Voices of women drown in masculinity of Dalit parties?
With major Dalit parties in the State caught in a hyper-masculine image trap, the doubly disadvantaged section of Dalit women are struggling to find a place.
Both major Dalit parties, Thol Thirumavalavan’s VCK and PT, don’t have many prominent women leaders.
CHENNAI: With major Dalit parties in the State caught in a hyper-masculine image trap, the doubly disadvantaged section of Dalit women are struggling to find a place. Leaders of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, the largest Dalit party in the State, estimate the participation of women in their party to be “less than 20 per cent” — of the 95 district secretaries in the party, only five are women. Karthikeyan Damodaran, a research scholar from the University of Edinburgh explains: “If you look at billboards and posters of VCK, you will find only Thirumavalavan and his twirled up moustache… You can experience the party’s masculine ethos.
Though these images are important to symbolically defy caste norms, the hyper-masculine content automatically leads to controlling their own women. It is even worse in the case of Puthiya Tamilagam. It’s hard to find traces of female leadership.” “Despite its rhetoric about women’s rights, VCK cannot claim its women cadre are not subjected to patriarchal norms,” he says. “Women’s liberation is one of the five core ideals of VCK, but it remains an unfinished project… They have failed to prioritise it fully.”
The role of Dalit women in consolidating the three subsects — Pallars, Paraiyars and Arunthathiyars — has also been undermined by mainstream parties. Also, a large section of Dalit women have been reluctant to come forward and assume charge. They seem to be content cheering from the sidelines.
What stops them?
“Dalit women lack the economic and public-social networks required to take part in politics.
Dalit men, on the other hand, have some public-social network, though not as wide or wellentrenched as men from dominant castes. This works in their favour, though they lack the economic network,” says Anandhi S, associate professor at the Madras Institute of Developmental Studies (MIDS). “Even today, the electoral politics of the State is reliant on historically cultivated economic and social networks, which follow a logic of exclusion when it comes to women and other minorities.”
In 2012, VCK president Thol Thirumavalavan admitted at a public meeting in Chennai that applications from women, to be in various party posts, had declined since the last time. In 2011, the party wanted to change the members holding posts. “Many men found the posts challenging,” says VCK general secretary D Ravikumar. “Despite being a mainstream Dalit party, they had to face State and caste repressions. A district secretary is looked upon as a powerful post in other parties. For us, it’s a question of survival. These challenges may serve as a hindrance for women. So our leader makes an effort to encourage them,” says Ravikumar. ‘Aim higher’
In 2016, VCK decided to field prominent educationist Vasanthi Devi V from RK Nagar, against former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. Though the area is home to a substantial number of Dalits, Vasanthi Devi came third, securing 4,195 votes (2.41% of votes polled). The move attracted criticism from one section of people, who felt a woman connected with Dalit issues at the ground level must have been chosen. “Within the party, everyone felt honoured that Vasanthi Devi chose to contest from our party. We wanted other women in our party to feel inspired by her and aim higher,” says Ravikumar.
This pushed P Sivakami of Samuga Samathuva Padai (SSP) to float her own political party.
“Looking at the VCK’s vote share, I realised that women were yet to be politicised along with a few other sections of Dalits. I felt there was a vacuum that I could fill,” she says. Karthik Damodaran, however, says it would be unfair to blame the lack of women’s representation fully on VCK.
“There are a lot of examples where they have tried to promote women. The name that immediately comes to my mind is that of Pandiyammal, the former district secretary of Madurai, who rose to that level from being a grassroots worker,” says Karthik. “Seeing her sitting in a SUV with the VCK flag fluttering in front, exemplifies the successful defiance of patriarchy.”
Courtesy: The New Indian Express