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Dalit Women : Double Discrimination : TANWI SUMAN

Caste is a state of mind It is a disease of mind The teachings of the Hindu religion are the Root cause of this disease. Tanwi Suman

Dalit women : Double Discrimination
Photo: Bahishkrit Bharat

The word Dalit means broken, ground-down, downtrodden or oppressed. ‘Dalit’ refers to one’s caste rather than class, it applies to members of those menial castes which have born the stigma of “untouchability” because of the extreme impurity and pollution connected with their traditional occupations. Total no. of Dalits in India are 17% which constitutes approx. 170 million people. And women cover 49.20% which constitutes 100 million Dalit women in India. We know that untouchability has been abolished in our constitution and everybody has an equal right but after all these rights still Dalits have to regularly face discrimination and violence and prevent them from leading a dignified life.

Gender plays a very dominant role in our society. Gender discrimination is the main cause of violating human rights. Dalit women has to suffer from dual disadvantage:

a)      Being a Dalit

b)     Being a woman

Along with all deprivations which their caste group as a whole to suffer, Dalit women have to undergo additional hardships because of their gender.  Every fourth Indian is a Dalit but there is no proper survey to give the correct number of Dalit women in India. Around 75% of Dalit live below poverty line. The major backwardness of being a Dalit woman is they don’t have a right to live a dignified life, they are treated as sex object. Dalit women has to face discrimination on social injustice both by men and non-Dalit women.

Till date, Hindu religious texts plays a major role of oppression of women and it is worse in case of Dalit women. Dalit could not access public amenities as per the Hindu religious texts. According to Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar, “The root cause of suffering for women in India are these so-called Hindu religious books (Thind; Agarwal).

An old Marathi proverb:

Chhadilagechhamchham, vidya yeyighamgham (The harder the stick beats, the faster the flow of knowledge).

Chhadi is to signify the disciplining of Dalits through overt and covert means, through methods of verbal, physical and psychological/mental crippling carried out by the large society. 

51% of dalit women in rural areas, and 56% of urban ones live below the poverty line. The employment options available for Dalit woman are few. Due to caste discrimination, most illiterate and uneducated Dalit, women was forced to do degrading work, such as manual scavenging and manually cleaning dry latrines. This inhuman practice destroys the dignity of a human being, Dalit women have no other options for livelihood. In fact, there is a discrimination in wage payment, higher caste maid gets most salary in comparison to lower caste women.

Violence against women is not only a women’s issue but also a larger social issue and a human rights violation. And Dalit women are the worst sufferer of violence. A study found that men consider wife battering as their natural rights. Dalit women has to deal with caste-based violence as well as domestic violence. Victims of bonded labour, child labour, prostitution and of the Devadasi system are drawn largely from Dalit communities.

Dalit women face a triple burden of caste, class and gender. The hardships of Dalit women are not simply due to their poverty, economical status, or lack of education, but are a direct result of the severe exploitation and suppression by the upper classes, which is legitimized by ‘Hindu religious scriptures’ (Thind n. Page; Agarwal n. Page).Dalit women along with other women have increasingly becoming victims of trafficking and sex work in Indian brothels.

Among the violence, temple prostitutionsis the heinous crime by upper-caste men in the name of Hindu tradition.

Devadasis known as ‘slaves of god’.

Devadasi system is also known as temple prostitution was introduced by high caste Hindus, and it still exists in some parts of India. Temple prostitution in India is a customary practice that has evolved over time to become a central topic for popular feminist and human rights discourse. It is practiced mainly in South India and Maharashtra. The Devadasi system is justified by Hindu scriptures (Thind; Agrawal; News archives). Devadasi system, though banned in, thousands of Dalit girls are clandestinely ritualised into prostitutions in temples ever year, and after dedication, the girls eventually end up in brothels. It will analyse the evolution of the system over time into sex work dissociated from religion and tradition marked by women’s exploitation and abuse and the subsequent debates surrounding different feminist perspectives and finally addressing the human rights aspects of the issue.

                  The Devadasi system originated between the third and sixth century A.D and was predominantly practiced in South India (Orchard 5-6). The practice entails the dedication of a women to a deity through a ritual marriage. These women came to be known as Devadasi, a Sanskrit term that can be literally translated into ‘slaves of god’. Girls married to goddess Yellamma (Renuka). A woman thus ritualized was entitled to freedom from widowhood by means of marrying the gods and thereby devoting her entire life in the temple service of god and temple (Anandhi 739). Devadasis were not allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum but she will bow the deity from outside. A devadasi typically sang, dance and performed various rituals in temple. For rituals, women learned and practice Sadir (Bharatanatyam), Odyssey and other classical Indian artistic tradition. Sexual activity was limited to one partner who was chosen either by the devadasi or her mother or grandmother (more professional and experienced patrons of the practice) and was seen as celebration of this union with god (Srinivasan). 

(The writer is a research scholar of the subject of Women's Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia University. These are her personal opinions)

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