"It is time to organize and keep our movement alive, rewrite history, and retell it to the world," said 48-year-old Dayamani Barla. "Or else Dalit and Adivasi women will soon be found only in museums and libraries," Barla, a Jharkhand land rights activist and journalist, said addressing a first-of-its-kind conference, 'All India Dalit and Adivasi Women's Congress' at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) on Friday. In a unique two-day session, over 200 Dalit and Adivasi women gathered to make their voices heard.
"Like sheep and cattle, our men and women (Dalit and Adivasi) have been parcelled from one state to another for political rallies, it is time for us to rise above being decorative pieces in these dominant caste politics and build our political power based on ideology," said P Sivakami, former IAS officer, and acclaimed Dalit writer and politician. Sivakami, who earlier contested the general election in 2009 on a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) ticket from Kanyakumari and lost, has floated her own party Samuga Samathuva Padai (Forum for Social Equality).
A motley group of writers, academicians, researchers, activists, professionals and students shared their experiences underlining their message to "organize, unite and fight." Students from over 20 universities across the country gathered to hear the women speak. Expressing the pressing need to organize and collectively make inroads into the mainstream, Barla said tribal women have participated in jungle andolans along with men on an equal footing. It was Barla's first public appearance since her release in December after spending nearly two months behind bars. She was arrested for leading a protest against the Jharkhand government's alleged acquisition of fertile land to build a Law university.
"It is essential we bring alive age-old feminist articulation from oral and written traditions into digital medium," said Anoop Kumar of Insight Foundation, a Delhi-based NGO working closely with Dalit and tribal students in higher education, which played a vital role in organizing the conference. While the community has come a long way fighting caste and class discrimination, space has been hijacked, first by the dominant caste and then by men from within the community, said Manisha Thokale, a Dalit human rights activist from Pune.
"In the whole dominant construction, our women stand nowhere, they have always been in isolation. Our basic objective was to bring these women on a common platform to share their perspectives, their struggles, commonalities, and differences. This congress aimed at building a strong network of women from the community," said 22-year old Pradnya Bhim Sindhu, a TISS student.
Pointing out that society including the Muslim community had failed to acknowledge caste problems in the community, Dr Arjumand Ara of Delhi University in her presentation 'Literature, Muslim women and caste questions' said
"The dominant castes within the Muslim community have ensured public sphere only engages itself with issues of riots and terrorism. Even the Constitution does not acknowledge caste divide among minorities."
Source: The Indian Express