Did The Cheque Bounce For Dalit Women In The Interim Union Budget 2019?

Posted by Asha Kowtal

None of us had to wait for Piyush Goyal’s Interim Union Budget 2019 to realise that cow welfare was more important than protecting the rights of Dalit women and girls in the country. With a government that has steadily depleted the rights of Dalits and ignored the needs of Dalit women, how does the Interim Union Budget 2019 measure up from the perspective of Dalit women in India?

A government that attempts to dilute the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and later uses brute force to silence the protestors at the Bharat Bandh on April 1, 2017 will do no better than offer empty statements of purpose in place of radical social justice interventions.

Without a detailed financial analysis report, many experts have claimed the Interim Union Budget 2019 as unethical. The Budget allocates a record high amount for Defence. The government is pushing a pseudo nationalistic euphoria on all of us and reinforcing the imagery of the mighty Hindu Rashtra, which is perhaps what the desperate Government needs, months before the general elections.

When gender is not taken into consideration, where do Dalit women figure on the canvas of policy makers?

Let us not forget, it is the same Government that aggressively pushed for a Constitutional Amendment almost overnight to make provisions for 10% reservations for economically weaker upper caste people will obviously do no better with the Budget at the end of their term. Withholding caste census data, tinkering with the 13 point roster, compromising major institutions, defying Supreme Court orders, clamping down on Dalit rights activists and academicians, abruptly passing bills like Trans Bill, Triple Talaq Bill are all signals of a deeply casteist and misogynist Government that aims at women’s empowerment through provision of LPG connections!

Also read: ‘Upper Caste’ Reservation And The Fallacy Of Income-Based Quota

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Within such a context, what can Dalit women expect from the Interim Union Budget 2019? Several Dalit women leaders from across the country took to Twitter to express their views yesterday.

Year after year, every Budget has announced fancy schemes and dole-outs which never make any targeted exclusive allocations to bridge the development gaps for Dalit women. The Scheduled Caste Sub Plan (SCSP) which technically should allocate 16% of every Ministry’s budget for welfare of Dalits, has been oblivious to gender distinctions.

The primary aim of these special initiatives is to bridge the anomalies in the human development index between General Caste and Scheduled Caste communities. When gender is not taken into  consideration, where do Dalit women figure on the canvas of policy makers? The question that remains unanswered is that how will this magic happen for Dalit women, when exclusive allocations are not made?

Massive diversions, notional allocations and underutilization of funds meant for Dalits is the ‘hallmark of non-accountability’ of the implementation of special legislations in this country. The differential impact of upper caste impunity and the failure of implementation is borne by already disadvantaged groups. Dalit women have been systematically kept out from the system by these insidious mechanisms within the existing limited policy frameworks.  

Similarly, schemes aimed at empowerment of women and girls remain caste blind, often neglecting the fact that one size does not fit all. The now infamous Beti Bachao scheme, which spent more than 56% of allocated resources for publicity will have no way to study its impact on young Dalit girls. This is the crux of ‘intersectionality’ of policy, which is deviously absent from the radar of policy makers.

It is clearly visible that even if any programme is aimed at Dalit women, its approach and reach is unclear, simply because it is incorporated under initiatives meant for all Dalits or for all women. There exists a serious lack of understanding that women bearing the brunt of caste and patriarchy are a distinct category that requires specific structural interventions to set right the history of oppression that continues to push back any efforts to move ahead.

If any programme is aimed at Dalit women, its approach and reach is unclear, because it is incorporated under initiatives meant for all Dalits or for all women.

Post the cheering in the Parliament today, media houses are abuzz with conversations around this election driven budget which remains silent on issue of lack of jobs. Many are crying hoarse over the NSSO report, which claims an all time high in unemployment in the country. However, the lack of disaggregated data based on caste and gender will never show us the figures for Dalit women. But one can only imagine the situation based on the UN report that revealed that Dalit women are dying 14.6 years earlier than general caste women. This is telling of the poverty, nutrition, health conditions, lack of basic services and right to life for Dalit women. It is no rocket science that the promise of LPG cylinders and loans of 50K under MUDRA scheme alone will not save the lives of Dalit women.

The Budget this year has ceremoniously announced an of increase of almost 35% of fund allocation under the SCSP. Over the past four years the amount has only decreased and denial of money has remained a steady constant. It is no wonder that with elections round the corner, nobody knows where the money is coming from and how long this trick of notional allocations will continue. This again does not guarantee anything for Dalit women.

Once again, 2019 is the repeat of the last 70 years of Independence which never offered radical interventions towards structural change. A top down approach of providing meagre piecemeal schemes is not the way out of untouchability, discrimination, violence, poverty and deprivation faced by Dalit women.

We end the day knowing that the cheque for Dalit women didn’t bounce today, simply because it was never issued in our name!

Asha Kowtal is the General Secretary for All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM), an organisation committed to ending caste-based sexual violence against Dalit women.

Featured Image Credit: Tsering Topgyal / AP via The National

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