Fertility, reproduction and conjugal loyalty: Renegotiating gender relations amongst Dalits in rural Tamil Nadu

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Much of the literature on Dalits, and Dalit women in particular, focuses either on issues of violence, and subordination based on class, caste and gender, or the relative egalitarianism within Dalit households, arising from a context of shared hardship. It leaves out the contradictions and negotiations inherent in their everyday lives, of victimhood alongside the exercise of strategic life choices. In this paper, using qualitative data primarily from Dalit women in rural Tamil Nadu, I draw attention to the growing emphasis on conjugal loyalty and (upper caste) norms of domesticity within Dalit households. Reflecting normative changes based on the ideas of respectability and status, this appears to be entrenching new forms of patriarchy. However, contextualising this phenomenon in relation to changes in the larger political economy, especially the significant shifts in labour relations, education, State social protection and Dalit mobilisation, reveals that rather than accepting a subordinate status, Dalit women are strategically using these ideas to negotiate their sexual and reproductive entitlements, and companionate conjugality.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalSouth Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018

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