Human Rights as Practice: Dalit Women Securing Livelihood Entitlements in South India

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This book investigates how Dalit women in rural south India secure livelihood entitlements by analysing processes of social exclusion as well as collective action by these women. This requires a focus on how caste, class and gender mutually construct each other and shape social relations of power within specific contexts. These intersecting axes of difference are expressed in the social norms and practices embedded in state, societal and family institutions, which influence the operation of interacting entitlement systems - the regularised arrangements for establishing claims to resources such as law, state provisioning and informal/social institutions - and, therefore, the legitimacy accorded to resource claims. Central to understanding the process of Dalit women's livelihood entitlement struggles and the outcomes, therefore, are the power dynamics between these women and different state and non-state actors, which continuously condition and, in turn, are conditioned by Dalit women's collective action. The complexities of this process are analysed through three ethnographic case studies set in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The case studies highlight two types of entitlement struggles - one to secure entitlements and the other to protect existing inadequate entitlements. These struggles are socially negotiated and politically constructed by these women with the support of internal/external development brokers. The case studies offer insights into the (re)conceptualisation of human rights and strategies to secure rights-based freedoms and entitlements that aim to transform historically and contextually specific relations of subordination. The findings of this research thus contribute to bridging the divide between human rights law and its practice as embodied in collective struggle.