There are about 167million Dalits also known as untouchables in India of which 49.96% are women. Dalits, especially Dalit women face immense economic, social and educational deprivation. Their jobs provide hardly enough income to fund their kids’ education and feed their own families, thus reproducing the cycle of impoverishment. The Indian government has tried to eradicate this systematic discrimination by way of stipulating in the constitution that all forms of discrimination based on caste must be abolished. The constitution was adopted in 1949.
According to the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), Dalit women suffer multiple discrimination: “first as Dalit’s, second as an impoverished underclass and third as women”
Dalit women have been systematically raped, forced to parade naked and have endured sickening accounts of sexual assault. Specific forms of violations have been forced prostitution where thousands of Dalit girls are pressurized into prostitution every year, or born into the trade. The second form of extreme violation against Dalit women is manual scavenging. Mostly Dalit women earn their living through this degrading form of labour. Manual scavenging signifies the removal of human feces. The human feces are usually removed by use of simple methods, put into buckets and then carried on their heads. These women, who are subjected to such jobs, earn very little and often become ill due to the unhygienic nature of their work. Most depressing is the stigma tied to this job, leaving the majority of these women unable to seek another means of living, if they choose to do so (IDSN).
Unearthing what lies behind this vile treatment of Dalit women is found in Hindu religious books, particularly the Manusmriti,” women have no right to education, independence, or wealth (n.pag)” Even the killing of a dalit woman is purely acceptable as a small offence for the Brahmins: equivalent to the killing of an animal (Manusmitri)” (Report : Unheard voices-DALIT WOMEN).
Stigma and religion have prevented many Dalit women in building a better future for themselves. On the other hand there are some who are stepping out to challenge the establishment and raise their voices. Many Dalit women have been mobilized in demanding their rights for dignity and security in the form of land rights.
Securing land rights entails enabling these women to become substance farmers thereby growing their own crops and thus providing a staple diet for the entire family. Becoming substance farmers would allow them to save money, which they can use to send their children to school. Securing land rights would also help the husbands of Dalit women stay with their wives. Many Dalit men leave their poor families in search of work.
Some Dalit women have taken the fight for dignity and security further by becoming successful politicians and millionaires.Discrimination against Dalit women still continue on a large scale. Nonetheless there are stories of hope and defiance. Let’s hope that these stories increase.
By Charlotte Lazarus