The Exclusion of Dalit Women From the Women’s Movement Gave Rise to Dalit Feminism.

The 1990s became a crucial decade for feminist politics in India. There was a radical shift in feminism when Dalit women began to vehemently question Indian feminism’s exclusive focus on the issues of upper caste/middle-class women.

Weave Of My Life (Aaidan) – A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs
Author: Urmila Pawar
Publ: Columbia University (1988)

Pawar’s title is an ode to her mother who brought up the author and her siblings on the meagre wages she earned by weaving bamboo baskets. In this memoir, Pawar compares her act of studying to her mother’s act of weaving the baskets. Pawar was born in a Hindu Mahar family in Maharashtra. Her father died in 1954, wresting a promise from his wife to educate their children. Her autobiography is an account of acute destitution, schooling through hardships, and finally achieving an M A in Marathi Literature. Aaidan has also been adapted as a play in Marathi theatre by Sushma Deshpande. Apart from Aaidan, she has published several short story collections which talk about the caste-class and gender axes in everyday life.

The Prisons We Broke (Jine Amuche)
Author: Baby Kamble
Publ: Orient Blackswan Pvt Ltd (2008)

Babytai Kamble ran a small provisions store. The only contact she had with books were the old books and newspapers used as wrapping paper to pack groceries. She wrote her book hiding from her husband. Her book has detailed descriptions of a life lived in the poverty of Maharwada. Her descriptions of the houses ‘decorated with eternal poverty’ in the 1920s, is emblematic of the hunger, labour and caste ingrained in the lives lived at margins. Her book is also important because even a hundred years after Mukta Salve’s essay voicing the dire conditions of the reproductive health of Mang and Mahar women, Kamble talks about the skewed division of labour in her community. Babytai Kamble’s book is an extremely important read to understand the sexual division of labour that the women in the Dalit community take up, where they are expected to work at home as well as work outside to support the family, even as their reproductive and domestic labour goes unrecognized as real work.

Father May Be an Elephant and Mother Only a Small Basket, But…  
Author: Gogu Shyamala
Publ:  Navayana Publishers (2012)

Gogu Shyamala was born in a family of farmers. She is now a senior research fellow at Anveshi Research Centre for Women’s Studies in Hyderabad. She was only one among the three siblings to get the opportunity to complete her BA at Bhimrao Ambedkar Open University. Her book Father May Be an Elephant and Mother Only a Small Basket, But…  weaves together the struggle of Dalit women living in the Magida quarter in a village in Telangana. She builds a portrait of the life lived in the rural community with descriptions of its everyday events and experiences. Shyamala writes about oppression and discrimination faced by the Dalit women in clean short prose and raises questions of the dignity of individuals from communities thus far marginalized.

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