Wednesday, June 30, 2010

[ZESTCaste] A Study on Dalit Women Movement in Tamilnadu

A Study on Dalit Women Movement in Tamilnadu

Even as we are in the 21st century, caste discrimination, an age- old
practice that dehumanizes and perpetuates a cruel form of
discrimination continues to be practiced. India where the practice is
rampant despite the existence of a legislation to stop this, 160
million Dalits of which 49.96 percentage are women continue to suffer
discrimination. The discrimination that Dalit women are subjected to
is similar to racial discrimination. Dalit women are thrice
discriminated, treated as untouchables and as outcaste, due to their
caste, face gender discrimination being women and finally economic
impoverishment due to unequal wage disparity, with low or underpaid
labour. According to the Manusmiriti, women have no right to
education, independence, or wealth. It not only justifies the
treatment of dalit women as a sex object and promotes child marriage.
Manusmiriti also promoted inequality between men and women. As other
parts of country in Tamil Nadu also Dalit women are facing challenges
because of their caste and gender discrimination. So, in order to
improve and get due respect of Dalit women, the various womens forum
and organization started as Dalit women movement to protect their

In this context, the present paper focuses on Dalit Women Movement in
Tamil Nadu. This study also highlights the Dalit Movement in India and
Role of Ambedkar for the rights of Dalits.

Dalit Movement in India

Dalit movement has a rich history of rationalism and humanism. In
fact, the historical evolution took place with Buddhas revolt against
Varnashram dharama. Buddha not only rejected supremacy of Bramins but
also of the Shastras. After Buddha, Mahavir Swami rejected the notion
of caste and violence in the brahmanical structure. In the 15th
century Kabir talked of rejection of caste system and talked of one
God. He attacked rituals and shastras and talked of a society based on
equality. Yet the brahmanical system continued by hook or by crook.
The brahmanical literature degraded Dalits and talked very cleverly
about the pre- birth theory. While Mughal rule in India was a status
quo one, the emergence of British power made a lot of difference for
the downtrodden people. They brought a sense of liberty for the
marginalized communities. Jyoti Ba Phule belonged to Mali community of
Maharastra. Punes Chtpawan Bramin would not allow any Dalit and
backward to join schools. Women and particularly of Dalit community
could never dream of going to school. Phule realized that unless the
community gets educated they would not be able to emancipate
themselves. So he started a massive work of education by starting
various schools in and around Pune. The Brahmins opposed education
movement among Dalits which they had denied for years. Phule
appreciated Christian missionaries for their noble work in school

Dalit Movement today is at the crossroads. The early center of the
movement was Maharashtra since the pre- Independence period. Ambedkar
and the Maharashtra Movements were the source of inspiration for the
dalit movements elsewhere. But, the dalit panthers of 1970s could not
withstand for more than a decade. The Republican party (RPI ) has
splintered into so many factions and the main faction led by Athauale
is clinging on to the Congress apron strings. The BRP led by Prakash
Ambedkar is still enjoying mass respect and influence, still, there is
no movements worth the name.

The dalit movement in Karnataka, symbolized by the Dalit Sangharsh
Samiti (DSS) was known for its agitational and movemental character.
In Andhra Pradesh the Dalit movement showed some signs of revival in
the mid 1990s when the BSP made an attempt to expand its wings to
south India. Lakhs of people got mobilized in the inaugural rally.
Ex-PWG leaders, prominent dalit leaders etc., joined the BSP in the
presence of Kansiram. Kerala has the lowest proportion of dalits in
south India. The 68 communities included in the list of S.Cs form a
mere 9.8 percent of the population in a state dominated few major
communities Muslims, (27.70%) Ezhavas, (22.91%) Chirstians ( 19.02%)
and Nairs ( 12.88%) and S.Ts form a miniscule 1.1 percent. The dalits
of Kerala are the most literate among the S.C. population in the

Role of Ambedkar for the Dalits rights

Taking inspiration from phule, Baba Saheb Dr. Ambedkar also talked the
importance of education. But education must be rationalists and
reasonable. Education agitates our mind. It gives us thought about
what is good and what is bad. Hence, Education is root of every
movement. Agitation on certain thing is uniting factor. It became the
famous word of Ambedkar Educate, agitate and organise . Ambedkar was
one of the tallest intellectuals of the country, a scholar who
understood the crookedness of the Shastras. He was an iconoclast and
questioned the very essence of Shastras.

Ambedkar fought for the dignity of Dalits. The Hindu Varnavyavastha
snatched the dignity from Dalits. It degraded labour. He considered
the Hindu law book as the source of caste system and discrimination
against Dalits in India that he launched a movement against it.On
December 25th 1927, he launched a Satyagraha in Mahad town of
Maharastra for the water rights of Dalits and against the Manu Smriti.
He burnt Manu Smriti terming it a document of discrimination with a
number of his supporters.

It was of great courage to do so in the den of violent Chitpawan
Brahmins in Maharastra. He fought for the rights of Dalits and had a
broader vision for his community. His main concern was to ensure fare
participation of Dalits in political life of the country and he
succeeded in getting separate electorate for them, which he had to
withdraw to save the life of Gandhi in 1932 known as Poona Pact.

Then as constitutionalist when he drafted constitution and later
worked very hard to ensure fare deal for women in the Hindu Code Bill.
In the last phase of his life when Babe Saheb embraced Buddhism, his
main concern was providing a political alternative to Dalits. It is
also interesting to note that B.R.Ambedkar was a humanist to the core
of his heart. Even when his so called followers have converted him as
a caste man or narrowly interpreted his ideologies and perception,
Ambedkar could be termed an international humanist. Poor Dalits who
consider him his emancipator. Ambedkar is a uniting factor for Dalits.
No Doubt that he has became an icon from North to south from Hindiland
to the Southern Tamilnadu.

Dalit Movement in Tamil Nadu

The Dalit movement in Tamil Nadu has long and chequered history.
Iyothee Thass, Erattaimalai Srinivasan, M.C.Rajah, N.Sivaraj and
L.Elayaperumal Vai. Balasundaram were some of the stalwarts associated
with the movement at various stages. The founder of the Self- Respect
Movement and the Dravidar Kazhagam, Periyar E.V.Ramasami,( Title was
given by Women organizations at Women Conferrence in Chengalpet in
1929.)who was also among the early champions of the Dalit cause.

One of the earliest organized endeavors for the Dalit cause was
perhaps a memorandum submitted to the Governor of Madras Presidency in
the early 1890s on the horrifying living conditions of Paraiyars, one
of the two principal social groups among Dalits, in the then
Chengalpat district. Following this, Paraiyars and other sections of
Dalits were assigned what was termed Panchama land. Over the years
this land was grabbed by caste Hindu usurpers in violation of the
provision against the transfer of its ownership. A hundred years
later, in 1994, a movement was launched in the same district to
restore the land to its rightful owners. This agitation, in which two
people died in police firing, marked the beginning of the present
phase of the Dalit movement in the state.

In the 1990s, the Dalit response was to get organized. The regional
movements demonstrated the strength arising from numbers and unity,
but also brought out some inherent limitations. First, of course was
the fact they did not have the resources, the personnel and leadership
to build up and sustain large-scale movements. Of the three,
leadership was the most crucial. It is in this context that the
services of K.Krishnasamy and Thirumavalavan have to be appreciated,
the former a medical practitioner and the later a well placed
government official. Both of them gave part time help to aggrieved
fellow Dalit initially, later they became leaders of Dalit Movements
and have since emerged as political personalities. Their sustained
effort and personal sacrifices have succeeded in mobilizing Dalits,
enthusing more Dalits to devote time for the movements, and generated
resources to make the movements fairly well established in the state.
The DPI, one of the large dalit political movements in Tamilnadu since
the 1990s has been remarkably active in taking up the issues of caste
atrocities on dalits in the northern parts of the state. Its powerful
protests against caste oppression and adherence to Periyars radical
social values were once well known.

The conflicts between Dalits and Thevars, a caste Hindu social group,
the southern districts are not new in the state and Dalits have mostly
been at the receiving end. A significant out come of the confrontation
between Dalits and caste Hindus in different parts of the state for
nearly a decade is the emergence of two principal organizations,
Puthiya Thamizhagam led by Dr.K.Krishnasamy and Viduthalai Siruthaigal
of Thol. Thirumavalavan

Dalit Women Movement in Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu Dalit women movement was launched during the year1997 by
SRED (Society for Rural Education and Development) human rights
organization who worked among women for 20years to promote their
rights. During those past period they start organizing women into
groups and then as a federation. In the latter stage, they start
coordinating al the groups into movements or one forum called Tamil
Nadu womens forum that concentrate on promoting rights among common
grass root women. Then while working among dalit women, they realized
need for separate movement for dalit women with the focus of dalit and
especially to protect their rights.

With the help of various NGOs in Tamil Nadu they organized dalit women
and start highlighting the issues of dalit wherever they find. Thirty
voluntary leaders from 30 districts of Tamil Nadu coordinate together
and take this movement to the grass roots. This movement is open for
dalit women who can address their issues and atrocities where this
movement fights for the rights and justice. This movement is active in
16 districts of Tamil Nadu and takes issues of violence against
dalits, untouchable practices, discrimination, atrocities against them
and the denial of livelihood rights.

Tamil Nadu Womens Forum (TNWF) is a state level imitative for womens
rights and gender justice. TNWF was started in 1991 in order to train
women for more leadership, to strengthen women s movement and to build
up strong peoples movement. This movement is also collaborated with
some of the dalit parties like Viduthalai siruthaigal ( Dalit panthers
of India- DPI). However, the transformation of the DPI from a
political movement to a party seems to have led to a dramatic dilution
of its radicalism. Importantly, dalit women despite their very active
participation in politics, continue to lack of recognition and respect
even within the dalit movement.

When Parliament enacted the constitution (73rd) Amendment Act in 1993,
the move was hailed as a breakthrough in bringing about a vibrant
system of participatory democracy at the grassroots level and a
paradigm shift in the process of development, for the first time it
provided for statutory reservation of elected posts in local bodies
for women, besides the Scheduled Castes (Dalits) and the Schedule
Tribes. Caste Hindu leaders challenged the reservation of elected
offices in local bodies for Dalits. In the elections, Dalits were
prevented from filing nominations in several villages where Panchayat
president ship were reserved for them. A large number of elected Dalit
and women Panchayat presidents suffered humiliation at the hands of
the Vice Presidents and co members and even government officials. For
rural women and Dalits most of whom were elected to these posts for
the first time, it was uphill task.

Women Movement against poverty and violence (MAPOVI)

Women MAPOVI is coordinated body of grass root women organizations or
federations from all over Tamil Nadu. Grass root women become members
of these federations by participating in a sangam in their respective
village in respective districts. In the pursuit of village development
each federations has become a local radical force for social and
political change concerning the role of women. Each federation was
organized with the efforts of concern NGOs who believe that
empowerment of women can bring total empowerment of their society.
Federation identified their own leaders to lead their federation and
these women have themselves become empowered to act as role models and
provide leadership among other women. As a result of their growing
consciousness many federations joined together, networked to find
joint solutions to common problems mainly the issues of poverty and
violence. Many coordinated campaigns and joint public actions taken by
Women MAPOVI and the social problems that they had been fighting
against are the poverty and violence among women.

Movement has succeeded in many issues due to various lobby actions.
For instance the public meeting and the rally conducted by Tamil Nadu
Anti liquor movement (TALM) in Aundipatti on 5.02.2002 against the
introduction of cheap liquor by the state in Tamil Nadu has certainly
strengthened the movement. Because, the loud protest of the women, has
reached the government and the political parties and they withdraw the
cheap liquor in Tamil Nadu during the month of April 2002.

To conclude, Dalit women, despite their very active participation in
politics, continue to lack of recognition and respect even within the
Dalit Movement. Though there are some women organization fighting for
the rights of dalits and to uplift dalit women they joined together as
Dalit Women Movement without a strong political support even within
their dalit political parties. However, Dalit Women Movement in Tamil
Nadu has been playing a significant role through Tamil Nadu Womens
Forum and with the support of dalit political parties against all
forms of discrimination and for their rights. It seems to be there is
positive changing situation for the empowerment of Dalit women in
Tamil Nadu, albeit slowly.

1. V.B.Rawat, Dalit movement At The Cross Road,, 09.08.2005

2. C.T.Kurien, Tamil Nadus Dalit Saga. Frontline. November 05-18, 2005.

3. movement/tamilnadu.

4. www,

5. Fronline, December 29, 2006.

6. Unheared Voices- Dalit Women- an alternative report submitted by
the Government of India for the session on the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination, Geneva. Janurary, 2007.

7. K.Nagaraj, Dalit Situation in Tamil Nadu August 23, 2005 The Hindu.

8. Shankar , Caste, Class and the Dalit Question paper presented at the central

party School of CPI(ML) held on 28-30 November 2001, at Bhuvaneswar

9. Frontline, August 16, 2002.

10. Narender Kumar, Dalit and Shudra Politics and Anti-Brahmin Movemnent,

Economic and political Weekly, November 4-10,2000.

DR.R.SIVAKUMAR,Sr.Lecturer in Political Science & Public Administration,

Thiruvalluvar Govt. Arts College, RASIPURAM. TK Namakkal DT 637401
TAMIL NADU e-mail-

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