggles.

Dr Sharmila Rege's last book, 'Against the Madness of Manu', was published by Navayana with the consent of Adv. Prakash Ambedkar. The name of the book is a play on Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar's essay titled 'Riddle No. 18: Manu's Madness or the Brahmanic explanation of the origin of mixed castes'.

The cover page of the book borrows a popular image of Ambedkar and Ramabai. The image celebrates the marriage of this historic couple. One would find Gautam Buddha blessing them in the blue background. The image (cover-page) resonates with Ambedkarite literature one would read in Chaityabhumi. Babasaheb deeply reflected on the hold of Manusmriti and Brahmanism in Indian society. The ideology of Manusmriti had consolidated the systems of caste and patriarchy in our country. Babasaheb knew this well. On 25th December 1927, during Mahad Satyagraha in the presence of thousands of people, Dr. Ambedkar burnt Manusmriti. This incident was a breakthrough in our history. It marked a new beginning in our struggles for equality.

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From Victimhood to Power: Dalit Mahila Swabhiman Yatra at Hyderabad

 

Pradnya Jadhav

pradnya-jadhav 1Dalit women's battle to survive with dignity and security is extremely challenging. Dalit Mahila Swabhiman Yatra has been initiated by All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM) as an attempt to bring to the notice the realities of Dalit women; it is a quest for justice. It is a broad set of coordinated actions against caste-based sexual violence. We confront perpetrators, stage mass protests and expose the culture of impunity perpetuated by individuals and social institutions. The violence against Dalit women involves not only perpetrators from upper caste communities but also practices of state institutions at large whose justice and support system have failed. The Dalit Mahila Swabhiman Yatra has been actively engaged in interacting at multiple levels to address this state of affairs. This article is an account of the process of Dalit Mahila Swabhiman Yatra and an event organized at Hyderabad Central University and English and Foreign Languages University where we reported back on the Yatra.

The first phase of Dalit Mahila Swabhiman Yatra was organized in February 2014 and covered various districts in Haryana, Bihar and Orissa. We emphasized on the silence around the issues of Dalit women who have been under constant threats and are facing physical, sexual and mental assaults, who are being victimized by the dominant caste Hindu forces who violate their rights to access resources and snatch away their opportunities and means to survive.

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Academic Untouchability: The Dalit Woman Experience

 

Praveena Thaali

praveena thaaliThe academic sphere is generally seen as a space for knowledge creation. However, it can be argued that there is Brahminical hegemony over knowledge which is knowingly or unknowingly reflected in the academia. What kind of knowledge is being produced and by whom? This issue has to be debated seriously. There are few studies that talk about issues of caste discrimination in higher education that focus only on the human rights perspective. Unfortunately, these studies hardly talk about the deliberate exclusion of Dalits from the realm of knowledge production. Certainly, it is a question of human rights, but there are deeper yet-to-be discussed problems underneath.

The studies on Dalits and other subalterns have received huge academic attention in recent times. In fact 'Dalits' remain the subjects for study while the academic contributions by Dalit students are often considered non-academic. This is not surprising because the Brahminical knowledge dominance operates in academics through its language elitism, and a particular style of articulation and use of jargon which is considered essential for scholarly articulation. Despite being in terrible situations, it is demanded of Dalit women to 'prove' their scholarship with engagements within this exclusive framework. African American women scholars have theorized their experience in academics which deepened their assertions and articulated it in a political manner. For example, Patricia Hill Collins* explains how the black women in academia struggle against the notions of "black women inferiority" in the US. In fact, they find ways to do intellectual work that challenges injustice. But even the preliminary attempts by Dalit women scholars at academic engagement are often disrupted by the academic elitism prevalent in India. Studies are yet to come out on the experiences of Dalit women in the academic sphere. The Dalit-woman question is not merely an issue of inclusion or protection. It is also an issue of citizenship too. But the elite academics seem to believe that they are special category which needs special preference. They consider the Dalit-woman question as an 'issue of category' which can be settled through soft dialogues and debates.

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Beyond the Fairy Tales of India

 

Braj Ranjan Mani

Braj R ManiThere is little awareness about a more or less institutionalised arrangement of normalising, if not glorifying, the oppressive past from which the privileged continue to derive profit and pleasure. Invented histories, myth-making, and armoury of stereotypes merge to create convenient narratives and myths which masquerade as the history of India. The suppressed stories fester the lies and keep the people away from the oppressive reality. That is why, history and culture should be debrahmanised—reconstructed—by the subjugated majority, with the understanding that 'the master's tools will not bring down the master's house'.

 It is no secret that there are intellectual weapons in the arsenal of the oppressors of the world—in theology, in philosophy, in social sciences. Their function is to conceal systemic violence or injustice in order to maintain the established power and cultural equilibrium. Even fair-minded intellectuals who come from the top of the social pyramid (in which the many are miserable at the bottom) take safety in academic subterfuge. A social psychology made worse by inherited traditions of classicism, cultural conservatism, and obfuscatory religiosity does not allow the pandits to see the obvious. For example, even a cursory familiarity with the ancient brahmanic texts leaves little doubt that the Itihasa–Purana and Dharmashastras were written by the enemies of dalit-bahujans who were stigmatised as shudras and atishudras. The shudra (the debased caste of servants) was so constructed by the historical power of brahmanism. But the scholars who spend a life-time in researching the past remain forever blind to this reality, and the historical truth of upper-caste violence, both social and ideological. Their scholarship somehow never comes to grasp the point that brahmanical forms of knowledge were critical in the establishment and maintenance of caste. The pattern does not change when we move forward to the history of modern India. A benign amnesia shrouds the conservative and anti-dalit-bahujan strands of Indian nationalism, which permits academic and popular projections of the essentially upper-caste leaders such as Gandhi, Nehru and Tilak-Savarkar as non-partisan leaders.

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Real Daughters of India

 

Daisy Katta

An interview with Dr. Sujata Vishwasrao Athawale, Professor and Dalit Activist, Amravati, Vidarbha, Maharashtra. 

Dr. Sujata Vishwasrao Athawale is a Dalit women's rights activist who has been working with rural Vidarbha's Dalit, Adivasi, Nomadic and Denotified Tribal and Muslim women for the last two decades. On the occasion of International Woman's Day, Dr. Sujata Athawale propounded that Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim, Nomadic and Denotified tribal women are the real daughters of India but their social conditions are very critical and this is an issue which needs special attention.

dr sujata athawale

Dr. Athawale runs an NGO called Urja in Amravati and has also established Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Education Society which works towards educating marginalised women.

Q. How are the conditions of Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim, Nomadic and Denotified Tribal women in India?

Sujata AthawaleThe situations of these women are extremely critical because even now these women are struggling. They do not get paid despite the painstaking labour they do. They are still under the vicious circle of money lenders. They are still struggling for their basic needs. For these Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim, Nomadic and Denotified Tribal women education is still a distant dream.

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