India’s leading feminist Dalit novelist-cum-politician P. Sivakami feels that most gender atrocities in the country are committed against Dalit women.
The former senior Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer gave up her job to become a full-time writer in 2008.
‘In the society that is known as mainstream, the problems of Dalit women are considered separatist. They face the worst expressions of male chauvinistic society – atrocities like raping, profiling, physical assault and murder,’ Chennai-based Sivakami, who has just completed her new novel ‘The New People’ in Tamil told IANS.
‘But, I don’t think the problems are separatist at all. They reflect the general bias at the grassroots against women as in tribal societies,’ she said.
Sivakami, who has often made headlines with her radical views, contested the Lok Sabha election on a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) ticket from Kanyakumari in 2009, but lost. The same year in December, she floated her own political party, Samuga Samathuva Padai (Forum for Social Equality).
‘When we talk of women’s empowerment, we give priority to those who live below the poverty line — malnourished and poor women. Even in that respect, Dalit women are the worst affected,’ she argued.
Stressing that incidence of domestic violence is highest among Dalit women, she said more men drink and assault women at home because they do not make enough money.
As far as their health statistics is concerned, nearly 100,000 women die at childbirth every year and a large number of them are Dalit women, the writer said.
Sivakami feels that the concept of education for Dalit women is yet to take root in the society.
‘Consequently Dalit feminists, who speak for their women and spearhead causes like inter-caste marriages, are often branded separatists. They may be on the periphery — but they ironically form the core issues because they speak for large numbers who have been affected by discrimination. The Dalit feminists need more encouragement from the country to emerge from their shells,’ she said.
Sivakami’s first book ‘Pazhaiyana Kazhidakum’ in 1989 took on patriarchy in Dalit society and courted controversy. It was translated into English in 2006 with the title ‘In the Grip of Change’.
Her second book ‘Anandayi’ will be published by Penguin-Books India this year. A poet, essayist and a prolific short story writer, she is also the founder of a Dalit literary mazagine ‘Pudhiya Kodangi’.
‘The magazine is named after a musical instrument that is used to drive away evil spirits,’ Sivakami said.
The writer does not treat herself as a person with a caste identity because ’she is beyond it’.
‘Caste is the real hurdle India has to cross. I think it is a mainstream problem — and not of the Dalits alone. We need more authentic spaces to discuss caste because whenever I go to villages to discuss caste with the Dalits, it becomes full of political overtones. The entire country is rooted in caste,’ she said.
For an upper caste Hindu, ‘a village sounds romantic, but for the Dalit, it sounds like the corporation (public) toilet. The Dalit communities are forced to prostrate before upper castes and they are ghettoized working as landless labourers and living in clusters on the fringe of the village,’ she said.
The writer believes that ‘assuming a bigger identity of Dalit encompasses gender discrimination, class discrimination, discrimination against transgenders, and all the issues that the marginalised society faces