ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Dalit Women, Vulnerabilities, and Feminist Consciousness

Dalit women in India have faced and are facing violence in myriad forms; they are victims of inhuman treatment, brutal violence and humiliation. Despite this, they have not been mute victims resigned to their plight; they have relentlessly struggled against caste-based social oppression and exploitative material relations, against atrocities and complex and contextual forms of hierarchies. The framework of vulnerability provides a useful lens to understand this violence and powerlessness. It is also important to address the lacuna in conventional feminist movements which do not account for caste-based gender violence, as also to assert Dalit women’s quest for and claim to universal transformative emancipatory practices.

The author would like to acknowledge and thank the anonymous referees of Economic & Political Weekly for their comments and suggestions on an earlier draft of this article.

Since this article deploys the notion of “vulnerability” as a conceptual tool to understand and analyse the nature of violence and powerlessness experienced by Dalit women, its institutional complicity and structural basis, it would be pertinent to briefly discuss the journey of this concept in social science disciplines. Broadly, the conception of being “vulnerable” connotes insecurity, occurring and recurring on account of multiple forms of subordination and victimisation, which are reproduced in newer forms in changing circumstances. The term has been used in a United Nations report (nd: 2): “vulnerability … is a result of both exposures to risk factors such as drought, conflict and socio-economic processes which reduce people’s capacity and ability to cope.”

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (2020) defines vulnerability in the context of threat or disaster; as the diminished capacity of an individual or a group to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the impact of a natural or man-made hazard. The concept is relative and dynamic. Vulnerability is most often associated with poverty, but it can also arise when people are isolated, insecure and defenceless in the face of risk, shock or stress. Caroline Moser has discussed the lack of assets, and the resultant powerlessness as the basis for understanding vulnerability (Ludgate 2016).

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Updated On : 23rd Mar, 2020
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