Home Features Interviews Joopaka Subhadra on Rape, Caste, Feminism and Dalit Movement

Joopaka Subhadra on Rape, Caste, Feminism and Dalit Movement

Joopaka Subhadra: Rape means… It is not simply an attack as feminists have talked about it so far. Rape is seen as an attack, that’s it. But rape is something that is used to suppress. To oppress them further, to tell them that “you are still lower than me”…it’s not just an attack, it’s a means to continue hegemony. Culturally, gender wise and caste wise – to keep people from rising up. Someone can rape my wife to keep me down. It’s a cruel suppression. So that culturally, physically and economically, they cannot move around as normal people, at least for some time.

When the Vakapalli tribal women were raped, their men accepted them again. They dipped themselves in the water, they slept for a few days at the place, declared that they have been purified, and accepted them back. But such acceptance is not there in this mainstream society. Another thing, if you look at all these rapes, at the numbers, it’s maximum on Dalit men only…sorry on Dalit women and ST women only, look at all the rapes. Whenever it happens rarely to any other women, one strategy is that the family makes sure that outside society doesn’t find out about it. If the society does know, they very cruelly and silently destroy the perpetrator’s family without getting any dirt on their hands.

But when it comes to these (Dalit/ST) women; if you ask about the Mathura rape case, the women took it up because they needed it. They wanted to expose themselves to the whole nation – in reply to the question – the Mathura case was exposed all over the nation because of these women (feminists).

Dalit Camera: So why are they not doing that anymore?

JS: Because they are all established now, they are all well-established and they don’t need to do that anymore. At that time, those women needed recognition. They needed to establish themselves as feminists, to lay bare their suppressions before the society, to make people discuss, and to emancipate themselves, to jump into the development folder – for all this, they ran that movement. Today they don’t have that requirement. Who should be doing it now? Dalits should be doing it. Dalit women should do it, Dalit men should do it. We need not say anything about others. We should talk about ourselves, we should talk to each other, we should take ourselves forward. What is my awareness? I am educated, I am in so- and- so job, all these employees should form a net, all these bureaucrats should become conscious, all these MLAS and MPS who have come to power should be conscious. But they do not have it right now. If they did have it, then Lakshmipeta would not have happened. And if things are still happening 25 years after Karamchedu, then it is our failure, the failure of our lack of consciousness, which is why Lakshmipeta happened. It is because of that failure that no one bothered when our girls were raped in Haryana. We should come forward. The rapes are about our sadness, our pain, our self respect, about something meant to destroy us, it is something that stops us from going forward. Some fellow comes out and says that rapes are happening because women are wearing tight clothes. But where are our women wearing tight clothes when rapes are happening on them? There is one stray instance here and there, at some university or such place where some abuse happens and they immediately say it’s because of the dressing. Then how come these women are getting raped when their dressing is not like that? Not wearing tights or exposing anything… how come Dalit women are getting raped? How come that doesn’t get discussed?

DC: Why is it happening like this?

JS: It’s caste! So what if it happens to them?! Who cares? Will the husband be able to go to the station so many times and tell that ‘this happened to my wife’? Or let’s say a few people come and a few Ambedkar organizations come to support. They make some noise and after that? Lakshmipeta happened, all the Dalit organizations went to Delhi and went to Hyderabad, made noise, made noise and that’s it. Was anyone there after that? What happened after that? Was the land distribution done? Did the rehabilitation happen?

We should be conscious – that is what Ambedkar said, if we are not conscious then the massacres will continue.

And it is not just about rehabilitation, it is about how do we prevent this from happening again? That (thinking) didn’t happen (then), that was painful for all; that was a failure for all, a failure for Dalits. Another Lakshmipeta can happen. We cannot say that another Lakshmipeta won’t happen again. That is because the culprits got bail – what a failure that is. Our camp is no longer there, what a failure that is. Alerting our people, making our people conscious, to make those people stay in their limits – that is not happening. Neither are our bureaucrats doing it and nor those who have developed a consciousness are doing it, and it is not running as a system. It’s utterly a failure for our community. Before we accuse others, we should first question ourselves. We should be conscious – that is what Ambedkar said, if we are not conscious then the massacres will continue. If it is not stopping, then it is your failure. The systems we are in will be very cruel and unjust – they will not let us become conscious, but you have to read those systems, you have to get educated about the system, you should get a grip on the system – in which ways they are able to suppress us? Through which mechanisms do they prevent us from coming together in one place? What kind of systems and politics do they play with? And how do we control that? How do we get organized? In terms of all this, we have not been systematic so far. We are all in different organizations. It will not work like that. We should be like a system ourselves. We should organize as a system. Only then will it work.

Culturally, where are we as a culture? What is our culture? We celebrate Dussera, Deepavali, you nicely cook and eat and stay in your house on the festival. But that Dussera is not yours and that Deepavali is not yours – they are the things that killed us. If they killed us and celebrated these festivals, how do you let your children continue with that? These are not ours, this Dussera killed our Ravana, Deepavali killed our Narakasura – how can these be ours then?

Women’s – JAC is set up as soon as people said Telangana (raises arms).. One thing about oppressed castes, whatever movement starts, we go into it; because this is a flaming heart; it’s an oppressed heart; it is filled with – ”Jai!!”; all the emotion, or fury. Whether something good is happening or whether a fight is happening, you join because you think something good will happen to you. In the same way, we started the Telangana women’s JAC. That day everyone sat for hunger strike. In that there were upper caste women, Dalit women and we were all sitting there at Gunfoundry. In the evening, the big leaders came, and offered lemon juice to break our fast. Then we all spoke, we spoke about why we wanted Telangana, from our perspective. About why Telangana women wanted Telangana. The next day, in the news, there was nothing about our voice. No news about Telangana women’s JAC sitting for hunger strike. Just some news about some big leaders having spoken at Gun Park. We were not there, and our voice was nowhere to be found. When the TV channel people would come to the place where we sat, then all the big male leaders would get up and surround them. We remained at the back, their voices got recorded and the next day their voices were broadcasted, so where were we? We were not there, our program was not there.

DC: Who were the big people?

JS: Could be anyone, whether Kodandram, Haragopal,…

DC: Oh even Haragopal!?

JS: Yeah, and Jayashankar, all these people, and they got covered while we were sitting at the back, and we wondered, “Arey! We are on hunger strike from morning to evening, without food and with garlands around our necks and where have all those photos gone? Where have all those voices gone?”

So that was over. After that there were meetings happening in various places, all the women with cars were bam bam bam going to the meetings everywhere! But, we didn’t have cars, vehicles, etc., How would we go? And who called us? No one called us. The upper caste men were inviting the upper caste women. Even the Dalit Telangana male leaders, were calling the upper caste women – Sandhya, Uma, Sulochana, all of them; Brahmins, Kammas and so on. Our own people were not calling us. Like, Mallepalli Lakshmayya, he was also calling some Uma, some Uma Devi. Not Uma, who is now the TRS women’s wing president, she belongs to BC. So there were no calls for us, no invites for us, and no information that a meeting is going to happen in a certain place. They were informing the women with cars and vehicles and those women were going and attending. So what were we?

We are natives, we are Dalits, we are BCs, we are Adivasis, we are minorities – natives of Telangana. We ought to be at the forefront. We ought to be the deciding factor.

Okay, let that be, we all were organizing, we called everyone for Round Table; there was large mobilization and we were the ones who called. Sandhya, and these other upper caste women, Seemandhra upper caste women, and the upper caste women from here, all of them, all of them were united. But we, we are natives, we are Dalits, we are BCs, we are Adivasis, we are minorities – natives of Telangana. We ought to be at the forefront. We ought to be the deciding factor. Not you people. You are Seemandhra upper castes, you are the local Dorasanis of the Doras. It is not you who should be leading, it is us. We were the Telangana people who faced losses, you people lost nothing. Our, well maybe we didn’t lose much land but our education was lost, our culture was lost, and we have gone further downward. But you people are fine. So we should be at the forefront. We said that the native women of Telangana should be at the forefront. They never came after that.

DC: Didn’t come for the meeting?

JS: No they didn’t, and after that they divided everyone wherever they were and prevented anyone from coming together. If they say don’t go then no one should go. So if they call for a meeting, our people all should run…all these women keep running. But when we call? Here when we call for a meeting saying let’s talk about a Telangana with a Dalit Bahujan social vision, then no one comes. If KCR calls or Kodandram calls, oh they run! This kind of injustice is there. We should become conscious of that. The educated students in Osmania, they should have this Bahujan outlook. Everyone wants Telangana, but why should we have to die for it? You people go ahead, you lead, and we will cheer behind you for Telangana. But we will not die, we will not get arrested, we don’t want cases on us, look now, on whom have the cases been filed? On students. On which students? SC, ST, BC, and mainly on SC students. They are the ones who took the beatings. They are the ones who died. The downtrodden ones. One or two upper castes also died, and for them, annual commemorations are being held, with huge meetings. But for these people, nothing has happened so far. Anyone’s sacrifice is a sacrifice isn’t it? One Reddy, when he hung himself and died, he was memorialized in a big way. KCR and the party leaders all went and did it. The obituaries, the death anniversaries. So, why these differences? See all humans as equals, see Telangana as one, and to see Telangana as equal, take all those thousands of acres owned by Velamas, Reddys, Kapus and all these land owning castes, and distribute them! Lets us share it all first. We can share and we can fight together. How many have died? Take out the numbers. 800 people have died. In those 800 people, how many are Reddys, how many are Velamas, how many are Brahmins calculate that.

Sadalakshmi is not visible to you, Chindellamma is not visible to you – a great woman who defied the community, who got the Hamsa award, an international award through Chindu Madiga concert – a great artiste, can’t you see her? Can’t you see that artist? You hold up a Brahmin poet like Kaloji, can’t you see the others? There are so many but, they won’t see them. Sadalakshmi who fought her entire life for Telangana – she put up the Telangana Congress – they never take her name? If it’s not caste then what is it? Is there no caste in Telangana? Is this not caste suppression in Telangana? Is it not caste deviation? How can you say there is no caste?

There are not many temples here. In Warangal, in our area, we didn’t have that practice. There is no temple for every village in Telangana. In some areas they may be there. But in Warangal, Karimnagar, in the villages there is no temple. If it was there, then the question of who is able to enter it or not enter it comes into the picture. But in Nalgonda that practice exists. They don’t let us into the temples, and this practice still continues to exist.

After the Communists, revolutionaries and Naxalites came, they told people to stop education because it was a “Macaulay Education System”. How horrible is that?

Due to British rule, there is at least some education in Seemandhra due to Brahmo Samaj and Christian missions they got some education, but here we don’t even have that, there is no education here. That too after the Communists, revolutionaries and Naxalites came, they told people to stop education because it was a “Macaulay Education System”. How horrible is that? So many of them, you won’t believe, said that the Macaulay system was a system of slavery, and we shouldn’t get educated with it. Many of our youth dropped out of education. If we asked them to go to school they would adamantly say “No! I won’t go! This is slave education! I don’t want it at any cost damn it! A washerman is better than an educated fellow!” We grew up in this type of organizing. Our father however, you said that you came here because of your mother’s pushing, but for me it was my father.

DC: Because you are a lady! Always for the lady the father supports, and the sons are supported by mothers.

JS: *Laughs* Yes! So in this way, the education of many people from our community was damaged. In Telangana, they said to us ‘Slave education’,slavery studies, Macaulay, but, when it came to their kids, they were well established, with no one to question that. And if anyone questioned, they were called informers. It is because you are a police informer that you are questioning me. There were incidents in which they killed our people. If they were an Ambedkarite in the village, and were not communists or Naxalites, if they were not respectful or subservient to the ‘annas’, our educated Madiga youth were killed in Karimnagar area, in Adilabad area, in Warangal. Our people were killed, the Ambedkarites, our youth.

DC: We keep seeing in the news about Banamathi, black magic, what is that all about?

JS: Banamathi accusation is a political, social thing. If we are acting independently in the village, they will think of how to suppress at any cost; to impose social boycott. One after another, they will link different things and spread rumours. If a piece of your land is beside their land, they will hope to occupy it and make their plot larger. So how to get rid of the owner of that land? You will spread some rumour about the person. If a Madiga tells something it won’t become a rumour. If a lower caste person says it, it does not have the value to become a rumour. But if an upper caste person says something, there will be value to it, and the rumour will spread because he has a system for it – through the farm labourers, at the village square, he can plan and spread the rumours – this woman hung herself, that girl is not studying, this child got a fever, this man got a fever, that old man got a coughing fit – and then more stories about how someone found a lemon or some eggs near the woman’s house – there were instances where people planned and put these things at the victim’s house at midnight. If you ask the Jana Vignyana people, they will tell you, if you ask the rationalists they will tell you – how it can all be planned, putting an egg and a lemon there – so that they can accuse them of doing black magic. And people are uneducated, they have different fears and insecurities, through education you can be a little emancipated. But due to the insecurity, there are more fears, and people easily buy into the rumours. If someone gets fever people start saying, “They must have done it. It seems they know Manthras (spells), and they tie charms”. Another thing is that, those who are particularly intelligent are also labelled this way – you are not supposed to be intelligent, or talkative. If you are like this today, you may question the village elders tomorrow, such a fellow may organize the community against them, so he should be nipped in the bud. So those of us who 1) have intelligence, 2) have money 3) have land are targeted so that we have no independence. Such people are implicated in black magic, and eventually killed. So many such incidents happened in Telangana, because of the lack of education and because of the fears.

Those of us who 1) have intelligence, 2) have money 3) have land are targeted so that we have no independence. Such people are implicated in black magic, and eventually killed.

So the communists and leftists, they did not work on the issue of caste, religion, black magic and so on. Why? Why did they not? Why did they not? When they said that there will be a new world, we all ran to them. They spoke of equality and we thought that there will be no caste anymore. They said equal society but they never said casteless society! When they say ‘new democratic revolution’ they say that everyone will live equally but they never say that it is equality without caste, it is very interesting! When they say equality, what do we think? “Oh they and we will be equals from now on”. In our minds, there is a gnawing oppression we have been carrying from generations, about caste. So when we think of equality, we think of eating together, our boy marrying their girl and our girl marrying their boy, playing together, singing together, that is the human nature, to want to be together, and for this, the people who have struggled and lost the most since generations are these people – the untouchables. For a new world and an egalitarian society, since the time of Buddhism till today – with the hope that a new world will emerge, that a democratic society will emerge, that a just society will emerge – whenever anyone came together for an egalitarian society, the first people to come forward, to have been sacrificed, to have been killed and buried, were all the untouchables. It may not have been recorded in history, but it is being carried down the generations.

Bharat Maata means from which caste? With the crown and the nice silk sarees, supple and fair skinned is that Bharat Maata? Which woman is Bharat Maata? Who put her up? They said Telangana Thalli (mother), do you know how Telangana Thalli ought to be? She should be like Chaakali Ailamma. It should represent the culture here. Which culture? The working culture of that gender. But that is not happening. If we look at Bharat Maata, she has golden crowns, holding some weapon, decked with jewellery, silk sarees, golden bangles and amulets up to the arms. Does a Dalit woman look like this? Will she be able to do her everyday work wearing all that? What kind of woman did they choose to symbolize Bharat Maata? Who decided that symbol? The uppercaste men. For them, a woman, a Bharat Maata, is supposed to be like that fair skinned, decked in Jewelry, in Silk saree and so on. This is what we argued even when the Telangana Thalli portrait was released. That was not how she should have looked. Even Telangana Thalli now looks like the sister of Andhra Thalli . How should Telangana Thalli be? She would have a Gochi (saree end tucked up between the legs into the back) Her pallu won’t be on her chest, it would be wrapped around her waist. She would have a pair of solid earrings; her hair would be in a bun. There would be no Bindi and all that drama. There would be a beaded necklace and a silver bracelet. That is Teangana Thalli. So when they get a Dorasani’s (Landlord woman) image and tell us that it is Telangana Thalli, how can we accept that?

So, about Kaali, Shakthi – Dalit women have a great power. You may say it’s because of their closeness to nature, or their labour. Shakthi means, I always remember our Thaataki. Rama, isn’t it Vishwamithra? Yes. Vishwamithra brings him from Dasharatha’s house, because he was unable to fight against the women as they were so strong. So he trains Rama and brings him to kill them. That was how strong they were. The ones who attached all those limbs to Kali were these people (Brahmins). Kali is our woman. But they keep owning her. Why go that far, how many Pochamma’s turned into Kalika Maathas before our eyes! Isn’t there the Kalika temple over here? Near Bandlaguda, the Gandi Maisamma, she turned into Kalika Maatha, right before our eyes! Pochammas and Maisammas have become Kalika Maathas, they have become Durgas! Why go even there, at the Secretariat, it’s a recent example – they had put up a small stone there, and the women would occasionally go there to relieve their everyday frustrations, they break a coconut and light a lamp, they are the Class 4 sweepers and attenders. It’s a small place and they would come there once or twice a year to break a coconut or light a small lamp. Slowly, people put a few bricks around the stone. Gradually, walls were built around it, it was turned into a big temple, they gave a human figure to the stone and these women were chased out. It was a Pochamma temple. Now they call it a Durga temple. Durga Maatha! They made it a Durga temple, and those women no longer make their prayers or light their lamps and they are not letting them in anymore. This happened at Secretariat and it is a very recent example. Now the temple conducts every day poojas and offerings, Yagnyas and the Brahmins have entered the picture, they are deciding the Muhurtas, Tadiya, Vidhiya, Panchami, planets – all these are going on there. You go there and take a look once. Come with me, I will take you there. They have distanced these poor Class 4 women; they are no longer there, see how they changed the name.

Pochamma guards at the boundary of the village. Maisamma sits on the bund of the village pond and protects it. See them, can you tell whose wives they are? Can you? That is Dalit women.

They changed the name of Kali herself. They knew that changing her dark colour will cause resentment, so they let that be. That is what happened. They want her because she is so powerful. Their women on the other hand, see, you know Brahma? If you ask where his wife is – she is in his face. For Vishnu she is in the chest. For Shiva she is in half his body. But our women are not like that. Our Pochamma, Yellamma, Maisamma, Uppalamma, we do not know if they have husbands or not. Tell me their husbands’ names? Their women are just parts of their husbands, so how are they powerful? One woman is in her husband’s heart, the other is half of her husband, one is in the face – like that they have a place in their husband. But our women are independent. Not only for their family, they fought for the entire community, they struggled for the whole village. Pochamma guards at the boundary of the village. Maisamma sits on the bund of the village pond and protects it. See them, can you tell whose wives they are? Can you? That is Dalit women. They (goddesses) are not all fair! They are as a black stone. They do not have a form, like a strong black stone because she does not fear even the fury of nature. So there is a stone, a tree, a bund – that is the only form, unlike those people who put up a fair woman’s figure, decked with ornaments, that is the changed form. They say that she (Shakti) killed Narakasura, but that never happened, he is shown to be killing some child, no. They are making our own people disappear before our own eyes. So much history must have happened. Today we are so much more aware, we have developed media, yet before our very eyes they are creating these and shoving us away. They are changing names, they are changing histories. What will they tell now? “This is Durga Maatha temple, this is ours”. They got some materials from all the Shakthipeethams, and set them up there (at the Secretariat). It seems they are the Ashta Mahalakshmis. Where did Pochamma go? Where did the lamp go? Where did the Class 4 women go? Where did the sweeper women go? Now it is all, like this, look you have to go there and take the photos. Ashta Lakshmis!

The Dappu (drum) and the one who makes it: The man just gives the leather and goes, the husband, brother, mother-in-law, whoever. The Madiga man just gives the cattle skin and leaves. That is carefully put into the Landa (water pot). Every day you have to take it out and change the water. It smells terrible! A horrible smell! No animal or dog should touch it, and it has to be protected with thorns and dry shrub, while also allowing the sunlight and air to reach it. The skin should soak in the water and undergo a reaction. So for seven or so sleepless days, one has to protect the skin. If you have to change the water every day, will the water be available? You have to fetch it from far away. For ten days you have to change the water ten times. On the final day, you have to take Tamarind seeds – by calculating the amount you need for the amount of leather – and boil them to make a paste. Will the firewood be nearby? No, you have to carry and bring a huge stack from far off. It is hard enough to soften the Tamarind seeds, then you have to imagine how much work it takes to make the paste. So you have to make the paste and get the wood of Tangedu tree (Avaram Senna) to make the frame for the drum. After doing all this work, the woman doesn’t get to play the drum. She should not play it. It hangs prettily in the house like that. See that, take out my Dappu. So it hangs like that but I should not touch it or play it. This discrimination I am facing in my Dalit, in my Madiga community, with my men.

DC: Why should you not play it?

JS: No, its banned!

DC: Banned?!

JS: Yes! I may be able to sit quietly at home and play it but I can’t play it outside. Outside when there is an occasion, a festival, a celebration, a marriage – I cannot play it. No matter how much effort I put in making it. I should not hold the plough. Only the men should plough. Only the man should play the drum, not the women. There is a ban on that.

DC: Even now they follow this?

JS: Yes. If you try to play they will laugh, they will say “chi chi”, they ridicule and make a huge ruckus.
[Chindu (street play) should be done by the Madiga man, not woman.]
But then there is Chindu Yellamma.
[That is because she is from the Chindu community itself, so that is seen as being okay]
So in the Chindu the man should wear the anklets and narrate the story, and the women should sit behind and accompany with hand cymbals. They should apply his makeup, his eyeliner and Bindi, tie his sarees. Chorus, background and beat accompaniment are done by the women. She cannot wear the anklets and take a tune and sing a story. Chindu is like this and among Madigas women cannot play the drums, even though it is the woman who puts most effort in making it. That is the tragedy and I wrote a poem on that.

(Start with the leather poem).

Mallanna may be a slave to the world
But he is reputed in our waada (colony).
For having tied the wedlock,
I have become a slave to Mallanna.
Ayyo Dammakka!
My stories and my pains
Evaporate at the hamlet’s boundary stone
Ayyayyo Dammakka!….

Joopaka Shubadra is a Dalit activist, Telugu poet and writer.

Video: Ravichandran, Transcription: Myneni Deepu