Dalit women of rural Gujarat came out of their homes to march shoulder to shoulder with men in their protest against the discrimination faced by the community.
Javaraj (Gujarat): While Dalit men are quitting their jobs of skinning animal carcasses, it is the women who have taken the responsibility of being the bread earners of their family.
These women in rural Gujarat have come out of their homes to not only participate shoulder to shoulder with men in the rally, but have also managed their role of a homemaker alongside their fight for ‘asmita’.
When the Dalit Asmita Yatra commenced from Ahmedabad on August 5, two women – Nirjhari Sinha, an Ahmedabad-based activist and one of the organisers of the Dalit march and another activist, Bhavna Ramrakhiani – marched along with men.
As the rally traversed through the villages of Gujarat, Dalit women extended support, came to meet the organisers and put forth their grievances. When the march reached its destination in Una, a town in Gir Somnath district of Gujarat on August 15, the participation of women had increased manifold.
Alongside balancing her gender-based role of a home maker, Manjuben Kanubhai Parmar, a mother of three had come to extend her support to the cause on the second day of the rally at Barwala village. “I heard about the incident in Una. The situation in our village is a little better. Our village has more Dalits than upper caste people.”
“I have to get back home,” she then tells me. “I have to cook for my family.”
Parmar isn´t alone in her struggle to balance between home and her passion for fighting the cause. The women of every village that the rally has passed through, have come out of their homes in overwhelming numbers and have lend their support for the arrangement of food for the people of the rally and for cleaning.
On the third day at Javaraj village, some 50 Dalit women came down to participate in the rally. Women who had veiled their faces with a corner of their sari were shouting slogans of ‘Jai Bhim’.
Thirty-four-year-old Rajuben has been concerned for her family ever since the Una incident. “A few weeks before the incident of Una, seven Dalits had been beaten up in Rajula for the same reason, but this wasn’t reported in the police station,” she said.
“This is my village – my home – yet I don’t feel safe. This is not the first time that a Dalit has been at the receiving end of atrocity met out by people of upper caste,” she pauses, “This won’t be the last either.”
The Dalit women have probably been the worst victims of caste bias in the state. An example is an incident in Amreli district in 2013, where a 17-year-old Dalit girl of Hirana village in Lathi taluka was gangraped and abandoned near Dhasa village. If that wasn’t enough, the teenage victim and her family next faced harassment from the police. Instead of filing an FIR, the cops of the local police station forced the minor to marry the rapist.
In another report from the same district, a Dalit family had been holding a dharna outside the district collector’s office at Amreli for four months to demand action against the culprits who gangraped a minor girl, but in vain.
In every village, the Dalit women have a scary tale to tell of a life they lead in fear and humiliation and of what they face at the hands of men of upper caste.
Laxmiben has taken up work as a house help after her husband quit the job of skinning dead animals. On August 15 she skipped her work to participate in the final day of the rally in Una.
She said that she had been harassed several times by a man whom she refused to name and who she said belonged to the Brahmin community and lived in same village as her. “He would make lewd comments at me. I have shared this with my husband but requested him to keep quiet about it. If he protests, they will come after him,” said Laxmiben, a resident of Thangad.
In some villages Dalit homes do not have toilets. Under these circumstances, women have to make do with one common toilet that people from 10-15 households use. At night, however, the women feel unsafe to walk even to the community toilet, lest they get raped or molested.
Samtiben Chancherbhai Rathore, a resident of Samter village said, “The community toilet is a little far from our homes. We go in groups after its dark.”
When asked what brought her to the rally, she retorted, “Aur kitna sahege hum?” (How much should we tolerate?)
“They abuse us first and our men face the flak if they come to protect us. They are beating our sons and forcing our men to lose their source of livelihood.”
As the Dalit rally made its way towards Una, women joined in to fight for themselves, their children and their homes.
Nirjhari Sinha said, “The upper caste hegemony has to be demolished. Equal social status for Dalits, their right on the land, their right to education and a better livelihood is what we demand. The women are a part of the very society too. When the scenario changes, women too would have a better life.”
As days passed, many female leaders and activists of various organisations and states had joined the rally.
Meanwhile, the women who had braved so much, seemed undaunted as they marched shoulder to shoulder with men.
“Hum cheen lege azadi jatiwad se, brahmanwad se, bhedbhav se.” (We will snatch away freedom, from casteism, brahmanical society and social disparity)
The women take the spirit of the movement a notch up as they shout this slogan at Javaraj village.