ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Mathammas

Gender, Caste and the Politics of Intersectionality in Rural Tamil Nadu

There has been hardly any scholarly engagement with patriarchal practices that link caste, gender and land relations in the case of dalits. The ways in which consideration of caste status or honour partake in patriarchy in the context of dispossessed and socially excluded communities may not be similar to the invocation of brahmanical patriarchal values. This paper attempts to capture the complexities involved in conceptualising the caste patriarchy among the dalits through their narratives and that of the upper castes, women social activists and the state on a ritual practice prevalent among the Arunthathiyars, a dalit sub-caste in rural Tamil Nadu - the dedication of Arunthathiyar girls and women to the goddess Mathamma.

This research forms part of a project, “Caste Out of Development: Civil Society Activism and Transnational Advocacy on Dalit Rights and Development”. The project is coordinated by David Mosse, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and supported by the Economic Social Research Council, London. S Padmavathy provided research assistance and the staff of the SRED, Arakonam, facilitated the fi eldwork. I wish to thank Fatima Burnard for her support and help with this research. A version of this essay has benefi ted from discussions at a seminar held in Chennai in December 2010. I would like to thank David Mosse, Judith Heyer, Karin Kapadia, M S S Pandian, Padmini Swaminathan, Rajan Krishnan and Sasheej Hegde for their useful comments.

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