Joopaka Shubhadra works with the Andhra Pradesh secretariat. She holds an MA in Telugu literature. She has authored several short stories and also writes a regular column in the Telugu magazine Bhumika. She belongs to the Madiga community of Andhra Pradesh. Her writings reflect issues of caste and gender. However, she feels that in her writings the issue of caste gains predominance over that of gender.
How would you articulate the problems faced by the women in your community?
Women of my community grapple with the problem of poverty but are also subjugated to domestic violence. However this domestic violence must not be placed under a universal category called domestic violence. It has to be understood differently in terms of the difference in the positioning of men in the social structure . Dalit women work but have no right over the money they earn. They are triply subjected by the conditions of labor, caste and gender. They are treated differently by the society. To give you an example - a Dalit women’s complaint at a police station would not be treated in the same way as that of an upper caste women.
Tell us about your own experiences as a person belonging to the Dalit community.
I belong to the Madiga community in Andhra. In my case the question of caste superseded that of gender. In school we were taught that a house has 2 or 3 rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. I could not relate to it since I lived in a hut. When we were asked by the teacher as to what we had for breakfast, students would reply" eggs, bread, butter, jam etc." and again I could not relate to it since all we ate was rice and chilli powder. So the fact that I was different from the other students was posited early in life.
Since you say that very few Dalit women of the Madiga community are educated, how did you come to constitute the educated minority?
I am the youngest of 12 siblings. My father owned a small piece of land. Someone told my father that he must educate his children so that at least they could help him with his land documents. That is how I was sent to school. I studied while living in social welfare hostel.
What prompted you to write about caste issues?
I believe that only a person who is subjugated to a certain condition can represent it with authenticity. An outsider cannot look at it with the same perspective.
In case of Dalit women, does exposure to education make them more aware of their rights?
Education of Dalit women is a rare phenomenon, if it does occur, they are not conscious of it as a process which could enable them to bring about change. They are not in a position to apply and implement what they have learnt. Therefore education does not necessarily bring about a change in the thought process of women.
Also in the Dalit society, education is not a priority. In the upper castes children are educated by way of norm but in our community it is not so. It is a different domain altogether and very view venture into it.
Has modernization minimized the problem of caste?
No, the forms in which it is perpetuated have changed but the problem itself has not. Even in the cities Dalits live in separate bastis .They do jobs involving cleaning. Upper caste people are never seen in such occupations. The Greater municipal corporation of Hyderabad has no upper castes working in such jobs. The railways employ Dalit women for cleaning jobs. Even in the condition of poverty an upper caste person would not perform these menial jobs. They are always taken up by the people of my caste.
Do Dalit women have any representation in politics?
There is reservation for them in the village Panchayats but being uneducated; it takes a long time for them to understand political strategies and the functioning of Panchayats as an institution. So it is more of a struggle for them.
Tell us about the status of women’s movement in Andhra Pradesh.
The prominent Dalit women’s movements are the anti- liquor movement which started from Prakasham district in Andhra area. In Kurnool there were land struggles. The current struggle is regarding caste differentiation and categorization. Almost all of Dalit politicians, IAS, IPS officers, doctors, lawyers, and writers belong to the Mala community. So they have come to constitute the creamy layer which claims reservations generation after generation. There is hardly any representation of sub- castes like the Madigas. This problem has been identified by us now and a demand for proportional representation is being made.
Are there government schemes for Dalit women?
No, there are no well structured schemes. Even when schemes, for example the pension scheme are available, people are unaware of it. The government makes no efforts to increase the level of awareness amongst people. In my village about 50 Dalit women of pensionable age receive no pension. In most of the schemes only a minuscule amount of the total funds allotted is utilized.