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

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‘New’ Dalit Women and Their ‘Improper’ Politics

‘New’ Dalit Women and Their ‘Improper’ Politics

Dalit Women: Vanguard of an Alternative Politics in India edited by S Anandhi and Karin Kapadia, Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2017; pp xviii + 350, ₹995.

Scholarly attention on the marginalised histories of Dalit communities in India has been steadily growing, especially since the turbulent contestations over the Mandal Commission report in the 1990s. These investigations have also inadvertently concentrated almost exclusively on Dalit men. Only very recently, however, have scholars begun to provide a corrective, and produced books devoted to the understanding of the internal dynamics of gender inequalities within Dalit communities in different regions of India. I have argued elsewhere that centring attention on the twice Dalit—“Dalit women”—allows for the most inclusive and productive politics, and developing new feminist frameworks and critiques of power structures (Paik 2014a: 75, 2014b). In a similar vein, the essays in this volume focus on particular ethnographic evidences in rural and urban Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh (UP) to illustrate the varied ways in which different Dalit women are oppressed and how they simultaneously resist, build solidarities, face challenges and engage in negotiations with patriarchy, engendering an alternative politics. Most significantly, the authors illuminate the complexities of Dalit women’s subjectivities and agentic capacities, while analysing the role of class politics, sub-caste discrimination, constitution of honour, creation of new Dalit cultures and communities, and “burgeoning proto-feminist politics” (p 30).

The editors of this volume, S Anandhi and Karin Kapadia, bravely “ask (the reader) to rethink” the ways in which different Dalit women are exploited because of their “caste, class, gender, and religion” and “subjected to multiple, interconnecting oppressions” (p 3). The volume makes significant contributions revealing: (i) how Dalits challenge the “naturalisation of caste differences” (p 17); (ii) how urban upwardly mobile Dalit men readily adopt urban values, assert patriarchal authority, and reinforce chastity and new norms of “respectability;” (iii) how Dalit women challenge “neo-patriarchy” and mobilise more widely; (iv) how upward mobility also enables urban petit bourgeois Dalit women’s alternative politics and “innovate[ve] novel ways of being women” (p 25); (v) how Dalit women seek emotional support in women’s prayer groups, for example in Pentecostal Christianity, which radically transforms their “agentive suffering” (p 29) into a political act “and use their difficulties creatively” (p 30). This, the editors agree, is “the first step towards a more radical political consciousness” (p 30).

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Updated On : 20th Jun, 2018

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