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Social distancing, its different connotations 'leading to' stigma in public, private sphere

By Our Representative 
Participating in a web policy talk organized by the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, in order to understand linkages of caste and gender with special focus on challenges for social and feminist movements, Prof Vibhuti Patel, former professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, has recalled the concept of graded inequality given by Dr BR Ambedkar, which states that no class as as completely underprivileged as the one that faces socio-cultural discrimination.
Using this concept, if one examines the relations of caste and gender, it reveals that women from upper-class faced highly gendered operations and women from the minority communities faced religious operations, class based and poverty related stigmas along with being subjected to precarious living conditions, biopolitical depressions and exposure to multiple vulnerabilities, Prof Patel said.
These vulnerabilities got exacerbated during the pandemic. Around 3,00,000 migrant workers in the industrial and construction sector were rendered jobless, most of them being women from informal sectors.
Speaking on the occasion, Dr Smita Patil, assistant professor, School of Gender and Development Studies, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi. Citing her paper “Democracy and Pandemic”, she pointed towards how feminist movements related interlinkages of caste and gender by exploring dialogue engagement between activists, academicians and policy makers about intersection of caste, gender and patriarchy in relation to pandemic.
Wondering whether Dalit feminists have developed any critique along these lines, she pointed out how during the pandemic, along with other challenges such as the Citizenship Amendment Act, farmers' protest, reverse migration and etc., women played a significant role. She queried: Is it the mere pandemic that can single out something that is able to annihilate social distancing in real life rather than its symbolic construction?
She said, social distancing and its different connotations have reproduced the stigma in all public and private spheres within context of external and internal patriarchy.
Defining caste to be a denier of the right to live life with dignity, self-respect, equality, distribution of resources, she asserted, it has led to monopolization of power, which is seeping gradually into other religions such as Christianity, Islam and Parsi leading to further Brahminic appropriation of these religions, strengthening the inter-connection of the caste and patriarchy.
Digitalization exponentially increased suicide rates of Dalit girls and has pushed a lot of underprivileged children out of education system
Exploring the issue with a historic lens, she stated, even in the past, during plague epidemics, caste prejudices existed in an even worse form back then. However, activists like Savitri Phule immensely contributed during such times.
At present, the section of society that is most vulnerable to health risks are scavenger and sanitation workers. Since they are hired on a contractual basis, they don’t get paid regularly and their constant fear of being removed is being exploited to a great extent. Such things again in times of pandemic have increased and thus reproducing these already existed stigmatization more visibly and evidently.
Another challenge she highlighted was the issue of digitalization of education and how it has potential to breed further caste and digital divide in especially Indian societies. The digitalization exponentially increased suicide rates of Dalit girls and has pushed a lot of underprivileged children out of the education system and chain, merely due to lack of access and fund.

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