“If a Dalit case-worker asks a savarna complainant to drink water offered by her, isn’t the case-worker perpetuating another kind of violence on the complainant?”
One of the most revealing conversations during the course of the workshop happened towards the end of the second day, when different organizations were sharing their experiences in the field. Vanangana, a UP based organization, shared the story of the Dalit Mahila Samiti, and their work with survivors of domestic violence and assault. The Samiti, run by Dalit women, in the area, they shared, had an important pre-condition before accepting someone’s case. They would help a woman and her family with their casework, if the survivor and the survivor’s family drank a glass of water from their hands.
The moment this was shared, another participant voiced a concern that by doing so – by asking the survivor (presumed here to be a savarna woman) to drink a glass of water offered by them, wasn’t the Samiti perpetuating another violence upon the already stricken woman? The articulation of that question – the concern that a Dalit woman asking an upper caste woman to drink a glass of water from her hands, is an act of violence – reveals the deep, insidious, and sordid nature of caste based discrimination in our societies. A system in which the institutionalization of violence towards certain communities and people is so normalized that it is not even viewed as violence any more but any move these communities make towards destabilizing the status quo is seen as an egregious act of violence. The expectation that a Dalit woman will help an upper caste woman in resolving her case, but will agree to be treated without dignity or basic courtesy without it being even remotely considered as problematic also reveals the historic entitlement upper-caste communities have over Dalit women’s bodies, their labour and their time. This expectation is seen as normal and even natural and any move to destabilize that – any assertion of equality is seen as violence. It also drove home the point that many of us constantly seek to invisibilize and was something that was constantly reiterated during the workshop – Caste is not a problem, external to upper-caste communities. Mr. Satish Deshpande, in his session described caste as a two-way relationship and also mentioned how historically certain processes have enabled upper caste communities to invisibilize their caste identities while visbilizing the caste identities of lower caste communities. This is an idea that most of us have internalised very deeply, because when we talk about caste, we only seem to talk about Dalit identities or OBC identities, seeing ourselves and our upper caste identities as above or in many ways, having transcended the caste system. A question like this brings to the fore the ways in which we are not only deeply embedded in the system and have reaped the privileges of the system but continue to reap those benefits by excluding others or committing violence against others. It is our privilege that we hold a sense of entitlement over certain bodies and our blinding privilege that we continue to not see it as an expression of our caste based violence.