Friday, May 20, 2011

Voices from the Subaltern - Chapter Five

Voices from the Subaltern

Education and Empowerment
Among Rural Dalit (Untouchable) Women

Moses Seenarine
Date: 1/31/99; Revised: 2/26/03

Chapter 5 - We Came out Through the Door: Literacy Achievements, Employment and Changes Among Dalit Women

    Although Dalit women are victims of multiple forms of oppressions and taboos against them, they are also active subjects with complex, multiple identities, which they use to negotiate and open spaces for self expression. Dalit women are constantly resisting personal, family and community pressures in order to pursue education and employment opportunities. The process of their participation in MSK program activities influenced a variety of personal changes, for instance, in terms of appearance, confidence to talk, and employment aspirations.
    This chapter explores how some of the older respondents used their education and employment through MSK to learn cognitive skills, but more importantly, how the process of their involvement instigated changes in personal and group identities. Change in personal identities is taken to mean changes among individual Dalit women in terms of their interest in learning, personal appearance, discipline, sense of their own worth and ability to act on the world, and career goals. Changes in collective gender identities is taken to mean changes among Dalit women in terms of pursuing common interest and goals. The combination of these changes contribute to forms of empowerment.
    Dalit families are, in general, placing more significance on education for females, and some of the respondents are encouraged by their families to participate in MSK program activities. Nevertheless, there is widespread mistrust, fear and opposition at the family and community level towards female participation in educational opportunities, including those of the MSK program. In the face of family and community objections, it is argued that some Dalit women become empowered personally by seeking to participate in the program and pursue further education.
    The process of Dalit women's involvement with MSK as teachers and students may include the following actions, which go beyond the mere acquisition of literacy and lead to changes in their lives: (i) resisting family, community and caste oppression to offer NFE and AE classes in the village, or to gain access to the NFE, AE and Kendra classes; (ii) resisting negative stereotypes of nonliterates as unable and unwilling learners, to learn and teach others; (iii) organising other Dalit women around issues of education, Sangha, savings, etc.; (iv) foregoing work and wages to attend meetings and classes; (v) extending the burden of a double-day to a triple-day schedule in order to include MSK’s community activities and learning; (vi) participating in day and evening classes by teaching and learning to read, write, and count;  (vii) travelling to towns and other places for the first time; (viii) preparing for meetings and large gatherings, including cooking, decorations, and so on. By participating in these various actions, the process of their involvement itself generates empowering experiences.
    Notwithstanding these changes, the process of involvement with the program is different for various respondents. A case in point, not all of the respondents are equally involved with the program, their personal and family characteristics varies, and the AE, NFE and Sangha programs are dissimilar. As a result, there was a wide diversity of experiences regarding education and empowerment among women respondents.
    To cite an example of difference, in regard to the age of respondents and prior education, some older respondents tend to have less prior experience with formal or nonformal education than others, and so the changes in self that these women have as a result of becoming neoliterate are different from those experienced by women with some primary school experience. Regardless of these differences, because Dalit women face similar difficulties, there are comparable personal changes among the respondents as well, some of which are discussed later in this chapter. It is important to explore these points of variation and convergence in order to understand the complexities of respondents' lives and the subtleties of empowerment experiences among them.
    This chapter is divided into three sections. The first section is further sub-divided into three parts. The first part provide brief definitions of identity as used in the study, while the second part explores the social context and problems respondents face in obtaining access to MSK education activities, that is, restricted mobility and community resistance to women’s education. The third part looks at older respondents' educational achievements as a result of their participation in MSK programs.
    The second section looks at some aspects of learning and change in self identities among older Dalit women, for example, changes in confidence through employment in MSK as adult education (AE) and Crèche teachers. Employment with MSK in turn helped the women to overcome some of the problems they face in the village regarding education and other issues. This section also looks into forms of nonliterate learning and teaching the women engage in.
    The third section explores Dalit women's actions to empower other Dalit women within and beyond the context of the MSK program.  Sub-sections include forming a women's collective (Sangha), organising village women's Sangha, resisting patriarchy, and resisting programmatic activities and gender empowerment. The major argument explored in this chapter is that there has been little improvement in literacy achievement among Dalit women; nevertheless they are empowered by the process of their participation in the program.
Multiple Identities
    Because of the complex social and economic environment in which rural Dalit women live, they have very complex personal identities which are always changing. In this study, personal identity or "a sense of who one is" is viewed as a process which is shaped by the realities in which one lives and the experiences one has, in addition to processes of self reflection. These various processes reinforce and change "a sense of who one is" and so personal identities are multiple, contingent and situational.
    Identities are multiple in terms of the myriad of ways people can and are defined by themselves and others; contingent because aspects of our lives change and therefore the salience of an aspect varies over time (for example, becoming married to widowed, and child-bearer to menopausal); situational because what one draws on as symbols of one's self depends on circumstances and changes with different situations (for instance, at work we are tense, at home we are relaxed).
    Dalit women exist in a complex web of identities including those based on location, gender and family, employment, education, and so on. For example, respondents shared locational identities, including those of country, state, district, taluka or sub-district, village, and/or colony in the village. Gender and family identities encompass those of daughter, sister, girl child, single woman, wife, daughter-in-law, mother, mother-in-law, divorcee, widow, grandmother, and so forth. Work identities include unemployed, homemaker, caregiver, field labourer, child labourer, domestic servant, construction worker, coolie or day-labourer, and so on. Education identities constitute those of nonliterate, neoliterate, primary student, dropout, secondary student, educated, and college student. In addition, rural Dalit women may have identities based on caste, language, kin group, and friendships.
    The dominant ideology within mainstream Indian society contains many negative stereotypes of the poor, Dalits, Dalit women, and rural people in general. Negative images of Dalit women comprise of such stereotypes that they are homogenous, unproductive, inferior, passive, lacking in awareness, ignorant, unable to communicate, cannot learn, have no interest in learning, are incapable of doing anything besides field labour, have nothing to offer society, and that they have too many babies.
    These stereotypes of poor, rural Dalit women are perpetuated by politicians, state administrators, religious and business communities, and local and international development agencies and functionaries. These images are furthermore popularised by the media, cinema, music, and popular culture. Negative stereotyping generally result in Dalit women having negative self identities, and low sense of their value and self worth.
    Even though Dalit women may not agree with the various inequalities and negative stereotyping they face, including their ascribed gender status, they still have to work in the hot sun toiling in the fields in order to feed their families. Given the acute nature of their economic and social dependencies, it is not surprising that the majority of Dalit women end up internalising and living out their oppression, rather than rebelling or adopting a more militant attitude. This does not mean that women cannot escape the harsh realities of their lives,
through family, hope, the intact faculties of laughter, song and the imagination. And at the same time meaning is found in place, a community, a framework of life and thought, and an order of things, even if that framework and order also claim to justify oppression or limit emancipation (Viramma, Racine and Racine 1997: 310).
    Though the above statements are no doubt reflective of the experiences of many Dalit women and oppressed peoples the world over, this study does not focus on the ways in which Dalit women internalise and live out their persecutions, but on their desire for change, resistance and empowerment in relation to injustices the confront. While on the one hand, multiple oppressions and dominant ideologies serve to define and restrict Dalit women’s access to social and economic resources, on the other hand, this study found that they are resisting.
    To illustrate, Dalit women are using the complex situation in which they live to provide them with multiple ways of responding and acting that shapes a sense of identity that is multiple, complex and defies simple categorisation. In Lacanian (1978) terms, Dalit women are giving up some of the signifiers that represent them and are embracing new ones.
    Dalits in general are constantly resisting dominant class, gender and caste ideologies, roles and identities which serve to exploit them, and are formulating more positive notions of self. By way of illustration, some respondents are using the context of the program to construct new personal identities and negotiate spaces for themselves and families, to gain access to education, employment and economic opportunities. In terms of constructing new personal identities, for instance, Dalit women have a sense of adding education as one of the defining characteristic of who they are, and of exploring various potential identities based on further education and future employment.
    This study does not romanticise gender awareness or the resistance and empowerment strategies used by Dalit women, because such resistance as there is may be very limited. For instance, regarding gender awareness, one study concludes that there was "very little fellow feeling among the women of the neighborhood and the community" (Aranha, Fernando and Mahale 1991:76). Male desertion leads to jealously and suspicion among the women themselves as they perceive each other as contenders for the affections of their man. To illustrate, a woman's own younger sister was taken as the second wife of her husband, and another woman was impregnated by her brother-in-law (ibid.).
    At the same time, whenever these women redefine practices and desires, however covertly, they are themselves exercising power. Apart from the MSK program's stated intentions to empower them, rural Dalit women themselves want change and are actively pursuing such changes. Although there is still a mentality of dependence on males at home and in social life, many rural Dalit women want to learn and participate in public activities, in order to achieve equal status.

Family, Mobility, and Access to Learning
    A major problem Dalit women face in gaining access to education and employment facilities is their lack of mobility within and outside of the village. Dalit women have to resist family and community pressures and restrictions on their mobility in order to attend MSK meetings and classes, and this very resistance itself leads to changes in their sense of being able to act on the world. Notwithstanding, the reality is that the vast majority of rural Dalit women in the district are unable to gain access to MSK's educational facilities.
    Married women often mention their limited mobility and inability to travel outside the village alone and unaccompanied by husbands. Many of them moreover insinuate that early child marriage led to their husbands' and in-laws' control of their mobility. Even if they are willing, many married women explain that they found it difficult to gain their husband's permission to attend adult education night school classes in their own village.
    In answer to the question, "what are the roles of a female in your family and village?" the eighteen year old NFE teacher critiques patriarchy,
In the village, women are under their husband's control. I am also under my in-laws' control. If I decide to do some work, then they would ask me, "why don't you consult with us? Are we not here to help you?"
    From her remarks, Laxmiamma, who has been married for two years, is clearly aware of, and resistant to, the power dynamics a young wife has to face within a husband and in-laws' home. Though they are earning members, the position of Dalit women in the family is subordinate like that of other women in India since Dalit males are influenced by "upper" caste, patriarchal ideologies (Pawde 1995). Even though Dalit families are exploited by external agencies, Dalit women in the family are further exploited by adult males and older women. Other studies show vividly the dimensions of family-centered exploitation of Dalit women (Das 1995; Punalekar 1995; Sharma 1995).
    Laxmiamma depicts the problem for Dalit women:
In the village, the boy gets married and brings the girl to his home. At the in-laws' home, she might make some mistakes, this is only natural. But, the in-laws don't like it, and they scold her, and then they put some claim on her. So, she and her husband should live alone, away from the family. I think that in the family, everybody does mistakes and we should correct them.
Less contact with home and kin leads to isolation among many young wives, which is multiplied by the in-laws' domination over the daughter-in-law. The oppression of the daughter-in-law is characterised by Laxmiamma as involving a process of "mistakes" of 'wifely duties' and in-law punishment, which leads to them placing "some claim on her" as a form of possession. In other words, alleged mistakes are used to instil feelings of inferiority in the daughter-in-law, on the one hand, and establish the in-laws' superiority and control, on the other. Laxmiamma provides an example of this process,
I had a fever for eight days and couldn't work, but my mother-in-law used to scold me. To avoid scolding, I would get up and work. My mother-in-law would say, "why do only you get sick?" My husband just obeyed his parents and scolded me too... In the family, everyone else's health is important to them, they don't think of me, they don't give my health importance.
    In rural Dalit marriages, there are many other forms of female subordination within the family, for instance, those related to the sexual division of labour, women's double burden, and so forth, which Laxmiamma describes:
Women do the work at home and outside the home. The men might do some coolie work outside and come home and rest. The women go out in the fields and comes home and do work. She has to feed the animals, take care of the family, cook, etc. If she is late in doing something in the house, like cooking dinner, the man will beat her. This is why women and mothers make their little girls take care of their babies and help them in the fields.
Laxmiamma depicts the double-day and domestic violence poor, rural Dalit women face everyday, and the further subordination of the girl child in order to help mothers meet survival needs.
    Another researcher, Kumud Pawde, made similar observations in her study of women from eight Dalit sub-castes:
To serve them (in-laws) 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. 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 (1995:152).
In non-literate Dalit families, a woman is treated with such debased esteem that she has a status of "nothing more than a mere slipper worn by the men" (Pawde 1995:153) and come to regard herelf as inferior to men. As one young woman explains, "women only to serve mens, mens not serving womens" (Mishkaben 1996:100).
    Dalit women have to tolerate suspicion about their character and mental torture from fathers, male relatives, and community members. 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 (residential community). 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 (Sharma 1995).
    One of the most educated respondent in the sample, Laxmiamma, who was attending college at the time, described her lack of mobility and employment options:
I just completed a diploma course for being a college teacher. I got a chance to get a job paying 750 rupees per month to teach in a college, but my in-laws did not allow me to take that job. They quarrelled with me. I wanted to do the job, but they did not send me. The job was in Bidar town and they said, "you can continue your studies in Bidar, but you cannot go to work in Bidar.
    As she states, Laxmiamma's access to education and employment is dependent upon restrictions on her mobility and her in-laws' approval. Even though she is qualified to teach in college, Laxmiamma is unable to get a job as a college teacher because her in-laws, whom she lives with, "did not allow" her to travel to town for employment. Needless to say, there are no colleges in her village. This situation points out that for some Dalit families, controlling women is far more important than the salary they could earn.
    One explanation for this gender-class contradiction is that Laxmiamma’s father-in-law is uncomfortable with her earning more than he does as a bank clerk, as this would undermine his patriarchal control over his extended family. Another researcher revealed that only educated male Dalits said they would like to send their daughters to the school or college, and only for a limited period. Among males with high school education, few want their daughters to have education higher than their own, and a small percentage wishes to see them at par with their own (Benjamin 1989:139). Another set of related reasons pertain to issues of female modesty and the conforming to "upper" caste Hindu norms and customs for women among upwardly mobile Dalit families.
    Laxmiamma describes her education as follows:
I studied up to seventh standard in a co-educational school, but in eight to tenth standard, I attended an all girls high school. In the eleventh and twelfth standard and diploma course, I again attended an all girls college.
Laxmiamma statements suggest that the availability of all girls secondary schools and colleges is an important factor in determining post-primary education for rural Dalit young women. Access to employment is moreover dependent on family approval of the place of employment, the amount of distance away from home, and so forth.
    In addition to lack of mobility, there are other problems Dalit women confront in trying to gain access to education and employment facilities within and outside of the village. Several women declare that having the responsibility of childcare prevents them from obtaining employment, attending classes, meetings, and so on. Time is also a major problem in the daily lives of Dalit women challenged with the double burden of housework and fieldwork each day.
    One of the Sahayoginis interviewed, twenty-year old Kanthamma, has studied up to tenth class. Her family owns six acres of land, and all her four brothers and sisters are educated. Kanthamma outlines her life before and after her involvement in MSK,
Before working for MSK, I used to work in the fields all day. Now, I go to the fields sometimes. I can't do work as a Sahayogini, work in the fields, and go to school. The examinations are so hard, it requires a lot of time to study. I don't have that much time, so I cannot go on with my schooling.
As her statements indicate, even though Kanthamma was a high school graduate, she was doing field labour before becoming employed by MSK. Her example reveals that one of the contradictions in gender empowerment programs is that they result in producing higher levels of educated, under-employed women who live in the rural areas, with few employment options besides fieldwork. In spite of this fact, Kanthamma would like to continue her schooling, but realises that she does not have the time for two jobs and school at the same time. Although seldom addressed, these issues need to be taken into account by development programs.
Older Respondents' Educational Achievement
    Despite the fact that the MSK program has spent a significant portion of its annual budget in providing literacy training to disadvantaged rural women in Bidar district during the last five years, there has been little literacy achievement among older nonliterate women involved with the program, although some have learned to sign their names. The five older women included in the sample are still nonliterate, even though the program considers them as neoliterate.
    Similarily, in spite of various training programs for adult education (AE) teachers provided by MSK, progress in literacy among them has been slow as the majority of the older AE teachers have skills in reading and writing around the 3-4 class level. Likewise, various MSK training programs for crèche teachers have made little progress in literacy as the crèche teachers in the study sample, and in the entire program as well, are all still nonliterate. Unlike the younger women in the sample, a much more limited amount of literacy skills is "absorbed" by the older women, and their willingness to participate in literacy training decreases significantly after they learn the skill of signing their names.

Employment and Change in Self Identities Among Older Women

    Each of the Dalit women respondents lead very complex lives and so they have complex identities as care givers, manual labourers, domestic workers, and so on. Their participation in AE classes, Sangha meetings, crèche training, and other training programs requires courage and resistance, which in turn, over time, brings about their improved mobility within and outside of the village. For many respondents, participating with MSK gives them a status, a job, and a salary, hence going outside of the home and village is okay. Their work and status correspondingly allows them to resist negative stereotypes associated with nonliteracy and embrace the unusual (for them) role of learner.
    Employment as crèche teachers led to changes in self identities among many women who are otherwise compelled to remain within class, gender and caste based occupations like agricultural labourer and construction worker. Employment as adult education (AE) and crèche teachers correspondingly permit Dalit women to express unconventional employment and educational identities.
    Moreover, receiving a monthly salary and having the responsibility of managing a school/crèche budget generates feelings of enhanced self-worth among the most disadvantaged, older women respondents. Dalit families and village communities are forced to acknowledge the altered roles of these women, and their self-confidence in their learning translates into a resolve among many respondents to stand independently on their "own two feet" in solving the problems in their life, and to teach other less fortunate women and villagers.
    In answer to the question, "how does your family feel about your involvement in the Sangha?" Sundaramma, the oldest respondent, an AE teacher and leader of her Sangha, illustrates how patriarchy relates to education among older women,
In the beginning, the family members would say, "why do you go to the Sangha? What do you do there?" But I explained to them, I love to read and write, so I am learning to read and write, and I don't want to lose this opportunity. Then, my husband said, "yes, you studied when you were young, so you can go. Plus my children were all educated.
As Sundaramma informs us access to prior education became an important issue in formulating (i) resistance to her family and community, (ii) to her pursuing further learning through MSK, and (iii) to her husband's eventual approval of her participation.
    Fifty year old Ghallemma, who is an AE teacher and Sangha leader, had access to education up to third class as a child. When asked, "how does your family feel about your work as AE teacher?" Ghallemma describes her husband's initial reaction,
My husband used to make fun of me, saying, "you are called teacher now”. Then I said, "no, they are respecting me”.
Even though she may not considered a "teacher" in the professional sense, nevertheless, village women were using the term as a form of respect for Ghallemma’s efforts in teaching them whatever literacy skills she knew.
    In several other cases, it was found that prior educational status proved important in a Dalit husband's approval of the new status of his wife as teacher. To illustrate, Ghallemma's husband now tells her: "Instead of sitting at home, go and teach. You got the respect, so go. You'll also learn something”. In response to the question, "how do the other husbands feel about their wives attending AE night classes?" Ghallemma interprets Dalit men's disposition in relation to her status as teacher,
Their husbands say to their wives, "you can go and learn, but you should not go to other villages to attend meetings because you don't understand or know anything”. They say to me, "if you want to take them to meetings in other places, take them with you because you are good enough to understand all of these things.
    These husbands’ attitudes reflect, in part, respect for Ghallemma's age and new status in the village community as a teacher/leader of Dalit women. Village women travelling together outside the village without their husbands, also suggest that Dalit women are collectively empowered in being able to break free of patriarchal and cultural restrictions on female mobility. The data contains a few instances of rural Dalit husbands who are more supportive of the wives' involvement with the MSK program. To cite an instance, Tulsama discloses,
My husband would not say anything to me and in the village, people along with the DPC also told him, "it was good for your wife to do this job”. My husband said to them, "if you want to help our village women, why should we say no”.
    Sundaramma elucidates how she changed since becoming involved with the program as an AE teacher and Sangha member,
Before the Sangha started, we were doing the household work, taking care of the children, fieldwork, and so on. After the Sangha came, it is like a new life... Through this program we got more knowledge. We came out the door, and we are learning more things. Before, we had our family responsibilities. Now we have the responsibility of all women in the villages... Now we are knowing about other people, having conversation, travelling, and so on. Now we are going to Bangalore, Mysore, Bijapur, Gulbarga and other places, and we are seeing how those people are living. So like this our life has changed.
Sundaramma informs us that through the MSK program, the women are able to gain more knowledge of gender awareness, which lead to them coming "out the door" This is a popular reference among respondents and it refers to the lives of many Dalit women trapped behind the walls of the patriarchal household, engaged in domestic production. By leaving the confines of the home and male authority, women are now able to experience and learn about the larger society outside the doors of their gender confinement. In a like manner, Sahayogini Kanthamma clarify changes in her social skills and mobility,
I never used to mingle with other people. After coming to Mahila Samakhya, I learn to mix with the other people. In the beginning, it was difficult for me to go anywhere, and now I travel anywhere.
    Sundaramma explains further how she changed since becoming involved with the program as an AE teacher and Sangha member,
Now I am able to remember all that I learned when I was a child going to school... I wanted to learn whatever I had forgotten. Again, it is coming out in the Sangha. I though, "why should I not learn?" I have a love of reading and writing.
In the same way, nonliterate Tulsama describes how she changed since becoming a crèche teacher,
When MSK leaves, everybody will continue. It doesn't matter if I am not paid. I enjoy the work. I gain knowledge and now I travel alone.
    Employment, even at the token salary of a volunteer, led to increased status among other Dalit women in the village community as a whole. Through involvement and interaction with the program, many women feel they have developed the communication skills needed to solve their problems. To illustrate, the women declare that they now have the courage to talk to government officials and program officers.
    Along with enhanced communication skills, women more importantly now have access to bureaucratic power through MSK as students and staff of the program. This increased access to power is related to individual and collective empowerment, in the form of heightened courage to confront the mostly male, caste Hindu authorities in the district. Needless to say, the development of "communication skills" and confidence to talk is a gradual process.

Becoming an Adult Education (AE) Teacher
    The acting district program co-ordinator of MSK in Bidar admits that there are only ten to fifteen functioning adult education (AE) centres in the district, out of the sixty stated in the program's 1994 annual report. Participant observation in several villages with "functioning" AE and NFE centres reveal that teachers often do not hold classes due to several reasons, including lack of students' attendance.
    Several women protest that the nominal salaries of Rs. 105 per month paid to AE and NFE teachers leads to degraded morale among them. Crèche and Kendra teachers likewise bemoan the lack of adequate compensation for services rendered. Adult education classes are held in the Sangha hut or village community hall if there is no Sangha hut, at night. The teachers and students have to use their own books and pencils while MSK provide chalk and a chalk board to each class.
    Adult education teachers employed by the MSK program in the district are an assorted group of females and males of different ages, educational levels, marital status, and family size. The older AE teachers employed by the program are all neoliterate. Of the three AE teachers included in the study sample, two of the women's family owned small amounts of land. Even though the women AE teachers employed by the program usually had limited literacy skills, they were exceptions among the majority of nonliterate Dalit women in their village.
    Employment as teachers leads to personal satisfaction among many older respondents; for instance, Anthonamma describes her joy as an AE teacher, "I am happy, because I learned and I also teach my villagers”. The opportunity to teach permit women like Anthonamma and others, to change negative identities such as "illiterate”, "uneducated”, unable to learn, and coolie, to that of student in MSK training programs, and teacher of other women.
    Fifty year old AE teacher, Ghallemma, typical of her older students, recognises that she always had a deep regard for learning:
I went to school when I was small. I wanted to learn, so I asked the Sahayoginis... I can now read, but it is difficult for me to write. I can read unto to second, third standard. It is difficult for me to understand sometimes. I don't get the time to learn more, I have to go to fieldwork.
Ghallemma's situation is like so many older women who have a keen appeal to learn, except they have to work in order to earn money for survival. Ghallemma characterises her students as follows:
Twenty women are there in the class, five or six of my age, a few younger to me, and some are mother of two, three children.
Another respondent, Chitrama, describes the fifteen students in her class as twenty to sixty years old and all married. She explains how her students learn in the AE class,
The women are asking to write the first alphabet. I told them to make a sun, then make a bar. We make lines of their names in the dirt and ask them to trace their names.
In one and a half years since she started teaching the women, Chitrama outlines their progress as follows,
Five can write their address, four can write alphabets, and the rest are learning to write their names. Younger women learn faster, and they are the ones who can write their names.
    Chitrama's results are better than what other AE teachers claim for their classes; still, according to a typical literacy training program, even her results are considered as very slow progress. With only four women able to write their address, there has been little literacy achievement among women in the AE classes. Yet, most of the women are learning to sign their names, and this is an important achievement for them. Chitrama accounts that there are age differences in learning among the women, as did Ghallemma who define these variances:
The older women say, "knowing to write our name is enough. We don't want to learn to write alphabets and all. This is enough for us”. The younger one say, "it (AE classes) is good, we have to learn, so we will learn much”. I want them all to learn but they don't want to learn. The older women say, "we are old, that is enough, so you teach the younger women with one or two child. It is easy for them”.
As both Ghallemma and Chitrama suggests, younger, nonliterate Dalit women in village are more engaged in learning literacy skills. The older Dalit women in Ghallemma's village are suggesting in their statement, "it is easy for them (younger women)”, that the characteristic of age is related to one's ability to learn formal literacy skills. This indicate that their expectations in learning literacy skills are much less than younger women, or that they accept the general idea that learning literacy is for young people only.
    In contrast, fifteen year old Neelavati, another former nonliterate, specifies the problems she had in attending the MSK AE and NFE classes held in her village:
There was a night school teacher who used to teach my mother in the AE night school. There is an NFE school also, but I did not go there because my parents would not send me out at nights. I used to go to the AE night school for one year, but not daily. Classes were held daily and this school was closer to my house, so I used to go there. I wanted to study more but my parents did not send me. Only learning to sign my name was not much for me. But my father would not send me. I used to go to the Sangha meetings also.
    More important than literacy achievements though, women's participation in MSK adult education program spawns unexpected changes among them. To cite an instance, the process of selecting an AE teacher brings village women together, and promotes leadership qualities and trust among rural Dalit women. The salary paid to an AE teacher may be small, yet it amounts to a significant contribution to the women's earnings, and so the position is an important one. The responsibility of selecting a woman from among themselves to receive a salary from MSK is an important early exercise for the women involved in village Sangha (collective).
    The process of selecting an AE teacher usually involve Dalit women from the village Sangha making a group decision after considering the possible choices and informing the Sahayogini of their choice. Women who are so democratically selected to become teachers gain the respect, support and confidence from other village women and often become leaders of the women's collective. The job with MSK provides money and promotes leadership among the teachers, but the decision making process also instil a sense of accomplishment and mutual purpose among the women involved in the collective. Progress in literacy may be moderate, still the AE class is an important part of the formation and continuation of village women's collectives.
    When asked, "how did you become an AE teacher?" one fifty year old respondent, Ghallemma, expounds upon how she became elected,
I talk with the people a lot. I have courage, I am bold. So, Sangha women elected me to teach them. The women said, "there are educated girls there, but they are married, so it is better if you teach us”. There is one learned woman in the village, but she has one small child, so she is not free to move around. I don't have any small child to take care of, that is why they elected me.
    These statements suggest that women in the village involved with the MSK Sangha have an appeal to learning from an older woman who has much less literacy skills, rather than learning from a more educated, but younger woman. The issue of child care was also an important consideration in their decision. Ghallemma's boldness and good relations with the women meant that she was already respected as a leader. Her selection and subsequent involvement with the program help to develop these leadership qualities in her. At one monthly meeting, she was selected by the women to speak to the research team for other women on the issues they face.
    In like fashion, fifty-four year old Sundaramma started her association with the program as an AE teacher four years ago, and was elected president of an organisation comprising of all the MSK women's Sanghas in the district. Her selection as an AE teacher developed into leadership skills as she emerges as the most powerful Dalit woman in MSK’s Bidar program. She describe the process of her selection as follows:
When I was a young girl, I studied up to third standard, in the Christian mission school. As a girl, I knew how to read and write. By seeing me, the MSK people asked me to teach the other women. At that time, there were eighteen women in the Sangha, but there was no Sangha hut. So I was teaching in a farmer's hut. Then we made light facility. I am a Sangha woman.
As Sundaramma suggest, her work as a teacher became important in forming a women's collective in her village, and her identity is now firmly entrenched in the program.

Becoming a Day Care or Crèche Teacher
    Although none of them became neoliterate, the process of selecting a crèche teacher brought women together in a way they did not do before. As in the case with selecting an AE teacher, the responsibility of selecting a woman from among themselves to take care of their children is another important early exercise for the women involved in village Sangha. Unlike AE teachers, however, crèche teachers do not receive the respect and encouragement to become leaders of the Sangha as they are selected from among "ordinary" nonliterate village women.
    Typical of other Dalit women in the district, thirty-five year old crèche teacher, Tulsama, depicts her family as follows:
I have four children, two girls and two boys. Three children go to school. The eldest daughter, twenty years old, is married since five years back and she never went to school. My husband works in the field as a coolie.
Tulsama and her eldest daughter never went to school and both were married at fifteen years of age. She expounds upon how a day care centre or crèche was started in her village four years ago through the help of the MSK program,
In the village, when we used to go to work, we would take two or three children along with us. And, the employers would say, "how can you work with these children?" and they never used to give us the work. So, we used to take the grown up girls along with us, seven years old and above. Then the DPC ask us, "why don't you send them to school?" And we told her that if we did not take them to take care of the children, we would not get work. So she said, "this is not good. Elect two women of the village to take care of the children and then you can go to work”. So the women decided to start a crèche.
    This respondent explains some of the harsh survival issues poor Dalit women face in the rural community, and the complex decisions they must make in order to feed their families and take care of young children. Lack of childcare facilities compels mothers to have their eldest child provide this vital service to younger siblings, so that they could seek employment as coolie labourers at below minimum wage. The MSK district program co-ordinator used this issue to organise the women and the task of electing a crèche teacher became an important exercise in the group's formation. Tulsama subsequently accounts how she got elected as the crèche teacher by the village women, earning two hundred and fifty rupees a month:
I was elected by the Sangha women to teach the small children... There are forty children in my crèche, from one to four years of age. Sometimes they would leave three to four months old children with us. I have one helper, and we are the teachers of the crèche. Our children are grown up, we don't have small children. The other women cannot move about like us, that's why we were elected. There are twenty women in the Sangha, and we were also elected because we had some nurturing, teacher qualities. We were Sangha women and we would call the other women to Sangha meetings. We can talk to the other people and the children could stay with us nicely, so we were elected.
As Tulsama spells out, her election as a crèche teacher was a deliberate, careful democratic process involving the other Dalit women of her village. Selection of crèche teachers is based on issues important to village women, such as household responsibilities, caring, teaching and communication skills. This process of making a choice and the women's involvement with the MSK program results in meaningful changes among the village women and selected teachers, for instance in terms of access to child care and employment.
    Another crèche teacher, Sangamma, around forty years old, had worked as a helper or assistant teacher in a crèche for four months when interviewed. Sangamma is a widow with four children, one married daughter, fourteen years old; and three sons, four to ten years of age. She is more critical of the selection process as she makes clear how she became reluctantly elected a crèche teacher by the Sahayogini and women of her village Sangha:
I was asked to do the crèche work for eight rupees. Then I was thinking, "how can I do it?" I said to Chandarma, that it is not enough. But Chandarma said, "don't say no sister, you are a widow”. Then the Sahayogini came and said, "elect someone from among yourself”. All said, "no, we cannot manage for eight rupees”. So nobody was ready and all. Then some Sangha members said, "let Sangamma be elected. She is in very poor condition, let them give her eight rupees or later. Show and let her manage herself, and only she can handle. So let her sit in the crèche and work”.
    Sangamma testifies that none of the Sangha women, including herself, are willing to work as a crèche helper for eight rupees a day. She implies that the women in the Sangha chose her, in part because they meet with pressure from the Sahayogini and other program staff to get a crèche started in her village. This suggests another of the contradictory elements of gender empowerment programs as it creates various programmatic demands among the women, who in seeking to establish a relationship with the program and thereby empower themselves, are further obligated into selecting someone to do a job no one really wants. Sangamma's selection is more a reflection of her lowly status and powerlessness in the village Sangha, rather than on her poverty and need, as suggested by the district program co-ordinator (DPC). Sangamma continues,
But still I was not ready to work because during harvest we get coolie work and even pick up the grains which fall down, and thus our work goes. They said, "she is telling like that" and I did not open my mouth to say I am ready. They with their own interest wrote my name and walked away.
    Sangamma characterises her selection as an undemocratic process which did not include her, as she was "volunteered" by the Sangha women to help run the crèche in her village. She is somewhat resentful as her struggle to feed herself and children, and work at the crèche at the same time, is not easy as she illustrates,
I go to the crèche and work, and I get eight rupees a day and with that somehow I try to live. But actually, it is not enough for our living. Sometimes I do coolie work. Sometimes I don't get that and I pass the day by eating gangi made out of small pieces of rice. Sometimes we don't get that also.
As Sangamma makes evident, it is hard for a mother and children to survive on the income of a crèche teacher and so she is compelled to continue working as a coolie labourer. As a poor widow with servile status, she may be empowered at the village level as a village crèche teacher; however, due to the menial salary she receives, Sangamma is economically dis-empowered at the same time.

Literacy, Signing of Names and Changes in Sense of Self
    Older respondents who are adult education (AE) teachers are able to reflect on changes in their sense of self as well as changes in other women in the villages who are their students and friends in the Sangha. When asked, "what changes have occurred in the women as a result of the classes?" AE teacher, Ghallemma, focuses on the distinction of learning to sign one's name:
The women go to the ration shop and buy their essentials. They go to those shops and write their names. They come to me and say, "sister, we are happy that we can sign our names on the ration card”. To the children, for their scholarship application, there also they go and sign. I tell them that my work should not go to waste, "you should learn”.
    As Ghallemma explains, village women are "happy" and proud to tell her of their ability to sign their names at shops. Still, some women are uncomfortable to practice their new skill at first, but with encouragement they become empowered by doing so, as Ghallemma makes evident,
Once there was one woman who knew how to write her name. But instead of signing, she continued to put her thumb impression. Her daughter said, "mother, you know how to sign, so you should sign”. Then she signed and she came and told me, "I signed!" She was happy and proud when she said this.
    Older women involved with MSK have less exposure to nonformal educational curriculum and materials, in contrast to nonformal education (NFE) classes and the Kendra for younger women. Demands on their time, as well as other factors, do not encourage them to learn more than signing their names. Ghallemma explains, "I have to go to every house and call them. They do labour and are tired”. As a result, older respondents are less inclined to view education for themselves as the most important aspect of their own changes. To cite an instance, they are not likely to link education for themselves to changes in career goals or to demand education as a right as the young women do.
    Sangamma, a crèche teacher, internalise the relationship between literacy and power as suggested in her admission, "Actually, we are illiterate and it has made us dull. But it is good for me if I learn”. By this statement, she may be indicating that women like herself are dull due to their lack of literacy, and that scarcity has resulted in their lack of formal knowledge and powerlessness.
    Indeed, Sangamma, like most of the other nonliterate respondents, further indicates an understanding of the power of her signature, and what literacy skills represents in general when she states, "it is necessary to learn, to be literate, so that you can become independent”. Nevertheless, Sangamma defines literacy in her own terms (at a level of learning to sign her name), given the pressing survival tasks she faces everyday. Many older respondents admit that they had great difficulty in learning literacy; for instance, Sangamma explains,
Actually, sahibs (male teachers) and all come and talk about literacy, but soon I forget it. If I try to recall what they teach me, I can't. It is because of my worries.. 
Older women find it difficult to spend the time and motivation necessary to become literate, and moreover, if they are worried over food, clothing and shelter, they will not remember what they are taught. This is not to say that older women are not interested in learning as Sangamma clarifies her interest in learning:
I never went to school. After coming to this Sangha, I am trying to learn, but still I am not able to write my own name... Education is important because we used to put the thumb impression and do the hard work. Educated people do not work in the hot sun, they work in the shade.
    To cite another instance, despite her lack of access to formal education, Ghallemma tearfully recalls her engrossment in learning as a child,
I felt that if my parents had sent me to school, I would learn a lot. I would be an educated person. Sometimes when there are learned people around I feel depressed and frustrated... I used to go to school when I was small, But later, we were in poverty and they stopped me from going to school. Sometimes I used to pick up a piece of paper and try to read, but father used to tell me, "throw it away, sometime will come when you will learn”. Now the time has come for me to learn at this late stage. Whenever I used to go to the market to buy something I used to read the packet, the newspaper it was wrapped in. I used to go to neighbouring girls and ask them to teach me.
    From her statement above, Ghallemma indicates that poverty was the main cause for her dropping out of primary school, and that her father played a central role in determining her access to school and learning materials. Ghallemma further attest to an often ignored fact in literate societies, that nonliteracy leads to depression and frustration among the literacy-disadvantaged populations.
    Many of the older respondents insinuate that the opportunity for oral communication was far more important to them than literacy activities conducted by the program. The opportunity to talk to other Dalit women is an important issue raised by respondents when summing up their involvement in the program's activities. For instance, Sangamma below refers to the plural "we" in describing how she changed as a result of her involvement in the MSK program:
Now we are going out of houses to the meetings the first time and I can meet many people - different types of people and from different villages... Like before (being employed in) this program, it was great trouble. Anyway, this is my first step in my life about education. But now it is good we are learning. We are going out of houses to the meetings for the first time and I can meet many people. Different types of people from different villages. And I listen carefully to what they say and I learn more.
    Sangamma’s statements are similar to the findings of other researchers who argue that circumstances which provide rural women with new opportunities for coming together, for increased social participation, and new forms of experience, may contribute to new forms of consciousness and collective action among them (McCarthy 1993:324). It is argued that the gendered processes of mobilizing women for development are contradictory in their effects and often generate unintended forms of resistance and empowerment among women to specific program activity such as literacy training.

Curriculum and Resistance
    As mentioned earlier, the Mahila Samakhya program did not develop any curriculum of its own and program staff and teachers are forced to rely on existing school books. One exception is the herbal medicine trainer who is producing curriculum related to women's health. Largely due to her training of Sahayoginis, health and hygiene are commonly discussed in Sangha meetings. Diseases that are born out of insanitary conditions are discussed and women are taught ways of improving their health, their environment and that of their children (GOK 1994a).
    Notwithstanding, MSK uses a top-down, "banking" approach (Freire 1970; 1973; Illich 1971) in its educational activities. While it is important to raise health related issues with rural women, this approach should be accompanied by discussions addressing the underlying or root causes for poor health, such as poverty; poor housing, living, and working conditions; lack of access to clean water, soap, and so on. Otherwise, these programs run the risk of blaming women for their own poor health and hygiene.
    In addition to health, Sahayoginis often discuss women's status in meetings, and read from newsletters like Bhima, Sollu, Helu-Kelu, and Namma-Nimma Matu. New words, concepts and ideas which come up in the discussion context are analysed by Sahayoginis who play a key role in identifying the words and concepts for discussion. For instance, the "Great Wall of China", "brain", and "brain fever", "electricity", "needle", "ghosts and demons", "eyes", "post mortem", "fire", "quarrels", and "salt-making", are words which have been discussed from many angles (GOK 1994a). It is significant to note that Sahayoginis chose words which are very general and without much relevance to the lives of rural triply oppressed Dalit women. These key words may allow for a focus on gender issues, but they largely ignore class and caste issues.
    Sahayoginis use the booklet Magalu Doddavaladalu as the subject of discussion in many Sanghas. Through this book Sahayoginis explore the concept of pollution attached to women during menstruation and the cruel practices that are observed at home and outside during this period. Sahayoginis also try to explain the matriarchal structure of Indian society and its transition to a patriarchal one, which results in a deterioration in the status of women (GOK 1994a). This issue of menstrual pollution is much more significant to caste Hindu communities than to Dalits, and so it is unclear how much of these discussions on gender and ideology are actually relevant to or even understood by rural Dalit women.
    Moreover, it is apparent that rural Dalit women and girls are constantly resisting the program's imposed gender focus, and that whenever they get together, the women themselves generate curriculum which is more pertinent to their lives. By way of illustration, during an annual meeting held in Bidar town, a great variety of skits, songs, stick dances, and speeches were performed by Dalit women involved with the program, centring on issues deemed important to the performers.
    One group of young women composed and sang a song about child marriage, and another about caste oppression, and yet another about child labour. A group of ten students from the Kendra performed a skit about class\caste oppression and nonliteracy by focusing on the problems of obtaining loans from caste Hindu landowners. The older women sang folk tunes about the love of mother and child, regional songs, and fieldwork songs. Although the women frequently sing about Ambedkar in the villages, they do not do so often at MSK meetings, perhaps fearing reprisal from caste Hindu program functionaries. In the context of their villages, however, the women are more free to pursue  their own interests and develop their own curriculum, and many chose to focus on caste issues.
Nonliterate Learning and Teaching
    Apart from training on gender issues, MSK provides a fair amount of regular education to the women as well. And even though crèche teachers and many of the adult education teachers are nonliterate, they still have to give an account to MSK for their budget and explain how they are managing the crèche, NFE and AE classes at monthly meetings held in Bidar town. After the end of one of these monthly meetings, crèche teachers were asked, "what do you discuss in the meeting?" to which Tulsama elucidates,
Here, they ask, "how you teach, how many students are doing well, how you are spending your time?" We don't know how to read and write, so whatever we do, we'll keep in our minds and then tell them. Then, whatever we learn here, we'll go and tell the children.
    Tulsama narrates further how she got the crèche set up,
In the beginning, I did not know anything. I only know field work and house work. In the Sangha meeting, they explained to us how to dress, how to talk, sit, etc. Once a month, they teach us how to play games and sing songs to the children. They took us to another village which had a crèche and we saw what the teachers were doing there. After seeing that we followed how they did. We don't know how to read and write so we did it like them.
Various strategies are used by these nonliterate women to perform, record and report their tasks as crèche, adult, and nonformal education teachers, such as learning by example, memorising, singing songs, playing cards and games, finger counting, and using stones, bangles, leaves, small charts, pictures, and drawings.
    Sangamma relates how she teaches the children in her crèche,
I call all the children and ask them to sit in the crèche and tell them "I'll give you biscuits”, etc. And if there are more children, I give one or two each. If less, I give one more. Also, I ask them, "oh children, count 1, 2, 3, 4... so that you can learn in school”, and they say it. Thus I pass my time.
Sangamma admits that she uses biscuits as a way of getting children to attend the crèche, and once there, she teaches them mathematics skills. Participant observation of crèche classes reveal that these nonliterate women are dedicated crèche teachers who are not "limited" by a "lack" of literacy skills. For instance, Sangamma is very good at telling stories and rhymes which helps the children to learn various cognitive and social skills such as speaking, memorisation, sequence of events, singing and sharing. She is, moreover, an affectionate teacher who embrace and comfort infants and younger children in need of attention.
    Sahayogini Kanthamma recounts some of the problems nonliterate woman in the villages have, for instance in not being able to recognise and count currency:
One lady who used to sell their cow's milk, was unable to recognise the rupee notes. If she had to go to the shop, her husband used to give her the correct amount for the items she was going to buy, and no more. Once, one person took milk from her and gave her a two rupee note, saying that it was a one hundred rupee note. Her husband was mad at her as she never knew money, so her never let her make any money transactions afterwards.
As Kanthamma indicates, nonliteracy in financial transactions further limits poor women's access to material resources, and increase their economic dependence on literate kin, usually males. Kanthamma explain further how she helped this woman to learn numerical skills and develop herself as an individual,
I showed her "this is a one hundred rupee note, this is a ten rupee note, this is a one rupee note”, and so on. I taught her the difference between them. Now she can recognise the notes and her husband allows her to make money transactions.
    The sample include a nonliterate herbal specialist, Chandarma, who spells out how she memorises information provided in herbal medicine training workshops conducted by Gangamma:
It was difficult. I don't know to read and write. They used to keep that (knowledge) in writing, whereas I have to remember. So sometimes I used to get up from my sleep and used to recollect all what they said and memorised it. In the meeting, Gangamma asked me to tell all that I know and I said it. Then I tell nine different names (of diseases) and the name of the medicinal plants to give to the people.
    Chandarma further describes how she diagnoses and treats patients:
I give medicine for diseases. I extract oil. For calatropis, I take a white root, peel and crush in rice starch. I give that medicine for four months. Now it is curing... For diagnosis of jaundice, I take some rice in a coconut shell and put some wine in that. Then the colour of the rice changes according to the type of jaundice. For bleeding, I see the time duration, for how many days it occurs.
At the time of her interview, Chandarma had multiple identities working as a village leader, vice-president of the Sangha, herbal medicine specialist, providing herbal medicine training for other women, serving as a daiyama (midwife), and working as a crèche teacher. Chandarma's life challenges current development paradigms which view literacy as the most important factor in gender empowerment by demonstrating that, given the opportunity for nonformal learning of meaningful skills, women can become empowered.

Forming a Women's Collective (Sangha)
    Rural Dalit women are very wary of development workers, even women from their own caste background. The women complain that they have spent much time participating in rural development programs in the past, but gained little in terms of material benefits. Given their negative experiences with development programs, rural Dalit women are fearful to even talk to program functionaries. In addition, they face resistance from their husbands who feel suspicious and threatened by a program aimed exclusively to their wives.
    When asked the question, "how did you and the MSK program help the village women to develop as individuals?" one Sahayogini, replied,
In terms of individual development, in the beginning, when we went to talk to them, they were not willing to talk to us. They had a fear of talking to us. In the workshops, they never spoke.
Another Sahayogini recalled how she overcame village women's reluctance to participate in the program,
I would keep going back to the villages to have meetings with them. I would go house to house, to call them to the meeting. In this way I won their doubts and got them to attend the Sangha meetings.
    A different view of rural Dalit women's involvement in MSK program activities is presented by one Sahayogini who was not part of the 33 respondents in this study. She explains,
After some time, the women see the Sahayogini coming to their villages again and again, and they wanted to know her (the Sahayogini) problems. Then they became good friends with us.
This respondent imply that it was the village women who offered to help the Sahayogini to do her job of organising them.
    Thirty-five year old Dalit respondent, Tulsama, offers a more typical explanation of how the Sanghas got started and how she became a Sangha member four years ago:
In the beginning, the DPC use to come and tell me about the Sangha, and we twenty women gathered together. They used to ask about how much money we would earn as coolie labourers. Then, listening to them, we got some knowledge and slowly we build the Sangha hut. Now and then we used to go to some meetings, and now and then they used to come and supervise us.
From Tulsama's comments, we learn that some program functionaries use class analysis in their approach to organising Dalit women. Nonetheless, the issue of workers' rights was never taken up as the program's focus is on organising women around gender issues like childcare, education and small savings accounts.
    An older woman, Sundaramma, clarifies how she became involved with the program six years ago,
Veedamani was the co-ordinator at the time. She came to the village and told us about the Sangha. First it was AIKYA, then it became MSK. We were working in the fields when she came. Then we women discussed about this and we started holding meetings.
Sundaramma’s statements indicate that some Dalit women are already organised informally as workers in the fields, and they are now being encouraged by MSK functionaries to hold meetings in the evenings.
    After working together in the hot sun, doing field labour all the day, rural Dalit women confront a double day in the evenings, working at home. Meeting together in the evenings meant spending less time with their families, and finding someone else (usually a daughter or daughter-in-law) to perform household tasks for them. For young married women, the additional problem of convincing husbands to agree to them leaving the house after dark is an important issue as well. Yet Dalit women in village after village in the district are finding the time and energy to meet and hold meetings and classes in the evenings. This serves as an indication of their agency and collective desire to improve their lives, in defiance of gender, class and caste oppressions.

Resisting Patriarchy and Organising Village Women's Sanghas
    The program's village functionaries are trained to organise women through discussion of collective issues, before they "talk about individual development”. It is significant to note that the data reveal that in some instances, this focus on the collective over the individual could lead to overlooking differences which exist among and between Dalit and non-Dalit women in the village, and thereby reinforce or create further divisions between village women.
    Sahayoginis were asked the question, "how do you go about organising the women into a Sangha?" to which Kanthamma, a Sahayogini for two years, spells out:
From every Sangha, we gather members from each village and tell them the aim of our work, the aim of the Sangha, for example, "why should we make a Sangha, how far can it be helpful by making a Sangha, how can our lives be changed, etc.?" And when they understand about the Sangha, then we'll talk about individual development. And when they come to know about their life, then they will come to know about the role of women in society, what they can give to society, and so on. Now we are in the last stage, economic development. So in this way we give them the training. Now, they have started to save in all ten of my villages.
The focus on the individual is yet another mechanism to get women to contribute more to society in the form of savings, micro-enterprise, and so forth.
    Some of the respondents’ statements hint at tensions among rural Dalit women in the village, which serves to limit the growth of the Sangha and education classes. When asked about disputes among the women in the village, Ghallemma explains:
I teach them, "if you have any disputes among yourself, it is up to your house. You will not go to their house, they will not come to your house. But I am here teaching, and all are equal, so come and I'll teach you”.
    Patriarchy is the most common problem the program encounters in organising Dalit women. Even if they are willing, many rural Dalit women in the district who are interested in joining the Sangha or to attend adult education night school classes in their village, are prevented from doing so by their husbands. As one form of patriarchal control, husbands use violence, and the threat of violence, to prevent their wives from attending Sangha meetings. Yet, Dalit women are resisting community and family pressures to attend Sangha meetings and pursue new gender roles.
    Kanthamma describe how women are individually and collectively resisting violence and patriarchy in one of her Sanghas:
In Janwarda village, a woman had an interest to come to the Sangha, but her husband used to beat her... This is the most common problem. They never send their wives outside of their house. We discussed this woman in the Sangha and we all went and talked to the husband. We told him, "she has an interest to learn something, so let her learn a little. If you beat her, she would feel bad. She wants to know about us, to meet us, so why do you beat her? If she is doing something wrong, then you can beat her, otherwise, send her”. Seven women from the village and other villages, and I, went and tried to console him. But he denied everything. He said, "no, I did not beat her”. So after that, he started to send her to the Sangha meetings. Now she is coming and her husband is not beating her.
    There are several studies which examine violence against Dalit women (Gnanadason 1990; Das 1995; Rege 1995). In one study, 75 percent of Dalit husbands admitted to beating their wives and more than 75 percent of Dalit wives reported that they were "regularly beaten”. Three Dalit husbands confessed to beating their wives so much that medical treatment had to be given to them. Wives blamed their husband's violent behavior to (i) frustration due to poverty, (ii) their suspicious nature, (iii) quarrelsome children, and especially, (iv) liquor and drunkenness, (v) and back-biting by in-laws (Mahajan 1990).
    Violence is directed against the wife because she is physically weak, economically dependent and socially assigned a degraded status. When the wives were asked, "Why did you not leave the aggressive husband?" they replied that they had no place to go even if they hated being humiliated. The study reveals that domestic violence "occurs when neither the family nor other support systems meet the needs and demands of the individual, when a violent mode of expression is readily available and when it is endorsed and rewarded" (Mahajan 1990:7).
    In response to domestic violence, Kanthamma’s statements above shows how the Sangha is using customary forms and strategies of women's resistance, like community sanction, to confront patriarchy. Challenged with collective gender actions and community sanction, many husbands are compelled to grudgingly approve their wives' attendance.
    Respondents are constantly resisting patriarchy and restrictions on their mobility and employment, as Laxmiamma states,
My husband listens to his parents. Right now, I am trying to get a job in another town, but I did not tell anyone at home. If I get that job, I have decided that I will take it.
In defiance of her inferior status in her in-laws' household, Laxmiamma is actively resisting this process of gender indoctrination, and is seeking ways in which she and her husband can live alone, away from her in-laws' control.

Resisting Programmatic Activities and Gender Empowerment
    There are many contradictions within gender empowerment programs. In teasing out some of these contradictions, and the responses of respondents to these incongruities, the development of ideas in this section draws heavily upon McCarthy (1993). One illustration of contradiction in the MSK program is that the class and caste differences between program staff and participants serve to reinforce societal divisions within the program rather than stated intentions of reducing them. These inconsistencies are not unknown to respondents, who responds in a variety of ways, from lack of interest to resistance to the program.
    Given the hierarchical, vertical, pyramid-like structures created by the patriarchal society, feminists have pointed out that it is especially important for women to created non- hierarchical, horizontal, circle-like spaces for women in order not to perpetuate patriarchal society and power. The rural Dalit women who participate in the MSK program are prevented from acquiring access to formalised power in the program and in spite of stated program goals, they are excluded from collaborative decision making processes regarding program policies and activities which directly influence them. To illustrate, Dalit women are not consulted in decisions regarding provision of funds and organisational resources to Sanghas, the types of training and educational programs they feel are needed, salaries paid to teachers, and so on.
    Program participants have absolutely no input in deciding how MSK funds are to be spent, notwithstanding the fact that they contribute their own resources and creative energies to make the program work. Further, the active awareness of women of their condition remains largely unexpressed in MSK program policies and activities. Consequently, rural Dalit women involved with the program are constantly ignoring or are uninterested in the program's empowerment goals and activities.
    It is argued that resistance grows out of and in response to poor, rural Dalit women's existing social conditions, especially the intensification of personal anguish in response to family impoverishment, loss of time and resources, and limited employment opportunities provided by the program. Resistance is also generated in a context where women increase their involvement in once forbidden education and employment fields which help to expose the nature of their social invisibility and provides them with shared experiences of structured inequality inherent in these kinds of programs.
    The most important hidden agenda of state-funded development programs targeted towards rural Dalit women is to limit their fertility. Given poor, rural women's resistance to five decades of family planning policies and programs, the state's population objective is surreptitiously promoted through empowering women from patriarchal domination in familial settings. Consequently, literacy and gender awareness are the two key components of the MSK program. That is, literacy and gender awareness are funded in the hope of leading to reduced fertility among poor women.
    To illustrate, if women are taught to read and are then provided with materials on contraceptives, they might become more interested in family planning; and if they are taught that their problems are not economic or social, but patriarchy, then they may become stronger in resisting patriarchal pressure to create large families. Nonetheless, rural Dalit women are resistant to these programmatic activities as they seek to empower themselves within the family and community with respect to their economic and caste status.
    Many respondents and participants are openly critical of program staff and goals, revealing transcripts that normally remain hidden in staff's presence. Most of the women interviewed express resentment at the limited level of economic assistance offered to them by the program. By way of illustration, several women declare that they had not received a single penny in benefits as individuals, even after four years of involvement with the program. During a district-level training program, one woman protest bitterly about the amount of time she had spent in MSK meetings, and the lack of financial support she receives as compensation for her time. About ten or so other women around listened attentively to her and then shook their heads in agreement. Other respondents likewise report that they lose earnings in time spent participating in program meetings, going to the office, travel and so on.
    In regards to literacy, some women admit they have learned nothing, and one woman attests, "we are completely zero in reading and writing. The Mahila Samakhya people have not taught us anything”. These examples illustrate that program participants are aware of the many contradictions within the MSK program and are upset as a result.
    Sahayoginis are especially resistant to several aspects of the gender empowerment approach used by the program, for example, they fought and got salary increases, and they work to subvert their job descriptions which requires them to travel often and stay overnight in the ten villages they supervise. Participant observation and interviews with village women reveal that Sahayoginis do not visit the villages as often as they should. When asked about her family's response to her work, one Sahayogini explained the problem:
My family response is good. They are happy with my job in MSK. But there is one problem, that is, staying for late nights in the different villages. And this problem we have already put on the agenda of the board meeting.
    Many Sangha women are discontented with the pace of the program in trying to organise other Dalit women. To cite an instance, Sundaramma explains the independent actions of some women to form Sanghas,
In some of the villages, they are no Sahayoginis. So we are going there and we are starting Sanghas and we are developing the women.
As Sundaramma indicates, some village women are voluntarily taking on the role of Sahayogini and are starting women's Sanghas in other nearby villages among Dalit women, independent of the MSK program. Their actions indicate both gender and caste awareness as they are canvassing only other Dalit women, not all village women. Organising and "developing the women" inside and outside of their villages have become important priorities for many women.
    Sangha women and leaders are mobilising Dalit village women around common gender issues like economic exploitation, domestic violence, male alcoholism, and so on. Laxmiamma hints at women's economic exploitation within Dalit families in her comment, "whatever some men earn, they will spend in drink”. Frequently, Dalit men’s income is spent on alcohol as drinking is a common problem among them (Rege 1995). One respondent, Sundaramma, proudly recalls one significant example of Dalit women's protest actions against male alcoholism in her village:
We stopped the selling of arrack (alcohol) in my village last year. Now if any man comes drinking from outside of the village, we tell them that they should not make any noise. They are not selling any arrack in the village anymore. We broke up the shop. Twenty five of us went to do this.
Despite powerful vested interests in maintaining arrack sales, Sundaramma successfully led a group of village women to stop arrack sales in her village, independent of the MSK program.
    Sundaramma was asked to explain the women's decision, and she expounds,
This happened because the men from the village used to drink and beat their wives. The wives came to the Sangha and asked us to do something about it. So we assembled the men in an open area and asked them, "is it good to drink and beat your wives? Is it good that you trouble your wives and other women from the village?" The men listened and did not say anything. Then, they went back to doing the same thing. So we decided to stop the arrack shop. I led the procession to stop the shop.
These statements indicate that other village women came to the Sangha and asked the women for help in stopping domestic violence in their families. This suggest the Sangha is known in the village and women who are not members see it as a group working for women's interests. The Sangha women did not inform the MSK district office, nor were they aided by MSK staff in these actions. After numerous processions in opposition to arrack sales failed, the women then decided to destroy the arrack shop in the village.
    Asked if the village women's movement were opposed by the "upper" castes in their village, Sundaramma admits,
The village Gowda (caste Hindu landowner) helped us because he had some problems with the drunken men. So he encouraged us to stop the shop. Now the arrack seller has opened a tea shop and he would not talk to us.
The above statements divulge that Dalit women in the Sangha are sometimes able to build inter-class and caste alliances with powerful men, such as Vokkaliga landowners.

Chandarma - A Case Study

    Chandarma is around 40 years old, about four feet, ten inches, eighty-five pounds, with brown skin colour and long, grey-black hair. Common among many Dalit women, Chandarma wears a small, red, circular beauty appliqué with semi-religious overtones, or a bindi, in the centre of her forehead. She describes her life before joining MSK:
I have cattle and eight children. So I have to take care of all of them. I have to cook and work at home and there I stay. Then when my mother died, I was not allowed by my husband to stay for one week, the same day I was back... I was sick for many days, a year or so, when my son got married and I was not invited.
Chandarma was asked to explain the reasons why she was not invited to her son's wedding, to which she accounts:
I did not like that relation. I was against marrying that girl to my son. I was opposing the marriage, so my husband and son both were interested and made all the ceremonial arrangements for the marriage. On the wedding day, some of the women were asking whether the boy (groom) has a mother or not, and then other women said, "yes, he has a good, young mother”. Later my husband and other women called me for the wedding. It was when the ceremony was almost over.
These statements illustrate the low status of mothers in the patriarchal Dalit family, whose wishes are repeatedly ignored by husbands and sons. Their powerlessness in the family often leads to feelings of depression as Chandarma accounts:
After a few days of the marriage, I was sick because that hurt me, that without my knowledge and without telling anyone, my son married. I gave birth to him and took care of him. And when he was a child he was sick twice and I went around to the hospitals and other places carrying him for his recovery and treatment. And now he is marrying against my wish. Because of that I was suicidal and not well for a year.
    When asked about how she got involved with MSK, Chandarma replies:
The Sahayogini came to the village for six months but nobody was ready to go with her. When she came to my house, she stayed and she took water and asked my husband for me. He said, "she is a fool. She only knows the household work. She never goes out. She does not know how to count money, she does not know anything”.
The above statements reveal the prevalent attitudes of Dalit husbands who feel that their wives are beyond improvement, and who are therefore reluctant to let development workers have access to them. Nevertheless, MSK staff continued to visit Chandarma's village to encourage Dalit women to form a Sangha, as Chandarma describes:
Later, the MSK herbal trainer called me and diagnosed my problem. She said that I should not worry and I joined the Sangha. From that day onwards I was cured. Without any money I was cured. After joining the Sangha I forgot everything and I felt better. Then I decided that the Sangha is everything to me, my family, children, all. The Sangha is my parents, and the DPC is my parent. So I thought this is my family.
    The isolation and depression Chandarma felt dissipates once she joins the Sangha, indicating that the chance to meet and talk to other women is very empowering for rural women. Chandarma accounts her willingness to change and how she took the initiative to build the Sangha in her village:
I took the Sahayogini with me and built the Sangha hut. I wanted that my name should come up, so when all were opposing to build the Sangha, I took the teacher and build the Sangha hut.


    Although the opportunity to learn literacy opens up new possibilities and choices for older Dalit women, for instance learning to sign their names instead of placing a thumb print, they have to overcome multiple oppressions and stereotypes, and worries over food, clothing and shelter, in order to learn. The fact remains that there has been little improvement in literacy achievement among older respondents, and this suggests that there needs to be different approach to literacy among this group. Literacy ought to be viewed as part of a holistic approach that encompass women's immediate and long term gender needs, including food, clothing and shelter.
    Older respondents are empowered through the process of their participation in the MSK program; for instance, employment as day-care and adult education teachers led to improved status in the household and village community, and to new social options. In addition, women are more confident to speak with village officials knowing that a network of Sanghas and MSK staff is there for support if needed. This serves to illustrate the importance of gender networks in assisting women to oppose patriarchy and a male dominated society.
    While the MSK program may help women to "come out of the door" in some regards, rural Dalit women are nevertheless eager to improve their lives and show enormous courage in facing the many obstacles in the path of their independence. Despite the many contradictions in the program, many women continue to be active participants and moreover, some are taking independent actions, and organising themselves around issues of common economic, gender and caste interest. Their independent actions needs to be supported more at the village level, for example through increased decision-making, Sangha funding and opportunities for employment.

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