Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Negotiating caste and gender:
An Experience of Andhra Politics

Dr. P. Kesava Kumar
Lecturer in Philosophy
Pondicherry University

The decade of eighties, there is a strong identity politics took place in India. Dalit movement and women’s movements are emerged as the struggles of serious identity politics. The debate in the civil society influenced the politics of Andhra Pradesh in a significant way. In the name of identity politics they are sharing the same theoretical platform to assert their identity. Where as dalit movement brought the issue of caste and its oppression and the women’s movement brought the issue of gender and its oppression. Both of them are critique of liberal politics of ‘universal man’ and to certain extent with politics of class struggles. At least in Andhra, both the movements have understanding in countering the ideology of left struggles. Both the struggles are succeeded in establishing their own philosophical position and in taking their struggles further. The struggles generated good amount of literature. The conscious dalits considers that women too are the oppressed people and victims of the same upper caste hindu ideology which is patriarchal in nature. So the dalit groups considering the women too as a ‘dalit’. The conscious upper caste women of the women groups too felt to extend their support for the struggles of dalits. From the women group of Asmita, writers like Volga and Vasanta Kannabiran endorsed that the dalit connotes conscious people who are struggling against the dominance of caste, religion and patriarchy. The word dalit came into existence with struggle. It is the symbol of struggle. For the broad based alliance in fighting against common enemy these kind of attempt are necessary. In practice there are conflicts between these in society in general.
There are questions and confrontations on the issues of women reservation, issue of obscenity and rape of women and the question of usage of language in literature. It provides the understanding that ‘dalit’ and ‘women’ are not a homogenous category. As K. Sanjeevi points out, even though they are dalits, men are always men, but never be women and the same applies to women. It is a fact that there exists patriarchy in dalit men and caste hatred among the non-dalit women’
In this paper I would like to look into the issues, Besides their struggles targeting the hindu social order as a source of oppression for the both in different forms, I would like to look into the tensions prevailing among the upper caste women and dalit men in their everyday life experiences. Further I would like to extend my argument that how does the women as moral capital used by upper caste men to counter dalit political assertion. The need to build up the movements to counter the hegemony of dominant classes/castes by creating the hegemony of the oppressed .This needs a healthy dialogue among the all the oppressed sections of Indian society.
In the context of increasing claims of dalits and women (upper caste) to gain access to public institutions, the problems are generally posed as the conflict between the two. On the one side women entering the universities are relatively better economical positions compared to men in general and dalits in particular. They pretends to be ‘independent’, ‘self assertive’, ‘confident’ and are able to ‘speak in English’. Where as dalits are mostly came from rural and the first generation to enter to the universities. The cultural environment for the dalits is new and at the same time assertive because of the influence of ongoing dalit struggles. They painted by others as ‘unskillful’, ‘reservation fellows’, ‘black’, ‘ugly’, ‘non meritorious’ and ‘mannerless people’. In the class room they are projected as ‘dumb’, because of they couldn’t speak in English. There is an attack silently going on psychologically. There is a general hatred towards the dalits in the period of competition for resources and opportunities. It is generally believed by the upper caste students that the dalits are grabbing their opportunities without having merit. On the other side any assertion of dalits have seen as negative, violent undemocratic and anti development of the nation. To hold this kind of attitude women from upper caste are not exception. In a caste dominated society, any proposal from the lower caste boys to uppercaste women have dubbed as indecent and vulgar and not worth acknowledging. For dalit men in the emotional front, the access to upper caste women is socially and culturally restricted. It is women too share their prejudice against dalits. There is a large scale mobilization of uppercaste students can be seen against the dalits at the time of Mandal agitation. In which women student have played an active role.
The rural India is no way different from the university. At most the difference may be in the form. For the uppercaste men of the village, dalit women is easily available and vulnerable prey. There are everyday sexual harassment and rapes on dalit women going unnoticed. There is no chance for dalit women to protect themselves from the sexual exploitation. The state, and its machinery police, judiciary never paid any serious attention to the issues of violence against dalit women. In case of dalit men , the response is quite contrary.
In post independent India most of the conflicts between dalits and uppercastes, some way or other connected to women. One way or other dalit men assert in public space by making their visibility. The uppercaste women always feel threatened psychologically somebody will attack them. While walking at public places feel insecure. This somebody may read as the image of rowdy. It is obvious that their imagination meets the lower caste men. It is the popular perceptions that ‘rowdies’, ‘goondas’, ‘criminals’ are essentially drawn from lower castes. This situation is got coincidence with upper caste womens’s objections for obscenity in films. The films of nineties have depicting the aggressive, masculine subaltern hero (dalit male) in mass cinema pursuing for fleshy, well nourished white skinned female bodies. Exactly these situations received enormous public approval as obscene frames. The middle class upper caste audience seen it as the theatres is no more place to sit decent people in these days since the films are more obscene.
In contemporary times dalits are self asserting and struggling for their rights. They demand self respect and dignity for their life. With the rise in dalit consciousness they are resisting the dominance and cultural hegemony of upper castes. The upper caste people are unable to tolerate this kind of situation. They are attacking the dalits both physically and psychologically. In most of the cases they are justifying their attack that these dalits are harassing the (their) women. Women become used as a moral capital in settling scores with dalits. They are suddenly change into the saviours of women. In public press they circulate this kind of concerns for women. Infact, these are the people responsible for the oppression of women along with nurturing the ideals of caste system. The classic example for this is Tsundur massacre, where eight dalits were killed in the year 1991 by uppercaste Reddy community with some others support. In response to this dalits were organized rallies and shown their protest against upper caste dominance. To counter this upper caste people mobilized all the upper caste on the pretext that dalits activists are raped their women and sexually assaulted. By doing this are not only consolidated their base and mobilized support in their favor. At the same time they succeed in minimized the support for dalit victims from the progressive non dalit sections. The women groups are forced to maintain silence.
The issue of women reservation bill generated much debate in the realm of politics. There is a serious confrontation between women groups and dalit groups. It is argued that though the women population is half of the nation, there is no proper political representation for women in legislative bodies. The bill is proposed in parliament one govt. after another and till now the bill is not passed. There are many reasons for the delay. One of the reasons is consideration of sub-quota for dalits/OBC in the quota of women reservation. The dalit leaders and the leaders from backward communities are stressing for this. They put forward the argument that in the name of women, mostly upper caste women will enter into the Pariliament. The lower caste women will be marginalized forever. Further they argued that women are not a homogenous category. They too divided in terms of caste, religion, class. The women groups and some of the women parliamentarians like Mamata Benerjee countered this argument that, political parties are not sincere enough in this issue and are finding strategies to not to pass this bill. The women leaders mainly argued that irrespective of the caste, the patriarchial dominance and exploitation is everywhere. For this dalit men are no exception. The feminists leaders, Vasanta Kannabiran like many women activists of the country felt that let the women reservation bill pass in the parliament in existing form. Later one can discuss about caste (OBC women) and religion (minority women).The leaders who are arguing for the pasing for the bill after incorpoaration of sub quota for OBC, dalit and minority women are considered and propagated by the women activists as ‘anti- women’. They are accusing them as not sincere for women cause. Further, these women leaders shouting at them that all women are same, why do you people create division among us, which are not there.’ The media too helped them to portraying leaders like Mulayam singh, Lallu Prasad Yadav and Kanshiram as ‘villains’ in this whole episode. It is the wellshared opinion in media and uppercaste middle class that these dalits are ‘fools’, ‘jokers’, can’t speak English properly, and doesn’t have either skill or eligibility to rule the nation. Because of these people only our Indian politics become corrupt, criminalized, and become violent, all together moral values are degraded. Their anxieties and aspirations are considered as nonsensical and undemocratic.
One should not forget that these lower castes leaders not only challenged the hegemony of uppercaste in politics, but also gave new meaning to the Indian politics. It is known reality that these leaders have more experience and access to their respective castes than the upper caste women. In a society where the social relations are defined/ constructed on the basis of caste, it is uncontested truth that people (women) within the caste will speak wholeheartedly than with upper caste women came from cities. It doesn’t mean that there is no dialogue between dalit women and conscious urban upper caste women.
Dalit women are victims of both caste dominance and patriarchy along with poverty. Caste dominance relatively plays an important role than patriarchy in the liberation of dalit women. There is a criticism against the feminist groups that they are urban centred and mostly confined to the problems faced by upper caste women. They don’t have touch with the problems of rural women. Very particularly problems of dalit women are quite different from the urban upper caste women. By realizing this, there is organizations of women in affiliation to revolutionary parties got activated. Anti arrack struggle of women is one such example in this context.
Politically conscious groups of dalits and women are mutual sensitive to the concerned issues. They understood that contradiction between two are delicate and need creative intervention. There are occasions in Andhra supporting each other by correcting their positions. They treat the contradiction between them is friendly contradiction. I would like to mention two such occasions, one is in literary debate and other women reservation issue in University of Hyderabad.
I feel it worth considering the struggles relating to the issue of women reservation in students union of university of Hyderabad in the year 1999, in the backdrop of controversy of women representation bill. The active negotiation of women’s invisibility in student electoral politics underwent a radical transformation when issues of caste were addressed simultaneously with those of gender. With the consistent pressure of womens’ group on campus, the general body meeting was announced to discus the amendment of the students’ union constitution. Few dalit women immediately raised the issue of representation of dalit women in students union. A representative post for women that didn’t take into account the differences between women (specifically between dalit women and uppercaste women) was as guilty of practices of exclusion as the students’ union had for the last twenty five years. The difference here is with the parliament is that dalit women asking for themselves. This situation has the implications for both womens organisation and dalit organization of the campus. ‘The women’s movement, that has been largely upper caste, and the dalit movement that has been largely male, will both be forced to listen, will both have to reexamine their agendas, revise them and negotiate space for the dalit women’(JAC.EPW October 28, 2000, p.3846.)
With the forceful entry of dalit women, the demand changed to women’s representation on a rotational basis for one post in the union. Interestingly, the upper caste women who are predominant in the movement has been distinctly uncomfortable with the word ‘reservation’ and are willing to discuss the same as ‘the special problems’ faced by women, where as dalit women and men became active participants in the struggle the word reservation became imbued with new meaning- it came to signify a history of struggles and became a word to be used with pride. On this issues joint action committee of all progressive, dalit and women organizations are formed to negotiate this issue further. The students union had been willing to discuss th gender question in its intial GBM, as soon as the issue of caste came up with a post on rotational basis, refused to take it seriously. ‘This alliance between dalit women, upper caste women, dalit men and progressive upper caste men is remarkable also because it offers possibilities that are different from those before parliament today.’( p.3847).
There are other groups who are resisting the women reservation are upper caste and pro hindu groups and continued their alliances. As expected, reservations for women didn’t get the requisite two third majority to force an amendment. At the same time, the uppercastes and hindutva organizations who voted for outright denial of the women reservation too failed to get the two third majority to oppose it. It is a moral victory for the joint action committee of women, dalit and progressive forces consolidated their identity by opposing the uppercaste men’s stand in this issues.
This provides an example of an active alliances of forces of dalits and women groups along with progressive groups in negotiating social justice. At the same time, it reveals the problems within and to think of the strategies to be adopted to realize their agendas.

The feminist writers objected the words of slang used by the dalit writers and asked them to correct. They appeal to the dalit writers who are struggling for the liberation of dalits to reform their language. Since most of the slang or obscene words in circulation are targeting the women. They are centred around the body parts of women. They are the words of insult to women. They too agree that when their women are raped and sexually humiliated by uppercasate men, the anger of dalit men can be understood. Let the dalit women speak how to retaliate to such situations. They cautioned the male dalit writers to think about the words used by them like- ‘we will rape your mothers and sisters’. As the feminist writers said, To take revenge in religious and caste conflicts bodies of women are using as an instrument. In the liberation struggles if Women are seen as instruments of revenge than the individual, then what meaning we are giving for the liberation struggle? Can’t we think about other alternative than imitating the language of enemy. We can’t win the battle with owner by using the tools of owner’.

In telugu literature, the feminist writers conceptualized the body politics in their writings. Female body is identified as a site of oppression. They countered the patriarchal constructions of women bodies. From feudal time to till the day men controlled the women through the ideology of patriarchy. To sustain this rules of hindu social order played a vital role. The philosophies and religious doctrines contributed for the sub ordination of women and allowed the hegemony of male dominance. The patrirchy got strengthened its foundation by continuing the caste system. Ambedkar realized very earlier that patriarchal system is inseparable relation with caste system. The freedom of the women, status of women in family and civil society is directy linked with the hindu caste system. This caste sustained through the maintance of hierarchy and the principles of endogamy. This endogamy rules out any interaction and intermarriage with the other castes. Ambedkar has forseen that women is centrally located in the struggle against caste system. He proposed hindu code bill in the parliament for the codification of laws in empowering women socially and economically. The hindu code bill discussed hindu marriage act, divorce and inheritance of property rights for the benefit of women. This bill is opposed by majoritarian caste hindus. There is no difference after the fifty years of this episode. But the uppercaste hindus succeed in putting the women to counter the dalits. This can be seen in the case of women reservation issue and Tsundur massacre issue. The hindu uppercaste pick up the liberal language(contrary to its spirit) to negate the claims of dalits.
At the same time there are attempts to come together the conscious forces of dalits, women and progressive groups. This can be seen in case of struggles of women representation in students union of university and mutual reciprocation of feminist and dalit writers against the common enemy. In this effort either women or dalits should be maintain exclusiveness in articulating their problems and political position and at the same time should maintain inclusiveness of all progressive groups in building the struggles against oppression and hegemony of dominant castes and classes.

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