Shalani Mulackal starts from a Dalit perspective in her reflection on “Dalit Women and Foodscape: A Subaltern Feminist Perspective.” She shares the situation of single woman parent in Delhi with 2 children with not enough to buy food. Her son says that he cannot even remember his studies due to malnutrition. The situation of Dalit women is very dire, as conveyed in a video clip and some statistics. There is grave poverty and hunger among Dalit women in India. They are often raped. Finding food becomes the burden of women so they are overworked. Aside from this, they are considered being doubly polluted for being both Dalit and women.
A particular problem Shalani highlights in the situation of women in India is Imposed Fasting. Women fast for 100 to 300 days a year. Fasting is imposed in name of traditions, from parents and practices in the family. It has become incumbent on women and is practiced with social finality. Women fast for many reasons. Many fast to prevent some fearsome event in the future, such as failure, accidents, and defective offspring, from happening. Women are told to curb their desires to eat otherwise their stomachs will ache. They are told that abstinence leads to happiness. There is also a belief that restraint from food makes possible the conception of a male child which is preferred over female children.
Imposed fasting exists as a way of controlling women in a patriarchal society. Exhaustion through hunger makes a woman less attractive. It is the nature of patriarchal society to weaken women physically and subdue them mentally. Fasting becomes even more urgent when the young woman is at the peak of her strength. Imposed fasting also becomes a means of food and population control. This is in line with the view that when you control food, you control the population (Henry Kissinger). However, statistics on hunger show this can be problematic. Food is therefore controlled through the food processing industry and the neglect of the public distribution system. In fact, the introduction of the Cow Protection Act has increased death rate of the poor in India.
Amidst this situation, Dalit Women have also become active agents. They have engaged in survival tactics in the face of chronic hunger such as by cooking the only meal of the day in the evening and through puberty rituals that enable women to support one another.
A theological reflection on this situation calls for an emphasis on human dignity and rights, on ensuring that food security becomes a soteriological activity, and on calling out how global capitalism reinforced by caste system and patriarchy is oppressive, unjust and anti-poor. Dalit women need a spirituality of protest, subversion and liberating biblical hermeneutics such as those that can be found through reading the story of Ruth and Hagar, Mary’s Magnificat, “He has filled the hungry with good things” and table fellowship with Jesus.