Dalit Social Movement in Nepal: A Gendered Perspective
There are only a few studies of social movement from gender perspectives, probably because it is assumed that the movements take into consideration the interests of both men and women or that movements are gender neutral. However, social movements are often framed such that the specific interests and demands of women are ignored, sidelined or assumed to be the same as men’s. The few studies that use gendered perspectives have shown that women’s resistance calls attention to the theoretical issue of women’s interests and identities and around which they mobilize. Maxine Molyneux (1986), for example, identifies three types of ‘women’s interests’ that is common in feminist literature: (1) women’s interests (a highly contentious one because of women’s different positions in society, depending on class, ethnicity and sexual affiliation), (2) strategic gender interests, and (3) practical gender interests. Raka Ray and A.C.Kortweg (1999) argue that women are mobilized not only as women but also as mothers, workers, peasants, and citizens. These identities are not self-evident and do not emerge automatically from a structural position but rather are created in the process of struggle. In examining gender roles in social movements, M. Bahati Kuumba (2001) shows how liberation struggles are viewed through women’s eyes and how gender affects women’s mobilization, strategies, and outcomes in social movement organizations. Using examples of the American Civil Rights movement and the South African National Liberation movement, Kuumba documents the circumscribed roles of women, the unheralded role of movement leaders such as Ella Baker and Frances Baard and how gender affected movement activities and results.
Through a historical analysis of the Dalit social movement and interviews with Dalit activists and ordinary Dalits, this paper examines the Dalit social movement in Nepal. It attempts to explore what Dalits, both men and women and activists as well as ordinary Dalits (who may not be directly involved in the movement) understand by the Dalit Social movement. More specifically, this paper applies a gendered mode of analysis that entails taking the process, stratification, and structure of gender into account when viewing social phenomena. It acknowledges that institutionalized gender relations and inequalities impact the social experience in both constraining and catalytic ways. A gendered mode of analysis assesses how systems of caste stratification, regional and class inequality interact with gender differences in social movement processes.
This paper provides a gendered perspective on the Dalit social movement. Do men and women experience participation in the Dalit social movement differently? Has the Dalit movement adequately represented Dalit women’s issues and acknowledged the contributions of Dalit women? The paper examines the key contributions of Nepali Dalit Women in the larger Dalit movement and in the Women’s movement. It highlights the gendered critique provided by the Feminist Dalit movement in Nepal. It will argue that the Dalit social movement does not take into adequate consideration the specific interests and demands of Dalit women, who struggle against casteism, exclusion and patriarchy.