Topic : Perspectives on Dalit Feminism
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???The Dalit Standpoint is about historically locating how our identities are not equally powerful, and about reviewing how in different historical practices similarities between women have been ignored in an effort to underline caste-class identities, or other times differences ignored for the feminist cause???, says the Dalit Feminist Critic, Sharmila Rege. In short, Dalit Feminism redefined woman from the socio-political perspective of a Dalit, and examining caste and gender oppressions together. Dalit feminism has been described as a “discourse of discontent,” “a politics of difference” from mainstream Indian feminism, which has been critiqued for marginalising Dalit women. Dalit feminist discourse not only questions Indian feminisms hegemony in claiming to speak for all women, but also the hegemony of Dalit men to speak on behalf of Dalit women.
The aim of identity politics like that of the feminists and Dalits is to ultimately dissolve the crippling effects of burdensome identities. Asserting an identity is to lay claim on the universal. This universalistic vision can be realized only with the analytical tools that Dalit feminisms provide with. They aim at actively participating in eradicating all forms of violence, intolerance, hierarchy and discrimination in the society. Dalit women writers are sensitive to the differential treatment meted out to different subcastes and women within Dalit communities. Brutal patriarchy within Dalit communities is one issue which repeatedly appears in Dalit feminist discourses.
A bird??™s eye view into the books taken to analysis:
1. Viramma ??“ The life of an Untouchable: The book is an intensely personal and moving self – portrait of Viramma, a Dalit. In this book, she reveals the world of an extra ordinary woman living at the very margins of Indian society. The conversations with Viramma was recorded by the authors over a span of ten long years, and was then later consolidated into a book. The book was met with great critical reviews. The book was a window opening to the world of the Dalit women marginalized and kept apart from the mainstream society.
2. Mother Forest : The Unfinished story of C.K. Janu: In January 2003, tribals illegally occupied a part of the wildlife sanctuary in Mathunga, Kerala. Forcible eviction by the police resulted in the death of one tribal and injuries to others. Leading the tribal resistance was Janu, a young woman who had mobilized their protest at the governments failure to honour their commitment to the triblas: the restoration of land alienated from them for development. Dispossessd of their lands, the adivasis feared they would lose their identity and their livelihood. In this passionate account of her struggle, Janu speaks of her childhood and her life in the forest, her political awakening as a party worker in the CPM, her growing disillusionment with it, and her break from it after she felt it had betrayed the tribals. Frank, guileless and eeply moving, Janus unfinished autobiography is an eloquent testimony to her courage-and her convictions.
3. Sangati (Events: . Sangati is a record of their experiences of the joint oppression of caste and gender faced by multiple Dalit women; is in a sense an autobiography of a community. It analyses Dalits womens oppression as a triple jeopardy of oppression by double patriarchies – discreet patriarchy of their own caste and an overlapping patriarchy of the upper caste – as well as poverty. Discreet patriarchy dictates that power rests with men in the community and in the institutions led by them – the caste courts, the Church, the panchayats. The text traces an account of the aggressive exploitation of Dalit women in terms of doubleday labour, domestic violence, priests in the Church, upper caste landlords and their own ignorance and suggests remedies. Bama locates male violence unleashed by their caste men in their own sense of powerlessness vis-a-vis upper castes. Exploitation, threat of rape by the upper castes is analysed in terms of values of overlapping patriarchy which maintains a strong sense of gendered spaces and sees the habitual visibility of Dalit women which they inhabit as sites of work as a sign of their availability and inscribes them as lustful women who sexuality cannot be controlled by the Dalit men. Bama foregrounds the difference of Dalit women from privileged upper caste women and also celebrates their identity in their strength, labour and resilience. As a feminist writer Bama protests against all forms of oppression and relying on the strength and resilience of Dalit women, makes an appeal for change and self empowerment through education and collective action.
1. Racine, Josiane and Racine, Jean Luc Viramma : Life of an Untouchable Trans. Will Hobson. Paris: UNESCO Publishing House, 1997.
2. Bama Sangati (Events) Trans. Lakshmi Holstrom. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005.
3. Bhaskaran Mother Forest : The Unfinished story of C.K. Janu Trans. N.Ravi Shankar. New Delhi: Kali for Women & Women Unlimited, 2004.