Freedom can not be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression –Nelson Mandela
Caste-based division of Indian Hindu communities is established since ancient times when king Manu divided the entire Hindu into many partitions based on their work /skill set, which was called a caste system. Subsequently, it became their identity and profession also. Women from each caste have been discriminated based on their perceived inferior gender. But when it comes to Dalits (the untouchables) women it became a horrific chronicle because Dalit /untouchable communities themselves are being treated as inferior communities by upper caste. As a result, they have become economically underprivileged also, wherein women due to the nature of their gender face multiple levels of discrimination, be it caste-based, gender-based or economic and political, Dalit women were last to receive any kind of fair treatment.
Since a person’s caste is always inherited by its birth only, no matter how many social welfare schemes come and go, a Dalit woman will always be a Dalit. She can be a prime minister by virtue of her deeds but she cannot be a man or an upper caste person ever. So being on the bottom of the hierarchy of the social group pyramid, Dalit women have been living an extremely vulnerable life.
The Dalit women consist of 16 % population of Indian women as per census on 2011, but when we look at human development indicator rate of growth, Dalit women are really lagging behind with respect to women of upper castes. This disparity is prevalent in all aspects, whether it is health, education, exposure to politics, job opportunities or social acceptance at various levels. In this article, we will come across a different kind of distress experienced by Dalit woman.
Domestic violence and discrimination from upper caste society leads to a feeling among Dalit men that they are inferior. Thus they become victims of various crimes and socio-economic conditions. All of this frustration comes out on the females, generally their wives in the form of domestic violence.
There is no doubt that domestic violence is prevalent amongst all sects of society be it urban or rural towards females. However, in the case of Dalit women, they face prejudice from the upper caster women since they are mostly employed as domestic help with them. Later, they face domestic violence at home also. It is an endless labyrinth for them.
The National Crime Bureau’s official government statistics for 2012 tell us that every 16 minutes, a non-Dalit commits a crime on a Dalit. 1574 Dalit women were raped and 671 Dalits murdered in 2012 (source: http://https://yourstory.com/2016/06/caste-india)
Many temples in Nepal and South India have been appointing a female slave of the god called as a devadasi. The concept was that this woman is married to God and will serve only the temple in her lifetime. This was initially associated with dance, music and having high social status, but subsequently, this tradition started getting misused by the priest of the temple and these devadasis became the prostitute of that temple. They were mainly from the Dalit communities because of their powerless and poverty-ridden social status.
The Devadasis of modern India are largely in parts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra. They are called Mathangi in Maharashtra, Jogini or Mathamma in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and Devadasi in Karnataka. The female children are forced into becoming Devadasis by their own parents because these girls are their only source of income in most cases. Besides these devadasis, a majority of the prostitutes of Indian cities and small towns are traded with these Dalits, lower caste or some minority communities females. 90% of sex workers’ daughters in India follow their mothers into the same profession.
Unemployment and disguised employment at its highest level
The percentage rate of unemployed Dalits women in both urban and rural India are higher than women from upper caste category. According to a recent national sample survey, the majority of employed Dalits women are associated as agricultural labourers. This can be credited to lack of education and necessary skill set along with unfair treatment from upper caste people. A Dalit woman can be employed for cleaning and sweeping but never for cooking because of their untouchability status besides cooking work earns more wages as well. It is estimated that around 1.3 million Dalits in India, mostly women, make their living through manual scavenging from dry toilets, railway tracks and different sewers by hands only. Though this is caste based occupation, women were forced by their families to do this earn for a living.
Malnutrition and poor health status
Although there has been a significant decline in malnutrition from the time of independence till date but the decline rate is slower in case of Dalit woman compared to Dalit men and upper caste women. The likelihood of a Dalit woman being malnourished is way higher than an upper caste woman. The reasons could be lower income level, less health awareness, poor prenatal, antenatal and postnatal care of both baby and mother. According to recent data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), Dalit women in India die younger than upper caste women. It’s not a surprise that the average age of Dalit woman at death is much lower than upper caste people. This can be because of poor nutrition, sanitation and lack of healthy lifestyles. A research report from the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies in 2013 reveals that the average age at death for Dalit women was 39.5 years against 54.1 years for higher-caste women. (source: http://https://wokejournal.com/2018/02/17/un-report-an-indian-dalit-woman-dies-14-years-younger-than-an-upper-caste-woman/)
The triangular amalgamation (being women, lower caste and Dalit), has made the development worst and slowest for Dalit women. In spite of several welfare schemes and caste-based reservation systems, we have left Dalit women without both voice and departure, and it is slaying them. They are trapped in an unsophisticated patriarchal system with no expression and assistance to better their condition. They are restrained without exit possibilities because of the exploitative social structure which does not give them any other identity apart from an untouchable woman.
Religion is against women’s right and women’s freedom; in all societies, all the women are oppressed by all the religion –Taslima Nasrin
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