" Democracy was
also a great narrative and not merely a monolithic kind of democratic participation."
 
 
 
 

Report On Women Conference, G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad January 25th– 26th, 2008

Dalit Resource Centre (hereafter DRC), a nascent unit of Manav Vikas Sangrahalaya, successfully organized on its campus a two-day workshop on 25th – 26th January 2008 around the theme “Dalit Women and Question of Liberation- in context of Literary Expression”. Many Dalit and non-Dalit women writers, journalists and social activists of UP, MP, Delhi and Bihar, participated in this workshop.

In the early days of the women’s movement in India, like elsewhere in the world, women’s experience was seen as universal. However it was soon understood that different sets of women are affected by different issues depending on their particular sphere of activities. Consequently the feminist movement has split up into a number of smaller ones, although each one is closely linked with the global women’s movement that is waging a continuous war against the patriarchal norms prevailing in each domain of life. One such movement is the Dalit feminist movement, which has developed into a distinct one that is separate from both the women’s movement, and the Dalit movement although it has strong linkages with both. The reason is the nature of the experiences undergone by Dalit women who face oppression on two fronts, firstly by the males within their own community under the universally prevalent patriarchal norms, and secondly, by the upper castes including upper caste women under the Brahmanical upper-caste cultural norms. Thus the problems affecting them are grossly different from those affecting upper caste women and cannot be addressed within the overall feminist movement. On the other hand it would be unfair to enfold them under the purview of the Dalit movement since the problems faced by Dalit women are strikingly different from those faced by Dalit males. That is why a parallel movement called Dalit feminism has come into being in the contexts of both gender and Dalit studies in India, and has developed into a unique discipline in its own right.

The variegated travails which Dalit women are battling on various fronts is being given voice by Dalit women writers who are spearheading the Dalit feminist movement by speaking out against the stinging humiliation constantly faced by Dalit women because of their low social status. Through their literary expressions they are trying to help women to liberate themselves from their oppressive situation and to acquire dignity and self-respect. Their poems, novels and other forms of literature are the medium through which they are trying to communicate their pain and humiliation and also to convey their cry for acceptability, liberty, and equality. Their cries however will remain unheard unless they are disseminated to a wider audience who will be responsive to their plight.

Objectives of the Conference
The objective of the workshop was to understand the literary expressions of Dalit women writers related to their physical atrocities, social injustice, and psychological dishonor and to provide a platform to create a network of Dalit women writers and activists. It encouraged the dissemination of liberating and emanicipatory ideas among Dalit women of north India where society is still strongly divided on caste and gender lines and Dalits still face oppression and humiliation under the Brahmanical norms prevailing in this region. This was of great help in extending the Dalit public sphere and also helped to increase the participation of Dalit women in the democratic processes of the country. Further, it assisted both the Dalit public sphere-in-the-making and the overall feminine domain of the country to democratize. Both Dalit and non-Dalit women writers, journalists and social activists were invited to participate in it so as so to enable an across-the- board discussion on the issues affecting Dalit women. The issues discussed at the workshop contributed to the generation of a discourse on issues affecting all the marginalised sections of society including both women and Dalits, which facilitated them to reach out to the mainstream discourse.

A major issue that was at the center of the discussions in the workshop was how Dalit women see themselves. Since their Dalit identity over-rides all other identities, Dalit women see themselves first and foremost as Dalits. However their being women also determines the form and intensity of violence and oppression which they face primarily because they are Dalits in the first place. Thus the question of iniquitous gender relations within the Dalit communities gets relegated to the second place for many Dalit women because of the oppression faced by the Dalits as a whole. However today they are in a position to combat this oppression because of the sociopolitical environment prevailing in the country that has helped in sensitizing them to social justice and asserting self-respect. Alongside it is providing them the emanicipatory potential that has survived against all odds and is facilitating them to initiate a sedulous struggle at political and social levels for carving out a separate identity for themselves. This change and rupture has often made them more aware of their oppression, giving them new strength to assert themselves.

Some of the other issues that were discussed in the workshop are:
What are the circumstances that provoke physical torture, social injustice and psychological dishonor of Dalit women? What are the reactions of Dalit women to the humiliation and harassment caused to them as expressed in their literary expressions? What roles do Dalit popular booklets play in sensitizing the Dalits and non-Dalit men and women and in shaping their vision? How do Dalit women define dignity of person and community through their poems, short-stories?

First Day of the Conference, 25th January, 2008
The Director of the project Badri Narayan gave a brief introduction about the project and the concept of the conference. He said that this is an occasion that DRC had been striving to organize from a long time. The goal of the project is to widen and deepen the democratic participation of the Dalits in the democratic arena of the country by expanding the Dalit public sphere, and to create an interface between writers of Dalit popular booklets and other literary mainstream litterateurs and knowledge generators to widen the space and scope of Dalit popular writings.

Popular booklet means a kind of writing that is easily comprehended and assimilated by the deprived masses, and which reflects the views and aspirations of these people. These booklets are written with an objective of creating awareness among Dalits and Bahujans and lay emphasis on building up a society based on equality, justice, freedom, and fraternity. These booklets contain some highly significant socio-political discourses and are characterized by simplicity, receptivity, and acceptability. These booklets are for Dalits, written by Dalits. Thus, this literature is guided by the search for identity as well as for assertion and self-respect. Such endeavors contribute, to some extent, to create a corpus of counter-literature and cultural consciousness among the educated lower castes in North India. All these writers are in fact, organic intellectuals and to explore their public sphere our team also visited their villages and organized village conferences on them around the theme Apna Lekhak Apna Gaon. During our conferences whenever we met writers like Anita Bharati, Rani Nath and Upasana Gautam etc. we always felt that they were discriminated on the grounds of gender and not provided an appropriate platform in spite of their variegated talents. Thus the objective of our workshop was to develop a dialogue between mainstream writers, Dalit popular writers and women Dalit writers. This conference was organized to understand the literary expressions of Dalit women writers who strongly believe that the problems affecting them are grossly different from those of others.

The Director of the institute Mr. Pradeep Bhargava welcomed the distinguished guests and said that the Dalit popular literature is playing a vital role in bringing out the discrimination and humiliation faced by the Dalits. It is a tough job to understand the literary expression of humiliation and pain faced by Dalit women. These feelings of sufferings that are expressed through this literature need a democratic consciousness to uplift their community and to disseminate their thoughts. The Institute would like to become a part of dissemination programme through its infrastructure.

The inaugural session was presided over by Prof. Rooprekha Verma, an eminent philosopher and social activist from Lucknow. After inaugurating the workshop our eminent chief guest Prof. Vimal Thorat, famous Dalit critic and writer, New Delhi gave her views on the theme “the question of liberation for Dalit women”. She said that the Dalit women are still deprived of their basic rights and are a scapegoat in the hands of the higher caste people. They are compelled to do menial jobs and face oppression due to three-fold exploitation based on caste, gender and economic deprivation. They are the victims of rape and other heinous crimes. She said that the Dalit women writers are making every attempt to provide justice, equality and freedom to the Dalit women through the medium of their writings. She said that literature has given a new vision to our society. It has played a pivotal role in presenting a realistic image of our society. In order to bring the Dalit women to the forefront, we have to come out of the fetters of our old traditions. We have to join hands together and stop the discrimination and humiliation that Dalit women are facing at every step in their life. Dalit women forum emerged only because of negligence of mainstream feminism. Dalit women through their fiery emotions provide a new aesthetic to literature. Indians feel proud of their rich cultural heritage but it is a sorry state to see that the Dalit women are compelled to become prostitutes in the name of religion (Devdasi), are brutally killed by declaring them witches and evil spirits (Dayan) and are gang-raped in front of the so called civil society. She thanked Dalit Resource Centre and its Project Director for his admirable attempt to provide a platform to this deserted section of society and called for a multi-dimensional and multi-perspective struggle to deplume this iniquitous structure.

In her presidential address Prof. Rooprekha Verma said that the question of liberation of women especially the Dalit women is very intricate. The question of freedom and identity, for which whole Dalit community is striving for is the main issue. Dalit women are born and brought-up in such a tyrannical social condition that they don’t dare to dream. Now some Dalit women are fighting for their freedom and through their literary expressions they have created a platform to communicate their pain and humiliation and are also ready to convey their quest for acceptability, liberty and equality through their writings. It is matter of pity and shame that in our so-called civilized society, a large group of women are struggling for acquiring their basic amenities. The writers should respond to these practical problems and not be bluffed in mirage of India’s development. Dalit should be very conscious of the direction of their movement because Brahmanical modes are so dominant that it could psychologically anesthetize this movement.

The first session around the theme “Silence of Dalit culture” was presided over by Prof. Vimal Thorat.

Vandana Rag (famous storywriter, Bhopal) accepted that it is not easy for this silent community to mainstream themselves. Although they have got privilege of listening but they are still deprived from right of questioning or asserting. The language in which question of liberation may be discussed can be language of deliberations but it is not easily disseminated to common man. Our aim should be to convert this dissent of Dalit women in consciousness in order to make them more assertive while entering in domain of politics. She said that we have to explore the suppressive elements, which force this community to become silent. It is the result of our cultural biasness that made the Dalits deprived and silent. Their movement needs a strong social perspective. Only expressions can fill up the gap of this unvoiced and voiced culture.

Rani Nath (Dalit writer and activist, Kanpur) said that the people of Basor community have no other option left than to collect garbage to earn their bread even today. This fact portrays a pitiable condition and a fake picture of development of this nation. Atrocities are still going on and women are enduring various tortures because of racial hatred. Dalit women are compelled to face the worst kind of affliction because of racial and gender discrimination.

Dr. Ramchandra (Associate professor, JNU), associated this issue of women liberation with religion and culture and said that Dr. Ambedkar made an excellent attempt for the emancipation of Dalits and he reiterated that there is no difference in the struggle of Dalit men and Dalit women. This difference has been created by people of vested interest to weaken the Dalit struggle. He expressed his concern over expansion of this oppressive culture and called women writers to work for venting out this pain.

Prof. Rooprekha Verma appreciated the way in which this community is dissenting against this suppressive tradition though their cultural heritages.

Prof. Vimal Thorat called to move forward in an organized manner for establishing new values, new society. We have to overcome the obstruction created by religion in the path of this revolution. The women raising their voices should be clear on the point about which type of society they need. Everyone in this society is ready to subjugate women but not ready to provide them humane status. They are still making ruthless attempts to maintain their domination over religion and to suppress women in the name of ethical values. But now we can hear the echoes of dissenting voices of this dormant community.

The second session on the theme “The World of Dalit Women” was presided over by Ramanika Gupta (editor, Yudhhrat Aam Aadami, New Delhi). In her presidential address she said that even today freedom is a dream for Dalit women. Reason behind this is the lack of eagerness to become free. The people for whom they devote their whole life try to enslave them. Women have to come out of the tyranny of Hinduism that binds them in the name of husband, son, father, marriage and varna-vyavastha. She has to overthrow the restraints of male domination for her freedom. Patriarchal emotions are inscribed in women so strongly that in place of supporting other women they confront them. Women should raise their voices against religion and traditions. Traditions only exploit women. She called on the Dalit community to be progressive and not to suppress their women in the name of shielding them. The question is that why the Dalit writers are hesitant to pen down the atrocities they commit on their women.

Ms. Anita Bharati appreciated the fighter’s spirit of Dalit women who are struggling for liberation on different front’s i.e. physical, social and economic bondage. She added that Dalit women are associated with many derogatory works. But the main question relates to their condition in past, in the present and in the coming future. The reason is that our history is written by our suppressors and our Historians have neglected all the dissenting movements. Whenever these Dalit women tried to knock at history they have been ignored. Dr. Ambedkar said that if you want to obliterate a community then wipe out its history. Why are the writers like Sumangla Mata and Purnima Dasi the subject of our research? In fact, we are still dwelling with our caste- based prejudices. Even the children of Savarnas are not ready to eat the food prepared by Dalits under the mid-day meal programme of state.

Rajat Rani Minu showed her concern for Dalit women who are leading a degraded life and facing an exclusionary attitude of society and media both. Dalit women have been deprived of their basic rights of education, art and literature. Our country carried out many revolutions but a revolution for equality was nowhere to be found. Women have been forced to remain silent till ages by snatching their basic rights.

Ms. Gita Singh narrated her painful experiences while working for Dalit women laborers in Kanpur. She said that the food-grains sowed by them became impure when they cooked it. The need of the hour is that Dalit women fight to restore their rights instead of begging for it.

Ms. Mridula Chandra narrated how Dalits are facing constant humiliation in academics. To avoid this painful experience many Dalit women hide their real identity.

Second Day of the Conference, 26th January, 2008
The programme of the second day started with the session “Dominance and Dissent- in context of Religion, caste and male domination”. This session was presided over by Ms. Anita Bharti. Prof. Vimal Thorat said that religion has overpowered the rights of people laid down in the constitution. The freedom of Dalit women has been confiscated in the name of religion and morality. Reform on this front is possible only when the Dalit women will come to the forefront to create a society according to their wishes and needs.

Another inspirational speaker of this session was Ms. Upasana, a young Dalit activist from Aligarh. She said that a movement should be started to make people aware of the heartrending situation that has gripped our society. She added that a woman would always be gripped in the clutches of male domination in spite of portraying herself as modern. Information bulletins reveal that 80 per cent of Dalit women are facing sexual exploitation. Media also plays a destructive role in portraying the real image of women. Great players like Saniya Mirza face fatwas on personal issues. We have to come out of this narrow-mindedness.

A bold and surprising speech on the humiliating condition of Dalit women was delivered by an illiterate lady Sampat Pal, Commander, Gulabi Gang, Banda. The intellectuals and audience were astonished to hear her simple and realistic approach towards the problems of the downtrodden. Knowledge and language is not a barrier in carrying out revolutionary activities for the liberation of women and their community. Only dedication on their part is enough to work for the deprived.

Ms. Manju Suman, senior scientist from Jhansi, said that Dr. Ambedkar felt the narrowness of Hinduism and embraced Buddhism. Writings alone are not sufficient to arouse the Dalit community especially the Dalit women but dialogue and discourse are equally obligatory for their emancipation. Ideological and constitutional rules should be implemented to establish an equalitarian society.

Vandana Rag inspired women to reject such a religion that discriminates humans in the name of caste and gender.

The Second Session was presided over by Baudhhacahrya S. Sanjiwan Nath over the theme “Women in Our World”. Main Speakers of the session were Guru Prasad Madan (Eminent Dalit writer, Allahabad), K. Nath (Eminent Dalit writer, Kanpur), Dev Kumar (Dalit writer and activist from Kanpur) Dhiraj Jamadar (Famous Dalit poet, Allahabad). Shri Madan expressed his concern over the distressing condition of Dalit women. Our social structure was initially matriarchal in nature but later on males dominated the society and the system was changed entirely. He raised the question that when God has made everyone equal, who are we to make discriminations? We have to depose all the traditions that are enslaving humans and causing inequality otherwise our democratic structure will be obliterated. To repudiate traditions means to say no to those trends, which are the basis of this slavery.

K. Nath narrated the painful experiences of his life when he was a mere spectator of the atrocities committed on women. He expressed his pain over physical torture caused to Dalit women. All this terrorism is because of Hinduism. But now we are working to restore the lost dignity of Dalit women. By rewriting history we are trying to illustrate history of Dalit women warriors.

Dhiraj ji said that we are facing contradictory attitude in our society. On the one hand we praise women and on the other hand we condemn them. Dalit women are more sufferers. He also recited a poem on sufferings of Dalit women.

Avinash Choudhary said that we impose slavery on women in the name of religion and tradition. These problems become more complex when they come in the domain of Dalit women. Not only savarnas but also the Dalit males are equally responsible for the pitiable condition of their women. Dalit women can get rid of this exploitation only by their creative expressions.

Dev Kumar said that women follow various religious traditions like fasts, oblations etc for the well being of their male counterparts. It is time to pay gratitude to their dedication.

Bauddhacharya S Sanjiwan Nath said that there are two types of people in our society, one who believe in equality and other who believe in inequality and torture others to establish their domination. Both Dalit and non-Dalit male belong to the same group of suppressors. These people exploit, suppress and dominate Dalit females in the name of patriarchy. He added that a revolution, which neglects women development, is meaningless. We should provide a platform to women to uplift them, which is mentioned in our constitution also.

Last Session, “Our Story Our Songs”, was presided over by Ms. Sara Rai (Eminent Story- Writer, Allahabad). Ms. Sara Rai, Ms. Vandana Rag, Ms. Anita Bharti, Ms. Rajat Rani Minu, Ms. Upasana, Ms. Vishakha beautifully narrated her stories and poems exposing the multi-faced humiliation of women and portrayed through their writings that how they have became the victims of social polarization and have been forced to remain at periphery.

Cultural activities were organized in the auditorium of the institute in the evening on 25th January. Dalit activist Dev Kumar, Kanpur of Apna Theater Group, presented a play “Mathe Maila”, portraying the sufferings of Dalit women. In this play, atrocities and humiliation faced by women of bhangi community was beautifully portrayed. Another beautiful performance was by Ms. Nikita Singh of Samanantar theatre, Allahabad. She exhibited different modes of pain of women in her solo performance “Nau Durga”.

At the end of the session the Director of the G.B. Pant Institute Prof. Pradeep Bhargava offered vote of thanks to all the participants and the audience.

Observation and suggestions:
A painful observation was discovered in this conference that these Dalit women have antipathy against the males of their own community. People who are writing for the emancipation of their community neglect the problems of their own women. In seminars and conferences they speak about the atrocities of other women but not about the atrocities they commit on their females in day-to day life.

Our research team observed that these Dalit male writers underestimate the talent of their women and pose as if it is only because of their directives that they are writing or doing social work. Without their supervision they are good for nothing.

These Dalit women writers disparaged the statements of established Dalit writers like Dharamveer who condemn the character of every Dalit women. They repudiated such kind of mindset and asserted that they don’t need certificates of such kind of deceitful people.

All the participants congratulated the Dalit resource centre for discovering and providing platform to fiery personalities like Upasana, Vishakha and Sampat Pal. Anita Bharti requested the institute to provide residential fellowships to these emerging young writers.

The Director assured that they have provision of some short-term residential fellowships and he will take some more needful actions in this direction.

Ramanika Gupta congratulated DRC for providing a strong and vivacious platform to these young and fiery Dalit women writers but she said that instead of promoting only social aspects in such writings and conferences, we should enhance their creative aspects also to awaken the whole community.

In this regard the Project director replied that we are working on their creative aspects through our village conferences through variegated themes.

Another suggestion came from the side of participants that to arouse the consciousness of these vanquished women we should write poems, stories and short plays of 4-5 pages and after printing them in the form of small booklets they should distribute these in villages.

The Director assured her that we would work as a bridge between the activists by disseminating the ground realities faced by them to the writers and by distributing such materials among villagers and common people.

Rajat Rani Minu expressed gratitude for discourse on such fiery topics and called for supporting education of poor Dalit girls.

Director assured that we will do advocacy for such important issues and would raise voices for it.

Sara Rai advised to do a programme focusing on songs that were made for arousing Dalit community. Sampat Pal questioned that whether this consciousness and such discussions will stay behind in this seminar-room only or go further.

The Project Director expressed his limitation and said that they have raised the issues among the Dalit community and activated them. Now the Dalits have to work out solutions for themselves.

This workshop thus helped in establishing a network of Dalit women writers, social activists, intellectuals and Dalit journalists. This conference to a certain extent has definitely helped in disseminating and liberating emancipatory ideas among women.

 

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