Archive for December, 2009

“Women are the gateway to the caste system”

82 years ago, on this day, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and his comrades burnt a copy of the Manusmriti at the small town of Mahad where they had gathered to protest the segregation of water. Decades later, dalit feminists, in recognition of the tremendous symbolic significance of Ambedkar’s act, have decided to call this day the Indian Women’s Liberation Day. Through this post, we pay our tribute to Dr. Ambedkar and his unrelenting struggle against the caste system and its oppressive determining presence in women’s lives- be they upper/lower castes or dalits.

By Gauri Jagdale,
MSW, II year

Manusmriti, a religious text that gained especial importance during the British times as defining rules for Hindus, has come to be identified as an outstanding exemplar of the severe inequities sanctioned by the supposed sacred texts of this religion. In particular, Manusmriti has been severely condemned by anti-caste and women’s movements in the country for the rules and roles it lays down for social conduct for women and for dalits.

For women, these are some of the “laws” laid down:

  • Women have no business with the text of Veda.
  • A woman must be honored and adorned by their fathers, brothers, husbands, and brother-in-laws.
  • By a girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her house.
  • In Manu’s view, women were ornaments of the house who were to be kept safe and looked after utmost care and attention.
  • A woman must always be cheerful, clever in household affairs, careful in cleaning utensils, and economic in expenditure.

Duties for women include:

  • She must be loyal to her husband throughout her life: fidelity demanded from wife and no such demand from husbands.
  • Husband should constantly be worshipped though he may be devoid of good qualities : making subservience a virtue
  • Wife should not perform yagya, and fast without the presence or permission of her husband : access to God for women can only be mediated by husbands.
  • Whether the husband is dead or alive, she should not do anything which may displease her husband
  • Even after the death of her husband, she should not think of other man
  • After the death of her husband she should be patient of hardship and chaste.
  • If she cannot have a son or daughter by her husband she should not go to another man to have an offspring:
  • A widow should never re-marry.

On reading this, one might laugh at these antiquated notions of how women must be. But upon slightly deeper introspection, one would be surprised to know how many such ideas continue to live on. This is because these beliefs are deeply embedded in our societies and gain sacred legitimacy because they are intricately tied to our religious beliefs also. In many places, even the thought of breaking away from these restrictions calls for brutal consequences, for instance honour killings witnessed in many rural and urban parts of the country.

It is within this context that one must see how daring and confrontational the act of burning the Manusmriti was. Not only did it mean freedom for dalits symbolically, but it was about calling on women from every caste and class of this society to free themselves from the oppressive structure of the caste system. In burning the Manusmriti, Dr. Ambedkar was clearly making the link between the caste system and how it drew upon the violent submission of women to sustain and perpetuate itself. And that the caste system’s pervasive and insidiuous structure affected all women- with different consequences- but affected adversely nonetheless.

On this day, we stand together in solidarity with Dr. Ambedkar and the women-nameless and faceless-who answered his call and provided the momentum for the vibrant dalit women’s movement, whose legacy we have inherited and benefitted from… and hope to carry on.

December 25, 2009 at 3:17 am 11 comments

Talking

The Well

A handful of water
Cupped in my palm
Slipping away fast as
I raise it to parched lips

I want to drink deep
Quench the pain
Soothe the hurt
That rages within

They might come back soon
Shall I stay? Shall I flee?
Right the wrong?
Or wrong again?

To stake my claim on these little drops
As much mine, as they are theirs
Tainted waters, an impure touch?
A whirlwind, anger, clouds my thoughts

A drink of water was all I needed
My dignity is now what I seek…
Broken arms hold on to dear life
Drawing out, drawing on, the little drops – toward me.

    Divya S Sarathy
    MSW I
    TISS, Mumbai

I was raped

Today, I was raped,
Behind the dark alley, under the dark sky,
They say I am mutilated,
Yes, my womb has been shred apart…

I came, oblivious of the Gods conspiracy,
You observed, aware of my naïve fecundity,
Your vindictive strength cut me into two,
I struggled on, ululating a morose tune.

You pinned me down ,
I grasped and struggled,
My clothes, an inconvenience for you.

The truth was out,
I was being plundered
by the wall, my body, the Gods and you.

My fingers stood numb,
Against the invasive metal you penetrated into me,
I heard a yell pass unnoticed,
As you muffled my mouth and slid inside me,

Yes, you were inside me,
All, all, all night long..
But my eyes
they were away, heaven bound,
Looking out at the shiny star.

You licked my mouth,
I smelled your sweat, your hunger,
I saw your eyes,
suddenly vacant, looking at me,
Was I your shiny star?

Impetuously, a laugh escaped,
You looked away, your gaze ashamed,
For the sins you bore in your defiled virility,
Had violated my flesh incessantly.

I watched you suffering,
In the surging hurt of your lost glory,
You were holding on to me,
To be your Christ, your messiah..

You looked for salvation, from me.
To forgive you, redeem you.
But inside me, you were flaccid, weak
And it was my anger that bore against you.

You came out slowly, pitifully,
Hiding your militant sword in your scabbard,
But the murder lay in the blood that oozed
from me, testimony to the conspiracy.

You carried away your clothes in a huddle,
Eager to hide away in the dark,
Yes, you were looking for another sacrificial lamb,
Never seeing the goddess that lay stabbed..

Devika Singh
Development Studies, I year
TISS, Mumbai

December 22, 2009 at 3:24 pm 1 comment

Tiss Talking

In a campus where we lead separate, disconnected lives, it is indeed a remarkable moment when we do come together to raise a voice, however small.

On the eve of Human Rights Day and in consonance with the International Fortnight Protesting Violence against women (November 25-December 10), a group of students came together to initiate a programme that hopefully marks the beginning of a more vibrant discussion about issues of women on campus and in the outside world.

In an unintended tribute to how women record and pass on their history down generations, songs, so much a part of oral history, were the most powerful part of the programme, ranging as they did from violence within the family to outside to how it impinges on the woman’s perceptions of her self.

The presentations – about students’ initiatives on speaking out on violence against women – were also reflective about various small efforts that people are involved in to bringing into focus issues of women, and different categories of women.

Thus we have the annual Ambedkar Memorial lecture, which for the first time, is focussing on women and Ambedkar’s philosophical standpoint on the question of women. Speaking out against the oppressive violence that Dalit women face, particularly that of sexual violence, a group of students have taken active initiative about a rape case in Beed district to highlight the systemic violence that dalit women are subjected to, because they are women and women of an oppressed caste.

While some students are keenly following the rape case of a former TISS student, which has had repercussions on our lives on campus as well, another presentation by the Committee Against Sexual Harassment sought to demystify this Supreme Court appointed committee and dispel the notion that it is “anti-men”.

For students who want to engage with the world and its structures, we need to break silences – silence especially around women, their lives and the violence that is part of many women’s everyday. And here this evening, the event sought to break this silence on campus.

And as part of this effort to keep talking, TissTalks calls for entries to the blog on the theme gender. Please do write in to tisstalks@gmail.com.

December 10, 2009 at 3:19 am Leave a comment


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