Friday, May 20, 2011

Voices from the Subaltern - Chapter Seven

Voices from the Subaltern

Education and Empowerment
Among Rural Dalit (Untouchable) Women

Moses Seenarine
Date: 1/31/99; Revised: 2/26/03
 Chapter 7 - Not One Pisa (Cent) : Caste, Class and Development Practices

    This chapter focuses on economic issues and presents a review of development practices in light of the findings. The chapter is divided into three sections: the first section comprise of discussions on class and class in India, the material position of Dalit women in rural society; women, the state and development; criticism of government programs for rural women; and empowerment, NFE and NGOs.

Caste and Class in India

    In India, caste and class are significant dimensions of social stratification. They are closely interrelated, almost inseparable, basic processes of Dalit social life, in that both (i) structure their life chances, (ii) pattern their social conditions, (iii) influence their cultural expressions, and (iv) provides solidarity in face of external foes, yet are subject to internal conflicts. The assumption made here is that although there are several important exceptions, caste is synonymous with class in India.
    Caste is becoming a political process in which class and power are inherently embedded, and class configuration are building upon rather than destroying primary caste identities (Sharma 1994). Caste is rapidly finding a place for itself in non-conventional and secular domains of social, political and economic life. Any group that aspires to use caste for upward social mobility makes use of the 'caste idiom'. Economically and politically dominant groups likewise make use of caste for further upward social and cultural mobility. Caste is appropriated for economic and political goals in the first instance, and for socio-cultural mobility in the second (Kothari 1991).
    As a further illustration of this process, although caste Hindus command most of the wealth and high incomes in the country and correspondingly dominate in culture, religious, and political spheres, there is a process of revivalism and sanskritisation occurring among the "upper" and "lower" castes respectively (Gangadharan 1970; Pandey 1990; 1991). As a result, the "middle" castes (OBCs), through sanskritisation and upward social mobility, have become a political force to reckon with and are now trying to challenge or compete with the near monopoly of the upper castes and break their control over the higher positions in the professions, bureaucracy and higher educational institutions (Kothari 1991).
    At the same time, the prevalence of class issues such as intergenerational poverty and bonded labour among Dalits, illustrate that these issues are intimately connected to their caste status in the Hindu social order. By virtue of being born into the "out" castes, practically all Dalits find it difficult to move out of their lower class position. Some mobility is possible, for example, through access to education and employment, nonetheless for the vast majority, the linkage is tight.
    Some of the writings on Dalits demonstrate that there has been a relatively small upward movement of their economic and social status since India's independence, and as a consequence, caste-class conflict between Dalits and caste Hindus is escalating. Scholars (Ilaiah 1996; Pinto 1996) point out that there is an inherent conflict between civil society formed by the consolidation of both ideological and structural forces of the caste Hindu system, and Dalit society which is no longer abiding by the old ideological and structural rules. Dalits are resisting Hindu domination, especially on account of the increasing prominence placed on Ambedkar's life and writings.
    In like fashion, research on Indian women show that there have been modest improvements in the status of poor, rural females over the last 50 years, in tandem with the expanding influence of the Indian women's movement, though with the contemporary upsurge of Hindu fundamentalism, women's status is increasingly being negatively influenced. Nonetheless, due to increased privatisation, structural adjustment policies, and the decrease in provision of welfare services, Dalit women are affected by the feminization of poverty, labour, and nonliteracy. These issues serve to dampen claims of increased socio-economic mobility among Dalits by pointing out that Dalit women have unequal access to opportunities for education and employment, and therefore for increased mobility.
    Researchers also suggest that the constitutional guarantee of protection for scheduled caste groups has not substantially improved their position in Hindu society (Gallanter 1961; 1963; 1969; 1984). Only about 11 percent of Dalits live in urban areas; most live in rural areas and are employed as landless agricultural laborers or marginal farmers (Dunn 1993). With the increasing privatisation and modernisation of the economy, caste and class interconnections are being reinforced for Dalits (Johri and Krishnakumar 1991), as one researcher notes:
The Mangs, the Chamars, the Dhors have not altogether left their traditional occupations. The traditional tasks of these castes are becoming increasingly irrelevant in modern life. It has resulted in making them poorer... the Mangs (who do basket and rope-making) have become nearly jobless in the villages. Prostitution is on the increase among them because of increasing poverty. It was shocking to learn that sometimes encouragement for prostitution came from the elders in the family itself (Kakade 1990:142).
    Dalit women's responses to multiple oppressions of gender, caste and class, varied from co-operation to overt resistance, with the majority of respondents' actions occurring somewhere in between. The most striking finding is that although Dalit patriarchy is a significant influence on the lives of all respondents, the caste/class system, and Dalits' location within it, serves as the most critical and decisive factor in respondents' lives, more important than gender issues. The persistence of rural Dalit women's powerlessness and poverty may be viewed as a manifestation of the unequal distribution of power and resources in their society, which is more highly stratified by caste and class, than by gender.
    Dalit females' caste/class status in part determines their gender status, and is also difficult to change. To cite an example, while the majority of respondents had an opportunity to attend the village primary school, the cost of bus fare became more weighty than gender issues for the few who were allowed to temporarily attend high school outside the village. With regards to schooling, Lieten agrees with this finding as he observes, "junior school-going is much less discriminated by gender than by the economic position" (1992:108).
    This issues reveals how Dalit young women’s caste/class position is more important than their gender status in determining access to education. As another example, class issues largely determine gender issues such as child marriages among Dalit females, who depend on elder brothers to pay for their marriage expenses before leaving the home.
    In the case of Bangladeshi women under the purdah system, Hashemi and Schuler claim that the most significant transformation in a woman's life, is her changing `sense of self worth.' The authors suggests that a woman's self-confidence is directly related to her perception of the future, for example, hoping for a better future for herself and her children (including their daughters), planning ahead, and so forth. Concerning women's collective action or `participation in non-family groups,' they argue that very rarely women's groups may achieve the solidarity, confidence and strength to oppose social injustices (1993).
    The self-worth of Dalit women are intricately linked to their caste status, and so must be addressed along with their gender status. However, these issues are insufficiently explored in the literature, and there is a need for further research comparing the relative significance of caste and gender issues with respect to Dalit women.

The Material Position of Dalit Women in Rural Society
    "Upper" caste/class ideologies and domination is intimately linked to gender persecution as well. The vast majority of Dalit women are manual workers in urban and rural areas who live at or beneath a minimal subsistence level (Pawde 1995). These women strive not for gender equality, but for their very survival (Mukhopadhyay 1984). Despite the abundance of problems, there are few studies which focus specifically on rural Dalit women (Kavita et al. 1988), or on Dalit female agricultural workers (Reddy 1984).
    Bhagwat argues that phrases like “marginalization of women in the development process”, “feminization of poverty”, or “women's contribution in the unorganized sector”, all refer to Dalit women without even being conscious about their specificity (1995:2). About 90 percent of women working in the unorganized agricultural sector are mainly from the "lower" castes. With the increasing stress on female labor in agriculture and agro-based industries, the burden on Dalit women in rural areas have intensified over the years.     In addition, the number of women headed households has been on the increase and there has been a growing deterioration and privatization of the country's common property resources on which the poor in general and women in particular depend (Agarwal 1986; 1988). Since only five to ten percent of Dalit women live a middle class life, there is not a lot of difference between their pre-independence and post-independence conditions (Pawde 1995).
    As an example of their poverty, during the first half of the 20th century, Dalit women agricultural laborers were so impoverished that they used to collect the undigested corn from the excreta of bullocks and prepare a bread out of it called `gobarha' (Shankar 1993). More recently, Sharma (1995) reports that among the Bhangis, scavenging is done mainly by the female scavenger, and so is the cleaning of latrines. Young Dalit women are often hired out as bonded laborers to rich farmers, where they are often raped and sexually abused (Mishkaben 1996).
    The life of Dalit women in rural areas is full of hardships as they have to deal with the adversities of the caste system much more than urban Dalit women, such as the practice of untouchability, casteism, non-literacy, socio-cultural variation, religious exploitation and superstitions, and class variation in society (Prabhavathi 1995). They have to tolerate the injustice and torture of the "higher" caste landowners when they go out to work in their fields. Due to extreme poverty women have to collect fuel for cooking and while doing so listen to the curses and abuses of "higher" class Hindus (Pawde 1995; Punalekar 1995).
    The basic problem that affects the Dalit woman's role and opportunities for employment is the rural areas spring from their helpless dependence on caste Hindu landowners, caused by their own landlessness, paucity of adequate employment opportunities, limited skills, non-literacy, restricted mobility and lack of autonomous status. The absence of control over productive resources and a persistent gap between consumption and expenditure leading to perpetual indebtedness, deprive Dalit women of all bargaining power and occupational mobility (Prabhavathi 1995).
    A Dalit woman is financially deprived and compelled to work at less wages than men doing the same work. They are never permanently appointed and no protection to their wages is rendered (Pawde 1995). In this study, a sixteen year old respondent attests that Dalit women agricultural labourers have to beg "high" caste landowners for their salaries. And an eighteen year respondent state, "we used to borrow money and the ‘higher’ castes used to charge us more and more interest”.
    Food allocation in the family is heavily biased in favor of men, in spite of the fact that Dalit women in many regions perform at least fifteen hours of arduous labor. They have to face the problem of hunger almost daily and the combination of gender and caste/class discrimination contributes to a greater mortality rate among them. For example, early marriage, child rearing, and their hard work in the fields, make them more undernourished, ill and unhygienic. Moreover, they cannot purchase medicines for themselves and for their children (Rege 1995).
    Through there are some hopeful signs of upward improvements in health, housing and education of Dalit communities, such instances are comparatively few. State sponsored developmental activities like the Integrated Rural Development Programme, have played a useful role in poverty alleviation, relieving misery and have certainly brought some awareness to Dalit women in the rural areas (Aranha, Fernando and Mahale 1991; Punalekar 1995).
    Dalit women bear the costs of "development" but have been systematically excluded from its 'benefits'. If anything they have been viewed as "target groups", the recipients of "development" programs, planned and implemented by groups with economic and political power. For the first thirty years after independence, women figured in the planned development as only 'mothers' in the 'mother and child welfare programs'; despite the fact that more than 50 percent of all agricultural labor was provided by women (GOI 1974; Rege 1995).
    The lion's share of development benefits for poor and low income people are awarded to men. For example, in the employment assistance scheme provided by the Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP), from 1984-1989, the number of female beneficiaries is less than half that of male beneficiaries. Under the Trysem program for providing income generating skills, from 1984 to 1989, there was only one female for every 17 male beneficiaries (UNICEF 1989). Simultaneously state projects have led to overburdening and self-exploitation by Dalit women (Jogdand 1995; Punalekar 1995) and there has been no major breakthrough in women's development which touches the problems at its roots (Aranha, Fernando and Mahale 1991).
    Rural Dalit women are compelled to become economically dependent on the state, community, and family. Faced with survival needs, they are forced into fending for themselves, but being on one’s own is not necessarily empowering. Perhaps these women have little to gain from so-called empowerment programs which provide training and not access to jobs, grants, land and other economic resources.
    Furthermore, because of fierce competition for scarce resources like firewood and fodder, Dalit women have to struggle harder to secure basic necessities of life. Another point which needs serious attention is that of availability of water. Dalit women suffer more because of caste distinctions and less or remote access to village water resources. Water scarcity situation can adversely affect the education of young women because if they have to spend time looking for water, they cannot go to school (Punalekar 1995).
    Development for Dalit women has resulted in them being herded into crowded and unhealthy areas in Dalit sections of villages or in slums, with very few civic amenities and with limited access to conveniences and 'benefits' which are theirs as basic rights. To them 'development' has meant displacement from their traditional productive activity and their labor and sexuality have been abused and exploited in the capitalist market-place (Gnanadason 1990). The process of rural development has played a decisive role in forced migration of Dalit women from rural to urban areas.
    The majority of Dalit women work under extremely exploitative situations such as starvation wages, violence, rape, sexual exploitation, and religiously sanctioned sex-work. Akatai Kamble, a Dalit Mahar woman who worked full time in the tobacco industry, explain their situation:
The women supervisors in the factory would give us a lot of trouble. The manager and the owner were even worse. If they saw any good-looking woman they would call her to sweep the owner's office and rape her. At that time we could not protest because if we said anything they would remove us from work. So no woman would say anything. She preferred to keep quiet. Even I was very scared because if I lost that work how would I feed my children? Since there was no one to support us we continued to live in fear. All the women were in the same condition of poverty and the majority were Mahars. Casteism was so strong that Mahar women were not allowed to touch the keys or even the water utensils. When we asked for water it was given to us from a distance.
For the next ten years I worked like an animal. Even animals are given rest in the evening after a day's work. But we didn't get even that. I worked til one or two o'clock in the morning. Then I would sleep a few hours and wake up to cook, bathe and go back to work by eight o'clock. So I worked for almost twenty-four hours. Whenever I fell ill the children would suffer and we never money to buy medicines. But I didn't go to anyone when my children were starving. After my mother's death I worked alone and supported the three of them. Gradually I stopped being afraid and became courageous (Kamble 1986:20).
    Similar to Dalit women, Bhil tribal women describe their degrading experience of sex-work, which is considered `routine' with male labor foremen, contractors, and government development workers, in order to feed themselves and their families. Poverty leaves few options (Mishkaben 1996). There is a collusion and competition between male caste Hindu contractors, Patels (landowners), and Bhil labor foremen, mukadams, to obtain the sexual favors of tribal women. There is also a collusion between Bhil men and women to sexually exploit the `extra' attractiveness of young tribal females, leading to the rape and death of uncooperative young girls. Yet, the Bhil women also proved that they will physically fight their own Bhil men, outside contractors and paid bullies, to protect `outside' female social workers from beatings and rape (Mishkaben 1996).
    Paradoxically, Dalit women’s meager earnings from manual labor do lead to forms of independence for some, as Mencher (1988) suggests, Dalit and "lower" caste women are generally independent earners who are, to some degree, economically independent of their husbands (1988). Moreover, in non-Brahmin cultures, women are valued both as producers of children and for their role as active participants in agriculture labor (Kapadia 1994).
Women, The State and Development
    Generally, women have been either ignored or only included in development processes as "add ons" rather than as integral parts of a planning and policy making process. Although there is a variety of feminist perspectives, most would agree that gender represents a worldwide point of inequality. McCarthy writes,
a gendered construction of women's roles in development activity assumes the limited, inferior nature of women and involves the creation of parameters of movement participation for females which mobilize their resources and creative energy without threatening established forms of patriarchal domination and control (1993:323﷓324).
    Many feminists have made a distinction between women's "practical" and "strategic" gender needs (Molyneux 1985; Moser 1989). Young (1988) made a similar distinction between the material "condition" in which women live, that is, menial wages, poor nutrition, lack of access to health care, and education, and the "position" or social and economic status of women as compared to men. Policies for meeting women's practical gender needs have to focus on the domestic arena, on income earning activities, and also on community-level requirements of housing and basic services.
    To attain women's strategic interests, Molyneux argues that organizing and mobilizing women is essential which requires:
analysis of women's subordination and... the formulation of an alternative, more satisfactory set of arrangements to those which exist... such as the abolition of the sexual division of labor, the alleviation of the burden of domestic labor and child care, the removal of institutionalized forms of discrimination, the establishment of political equality, freedom of choice over childbearing and... measures against male violence and control over women (1985).
However, practical gender needs are closely related to strategic gender needs and may often not be separated as such in rural women's thinking.
    Gender planning should address women's immediate problems (food, water, childcare, etc.) and institutional inequalities; to illustrate, providing women with employment which challenge the gender based division of labor. Young (1993) points out that practical gender needs and interests can transform themselves into strategic concerns; to cite an instance, women themselves can form a locally-based women's cooperative, which then has the potential to undermine or transform gender and economic relations (Young 1993).
Criticism of Government Programs for Rural Women
    Indira Gandhi's family planning program in the 1970s created a serious crisis in the legitimacy of the government at the grassroots level. The declaration of emergency and withdrawal of civil rights in 1975 led to many atrocities, and Dalit women were made the special targets of population control programs in a bid to limit their family size and so provide them an 'opportunity for development.' Horror stories have been related by Dalit women of how they and their sisters have been butchered in 'family planning camps,' often without their knowledge of what is being done to them.
    Currently, the state’s family planning agenda is still being implemented and injectable contraceptives and other hormone drugs are being tested on these powerless, voiceless women by unscrupulous multi-national business (Gnanadason 1990). Although MSK do not overtly promote family planning, neither are the health problems associated with contraceptives discussed with rural Dalit women, the main targets of these programs.
    Since the crisis of the 1970s, the state has gained significant ground in its bid to gain acceptance for its existing development policies through funding of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), literacy and so on, based on various women in development (WID) approaches (Sakhare 1992; Sharma 1992; Sims 1991; Viswanath 1993). "The main objective of all these programmes/schemes is to bring women into the mainstream of national development" (Goela 1992). It is generally thought that local NGOs may be more sensitive to local communities' needs, and better able than state institutions to respond organizationally to the practical and strategic needs of local women (Pimpalapure 1992; Sen 1986; SEWA 1984; Stromquist 1986).
    Nonetheless, there are serious debates over NGOs including the role NGOs play "as the new frontier of corporate capitalism”, (Kothari 1986) government and foreign funding of voluntary activity, the regulation of NGOs, the role of activists, and so on (Dhanagare 1989; Garain 1993; Qureshi 1988; Sen 1986). Programs run by NGOs also encounter problems similar to those operated by the government, including hierarchical structures, autocratic management, bureaucratic procedures, and corruption (Baxamusa 1994; D'Abreo 1992; PRIA 1991; Singh and Singh 1992). Participant observation and interviews with key informants reveal that these problems are all present within the MSK program.
    There is little evidence to suggest that, when undertaken on a larger scale, NGO programs are consistently more effective than government programs. As one editor points out, in the name of `voluntarism' what many voluntary agencies are doing is "only an extension of their private market efforts, with substantial benefits to themselves" (Lokayan 1986b). Participant observation and discussions with other NGOs suggest that AIKYA operates as a business rather than as a non-profit, voluntary organization.
    Indian feminists have raised several questions about government-sponsored WID programs surrounding issues of women's participation and organization. For example, in contrast to development plans for other sections of the population which emphasizes policy measures, resource allocation or redefining development, why is the government viewing women's development in terms of developing consciousness, organization, income generation skills, and so on, as opposed to more tangible development outcomes (Goyal 1988; Jain et al. 1988; Rath and Rath 1990; Savara 1990)? Coached in the language of “strategic gender needs” these policies all have hidden family planning agendas.
    Apart from government WID programs, increasing numbers of women's grassroots activities and voluntary organizations are becoming part of India women's movement (Anveshi 1993; EPW 1993; Gandhi and Shah 1991; Lokayan 1986; Manimala 1983; Mies 1983; Sathe 1990; Vimochana 1994; Yasas and Metha 1990). Given the growing nature of women's grassroots activism, will a government takeover of women's organizing potential, by absorbing them into government-sponsored organizations like Mahila Samakhya, act as a way to subvert any future attempts at organizing women? Will incorporation of women activists into administration and implementation of government-run programs serve to co-opt the independent women's movement? Are these organizations like a management/owner sponsored trade union of workers? These are all relevant questions in regards to MSK, however these issues are beyond the scope of this study.
    Many rural women's programs operated by the government and donors, like the Women's Development Program (WDP) in Rajasthan, have a family planning agenda, sometimes overt, but mostly hidden (Balasubrahmanyan 1988; Jain et al. 1988). Programs to conscientize, mobilize, and build up the confidence of women are considered necessary in order to help women to overcome some of the  constraints of feudal and patriarchal structures and accept the government's population program and other schemes (EPW 1992). Singh, Dey and Roy writes:
The government has only succeeded in presenting a progressive facade because of the involvement of NGOs and individuals with credibility.... Women had learnt the jargon of change and participated in various follow up programmes... where radical goals and processes were re-emphasised. Her alienation from the village had begun when she received the Rs 200 stipend from the government. She was told by others in the village that after all the government was paying her to do a job... (She) opposed a child marriage in her village, although the act made her alienation complete (1994:1377)
The WDP program points out the fact that empowered women often become victims of powerful gender, caste and class interests, and are left to fend for themselves by the development programs which initially sponsors them. This is exactly what happened when the young Dalit woman involved with MSK was raped, as discussed in the last chapter.
    Given the acute practical gender needs of poor rural women, WID programs which provide economic, social, and political resources, run the risk of becoming so popular that administrators may soon face the tasks of "cooling women off" before women's participation becomes a threat to the status quo. There is some evidence to suggest that this was the case with MSK a few years after it was established, where de-mobilizing women became a high priority at the State and district levels.
    This was largely accomplished by discouraging women's participation in the program, trying to restrict women's activities which are independent of the program, employing dysfunctional administrators, creating obstacles for local NGOs and staff, employing male personnel, etc. The aftermaths of this process ranged from despair and apathy among program participants and high turn-over rates among district administrators, to mis-appropration of funds and sexual exploitation of Dalit female program participants by caste “Hindu” male employees of the program.
    Another problem is that WID activists and staff often do not understand the complex nature of power, patriarchy, the social construction of gender, and the ways in which family, class, caste, religion and other factors perpetuate women's subordination. Neither do they understand clearly how women's subordination can be solved through the concepts and processes of empowerment. Aprt from MSK’s first state director, there were no other women in program who had a firm grasp on feminist issues, and ironically, local feminists who applied were not hired.
    It is important that space be made for women to discuss and share experiences, to build a collective identity and examine the root causes of their poverty and subordination, and women's informal associations like the village Sangha may provide such space (March and Taqqu 1986). However, this process is unpredictable. Women who are different and sometimes in competition and conflict with each other may find it very difficult to assume gender commonalties when brought together as not all low income rural women have the same needs and interests (Millican 1992). There should be recognition of diversity at the same time as there are efforts to enhance women's self-worth, agency and common purpose. These issues are clearly illustrated in the rivalry among Dalit sub-castes involved with MSK, discussed in the last chapter.
    Although women form a majority of applicants in government programs for employment generation, and so on, Raj (1986) argues that most programs "do not take any note of the special needs of women either in conception, design, implementation or hiring of personnel" (:72). Open and democratic processes are essential in empowering women to withstand the social and family pressures that result from their participation in programs. Shared responsibility and decision-making are also necessary processes for the individual and collective empowerment of women. The Mahila Samakhya program failure in this regard is discussed in the last chapter.
    Kimmelstrand (1989) diagrams a scale of empowerment, from low to high, with five criterias in ascending order: welfare, access, conscientization, participation, and control. The MSK program is conceptualized at the access or participation level, with the emphasis placed on Sangha savings and entrepreneurial self-reliance. Since Dalit women are presumed to empower themselves in the Sanghas there is less need for program support and there is no mention of the need to alter existing social structures or for those with power to change themselves (Young 1993).
    Often literacy, NFE and a combination of reproductive, productive and emancipatory skills are viewed as having the potential to contribute to the process of women's empowerment. Nevertheless, studies indicate there are or can be negative outcomes from women's participation in NFE programs and it is important to find out what the women themselves consider attainable (Ellsworth 1992; Helleman 1992; Kindervatter 1979; Lind and Johnson 1990; Pigozzi 1982; van der Westen 1993). The MSK program fails to address the discrepancy between younger and older respondents’ aspirations for literacy, as discussed in the previous chapters.
    Everett points out, "although `conscientisation' or consciousness-raising is an important activity in grassroots movements, it seems incorrect to assume that the oppressed lack an understanding of their problems" (1986:18-19). Kabeer (1994; 1995) similarily argues that the space given by an NGO to the establishment of needs from the bottom-up, reveal a great deal about how it has positioned women within its programmatic undertaking, either as capable, but socially confined actors who are potentially able to make choices, articulate priorities and take responsibility, or as passive clients in need of enlightenment and uplifting.
    The findings in chapters four, five and six reveal that Dalit women are aware of their problems, however they are viewed as passive participants in need of enlightenment by the MSK program. Other studies likewise reveal that the poor (Sharma 1989) and women are conscious of their problems (Bhanti 1994; Kelkar and Mahlans 1982).
    Similar to Christian fundamentalism and the anti-abortion movement in the US, Hindu fundamentalism may represent a form of backlash against the feminist movement in India. Given the rapid feminization of labour in the economy, there is strong resistance against raising gender issues in many movements based on class, caste, ethnicity, culture, religion, and minority issues; movements which are largely led by men. Women's groups in India will have to find ways of building networks with Dalit, tribal and environment movements who are their natural allies in a struggle against Hindu patriarchy and related class and cultural domination (Dietrich 1992). The focus on gender and patriarchy by MSK isolates Dalit women from other groups who share common problems with the dominant Hindu social order.
    For instance, poor men are almost as powerless as poor Dalit women in terms of access to and control over material, cultural and ideological resources. The empowerment of Dalit women, therefore, does not necessarily lead to disempowerment of poor men. Instead, Dalit women's empowerment may also liberate and empower men, both in material and psychological terms. For example, Batliwala writes:
most poor men tend to support women's empowerment processes that enable women to bring much-needed resources into their families and communities, or that challenge power structures that have oppressed and exploited the poor of both genders (1994:130).
    Male resistance, however, occurs when women complete with men for power in the private or public spheres, for example, when they question the power, rights, and privileges of men within the family, that is, whenever women challenge patriarchal family relations. Clearly, in regards to marriage, housework, childcare, physical abuse, and divorce, women's empowerment in the domestic sphere entails a loss of the privileged position which patriarchal ideology defines for men. Yet, when women become equal partners, men are freed from the roles of oppressor and exploiter, and from gender stereotyping, which limits the potential for self-expression and personal development in men as much as in women (Batliwala 1994).
    Despite the opportunities for building alliances with Dalit men, as well as to tribal, Muslim and groups, MSK program functionaries do not address or articulate these issues to respondents’ husbands and fathers, or to other men and groups. Nonetheless, rural Dalit women are themselves building alliances with Dalit men, as evidenced in the cases of rape and accusation of murder discussed in the previous chapter.
    Dalit women, if elected as leaders of both Dalit and feminist groups, can serve as a bridge between the two movements, which would establish them as powerful forces to contend with. Still and all, it may be unreasonable to expect that upper caste women will willingly exchange class and caste status to struggle for some future form of gender empowerment, or that Dalit men would voluntarily trade gender status to engage in gender, caste and class struggle, under Dalit female leadership. The point is that privilege is rarely given up voluntarily and without a fight, and this affiliation between the women and anti-caste movements will require leaders and members of both groups to give up short term advantages for long term equality.

Class Status of Dalit Women and MSK Economic Development Programs

    There has been very limited changes in all of the respondents' economic options as a result of employment and involvement in MSK. The majority of them are poor, landless, and as a matter of course meet with poverty, lack of water, child labour, early marriage, school dropout, and nonliteracy. Those who own land have marginal, arid holdings, and all but a few were unable to complete primary school before joining MSK. A quarter of the respondents, young and old, had never even been to a school.
    Even for those with a primary or high school diploma, employment opportunities inside and outside of the MSK program is severely limited, and therefore practically all of them are forced to work as coolie or day-to-day labourers in the fields for less than minimum wage. After becoming involved in MSK program activities, none of the respondents or their families purchased or sharecropped additional land, brought livestock, or borrowed money from the Sangha's savings account.
    The study’s findings on educational standing show a modest increase in respondents' prior education level compared to their parents, and suggest that there is some upward inter-generational mobility occurring among Dalit women. However, as discussed earlier, respondents’ empowerment and mobility experiences may not be indicative of the experiences of most rural Dalit women. Nevertheless, in view of the multiple oppressions rural Dalit women face, the fact that they are able to survive and pursue their education is most remarkable.
    An implicit assumption of some women's development programs is that by placing emphasis on awareness training and improving poor women's and girls' self-esteem, women will be able to improve their own economic status. Nonetheless, in spite of the huge amount of money spent by MSK on training Dalit women in Bidar, overall, there has been limited change, if any, as a result of awareness training among nearly all respondents in terms of their current economic status.
    As an example of limited economic benefits from MSK, many of the older women's Sanghas started savings accounts with a few thousand rupees in local banks. These small savings accounts that the women collect and manage for themselves are not enough for them to increase their individual or collective economic resources. For instance, there is only enough savings for one loan per year to one woman to purchase a few livestock as an investment. At this rate it would take an entire generation for all the women in one village Sangha to be given the opportunity to borrow a loan to buy one cow. Nonetheless, the total savings of Sanghas in the district was around Rs. 200,000 (US$ 6,500) in mid-1995, and if combined, it could served as an substantial economic resource for the women. The women's savings program is also significant because it is difficult for men to gain access to it.
    In opposition to the potential for creating economic resources for the women through their meager savings, the program encourages the women to spend their hard earned Sangha savings, along with scarce funding from MSK, to buy construction materials in order to build a Sangha hut. Poor, rural women are forced to spend the little money they have, as a result of their participation in the MSK program, on a program related project which they had no input in designing.
    The fact is that these poor women are compelled to contribute a large sum of money to the formal economy with little decision-making power regarding whether they could spend it on food, housing, education, or marriage which generates important social capital for them. At the end of Sangha process, women may have a place for childcare and meetings, but they still have to find the time and energy to manage both, in addition to the double burden in their lives.
    Additionally, a lot of program funds and women's money is being wasted on inappropriate economic development training which accrue social, material and other benefits for trainers and the training agency involved, but not for the poor women. This money could have been better spent supporting women's existing economic activities, like farming, rearing animals, sewing, and construction, or even added to their Sangha savings. The program's explicit goal is to spend its budget on supporting poor women's activities, yet its implementation does not translate into increased income for anyone besides a few Sahayoginis, who are overwhelmingly non-Dalit.
    One example of an unsuitable economic training program is the month-long seri-culture training held by AIKYA for a few Dalit women who owned land. The women were taught how to grow and harvest silk worms, and after the training, were motivated to purchase expensive machinery required for keeping the worms at certain temperatures. A year later, practically all of these women's seri-culture businesses failed because there is not enough water to grow the silk worm plant food, which requires a lot of irrigation. The women have spent and lost their families' precious savings on high-priced machinery which, in addition needs electricity to work, with absolutely no earnings or refund from MSK or AIKYA.
    Mahila Samakhya staff are further encouraging women participants to find out information about loans, to apply to banks for loans, and to use the Sangha savings to start micro enterprises and small scale businesses, such as seri-culture and producing and selling dairy and eggs. Still and all, a major limitation of the program is the failure of program planners to recognise the caste/class issues Dalit women go up against in these enterprises, such as casteism and caste Hindu boycott of Dalit businesses. In the villages in which they live, Dalits face tremendous difficulties in any trade or occupation due to "untouchability”. Moreover, Dalits are discriminated against by banks and government schemes in terms of loans and credit, yet the program does not take this fact into account.
    As an example of how their caste status influences their economic position, Dalit women are forbidden to enter caste Hindu houses or touch their foods, so this limits their employment as domestic workers and cooks, as well as any businesses they may start in catering and proving food and services to caste Hindu households. Since few Hindus will deal with them, there are few ways of earning a living open to "Untouchables”, besides the "polluting" occupations of field labour, sanitation and construction workers. Dalit businesses which compete with dominant Hindu castes' interests are moreover targeted for attack, as numerous newspaper reports reveal nation-wide. These circumstances may prove disastrous for women's micro enterprise and need to be looked at  more thoroughly.

Contradictions in the Empowerment Process
    This study shows there are numerous dilemmas in providing education at the grassroots level, and several contradictions in the process of empowerment occurring among rural Dalit women as well. For example, Dalit women are dependent on the patriarchal State to create a space to enable them to challenge Dalit male dominance in the family and larger society.
    This dependence on the State for gender empowerment complicates the situation for Dalit women's associations like the Sangha, Women's Federation, and MSK, because these associations are also challenging the State and state-mediated forms of patriarchy at the same time. Further, Dalit women may use the State for their own empowerment, yet at the same time find themselves struggling against the State's policies of privatisation and globalisation.
    There is a similar situation in the case of caste empowerment. For various reasons Dalit women are finding it necessary to organise separately from Dalit men because the Dalit movement is male dominated and leaders try to subordinate and suppress the independent political expression of Dalit women. Dalit women are also becoming critical of Dalit men for dominating the literary scene and not taking the work of Dalit women seriously enough. This operates down to the family level in the education of sons over daughters, the double shift of wage work and housework for women, and so on. In terms of class status, not all Dalit women are equally educated or employed, so at some level this creates another type of exclusion as well, for example in leadership positions in the Sangha and Women's Federation, or through employment with MSK.
    While aspects of MSK's nonformal education (NFE) and Sangha formation are promising elements for gender empowerment, they are problematic as well. As a consequence of their participation in MSK, gender and caste empowerment is taking place among all but a few women, by way of illustration, in learning to write their names, count money, read information signs, delaying marriage, changes in sense of self, and in exploring new careers. Regardless, there are other factors which serve to limit women's economic options; for instance, fathers and in-laws may place restraints on work choice, and there are limited employment options due to high levels of unemployment and institutionalised caste discrimination.
    There are gender and caste restrictions placed on Dalit women’s assertiveness as well. If the women demand more wages from employers, they may be punished by family members and their own Dalit community who fear repercussions from caste Hindu landowners. Despite the fact that Dalit women may think and act differently, which may even impact on gender relations, the linkage of caste and class, and domination of males, continue. Regardless of personal, gender and caste empowerment, nearly all of the respondents are forced to remain dependent on field labour for employment at sub-minimum wages.
    "Empowered" respondents furthermore faced backlash from caste Hindus. Empowerment programs must accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions and should provide program participants with some measure of protection from the violent repercussions of Dalit men and dominant  caste Hindu communities, such as incidents of rape, witchcraft, and physical abuse reported by respondents. This points out that empowerment is not just about Dalit women acquiring increased status and skills, but also about those holding power and privilege relinquishing them.
    Empowerment approaches must therefore find ways to force those who wield financial and political power to accept the responsibility to change themselves. Both women and men, Dalit and caste Hindu, poor and rich, have to be transformed for mutual empowerment to last. Education and outside support could serve as important strategies in this process. Organisations like the village Sangha and the Women's Federation could prove crucial to supporting women's struggles for living wages and equal treatment, however these local groups ought to be fully supported through direct funding and linkages with other groups and NGOs at the local, regional and national levels.
Dalit Women's Resistance and Empowerment
    The most striking finding is the active resistance among Dalit respondents, young and old. Far from being passive, backward and ignorant, the data clearly reveals that Dalit women are willing to take action in pursuit of caste, class, and gender interest without the direction or leadership of MSK program staff. In confronting village landlords to pay agreed upon wages, caste Hindu discrimination in obtaining water, village elite in rural land struggles, rape by caste Hindu males, domestic violence, and gender discrimination in education, Dalit women are engaging in individual and collective forms of resistance and empowerment independent of the formal program hierarchy.
    This finding is similar to that of Florence McCarthy, who writes:
Organisations are, at best, catalysts to a vast reservoir of rarely expressed knowledge and awareness held by women regarding their own conditions... women's consciousness of their situation is profound, and informs their responses to structured domains of power and oppressive forms of subordination. It is the structure of the conditions of their lives that sets parameters to the forms of resistance women undertake. When situations arise in which new opportunities occur for bonding with other women, or developing countervailing social relations, women respond, and it is often these aspects of programme activity which in the long run are most important to them (1993:349).
By virtue of their participation in the program, the women are changed and empowered in a way they were not before, as the three case studies make plain. To further illustrate, the women are organising by themselves in preparation for when MSK leaves, as one leader makes clear: "my vision is to continue the Women's Federation as we have only one year to be in Mahila Samakhya”.
    Another woman explains:
Before we had our own family responsibilities. Now we have the responsibility of all the women in the villages. We are doing the Women's Federation. We are not depending on MSK. We don't know when it will stop, so the Federation gives us unity. We don't want it to stop, we want it to continue. In some of the villages there are no Sahayoginis, so we are going there and we are starting Sanghas and we are developing the women.
Similar to McCarthy's findings, the data reveal that rural Dalit women are aware of their situation vis-à-vis the triple oppressions they experience in the local context and the projected ending of the MSK program. They are actively responding to both situations by educating themselves and others, and working together on common issues though their own organisation.

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