“How would they know?” Dalit women talk about caste discrimination (part 1)

While having lunch with some of the Sanchalakis (coordinators) and karyakarthas (activists) of the Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatana, a Dalit women’s collective in Potnal.  We mentioned that while coming on the bus from Raichur station, we passed a number of elaborate temples.

Were these temples open to all?  We wondered aloud.

Yes, yes, they said.  Anyone can go there.  The temples don’t ban anyone.

“So you can enter any temple, if you wish?” we asked pointedly.  Mariamma replied that she was not very familiar with the rules of the temples.   Narsamma said, “other than in our own village, we can enter any temple.”

“And in your own village?”  we wanted to know.

“In our own village we can come to the steps of the temple but not inside the temple.”

“What will happen if you go inside?”

She laughed and said, “People will say, look at these people, they think they are so great they are brazenly going inside the temple.”

They said this so matter-of-factly that I felt I had to explain why we were asking particularly about this.   “When we talk about Dalits being denied entry into temples, many people don’t believe that it still happens today,” I said.

“How would they know?”  Narsamma asked me.  “We are stopped at the steps, so we know.  They are not, so they don’t see it.”

These Dalit women had begun organizing 15 years ago, a story they have told often and recently documented in a photo essay and video.  They united and gained the courage to speak up at panchayat meetings, to demand rations and anganwadi services, housing loans and access to other government services.  They were kind enough to share their stories again when we went to meet them.

[To be Continued]


In Kotayya’s place, what would you do?

The Setting: 

Two families.  One wealthy, landed, and upper-caste.  The other landless, untouchable and surviving on daily wages.  As expected in the world of 1950s Telugu cinema, the children of the two houses, Papa and Sekhar, fall in love.   After various scenes and turns of the movie play out, the jamindar family consents to the alliance with a condition.  Kotayya, the poor man, must agree never to see his daughter, Papa again.  Then the rich family will accept Papa as the daughter-in-law of their house.   Kotayya finds the condition too hard to bear.

In this scene, Sekhar’s uncle persuades him to consent to the condition for the sake of his daughter’s happiness.   Finally Kotayya agrees and turns to leave the house.  On his way out,  another elder relative of Sekhar’s stops Kotayya with an offer he can’t refuse.  Or can he?  Should he?


Imagine:  You are Kotayya.  What would you do?   Accept?  Walk away?  Another course of action?

Explain the reason for your choice.



Should the ICDS serve packaged food?

In the 2010 Seattle conference we held a debate on the question:  “Should the ICDS serve packaged food?”  Volunteers broke up into small groups and tried to argue for and against this proposition.   Afterwards one person came forward to argue in favour and another to argue against in a debate before the entire group.

Two points are worth mentioning from this exercise

– People found it very difficult to find any points in favour of procuring and serving packaged foods through the ICDS.

– After the session, one person came to me, as the facilitator of the session, and complained that the entire session was a waste of time because it was simply a “no-brainer” that the government should provide food grains or freshly cooked food and not processed and packaged foods through its welfare programs.

All the same, Amartya Sen, Jean Dreze and many others others have spoken out publicly against the proposal.

Yet this no-brainer proposal continues to come before the Ministry of Child Welfare and several states have in fact introduced packaged foods through the ICDS.   The packaged food industry markets and lobbies for their product very aggressively.  Using the same tactics that worked fifty years ago in the US, the industry first persuades people to think about nutrients rather than foods, and then prints nutrient information on their labels and advertisements.  Unlabelled and unadvertised food does not boast such nutrient information and may come up with lower numbers even if someone calculated specific nutrients.  But there is a world of difference between nutrients occurring as part of food and nutrients added in a factory.

See also: ICDS gets packaged food for the malnourished.   Down to Earth, March 15, 2008.
Hot meal for kids? Renuka sells ready-to-eat.  Telegraph, Oct 3, 2008.
Keep industrial food out of ICDS


How will the government address the agricultural crisis?

10 TV Special Report: ” Government should help Farmers Families …”

Includes extremely moving interviews with several survivors in families in which farmers have committed suicide.   They explain the extent of their debt, how much they spent on seeds / pesticides,  how much land they had / have lost, what work they are doing now, and how their kids are handling the consequences.
The reporter mentions the GO 421 designed to provide relief to these families, as well as efforts of organizations like:  Raithu Swaraj Vedika, Caring Citizens Collective and AID India.
Also includes comments from Uma garu and Kiran.

Uma garu talks about the efforts of Raithu Swaraj Vedika and appeals to the public to join in seeing that we never forget the farmers and their invaluable role in society.

Kiran explains that:
Women survivors of farmers who have committed suicide in extreme distress, bear a heavy burden of supporting the family.  In 2004, the government promised an ex-gratia for these people through GO 421 .  From then to now, 2500 farmers have been committing suicide every year, but the government is only allotting this ex-gratia to 100-150 people every year.   What will become of the others? They should at least receive humanitarian relief, but if the government is not even able to implement the GO designed for that, then how will the government be able to address the agricultural crisis?

Why are we advocating organic methods of farming?

Questions asked after Farmer’s Vigil

Why Organic?
Locally, people often use the phrase “Low-input Sustainable Agriculture” rather than “organic.” The aim is two-fold – to make agriculture remunerative to farmers and to make it sustainable year after year by enhancing the quality of the farm and the soil. This requires moving away from the Green Revolution paradigm of dependence on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and seeds from the market. In Vidarbha, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Uttaranchal and elsewhere, farmers are successfully moving to methods which require very little expenditure on external inputs. What is more, these methods rejuvenate the soil at the end of the season so that agriculture is sustainable year after year. Organic farming is being successfully used even for crops like paddy, sugarcane and cotton.

You may read more about this on the AID Agri page which is updated with literature on pesticides & fertilizers, site visit reports to groups practicing organic or low-input sustainable agricutlure.



In response to  Nishank Sah: ” I was just wondering if AID is currently involved in any Anti-DOWRY campaign.”

Funny, a journalist wondering the same thing called me a few days ago. She wanted to find out why the campaign was no longer active in AID.

I offered some possible explanations …. key volunteers leading the effort moving to India and not keeping up contact, decline of the yahoo group (partly due imho to cross-posting and spam) , and also major emergencies that exhausted our volunteer resources such as communal riots in Gujarat, Tsunami. Also that those who took initiative in the anti-dowry campaign were the same people who were working actively in Narmada, Bhopal, Farmers’ Crisis, and several other major issues which demanded our time and energy.

Dowry is a hard issue because it means changing something about ourselves, our attitudes, our lifestyles.
It is easier to cite the above reasons but there is also something about the rising consumerism, changing demographics of AID volunteer base, changing forms of dowry, sexism … that demands our introspection as well.

Anyway the journalist was interested in meeting a young couple in India preparing for marriage and facing and resisting family expectations regarding dowry.

Do you know anyone she could interview? She is going to India in January.


by Nishank Sah on Mon Nov 03, 2008 6:11 pm


I was just wondering if AID is currently involved in any Anti-DOWRY campaign and I came across this old thread. The discussions were really insightful and still pertinent.

Currently, what is the stand of AIDers against dowry? Especially among the unmarried folks??

Some survey was proposed to be taken to know the opinion of AIDers on different aspects related to dowry and inter-caste marriages. Had we collected any facts related to it?

Though, the demand for Dowry might have subdued per se, but it has metamorphosed into another subtle forms, like giving of gifts, jeweleries, ostentatious wedding celebrations (the cost to be born by bride’s parents), etc.

Moreover, still there are many young folks, who would not ask for dowry on their own, but who won’t oppose their parents demand either, saying “I can’t say no if my parents ask the bride’s family for dowry. Maybe I won’t ask dowry for my kids’ marriages.”

One of the best solutions for curbing the effects of dowry can be as simple as, a couple spending 50-50% on wedding arrangements on their own (assuming both are working), and keeping it low scale than pressurizing the bride’s parents for arrangements.

I am not sure, as how much just signing a NO DOWRY pledge online by people would lead to its actual implementation.

Nishank Sah

Radhika Rammohan on Thu Jun 15, 2006 3:26 pm

hi Shailabh,

Actually the point I was making was re. the society, expectations and “pressure” that people put on themselves even if it is not external. The notion is well-entrenched in our society that the girl’s family should do everything possible to ensure the couple start off to a good std. of living and that the wedding itself, and all its expenses are to be met by them — even if the grooms family were to be quite progressive the bride’s fmly will go out of their way and spend on the occasion.

Most parents of girls will have something put away for these purposes and that kitty would have been growing since the girl’s childhood. You brought up a point of “what if the grooms parents are not that well-off”. If groom’s parents were to be working under the assumption that roughly 50% of their son’s wedding and marriage start-up expenses are to be met by them, perhaps they would create such kitties too… just speculating.

“display and pressure” are relative — to me a lavish wedding whose expenses are footed by the girls family, and where dispoportionate level of gifts given by one side are indications of this social conditioning. It is of course FAR preferable to the arm-twisting and conditional marriages one sees.

My thoughts are not a departure from the original dowry FAQ…. if you see the next para in the faq.

      Nevertheless if parents wish to give anything to their daughter on the occasion of her marriage, they should give it in her own name and see that she is fully aware of how to manage the assets and capable of using them according to her own wishes and needs.

Shailabh Nagar on Thu Jun 15, 2006 2:45 pm

LS Aravinda wrote:

I was trying to get at what definition of dowry would be used that people would be pledging to work against and whether that can be something as rigid

ANTI DOWRY campaign pledge and faq may be a good start.

The pledge and FAQ were quite useful and seem like a good way of conveying what is meant. In particular,

Any gift given by the bride’s family to the groom’s family as a condition of marriage, under social pressure for fulfilling customs, or for showing the bride’s family status or under fear of ill- being of the bride, is a dowry. A gift given without such display or pressure or condition is not considered a dowry.

I felt that the direction in which Radhika was going with her interpretation of a gift given willingly went against the last line….and hence the questioning…

In line at the Kurla railway station, I conversed with a gentleman who started mentioning his child’s wedding and I started mentioning the dowry free wedding campaign. He also proposed hypothetical scenarios and asked me if that was dowry or not. I simply said that as an observer I may not know but the persons giving and receiving will know what they are doing and it is up to them to think judiciously about this, if they believe in the campaign, and act accordingly.

Very well put.
Sorry for being the online equivalent of your railway gentleman and
creating a “hypothetical scenario” diversion in this thread :-)

I think Ravi and your suggestions on getting feedback from the people
who use this kind of site would be quite valuable in taking action.


Vani Vemparala on Wed Jun 14, 2006 5:54 am

And what if the groom’s parent’s aren’t as well off ? Do you advocate the girls parent’s should hold back in giving so they fit this proposed definition of what is dowry and what isn’t ? This isn’t a rhetorical question but a real one.

I think the issue is one of expectation. whether groom’s parents and rich or poor, they cannot have any expectations that girl’s parents should/shouldn’t do something.

let me give an example. if groom’s parents are not that well off, would they invite 1000 guests, if they were footing the bill? may be not. so why should they, if the bride’s parents are the ones who are paying for it? groom’s parents being ‘poor’ as in your example, does not entitle them to a single paisa of bride’s/bride’s parents money. Marraige is not a lottery ticket. If the starting of the life together is with these expectations (which have nothing to do with intrinsic qualities of two people, who are going to be living together), it is quite a slippery slope from there, IMO.

I think some of the posts here are talking about the expectations on the bride’s parents that have been levied for so long. if the parents of bride are ’empowered’ enough to make decisions (irrespective of societal expectations) whether they want/not want to give, those examples will automatically not fit into the campaign.

As I understand, the campaign exists because this expectation exists and reaches ugly levels quite frequently in a myriad of forms.

manoj tammiraju on Tue Jun 13, 2006 7:07 pm

As radhika was mentioning may be its the sharing of expenses that would bring down the way money is spent in marriages. well with this issue partly the fault attributes to both the sides, groom and the bride.

The major problem I feel with dowry and many other things is that many don’t see these things as issues unless some art film/documentary or an utter tragedy points it out blatently as these are so ingrained in the society making us callous to their presence and acceptance. For some even if they see it around unless it happens in their family they even don’t care. And many even if they see don’t realize the potetial impact they can make to society they live in (both positive or negative).

What do you all think about starting out with questions to our own AIDers and see in a week what all we feel about this system as such and suggestions on how to counter it. Since we (guys) in AID were complimented to be a “good boys” in conference :wink: and in AID there are girls who are saying “death to dowry”, lets see on a whole what we all feel and how much we commit to the issue. I believe the survey suggested by Brunda and Dwiji is a good start.

I feel the questions should converge in bringing up the point that what ever some of us might do as a fashion and others consider as tradition is turning out to be a compultion to many. Probably we leaving out some of this “maryada” or “shaan” or “status” things to a little extant might bring in a good change and stop this unnecessary selling and buying process.

My way of looking at it is surely not to suggest in having ideal marriages like signing registers… The dreams of grand marriages is no harm as long as we are observing the social impacts we might be causing. Leaving alone those things… enjoyammadi 8) …..

My discussions with some really outspoken and well educated girls and guys:

1. Its ok as long as the dowry is a one time affair as its pretty common and as long as the grooms side doesn’t pester again and again, I don’t mind my father giving a dowry. (what happens if they do?? No idea)

2. I am not interested in dowry and all things mama but you know these are formalities of parents. I don’t care much about it and why should I when they are capable of giving and my parents are not forcing anything anyway.

3. When guy says it would be good to share the expenses as its not like one is giving and other is taking but two families getting together… The response was nah it would not look nice upon us, though its a good thinking.

4. If I won’t someone else will give and if I haven’t had sister I would have waited to say I would marry the guy who won’t ask for dowry. Well anyways even if some may not ask dowry they would be looking at the aspect that I am earning and my salary comes in. So who do you think is better the one who openly asks dowry or who had such a thing in mind and marries me giving a show as if he is Lord Rama.

5. Come on ra I don’t like dowry but see its a status symbol. My cousin was given a crore and me being in US my parents expect to show my worth more than that. Above all do you know they would think that I have some defect if there is no mention of dowry.

Ravi Kuchimanchi on Tue Jun 13, 2006 2:00 pm

hi all,

when we say no dowry we expect the couple will resist asking or taking dowry that can be initiated by their parents and others. dowry will in all likelihood be discussed by them and we hope and expect they actually succeed in haVING A dowry-free MARRIAGE.

no caste means we wont allow caste to be disclosed in matrimony announcements. again it will in all likelihood come up in discussions they have with each other and family members. i have seen several AID pairs whose parents succeeded in preventing their inter-caste marriage.

maybe on both counts — dowry and caste — we should ask people advertising to say if they have their parents consent for dowry-free and inter-caste weddings before they use our site. if they have do not have or do not want to involve their parents while placing ad. they should state how their parents are likel;y to react and how they will convince their parents.

we should request couple to give us post-wedding feedback on how they handled dowry and caste and to what extent they had to compromise.

likewise even one of them can give anonymous feedback on negative aspoects — like if parents succeeded in breaking marriage plans or if they married but dowry was actually taken. we should have a way where even we dont know who the person is who is writing to us but know its genuine as s/he used a code number that the computer assigned to him/her at time of placing ad.

these feedback should be made available sans all personal references on matrim. site.