10. Is low ratio of Dalit women in workforce an indication of prosperity of Punjab’s Dalits?

Arjun Sharma | Aug 11, 2018 | 6 min read

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Head: Grind gets tougher for Punjab's Dalit women


Byline: Arjun Sharma

 

Ludhiana: Working amid the stench of cowdung for major part of the day is not easy for Karamjit Kaur, but circumstances and social hierarchy has led her to work at the home and fields of a local landlord in Sangrur for several years. She cannot defy this social order despite efforts, as the caste system is still so entrenched in Punjab, that Dalits rarely think about moving up the ladder. ludhiana: Working amid the stench of cowdung for major part of the day is not easy for Karamjit Kaur, but circumstances and social hierarchy has led her to work at the home and fields of a local landlord in Sangrur for several years. She cannot defy this social order despite efforts, as the caste system is still so entrenched in Punjab, that Dalits rarely think about moving up the ladder.


Ludhiana: Working amid the stench of cowdung for major part of the day is not easy for Karamjit Kaur, but circumstances and social hierarchy has led her to work at the home and fields of a local landlord in Sangrur for several years. She cannot defy this social order despite efforts, as the caste system is still so entrenched in Punjab, that Dalits rarely think about moving up the ladder.


 


Kaur is not the first generation to work for a local landlord or ‘Jat’ (high Sikh caste), her ancestors were forced into this long before her.  Other Dalits have also had to face the double whammy of being a woman and from a low caste, especially in the Malwa belt of Punjab.  The hegemony in these parts has not allowed most Dalits to earn a decent living.


*Humiliation, sexual harassment at hands of high-caste men*

 

Jeet Kaur, 40, another Dalit woman from Mansa district, has to clean cowsheds and also do menial jobs like cleaning utensils and the house of a local landlord. None of these women earn more than Rs 2,500 working in the homes of rich farmers.

 

According to official figures, out of the total SC population in Punjab, only 35.88% constitute the workforce. http://welfarepunjab.gov.in/Static/SCPopulation.html

 

A survey conducted on the SC population across India brings to light that while Andra Pradesh has the highest number of female SC workers (46.71%), Punjab has lowest, at 5.40 %, of the total working population. http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/8102/10/10_chapter%203.pdf


However,  figures don’t prove that it is due to prosperity that only a few Dalit women work. Experts say that it is humiliation and sexual abuse that causes this. On the contrary, most women are engaged in menial work, which could be overseen in official figures. 

 

Former IPS based out of Uttar Pradesh and a Dalit thinker, SR Darapuri, from Punjab, says Dalit women have to face double the  discrimination. “Generation after generation, Dalit women are forced to work like bonded labourers in fields or homes of landlords. In many cases, poor Dalits take loans from money lenders and are caught in vicious circles. Dalit women, in many cases,  are afraid to even work due to humiliation at the hands of high caste people,” said Darapuri. He added that in the Doaba region, where Dalits are comparatively well off, women do not have to work.

 

There are many villages in Punjab with palatial houses and swanky cars run, but the areas where Dalits reside are centuries behind the other parts. Punjab is known for its rich cultural heritage and lifestyle, but the condition of these Dalit women is not common knowledge. 

 

“I clean utensils and do other odd-jobs at the home of  the local landlord from 9am to 1 pm. Then, till 5pm, I clean cattle sheds at another home. I earn Rs 1,500 from cleaning cattle sheds, and Rs 1,000 from cleaning the home,” said Jeet Kaur. Her husband is a daily wager, like many other Dalit men.

 

While Dalits in the Malwa region do not own much land, many of them do have a cow or buffalo for extra income. However, the absence of agricultural fields at their disposal makes them depend on landlords for unused fodder. Most Dalits in the region are also in debt, which successive governments have ignored, leaving no space for them to come out of the trap of high-caste moneylenders.

 

“Violence against women takes a unique form when gender and caste intersect. The experiences of Dalit women present clear evidence on widespread exploitation, violence and indecent, inhumane treatment. Their stories tell of physical and verbal abuse, forced labour, slavery, trafficking, abduction, sexual violence (including rape), which gives insight into how their social position make them vulnerable to human rights violations. Violence against Dalit women is most often used as a means of punishment and demonstration of power by dominant castes towards both the woman herself, and her community,” states a report on International Dalit Solidarity Network, which works to end caste-based discrimination. http://idsn.org/wp-content/uploads/user_folder/pdf/New_files/Key_Issues/Dalit_Women/DALIT_WOMEN_-_IDSN_briefing_paper.pdf

 

Before the wheat and paddy season, most Dalit women are employed to clean the fields and remove weeds and other unnecessary plants. While the sowing is done by migrant labourers, these women are, in most of the cases, to only do menial jobs. It is here that, sometimes, they become victims of  abuses and sexual exploitation, which is rarely reported. 

 

The family of a Dalit girl in Patiala was boycotted after she alleged that her school teacher and higher-caste classmates discriminated against her and physically assaulted her last year.


*Families targeted if cases reported*


Amandeep Kaur Deol, general secretary of Istri Jagriti Manch, an organisation working for the welfare of women, said that the patriarchal society doesn’t allow Dalit women to express their anguish against the humiliation meted out to them by high-caste men. “Last year, during the protests for the demand of one-third of common Panchayat land that has to be allotted to Dalits, at least 51 Dalit women were sexually harassed by men from higher castes” said Deol.

 

She said these Dalit women have become so immune to harassment that they do not wish to report it. “On the contrary, if they report such incidents to the police, their family members are targeted and they do not get work opportunities” said Deol.

 

Box: Dalit female literacy rates dismal*


As per the 2011 Census, the literacy rate among SCs in Punjab was 64.81%, as compared to the total literacy rate of 75.84% in Punjab, and 73% in India. The female literacy rate of SCs was at 58.39% in the state, which is much below the total 70.73% in the state. Out of the total 5.23 lakh families living below the poverty line, 3.21 lakh families belong to Scheduled Castes, which constitutes 61.38% of the total families below the poverty line in the state.  http://welfarepunjab.gov.in/Static/SCPopulation.html

 

Dropout rates among SC girl students in Punjab is very high - 30.13% at the primary-level, 46.96% at middle-level and 63.62% at the secondary-level. Literacy rates among the general category in the state is 69.70%, against the 56.22% of Scheduled Castes. Female literacy rate among SCs is very low - 48.25% - as compared to the 63.40% of the general female literacy rate.  http://welfarepunjab.gov.in/Static/PDF/ScSchemes/ENCOURAGEMENT_AWARDS_TO_SC_GIRL_STUDENTS_FOR_PURSUING_10_2_EDUCATION.pdf 

 


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