At a pan-India conference, Dalit women leaders come together to discuss their role in politics

Dalit feminism, for me, is synonymous with feminism. Indira Gandhi had completed one full term as Prime Minister of India when women in Switzerland just got their right to vote. She was also the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, a former Prime Minister of India and a Kashmiri Pandit, and her net worth was about $200 million. But does this mean that India is a feminist nation? No. It just means in a complex hierarchical society that India is, caste location, ancestral property and powerful political backing can turn the tides in favour of women.

In fact, there is no clear history of the feminist struggle in India. While women across the world were leading emancipatory struggled for women’s suffrage and equal pay, in India, the constitution had already provided for universal suffrage. Article 14 had outlawed discrimination on the basis of caste and gender. Thus, the struggle for the freedom of women in India is purely social.

At a pan-India conference, Dalit women leaders come together to discuss their role in politics

The panel on 'Dalit Women in Politics: Past, Present and Future'. Image courtesy of the author.

The beginning of a feminist movement in India was when Savitri Bai Phule revolted against the people from upper caste who prohibited her from educating girl children. When Dr BR Ambedkar resigned his ministerial post for equal rights of Hindu women after the Parliament refused to pass the Hindu Code Bill, that was a feminist struggle. Upper caste women have stayed clear of recognising these moments in history and the correlation between gender and caste, and hence, their movement has failed a large section of Indian women.

Any social problem that is faced by a community is automatically the problem of the women that belong to that particular society. The black people's struggle anywhere in the world is essentially the black woman’s struggle. The Dalit people's problem in India is essentially the Dalit woman’s problem. Because of the way patriarchy has infiltrated every society, even the communities that are most oppressed in this world, all the problems and all the weight of the community falls on the shoulders of its women. They bear the brunt of every form of violence around them. Women have become oppressed of the oppressed. They now occupy the lowest rungs in any discriminatory ladder. It is only the young feminists from these communities who should lead any social justice movement. It is no more an option but the necessity of the hour.

Keeping this in mind, if we take a look at Indian politics, till date there is not even one man from the scheduled castes who has been the Prime Minister of India, let alone a scheduled caste woman. This clearly suggests that political engagement of Dalits is necessary, but more importantly, along with Dalit women leadership in political spaces. The panel on "Dalit Women in Politics: Past, Present and Future" was organised with the above vision in our minds. More than 60 Dalit women leaders from across India participated in this conference. We came out with a joint statement that demands to remove any obstacle in the Dalit woman's political path. In the coming days, we will be sharing some of the important speeches from this panel, with the hope that it will facilitate a better understanding of what I have explained above.

The Dalit Women in Politics: Past, Present and Future panel was jointly organised by The Blue Club, a collective for providing mentorship and support to women filmmakers founded by the author, and All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM).

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Updated Date: Mar 07, 2019 15:15:08 IST

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