The Ancient of Days
With the coming of the Aryans, the Dravidians were displaced. Manu declared the role, status, duties, and powers of the four Castes. The objective was obviously to consolidate the position of the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas, and to ensure the subjugation of the lower castes and the untouchables (who were largely the defeated and enslaved Dravidian people). Thus were devised philosophies and laws which crushed all chances of resistance. Divine sanction behind the Caste system made any revolution impossible. The woman became an important instrument in maintaining it. As Uma Chakravarti says in her essay Conceptualizing Brahmanical Patriarchy in Early
The Step Sisters: the Caste-Class-Gender Axis in Modern
The case of the Dalit women is a complex one. Gender equations can’t be simplified solely on the basis of economic factors. For the upper caste women, empowerment ends with the dream of working and earning. However, “going out and earning” has not altered the gender equations within the Dalit community. There, women have no control over their income. Alcoholism and domestic violence very common. But the kind of domestic violence that a Dalit woman faces is very different from that which happens in an upper caste household. The Dalit woman is at the lowest rank in the hierarchy of caste, class and gender: not only does she face caste discrimination, but she also bears the brunt of anger and frustration from men in her community. There are no complaints, because it’s taken for granted that all Dalit women are beaten up and nothing can be done about it.
The workplace is not a promising arena either. Dalit women are always employed in menial jobs. Uneducated and powerless, they are employed for tasks like scavenging, cleaning toilets, carrying bricks, etc. at a lower wage than men. They become easy targets for abduction, rape and molestation by men of both upper and lower castes. Modernization has only opened up new avenues of exploitation for Dalit women. In a study, Joopaka Subhadra observes, the majority of prostitutes and bar dancers in the metropolitan cities come from the Dalit communities. The Devadasi and Yogin customs continue even today in many parts of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Of the few who are emancipated, even fewer are rehabilitated, and the rest become prostitutes.
Damsels in Distress
As per the 1981 census, the male-female ratio was particularly low in states like Rajasthan, Haryana,
Society and thought
In the field of Education and the Job sector, Dalit presence is almost negligible. Dalit women are even rarer. The few Dalit women who are educated hardly have any influence to facilitate major changes or gender mobilization. The women who belong to affluent Dalit families face a slightly different problem. These families, having improved economically, want social prestige. For that, it is necessary to adopt the upper caste (class) lifestyle. Thus, the fierce patriarchal norms and practices of the upper caste households are fast spreading among the middle class Dalits. This trend is especially dominant in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Thus, like “respectable” upper caste people, Dalit women are now expected to manage the household and remain indoors.
Dalit women enjoy little social prestige and political representation. Hierarchies operate even within Dalit communities, so often, reservation and other facilities are monopolized by the dominant caste. According to many educated Dalit leaders, women should be allowed 50% reservation instead of 33% in the Parliament, and within that, all communities should enjoy proportional representation. Yet, the danger of silence remains: Prof. Yesudasan points out that even with reservation, the voice of the upper caste women are more likely to overshadow that of the Dalits.
The voice of the Dalit woman is a faint cry. Unlike Brahmanical feminism, Dalit feminism is a more complex entity, and cannot be solved by aping the strategies of Women’s liberalization movements of the West. The problems faced by Dalit women are more difficult to address, because they form a minority within a minority; and are stratified within themselves. Given its recent emergence, the Dalit feminist movement has a long way to go. Attempts are made to raise awareness and spread literacy, and several political organizations are being formed to forward their cause and urge for their development. Individuals have emerged, but for the entire community it’s still a distant target to achieve.