Voices from the Subaltern
Education and Empowerment
Education and Empowerment
Among Rural Dalit (Untouchable) Women
Date: 1/31/99; Revised: 2/26/03
Chapter 3 - Frogs Inside a Well: Gender, Caste and Class Status
In order to understand what constitutes change for Dalit women, it is helpful to explore their status in the family and rural community, which is the context in which these changes occur. This chapter centres on the gender status and differentiating characteristics of rural Dalit women, and other issues which emerged from respondents themselves regarding forms of Dalit patriarchy, gender oppression and lack of literacy skills in the village community. The following aspects of Dalit female lives are explored: residential location, age, caste, marital status and family size, family's ownership of land and other economic resources, work experience and involvement in various MSK program activities, and prior educational experience.
Respondents' Age Characteristics and Gender Roles
Many of the respondents could not tell their exact age, a common problem among non- and neo-literates. A few young women reported a different age when queried a second or third time. Thus, the age of some respondents are only an estimate, rather than an exact one. The age range of the sample vary from ten years to fifty-four years, with an average age of twenty-two years. Within this wide age range of forty-four years, several different age groupings could be made. There are twenty-six females who are younger that the average age of twenty-two years, and seven women who are older that the average age of the sample group. The older women in the sample consist of one group of three women between the ages of thirty-four and thirty-six; two women between forty-two and forty-five years; and the two oldest women in the sample, between fifty-two and fifty-four years old.
The study's findings reveal that there are no females in the sample younger than ten years old, and the youngest females in the sample group consist of four girls, ages ten to twelve. The next youngest age group included is the second largest group in the sample, and consist of eight teens between thirteen and fifteen years of age. The third youngest group, and largest group in the sample, consist of twelve young women between sixteen and eighteen years old. Close to the average age group of the sample, (twenty-two years), is a group of two young women between the ages nineteen and twenty-one.
All of the girls and most of the young women included in the sample were involved in the MSK program either as Sahayoginis, nonformal education (NFE) teachers and students, or as Kendra students. The older women in the sample were involved in the program either as adult education (AE) teachers or crèche (day-care) teachers, and as Sangha members. The research sample reflects a bias of MSK Kendra (girls' hostel) students (twenty) versus students and teachers involved with other program activities, such as NFE, AE, and Sangha savings.
Most of the young women respondents are very aware of the role of women in the village community. There is among most respondents some recognition of the sexual division of labour, the more limited number of options females had versus males, and of their limited voice and power over male behaviour. This section of the chapter explores several issues which are relevant to gender roles in the village for Dalit young women: child labour; life of a teenager; dowry, child marriage and educational access; mobility and access to learning; and educational access and mothers' involvement in MSK.
Child labour is a common experience for many rural Dalit girls and boys. To illustrate, Mayawati, a young girl of 14, spells out the process of child labour among poor Dalit families in her village:
I used to do household work, and when I was ten years old I started going to the fields to do fieldwork for five rupees a day. Me and the other girls used to go to the fields to work at 12 o'clock and came back home at five o'clock. If we go to the fields at eight o'clock and came back at five o'clock, then we would get ten rupees a day. We did weeding work. I worked for three years, sometimes everyday. If the other girls were going, then we would all go.
One more student of the Kendra, Akkava, in the same way describes Dalit child labour in her village:
In my village, people work in the fields. After finishing my household work, I had to go to the fields to work, weeding. Then I used to come home. Sometimes I had to go and graze the buffalo. In the house, I had to do the washing, cleaning, sweeping, and bringing water. My brother did not help out in the house. He used to play like the other village boys.
The days of girls are filled with household production, wage work and other forms of labour. Female roles are defined as part of gender indoctrination and reinforced by structures of patriarchy. Growing up, almost all the women spoke of having to do housework along with childcare and fieldwork in the hot sun.
Other researchers point out that very young children of village landless families become essential to the earning power of the family and directly contribute by herding cattle, collecting firewood for sale, and doing other tasks (Mehta 1993; Nieuwenhuys 1990; White 1982). Young girls often contribute indirectly by taking over their mother's household work, thereby freeing their mother to do daily fieldwork. Perhaps the most important role for young girls, age four to ten years old, is looking after their younger siblings (Chakravarty 1989).
Girls' labor is needed for agriculture and household work and many poor families find it difficult to incur the expenditure of educating women. Many poor, rural families "cannot afford even a single non-producing family member. The daily earnings of children are extremely important for poor families - earnings which often amount to what it cost to feed them. As soon as the children reach their early teens, they can moreover perform the heavier but more `lucrative' field work" (Zurbrigg. 1984).
Many young women in this study said that they were discriminated against as a girl in terms of a lack of free time to play and in limited access to education as compared to their brothers. A few said they were not allowed outside of the house. Many of the unmarried females suggested that other Dalit village women are opposed to their learning. In the words of one eighteen year old young woman, "they will tease mother because of not doing marriage for us girls”.
A few young women indicate that they are discriminated against in terms of physical abuse, unequal nutrition and limited personal items. Other women in the sample spoke of their fathers' and husbands' alcoholism and related domestic violence. In addition, parents do not send young women to NFE night classes because they have to walk too far to the school at after dark, or for other reasons. For instance, one NFE teacher, Laxmiamma, spells out some of the problems Dalit girls face in attending her evening class,
Now, NFE has come and it is good for them. In spite of this, many parents don't send the girls to the MSK night school. They keep them in the home to do the house work. So we have to go to their house and tell them, "many girls come to the night school and they are learning, so why don't you allow your child to learn?" Now they are coming and learning. Eighteen girls are coming to the class.
Laxmiamma informs us that the NFE class she is teaching is now being attended by eighteen Dalit girls who would otherwise have no access to education. In response to a follow-up question, "are there any girls in the village who are not attending the regular government school and are still not coming to the NFE night school?" Laxmiamma observes,
Seven to eight girls in the village are not coming because their parents do not send them, and plus my house is far from their house.
The above statement indicate that even after several years of MSK involvement in the village, the formation of a Sangha, AE and NFE classes, Sangha savings, and so forth, many Dalit women are still unable to take advantage of educational opportunities within the village. Dalit girls are hardly admitted to play as Akkava proceeds to describe,
I never had a chance to play. Once, I went to play but my uncle scolded me. He said, "you are a girl and you have a lot of work at home, so why do you play like the boys?" It is not fair and I felt very sad... For girls like me in the village, they don't allow us to play, to go out of the village, etc. For the adult women, they are not allowed to go to the night school. The men say, "you are old, why do you want to learn?"
When asked the question, "how was being a teenage girl different from being a teenage boy?" Mayawati makes this distinction clear in regards to residential location, education and employment:
In our village, for teenage girls, the parents will do marriage, and girls will go there to their husband's house. But teenage boys will study higher and they will do job.
In a like manner, Neelavati expounds upon gender role differences in her family,
In my family, my brother will manage. If I could be a boy, I would manage and do many things. In my village, my uncle used to fight with other people. When I tell him to stop, he would not listen. I feel very bad being female.
Regarding the self-image of Dalit women, another study shows that some Dalit women accept a subordinate role to men and are submissive to the inequalities and injustices of marriage and family life. Women are aware that compared to herself, a man has a more tolerable existence and is blessed with punya, or higher form of birth Women describe themselves as karmagedigalu or laden with sin, and they blame their own fate, simply because they are born a woman (Aranha, Fernando and Mahale 1991).
In answer to the question, "what are the roles of a female in your family and village?" eighteen year old NFE teacher, Laxmiamma, elucidates on some of the arduous tasks, roles and expectations rural women face:
In the role of not going out the door, and they should work and should not talk to others... There are many problems here. Household work, work in the field, taking care of the animals, taking care of the family. The problems of women are so many that it requires so much time to explain. If the children are grown up, the woman gives some of the responsibilities to the elder children. So the children's development is halted. If the children will not work, then the parents will scold them.
The multiple responsibilities of poor Dalit women compel them to "exploit" their elder children in order to decrease their own exploitation and maintain the family's overall survival. This means that both mothers' and daughters' options regarding education, self-improvement, and travel becomes severely limited, leading to a cycle of nonliteracy, female subordination and feminization of poverty.
Marriage, Family Size and Educational Access
The data reveal that marital status and family size are important factors in determining women's access to education. This provides further evidence that patriarchy is an important issue for female Dalits, married or single. Twenty-three of the females in the sample are single, and ten women are, or were, married. Of the married women, two women separated from their husbands and one woman is widowed. Three women admit that they got married to a close relative, uncle or cousin; and two respondents indicated that they have two mothers, or one mother and one step-mother, living in the same household. Rege (1995) likewise found bigamy a common practice among Dalit men.
Many respondents reported that dowry is a common practice among Dalits and four incidence of other Dalit women's "suicide" or dowry deaths was mentioned by them. Sharma (1995) found at least one case of bride burning for dowry reasons among an urban Dalit community. This indicates that more Dalits are adopting caste Hindu customs like dowry, over the traditional practice of bride price.
Correspondingly, Kapadia (1994) found that a deterioration in the status of women in upwardly mobile Dalit groups, and increasing anti-female bias, is closely related to changes in the marriage system from bride price to dowry. Where dowry is practiced, the woman has to pay more for the `honor' of marrying a man of `value.' In bride price, the more `valuable' the man, the smaller the price the family has to pay for buying the bride. In either case, it is the woman who is brought or sold (Singh, Dey and Roy 1994).
All ten married women in the sample had child marriages ranging from seven years old to sixteen years old. All of the older respondents had arranged child marriages without their consent, that is, before they were seventeen years of age. Child marriage is common among teachers and students in adult education (AE) and nonformal education (NFE) classes, Sangha members, and Kendra students. While two Sahayoginis are unmarried, the vast majority of them were married and had child marriages.
In spite of the fact that the age of marriage for girls has risen by a few years, nonetheless the practice of child marriage is still widespread among Dalits. Rathnaiah (1991) encountered a prevalence of child marriages among female Malas as over 60 percent were married below 15 years of age, and 95 percent had arranged marriages. In like manner, Sharma (1995) uncovered that all of the marriages in an urban Dalit Bhangi community are arranged by parents or by other male members of the community.
One NFE teacher, Laxmiamma, was married at sixteen years of age, and in answer to the question, "were you willing to be married at that point?" affirms that she was not:
No. I was not willing to get married. They forced me to get married. My husband is the son of my paternal aunt and they were asking for me since I was fourteen, but I did not agree. My aunt allowed me to continue my schooling for two years. After tenth standard, I got married.
Her statements suggest that child marriage customs are maintained and reinforced by Dalit men and women, in this case, a paternal aunt and uncle. Even though she did not have much choice in the decision, Laxmiamma used her identity as a student to resist her early marriage at 14 years of age and gained some success by delaying the event for two years.
Ghallemma describes her child marriage and maternal life:
I had a child marriage, when I was eleven years old. I wanted to go to school, but they took me out and got me married. I was thirteen years old when I got my first child. I had six children, five died and one is surviving. They all died when they were very small, two, three years. They died of measles, jaundice and so on. Only two children survived their childhood, one son and one daughter.
As Ghallemma tearfully informed us, more important than education was health issues as four of her children did not live to attend school. She continues:
My daughter died ten years back. Three months after her first delivery she died. Her husband went away to Bombay and he took her there. She was not well and they came back and we took her to the hospital and after eight days, she died.
Both Ghallemma and her daughter had child marriages and problems with maternal and infant health due to teen pregnancies. The problem of lack of access to health care for themselves and children results in high rates of maternal-related mortality, infant mortality, infant deaths, and, illness and death among small children. Other gender related issues like the desire for sons, have a detrimental influence on a woman's health and status within the local community. Furthermore, economic issues are related to decisions regarding family size among poor, rural Dalit families. Therefore, the attempt to educate Dalit women in the hope of decreasing population growth among Dalits is unlikely to succeed unless accompanied by social and economic opportunities for growth.
The fact that India is one of the few nations in the world where life expectancy at birth is shorter for females than males is a clear indication of women's standing relative to men's. The reduced life expectancy for women is due to systematic discrimination against them. Compared to sons, daughters are far more likely to be malnourished and far less likely to receive adequate health care (Jain 1984; Papanek 1990). For these women, the hardships associated with living in a "low-income" developing nation and the deprivation associated with minority status are compounded by a patriarchal value system (Dunn 1993).
Tulsama, a thirty-five year old crèche teacher, and her daughter both had child marriages at fifteen, and there are many more examples of intergenerational child marriages among respondents. NFE teachers were asked, "how do you feel about child marriages in the village?" and Laxmiamma answers:
The children were willing to learn in my school, but the parents forced them to get married. In my village, they do this. I don't know why. For the three girls who got child marriages last year, I told them, "you hand them over to me so I will not let them go until they are at the right age, say eighteen to twenty, then you can them”. But, their parents did not listen to me.
When asked about education and marriage among her friends, Neelavati, a 15 year old Kendra student, affirm that eighty percent of her friends received education only as far as class four and were already married, as she explains:
I had ten friends. They were all from the SC caste in the village. Most of them are married now. Two are yet to be married. Now, one friend lives in Bidar and another lives in Aurad. They got a little bit of education, so they studied up to fourth standard. I used to think that they should have studied like me, up to fifth standard. Their parents stopped them from going to school further and some friends were not interested to study. Some stayed at home to take care of younger brothers and sisters.
When asked if any of her friends got a child marriage, Neelavati replied,
No one of them got child marriages. They all married after they were twelve years old.
The perception of child marriage is not the legal age of seventeen years, but twelve. Some girls drop out of the NFE classes and the Kendra because of child marriages.
Data was obtained on the number of kin Dalit respondents have; however, there is insufficient data on sibling spacing. The family size of Dalit females range from three members to eleven members in a single household, with the average family size of respondents' families being seven members. There is an average of three daughters and two sons in respondents' households. The size of Dalit families is related to issues like child marriage, health, sanitation and so on. In addition, there is a link between sibling spacing and access to education, as older sisters have much greater pressure to take care of younger siblings in families with many children, and are therefore unlikely to continue school.
As futher evidence of this, Shireen Jejeebhoy’s study of family size and outcomes for girl children in 40 villages in rural Maharashtra in the mid-80s, discovered that girls belonging to a small family with 2-3 children, worked 113 days in general and 93 days in housework. Girls from larger families of 5-6 children worked 120 days in general and 98 days in housework; while girls from families with 7 plus children worked 107 days a year in general and 85 days in housework. The author argues,
girls in small families are withdrawn from school to make up for a diminishing supply of family labour (as a result of both lower fertility and increased schooling for boys), and therefore are less likely to complete middle school (Jejeebhoy 1993:1818).
In the relationship between work and a child's order among his or her same-sex siblings, the major burden is undertaken by older daughters at the cost of their education (Jejeebhoy 1993).
The issues surrounding education, family planning, and population control, points towards a significant impasse facing the women's movement in India today. For example, although delay of marriage and more spacing between pregnancies may lead to better maternal and infant health, the state-prescribed contraceptives and birth control methods administered to poor women likewise contributes to ill health and shortened life-spans for these women. Ultimately, using education and/or family planning strategies fails to deal with the underlying causes of poverty and poor health, and furthermore, poor women’s bodies remain as the key point of contestation between the conflicting aims of the patriarchal state and household.
Respondents' Family Land and Other Economic Resources
In terms of economic status of respondents' families, data gathered on land ownership indicate that seventeen, or slightly over fifty percent, come from families who are landless. Insufficient data on family income exist, but almost all the respondents are living beneath the poverty line on their subsistence wage level.
Sixteen respondents, or slightly less than fifty percent, come from families who own land. This figure is not representative of land ownership among Dalits in Bidar district, and points out that the sample reflects a bias in regards to the class status of Dalit women, reflected in the high percentage of land ownership among them compared to the much lower figures of land ownership among Dalits in the district in general.
Among the land owning families, those with the maximum access to land include two families who owns seven acres of land, and two families who sharecrop five acres. Almost all the land holdings are marginal as the average size of land is less than four acres among land owning families; with seven acres being the most amount of land under control by any one Dalit family. Four families sharecrop land, bringing a total of nineteen families who either own or sharecrop land. Three of the sixteen families who are landless share crop an average of three acres of land.
Twenty-one respondents, or seventy-five percent, come from families who own a small number of livestock (cows, buffaloes, goats and chickens), while seven, or twenty-five percent, are from families who do not own domestic animals; the data is incomplete regarding livestock ownership among five respondents' families. Eight respondents come from families who owned an average of three cows; seven are from families who own an average of less than two buffaloes; four come from families who own an average of two goats; and eleven are from families owning an average of four chickens.
Participant observation of some villages in the district confirmed that water is a major problem in the lives of rural Dalits. One respondent explains, "when there is no rain, there is no work, only collecting firewood for sale”. The crops planted in the area, including chick pea, beet, tomatoes and sugar cane, all are dependent on rainfall.
Respondents' Work Experience In and Outside of the Program
Occupational data on respondents and their families reveal that almost all the respondents are workers, and several had multiple occupations. Twenty-eight respondents, or over ninety percent, work as coolie labourers, and only one as a farmer. In addition to coolie work, three women work as MSK day-care teachers, and five work as night school teachers in their villages. Nineteen of the youngest women in the sample were students of the MSK Kendra, and two women work as outreach social workers (Sahayoginis) for the MSK program. Five Kendra students, ten to thirteen years old, never worked.
Among respondents' mothers, twenty or over ninety percent, work as coolie labourers, two as farmers and one as a homemaker; occupational data is incomplete on ten respondents' mothers. Among respondents' fathers, eleven or fifty percent, work as coolie labourers, five as farmers, four as masons, one as a cook, one as a tailor, one as a factory worker and union leader. Employment data is incomplete regarding eleven respondents' fathers. Of the ten married women, four of their husbands work as coolie labourers, one as a farmer, one as a mason, one as a driver, and one as an electrician. Employment data is incomplete regarding two respondents' husbands.
Respondents' Prior Educational Status
Dalit women's nonliteracy is due in part to literacy being viewed as a potential challenge to patriarchy and casteism. In addition to the problems associated with learning itself, they have to get over the hurdles put in place to prevent them from learning. Women’s education is viewed within Dalit culture similar to that of mainstream opinions, i.e., in terms of women's roles as mother and caregiver. To illustrate, even Ambedkar once advised his followers in a seminar: "If you want to educate your children, first educate women" (Nameshroy 1985:188).
The data on respondents and their' families prior education reveal that most had some access to lower primary school education, however due to lack of attendance, the poor quality of the education they received, etc., most of them were scarcely neoliterate before entering the MSK program. Nonetheless, this indicates that the sample population is relatively educated compared to the ten to twenty percent of Dalit female literacy rates reported at the district, state and national levels.
This incongruity in educational levels is related to several factors. The main one is that recruitment of young women into MSK's hostel program required them having at least a class four education, and since Kendra students represent the majority of the sample, the education level of the entire sample is skewed upwards. Other factors include the influence of Dalit leader, Ambedkar, and his emphasis on education for Dalit women, as well as people's perceptions of how mobility is created through education.
Twenty-five respondents, or a little more than seventy-five percent, attended public school. Of these, more that half were unable to complete primary school, with thirteen of them attending up to classes three and four; and one attending up to class six. Of those who attended secondary school, six attended until class eight; and two attended class nine and ten. At the intermediate level, two of the respondents attended class twelfth. Since the most common educational level among school-going respondents is fourth class, the experience of primary school dropout is a common one for the vast majority of the sample population. Further, a total of eight respondents are nonliterates who never attended school, so attendance at formal and nonformal schooling is an important issue for a full three-quarter of the sample.
These figures are similar to data from annual reports 1991/92 to 1994/95 of the Commissariat of Public Instruction (GOK) which showed that of all the SC children in Karnataka who enrolled in class one, a full one quarter never make it to class four. Of those enrolled in class four, another quarter drop out before class seven. And of those who attend class seven, another quarter never enroll in secondary school or class eight (quoted in Charsley and Karanth 1998).
Another researcher, Rathnaiah (1991), discovered that 65 percent of the Mala students in his study in AP are literate and 35 percent are non-literate. Of the literates, 44 percent have completed education unto primary level; 19 percent up to the high school level; and 2 percent have studied up to the intermediate and only one has a college degree. None of them have received beyond a Bachelor' degree level of education. In a another study, it was found that only 25 percent of Dalit girls in UP were able to attend schools (CFWSD 1993).
In his study of 1988-90 primary school enrollment figures in West Bengal, Lieten (1992) observes that in class one, SC/ST girls were 66 percent of SC/ST boys in 1990. Attendance and drop out in class two remain as major problems, and have increased in relative terms. By way of illustration, in 1976, 40 percent of pupils reached third class; in 1990, only 31 percent of the 1988 class managed to do so. From fifth class onwards, SC/ST students made up only seven percent of the school population in the district. This indicates that even though Dalit girls' enrollment in class one has increased since 1976, they were less likely to be in school by class three in 1990 than in 1976.
In contrast to the seventy-five percent of Dalit respondents in this study who had access to primary education, only three of the respondents' mothers attended school with an average education level of fifth class, while twenty-three respondents' mothers, or over seventy-five percent, are nonliterate and never attended school; educational data is incomplete regarding seven respondents' mothers. In comparison, Benjamin found in his study in Bihar, just one or two percent of Dalit wives have been able to complete high school, and a scant five percent could attain primary and middle levels (1989). In this study, eight of the respondents' fathers attended school with an average education level of fifth class, while eighteen respondents' fathers, or over sixty-five percent, are nonliterate and never attended school; educational data is incomplete regarding seven respondents' fathers.
When asked, "what was like for you like growing up in the village?" one young woman, Tayamma, who never went to school, concedes:
I used to feel sad whenever I see the other girls going to school or coming from school, that I should have gone to school, and in the same way I would have began... I used to feel guilty because my friends had their education. My only hope was in learning.
Neelavati, who dropped out of primary school after fifth class, when asked the same question, in like fashion admits, “whenever I used to see other (sic) educated people I used to feel bad”. Godawari, explain some of the problems caused by lack of education in her family,
Being uneducated, my father and mother would listen to others and that's how they spoil their lives. If there is education, our life would be happy.
One older woman, Sarojamma, explained some of the problems nonliterate people in the village face in their lives:
Once, when my son wrote me a letter, I went to the village Patel (landowner) and asked him to read the letter, but he said he did not have time. So, these things should not happen... This is the way; we don't understand.
Nonliteracy leads to dependency upon landowners to read personal letters. Lack of privacy can lead to the landlord learning the details of personal affairs and translating private mails to his advantage. In addition, nonliterate families probably have to return some favour or payment in kind for literacy services rendered. Both young and old respondents realise that being nonliterate meant further dependency and so they were all keen to empower themselves through further learning.
Factors Related to High Percentage of Female School Dropout
Many school going Dalit girls discontinue their education and sacrifice to contribute to running the house, as well as the family economy and national economy. School dropout is due to a combination of several inter-related factors, including those around schooling, age, class, caste, location and gender. Personal health and illness, as well as corporal punishment by male teachers is often suggested as a reason for dropout.
This later factor may be related to gender and caste issues such as respondents' fear of physical abuse and violence against Dalits in school run almost entirely by caste Hindu teachers. In another study, one Dalit parent explained that their children were treated badly in school when there was political strife in the village. Girls are scolded over issues like, `for being stupid,' and not wearing a `proper dress,' and do not return to the teacher (Lieten 1992:108).
Two inter-related factors many respondents refer to are the distance to school coupled with a lack of transportation to school. Distance to school is a complicated issue related to several other factors besides actual mileage and transportation, such as gender, age and caste. Several respondents note young women's lack of mobility in terms of not being able to travel outside of the village alone after a certain age. Problems with transportation to school include an unpredictable bus schedule.
Economic related factors are mentioned by a majority of respondents as a reason for dropout. Eight respondents credit class and gender related factors as a reason for dropout, such as domestic responsibilities of household production; a few cite care for domestic animals; and nine imputes wage work to support their families. Four others explain they had the responsibility of child care in the fields, while seven admit they had to do childcare at home to free their mother for wage work. Four women suggest that, as poor families, they lacked the money for school fees and supplies like slates, pencils, writing books, clothing, and so on.
Age and gender related factor are a significant reasons mentioned by several respondents in terms of young women not being permitted by parents, relatives, and villagers, to attend school after a certain age, usually after their first menstruation. One respondent who dropped out early but who wanted to continue schooling was told that she is "too old to sit with the younger children”.
The most common reasons given for dropout are gender related. Gender oppression such as child marriage was mentioned by twelve respondents as reasons for interrupting or making schooling inaccessible. Dropout, child marriage, and dowry, are related to social and economic issues. One of the reasons cited by an NFE teacher is the changing family structure, from extended to nuclear. As sons are leaving parental homes sooner than before, parents try to marry their daughters before their sons leave, so that they may help pay for their sisters'dowry and marriage.
In the words of another woman, "girls were not allowed to be educated”. The five literacy teachers in the sample all indicate that husbands scolded their wives and themselves for "trying to learn their wives something”. Ten respondents blame fathers, mothers, uncles and grandparents for being against Dalit female education, while five others charge other village people for being against Dalit young women becoming educated.
A few parents point out that an educated woman needs to have an educated husband, who will demand more dowry, so women are not educated and even those who are, find it difficult to get married. Analogously, Mukhopadhyay (1994) found that people think that it will be harder to get girls married if they are educated, while fathers were concerned about maintaining control of their daughters' sexuality and choice of marriage partners.
Other researchers discovered that over 42 percent of girls have never attended any school, and the reasons for no attendance and drop out was 66 percent economic and 65 percent familial. Almost 50 percent of the parents said that literacy skills was appropriate for boys only, and employment and education reservation policy was perceived as only for boys. Yet, interestingly, over 88 percent of "upper" caste girls were in school, with much smaller drop out rates (CFWSD 1993). Accordingly, Lieten states that for Dalit families, "junior school-going is much less discriminated by gender than by the economic position" (1992:108). These findings suggest there are significant variations by caste and class in the general education rates, and that gender is only one factor influencing girls' education.
Another study unearthed that while more than 21 percent of the parents wanted their daughters to become "good housewives”, only 18 percent wanted their daughters to be doctors, school teachers or do "some service". The authors reported:
As far as mother's perceptions in the matter of the desired levels of education for boys and girls, some contrasts may seem quite interesting It is seen that 4.5 percent (of) mothers felt that there was no point in educating girls, while only 0.5 percent felt the same way about boys. Around 19 percent (of) mothers said that it was enough to educate girls up to primary level or just teach them to read and write. Less than 4 percent (of) mothers felt similarly about boys. Whereas 33 percent (of) mothers wanted their daughters to study as much as they aspired, around 40 percent wanted this for their sons (Bagchi, Guha and Gupta 1993).
The last finding reported above is notable as it indicate the interest of one in three mothers to educate their daughters.
Rathnaiah (1991) found that the reasons provided by parents for not favoring education for their daughters include: (i) education beyond Intermediate for girls is a luxury according to them, and it is also undesirable for many reasons; (ii) they are of the opinion that when the girls cross the high school education they are expected to marry; (iii) higher education for girls is expensive and it makes them more independent and indifferent towards marriage; and tf they are independent, they pose serious problems to their husbands after marriage; and finally, (iv) higher education for girls affects their household management in husbands' home, taking care of needs and interests of her husband and children, other household tasks, etc.
Concerning the future studies of young women, Mukhopadhyay writes:
None of them seem sure about how long they will be able to continue their education. Seventeen girls consider education as a weapon to empower themselves and of them seven prefer service, two want to be teachers and five want to join the medical profession. Alarmingly, seven other girls seem to be extremely fatalist and cannot think beyond becoming typical house-wives or farm-hands (1994:1380).
This chapter explores the different characteristics of poor, rural Dalit women and the common problems they face in gaining access to survival, economic and education resources at the household and village community levels. Dalit women are oppressed at the household level through patriarchy in the form of domestic violence, restrictions on mobility, child marriages, dowry, and double burdens of fieldwork and household production. At the village community level, they face a combination of gender, caste, and class oppressions, from child labour, poverty, landlessness, and perpetual in-debtedness, to lack of water and other survival resources, economic exploitation, employment discrimination and sexual violence.
The multiple forms of oppression poor, rural Dalit women face often leads to poor health, nonliteracy, poor self esteem, and depression. Nevertheless, all of the respondents had a keen interest in learning and in improved employment opportunities. The women are constantly resisting oppression at the household and community level to improve living conditions for themselves and their families.
The Mahila Samakhya project is the first education and empowerment program that targets rural Dalit women for education and training inputs. As such, it was a departure from previous programs which targeted rural women in general, and so quickly became monopolised by "upper" caste and class women. Poor Dalit women of Bidar district responded enthusiastically to the MSK program once they realised that they were to be the main beneficiaries, and although they all have to work a double-day, they were prepared to extend their responsibilities to include the roles of learner, feminist, community teacher and activist. However, even to participate in the MSK program, respondents faced strong opposition from their families and rural communities. The women's and girls' very resistance and actions instigated various forms of individual and collective empowerment, explored more fully in the following chapters.