Dalit Women in Politics: Grace Banu on trans rights, drawing inspiration from Savitribai Phule and Ilamma

Trans people not only face discrimination based on their caste location but also by the dominant genders of male and female.

Grace Banu March 07, 2019 15:05:06 IST
Dalit Women in Politics: Grace Banu on trans rights, drawing inspiration from Savitribai Phule and Ilamma
  • Trans people not only face discrimination based on their caste location but also by the dominant genders of male and female.

  • The present patriarchal oppressive society has managed to wield its power by occupying technology too.

  • Women and trans people have to work in tandem to fight for their rights.

If we look at our country's politics, there has been no one from the scheduled castes who has become the Prime Minister of India till date, let alone a scheduled caste woman. Political engagement of Dalits is necessary, but more importantly, it has to include Dalit women leadership in political spaces. The panel on "Dalit Women in Politics: Past, Present and Future"— organised by The Blue Club, a collective for providing mentorship and support to women filmmakers, and All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM) — was put together with the above vision in mind. More than 60 Dalit women leaders from across India participated in the conference. Firstpost will be publishing some of the important speeches from this panel.

This is the second of the series of speeches.

***

Jai Bhim all...

Trans people not only face discrimination based on their caste location but also by the dominant genders of male and female.

I am generally a bit hesitant to talk to cis people. But I have always expressed my views openly.

There was a mention of the third gender. I do not agree with the idea of trans people referred to as such. Because by doing so, we tend to agree that there is a first and a second gender. I do not consider myself as being of the third gender. This invalidates the fact that trans men identify as men and trans women as women. That's it. The rest of the labels are given to me by society. I do not like these labels. I want to live with an identity that I identify with. Personally, I am a woman. A woman like my mother, like my sister. To live as a woman is my wish.

But there will discrimination against me as a woman because society is patriarchal. Patriarchal. In this society, a woman can always wear clothes designated for men to an extent, but it will be considered lowly for a man to wear a dress designated for women. To have markers of a woman is ridiculed. In such a society, I am so happy that I have been included as a woman in this conference for women.

Dalit Women in Politics Grace Banu on trans rights drawing inspiration from Savitribai Phule and Ilamma

Grace Banu. Image courtesy: Priyadharshini

Now going into the topic, I was asked to speak about five women who inspired me.

The first one is Martyr Kuyili, a warrior who is said to be the world’s first suicide attacker. But you won’t be able to find her mentioned anywhere. Not even a Wikipedia page. She was a Dalit woman and this is how badly society records the history of a woman warrior who fought against the British.

The second woman I want to talk about is Savitribai Phule. Coming from a backward community, She drove the idea of how important education is for women, especially Dalit women. We cannot talk about women’s rights without talking about how she fought for the right to education.

Next, I want to talk about Ilamma who was from Andhra Pradesh who led an armed struggle against feudalism.

Thinking about the present day, the first woman who comes to my mind is Sengodi who self-immolated to call attention (to genocide in Sri Lanka). Her sacrifice should also be talked about.

Finally, Anitha, my sister, who gave her life to the struggle for rights to education of non-brahmins against NEET. Her sacrifice, like others, have all been to fetch us our rights. We have to keep all of them in mind as we talk about women’s politics. Babasaheb has said how important such rights for women like education and property are important.

We definitely need education and property rights but also political power. Because it has been difficult to access power. At the present time, when I see things as a person working in the tech domain... we see that the present patriarchal oppressive society has managed to wield its power by occupying technology. A lot of youngsters today are very active in platforms like Facebook, Instagram, now TikTok, all day. So we need to work on social media and digital platforms in addition to working on the field with people because I see them as an opportunity to educate people, especially youngsters, in the space they are active at. I think it is our responsibility to do so. Our people are not aware of such platforms but at the end of the day what reaches everyone is a post that someone puts. While Modi travels everywhere, it is on social media where he was faced with #GoBackModi which trended worldwide when he visited Tamil Nadu. We see that oppressive forces have the power of social media and they have occupied it. By doing this, they make sure that atrocities and discrimination that is meted against us is not known to the outer world. For instance, as I had said earlier, there is no Wikipedia page for Kuyili in English, while there is one in Tamil. This is how our histories and our issues are invisibilised. So my first suggestion from me would be for us to engage with such platforms.

Secondly, We have a lot to learn from our senior activists. But to implement such learnings to organise at the current context is something youngsters are good at. The seniors must guide us but also engage with us to learn about how the current realities we are faced with and how we work.

The knowledge that the seniors have is like a library. We are not asking seniors to not be involved but to walk with us and guide us towards an equal society.

Most Dalit trans people are struggling. I agree that the majority of trans people are involved in begging or sex work. But it is the trans-Dalits who are in the lowest rung who beg and give. That's why demand for our reservation is important. Women and trans people have to work in tandem to fight for such rights and in that journey, I feel that this (conference) is the latest addition.

(Speech translated from Tamil by Krishna Kala Bhaskaran)

Grace Banu is a technologist and the founder of Trans Rights Now Collective.

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