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Intersectional feminism in India: Unequal among equals

Chemmalar. S

7 Mar 2023

Do all women experience equal privilege and same sufferings?

Certainly not.

Gender discrimination are intertwined and unique. Women are heterogeneous group and their experiences are diverse in which nationality, caste, class, age, ethnicity and physical ability play an operative role.

Intersectional feminism allows us to comprehend the overlap of multiple identities within a gender and determines the individual's privilege in the society. The concept suffers from deafening silence from researchers.

American Professor Kimberle Crenshaw coined the phrase "intersectionality" in the year 1989 to emphasise how prejudice against black women differs significantly from that experienced by white women [1].

Intersectional feminism in India  

Inspired by this black feminist theory, the idea of intersectionality entered the Indian feminist mainstream after the 1990s. These arguments emphasised how different middle and lower caste women's experiences were from upper-caste women's, whose experiences served as the inspiration for the Indian feminist movement. These notions emphasised how crucial it is to comprehend how caste and gender interact to create women's lives [2].  The concept of intersectionality offers understanding of the various levels of discrimination and how identities interact within hierarchical structures. Every women has different identities depending on their social standing, financial situation, and place of residence. Women with multiple identities continue to be underrepresented and their opinions are not voiced. Many identities often push women to the outside edges and make them more susceptible to discrimination in terms of access to fundamental human rights, opportunities, resources, etc.

The constitution of independent India prohibited caste-based discrimination, and in an effort to right past injustices and give the historically underprivileged a legitimate chance, the government announced quotas in government jobs and educational institutions and thus formed hierarchy, in 1950.

Caste has somewhat declined its dominance in recent decades as a result of the growth of urbanisation and the spread of secular education, especially in cities where castes coexist side by side and inter-caste marriages are becoming more frequent. Notwithstanding the changes, caste identities persist in some southern and northern states, and last names almost always serve as indicators of the caste to which a person belongs [3]. Caste and gender being the major forms of discrimination in the Indian society make life even more difficult for women who belong lower position in the caste hierarchy. Due to the status attained by being born into a higher caste, women from higher castes have different battles to fight.  Reservation is made by the government with the goal of advancing women. In spite of legislations and the government’s effort attempting to protect the basic human rights of discriminated women, the statistics on discriminatory practices and their effects on are alarmingly high.

Women's issues often go unnoticed and unreported since they are often excluded and subjected to the harshest forms of oppression. Legal frameworks view gender and caste discrimination as two separate entities and fail to recognise their intersection, which prevents victims of prejudice from receiving the justice they are due. It is regrettable that one of the world's largest democracies is unable to guarantee that all of its citizens have reasonable access to their fundamental human rights.

What can be done?

Make noise to make change.

Speak out against the root causes of inequalities

Stand in Solidarity



[1] Kimberele Crenshaw on Intersectionality, More than Two Decades Later, Columbia Law School, June 8, 2017

[2] Kumar, S., & Bakshi, E. (2022). The Dominant Post-Constitutional Indian Feminist Discourse: A Critique of its Intersectional Reading of Caste and Gender. CASTE / A Global Journal on Social Exclusion, 3(1), 49-68.

[3] BBC News, What is India's caste system? 19 June 2019. Available at:

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