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‘First, Treat Us as Humans’: Dalit Women Speak on 2019 LS Polls

Dalit women activists discuss gender, political power, and their expectations from 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

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“A conspiracy that’s been done in order to take away resources and put the question of discrimination due to caste under the carpet.”
Ruth Manorama, Dalit activist

Why do Dalit women have to be a part of the 2019 elections for a better tomorrow? Why are they important? What do they want?

On 18 February, over 60 Dalit women gathered in Chennai, to discuss ‘Dalit Women in Politics: Past, Present and Future,’ organised by The Blue Club and All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch.

The Quint, in its Chaupal series, spoke to a few of the prominent Dalit activists and leaders to understand their expectations from the 2019 elections. We discussed not just gender, but political power, multiple levels of oppression because of class, caste and intersectionality.

“There are not many women willing to take the plunge in Parliamentary elections because they are very worried about the money factor,” said Cynthia Stephen, a Dalit activist. She is planning to contest in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections as an independent candidate.


‘Treat Dalits as Humans’

“To be in politics is really, really difficult. You have to fight with everybody – whether it’s patriarchy, caste or even your own ideology,” said Dalit activist Sujatha Surapalli, recounting her experience from contesting in the recent 2018 Telangana state elections.

“If you’re a token representative, it’s fine but when you want to take something ideologically, then it will be a very tough task.”
Sujatha Surapalli, Dalit activist
A group of Dalit women leaders and activists came together to discuss not just gender, but political power, multiple levels of oppression and their expectations from 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

Commenting on the government’s move to provide reservation to the economically weaker sections of the general category, senior Dalit activist Ruth Manorama believes that this move comes at a time when Dalits are not ‘even treated like humans.’

“Reservation in our country has been given for people who have faced historical discrimination of untouchability and caste. Suddenly, you’re giving benefits in the name of reservation. It is totally anti-constitutional,” she said.


Dalit + Transgender = Not a Great Combination

Grace Banu is a prominent transgender activist who has constantly lent her voice for the people of Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu’s fight against NEET, harassment of transgenders and caste killings. She is the first transgender to study in an engineering college.

Grace explains that being a Dalit transgender is very difficult as there are multiple levels of oppression based on caste, class and intersectionality.

Responding to whether reading down of Section 377 has changed anything, Grace said, “We trans people are facing a lot of discrimination, day to day. Lot of atrocity and lot of violence. Recently, a trans woman from Thoothukudi was killed by a cis man inside a temple. Nobody cared about it. Violence is happening even now. But 377 has reduced one of the (causes of) violence but the harassment and discrimination is happening even now.”

“We want separate reservation in education, employment and politics. We are ready to take on the political life because we are also paying tax for our country.”
Grace Banu, Transgender activist

Is There an Alternative to BJP & Congress?

With the elections almost here, the two main political parties BJP and Congress are promising to address concerns of all categories.

Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao have expressed their willingness to form an alternative front.

However, activist Surapalli asked, “What is Banerjee’s role in politics? As a woman chief minister, as someone coming from the left region, does it impact any of the existing system – is the first thing. Let me also talk about Chandrashekar Rao. . . We are witnessing that feudalism is back after his arrival. So what is the impact they made in their own region and what is it that they want from the national level – is what we have to see.”


Is it a Challenge to Bring Women Together?

Vedhanayaki is someone who has been meeting and talking to women in the small city to influence them to join politics. She has gathered over one lakh women and has been training them to understand the issues faced by women, and how policies must be framed to benefit women.

The biggest challenges she said was to make men understand why participation of women is important.

“Facing men. Men didn't cooperate, so we had to first educate men. Many men did begin to accept this idea, but there were a lot of problems. Many men tried to bribe women leaders to switch sides. But our women were firm that this participation is their duty to secure the future of the next generation,” she said.

“Whether it’s BJP-led NDA or UPA or whatever. . . did they make anything different?” asks Sujatha Surapalli.

One of their key demands was Dalit-led parties and parties with Ambedkarism/Periyarism as its ideological basis should initiate the reservation within their own party to set a model in the forthcoming elections.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

Their main demands are:

1. Political parties must allocate 50% of tickets to women with due share to Dalit women in the forthcoming general elections. Dalit-led parties and parties with Ambedkarism/Periyarism as its ideological basis should initiate the reservation within their own party to set a model in the forthcoming elections.

2. The Women’s Reservation Bill is considered as a radical move to ensure greater number of women in political leadership. However, this will only be of use for Dalit women, if it seeks to provide due percentage of seats to Dalit and other marginalised women.

3. To the parties that claim equal representation within their parties, they demand that women be given active leadership and decision-making roles rather than just a form of tokenism toward gender equality.

4. State should allocate separate funds for Dalit women to contest elections. Along with this, rights of access to common property, livelihood and resources such as land, water, forest should be freely enjoyed by Dalit women.

5. Dalit women candidates should not be disqualified on any grounds in order to contest in elections.

6. Dalit transwomen need to be given due representation in politics.

7. They strongly condemned the trolling and shaming of Dalit women who are in politics.

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Topics:  Lok Sabha   Dalit   Dalit Women 

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