Friday, May 20, 2011

Voices from the Subaltern - Chapter Six

Voices from the Subaltern

Education and Empowerment
Among Rural Dalit (Untouchable) Women

Moses Seenarine
Date: 1/31/99; Revised: 2/26/03
Chapter 6 - Jai Bhim (Long Live Ambedkar): Change in Caste Identity and New Social Options Among Dalit Women

    While rural Dalit women, by virtue of their gender, meet with many hardships in their homes, such as child marriage, patriarchy, domestic production and reproduction, they confront still more difficulties outside the home by virtue of their caste, including institutionalised discrimination in education and employment, access to services, loans, and so on. Indeed, Dalit females' gender persecutions are amplified by their caste and class status. In order to discern the class and caste status of rural Dalit women, it is helpful to understand some aspects of Dalit economic, social, political, and cultural organisation.
    Most of the research on caste in South Asia is written by non-Dalits, with a bias towards supporting existing constructions of caste in the region. While acknowledging the importance of some of these mainstream studies, the brief review focuses on subaltern studies written by Dalits themselves regarding issues of caste, class and gender. These subaltern voices reveal a long history of caste oppression and resistance in South Asia, which continues into the present.
    This chapter focuses on Dalits' points of view regarding their history and caste, untouchability and gender issues. In this sense, the chapter overturns received knowledge on how Dalits are perceived, but more importantly it helps to explain the historical and social dimensions of Dalit female oppression, as well as the cultural basis for their own caste empowerment occurring among respondents outside the scope of the MSK program.
    The chapter is divided into three sections. In the first section, the history of caste is explored through presentations of nine topics: (i) “Hindu” cultural domination: Dalits and caste apartheid, (ii) the origin of caste in South Asia; (iii) the caste system in global perspective, (iv) the origin of untouchability, (v) caste, class and education, (vi) the caste status of rural Dalits, (vii) Dalits and the struggle for self-identity, (viii) Ambedkar and the Dalit movement, and finally (ix) ending casteism.
    The second section explores the interconnections of caste and gender issues via discussions of four subjects (i) the caste system and gender, (ii) the position of Dalit women in rural society, (iii) caste and Dalit cultures, and (iv) women in Dalit cultures. This is followed by a presentation of the findings of this study in four areas: (i) the caste status of respondents, (ii) caste and learning, (iii) changes in caste status among Dalit women, and finally (iv) a short case study of one Dalit woman's caste empowerment.
    After thousands of years of caste injustices, caste empowerment is more important for rural Dalit women than gender empowerment, even though both are necessary. This chapter makes the argument that caste empowerment is occurring among Dalit women, on account of their participation in the MSK program as well as to the influence of Ambedkarism.

“Hindu” Cultural Domination: Dalits and Caste Apartheid

    South Asia contain the remnants of many ancient 'civilizations'. The Harappa culture was an extensive city culture around 2300 B.C. to 1700 B.C. These people had a script, indoor plumbing and traded with the Persian Gulf and Mesopotamia (Thapar 1966). Later on, South Asia became home to the Brahmanic-Hindu caste system, one of the oldest forms of apartheid on record. Casteism in India, similar to racism in the US, is the belief that a particular caste or ethnic group is naturally inferior, so that its unequal treatment is justified. The caste system has survived for over two thousand years, despite numerous efforts to break it, and serves as a gross violation of basic human rights to over 200 million Dalits in South Asia and elsewhere.
    In the beginning, the words "Hindu" and "Hinduism" did not appear in the so called sacred Hindu texts. The terms was first used by Muslims in the 8th century AD to refer to all the non-Muslim inhabitants of South Asia, and it meant non-Muslim and nothing more. However, this false overgeneralization resulted in the wide diversity of people and cultures in South Asians all being regarded as "Hindus”, who belonged to a religion called "Hinduism" with Brahmins as the sole priests (Theertha1992:45).
    Moreover, Brahmanism became equated with Hinduism, with dire consequences for non-Brahmin groups, many of whom were and are, opposed its unegalitarian principles. Later on, the British administration perpetuated the myth of Hinduism. For instance, the census treated all South Asians other than Muslims and Christians as "Hindus”, and included each Dalit sub-group as Hindus, even though the Brahmins had excluded the entire "Untouchable" group from the caste system (Theertha1992:45).
    With India's independence, Brahmins and other "upper" castes moved quickly to occupy the void in political, economic and cultural power created by the departing British, and were able to gain control of all of India for the first time in the region's history. Although the terms "Hindu" and "Hinduism”, and "Brahmin" and "Brahminism" are used interchangeably here, there are major differences, expecially regarding the history and identity of Dalits and the “lower” castes.

The Origin of Caste in South Asia
    In the literature, there are several interpretations of the origin and history of caste. The term "caste" was first used by the Portuguese in South Asia in the early decades of the 16th century. The term originally included several meanings, including "family”, "stock”, "kind”, "strain”, "clan”, "tribe”, and "and "race”. The word was also used to designate various kinds of groups, besides Hindu ones, such as "the caste of Moors”, and "the caste of Christians”.
    The etymological derivation of the term "caste" from the Latin "castus" meaning "chaste" or "pure" was therefore only one among several possible meanings. It was only later that the Dutch and then the English used the term caste as a technical social term or a one-word restricted description of the thousands of groupings within "Hindu" society (Kishwar 1991:12). The point being made here is that caste in India was often an imposed and homogenised category used by European colonialisers, separate and apart from the term used in South Asia for caste, jat, which have its own internal dynamics.
    In discussing the origin of caste, Ambedkar (1916) explains that caste is a parcelling into bits of a larger cultural unit. He argues that in South Asia, there was only one caste to start with, that is, everyone had the same "caste”. There was class division, but not caste division. Ambedkar further argues that classes have become castes through imitation and excommunication. A class became a caste by substituting endogamy practices for exogamy ones. Ambedkar concluded that endogamy is the only characteristic of caste, and that this practice originated in the Brahmin class. Endogamy was then imitated by all the non-Brahmin classes, who in turn became endogamous castes.
    The term "caste" in South Asia usually refers to the varna system spoken of in Hindu spiritual texts. The varna system developed over time to include four divisions: Brahmans (the priestly caste), Kshatriyas (the warrior caste), and Vaishyas (the trading caste) - all of whom are believed to be twice-born - and the fourth group, Sudras (the servile caste). Dalits are defined as a group even inferior to the Sudras. Individual Indian castes number in the tens of thousands, and each is generally placed in one or another of the four varnas.
    According to G. S. Ghurye (1979), there are six major characteristics of the caste system in South Asia, which are: (i) segmental division of society, (ii) hierarchy, (iii) restrictions on feeding and social intercourse, (iv) civil and religious disabilities and privileges of the different sections, (v) lack of unrestricted choice of occupation, and (v) restriction on marriage (:2-22). Most of India’s caste groups will not inter-marry or inter-dine, and each one of them considers itself not only separate from other groups but also superior to others and hence discriminates against those who are below it (Kananaikil 1993b).
    Caste is a part of Hindu ideology which justifies the low status of the majority of the "lower" castes because they have bad karma, or sins of previous existences which has caused them to be born among the despised. This ideology correspondingly commands the "lower" castes to fulfil their caste duties in the name of dharma, which are obligations everyone has to perform, relative to the status they are born into, in order to maintain the Hindu social and cosmic order.
    The principles of the caste system and the rule of conduct for the different castes were codified in the 'shastras' or the instructional treatises of the Hindus which date back to the third century BC These were written by the 'Brahmins' or the priestly castes who legitimised the rule of the 'Kshatriya' castes or the warrior castes (Guha 1983). These rules were popularised through the 'puranas' or mythological stories.
    As the literature evolved over the millennias, so too has the caste system; to cite a few instances, the varna system is only mentioned later in the Riga Veda and vedic literature before the Purush Sutra does not even mention the fourth varna (Gupta 1991). It took many centuries of oppression and resistance before "caste" was finally recognized "as the birthright and badge of servility of the Hindus" (Theertha 1992:45).
    Brahminic ideologies of varna, karma, and dharma, are the basic justifications of caste exploitation and apartheid. With the growing influence of Brahminic ideology throughout South Asia during the Christian era, Brahmins' notions of caste became practised by many other groups. Brahmins came to enjoy many privileges at the expense of many non-Brahmin groups and women, whose lives became increasingly limited.
    Women have been equated to the "lower" castes and definite restrictions have been placed on both (Rege 1995:33). The life of a women and members of the "lower" castes/classes had little or no value. For example, anyone from the "upper" castes may kill a member of the "lower" castes without having to pay compensation. The "lower" castes are expected to be agricultural labourers,
whose dharma is to be humble towards 'the high born,' obedient and respectful to the master who employs them, and ready to fulfil their distinctive ritual duties (as drummers, and those in charge of funerals). In other words, Dalits are traditionally excluded, debased and subject to segregation and, at the same time, essential components of the social organisation which needs them both for the village economy and for the ritual functioning of the community (Viramma, Racine, and Racine 1997:308).
    One of the most effective weapons which has helped in the perpetuation of the caste system in early India was the denial of the right to education to women, Dalits and Sudras. These groups were prevented from acquiring knowledge and literacy as it was a sin and a crime to educate them, and only the three twice-born castes were admitted to Hindu religious schools to learn sanskrit, the language in which the sacred books were written and rituals performed (Thapar 1966). Further, they could not hold office under the state, and was prevented from acquiring property. Brahmins could take away "lower" castes' property at their pleasure. The duty and salvation of members of the "lower" castes and women were in serving the "higher" castes/classes and men respectively (Ambedkar 1946).

The Caste System in Global Perspective
    The four-fold varna system is not unique to India; many other ancient societies had similar divisions. In Iran about 700 BC, there was a myth that from the head of Yim came priests; from arms, soldiers; from stomach, agriculturists; and from the feet, artisans. In China around 1500 BC, the society was divided into four classes: nobles and government servants; agriculturists; artisans and businessmen. Earlier in Egypt (3200 BC), the society was divided into three groups: land owners, agricultural labourers, and slaves. And in Sumerian society (3500 BC) there were four classes: nobles, government servants and soldiers; ordinary citizens; agricultural workers; and slaves (Gupta 1991).
    Caste systems have been described in Bangladesh (Ali 1992), Nepal (Parish 1996), Sri Lanka (Jayanntha 1992; Jayaraman 1975; Hollup 1994), Japan (Miura 1990), Korea (Ayukai 1973), Africa and Europe (Diop 1987; Mbonimpa 1993; Onwubiko 1993), United States (Forbes 1988; Gordon 1995; Ogbu 1978; Willie 1989), Guatemala (Lutz 1994), and Mexico (Boyer 1997). There are also comparative studies on caste in South Asia (Leach 1971; Marriott 1965); the South Asian diaspora in Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad, Surinam, Fiji, South Africa, and East Africa (Schwartz 1967); and between India and the United States (Das 1976; Berremen 1962; Verba, Ahmed and Bhatt 1971).
    The caste system has also been linked to the rise of fascism and Nazism in Europe (Carsten 1967; Rajshekar 1994) and racism (Cox 1948; Leopold 1970; Poliakov 1974). These studies all point out that casteism and caste apartheid are important social problems in many parts of the world today, while this study explores why women on the bottom of caste hierarchies are among the most oppressed group in their societies.
    Another way to conceive of caste is to look at similarities between caste domination and other forms of oppression like slavery and serfdom. According to Scott (1990), each system,
represents an institutionalized arrangement for appropriating labor, goods, and services from a subordinate population. As a formal matter, subordinate groups in these forms of domination have no political or civil rights, and their status is fixed at birth. Social mobility, in principle if not practice, is precluded. The ideologies justifying domination of this kind include formal assumptions about inferiority and superiority which, in turn, find expression in certain rituals or etiquette regulating public contact between the strata (1990:x).
    The above comparison views caste as among the most severe conditions of powerlessness and dependency, and raises several important issues explored here. Comparable to this study, Scott in his own writing, "privilege the issues of dignity and autonomy, which have typically been seen as secondary to material exploitation" (1990:xi), explaining his reasoning as follows:
Slavery, serfdom, the caste system, colonialism, and racism routinely generate the practices and rituals of denigration, insult, and assaults on the body that seem to occupy such a large part of the hidden transcripts of their victims.... An element of personal terror infuses these relations -  a terror that may take the form of arbitrary beatings, sexual brutality, insults, and public humiliations. A particular slave, for example, may be lucky enough to escape such treatment but the sure knowledge that it could happen to her pervades the entire relationship (:x-xi).
Scott's privileging of dignity and autonomy underscores the point being made here about ending casteism and sexism in India, and the absolute necessity of implementing a Dalit women’s studies curriculum at all levels of Indian society.

The Origin of Untouchability
    Ambedkar and other scholars maintain that the origin of caste was not mainly based on race, occupation, economic or other factors, although these were related issues. They argued instead that caste is mainly related to power, and resulted from a religious and ideological conflict between different economic, political and cultural forces, which caused deep changes in Indian civilisation (Ambedkar 1946; 1948; 1957; 1987; Theertha 1992).
    These changes occurred in three major phases: (1) tribal, class divided Brahmanism; (2) revolutionary and egalitarian Buddhism; and (3) "counter-revolutionary" Hinduism, marked by the degradation of Dalits and women (Omvedt 1995). Although this subaltern version of South Asian antiquity is largely ignored by historians and school texts, nonetheless it does explain many discrepancies contained in the mainstream annals of Hinduism, for example, why during the Vedic period was there no untouchability, and why until the 2nd century AD, there was impurity, but not untouchability?
    During the first phase of tribal, class divided Brahmanism, priests were able to control the common people, with the support of religious doctrines, and their authority was even greater than that of kings. Brahmins, the priestly class, had many privileges even over kings, such as, the king upon meeting a Brahmin on the road had to give way to the Brahmin, and a Brahmin learned in the sacred texts was free from taxes (Ambedkar 1946).
    At the dawn of the Christian era, during the second phase of revolutionary and egalitarian religions, Buddhism was dominant throughout South Asia due in part to the powerful Ashoka rulers' support and influence (Ambedkar 1957; 1987). Buddhism then presented a serious challenge to Brahminism's bid for religious supremacy in the region which led to the third stage of "counter-revolutionary" Hinduism.
    According to Theertha:
Indian kings almost invariably encouraged Buddhism side by side with Brahmanism, even when they had been raised to power with the help of Brahmans. Brahmanism could therefore be permanently established only with the disappearance of Buddhism and also of all Indian rulers (1992: 109).
To cite an instance, a reward of 100 dinar was offered by Brahmin figures like Pushyamitra for the head of every Buddhist monk. Ambedkar and Theertha both argued that Buddhists were subjugated and defined as Untouchables by the Brahmins, and were then forced to live outside of caste Hindu dominated village communities. Untouchables or Dalits were then considered as even more demeaning than Sudras, as they were avarna or outside of the caste system.
    There were many centuries of resistance by Dalits, but eventually, Buddhism was all but wiped out in India and the Buddha himself became co-opted into the Hindu pantheon of gods. Dalit authors are of the opinion that untouchability was not only part of an oppressive religious system, but also an economic system of exploitation which was worse than slavery (Ambedkar 1948; 1957; 1987).
    Untouchability was made a legal offence by India's Parliament in 1955; nevertheless in practice it still exists, especially in rural areas. Untouchability as a social institution was and is kept alive by the use of brutal force. Caste Hindus insist on enforcing the inferiority of the Dalits in many ways, and if they try to improve their standards of living they are cruelly persecuted (Nath 1987).
    Although former "Untouchable" groups have converted to Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and other religions, they are still considered as Untouchables by caste Hindus and their own "upper" caste co-religionists (Raj and Raj 1993). Yet only "Hindu" and Sikh scheduled castes can claim the benefits of reservation. Even the process of approximation to the "upper" castes' code of conduct which Srinivas (1966) has described as Sanskritisation could not help the Dalits to cross the barrier of untouchability. Dalits all over India have tried to change their ways, their marriage practices, and their caste names; however, all these have little effect on changing their caste status.

Caste, Class and Education
    The Mandal Commission (GOI 1980), identified 3400 castes and sub-castes in India. Those regarded as the "upper castes" constitute less than 15 percent of the Indian population, can and do practice caste against all other groups. Those regarded as the lowest castes, "Untouchables" and tribals, constitute 20 percent of the population, but they cannot employ caste practices against others. Between these two extremes lies the middle category called the other Backward Classes (OBCs), who make up about 52 percent of the population.
    Other Backward Classes (OBCs) can only practice caste in relation to Dalits, not against the "upper castes" (Kananaikil 1993b). According to the latest annual report of the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) Commission (1989), both groups combined owned only two percent of India's land. In the fields of trade and industry, they have made only 0.2 percent gain since independence. A thirty-five (35) year old respondent explain, "due to casteism there was no school for SCs in village in the olden days”.
    In his book, States and Minorities (1947), Ambedkar called the village community a sink of localism, and a den of ignorance, narrow mindedness and communalism. Dalits are commonly clustered together in segregated hamlets at the edge of a village. Although constituting a vast number of the total population, they are a small and vulnerable minority in any given region, making resistance to exploitation and violence very difficult.     Ambedkar indicated that Dalits, as the mass of rural, landless labourers, are entirely dependent upon such employment as the Hindus may choose to give them and on such wages as the Hindus may find it profitable to pay. In the villages in which they live, they cannot engage in any trade or occupation owing to untouchability. Since few Hindus will deal with them, there are few ways of earning a living open to `Untouchables' (Ambedkar 1947).
    Kancha Ilaiah (1990) argues that there are many socio-economic and cultural differences between Sudras and Dalits on the one hand (Dalitbahujan or Dalit majority), and Hindus on the other, in the contexts of childhood, family life, market relations, Gods and Goddesses, and death. Ilaiah, who grew up in a South Indian village in the early 1950s, writes about the negative attitudes of "upper" caste Hindu teachers towards Dalitbahujan students, the caste Hindu dominated curriculum, and other experiences which were part of his education:
As we were growing up, stepping into "higher" classes, the textbooks taught us stories which we had never heard in our families. The stories of Rama and Krishna, poems from the Puranas, the names of two epics called Ramayana and Mahabharatha occurred repeatedly. Right from early school up to college, our Telugu textbooks were packed with these Hindu stories. For Brahmin-Baniya students these were their childhood stories, very familiar not only in story form but in the form of Gods that they worshipped....
I distinctly remember how alien all these names appeared to me. Many of the names were not known in my village. The name of Kalidasa was as alien to us as the name of Shakespeare. The only difference was that one appeared in Telugu textbooks while the other appeared in English textbooks... The language of textbooks was not the one that our communities spoke. Even the basic words were different. Textbook Telugu was Brahmin Telugu, whereas we were used to a production-based communicative Telugu... It is not merely a difference of dialect; there is difference in the very language itself (1996:13).
    This author argues that even though Sudras and Dalits live together with Hindus in civil society, they exist in two cultural worlds that are not merely different, but opposed to each other. Like Anandhi (1995), Kakade (1990) and others, Ilaiah argues that Hindus' interests are against the interest of Dalitbahujans, and moreover, that Hindu mythology is created through the destruction of Dalitbahujan ethos (1996).
    Consequently, the religious beliefs and practices of subordinate caste groups are quiet often based on principles that are contradictory to those of the Brahmanical religion (Chatterjee 1994; Khare 1983; O'Hanlon 1985). For example, Gupta makes the claim that there is no one caste ideology (dharma), but several, sharing some principles in common but articulated at variance and even in opposition to one another (1984).
    Although Ilaiah's claim for cultural and religious differences among the "lower" castes is very important, nonetheless, his case for Sudra-Dalit solidarity may be overstated, especially for South India where this study is located. The caste dynamics in South India is very different from the four-fold varna system prevalent in North India due to the absence of Vaishya and Kshatriya caste groups in the south.
    As a result, the small minority of Brahmins in South India have had to modify their close associations with Vaishyas and Kshatriyas, the other twice-born castes in the north, by building alliances with the Sudra castes in mutual opposition to the outcastes. Despite differences, the two groups formed one configuration and pushed the Dalits further out from the caste communities. So the conflict in South India is not only between "upper" and "lower" castes, but caste communities, defined as Hindu human societies, and outcaste communities, defined as non-Hindu and non-human societies, or Dalits.

Dalits and the Struggle for Self-Identity

    The Marathi word Dalit was chosen by an "Untouchable" group to refer to themselves and it means literally "ground”, or "broken or reduced to pieces”. There is in the word, Dalit, an inherent denial of pollution, karma, and justified caste hierarchy. Dalit, or downtrodden, became the most acceptable term in the 1980s for the various outcaste communities (Zelliot 1992:74).
    Dalits are more a self-conscious group rather than a traditional caste (Nath 1987:3). Bhagwat writes that the term Dalit stands for change and revolution, because "we feel that the voices and protests of Dalit women are almost invisible" (1995:2). Dalitism includes not only marginal status in economic sphere but also similar marginal status in cultural, political, religious and other domains (Punalekar 1995:8). However, in a sense, the term Dalit is an imposed category, for many "Untouchable" or former "Untouchable" groups do not identify themselves with the term, and furthermore, none of the women in this study identified themselves as such.
    Dalits are by no means a homogenous category. Among the Scheduled Castes (SCs) there exist over 1,000 "castes" and "sub-castes" such as: Bhangi, a large scavenging caste of the North; Chamars; Madiga; Mahar; and Mang. They are a great deal of distinction from one Dalit group to another in manners and customs, and there are gradation and caste taboos among themselves. To illustrate, a Chamar regards a Mahar as his inferior and the latter regards the Mang as still inferior in the scale of humanity. Language has also been a dividing line and only recently has there been a substantial pool of Dalits with a command of several languages, including English, who could serve as human links between Dalit movements in different linguistic regions (Ilaiah 1996; Joshi 1986).
    Each Dalit caste has also been defined by the same social rules of endogamy, with marriage occurring exclusively within the caste community, that shape the entire Indian caste system. The result has been the development of a variety of distinctive Dalit cultures, with significant differences in the direction and pace of mobilisation for change. Frequently it also means social conflicts that make co-operative efforts difficult (Joshi 1986:4). Dalits share in common certain features of poverty and degradation due to the contemptuous treatment they suffered at the hands of the caste Hindus (Nath 1987:17).

Ambedkar and the Dalit Movement
    The modern movement for the liberation of Dalits in India was led by Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, who was born into an Untouchable family on April 14, 1891, in Mhow, Maharashtra. After nearly ten years of study in the US and England, Ambedkar returned to India in 1923 to lead the Dalits and was eventually appointed as Law Minister in India's first independent government, with the responsibility for writing the constitution. After many decades of struggle against Hindu domination and oppression, Ambedkar left the Hindu faith and converted to Buddhism in 1956, along with millions of his followers, just before his death (Zelliot 1992).
    Ambedkar used an ancient form of resistance among Dalits, that of de-Hinduisation, a the term that implies complete distance and protest against Hinduism, and acceptance of any other non-Hindu religion like Islam, Christianity, Sikhism or Buddhism, with a purpose of getting rid of untouchability and to developing their moral and financial conditions (Kshirsagar 1994). Ambedkar has been revered as a hero among many Dalit and Sudra groups, who emulate his path by pursuing educational opportunities.
    Ambedkar has had an enormous influence on Dalits all over India (Kadam 1991; Mahajan 1994; Mahar 1972; Parvathamma 1973; Ram 1995), and there has been a continuous growth and change in the Ambedkar movement, including developments in the field of Buddhism, and the Dalit Sahitya literature movement in Maharasthra, Gujarat and Karnataka. In the late 1960s, a group of Dalit activists, poets and writers formed the Dalit Panthers in the slums of Bombay, adopting a confrontational style to mobilise their neighbourhoods against discrimination and violence (Dalit Panthers 1973; Limbale 1989; Murugkar 1991).
    As a consequence of all these activities, Dalits are now emerging as a political power in several parts of India (Gupta 1980; 1985). In response, there is a concerted attempt made by caste Hindus to discredit Ambedkar on the one hand, and simultaneously to "Hinduise" Ambedkar and Dalit movement (Guru 1991).
Ending Casteism
    A popular assertion made is that since the adoption of the new constitution, The Abolition of Untouchability Act of 1955, and the provision of reservations, the old Hindu social and economic order has been transformed on account of it being no longer officially approved and adhered to. This position ignores the fact that legal measures in isolation do not change institutions, without concomitant changes in the social, cultural and economic forces that shape these institutions.
    It is likewise argued that in contemporary India, the traditional identification of caste and work has become looser in certain respects, just as the basic inegalitarianism of the caste system has been challenged by different groups. Nonetheless, these changes in status have taken pace mainly within the traditional ideology and not in opposition to it. And since the caste system gives rights and privileges to "high" caste persons over those from the "low" castes, the former will continue to enjoy their rights as long as the social and religious order treats them as superior.
    As a consequence, the social and economic disabilities laid down in the orthodox system still persists in varying degrees, especially in the rural areas where caste is practised by almost everyone. And although it is only the Hindu religion which has legitimised the caste system, the members of all religions have come under the influence of caste. Given the social system, most Dalits have adopted the convenient response of practising caste (Kananaikil 1993b).
    In recognition of persistent inequalities among Dalits, before and after independence, a series of reservation policies and programs have been instituted to make education and government employment available to economically disadvantaged castes. Anti-discrimination laws and reservation policies have met with small but important successes in independent India, but lack of awareness and implementation of laws against the common practice of casteism, refusal to hire educated Dalits to fill reserved government posts, the collusion between state and local authorities and local elite to maintain the status quo, and a variety of other reasons has hindered their progress (Chitnis 1980; Darshankar 1991; Galanter 1984; Kakade 1990; Khan 1994; Kuchabhan 1995; Rathnaiah 1991; Sharma 1995; Tripathy 1994; Venkateswarlu 1990).
    Furthermore, the experiences of poor, rural Dalit women are different from Dalit males, from other Indian women, and those of other poor and rural groups. Consequently, the vast majority of affirmative action policies and programs which are targeted towards the rural areas, the poor, women or Dalits do not necessarily reach perhaps the most disadvantaged group, that is, poor, rural Dalit women.
    In addition to anti-casteist laws and policies, there is a long history of anti-caste movements in South Asia in which women played a major role (Calman 1985; O'Hanlon 1985; Omvedt 1995; Sharma 1994; Theertha 1992), and Dalits have always resisted the Hindu caste system and domination (Ambedkar 1990; Jogdan 1991; Kshirsagar 1994; Rajshekar 1978; Zelliot 1992).
    Presently, Dalits are slowly gaining access to educational opportunities and are becoming more assertive of their rights, though this places them in direct conflict with the small minority of middle and "upper" caste Hindus, and the more populous Other Backward Castes (OBCs), who together control access to most of the India's political, environmental, cultural and economic resources (Bhatt 1975; Gill 1990; GOI 1980; Kothari 1991; 1992; 1993; Rao 1977; Shah 1994).
    India's constitution abolished untouchability but left the Brahmanical caste system intact. Ambedkar wanted the abolition of the caste system and felt that this was only possible by rejecting the Hindu religious books giving sanctity to it. This study likewise argues for the need of educational reform to end casteism, through removal of all justifications of the caste system in school texts, and by way of inclusion of a Dalit curriculum.
    Before and after independence, Ambedkar analysed the effects of the caste system in the elections and proved that the Dalits were completely disenfranchised by the joint electorate system with reservations for scheduled caste representatives (Ambedkar 1947; 1955). Instead of reservations in legislatures and the present election system, in 1956, Ambedkar advocated proportional representation and cumulative voting in a system composed of two or three constituencies (Ambedkar 1947; Prakash 1993). In States and Minorities, Ambedkar in addition argued for the creation of smaller States as a safeguard for small minority populations against communal oppression from dominant majority communities (1947).

The Caste System and Gender

    Whereas females constitute about half of India's population, it is the case that they too are deemed "polluting" according to Hindu patriarchal ideology and practice (Sarkar and Butalia 1995). In many ways, the practice of casteism and untouchability is linked to endogamy as it serves to reinforce divisions among the castes, and to further limit "upper" caste females' sexuality. Uma Charkravarti comments, "caste hierarchy and gender hierarchy are the organising principles of the Brahmanical social order and are closely interconnected" (1993:579).
    Women are the gateways of caste-system and the crucial pivot on whose purity-sanctity axis the caste hierarchy is constructed (Bhagwat 1995:4). Both women and Dalits have been defined as impure, of sinful birth and as having a polluting presence; and, both in general, had to observe practices of verbal difference, temporal distance, and dress codes, as an index of their subordinate status. Commenting on the interconnections of gender and caste ideologies, Dalit feminist author, Aruna Gnanadason, writes:
The coming of patriarchal Hinduism and its caste system into India institutionalised the oppression of the outcaste Dalits and this had a particularly deleterious effect on women. The control on women's sexuality was essential for the development of a patriarchal caste hierarchy, both for the maintenance of caste and for the legitimisation and control of inheritance. Restrictions of time, place and space were therefore imposed on women to ensure the purity of caste by avoiding the danger of inter-caste 'pollution' (1990:114).
    According to the Hindu ideology, codified in the laws of Manu, women were not only denied education, but they must forever be dependent on men. Manu wrote (V.148): " childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent”. A wife is reduced to the level of a slave in the matter of property as Manu wrote (IX.416): "A wife, a son, and a slave, these three are declared to have no property; the wealth which they earn is (acquired) for him to whom they belong" (quoted in Ambedkar 1977:22).
    In terms of the interconnections between caste and gender, Ambedkar argues that the problem of maintaining caste endogamy ultimately leads to a disparity between the marriageable units of the two sexes within such a closed system. `Surplus' women and men produced many problems to a particular caste, and therefore the Brahmins created four customs which were used to conveniently maintain the ratio of two sexes:
(a) burning the widow with the diseased husband,
(b) compulsory widowhood,
(c) imposing celibacy on the widower, and
(d) wedding him to a girl not yet marriageable (Ambedkar 1916:14).
    Ambedkar explained that those castes that are nearest to the Brahmins have imitated all the three customs, i.e., sati, enforced widowhood, and girl marriage. Those castes that are just beneath the Brahmins (Kshatriyas) have imitated enforced widowhood and girl marriage; other castes that are still lower (Vaishyas) have imitated only girl marriage, and those furthest off (Sudras) have imitated only the belief in the caste principle (Ambedkar 1916). These issues are increasingly important for Dalit women because of the prevalent practice of sanskritisation occurring among the "lower" castes and Dalits, resulting in more patriarchal and misogynist practices.
    In support of Ambedkar's linking Brahminism to more patriarchal practices, McGilvray's study (1982) of Tamils in Sri Lanka suggests that where patrilineal principles are weak, then Brahmanical beliefs are correspondingly marginal or irrelevant. Likewise, Kapadia's study of a rural Tamil Nadu village found a similar pattern among non-Brahmin cultures, such as "the prominence and lavish celebration of female puberty rites and the importance of the menstruation horoscope... neither of which are given much importance by the Brahmins" (1994:861).
    Contrary to the notion that women had no property rights in Hindu society until 1956, women's property rights were part of ancient and modern legal history. In Tamil society, there is a long history of women owning, controlling and disposing personal property (Wadley 1980). In modern times, there is a tradition of land passing from mother to daughter in a female line of descent (Mukund 1992). These variations prove that women are not only conscious about their rights to land and other resources, but are active participants in shaping cultural and religious practices in South Asia.
    The literature shows that historically, Brahmanic patriarchal ideologies encountered powerful cultural and religious resistance, and there were intra-cultural variations and different regional patterns regarding the status of women. Despite the influence of Brahmanic patriarchal ideologies, both elite and populist Hindu discourse and sensibilities regarding woman carry a deep impress of mother-goddess cults and forms of worship (EPW 1990). These female sensibilities serve as indicators of the strength of feminine cultural and religious resistance in the region.
    Indeed, resistance against untouchability and the Hindu caste system has remained strong among Dalits and women. The clues of this resistance of the subaltern were customarily written out from the formal histories of South Asia, yet they were alive in the lived experiences of Dalit women and men, and are found in the everyday acts of protest, in reform movements, religious conversion, and rebellion, from the pre-colonial to post-colonial periods. Furthermore, many studies document that currently, throughout India, Dalit women and other women are actively resisting gender, caste and class oppression to educate and empower themselves, other women and men (Joshi 1986; Sumitra 1988).
    Since independence, a succession of policies and programs have been conceived to make education and government employment available to poor women; nonetheless, due to patriarchal control, urban-rural biases, middle-class agendas, corruption, exploitation, and a variety of other reasons, these programs have had little success (Goela 1992; Goyal 1988; Jain et al. 1988; Raj 1991; Rath and Rath 1990; Savara 1990). Commenting on the modest levels of literacy achievements among Indian women after forty years of public education funding, Bhasin (1985a) writes:
illiteracy cannot be wiped out without a wider struggle to eradicate poverty, exploitation and maldistribution of  resources in society ... which prevents 75 percent women from not only being literate but also from being treated as equals. Which also prevents them from leading a life free of disease, hunger and exploitation (:2).
    It must be stated that although caste, education, employment and other gains made by poor Indian women since independence may appear to be limited at the national and regional levels, these gains are nevertheless very significant for the individual woman involved. These particular instances of poor women's empowerment is part of centuries of female resistance in South Asia, as the recorded history of the last 3,000 years contains many examples of women who were able to resist gender and religious oppression to become educated, important figures (Horner 1990; Madhavananda and Majumdar 1993; Ramabai 1982).
    Women's status and condition is affected by their caste, class and family status; still the vast majority of them were denied education over time (Sangari and Vaid 1989). In ancient times, Dalit women were denied the use of public roads and transport. They could not dress in the manner of other Hindu women nor could they wear jewellery. They were also exploited sexually by "upper" caste men and as domestic labour by women of the "upper" caste (Joshi 1986).

Caste Status of Dalits in the Villages
    Caste in this study is viewed as part of personal and group identity and also as a process which is socially constructed. In terms of caste identity, not all of the respondents are comfortable in discussing their caste with the research team, especially the young women of the Kendra. Probes for sub-caste, or prior-caste identity among Christians and non-Christians alike, proved difficult for some respondents.
    Similarly, in her study of urban Dalit women in Maharashtra, Pawde (1995) found that Christian Dalit women mostly try to hide their previous castes and only one or two percent of the women admitted that their forefathers were Dalits. However, MSK teachers and administrators alike state that all the MSK Kendra, AE and NFE students come from Scheduled Caste (SC) and SC-Christian groups.
    Of the thirty-three respondents, six identify themselves as Christians; three as Holeya (Dalit subcaste); two as Madiga (Dalit sub-caste); and the rest simply as Scheduled Castes (SCs). These sub-groups are further divided by cultural and religious practices, in relation to the dominant Hindu social order. Most of the Christians in the sample group are Christian Dalits; however, members of this group are not considered as a caste and do not receive preferential treatment as SCs (Dalits), for example, in reservations and quota allocations for university admissions, scholarships, government jobs, and so on.
    Participant observation in the villages reveals that many of the SC women come from families who are Buddhists, and are followers of Ambedkar, yet they do not claim Buddhism as an identity, but categorised themselves as SC. This is not surprising as only "Hindu" Dalit groups benefit from government reservations. However small and inaccessible, reservations serve as a strong motivation for Dalits to pursue education in the hope of gaining white collar employment. Dalits who convert to Buddhism or Christianity cannot apply for reserved seats or jobs since by virtue of their conversion, they are no longer considered a "backward" community even though they remain the same in all other respects.
    At the district level MSK meetings, the vast majority of participants are Dalits, and Dalit Christians and tribals formed a small percentage; and there are only a few Muslim women present in the programs. The predominance of Dalits in the MSK program reflects in part their numerical majority among oppressed communities in the district, as well as the mobilisation strategy used by the MSK program.
    The caste status of Dalit respondents living in Bidar district varies from village to village, depending on various factors such as size of the village, history of the village, size of Dalit population, overall number of religions and castes, the presence of "higher" castes, number and location of wells, and so on. Almost all of the respondents indicated that there was casteism and discrimination against Dalits in their village related to environmental, economic, social and cultural resources.
    Several women indicated that in their villages, there are social tensions and problems between Muslims, Lingayats (dominant Hindu sub-caste) and Dalits. Tensions with Dalit Christians and Madigas versus Holyas and other “Hindu” Dalits are likewise raised. Some respondents acknowledge that only Christian Dalits and scheduled caste people come to the Sangha, crèche, AE and NFE classes.
    The prevalence of residential segregation of Dalits is suggested by most all of the respondents who reside in the SC colony in their village. In response to the question, "how many different castes are there in the village?" one respondent, Laxmiamma, answers,
In the village, there are Muslims and Hindus. In Hindus, there is SC/ST. ST are Madigas. Then, there are Lingayats, Kurbur, Carpenter, Dobi (laundry) caste, and so on.
A follow-up question was asked, "are there separate colonies among the Hindu castes in the village?" to which Laxmiamma replies,
There are separate houses, but not separate colonies. The castes are all living nearby, in clusters. The carpenter caste live together, the Lingayats live together, and so on.
These last remarks indicate that residential segregation occur in this village among all castes, and participant observation of numerous villages confirm this.
    By way of illustration, in Laxmiamma’s village, the Muslim colony, with a mosque and twenty huts, is located at one end of the village, next to the Scheduled Castes (SC) colony, and adjacent to the main road. A brick wall separates the Muslim colony from the adjoining SC houses, which are located away from the main road. The majority of land surrounding the village are owned by Lingayats, who reside at the other end of the village along the main road where an old temple is located. Various caste Hindu groups live in the middle of the village where a new Hindu temple is located along the main road.
    All most all of the respondents indicate that there is caste discrimination against Dalits in the village related to environmental, economic, social and cultural resources. To cite an instance, in terms of access to environmental resources, one 14 year old girl discloses, "the high caste people will not allow us to go to their borewell for water”. And when asked the question, "describe some of the problems in your village”, Mayawati reply:
There are some caste problems. The "high" caste people will not allow us to go to their borewell to take water. So there is a separate borewell for the lower caste. This is a problem still.
    In villages in which the best well is located outside the Dalit colony, Dalits have problems entering caste Hindu communities for water; while in the few villages where the best well is located inside the Scheduled Caste (SC) colony, lack of water forces caste Hindu women to break caste barriers and enter the Dalit area to collect water. Another respondent accounts, "the SCs have no land and have to migrate for work”.
    In some villages where there is a large number of caste Hindus and "upper" castes, Dalits are not admitted into Hindu temples. One more student, an eighteen year old, declares, "in the village, the "high" caste people never allow us into the Hanuman (Hindu) temple”, while another young woman indicates that Dalits are not accepted into the "upper" caste community in the village. In other villages where there is a large and growing Muslim population and the absence of "upper" caste groups, attempts are made by "lower" caste Hindus to construct a "Hindu majority" by "Hinduizing" Dalits in permitting them access to temples and so forth.
    In regard to cultural exploitation, the respondents are all aware of caste tensions in village, and many of the younger women confess that they lived in fear. By way of illustration, one young respondent, Bharti, expounds on caste issues in her village:
There is the caste problem. One day, when I was fetching water from the well, one Lingayat women came to the well to take some water to the temple. She scolded me for touching her vessel, even through I did not touch it. There is a quarrel between the Lingayats (caste Hindus) and the Scheduled Caste people, and the Lingayats did some banamati (witchcraft) on some of the SC people.
    Respondents indicate that in their villages, there are social tensions and problems between Muslims, caste Hindu Lingayats, and Dalits. Tensions with Dalit Christians and with Madigas versus Holyas and other Dalits over Sangha resources are likewise raised. Some respondents said that only Christian Dalits and Scheduled Castes (SCs) attend the Sangha, crèche, AE and NFE classes.
    Notwithstanding these tensions and differences, participant observation at several district level MSK meetings which brings women together from all over the district for various training reveal that the vast majority of participants intermingle and share their experiences with each other freely. Rural women and girls from Dalit groups like Madiga and Holeya formed the vast majority of the women at these large gatherings; Dalit Christians and Lambani tribals formed a smaller percentage, and there are a few Muslim women present as well.
    Concerning cultural and economic issues, the respondents are nearly all aware of caste tensions in their villages, and many of the younger women admitted that they lived in fear. Casteism remains a weighty issue all the respondents have to deal with, and to cite an instance of several issues related to caste, one young respondent, Bharti, makes clear the situation in her village:
There is the caste problem. One day, when I was fetching water from the well, one Lingayat women came to the well to take some water to the temple. She scolded me for touching her vessel, even through I did not touch it. There is a quarrel between the Lingayats and the scheduled caste people, and the Lingayats did some banamati (witchcraft) on some of the SC people.
    One belief prevalent among respondents, banamati, is a form of witchcraft practised throughout India, although it is known by different names, for instance sonium in Andhra Pradesh. To a large extent, only the lower castes suffer from its psychological effects, and are afraid of it being practised against them. For instance, another researcher found that Dalit women believe in witchcraft, black magic, haunted spirit, and the evil eye (Pawde 1995:153).
    The vast majority of respondents are afraid of caste Hindus using banamati against them or a family member. The widespread fear of banamati forms a significant part of Dalit women's life; and their fears of witchcraft are used by caste Hindus as a device in keeping Dalits in their prescribed, subservient positions in the rural economy. A case in point, an early program administrator admits that banamati is being used to break the women's Sanghas.
    To cite another instance, one respondent said that banamati is practised against the Christians and Dalits in her village by the caste Hindus because the "SCs are getting up" in social and economic status. Several other respondents report having suffered from banamati attacks and personal tragedies related to banamati. When asked about it, one young respondent declares, "my sister died because of it”, and one more insists, "my father's first wife and three children died because of banamati”, while a third insinuates, "villagers made it to my brother; he died within a year”.
    The maternal aunt of one young respondent disclosed that six months after her husband left her because of their childless marriage, she suffered a banamati attack while working in the factory. She fell into a machine and lost one arm. Kendra student, Bharti, accounts:
To every house of the SC colony, they do something to the women in the house, my mother also. Sometimes my mother would have fever and her palms aches as if something is nailing her. I am scared of them... All the girls in this school are scared of banamati.
Bharti continues:
One woman of the village, about forty-five years old, started to vomit pieces of glass. Then, she never allowed anybody near to her, not even her own children or husband. Even animals which came near her, she would throw stones at them to keep them away. She had small children, but their grandparents took care of them. She became mad, but they took her to someplace and after some treatment, she is now recovering. We are trying to catch hold of the Lingayats who are doing these things to us.

Women in Dalit Cultures
    A review of studies on Dalit women and culture divulge that a large percentage of the research is conducted by non-Dalits and males. While they offer significant insights into the lives of Dalit women, many are replete with gender and caste bias. There are a few recent studies on Dalit culture and women (Kapadia 1994; Pawde 1995; Viramma, Racine and Racine 1997), however one group of rsearchers conclude, "there has been a failure in delving deeper into the complex cultural and psychological factors which retard the progress of women" (Aranha, Fernando and Mahale 1991:89). This sub-section on women in Dalit culture addresses some of these issues.
    Dalits have historically been oppressed, and consequently Dalit cultures have evolved differently and contain many aspects in opposition to Hindu religious domination. However, as a socio-religious minority, Dalits have had to exist in relation to the dominant social order, and have adopted many elements of this order. Dalit cultures can therefore simultaneously serve as an important source of freedom, inspiration, and resistance; and as an oppresive influence in the lives of Dalit women and other Dalit sub-castes. The specifics of each cultural practice have to be explored in order to determine its effect on Dalit individuals and groups.
    Since each aspect of Dalit social organisation influences each other, it is not easy to define the boundaries of each aspect, or where one particular aspect starts and the another ends. Also, it must be borne in mind that Dalit social organisations are undergoing rapid changes as a result of the individual and collective efforts of Dalits, and in response to regional, national and global socio-economic forces which are shaping local contexts.
    There are major cultural differences between caste Hindus and Dalits in terms of gender, language, religion, training of children, and so on. Dalits have preserved their customs and rituals, social institutions and some customary laws despite pressure from Brahmanic-Hinduism, non-literacy, violence and exploitation. As an outcome of these customs, Dalit women enjoy more freedom than the "upper" caste Hindu women, for example, the right to divorce and widow remarriage (Das 1995:73). Ilaiah further argues:
Since Dalitbahujans do not have property reserves and every individual must therefore work for the family, women are thoroughly integrated into the productive labour system. Not only that, the women are the main driving force of Dalitbahujan society... the skills that Dalitbahujan women have are enormous. They are excellent soil examiners, planters, breeders and selectors of seeds. They have huge stores of medical knowledge. Most of these skills are absolutely lacking among 'upper' caste women (1996:128).
    Nonetheless, this does not mean that Dalit women are better off, because they suffer more from harassment, persecution and exploitation than "upper" caste women. Although there is gender stratification in Indian society, caste\class stratification tends to be much greater. A case in point, "upper" caste women, as members of the dominant castes\classes, have much greater access to education and "white-collar" employment opportunities than do "lower" caste women. Moreover, exploitation of Dalit women’s labor is not limited to "upper" caste men as attempts of unionization by mostly female Dalit domestic workers have been viewed negatively by their "upper" caste women employers and strikes have resulted in loss of jobs for most of these women (Rege 1995:28).
    The percentage of female headed households among the "lower" castes is as large as 70 to 75 percent. This is due to several factors: the incidence of desertion is huge and even in cases where the husband is present, it is the women's income that goes towards the survival of the family. (Rege 1995:30). Also on account of Dalit women being both economically dependent and looked down upon, they become victims of "high" caste sexual violence far more frequently than do non-Dalit women.
    As a subaltern community, Dalit cultures have many contradictory elements and structures which appear as forms of compliance to dominant Hindu cultures. Moreover, lack of education and awareness often lead Dalit women to internalize their own oppression due to Dalit and Hindu patriarchy. To cite an instance, Dalit women are accustomed to observing the taboos of their own sub-castes, including sub-caste purity/pollution rules, sub-caste endogamy, and other exploitative customs and traditions. In this study, only one case of inter-caste marriage was found among the sample as almost all of the SC, Christian and Madiga females marry within their particular sub-groups.
    Rathnaiah (1991) also discovered that only one percent of his Mala respondents had inter-caste marriages, while another researcher unearthed that Dalit women do not permit family members to marry out of the sub-caste, and will rebuke a person for breaking the taboos of her/his sub-castes (Pawde 1995:160).
    Traditionally, there was no dowry system for women among Dalits. The importance of a woman in the family was taken for granted by Dalit communities as it was the custom for the bridegroom's side to go to the girl's parents to ask whether they are ready to marry their daughter to their son. However, the impact of other non-Dalit communities has slowly introduced the dowry system among Dalits (Pawde 1995:153).
    Dalit groups often imitate traditions and customs of caste Hindus, for example, they have patrilineal descent and patrilocal residence. The wife of a deceased person is not entitled to any share from the property of her husband, but she is supposed to be looked after by her male children (Rathnaiah1991). To cite another instance, there are traditional Indian concepts that if a woman is given freedom there is a possibility of her being spoiled. Additionally, both a women's labor and earnings are often viewed as the 'property' of her husband (Kapadia 1994; 1995).
    In terms of economic organisation, Dalits may be categorised according to the tasks they perform, their work, whether or not they own land, if they are part of a co-operative or union, for example the Women's Federation discussed at the end in chapter five. Regarding political organisations, Dalits may belong to village-level and regional panchayats (councils) which are government supported, and to political parties in civil society varying from Dalit groups such as the Bahujan Samaj Party, to left formations like the Janata Dal, to secular parties such as the Congress Party, to the caste Hindu, right wing groups like the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP). Dalit women also belong to panchayats, women's organisations, and political parties.
    In terms of social organisation, Dalits might participate in various forms of education activities, support groups, and caste associations, which have overlapping social, political and cultural goals. And in terms of cultural organisation, Dalits belong to various religions and spiritual organisations, believe in witchcraft, participate in celebrations, and create and perform poetry, songs and music. These aspects of Dalit social organisation are explored in more detail in this chapter.
    Dalit sub-castes have their own caste panchayat (council) which deals with matters pertaining to female-male relationships, inter-family, and intra-family disputes. There is a forum for Dalit women's deliberations, known as Ammalakkala Muchchatlu (the discussion of mothers and sisters) in Andhra Pradesh, which are open and juridical in nature, and involve a female understanding for resolving problems. The Ammalakkala forums engage in constant debates inside the village as well as in the fields relating to issues the women have such as children, work, land, and domestic violence (Ilaiah 1996).
    In general, Dalit women in every religion are traditionally religious and worship their gods, adhere to their faith in religion and culture. Dalit gods, goddesses and festivals are local, and sometimes even specific to one village, and Dalits do not attend Hindu temples where they could meet villagers belonging to all castes. Dalit children are socialised differently in terms of their caste language and occupations, which are based on their material conditions and requirements for survival. The written language and ideology of Hinduism are distinct from the oral traditions of Dalits, except for the caste prohibitions and purity/pollution rules they are compelled to observe (Ilaiah 1996).
    Kapadia found that a married woman is welcome to return to her natal home after marriage, and during her period of stay she is expected to help natal kin with agricultural labor. When a Dalit married woman returns home, she is an economic asset to her natal family for she immediately adds to the household income as free agricultural labor and through wage work. In all four non-Brahmin castes there were many cross-kin marriages, and many married women living only a few doors away from their mothers, brothers and children (Kapadia 1994:858-60).
    In addition to adopting of various aspects of Hindu culture, Dalit cultures consist of elements which serve as forms of resistance to the Hindu authority, including songs and stories, and especially festivals. Festivals allow expression of buttoned down emotions through celebration, dance, mockery, and fun. One woman talks about the festivals in her village as follows:
There are twelve festivals, one per month, but the festival in April is the biggest one; for the women, Nag Panchammi in August. The daughters are called to the parental home and given a new sari. They take milk and snakes to an anthill where there are snakes and do puja (offering).
    According to this respondent, the biggest festival in her village for Dalits is Ambedkar's Jayanti (birthday) celebration in April. Participant observation in the district town of Bidar on this day reveal that tens of thousands of Dalits from different sub-castes all over the district gather around Ambedkar's Circle in the centre of the town to watch a all-day procession in honour of Ambedkar. There were offerings and prayers from Buddhist monks; speeches, songs, and skits on Ambedkar's life; food and dancing. Ambedkar's Jayanti is judged by many to be the biggest yearly celebration in Bidar.
    The influence of Ambedkar among all Dalit communities in the district is very strong, which leads to personal, group and caste empowerment on the one hand; and a backlash by caste Hindus against Dalits on the other hand. As the subjects of caste oppression, Dalit women are actively constructing new forms of caste identities and cultural empowerment through the celebration of Ambedkar's life in song, dance and ceremonies, and by pursuing his call for education. One NFE teacher illustrates this point by leading her students in the following song:
It is a sun on Baba Ambedkar
In my spirit, I will say Baba, Baba only
I will go after him and garland him
And he will look after us
Always I will be calling his name
    The Nag Panchammi celebration honours Panchamma who is the most popular Dalit and Sudra goddess in Karnataka. She is the goddess who protects and cures people from all kinds of diseases. And unlike Hindu goddesses, Panchamma is independent of men and does not have a husband. In Bidar district, it was observed that near every village there is a small Panchamma temple, but it is not the object of daily rituals performed by priest.     Indeed, the people communicate with the goddess directly by talking to her, without the mediation of a priest. Once a year, all the Dalit and Sudra sub-castes go to the temple with pots of sweet rice, wash the small stone that represent the deity, and clean the temple and its surroundings. This day is meaningful for Dalit women as many return to their natal villages to celebrate the yearly Nag Panchammi celebration.
    Asked to describe the typical ceremonies of SC people in the village in the village, AE teacher Chitrama describes the death ritual as follows,
They bury the dead. Some elders would read from the Buddhist literature, then they put the mud on the grave.
This section reveals some of the contradictory elements of Dalit cultures, which can serve as both a form of compliance and resistance to mainstream Hindu cultures. This has several implications for education among Dalits, discussed in the next section.

Caste and Learning
    The data reveals that caste is very important to female's participation in rural education programs in the villages. For example, Tulsama, a crèche teacher for four years, reports, "in our village, there is casteism, so only the Christians and SCs will come to the Sangha and crèche”. Tulsama's statement suggest that either non-Dalit women have no use of MSK's educational programs in the village, or due to the large presence of Dalits in these programs, non-Dalits refuses to participate in them.
    In answer to the question, "what problems do you have in your work?" Sahayogini Kanthamma mentions that gaining the people's trust is an important problem. She explains,
I did not face any caste problems, but other Sahayoginis have faced this problem. I did not have a problem because I go only to the SC colony. In the Sangha in my ten villages, there are SC, ST, Christians and Muslims.
As Kanthamma states, being an SC herself, she does not have any caste problems because she "only go to the SC colony”. Her statement that casteism is not practised among the SC, ST, Christians and Muslims who attended the Sangha in ten villages indicates that there may be some forms of anti-caste solidarity among various oppressed groups at the village level.
    Nonetheless, Kanthamma is an exception as only a few of the twenty Sahayoginis are SCs; the others were from mostly Lingayat and other Hindu castes. Kanthamma suggests that these women face "caste problems”, that is, difficulties in building trust with Dalit women in the villages they are assigned to organise. It is significant to note that in Kanthamma's ten villages, none of the caste Hindu or Lingayat women attend Sangha meetings; in this sense, the term Dalit can be used to refer to SC, ST, Christian and Muslim groups, who are included, and excluded at the same time, by joining the Sangha.
    In answer to the question, "will different castes of people come to the AE class and Sangha?" Ghallemma, a Dalit Christian, describes how Madigas came to dominate the Sangha in her village,
Two, three Christians will come, and the remaining are Madigas. The Muslims are far from us, so they don't come to us. In the beginning, the Sangha was made in the SC colony, but the SCs did not like it. Sahayoginis went to the SC colony for six months, but those people never agreed to come to these meetings for two, three days. They were not interested. They the Sahayoginis came to us, the Christians and Madigas, and we agreed to have the Sangha. The SC were not interested in the Sangha and we did not take them because of some casteism.
    As Ghallemma indicate, Dalits are very divided in the rural village context. In her village, the Dalits are divided along religious lines, between Hindu Dalits and Christian Dalits. Madigas in the district are considered as half-Christian and half-Dalit. It is significant to note that in her comments regarding SCs, for example, "the SCs did not like it”, Ghallemma does not refer to term "SC women”, but to "SCs”, meaning women and men. This suggest that SC men do play a part in SC women's decisions to become involved, or not involved, with the MSK program.
    Her observation that SC women "were not interested" furthermore hints at the fact that because of their extreme poverty, SC women may have found it even more difficult to leave the village for two, three days to attend MSK meetings, than Christian and Madiga women. Her remarks moreover suggests that the program functionaries may be contributing to creating differences between the two Dalit communities in Ghallemma's village, by attempting to organise one colony at a time, and by switching to another colony after six months. Ghallemma describes the differences between the communities further,
The SC people quarrel and they have a big quarrel with us. They want to keep the Sangha instrument (harmonium). They say that we get all the help from the government.
    These last statements suggest that the program was fuelling rivalry between SCs and Madigas/Christians. The harmonium provided by MSK to the village Sangha becomes a hugely contested issue between the two groups. Because MSK is now working with the Christians and Madigas, the SCs, who were initially reluctant to become involved, now feel that they are being further deprived of the limited resources provided as part of the program. They want to keep the harmonium, because they feel it is the only benefit made available to them so far.
    According to the data, caste do influence respondents' attitudes towards education. A case in point, Christian and Buddhist families place greater emphasis on education for young women than Madiga and Holeya groups. This conclusion agrees with the Pawde’s finding that converted Dalit women, Buddhist and Christian, are more conscious than “Hindu” Dalit women in every stream of awareness (Pawde 1995). This points to the fact that Dalits vary in terms of their perception of education as a valuable path of upward social mobility, availability of tradition of education, and the existence of education oriented sub-culture among them (Viswanathan and Reddy 1985).

Change in Caste Status Among Dalit Women
    Both women and men are the products of their socialisation and outgrowths of the various contexts in which they are born. Rural Dalit females' sense of self is formed by learned cultural and social norms which encourage them to accept their ascribed roles and identities, such as employment as low paid agricultural workers; roles as wives and mothers in child bearing and rearing; and conveyors of household production. What continues to be unknown is women's existing and potential for resisting the prescribed order, and the infinite ways in which women can modify the prescribed order and assume agency by whatever means possible. Two authors of a recent study, Ginwalla and Ramanathan (1996:40) write:
We maintain that rural women have in their unnoticed ways formed their own critique of the discourses controlling them and embodied them in practices which the academician/activist may not always readily recognise. This is not to say that they consciously rebel against the shaping milieu, but rather that they receive, and secretly alter it, that they are both active and passive, that the cultural world pressing down on them is sometimes covertly resisted.
    The Mahila Samakhya Sangha program is an important arena in which the resistance described above has a chance to develop. The MSK program offers Dalit women the opportunity to share a new space away from men, and the chance to interact with each other much more freely than they can in their homes and villages. Some of these changes in caste identity among respondents may be viewed as a result of interventions by, and women's participation in, the MSK program various educational activities and training. Participating in the program leads to new forms of learning and contributes to agency among respondents. For instance, literacy now means that Dalit women are no longer easily deceived by caste Hindu landowners, farmers, shopkeepers, and money lenders, as discussed in chapter five and six.
    However, caste empowerment among respondents is also partly the result of a more long term process of caste consciousness, or Ambedkarism, which is leading to enhanced self respect, changed social roles, and new cultural options among Dalits, as discussed previously in this chapter. This socio-cultural empowerment is not part of the formal avenues of learning, such as literacy programs or schools.
    In contrast to formal and nonformal avenues of education, Ambedkarism is the result of non-literate traditions, oral practices, folk music and culture, village skits, street theatre, role plays, popular songs, and so on. Ambedkar placed great importance on education for Dalits, and knowledge of his life and achievements is leading to increased interest in education and cultural empowerment among respondents.
    One indication of how Dalit women's agency and caste empowerment are occurring as a process of their participation in the MSK program is that at large MSK meetings and monthly training in the district, caste constraints appear to have diminished significance as women from different SC and ST groups live and work closely together for several days at a time. The women talk about problems they are having as teachers and Sangha members, as well as compose and sing songs together, perform in skits about domestic violence and girls' education, have lunch and tea together, exchange gifts, and take care of each other's children.
    The women will not only discuss MSK business, but usually talk about shared concerns of shelter, work, food, clothing, health, pregnancies, deliveries, and child rearing. By participating in mixed caste groups and ignoring social pressures to maintain caste purity/pollution norms, these women's actions may be viewed as caste empowerment and active resistance against casteism.
    There are many other examples of this process of caste empowerment and active resistance to casteism among respondents: a few women mention that in their villages, a wide variety of caste groups participate in MSK program activities; another respondent indicates, "now there are all types of jatis (sub-castes) in the Sangha"; and one Sahayogini insist that the women in some villages went "from sitting separate in meetings, to sitting together and visiting each other's houses”. As further evidence of this, participant observation of Sangha meetings in the villages reveal that a small number of Sanghas bring together women from SC, tribal, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and caste Hindu groups.
    Caste empowerment among respondents involves much more than resistance to restrictions regarding eating and association with other groups. It includes changes in self perception and thinking about the world; for instance, a few older women declared, "now I am not scared of banamati anymore”, Caste empowerment also includes changes in important social institutions such as family and marriage, as one Sahayogini describe that in her village a marriage occurred between a Christian Dalit girl and a Muslim boy. Since both of their mothers are members of the village Sangha, the women collectively decided to pay for the marriage.
    Opposition to the unjust caste system is closely related to caste empowerment among Dalits as all of the respondents are extremely critical of casteism. One of the woman who serves as a Sangha leader explained that when they were starting the women's sangha in the village, they invited all the women to join; however, "we said, if you have casteism, then please don't join us”. Another female declares, "there should not be any high or low caste”, and one more critiques, "why do we have caste?" When queried about views towards caste Hindus, one woman proclaims, "I feel equal to them”, and another pronounce, "I will not show them any prescribed form of respect”. After being refused entry into a Hindu temple, one respondent admits, "I never went back to that temple again”.
    Many respondents express an awareness of themselves as a caste oppressed group. To cite an instance, one young woman remarks, "I don't want the people in my village to be harassed by the Gowdas (caste Hindu landowners)”. This respondent's resistance to gender and caste oppression is discussed in the case study at the end of chapter six. Other Dalit respondents likewise report that they are refusing to abide by caste Hindu customs which reinforce their subordinate status, such as the lowering of their heads or showing other forms of deference and respect to caste Hindus, and observing outward symbols of Untouchable status like the wearing of a rice bag over the head.
    In the same way, fifty year old Ghallemma explain caste empowerment in her village:
In the beginning, there was casteism problems. The Marathi-speaking people were there. When SC people use to go to the tea stall, they used to give the tea from far, and use clay cups. So the SCs broke all the cups. Now casteism is slowly going out.
As Ghallemma states, there is casteism, but Dalits are also actively resisting casteism and economic exploitation in her village. The caste Hindu tea stall owners refused to serve Dalits in their glass cups, and would be careful not to touch the disposable clay cups into which they pour tea "from far" to serve Dalits. Dalit customers actively resisted this observance of "untouchability" and broke all the clay cups, thereby forcing the owners to serve them in glass cups. Ghallemma implies that because of such acts of resistance, "casteism is slowly going out”.
    One older respondent who had been involved with MSK for five years as a Sangha leader, Chandarma, was asked to comment on how social relations had changed in her village for her as a Dalit and she recalls one example of her caste empowerment:
My brother had some quarrel with the Hindu neighbours. When I heard about this I went to the police inspector. The people say, "how she is so bold to talk to the police”. So I said, "they are like my brothers”. I said hello to him and told him that the women used to quarrel for water and then the Jains ("upper" caste Hindus) came and beat my brother. They are rich, and they used to brush their teeth and place their brush in our clean water, so how can we stay quiet? He said, "that is wrong”. Then he asked me where I learned all this, to talk. I told him about Bidar MSK and so on. Even my brother said I was bold to talk to the police. They have stopped doing that to us and we don't quarrel anymore.
    This respondent provides a vivid portrait of the kinds of female Dalit caste empowerment occurring in Bidar. Using her contacts with MSK to break the cycle of isolation and oppression of Dalits in her village, Chandarma reaches out to the police and informs them of a problem in the village. As a fellow employee of the state, through her employment as a Crèche teacher with MSK, Chandarma considers the police as her "brothers" and much less a threat. She refuses to accept the inferior roles assigned to male and female Dalits in her village and seeks out justice. This incident hints at the importance of outside linkages for the empowerment of Dalit women.
    The declarations and stories above are substantial since they are articulated expressions of indignation. Through they may not constitute an actual resistance movement, they are evidence that Dalit women (i) understand the caste mechanisms which place limits and boundaries on them; and (ii) feel indignant about these mechanisms and express open resentment through they may not (or cannot) act on them. However dissatisfaction can breed dissent and, ultimately, change. These statements indicate that rural Dalit female respondents have not only recognise the need for change, but are actively rejecting and modifying their sense of self and personal identities in regards to their inferior position in the caste Hindu social structure, and are working on bringing changes in the various contexts of their lives.
    Despite the lack of attention paid to caste issues by the program, Dalit participants are straightforwardly including caste and cultural issues as part of their learning and teaching. To cite an instance, participant observation at Sangha meetings, AE and NFE classes, and at MSK's meetings and training, the women and girls usually sing songs about Ambedkar and others songs about oppression, like the famous African American spiritual, "We Shall Overcome”. Several skits performed by the Kendra students include issues of caste discrimination that Dalits have to face in obtaining water, employment, and education.
    Dalit women are on the receiving end of violence perpetuated by the state, communalist and fundamentalist forces (Chhachhi 1989; Kannibaran and Kannibaran 1991; Kapur and Cossman 1993; Qadeer 1988). Any form of upward social mobility of Dalits is often accompanied by caste violence and riots (Bose 1985; Punalekar 1980), and in many cases, Dalit women are the first victims. In order to terrorize the whole caste, caste Hindu men, very often with the connivance of police, rape, even gang-rape, Dalit women. In addition, caste Hindu policemen customarily take advantage and falsely implicate Dalit women in criminal cases and rape them while in detention (Das 1995:74).
    One woman Dalit writer observes:
Rape works as a weapon against the woman as well as her husband, whichever of the two is politically targeted, but it is also the least reported of all the atrocities against the Dalits (Balagopal 1991:2400).
In 1991, the number of women who faced the torture of rape was estimated at two million, and the majority of the victims were Dalit or tribal (Gandhi and Shah 1991; Mathew 1994). However, rape of Dalit women may not even be considered as rape because of the customary access that the "upper" caste men have had to Dalit women's sexuality (Rege 1995).
    An early program administrator describe one incident in 1991 of caste Hindu backlash against a Dalit girl involved with MSK in Bidar:
A girl was raped on the 7th of February. We did a march in the village where the incident occurred. We had a slogan, "When one woman is raped, all women are raped”. All the (MSK) women came with their men, there were over 300 women with 50 to 60 men. There was one more good slogan, "Rape is violence against a human being”. and another which said, "Women is human first, then wife, mother and daughter”.
This incident illustrates that rape is used as a tool of oppression against assertive Dalit women and any program that intends to "empower" them. The way the incident is depicted by the program official is interesting in what it reveals and what it does not. While this administrator describes the rape of a Dalit child as a form of gender oppression and resistance, she ignores completely its caste dimensions.
    The combination of gender and caste oppression energised this issue, and brought Dalit women and men together in a way they had not done before, to demand that caste Hindu men respect Dalit women as human beings. The hands-off approach adopted by MSK officials typifies the Indian state's response to violence against Dalit women. Although they are once again denied justice by the police and courts in this case, the peaceful protest of women and men acts as a warning to the dominant Hindu community in the district that Dalits are not submitting to Hindu patriarchy over Dalit women.

Sundaramma - A Case Study
    Dalit female resistance to gender, caste and class injustice takes many forms, from overt challenge to covert resistance. One common form of resistance participant observation reveals among some women is the refusal to observe rituals, specifically the veiling of the face in the presence of males (Laaj Kaadhvi), and the lowering of the head in the presence of the "high" castes. These ritual observances are social constructions which equate female virtue with modesty, as well as gestures of respect and obedience to (superior) males and "high" castes, and markers of inferior subject positions.
    There are in addition, more overt forms of resistance occurring as one respondent, Sundaramma, spells out:
Two years back, in Beldal village, there was a piece of open land not belonging to anyone. The sangha women wanted to build a sangha hut on that piece of open land, but they were having some problems in getting the permission, and so on. Still, they decided to go ahead and they brought the sand, mud, bricks, etc., and were about to build it.
    Sundaramma continues her story:
Next to the open piece of land, there was a house of the rich farmer. One night, the son of the old farmer went and killed the farmer and threw his body into the open land. In the morning, he went to the police and said, "the sangha women killed my father as we were protesting against them not to build their hut”. Then the police got all of the (SC) women and men of the village and put them in jail.
The above statements exposes some of the caste opposition which rural Dalit women must deal with in trying to become involved with a development project, including the retaliation of caste Hindus who are determined to maintain residential segregation from Dalits. The actions of this farmer's son reveal just how adamant the rich and powerful are in their efforts to prevent rural Dalit women from building their Sanghas next to them. The rich farmer's son used the women as an excuse to kill his father and inherit his property, as well as implicate all Dalits in the village in the murder.
    Sundaramma's statements moreover disclose the complicity between the police and the rich farmers in the rural areas. Without any prior investigation, the Dalit women were assumed to be guilty and two of their husbands were locked up. The police did not give any importance to the Dalit village women's side of the issue, their relationship to MSK, the application they made for the land, the materials they brought, and so on.
    The Dalit men's incarceration served as a focal issue to mobilise Dalit women throughout the district, as Sundaramma explains:
Then the sangha women from all over Bidar district, ten from each village, 186 villages total, came together and held a march for the release of the sangha women and their husbands from the police. Sahayoginis and MSK co-ordinators did not come, only we women came, and we made a procession against the police, that we wanted justice. They were all released and we got justice. They locked up one man for six months and two men for eight months. They were released.
It is significant to note that after three Dalit men were locked up, Sundaramma and the other Dalit women decided to organise themselves independent of the program, and without the help of MSK staff. The program and staff had no clear procedures in this situation and indecision lead to inaction. Perhaps, this incident was viewed by functionaries as having the potential of "cooling women off" from growing aspirations regarding the program.
    Nonetheless, it was clear from the start to Dalit women involved with the program in the district, that the imprisonment of sangha women's husbands was a Dalit issue, that is, Dalit men were being punished for the empowerment Dalit women. The women mobilised themselves immediately and protested for months until the three Dalit men were released.
    In answer to the question, "what happened to the farmer's son?" Sundaramma continues:
Later on, he admitted that he killed his father. He is in the village still and never went to jail. He might have given bribes to remain free. His father was not well, he was old and about to die. The son wanted to take the whole land, so he decided to do what he did. The sangha hut never got built.
As Sundaramma indicates, the issue of justice in the village is related to power. By committing murder, the rich son was able to get everything he wanted: residential segregation, "the whole land”, his sick father dead, and no jail time. The Dalits got more problems, but little in terms of benefits and support from the MSK program.
    Both of the above incidents of rape and false accusation are considered as atrocities under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, yet MSK staff did not help the women to file these cases with the State government or special courts set up to investigate caste abuses against Dalits. Neither have program staff done anything against other atrocities covered under existing laws like the many cases of bonded labour present in the district. The lack of response in addressing caste issues exposes a caste bias present in the program, which is symptomatic of many women’s groups refusal to help Dalit program participants access resources which are provided to them as a disadvantaged caste.
    Even though there was no Sangha ever built, the women’s "successful" resistance served to instil confidence and caste pride among the Dalit women involved. The women's actions demonstrate that large-scale structures of domination are never total, and there is always a space, in this case a Sangha without a hut, "outside the immediate control of the dominant... where, in principle, a shared critique of domination may develop" (Scott 1990:xi).

    The Mahila Samakhya Karnataka program policy and implementation, in the name of focusing on disadvantaged women's empowerment, fails to recognise caste and other social aspects of their lives, which indicate a one-dimensional approach to empowerment, similar to a sectoral approach to development. Dalit women encounter social, economic and gender discrimination by virtue of their caste, and consequently caste issues are far more weighty on them than gender issues. For instance, educated Dalit women still confront institutionalised employment discrimination applied towards the "lower" castes and Dalits in both the public and private sectors. While the MSK program's emphasis on gender concerns is laudable, a more comprehensive approach to women's empowerment should include an understanding of their social, cultural and economic issues as well.
    In contrast, respondents are aware of their multiple gender, caste and class oppressions, and even though they may be nonliterate and lacking in economic resources, they are experiencing gender and caste empowerment. Despite further attempts by caste Hindus to maintain the status quo in regards to Dalits' inferior status in the social order, some Dalit women are determined to change their subordinated role.
    Separate and distinct from Hindu cultures, Dalit cultures serve as a source of strength for Dalit women to resist Hindu hegemony and their ascribed status as "Untouchables”. The teachings of Ambedkar is further acting as a vibrant foundation for respondents' caste empowerment, inside and beyond the context of the program. Dalit women may not be able to read and write, and there is no formal program to provide them with social and cultural education, nevertheless they can sing songs about Ambedkar, his journey to America, attendance at Columbia University, and various academic degrees. In this way Dalits are using Ambedkar as a way of opting out of the Hindu caste system, and its' imposed karma and dharma; as well as a means for pulling themselves up the social ladder.

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