Message of G. Jhansi, Convener, DSS
Dalit women are victims of universal violence and their rights are violated right from her family to the society at large by one and all. My experience of working with the dalit women made me realize that, despite all the development that the country boasts of, caste and gender prejudices continue to be as dominant as ever before and even today, in the so called era of modernization, there is wide spread prejudice based on caste and patriarchy against dalits and women in general and dalit women in particular. Undoubtedly, it is the prevailing caste and secondary status of women in the society that is largely responsible for violation of human rights of dalit women. It is an unfortunate, stark reality that a large number of dalit women are still engaged in unclean, inferior occupations such as sweeping, scavenging and working in dumping grounds, rag picking and also in prostitution. The incapacity of dalit women to assert their rights is at the root of the problem. Dalit women bodies are considered as a free terrain of colonization.
The Government provided reservation for dalit women to occupy positions of power in the Panchayat Raj Institutions, but alas, we have seen this reservation for dalit women is accepted in form, not in substance. We had to fight against the rural elites who are unable to accept the power of dalit women.
As a woman hailing from an ordinary dalit family, father being an elementary school teacher and mother a house wife and having grown among all the ordinary dalits in a dalit colony, I had the opportunity of observing how the ordinary dalit women face the worst kind of hardships like, burden of house hold work, domestic violence and universal subjugation. I had the opportunity of my father, who belonged to the Marxist tradition, attend to the owes of the people around and resolve their disputes and problems every day. I watched how it is so common for the drunken husbands to beat their wives brazenly with all the ideological authority of the prevailing patriarchic order. All this experience provided me, in later years, enough inspiration to work in a leftist women organization, for over a decade, which provided me a rich experience of organizational abilities. Nevertheless, I always felt that something was lacking, due to various factors like, the front organizations always working in tandem with the leftist parties to fulfill their immediate agenda rather than with a long term vision of women liberation, over emphasis of ‘class’ theory to the exclusion of ‘caste’ etc. which led me to work for a ‘dalit human rights’ organization.
“Dalit organizations did a commendable work for the human rights of dalits. Several NGOs, academicians, activists and large number of supporters spearheaded the campaign for inclusion of the issue of caste and untouchability based discrimination in the Durban Conference and successfully brought the issue of caste and untouchability based discrimination on the agenda of UN Conference in Durban ( The World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) related to racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance held in Durban, South Africa in 2001).”
However, specific problems of dalit women were not acknowledged by these movements. It is a sad fact that even dalit literature constructed dalit woman in the similar patriarchal framework of overall subjugation of women. Similarly dalit politics also looks at the issues of empowerment of women as a non-issue. All important and visible positions in dalit sector also are dominated by men. In this context, with the support of likeminded people, I took initiative to establish Dalit Sthree Sakthi, as an exclusive dalit women platform, the first of its kind in A.P. Ever since, there was no looking behind and all these five years we were able to turn out a large quantity of work and take a qualitative leap, as the stories presented reveal.
To strengthen the dalit women movement it is necessary to intervene right from childhood stage and to make the dalit girl children a potential citizen, DSS is fully geared up during these years to focus attention on dalit girl children.
The pages that follow narrate the success stories of the dalit women. The real heroes are the ordinary dalit women who exhibited their extra-ordinary strength in standing up to the cause. All along, the DSS team, men and women, worked tirelessly to achieve the targets and reach the goals. I owe a very special thanks to the entire DSS team for all their hard work.
I should acknowledge the unstinted support extended to me by my partner in life who not only provided the necessary inspiration and guidance, but also shouldered the work to the extent possible and my son who has always been encouraging my work, at the cost of missing me, at times for weeks along.
G. Jhansi, Convener.