Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatane (JMS)

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Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatane, Pothnal (Raichur)

From Violence and violations to human dignity, justice and equality

A Brief Story of a Dalit Madiga Women’s Collective 1999-2015

@ the completion of 16 years of meaningful Journey

Prologue

Violence and violation of human dignity….within households and outside….

This is the gist of the life of a poor Dalit Madiga woman who works as an agricultural labourer at the turn of the second millennium – year 1999-2000

The district of Raichur, with its feudal history of being part of Nizam state, provided a perfect example for the embodiment of caste-class-patriarchal mix resulting in violence on a Dalit woman and violation of her dignity within and outside her home. Raichur, the drought prone area of the deccan plateau,hailed as the rice bowl of Karnataka, was also home to the most marginalised communities in the state, the Dalit Madigas. A deadly combination of an entrenched caste system including extreme forms of untouchability and patriarchal values was enforced with an iron hand by the feudal landlords belonging to the dominant Veerashaiva (Lingayats) community, who ironically also professed to be followers of Basava Dharma (Religion preached by Basaveshwara based on equality and social justice).

When the oppressed Dalits they showed signs of resistance and dared to transgress caste subjugation, were dealt with severely – women were stripped naked and paraded in the open,and not infrequently, the entire community was forced into submission through social and economic boycott. Emerging from these experiences of extreme caste-based oppression, Raichur became the cradle of Dalit liberation movement in early 80’s which was spearheaded by Prof. B. Krishnappa and was called the Dalit Sangharash Samiti (DSS). The DSS brought much hope of large-scale dalit mobilization, dalit assertion and liberation. However by 2000, it had splintered into several factions with hardly any presence of Dalit women in any one them. Rapes and molestations of Madiga women became merely symbolic, rallying points for caste identity when the sexual assault was by upper castes; howevert the gender based discrimination and violence within Dalit communities and households was not even acknowledged!. The triple burden and discrimination of imposed by the oppressive structures of caste – patriarchy – class heavily weighed on Dalit – Women – Agricultural Labourers and continued without any resistance.

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Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan : 1999-2015

Celebrating – 16 years Journey of Dalit Madiga Women’s Collective – Dec 28, 2015 @JMS, Pothnal, Raichur District

JMS was initiated as  a small social experiment  in and around an insignificant village called Pothnal in Manvi taluk of Raichur district in 1999. This journey of 15 years is a story of a social experiment aimed at catalysing the birth of a grassroots Dalit women’s voice to resist and counter the hegemonies of caste, class and gender.

The two-pronged strategy that guided the process was – ‘sangharsh’ (struggle) for rights and ‘navnirman’ (reconstruction, re-creation) for dignity. Through a process of social mobilisation and collectivisation, interrogation of the structures of oppression, using organised power to confront head on violence related to caste and gender, the Madiga women have battled an uphill struggle for justice, equality and dignity.

The Madiga women have come a long way from being unable to sit even for an hour at the sangha meetings to entering the thresholds of gram panchayat to demand their entitlements, obtaining bank loans for their collective activities, monitoring local PHCs and anganwadis and importantly raising a strong, collective voice against violence.

The sixteen year journey from being ‘unorganised Madiga women agricultural labourers’   to becoming Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatane(JMS) , can be described as a social experiment of moving with the community at their own pace ushering in processes to increase their ownership and control over the very processes of this social experiment.

E. Premdas and Akhila

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