Session on Caste-Based Identities: Co-ordinated by Saheli, Sama and Cadam

Session on Caste-Based Identities:

Co-ordinated by Saheli, Sama and Cadam

Newsletter Dec 2006

The session offered an opportunity to explore the various dimensions of how gender and caste intersect, to share our experiences and address the challenges; to understand the relationship between the caste-based movements, caste-based women’s groups and the women’s movement in general; and strengthen the interconnections, with a special focus on the role that the autonomous women’s movement needs to play at this political juncture.

The morning plenary provided the framework for the spectrum of concerns of caste-based oppression of women, and to explore the interconnections between gender and growing communalisms, internal fundamentalisms and casteism, and attempted to map out the current challenges. Fathima Burnad from the Tamil Nadu Dalit Women’s Movement spoke about the impact of globalisation on the lives of Dalit women and highlighted the inequities in the development paradigm. Then, Kashibai, Sholapur, VAMP/Sangram, from a traditional Devadasi family, passionately pointed out that though discrimination existed, she had gained power of negotiation by being a Devadasi. Rajni Tilak, CADAM/Saheli spoke about the different trends within the Dalit movement, and raised the concerns about why Dalit women's issues have not been taken up by the mainstream women's movement. She stressed the importance of making linkages between movements - Dalit, women's movements, democratic rights movements. Saraswathi, Dalit activist from Bangalore, illustrated the situation of Dalit women in the Union of Powrakarmikas Union (municipal sweepers), through anecdotes, which she used to bring out their strength, humour and wit. The vibrant discussion that followed centred around: organising to fight globalisation; the Hinduisation of Dalits, the need to respond to the issues of OBCs; the question of whether the Devadasi system is not an oppressive Brahminical tradition; and the fact that Indian women's movement has begun to understand that Dalit women's issues are all women's issues!

The four Workshops in the afternoon saw sharing of experiences from different parts of the country.

Caste and Women’s Citizenship: The workshop focussed on democracy, reservation, education and rights. Caste assertion within parliamentary politics and struggles for recognition outside it illustrate how central caste is to India today. Questions loom large on how these measures are working on the ground, especially with regard to women. Presenters included: Dipta, Nirantar,; Bhanwari Bai, Mahila Jan Adhikar Samiti, Ajmer; Sanjo Kol, Sarpanch, Chitrakoot (NACDOR); Dr Ajita, Delhi; Sarpanch from Bihar; Urmilaji, NCDHR, Manoranjini, ALF, Bangalore and Ruth Manorama, Women's Voice, Bangalore.

Caste, Gender and State Policy: ‘Development’ within the country remains skewed both in terms of the urban-rural divide, as well as the caste and class structure, so unequal access to opportunities and resources is compounded by deliberate exclusion. Despite the rhetoric of change, Dalits, backward castes and other backward castes still bear the brunt of oppressive state policies, as well as economic fragility. Presenters included: Deepa, Preeti and Riddhi from Sama; Sridevi, Safai Karmachari Andolan, Andhra Pradesh; Jayamma, Powrakarmika Union, Bangalore, Sapna Gayen, Durbar Mahila Samanvay Committee, Kolkata, and Rani from Kanpur.

Caste, Gender and The Public Image: Media, stereotypes and creative counter-expressions: In addition to blatant violations, exclusions and violence, upper caste control of resources, media and most other public spheres, perpetuate a range of invisible violations we need to address. Namely, issues of representation in the media, caste stereotypes and creative counter expressions. Presenters included: Shweta and Deepti, Saheli, Urmila Pawar, Maharashtra, Durga, Dalit Media Centre, Chattisgarh and Heera Pawar, Maharashtra.

Caste, Gender and Sexuality: Control, conflict, violence and autonomy: Gender relationships within and between caste communities function as a nodal point through which caste supremacy is typically contested and reproduced. Sexual violation of women has always been a critical factor in reproducing upper caste/male supremacy, especially in situations of caste and community conflicts. Presenters included: Sheelu, Tamil Nadu Women's Collective, Renuka, TNWC, Sanjugkta, Sheba and Manjiri from AALI, Lucknow and Nidhi, Saheli.

The morning plenary unanimously passed the following resolution: We the women at the session on Caste Based identities at the 7th National Conference of Autonomous Women’s Movements firmly resolve to fight against caste-based discrimination in every sphere of women’s lives: livelihood, political participation, education, control of sexuality, biased representation in media and even within the women’s movement and other progressive movements. We will continue to struggle for equal opportunities for women of all oppressed castes and demand affirmative policies and their effective implementation. Together we resist the forces of globalisation, fundamentalism, casteism and patriarchy.