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Dalit Women: Vanguard of an Alternative Politics in India [1 ed.]
 9781138221062

Table of contents :
Cover
Title
Copyright
Dedication
Contents
Notes on contributors
Preface
Acknowledgements
Introduction: We ask you to rethink: Different Dalit women and their subaltern politics
Part I Imagining a new Dalit women’s politics
1 Foreword: Dalits, Dalit women and the Indian State
2 For another difference: Agency, representation and Dalit women in contemporary India
Part II Dalit women’s conceptualizations of caste difference and their means of collectivization
3 Gendered negotiations of caste identity: Dalit women’s activism in rural Tamil Nadu
4 Liberation panthers and pantheresses? Gender and Dalit party politics in South India
5 Microcredit self-help groups and Dalit women: Overcoming or essentializing caste difference?
Part III A broken empowerment? Are women still trapped by caste and patriarchy?
6 Dalit women, rape and the revitalisation of patriarchy?
7 Different Dalit women speak differently: Unravelling, through an intersectional lens, narratives of agency and activism from everyday life in rural Uttar Pradesh
8 Subsidising capitalism and male labour: The scandal of unfree Dalit female labour relations
Part IV Religion as Dalit political practice
9 Transformation and the suffering subject: Caste-class and gender in slum Pentecostal discourse
10 Improper politics: The praxis of subalterns in Chennai
Afterword: The burden of caste: Scholarship, democratic movements and activism

Citation preview

Dalit Women

Through its investigation of the underlying political economy of gender, caste and class in India, this book shows how changing historical geographies are shaping the subjectivities of Dalits across India in ways that are neither fixed nor predictable. It brings together ethnographies from across India to explore caste politics, Dalit feminism and patriarchy, religion, economics and the continued socio-economic and political marginalisation of Dalits. With contributions from major academics this is an indispensable book for researchers, teachers and students working on new political expressions, gender identities, social inequalities and the continuing use of the notion of ‘caste’ identity in the oppression of subalterns in contemporary India. It will be essential reading in the disciplines of politics, gender, social exclusion studies, sociology and social anthropology. S. Anandhi is Associate Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, India. Karin Kapadia is Associate at the Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme, School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, University of Oxford, UK.

‘This collection brings us a refreshingly new Dalit feminist conception of emancipatory politics. With its conceptually comprehensive and politically sensitive introduction, it goes much beyond the customary politically correct approach to Dalit women’s issues, and underlines the need for becoming politically conscious about the Dalit women’s question. It makes us aware of both the intellectual as well as the political moves that Dalit women from different parts of India make with the subversive intention to interrogate the Dalit patriarchy that resides on the margin of the much larger social patriarchy. It invites us to acknowledge Dalit women’s attempts to produce internal critique, even without the aid of so-called scholarly discourse on “Dalit feminism”. This volume is indeed a big relief from the rhetorical, and hence repetitive, writing on the Dalit question.’ Gopal Guru, Professor, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India ‘“This is not just male domination but casteist patriarchy which is at force in India.” – the Alisamma (Dalit) Women’s Collective sets the tone for this rich collection of ethnographic work on the definitions of politics by Dalit women in India; and the shaping of women’s lives through the practice of politics in which the resistance to caste is at the core. The important question addressed by these essays is Dalit women’s resistance to patriarchy – the cacophonous jugalbandi of Dalit and dominant caste patriarchies, and women’s negotiations around patriarchies as part of anti-caste struggles. Is all Dalit women’s resistance feminist? Indeed, what is feminism in contexts of casteist patriarchy? Cross-caste governmental mobilisation promoting the “empowerment” of women often absorbs casteism, pushing Dalit women to the margins as “victim-beneficiaries”, thereby reproducing patriarchal caste ideologies through government-driven NGO contexts. The inescapability of graded inequality in caste society is brought home through the feminisation of tied/unfree labour, as also through the subjugation of Dalit women at the intersections of caste, class, religious and gender hierarchies. In this valuable collection, Karin Kapadia and S. Anandhi open out for us important debates on Dalit feminist resistance, cross-Dalit solidarities, the place of suffering and religious faith in the expression of “Dalitness” and the annihilation of caste.’ Kalpana Kannabiran, Professor and Director, Council for Social Development, Hyderabad, Telangana, India

‘This fine-grained, collective analysis of abuse and constraints, of agency and striving, reveals the persistent double subordination of Dalit women, by society in general and Dalit men in particular. These deeply empathetic accounts highlight the ways in which Dalit women rethink their politics, in the face of hostility and neglect. This is a book that deserves to be widely read.’ Barbara Harriss-White, Emeritus Professor of Development Studies, University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow, Wolfson College, University of Oxford, UK ‘A much-awaited work which documents the gender inequality in the Dalit ranks. Highlighting the reign of patriarchy also in this milieu, the contributors discuss how the huge weight of the double burden is being increasingly and sometimes successfully challenged.’ Jan Breman, Professor Emeritus, University of Amsterdam and Honorary Fellow, International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, The Netherlands ‘This pathbreaking book brings together research that documents how many Dalit women in different regions of India are at the forefront of struggles against multiple forms of oppression and inequality. Encompassing widely varied contexts, the studies also shed light on the forces and conditions that enable and constrain diverse forms of subaltern politics.’ Gillian Hart, Distinguished Professor, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Professor of the Graduate School, University of California, Berkeley, USA ‘The essays in this volume reflect a remarkable sensitivity to the regional complexities and ethnographic particularities that structure the relationship of caste and inequality, and sexuality and democracy. This volume is required reading for anyone interested in contemporary transformations of the gender – caste interface, and a major contribution to our understanding of the linkages between inequality and social difference.’ Anupama Rao, Associate Professor of History, Barnard College, Columbia University, USA

Dalit Women Vanguard of an Alternative Politics in India Edited by S. Anandhi and Karin Kapadia

First published 2017 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2017 selection and editorial matter, S. Anandhi and Karin Kapadia; individual chapters, the contributors The right of S. Anandhi and Karin Kapadia to be identified as the authors of the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN: 978-1-138-22106-2 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-315-20649-3 (ebk) Typeset in Sabon by Apex CoVantage, LLC

In Memoriam

Professor M.S.S. Pandian, a remarkable scholar whose life and writings were dedicated to the cause of social justice. The loving husband of Anandhi and the loving father of their daughter Preethi, his endless dialogues with Anandhi on Tamil subaltern politics and history had to end with his sudden demise. Professor Marilyn Butler who was Karin’s undergraduate tutor and her very generous friend her entire life. Sister Angela Hurley FMM who constantly inspired Karin with her cheerful courage and wisdom. Xerxes Desai who was Karin’s true ‘friend in need’ – his generosity was endless.

Contents

Notes on contributorsxi Prefacexv Acknowledgementsxvi

Introduction: We ask you to rethink: Different Dalit women and their subaltern politics

1

KARIN KAPADIA

PART I

Imagining a new Dalit women’s politics51   1 Foreword: Dalits, Dalit women and the Indian State

53

ANAND TELTUMBDE

  2 For another difference: Agency, representation and Dalit women in contemporary India

75

MANUELA CIOTTI

PART II

Dalit women’s conceptualizations of caste difference and their means of collectivization95   3 Gendered negotiations of caste identity: Dalit women’s activism in rural Tamil Nadu S. ANANDHI

97

x  Contents   4 Liberation panthers and pantheresses? Gender and Dalit party politics in South India

131

HUGO GORRINGE

  5 Microcredit self-help groups and Dalit women: Overcoming or essentializing caste difference?

158

ISABELLE GUÉRIN AND SANTOSH KUMAR

PART III

A broken empowerment? Are women still trapped by caste and patriarchy?187   6 Dalit women, rape and the revitalisation of patriarchy?

189

CLARINDA STILL

  7 Different Dalit women speak differently: Unravelling, through an intersectional lens, narratives of agency and activism from everyday life in rural Uttar Pradesh

218

RADHIKA GOVINDA

  8 Subsidising capitalism and male labour: The scandal of unfree Dalit female labour relations

246

ISHITA MEHROTRA

PART IV

Religion as Dalit political practice277   9 Transformation and the suffering subject: Caste-class and gender in slum Pentecostal discourse

279

NATHANIEL ROBERTS

10 Improper politics: The praxis of subalterns in Chennai

305

KARIN KAPADIA



Afterword: The burden of caste: Scholarship, democratic movements and activism UMA CHAKRAVARTI

335

Contributors

S. Anandhi is Associate Professor at Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, India. She is a historian with research interests in political movements and social processes in colonial and contemporary Tamil Nadu. She has contributed several articles on caste, gender and sexual politics in the Dravidian movement and on Dalit women’s struggles. Her research has been published in Economic and Political Weekly and in edited volumes on gender and history. She has published two monographs on Dalit Rights – Contending Identities: Dalits in Madras Slums (1995) and Land to Dalits: The Panchama Land Struggle (2000) – and many research articles on Dalit women’s collectivism in Tamil Nadu. Uma Chakravarti is an eminent feminist historian who has worked on topics such as caste, gender, Buddhism, nineteenth-century Maharashtra and more contemporary issues. Since the 1970s she has been associated with the movement for democratic rights as well as the women’s movement. In this capacity she has been part of many fact-finding teams to document state repression, and communal and caste violence. Manuela Ciotti is Associate Professor of Global Studies at Aarhus University, Denmark. She has extensive research experience in India spanning almost two decades and focusing on modernity, Dalit communities, gender and politics and the global spread of modern and contemporary art from India through exhibitions held around the world. This research has resulted in a rich body of publications in leading journals including Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Modern Asian Studies, Feminist Review, The Journal of Asian Studies and Third World Quarterly. She is the author of the book Retro-Modern India: Forging the Low-Caste Self (2010) and the edited volume Unsettling the archetypes: Femininities and masculinities in Indian politics (2017).

xii  Contributors Hugo Gorringe is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at The University of Edinburgh, UK. His research focuses on politics, social exclusion, marginalisation and mobilisation among Dalits in Tamil Nadu. He is the author of Untouchable Citizens: The Dalit Panthers and Democratisation in Tamil Nadu (2005), and has written numerous articles on identity, violence, space, caste and politics. He has written commentary and analysis pieces for The Hindu and Economic and Political Weekly. His work has also been discussed on the BBC’s Thinking Allowed programme. He has submitted written evidence on caste discrimination to the UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Radhika Govinda is Lecturer in Sociology at The University of Edinburgh, UK. Her teaching and research interests are anchored in political sociology, gender and development. Her research focus has been on gender politics at the intersections of movements for subaltern assertion, religious nationalism and development in a neo-liberal era, examining in particular questions of the mobilization and the organization of women, and their presence and representation in development policies and practice, and changes in dominant gendered social relations, in both rural and urban spaces in South Asia, especially India. She has published in Modern Asian Studies, Contemporary South Asia, Gender and Development and Indian Journal of Gender Studies, among others. Isabelle Guérin is Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Research for Development, France (CESSMA, Centre d’Etudes en Sciences Sociales sur les Mondes Américains, Africains et Asiatiques) and Associate at the French Institute of Pondicherry, India. She specialises in the political and moral economics of money, debt and finance. Her current work focuses on the financialisation of domestic economies, looking at how financialisation produces new forms of inequalities and domination, but also alternative and solidarity-based initiatives. Her work draws most often from her own field-based original data and combines ethnography and statistical analyses. Karin Kapadia is a social anthropologist and Associate at the Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme, School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, University of Oxford, UK. She has degrees in Economics, English Literature, Education in Developing Countries and a doctorate in social anthropology from the London School of Economics. She has published widely in the area of caste and gender studies. Her monograph Siva and Her Sisters: Gender, Caste

Contributors xiii and Class in Rural South India (1995) was based on two years of fieldwork in a Tamil village. Her edited book The Violence of Development: The Politics of Identity, Gender and Social Inequalities in India (2002) followed her three-year appointment as Gender Co-ordinator for South Asia at the World Bank in Washington. She is also the co-editor of two major publications: Rural Labour Relations in India (1999) with T. J. Byres and Jens Lerche and The Worlds of Indian Industrial Labour (1999) with Jonathan Parry and Jan Breman. Her most recent publications include ‘Liberalisation and Transformations in India’s Informal Economy: Female Breadwinners in Working-Class Households in Chennai’, in The Comparative Political Economy of Development: Africa and Asia (2010) and ‘Caste and Class in Gendered Religion: Dalit Women in Chennai’s Slums’, in Women, Gender and Everyday Social Transformation in India (2014). Her current research on the intersections between politics, economy and socio-cultural change is focused on ‘fundamentalist’/reformist religion and its appeal to the poor, where she has found that, unusually, women are at the centre of reformist religious movements in urban south India. Santosh Kumar is a research associate in sociology and has worked with many researchers over the past eighteen years, with a focus on women’s empowerment in the field of health and economic development. Currently his special interests are the role of credit and debt in women’s daily life and decision-making as also in solidaritybased economy initiatives. Ishita Mehrotra is Assistant Professor at the School of Undergraduate Studies at Ambedkar University, Delhi, India. Her research and teaching interests include the political economy of agrarian relations, caste and gender, rural labour relations, labour movements and development theory. Nathaniel Roberts is a socio-cultural anthropologist and Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Germany. His major theoretical interests are in the anthropology of religion and secularism, the ethics and epistemology of ethnographic practice, the relationship between national majorities and dominated subpopulations, inherited forms of inequality, and the cultural logic of political representation, or ‘democracy’. His first book To Be Cared For: The Power of Conversion and Foreignness of Belonging in an Indian Slum was published in 2016.

xiv  Contributors Clarinda Still is Post-Doctoral Researcher in the Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme at the University of Oxford, UK. From 2008 to 2013 she was Lecturer in the Anthropology of South Asia for the programme. She has been conducting anthropological research in South India since 2004 with an ethnographic focus on Dalits, especially Dalit women. Her published work includes a monograph, Dalit Women: Honour and Patriarchy in South India (2014); an edited volume, Dalits in Neoliberal India: Mobility or Marginalisation? (2014); and several articles in leading journals on caste, class, gender, inequality, education, affirmative action and discrimination. She is currently working on two projects: ‘Democratic Cultures’ at University College London and the ‘Inequality and Poverty Research Programme’ at the London School of Economics, UK. Anand Teltumbde is a leading public intellectual and a civil rights activist of long standing. He is the General Secretary of the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), India, and is associated with the All India Forum for Rights to Education (AIFRTE) and also with many other peoples’ movements. As a regular contributor to the Economic and Political Weekly, he writes a monthly column entitled ‘Margin Speak’. He also contributes to other progressive journals like Mainstream, Frontier, Seminar, etc. and several English and Marathi newspapers. Some of his recent books are Persistence of Caste (2010); Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop (2008); Mahad: Making of the First Dalit Revolt (2016); and Dalits: Past, Present and Future (2016).

Preface

This book has had a long gestation. In early December 2012 my longtime friend Anandhi contacted me with the suggestion that we collaborate on a collection of research articles on Dalit women. By the end of the month we had already contacted a number of our researcher friends who worked on caste in India, and especially Tamil Nadu, the focus of both Anandhi’s and my research. The enthusiastic response we received from our friends/researchers confirmed that a volume of collected articles based on entirely new, unpublished research was doable. However, the years took their toll. On 10 November 2014 Indian academia lost one of its crown jewels – MSS Pandian, eminent historian at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and Anandhi’s dear husband, died very suddenly in Delhi following a cardiac arrest. Anandhi had to rush there from Chennai, where she lived and worked, to deal with the massive bureaucratic redtape that confronted her in the following months. This kept her very fully occupied – she simultaneously had to support her daughter Preethi in dealing with their deeply tragic loss. Exactly 12 months later, in November 2015, Anandhi’s home was flooded in the devastating Chennai floods, not just once, but twice. Her home and car were wrecked in these floods – these were the new challenges she had to face. Exactly as with Pandian’s death she bore these new trials with her characteristic courage and equanimity, remaining calm, cool, even cheerful, making wry jokes in the face of this new disaster. By mid-2016 this book was at last ready to go to the publishers. If Anandhi’s name did not appear here as co-editor, this book would have been dedicated to her, to honour her extraordinary courage, her grace under fire. She has been a wonderful friend throughout this process. Karin Kapadia

Acknowledgements

The idea for this volume on Dalit women was conceived when I was collaborating with Professor David Mosse on an ESRC-funded project on ‘Caste and Development’. My own contribution to this volume is an outcome of that project and I owe many thanks to David for his generosity and encouragement. It was Karin Kapadia’s Siva and Her Sisters: Gender, Caste and Class in Rural South India and several of her seminal contributions to the discussions on caste and gender that inspired me to explore the possibility of collaborating with her on this volume. At the start of our work I did not imagine that she would be unduly burdened with the editing and publication of this work. When I was challenged with several personal crises, as a wonderful feminist friend she stood by me, encouraged me and shouldered the entire responsibility of editing and bringing out this volume. She is indeed a model of what an ideal friend should be and I owe her more than a mere thanks. I owe more than an apology to all the scholar-friends who have contributed to this volume for the inordinate delay in bringing it out and my special thanks to each one of them for being very supportive and understanding. To Anand Teltumbde and Uma Chakravarti we owe many thanks for readily agreeing to write the Foreword and Afterword which have enriched this volume. Several discussions with Judith Heyer, Padmini Swaminathan, M.S.S. Pandian, M. Vijayabaskar, Kalaiarasan, Karthick, Barbara Harriss-White and Karen Coelho were useful and their scholarship helped me to plan this volume. Thanks to all of them. S. Anandhi *** A network of scholars working on India contributed to this book in various ways. The research contributions of the authors gathered here

Acknowledgements xvii made this book a reality – we are deeply thankful to every one of them. It was a pleasure and privilege to work with them. Hugo Gorringe, most especially, must be singled out for high praise: Hugo became our friend, philosopher and guide throughout the long process of editing this book, often helping to read and comment on contributions where Anandhi and I wanted a third opinion. This book would be much poorer without his input. We also wish to thank our colleagues, in India, the UK and elsewhere, who contributed very significantly to shaping this book with their supportive insights. Judith Heyer was an outstanding source of advice and encouragement from the start and offered invaluable comments on the final draft. Barbara Harriss-White and Matthew McCartney of Oxford University have always been magnificently generous and supportive to me; Kate Meagher, Jens Lerche and Jonathan Parry were encouraging throughout. The work of Gillian Hart, Joel Robbins, Sharad Chari and Sindre Bangstad has offered insights and inspiration. Finally, this book required the support of friends and family. I would like to thank Shanthi David for her years of affectionate help with this book, also David Butler, Caroline, Shantha, Pat and Ragi, as well as Vinita and Ulrike. I finally thank my dear brother Khushroo, without whose constant, unfailing support this book could not have been completed. He remains, as ever (in the Gujarati phrase), maro hira-moti bhai. I lost three deeply cherished mentors during our work on this book and dedicate this book to them. Professor Marilyn Butler, the first woman principal of an all-male Oxford college, was my tutor when I was an Oxford undergraduate. A hugely inspiring and delightful scholar she taught me how to think. She remained my very generous friend and mentor her entire life. Sister Angela Hurley, FMM, under whose guiding hand innumerable schools, colleges (including mine in Madras) and hospitals flourished in south India, constantly inspired me with her cheerful courage and wisdom – her exemplary life of selfless service went with an unquenchable sense of humour. Xerxes Desai, Founder-CEO of Titan Watches India, was ever my true ‘friend in need’. Several different versions of this entire book were printed out over the years on his home printer, using up endless reams of paper: his generosity was equally endless, his support for this book unfailing. Karin Kapadia

Figures 1 and 2 ‘Communal Tension Soars as Talks Fail’, The New Indian Express, 21 May 2015. Reproduced with permission.

Introduction We ask you to rethink Different Dalit women and their subaltern politics Karin Kapadia We, Dalit women, therefore request you to recognize that it is not just male domination but casteist patriarchy which is at force in India. We ask you to rethink. We want you to acknowledge the political importance of the ‘difference’, i.e. the heterogeneity, that exists among the Indian female community. . . . Recognition of difference is fundamental to any democratic politics. Alisamma Women’s Collective1 We are not in formal politics, but I think politics for us is the way we live our everyday lives. We are always out there struggling with the family, with the caste elders, with panchayats and with government officials. To get through these systems and to fight it out is a political act. Uma, the Valluvapuram sangam leader2

Dalit women standing together3 They stand facing the policemen, two Dalit women, in silence. Are they afraid? They would be foolish not to be afraid. The police are notorious for framing Dalits on false charges if they challenge their village elites (see Teltumbde’s Foreword). A police inspector stands in front of them, looking very grim, holding his phone and some papers. The two women have gagged themselves, black cloths over their mouths. Behind them around 200 women sit, similarly gagged. Children sit with their mothers. The shorter of the two women, dressed in pink, has her hands gently clasped. She looks calm, patiently enduring what is happening. The taller woman is adjusting her gag. Both are looking the police inspector straight in the eye. If afraid, they are not showing it. Several policemen stand behind their boss; one is taking a photo of the women. Communal Tension Soars as Talks Fail shouts the newspaper headline.

2  Karin Kapadia This tense stand-off between Dalit women and policemen arose because of the protest the women organized. They went on a hunger fast to protest their exclusion by ‘intermediate-caste Hindus’ – the dominant castes of their village – from the annual temple festival.4 The news report describes how ‘communal tensions soared’ after ‘talks failed’ between the Dalit castes and the dominant castes of this Tamil village. Two Dalit castes had joined to protest together: Adidravidar Dalits who often use the ‘Dalit’ name5 and Arundhathiyar Dalits. The term ‘Dalit’ means ‘the oppressed’ and is the self-referential term of choice for activists and intellectuals from this social group. In this chapter we use this term to mean any member of any ex-‘untouchable’ caste. These castes are also referred to as the ‘scheduled castes’ because their names are listed in the government ‘schedules’ that confirm their right to ‘reservations’ – reserved places – in higher education and publicsector jobs. The Dalit women, the report said, ‘demanded that the district administration intervene to restore their rights in the temple festival’.6 The newspaper also noted, The three-hour tripartite peace talks between the Dalits, the Arundhathiyar community and the intermediate caste Hindus in [the] village failed to find an amicable solution to tensions arising from allegations of caste discrimination, by the Dalits [the Adidravidars] and the Arundhathiyar community, against the Intermediate Caste Hindus, during the organisation of the temple festival’. (The New Indian Express, 21 May 2015) There had been recent clashes between young men belonging to the two opposing sides. The talks failed, and we do not know how things ended in this particular village.7 But we do know how things are developing elsewhere – in another village (not so far away, also in northern Tamil Nadu) a women’s organization led by Adidravidar Dalit women has been trying to help Arundhathiyar Dalit women to stop the traditional ‘dedication’ ceremony that makes young Arundhathiyar girls sexually available to men from the landlord caste (see Chapter 3). Across the border, in a Dalit hamlet in the state of Andhra Pradesh, almost all the Dalits are Christian today, either through historic conversions to Catholicism or through recent conversions to Pentecostalism. So they don’t give a fig about the temple festival in the upper-caste village; they are focused on raising their socio-economic status and are therefore removing

We ask you to rethink 3 Dalit women from field labour. They are also educating their daughters but solely in order to arrange better marriages for them. Their eager appropriation of bourgeois/upper-caste gender values means that their daughters have significantly less freedom and mobility than their grandmothers did, raising the key question: does upward mobility reduce the autonomy of Dalit women? (see Chapter 6). This collection asks two questions: what is happening with Dalit women? And how should we understand what is happening with them? Ethnographic studies focusing on Dalit women from across India are brought together here: three from Uttar Pradesh (Chapters 2, 7 and 8), one from Andhra (Chapter 6) and five from Tamil Nadu (Chapters 3 to 5, 9 and 10), and they are joined by a foreword that takes its starting point in the Dalit movement in Maharashtra in Ambedkar’s days (Chapter 1) and an afterword that highlights the fraught interactions between the Dalit women’s movement and the ‘mainstream’ uppercaste-class women’s movement (Afterword). Some facts regarding Indian inequality India is a deeply divided country. It is divided by class, caste, religion and gender8 – all these social identities are used by powerful groups to dominate and exploit others in unjust and cruel ways. Dalit women are often exploited because of their caste, class, gender and religion, so they are subjected to multiple, interconnecting oppressions. Inequality in India is extreme: in the words of two of India’s most eminent economists, C. P. Chandrasekhar and Jayati Ghosh, ‘[I]ncome inequality in India seems to be extreme’ (2016). They explain The top 10 per cent of income earners among those paying taxes, get 67 per cent of the total income earned by taxpayers. On the other hand, the bottom 50 per cent account for just 11.9 per cent of aggregate income. This is indeed a very high level of inequality even by global standards. Thus, according to Thomas Piketty, on the eve of World War I when inequality had touched a high, the top decile’s share of national income was around 45–50 per cent in Europe and just above 40 per cent in the United States. (2016) India is an oligarchy, not a democracy: or, as Parry puts it, ‘Democracy may be as big a part of the problem as it is of the solution’ (2014a: 3). Politics in India is controlled by casteist oligarchies who ensure, through the subordination of India’s masses, that no real democratic

4  Karin Kapadia challenge can be mounted against them. Appallingly poor levels of education and health care ensure that the poor masses remain vulnerable and dependent,9 and subaltern attempts at broader, cross-cutting political solidarities continue to be fragmented by strong caste identities, above all, but also religious differences and ethnic loyalties. Parliamentary democracy in India is an incongruity, because it bears no relation to the extreme income inequality that fractures India. Or as Chandrasekhar and Ghosh put it, Inequality is high in both salary and business incomes, though the latter seems to be the principal determinant of overall inequality. . . . The resulting degree of overall inequality seems incongruous, given India’s decision to adopt parliamentary democracy as its framework for political and social governance. (2016) Formal democracy has impeded substantive democracy: Corbridge et al. point out that the patronage networks based on caste and class that enabled India to establish itself as a formal democracy ‘are precisely those that impede substantive democratization’ (2013: 157).10 Frankel (2005) pointed out that in rural India democracy meant that the privileged dominant castes and classes were able to subvert the goals of social policy,11 with the result that there was minimal investment in agrarian reform and in human capital. . . . Democracy, that is, made a direct attack on the interests of the propertied castes and classes impossible. Indeed, their hands were actually strengthened by their capture of state power at local level,12 and they were able to thwart reforms that were not in their interests. (Parry 2014: 21–21; emphases added) Casteism continues to pervade India’s society, economy and politics: or as Tharamangalam puts it: ‘The abysmal socio-economic condition of the lower castes is not a random occurrence but is embedded in historically inherited structures that have resisted radical change’ (2012). He notes that because of its pervasive caste ideology India has fallen behind even Pakistan in international rankings of social indicators. Casteism has created the paradox by which despite its high growth India fares very poorly in almost all measures of social indicators . . . in comparison with developing

We ask you to rethink 5 countries at the same or even lower levels of economic growth and per capita GDP. Its low HDI (Human Development Index) ranking . . . is attributable to its exceptionally low indicators of basic education and health. . . . The country is home to the single largest pool of hungry people in the world, 255 million who make up 21 per cent of its population. . . . Behind these figures are two significant facts about Indian society: first, the country has an unusually large underclass, and second, prominently figured in this class are the lower castes (especially the Dalits) and the Scheduled Tribes. (2012) Tharamangalam is spot on when he points out that India’s ‘very poor record in primary education (eg. in contrast to East Asia)’ is no accident and suggests, again rightly, that the project of educating the low castes may have met with resistance from the upper castes who feared that such a project and consequent upward mobility of the lower castes would jeopardise the control and management of their low caste workers, dependents and servants. . . . [T]his structure is maintained not just by ideology and pollution rules but also by considerable violence. It is indeed a system of structural violence manifested by constant threats and periodic outbursts of physical violence employed by land owning upper castes threatened by changes in established relationships. (2012) Tharamangalam (2012) therefore observes: ‘Yes, we have abolished untouchability, the need today is to abolish the material base of the system that sustained untouchability, now spawning newer forms of discrimination and violence.’ K. P. Kannan and G. Raveendran of the NCEUS13 came to the same conclusion in 2011, stating, ‘We are of the opinion that India’s unresolved poverty question is closely related to its unresolved social question’ (2011: 70; emphasis added).14 Poverty-alleviation projects are either captured by local elites or sabotaged by the government itself: There is extensive evidence that projects meant for the poor are either captured or controlled by local dominant castes (see Chapters 5 and 8). The MGNREGA scheme has been the most successful rural employment scheme in post-colonial India’s history. Yet this essential scheme is being sabotaged by the government itself – both the incumbent BJP government (as we write in

6  Karin Kapadia July 2016) and the Congress-led government before it have failed to give the MGNREGA scheme the allocations it so richly deserves and urgently needs15 (Drèze 2016). Drèze emphasizes the massive human cost of this neglect by the government: For the first time, India has a lasting infrastructure of public support that can, in principle, be expanded in drought years to prevent hunger and starvation. Business as usual, however, seems to be the motto. The price is paid by millions of people who are not just exposed to intense hardship but also losing valuable human and physical capital, condemning them to further poverty in the future. (Drèze 2016) Atrocities against Dalits are increasing, not decreasing: atrocities against Dalits are increasing right across India, particularly in rural areas and yet receive the least attention from the judiciary (see Foreword; The Times of India, 26 July 2016). In urban India, far from casteism disappearing, fatal assaults on Dalits are increasing: there have been several recent cases where young Dalit men who married non-Dalit/higher-caste women16 were murdered by upper-caste men, even in supposedly ‘progressive’ Tamil Nadu.17–19 A news report quotes eminent Dalit intellectual, Kancha Ilaiah, as saying, ‘Our police carry their caste with them; even when they are on duty they practise discrimination.’20 The same news report quotes the former Maharashtra director general of police as confirming Ilaiah’s claim: ‘There were instances where the police discriminated against people from the lower castes. The PoA (Prevention of Atrocities) act is of little help’21 (The Quint 2016). Dr Ambedkar himself highlighted police casteism very clearly, 80 years earlier: The Tehsildar and police belong to the caste Hindus, and in cases of disputes between the Hindus and the Untouchables, they are more faithful to their caste than towards their duty. The Hindus practise injustice and tyranny against you only because you are helpless. (1936: 5) And for a chilling sense of the ruthless inhumanity of the non-Dalits (also see Frontline 2016b) who sympathize with and support the killers of these young Dalit men, consider the complacent Gounder man who

We ask you to rethink 7 trivialized the brutal murder and beheading of young Gokul Raj as an ‘unpleasant incident’, adding the profoundly shocking comments: As a Dalit, he [Gokul Raj] should have understood his birth-based limitations. As we respect other castes, and never interfere, they also must respect ours. We all should maintain the ‘Lakshman rekha’ [the line that cannot be crossed] for a peaceful coexistence. We in the Kongu Vellalar caste take a lot of pride in our women.22 The girls in our families are our ‘princesses’. We nourish them and pamper them since they are the ones who nourish our traditions and customs. How could you expect us to get this sullied? . . . [W]e will never permit any act that pollutes us. I, for that matter, we, will never compromise on our caste identity. (Frontline, 7 August 2015; emphasis added) Faced on the one hand with such unabashed and sustained hostility from higher castes, Dalits, on the other hand, also confront extreme political inequality, economic marginalization and distressing poverty in their every day. Each ordinary difficulty they face is grievously compounded by the ugly and humiliating23 caste discrimination they are subjected to, which treats them as if they were subhuman. All this has a particularly disastrous effect on the social psychology of impoverished, unemployed Dalit men. These interlocking factors, in the context of their widespread unemployment and underemployment, have led to the profound emasculation of poor Dalit men, with catastrophic knock-on effects on poor Dalit women (see the later discussion in this chapter). Poverty, stigma and caste-class As Nilsen and Roy observe, Socio-economic marginalization . . . intersects with structures of power based on caste, gender and sexuality to create patterns of exclusion, vulnerability, stigma and disenfranchisement that define subalternity in contemporary India. . . . However, subalternity and the relations of power through which it is produced are also vigorously contested from below. (2015: 2) Through the ideology of caste inferiority, India’s upper-caste-class hegemons have always tried to persuade the poor that they deserve

8  Karin Kapadia their oppression and should acquiesce in it, but, as Gorringe has rightly argued, ‘The notion that everyone knew and accepted their place in caste society has never mapped onto reality. Protests against caste have taken multiple forms, including migration or flight’ (2016: 1). Dalit communities never internalized their own despised identity at the bottom of the caste hierarchy, even though they regularly replicated caste hierarchies in relation to ‘lower’ Dalit castes (both Chapters 7 and 8 report caste discrimination between the Dalit castes). And they derided their ‘high-caste’ masters behind their backs with bitter contempt:24 a well-known Tamil Dalit quip asked, ‘If you meet a Brahmin and a poisonous snake, whom should you kill first?’25 The only exception to Dalit political marginality has been the success of the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party)26 in electoral politics in Uttar Pradesh. The BSP is led by elites from the well-educated Dalit Chamar caste – well-paid, middle-class, white-collar government bureaucrats.27 While it has ‘played a vital role in the politicisation of untouchable groups . . . and has shown that state power can alter local power equations to the benefit of the oppressed’, it has remained a petit bourgeois party that has avoided the development of class-based policies (Lerche 1999). Pai shares this view (2002, 2013).28 Many Dalit communities, due to their poverty, were forced to carry out the filthy jobs the so-called clean castes did not wish to do. One of the most important of these tasks was that of ‘manual scavenging’,29 defined by Wikipedia as ‘the unsafe, undignified removal of raw (fresh and untreated) human excreta from buckets or other containers that are used as toilets or from the pits of simple pit latrines’.30 With the sublime lunacy of caste logic, these impoverished people were then ‘outcasted’ as ‘untouchables’ because they performed these socalled polluting jobs that had been forced on them. Gopal Guru has explained this insane caste logic well: The ideology of purity-pollution, which is the core of Brahmanism, forces Dalits to carry with them all the time a morally degrading meaning, even if some of them have moved out of defiling jobs such as scavenging and other sanitary work. Those Dalits who still find themselves chained to the obnoxious job of manual scavenging and ragpicking continue to remain repulsive objects of intolerance. The touchable caste pushes Dalits first into degraded/ inhuman forms of jobs, then uses the same dislocation and stigmatizes them. Thus the upper castes invent justification for their intolerance of Dalits. This burden of stigma remains attached to Dalits across time and space. The ideology of Brahmanism thus

We ask you to rethink 9 turns Dalits into a walking carcass or mobile dirt, and their colonies into stigmatised ghettos that look almost similar to the apartheid that existed in South Africa. (2016; emphasis added) Another important, extremely unpleasant task poor village Dalits are required to do is the removal of dead cattle, which are then skinned. Following the recent atrocities against young Dalit men engaged in this task in Una, Gujarat,31 there have been large-scale protests by Dalits in Gujarat. A leader of the new Dalit protest movement, Jignesh Mevani, summed up the situation very accurately: We want the government to give land to landless Dalits so that they do not have to depend on inhuman vocations for their existence. We will be distributing 10,000 forms that will be handed to the government in support of this demand. Land reforms are the way forward to end caste discrimination. Why should Dalits continue to skin dead animals, clean gutters and do other inhuman activities for a living?32 (CatchNews, 6 August 2016; emphasis added) Dalit men employed by the municipalities are threatened with sacking unless they go down the sewers without protective gear. Many men have died in Punjab (Hindustan Times, 7 July 2016), as they have across India. In Tamil Nadu more than 200 Dalit men have died from toxic gases when descending to clean sewers, 80 of them in Chennai (The Hindu, 21 January 2016), and even the new Chennai airport, most disgracefully, regularly employs manual scavengers though this dangerous practice was made illegal in 2015.33 Many Dalits, due to their indigence, are forced to continue in these repugnant jobs and receive social ostracism as their thanks (see Harriss-White and Rodrigo 2015). Another highly undesired job, for many Dalits and especially Dalit women, is the unpaid labour they are forced to perform for their landlord-patrons. This is a key element also in rural Uttar Pradesh (see Chapter 8) and in ‘modern’ Tamil Nadu, where NGOs demand unpaid labour from their Dalit women members, but not from their non-Dalit members (see Chapter 5). Frontline confirms that the unpaid labour of Dalit women continues to be essential to Karnataka’s rural dominant castes (Frontline, 22 January 2016a). Its revelations echo Anandhi’s findings: in her study too Dalit women’s unpaid labour in upper-caste homes and their unfree labour in agriculture are performed for the

10  Karin Kapadia same landlords. But their exploitation is even greater because they ‘dedicate’ their young daughters to make them sexually available to their landlords (see Chapter 3). Just as in the Frontline report, this distressing situation owes much to the extreme isolation and the labourbondage of these Telugu-speaking Arundhathiyars/Madigas who perceive themselves as entirely dependent on their Telugu-speaking Naidu masters (Frontline, 22 January 2016a).34 The state of government hospitals and schools is deeply shocking35 because those who plan and implement the welfare system have no stake in the services provided. The services are intended for the poor and are consequently disastrously bad. Even poor people now send their children to private schools and patronize private doctors and hospitals, which leads to indebtedness. (Parry 2014a: 22) As more young Dalits have entered state-run university education, its sneering casteism has become ever more obvious, culminating recently in the deeply tragic suicide of a Dalit Ambedkarite scholar and organizer, Rohith Vemula, at Hyderabad University (Kannabiran 2016; Teltumbde 2016c; Vajpeyi 2016).36 The ‘institutional murder’ (to use Teltumbde’s apt term) of this gifted and charismatic young man triggered national outrage but was symptomatic of entrenched caste prejudice in Indian higher education (Deshpande and Newman 2007; Teltumbde 2016c). Casteism thrives in India’s super-elite IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) as well. In 2015 the casteist persecution of Ambedkarite Dalit students at the Madras IIT spilled into the national news (The Hindu, 2 June 2015). But even before these revelations, Subramanian’s research into the casteist politics of ‘meritocracy’ at the Madras IIT confirmed that [c]aste difference constitutes IIT Madras as a Brahminical space where merit is a form of caste virtue . . . [IITians] attempt to delegitimize low-caste mobilization as a parochial, corrupting expression of ‘vote bank’ politics. At the same time, they conflate ascription with achievement by making merit into a form of highcaste property, a move that mirrors a broader neoliberal affirmation of identity as capital. (Subramanian 2015: 89, 99) India’s elites love to pretend that casteism does not exist,37 but their emollient claims that caste discrimination is ‘disappearing’ are as

We ask you to rethink 11 specious as they are self-serving: Beteille’s contention that ‘the consciousness of caste has been dying down’ (2012) is sharply disputed by the casteist horrors of contemporary reality, which include the public floggings of innocent young Dalit men in a Gujarat city centre by so-called cow protector upper-caste vigilantes and the continuing rape, murder and mutilation of Dalit girls and women across India by upper-caste men (Al Jazeera, 21 July 2016; Quartz India, 22 July 2016; Teltumbde 2008).38 The neoliberal political-economic context Casteism pervades the Indian economy from top to toe, both rural and urban (Breman 2010). It pervades urban labour markets, making it more difficult for Dalits to access better jobs at all levels (Madheswaran and Attewell 2007; Thorat and Attewell 2007; Thorat and Newman 2007). The best jobs in the much-sought-after IT sector are entirely monopolized by the well-educated upper-caste middle classes who get the high salaries and foreign postings it offers (Fuller and Narasimhan 2007; Upadhya 2004, 2007).39 Deshpande’s extensive research provides overwhelming evidence for the sharp caste bias that corrodes the Indian economy at all levels (Deshpande 2007, 2011; Deshpande and Newman 2007; Deshpande and Sharma 2013; Deshpande and Ramachandran 2014; also see Desai and Dubey 2011).40 Her conclusions are strongly supported by the research of Harriss-White (2014, 2016) and Prakash (2015) on the innumerable obstacles faced by Dalit businessmen. Their research shows that the Indian state, which is owned and controlled by the upper-caste-classes, obstructs Dalit business at every point to ensure that it fails. The political-economic context in which Dalits live has been increasingly influenced by neoliberal policies since the early 1990s, impoverishing the poor/Dalits further (Ruparelia et al. 2011; Still 2014). In 2008, Sengupta, Kannan and Raveendran of the NCEUS,41 in their now-classic essay, ‘India’s Common People’ (2008), confirmed that inequality is widening between the common people and the better-off sections of society. More recently, Himanshu and Sen (2014), grimly observing that poverty is deepest among Dalits and Adivasis, emphasized that poverty incidence in these two groups . . . has not lessened significantly over time, in spite of the phase of rapid growth in the past three decades. . . . In the case of the SC, it is lower educational attainment and the occupational segregation of households . . . which explain their higher poverty rates. . . . The relationship between occupational segregation and higher poverty incidence among Dalits can be ascribed in great part to caste-based

12  Karin Kapadia discrimination in urban areas (Banerjee, Bertrand, Datta and S. Mullainathan 2009; Madheswaran and Attewell 2007) and the tight relationship between caste and the specific occupations that they are expected to pursue in Indian villages. (2014: 68, 93–94, 96; emphasis added) Enforced occupational segregation is the instrument used to oppress Dalits: this provides the stranglehold by which the dominant casteclasses can continue their economic subordination of Dalits, both rural and urban. The state’s neoliberal labour policies have weakened and destroyed the legislative safeguards that previously protected formalsector workers (Breman 2003, 2004, 2010). These neoliberal policies appear to have made it even more difficult for women to enter the workforce, so that currently ‘India stands out in the world because of shockingly low rates of recognised work participation by women (around 24 per cent) that have even declined over the past decade’ (Ghosh 2016). These policies have also decimated government investment in public health and public education, making subaltern groups even more vulnerable. Lerche (2015) notes that, in social terms, of course, things have improved somewhat for Dalits in Uttar Pradesh over the decades. But they have improved very little in economic terms. Thus it is entirely hyperbolical to claim, as Kapur et al. (2010) have done, based on a survey in Uttar Pradesh, that liberalization is good for Dalits. Given that Dalits constitute the majority of India’s poorest, this misleading claim has quite rightly been rejected by Teltumbde (2011) and Guru (2012). Political/economic marginalization and the profound insecurities of Dalit men In Chakravarti’s chilling analysis, patriarchal power within the Indian family/community is the state, where women are concerned, because the family is where women are subjected to ‘culturally sanctioned forms of extreme violence’, such as ‘honour’ killings (see Afterword).42 This family violence comes from husbands, fathers and brothers. Anandhi, Jeyaranjan and Krishnan (2002) demonstrated vividly how anxiously young Dalit men policed the activities of their sisters who went to work in factories, because the masculinities of these young men were wrapped up in their ability to control their female kin. The same pattern emerges among middle-aged Adidravida Dalit men: deeply insecure, they have a paranoid mistrust of their working wives, subjecting them to brutal beatings (Chapter 3, this volume).

We ask you to rethink 13 The profound insecurity of many poor Dalit men is revealed here, as well as the painful fact that they usually ‘take this out’ on their wives/ female kin. Writing about the effects of deindustrialization on men in Kanpur in 2002, Chitra Joshi has acutely observed, Feelings of emasculation and lost pride are temporarily displaced through a demonstration of physical power over women. Women in many lower-caste households were almost resigned to the idea of drunken men beating them up at night. (2002: 171–172; emphasis added) Her words are applicable to poor Dalit households across urban India, alerting us to the close connections between neoliberal state policies, the destruction of men’s earnings and employment and the erosion of their pride and self-esteem. Many of these men end up as dysfunctional alcoholics who subject their wives to violence (see Kapadia 2010, 2014). An equally dangerous result of the destruction of the employment of working-class/labouring-class men is that, alienated and despairing, they become vulnerable to extreme right-wing nationalist politics and can easily slide into acting as the foot soldiers of populist fascist movements. Breman’s epochal research in Gujarat has documented this deeply worrying trend, showing how long-term unemployment (caused by the closure of textile mills) led to the breakdown of their unions and to the socio-political marginalization of a class of alienated poor/Dalit men (Breman 2003, 2004). They were then recruited as the foot soldiers of the Hindu-nationalist-led pogroms of Muslims in Ahmedabad in 2002 (Breman 2002).43 Some tendencies in this darkly dystopian direction were noted even in Chennai, where Dravidian identity politics had ruled for decades, when impoverished Dalit men were persuaded to participate in BJP/Hindutva-organized Vinayak Chathurthi processions in the late 1990s (Fuller 2001), and where Anandhi (1995) observed a temporary support for BJP/Hindutva politics among poor Dalit men in some Chennai slums. However, by 2012 Pandian was able to observe that the Hindu Right had not taken over more of Tamil Nadu’s political space during the previous two decades, despite fears that it might do so, because of the long-standing propaganda by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) against the caste-based discrimination within Hinduism (which led to a positive representation of Islam and Muslims). This, he argued, gave ‘rise to a form of Hindu religiosity among the non-brahmin Hindus in the state which is self-critical and tolerant’ (Pandian 2012). This

14  Karin Kapadia is very different from the intolerance shown by the BJP government44 which, as Vajpeyi (2015a) notes, has tried to own Dr Ambedkar while disowning everything he taught and stood for: The government-sponsored celebration of his 125th anniversary – but the inability to actually stomach his critical views on the caste system or on Hindu deities, rituals and beliefs – is an excellent illustration of the hollowness of the Hindu Right’s claims to speak in favour of Dalit rights, national integration or the public interest. (Vajpeyi 2015a) However, the danger of angry, impoverished Dalit men misdirecting their ire onto other poor groups, instead of directing it onto the unjust rulers who exploit them, continues to be very great. Equally, Dalit men’s frustration, self-destructive alienation and alcoholism can lead them to a paralysing political passivity. This is the sad situation that both Roberts and Kapadia describe in Chapters 9 and 10, respectively – it is also documented in Kolkata among dysfunctional, depressed ex-jute mill workers by Gooptu (2007), in Kanpur by Joshi (2002) and in Ahmedabad by Breman (2004). Across India, in every one of these contexts it has been women who have had to step in to pick up the pieces and ensure family survival.45 In every one of these contexts, in various ways, the political-cultural disenfranchisement of Dalit men has forced Dalit women to stand up and be counted, as breadwinners and workers, but also as political-cultural actors who are willy-nilly are forced onto centre stage and therefore have to experiment, innovate and ‘bricolate’46 to find some way forward to enfranchise themselves, their families and their communities in the political-cultural vacuums vacated or neglected by Dalit men. These women become a Dalit political avant-garde out of sheer necessity, not choice: circumstances force them to lead the struggle for a better life. ‘Unlearning the habits of subalternity’47: Dalit women’s subaltern politics, caste-class and everyday politics The practices and ideologies/discourses of Dalit women documented in this collection suggest that we need to take them seriously as praxis – the political practice of discourse/ideology – in order to understand the varied ways these women, as subalterns, challenge and resist hegemonic caste-class and gender norms. We must recognize the importance of the everyday forms of political expression of subalterns (Chari 2009). We

We ask you to rethink 15 also, following Sharmila Rege’s insightful proposal, believe that we can try to learn to see from the subaltern/Dalit standpoint:48 A transformation from ‘their cause’ to ‘our cause’ is possible, for subjectivities can be transformed. By this we do not argue that non-dalit feminists can ‘speak as’ or ‘for’ the dalit women but they can ‘reinvent themselves as dalit feminists’. Such a position, therefore avoids the narrow alley of direct experience based ‘authenticity’ and narrow identity politics. (Rege 1998)49 Researchers who engage with Dalit emancipation rightly recognize Gramsci as a guiding light.50 Ranciere is another comrade in this struggle.51 Drawing on the insights of Gramscian scholars, especially Himani Bannerji (2011a, 2011b, 2012) and Gillian Hart (2012, 2015; Kipfer and Hart 2012), we argue not only that the personal is the political but also that the political is immanent in all social relations and all social spaces. The social is integral to the political and vice versa: [I]t becomes impossible to treat proper politics one-sidedly as an intervention into the spaces, rhythms and social relations that shape the current conjuncture, as declarative political theory tends to do. Politics understood as translating practice is immanent to all realms of life, which it mediates. (Kipfer and Hart 2012: 326) We follow Bannerji in our understanding of Gramscian hegemony: Hegemony has two aspects, one, a dominance of force, the other, a transformation at the basic level of social consciousness of civil society. Gramsci’s use of the term ‘civil society’ is not Hegelian or Marxian but rather similar to what Rabindranath [Tagore] meant by ‘samaj’ or society: a relational agglomeration of people in their daily lives, practices and ideas. (2012; emphases added) It is with this second aspect of hegemony that Dalit women are engaged, and here Bannerji’s formulation, namely ‘the transformation of social consciousness of people in their daily lives’, is very apt: we argue that it is precisely the reformation of patriarchal, casteist social

16  Karin Kapadia consciousness that is the aim of Dalit women’s counter-hegemonic politics. Uma, a women’s sangam (group) leader, put this very well, ‘We are not in formal politics, but I think politics for us is the way we live our everyday lives’ (see Chapter 3). Uma goes on to explain that the way Dalit women have to live is a way of constant, unremitting struggle – ‘We are always out there struggling with the family, with the caste elders, with panchayats and with government officials. To get through these systems and to fight it out is a political act’ (2012). This woman leader makes it clear that everyday life consists of a constant struggle that is a political fight. She is perfectly aware of the deeper political implications of Dalit women’s everyday acts – they are skirmishes, sorties and clashes with husbands, patriarchs and bureaucrats. She recognizes that she is dealing with structured systems of oppression and she is aware that to oppose these multiple tyrannies is to engage in political struggle. This awareness motivates Ciotti’s BSP women and Gorringe’s Viduthalai Ciruthaigal Katchi (VCK) women; it fires Anandhi’s sangam activists, as well as Govinda’s feminist NGO staff; and it inspires the piety of Roberts’s ‘slum Pentecostals’ and the evangelism of Kapadia’s women converts. All these very different Dalit women, who are significantly differentiated by class, education and religion, resist patriarchies and challenge caste-class hierarchies in order to transform the social consciousness of those with whom they engage in their daily lives – they are also actively engaged in transforming themselves; thus they are the subjects of their own politics as well. However, Dalit women are simultaneously caught within existing hegemonic normative structures and have to struggle against the casteclass and gender hegemonies that oppress them, while Dalit women Pentecostal converts also have to implicitly or explicitly resist Hindunationalist hegemonic narratives.52 We therefore need to understand how the relationships between Dalit women (and men) and the hegemonies that subordinate them are changing. Here the work of De Leon, Desai and Tugal (2009) is helpful. They argue that subjects actively participate in their subordination through accepting as ‘true’ or ‘natural’ the identities and structures propounded by dominant groups: We understand hegemony not simply as ‘legitimate’ domination (which implies some transparency), but as the active participation of the broadest strata in the making of their subordination through the naturalization of social differences and institutional structures. (2009: 199)

We ask you to rethink 17 If we apply this to the ethnographies collected here, two quite different political trajectories emerge. On the one hand, all the ethnographies collected here show that the ‘naturalization’ of caste differences and the institutional structures of caste hierarchies are being radically and openly questioned by many Dalit women and men, showing that castebased power is being widely challenged publicly by Dalits. On the other hand, Gorringe’s (Chapter 4), Still’s (Chapter 6) and Anandhi’s (Chapter 3) ethnographies indicate that upwardly mobile rural Dalit men who are adopting urban values often prove willing converts to hegemonic patriarchal ideologies and try to assert a new ‘male prerogative’ to control the sexuality and freedom of movement of Dalit women. We argue that these two normative trends are contradictory – in the one trend, involving both Dalit women and men, hegemonic casteism is being rejected. In the other trend, involving solely Dalit men, hegemonic patriarchal authority is being newly claimed. Far from being rejected, it is being eagerly appropriated. This is causing serious conflict between Dalit women and men, especially in those rural contexts where women have to simultaneously take up the role of primary breadwinners, as in the context described by Anandhi (see Chapter 3). Urban Dalit men, on the other hand, have long since internalized hegemonic gender norms, as have urban Dalit women, who for decades have regulated their behaviour according to these norms, staying at home whenever they could afford to do so and aspiring to petit bourgeois respectability.53 These hegemonic patriarchal norms typify the gender default mode that Chennai’s low-income Pentecostal women converts have begun to resist and to move away from (see Chapters 9 and 10). On the other hand, rural Dalit Adidravidar women, in Anandhi’s ethnography, are in a very different situation. They not only vigorously resist the hegemonic neo-patriarchy of their would-be-urbane54 husbands/male kin but also campaign to end the sexual exploitation of Arundhathiyar girls and women. They also mobilize more widely for the rights of Dalits to regain ‘panchami’ land (see Chapter 3).55 In Anandhi’s account rural Dalit women activists, whose social/political consciousness has been honed in their resistance to domestic patriarchy, also become capable of challenging caste-class domination in wider political mobilizations; Chapter 10 describes a similar evolution in the consciousness of urban Dalit women evangelists, whose mobility, voice and feminist ambitions are enkindled and steadily enlarged by their new Pentecostal ethos of radical egalitarianism. We have argued earlier that ‘the transformation of social consciousness’ is the central intent of Dalit women’s politics; they seek

18  Karin Kapadia socio-cultural transformation. But socio-cultural transformation means socio-political transformation – the socio-cultural and the sociopolitical are mutually constitutive. Mainstream, male-led political mobilizations do not usually generate socio-cultural transformations. As Gorringe’s ethnography shows, the radical Dalit male-dominated politics of the VCK can involve women as subordinated activists without being gender sensitive (see Chapter 4), and even revolutionary movements usually do not reconfigure gender relations, as Lalita and Kannabiran’s documentation (1989) of the Telengana struggle shows: male revolutionaries tend to hold on to their patriarchal values. This is why when, in Chennai’s slums, Dalit women seek emotional support56 from solidary women’s prayer groups, this is a political act (Chapters 9 and 10); when Adidravidar women try to persuade debtbonded Arundhathiyars not to sexually traffic their daughters, this is a profoundly political fight (Chapter 3); when Dalit women NGO staff insist that their upper-caste colleagues should also clean the toilets, this is a political act (Chapter 7); when VCK women activists publicly complain that their own leaders don’t support them, this is a courageous political intervention (Chapter 4); when BSP women activists declare that they are not Dalit, this is a ‘counter-intuitive’ political act (Chapter 2); a similar ‘counter-intuitive’ political claim is made when women converts reject scheduled caste identity in favour of what they describe as Pentecostal freedom from caste (Chapter 10); and when Dalit Hindu women claim that many non-Dalit Hindus have begun to eat beef like them, they are aware that they are making a provocative political claim that disputes the casteist assertion that non-Dalits are ‘purer’ than them (Chapter 5).

Dalit women’s politics: How to reimagine and reinvent your identity Local socio-economic contexts can enable Dalit women’s politics In Maharashtra, when the Mahars inaugurated their new anti-caste politics in 1927, this was partly because political and socio-economic contexts enabled their activism (Zelliot 1992). It was Mahar upward mobility that enabled this caste to become Maharashtra’s most progressive Dalit caste, facilitating Dr Ambedkar’s rise to pre-eminence (Vajpeyi 2015b). He in turn had the vision to encourage Mahar women to join the Dalit political movement.57 Very significantly, Dr Ambedkar asked Dalit women to reinvent themselves, to change the way they

We ask you to rethink 19 dressed, the way they behaved and how they thought of their identity, insisting, ‘You must give up the things with which the people recognize you as Untouchables’ and reminding them that ‘untouchable’ modes of dress had been forced on them through the sumptuary58 laws created by the ‘upper classes’ (see Foreword, Teltumbde 2015). Ambedkar gave these Mahar women detailed advice on how to dress, what kinds of traditional Mahar jewellery to discard and how to comport themselves in public. He urged them to reject their ‘untouchable’ identity and to stop the traditional practices that identified them as ‘untouchable’ (Teltumbde 2015). Today, different socio-economic conjunctures have inspired other Dalit women to engage in other reinventions of Dalit identity, including engaging in active party politics and rejecting Dalit identity (see Chapter 2) and converting to Pentecostal Christianity and, once again, rejecting Dalit identity (see Chapter 10). Though these vigorous rejections of Dalit identity may appear ‘counter-intuitive’ (to use Ciotti’s term), they are entirely in keeping with the path that Ambedkar opened up, namely the reimagination and radical transformation of despised ‘untouchable’ identities into respected human identities. Feudal patriarchies prevent Dalit women’s politics But in some places patriarchal and virtually feudal political-economic conditions prevent Dalit women from engaging in politics. Govinda describes how a Dalit woman, a candidate in a reserved seat in the local elections, was intimidated by Brahmin men, outraged at her presumption in standing against them. She had to flee into hiding while her husband was badly beaten up by these men. Semi-feudal conditions are rife in contemporary Uttar Pradesh: in Kushinagar District Mehrotra describes how Dalit women have been required to take over the agricultural tied-labour that their husbands have escaped through migration.59 Typically, these women are also required to regularly provide unpaid labour in the homes and cattle sheds of their landlords – this is work they are forced to do and cannot refuse. Surprisingly, ‘progressive’ Tamil Nadu contains similar feudal pockets: as noted, Anandhi found appalling sexual exploitation of Arundhathiyar girls and women by the landlord class in one such feudal pocket. She concluded that this was the direct result of the extreme poverty, vulnerability and feudal dependence of the Arundhathiyars.60 Guerin and Kumar, in Tamil Nadu, noted that NGOs regularly required their Dalit women members to carry out unpaid tasks for the local power brokers whom these NGOs were associated with. Non-Dalit women members were never asked to do this unpaid work.

20  Karin Kapadia Thus feudal deference, enforced unpaid labour and unpaid sexual services continue to be demanded by the powerful caste-classes of very poor Dalit women even in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Dalit women’s emerging politics Dalit women are highly differentiated, especially by class, but also by (Dalit sub-) caste and religion. They are also very differentiated by gender – the behaviours of poor, rural, Tamil Dalit labouring women are very different from those of better-off, urban, Tamil Dalit housewives – their values and norms tend to be significantly different.61 Even in these grim conditions Dalit women have found imaginative ways to advance their struggles: as party activists (Chapters 2 and 4); as leaders of village-level organizations, rejecting upper-caste attempts to humiliate them (Chapter 3); as self-help group (SHG) members, rejecting higher-caste attempts to represent them as promiscuous62 (Chapter 5); as feminist NGO activists mobilizing rural women (Chapter 7); and as religious preachers, teachers and evangelists (Chapter 10). Mehrotra’s despatches from the deeps of feudal Uttar Pradesh describe a despairing courage, because these Dalit women know that if they anger their employers they will end up starving. Yet these women, when demanding higher wages, will stare truculently straight into the eyes of their employers, thus delivering the ultimate insult to upper-caste males in rural Uttar Pradesh, where lower-caste women must always keep their eyes lowered when facing their employers. Also reporting from rural Uttar Pradesh, Govinda notes that most women are married as children,63 resulting in much marital conflict. Moving to the safety of urban spaces Dalit single mothers/separated women sometimes end up as NGO staff at VMS, the feminist NGO that Govinda studied. They primarily take these jobs to support their children, but in the process they become genuine feminists. Ironically, for many Dalit women their greatest problem is the resistance of their own husbands and male kin/community to their claims to some degree of autonomy. This creates a perplexing dilemma, given the political need to address increasing casteism. Some central themes JUSTICE CONTINUES TO BE DENIED TO DALITS AND CASTEIST ATTACKS ARE INCREASING

Teltumbde’s Foreword opens a central theme of this book, namely the continuing injustice with which the poor lower caste-classes – and

We ask you to rethink 21 especially Dalits64 – are treated in India. As Chapters 1, 7 and 8 indicate location/space is key: particularly vicious treatment is meted out to Dalits in rural India because this is where the local dominant castes are still able to control Dalits and to exploit Dalit labour. And North India continues to be far more feudal than South India. Teltumbde’s Foreword makes it obvious that even in Maharashtra, widely seen as a ‘progressive’ state, Dalits have suffered unspeakable atrocities, though the worst states continue to be Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Every day the newspapers report new attacks on Dalits.65 Teltumbde also emphasizes that Dalit women are often the target of upper-caste atrocities intended to ‘teach Dalits a lesson’.66 So, far from casteism disappearing, assaults on Dalits are increasing across rural India because they are gaining education, confidence and non-farm jobs, and challenging their oppression by the rural non-Dalit castes (see Teltumbde’s Foreword).67 In the cities things are a bit better: even though they remain sharply discriminated against in terms of housing (Kumar 2016; Thorat et al. 2015) and are therefore constrained to live in slum ghettoes, they are able to access much better education, much better health care and better jobs. Above all, urban Dalits don’t live under the thumb of the upper castes. Dalit access to reservations continues to be very sharply resented by non-Dalits, especially Brahmins, who are far more bitter about this than OBCs (other backward classes), because OBCs also receive reservations (Froystad 2010). Froystad argues that there has been a post-Mandal relegitimization of untouchability practices by Brahmin/ upper castes in Uttar Pradesh: the difference is that the post-Mandal legitimization of untouchability is based on political grounds instead of religion or cosmology and takes place in modern situations, such as private-sector jobs, where Dalits are deliberately excluded (2010). Significantly, Subramanian also describes strategies to recover uppercaste/Brahmin privilege in her account of the deeply casteist politics being played out in another modern sector, namely the Indian Institutes of Technology (2015). A HYPOTHESIS: UPWARD MOBILITY DISABLES DALIT WOMEN’S POLITICS

Based on ethnography sited in Andhra Pradesh,68 Still strongly argues that upward mobility decreases the autonomy of rural Dalit women. Gorringe, similarly, deplores the fact that, in Tamil Nadu, male Dalit VCK cadre, as they become better-off and middle class, start appropriating hegemonic gender norms and demand their ‘right’ to exert new controls on the behaviour and mobility of Dalit women.69 This is a very significant change in gender attitudes and may have wide

22  Karin Kapadia influence, because these men constitute the leadership of Tamil Nadu’s largest Dalit party. Still further argues that Indian modernity is very different from Western modernity because contemporary India constitutes a patriarchal modernity that continues to deny women their rights. We find Still’s argument problematic because she postulates a unitary conception of India’s modernity and patriarchy. It is probably more helpful to see Indian modernity in terms of plural modernities and patriarchies – some Indian modernities are undoubtedly ultra-patriarchal, but some Indian modernities, while being patriarchal and gendered, also contain spaces where patriarchies are challenged, both explicitly (see Chapter 3) and more indirectly (see Chapter 10).70 Chakravarti has shown incisively how Indian patriarchy functions to protect caste identities (2003, also see Afterword) Therefore, the discouraging trends noted by Still and Gorringe, of increasingly strong patriarchies among upwardly mobile Dalits, suggest an ancillary hypothesis, namely that in those Indian modernities that are profoundly patriarchal, caste identities will continue to thrive. Gorringe is acutely aware of this sad irony and of the fact that the VCK leadership seems to be entirely ignorant of the fact that casteism and patriarchy strengthen each other. Gorringe’s revelations regarding the increasingly ‘Brahminical’ behaviour of the VCK’s leadership are very worrying: unfortunately, its rhetoric has a new emphasis on the ‘chastity’71 and ‘respectability’ of women. Because of their greater mobility and autonomy, VCK women activists ‘are often represented [by VCK men] as brazen hussies with lax sexual mores and an absence of propriety’. This creates ‘a huge disincentive’ for women activists because ‘[young] women with such a reputation may find it hard to secure grooms and are subject to cruel gossip and slander’. This slander can also constitute the strategic means by which Dalit women’s political participation is held back or blocked. It is shocking that this defamation of women activists is being done by their own leaders, who claim they are raising Dalit political consciousness. These leaders clearly don’t include Dalit women under the rubric ‘Dalit’. This elision of Dalit women from the ‘Dalit’ identity is precisely what Teltumbde draws our attention to in his Foreword. Govinda shows that, like the VCK women activists, the Dalit women activists of the NGO ‘VMS’ in backward Chitrakoot District in rural Uttar Pradesh are similarly traduced as sexually promiscuous ‘home-breakers’ (ghar phodu) (see Chapter 7). Elsewhere in rural Uttar Pradesh, in Kushinagar District, Dalit women work-team leaders are castigated as ‘loose’ by upper-caste women, because they are

We ask you to rethink 23 the only women who dare to be mobile, seeking out employment for their teams (see Chapter 8). Similarly, Guerin and Kumar tell us that the favourite claim of non-Dalit Vanniyar women is that Dalit SHG women members are ‘sexually loose’, merely because they have more mobility and autonomy than Vanniyar women. Thus the charge of promiscuity is used very widely against Dalit women, both by Dalit men and by non-Dalits, as a weapon with which to control their freedom of movement, whether they are labourers or political activists. Gorringe notes that the VCK’s new emphasis on female propriety is closely connected with the upward-class mobility of the VCK’s urban leadership and of educated sections of their urban cadre, who, on becoming middle class, are keen to ‘reinforce patriarchal codes of conduct and sexual morality’ (see Chapter 4). His findings tie in closely with those of Still on emerging Dalit patriarchies in Andhra Pradesh. He concludes that gender equity within the VCK is still very much a work in progress and ‘will not be achieved through structures and procedures alone: there is a need for a cultural shift’. The agenda and the actions of the VCK are becoming painfully self-contradictory: On the one hand, the VCK protest that love is blind, when condemning [the Vanniyar caste leader] Ramadoss’ campaign against cross-caste marriages, but on the other, they seek to broaden their appeal to mainstream Tamil society by celebrating [female] chastity, even though caste purity depends upon endogamy and the control of female sexuality. Still observes that previously rural Dalit women in Andhra Pradesh could divorce and remarry very easily: their regular income from their agricultural labour meant that they could support their children if they left their husbands.72 But the new norms of respectability mean that better-educated and better-off Dalit women have far less freedom: they are not able to access divorce and remarriage easily and are in a very vulnerable position if separated from their husbands. She adds, ‘We can expect the gendered ideology of Hindutva to continue its work with a renewed mandate’ given the BJP’s73 overwhelming electoral success in 2014. Noting the favourable findings of Heyer regarding Dalit ‘housewification’ (2014), Still points out that ‘being a housewife is the luxury of the privileged few’ and that ‘this luxury comes at an exceedingly high cost for women in patriarchal India’. She rightly points out the dismal future ahead of us: ‘[As] upper-caste patriarchy spreads to . . . Dalits and adivasis, we can expect to see increased levels of sex-selective

24  Karin Kapadia abortion, female infanticide and the fatal neglect of female infants and children within these communities as well, for the very first time.’ Recent research proves her right (Agnihotri 2003). This is the rather tragic dilemma of the new middle-class aspirations of previously poor rural Dalits, namely that upward mobility often has radically different outcomes for rural women and men: increased dependence, vulnerability and a totally new kind of gender subordination for previously independent Dalit women; increased social status and a new control over women for Dalit men. These findings are validated by Anandhi as well: as noted earlier, the husbands of rural Adidravidar women labourers are increasingly trying to control them because these men have taken up urban non-farm work and are internalizing hegemonic urban gender norms (see Chapter 3). The fact that, until this point, rural Dalit husbands had not tried to control the mobility or sexuality of their labouring wives (see Chapters 3, 4 and 6) suggests that until recently Dalits – both women and men – stood in an oppositional relationship to the gender norms of the rural hegemonic classes (see Kapadia 1995). A CONTRARY HYPOTHESIS: UPWARD MOBILITY ENABLES DALIT WOMEN’S POLITICS

Gorringe and Still both convincingly demonstrate how upward mobility works against Dalit women, constraining and controlling their lives and their politics. And yet some of the other authors here take a different view, basing their arguments on very different contexts. This difference in context is significant: both Ciotti and Kapadia report from urban milieus, from the state capitals of Lucknow and Chennai, respectively. Both argue that upward mobility can enable Dalit women to ‘challenge the system’ and to extend the degree of their autonomy and agency. Anandhi’s complex and detailed village study is ambiguous on this question, perhaps because of its ambiguous location in a peri-urban village close to Chennai. Unlike Still and Gorringe, Ciotti and Kapadia document the lives of urban petit bourgeois Dalit women, whose background is conservative/conventional and who are already assimilated to hegemonic urban norms to a large degree. Ciotti’s BSP women come from deeply conservative villages in Uttar Pradesh. Kapadia’s Pentecostal women converts have lived in Chennai for generations. But both sets of Dalit women, as Ciotti and Kapadia show, have embarked on new trajectories in which they are moving away from urban bourgeois norms in new, unknown directions. Both groups of women are therefore

We ask you to rethink 25 pioneers, innovating novel ways of being women – as party activists, in Lucknow, and as Pentecostal evangelists, in Chennai. Manuela Ciotti argues that several factors contribute to the remarkable autonomy that BSP activist women have achieved. First, they have left their villages to move to Lucknow. Their new urban location is very significant – urbanization is a major contributor to the wellbeing of Dalits because it allows their escape from the claustrophobic political and socio-economic controls exercised over them by rural dominant castes. This highlights the importance of social location or social space in the struggle for emancipation of Dalits (see Gorringe 2016). Second, Ciotti notes that these women have escaped the control of their village-based in-laws.74 Third, Ciotti found that a significant percentage of these women were in unorthodox marriages, including cross-caste marriages. Fourth, she notes the significant upward class mobility of their middle-class BSP-activist husbands, who had reserved white-collar public-sector jobs. Fifth – and perhaps most important – it is these BSP, middle-class husbands who asked their wives to go out and canvass as party activists of BSP’s women’s wing; they have consequently given consistent support to their wives, and, sixth, the electoral successes of the BSP, the only Dalit-led party that has won state elections,75 have ensured the continued middle-class status of these women. These women, and their husbands, have become so secure in their new middle-class identities that they have been emboldened to declare that they themselves are no longer Dalit, even though they belong to India’s largest Dalit party. This is because they understand the term ‘Dalit’ to mean ‘downtrodden’ and ‘poor’ – and they are neither (see Chapter 2, also see Ciotti 2010, 2014). In Anandhi’s study, sited in a peri-urban village near Chennai, she argues that the long-term ‘Christianization’ of Adidravidar Dalits (who are both long-standing CSI [Church of South India] Protestants and also recent converts to Pentecostalism) has contributed significantly to raising the educational levels of the younger generation of Dalits. This has especially enabled young Adidravidar men to access non-farm/industrial jobs by commuting to nearby urban industrial areas. This access to urban jobs and their upward economic mobility has enabled Adidravidar women and men to begin to challenge the authority of the powerful dominant landlord caste (the Naidus); it has also led to a small but significant rise in their social status. Their newfound independence from the feudal village hierarchy and their socioeconomic rise have enabled Adidravidar women to lead the local women’s group (sangam) recently started in their village by the statewide Dalit Women’s Federation.76 However, as already noted, their

26  Karin Kapadia husbands’ involvement in urban industrial work encourages these men to appropriate urban norms, resulting in their increasing effort to control their extremely mobile and independent labouring wives. This has resulted in a high incidence of wife-beating and male alcoholism (see Kapadia 2010). Thus, on the one hand, Adidravidar women have become very active politically in the women’s sangam, but, on the other hand, they have to fight their husbands’ attempts to subordinate them.

We stand together with Dalit women Summary of the book In his Foreword, Dalit writer and activist Anand Teltumbde argues that the post-colonial state has been manned by hegemonic upper class-castes with an ethos of ‘brahmanic cunning’. The post-colonial state’s land reforms deliberately created, out of the OBCs and backward classes (BCs), a class of neo-rich farmers to be the allies of the central ruling classes and to take over ‘the baton of Brahmanism’ from the erstwhile upper-caste landlords. It is the new class contradiction between Dalit wage labour and neo-rich landowners, compounded with the cultural contradiction between the growing assertion of Dalits and the neo-Brahmanism of OBC/BC farmers, that has exploded into a ‘new genre’ of atrocities against Dalits, atrocities that are upper-caste terrorist acts intended to ‘teach Dalits a lesson’.77 Teltumbde berates the Dalit movement for its lack of radicalism, its moral bankruptcy and its patriarchal attitude towards Dalit women. Dalit women have been entirely marginalized by the Dalit movement in Maharashtra.78 He concludes that Dalit feminist women can therefore expect no help or support from these ‘utterly apathetic Dalit men’. Manuela Ciotti’s dazzling essay raises key theoretical issues. She argues that the default mode in research on Dalit women is to represent them as quintessential victims. But researchers need to examine whether it is possible for certain Dalit women to appear both as ‘non victims’ and as subjects of political participation. Ciotti contends that ‘it is precisely the study of the “non-victims” among Dalit communities that yields counter-intuitive insights’. The BSP women activists she met in Lucknow were strikingly different from the rural Dalit women she had studied earlier: class emerged as a key component in shaping their political agency, ‘testifying to the importance of the impact of social change on the location and articulation of the making of Dalit women subjects, their agency and their own formulation of their difference’. The BSP women were not feminists; they lacked power

We ask you to rethink 27 within the BSP and were not militating within a party which championed women’s rights.79 Despite these unfavourable circumstances, Ciotti notes that when these women entered politics their lives were transformed by their political activities. S. Anandhi studies Dalit Adidravidar women’s collectivism in women’s groups where feminist objectives are their explicit goals. These collectives challenge patriarchy within their families within the two local Dalit castes (Adidravidars and Arundhathiyars) and within their local society. Arundhathiyar women, however, are usually too frightened to join the Dalit women’s groups, because the Arundhathiyars are the bonded/unfree labourers of Naidu landlords with whom they share cultural/language bonds. Many Arundhathiyars ‘dedicate’ their young daughters, making them sexually available to their landlord-masters. Adidravidar women’s attempt to stop this Arundhathiyar ‘dedication’ (sexual trafficking) has failed, due to sharp resistance from Arundhathiyar men, who view their landlords as essential to their survival.80 Despite their failures, Adidravidar women’s political organizing remains noteworthy for its courage. Dalit patriarchies are revealed to be as destructive to Dalit women’s interests as dominant upper-caste power. The Viduthalai Ciruthaigal Katchi (VCK) (Liberation Panther Party) is the largest Dalit party in Tamil Nadu.81 In 2012 only 3 of VCK’s 27 district secretaries were women. Gorringe notes that, although the figure is pitifully low, in a socio-cultural context where female activists face innumerable obstacles to participation, the fact that committed grassroots Dalit women have been elevated to leadership positions is significant. However, female cadre is being alienated from the party due to the hyper-masculinity of many young male followers; the choreography of party events allows male drunkenness and the sexual harassment of women cadre. Women’s attendance at large VCK events had fallen steeply by 2012. Domestic abuse is a very serious problem for Dalit women but is not highlighted by the male leadership. A key problem facing Dalit women’s activism is that they are often represented as ‘brazen hussies with lax sexual mores and an absence of propriety’. These patriarchal cultural attitudes create a huge disincentive for Dalit women activists. In both rural and urban areas VCK women’s wings work on issues neglected by the main movement – particularly domestic abuse, increasing dowry demand and, especially, alcoholism. Gorringe concludes that gender equity within the VCK will not be achieved through structures and procedures alone: there is an urgent need for a cultural shift. Guerin and Kumar offer a shocking expose of how NGO agendas often have little to do with Dalit women’s own interests. Caste

28  Karin Kapadia divisions in women’s SHGs in Tamil Nadu are exploited by NGOs for their own purposes. These NGOs are key actors in local and regional political power games. Dalit women are defamed by Vanniyar women as ‘loose’ women. Vanniyars complain about scheduled caste quotas. Beef-eating constitutes a major point of contention between Hindu Dalits and Hindu non-Dalits.82 NGOs prevent their own Dalit field workers from having any dealings with their non-Dalit women members, because to have to deal with Dalit staff would be ‘too degrading’ for non-Dalit women. NGO mass events serve the interests of the local dominant castes, local politicians and officials and have very little to do with Dalit women’s own interests. Thus NGO SHG programmes largely strengthen the political status quo. Chapter 5 therefore provides a very dispiriting revelation of the Indian reality. Clarinda Still argues that ‘honour’, for upwardly mobile Dalits in rural Andhra Pradesh, means the good reputation and social status conferred on families where the women behave in ways that are ‘modest’ and ‘proper’. Female ‘honour’ is about the rigid control of female sexuality by men. When rural class differentiation increases, the betteroff Dalit women increasingly disdain the poorer Dalit women, who have to continue working as agricultural labourers, because it is the secluded, dependent housewife who is increasingly upheld as the ‘respectable’ woman. But on becoming housewives Dalit women lose much of the autonomy they enjoyed as working women, and divorce becomes much more difficult for them. Beliefs about the ‘modesty’ of ‘well-behaved’ women are not waning, instead ‘they are part of India’s new brand of modernity’. Many upwardly mobile Dalit women are complicit in their subordination to men. Still argues that because upward mobility in modern India goes hand in hand with the notion of ‘honour’, advances in the socio-economic position of Dalits will result in the curtailment of Dalit women’s freedoms. In BJP-ruled India there is a resurgence of ideas and practices that are helping to reinvigorate patriarchy: the concept of ‘honour’ provides the rationale and legitimation for the increasing violence against women. Unlike Guerin and Kumar, Radhika Govinda’s assessment of VMS, a feminist NGO working with Dalit women, is very positive. The work of VMS among illiterate Chamar women is hugely important because, ignored by the BSP party, their mobilization by VMS is the sole means by which they develop a political consciousness of their identity as ‘Dalits’, and of their rights. Significantly, the feminist awareness of the Dalit female staff grows simultaneously with their consciousness of their new Dalit identity.83 VMS seeks to foster a sense of ‘Dalitness’ among illiterate Chamar women by making them aware of their rich

We ask you to rethink 29 Dalit history and the inspiring work done by Dr Ambedkar and other Dalit leaders through street theatre, special village fairs and joint oathtaking. But the different Dalit castes actively discriminate against each other.84 Simultaneously, the higher-caste staff practise caste discrimination against the Dalit staff. Thus, for VMS, creating cross-Dalit-caste unity among the women it mobilizes remains as problematic as creating unity among its multi-caste staff. Ishita Mehrotra’s richly textured account of the nexus between economic and political power relations in the everyday lives of rural Dalit women labourers illuminates how labour relations are part of wider village-based social, economic and political relations of domination and subjugation that are shaped by caste, class and gender identities. The exploitation of Dalit women labourers has enabled Dalit male labourers to move out of unfree agricultural labour to higher-status non-farm employment, thus escaping the degradations of tied/unfree labour. Through this process of the feminization of tied/unfree labour, Dalit women have been required to take on the tied labour exited by Dalit men in order to subsidize Dalit men and their new dignity, as well as to facilitate male upper-caste capitalist accumulation. Like Govinda, Mehrotra sadly notes that the practice of untouchability is vigorous between the different Dalit castes. The greatest tragedy is that these grievously oppressed Dalit women have been made to believe that they are ‘truly inferior’ both to men and to the upper castes. A deep-seated fear of a backlash from the upper castes prevents them from demanding their rights. Mehrotra documents shameless feudal rule that is flourishing through the gross exploitation of Dalit women’s labour. Chapters 9 and 10 offer intriguing studies of largely female Christian conversions that also constitute new forms of urban subaltern politics. In Chennai’s ‘slum Pentecostalism’ Roberts finds a political vision so far-reaching that he terms it ‘revolutionary’. He introduces the term ‘agentive suffering’, to argue that a completely new perspective on their suffering is offered to Dalit women by ‘slum Christianity’. This re-conceptualization of the meaning of suffering results in a complete ‘revolution’ in women converts’ perceptions of themselves and of their world. Focusing closely on the sermons of Dalit (male) pastors, Roberts argues that the widespread female conversions to Pentecostalism have much to do with the extremely harsh conditions that Dalit women face in North Chennai’s slums. Though the slum churches do nothing to alter the material realities of these women’s lives, from the perspective of Dalit women Pentecostal Christianity appears as the solution to their two most pressing problems: caste discrimination and

30  Karin Kapadia uncaring husbands. By ‘embracing’ their sufferings, and not fighting back against husbands and neighbours who mistreat them, the women’s suffering itself becomes the means of their Christian salvation. By showing us how Dalit women Pentecostals successfully transfigure their sufferings, Roberts does precisely what Ciotti called for – he illuminates how Dalit women are able to use their difficulties creatively, displaying agency even in adverse contexts. His ethnography also suggests that ‘the aspiration for castelessness or humanity precedes the political assertion of Dalitness’ (Mosse 2016). This is the first step towards a more radical political consciousness. Kapadia’s women converts in South Chennai are better off than Roberts’s, and their class politics are far less radical. The church she studies has a middle-class non-Dalit pastor, and the political ambitions of these women converts are focused on upward class mobility for their children. Like Ciotti’s BSP women, these Pentecostal women emphatically reject their scheduled caste/Dalit identity. Their proto-feminism grows out of their new religious identities: inspired by Pentecostal radical-egalitarian values, they have developed a new selfworth and self-esteem. They engage in evangelical/missionary activities through women’s ‘care cells’/prayer groups and also, together with Dalit men, in street evangelism in deprived areas of Chennai. A few young educated women have become respected lay preachers and teachers. But uneducated middle-aged Pentecostal women have also gained steadily greater moral authority within their families, where the authority of men has been simultaneously eroded. The erosion in uneducated middle-aged Dalit men’s status is primarily due to their loss of employment. However, even though they have little interest in conversion themselves, they support their wives’ commitment to Pentecostalism. These Dalit women are creating both a new culture and a new Dalit Pentecostal community – and the woman-friendly norms of their new Pentecostal culture provide the foundations for their burgeoning proto-feminist politics. In her Afterword eminent feminist historian Uma Chakravarti lays bare her personal story. It was her own family history that made her a feminist at an early age: ‘When I first got to know about my family history I knew my community as oppressive and viciously patriarchal . . . Brahmanism may have been okay for men, it wasn’t the same for the women.’ Chakravarti reflects, ‘[T]hat caste was extreme racism, that it stigmatized whole sections of our people, by others who controlled resources, wielded social power and therefore had the power to define the world, was not understood by me then.’ The Buddha’s critique of caste in the Pali texts profoundly influenced Chakravarti, both in

We ask you to rethink 31 her path-breaking historical research and in her activism. Her insistence on the centrality of caste in the creation of gender subordination created an increasing gap between her and many metropolitan uppercaste feminists who refused to recognize caste identity as critical to gender identity. The inevitable crisis in ‘mainstream’ feminism arose when the anti-Mandal agitation hit North India: Chakravarti found herself isolated in Delhi University except for the left-wing student community. She observes, ‘Feminists in Delhi were among the most confused women around, and, as a political constituency, we are still paying the price for our narrow and closely bounded caste locations which had been regarded as universal.’

Conclusion: To see this stark reality To conclude, let us ponder what Anand Teltumbde said in his lecture at the London School of Economics on 16 June 2016 to commemorate the centenary of Dr Ambedkar’s arrival there: The reality is horrific. The majority of Dalits languish with every kind of disability that he fought against. Barring just the ten percent of us who have reached somewhere over the last six decades, the ninety percent of Dalits relatively are either at the same place as they were when Babasaheb Ambedkar launched his movement or even worse off on certain parameters. Then, they had a hope; today they do not have any. Their plight is better depicted by the rising atrocity numbers that hover over 47,000 going by the latest statistics released by the National Crime Research Bureau. It has become a song that daily two Dalits are murdered and five Dalit women are raped. It is an unfortunate paradox that such things scarcely figure in our speeches. We never talk about the basic inputs for the empowerment of our people in terms of equal quality education through neighbourhood schools, basic healthcare, basic sureties of life through jobs and land, etc. and rather run after the mirage of reservations, as the ruling classes want us to. (Teltumbde 2016b) Teltumbde concluded: ‘The best tribute to Babasaheb Ambedkar would be to reorient ourselves to see this stark reality.’ We agree, and that is what the authors gathered here have tried to do in this book. The Dalit women whose lives are documented here have not read the writings of Gopal Guru and Anand Teltumbde; they have lived the writings of Guru and Teltumbde. Both of these leading Dalit intellectuals

32  Karin Kapadia agree that a radical feminist Dalit women’s politics is necessary to any change in mainstream/malestream Dalit politics. And, as Chakravarti points out, such a strong and vigorous Dalit women’s feminist politics would mean the beginning of the end of caste in India. Dalit women wish to be treated with respect as equal human beings – to be valued and esteemed for what they are. Right here and now we stand together with Dalit women in solidarity, and honour them for their vision, fortitude and generosity. Dalit women are in ferment in many parts of India. Even when deeply vulnerable, as in Chapter 8, they resist; even when their own NGO exploits them, they resist derogatory representations of their identity (Chapter 5); even when terrorized by powerful Brahmin castes, they stand against them in panchayat elections (Chapter 7). Even when defeated, they stand up again. This is a sign and a warning, for those who can see, that the subaltern classes are less inclined than ever to defer to their unrighteous rulers. Dr Ambedkar’s prescient warning, delivered on 25 November 1949 in his last speech to the Constituent Assembly, is more relevant than ever: How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has so laboriously built up.85 India’s hegemonic caste-classes remain deaf to Dr Ambedkar’s warning. Insouciant and indifferent to growing inequalities, they do not see Dalits or the poor as dangerous classes. They believe their bourgeois hegemony to have ‘everything locked in place’ (Hart 2015: 47). This collection, on the contrary, draws attention to some of ‘the slippages, openings and contradictions’ (Hart 2015: 47) within India’s specific forms of bourgeois hegemony and to the multi-modal praxis of Dalit subaltern women that is challenging and transforming the conditions of their subalternity.

Notes 1 This quote is from the Afterword. It is taken from the Manifesto of the Alisamma Women’s Collective, Hyderabad. For the full manifesto of the collective see www.anveshi.org.in/alisamma-womens-collective-manifesto/

We ask you to rethink 33 2 This quote is from Chapter 3. 3 The discussion here is based on the two photographs, Figures 1 and 2, and on the news item on protesting Dalit women that they illustrated in The New Indian Express, 21 May 2015. Images courtesy of The New Indian Express. 4 The exclusion of Dalits from Hindu temples by the higher castes is still very common and is reported weekly – for example see The Hindu, 5 August 2016; Scroll.in, 3 April 2016; The Times of India, 12 July 2016. 5 See Chapter 3. 6 The New Indian Express, 21 May 2015. 7 Not surprisingly, the bans on the entry of Hindu Dalits into Hindu temples that are still so common have caused the radical alienation of many Hindu Dalits who, over time, have turned away from casteist mainstream Hinduism to Dr Ambedkar’s Navayana Buddhism – see Jaoul (2016), to Bhakti-related religious sects such as the Ravidas and the Satnami sects (Parry 1999), to Christianity or to Islam. Roberts is alluding to this deep sense of exclusion and radical alienation of Dalits when he refers to the ‘foreignness of belonging’ of Dalits in the title of his new book on their conversion to Pentecostal Christianity (Roberts 2016). If Hindu Dalits do manage to force an entry into a Hindu temple that is prohibited to them, its non-Dalit/higher-caste management closes the temple for ‘purification rituals’, underlining that Dalits continue to be viewed as ‘polluting’ beings by many – probably most – conservative non-Dalits (see Scroll.in 2016). 8 It is also divided by race/ethnicity – for example the populations from the north-eastern states are often discriminated against by majoritarian Indians, and there is serious racial discrimination against African students in India. 9 See Tharamangalam 2012. 10 This is a direct quote from Parry 2014: 21. 11 This subversion of social policy by rural elites is illustrated in Chapter 5. 12 This is vividly documented in Chapter 8: the local dominant caste-classes have an iron grip on the rural economy through their political ascendance. The poorer caste-classes can access government development programs solely through the political mediation of these dominant groups. 13 The National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) has produced excellent data despite its minimal resources due to its public-spirited and excellent researchers. 14 Also see Drèze and Sen 2013. 15 Drèze observed: [T]he Finance Minister continued the unspoken policy (initiated by the previous government) of keeping the MGNREGS budget more or less constant in money terms year after year. If last year’s employment level is to be maintained this year, the Central government would need to spend at least Rs. 50,000 crore, rising to more than Rs. 60,000 crore if arrears are to be cleared – a legal obligation since MGNREGS workers have a right to payment within 15 days. Yet the allocation for MGNREGS in this year’s Budget is only Rs. 38,500 crore. Unless the Central government accepts the need for a large injection of funds, MGNREGS employment is all set to contract again, or wage payments will be postponed – both would be a disaster in a drought year as well as a violation of people’s entitlements under the law (2016; emphasis added).

34  Karin Kapadia 16 Very many higher-caste young women are murdered by their close relatives (often their fathers or brothers) when they marry Dalit men – also in Tamil Nadu, sharply challenging the notion that the state is genuinely progressive. Frontline quotes one leading activist who says, ‘Nearly 80 per cent of caste-Hindu girls who married Dalits were murdered by their family members (in Tamil Nadu),’ and another who says, ‘The practice (of honour killings) had been prevalent for a long time in Tamil Nadu’ (see Frontline, 15 April 2016b). 17 See The Hindu, 4 July 2013; The Hindu, 20 February 2014. 18 See Frontline, 7 August 2015; Frontline, 15 April 2016b. 19 See The Indian Express, 16 March 2016. 20 For a recent incident of casual police brutality against a Dalit family see Hindustan Times, 12 July 2016 and India.com, 12 July 2016. 21 Teltumbde confirms that the Prevention of Atrocities Act has been of little help (see his Foreword). 22 This is a highly dubious claim, as shown by Srinivasan (2015), where she discusses ‘the Kongu Vellala Gounder community which has a history of daughter elimination’. Female foeticide among Gounders in Tamil Nadu is notorious: see Srinivasan (2006). 23 See Gopal Guru’s valuable book on humiliation (2009). 24 This recalls the subaltern forms of resistance that James Scott drew attention to in his classic Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (1985). 25 See Kapadia 1995a. 26 Bahujan (literally meaning ‘people constituting the majority’) refers to people from the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and OBCs as well as religious minorities – see Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bahu jan_Samaj_Party Accessed on 20 June 2016. 27 See Chapter 2. 28 Also see Jeffrey and Lerche 2000; Lerche 2010; Lerche and Jeffery 2003. 29 The use of the term ‘scavenge’ to mean ‘the removal of human faeces’ and the term ‘scavenger’ to denote the person who does this removal are specifically Indian usages in Indian English. 30 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manual_scavenging Accessed on 15 June 2016. 31 See The Indian Express, 24 July 2016. Also see Al Jazeera, 21 July 2016; Quartz India, 22 July 2016 for the video of the flogging of the innocent Dalit tannery workers, made by the perpetrators of the crime, see www. youtube.com/watch?v=AzuX5lyKi3Y 32 Thirty-five-year-old Jignesh Mevani has been hailed as the emerging leader of the new Dalit protest movement in Gujarat: see CatchNews, 6 August 2016. See The Caravan, 7 August 2016 for an interview with Jignesh Mevani. 33 The Hindu reported: A highly modernised airport is the last place where one would expect to encounter manual scavenging. But the practice that is banned in the State reportedly takes place at the Chennai airport that has been modernised at a cost of about Rs. 2,000 crore [a crore is ten million, so this is 200 million British pounds]. Airport sources said that they had on many occasions witnessed workers cleaning the manholes on the premises of the airport without even any protective gear. ‘It is a miserable scene to witness, but we are helpless. It happens once a fortnight, and

We ask you to rethink 35 sometimes once a month, depending on the requirement. How can a practice that is banned be allowed?’ a source asked (17 February 2016; emphases added). Clearly the practice is not only ‘allowed’ (though illegal) but is part of the fortnightly airport maintenance routines. (Also see The Hindu, 23 July 2016.) 34 BBC Radio 4 carried a report titled ‘India’s Trafficked Children’ which stated, Nearly 40,000 [Dalit/Adivasi] children are abducted every year. In some cases, children are not abducted but sold by desperately poor families. . . . Young girls are more commonly trafficked in this way, as the illegal practice of dowries persists, making girls a financial burden on their parents (BBC 2016).The Guardian puts the number of trafficked children much higher, stating, ‘[an] estimated 135,000 [Dalit/Adivasi] children [are] believed to be trafficked in India every year’ (2015). 35 Note that this is one of the reasons for the huge popularity of Pentecostal Christianity among Chennai’s Dalit poor – the ‘miraculous’ cures promised through Pentecostal prayer are a very attractive option in a context where decent health care is not affordable for the poor (see Chapter 10). 36 See The Indian Express, 19 January 2016, for Rohith Vemula’s suicide letter, a deeply moving document. 37 See TheNewsMinute.com for apt comments on this on 13 November 2015 and on 3 August 2016. 38 Beteille’s claim that caste is dying out is flatly contradicted by most aspects of life in India. See Rajendran 2016, who points out that casteism is omnipresent in urban life, and who rightly insists that ‘no caste practice is innocuous or harmless’. Also see TheNewsMinute.com 2015 for a witty take on middle-class casteism (‘How Does India’s Caste System Work in the 21st Century?’). 39 The IT sector also offers the possibility of being sent to the United States to work: the United States is the dream of India’s elite caste-classes whose children are settling there in large numbers (Fuller and Narasimhan 2007). 40 Also see Deshpande and Sharma (2013), Deshpande and Ramachandran (2014) and Desai and Dubey (2011) on how ‘caste disadvantage’ – in other words, blatant caste discrimination – structures the Indian economy. 41 The NCEUS. 42 Reflecting on the increasing frequency of so-called honour killings, Chakravarti observes, Indeed, I have begun to hold that for women the family/community is the state: norms of sexual governance have culturally sanctioned forms of extreme violence against women that grant men an unacknowledged impunity that derives from cultural norms that the state does not seem to want to break in any way (this volume; emphases added). The state, of course, is controlled by the patriarchal dominant caste-classes and is therefore profoundly permeated by their patriarchal cultural norms. 43 Anupama Rao has observed, ‘The immense irony of Hindu nationalism is that it brought Dalit and Backward Caste politics to the forefront through an aggressive, inclusive Hindu nationalist casteism that accelerated lowercaste politicization while giving some a place as foot soldiers in anti-Muslim violence’ (2009: 282).

36  Karin Kapadia 44 For good analyses of the early years of the BJP’s Hindutva politics in the context of India’s political economy, see Corbridge and Harriss (2000), as well as Ruparelia et al. (2011). 45 See Ananya Roy (2003) for a powerful account of poor women’s politics in Kolkata. 46 I suggest this term (‘bricolate’), to mean the making of ‘bricolage’. ‘Bricolage’ is defined by Wikipedia as: ‘[T]he processes by which people acquire objects from across social divisions to create new cultural identities. . . . Objects that possess one meaning . . . in the dominant culture are acquired and given a new, often subversive meaning.’ Here it is not objects but ideas that are used by Dalit women to create something new and specifically suited to their urban Dalit life in the twenty-first century. https:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bricolage. 47 This phrase is taken from Thomas (2013: 33), quoted in Hart 2015. 48 Sharmila Rege (1998) was responding to Gopal Guru’s extremely important intervention, entitled ‘Dalit Women Talk Differently’ (1995), in which he had argued that ‘The independent and autonomous organisation of dalit women has the potential to counter dalit patriarchy from within and state-sponsored globalisation from without’ (1995: 14). Guru also argued that Dalit women could counter the hegemonic discourse of mainstream feminists who were blind to the reality of caste, affirming that Dalit feminism was not about a narrow identity politics: ‘[D]alit women’s perception, while critical of the homogenisation of a dominant discourse, does not make a fetish of its own reality, and therefore, prevents the ghettoisation of dalithood’ (1995: 21). 49 Rege noted that the concept of intersectionality, though helpful, had to be very carefully used: it had to be seen, like the Dalit Feminist Standpoint, as ‘an always contingent transformation of complex subject positions. . . . it is achieved, not given’ (2000). Our skepticism concerning intersectionality is shared by Bannerji (2011a) and Menon (2015). Menon insightfully observes, Analyses that begin with the assumption of a unified and homogeneous category of ‘woman’ may well be productively opened up to other identities by the intersectionality framework; but analyses that begin with the understanding that identity is provisional and conjunctural, would find . . . that the intersectionality framework freezes notions of preexisting individual, woman and other identities (2015; emphasis added). We agree. 50 De Leon, Desai and Tugal 2015; Nilsen and Roy 2015; and Zene 2013 are some of the outstanding collections in this new and vibrant field of new subaltern studies. 51 J-P. Deranty 2010; Ranciere 1991, 1992, 2000, 2001. Indrajit Roy draws on Ranciere in his studies of Dalits in Bihar: see Roy 2013, forthcoming. 52 One of these narratives is the BJP/Hindutva anti-conversion narrative, which persuaded Tamil Nadu’s chief minister Jayalalitha to pass anticonversion legislation in Tamil Nadu in 2002, when her party was a coalition-ally of the ruling BJP. She swiftly revoked this legislation when the BJP lost the national elections in 2004 (see Chapter 10). 53 See Vera-Sanso (1995); though her study focused more on low-income non-Dalit women, it included Dalit women.

We ask you to rethink 37 54 ‘Urbanity’, the quality of being urbane, refined or courteous, is ‘nagarikam’ in Tamil (nagar is ‘town’/‘urban area’). But urban refinement has been made identical with patriarchal behaviour, not just in Tamil Nadu but across India, in the ethos of the hegemonic upper caste-classes. Thus any rural Dalit man seeking ‘urban refinement’ automatically also imbibes male chauvinist values. 55 Also see Anandhi (2000). 56 Also see Srila Roy’s discussion of the politics of affect (2015). 57 See Teltumbde’s Foreword, and also Teltumbde (2015) for more detail. 58 These laws were intended to make visible the distinctions between the different levels of caste society and were deeply humiliating for Dalits. 59 Lucia da Corta and D. Venkateswarlu (1999) provided the classic analysis of this situation, which has recurred in tied/bonded labour contexts throughout rural India, both in agriculture and also in rural non-farm work (see Kapadia 1995b, 1999a, 1999b, 1999c), where Dalit/low-caste men were allowed to leave in order to migrate elsewhere, on the condition that they inserted their wives/female kin into their bonded jobs as their substitutes. 60 Note that the fact that the Arundhathiyars were Telugu speakers meant that they were linguistically and culturally isolated from the Tamils around them and were therefore made even more dependent on the also-Teluguspeaking Naidu landlord class. 61 See Kapadia 2007 for the enormous differences between poor rural Tamil Dalit women and poor rural Maharashtrian Dalit women. Also see Kapadia 2002. 62 Parry (2014b) argues that by representing Dalit/lower-caste-class women as ‘sexually promiscuous’ higher classes try to show that they are superior by class. Reporting on the specific context of middle-class, organized-sector male workers and their families living in the Bhilai Steel Plant township, Parry stresses the class superiority that his middle-class male informants seek to establish, through denigrating Dalit/lower-caste labouring women, whom they contrast with their own middle-class, home-bound, respectable wives. However, unlike in the Bhilai township, in most of India caste remains crucially important and both caste and class superiority are being claimed by higher caste-classes, when they denigrate Dalit/lower-caste women as ‘sexually loose’, as in the rural Tamil Nadu context described by Guerin and Kumar. 63 The legal marriageable age in India is 18 years for women and 21 years for men (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriageable_age Accessed on 20 June 2016). But the actual situation is complicated, and legal practice in this area is controversial – see The Times of India, 28 July 2013. Even in ‘progressive’ Tamil Nadu child marriages were being stopped in 2016 – see The Hindu, 11 June 2016. 64 We readily acknowledge that in several regions and locations in India it is not Dalits but Adivasis (Shah 2010) and poor Muslims (The Hindu, 14 January 2013; The Indian Express, 22 November 2014) who are the poorest. It is because this book is focused on Dalits that we have not discussed the situation of Adivasis or impoverished Muslims, even though they are often as discriminated against and as deprived as Dalits. See the important op-ed piece on Pasmanda (Dalit) Muslims, which discusses the ‘caste-based disenfranchisement of Dalit and backward caste Muslims at the hands of self-styled ashraf leaders’ in The Hindu, 17 June 2013.

38  Karin Kapadia 65 For example, consider just one day’s (10 July 2016) news updates from the Dalits Media Watch email: ‘5 Civilians Killed in Anti-Maoist Operation’ – The Hindu; ‘Rawats “Block” Funeral Procession of Dalit Man’ – The Times of India; ‘Porbandar Dalit “Murder”: Kin Camp Outside Collector’s Office’ – The Indian Express; ‘DPI’s Order to Schools on Poor Girls’ Education’ – The Tribune; ‘Honour Killing’: Girl Poisoned, Dumped in Sirmaur’ – The Tribune; ‘Third Honour Killing in Two Weeks in State’ – The Times of India; ‘How P.S. Jaya’s Experimental Body Performance Confronted Caste Discrimination in Kerala’ – The Wire. 66 Also see Rao (2003). 67 Pandian (2013) agrees that assaults are increasing precisely because Dalits are doing better: When Ramadoss laments that, ‘The dalits wear jeans, t-shirts and fancy sun glasses to lure girls from other communities’, he is both acknowledging the new reality of Dalit mobility and the inability of the intermediate castes to exercise caste power over them as in the past. The exaggerated violence by the Vanniyars and Ramadoss’ fire-eating speeches against cross-caste marriages are signs of the slipping hegemony of the intermediate castes. After all, hegemony of any community, in the patriarchal imagination, is premised on men’s ability to control ‘its’ women and ‘protect’ them from outsiders. Cross-caste love cannot but be the casualty, when caste hegemony/masculinity is under siege (Pandian 2013). 68 In 2014, after Still completed her field research, the state of Andhra Pradesh was divided into two smaller states: Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Her work was sited in the present-day state of Andhra Pradesh. 69 See Anandhi 2005 for an important discussion of this VCK behaviour. 70 I am grateful to Anandhi for discussion on this point. She adds, ‘Western modernity too employs racialization and patriarchy which were brought into colonized states, like India. Western modernity is not equivalent to gender equality. All modernities are patriarchal and gendered’ (Anandhi, personal communication, 14 July 2016). 71 See Anandhi 2005. 72 See Kapadia 1995a for a similar argument regarding Dalit women’s ease of divorce in the context of rural Tamil Nadu. 73 The BJP (‘Bharatiya Janata Party’: ‘Indian People’s Party’) swept the polls in the national elections in 2014. 74 This is an important factor and more so in North India than in the South, because North Indian affines are total strangers and are therefore less supportive to a new in-marrying bride, whereas even today Tamil affines are often close relatives of the bride. Preferential cousin-marriage has not entirely disappeared in Tamil South India and remains important even today among the poorest caste-classes. 75 Uttar Pradesh had a population of about 199,581,477 as per the 2011 census. If it were a separate country, Uttar Pradesh would be the world’s fifth most populous nation, next only to China, India, the United States and Indonesia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Uttar_Pradesh Accessed on 20 June 2016. 76 The leader of this statewide Dalit women’s organization is Fatima Burnad. She is a prominent Christian Dalit feminist.

We ask you to rethink 39 77 See Berg’s similar findings on the very deliberate upper-caste intention to ‘teach Dalits a lesson’ through their atrocities in rural Andhra Pradesh (2014). 78 Eleanor Zelliot supports this view, observing that the ‘one note of failure . . . [is] that women do not play an important role in [Dalit] political leadership in Maharashtra’ (Zelliot 2003). 79 Ciotti argues that the BSP had no interest in promoting women’s rights. This view of the BSP’s patriarchal attitudes is confirmed by Govinda, who reports that the BSP totally neglected the mobilization of rural Dalit women (see Chapter 2). 80 See Picherit 2014 for an interesting comparison with bonded labour Madigas (Arundhathiyars) who are exploited – also sexually – by upper-caste Reddys, who feel that ‘Madigas are incapable of helping themselves, and out of noblesse oblige they (the Reddys) look after them’ (Parry 2014a: 28) – meaning, they exploit them. If the Madigas’ situation was not so tragic, the Reddys’ extreme self-delusion would be blackly comic. 81 See Gorringe 2007, 2010, 2015. 82 Importantly, Still tells us that the celebration of beef-eating is a focal point of Dalit political organizing in Andhra (see Chapter 6). 83 Chapter 10 offers an interesting parallel: the feminist awareness of women converts grows with their increasing sense of their Pentecostal identity. 84 In another part of Uttar Pradesh Mehrotra makes the same observation, with the same dismay (see Chapter 8). 85 Guha (2010).

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We ask you to rethink 43 Guru, G. (ed.) 2009. Humiliation: Claims and Context. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Guru, G. 2012. ‘Rise of the “Dalit Millionaire”: A Low Intensity Spectacle’, EPW, 47 (50): 41–49. Guru, G. 2016. ‘Was the Displacement of Pandits a Greater Tragedy Than the Displacement of Dalits?’, June 15, 2016. http://scroll.in/article/809896/ was-the-displacement-of-pandits-a-greater-tragedy-than-the-displacementof-dalits Accessed on June 15, 2016. Harriss-White, B. 2014. Dalits and Adivasis in India’s Business Economy. Gurgaon: Three Essays Collective. Harriss-White, B. 2016. ‘Dalit Capital and the State’, Paper presented at the Caste Conference at Oxford University, July 4, 2016. Harriss-White, B. and G. Rodrigo. 2015. ‘The Indispensability of Informality in an Indian Urban Economy: Narratives of Waste,’ Paper presented at IDPM/Global Urban Research Centre, Manchester, Urban Informality Workshop, April 2015. Hart, G. 2012. ‘Through the Lens of Passive Revolution: The South African Crisis Revisited’, in M. Ekers, G. Hart, S. Kipfer and A. Loftus (eds) Gramsci: Space, Nature, Politics. Somerset, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. Hart, G. 2015. ‘Political Society and Its Discontents: Translating Passive Revolution in India and South Africa Today’, Economic and Political Weekly, 50 (43): 43–51. Heyer, J. 2014. ‘Dalit Women Becoming “Housewives”: Lessons From the Tiruppur Region, 1981/2 to 2008/9’, in C. Still (ed.) Dalits in Neoliberal India: Mobility or Marginalization? New Delhi: Routledge. Himanshu and K. Sen. 2014. ‘Measurement, Patterns and Determinants of Poverty’, in N. Gooptu and J. Parry (eds) Persistence of Poverty in India, pp. 67–88. New Delhi: Social Science Press. The Hindu. 2013. ‘Six Years After Sachar Report, Muslim Lot No Better’, January 14. www.thehindu.com/news/national/six-years-after-sachar-reportmuslim-lot-no-better/article4304959.ece Accessed on August 7, 2016. The Hindu. 2013. ‘Muslims That ‘Minority Politics’ Left Behind’, June 17. www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/muslims-that-minority-politics-leftbehind/article4820565.ece Accessed on August 7, 2016. The Hindu. 2013. ‘Dalit Youth Ilavarasan Found Dead’, July 4. www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/dalit-youth-ilavarasan-found-dead/ article4881007.ece Accessed on August 7, 2016. The Hindu. 2014. ‘Ilavarasan Murdered: Thirumavalavan’, February 20. www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/ilavarasan-murdered-thiru mavalavan/article5707799.ece Accessed on August 7, 2016. The Hindu. 2015. ‘De-Recognised Student Group Demands Apology From IITMadras Dean’, June 2. www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/derecognisedstudent-group-demands-apology-from-iitmadras-dean/article7274573.ece Accessed on August 7, 2016.

44  Karin Kapadia The Hindu. 2016. ‘Fresh Survey of Manual Scavengers Demanded’, January 21. www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/fresh-survey-of-manual-scavengersdemanded/article8132855.ece Accessed on August 7, 2016. The Hindu. 2016. ‘A Modern Airport With Manual Scavenging’, February 17. www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/a-modern-airport-with-manualscavenging/article8246282.ece Accessed on August 7, 2016. The Hindu. 2016. ‘Six Child Marriages Stopped in Namakkal District’, June 11. www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/six-child-marriagesstopped-in-namakkal-district/article8716340.ece?ref=tpnews Accessed on August 7, 2016. The Hindu. 2016. ‘India’s Invisible Manual Scavengers’, July 23. www. thehindu.com/news/national/indias-invisible-manual-scavengers/arti cle8891365.ece Accessed on August 7, 2016. The Hindu. 2016. ‘Resolution on Temple Festival Termed “Discriminatory” ’, August 5. www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/rdo-assigns-dalits-sepa rate-date-place-for-temple-festival/article8945603.ece Accessed on August 7, 2016. Hindustan Times. 2016. ‘Manual Scavenging Banned, Really? Life as a Sewer Man . . .’, July 7. www.hindustantimes.com/punjab/ht-spotlight-manualscavenging-banned-really-life-as-a-sewer-man/story-aobUCe6tIxO2l9D moxGULM.html Accessed on August 6, 2016. Hindustan Times. 2016. ‘Rail Roko in Tamil Nadu After Police Lathi Charge Dalit Family’, July 12. www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/railroko-in-tamil-nadu-after-police-lathi-charge-dalit-family/story-MAYm2si Xtn43dAQOp0sPlI.html Accessed on July 13, 2016. India.com. 2016. ‘Tamil Nadu: Policemen Thrash Dalit Family in Full Public View in Tiruvannamalai’, July 12. www.india.com/news/india/tamil-nadupolicemen-thrash-dalit-family-in-full-public-view-in-tiruvannamalaiwatch-viral-video-1326033/ Accessed on August 6, 2016. The Indian Express. 2014. ‘8 Yrs After Sachar, Muslims Still Out of Govt Jobs and Schools: Panel’, November 22. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/ india-others/8-yrs-after-sachar-muslims-still-out-of-govt-jobs-and-schoolspanel/Accessed on August 7, 2016. The Indian Express. 2016. ‘My Birth Is My Fatal Accident: Full Text of Dalit Student Rohith’s Suicide Letter’, January 19. http://indianexpress.com/arti cle/india/india-news-india/dalit-student-suicide-full-text-of-suicide-letterhyderabad/Accessed on August 7, 2016. The Indian Express. 2016. ‘Dalit Murder in Tamil Nadu: Five Arrested, Mother-In-Law Absconding’, March 16. http://indianexpress.com/article/ india/india-news-india/dalit-murder-in-tamil-nadu-five-arrested-mother-inlaw-absconding/Accessed on August 7, 2016. The Indian Express. 2016. ‘Gujarat Dalit Flogging: “If We Are Treated This Way for Cleaning Their Filth, We Won’t Do It at All” ’, July 24. http://indi anexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/gujarat-una-dalit-flogging-bygaurakshak-the-life-in-mota-samadhiyala-2932140/Accessed on August 7, 2016.

We ask you to rethink 45 Jaoul, N. 2016. ‘Citizenship in a Religious Clothing? Navayana Buddhism and Dalit “Emancipation” ’ in Late 1990s Uttar Pradesh’, Focaal – Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology, 76: 46–68. Jeffrey, C. and J. Lerche. 2000. ‘Stating the Difference: State, Discourse and Class Reproduction in Uttar Pradesh, India’, Development and Change, 31 (4): 857–887. Joshi, C. 2002. ‘On “De-Industrialization” and the Crisis of Male Identities’, in B. Altena and M. van der Linden (eds) De-Industrialization: Social, Cultural and Political Aspects. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kannabiran, K. 2016. ‘The Annihilation by Caste’, The Hindu, February 3, 2016. www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/on-rohith-vemulas-death-andthe-debate-surrounding-his-birth/article8184745.ece Accessed on August 6, 2016. Kannan, K. P. and G. Raveendran. 2011. ‘India’s Common People: The Regional Profile’, Economic and Political Weekly, 46 (38): 60–73. Kapadia, K. 1995a. Siva and Her Sisters: Gender, Caste and Class in Rural South India. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Also published in 1996 by New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Kapadia, K. 1995b. ‘The Profitability of Bonded Labour: The Gem-Cutting Industry in Rural South India’, Journal of Peasant Studies, 22 (3): 466–483. Kapadia, K. 1999b. ‘Gender Ideologies and the Formation of Rural Industrial Labour in South India Today’, in J. Parry, J. Breman and K. Kapadia (eds) The Worlds of Indian Industrial Labour. New Delhi: Sage Publications. Kapadia, K. 1999c. ‘Responsibility Without Rights: Women Workers in Bonded Labour in Rural Industry’, in D. Bryceson, C. Kay and J. Mooij (eds) Disappearing Peasantries? Rural Land and Labour in Latin America, Asia and Africa. London: IT Publications. Kapadia, K. 2002. ‘Introduction: The Politics of Identity, Social Inequalities and Economic Growth’, in K. Kapadia (ed.) The Violence of Development: The Politics of Identity. Gender and Social Inequalities in India. Zed Books: London and Kali for Women: New Delhi. Kapadia, K. 2007. ‘Reading Dalit Women: Memories of Rural Lives in Maharashtra’, Economic & Political Weekly, 42 (50): 27–29, December 15. Kapadia, K. 2010. ‘Liberalisation and Transformations in India’s Informal Economy: Female Breadwinners in Working-Class Households in Chennai’, in B. Harriss-White and J. Heyer (eds) The Comparative Political Economy of Development: Africa and Asia. London and New York: Routledge. Kapadia, K. 2014. ‘Caste and Class in Gendered Religion: Dalit Women in Chennai’s Slums’, in Kenneth Bo Nielsen and Anne Waldrop (eds) Women, Gender and Everyday Social Transformation in India. London and New York: Anthem Press. Kapadia, K. and J. Lerche. 1999a. ‘Introduction’, in T. J. Byres, K. Kapadia and J. Lerche (eds) Rural Labour Relations in India. Frank Cass: London. Kapur, D., C. Bhan Prasad, L. Pritchett and D. Shyam Babu. 2010. ‘Rethinking Inequality: Dalits in Uttar Pradesh in the Market Reform Era’, Economic & Political Weekly, 45 (35): 39–49.

46  Karin Kapadia Kipfer, S. and G. Hart. 2012. ‘Translating Gramsci in the Current Conjuncture’, in M. Ekers, G. Hart, S. Kipfer and A. Loftus (eds) Gramsci: Space, Nature, Politics. Somerset, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. Kumar, A. 2016. ‘India’s Residential Rental Housing’, Economic & Political Weekly, 51 (24): 112–120. Lalita, K., V. Kannabiran et al. 1989. We Were Making History: Life Stories of Women in the Telangana People’s Struggle. London: Zed Books. Lerche, J. 1999. ‘Politics of the Poor: Agricultural Labourers and Political Transformations in Uttar Pradesh, 1999’, Journal of Peasant Studies, 26 (2/3): 182–243. Lerche, J. 2010. ‘From “Rural Labour” to “Classes of Labour”: Class Fragmentation, Caste and Class Struggle at the Bottom of the Indian Labour Hierarchy’, in B. Harriss-White and J. Heyer (eds) The Comparative Political Economy of Development: Africa and South Asia. London: Routledge. Lerche, J. 2015. Presentation at London School of Economics Workshop, ‘Considering “Reconsidering Untouchability” : A Discussion of Ram Rawat’s Book Reconsidering Untouchability: Chamars and Dalit History in North India, June 17. Lerche, J. and R. Jeffery. 2003. ‘Uttar Pradesh: Into the Twenty-First Century’, in J. Lerche and R. Jeffery (eds) Social and Political Change in Uttar Pradesh: European Perspectives, pp. 17–53. New Delhi: Manohar. Madheswaran, S. and P. Attewell. 2007. ‘Caste Discrimination in the Indian Urban Labour Market: Evidence From the National Sample Survey’, Economic and Political Weekly, 42 (41): 4146–4153. Menon, N. 2015. ‘Is Feminism About “Women”? A Critical View on Intersectionality From India’, Economic and Political Weekly, 50 (17): 37–44. Mosse, D. 2016. ‘An Intricate Anthropology of Care’, Contemporary South Asia, 24 (4): 445–447. The New Indian Express. 2015. ‘Communal Tension Soars as Talks Fail’, May 21, 2015. www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil_nadu/CommunalTension-Soars-as-Talks-Fail/2015/05/21/article2824927.ece Accessed on June 15, 2016. TheNewsMinute.com. 2015. ‘How Does India’s Caste System Work in the 21st Century?’, November 13. www.thenewsminute.com/article/how-doesindia%E2%80%99s-caste-system-work-21st-century-quora-user-hits-bull %E2%80%99s-eye-35962 Accessed on August 4, 2016. Nilsen, A. G. and S. Roy. 2015. ‘Introduction: Reconceptualizing Subaltern Politics in Contemporary India’, in A. G. Nilsen and S. Roy (eds) New Subaltern Politics: Reconceptualizing Hegemony and Resistance in Contemporary India, pp. 1–26. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Pai, S. 2002. Dalit Assertion and the Unfinished Democratic Revolution. New Delhi: Sage. Pai, S. 2013. Dalit Assertion. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Pandian, M.S.S. 2012. ‘Being “Hindu” and Being “Secular”: Tamil Secularism and Caste Politics’, Economic and Political Weekly, 47 (31): 61–67.

We ask you to rethink 47 Pandian, M.S.S. 2013. ‘Caste in Tamil Nadu II: Slipping Hegemony of Intermediate Castes’, Economic and Political Weekly, 48 (4): 13–15. Parry, J. P. 1999. ‘Two Cheers for Reservation: The Satnamis and the Steel Plant’, in R. Guha and J.P. Parry (eds) Institutions and Inequalities. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Parry, J. P. 2014a. ‘Introduction: On the Persistence of Poverty in India’, in N. Gooptu and J. Parry (eds) Persistence of Poverty in India. New Delhi: Social Science Press. Parry, J. P. 2014b. ‘Sex, Bricks and Mortar: Constructing Class in a Central Indian Steel Town’, Modern Asian Studies, 48 (5): 1242–1275. Picherit, D. 2014. ‘Neither a Dog, Nor a Beggar: Seasonal Labour Migration, Development and Poverty in Andhra Pradesh’, in N. Gooptu and J. Parry (eds) Persistence of Poverty in India. New Delhi: Social Science Press. Prakash, Aseem. 2015. Dalit Capital: State, Markets and Civil Society in Urban India. New Delhi: Routledge. Quartz India. 2016. ‘India’s Dalits Strike Back at Centuries of Oppression by Letting Dead Cows Rot on the Streets’, July 22. http://qz.com/738758/ indias-dalits-strike-back-at-centuries-of-oppression-by-letting-dead-cowsrot-on-the-streets/ Accessed on August 6, 2016. The Quint. 2016. ‘Why Crime Is Rising Against Dalits and Tribals’, July 4. www.thequint.com/india/2016/07/04/why-crime-is-rising-against-lowercaste-and-tribes-discrimination Accessed on July 5, 2016. Rajendran, S. 2016. ‘Caste Is All Around Us, the Urban Elite Just Don’t Want to See It’, thenewsminute.com, August 3. www.thenewsminute.com/article/ caste-all-around-us-urban-elite-just-dont-want-see-it-47528 Accessed on August 3, 2016. Ranciere, J. 1991. The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Ranciere, J. 1992. ‘Politics, Identification and Subjectivization’, The Identity in Question, 61: 58–64. Ranciere, J. 2000. ‘Dissenting Words: A Conversation With Jacques Rancie’re (Interview by D. Panagia)’, Diacritics, 30 (2): 113–126. Ranciere, J. 2001. ‘Ten Theses on Politics, in D. Panagia (trans.)’, Theory & Event, 5 (3). http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/theory_and_event/v005/5.3ran ciere.html Accessed on August 6, 2016. Rao, A. 2003. ‘Understanding Sirasgaon: Notes Towards Conceptualizing the Role of Law, Caste and Gender in a Case of “Atrocity” ’, in A. Rao (ed.) Gender and Caste. London: Zed Books. Rao, A. 2009. The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Rege, S. 1998. ‘Dalit Women Talk Differently: A Critique of “Difference” and Towards a Dalit Feminist Standpoint Position’, Economic and Political Weekly, 33 (44): WS39–WS46. Rege, S. 2000. ‘ “Discussion: Real Feminism” and Dalit Women – Scripts of Denial and Accusation’, Economic and Political Weekly, 35 (6): 492–495.

48  Karin Kapadia Roberts, N. 2016. To Be Cared for: The Power of Conversion and Foreignness of Belonging in an Indian Slum. Oakland, CA: University of California Press. Roy, A. 2003. City Requiem, Calcutta: Gender and the Politics of Poverty. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. Roy, I. 2013. ‘Development as Dignity: Dissensus, Equality and Contentious Politics in Bihar, India’, Oxford Development Studies, 41 (4): 517–536. Roy, S. 2015. ‘Affective Politics and the Sexual Subaltern: Lesbian Activism in Eastern India’, in A. G. Nilsen and S. Roy (eds) New Subaltern Politics: Reconceptualizing Hegemony and Resistance in Contemporary India, pp. 150–174. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Roy, I. forthcoming. ‘Emancipation as Social Equality: Subaltern Politics in Contemporary India’, Focaal – Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology, 76 (2016): 15–30. Ruparelia, S., S. Reddy, J. Harriss and C. Corbridge. (eds). 2011. Understanding India’s New Political Economy: A Great Transformation? London: Routledge. Scott, J. C. 1985. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Scroll.in. 2016. ‘Officials Arrange for Dalits to Pray Outside Karnataka Temple as Violence Breaks Out Over Entry Ban’, April 3. http://scroll.in/ latest/806107/officials-arrange-for-dalits-to-pray-outside-karnataka-templeas-violence-breaks-out-over-entry-ban Accessed on August 6, 2016. Sengupta, A., K. P. Kannan and G. Raveendran. 2008. ‘India’s Common People: Who Are They, How Many Are They and How Do They Live?’, Economic and Political Weekly, 43 (11): 49–63. Shah, Alpa. 2010. In The Shadows of The State: Indigenous Politics, Environmentalism and Insurgency in Jharkhand, India. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Still, C. 2014. ‘Introduction’, in C. Still (ed.) Dalits in Neoliberal India: Mobility or Marginalisation? New Delhi: Routledge. Srinivasan, S. 2006. Daughter Elimination in Tamil Nadu, India: Development, Discrimination and Survival. Maastricht: Shaker Publishing. Srinivasan, S. 2015. ‘Between Daughter Deficit and Development Deficit’, Economic and Political Weekly, 50 (38): 61–70. Subramanian, A. 2015. ‘Recovering Caste Privilege: The Politics of Meritocracy at the Indian Institutes of Technology’, in A. G. Nilsen and S. Roy (eds) New Subaltern Politics: Reconceptualizing Hegemony and Resistance in Contemporary India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Teltumbde, A. 2008. Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Fruit. New Delhi: Navayana. Teltumbde, A. 2011. ‘Dalit Capitalism and Pseudo Dalitism’, Economic and Political Weekly, 46 (10): 10–11, March 5. Teltumbde, A. 2015. Mahad: The Making of the First Dalit Revolt. New Delhi: Aakar. Teltumbde, A. 2016a. ‘Commemorating Ambedkar: The Role of Dalit Intellectuals’, Commemorative Lecture (June 16, 2016) LSE, June 22, 2016.

We ask you to rethink 49 www.countercurrents.org/2016/06/22/commemorating-ambedkar-the-roleof-dalit-intellectuals/ Accessed on June 22, 2016. Teltumbde, A. 2016b. ‘Two Years of an Ambedkar Bhakt and the Plight of Dalits’, Economic & Political Weekly, 51 (23): 10–11, June 4. Teltumbde, A. 2016c. ‘Rohith Vemula’s “Dalitness” ’, Economic and Political Weekly, 51 (28): 10–11, July 9. Tharamangalam, J. 2012. ‘Caste in Politics Is Linked to Lived Realities’, The Hindu, March 7. www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/caste-in-politics-islinked-to-lived-realities/article2967566.ece Accessed on July 5, 2016. Thomas, P. D. 2013. ‘Hegemony, Passive Revolution and the Modern Prince’, Thesis Eleven, 117 (1): 20–39. Thorat, S. and P. Attewell. 2007. ‘The Legacy of Social Exclusion’, Economic and Political Weekly, 42 (41): 4141–4145. Thorat, S., A. Banerjee, F. Rizvi and Vinod K Mishra. 2015. ‘Urban Rental Housing Market: Caste and Religion Matters in Access’, Economic & Political Weekly, 50 (26/27): 47–53, 27 June. Thorat, S. and K. S. Newman. 2007. ‘Caste and Economic Discrimination: Causes, Consequences and Remedies’, Economic and Political Weekly, 42 (41): 4121–4124. The Times of India. 2013. ‘Courts Still Confused About Legal Age of Marriage?’, July 28. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/relationships/ man-woman/Courts-still-confused-about-legal-age-of-marriage/article show/21333081.cms Accessed on June 20, 2016 The Times of India. 2016a. ‘Dalits “Suppressed” in Courts Too’, July 26. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/Dalits-suppressed-incourts-too/articleshow/53389578.cms Accessed on August 7, 2016. The Times of India. 2016b. ‘77 Yrs After Madurai Victory, Temples Still Shut for Dalits’, July 12. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/77-yrsafter-Madurai-victory-temples-still-shut-for-dalits/articleshow/53168832. cms Accessed on July 13, 2016. Upadhya, C. 2004. ‘A New Transnational Capitalist Class? Capital Flows, Business Networks and Entrepreneurs in the Indian Software Industry’, Economic and Political Weekly, 39 (48): 5141–5151, November 27. Upadhya, C. 2007. ‘Employment, Exclusion and “Merit” in the Indian IT Industry’, Economic and Political Weekly, 42 (20): 1863–1868. Vajpeyi, A. 2015a. ‘A Leader for Every Generation’, Maharashtra Ahead, 4 (4). Vajpeyi, A. 2015b. ‘Owning Ambedkar Sans His Views’, The Hindu, August 27. www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/comment-article-from-ananya-vajpeyiowning-ambedkar-sans-his-views/article7583272.ece?utm_source=vuukle& utm_medium=referral Accessed on August 7, 2016. Vajpeyi, A. 2016. ‘Ancient Prejudice, Modern Inequality’, The Hindu, January 20. www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/dalit-student-rohith-vemula-suicideancient-prejudice-modern-inequality/article8124315.ece?utm_source= InternalRef&utm_medium=relatedNews&utm_campaign=RelatedNews Accessed on August 7, 2016. Vera-Sanso, P. 1995. ‘Community, Seclusion and Female Labour Force Participation in Madras, India’, Third World Planning Review, 17 (2): 155–167.

50  Karin Kapadia Zelliot, E. 1992. From Untouchable to Dalit: Essays on the Ambedkar Movement. New Delhi: Manohar Publications. Zelliot, E. 2003. ‘Dr Ambedkar and the Empowerment of Women’, in Anupama Rao (ed.) Gender and Caste. London: Zed Books. Zene, C. (ed.) 2013. The Political Philosophies of Antonio Gramsci and Ambedkar: Itineraries of Dalits and Subalterns. London: Routledge.

Part I

Imagining a new Dalit women’s politics

1 Foreword Dalits, Dalit women and the Indian State Anand Teltumbde

Strange as it may read, I have deliberately titled this foreword to emphasize that Dalit women should not be dissolved into the degendered term ‘Dalit’. Dalit women need to be differentiated from the dominating menfolk in ‘Dalit’, as Dalit women represent victimhood of three types: the exploitations of class, caste and patriarchy. Contrary to the view that Dalit women suffer less from patriarchy than other women,1 I would argue that they suffer from even more violent versions of patriarchy than upper-caste women, precisely because of the relative powerlessness of Dalit men, which Dalit men tend to compensate for by lording it over their women. This patriarchal exploitation by Dalit men happens within the Dalit homestead, but as vulnerable subjects, Dalit women further suffer from the layered patriarchies of the local community, of wider society and ultimately of the state itself. The etymology of ‘Dalit’ is traced to the root ‘dal’ in Sanskrit which means ‘split’, ‘broken’, ‘cracked’ or ‘crushed’. The present usage of the term is attributed to the nineteenth century social reformer Mahatma Jotirao Phule (1826–90), who used it to describe the outcaste ‘untouchables’, the people oppressed and exploited by the dwija (Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaishya) castes. 2 It was probably in use in colloquial Marathi and he, as a man of the masses, picked it up. Dr B. R. Ambedkar (1891–1956), the towering Dalit leader, who revered Phule as one of his three gurus, used this term particularly in his Marathi speeches along with the terms bahishkrut (boycotted) and asprushyavarga (untouchable class). His followers in Maharashtra used the term to designate themselves. In India, according to the 2011 census, the population of Dalits was 201.3 million, which is 16.6 per cent of India’s population. If Dalits constituted a country it would be the sixth most populous country in the world, just after China, India, the United States, Indonesia and Brazil.

54  Anand Teltumbde Sadly, even among the Ambedkarites (the followers of Dr Ambedkar), Dalit women are very rarely treated as equals. They carry a far bigger burden of the sustenance of their families than their husbands do, but yet are oppressed in various ways within the family. Symptomatically speaking, in any social gathering of Ambedkarites, the women can be seen seated separately, watching passively, eating only after their menfolk have finished eating, and so on. As within the Dalit community, the wider society also treats Dalit women differently. The upper-caste men take them as ‘available’ and misbehave with them. And the state, inheriting and embodying all the prejudices of its dominant constituents, invariably adds fuel to the fire, becoming a tormenter rather than a protector, as seen from the highly prejudicial conduct of the police and the judiciary in the plethora of cases of atrocities against Dalit women. The overzealous tendency of some subaltern scholars to try to show Dalit culture as superior to the culture of non-Dalits in the treatment of women is grossly misfounded and, worse, smells of casteism. While, at one level, every caste is an ‘enclosed class’, to borrow Dr Ambedkar’s definition, and thus has to develop its own micro-culture, at another, every caste shares the meta (or macro) culture of caste with all others. Dalits, although technically outside the varna system, unfortunately constitute a perfect microcosm of the caste society, mirroring its essential hierarchy in relations between their own Dalit castes. Hence, although their culture necessarily differed from that of others in micro terms, Dalit culture essentially remained the same as caste culture at the macro level. The most worrisome thing about Dalits is that, despite creating the hugely significant and powerful Ambedkarite movement against casteism and despite the conversion of Dalits to Buddhism in massive numbers (initially in Maharashtra), they could not break away from the dominant caste culture and could not create an alternate paradigm that was different from that of hegemonic Hindu culture. As a result, the status of their women has remained unchanged within their castes, afflicted by the patriarchal mores of the Hindus.

Dalit feminist standpoint ‘Dalit’, thus, is largely a political term, a quasi-class identity, devised during the Ambedkarite movement, distinct from the demeaning ‘Untouchable’, and from the inert administrative labels ‘Depressed Classes’, ‘Scheduled Castes’, and certainly from Gandhi’s patronizing ‘Harijans’. The term ‘Dalit’ reflected Ambedkar’s aspiration that all the

Foreword 55 Untouchable castes would wear this new identity and form a formidable ‘Dalit’ constituency. Therefore, it was adopted by all Ambedkarite Dalits, initially the Mahars in Maharashtra and slowly thereafter by the most populous and dominant Dalit castes in other states (e.g. the Chamars in UP and Punjab, the Malas in Andhra and the Paraiyars in Tamil Nadu) that identified with the Mahars as their equivalent caste. Even after becoming a dominant term, used everywhere, including by the media, and despite its progenitor, Dr Ambedkar, becoming the unchallenged Dalit icon, many other Dalit castes have been reluctant to identify with the term or to use it for themselves. The term ‘Dalit’, as such, does not reflect social realities. It reflects caste-based identities which continue to remain the fundamental identities of people. Paradoxically, even though, over the years, ‘Dalit’ became a dominant term of self-reference, lately there has been resurgence in the self-referential use of specific caste names for Dalit castes, to the extent that the future of the term ‘Dalit’ now appears uncertain.3 When it comes to making an argument about the experiential specificities of a particular social section, as is done by Sharmila Rege when conceptualizing the ‘Dalit feminist standpoint’,4 then, necessarily, a question arises about how sure we are in aggregating or generalizing the experiences of patriarchy of the entire population of Dalit women. While Rege’s argument seeks to differentiate the Dalit feminist standpoint from the ‘mainstream’ feminist views of middle/upper class women, one may also have to disaggregate these ‘mainstream’ views in order to differentiate between various middle/upper-caste feminist views of different Dalit caste women. At the micro level it is highly problematic to homogenize the patriarchal experiences of women from the various Dalit castes in the four domains of the household, the local community, the wider society and relations with the state. Instead, it may be the case that, within the broad aggregation of the Dalit feminist standpoint, women in each Dalit caste reflect significantly different feminist standpoints because their Dalit identities are significantly different from each other, culturally as well as experientially, and because they interface with society and the state differently. Besides caste, patriarchic experience also depends quite crucially on the class and location of the Dalit women subjects. A middle-class Dalit woman located in a city has a fundamentally different sense of her identity from an average woman of the same caste placed in a village. Whenever a caste-based argument is raised, one has to inevitably face this problem of the aggregations that are made across specific caste clusters. With regard to mainstream feminism however, the caste aggregations made across the dwija (so-called twice-born) caste clusters are

56  Anand Teltumbde persuasive because the ritual differences between the various non-Dalit castes have melted away under the pressure of capitalist relations since colonial times. But when it comes to the Shudras,5 the most populous caste band, who are mainly located in rural India, the position is different. While the socio-economic position of the majority of rural Shudras is close to that of rural Dalits (who still account for more than 85 per cent of the total Dalit population), the caste contradiction between rural Shudras and rural Dalits is most pronounced. All the caste atrocities in post-colonial India are the manifestation of this contradiction. This Dalit-Shudra interface emerges as most important in the context of anti-caste struggles and also concerning Dalit feminism (notwithstanding the problems in its conceptualization) because today it is the Shudras (other backward castes [OBCs] and backward classes [BCs]) who are the main baton bearers of Brahmanism and the main perpetrators of atrocities on Dalits and Dalit women. While the Dalit feminist standpoint could be viably pitched against the mainstream feminist standpoint, it has to be acknowledged that while it mainly uses the experience of the rural Dalit women, it misses out their interface with others in the villages. By this I mean that the Dalit feminist standpoint is primarily based on the experience of Dalit women in the villages, yet it does not concern itself with how these Dalit women interact with Dalit males, with Shudra landlords, with the police and with other minions of the state. This is not to undermine the Dalit feminist standpoint which has been ably theorized by scholars like Sharmila Rege, Uma Chakravarti and others, and sourced from Urmila Pawar, Meenakshi Moon and other Dalit feminists. My purpose here is solely to alert readers to the urgent need to refine this concept.

Women and the Dalit movement Given the conservative and highly patriarchal nature of Indian society, it is not unexpected to see the male-centric evolution of the Dalit movement across India. In its initial phase, one finds neither any particular concern for women nor any participation of women in the Dalit movement, except for the starting of schools for girls in Vidarbha.6 It is significant that, even after the advent of Babasaheb Ambedkar, there were no women to be seen in either of the two Mahad7 conferences held on 19–20 March 1927 and 25–27 December 1927, respectively. The first mention of women in the Dalit movement occurs during the second Mahad conference (25–27 December 1927) when Dalit women from the surrounding villages had come to see Dr Ambedkar as their leader. He welcomed them and specially addressed them, stressing the

Foreword 57 importance of their role in social reform. If one analyses his speech, however, one finds that while he encouraged these Dalit women to participate in the movement along with their men, he used the analogy of the joint responsibility held by a husband and wife for their household, where the husband remains the unquestioned head – the very epitome of patriarchy. He advised the Mahar women to give up their traditional customs and to emulate upper class women in specific ways, particularly in their style of wearing their sari, and in the kinds of ornaments they wore (see the later discussion). Although Dr Ambedkar urged them to participate in the movement, his exhortation was still within a conservative traditional framework wherein the women were to assist their men. The style of dress of upper-caste women was to be emulated because this would make it impossible for caste Hindus to identify Mahar women.8 He said, It is my opinion that these customs and traditions were forced upon us at one time. But such a compulsion is not possible in the rule of the British Government. Therefore, you must give up the things with which the people recognize you as Untouchables. The way you wear your lugadi is a mark of your untouchability. That mark should be removed by you. You must establish the practice of wearing the lugadi in the manner in which the upper class women wear them. There is no expense in doing this. Likewise, the bunch of galsuris on your neck and armful of goth-patlya made of tin or silver are also the marker of recognizing you as Untouchables. There is no necessity of wearing more than one galsuri. It does not add to the lifespan of your husband or contribute to your beauty. The clothes contribute more to appearance than the ornaments do. Therefore, instead of wasting money over tin or silver ornaments, expend it over good clothes. If at all an ornament is to be worn, get it made of gold.9 Dr Ambedkar’s comments here are not patriarchal, they are sanskritizational. Rationally, Dr Ambedkar did note the oppression of women and he clearly believed in their emancipation yet he could not be radical enough. It is interesting to contrast Ambedkar’s response here with that of Jotiba Phule, who, some seven decades earlier, had defied custom and tradition by training his wife, Savitribai Phule, to become a teacher alongside him and by opening a school for Dalit girls.10 This lack of radicalism vis-à-vis women stayed throughout the Dalit movement. The only woman to reach the stature of a leader in the Dalit movement until recent times was Shantabai Dani.11

58  Anand Teltumbde Dalit women did participate in the Dalit movement, they went to jail and suffered along with their men folk during the land satyagrahas in 1953 and 1964–65 but they never emerged as leaders. Unlike Savitribai Phule, who stood shoulder to shoulder with her husband right at the beginning, there is no example of a woman in the Dalit movement rising to be a leader until, of course, the recent rise of Mayawati, who has perhaps overcompensated for this lack. Except for a faction of the Buddhist Society of India, which has been dynastically headed by Meeratai Ambedkar after the death of her husband Yashavantrao Ambedkar,12 none of the institutions founded by Dr Ambedkar13 has ever had a woman as its leader. Dalit women have thus been conspicuous by their absence in the history of the Dalit movement.

The Dalit movement and the state Dalits have a curious take on the state which appears to be conditioned by their experience during colonial times. It was under the colonial state that the Dalits for the first time gained consciousness of the wrong they suffered over centuries in Hindu society, which led to the emergence of their movements for emancipation from the later parts of the nineteenth century. The feudal states that existed before had left the social system untouched, effectively keeping Dalits at subhuman levels within caste society. Dr Ambedkar, when he entered the movement, took special care to keep the colonial state on his side. To start with, he had imagined that the agitation of Dalits for their civil rights would sensitize advanced elements of the Hindu society and they would come forward to undertake requisite reforms. But when this was experimented with during the first conference in Mahad by drinking water from its public tank – the Chavadar tank – the caste Hindus had brutally attacked the Dalits. Angered by this, Dr Ambedkar had organized the second conference as the Satyagraha Conference just nine months later (25–27 December) with a resolve to offer satyagraha at the Chavadar tank until it was opened to Dalits. But the caste Hindus had fraudulently obtained a court injunction against it claiming that the tank was not a public tank. All the 10,000 delegates who had come for the satyagraha were determined to violate the court injunction and go ahead with the satyagraha but were dissuaded by Dr Ambedkar in order to avoid confrontation with the state (Teltumbde 2016). He gave up the satyagraha as advised by the district collector and instead challenged the court injunction in a long drawn legal battle that ended in a pyrrhic victory after ten years.

Foreword 59 From this point on, Dr Ambedkar turned his sights to politics, relying heavily on the colonial state to arbitrate in his political conflict with the mighty Congress. Although his followers carried on with the satyagrahas, Parvati Temple Satyagraha at Pune14 and Kalaram Mandir Satyagraha at Nashik15 after Mahad with his tacit approval, he had lost interest in them. He saw more opportunity to accomplish Dalit rights through politics, which had opened up space for their sharing of power with the Muslim League, insinuating that Dalits and Adivasis were not part of Hindus during the parleys for the Morley-Minto reforms (Aktor and Deliege 2010: 104).16 All the notable gains that Ambedkar secured for the Dalits, namely a separate political identity for the Dalits, reservations for the Dalits in political representation, and later, reservations in public services and in educational institutions, were made with the colonial state remaining a sympathetic or neutral arbiter in his struggle against the caste Hindus. Dr Ambedkar had immense faith in the state: with his intellectual roots deep in liberalism, he saw the modern state as the instrument by which to bring about reforms in society for the benefit of Dalits. The state however needed to be founded on appropriate values sourced from the Constitution and not left to the sweet will of the majority population. It is for this reason that he regarded religion (to provide moral fabric to society) and a Constitution (to provide moral values to the state) as necessary. His ideas about the Constitution evolved to see the economic structure as the base for these moral values. Thus in his book, States and Minorities he proposed that economic structure of state socialism should be adopted by the Indian Constitution. This reflected both the influence of Dewey’s philosophy of participatory democracy and of Fabian socialism on him, as well as his own vacillation between liberalism and materialism. He reiterated this while speaking on the Objective Resolution17 in the Constituent Assembly, moved by Jawaharlal Nehru on 13 December 1946. Ambedkar spoke on 17 December 1946 arguing that the justice that Nehru had spoken of demanded that the structure of India’s society should be socialist,18 and that this socialist structure should be hard-wired into the Constitution as its unalterable foundational principle. However, the fact that Ambedkar did not pursue this any further and instead added, ‘I am, however, prepared to leave this subject where it is, with the observations I have made.’19 It spoke volumes about the impracticability of his idealistic propositions: the economic structure of society could not be changed just by wishing for it. It required revolution. When the Constitution was completed on 26 November 1949, Ambedkar believed it was a good enough Constitution and exhorted

60  Anand Teltumbde his followers to give up their agitational methods and instead adopt the constitutional method for securing their demands. But soon his euphoria evaporated under the heat of reality. In 1953, responding to a member’s calling him ‘the maker of the Constitution’, he retorted very bitterly, completely disowning it. He said, I was a hack. What I was asked to do, I did much against my will. . . . my friends tell me that I have made the Constitution. But I am quite prepared to say that I shall be the first person to burn it. I do not want it. It does not suit anybody.20 He was completely disillusioned by the manner in which the postcolonial state conducted itself, and attributed this to the ‘bad people’ manning it.21 The state was obviously pro-rich and anti-poor. Ambedkar was unhappy with very many policies of the government and by the way he was treated in the cabinet. His attitude towards the state as the custodian of sovereign power was more strategic than ideological. While he relied on the colonial state, he was unsparingly critical of it at times. His conception of the state provided for a range of values the state could assume depending on the people who manned it. The state thus could be good or bad. It is due to this conception of the state that he wanted the Dalits to enter the state bureaucracy in order to make the state favourable to them. The entire structure of his representational logic was informed by this thinking. His anxiety to enter the constituent assembly was also due to it. He believed that the participation of good people could make the state good. He never realized that the state, in its essence, is an institution of the ruling classes and can never be good to those who are ruled; the state just constitutes the terrain of their struggle. Post-1947 the people who ruled India only worsened the state further from its colonial version. There was no doubt that the colonial state had exploited people in alliance with the native elite. But it still had certain scruples, reminded of the horrors of the 1857 mutiny. As for the rulers, they conditioned the behaviour of the state with their ethos of Western liberalism. The post-colonial state essentially continued with the same colonial state apparatus, its structure and processes remaining the same, but now it was manned by the natives belonging to the hegemonic upper class/castes. Unlike the British, they would never be taken as ‘others’. The ethos of Western liberalism was replaced by the ethos of brahmanic cunning, activated after remaining dormant for nearly a millennium. The birth marks of this state reveal this cunning in action: making Dr Ambedkar, the emergent icon of the

Foreword 61 downtrodden classes, the ‘chief architect’ of the Constitution was a strategic masterstroke. However bitter their experience might be, the lowest strata would uphold the Constitution for the ruling classes!

Post-1947 political economy As for the Dalits, the Constitution outlawed untouchability, which was uniformly denounced by all the upper-caste reformers, best represented by Gandhi, but it did not outlaw caste. Caste, along with religion, were preserved as the potent weapons with which to divide people, the former with an alibi to do social justice to the lower castes and the latter to provide space for the state to institute religio-social reforms. The Constitution adopted the first-past-the-post electoral system to constitute the core organs of the state. This was singularly unsuitable for the fragmented polity of India, but it became the best guarantor for the ruling classes to perpetuate their class rule. This electoral system and the weapons of caste and religion provided the ruling classes with limitless power in manipulating the polity. The state instituted a plethora of legislation for the protection and development of Dalits, pretending that this was novel, but essentially carrying everything on from the colonial regime. It had a constitutional veneer of ‘people-orientation’, best represented by the Preamble to the Constitution, but its character was antithetical and brahmanic. The state undertook land reforms, but in such a way as to create, out of the populous shudra caste band (other backward castes [OBCs] and backward classes [BCs]), a class of neo-rich farmers in the rural areas. This class would be the ally of the central ruling classes. It would also take over the baton of Brahmanism from the erstwhile uppercaste landlords. Having restructured the assets in rural areas, it implemented the Green Revolution, a capitalist strategy for agriculture, which would transform the entire rural society of India. Post-Green Revolution, the rural scene presented a curious blend of capitalism and feudalism. Although the class of neo-rich farmers (OBCs and BCs) adopted capitalism to enrich itself through entrepreneurial ventures, these farmers made use of existing feudal structures to maintain low wage levels by intensifying their social control, in the face of the rising assertion of Dalits, who constituted the largest section of their labour force. On the side of Dalits, the destruction of the jajmani ethos under the onslaught of capitalist relations made them a vulnerable proletariat, utterly dependent on farm wages from the class of neo-rich farmers. This class contradiction between Dalit wage labour and neorich landowners, compounded with the new cultural contradiction

62  Anand Teltumbde between the growing assertion of the Dalits of their human rights and the neo-rich farmers assuming the baton of Brahmanism, exploded into a new genre of atrocities on Dalits. Kilvenmani in Tamil Nadu in December 1968, where 44 Dalits, mostly women and children, were burnt alive by the landlords, marks the inaugural instance of this reign of terror, rapidly followed by many such atrocities all over the country.22 These atrocities were unleashed by collectives of the dominating castes on collectives of the Dalits in a celebratory mode, not as punishment for specific contraventions of the caste code, but as upper-caste terrorist acts, intended ‘to teach them a lesson’. Atrocities on Dalit women in particular became the medium for this vengeful upper-caste pedagogy.

Atrocities and Dalit women Women along with their children, the most vulnerable part of Dalit communities, invariably constituted the target of these atrocities. In Kilvenmani itself, 16 women and 23 children were among those killed, compared to five men. The sexual assault of women being the most effective way of ‘teaching them a lesson’ in the patriarchal paradigm, Dalit women became the deliberate targets of rape by upper-caste men. It is not an accident that incidents of rape of Dalit women far exceed that of murders. The rising number of cases of such rape of Dalit women reveals the impunity of upper-caste men: there were 604 cases in 1981, which jumped to 784 in 1991, to 1316 in 2001, to 1349 in 2010 and to a whopping 2073 in 2013.23 These are the National Crime Research Bureau (NCRB) statistics, based on primary police records, which are said to record just around 10 per cent of actual crimes. Thus about 90 per cent of cases of rape of Dalit women go unreported to the police, because vulnerable village Dalits fear social ostracism and threats to their personal safety and to the security of their women folk. After Kilvenmani there was a spate of atrocities all over the country. Meanwhile India’s rulers hoodwinked Dalits by enacting new laws without enforcing the existing ones or trying to stem the tide of caste crimes. Already there was the Untouchability (Offences) Act 1955, which was enacted to operationalize Article 17 of the Constitution. Then came its revised version, the Protection of Civil Rights Act (PCR) 1976, and then came the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (the PoA Act) with its Rules following in 1995. The PoA Act with its radical provisions, such as the appointment of special courts, the punishment of officials who neglected their

Foreword 63 duties, the forfeiture of the perpetrators’ property, the confiscation of arms from the dominant castes in the area, and even the distribution of arms to the downtrodden, appeared, at long last, to possess real teeth. However, in its implementation it, too, has proved toothless and ‘impotent and ineffectual’ in the words of the noted jurist, Justice V. K. Krishna Iyer.24 Right since its enactment, the dominant classes have wanted its repeal.25 But there was no need for this, as they managed to neutralize this potentially radical Act through the state itself. No wonder, then, that the conviction rate in atrocity cases has been abysmally low. There have been plenty of crocodile tears shed over the ineffectiveness of these Acts: the then Social Justice Minister Meira Kumar lamented the poor conviction rate;26 while the Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil acknowledged that the system was not delivering justice and, of course, report after report of the SC/ST Commission, the latest being its sixth annual report 1999–2000 and 2000–2001, expressing its deep sense of dissatisfaction over the way all these measures were implemented.27 The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) also commented in 2002 on the comprehensive failure of the state in preventing caste violence.28 Although none of these reports ever talked of Dalit women specifically, it was Dalit women who constituted the core subject of this entire atrocity discourse. The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Act 1992 that inter alia reserved sarpanch posts in 33 per cent of panchayats for Dalit women were much acclaimed as an initiative that would empower Dalit and scheduled tribe women. However, in the absence of structural changes in the villages, this superficial move became counterproductive to Dalit interests. While political power has remained in the hands of upper castes and males, Dalit women have become the tools by which the dominant castes seek to divide Dalit communities. In a survey carried out by Navsarjan Trust in Gujarat, around 85 per cent of the Dalit women said that they were pushed into panchayat politics either by members of the dominant castes or by their husbands.29 My experience in the recent agitation in Pathapally in Mehboobnagar of Telangana corroborates this finding. Here a Dalit woman sarpanch of the village was inveigled by the dominant caste into battling against the majority of her own caste.30

The complicit state The complicity of the state in the perpetuation of caste atrocities is evident in all three domains, namely in policy (the legislature), in the police (the executive) and in the courts (the judiciary).

64  Anand Teltumbde With regard to policy, there has been an absolute lack of proper understanding of the intersectionality of contemporary reality, and especially of caste-class and gender, on the part of the state that produces caste atrocities. Or rather, to a large extent, the pretension of incomprehension by the state has been quite deliberate, in order to camouflage the state’s own misdoings. As discussed earlier, the post-independence course of political economy has played a major role in the state’s construction of the Dalit reality. One could have expected the juggernaut of capitalist development, launched after 1947, to have ordinarily neutralized the socio-cultural-religious reactionary residue, but this reactionary residue was deliberately given a new lease of life with a series of policies right from the making of the Constitution. For example, India had suffered hugely because of its castes (which gave her history of slavery) and religion (which caused the partition of India). They could both have been got rid of by outlawing caste-based identities instead of merely outlawing untouchability and by investing the new constitution with a true secularism. But both caste and religious identities were, instead, deliberately kept alive. All Government policies (no matter which party has been in power) have been nothing but a series of deceptions perpetrated against India’s common people, because they propose merely legal remedies for the structural wrongs of India’s society. The administration (especially the police) plays a big role in the perpetuation of atrocities, both directly and indirectly. It is not uncommon for the police to sexually abuse the very women who have sought their protection against casteist goons. Only rarely does someone like Mathura come forward to expose such custodial rapes.31 Such incidents may not get into the NCRB statistics, but the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) reported at least 45 cases of rapes in judicial and police custody from 2006 to 2010.32 Apart from these acts of commission, the partisan role of the police and of the local administration in refusing to act against the upper castes is glaringly obvious in every incident of caste atrocity right from the time of Kilvenmani. Invariably, in caste conflicts the perpetrators belong to the dominant castes and, due to their social and political clout, use the local administration against the Dalits. The character of the local administration is not affected by Dalit participation in it, as revealed by the Khairlanji incident, where, despite most of the important nodes of administration being manned by Dalits, the events had a horrific end.33 In Khairlanji, even the Superintendent of Police was a Dalit. A quote from my book on Khairlanji will explain: This myth (that the presence of Dalits in government positions will safeguard Dalits) sustains a large part of the argument for

Foreword 65 reservation. As discussed, Khairlanji best exemplifies the complicity of the state machinery in the perpetration of a caste atrocity. Interestingly, this machinery, in the context of Khairlanji, was largely in the hands of persons who were Dalit. The superintendent and the deputy superintendent of police, Bhandara; the PSI of Andhalgaon police station and the area constable; the doctor who performed the first postmortem and the district civil surgeon who instructed the junior doctor to go ahead with the postmortem in the absence of the senior doctor; the public prosecutor who advised against invoking the PoA Act in the earlier cases; the nodal officer at the apex level entrusted with the responsibility of reviewing the state of crimes against SCs and STs in accordance with the PoA Act – they were all Dalits, most of them belonging to the same subcaste (Mahar) as that of the Bhotmanges. Nobody can fault this lot and accuse ‘Brahminical’ people of being prejudiced against Dalits. The entire chain of bureaucracy, staffed with Dalits, failed to deliver at every possible step. They need not have exercised any favour to the Bhotmanges; they could have merely executed their assigned jobs in a neutral way, with diligence and sincerity. (Teltumbde 2008: 183) The police, the main agency of the administration interfacing with ordinary people, play an outright anti-Dalit role in every caste conflict. But they should not be mistakenly viewed as lower-class ‘uncultured’ minions of the state; their anti-Dalit behaviour is sourced from the ethos of the state. The recent case of the Bhagana Dalits, who have suffered inhuman harassment from the state administration because they demanded justice for their four young girls, in their teens, who were brutally gang raped by upper-caste boys in 2014, is a heart-rending tale. No senior official was willing to listen to them and the utter helplessness of the 250 families of Dalits in Bhagana eventually culminated in their act of last resort: renouncing Hinduism. They embraced Islam in August 2015.34 Most analyses of atrocity cases point to the shocking degree to which the police contribute to their making. In fact, it can be conclusively stated that if the police acted in a non-partisan manner, no caste violence would ever take place. Contrary to the widespread assumption that India’s constitutional state stands on three independent legs – the legislature, the executive and the judiciary – in fact, because the Indian state is actually an extension of the colonial state, its executive and legislative wings have never been separate. By and large, the judiciary, as in colonial times has

66  Anand Teltumbde appeared separate from the politician-bureaucrat alliance and therefore it has been seen relatively in better light by people. But in relation to Dalits, even the judiciary has not remained immune to the caste virus and to corruption.35 Instances of the extreme caste-class prejudices of India’s judges have been clearly demonstrated right from the days of Kilvenmani, when the Madras High Court acquitted the mass murderers by pompously pronouncing that rich landlords owning cars could not possibly have committed such heinous crimes.36 This was repeated in the Bhanwari Devi gang rape case in which the judges observed, with simply breath-taking caste-arrogance, ‘Since the offenders were uppercaste men and included a Brahmin, the rape could not have taken place because Bhanwari was from a lower caste.’37 The utterly notorious Khairlanji judgement of the sessions court also reflected the same attitude when it rejected ‘a caste angle’ in what was blatantly a castebased crime, and even refused to accept that there had been ‘the outrage of women’s modesty’, even in the face of the mutilated naked bodies of the women of the Bhotmange family, and rejected ‘pre-meditation’ in the context of what was clearly a well-planned attack.38 As a matter of fact, there are enough provisions in the statutes for the judges to act decisively in all such cases, but these are used by the courts in favour of the rich and powerful, never in the favour of the Dalits. Even the abysmally low conviction rates of minor cases of crime are not seen in the major crimes of rapes and murders of the Dalits, where usually no conviction at all ensues. While the courts pass strictures against the police for their shoddy investigation, and make this an excuse for acquitting the culprits, never have they convicted the officials responsible for these deliberately shoddy investigations. A quote from my book will clarify this point: The Ahmedabad-based Council for Social Justice (CSJ) had conducted a detailed study of 400 judgements delivered by the special courts set up in Gujarat in 16 districts since 1 April 1995. It revealed a shocking pattern behind the main reasons for the collapse of the cases filed under the Atrocities Act within Gujarat: utterly negligent police investigation at both the higher and lower levels, coupled with a distinctly hostile role played by the public prosecutors. In over 95 per cent of the cases, acquittals had resulted due to technical lapses by the investigation and prosecution, and in the remaining five per cent, court directives were flouted by the government. (Teltumbde39 2010: 85; emphasis added)

Foreword 67 The CSJ study revealed that in cases of caste-based attacks on Dalits there are instances of courts acquitting the accused because of completely trivial technical lapses in the investigation, such as the investigation not being carried out by an officer of a specified rank, or the caste certificates of the Dalit complainants not being attached!40 The travesty of justice continues. The Prevention of Atrocities (PoA) Act (1989/1995) mandates that the officials responsible for its enforcement be punished if they shirk their duty, but the judges never enforce this. As a matter of fact, the PoA Act can be invoked to incriminate these devious judges themselves, for their dereliction of duty, but who can control the controllers? Certainly not the resourceless Dalits! Recent judgements in some major cases of caste violence reveal a deeply ominous trend. The Patna High Court judgements in the cases of the massacres of Dalits in the 1990s in Bihar have come in quick succession, acquitting the Ranvir Sena41 murderers for ‘want of evidence’. In July 2013, 9 of the 10 persons convicted by a special district court for killing 34 Dalits at Miyanpur village in Aurangabad district in Bihar were acquitted. In March 2013, all the 11 accused convicted by a lower court for the massacre of 10 CPI-ML Dalit sympathizers at Nagari village in Bhojpur district in Bihar in November 1998 were acquitted. Bathani Tola and Laxmanpur-Bathe where 21 and 58 Dalits and other poor people, the majority of them women and children, were massacred, were just the repeats.42 At Laxmanpur Bathe, the Ranvir Sena attacked Dalits on the night of 1 December 1997, and killed 57 people (including 27 women and 16 children). On 7 April 2010, Vijay Prakash Mishra, additional district and sessions judge, Patna, gave the death sentence to 16 convicts and life imprisonment to ten others. Nineteen others were acquitted. But a Division Bench of Justices V. N. Sinha and A. K. Lal of Patna High Court acquitted all of them, saying that the prosecution witnesses were ‘not reliable’ and that the appellants ‘deserved to be given the benefit of the doubt’ (The Hindu, 11 October 2013). At Bathani Tola, in Bhojpur district of Bihar, 21 Dalits were slaughtered by Ranvir Sena militiamen on 11 July 1996. Among the dead were one man, 11 women, six children and three infants, who were deliberately singled out by the attackers. Sixty members of the Ranvir Sena reportedly descended on the village and set twelve houses on fire. The Ara court had acquitted 30 of the 63 accused, against whom charges were framed, for want of evidence. Four accused died during the trial while five others were acquitted by the high court earlier. One accused is still absconding. The Ara court however had convicted the 23 accused on 16 May 2010

68  Anand Teltumbde and awarded life terms to 20 of them. The Patna high court on 16 April 2012 acquitted all the 23 convicts, including the three who had been awarded death sentences by the trial court. Delivering its judgment, a division bench comprising Justice Navaniti Prasad Singh and Justice Ashwini Kumar Singh said the prosecution had failed to prove the involvement of the accused in the crime ‘beyond reasonable doubt’: ‘We regret such a ghastly incident took place. However, the investigation was not fair’ (Times of India, 17 April 2012).

Dalit women resist The existence of a separate Dalit movement is always grudged by the mainstream progressive movement, particularly the Marxist Left, because it takes away its potential feed of members. But these groups do not seem to recognize their own responsibility in creating the conditions of this separation. The same could be said of the mainstream feminist movement vis-à-vis the Dalit women’s movement. If mainstream feminists had taken a grassroots approach and focused on the plight of Dalit women, there may not have been a need for poor Dalit women to organize separately. Violence (and the threat of violence) against women may be a common feature faced by all women in India, but there is no denying the fact that certain kinds of violence are ‘customarily reserved’ by the upper castes solely for Dalit women. For instance, this upper-caste violence includes the extremely filthy verbal abuse of Dalit women and addressing them by sexual epithets, the naked parading of Dalit women, the dismemberment of the corpses of murdered Dalit women, forcing Dalit women to drink urine and eat faeces, branding Dalit women, pulling out the teeth, the tongues and the nails of Dalit women to ‘punish’ them, and the murder of defenceless Dalit women after proclaiming them ‘witches’. These grotesque, inhuman and extreme forms of upper-caste violence are reserved solely for Dalit women. The Dalit movement, likewise, has amply proved its moral bankruptcy by becoming leader-centric, while thriving on brokering Dalit interests. This brokering does not stop even in the face of grave atrocities on Dalit women. This means that in the event of atrocities, the Dalit politicians mediate and strike deals with the mainstream political outfits, which, in turn, are protecting the criminals. This happens every day everywhere in India and is a corollary of the fragmentation of politics. Anyone having the slightest familiarity with Dalit political fragments and how they operate will recognize my description of their

Foreword 69 modus operandi. Moreover, as I have already pointed out, Dalit men themselves contribute very significantly to the patriarchal oppression under which Dalit women suffer. It is only natural that Dalit women have tried to throw off their yoke and to come out from their subordination in various ways, organizing their own articulations of their needs and mobilizing their own resistance. Way back in the 1970s, a Dalit monthly, Janwedana (Peoples’ Sufferings) from Nanded (Maharashtra) had a special issue that interrogated the oppressive Dalit marriage system. In Aurangabad Dalit women formed the Mahila Samata Sainik Dal (League of Women Soldiers for Equality) that sought to liberate women from their patriarchal slavery (Omvedt 1993).43 Unfortunately, these mobilizations did not last long. In the 1990s there was a Marathi monthly, Amhi Maitarini (We the Friends) run by Meenakshi Moon along with her women friends, including Urmila Pawar, devoted to boosting the cultural self-confidence of Dalit women. Meanwhile Ruth Manorama, a Dalit activist, emerged in the 1980s, organizing the struggles of poor Dalit women in Bangalore. She had the distinction of establishing the first trade union in the country for domestic workers in 1987. In the 1990s many federated bodies like the National Federation of Dalit Women and the All India Dalit Women’s Forum arose. They played a role in internationalizing Dalit women’s problems, mainly through the UN World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. Many Dalit women writers have risen to prominence more recently, lending a voice to Dalit women through their literary creations. They include Bama Faustina Soosairaj, whose autobiographical novel, Karukku (1992) was the first Tamil Dalit text on a Christian Catholic Dalit community. In her recent novel Vanmam (2008) Bama reveals the internal strife between the Tamil Dalit castes and their lack of political unity. Shantabai Kamble’s Majya Jalmachi Chittarkatha (The Sketch of My Life) (1986) in Marathi is the first autobiographical narrative by a Dalit woman writer. Baby Kamble’s The Prisons We Broke: The Autobiography of a Community (2008) was first published in Marathi as Jina Amucha (Our Lives) in 1986 and is the first account of the lives of the Maharashtrian Mahars by a Dalit woman. It boldly deals with the two major problems of Mahar society: first, the oppression and exploitation of Dalit Mahars by the upper caste-classes and, second, the brutal patriarchal discrimination practised against Mahar women by their own Mahar community. Other important recent works include Urmila Pawar and Meenakshi Moon’s We Also Made

70  Anand Teltumbde History: Women in the Ambedkarite Movement (2014) and Weave of Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs (2007) by Urmila Pawar. Several resistance movements of Dalit feminist women thus already exist in the country and there is a growing literature being created by Dalit feminist writers. However, in their struggles against patriarchy and against caste-oppression, what all Dalit women face in common is utterly apathetic Dalit men.

Notes 1 For instance see Dietrich (1992) and Ilaiah (1996). 2 Mendelsohn and Vicziany (1998: 4). 3 It began with the sub-categorization of reservations demanded by the Madiga Reservation Porata Samiti (MRPS) in Andhra Pradesh in 1995 and has since spread all over. See Teltumbde, Some Fundamental Issues in Anti-Caste Struggle. 4 Rege 2006. 5 Shudras are the fourth varna in the four-varna hierarchy, and comprise many of the castes known today as BCs (Backward Classes) and OBCs (Other Backward Castes), who are engaged in agriculture related activities. 6 Pioneers like Kisan Fagoji Bansod had started Chokhamela Girls School in Pachpawali area of Nagpur in 1907. 7 Mahad is a small town in Raigadh district in Maharashtra. It is of great historic importance because it is where the Dalits for the first time collectively asserted their human rights (against the upper castes) by drinking water from its public tank, the Chavadar tank, under the leadership of Dr Ambedkar, after the conclusion of the first Bahishkrut Conference on 19–20 March 1927. Dalits were prohibited from drinking this water, which was reserved for the sole use of the upper castes. 8 Teltumbde (2015a). 9 Teltumbde (2015: 235; emphasis added). 10 Phule opened his first girls’ school in August 1848 in Pune and then the first school in India for Dalit girls in 1851. Phule’s first girls’ school is often erroneously described as the first girls’ school in India. In fact the first girls’ school in India was started a year earlier by Peary Charan Sarkar in 1847 in Barisat near Calcutta. 11 Shantabai Dhanaji Dani (1918–2001), was one of the front leaders in the Ambedkarite movement. For more information see Sharmila Rege (2006: 93–123). 12 Yashavantrao Ambedkar (1912–77) was Ambedkar’s eldest and the only surviving son. 13 Dr Ambedkar founded a number of institutions. They include Peoples’ Education Society, Scheduled Caste Improvement Trust, and the Bharatiya Bauddha Mahasabha, that is, the Buddhist Society of India, besides political parties like the Independent Labour Party, the Scheduled Caste Federation, and the Republican Party of India. 14 Some 250 satyagrahis led by a Satyagraha Committee, with Shivram Janba Kamble as president and P. N. Rajbhoj as general secretary had offered a

Foreword 71 satyagraha for entering the Parvati Temple at Pune on 13 October 1929. They faced stone throwing by miscreants in which many people were seriously injured. The satyagraha ended without entering the temple. 15 A satyagraha for entering the Kalaram Mandir at Nashik began under the leadership of Dadasaheb Gaikwad on 2 March 1930 and lasted until October 1935. Dr Ambedkar also participated in it at the beginning but later, in a letter dated 3 March 1934 to Gaikwad, he disapproved of it, saying that he did not value temple entry and asked Dalits to focus on politics and education. See the text of the letter at http://ambedkar.nspire. in/1934.html Accessed on 27 December 2015. 16 Aktor and Deliege (2010: 104). 17 This was a kind of preamble to the proposed framework for the Constitution of India. 18 Ambedkar (1987: 8–9). 19 Ambedkar (1987: 9). 20 Rajya Sabha Debates 1953. 21 The ‘bad people’, in Ambedkar’s view, obviously were Prime Minister Nehru and his coterie. 22 Gough (1989: 187). 23 National Crime Research Bureau (Annual Reports). 24 Iyer 2000. 25 The Prevention of Atrocities Act, perceived as a serious threat to uppercaste domination, gained prominence in the State of Maharashtra in 1995, when a promise to repeal it became a centrepiece of the Shiv Sena’s electoral campaign (Narula 1999: 196). After coming to power, the Shiv Sena actually began withdrawing over 1,100 cases registered under the Act, alleging that many of the cases were false. See The Times of India (1995). The caste Hindus being in the majority in the population, and the Prevention of Atrocity Act being applied against non-Dalits, its repeal becomes an appealing proposition to all caste Hindus. Therefore any non-Dalit party (like the Shiv Sena) which does not depend upon Dalit votes, and whose electoral calculations rely more on caste Hindu votes will try this to win favour with non-Dalits. 26 The Telegraph (2005). 27 National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (2001: 29). 28 Saxena (2002). 29 Panchayati Raj and Dalit Women Sarpanches. 30 Teltumbde (2015b: 12–13). 31 The Mathura rape case was a notorious incident of custodial rape in India on 26 March 1972, wherein a young tribal girl called Mathura was raped by two policemen in the compound of Desaiganj Police Station in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra. The rapists were acquitted by the Supreme Court. The case came up for hearing on 1 June 1974 in the Sessions Court. The judgment returned found the defendants not guilty. It was stated that because Mathura was ‘habituated to sexual intercourse’, her consent was voluntary; under the circumstances only sexual intercourse could be proved and not rape. On appeal the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court set aside the judgement of the Sessions Court, and sentenced the accused to one and five years of imprisonment, respectively. The Court held that passive submission due to fear induced by serious

72  Anand Teltumbde threats could not be construed as consent or as willing sexual intercourse. In September 1979 the Supreme Court of India Justices Jaswant Singh, Kailasam and Koshal in their judgement on Tukaram vs. State of Maharashtra reversed the High Court ruling and again acquitted the accused policemen. The Supreme Court held that Mathura had raised no alarm; and also that there were no visible marks of injury on her person thereby suggesting no struggle and therefore no rape. 32 The Hindu (2012). 33 For a detailed discussion, see Teltumbde (2008). 34 Bhagana: Laboratory of Dalit Atrocities and Resistance. 35 P. Sathasivam, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, stated, ‘I should fairly admit that the judiciary is not untouched by corruption’, in an interview with J. Venkatesan, ‘Judiciary not untouched by corruption’, The Hindu (2013). 36 Economic and Political Weekly (1973: 926–928). 37 Mathur (1992: 2221–2224). 38 Teltumbde (2008). 39 Teltumbde (2010). 40 In Jamnagar district in Gujarat, in the judgement in Atrocity Case No. 45/2001 in 2001 the court acquitted all the upper-caste accused, declaring that the investigation was illegal just because it was not done by an officer with the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police and the State Government did not make any further appointment of a new investigating officer. All the accused were punished under the Indian Penal Code with 6 months’ simple imprisonment and a fine and a further imprisonment for 15 days, but escaped punishment under the Prevention of Atrocities Act which could have extended imprisonment from six months to five years with a fine and, moreover, classed their crimes as caste crimes and not simple crimes. 41 A vigilante army of the upper-caste landlords in Bihar that operated in the 1990s in response to rising resistance from the Dalit labourers. 42 Teltumbde, Of Caste Massacre and Judicial Impunity: Bloodstains in Bathani Tola and Laxmanpur Bathe. 43 Omvedt (1993: 83).

References Aktor, Mikael and Robert Deliege. (eds) 2010. From Stigma to Assertion: Untouchability, Identity and Politics in Early and Modern India. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press. Ambedkar, B. R. 1987. ‘Dr. Ambedkar: The Principal Architect of the Constitution of India’, in Vasant Moon (ed.) Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, Vol. 13. Mumbai: Government of Maharashtra. ‘Bhagana: Laboratory of Dalit Atrocities and Resistance’, 01 June 2014. http://roundtableindia.co.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article &id=7507:bhagana-laboratory-of-dalit-atrocities-and-resistance&catid=11 9:feature&Itemid=132 Accessed on November 24, 2015.

Foreword 73 Dietrich, Gabriele. 1992. Reflections on the Women’s Movement in India: Religion, Ecology, Development. New Delhi: Horizon India Books. ‘Gentlemen Killers of Kilvenmani’ (Editorial), Economic and Political Weekly, 8 (21), May 26, p. 928. Gough, Kathleen. 1989. Rural Change in Southeast India, 1950s to 1980s. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. The Hindu, July 1, 2013. The Hindu, October 11, 2013. The Hindu, December 27, 2012. Ilaiah, Kancha. 1996. Why I am Not a Hindu. Calcutta: Samya. Iyer, V. K. Krishna. 2000. ‘Foreword’, in P. L. Mimroth (ed.) Dalit Utpidanaur Vidhik Upchar (Dalit Oppression and Legislative Treatment). New Delhi: Dalit Jan Samajik Nyay Samiti. Mathur, Kanchan. 1992. ‘Bhateri Rape Case: Backlash and Protest’, Economic and Political Weekly, 27 (41), October 10, 2223–2224. Mendelsohn, Oliver and Marika Vicziany. 1998. The Untouchables: Subordination, Poverty and the State in Modern India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Narula, Smita. 1999. Broken People: Caste Violence Against India’s ‘Untouchables’. London: Human Rights Watch. National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. 2001. Sixth Annual Report, 1999–2000 and 2000–2001. New Delhi: Government of India. National Crime Research Bureau. ‘Crime in India’, All Publications, http:// ncrb.nic.in/StatPublications/CII/PrevPublications.htm Accessed on February 16, 2017. Omvedt, Gail. 1993. Reinventing Revolution: New Social Movements and the Socialist Tradition in India. London: East Gate Books. ‘Panchayati Raj and Dalit Women Sarpanches’, October 24, 2011. www.mer inews.com/article/panchayti-raj-and-dalit-women-sarpanches/15859924. shtml Accessed on November 26, 2015. ‘Rajya Sabha Debates’, September 2, 1953. http://rsdebate.nic.in/simplesearch?query=ambedkar&sort_by=dc.date.debatedate_dt&order=asc&rpp =10&etal=0&&start=10 Accessed on November 24, 2015. Rege, Sharmila. 2006. Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Reading Dalit Women’s Testimonies. New Delhi: Zubaan Books. Saxena, K B. 2002. Report on Prevention of Atrocities Against Scheduled Castes: Suggested Interventions and Initiatives for NHRC. New Delhi: National Human Rights Commission. The Telegraph, January 12, 2005. Teltumbde, Anand. 2008. Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Fruit. New Delhi: Navayana. Teltumbde, Anand. 2010. The Persistence of Caste: The Khairlanji Murders and India’s Hidden Apartheid. London: Zed Books. Teltumbde, Anand. 2015. ‘Pathapally: Mahad of the 21st Century’, Economic and Political Weekly, l (34), August 22: 12–15.

74  Anand Teltumbde Teltumbde, Anand. 2016. Mahad: The Making of the First Dalit Revolt. New Delhi: Aakar. Teltumbde, Anand. ‘Of Caste Massacre and Judicial Impunity: Bloodstains in Bathani Tola and Laxmanpur Bathe’. March 5, 2014. www.countercur rents.org/teltumbde050314.htm Accessed on November 24, 2015. Teltumbde, Anand. ‘Some Fundamental Issues in Anti-Caste Struggle’, June 13, 2011. www.countercurrents.org/teltumbde130611.htm Accessed on November 24, 2015. The Times of India, September 20, 1995. The Times of India, April 17, 2012.

2 For another difference Agency, representation and Dalit women in contemporary India1 Manuela Ciotti Globalization, I want to suggest, must always begin at home. A just measure of global progress requires that we first evaluate how globalizing nations deal with ‘the difference within’ – the problems of diversity and redistribution at the local level, and the rights and representations of minorities in the regional domain. (Homi Bhabha 2010: xv)

There is a profound link between India’s relation with Dalit minorities and the making of Dalit subjects. This relation could be indexed under at least three rubrics inspired by a social justice agenda: positive discrimination policies, the anti-untouchability legal framework and development measures.2 Against this backdrop, the making of Dalit subjects has been profoundly shaped by liberation movements, religious conversion, social mobility and political mobilization.3 This essay focuses on the making of women Dalit subjects. The repertoire on these subjects – currently available in the public sphere under different forms and genres – showcases a collection of accounts and claims of both ascribed and self-ascribed difference put forward by a diverse set of actors. Where much still awaits to be unearthed on Dalit women, these accounts and claims range from the detection of their exclusion from reform projects under British rule (Chatterjee 1993; Rao 2003; Sarkar and Sarkar 2008) to Dalit feminists’ challenges to the feminist movement’s normative upper-caste matrix and Dalit patriarchy (Guru 1995; Rege 2006).4 Overall, knowledge production on Dalit women has complicated the image of these women as embodiments of supposedly equal gender relations, ‘free sexual mores’, and freedom from the oppressive gender regimes in place among highercaste communities among others, while exposing the multifold forms of oppression, marginalization and violence they endure.5

76  Manuela Ciotti This body of knowledge invokes scrutiny with regard to the nexus between the making of women subjects, the construction of their difference – largely through the analytics of caste – and resulting representations. This essay is the last of a trilogy which deploys extensive fieldwork with Dalit communities in North India to reflect on aspects of this nexus. In the first essay (Ciotti 2010b), I examined the rejection of the Dalit category among a number of Dalit women political activists – and hence I interrogated this category’s universal appropriation and understanding. Through these insights on the everyday use of the Dalit category, I aimed to open up the discussion concerning the relation between gendered self-representation, its regional significance and attendant political projects. The women in question are local leaders and activists within the Bahujan Samaj Party (the Majority of the People’s Party, or BSP), for whom the Dalit (and Bahujan) identity has played a pivotal role.6 While the counterintuitive use of the Dalit category among those who are supposed to uphold it is not an isolated phenomenon at a pan Indian level, the rejection of the Dalit category at times encountered during field research appeared to be part of activist subject formation.7 In the second essay (Ciotti 2014), I challenged the trope of the Dalit woman/quintessential victim as the outcome of knowledge production projects and representations in the public sphere. I contended that accounts of Dalit women which speak of them as all-round personae and as non-victims are very rare. In the usual, monolithic picture of Dalit women, it is unclear what else is part of these women’s lives when they are not the victims of one form of violence or the other. This argument does not counter or deny the incontrovertible evidence on marginalization, exploitation and powerlessness found among Dalit women in history and in the present. Nor does it undermine the barbarian treatment which Dalit women continue to meet in contemporary India. Instead, it is to retrieve Dalit women subjects that I have advocated the reorienting of research on Dalit women towards their representation as all-round personae and through a focus on their agency. This re-orientation does not just rehearse a process which has already taken place in women’s and gender studies – and which aimed to correct the passive representations of the (general) woman category as the perennial victim within the ‘Third World’ and in India. Thinking relationally, Dalit women are placed in a ‘subordinate’ position vis-àvis many Indian women as far as representation is concerned. Thus, recasting the Dalit woman subject would need to take into account this position and the web of meanings through which her images are activated and serve to signify other non-Dalit women and non-Dalit

For another difference  77 communities and serve to uphold the latter’s higher status at different historical junctures. Equally important, the project of retrieving Dalit women’s agentic practices and identities disables the unspoken assumption that these women are always different (read: less agentic and always victims as well as being completely detached from mainstream Indian society and history) by definition. Last but not least, the interventions enlisted so far compel researchers to interrogate the meaning of Dalit women’s difference itself. Thus, in this present and final essay, I wish to build on the earlier writings to further elaborate on the question of difference as central to Dalit women’s (self) representation. By virtue of the ‘victim trope’, difference is attributed to Dalit women on the basis of their caste identity and caste practices. Thus, a few exceptions notwithstanding, the ‘difference’ that is accorded to Dalit women in terms of representation is coterminous with marginalization, exploitation and violence. Alternative analytics are needed to challenge the naturalization of caste identity and attendant caste practices which are represented as an identical set of socio-economic and political features (of ‘Dalit life’) – eluding their historicity – and invariably returning the same life ways and predicaments among a vast constituency of (Dalit) women. A closer look at the existing sources shows that Dalit caste membership does not produce the same socio-economic conditions for all women with a Dalit background, while much depends on the historical conjuncture, the regional context, the urban or rural location, the specific caste identity and class, among other factors. For example, in her review of Rege’s rendering of Maharashtrian Dalit women’s autobiographies, Kapadia (2007) highlighted the hiatus between the above women and the Tamil Dalit women she had researched in the late 1980s (Kapadia 2007). Kapadia argued, ‘Whereas the impoverished dalit women I knew were confident, assertive and with a remarkably strong control of their own lives and their own sexuality, several of the Marathi autobiographies make it clear that Marathi dalit women often survived only at the mercy of their husbands, who, despite extreme poverty, followed upper-caste notions of family “honour” ’ (2007: 28–29; emphasis in the original).8 The challenge to the view of a unified constituency of Dalit women which Kapadia brought to the fore resonates with my findings in the research projects on Dalit women I carried out in different locations in North India.

78  Manuela Ciotti In this essay I deploy this research to show that Dalit caste status as a synonym of marginalization, exploitation and violence is not the only avenue for Dalit women’s subject formation – and hence another ‘difference’ emerges, as well as the need for nuanced and multiple representations. Drawing on McNay’s invocation to transcend the negative paradigm of subject formation within feminist theory and the need for a more generative framework to point to a full (and more active) account of agency in a post-traditional society (2003),9 I pursue the question of Dalit women’s difference by first recognizing Dalit women (and Dalit communities more broadly) as a residue of postcolonial studies inquiry. I then place this insight in conversation with contemporary experience-based claims of difference by Dalit communities – that is claims which draw authority and legitimacy from Dalit caste membership. Further, I discuss how the issue of difference among Dalit women became part of my inquiry and what this implies in terms of representation. The essay’s concluding remarks point to the dilemma that faces researchers, on the one hand requiring that they go beyond an undifferentiated Dalit women universe and an undifferentiated analytical framework to engender plural representations and, on the other hand, requiring the challenge of the workings of untouchability with all the urgency this demands within knowledge production practices. I argue that this dilemma informs the formation of an alternative analytics of difference for Dalit women and their repositioning within the study of contemporary Indian society.

Difference, gender studies and Dalit women According to Ray, the field of gender studies in India features three main characteristics: ‘(a) [It . . .] is marked by an imbrication with the political exigencies of the time; (b) (it) has been deeply and resolutely intersectional; and (c) gender scholars have been at the forefront of critiques of Eurocentric theorization and of understanding the effects of globalization’ (2012: 3). When analysing this important set of interlocked characteristics from the standpoint of the study of Dalit women, a number of observations come to mind. These observations point to the questions that the analysis of Dalit women posits to the field of gender studies.10 Starting with the last characteristic, and in particular the critiques of Eurocentrism, Dalit women and Dalits in general find almost no mention in postcolonial studies and hence they might well be said to represent a residual category in this field.11 In the field of gender, postcolonial feminist scholars’ task of retrieving the ‘Third World’ woman’s difference out of the discursive colonization

For another difference  79 of dominant (white) feminism – and women’s passive monolithic representation – was predicated upon the recovery of internal differences within ‘Third world’ women constituencies (an intervention spearheaded by Mohanty 1988). From the standpoint of Dalit women, pushing the earlier argument further would have entailed the unveiling of entrenched hierarchies among Third World/Indian women which are at the core of the former’s marginalization and exploitation. However, postcolonial feminist scholars’ attention focused on the fight against external hegemonic Western/Eurocentric categories rather than on dismantling internal debilitating ones. While fighting the West/Eurocentrism has constituted a priority over other interventions, bringing to light Dalit women’s difference and predicaments was an effort pursued by Dalit feminists themselves and directed towards hegemonic forces found within national boundaries. In particular, the formation of the National Dalit Women Federation (NDWF) in 1995 signalled the inauguration of a new politics of difference: Dalit women’s need to talk differently was framed as a response to ‘external factors (non-dalit forces homogenizing the issue of dalit women) and internal factors (the patriarchal domination within the dalits)’ (Guru 1995: 2548). If Eurocentrism did not appear as the most urgent preoccupation for Dalit women, national categories and practices, the mainstream feminist movement and Dalit patriarchy were.12 In this respect, national terrains – rather than transnational ones – became the main arena where the fight over categories and representations was to be fought.13 Further, political events have re-oriented the study of women. Ray has argued that ‘in the women’s movement, Mandal-Masjid marked the dissolution of the idea of the unified “woman” ’ (2012: 6)14 and after the 1990s, gender scholarship could not do without intersectionality (2012: 9). On the one hand, the uncomfortable truths about women’s agency in the Hindu Right and their appropriation of feminism and the problems this phenomenon posited to feminist agendas (see Sarkar and Butalia 1995 and Jeffery and Basu 1999, respectively) were decisive towards that dissolution. And, if one had to make sense of the multidimensional spectrum of gendered life possibilities, the previous trends also showed the frailty of the analytical insistence on women identified as ‘progressive feminists’ as the only subjects deemed worth researching. On the other hand, events such as those around Mandal – which saw ‘caste’ entering the public sphere in renewed politicized ways – turned out to be central to the re-orienting of gender studies towards the deconstruction of ‘women’ through the dual categories of caste and gender.15 On this matter, Chakravarti

80  Manuela Ciotti (2003) contended that caste and gender had been pursued as two separate systems of stratification in the sociological scholarship on India, until their link was made salient and turned into an object of inquiry in the period following the Mandal agitations. Thus, re-joining the two categories reinstated the centrality of retrieving and comprehending Dalit women’s difference among others. Contextually, Dalit feminism forced feminist scholars to reflect on the multi-layered forms of subjection affecting Dalit women and on the discrepancy between existing (universalizing) feminist claims, struggles and histories and those by women who did not feel represented by them. As Rege rightly suggested, in the early 1990s Dalit feminism challenged the categories of ‘genderless caste’ and ‘casteless gender’ (Rege 2006: 3). Interestingly, as also shown earlier, Dalit feminists began to assert themselves – and their need to be represented differently – vis-à-vis those ‘Third world women subjects’ within India (in particular higher-caste women) whom postcolonial feminists had endeavoured to retrieve out of Western universalizing and monolithic representations. The final characteristic highlighted by Ray consists in the strong intersectional nature of gender studies in India. I have argued elsewhere (Ciotti 2012) that this scholarship and Dalit feminism have greatly contributed to the breakdown of normative understandings of ‘women’ in gender studies and gender history more widely. Constructions of Dalit women predicated on their difference have compelled scholars and other knowledge producers to conceptualize diverse gendered subjects within Indian society. However, the project of re-joining caste and gender did not arise in a void; that is reading caste through gender or gender through caste is not a completely new project. Where Mandal fuelled a new awareness of the predicaments around caste and policy-making around it – and a renewed awareness on how caste profoundly inflects gender and vice versa – gender had not in fact been eclipsed by the all-consuming category of caste within the pre-Mandal body of scholarship on Indian society. That there was a difference within women’s and men’s constituencies across the caste spectrum (and across communities) was quite evident within the scholarship which had been produced before the 1990s and Mandal.16 Prior to the ‘intersectionality’ construct coming to the conceptual fore, the analytics of caste, gender, class, labour and religion – just to mention some key categories – enlivened studies detailing regimes of exploitation, marginalization and violence. On the other hand, reading gender through caste (and community) had possibly more to do with the re-articulation of the ‘woman category’ through the recognition of internal differences – and different predicaments – within the women’s

For another difference  81 movement in India and its cross-fertilizations with academia. Thus, it appears plausible to claim that, in the 1990s, the events around Mandal ‘re-aligned’ scholarship and the women’s movement on the subject of Dalit women with ‘intersectionality’ as a telos. The process of retrieving difference through gender and caste, rearticulating (and pluralizing) the woman category, and the realignment of feminist scholarship and the feminist movement over the question of Dalit women have taken place in parallel with debates on knowledge authorship and theory production on Dalit communities by members of these communities themselves.17 While the retrieval of Dalit women’s ‘difference’ was initiated by Dalit feminists, on the other hand, Dalit intellectuals gradually coalesced around assertions of (Dalit) experience as the primary source through which the representation of Dalit communities should be constructed. These claims feature a gender dimension: Dalit interventions within the scholarly field have been largely male – and few exceptions aside – this testifies to the quasi pan-Indian absence of Dalit women’s voices as academic and public intellectuals in these debates.18 I have argued elsewhere (Ciotti 2014) that the rise of Dalit experience to prominence over and above other aspects of social life – so that those experiences which are not mediated by the ‘Dalit’ identity have come to occupy a secondary relevance – is a reaction to the resilience of untouchability in all its more subtle and brutal forms within Indian society and to the long-standing indifference regarding Dalit issues in the public sphere. Widespread injustice together with the silence and neglect of Dalit issues have strengthened the claims of difference, as well as the claims of the Dalit politics of experience and assertions that Dalits alone have the right to speak about Dalits (Ciotti 2014).19 Thus, how do we square the study of difference as a product of intersectionality within gender studies (e.g. through the gender and caste pair) with difference as an epistemological claim that is predicated upon membership to that very Dalit community whose difference intersectionality should shed light upon? Recourse to field-based research might be suggestive of alternatives to this seemingly intractable though critically important question.

Difference, in the field It was my serendipitous encounter with a Dalit woman BSP party activist in 1998 which prompted my ethnographic study of women in politics in Lucknow, the Uttar Pradesh (UP) capital. This woman activist was strikingly different from all those women I had researched during my long-term and ongoing ethnographic project in semirural eastern

82  Manuela Ciotti UP. What is more, the discrepancy between this BSP activist and the body of knowledge which has emerged from the study of these women by other scholars was remarkable. As I entered the world of women’s politics when my subsequent research project began in the mid-2000s, I extended my analytical focus to several Dalit women activists within the BSP and realized that what had happened in 1998 was far from being an isolated occurrence. Not only was the interplay of caste and gender essential to capture women’s identities and practices, but class emerged as a key component in shaping political agency – testifying to the importance of the impact of social change on the location and articulation of the making of Dalit women subjects, their agency, and their own formulations of their difference. Equally important, I set out to investigate political agency among women whose caste identity instantly evokes the trope of the quintessentially marginal – one which has almost no equal in the repertoire of tropes that have emerged from the study of Indian society. If mine is perhaps one of the rare accounts in which Dalit women appear both as ‘non victims’ and as subjects of political participation, I argue that it is precisely the choice of studying ‘non-victims’ – and contextually problematizing the very victim trope – among such communities that yields counter-intuitive insights. I termed the women activists I researched as a proletariat of politics because of their lack of power within the BSP. Moreover, they were not militating within a party which champions women’s rights. I was very interested in what happened to women when they entered politics, what made their political activities possible, and how women’s lives were transformed by them. The BSP women I came to know in Lucknow were spread across five State assembly constituencies within the Lucknow district. The State assembly is the main organizational unit of the party, with several layers of leaders and subdivisions, each with its own hierarchy of netas (leaders). A group of about 40 women formed the core grassroots female leaders’ activism within the party in the city, plus a much higher number of women who participated in demonstrations and meetings and served at polling stations at the time of elections. Women actively involved in BSP party politics at the grassroots were a minority compared to men. With very few exceptions, they were not placed at the higher levels of the party organization. Despite residing in Lucknow for many years, most women informants were not originally from the city. Many migrated from their in-laws’ village to Lucknow as a result of their husband’s government employment or his search for work. Most of them lived on the city periphery, including in city slums. The urban setting, however, not only facilitated women’s access to the relevant offices and institutions, but also ‘liberated’

For another difference  83 them from village life-style rules. Many women activists in my study belonged to the Chamar caste and were very often married to government employees. A minority of women belonged to the Other Backward Castes (OBCs)20 and to the Muslim community. Non-Muslim women were mainly Hindu and some women adopted Buddhism. The women activists I interacted with were at various stages of their political career (including women no longer active). Almost all of them had been assigned a formal position in the party, although very rarely was the position of any great importance. The majority of activists were married. However, there were also widows, separated women and unmarried women. Among married women, I found inter-caste arranged marriages as well as same-caste and inter-faith love marriages. I wondered whether the atypicality of women’s marriage choice and status was the secret to their freedom of mobility which came with their political commitment. Data on marriage, however, was not the only factor explaining this freedom. Unlike the customary rule of patrilocality after marriage, almost none of these women lived with their in-laws, due to their husbands’ migration away from home in search of employment. This datum signified that their in-laws had very little or no control over these women. Compared to the masses of Dalit or low-caste women, a number of these Dalit women political activists could be considered to be an elite in very relative terms and they were not compelled into paid domestic or other work. One of the most important factors explaining women’s political activities was the role of women’s husbands or other male family members, who were often not only responsible for women’s release from domestic duties and entry into public life but also their source of advice and experience, encouragement and financial support for these women’s political activities.21 Once the consent of their male family members had been obtained, women activists could deploy their free time in politics. Women’s everyday political activities consisted of attending meetings, attendance at different levels of the party organization, campaigning at the time of elections, staging demonstrations, political rallies, as well as day-to-day proselytizing, donation collection for the party, as well as helping people in need, for example by visiting police stations. These Dalit women were mobilised solely within the confines of the party’s agenda. The time these women spent engaging in political activities often depended on the post assigned to them in the local party hierarchy. At times these activities were demanding and took place all the year round. During elections, women’s activities intensified, and they spent a great deal of time outside the

84  Manuela Ciotti home. Aside from exceptional circumstances, for most of them no dramatic change took place in their households’ sexual division of labour. Although husbands were often praised for their co-operation, support and sometimes even for help in household management, this management usually followed the norms of female seniority and the related expectations of service from other (usually female) members, as in any other household. The distinctive sociological features which have enabled these women’s political activities might well account for Dalit women activists’ difference from other women, and inflected their participation. If compared to many other Dalit women, political activists could exercise some power within their localities and they enjoyed a remarkable freedom of movement. As mentioned at the beginning of this essay, I observed that a number of these women political activists considered their Dalit identity to be disempowering. I also registered a cross-fertilization of different political cultures and vocabularies across the caste and class spectrum within Indian society – which challenged the idea that Dalit communities are mainly constituted through their pre-given Dalit identities and exclusively deploying the resources of their past religious and political traditions. Equally importantly, the BSP Dalit women party activists turned out to be hardly explainable through the ‘Dalit woman trope’. My research therefore traced the ways in which a number of subjects who went under the label of ‘Dalits’ largely subtracted themselves from the grip of everyday manifestations of marginalization, exploitation, and violence. So much research focuses on ‘living untouchability’, and rightly so: however, very few studies so far have investigated how Dalit women might turn their disadvantageous conditions into agentic practices and positive identities – as has happened in the case of these BSP women.

Conclusion: Into the field of (in)difference The analysis of the workings of caste, gender and class among Dalit women has led to the emergence of multiple layers of difference – stemming from multiple paths of subject formation and agency among such women. Many representations become possible and above all, necessary. Regarding the representation of Dalit women, for researchers the dilemma lies in-between the previous analysis and the urgency posited by everyday untouchability in its ordinary and spectacular brutal forms, and the regimes of indifference reinforcing its pervasive effects. The Dalit category as a political construction is, first

For another difference  85 and foremost, immersed in and constituted through the violence of untouchability – which also demands that socio-economic indicators on the sources of Dalit poverty, exclusion and marginalization be made fully legible through the analytical lens of caste. What is more, indifference to untouchability and violence (in particular violence against women) pervades the contemporary public imaginary and public practices. These appear to be governed by selective understandings of the ‘woman victim’ – around whom only same-community members or same-class urban crowds might mobilize – as the December 2012 New Delhi gang rape has shown. Scholars have demonstrated how rape trials yields different outcomes in the judicial system according to the victims’ socio-economic backgrounds (see Agnes, D’Mello and Sidhva 2014) and that when it comes to rape, the Prevention of Atrocities (PoA) Act – which should ‘infuse criminal law with constitutional ideals of substantive equality’ – has been hollowed out (Baxi 2014: 284). Further, widespread domestic violence against Dalit women by Dalit men considerably complicates discussions of the gender dimensions of the emancipatory agenda among those who are generally subsumed under the Dalit category.22 While knowledge production is carried out under this urgency, I argue that the emphasis on untouchability as the main analytics displaces the salience of other categories and experiences which are not mediated and explained by ‘Dalit’. The erasure of internal difference within the Dalit women universe, the containment of their representational gamut by the magnitude of violence among other factors can be viewed as the wide-ranging effects of untouchability itself. But this is not the only dilemma in place for knowledge producers/research ers. As I have argued elsewhere (Ciotti 2014), the remedy to elitist narratives within gender studies in India has translated into the foregrounding of sources privileging first-hand caste experience found in the specific genre of Dalit self-writing. While women’s literature has been posited as a privileged channel for learning about Dalit women’s voices over and above research-based accounts, little effort has gone into creating a cross-genre dialogue – without undermining the potential of each genre. Instead, the privileging of the ‘Dalit experience’ as if it was a relatively unmediated, transparent category has been noted in the presentation of Dalit women’s testimonios and rightly critiqued (Nair 2008: 181), while concern has been expressed regarding the perils in viewing Dalit self-writing as providing a sociological account of the Dalit condition produced by authentic/nativist authors – an interpretation which sidelines these accounts’ effects on the genre itself (Nayar 2011).

86  Manuela Ciotti But how does the foregrounding of Dalit self-writing contribute to the formulation of a broader and composite historical and contemporary narrative of gender in India that is devoid of fully agentive upper-caste subjects and perennial lower-caste/Dalit victims? What is more, gender history and contemporary accounts often appear in separate strands, along the lines of Dalit, tribal, Muslim and LGBT/Queer communities.23 Further, these communities and their intersections with other identities in India are still very little researched. For example, Dalit queer participation at the 2015 Delhi Queer Pride showed the cumulation of caste and sexual identity struggles against the regimes produced by the combination of the two. Besides the immanent caste question, the need for the recognition of Dalit queers throws up questions on the normativity of Dalit and other communities alike – while opening up these lines of inquiry will complicate and enrich the contemporary landscape of identities and their claims. I have argued that the creation of a comparative framework for tackling the broader issues of gender injustice and violence across the diverse constituencies of women from tribal, Christian, Muslim communities among others is a decisive step towards the composite narrative (Ciotti 2014). But how to piece this together? Amar Kanwar’s video installation entitled ‘Lightning Testimonies’, which was on show for the first time in India at the Kiran Nadar Museum for Art in New Delhi in 2014, has accomplished what is largely missing in the literature.24 The eight-channel video installation narrates violence against women in South Asia ranging from Partition to the anti-rape protests in Manipur in 2004 and the 2006 Khairlanji massacre. This installation documents violence as well as modes of remembering and survival among women as a single matrix in which different geographical locations, women’s communities, historical periods and perpetrators (apart from them all being male) coexist. The installation does not construct a symbolic hierarchy of women, as it would be impossible to establish which set of women has been ‘more’ affected by the tragic events represented through it or more generally, in Indian history and over the recent decades. In doing so, ‘Lightning Testimonies’ circumvents the creation of exceptional and incommensurable subjects. Rather, the installation makes women commensurable precisely by very effectively juxtaposing their stories. And it succeeds in representing an entire spectrum of violence where all women are equally victims – and hence going beyond caste and community – while the specific historical, political and social circumstances each necessitate careful analysis. Against the backdrop of this important intervention, the question is how to recuperate and preserve difference across women, how to

For another difference  87 take into account the historicity of violence and how to measure the effectiveness of gender progress. Further, how does one ensure that not only negative comparative accounts are produced, that is how do we speak of the kind of other difference whose presence I have attempted to highlight in this essay – which cannot be indexed solely under the rubrics of marginalization, exploitation and violence? In this essay I have narrated how ‘stumbling upon’ women whose first and foremost features were not those of being entirely determined by pervasive systems of marginalization, exploitation and violence was helpful in interrogating existing tropes and categories of ‘Dalitness’, the attribution of ‘difference’ to them and its very contents. The women I found through my research were not situated outside such systems of marginalization, but explaining their lives exclusively through these systems would result in a misrepresentation. These women, their biographies and their political activities were examples of resilience in the midst of difficult circumstances, and of the turning of these difficult circumstances into assertive practices at a given juncture of India’s political history. But these Dalit women are not alone in India in terms of their non-victim status. This can be discerned from a host of textual presences by them that are differently situated in terms of time and place. For example, the research project underpinning ‘Making History’ by Moon and Pawar (2003) unearthed Dalit women who engaged in antiuntouchability activities in pre-Independence India. It also showed how these activities help us to depart from the anti-colonial struggle as the sole available narrative for the historical period in question. Moreover, the rediscovery of Dalit women’s political agency in the past, as it emerged from this research, is essential to the analysis of the patterns which can be detected in contemporary activism. Equally telling evidence of Dalit women’s agency and challenge to the victim trope are found in autobiographical literature. According to Orsini (n.d.), the first autobiography in Hindi, ‘Twice cursed’ (1999), written by a woman, Kausalya Baisantri, – and centred on three generations of Dalit women – showcases the resilience and independence driving women’s lives and the role of work and education in their mobility trajectories. Interestingly, work and education play a greater role than pain and exploitation in the narrative (Orsini n.d.). The textual presences discussed earlier show a departure from the usual victimization accounts and hence a different representational desire among Dalit women themselves. As the need to assert the nonvictim subject inhabits the non-fictional world too (as I have shown in my research), the engagement with comparative analysis across both fictional and non-fictional accounts of Dalit women’s lives is

88  Manuela Ciotti necessary.25 Taken together, different Dalit women’s intentionalities, biographies and subject-formations, emerging from a range of genres, show the great potential for understanding them across a unified terrain.26 In turn, these reflections highlight the need for the retrieval of multiple differences and for ‘changing the script’ of representation to encompass them. For knowledge producers/researchers, changing the script involves the lateral expansion of the analytical optic, and the inclusion of the many exceptions to the rule; comparative research; a look beyond the authentic, the nativist and the incommensurable; and attention to the counter intuitive in order to encompass within research those Dalit women whose life-ways depart from pre-ordained projects, political or otherwise. In turn, this move would lead towards a fuller understanding of Dalit women’s subject formation, agency and the resulting difference and representation – not solely through the victim trope and through their absence as subjects in mainstream narratives. This novel framework would shed light on how Dalit women subject(s) are reshaping the field of gender studies – beyond the act of feeding data into a rubric of identities and practices or the production of the ‘imperfect’ Dalit subject who is always defined as ‘lacking’ vis-à-vis the normative upper-caste woman template.27 This ‘new’ Dalit woman subject is pivotal to the reworking of the conceptual framework needed for the comprehension of contemporary Indian society and for transnational research purposes. ‘Changing the script’, however, is first and foremost a social, political and legal project involving state institutions, civil society and religious communities among others, and this task’s importance is beyond description. It entails nothing less than the eradication of untouchability in the twenty-first century, and the turning of the current regimes of indifference that are complicit in the resilience of this practice into regimes of recognition.

Notes 1 I wish to thank Karin Kapadia and S. Anandhi for their comments on previous drafts and their warm support throughout the writing process. A version of this essay was delivered as a public lecture at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) in February 2015 and I am grateful to Charu Gupta and the audience for the invaluable discussion which took place on that occasion. 2 In this essay, my use of the Dalit category is informed by the awareness that it consists of a partial representation as this category is not universally appropriated by the communities in question. As explained in the course of the essay, some of the Dalit women I researched rejected this

For another difference  89 category for self-identification purposes and hence their resistance needs to be acknowledged. 3 See Cohn 1987; Juergensmeyer 1982; Khare 1984; Lynch 1969; Mahar 1972; Mendelsohn and Vicziany 1998; Moffat 1979; Mosse 1994; Osella and Osella 2000; Zelliot 1996 among others. 4 This essay is mainly concerned with the analysis of research-based literature rather than with self-writing. However, these genres are viewed here as intimately connected, and the essay conclusion touches on the missing comparative analyses between Dalit women’s fictional lives and researchbased accounts. 5 See Chowdhry 2009; Ciotti 2009, 2010a, 2010b, 2012, forthcoming a; Gorringe 2005; Kapadia 1998; Khare 1995; Kolenda 2003; Ram 2009; Rao 2003; Still 2011 among others. 6 In the BSP rhetoric, ‘Bahujan’ indicates the majority of the low-caste and background population which makes up for the 85 per cent of the population governed by the remaining upper-caste 15 per cent. 7 In this respect, the universalization of the Dalit category (and the assumption of a socio-economic and political homogeneous substratum underpinning it) conceals the several fault lines visible in the everyday use of this category in India – and the existing multiple avenues for selfrepresentation (see Ciotti 2010b). Nor does Gandhi’s analysis of the adoption of a pejorative name such as ‘Dalit’ as the effect of ‘experiences of suffering or oppression that strip one of value altogether, rendering their subject unexceptional, ordinary, unremarkable, unworthy of note, and, in a word, “common” ’ (2011: 33, emphasis in the text) and her question on the effects produced by this ‘negative “common-ness” actively cultivated in the name of democracy’ (2011: 33, emphasis in the text), capture the assertion expressed through the appropriation of the Dalit name in the public sphere and in politics – and its multiple uses as well as its denial. 8 Drawing on this argument, Kapadia challenged the view of a singular Dalit standpoint with shared cultural values and attendant notions of Dalit solidarity (2007: 29). 9 My approach to agency, which is underpinned by ethnographic practices, departs from McNay’s hermeneutic approach to its study with an emphasis on ‘self-interpretation that introduces a more active dimension into an understanding of subject formation and agency’ (2003: 147). 10 See Ciotti for a discussion of these questions. 11 With the exception of Loomba’s brief discussion of two Dalit intellectuals’ stance vis-à-vis colonialism (2005: 166ff) (also reflected in my own ethnography of modernity (see Ciotti 2010a)), it is only in recent times that Dalits have come under the purview of postcolonial studies inquiry, and that too solely through the analysis of their literary voices. 12 On the other hand, Dalit male intellectuals have been concerned with the limitations of Western thought in the explanation of caste (Guru and Sarukkai 2012). 13 Moreover, since India’s Independence, quite a number of studies on Dalit women have been carried out by scholars based outside India, and hence the debate needs to encompass a body of literature produced in transnational terrains and the different positionalities of the scholars involved who, for example, are not invested within caste regimes and/or do not

90  Manuela Ciotti practice ‘Brahmanism’ – although, of course, this does not mean their arguments cannot be critiqued on different grounds. 14 The events encapsulated in the expression ‘Mandal-Masjid’ point to a major fault line in Indian recent history. Mandal refers to the decision by the Indian government in 1991 to reserve 27 per cent of the posts in the central government for members of the OBCs, following the recommendation of the Backward Classes Commission, alias the Mandal Commission, a decision that sparked widespread protests among the upper castes who felt this would reduce their employment chances. Masjid stands for the destruction of the Babri Masjid – a mosque in the North Indian town of Ayodhya – by Hindu Right militants in 1992: this event caused riots and a tragic death toll in India. 15 This exercise has also benefited greatly from the opening up of the study of gender to understandings of third gender and sexuality (see Ciotti 2011), so that the analysis of agency is situated in broader empirical and conceptual terrains. 16 For example, I have discussed analyses of Dalit women by Kolenda (2003) and Guha (1987) (Ciotti 2014). See also accounts by Khare (1995), Prasad (2000) and Searle-Chatterjee (1981). 17 An example of such an intervention is ‘The cracked mirror’ by Guru and Sarukkai (2012). See also the debates on this book that appeared in 2013 in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 33, 3. 18 Ruth Manorama, Urmila Pawar and Vimal Thorat constitute exceptions in this scenario. In addition to Dalit feminist associations, Dalit women’s voices have emerged forcefully in the literary field – together with male ones – although Dalit women have protested against men’s domination in this field (Guru 1995: 2549). 19 The pre-eminence of Dalit experience goes hand in hand with the construction of untouchability as a regime of incommensurability which has almost exclusively been analysed comparatively vis-à-vis Afro-American communities, but hardly with any other oppressed communities in the rest of the world. 20 This is the legal classification for low and middle-ranking castes as distinct from those of former ‘Untouchable’ background. 21 My research on Dalit women in politics in North India shows how their social mobility and political activities have often taken place in conjunction with their husbands’ white-collar government employment (see Ciotti 2009, 2010b, 2012) – and hence this mobility and these political activities can be viewed as long-term and unintended effects of affirmative action. This topic has received hardly any attention together with that of Dalit women employed within government bodies. Both subjects cry out for research. 22 An ‘advocacy-research study’ on a sample of Dalit women from four Indian states (Irudayam, Mangubhai and Lee 2011: xviii) has offered a phenomenology of the different forms of violence experienced by them. This study ‘highlights their [Dalit women’s] specific reality of violence, which functions to constrain their agency and voice, and to subjugate both them and, through them, their communities’ (Irudayam, Mangubhai and Lee 2011: xviii). This study also reports that the rate of domestic violence – the largest recorded crime against women in India with the

For another difference  91 exclusion of dowry deaths – among ever-married SC women is higher than among non-SC/ST women (Irudayam, Mangubhai and Lee 2011: 13). 23 Dalit women noticeably appear to be much more vocal when compared to their counterparts in tribal and Muslim communities – while LGBT communities share with them a presence and a liberation movement. 24 See http://thelightningtestimonies.blogspot.in/ 25 See my essay (Ciotti forthcoming b) for a comparative reflection on Urmila Pawar’s narrative modalities in The weave of my life: A Dalit woman’s memoirs (2015) and my approach to the analysis of Dalit women political leaders. What is more, there is an urgent need to look at the connections between Dalit fictional lives, social identities and practices, and the life of Dalit textual legacies in contemporary India, such as that of Ambedkar, and the debates which were re-ignited by the publication of a new edition of his ‘Annihilation of caste’ in 2014, with a foreword by Arundhati Roy. 26 Once such forms of agency are acknowledged across fiction and non-fiction, the fact that these might not always be of a ‘progressive’ nature should also be taken into account. For example, Bauman’s work on Dalit women’s conversion to Christianity in colonial Chhattisgarh (2008) has shown that women entered a new religious realm while losing some of their freedom. Hence, their conversion appeared to seemingly counter their own interests. Still (2010) shows the strategic use of girls’ education among Dalit girls in Andhra Pradesh in the formation of class and ‘honour’ in preparation for an ‘upward’ marriage. 27 See Ciotti 2017.

References Agnes, F., A. D’Mello and P. Sidhva. 2014. ‘The Making of a High Profile Rape Trial’, Economic and Political Weekly, XLIX (29): 37–41. Bauman, C. 2008. ‘Redeeming Indian “Christian” Womanhood? Missionaries, Dalits, and Agency in Colonial India’, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 24 (2): 5–27. Baxi, P. 2014. Public Secrets of Law: Rape Trials in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Bhabha, H. 2010 [1994]. The Location of Culture. London and New York: Routledge. Chakravarti, U. 2003. Gendering Caste: Through a Feminist Lens. Calcutta: Stree. Chatterjee, P. 1993. The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Chowdhry, P. 2009. ‘ “First Our Jobs Then Our Girls”: The Dominant Caste Perceptions on the “Rising” Dalits’, Modern Asian Studies, 43 (2): 437–479. Ciotti, M. 2009. ‘The Conditions of Politics: Low-Caste Women and Political Agency in a Northern Indian City’, Feminist Review, 91: 113–134. Ciotti, M. 2010a. Retro-Modern India: Forging the Low-Caste Self. New Delhi, London: Routledge. Ciotti, M. 2010b. ‘ “Futurity in Words: Low-Caste Women Politicians” SelfRepresentation and Post-Dalit Scenarios in North India’, Contemporary South Asia, 18 (1): 43–56.

92  Manuela Ciotti Ciotti, M. 2011. ‘After Subversion: Intimate Encounters, the Agency in and of Representation, and the Unfinished Project of Gender Without Sexuality in India’, Cultural Dynamics, 23 (2): 107–126. Ciotti, M. 2012. ‘Resurrecting Seva (Social Service): Dalit and Low-Caste Women Party Activists as Producers and Consumers of Political Culture and Practice in Urban North India’, Journal of Asian Studies, 71 (1): 149–170. Ciotti, M. 2014. ‘Dalit Women Between Social and Analytical Alterity: Rethinking the “Quintessentially Marginal” ’, in L. Fernandes (ed.) Handbook of Gender in South Asia, pp. 305–317. London, New York: Routledge. Ciotti, M. 2017. ‘Away from the Iconic and the Normative: The Unlikely Subjects of Gender and Politics’, in M. Ciotti (ed.) Unsettling the Archetypes: Femininities and Masculinities in Indian Politics, pp. 1–24. New Delhi: Women Unlimited. Ciotti, M. Forthcoming a. Political Agency and Gender in India. London, New York: Routledge. Ciotti, M. Forthcoming b. ‘Dalit Women and the Question of the Political’, in A. Rao (ed.) The Difference of Caste. New Delhi: Women Unlimited. Cohn, B. S. 1987. An Anthropologist Among Historians and Other Essays. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Gandhi, L. 2011. ‘The Pauper’s Gift: Postcolonial Theory and the New Democratic Dispensation’, Public Culture, 23 (1): 27–38. Gorringe, H. 2005. Untouchable Citizens: Dalit Movements and Democratization in Tamil Nadu. New Delhi: Sage Publications. Guha, R. 1987. ‘Chandra’s Death’, in R. Guha (ed.) Subaltern Studies V: Writings on South Asian History and Society, pp. 135–165. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Guru, G. 1995. ‘Dalit Women Talk Differently’, Economic and Political Weekly, 30 (41/42): 548–2550, October 14–21. Guru, G. and S. Sarukkai. 2012. The Cracked Mirror: An Indian Debate on Experience and Theory. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Irudayam, S.J.A., P. J. Mangubhai and G. J. Lee. 2011. Dalit Women Speak Out: Caste, Class and Gender Violence in India. New Delhi: Zubaan. Jeffery, P. and A. Basu. (eds) 1999. Resisting the Sacred and the Secular: Women’s Activism and Politicized Religion in South Asia. New Delhi: Kali for Women. Juergensmeyer, M. 1982. Religion as Social Vision: The Movement against Untouchability in 20th-Century Punjab. Berkeley: University of California Press. Kanwar, A. 2007. ‘Lightning Testimonies’, Eight-channel video-installation. http://thelightningtestimonies.blogspot.in/. Kapadia, K. 1998. Siva and Her Sisters: Gender, Caste and Class, in Rural South India. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Kapadia K. 2007. ‘Reading Dalit Women: Memories of Rural Lives in Maharashtra’, Economic and Political Weekly: 27–29, December 15. Khare, S. R. 1984. The Untouchable as Himself: Ideology, Identity, and Pragmatism Among the Lucknow Chamars. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

For another difference  93 Khare, S. R. 1995. ‘The Body, Sensoria, and Self of the Powerless: Remembering/‘Re-Membering’ Indian Untouchable Women’, New Literary History, 26 (1): 147–168. Kolenda, P. 2003. Caste, Marriage and Inequality: Essays on North and South India. Jaipur and New Delhi: Rawat Publications. Loomba, A. 2005 [1998]. Colonialism/Postcolonialism. London: Routledge. Lynch, O. M. 1969. The Politics of Untouchability: Social Mobility and Social Change in a City of India. New York: Columbia University Press. Mahar, J. M. (ed.) 1972. The Untouchables in Contemporary India. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press. McNay, L. 2003. ‘Agency, Anticipation and Indeterminacy in Feminist Theory’, Feminist Theory, 4 (2): 139–148. Mendelsohn, O. and M. Vicziany. 1998. The Untouchables: Subordination, Poverty and the State in Modern India. New Delhi: Cambridge University Press. Moffat, M. 1979. An Untouchable Community in South India: Structure and Consensus. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Mohanty, C. T. 1988. ‘Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses’, Feminist Review, 30: 61–88. Moon, M. and U. Pawar. 2003. ‘We Made History, Too: Women in the Early Untouchable Liberation Movement’, in A. Rao (ed.) Gender and Caste, pp. 48–56. New Delhi: Kali for Women. Mosse, D. 1994. ‘Idioms of Subordination and Styles of Protest Among Christian and Hindu Harijan Castes in Tamil Nadu’, Contributions to Indian Sociology, 28 (1): 67–106. Nair, J. 2008. ‘The Lateral Spread of Indian Feminist Historiography’, Journal of Women’s History, 20 (4): 177–184. Nayar, K. P. 2011. ‘The Politics of Form in Dalit Fiction’, Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 18 (3): 365–380. Orsini, F. n.d. ‘Mother’s Work, Daughter’s Voice: The First Hindi Woman Dalit Autobiography’, Unpublished paper. Osella, F. and C. Osella. 2000. Social Mobility in Kerala: Modernity and Identity in Conflict. London: Pluto Press. Pawar, U. 2015. The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs. Kolkata: STREE. Prasad, V. 2000. Untouchable Freedom: A Social History of a Dalit Community. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Ram, K. 2009. ‘Modernity as a “Rain of Words”: Tracing the Flows of “Rain” Between Dalit Women and Intellectuals in Tamil Nadu’, Asian Studies Review, 33: 501–516. Rao, A. (ed.) 2003. Gender and Caste. New Delhi: Kali for Women. Ray, R. 2012. ‘Introduction: The Politics of Knowledge – Gender Scholarship and Women’s Movement in India’, in R. Ray (ed.) Handbook of Gender, pp. 1–21. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Rege, S. 2006. Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonios. New Delhi: Zubaan.

94  Manuela Ciotti Sarkar, S. and T. Sarkar. (eds) 2008. Women and Social Reform in Modern India: A Reader. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Sarkar, T. and U. Butalia. (eds) 1995. Women and the Hindu Right. New Delhi: Kali for Women. Searle-Chatterjee, M. 1981. Reversible Sex Roles: The Special Case of Benares Sweepers. Oxford: Pergamon Press. Still, C. 2011. ‘Spoiled Brides and the Fear of Education: Honour and Social Mobility Among Dalits in South India’, Modern Asian Studies, 45 (5): 1119–1146. Zelliot, E. 1996 [1992]. From Untouchable to Dalit: Essays on the Ambedkar Movement. New Delhi: Manohar.

Part II

Dalit women’s conceptualizations of caste difference and their means of collectivization

3 Gendered negotiations of caste identity Dalit women’s activism in rural Tamil Nadu S. Anandhi* The difference between the Dalit movement and the Dalit women’s movement is this: the former claims to be anti-caste but actually mobilises Dalits along Dalit caste divisions. The male leadership of the movement not only excludes Dalit women but articulates the particular interests of particular [Dalit] castes, whereas the Dalit women’s movement, by contrast, is anti-caste and therefore inclusive of all women across castes. Santhanamary, Ex-President, Tamil Nadu Dalit Women’s Movement1

In the 1990s, Santhanamary, an erstwhile Communist Party (MarxistLeninist) activist got disillusioned with the party for not addressing gender issues and joined the Tamil Nadu Dalit Women’s Movement (TDWM), formed by a network of Dalit women activists across Tamil Nadu.2 While there were already two significant Dalit political parties in existence3 Santhanamary and several other Dalit women chose not to be part of these but formed a separate federation for Dalit women. They insisted that the caste divisions that played out within the Dalit parties undermined the importance of addressing varied forms of gender oppression. Santhanamary’s views, cited earlier, are not only a critique of the Dalit parties’ practice of a politics of exclusion (the exclusion of the lowest Arundhathiyar4 Dalit caste and the exclusion of women) but also speak of how Dalit women conduct politics differently. It invites us to recognise Dalit women’s agency and their narratives of caste and gender as distinct from the politics of Tamil Nadu’s two Dalit parties and as an alternative politics that resists caste-based exclusions and casteist discrimination. Using ethnographic data from a village in Tamil Nadu, this chapter attempts to contextualise Dalit women’s claims to inclusiveness and

98  S. Anandhi critically engages with their agendas of anti-caste politics. Through the narratives of Dalit women5 I map the deep contradictions and complexities inherent in Dalit women’s locations within the various structures that mediate their collectivisation6 and their conceptions of gender solidarity. I argue that the micro-politics of Dalit women’s continued absorption in agricultural work, in a context where Dalit men now choose to abstain from working in agriculture,7 and the incorporation of poor Dalit women into new development schemes, especially micro-credit (self-help group) programs, play significant roles in Dalit women’s contestation of caste discrimination and in their collective mobilisation against caste oppression. Departing from the usual framework of Dalit victimisation I investigate how micro-processes of transformation have led to a series of contestations and negotiations by Dalit women, whose strategies and agendas reveal both the possibilities and the limits to their micro-politics of collectivisation (Munster and Strumpel 2014).8 I underline the importance of foregrounding the subjective experiences and narratives of resistance of Dalit women and highlight the striking caste-based differences between Adidravidar Dalit women and Arundhathiyar Dalit women in their resistance to, or acquiescence in, male control, both within their own castes and from the landowning Naidu dominant caste.

Valluvapuram: caste, agriculture and labour Across Tamil Nadu, the decline of agriculture, especially in the post liberalisation era, has been marked by the incorporation of the lower castes, mainly landless labourers, as low-wage labourers in the industrial economy or in the informal sector, leading to changes in caste and gender relations. Studies on rural economic transformation in the state emphasise continuing caste discrimination against Dalits and the adverse effects of liberalisation on Dalit women, including the increasing burden of women’s responsibilities.9 The village of Valluvapuram,10 where my ethnographic study was carried out, has witnessed significant changes in caste relations due to changes in agrarian relations and – crucially – due to the new opportunities for industrial/ nonfarm work outside the village. This peri-urban village is close to Chennai city – a distance of 66 km, so a two-hour bus-ride, and it is very close to Arakonam town – a distance of 23 km, which is only half an hour by bus. This offers villagers employment in non-farm work in construction, carpentry, vegetable vending, etc. In recent years farming has declined, as more and more cultivable land has been converted into real estate; uncultivated farm lands are owned by a few wealthy

Gendered negotiations of caste identity 99 outsiders. According to the village panchayat president, Valluvapuram has an arable land area of nearly 1,000 acres of which 500 acres have been sold to non-residents of the village for non-farm purposes. While most of the land is owned by the dominant castes, primarily the Naidus, in recent years a few Adidravidars and Arundhathiyars have come to own two to three acres of cultivable land.11 However, these new Dalit land owners have not been able to farm this land due to their lack of capital to invest in cultivation and the lack of government incentives for agriculture. A young Adidravidar man succinctly captured these dilemmas: ‘These days seed and pesticide prices and labour costs are high and cultivation needs capital. We are unable to repay our agricultural loans or leave our lands fallow or sell them off. But owning and cultivating land is actually about social status for us.’12 As Vijayabaskar and Ajit Menon note, rural indebtedness is very high in Tamil Nadu (2014). Farmers have to adopt multiple livelihood strategies: Dalit farming households therefore also enter informal-sector work, mainly in the manufacturing sector, outside the village (2014).13 Large tracts of farmland have been converted into grazing lands by the Naidus, who have taken up dairy farming as an additional source of income. Despite the changes in land use, land ownership continues to define rural caste relations in Tamil Nadu. Arundhathiyars and local tribal (Irula/Adivasi) communities, due to their extreme poverty and their longstanding debt-bondage remain trapped in tied agricultural labour relations with the Naidus and are therefore unable to leave the village. The deplorable situation of the Arundhathiyars – and most especially of Arundhathiyar women – crucially indexes their position of extreme socio-economic subordination in the village. Arundhathiyar dependence on agricultural work, primarily as landless labourers, but also as tenants on Naidu lands,14 means their adoption of other livelihood strategies is limited. Arundhathiyar women therefore cannot move out of the village to seek work and have to continue to provide ‘caste-based services’ to the Naidus, involving not merely agricultural labour for very low wages but also unpaid sexual services to Naidu men. The sexual slavery of these Arundhathiyar women is ritually reinforced through the ‘dedication’ of Arundhathiyar girls to Mathamma, the village goddess (Anandhi 2013b). Unmarried young Arundhathiyar girls – many as young as 12 or 13 – are ‘dedicated’ to the goddess Mathamma: this so-called dedication immediately makes them sexually available to the Naidu men, the ‘patrons’ of the Mathamma temple.

100  S. Anandhi Valluvapuram has a significant number of Arundhathiyar women dedicated to the goddess Mathamma. The Mathamma dedication practice resembles the ‘devadasi’ dedication practice which is still prevalent in the most impoverished parts of Telengana and Andhra Pradesh, where women in extremely poor communities are ‘dedicated’ to the goddess Yellamma.15 Both the Naidus and the Arundhathiyars share a Telugu-speaking Andhra culture. However, unlike ‘devadasis’ Mathammas are not considered auspicious, nor do they possess any ritual powers, instead they signify the extreme caste subservience of Arundhathiyars to the Naidus. At the Mathamma festival, when the young Arundhathiyar girls are ‘dedicated’ to the goddess, the Naidu landlords pay for the ritual, offering gifts and blessing the mangalsutras (‘marriage necklaces’ which signify the young girls’ union with the goddess): these Naidu men thereby signify their sexual control over the newly ‘dedicated’ girl-Mathammas. The Yadavas/Idaiyars, a middle-ranking caste in the village, have a significant presence in the ‘dedication’ ceremony and are specially honoured during the Mathamma temple festival. But the Idaiyars have no sexual rights over the Mathammas. The Mathammas are not allowed to marry or lead a monogamous family life; they are identified as ‘sacred prostitutes’ who are ‘sacrificed’ to the goddess Mathamma (and are also known as ‘sacred mothers’). They are expected to live off the meagre offerings from their male patrons (not necessarily Naidu) who pin money on their blouses when they dance for them. Most Mathammas actually survive by working as agricultural labourers or as domestic servants for the Naidu landlords. Some live with male partners chosen either by their families or by them. Apart from Naidu men, Arundhathiyar men in general (and from their dance troupes) were allowed sexual access to Mathammas. The continuation of this ‘dedication’ practice by the Arundhathiyar caste and the sexual exploitation of these Dalit women by Naidus indexes not only the depth of the sexual violence exercised against Arundhathiyar girls from their childhood, but also the emasculation and degradation of Arundhathiyar men, who have tried to negotiate their poverty and their own unfreedom through this ritual practice. In recent years, a few young Arundhathiyar men have found non-farm employment outside the village. Their rising political awareness led, in 2002, to the formation of the Arundhathiyar Liberation Front, which has claimed that it aims to free Arundhathiyars from their dependent relations with the Naidus – but, unfortunately, has remained entirely silent on the issue of the sexual enslavement of Mathamma women. It has, even more unfortunately, defended the ‘dedication’ practice as part of Arundhathiyar ‘cultural identity’. In the face of sharp opposition from

Gendered negotiations of caste identity 101 the Adidravidar Dalit women’s sangam (collective) the Arundhathiyar Liberation Front (ALF) claimed that the Mathammas were ‘chaste and monogamous’ women and ‘not sacred prostitutes’; the Mathammas were not involved in any kind of sexual relations outside marriage, was the ALF’s claim.16 The Adidravidar women’s collective have contested these claims: they regard the Mathamma ‘dedication’ practice as deeply humiliating and degrading for the Arundhathiyars in particular and for Dalits in general. A young Adidravidar man remarked, The Naidus not only pay for the ‘dedication’, but also exploit these young Mathamma girls sexually. The Arundhathiyar men and women raise no objection to this – they say it is their tradition. But they are surrendering their self-respect to the Naidus by offering their young daughters to the Naidus as their sexual partners.17 The extremely low socio-economic status of Arundhathiyar women, signalled by the Mathamma ‘dedication’ practice,18 severely limited their ability to organise to demand better living conditions. Mathammas narrated several instances of how they had faced violence, both within their own caste as well as from the Naidu caste, when they tried to claim their rights. A 40-year-old Mathamma, Renuka, and her daughter were abused and beaten up by Arundhathiyar men when they tried to retrieve the housing site that had been pledged to them by Renuka’s deceased Arundhathiyar partner. Devi, another Mathamma, was repeatedly chased away by her ex-partners’ families when she, being homeless, asked for their help to get a hut to shelter her son and her.19 Arundhathiyar men were brutally repressive towards the Mathammas, closely monitoring their movements and forbidding their association with the Adidravidar-led sangam/women’s collective since the sangam was campaigning against the sexual exploitation of the Mathammas. These men silenced Arundhathiyar women who tried to raise the issue of domestic violence and held kangaroo courts to intimidate and punish Arundhathiyar women who questioned their coercion. This was reported to us by a Mathamma, who described how even young Arundhathiyar men resisted all interventions from outside the village that sought to help Arundhathiyar women. She said, The young men turn away anyone who comes to enquire about the ritual. Even officials were chased away and were told that no such practice exists. We were made to shut our mouths. I was forced by them to tell the officials that the [Adidravidar-led] women’s

102  S. Anandhi sangam seeks to humiliate our community by claiming the existence of this practice and publicising it. The men hold a katta panchayat (caste-panchayat/kangaroo court) to silence us. The patriarchal oppression of Arundhathiyar women by Arundhathiyar men is extreme – without it the sexual enslavement of Arundhathiyar women could not continue. The Arundhathiyar community as a whole lacks both symbolic and material resources. Its lack of ‘credit worthiness’ in Bourdieu’s sense,20 limited its abilities to negotiate better or alternative livelihoods. Depressingly, the much-feted Panchayati Raj system, ushered in during the 1990s, has left the feudal degradation of Arundhathiyars unchanged. The presence of Arundhathiyar women as elected members in the village panchayat or as government employees in the panchayat office has not altered their condition of utter subservience to the Naidus. Describing how untouchability continues to be practised even within the panchayat office, an Arundhathiyar woman clerk at the panchayat office observed: A Naidu girl and I work at the panchayat office. We are mostly asked to work from the home of the panchayat president [a Naidu woman]. On one occasion I did not bring my lunch, nor did the Naidu girl. They [the Naidu woman president’s family] made me sit outside their house and eat from the plate they provided to their labourers from the Arundhathiyar caste, while the Naidu girl was allowed to eat inside the house together with them. Even tea is regularly served in a plastic [disposable] cup to me and in their own steel tumbler to her.21 While Arundhathiyar women were well aware of the continuing caste discrimination they suffered, they attributed this to their community’s inability to access work outside the village. Angamma, an Arundhathiyar woman, felt that the men of her caste did not value the women. Arundhathiyar women had to bear the insults heaped on them by Naidu women, who rudely addressed them as Chakkilis or Mathakoda (these are insulting names). In sharp contrast the Naidus, she said, were terrified of the ‘colony’ (Adidravidar) men who created trouble if their women were insulted. ‘But,’ she said, ‘our men keep silent or we get beaten by them for talking back [to the Naidus] or we get fined by them!’ Arundhathiyar women constantly told us that the independent economic situation of the much betteroff Adidravidar community enabled Adidravidar women’s politics.

Gendered negotiations of caste identity 103 This requires investigation. What were the social, cultural and economic resources that enabled Adidravidar women to articulate their needs and interests? In what ways had the upward economic mobility of Adidravidars contributed to (Adidravidar) women’s collectivism in this village? I address these issues next.

Confronting caste: Adidravidar mobility The village Adidravidar caste’s upward mobility and autonomy are marked by: their Christianisation, their brief history of militancy, their better access to education, their non-farm employment outside the village and Adidravidar women’s ready integration into state development programmes in the village. In every one of these aspects they differed from the Arundhathiyars. The Christianisation of the Adidravidars has been important, especially for Adidravidar women, inspiring them to challenge both caste oppression and Adidravidar patriarchy. There are about 45 Adidravidar families (who converted in the 1970s/1980s) in Valluvapuram belonging to a Tamil Lutheran Church and around 30 Adidravidar families belonging to a Pentecostal Christian church (who have converted much more recently).22 Both the churches have been very active in addressing the issue of the denial of rights to the Adidravidars in the public space of the oor (higher-caste/main village). The churches’ critiques of Hindu festivals and of Hindu ritual/caste hierarchies have been part of their effort to Christianise the Adidravidars. Immanuel, a young Adidravidar Lutheran man, informed us that the strong Christian influence on Adidravidars motivated them to demand dignity and respect in the public space of their (main/oor) village and to create ritual spaces of ‘castelessness’ within their churches. Very significantly, Immanuel also claimed that the Adidravidars’ adoption of ‘modern values’ and their heightened awareness of their own dignity and worth were due to the Christian influence on them. He said that it was their Christian faith that had made the Adidravidars totally indifferent to their exclusion, by the dominant Naidu landlord caste, from the village’s Hindu festivals.23 The Adidravidar history of militancy in resisting caste oppression in this village goes back to the 1980s. According to Raman, an Adidravidar NGO leader from this village, the ‘colony’ young men organised themselves against the practice of untouchability and made sustained efforts to address issues of Dalit rights. In school class rooms Adidravidar students like him began to confront dominant caste students who addressed them insultingly as ‘paraiyan’. In tea shops they

104  S. Anandhi demanded that they be served in stainless steel tumblers like the other (non-Dalit) customers. Eventually, their struggle against untouchability gained wider support from Adidravidars in nearby villages, leading to the formation of an Ambedkar Youth Federation. This was supported from outside the village by well-known Adidravidar leaders such as L. Elayaperumal24 of the Congress party and the Dalit bureaucrat, V. Karuppan,25 as well as by the Dalit women’s group led by Fatima Burnad, all of whom belonged to the Adidravidar caste. This Adidravidar movement in the village had to wage a protracted struggle against the dominant castes to gain equal access to common property resources within the village such as a fishing contract for the use of the village lake and a share in the annual yield of products from the village common land. The Ambedkar Youth Federation also claimed equal access to public space within the village, such as the right to sit alongside the dominant castes in the panchayat office and in buses. The movement succeeded in these struggles. Adidravidar men described how they had protested against the removal of Ambedkar’s photo from the Panchayat office and had re-hung it there in a prominent place. Young Arundhathiyar men from the Arundhathiyar Liberation Front acknowledged that this (Adidravidar) symbolic act had built confidence among all the Dalits in the village.26 Around this time, Adidravidars began to resist the symbolic reiterations of their untouchable status, embodied in the serving of food (to them) from a distance by Naidus, and in the prohibition on their wearing footwear (chappals) when they walked through the oor (main village) streets. Adidravidars no longer asked the Naidu (oor) panchayat to settle the disputes that arose in their households or settlement (the ‘colony’), and instead went to the police, thus resisting the traditional adjudicating power of the village’s dominant caste. With the support of their Ambedkar Youth Federation they began to abdicate their obligatory hereditary services to the Naidus and demanded cash payments instead of the annual payments in grain (for services). From the 1990s onwards the Adidravidars very largely stopped doing agricultural work for the Naidus due to their better education and the village’s close proximity to urban areas (Chennai and Arakonam) to which they commuted for non-farm/industrial work. Though this non-farm work was low paid, arduous, precarious and irregular (Guerin, Venkatasubramaniam and Michiels 2015) a large number of Adidravidar young men and women were employed in industrial work outside the village.27 These young Adidravidars associated decency, respectability and freedom with the industrial work which they believed to be the best alternative to the waged agricultural

Gendered negotiations of caste identity 105 work where they were denied their self-worth. Inbaraj, an Adidravidar youth, stated: Our [younger] generation of men and women would be embarrassed to work on the land as agricultural labourers. Twenty years ago our men migrated for months to do just coolie work in agriculture but today none of us would leave the village in order to do agricultural work. We are educated and we want only company (manufacturing/ industrial) work. Otherwise we prefer not to work at all.28 Their refusal to undertake agricultural manual labour was stated with pride by young Adidravidar men, who preferred to be unemployed rather than do such work. They spurned it because of the humiliating labour relations it involved them in. Immanuel, for instance, lost his work in a brandy manufacturing company when he was absent due to a death in his family. He preferred to wait for another job in a company (a manufacturing unit) rather than work on his plot of land or for the government rural employment scheme (MGNREGA).29 The non-farm diversification of occupations and incomes of young Adidravidar men and their embodiment of a new work culture in terms of their distinct styles of attire played an important role in reorganising values and creating alternative modes of being within the village (Anandhi, Jeyaranjan and Krishnan 2002; Jeffrey, Jeffrey and Jeffrey. 2010).30 Crucially, their access to new labour markets substantially reduced Adidravidar dependence on the local dominant castes. Rejecting the usual Dalit demand for cultivable land, young Adidravidar men instead demanded good transport systems, access to good educational institutions, an uninterrupted electricity supply to the ‘colony’ and the government leasing of land to multinational companies to increase their employment opportunities.31 Keen as they were on reorganising the cultural values and modes of being of their community, young Adidravidar men, as an Adidravidar woman observed, showed a lot of interest in sporting new hair styles and fashionable clothes and were very eager to earn more money. The display of their new masculine identity, by young Adidravidar men, involved rejecting Naidu patronage and challenging caste-based inequalities. These young men vigorously rejected the idea of caste kattupadu (restrictions/controls) that traditionally restricted the freedom of individuals to choose their own occupations. These controls were exerted by male caste elders who solely valued agricultural work and its traditional culture. Thus, a young Adidravidar man claimed that it was because the Arundhathiyar caste still had a caste panchayat32 that

106  S. Anandhi the caste was backward and unable to attain nagarigam (civility or a modern outlook). Adidravidars no longer have caste panchayats.33 These discourses of autonomy, freedom and modernity of young Adidravidar men had a significant impact on young Adidravidar women. In this village, there is a significant level of literacy among young Adidravidar women,34 with many of them holding diplomas in nursing and teaching. The display of Adidravidar male pride and the willingness of men to protect women from other men has decreased the sexual vulnerability of the young Adidravidar women, who now work in large numbers outside the village. Confirming this, a young Adidravidar working woman declared: ‘If the [non-Dalit/upper-caste] boys from the oor [main village] molest us or make obscene remarks about us, our ‘colony’ boys do not spare them. They will fight them. So we feel safe enough to go out anywhere to work.’ Importantly, it was the Adidravidar families who were the first in the village to encourage their women to join the self-help groups and employment schemes (especially MGNREGA) offered by the state. Because young Adidravidar men claim modern values and totally reject Naidu patronage, this has enabled Adidravidar women to free themselves from tied labour practices such as having to do unpaid domestic work in Naidu households. But this is not the case for Arundhathiyar women who, trapped in unfree labour, continue to work for the Naidus as agricultural and domestic wage labourers. Today Adidravidar women not only often refuse to work for the Naidus, but they also challenge the Naidus’ continuing untouchable practices when they do work for them. In a recent encounter between a Naidu woman landholder and Adidravidar women labourers, the latter refused to accept the food she threw into their hands, demanding that they be served the food on leaf plates and given drinking water. Otherwise, they threatened, they would boycott her paddy transplantation work. The Naidu woman needed their labour urgently and was therefore forced to concede to their demands: she brought them leaf plates and drinking water.35 These changes signify what one might call the ‘Dalit modern’ which deploys education and employment as narratives against dominant caste hegemony.36 At issue here is ‘who controls that which is signified as modern’ (Ong 1999: 53). But this particular Dalit modernity was partially a hegemonic project with a contradictory, negative outcome for Adidravidar women, because Adidravidar upward economic mobility was associated with new male employment in the industries with a lot of irregular employment, unemployment and underemployment. This uncertainty of ‘male work’ forced the Adidravidar women

Gendered negotiations of caste identity 107 to undertake several kinds of wage work both within the village and outside it to sustain the family economy. In addition, they had to do all the domestic work at home since young Adidravidar men and women concentrated only on their education and their industrial work. In our survey, almost 50 per cent of Adidravida women emerged as the primary breadwinners of their families. In other words, the burden of household survival was primarily borne by Adidravidar women, who had to combine their rural wage labour with their many domestic responsibilities concerning household reproduction. Almost all these women told us that they had to work for 16 hours a day, carrying out many livelihood activities, such as labouring on their own land, cattle rearing and working in government employment programmes, in addition to doing their domestic care work. This is well captured in a remark by a sangam leader from the Adidravidar caste who said: The Dalit woman is overwhelmed by survival problems. The family’s economy depends on her hard labour, both within the house and outside it. She is constantly thinking up strategies of how to cope with her poverty and this leaves her no time or energy to attend gram sabha or ward [panchayat] meetings or political meetings where Dalit women still need to find their space and make claims over public resources. This is largely because the framing of modernity by young Adidravidar men has proceeded on very patriarchal lines: Adidravidar modernity has uncritically absorbed all the upper-caste-class gender notions regarding caste status, honour (maanam) and respectability (mariyaadai) because these young men emulate upper class/caste values. Regarding gender relations, they seek to increase patriarchal controls over women, requiring the subordination of women. Regarding work, young educated Adidravidar men learn to despise agricultural manual labour. Thus when young educated men do not find work and when the older generation of uneducated Adidravidar men do not contribute to family expenditure due to their alcoholism, the burden of provisioning falls mainly on married Adidravidar women. It is usually the wages of married Adidravidar women that have to provide the funds demanded as dowry when their daughters marry, as well as the fees for the education of their children – it is these women who are required to provide the income needed to ‘keep up’ the family’s new social status. In other words, there appears to be an increasingly inverse relationship developing between caste social status and women’s social status here – while the social status of the Adidravidar

108  S. Anandhi caste – or more precisely of Adidravidar men – is improving steadily, the gender status of Adidravidar women is falling, equally steadily. My finding that the desire for upward mobility of a Dalit caste is adversely affecting the autonomy of the women of that Dalit caste resonates with the recent findings of others (Gorringe 2010; Kapadia 2010; Chapter 6, this volume). Sangam activists in the village revealed that the changing gender roles within Adidravidar families had led to a sharp increase in domestic violence, as women were now made to bear the burden of changing notions of female honour, sexual purity, wifely fidelity and so on, which were upper-caste-class patriarchal values that were now being assimilated by Adidravidars as part of their upward social mobility. The sangam activists listed a host of reasons for the increasing domestic violence against women within Adidravidar families: insufficient dowry, male resentment about women’s control over the family economy, male suspicions about the sexual fidelity of their wives, demands for obedience, docility and sexual purity from women – but not from men – and increasing alcoholism among husbands. A sangam activist complained that Adidravidar women were now forced to take loans through their self-help group (SHG) to meet the financial needs of their husbands and other family members, leading to enormous pressures on them concerning the repayment of these loans and also keeping up the new respectability of their families. However, over the years the upward mobility of the Adidravidar caste and the increasing number of Adidravidar women taking on the role of primary family provider has also enabled these women to question both caste-based oppression from the Naidus as well as gender oppression from both Adidravidar men and upper-caste men. I will now discuss how the upward mobility of the Adidravidar caste has enabled these women to collectivise and to address both caste and gender discriminations.

Contesting caste: The collectivism of Adidravidar women The continuing caste discrimination they faced, coupled with their new upward mobility, enabled Adidravidar women to reimagine the gendered realities of caste. By focusing on gender issues the Adidravidar women could work around the constraints imposed by the realities of caste and class oppressions and reconstitute themselves as political activists. In 1980, the Rural Women’s Liberation Movement (RWLM), popularly known as the ‘sangam’ (‘association’) among the

Gendered negotiations of caste identity 109 Dalit women, affiliated with a non-government women’s organisation, the Society for Rural Education and Development (SRED),37 which was formed by Adidravidar women living in 380 villages of Vellore, Thiruvallur and Kancheepuram Districts of Tamil Nadu. Around 15,000 rural-based Adidravidar and Arundhathiyar women, including a handful of landless/impoverished (non-Dalit) backward caste women formed this collective. The movement had an executive committee of seven members, a general body consisting of 21 members, village-level committees and ordinary members. The striking aspect of this movement was its bottom-up approach wherein lots of energy and resources were invested in building leadership capacity among the illiterate, very diffident Dalit women agricultural labourers. One item on the movement’s agenda was, as one sangam leader put it, ‘to instil confidence in Dalit women to speak out against caste discrimination and oppose anybody who undermined their potentialities’.38 In other words, this movement was anchored in the specific rural context of caste discrimination against Dalit women and it imagined and led an alternative politics for Dalit women by vigorously challenging castebased gender violence. Significantly, the Dalit women activists in this women’s movement perceived Dalit male interests as different from Dalit women’s interests, and they criticised their own (female) leadership for not daring to give this issue the importance it deserved, and for not calling on Dalit male leaders to tackle gender-based violence against Dalit women by Dalit men. Equally important was the desire of these rural Dalit women to broadbase their collectivism beyond caste identities, which, according to them, was not possible, given the extreme caste-based discrimination and hostility that prevailed in rural areas. The emergence of the sangam as a formidable force was noted both by the Adidravidar and the Arundhathiyar women, though the antagonism between the sangam and the Naidu (dominant caste) men militated against the sangam’s efforts to address common issues of violence against women across various castes in the village. An activist in the sangam stated that the Rural Women’s Liberation Movement (RWLM) was considered a Dalit women’s organisation because the Naidu and other backward class women considered it below their dignity to join the Dalit women for any common struggles to improve village infrastructure, etc. As she remarked, Our untouchable status is reiterated by not recognising our activism. They refuse to work along with us even in the government programmes and therefore even if we want to address their

110  S. Anandhi problems, such as domestic violence against them, they want to keep us out. It is about perpetuating our stigmatised identities. Interestingly, the sangam members argued that this denial of recognition of their collectivism stemmed from the fear that Naidu women had about losing their caste control over the agricultural labour of Adidravidar women. Such an articulation by Adidravidar women not only challenged the dominant caste’s power to interpret the public activism of ‘untouchable’ women but also demonstrated an inclusive politics that was willing to transcend caste in mobilising women. This signalled the arrival of a new Dalit politics of becoming which significantly challenged the dominant caste’s discourse of untouchability and their control over the modern public sphere. As William E. Connolly notes, a politics of becoming is at work when a group that suffers cultural stigma attempts to rework its identity or difference, that was imposed on it by various institutions, in our case, the caste system. He argues that the suffering endured by the subjugated constituencies opens up possibilities for a new political movement, in order to redefine the imposed identities, and this engenders a politics of becoming (Connolly 1999: 51). Two important moments in the Rural Women’s Liberation Movement signified that a new Dalit women’s politics of becoming was challenging the dominant caste’s power and their control of local economic and cultural resources. The first moment was the Adidravidar women’s mobilisation of Arundhathiyar Mathamma women against the ritual dedication of young Arundhathiyar girls, to prevent their sexual and economic exploitation. This moment showed that the Adidravidar women’s leadership in the village was able to form solidarities with women from other marginalised castes (the Arundhathiyars and the tribal/adivasi Irulars) to challenge the cultural oppression of the dominant caste Naidus. A few Mathamma women in the village were organised into a separate sangam to take up the issue of banning the ritual dedication and instead providing for the livelihoods of Mathamma girls and women. The Mathammas were provided with entrepreneurial skill training to start small businesses; they were trained to take part in panchayat elections, and their specific needs regarding housing, old age pensions and ration-cards were taken up by Adidravidar women with government officials. The grateful Mathamma women declared to us that these actions challenged caste discrimination and brought social respect to them.39 For instance, Devi, a Mathamma and a sangam activist, contested the position of ward member in the local panchayat elections, though she lost. She was an

Gendered negotiations of caste identity 111 extraordinary woman and was very active in the Mathamma eradication movement led by the Adidravidar women’s sangam. She observed that it was due to her activities in the sangam that she had earned the social respect which offset the huge stigma of being a so-called sacred prostitute. The sangam publicised this issue to try to get the state government to intervene to curb the dedication practice and asked the district collector to intervene. However, the sangam women faced stiff opposition from all the Arundhathiyar men and even from some Mathamma women who resisted their efforts to ban the custom. They claimed that the campaign to ban the Mathamma dedication was merely an attempt by the ‘competitive’ Adidravidars to claim a higher-caste status for themselves by denigrating Arundhathiyars as ‘backward’ and unmodern. Some of the Arundhathiyar men vehemently defended the dedication custom and used violence to prevent Mathamma women from joining the women’s sangam. These men resolutely refused to allow the entry of Adidravidar sangam women into their hamlet.40 The response of the Mathammas to the reform politics of the sangam was complex, because the Mathammas were divided. Some Mathammas did not favour the abolition of the dedication practice because they were fearful – they believed that they could survive better with an income from dancing and from the support given by their male patrons. But though the attempt to ban the dedication practice failed, what is significant here is that the village’s Adidravidar women, who led the sangam, showed that they could successfully raise the issue of caste-based sexual exploitation of Arundhathiyar women. Adidravidar women were able to do this – unlike Arundhathiyar women – because of their own autonomy from their husbands and their mobility, and because they were relatively free from Naidu control. They were able to initiate their protest despite the strong opposition of the non-Dalit men of the village, who all patronised the Mathamma festival. The second moment that challenged local caste power was the sangam’s mobilisation of Dalit women for a struggle to recover government waste lands and ‘panchami lands’.41 The sangam, along with the Communist Party of India (Marxist), led a protracted struggle to retrieve 300 acres of village land that had been encroached by a thensitting high court judge, Justice P. D. Dinakaran.42 Using this occasion, Dalit women, who were primarily Adidravidar women but also a few Arundhathiyar women sangam members, collectively demanded Dalit land rights and patta (title deeds) in the name of women. The ‘occupy land’ movement successfully brought their demands into public forums and to the courts. What is significant here is the manner in which

112  S. Anandhi the sangam women framed their claims to land rights as a politics of belonging which aimed to disrupt the village caste order that refused to recognise Adidravidar rights to resources. By raising the issue of land rights sangam women asserted their right to interpret their own needs and priorities, especially in the context of their massive incorporation into state development schemes that represented them solely as workers and never as the owners of land. As one sangam leader put it, The self-help groups and MGNREGA can give us employment and money but they cannot give us the recognition we want, to show that we are the equals of all other castes. For this, we need the state to give us patta (title deed) land for our homes and for cultivation.43 It is important to note here that Adidravidar women’s discourse about their needs and their claims to recognition were inseparable from their discourse about resource redistribution. Their discourse is a political response to the state’s denial of the political status of poor/ Dalit women’s needs and the ways in which the state trivialises poor/ Dalit women’s demands. It is also part of Adidravidar women’s struggles for the power to define and interpret their own needs. As Fraser has pointed out, this highlights the importance of the politics of needs interpretation and that ‘need interpretations are politically contested’ (Fraser 1989: 294). At issue here is ‘who interprets the needs in question and from what perspective and in the light of what interests’ (Fraser 1989: 294): this is vividly dramatised in the following exchange that my research assistant recorded between an Adidravidar woman sangam leader and the village officer (VAO). The village officer, a dominant caste Naidu, exemplified how government officials typically tried to exclude, defuse or stigmatise Dalit women’s demands for land. The sangam activist’s demand for the recognition of her legitimate claim to land was an instance of Dalit women’s alternative politics.44 THE SANGAM ACTIVIST (SA):  Sir,

please help me to purchase two acres of land in our village. THE VAO:  Where do you belong? [He is trying to indirectly ascertain her caste status.] One day I see you in the Arundhathiyar quarters, the next day in the [Adidravidar] ‘colony’ and another day I spot you in another village. SA:  [A long pause] I still live in this village and I belong here.

Gendered negotiations of caste identity 113 VAO:  Leave

that aside. How come you’re wearing a gold chain and gold earrings? What is your husband doing? SA:  My husband does nothing but drinks. VAO:  But you don’t look as if you’re suffering. The other day I spotted you in front of the Collector’s office raising slogans. How do I know that you won’t raise your voice against me? You women all pretend that your husbands torture you, merely in order to claim benefits from us. In any case if you keep on roaming around like this all the time, how can you find the time to cultivate your land? It is clear that the VAO had seen the Sangam activist in various places and that he knows her to be a political activist. It is her Dalit politics of belonging that he attempts to render invisible and to reject, as an insufficient qualification for her to claim the right to purchase land. This Naidu VAO clearly resents her ‘belonging’ to a community of Dalit women activists (the sangam) that challenges the boundaries set by patriarchal norms; he also resents her attempt to raise awareness about women’s right to land. Further he reiterates her inferior caste identity, implying that as an Adidravidar she is unfit to make any real claims on land. He also implies that true ‘belonging’ is about dominant caste power which he identifies with rootedness and permanency, implying that Adidravidars are mere footloose labourers. In his dominantcaste view the Adidravidars of Valluvapuram do not actually belong to the village because they were traditionally forced to live in their hamlet/‘colony’ outside the ‘main’ (upper-caste) village.45 The VAO’s remarks about the sangam activist wearing gold jewellery (which is a conventional norm for all married women who can afford it) are intended to devalue and derecognise her needs and to stigmatise her. ‘How can she be needy if she wears jewellery?’ he implies, because jewellery is a sign of upward mobility. The activist demonstrates her freedom from village forms of caste control by resolutely demanding land. Dominant/upper-caste land owners monopolise all the processes of village/government waste land allocation. Though she is unable to persuade the village officer to allow her to purchase land,46 she clearly articulates the sangam women’s right to intervene in the interpretation of their needs. Sadly, the land rights movement of the Dalit women in this village was an emphatic failure. It was constrained by the logic of caste affinity and by the politics of consent and coercion. While some Arundhathiyar women initially supported the movement, they were soon countered and controlled by young Arundhathiyar men who rejected

114  S. Anandhi the movement because it was led by Adidravidars. Further, the dominant caste Naidus threatened the Arundhathiyars with dire consequences if they joined the sangam’s demand for land. The dominant caste Naidu women detested the movement, as they shared the fear of Naidu men that the Adidravidar women would transform caste relations if they succeeded in their claim to land. This revealed the sharp limits to women’s collectivisation against caste divisions, because gender solidarity was sharply mediated by caste patriarchy. Arundhathiyar women did not dare to join the sangam because of the threats they received from the men of their own caste and of the landlord caste, while Naidu women did not desire to join the Adidravidar women, because they despised their Dalit identity.

Development schemes and resistance politics Tamil Nadu figures as a leading state in the successful implementation of the MGNREGA, popularly known as the 100-day work programme with a very high level of women’s participation.47 Studies have specifically pointed out that the perceived decency and dignity associated with this work and the social perception that this work is government employment, free of local dominant caste control, has encouraged a significant number of Dalit women to avail of this work.48 The Adidravidar women in Valluvapuram formed the major part of the local MGNREGA labour force. Men avoided this work due to its low wage compared to the agricultural wage paid to men. Educated young Adidravidar men and women disdained agricultural labour and therefore, by default, it was married, middle aged Adidravidar women who, to add to the earnings of the household, took up MGNREGA employment along with other government-run income-generating projects such as micro-credit programmes. Over time these employment programmes have become important socio-political spaces in which Adidravidar women can challenge the degrading inequalities of agrarian caste relations. MGNREGA work also enhances their status within their own families and communities, as they are usually able to combine this work with other incomegenerating activities such as livestock farming, milk vending and so on. As one Adidravidar sangam member put it, ‘This MGNREGA work isn’t just about making a living, but is also a struggle over meaning [artham] and status [thakuthi]. We don’t want to be seen as the slaves [adimai] of the Naidus any longer!’ Adidravidar Sangam members used every occasion to reiterate their rights to equality and respect in public places, unlike Arundhathiyar

Gendered negotiations of caste identity 115 women who were worried about the repercussions of such protests. At the panchayat office where MGNREGA women workers had to assemble to collect their wages, the local ‘rules’ of caste segregation were rigidly enforced. Arundhathiyar women had to be the last to collect their wages and had to stand far away from the panchayat office, whereas Naidu women, in glaring contrast, were comfortably seated inside the office and provided with fans and drinking water. Sometimes their wages were delivered to their homes, so that they would not be subjected to the ignominy of being viewed as ordinary agricultural workers. Adidravidar women resented the caste discrimination that Arundhathiyar women were subjected to, and attempted to mobilise them against it. Their sangam sent a series of petitions in this regard to the collector. Unfortunately the Arundhathiyar women neither appreciated nor desired this intervention. They expressed their anxiety about losing their jobs and also their resentment against the sangam’s interfering on their behalf. A deeply frustrated Adidravidar Sangam activist remarked, ‘Arundhathiyar women cannot even tell the difference between the welfare officer and a Naidu landlord!’ Dealing with government officials, learning how the bureaucracy works and demanding their entitlements have been important aspects of the Adidravidar women’s sangam’s work and are key means by which it has mobilised women to claim equal status and respect. Adidravidar women were at ease in public spaces, and secure in their (relative) social and economic upward mobility, but Arundhathiyar women felt shy and awkward, constrained by their inability to appropriate any kind of resistance politics. One very hot June day I noticed large numbers of women from all castes sitting around the village’s Poverty Eradication Centre. Well-dressed Naidu women, adorned with jewellery and with flowers in their hair sat comfortably inside the office, surrounded by other non-Dalit women (Mudaliars and Yadavas) while Adidravidar and Arundhathiyar women sat in the blazing sun outside: all these women had come to receive benefits for their school-going children. I observed that the Arundhathiyar women stood hunched, with fear in their eyes, anxiously awaiting the call from the officer who sat inside the office. The Adidravidar women, on the contrary, were complaining loudly about the officer’s inefficiency, and asking why they had to stand in the boiling sun when they had repaid all their loans on time. As with the MGNREGA, the government-supported self-help groups too have become an important new site for collectivism where Dalit women can assert their autonomy and form solidarities with each other, in order to overcome their debt crises and to combat their

116  S. Anandhi subordination by the dominant castes. Both Adidravidar and Arundhathiyar women were organised into SHGs, but solely along caste divisions.49 Through SHG microcredit loans both caste groups were able to repay family debts and gain freedom from their debt-bondage to the dominant Naidu caste. Munniamma, an Arundhathiyar SHG member declared, When the SHGs came we stopped taking loans from the Naidus. Earlier, we borrowed from them at exorbitant interest rates and had to walk to their houses many times to beg for these loans. In return for measly sums we had to do many hours of unpaid work for them in their homes and in their cattle sheds. This unpaid work was demanded apart from our having to repay the debts at interest. But our only other option was to pawn our few pieces of jewellery at the moneylender’s (Marwari’s) shop. It is a relief to have the SHGs. Though the SHGs could only offer Dalit women a limited access to capital to sustain their income-generation activities they did help to change the image of Dalit women, making them appear credit worthy. Adidravidar SHG women members claimed that their husbands and male kin began to treat them better when they began to access microcredit loans. In their perception, the SHG membership enhanced their status, as well as their capacity to negotiate for their entitlements both within their families and in the public spaces controlled by the dominant castes. Jayarani, an Adidravidar SHG member, noted how attentive government officials had suddenly become to them: Once we organised a protest in front of the electricity office, demanding street lights for our area. We told them that if our street remained dark we might not be able to repay the government loans with which we had bought our cattle, because it was very likely that they would get stolen. On hearing this the officials attended to our problem at once! Through SHGs, Adidravidar women have been able to contest their subalternity by making their demands on the state directly, thus bypassing the regulations and controls of the local elites, who normally control access to the state (see Chapter 8, where Mehrotra discusses the importance of NGO support to Dalit Musahars). Through mutual empathy, helping each other and agreeing on strategies by which to demand more benefits for their castes, SHG Dalit (Adidravidar)

Gendered negotiations of caste identity 117 women have collectivised around the microcredit programs. However, Arundhathiyar women’s SHGs had a very different experience. They found it very hard to negotiate with both local government authorities and bank officials because both these (largely) male groups viewed Arundhathiyar women as ‘sexually immoral’, on account of their Mathamma dedication practice and their extreme economic dependence on the Naidus. Because Arundhathiyar women were thus stigmatised within staterun entrepreneurship programmes, the Adidravidar women’s sangam intervened to organise the Mathammas and to provide microcredit loans to them to process dried fish and meat for local sale. However, as Devi, one of the few Mathamma sangam members, observed, this programme folded because nobody was willing to buy any products from the Mathammas, due to their stigmatisation as ‘prostitutes’. Explaining how Naidu untouchability practices had militated against their efforts to generate income, an Arundhathiyar woman said: When we first started our SHGs our women went to the oor [higher caste settlement] to sell our milk to the milk co-operative run by the Naidus. But they disliked the idea of untouchables supplying milk for their co-operative. So we were unable to sell our milk and most of our SHGs collapsed. The government gave us loans to buy cows with, but refused to mediate on our behalf with the Naidus, who used violence to prevent us accessing the village’s common grazing lands. Under these circumstances our incomegenerating activities could not continue. Significantly, when faced with exactly the same problems the Adidravidar women reacted very differently. With their urban contacts they were able to find a milk agency based in Chennai to procure the milk they produced and thus sustained their dairy programme. Arulmani explained: The Naidus resented the fact that ‘untouchables’ wanted to sell them milk. So they tried to stop us – and our women began to drop out of the dairy programme. When we saw how the Naidus were destroying our business we resolved to fight this and refused to get discouraged. Instead we invited milk vendors from Chennai to buy our milk. And when the Naidus tried to block the path to graze cattle in government waste land, we collectively and courageously found alternative paths to these lands to graze our cattle.

118  S. Anandhi At the joint SHG meetings where women from the different castes came together, Adidravidar women deliberately raised the issue of caste discrimination, protesting against the Naidu SHG women who routinely insulted them by refusing to drink the tea they made. An Adidravidar sangam activist, who was also an SHG member, explained what had been happening: The Naidu women always refuse to drink the tea we prepare. They refuse to drink the water we fetch. So we protested against their participation in our joint meetings. If they can’t accept us as their equals, how can we work with them? We all do the same work, but they are always trying to humiliate us and to remind us of our untouchable status. But we do not consider ourselves to be untouchables! The NGO [Dhan Foundation] which organised our meetings did not want to address these caste problems. So, instead of challenging the Naidu women, they tried to resolve the crisis by supplying us all with bottled drinks and biscuits bought outside. Though Naidu women constantly tried to impose hegemonic caste rules and gender moralities on them, Adidravidar women challenged and subverted these with increasing success. But Arundhathiyar women were not able to do so. Though they were able to access the state development schemes and were aware of their entitlements, their enforced ‘embodiment’ of caste stigma and sexual dishonour militated against their quest for autonomy and freedom. Adidravidar women, on the other hand, used varied tactics in different sites to successfully alter existing caste and gender equations. Importantly, they rejected the ways in which the Naidu dominant caste tried to identify them as untouchable, by demanding respect and dignity in all public spaces. They were able to make this demand because of the significant social and economic upward mobility their Adidravidar caste had achieved. The government’s development programmes have been the arena in which Adidravidar women have attempted to subvert the developmentalist turn of the state, which has very deliberately ‘overlooked’ differences based on caste, emphasising solely the processes of SHG women’s putative ‘empowerment’ (see Chapter 5). Adidravidar women constantly raised the issue of caste discrimination within government programmes. They insisted on their rights, demanding recognition of the principle of equality. In their hands, the terrain of development programmes,50 including SHGs, land purchase schemes, skill training for entrepreneurship and MGNREGA employment, became crucial social spaces in which they were able to regroup themselves

Gendered negotiations of caste identity 119 not as ‘beneficiaries’ but as political subjects who were able to successfully contest hegemonic claims of upper-caste authority and Dalit inferiority. However, I need to note here that the sangam, despite its powerful articulations of Dalit women’s rights, did not pay adequate attention to the issue of domestic violence within Adidravidar households. One excuse offered by sangam activists for this disappointing lacuna was that Adidravidar women had gained enough confidence, through their development projects, to approach the police directly to report Dalit male violence. However, I believe this was actually due to the problematic ‘network politics’ of the Tamil Nadu Dalit Women’s Movement, of which the local sangam was a part, namely the overwhelming pressure on it to align with the mainstream, male-led Dalit rights movements and male-led Dalit political parties who demanded that the Dalit women’s movement must respond to upper-caste violence against Dalit women. To do this the sangam sought to interpellate Adidravidar women as ‘Dalits’, ignoring their identity as women. But while forging a collective of ‘Dalit’ women, in order to contest caste discrimination, the sangam marginalised the issue of domestic violence within Dalit homes. In this way gender-based oppression, especially within marital relations, was invisibilised, while caste-based oppression got the limelight.

Conclusion Under changing economic conditions, the upward socio-economic mobility of the Adidravidars of Valluvapuram has been very significant in their attempt to rework their caste status. This reworking of Dalit identity has been informed by male-biased notions of honour, respectability and modernity. The circular migration of Adidravidar men, higher levels of education and the successful integration of Adidravidar women into state development programmes have all enabled their resistance to caste discrimination. The Adidravidars now refuse to carry out traditional ‘polluting’ caste-based ‘duties’51 for the dominant castes, they approach the police in all their community disputes and they link themselves with various Dalit networks or collectivise beyond the village. These changes have impacted Adidravidar women’s public presence and their political activism. Emboldened by their rising socioeconomic status, Adidravidar women have assumed a leading role in organising local Dalit women against caste and gender oppressions. Unlike the Ambedkar Youth Federation that mobilised only young Adidravidar men, the Adidravidar women’s collective (the sangam) has been far more inclusive, crossing Dalit caste divisions to mobilise

120  S. Anandhi and campaign for the rights of Arundhathiyar women, especially in the case of the Arundhathiyar dedication of their young daughters as Mathammas. One may recall here Santhanamary’s claim (that I stated at the outset of the chapter) that the Dalit women’s movement had attempted to transcend caste and to conduct politics differently from men. However, the limits to this inclusive politics have been set by the abject poverty and sexual exploitation of Arundhathiyar women, and, above all, by the extreme patriarchy of Arundhathiyar men, who encouraged the sexual exploitation of both Arundhathiyar girls and women. The subdued response of Arundhathiyar women to collectivism is marked by their social and sexual exploitation by the dominant caste Naidus and, crucially, by their equally blatant exploitation by Arundhathiyar men. Arundhathiyar women entirely lacked the autonomy of Adidravidar women, and, being subject to the control of Arundhathiyar men, were unable to abandon the Mathamma tradition. Only Adidravidar women were able to claim agency, to vigorously reject the caste-based differences which produced their subalternity and to offer political choices to others, especially to the highly vulnerable Arundhathiyar women. The Adidravidar women’s collective challenged the upper-caste patriarchy of the Naidus, as well as the Dalit patriarchy of Arundhathiyar men, by trying to organise Arundhathiyar women against the Mathamma dedication practice. It also waged a protracted struggle to claim land rights for Dalit women. The sangam succeeded in getting two acres of land for a few landless Dalit women.52 But its attempts to abolish the Mathamma dedication practice failed abysmally. The sangam struggled – especially against the Naidus – to establish the legitimacy of Dalit women’s claims to dignity, equality and self-respect. Adidravidar women’s collectivism sought to create a new politics of ‘belonging’ that was intended to destabilise and disrupt hegemonic modes of being and belonging established by the upper caste-classes. It challenged the traditional caste-based ascriptions of belonging and unbelonging. Their activism created new autonomous spaces from which to define their own realities. However, it is a deplorable fact that the mainstream Tamil Dalit movements and political parties consistently ignored and marginalised Dalit women’s collectivism. It is well known that within the mainstream Dalit movements Dalit women have been mobilised solely as symbols of caste oppression – they have never been mobilised to seek their own emancipation or equality with men. This narrow view in mainstream Dalit politics has countered the possibility of Dalit women’s political agency, since they

Gendered negotiations of caste identity 121 are solely invoked as helpless victims (see Chapter 2). Thus they are at once highly visible and yet made invisible within the male political sphere. Formal Dalit politics totally ignores Dalit women’s micro-level politics of ‘becoming’, as well as their struggles to collectivise and to address their multiple oppressions. This male sphere of Dalit politics considers women’s political struggles to be entirely marginal to the ‘more important’ male-led politics of Dalit rights and social justice. But the question surely remains: who decides what constitutes ‘legitimate’ politics? Clearly, women’s sangam politics was radically different from mainstream/male Dalit politics. Uma, the Valluvapuram sangam leader, reflected on the nature of sangam politics in this way: We are not in formal politics, but I think politics for us is the way we live our every day lives. We are always out there struggling with the family, with the caste elders, with panchayats and with government officials. To get through these systems and to fight it out is a political act. The significance of Dalit women’s politics lies not in its overt contestations of caste but in its indirect subversions and claims to agency. The collectivism of Adidravidar women is about a politics of becoming and belonging. Dalit women’s incorporation into state development programmes has usually been seen as their co-option. However, the narratives of sangam activists reveal that these development programmes can become the spaces for new forms of women’s collectivisation against caste discrimination and oppression – in other words, they can become the matrix of an alternative politics. Resisting stigma, demanding equal rights to resources and countering the dominant castes’ discourses and practices of untouchability are some of the ways in which Adidravidar women have combined their politics of recognition and redistribution. It is these kinds of local politics, which do not lend themselves to universalisation and which are not even considered ‘political’, which ‘disrupt, unsettle, fragment, ambiguate, politicise the achieved sense of unity [in this case, Dalit unity]’,53 thus offering alternative imaginaries of emancipation.

Notes * Versions of this chapter were presented in conferences on Caste out of Development and on Dalit Feminism in Chennai, Bangalore, Paris and Tokyo. I am grateful for the critical inputs from the participants at these conferences and to David Mosse, Judith Heyer, Karin Kapadia and M.S.S.

122  S. Anandhi Pandian for their valuable inputs and criticisms. The many revisions of this chapter benefited from the careful reading and suggestions from Karin Kapadia, Mary John, Anna Chandy, Karthick R. M., and an anonymous reviewer of this volume. My special thanks are due to them. The data used in this study is based on my field work conducted in one village between December 2009 and March 2011 as part of the ESRC-funded research project on ‘Caste Out of Development’ (ESRC- RES-062–23–2227). The usual disclaimers apply. 1 Interview with Santhanamary at the Tamil Nadu Dalit Women’s Meet, Arakonam, 29 July 2010. 2 The Tamil Nadu Dalit Women’s Movement was founded in 1998 as a federation of Dalit women’s sangams. It has about 20,000 members across the state of Tamil Nadu. This movement was a follow-up to a massive protest by Dalit women against serious caste violence in southern Tamil Nadu in the early 1990s. In these protests Dalit women raised concerns not just about continuing caste violence against Dalit women but also about how Dalit political parties marginalised the gender aspects of violence. For details on the Dalit women’s movement see Fatima Burnad (2008). 3 The two prominent Dalit political parties in Tamil Nadu are the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) which was earlier known as the Dalit Panthers of India (Tamil Nadu) and the Puthiya Tamizhagam (PT). Though both the parties mobilised Dalits from various castes and also the other backward castes, the leadership of the former is from the Paraiyars or Adidravidars and, of the latter, from the Pallars of southern Tamil Nadu. Women’s presence is almost invisible in these parties. The VCK alone has a woman district secretary, R. Pandiammal (see Chapter 4). Significantly both the Dalit parties, despite having woman’s wings, rarely addressed issues relating to women’s empowerment or the political representation for women. 4 ‘Arundhathiyar’ is a self-identification of an untouchable sub-caste which is also identified as Chakkiliar, Thoti, Madiga and Mathakodda by the dominant castes, in this area of Tamil Nadu, which borders Andhra Pradesh. Elsewhere this caste is known as Pagadai, Adi Andhra and Madhari. These names are closely associated with the ‘polluting’ work, such as scavenging, human burial and the removal of dead cattle, which this Dalit sub-caste carries out for the dominant castes and for the entire village (see the Introduction for a discussion of the notion of ‘polluting’ work). 5 In this chapter I refer to Adidravidar and Arundhathiyar women as ‘Dalit’ women, because this is how they were identified by the Dalit Women’s collective/sangam. The sangam refers to the Rural Women’s Liberation Movement (RWLM) which was started in 1980. The RWLM is affiliated to a Dalit women-led NGO, Society for Rural Women’s Education and Development (SRED) based in Arakonam Town. The RWLM is largely led by Adidravidar women. In Valluvapuram, the sangam has about 250 Adidravidar women, 60 Arundhathiyar women and 20 Irular Tribal (Adivasi) women as members. The latter part of this chapter elaborates on the history and activities of the sangam. 6 I use the term ‘collectivisation’ to describe the distinct social and political form of bonding of Dalit women who share common interests and goals, and collective moral and social responsibilities to change their situation.

Gendered negotiations of caste identity 123 I prefer this term over the term ‘organisation’ because it conveys the less hierarchical functioning and decision-making processes within Dalit women’s groups (sangams). 7 While the non-farm employment of men relatively improved the economic status of the Adidravidar families, their rising demands for education and the total absence of their younger family members from agricultural work meant that it was the women in these families who had to pick up the slack and sustain the household through their agricultural work. In the study village I did not come across any Adidravidar or Arundhathiyar ‘housewives’. All these Dalit women worked in more than one job outside their homes but mostly within the village. The migration of Dalit men for work outside the village, signified that they were thus contesting the caste based oppression within the village and, equally, signified upward mobility in status for Dalit men. But this has led to a continued low social status for Dalit women who have had to take on many burdensome livelihood activities within the village. However, this paradox is not unique to Tamil Nadu. Mehrotra discusses similar processes taking place in rural Uttar Pradesh (see Chapter 8). 8 The need to go beyond a unitary theory or narrative of transformation and discrimination and the need to pay attention to varied contexts of contestation and negotiation has been emphasised by Daniel Munster and Christian Strumpell in their introduction to a special issue on ‘The Anthropology of Neo-liberal India’ (2014). 9 To mention only a few studies that connect changes in the agricultural sector and caste relations, see Isabelle Guerin, G. Venkatasubramaniam and Sebastien Michiels (2015), M. Vijayabaskar and Andrew Wyatt (2013), John Harriss, J. Jeyaranjan, and K. Nagaraj (2010) and Judith Heyer (2010). 10 This is a pseudonym for the study village which comes under Thiruvalangadu block in Thiruthani taluk of Thiruvallur District in Tamil Nadu. In 2010, the total population of the village was 2,239. The village has five hamlets, each for a different lower-caste group, while the main village (oor) is primarily occupied by Backward Class castes such as Naidus (Kammas), Palayakarars (Balija Naidus), Mudaliars and Chettiars. The Kamma Naidus are the majority and own large landholdings in the village. The Dalits, mainly the Adidravidars/Paraiyars live in the ‘colony’ (a term used by the Adidravidars themselves), which has about 200 households with nearly 800 members. In recent years the Dalit population has gone up: today they constitute the highest population in this village as per the 2011 census (53.90 per cent). This is due to the inflow of Dalit migrants to this village, because it is possible to live here and commute to Chennai on a dalily or weekly basis. The Dalit Arundhathiyars (Chakkiliars/Madharis) live separately in a hamlet called the ‘Adi-Andhrawada’. The Yadavas/Idaiyars, an OBC (Other Backward Caste) caste, live separately, while the Irulars (a scheduled tribe) are tucked alongside the oor (main village) in a fifth hamlet. 11 In 2009 poromboke lands or waste lands in this village were allotted to Dalits for housing, small scale cultivation and cattle rearing. This statewide allotment of waste lands was part of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led front’s scheme of distributing two acres of waste land each to landless families, so too was the legalization of informal occupation of

124  S. Anandhi lands by the poor through the issuance of patta (title deeds) to them. I later discuss Dalit land struggles to retrieve encroached land from a former judge, in the context of Dalit women’s organised efforts to acquire land for women. 12 Interview with Immanuel, Valluvapuram, 10 October 2010. 13 Vijayabaskar and Ajit Menon have attributed several causes to the decline of agriculture and the associated changes in the political economy of rural households in Tamil Nadu. They note that (1) the state’s new land acquisition policy has significantly relaxed the rules regarding the sale of agricultural land, (2) there are currently many disincentives to farming and (3) there is a massive, ongoing incorporation of agricultural workers into industrial work. All this has led to the disintegration of Tamil Nadu’s agricultural sector. See Vijayabaskar and Menon (2014). 14 Nearly 150 Arundhathiyar households cultivate land for the Naidus. The total number of Arundhathiyar households in Valluvapuram is 200. 15 Elsewhere I have analysed in detail the Arundhathiyar custom of ‘dedicating’ women to the goddess Mathamma. See Anandhi (2013b). 16 A pamphlet issued by the Arundhathiyar Liberation Front (ALM) in response to a documentary on the Mathammas claimed that this practice was ‘a religious and caste custom’ with no sexual connotation. It stated, ‘These women get married like all our community women and lead normal lives.’ The pamphlet is titled, Mathamma Kurumpadam: Leena Manimekalayin Mosadiyum, SRED Fatimavin Nayavanchagamum (Mathamma Documentary: The Treachery of Leena Manimekalai and SRED Fatima’s Cunning Deceit), n.d. 17 Interview with Anbarasan, Valluvapuram, 12 December 2010. 18 Not all Arundhathiyar families dedicate their daughters to the goddess Mathamma. Only some Arundhathiyar families take the vow of ‘sacrificing’ a young daughter to the goddess as a sign of their gratitude. They do this following the cure of an acute illness or the cure of some other serious physical ailment suffered by the child herself or another family member. 19 Interviews with Devi and Renuka, Arakonam, 28 January 2010. See also Anandhi (2013a). 20 See Craig Jeffrey (2001). Jeffrey interprets Bourdieu’s concept of ‘credit worthiness’ to mean the possession of sufficient performative skill and organisational resources to make interventions within dominant networks. 21 This reflects the notorious ‘two-tumbler system’, practised by many non-Dalit-run tea-stalls in rural Tamil Nadu and vigorously campaigned against by Dalit organisations. 22 There is a significant difference between the two churches: while the Lutheran conversions in the 1970s–1980s of the Adidravidars were intended to overcome caste-based oppression, the more recent Adidravidar (and Arundhathiyar) conversions to Pentecostal Christianity – almost solely by women – are explained as intended to overcome women’s personal problems of ill health and domestic violence. Both the churches are located within the ‘colony’ and are visited almost solely by the Adidravidars; recently, however, some Arundhathiyar women joined the Pentecostal church. The Tamil Lutheran church runs a primary school for the Adidravidar children and this too is located in the ‘colony’.

Gendered negotiations of caste identity 125 23 Contrast the happy indifference of these Christian Dalits to their exclusion from the village festival, with the unhappiness and longing for inclusion of the excluded Hindu Dalit women discussed in our Introduction and featured on our Indian-edition book cover. 24 L. Elayaperumal was Chairman of the first national committee to enquire into the educational and economic conditions of the untouchables. The Elayaperumal Committee Report (1969), as it was known, made several recommendations for the empowerment of Dalits. In 1984 he quit the Congress Party and founded the Human Rights Party which focused mainly on caste violence against Dalits. 25 The Dalit bureaucrat V. Karuppan, Indian Administrative Service (IAS), was a former collector of Salem district (1976). In the 1990s he headed the Dalit Joint Action Committee and the Save Panchama Land Movement to retrieve the lost lands of Dalits. He was also the former state convener of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR). In 1996, Karuppan contested the post of mayor of Chennai Corporation but lost. 26 Interview with K. C. Doss, leader of Arundhathiyar Liberation Front, Valluvapuram, 19 September 2010. 27 In our interviews with young Adidravidar men and women they listed numerous local industries in which they worked for daily, weekly and monthly wages that ranged from Rs.140 a day to Rs 4,000 per month. While the young men worked in a brandy manufacturing company in Chennai, welding work, catering service centres and small electrical and electronic appliance companies, the young women worked in purse making, tailoring units, a pharmaceutical company and in other informal sectors. According to a sangam leader, about 90 per cent of young Adidravidar men worked solely in these industries, while 40 per cent of the young women, who were mostly unmarried, worked in various industries. 28 Interview with Inbaraj, Valluvapuram, 25 October 2010. His family owns a 2-acre plot of land but does not cultivate it due to lack of resources, such as ploughing machines, which he described as unaffordable. 29 MGNREGA – the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act scheme. 30 This is not unique to this village. Studies have noted changing youth styles and the challenges that these changes in fashion pose to caste hierarchies: see Anandhi, Jeyaranjan and Krishnan (2002); Jeffrey, Jeffrey and Jeffrey (2010). 31 Remarkably, Adidravidar young men considered the leasing of land to multinational companies as the best way for the state to generate rural employment. Their thinking here was strongly influenced by the opening in 2009 of the SIPCOT Industrial Park in Thervoy-Kandigai in Gummidipoondi District, located just 54 kilometres away from Valluvapuram, by the entry of the French Michelin Tyre manufacturing company, and by the stories that circulated about the improved quality of life for Dalits who got jobs at these places. 32 Each caste in this village – except the Adidravidar caste – had its own caste panchayat (judicial council) to adjudicate cases relating to familial and property disputes and these informal panchayats of solely male ‘elders’ closely monitored the sexuality and mobility of their women since their

126  S. Anandhi anxiety centred around the public display of effective masculinity. While the Adidravidars no longer had such a panchayat, the Arundhathiyars relied on their panchayat, which consisted of seven elderly men, to deal with the all intra-caste disputes. But if their caste panchayat could not resolve a dispute the Arundhathiyars sought the help of the landlord-Naidus to resolve it. So the Naidus acted as their final court of appeal even on Arundhathiyar intra-caste issues. This highlights the extraordinary degree of dependence of the Arundhathiyar caste on the Naidu landlord-caste – the Arundhathiyars continued to be bonded to their masters in a feudal mode of labour relations that is an anachronism today. 33 The Ambedkar Liberation Movement led by Adidravidar young men was responsible for the abolition of the caste panchayat among the Adidravidars. They also resisted the intervention of the informal oor panchayat led by the Naidus, which conventionally adjudicated all cases of family and public dispute arising in the village. 34 A recent study on development outcomes in Tamil Nadu notes that over two decades the literacy rate among SCs/STs has increased from 52 per cent (1993–94) to 75 per cent (2011–12). See Kalaiarasan (2014). In the study village the total Adidravidar literacy rate is roughly 65 per cent and the Adidravidar female literacy rate is about 50 per cent while the overall female literacy rate for the village stands at 56.9 per cent which is much lower than in many parts of Tamil Nadu (Census of India 2011). 35 Saroja, an agricultural worker from the ‘colony’ narrated this inci dent which took place on 10 December 2010. Interview with Saroja, 5 January 2011. 36 Following Aihwa Ong, I argue here that Dalit imaginaries and practices of modernity constantly evolve in varied contexts and one such context is employment outside the village which acts as a narrative against caste hegemony. See Aihwa Ong (1999: 53–54). 37 The Society for Rural Education and Development (SRED) was founded in 1979 by a Christian Dalit woman activist, Fatima Burnad, who has a long history of doing community service among Dalit agricultural workers in Tiruvannamalai, Polur and Vellore areas. With her exposure to Christian feminist theology and left politics she decided to form a separate women’s organization for women agricultural workers and thus the Society for Rural Women’s Education and Development (SRED) was formed. This ‘development organisation’, as it was known then, was funded by a few church-related organizations and some individuals known to her from the USA, where she had pursued her theological studies. In 1980, SRED launched the Rural Women’s Liberation Movement (RWLM). RWLM worked mainly in those rural contexts where there was acute caste discrimination and violence against Dalits, rape and murder of Dalit women, wage discrimination and agrarian bondage, and domestic violence. The various village-level Dalit women’s leaderships (connected to RWLM) faced extreme hostility and violence from the local landed dominant castes. 38 Interview with Uma, 19 January 2011. 39 For details on the rural women’s sangams’ mobilization of the Mathammas and the limits to the anti-caste politics of Dalit women, see Anandhi (2013b). 40 During our first visit to the Arundhathiyar ‘colony’ in Valluvapuram, the young men strongly resisted our entry into their ‘colony’ since they

Gendered negotiations of caste identity 127 identified us with the sangam, which was perceived to be publicising the Mathamma practice and thus humiliating the Arundhathiyars. Some of them strongly felt that the media had tried to portray their community as criminal since the devadasi custom was legally abolished in Tamil Nadu. Much later we were permitted to sit in front of the Mathamma temple where men congregated to talk to us but these men did not allow the Arundhathiyar women, especially the Mathammas, to come near us or talk to us. 41 Panchami lands were assigned to the untouchable castes during British rule – they could not be alienated by Dalits, but, over a long period, they have been illegally sold and occupied by other castes. See Anandhi (2000). 42 In 2009 Justice P. D. Dinakaran, a Dalit Christian, was accused of land grabbing and acquisition of land in the study village by the Forum for Judicial Accountability and by the collector of Thiruvallur. The Bar Council of India too raised serious objections to the land-grab by the judge. See the New Indian Express, 19 October 2014. Incidentally, this judge tried to mobilise the local Dalit communities to legitimise his land acquisition, but could not do so, since there was strong opposition from the Dalit land rights movement and from the RWLM. 43 Interview with Saroja, Valluvapuram, 5 January 2011. 44 This conversation was recorded by my research assistant (S. Padmavathy) on her voice recorder when she accompanied the sangam leader to the office of the VAO on 10 August 2010. 45 The physical location of the Adidravidar ‘colony’ or ‘cheri’ (hamlet), located on the outskirts of the ‘main’ village, not only marked their ‘untouchable’ status but also marked the ‘incommensurable difference’ between the ‘untouchable’ castes and the ‘clean’ (non-Dalit) castes, thereby legitimating their segregation. The oor (upper-caste village) belonged solely to the dominant castes (Jeremiah 2013). Therefore the spatial separation of the Dalit ghetto from the main village indicated the exclusion of Dalits from membership of the village community which was highlighted by excluding them totally from all oor temple festivals (see Fuller 2004:138). In Valluvapuram too, the ritual and physical exclusion of the Adidravidars from non-Dalit rural society was marked by prohibiting their entry into the Narasimhasamy temple, located in the oor and patronised by the Naidus. An Adidravidar youth confirmed that the Narasimhasamy temple chariot did not enter their hamlet and added that even when it passed nearby, on the main road, the idol was not turned to face towards the Adidravidar hamlet. By contrast, it was turned, when passing by, to face the Arundhathiyar hamlet, because of the patron-client relationship between the Arundhathiyars and the Naidus. 46 The village administrative officer (VAO) plays an important role in identifying the patta land in the villages. He verifies the category of land (wet or dry) through the land records available and recommends the sale. It is he who has to forward the applications for purchase of land to the revenue officer. Rural residents, especially Dalit women, given their vulnerability, are extremely dependent on the VAO to procure land. 47 Unlike other states, such as Gujarat, which reported an abysmal participation of the rural populace in the MGNREGA programme, 40 per cent of rural Dalit households and 39 per cent of OBC households in Tamil Nadu have availed of at least 60 days of work under this scheme. See

128  S. Anandhi Kalaiarasan (2014: 62). During 2009–12, an average of 82 per cent of women in rural Tamil Nadu – the highest percentage in India – participated in the MGNREGA programme. See www.nrega.nic.in Accessed on 14 March 2016. 48 There is a vast literature on the transformative potential of MGNREGA. To mention only two important works here, see Carswell and De Neve (2013) and Khera and Nayak (2009). 49 There were separate SHGs for women from each caste and they functioned only within the caste segregated spaces of the village. Even on occasions when the SHGs across caste divisions congregated to avail of government schemes, they followed the rigid caste order. The untouchability of Dalit women was reiterated in these public spaces. At the time of my study there were five SHGs among the Adidravidar women with 100 members, while the Naidu women had four SHGs with 80 members and the Arundhathiyar women had three SHGs with 60 members. 50 There are special development programmes for Dalit women under the Tamil Nadu Adidravidar Housing Development Corporation (TAHDCO) which provides financial assistance to SC/ST women belonging to below-poverty-line (BPL) households to purchase land and offers loans for their self-employment. These schemes have been widely availed of by the Adidravida women in Valluvapuram. 51 See the Introduction for a discussion of these ‘traditional polluting castebased duties’. 52 For details on Dalit women’s demands for two acres of land in Tamil Nadu see Dinathanthi, 22 July 2007. 53 Connolly (1991: 89).

References Anandhi, S. 2000. Land to the Dalits: Panchami Land Struggle in Tamil Nadu. Bangalore: Indian Social Institute. Anandhi, S. 2013a. ‘Remembering Lakshmi Devi’, Economic and Political Weekly, 48 (11): 32–33. Anandhi, S. 2013b. ‘The Mathammas: Gender, Caste and the Politics of Intersectionality in Rural Tamil Nadu’, Economic and Political Weekly, 48 (18): 64–71. Anandhi, S., J. Jeyaranjan and Rajan Krishnan. 2002. ‘Work, Caste and Competing Masculinities: Notes From a Tamil Village’, Economic and Political Weekly, 37 (43): 4397–4406. Burnad, F. 2008. ‘Tamizhnadu Dalit Pengal Iyakkam: Oru Varalattru Parvai (Tamil Nadu Dalit Women’s Movement: A Historical Perspective)’, in Tamil Nadu Dalit Women’s Movement (ed.) Souvenir of the Tenth Annual State Conference of the Tamil Nadu Dalit Women’s Movement, pp. 7–9. Chennai: Ayanavaram Printers. Carswell, G. and G. De Neve. 2013. ‘Women at the Cross Roads: A Village Study of MNREGA Implementation in Tamil Nadu’, Economic and Political Weekly, 48 (52): 82–93. Census of India. 2011. Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner India, www.censusindia.gov.in/2011-common/census_2011.html

Gendered negotiations of caste identity 129 Connolly, W. E. 1991. Identity/Difference: Democratic Negotiations, Political Paradox. Minneapolis, MN and London: University of Minnesota Press. Connolly, W. E. 1999. Why I am not a Secularist. Minneapolis, MN and London: University of Minnesota Press. Dinathanthi. 2007. ‘Thamizgha Arasu Illavasamaga Vazhangum 2 Acre Nilathai Dalit Pengal Peyaril Vazhanga Vendum’ (Tamilnadu’s Free Distribution of Two Acres of Land Should Be Issued in the Name of Dalit Women), July 22, 2007. Fraser, N. 1989. ‘Talking About Needs: Interpretive Contests as Political Conflicts in Welfare-State Societies’, Ethics, 99 (2): 291–313. Fuller, C. J. 2004. The Camphor Flame: Popular Hinduism and Society in India. Princeton, NJ and Oxford: Princeton University Press. Gorringe, H. 2010. ‘Shifting the “Grindstone of Caste”? Decreasing Dependency Among Dalit Labourers in Tamil Nadu’, in B. Harriss-White and J. Heyer (eds) The Comparative Political Economy of Development, pp. 248– 266. London: Routledge. Guerin, I., G. Venkatasubramaniam and S. Michiels. 2015. ‘Labour in Contemporary South India’, in B. Harriss-White and J. Heyer (eds) Indian Capitalism in Development, pp. 118–135. London and New York: Routledge. Harriss, J, J. Jeyaranjan and K. Nagaraj. 2010. ‘Land, Labour and Caste Politics in Rural Tamil Nadu in the 20th Century, Iruvelpattu, 1916–2008’, Economic and Political Weekly, 45 (31): 47–61. Heyer, J. 2010. ‘The Marginalisation of Dalits in a Modernising Economy’, in B. Harriss-White and J. Heyer (eds) The Comparative Political Economy of Development: Africa and South Asia, pp. 225–247. London and New York: Routledge. Jeffrey, C. 2001. ‘A Fist Is Stronger Than Five Fingers: Caste and Dominance in Rural North India’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 25 (2): 1–30. Jeffrey, C., P. Jeffery and R. Jeffery. 2010. Education, Unemployment and Masculinities in India. New Delhi: Social Science Press and Orient Blackswan. Jeremiah, A. H. M. 2013. Community and Worldview Among Paraiyars in South India: Lived Religion. Bloomsbury Advances in Religious Studies, London, New Delhi, New York and Sydney: Bloomsbury. Kalaiarasan, A. 2014. ‘A Comparison of Development Outcomes in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu’, Economic and Political Weekly, 49 (15): 55–63. Kapadia, Karin. 2010. ‘Liberalisation and Transformations in India’s Informal Economy: Female Breadwinners in Working Class Households in Chennai’, in B. Harriss-White and J. Heyer (eds) The Comparative Political Economy of Development: Africa and South Asia, pp. 267–290. London and New York: Routledge. Khera, R. and N. Nayak. 2009. ‘Women Workers and Perceptions of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act’, Economic and Political Weekly, 44 (43): 49–57. Munster, D. and C. Strumpell. 2014. ‘The Anthropology of Neo-Liberal India: An Introduction’, Contributions to Indian Sociology, 48 (1): 1–16.

130  S. Anandhi New Indian Express. 2014. ‘Land-Grab by Judge’, October 19. Ong, A. 1999. Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality. Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press. Vijayabaskar, M. and A. Menon. 2014. ‘Peripheral Agriculture? Macro and Micro Dynamics of Land Sales and Land Use Changes in the Changing ‘Rural’ Economy of Kancheepuram’, Paper presented at the Conference on the Political Economy of Contemporary India, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, November 20–21. Vijayabaskar, M. and A. Wyatt. 2013. ‘Economic Change, Politics and Caste: The Case of Kongunadu Munnetra Kazhagam’, Economic and Political Weekly, 48 (48): 103–110.

4 Liberation panthers and pantheresses? Gender and Dalit party politics in South India Hugo Gorringe1

This chapter focuses on the complex entanglements between gender and caste, and the often convoluted positions that patriarchal Dalit organisations adopt towards women. On the one hand Dalit women feature prominently in the rhetoric of Dalit movements, parties and NGOs2 – they are said to be triply oppressed along lines of caste, class and gender and to epitomise the plight of the community. On the other hand, however, Dalit women often lack a voice in such organisations and can be reduced to symbols of oppression or marginality in a manner that foregrounds the emphasis on caste and downplaying of gender in most Dalit parties. This chapter concerns the interplay between women, women’s rights and Dalit politics by reference to the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK – Liberation Panther Party), the largest Dalit party in Tamil Nadu. During fieldwork in 1999, as the Dalit Panthers transformed themselves into a political party, I captured the ambivalence of their position and the frequent gap between rhetoric and practice. The creation of a Women’s Wing, for example, simultaneously created a space for the articulation of women’s concerns and marginalised those issues. This was illustrated in Madurai District where there was an active, feisty and well-known female organiser called Pandiyammal who lacked recognition from leaders and was confined to the margins of the movement (Gorringe 2005: 236). Such ambivalence is not confined to Tamil Nadu (see Chapters 1, 6 and 7, this volume). In July 2013, for instance, two3 Dalit girls in Karnataka were taunted and assaulted for wearing skirts and sleeveless tops (Times News 2013). Rather than apprehending the male assailants, the two girls – one of whom was a minor – were arrested and imprisoned for three days. Police are alleged to have beaten them and charged them with prostitution before releasing them on bail (The Hindu 2013). What is telling about the incident, for this chapter, is the reaction of Dalit activists. While most Dalit leaders at an SC/

132  Hugo Gorringe ST meeting in August condemned the attackers and police and questioned the moral policing entailed here, others sided with the police. One said: ‘[T]he girls had long history of behaving indecently in public. “These girls need counselling on how to conduct themselves in public”, he said, adding if police action fails to slow them down, they should be referred to healthcare professionals’ (Times News 2013). While this may seem like an exceptional case, the story vividly illustrates how discourses of honour, propriety and morality may circumscribe women’s rights, and showcases the often dismissive and patriarchal views of Dalit activists towards women (see Roberts, this volume). In the small village of Kodankipatti in central Tamil Nadu, for instance, I interviewed a Dalit shopkeeper who I had met following caste violence in 1999. When he mentioned that his wife, Munniamma, was also in the party I turned to her and asked what the party had done for women. Immediately, my companion – also a party member – interjected dismissively: ‘What will she know about that? You should ask her about the leader instead’. Captured in his intervention was the archetypal perception of women as lacking interest in, and knowledge about, politics. Disregarding the interruption, I asked why she was in the party and received a fluent and considered response: ‘He speaks up for us’. What has he done for women’s rights [I asked] and she said: ‘he called for the 30% reservation for women’ and argued that no other party was as committed to getting women into positions of authority. When I pressed her on what the party had achieved, she responded that ‘Ambedkar’s view is that we need to be strong in ourselves and stand up for rights – we can’t expect them [the party] to deliver everything’. (Fieldnotes, June 2012) Munniamma here reflects the VCK position that – as a small party – they cannot be everywhere nor intervene in each case. Their goal, as reflected here, is to make Dalits more resilient and independent in each locality. While articulate Dalit women such as Munniamma offer spirited defences of the party, the ambivalent attitudes of many Dalit organisations towards Dalit women are encapsulated in the disregard of female leaders, the events in Karnataka and the response from my friend. For all the talk of women’s rights, Dalit women are still subject to patriarchal attitudes, values and norms. The egalitarian rhetoric of Dalit parties, as Devaraj – a central committee member of the VCK – noted, rarely informs the private lives of activists: ‘Active husbands do not educate their wives’, he said. He further observed that ‘women are

Liberation panthers and pantheresses? 133 not well organised or motivated [by the VCK]. Many who are active have ended up getting a bad name in society’ (Interview, June 2012). Devaraj points towards one of the key problems of Dalit women’s activism: active women are often represented as brazen hussies with lax sexual mores and an absence of propriety (see Chapters 3, 5 and 6, this volume). Women with such a reputation may find it hard to secure grooms and are subject to cruel gossip and slander. Such concerns, needless to say, are not voiced about young male activists. Speaking at a seminar organised by a women’s organisation in 2003, Thirumavalavan, leader of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal, opined: There are several practical problems in women organising and mobilizing themselves in a Dalit movement or in the Dalit political arena. If a woman and a man talk to each other, the world does not accept that they are talking politics. The world only says that they are discussing love. This is today’s state of affairs. So, an understanding of gender has not been developed here. (Thirumavalavan 2004: 209; emphasis added) While the issues discussed here are widely recognisable, the description of patriarchal norms and attitudes as ‘practical problems’4 is telling. Though ‘equality for women’ or ‘women’s liberation’ is one of the five core ideals of the VCK, what this actually means is rarely articulated. The issue is most commonly aired at movement weddings where couples are exhorted to see each other as equal companions in struggles against caste. There are occasional statements against domestic violence – especially as linked to alcoholism, injunctions to educate daughters and an effort to get land deeds registered in women’s names.5 Leaders have a more nuanced critique of patriarchy (see, for instance, Thirumavalavan 2004), but this is rarely aired in public party meetings and has tended to be seen as a secondary goal of the movement: something that will follow once caste has been eradicated. The ideology of the VCK frequently – often understandably – recedes into the background in the face of pressing issues or atrocities. ‘Political immediacy’, as Guru (1999) puts it, ‘dominates the cognitive map of Dalit politics’ with the result that they can fail to articulate alternatives and ‘are in no mood to confront Dalit patriarchy’. As a movement, the VCK threatened to ‘hit back’ and encouraged bravado and machismo among cadre. Even today members speak with awe of those who engaged in violence for the cause. In the febrile atmosphere created by the rhetoric of retaliation and the reality of oppression, little space was accorded to the articulation of gender concerns. The main

134  Hugo Gorringe means of addressing the barriers to women’s participation, rather, was the creation of a women’s wing. While women participated in numbers at general meetings, the women’s wing enabled women to raise concerns and interact on issues concerning them – such as gender violence, the need for credit unions or issues surrounding ration shops – without male activists. In both rural and urban areas women’s wings provided a space for women to work together on issues that were neglected by the main movement. Having become a political party, however, the VCK must now attract the votes of Dalit women rather than assuming their support. The demand for prohibition is one policy popular with women, but like most of the changes this proposal is more formal than substantive. The VCK has, thus, sought to increase the profile of women in the party by promoting them into positions of leadership rather than campaigning on gender issues. This chapter will outline some of the significant changes that have occurred since 1999 before drawing on ethnographic data with grassroots women and concluding with a discussion on the status of Dalit women in the party.6 The focus here is on the views and experiences of women and the actions of the party rather than on the attitudes of men, since male activists I interviewed were adept at articulating the importance of women’s rights and gender equality. Focusing on what leaders and activists say, rather than what happens on a day-to-day basis can result in a distorted picture of ground realities.

Mobilisation and emancipation? In her study of the Nicaraguan revolution, Molyneux (1985) observes that radical politics may involve women as activists without being gender sensitive. The revolution, she notes, did not reconfigure gender relations and left female activists with a ‘double burden’ of household chores in addition to political work. Political mobilisation, thus, need not generate social transformation. Nor is there any linear route to women’s emancipation. As Swaminathan (2002: 74) points out, the received wisdom that women’s incorporation into the labour market affords them greater autonomy and power neglects the wider context within which such employment occurs. She notes how employed women in India may be less educated than their peers and have higher child mortality. Furthermore, ‘the blurring of public-private gendered boundaries’, Thapar Björkert (2006: 481) remarks, ‘makes Dalit women more vulnerable to rape, sexual harassment and threat of public violence’. The emphasis on caste violence may subdue critics of

Liberation panthers and pantheresses? 135 domestic violence, but it is arguably as significant an issue (see Chapter 2, this volume). The Dalit women in the VCK hail from cheris (Dalit settlements) and urban estates where people live in close proximity to each other and have very little private space as such. Save among the higher-ranked leaders, the women are all employed, much less dependent on husbands than women from the middle and upper classes and not afraid to talk back. ‘Public’ or caste violence remains a serious issue and extends along a spectrum from the casteist abuse that most interviewees had experienced to physical violence and murder.7 Despite this, Dietrich (2001: 204–205) notes that Dalit movements were reluctant to take up intra-Dalit abuses and were occasionally ambivalent about casteist attacks on Dalit women since it highlighted the inability of Dalit men to ‘protect their women’. Indeed, in the late 1980s, she shows, some male Dalit leaders indulged in public ‘rape fantasies’ in which Dalits were urged to get their own back against other castes. Such tactics increased the danger of further rapes, she notes, but patriarchal Dalit movements adopted them since ‘control over the women of a community is essential to establishing superiority’ (2001: 207). Conversely, women’s movements frequently played down caste concerns and focused on the imagined unity of ‘women’ (see Chapters 1, 7 and Afterword, in this volume). Such movements, however, operated out of urban areas and were not permanently established in rural settings where gender violence is systemic (Dietrich 2001; Thapar Björkert 2006). Penurimai Iyyakkam (Women’s Rights Movement) was strong in Madurai and, unlike many feminist movements in India, comprised Dalit and working women. It was, therefore, often approached by rural women and would visit villages but they are not permanently located in these areas. The emergence of Dalit movements committed to women’s liberation, therefore, was a welcome development. The largest such movement in Tamil Nadu was the Dalit Panther Movement, later the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, which claims to follow in the footsteps of Periyar (E.V. Ramasamy – Great One) who founded the Dravida Kazhagam (Dravidian Federation) and offered a coherent critique of patriarchy (Periyar 2009). Following Periyar, the VCK performed weddings without priests and dismissed karpu (chastity) as an upper-caste value (Dietrich 2009).8 Drawing on data from the 1990s, Gorringe (2005) argued that the movement offered limited scope for women’s activism, but it is the status and position of women in the party that concerns us here. We will see that there has been a sea-change in the VCK’s rhetoric on, and attitudes towards, women.

136  Hugo Gorringe

Mainstreaming women? In early 1999, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal boycotted elections and operated as a grassroots, social movement mobilising Dalits across the state. Their ideological commitment to women’s rights and aggressive pursuit of caste equality meant that women constituted a significant number of those attending protests, demonstrations and events in rural and urban areas. Most movement rallies were urban affairs and women from urban housing estates and slums formed 20–30 per cent of participants. In rural areas, movement events – like flag-raising ceremonies – had a community emphasis and women and men attended in equal measure though only the men followed the leader’s convoy from village to village. Despite this support, women were conspicuously absent from the leadership positions (see Chapter 1, this volume). The neglect of leaders like Pandiyammal, as we have seen, symbolised the secondary status given to women. The rhetorical commitment to equality, the periodic alliances with women’s rights groups such as Penurimai Iyyakkam – most notably following election related violence when Thirumavalavan was banned from afflicted areas – in this context, appeared like a means to an end. Of course they talk about gender equality, one women’s rights activist argued; ‘without them there is no protest!’ (Gorringe 2005: 236). In the 1990s, the lack of prominent female leaders was rarely commented on. The Panthers were primarily engaged in mobilisation and protests against caste atrocities and revolved around the central figure of Thirumavalavan. During 1999, however, they abandoned their poll boycott and became a political party. This entailed more than simply an alteration in strategy; it required a degree of institutionalisation or professionalisation including the creation of internal structures (Offe 1990). It also paved the way for political alliances and exposed the organisation to greater scrutiny. Barnett’s (1976) work on the Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu traces a similar process in which contesting elections required the parties to broaden their appeal and adapt to their new role. Thirumavalavan (2004: 210) conceded that ‘it is essential to organize women, develop their leadership and give it prominence’. Where raising the movement flag above a cheri (Dalit settlement) or slum used to communicate a community’s affiliation to the Panthers, however, the VCK cannot assume that all inhabitants will vote for them. Since political seats are reserved for members of the Scheduled Castes (ex-untouchables) there are Dalits in all political parties. Many of those I spoke to had enduring and emotional ties to particular parties,

Liberation panthers and pantheresses? 137 leaders or policies which they were reluctant to abandon. The VCK, therefore, sought to refashion itself to appeal to a wider range of voters. Alterations included an emphasis on Tamil nationalism, a change in regulations to allow non-Dalits to hold leadership positions, an attempt to woo other minorities (primarily Muslims and Christians, but also fisherfolk and third-genders) and – most significantly here – steps to make the party more women friendly. In the latter half of the 2000s, the party formalised the women’s wing to this end. Deepa is a women’s wing leader in Madurai. She lives in a detached house in the suburbs with her husband and both have long been party members. Her husband – now retired – had a government job and though Deepa’s education ended at 10th standard (GSCE equivalent) her son has a degree. Her involvement in the party comes from her father and she is more involved than her husband.9 She recalled holding a statewide VCK Working Women’s Wing Conference in Neyveli in 2006 to which the party bussed in women from across the state. The event not only brought thousands of (predominantly Dalit) women together, but also articulated gendered demands: We said that it should not just be office-working women who are in posts; those at the bottom of society should also become key members. We must secure rights for them too, because the suppression of women is severe. For example before marriage women must be under the discipline of their family and after marriage they are bound by their husbands; that is, they are tied without any independence. After this, when they have children and all and go to work they have to work like machines. They are treated just like machines. That is why the working women’s meeting asked what sort of benefits does the government have for such women? How can we best ensure their independence? Rather than being confined in the home if we get women out we can see what political skills they possess. On that basis we try [Deepa is referring to the women’s wing activists here] and secure benefits for them. It was to raise the consciousness of women that we held the conference. We must have mustered some 10,000 women to that event which was a huge achievement [in English]. (Interview, August 2012) Multiple issues are captured here. The first is the call to recognise the value and labour of local women organisers who may not be educated or genteel like those preferred for senior posts (as we shall see). The party, as we have seen, needs to reach out to a broad constituency

138  Hugo Gorringe for votes and there is a perceived need for educated and articulate leaders to do this, which has resulted in increasing class differentiation within the VCK. This can mean that ‘bridge leaders’ (Robnett 2007), who act as conduits between leaders and the supporters, are overlooked as candidates for promotion. Many of these local activists, anyway, are reluctant to speak on stage – preferring the more intimate face-to-face gatherings in localities. One aim of such meetings was to bring more women into the political sphere. Such conferences clearly provide a ‘space in the struggle’ (Sen 1990), which has facilitated some actions to secure land and title deeds from the state. What we have here is Dalit women adapting political norms and acting as mediators between citizens and the state (Wyatt 2013). Deepa, thus, said she had secured pattas (deeds) for 60 to 70 women through a government scheme: H:  These pattas, are they registered in the names of the women? D:  Yes, in the women’s names. If you ask why, if you register it in

the man’s name he will sell it and run off; he will suppress the women and so we ensured that they were in the women’s names. . . . It is in women’s names that we have registered the 2 cents of land too. None of it was registered in men’s names. They are on the document as husbands or dependents but otherwise, there is nothing saying ‘wife of’ or anything like that (Interview, August 2012).

We see here the impact of brokers in political transactions. Not only do VCK women intervene on behalf of Dalit women, they can ensure that the deeds are registered in their names. VCK interventions of this nature are contentious and many, such as Madurai advocate Jawahar (Interview, March 2012), dismiss them as ‘NGO work’. At one level this is true and reflects the VCK’s shift from mobilisation to consolidation (trying to retain support as much as change society), but welfare provision is politically mediated in Tamil Nadu (Gorringe 2017; Wyatt 2013). The ‘freebies’ promised at each general election for instance are distributed through political networks, obtaining a caste certificate often requires political intervention and the spatial pattern of resource distribution is influenced by political activists. As a political party that is strong in both rural and urban areas, the VCK has a wider reach than any NGO. Indeed, many accounts testified to the benefits of a focus on women’s issues and of the engagement in party politics. Sen (1990) notes, however, how organisational structures can militate against women’s sustained involvement even though they might participate in mass actions. The formation of a women’s wing

Liberation panthers and pantheresses? 139 can be a mixed blessing, as noted earlier, facilitating the articulation of gender concerns while also marginalising women’s voices. As Deepa observed: In the early years the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi was only men. There were only men. When I say just men, then women would be invited to some meetings, the leader would invite them, and lakhs of women would attend those events. . . . If there were 1000 men, it was only with 100 women too that the crowds were amassed. Without those 100 women, no pressure would have been created. So many women assembled but they were not given membership or posts . . . [because] there were situations where they all had to sleep together in one place. Then if there were relations between men and women the party organisation would evaporate. It was due to such concerns only that women were not given organisational recognition back then. . . . Today it is not like that. On a par with men he has given a general secretary post to a woman. (Interview, August 2012) For all the value of women’s wings they are often secondary to the party. Consequently, Deepa suggests, the VCK has increasingly sought to bring more women into the mainstream in large part to reach out to female voters and to change the image of the party from one of rowdy men to one with a wider constituency. Kavitha Sampath, a Vanniyar lady, thus, was made one of the Assistant General Secretaries of the VCK, though she did not appear to be particularly active in the party. Pandiyammal who was neglected in 1999, furthermore, became the District Secretary of the party in Madurai not just the women’s wing, and was named as the MLA candidate for Sholavandan in the 2016 Assembly elections. As Revathi, a youth wing leader who had married a VCK activist in Madurai put it: ‘my party, rather than sidelining women, determined that women should be in all wings and it is on that basis that I hold this responsibility’ (Interview, August 2012). Nor is the elevation of women to these posts simply window-dressing. The District Secretary of a party has considerable influence in terms of leading protests and chairing meetings, and in terms of meeting political allies and opponents. Pandiyammal, for instance, was given the opportunity to speak on a Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK – Dravidian Progressive Federation) stage while they were in office, and the increase in profile she gained as a result was instrumental to her candidature in 2016.

140  Hugo Gorringe She was one of only 3 women out of 27 District Secretaries but this was an important step forward and one that was pointed to repeatedly by women activists. Several women also held state level posts, including that of assistant general secretary, and the party fielded 5 women from its allocation of 25 seats in the 2016 polls. The 2007 declaration in Velacherry, Chennai, which changed the rules about who could hold office in the party and the elevation of some women to key posts, however, did not have the desired effect. As Thirumavalavan told a party gathering in 2012: [We need to] reach out to the non-dalits, women, and minority community – meet them, speak with them, and induct them into party. In the first three years [after 2007], they joined voluntarily based on our announcement and action. Since we have not reached the target that we expected, in the second phase, we intend to reach out to them. (Thirumavalavan Speech, Marai Malar Nagar 2012) Following a disastrous showing in the 2011 Tamil Nadu state elections the VCK had instituted a full-scale overhaul of party post-holders. All officials were relieved of their posts and applications were invited to replace them. In this process, Thirumavalavan told party meetings across Tamil Nadu, priority would be given to women, minorities and non-Dalits as well as core Dalit cadre. If a District has four jobs then they should be divided up accordingly to make the public face of the party more representative of its constituents. Over the past few years, the party has also demanded prohibition in the state. For all the practical and political difficulties attending such a position, it was a policy that was warmly welcomed by Dalit women – who bear the brunt of alcoholism in terms of lost income and abuse – though it was generally ignored or laughed off by the men. Alcoholism, as Chapter 10 shows, is a critical issue for Dalit women – for practical rather than moral reasons. All women’s wing leaders spoke of alcoholism and sought to mitigate its worst excesses for their members, but the culture of bravado and machismo that surrounds many party men often revolves around drink. Whereas party leaders used to justify drinking on the grounds that Dalit men had to work in abysmal conditions, professionalisation seems to have compelled the party to adopt processes and structures (at least formally) that are more consistent with its stated ideology. Does this mean that concerns voiced by Dalit women and commentators about internal patriarchy and the neglect of gender concerns within the VCK have been addressed? Has elevating some women into

Liberation panthers and pantheresses? 141 leadership positions born fruit at the grassroots? In party post-holder nomination meetings in Marai Malar Nagar and Madurai it became clear that that it had not. Addressing the former event, Thirumavalavan conceded that: There is a decrease in number of women, last time there were more applications, but this time the applications from women are not at the level we expected, so there is a need to insist and expand this. (Speech, Marai Malar Nagar 2012) Indeed, the turnout of women for meetings that I attended was conspicuously low. There was usually at least one woman on stage, but the swathes of saris that had made movement events so colourful in the late 1990s were notably absent. That this does not reflect a lack of engagement was evident when the VCK toured villages campaigning for votes in 2016. When they were able to show their support for the party in their own localities, women were once again to the fore. In what follows, therefore, we take a closer look at the position of women and gender relations in the party.

Dalit women in the VCK The VCK is an established party now. Its flag flutters next to those of other political parties at the entrance to housing colonies, by autostands and in village squares. The VCK has multiple party branches, each with leader, assistant leader and district- and ward-level officials. There are party members or post-holders in most of these places and normally a women’s wing too. At times, however, it was unclear how they related to party supporters or to the wider public. Of these branches the women’s wing was perhaps the most elusive. In each village, cheri and settlement I visited they claimed to have a women’s wing, but when pressed on this the reality was unimpressive. Responses from Dalits in Periyakulam are instructive: H:  Is there W: Yes. W2:  No.

a women’s wing here?

It was here, but it has collapsed. We were in the Women’s Wing. We had a small credit group (Fieldnotes, July 2012). H:  Is there a women’s wing here? M:  Yes there is, but no one comes. W:  Not here now no. There used to be. We do nothing on that now (Fieldnotes, July 2012).

142  Hugo Gorringe The women’s wings, both suggested, were dormant at best, reflecting the general decline in grassroots activism since the professionalisation of the movement. When I spoke to women in Ambedkar Street they claimed to have a functioning women’s wing that acted for them: For women they go and speak for people at the police station. We speak up about caste abuses. Also we immerse ourselves (muzhu moochudan – full breath) into villages and educate people: ‘do not act like this’ [perform caste-based tasks, be subservient] and when we go our comrades rally around us and come along. (Fieldnotes, July 2012) The most common response to the question: ‘what do you do as a women’s wing?’, was that: ‘we go along to whatever meeting or event, and we vote for them’. For the majority of respondents, women’s wing activity entailed rounding up Dalit women to attend party events in a manner that reinforced their supporting role (see Chapter 5, this volume). After much prompting, village women in central Tamil Nadu said that they also: helped run credit unions offering low interest loans: Rs 2 not Rs 5 or 10. These self help groups were started by Govt schemes but were continuing ‘without funds’. The women were also involved in cooking pongal (a sweet rice or lentil based pudding) and doing kolams (auspicious designs in coloured powder) for Ambedkar’s birthday and so on. (Melachinnanampatti, Fieldnotes July 2012)10 Encapsulated in these quotes are several long-standing issues with the women’s wing: that it is not a priority and often exists in little more than name; that its primary function is to mobilise women for party events; that the division of labour in the party is highly gendered with women all too often reduced to the roles of cooks and kolam makers; and finally, that concerns raised by women at the grassroots level – such as the need for credit – are often neglected by the main party. As Rani, a case worker for a local NGO put it: We deal with a lot of domestic violence, but Dalit women are subject to multiple forms of discrimination: at home, in society, by caste and by culture. Parties do not take up these issues at all or give prominence to women leaders. (Interview, March 2012)

Liberation panthers and pantheresses? 143 Domestic violence, Rani implies, is ubiquitous, but is seen as less important than other forms of disadvantage. Indeed, speaking to one forceful and articulate VCK women’s leader in a village outside Madurai offered the sense of divergent priorities and of a growing gap between the grassroots activists and the leadership. Gnanadeepam had engaged in multiple struggles against caste discrimination and been to prison for the party but was increasingly disillusioned with the lack of support that she received: H:  The VCK speak of women’s liberation. G: Yes. H:  What have the party done on this? G:  We, as women, whatever happens we will

go and join in. We paste up notices and recruit people. But if there is any problem they [leadership] do not take it up. That is hard to bear (Interview, August 2012).

She was distraught that she had been imprisoned on a false charge following local caste disputes and no party leaders had visited her or raised her case. In most rural areas women’s wings lacked the numbers that would enable them to force an issue or compel the attention of party post-holders. In metropolitan centres or satellite villages, though, there was more of a sense of purpose about the groups. Speaking of her work for the party Revathi said: R:  Today

I have a child, I am married, but despite this I leave my family and home and go into each village and speak to people [about the work of the party]. I got 100 women, 100 village women – they usually never leave the village, they remain within four walls; all they know is cooking, looking after their husband and their children – they know nothing of the outside world [referring here to the world beyond the village/surroundings in which they work in fields or on government schemes]. Most Dalit women in particular were like that. Today, because there are leaders like me we go and speak to them and tell them what is happening and explain that we cannot remain submissive [to other castes] forever. Only if we too give voice for our rights will we be able to fully gain our rights. In such manner we go and speak in many villages and they listen to us and join the party. Today they are joining in their thousands. For the recent demonstration even, 100 women from Velliankundrum village . . . came en masse. That is a huge thing. Dalit women coming out to such a demonstration is a huge thing (Interview, August 2012).

144  Hugo Gorringe Revathi is the epitome of the contemporary VCK activist, recruiting members to the party (women are swelling party-membership even as attendance at events is dwindling) and trying to politicise rural Dalit women – many of whom lack education and remain dependent on higher-caste landlords for work.11 Like women’s movements elsewhere, most female activists saw consciousness-raising as imperative – though the issues addressed are caste inequality rather than patriarchy. Clearly, however, emboldening women to challenge caste inequities can have knock-on implications for gender relations (see Chapter 8, this volume). All the more so, since winning over the women required different strategies to those which attract men into the party. Rather than grand shows of force, Puliyammal – District secretary of the women’s wing in Madurai – spoke of sustained engagement with everyday concerns: P:  Mainly

we deal with women’s problems. If anything happens they phone us: problems with husbands who drink; problems with dowry; domestic abuse. At the first report we run and stand there. No matter what sort of a man he is we face him down (Interview, August 2012).

This recognition of Dalit domestic violence tends to elude the party, but Dalit movements can play a vital role in tackling domestic violence since they are better integrated into Dalit communities and allow women to raise issues without being subject to charges of casteism. When asked what they did, Puliyammal spoke of berating husbands in public and threatening them with police action. In exceptional cases the women were provided shelter, but the emphasis was on reprimanding the husband while keeping the marriage intact, highlighting how concerns over propriety and morality constrain interventions. The passion and commitment of many of the women activists was unmistakable and helped explain why women joined the party. The support and encouragement they received in everyday disputes whether at local shops, with other castes, with police or within the home helped to forge emotional ties to the party. Because such intervention is timeintensive, it tends to be localised and is impossible to replicate where numbers or commitment from activists are lacking. It is also, often confined to the women activists. This means that where there are no forceful women leaders, domestic violence is neglected. Male activists are not only reluctant to engage in domestic affairs, but often buy into dominant stereotypes that cast female activists as morally lax. Following on from the earlier discussion I asked Puliyammal about

Liberation panthers and pantheresses? 145 the wider stand of the party on the issue of dowry related violence in Dalit households: H:  Now

violence is increasing due to dowry?

P: Yes. H:  Can you not speak out about this as a party? P:  As a party we go and scare them [families harassing women]. H:  That is what you do. What does the party do? Can Thirumavala-

van not exhort members not to accept dowry from the stage? The leader says that. do not accept dowry, but as I come along they are all drunk and shouting out. No-one listens do they? (Interview, August 2012).12

P:  He keeps saying that doesn’t he? . . . TM: He says in general do not drink,

Injunctions against drink, dowry and domestic abuse, as Tamizh Murasu notes, are observed more in the breach than the practice. Dowry was condemned in the leader’s writings and was rejected by one leader in Madurai at his son’s wedding, but in informal interactions with me, upwardly mobile male members of the party openly anticipated vast sums of money or vehicles and other goods when they married (see Chapter 6, this volume). For all the leadership’s emphasis on women’s rights and female leaders, and all the excellent and dedicated work by local activists, therefore, gender concerns remain marginalised in the VCK. In concluding we analyse why this is.

Still waiting in the wings? On 30 June 2012, I was in Melavalavu – a village in central Tamil Nadu – for the anniversary of a massacre in 1997 in which a Dalit panchayat president and six followers were murdered. There were few people initially, then a small convoy of communist supporters and speakers, before: bikes, vans, autos, lorries and an armada of Sumos and Scorpios [Sports Utility Vehicles] descended on the village. Many with young men wearing flags as scarves hanging onto the outside of the vehicles, standing up in the back of vehicles and whistling and cheering or waving flags from motorbikes. Near the end of this tide came the vehicle bearing Thirumavalavan. It slowly nosed its way through the heaving mass of people that the vehicles had just disgorged. By the time it reached the flag-staff erected with seven steps in honour of the fallen it was hardly visible amidst the

146  Hugo Gorringe throng. Police and party faithful had to fight tooth and nail to pull, shepherd and push Thirumavalavan up the steps to unfurl the flag amid wild cheers. . . . [and] had to fight to get him through the crowd to the stage. In the heaving, jostling mass several fell over and were pushed this way and that. Pleas and injunctions were of little use and he was swept onto the stage with a sizeable number of other officials. Suddenly our comfortable chairs were enclosed by a mass of bodies blocking the view of the stage and making it stiflingly hot – fumes of alcohol washed over us from several of those crowded round. None could control them, so Thiruma took the mic and urged everyone to ‘sit down, sit down’, several times leaving the microphone and shouting in frustration as though to naughty children. (Fieldnotes, June 2012) The choreography of the occasion will be familiar to any who have attended party meetings. It speaks to the affection in which Thirumavalavan is held and to the enthusiasm of the party cadres, but also to the hyper-masculinity of public party performances. Rogers (2008: 80) shows how Dalit men resort to a form of hyper-masculinity in response to their marginality which valorises male physical strength and control over women. While the previuos scenes clearly illustrate the masculine incursion into and domination of public space (at least temporarily), the actions and attitudes fostered in such occasions serve to exclude or constrain women. Women activists spoke of being intimidated and sexually harassed by intoxicated youth in such scrums. This situation is not unique to the VCK, but as a small party they lack the infrastructure to properly steward and discipline mass events. The absence of such order was one reason for the greatly reduced attendance of women. Other reasons include the costs of lost wages and travel, and the propensity for public events to fall in the evening – facilitating the attendance of working men, but leaving women to look after children. The space created for women, thus, is limited. It is for women’s wing conferences that women turn out en masse – transport is laid on and a huge amount of work goes into persuading the women to attend – and their attendance at other events is more variable and less confident. It is not just physical space that is curtailed. The opportunities to voice alternatives, articulate gender concerns and represent diverse voices are also limited because of how the party is structured and represented. In the 1990s (Gorringe 2005) the party revolved around the leader, but its iconography centred on Ambedkar. Since becoming a party, the imagery of the organisation has shifted towards a celebration of the leader. Cadre

Liberation panthers and pantheresses? 147 outdo themselves to create ever more imaginative and larger images of Thirumavalavan. Increasingly these images capture the masculine ethos of the party; where Thirumavalavan used to be painted as an orator, for instance, he is now frequently portrayed in combat fatigues, bearing weapons or sporting dark-glasses. Significantly, Thirumavalavan’s moustache is now twirled upwards connoting strength, virility and power (see Jacob 2009). While Meenambal Sivaraj – the pioneering Dalit women’s leader and associate of Ambedkar – is one of six leaders on official party materials, she is absent from most posters. The focus is on Thirumavalavan as an ascetic, masculine figure who looks after his mother and sister but has sacrificed marriage and family life for the party. These images, as Gerritsen (2013: 2) argues, ‘are as much part of political practice as they are a representation of it’. The vehement response by cadre towards allegations of Thirumavalavan’s relationships or inappropriate intimacies shows how important this image is. Where other party leaders might brush off or laugh away such stories, his reputation is bound up with the image of the party.13 The choreography of movement events, similarly, is now so focused on the arrival and departure of the leader that there is little time for others to speak. Where that opportunity occurs, women’s voices are subdued in two ways: in terms of who can speak and what they can say: one women’s wing leader insisted that she could never speak on a platform. Political etiquette here dictates that speeches begin by listing all the notables in attendance at the meeting, and so: ‘a Party District secretary needs education – you need to be able to read and write. When you are speaking at the mic you need to read their name out correctly. I can’t read all of this’ (Interview, August 2012). I had asked if she was applying for a more senior position and she responded by listing the obstacles to assuming a more central role: We should not accept a job we cannot do and then face embarrassment. What do you say? There are many uneducated women out there. They will speak to me like they will not speak to others. I know how to speak to them and what to say. I have experience of that. How will the uneducated speak to intellectuals. (Interview, August 2012) There was no bitterness or sense of injustice here, merely a logical exposition of her continuing as a women’s wing leader rather than seeking promotion. Her story, however, is not uncommon and reveals some of the subtle mechanisms that exclude certain classes of

148  Hugo Gorringe people from leadership positions. Movements, as George (2002: 515) observes, operate as ‘a site of both opposition and hegemony’. Oppression, as Oommen (1984) noted, is ‘cumulative’. The lack of education highlighted in the quote earlier is mapped onto other forms of disadvantage. When I discussed the previous case with a senior member of the VCK, for example, he offered a further rationale for her exclusion: This woman goes into villages and who does she recruit? Women on the margins like widows and unmarried, the most marginalised. They are the ones who speak out most and act boldly. See those who are ‘weakest’ sexually are the boldest in terms of speech. It is those women that they are organising, but can these women mobilise the others in the village? They cannot. The other women will not put their faith in them and join in. ‘This woman is a bad character’ and so they do not join. This is the basic problem. (Interview, June 2012) His argument was that the party should actively recruit more articulate, preferably married middle-class women both to appeal to a wider electorate, but also so that they would not be subject to the rumours and innuendo that plagued women activists. In so doing, however, he reinforces brahminical ideas of virtue that constrain women (see Chapter 6 and Afterword, this volume). Unmarried women, thus, are seen as sexually ‘weak’ in line with brahminical norms – because their sexuality is not controlled (see Sariola 2010). The recruitment of middleclass women was seen as a means of appealing to a wider public, but also because ‘in most families – even activist ones, women will not speak [in public]. There will be patriarchy in the family’ (Interview, June 2012). While Dalit women are less subject to patriarchal gender norms (Kapadia 1995) and most would speak-up, few voice their opinions on political issues. Often, as we have seen, because they are not asked, or are presumed to lack knowledge. They are also still burdened with the majority of household work in addition to any paid employment they undertake (see Chapter 6, this volume). One advantage for middle-class activists – as Mageli (1997) notes – is that they are more likely to have servants. In recognising the constraints within which Dalit women operate, the VCK did not campaign systematically against patriarchal and casteist attitudes, but sought to promote more ‘suitable’ women, such as selecting the leading academic and human rights campaigner Vasanthi Devi as a candidate in Jayalalithaa’s constituency in 2016. Speaking to The Hindu, Anandhi questioned the choice of candidate: ‘if VCK is to counter state power represented by

Liberation panthers and pantheresses? 149 Jayalalitha they must field a grassroots dalit woman who represents the interests of dalit women’ (Kannan 2016). In selecting a high profile woman who was divorced from the grassroots, Anandhi suggests, the party is reinforcing norms and practices that limit women’s voice or involvement. The position of women and the ‘women’s question’ in the VCK was further complicated in the late 2000s, with the decision to open up the party to other castes. From 2007, thus, women leaders could be twice-removed from the Dalit women who constitute the core of the party; by class and by caste (though the vast majority of female leaders were Dalit). The move towards the ‘mainstream’ was contentious for the party with debates about the commitment of incomers from other castes and resentment about the ‘neglect’ of those who had given their all to the VCK. These concerns were amplified in the case of Dalit women who tended to organise on a more localised basis. As the women’s wing leader noted earlier: uneducated Dalit women ‘will speak to me like they will not speak to others’. Such leaders still speak of ‘us’ and ‘them’ referring to Dalits and other castes. The undifferentiated category of women, thus, is problematised by the incorporation of non-Dalits, though one cannot assume the unity of women within the Dalit category either. Chapter 3 (this volume) describes how the Dalit Women’s Movement unites all Dalit castes. The VCK also appeals across castes and recruits members from all castes, but it continues to be a mostly Paraiyar party and this can cause frictions. Following the heavily publicised violence surrounding a Vanniyar-Paraiyar love-marriage in 2012, thus, the ‘Arunthathiyar Education’ Facebook page carried details of a so-called honour killing in which a Paraiyar girl was killed by her parents following her marriage to an Arunthathiar (lower Dalit caste) boy. Chandran (2012) and Gatade (2013) claim that only Arunthathiyar organisations took up the case while the VCK remained silent. In Frontline, Radhakrishnan (2013) called on Tamil Dalits to mobilise ‘themselves as a class, burying their inter-caste differences’.14 Dalit leaders could and should do more to diffuse intra-Dalit caste tensions, but to assume that political unity alone is the solution would be misguided. There is an urgent need for more campaigns to change mindsets and attitudes that perceive others – including other Dalits – as lesser humans. Inbanathan, a Dalit pastor, indicated how even Dalit activists struggled to escape caste thinking: All those who talk about Dalit today, all Dalit theology for example – none of these people are prepared to let go of their caste. Now Ambedkar in Annihilation of Caste spoke about inter-marriage as

150  Hugo Gorringe one means of countering caste, but when I had a love marriage to a non-Dalit girl then I faced all kinds of criticism about my lack of commitment to the Dalit struggle. They would not accept my more inclusive version of ‘Dalit’. So, what is the implication? Dalit has become a caste – it is just like SC or any other terminology. (Interview, February 2012) Similarly, Ravi Chandran (2012) insists on the importance of recognising the gendered nature of caste violence. All too often, he points out, analysts condemn ‘caste violence, but they fail to see the gender violence behind the tragedy which had transformed into caste violence’ (see Rege 2013). Significantly, when the VCK forged a political alliance with the Vanniyar-dominated PMK, ‘violence against women was . . . completely obscured and became unmentionable’ in the interests of coalition unity (Dietrich 2009: 14). Dalit movements, as Gatade (2013) concludes, need to ‘introspect’. One crucial first step would be to acknowledge how the rhetoric of caste or national pride as mapped onto the bodies of women, may result in boundary marking and moral policing as seen in the previous Karnatakan example (see Gupte 2013). In 2005, in the Tamil context, the VCK and PMK leapt to the defence of ‘Tamil honour’ and asked Kushboo (an actress) to apologise for impugning the chastity and virtue of ‘Tamil women’ by suggesting that they might be sexually active before marriage (see Anandhi 2005; Dietrich 2009). Such concerns recur implicitly in preferences for middle-class women rather than those with ‘bad reputations’. The upshot is a form of identity-based politics that imposes multiple constraints on women’s activism and voice. Ideologically speaking, Thirumavalavan has outlined a position that is completely at odds with the party’s actions in the Kushboo affair, noting that chastity is ‘violence fabricated by men – for the benefit of men’ (2004: 60). The different facets of the VCK’s political activism are opposed on this point. On the one hand, they protest that love is blind when condemning Ramadoss’ campaign against cross-caste-marriages,15 but on the other they seek to broaden their appeal to mainstream Tamil society by celebrating chastity even though caste purity depends upon endogamy and the control of female sexuality (Rege 2013). The contradictions within the VCK’s position have been exacerbated since becoming a party. Hodges (2005: 275) notes how ‘a conservative politics of the family’ was critical to the mass support extended to Dravidian parties. The politics of nationalism, community and family, however, has meant

Liberation panthers and pantheresses? 151 that ‘feminist’ ideals have often been sacrificed despite the fact that ‘caste cannot be fought without fighting patriarchy’ (EPW 2013: 8).

Conclusion The VCK is the largest Dalit party in Tamil Nadu. Over several decades of mobilisation, consciousness-raising and – more recently – electoral competition they have claimed women’s rights as one of their core objectives. Having entered political institutions, they have sought to attract women to the party by rhetorically prioritising women for leadership roles, promoting some women to prominent positions, formalising the women’s wing so that it can stage grand events (even though organisation at the ground level has faltered) and recruiting female members and voters. The movement emboldened a generation of Dalit women, infusing them with a sense of their rights and of their capacity to resist oppressive caste structures. Dedicated female leaders have been to the fore in securing land rights, raising awareness and tackling caste – and sometimes domestic – violence. As a consequence they number many thousands of women among their members. For all these virtues, the number of women attending party meetings in 2012 was dramatically lower than it was in the late 1990s. Drawing on ethnographic data this chapter has offered some discussion of why this might be the case. We have seen how the public political culture of the party militates against the participation of women and marginalises gender concerns. We have further seen how these public performances rest on patriarchal attitudes and practices among party members. These actions belie the ideological stance of the party. In 2015, following the banning of India’s Daughter – a film about the Delhi rape case – Thirumavalavan called for a repeal of the ban and for the full implementation of the Justice Verma Committee recommendations which include a Bill of Rights for Women, punishments for sexual violence and legal and political reforms (Dhinna Thanthi 2015). The VCK, as Dietrich notes (2009: 15) has ‘a genuine commitment to women’s liberation and women’s participation’ but, like the Dravidian parties before it, it has failed to campaign systematically on these issues or build them into party structures. The focus on a unitary category of women, furthermore, obscures the intersecting and crosscutting identities that inform processes of inclusion or exclusion in different ways. Lack of education, for instance, stymies the promotion of grassroots bridge leaders in favour of educated urbanites who are divorced from the real concerns of Dalit women. Similarly, the politics

152  Hugo Gorringe of Tamil nationalism employs gendered strategies and symbols that reinforce patriarchal codes of conduct and sexual morality. Finally, the emphasis on ‘Tamil women’ obscures the very real differences between castes and classes in the state. To blame the VCK alone for this situation would be misguided. The party operates within a socio-political environment that constrains and shapes how it operates. In a book for a Karnataka-based campaign group, for example Dave Hardy of Amnesty International highlights ‘all the important strategies that individuals and organisations nowadays use to support the Dalits’ (Hardy N.D; vi). The book offers a useful overview of Dalit strategies, but only mentions Dalit women in terms of their poor literacy rates. The fate of Dalit women here, as elsewhere, is seen as bound up with struggles against caste. What the previous data suggests is that this wider struggle is futile without a gendered analysis of the social relations that constitute caste. The VCK leadership may have a theoretical grasp of this issue, but they have not acted on this or taken it to the grassroots. In 2012, the District Secretary of Madurai, Pandiyammal, built herself a new house. In the hallway are stone engravings of Ambedkar and of Thirumavalavan. The latter has an inset of Pandiyammal herself and a reference to the party’s work for women’s rights. When I asked about this, Pandiyammal was unequivocal: ‘Thirumavalavan is the leader who has raised someone like me onto a stage and given me a voice and given a voice to thousands of others’ (Fieldnotes, April 2012). The elevation of a Dalit woman onto a stage including the chief minister and others is a welcome and significant first step, but if the process simultaneously curtails what she can say then it is limited indeed. If the voices of Dalit women are to be given free reign, heard and acted upon the party needs to do more than promote women into positions of leadership. As well as such role models – of community activists who gain prominence – there is a need for active leaders at the grassroots who are prepared to engage in everyday issues (see Dietrich 1988) and support women’s daily struggles against patriarchy as well as caste. It is not just the party structure that needs to change, in other words, but its culture as well. It is worth noting in conclusion, that the Assembly elections in 2016 suggest that a shift in direction is not beyond the VCK. The Panthers fought the election alongside Communist Parties and others and campaigned vociferously against caste violence and for legislation to tackle the rise in so-called honour crimes. As we have seen, the VCK could do more to promote inter-caste marriages and intra-Dalit harmony at the ground level, but they have been to the fore in protests against such

Liberation panthers and pantheresses? 153 killings and a change to the law makes sense in a context where the dominant parties remain silent on the issue. All parties campaigned for prohibition in 2016, but it was a central plank of the PWF manifesto and was adopted by them and some other parties well before it became universal. It proved so popular – especially among women – that all leading contenders adopted the policy in some form including the victorious AIADMK. While only a fifth of VCK candidates were women, none of those selected were mere tokens. Vasanthi Devi may not have a grassroots following, but she has a long history of civic engagement. Ezhil Caroline may be the daughter of veteran campaigner and Union Minister Dalit Ezhilmalai, but is a well-known and forceful advocate for women’s rights and state convenor of the National Federation of Dalit Women. At least two of the remaining three – including Pandiyammal – represent the grassroots Dalit women who were neglected in the past. These candidates offer examples of engaged Dalit women who are being afforded prominence in the party. None of this was possible while the VCK remained a junior ally of the main parties, where they were compelled to maintain a silence over caste and ‘honour’ killings on their allies’ platforms, denied many seats, often guided as to which candidates to field, and limited in terms of manifesto commitments. The VCK’s decision to break with Dravidian politics, from this perspective, may allow for an alternate politics that is closer to their ideological and rhetorical commitments to women’s rights. This politics breaks with the over-riding emphasis on populist handouts to pursue principles (at least in part). The coalition have united in condemning abuses of caste power; campaigned for coalition governments and against corruption and nepotism; and engaged directly with voters rather than speaking down to them or promising them freebies. That said, the style of politics adopted now is not radically different from that of the Dravidian parties in terms of leader-centrism and celebration, and we have seen how women’s issues have been marginalised by the VCK. In their review of manifestos in 2016, leading campaigners Christodas Gandhi and Kris Kumar argue that the PWF is the only front to address Dalit issues – an outcome that they attribute to the VCK – but they conclude that no manifesto contains new schemes or policies to improve the lives of Dalits. It is telling that the PWF’s main manifesto commitment to women’s rights is a vague promise to ensure that the state commission for women works more effectively. The demand for an increase in wages for those taking part in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and for the allocation of 6 per cent of the budget to health care would benefit Dalit women immensely, but not exclusively. That some of the candidates are Dalit

154  Hugo Gorringe women who have risen through the ranks, rather than hailing from middle-class families, does not guarantee that their concerns will be heard or mean that they are popular leaders. Some constituents in 2016 grumbled that candidates like Pandiyammal were not sufficiently engaged with local cadres or willing to disburse money for canvassing, but the symbolic significance of fielding such candidates and their willingness to interact with people in villages, colonies, busses and markets is immense. The strong female candidates, thus, simultaneously act as role models and raise the profile of committed female activists. Were one of these women to be elected as an MLA in future, then the Liberation Pantheresses may finally find their voice.

Notes 1 I am immensely grateful to Karin Kapadia and S. Anandhi both for prompting me to write this piece and for detailed and insightful comments and suggestions that have improved the chapter immeasurably. I am indebted to Karthikeyan for information on the 2016 election. 2 There are numerous Dalit organisations in the state, which has a rich history of Dalit activism. Whilst all speak about women’s rights, very few take these seriously. Prominent among these are the Samuga Samathuva Padai (Forum for Social Equality) founded by P. Sivakami IAS following her disillusionment with established parties; the Tamilnadu Dalit Women’s Movement associated with Fatima Burnad; and Madurai-based NGO Evidence which regularly holds public tribunals to highlight the plight of Dalit women. Important work with and for Dalit women is also carried out by cross-caste organisations like Penurimai Iyyakam (Women’s Rights Movement). The difficulty of escaping the dominant political culture of the state was seen in 2016, when Sivakami joined the DMK alliance despite their silence on caste and gender matters and contested elections on the DMK symbol. 3 Fieldwork reported here was supported by the ESRC with a doctoral grant in 1998–99 and a research grant (Grant RES-062–23–3348) in 2012. 4 This is an English translation of a speech and it is possible that something has been lost in translation. 5 The significance of this objective is showcased in Chakravarti’s contribution to this volume, which speaks of higher castes frowning on the education of women. Since 2012, the VCK has stepped up its campaign for stricter legal punishments of ‘honour crimes’ against cross caste marriages. While honour crimes are bound up with questions of hyper caste-masculinity and notions about the purity of women, the VCK campaigns mostly focus on the politics of caste pride in the region. 6 Data was collected over 10 months in 2012 during ESRC funded fieldwork in and around Madurai District, central Tamil Nadu. 7 All female interviewees spoke of cases of violence against women. See also the report by the NGO Evidence (2008) on ‘Violations against Dalit Women’. http://evidence.org.in/ViolationsagainstDalitWomen_StudyRe port.htm Accessed on 30 August 2013. The NGO have also held several tribunals on this issue to give voice to the victims of caste violence.

Liberation panthers and pantheresses? 155 8 It should be noted here that movements and parties affiliated with other Dalit castes also engage with women’s rights. Puthiya Tamizhagam, a mainly Pallar (or Devendra Kula Vellallar) party led by Dr Krishnasamy; the Tamil Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (Tamil People’s Progressive Federation) led by John Pandian, and Arunthathiyar groups like Adi-Tamilar Peravai (Original Tamils Front) led by Athiyamaan and ArunTamilar Viduthalai Iyyakkam (Original Tamils Liberation Movement) led by Jakkaian all have similar strengths and weaknesses to the VCK. Their rhetoric on women’s rights and equality outstrips their practice in each case. 9 While Ciotti (2009) found that the wives of BSP members were often active in the party, the VCK is a very small party still. Wives tended to be in the party but, with some exceptions, opportunities for activism were limited. 10 For more on SHGs and Dalit women in Tamil Nadu see Guerin and Kumar’s chapter in this volume. 11 See Carswell and De Neve (2014) for an excellent account of how caste continues to inform even the non-agricultural economy of parts of rural Tamil Nadu. 12 Tamizh Murasu was a peripheral member of the VCK. He acted as a research assistant for me and introduced me to countless party members. He would sit in during interviews which fostered a conversational atmosphere and encouraged discussion. 13 For one example of such unsupported allegations and the party’s rapid defence of the leader, see here: http://kollytalk.com/tn/news/thol-thirumavalavan-cheated-complains-coimbatore-woman-97388.html Accessed on 6 February 2015. 14 See Chapters 6–8 in this volume for more on intra-Dalit divisions. Chakravarti’s Afterword describes the ways in which female sexuality is controlled and deployed as ‘sexual governance’ and notes how it is tied to the policing of caste boundaries. 15 For details of the debates over cross-caste marriages see Rajan’s (20 November 2012) report in India Today, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/ tamil-nadu-dharamapuri-violence-inter-caste-marriges/1/230066.html Accessed on 10 January 2014.

References Anandhi, S. 2005. ‘Sex and Sensibility in Tamil Politics’, Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), 40 (47): 4876. Arunthathiyar Education. n.d. ‘Caste Hindu Paraiyar’, Facebook, January 13, 2013. www.facebook.com/permalink.php?id=279416848762132&story_ fbid=476466605723821 Accessed on August 7, 2013. Barnett, M. R. 1976. The Politics of Cultural Nationalism in South India. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Carswell, Grace and G. De Neve. 2014. ‘T-Shirts and Tumblers: Caste, Dependency and Work Under Neoliberalisation in South India’, Contributions to Indian Sociology, 48 (1): 103–131. Chandran, Ravi. 2012. ‘The Murder of a Girl and the Silence Over It’, Round Table India, December 1, 2012. http://roundtableindia.co.in/index.php?option= com_content&view=article&id=6001:the-murder-of-a-dalit-girl-and-the-silenceover-it&catid=119 Accessed on August 7, 2013.

156  Hugo Gorringe Ciotti, M. 2009. ‘The Conditions of Politics: Low-Caste Women and Political Agency in a Northern Indian City’, Feminist Review, 91(1): 113–134. Dhinna Thanthi. 2015. ‘Lift the Ban on “India’s Daughter” Film: Thol Thirumavalavan Press Release’, March 10, 2015. www.dailythanthi.com/News/ State/2015/03/10040540/Thol-Thirumavalavan-Emphasis.vpf Accessed on March 31, 2015. Dietrich, Gabriele. 1988. Women’s Movement in India. Bangalore: Breakthrough Publications. Dietrich, Gabriele. 2001. A New Thing on Earth. New Delhi: ISPCK. Dietrich, Gabriele. 2009. Beyond Patriarchy, Caste and Capitalism. Madurai: Tamilnadu Theological Seminary. EPW Editorial. 2013. ‘Fighting Caste, Fighting Patriarchy’, Economic and Political Weekly, 48 (29): 8. Gatade, Subhash. 2013. ‘Patriarchal Underpinnings of Caste Violence’, InfoChange.Org, July 2013. http://infochangeindia.org/human-rights/analysis/patriarchal-underpinnings-of-caste-violence.html Accessed on August 7, 2013. George, Glynis. 2002. ‘ “Four Makes Society”: Women’s Organisation, Dravidian Nationalism and Women’s Interpretation of Caste, Gender and Change in South India’, Contributions to Indian Sociology, 36 (3): 495–524. Gerritsen, Roos. 2014. ‘Canvasses of Political Competition: Image Production as Politics in Tamil Nadu’, Ethnos, 79 (4): 551–576. Gorringe, Hugo. 2005. Untouchable Citizens. New Delhi: Sage. Gorringe, Hugo. 2017. Panthers in Parliament. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Gupte, Manisha. 2013. ‘The Concept of Honour: Caste, Ideology and Patriarchy in Rural Maharashtra’, Economic and Political Weekly, 48 (18): 72–81. Guru, Gopal. 1999. ‘A Critical Look at Dalit Activism’, The Hindu, January 12, 1999. A version may be found here, www.womenutc.com/00_09_006.htm Accessed on August 30, 2013. Hardy, Dave. n.d. People’s Strategies for Change. Tumkur: Ambedkar Resource Centre. The Hindu. 2013. ‘Activists Condemn Police Brutality Against Dalit Girls’, August 5, 2013. www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-karnataka/ activists-condemn-police-brutality-against-dalit-girls/article4990822.ece Accessed on August 5, 2013. Hodges, Sarah. 2005. ‘Revolutionary Family Life and the Self Respect Movement in Tamil South India, 1926–49’, Contributions to Indian Sociology, 39 (2): 251–277. Jacob, Preminda. 2009. Celluloid Deities. New Delhi: Orient Black Swan. Kannan, Ramya. 2016. ‘As Women Battle, Reading the Sub-Text’, The Hindu, April 22, 2016. www.thehindu.com/elections/tamilnadu2016/tami-naduassembly-elections-as-women-battle-reading-the-subtext/article8505509. ece Accessed on April 22, 2016. Kapadia, Karin. 1995. Siva and Her Sisters: Gender, Caste and Class in Rural South India. Boulder, CO: Westview. Mageli, Eleanor. 1997. Organising Women’s Protest. London: Curzon.

Liberation panthers and pantheresses? 157 Molyneux, Maxine. 1985. ‘Mobilization Without Emancipation? Women’s Interests, the State, and Revolution in Nicaragua’, Feminist Studies, 11 (2): 227–254. Offe, Claus. 1990. ‘Reflections on the Institutional Self-Transformation of Movement Politics’, in R. Dalton and M. Kuechler (eds) Challenging the Political Order, pp. 232–250. Cambridge: Polity. Oommen, T. K. 1984. ‘Sources of Deprivation & Styles of Protest’. Contributions to Indian Sociology, 18 (1): 45–61. Periyar, E.V.R. 2009. Why Has Woman Become a Slave? Translated by K. Ramathal. Chennai: Kavitha Publication. Radhakrishnan, P. 2013. ‘Sectarian Poison’, Frontline, 30 (1). www.front line.in/politics/sectarian-poison/article4276583.ece Accessed on August 5, 2013. Rege, Sharmila. 2013. Against the Madness of Manu. New Delhi: Navayana. Robnett, B. 1997. How Long? How Long? African-American Women in the Struggle for Civil Rights. New York: Oxford University Press. Rogers, Martin. 2008. ‘Modernity, “Authenticity”, and Ambivalence: Subaltern Masculinities on a South Indian College Campus’, The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 14 (1): 79–95. Sariola, Salla. 2010. Gender and Sexuality in India. London: Routledge. Sen, Ilina. (ed.) 1990. A Space Within the Struggle. New Delhi: Kali for Women. Swaminathan, Padmini. 2002. ‘The Violence of Gender-Biased Development’, in Karin Kapadia (ed.) The Violence of Development, pp. 69–140. New Delhi: Kali. Thapar Björkert, Suruchi. 2006. ‘Women as Arm-Bearers: Gendered Caste Violence and the Indian State’, Women’s Studies International Forum, 29 (5): 474–488. Thirumavalavan, Thol. 2004. Talisman: Extreme Emotions of Dalit Liberation. Translated by Meena Kandasamy. Kolkata: Samya. Times News. 2013. ‘Assault on Dalit Girls Over Dress Raises Tension in SC/ ST Meet’, Times of India, August 5, 2013. http://timesofindia.indiatimes. com/city/mangalore/Assault-on-Dalit-girls-over-dress-raises-tension-in-SC/ ST-meet/articleshow/21607679.cms Accessed on August 5, 2013. Wyatt, A. 2013. ‘Combining Clientelist and Programmatic Politics in Tamil Nadu, South India’, Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, 51 (1): 27–55.

5 Microcredit self-help groups and Dalit women Overcoming or essentializing caste difference? Isabelle Guérin and Santosh Kumar* Bringing women together to help them claim their rights collectively is a very appealing idea; we know from history that collective action has always been instrumental in promoting the rights of marginalized groups, including women.1 But the practical implementation of this idea is very complex, given the multiple identities which divide, rather than unify, women. In a companion paper drawing on field work with rural women in Tamil Nadu (Guérin, Kumar and Agier 2013), we shed light on the ambiguity of women’s relationships, where solidarity, competition and rivalry coexist. Even where there was solidarity between women, we observed that for some women to have leadership required or implied that other women were dominated. Where power was sought by women in Self-Help Groups (SHGs), it was mainly in relation to other women, both within their own kinship groups and within their own caste-based neighbourhoods. In that paper we critiqued the concept of ‘empowerment’ that Indian microcredit NGOs are so eager to widely promote, because it has largely been understood as merely the power to act (agency), and not as power over others (domination). We also, in that paper, critique NGOs for failing to grasp the ambiguities and the unexpected consequences of so-called empowering programmes among women’s self-help groups. Our focus in that paper was primarily on women’s internal household relationships. This chapter seeks to develop our discussion further by looking at the relationships between women from different castes, and especially between Dalit and Non-Dalit women. It draws on a close-grained case study done in northern Tamil Nadu, where women’s SHGs remain sharply divided by their caste identities. In this chapter we examine how women themselves experience and understand these caste-based divisions. We also reveal how NGO staff, rather than trying to overcome these differences between SHG women, instead exploit them for their own purposes. In particular,

Microcredit self-help groups and Dalit women 159 we show how NGO staff use caste bias to build their own legitimacy in various domains, and deliberately essentialize caste categorizations instead of challenging them. In line with strong critique of the concept of ‘social capital’ (Harriss 2006), but through a gender prism, we also show how absurdly unrealistic the post-Washington Consensus notion of spontaneous solidary ‘women’s communities’ is, in rural contexts where women are very sharply divided by caste and class identities. The long-term field work study that we use here has been carried out over the past ten years with regular visits to a dozen villages in the districts of Vellore, Salem and Tiruvallur. Though these regions differ greatly in economic, social and political terms, what we report here has been observed in all three districts, albeit to varying extents. Over time, we built up close relationships with four NGOs with various caste and religious origins. The first was founded by two brothers who are both Catholic and from middle caste backgrounds, and who mostly target middle and low castes. The second, much smaller one, defines itself as a community-based organization created by and for Dalit women. The founder is a female pastor from the Lutheran church. Lutherans are its main but not exclusive target. The two other NGOs have their origins in the urban upper class and Hindu elite. They rely on rural upper-caste networks to establish themselves in the countryside, while targeting the local population as a whole. In all of these cases, recruiting social workers and credit officers (male and female) from the various castes facilitates relations with these various caste-communities. We spent time in NGO offices to observe their dayto-day activities and had many discussions (and also disagreements) with founders, managers and some of their partners and allies, such as public officials, donors, local associations and informal networks. We attended some of their training courses and public events, which, as we shall see later, are key to establishing their reputations. We spent time with male and female credit officers who were all from the same caste or at least the same ‘rank’ as their target population. We saw them both during their field visits and outside their work. We also spent time with SHG leaders and SHG members in their villages. We were present during many conversations they held among themselves, and with credit officers and NGO managers. While some conversations were recorded, many were not, as they were entirely informal.

The hopes of the SHG Program Providing a platform for women to join together and help each other has been a policy promoted by the Indian government since the early

160  Isabelle Guérin and Santosh Kumar 2000s, with the so-called self-help group (SHG) programs. These savings and credit groups usually consist of between 12 and 20 women, who are sometimes linked together into larger groups called ‘federations’. They primarily seek to promote women’s livelihoods, but are also expected to spearhead a wide range of positive outcomes, whether at the individual, household or community level. In the 2006 Report of the Working Group on Poverty Elimination (of the Indian government), SHGs featured prominently. They are cited on many occasions, whether as a key to poverty reduction, job creation, grassroots democracy or women’s ‘empowerment’. The report for instance argues, ‘It is well recognised that SHGs are appropriate grass-root level institutions for attacking multiple deprivation’ (GoI 2006: 20). In contrast to earlier approaches, such as credit schemes for the rural poor which have a long history in India, ‘community involvement’ with the support of NGOs is ‘expected to facilitate the formation of groups’ (GoI 2006: 29). Andhra Pradesh is well known for its very large numbers of SHGs and is cited by the report as a model to be followed. The virtues of SHGs are seemingly endless: In the process of poverty elimination, the social mobilization and empowerment of the poor is the first basic step. The SHG model of Andhra Pradesh shows the possibility of such an accomplishment through the formation of SHGs of poor women. Coming together in SHGs and their federations at the village level (Village Organisations), Mandal level (Mandal Samakhyas) and even at district level (Zilla Samakhyas), these poor women have gained confidence and developed capacities which go much beyond mobilizing thrift and microcredit. These groups are able to address some of the most neglected deprivations and disabilities of the poor such as health security for all the member households and skill formation for the disabled. They have also been able to contribute to the eradication of child labour, spread awareness about AIDS, campaign against liquor, etc. (GoI 2006: 45) In a more recent report by the Working Group on Women’s Agency and Empowerment, SHGs continue to be highlighted as key instruments for increasing rural employment and women’s ‘empowerment’ by way of women’s ‘political representation’ and women’s participation in ‘governance’ (GoI 2012: 27–28). The Indian government’s position in these two reports largely reflects the neoliberal policy priorities of the post-Washington consensus.2

Microcredit self-help groups and Dalit women 161 According to this neoliberal view, local ‘communities’, and ‘women’s communities’ in particular, can ‘empower’ the poor, strengthen grassroots democracy and bridge the gap between local and national institutions. The poor, and most particularly poor women, are expected to show a natural willingness to unite to assist development projects. This perspective ignores the fact that poor women are very reluctant to devote their time and their energy to collective projects for little or no remuneration. Furthermore, it reifies ‘poor women’ into a homogeneous category that is both the target and the vehicle for ‘development’, as if all poor women can be spontaneously moved to take action by their (presumed) ‘common’ aspirations and constraints. After getting organized in their own neighbourhoods, the women are expected to organize on a wider scale, first at Panchayat level and then at the district level. Their supposedly strong and natural capacity for self-organization is expected to allow NGOs to gradually withdraw. Apart from the likelihood that NGOs will be very reluctant to bring about their own demise, the deep existing divisions among so-called local communities – a term that is never really defined – are entirely ignored. It is as if the authors of the two Working Groups reports are completely unaware that everyday village life in India, also for women, is based around very strong social institutions such as class, caste and religion, which sharply divide all villagers, including women. In striking contrast to the neoliberal views discussed earlier, over the past few years a range of careful investigative studies have raised serious doubts regarding the effectiveness of SHGs in India. Women’s participation in self-help groups was thought to promote solidarity and trust. However, the evidence suggests that it is, at best, a technique that shifts the costs and responsibilities of rural development onto poor women (Rao 2008). Microcredit may benefit the males in households, but not their women who continue to have very little control over household assets (Garikipati 2008). When microcredit does benefit women, it is mostly the better-off ones (Guérin, Kumar and Agier 2013; Pattenden 2010; Rao 2008). Further, microcredit is mostly spent on consumption and thus fails to promote self-employment (Guérin, Kumar and Agier 2013), even if it sometimes reduces vulnerability (Kalpana 2011) and extreme dependency, especially for the poorest (Mosse 2005). Crucially, SHGs are thoroughly embedded within local structures of accumulation and are subject to the dictates of local political factions. As a result, they reproduce pre-existing inequalities along the various social divides, such as gender, caste, class, religious and political affiliation (Joseph 2013; Kalpana 2008, 2011; Pattenden 2010; Picherit

162  Isabelle Guérin and Santosh Kumar 2009). Two years of ethnographic research in a village in Telangana enabled Picherit (2009) to conclude that the female president of the local microcredit NGO was also the village’s biggest moneylender. She was from the dominant caste and her husband was the village’s biggest landowner and a powerful regional political leader. The NGO field worker in charge of repayment collections was her grandson. During this grandson’s field visits to collect microcredit repayments, he would also ask for the repayments that his grandmother was owed, not hesitating to use coercive means, such as the sexual coercion of Dalit and lower-caste women, to retrieve the money. In more recent fieldwork from Chittoor district (in Andhra Pradesh), Picherit (forthcoming) has noted the very strong politicization of SHGs in Andhra Pradesh. He notes that women members join and leave SHGs based on the gifts and promises that local politicians offer them. He also notes the segmentation of microcredit by caste: the upper castes run profitable capitalistic private microfinance organizations while the Dalits have to content themselves with very small and unsustainable NGOs. In Karnataka, Pattenden (2010) found that women’s SHGs are fully integrated into the accumulation strategies of the dominant classes, who are also the dominant castes. The criteria for loan allocation and the degree of pressure exerted for repayments vary very significantly depending on caste identity and political affiliation. Also in Karnataka, in a town dominated by Muslim capitalists, Joseph (2013) found that the 2009 wave of loan repayment defaults in fact had nothing to do with religion (which many observers had claimed). It instead reflected employers’ fears of losing the female labour force that they had bonded by debt. In this particular case microcredit gave hope for liberation to these bonded women labourers. The fieldwork we did widely confirmed the deep connections that exist between the existing social hierarchies of caste and class and the reasons why microcredit NGOs and SHGs start out, operate and in some cases disappear. In total contradiction to the idealistic and extraordinarily naive vision of a ‘civil society’ free from political interference, as championed, for instance, by Partha Chatterjee (2008),3 we found that SHGs and NGOs are both shaped by and constitutive of local caste, class, religious and gender divisions. They are key actors in local and regional political power games. This chapter examines a very specific facet of the imbrications between caste and gender in NGOs’ operations. We look at how women in SHGs themselves experience and understand caste differences (with a focus on Dalit and Vanniyar women). Mistrust is observed on both sides and the violence with which women from these castes talk about each other is striking. This makes any spontaneous and harmonious collective action very difficult. And yet NGO field

Microcredit self-help groups and Dalit women 163 workers, rather than attempting to overcome these caste divisions, exploit them for their own purposes.

Divided women, caste biases and hierarchy As feminist research has long claimed, women are not homogeneous subjects. They have multiple identities and their inferior status as women has different meanings and outcomes according to their position within the social hierarchy, both at local and global levels. The case study we present here illustrates well how a local putative ‘women’s community’ is in fact subject to multiple divisions. The villages we studied have developed significantly over the past decades. This development includes, in varying degrees, urban migration, wide access to electricity and television, and schooling for almost all children, including girls. The opening up of new job and loan/credit opportunities outside the village (albeit mostly reserved for men), along with broadened horizons, have undermined the traditional hierarchical agrarian structures. The dependence of the local Dalits4 on the middle castes, who are mainly Vanniyars, and the upper castes (mainly Mudaliars and Reddiars) is much lower than it was 20 years earlier. In the same vein, local testimonies suggest that so-called untouchability practices, such as prohibitions on Dalits entering temples, have been declining. But the fact remains that both the economic dependence of Dalits and discrimination against Dalits still persist.5 Relationships between Dalit and non-Dalit women and their attitudes towards one other are no exception to this pervasive casteist discrimination against Dalits. Women’s own words showed as much. Informal conversations carried out separately with Dalit and Vanniyar6 women (who in any case mix very little with each other) and observations of everyday discussions among women belonging to a particular caste highlighted how significant and persistent caste prejudices are between women. What follow are extracts from the discussions we had with them, which should merely be taken for what they are: expressions of common beliefs and prejudices to the interviewers. They cannot be assumed to reflect hidden, private feelings (which may be different from these public testimonies) nor their practices. Beliefs, of course, can often lie far from real behaviours, but this is beyond our purpose here (even if small discrepancies will be highlighted throughout the chapter). What interests us here is the violence of the testimonies: non-Dalit women do not avoid passing discriminatory judgments against Dalits. We asked Vanniyar women a number of times why they had so little interaction with Dalit women, including within NGO activities. These

164  Isabelle Guérin and Santosh Kumar discussions mostly focused on the supposedly different characteristics of Dalit women, which Vanniyar women claimed that they objected to and which they tried to use as their justification for not mixing with Dalit women. A very central and heavily emphasized subject of discussion by Vanniyar women was the issue of women’s physical mobility and women’s control over their own bodies. They harshly condemned the Dalit community, claiming that Dalit women were not merely morally lax but shamefully promiscuous: Colony women go about everywhere, they don’t stay at home, they roam around outside for no reason and they do illegal things. [This expression refers to adultery.] We get respect because we don’t move around; colony women don’t get respect because they move around too much. Just buying a tomato for a matter of fifteen rupees takes her three hours to go there and back. Do you think she can be a respectable woman? Or does she really go there for the entertainment? Look at these [Dalit] women going to the cinema! They are irresponsible. They go out under the name of the NGO. What sort of development is that? It gives only a bad name and a bad reputation to the NGO. Colony women are not afraid of [their] men; [their] men are like mere statues in the colony. These kinds of claims came up a lot in daily discussions, both among women and men. Dalit women were talked about by Vanniyar women as loose women who were willing to offer their bodies to anyone if they needed money or any sort of help. Thus Vanniyar women tried to represent Dalit women as being ‘immoral’ ‘by nature’. The fact that their own husbands could be having sexual relations with Dalit women probably explains their anxiety to highlight the supposed ‘immorality’ of Dalit women. This was the most usual characterization of Dalit women offered by Vanniyar women. They also felt that as Dalit women were poorer than them (which was true on average), they did not deserve to have access to entertainment (such as the cinema). Another central claim made by Vanniyar women regarded issues of cleanliness and so-called purity. Once again belittling Dalit women, they said: They are not clean, this is really shocking for us. Take one’s dress, one’s house. One’s cleanliness does not depend upon one’s economic

Microcredit self-help groups and Dalit women 165 means. We are very clean – usually every Friday we clean the house fully and after that we take a bath. They don’t do that; they don’t even take a bath regularly! That’s why, when there is a festival here [in a Vanniyar home], we ask these [Dalit] women to take a bath before coming to work here. They don’t wash the cloths [pads] they use during menstruation and they mix these cloths with their other clothes: you should wash these cloths separately. For [non-Dalit] women in the ur [the non-Dalit village] a cow is auspicious: so we feel we lose all the power of worship by mingling with a colony woman who cooks beef. It is like taking a glass of water together with a glass of tea or coffee [from them], it is like a sin. Other criticisms that Vanniyar women tried to level at Dalit women concerned their supposed lack of discipline, and their supposed inability to manage their households and their loans. We heard, for instance: Colony women, as workers they are good; they work as domestic maids, in agriculture and in construction, and they work well at all these jobs. But they always expect [more] money and they don’t complete the work. That’s why they don’t develop themselves, and this is true for everything they do. They even take credit and don’t repay properly: she will never pay it back fully, or she will promise that she’ll work for you to pay it back, but she does not do it. Colony women are never happy with what they have. They are not able to save money and so they always go for credit. They don’t manage their households properly. They buy chairs, TVs and DVDs and break them immediately. What do they buy all this for? They don’t think it through, they just buy things. Unlike them, I use money very carefully. That’s also why their husbands cannot bring their families up in the world: what’s the point if it is the women who have all the money? The Vanniyar woman who made the earlier comments had three Dalit women working for her as agricultural labourers. She added, Their husbands themselves complain publicly, saying: ‘I don’t understand what happened to my money; I don’t know what she is doing with my money.’ That’s why he asks for an advance from the ur (non-Dalit) village women. Our men never complain like this about us spending their money; they are very proud that we don’t do this!

166  Isabelle Guérin and Santosh Kumar Many of these Vanniyar testimonies reflect totally false beliefs. Usually, Dalit women don’t ‘have all the money’ since they rarely earn more than their husbands. Nor do they have full control over their domestic finances. Some of the statements indirectly reflect underlying realities: Dalits do remain dependent (albeit today to a lesser extent) on higher castes for labour and credit, as already discussed earlier. They do have more financial independence today, to a modest extent. And Dalit women are far more likely to pursue income-generating activities than non-Dalit women are.7 Another argument that was regularly made by Vanniyar women in daily discussions echoed the frequent complaints made by Vanniyars about Scheduled Caste quotas. Here the Vanniyar women’s bitterness about the government benefits given to Dalits was expressed in highly offensive language, because they compared Dalit women to dogs, when they alleged that colony women were always trying to claim government benefits: It is like a dog, when you give him biriyani rice, and then curd rice, he will go for the curd rice first before finishing the biriyani. It’s the same with Dalit women; whatever [government] help they can get they will try for, even without thinking about it; and even when they work they are going for all the free schemes. This Vanniyar woman’s shockingly violent words reflect the very high tensions that have existed between Vanniyars and Dalits in this region of Tamil Nadu. These conflicts have mostly hinged on access to public subsidies, especially employment with the NREGA,8 subsidized housing, subsidized food, gas connections and freebie durable consumer goods such as televisions, fans and grinders. While a few programs have exclusively targeted Dalits, considered as a whole it is far from the truth to claim that Dalits gain more from public benefits. Our investigation of the NREGA, which has been the central government’s flagship program since 2006, showed that in the neighbouring region of Vellore and Villipuram Districts non-Dalits had benefited just as much from the program as Dalits had (Guérin, Michiels and Venkatasubramanian 2014). And, as we shall see later, microcredit, which has been widely supported by large public subsidies, has benefited non-Dalits much more than Dalits. Regarding women’s relations with each other, Vanniyar women once again returned to their favourite claim, which was that Dalit women were ‘immoral’. They also argued that because Dalit women had more opportunities to interact with each other, they endangered the privacy of their households by revealing their secrets:

Microcredit self-help groups and Dalit women 167 They do all this [adulterous] nonsense in the name of friendship. They have more friendships and get into many things in the name of friendship. Bad relationships for instance [this again refers to adultery]. She [a particular Dalit woman in the village] has two other women sidekicks who support her [these friends “cover” for her by claiming she was with them when she was seeing her lover]. There is no support like this for [non-Dalit] women within the ur. These bad relationships should be stopped, they should not be protected by other women. Their mouths are like transistor radios. They keep on talking about trivial things and spread them around as rumours. But we don’t talk about our families, we don’t talk about money, we are much quieter. Not surprisingly, these Vanniyar views and opinions were totally rejected by Dalit women who vigorously defended their own behaviour and presented a very different perspective on local society. We asked them on various occasions why women from the various castes mixed so little, even within NGO contexts. Dalit women were perfectly aware of the criticisms that non-Dalit women threw at them. They vehemently defended their own behaviour and Dalit conventions while sharply criticizing those of Vanniyar women. They especially emphasized that their greater physical mobility and their independence from Dalit men, far from being signs of irresponsibility or immorality, offered self-evident proof of their autonomy and their far greater courage than Vanniyar women: Ur [non-Dalit] women are like donkeys9! Whatever their men put on their shoulders they carry; they don’t know how to innovate or take risks, because everything in their lives is controlled by their husbands. They don’t have any space to take risks! ‘Risks’ here means both the social risk of being found out for adultery and the risks linked to indebtedness, and notably the risk of sanctions in the event of non-repayment. Dalit women also drew attention to what they viewed as the inferiority of non-Dalit women because of their greater dependence on their husbands, saying: Ur women get what they get, but only thanks to their husbands! If a Vanniyar woman’s husband is absent for one week, she either dies or has to become a beggar.

168  Isabelle Guérin and Santosh Kumar This is of course untrue. Fewer non-Dalit women work, but many do (see note 7), while some Dalit women don’t work. Moreover, women neighbours give each other a lot of mutual support irrespective of their castes. No non-Dalit women in need ever has to resort to begging (while begging could be found among Dalit women, although it was exceptional in the villages studied here). Debt was a recurring concern in our discussions. Both non-Dalit women and men claimed that high levels of debt were a typical sign of Dalit ‘irresponsibility’. However, this is not at all borne out by the empirical data: a survey we conducted with 170 women in 2008 showed that, in relation to their income, non-Dalit women went into debt as much as Dalit women. But Dalit women’s debt was more visible because their debt transactions took place in public view in the Dalit street and their lenders did not hesitate to threaten them publicly.10 For non-Dalit women, however, debt transactions were more discreet. The verbal and sometimes physical or sexual harassment by money lenders, commonly seen in the Dalit settlements, was much more uncommon in the non-Dalit streets, or, at least, was far less visible there. Further, though non-Dalit women sharply criticized Dalit women for their supposedly high levels of debt, they were very happy to lend them money. As elsewhere, debt was very much used as a tool by which to express and reinforce the caste-class hierarchies between women, especially where women creditors (most often non Dalits) lend to their labourers (most often Dalit women), whether as agriculture casual labourers or maids. The following comments by Vanniyar women clearly reveal how they seek to use loans to bond or ‘immobilize’ Dalit women labourers, and we often had the opportunity to observe the kind of tied labour arrangements described here: In financial matters, the colony [Dalit] women depend entirely on us, the ur [non Dalit] women [this is not entirely true because Dalit women juggle a wide range of borrowing options; however, loans from higher castes do make up an important part of their total debt].11 For their children’s education, for hospital treatments . . . for all emergencies, Dalit women borrow money from us. It is the same for [life-cycle] ceremonies, especially for girls’ puberty functions: we lend the money, and also give dress materials, because this is also part of the obligations of any employer [she refers here to an ideal moral economy that she claims to have existed in the past and – she implies – can be traced today]. I am also a mother, I too have children, so it is my responsibility to help them [such

Microcredit self-help groups and Dalit women 169 ‘responsibilities’ are nonetheless actually limited to small contributions towards social and ritual expenses and only very rarely for health].12 When they take a loan from us they are ready to fall at our feet. At first they repay us regularly, but later they don’t repay properly; we have to send someone to her home to remind her that she has to repay; if she works for us [as an agricultural labourer or domestic servant] she will ask for a delay, saying, ‘I’ll pay later, I’ll pay later!’ And they don’t tell their husbands about their loans, except when they are for [life-cycle] ceremonies. So then we get scolded by our own husbands, who say to us, ‘If her husband does not know about her loan, how can you get it back now?’ Indeed, a large proportion of financial transactions remain hidden, as women don’t want their husbands to be aware of certain expenses (for instance, loans taken to support their kin, and for education, good quality sarees, jewellery, durable consumer goods, etc.). But since the repayment of small debts is considered a female responsibility (Garikipati et al. 2017), it is by no means clear whether husbands would help out with repayment even if they were aware of these debts. If you don’t give a loan you don’t have any hold on these [Dalit] women. It is like the stick we use to drive cows with. If I don’t give her the full amount she asks for, she will ask another woman [employer] for the loan and go to work for her. Competition for labour between us, ur women, is very strong today, because finding workers is very difficult, even for domestic work. Twenty years ago this never happened, people [Dalit labourers] had loyalty then and gave priority to the family they were working for. But today this loyalty has disappeared. This testimony is nostalgic for a ‘golden age’ for the dominant castes. This – probably reified – time is one when Dalits had very limited labour opportunities outside their villages, though there always was migration, especially for the better off castes. This meant that there was rather strong dependence by Dalits on higher castes. Though there is no doubt that Dalits today have a wide range of opportunities in nearby towns, it is worth noting that in our survey area, migration remains primarily a male privilege (Guérin, Michiels and Venkatasubramanian 2014). Conversely, non-Dalit women are reluctant to borrow money from Dalit women as it would mean a loss of status for them. Here our observations confirmed non-Dalit claims – Dalit women frequently

170  Isabelle Guérin and Santosh Kumar borrowed from non-Dalit women and men but the opposite scenario was exceptional: It is a matter of status, if a woman or man takes credit from a Dalit she loses face; . . . it is seen as unacceptable. It is similar to accepting food or water from the hands of Dalits. This violently worded non-Dalit claim is not borne out in reality. There are often times when non-Dalit women do accept water and food from Dalits. There is equally a lot of variation between villages and sub-regions (e.g. Vellore district is much more conservative from this point of view than Tiruvallur district). But it remains the case that for indebtedness, which was a particular focus for us and a topic we carried out quantitative research on, it is very rare to become indebted to someone of a lower social status. As far as women’s control of their own bodies is concerned, Dalit women pointed out that non-Dalit women in fact had just as many extra-marital affairs as they did – the only difference between them was that non-Dalit women did not talk about it. Dalit women, in a sharp rebuttal of Vanniyar slurs, pointed out that the many restrictions on the mobility of non-Dalit women were a clear sign of their inferiority to Dalit women, who could go where they pleased. They also emphasized the shocking hypocrisy and immorality of non-Dalit men and defended the honesty of their own husbands (even while constantly criticizing them at the same time):13 Ur women say we have extramarital affairs, and that our husbands are dummies. No, it is not like that: the difference is that our men are not as suspicious as ur men. An ur man, if his wife shows a little bit of breast, will shout like anything ‘Wear your saree properly!’; but at the same time he expects us to reveal our breasts to him! My husband is not such a hypocrite! As regards cooking beef, Dalit women were, of course, very aware that this was criticized by non-Dalits who claimed that it went against their reverence for cows. But Dalit women vigorously justified their regular consumption of beef by emphasizing not only that it was the cheapest meat by far,14 but, more importantly, also emphasizing the utter hypocrisy of many non-Dalits on this subject, claiming that the number of non-Dalit beef-eaters was rapidly growing: Ur women cook it outside the house but they do cook it! The evidence is clear for all to see – earlier there were only two beef shops in Tiruvallur [the nearest town], but now there are sixteen!

Microcredit self-help groups and Dalit women 171 Two [work] colleagues – a Naidu and a supervisor – asked him [her husband] to buy beef for them, and to ‘cook it in his house and bring it’ for them! What sort of vegetarian norm is that?! Dalit women were aware that they were criticised by non-Dalit women for being actively involved in many government schemes. They totally rejected this criticism as absurd, pointing out that their participation in such schemes had nothing to do with ‘laziness’ or ‘irresponsibility’, but was a matter of their right to take part in government schemes and programs. They also point out that in reality access to such schemes was never easy – gaining access to government programs was always difficult and needed the support of influential local politicians. It thus carried the price tag of political loyalty: Ur women claim that we grab at these schemes. Yes, of course we do; but this is because these schemes are created specifically for us! Televisions were distributed to SCs [Scheduled Castes]: this was a government scheme. The ur women should be glad because we end up supporting the local politicians [mostly non-Dalits but a growing number are Dalits]. We Dalit women are the only women who go to rallies as a group. The politicians give us these schemes because they expect us to pay them back by supporting them with our votes! There is no ‘free lunch’, everything they give us is carefully calculated to benefit them in the end! As we will see later, these comments are confirmed by the facts, including the tactics that NGOs use. The earlier remarks led to an animated discussion among the Dalit women about the various NGO demands that they have to submit to if they want to be ‘eligible’ for government schemes. These demands include their compulsory participation in various public events that include political meetings, but also many other public events, such as those organized by NGOs, which are wholly part of the local chain of patronage (as we shall argue later). Other demands made on poor Dalit women relate to the various favours they have to do for the local politicians and other intermediaries – including NGOs – who help to ‘make’ them eligible for government schemes. These favours, as noted, include participating at public events such as political meetings, but they also include providing a wide range of services for free. These unpaid services can include occasional domestic work, and occasional services to facilitate the daily life of the patron’s household, such as going to school to pay for school registration, delivering documents or cash to a bank, going to the subsidized food shops to buy food, collecting documents or information

172  Isabelle Guérin and Santosh Kumar from the government administrative services and distributing advertising flyers. In other words Dalit women are occasionally required to act as household servants and delivery boys for local politicians – or for the senior staff of the NGOs they belong to (for more details, see Guérin 2014). Dalit women also emphasized the selfishness and huge jealousy of non-Dalit women who bitterly resented and envied Dalit women for any government support that they received. As one Dalit woman put it, this was because non-Dalit women ‘could never accept us developing’. Far from being anecdotal, feelings of envy and jealousy frequently emerge from non-Dalit women’s discussions. Dalit women also knew that they were belittled by non-Dalit women for often looking unkempt. Here too they defended themselves. First, they pointed out that in the deeply casteist view of these non-Dalit castes Dalits were still not supposed to wear the same kinds of clothes as the better-off castes. Of course, these restrictions (e.g. the fact that Dalits did not have the right to wear shoes)15 have disappeared. But traces of these restrictions nevertheless still remain in the form of mockery and teasing from non-Dalits. Dalit women were often mocked by nonDalit women for failing to wear modern underwear, for their ‘sloppy’ dressing and – the favourite taunt of non-Dalit women – for supposedly being ‘loose’ women. But those Dalit women who did change their habits and started dressing smartly were immediately accused by non-Dalit women of ‘stepping out of line’ because non-Dalit women simply could not bear to be challenged by well-dressed Dalit women. Opportunities to dress well were more rare, however, for poor Dalit women, simply because they were far more likely to work, and most often as agricultural labourers. As one Dalit woman put it: ‘Unlike them, we don’t sit at home all day watching TV! We are always at work in the fields, so how can we stay clean and well-dressed there?’ In this chapter we do not seek to compare discourse with practice, or to compare the behaviour of women from the different castes. It is not our objective to verify whether non-Dalit women are in fact cleaner than Dalit women or more loyal to their husbands. The discussions and claims cited here are all in the realm of public discourse. What we do seek to do here is to highlight the profound mutual distrust that prevails on both sides, between Dalit women and non-Dalit women, even if there are occasional cases of friendship or closeness. Dalit women are perfectly aware of the sharp caste prejudice of non-Dalits and totally reject the moral disapproval they experience, emphatically denouncing both the hypocrisy of the non-Dalit discourses, for instance regarding beef-eating and sexual affairs, as well as the specific constraints that

Microcredit self-help groups and Dalit women 173 they face, particularly the fact that they are forced by poverty, more often than non-Dalit women, to accept paid employment. Women’s physical mobility, as we have seen earlier, is still highly controversial. But it is easily observable and there is no doubt that in the villages studied, Dalit women are usually much freer in their movements. As already stated, they are more likely to work, and may do so in nearby villages as well, but non-Dalit women who work usually do so only in their own fields. Dalit social norms are far less restrictive: women are allowed to come and go from their street without asking permission from anyone, even if their horizon of mobility remains very limited and rarely goes beyond a few kilometres. Dalit women are very visible because they spend a lot of their time sitting in the middle of their streets or on their doorsteps, chatting with each other between domestic tasks. Non-Dalit streets, by contrast, are usually deserted, with almost no women to be seen. This is because non-Dalit women are strictly required to stay within the walls of their homes if they are not working in their own fields. It is therefore much easier to do research in the Dalit settlements than in the non-Dalit streets. It is much more difficult for foreign researchers, as well as for Tamil researchers who are not from the area, to spend time in non-Dalit settlements. In these non-Dalit settlements a visit from a man attracts a lot of questions: the male visitor has to justify his presence, and has trouble being let in to homes to talk with women. Once it gets dark it is highly inappropriate for him to be there. Non-Dalit women are also less talkative, and – unlike Dalit women – will very often suggest to the male researcher that their husband would be a more appropriate respondent.

NGOs: Promoting Dalit women’s empowerment or essentializing their supposed ‘inferiority’? We now turn to the role of microcredit NGOs. NGOs are extremely diverse in terms of their size, history, ideology, objectives, funding and so on, and we make no claim to being exhaustive. The examples discussed here are simply intended to emphasize that many NGOs, despite their official discourse regarding the empowerment of marginalized groups like Dalits and their official emphasis on rural women’s supposed ‘unity’, actually endorse and worsen gender and caste biases in their practice, thus contributing to essentializing both gender differences and caste-based differences between their women members. A key policy revealed to us by the NGOs we studied was to prevent their own Dalit field workers, both female and male, from having

174  Isabelle Guérin and Santosh Kumar any dealings with their non-Dalit women members. We were told that this organizational rule was enforced because it would, frankly, be ‘too degrading’ for non-Dalit women to have to deal with Dalit staff (whether female or male – gender did not seem to be the issue here) and all the more so if the Dalit field workers were in charge of extending credit and collecting repayments on debt. As already noted, nonDalit women claimed that they found it almost impossibly humiliating to take loans from Dalits, and microcredit was no exception to this casteist rule. As we were told by a loan officer (male, Vanniyar): ‘For all these years they [Dalit women] have been depending on the money the upper castes give them, so this [receiving microcredit loans at the hands of Dalit loan officers] would be an outright insult to our community.’ The staff and managements of the various NGOs we worked with did not necessarily agree with these casteist statements. However everyone recognized that it was easier to build trust and gain legitimacy among clients when the staff were of equal or higher social rank. Meanwhile, two further aspects of NGO policy are clearly gender and caste based: these are, first, the issue of non-Dalit women’s supposedly superior ‘beauty’ and ‘cleanliness’, when compared to Dalit women, and, second, the issue of the ‘docility’ and obedience demanded by NGOs of Dalit women – but not from non-Dalit women. ‘Beauty’ and ‘cleanliness’: Dalit women are not ‘presentable’ A number of ethnographies have already shown how microcredit, instead of empowering women, can essentialize the distinctive characteristics they are assumed to have and which are central to the legitimation of their subordination. Microcredit’s basis in female joint-liability groups and female peer pressure has created the myth of a natural female solidarity (Molyneux 2002). By using shame and humiliation as enforcement mechanisms, microcredit can strengthen the conservative ideologies that construct women as the guardians of family ‘honour’ (Karim 2011). As microcredit loans are very often spent on household consumption, we are right to suspect that the promoters of microcredit target women primarily because they are normally the managers of household budgets and not because they are – as microcredit rhetoric would have it – ‘potential entrepreneurs’. However, what we observed in our field study goes even further. Not only do we have good reason to think that women as a category are the favoured target of microcredit because of their docility and their discipline in repayment, but moreover, we have discovered that NGOs

Microcredit self-help groups and Dalit women 175 clearly differentiate between women on the basis of caste, though this is represented by the NGOs as being on the basis of their women members’ appropriate physical appearance and good behaviour. Three NGOs in our sample had specific ‘entrepreneurship’ programs, aimed at promoting women ‘entrepreneurs’ through loans of substantial amounts (up to 50,000 INR, though, on average, in 2008–10, ‘normal’ loans ranged between 5,000 INR and 10,000 INR) and perhaps business training and a shop at a low rent. The beneficiaries then received numerous visits from officials, bankers, donors and the media and acted as a form of ‘showcase’ for the NGO. On paper, the women were selected for their ‘dynamic’ or ‘innovative’ ‘entrepreneurship’. In the NGOs we studied, however, this was true of very few women. It was untrue for the large majority of women who received these entrepreneurship loans. It is important to recognise that in India business creation through women’s microcredit is a complete myth. As we have shown elsewhere (Guérin, D’Espallier and Venkatasubramanian 2015), very few poor women are actually in a position to start a business, however small. They face numerous social barriers, however strong their determination. Hence most of the attempts we encountered were failing. In fact virtually none of the businesses took off, usually for want of buyers. This was true of a wide spectrum of women’s small businesses ranging from the production of washing powder, joss sticks, candles, paper cups and mushrooms to garment products, local craft trades, business centres, beauty parlours, fish or shrimp farming and cattle breeding. Either the products were so new that they met with zero uptake (e.g. mushrooms and paper cups), or they faced strong competition from higher-quality and/or lower-priced manufactured products (e.g. washing powder, candles, garment products and local craft trades). Alternatively, they called for a level of expertise and capital that were far beyond impoverished women’s means: this was true of garment products, fish or shrimp farming and stock breeding which all needed advanced technical skills, as did business centres and beauty parlours. Certain enterprises also needed skilled workers and access to common resources such as ponds, grazing land or electricity, all of which were unavailable. The few successful businesses we encountered were largely in petty trading and were run by better-off non-Dalit women (Guérin, Kumar and Agier 2013). Despite being such a massive failure, the notion of ‘women’s entrepreneurship’ continues to remain a powerful piece of rhetoric that is cleverly used by NGOs to persuade their donors to give them funds. NGO programs showcase their best practices to the donors and officials who visit them. Far beyond entrepreneurial skills, the selection

176  Isabelle Guérin and Santosh Kumar criteria often favour women who are physically attractive, well dressed, comfortable to talk in groups or in public and ready to play the game. On this basis non-Dalit women are always more likely to be selected. Interestingly, some non-Dalit women actually complained to us about this: they described their almost schizophrenic feelings when faced, as they were, by totally contradictory demands. On the one hand, their rigid non-Dalit caste norms required them to have ‘perfect’ behaviour and to avoid any contact with unknown men. On the other hand, their NGO required them to look attractive, to be well dressed and to be charming to important male visitors. As an example take the case of Raika, a married non-Dalit woman from a middle caste background. She was chosen for a business centre project. The NGO suggested that she should start this business without bothering about any feasibility study, arguing that it was listed among the so-called innovative activities of the SHG government scheme. Before starting her business, Raika, who could read and write, had never used a computer. With the NGO’s help she benefited from low-rent premises, but never received any other support, while being asked to attend many NGO meetings and to put on a brave face about her failing business in the event of visits. Exasperated, Raika left the NGO and now manages her business without any NGO support. One of the many criticisms she raised about the NGO were its selection criteria and its obsession with ‘presentable’ attractive women members. She said: I was nicely dressed – that is why I got this loan. They [the entrepreneurship programs in which women can get larger loans] never take scruffy women. They also train the women they select in how they should dress. The NGO staff kept telling me, ‘You must dress like this, you must dress like that.’ We were just used as window dressing for the NGO. She said that she had had serious problems with her husband because he was deeply suspicious about her business and about the contacts she had with men, whether they were loan providers, clients or officials. The NGO’s injunctions made this problem worse, because, ‘The NGO forced us to wear flowers in our hair. They told us, “You can be whatever you want with your husband, but when you are with the NGO you have to show good value!” What is “good value” supposed to mean?’ Her husband saw the wearing of flowers as the sign of a prostitute and she therefore disliked wearing flowers in her hair. But her NGO ignored her qualms and she had to do as they demanded.

Microcredit self-help groups and Dalit women 177 With such deeply biased selection criteria, Dalit women are clearly at a huge disadvantage.16 In one NGO these biased selection criteria were a continuing source of conflict between the non-Dalit director and his Dalit field workers (three males out of four). This NGO was created by Brahmin families from Chennai and maintained close relations with the local upper castes (mostly Reddiars and Naidus) in its villages. The director was from a well-established Muslim family (in this area Muslims were considered as the highest rank in local social hierarchies). The director often blamed Perumal, a Dalit field worker in charge of Dalit women members, because ‘his’ women were badly dressed and not ‘presentable’. We attended a staff meeting held to select a few women to be introduced to some bankers. The director chose only non-Dalit women members. When Perumal challenged this, the director replied, ‘If I am not impressed by them [the Dalit women], how do you think the bankers will be impressed by them? These women are simply not presentable!’ Perumal tried to argue, ‘They have all come from a colony [Dalit hamlet], so how can you expect them to look “presentable”? They are here because they expect us to improve their lives.’ He then added that Dalit women knew perfectly well how to be well dressed when they were invited for important events, but that they, of course, paid much less attention to this in daily life. But the director did not listen to him. The criticism that Dalit women were ‘not presentable’ came up a lot in the NGO’s daily work. The result of this prejudice was shocking: the Dalit women members had to make do with much smaller loans, while the entrepreneurship loans were given almost solely to the non-Dalit women members. One could argue that non-Dalit women were more likely to succeed with larger loans for several reasons, such as their greater networking ability, their access to capital, their family experience in business and so on. But none of these reasons were quoted by the director. Instead the reason he gave us for refusing larger loans to Dalit women was – in typically non-Dalit fashion – based on moral grounds: he declared that he was convinced that ‘presentable’ women would be far more capable of repaying their loans. ‘They [Dalit women] don’t know how to take care of themselves and look good, so how can you expect them to manage a loan?’ he opined. NGO legitimacy, mass events and ‘docile’ Dalit women A major factor behind NGO sustainability is their ability to organize mass events. These can include events celebrating Women’s Day, HIVAIDS Day, Children’s Day, Consumer Rights Day and so on. They

178  Isabelle Guérin and Santosh Kumar can also include visits from politicians and the inauguration of public schemes, for which NGOs act as intermediaries. Official speeches by guests of honour, cultural activities such as singing and dancing performed by the SHG members, and award presentations are common. SHG leaders go on stage to publicly ‘testify’ to the positive achievements of their group, whether in terms of entrepreneurship, women’s emancipation from men or collective action, even if these claims are often fictitious. The fictitious women entrepreneurs discussed earlier are used as showcases. The success of these public events greatly depends on how many women the NGOs can rally and also on the prestige of their guests of honour. These two factors are closely related. Guests of honour – who can be politicians, officials, businessmen or social activists – are more likely to agree to attend when they are assured of big audiences. While these mass events are one of the most important ways in which women members are brought together, they also help to project and to publicly display the strength of NGOs and their allies (Guérin and Kumar 2016). They play a crucial role in attracting donors but are also essential for making alliances with organizations and networks which can help the NGOs to build or preserve their legitimacy, whether for getting funds or winning the support of local power structures.17 Their allies often include political parties who, often informally, help the NGOs to access government schemes but also get them involved in local community conflicts (here, alliances with Dalit political parties are often key).18 Political parties do this because the women’s selfhelp groups represent a unique opportunity to attract voters. Allies may also include business networks who sponsor the events as an opportunity for advertising their services (e.g. private medical clinics and jewellers). Allies can also be Christian networks. Out of our four NGOs, two have a Christian background (one is Catholic, the other is Lutheran).19 Following a long tradition in India of social services started by European missionaries, a large number of NGOs today have Christian backgrounds but largely operate as secular institutions. A few however (and one in our sample) proselytize and seek conversions. Thus, far beyond the stated objective of ‘women’s empowerment’, the mobilization of women in SHGs clearly serves multiple purposes for a wide range of powerful, politically connected actors. Both NGOs and their special guests celebrate their public events as symbols of rural women’s ‘togetherness’ and ‘unity’, but closer examination reveals a very different picture. First, not all women members are mobilized in the same way. We attended a dozen of these events between 2005 and 2012, and Dalit women members were systematically over-represented at these gatherings. Field officers and NGO

Microcredit self-help groups and Dalit women 179 managers were very clear about why this was the case, explaining that non-Dalit women were far more strictly controlled, had much less freedom to leave their homes, were more demanding and asked more questions of the NGO. A field officer (male, Dalit) told us that though all women members were invited to all events, the staff were more lenient with non-Dalit women members: ‘We know that they face far more constraints so we cannot force them to attend events,’ he said. The staff were much more demanding with Dalit women because they needed large numbers of women to attend and knew that Dalit women had more freedom to move around and also had more accommodating husbands. Another field officer (male, Vanniyar) summed it up as follows: ‘The non-Dalit women get all the big loans, while the Dalit women have to attend our mass events, that’s the way it works!’ This field officer summarized in a very ironic way what seemed to be a rather common practice, at least in our field area. In some NGOs, participating in mass events was a very explicit condition for loan eligibility, but mostly for Dalit women. Non-Dalit women were usually excused. Not only is it primarily the Dalit women members who are required to attend these events, but the very nature of Dalit women’s ‘participation’ at these events also differs sharply from that of non-Dalit women. The Dalit women members are required to arrive earlier and to leave later, because they are asked to help with the logistics: they are required to set up and dismantle tents, set out chairs for the guests and sometimes even to wash the dishes and to clean up. All participants are usually given a small allowance for transport costs, but most Dalit women keep the money and come on foot. Non-Dalit women, however, usually travel by rickshaw, tractor or bus. At NGO premises and meetings Dalit women and non-Dalit women almost never sit together. Further, because they are more smartly dressed the non-Dalit women are usually asked to sit at the front of the gatherings, with the Dalit women hidden at the back. It is easy for the non-Dalit women to look well-dressed because they come comfortably by bus to events, rather than spending hours walking from their homes, as Dalit women do. And, of course, the non-Dalit women have not been required to help to set up the event either – only the Dalit women are given this exhausting and dirty work.

Some conclusions In this chapter we have argued that the mainstreaming of ‘gender in development’ policy agendas has been built on myths. Among other myths, the idea of ‘women’s solidarity’ has been a particularly strong

180  Isabelle Guérin and Santosh Kumar one. Arguably, the reason that both certain feminist movements and neoliberal policy makers have demonstrated a shared enthusiasm for the assumption that an automatic ‘women’s ‘solidarity’ exists is because these unrealistic and remarkably uncritical feminists hope that this putative ‘automatic’ female unity will support feminist activism, while the post-Washington consensus agenda propagandists assume that this fictitious ‘female unity’ will lend efficiency to their development programs. However, feminist scholarship rejects this deliberate blindness to the sharp divisions created by class and caste/race (Mohanty 1988) and has denounced the ways in which caricatured representations of women and gender relations have penetrated and shaped neoliberal development discourses and practices (Cornwall, Harrison and Whitehead 2007). Recent feminist scholarship has also denounced the persistent instrumentalization of women in development agendas, arguing that the targeting of women is nothing more than a strategy by which policy makers aim to control demographic growth, to achieve ‘sustainable development’, ‘eradicate poverty’ (as their rhetoric puts it) or ‘protect the environment’. Through this strategy women’s own interests are marginalized and the interests of very poor, ‘low-caste’/ Dalit women are made totally invisible. While the deconstruction of development discourses at a global level is certainly useful, it is essential that this should not obscure the fault lines of differentiation and oppression at local levels (Kapadia 2002). A true understanding of the effects of development programs requires the analysis of discourses and practices at grassroots level, in the daily routines of development projects. It also requires close analysis of how women and men, whether as development targets or as development officers and promoters, give meaning and political legitimacy to their actions. In this chapter through such analysis we have found that the gross essentialisms which characterize everyday development practices are not solely related to misogyny and bias in favour of males but – as in the case studied here, of women’s microcredit self-help groups in rural Tamil Nadu – are also profoundly connected with caste bias, which implies class bias as well, given that caste and class remain so closely correlated in rural Tamil Nadu. Women’s judgments of each other do not escape caste stereotypes. Non Dalit women accuse Dalit women of being ‘dirty’, ‘impure’ and ‘irresponsible’. In addition to these claims, which are hackneyed expressions of blatant caste prejudice, stereotypical class-based arguments alleging the so-called immorality of the lower orders are made. Conversely, Dalit women, while rejecting all these casteist smears,

Microcredit self-help groups and Dalit women 181 emphasize their unique capacity for agricultural work and the dignity of their autonomy. NGOs too, despite their rhetoric of women’s empowerment, internalize many caste and gender stereotypes. Allegedly ‘innate’ ‘feminine’ qualities are clearly instrumentalized by microcredit promoters in how they perform their so-called success. The ideological and strategic uses made by NGOs of women’s supposedly ‘female’ qualities are revealed by the ways in which women members are treated very differently, depending on their caste identities. Women who have an attractive and ‘neat’ appearance because they dress well are chosen from the non-Dalit castes, and – whether they have entrepreneurial skills or not – are made to play the key roles in microcredit showcasing. Dalit women, on the other hand, are assumed to be ‘more backward’. But they are also viewed as more mobile and more docile and obedient to the commands of the NGO than non-Dalit women. They are therefore targeted for their ability to participate in the mass mobilizations of women members at large NGO events, which are so central to various local political and economic agendas. These agendas serve the interests of the local dominant castes, as well as those of local politicians and officials but have very little to do with Dalit women’s own interests or their political and economic emancipation. Dalit women are not entirely passive in these political processes. Some are able to benefit insofar as they use their mobilizing force to build or strengthen their own leadership positions, as we have shown elsewhere. They become inescapable gatekeepers in local chains of patronage while allowing a relative feminization of these networks (Guérin and Kumar 2016). For many Dalit women, microcredit represents an opportunity to widen their borrowing options and the social relationships that go with them (Guérin 2014). Our purpose here is not to deny the great need for women’s collective action, which, if the objectives are clearly identified and suit women’s aspirations and constraints, can prove extremely useful (Kabeer, Milward and Sudarshan 2013). But the fact remains that our research shows that Dalit women’s supposed ‘characteristics’ and the casteist notion that they are ‘inferior’ are cleverly instrumentalized by the NGOs we studied. With bitter irony, but also insight, Geetha, a Dalit woman who had been working as a field worker for an NGO for more than 15 years, and held a BA, compared Dalit SHG women to donkeys ‘that always need to be led by others!’ She noted that a donkey never knew where it was going, but always had to be managed by someone and never wanted to go where it was asked to go. A donkey never thought on

182  Isabelle Guérin and Santosh Kumar its own and was useless unless trained for some specific purpose. Here she was referring to the specific tasks that Dalit women were often asked to do by NGOs. She stated that, like donkeys, Dalit women did not really understand what SHGs were for. Whatever they did was not on their own initiative, but because they had been asked to do it. She said that the Dalit women who came, even on Sundays, to participate at events, had no idea what the purpose of these events was. Just like donkeys, they remained quiet and asked no questions. All they needed was to be kicked by the NGO and they would start moving again. She also compared the Self-Help Groups to the burdens that donkeys have to carry. Geetha ended her wry, deeply self-critical comments by declaring that the only happiness that donkeys enjoyed was to be with other donkeys, which, she concluded, might explain why Dalit women bothered to continue participating in these useless events. The strength – and the perversity – of the strategy of ‘category essentialization’ is that it pretends to determine innate potential, and thereby limits and constrains not just what ‘category’ members – for example Dalit women – are seen as but also what they can become. In the NGOs studied by us, it was, very significantly, the overwhelmingly non-Dalit senior-level development directors and staff, who, based on their own narrow conditioning by caste and gender prejudices, decided that Dalit women were worth neither their respect nor their larger microcredit loans. Such discriminatory attitudes actively reinforce gender bias and, especially, caste bias against Dalit women and make it very obvious that NGO Self-Help Group programs in rural Tamil Nadu largely maintain and strengthen the political status quo. This is our emphatic conclusion, for it is indisputable that the non-Dalit castes in rural Tamil Nadu have no intention whatsoever of challenging caste prejudice or of weakening their own dominant position in local political power structures.

Notes * We are very grateful to Karin Kapadia, S. Anandhi and David Picherit for their insightful comments. The usual disclaimers apply. 1 See, for instance, Agarwal (1994) on women’s property rights, or Kabeer, Milward and Sudarshan (2013) on women’s work. 2 See also Pattenden (2010). The ‘Washington Consensus’ refers to policies put in place in the 1990s in many developing countries (at the demand of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the US Treasury Department, all based in Washington). They were mostly based on macroeconomic stabilization, the expansion of market forces, state withdrawal and regulation. The ‘post-consensus’ admits the imperfection of markets, the need for anti-poverty measures and ‘bottom up’ approaches aimed at

Microcredit self-help groups and Dalit women 183 coping with market ‘imperfections’ but also, in theory, at ‘empowering’ marginalized communities, ‘empowerment’, however, being very narrowly viewed as individual and solely economic. In this view market forces are admitted to be ‘imperfect’ and should be ‘corrected’, but they are seen as the only available means of ‘correction’. 3 For a critique of Chatterjee’s vision of civil society, see for instance Baviskar and Sundar (2008). 4 The Dalits discussed in this chapter are mainly of Paraiyar caste. This caste name is the origin of the English term ‘pariah’ and, in Tamil Nadu, it continues to designate anyone who is considered an outcast. For this reason this caste name is considered deeply offensive today and is not used in this chapter. We instead use the term ‘Dalit’. The term ‘Dalit’ (‘oppressed’) was the outcome of a political project to unite all the castes of ex-untouchables across India. But the term is mostly used by activists, politicians and sometimes in the development world. It is very rare for ordinary Scheduled Caste (‘ex-untouchable’) people to describe themselves as ‘Dalit’. Whatever their caste, people tend to think about themselves in caste terms and their identity is heavily bound up in their caste. On both Dalit and nonDalit sides there is a strong sense of ‘them’ and ‘us’ (between Dalits and ‘caste Hindus’). Non-Dalits in our study area usually refer to Dalits as the ‘colony people’, but also sometimes as ‘Paraiyar’, but this is by way of insulting them. ‘Colony’ is the local term used to refer to the hamlet where the Dalits live, which always stands at some distance apart from the nonDalit settlement which is regarded as the ‘main village’ and is called the ‘ur’. The term ‘colony’ is regarded by non-Dalits as a euphemism for the term previously used for the Dalit hamlet, which was cheri (or ceri). It is worth noting, however, that Dalits very rarely use the term ‘colony’ which has come to have a derogatory connotation (just as cheri does). Both Dalits and non-Dalits use the term ‘ur’ to talk about the village settlement where the non-Dalits live. 5 The strong caste-based segmentation of labour and credit markets and the very limited access of Dalits to land are key components of the persistence of economic dependence. In a quantitative survey we carried out in 2010 in two other districts (Villupuram and Cuddalore) on 400 families, where Dalits are experiencing some sort of (relative) upward mobility, we found that Dalits borrow around half their loans from non Dalits and the remaining from their caste fellows. Non-Dalits by contrast almost never borrow from Dalits. Labour relationships follow similar rules: one rarely recruits someone who is higher up in the caste hierarchy. Of course caste relationships vary greatly across regions within Tamil Nadu. It is however likely that in the area studied here the dependence of Dalits on non-Dalits is rather strong. 6 We had little opportunity to interact with Mudaliars and Reddiars though it would have been interesting to get their perspectives. We should note that there are deep divisions between the Vanniyars on the one hand, and the Mudaliars and Reddiars on the other, in the villages studied. Thus there are very sharp divisions within the non-Dalit castes as well. 7 In 2008 we did a household survey which included some of the villages studied here. In our sample Dalit women worked more often than nonDalit women (57 per cent as opposed to 40 per cent). Wives’ contributions

184  Isabelle Guérin and Santosh Kumar to household income were higher among Dalits than non-Dalits, both in absolute and in relative terms. On average women’s annual income was 10,153 INR for Dalits as opposed to 8,335 INR for non-Dalits. Women’s income amounts to 17.8 per cent of household total income for Dalits (out of a total income of 35,741 INR) as opposed to 9.6 per cent for non-Dalits (out of a total income of 41,563 INR). Some female breadwinner households were found among the poorest Dalits, but – significantly – none were found among non-Dalits. 8 The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (2005) is an Act that aims to guarantee livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. 9 The term ‘donkey’ often comes up in the discussions to express relationships of dependence and docility. Dalit women use it to mock non-Dalit women but they also use it to describe their own relations with NGOs, as we shall see. 10 For more details, see Garikipati et al. (2017). 11 This is explored in more detail in Guérin, D’Espallier and Venkatasubramanian (2015). 12 In the case of long-term labour relations (sustained over decades), farmers do distribute gifts to labourers at the time of festivals (especially Pongal, the harvest festival) and life cycle ceremonies (puberty ceremonies, marriages, sometimes funerals). For Pongal, the gifts include clothes (sarees, dhotis, children’s clothes), rice (around 25 kg), sugarcane, turmeric powder and often a cash gift (according to our observations, in 2014, this amount was usually 2000 INR for men and 1000 INR for women). For marriages, the gifts include cash (in 2014, 10,000 INR was considered the minimum amount) and decoration material for the marriage hall (bamboo poles, coconut leaves, etc.). It may also include the hire of a vehicle (a bus or a tractor) for the day to transport guests. 13 Within Dalit women’s discussions, men are often accused of being lazy, violent, arrogant, irresponsible and unable to take care of their families, obsessed rather by sex, food and alcohol, or when they show responsibility, primarily concerned about their natal kin (their parents or sisters) rather than their own children or wives. 14 At the time of these discussions, one kilo of beef cost three times less than one kilo of mutton. 15 Dalits were prohibited from wearing any kind of footwear, because this was seen as giving them dignity, and was therefore denied to them. 16 Here too, we shall emphasize that we focus on discourses. Further research would be needed to analyse women’s beauty as a social, cultural and political construct. 17 This is elaborated in more detail in Guérin and Kumar (2016). 18 As already mentioned, Dalits’ relative upward mobility has created a climate of hostility with non-Dalits. The slightest focal point, such as NGO or governmental benefits, can raise tensions and conflict with nonDalits. Linking up with Dalit associations is a way for NGOs to prevent an escalation of violence. The mobilization of women for mass events is a key aspect of the collaboration. When the Dalit association settles local

Microcredit self-help groups and Dalit women 185 conflicts, NGOs send buses of women for mass meetings of the Dalit association in return. For more details on this, see Guérin and Kumar (2016). 19 By this we mean that the NGO was created and is now run and financed by Catholic or Lutheran networks.

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186  Isabelle Guérin and Santosh Kumar Guérin, I., S. Kumar and I. Agier. 2013. ‘Women’s Empowerment: Power to Act or Power Over Other Women? Lessons From Indian Microfinance’, Oxford Development Studies, XLI (1): 76–94. Guérin, I., S. Michiels and G. Venkatasubramanian. 2014. ‘Labour in Contemporary South India’, in J. Heyer and B. Harriss-White (eds) Capitalism in Development, pp. 118–135. London: Routledge. Harriss, J. 2006. Power Matters: Essays on Institutions, Politics and Society in India. New Delhi, New York: Oxford University Press. Joseph, N. 2013. ‘Mortgaging Used Saree-Skirts, Spear-Heading Resistance: Narratives From the Microfinance Repayment Standoff in Ramanagaram, India, 2008–2010’, in I. Guérin and S. Morvant-Roux (eds) Microfinance, Debt and Over-Indebtedness: Juggling With Money, pp. 272–294. Londres: Routledge. Kabeer, N., K. Milward and R. Sudarshan. 2013. Organising Women Workers in the Informal Economy. London: Zed book. Kalpana, K. 2008. ‘The Vulnerability of “Self-Help”: Women and Microfinance in South India’, Working Paper 303 Institute of Development Studies, April. Kalpana, K. 2011. ‘Subverting Policy, Surviving Poverty: Women and the SGSY in Rural Tamil Nadu’, Economic and Political Weekly, XLVI (43): 50–57, October 22. Kapadia, K. (ed.) 2002. The Violence of Development. London: Zed Books. Karim, L. 2011. Microfinance and Its Discontents: Women Debt in Bangladesh. Minneapolis, MN and London: University of Minnesota Press. Mohanty, C. 1988. ‘Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses’, Feminist Review, 30: 61–88. Molyneux, M. 2002. ‘Gender and the Silences of Social Capital’, Development and Change, XXXIII (2): 167–188. Mosse, D. 2005. Cultivating Development: An Ethnography of Aid Policy and Practice. London: Pluto Book. Pattenden, J. 2010. ‘A Neo-Liberalisation of Civil Society? Self-Help Groups and the Labouring Class Poor in Rural South-India’, Journal of Peasant Studies, 37 (3): 485–512. Picherit, D. 2009. ‘Entre villages et chantiers: circulation des travailleurs, clientélisme et politicisation des basses castes en Andhra Pradesh, Inde’, Thèse de doctorat en ethnologie, Université Paris X Nanterre. Picherit, D. 2015. ‘When Microfinance Collapses: Development and Politics in Andhra Pradesh’, in I. Guérin, M. Labie and J-M. Servet (eds) The Crises of Microcredit, 170–197. London: Zed Books. Rao, S. 2008. ‘Reforms With a Female Face: Gender, Liberalization, and Economic Policy in Andhra Pradesh, India’, World Development, XXXVI (7): 1213–1232, July.

Part III

A broken empowerment? Are women still trapped by caste and patriarchy?

6 Dalit women, rape and the revitalisation of patriarchy?1 Clarinda Still

In this chapter I look at Dalit women in relation to the issue of rape and ‘honour’.2 This may seem an odd thing to focus on: honour is not exactly in vogue in current anthropological discussions of caste and gender and especially not in reference to Dalits, who, of all the castes, have always been seen as the least concerned with honour. In a globalised, liberalised, self-consciously forward-looking country, an essay on honour may appear anachronistic. However, my proposition is that honour is especially important in today’s India not only in Dalit women’s lives but more widely in society.3 One of the most striking indications of this is to be found in the discussions that followed the horrific gang rape and murder of Jyothi Singh in December 2012. Alongside the protests against this atrocity, there were also calls to limit the freedom and mobility of women in the name of their ‘protection’. Some of these calls came from right-wing reactionaries and religious zealots,4 but moderate conservatives also implied that by being out after dark the female victim was somehow to blame for what had happened.5 While the public debates put rape high on India’s political agenda, they, at the same time, exposed deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes towards women.6 What I think these attitudes show is that beliefs about the modesty of women are not to be cast off as remnants of a waning ‘traditional’ India. Rather, they are part and parcel of India’s new brand of modernity. This is especially so with the advent of Modi’s authoritarian, Hindu nationalist government. As Tanika Sarkar and Urvashi Butalia (1995) showed earlier, safeguarding the honour of Hindu women from the imagined predations of apparently lustful Muslim men is one of the Hindu Right’s most powerful rallying cries. BJP president Amit Shah’s assertion that ‘This is an election for honour and revenge’ indicates that the same theme has purchase this time round.7 The alarmist fight against so-called love jihad8 led by right-wing Hindu extremists

190  Clarinda Still also shows how the preservation of community and national honour is being used to revitalise the patriarchal values of Hindutva.9 What we have, then, is a very modern rejuvenation of ‘traditional’ understandings of women, modesty, honour and shame. And with the BJP back in the centre, we can expect the gendered ideology of Hindutva to continue its work with a renewed mandate. What has this got to do with Dalit women? After all, some would object that Dalits are one of the most egalitarian social groups in India, least concerned with the gendered demands of honour. However, my own and other research shows how this is changing (Berreman 1993; Kapadia 1995; Osella and Osella 2000; Srinivas 1956; Still 2014). My recently published monograph (2014) provides a detailed study of how upwardly mobile Dalits in rural coastal Andhra Pradesh are claiming honour in the pursuit of social status. In the book, I argue that Dalit values and practices are becoming more patriarchal and I show what effect this change has on women in day to day life. My findings corroborate earlier research which showed how a rise in social status results in ‘harshness towards women’ (Srinivas 1956: 484). However, unlike the earlier studies, I suggest that Dalits are not simply copying forms of upper-caste patriarchy; rather they are appropriating it and making it their own. The outcome is what I refer to as the ‘Dalitisation’ of patriarchy. This chapter links into themes found in many of the chapters in this volume but especially those by Gorringe (Chapter 4) and Guerin and Kumar (Chapter 5). At the heart of the challenge that Dalit women face as the vanguard of an alternative politics is the ‘trade-off’ between empowerment and respect. Precluded from reaching a secure enough position to accrue both, Dalit women in the public sphere are often forced to make choices between one or the other. My argument here and in the book comes from ethnographic fieldwork conducted among Dalits in rural Andhra Pradesh in 2004–5 and 2009. Although a long way away from the event in Delhi in December 2012, I want to suggest that some of what is happening in the community I lived in has direct relevance to the debates of 2012–13, and can help to illuminate why gender violence is part and parcel of India’s particular form of modernity.

Nampalli and the local area In 2004–5 and again in 2009, I lived in a Dalit community for a year and a half. This community was distinct from but part of a bigger village called Nampalli. The Dalits lived in a separate colony called the

Rape and the revitalisation of patriarchy? 191 palli, everyone else lived in the main village (the uru), separated by one road. The village itself is in northern Guntur district in coastal Andhra Pradesh, an area known for profitable commercial agriculture and allied agri-businesses. Guntur and the neighbouring districts produce much of the state’s cotton, tobacco, chilli and rice. But in this area fruit, vegetables, turmeric, maize and rice are grown. Kammas (and to a lesser extent, Reddys) are the dominant caste in the area. The village itself is linked by bus to nearby towns and the city of Vijayawada, and even closer to the soon-to-be capital of Andhra Pradesh, Amaravati. With a population of over a million people, the city of Vijayawada is currently the most important industrial and production centre and acts as a transport gateway to South India. The proximity of Vijayawada and other towns means that villagers (mostly men) who have the ability to travel can access to off-farm employment, education, entertainment, government services and information. The area’s affluence and the closeness of vibrant urban economies has had a significant impact on social hierarchies. The announcement of the new capital has implications for all of the villagers although no one yet knows what these will be. There is much concern about what will happen to village land. Currently there is a government stay on the sale of land but there are informal deals being made. There is intense speculation about land prices now and estimates vary but in January 2015 I was told that one acre of land in a neighbouring village closer to the highway sold for £500,000 in late 2014. Although still very much a rural area, and separated from Vijayawada by the Krishna River, apartment blocks for commuters are already being built near the village. In years to come, it is likely that this stretch of fertile countryside will become part of the city’s urban peripheries. In the village itself, numerically, Dalits are strong, making up more than a third of the total village population of 1200 people. The Dalit population itself is split between Malas and Madigas who live in separate, adjacent hamlets (known as Malapalli and Madigapalli).10 Although there is some disparity between these two castes, in general, both groups have higher than average literacy levels (for rural Dalits nationally). More than 80 per cent of school-age boys and girls are literate. Dalits mostly live in government-subsidised concrete houses with relatively reliable electricity and a piped water supply. Dalit men (and women, to a lesser extent) are involved in Dalit political groups active in the area: the Dalit Maha Sabha (DMS) and the Madiga Reservation Porata Samiti (MRPS). The village is not far from the site of

192  Clarinda Still the Chunduru massacre in which at least eight Malas were killed by dominant-caste Reddys in 1991. Some of the villagers were involved in anti-caste protests that emerged after that event and the ensuing campaigns for Dalit rights, respect and resources that followed in in the 1990s (see Balagopal 1991; Srinivasulu 2002).11 Dalit women are active in politics in the village and knowledgeable (although cynical) about politicians. Most are able to speak articulately about for whom they voted and why. Some express particular loyalty to certain leaders: one woman had hung on her wall a picture of herself superimposed next to Y. S. Rajashekar Reddy, for example. Almost every eligible, physically able Dalit casts a vote. Party activists know that all Dalit votes are precious and they target women as much as men in their campaigning. There are certain Dalit women (the Self Help Group leaders) who are vocal in raising awareness about women’s rights as part of government campaigns for ‘women’s empowerment’. There are cases of women contesting for the position of ward leader in the local elections. However, while there is certainly political involvement, Dalit women possess little political power compared to Dalit men and even less than the higher castes: there have been no Dalit women sarpanches, and no Dalit woman has contested for the position. It is Dalit men rather than women who mix more freely with the upper-caste and BC party members and show more interest in party politics. Dalit women’s interests are the least represented and many women are complicit in their subordination to men. Ironically, they are assertive enough to demand higher wages or to report an offence at the police station but they laugh at the idea of asking their husband to cook, clean or look after the children. Dalit men and women are highly informed about the government schemes and services available to them. They know about the legal protection in the Atrocities Act and they are constantly active in securing their entitlements to subsidised food, housing, sanitation and various other schemes for below-poverty-line citizens.12 In sum, Dalits in Nampalli are in a better position compared to most rural Dalits in India and they are likely to see further improvements in their standard of living in the near future as Vijayawada expands as the capital. This is especially so for the small minority of Dalits who own land (albeit portions of less than one acre), who are now overnight lakhshapatis. However, Dalits’ advance is relative: they are still worse off than the non-Dalit castes in the village. Although things have improved, Dalits still have the fewest resources and least political influence. Relative to other Dalits, they are well educated and have good employment

Rape and the revitalisation of patriarchy? 193 opportunities. But they are still at the bottom of the social hierarchy in the village and they are still subtly discriminated against in day-today life. In absolute terms, there has been much improvement but in relative terms, the social structure has not changed a great deal (Still 2014).13 Using longitudional data, Heyer shows this very clearly for Dalits in rural Tamil Nadu too (Heyer 2000, 2010).

Class, caste and politics among Dalits One thing to note is that not all Dalits are in the same position. Madigas are in a marginally worse position than Malas in terms of education, employment, housing and political organisation. In addition to this caste difference, there is also discernible class differentiation within both the Dalit communities meaning that impoverished and relatively well-off Dalits live side by side. A minority of Dalits in both castes (the sick, elderly, widowed or disabled) are in extreme poverty and rely on kin, community and state welfare to keep them from destitution. But my focus here is on the minority of better-off Dalits: those who are literate, relatively secure and who had been able to cut ties – especially humiliating ties of bonded labour – with their former caste patrons in the village. These families constituted about a third of all the Dalits in Nampalli. They are more affluent than the labouring majority mainly because the men of these families had found work in the nearby towns, working as drivers, mechanics, construction workers, painters, quarry labourers, shop workers, factory workers, and in a few cases, low-level government employees. Although their employment is still low-paid and unstable, the availability of non-farm work had been crucial in allowing these Dalit men to break their former dependence on the Kammas, the dominant-caste group of the village.14 Dalit women, on the other hand, are largely occupied with work on the village lands; none that I knew of travelled to Vijayawada for work. In this fertile, intensively farmed area, there is enough work for Dalit women (either agricultural labour or working on leased land) and if work runs out in the slack season they make use of the NREGA scheme to make up the days. Female labourers are organised into work teams by team leaders (maistri), usually of their own caste. Other women work on the land that their husbands lease. I did not know of any Dalit women working to pay off family debts to landlords although it is possible that all family members would have to work to settle debts on leased land if there was a major debt. Women prefer not to make the journey to Vijayawada, and the work on offer there is seen as more dangerous and physically harder (mainly construction on

194  Clarinda Still roads/ buildings). Dalit men are not noticeably preventing their wives and daughters from seeking work in the city but Dalit women generally prefer to do agricultural labour (kuli panni) in the fields near their home. The principal occupation of Dalit women (more than any other caste group and more than Dalit men) is agricultural labour, only a small minority are housewives. Like other parts of South India, here too there has been a feminisation of agricultural labour so that now it is Dalit women who work in the fields more than anyone else.15 A few Dalit girls are being educated in the hope that they can be married up or get a ‘respectable’ job such as a teacher. But it remains to be seen the extent to which these hopes materialise. Dalit male independence in employment had engendered a sense of self-respect among Dalits – both women and men – despite them remaining at the lowest levels of the existing village hierarchy and still living in the most dilapidated area, the palli (the Dalit hamlet). Unlike many, these better-off Dalit families could fall back on property, savings, land or other household resources times of illness, unemployment or crisis. Others had relatives in cities from whom they were able to borrow money or receive other forms of advice and assistance. These Dalit families were in the process of educating their sons to find them jobs, and educating their daughters to marry them up (Kapadia 1995; Still 2010, 2014). By village standards (both within and outside the palli), they were upwardly mobile. I focus on these families not because they are representative of the whole Dalit community but because by looking at them, it is possible to discern common aspirations for status among all Dalits. What seemed especially obvious was the way in which both men and women were making efforts to improve family status by altering gender relations. Most obviously Dalit men were seeking to withdraw their wives from farm labour to make them housewives. They were highly concerned about maintaining the fidelity of their wives and the pre-marital chastity of their daughters. Dalit women’s mobility outside the village and their behaviour and speech inside the village were being controlled. In short, Dalit men (and Dalit mothers too) were trying to make Dalit women more respectable. Locally, this concern is expressed through the Telugu phrase paruvu-pratishta-gowravam (prestigehonour-respect) and in Nampalli, this is crucial to social status. However, it is also important to point out that these rural Dalits are also developing their own politicised caste identity (either ‘Madiga’ or ‘Mala’, in this case). Two opposing groups in the Malapalli have newly constructed their own respective statue of Ambedkar. Both statues are in the centre of the village. To match them, Madigas are seeking to

Rape and the revitalisation of patriarchy? 195 construct a statue of Babu Jagijivan Ram to represent Madigas. There are Dalit male representatives of each of the political parties in the village and they mobilise support for these parties especially at election times. They mix with the men of other parties in political meetings and gatherings and to discuss party matters. Women support these projects and activities but they do not get involved as much. The statues are seen as more of a men’s project. There are other campaigns in which women have been active. In 2009, one woman reported that some months earlier, she had attended a meeting held by Katti Padma Rao, a well-known Dalit leader, who promised Dalit women half an acre of land if they joined his movement. Hundreds of women had gathered there as well. Nothing came of it but it shows that they are politically active when their interests are served. In the book, I also give an example of an assertive Madiga woman who led an extraordinary campaign in defence of a widowed female Mala neighbour who had been cheated out of land by her brother-in-law. Mobilising the support of other local Dalit women, police, administrative officers and local Dalit politicians, she managed to win the land back for the woman she was representing (for the details, see Still 2014: 195–198). But this is unusual. Dalit women’s participation is highly constrained by the demands of work, childcare and the household. Taking part in political activities and socialising with fellow (normally male) party members is referred to as ‘roaming around’ (tirugatam), an expression that has implicit sexual connotation, implying that such activities are improper. ‘Roaming around’ earns Dalit women the scorn of the upper-castes who perceive their freedom to be a sign of promiscuity (see Chapter 5, this volume). No less than others, Dalit women have the responsibility of safeguarding their own, their families’ reputation, and to a lesser extent, that of their caste group, too.

Dalit appropriation of honour Dalits are not simply adopting ‘upper-caste’ values of honour. (Indeed, in the book I question whether these can even be described as ‘uppercaste’ anymore because the norms and behaviours once associated with the upper castes have now become so widespread and so widely appropriated by other ‘lower’ castes that the upper-castes cannot claim them to be exclusively their own.). The Dalits I lived with do not wish to become like the upper castes. On the contrary, in many respects they wish to define themselves in opposition to them because these are the people responsible for their oppression. So while Dalits resemble

196  Clarinda Still the upper castes in their desire for honour and the respectability of women, they are also crafting an identity which is nothing like the upper-castes’. While Dalits reject most aspects of upper-caste lifestyles, customs, religion and culture, there is one aspect which is adopted hook, line and sinker: that is the concern about female respectability. So, in one sense they are doing the same thing as the dominant castes but at the very same time, they are asserting their difference from and opposition to the upper castes. In other words, Dalits are appropriating honour. Let me briefly explain how Dalit practices are both diverging and converging with those of the dominant castes’. Dalit difference is expressed in religious, political and social terms. Here are three brief examples. The main event of the Madiga Roman Catholic festival, held in January, is a parade of the village patron saint, St Antony, and the Virgin Mary around the whole village.16 Madiga men and women lead the tractor-pulled float not only through the Dalit ‘colonies’ but also through the middle of the Hindu upper-caste areas, areas from which they were previously banned from walking, let alone leading a loud and large parade. This can be seen as a flamboyant village-wide expression of a proud Catholic Dalit identity that transgresses previous boundaries imposed on Dalits and proclaims a sharp distinction from the identity of upper-caste Hindus. Second, politically, Dalits are asserting their difference through the support of local Mala and Madiga political leaders and their associated political campaigns for Dalit rights, land and resources. Political assertion manifests itself in a wide variety of ways, from the demand for the erection of a statue of Ambedkar in the centre of the main part of the Kamma-dominated village (as mentioned), to attendance at rallies and political meetings. Some travelled as far away as Hyderabad during Madiga campaign for the subdivision of the reservation quota, for example. Some Dalit women also took part in these campaigns but to a far lesser extent than men largely because of childcare, work and domestic responsibilities. Lastly, in social life, Dalits are now becoming proud of eating beef (although ambivalence still exists), of drumming the dappu drum (even though now only a few can do this) and their expertise in tanning and leather work (the traditional Madiga occupation). Given the prejudice that exists against them, these are remarkable signs that Dalits are actively creating their own distinct Dalit identity in opposition to the caste Hindus.17 And yet, alongside the assertion of radical difference, in one sphere of social life (gender relations), Dalits are strikingly like the upper

Rape and the revitalisation of patriarchy? 197 castes. Better-off Dalits are withdrawing Dalit women from paid manual work, which has been such a key part of Dalit women’s identity and subjectivity. They are educating their daughters in order to marry them up, paying higher dowries to secure prestigious matches for them and curbing women’s freedom in the name of ‘honour’. This is exactly what Osella and Osella’s ‘ex-untouchable’ Izhava informants were doing in Kerala in the 1990s: adopting a ‘bourgeois “housewife” ethic and Hindu “seclusion” identity’ (2000: 79) and follows a familiar model of gendered upward mobility.18 The new norms applied to Dalit women, then, are no different from the upper-caste norms and the path of Dalits’ upward mobility in Nampalli is a well-trodden one. And yet, unlike other scholars, I argue that this is not sanskritisation. When one combines the new assertion of Dalit dignity with the adoption of upper-caste gender norms, the result is what I call ‘the Dalitisation of patriarchy’. Dalits are not copying the dominant norms wholesale (as in sanskritisation), rather they are instead appropriating it: converting the cultural currency of honour to their own ends as they rise in class status. I cannot explain why ‘honour’ (my rough and general translation of the local term, paruvu-pratishta-gowravam) seems to be the common denominator of status in rural coastal Andhra Pradesh across castes and classes but the prevalence of honour has certainly been noted elsewhere in the region (Price 1996, 2006). Of course, honour is key to analyses which take the caste system’s operative principle to be the honour of the king, not the purity of the Brahmin (Appadurai 1977, 1981; Dirks 1987; Raheja 1988a, 1988b). This may be especially so in the politics of Andhra Pradesh, where kingly honour is especially evident in local politics (Price 1996, 2006). Honour is also linked to the political notion of ‘self-respect’, which was at the heart of the Dravidian movement in South India (Mines 2005: 117). At the village level, honour still carries this connection to kingship and self-respect. But due to its polyvalent character, it has acquired new meanings in its re-interpretation. It is also a highly gendered notion: an honourable woman has attributes that are quite different from those of an honourable man. Broadly, men gain honour through wealth, land and assets which allow them to distribute patronage, acquire dependents and to display largesse and generosity. Male honour is acquired though the exhibition of wisdom in dispute resolution and political life and through confidence, fearlessness, physical strength and unassailability; through education and respectable employment, the ability ‘to talk well’ and to ‘get things done’ and crucially through the fidelity of wives and

198  Clarinda Still the chastity of daughters. Honour for women, therefore, is negatively defined as the avoidance of shame. Honourable women stay ‘within their limits’: not roaming around too freely, not expressing themselves too liberally or loudly, not dressing too exuberantly or carelessly, and not mixing too freely with men (also described in Chapters 4 and 5, this volume). Thus the attributes that bring men honour and respect (wealth, political prowess, confidence, wisdom and the fidelity of spouses) are very different from the thing that brings women honour (the avoidance of shame). Honour is then principally attributed to men. My Dalit informants’ concern with paruvu-pratishta-gowravam is related to the current socio-economic and political trends sketched out earlier: new forms of employment accessible to Dalits and increasing incomes; the impact of pro-low caste and Dalit politics, the Dalit movement in the area, the disappearance of a vertically arranged caste hierarchy and its replacement with a horizontally arranged casteshaped class system in which groups compete with each other rather than subordinate/pay deference to each other. Dalits’ preoccupation with paruvu-pratishta-gowravam is also linked to Dalits’ historical humiliation and the sexual humiliation of Dalit women. This structural humiliation entailed, among other things, caste-based segregation, prohibition against Dalits entering many public areas, unchecked violence against Dalits if they were perceived to display insubordination, and the routine sexual abuse of Dalit women as an expression of upper-caste domination (Baghel 2009: 216–217; Rao 2003: 14, 105). In my own fieldwork site, I have reason to believe that this happened although it was very difficult to get information about this for obvious reasons. It was implied in the way women describe improvement and development. Women labourers said that in the past they were ‘approached’ in the fields but that now landlords would not dare to go near them. The humiliation of Dalits is far less tolerated by the more politically assertive Dalit men. However, it is this historical humiliation helps to explain the powerful appeal of an honourable status and self-respect, now that Dalits are beginning to access the economic, political and religious resources that can engender them.

Honour, education, marriage and work As I have argued elsewhere (Still 2010, 2014), honour drives three major changes in Dalit women’s lives: education, marriage and work. First, education: better-off Dalit parents are educating their daughters in order to try and marry them ‘up’. In Nampalli in 2009, almost all

Rape and the revitalisation of patriarchy? 199 old women marked their identity with a thumb print, but in 2009, 86 per cent of Dalit girls aged 19 and under were literate.19 This is a huge change in itself. But in better-off families the change is even greater: girls are now being educated to unprecedented levels, with a few managing to reach Intermediate and even college degree levels. In some girls, this encourages self-confidence and assertiveness and a desire to ‘stand on their own two feet’ (they have the same expression in Telugu). But more often than not, the educated girls are rather more modest and shy than the uneducated ones. This is because educated girls are expected to adopt a more demure and ‘middle-class’ sensibility. But education is on the whole not intended to get these girls jobs. Girls may aspire to become teachers or doctors but the job market is such that there are few if any viable job opportunities for Dalit girls. Levels of educated unemployment are high even for privileged and well-educated young men in the area so Dalit girls (who are held back by the additional barriers of caste, class and gender) cannot compete even if they wanted to. Employment opportunities for Dalit women are set to increase as Amaravati, the new capital, grows and Vijayawada expands and the entire area turns from countryside into urban sprawl. But during my research period it was virtually unheard of for educated Dalit girls to have jobs in shops or offices, let alone professional, salaried employment. Why are parents educating their daughters, when it is of such high opportunity cost to them?20 There are a number of reasons but one of them is that education is believed to attract marriage proposals from similarly educated, possibly employed bridegrooms. Better-off Dalit parents seek grooms who can provide their daughters with secure homes in which they will not have to do hard manual wage labour. Ideally, this would be a government job, but failing that some kind of clerk or office job in the city. Dalit men who are working in factories or in construction or painting work in Vijayawada are also earning a good income which would require a high dowry. Even a labourer in this area would get between Rs 40,000 and 60,000. For a man with a government job, a dowry of Rs 100,000 (in 2009) would be needed to secure such a match. If accepted, the hope is that these educated girls might escape the fate of hard agricultural labour endured by their mothers and grandmothers, and instead live ‘contented’ (sukham) lives in their marital homes. In this scenario, my findings show that educated girls from better-off Dalit families are less likely to marry their cross-cousins (formerly the preferred match) and are more likely to marry a similarly educated ‘outsider’ (non-kin) bridegroom (Still 2010, 2014), something also shown by Kapadia (1995) in rural Tamil

200  Clarinda Still Nadu. For their part, employed Dalit young men generally seek educated brides who can pay a large dowry. In other words, better-off Dalits are seeking to marry their daughters ‘out’ and ‘up’ wherever they can. As housewives, Dalit women lose much of the autonomy they would have enjoyed as working women and divorce becomes much more difficult for them. Several factors contribute to this: it is because they no longer have an independent income, because they often marry into a non-kin family in villages/towns much further away than a crosscousin’s, and also because they now are under pressure to act like a ‘respectable wife’. In exchange, they achieve a more ‘honourable’ and reputable status for themselves, their families and communities. This is viewed as a major step forward in the modern Dalit pursuit of paruvu-pratishta-gowravam. It is not just daughters who are experiencing a change: the wives of those Dalit men who have secured better-paid employment outside the village are withdrawing from paid work too. When their husbands’ higher incomes (whether marginal or substantial) are enough to obviate the need for wives to work, they quit the labour force. Heyer (2014) has found the same in Tamil Nadu and refers to this process as ‘housewification’. This is because agricultural labour is arduous, lowpaid and universally viewed as menial work. Consequently, it is only the poorest Dalit women who need to work that do so. This means that for the first time in this community, there is a select group of Dalit women who do not work outside the house. Their husbands’ higher incomes have given them the chance to escape the ‘hard work in the hot sun’ that they were forced to do before, allowing them, instead, to stay at home to take care of their houses and to look after their husbands and children. This marks a major social change. Work is a fundamental part of who Dalit women are: of all the people in the village, there is little doubt that they work the hardest. They wake before dawn, fold the family’s bedding; wash, milk and feed their buffalo if they have one, wash and dry clothes; scrub pots, pans and plates from the previous night’s dinner; light a fire to prepare rice for the family’s packed lunch and make tea for the household. By 7 am, they go to work in the fields, returning about midday and going back for the evening work session. After returning from their work – which is paid at only half the rate of men’s work – they collect grass for the buffaloes and then begin the evening’s work of collecting water, making the fire, preparing hot water for baths, cooking and serving dinner. They eat and bathe after everyone else, and generally sleep on a mat on the floor. They get up

Rape and the revitalisation of patriarchy? 201 the next day to face the same gruelling routine. Poorer women have to work into late pregnancy and even when their children are very young. Old women in the poorest families work until their bodies give up. The demands of field work combined with multiple pregnancies and childbirth physically wear out Dalit women, who look older than their years. So it is no wonder that most Dalit women long to escape from the demands of agricultural wage labour. And yet Dalit women also recognise that they derive advantages from their paid work: it gives them autonomy and empowerment, and it sets Dalit women apart from the women of other castes who do not work outside their homes. Their paid work is the reason that most young Dalit women do not have to give much dowry at marriage; it is why they have much more choice about when and whom they marry; and, in radical contrast to the women of other castes, it is why they have some degree of freedom to experiment sexually before marriage, something also found in Dalit communities elsewhere in India (Kapadia, personal communication, January 2015). Work gives Dalit women more freedom to dress and speak in the ways they want. They are not brought up to be shy; they taught early on how to stick up for themselves in the company of male labourers, employers and landlords. Dalit women’s income, however meagre, means that it is possible for them to escape abusive husbands if necessary. Case studies in my book document how Dalit women can and do leave husbands who physically abuse them, and how they sustain themselves and their children using their own incomes (see Still 2014: 162–183). Dalit women retain strong links with their ‘mother’s house’ (see also Grover 2009) and return there if they need to. Divorce and remarriage are viewed as undesirable but certainly possible for Dalit women and were common in previous generations (see also Parry 2001). Working Dalit women thus have a route out of bad marriages. In contrast, upper-caste women who do not work, who have no income and who contract distant ‘outsider’ marriages have no such safety nets. Dalits have never obsessed as much about female chastity and fidelity because until now women have been viewed as economically productive assets to their households. They have not been ‘producers of status’ and ‘bearers of legitimate heirs to property’ as in the wealthy high-caste families. Rather they have been important earners within a poor and largely property-less community. Until now, therefore, it has been paid agricultural work outside the home that has defined Dalit women’s identity and made them distinctive from higher-caste women. It has also made them far more equal to Dalit men.

202  Clarinda Still For Dalit women, work is central to a sense of self. They are proud of their abilities and they see themselves as stronger and more physically skilled than the non-Dalit women of the village. All Dalit women can name those who are best among them at particular agricultural tasks and they are prized for their skill. The best workers are in great demand by the Dalit female work-team leaders who organise Dalit women’s contract labour. This is partly why the new phenomenon of the Dalit housewife is viewed with considerable ambivalence. Some women openly make fun of the few Dalit housewives who have appeared in the village. Significantly, they are usually in-marrying brides. ‘What do they do inside the house all day?’ female Dalit labourers asked, ‘Simply eating and sleeping!’ (cited in Still 2010). However, although the life of an ‘indoors’ housewife is openly ridiculed by dyed-in-the-wool women labourers, it is also simultaneously desired and envied. For despite the social privileges conferred by their paid work, most Dalit women consider the life of a housewife to be an infinitely preferable existence to the daily drudgery, hard physical toil, exploitation and meagre returns of agricultural labour.

Shame and sexual politics Dalit women are withdrawn from agricultural labour not just to ease their hardship but also to raise the status of the family by ensuring that these women are no longer sexually accessible to landlords and male labourers. It is well known that Dalit women workers have been and still are subject to a range of abuses, from mild sexual harassment to sexual brutality and rape (Narula 1999; Rao 2003: 14; Rege 2003: 105). Indeed, as other analysts have pointed out this is one of the most powerful forms of caste domination: it instantly strips the woman, her family and her caste group of honour while simultaneously emasculating her husband and the men of her caste and kinship group who have been shown to have failed to protect her (Baghel 2009: 216–217; Béteille 1992; Fuller 2011; Rao 2003: 14; Rege 2003: 105). Sexual violence against Dalit women is used by the dominant castes to demonstrate their power over both Dalit women and Dalit men. Women labourers in the fields, simply by their very presence there, are viewed as ‘fair game’ by high-caste farmers. Indeed, the sexual exploitation of Dalit women has been so normalised historically that upper-caste men have viewed the bodies of their Dalit women labourers as their right (Kannabiran and Lalitha 1989: 182).

Rape and the revitalisation of patriarchy? 203 Nowadays, however, in Nampalli, the sexual exploitation of Dalit women is so politically sensitive that Dalit men are quick to react to any sexual offence by dominant-caste men. It is taken as a direct affront to the reputation of the Dalit caste as a whole and as an issue in which local Dalit political groups readily get involved. As one Dalit female informant boldly put it, Now say we are going to get fuel for the fire [in the fields], if any man says something or takes hold of our hand [makes a sexual advance] we will slap him and say, ‘Who do you think you are?’ They [i.e. the non-Dalit men who approached them] won’t say anything later because who would say anything when it is their mistake (tappu)? For one obscene word they speak to us, they’ll get four in return! (Interview, 29 January 2005) (cited in Still 2010: 15) This woman is exaggerating (it is highly unlikely that she would actually shout at a dominant caste employer) but nevertheless her comments mark an angry intolerance of the abuse that Dalit women faced in the past. A further illustration of this intolerance came in the summer of 2008 when a group of Madiga male labourers went to the village sarpanch’s house to report that a Kamma landlord had made a sexual advance towards a young Madiga female worker by touching her shoulder (Still forthcoming: 114–115). The fact that this was immediately taken to the head of the village (who at the time was a Kamma man of the same caste as the accused) shows how seriously these issues are taken. The sarpanch took no public action but he may have spoken to the man in question. Issues surrounding the ‘honour’ of Dalit women have become flash points for caste conflict in the village and it would have been in the sarpanch’s interests to smooth things over to preserve relations. This would seem to suggest that indicates that the routine rape of Dalit women by high-caste men referred to in human rights reports (Narula 1999) and other literature (see Kannabiran and Kannabiran 2002) does not happen in this area so easily now, although it is of course difficult to ascertain exactly what levels of abuse are occurring. Cross-caste sexual relations still exist but in a very different form. Today, they have become commercialised: higher-caste men must now pay lower-caste women for sex, something that they used to take by force in earlier days (see Still 2010: 15). Several informants told me that a small minority of very poor female labourers in the area

204  Clarinda Still exchange sex for money with employers while at work in the fields. Particular female work team leaders were said to facilitate these transactions. As one Dalit woman put it, ‘If [a Dalit girl] goes to the fields she will get all the bad habits (chedda alluvartulu). If the farmer’s son wants to go with the girl and if the girl is attracted by this, it is very easy’ (Still 2014: 113). Prostitution, however, has less to do with ‘bad habits’ and more to do with the women’s dire need for money (often the girls alleged to be involved are destitute). However, the perception that it is to do with ‘bad character’ (even among Dalit women themselves) is worth noting. Commercialised sexual exchange of this nature is still gross exploitation of the most vulnerable of Dalit women and would not be happening if it were not for the continuing caste-based socio-economic dominance of landlords and the caste-based poverty of particular Dalit women. But this is of a different order to the brutalities of the past. It is worth saying that work in the fields not only makes Dalit women vulnerable to predatory men; it also gives them more opportunity for their own affairs of the heart. The fields are also the site of illicit relationships between labourers of the same and occasionally different castes. If gossip is anything to go by, there were hardly any men or women whose reputations were untarnished. Workers in the fields joke with each other and interact much more freely than in the village. They get to know one another and form relationships, some of which are romantic. It is impossible to say exactly how far the sexual freedoms of Dalit working women extend. But judging by overheard conversations, gossip and the information shared by my closest female informants, extra-marital love affairs among OBC and Dalit labourers are fairly common (see Still 2014: 172). Love affairs are adjudicated on a discernible moral scale, some are seen as ‘worse’ than others: an affair between an unmarried young couple is ‘worse’ than an extra-marital affair between two older married people; the affair of an educated housewife is ‘worse’ than that of an impoverished, widowed labourer; a cross-caste union is worse than an intra-caste one; an affair that becomes public (through elopement or pregnancy) is worse than a discreet one (Still 2014: 120). Pre-marital and extra-marital relationships are not happily accepted within the Dalit community but because Dalit women labourers are more independent and tend to have more of an equal status to Dalit men, the consequences are far less severe for errant Dalit women than they would be for errant high-caste housewives. Dalit women labourers have long had the practical opportunity, the socio-economic independence and

Rape and the revitalisation of patriarchy? 205 more liberal cultural norms, all of which have allowed them more control over their own sexuality than other women. This is reflected in marriage patterns too. My own and other findings show that Dalit marriages (across India) used to be significantly more flexible and informal than they are now (Deliege 1997; Parry 2001, 2004). Genealogies in Nampalli show that marriages were more easily contracted and broken (a third of Dalits who were over 50 years old in Nampalli had been divorced once or more) (Still 2014: 157). Dalit women could separate and re-marry much more easily than others, they simply called it ‘letting go’ (odili pettatam) of a husband. Women had the right to ‘let go’ of their spouses as much as men did. There are indications that pre-marital sexual contact was tolerated in the past and even today, especially in the case of cross-cousins, although this is harder to verify. I was told by a number of informants that young people used to (and still) choose their partners and that their parents contrive an ‘arranged’ marriage between them afterwards (Still 2014: 138). Sexual experimentation with actual or classificatory cross-cousins also seems to be a fairly common phenomenon, especially as these couples grow up with the understanding that they have a special ‘right’ to marry each other (even if they do not actually get married in the end) (Still 2014: 108). This is the way the past was described to me, as well as the way things more-or-less still are for the majority of labouring Dalit families. But upward mobility is changing all this. Today Dalit men are clamping down on the sexual ‘misdemeanours’ of daughters or wives in the higher-status Dalit families (Still 2014: ch. 5 and 6). Ostensibly higher-status Dalit women are expected to change their behaviour in accordance with their superior position, however small their rise in status may be. Surveillance of these women increases; violence from husbands to bring them into line increases and the selection of ‘good’ women as brides becomes a preoccupation (Still 2014: ch. 5 and 6). Parry (2001) has similarly shown how ‘companionate’ marriage and a decline in divorce have come hand in hand with gender inequality among Dalits in the Bhilai Steel Plant (2001: 788). In Nampalli, very significantly, because there is a strong association between illicit sex, agricultural work and the fields, Dalits (men and women) are seeking to prevent women from going to the fields at all. Due to the fact that rape, coerced prostitution and consensual love affairs all generally take place in the fields, outside the residential areas of the main village and the Dalit hamlets, the Dalits aim to get women out of field work and to keep them in the house, just like the dominant-caste Kamma women (Still 2014: 116).21 Upward mobility,

206  Clarinda Still then, goes hand in hand with ‘honour’. Consequently, advancements in Dalits’ socio-economic position result in the curtailment of Dalit women’s freedoms.

Honour as a discourse The desire for honour is not just evident in the educational, marital and household changes outlined earlier. It is also a discourse which Dalits in the palli (just like the upper castes in the uru) use to explain their motivations, aspirations, desires and disappointments. People offer it up as the reason they do certain things, as if it is a natural and self-evident fact. It is a cultural complex so locally dominant that status can hardly be expressed in alternative ways. It is also normative: it provides a loose set of guidelines about how all women (and all men) should and shouldn’t behave. For women, this is largely to do with preserving modesty and ‘keeping within the limits’ (as they say in Telugu) of the feminine body, the house, the community, the ‘colony’ or the village. It is a matter of women drawing the correct boundaries and constraints around themselves and their bodies. It can be understood then as principally a male pursuit, achieved through the subordination (and elevation) of women in particular ways. In this project, women are simultaneously freed of old constraints and shackled by new ones. There is evidence to suggest that this trend is widespread among Dalits. Manuela Ciotti (2010: 212–246), Caroline and Filippo Osella (2000), Penny Vera-Sanso (1995), Hugo Gorringe (Chapter 4, this volume) all highlight the increasing importance of gendered respectability among upwardly mobile (and politicised) OBCs and Dalits. In rural Tamil Nadu, Karin Kapadia (1995) and Judith Heyer (2014) have identified and analysed a similar process of education, upward marriage, increased dowry and withdrawal from the labour force among women in better-off Dalit families. Of course, as Heyer (2014) points out, this ‘housewification’ is good for Dalit women in lots of ways: they are no longer subject to the predations of male employers and labourers; they need not bargain with their bodies like some of their impoverished counterparts; they need not suffer the exploitation, exhaustion and the paltry pay associated with agricultural wage labour. They are likely to have better health and fewer children. Compared to agricultural wage labour, being a housewife is the luxury of the privileged few. But it comes at a price. The Dalit women labourers I lived with were very different from upper-caste women (and also from middle-class

Rape and the revitalisation of patriarchy? 207 Dalit housewives) in their language, mobility, manners and clothes. They were far more independent and they knew how to bargain, argue, negotiate and defend themselves, as I mentioned earlier. They did not care too much about ‘female modesty’ in dress, and their colourful speech was often powerful, articulate, witty, bawdy and irreverent. Within the palli, their speech plays were often performed with ebullience and gusto. The harsh social, economic and political structures in which Dalit women grow up mean that they develop very different subjectivities from dominant-caste women. But their distinctive difference from upper-caste women is being eroded today because their behaviour is now branded as ‘shameful’ by respect-seeking Dalit men and women. So, as Dalit communities accrue honour and respect in local terms, they become steadily less egalitarian between the sexes. For all that they gain in this scenario, Dalit housewives lose freedom in speech and behaviour, they also lose the sense of pride and positive identity that Dalit women derived from their skilled agricultural work (described earlier). They lose certain aspects of their distinctiveness as Dalit women, because they become much more like non-Dalit women. This rise in Dalit patriarchy will no doubt have concomitant effects on the ‘value’ and ‘cost’ of women to the Dalit household, especially where dowry is involved (Still 2014: 7). The most brutal effect of diminishing gender equality is likely to be on the Dalit sex ratio. As upper-caste patriarchy spreads to groups lower down the social hierarchy like Dalits and adivasis, we can expect to see increased levels of sex-selective abortion, female infanticide and the fatal neglect of female infants and children within these communities as well, for the very first time. There is evidence that this radical shift in attitudes to females is already happening among Dalits and adivasis (Agnihotri 2000, 2001, 2003; Banerjee 2002; Miller 1982, 1993, 1997: 203). But there are more subtle effects too, and this brings me back to the theme with which I started: ‘rape culture’ and the rise of honour.

Conclusion In this chapter, I have tried to suggest that we are witnessing a growth of an honour and shame complex among the most previously egalitarian of social groups. I found this during my own fieldwork with Dalits, and it has been found before by others before me. But it is not as if Dalits are becoming more patriarchal while everyone else becomes less patriarchal. On the contrary, recent studies attest to the mutated growth of ‘traditional’ patriarchal values among the middle classes and global elites too (Gilbertson 2011; Radhakrishnan 2011).

208  Clarinda Still Although I do not have the space here to discuss this literature, suffice to say that the rise in concerns about honour cannot be dismissed as a remnant of a bygone India which will peter out as India advances. On the contrary, it is possible that this a growing feature of India’s modernity not least because it is a crucial way in which India marks its distinction from the West. How does this help us understand the so-called rape culture that so many commentators referred to in the protests in 2013 following the rape of Jyoti Singh? If we accept that there may be a resurgence of ideas and practices that are helping to reinvigorate patriarchy in certain communities across the castes and classes in India, then we might consider the debates about rape in a new light. The demand for female ‘modesty’ (in order to accumulate honour) is one of the norms that underpins some of the more punitive aspects of gendered violence. At its extreme, this trend towards increased patriarchy manifests as sexual violence against women. Honour creates a reservoir of patriarchal norms and ideals, which, taken to its extreme, provides the rationale and legitimation for violence against women. Honour tends to divide women into the ‘respectable’ and the ‘disreputable’ (albeit in different ways and through different mechanisms in each of the class-caste groupings). The flip side of ‘respect’ for ‘modest’ women is of course ‘disrespect’ for socalled immodest women; it implies that those women who do not ‘keep within their limits’ are therefore ‘legitimate’ targets for violation. They are women who are ‘unworthy’ of respect. This might be an impoverished Dalit woman at work in the fields or an educated woman travelling at night with a friend on a city bus – as happened to Jyoti Singh on the night of 16 December 2012 in Delhi. One of the most pernicious aspects of this spread of patriarchy to rural Dalits is that the majority of poor Dalit women agricultural labourers (but not the upwardly mobile ones who withdraw from field work) are now doubly condemned as ‘unrespectable’: on top of the usual discrimination that they suffer from the middle-class upper castes, they are also becoming stigmatised by the newly respectable, middle-class Dalits of their own caste. I want to keep in mind the acute vulnerability of these doubly condemned women at the close of this chapter. Debolina Dutta and Oishik Sircar (2013) have persuasively argued that it was largely the fact that Jyoti Singh was middle-class and urban that prompted the massive protests in her support. Dalit and tribal women have been subjected to similar sexual brutality but have received far less, if any, attention. Among the cases they list is that of Surekha and Priyanka

Rape and the revitalisation of patriarchy? 209 Bhootmange, the Dalit mother and daughter from Khairlanji in Maharashtra who were sexually assaulted and murdered by dominant caste men (see also Teltumbde 2008); Laxmi Orang, a young adivasi woman, who was forcibly stripped naked, thrashed and paraded by a violent mob in broad daylight in Assam in 2007; Neelofar and Aasiya Jaan who were raped and murdered by India’s paramilitary forces in Shopian, Kashmir, in 2009; and the case of the Chhattisgarhi adivasi school teacher, Soni Sori, who was stripped naked, administered electric shocks, assaulted and had stones inserted into her vagina and anus by junior police personnel in the presence of a senior officer, Ankit Garg (Dutta and Sircar 2013: 298–299). There are now other incidents with which to update this list of atrocities, including of course the horrific gang-rape and murder of two Dalit girls by higher-caste Yadav men in Badaun in Uttar Pradesh in May 2014. Dutta and Sirkar conclude, ‘None of these gruesome incidents, each no less violent than Pandey’s gang rape and murder, were considered worthy of national outrage and sustained coverage in the media’ (2013: 299). They add, ‘Location and identity thus seem to be essential qualifiers in determining whose rape is worth being the subject of urban, middle-class concern and rage’ (Dutta and Sircar 2013: 298; italics added). Dutta and Sircar (2013) are surely right, but they do not really discuss the reason for such unjust differential treatment. I would argue that the fact that the middle classes and elites seem to be less concerned about violence against lower-class, lower-caste women is because these women are not seen as respectable in the first place. The honour complex constructs impoverished lower-caste labouring women as already ‘sullied’ by their presence in the fields or factories, as ‘asking for it’ because they are less constrained in their dress and speech than upper-caste women, and as violable simply because they enter public, male-dominated spaces. The local Telugu word for rape is chedda gottatam, literally ‘to make bad or spoil’. But in the cases of those whose reputations are viewed as already ‘spoiled’, it is considered less of a crime. A rape victim’s ‘habituation’ to sex, therefore, is not only treated as relevant but almost serves as exoneration (Baxi 2000). Indeed, the Delhi rapists’ defence lawyer, Manohar Lal Sharma, claimed that ‘respectable’ Indian women do not get raped (cited in MacAskill 2013). Upper-caste stereotypes of low-caste, adivasi and Dalit women as ‘simple’, loud-mouthed, vulgar, ‘hot-blooded’ and, above all, promiscuous serve to physicalise and sexualise Dalit women and to justify their sexual abuse in the minds of their abusers. Furthermore, low-caste, adivasi and Dalit women’s extreme poverty means that they are disproportionately represented among India’s

210  Clarinda Still prostitutes, labourers, cleaners and domestics. Out of a sheer lack of options, it is abject poverty which forces them into vulnerable work situations in which they must transact sex for money (or other material returns) in various forms of commercial exchange, whether it is with an employer-landlord in a village field or a customer in a redlight district. This economic vulnerability then serves to reinforce the stereotype. As Parry (2014) has shown, such women, forced by economic circumstances to bargain with their bodies, serve to confirm the middleclass myth that poor women are sluts and middle-class women are moral. Parry says, That some [female labourers] acquiesce [to their employers’ sexual advances] reinforces the widespread belief that ‘labour class’ women are sexually available, which in turn provides ‘proof’ to the labour aristocracy that they themselves are a different and better breed, superior in culture and morals. Class inequalities produce a particular configuration of gender relations; gender relations (and in particular sexual relations) produce a powerful ideological justification for class differentiation. (Parry 2014: 1242) Ideals of honour and shame make it unacceptable to touch ‘honourable’ women but excusable to violate labouring-class, lower-caste women who are deemed already ‘disreputable’. In this ultra-conservative, chauvinist mind-set, Western women, ‘westernised’ Indian women (presumably in the warped minds of her attackers, Jyoti Singh fell into this category), tribal women, Dalit women – all those women who are more equal to men, and who may also be freer and more liberal in their social and sexual expression – are branded as ‘dishonourable’ and therefore as ‘legitimate’ targets. Of course, traditionalist attitudes are being challenged and resisted more than ever in India’s metropoles: the protests against gender violence in the wake of the Delhi rape were the largest of their kind found anywhere in the world. The legislation that was adopted afterwards was also an incontrovertible sign of the public intolerance of violence against women. And yet, the fact that highly conservative countercurrents seem to be evident in the most unlikely of communities (e.g. Radhakrishnan’s (2011) IT professionals in Silicon Valley and South Indian Dalits here) indicate that new forms of patriarchy are tenacious and require greater examination if we are to properly understand their transformation.

Rape and the revitalisation of patriarchy? 211 Today in coastal Andhra, Dalits are reinventing their culture and asserting their political rights. Men are at the forefront of this project but women share these aspirations too. But while men (and to a lesser extent women) are creatively constructing a politicised identity in very many respects through beef-eating, drumming and so on, they have adopted honour-oriented upper-caste gender norms wholesale. This will have a destructive effect on Dalit women’s traditional freedoms and it will contribute to the patriarchal nature of India’s modernity. This seems to be a missed opportunity. A genuinely progressive Dalit politics, on the other hand, would see Dalit men championing the traditional freedoms of Dalit women as a badge of honour rather than as a mark of shame. But for this to happen, upwardly mobile Dalits would have to resist the hegemonic pressure of the honour complex that is spreading so successfully through India’s contemporary patriarchies.

Notes 1 I would like to thank Karin Kapadia, S. Anandhi and an anonymous reviewer for valuable suggestions on an earlier draft of this chapter. I would like to acknowledge the support of the ESRC and ERC on the Poverty and Inequality Research Programme based at LSE (project number: M3R00010 and M3RYSA00). 2 Note to the Reader: I have put ‘honour’ in inverted commas here to indicate that honour is a cultural construction rather than a value that I take for granted. I have not used inverted commas throughout for ease of reading. 3 Kwame Anthony Appiah’s (2010) book, ‘The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen’ may signal a renewed interest in honour, and according to an anonymous reviewer of this article, has attracted interest among Dalit intellectuals. 4 The notorious Hindu spiritual leader, Bapu Asaram, the head of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Mohan Bhagwat, both made controversial statements about the event which implied the victim herself and western culture were to blame. See Ghosh (2013) on Asaram and G. Balachandran (2013) for commentary on Bhagwat. 5 The rapists’ defence lawyer claimed he had never heard of a ‘respected lady’ being raped in India (MacAskill 2013). 6 Chamberlain, Gethin. 2013. ‘ “If girls look sexy, boys will rape.” Is this what Indian men really believe?’ The Observer, Sunday, 24 March 2013. www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/24/india-rape-disturbing-atti tudes-men Accessed on 29 September 2014. 7 Part of a 2014 campaign speech delivered in Uttar Pradesh, reported by Aman Sethi. Shah continued, ‘A man can live without food or sleep’ he said, ‘but when he is insulted, he cannot live’ (‘Love jihad and one man’s quest to prevent it’ The Guardian online (the long read), 29 January 2015.

212  Clarinda Still www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/29/love-jihad-india-one-man-questprevent-it Accessed on 16 February 2015. 8 This refers to the alleged phenomenon of Muslim men converting Hindu girls to Islam by faking a romantic relationship. It is unconfirmed whether this phenomenon actually exists or whether it has been concocted as a pretext to control women and demonise Muslim men. See Gupta (2009) for an analysis. 9 Sethi, Aman. 2015. ‘Love jihad and one man’s quest to prevent it’ The Guardian online (the long read), 29 January 2015. www.theguardian.com/ world/2015/jan/29/love-jihad-india-one-man-quest-prevent-it Accessed on 16 February 2015. 10 For the purposes of this chapter, I refer to Dalits as a whole because I want to focus on class and gender differences within these two castes rather than the caste differences between them. I discuss caste differences between Malas and Madigas elsewhere (see Still 2011, 2014). 11 In August 1991, Reddys killed at least eight Malas in Chunduru, Guntur District. The Reddys had resented the increasing independence of the Malas in Chundur (several had secured government employment in the railways and in civil administration). An incident between Reddy and Mala youths in a cinema hall was followed by a labour boycott. The eventual attack on the Dalits was launched by Reddys, allegedly armed with axes and iron rods. Eight Mala men died, and many others were injured. After this, Dalits united to form a social movement protesting against caste and untouchability (Srinivasulu 2002). For more on this, see Balagopal (1991) and Srinivasulu (2002). The perpetrators have still not been convicted but at the time of writing the case continues (Deccan Herald ‘Andhra High Court strikes down all sentences in Dalit massacre case’ Hyderabad, 22 April 2014). 12 For more on this see Still (2011). 13 This was the situation in 2004–5 and 2009. Several things have changed since then including the NREGA scheme, the creation of Telangana, the announcement of Amaravati as Andhra Pradesh’s new capital city. All these will have an effect on the situation of Dalits. 14 Dalits’ historical humiliation at the hands of the dominant castes (Brahmins and later, Kammas and Reddys) should be kept in mind. Dalits have been and to some extent still are dependent on the dominant caste in their position as agricultural labourers, servants in Kamma households and political supporters. The majority of Dalit are still labourers today. Earlier there were also more extreme forms of dependence such as bonded labour (jeetham in Telugu) where a landlord effectively owned his Dalit servant. Today there are forms of ‘tied labour’ (Da Corta and Venkateswarlu 1999) including disadvantageous sharecropping deals but jeetham service has largely died out. 15 See Da Corta and Venkateshwarlu (1999) for a discussion of this generally and Still (2014: 96–97) for a discussion of this as it applies to this area. 16 Madigas are Roman Catholic and Malas are Lutheran. It is uncertain when exactly Madiga Catholics converted but Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary, converted thousands of low caste fisherman on the Coromandel coast in the mid-sixteenth century (Clarke 2003: 324). Most Madigas in the area are actually Telugu Baptists, converted in the mid-nineteenth

Rape and the revitalisation of patriarchy? 213 century. In practice however, Mala and Madiga women attend the ‘new churches’ (kotha churchilu), that is the Pentecostal churches. Dozens of these churches have sprung up over the last two decades and they are hugely popular and influential. Many Dalit women in the village display strong faith (some rising at 4 am every day to pray, removing all jewellery and dressing simply, attending church frequently). The influence of these churches can be observed in some of the statements and beliefs about good and bad ways of behaving expressed by Dalit women. Some of the churches Dalit women attend include the Gospel Association of India, The Bible Mission, Hosanna Ministries and the Harvest Church but there are many more. It is Dalit women far more than Dalit men who are committed to the Pentecostal churches but some Dalit men also convert (take baptism) and attend the churches. 17 Better-off Dalits do not reject Dalit identity. In a place where caste is the principal way in which people relate and refer to each other, it would be implausible to try to. Here, one’s social identity is first and foremost one’s caste identity. But it is true to say that Malas and Madigas do not use the term ‘Dalit’ much. They of course know the term and accept it in reference to themselves (i.e. if I asked a question about ‘Dalitlu’ [Dalits], they do not mind). But they generally prefer to use their caste names. This is partly because of the intrinsic cultural and religious difference between the two castes and because of the political conflict over the sub-division of the reservation which has undermined a sense of Dalit unity. Briefly, this conflict started in 1994 when a group called the Madiga Reservation Porata Samiti was formed to object against the Mala domination of the benefits of reservation. They protested that other SC castes had been marginalised and they campaigned to divide the reservation quota more fairly according to the relative size and relative deprivation of the SC caste groups (see Gudavarthy 2013: 108–110; Gundimeda 2009). 18 See Berreman (1993), Den Uyl (1995: 195–218), Deshpande (2002), Kapadia (1995), Liddle and Joshi (1986: 57–69), Mukhopadhyay and Seymour (1994: 6), Srinivas (1962: 46–48). 19 In 2009, the Dalit female literacy rate in Nampalli was 45 per cent (compared with the rural SC female national average of 40 per cent at the time) according to the Census of India (2001). 20 Dalit families must forfeit a daughter’s potential earnings from agricultural wage labour (and the time it takes to habituate her to labour) if she continues her education into adolescence. 21 The word ‘work’ (panni) itself has a strong double meaning in Telugu: it can mean both ‘sex’ and ‘work’ thereby reinforcing the idea that agricultural labour is at some level immoral (Still 2014: 113).

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7 Different Dalit women speak differently Unravelling, through an intersectional lens, narratives of agency and activism from everyday life in rural Uttar Pradesh Radhika Govinda The notion of ‘difference’ – women’s difference from men, differences among women, and the very existence of ‘différance’1 – occupies centre-stage in feminist politics the world over. Parallels can be drawn between how the notion has been invoked in relation to AfricanAmerican women and ex-untouchable women. If Black feminist activists challenged their marginalisation in feminist and civil rights movements, Dalit2 feminist activists now question their marginalisation in feminist and Dalit movements. Their complaint is identical: that even though poor African-American and ex-untouchable women empirically exist, ‘Black woman’ was not recognised and ‘Dalit women’ still are not recognised as a political category in their own right. Black feminist activists created organisations and networks like Combahee River Collective to autonomously represent their interests (Combahee River Collective 1977). Similarly, Dalit feminist activists set up the National Federation of Dalit Women and the All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch to ‘talk differently’ (Guru 1995). Black feminist scholar-activists (e.g. hooks 1981) highlighted how race, class and gender ‘add up’ to oppress women from African-American backgrounds – this insight regarding Black woman’s difference later came to be theorised as ‘intersectionality’ (Crenshaw 1989). Even though there has been little by way of explicit engagement with the concept of ‘intersectionality’ by scholars writing on ex-untouchable women in India, Dalit feminist scholar-activists (e.g. Dietrich 1992) have drawn attention to how caste,3 class and gender work together to oppress exuntouchable women. What is common in such constructions of difference is that the intersection of social divisions takes place in an additive manner, through

Different Dalit women speak differently 219 the articulation of a single dimension of each division, essentialising Black and Dalit women in particular positions as African-American/ ex-untouchable, poor, women (McCall 2005). While such notions of difference and intersectionality have made a valuable contribution by highlighting exclusions and imbuing feminist praxis with a reflexivity it previously lacked, they do not fully capture the complexity and fluidity of contemporary empirical reality. Identity is situationally defined; different political subjects come into being in different contexts at different points of time. Yuval-Davis (2006) takes this as the basis for a broader interpretation of intersectionality, one that recognises that the different social divisions – race, caste, class, gender and so on – are always historically and contextually specific. They have different ontological bases, they are located within different structures of power, and how they intersect, and the social and political processes through which they result in the construction of political categories too are historically and contextually specific. Such an understanding offers us an opportunity to appreciate that positionality need not always be conflated with identity: that is, not all ex-untouchable women today would consider themselves ‘thrice oppressed’ because some of these women are increasingly aspiring middle-class women. And social divisions need not map onto political categories: that is not all ex-untouchable women identify themselves as ‘Dalit women’. The Dalit label is a political category not to be confused with a fixed, social division. In the Indian context, this new understanding of identity demands that we interrogate the assumed homogeneity of the political category of ‘Dalit women’. In this chapter, I unravel some narratives of agency and activism from the everyday lives of ex-untouchable women in rural Uttar Pradesh (UP)4 with this aim, and explore whether the very category of ‘Dalit women’ might be passé as Ciotti has suggested (2010a). These narratives are based on 27 interviews and 9 focus group discussions with activist and non-activist ex-untouchable and non-ex-untouchable women, and on other documentation collected during my doctoral research (2004–9), particularly a case study of a grassroots feminist women’s NGO which operates in rural, southern UP, and which I refer to as Vimukt Mahila Samuh (VMS) (Liberated Women’s Group).5 In a significant departure from much contemporary theorisation on ex-untouchable women, Rege (1998) argued that the category of ‘Dalit woman’ is multiple, heterogeneous and even contradictory. Her polemical writing invites us to empirically examine the processes by which this category comes into being. I do this by unpacking how

220  Radhika Govinda the individual narratives of ex-untouchable women employed and mobilised by VMS are interwoven with narratives of collective, ‘Dalit identity-related transformations’ taking place around them, and how illiterate ex-untouchable women are politicised compared to literate ex-untouchable men.6 I then intersectionally examine VMS’s exuntouchable women employees’ narratives, first in relation to those of the ex-untouchable women whom they mobilise, and then in relation to those of their dominant caste colleagues, to find out if their emergent ‘activist’ identities imply that they experience a greater solidarity with their dominant caste women colleagues than they do with poor, rural women from their own ex-untouchable community. Through this examination, I offer my reflections on the political category of ‘Dalit woman’, and how we might theorise ex-untouchable women’s condition in contemporary India. First a few words of introduction about the NGO and about exuntouchable women’s place in its activism are necessary: VMS emerged in 1993 from the national state-sponsored women’s education and empowerment programme, Mahila Samakhya (MS), whose most important achievement has been its success at organising large masses of poor rural women. The majority of the poor rural women VMS engages with are Chamars.7 While Chamars are generally recognised in UP as the most advanced ex-untouchable caste in terms of educational credentials, government jobs and political consciousness (see Ciotti 2010a), Chamar women’s condition is usually abysmal. Chitrakoot district where VMS predominantly operates ranks near the bottom of national and state averages in terms of income and the sexratio (Census of India 2011), and it is well known that criminality and socio-economic inequalities generate caste-class-gender oppression that is experienced in the highest measure by poor Chamar women. VMS’s initial focus was on economically empowering poor women by training them as hand-pump mechanics, by organising them into self-help groups and by helping them to set up micro-credit initiatives. It had been contracted to implement World Bank-funded government schemes for women’s empowerment. In the late 1990s, VMS began to engage with the issue of gender-based violence, taking up domestic abuse and rape-related cases. By the early 2000s, it was able to negotiate with donors the terms for carrying out projects on issues it identified as central for the women with whom it engaged (Govinda 2009). It launched initiatives to make ex-untouchable women, specifically Chamar women, aware of their rights and of the history of Dalit protest. After the Gujarat riots in 2002, it mobilised around the problem of communalism,8 and set up youth forums to encourage

Different Dalit women speak differently 221 interaction between the different caste and religious communities in the region, specifically caste-Hindus, ex-untouchables and Muslims. These forums involved both Hindu and Muslim adolescent girls and boys, and through them hoped to reach out to women and men from these communities. In the early 2000s, VMS undertook an important review of its organisational work. This involved taking stock of the initiatives it had launched, whom it mobilised and the strategies it employed for doing so since its inception. It resulted in a restructuring of the organisation’s activist work into three main units: a community empowerment unit, which consisted of its work with self-help groups and making ex-untouchable women aware of their ‘Dalit’ identity; a human rights unit, which included its work on gender-based violence and on communal harmony; and a natural resource management unit, which included its women hand-pump mechanics programme. In order to effectively raise awareness about their ‘Dalit identity’ among the exuntouchable women whom VMS mobilised and to carry out work on caste/religious harmony by mobilising Muslims, it was decided at the review that henceforth the organisation would only hire employees from ex-untouchable and Muslim backgrounds. Towards the end of my fieldwork in 2006, VMS was active in 85 villages in Chitrakoot district and in Banda district’s town areas, and out of its 30 employees, that is those on the staff roll, receiving a proper salary and occupying posts ranging from directors and coordinators to facilitators and fieldworkers, about a third each were ex-untouchables, Muslims and dominant Hindu castes.9 Around four-fifth of them were women. In addition to these employees, the organisation benefited from the support of ‘volunteers’, that is, local women and men whom it counted on to carry out its bidding in their own villages. Since VMS primarily engaged with Chamar women, most of these volunteers too were Chamar women.10 All volunteers were paid a small honorarium for their contribution. The organisational leadership consisted of two middle-class, urban, educated women: one an upper-caste Hindu (who was the founderleader, and referred to as badi didi, ‘big sister’) and another, a Muslim. Both, for some years now, had been living outside of Chitrakoot and Banda and made visits to oversee the running of the organisation. A second rung of leaders, holding the post of coordinators, was being groomed to run the day-to-day activities. This rung of leaders was solely from caste-Hindu background. I have discussed elsewhere (Govinda 2009) how the absence of male and female employees from the ex-untouchable castes from the second rung of leadership positions

222  Radhika Govinda was a result of their lack of the required level of educational qualifications, and how VMS was different from other local NGOs in that its leadership was conscious of this issue and consistently encouraged the ex-untouchable employees in their efforts to acquire these qualifications and to climb up the organisational hierarchy.

Exploring intersections of the collective and the subjective Collective identity narratives often act as resources for individual identity formation (Yuval-Davis 2006). Hence, VMS’s ex-untouchable women employees’ individual identity narratives need to be examined in the context of broader, more collective, ‘Dalit’ identity-related transformations. One such collective identity narrative has to do with VMS raising the awareness of ex-untouchable women regarding their identity as ‘Dalit women’, as Sonam’s narrative reveals. Sonam, a woman of Kori11 caste, in her mid-20s, worked for VMS as a full-time paralegal and lived in town. She observed: In the 1990s, I was working at MS as a teacher. I moved to VMS in the early 2000s when MSK12 shut down. . . . When I joined here, I didn’t know what ‘Dalit’ meant. Until then, I only knew: I’m Harijan. . . . I’m a Kori, not ‘I’m a Dalit’. Then Sanjana didi (sister) got me involved with DAG (Dynamic Action Group). When I went for their first meeting, I was told that I’d be the regional coordinator. I was very nervous. I told them, ‘I’ll do the work but don’t give me the position.’ But gradually I realised that as a Dalit woman I should understand my issues, I should put forward what Dalit women have to say. Now whenever I hear about a Dalit incident [atrocity], I immediately go there, I plan actions [in response]. . . . The biggest change in me happened when I had to compere the 2004 Dalit Women’s Public Hearing in Lucknow. Until then, I could do any job, but I couldn’t speak in public. But after that event, I got to hear that I’d done a good job as a compere. . . . Through this I’ve got recognition too. Now, my thinking and the organisation’s thinking is the same. . . . In these last three to four years, this new phase has begun for me: ‘Dalit, Dalit, Dalit’. . . . We had a lot of discussion on the word ‘Harijan’. Gandhi’s thinking was that the Harijans came from Hari’s mouth. But today Dalits oppose this way of thinking. Are not other people Hari’s jan (God’s people) too? (Field notes, 10 August 2005)

Different Dalit women speak differently 223 The organisation ran workshops for all its employees on caste identity and caste-based discrimination (and how these affect ex-untouchable women), and also on the history of Dalit protest. In 2004, it set up the Dalit Mahila Samiti (the Dalit Women’s Association – the DWA), a federal structure which brought together 1,200 self-help group members. There was also a conscious shift in discourse; on VMS founder-leader Sanjana Gupta’s own admission the organisation went from employing ‘SC’ and ‘Harijan’ to ‘Dalit’ when referring to exuntouchables (field notes, 18–21 September 2006). The influence of these organisational transformations on Sonam’s subjectivity is particularly evident in the fact that when she first joined VMS she did not even know what ‘Dalit’ meant, whereas she is now deeply embedded in Dalit activism. In spite of the burgeoning role of Dalit advocacy groups and of activist networks from the 1990s onwards in consciousness-raising among ex-untouchables and in making their voices heard in regional, national and international forums (Lerche 2008), far more attention has been paid to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)-led ex-untouchable assertion than to these NGOs and networks in UP (Jaffrelot 2003; Narayan 2006; Pai 2002). Several of these Dalit groups and networks prefer to adopt a socio-cultural approach to Dalit emancipation, one which is distinctly outside the sphere of electoral politics. They believe in the Ambedkarite ideal of a social revolution preceding a political revolution, and devote themselves to protest politics, protection and promotion of interests of ex-untouchable government employees and, in some cases, religious conversion (Jaoul 2007). They tend to be critical of BSP’s opportunism and distinguish themselves from BSP-led Dalit electoral politics in the state. Like most Dalit social activism elsewhere in the country (Rao 2003), these advocacy groups and networks do not appear to have a distinctly feminist agenda.13 However, some, like the Dynamic Action Group (DAG), which was formed in 1998 and consists of 30 Dalit organisations primarily led by male activists, have sought to mobilise ex-untouchable women around issues like land rights and caste- and gender-based violence. The public hearing on violence against ex-untouchable women that DAG organised with support from organisations like VMS, and that Sonam compered, is a case in point. It was decided that since the hearing was intended for ex-untouchable women, it should be conducted by them. Sonam was identified as one such compere. Her involvement with DAG, albeit facilitated by VMS, contributed significantly to her becoming conscious both of her identity as a Dalit woman and of her responsibilities as a Dalit woman activist.14

224  Radhika Govinda Sonam’s views resonate with DAG’s and BSP’s on the use of ‘Harijan’. Meaning ‘God’s people’, the term, originally coined by the seventeenth-century Gujarati poet Narsi Mehta to denote ‘untouchables’, was popularised by M. K. Gandhi (who was a caste-Hindu). Gandhi, it is claimed, preferred to use a Hindu name for God (Hari) because he argued that the ex-untouchables or ‘Hari’s people’ should be included within the caste society from which they had been excluded. His attempts to end untouchability have therefore been criticised for their ‘deradicalisation’ of the caste question (Jaoul 2013: 174). Mouthing anti-Gandhi propaganda, the BSP leader, Mayawati, and other Dalit politicos and Dalit activists in UP have rejected the term ‘Harijan’ because they see it as curtailing the political agency of ex-untouchables (see Singh 2010). Sonam’s simultaneous rejection of ‘Harijan’ identity and espousal of ‘Dalit’ identity are thus not merely evidence of her toeing VMS’s official line, but are political actions that are informed by both broader, collective identity narratives as well as contemporary political changes in UP. In the following (Chuniya’s) narrative, the roles that VMS, DWA and the BSP’s rise to power have played in the formation of ex-untouchable women’s subjectivity as ‘Dalit women’ are made more explicit. Chuniya was a woman of Chamar caste, in her early 40s, and living in a village with a significant VMS presence. She was an elected DWA leader who received a small honorarium from VMS for her contribution to its work. She observed: I am the DWA president, and a member of VMS.15 I run the selfhelp group in my hamlet. . . . I’ve never been to school. I was married at 12. My husband works as a labourer. I’m a mother of five. . . . Earlier, I was involved only in housework . . . now I have to look after the household and the society. . . . Earlier, as daughters-in-law we were weak in our homes, as members of Dalit families we were weak in society, we didn’t have any property in our name . . . we blindly followed custom but now we understand that, like men, we have rights. . . . Since I’ve joined the group, I’ve got an identity, recognition, and information about each and everything . . . people know me by my name. Today, men have fear because we have strength. We’re organised. We’ve got confidence. Earlier, no one knew us. Now, if there’s a problem in the village, it’s immediately brought to us. Earlier, we didn’t know about Baba saheb (Ambedkar). . . . Things have changed since we started celebrating Jayanti (Ambedkar’s birth anniversary). Earlier, we only knew about Congress,

Different Dalit women speak differently 225 BJP. . . . But now BSP has really taken off. Now in our group (read: VMS-supported self-help group), association (DWA), party (BSP) . . . from every quarter we’ve got information about ‘Jai Bheem’ (Hail Bheem)16 . . . so history has been revealed to us. But the main [source] was VMS . . . Savitribai’s [Savitribai Phule’s] slogan, Baba saheb’s slogan, the organisation has told us everything about these [great leaders]. . . . The day the Dalit fair happened, a big photo of Baba saheb was placed there. We were given a badge [with the Phules’ picture]. That day, badi didi (‘big sister’, a term of respect the women use for VMS’s founder-leader) got everyone to shout ‘Jai Bheem’. . . . In a literal sense, we are ‘Dalit’ (meaning ‘oppressed’ – here she crouched in a foetal position) but when we walk as the Dalit Mahila Samiti, we say we are the Dalit Mahila Samiti (Dalit Women’s Association) (emphasising ‘Dalit’, here she raised her hands to signify victorious celebration). (Field notes, 25 November 2005, 1–19 August 2006) The BSP has not improved ordinary ex-untouchables’ economic position in UP (see Chapter 8, this volume) but it has benefited them at the symbolic and political levels (Kohli 2001). Mayawati, having become the first ex-untouchable chief minister of UP, represents a powerful role model for them (Ciotti 2009). Chuniya’s narrative reveals how the BSP’s growing prominence has meant that today there is far more information available to ex-untouchables in the rural public sphere about Dr B. R. Ambedkar, and also about the history of Dalit protest. This new knowledge has contributed to Chuniya’s proud new identity as a Dalit community member. Through her association with VMS this knowledge has informed the struggles she spearheads as a ‘Dalit woman’. Well aware that women from every ex-untouchable caste practise untouchability against every other ex-untouchable caste that is below their own, VMS has tried to foster unity among them, as well as a sense of their collective identity as ‘Dalit women’. It has done so through the DWA, combining local cultural practices – including oath-taking, songs, street theatre performances and village fairs – with symbols, icons and identification rituals drawn from the history of Dalit protests in both UP and Maharashtra. In 2006, VMS organised a Dalit fair where the women were asked to take an oath whereby they promised to not practise untouchability among themselves. They sang songs and chanted slogans celebrating Ambedkar’s contribution to the Dalit cause. They were made aware of the inspiring work of Jyotiba and Savitribai Phule17 through a street-theatre performance, and given badges, bearing the Phules’

226  Radhika Govinda picture. Chuniya refers to these slogans, songs, oaths and the fair. Her remarks show the strong impression made by VMS’s use of Ambedkarite iconography and VMS’s use of the Phules as exemplary pan-Dalit reformers, in order to promote a sense of collective identity among its ex-untouchable women members. Chuniya shows an understanding of both the literal meaning of the term ‘Dalit’ as well as its politicised use.18 ‘ “Dalit” in Sanskrit is derived from . . . dal, which means amputated . . . destroyed or crushed’ (Narayan 2006: 34). The term was politicised by the Dalit Panthers of India in Maharashtra in the 1960s, and was inspired by the Black Panther movement in the United States. The Dalit Panthers employed the term in order to invert the symbolic markers of their oppression and to signify their pride in their Dalit self-identity. Ex-untouchables who organised themselves elsewhere in India borrowed the term too (Gorringe 2005; Pai 2002). VMS started using it in the early 2000s. There are resonances in the repertoires of rituals, symbols and icons employed by VMS and the BSP in their mobilisations of ex-untouchables in UP. However, when I examined the relative importance of the BSP and of VMS in the politicisation of these ex-untouchable women (Govinda 2008) I found that ex-untouchable women are politicised very differently from ex-untouchable men in the areas where VMS operates. One reason for this is that the BSP very largely mobilises literate ex-untouchables, most of whom are men while VMS mobilises ex-untouchable women, most of whom are illiterate.19 A conversation with Chuniya illustrates this. She commented: The party (BSP) is taking along those who are literate. Men are literate. Women are not. So it is taking with it the men. The men come into the party, join it, become politicians. VMS is mobilising illiterate women. So, in the beginning there was MS (Mahila Samakhya). Some women studied there.20 Having studied, they came forward a bit. Then they formed collectives in villages. Then more women joined the collectives. Now the Association’s (DWA’s) work is taking place. So through this we have got great strength. Chuniya’s observations highlight the importance ex-untouchables – especially Chamars – attribute to formal education in their struggle to gain political awareness and emancipation – an important point that Ciotti (2006) makes about ex-untouchables in eastern UP. They also show that ex-untouchable women have become literate (or even educated) and politically aware through very different channels from those used by men. Patriarchal norms prevent rural, including ex-untouchable, girls and women, from receiving (leave alone completing) formal

Different Dalit women speak differently 227 education. These norms also come in the way of rural ex-untouchable women actively participating in the BSP’s party political activities which are usually organised in male-controlled public spaces that are removed from women’s daily lives, and at times when women are preoccupied with their domestic responsibilities (Gorringe 2005). MS and VMS, in sharp contrast, offer them female public spaces, notably the DWA, which are embedded in these women’s own localities and focused on addressing their concerns.

Do different Dalit women speak differently? Though the subjectivities of VMS-associated ex-untouchable women – both employees and members – have been politicised by collective, Dalit identity-related transformations in ways that are very different from the politicisation of ex-untouchable men this does not imply that they constitute a single political category, namely ‘Dalit women’. Exuntouchable women employees of VMS have more education than the ex-untouchable women they mobilise. Their self-identity as ‘activist Dalit women’ is based on their consciousness of the political significance of the term ‘Dalit’, of the history of Dalit protest and of their (activist) responsibility towards other ex-untouchable women, resulting from their association with VMS. This has contributed to the creation of a significant difference between the ex-untouchable women employees of VMS and the ex-untouchable women they mobilise. The two following contrasting narratives reveal this growing difference. Sunita, a Chamar woman in her mid-30s, was a full-time facilitator at VMS and lived in town. She said: I’ve been working here for twelve or thirteen years. I began as a school teacher, then moved to MS’s rural literacy centres, and later taught at MSK in town. In the early 2000s, I joined VMS. After joining, I did BA, a sewing course, and even a computer course. This year, I’ve passed the BEd entrance exam. I used to look after the self-help groups. Now, I’m involved in community empowerment. When I joined VMS, I didn’t know what ‘Dalit’ meant. I didn’t know that the myths had stories about Dalit characters like Ekalavya and Gargi. . . . and I didn’t know about the history of Dalit protest. I didn’t know that people like Savitribai Phule had struggled against the age-old practice of oppressing Dalit women and had been successful. When I came to know all this, I felt that I could do this too. As a Dalit, I feel good that I’m working for my own community’s women. (Field notes, 8 August 2005)

228  Radhika Govinda Sunita’s views offer a striking contrast to those of Sukhdaiya (below), an illiterate Chamar woman in her mid-50s, who lived in a village with an important VMS presence, What can I tell you? I’m illiterate. . . . I don’t really like the word ‘Dalit’ at all. Initially, I used to keep saying ‘Daridru’ (‘downtrodden’) instead of ‘Dalit’. It was especially embarrassing for the VMS leaders when I went on an exposure visit to Maharashtra. Badi didi (the VMS founder-leader) told off the didi (‘sister’, VMS staff member) accompanying us, for not having taught us how to pronounce ‘Dalit’ correctly. . . . I think the Association should be called Anusuchit Jati Mahila Samiti (Scheduled Caste Women’s Association). Anusuchit Jati is the official name for our kind of people. But if, by calling ourselves ‘Dalit’, we find that people offer us chairs to sit on and give us respect, then we can certainly call ourselves ‘Dalit’! (Field notes, 25 November 2005; 19 August 2006) In contrast to Sunita, who, like her ex-untouchable women colleagues, is literate, and has pursued further studies21 after joining VMS, Sukhdaiya represents the majority of illiterate ex-untouchable women whom the organisation mobilises. She neither likes the term ‘Dalit’ nor owns it in the way that VMS’s ex-untouchable women employees do. Her preference for ‘SC’, and her mispronouncing of ‘Dalit’ as Daridru,22 which shows her lack of familiarity with the term, are true of ex-untouchables generally in contemporary UP (Chandra 2004; Ciotti 2010a). Her remark, that ex-untouchable women would gladly call themselves ‘Dalit’ if this meant that doing so improved their treatment in society, indicates that she considers both the term and the very notion of ‘Dalit’ identity to be external impositions, and that the use of the Dalit label is governed by an instrumentalist logic.23 The material and performative aspects of the differences between VMS’s ex-untouchable women employees and the rural ex-untouchable women whom they mobilised suggest that the former’s better education and new self-identity as ‘activist Dalit women’ enabled them to gain a new class identity. VMS operated through employees like Sunita who were on its ‘staff rolls’. They were paid a monthly salary and were viewed as being far superior to the ‘volunteers’, who were local women and men who worked in their own villages and received a small honorarium. DWA leaders like Chuniya and Sukhdaiya fell in the latter category. This hierarchy between professionals and volunteers, so typical of ‘NGO-style’ activism, has been well-documented

Different Dalit women speak differently 229 (Sharma 2006). The growing class differences among ex-untouchable women where VMS operates challenge the assumed homogeneity of the political category of ‘Dalit woman’. These class differences are a relatively new development, with the ex-untouchable women employees still finding their way when negotiating their new public-professional identity as ‘activist Dalit women’ – and rejecting their ‘inherited’ identity as poor, ‘ordinary’, Chamar or Kori women, as the following (Rani’s) narrative illustrates. She was a married Chamar woman in her late-20s and worked as a VMS fieldworker: My thinking has been shaped by what I learnt at VMS. The way I can speak today, I couldn’t before. . . . I’d shudder even if someone spoke to me in my marital home. Now, I can speak confidently even in front of a hundred people. I can even speak to a big official. Now I wear a salwar suit (pants and long shirt) even in my marital home. . . . and I no longer do ghunghat (veiling). Our [marital] home is very far from town, and local transport is not easily available. This month, I haven’t been home for more than ten days. But if I wasn’t earning, we wouldn’t be able to send our children to a good school. In my marital home everyone is a labourer. Because I earn, I have a say. But there are things that haven’t changed. For instance, we [read: her mother-in-law, her co-sister and herself] are long acquainted with the jamadar (sweeper) who comes to pick up the trash, and we even treat her with respect, but we can’t touch her. One day, I happened to take a carrot from her hand, and I was asked to bathe again. Now my children are also picking up these bad habits! (Field notes, 25 August 2006) Rani’s narrative is replete with references to ‘voice’ and ‘power’, both of which are central to the construction of agency and subjectivity (Kabeer 2013). Her public-professional identity has undoubtedly ‘liberated’ her from some of the limitations imposed on her by patriarchal norms. This has set her apart from the women in her family. Her well-paid job means that she is heard at home. Her choice of modern attire, part of performing her new identity of ‘activist woman’, sets her further apart from her female relatives. The salwar suit is the preferred attire of both VMS’s younger ex-untouchable and highercaste women employees. This is because the sari is seen as somewhat old-fashioned – it is typically worn by married women, and is not as

230  Radhika Govinda comfortable as the sari for travelling in between home, office and village. So the salwar suit has become identified as ‘activist attire’, and is worn even at home. Though Rani does not mention the cotton sling bag she carries while at work, this too has become part of activist attire, so that the villagers refer to VMS’s women employees as jholawali (‘cotton sling-bag-carrying women’). In true feminist style, VMS’s ex-untouchable women employees attempt to honour their political commitments as ‘activist Dalit women’ in their personal lives too. However, this is not easily done. In Rani’s case, her mother-in-law’s and sister-in-law’s more conventional ideas that Chamars ought to practise untouchability towards Jamadars,24 who are lower than them in the hierarchy of the Dalit castes, sit ill with her political commitment to fight untouchability. Her earning capacity and exposure to education’s merits, resulting from her association with VMS, have led her to aspire for a good education for her children. But this means that she must depend on her marital family, whose casteist behaviour goes against her political beliefs, to look after her children while she is at work. She remains trapped in this dilemma. Ciotti (2009, 2010a, 2010b) has consistently made the crucial argument that the category of ‘Dalit women’ is becoming increasingly fragmented. She writes about the growing social distance between urban ex-untouchable women, like middle-class BSP women activists, whom she calls ‘bourgeois women’ and ex-untouchable rural women labourers, ‘rowdy and uncultured’, who are seen by higher-class ex-untouchable women as ‘the half-naked ones’. The emerging class differences between VMS’s ex-untouchable women employees and the ex-untouchable women with whom they work are not yet as stark as those between Ciotti’s BSP women and her labouring women, but they are still palpable. However, there are crucial differences between the educated, aspiringto-middle-class and middle-class ex-untouchable women whom Ciotti and I describe in these two UP contexts. Unlike Ciotti’s BSP women who operate in urban and peri-urban areas VMS’s ex-untouchable women employees are either rural or first generation urban migrants. Further, Ciotti’s BSP women reject the Dalit label while VMS’s exuntouchable women employees proudly identify themselves as ‘activist Dalit women’. Both are concerned with ex-untouchable women’s issues but, unlike the BSP women, the VMS Dalit activists are distinctly feminist in their approach. Finally, and most importantly, class separates them. The relatively well-off middle-class BSP women started their political activities as ‘housewives’ who were ‘liberated from paid work’ – they were financially dependent on and were encouraged by

Different Dalit women speak differently 231 their white-collar husbands, who were active BSP members, to devote their ‘free’ time to BSP activism (Ciotti 2010a). VMS’s ex-untouchable women employees,25 on the contrary, got involved in VMS’s activism because they were poor women who needed jobs in order to support themselves and their children.26

Is the political category of ‘Dalit women’ passé? Ex-untouchable women’s politicisation and moving up the social hierarchy through different channels gives us reason to argue that the political category of ‘Dalit women’ is, indeed, multiple, heterogeneous and even contradictory, in the ways Rege characterised it. But are these developments adequate to make a case for ‘post-Dalit’ identities? Do VMS’s ex-untouchable women employees’ upward mobility and self-identification as activist women imply that they experience a greater solidarity with their higher-caste women colleagues than they do with poor, ex-untouchable women? VMS’s ex-untouchable and higher-caste women employees’ sense of solidarity with each other comes not only from the performance of their activist identity in ‘the field’ but also from having similar reasons for joining the organisation and from facing similar challenges. Reema, a Chamar woman in her late-20s, was a VMS fieldworker and lived in town. She said: I’m divorced . . . and self-dependent. I’ve had my own house built in town, and live there with my four children. I was married at 13. At 15, I had my first child. I underwent a lot of abuse: my husband used to drink, gamble and beat me up. But I couldn’t find the courage to leave him. . . . He wouldn’t even give me money for food. Then I thought why not get a job somewhere and feed my children. That is how I started working at VMS. (Field notes, 10 August 2005) Urmi, a Yadav27 woman in her late-20s, was a VMS fieldworker living in town. Like Reema, she had been a child bride: I was 15 when I got married. . . . Everyone in my marital home was illiterate. They didn’t want me to get a job. I faced a lot of harassment there. Once I quarrelled and came away to live with my parents. . . . I’d heard that this organization [VMS] isn’t good, the women working here aren’t good but I needed work. So I joined. . . . Relations with my marital home are cut now. . . . I’ve taken a room on rent and live there [in town]. I have two small

232  Radhika Govinda children. . . . From this job I manage monthly expenses. . . . I’ve now got the confidence that I’ll be able to solve any problem that I might face. . . . I feel this organization has become everything to me: father, mother, brother, sister, everything. (Field notes, 25 August 2006) The shocking fact is that, even today, the majority of marriages in UP are child marriages (54.9 per cent). This illegal practice remains widespread across all communities but its incidence is highest among the poor (UNICEF 2011). Child marriage, and the male control and violence accompanying it, have to do with patriarchy. Girls tend to be married off at an early age to ensure that their virginity is intact at the time of their wedding. But even after marriage their family members are not comfortable with their going out unaccompanied – whether to pursue education or to do paid work. This is because their sexuality, ‘tamed’ by their husbands, embodies ‘family honour’, and this ‘honour’ would be less amenable to control were they to go out of sight (Chakravarti 2003). Reema’s and Urmi’s cases are typical examples of child marriage, and in no way exceptional at VMS. Many of VMS’s women employees, who had been married as children, were experiencing marital discord or were separated or divorced. Several of them had originally contacted VMS to seek help with their own domestic abuse cases, and had subsequently joined VMS as activists. In a society where heteropatriarchal families are the norm and where women are expected to marry and live with their husbands, VMS provides the possibility of an alternative life-style to those women who can no longer conform or who are struggling to challenge social norms. The general population is conservative, however, and therefore feels threatened by VMS’s feminist agenda, which is perceived as being identical with that of a woman who is considered a ghar phodu (‘home breaker’). It is significant that single women employees predominate at VMS. These are women who were previously married but are now separated or divorced, or, in very rare cases, were never married, and are now living apart from their natal and marital homes. These single women employees are automatically branded as ‘sexually loose’ by the deeply patriarchal society they live in. Backlashes of this kind against newly assertive and empowered women, especially activist women, are common in India (see Chapters 3 to 6, this volume) and elsewhere (Faludi 1992). This social intimidation and disapproval furthers a limited sense of solidarity between VMS’s single ex-untouchable and highercaste women employees.

Different Dalit women speak differently 233 However, the following narratives of VMS’s ex-untouchable women employees, namely Sonam, Sunita and Reema, shed light on caste politics within the organisation, suggesting that their upward mobility and their solidarity with higher-caste women colleagues like Urmi do not mean that the political category of ‘Dalit women’ has become redundant. Even though class differences between VMS’s higher-caste women employees and ex-untouchable women employees are not always significant, a higher-caste identity still gives greater confidence and authority. To quote Sonam, There is a feeling of inferiority among the Dalit women employees, which isn’t there in the caste-Hindu women. Even today if I say something to someone, I say it with a lot of politeness. But the activists who are from Brahmin families speak with such authority! Sunita’s observations that follow suggest that ex-untouchable employees continue to be conscious of their caste identities at work and also that their sense of inferiority comes from the deep-seated casteist attitudes and stereotyping that prevail even at VMS: There is no overt caste-based discrimination. But . . . when there is a discussion in the office about the organisation’s work with the Dalit community sometimes there are comments that ‘Dalits are like this’ or ‘Dalits act like that’. This really bothers me. The casteist stereotypes about Dalits are still there. . . . Dalit identity is [still] a very big issue. In the past, I never used to think about these things, but now I do. In other NGOs working with women, even self-proclaimed feminist NGOs, in India, the issue of caste-based discrimination by higher-caste employees towards ex-untouchable employees is rarely addressed; efforts are usually made to keep the issue of casteism within the NGO under wraps because of the unease of the NGO leaders, who are usually from urban, middle-class, higher-caste backgrounds, and because ex-untouchable employees hesitate to complain about casteism for fear of being fired (Anupamlata et al. 2006). In some NGOs, as in those studied by Guerin and Kumar (Chapter 5, this volume), highercaste employees go to the extent of blatantly practising caste-based discrimination towards their colleagues from ex-untouchable castes. In stark contrast to this trend, Reema’s narrative that follows indicates that, to its credit, VMS’s work to raise awareness about caste-based

234  Radhika Govinda discrimination includes allowing its ex-untouchable women employees to vigorously question the organisation’s own caste politics: If we say we work with Dalit women then we should be employing them too! But previously in the staff, there were just the two or three of us. . . . That kind of discrimination takes place in the village, but we ourselves are doing it here in the organization. . . . Only baniya (middle caste Hindus) are employed in VMS’s catering service. Why is this? Are there no Chamar or Jamadar women who can cook? We’ve recently created the rule that once a week the Jamadar woman who cleans the office toilet will get the day off and a staff member will clean it instead. But can things be set right by one of us cleaning the toilet weekly? Why don’t we instead ask the Jamadar woman to cook for us in our catering service? But we don’t eat what they’ve touched or even accept water from their hands. . . . I argue about these issues with everyone, even the founder-leader. We go from village to village, talking about change, but there should be change in our own office too! During my fieldwork, VMS implemented decisions from the organisational review it undertook in the early 2000s, including decisions to raise awareness about ex-untouchable women’s identity and rights as ‘Dalit women’, and to employ more ex-untouchable women. In 2005 during my first round of fieldwork, there were no ex-untouchable women employed in the catering service that VMS had run since the mid-1990s.28 VMS’ ex-untouchable employees like Reema felt that this reflected poorly on the organisation as it was not practising what it preached. They also dismissed the policy requiring staff members to clean the office toilet once weekly as a token gesture. But by the time I returned in 2006, for my second round of fieldwork, VMS had appointed a Jamadar woman to the catering service, and had employed more ex-untouchable women, raising their number to nearly a third of VMS’s staff. Nonetheless, solidarity between the ex-untouchable women employees and their higher-caste women colleagues was not enough to mitigate the caste differences between them, as was evident from their very different career aspirations.29 To quote higher-caste VMS employee, Urmi, I’ve bought a plot of land. . . . One day, I’ll build a house on it. I chose the plot in such a way that a four-wheeler can be parked outside the house. I dream of running my own women’s NGO

Different Dalit women speak differently 235 from there. I’ve even begun looking into the paperwork for getting an FCRA30 permit. The idea that she could herself become the organisation leader was an attractive one for Urmi and formed the underlying motivation behind her wanting to set up her own women’s organisation. Given her lesser educational qualifications in comparison to the first rung of leadership at VMS, it was unlikely that she would ever rise to become the organisation leader there. While Urmi dreamt of setting up her own women’s organisation, Bela had already done so. Bela was a Brahmin woman in her mid-30s who lived in town and had formerly been a VMS coordinator. Speaking about the genesis of her NGO, she said: If we want our independent identity as women . . . then we have to build a different world. . . . When this question started to crop up at work I felt that I should do something. . . . That is how my organisation came into being. (Field notes, 22 August 2006) Bela was not comfortable with the fact that two of the handful of male employees at VMS occupied positions in the second rung of leadership like she did. Her wanting to work in an all-women’s organisation where leadership positions are solely occupied by women was the driving force behind her wanting to set up a women’s organisation of her own. It is not unusual for VMS employees to try to create an identity of their own and to imagine a future independent of VMS. But unlike higher-caste women employees, who – either out of an awareness that while they are likely to thrive in the NGO sector, they are unlikely to ascend in VMS’s organisational hierarchy or out of dissatisfaction with VMS’s internal gender politics – aspire to run their own women’s organisations, ex-untouchable women employees focus on trying to enter local electoral politics, encouraged by the seats reserved for exuntouchable women at the panchayat level (village-level governing body). Reflecting on her motivation and her experience of contesting village-level elections, Ramkali, who was in her late 40s, from the Chamar caste, and employed as a fieldworker at VMS, had said: The organisation (VMS) is there, of course, and it is doing good work. But to access government schemes for village development, and to influence the different authorities in favour of one’s community, one needs power, political power. . . . I’ve contested village-level elections twice. If I was not working here I’d not even

236  Radhika Govinda have had information about it. . . . In my community, I was told, ‘You’re Dalit, you’re from amongst us, we’ll be able to tell you our problem and you’ll get it solved.’ My VMS colleagues came in their individual capacities to campaign for me.31 The second time I stood, I had to go into hiding two days before the voting. The dacoits (paid thugs) were pressurising me to withdraw. They came to beat up my family. . . . But I’m determined to stand again! (field notes, 1–25 August 2006) Comparing Ramkali’s observations with Urmi’s and Bela’s brings to mind Chatterjee’s (1998, 2001) constructs of ‘civil society’ and ‘political society’, where he uses ‘political society’ to refer to the institutions and actors which mediate the relationships between associational politics and the state. Although higher-caste Urmi and Bela aspire to create identities independent of VMS, they think solely in terms of gender politics and are contented to remain engaged in civil society. The fact that they do not mention their caste identities is likely to be because their higher-caste positions confer many privileges (Krishna 2011). In contrast, the centrality of caste identity in Ramkali’s narrative is evident. The first time she contested elections, she stood for a panchayat seat reserved for ex-untouchable women. For women like Ramkali, capturing political power at panchayat level can bring about major changes in their community’s condition. This is something that their involvement in social activism through women’s NGOs is unlikely to achieve. Ramkali’s words reflect her internalisation of Ambedkar’s and BSP founder-leader Kanshi Ram’s powerful messages about the need to ‘educate, agitate, organise’ and to – above all – capture political power to transform their circumstances (Pai 2002). Ex-untouchables like her view the state as having the power and the resources to improve their community’s condition. After all, the state has granted them special privileges, including reservations in the legislatures at central and state levels and in public-sector jobs. Ramkali and her fellow ex-untouchables (in her view) must seek the most effective way of getting the state to work in their interest – and this they can only do if they control the panchayat, which would put them in control of local power politics. Further, given the importance of patronage in panchayat politics (Chattopadhyay and Duflo 2004), Ramkali is quite right to focus her aspirations on capturing political office. Closely reading not only Ramkali’s but also Bela’s and Urmi’s narratives indicates that their association with VMS has simultaneously enabled them to gain exposure to public life, information about their

Different Dalit women speak differently 237 rights, and confidence that they can articulate the concerns of those they seek to mobilise and represent, and made them aware of the limits of what they can achieve while remaining associated with VMS. Their involvement in workshops and street theatre campaigns, organised by VMS on panchayat elections, women’s rights and Dalit identity, is likely to have played an important role in deepening their political consciousness. Bela’s reference to the FCRA permit illustrates how her work at VMS made her aware of the nitty-gritty of running a women’s NGO. Ramkali’s role as a VMS fieldworker helped her to gain her community’s trust. However, unlike the cases of higher-caste Bela and Urmi, Ramkali’s ex-untouchable caste identity and her association with VMS have proved to be double-edged: if these identities motivated and enabled her to contest the local elections, they were also the very reason that her family was subjected to violence and she lost the election. The dominant caste Hindus, namely Brahmins, in the village, who had BJP backing, had been angered by the possibility of an ex-untouchable woman winning the local elections. They knew that if she got elected they would be unable to manipulate her, because of her close association with VMS, an NGO with a clean image. They had therefore paid local gangsters to beat her up. Not finding her, they had badly beaten up her husband and sons instead. This violence was meant as a warning to other ex-untouchables of what would befall them if they were to vote for her. In the end, in spite of their initial support, none of them dared to cast their votes in Ramkali’s favour and she lost. As ex-untouchables steadily gain more upward mobility and assert themselves politically, such violent attempts to intimidate them are becoming more common – a fact that several other contributors to this volume also acknowledge (see Chapters 1 and 3 to 6, this volume; see also Mendelsohn and Vicziany 1998). Ramkali’s experience and Sunita’s comments that follow both confirm that in southern UP elections are won on the basis of caste and kinship politics rather than on feminist agendas, once more highlighting the centrality of caste identity in the personal and professional lives of VMS’s ex-untouchable women employees: This year I got elected as a ward member. My father is a school master, and my sister-in-law was a neighbouring ward member. . . . I used these connections when I was canvassing for votes. . . . If at the time of the elections one puts one’s thinking (feminist views) on the backburner and instead goes along with the electoral mood then maybe one will win. And, after winning, if one puts forward

238  Radhika Govinda one’s (feminist) thinking then maybe it’ll be received positively. This is politics. . . . Of course, people knew about my organisational affiliation (with VMS) . . . but I chose not to highlight it. Ramkali and Sunita may contest elections in the hope of acceding to political office even though this is neither easy nor straightforward for ex-untouchable women like them, but even when they do manage to win, there is no guarantee that they will be treated any better by the dominant castes or that they will be able to actually wield power, given the clout the dominant castes retain even today in institutions of local governance (see Chapter 3, this volume). The continuing centrality of caste in these women’s lives in these ways leads me to conclude that the political category of ‘Dalit women’ remains valid to characterise their condition.

Conclusion: A work in progress Scholarship on Dalit assertion in UP has focused on the power the BSP has garnered and on its cultural and political strategies for mobilising ex-untouchables (Jaffrelot 2003; Narayan 2006; Pai 2002). However, in this chapter I have instead examined the narratives of ex-untouchable women who stand on the cusp of Dalit social activism as well as Dalit electoral politics. While the BSP’s role is undeniably significant in their narratives, it is only one among multiple influences on their subjectivity. My use of intersectionality as a heuristic device with which to examine their narratives has shown that, while illiterate ex-untouchable women are politicised by women’s NGOs like VMS, literate ex-untouchable men are politicised very differently, as they are directly politicised by the BSP. I have also shown here how ex-untouchable women activists are increasingly differentiated from ordinary ex-untouchable women. But all ex-untouchable women see themselves as discriminated against by dominant caste women. Clearly, educated ex-untouchable women VMS activists do reject being stereotyped as poor helpless ex-untouchable women. However, they do not reject the notion of a ‘Dalit’ identity. Further, while the majority of poor ex-untouchable women can still be characterised as ‘thrice oppressed’ – by oppressive and exploitative hierarchies of caste, class and gender – VMS’s Dalit women activists do not fall into this category. My research indicates that there are at least two significantly different types of educated, assertive and agentive ex-untouchable women emerging in urban and rural UP. On the one hand Ciotti’s work shows us middle-class BSP women activists who are ‘housewives’ who devote their spare time to politics and who reject ‘Dalit’ identity for

Different Dalit women speak differently 239 themselves (2010a). But, in contradistinction from Ciotti, my findings on lower-income, (single) full-time NGO activist women reveal that they wholeheartedly endorse their new ‘Dalit’ identities. Further, the levels of political consciousness among ex-untouchable women in the state vary greatly. At least three major strands can be discerned: (1) there are those for whom the Dalit label has no meaning because they remain removed from Dalit electoral/associational politics due to poverty (2a) there are those who work as and identify as activist Dalit women as well as (2b) those poor women who are not activists but yet identify as Dalit women, and (3) there are those betteroff women (researched by Ciotti) who reject the Dalit label. This remarkable diversity among ex-untouchable women in UP leads us to go beyond Guru’s thesis (1995) that ‘Dalit women speak differently’, to instead acknowledge that different Dalit women speak differently. Their acquisition of education combined with their employment in VMS has changed activist ex-untouchable women and contributed to the beginnings of a class difference between them and the rural ex-untouchable women whom they mobilise. In the performance and negotiation of their new identities as ‘activist women’, this minority of ex-untouchable women share much in common with their highercaste colleagues. This has no doubt contributed to a sense of solidarity between them which VMS has strengthened by offering them an alternate life-style and space to the hetero-patriarchal one. However, this associational identity has so far been inadequate in trumping the caste difference between them. VMS’s activist ex-untouchable women are proud of their new-found subjectivity as ‘Dalit women activists’. But they also speak openly of their sense of inferiority in relation to their higher-caste colleagues and critique the negative stereotypes they encounter in their work life. Their aspiration to capture political power too is motivated by their caste identity and social condition. They are still vulnerable to being victimised due to their subordination both to ex-untouchable men and to higher-caste men and women at work and beyond work. Consequently, any argument about ‘a post-Dalit future’ (see Ciotti 2010a) is surely somewhat premature, when ‘Dalit identity’ itself is still a work in progress. Nonetheless, the differences between VMS’s women activists and the ex-untouchable women they mobilise, on the one hand, and their differences from Ciotti’s middle-class BSP women activists, on the other hand, indicate that we must urgently interrogate the assumed fixity and universality of Dalit identity, and think of the political category of ‘Dalit women’ as being heterogeneous, dynamic and always open to revision.32

240  Radhika Govinda

Notes 1 According to Derrida (1982: 130–131), ‘différance’ refers to ‘what in classical language would be called the origin or production of differences and the difference between differences, [that is,] the play of differences’. 2 The term ‘Dalit’ is increasingly being used in popular media and scholarship as a synonym for the social category of ‘ex-untouchable caste’. However, in this chapter, I have consciously used the term to refer to exuntouchables’ political identity. Maintaining this distinction between their caste identity and their political identity derived from their caste identity is crucial to the core arguments being made in this chapter. 3 ‘Caste’, in English, describes both jati, meaning birth group and varna, meaning ‘class’ in the sense of ‘occupational category’ (Deshpande 2002). According to the Hindu scriptures, the varna system involves four divisions: Brahmins (priests and spiritual preceptors), Kshatriyas (rulers and warriors), Vaishyas (entrepreneurial groups) and Shudras (servile toilers). Those belonging to the varna system are ‘caste-Hindus’. Untouchable castes (like Chamars and Jamadars who will be referred to subsequently in this chapter) are excluded altogether from this caste system. 4 A list of all acronyms and their full forms is available at the end of the chapter. 5 The women’s and the organisation’s names have been changed to ensure anonymity. 6 Census data for 2001 and 2011 shows that the majority of ex-untouchable men are literate and the majority of ex-untouchable women are illiterate in the state of UP. 7 According to the 2011 Census of India, Chamars have the largest population among the Scheduled Castes (SC) where VMS operates. Historically associated with leatherwork and carcass removal, they now work mostly as landless agricultural labourers. 8 ‘Communalism’ is a specifically Indian usage describing conflict and dissension between religious communities, particularly Hindus and Muslims. It is important to note that there is a long history of Hindu fundamentalists trying to mobilise ex-untouchables as part of the pan-Hindu community, as foot soldiers in their project of creating a ‘Hindu nation’ at the expense of Muslims and other religious minorities (Basu and Roy 2004). 9 All the employees from the dominant Hindu castes had been working at VMS since before the organisational review, whereas only a couple of exuntouchables and practically no Muslims had worked there before then. 10 The organisation did draw on Chamar men, and men and women from caste-Hindu and Muslim communities. However, they were fewer in number. 11 Koris, who traditionally worked as weavers, are mostly landless labourers today, and are counted among the SCs in UP. 12 Mahila Shikshan Kendra (MSK), literally Women’s Learning Centres, were set up as part of Mahila Samakhya all over India to provide residential learning opportunities for girls and women who were otherwise denied education. 13 There are very few Dalit organisations (and women’s organisations) which devote themselves exclusively to mobilising ex-untouchable women in UP.

Different Dalit women speak differently 241 Savitribai Phule Dalit Mahila Morcha set up in 2007 and having its base in Jaunpur district is one such organisation. It would be worth exploring how effective this organisation has been in its endeavour. 14 While it was clear that VMS’s Dalit women activists like Sonam considered ex-untouchable women’s issues, including their experiences of genderbased violence, as distinct from those of ex-untouchable men, it was difficult to gauge whether they explicitly sought to establish a separate political identity from Dalit men activists. This is because the ex-untouchable men employed at VMS did office jobs rather than being directly involved in activism. Also, I did not get an opportunity to observe at close quarters VMS’s Dalit women activists’ interactions with Dalit men activists from DAG. 15 Membership of DWA and VMS is through payment of a nominal fee. 16 Inspired by Ambedkar’s first name, Bheemrao, it is a form of greeting that politicised ex-untouchables use in northern India. 17 The Phules were not ex-untouchables themselves, but of Mali caste. They were radical nineteenth century social reformers, who struggled to educate lower-caste women, including ex-untouchable women. Like Ambedkar, they were from Maharashtra, but they did not gain the mass following that he did. Yet VMS (like others) represented them as pan-Dalit reformers, in order to inspire and unite the ex-untouchable women it mobilised. 18 It is clear to me that certain ex-untouchable women like Chuniya, whom VMS’s employees had mobilised, had embraced the sense of collective identity as ‘Dalit’ women that VMS was trying to create. However, it is difficult to conclude how successful VMS has been in bringing about long lasting changes in the caste-based discrimination practised between the women from the various ex-untouchable (sub-)castes. This is because, though VMS had engaged with ex-untouchable women since its inception, when my fieldwork ended only a few years had passed since it had begun to focus on their ‘Dalit’ identity and on seeking to reduce the sharp divisions that existed between women from these ex-untouchable (sub-) castes. 19 According to the 2001 Census of India, literacy rate for ex-untouchable males was 60.3 per cent and for ex-untouchable females was 30.5 per cent in UP. These figures have not significantly changed in the 2011 Census. The male kin of the illiterate ex-untouchable women with whom I came in contact were all literate. I am therefore unable to comment on whether and how the small percentage of illiterate ex-untouchable men have been politicised. 20 Chuniya is referring to MSK where the women went to study. The MSK curriculum went beyond providing the women with literacy, vocational training and functional information (on health, hygiene and government schemes, etc.). It sought to connect the women’s personal experiences to an understanding of larger social realities, and adopted an integrated approach to teaching the sciences and the social sciences (see Nirantar 1997). 21 Whilst in the case of some ex-untouchable women employees, pursuing further studies after joining VMS meant completing school education, in the case of other ex-untouchable women employees like Sunita, it meant acquiring one educational and/or vocational qualification after another, including a BEd degree.

242  Radhika Govinda 22 ‘Dalit’ and daridra (meaning poor/downtrodden) have the same origin. ‘Daridranarayan’ (God in the form of the poor) is, like ‘Harijan’, a Gandhian appellation for ex-untouchables. Sukhdaiya was probably more familiar with daridra and ‘Daridranarayan’, and so had confused ‘Dalit’ with Daridru. 23 For the term ‘Dalit’ to become embedded in these illiterate ex-untouchable women’s parlance, and for them to recognise their subjectivity as ‘Dalit women’ is likely to take much longer than it has taken VMS’s educated ex-untouchable women employees. When my fieldwork ended, only a few years had passed since VMS had started fostering their subjectivity as ‘Dalit women’. Chuniya’s narrative shows how successful VMS has been. 24 Jamadars are the lowest ex-untouchable caste, traditionally associated with ‘scavenging’ work – namely the carrying away and manual disposal of human excreta from the water-less ‘dry toilets’ of the wealthier castes. Very importantly, within these castes, the extremely unpleasant ‘scavenging’ tasks are carried out solely by the women, not the men. 25 I have discussed elsewhere (Govinda 2009, 2013) how, unlike many women’s NGOs where activism is no more than a ‘9 to 5’ job (Menon 2004), VMS has consciously struggled to cultivate among its employees a genuine commitment to the principles it stands for. Rani’s narrative discussed earlier illustrates how VMS’s ex-untouchable women employees seek to embrace their ‘Dalit’ identity in their personal lives and how, in spite of their genuine commitment, this is rarely a straightforward process. 26 Some were single mothers, others had violent, alcoholic husbands who did not contribute (adequately) to the household expenses. 27 Yadavs are a middle caste, traditionally involved in cattle-rearing. They tend to constitute the dominant caste in the villages where VMS operates. They are classed as an other backward class (OBC) in UP, and therefore benefit from the Indian state’s affirmative action policies. 28 It ran a restaurant at meal times and also offered a tiffin delivery system to local offices. 29 Some ex-untouchable and higher-caste women employees also aspired to become government school teachers and health workers as government jobs provided retirement benefits which NGO employment lacked. 30 All Indian NGOs interested in receiving foreign funding need to register under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA). 31 VMS is like any other externally funded NGO which is required to maintain a non-party political stance. Strategically, it aligns itself with the BSP but it has steered clear of permanent association with any political party (Govinda 2008). This position may have influenced its ex-untouchable women employees’ choice of contesting without political party backing. It is this choice which sets these ex-untouchable VMS women apart from most other candidates – including ex-untouchable women – who seem to be increasingly contesting for panchayat elections with support from one or the other political party. 32 Also see Chapter 2, this volume.

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Different Dalit women speak differently 243 Feminist Thought and Activism Through Seven Lives in India. New Delhi: Zubaan. Basu, Amrita and Srirupa Roy. 2004. ‘Prose After Gujarat: Violence, Secularism and Democracy in India’, in Mushirul Hasan (ed.) Will Secular India Survive? pp. 320–355. Gurgaon: ImprintOne. Chakravarti, Uma. 2003. Gendering Caste: Through a Feminist Lens, Theorizing Feminism Series. Calcutta: Stree Publishers. Chandra, Kanchan. 2004. Why Ethnic Parties Succeed: Patronage and Ethnic Head Counts in India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chatterjee, Partha. 1998. ‘Beyond the Nation? Or Within?’, Social Text, 56: 57–69, Autumn. Chatterjee, Partha. 2001. ‘On Civil and Political Societies in Post-Colonial Democracies’, in Sudipta Kaviraj and Sunil Khilnani (eds) Civil Society: History and Possibilities, pp. 165–178. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chattopadhyay, Raghabendra and Esther Duflo. 2004. ‘Impact of Reservation in Panchayati Raj: Evidence From a Nation-Wide Randomised Experiment’, Economic and Political Weekly, 39 (9): 979–986. Ciotti, Manuela. 2006. ‘At the Margins of Feminist Politics? A Comparative Analysis of Women in Dalit Politics and Hindu Right Organisations in Northern India’, Contemporary South Asia, 15 (4): 437–452. Ciotti, Manuela. 2009. ‘The Conditions of Politics: Low-Caste Women’s Political Agency in Contemporary North Indian Society’, Feminist Review, 91: 113–134. Ciotti, Manuela. 2010a. ‘Futurity in Words: Low-Caste Women Politicians’ Self-Representation and Post-Dalit Scenarios in North India’, Contemporary South Asia, 18 (1): 43–56. Ciotti, Manuela. 2010b. ‘ “The Bourgeois Woman and the Half-Naked One”: Or the Indian Nation’s Contradictions Personified’, Modern Asian Studies, 44 (4): 785–815. Combahee River Collective. 2007 [1977]. ‘A Black Feminist Statement’, in Estelle B. Freedman (ed.) The Essential Feminist Reader, pp. 325–330. New York: Modern Library. Crenshaw, Kimberle. 1989. ‘Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics’, University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989: 138–167. Derrida, Jacques. 1982. Margins of Philosophy. Translated by Alan Bass. Brighton: Harvester Press. Deshpande, Ashwini. 2002. ‘Assets Versus Autonomy? The Changing Face of the Gender-Caste Overlap in India’, Feminist Economics, 8 (2): 19–35. Dietrich, Gabriele. 1992. Reflections on the Women’s Movement in India: Religion, Ecology, Development. New Delhi: Horizon India Books. Faludi, Susan. 1992. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. New York: Crown Publishing Company. Gorringe, Hugo. 2005. Untouchable Citizens: Dalit Movements and Democratisation in Tamil Nadu. New Delhi: Sage Publications.

244  Radhika Govinda Government of India. 2001. Census of India. New Delhi: Government of India. Government of India. 2011. Census of India. New Delhi: Government of India. Govinda, Radhika. 2008. ‘Re-Inventing Dalit Women’s Identity? Dynamics of Social Activism and Electoral Politics in Rural North India’, Contemporary South Asia, 16 (4): 427–440. Govinda, Radhika. 2009. ‘In the Name of “Poor and Marginalised”? Politics of NGO Activism With Dalit Women in Rural North India’, Journal of South Asian Development, 4 (1): 45–64. Govinda, Radhika. 2013.  ‘ “Didi Are You Hindu?" Politics of Secularism in Women’s Activism in India’, Modern Asian Studies, 47 (2): 612–651. Guru, Gopal. 1995. ‘Dalit Women Talk Differently’, Economic and Political Weekly, 30 (41–42): 2548–2549. hooks, bell. 1981. Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism. Boston, MA: South End Press. Jaffrelot, Christophe. (ed.) 2003. India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of Low Castes in North Indian Politics. London: Hurst and Company. Jaoul, Nicolas. 2007. ‘Political and “Non-Political” Means in the Dalit Movement’, in Sudha Pai (ed.) Political Process in Uttar Pradesh: Identity, Economic Reforms and Governance, pp. 191–220. New Delhi: Pearson Longman. Jaoul, Nicolas. 2013. ‘Politicizing Victimhood: Dalit Panthers’ Response to Caste Violence in Uttar Pradesh in the Early 1980s’, South Asian Popular Culture, 11 (2): 169–179. Kabeer, Naila with Ragui Assaad, Akosua Darkwah, Simeen Mahmud, Hania Sholkamy, Shakiba Tasneem and DZodzi Tsikata, and with Statistical Support by Munshi Sulaiman. 2013. Paid Work, Women’s Empowerment and Inclusive Growth: Transforming the Structures of Constraint. New York: UN Women. Kohli, Atul. 2001. The Success of India’s Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Krishna, Sankaran. 2011. ‘Forgetting Caste While Living It: The Privileges of Amnesia’, in D. Shyam Babu and Ravindra S. Khare (eds) Caste In Life: Experiencing Inequalities, pp. 7–19. New Delhi: Dorling Kindersley India Pvt. Ltd. Lerche, Jens. 2008. ‘Transnational Advocacy Networks and Affirmative Action for Dalits in India’, Development and Change, 39 (2): 239–261. McCall, Leslie. 2005. ‘The Complexity of Intersectionality’, Signs, 30 (3): 1771–1800. Mendelsohn, Olivia and Marika Vicziany. 1998. The Untouchables: Subordination, Poverty and the State in Modern India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Menon, Nivedita. 2004. Recovering Subversion: Feminist Politics Beyond the Law. New Delhi: Permanent Black. Narayan, Badri. 2006. Women Heroes and Dalit Assertion in North India: Culture, Identity and Politics. New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Different Dalit women speak differently 245 Nirantar. 1997. Windows to the World: Developing a Curriculum for Rural Women. New Delhi: Nirantar. Pai, Sudha. 2002. Dalit Assertion and the Unfinished Democratic Revolution: The Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh. New Delhi: Sage Publications. Rao, Anupama. 2003. ‘Caste, Gender, and Indian Feminism’, in Anupama Rao (ed.) Gender and Caste, pp. 1–47. New Delhi: Kali for Women. Rege, Sharmila. 1998. ‘Dalit Women Talk Differently: Towards a Critique of “Difference” and Dalit Feminist Standpoint Position’, Economic and Political Weekly, 33 (44): WS39–WS46. Sharma, Aradhana. 2006. ‘Cross-Breeding Institutions, Breeding Struggle: Women’s Empowerment, Neoliberal Governmentality and State (Re)formation in India’, Cultural Anthropology, 21 (1): 60–95. Singh, D. K. 2010. ‘The Great UP Hope’, The Indian Express, May 3. http:// indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/the-great-up-hope/ Accessed on May 21, 2014. UNICEF. 2011. ‘Fact Sheet on Child Marriage’. www.unicef.org/india/Child_ Marriage_Fact_Sheet_Nov2011_final.pdf Accessed on May 21, 2014. Yuval-Davis, Nira. 2006. ‘Intersectionality and Feminist Politics’, European Journal of Women’s Studies, 13 (3): 193–209.

List of acronyms used in the chapter: BSP DAG DWA MS MSK SC UP VMS

Bahujan Samaj Party Dynamic Action Group Dalit Women’s Association Mahila Samakhya Mahila Shikshan Kendra Scheduled Caste(s) Uttar Pradesh Vimukt Mahila Samuh

8 Subsidising capitalism and male labour The scandal of unfree Dalit female labour relations* Ishita Mehrotra In the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), especially in its eastern part, relatively little attention has been paid by researchers to the nexus between economic and political power relations in everyday life, social structures and the ‘classes of labour’ in the context of the lives of rural Dalit women labourers.1 This study explores this interface through an ethnographically inspired analysis of their labour relations. It illustrates labour relations as part of wider village-based social, economic and political relations of domination and subjugation that are shaped by caste, class and gender identities. In conclusion, the chapter reflects on the political agency of rural Dalit female labourers. The basic argument built in this chapter is that it is (1) the confinement of Dalit women labourers to the least paid and most demeaning agricultural work, (2) the demand from Dalit men that they sustain patron-client relations by fulfilling the attendant unfree labour obligations, and (3) the demand that they shoulder virtually all the responsibilities of daily household reproduction, that have enabled Dalit male labourers to move on to better employment and to escape the social humiliations of unfree labour. In other words, through the feminisation of unfree labour Dalit women labourers are required to subsidise Dalit male labour and the new dignity of Dalit men and also, in this process, facilitate male capitalist accumulation. This chapter is based on fieldwork conducted in three villages of Kushinagar district of eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP) in 2009–10. Kushinagar is primarily an agrarian economy with sugarcane, maize and paddy as the main Kharif crops and pulses, mustard, barley and wheat being the main Rabi crops.2 To begin with, some stylised facts about the local labour market with reference to Dalit households:

Subsidising capitalism and male labour 247 1 Dalits are mostly landless, marginal and small landowners. They constitute an overwhelming proportion of the classes of labour at the bottom of the labour hierarchy.3 2 There was some occupational choice for Dalit men as well as some job diversification out of agriculture. But this is a sharply gendered process, for Dalit women have been left behind, confined to the villages where agriculture continues to be their most important (but insufficient) source of food and income. 3 Non-agricultural self-employment activities are a part of household efforts to maximise income sources at any given point of time to secure survival. At best, these signal precarious and unstable forays solely by Dalit men outside agriculture into slightly better paid, higher-status jobs, requiring a minimal productive asset base (e.g. a sewing machine, a cart, a cycle, tools and implements). Non-agricultural self-employment is almost wholly a male preserve. 4 Within this highly gendered labour market, the sexual division of labour is explicit and rigid. In agriculture women do only certain tasks, for example weeding, threshing and the transplantation of rice seedlings. 5 The socio-political structures of gender and caste, cultural norms, the local value system and factors like age, family structure and a household’s land assets and its economic status all have an important bearing on Dalit female wage labour participation. 6 It is a striking fact that livelihood activities, that is activities which help in household reproduction but do not have a monetary value, or at least not immediately, are carried out solely by women. These activities include collecting firewood, making and storing cow-dung cakes and, very importantly, providing unpaid labour to upper-caste-class families, for example by sweeping their courtyards, tending their livestock and cleaning and drying their grain. 7 The practice of untouchability continues. Sadly, even among Dalits themselves, caste discrimination between the different Dalit sub-castes, based on ritualistic notions of purity and impurity, is discernible. Thus the higher-status Dalit Kharwars can access domestic work in badka4 households because they are considered less ‘unclean’, but the lowest-status Mosahars5 are only allowed to do the most oppressive, least paying, unfree and stigmatised jobs, as in unfree agriculture and brick kilns. 8 Migration comes across as a complex phenomenon. The opportunity of migrant work elsewhere is not only completely closed

248  Ishita Mehrotra to local women of all castes because of their gender and patriarchal ideology, but also to the ‘lowest of the low’ (castes), like the Mosahars, who can neither afford it and nor have the necessary social capital/networks to access it. The structural parallel between the socio-political positions of local women and Mosahars is strikingly obvious – both of these highly exploited groups are marginalised and subordinated by those who have power over them – namely by men and the higher castes, respectively. 9 Finally, in the field villages, the labour market as a physical space of competitive bargaining, like the daily urban labour markets at their micro-level, is absent. In fact women labourers do not actively search for work, even in the peak season. This is the case for men also, but their mobility and visibility in public spaces makes them more approachable for employers. Women remain based in their villages, and only work within a small radius (mostly). In such a relatively intimate setting who does what job is common knowledge. Importantly, it is considered highly inappropriate for women (of all castes) to be actively looking for work – because this is seen as not in keeping with women’s gendered image as dependent entities, wholly reliant on male breadwinners. This norm is very strong in the highly patriarchal rural UP setting of my research villages.

Rural labour relations: Dalit women facilitating male Dalit emancipation and capitalist accumulation Labour relations in these villages are embedded in overall dependency cum survival relations characteristic of India’s conservative agrarian village societies. This has been documented elsewhere as well, for example in Gujarat (Breman 1985), Tamil Nadu (Ramachandran 1990) and Andhra Pradesh (Da Corta and Venkateshwarlu 1999; Ramachandran, Rawal and Swaminathan 2010). One aspect of this is that labour relations flow around pre-existing socio-economic ties between employers and labouring households, for example interlocked land, credit and labour arrangements. These ties are rooted in labouring households’ material deprivation, social exclusion and political marginalisation. They are dependent on their employers for food security, credit, land, employment, getting access to public resources and schemes like the MGNREGA,6 widow and old age pensions, PDS and, crucially, for assured employment given the seasonality of agricultural employment and the total absence of other local employment avenues, particularly in the case of women. The most prominent employers are the upper

Subsidising capitalism and male labour 249 caste-classes or the badkas who have the economic and political clout to control access to and distribution of resources and to mediate local bureaucratic structures. These employers use their power and position to ensure a readily available cheap and reliable labour force primarily made up of Dalit women or the chutkas, especially at peak season when the demand for labour is high and labourers are better positioned to bargain for wage increases. The agricultural labour force does comprise few non-Dalit women. For example, if a labour party comprises 20 women, only 3 or 4 women will be non-Dalit. Other caste women took to agricultural wage labour only when their circumstances required it, for example in case of sudden health expenses. Unfree labour is not seen among non-Dalit classes of labour. As said by Dalit women, neither the badkas would ever ask other caste women to provide unfree labour services and neither would the latter ever do so because this would not be in keeping with their social status. Tied labour relations have been a common feature of employment relations in agriculture, though the nature of the ‘coercion’ involved has changed over the generations. A generation or two previously, it was common for badkas to literally ‘own’ bonded labourers, who were virtual slaves. These bonded labourers were Dalit men and such employment relations were often backed by physical violence. The entire Dalit family was ‘enslaved’ because Dalit wives and children had to do unpaid work at the beck-and-call of their employer/‘owner’. But with monetisation and the opening up of the village economy over the years, with the spread of education to Dalits, increasing consumerism and imbued with a new confidence and self-esteem, thanks to BSP’s politics of dignity,7 Dalit men are more and more migrating out or taking up local non-agricultural work to escape the drudgery and the humiliation of the oppressive socio-economic relations of agriculture. Today it is women, and mostly Dalit women, who make up the bulk of agricultural labour and this feminisation is also linked to the declining participation of returning Dalit male migrants in own or agricultural wage labour. It is difficult to generalise on the percentage of Dalit male migrants because each Dalit caste has their own livelihood strategy in which migration may or may not centrally figure. For example, Mosahars don’t migrate. Their landlessness means an absence of even a minimum buffer against food security on which the women left behind in the village could depend on. Men need to stay behind in the village to undertake comparatively better paid and more available non-agricultural wage labour. They also lack social networks on which they can draw for migrant work. On the other hand, migrant work is an important source of income for the Dhobis, Dusadhs and

250  Ishita Mehrotra Chamars. But here too, the decision to migrate is shaped by availability of capable family labour to support the household in the absence of migrating men. Migrating Dalit men work as welders, plumbers, scrap-dealers, painters, hawkers, rickshaw pullers, weavers, embroiders and so on. Gujarat, Maharashtra and Punjab are important migrant destinations.8 An important point here is that while Dalit men can resort to migration to escape the drudgery and humiliation typical of village-based agrarian economies, Dalit women are denied this route to seek better labour market outcomes or even the sense of pride and achievement which can be derived from successful migration. Left behind in the village, concentrated as they are in agriculture and dependent on the badkas, it is Dalit women who provide tied, priority, unfree labour to their employers in hope of their continued patronage in times of need or any family emergency. It is Dalit women labourers who have to suffer the exploitation and indignity of tied labour relations while Dalit men go largely free and still continue to access and benefit from the patronage of badkas. For example, these Dalit women cannot decline work like tending to livestock or making cowdung cakes – dirty and lowly work that these women do in their households only. They have to seek permission of the creditor household before taking up wage labour for any other household, especially during the peak season time, and they cannot work for any household whose relations with their creditor household are strained. When they are hired as a part of a labour party, for wage labour in the creditor household’s fields, they have to accept lower wages paid much after the others have been paid. These labour relations are sustained by the relations of domination and subjugation that are in-built in capitalism and not by physical force (Bardhan and Rudra 1978; Breman 1985, 2007; Garikipati, 2009; Lerche 1995, 1999; Ruthven and Kumar 2002; Ramachandran 1990, 2011; Srivastava 1989). To top this, while Dalit men pursue economic and social empowerment, Dalit women are left even more vulnerable. Several issues were highlighted by Dalit women themselves. In some cases, male migration had resulted in the loss the family’s land.9 This happened because the women were unable to take on the responsibility of own cultivation, and therefore had to lease out their land under an arrangement where the lessee took on the entire burden of cultivation and the (Dalit) lessor got half of the produce eventually. This arrangement, at least, guaranteed these women some food security without their having to worry about costs. But a paradox has emerged: while Dalit women have had to bear much greater responsibility for household survival on a daily basis (across the productive, domestic, care and reproductive economies), decision-making

Subsidising capitalism and male labour 251 powers have remained firmly in male hands, especially in relation to the crucial issues of arranging marriages, taking credit and controlling land. Paradoxically, Dalit male outmigration has subjected Dalit female mobility and social behaviour to even more stringent public scrutiny and monitoring. Since Dalit male migration is closely linked to male pride and masculinity, the more successful migrants have forbidden their women from doing any wage labour or providing unpaid labour services to badkas. However, Dalit women face great difficulty in managing their households solely on remittances that are uncertain and fluctuate widely. They therefore continue doing both wage labour and unpaid labour for badkas behind the backs of their male relatives. Despite their considerable difficulties, Dalit women always stressed the beneficial aspects of male migration – they pointed out that it had enormous symbolic value because it embodied movement out of an environment that socially degraded and humiliated Dalits, and out of work that was economically unacceptable because wages were too low and were usually delayed, necessitating the indignity of repeatedly requesting employers to pay overdue wages. Agricultural work is considered dirty and demeaning so it is not something which the younger, more educated and confident Dalit generation wants to do. What was absent from this analysis offered by Dalit women was, however, the consideration of who benefited from these changes – and who was left to suffer? When prodded, Dalit women acknowledged that they have had to bear more household responsibility in addition to doing wage labour and providing tied labour services to badkas. But this awareness does not translate into women criticising their husbands for exploiting them. Dalit women still tend to glorify how remittances can be used for reroofing, dowry expense, repayment of mortgages and so on. Remittances, which come in monthly or every other month and can even be upwards of Rs 10,000, are seen as a significant saved amount in comparison to the daily wages which get spent on the day to day household expenses. Dalit women criticising their men comes across when the latter waste money on alcohol but don’t give women money to buy clothes and bangles, when men get angry at women for wearing new clothes and putting on make-up for religious functions held late at nights or when their husbands fight with their contractor and return to the village without the entire money which was owed to him by the contractor. The vulnerability and dependence of the Dalit poor breed corruption, which is a major source of accumulation for the badkas.10 Dalit women labourers see bribery and corruption as routine facts of everyday life, and as essential ingredients in availing entitlements like IAY,

252  Ishita Mehrotra MGNREGA and BPL ration cards. Badkas too resort to corruption to manipulate the system to their advantage, for example to extend their tenures as village heads, to acquire village common lands and to grab government or better local jobs. A defining feature of these villages is the economic and political competition between badkas. By privileging some Dalits over others they create their own vote lobbies and spheres of influence, comprising both Dalit women and men. The process involves the selective distribution of scarce public resources and the extension of patronage. Such tactics, however, do not mean that political democracy is a total illusion. Dalit women labourers categorically stated that the ultimate act of exercising their vote in secret could not be controlled by these badka tactics. They asserted that their votes were based on careful consideration of the caste identities of candidates and what they had previously done for the Dalit poor. The fact that the classes of labour remain sharply divided along the lines of caste, kinship, neighbourhood and religion means that the emergence of a unified labouring class is prevented. Ironically, there is much greater unity at the level of the capitalists: despite antagonistic relations between badkas within the villages, at the higher levels of block or district badkas of different castes often close ranks to retain their political clout. But this is not seen in the case of Dalits. Bound labour commodification Thus Dalit women are bound and curbed by the structures of gender, caste and class, the local value system and their everyday relations of survival. The starting point to any understanding of the labour relations of Dalit women from the classes of labour has to be their agricultural work and wage relations since agriculture is the sole source of wage labour for Dalit women. (Stray examples of Dalit women from the ‘less unclean’ Kharwar sub-caste washing dirty dishes in a badka household are exceptional.). In agriculture women do only specific tasks. There are several reasons for this. Patriarchal ideology and the consequent sexual division of labour not only prohibit women from doing all better-paid agricultural tasks but also prevent them from participating in government programs intended to help the rural poor, such as MGNREGA work, because this is locally assumed to be synonymous with ‘spade work’, which is viewed as a ‘male’ task. As will be explained subsequently, many Mosahar women do participate in the scheme and were the only women to do so in the field villages. It would be wrong however, to see MGNREGA as a total failure with respect to women. More generally,

Subsidising capitalism and male labour 253 it has been acknowledged in the context of UP that though women participate in MGNREGA, they face significant social, cultural, political and economic constraints in doing so (Bonner et al. 2012). Another reason behind Dalit women’s absence from non-agricultural work is their justifiable fear of public censure and of family backlash for breaking the traditional role-casting of the household head and breadwinner as a male and the gendering of women in subordinate economic and social roles. Closely related to this is the important fact that the female body is seen as the site of family ‘honour’ and ‘purity’. This is evident when Dalit women say that they do not work in brick kiln work, even though this is relatively better paid and incoming migrant women do this work, because the brick kilns are associated with the sexual harassment of women workers and male drinking. To work alongside strange men, who are not even locals, would be morally unacceptable. To go searching for work behind their husbands’ backs is deemed even more objectionable because this signals that they are loose women who cannot live on their husbands’ earnings. The local Dalit women regularly slandered the ‘different’ incoming female labourers from Ranchi: for their work-style attire,11 for carrying their children in slings on their backs while working, for being loud-mouthed and abusive and for brewing and selling alcohol – the very opposite of the conservative patriarchal local female ideal type which was epitomised by the women from the upper caste-classes who, docile and dependent, were confined to their households. This was the norm aspired to by poor Dalit women. The conservative norms of their traditional village setting constrained female participation in paid work. Dalit women labourers gave the example of Dalit women in a nearby town who earned their living washing alcohol bottles and making bangles. They said that even if such opportunities became available in the village, washing alcohol bottles would not be socially permissible. Further, these women labourers were convinced that even if they travelled to the cities for work, their ignorance and their lack of confidence would be major barriers. But this is changing with the younger generation of Dalit girls and boys – education has given them confidence and self-respect, for example they can read, write and do important paperwork in banks or read job cards themselves rather than having to depend on or trust someone else for the smallest of things.12 They also aspire to professionally acquire skills like computer literacy or tailoring. Dalit girls have learnt new skill sets, but these are limited to sewing and tailoring, which are deemed appropriate ‘female’ skills. However, more schooling and vocational training have not translated into higher education

254  Ishita Mehrotra or commensurate jobs for Dalit girls. Rather, these skills are acquired as a natural part of the girl’s growing up and are used for her own needs or for close relatives and neighbours who are charged much below the market rate. The Dalit women labourers also highlighted practical problems like the total absence of contractors who were willing to recruit and pay women workers in non-agricultural employment and the fact that women would not take up ‘non-traditional’ work unless they were sure that there were other women who were willing to take up that work too. Traditional sub-caste occupations were one form of socially legitimate non-agricultural work that women could do. But such examples were rare: a few Dhobi (Washerman caste) households ironed clothes, a Dom woman sold hand-woven fans and a couple of Chamar women worked as midwives. However, evolving consumer preferences, monetisation and the opening up of the village economy and the new availability of products like Surf detergent, lightweight electrical irons and easy-to-wash synthetic fabrics, as well as the grabbing (by upper caste-classes) of community lands like the Dhobi ghaat (riverbank steps), had rendered traditional services irrelevant or out of reach. For women labourers, the question of outright revolting against this structural (caste-class) discrimination does not arise. This is how things have always been. It is this order that Dalit women are used to and in this familiarity they find stability. Though an outright challenge to established social hierarchies is absent, Dalit women do remark that God made all human beings equal, all have the same blood running though their veins and that these divisions are created by human beings on earth. This, however, does not mean that they occasionally don’t challenge the established order or seek to subvert in attempting to improve the conditions of their work. Today Mosahar women present a somewhat different picture, due to recent events in their community. Approximately a decade ago, a Mosahar man died of starvation while begging in front of a local police station. He had been unable to feed his family for a while – begging was his last resort. This appalling incident brought an immediate political and media focus on his family and on the abject poverty and the really dreadful living conditions of the landless Mosahars. Not only was the victim’s family compensated, but all the local Mosahar households were given BPL ration cards (which they ought to have received long ago) and a panchayat building and public toilets were constructed in their hamlet. Not only have Mosahars, including women, been included in MGNREGA work but they have also (very unusually) been paid the stipulated wages on time. Other developmental activities have been initiated for them.

Subsidising capitalism and male labour 255 Significantly, the direct intervention of central government agencies has meant that Mosahars have secured their entitlements while completely bypassing local power struggles – and this puts them in a much more independent position compared to other Dalits who remain indebted and bound to the local power-elites. ‘Bound’ as they are to the village and to agriculture, Dalit female labourers have borne the brunt of steadily declining agricultural employment. Agricultural employment has been declining in India due to decline in public expenditure on rural employment creation and increasing reliance on cheaper food imports (Ghosh 2005; Patnaik 2001, 2004). In a structural context of employment scarcity, very low agricultural labour wages make matters much worse to the extent that Dalit women found wages paid in kind, as grain, more valuable than cash. They revealed that with grain payments they could at least feed their families for a few days, which they could not do on the low cash wages they received. They were acutely aware of the reason for this – the fact that the increase in wages had been far slower than increases in the basic cost of living. Recent food price inflation, as land gets increasingly diverted from production of food crops to exportoriented crops (throughout India), has put a tremendous burden on the poor. Rather than the expected increase in earnings from export crops and improved food security due to access to cheaper imported grains, farmers today face increased food insecurity and are trapped in interlocked land, labour and credit linkages (Dasgupta 2013, 2014; Patnaik 2009). Female agricultural tasks – such as transplanting, weeding, harvesting and threshing – are remunerated on a daily wage basis. Only when the field is located at a distance is the work contracted out. Paddy transplantation is done on a piece-rate or contract basis. Daily wages are much lower than piece rate or contract work wages. Most Dalit women appear to have been successfully brain-washed into believing that they are far inferior workers to men – and thus into accepting the patriarchal ideology that tells them that they are paid less than half the male wage because they do ‘inadequate’ work – their work is not physically taxing, they anyways are not able to do as much work as men and moreover, women work at their own pace with rest-breaks. Thus they themselves said that they usually did not do contract work because they were not able to get as much work done as men in one day. Further, they had internalised the patriarchal argument that their wages were low because their work was not as arduous as male tasks were and that women were ‘incapable’ of performing ‘male’ tasks. The obvious falsehood of this ideology was, however, evident to them

256  Ishita Mehrotra every day, because women were encouraged to do ‘male’ tasks in ‘own cultivation’ on their own holdings – because these ‘male’ tasks were unpaid. Thus it is perfectly obvious that it is male control over all higher-wage work that is at stake, rather than any ‘intrinsic inferiority’ of women’s work. But due to their patriarchal conditioning most Dalit women seemed to unquestioningly accept these notions. They stand in sharp contrast to Dalit women labourers in other (especially south Indian) states, like Tamil Nadu, where their contract groups did very well and earned good money (Kapadia 1995). On being prompted by me, some women did admit that paddy transplantation was extremely hard and unpleasant work – but immediately added that the ‘spade work’ done by Dalit men was very tough and that men’s arms would swell and hurt doing such work. Not just a simple economic contract: Wage relations Employers criticise what they term the ‘casual’ and ‘relaxed’ work attitudes of Dalit female labourers and try to justify very low female wages by this tendentious criticism. They lament the ‘disrespectful’ attitude of Dalit women labourers who have to be called for work twice or thrice before they actually come for work and who then ‘leave in-between’ to attend to their domestic chores. This complaint is true to some extent as Dalit women have to balance their wage labour with their many domestic chores. In fact, for this reason women labourers strongly prefer doing wage labour only within and around their own village. Only Mosahar women, due to their landlessness and food insecurity, will consider travelling to distant villages for work. But their local work has its disadvantages, because local employers routinely pay less because the female labourers use their fields to graze their livestock, for defecation and for fodder, and also turn to them for help with food and credit. Local employers also routinely delay wage payments or make only part payments in order to ensure the continued availability of the women labourers. Having to repeatedly ask for one’s wages is humiliating. Such tactics are not seen in contract work because this is primarily done by male workers who would not tolerate these tactics. Since tasks like weeding and sowing rarely take more than a day or two, ‘daily wages’ are usually paid when the job is completed, though if a woman needs money earlier, she can independently approach the employer. Otherwise wages are distributed on the completion of work by the employer or by the Dalit woman contractor or the Dalit woman lead labourer.

Subsidising capitalism and male labour 257 Wage negotiations are in favour of labourers at the start of the agricultural season (June/July, depending on the rains) when employers need the women labourers urgently. During this time, Dalit women labourers are able to briefly unite to push for wage increases. Wagerates, once they are set, are unlikely to change mid-season. The process of raising wage-rates follows a pattern. It starts with the women labourers discussing the rising living costs and the recent wage hikes in surrounding areas. Then, at the beginning of their season, one of the more confident and aggressive Dalit female labourers argues with an employer that their wages should also be increased, usually by Rs 5 to Rs 10 over the last season’s wage. The employer, desperate to secure labour, agrees. By word of mouth, news of the new rate spreads among the female labourers and a general consensus evolves that unless they are paid the new rate women will not work. So, when employers or their servants call at the homes of the women labourers or their contractor or lead labourer, face to face haggling takes place. Sometimes employers agree at once. At times they don’t immediately agree but come back after a day or two with a compromise rate because of their inability to recruit labour from elsewhere. Moreover, hiring female labour from outside the village is an expensive proposition because outside labourers have to be paid slightly more than local labourers; they also have to be paid on time and be given food. Local female labourers tend to accept a compromise rate because they fear that if they hold out for too long the very poorest labouring households, who cannot afford to sit out a strike, will accept lower wages which would seriously undermine the efforts to increase the wage-rate. The possibility of employers recruiting women labourers from outside the village is another threat. What the strike action is most vulnerable to are the socio-economic ties of dependency between powerful badka employers and individual labouring households. Dalit women labourers are able to adopt a much tougher stance against middle and lower-caste labour hiring households (small or medium landowners) to whom they are not indebted. The Dalit women are very conscious of their structurally disadvantaged position in terms of scarce agricultural wage-labour opportunities, a large surplus of labouring households and the absence of other local job opportunities. In comparison to women labourers from other Dalit sub-castes, Mosahar women are able to wangle a better wage deal and more contract work. Though upper-caste employers loathe their bold and crass behaviour (e.g. they speak very loudly and assertively and even abuse employers to their face), they prefer them as agricultural labourers

258  Ishita Mehrotra because of their professionalism. Once the terms and conditions of work have been mutually agreed upon, Mosahar women finish their tasks efficiently and on time. Their greater bargaining strength has several reasons: (1) the very limited economic differentiation between Mosahars, which facilitates a united front; (2) the absence of badka or other Dalit sub-caste households from the Mosahar hamlet means the absence of everyday socio-economic tensions and threats of sanctions; (3) as Mosahars have (recently) been able to gain government provisions directly through the district administration, they show very little subservience and dependency based on local political compulsions; (4) their dependence on local employers for wage labour is limited since Mosahars willingly work in distant villages and their ‘own village’ (to which their hamlet is attached) has many labour-employing badkas; (5) the continued administrative and media attention given to Mosahars also favours them in local wage negotiations and (6) Mosahar women do not exhibit the ritualistic sense of inferiority towards the upper caste-classes shown by women from the other Dalit subcastes. The latter regularly castigate Mosahar women for their shameless ‘lack of modesty’ and for not behaving towards the upper castes in accordance with their chutka status. While Mosahar women are less controlled by patriarchal norms, this does not mean that they are equal to Mosahar men. Like other Dalit women, Mosahar women do only agricultural wage labour. Other Dalit women envy Mosahar women for being able to get more wage labour and for being able to haggle higher wages. But otherwise, they are very critical of Mosahars for not behaving like chutkas, that is being subservient and not showing due deference to badkas. All Dalit women labourers normally manage to get a nominal wage hike. It is usually the upper caste-class big landowners who set the opening rate since they are the first recruiters. Often, labour-hiring middle caste and Dalit households pay Rs 5 to Rs 10 over the set wage rate to secure timely and efficient female labour – this is prudent at peak times because these employers are dependent on hired irrigation sources and can only afford to spend so much on inputs. Though these households are only occasional employers of labour and also provide wage labour themselves for short durations, they are known to pay on time. Another aspect of how wage relations are shaped by the social status of employers is the absolute refusal, by Dalit women labourers, to accept lower than the going rates from middle caste and Dalit employers. The women argue that these employers do not have the resources to provide them with political patronage or social and economic protection as the badkas do. Further, the manner in which

Subsidising capitalism and male labour 259 wage bargaining takes place varies greatly. With badka employers, negotiations are carried out in a subservient style designed to cajole the maximum possible out of the employers. With chutka employers, however, the women labourers do not go so far as quarrelling with them, but take a much more hostile approach, often resulting in a heated exchange of accusations. When their employers are from outside the village, Dalit women have far greater bargaining powers. They take advantage of the fact that the employer has not been able to recruit women labourers from his own village, and of the very limited time-window during which critical operations, like paddy transplantation or weeding, must be performed. The absence of interlocking socio-economic ties means that they do not depend in any way on these employers, and can thus wangle a better rate. In daily wage work, the employer himself, his relative or his servant visits the women labourers’ households directly for recruitment. Not only is this easy and efficient but it also involves little supervision cost. These labourers have worked for him for many years and usually live in close proximity to his upper-caste hamlet. It is common for these households to be engaged in long-standing social, religious and political relations outside direct work relations. Contract work in paddy transplantation or other tasks is always routed through a Dalit woman lead labourer or Dalit woman contractor – this makes it easier for outside employers to secure labour, given their lack of familiarity with the workers. In one village there were two Dalit women contractors. Each had her own work party comprising mainly Dalit women from households belonging to the classes of labour category. Both contractors lived in the main Dalit hamlet of the village and most of their party members came from this or nearby hamlets. Women stick to the same work party for the most part, unless they fall out with their contractor over wages. The wage negotiations, recruitment, getting the work done and finally distributing the wages are all the responsibility of the Dalit woman contractor. In some cases, women labourers were contacted through their male relatives, usually their husbands. Employers from outside the village might contact the contractor’s or lead labourer’s husband in the marketplace. He passes the information on to his wife. These Dalit contractors or lead labourers were middle aged women. Dalit women labourers said that a woman contractor or lead labourer had to have a commanding presence and unrestricted mobility, that was not limited by the ruling patriarchal norms. She also had to have good relationships with the all other village women. Dalit women contractors are described as shrewd women who are capable of taking

260  Ishita Mehrotra the initiative and organising labourers and distributing wages. But at the same time, these features – especially the freedom to move around and to interact with both men and women, to be loud and outspoken and to have an authoritative personality – are not the markers of a ‘respectable’ woman. Thus, in terms of local patriarchal norms of female behaviour, which they necessarily had to break, Dalit women contractors were viewed as disreputable and – by implication – sexually promiscuous women. By actively seeking work, they break the typical casting of gender roles where the man is the main breadwinner and the woman is a dependant whose income is perceived as supplementary. Slandering of leading independent women as manly, aggressive and greedy has been documented elsewhere as well. For example, Kapadia (1995) and Hart (1986). Modes of recruitment and unfree labour relations It is common practice for Dalit women contractors cum lead labourers to first approach their relatives and friends, who are women from the same Dalit caste, living in the same street and hamlet. When fewer labourers are required, relatives and friends, who usually live along the same street, are called on first. They also get paid 2 to Rs 5 more than the other labourers in the group. Thus hiring decisions are very personalised. Factors like skill, capability and efficiency also matter, as also who is on good terms with the contractor, who is less likely to pick a fight if wages are low and who is most likely to obey the lead labourer. As I have noted, unfree labour relations are built on the survival cum dependency relations which permeate village life and their burden is disproportionately borne by Dalit women labourers. Unfree labour is typically not seen in male agricultural tasks.13 This however does not mean that they are not indebted to badkas. Where a Dalit household is indebted, it is the woman who provides unfree labour. This is so because the man needs to earn a proper wage as the primary breadwinner – an ideology that serves to legitimise inserting women as the main tied labour. He has more opportunities in labour market. Moreover, men are more likely to have migrated out. It is the women left behind in the villages who have to provide unfree labour, not only as a part of debt relations but also as a mechanism of social protection. Many tasks done as unfree labour are women’s task, for example, washing and drying grain, tending to livestock and cleaning the courtyard. Moreover, men are the direct beneficiaries of badka patronage. One very clear instance of this is Dalit men accessing MGNREGA work

Subsidising capitalism and male labour 261 through badkas. Though the household benefits from this income, it is men who access this better waged work and not women (with the exception of Mosahar women). To cite another example, Dalit men take advance from badkas to pay contractors who help them get migrant work. But while they migrate out to pursue a better income and higher social status, their women are left behind in the village to provide unfree labour as a part of this patron-client arrangement. These relations of unfreedom are different both from the old style labour bondage (Bardhan and Rudra 1978, 1980; Da Corta and Venkateshwarlu 1999; Jodhka 2014; Lerche 1995, 2007; Patnaik and Dingwaney 1985) and the neo-bondage as discussed by Breman (1985, 2007). Unlike traditional labour bondage, this is not a feudal relationship backed by physical violence, an absolute terror of upper castes, the helpless and complete surrender of the poor and their unquestioned acceptance of badka supremacy in all spheres. Unlike neo-bondage, these unfree labour relations are not merely based on credit relations; they are not merely contractual and impersonal. This is because the unfreedom discussed here is still very closely tied to the ideology of caste discourse and is central to male capitalist accumulation. While Dalit men migrate out in search of employment which has better incomes and status attached to it, Dalit women are left behind in the village to do agricultural wage labour, to provide priority and unfree labour to badkas, while also managing own cultivation and other domestic responsibilities which come with running the household on a daily basis. At the top, the male employers definitely consolidate their surplus by accessing a cheaper and reliable wage labour of local Dalit women who are dependent on them for credit, for accessing public schemes, for accessing their fields for grazing livestock and defecation, and for employment itself at a time when agricultural employment is only seasonally available and there are only few big employers of wage labour in the villages. These dependency cum survival relations mean that Dalit women can also easily be controlled by their male employers. This narrative of how women’s exploitation is tied to improvements in men’s economic opportunities and position is well documented in agrarian political economy literature (Da Corta and Venkateshwarlu 1999; Harriss-White and Janakarajan 2004). The spread of education, legislative and administrative changes, the monetisation and opening up of the rural economy, better yields in own cultivation, declining police terror and the evolution of a strong sense of self-respect and dignity – these are some reasons associated with the shift away from traditional labour bondage. However, the past history of labouring Dalit households whose older members until

262  Ishita Mehrotra recently were bandhaks (bonded labourers) very much colours their present attitudes. To cite one example: a Dalit woman whose fatherin-law was a bandhak, clearly stated that when she was called on by the household where he worked, she went to work for them without any hesitation, did not haggle over wages or reply back if spoken to harshly. To continue working for this household was a matter of maintaining a long-standing social relationship, and they had also helped her in significant ways in the past, for instance, by driving her pregnant daughter to hospital for her delivery without asking for any payment. In another arrangement going back over ten years, a Dalit labouring household provided tied and priority labour services to a badka household from whom it leased land. The right to lease this plot was crucial to the Dalit household’s food security and also provided an important source of income, as they also cultivated sugarcane on it. Clearly long-standing debt relations, locality and attached/unfree labour relations all serve to keep the classes of labour unfree, divided and subjugated. It is very important to recognise that the rural poor are not a homogenous group. On the contrary, they are embedded in different affiliations to caste, class, religion and locality. They are subject to different compulsions and each section of the poor reacts and responds differently. Thus there is no single labouring class in rural UP that can rally around a unifying identity or interest in the longer term. The capital-labour contradiction continues to be mediated – and diluted – by the identities of caste-class, gender and religion. Mechanisms of labour control In addition to the capitalist methods of labour suppression and control discussed earlier, there are more direct instruments of labour control in wage work. Thus, in daily wage work, the employer or someone from his family is present to supervise Dalit women labourers. The latter told me that they always try to ensure that daily wage work spills over to the next day, so that they can make more money. So they work in a leisurely manner and take long rest breaks in the absence of supervision. But too much monitoring and shouting by the employer can backfire also. In retaliation, the Dalit women might just pretend to weed a field spot and deliberately do shoddy work. In contract work, however, the contract works as an in-built control because labourers attempt to finish a task as quickly as possible to move on to the next job. Employers might even pay the woman contractor Rs 10 to 20 extra to ensure good work and timely completion. The lead woman labourer or contractor works alongside her team as a

Subsidising capitalism and male labour 263 way of supervising them and encouraging them to work faster and better. She might also threaten them with a wage cut unless they work well. Delayed payment or part payment of wages are also a common method used by employers to ensure labour availability, efficiency and productivity. In one village, employers allowed only those women labourers who weeded their fields and transplanted their paddy to also harvest their fields. Since harvesting and threshing are remunerated with the newly harvested grain, this type of wage labour is extremely important to household food security. For employers, this is an important way to secure labour availability at peak seasons when labourers have greater bargaining power. The fragmentation of labour solidarity Capitalist accumulation and labour suppression are helped by the nature of intra-labour relations, which are fraught with everyday altercations and tensions. Themes of individualism, selfishness, competition, jealousy, insecurity and rivalry figured repeatedly in Dalit women’s comments on their relations with each other. Wearing new clothes and eating good food become a basis for exchanging sarcastic comments, for example how could one afford these or what had one done to afford these and conjecturing on the occasion. Such comments raise questions over the concerned woman’s sexual morality, her mobility behind her husband’s back or might simply reflect the jealousy other Dalit women feel on them not securing wage labour. How well could one organise a religious function (in terms of attendance, music, food etc.) was another ground for petty comparisons. Then there were arguments on who was able to access MGNREGA, how and for how many days. Petty fights broke out between Dalit women over their children’s quarrels, over animals straying into each other’s fields and destroying crops, over field boundaries that were accidently redrawn while ploughing during exchange-labour relations, over fights within work groups over foot-dragging and over domestic disputes. This is not to claim that consensus and solidarity never existed among Dalit women or among the classes of labour, but it was difficult to cultivate such feelings which were at best temporary and issue based, as in the case of wage negotiations or when labouring households came together during personal crises, for example to donate money for a child’s medical treatment. Dalit women also helped each other to hold the ceremonial functions befitting their social position and prestige: some women personally incurred debt to help others, or helped a friend to get a loan to meet wedding expenses, especially for a daughter’s wedding.

264  Ishita Mehrotra Further, for Dalit women labourers the labour process itself is a site of conflict. Core team members, that is the relatives, friends and neighbours of a woman contractor, are paid slightly more than others and they are also the first port of call when a contractor bags a job. The contractor or lead labourer is often paid more by the employer because she puts in hard work organising the women labourers and getting the job done on time. But sometimes Dalit women contractors cheat their women labourers and this leads to major arguments. Dalit women labourers complain that women contractors do not tell them the real wage rate agreed by the employer. An employer might have agreed to pay Rs 20 per labourer, but the Dalit woman contractor tells her labourers that the employer agreed to only Rs 15 – ‘though he did say that he might consider revising the rate’. At the completion of the work, the employer pays the contractor a rate of Rs 20 but the contractor pays her labourers at a rate of Rs 15 per worker – and quietly pockets the rest. The women labourers are no fools. But when they argue with her, the contractor takes the moral high ground and tells them they should not work with her if they do not trust her – and suggests that they can independently approach the employer with their suspicions. This usually checkmates the women labourers, who are dependent on their lead female labourers cum contractors to get work, because they cannot easily reach outside employers. At best, the labourers express their anger by shouting at their contractor and changing their work party. Thus the exigencies of survival limit solidarity. While a few women labourers are able to hold out for better wages, the poorest labouring households cannot afford to stay idle. Their willingness to work for lower wages becomes a cause of labour fragmentation. I have argued here that Dalit women belonging to the classes of labour category are the worst off in UP’s rural population, forced as they are to remain in humiliating, low status, low paid agricultural work and to bear the burdens and indignities of unfree labour relations. My findings resonate closely with those of Lerche (2010) and Chen (2008). It is Dalit men who are the direct beneficiaries of badka patronage. But it is Dalit women who have to actually sustain this patronage in the context of Dalit male outmigration, by providing unpaid, unfree or priority labour both in the fields and in the houses of the badkas. The expanding role of Dalit women in agricultural production and their increasing responsibilities for daily household reproduction have not been matched by any corresponding increase in their rights and decision-making powers. On the contrary, patriarchal controls on Dalit women have tightened significantly with increasing

Subsidising capitalism and male labour 265 male outmigration. These processes clearly show that, as far as indigent Dalit women are concerned, capitalist accumulation reinforces and strengthens both Dalit male status and upper-caste-class patriarchal controls in general. A very similar argument has been made by Da Corta and Venkateshwarlu (1999) in the case of unfree Dalit women labourers in Andhra Pradesh.

Pushing boundaries, not breaking them down I have claimed that the varied affiliations and ties of individuals and households have a deeply divisive effect on the classes of labour, as do the imperatives of survival. In such a context, do Dalit women have any scope for political agency? Though they are fragmented and held captive in the local economy and society, Dalit women are not ignorant, powerless or submissive. Rather than always surrendering their self-worth or behaving with quiet acquiescence, Dalit women do try to resist and challenge their oppressors, every time they try to find a space for their demands. But the outcomes and costs of these struggles are another matter. In other words, Dalit women are not totally passive and helpless, there are occasional examples of them actively deploying their agency in negotiating better outcomes for themselves. However, such attempts may either not have the desired outcomes or may lead to a backlash, the most common example being that of withdrawal of patronage or denying employment to a particular Dalit labouring household. Rural political expression The impact of the Dalit-led Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) rise to power can definitely be seen at the village level. Both among Dalit women and more generally, caste identity is the basis for political association. It is important to note that Dalit women do not understand the term ‘Dalit’. Most Dalit women identify themselves as harijan (a term coined by Gandhiji, it means ‘children of God’) and some women identified themselves as anusoochit (Scheduled Caste). Most women were not even aware of the name of the BSP party, but all of them were familiar with its charismatic female leader, Mayawati. Though oblivious of her political ideology and program, Dalit women understand Mayawati and her politics as pro chutka and are quite aware of the practical implications of being a ‘Dalit’ – it means access to ‘reservations’ in higher education and government jobs, school scholarships, easier access to the police and so on. There is almost unanimous

266  Ishita Mehrotra support for Mayawati among local Dalits. And yet, this Dalit caste consciousness has not become the basis for unifying the largely Dalit classes of labour into an effective political force for the reasons discussed earlier. Dalit women perceive politics as a male domain and a site of conflict. They therefore keep away from local panchayat meetings which often turn volatile, and use obscene language. Here too Dalit women revealed how brain-washed they are by patriarchal ideology, by internalising their political marginalisation and blaming themselves for it, in terms of their ‘lack of confidence’ and their ‘lack of knowledge’ of formal political institutions and their inability to speak in an ‘acceptable’ manner, especially in public when upper castes were present. One sole Dalit woman participated in local government proceedings as a panchayat member (in seat reserved for a Dalit woman candidate), but she frankly stated that her role was merely to agree with everything said by the village head, an Ahir woman, whose public duties were discharged by her husband, the de facto village head. Dalit women’s approach to politics was pragmatic, being based on what they observed and experienced in their daily lives rather than on any party ideology. They pointed out that political corruption was pervasive, irrespective of political affiliation: the rations and funds for mid-day school meals were siphoned off by anganwadi workers and the village head, MGNREGA work days and payments were forged by him and alcohol and clothes were illegally distributed by all parties at elections as bribes.14 Dalit women were perceptive – they saw the inability of a chutka village head to discharge his duties without the consent of badkas as a local reflection of the political compulsions that had forced Mayawati to accommodate badkas by entering into an alliance with the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), at core an upper-caste party. Under Mayawati’s BSP regime, Dalits have gained direct and easier access to the police and this has given them a new sense of protection against upper-caste atrocities. But this is not to suggest that the BSP regime has been pro-poor and above corruption. On the contrary, its preferential treatment of Hindu Dalits divides the rural classes of labour and prevents the creation of a unified labouring class within and between villages. In my research villages the few Muslim households were very poor – they made it clear that only Hindu Dalits had benefited under Mayawati. The Dalit women were astute and realised that most of the welfare schemes that the government provided for the chutkas – such as reservations, subsidised rations, scholarships, credit facilities for livestock rearing and loan write-offs – were cornered by powerful, well-networked locals. These were the

Subsidising capitalism and male labour 267 ‘middlemen’, constituted mainly by relatively prosperous non-Dalits and a few better-off Dalits. Labour struggles Dalit women labourers (with the exception of Mosahar women to some extent) share a deep sense of being poor, isolated and alone, of being unworthy and inferior and of embarrassment at their very low social status. These feelings co-exist with a fragile sense of self-respect. It is very fragile because a deep seated fear prevents Dalit women from strongly and persistently demanding their rights – fear of a backlash from the upper castes with untoward consequences for their livelihoods. In addition they suffer the pressures and tensions of maintaining family ‘honour’ and from the patriarchal expectations regarding the docile and submissive behaviour that is expected of them – an upper-caste ideology which has been very much internalised by them. Nonetheless, there are examples of Dalit women resisting badka oppression. As with wider socio-economic relations, labour struggles too, play out mainly at the level of the hamlet and village and seldom at the block, district or state levels. These labour struggles are also a reflection of the new politicisation of Dalit women – today they are conscious of their political marginalisation, of BSP’s real politik and of topical debates such as those regarding Mayawati’s construction of statues of Dalit idols like Ambedkar, Phule, Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj and Mayawati herself in Lucknow. A major tool of resistance in the hands of Dalits (both women and men) is the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. This act is popularly referred to as the ‘Harijan’ and though rural Dalits are not familiar with the wording of the act, they are very aware of its practical implications. They know that if they file a police complaint under this act against a badka/oppressor the police are required to register their complaint and to take action on it. Overall, the impact of Mayawati’s BSP government in UP’s villages has been negligible with regard to agricultural wage levels and local political power equations and there have been no BSP interventions targeting Dalits specifically. But there is no denying that regarding the police, the impact of BSP rule has been tremendous. Dalits unanimously reported that their complaints were duly registered even though follow-up had been weak. But this itself is a major change in comparison with earlier political regimes where the mere sight of the police sent the Dalits into hiding – because they knew whose side the police were on. In fact, the Atrocities Act has been both rightly and wrongly used by Dalits not only against badkas

268  Ishita Mehrotra but also against others with whom they have a quarrel. The badkas, of course, use their muscle and money power to evade the charges. But they are being threatened, harassed and their esteem and public image are being challenged in rural UP for the first time. However, labour struggles usually take the form of ‘the weapons of the weak’ (Scott 1985, 1986) and ‘negotiations’ (Jeffery and Jeffery 1996) within existing power relations. For Scott (1985), ‘the weapons of the weak’ refer to the less visible forms of non-cooperation and resistance used by subordinated individuals and groups to resist domination by those who have power over them. Jeffery and Jeffery (1996) discuss the ways in which low-caste women in UP seek to negotiate established power relations and social structures in their attempts to resist their subjugation and to maintain some control over their lives. It is indeed notable that Dalit women’s labour struggles take place even within unfree labour relations and patron-client relations. But these struggles remain largely symbolic, sporadic, are issue based, are usually directed against a specific oppressor and do not – ever – seek to structurally alter power relations. Such scattered and isolated struggles do not pose any challenge to existing power structures or to the social hierarchies of the upper caste-classes and men in general. But they do give Dalit women labourers the scope to wrest key concessions and, importantly, a broken sense of empowerment. By this I mean that Dalit women labourers know that, overall, their structural position remains weak, yet these concessions provide them with a sense of achievement, because they have made their voices heard and their presence felt vis-à-vis the badkas. Given Dalit women’s extreme vulnerability, this is no small achievement. A small example of resistance: a Dalit Kharwar woman who washed dishes in a Rajput house did not turn up for work for several weeks. This was her way of protesting against low wages, leftover food served late to her and not being given new clothes. She started working for this family again only after a lot of cajoling, and promises of food and clothes. Dalit women are very conscious of the fact that ultimately they will have to return to work, having perhaps gained very little or even nothing. Living in a village, they have no other job options or recourse. For these women, therefore, the feelings of helplessness and of being obligated to badkas are never completely absent. Other types of resistance used by Dalit women include: using their power to refuse low waged work, abusing badkas behind their backs and looking straight at the faces of badkas and looking into their eyes, while arguing and negotiating with them – because such behaviour is seen as immodest, rude and challenging in women. Dalit women told me that it was because of Mayawati’s pro-Dalit regime that they

Subsidising capitalism and male labour 269 felt able to assert themselves even to this limited extent. They now had greater awareness of their rights, they were self-respecting and felt that they could not be cowed down again, even if Mayawati was not in power. Their new self-respect is also due to the spread of education among the younger generation. However, this politics of dignity has not yielded substantive economic benefits to the Dalit poor and Dalit women feel the constant tension between their desire to assert their rights and pragmatic acceptance of their circumstances. I observed that resistance and bargaining were stronger by households not located in close proximity to dominant households or not indebted to them. There are also a few examples of Dalit women who have managed to secure entitlements like BPL ration cards through middlemen, completely bypassing the local power structures and political play. For example, a group of Chamar women, with the help of an outsider, approached the district administration for BPL ration cards. They got them and now get a regular supply of rations. But they and others like them continue to be dependent on middlemen who have their own vested interests, such as securing Dalit support for their political aspirations or consolidating their economic power. The unfortunate truth is that Dalit women themselves are guilty of discriminating against other weaker groups, like the labouring Muslim households and the Dalit Mosahars, who are the poorest of the poor. Therefore, the poor themselves are a polarised and disunited group. Since the death by starvation of the Mosahar man, the labour struggles of the Mosahars have gone far beyond the weapons of the weak. Mosahar women and men are far more assertive today – they have held dharnas, gheraos and hunger strikes at both block and district levels. They regularly attend rallies in Lucknow, organised by social activists and political leaders. The tragic incident brought home to them the fear of mass starvation and death, and a sense of their collective interest has emerged, with a strong sense of their capability and their dignity. Other factors, such as the very limited economic differentiation among the Mosahars, also enable their struggles. Singh’s (2013) analysis explains why Mosahar labour relations and struggles have recently become so different from those of other Dalits in the area. According to Singh (2013), the critical harbinger of change was an NGO which had worked with Mosahar women and men in two districts of eastern UP, Kushinagar and Maharajganj, for about five years. At the start, the NGO engaged extensively with Mosahar communities in the two regions and made them aware that they were losing out badly, because of their absolute exclusion, by local elites, from government development programs. With time, the

270  Ishita Mehrotra self-perception of Mosahars changed quite remarkably, from seeing themselves as a despised, helpless community that was resigned to its fate, to seeing themselves as the equals of others in development projects. The NGO organised ‘interface camps’ between the Mosahar communities and the local bureaucracies. The exposure of the latter to the Mosahars pitiable living conditions and media advocacy by the NGO resulted in concrete action – Mosahars were given IAY, Antyodaya cards and so on. My own research corroborates this. The NGO facilitated rallies on various issues – food for work, self-respect and so on. These efforts raised the profile of Mosahars in the public consciousness and therefore forced the local administration to prioritise Mosahars in its developmental assistance. One indicator of the Mosahar’s growing confidence and political consciousness has been their gradual shift from their earlier modus operandi of meek cooperation with the authorities to rallies and dharnas to demand their rights. However, Singh (2013) acknowledges that this tactic of public assertiveness has to co-exist with local structures of badka dominance and chutka subjugation. She also explicitly states that the NGO has never questioned local structural inequalities. The Mosahar story cannot be generalised, though this NGO’s intervention indicates why today, very unexpectedly, it is the ‘poorest of the poor’, the Mosahars, who are more united, conscious and aggressive than any other Dalit sub-caste. It is clearly the case that Dalit women labourers do have political awareness and agency. They are conscious of their rights and aware of the bases of their exploitation. But Dalit women are, above all, pragmatic and canny – and they appear to have, realistically, concluded that more can be gained by their ‘working the system’, through ‘negotiations’ and ‘the weapons of the weak’, than by openly opposing it. In these circumstances they can only pose a very limited challenge to capitalist agrarian structures and thus their work continues to benefit Dalit men and male capitalist accumulation more generally.

Notes * Editors’ Note: Ishita Mehrotra received the Sanjay Thakur Young Labour Economist Award for the best paper presented at the 55th Annual Conference of the Indian Society of Labour Economics (ISLE), 16–18 December 2013 at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi for the first draft of this chapter. Interested readers may contact the author at [email protected] yahoo.com to access the detailed, unabridged version. 1 A complete list of abbreviations is found at the end of this chapter. 2 Kharif crops are sown during the rains (July) and harvested in the winter around October. Rabi crops are sown in the winter around the month of November and harvested around April.

Subsidising capitalism and male labour 271 3 According to Bernstein (2010), classes of labour find it very difficult to reproduce themselves as labour on a daily basis. They are constantly struggling to secure their daily survival by engaging in insecure and exploitative wage labour, petty forms of self-employment etc. alongside own cultivation. 4 Badkas are the upper caste-classes and the chutkas are the lower casteclasses (including the Dalits, non-Dalits like Koeiris and few upper-caste households as well). But as caste and class coincide to a great extent in the field area, the chutkas are primarily the Dalits. 5 Part of the reason that Mosahars are considered the lowest of the low has to do with their traditional occupation of hunting and eating rats. They were said to be hired by landowners for cleaning fields of rats. Today, they are engaged in agricultural wage labour, in the same tasks as other Dalits. Unlike other Dalits, however, Mosahars also undertake the most stigmatised and unfree wage labour in brick kilns. They are also considered the most Dalit of all Dalits because of their landlessness. Even the land that they live on was allotted to them by the Gram Sabha. Their living conditions are the worst. Mosahars live in tiny thatched huts and very often their chickens and goats live alongside them. One has to practically wade through their hamlets after a heavy rain. 6 See the last page of this chapter for explanations of these government welfare programs. 7 The phrase ‘politics of dignity’ has been used by Varshney (2009) to refer to installation of statues of Dalit leaders in Lucknow, to Mayawati transferring upper-caste bureaucrats etc. In the field villages, politics of dignity comes out in several ways. One there is no denying that Dalit men and women revel in Mayawati capturing the state’s highest political office and capturing public space and imagination as well through actions such as those mentioned earlier. Second, this has put the badkas on the backfoot and has forced the police to be more sensitive to Dalits. In fact, Dalit men and women emphasise on the direct and easy access to the police they now have and which extends them a feeling of protection. Few even recounted how they had used The Scheduleld Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, or filed false complaints, to avenge personal grievances against badkas. However, the BSP’s coming to power has not led to any substantive material or structural improvement in the conditions of Dalit labourers, men and women. 8 For details see Mehrotra (2012). 9 With the exception of the landless Mosahars, almost all Dalits are marginal or small landowners. Landlessness was uncommon in the field villages. Leasing was also an uncommon phenomenon. Dalit women attributed this to increased farming costs and subdivision of landholdings over the years which means that there are hardly any large holdings part of which can be leased out (in eastern UP generally and specifically in the field villages, large landholdings are atypical). Moreover, cultivation of cash crops was not allowed on leased land by landowners and they tended to lease out land after sugarcane harvest to avoid the cost of improving land and making it cultivable again. And those who leased in land saw no benefit in investing so much in leased land only for them having to surrender it after one season.

272  Ishita Mehrotra 10 To cite just one example, when IAY money comes, a percentage of the amount is taken by the village head as his share – his share for ‘expenses’ (travel money for going to the district, grease money to expedite things) he incurred to ensure inclusion in the IAY beneficiary list and to see to it that these people actually got the money. This give and take is very much routinised and seen in other schemes as well. 11 Incoming female labourers from Ranchi drape their sarees in a dhoti style, that is it is divided in the middle to allow free movement while working in kilns. This style leaves part of their calves bare which is the opposite of the traditional style of draping followed by UP women. Moreover, showing bare flesh when working in the company of unknown men is completely unacceptable. 12 Under MGNREGA, each household is issued a job card. In this, details such as eligible family members, days of employment and wage payments are recorded. 13 For example, the one case observed during fieldwork was where the male member of an indebted Dalit household had to do spade work in the field of the creditor household on a priority and lower-wage rate basis. This was debilitating for the Dalit household as this was the peak sugarcane harvesting season. Usually, this Dalit man engaged in migrant work, but he had returned to the village recently due to ill health. Otherwise, his wife provided and continues to provide unfree labour services to the creditor household. 14 Alcoholism is a major problem among the poor Dalit men.

References Bardhan, Pranab and Ashok Rudra. 1978. ‘Interlinkage of Land, Labour and Credit Relations: An Analysis of Village Survey Data in East India’, Economic & Political Weekly, 13 (6/7): 367–384. Bardhan, Pranab and Ashok Rudra. 1980. ‘Types of Labour Attachment in Agriculture: Results of a Survey in West Bengal, 1979’, Economic & Political Weekly, 15 (35): 1477–1484. Bernstein, Henry. 2010. Class Dynamics of Agrarian Change. Canada: Fernwood Publishing and Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press. Bonner et al. 2012. ‘MGNREGA Implementation: A Cross-State Comparison’, The Woodrow Wilson School’s Graduate Policy Workshop www.indi aenvironmentportal.org.in/files/file/MGNREGA%20Implementation%20 A%20Cross-State%20Comparison.pdf Accessed on March 3, 2015. Breman, Jan. 1985. Of Peasants, Migrants and Paupers: Rural Labour Circulation and Capitalist Production in West India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Breman, Jan. 2007. The Poverty Regime in Village India: Half a Century of Work and Life at the Bottom of the Rural Economy in South Gujarat. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Chen, Martha. 2008. ‘Informality and Social Protection: Theories and Realities’, IDS Bulletin, 39 (2): 18–27.

Subsidising capitalism and male labour 273 DaCorta, Lucia and D. Venkateshwarlu. 1999. ‘Unfree Relations and the Feminisation of Agricultural Labour in Andhra Pradesh, 1970–95’, Journal of Peasant Studies, 26 (2–3): 71–139. Dasgupta, Sejuti. 2013. ‘With Flowers and Capsicum in the Driver’s Seat, Food Sovereignty Is Impossible: A Comparison of the Politics of Agricultural Policy in Two Indian States, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh’, Paper presented at the Food Sovereignty: A Critical Dialogue, International Conference, Yale University, September 14–15. Dasgupta, Sejuti. 2014. ‘Class Interest Shapes Political Decisions: A CaseStudy of Agricultural Policies in Post-Liberalisation Indian States of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Karnataka’, Unpublished PhD Thesis, SOAS, University of London. Garikipati, S. 2009. ‘Landless But Not Assetless: Female Agricultural Labour on the Road to Better Status, Evidence From India’, Journal of Peasant Studies, 36 (3): 517–545. Ghosh, Jayati. 2005. ‘Trade Liberalization in Agriculture: An Examination of Impact and Policy Strategies With Special Reference to India’, Occasional Paper [Online], Human Development Report Office. http://hdr.undp.org/en/ reports/global/hdr2005/papers/HDR2005_Ghosh_Jayati_12.pdf Accessed on June 11, 2012. Harriss-White, Barbara and S. Janakarajan. (eds) 2004. Rural India Facing the 21st Century: Essays on Long Term Village Change and Recent Development Policy. London: Anthem Press. Hart, G. 1986. ‘Exclusionary Labour Arrangements: Interpreting Evidence on Employment Trends in Rural Java’, Journal of Development Studies, 22 (4): 681–696. Jeffery, Patricia and Roger Jeffery. 1996. Don’t Marry Me to a Plowman! Women’s Everyday Lives in Rural North India. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Jodhka, Surinder S. 2014. ‘What’s Happening to the Village: Revisiting Rural Life and Agrarian Change in Haryana’, CAS Working Paper Series, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Kapadia, Karin. 1995. Siva and Her Sisters: Gender, Caste, and Class in Rural South India. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Lerche, Jens. 1995. ‘Is Bonded Labour a Bound Category? Reconceptualising Agrarian Conflict in India’, Journal of Peasant Studies, 22 (3): 484–515. Lerche, Jens. 1999. ‘Politics of the Poor: Agricultural Labourers and Political Transformations in Uttar Pradesh’, in T. J. Byres, Karin Kapadia and Jens Lerche (eds) Rural Labour Relations in India, pp. 182–241. London: Frank Cass, Ch 6. Lerche, Jens. 2007. ‘A Global Alliance Against Forced Labour? Unfree Labour, Neo-Liberal Globalization and the International Labour Organization’, Journal of Agrarian Change, 7 (4): 425–452. Lerche, Jens. 2010. ‘From ‘Rural Labour’ to ‘Classes of Labour’: Class Fragmentation, Caste and Class Struggle at the Bottom of the Indian Labour Hierarchy’, in

274  Ishita Mehrotra Barbara Harriss-White and Judith Heyer (eds) The Comparative Political Economy of Development: Africa and South Asia, pp. 66–87. London: Routledge. Mehrotra, Ishita. 2012. ‘Political Economy of Rural Female Labour: A Study of Labour Relations in East Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’, Unpublished PhD Thesis, SOAS, University of London. Patnaik, Utsa. 2001. ‘Who Benefits When Cheap Rice Is Imported?’ People’s Democracy, 25 (18). http://archives.peoplesdemocracy.in/2001/may06/ may6_eco.htm Accessed on March 1, 2015. Patnaik, Utsa. 2004. ‘The New Colonialism: Impact of Economic Reforms on Employment and Food Security in India’, in Malini Bhattacharya (ed.) Globalization, pp. 36–69. New Delhi: Tulika Books. Patnaik, Utsa. 2009. ‘Origins of the Food Crisis in India and Developing Countries’, Monthly Review, 61 (3). http://monthlyreview.org/2009/07/01/ origins-of-the-food-crisis-in-india-and-developing-countries/ Accessed on March 1, 2015. Patnaik, Utsa and Manjari Dingwaney. 1985. Chains of Servitude: Bondage and Slavery in India. Chennai: Sangam Books. Ramachandran, V. K. 1990. Wage Labour and Unfreedom in Agriculture: An Indian Case Study. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Ramachandran, V. K. 2011. ‘The State of Agrarian Relations in India Today’, The Marxist, 27 (1–2). www.cpim.org/marxist/201101-agrarian-relationsvkr.pdf Accessed on October 6, 2011. Ramachandran, V. K., Vikas Rawal and Madhura Swaminathan. (eds) 2010. Socio-Economic Surveys of Three Villages in Andhra Pradesh: A Study of Agrarian Relations. New Delhi: Tulika Books in Association With Foundation for Agrarian Studies. Ruthven, Orlanda and Sushil Kumar. 2002. ‘Moving Mud, Shifting Soil: Change and Development in Wage Labour Livelihoods in Uttar Pradesh, India’. Working Paper 176, London: Overseas Development Institute. www. odi.org.uk/resources/docs/2698.pdf Accessed on March 3, 2012. Scott, James. 1985. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Scott, James. 1986. ‘Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance’, Journal of Peasant Studies, 13 (2): 5–35. Singh, S. S. 2013. ‘Intervention, Identity and Marginality: An Ethnographic Account of the Musahars’, Economic & Political Weekly, 48 (20): 52–59. Srivastava, Ravi. 1989. ‘Interlinked Modes of Exploitation in Indian Agriculture: A Case Study’, Journal of Peasant Studies, 16 (4): 493–522. Varshney, Ashutosh. 2009. ‘The Challenge in Uttar Pradesh’, Centre for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania. http://casi.ssc.upenn. edu/iit/varshney Accessed on August 11, 2012.

Abbreviations MGNREGA: Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act

Subsidising capitalism and male labour 275 An initiative of the Government of India, MGNREGA guarantees 100 days of unskilled work to every rural household that demands it or else provides for unemployment benefit. It contains special provisions for including women. PDS: Public Distribution System Under the PDS, every BPL card carrying household is entitled to a monthly ration of grains, sugar, kerosene and pulses at subsidised rates. IAY: Indira Awas Yojna Under this scheme, the Government of India extends an allowance for the construction of pucca houses in the name of a woman or in joint name. BPL: Below Poverty Line It is a benchmark used by the Government of India to identify target households for various schemes. Though very contested, it is primarily an economic benchmark calculated on the basis of calorie intake and more recently it has tried to factor in social exclusion as well. NGO: Non-governmental Organisations These are non-government and non-profit organisations working at various levels of the society. Directed towards social justice, political participation and economic empowerment, their composition and funding sources vary.

Part IV

Religion as Dalit political practice

9 Transformation and the suffering subject Caste-class and gender in slum Pentecostal discourse Nathaniel Roberts You were treated like dirt and cast aside. [But] you are like an unseen garden! Jesus says: Give me your suffering . . . and I will purify it. I will make you invaluable. I will make you respected! Pastor Rajan, September 2003, Anbu Nagar, Chennai

Though largely neglected by South Asianists, Pentecostal Christianity has been among the most vital forces in subaltern religion in India since the early twentieth century (Bergunder 2008). In this chapter, I examine the content of Pentecostal discourse in a Dalit slum in northern Chennai, and how it interpellates slum women as subjects of their own transformation. Pentecostal sermons within the slum address two major sources of existential distress in slum women’s lives. The first is the exploitation and exclusion – rooted in caste discrimination, but simultaneously a matter of class – of all slum dwellers, women and men, by the dominant non-slum society. The second is specific to married women, who are made morally responsible for the wellbeing of their households under precarious circumstances they cannot control. I show that slum Pentecostalism pictures transformation as having two different subjects, and as unfolding within two different temporalities. The first subject is collective. It includes all slum dwellers, who are referred to generically in Pentecostal discourse as ‘the poor’. The temporality here is that of revolutionary – messianic time (Benjamin 1968; Löwy 2005; see Robbins 2007). The promised transformation is to occur all at once, in some unspecified future, and by means of divine agency alone. The second is interpersonal, and it is within this modality that women’s fraught relations with husbands and with other women are understood. The temporality in this case is that of everyday time. Transformation is pictured as unfolding in a gradual manner, and as brought about not by divine agency alone, but through the ongoing efforts of slum women themselves.

280  Nathaniel Roberts These two modalities of transformation are not always kept distinct. Oftentimes pastors employ ambiguous language that could be plausibly understood by believers as referring to either collective or interpersonal suffering, or both simultaneously. In this way slum Pentecostal discourse speaks on several levels at once, and in doing so makes these ostensibly different forms of oppression appear as but different facets of a single underlying problem, ‘sin’. Caste/class and gender are thus brought together within a unified analytical framework. What is common to both dimensions of oppression, as presented in slum Pentecostal discourse, is the experience of suffering. And a key innovation of this discourse is the way it reconceives of suffering as not merely a passive experience, but an active one. Believers are taught to consciously embrace suffering as a spiritual practice, and to use their suffering as a tool of social suasion. I begin this chapter by providing some key details about the slum itself, about women’s place within it, and about the specificities of slum Pentecostalism as compared to Indian Pentecostalism more generally and as a global religious movement. I then turn to the discourse of slum Pentecostalism, drawing from over a year’s worth of sermons.1 I examine first the way slum Pentecostalism talks about caste-class oppression and the promises of revolutionary justice it offers. I then turn to suffering, and the active role it is made to play within the overall spiritual and moral economy of slum life. I conclude my account of Pentecostal discourse by turning to the second modality of transformation, the interpersonal. The interpersonal transformation slum Christianity promotes covers a variety of relations, but the most important are those between women and their husbands and their often strifefilled relations with other women. For reasons of space I focus in this chapter on the former, the marital relation. But as I elsewhere show the two are in fact systematically related, and it is the simultaneous breakdown of both relationships that most often pushes slum women to suicide or suicide attempts (Roberts 2016)2.

Background and the slum context The sermons this chapter analyses were delivered in the Sunday services of small, independent, slum-based Pentecostal churches in the northern part of the city. These churches are led by Dalit pastors who in most cases were themselves born in those very slums and continue to reside there. I refer to such churches and the form of Pentecostal Christianity they represent as ‘slum Christianity’ in order to emphasize that they are unique to the slum context.

Transformation and the suffering subject 281 They should not be confused with mainstream Indian Christian churches (Roman Catholic and traditional Protestant denominations such as the Church of South India) that also serve slums but are not headquartered there, or with India’s larger and more established Pentecostal denominations. Unlike slum-based churches, India’s mainstream Pentecostal denominations are large, well-funded, and are generally led by non-Dalit pastors. Mainstream Pentecostal churches serve middle- and mixed-class congregations, and the pastors who lead them do not engage in the sort of the counter-hegemonic doctrinal innovation this chapter describes. They do not promise the radical overcoming of caste-class domination, and their message is not geared towards women’s self-transformation. By contrast, the slum-based Pentecostal churches I describe in this chapter are poor, self-funding and most lack even notional institutional ties to foreign Pentecostal organizations.3 Though promising much, they are in fact powerless to challenge the caste-based subordination of slum dwellers at the hands of the dominant society, and they do nothing to alter the material realities of these women’s lives. And yet, from the perspective of slum women, Pentecostal Christianity appears as a solution to both these pressing problems. Why? I hypothesize that slum pastors’ promises of transformation seem plausible for two reasons. The first is that these pastors interpret and unconsciously adapt the Christian message in the light of their own lifetime experience in the slum, and in light of their additional understanding of women’s problems in particular that they build up over years of daily pastoral service. The Christianity emerging from these pastors’ exertions thus speaks directly to the cultural needs of the slum. It expresses the slum’s highest moral ideals – human equality and an ethos of care – more forcefully than either non-slum based forms of Christianity or the dominant national religion, Hinduism. The second reason Christianity’s message is persuasive to slum women stems from the fact that, although slum churches do not alter the core economic realities of women’s lives (e.g. by providing monetary aid or other forms of assistance), they empower women in other ways. Their teachings and practices challenge the tendency among slum residents to contradict their own professed ethos of care, by holding the slum’s most unfortunate women ultimately responsible for their own bad luck. They also provide a social-organizational framework in which women play a central and powerful role. Doctrinal innovation is common to all forms of Pentecostalism and is linked to its decentralized authority structure (Anderson 2004). A distinguishing feature of Pentecostalism, in contrast to other varieties of

282  Nathaniel Roberts Protestant Christianity, is the idea that the Holy Spirit speaks directly through the mouths of ordinary believers and may even reveal new teachings not explicitly mentioned in the Bible. Head pastors are thus not the sole, or even the primary, source of authority. The idea of direct access to the divine has led to frequent schisms within Pentecostal denominations. Usually this happens when an assistant pastor or an ordinary church member reveals new teachings that go against the leader’s, thus provoking a power struggle that often ends with the rebel being either expelled or departing voluntarily, taking others with him, and founding a new church. Fission is also common in slum Pentecostalism, as is the doctrinal innovation that it promotes in conjunction with the idea of direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit. Slum Pentecostalism differs from mainstream Pentecostal varieties primarily in the social and cultural context within which it has taken shape, and in response to which its unique understanding of the Christian message is forged. Slum dwellers perceive caste oppression in starkly dichotomous terms (Roberts 2016: ch 1; cf Viswanath 2014: 23–39). The important gradations of power and privilege among non-slum dwellers/non-Dalits are of little concern to Dalit slum dwellers, who collectively stereotype all non-Dalits as oppressors.4 When speaking of the division between themselves and others, however, they generally avoid describing it explicitly in caste terms. Contesting native theories of caste on the grounds that ‘all humans have the same blood’, slum dwellers’ usual practice when speaking of non-Dalits is to refer to them not by their caste names but simply as ‘the rich’ (paṇakkāraṅka) or ‘the privileged’ (vacati peṟṟavaṅka, or vacati uṭaiyavaṅka; lit. ‘those who have comforts’). Similarly, slum dwellers describe themselves not as ‘Dalits’ or ‘Adi Dravidas’, but as ‘the poor’ (ēḻai).5 In this way they emphasize the material underpinnings of caste, and the fact that at base it is about worldly power, and the immoral character of those who wield it. Suresh, a Hindu manual labourer who is married to a Christian woman, typifies slum dwellers’ commonsense about caste when he says, What is jāti?6 It is simply this: Some people decide they don’t want to share. For example, suppose the people on that end of the street decided they didn’t want to let those of us on this end use the water pump anymore. ‘If you come near it, we will beat you.’ And then suppose they also said: ‘No more school for you – school is only for us.’ In that case we would have no water and would be suffering horribly. Our children would not be able to develop.

Transformation and the suffering subject 283 Those people would get bigger and bigger and we would remain weak. Soon we would have to serve them and work for them. That is jāti. Caste is understood by slum dwellers not primarily as a ritual order intrinsic to Hinduism, as many scholars have understood it, but first and foremost as an effect of power, whereby the strong monopolize resources that should belong to everyone.7 By using locally inflected class terms interchangeably with those of caste, slum dwellers express the view that these are just different sides of the same coin, an indissociable reality I designate by the shorthand ‘caste/class’. Its fundamental immorality, according to slum dwellers, lies in the denial of others’ humanity. In the cultural context of the slum, humanity is not merely a biological substratum and shared species identity. The notion of a universal, morally infused humanity encapsulates slum dwellers’ alternative account of what social relationships should look like, and entails a series of substantive and moral claims. To be human is to be vulnerable, susceptible to harm. It is also to care instinctively about those who are in need, whoever they may be, and to feel called upon to care for them. And finally, to be human is to be worthy of being cared for by others. To practice caste is to cut oneself off from humanity, simultaneously dehumanizing others and oneself (Roberts 2016: ch 2). ‘We, the poor, always help those in need,’ one slum man (a Hindu) explained, encapsulating the care-based ethos of the slum, ‘it doesn’t matter who it is. Even total strangers. If someone is lost or hungry – we help them automatically. We give them money if they need it, and don’t ask for anything in return.’ Caste people, by contrast, are said to treat others with suspicion, condescension, and as having no inherent moral claims on them. The stylized contrast I have just sketched between freely sharing and humane slum dwellers and their caste oppressors is meant to illustrate a moral discourse, not sociological reality. It is true that slum dwellers do not, in my experience, discriminate on the basis of caste, and they are indeed generous with strangers. But they do not always share freely and spontaneously with their more needy peers within the slum itself. One relation in which the moral norm of care is routinely violated is in everyday moneylending relations among slum women where, instead of sharing freely with one another, they seek profit by charging usurious rates of interest. The other is that between women and the men they are married to: husbands do not always hand over their wages to wives as they should. I refer to these two relations – among women and between women and their husbands – as moral fault lines, because

284  Nathaniel Roberts the contradictions they embody, like a geological fault line, are not immediately apparent. The fact that many slum men do not share their wages with their wives is no secret.8 But the overall significance of this systematic violation of moral norms is never reckoned with, and the ultimate moral responsibility for the plight of the slum’s most unfortunate women is subtly shifted onto those women themselves. Though everyone knows that the proximate cause of such women’s suffering is their husbands’ failure to adequately care for them, when it comes to making sense of the fact that some women’s marriages are so much worse than others, other women nevertheless persistently insinuate that there must be something wrong with those women, who are seen to be in some way ‘inauspicious’.9 This reflects widespread Hindu notions about ‘auspiciousness’ and women. Where the existing (Hindu) culture of the slum holds women ultimately responsible for their own suffering and, in particular, for the state of their household, Pentecostalism takes a radically different view, shifting the terms of moral responsibility in such a way that women are no longer held to blame for their own condition. In the theodicy of the slum church, women’s fate depends not on their own personal ‘auspiciousness’, but on one another’s prayers. Ultimate responsibility is thus redistributed, such that what was once treated as a woman’s individual failure becomes a goal for collective redress. This collectivization of responsibility is mirrored in the organizational form of church activities, both on Sundays and throughout the week, which systematically promote among women a spirit of mutual concern. Sunday services provide a unique public forum in which women can air their grievances and sense of injustice arising from conflictual relations with husbands or other women. Women’s complaints, and the vocal moral support they receive in turn from their peers and pastors, are loudly broadcast to the surrounding slum area by powerful PA systems. Outside of Sunday services, church women are organized into prayer teams that chart a shifting weekly itinerary through the households of all members, as well as those of many non-members. In each household, residents’ problems are discussed, prayed over and carefully recorded. Updated information about a household’s problems is conveyed to all subsequent households in that week’s itinerary. These households then discuss and pray over the problems of previous households, in addition to their own. In this way a network of mutual concern and information sharing is created and recreated, week after week. Pastors also spend the majority of their time visiting with members and praying with them for solutions to their problems. At the end of the week a complete list of the community’s problems is

Transformation and the suffering subject 285 compiled and the pastor spends a whole day fasting and praying for the members of his flock, as well as non-believers who have requested the Christian God’s help. For these reasons slum Christianity is seen by many locals as a specifically female cult. Slum-dwelling Hindus, who recognize Christ’s divinity while denying that he is the only god, see Jesus as not just a god who cares for the poor, but one who specializes in ‘women’s problems’ (peṇ piraṭcinai), or ‘family trouble’ (kuṭumpa kaṣṭam) as they are euphemistically known.10 Among Christ’s more notable powers, according to both Hindu and Christian women, is his ability to make husbands lose their taste for alcohol. Interestingly, according to slum dwellers, husbands themselves do not need to convert for this power to be exercised upon them, and most men in the slum indeed remain Hindu. Pentecostal slum congregations are 85–90 per cent female. Though only men can be ordained, women play an important leadership role within these churches and are in charge of some of its most important day-to-day activities. Slum pastors spend most of their time counselling women, fasting for them and working to solve their problems. The long hours they spend listening to women – a dedication to their flock that every pastor must demonstrate if he wishes to remain in business11 – shape the way pastors interpret Biblical stories, as I will show here. To give but one example, which I return to at the end of the chapter, I once encountered the story of Adam and Eve – often seen as a founding text of biblical patriarchy, which blames woman for man’s fall into sin – being used by a slum pastor to make the point that husbands should respect their wives and always listen to them when they offer advice! This is not simply something pastors concoct for the sake of their mostly female audiences. Years of pastoral service among slum women has shaped the way slum pastors understand Christianity itself. Even in my own private, man-to-man conversations with pastors, they frequently drew on female-centric examples in their effort to explain Christ’s message to me.

The revolutionary dream While slum Pentecostals are no different from other slum dwellers in generally avoiding direct reference to caste, the division between Dalits and others takes on new meanings in the language of the slum Church. The point of departure is in its use of revolutionary imagery, the first of the three aspects of slum Christian discourse that distinguishes this idiom from other kinds of slum talk. Where Hindu slum dwellers fatalistically lament that nothing will ever change – an attitude linked

286  Nathaniel Roberts to the profound disappointment they express in Tamil Nadu’s dominant Dravidian parties12 – slum Christianity holds forth the promise that one day God will bring justice to this Earth.13 In faith all will be done – Hallelujah! So be faithful to Christ the Lord in order to be rid of all this injustice. In Zachariah 3:9 we read: ‘In a single day I will take away the sin of this land; I will one day wipe away all atrocities [akkiramaṇkaḷaiyellām nīkki], all injustice’. . . . He knows about your struggles. . . [and] he will bring about equality by means of a revolution [oru periya camattuvattaip puratciyutaṉ ēṟpatuttuvār]!’ To encounter the Bible in Anbu Nagar is to discover a book that reverberates with the drums of revolutionary justice and the promise of human equality. Consider the following biblical verses, common among those quoted from memory and strung together by slum Christians during church services as a kind of ecstatic battle cry. He who raises the poor and weak from the dust [Psalms 113:7], we praise you! . . . He who rescues the oppressed, and brings down those with haughty glares [Psalms 18:27], we praise you! . . . He who has saved us from our enemies, and has humiliated those who hated us [Psalms 44:7], we praise you! . . . He who punishes caste folk [Psalms 94:10], we praise you! Oh Refuge of those who are disgraced [Psalms 9:9], we praise you! . . . He who has broken our chains [Leviticus 26:13], we praise you! He who has made us walk with our heads held high [Leviticus 26:13], we praise you! . . . He who stands against the proud [I Peter 5:5], we praise you! . . . He who raises the strength of those who have none [Isaiah 40:29], we praise you! . . . He who rescues the weak from the hands of the strong [Psalms 35:10], we praise you! . . . He who hears the pleas of those who suffer [Psalms 10:17], we praise you! . . . He who hears the appeals of the poor [Psalms 69:33], we praise you! . . . He who pursues justice for the poor [Psalms 140:12], we praise you! . . . ‘I will deliver you from the hands of the wicked, and I will wrest you from the grip of the terrible’ [Jeremaiah15:21] – for this promise, we praise you!14 It is no accident that many slum Christians believe, as one pastor affirmed, that ‘the aims of Karl Marx and the aims of Jesus Christ are identical’. The only problem with Marxism, according to slum Christians, is that it mistakenly believes humans can transform the world without God’s help. But while no viable Communist party exists

Transformation and the suffering subject 287 in Tamil Nadu, many slum Christians indicated that if one did, they would gladly vote for it – just as Dalit Pentecostals in the neighbouring state of Kerala often do (Thomas 2008). This vision of revolution and the unique centrality of their own suffering to the message of Pentecostal Christianity is evident even with respect to the most basic Christian tenets, such as the concept of sin. Like Christians world wide, members of slum churches are intensely concerned with being ‘rescued from sin’. But unlike Christians elsewhere, the sins that worry them most are not necessarily those they themselves might have committed. More often, in fact, being ‘saved from sin’ in the slum means being saved, not from one’s own sins, but the sins of others. He who rescues us from sins – he is with me. . . . The Lord Christ has promised, ‘I will rescue you.’ Yes. God will rescue us [nammai] from the wicked and evil people. Who are the wicked people? And who are the ‘we’ who will be rescued from them? One thing is clear: ‘[W]e’ does not refer to the members of the particular congregation, or, interestingly, even to Christians as a whole. Slum congregations do not pray simply for their own benefit or for the benefit only of other Christians. They pray for the wellbeing of their neighbours and relatives irrespective of religion (Roberts 2016: ch 6). One does not need to be Christian to benefit from their prayers. The open-ended ‘we’ who need to be saved from (other people’s) sins in fact extends to all those whom slum dwellers typically refer to as ‘the poor’. The sinners from whom the poor must be rescued are never explicitly named. But various hints and verbal clues make clear that the paradigmatic ‘wicked ones’ are caste people. Consider the following extract, which is typical of the way messianic justice is tied to highly personalized and, for slum dwellers, evocative examples. Also typical here is the way the pastor slips seamlessly from the personal to the collective (‘he will lift you up . . . he will lift us up’).15 The only unusual thing about the following extract is that the pastor has become so lost in the moment that he forgets the unwritten rule that Pentecostal Christians are not meant to talk about or openly acknowledge caste. This is the only time, to my knowledge, that such a slip occurred during the entire period of my research. In our families there is no blessing . . . there is dire poverty. Please transform these tears! . . . Christ sees the tears of everyone who cries! Hallelujah! . . . They say: ‘You are a shameful man. Your

288  Nathaniel Roberts life is worthless – you earn nothing for your family! What are you even living for?’ But Christ will not desert you – he will lift you up. Christ uplifted those who were shamed, those who were pushed away. In the same way . . . he will look upon us lowly creatures. He will lift us up. . . . He will place you on the highest peak, before your enemies, before people from other castes [piṟa jāti makkaḷakku] – Hallelujah! In front of those who spoke ill of you, those who tormented you, who detested you, who pushed you away, who said you were not qualified, who said you were without talent or intelligence, who said you were useless – Christ will bind their tongues! Hallelujah! In this way slum dwellers’ sense of personal and collective disgrace is imbued with cosmological significance and tied to the promise of messianic justice. Their oppressors are not usually explicitly identified as caste people; the previous extract is highly exceptional in this regard. Yet when the pastor said this in the heat of the moment, no one seemed to notice. For the reality of caste is no secret, and in the discourse of the slum church it is never far from the surface. More often the caste character of the division between slum dwellers and their non-Dalit oppressors is acknowledged only obliquely, metaphorically, or in other ways that permit multiple interpretations. Take, for example, the next extract, from a different sermon, which centres on the locally potent symbols of impurity and rejection – garbage and the waste-strewn landscape of the slum itself. What is it that we call trash? Is the very place we live in a garbage dump? [Namma ūr kuppai toṭṭiyā?] What is of no use is called trash. What we throw out is trash. What is not needed is trash. . . . Only now – did you see it on television? – from trash they have produced electricity! From the trash [that is spurned as] ‘useless,’ ‘unwanted,’ and ‘rotten,’ today, in the name of Christ, they are making electricity! And the villagers [kirāmattār], everybody, will come to know of it! You were treated like dirt and cast aside. [But] you are like an unseen garden. . . . Jesus says: Give me your suffering . . . and I will purify it. I will make you invaluable. I will make you respected! In this extract, the promise is again made that those who have been brought low will be raised up. This extract illustrates another typical feature of slum church talk, namely the likeness between the knowledge Christ brings and scientific truth (Roberts 2012a). The prejudices

Transformation and the suffering subject 289 of others are displayed here as not only cruel, but ignorant and behind the times. And though caste is not specifically mentioned here, it is strongly implied in the contrast that is drawn between the unwanted ones and the kirāmattār. The literal meaning of kirāmattār is ‘villagers’, a strange way to speak of other people in an urban setting. But the term refers more specifically to inhabitants of the village proper, the ūr, as distinct from the Dalit hamlet or cēri.16 And it is difficult not to see the residents of a garbage dump (kuppai toṭṭi) as a reference to the slum itself, or cēri.17 At the same time, ‘what is of no use’, ‘what is not needed’ and so on, could refer to anyone who has been undervalued in their relations with others. Women frequently feel this way, and the slum women who feel underappreciated by their husbands or other women might understand the words, ‘you are like an unseen garden’, in a more personal way, in addition to whatever collective message they take from this sermon. The caste division between slum dwellers and the dominant society is thus a recurring, if encrypted, theme in the message of the slum church. Yet the fact that it is not explicitly named means the discourse is flexible enough to encompass other forms of domination and indignity. Not all forms of suffering are reducible to caste, and in addition to the collective caste-class suffering of the slum as a whole, preachers also refer more explicitly to the suffering of women. At other times strife is described in terms too general to pin down. The omnipotent is with me, so those who torment me shall not destroy me. . . . Either their actions will go to waste and they will be shamed, or they will be subjected to unforgettable [and] . . . extreme disgrace. . . . God knows what is right: he will bring suffering on those who make you suffer! This extract, like the previous two, refers to human cruelty and to divinely orchestrated justice. But the identity of the tormentors in this case is not at all clear. Nor does the preacher specify the nature of the torment, and therefore the identity of the victim. Is it a woman whose neighbours have turned on her? Is it a man or woman who is habitually mistreated at work, or by those they owe money to? Is it all slum dwellers, or even everyone who has ever been humiliated? By not specifying the victim’s identity, such passages are capable of hailing a wide range of listeners, seeming to speak directly to their personal struggles. Given the often open-ended and multifarious way victims of injustice are envisioned in the discourse of the slum church, it is noteworthy that one collectivity in particular is not identified in the victim role:

290  Nathaniel Roberts Christians. And this is the case despite the fact that my fieldwork was conducted at a time (2003–4) when Hindu majoritarians in India were increasingly targeting Christians and a law had recently been enacted in the state of Tamil Nadu banning conversion.18 The reason is this: although slum Christians, like other slum dwellers, identify themselves as victims of the dominant society, they do not see themselves as victimized as Christians. After all, the ways slum Christians suffer are mostly identical to the ways non-Christian slum dwellers suffer, and Pentecostal Christians in the slum see themselves not as victims but as liberators. The targeting of Christians by Hindu majoritarians and others identified by slum dwellers as ‘the rich’ is interpreted by slum Christians, not as a sign of their own vulnerability to India’s most powerful forces, but as a rearguard, and ultimately hopeless, attempt to prevent the poor from rising up. As I have noted, when slum Christians pray for the cessation of suffering, they are not praying for just themselves and for other Christians (Roberts 2016: ch 4). They pray for their husbands, their wives, their sisters, their friends and neighbours – who are Hindus as often as not. Likewise, when a slum pastor speaks about those who are demeaned, mistreated, insulted and ‘cast out like garbage’, he is not just reaching out to his fellow Christians, but to all who have been treated this way. All who are poor, and whose humanity is rejected by others shall be uplifted. And when Christian women exult in the promise of triumph over collective enemies, they are not exulting in a triumph that would exclude their Hindu husbands, neighbours, sons and daughters. Their devotion to Christ heralds a revolutionary justice that will transform the Earth for everyone. That is how the universality of the Christian message is understood in Anbu Nagar and the surrounding slums. Thus despite a fondness for Old Testament imagery, one aspect of the Old Testament that is emphatically rejected by slum Christians is its tribalism. Jesus was born into the nation of Israel, in the caste [jāti] of David. But he was made human, so what did he do? He did not remain just with that caste. He came out of it, and blessed each and everyone! Though Pentecostal Christianity is viewed by outsiders to the slum as just another sectarian identity, this is not how slum Christians see their religion. For them Christianity expresses the vision of human moral universalism discussed earlier, which all slum dwellers – whether Pentecostal or Hindu – share.19

Transformation and the suffering subject 291

Agentive suffering Slum Christianity promises complete transformation, a moral revolution that it tends to portray as sudden and total, as occurring at an unknown moment some time in the future, and as brought about by divine agency alone. But for all the attention the slum church accords to relations between the suffering poor and their oppressors, it is equally concerned with strife among slum dwellers themselves. Husbands, wives, neighbours and friends all, at times, fail to treat one another with the care and consideration that they deserve. Where relations to the dominant society are the subject of divinely orchestrated revolutionary justice, set in messianic time, the overcoming of intraslum strife is pictured as a matter of incremental change unfolding in quotidian-progressive time. Here, rather than waiting passively for their God to save them, the suffering Jesus provides a model. Evocative descriptions of this suffering are a regular feature of Sunday services, and Jesus’s willingness to suffer is repeatedly offered as an example for slum dwellers themselves to follow. When they spat on Yesappa’s [Jesus’s] face, what did he do? Did he spit back? When they insulted him, did he insult in return? The Bible says he did not open his mouth. . . . And yet we keep on asking: ‘Why must I endure so much pain?’ ‘Why are there so many troubles for us?’ Why? Why? Why? The answer is: it is for salvation! . . . It is for salvation that you must endure! Endure, endure, endure! Keep enduring! How long must you endure? Until the end! Yes. We must endure until the very end. Endure or die! That is the choice. For if you do not endure, you cannot live in this world. So you have to endure, dear children of God, you must learn to endure. In telling believers they ‘must learn to endure’, slum Christianity could be accused of making a virtue out of necessity. For what sense does it make to tell the powerless that they must endure, when the truth is that they have no choice? Enduring is what these people do; it is what they have always done. In the pastor’s own words, ‘[I]f you do not endure you cannot live in this world.’ The only escape is death: ‘Endure or die! That is the choice.’ But there is more to it than that. First, what slum Christianity tells believers is that they are not just life’s losers, but the ‘dear children of God’. Their degradation is no longer an inexplicable injustice, but

292  Nathaniel Roberts a meaningful one – an index of their goodness, and a harbinger of inevitable triumph (cf Nietzsche 1997; Geuss 1999). Second, believers are led to understand that by embracing their suffering, and not fighting back against husbands and neighbours who mistreat them, their suffering itself becomes a technique of transformation.20 Suffering is in this way transformed from a passive experience to an active one (Asad 2003), a ‘task’ that must be embraced as the very means of their salvation: When you are smarting [at the apparent success of your tormentors], what that means is that the Lord Christ is giving you a great big task, a great big challenge. And when the Lord gives you a big task like that, what does it mean? It means that that there definitely will be equality. So if you look now, and all you see is sin, do not worry. Because that sin will be removed and there will be equality! This is not just a matter of words, nor is suffering a private or merely individual experience. It is collective and social. The ethic of shared suffering that slum Christian discourse promotes is systematically cultivated in the meditative practices of women’s prayer networks a wherein the personal struggles of other slum dwellers – Hindu as well as Christian – are repeatedly made present to believers’ minds. Sunday sermons offer the theoretical rationale for these prayer practices, as believers are reminded again and again of how Christ suffered for the poor. By deliberately suffering for others, the poor act simultaneously as Christ and upon Him: ‘Whatever you do for God’s children, you do for God himself, and whatever help you give to others is giving to the Lord.’ What slum Christians do for the poor, furthermore, they do not only for their god but also themselves. As another pastor explained, ‘Giving to the poor is giving to the Lord. And who is poor? All of us here are poor!’ By suffering actively for others, slum Christians occupy the role of Christ himself. Just as Christ was wrongfully tormented by those who failed to recognize Him, so too are they made to suffer by those who do not see them as they really are: human, but also in some way divine. Instead of quarrelling, Christians should manifest god’s love. Acrimonious relations cause God’s love to ‘go to waste’. Just as caring for others is in fact caring for Christ, bickering with others squanders the love. He has shared with believers. It short-circuits the spiritual dynamo in which love begets love, the very source of Christ’s miracles.

Transformation and the suffering subject 293 We must not bear any grudges – no wrongs, disappointment, or irritation at each other. We cannot have all this. . . . If I bear anger I must get rid of it. Because then God cannot be inside us. . . . So what is your salvation [going to be]? Anger, jealously, and doubts? Enmity, arrogance and fights? Show a gentle attitude towards everyone. The Lord is coming soon – Amen! So there should be no secrets within the community. . . . There should only be Christian love within us . . . [for] there are no divisions in the Kingdom of God. . . . This year what did you do for the Lord? Let us see. ‘I started a fight with another lady.’ The love [aṉpu] we have been given must never go to waste [like this]! Instructions of this sort are repeated in different ways, with different examples, week after week, and they do not fall on deaf ears. Pastors do not present these tales as models of extraordinary goodness; the forms of self-restraint and willingness to suffer that the slum church enjoins in the faithful are not optional, but are what is absolutely required of them. This is what it takes to tap into the supernatural power of Christ, the only power that can save them and their families from misery. In my own time in Anbu Nagar I have seen the effects. I have seen women calmly refuse to get angry or speak ill of those who are maligning them. Others too remark on the effects that Christianity has on people; in the slum there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that becoming a Christian makes both women and men into better people. As Karuppan, a non-Christian man told me Christianity definitely does good for some people, women especially. My mother is an example. She used to fight with the woman across from her house all the time. They would just look at each other and for no reason start shouting. She was always angry. Now there is no more fighting. She’s so busy praying and reading the Bible, she doesn’t even have time for fighting! She used to use horrible, foul language – it was frightful to hear. Now she says only good things. That is what I call ‘development’.21 Clearly the actual work of remaking intra-slum relations is being done by women themselves. But that is not exactly how they see it. They are of course aware that their own forbearance is having an effect, but the fact that it has an effect – the fact that others’ hearts are in fact moved – is credited by them to divine intervention. Their

294  Nathaniel Roberts endurance of suffering and refusal to strike back is seen as a sacrificial offering to God, who then reciprocates by softening the hearts of their significant others.

The marital relation The willing suffering slum Christianity enjoins upon believers is only one part of a larger program of transformation. It is just a tactic, and a negative one at that. A more complete picture of what is going on would require us to consider the overall strategic objectives of slum Christianity’s social program, and the particular blueprint it offers for how inter-personal relations ought to work. As an example, I will now look more closely at the marital relation. One way slum Christianity seeks to improve relations between wives and husbands is, paradoxically, by relativizing the importance of marriage and the household. Compared to their relation with Christ, women are told, the household simply does not matter. And yet the household does matter – its wellbeing is still held out as a reward for women’s devotion. Similarly, by elevating women’s relationship with Christ above their relationship with their husbands, slum Christianity in fact seeks to improve that relationship, not displace it. [When the Holy Spirit is in your life] you will not [need to] concentrate only on familial chores. You will not [solely] be looking after your children. You will be able to say your household doesn’t matter. For the one and only important thing is that you are the pure bride of Christ – hallelujah! If you are a pure bride for [even] one day, at once there will be enough in your house, and your debts will be cleared. Your children will become pure. And your husband, too. . . . Such is the . . . might of Christ in preparing this congregation as his bride. Invited to see themselves as the brides, not of their husbands, but of Christ, the heaviest burdens of worldly responsibility are downgraded in significance. ‘You will be able to say your household does not matter.’22 And yet, women are told, as soon as they stop worrying about their family and just trust in Christ, ‘debts will be cleared’ and their household will not want for anything. In other words: family life is downgraded not in the name of some otherworldly goal, but ultimately in order to make family life better. The difference is that now the success of the household depends not on women themselves, but on Christ. Church discourse in this way supplements efforts by

Transformation and the suffering subject 295 women’s prayer networks to shift ultimate responsibility for the condition of the household off women’s shoulders. In pushing women to recognize their true partner as being not their husband but Christ himself, pastors do not seek to undermine worldly marriages. In fact their goal is quite the opposite: to promote marital harmony. The first step, however, is filling women with the idea that they are worthy of better treatment, that they are always beautiful and ‘new’ in the divine vision of Christ. The Lord . . . is your husband. He loves you just as a husband loves his wife at the beginning [of their marriage]. . . . After the wedding, when the girl is sent to her husband’s place, what does the husband do? He loves her a lot. He will definitely love her, because she is the new bride, the new wife. But for Christ, the wife never gets old! Every time he sees her, she is new! Slum Christian women are often described as ‘plain’ looking because they do not wear jewelry or otherwise adorn themselves. That is not how they see it. According to them, makeup, flowers and gold are in fact only a false beauty and a way of ‘showing off’. People are so accustomed to seeing these adornments, men especially, that they are unable to perceive a woman’s true beauty and inner goodness. One church goer, a woman who lived in a nearby slum Housing Board tenement and was therefore better off than most slum women, explained to me her own decision to put her jewelry away forever, in a box. She had had lots of jewelry by local standards, and had been quite proud of it. But then, some time after ‘coming to Christ’, she had a vivid dream in which her nose- and earrings, the rings on her fingers and the chains around her neck were revealed to be horrible spiders and snakes that were sucking her blood and slowly strangling her. Women must come to see themselves as Christ sees them, she said. They must have that vision first, and only then, gradually, will their husbands come to see it too. Very few churches, however, actually require women to give up jewelry. It must be their own choice, Pastor Yesudas told me. Only when they are truly ready to do so should they remove their jewels, and not before. But even then, he went on to say, they should wait. ‘I tell the women in my church that they should not remove their jewels if their husband opposes it.’ He too must approve. ‘Jewelry must not be allowed to become a source of tension between husbands and wives.’ All decisions in a marriage, according to Yesudas, must be made together by the husband and the wife. The idea that husbands

296  Nathaniel Roberts and wives should work together is a common theme in the preaching of slum churches. Women are thus on one hand filled with a sense of their own worth, and on the other provided with a template of what marriage ought to be like. Drawing again on the image of newlyweds, another pastor explained, At the beginning of a marriage a husband will say to his wife, ‘Even if we die, let us die together!’ That is how a relationship should be! There must be no separation. We must live as one! We must bring up the children as one – whether it is in death, life, hell, or liberation. Whether we are starving or feasting. For without that love – without Christ’s love – no task can be done. What kind of relationship [am I talking about]? An inseparable relationship! That is the proper relationship between man and wife. We see clearly in this extract that Christ’s love for women is not intended to compete with that of the husband, but serves instead as resource for women to draw upon in their ongoing efforts to remake marital relations in a new image. What is also important to bear in mind here is that even when sermons are ostensibly addressed to married women, the true target audience is in fact much wider. For although only a handful of husbands are within the congregation itself, electronic amplification ensures that pastors’ word travel throughout the surrounding slum, and into the ears of men enjoying their day of rest at home. Keeping this wider, implicitly male audience in mind, consider the following account of Mary’s impregnation by the Holy Spirit. In this pastor’s telling of the story, Mary is accused of adultery and the survival of her marriage is in doubt. What did God do to Mary? He chose her. He put the seed of God inside her. Can you even imagine all the difficulties Mary had to endure [because of that]? So many harsh words! So many insults! What would they have done to her? She would have pleaded with her family and her neighbors that she was an innocent woman. . . . Joseph too would have been rebuked and mocked! What would Joseph do? He secretly thought of sending her away. But did he? He did not. The whole community was against her. And yet Joseph, who was called a cuckold, stood by his wife and endured for her sake the stigma of not being the father of his own wife’s son.

Transformation and the suffering subject 297 It is not just women who must suffer. As the previous extract attests, men must also suffer, and must publicly support their wives through periods of trial. Slum pastors consistently and authoritatively endorse the idea that women should expect their husbands to maintain faith in them through thick and thin. But if a husband does not – and in reality many don’t – it is not her fault. That is the slum Church’s message to women. Do your best, endure in the knowledge that your true, heavenly husband will always love you. And if, despite all you have willingly endured, your husband still rejects you, you are not to blame. You are not a failure. It is he who has failed you. Again with a dual male–female audience in mind, consider the following account of the marriage of Adam and Eve – a marriage understood by slum Christians as a model of ideal conjugality. The pastor here recalls the story of the Fall, from which he derives the surprising lesson that husbands should always listen to their wives. What did Eve do? She called to him, ‘Adam, Adam! Taste this fruit – it is very sweet, very wonderful! My eyes were opened, you too should eat it.’ She said this, and gave the fruit to Adam. Adam tasted it. Why? Because for Adam, Mrs. Adam’s words were very sweet. He ate it, and his eyes were opened. Hallelujah! Listening to one’s wife’s words is important. . . . Why? Because what she says is very important! Hallelujah! The [very] sound of a wife’s voice is essential! . . . [So] you should lend your ears [cevicāykka vēṇṭum] . . . to your wife. A wife is not a slave! So you must listen to her! If you keep shaking your head and rejecting everything she says, we will all be ruined!

Conclusion This chapter has attempted something anthropological studies of Christianity seldom do. Though Christianity is a highly discursive tradition, and is explicitly described as such by converts (Roberts 2016: ch 7), curiously little attention has been paid to the content of the Christian message. What Christianity has to tell people is generally seen as a trivial matter, something we anthropologists supposedly already know. The assumption has been that the message itself is more or less the same the world round, and that it is everywhere pretty much as in the west (cf Robbins 2007). The Christian message is thus envisioned, as per Saussurian ideology (Saussure 1966), as a kind of closed system of signs that remains exactly the same wherever it travels. A more precise model, however, recognizes that meaning

298  Nathaniel Roberts does not inhere in fixed relations between signs and concepts, but in locally specific relationships between representations, minds and the world (Peirce 1986: 62). In this understanding, ‘context’ is not some additional factor that mysteriously modifies meaning; what is wrongly called context is in fact an integral component of signification itself, and therefore of a text’s meaning. So even if the Gospel text remains one and the same in all places, its meaning – the result of a creative process in which particular minds interpret that text in the light of specific social and cultural concerns – is irreducibly local. Rather than simply imposing a pre-given content, in other words, the very meaning of the Christian message is itself radically tied to the specific cultural worlds in which it is lived. Thus in Anbu Nagar, to recall just one example, ‘sin’ is not primarily a matter of personal guilt, as it is in many other Christianities, but a flexible framework for making sense of the evils slum dwellers suffer at the hands of others. The account this chapter offers of slum Christian discourse is largely descriptive. Its purpose has been to understand that discourse in its own terms, rather than to critically evaluate it by measuring its categories and conclusions about how the world works against our own. Thus I have not asked, for example, whether the domination experienced by slum dwellers collectively is ‘really’ a matter of caste or class. Nor have I asked whether it makes sense to speak, as slum Christians do, in ways that do not clearly distinguish between collective domination and forms of exploitation occurring within the slum community. I have furthermore avoided such substantial questions as whether this way of speaking – or the program for remaking social relations within which such speech is embedded – helps ultimately to liberate slum women, or control them. Had this been an exercise in ideology critique I might, in addition to assessing the possible shortcomings of slum Christianity for women, have made much more of the fact that what I call slum Christianity’s ‘revolutionary dream’ is just that: a dream, and not a concrete political project. I have focused on description rather than evaluation not because I think anthropologists should always avoid passing judgment. On the contrary, it seems to me that a full account of social phenomena requires the anthropologist to not simply narrate a people’s beliefs in their own terms, but also to inquire into objective reality, including those the subject population does not recognize or does not recognize fully. And this itself entails factual judgments; the alternative is a kind of cultural solipsism (Roberts 2008; cf Lynch 1977). But in this case judgment strikes me as at once arbitrary and premature. It is

Transformation and the suffering subject 299 arbitrary because the secular modern categories on which such judgments would depend – the caste–class dichotomy, gender, the norm of subjective autonomy – offer no more transparent a picture of reality than the emic ones they would measure, and their analytic priority therefore requires justification. It is premature because slum Christianity is a work in progress. Setting aside the question of whether what Christianity teaches is true or not (Roberts 2012a), the fact is that Pentecostal discourse has, by bringing together strands of slum life and theological exegesis, created a new field of conceptual and socialorganizational possibilities whose long-term effects are not easy to predict. Thus while it is true that slum Pentecostalism’s revolutionary dream includes no concrete political program at the present moment, it does not preclude one, and it may very well pave the way to concrete political action in the future. For while all slum dwellers, Hindu and Christian alike, regard the current state of caste domination as illegitimate, Hindu slum dwellers tend to see it as inevitable. Their gods, though they do not sanction caste (Roberts 2015), offer no hope of overcoming it either. Christians, by contrast, are repeatedly told that caste domination is in no way inevitable and that it can and will be overcome. And while the mere hope of an alternative future does not, in itself, a revolutionary program make, hope remains a necessary precondition to formulating one. The fact that the source of this hope is religious rather than secular should not, it seems to me, matter one way or the other.

Notes 1 Fieldwork was conducted in northern Chennai over a 20-month period in 2003 and 2004. 2 The overview of slum Christian discourse below is reproduced verbatim from the seventh chapter of Roberts (2016). I gratefully acknowledge the American Institute of Indian Studies for funding that research, and the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen, for supporting me while the present contribution was written. 3 In India Pentecostalism is commonly portrayed as a foreign-led movement. In reality, even those denominations with institutional ties to foreign organizations function independently in practice. The best history of Pentecostalism in India, which is especially strong on its complex relations to foreign missions is Bergunder (2008); see review by Roberts (2009). Other notable attempts to question prevailing America-centric histories of Pentecostalism include Anderson (2004) and the contributions in Anderson and Hollenweger (1999), Thomas (2008; cf Roberts 2012b) and Anderson and Tang (2005). At a more general and theoretically sophisticated level Elbourne (2003) argues compellingly against the stereotyped

300  Nathaniel Roberts picture of global Christianity as being a European-led movement, even during the colonial period; see also Roberts (2012a). 4 Most of Chennai’s slums are exclusively Dalit neighbourhoods, a fact that is not reflected in official demographic studies such as the Census of India, which portray slums as housing a mixed-caste population. One reason for this is that the Census relies on self-reporting, and Dalits frequently misreport their caste status to survey takers. I discuss this issue, and my own alternative methodology in Roberts (2016: 56). Because the division between Dalits and non-Dalits maps so well onto the division slum and non-slum, slum dwellers are able to use the latter as a euphemistic shorthand for the former. 5 As of the time of my research, Tamil Nadu’s resurgent Dalit movement that is led, in northern Tamil Nadu, by the Vidutalai Ciruthaigal Katchi (VCK) (Gorringe 2005; Roberts 2007), had yet to reach the slum where I lived. Slum dwellers also displayed no knowledge of Ambedkar’s ideas, knowing only that he was a great Dalit leader. 6 Jāti has a variety of possible meanings in the South Asian context, including genus, species or race and other allegedly natural types. Among the most common meanings of jāti is the hereditary caste group, and it is in this sense the term is used here. 7 An overview of scholarly theories of caste, and of dominant native understandings of jāti as ‘a category of related persons thought to be of the same physical and moral substance’, can be found in Roberts (2008). I offer a more detailed account of slum dwellers’ sense of the (non-)relation between caste and Hinduism in Roberts (2015). 8 Exploitative relations among women, by contrast, are largely hidden from view. The complexity of these relations makes it impossible for anyone, including participants, to form an exact picture of the total balance of payments. Furthermore, nearly all woman, including exploiters, can plausibly claim to be deeply in debt to others. Finally, the terms of moral community in the slum encourage victims of usurious loans to portray internal exploiters (but not outside money lenders) as loving benefactors, and to explain away conflicts as the result of innocent misunderstandings rather than the outcome of systematic conflicts of interest or immorality on lenders’ part. See Roberts (2016: ch 2). 9 In Hindu culture the state of the household, and health of its members, is believed to depend in some intrinsically mysterious way on wifely auspiciousness. When the household is flourishing, women are credited. This celebration of women’s spiritual power is sometimes interpreted as a prowoman ideology. However, the discourse on women’s auspiciousness cuts both ways. When a husband dies, or the household is in disarray, the woman is always somehow to blame – even when the proximate cause lies clearly elsewhere. For a comparative case in which proximate causes and ultimate moral responsibility are differentially assessed, see EvansPritchard (1937: 69–70). 10 These typically involve conflict between women and their husbands, which stem ultimately (in women’s understanding) from financial hardship due to the fact that men earn too little money. ‘Family troubles’ are seen by women, not as being intrinsic to marital relations, but as an effect of poverty – poverty that is itself understood by women as a function of slum dwellers’ exploitation at the hands of the dominant society.

Transformation and the suffering subject 301 11 The pastors whose churches were located in the slums I studied were in a state of perpetual competition with one another. Those who did not adequately meet the needs of their mostly female congregations suffered defections to other more energetic and attentive pastors (Roberts 2016: ch 6). 12 For an account of the complex relations between Tamil Dalits and the state’s hegemonic Dravidian political formation, see Roberts (2010). 13 Slum Christians (both women and men) vote for the same parties that other slum dwellers do, namely the DMK and AIADMK. Like other slum dwellers they perceive elections as having little real effect, and see both parties as serving the interests of the rich. Most slum dwellers told me they supported one or the other party mainly out of habit, or due to sentimental attachment to a previous generation of leaders. 14 This is my own contextual translation of the original spoken Tamil (standard Tamil Bible editions may vary): ciṟiyavanai puḻutiyiliruntu tūkki viṭukiṟavarē [Psalms 113:7] stōttiṟōm! . . . ciṟumaippaṭṭa jaṉattai iraṭcittu mēṭṭimaiyāna kaṇkaḷai tāḻttukiṟavarē [Psalms 18:27] stōttiṟōm! . . . eṅkaḷ catturukkaḷiṉṟu iraṭcittu eṅkaḷai pakaikkiṟavarkaḷai veṭkappaṭuttukiṟīr [Psalms 44:7] stōttiṟōm! . . . jātikaḷai taṇṭikkiṟavarē [Psalms 94:10] stōttiṟōm! . . . cirumaippaṭṭavarkaḻiṉ aṭaikkalamānavarē stōttiṟōm [Psalms 9:9] stōttiṟōm! . . . eṅkaḷ nukattaṭiyai muṟitta karttarē stōttiṟōm [Leviticus 26:13] stōttiṟōm! . . . eṅkaḷai nimirthu naṭakka paṇṇiṉa karttāvē stōttiṟōm [Leviticus 26:13] stōttiṟōm! . . . perumaiyuḷḷavaṉukku etirttu niṟpavarē stōttiṟōm [I Peter 5:5] stōttiṟōm! . . . cattuvamillātavaṉukku cattuvattai perukappaṇṇukiṟavarē [Isaiah 40:29] stōttiṟōm! . . . ciṟumaippaṭṭavaṉai avaṉilum palavāṉuṭaiya kaikku tappivikkiṟavarē stōttiṟōm [Psalms 35:10] stōttiṟōm! . . . cirumaippaṭṭavarkaḻuṭaiya vēṇṭutalai kēṭpavarē [Psalms 10:17] stōttiṟōm! . . . eḷiyavarkaḷiṉ viṇṇappattai kēṭpavarē stōttiṟōm [Psalms 69:33] stōttiṟōm! . . . eḷiyavarkaḷiṉ niyāyattai vicārikkiṟavarē [Psalms 140:12] stōttiṟōm! . . . nāṉ uṉṉai pollātavarkaḷiṉ kaikku tappuvittu uṉṉai palavantariṉ kaikku niṅkalākki viṭuvippēṉ eṉṟa vākkukkāka [Jeremaiah 15:21] stōttiṟōm! 15 Pentecostalism is sometimes stereotyped as emphasizing individual salvation over collective goods, and this in turn as making it uniquely conducive to neo-liberal ideology. I did not find any clear emphasis on individualism or celebration of capitalism in the slum-based churches I studied. See also, previous footnote. 16 The Tamil Lexicon defines the kirāmattār as the ūr makācaṉam (i.e. the landowners and leading residents of the ūr as distinct from the cēri) (University of Madras 1924–1936: 926). 17 As recently as the 1980s, slum dwellers told me, Chennai’s Dalit slums were openly described by others and also their residents as cēris. This term, which refers to inhabitants’ caste status, is now avoided (Roberts 2016: 58–9, 257n2). 18 The Tamil Nadu Prevention of Forcible Conversion Act (2002) was brought in by Jayalalitha’s ADMK government; it was officially repealed by the same government in 2006, in response to the defeat of the BJPled Hindu majoritarian coalition at the national level in 2004. Further

302  Nathaniel Roberts information on India’s anti-conversion laws can be found in South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre (2008); the shift in emphasis among Hindu majoritarians from anti-Muslim to anti-Christian attacks during the period of my field research is discussed in Sarkar (2007). 19 Unlike their elite counterparts, for whom religion is always understood in identitarian terms, slum Hindus are quite prepared to take Christianity’s universal claims at face value (Roberts 2016: ch 5). Where slum Hindus differ from their Christian friends and neighbors is in doubting Christian claims at a factual level: they do not accept the Christian claim that the Christian god is the only one. 20 The old Christian practice of ‘turning the other cheek’ was instrumentalized as a technique of programmatic social suasion by M. K. Gandhi (Bondurant 1965; Gandhi 1944). 21 Karuppan is a Dalit activist who no longer lives in the slum, though his mother and most of his family remain there. He himself is neither Hindu nor Christian, but an outspoken atheist who most of the time derides religion as a tapestry of superstition and lies. 22 These are not empty words. Convinced the household is not everything, women are empowered to ‘go on strike’ from household duties when their husbands fail to hold up their end of the bargain. I describe one such case in the book (Roberts 2016: ch 3).

References Anderson, Allan. 2004. An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press. Anderson, Allan and Walter J. Hollenweger. (eds) 1999. Pentecostals After a Century: Global Perspectives on a Movement in Transition. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic. Anderson, Allan and Edmond Tang. (eds) 2005. Asian and Pentecostal: The Charismatic Face of Christianity in Asia. Oxford: Regnum Books International. Asad, Talal. 2003. ‘Thinking About Agency and Pain’, in Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity, pp. 67–99. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Benjamin, Walter. 1968. Theses on the Philosophy of History: In Illuminations. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World. Bergunder, Michael. 2008. The South Indian Pentecostal Movement in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Bondurant, Joan Valerie. 1965. Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Elbourne, Elizabeth. 2003. ‘Word Made Flesh: Christianity, Modernity, and Cultural Colonialism in the Work of Jean and John Comaroff’, The American Historical Review, 108 (2): 435–459. Evans-Pritchard, E. E. 1937. Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. Gandhi, M. K. 1944. Non-Violence in Peace and War. Ahmedabad: Navajivan.

Transformation and the suffering subject 303 Geuss, Raymond. 1999. ‘Nietzsche and Genealogy’, in Morality, Culture, and History: Essays in German Philosophy, pp. 1–28. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Gorringe, Hugo. 2005. Untouchable Citizens: Dalit Movements and Democratisation in Tamil Nadu. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Löwy, Michael. 2005. Fire Alarm: Reading Walter Benjamin’s On the Concept of History. Translated by Chris Turner. London: Verso. Lynch, Owen M. 1977. ‘Method and Theory in the Sociology of Louis Dumont’, in Kenneth David (ed.) The New Wind: Changing Identities in South Asia, pp. 239–263. The Hague: Mouton. Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1997. On the Genealogy of Morality. Keith AnsellPearson, ed. Translated by Carol Diethe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Peirce, C. S. 1986. Writings of C. S. Peirce, Vol. 3. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Robbins, Joel. 2007. ‘Continuity Thinking and the Problem of Christian Culture: Belief, Time, and the Anthropology of Christianity’, Current Anthropology, 48 (1): 5–17. Roberts, Nathaniel. 2007. ‘Review of “Untouchable Citizens” by Hugo Gorringe’, Pacific Affairs, 80 (3): 538–539. Roberts, Nathaniel. 2008. ‘Caste, Anthropology’, in William S. Darity (ed.) International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, second edition, pp. 461– 463. New York: Macmillan Reference USA. Roberts, Nathaniel. 2009. ‘The South Indian Pentecostal Movement by Michael Bergunder’, Itinerario, 33 (1): 119–121. Roberts, Nathaniel. 2010. ‘Language, Violence, and the State: Writing Tamil Dalits’, SAMAJ: South Asia Multidisciplinary Research Journal. http:// samaj.revues.org/index2952.html. Roberts, Nathaniel. 2012a. ‘Is Conversion a “Colonization of Consciousness”?’, Anthropological Theory, 12 (3): 271–294. Roberts, Nathaniel. 2012b. ‘Review of V. V. Thomas, Dalit Pentecostalism’, PentecoStudies, 11 (2): 248–250. Roberts, Nathaniel. 2015. ‘From Village to City: Hinduism and the “Hindu Caste System” ’, in Peter van der Veer (ed.) Handbook of Religion and the Asian City, pp. 237–253. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Roberts, Nathaniel. 2016. To Be Cared For: The Power of Conversion and Foreignness of Belonging. Oakland: University of California Press. Sarkar, Sumit. 2007. ‘Christian Conversions, Hindutva, and Secularism’, in Anuradha Dingwaney Needham and Rajeswari Sunder Rajan (eds) The Crisis of Secularism in India, pp. 356–367. London: Duke University Press. Saussure, Ferdinand de. 1966. Course in General Linguistics. Translated by Wade Baskin. McGraw-Hill Paperbacks. New York: McGraw-Hill. South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre. 2008. ‘Anti-Conversion Laws: Challenges to Secularism and Fundamental Human Rights’, Economic and Political Weekly, 43 (2): 63–73.

304  Nathaniel Roberts Thomas, V. V. 2008. Dalit Pentecostalism: Spirituality of the Empowered Poor. Bangalore: Asian Trading Company. University of Madras. 1924–1936. Tamil Lexicon, 7 Vols. Madras: University of Madras. Viswanath, Rupa. 2014. The Pariah Problem: Caste, Religion and the Social in Modern India. New York: Columbia University Press.

10 Improper politics The praxis of subalterns in Chennai Karin Kapadia*

I tell you all very specifically, religion is for man and not man for religion. For getting human treatment, convert yourselves. Convert for getting organised. Convert for becoming strong. Convert for securing equality. Convert for getting liberty. Convert so that your domestic life should be happy. Why do you remain in a religion which does not treat you as human beings? . . . A religion that compels the ignorant to be ignorant, and the poor to be poor, is not a religion but a punishment. Dr Ambedkar, What Path to Salvation?

Introduction ‘We need to expand our understanding of the political’1 In recent years an increasingly urgent problem has been how to conceptualize and understand political formations where identity politics based on caste/ethnicity/race and religion have become more important than those based on class. It is both urgent and important to take seriously political formations and associational grassroots politics that are not directly connected with party politics. Leading Left feminist writers Gillian Hart (2014, 2015; also Kipfer and Hart 2012) and Himani Bannerji (2006, 2011, 2012) have demonstrated that it is equally important to show how identity-based political movements are related to class conflict, and to reveal how caste/race, gender, religion and class constitute each other at all times in different historical geographies. It is within this theoretical framework that an ongoing large-scale Dalit conversion movement in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, repays closer investigation. Paradoxically, these Dalit conversions to Pentecostal Christianity are not primarily driven by their rejection of caste discrimination, but by resistance to gender/patriarchal oppression. These

306  Karin Kapadia large-scale conversions have been continuing vigorously for over 30 years and are almost exclusively of women. This is unique in Indian conversion history. This phenomenon provides a particularly fruitful opportunity to explore how class is constituted by caste, gender and religion, and therefore of understanding how intimately socio-cultural factors construct political-economic materialities – and vice versa. These female Dalit conversions help us to see that economic class is a socio-cultural formation and to recognize that today, more than ever, class identity has to be understood as an integral part of sociocultural identity. It must be examined through the lens of identity politics. From this perspective this conversion movement reveals itself as a counter-hegemonic identity movement that is actively creating a significantly new culture for its members. Poor Dalit women converts emerge as pioneers engaged in a dynamic and creative socio-cultural process that has profound political implications. I argue here that Pentecostal conversion allows upwardly mobile/ lower-middle-class urban Dalit women to at least begin to recuperate the oppositional identity and relative autonomy that rural Dalit women held2 prior to their urbanization and attendant subordination to nagarikam (urban refinement) through hegemonic gender codes. My women convert informants have lived in Chennai for generations. But with conversion they have embarked on new trajectories in which they are moving away from urban bourgeois norms in unknown directions. They are therefore innovating novel ways of being women, as Dalit Pentecostal evangelists in Chennai. These Pentecostal women after conversion emphatically reject their former Scheduled Caste/ Dalit identity.3 Their proto-feminism grows out of their new religious practice and discourse: it is inspired both by Pentecostalism’s radicalegalitarian values and its emphatically woman-friendly ethos, and it inspires them with a new self-esteem. They engage in evangelical/ missionary activities through women’s care cells/prayer groups and, together with their husbands, in street evangelism-visits to the deprived re-settlement site areas bordering Chennai. Some of the educated young women have become respected lay preachers and teachers. But uneducated middle-aged Pentecostal women have become leaders and teachers too, leading the care cell/prayer groups of their neighbourhoods and teaching converts how to develop their new Christian piety.4 They have simultaneously gained steadily greater moral authority within their families, where the authority of men has been eroded. This erosion in uneducated middle-aged Dalit men’s status is primarily due to their loss of employment. Though they have little interest in conversion themselves, they tend to whole-heartedly support their wives’ commitment

Improper politics 307 to Pentecostalism. Dalit women are constructing both a new Dalit Pentecostal culture and a new framework for Dalit community – and the woman-friendly norms of their new Pentecostal culture provide the foundations for their burgeoning proto-feminist politics. The growing feminist awareness of women converts is engendered by their increasing identification with Pentecostal values, particularly radical egalitarianism. Mercy Church My research focused on the members of one large Dalit Pentecostal church called ‘Mercy DJ’,5 where I had several close Dalit friends whom I had known for several years. ‘Mercy’ was the name of the church, while ‘DJ’ stood for ‘Disciples of Jesus’, one of the largest global Pentecostal churches. Disciples of Jesus originated in the United States where it has its headquarters. Mercy DJ received no funding from the United States:6 the church survived entirely on the contributions of its very largely female – and largely poor – Dalit congregation. However its non-Dalit pastor had been to the United States on visits sponsored by DJ friends in the United States. There are many flourishing DJ Pentecostal churches in Chennai and the committee of DJ pastors meets monthly. Currently only a small minority of DJ pastors are Dalit, leading the very smallest DJ churches in Chennai.7 However, the number of Dalit DJ pastors is growing steadily as more Dalit Pentecostal men take up the training and studies required to become DJ pastors. Mercy DJ, though large, seems of moderate size when compared to the gigantic, Nadar-caste-led Pentecostal churches in Chennai. At Mercy DJ, a regular congregation of above 600 ‘believers’ – their selfreferential term of choice – rise very early every Sunday to attend the 6 am service led by Pastor Theodore. But their number swells to 900 or even a thousand people on special occasions, such as the first Sunday in every month, when Holy Communion is offered, the wine in hundreds of tiny plastic cups. Pastor Theodore, an affable middle-class man in his early 60s, had a daughter settled in the UK and a son, also a pastor, in Minnesota, where this son had his own church. Amiable and dedicated, with a benign face and kind manner Pastor Theodore was positively adored by his large female flock. He had three Dalit assistant pastors, whose wives played important roles in the church. My friend Sugandhi, now aged 63, was one of the original 15 Dalit women together with whom Pastor Theodore started Mercy Church some 30 years earlier. Though his congregation was almost entirely Dalit, he himself was non-Dalit

308  Karin Kapadia but not Nadar. He grew up in southern Tamil Nadu, and trained at the DJ Bible college to become a pastor. As in other Dalit Pentecostal churches, at Mercy Church more than 90 per cent of the congregation were married Dalit women. The church consisted of a rented upper storey in a shabby multi-storey office building – this large, empty, unprepossessing place was, however, the cherished temple of Pentecostal women. It was a place these low-income women and their families were very proud of, because their church community had been built through their efforts and their financial donations. Its Sunday services were deeply felt, engaging and emotional. At Mercy DJ everyone in the 600 plus Dalit congregation seemed to know everyone else – many of them were relatives and close friends from the same streets. When the congregation had seated itself on the floor mats the hundreds of women present engaged in the service whole-heartedly, praying, clapping, swaying, waving their hands in the air, their eyes closed, singing Tamil hymns or speaking in ecstatic glossolalia,8 deep in the Holy Spirit. Their bodies moving in dance-like movements to the Tamil gospel music in expressive spontaneity, these Dalit women were very aware that their public performance of states of ecstasy outraged hegemonic norms of female propriety. But Pentecostal doctrine legitimated this huge outflow of ritualized female emotionality, thus instituting a regular, ritualized transgression of social constraints, and marking one of the many ways in which Pentecostal ritual forms, performed both in churches and in home-based care cells, encouraged women to contravene the conventional social proprieties that demanded strict restraint in female bodily movements. The working lives of Mercy Church’s Dalit women and men Around 75 per cent of women members were poor with a monthly family income of around Rs 5,000.9 They came from many small slums nearby. The better-off 25 per cent of women mainly came from a gentrified ex-slum where non-Dalits and Muslims have moved in to live alongside better-off Dalit Pentecostal extended families, who live in their own two-storey brick buildings. The 25 per cent of the congregation who were described by neighbours with the Tamil phrase ‘a little better-off’ (‘konjo vasudhi’) owned their own flats/homes and so did not pay rent – a very important difference from the rent-paying poor. This Tamil phrase also often signalled that they owned some means of production – their own auto-rickshaw, which the husband drove for a living, or a tiny shop/ kiosk where the wife sold groceries (‘mallikai kadai’/‘grocery shop’) or

Improper politics 309 where, by machine-grinding flour (‘maavu arichi’ /‘flour-grinding’) she made and sold snacks – idlis and dosays. Around 2 per cent of Mercy Church’s congregation were well-off middle-class Dalit families whose wealth was due to their government employment, achieved through accessing Scheduled Caste reservations (affirmative action reservations for Hindu Dalits). These families had a monthly income of around Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 per month. Low-income Dalit men above 35, like women, tended to have little education – they did ‘security work’, as salaried watchmen, or worked as coolies10 (porters) or as odd-job men, such as daily-wage house painters. Thus, while some Dalit husbands received monthly salaries, most of them were employed in daily manual wage-work. No wage-work husbands came to church; significantly, the few Dalit husbands who did attend church were better off, better educated and on monthly salaries – they were of a superior economic class and this strongly affected the construction of their masculinity. The majority of Pentecostal women had a rather hard life due to the alcoholism epidemic in Tamil Nadu (Harriss-White 2014; Kapadia 2010, 2014). Their kindly pastor was very aware of the problems that they faced regarding their alcoholic husbands and was deeply sympathetic towards his female flock. Most Pentecostal women remained employed in the lowest-status, least-paid job of veettu velai (paid domestic work). Shobha, who was a care cell/prayer group leader, did paid domestic work. She earned Rs 3,500 per month working in two homes. Women usually finished work in one house in the morning and went to work in the other in the evening. Even in the midst of poverty, however, male pride was preserved: I was told ‘Every house has a two-wheeler! No one is without one!’ The ‘two-wheeler’ is today considered an essential purchase in any Dalit household above the poverty line: it is seen as not only essential to the self-respect of upwardly mobile Dalit men, but also as essential for their jobs. This, at least, was how Dalit men justified this expense.

Pentecostals’ new educational aspirations and Jayalalitha’s unexpected wooing of Christian Dalits In the run-up to the 2016 state elections Pentecostal Dalit women noted, with dry cynicism, how all the opposition parties were trying to make political capital out of claiming to stand for prohibition, but none of these women believed that any party would actually bring in prohibition: Tamil Nadu’s alcohol-derived excise revenues were simply

310  Karin Kapadia too large to give up. No party was likely to forego them. These betteroff Pentecostal women were very aware of the ruling party’s – the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (AIADMK’s) – deep involvement in expanding the state’s alcohol sales and its consequent complicity in creating widespread misery in so many millions of poor Dalit homes. However, they knew that the opposition DMK party had been involved in this too so the AIADMK was not uniquely guilty. More importantly, these upwardly aspiring women – whose equally upwardly aspiring salaried husbands were likely to have converted to Pentecostal abstinence – confessed that, despite Jayalalitha’s party’s direct involvement in encouraging alcoholism through its steadily increasing TASMAC11 shops, they would continue to vote for her. Why? Because of the crucial educational assistance she was giving their children – this cancelled out the ‘bad’ she was doing to other poorer Pentecostal women with alcoholic husbands. Among Dalits male alcoholism correlated with poverty. What was this very important assistance with which Jayalalitha had won their hearts and their votes? It was the scholarship assistance specifically for Christian Dalits that the government had started in 2013. I was astonished to hear about these scholarships for Christians because it was this same chief minister who had introduced legislation in 2002 to prohibit ‘forced’ conversions in Tamil Nadu.12 As slum conversions to Pentecostalism were in full swing in Chennai then, it was generally believed that this anti-conversion legislation was very specifically directed against Dalit Pentecostal conversion, though it was phrased in terms of outlawing ‘forced’ conversions. But it was also recognized that Jayalalitha had done this to curry favour with the Hindu-fundamentalist BJP who led the ruling National Democratic Alliance of which Jayalalitha’s AIADMK was a coalition member in 2002. This analysis was confirmed when the BJP lost the national elections in May 2004 and Jayalalitha swiftly repealed her anti-conversion legislation – it was officially declared ‘dead’ by 2 November 2004.13 Though she had brought in this legislation, Pentecostal Dalits were ready to forget and forgive her, because by 2013 she had instituted the educational scholarships that very specifically benefited Christian Dalit school children. Eager to win back the votes of Tamil Nadu’s minority religious communities Jayalalitha performed a complete volte face. Until then Pentecostal Dalits had recognized that their conversion required a painful ‘supreme sacrifice’: they lost their claims to Scheduled Caste benefits because these accrued solely to Hindu Dalits (also to Sikh and Buddhist Dalits, whom the constitution inexplicably regards as Hindu). Thus Jayalalitha’s scholarships

Improper politics 311 for Christian Dalits at both school and higher education levels embodied a spectacular political U-turn. Jayalalitha had very publicly signalled her new political strategy of wooing Christian Dalit hearts and minds in August 2013. The Hindu’s headline, dated 9 August 2013, proclaimed ‘Jayalalithaa bats for Dalit Christians’.14 In words that were heavenly music to the ears of Pentecostal converts the chief minister had stated her absolute support for the long-standing demand of Dalit Christians to be included in all Scheduled Caste benefits, especially reservations in higher education and public-sector jobs. Christian Dalit children had never before received any kind of scholarship from the state. My Pentecostal friends pointed out that the Opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), though viewed as more progressive, had never done this. Thus the parents whose children had been getting these scholarships since 2013 were effusive in their support for Jayalalitha. They belonged to Mercy Church’s upwardly mobile lower-middle-class fraction. The education of Dalit Pentecostal children therefore presented a relatively cheerful picture. Ruth was one of the cohort of Jayalalithaadmirers. Her husband Chandru was the lay leader of the Men’s Fellowship Group. Warm-hearted and genial, Chandru clearly cherished his wife. This was not surprising: Ruth, the doting mother of their two teenaged sons, was better-educated than he was and combined spiritual devotion with a caring nature and a lively sense of humour. Despite not having any Bible College training she had become a respected lay preacher and teacher in Mercy Church. She cheerfully told me, ‘All the kids go to school today. . . . No matter how difficult their economic situation parents try to give a good education to their kids – it’s really remarkable!’ The current enthusiasm of Dalit parents for education was notable because it marked a sea change from their earlier attitudes to education, when they had felt it did not help them to escape their poverty. Women and men who were in their 50s and 60s today had received very little education. Very few had completed school, most were semi-literate or illiterate. Ruth noted: ‘80% of women and men in Mercy Church have had some education – but only about a quarter of them studied upto the sixth or eighth grades. Many are illiterate.’ Only very few of their children – namely the generation that is in its 30s and 40s today – had made it to college. Now parents, like Ruth and Chandru, they have become totally obsessed with the education of their school-going children. Among those aged between 15 and 20 several young women and men expected to go to college or were already

312  Karin Kapadia in college. Thus in the last two decades Dalit educational achievement has shot up, in sync with rising aspirations. Importantly, this is true of both Hindu Dalits and Christian Dalits: rising aspirations and rising educational achievement characterize all Chennai’s Dalits today. Ruth added: ‘All the kids study upto Plus Two (the school-leaving exam). And parents want to send them to college, so the kids who pass go on to college. Today parents educate their children well.’ At Mercy Church around a quarter of the young people of the relevant age group were college-going. Ruth was delighted with the educational trajectory of her two teenaged sons and greatly appreciated Jayalalitha’s scholarships: S.C. (Dalit) college students are studying for degrees like B.Com. (Bachelor of Commerce) and taking computer courses. The government colleges have a good standard so you really benefit from them – by studying in a government medical college an S.C. (Dalit) student can become a doctor! Yes, today even Christians (Dalit Pentecostals) get government scholarships! After passing his tenth standard exams my son got a government scholarship of Rs. 9,500 for his Plus One (11th grade) studies, because he scored well – you had to score above 300 marks and he got a total of 358. After his Plus Two exams he’ll get a scholarship again. He’s 17 and has chosen the Commerce Group. I asked Ruth: ‘What job would he like?’ She said: ‘A bank manager’s job!’ She concluded: ‘The government is giving good help to us for education – so my husband, his elder brother Muthu and others here . . . they all like Jayalalitha! The DMK therefore has no chance in the coming elections!’ Speaking in November 2015 Ruth was sure the DMK would lose in the state elections in May 2016. She was proved right.

The self-pedagogy of new women converts Pentecostal conversion challenges Dalit women converts to engage in a process of self-transformation. This deeply personal and interior selftransformation extends beyond a change of mind, however, since it maps onto wider processes of development. The ‘supreme knowledge’ of the Bible is made known to these largely uneducated, often illiterate or semi-literate women who thereafter, very remarkably, teach themselves to become literate by reading the Bible together with other Pentecostal women. This process of adult literacy is so unusual because it

Improper politics 313 essentially consists of a self-pedagogy of these new converts, who are self-motivated to teach themselves to read, because they are inspired, by their Dalit women lay teachers and their pastors, with an overwhelming desire to be able to read the Bible. This is an outstanding achievement on the part of these women converts, because countless government-led ‘adult literacy drives’ have failed abysmally in the Chennai slums for many decades, because poor women could see no reason why they should learn to read.15 A seismic change has occurred in the motivations and aspirations of these women and it is transforming the contours of their world. Lokesvari, now 80 years old and a great-grandmother, had converted with her husband and children some 30 years earlier, when her husband had ‘miraculously’ recovered through the prayers that Pentecostal evangelists had said for him. A small woman, tough and intelligent, she was always brave. But now, throwing out her hands helplessly, she piteously wailed, ‘I was never taught to read as a child. How I wish they’d educated me! I do so want to read the Bible!’ It was a poignant moment. Her five (today middle-aged) daughters had not finished school because they had been sent to work in export garments workshops in their teens: the family needed their earnings. They had therefore been semi-literate when the family converted. Today they are fluent readers, having taught themselves to read through assiduous Bible-reading on their own as well as together with other women in the care cells or prayer groups. Eager to understand their Bibles, these Dalit women became diligent students and their Bible study sessions, in weekly care cell meetings and their weekly Friday Fasting Prayer sessions, have created a domain in which their intellects have been roused and challenged. Every woman aspires to read aloud for the entire congregation or, at least, for her women’s Bible study group when called upon to do so by her pastor or her female lay leader. As they gain confidence these women compete with each other to be the first to answer the Bible questions posed by the pastor, his wife or their female lay leader. In varied contexts they demonstrate their deep reading of the Bible. When the pastor or their lay teacher quotes a Biblical passage, they respond by shouting out the name of the Biblical text it is taken from, with its chapter and verse numbers. They are excited, proud and diligent students, with a growing ability to understand what they are reading, to participate in discussion and to quote from the Bible themselves in conversation. They constantly emphasized to me how important study of the Bible was. The pages of their well-thumbed Bibles were heavily underlined, sometimes marked with marginal comments. My friends informed me

314  Karin Kapadia that their pastors and their lay female teachers encouraged them to write in their Bibles and to mark them with their own comments and reflections, thus, in a very personal way, appropriating these Bibles and making them their own. It was extraordinary to view their Bibles, heavily underlined and marked, because these women, some years earlier, had almost never opened a book and few had received schooling. This recalls Ranciere’s insight that understanding a book . . . does not consist in explaining it from a position of superior knowledge and authority, but in translating it, in appropriating it within an activity of (self- as well as social-) transformation that constantly rewrites the book according to the ever-changing demands of new situations. (Citton 2010: 37) Thus the self-pedagogy of Pentecostal women reflected both their own activity of simultaneous self and social transformation, as well as their desire for emancipation.16 Through their reading, reflection and Bible study discussion these women were encouraged to think for themselves and to develop their own understanding of Christian doctrine. They were also trained to cultivate, through regular devotional practices, their own habits of private prayer and meditation, in order to develop their own relationship with God – a private relationship that did not depend on the mediation of any priest. This Pentecostal training assumed the complete ability of the believer to know and to understand ‘God’ – thus Pentecostal women were taught to have perfect confidence in themselves and in their own abilities – a tremendous psychological boost to women who, earlier, had been required to live under the rule of their husbands.17 Pentecostal doctrine and practice engineer a momentous transformation, over time, in the abilities and aspirations of these women. Their opinions are taken seriously in the Bible study sessions both in church and in the care cells. Consequently these women are eager to learn, eager to speak and eager to tell others what they think the Bible is saying. Sugandhi quoted the New Testament to show that Jesus wanted people to take care of each other. And she quoted Jesus’ parable of the camel and the eye of the needle, to explain why it was difficult for the rich to enter heaven – they were too selfish. Malathi quoted St Paul’s requirement that women must obey their husbands, only to subvert it by explaining that this referred solely to good husbands who were worthy of respect; her own husband, she implied,

Improper politics 315 failed the test. And Gayatri, who regularly ‘gave the message’ (a short sermon) at the end of worship in her aunt Valli’s care cell, quoted from the Old Testament to explain why God wanted us to live pure lives. It is ironic that it is because Dalit men have stayed away from the Pentecostal churches that they are seen as very safe places for women to be in. Dalit women found them hugely solidary female environments, where the few men who were present – the pastors, their assistant pastors and the few male lay leaders – were wholly dedicated to supporting and encouraging Pentecostal women. Dalit women have become the religious teachers and moral guides of their own families and their new Pentecostal communities, demonstrating through their own lives what it means to be exemplary Christians. The now-middleaged Pentecostal women, who converted some 30 years earlier, had, through their exemplary piety, generosity and solidarity enabled their churches to grow from tiny groups into magnificent congregations, such as that of Mercy Church. And, along the way, they had created new Dalit Pentecostal communities.

Pentecostal gender relations The real impact of the networks that women converts forged in their care-cells and in church was seen in the ways in which they slowly, over time, came to have greater power and say at home. Ruth observed that suffering women were impelled towards joining the Pentecostal women’s prayer groups due to their mental distress (manasu kashtam): Women’s situation is very difficult so they seek unity (wotrumai) with other women. Their minds are troubled (‘manasu kashtam’). They have serious crises: their children are taken seriously ill or their husband leaves them for another woman. This makes them turn to the women’s groups. By attending and praying together with the other women they get the guts (tembu) to face things. On their first visit these women come with their neighbours who are already attending our prayer groups. Through being prayed for by other women in crying-prayer18 they get courage (tembu/ dhairyam). Thereafter, supported by us, they seek reconciliation with their husbands. We, as a group, go to the house and speak to the husband. We always try to reconcile them. This happened with my friend Muthulakshmi, whom you’ve met. She had been left by her husband. She had no one – and a child to support. She was crushed by what happened to her. So she

316  Karin Kapadia spent a lot of time with us, coming to church and praying with us every day. We talked a lot with her and, after mediating with her husband for about two years we were able to persuade him to reconcile with her – he is now living with her again. Of course, some women don’t want the husband back. Such a woman can refuse to rejoin her husband. If a woman can earn enough to support her kids, then she can manage to live on her own. But that needs courage. Muthulakshmi couldn’t do this – you know what she’s like, very shy and retiring. But now her husband has come back to her. Ruth’s reflections seem to speak to the inherently conservative gender relations in Pentecostalism – but things are more complex than they appear. On the one hand, Pentecostal women see themselves as having developed marital relations that are far more progressive than those of Hindu Dalit women: mistreated Pentecostal women were encouraged by their peers to separate from or abandon abusive husbands. Ruth emphasized the difference between Hindu Dalit women and Pentecostal women: ‘Hindu (Dalit) women are quite different from Pentecostal women – they stay quietly with their husbands, no matter how badly their husbands treat them.’ On the other hand, Pentecostal women were aware that they lived in a society whose hegemonic values were deeply patriarchal. A process of change in a progressive direction was under way but the pace of change was painfully slow. K:  What

can you, as Pentecostal women, do to help a woman in such a situation? RUTH:  We go to her home as a group and talk to her husband. We always try to reconcile them – and usually after some days they forget the quarrel. If she has left him, then after staying in her mother’s house19 for some days she cools down. K:  What about divorce? RUTH:  If her husband abandons a woman she should try to live alone, if she can manage to do this. KK:  Can women never remarry? RUTH: Yes, of course they can! Why should they stay alone? If she is very young when her husband leaves her, of course she can remarry. But if she has children it might be better not to remarry – because the new husband will not care for her children. Even if it is a difficult marriage, a woman should try, as far as possible, to live with her husband. But if she has great difficulty with him then she can and should live separately – she should leave him!’

Improper politics 317 These were remarkable words – here Ruth was going against the hegemonic norms which never allowed a woman to walk away from her husband. K:  What

about Kaveri?

Kaveri was the daughter of Ruth’s neighbour and relative, Revathi. Years earlier, the day before Kaveri’s wedding, Revathi had given a large sum in cash to her future son-in-law so that he could pay the wedding caterers for her. The young man pocketed the cash, claiming he had lost it. This unpropitious beginning inaugurated a bad marriage: the young man, a driver, was bone-lazy, and lived off Kaveri’s earnings, regularly taking money away from her. He was always defended by his doting parents. Their household depended entirely on Kaveri’s earnings. She left her two young children with her mother Revathi who looked after them. Kaveri visited them daily after work; her husband took them to school while Revathi brought them back from school. Kaveri worked very hard. She had been employed at an Amma canteen20 for the last few years. For two years she had been forced to work a double shift by the manager, though she was paid for only a single shift, working shockingly long hours daily. This happened because the canteen’s manager was a corrupt AIADMK functionary who pocketed the salary of one employee, making Kaveri work a double shift instead. Kaveri stuck with the job because it was relatively well paid. The corrupt manager had recently been transferred and she now worked, and was paid for, a single shift. But her gruelling time-table had confirmed that Kaveri did not give up easily. She never complained, so I assumed her husband was a harmless, lazy man. With her usual dry wit she once summed up her marital relations thus: ‘I quarrel with him Mondays to Saturdays – on Sundays I rest!’ Plucky, breezy and intelligent, Kaveri had left her useless husband a couple of times and moved into a room close to her mum. But both times her husband had insisted on moving in with her. But this time, Ruth said, things were different: this time Kaveri had left him for good. And now the truth emerged: the man had been physically abusing Kaveri for years; ‘he was torturing her’ said Ruth. Kaveri had always had a wry smile and a joke about how her married life was, but, behind this screen, things had been very bad. So now Ruth said: Yes, Kaveri’s is such a case, where a woman should just leave her husband. He hasn’t bothered to go to work, he has not earned.

318  Karin Kapadia He’s been out playing cricket with his friends, when he should have been working. Why does a man marry? In order to care for his wife and children. Kaveri’s husband is a no-good useless fellow!21 A man should not live on the earnings of his wife. But this is what he’s done. Worse, he’s treated her very cruelly, he has tortured her22 – he’s beaten her, taken money from her. Now he doesn’t even pretend to have a job. Previously he pretended he was going to work, when he was actually with his friends all day, drinking and gambling. It’s a very good thing that Kaveri has left him! She’s now living in a small room near her mother – now Kaveri herself takes her kids to school. After this sad saga regarding Kaveri, I turned to related topics. K:  Is dowry (varadachanai) asked for at Pentecostal RUTH: No – so far in Mercy Church no one has

weddings? asked for a cash dowry. But the groom’s parents do regularly ask for a two-wheeler (a scooter or a motorbike) Today everyone asks for a two-wheeler! It costs between 50 and 75 thousand rupees.

When Ruth said that a scooter or motorcycle was now an absolute necessity for every self-respecting Dalit man, she was referring to the important role played by major consumer items in establishing social status across all castes. By riding motorcycles Dalit men raised both their personal social status and that of their wives, parents and wider families, because ownership of a motorcycle signalled attaining lowermiddle-class identity (the middle classes owned cars). For this reason Dalit men riding motorcycles in North India were regularly assaulted by non-Dalit men.23 As a Dalit commentator put it, ‘Society can now accept a Dalit crossing an upper-caste area on a bicycle, but it still hasn’t accepted the idea of a Dalit riding a Royal Enfield. Upper castes feel threatened as Dalits now feel equal to them and even confront them’ (First Post 2016; emphasis added).24 This is a salutary reminder that everything that Dalits do within their own communities has symbolic meanings and important repercussions for their relations with the non-Dalit world outside. Thus ‘dowry demand’ for a motorcycle cannot be dismissed as an excessive demand from the groom’s family, it must be recognized as an acknowledged symbol of the higher social status that the bride’s family is equally eager to confer on their daughter. RUTH CONTINUED: The

bride’s parents tend to give about 10 sovereigns25 of gold jewellery and a two-wheeler as marriage gifts. One

Improper politics 319 sovereign is worth Rs 25,00026 currently. Yes, it’s a lot of money – but it is the bride who will own the gold jewellery. It is her wealth. K:  Can Pentecostal widows remarry? RUTH:  If she has no children a widow can readily remarry. Yes, there is permission to do this! But most widows don’t remarry. Further the Bible says ‘Don’t leave one man for another’ – that is seen as bad behaviour (vipacharam). Especially when there are children, even though the right (urimai) to remarriage exists, women just don’t do it – but men do it! Men’s nature (svabavam) is like that – their behaviour is very different from women’s. Unlike women, almost no men stay unmarried after their wives die.27 Ruth’s comments make it clear that Dalit Pentecostal women live in a context that is still ruled by the conservative patriarchal norms of the hegemonic upper caste-classes. But Pentecostal women are increasingly influencing the views and norms of their husbands. This emerged when I spoke with Gayatri. I asked her why Dalit men showed no interest in Pentecostalism. She disagreed sharply, insisting that Dalit men’s support for Pentecostalism, though indirect, was strong: No, men are very supportive of their wives. Many women tell us things like, ‘My husband has not been baptized28 as yet, but he wakes me up in the mornings and tells me it’s time for me to go to church!’ Many women tell us things like this – or they say, ‘He brings me to the church on his two-wheeler.’ This also speaks to the fact that Dalit men regard Mercy Church as giving their wives purpose, respectability and friendships without the danger of slander. One of the biggest attractions of Pentecostalism for these Dalit families is that it offers women safe spaces to go out to and in which to meet and interact with other women. Their husbands’ dropping them off at the church is in keeping with this: it keeps their wives happily occupied in a safe space where they are surrounded by other women. Thus the Pentecostal churches represent ‘permitted’ and safe spaces for women, as do the various homes in which women gather weekly to pray, petition and worship together. Further, Gayatri made the important claim that Pentecostal women were able to transform their husbands, because they had changed themselves: ‘Yes, the men are definitely influenced by their wives. If a man was previously not going properly for work, after her prayers for him he does go to work!’ Many other women made similar claims, asserting that when they changed their own behaviour to become more

320  Karin Kapadia patient and kind to their husbands, their changed behaviour evoked a similar change in men and marital conflicts became less bitter and easier to resolve. Gayatri also noted that Pentecostal women prayed a lot for their husbands: ‘His wife prays for him in church, in her care cell and also privately on her own – in all three places she prays for him.’ Thus, ‘saved by Jesus’ themselves, Dalit women became evangelists not only for the sake of the suffering world, but also for the sake of their husbands – saving their own husbands was high on their agenda. Gayatri was kept just as busy with her church duties as was her husband Alfred, one of the three assistant pastors at Mercy Church. She also had two young daughters to look after. Fortunately Pastor Theodore had taught the Pentecostal men he had chosen as his assistants that one of their most important duties was to share the domestic tasks that burdened their wives. So Alfred readily helped Gayatri to look after their two little girls. But Ruth’s husband Chandru did very much more for her – he washed the family’s clothes daily and helped Ruth with the cooking regularly. All the women who knew him declared that Chandru was an ideal husband. Chandru himself told me he had learnt these husbandly virtues from closely observing Pastor Theodore in his own home, for the pastor did the same tasks for his own wife, MrsVijaylakshmi.

Dalit women evangelists Dalit women training to become evangelists While only a minority of Dalit women converts ever become active evangelists, the most dedicated see it as their duty to become evangelists (or ‘missionaries’), and to engage actively in spreading the Christian gospel. Their core evangelical message is that ‘salvation’ and ‘the forgiveness of sins’ are available to all right now, and that, unlike Hinduism, in Pentecostalism no intermediary or priest is required for a believer to know God. Every Pentecostal believer is expected, through her own efforts and practice, to cultivate an unmediated relationship with God. The political implications of this Pentecostal creed are evident – a radical independence and autonomy from hierarchical/ priestly control are celebrated here. As Gayatri put it, ‘Christian life is a prayer life. If they are Christians, women must have a prayer life. Prayer (japam) means a relationship (thodarbu) between the Lord and us – a direct relationship with no mediator.’

Improper politics 321 I had heard Gayatri use the phrase ‘Bible women’ and wanted to know what this term meant. Were all Dalit Pentecostal women ‘Bible women’? Or only a select few? Gayatri readily explained: Not all of us are Bible women. I studied in Veloor for three years at the Bible College there and got a B.Th. – that’s a Bachelor of Theology. I passed my exams in 2007. If we want to become Bible women we have to take this exam. If you pass it, you become a Bible woman. The exam is held once a year. The Tamil Nadu (Disciples of Jesus) Pastors’ Conference occurs in March every year. It’s a five-day conference held only in Tamil Nadu. One month before the conference this exam is held for all those pastors and pastors’ wives who want to take the exam. So far we have only four or five Bible women.29 They’ve passed the same exam as me. It’s a one hour exam. My husband has written it. Women who pass this exam are called ‘Bible women’. Men who pass it are called ‘pastors’. Only men can become pastors. However, a Bible woman can preach and teach – she knows a lot! Ordinary believers just come to church once a week for the Sunday service for 45 minutes. But Bible women are not like that. They study for three years or more in a Bible college – and even go to study in far away places like Delhi or Bangalore. They have to stay in hostels, far away from their parents. Gayatri spoke enthusiastically of her involvement in village evangelical work while at Bible College. This had been an important part of her training: We’d go out to the villages every Saturday and Sunday to proclaim the gospel to youth. There we’d organize Sunday schools and Youth Ministries. From Veloor we visited the nearby villages. We were a group of only women – maybe two women together or four to five women. We were 60 women altogether studying at the college. Only if we were told that an area was unsafe did men from the college come with us. We were all 18 to 19 years old and unmarried. We went by bus to the villages – it took 15 to 20 minutes. We only went to villages that had established Pentecostal churches. This is significant – these young Bible college women were not being sent out into unknown territory, but into sympathetic territory, where

322  Karin Kapadia there was already so much support locally that Pentecostal churches already existed. Gayatri continued, We only went to the streets where there were already some believers and gave out tracts there. [I asked, ‘What if they couldn’t read?’] If so, they gave the tracts to their children to read to them! We also prayed for them in their homes. That is, the young women performed the ritual of ‘crying prayer’ on behalf of those who asked for prayers to help them with specific problems. Gayatri noted, In one place two men challenged us while we were taking Sunday School and chased us away. But we were chased away only that one time. We spoke mainly to the poor women in the villages. As all this was about the special category of Bible College women, I asked Gayatri how ordinary Dalit women converts became evangelists. Her answer was succinct: ‘By preaching through the care cells.’ The most dedicated women, like Gayatri’s aunt Valli, became the local care cell leaders in their streets. Making converts was a slow and gradual process. Gayatri explained, ‘In a care cell five new women who are unbelievers (Hindus) might come to the meeting. Then Valli and the other members of the care cell will pray for them and this gives the newcomers much mental comfort and solace (aarudhal).’ These home-based care cells, that gather the women of every Pentecostal neighbourhood weekly, are the crucial dynamos driving Pentecostal evangelism. They are locality-based networks that are not simply religious, but also act as support networks for Dalit women. This is where the largest number of Dalit women converts are mobilized. Hindu Dalit women informally attend these solidary female groups, while ‘trying out’ Pentecostalism. Most of them soon consider baptism. Some attend without the knowledge of their husbands, but most Dalit husbands are fully aware of and entirely support their wives’ attendance. Thus, though their husbands don’t attend church, Dalit Pentecostal women know that they have their husbands’ support for their church membership. The fact that Dalit men retain their Hindu identity means that they retain their Scheduled Caste status and the option of applying for SC reservations both for themselves and, more importantly, for their children. Gayatri continued: If, every six months, five new women join a care cell then, in one year, ten new women will have joined the church. If the women

Improper politics 323 leading the care cells are genuine believers in the Lord they will certainly have ten converts a year! But if they take it merely as a job given to them by the pastor, then it won’t happen. Mercy Church has about sixty care cells just now. Of them maybe ten are lazy (somberi)! But fifty are genuine and do hard work! Gayatri added: ‘Anyone who is a true Christian will spread the gospel!’ A true Christian, by definition, was also an evangelist and missionary. Young Dalit women preachers Gayatri then said: ‘I preach every Friday between 10 am and 1 pm.’ I had thought that only male pastors were allowed to preach. It was therefore amazing to hear a young Dalit woman say, so confidently, ‘I preach every Friday!’ She preached at and led the women’s weekly Friday Fasting Prayer sessions in the church. As the wife of an assistant pastor, Gayatri was its leader, while the young wife of another assistant pastor was her deputy. Gayatri continued, ‘I preach every Friday between 10 am and 1 pm. About 20 to 25 women are present. I only preach within the church, not outside it.’ The only woman in Mercy Church allowed to preach to mixed-sex groups was the pastor’s wife, Mrs Vijaylakshmi, who, like him, was non-Dalit. She was highly regarded and led the second service every Sunday, at 9.30am, for a small mixed-sex congregation. Like her husband, she was sought out for her advice and for her prayers. This meant that she functioned like a pastor in all but name. But only about 50 people attended the service she led, in contrast to Pastor Theodore, whose 6 am Sunday service drew above 600 people. I told Gayatri I knew that DJ churches outside India allowed female pastors. She replied Yes, but in India the heads of DJ have not accepted female pastors. However, some women have very good abilities and could be pastors! If society changes, this will happen! At our Bible College we met an American woman pastor called Pastor Jenny. She preached to us. I asked, ‘Did this make you feel that you’d like to be a pastor too? Gayatri replied, ‘Oh yes, that thought would be natural! I felt I’d like to be a pastor one day!’ Dalit women’s emancipation is clearly delimited here: the constraints on Pentecostal women are evident. And yet Gayatri hoped

324  Karin Kapadia that she would indeed become a pastor one day, and the equal of her husband in her service to her God. Dalit men and women in street evangelism Chandru, Ruth’s husband, was the energetic, cheerful leader of the Men’s Fellowship at Mercy Church. He explained how the church’s street evangelism – referred to as its ‘ministry work’ – was organized. This evangelical work was not only strongly self-motivated and selfdirected by the church’s lay members, but also self-financed: they themselves, not their pastor, financed their church’s evangelical outreach. Chandru said: Every fortnight the men’s village ministry group visits Vadakanagar – but a couple of men go weekly. Once a month the women evangelists join our group. Last month 25 of us went there together – half were women. Next month even more women are coming. Vadakanagar is a large slum resettlement site on Old Mahabalipuram Road for the impoverished slum populations who have been summarily evicted from Chennai to make way for ‘city improvement’ projects.30 K:  Why do CHANDRU: 

you go there? Because we’re going to start a new church there. (He spoke very thoughtfully – clearly this enterprise was immensely important to him.) K:  Are they interested? CHANDRU: They’re very interested and they have many children whom they send for the Sunday school we organize. Some 25 children come for this every week. Some of us go there every Sunday afternoon and give the kids food, clothes, snacks . . . just little things to cheer them up. K:  How long have you been going there? CHANDRU:  Some of us have been going there for five to six years now. I myself have been going for only a year and half, since I was given the leadership of the Men’s Fellowship by Pastor. Ever since then I’ve wanted to develop the place a lot more. The women there have requested us to build them a small church (sabhai). We have told the Periya (Big) Pastor about this request. K:  And the money to build it will come from . . .?

Improper politics 325 CHANDRU: From

us – from our Men’s Fellowship – we’re trying to gather it. All the food for them – the people and children who attend the Sunday meetings – we pay for ourselves from our own pockets. So what we do is ‘free of cost’ for Mercy DJ – because we cover all costs. Tea, coffee, snacks – lunch for our evangelists – we pay for it all ourselves. Last month 25 of us went – that’s Rs 70 per head for lunch – it was the contributions from the Men’s Fellowship that covered this. HE CONTINUED:  The first time we visit nobody listens – nobody accepts the gospel. No one respects it. Nobody even comes out of their houses to listen! In the beginning the women only listen from within their homes. . . . We say, ‘The Lord saves you! The Lord gives you peace!31 Change your hearts!’32 We continue talking like this. The women watch us while hiding themselves, they peek at us . . . but no one comes out. But those words33 (Chandru spoke with particular emphasis here, because this was important) go into their inner selves (ullath) and recur to them. Just assume for a moment that a man there was contemplating suicide – he is ready at that moment to attempt suicide – at that moment God tells us to go and preach in that village. We say, ‘Sinners, change your hearts! The Lord gives you life! The Lord blesses you!34 He is the Lord! He saves!’ While we are speaking like this, this man thinks, ‘Is God like that? Will God give me happiness? Will God give me life?’ He will cancel his suicide attempt and instead come to seek the Lord (Aandavar)! There are many cases like this. This is a true story. Women too – actually it is mostly women who attempt suicide.35 In the middle of their suicide attempt such women suddenly hear the word of God36 spoken. God tells us, ‘Go and speak to them!37 It doesn’t matter if they accept you or not – go and speak to them!’ There are many such cases – when they come to give witness (at prayer meetings or Sunday services) the women tell us: ‘I was about to die! I was about to give poison to my children! The Lord protected me!’ CHANDRU CONTINUED:  So in the beginning the women don’t come out and the tracts we give them they junk! But then one day they fall ill. They have to go to the doctor. They have expenses they can’t meet. Suddenly they see that bit of paper out of the corner of their eye – that tract we gave them. If it is cancer the doctor can’t cure them! But the Lord can cure them! At such a moment they catch sight of the tract and read it. What does it say? ‘The Lord is alive!38 The Lord will give you health!’ He thinks: ‘In so many years we have not received any benefits from the Hindu deities despite our prayers, so let me try this Christian deity – let me ask

326  Karin Kapadia him to help me.’ Thinking like this he will pray – and then, at that very moment, he will be cured! Through that small prayer! But that prayer is very important! It needs many tears, much weeping! If you pray with such a heart you will immediately be successful. K:  Why is this crying prayer so successful? CHANDRU: It is only crying prayer that is successful! You can’t get anything if you don’t ask. If you ask the Lord, you get it! But what if you don’t ask? Of course you won’t get anything. In this conversation Chandru emphasizes the huge importance of Pentecostal ‘crying prayer’ which is widely believed to have miraculous results. But this passage also speaks to the sheer desperation and poverty of most of those joining the Pentecostal churches. And it also speaks to the shocking state of government hospitals and health care. Part of the continuing appeal of Pentecostalism is the hope it offers to impoverished people – especially women – who are struggling. But Dalit Pentecostalism is much more than the promise of miracles – it is also an insightful pedagogy of the poor. Thus Chandru’s insistence that ‘You can’t get anything if you don’t ask!’ is also a call to action. This is where Pentecostalism’s political importance lies – it is mobilizing the Dalit urban poor to act, to unite and to demand. Above all, it is mobilizing them to join together in solidary ways to support each other. At present the Pentecostal churches’ mobilizations are solely within the spiritual domain. But they are providing their members with an organizational and motivational training that will stand them in good stead when, one day soon, these Dalit Pentecostals begin demanding their rights as citizens.

Some tentative observations Changing class and caste and the making of Dalit Pentecostal women There was widespread confidence among Dalit Pentecostal women that conversion to Christianity was by itself enough to raise their social status, because Christians – who were generally assumed to be caste-free – had higher status in Tamil society than Hindu Dalits. These women also hoped that their conversion would gain their children preferential entry to the better Christian educational institutions in Chennai, and hoped that this education would assist their children’s upward class mobility. The imperative to convert to Pentecostalism, for most Dalit women, derived from their poverty and their difficulties with husbands. But

Improper politics 327 the behaviour of ‘difficult’ Dalit husbands was intimately related to their impoverishment and to casteism. Marital relations in the 25 per cent of better-off Pentecostal families were strikingly better. Here the women were lower-middle-class and did home-based paid work. The masculinities of their salaried husbands were far less macho and did not incline them towards alcoholism or violence. All Dalit male converts were from these better-off families, suggesting that the macho masculinities of poor Dalit men did not allow for Pentecostal conversion, which was regarded as emasculating because the Pentecostal churches were full of women (see Chapter 9). Class, caste and gender identities also determined which women converted to this ‘female religion’. Around 75 per cent of women were poor and in paid employment. The Dalit Pentecostal churches were therefore seen as poor women’s churches and so well-off middle-class Hindu Dalit women who had attained significant upward class mobility showed little interest in conversion. Similarly, low-income Hindu non-Dalit women had no interest in Dalit Pentecostalism, because they regarded it as a Dalit women’s religion. Despite their implicitly socialist39 ethos of sharing and fellowship Dalit convert women and men did not exhibit a strong class consciousness of themselves as ‘the poor’, unlike Dalit Pentecostals in the much poorer slums of North Chennai (see Chapter 9). Instead all their aspirations were focused on upward mobility. They were also encouraged to feel a strong connection with other Pentecostals globally. DJ visitors from the United States visited their church occasionally. The themes of Pastor Theodore’s sermons were self-sacrifice and compassion, tacitly encouraging his female flock to be more understanding towards their husbands. The young Dalit men attending Mercy Church were very different from their renegade fathers. They seldom drank, had considerably more education and were baptized church-goers. Hard-working and considerate husbands, they modelled themselves on their Pentecostal mothers, who had brought them up instilling abstinent Pentecostal values in them. This is an important way in which conversion has enabled fundamental changes in the culture of Dalit families.40 Creating ‘a political of a completely different type’ Kipfer and Hart41 observe: The task today is to attempt to put politics ‘in command’ within philosophy itself: that is, to practice philosophy as an organizational form of social relations that seeks to formulate adequate theoretical ‘translations’ of the concrete social and political

328  Karin Kapadia relations and practices of resistance that alone will be able to give rise to a ‘political of a completely different type’. (Kipfer and Hart 2012: 324) The Dalit Pentecostalism of poor and lower-middle-class Dalit women is one such practice of resistance that holds particular interest because it challenges not only casteism but also patriarchy. Dalit Pentecostalism both induces and reflects new political subjectivities in Dalit women and men. Further, once they convert, Dalit women take pleasure in rejecting their previous identity-labels, namely ‘SC’ (Scheduled Caste)42 and ‘Adi Dravidar’,43 insisting that, after conversion, they no longer have any caste identity: ‘We are Christians now, not SCs!’ Dalit male converts speak in exactly the same way. Dalit Pentecostalism is ‘a politics of the ordinary’, led by subaltern women: Kipfer and Hart argue that the current ‘ontological’ turn in Euro-American political theory ‘is characterized above all by a search for a conception of politics/the political as prior to, if not constitutive of, a “common” politics and thus free from the mediations of historical geographies, social relations, and the contradictions of everyday life’ (2012: 325). They point out that such a decontextualized conception of politics is very distant from ‘the ordinary’: It is unaffected by the contradictory rhythms of history and remains desocialized: ‘unbound’ from the state-sanctioned fetters of social relations, organizational constraints, and affective bonds that shape the very situations from which ‘political’ events emerge. . . . In unmistakenly gendered fashion, properly militant politics is thus extrapolated from the experience of small vanguard groups . . . and then pitted against the domesticated worlds of those awaiting recruitment. (2012: 325) Their critique points out that: (a) the political is not of an order different from the ordinary, (b) the political closely involves social relations and state hegemony as well as, (c) at micro-levels, affective bonds and loyalties. (d) This critique also highlights the patriarchal assumptions involved in the usual definitions of what constitutes ‘the political’, such as the assumption that political vanguards are always male. Pentecostal women and their praxis of improper politics Kipfer and Hart observe that ‘Peter Thomas . . . maintains that the search for a true or proper form of politics remains transcendental

Improper politics 329 insofar as it rests on an a priori decision to declare a philosophical distinction between proper and improper politics, politics and the political’ (Kipfer and Hart 2012: 325; emphasis added). An improper politics, in this Gramscian sense, is exactly what Dalit Pentecostalism is. It is a female-led oppositional religious politics whose practice of resistance is based on political values – equality, justice, empathy, solidarity – that are derived from the religious practice and discourse of Dalit Pentecostalism. Chennai’s environmental degradation is extremely alarming: its air is highly toxic,44 housing and water are very scarce, food prices are soaring. Hence the hope and faith in the future shown by Dalit Pentecostal women are nothing less than an act of will: it takes huge courage to hold on to hope amid the encircling gloom. The Gramscian category of ‘improper politics’ can be understood in yet another way, not in terms of philosophy, but in terms of propriety. In this sense too ‘improper politics’ is an apt term for the politics of these women, because their politicized behaviour, their preaching and teaching, their nuanced resistance to domestic tyranny and their exuberant religious forms are very distant from what is deemed appropriate for women by Chennai’s hegemonic upper-caste-led norms. An improper politics can only be led by improper women – it is by challenging their own enforced identities as oppressed wives and despised Dalits that these Pentecostal women have begun to challenge the status quo and the brutal inequalities it protects and sustains.

Notes * I am deeply thankful to Hugo Gorringe, Jonathan Parry, Nathaniel Roberts, Judith Heyer, Joel Robbins and Michael Bergunder for their kind help and advice at various stages. I am also very grateful to my extremely kind and generous informants in Chennai. 1 This quote is from Kipfer and Hart (2012). ‘Praxis (from ancient Greek: πρᾶξις) is the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realised. Praxis may also refer to the act of engaging, applying, exercising, realizing, or practising ideas’ (Wikipedia). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praxis_(process) Accessed on 25 July 2016. 2 See Kapadia 1995. 3 I use the term ‘Dalit’ here in order to identify the previous identity of convert women, which non-Dalits continue to identify them with. But Dalit Pentecostal women themselves are engaged in a full-scale rejection of their earlier ‘Scheduled Caste’/Adi Dravidar/(Dalit) identity because they insist that as Christians they are caste-free. 4 The radical egalitarianism that underpins Pentecostalism is of great significance: Robbins observes that probably the most important feature of Pentecostal doctrine . . . is that all church members are qualified to initiate and participate in ritual performances. The clergy has no monopoly on ritual.

330  Karin Kapadia Everyone participates, and whoever is moved by the Spirit can initiate rituals in most settings’ (2009: 60; emphasis added). This helps to account for the rapid spread of Pentecostalism because ‘new converts quickly become missionaries to their friends and neighbours, and then [if male] often set themselves up as pastors of their own churches’ (2009: 60). This was seen in the streets where many Dalit women had converted, because most Pentecostal women converts saw it as their duty to evangelize the non-believer women around them. 5 All names in this chapter are pseudonyms. 6 See Roberts, in this volume, who reports this too, for the much smaller Dalit-pastor-led churches that he researched. He emphasizes that it is a total misconception that the Pentecostal churches give their members money, on the contrary, just as I found at Mercy DJ, it is the financial contributions of their women members that enable the Dalit Pentecostal churches to survive. 7 There are many similarities between Roberts’s account of Dalit women’s Pentecostalism in North Chennai (see Chapter 9) and mine, based in South Chennai, but there are also very significant differences between our accounts. One major difference lies in the affiliations of the pastors. The pastors whom Roberts focuses on are poor, entirely independent Dalit pastors living in Dalit slums in impoverished North Chennai. The pastors I met leading Dalit women’s congregations in better-off South Chennai were, on the contrary, middle-class, non-Dalit pastors who had been trained by and were attached to the global Disciples of Jesus church. 8 That is, ‘speaking in tongues’. This ability is described, in Pentecostal doctrine, as a ‘charism’ or supernatural ‘gift’ from the Holy Spirit. See the helpful discussion of charisms in Bergunder (2008). The Pentecostal churches, unlike the mainstream Christian denominations, state that all believers can receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including the ability to heal others and the ability to prophesy the future (see Robbins 2009). 9 Rs 5,000 is roughly £50. 10 Daily wage manual workers – the Tamil word coolie means ‘daily wage’. A daily wage (coolie) job is considered far inferior to a job paid with a monthly salary. 11 The Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) is a company owned by the Government of Tamil Nadu, which has a monopoly over wholesale and retail vending of alcoholic beverages in Tamil Nadu. https:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TASMAC Accessed on 12 June 2016. 12 Through the Anti-Conversion Ordinance of 5 October 2002 (also see Roberts 2016). For the ordinance itself see: http://cms.tn.gov.in/sites/ default/files/acts/prohibition_of_forcible_conversion_of_religion_ordi nance_2002_0.pdf Accessed on 24 July 2016. 13 See Wikileaks, which provided this summary on 2 November 2004: After defeat at the polls in May, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa quickly reversed a number of initiatives that she had undertaken during the previous three years. Among the reversals was the controversial Tamil Nadu Anti-Conversion Law banning forcible religious conversions. The Anti-Conversion Law, which the government never enforced, is now history.https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/04CHENNAI1315_a. html Accessed on 21 July 2016.

Improper politics 331 14 The Hindu’s headline (dated 9 August 2013) proclaimed ‘Jayalalithaa Bats for Dalit Christians’, stating: Strongly backing the demand of Dalit Christians for inclusion in the list of Scheduled Castes, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on Friday wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that ‘the matter cannot brook any further delay’ and necessary legislation should be brought in the current session of Parliament. Ms. Jayalalithaa said such persons, as a result of their exclusion, remained outside the purview of all Centrally assisted welfare and ameliorative measures. Most importantly, they were excluded from the benefit of reservation in educational institutions and employment in public services for the Scheduled Castes, she said in the letter. ‘Since my government is committed to a policy of affirmative action in favour of the Scheduled Castes, irrespective of creed or religion, we have done our utmost to implement schemes that will benefit Scheduled Castes converted to Christianity on par with other Scheduled Castes,’ she said. 15 I can vouch for this: decades ago, when growing up in Chennai, I remember us, as schoolgirls, being required to participate in government ‘literacy drives’ in the slums, where we were asked to encourage women to join government-sponsored adult literacy classes. We were never successful – the women, all of whom went out for paid work, saw literacy as an utter irrelevance. They either got annoyed at us or laughed at us, saying they had no time for it. 16 The insights of Ranciere are very relevant to the process of self-pedagogy of Dalit Pentecostal women and to its profoundly political nature: it is a process of learning where Pentecostal women teach themselves and other women how to take more control of their own lives. It is also a process that can radically change their perceptions of their own identities. See Ranciere (1992, 1991). 17 Women sardonically referred to this as ‘male rule’ (aan rajya). 18 Crying prayer is both deeply emotional and a ritualized form of worship – like so much in Pentecostalism it works at several levels (see Kapadia 2014; Chapter 9). Also see Bergunder (2008) on the Pentecostal belief in miraculous prayer. 19 It is very significant that despite the thoroughgoing ‘patriarchalization’ of non-Brahmin Tamil culture over the last three to four decades (see Kapadia 1995 for the beginnings of this process in the 1980s) the original matrilaterality of Tamil/South Indian kinship has not yet been entirely erased, so that the parental home continues to be viewed by non-Brahmin Tamil women as their ‘mother’s house’ (see Kapadia 1995) – not their ‘father’s house’ – and is still seen as their place of refuge and support to which they have a right to return at any time, unlike (most) North Indian women. 20 A large number of cheap canteens have been set up by AIADMK chief minister Jayalalitha. ‘Amma’/‘Mother’ is the name she likes to be known by, so they are known as ‘Amma canteens’. 21 Tevai illai: ‘of no use’. 22 Kodumai: ‘torture’. 23 Attacks on Dalit men riding motorcycles happen regularly in North India. For a deeply shocking incident see Catchnews.com (2016), ‘2 Dalit men

332  Karin Kapadia beaten up, urinated upon by Bihar mob who thought they stole a bike’, 23 July. For an incident even in progressive Tamil Nadu see The New Indian Express (2016), ‘Dalits Cry Foul Over Violence by Caste Hindu Youth’, 18 April. 24 See First Post 2016. ‘In Gujarat, 95 of 100 suspects in crimes against Dalits acquitted.’ 23 July 2016. 25 A ‘sovereign’ in India is 8 grams of 22 carat gold. 26 Rs 25,000 is roughly £250. 27 The profoundly patriarchal nature of Tamil culture is evident in everyday Tamil: my informants told me they knew of no Tamil term to signify a ‘widower’, though they were very familiar with the term for ‘widow’ (vidvai). This is because widowers normally remarry. 28 Rakshikku padillai, literally meaning ‘Has not been saved’. 29 Gayatri meant that there were only four or five Bible women among the women converts connected to Pastor Theodore. She herself was the best educated of them, though she was too modest to say this. Gayatri was widely respected by Mercy Church’s women members, though she was considerably younger than many of them. Her relatives took great pride in her ability to preach well. 30 See Coelho, Chandrika and Venkat (2012) on another vast slum resettlement site, Kannagi Nagar, also located just outside Chennai. 31 Aandavar rakshikkirar! Aandavar ungalukku samadaanam tarugirrar! 32 Manam tirumbungo! 33 Andhu varthai. 34 Nanmai seygirar! 35 This is, very sadly, true: see the Lancet study quoted in Kapadia 2014. Tamil Nadu has a staggeringly high rate of female suicides among the poor, far higher than male suicides. 36 Devanudhaya varthai. 37 Poi sollungo. 38 Aandavar jeevikkirar! 39 Roberts describes his Dalit Pentecostals as having a strong sympathy for Marxist ideas (see Chapter 9). 40 See Robbins (2009) for a very insightful discussion of the importance of Pentecostal conversion worldwide in engendering fundamental cultural change in convert communities.   In this connection Robbins asks an important question: ‘Given its attested social productivity and the importance of ritual in producing it, what role might Pentecostalism play in shaping new socialities in the current period of global social disorganization?’ (2009: 63). I argue in this chapter that the political trajectory of Dalit convert women, motivated by the radical egalitarianism of Dalit Pentecostalism, is very progressive: the new socialities they are shaping are therefore likely to be equally progressive. Robbins (2009: 63) also argues that the great institution-propagating ability of Pentecostalism arises from its unique ability to build institutions in harsh environments. He argues that it is Pentecostalism’s promotion of ritual to the centre of social life that grounds its unusual institutionbuilding capacity. 41 Kipfer and Hart 2012. 42 The term ‘Dalit’ was unknown to the Dalit women I met – as Hindu Dalits they tended to use the terms ‘SC’ and ‘Adi Dravidar’ self-referentially.

Improper politics 333 43 Literally meaning ‘Original Dravidian’ this, i.e. Adi Dravidar, is the official term for those of ‘Paraiyar’ caste ancestry. 44 Global data on air pollution in the world’s most polluted cities shows that Indian cities are the very worst. Increasing air pollution has caused an alarming rise in respiratory diseases in India and in September 2015 The Guardian reported: ‘This summer, some reports suggested that Chennai experienced worse pollution than anywhere else in India’ (The Guardian 2015; emphasis added). The report continues: ‘India has the highest rate of death from respiratory disease in the world, according to the WHO. The rate was 159 per 100,000 in 2012, about 10 times that of Italy, five times that of the UK and twice that of China’ (The Guardian 2015; emphasis added).

References Ambedkar, B. R. 1936. ‘What Path to Salvation?’, Speech delivered by Dr. Ambedkar to the Bombay Presidency Mahar Conference, May 31, 1936, Bombay. Translated from the Marathi by Vasant W. Moon. Edited by Frances W. Pritchett. www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00ambedkar/ txt_ambedkar_salvation.html Accessed on June 10, 2016. Bannerji, H. 2006. ‘Making India Hindu and Male: Cultural Nationalism and the Emergence of the Ethnic Citizen in Contemporary India’, Ethnicities,  6 (3): 362–390. Bannerji, H. 2011. ‘Building From Marx: Reflections on “Race”, Gender and Class’, in Sara Carpenter and Shahrzad Mojab (eds) Educating from Marx: Race, Gender and Learning, pp. 41–61. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Bannerji, H. 2012. ‘A Pedagogy of Decolonization – Tagore, Gramsci, Fanon’, Lecture recorded on Vimeo. https://vimeo.com/32704164 Accessed on July 11, 2016. Bergunder, Michael. 2008. The South Indian Pentecostal Movement in the Twentieth Century. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Catchnews.com. 2016. ‘2 Dalit Men Beaten Up, Urinated Upon by Bihar Mob Who Thought They Stole a Bike’, July 23. www.catchnews.com/socialsector/2-dalit-men-beaten-up-urinated-upon-by-bihar-mob-who-thoughtthey-stole-a-bike-1469240154.html/fullview Accessed on July 23, 2016. Citton, Y. 2010. ‘ “The Ignorant Schoolmaster”: Knowledge and Authority’, in J-P. Deranty (ed.) Jacques Ranciere: Key Concepts, pp. 25–37. London: Routledge. Coelho, K. R. Chandrika and T. Venkat. 2012. ‘The Spatial Reproduction of Urban Poverty: Labour and Livelihoods in a Slum Resettlement Colony’, Economic and Political Weekly, 47 (47&48): 53–63. First Post. 2016. ‘In Gujarat, 95 of 100 Suspects in Crimes Against Dalits Acquitted’, July 23, 2016. www.firstpost.com/india/in-gujarat-95-of-100-suspects-incrimes-against-dalits-acquitted-2910080.html Accessed on July 23, 2016. The Guardian. 2015. ‘India’s Doctors Blame Air Pollution for Sharp Rise in Respiratory Diseases’, September 23. www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/23/ india-doctors-air-pollution-rise-respiratory-diseases-delhi Accessed on August 1, 2016.

334  Karin Kapadia Harriss-White, B. 2014. ‘The Dynamic Political Economy of Persistent Poverty’, in N. Gooptu and J. Parry (eds) Persistence of Poverty in India, pp. 370–395. New Delhi: Social Science Press. Hart, G. 2014. ‘Through the Lens of Passive Revolution: The South African Crisis Revisited’, in G. Hart (ed.), Rethinking the South African Crisis: Nationalism, Populism, Hegemony, pp. 163–189. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press. Hart, G. 2015. ‘Political Society and Its Discontents: Translating Passive Revolution in India and South Africa Today’, Economic and Political Weekly, 50 (43): 43–51. The Hindu. August 9, 2013, (updated August 12, 2013). www.thehindu. com/news/national/tamil-nadu/jayalalithaa-bats-for-dalit-christians/arti cle5006494.ece Accessed on May 4, 2016. Kapadia, K. 1995. Siva and Her Sisters: Gender, Caste and Class in Rural South India. Boulder, Co: Westview Press. Kapadia, K. 2010. ‘Liberalisation and Transformations in India’s Informal Economy: Female Breadwinners in Working-Class Households in Chennai’, in B. Harriss-White and J. Heyer (eds) The Comparative Political Economy of Development: Africa and Asia, pp. 267–290. London and New York: Routledge. Kapadia, K. 2014. ‘Caste and Class in Gendered Religion: Dalit Women in Chennai’s Slums’, in Kenneth Bo Nielsen and Anne Waldrop (eds) Women, Gender and Everyday Social Transformation in India, pp. 235–250. London and New York: Anthem Press. Kipfer, S. and G. Hart. 2012. ‘Translating Gramsci in the Current Conjuncture’, in M. Ekers, G. Hart, S. Kipfer and A. Loftus (eds) Gramsci: Space, Nature, Politics, pp. 323–343. Somerset, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. The New Indian Express. 2016. ‘Dalits Cry Foul Over Violence by Caste Hindu Youth’, April 18. www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil_nadu/ Dalits-Cry-Foul-Over-Violence-by-Caste-Hindu-Youth/2016/04/18/arti cle3385936.ece Accessed on July 23, 2016. Ranciere, J. 1991. The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Ranciere, J. 1992. ‘Politics, Identification and Subjectivization’, The Identity in Question, 61: 58–64. Robbins, J. 2009. ‘Pentecostal Networks and the Spirit of Globalization: On the Social Productivity of Ritual Forms’, Social Analysis, 53 (1): 55–66. Roberts, N. 2016. To Be Cared for: The Power of Conversion and Foreignness of Belonging in an Indian Slum. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

Afterword The burden of caste Scholarship, democratic movements and activism Uma Chakravarti Some years ago Navayana, the anti-caste press, came up with a proposal that non-Dalit women and men write about themselves from their own social locations on the experience of caste, a proposal I declined at that time. I am not sure why I have allowed myself to get into a similar place and write a piece for a volume that is clearly a collection of scholarly writings about caste, written from a scholarly place, no matter what the social locations of the individual authors are. Almost all scholarship on caste has been produced in this manner, and the perspectives and outcomes have been vastly different. How can my engagement with caste make sense in such a volume, as I have moved across many lines and simply written what I needed to write at different moments and done what I felt needed to be done as events and issues unfolded over the last four decades or so? Yet I have allowed myself to be persuaded by the editors who are also good friends (which Anand of Navayana was too), and so I will engage with my times from my own perspective. I will describe my engagements with caste and its pernicious burden in our lives even as I am mindful that I have never experienced its terrible consequences as one of its stigmatized, humiliated and impoverished labouring subjects. I was born in Delhi, and while I was still very young we literally witnessed the partition violence being enacted before our eyes. It was the most important aspect of our childhood reality. Soon Gandhiji was killed by a Hindu fanatic for his stand on the partition, his fast for minority rights across South Asia and the need to act fairly even as others bayed for the blood of Muslims. So the first ‘others’ were Muslims; their birth into a community defined them in our eyes. And what were we? In school we were, I suppose, ‘Hindus’ though I wasn’t aware of myself as that back then (there were many Sikhs, especially after partition), but in the neighbourhood our primary identity was ‘Madrasi’ as

336  Uma Chakravarti against North Indians. We were peculiar animals because we occasionally wore the pavadai,1 we ate idlis sometimes and we licked our hands in the slurpy stuff that we ate, and I remember being made fun of when my mother tried to teach us Carnatic music; the other kids mocked our sessions which were conducted in the front room of the house, visible to all. They made wild gesticulations and contortions of the face and hands, making us feel like some alien species whose cultural practices were ludicrous, however highly my mother thought of them. Soon the identity of Madrasi was not enough as a new girl in my school asked me what I was. I said, ‘A Madrasi’. She said, ‘But in Madrasis, what are you? I am an Iyengar.’2 I said, ‘I don’t know.’ When I checked at home I discovered I too was a Tam Bram like my new acquaintance, but while she was a Vaishnavite whose menfolk wore their religious marks differently, stamped clearly for the world to see on their foreheads, we were not. The Shaivites also marked their foreheads, though they wore their marks differently. That these marks were also caste marks, flaunted by the wearers as marks of social superiority by both groups, was not evident to me then, especially because we ourselves made fun of these people who were stuck in the past, while ‘we’ were modern. So I discovered that I was a Tam Bram, an Iyer, but from Palghat, so that made us different from all other Madrasis. No entry, even rudely, was made into a world where there were OBC Madrasis or Dalit Madrasis because they weren’t part of the bureaucracy in any substantial way: almost all the clerks, assistants and other low-ranking bureaucrats whose presence was very visible in Delhi in the early 1950s were, I suspect, Tam Brams like my father. But my father was not very Tam Bram: the youngest son of an indigent and large family, he paid off his father’s debts by joining the bureaucracy in 1924, coming away to Delhi and never going back for 12 years, escaping from a dysfunctional household with madness on the one hand and bitterness on the other. He had a very few friends, was away at office all day until dark, did not socialize with other Madrasis and sent us all to an English medium school so we didn’t learn Tamil. His single-point agenda was to ensure that all his children, especially his daughters, studied and got pensionable jobs, so that they could be economically independent whether they were married or not. He had watched his sisters suffer as they were widowed or abandoned by their husbands and then left to perform drudge labour for their brothers’ households in return for being fed and sheltered by them. So, in a sense, when I first got to know about my family history, I knew my community as oppressive and viciously patriarchal. That was a route we certainly did not want to take; Brahmanism may have been okay for men, but

Afterword 337 it wasn’t the same for the Brahmin women, even though both the men and the women upheld it and lorded it over others. I do recall an old Brahmin lady shouting out to her daughter-in-law Anda ambattan kuduta kaase alambiniya di? (‘Did you wash the coin returned by the barber?’) so that the pollution could be washed off! Even so, that caste was extreme racism, that it stigmatized whole sections of our people, while others who controlled resources wielded social power and therefore had the power to define the world, was not understood by me then and not until much later, when I began to seriously engage with caste.3 Also that such stigmatization and the perpetration of daily violence, both physical and cultural, existed, such that those who suffered such indignities desperately sought to exit from these oppressive relations, was not understood by me till I was 15 and not even then. In December 1956, Ambedkar led a large number of Dalits seeking to exit their oppressive conditions in a public act of conversion to Buddhism in Nagpur. It was only then that some sections of the upper castes were forced to acknowledge the suppressed anger of the Dalits: ‘We may have been born as Hindus, but we will not die as Hindus!’ said all of them, as they threw their idols away4 and uttered the chant of the Tissaratna5 beginning with the words Buddham sharanam gacchami.6 Since the newspapers may have carried accounts of the event, and I dropped in sometimes at the Mahabodhi Society, which was located close to my home, I wonder if it was a shadowy consciousness of this event that led to my interest in Buddhism. Ambedkar had made it known that he was drawn to Buddhism for its strong sense of social ethics and the Buddha’s critique of caste in the Pali texts. Perhaps it was similar ideas that, like radioactive fallout, simply seeped unknowingly into my consciousness, so that I went on to specialize in ancient Indian history for my master’s degree and then, when the time came to register for a Ph.D., it was almost natural that I registered under the title ‘The Social Dimensions of Early Buddhism’. In the meanwhile I had met and married a student of sociology, and when Anand went to do fieldwork in a village in Rajasthan I went with him. That was my entry into rural life where everyone’s primary identity was based on caste; everyone lived in a tola that was caste homogenous and divided from other castes according to rank, with the leatherworking Raegars of the village living at the furthest distance from others. Despite the village panchayat being under a progressive leadership, there was a furore when Anand accepted the hospitality of the Raegars; while no one said anything to him, the Raegars were roundly castigated for their temerity in breaching caste codes. Still, everyone came to visit us in our home, and I was made the ‘dharam

338  Uma Chakravarti daughter’ of a Meena man (the Meenas were classified as a scheduled tribe) who had taken a shine to me. He told Anand firmly that he was not to harass me, as I was now under Richpal Meena’s protection.7 The relationship with Anand, who went on to teach sociology in Delhi University, shaped my own historical inquiries in interesting ways. I heard and absorbed a lot of sociology as it was practised in the 1960s and onwards. Max Weber was first a familiar name and then a familiar scholar, whose work on Buddhism and Jainism was influential in shaping my own research on the Pali texts. I had tried to equip myself with language skills and so had enrolled as a student for a two-year diploma course in Pali language and literature in the Buddhist Studies Department of Delhi University. This was a department that was set up as part of the Nehruvian diplomacy for Asia after the 2500th year8 celebrations in 1956 that had been so momentuous in recent Indian history, as it was the year of the mass diksha9 ceremony in Nagpur described earlier, but it was mostly defunct in the 1970s when I joined it as a student. The training in Pali in a class where I was the sole student came in handy when I made a close study of the Pali texts on which my Ph.D. thesis was based. One of the lines of enquiry that I followed was the appeal of Buddhism to the various strata in society for which I did have some data. Buddhist texts, unlike Brahmanical texts, are unique for the manner in which they historicize people, places and events by placing all names and events associated with them to a village or town and most importantly provide a social context to these names. Thus, we have, for example, Mendaka, who is described as a gahapati (householder) who lived in village X and farmed his lands through field labour. As I worked my way through the mass of material, I was struck by some evidence that led me to urge that the Buddhist texts should not be treated as if they were some anaemic, or mistaken, version of Brahmanical texts. Instead they were reflecting a society which was not, as yet, cast into a tight varna-jati schema which sociologists, such as Dumont, have regarded as the only theoretical frame for theorizing stratification in India. I also argued quite passionately that our Brahmanical spectacles needed to be thrown away and that the categories mentioned in Buddhist texts were closer to reality, because the self-reference of donors in inscriptions in early India matched the categories in the Buddhist texts, so they were not a creation of the Buddhist texts. The essay that I wrote was titled ‘Towards a Historical Sociology of Stratification in Early India: Evidence from Buddhist Sources’, and it was published in the Economic and Political Weekly,10 which was the readership I was looking for: sociologists,

Afterword 339 historians, activists, Dalit intellectuals and anti-caste groups that were active in India, especially in western India. Of course, my arguments notwithstanding, historians and sociologists have paid no attention to my analysis of social stratification in pre-Manu times. Things changed dramatically in India in 1989 and 1990 when the anti-Mandal agitation hit North India, virulently so in Delhi University, where I taught. Lines were sharply drawn, even more so than in 1984 when the carnage against the Sikhs took place. I found myself virtually isolated, except for the student community, where some leftwing groups took a stand that was in my view reasonable and were willing to engage in a dialogue on substantive issues. For the rest, the student community felt outraged by the Mandal ordinance because it was an upper-caste student community and just about every student was hoping to get into the civil services. These upper-caste Delhi university students stood to lose their monopoly of these government positions. It is a fact that the upper-caste educated sections of the middle classes had grabbed all the places in Delhi’s university education for over a 150 years. What was most striking – and bizarre – was that the Department of Sociology in Delhi University, that had been founded by M. N. Srinivas, and had been obsessed with caste for almost three decades, suddenly took the view, along with the antiMandalites, that caste identities were being ‘forced upon us’ by the ordinance at a time when such caste identities (as it now claimed) had ‘dissolved away’ since we had successfully transitioned into modernity. Influential scholars/teachers published what they called a ‘White Paper’ condemning the Mandal ordinance and stressing the need for ‘merit’ so that India could be led into a really scientific and modern era; many university teachers went to lobby Prime Minister V. P. Singh (who had implemented the ordinance) and urged him to withdraw the ordinance. As young men in Delhi began to immolate themselves, the atmosphere was charged with tension and hatred. Most notably, feminists in Delhi were among the most confused women around, and, as a political constituency, we are still paying the price for our narrow and self-centred caste locations which, until then, we had regarded as universal and which, we thought, allowed us to speak on behalf of all women, including OBC and Dalit women. The anti-Mandal agitation in Delhi was a critical event in my life. We lived on the campus in Delhi University where much of the violence was enacted; students were out on the streets for weeks smashing buses and other public property – often waiting for the camerapersons to arrive before they executed their plans. The graffiti produced was extremely casteist, although the upper-caste students and teachers

340  Uma Chakravarti claimed that their agitations were against casteism. One poster was shockingly offensive: a map of India had an arrow piercing it – the arrow had been shot by a very Rajput-looking V. P. Singh; blood dripped from the heart of India and was being lapped up by an OBC leader and a Dalit leader with dog collars, obviously enjoying the blood feast. Not a single person, not even the university teachers backing the students’ movement from the sidelines, objected to the deeply offensive casteism of the poster. Almost as bad were the slogans and posters that the women students displayed at their dharnas: ‘We don’t want unemployed husbands!’ When I recall this poster at sessions on caste, everyone laughs at the irony of women protesting, not for themselves, but for their future husbands. But my audience sobers up when I point out the underlying message of these posters: that these young women were saying they could only marry within their own castes – their future husbands had to be of the same upper caste. And then I go on to ask my audience, ‘Now who has told them they cannot marry those OBC and Dalit men who will now enter the civil services? Did V. P. Singh’s ordinance dictate who can marry whom?’ Where is that ‘marriage’ ordinance coming from? Clearly not from the wrongs of the political system, but from the norms these young university women themselves have internalised. What I learnt from the anti-Mandal agitation was that you cannot think caste and gender separately: in India we have to think of them together. A more emancipated gender system will simultaneously bring the ending of the caste system. All my writing after Mandal has tried to bring caste and gender together in the same frame of analysis. I started my research with early India, which I believe to have been very significant in shaping the structures and ideologies that we have inherited and still live with. Using secondary writings and Buddhist and Brahmanical texts I tried to trace the concurrent creation of caste hierarchy and gender hierarchy. This led to an essay that I wrote in 1994 where I coined the term ‘Brahmanical patriarchy’; it is a term that some anti-caste feminist scholars have found useful, but others find it annoying.11 In one sense, however, the term ‘Brahmanical patriarchy’ remains valid, because it allows us to identify the conjoint ideology of caste and gender as legitimated by Brahmanism (so visible in the early dharmashastra texts) as a core element in the institutionalization of patriarchy in India.12 This essay too was published in EPW and therefore circulated among activists. It has of course been taken little note of by mainstream/malestream sociologists; for mainstream scholars of early Indian history it hasn’t even been a blip on their horizon. Students, however, read it, and

Afterword 341 small publishers selling pamphlets have republished it and circulated it among students, teachers and activists so it remains alive. I followed this essay with an extension of the basic argument I made in ‘Conceptualising Brahmanical Patriarchy’. Titled ‘Gender, Caste and Labour’, I looked at the diversity of patriarchal practices across the caste system especially with reference to sexual governance (a term I now use, which is taken from Pratiksha Baxi’s powerful work on sexual violence and better describes the elaborate ways in which women’s sexuality is controlled and deployed). Also published in EPW it dwelt on widowhood norms; I argued that labour practices were a crucial determinant of sexual and reproductive practices that differed according to the place a caste group occupied in the caste hierarchy.13 Ultimately the two papers that followed from the Mandal moment became the core of my book Gendering Caste: Through a Feminist Lens, which I wrote mainly for students of women’s studies, where I dealt more systematically with the co-constitution of caste and gender systems. Borrowing from Ambedkar’s marvellous conceptual formulation of the caste system as a system of graded inequality I used the term ‘graded patriarchies’ to describe the diversity of sexual and reproductive practices across castes. These frames remain basic elements in my ongoing work although they take different forms depending on what I am writing as a historian. At the moment, it informs my writing on the Mahabharata in a work tentatively titled ‘The Dying Lineage: The Politics of Reproduction in the Mahabharata’. Gendering Caste: Through a Feminist Lens,14 which was published in 2004, requires a more extensive discussion in this essay because of the challenge it presented in terms of writing. The book needed to be written in a manner that made it accessible to a wide range of readers since I saw myself as seriously engaging with students and activists who were beginning to look for writings on caste rather than gender. Gender has unfortunately not developed a sufficiently wide readership to date in India and is mostly read by other feminists because, on the whole, men who are anti-caste activists and/or leftists exclude themselves from reading our work. It was hard to write because I was trying to urge readers to understand the centrality of gender to the understanding of caste and the centrality of caste to the way we understand Indian social reality in terms of the stability of its social relations. Given that left theoreticians had ignored caste, and focused on class instead, my primary task in gendering caste was to show how caste and class were inextricably linked in India; as one student put it, what we have in India is ‘claste’; it is very difficult to disentangle one from the other. They were linked because caste identity determined a

342  Uma Chakravarti group’s control over resources. The appropriation of labour and the whole structure of inequality was perpetuated over the generations through the endogamous marriage system that ensured that those groups that controlled land/resources and those who laboured were reproduced in the next generation through marriage and the birthbased allotment of a place in society. The gender subordination of women to men and men’s control over women’s sexuality has been a fundamental resource without which the caste order could not have been reproduced. Women’s subordination has been the gateway to the maintenance and perpetuation of caste, and therefore there is always moral panic at the idea that women could assert their sexual autonomy, especially among the upper castes. Once the system was in place the structure of inequality in India acquired a stability that was unique and was difficult to dislodge. This structure of inequality is yet to be recognized by those left activists who are engaged in sectoral attempts to deal with class separately from caste, by those anti-caste and Dalit groups who engage with caste alone as a system of inequality, and by those feminists who are almost solely engaged in struggles against patriarchy. The caste/class/gender system seen as an interrelated whole eludes them all and continues to reproduce itself pretty much as before. The relationship between caste-class and gender has become an important aspect of some of my formal ‘academic’ work, as well as the activism that has been a part of my life since the early 1980s in the broad areas of movements for democratic rights and for women’s rights. Because of the importance of endogamous marriage in the reproduction of caste-based inequality, the violence around inter-caste marriages is a very major phenomenon right across India, although most people are ill-informed and think it is confined to Haryana and western UP. We need to be reminded that early in the 1980s it was one such inter-caste marriage in Meenakshipuram village (in Tamil Nadu), where a Kallar girl married a Dalit boy, that sparked a new intensity in right-wing politics. The young couple tried to escape the imminent Kallar violence by fleeing across the border to Kerala. Then, after many months of their being on the run, the Dalits of Meenakshipuram, who were being hounded by the upper castes in their village, took the joint decision to convert to Islam in their attempt to resist this caste violence. Right-wing Hindus immediately realized the danger this extraordinary mass conversion posed to their universalist claims regarding pan-Hinduism and responded by activating the dormant Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which rushed from North India to the Tamil village. The VHP has grown dramatically as a global presence since then. However, it remains deeply invested in the policing of

Afterword 343 women’s sexuality, surreptitiously in the case of inter-caste marriages and very blatantly in the case of Hindu-Muslim marriages, with campaigns such as the so-called bahu beti bachao andolan.15 There is no dearth of work on the legal and social dimensions of inter-caste marriages, especially in the context of North India, where the work of Prem Chowdhry16 has been very influential in the scholarly understanding of the crucial role of dominant caste power in policing women’s sexuality. The recourse to the Khap Panchayats by the dominant castes to sanction violence against young couples is a terrifying reality. But scholarship is not enough when violence is resorted to on the grounds of cultural protectionism. In Uttar Pradesh an activist group of lawyers set up a legal initiative to help couples legally entitled to marry to stand their ground. Earlier on I had been shocked to discover that the largest number of habeas corpus cases filed in the Delhi High Court concerned girls who married without parental consent. Given my ‘democratic rights’ understanding, this shocking discovery has been a further way to understand the conjointness of caste and gender structures in India. It has led me to question the terminology we mechanically use – I abhor the term ‘honour killings’ with or without quotation marks and have therefore argued that instead we should use the term ‘custodial killings’ – which is what these killings actually are: killings by the family and the community who have the powers of life and death over young women. Such killings are no different from torture and death in police custody at the hands of state officials. I have also argued that we need to break down the publicprivate divide, which informs a fair amount of feminist scholarship. Indeed, I have begun to hold that for women the family/community is the state: norms of sexual governance have culturally sanctioned forms of extreme violence against women that grant men an unacknowledged impunity that derives from cultural norms that the state does not seem to want to break in any way. My academic writing on the subject emanated from activist demands: case material collected by an association of feminist lawyers in Lucknow resulted in an essay titled ‘From Fathers to Husbands: Of Love, Death and Marriage in North India’.17 Earlier I had written a preliminary account of tensions around marriage laws from a historical perspective: the essay written for an activist workshop was titled ‘Locating Consent: The Historical Contexts of Choice in Marriage’. It was published in a feminist legal journal from Pakistan because the South Asia region shares a common understanding that so-called arranged marriage is absolutely essential to protecting existing property and caste-class structures: these power structures are maintained through marriage.18

344  Uma Chakravarti Alongside these writings, some of us in the university system kept our activism going: Haryana has been a tinder box with many incidents. As part of the PUDR we investigated the Dulina lynchings of Dalits who had simply been doing what they were traditionally expected to do for centuries – dispose of dead cattle.19 With the rightwing mobilization around gau mata even this traditional work which many Dalits are not allowed (by the dominant castes) to give up was an occasion for displaying the social power of the dominant-caste groups. Simultaneously in a nearby village Jat women were, like the cow, being policed in the name of protection. An innocent adolescent escapade, where Jat girls left their home with Dalit boys resulted in four deaths, much humiliation for the Dalits in the village and the jailing of the boys on the charge of kidnapping the girls, though the girls had testified in the presence of a magistrate that they had gone with the boys willingly. The Jat men involved in this case claimed, quite brazenly, that not they, but the Constitution of India was responsible for the violence against the young Jat women and that they wanted the Constitution scrapped. They declared that further education for girls was a curse, as it gave them ideas about freedom and choice. They openly demanded unchallenged control over their daughters, to grant them life or to kill them as they chose fit. In a letter written to his daughter, who wanted to marry a non-Brahmin boy, a Brahmin father wrote, ‘The Constitution is only sixty years old. Our Hindu texts are thousands of years old, but you are defying them.’ The girl was found dead a few days later, I have always held therefore that marriage in India is a deeply political institution that can hardly be consigned to the ‘private’ sphere. The analysis of marriage therefore cannot be left to those cultural anthropologists who merely discuss the function of marriage as the cornerstone of kinship; it requires a feminist lens to reveal the continuous use of violence that is needed to keep the structure of marriage going in South Asia. Sometime in the early 1990s I had met Sharmila Rege in Shimla at a conference that Kumkum Sangari, Sudesh Vaid and I were helping to organize. At that time she was still a young Ph.D. student. She went on to help consolidate the Women’s Studies Centre in Pune, which was headed by Vidyut Bhagwat, and when Vidyut retired Sharmila moved to the centre as its head, stepping down from a full professorship in sociology to become an associate professor, because it gave her the opportunity to shape the centre in multiple ways. This centre has now been named the Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Centre and is quite unique for its capacity to engage with the struggles and controversies arising from the workings of caste, a feature that marks western

Afterword 345 India’s rich debates on caste which go back to the nineteenth century.20 Under Sharmila’s inspiring leadership the centre sought to bridge the gap between scholarship and praxis in significant ways, as will become evident in a moment.21 In 1995 Gopal Guru wrote a significant and provocative piece titled ‘Dalit Women Speak Differently’.22 He argued that the existential experience of Dalit women was so different from the existential experiences of other women in India that Dalit women needed to have their own political formation. ‘Mainstream’ women’s groups could never really represent them – or even understand them. Dalit women’s dilemma was that, on the one hand, they had to struggle against upper-caste women for a voice in the women’s movement and, on the other hand, struggle against Dalit men and what Guru termed ‘Dalit patriarchy’. He saluted the struggle of Dalit women to create their own perspective because, he argued, Dalit women had a more encompassing view of social reality than other women, because their disadvantaged position gave them an epistemic privilege over others. Ever alert to the need to build alliances based on a shared politics Sharmila immediately responded with a powerful piece titled ‘Dalit feminist standpoint’, which became one of her best-known articles.23 She extended Gopal Guru’s analysis by suggesting the ways in which alliances could be built between Dalit and non-Dalit women’s groups. She argued that ‘a Dalit feminist standpoint’ could provide the way to struggle for the rights of women, without falling into the hands of hegemonic women: crucially, a narrow identity politics could thus be avoided.24 A Dalit feminist standpoint would be emancipatory for all social groups if it began with the experience of Dalit women, but also acknowledged the privileged position of savarna (non-Dalit) women, as well as their crippled epistemological positions. In sum, all feminists needed to reinvent themselves as Dalit feminists and also transform themselves into oppositional and collective subjects. Early in the 1980s when the feminism of Dalit women was less evident as a different voice, a stage that Rege refers to as the ‘silent’ or perhaps ‘silenced’ years of feminism,25 urban Dalit women were just part of mushrooming autonomous women’s groups. But soon they began to realize that their distinctive experience was being ignored through absurd formulations such as ‘All women are Dalits because all women clean their children!’26 Thus when Dalit women in Delhi sought to include an end to manual scavenging during a 8 March (Women’s Day) campaign, its non-inclusion led to their withdrawal from their women’s group. Today Dalit feminists have formed their own organizations, drawing attention to their ‘thrice oppressed’ status: by class power and the exploitation of their labour; by the stigma

346  Uma Chakravarti of the caste system and the oppression of dominant castes; and by gender subordinaton and endemic sexual violence. The distinctive social experience of Dalit women, which upper-caste women in the movement failed or refused to try to understand, surfaced sharply at a conference in Calcutta in 2006 over what attitude feminists should take to bar dancing. Dalit-Bahujan feminists challenged the notion of upper-caste feminists that bar dancers ‘voluntarily chose’ their profession. They refused to valorize such dancing, seeing it as stigmatizing and as a modern variant of the traditional sexualized dancing imposed on impoverished Dalit girls and women as devadasis, jogtins and lavani performers. They were outraged that the mainstream women’s movement refused to acknowledge the relationship between labour, sexuality, caste, stigma and violence in its contemporary articulations, where the Dalit woman’s body continued to be regarded as the property of upper-caste men, rapeable at all times.27 The spectacular and grotesque violence that Dalit women were subjected to by upper-caste mobs in Sirasgaon and Khairlanji was the other side of the same coin that had traditionally required impoverished Dalit women to provide degrading entertainment, while simultaneously stigmatizing them for doing this and for being ‘sexually available’.28 How successful have we been in actually finding a way to adopt a Dalit feminist standpoint across our distinctive social locations? Apart from the deep reluctance of many non-Dalit feminists to engage with questions of caste, these metropolitan feminists usually have no knowledge of the ways in which the construction of Indian traditions has always been impacted/refracted by caste. It is therefore not surprising that controversies have been especially sharp in the context of understandings of sexual labour, pleasure,29 choice and caste-based occupations that have shaped forms of entertainment, cultural practices and sex work in the urban centres. Confrontations between the ‘mainstream’ women’s movement and the Dalit feminist movement have, more recently, led to the opening of a dialogue between them.30 But it is Dalit feminists who have taken the lead here and who are showing the way forward. This extract from a 8 March pamphlet published by Dalit feminists in Hyderabad in 2008 shows their new confidence in challenging ‘mainstream’ feminism in constructive ways: [The] caste system, both as hegemony and political structure, works against the unity of Indian women. For centuries this scene has not altered. For instance, Human Rights Watch 1999 observes, ‘Singularly positioned at the bottom of India’s caste, class and

Afterword 347 gender hierarchies, largely uneducated and consistently paid less than their male counterparts, Dalit women make up the majority of landless labourers and scavengers, as well as a significant percentage of the women forced into prostitution in rural areas or sold into urban brothels. As such they come into greater contact with landlords and enforcement agencies than their upper caste counterparts. Their subordinate position is exploited by those in power who carry out their attacks with impunity.’ We, Dalit women, therefore request you to recognize that it is not just male domination but casteist patriarchy which is at force in India. We ask you to rethink. We want you to acknowledge the political importance of the ‘difference’, i.e. the heterogeneity, that exists among the Indian female community. That you are made whereas we are mutilated. You are put on a pedestal, whereas we are thrown into the fields to work day and night. You were made satis, we were made harlots. Dear sisters, do not take this as an emotional, parochial supplication made by a few privileged Dalit women. Recognition of difference is fundamental to any democratic politics.31 The authors of this remarkable document were a group of Dalit feminists who had named their collective after Alisamma, a survivor of the Karamachedu massacre of Dalits in Andhra Pradesh. These young women were seeking to shift the focus from Dalit men to Dalit women. Like the Dalit Panthers these Dalit women too were reaching out to all those women and men who were not Dalit, but could be part of a collective democratic politics. Caste is a reality, but many of us do want to be part of that democratic politics, so we must find the ways to do this. We must acknowledge that caste is burdensome (or should be) in differing ways for all feminists, wherever they may have been born: we are all products of history and we have had little choice in where we were born. What matters is what political choices we make, how we shape the debates and the activism that we engage in, and the standpoint we position ourselves in and work from. The betrayals by non-Dalit feminists and their reluctance to engage with caste are fortunately now out in the open;32 the anger and the bitterness between Dalit and non-Dalit feminists are also out in the open and will continue to trouble us in the years to come. However, both Dalit and non-Dalit feminists are aware that the need of the hour is mutual understanding and the development of a framework for working together. As the feminists of the Alisamma Collective put it, the recognition of difference is fundamental to any democratic politics.

348  Uma Chakravarti Caste itself, unfortunately, doesn’t look as though it is going away any time soon. That is the tragic and oppressive system that will survive us when we ourselves are no longer here. And that is the burden we/I must carry for being born in this ‘great’ land of ours.

Notes 1 Half-sari, worn by Tamil girls before puberty. 2 Tamil Brahmins (‘Tam Bram’ for short) are divided into two religious sects, the Iyers, who worship Shiva (and are called Shaivites), and the Iyengars, who worship Vishnu (and are called Vaishnavites). 3 These anecdotal memories were useful when years later we were dealing with a politically volatile discussion on the Mandal agitation in Delhi University, which was the heart of the anti-reservation stir in North India in 1989. 4 This was powerfully recounted to me by Urmila Pawar in an interview in January 2015. 5 The ‘Triple Gem’, namely the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, in whom Buddhists take refuge. 6 This is Pali for ‘I go for refuge to the Buddha’. 7 ‘Dharam’ relationships were a way to provide women married into a village with some semblance of an affective relationship with a person who was not an in-law; they were a substitute for the woman’s natal kin and could cut across caste although they did not breach the pollution line. 8 2,500 years after the birth of the Buddha. 9 Initiation. 10 Chakravarti 1985. 11 Chakravarti 1993. A better term now is ‘caste-based patriarchy’ – it is less critical but allows us to have a term that cannot slide automatically into terms like ‘Dalit patriarchy’. Rajni Tilak has argued that it is better to speak of ‘patriarchy among Dalits’ rather than ‘Dalit patriarchy’ because the term ‘Dalit’ ought to be used solely in its political sense to mean ‘oppressed’. 12 My argument regarding ‘Brahmanical patriarchy’ has been found helpful by many feminists, including socialist feminists in political groups in Andhra, because it highlights the distinctiveness of patriarchy in India, and in particular the political legitimation given to Indian patriarchy. The Andhra socialist feminists used the issues raised here to impress on their male colleagues the urgent need to understand patriarchy and social reality in India as very different from the ‘West’. 13 Chakravarti 1995. 14 Chakravarti 2003a. 15 ‘Campaigns to save daughters-in-law and daughters’. 16 Chowdhry 2007. 17 Chakravarti 2005. 18 Chakravarti (2005). 19 People’s Union for Democratic Rights, Dalit Lynchings at Dulina (2003) and Courting Disaster (2003). 20 Chakravarti 2003b.

Afterword 349 21 I shared a long and productive relationship with Sharmila, a relationship that was cruelly cut off when she died in 2013. I continue my engagement with the centre she nurtured so marvellously over two decades. 22 Guru 1995. He has written other provocative and very powerful essays – a personal favourite is his article entitled ‘How Egalitarian are the Social Sciences in India?’ in which Guru discusses what he terms the ‘theoretical Brahmana’ and the ‘empirical Shudra’ (2002). 23 Rege 1998. 24 She first provides a brilliant summary of the women’s movement since the 1980s and the inherent assumptions and flaws in its positions. 25 See Rege (2006: 69–71) for a discussion of the amnesia that has written out not only the years of serious engagement by Dalit scholars and writers on Dalit feminist standpoints and their critiques of mainstream feminism but also the possibilities of a more incorporative politics. 26 Personal communication from feminist friends in Delhi. 27 Meena Gopal has written two illuminating essays on the differences that erupted regarding bar dancers in 2006 at the Calcutta conference and provided a way to examine the real differences in the caste and labour of Dalit women and also to seek a way to do politics together (2012, 2013). 28 Dalit feminists have been left with a sense of betrayal at the virtual silence from the mainstream women’s movement after Khairlanji happened. They have been made even angrier by the striking difference between the public silence that meets the rape of Dalit women and the huge wave of public sympathy that met the rape and murder of a young non-Dalit student in Delhi on 16 December 2012. This event led to the appointment of the Justice Verma committee to recommend changes in the laws on sexual assault. 29 For LGBT groups the concepts of ‘pleasure’ and ‘choice’ became important because Indian patriarchy has denied them to women who are forced into a heteronormative system where marriage is compulsory, regardless of women’s sexual preferences. LGBT feminists have viewed bar dancing as a means of livelihood that urban poor women choose to earn a decent income. 30 This para is based on debates that have been taking place among women’s groups, particularly in Mumbai, Delhi and Pune. The differences between the mainstream women’s movement and Dalit women’s movement are pithily captured in a poem by the Dalit writer Anita Bharti titled Bheddrishthi (‘A Different Perception’) in her Ek Kadam Mera Bhi (2013). 31 Manifesto statement of the Alisamma Women’s Collective (2002). 32 These debates are more or less confined to feminist activists – they have not yet developed a critical edge in democratic right groups and left groups. Or else they are not being documented in the latter.

References Alisamma Women’s Collective. 2002. ‘Manifesto Statement of the Collective’, Hyderabad, March 8. www.anveshi.org.in/alisamma-womens-collec tive-manifesto/

350  Uma Chakravarti Bharti, Anita. 2013. ‘Bheddrishthi’ in Ek Kadam Mera Bhi. New Delhi: Books India. Chakravarti, Anand. 1975. ‘The Case of the Animal Carcass’, in Anand Chakravarti (ed.) Contradiction and Change, pp. 59–61. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Chakravarti, Uma. 1985. ‘Towards a Historical Sociology of Stratification in Ancient India: Evidence from Buddhist Sources’, Economic and Political Weekly, XX (9): 356–360. Chakravarti, Uma. 1993. ‘Conceptualizing Brahmanical Patriarchy in Early India: Gender, Caste, Class and State’, Economic and Political Weekly, XXVIII (14): 579–585. Chakravarti, Uma. 1995. ‘Gender, Caste and Labour: Ideological and Material Structure of Widowhood’, Economic and Political Weekly, XXX (36): 2248–2256. Chakravarti, Uma. 2003a. Gendering Caste: Through a Feminist Lens. Kolkata: Stree. Chakravarti, Uma. 2003b. ‘Locating Consent: The Historical Contexts of Choice in Marriage’. Bayan – Bi-Annual Socio-Legal Journal. Marital Law and Customary Practices: Volume IV September 2003. Lahore: Simorgh Publications. pp. 33–44. Chakravarti, Uma. 2003b. ‘Phule, Brahmanism and Brahmanical Patriarchy’, in Anupama Rao (ed.) Gender and Caste, pp. 164–179. New Delhi: Kali for Women. Chakravarti, Uma. 2005. ‘From Fathers to Husbands: Of Love, Death and Marriage in North India’, in Lynn Welchman and Sara Hossain (eds) ‘Honour’: Crimes, Paradigms and Violence Against Women, pp. 308–331. London: Zed Books. Chowdhry, Prem. 2007. Contentious Marriages, Eloping Couples: Gender, Caste and Patriarchy in Northern India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Gopal, Meena. 2012. ‘Caste, Sexuality and Labour: The Troubled Connection’, Current Sociology, 60 (2): 222–238. Gopal, Meena. 2013. ‘Ruptures and Reproduction in Caste, Gender and Labour’, Economic and Political Weekly, 48 (18): 91–97, May 4. Guru, Gopal. 1995. ‘Dalit Women Talk Differently’, Economic and Political Weekly: 2548–2550, October 14–21. Guru, Gopal. 2002. ‘How Egalitarian Are the Social Sciences in India?’, Economic and Political Weekly: 5003–5009, December 14. Rege, Sharmila. 1998. ‘Dalit Feminist Standpoint’, Seminar No. 471, November. Rege, Sharmila. 2006. Writing Caste, Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonies. New Delhi: Zubaan.