Dalit Women

Aranha, Celine; Fernando, Peter; and Mahale, Prabha. 1991. Beyond The Fire Line: Perceptions of Eight Tribal Women. New Delhi: Indian Social Institute.

Intro.; Self-Image: Some Basic Concepts; The Jenu Kuruba: A Tribe of Karnataka; Jenu Kuruba Woman: Life Experiences; Jenu Kuruba Woman: Profiles; Jenu Kuruba Woman: Perception of Realities; New Directions. 95 pp.

Study undertaken by Streevani at Dasanpura Haadi, Karnataka. Streevani started by Dr. Engelbert Zeitler, the then Director of Ishvani Kendra, Pune. Collaborate with "Development Through Education (DEED): of Hunsur. Study of Jenu Kuruba Tribe of Hunsur Taluk, Mysore.

Bhai, P. N. 1986. Harijan Women in Independent India. New Delhi: B. R. Publishing.

Bhawat, Vidyut., and Rege, Sharmila. 1993. "Towards a Gender-Sensitive Sociology," paper presented at University Grants Commission (UGC) National Seminar, March.

Bhagwat, Vidyut. 1995. "Dalit Women in India: Issues and Perspectives - Some Critical Reflections," in P. G. Jogdand, ed.. Dalit Women in India: Issues and Perspectives. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House, in collaboration with University of Poona, Pune. p. 1-7.

As Gabriele Dietrich (1992) in her exremely balanced article "Dalit Movements and Women’s Movements" points out while discussing the interrelationships between caste and patriarchy, that caste should be looked at as a marriage circle and endogamy which is related to patriarchal controls over women. Women were and are the ‘gateways’ of the caste system. Dietrich further states that "in his early writings of 1916 Ambedkar comes very close to Morton Klass" version of seeing caste as a "marriage circle" which regulates access to resources as well as exchange of services based on territoriality and kinship" (:Dietrich 1992:90) (1995:1).

Her conclusion is that "... neither Morton Klass nor Dr. Ambedkar go into an analysis of how the closing into endogamous marriage circles is related to partiarchal controls over women" (1992:92). She further states "... intermarriage and even fantasies about intermarriage and interdining are major factors in triggering off caste riots in Tamil Nadu today. There is a need to work on a feminist position on this issue by Dalit women themselves since otherwise the debate deviates into the rape fantasies of men" (1992:91). I would only make an addition here bu saying why talk of intermarriages; even marriages within kinship by choice are opposed vehemently by the dalit-caste panchayats to chop off the heads of young couples, e.g., the recent case in U.P (August 1993) (1995:2).

In short, the term dalit stands for change and revolution... we feel that the voices and protests of Dalit women are almost invisible.

In fact when we use phrases like, marginalization of women in the development process, or feminisation of poverty or women’s contribution in the unorganized sector we are referring to dalit women without even being conscious about their specificity (1995:2).

Dalit women were actively participating in the Ambedkar led movement in the pre-independence period. Today we see no protests against the so-called 30% reservations for women in the local self government which further denies the possibility of dalit women getting any representation (1995:2).

Through there are some autobiographical writings, and some literary texts, dalit women’s writings has not become a force as yet. Malika Dhasal’s autobiography Mala Uddhvasta Vhayachay was in a sense a significant contribution. Today dalit women are working in various government offices, they are active members of Zilla Parishads, but they are still bearing the burden od a double-day, sexual division of labor and overall patriarchal ideology and not saying any thing about it. Why is it so? It is not suffficient to answer it only in terms of political economy and brahminical ideology (1995:3)

It is generally argued by many social thinkers that in India women are protected by community, caste, kinship and family networks. This neglects the fact that women are the gateways of caste-system and the crucial pivot on whose purity - sanctity axis the caste hierarchy is constructed (:3-4).

The participation of women in the anti-mandal agitations and caste-based violence (Gothala/Pimpri-Desmukh) has implications for both the women’s movement and the Dalit movement. The women’s movement has in its enthralment of ‘sisterhood’ failed to note the ‘caste’ factor while the Dalit Movement has remained patriarchal and sees the dalit women’s oppression merely as a caste oppression (:4).

Sandeep Pendse in his incisive article "Sadhvi Ritambhara Va Jamatvad" (Sadhvi Ritambhara and Communalism) gives us clues on how women’s leadership within the framework of neo-Hinduism is perverted and vicarious (Pendse, Sandeep. 1993. "Sadhvi Ritambhara Va Jamatvad" in Stree-Uvach, 7th issue. Bombay).

Hinduisation of dalit youth in the Bombay anti-Muslim riots is an extremely alarming situation (:5).

It is true that both the elite and the populist currents of Hindu opinion and sensibilities regarding woman carry a deep impress of mother-goddess cults and forms of worship. At the level of social reality Hindu religion has so far functioned within the context of a caste society (:5)

The woman of the so-called higher castes pays for the dominant role gained by her male counterpart over the rest of society. A rigid control over higher caste women in the context of their body and granting a lot of room for lower caste women not as freedom but as a space for brahminical male licentiousness are results of brahminic patriarchy. Women from lower castes were considered so lowly and degraded in life that thier body was a free terrain of colonisation (:6).

Dalit literature constructed dalit woman in the similar patriarchal framework of ‘glorification of Motherhood’ and overall subjugation of women. Similarly dalit politics also looks at the issues of empowerment of women as a non-issue. Women in dalit politics figure only in number and are also caught in a trap of ‘our women’ framework. This results into further marginalization of dalit women (:6).

D'Lima, Hazel. 1980. A Study of Women Members in Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis of Maharashtra. Unpublished Ph. D. Thesis, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bombay.

Das, Bhagwan. 1995. "Socio-Economic Problems of Dalits," in Bhagwan Das and James Massey, eds. Dalit Solidarity. Delhi: Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (ISPCK).

President of Dalit Solidarity Programme and a laywer at the Supreme Court.

Dalits have preserved their customs and rituals, social institutions and some customary laws inspite of pressure from Hinduism, ignorance and illiteracy. As a result the Dalit women enjoy more freedom than the upper caste Hindu women. Dalit women enjoy the right to divorce and a widow could remarry. ...Yet she suffers from more harassment, oppression and exploitation than the upper caste women. Literacy rate among the Dalit women is very low. Infant mortality due to neglect and malnutrition is very high. As the affluent among the Dalits become Hinduised, practices like dowry deaths, killing of female children, foeticide, etc., also creep in (:73-4).

Dalit male is much influenced by the pattern maker, upper caste men... (:74) For centuries Hindus have been infecting the Dalit woman by forcing them to have sex, under the belief that sexual intercourse with women belonging to sweeper castes is a sure cure for syphilis (:74).

In all cases of caste conflicts, Dalit woman is the first victim. In order to terrorise the whole caste, upper caste men, very often with the connivance of police, rape, even gang-rape the Dalit women. Even policement take advantage and falsely implicate them into criminal cases and rape them while in custody. Baba Saheb Ambedkar had advised the Dalit women to keep some chilly powder handy, to temporarily incapacitate the offender. Since the Dalit women work in the homes, fields, forests, hospitals, hostels, airports and railway stations, they are exposed to much sexual harassment and exploitation (:74).

Dalit women are kidnapped by upper caste men who after pretending to have fallen in love and after satisfying their lust throw them in the streets or sell them to brothels in the metropolitan cities. Many women from the hilly region of UP, terai area adjoining Nepal, and slums of Bengal, are lured into prostitution by pimps and procurers belonging to upper castes. In some places upper caste men enter into illegal temporary marriages and then disgard them as rinds. Contractors and other well paid employees working in project areas often illegaly marry Dalit and Tribal women even when they are already married. After the term of service is over or the work is completed they quietly disappear leaving the women with additional burden of child raising and the stigma (:74-5).

In the temples of Tamil Nadu and Kerala many of the Devadassis belonged to Brahmin and other upper and middle castes (:75). Madras had more than 200,000 Devadassis. A study of prostitutes in Bombay by S. D. Punekar in 1962 found that most of the devadassis were SCs from Bijapur. North Kanara sends the largest number of Davadassis. Andhhra has more than 40,000 devadassis in Nizambad and other adjoining districts (:76). Several acts like the Madras Devadassis Protection Act of 1954 and karnataka Act against dedication were passed. These laws proved to be ineffective in eradicating the pernicious system. The root cause is superstition and the pressure of the upper caste men in the rural areas who want the systen to continue. Most of the victims of Devadassi system are Dalit women. The number of Brahmin and upper caste Devadassis in the famous temples is gradually diminishing (:77).

Dunn, Dana. 1993. "Gender Inequality in Education and Employment in the Scheduled Castes and Tribes of India," Population Research and Policy Review, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 53-70.

About 80 percent of women in India live at or below a minimal subsistence level. Indian women strive not for gender equality, but for their very survival (Mukhopadhyay 1984).

The fact that India is one of the few nations in the world where life expectancy at birth is shorter for females than males is a clear indication of women’s standing relative to men’s. The lower life expectancy for women is due to systematic discrimination against them. Compared to sons, daughters are far more likely to be malnourished and far less likely to receive adequate health care (Jain 1984; Papanek 1990; Visaria and Visaria 1981) (:54).

For these women, the hardships associated with living in a "low-income" developing nation and the deprivation associated with minority status are compounded by a patriarchal value system (:66).

Only about 11 percent of the scheduled caste members live in urban areas. Most live in rural area and are employed as agricultural laborers or marginal farmers (:56).

Many suggest that the Constitutional guarantee of protection for these scheduled caste groups has not substantially improved their position in Hindu society (Gallanter 1984).

Dietrich, Gabriele. 1992. "Dalit Movements and Women’s Movement," in Reflection on the Women’s Movement in India. New Delhi: Horizons India Books.

Dietrich, Gabriele. 1988. "Women, Ecology and Culture," paper for the IV National Conference on Women’s Studies, Andhra University.

Gorhe, Neelam. 1995. "Social Development and Dalit Women," in P. G. Jogdand, ed., Dalit Women in India: Issues and Perspectives. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House in collaboration with University of Poona, Pune. p. 8-17.

Mohan Kamble, brother of Adnya Satwaji Kambe - a twelve year old Dalit girl, and Satwaji Kamble, her father, were murdered on the 7th of September, 1991 in Gothala, Latur District, Maharashtra. A crisis was brewing in the village on the issue of appointment of a Dalit as a Kotwal. I visited the village along with a team of activists. We askd Adnya, "where do her people get water from?" The Dalits with her informed that they get it from a source within their basti. And, "what if this supply runs short or you require more water, say, for ceremonies and all?" Adnya shot back, "if we go to the main village we are driven away with choicest curses and abuses."

Gnanadason, Aruna. 1990. "Dalit Women - The Dalit of the Dalit," in Arvind P. Nirmal, ed., Towards A Common Dalit Ideology. Madras: Gurukul Lutheran Theological College and Research Institute, p 109- 120.

Life is a pan of fire you have to get burns first to get your bread later.

(Bahinabai Chaudhari, an illiterate Marathi Poetess in the 19th Cenury)

Anasuya was just 14 years old when she was gang raped one evening in a banana plantation in a village near Shimoga, Karnataka. She was raped to teach a lesson to her father, Sheshagiriyappa, a dalit bonded laborer. Her story is not unique - this is the life of indignity and uncertainty in which millions of dalit women live (109).

Accamma carried herself with pride and dignity, inspite of the fact that her hard and painful life had aged her. Her drunken husband her and three children. The landlord, an upper caste man, had twice tried to molest her. As a mark of contempt, she spat out the betel nut juice in her mouth, at his direction. She was waylaid and beated up by five men. On questioning, the landlord said, "how dare she spit in my direction, she is a dalit and a woman at that!" (:110).

Dalit women are the dalit of the dalit in Indian society - the trice oppressed victims of centuries of social, political, economic, cultural and religious pressures. Dalit women in India live a precarious existence combining abject poverty with grinding labor in the fields and work places; and in the home they are abused and used, powerless and exploited (:110).

The hope lies in the fact that dalit women have begun organizing themselves. In Maharashtra, in Karnataka, in Tamilnadu and in other parts of the country dalit women have come together autonomously to make their voices heard. Dalit women, who have for centuries been kept powerless, their voices silenced, their dignity and personhood trampled on, are no longer going to accept submissively patriarchal economic, political, social, cultural and religious institutions that oppress them. The image of the Dalit woman that is emerging is that of a strong person, capable of rising above many deprivations and sufferings, to keep her family together (often solely responsible for its survival!) and yet becoming a voice of strength in the community too (:111).

It is important to view the movement among Dalit women from the perspective of the women’s movement in India, which has been the major impulse for dalit women to get organised. The women’s movement has identified patriarchy as a system of graded subjugation and hierarchical relationships which specify women’s oppression in terms of class, caste, race, religion and gender. Patriarchy defines not just women as the "other" - all those who are dominated over. The interlinkage of all forms of oppression and the double or triple oppression women face within patriarchal structures are the basis of political thought of a large section of the women’s movement in India (:111).

This can be explained through an analysis of the plight of a rural poor dalit woman in a village in Karnataka, who is burdened by the weight not only of her class and her caste but also of her gender. Her liberation does not lie in purely economic or political terms, her social and cutural liberation must also be taken into account.

What has emerged as a political movement, therefore is a new feminist paradigm which has challenged traditional ways of understanding and analysing society and a totally new way of looking at what liberation of people and society implies. Clearly, the classical methodology of analysing basic structures of oppression in any society in purely economic terms (or class terms) is far from adequate - gender, race, caste and cultural questions such as religion and even human psychology are to be taken cognisance of (:112).

"Development" - Dalit Women’s Agony:

They bear the costs of "development" but have been systematically excluded from its ‘benefits’. If anything they have been viewed as "target groups", the recipients of "development" programs, planned and implemented by groups with economic and political power. Dalit women have been the special targets of population control programs, in a bid to limit their family size and so provide them an ‘opportunity for development.’ Horror stories have been related by dalit women of how they and their sisters have been butchered in ‘family planning camps,’ often without their knowledge of what is being done to them. Injectable contraceptives and other hormone drugs are tested on these powerless, voiceless women by unscrupulous multi-national business (:112-113).

‘Development’ has also implied that they have been herded into crowded and unhealthy areas in dalit sections of villages or in slums, with very few civic amenities and with limited access to conveniences and ‘benefits’ which are theirs as basic rights. To them ‘development’ has meant displacement from their traditional productive activity and their labor and sexuality have been abused and exploited in the capitalist market-place. Akatai Kamble, a dalit woman full time worker with the Tobacco Processing Workers Union in Nipani, Maharashtra, has this to say,

The women supervisors in the factory would give us a lot of trouble. The manager and the owner were even worse. If they saw any good-looking woman they would call her to sweep the owner’s office and rape her. At that time we could not protest because if said anthing they would remove us from work. So no woman would say anything. She preferred to keep quiet. Even I was very scared because if I lost that work how would I feed my children? Since there was no one to support us we continued to live in fear. All the women were in the same condition of poverty and the majority were Mahars. Casteism was so strong that Mahar women were not allowed to touch the keys or even the water untensils. When we asked for water it was given to us from a distance.

For the next ten years I worked like an animal. Even animals are given rest in the evening after a day’s work. But we didn’t get even that. I worked til one or two o’clock in the morning. Then I would sleep a few hours and wake up to cook, bathe and go back to work by eight o’clock. So I worked for almost twenty-four hours. Whenever I fell ill the children would suffer and we never money to buy medicines. But I didn’t go to anyone when my children were starving. After my mother’s death I worked alone and supported the three of them. Gradually I stopped being afraid and became courageous (Kamble, Akatai. 1986. "My Story," Lokayan Bulletin, vol. 4, no. 6, p 20) (:113-114).

The Past - How it all began:

The coming of patriarchal Hinduism and its caste system into India institutionalised the oppression of the outcaste dalits and this had a particularly deleterious effect on women. The control on women’s sexuality was essential for the development of a patriarchal caste hierarchy, both for the maintenance of caste and for the legitimation and control of inheritance. Restrictions of time, place and space were therefore imposed on women to ensure the purity of caste by avoiding the danger of inter-caste ‘pollution’ (:114).

There was a stream of resistance against the rigidity of patriarchal Brahmanism. There was a resurgence of mother goddess cults and fertility worship. The Shakti cult representing the female power principle became strong. The Bhakti cult, a strong non-Aryan southern movement, brought in anti-caste, anti-patriarchy challenges to Hinduism. Matriarchal and populist culture continued to make their opposition felt inspite of the consolidated strength of patriarchy. Brahmanism was forced to make some concessions. For example, since the mother goddess cult could not besuppressed, she was finally incorporated in Brahmin ritual by providing "brahmanical" husbands to non-brahmanical mother goddesses (:117).

In Madurai every year Meenakshiamman the goddess is decked with the temple jewels and adorned in a new saree, then she is married to a male brahmanical god. But for the people, Meenakshiamman continues to be the real goddess, not the Brahmin god. Shital, also the goddess of smallpox, in another region rejects marriage and pregnancy symbolising the local people’s rejection of Brahmin attempts at patriarchal control of women’s sexuality (:118).

Women of all caste groups therefore experienced this ‘dalitness’ through it was women of the lowest caste and outcaste groups who experienced the brunt of patriarchal repression both in the hands of the upper caste and in the hands of men (:118). Raping dalit women is therefore one more weapon in the well-stocked private armies of rich upper caste overlords in India’s villages. To add to this millions of dalit women live in an atmosphere of constant violence in their homes in the hands of drunken husbands and sometimes other members of the family. And yet, they often single handedly slave at home and in the fields to keep their children from hunger (:119).

Defying police degradation

Tossing aside tradition

We have come!

Dalit, battered woman, worker, farmer

We have come!

To end dowry, rape and abused authority

To stop wife beating and cruelty

We have come!

To wipe out women’s suppression

To remove class/caste oppression

To free humanity

In a morcha we have come!

(Sonal Shukla and Vibhuti Patel, translated by Joy Deshmukh)

Joshi, R. Barbara. ed. 1986. Untouchable! Voices of the Dalit Liberation Movement. London: Zed Books.

In one village it is Untouchable women who will no longer drag themselves through the heat to a distant, inferior, "Untouchable" water supply (:2).

Jogdand, P. G. ed. 1995. Dalit Women in India: Issues and Perspectives. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House in collaboration with University of Poona, Pune.


Exploration of the specificities of Dalit Women in India. Dalit women constitute a lower segment in Indian society and suffer from dual disadvantages: (a) of being Dalit, i.e., from socio-economic and cultural marginalization and (b) being women, i.e., from gender-based inequalities and subordination. They have to struggle harder to secure basic necessities pf life, viz., food, fuel and water.

Contrary to the belief of the mainstream women’s movement, the liberation of women is not a uniform or undifferentiated domain. Notions of liberty vary from community to community. Dalit women is a separate category and they have typical problems as compared to other women in our society.

New approach and theoretical perspectice for the study of all Indian social reality of crucial issues concerning Dalit women.

Early social reformers were concerned with two major problems - the emancipation of women and the amelioration of the condition of Depressed Classes. Their first efforts were directed against certain customs like Sati, prohibition against widow remarriage, female infanticide, the observance of purdha, etc. In fact, the debates were all based on the upper caste religious texts and the forms of violence being addressed were all primarily upper caste Hindu practices (widow burning, child marriage, seclusion, enforced widowhood).

The lower caste women who were being marginalized by the new land legislation and exposed to the threat of sexual violence under the ‘Zamindari’ system of land legislation and the distress sale of women following the new land settlements (Vaid and Sangari 1990) were absent in these debates. Caste bondage had gender specificities and specific caste biased atrocities against Dalit women were not taken up in these debates. This is mainly because the category of ‘Indian Women’ was treated as homogeneous category and read as ‘middle class’ ‘upper caste women.’

Indian Women’s Movement gathered momentum in 1970s. First phase focused on women’s rights. The second stage focused on women’s liberation and autonomy. Mass based groups focused on women’s paid work, women’s unpaid domestic work, and unionisation; autonomous groups focused on violence within home and violence outside home. However, the specificity of Dalit’s women’s oppression remained hidden (xii).

In 1970s, Dalit Movement as a New Social Movement expressed itself through radical literature and action. But even this upsurge did not give vent to the mute voices of Dalit women in rural or in urban India. In the social sciences too the interconnection between caste and gender was not brought to the fore and category of ‘Dalit women’ figured neither in women’s studies nor in caste studies.

The problems of women vary from one social stratum to another, one cultural group to another and also from one economic stratum to another. Undeniably, those who are involved in women’s studies as well as who are activists have looked at the intricacies of the above mentioned problem. However, it can be said that not enough attention has been focused so far on the life condition and problems of women belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (xiii).

Further, it is argued that the Dalit women are ‘trice alienated’ by class, patriarchy and caste. The Dalit women subjected to severe exploitation at the work place also suffer on caste ground and gang rape from upper castes, while at the same time they may be beaten up in their own houses as well. In addition to this, the process of rural development has played a decisive role in forced migration of Dalit women from rural to urban areas. Although the state sponsored development activities have brought some awareness to Dalit women, it has led to overburdening and self-exploitation (xiii).

Karlekar, M. 1982. "Some Perspectives on the Employment of Scheduled Castes Women," Social Action, vol. 32, p. 292-302.

Kshirsagar, R. K. 1994. Dalit Movement in India and Its Leaders (1857-1956). New Delhi: MD Pub. Pvt. Ltd.

Good history (consisting of oral interviews) and list of 155 dalit leaders, including six females: Mrs. Jaibai Choudhari (1892-1964) was a great educationalist and social worker among the Mahars (:197); Shrimati Shantabai Dani (1918-) was involved in politics and education (:201); Smt. J. Ishwaribai (1920-1991) of the Mala caste was involved in social work and politics (:227); Minimata (1916-1973) was a spiritualits and national politician (:270); J. M. Rajamani Devi (1920-1985) of the Mala community was involved in the SCF (Federation) in Andhra Pradesh and in politics (:304); and Smt Dakshayani (1912-1978) belonged to the Pulaya caste in Kerala. She formed many dalit organizations, including Bharatiya Mahila Jagriti Parishad, a dalit women's group in Delhi in 1978 (:362).

Liddle, J., and Joshi, R. 1986. Daughters of Independence: Gender, Caste, and Class in India. NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Manorama, Ruth. 1994. "Dalit Women: Downtrodden Among the Downtrodden. in James Massey, ed., Indigenous People: Dalits - Dalit Issues in Today’s Theological Debate. Delhi: Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (ISPCK).

Vice-president of the Christian Dalit Literature Movement (CDLM) and a well known women's human rights activist.

Mann, K. 1987. Tribal Women in a Changing Society. Delhi: Mittal Publications.

Female author, improved version of Ph.D dissertation.

Intro.; Theoretical Orientation; Women in Society: An Assessment of their Status; The Bhils: A Social and Cultural Nexus; Status of Bhil Women; New Programmes, Legislations and Status;; Finale. Bibliography.

Though she leads a hard life, the tribal woman enjoys freedom more than her caste counterpart. She can roam about freely, visit market friends, cut jokes with men without more of reservations and is usuually free to select her mate. Some part of her freedom gets curtailed in post-marital stage. She has the liberty to divorce her husband, and marry someone else. However there is bride-price, and she cannot become family, religious or political head of the community (30).

Massey, James. ed. 1994. Indigenous People: Dalits - Dalit Issues in Today’s Theological Debate. Delhi: Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (ISPCK).

22 articles on Christian Dalit and other issues; includes three articles on dalit women: Pawde, Kumud. "The Position of Dalit Women in Indian Society"; Manorama, Ruth. "Dalit Women: Downtrodden Among the Downtrodden; and Gnanadason, Aruna. "Dalit Women: The Dalit of the Dalit."

Mitter, Sara S. 1991. Dharma’s Daughters: Contemporary Indian Women and Hindu Culture. NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Poor urban women - construction crew laborers and illiterate domestic workers - who like in shanties of Bombay (mosly Dalits).

Omvedt, Gail. 1995. Dalit Visions: TheAnti-Caste Movement and the Construction of an Indian Identity. New Hyderabad: Orient Longman Ltd.

11 essays discuss hinduism as viewed by various Dalit leaders and reformers, including the article "Hinduism as Patriarchy: Ramabai, Tarabai and Others"

Omvedt, Gail. 1995. "Dalit Women and Communalism," in P. G. Jogdand, ed. 1995. Dalit Women in India: Issues and Perspectives. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House in collaboration with University of Poona, Pune. P. 135-145.

The dalit-bahujan traditions sees the cultural roots of communalism as being in the brahmanic versions of "Hinduism" within India, and calls for an out-and-out attack on the BSO or "brahmanic social order" as part of the fight against communalism (:137).

The biggest polarization in India has taken place not between "rich farmers" and poor and landless peasants in agriculture (here there is often great inequality, but this inequality has not increased); but between the organized sector and the unorganized sector. The organized sector, employing ony about 10 percent of the work force, increased its share of national income from 23.5% in 1960-61 to 38.8% in 1984-85; organized sector incomes are three to four times Hinge than the incomes the incomes of unorganized sector wage workers and farmers - and about six times as high as incomes of agricultural laborers (see Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy, Basic Statistics on the Indian Economy, 1989) (142-143).

This organized sector continues to be dominated by uppercastes (as the Mandal Commission has made clear, the top 15% of the population hold nearly 70% of all public sector jobs and 90% of Class I positions) (:143).

Phoolan Devi has become a symbol to women throughout the world for revenge against rape - but the Indian women’s movement has ignored her. Taking up the struggles and listening to the needs of dalit and bahujan women is a crucial necessity for any women’s movement in India (:145).

Omvedt, Gail. 1991. Theories of Violence. New Delhi: Kali for Women.

Patel, Sujata. 1988. "Construction and Reconstruction of Woman in Gandhi," EPW, Feb. 20th.

Pawde, Kumud. 1995. "The Position of Dalit Women in Indian Society," in Bhagwan Das and James Massey, eds. Dalit Solidarity. Delhi: Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (ISPCK). p. 145-164.

Professor of Sanskrit at Nagpur University.

The Dalit women are being raped because in the opinion of the high caste society, they have no morals and they deserve it. Our women are slain for even fetching drinking water from the wells... for defecating in the fields owned by higher caste landlords (:145). The Dalit women are living under the horrific tension of being burnt alive or their husbnds and children slain for either violation of eccentric inhuman rules made by the upper caste people or for any other trival cause... they are bound between the inhuman rules and dependability on high caste agriculturalists or industrialists which has no alternative. To be a Dalit woman is a great calamity in Indian society (:145-6).

Today also the Indian women in general, seem to be illiterate, drowned in superstitions, and victims of social torture. In the family she is always a subordinate person. Wife beating is a common practice in India because religious law books have approved the torture given by the husband (:150-1). Against this background, a Dalit woman is downtrodden among downtroddens. She suffers in the family, first, because she is a woman; and then she has to face the society as she is a Dalit (:151).

From 6th to 10th of February, 1993, I surveyed seventy urban Dalit women from these sub-castes: Matang, Mochi or Chamars, Mang-Burad, Mang-Garudi, Bhangi, Neo-Buddhist, Satnami, Muslim Dalit (Khatik-Butcher) and Christian Dalit (:151).

Position in the Family:

What is the position of the Dalit woman in the family? Of course, it is subordinate like other women in India. For every decision, she waits for the man's opinion (he might be a father, brother, husband, a son or even a male friend)... In a family, there is paternal domination even though a woman may be an earning member, she cannot feed or allow her maternal relatives to stay in her family. On the contrary, the relatives of her husband are hailed warmly. To serve them is her most important duty. To earn for the family is another essential duty. Moreover, she has to give money to her alcoholic husband to satisfy his addiction. Thirdly, she has to do all the domestic work. She gets up early in the morning at 4 o' clock and goes to bed at 11 o' clock at night (:152).

Male members in the family do not help her for they think it is degrading for the male to do such work. The result is that she has to expect help from other female members and this evokes a quarrelsome response in the family. Otherwise she has not only to forget the very thought of educating her female child but also to deprive the child of her childhood rights (:152).

In illiterate Dalit families a woman is always treated with such low esteem that she has a status of nothing more than a mere slipper worn by the men (:153). She also regards herself as inferior to a man. She has to tolerate suspicion about her character and wicked mental torture. There are traditional concepts that if a woman is given freedom there is a possibility of her being spoilt. Yet she has the freedom to remarry. Originally there was no dowry system for women among Dalits, but the impact of other non-Dalit communities has introduced this system. The importance of a woman in the family was taken for granted by Dalit communities. So the people from the bridegroom's side go to the girl's parents to ask whether they are ready to marry their daughter to their son (:153).

Only 25% Neo-Buddhist women accept intercaste marriages. Christian Dalit women mostly try to hide their previous castes. Only one or two percent women have admitted that their forefathers were the Dalits. Among the Christian Dalits also, women are treated traditionally. ...In general Dalit women in every religion are traditionally religious and worship their gods, adhere to their faith in religion and culture. They are superstitious also. They believe in witchcraft, black magic, haunted spirit, evil eye, etc. (:153).

Financial Position:

A Dalit woman is financially deprived. ...They were compelled to work at less wages. They were never permanently appointed. No protection to their wages is rendered (:154). ...They cannot purchase medicines for themselves and for their children too (:155). Five to ten percent of the women live a middle class life. ...there is a lot of difference between the pre-independence and post-independence eonditions (:156).

The Political Awakening:

The political awakening is difinitely more among Dalit women as compared to women of the higher castes. They are very conscious in the matter of their right to vote (:156). Some Neo-Buddhists women said that politicians had a hand behind all these riots (:157).


As per the educational survey by the Government of India in 1981 the literacy rate among Dalit women is 35.91 percent. As per my personal survey, they usually study till the primary level and gradually drop out from high school. Still 2 to 5 percent of the Dalit women students prefer to enroll for university education. They are very conscious about their children's education, especially converted Dalit women like Buddhists and Christians (:157). The other Hindu Dalits are not so conscious about education. There are many reasons for this attitude. Those who have engaged themselves in traditional work like sweeping, nursing, etc., say their only aim is to earn a livelihood. Secondly, unemployment is a grave problem (:158).

The education of girls is a common problem among Dalits except among the Buddhists and Christians. If at all some of them try for higher education they are detached from their caste brethren. There are very few names of Dalit women who work for the upliftment of women of their caste and their education (:158).

Being uneducated, the Dalit women, in general have the least sense about health and general hygiene. As a mark of respect to Babasaheb Ambedkar guidelines for the welfare of the society, majority of them (Neo-Buddhists) have accepted the programme of family planning. Neo-Buddhist women are well oriented with regard to immunization and infectious diseases, nutrition and sanitary reforms, through they may be illiterate (:158).

The Position of Dalit Women in Rural Society:

The life of Dalit women in rural areas is full of hardships and misfortunes. They have to face the problem of hunger almost daily. Due to extreme poverty they have to go to collect fuel for cooking and while doing so listen to the curses and abuses of higher class Hindus. ...She has to tolerate the injustice and torture of the higher caste masters when she goes out to work in their fields. Even then she lives to fight them back and does not surrender herself to the wretched system. While doing so she becomes vociferous and cannot speak in a refined manner as other class Hindu woman can. The rural Dalit women have to face the adversities of the caste system much more than the urban Dalit women (:158).

She becomes smart enough to handle her own problems independently. If the husband does not take the responsibility of giving her share of meals then she goes to the "Panchayat" (i.e. people's court in villages). If he is impotent then also she seeks the advice of the "Panchayat" or if a helpless widowed mother who is ignored by her son she demands for justice from the "Panchayat." (:159).

The Dalit women, both urban and rural, are more conscious of their legal rights. They are frank and brave in asking for justice. They have become intolerant about the various prohibitions. They work and economically are more independent in comparison to the other Hindu women. Dalit women are more free, liberal, or conscious of their rights of justice and equality. After independence, the position of the Dalit women has been remarkably good and her status has improved as compared to the pre-independence period (:159).

Summing Up:

1. As women they are under male domination both in the family and in society.

2. Though they are earning members they are subordinate in the family.

3. The Dalit males are refuters of Manuism, but are followers of principles of Manu in the matter of women.

4. Being low caste people, the Dalit women have to tolerate inhuman humiliation and adversities due to the caste system.

5. The caste system is much more wretched in the rural areas than the urban areas. The rural Dalit women have to face more atrocities from the upper caste people.

6. Both urban and rural Dalit women have no safety, security and adequate protection (:159).

7. These women are sufferers of the heinous caste system, still they are rigidly following the taboos of their own sub-castes. They do not allow their family members to marry a person out of the sub-caste.

8. The financial position of Dalit women is very adverse. The rural Dalit women have to face more hardships than the urban women.

9. Majority of the Dalit women are manual workers in urban and rural areas.

10. The political awakening is found both in urban and rural Dalit women. Through they are mostly illiterate they have knowledge of party-politics and party symbols.

11. They are commonly followers of the Congress (I) except Buddhist women.

12. The social awakening has also left its mark in the minds of Dalit women. Moreover, Buddhist Dalit women are more forward than any other Dalit women.

13. Education of Dalit women is again a matter of great concern because even to this date more than 60% of the women are illiterate.

14. It seems that being uneducated they have no sense of general health and hygiene.

15. But as per the guidelines of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, most of them have accepted the programme of family planning.

16. The converted Dalit women (Buddhist and Christian) are more conscious than Hindu Dalit women in every stream of awareness (:160).

Why do people easily breakk the existing constitutional laws in the matter of dalits and women? Why does unlawfulness became lawful? For this it is essential to study the structure of Indian society which had been erected on the pillars of the four classes and stages (:161).

Dalit women are also no exception... they rebuke a person for breaking the taboos of their sub-castes. Moreover, the traditional culture is always maintained by the women. Generally, Dalit women are more rigid in following all these senseless customs and traditions as they are uneducated. They think torture given by a husband is his right (:162).

The de facto position of Dalit women shows all the symptoms of being faithful followers of Manuism. But after independence there are some hopeful indications of the fundemental changes in the position of Dalit women brought about by the Indian Constitution and the Hindu Code Bill, a revolutionary creation of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (:162).


Reports on Atrocities:

1. Indian T.V. Report of 10th April 1993 - Parakh Programme - about the killing of a Dalit teacher and his son for entering a temple of God in Karnataka.

2. Khanjawala atrocities on Dalit women, April 1979. Newspaper Reports from Delhi.

3. Riots in Maharashtra for renaming the Marathwada University as "Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar University" - Aurangabad in 1978. Newspaper reports.

4. Riots in Maharashtra after publication of "The Riddle of Rama and Krishna" written by Dr. Ambedkkar. Nov.-Dec. 1987.

5. The upper caste women attacked the Dalit women at "Mausi" in Chandrapur District, (Mali).

6. Burning of a Dalit person in "Sawari" Dist., Chandrapur. Newspaper report.

7. Rape and atrocities on Dalit women, a common practice throughout India, frequently published in newspapers (:162-3).


1. Dr. Ambedkar, B. R. The Rise and Fall of Hindu Women.

2. Rao, Bagul Babu. 1976. Jeva Mee Jaat, Chorli Hoti. (When I tried to hide my caste). Bombay: Abhinava Publication.

3. Rao, Bagul Babu. 1980. Maran Swasta Hot Aahe. (The death is getting cheap). Poona: Continental Publications.

4. Bhagwandas. 1976. Mai Bhangi Hun. (I am a sweeper). Jullunder: Bhim Patrika Publication.

5. Gangadhar, Pantawane. 1974. Mulyavedh. Asmitadarsh Publication.

6. Gangadhar, Patawane. Wadalache Wanshaj.Kolhapur: Prachar Publication.

7. Suniti, Pungalia Smt. 1978. Stree Ani Kayada. Pune: Shree Sakhi Publication.

8. Zelliot, Eleanor. 1987. Dr. Ambedkarandie Netrutwa. (The leadership of Dr. Ambedkar). Poona: Sugawa Publication.

9. Special issue on Dalit women - Asmitadarsha. Edited by Gangadhar Pantawane, October 1981. Aurangabad.

10. Special issue on women liberation - Satyashodhak Markswadi. Edited by Com. Sharad Patil. April 1985. Dhule (:163).

Punalekar, S. P. 1995. "On Dalitism and Gender," in P. G. Jogdand, ed., Dalit Women in India: Issues and Perspectives. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House in collaboration with University of Poona, Pune. p. 8-17.

Dalitism includes not only marginal status in economic sphere but also similar marginal statuses in cultural, political, religious and other domains (:8).

Urban dalit women are found engaged in relatively secular, monetized occupational activities. A small percentage among them has risen to a relatively better status through salaried or service secors, thanks to reservation policies and programmes of the union and state governments and also persistent efforts of enlightened sections within these communities (1995:9).

Here we can also acknowledge the role of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and many others who through the reform as well as emancipatory movements helped in raising the economic status of some Dalit womeen in the urban areas. This is evident among few social groups like Kolis (who are OBC), Vankara, Mahars, etc., (who are Scs) and Chaudhari, Dhodia, Gamit, Mahadev Kolis, etc., (who are Sts). Years of social reform activities and also self mobilization have enabled this miniscule section to come up (:9).

According to one estimate the organized sector accounts for approximately 10% of the female labor force. It appears that participation of Dalit women in org anized sectors is considerably low or negligible (:10).

In urban areas the Dalit women are found concentrated in the unorganized sector. This sector can be divided into two: (I) self employment, and (ii) wage employment. The first covers activities like hawking, scrap collection, petty trade or home based production or service activity. Dalit women mostly staying in slums or hutment colonies carry on these activities for survival and family support (:10). These self-employment activities generally provide very meagre financial returns and also have uncertainties and insecurities. There are health risks also which often cut into their already meagre earnings. Survey of bottle collecting women in Poona (who consisted largely of Dalit women), and studies of women hawkers and vendors by SEWA, Ahmedabad, amply demonstrate that self-employment activity is perennially insecure and unstable (1995:11).

Wage employment activities is a complex sector encompassing a variety of manufactoring and servicing activities. In this sector, we find a large concentration of urban Dalit women. The activities cover construction labor, land levelling, earth work, domestic labor, beedi-making, aggarbatti and candle making, garment-apparel industry, jari and embroidery, toy-making, etc.

Dalit and non-Dalit women working in this sector are victims of low wages, irregular employment, absence of social security benefits and many other handicaps. They are dependent on whims of the employers including sexual harassment. Child labor is also pronounced in this sector (:11). Professors Ranade and Ramchandran have brought forth vividly the uneasiness and tensions faced by women construction laborers assembling at casual labor markets which are called Chakla barars in Gujarat and Addas in West Bengal, to compete with men to secure purely casual employment (:11).

In rural areas Dalit women are closely identified with their caste and associated social disabilities. Besides, they have to undergo additional hardships because of their gender. Here again, economic situation has important bearing on the life of rural Dalit women (:13).

There are reports which indicate that in rural areas the hardships of Dalit women have increased pver the years. Through there are some hopeful signs of upward improvements in health, housing and education of Dalit communities, such instances are comparatively fewer. There is increasing stress on female labor in agriculture and agro-based industries. Burden on Dalit women is increasing. The state sponsored developmental activities like IRDP, RLEGP, DWCRA, etc., have certainly brought some awareness to Dalit women in the rural areas but simultaneously it has led to overburdening and self-exploitation. Often there is withdrawal from school education at an early age. (13).

(Seenarine’s note: Dalit women are victims of affirmative action and development programs geared towards them in terms of overburdening in (1) increased responsibilities without attendant financial rewards, and (2) increased demands on time, energy, and limited resources; and self-exploitation in spending time in trainings, meetings, self-employment programs, etc., without necessary financial resources to follow-through with their training and new knowledge).

Also because of fierce competition for scarce resources like firewood and fodder, the Dalit women have to struggle harder to secure basic necesities of life (:13). One more point which needs serious attention is that of availability if water. Dalit women have to suffer more because of caste distinctions and less or remote access to village community resources. Water scarcity situation seems to have affected adversely the education among Dalit girls. This point needs to be explored more thoroughly. (:14).

Tribal women do not suffer such caste rigidities as those suffered by scheduled caste women. They live within their own ethnic groups and hence enjoy relatively better social security and support (:14-15). Jan Breman, David Atwood, Subhash Patil, V.B. Jugale, Vidyadhar Auti and my own studies inform us that tribal women suffer from severe handicaps during seasonal migration to brick-kilns, salt pans and sugarcane fields (:15).

It is often found that the Dalit family is itself exploited from external agencies while the Dalit women in the family is further severally exploited by the adult males (and also females). Baburao Bagul, Uttam Bandu Tupe, Daya Pawar and Laxman Gaikwad tell us vividly about such family-centered exploitation of Dalit women. (:1995:17).

Prabhavathi, M. 1995. "Dalit Women in Contemporary Indian Situation," in P. G. Jogdand, ed., Dalit Women in India: Issues and Perspectives. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House, in collaboration with University of Poona, Pune. p. 82-92.

The social barriers to dalit women are such as practice of untouchability, casteism, illiteracy, socio-cultural variation, religious exploitation and superstitions, and calss variation in society (:83).

The 1981 census of Karnataka revealt only one percent of dalit women are literate against 11percent of upper caste women. That means that 99 percent of dalit women are iliterates. The school going girls discontinue their education and sacrifice to contribute to running the house as well as the family economy. (Seenarine’s note: and national economy).

On September 6th, 1988 in Dongargaon village, 40 Km. Away from Gulbarga district in Karnataka State the powerful caste Hindus allegedly desended on dalit Basavantaraya’ house, beat-up his son, looted the house and dragged out his teenaged daughter Geeta, outraged her modesty in front of Babasaheb Ambedkar Statue. The Simple reason is that the uppercaste Hindus do not tolerate the properity of the dalits (Indian Express 14.9.88)

(Seenarine’s note: they violence in these incidents is being conducted likely by Lingayats and Vokkaligas; but, why are their caste name not mentioned - fear of repraisals?). (One week earlier, the following incident occurred)

In Sindanur Taluka of Raichur district in Karnataka four dalit women were beated and stripped and paraded on On August 30, 1988, because of small dispute between families.

April 17, 1988, the SC/ST colony at Amrutur village in Tumkur district of Karnataka were subjected to harrassment allegedly by caste hindus. 1000 people attacked the dalits and molested the women the day after they were allowed into the temple by the Tahsildar.

Kustogi a village in Raichur district of Karnataka, Sharanavva the dalit anganawadi worker and daughter of Kariyavva a devdasi allegedly summoned to the local travellers bungalow and gang raped by Taluka Tahsildar, Assistant Engineer of Zilla Parishad, a P.W.D. Junior Engineer and a Lawyer on Feburary 10, 1993. When the victim fell unconscious, bleeding profusely the accused put her in a car to take her to Hubli hospital, where she died on way to the hospital (:84-85).

The early marriage and child rearing and their type of hard work in the fields make them more malnutritious and become unhealthy and unhygienic. The physical distress makes them to lose interest in their life.

Lack of awareness about socio-economy and polity is another barrier for dalit women (:86)

The basic problem that affects the dalit woman’s role and opportunities for employment is this sector spring from their helpless dependence caused by lack of adequate employment opportunities, limited skills, illiteracy, restricted mobility and lack of autonomous status. The lack of control over productive resources and a persistent gap between consumption and expenditure leading to perpetual indebtedness, deprive them of all bargaining power and occupational mobility (:87).

About 90 percent of women working in unorganized sector are mainly from the lower castes (:87).

It may be surprising to know that till1932 the representation in legislature was only by uppercaste Hindus and untouchable were totally neglected (:90).

By recognising the seriousness of women’s participation in politics, in the year 1987 the Janata Government in Karnataka announced 25 percent reservation for women in Zilla Parishad and Mandal Panchayat, as per Zilla Parishad Act 1932, with a special provision of 5:1 ratio reservation to dalit women in 25 percent women reservation, which is a very important and significant aspect. Due to this reservation a number of dalit women had an opportunity to take part in active politics. 19 dalit women against 211 upper caste women in Zilla Parishad and 2469 dalit women against 14025 upper caste women in Mandal Panchayats were elected. The participation of these representatives in active politics varies. A few women have really showed good performance in the participation. But with their social and economic background and the level of education they need proper guidance and time to reveal their responsibilities in power sharing and decision making (:90).

The representation of dalit women in Zilla Parishad and Mandal Panchayat does not widen the reality of women’s political visibility. Therefore efforts should be made to increase the scope and percentage of reservation in legislatures and in Parliament. All the political parties should strictly implement the reservation specifically for dalit women. And it is the responsibilities of voluntary social organizations, dalit organizations and women organizations to pressurize the political parties for the implementation of reservation and also to create the politica awareness and its importance among women (:90).

The dalit women are exploited by dalit men, and the uppercaste men and women (91). Dr. B.R. Ambedkar wanted to bring certain changes in the Hindu law for the betterment of women.

In 1951 when he was a minister in Jawaharal Nehru’s Cabinet, he wanted to bring an amendment in Hindu Law such as adoption, guardianship, divorce, Hindu Marriage, Widow Re-Marriage and property rights to women. But because of the strong opposition by the traditional caste Hindus the bill was not accepted in the parliament and because of this Dr. Ambedkar had to resign from Nerhu’s Ministry (92).

Rathnaiah, K. 1991. Social Change Among the Malas: An Ex-Untouchable Caste in South India. New Delhi: Discovery Publishing House.

Social Organization:

The Malas have patrilineal descent and patrilocal residence. Property cannot be inherited by a woman. The wife of a deceased person is not entitled to any share from the property of her husband. She will be looked after by her male children (:39).). Types of families among Malas: nuclear 58%, joint 39%, extended 3%.

95% of respondents married through arrangement and negotiations, 3% had love marriages, and 1% had inter-caste marriage (:43). Relationship in mate selection: 47% had cross-cousin, 37% had uncle-niece, 15% had distant relations, and 1% others (:45). Age at Marriage for females: below 10 years, 10%; 11-15 years, 52%; 16-21 years, 29%, 21-25 years, 5%; above 25 years, 5%. Age at Marriage for males: below 10, 0%; 11-15, 1%; 16-21, 3%, 21-25, 23%; above 25 yrs. 65% (:46).

Among Malas we find bride price which is locally known as 'Oli' practised by 84% of respondents, dowry by 12%, and in 4% of marriages no money was given (:47-8).

Reddy, D. N. 1984. "Women in Economic Development: The Scheduled Caste Female Agricultural Labourers in India - A Target Group Approach," in Manohare, ed., Women’s Status and Development in India. Warangal: Society for Women’s Studies and Development. Pp. 40-51.

Rege, Sharmila. 1995. "Caste and Gender: The Violence Against Women in India," in P. G. Jogdand, ed., Dalit Women in India: Issues and Perspectives. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House, in collaboration with University of Poona, Pune. p. 18-36.

Steven Lukes’ "Radical View of Power"(Lukes 1974) and Harding’s "Epistemology of Rainbow Coalition Politics" (Harding 1991) provide the relevant theoretical framework for the analysis of violence and the strife in sisterhood. The violent practices against women reveal definite variations by caste; while upper caste are subjected to controls and violence within the family, it is the absence of such controls that makes lower caste women vulnerable to rape, sexual harassment and the threat of public violence. To varying degrees these different practices are "accepted" as given and some of them like ‘sati’ and ‘devdasi’ practice may even be glorified (:19).

Lukes has agued that the supreme exercise of power is through compliance, by control over the thoughts and desires of the other. Further, Lukes has argued that power presupposes human agency and that agents consist in a set of expanding and contracting opportunities. Together these constitute the structural possibilties which specify the power of agents varying between time and over agents (Lukes 1974).

Women’s agency needs to be located in the context of the structural possibilities of class, race, caste and community.

The collusion and contestation between partiarchies and ‘brahmanism’ (upper castes practices and ideologies) reveals the exercise of such power through the differential definitions and management of gender by caste (:19).

Centering from the perspective of the marginalized prevents the distortion of both; those at the center and at the margins (Harding 1991). Further, such an analysis need not amount to speaking for the marginalized or speaking for the ‘Dalit’ women - for the multiple and contradictory subject agent of feminism is also logically the subject of every other libratory project. In following Harding, we agree that this is not only epistemological but also a moral and political issue (1995:19-20).

More than seventy percent of India’s labor force falls in the category of landless labor. The number of female headed households have been on the increase and there has been a growing deterioration and privatization of the country’s common property resources on which the poor in general and women in particular depend (Agarwal 1989). Food allocation in the family is heavily biased in favor of men... despite the fact that women in this region perform at least fifteen hours of arduous labor. This contributes to a higher mortality rate among women (:21)

Several studies have revealed that employment for women of the upper and middle classes has not brought much change in the power axes of the family (Standing 1990). Women’s labor in fact remains a flexible resource (Banerjee 1992). The population of women in India has been declining and the sex-ratio has declined from 972 females to 1000 males in 1901 to 927 felames to 1000 males in 1991. Only 24.8 percent of the women are literate and only 5.7% can ever reach the university. More than 70% of the female labor force is in the unorganized section which means long hours of work, wage differentials and no security (:21).

Despite child marriage being a legal offence, 10% of the females in the age group of 10-14 are married by the age fo 18. Birth of daughters is unwelcome and new forms of female foeticide are emerging. The birth of a daughter means the liability of guarding her virginity and debts in paying the dowry in marriage to the bridegrooms family. This payment, however, does not guarantee any security for women as there is always a demand for more in the form of festive offerings and gifts (:21-22).

In the capital city of New Delhi, two women die of burns every day; the cases being either of ‘suicide’ or dowry murders. In 1991, the number of women who faced the torture of rape were estimated at 2 million, and the majority of the victims were tribal, Dalit; the incidence of rape being higher in areas declared to be turbulent and where the army or the police have been stationed (Gandhi and Shah 992).

The declaration of emergency and withdrawal of civil rights in 1975 had led to several atrocities. As the emergency war lifted, civil liberties groups brought to light several cases of gang rapes of lower caste women in northern India. The left and anti-caste movements labelled the feminist focus on violence violence as ‘middle class’ and saw the women’s centers as being ‘welfaristic’ and not ‘revolutionary’ enough (:22).

For the first thirty years after Independence, women figured in the planned development as only ‘mothers’ in the ‘mother and child welfare programs’; despite the fact that more than 50% of the agricultural labor was provided by women (Towards Equality 1975).

This spirtuality of the inner sanctum, the home was to be maintained by the woman as the torch bearer of tradition (all violence within the family was thus rendered invisible), and by reverse logic all those women (lower caste and working class) who ‘did not’ were designated as ‘impure. ’ (:25)

Ramusack (1990) referred to the British feminists as the ‘maternal imperialists’ while Paxton (1990) argues that for the feminist the choice was limited, between being racists and loyal or being disloyal to the civilization (:26).

The first wave of feminists in India (20th century) were women related to the reformers or the nationalists, mainly upper caste women who lobbied tirelessly for the right to property ans amendments in the Hindu law of marriage. These first wave feminists were preoccupied with issues of ‘status’ rather than ‘survival’. It was therefore, the uppercaste, middle class women who drew the benefits from the constitutional guarantees and leagal measures (Omvedt 1985).

The second wave feminists in India who formed autonomous groups politicised the issue of violence against women, both inside and outside the home. Free legal aid centers and counselling groups were set up and consciousness raising through street plays and posters on the issue of violence became a regular practice in urban areas.

Second wave feminists in mass movements argued that the campaigns for legal amendments and crisis centers were urban and middle class and that the economic issues were more urgent for the masses of women. The recent upsurge in caste and communal violence points towards the impasse facing the women’s movement in India (Tharu and Niranjana 1992) (1995:26).

The revival of the practice of ‘sati’ in 1987 led to a national debate in which women are neither the subjects nor objects but the grounds for debate. If widow burning is at the extreme end of the continum of violent practices within upper caste families, a critique of the day to day life practices in the upper caste homes would reveal the different intermediate forms of control that operate (:28).

Firstly, there are linguistic clues; both verbal abuse and the reinforcing of stereotypes. There are also severe controls over women’s labor in that under the ideology of ‘grihalaxmi’ (the woman as the goddess of the household) the burden of domestic work is glorified and often women begin to view this burden as their privilege. It must be noted here that the arduous tasks of domestic work are performed by the lower caste women who constitute the majority of domestic labor. Attempts of unionisation by domestic workers have been viewed negatively by their upper caste women employers; strikes have resulted in loss of jobs for most of these women (:28).

Among the urban middle classes, (upper caste), women’s labor is used to meet the increasing inflation, but to ensure that this does not erode its own control, private patriarchal atuhority brings into use ideology which on the one hand highlights women’s total commitment to the needs of the household and on the other consistently reiterates taboos against sexuality or reproduction outside family and caste mores (Banerjee 1992). There are then the controls exercised through actual physical abuse - wife beating, enforced seclusion, denial of basic necessities are common methods of exercising control, the elder women of the family, generally the mother-in-law being the enforcing agent (:29).

The unmarried girls are closely guarded and any transgression of norms results in their being withdrawn from public life; they are brought up to believe that their husband’s extended family is their final destination and that their parental home is only a transit lounge (in all regional languages in India, unmarried girls are reflected as property that does not belong to the family) (:29).

The state in all its programs has maintained a ‘woman within the family approach’. The women in India perform within the family many of the functions that have long been, at least partially, the responsibilityof the state; alternative ways of fulfilling these functions would be extremely costly for the state. More importantly under modern rationalisations of ‘cultural legitimacy’, women have been kept within the family, rights for women outside the family would pose a threat to the caste system and thereby to the hegemony of the upper castes (:29).

The very fundamental rights and freedom granted by the Indian Constitution to all citizens - the right against forcd labor, the freedom of movement, freedom of speech and expression have been denied to women by their families. Paradoxically, there is a strong tradition of according forms of responsibility and veneration to women as ‘mothers.’ Women can gain access to power in the family only as agents of domination and oppression of the younger women in the family (Kishwar 1991).

In case of the lower caste women the fact that their labor outside the family is crucial for the survival of the family, leads to the lack of stringent controls on their labor, mobility and sexuality and this renders them ‘impure’ or ‘lacking in virtue.’ In several instances the rape of Dalit women may not be considered as rape at all because of the customary acces that the upper caste men have had to Dalit women’s sexuality (:29-30).

Dalit women suffer rape as a part of the ongoing caste confrontations. In rural Inda, defiance of caste restrictions by the Dalits have most often resulted in arson and gang rapes of women of the lower castes. ... pushing the majority of lower castes performers and artistes into hidden forms of prostitution (Rege 1992). The percentage of female headed households among the lower castes is as high as 70% to 75%; since the incidence of desertion is very high and even in cases where the husband is present, (often just his presence is seen as necessary by the women to ward off the sexual threat of the men from their community), it is the women’s income that goes towards the survival of the family since the husbands income is spent on arrack; or bigamy being common, the income goes towards the maintenance of the ‘preferred’ wife (:30).

Lower caste woman in Andhra Pradesh have at the local level organized anti-arrack movements, in a way that threatens the state; since most of the state revenue comes from arrack. In Maharashtra, the ‘deserted’ women went on a march through the state in an attempt to draw the state’s attention to the gravity of the problems and the issue of maintenance (Samata Andolan 1990). The situation of the Dalit women who are at the receiving end of both the upper caste and lower caste partiarchies, has been portrayed by Tersamma, a ower caste activist in a poem:

We go to work for we are poor,

But the same silken beds mock us,

While we are ravished in broad daylight,

Ill-starred our horoscopes are,

Even our tottering husbands hiss and shout for revenge;

If we cannot stand their touch.

(Quoted by Dietrich 1990).

In rural India, the participation of Dalit women in the different local struggles for water, land or forests, has been on the increase (Omvedt 1992). These struggles have to a large extent regained from taking up the issue of violence against women. The women’s movement which addresses these issues of sexuality and violence has been limited to the urban centers (:31).

In recent times, there have been at least three, widely reported cases of violence against the lower castes - Chunduru in Andhra Pradesh, Gothala and Pimpri Deshmukh in Maharashtra - in which the lower caste men had been hacked to death, because of their alleged indecent behavior towards upper caste women. The upper caste women in all the three cases had, it was reported, not only incited their menfolk into the violent acts but also participated in them. These cases present a problem for the feminist movement (Bhagwat and Rege 1993).

A castewise analysis of the violent practices against women would reveal that the incidence of dowry murders, controls on mobility and sexuality by the family, widow burning are more frequent among the upper castes while Dalit women are more likely to face the collective threat of rape, sexual harassment and physical violence (Dietrich 1990).

The principles of the caste system and the rule of conduct for the different castes were codified in the ‘shastras’ or the instructional treatises of the Hindus which date back to the third century B.C. These were written by the ‘Brahmins’ or the priestly castes who legitimised the rule of the ‘kshatriya’ castes or the warrior castes. These rules were popularised through the ‘Puranas’ or mythological stories. In these treatises women have been equated to the lower castes and definite restrictions have been placed on both (:33).

Both have been defined as impure, of sinful birth and as having a polluting presence. Both the lower castes and women had to observe practices of verbal difference, temporal distance and dress codes as an index of their subordinate status (Guha, R. 1983. Elementary Forms of Peasant Insurgency in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.). Around 800 B.C. these threatises begin to make a definite division between the upper caste women and those of the lower castes (:33).

Feminist writings on caste have argued that gender ideology that was constructed in these texts not only legitimized the structures of patriarchy but also the very organization of caste (Chakravarti 1992; Joshi, R., and Liddle, J. 1986. Daughters of Independence. New Delhi: Kali for Women; Kannibaran, V., and Kannibaran, K. 1991. "Caste and Gender: Understanding Dynamics of Power and Violence," EPW, Sept. 14). Vaid and Sangari have argued that the lives of women exist at their interface of caste and class inequalities and that the description and management of demale sexuality is crucial to the reproduction of these inequalities (1990).

Rege, Sharmila. 1989. Sati: A Critical Analysis. Monograph, Women Studies Centre, Department of Sociology, University of Poona.

Shankar, Jogan. 1990. Devadasi Cult: A Sociological Analysis. New Delhi: Ashish Publishing House.

"Female servants of the deity" is prevailing all over India, such as Maharis in Kerala, Natis in Assam, Muralis in Maharashtra, Bogams in AP, Jogatis or Basavis in Karnataka, and Thevardiyar in Tamil Nadu. Yellamma, Hanuman and Khandoba temples in Maharashtra-Karnataka border areas have 2.5 lakhs of devadasis. Study conducted among Yellamma devotees of Saundathi in Belgaum District.

Intro.; Genesis and Prevalence of Devadasi Cult; The Setting; Devadasis of Yellampura Village - a Profile; Determinants of Persistence and Continuity of Devadasi Cult; Towards Reformation and Rehabilitation of Devadasi; Conclusion and Recommendations; Bibliography. 175 pp.

SC pop. of Yellampura village: Holers, Madigas and Samagars. 85% of Devadasis are from Holers caste, of whom 95% of households practice the cult. (:98)

Sharma, Rama. 1995. Bhangi: Scavenger in Indian Society - Marginality, Identity and Politicization of the Community. New Delhi: M D Publications Pvt. Ltd.

Relationship between husband and wife in Bhangi families is not very different from the usual family norms observed in other communities. The wife is expected to show respect to her husband. A man can strike his wife but she cannot strike back. Newly married women are expected to cover their faces by lowering the veil of a dupatta or sari before the elder male members of her husband's mohalla. However, with the passage of time and when she has borne children, she is allowed greater freedom in speaking to other men of her husband's mohalla (:47).

The Bhangi community is endogamous. Marriages are the most important events in the community and they are ritually elaborated. All marriages are arranged by parents or by other male members of the community. Bride and groom have little or no say in the arrangement. The girl's marriage is a financial burden because of dowry (in the form of gifts). There has been at least one case of bride burning for dowry reasons. Among shehri Bhangis, pre-pubertal marriages are not common (:48).

Drinking is common among men. In fact the use of alcholic drins is an integral part of the culture of Bhangis. Women also drink, but only on ritual occasions (:48). Indebtedness is also a problem in the Bhangi community. About 65% of informants said that they were under debt (:49).

Scavenging in private houses is done mainly by the female scavenger (Bhangin). The physically less heavy work involved in cleaning latrines has fallen to the Bhangins. There are very few men from whom private scavenging is the full-time occupation (:60).

Sumitra. 1988. Pan on Fire: Eight Dalit Women Tell Their Story. New Delhi: Indian Social Institute.

Towards Equality. Report of the Committee on Status of Women in India. New Delhi: Ministry of India Publication.

Tharu, S., and Niranjana, T. Problems for a Contemporary Theory of Gender. Hyderabad: Investing.

Verma, D. N., and Dixit, R. S. 1988. "Place of Women in Occupational Structure of Scheduled Caste Population in UP," in D. Maurya, ed., Women in India. Delhi: Chugh Publications. p. 181-188.

Wolf, G. 1992. Re-inventing Tradition. Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Studies.