SAGARIKA which includes social as well as sexual





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The system of ranking and rating its members based on a number of criteria is prevailing in every society which is known as social stratification. It is a structured inequality which limits the access to wealth, power, privileges and opportunities for certain sections of the society. One of the kinds of stratification is the Caste system which is one of the oldest themes in the literature of traditional India and it also claims significant space in modern period as well.

“Caste as a hereditary, endogamous, usually localised group having traditional associations with an occupation and a particular position in the local hierarchy of castes. Relations between castes are governed among other things by the concepts of purity and pollution and generally maximum commensuality occurs within the caste” (Srinivas, 1978b:3).

The important feature of the caste system is its control over women’s labour which includes social as well as sexual division of labour. The combination of women and Shudras such as Dalit women is considered as the lowest position of women in the society. The human rights of Dalit women are violated in extreme forms. This paper will further analyse the intersectionality of gender, class and caste to understand the violence against Dalit women which generally goes unseen.


In India, the debates on gender and violence always move around the privileged, upper caste women as the central subject. In this scenario, the violence against the Dalit women has hardly caught the attention of social science researchers and seldom highlighted in most mainstream discourses. The aim of this review is to draw attention of the fact that the violence against Dalit women is much higher than women belonging to outside these categories.

In the book named “Dalit Women Speak Out: Caste, Class and Gender Violence in India” by Aloysius Irudayam S.J., Jayshree P. Mangubhai and Joel J. Lee presented a qualitative and quantitative data analysis of 500 dalit women’s narratives about violence faced by them across four states: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.

The quantitative study gives an idea about the geographical spread, sub-caste, age, marital status, primary occupations, educational background, average annual income, landownership status and house ownership status. Dalit women in the study appears to be young, landless, illiterate, daily wage labourer who earns Rs. 3000 a year shows that they are at a disadvantage in terms of employment, economic and political empowerment and vulnerable to violence. Illiteracy leaves her in the mercy of indifferent policemen or local leaders as well as her occupation as a wage labourer makes her physically accessible to open public under the supervision of dominant male caste.

The qualitative study about dalit women’s narratives reveals that the incidents of murder, lynching, rape, gang rape, verbal abuse, social boycott, physical attack in their as well as in neighbouring villages are regular feature. For instance, one of the women from Tamil Nadu describes that the dalit girls who work as a wage labourer in dominant caste men’s land are forced to have sexual relationship with the landowners against their wishes. Other narratives talk about looting and destroying the dalit homes and property by dominant caste, violent acts of collective punishment, social boycott of dalit widow women.  



An article by D. Sujatha named “Redefining Domestic Violence: Experiences of Dalit Women” talked about a qualitative research conducted under Anveshi (Women’s Studies Research Centre, Hyderabad 2012-13) on “Domestic Violence and Dalit Women” with ten women having different educational qualification in Hyderabad, Warangal and Karim Nagar in Telangana, the East Godavari District in coastal Andhra and Ananthapur in Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh. The findings of the research majorly pointed out the reasons behind the domestic violence and the support system available for them.

It was analysed that dalit women are more oppressed that dalit men as men in the family believe that he has the right to oppress his wife as he is been oppressed by the existing system. Despite being the bread winner for the family, she has no say in the decision making, bears the burden of household work and childcare, sending children to school and other responsibilities of meeting the needs of the family. The main causes for the domestic violence against women were alcoholism, the suspicious nature of man, dowry demands, husband’s illicit relationships and the complex social situations of inter-caste marriages. The support systems which are available for dalit women are counselling centres which generally treat them as inferiors and blame them for the situation instead of being empathetic and understanding as a result these women then go to police stations where the police counselling complicate the problem even more. At the end the article the author puts forward some recommendations such as developing a community orientation about gender relations, sensitivity to caste discrimination and awareness about the existing laws.

In the article by Gopal Guru on “Dalit Women talk differently” it is argued that there are two distinct patriarchal structures that dalit women suffer: the Brahminical form of patriarchy that stigmatizes dalit women due to their identity of being untouchables and political and literary marginalization by dalit male dominant movement. He argues about the political marginalization of dalit women in post-Ambedkarite dalit movement and says that “……dalit men are producing the same mechanisms against their women which their higher caste adversaries had used against them”. He believes that patriarchy is the production of upper caste society and culture and various manifestations of patriarchy such as dowry, child marriage are part of only upper caste culture. He says that patriarchy in Maharashtra and in entire country was started by the upper caste dowry system wherein women are treated as commodities by the landless dalit families. “The dowry system, which was almost non-existence among dalits two decades ago, has become a serious problem now particularly in Maharashtra” Guru points out. He also criticized about the Brahminization of dalits through patriarchy.


Bhanwari Devi, a social worker from Bhateri, Rajasthan was gang raped by five upper caste men angered by her efforts to prevent child marriage in their family. Her being ill-treated by the police, rapists being released by the court taught hold of widespread national and international media attention and became a landmark episode in women’s rights movement in India.

Bhanwari belongs to a kumhar (potter) family and most of the villagers belong to the gujjar community of milkmen, which is higher in the caste hierarchy as compare to kumhar caste. In 1990s, the practice of child marriage was prevalent in Rajasthan and the caste system was dominant. She was employed as a Saathin (friend), a grassroot level worker under Women’s Development Project run by the Government of Rajasthan and worked on the issues related to land, water, literacy, health, Public Distribution System, rape cases.

In 1992, the state government of Rajasthan decided to launch a campaign against child marriage and Bhanwari Devi took up the task. This campaign was highly ignored by the villagers and even the local leaders refused to support her. On May 5, 1992 Ram Karan Gurjar planned to marry off her one year old daughter and Bhanwari along with the Deputy Superintendent of Police were successful in stopping the marriage but her effort’s resulted in social and economic boycott of her family. On September 22, 1992 while she and her husband were working in the fields five upper caste men from her village attacked her husband and left him unconscious then two of them raped her and the other three pinned her down on the ground.

Bhanwari went to Bassi police station to lodge a FIR where she was humiliated by the police and asked her to deposit her long skirt for evidence. She had to cover herself with her husband’s blood stained turban and walk to the nearby saathin’s village at about 1am in the morning. The indifference continued in the Primary Health Centre in Bassi who refused to examine her and was referred to a hospital in Jaipur. The medical officer at Jaipur also refused from the examination without the order from Magistrate, the Magistrate refused to give her order until next day his working hours has passed. As a result, more than 24 hours passed for her medical test.

After long court proceedings the accused were released and the state MLA organized a victory rally and women members of the political party attended the rally to call Bhanwari a liar. The judgement was criticized by many women activists and was taken as biased. They also propagated that Bhanwani was attacked only because of her work done by her and later filed a PIL in Supreme Court which is popularly known as Vishakha Guidelines.  


In a patriarchal constructed society where male authority is regarded superior and female as inferiors and the laws and norms regarding family, marriage and inheritance are linked with patriarchal control over property biased for women. Women’s role in the patriarchal India has reduced to good daughters, good wives and mothers. “Patriarchy rests on defined notions of masculine and feminine, is held in place by sexual and property arrangements that privilege men’s choices, desires and interests over and above those of the women in their lives and is sustained by social relationships and cultural practices which celebrate heterosexuality, female fertility and motherhood on the one hand and valorise female subordination to masculine authority and virility on the other.” (V. Geetha, 2007)   

Similarly, caste and gender are closely linked and sexuality of women is directly related to the purity of race. The subordination of women is justified the way in which the concept of caste purity of women is used to maintain patrilineal succession. Feminist writing as “Gendering Caste through a Feminist Lens” illustrates how the patriarchal ideologies and values supported by the caste system are used to justify dominance, hierarchy and unequal patriarchal structures. The issue is no longer about the low or high status of women but on the specific nature and basis of subordination in society.   

Also, class and gender are closely connected. It is seen that within the gender there is class division, a woman from higher class has more access to resources as compare to woman from lower class. The hierarchy of class is one of the reasons for the domination of lower class women as a result they are deprived of education, proper health care facilities and other benefits which are enjoyed by the upper class women.

Bhanwari Devi’s case is a clear case of intersectionality of caste, class and gender, she was a dalit women coming from lower class and therefore, rape by the upper caste men, repeated assault by the police, indifferences attitude of doctors and unfair judgement by the courts are all the consequences of it. Also in her case, it was the very workplace and her resistance to casteist structure that triggered violence. As compare to women from other category, dalit women find themselves in economically, socially and culturally vulnerable locations which includes within the family as well as outside. The National Crime Records Bureau reveals that more than 4 dalit women are raped every day in India but also the truth is hundreds of cases of rape are not even registered. In case of a dalit woman violence is always associated with the caste system and her behaviour within it. Often their resistance and interrogation with the caste hegemony that is in Bhanwari Devi’s case her fight against child marriage brings violence, she was raped by upper caste men not only to have control over women but also to maintain strict caste structure.


“Hindu Society as such does not exist. It is only a collection of castes. Each caste is conscious of its existence. Its survival is the be-all and end-all of its existence.” (Ambedkar, 1937)

Violence, which is used as crucial social mechanism to maintain the position of subordination of lower class women in the society, is the outcome of caste based inequalities that is further intensified by their class and locations. There is a need of an hour for strict implementation of laws and fair justice to the women from lower castes.









Deshpande, S. (2014). The Problem of Caste. New Delhi, India: Orient Blackswan Private Limited

Geetha, V. (2007). Gender. Kolkata, India. STREE an imprint of Bhatkal and Sen

Guru, G. (1995). Dalit Women Talk Differently. Economic and Political Weekly. 30(41-42). 2548-2550

Irudayam S.J., A. Mangubhai P., J. & Lee J., J. (2011). Dalit Women Speak Out: Caste, Class and Gender Violence in India. Retrieved from

Mathur, K. (1992). Bhateri Rape Case: Backlash and Protest. Economic and Political Weekly. 27 (41). Retrieved from

Mohanty, M. (2008). Class, Caste, Gender. New Delhi, India: Sage Publications India Pvt Ltd

Sujatha, D. (2014). Redefining Domestic Violence: Experiences of Dalit Women. Economic and Political Weekly, 49(47). Retrieved from