Dalit Women in India: At the Crossroads of Gender, Class, and Caste
As the lowest in the caste hierarchy, Dalits in Indian society have historically suffered caste-based social exclusion from economic, civil, cultural, and political rights. Women from this community suffer from not only discrimination based on their gender but also caste identity and consequent economic deprivation. Dalit women constituted about 16.60 percent of India’s female population in 2011. Dalit women’s problems encompass not only gender and economic deprivation but also discrimination associated with religion, caste, and untouchability, which in turn results in the denial of their social, economic, cultural, and political rights. They become vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation due to their gender and caste. Dalit women also become victims of abhorrent social and religious practices such as devadasi/jogini (temple prostitution), resulting in sexual exploitation in the name of religion. The additional discrimination faced by Dalit women on account of their gender and caste is clearly reflected in the differential achievements in human development indicators for this group. In all the indicators of human development, for example, literacy and longevity, Dalit women score worse than Dalit men and non-Dalit women. Thus, the problems of Dalit women are distinct and unique in many ways, and they suffer from the ‘triple burden’ of gender bias, caste discrimination, and economic deprivation. To gain insights into the economic and social status of Dalit women, our paper will delve more closely into their lives and encapsulate the economic and social situations of Dalit women in India. The analyses of human poverty and caste and gender discrimination are based on official data sets as well as a number of primary studies in the labor market and on reproductive health.
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