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Dreaming in a World Build on Caste-Based and Gender-Based Violence

Statement of Solidarity for Dalit Movements and Women’s Movements in India By Sajhe Sapne

At Sajhe Sapne, every first conversation with a person begins with her dreams. Be it our students in different villages, team members, volunteers or funders — it is a community of dreamers — wanting to grow with the dreams of young women in villages.

Some of our students want to become supervisors in a company, some want to become social workers. Some don’t know what they want to become yet but definitely want to become ‘something’.

Each of these young women has extraordinary determination to imagine a future much different than their current reality. A couple of students belong to Musahar community in Bihar which is a Maha-Dalit community primarily employed in extremely low-paying jobs which often keep them ostracised by broader society around. Others belong to Yadav community, Other Backward Classes/OBCs, in Bundelkhand, a clout that safeguards a caste-hierarchy between OBCs and Scheduled Castes (SCs) in the region.

Talking about caste with clarity comes easy to Sajhe’s students. They despise casteism, they don’t deny its power. They don’t discuss its validity, they discuss its role in shaping their lives. This conversation is easy for them.

What is not easy is to untangle their dreams from the customs designed by India’s deep rooted casteism and gender inequality.

The imagination to become ‘something’ reflects the fear of being stopped, threatened and killed if they become too big, too soon. ‘You have studied too much for your own good’ — a commonly spoken remark (sometimes, a warning) not just in low-income and Dalit families but to women pretty much across classes and castes in India — our team members experience is no different with their communities.

As each one of us make bigger plans for themselves in Sajhe, everyone esp. the students know this backlash is coming for them.

So, what does it mean to be dreaming when caste-based and gender-based violence and discrimination is ingrained in our social fabric?

It means knowing that dreaming is an uphill challenge. It means constantly spending time and attention to prepare for a battlefield that is laid down by the local community, made aware by the family, strengthened by the entry barriers to opportunities and upheld by every mainstream institution and its gatekeepers.

It means preparing as if your dreams are grenades you hold in your hands — if you don’t tread carefully, with utmost alertness, they might be self-destructive.

It means spending hours learning about self-defense, caste and gender modules in syllabus, learning how to stand up for yourself against peers, family, people in power, strangers on streets and yet find ways to have meaningful relationships with those who might violate you often — time that could have been otherwise spent on making your imagination more vibrant, increasing your race towards your and others dreams.

It is this time that needs to be spent on preparing instead of living freely — that’s how you dream in a world which thrives on gender and caste-based hierarchies. It means carrying the visuals of Manisha’s burning pyre surrounded by policemen in mind when bargaining with our family to go away in a different study to pursue higher education.

When the country is gripped by news of yet another gang-rape by upper caste Thakur men of a Dalit woman in Hathras followed by the news of few more rapes in UP in just last few days, we at Sajhe sighed reflecting on the reasons why we need to work harder and how much we need to work.

It is yet another reminder that no one individual or organisation is enough — a reminder to be despite our differences, our individual preferences of ways of working we will have to keep the cause above ego. And keep working, learning and pushing the movements forward.

We as individuals, as an organisation and as citizens of this democratic country strongly condemn the gender and caste based violence in Hathras among other places. We offer our solidarity to ongoing Dalit movements and women’s movements in the country who have been strongly rising up against strong tides of economic, social and political powers for decades. We offer our hopes to those who are arising now with lots of potential to drive these movements forward. We offer our grief to those being traumatised by the ongoing events in the country.

In this moment of reflection, we commit following actions from our end :

  1. Sajhe Sapne would follow an affirmative action and equal opportunity hiring and student on-boarding policy giving support and encouragement to people from marginalised communities.
  2. Our skilling courses for students have gender and caste modules — social leaders that will graduate from Sajhe’s skilling programs would be informed and sensitive people.
  3. Each team member and volunteer associated with Sajhe would need to commit to learn about how gender, caste and class plays out in our individual lives especially in our professional spaces.
  4. We will continue to amplify names and women of villages on spaces in media, our external communication — instead of becoming their voice, step down from the stage for them to speak for themselves.

We hope one day the villages of this country, the women of this country are not in news because of their pain but because of their potential.

In Solidarity,
Sajhe Sapne Family

Phula, Santoli, Rinki, Shivi, Shalini, Arushi, Puja, Anusha, Reshma, Anita, Harshi, Monisha, Soumya, Sandhya, and Surabhi

Founder: sajhesapne.org and @women_at_leisure (Instagram). Can be found excessively talking about dreams of women in villages in India.