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Stories from the grassroots: Garima activists about their fight for freedom and dignity as Dalit women in Indian Madhya Pradesh
Södertörn University, School of Communication, Media and it.
2012 (English)Independent thesis Basic level (degree of Bachelor), 10 credits / 15 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

This research is a result of a nine week field study during spring 2012, with the purpose of highlighting the stories of Dalit women in Madhya Pradesh, India. Together with a fellow student at Södertörn University, I investigated the Garima Campaign, an ActionAid project working with Dalit women forced to endure the illegal practice of manual scavenging, the manual removal of human excreta from dry toilets. This research was funded by a Minor Field Study scholarship provided by Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).

In this paper I investigate how these oppressed women may change their life situation and self-image through participation in a group of peers striving towards the same goal, asking the questions: how do they narrate their former life as manual scavengers, what is it that persuaded them to join the campaign, and what kind of attitudes did they encounter from other members of society? Following this, focus is on communication and how it can contribute to improving the life conditions of people of low social status. The theories used for this purpose are intersectionality and empowerment, as well as Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, field and symbolic violence. The data was drawn from interviews with female former manual scavengers, supported by observations of their life situation and on other background material.

The results of this study corroborate the findings of much of the previous work in this field, especially in relation to the treatment of manual scavengers by the rest of society. However, there seemed to have been three major arguments that finally convinced the women to quit working as manual scavengers. The first one related to their feeling of dignity. The second one dealt with them being aware of their human rights, which supports the argument that awareness may lead to change. The third argument was an important pathos argument, and consisted of the fact that their children were mistreated in school and that the women did not want their children to feel bad about their social situation. In the Garima campaign the women are allowed to do things taboo for Indian women, especially for Dalit ones, like disturbing the existing system and standing up for their rights by kicking up a fuss. The campaign opened up a new arena in which they did not only work to abolish manual scavenging practices, but also worked to attack the caste system on the grass-roots level. In informing others, convincing them to stop the practice, the self-confidence of the women was strengthened further, as individuals and as a group.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2012. , 42 p.
Keyword [en]
Garima campaign, manual scavenging, India, Dalit women, empowerment, Bourdieu, symbolic violence, human rights, grassroots level, rhetoric
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:sh:diva-17174OAI: diva2:559629
Subject / course
Humanities, Theology
Available from: 2012-10-10 Created: 2012-10-10 Last updated: 2012-10-10Bibliographically approved

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