The paper suggests that while the decision of Dalit women to become ‘housewives’, rather than to engage in paid employment or self-employment, might be seen as a retreat into more strongly patriarchal relationships, it might equally be seen as a sign of strength in communities emerging from extreme poverty. The paper examines changes in a Dalit community in western Tamil Nadu over the 1980s, 1990s and the early 2000s to explore this issue. An increasing number of young Dalit women have become ‘housewives’ over this period. At the same time there has also been a very dramatic fall in child labour. Virtually all Dalit children are now in school. The fact that Dalit women have been withdrawing from the paid labour force has to be seen in a context in which, for women, opportunities for paid labour are still extremely limited. Opportunities for men have improved enormously; opportunities for women much less so. Women are now in a better position than they were, however, relying on the much improved incomes of men. Better sources of income need to be available to women if they are to get more independence than this. (Paper to be published as a chapter of an edited book.)
Heyer, J. Dalit women becoming ‘housewives : lessons from the Tiruppur region, 1981/2 to 2008/9. Presented at Mobility or marginalisation? : Dalits in neoliberal India, Oxford, UK., 01 September 2010. (2010) 16 pp.