Sunday, March 23, 2008

Undoing Silence

In presenting this issue of the wall journal, it seems incumbent upon us to take up a few questions, right at the outset. Gopal Guru ends one of his articles, stating, “The spheres of representation are also spheres of intense political contestation. They are advanced sincerely and seriously contest the representative claims that are made by adversaries with the hegemonic intention of assimilation. But they are also advanced to assign exclusionary boundaries around the dalit constituency. Ambedkar tried, both at the intellectual and political levels, to enlarge the horizon of such claims without fear and favor. The quality is absent in the current instance.”

One thing that the caste system has successfully established, which still exists as a pervasive discriminatory reality, is a systematic inequality. Perpetration of caste violence or discrimination occurs in varied realized modes, which the rhetoric of an assumed caste neutral modernity does not take into account. This becomes much more apparent within the University space where the articulation of this discriminatory reality often assumes academic comportments. The fact that a certain section of students are endowed with certain ‘linguistic skills/abilities’, or are better off at ‘presenting’ themselves, is a direct fall out of these social practices. The realization, that Dalit students have been constantly negotiating spaces in the face of bad governmental policies and dividing practices, has sadly slipped through.

The way in which liberal discourse has a growing daunting confidence in its modernity and the subsequent sequencing of modernity on democracy is brahmanical. Hence the political aspirations of Dalit people are dealt in terms of a subsidized satisfaction from the slippage of liberal democracy. The attempts at collating a journal, which specifically talks about the dissemination of ‘caste realities’, should not vacate an essential dialogic space, failing which, it may fall into the trap of the aforementioned problematic representative domain.
If we try and trace the politics of the journal, it would be that of critically challenging discernable conceptions of power, benefit and desire, which reposes behind the formulation of a language that retains at its core the very hierarchies of caste. Keeping in mind this specific context, we focus on Dalit Women in this issue as their accounts are those of subsequent oppression by varied manifestations of caste, gender and implicit economy. It seems yet more imperative to interrogate caste and the woman question, because most of the Dalit women narratives are those of resistance; resistance to accepted norms, discrimination and oppression both in the private and public domain. Dalit poet Teresamma, a teacher from Guntur, writes:

We go to work for we are poor
But the same silken beds mock us
While we are ravished in broad daylight.
Ill-starred our horoscopes are.
Even our tottering husbands
Lying on the cots in a corner
Hiss and shout for revenge
If we cannot stand their touch.

Teresamma’s poetry points out the thrice articulated mode of oppression and discrimination that Dalit women face. Hence their stories of resistance are those of politically realized social experiences.

In the 70s and 80s, the women’s movement in India focused on mobilizing women across caste, class and ethnic background against violence and discrimination. Women were seen as a single political category. So there was a universalizing approach which held that all women were in powerless positions regardless of their background. But in fact, women are placed in different locations in our social hierarchy. Social context and institutional structures around them play a large role in determining their rights. Their location determines their control and power over public and private resources, political participation, concepts of womanhood and notions about body, sexuality, work and family. In a society like ours where there is such plurality of caste, community, languages, and economic backgrounds, gender does not function in isolation. It is always intersecting with the other identities that define power and powerlessness.

The question of who speaks assumes crucial importance. It is necessary to recognize and address the differences between various groups of women and to understand the specificity of experience. Exploring the categories of women, caste, gender and feminism through this lens will perhaps extend the potential of what we attempt at presenting.


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