Dalit Feminism's Ascension


The National Federation of Dalit Women (NFDW) in 1995 and the All India Dalit Women's Forum (AIDWF) in 2006 are examples of independent and autonomous dalit women's organizations that arose from a strong belief that dalit women needed to organize themselves to address their'special needs and problems.'

What this'special requirements and challenges' meant was that dalit women were in a different situation than upper-caste women and dalit males. 

In other words, it highlighted the need to distinguish between 'women' and 'dalits.' "Assertion of the dalit women's experience via the forum of their organizations grabbed the attention of mainstream feminist activists and scholars, leading to a significant discussion on the plurality vs unity within the women's movement," writes Mangala Subramaniam. 

It's worth noting that the Shah Bano case in India in 1985 provided fertile ground for the development of various feminist ideas. 

However, mainstream Feminism did not always see them favorably. 

Even though communal differences among women were identified in the Shah Bano case, caste was never incorporated into mainstream feminist discourse as an analytical frame. 

Although caste and communalism have had an impact on women's movements from the early twentieth century, Mary E. John writes that "it is a matter of historical record that women's groups were unable to continue their early attempts toward a more inclusive politics." 

Early twentieth-century politicians who propounded a new India boasting female equality came to commit to a politics that was essentially 'elite, Hindu, and upper caste' in order to symbolize 'a unique period of liberal universalism in India.' 

The participation of the NFDW at the United Nations World Conference Against Racism in Durban in 2001 was a watershed point for dalit women's groups, as the NFDW "asserted itself as speaking for dalit women and began taking up dalit women's problems at the international level." 

Dalit feminists' affiliation with foreign forums, according to Atrey, served two purposes: making their own views heard and exerting pressure on the Indian government through international organizations. 

The visibility of Dalit Feminism in international forums helped to highlight how "caste, class, and gender discrimination prevents dalit women from enjoying their basic human rights, particularly dignity, equality, and development," as well as how "atrocities and violence against dalit women... [help] preserve the existing caste and gender disparities."

These observations emphasize why Dalit Feminism needed to start its journey in the worldwide arena, as well as how caste and gender interact to influence dalit women. 

'The Dalit women's movement in India made deliberate steps to tie themselves with global advocacy networks to promote the cause of their domestic fight,' according to Mahanta. 

This technique was designed to counter the government's dismissive attitude toward underrepresented voices. 

By instilling'shame' and tarnishing a nation's 'international standing,' alliances with transnational networks aided in putting pressure on the country. 

Hardtmann points out that the presence of dalit women in Durban should be seen "in contrast to the dominance of men in leadership positions within the Dalit movement locally/regionally in India and also in the Dalit diaspora." 

Dalit women's organizations exposed discrimination against dalit women by dalit men, as well as caste differences among women that had previously gone unnoticed by mainstream Indian Feminism. 

By emphasising the uniqueness of the category, 'dalit woman,' the rise of dalit women's organizations questioned the universality of 'woman' and 'dalit' by highlighting the specificity of the category, 'dalit woman,' via difference. 

"The women's movement has forgotten to identify the "caste" aspect in its enthrallment of "sisterhood," writes Vidyut Bhagat, "while the Dalit struggle has remained patriarchal and perceives the dalit women's oppression only as a caste oppression." 

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

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