Activists discuss oppressive Indian caste system
THE SANTA CLARA
October 15, 2015
An organized group of women fighting the Indian caste system are making their presence known worldwide. They are fighting for the rights of Dalit women, members of the lowest Indian caste, commonly known as the “untouchables,” something they shared on campus last week.
The group, known as The Dalit Women’s Self-Respect Movement, made a stop at Santa Clara on Oct. 7 as a part of their North American Tour. The movement is looking to build transnational alliances to challenge caste-apartheid and caste-based sexual violence in India.
The organization AF3IRM, a self described transnational feminist, anti-imperialist group, and other organizations have co-sponsored the tour.
Daniella Navarrete, a Santa Clara student and member of AF3IRM, organized the event because she viewed it as an opportunity to enhance the multicultural and social justice discussion on campus. She strongly believes that there needs to be greater awareness of the injustice that Dalit women face on a daily basis.
“The society, institutions and state are set up in a way to reinforce their oppression,” she said.
The event began with a presentation on the realities of the caste system and sexual violence, which included videos of activists protesting. They then transitioned to a panel during which Dalits from India gave personal testimonies of their struggles. In India, the caste system forces people to stay in their original class their entire life. Violence tends to erupt when a Dalit speaks out.
Sexual violence is a common issue for Dalit women. One woman on the panel explained how Indians in higher classes believe that Dalits who have been raped have not been violated because they are spiritually impure. They are told that they should feel lucky that somebody even touched them. This logic carries over to the judicial system, where Dalit women often struggle to find justice.
Navarrette said she admires their vigilance and resilience.
“Their message that we’re not going to be silenced,” she said. “We’re going to do anything in our power to liberate ourselves. I think that’s really powerful.”
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