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Brutal Life Experiences

Deepa Srinivas

By Aloysius Irudayam , Jayshree P. Mangubhai, & Noe I.G. Lee National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights
Zubaan, Delhi, 2014, pp. 445, Rs. 695.00


Dalit Women Speak Out: Caste and Gender Violence in India is a sobering book. The study, encompassing four states in India (Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu—Pondicherry) and based on interviews with 500 Dalit women, sets out to explore ‘the phenomenon of violence against Dalit women, a subject hitherto little addressed by academics, human rights activists and the Indian state’ (p. 31). The study forces our attention on a grim truth that is widely known yet ignored precisely because of its everydayness—when viewed from the constitutional and human rights perspective (human rights, the authors remind us, are ‘the foundation of human needs’ (p. 5)), the right to equality remains unrealized and inaccessible for Dalit women. Extreme forms of sexual violence and economic exploitation shape the lives of these women. Staking claim to a piece of land or one’s rightful wages or to the common resources of the village are treated as major acts of transgression. Most of all, when a Dalit woman resists sexual exploitation by a landholding upper caste male, she faces grave retribution. Narrating the everyday brutal life experiences of a large number of Dalit women, the authors highlight the practices of oppression but also the culture of impunity that is enjoyed by members of upper caste communities. Dalit women and their families run into major obstacles if they dare to seek redressal; they would then have to deal with the formidable nexus existing among the upper caste perpetrators of atrocity, members of traditional as well as formal village panchayats, police and forest officials and political leaders. A prominent method of the study is to classifiy and name different forms and modes of violence experienced by Dalit women, for instance, targeted violence, compound violence, group violence and multiple violence. But this classificatory method sometimes appears too reductive to capture the complex and enmeshed nature of such violence. Additionally, a reader might be slightly disappointed if she looks for historical trajectories of caste-based tension in a particular geographic space. It would be interesting to locate oppression as also the emerging Dalit consciousness against the backdrop of hostile encounters and crises within a region. The Chunduru carnage in Andhra Pradesh may serve as an illustrative example of the tensions between the feudal landholding upper castes fiercely protective of their customary privilges and a Dalit community in the process of internal transformation through education. Alongside the violence Dalit women ...

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