Thursday, February 16, 2017

Resistance to the shame and exclusion: voices from dalit movements 5/7

Some of the international bodies like Human Rights Watch have also acknowledged prostitution as a form of oppressive caste-based labour, along with scavenging and bondage. However, this voice has the complication of leading to marginalization and stigmatization of particular castes, instead of highlighting its exploitative underpinnings.

A controversy had arisen over a UNICEF – supported study, which was conducted by Madhya Pradesh Human Rights Commission about caste-based prostitution. This study is seen to have degraded and stigmatized particular caste and their women. This has been challenged for the social contempt it breeds against the women of these castes making it impossible for them to lead respectable lives. Further, the study marks the men of these communities as essentially criminals and condemns them for forcing women into prostitution. The study noted that girls were forced into this profession by their own relative. This view tends to ignore the realities of caste system which reinforces its will on the lower caste women. These studies put the burden on the individual family and easily escape from the underlying cause of this act [6].

The caste tag has become an anathema for the young people of theses caste communities. This creates the conditions in which one has to accept this profession even when they know the repercussions of it.

The Dalit movement argues that not only devdasis life bound within patriarchal framework, but the system was a caste-based one which allowed the high-caste men free and religiously sanctioned sexual access to the Dalit women which could not be mistaken for the freedom assigned to them as being sexually free. Significant movement to contend and resist this practice came from various Dalit movements. Dalit literatures, especially of Namdev dhasal’s poetry and baburao bagul’s stories have been centered on Mumbai’s red light area, located in settlements of Dalit workers and labourers and have underlined the humiliation, exploitation and pain of the prostitute as symbolizing the caste oppression. The controversy over dhasal’s Golpitha was significant in erupting Dalit movement.

Durgabai Bhagwat, a well-known Marathi literary, had reiterated the conventional patriarchal argument that the prostitutes should be respected for performing necessary function for society. This came to be vehemently attacked by Raja Dhale. Dhale commented that if the downtrodden were to be uplifted by giving them honor in this way, then why this occupation has not been taken up by Durgabai herself, thus hitting the caste underpinning of the prostitution [7].

The Dalit movement has articulated its critique and the challenge to prostitution as caste based exploitation. It recognizes that not only the majority of women in prostitution are located in lower-caste material life and in poverty, but that prostitution was the sexual exploitation of the lower caste-women, and it served to destroy the self-respect of these castes, to subjugate them and keep them underprivileged. These movement thus correctly highlights that how lower-caste women were engaged in cultural and sexual labour for gratification of largely uppercaste men. Dr. Ambedkar saw prostitution and the devdasis practices as stigma to the caste and appealed to these women to leave their condemned life that degrades their social status and challenge the brahmanical norms (Pawar and Moon 1989).

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