Feminism & The Caste System in India – The Intersection
For a large part of my life, I assumed feminism and caste are miles apart and has nothing to do with each other. If you read this line and say, of course they’re miles apart or if you’re chuckling OMG! How didn’t you even know about the intersection before – the answer to either of the questions is just one single word. Privilege. If you’re one such person who never had issues with caste playing a role in life but you’re indeed irked about the injustice you’ve faced because gender, read on! Let’s talk about the roots of caste system and why you should join me in standing against it once for all!
Let’s simplify this, shall we? Why do you think there’s gender inequality? Why Women are treated way different from Men in general? Right from our own home where women can’t wear comfortable clothes because men in the family are around vs men who can wear comfortable clothes. At workplace, where the voice of a woman is dumbed down and a woman who’s raising her voice is called bossy with a negative lens. All of this because Men obviously wanted to rule Women and call them weak and keep them trapped in the name of tradition, culture, and religion. If we drill it further down to put it all together – “Power” is the word you’d arrive at. You’d arrive at exactly the same word when you understand why caste system was put in place – Power, Authority & Hierarchy. The very thought of being above people. To sit on the throne and be the king. To make people serve. To take pride in being the one who is looked upon.
So, how? How is women’s rights and entitlements fit inside the caste hierarchy?
Of all the things that feminism is against, What’s the epicentre? – The control that men exercise over the women in the society.
What’s anti-casteism against? – The control that men of upper castes in the hierarchy exercise over the men and women who belong to the lower castes.
Now, for a minute stop and understand the state of a woman who belongs to the lower caste. She’s the last one in the queue. That means she’s ruled by all the men in the world (upper & lower castes) and the women who belong to the upper castes. Don’t you literally visualize a slave right there? Here’s where it gets interesting! She did nothing – NOTHING wrong to be that. Why? She didn’t choose her gender. She didn’t choose her caste. It was all pinned on to her.
Can you imagine what good we would do to India when we put an end to this caste system? Draw a conclusion!
Doesn’t it look like a chicken and egg problem? – whether we should abolish enslavement of women or should we aim at getting the caste system to shun down? Let’s get there now!
Another question. But, are women from the upper caste doing good because of the caste system? No. Because, the marriage endogamy. Women in general are oppressed and being an upper caste woman doesn’t spare one from the ill effects of this caste system. They’re literally treated as a vending machine that delivers upper caste children from time to time to keep it going. Taking a dig at Brahmanical patriarchy will reveal more information. For example: Men who belong to the upper caste are the only ones allowed inside the shrines of the temple whereas even the women who belong to the same caste aren’t allowed. They face domestic violence, gender discrimination and other patriarchal harassment and are made to believe that it’s for their own good.
So, how does India manage to keep the caste system intact? By enforcing endogamy – that is marrying without one’s religion, caste and sub-caste. Having children and pinning the same caste on them. So, you basically keep grouping men and women and marrying them within the group to hold it tight. A woman is not allowed to fall in love outside her caste meaning, you can’t marry a different man from a different caste – these are polished phrases. Let’s get to the raw version? Women who belong to a particular caste should not have sex with a man from a different caste and have children with him. Basically, sexual exploitation. Sexual violence against women.
Basically, India has been using women as their doorway to keep their caste system intact without her knowledge, and consent. Talking about exploitation – the lower your position in the hierarchy, the more the oppression that you’d face. So, as a woman, if you’re not feeling pretty oppressed but do face issues with gender inequality, it is because you’re privileged. And, why don’t you look around much? Because, a person with good legs won’t look around for public places with a ramp for the physically challenged, isn’t it? Just because you’re not facing caste violence, it doesn’t mean that doesn’t exist!
How fair is your feminism if it is not helping the women who belongs to the lower caste? Because the percentage of women from the lower caste experiencing sexual harassment and domestic violence are always higher. The violence against Dalit women are not reported and are rarely investigated.
Basically, if the feminism in India is not voicing out for the harassment and violence against women who belong to the lower castes, it is just plain injustice and it is not inclusive.
Fighting against patriarchy has a lot to do with creating a good space for women of all cadres especially the marginalized. It is important to understand that not all the women face the same battles – it differs in various degrees. Any movement against any injustice should be seen from both the feministic and anti-casteist lens to get to the roots and bring a better change in India.
I urge all of you to read more on dalit-bahujan feminism and the history of the minorities before we defend whatever we were preached. Especially women who are against male chauvinism, misogyny and patriarchy but still support caste and religion.
Feminism and caste politics in India are deep-rooted ever since! Your internalized ideologies about endogamous marriages act as a crucial aspect screw to keep the caste system upright.
I’d like to finish this article with the quote by Dr. Ambedkar - “I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.”
Educate, Agitate and Organize!
Kavipriya Moorthy – Author/Blogger/Feminist