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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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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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Adivasi woman fights back sexual harassment

 

Priyashri Mani

On the 3rd of May, a young adivasi girl (Madi*) from the Bettakurumba tribe was sexually assaulted by a guard working in the Forest Department. Madi lives in a village inside the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu.

In the past, the Forest Department has been the single largest threat to the adivasis living in the forest. They routinely harass those who inhabit their ancestral lands. Officials beat and threaten to imprison tribals who collect fire wood and honey despite the Forest Rights Act (2006) which assures them these rights. Given the situation, fewer and fewer adivasi women venture into the forest. Madi's story is just one more example of the vulnerability of adivasi women at the hands of the state and its functionaries.

Madi was working at a local PDS shop inside the forest as a shop attendant, where a forest guard illegally ran a business of selling his items to customers of the ration shop. On the pretext of discussing work he insisted she come to his house to discuss something urgent. When she arrived at his house, she realized that he was the only one there. Subsequently she was sexually assaulted by him before she was able to scream for help. Even after she was released by him and returned home, she continued to receive unwarranted phone calls from him.

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The linked caste slavery of the Kolhatis and the Bedias

 

Rupali Bansode

rupaliDuring my field work for research on female Tamasha artistes, I was fascinated by a few interesting links I found between the two communities: Bedias and Kolhatis. In a recent conference, where I presented my paper on Tamasha dancers, I pointed out the link between these communities and was questioned on its validity by few researchers, working on the same line. Therefore, this is an attempt to discuss the association between these two communities, with special reference to the lives of women. The debates on the axis of Caste-Gender-Sexuality-Labour are important topics, and are discussed by Dalit women and feminist groups. Though I have discussed these debates in brief, I am more interested in understanding the underlying intersectional links and realities of caste, gender and labor relations of our society that force women from these communities to remain in extremely marginalized states, with very few choices for equal and upward mobility.

In the initial phase of selecting this theme for my research, my hypothesis was that only Mahar and Mang communities of Maharashtra are involved in Tamasha. With more research and field work, I realized that even Kolhatis are involved in this profession. My zeal to know more about the community led me to an outstanding work by Kishore Shantabai Kale, who himself was from the Kolhati community and the son of a female Tamasha artiste. Despite facing humiliation and anguish from family members, peers and teachers at college level, Kale succeeded and become a doctor. He wrote his autobiography called, 'Kolhyatyache Por' which was highly acclaimed.

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Years ago…

 

Pradnya Jadhav

pradnya-jadhavYears ago, she had a dream of attending school, completing graduation, getting a job and settling down. But yes, it was just a dream. The reality was all different, her parents arranged her marriage, and she lived with her husband for almost three years, by now she had two babies. So she thought she would raise her children, educate them and make their life better. It was never that easy though, one day she saw her husband entering home with another woman. Yes, her husband had got married to another woman and asked her to leave his home with her two children. Later, the caste panchayat approved their divorce, and then she started staying with her parents. One day, her parents came to her with another man, and told her that they are going to get her married to him. He was almost 20 years older than her, was a widower and had a son from his previous wife. She never wanted to remarry but couldn't help herself, and got married to him. Now everything was going somehow well for her and in a year she gave birth to a baby girl...

The baby was now nine months old, it was late midnight and she found that her daughter – her only world – was not beside her on the bed. She started searching for the baby... screaming out, weeping, but her daughter was not there. After an hour, her husband and step-son came home along with the baby, told her that they had taken the baby along with them when they went out. She was surprised, shocked to see her baby didn't move, didn't cry, and didn't open her eyes... The baby was covered in a cloth, she took it off and found that the baby had cuts on her body, her vagina... She was almost going to faint thinking about what must have had happened to her daughter. Yes, she realised her husband gave her sleeping tablets so that he could take the baby away while she was asleep and rape her, her husband and step-son had raped the nine month old baby.

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