Dalit Women in Politics: Vedhanayagi on being an agro-feminist, her fight for land and radical change
A speech given by Vedhanayagi on the panel 'Dalit Women in Politics: Past, Present and Future'— organised by The Blue Club, and All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM).
'What we ask the government is to give us land and split it,' says Vedhanayagi.
'A common land for only Dalit women and devise rules for its implementation.'
'Women, elders and youngsters should remember that we need this ideology that has been made inaccessible to us. We should claim it.'
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 fifth of the series of speeches.
Warm greetings to all. Actually, if I have to talk, then there are so many things to talk about. Let us keep aside all that we have discussed so far, and consider a small thing I am going to share now. Whatever we have discussed as of now, has been only about how we are going to struggle and go forward, within the system that has already been set. What I am saying is, this approach is totally unnecessary. What I desire is 100 percent. We should make women stand everywhere at 100 percent. We have to occupy every space. Can’t we do this? This is the question that I would like to raise now.
Why should we be always in a position to beg for space from men? This is not about rights at all, for you to give it to me. This is my struggle. This is my livelihood. This is my life. If you consider Vellore district, women are used to leading lives of struggle. They will do their household chores and then go to do coolie work too. But men roam about without any responsibility and jobs to do. Coming from such kind of a society, we have mobilised women there. Should it not be our responsibility to give them more light? In mainstream spaces, you will never get this light. Even if I become an MLA, MP or a CM tomorrow, I would still be able to do service only from the already established patriarchal ideological setup in place. Haven't they, the men, lived prosperously for these 50 years? Why can’t they move aside now? Give everything to our hands, the hands of women. We will never let you sell our agricultural lands. We will firmly stand by to ensure that all women lead a just and dignified life. There will not be anything such as domestic violence.
The responsibility of the family should be in the hands of both men and women equally. If we have to struggle within the family in the first place, then how would we able to struggle for society?
Though Indira Gandhi was the PM, Jayalalitha was the CM, as far as all of us are concerned, these spaces have produced only women leaders from a patriarchal ideological setup. They worked only for that and not for us at all. From what I know, if we take the history of the world and then India, we have not worked towards overthrowing the patriarchal history within this country. Shouldn’t women do that? Women who constitute almost half of the world population produce almost everything. We have all the power in our hands. What are we not able to do? We are not able to realise this. We are not able to implement this. To attempt a small endeavour in the form of a model for all women, we are trying to organise around one lakh women in Vellore. We have selected 20 houses from 20 blocks and are giving training to women. We are working with the most vulnerable groups. They are ready to work. How are we going to be in another five or 10 years, what can we possibly give them? If I enter into politics, my name will become prominent, I will come up in life and build big houses in my name. But what will my people get? Do you understand?
There is a problem within the system for us. So if all our votes have to be valued, we have to think in a new way now. For example, we as women should contest in all seats and win all seats, only then we can we establish a new law for us in Tamil Nadu. This is just a dream. It can happen in a 100 or even a 1000 years, I am not saying it will happen today. But I am moving towards that goal only. I am not prepared to struggle within the mainstream. We have to fight dominant caste men everywhere. But Dalit men are also unfair to us is what I feel. My father, brother, uncles and in-laws have all been against me. That being the case, how can I approach a Dalit male leader for help. They have done nothing to help us. Take any women's issue to them, they won’t consider it at all. So, in this struggle, it is only women who are with us. It is so because they are affected. So this struggle is different for us. The men who are sitting here should understand — please do not mistake me — the needs and mindsets of men are different. Our needs are different. Take the recent allegations of harassments. How did men react to it? They just approached it in a casual manner. They do not know how to respect the bodies of women. But can we approach it lightly like them? Can we ignore our children and sisters like that? We have to take into consideration all these things and have an ideological framework as a backup with the perspective of women. That is what we need, first. We should work as a team and take that perspective ahead, and make it our agenda for the next 10 years. We can definitely represent a lot of women and fight for all women by standing alone. We don’t have that much time to fight within the system. Why should I enter into the Dalit movement, and ask the Dalit leader for a seat, and do whatever he asks me to do, or enter into any other party and do whatever they ask me to do which is not right? When I believe that I can bring my people to light, that is what my attempt should be directly. Then only will people believe in me and us.
The biggest thing we have achieved in our area is that we have become the decisions makers there. Who we point out will become the winner. We are in that position. So, in short, only who we decide can become a leader. So mostly Dalits get elected as councillors. Elections require a lot of money but we are able to negotiate that as well because we are organised.
Vellore district is a different kind of a district. The people think differently. There are many opportunities there. There are many Dalits living there. And many Dalit intellectuals too live there. This is a strength. We can create a model for the whole nation here. We are working towards that only there. We need all of your support.
Another request to men is that please be silent for some days. Nothing else. You have kept us in silence all this time, for 2,500 years. For a few days, if you remain silent, we will do wonders. You have to shoulder our pain. You should learn to walk with us and accept us.
At Vellore, we are the first agro feminist group. Why did we bring up this concept? There is a big connection between women and land. If you ask me, I would say, Dalit women are internal refugees. I have no home, no jewellery. I have to migrate from one place to another. Not just me, but all women, even married women. If any fight happens with her husband, she goes back to her mother's house, who she will keep her daughter for four to five days and then send her back. Then she brings up her children there itself. They are refugees only. This is their struggle. They have no proper dress, no proper food. Nothing is there for them. If you want to meet women like that, please come to Vellore district. Women struggle a lot here. If we give even a small piece of land to them, they will take care of themselves. They will build houses with a small kitchen. They can get a cow and other needed things. They will bring up their children. This is what I felt first, that the Dalit women have no land. So, what we need most importantly is that we should stand on our own feet. Therefore, we need land. It is from this concept only we became the first agro-feminists. We are already farmers, we work as farmers in the fields. But we don’t have any land. We have to fight and get it back.
What we ask the government is that they have kept us in oppression for long. Our first demand is to give us land and split it. Just as how you have excluded a small space for us in the panchayat. Give us at least an excluded piece of land. A common land for only Dalit women and devise rules for its implementation. We have to first discuss this by sitting together. We have to plan and set an agenda. Only if we do this, we can achieve our goals. Or else we will still be victims. I worked in the Periyar movement. None of them recognised me there. We, Dalit women, have been neglected. We have no access to political ideology and are exploited because of the same.
They used 10 years of my hard work and destroyed it in just a minute. So women, elders and youngsters should remember that we need this ideology that has been made inaccessible to us. We should claim it. Ambedkar has taught us many good things. Even Buddha said that society should be shaped by men and women alike. So the contribution of women to society is crucial. Only when their role is welcomed and recognised will equality be ensured. Fraternity and all the rest all will follow course. We women have to look out for each other. And that is how we should move forward is my claim.
Vedhanayagi is the founder of the Thendral Movement from Vellore District.
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