Dalit Women: Victims or Beneficiaries of Affirmative Action Policies in India - A Case Studyby Moses Seenarine
Paper presented at a Brown Bag Lecture held by the Southern Asian Institute, Columbia University, on April 10th, 1996.
This talk is based on my dissertation studies in the department of International Education Development at Teachers College, Columbia University, which I hope to conclude next year. The title of my thesis is Voices from the Subaltern: Education and Empowerment Among Rural Dalit Women and Girls.
In a way, my thesis represents a lifelong interest in learning about caste and gender issues. Growing up in the predominantly caste hindu guyanese society during the 60s and 70s, from an early age I was made to feel inferior, and lower caste, because of my family’s christian beliefs, dark skin color and lower class status. As I grew older, I was deeply influenced by the economic hardships and gender oppressions my grandmothers and mother faced in relations with their husbands and male relatives. An increasing awareness of the importance for understanding these issues led to my pursuing studies of gender and caste issues in the field of education.
In the beginning of my dissertation studies, I was interested in exploring problems related to rural dalit women’ and girls’ low educational status in India. In many rural areas, 90 to 99 percent of dalit females are functionally nonliterate. During fieldwork, I learned more about the triple oppressions rural dalit females face in class, caste and gender subordination, and I began to see how these issues interconnected at various levels to contribute to the low levels of literacy. Myself and Sushila Patil, a female colleague, lived in Bidar district, Karnataka, for five months and interacted with hundreds of dalit women and girls at the village level during this time.
In my dissertation fieldstudy, I did not set out to do an evaluation of affirmative action policies in India, from the critical perspective of a rural dalit woman, as such. However, the preliminary findings from collected data provides me with an understanding of the current status of rural dalit women and girls on the ground, which I will used in this talk to contextualize a discussion on the issue of affirmative action polices in India, and Karnataka state, with a focus on understanding how these policies and programs influence the lives of thirty-three (33) dalit female respondents and other females who were interviewed in dalit communities of Bidar district. This talk is based on a work in progress, and I haven’t done all the analysis of my data as yet. `I will be glad to discuss any of your questions after the talk.
There are three main points pursued in this talk:
(1) The first main point is that the experiences of poor, rural dalit females are different from those of other poor and rural groups, from other indian women, and from dalit males. 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 - i.e., poor, rural dalit females.
(2) The second main point is that dalit females suffer from the interconnections of multiple oppressions of class, caste, gender, and cultural at all levels (household, village, district, state, national and global) by both men and women, from all castes and classes.
(3) The third point is really a consequence of the first two points, i.e., that affirmative action programs and policies should be designed specifically to improve the status of rural dalit females, and that such policies and programs need to take into account the specific nature of the interconnections of gender, caste and class oppressions at all levels, along with the need to incorporate dalit women and girls themselves into decision-making and leadership.
This talk consists of six sections. The first part (2-1) presents a brief outline of dalits’ social and economic status in india The second part (3-1, and 3-2) presents a short history and outline of affirmative action policies and programs in India, followed by (3-3) a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages that affirmative action programs may have for rural dalit females. This is then contextualized by (4-1) a short a brief discussion of my fieldwork and study design and (4-2) a discussion of the preliminary findings from my study regarding the present status of dalit women and girls in Bidar district, Karnataka, India. Finally, I will discuss my fieldwork findings on the problems rural dalit women and girls have regarding a specific aspect of affirmative action policy, i.e., access to educational facilities and programs (6-1).
In India, the traditional fourfold caste system, called varna, consists of brahmins (the priestly caste), kshatriyas (the warrior caste), and vaishyas (the trading caste) - all of whom are considered twice-born and are allowed to read the holy texts. The fourth group, shudras (the servile caste) are not allowed to read the holy books. Dalits were an even lower caste, the so called "outcaste" or "untouchable" groups, whose very shadow was considered polluting to caste hindus.
For example, the peshwas introduced especially limiting strictures on mahars dalits, such as carrying pots for their own spittle and brooms to erase their own footsteps from the road. Many untouchable groups could not draw water from the wells and tanks used by the caste hindus. They were denied the use of public roads and transport. Dalit women could not dress in the manner of other hindu women nor could they wear jewelry, and were also exploited sexually by upper caste men and as domestic labor by women of the upper caste.
Dalits may or may not be hindus; e.g., holiya and madiga are hindus; but so are former "untouchable" converts to buddhism, christianity, islam, sikhism and other religions. However, only "hindu" and sikh scheduled castes can claim the benefits of reservation The marathi word dalit, was chosen by the group itself and it means literally "ground," or "broken or reduced to pieces".
However, in a sense, the term dalit is an imposed category, for many "untouchable" and former "untouchable" groups do not identify themselves with the term, and furthermore, none of the women and girls in the study sample refered to here, identified themselves as such.
As an urban, american male member of the oppressor group, I do not claim to represent the experiences of "the other" as "subaltern female." Rather, in my academic work, I am simultaneously trying to do two things. One is to improve our understanding of the issues important to, and for, rural dalit women’ and girls’s improvement of status. The second is to act as an advocate in the cause of dalit women’s liberation. In both these efforts, it is my hope to create a space in which the voices of dalit women may be heard in academia and elsewhere. Some of the issues surrounding researcher bias and limitations of my fieldstudy will be discussed later.
Just as there is no single dalit female experience, dalit women are not a homogenous group. There are separated by language, customs, religion, sub-castes, etc. There are gradations and caste taboos among dalits themselves. There are also forms of class stratification among Dalits sub-groups.
2-1: A brief outline of dalits’ social and economic status in india
Dalits are commonly clustered together in segregated hamlets at the edge of a village. They are a small and vulnerable minority in any given region, making resistance to exploitation and violence very difficult. Dalits constitute over 16 percent of the total indian population. The 1991 Census estimates the total dalit population in india at 138 million, and in Karnataka state as seven and a half million (7.5), or 16% of the total state population.
Dalits are not only a socio-cultural group but often represent an economic class as well. The 1971 census figures show that over half of the dalit workforce were landless agricultural laborers, compared to 26 percent of the non-dalit workforce. A number of social studies have revealed that dalit women make up a large number of the professional sex workers. Studies reveal that 90 percent of those who die of starvation and attendant diseases are dalits. Their untouchability and poverty support each other - their untouchable status accentuates their economic exploitation and their poverty strengthen their polluting social status.
Untouchability was made a legal offence by the indian parliament in 1955. However, untouchability as a social institution was and is kept alive by the use of brutal force. The caste hindus insisted on enforcing the inferiority of the dalits in many ways, and if they tried to improve their standards of living they were cruelly persecuted. Perhaps the most effective weapon which helped in the perpetuation of the untouchability was the institutionalized bias and denial of access to educational resources.
Untouchability is related to the oppression of upper caste women as well, as it became an effective means of patriarchal/brahmanic control over high caste women’s sexuality which was essential for maintainence of caste privilege. At the same time, the potential threat to these systems of domination that the rape of upper caste females by lower caste males represented, was negated by defining offspring of such unions as untouchable. These same ideologies allowed upper caste men to violate low caste women’s sexuality with impunity and without consideration of issues around caste purity and female honor.
Even the process of sanskritization or approximation to upper castes’ code of conduct, did not help dalits to cross the barriers of untouchability. Dalits all over India have tried to change their lifestyles, marriage practices and caste names but to no effect.
Alarmingly, for the past several years, official indian figures on violent attacks against dalits have routinely exceeded 10,000 cases per year. Indian human rights workers report a far larger number go unrecorded, buried by collusion between police and local privilege. Justice is rare, even when charges are filed.
3-1: A short history of affirmative action policies in india
In justification of affirmative action programs, the following principles should be noted (1) compensatory principle - i.e., compensation for past injustices; (2) protective principle - protection of the weaker sections of the community as envisaged in Article 46 of the Constitution; (3) proportional equality; and (4) social justice, under which concepts of distributive justice and utility are included to a large measure, if not wholly. Due to limitations of time, a discussion of the salience of these issues was left out from this talk.
The vast machinery of protective discrimination for the Scheduled Caste was developed chiefly in the 1930s and ‘40s under the British. Services under the state became the focus of attention for historical and economic reasons.
The Constitution of India provides for "reservations" in favor of two disadvantaged groups - the scheduled castes (SCs) and the scheduled tribes (STs). These reservations exist: (1) in the state legislatures and the union legislature or parliament, (2) in services under the states, and (3) in educational instutions. In addition, some states have reservations in services under the state and in educational instutions in favor of other backward classes (OBCs). Reservations coupled with other welfare programs constitute the core of affirmative action for the uplift of these groups
Education. There has been a rise in educational access for dalits as a result of the post- independence educational programs. Apart from reservations in educational instutions, other major programs for their uplift include: (1) exemption from school fees, (2) provisions for stipends or scholarships, (3) provisions for facilities like book grants, and (4) maintenance of hostels, or assistance to hostels for SC students.
The central government sponsors: (1) college scholarships, (2) award of travel grants and (3) 7.5 percent reservation in favor of SCs in merit scholarships. The programs also provide for assistance by way of special coaching for SC students residing in hostels and preexamination coaching facilities for SC students appearing in competitive examinations.
Policies for dalit women focused on programs like gifts of money for marriages in which one partner is an untouchable, support for housing projects, and legal machinery for suits against discriminative practices, and so on.
3-3: Why, after 40 years of various affirmative action policies and programs, there remains very little improvement in the socio-economic status of dalit females?
(1) Corruption at all levels. Poor receive less than 10% of actual funding.
(2) There are caste, gender, class, urban and age bias in policies and programs.
(3) The fact of of dalit women’s experiences and multiple oppressions being different from other groups.
Due to caste and gender related privileges, dalit men from a few SC sub-caste groups are chief beneficiaries of affirmative action programs for SCs. Dalit women have limited access to caste benefits - as do the most disadvantaged caste groups, due to class stratification and priviledge among dalit sub-groups.
Affirmative action programs for the poor and other class-based benefits go mainly to men from a few urban, sub-class groups. Rural dalit females, as members of the most class disadvantaged group, are the one who receive the least in terms of these class-based programs.
Urban based male dalit children are the primary beneficiaries of programs for disadvantaged children. Although there are more urban dalit females working as child laborers, like rural dalit girls, they remain invisible.
Programs for the rural areas are biased towards men who own land and are from caste hindu groups. Rural dalit females seldom have access to land and other land-based schemes. This was the case of OBCs in Karnataka, where the issue of reservation as an issue and solution to persistent inequalities has been co-opted by the landed caste hindu, lingayat and vokkaliga groups, who now command half to the 50 percent reservation for OBCs in Karnataka state.
Affirmative action programs for women are dominated by upper caste hindu and biased towards their gender, religious, and cultural issues. In terms of other religious-based programs, like christian, sikh, and so on, each is bias to help dalits who may be converted to their religion. The majority of rural, hindu-dalit females are seldom benefited.
Education: Chitnis further refers to the following problems in dalits’ access to education: (1) reluctance of prestigious educational institutions to reserve admissions, (2) inability of students admitted under reservations to cope with academic requirements, (3) restrictions of admissions to the economic elite from among the scheduled castes, (4) a highly uneven representation of different SC groups in education, (5) cheating and misrepresentation in the use of the facility of reservations, and (6) a growing resentment against SCs on the part of the non-SC groups.
3-4: Victims of Affirmative Action policies:
Untouchability continues: Some aspects are discussed.
(1) past discrimination continues in more subtle ways into the present; (2) the rapid economic deterioration among the rural poor caused by the effects of the New Economic Policy (NEP) and the increasingly repressive forms of caste and gender oppression on dalit females, (3) the continued economic basis of discrimination by middle class/caste control over low class Dalit women, etc., including dalit females’ economic exploitation of being paid even the starvation level minimum wage, absence of land reforms; and so on, (4) the existence of dalit partiarchy and upper and. (4) the existence of an ideological basis for discrimination as the root cause of the problem - legitimized by male brahmanical structures and so on, and finally (5) the silencing of dalit voices in cultural, political, historical, spiritual spheres. As a result of all of the above, the participation of Dalit women in organized sectors is considerably low or negligible.
Dalit women’s bodies have been the special targets of population control programs, in a bid to limit their family size and so provide them an ‘opportunity for development.’ Horror stories have been related by dalit women of how they and their sisters have been butchered in ‘family planning camps,’ often without their knowledge of what is being done to them. Injectable contraceptives and other hormone drugs are tested on these powerless, voiceless women by unscrupulous multi-national business
Zelliot (1992) argues that these measures inhibited the emergence of a new Mahatma decrying passionately against remaining injustices, or the development of a separatist dalit leader capable of building a movement outside the wall of government privilege and patronage. These privileges have also walled off the continuing problems of the dalits from the Indian consciousness
The are issues of social cleavages, both traditional ones and those stemming from protective discrimination policies, that have developed among dalit communities, and larger questions of the growing class stratification among dalits and its relation to reservations, as well as the reluctant efects on the dalit political movement. However, these issues are beyond thescope of this paper.
The caste hindu backlash against dalit women in Karnataka.
In Karnataka, of the atrocities that occur in the backlask against dalits females - rape, public humiliation and violence are used as coercive methods of control and forms of domestic terrorism. For example, on September 6th, 1988 in a village of Karnataka state, the powerful caste hindus went to a dalit household, beat-up the son, looted the house and dragged out the teenaged daughter Geeta, and raped in front of Dr. Ambedkar’s statue. The reason cited in the Indian Express newspaper was that the uppercaste hindus do not tolerate the prosperity of dalits.
4-1: Dissertation fieldstudy
As I said earlier, in this study, I was trying to explore the nature of dalit females’ access to education and its relation to their empowerment.To facilitate access to dalit women at the village level, I selected the Dutch funded Mahila Samakhya project which targets disadvantaged rural women in five states, and saught the premission of the national directors to interview dalit women involved with the program in Bidar district, Karnataka. I then had to obtain permission from the program’s state and district offices.
The specific research methods employed in data gathering are participant observation, interviews, and content analysis. Participant observation methods comprise of varying degrees of participation in my observation of Dalit women and girls and rural communities, stimulated by respondents and their activities. Interview methods consist of open-ended, structured interviews as well as informal discussions following a general topics guide. Content analysis encompass examination of the literature, documentation on socio-economic and cultural aspects of the district, program reports and newsletters, and so on, with an emphasis to understanding Dalit women’s condition in the district and the collective social and ideological images of Dalit women as they have been shaped by the society and with which the women being interviewed must deal..
Gender issues presented major challenges to this study. The researcher lived at the field site for most part of a year with a female Indian-American middle class/caste graduate student who acted as collaborator; and worked closely with two local lower middle caste/class young women from Bidar who acted as interpreters. Working in conjunction with a female collaborator was vital in negotiating some of the limitations related to gender - for example, issues around female modesty and gaining access to translators, respondents, and so on. Care was taken to ensure that Dalit girls and women felt comfortable talking among other women and the male researcher about issues of common interests. Although I worked with three (3) females, there were class and caste differences, so every attempt was made to be respectful, empathetic, trustworthy and reciprocal in our negotiations and interactions with respondents regarding data collection.
Particular efforts were made to "de-caste" and "de-class" ourselves in dress, appearance, behavior, travel, and so on. For example, the researcher, collaborator, and interpreters wore simple clothes and jewelry in order to make respondents more comfortable in talking to us; we disregarded caste taboos against Dalits in personal contact and activities such as eating together and so on; we were modest in consumption habits, used buses and other economical forms of transportation to visit villages, and so on.
Language is an important weakness of this study. Recognizing that there are often variations in language use and meanings within districts, and across class and caste, the researcher was careful in the selection and training of local interpreters. Also multiple interpreters and transcribers, and cross-translation of taped interviews and documents, are used to make up for some of the constraints related to language.
The study design contains two major data sources. This distinction in data sources is necessary to capture different perspectives on benefits and problems involved in Dalit women's and girls' education and empowerment. The major data sources are related to: 1) Dalit females and their families; and, 2) program staff and program documentation regarding Dalit women’s education and empowerment.
A purposeful, stratified sample of 33 Dalit women and girls was selected, out of a total of 7,000 female participants involved with the Mahila Samakhya program in the district, representative of different ages, and the communities and families from which they come. A sample of 10 program administrators and staff was also selected, representative of district, state and national levels of the program. Given the problem being investigated, field research and data collection focused on selected sub-themes and topics in two general categories related to:1) Dalit women's and girls' education and experiences; and, 2) selected socio-economic and cultural aspects of Dalit females.
This section of the paper will try to communicate in broad strokes the emerging used in my data analysis, including information on dalit women and girls’ social status, socio-economic status of respondents’ family, gender status, caste status, education, and reasons for school dropout.
Social and Economic Status of Family:
The sample includes thirty-three (33) dalit women and girls from twenty (20) different villages. The age range of respondents vary from 10 years old to 54 years old, with average age of twenty-two (22) years.
The family size of respondents’ families range from three (3) members to eleven (11) members in a single household, with the average family size of respondents’ families being seven (7) members. There is an average of three (3) daughters and two (2) sons in respondents’ households. The implications are the use of dalit female bodies driven by dalit families’ own desire for sons and maximum number of children as economic and social resources.
In terms of economic status, data was gathered on land and livestock ownership, among respondents’ families. Nineteen (19) of the thirty-three (33) dalit females come from families who either own or sharecrop land. Sixteen (16) dalit females come from families who own land, while sixteen (16) females, or 50 percent of respondents come from families who are landless. Almost all the land holdings are marginal - the average size of land being less than four (4) acres among land owning families; with seven (7) acres being the most amount of land owned by any one dalit family.
Twenty (21) one dalit females, or 75 percent of respondents’ families own a small number of livestock (cows, buffaloes, goats and chickens), while seven (7) females, or 25 percent, are from families who do not own domestic animals.
Occupational data on respondents and their’ families reveal that most worked as coolies, or seasonal day wage laborers, although several had multiple occupations. Twenty-eight (24) dalit females, or over 90 percent of respondents worked as coolie laborers, one (1) as a farmer, and two (2) as outreach workers for the Mahila Samakhya program. In addition to coolie work, three (3) females worked, as daycare teachers and, five (5) as night school teachers for the Mahila Samakhya program in their village.
To understand historical continuties and changes among dalit females, interviews with respondents’ parents were conducted. Among respondents’ mothers, twenty (20), or over 90 percent worked as coolie laborers, two (2) as farmers and one (1) as a homemaker. Among respondents’ fathers, eleven (11), or 50 percent worked as coolie laborers, five (5) as farmers, four (4) as masons, one (1) as a cook, one (1) as a tailor, one (1) as a factory worker and union leader. Among the ten (10) married women, four (4), or 50 percent of husbands worked as coolie laborers, one (1) as a farmer, one (1) as a mason, one (1) as a driver, and one (1) as an electrician.
One point that emerged in these interviews with parents is that dalit females often followed in their mother’s footsteps, in the sense that their mother’s legacy of exploitation and disadvantage remain unchainged.
In terms of caste identity, Six (6) females identified themselves as dalit christians; three (3) as hindu-holiya; two (2) as hindu-madiga; and the rest as simply scheduled castes (Scs) or harijans. A few SC females come from families who are buddhists.The prevalence of residential segregation is suggested by respondents who all reside in the SC colony in the village.
Many respondents indicated that there was casteism and discrimination against dalits in the village related to environmental, economic and cultural resources. For exampe, in terms of access to environmental resources, one 14 year old girl said, "the high caste people will not allow us to go to their borewell for water."
In terms of access to economic resources, a sixteen (16) year old female indicated that female dalit agricultural laborers had to beg high caste landowners for their salary. One eighteen (18) year old young woman said, " we used to borrow money and the higher caste used to charge us more and more interest." As regards to casteism and socio-cultural segregation, an eighteen (18) year old said, "in the village, the high caste people never allow us into the Hanuman temple," while another woman indicated that dalit were not allowed into the upper caste community in the village. An older woman said that when she was a girl, "due to casteism there was no school for SCs in the village."
Several females said that, among other things, there are caste-related and other problems between dalit women themselves; between muslims, lingayats and dalits; and between dalit christians and hindu dalits. Several females said that all marriages occur within each dalit sub-caste and there are no inter-caste marriages among dalit sub-groups.
Dalit women are themselves part of the process, systems, institutions and ideologies of Indian patriarchy and brahmanization which serve to keep ninety percent of dalit women nonliterate, socially oppressed and poor. However, dalit women and girls never were, and are not now, passive victims in this process of upper caste/class male hegemony, but are active resistors and victors in managing their own lives and their families’ survival.
In Bidar, I encountered dalit women and girls who are constantly resisting oppression as dalits, and as women, in a variety of individual and collective actions. Their struggle to gain access to education is, but one example, of their individual and collective agency and empowerment within the dalit family and village community. Due to limitations of time, etc., I will only focus on issues which emerged from the women and girls themselves, as regards to forms of dalit patriarchy and gender oppression.
Twenty three (23) of the thirty-three (33) females in the sample are single, and ten (10) women had child marriages ranging from seven (7) years old to sixteen (16) years old. Of the married women, two (2) women separated from their husbands and one (1) woman is widowed. Three (3) women said that they got married to a close relative, uncle or cousin; and two (2) occurances of polygamy was found, due to one wife’s inability to give birth to sons.
Growing up, almost all the women and girls spoke of having to do housework along with childcare and fieldwork in the hot sun. Many girls said that they were discriminated as a girl child in lack of free time to play and in limited access to education as compared to their brothers. Many girls and women mentioned their limited mobility and inability to travel outside the village alone and unaccompanied by husbands, and a few girls said they were not allowed outside of the house. A few girls indicated that they were discriminated as girls in terms of physical abuse, unequal nutrition and limited personal items. A few girls and women spoke of their fathers’ and husbands’ acoholism and related domestic violence.
Many of the married women indicated that early child marriage led to their husbands’ and in-laws’ control. These women spoke of the sexual division of labor in terms of women’s double burden, inside and outside of the home and unequal pay for equal work as coolie laborers and so on. Many of the unmarried girls suggested that other dalit village women were part of their gender oppression. In the words of one eighteen (18) year old young woman, "they will tease mother because of not doing marriage for us girls." Several women mentioned that having the responsibility of childcare during fieldwork prevents them from obtaining employment.
Many women and girls reported that dowry is a common practice among dalits. This leads to lower status in the family as females become an economic burden on families. A few respondents mentioned incidences of dowry related violence against dalit women and girls. Four (4) incidences of other dalit women’s "suicide" was mentioned by some respondents.
The sample of female dalit in my study is biased in the sense that all the women and girls were involved with the educational programs of the Mahila Samakhya program. Therefore, the educational data on respondents reveal that most had some access to lower primary school education. Twenty-three (23) females or 75 percent, of the respondents attended public school, with an average education level of 4th grade, while eight (8) females, or 25 percent are non-literate and never attended school.
In contrast to dalit respondents’ access to lower primary education, only three (3) of the respondents’ mothers attended school with an average education level of 5h grade education, while twenty-three (23) of the respondents’ mothers, or over 90 percent are nonliterate and never attended school. Educatonal data is incomplete regarding seven (7) respondents’ mothers.
Nine (9) respondents’ fathers attended school with an average education level of 5h grade, while eighteen (18) respondents’ fathers, or over 65 percent are nonliterate and never attended school. Educatonal data is incomplete regarding six (6) respondents’ fathers.
5-1: Dalit females suffer from the interconnections and variations of class, caste, gender, and cultural oppresion at all levels (household, village, district, state, national and global) by both men and women from all castes.
These issues will be examined in relation to Dropout:
School dropout for girls is due to a combination of inter-related factors, including those around schooling, age, class and gender. Corporal punishment by male teachers was suggested as a reason for dropout by a few girls. This school factor may be related to gender issues such as respondents’ fear of physical abuse, or violence aginst women, in school. A few girls cited personal health and illness as reasons for dropout. Due to these as well as other factors, a few girls said that they lost interest in schooling.
Two inter-related schooling factors referred to by many respondents as reasons for their dropout include the distance to school coupled with a lack of transportation to school. The distance to school for girls is a complicated issue related to several other factors besides the actual space and transportation - such as gender, age and caste. Several respondents noted dalit women’s and girls’ lack of mobility in terms of not being able to travel outside of the village alone after a certain age due to threat of violence or notions of purity and honor, etc. Problems with transportation to school include unpredictable bus schedule cited by some, and lack of fare and other class issues mentioned by a few others. One teacher noted that girls who lived even a short distance away in the same village were not allowed to walk home alone at night and so were unable to attend night school in the village.
The age related factors were important for all respondents in terms of girls not being allowed by parents, relatives and villagers to attend school after a certain age, usually after their first menstruation. This may be due to insecurity regarding pregnancy and the social stigma of sexual assult, and so on. A few girls who dropped out early but then wanted to continue afterwards revealed that were told that they were too old to sit with younger children.
Economic related factors were mentioned by a majority of respondents. Many girls said they had to go for wage work to their support family. Others said they had the responsibility of child care in the fields and at home to free their mother for wage work. A few women said that, as poor families, they lacked the money for school supplies like slates, pencils, writing books, clothing, and so on. Almost all respondents mentioned gender related factors such as domestic responsibilities of housework, childcare, etc. Their families’ lack of water, food, wood for fuel and other basic resources also prevent dalit girls from attending school.
The most common reasons for dropout given are gender related. Gender oppression such as child marriage interupted schooling for many dalit girls. All the females in the sample related in the words on one, "girls were not allowed to be educated." Literacy teachers in the sample all indicated that husbands scolded their wives and themselves for "trying to learn their wives something." Fathers, mothers, uncles and grandparents were against dalit girls education. Other village people were also against Dalit girls becoming educated.
Patriarchy in the dalit household. Girls education viewed as threat to patriarchy. Education for female considered a waste since it is customary form them to leave her family’s home and the family have to pay for her dowry, while benefits of daughter’s education go towards in-laws- household. Ont the other hand, sons supposedly remain and are viewed as investments.
In village public schools, dominated by caste hindu ideology, dalit girls are denied knowledge of their history, culture, arts, and so on.
Victims of affirmative action.
For example, the main beneficiaries of affirmative action in education for the scheduled castes in post-secondary education were dalit men- who may be adopting upper caste norms in demanding higher dowry from the girls’ family. However, the rise in education among dalit males at all levels, (primary, secondary, vocational and college) could be related to the rise in dowry deaths among dalit women. Also, educated dalit women find it hard to find a marriage partner as educated females are considered a threat by the in-law family.
Literacy as anti-women.
The purpose being family planning. Ignoring and suppressing women’s traditional modes of communication.
The general trend to look to reservations in educational institutions and in jobs as the main plank of affirmative action has led to a tendency toward the neglect or lack of emphasis on the problems that affect the poorest of poor in these groups. Two problems come to mind in this context: first is the problem of women’s labor and status, and the second is the enforcement of the minimum wages in agriculture. The mention of these does not imply the underestimation of other problems, like making provision for drinking-water facilities in villages.
There are three main points pursued in this talk.
(1) The first main argument is that the experiences of poor, rural dalit females are different from those of other poor and rural groups, from other Indian women, and from dalit males.
(2) The second main argument is that dalit females suffer from the interconnections and variations of class, caste, gender, and cultural oppression at all levels (household, village, district, state, national and global).
(3) The third point is really a consequence of the first two arguments, i.e., that affirmative action programs and policies should be designed specifically to improve the status of rural dalit females, and that such policies and programs need to take into account the specific nature of the interconnections and variations of gender, caste and class oppressions at all levels.
By recognising the seriousness of women’s participation in politics, in the year 1987 the Janata Government in Karnataka announced 25 percent reservation for women in Zilla Parishad and Mandal Panchayat, as per Zilla Parishad Act 1932, with a special provision of 5:1 ratio reservation to dalit women in 25 percent women reservation, which is a very important and significant aspect. Due to this reservation a number of dalit women had an opportunity to take part in active politics. 19 dalit women against 211 upper caste women in Zilla Parishad and 2469 dalit women against 14025 upper caste women in Mandal Panchayats were elected. The participation of these representatives in active politics varies. A few women have really showed good performance in the participation. But with their social and economic background, low level of education and lack of political consciousness becomes self-defeating as the male dalit political representatives who are victimized and used as tokens.