Dissent against Caste System

The anti-caste Dalit movement began with Jyoti Rao Phule in the mid-19th century. He fought for the education and the upliftment of women, Shudra’s, and Dalits. This movement spread to all parts of India. He waged a war to abolish “untouchability,” to get entry into temples, and find a dignified space for Dalits in society. But very soon Dalit leaders realized that there was no possibility of any dignified place for Dalit under the Hindu fold and began to advocate for a separate identity for the Dalits.

Another important step that gave momentum to the Dalit movement was the coming of B.R. Ambedkar. This phase began between the 1920s and 1930s. He fought for the rights of Dalits in British India, and even after Independence. Ambedkar held that the subordination of Dalits was primarily economic and political, and could only be overcome by changing the social structure through legal, political, and educational means. This was a radical and very important departure in the situation and life of Dalits and their women in India. The intervention of Dr. Ambedkar and his modernist insights aroused the sense of self-esteem among his community and inculcated in their mind the consciousness of their rights. His vision of progress through education inspired the Dalits to transform themselves into the dissenting subjects. Being trained in Columbia, he brought with him modernist insight and added a dimension of modernity and criticality to the life of the deprived sections.

After Independence, the dalits got protective discrimination. Soon Ambedkar felt that caste in India was a hard nut to crack. Ambedkar was not pleased by the rate of implementation of the protective measures. He therefore resigned from the government and began to work for Dalit emancipation. In 1956, he encouraged around six million Dalits to convert to Buddhism to liberate themselves from the clutches of Hinduism.

In the post-Ambedkerite era, during the 1970s, the Dalit Panthers movement emerged among the younger generation of Dalits. This was an expression of their anger and frustration for the humiliation and violence committed against Dalits by upper-caste Hindus in many parts of India. A lot of dissenting Dalit literature came up during this movement. But this Dalit literature overlooked the specific dilemma of Dalit women. Literature by Dalit women has grievously been ignored by Dalit writers. Dalit Patriarchy further nurtured the vicious circle of subjugation. Dalit literature constructed Dalit woman in a similar patriarchal framework which was responsible for the overall subjugation of women.

In the upper castes, women were dominated by their men and clans. The subordinate position of women served to sustain cultural superiority. Though Dalit male intellectuals like Kancha Illiah have valorized the dalit patriarchy as essentially democratic (Illiah: 1996) but scholars like Gopal Guru argue that no patriarchy can be democratic (Guru:1995). So, the appearance of women in the Dalit public sphere was quantitative only and is caught in a trap of the ‘our women’ framework. The Dalit male is much influenced by the established patterns of the upper caste men, says Gopal Guru. But this phenomenon of imitating upper-class men weakened the Dalit movement. To imitate upper-class values contributes to the development of negative consciousness which according to Gramsci may not contribute to fully evolved class consciousness (Guru:1993). The domination of caste and gender are sanctioned by the Hindu religion unanimously, and upper castes practiced it more rigorously to maintain their racial and cultural superiority.

“Finally, the life history of Baby Kamble and other Dalit women writers decisively destroy the myth which certifies Dalit patriarchy as democratic. Baby Kamble in her narratives of Dalit women’s suffering brings out the worst form of exploitation and physical torture that the Dalit male inflicted on Dalit women. The physical torture not only involved physical injuries but also inflicted deep psychological pain, leaving   scars of humiliation in the minds of Dalit women” says Gopal Guru. (Kamble: 2008)

Similarly, Dalit politics too, overlooked the issues of their women resulting in the further marginalization of Dalit women.

The Constitution of the country nor the social movements could change the caste dynamics greatly and the deep-rooted caste hierarchy still remains dominant in Indian society.

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