The lost “Dalit feminism” in the Indian feminist movement - SHAURYA SINGH

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

Indian feminist do consider the need of Empowerment and upliftment of Dalit womxn but in the fight against the evil of patriarchy, the real “Dalit” womxn issues of caste is often neglected due to lack of Intersectional perspective in the mainstream feminist movement.

“Dalit feminism” was not only restricted to the caste but also focused on Intersectional perspective to taken into consideration different struggles of the womxn in the society.

It will not be wrong to give a substantial amount of credit to the Dalit feminist for their contribution in the movement. “Dalit” womxn had a long history of playing a major role in the Indian feminist movement but the mainstream feminist movement does not often recognize their role

Nageli, A Dalit womxn fought against the Breast Tax created by the Brahmins. The Breast tax was imposed on the lower caste and untouchable (Dalit) womxn; they were expected to pay tax on their breast, if they wanted to cover their breast in public. Nageli refused to pay the tax and chopped off her breast in protest. Later because of Nageli efforts breast tax got abolished.

Sulochanabai dongrewas the first womxn to talk about birth control and education of womxn and helped womxn overcome the barriers faced by them in society because of patriarchy.

34-year-old,Dakshayni Velayudhanwas the only Dalit womxn out of other 15 people to finalize the draft of the Indian constitution.

1992, It was Bhawari Deviwho fought against the feudal patriarchal structure of Rajasthan that led to the formulation of the Vishakha guideline-mandated by Supreme court. 

Phoolan Devianother example of an extraordinary womxn who was oppressed by the patriarchal structure of UP and bravely fought against her abusers and later became a Member of Parliament twice from Mirzapur, UP.

Dalit womxn have always been active throughout the movement and the list of Dalit activist does not end here. There were feminist and activists like Savitribai Phule, Kumud Pawde, Mukta sarvagod, Shantabai Dane, Anita Bharti and many more who have played a major role of contributing to the Indian feminist movement.

In the early 1990s, there was an emergence of separate Dalit feminists discourse and separate Dalit organisations. Later Activists and scholars like Gopal Guru, Sharmila Rege and Chhaya Data talked about Dalit feminism and importance of intersectionality in feminism. The determination showed by the Dalit womxn to fight against the patriarchal norms in society is one of the prominent reasons behind the success of the mainstream feminist movement. 

It is unfortunate that the struggle of these Dalit feminists is not well documented and appreciated by historians and Indian feminists. Indian feminist movement is majorly represented by Indian savarnas, which often neglect to include the contribution of Dalit feminists in the mainstream feminist movement.

This neglecting attitude is very well evident from the mainstream movements in India like #MeToo. In 2017, Raya Sarkara Dalit law student in California compiled testimonies of sexual harassment victims and created a list of sexual offenders in the field of academia. The effort of Raya was recognized by the feminist from all over the world but unfortunately, due credit for being first Indian womxn to start  #MeToo movement in India was not given to Raya by the Indian feminists. 

When a Dalit womxn comes out with her experience and the main reason for her abuse is her caste, It is generally termed as an “attention” seeking tactic used by her and the womxn are then often targeted for diverting the feminist movement by the liberal savarna feminists. 

Reference-https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/a-dalit-womans-thoughts-on-metooindia-5402538/

The fact that liberal savarnas supposedly rejected the existing caste system in India by saying “we don’t believe in the caste system”, it became the main reason behind the forsaking the Dalit womxn issues.https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/a-dalit-womans-thoughts-on-metooindia-5402538/

Why savarna Indians are not yet ready to get represented by Dalit women? The answer to this question lies in the improbable definition of the Dalit women created by Indian savarnas.

A Dalit womxn in India is often looked as an uneducated, vulnerable and oppressed womxn living in poverty. So when educated Dalit womxn like Raya, who can “speak” for a large feminist community is often not considered as “Real Dalit”. 

https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/a-dalit-womans-thoughts-on-metooindia-5402538/

India savarnas want to stand for Dalit womxn but they don’t want to accept the fact that a Dalit womxn can represent movement. So when the Dalit womxn who are educated with fluent English and social security want to raise their voice against patriarchy, as well as their caste, are seen as a threat to savarna supremacy within the mainstream feminist movement going on in the country and as a result, they are often delegitimized to represent the movement. 

It is a requisite to bring the Intersectional perspective to mature the mainstream feminist movement. Dalit womxn experience three kinds of discrimination firstly their gender then their caste and also on their economic status.

Integration of intersectional perspective in Indian feminist movement is neither to trivialize the movement or struggle of upper-caste womxn in the country nor to question their struggle against patriarchy. 

Dalit womxn carry an extra burden of caste unlike other womxn in the country. It’s important to bring that struggle of Dalit womxn into the discourse and use the movement to not just fight against patriarchy but also for the annihilation of the caste system in the country. 

It is important to keep the sisterhood feeling within the feminist movement but we need to understand that struggles of all the womxn are not homogeneous.

These struggles are faced by womxn at different levels based on their experiences with Brahmanical patriarchy, misogyny and Heteronormativity. So it is equally important to include struggles faced by Dalit womxn because of their caste. 

It is now important for the Indian feminist movement to become more inclusive and give importance to each struggle faced by womxn from all classes and castes of society.  

It is often said that men need to empower the womxn but in reality, men are not the one to empower them. Womxn are self-sufficient and can empower themselves. 

Men need to realize that patriarchy is not something benefiting them but it affects them negatively. Patriarchy impose an idea of toxic “masculinity” to all the men and constantly policies them to act in a certain manner. Feminism is an “inclusive” term and is not fighting against the men but fighting against the patriarchal system. It is important for men to understand the movement and fight against “sexism” together with womxn.

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