Dalit Women's Voices must Define Indian Feminism: Vimal Thorat

Vimal Thorat, Convenor of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) and a former professor of Hindi at the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), in this exclusive and detailed interview to Teesta Setalvad speaks of her decades long struggle to ensure that Dalit literature from seven Indian languages (translated into Hindi) is available to MA Part II students at the IGNOU.

The interview is a joint production of Communalism Combat, Newsclick and Hillele TV. The first part can be viewed here.

Excerpts from the Second Part of the Interview

The pain and exclusions experienced by Dalit feminist writers, expressed powerfully in their literature has not been forgrounded as Indian feminist writing: Vimal Thorat

How many Indian children in schools, or students at universities know the work of Kumud Pawde a Dalit Feminist who made a powerful statement in her essay, “The Story of My Sanskrit” an extract from her a autobiography Antasphot? : Vimal Thorat

[The work traces the path of a Dalit woman in the public sphere of education and employment: bureaucratic apathy to in-egaliatrianism and an absence of revulsion to untouchability]

“The issue of the Feminism of Dalit, Adivasi and Minority women needs to be considered carefully. The life experiences of Dalit and Adivasi women are different; they are life and death issues rarely seen and articulated in the middle class urban feminist movement”: Vimal Thorat

“Security is a key issue for Adivasi women as is becoming clear in the heart of the Adivasi areas. Dalit women face attacks almost every day and the issues faced by Muslim women are also specific. For the Indian feminist movement to be representative and meaningful, all these issues need to be represented. In 2013 in Haryana in the course of two months there were 42 gang rapes of Dalit girls and women”: Vimal Thorat

“Dalit feminist writing like that of Kausalya Baisantry (Dohra Abhishaap, Twice Cursed) speaks of the combined curses of untouchability and patriarchy”: Vimal Thorat

“Urmila Pawar’s autobiography Aaydan (2003) is seminal. She is also known for her short story writing in Marathi. She hails from the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. Urmila Pawar, Daya Pawar, Baby Kamble and Shantabai Gokhale are among the other prominent voices of Dalit literature. Her memoir Aaydan speaks of the weaving of cane baskets. It was the main economic activity of the Mahar caste to whom, she belongs”: Vimal Thorat.
The symbolism of 'Chani' in Dalit women’s writing: 'Chani' is the name given to dried pieces of meat; handling of animals was an activity segregated to the ‘untouchables’ and therefore the women among them would perform this difficult task. The symbol of Dalit women, in their autobiographies speaking of carrying basketfuls of meat taken from dead animals on their foreheads even as the blood from the animals flows down the bodies. Hunger is the most compelling motive and to quell this hunger women would subject themselves to this. Then they would dry and cure the meat”: Vimal Thorat