Dalit Women and the Struggle for Justice in a World of Global Capitalism

Feminist Theology 14 (1):127-149 (2005)
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Abstract

This article tackles caste-based poverty by a focus on the position of Dalit women in India. Of 200 million Dalits, nearly 50% are women, often referred to a ‘thrice Dalit’, as they suffer from the triple oppressions of poverty, being female and being female Dalits. They are frequently let down by both the Dalit movement itself as well as the women’s movement in India that focuses more on social problems like dowry deaths—more relevant for caste women and not those outside the caste system. Many Dalit women are denied access to education, to meaningful employment, health provision and are the first to suffer the negative effects of globalization. Access to upper caste wells is forbidden. Worst of all, Dalit women are exposed to many forms of violence and are frequently raped as a way to humiliate Dalit men. The degrading work of ‘scavenging’—removing human excrement-falls mostly on Dalit women, since men are more likely to be ‘upwardly-mobile’. Despite all of this, a new strength now emerges in challenging caste boundaries, contributing to self esteem and a stronger sense of identity. The strong spirituality of Dalit women has sustained strength through songs and stories, and in some cases by subverting patriarchy through ironically re-shaping traditional myths. The article ends by suggesting forms of action from Church, society and feminist theology to show solidarity and effect social change for Dalit women.

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