Friday, May 20, 2011

Voices from the Subaltern - Chapter Two

Voices from the Subaltern

Education and Empowerment
Among Rural Dalit (Untouchable) Women

Moses Seenarine
Date: 1/31/99; Revised: 2/26/03
Chapter 2 - Sink of Localism, Den of Ignorance: Research Setting
    This chapter provides some background on the field setting, Bidar district, Karnataka state, including information on the local Dalit situation Although not the focus of this study, this chapter outlines the various components of the Mahila Samakhya women's empowerment program. These topics will help readers to place into context the reporting and discussion of findings from the field, which follows this chapter.

Current Development Policies in India
    With 900 million people in 1994, India has the second largest population in the world and around 40 percent of the population is under age 15. The government's major development focus remains a production-population control strategy for continued economic growth. There is a large government birth control program aimed at providing education and sterilisation services primarily to poor Dalit, Muslim and other "minority" women.
    About 43 percent of India's geographical area is used for agriculture activity, and although production has increased significantly since independence, the availability of food per capita has not improved as much, from 395 grams per day to 474 grams per day, an increase of 79 grams per day, after fifty years of independence. During the last decade, the economy have been growing at about six percent per year, however, both the wholesale price index (WPI) and the consumer price index (CPI) have increased by 10 percent each year since 1985, with food prices registering the highest increase.
    In 1994-95, India's exports were $US 26.2 billion and imports were $US 28.2 billion, giving a trade deficit of $US 2 billion. The Netherlands is a major destination for Indian exports, Rs. 18,303 million in 1994-95, as well as a major source for imports into India, Rs. 11,776 in 1994-95. India receives a substantial amount of foreign assistance from the Netherlands and several other countries, a total of $US 1,859 million in 1992-93.  The Mahila Samakhya program is one such foreign assistance program fully funded by the Netherlands.
    The process of linking foreign funding, local NGOs and the government began a long time ago in the form of Christian schools in the 19th century. Notwithstanding, both colonial and independent government policies favouring limited education for Indian women reinforced middle class interests and largely ignored the interests of peasants or working class people. Although women were active partners in many of the nationalist and revolutionary struggles during the last two centuries in South Asia, gender issues were generally secondary as "their issues were not taken seriously by male participants nor was their potential as activists fully utilised or recognised." 
    Translated into the current Indian development scene, the same pattern of mobilisation with limited gender gains continues in many development programs for women. Focusing on her work in Bangladesh as researcher and development practitioner, Florence McCarthy argues:
approaches to women's issues cluster around `uplift' or social welfare traditions where organisations assume that external direction is required to improve the backward position of poor women. Poor women are treated as `clients', and programme operations often encourage forms of dependency among participants for continued access to programmes for employment, credit, inputs and support. In these types of programmes women are not generally encouraged to exercise or develop personal skills through autonomous activity, or assume responsibility for or contribute to programme focus and direction.
These programmes, like many others, exercise a paternalistic, top down form of control within hierarchical structures where authority is not questioned... In situations where staff are predominantly male, the degree of control and limits to female member's autonomy is only enhanced. It is also the case, however, that class differences encourage middle class, educated women to assume the superiority of their experience and knowledge in constructing programme activities which they think are appropriate to meet the needs of poor women. 
    Indian women are also seen as vehicles through which national priorities can be realised; for example, women are looked upon as increasingly good credit risks, the key to reduced population growth rates, and critical to child health and family well-being. Regarding consciousness raising programs, McCarthy writes:
Other approaches to women's programs attempt to encourage consciousness raising among female members, but within controlled activities such as literacy campaigns where alternative forms of action beyond organisational goals are rarely presented and where gender issues remain muted or unaddressed.
    However, rural women are often resistant to many development programs' hierarchical structures and grew suspicious of aggressive population control programs. Over time, more decentralised and collective organisations evolved in the ongoing attempt to mobilise rural women. Some of these women's organisations, like the Mahila Samakhya program, open up a space for poor women to express themselves, which can lead to changes in both individual and collective action. McCarthy illustrates:
Some separate female organisations do exist which follow the more decentralised, collective approach... In these cases, local rural women play enhanced roles in group activities, and power is more nearly equalised between staff and members... it is among these groups that local women take the initiative in collective action against threatening social circumstances. 

The Mahila Samakhya Women's Empowerment Program
    The Netherlands Government has been supporting drinking water projects in five states in India. It became clear that this was a women's issue and in dealing with women, it became apparent that more assistance was needed. To support women's development in a more systematic way, two consultants were asked to draw up a proposal for women's education. A final draft, called the Mahila Samakhya program, was approved by the Indian Government in September, 1988, for the VII Plan Period and the program was implemented through registered societies in three states. A joint Indo-Dutch agreement was signed in July 1989, and a joint review committee (Jiggins et al. 1990) recommended the project for extended Dutch funding for the VIII Plan Period (1991-95), on a hundred percent basis. (GOI 1989; 1991; 1993a; 1993b).
    The first year of this on-going program was 1989-1990. In 1989, the program was started in three districts in Karnataka State, including Bidar. By 1995, the program grew from an initial 15 villages to 186 villages and 7,000 women, out of a total of 512 villages and a population of 612,607 females in the district (GOI 1989). The overall program is designed to reach disadvantaged women in rural communities and create in them a demand for education, and within this empowerment is a central objective.
    The involvement of a "progressive" donor such as the Dutch, and leading Indian feminists as initial program consultants and director, made this program unique in the sense that it is one in which a more conscious effort was made to be "empowering". The program attempts to give women time and space in order to meet and discuss issues relevant to them; and encourages group action in order to bring about social change (GOI 1993a).
    The Indian Government officials view the Mahila Samakhya program as a subsequent action to the Indian National Policy on Education which states:
education can be used as an agent of basic change in the status of women. In order to neutralise the accumulated  distortions of the past, there will be a well﷓conceived edge  in favour of women. The New Education system will play a positive interventionist role in the empowerment of women (MHRD 1986:4.2).
The parameters of empowerment elaborated in a report by the Mahila Samakhya Program Review Mission states:
women become empowered through collective reflection and decision making. The parameters of empowerment are: building a positive self﷓image and self﷓confidence; developing ability to think critically; building up group cohesion and fostering decision﷓making and action; ensuring equal participation in the process of bringing about social change; encouraging group action in order to bring about change in society; and providing the wherewithal for economic independence (Jiggins et al. 1990:1.1.2).
    The program has a three-tiered structure. The District Unit shoulders the overall responsibilities for the program at the district level and provides resource support for specific inputs like education, childcare, health, and so on. At the State level, an autonomous registered society is set up to take decisions on the management and financial aspects of the program.   
    The State level office is set up to provide a facilitative atmosphere for the conduct of the program, the necessary resource support for the functional areas of the project, and arranges for the inter-district linkages of the program so as to create a wider network for the women's movement. At the National level the program is co-ordinated by the Project Director with guidance from a national resource group of eminent women.

Mahila Samakhya Program Components
    The Mahila Samakhya program has five components; each specific component and its aims are:
    (i) the Mahila Sangha or Women's Collective: this is the nodal point for the program at the village level. It constitutes a space or accessible forum where women can meet, be together, and begin the process of reflecting, asking questions, speaking fearlessly, thinking, analysing and above all feeling confident to articulate their needs through meeting together. These village women's groups are presumed to set out their own agenda for education and collective action. They should also try to seek solutions to their problems by initiating action and pressurising the government offices at the sub-district and district levels to respond (GOI 1989; 1991; 1993b).
    (ii) the Sahayogini: a motivator and village catalyst for the women; a support guide for ten villages who serves as a liaison between the villages and the support structure and educational institutions located at the district levels.
    (iii) Educational Activities: Mahila Samakhya addresses itself to planning access to education and generating demand for education. In this activity, the Mahila Sangha is supported by the Sahayogini and the District and State units. As and when the demand for specific inputs emerge, such as Non-Formal Education (NFE), Adult Education (AE), Early Child Care and Education (ECCE) or Crèche, and specific vocational training (herbal medicine, sericulture, etc.) the District and State units of Mahila Samakhya provides these needed inputs.
    In order to cater to the training and educational resource needs, a District Resource Unit (DRU) for AE/NFE may be set up in co-ordination with the Department of Education. Non-governmental and voluntary organisations (NGOs), social science institutes, and other agencies may act as consultants for training programs, and so on. Innovative work in the field of adult education, NFE, and ECCE facilities is actively encouraged and the financial pattern for such innovations is approved by the State level Executive Committee (EC). The Bangalore-based NGO, AIKYA, serves as the DRU and main training agency in the MSK Bidar district program.
    (iv) Mahila Shikshana Kendra: Mahila Samakhya attempts to create a pool of educated and trained women who will be able to work in educational and developmental programs. The Mahila Shikshana Kendra or Girls' Hostel has been designed to provide condensed quality formal education to both nonliterate women and school dropouts.
    (v) Support Services: the Mahila Sangha collectively addresses itself to women's problems such as access to fuel, fodder, drinking water, and issues related to women's work such as fair wages. Additionally, the Sangha seeks possible solutions and alternatives to these problems and issues. An effort is made to harness resources available at the Block and District levels for this purpose, especially linking with other programs such as those providing drinking water, training and credit which are co-ordinated by the Rural Development Department (RDD) and the Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD) (GOI 1989; 1991; 1993b).
    In 1995, the Mahila Samakhya Karnataka Bidar district program employed one each of the following: acting District Program Co-ordinator (DPC), office assistant, male driver, and male messenger. The State program director, acting DPC, as well as AIKYA’s Director, are all caste Hindus. Paradoxically, in a women’s development program, the acting DPC and AIKYA’s director are male, as are the two main trainers employed as consultants. The district program employs 18 Sahayoginis, 60 NFE night school teachers, and 2 Kendra teachers, the vast majority of whom were caste Hindus. Twenty-eight Dalit young women are enrolled at the Kendra.
    The MSK Bidar program have 110 active Sanghas, of which 47 are registered, 78 have an opened bank account. Of the active Sanghas, 63 are receiving honorariums, 25 are utilising honorariums, 25 started savings, and 42 Sangha huts are completed. There are 36 crèches or child care centres, 60 AE night schools, 35 NFE centres, and one Kendra in the district(GOK 1995).
    The Indo-Dutch Mahila Samakhya Karnataka program received several governments grants to fund its operations since 1990: 7,500,000 rupees (Rs.) for each year 1990-91 and 1991-92, and Rs. 10,000,000 for each year 1992-93, 1993-94, and 1994-95 (30 rupees approximately equals to US$1.00 in 1994). The AIKYA District Resource Unit (DRU) in Bidar district also received funds from the MSK program: Rs. 379,000 for 1991-92, 448,000 for 1992-93, and Rs. 452,800 for 1993-94. Figures were taken from MSK annual reports and data for some years were unavailable (GOK 1993; 1994a; 1995).
    For the year ended 31st March, 1995, the Mahila Samakhya Karnataka program had Rs. 14,807,736 in funding state-wide, of which 1,595,904 was spent on administrative salaries, 1,495,430 on Sahayogini's salaries, 1,740,420 on Sangha honorarium, 461,000 on Sangha hut construction, 1,064,734 on training and documentation, 1,481,061 on workshops and meetings, 723,652 on child care facilities, 372,748 on publications, 112,330 on AE and NFE teacher salaries, and 172,257 on Kendra teacher salaries. No financial figures were available for the Bidar district program (GOK 1995).
    Despite the fact that the Mahila Samakhya program objective is to educate and empower rural women, the program did not produce any curriculum to accomplish these goals. Consequently, program staff and teachers have to use already existing government texts which are filled with gender and caste bias. Gender awareness training in the program is highly uneven, often depending on the capabilities and interests of individual staff members. Moreover, no reservations were made to employ Dalit female staff and village organisers, which results in domination of the program by caste Hindu women.

Bidar District, Karnataka
    Bidar district is located at the northern tip of Karnataka State at an altitude of 664 meters, with a total area of 5,448 square kilometres. It is one of twenty districts in Karnataka State, South India, which has a total area of 191,791 sq. km. Bidar is situated 740 km from the state capital of Bangalore, and is  bordered by the states of Andhra Pradesh and Maharastra, and Gulbarga district of Karnataka. The district is sub-divided into five talukas: Aurad, Basavakalayan, Bhalki, Bidar, and Humnabad. There are a total of 598 inhabited villages, and six towns and urban agglomerations in the district (GOK 1994b).
    The district is marked by its age old traditions, where most of the women are influenced by the "purdah" system and related practices of  Muslim rulers, including the Nizam of Hyderbad period. Rural Dalit women in Bidar are historically among the most disadvantaged group, traditionally isolated from each other, on the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder, and have very little opportunities for collective action.
    Bidar is a drought-prone, primarily rural district, where the average rainfall is 847 mm per year. The average maximum and minimum temperature is 32.2 C and 20.9 C respectively. In the district, 61.16 percent of the total area, 376,751 hectares, is categorised as agricultural land; 27.01 percent, 147,161 hectares, as wasteland; 2.06 percent, 11,279 hectares, as forest land; and 0.95 percent, 5,173 hectares, as water bodies. There are 166,000 land holdings in the district, with an average size of 2.8 hectares. The average size of land holding in the state is 2.13 ha. The 1990-91 estimated annual per capita income in the state was Rs. 2111 (GOK 1990b:12).
    The principal crops grown in the district include cereals and millets, pulses, sugar cane, and edible oilseeds. Jowar is the main cereal grown, in an area of 111,900 hectares; Gram and Tur are the main pulses grown, in 41,500 and 41,700 hectares respectively. The chief agricultural implements used are the wooden plough and bullocks. The major sources of irrigation are wells - masonry, non-masonry, bore and tube wells. The principal livestock are poultry, cattle, buffaloes, goats, and sheep (GOK 1994b).
    The population in the district is 1,255,799; 612,607 females to 643,192 males - a sex ratio of 954 females for every 1000 males. Over 80 percent of the district's population (1,010,096 people) is rural. The 1981-91 decennial growth rate in the district was 25.65 compared to 20.69 in the state during the same time period. The population density of Bidar district in 1991 was 230 persons per sq. km.; in the state, it was 235 (GOK 1994b).
    The four dominant religions in the district and state are Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. In 1981, there were 746,535 Hindus; 20,804 Buddhists; 38,301 Christians; and 189,055 Muslims listed in the district. The dominant caste in Bidar is the Lingayats and among the `backward castes' are the Kambara, Kuruburus and the `scheduled castes' and `scheduled tribes' (SC/ST). Buddhists are primarily from the SC community (GOK 1994b).
    The backward castes are mainly agricultural labourers. Most of the land in the district is owned by the Lingayat community. According to the 1991 Census of India, the percentage of main agricultural workers to the total population in the state during 1991 was 37 percent; while three percent of the total population were marginal workers. Of the main workers, 45 percent were agricultural labourers; 30 percent were cultivators; and 23 percent were listed as other workers. The State Government prescribed minimum wage per day for agriculture labourers is Rs. 12 (GOK 1994b).
    The Dalit or scheduled castes (SC) population in the district in 1991 was 260,033 persons, or 20.71 percent of the total population. From 1981 to 1991, the percentage of variation of the SC population was 63 percent. The scheduled tribes population in the district in 1991 was 107,215 persons, or eight percent of the total population. From 1981 to 1991, the percentage of variation for the ST population was 142 percent (GOK 1994b). Significantly, SC and ST populations had the highest birth rates, and not coincidentally, the lowest incomes, in the district.
    Bidar is one of the most educationally "backward" regions, and the literacy rate in 1991 was 45 percent, which is less than the literacy rate in the state - 47 percent; 38 percent females and 56 percent males (Census 1991). The literacy rate among females in the district was 31 percent, and among rural women in the district it was 24 percent (not including population of the age group 0-6 years) in 1991. The total male literacy rate was 59 percent in 1991 (Census 1991). Although there are significant inter- district and inter-caste variations in the literacy rate for females, the literacy rate among Dalit females is even less than the figure given for total female literacy in the district.
    There are five major languages spoken in the district: Kannada, Marathi, Urdu, Telugu, and Hindi. Many persons in the district are multi-lingual. In 1992, there were 498 lower primary schools with 73,893 pupils; 462 higher primary schools with 214,947 pupils; 141 high schools with 23,420 pupils; and 37 comprehensive junior colleges with 14,319 students enrolled. Of the 2,939 students who appeared for the October, 1992 Secondary School Leaving Certificate examination (SSLC), 863 students passed (27 percent), and the district ranked second out of the twenty districts of Karnataka state (GOK 1994b).

Caste and Class in Karnataka
    In a recent study of Karnataka, Rekha Kaul (1993) notes that the three dominant Hindu castes in the state have been (i) the "upper" caste Brahmins, (ii) the Sudra Vokkaliga groups, and (iii) the non-Brahmin Lingayat groups. Other backward castes (OBCs) include the potters (Kumbars), washers (Aasas), fishermen (Bedas), barbers (Nayundas), toddy tappers (Idigas), and shepherds (Kurubas). The 'backward' communities, castes and tribes accounted for 44.52 percent of the total population of the state.
    Lingayats and Vokkaligas together constitute about 26 percent of the State's population, with Vokkaligas comprising close to 11 percent (Nataraj 1990; Pinto 1994). Both Vokkaligas and Lingayats have dominated state politics since independence in 1956 - they currently represent half of the state's legislative assembly and zilla parishads. The majority of jobs in the state services were held by Lingayats (17 percent), Vokkaligas (13 percent) and Brahmins (12 percent) (GOK 1990a:200-02). A random survey of 523 villages in Karnataka found that the two groups continue to hold the bulk of arable land in the villages, with the Lingayats holding as much as 27 percent and Vokkaligas as much as 28 percent (GOK 1990a:49-51).
    With the increasing assertiveness of Dalits in the state, there have been several incidents of caste violence. For example, on April 17, 1988, the Dalit colony at Amrutur village in Tumkur district of Karnataka was subjected to harassment, allegedly by caste Hindus. Over 1000 people attacked the Dalits and molested the women the day after they were admitted into the temple by the Tahsildar (village official)  (Prabhavathi 1995:85). In Sargur, southern Karnataka, there was communal violence between Dalits and Lingayats in November 1992 causing the death of two Lingayats and six Dalits (Singh 1992a). In Idapanur village, Raichur district, three lives were lost on May 23rd, 1992, in caste conflicts.

Caste Status of Dalits in Rural Karnataka
    Equivalent to the endurance of lower class status among Dalits, the "lower" caste status of Dalits in India is only slightly improved, and in several regards has actually worsened. As reviewed in chapter three, frequent crimes against Dalits in Karnataka by casteist forces are used as a means of keeping Dalits in line. Whenever Dalits make attempts to secure rights that were not enjoyed by their ancestors, however constitutional they may be, there is retaliation on them. To cite an instance, in Alagi village of Gulbarga district, when the Dalits refused to kill buffaloes for the Laxmi Devi festival of caste Hindus, three of their leaders were murdered in June 1992 (Pinto 1996).
    Land is another important area of conflict between Dalits and the rest of the community. By tradition Dalits are forbidden to own land as their role in the caste society is to serve the landlords by providing cheap labour. Dalit ownership of land represents a loss of power and cheap labour to the "upper" castes and it often leads to caste violence. Although nearly half of respondents' families own marginal land, they are not representative of land ownership among Dalits on account of the class and education bias present among participants of MSK and the Kendra, and consequently among the sample.
    According to respondents, their families' land were acquired through inheritance and are often the subject of conflict within families and between Dalits and caste Hindus. Furthermore, there is a big difference between the family's land and women's ownership of land (Alaka and Chetna 1987). A third area of conflict concerns Dalit women's exploitation, for instance sexual assault, rape, and the religiously sanctioned Devadasi system which continue to flourish in many parts of the state, as discussed in chapter three.
    Dalits attempts to organise themselves to resist caste Hindu forces encounter further impediments. To cite an example, when a group of Dalits in Kolar district established an organisation called Ambedkar Sangha, 17 of them, including seven women, were attacked in June 1995. The very name of Ambedkar brings opposition from caste Hindus towards Dalits, because it is widely held that he provides the inspiration for Dalits to organise themselves against caste oppression. Pursuing the path set by Ambedkar, a large number of Dalits are embracing Buddhism at least as an external sign of protest against Hinduism (Pinto 1996).
    There are a few organisations and issues which serve to bring Dalit sub-groups together at the village, district and state levels (Joshi 1987). For example, Ambedkar's contributions to Dalit culture is serving one of the most important factors which unite various Dalit sub-groups. Ambedkar's many accomplishments in education and writing the Indian constitution, his life-long opposition to Brahminism and caste Hindu domination of Dalits, conversion to Buddhism, and formation of various parties, all serve as role models for other Dalit groups to emulate. Throughout the state and India, various Dalit sub-groups are demanding that respect be paid to Ambedkar by constructing statues of him in public spaces and installing his portraits in universities and government offices. His motto to Dalits to "Educate, Organise, Agitate" themselves is being adopted by many Dalit individuals and groups (Franco and Parmar 1996; Pinto 1996; Rajshekar 1978).
    Since 1977, the state level Dalit Sangarshan Samithi (DSS) has been trying to secure socio-economic justice based on the ideology of Ambedkar, discussed in chapter three. This organisation challenges the very doctrine of the dominant castes, and they view the casteist State as the biggest obstacle to Dalit empowerment. For instance, various DSS leaders point out that the politicians and bureaucrats come from dominant castes and protect the interest of their respective communities (Pinto 1996).
    Individual Dalits like the poet Siddalingaiah and political activist B. Basavalingappa are publicly speaking out on the problems of Dalits in Karnataka, and their condemnation of the oppressive caste system serves as an inspiration to others. While the dominant Hindu castes of Lingayats and Vokkaligas are increasing their wealth, political power and social status through caste-based reservations and economic exploitation of Dalits and tribals, at present no political party can ignore the vote of Dalits, and as they vote in larger numbers and grow in organisation they can prove to be an important electoral force in Karnataka politics (Pinto 1996).

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