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  • Rajarshi Dwivedi

Shattering Boundaries: Navigating the Intersections of Gender, Caste, and Class in India's Quest for Women's Rights and Gender Justice

Rajarshi Dwivedi

Presidency University, Bengaluru

Navigating the Intersections of Gender, Caste, and Class in India's Quest for Women's Rights and Gender Justice

ABSTRACT

This Article offers a bold examination of gender justice in India through the powerful lens of intersectionality. By weaving together historical insights with contemporary realities, the intricate layers of discrimination and oppression faced by women across the nation are dissected. Intersectionality emerges as a pivotal concept, illuminating the complex interplay of caste, class, race, and gender in shaping individuals' experiences.

Critiquing entrenched archaic beliefs and harmful stereotypes, the insidious mechanisms perpetuating the marginalization of women, particularly those from historically marginalized communities, are unveiled. Through compelling statistical data and revealing social surveys, a stark portrait of the pervasive gender inequalities and endemic violence plaguing Indian society is painted. Drawing from the harrowing experiences of marginalized communities, the intersecting identities compound vulnerabilities, perpetuating vicious cycles of violence and exploitation. Amplifying the voices of those silenced by oppression, the urgent imperative for comprehensive strategies to dismantle intersecting forms of oppression is underscored.

In crafting this Article, a bold argument for transformative change is presented. By embracing intersectionality and confronting the deep-rooted biases embedded within Indian society, bold policy interventions and grassroots movements are advocated for, prioritizing the voices and experiences of those most marginalized. Through collective action and unwavering commitment, the path towards a more just and equitable future for all women in India is sought.

vidyā-vinaya-sampanne brāhmaṇe gavi hastini śhuni chaiva śhva-pāke cha paṇḍitāḥ sama-darśhinaḥ

The Bhagavad Gita advocates for equality and impartiality, asserting that wisdom transcends societal constructs such as caste, gender, and social status. However, in contemporary society, this principle holds little relevance due to the pervasive discrimination faced by women. The sufferings become more severe when discrimination is casted in layers.[i]

Intersectionality, as conceptualized by Kimberlé Crenshaw, unveils the heightened magnitude of suffering inflicted upon women  grappling with multiple layers of discrimination, encompassing caste, class, race, and gender, underscoring the imperative for comprehensive strategies to dismantle entrenched systems of oppression[ii]. For example ,Women with disabilities face a significantly higher risk of experiencing domestic violence, ranging from two to four times greater than their non-disabled counterparts.[iii] India, despite its cultural reverence for women as mothers (mata), remains ensnared in the intricate web of intersectional discrimination against them. This enduring societal bias permeates every aspect of life, hindering the full realization of gender equality and perpetuating the marginalization of women.

So, to achieve gender justice for women, it's imperative to grasp the intricate web of intersectionality. This understanding must inform the development of laws and regulations aimed at addressing the root causes of women's suffering.[iv]

Gender Dynamics In India

The ancient works of India systematically oppressed women, codifying discrimination into societal norms and laws. These texts, once revered as the law of the land, entrenched and justified the subjugation of women, providing a legal foundation for the widespread discrimination they faced. The Manusmriti perpetuates archaic and discriminatory beliefs, suggesting that women who transgress their marital duties are condemned to suffer from leprosy and are reborn as jackals. Additionally, it propagates harmful notions of beauty standards, advising against marriage to women with specific physical attributes, reflecting deeply ingrained prejudices against women.[v] These stances provides an unequivocal reflaction of ancient Indian society with typical patriarchal mindset.

It's crucial to acknowledge that the contemporary state of India still reflects entrenched gender biases, as the patriarchal mindset persists, ensuring the continued marginalization of women. Recent studies on gender dynamics in India paint a concerning picture: 34% believe women should handle childcare, 43% think earning money is solely men's responsibility, nearly 90% insist on having at least one son, 63% expect sons to perform parents' last rites, and 23% of women report facing discrimination.[vi]  Approximately 13.5% of men justify beating women for refusing sex, while 34.6% condone violence against women for various reasons.[vii] The 2022 Gender Wage Gap Report ranked India 122nd, indicating a stark reality of low female participation in economic development.[viii] These numbers underscore the entrenched biases,  inequalities and violence prevalent in Indian society against women. The situation is compounded for women from marginalized backgrounds.

Deciphering Intersectionality by the experience of Marginalised Women in India

Intersectionality encapsulates a complex network of discrimination based on factors such as caste, race, class, and religion, creating intersecting layers of inequality. For instance, a poor woman of color faces compounded discrimination compared to a wealthy white woman. Addressing each dimension of inequality separately is crucial to dismantling these entrenched systems of oppression.[ix]

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's assertion that a nation's development is gauged by the advancement of its women underscores the critical importance of addressing intersectional inequalities. His advocacy for the annihilation of caste reflects an acute understanding of the compounded challenges faced by Dalit women, who endure discrimination rooted in poverty, lack of education, social backwardness, and gender bias.[x]

Recent research conducted by the International Dalit Solidarity Network, encompassing over 500 Dalit women, validates Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's assertion regarding the dire plight of marginalized communities. The study highlights the alarming prevalence of violence against Dalit women, stripping them of their inherent human dignity. Shockingly, 62.4% reported experiencing verbal abuse, 54.8% endured physical assault, 46.8% faced sexual harassment, 43% suffered domestic violence, and 23.2% were victims of rape.[xi] Tragically, many of these incidents go unreported due to fear of further discrimination within the judicial system, perpetuating a cycle of impunity and accepting atrocities as inevitable fate.

The plight of marginalized communities in India persists, with scant progress in their socio-economic status owing to the grossly ineffective execution of governmental programs. Highlighted by the Mandal Commission in the 1990s, the OBCs, constituting over 40% of the population, remain neglected. This diverse demographic, encompassing traditional service providers, artisans, and the landless, demands urgent and unwavering attention to rectify decades of systemic marginalization. The plight of marginalized women within already disadvantaged communities is dire. Their voices go unheard, their demands ignored. Government initiatives overlook their specific needs, failing to provide adequate provisions for socio-economically backward women who suffer most within these communities. Customary practices and societal attitudes perpetuate their exploitation and neglect. The majority remain unemployed or receive unequal pay compared to men. It's time to recognize and address the distinct challenges faced by these women, ensuring they are no longer treated as mere tools for reproduction but as equal and empowered members of society.  Policies must adopt a bottom-up approach, incorporating the principles of intersectionality to address the unique circumstances of women based on their caste, class, and status. It's imperative to recognize the complex layers of discrimination they face and tailor solutions accordingly. By acknowledging and integrating these intersecting factors, we can ensure that policies are truly inclusive and equitable, uplifting all women regardless of their background.

The Interplay of Gender, Class and Caste in Employment

The intricate web of intersecting categories and their associated discrimination creates a pervasive ecosystem of inequality with women at its core. In the recent case of Patan Jaman Vali v. State of Andhra Pradesh[xii], the Supreme Court underscored how the convergence of various marginalized identities places women at a significant disadvantage.

The employment sector in India reflects a stark reality where women are systematically relegated to the lowest echelons of the labor pyramid.[xiii] This marginalization is not incidental but rather a result of deeply ingrained structural rigidity, gender biases, and pervasive caste discrimination. These intersecting forms of oppression converge to create a labor landscape where women, particularly Dalit women, face formidable barriers to advancement.

A poignant illustration of this is the fact that nearly 95% of manual scavengers in India are Dalit women.[xiv] Despite this glaring statistic, existing laws and policies fail to address this issue through an intersectional lens. This failure perpetuates a cycle of exclusion and marginalization, denying Dalit women the opportunity to break free from the chains of caste and gender-based discrimination in the workforce. Addressing these systemic inequalities requires a comprehensive approach that acknowledges and dismantles the intersecting forms of discrimination faced by Dalit women, ensuring their full and equal participation in the workforce.

Strategies for Addressing Intersectional Injustice

Atrocities against women is a pervasive global issue, spanning physical and psychological harm, from torture to abuse and insult. An intersectional approach is essential, acknowledging the diverse forms of oppression faced by women based on factors like caste, class, region, and language. We must recognize the unique challenges experienced by Dalit women compared to their upper-caste counterparts. Oversimplifying women's oppression ignores internal differences, perpetuating discrimination and hierarchies within their experiences. It's time to embrace intersectionality fully to ensure that all women are seen, heard, and protected .[xv]

The G20 India presidency prioritizes women-led development to tackle gender disparities in labor force participation, pay equity, and discrimination. Yet, it overlooks the complexity of gender relations and intersectional identities. Intersectionality, rooted in feminist theories, acknowledges how social identities intersect, resulting in distinct experiences of discrimination and privilege. It's crucial to recognize that gender interacts with other facets of identity, including age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and religion, to ensure comprehensive and inclusive solutions .[xvi]

Numerous factors, including gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, nationality, age, location, caste, and norms, intricately shape individuals' impacts, vulnerability, responsibility, and decision-making abilities. Embracing a holistic approach is paramount, recognizing the intersectionality of these categories in forming individuals' complex identities. For instance, in regions impacted by climate change, lower-income households often witness high rates of child marriage, underscoring the interplay between socioeconomic factors and entrenched social norms. It's time to acknowledge and address these multifaceted dynamics to enact meaningful change . An intersectional perspective on sustainable development goals exposes how inequalities intersect, especially impacting indigenous women, marginalized groups, ethnic minorities, and women with disabilities. Current approaches often overlook women's disproportionate burden of domestic chores and caregiving duties, influenced by gender, location, education, marital and employment status, and prevailing social norms. It's imperative to recognize and address these intersecting inequalities to achieve genuine progress towards gender equality and sustainable development .[xvii] 

1.Criminal laws must impose severe punishments for offenses against women facing multiple forms of backwardness, including social, economic, and disability-related challenges.

2.The Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Abhiyan should prioritize marginalized communities among women, lifting them out of illiteracy and preparing them for employment opportunities.

3.Reservation of seats for women in Lok Sabha and State Assemblies must also include representation for disabled women and those from other marginalized backgrounds.

Conclusion 

In India, the enduring discrimination against women stands as a towering impediment to the realization of gender justice, even as the nation strives to meet its Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Despite lofty aspirations, the deeply ingrained misogynistic attitudes prevalent in society cast a long shadow over progress. This entrenched bias perpetuates systemic inequalities, hindering the full participation and empowerment of women in all spheres of life. Kimberlé Crenshaw's assertion, "if you see inequality as their problem or an unfortunate problem, that's where the problem lies," underscores the need for collective societal action to address the backwardness of marginalized sections. To dismantle inequality at its core, India must embrace an intersectional approach to unravel the complex layers of oppression. This bold strategy is essential to comprehensively uplift the status of women by confronting the intersecting factors that perpetuate their marginalization. Only through courageous and systemic change can we realize genuine gender equality and social justice.

References

[iii] Bridie Taylor, Intersectionality 101: what is it and why is it important? , Womankind Worldwide( Nov 24,2019), https://www.womankind.org.uk/intersectionality-101-what-is-it-and-why-is-it-important/

[vi]  JONATHAN EVANS, NEHA SAHGAL and others, How Indians View Gender Roles in Families and Society, Pew Research Center( Mar 2,2022), https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2022/03/02/how-indians-view-gender-roles-in-families-and-society/

[vii] Oommen C. Kurian, Gender attitudes in India: Changes in the 21st century, Observer Research Foundation ( Mar 07,2024)), https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/gender-attitudes-in-india-changes-in-the-21st-century

[ix] Center for Intersectional Jutice, https://www.intersectionaljustice.org/what-is-intersectionality(last visited May 7,2024)

[xi] SHONOTTRA KUMAR, Intersectional Discrimination: Understanding the Indian Perspective, Nyaaya( Feb 15, 2022), https://nyaaya.org/guest-blog/intersectional-discrimination-understanding-the-indian-perspective/

[xii] AIR 2021 SC 2190

[xiv] Aastha Malipatil, Indian Women Manual Scavengers, Oxford Human Rights Hub ( Apr 12, 2024, 2:30 AM), https://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/intersectional-invisibility-indian-women-manual-scavengers/

[xv]Simant Shankar Bharti, Violence against Women in India: An Intersectional Approach to Human Rights, ResearchGate (Aug ,2021), https://www.researchgate.net/publication/350138103_Violence_against_Women_in_India_An_Intersectional_Approach_to_Human_Rights

[xvi] Weldon, S. Laurel, “Intersectionality” Politics, Gender and Concepts: Theory and Methodology (2008): 193–218; Shields, Stephanie A, “Gender: An Intersectionality Perspective,” Sex Roles 59 (2008): 301–311

[xvii] Nikore, Mitali, “Building India Economy on the Backs of Women Unpaid Work: A Gendered Analysis of Time-Use Data,” (2022)

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