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“Dalit Feminism And Bahujan Feminism Are Two Sides Of The Same Coin”

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On the 144th historical day of the farmers protest, which included Bahujan and women farmers, the Centre for Human Dignity and Development (CHDD) and the IMPRI (Impact and Policy Research Institute), New Delhi, organised a special lecture on how casteism strengthens gender discrimination and patriarchy.

The lecture was moderated by Dr Simi Mehta. Dr Mehta introduced everyone, including the chair, speaker, and discussant.

A person holding up a placard that covers their face, which reads "Dalit Lives Matter".
Dalit feminism has been able to establish itself as a distinct discipline, which is different than mainstream feminism. Representational image.

Setting the tone for the lecture, professor Vibhuti Patel, former professor at the TATA Institute of Social Science, Mumbai, and chair of the special lecture, spoke about how caste discrimination strengthens gender and patriarchy in India.

She briefly touched upon issues of gender discrimination and patriarchy since independence. She elaborated on the issues of institutionalisation labor, mainly gender discrimination of women based on their sex, labour, birth productivity, etc.

Needs Of Labour Class Are Ignored

She also explained the impact of politics on caste exploitation, and how it has been very common in our country, for thousands of years. In the context of women from backward castes, they always face two types of discrimination: public patriarchy and internal patriarchy.

Dalit women always got exploited in various ways, by the Savarna castes, sometimes in the name of the distribution of resources, both in the organised and unorganised sectors. She said that caste discrimination can be seen clearly in every religion of our country.

Similarly, the moderator very eloquently explained that the intellectual class of the society makes policies without acknowledging the concerns of the labour class. Likewise, in the structure of the economic pyramid, the upper class always comes first and ignores the marginalised class, in the last place.

This is considered as the stratification of disparity. Lastly, she emphasised that there is no doubt about the heinous nature of casteism, as it hits out at the constitutional values of our nation, in that sense it could be considered as an enemy of inclusive development.

Caste Discrimination Strengthens Patriarchy

The speaker, Dr Lata Pratibha Madhukar is an independent researcher, social activist, writer, and the convener of Bahujan Sanvad Social Network. She started her lecture by talking about contemporary issues related to casteism, along with some personal experiences.

Dr Madhukar mainly focused on women’s leadership and contribution, and how it brings them forward in the realisation of knowledge, resistance, and communal harmony. She also emphasised how they are deprived of education; push back in the unorganised labor force, farming, etc.

She pointed out that caste discrimination strengthens patriarchy in our country and that the annihilation of caste is the only solution.


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She referred to the unpublished paper of Dr BR Ambedkar and expressed her concern over how Indian social theorists ignored the ideas given by him, which denotes only a failure of our diverse society in delivering justice.

Casteism And Patriarchy Exists In All Religions

Dr Madhukar spoke about the need for a homogeneous form of feminism and shared the example of Shaheen Bagh and how it flourished like a sunflower. It also broke gender stereotypes of socio-political movements.

She also explained that every religion has issues to do with gender discrimination and patriarchy, since the birth of the child.

The speaker also explained how the women of our country are mainly treated on the basis of four factors: caste, religion, gender and class. The fifth basis is discrimination based on power. For instance, how people from the upper class decide the destiny of an educated girl from the lower class, by inflicting her with brutal atrocities.

In that sense, it is comprehended that through inclusion, reservations, and respecting the marginalised, Bahujan women and men’s traditional wisdom, artistic and aesthetic knowledge, can shape Bahujan feminism distinctively.

Caste Discrimination Is Visible, But We Don’t See It

The speaker said that in our country, caste discrimination is visible, but we do not want not to consider it. Every day, we hear the news of caste discrimination, but we do not present our concern on such issues, because of brahmanical obstacles, knowingly or unknowingly.

There is a need to understand the socio-economic status of the marginalised class, so that we can analyse caste discrimination in its true sense.

Similarly, the idea of sovereignty, fraternity, and secularism introduced by Babasaheb Ambedkar needs to be recognised as true manners. As our country is very diverse and disparate in various aspects, it could be relevant to also follow the ideas of Buddhism along with constitutional values.

Henceforth, we comprehend how caste, gender, patriarchy are interlinked. This intersectionality with culture and religion makes the most marginalised sections more vulnerable. Be it Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, transgender people etc.

In that sense, it can be understood how the “black lives matter” (BLM) movement also compels us to think about the lives of the Dalits, Bahujans, Adivasis, and other minorities.

Bahujan Feminist Theory And Intersectionality

Dr Madhukar used Bahujan feminist theory and practice to explain intersectionality. She spoke of how the recognition of identity plays a vital role in determining the gender at the birth, and the celebration of the child.

Caste and class lead to huge social and economic disparities, affecting the distribution of resources. So, there is a need for the redistribution of resources. Similarly, when it comes to representation, it needs to ensure that there is a true representation of women of all castes and classes in a movement.

Bahujan feminist theory also hits out at various aspects of casteism.  In that sense, the economic and political status of the person is denied in India, because only one’s caste is to be one’s ultimate identity.

One’s the status and power also determine who gets to make decisions. As it has been seen in every religion, the person from Savarna castes hold the authority and can take decisions according to their vested interests. Such a person doesn’t care about others, but only wants to gain personal profits.

In this context, we can say that identity and self-respect, recognition and redistribution, the right to livelihood, and the right to live with dignity, are major strings in the discourses to do with intersectionality, identity and standpoint theories, etc.

The Phules And Their Feminism

Dr Madhukar spoke about the history of the feminist movement. For instance, how it was discussed by mahatma Jyotiba Phule in his book “Gulamgiri”. She also said that the Bahujan feminist movement faced many struggles in the view of patriarchy and Brahmanism.

The “Manusmriti” presents how patriarchy plays a vital role in deciding on the gender roles and sexualities of women in Savarna castes, and suppressing them.

With regards to Bahujan feminism, the speaker discussed a detailed chronology of the feminist movement in India. She shared the struggles of Savitribai Phule, Fatima Sheikh, Tarabai Shinde, Pandita Ramabai, and Dr Rukhmabai Raut etc.

These women represented a new wave in the 19th century. They hit out at gender discrimination and Brahmanical patriarchy via their endeavours and Bahujan feminism. They broke the trend of Brahmanical feminism in a true sense.

Bahujan Feminism: Extension Of Dalit Feminism Or…

In this part, the speakers spoke about whether Dalit and Bahujan feminism are different or the same, as both have been inspired by Phule, Shahu, Iyothee Thass, Narayan Guru, Ayyankali, Periyar and Ambedkar etc.

Where Dalit feminism believes in the navayana Buddhism revolution, the Bahujan concept is originated from Buddhism itself. Dalit feminism is against “Manusmriti”, “Vedas”, “Virat Purusha” and opposing graded inequality. Similarly, Bahujan feminism is also against the “Manusmriti” and believes in Phule’s satyshodhak dharma (the search for truth).

The legacy of Phule-Ambedkar was followed by Dalit women and communities. Also, the renaissance because of leaving Hinduism made Dalit women self-reliant. In this context, the urge of learning, gaining education, and entering into each sphere became more relevant.

But, in Bahujan feminism, as Bahujan women are scattered into several castes, despite the satyashodhak movement and non-Brahmin movement in India, Bahujans from all religions couldn’t be a part of the renaissance.

Also, Dalit feminism stands on Bahujan women’s contribution, claims it, and takes the legacy ahead. But, Bahujan men and women mostly boycotted it, and kept women away from knowledge. As a result, Bahujan feminists’ struggles in the contemporary era are different from Dalit women.

Lastly, Dalit feminism has been able to establish itself as a strong, distinct stream of feminism, but Bahujan feminism is still immature and defining itself.

Dalit And Bahujan Feminism Two Sides Of Same Coin

Dr Madhukar said that Dalit feminism and Bahujan feminism are two different sides of the coin of Phule-Ambedkarite feminism. Both feminisms claim the same ideology, but their standpoints and locations are different.

The speaker also presented the debate around Dalit feminism and standpoint theory, subaltern studies and Dalit women’s narratives, etc. Dalit feminism separated itself from Bahujan (shudra/OBC) women, on the level of their backwardness in the renaissance.

In this sense, many elite and Dalit feminists have both: common and uncommon views, conceptions and misconceptions, about Bahujan folk.

Similarly, the heroes and sheroes in the shudra varna in the 19th century, came up with not only reforms, but brought about a total change in the pattern of slavery. In this context, they have not been recognised because history has been written from a Brahmanical perspective.

Bahujan Hitay, Bahujan Sukhay

Throughout her lecture, the speaker talked about the concept of “Bahujan hitay, Bahujan sukhay” in society. In this context, it can be understood how the foundation of Buddhism and Jainism of tathagata Gautam Buddha and Vardhman Mahaveer Jain, opposed the Vedas and Brahaman varnashrama in ancient India.

As early as 3,500 years ago, Buddhism had declared the concept of “Bahujan hitay, Bahujan sukhay“, which presents the idea of the welfare of the masses and not the elite classes.  No doubt, it is a need of the hour for us to follow this idea.

The speaker concluded her lecture while urging for homogeneous and collective leadership in the feminist movement.

The article was originally published here.

Acknowledgment: Priyanka Walter is a research intern at IMPRI.

Featured image is for representational purposes only. 
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