Main Article Content
The concept of voice has been central to Dalit studies as well as in other studies such as feminist, subaltern, and social movement studies. These studies have conceptualized voice as an expression of agency and empowerment. They have paid more attention to voice’s agentive capacity, and have thus ignored the materiality of voice; for example, the act of speaking itself. Based on my ethnographic fieldwork on a charismatic healing movement called Sachchai (truth and/or reform) participated predominantly by Dalit women in Pokhara, Nepal, this article examines why even ordinary acts of speaking— irrespective of the content—matters so much for marginalized women. Dalit women mainly join Sachchai to heal their illnesses and sufferings and address other everyday problems. Nonetheless, the testimonial and Bible speeches they deliver in Sachchai devotional meetings during the processes of healing allow them to build their confidence and to learn to speak. The ability to speak—as ordinary as telling their name in public, speaking to a stranger or a government official, holding a microphone—becomes a remarkable achievement for these women. The speaking itself is considered as the evidence of healing from their illnesses and suffering. This article, thus, argues that paying attention to speaking itself is crucial for a fuller understanding of voice. While focusing on the act of speaking, this article does not undermine Dalit Sachchai women’s agency; rather it intends to expose the plight of Dalit women, for whom just uttering their name in the public is a great feat.
Key words: voice, Dalit, Dalit women, caste, gender, Pentecostalism, Nepal
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