Negotiating between speech and silence as a form of agency: Understanding Dalit women’s experiences of sexual violence in India

Sundeep Mangat*, Aisha K Gill *

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Abstract

This article explores the complexities of non-disclosure among female Dalit survivors of rape who negotiate between speech and silence as a means of exercising agency. It analyses the role of Brahmanical patriarchy, Dalit feminism and social constructionist theory to unpack the silence, shame, secrecy and cultural censorship surrounding sex and sexual violence both in India at large and for Dalit women in particular. The study comprised 28 qualitative interviews with Dalit women who had been raped by men; it employs Foucault’s notion of resistance, regulation and subjectivity to explore when and to whom these participants chose to disclose their rape. It thus seeks to theorize these women’s varied responses to their rape as acts of agency and resistance, demonstrating how silence can operate on multiple levels: individual, family and community. It draws on India’s #LoSHA movement to demonstrate the dangers of universalizing victim-survivors’ experiences of sexual violence and to parse the complexities of speaking out or remaining silent and how these play out in individual and collective contexts. In focusing on Dalit women and situating their non-disclosure within an intersectional context, this work differentiates between the passivity of being silenced and the agency and resistance inherent in the decision to remain silent. Therefore, this paper makes a unique contribution to the literature on patriarchy, Dalit studies, feminism and social constructivism.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102916
Number of pages9
JournalWomen's Studies International Forum
Volume105
Early online date30 May 2024
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 Elsevier Ltd

Structured keywords

  • SPS Centre for Gender and Violence Research

Keywords

  • Dalit women
  • honour [izzat]
  • India
  • rape
  • silence
  • shame
  • speech
  • #LoSHA
  • Brahmanical patriarchy
  • caste, class and gender

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