Dalit Literatures in India [2 ed.] 9781138593275

This book breaks new ground in the study of Dalit literature, including in its corpus a range of genres such as novels,

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Dalit Literatures in India [2 ed.]
 9781138593275

Table of contents :
Cover
Title
Copyright
Contents
List of figures
Acknowledgements
List of contributors
Introduction to the second edition: taking stock, updating, moving forward
Introduction to the first edition: Dalit literatures in India: in, out and beyond
1 Caste differently
2 Caste and democracy: three paradoxes
3 The politics of Dalit literature
4 ‘No name is yours until you speak it’: notes towards a contrapuntal reading of Dalit literatures and postcolonial theory
5 Language and translation in Dalit literature
6 Negotiations with faith: conversion, identity and historical continuity
7 Resisting together separately: representations of the Dalit–Muslim question in literature
8 Creating their own gods: literature from the margins of Bengal
9 Caste and the literary imagination in the context of Odia literature: a reading of Akhila Nayak’s Bheda
10 Questions of caste, commitment and freedom in Gujarat, India: towards a reading of Praveen Gadhvi’s The City of Dust and Lust
11 Dalit intellectual poets of Punjab: 1690–1925
12 Life, history and politics: Kallen Pokkudan’s two autobiographies and the Dalit print imaginationsin Keralam
13 Dalits writing, Dalits speaking: on the encounters between Dalit autobiographies and oral histories
14 A Life Less Ordinary: the female subaltern and Dalit literature in contemporary India
15 Witnessing and experiencing Dalitness: in defence of Dalit women’s Testimonios
16 Literatures of suffering and resistance: Dalit women’s Testimonios and Black women slave narratives – a comparative study
17 Polluting the page: Dalit women’s bodies in autobiographical literature
18 Intimacy across caste and class boundaries in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things
19 Caste as the baggage of the past: global modernity and the cosmopolitan Dalit identity
20 Tense – past continuous: some critical reflections on the art of Savi Sawarkar
21 The Indian graphic novel and Dalit trauma: A Gardener in the Wasteland
Select bibliography

Citation preview

DALIT LITERATURES IN INDIA

This book breaks new ground in the study of Dalit literature, including in its corpus a range of genres such as novels, autobiographies, pamphlets, poetry, short stories and graphic novels. With contributions from major scholars in the field, alongside budding ones, the book critically examines Dalit literary production and theory. It also initiates a dialogue between Dalit writing and Western literary theory. This second edition includes a new Introduction which takes stock of developments since 2015. It discusses how Dalit writing has come to play a major role in asserting marginal identities in contemporary Indian politics while moving towards establishing a more radical voice of dissent and protest. Lucid, accessible yet rigorous in its analysis, this book will be indispensable for scholars and researchers of Dalit studies, social exclusion studies, Indian writing, literature and literary theory, politics, sociology, social anthropology and cultural studies. Joshil K. Abraham is Assistant Professor at G. B. Pant Govt. Engineering College, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha (GGSIP) University, New Delhi, India. Judith Misrahi-Barak is Associate Professor at Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, France. She teaches in the English Department.

‘With this eclectic collection of critical essays, written from a range of positions and raising a variety of issues, it is clear that Dalit literature has come of age.’ —Susie Tharu, Department of Cultural Studies, The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad ‘The collection includes 21 well-written scholarly essays and a very useful selective bibliography of primary and secondary sources (books, journal articles, book chapters, and dissertations) on Dalit literature. In their excellent introduction Abraham and MisrahiBarak deal with the history and progress of Dalit literature in India. The book is an excellent addition to world literature, and this reviewer looks forward to studies that examine the contributions of Dalits from all religions of India.’ —R. N. Sharma, CHOICE ‘This volume of essays is commendable because each essay widens out the field of inquiry in a centrifugal pattern. Each widening circle of analysis allows the reader to grasp the intersections of thought and pursue his/her own understanding of the larger questions.’ —Nilak Datta, IACLALS Journal, vol. 2 ‘One final, outstanding quality of this remarkable volume that warrants special attention is its potential as a research tool. Given the very recent nature of the discipline, the precise and thorough bibliographies that conclude each chapter provide precious references for researchers interested in these questions.’ —Lissa Lincoln, The American University of Paris, Postcolonial Studies Association

DALIT LITERATURES IN INDIA SECOND EDITION With a new introduction

Edited by Joshil K. Abraham and Judith Misrahi-Barak

Second edition published 2018 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2018 selection and editorial matter, Joshil K. Abraham and Judith Misrahi-Barak; individual chapters, the contributors The right of Joshil K. Abraham and Judith Misrahi-Barak to be identified as the authors of the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. First edition published by Routledge 2016 British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN: 978-1-138-59327-5 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-138-59328-2 (pbk) ISBN: 978-0-429-48956-3 (ebk) Typeset in Goudy by Apex CoVantage, LLC

CONTENTS

List of figuresviii Acknowledgementsix List of contributorsx

Introduction to the second edition: taking stock, updating, moving forward

1

J O S H I L K . A B R A HAM AND J UDI TH MI S RAHI - B ARAK



Introduction to the first edition: Dalit literatures in India: in, out and beyond

12

J O S H I L K . A B R A HAM AND J UDI TH MI S RAHI - B ARAK

  1 Caste differently

25

G. N. DEVY

  2 Caste and democracy: three paradoxes

36

M . S . S . PA N D I A N

  3 The politics of Dalit literature

49

R AV I S H A N K A R KUMAR

  4 ‘No name is yours until you speak it’: notes towards a contrapuntal reading of Dalit literatures and postcolonial theory

68

L A E T I T I A Z E C C HI NI

  5 Language and translation in Dalit literature N A L I N I PA I

v

86

C ontents

  6 Negotiations with faith: conversion, identity and historical continuity

103

JASBIR JAIN

  7 Resisting together separately: representations of the Dalit–Muslim question in literature

118

NI D A S A J I D

  8 Creating their own gods: literature from the margins of Bengal

138

S I P R A M U K H E R J EE

  9 Caste and the literary imagination in the context of Odia literature: a reading of Akhila Nayak’s Bheda153 RAJ KUMAR

10 Questions of caste, commitment and freedom in Gujarat, India: towards a reading of Praveen Gadhvi’s The City of Dust and Lust171 SANTOSH DASH

11 Dalit intellectual poets of Punjab: 1690–1925

189

R A J K U M A R H A NS

12 Life, history and politics: Kallen Pokkudan’s two autobiographies and the Dalit print imaginations in Keralam

204

R A N J I T H T H A N K AP PAN

13 Dalits writing, Dalits speaking: on the encounters between Dalit autobiographies and oral histories

216

AL E X A N D R A D E HE E RI NG

14 A Life Less Ordinary: the female subaltern and Dalit literature in contemporary India MA RT I N E VA N WOE RKE NS

vi

234

C ontents

15 Witnessing and experiencing Dalitness: in defence of Dalit women’s Testimonios248 S A R A S I N D H U T HOMAS

16 Literatures of suffering and resistance: Dalit women’s Testimonios and Black women slave narratives – a comparative study

260

A R P I TA C H AT TARAJ MUKHOPADHYAY

17 Polluting the page: Dalit women’s bodies in autobiographical literature

273

C A R O LY N H I B B S

18 Intimacy across caste and class boundaries in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things 287 M A RYA M M I R Z A

19 Caste as the baggage of the past: global modernity and the cosmopolitan Dalit identity

301

K . S AT YA N A R AYANA

20 Tense – past continuous: some critical reflections on the art of Savi Sawarkar

319

S A N T H O S H S A D ANANDAN

21 The Indian graphic novel and Dalit trauma: A Gardener in the Wasteland 

330

P R A M O D K . N AYAR

349

Select bibliography 

vii

FIGURES

21.1 A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba Phule’s Fight for Liberty, p. 11 21.2 A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba Phule’s Fight for Liberty, p. 12 21.3 A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba Phule’s Fight for Liberty, pp. 20–1 21.4 A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba Phule’s Fight for Liberty, pp. 24–5 21.5 A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba Phule’s Fight for Liberty, p. 88 21.6 A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba Phule’s Fight for Liberty, p. 106

viii

335 337 339 340 345 346

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

No book is written without the help of many people, and this volume is no exception. It has been a long process and without the support of friends and colleagues, it may well never have reached its conclusion. First of all, we want to remember the presence of M.S.S. Pandian in the initial discussions of the volume. It is very painful that he should not be among us when the book is being released. However, his absence is only apparent and his chapter in the volume will confirm his presence in the book and wherever it is read. We would also like to thank Prof. Shyamala Narayan who was instrumental in making the meeting of the two editors possible in 2011. Harsh Kapoor (South Asia Citizens Web) also deserves a special place in our recording of gratitude. The fact that he has designed the cover is only the visible part of the role he played and the support he provided, even if not always knowingly. Also, the research centre EMMA at the Université PaulValéry Montpellier 3, under the gentle leadership of its Director Christine Reynier, has offered a favourable academic environment. The members of the advisory board must be thanked as well for having participated in the original selection of articles and for having made useful suggestions during the revising process. Emilienne Baneth-Nouailhetas, Anne Castaing, Florence D’Souza, Nandana Dutta, Geetha GanapathyDore, Nicolas Jaoul, Claire Joubert, Indira Karamcheti, Matt Kimmich, Rita Khotari, Claudine Le Blanc, Elizabeth Naudou, Catherine PessoMiquel, Peter Pierce, Jacques Pouchepadass, E. V. Ramakrishnan, Anupama Rao, Catherine Servan-Schreiber, H. S. Shivaprakash, Charlotte Sturgess and Alexis Tadié. Finally the editors wish to thank all the Routledge team of commissioning editors, copy editors and managing editors for their trust, support and the thorough job they have done, as well as Elizabeth Clark and Vicki Briault-Manus for their editorial contribution helping to homogenize the linguistic presentation of the initial volume. ix

CONTRIBUTORS

Joshil K. Abraham is Assistant Professor at G. B. Pant Government Engineering College, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha (GGSIP) University, New Delhi, India. He completed his master’s in English Literature from Pondicherry Central University, India, and has taught in colleges in Kerala and Delhi. He has worked as a Research Assistant at the Department of Cinema Studies, School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. He has presented papers in international conferences in the United Kingdom and in France and is part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Research Network Series ‘Writing, Analysing, Translating Dalit Literature’. Santosh Dash teaches English in an undergraduate college at Savli, ­Gujarat. His MLitt at CIEFL, Hyderabad, was on Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality and the question of Enlightenment. His doctoral research was completed at Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda, where he worked on caste critiques of education. His dissertation was published as English Education and the Question of Indian Nationalism: A Perspective on the Vernacular in 2009. He has received the South Asia Regional Research Fellowship as well as the SARPF Collaborative Grant from SSRC, New York, for translation and comparative research. He is presently working on nineteenth- and early-twentiethcentury Gujarati writing, and has completed the translation of a Gujarati memoir, Vananchal. Alexandra de Heering has a PhD in History from the University of Namur, Belgium. She is interested in oral history and caste history. She is currently affiliated to the French Institute of Pondicherry, India, and works on a new postdoctoral project.

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G. N. Devy is Head of the People’s Linguistic Survey of India, and writes in Marathi, Gujarati and English. He has received several literary awards and honours, including the Padma Shri. His published works include After Amnesia (1992), A Nomad Called Thief (2007), The G. N. Devy Reader (2009), Narrating Nomadism: Tales of Recovery and Resistance (­co-edited with G. V. Davis and K. K. Chakravarty, 2013) and Knowing Differently (co-edited with G. V. Davis and K. K. Chakravarty, 2013). Raj Kumar Hans, a Professor of History at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, was born in a Punjabi village and graduated from Guru Nanak Dev University. For doctoral studies, he moved to Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda, where he has been teaching history since 1983. He shifted his field of research from economic to social and cultural history. Taking a comparative view of the regional cultural formations of Indian civilization, he has been studying the history of Gujarat and Punjab. For the last few years, he has focused his attention on the study of Sikh religion and Punjabi Dalit literature. His essays on the history of Gujarat and Punjab have appeared in journals and edited books. He was awarded a Fellowship at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla (2009–11), to write his monograph on ‘The History of Punjabi Dalit Literature’, now being finalized for publication. He has travelled abroad on Fellowships and has participated in many international conferences. Currently, he is working on the history of Dalits in the Sikh religion. Carolyn Hibbs holds a PhD in Humanities from York University in Toronto. Her areas of expertise are feminist theology and colonialisms, with special attention to South Asian contexts. Her recent research focuses on Dalit women and religious conversion from Hinduism to Buddhism in India, with an emphasis on the caste system in non-Hindu traditions. She pursued research on this subject in India in the year 2009–2010, and was affiliated to the Department of Philosophy, University of Pune, as a visiting researcher. Jasbir Jain is the Honorary Director of the Institute for Research in Interdisciplinary Studies (IRIS), Jaipur. She was Sahitya Akademi Writerin-Residence (2009), and Emeritus Fellow (2001–2003), both at the University of Rajasthan. Recipient of the South Asian Literature Association Award (2008) and of the Indian Association for Canadian Studies Award (2003), Jain is an elected Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge, and has had teaching assignments in Europe and the United States. Deeply interested in indigenous narrative strategies and

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theoretical positions, she has three volumes on the Indian novel, covering the period 1860–2000. Amongst her recent publications are Beyond Postcolonialism: Dreams and Realities of a Nation (2006), Experiential Aesthetics (2012), Indigenous Roots of Feminism: Culture, Subjectivity and Agency (2011) and Theorising Resistance: History, Politics and Narrative (2012). Her forthcoming books include Forgiveness: Between Memory and History, and The Diaspora Writes Home. Raj Kumar is Professor in the Department of English, Delhi University. His research areas include autobiographical studies, Dalit literature, Indian writing in English, Odia literature and postcolonial studies. He has been a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, in 1999 and has published in journals such as Social Action, Sateertha Bulletin, The Fourth World, Creative Forum, Language Forum, Jadavpur Journal of Comparative Literature, Indian Literature, Social Scientist, Journal of the School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies and The Economic and Political Weekly. Raj Kumar has also translated literary texts from Indian languages, especially Odia into English. His book, Dalit Personal Narratives: Reading Caste, Nation and Identity, has been published by Orient Blackswan, New Delhi, in 2010 and got reprinted in 2011. His English translation of Bheda, the first Odia Dalit novel, is scheduled for publication by Oxford University Press in 2015. Ravi Shankar Kumar is a research scholar (PhD) in the Centre for Political Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. His current research relates to the phenomenon of homelessness among the urban poor in Delhi. Prior to this he has written a dissertation on the political aspects of Hindi Dalit literature. Kumar has consistently engaged with the Dalit and subaltern schools of thought. Maryam Mirza received her PhD in English Studies from Aix-Marseille University, France, in October 2012 and is currently writing a monograph on friendship and desire across class in the Anglophone novel by Indian and Pakistani women writers. She teaches in the Department of English at Kinnaird College for Women, Pakistan. Judith Misrahi-Barak, Associate Professor at Paul-Valéry University Montpellier 3, France, currently teaches English and Postcolonial Literatures. She has published many articles on Caribbean and Indo-Caribbean writers and the Caribbean diaspora, as well as book chapters in edited collections, the latest one being Tracing the New Asian Diaspora (Om Dwivedi, ed., 2014). She has organized several international conferences with invited writers. She is General Editor of the series PoCoPages xii

C ontributors

(Coll. ‘Horizons anglophones’, Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée). The latest volume is Diasporas, Cultures of Mobilities, ‘Race’, Vol. 2, 2015. She is Co-Investigator on the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Research Network Series ‘Writing, Analysing, Translating Dalit Literature’ (Principal Investigator, Dr Nicole Thiara, Nottingham Trent University, UK, 2014–15). Sipra Mukherjee is Associate Professor, Department of English, West Bengal State University, India. She was student and later Research Fellow at Jadavpur University. Her research interests include caste, identity and syncretic religious sects, lived religion, South Asian literature and Modern European literature. She has published research with Brill Books, Oxford University Press, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Sage, Sahitya Akademi, Ravi Dayal and Permanent Black. Book publications include a volume on the History of Ideas in Twentieth Century English Literature (forthcoming, Orient Blackswan), a special issue of International Journal of the Sociology of Language (ed.), Bonn, Gruyter de Mouton, and The Calcutta Mosaic: Minority Communities of Calcutta (co-ed.), London, Anthem Press. She is currently DSA Visiting Fellow at Department of English, University of Hyderabad. Arpita Chattaraj Mukhopadhyay is Associate Professor and Head, Department of English and Culture Studies at the University of Burdwan, West Bengal, India. Her doctoral thesis is on ‘Childhood in Toni Morrison’s Fiction’. She has also completed a UGC (University Grant Commission) sponsored Minor Research Project titled, ‘Black American Women Writing and Dalit Women Writing: A Comparative Study’. She has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals and anthologies, and presented research papers in national and international seminars and conferences. Her areas of interest are American literature, Dalit studies, literary theory, postcolonial studies and culture studies. She is presently engaged in a book project on feminism, with special reference to the South East Asian context. Pramod K. Nayar teaches at the Department of English, University of Hyderabad, India. He is the author of, most recently, Citizenship and Identity in the Age of Surveillance (2015), Posthumanism (2014), Frantz Fanon (2013), Colonial Voices: The Discourses of Empire (2012) and Writing Wrongs: The Cultural Construction of Human Rights in India (2012), besides the edited five-volume Women in Colonial India: Historical Documents and Sources (2014). Forthcoming work includes The Transnational in English Literature: Shakespeare to the Modern, The Postcolonial Studies xiii

C ontributors

Dictionary and the edited Postcolonial Studies Anthology. He is currently working on the Indian graphic novel. Nalini Pai is Assistant Professor at St. Joseph’s College of Arts and Science, Bangalore, India. Her teaching focuses on British literature both before and after 1900. Her research interests include Indian writing in English, cultural studies and, more recently, Indian literatures in translation. She has presented papers at seminars on writings of the colonial era as well as, recently, Indian poetry in English. She has also taught at the school level. Her interests are special education and creative writing. M.S.S. Pandian (1957–2014) was Professor of Contemporary Indian History, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His publications include The Political Economy of Agrarian Change – Nanchilnadu (1880–1939) (1990), The Image Trap: M. G. Ramachandran in Film and Politics (1992), Brahmin and Non-Brahmin: Genealogies of the Tamil Political Present (2007). Many of his articles were published in Economic and Political Weekly. Santhosh Sadanandan is currently Assistant Professor at the School of Culture and Creative Expressions at Ambedkar University, Delhi. His area of work is in the field of critical historiography of Indian art historical studies, institutional formations and cultural practices in relation to minoritarian politics. He has previously taught as Visiting Faculty for Visual Arts at the School of Art and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is the author of a number of research essays including ‘Specters of Radicals or Where Have All the Radicals Gone’ in Deeptha Achar and Shivaji K. Panikkar eds., Articulating Resistance: Art and Activism (2012), and ‘Mapping the Trajectories of Minoritarian Aesthetics and Cultural Politics’, in Parul Dave Mukherji et al. eds., Influx: Contemporary Art in Asia (2013). Nida Sajid is Visiting Research Associate in the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. She received her PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Western Ontario, Canada, and taught Hindi language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. Her areas of research include postcolonial theory, Marxism, Empire studies, Islam in South Asia, Hindi and Urdu literatures, and subaltern studies. K. Satyanarayana, is Associate Professor in the Department of Cultural Studies, English and Foreign Languages University (EFL-U), Hyderabad. xiv

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Active in the student movement during the 1990s, he was the FounderGeneral Secretary of Kula Nirmoolana Porata Samiti (Forum for Caste Annihilation). He has also edited the little magazine Kulanirmoolana. He co-edited two volumes of South Indian Dalit writing: No Alphabet in Sight (2011) and Steel Nibs Are Sprouting (2013). He also c­ o-edited a new volume (with Gopal Guru, Devesh Kapur and Ramnarayan Rawat), The Dalit Studies: New Perspectives on South Asian History and Society (forthcoming from Duke University, USA). Ranjith Thankappan is Assistant Professor in the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, School of Communication, the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India. Prior to this position, he taught at Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi, as Assistant Professor and worked as reporter and subeditor with Malayalam dailies. He has a doctoral dissertation entitled ‘Narration and Representation in Journalism Cultures: A Study of Print and Dalit in Kerala’ from University of Hyderabad. Sara Sindhu Thomas is Assistant Professor of English at the S. K. Somaiya College of Arts, Science & Commerce, Mumbai, India. She received her PhD degree from the University of Mumbai, and completed her M. Phil. from Madras Christian College, Chennai. Her research interests include gender issues in literature by women, cultural studies, Indian writing in English and communicative English. She has presented several research papers at various international and national seminars and conferences. She has also published in peer-reviewed journals. Martine van Woerkens is a retired researcher from the Department Religious Sciences at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris. She works principally on Indian colonial history and the status of Indian women. She has written a number of essays, and has two published works: Le voyageur étranglé. L’Inde des Thugs, colonialisme et imaginaire (1995) and Nous ne sommes pas des fleurs. Deux siècles de combats féministes en Inde (2010). Laetitia Zecchini is a permanent research scholar at the CNRS in Paris, France (THALIM). Her research interests and publications focus on contemporary Indian poetry, on the politics of literature and on postcolonial criticism. She has recently published Arun Kolatkar and Literary Modernism in India, Moving Lines (2014) and the translation of Kolatkar’s Kala Ghoda Poems into French, Kala Ghoda, Poèmes de Bombay, bilingual edition (2013).

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INTRODUCTION TO THE SECOND EDITION Taking stock, updating, moving forward Joshil K. Abraham and Judith Misrahi-Barak

When Dalit Literatures in India was published by Routledge in 2015, it was the first time a volume of critical essays on Dalit literatures was published by a renowned press with South Asian and global audiences in mind. It seemed very problematic at the time that such a significant and wide-ranging political and literary movement as Dalit literatures was still very much lacking in visibility outside India, apart from a few devoted scholars teaching in Hindi or South Asian studies departments in the United States, Canada and Australia. It seemed just as problematic that only primary sources were published but no critical academic analysis was produced about these literatures, as if, despite their importance, they were not deemed worthy enough to be included in critical and academic debates. We were thus very conscious at the time that we had a few thin lines to walk. First, we were addressing an audience who knew quite a lot about Dalit literatures and felt just as strongly about them but we were also addressing another audience, who knew very little, both in India and around the world. We would probably be saying too much for the former and not enough for the latter. Second, we knew there was a substantial divide between Dalit studies, as they had been developing over the past couple of decades, and Dalit literatures, which were often granted a much smaller portion of the general interest, even if, in this context, such a divide does not make much sense. Third, we were also very sensitive to the ongoing debates about the definition of what Dalit literature is and is not, of what it should be and should not be, whether non-Dalits could write Dalit literature, whether non-Dalits should be authorized to speak about it, analyze it, critique it, whether it was a question of caste in the most restricted

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JOSHIL K. ABRAHAM AND JUDITH MISRAHI-BARAK

meaning of the term, or whether it was a question of perspective and transcultural adoption and affiliation. The venture probably hasn’t been a failure since Routledge has decided to bring out a second edition with a new introduction that provides us with an excellent opportunity to take stock, update and move forward. Three years have gone by since the publication of the first hardback edition, which is at once a long time and no time at all. It is enough time for some changes to become perceptible but not long enough for long-lasting metamorphoses to take root. It is also enough time to witness and deplore developments that we hold to be reactionary and regressive in nature. To go back to the points mentioned above, we are hoping that the Routledge volume has contributed somewhat to Dalit literatures gaining visibility outside of India. One of the first unforeseen developments to emerge out of the call for contributions that was circulated in 2013, with the view of constituting the volume of essays, was the meeting between Nicole Thiara at Nottingham Trent University and Judith MisrahiBarak at the Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3. Even before the book was published it was already inspiring and productive. Between Montpellier (France) and Nottingham (UK), it was felt that the vibrancy of Dalit literatures had received too little attention from the general public and from academia outside of India, compared to the interest that Dalit studies had garnered from a more socio-political angle. Joining forces could contribute to raising their profile in Europe and globally. An application was put together and generous funding was granted by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for two years (2014–16) to create an international platform for the international and crossdisciplinary analysis and discussion of Dalit literatures. The aim of the network, just like the Routledge volume, was to create opportunities for Indian and non-Indian scholars to meet, Dalits and non-Dalits to work together, academics to reach out to the general public, and more generally speaking, to create an international network whose centre of interest would be Dalit literatures from a literary and cultural angle even if the socio-political aspect can never be forgotten. The AHRC-funded Research Networking Grant went a long way. Six academic events were organized between June 2014 and December 2015, bringing together established and budding scholars. The first conference was held at Nicole Thiara’s home institution, Nottingham Trent University, in June 2014, followed by a symposium at the University of Leicester. A conference at Judith Misrahi-Barak’s home institution, the Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, was held in October 2014 with the support of the research centre EMMA (Etudes Montpelliéraines du Monde 2

I ntroduction to the S econd E dition

Anglophone). In June 2015, an international conference was dedicated to the significance and challenges surrounding translation at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. The final two conferences were held in India: the conference at Savitribai Phule Pune University focused on gender and the final workshop at the University of Delhi on questions surrounding the publication and dissemination of Dalit literature, bringing together writers, activists, artists, translators, editors and publishers. At all these events, Dalit writers and poets held centre stage.1 Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy’s book of poems Before It Rains Again, translated from Kannada into English by Rowena Hill and published in the UK for the first time by erbacce-press in 2016, is one example of how fruitful the network has already been. Other publications are being prepared to showcase and share the stimulating work that has been done in the past two years.2 The mention of the impact of the publication of Dalit Literatures in India (2015) and of the network in 2014 and 2015 does not by any means imply that they are the only ventures that have foregrounded Dalit literatures recently outside of India – there have been a few others. One that is definitely worth mentioning is the one that took place within the series ‘Literary Commons’, convened by Dr Mridula Chakraborty. The public event ‘Writing Australia–India in the Asian century with Dalit, Indigenous and multilingual tongues’ in April 2016 brought to Monash University, Melbourne, Dalit and Adivasi writers and poets, several of whom had participated in some of the AHRC-funded Research Networking Grant events. It also raised the global profile of Dalit writers, for themselves and for their work, not only because they illustrate the Dalit movement in India but because they shape it.3 Substantial work has been done in Dalit studies, on caste, marginality and on the emergence of the Dalit struggle in the 1970s, on its constant reinvention of itself to this day, as well as on the role of literature in the Dalit social and political protest. The high number of publications in this field is an 1

The detail of these events can be found on the website that has emerged out of the Network grant, as well as on the YouTube channel that was created by Prof Vinod Verma: https:// dalitliterature.wordpress.com as well as https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCe2s1_7J9XpbsTn8ixRdnQ/featured, accessed on June 10, 2017. 2 It can also be mentioned that a Special Issue on Dalit Literature was published by The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, co-edited by Judith Misrahi-Barak, K. Satyanarayana and Nicole Thiara: http://journals.sagepub.com/toc/jcla/0/0, accessed on December 17, 2017. The editorial can be accessed for free. The hard copy of the volume will be published in 2019. 3 Details can be found: http://future.arts.monash.edu/literary-commons/?_ga=2.186887649. 892370788.1497080025-496617041.1497080025, accessed on December 10, 2017.

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indication of this, both in India and around the world.4 Yet, it is difficult not to have the impression that the necessary emphasis on the social and political significance of Dalit literatures has consigned them to the social and political domains. A quick look at how they are featured at Indian and international workshops and conferences suffices to indicate that Dalit literatures are more often than not used by social scientists in their analyses but not analyzed as literatures in their own right.5 They are still not considered for their literary dimension, for the constant experimentation that is the source of energy for the writing, for the way they subvert traditional literary conventions, upset traditional literary genres, interrogate narrative voice and perspective, and for the way they are a politics of protest and rage instead of simply showing the politics of protest and rage, or buttressing it. If one was naive, one could wonder: how come Dalit writers are still not admitted within the sphere of modern Indian literature? The fact we have to ask such a question again in 2018 may have to do with the complexity of the topic, certainly, but it also has to do with the continued, fraught debate on the definition of Dalit and on the issue of representation, accessibility and appropriation. When the first edition of Dalit Literatures in India was published it received some very good reviews but the book also garnered a couple of nauseous comments such as this one: This book on ‘Dalit Literatures’ by Routledge is welcome. However this is a classic case of colonization of the cognitive domain of dalits by what Gopal Guru refers to as ‘TTB-Top Twice Born’. Very few of the contributors are dalits or those who are, sympathetic to dalit concerns. For others it is an academic career advancement. […] Imagine an African American anthology by Ku Klux Klan or Jewish Literature represented by the Nazis!6

4

A bibliography on the website ‘Writing, Analysing, Translating Dalit Literatures’ is regularly updated: https://dalitliterature.wordpress.com/publication/, accessed on December 10, 2017. 5 One can mention the annual conferences organised by the European Association of South Asian Studies (EASAS, July 2016 in Warsaw) or the British Association of South Asian Studies (BASAS, April 2017 in Nottingham) for instance. Only a diminutive number of panels projected the literary dimension of Dalit literatures but quite a few relied on the use of those literatures to prove sociological or political stances. See http://nomadit.co.uk/easas/ ecsas2016/panels.php5 and www.basas.org.uk/news-events/, accessed on June 10, 2017. One could also mention the academic events and research organised within the Centre for South Asian Studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris: http://ceias. ehess.fr/?lang=en&curr=0. 6 The exchange was published on the Indian Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (IACLALS) listserv in August 2015.

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Fortunately, a response was immediately sent to the mailing list warning against ‘Dalit literature of dalits, by dalits, for dalits’, pointing out that ‘by that logic men should not meddle with feminism and “haves” should not show empathy with “have-nots” ’, and adding that the risk was ‘incestual in-breeding’.7 If the first comment should not be granted too much importance, it is still representative of the kind of debate that happens on a daily basis in India and has probably been one of the elements that has prevented Dalit writers and poets from benefiting from a more global stage. It is difficult to gauge how much has changed in the past three years, and how far and wide Dalit literatures have spread since the first edition of Dalit Literatures in India came out, for the simple reason that political establishments prefer not to document its presence too much. Comparing the new books market and the second-hand books market in the big cities in India, as far as the sale of Dalit literature is concerned, can throw some light on the subject and give a few clues. Finding books by Chetan Bhagat, Rohinton Mistry, V. S. Naipaul, R. K. Narayan, Salman Rushdie and others on the second-hand books market is very easy because people buy them and resell them, especially if they are on the academic syllabi, or belong to popular fiction that is produced en masse and easily circulated. Books by Ambedkar or Dalit literature are much more difficult to find secondhand. One can think of multiple reasons that could account for such a situation: one would be that people who buy those books do not part with them; another is that these books are not produced in sufficient abundance to reach the second-hand books market. No survey seems to have been done on the topic but one can be certain that books by Ambedkar and other Dalit literatures are produced in abundance. Since they cannot easily be found on the second-hand books market, it can be argued that this means they are not on the academic syllabi: the academic readers who are not particularly politically oriented towards the Dalit movement and literature would sell the books again after their consumption for academic purposes. The politically conscious people who buy these books do not part with them once they have bought them simply because of their political attachment to these books. Hence they do not reach the second-hand market. The fact that Dalit literature has for a long time been a political tool is more and more obvious in the present day from the rise in everyday violence against Dalits and other marginalized communities. The ultimate

7 Ibid.

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proof of this is the organized attack by the state against the poetic suicide note written by the Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula8: what better proof of the profound impact of Dalit consciousness on Indian society and of the constantly renewed link between Dalit literature and Dalit politics? Literature is still, maybe even more now, at the heart of Dalit politics and life: the stronger the link, the stronger the violence that tries to bring it down. Much has happened in the last three years: the protection of the cow has become more aggressive, with ‘gau rakshaks’ taking the law into their own hands; Hindutva has been spread in the name of the nation and the provocative stirring up of anti-reservation movements has been added to the usual, every day, relentless discrimination against low-caste and religions other than Hindu; and the houses and kitchens of Muslims and Dalits are inspected to see what meat they are eating. On the night of September 28, 2015, in Bisara village near Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, a mob attacked the home of 52-year-old Mohammed Akhlaq with sticks and bricks, on the suspicion that he was storing beef at home. He died in the attack.9 The government’s inquiry concluded that he was not storing beef but mutton in the refrigerator for consumption. The other horrific incident to recall, among many others, is what happened on July 11, 2016, in Una, Gujarat, when four Dalit youths were stripped, flogged and dragged behind a car in public by the ‘cow vigilantes’, allegedly for cow slaughter, even though it turned out to be a dead cow that was meant to have been consumed in a community feast.10 Jignesh Mevani, who led the protests against the ‘cow vigilantes’, has become an icon of protest and has been galvanising Dalits from across the country to resist the attempt of the state and the Hindutva forces against the cruelty that has been unleashed on Dalits.11 Videos of these brutal attacks go viral on social networks, which leads to more widespread and more organized protests.   8 One

can read whole passages of Rohith’s suicide note in this documentary video: www. youtube.com/watch?v=beSyOEhh94A, accessed January 10, 2018.   9 ‘The Dadri lynching: how events unfolded’ www.thehindu.com/specials/in-depth/thedadri-lynching-how-events-unfolded/article7719414.ece, accessed January 10, 2018. 10 ‘Seven members of a Dalit family were allegedly beaten up by a group of “gau rakshaks” for skinning a dead cow in Una town of Gir Somnath district in Gujarat.’ http://indianexpress. com/article/india/india-news-india/gujarat-7-of-dalit-family-beaten-up-for-skinning-deadcow-2910054/, accessed December 19, 2017. 11 One can note that Jignesh Mevani won the recent elections in Gurajat and defeated BJP’s Vijay Chakravarti in Vagdam constituency (results announced on December 18, 2017). Congress and Aam Aadmi Party supported him by not presenting any candidates against him.

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Parallel to the events in Una and Dadri, the escalating violence had received a response from Dalit forces such as the Bhim Army led by Chandrashekhar Azad, who wanted to spread the message of Ambedkar ‘Educate. Agitate. Organise’.12 The Bhim Army was trying to educate the Dalit youth by creating education centres in the villages and making them ready to retaliate against upper-caste violence. This led to one instance in 2017 when the Dalits placed a sign – ‘The great Chamar’ – in the village of Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, which was retaliated upon with extreme violence that was orchestrated by the upper-caste men and women with the tacit support of the Hindutva forces. In the aftermath of the riots, the Uttar Pradesh Rajput Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, decided to visit the village. Before his visit the district administration sent soap and shampoo to the Dalits so that they could keep themselves clean for the Chief Minister.13 The Delhi-based poet and lawyer Asang Wankhede wrote about the clean visit – his poem can be viewed online at https://thewire.in/141345/ dalit-poet-adityanath-government/.14 Considering the recent events that brought Dalit communities to the headlines, the politics over Rohith Vemula’s suicide in January 2016 is significant of what is at stake at the moment in India in a political context that is becoming more and more dominated and exacerbated by Hindutva politics, moral policing and inducing fear among non-Hindus and Dalits. What happened to Vemula created such an uproar, nationally and internationally, that the Dalit blue flags are now seen flying in all political protests alongside slogans of Jai Bhim. But who was Vemula? That is the question that most of the ‘Radical Right’ intellectuals have been constantly trying to probe. They are not ready to accept that he was a Dalit, or rather they are not interested in trying to understand how he came to claim the Dalit identity as this is too subversive. They are only trying to understand whether he was a Scheduled Caste or not, whether he was Mala (Scheduled Caste) or Vaddera (Other Backward Classes). Smriti Zubin Irani, the then Union minister for Human Rights Department (HRD), spoke in Parliament and said: Political parties are busy trying to use the death of a child [Rohith Vemula] as a political weapon. The committee which suspended 12 www.thequint.com/quintlab/ambedkar-dalit-army-fights-caste-atrocities-in-

uttar-pradesh/. 13 www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/280517/have-a-bath-before-you-

meet-yogi-smell-good-up-district-admin-to-dalits.html, accessed December 17, 2017. accessed December  17, 2017.

14 https://thewire.in/141345/dalit-poet-adityanath-government/,

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Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula was not constituted by our government, but by the UPA [United Progressive Alliance] regime. I looked at the case as the death of a child and not as a death of a Dalit.15 Further, the one-man committee set up by the HRD minister came to the conclusion in its report that ‘Rohith Vemula was not a Scheduled Caste, action by university authorities didn’t trigger his suicide, there was no undue pressure from former HRD minister Smriti Irani or BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] leader Bandaru Dattatreya in the case’.16 The fact is that Smriti Irani and other right-wing leaders wanted to show Vemula as just another child, refuting the fact that he was a Dalit. They wanted to ensure that he did not appear as a Scheduled Caste. The fact remains, however, that he never claimed to be a Scheduled Caste. The only thing he claimed to be was Dalit. Vemula had never been interested in taking jobs away from Brahmins, so then why are they so concerned with his Scheduled Caste or non-Scheduled Caste status? This is precisely where Dalit politics becomes political and not only electoral/representational, as K. Satyanarayana writes in his article: ‘Vemula, a staunch Ambedkarite, believed in the annihilation of caste identity.’17 It is more than unfortunate that the entire establishment reduced him and other Dalits to their administrative identity. Vemula challenged the administrative consciousness of the upper-caste radical right-wing rulers and intellectuals. How could Vemula not take the benefits of reservation and still claim to be a Dalit? That was the question that bothered them then and still bothers them now. They are not able to bracket him as someone who would be confined to the Rajiv Gandhi Fellowship awarded to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes PhD scholars, which the government decide to give or withdraw. As they were not able to give or withdraw this class-equalizing scholarship simply because he hadn’t applied for it, Vemula became able to exercise real Dalit politics, which is exactly what the state had feared. He had triggered a political 15 www.indiatoday.in/india/story/here-is-the-full-text-of-smriti-iranis-lok-sabha-speech-on-

rohith-vemula-and-jnu-row-310406-2016-02-24, accessed December 17, 2017. 16 www.outlookindia.com/website/story/rohith-vemula-not-a-dalit-action-by-university-did-

not-trigger-suicide-says-comm/300407, accessed December 17, 2017. The full report can be read online: http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/document-reports/Justice AshokKumarRoopanwalReport.pdf, accessed December 17, 2017. 17 www.thehindubusinessline.com/blink/know/the-politics-over-rohith-vemulas-caste-ismeant-to-thwart-the-identity-he-chose-for-himself/article8163342.ece, accessed December  17, 2017.

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movement well before his suicide, and not only after his death as many understood it. Vemula challenged the policing of caste identities and exercised his freedom to remain an outsider. He invented a new Dalit identity which is fluid, open-ended and based on certain political ideas and shared values. His caste certificate allowed him to symbolically identify with the stigmatised untouchable community. He never allowed the state rituals of identity certification to take over his right to live as a mind. His last words reveal that Vemula aspired to go beyond his birth and cursed life. He desired to be a writer, an intellectual and a Buddhist philosopher. It is ironic that the cynical forces are trying to bury him in identities policed by Manusmriti.18 As a result of all these Dalit assertions that have been happening, the right-wing government led by the BJP not only tried to appropriate Ambedkar but also tried to make themselves look sympathetic to the Dalits and the Dalit movement, playing up to Dalit sentiment. The result of this appropriation can be seen in the nomination of Ram Nath Kovind as the presidential candidate of India for the BJP. By doing so, they endeavoured to save themselves from the accusations of being anti-Dalit. They also forced the opposition to nominate Meira Kumar as their candidate, ensuring the presidential elections were happening between two Dalits. The two Dalit nominees were hence reduced to their ‘mere identities’ as argued by Vemula in his suicide note: The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.19 This will remind readers of the poem ‘Identity Card’ written by S. Joseph in Malayalam more than ten years ago and published in its English translation in 2010.20 18 http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/dalit-student-suicide-full-text-of-

suicide-letter-hyderabad/, accessed March 10, 2018. 19 Ibid. 20 www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/poem/item/17779/auto/0/IDENTITY-CARD.

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The tragedy that consumes the world as it has consumed Vemula, S. Joseph and all Dalits, is that the identity of a human being gets reduced to their mere caste identity and the marker of caste subsumes all other identities and makes a ‘normal’ life difficult. Yet, the vitality and drive of Dalit protest finds its best reflection in the passion and verve of a literature that does not flinch and continues to give birth to a varied range of texts. One example of this can be found in the fact that Vemula’s political involvement and suicide has prompted people of his generation to write plays for the theatre and film documentaries about him. One can think of the play script that was written in 2016 by Mukunda Rao, Vemula – A Play or the documentary shot by Srikanth Chintala not long after his suicide.21 The main publishing companies have continued to publish anthologies of Dalit writing, granting Indian and global readers access to the primary sources. In addition to The Oxford India Anthology of Malayalam Dalit Writing (2011) and The Oxford India Anthology of Tamil Dalit Writing (2012), Oxford University Press added The Oxford India Anthology of Telugu Dalit Writing to the list (2016). Recently, Routledge has also been putting more focus on Dalit and other marginalized communities through critical books that are targeting global audiences. Anand Teltumbde’s Dalits: Past, Present and Future (2017) filled a gap and was a most welcome publication. University presses like Duke University Press have also brought about critical edited collections such as Dalit Studies by Ramnarayan, S. Rawat and K. Satyanarayana (2016), made available to all online. One can also note that more Dalit authors are being translated into English, thus reaching a wider audience. Cho. Dharman’s Koogai published in Tamil by Oxford University Press in 2010 and then in an English translation in 2015, is now being followed by Sool, published in Tamil in 2016, for which an English translation is forthcoming. Translations in English of novels by Des Raj Kali are also being prepared. It seems that more and more English translations are being commissioned, even if this trend is still to be confirmed as a major one – Just One Word: Short Stories by Bama (2017) would be an example of such a trend. One can also mention the translation by Maya Pandit of 14 stories by Pradnya Daya Pawar, Let the Rumours be True (2017). What is striking, however, and this has not changed since 2015, is that the light still shines mostly on Dalit studies rather than Dalit literature in spite of the fact that the latter cannot and should not be separated from the

21

www.youtube.com/watch?v=beSyOEhh94A, accessed December 19, 2017.

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political and social context it emerges from. This may have to do with the fact that, even though some universities have put Dalit literature on the academic syllabi, not many have ventured into acknowledging the Dalit authors and analyzing the texts themselves. Critical studies of Dalit texts as literary texts are still lagging far behind and still have to gain momentum. Dalit Literatures in India (2015) has still not been followed up with any major volume dedicating itself to the critical analysis of Dalit texts. Routledge seems to be the one major press that is interested in developing this literary critical angle, with another forthcoming edited collection of critical essays, Dalit Text: Aesthetics and Politics Reimagined.22 This frustrating situation may also be accounted for because analyzing Dalit text as text would probably be much more subversive than subsuming it under the more general social and political category of Dalit studies. It is the purpose of this second edition to highlight this situation and hope the next stage is not too far away. December 2017

22

Another collection of critical essays, Dalit Text: Aesthetics and Politics Reimagined, edited by Judith Misrahi-Barak, K. Satyanarayana and Nicole Thiara is under contract with Routledge. It will bring together essays that have emerged through the AHRC-funded Research Networking Grant that was mentioned at the beginning of this introduction.

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INTRODUCTION TO THE FIRST EDITION Dalit literatures in India: in, out and beyond Joshil K. Abraham and Judith Misrahi-Barak Even when the noonday sun runs across the rubber groves, some dark spaces remain here and there. – ‘Some Dark Spaces’, S. Joseph (Translated by K. Satchidanandan)

This volume springs from one simple question: how is it possible that the major political and literary development that has deeply altered the Indian academic and non-academic world as well as Indian society at large in the past three decades, has not had a greater echo outside India? More precisely, how is it possible that the literatures abundantly produced by the Dalits (formerly known outside India as ‘Untouchables’) are not better known in the Western world? Several obvious reasons come to mind. First, even in a globalized world, India does not need the Western world to forge its own literary movements, and what the West (for lack of a better phrase) takes, or does not take, into account does not matter. Second, most of these literatures are written in Indian languages, with only a minority of texts translated into other languages, including primarily English and French (one of the other main languages of translation). Seve­ral important anthologies have been published in English by major publishing houses with international distribution, but these are only recent (see final bibliography). Certain Dalit texts – such as Om Prakash Valmiki’s Joothan (2003) and Bama’s Karukku (1992) and Sangati (1994) – have become classics in the Indian context, and have been available for some time in English and in other languages. Yet, the attention seems to have been focused only on a few texts instead of taking stock of the general movement. The third reason 12

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for such under-exposure, or even neglect, is probably because Dalit literatures do not fit in the categories that the West usually resorts to when dealing with South Asian literatures. In his introduction to Sharankumar Limbale’s Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature, Alok Mukherjee signals this when he says that, [The] work [of Dalit writers] not only does not fit into neat binaries, in fact, it complicates them by exposing how a subjugated society such as that of pre-independence India could, simultaneously, be a subjugating society and how in postcolonial India, that subjugation could continue. (Limbale 2004: 17) In her introduction to Om Prakash Valmiki’s Joothan, Arun Prabha Mukherjee also remarks how the ‘dominant discourse of Postcolonial and Subaltern theories . . . not only refuses to notice the high caste status of these writers but presents them as resistant voices, representing the oppression of “the colonized” ’ (Mukherjee 2003: xiii). Thus, oppression in societies such as India is derived not only from the conjunction of imperialism, capitalism and colonialism. In her chapter Laetitia Zecchini (Chapter 4, this volume) addresses precisely the ways in which Dalit literatures have unsettled and decentered the postcolonial doxa, forcing us to revise some of our premises. On the international stage, it is quite surprising, for instance, that some Western scholars – even among those who specialize in postcolonial literatures – are still unfamiliar with the development of Dalit literatures. One is finally left to grapple with the (apparent) contradiction that the tidal wave of Dalit literatures in India has not reached out in the proportions that it should have, in spite of the sustained and dedicated pioneering efforts of many writers, thinkers and academics outside India – such as Debjani Ganguli, Christophe Jaffrelot, Nicolas Jaoul, Alok Mukherjee, Arun Prabha Mukherjee, Gyan Pandey, Jacques Pouchepadass and Catherine Servan-Shreiber, among others. Even if the widest gap associated with the production, perception, reception and analysis of Dalit literatures lies between the international context and India, other discrepancies within India itself are also striking. These are (i) the disproportion between the large numbers of published texts versus the small number of texts prescribed in school or university syllabi, and (ii) the disproportion between primary and secondary literature and the emphasis on autobiographies, memoirs and other testimonial narratives versus the neglect of other genres. In spite of a strong interest in the general reading public for Dalit texts, this large body of literature has not come under much critical scrutiny. It is not that Dalit and non-Dalit thinkers/writers have not 13

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produced primary as well as secondary literature – Arjun Dangle, Kancha Ilaiah, Sharankumar Limbale and Vasant Moon, among others, instantly come to mind. However, they have found it difficult to step outside of the circle of connoisseurs and reach out to wider circles. Academics, critics and thinkers like Raj Gauthaman, Gopal Guru, Rita Kothari, Sanal Mohan, Pramod Nayar, Gail Omvedt, M.S.S. Pandian, Anupama Rao, Sharmila Rege, K. Satyanarayana and Susie Tharu, among others, have been writing forcefully about Dalits and Dalit literatures in India for quite some time, and are well known on the international stage. However, a widespread academic movement that would take Dalit texts out of the Indian context and onto a more general analytical stage is yet to happen. Resistance to Dalit literature still seems to be prevalent, and many universities are still reluctant to promote Dalit literatures on the same terms as other literatures. It may also be that while what used to be called Commonwealth literature in the 1960s and 1970s has eventually come to be known as postcolonial literature, Dalit literatures have so far been considered mostly as literatures that document a social, economic and political situation, and not literatures in their own right – to be studied as a monument (Foucault 2007). Such literatures have often been put in the category of realist literature, whose main purpose is to illustrate and denounce the abominable situation in which Dalits live in contemporary India despite the fact that Untouchability was made illegal in the Constitution of the new Republic of India. If Dalit literatures are absolutely inseparable from the conditions of their emergence, from the socio-political and cultural contexts in which they are written, and have a purpose, it does not mean that the political erases the literary aspects of such writing. Conversely, to foreground their literary element is not to cripple the political intention of these texts. In fact, it is quite the opposite: the conviction that instead of being something different and separate, literature actually does politics (Rancière 2011)1 and implements it, is one that is widely shared by the authors of the essays included in this volume. For instance, the essay by Ravi Shankar Kumar (Chapter 3, this volume) shows how Dalit literatures challenge hegemonic social and political forces by the distinctiveness of their discourse. The aim of this volume is to contribute, in a very modest way, to bridging the gaps and discrepancies mentioned previously by simply taking part in 1 In

The Politics of Literature, Jacques Rancière explains that, ‘The expression “politics of literature” implies that literature “does” politics simply by being literature. It assumes that we don’t need to worry about whether writers should go in for politics or stick to the purity of their art instead, but this very purity has something to do with politics. It assumes that there is an essential connection between politics as a specific form of collective practice and literature as a well-defined practice of the art of writing’ (2011: 3).

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the conversation that has started. It aims to bring together scholars from different continents, all of whom are interested in Dalit literatures and want to share their knowledge with a wider audience, regardless of their origin, place of birth or where they live. Some of the authors included here have attained international renown; others are budding scholars. They are all passionate about their subject. It is of some significance that one of the editors of this volume is Indian and the other is French; one is a man and the other is a woman. Neither is Hindu nor Buddhist; neither is Dalit; and yet they both feel they can, and should, make their contribution against the realities, discourses and attitudes they feel should not exist, and must be fought against and challenged forcefully. The problematic of inside and outside has been contentious: the issue of writing on or from a Dalit perspective reminds us of other debates that have taken place in the context of other literatures – such as postcolonial or African American literatures. It raises questions of entitlement, authorship, legitimacy and voice, appropriation and reclaiming. Whose voice is speaking? Whose pen is writing? Who has a right to speak about the Dalits and their literature? Moreover, bridging the Western and the Eastern and the Dalit and nonDalit perspectives on Dalit writing is extremely challenging, besides being highly sensitive. In this volume, Laetitia Zecchini (Chapter 4) quotes both Edward Said in order to warn against any form of ‘possessive exclusivism’ (2001: 215), and Homi Bhabha who has spoken about the necessity to articulate the political force of the minority ‘across and alongside communities of difference, in acts of affiliation’ (2004: xxii). This is exactly what is at stake in this volume: the intention of the essays is to open out and widen the circle of attention without losing sight of the specificity of the debate. The other challenge of the volume is that its intended audience is both the general reading public and the specialists – and hopefully, both from across the globe. This is a thin line to walk, and some of the following pages may seem superfluous to some readers, and not detailed enough to others. In this respect, this volume is bound to attract criticism; but it may be the price one has to pay for putting it together in the first place. Arun Prabha Mukherjee reminds the readers of her translation of Joothan that the phenomena of caste and untouchability evolved over a period of time, as a result of conflicts over land, resources and cultural practices between a people who called themselves Aryans when they began arriving in India about the beginning of the second millennium BC, and the various communities of indigenous people. (2007: xv) 15

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These conflicts, born out of a struggle for political supremacy and control over land, eventually produced a social system based on the varnas, a hierarchy comprised of Brahmins (the priests), Kshatriyas (the warriors), Vaishyas (the traders) and Shudras (the workmen). The varna system was further divided into thousands of jatis, and subsequent divisions and substratifications developed into modern-day castes. In the essay that opens the volume, G. N. Devy traces the history of caste and provides a precise description of the evolution of the concept of caste in the Indian context. The moral and social behaviour that was attached to the varnas was codified in the ancient Sanskrit text, Manusmriti. The Shudras were denied the Upanayana, the sacred thread ceremony (which allowed the first three varnas to be born again), and prevented from studying the sacred texts of the Vedas (Mukherjee 2003: xv–xvi). The Panchamas constituted a fifth varna, and its members were outside the chaturvarna system. They were the Untouchables and had to live outside the boundaries of the villages, subsisting on Asprushyas, the flesh of dead animals whose carcasses it was their duty to dispose. Sharankumar Limbale notes a certain number of factors that ‘loosened the stranglehold of Brahmanism and feudalism’. These include European colonialism, the establishment of an English public education system, the advent of industrial capitalism, the emergence of a bourgeoisie, the rise of a working class, contact with ideas of rationalism and Enlightenment, on the one hand, and a nationalist anti-colonial movement, which was accompanied by the recognition in certain liberal circles of the need for social reform. (Limbale 2004: 5) One can also add that the British abolition of slavery took place in 1843; but it had the perverse effect of turning slavery into debt bondage. If the oppression of the Dalits has a long history, the history of their protest is also a very long one. It is probably impossible to find the precise origins of this protest; nor is it desirable to do so. The anti-caste struggle is usually associated with Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891–1956), a Dalit, and one of India’s foremost revolutionaries. However, giving the credit for the Dalit Movement only to Ambedkar, and ignoring the efforts of leaders, activists, thinkers and reformers like Jyotirao Phule (1827–90); Savitribai Phule (1831–97); Iyothee Thass (1845–1914); Poikayil Yohannan (1879–1939), a Christian Dalit and activist; Ayyankali (1863–1941) and Periyar E. V. Ramasamy (1879–1973), among many others, would not only be a historical blunder but also a political one at a time when there is need for forming a larger Dalit unity, along with other deprived sections. While Iyothee 16

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Thass, a Tamil Buddhist, was a prominent figure in the literary and political struggles carrying the Dalit voice in established magazines and newspapers, Ayyankali worked to bring out the worth of literature and the political dignity of the Dalits of Kerala. Many opposed Brahmin domination in the Indian National Congress – for example, E. V. Ramasamy and Jyotirao Phule were champions of anti-caste struggle, and worked towards building a casteless society. The former even resigned from the Congress when he realized that the party was serving the interests of the Brahmins first. As is well known in India, the debate between Gandhi and Ambedkar was a major event in Indian history. A fierce critic of Gandhi, Ambedkar famously said ‘Mahatma, I have no country’. Gandhi saw the chaturvarna system as one of the foundation stones of Hinduism, and believed Untouchability to be a mere distortion that could gradually be removed through social reform and education. Ambedkar wanted legislation to root it out. Thinking that it was constitutive of Hinduism led him logically to turn to another religion, and his conversion to Buddhism in 1956 is a welldocumented fact. He was followed by millions of formerly Hindu Dalits. This brings to the fore the dynamics that have been at work among the different religions practiced in India: if conversion has been more frequent in certain states than others, this does not mean that caste oppression does not exist in other religions also. Much remains to be done to include Christian, Muslim or Sikh Dalit literatures within the general corpus of Dalit literatures. The essays by Jasbir Jain, Sipra Mukherjee and Nida Sajid broach these issues. When the British colonial government wanted to implement separate electorates for the Untouchables, as demanded by Ambedkar, Gandhi opposed it. Ambedkar had to withdraw his demand, and sign the Poona Act in 1932. When the British government passed the Government of India Act in 1935, the terms ‘Scheduled Castes’ (SC), and ‘Scheduled Tribes’ (ST) were introduced as replacements for the previously used term ‘Depressed Classes’. SC/ST and other backward classes (OBCs) have remained in use as administrative terms and were carried into the Constitution of the Republic of India drafted in 1950. The Constitution was drafted by Ambedkar, along with 297 members. The term harijans (children of God) propounded by Gandhi was meant to replace asprushyas, but was also felt to be patronizing and infantilizing. Appellations have continued to evolve. One instance of this is the term Dalitbahujan, which was coined by the writer and activist Kancha Ilaiah. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was launched on 14 April 1984, on Ambedkar’s birthday. The term ‘Dalit’ is now predominant, probably because of the fact that it has veered away from a strict caste-based definition, and also encompasses ‘Adivasis, landless 17

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farm-labourers, workers, the suffering masses, and nomadic and criminal tribes, . . . [p]eople who are lagging behind economically’ (Limbale 2004: 30). The debates that raged at the time of Gandhi and Ambedkar continued and shaped the rest of India in the twentieth century. These debates have constantly raised questions linked to the emergence of democracy in relation to caste. If G. N. Devy (Chapter 1) delineates the history of the concept of caste, M.S.S. Pandian’s essay (Chapter 2) also sets the stage for the other contributions to this volume. It presents the intricacies of the inevitable tug-of-war between caste and democracy, and the paradoxes and contradictions it entails. Contrary to the hopes of seeing caste vanish in the contact with democracy, caste has been written into democracy in India. Similarly, it has been part of the Marxist doxa that caste would be dissolved in the class struggle.2 However, modern industry has not been instrumental in annihilating caste; in fact, it has been quite the opposite. Caste struggle and class struggle do not necessarily go hand in hand, and caste is not something that can be withered away by class. This explains why many Dalit critics consider the Indian Marxist view incomplete: it does not take into consideration the specific social inequality created by Hinduism. It makes the Dalits feel that the Marxists have ignored caste-based oppression. Although Untouchability was legally abolished and a certain number of protective arrangements and measures of affirmative action were implemented, Ambedkar’s experiences continue to be the fate of India’s 220 million Dalits today. Indeed, it is more and more difficult to consider the caste system only as a remnant of the past, and not constitutive of modern and contemporary India.3 The state may have formally distanced itself from the caste question, but the caste question is what feeds debates in civil society, and constitutes a fundamental part of the politics of the nation. If it is uneasy – and maybe not desirable – to trace the origin of the anti-caste protest movement, it may be equally difficult – and not desirable either – to trace the origin of Dalit literatures. The term ‘Dalit’ – meaning ‘oppressed’, ‘broken’, ‘crushed’ and ‘downtrodden’ in Marathi – was first used by Phule, and was reactivated after India’s independence. The first mention of ‘Dalit literature’ was made at the first Dalit 2

Karl Marx wrote: ‘Modern industry, resulting from the railway system, will dissolve the hereditary divisions of labor, upon which rest the Indian castes, those decisive impediments to Indian progress and Indian power’ (http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1853/07/22. htm [accessed 20 May 2014]). 3 The Introductions to the anthologies listed in the final bibliography are a wonderful source of detail about the historical and political development of Dalit consciousness and Dalit movements, providing context and analysis. The translators’ Forewords and Introductions are also very useful.

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Literature Conference held in Bombay in 1958. It gathered momentum in the 1970s, particularly after a group of young Marathi writers and activists launched an organization called the ‘Dalit Panthers’ in reference to the Black Panthers. It certainly was a significant moment in the history of Dalit literature, since it was followed by various political and literary movements across India. While the history of Dalit literatures can be traced back to centuries, Dalit literary and cultural expressions were never taken into consideration due to the hegemonic nature of caste in the field of literary production. The crystallization of a Dalit political category and identity coincides with the emergence of Dalit literatures with more sharply defined contours. Current research by scholars reveals the widespread character of Dalit writings in various parts of contemporary India. However, it also shows that Dalit literatures acquired a distinct language through their heterogeneous and plurivocal character much earlier, thus challenging the dominant literary canon. Raj Kumar Hans’s erudite essay (Chapter 11) in this volume is a case in point: it draws attention to the Punjabi Dalit poetic tradition in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and similarly, Sipra Mukherjee’s paper (Chapter 8) throws light on nineteenth-century Dalit writing from Bengal. If these two essays address the question of the Dalits’ exclusion from historiography in spite of very early productions, Raj Kumar (Chapter 9) reminds us that in states like Odisha, the emergence of Dalit literature has been particularly difficult: for instance, Akhila Nayak’s novel Bheda (Odia) was not published until 2010. The 1958 Dalit Literature Conference discussed Dalit literature in detail and passed Resolution No. 5, the literature written by Dalits and that written by others about the Dalits in Marathi [should] be accepted as a separate entity known as ‘Dalit Literature’ and realizing its cultural importance, the universities and literary organizations should give it its proper place. (Prabuddha Bharat, 4 March 1958) Even though the resolution restricted the field to Dalit literature written in Marathi, it opened the door to a definition of Dalit literatures as being ‘written by others about the Dalits’. However, that was in 1958. In 2004, in the beginning of his book Towards an Aesthetics of Dalit Literature, S. Limbale defines ‘Dalit literature’ as ‘writing about Dalits by Dalits with a Dalit consciousness’ (2004: 9). This strict definition is somewhat tempered a few pages later in the same book when Limbale admits that another perspective has become possible these days: a non-Dalit writer can also write Dalit literature with the use of imagination, and if their adopted 19

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perspective is Dalit (ibid.: 105).4 Besides its intrinsic qualities, this is certainly the reason why the article by Maryam Mirza on Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997) finds its place in this volume. Moreover, other writers have raised the question of caste in general, and the plight of the Dalits in particular. We can think of Mulk Raj Anand and his novel Untouchable, which was published as early as 1935. Not only did this groundbreaking novel introduce a Dalit as the main protagonist but also the focalization of the narrative was done entirely through him all along the twenty-four hours that constitute the time span of the novel. In comparison with Anand’s novel, it can be felt that Velutha’s perspective (in Roy’s The God of Small Things) is not really taken into account or given value – the reader gets a perspective on Velutha, not from him. Yet, the novel contains a general critique of the caste sytem and it opens the debate and calls for a discussion on whether non-Dalit writers can raise their voice, along with the Dalits. It also raises another question: does the caste identity of a writer define them as a writer? Would V. S. Naipaul or R. K. Narayan be put in the category of Brahmin writers writing Brahmin literature? Are Dalit writers restricted to writing Dalit literature? Cannot they simply write literature? These points are important for questioning simple definitions, or even the very category of Dalit literatures. The title of this volume Dalit Literatures in India: In, Out and Beyond tries to open up this debate by questioning the binaries of in and out. The volume tries to go beyond the question of whether Dalit literatures can only be written by Dalits; it also questions the roots of such a debate. The volume also encourages the reader to look beyond literature per se – towards the visual arts, for instance. Questioning the roots of caste by theorizing anti-caste perspectives – as in the essays by M.S.S. Pandian and Ravi Shankar – helps question its categorization as Dalit literature (or art) made by and about Dalits. It encourages us to go beyond simple categories. At the forefront of all discussion is also the question of the reception and critique of Dalit literatures. There is a dearth of critical perspectives that are literary even as they integrate the political and sociological specificity of that literature. This can be sorely lamented. In the initial stages, Dalit literatures (and in a broader sense, this is true even today) were identified as specific protests directed against everyday humiliations that individual Dalits and the Dalits as a community were enduring. Most of the debates around/about 4

All these questions are presented in detail by Sharankumar Limbale in Towards an Aesthetics of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies and Considerations (2004). The reader will also find the editors’ introductions to the anthologies extremely useful to understand the context and the stakes.

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Dalit literature have failed to acknowledge adequately the new vocabulary of imagination and aesthetical sensibility which have been produced by these literatures. These cannot be reduced merely to an engagement with victimhood or to the mere denouncement of the abominable mistreatments lower castes and Dalits have been subjected to, from a political or sociological point of view. In the hands of autobiographers, novelists, short-story writers and poets, it has spawned new literary canons by disturbing the usual language available in the pre-existing canonical literary circles. Dalit literature today has established itself as a new mode of literary/aesthetic imagination and writing, challenging traditional aesthetic criteria and practices. It is the conviction of the editors of this volume that Dalit literatures have to be engaged with critically. They need to be examined as the literary texts they are; their close and complex connections with the context they have emerged from need to be studied; and their relation to their political goals should also be identified in detail. The new ‘literary yardsticks’ Limbale calls for (2004: 113) take into account both the universality of these literatures and their absolute specificity. All the literary choices made by the authors of these texts have a political dimension; one cannot separate the purpose of the text from the way it has been delivered. It is enlightening to have a closer look at the texts through the prism of their literary specificities: the choice of genre, the staging of the character and the narrator, the narrative voice or the focalization, the use of the time and space schemes, the construction and deconstruction of the plot, the ways generic boundaries are played upon and challenged, the use of dialogue, the ‘dual addressivity’,5 the dual perspective between a child character and an adult narrator and the reader’s response, among many other elements. Because of the realist drive in which Dalit literatures were engaged, the genre of autobiography seemed to be a self-evident choice for a literature whose urgency was to be first and foremost a testimonial. This is similar to the slave narratives written by Africans during Atlantic slavery between 1760 and 1865 – the Dalits must have also felt that they could only attain their goal through autobiography and testimonial writing. Poetry, drama or fiction must have been perceived as having a lesser political impact. This is how the preponderance of autobiographies in Dalit writing should be understood.6 It is reflected in the number of essays about autobiographies in this 5 The

phrase is used by Arun Prabha Mukherjee in her introduction to Joothan (2003: xxxvii). 6 Please see Raj Kumar’s Dalit Personal Narratives (2010) in which three chapters on Dalit autobiographies are contextualized within the Western autobiographical tradition, and compared with Indian autobiographies of upper-caste writers, men and women.

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volume, all of which concentrate on the different aspects of Dalit autobiographies. Ranjith Thankappan (Chapter 12) focuses on the two autobiographies of Kallen Pokkudan, and their different political and representational agendas; Alexandra de Heering (Chapter 13) examines the interactions between oral and written testimonies within the Dalit community of Cakkiliyars in southern Tamil Nadu; Martine van Woerkens (Chapter 14) points to the modalities of the exclusion of Baby Halder’s A Life Less Ordinary from the literary establishment; Sara Sindhu Thomas (Chapter 15) uses the genre of the testimonio to analyse the autobiographies of Dalit women writers; Arpita Chattaraj Mukhopadhyay (Chapter 16) highlights the gender component in a comparison with black women slave narratives; and Carolyn Hibbs (Chapter 17) gives prominence to women writers who have converted to Buddhism, and challenges the Hindu concept of women’s bodies as polluted. This volume also wishes to emphasize the political, aesthetic and ethical dimension of other genres in the Dalit context. Bracketing off the so-called imaginary or non-realist literature produced by Dalits as politically nonconsequential seems somewhat irresponsible since it paves the way to recurrent arguments that patronize Dalit literatures as being merely autobiographical. It restrains the contours of Dalit literatures only to lived experience and veils the mediating process that is at work in any writing. It would be significant for Dalit literatures and their critiques to think beyond realism and autobiography. Indeed, that the imaginary has always been present in Dalit literatures is shown in an exemplary way by the Oxford India and Penguin anthologies of Dalit writing, published in 2011, 2012 and 2013. While mainstream academia and literary circles have, unsurprisingly, tried to pigeonhole Dalit texts and play down the role of the imaginary, the Dalit intelligentsia have also tended to ignore it for its supposed lack of political impact. However, the imaginary and the power of fantasy can also be productive politically. The imaginary (re)conceptualization and (re)formulation of the world is depicted in the poetry of Namdeo Dhasal, S. Joseph, Mathivanan, N. D. Rajkumar and Ravikumar, among others. The short story has also been chosen as a medium of creation and emancipation, as is shown masterfully in Santhosh Dash’s essay (Chapter 10) dealing with the short stories by the Gujarati author Praveen Gadhvi. One could also mention the short stories by C. Ayyappan, Paul Chirakkarode, Ajay Navaria, Azhagiya Periyavan and P. K. Prakash, among others. Dalit and non-Dalit writers, thinkers, critics and academics have sometimes been ensnared in possibly inevitable internal debates about the origin of Dalit literature, about its status, and the ways it should be approached. The scope and impact of the literatures themselves may consequently not have been as far-reaching as they should have been. It would be more 22

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fruitful to push these debates into the background, widen the contours of these literatures without losing their specificities and write yet unwritten histories of Dalit literatures that have so far been unimaginable in the dominant discourse. In the new perspectives that are being delineated in this early twenty-first century, the importance of translation needs to be underlined, both within India from one Indian language to the next, and outside India, towards other international languages. In her essay, Nalini Pai (Chapter 5) insists on how little consideration translation has received so far in this context, and how vital it is to communicate the language and the voices that have too often remained unheard. Translation is necessarily the story of a majority of the texts that are focused on in this volume. It contributes to the transformative value of Dalit literatures, and to how they are passed on. More generally, the issue of translation concerns the accessibility, reception and dissemination, as well as regional, national and international distribution. Who writes what for whom and who reads whom? It is interesting to examine how texts, genres and arts live at home or travel abroad. Hidden within this question is the issue of the globalization of Dalit literatures: this is not only about whether Dalit literatures should become global or not; it also has to do with the possible impact of globalization on Dalit literatures and their original goal. In an essay on Narendra Jadhav’s memoir Outcaste, K. Satyanarayana (Chapter 19) alerts us to the risk of Dalit literatures being translated into the vocabulary of ‘global modernity’. One can wonder whether the formation of a ‘cosmopolitan Dalit identity’ would jeopardize the Dalit engagement with the local, national modernity. From the first essay to the last, these interrogations put the different materials discussed in this volume in tension with each other. The fact that new arts and genres are often resorted to in order to speak to a majority of people may be the sign that something is changing in the context of Dalit literatures, both inside and outside India. For instance, Santhosh Sadanandan (Chapter 20) engages with one of the foremost Dalit painters in India – Savi Sawarkar – and examines how hegemonic Brahmanical as well as Western dominance is de-constructed in the painter’s practice and artistic language. The graphic novels Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability and A Gardener in the Wasteland are also cases in point. The visual, the literary and the political dimensions closely intertwine in these graphic biographies of Ambedkar and Phule. The artists Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam and the writers Srividya Natarajan and S. Anand crafted books that have broken new ground, not least because they did so in a controversial way. Are Dalit cultures edging out of the restricted areas in which they were formerly circumscribed? Or, are Dalit 23

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graphic novels following up on the tradition of Indian comics series, like Amar Chitra Katha? In the inspiring essay that closes this volume, Pramod Nayar (Chapter 21) unravels the issues linked to representation. By making a distinction between ‘authenticity’ and ‘authentication’, Nayar exhorts readers and critics to eschew a simplistic vision that desires merely a so-called authentic representation of Dalit experience. He grapples instead with the many ways such experience is mediated in artistic creation. The essay may be about graphic novels, but it invites the reader to reconsider all the genres broached in the other essays. Autobiographies also resort to a mediated representation of experience. As in any edited volume, there is always regret for what has not been included, and the editors are all too aware of this. There is now need for increased critical focus not only on the autobiography but also on all other literary genres, on the contact zones between Adivasi literatures and Dalit literatures, on the relationship of these with other arts (music, film, drama as well as visual arts), or between Dalit literatures in different languages, regions and religions. How caste travels unheeded in the Indian diaspora and in non-Dalit texts is another dimension that needs examination. These issues could well provide material for another volume, considering how important they are. We believe that the study of Dalit literature in all its complexities is only just beginning to evolve, and gather momentum. We are happy and proud to be part of the ongoing movement.

References Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. London and New York: Routledge, 2004. Dangle, Arjun (ed.). Poisoned Bread. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2009. Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge. London : Routledge, 2007 (Second Edition). Kumar, Raj. Dalit Personal Narratives: Reading Caste, Nation and Identity. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2010. Limbale, Sharankumar. Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature. Trans. Alok Mukherjee Delhi: Orient Longman, 2004. Mukherjee, Arun Prabha. ‘Introduction’, in Om Prakash Valmiki, Joothan: A Dalit’s Life. Kolkata: Samya, 2007 [1997, 2003]. Rancière, Jacques. The Politics of Literature. New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small of Things. New Delhi: IndiaInk, 1997. Said, Edward, Reflections on Exile and Other Literary and Cultural Essays. London: Granta Books, 2001. Valmiki, Om Prakash, Joothan: A Dalit’s Life. Trans. Arun Prabha Mukherjee. Kolkata: Samya, 2007 [1997, 2003].

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1 CASTE DIFFERENTLY* G. N. Devy

Though better known as a poet, A. K. Ramanujan wrote a curious autobiographical story, ‘Annayya’s Anthropology’ (translated from Kannada by Narayan Hegde), depicting a young man from Mysore going off to Chicago to study anthropology. Like young men and women of several generations over the last couple of centuries, Annayya expects Western education to provide him escape from the tyranny of social traditions. As he drowns himself in books of Western anthropology in a Chicago library, he chances upon a recent book on Indian customs. This book contains a photograph of his tonsured mother as an example of how Hindu widows conduct themselves. It is then that he learns of the recent death of his father. This has been the generic plot of all attempted escapes from tradition by Indians. Another contemporary of Ramanujan, Kannada fiction writer Shantinath Desai, began his literary career with Mukti, a novel of release from tradition. It was hugely successful with the young generation; but his last novel Om Namoh was an empathetic study of Karnataka Jainism. U. R. Ananthamurthy wrote his celebrated Samskara while he was doing research in English literature in Birmingham. Samskara engages with the power and the ironies of traditions going back to the Manusmriti. Sri Aurobindo was sent to England at the age of seven so that he grows up without an iota of influence of Indian customs. He returned to India after acquiring a Cambridge degree without knowing a word of any Indian language. Soon after, he turned to studying Sanskrit and, in an amazingly short time, took to writing profound commentaries on Hindu scriptures and myths. An individual’s uneasy emersion in the caste hierarchy and a precarious existence within dehumanizing traditions have been themes in uncountable novels, stories, plays, films, scholarly works, reform movements and other forms of discursive expression. * The original version of this essay was originally published as ‘The Dawn of Caste’ (December 2013). While a few adjustments have been made for this volume, grateful acknowledgement is made to Fountain Ink Magazine for granting permission to reproduce the essay. http://fountainink.in/?p=4479 Accessed May 20, 2014.

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This has happened not only to upper caste Indians. The ‘generic autobiography’ of escape-and-return has also been the lot of those who have been victims of the oppressive caste system. B. R. Ambedkar, easily the most educated among the pre-Independence Indians, won a scholarship from the Raja of Baroda, went to the Columbia University in the United States, and then to the London School of Economics and Gray’s Inn to acquire the degrees of Ph.D., M.Sc., D.Sc. and Bar-at-Law. Tragically, on his return to Baroda after studying at Columbia, he experienced how he would not be allowed to forget his caste, and had to leave the city in less than two weeks. As a victim and a crusader, he had to engage with tradition and caste issues for the rest of his life. Such instances are numerous; exceptions none. The attempted escape and return to the mire pattern can be temporally scaled up to include not just one or two centuries of the colonial era but a couple of millennia. During the seventeenth century, despite having worked ceaselessly to create an inclusive kingdom, Shivaji had to seek benediction from the Kanouj Brahmins. Jnandeva of the thirteenth century, the holiest among the Marathi poets and saints, had to face ostracization for the deeds of his father who had returned from sanyas to set up a family. Besides Shankara in the ninth century who had to face the wrath of traditionalists of his times, even Gautam Buddha had to counter the upsurge of varna-based social fragmentation a good millennium before Shankara’s times. If oppressive social traditions, the source and spread of which lie in remote antiquity, have come to control and condition our lives without exception for over two millennia, there has to be a logic to their power and authority; there has to be a rationale that can be stated with clarity so that it can be refuted, modified, altered and rectified. The why, the wherefore and the how of varna and jati in Indian civilization need be opened again and again, since they are like festering and mortal wounds that need be cured and healed, or surgically removed. However, despite the unimaginably massive quantity of learned works in all major Indian languages as well as in all major International languages – English, German, French, Chinese, Arabic and others – there is no definitive and widely accepted explanation for the why, the wherefore, and the how of either varna or jati as social and, worse still, as legal conventions. At the opening as well as the closing of these inquiries, it is customary to point one’s fingers at the Manusmriti or Manu Samhita. Indeed, when one peruses the 2,685 verses of the Manu Code, the single comprehensive statement of the statutes for social regulation in ancient India, one likes to think of the smriti as the fountainhead of the varna/jati ideas in India. They also read as the most definitive statement of gender segregation as 26

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well as the human desire to dominate ecology. However, it is far from clear whether the Samhita is a single text composed either by a group of moral legislators – believed to be a tribe called Manava in the north-eastern part of India as it was then – or by a single author believed to be the originator of the Vedic Aryans. It is also not clear if this Manu was the same as the ancestral patriarch of the Aryans belonging to a pre-Vedic era, or whether the one who falls historically between Vedic times and the age of composition of the statutes known as the Brahmanas. The age of Manu is conceptualized differently, ranging from the most orthodox estimate of 1500 BC to the most modest date of 200 AD. Normally, the crossreferences in other texts following the rise of a given text, or the lack of such references in the texts of any previous eras, should make the precise dating of a text possible. Similarly, linguistic evidence based on the evolution of meanings and etymological shifts should help one guess, with fair accuracy, the historical period of a text. This method does not work in the case of the Manusmriti. For one thing, the variety of Sanskrit in which it has come down to us through centuries is sufficiently close to post-Vedic Sanskrit – that is, the kind of language in which the Mahabharata has come down to us through centuries. But, without any shade of doubt, the precepts of the Samhita find unmistakable echoes in the main body of the Vedas. Thus, we have the Purush Sukta in the 10th Mandala of the Rigveda. On the other hand, the 97th verse of the 10th section of the Manusmriti is found reproduced, with very minor modification, in the 3rd Adhyaya of the Bhagavad Gita, verse 35: Shreyan svadharmo vigunah paradharmat svanishtuthat; svadharme nidhanam shreyam paradharmo bhayavaha. The meaning is: ‘One’s own duty, even when less attractive, is better than another’s, even if it is more attractive. Death in one’s own duty is preferable over finding sustenance in another’s duty, for the latter is horrible’ (my translation). Therefore, it is quite difficult to settle the precise period for the emergence of the Manu Samhita. While a mythological Manu is believed to have preceded the Vedic Aryans, and numerous Manus preceded him from the beginning of human time, the version of genesis which the Manu Samhita presents, and on the basis of which it builds its entire social cartography, is several times contradicted by the literature of later Vedic times. The Upanishads, particularly the Taitiriya drawn from the Yajurveda, contains several versions of the genesis describing the process of evolutionary creation – a radical variation on the divinely granted creation – and several aspects of the creation dealing with the spirit, the mind, the consciousness, life and the human body. The Upanishads proceed in their delineation of the process of creation without any trace of influence of the Manu Samhita version of the origin of life and 27

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society. The difficulties in deciding the precise period of Manusmriti need not be taken as a plea for not holding it responsible for what it says. Yet, the uncertainty in dating it raises the important question as to whether the Manusmriti merely precipitated what existed as a social and legal practice before it and in its own time, or whether it originally proposed and propagated these practices. As a text with a relatively more certain historical description, and containing a clear statement of the basis on which ancient Indian social cartography was attempted, the Purusha Sukta of the Rigveda is the most outstanding. It describes the Purusha, the universe (of whom are born the rig and the saman – the Vedas) and later the horses and other animals and goats and sheep. Then, the gods divided Purusha. From the mouth of the divided Purusha came the Brahmin; from the arms came the Rajanya; from the thighs came the Vaishya; and from the feet came the Shudra. Such genesis myths mark early literature, particularly the literature that comes to be seen as scriptural, in every civilization. In the oral literature of tribal communities in India, we come across a variety of such creation myths and stories of the rise of the human species, with a certain moral responsibility to keep the universe going. Every religion is based on its unique genesis story, and every culture or nation finds it nourishing to have its own version of how or where it began in some mythical time. Some claim to have emerged from the Sun; others claim their origin in the Moon; yet others in some distant ocean, or a mythical mountain or forest. What is astounding is that, in ancient India, the story of genesis was used as a basis for law governing intercommunity relations. The hierarchy of the vocationally high and the low implied in the Purusha Sukta of the Rigveda was taken to mean a prescription with legal sanction. Thus, any attempt in thought, move or gesture to change the hierarchy came to be seen as a sin against Purusha. Later, at whatever date the Manusmriti came into circulation, Purusha of the Rigveda was replaced by Brahma, a deity with whom Vedic lore would not have felt at ease. The most critical account of the process through which the formulation articulated in the Purusha Sukta came to acquire an irreversible legal sanction is to be found in Babasaheb Ambedkar’s scholarly history of the Shudras. It is important to note that his work Who Were the Shudras? is probably one of the most open-minded inquiry into the history of the idea of social cartography in India. His thesis is that, initially, ancient India had only three varnas: Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaishya. The Shudras were not a varna but a community of the Solar race. There was a continuous feud between the Shudra kings and the 28

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Brahmins. As a result of the enmity, the Brahmins refused to perform the Upanayana ceremony for the Shudras. Due to the denial of the Upanayana, the Shudras, who were equal to Kshatriyas, became socially degraded. (Ambedkar 1970: 242) This long historical process resulted in creation of the Shudras as a varna. Ambedkar’s book is devoted to establishing the veracity of this historical process. He has done this with a mastery of evidence and argument possible only from the finest of jurists. No Indian who has ever felt oppressed by the continuation of the caste tradition should miss studying Ambedkar’s book. Those who do not feel oppressed by tradition will benefit by it even more, as Ambedkar’s book holds a clear mirror before those of us who are not aware of their own complicity with race, caste and gender discrimination. Thus, Upanayana was made a privileged entitlement of the first three varnas, and denied to the fourth one. The concept of Upanayana rests on the idea of the possibility of a second birth, though a metaphoric one. In the initial form of the Upanayana, the ritual did not involve the wearing of a Yajnopavita, or the sacred thread, around one’s chest. This practice crept in later – in times when post-Vedic society started reading the metaphoric as being literal. Upanayana was, in its initial days, a symbolic birth – that is, the second birth of a person to the life of both the mind and the body. It was, in its original form, a rite of initiation. Such rites exist in various civilizations in a variety of forms. The Brahminic denial of ordaining a young person with the Yajnopavatia or the denial to perform the ritual of Upanayana came to mean that the possibility of a second birth was foreclosed in the case of the Shudras. This meaning subsequently was provided with justifications. The main among these was the fact of the Shudras having committed ‘sins’ – though sin is not a core Hindu concept – or heinous, lowly or impious deeds. These were known as chandala karma, nicha karma or adham karma. Since the idea of a second birth was associated with the Upanayana ritual, the justification for the notion of adham karma was sought in an imagined ‘previous birth’ – a notion that does not find corroboration in the main body of the Vedas. One of the abiding concerns of the Manu Samhita was how to avoid getting into impious deeds, by following the dos and don’ts in relation to the inter-varna relations. All these prescriptions were heavily biased in favour of those who could perform the Upanayana ritual, biased against those who could not, and starkly severe to those who were denied the possibility of Upanayana altogether. If the Shudras were denied the entitlement to the Upanayana ritual, by a slight extension of the same logic, it meant that they were denied the entitlement to all other rituals. They were, thus, ‘ritually exiled’. If they had been denied 29

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the entitlement to rituals because they were supposed to have committed some ‘lowly acts’ in a previous life, then by a more aggressive extension of that logic, they were also destined to engage in all manner of ‘impure’ work in their present life – work such as scavenging, cleaning, skinning and tanning. If there was no theoretical possibility of their rebirth, they had to be despised as being less than human, and therefore seen to be at par with other animals. Therefore, they could be treated as such, without any fear of the perpetrators gaining any spiritual demerits. Given the rise of this kind of metaphysics being translated into social and legal practices, there was no possibility of creating a humane society. The argument for this was closed in India forever. No doubt the degrading and demeaning effect of such beliefs on their fellow humans must have pained many sensitive individuals throughout the history of India over the last two millennia. In every age, there have been instances of such individuals trying to fight metaphysics with metaphysics: that is, the idea of birth and rebirth against other ideas of life beyond death and salvation; the settled concepts of varna and dharma against new ideas of needs and desires. As the higher varnas found the given social arrangement to their advantage, they kept resisting such reformist moves. However, time and again, internal fission became manifest within every varna, and in each such instance, the arguments used on both sides were analogous to the ones used initially when the Shudras were ostracized. Thus, Gautam Buddha made a powerful attempt to free the Indian mind of the metaphysics that had caused such grievous social engineering. Panini was, probably, the last major thinker of the pre-Christian era in India who tried to reverse this logic by bringing in another way of accommodating all varnas in the domain of higher knowledge by validating the importance of their speech. However, his attempt came to be interpreted as being legislating rather than liberating. He commented in his Sutrapatha that ‘Alas, there is nothing like a low speech and high speech; it is all a matter of your social position’. During the first or the second century AD, Bharata Muni, who by virtue of being an actor of a lower social class, tried to propose his Natyashastra as the fifth Veda. His treatise received acceptance, but not his community. The author of the powerful play Mrichhakatika, probably the most political play in the history of Indian theatre of the first millennium, was called Shudraka. We know very little about his life, except that he was a king himself. We do not know whether he belonged to any Shudra community, or whether he had adopted a name to indicate his sympathy for the victim class. After the eighth century, Indian history witnessed the rise of many sects. The early sects arose round the figures of Shiva and Shakti. They originated 30

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in the southern regions first. By the eleventh century, the rise of sects had become a nationwide phenomenon. By the end of the fifteenth century, many founders of such sects had already been accepted in public memory as avatars or divine figures. Since the idea of the avatar came to occupy centre stage in the dynamics of sect emergence, Krishna and Rama – the two heroes of the two pan-Indian epics – became the cult figures for many of the sects. This entire movement highlighted the possibility of ‘release’ for any individual, born high or low, thus negating the logic on which the varna system was based. The eighth to the eighteenth century is the period when the principle of jati became the main principle for social segregation in India. The jatis had no clear metaphysical basis. They were more an expression of difference in terms of language, region, occupation, cultivation practices, food habits and skills. But these differences, once accepted, lead to a particular jati formation, with its identity being invariably expressed in terms of the specific practice of worship. If the metaphysics based on the story of genesis was the basis for varna consolidation, the perception of ‘difference’ leading to a metaphysical view was at the heart of the jati formation process. In one, metaphysics was the cause; in the other, it was the consequence, expressive of the desire of the non-Brahmanical classes to be counted at par. It is not surprising that, when the colonial Europeans arrived in India, they found the social segmentation utterly confusing. During the seventeenth century, the Portuguese in India followed the practice of describing every community as a ‘tribe’. This term became somewhat less favoured when the British, French and Portuguese started noticing the sharp distinctions between the dominating communities and the dominated communities in India. It was at this time that they began using the term ‘caste’ for the higher classes. The difficulty of the Europeans continued throughout their colonial rule in India, for while they could more easily understand the linguistic, racial and organized theological distribution of Indian society and the economic segregation of the different classes, the vast diversity of jatis, informal and non-institutional, eluded their anthropological grasp. They could not fathom how jati consolidation works; how within the overall framework of varnas, the jatis place themselves in a defined social hierarchy; how endogamy and exogamy work in these jatis and what makes a perfectly normal looking human act appear criminal in the eyes of another given community. Besides, colonial scholars had no means of grasping the structural principles of sects which permitted multiple belief affiliations. British colonial officers – well meaning or otherwise – made repeated attempts at understanding the social and linguistic cartography of India. 31

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Most of these attempts were initiated in order to meet the demands of consolidating the government’s authority, though that was not invariably the case. However, the inadequate understanding of the dialectic between religion and sect, varna and jati, language and script, often resulted in these attempts deepen the differences without the appreciation of the diversity. For instance, William Sleeman (appointed to detect the source of highway crime in Central India during the second quarter of the nineteenth century) came up with a list of communities that he thought were habitually criminal. His compilation of records resulted in the creation of the shocking Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 (CTA). This act contained measures for the elimination of crime, and the punitive measures to be adopted to prevent it. However, the CTA also included a list of communities – a list which displayed the ignorance of the colonial rulers in abundance. For instance hizras, or the transgenders from various communities, were listed as a ‘criminal community’. So were the coin-making Meenas. There were others who had traditionally been entertainers, dancers, performers and travelling traders, and even communities working on construction sites. The CTA was further modified on a number of occasions. By 1924, when it was modified for one more time, it had brought nearly 190 communities under its provisions. During those seven decades, some officers had come up with the observation that, in India, every profession is followed as hereditary. Therefore, the officers concluded that a criminal’s sons are bound to be criminals. Thus, the law was expanded to cover entire communities. All those communities covered by the CTA came to be seen as ‘born criminals’ not merely by the rest of the society but even by community members themselves. These communities have been ‘de-notified’ after Independence. At present, their population is nearly 70 million. They are denied access to any land, useful education or proper healthcare. They are often hounded out from every village or city where they try and settle. In many ways, the colonial CTAs have been reminiscent of the Manu Samhita. In the latter, the strange story of genesis did the damage; in the case of the former, it is the idea of citizenship. The logic at work was that if one is a nomad and does not want to lead a sedentary life, he would not pay taxes and, therefore, was a potential suspect as a criminal. The absurdity of the two laws is comparable. Another mind-boggling blunder made by colonial rulers in their social cartography was the identification of those communities that had not, till then, developed the state apparatus for their own governance. Such communities posed a problem for the colonial rulers as it was impossible for them to sign any treaty of accession in the absence of a defined head 32

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or prince to represent the sovereignty of the area under question. These communities were first identified, and then the areas in which they lived were brought under the British Sovereign Domain through an act of the British Parliament. Thus, the territories were unilaterally declared to be the Queen’s lands, and were given over to the Forest Department for curbing any resistance. The communities of inhabitants listed earlier were brought within a single list, which later became the basis for the Schedule of Tribes in India. Over 400 different communities are now placed in the Schedule of Tribes, ironically termed jan-jatis for they had remained outside the pale of the Indian jatis from the Vedic times till the colonial takeover. There is a widespread misconception that the tribes of India are racially different from the castes of India. In recent years, some stem-cell research has been directed towards testing the blood samples of tribals. It is necessary to recognize that all tribes in the subcontinent do not belong to one racial stock nor are they products of a single historical period. Their origins are varied; their histories markedly divergent. The central Indian tribes – such as the Bhils, Gonds, Santals and Mundas – and the north-eastern tribes – such as the Khasis, Garos, Mizoes and Nagas – are not alike, c­ ulturally, historically, linguistically, theologically or even economically. The diversity is amazing, but, unfortunately, not fully recognized as yet. During the 1990s, the Maharashtra government came under criticism from various quarters for not paying enough attention to the outbreak of the phenomenon of the sudden deaths of people in the Korku community in the Melghat area. On careful study, it was noticed that the Korkus have become a victim of a genetic disorder named as sickle-cell disease in medical terminology. This is not quite a disease but rather a genetic condition caused by a gene modification in some distant past due to overzealous protection against malaria. A similar observation was made with respect to the tribals in the Wyanad area in Kerala almost the same time. As a result of these episodes noticed only among tribals in the country, a general assumption that all tribals show prevalence of the sickle-cell anaemia (SCA) gained currency. Since then, blood tests in other tribal areas have shown that while some of them are indeed genetic careers of the SCA, there are other tribal groups that are not. Thus, the obvious conclusion is that not all tribals in the country are genetically from the same racial stock. If such tests were to be carried out for the communities that proclaim affiliation to the classical varnas, it is quite likely a similar conclusion would be drawn. During the first quarter of the nineteenth century, R. E. Enthoven carried out an ethnographic study of the tribes and communities living in the Bombay Presidency. In his study, an impressively comprehensive exercise, 33

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he listed all shades of communities, but without sorting them out in terms of their being nomadic, tribal or varna-based, or of foreign origin. Thus, in a single volume, he clubbed together the Marathas, Tambats, Rajputs, Pardhis, Sansis, Sidis and Parsis. Of these, the last two have been migrant communities – one from Africa and the other from Iran. One of them happens to be nature worshippers; the other, fire worshippers. Neither of them belongs either to the caste fold or to the tribe fold (though the list of particularly vulnerable tribes includes the name Sidi). It is just that they came to Indian shores in certain historical circumstances, and having once landed, they continued to live in India, but on their own terms. There have been other non-caste and non-tribe instances of communities also, particularly in the north-east and in western Himalayan region. However, in the colonial social cartography, any community in India had to be either a caste or a tribe. Where large groups of communities without any claim to a single caste and having varied skills existed, the colonial ethnographers posited caste categories such as Marathas and Rajputs. In the course of time, after realizing that these new caste categories were favoured by the colonial government, many smaller communities, with identities of their own, accepted the acquisition of these new caste identities. The Parsis and the Sidis – or the Sikhs in Punjab for that matter – being neither Hindus nor Muslims, could have offered a study in comparisons to examine how or why caste consolidation works elsewhere. However, colonial ethnographers were not interested in this. Colonial linguistics gave similar treatment to Indian languages. George Grierson’s linguistic survey of India (available as the Linguistic Survey of India) was carried out during the first quarter of the twentieth century. Grierson felt somewhat confused when it came to dealing with languages without scripts. In most instances, they were placed within the category of dialects – in some glaring cases, wrongly so. But, in the process of carrying out the ethnographic or linguistic surveys, the colonial cultural and social cartography failed to see the rising incidence of multiple theological identities (to one’s sect as well as to one’s varna/caste deities) well as multiple linguistic affinities (to one’s community language as well as to the language of the state/area). In the process, the rise of liberating and humanizing sects as well as the rise of Indian languages that were moving away from Sanskrit and Sanskrit scriptures came to be seen as being a little less than legitimate. A new sense of identity in which one had an officially listed theological affiliation and an officially listed linguistic affiliation received sanction. The rest came to be seen as informal, oral or folk, and their potential to loosen the shackles of the varna and the caste regime remained ignored and unutilized. 34

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No doubt the policy of positive discrimination enshrined in the Constitution has been progressive, and has been accepted after extensive consultations and deep thinking by the leaders of the nation. However, perennially fixed lists of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes without realistic modifications cannot be expected to have results other than the earlier Samhita had on the society of its own time. Ultimately, people like to live with, or within, a caste identity only so long as it helps them in terms of their material and cultural status. Fortunately, in our time, there is full legal sanction for transcending caste and religion. One hopes that we may begin to move towards fulfilling the dream of an equal society. For this to happen there is a need to appreciate the power of informal identity affiliations over the entirely formalized affiliations. We must think about caste differently.

References Ambedkar, B. R. Who Were the Shudras: How They Came to Be the Fourth Varna in the Indo-Aryan Society. 1946. Bombay: Thackers, 1970. Anantha Murthy, U. R. ‘Samskara’. Trans. from Kannada by A. K. Ramanujan in Samskara. New Delhi: OUP, 1976. Desai, Shantinath. Mukti. 1961. Trans. from Kannada by Mahesh Joshi. New Delhi: National Book Trust, 1995. Desai, Shantinath. ‘Om Namo’. Trans. From Kannada by G. S. Amur in Om Namo: Passages to India. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2008. Grierson, G. A. Linguistic Survey of India (1904−1928 Calcutta). http://www.joaoroiz.jp/LSI/. Accessed 20 May 2014. Ramanujan, A. K. ‘Annayya’s Anthropology’. Trans. from Kannada by Narayan Hegde, in Sharma, Ramachandra (ed.). From Cauvery to Godavari: Modern Kannada Short Stories. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1992.

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2 CASTE AND DEMOCRACY Three paradoxes M.S.S. Pandian

[T]o suggest that rights sought by politicized identities may cut two (or more) ways – naturalizing identity even as they reduce elements of stigma, depoliticizing even as they protect recently produced political subjects, empowering what they also regulate – is not to condemn them. Rather it is to refuse them any predetermined place in an emancipatory politics and to insist instead upon the importance of incessantly querying that place. – Wendy Brown 1995: 121

In 1933, K. M. Panikkar, an Oxford-educated historian, diplomat and administrator, published a book titled Caste and Democracy. He argued in the book that caste and democracy are irreconcilably opposed to each other. According to him, Democracy and caste are totally opposed . . . the one is based on equality, the other on inequality of birth. The one is actuated by the principle of social inclusion, the other by the principle of social exclusion. Democracy tries to break down the barriers of class; caste seeks to perpetuate them. . . . In all matters that are of importance, caste and democracy are fundamentally opposed, they are at their very bases, incompatible. (Panikkar 1933 [2004]: 24) Yet, Panikkar claimed that, in the inevitable contest between caste and democracy, democracy would eventually vanquish caste. With enthusiasm, he noted: The metal [caste], hardened by centuries of unreasoning obedience, may melt only under extraordinary heat. But it is melting 36

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and when the molten metal solidifies again, the contradiction between caste and democracy will not be there. The principle of social exclusion and inequality based on birth will vanish; something nobler and purer will take its place and in that will lie the future of India. (Ibid.: 26) In important ways, the hope that Panikkar had pinned on democracy has not proved wrong. As a political system and as a set of practices, democracy has indeed provided the space for varied forms of subordinated caste mobilizations in India against caste-based discrimination and violence. This is no doubt evident from the rise of backward caste political parties such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in south India, and the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in the north. Moreover, there is large-scale mobilization of the Dalits across the Subcontinent. The politics of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) in the south and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the north are significant cases in point. However, contrary to the hope expressed by Panikkar, such enunciation of caste-based identities has not resulted in the vanishing of caste but has, instead, given it new and complex forms of life. To continue with Panikkar’s metaphor: the solidified molten metal still shows the distinctions of the ingredients, albeit in new colours. While the processes of rendering caste-based identities as legitimate candidates for democratic politics have never been easy, such identities, in the very process of seeking legitimacy, often produce paradoxical outcomes that depart from their emancipatory claims. Against this backdrop, this chapter attempts to unravel some of the outcomes of the interactions between caste and democracy. In particular, it engages with three paradoxes arising from the following: the modes of censoring caste-talk in democracy, the modes of resisting the same by subordinated castes and the act of writing caste into law as part of democratic politics. These are paradoxes which elicit our caution, both about democracy as a political arrangement of our times and about the role of caste in politics, without discounting the importance of either. Let me begin with two fundamental but contradictory elements that constitute liberal democracy as a political arrangement of our times. Liberal democracy is, at one level, a site for producing and institutionalizing consensus. At the same time, democracy is also a site where such consensus can be questioned and rendered unstable. Referring to these dual aspects of democracy, William Connolly notes, ‘Democratic citizenship . . . is a site of a constitutive ambiguity: it is at once the means through which general 37

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programmes are crystallized . . . and a medium through which previous settlements, sedimented into institutional practice, are interrogated and unsettled’ (Connolly 1995: 101). Of these two dimensions of liberal democracy, the second dimension is, perhaps, the most important one. It offers a political space for stigmatized social groups to enunciate their identities in the public sphere. This is done by unsettling what Connolly calls the ‘inertia of settled vocabularies’ that the democratic consensus constantly strives to produce (Ibid.: 100). Naming the arrival of such new identities in the democratic public sphere as ‘the politics of becoming’, Connolly characterizes the process of assertion of these identities thus: ‘The politics of becoming is that conflictual process by which new identities are propelled into being by moving the pre-existing shape of diversity, justice and legitimacy.’ The keywords here are ‘pre-­existing shapes of diversity, justice and legitimacy’. In other words, ‘the politics of becoming’ is not a matter of adding yet another discrete identity to those which are already part of the public sphere, but the way it challenges and changes the manner in which politics is previously conceptualized and conducted. This is why such politics of becoming is the source of panic for those who benefit from the pre-existing political consensus. Such panic leads to efforts by the political elite to disallow the articulation of such identities. Following Stuart Hall and David Held, one may call such politics of proscription as the ‘politics of closure’ (Hall and Held 1989: 175). Beginning from the early twentieth century to the present day, castebased mobilization in India has faced – and continues to face – such ‘politics of closure’. Before moving on to discuss such efforts at the ‘politics of closure’ in contemporary India, let me offer an early twentieth-century instance. One of the key moments in the history of the Madras Presidency was the year 1916, when a group of non-Brahmin nationalists broke ranks with mainstream Indian nationalism, formed the Justice Party and issued a manifesto which is, famously or infamously, called the ‘Non-Brahmin Manifesto’. The manifesto argued that Indians were not yet ready for self-rule, and if the British granted self-rule to Indians, it would result in the tyranny of the Brahmins over others. The manifesto produced a pervasive mood of panic in the colonial public sphere. The Brahmin-controlled nationalist newspaper The Hindu responded to the manifesto thus: It can serve no good but it is bound to create bad blood between persons belonging to the same great Indian Community. . . . We do not wish to open our correspondence column to a discussion on this subject, as it cannot but lead to acrimonious controversy 38

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and as it would indirectly promote the invidious object of some of those who are engineering the movement.1 Here, the invocation of ‘the same great Indian community’ stands for the pre-existing consensus while the panic about the possibility of ‘acrimonious controversy’ signals the disquiet about the possibility of new forms of politics. The response of The Hindu tells us that the so-called public sphere need not always be open for public debate, but it can, in fact, act as a site for denying such debates. In the case of The Hindu, the proscription could not last long; due to the growing popularity of the Justice Party, it had to open its columns subsequently to discuss the non-Brahmin politics of the Madras Presidency. Contemporary debates in India on caste in politics offer us a window onto different modes of reasoning which legitimizes the ‘politics of closure’. A critical moment when caste became a theme for public discussion in contemporary India was the upper caste violence that followed the implementation of the Mandal Commission Report by the V. P. Singh government in 1990. One needs to bear in mind that the implementation was partial, and most of the far-reaching suggestions of the commission were not implemented. The government offered only a 27 per cent reservation for the other backward classes (OBCs) in government jobs at a time when government jobs were being outsourced under liberalization. In other words, it was not so much what the implementation of the Mandal Commission offered to the backward castes that triggered upper caste opposition. It was the challenge it posed to the pre-existing language of public discourse (which excluded caste) that was at issue. As an illustration, I would like to present the response of Ashok Mitra, a well-known Marxist intellectual, to the implementation of the Mandal Commission Report. He claimed, ‘The government’s decision  .  .  . ­represents the ultimate triumph of the message of Babsaheb Ambedkar over the preachings of secularists’ (Engineer 1991: 190). He went on to enumerate national ills which are, for him, more real. These include the misdistribution of arable land, near-universal illiteracy and general lack of health. Others too expressed similar views. For instance, M. N. Srinivas, whose international scholarly reputation was built on studying caste, took a similar position on the Mandal Commission: Social and educational backwardness are best tackled by anti-­ poverty programmes. Backwardness is due . . . to poverty and the

1

The Hindu, 20 December 1916, quoted in Saraswathi (1974: 42).

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many ills that go with it. Malnutrition affects productivity; illiteracy is inseparable from ignorance and superstition. The lack of access to shelter, clothing, and hygiene makes people backward. There is such a thing as a ‘culture of poverty’. (Engineer 1991: 133) First of all, one needs to unpack the political implications of Ashok Mitra’s valorization of the language of secularism in opposition to that of caste employed by Ambedkar. Paraphrasing Marx’s argument on secular language as developed in his treatise, On the Jewish Question, Wendy Brown writes thus: A formulation of the political state and of citizenship that, as Marx put it in the ‘Jewish Question’, abstracts from the substantive conditions of our lives, works to prevent recognition or articulation of difference as political – as effects of power – in the very construction and organization; they are at the most the stuff of divergent political or economic interests. (1995: 56) Indeed, this is what Ashok Mitra’s secularism attempts to achieve. If caste is one of the ‘substantive conditions’ of one’s life, secularism denies recognition to it, and vetoes out its political articulation. Both the statements of Ashok Mitra and M. N. Srinivas also implicitly invoke the civic republican ideal of common good to recover caste-based politics as signalling sectarian (and not common) interests. In the process, they invalidate the legitimacy of such politics. As the feminist and other minor critiques of the civic republican ideal of ‘common good’ has shown us, the deployment of ‘common good’ as the democratic ideal elbows out the politics of difference based on stigmatized identities, and supports the interest of the powerful as that of society as a whole. As Chantal Mouffe has argued, ‘all forms of consensus are by necessity based on acts of exclusion’ (1992: 379). First, the deracinated language of ‘common good’ and secularism often forces subordinated groups, such as stigmatized castes, into silence and selfhate. D. R. Nagaraj, a fellow traveller and a scholar of the Dalit movement in Karnataka, notes: ‘The birth of the modern individual in the humiliated communities is not only accompanied by a painful severing of ties with the community, but also, a conscious effort to alter one’s past is an integral part of it’ (1993: 7–8). The moving story of Nanasaheb Wankhede, as recounted by Vasant Moon, then a deputy county commissioner in Nagpur, is instructive here. Moon writes, ‘We went to the house of Nanasaheb Wankhede, the retired deputy commissioner . . . ­Nanasaheb was an extremely warm 40

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person, but he lived completely apart from the community. He didn’t care to mix with me even as a deputy commissioner.’ He told Moon, a fellow Mahar, that displaying books on ­Ambedkar and Buddhism would land him in trouble. But when the news of Ambedkar’s death was brought to Wankhede, ‘he broke into tears’ (Moon 2001: 159). It is not words of dialogue in the public, but moments of despair in the private that the consensus-enforcing deracinated language of democratic discourse offers to the stigmatized castes. It demands and enforces that caste, however much part of the lived reality, can live only outside the authorized public sphere. Second, the language of secularism and ‘common good’ forces castebased politics to find its articulation in what Nancy Fraser calls ‘subaltern counter publics’ which are treated in the authorized public discourse as inadequately political. She notes that members of subordinate social groups – women, workers, people of color, and gays and lesbians – have repeatedly found it advantageous to constitute alternative publics . . . they are parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinate social groups invent and circulate counter discourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identity, interests and needs. (Fraser 1996: 123) Even a cursory look at the modes of political articulation employed by stigmatized castes will disclose this. For instance, writing about contemporary forms of Dalit political articulation in Tamil Nadu, Hugo Gorringe notes that there is the symbolic or cultural approach involving the construction of Ambedkar statues, the naming of residential areas as ‘Ambedkar Nagar’, the raising of movement flags, the celebration of Ambedkar’s birthday, the publication of Dalit magazines and the production of Dalit art festivals. More subtle expressions of this determination for public recognition are witnessed in the choice of names such as Ambedkar for Dalit children, a determination to do well in school and the use of Western clothes that have no caste connotation. Each of these ventures is an attempt to realize the metaphorical spaces provided in the public sphere, and an attempt to register their existence and protest in everyday public consciousness. (Gorringe 2005: 197) If the Indian caste elite have, in the name of secularism and common good, tried to proscribe the language of caste from the public sphere, in 41

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post-Mandal phase the language of caste, in being both endorsed and condemned, has become part of this authorized public. What needs to be underscored here is that the consensus-enforcing aspect of democracy can easily slide into a position of disenchantment with democracy itself. Let me once again return to Ashok Mitra. His ruminations about mass politics are indeed telling: ‘Medieval tyrants did not have to worry about votes. Modern leaders have to. They cannot therefore ignore pressure groups who claim to speak on behalf of neglected classes or sections . . . the threat of votes withheld, or being peddled around to other bidders, works’ (Engineer 1991: 190–1). In short, the opposition between the consensus-enforcing and c­ onsensusbreaking aspects of democracy indicates to us that democracy as part of the secular modern does not automatically guarantee the space for stigmatized identities such as caste. Thus, a continuous deconstruction of democracy as a concrete set of practices, instead of valorizing it as an abstract ideal, is what radical politics demands. Let me now turn to the second of the paradoxes which informs the relationship between caste and democracy. This relates to the fact that what is claimed to be universal in democratic citizenship is indeed an empty signifier. As Ernesto Laclau reminds us, ‘If democracy is possible, it is because the universal has no necessary body and no necessary content: different groups, instead, compete between themselves to temporarily give their particularisms a function of universal representation’ (1996: 35). That is, given the field and forces of power at any given point of time, different finite and particular identities could aspire for, and even assume, the universal role. Thus, identities which have hitherto been at the margins can become the ground on which new consensus are produced and enforced.2 This is what renders the interrogative element of democracy possible, and gives democracy its contingent character. This desire of the stigmatized for the universal role leads to the re-­ signification of subordinated caste practices as embodying more developed forms of humanism. The polemical charge of Kancha Ilaiah’s book Why I Am Not a Hindu is a good example. Writing about the caste panchayats of the Dalitbahujans, he notes, ‘Everyone who is present has a right to be involved in evolving a judgement. Dalitbahujan law does not emerge from authority; it arises out of the community. The openness with which it functions itself works as a check against injustice’ (Ilaiah 2005: 40). Similarly, 2 However,

one needs to bear in mind that the conditions of possibilities to make such a universal claim are not evenly distributed across different social groups. It is the constellation of historical circumstances that decides which groups can make such claims.

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the Dalitbahujan goddess Pochamma too, according to him, embodies such inclusive equality: Pochamma is independent. She does not pretend to serve any man. Her relationship to human beings is gender-neutral, caste-neutral and class-neutral. She is supposed to take care of everyone in the village . . . The closeness of the relationship between Pochamma and the people is evident in the belief that she understands all languages and all dialects. The people can speak with her own language; a Brahmin can go and talk to her in Sanskrit; an English person can go and talk to her in English. He continues: ‘Can a Muslim or a Christian approach her? Yes. There are no restrictions of religion in a Pochamma temple’ (Ibid.: 92–3). Ilaiah does acknowledge the presence of contradictions within the Dalitbahujan communities; yet he treats these contradictions as not of much consequence. According to him, ‘Though Dalitbahujan society does have contradictions, these contradictions are not antagonistic. They are friendly and can be resolved. Their social context is productive and redistributive. Equality is its innate strength’ (Ibid.: 116). If Kancha Ilaiah’s work is a contemporary instance of the subordinated castes aspiring to make a universal claim as a citizen-ideal, we too have instances from the past. For example, during the early twentieth century, the Justice Party in the Madras Presidency presented the nonBrahmins as a community of producers of real wealth in opposition to the Brahmins who were represented as living on toil of others, and hence could not be the universal ideal.3 For instance, T. M. Nair, one of the founders of the Justice Party, wrote with disdain: ‘The Brahmins toiled not, neither did they spin. The sweat[ing] slaves supplied them with everything, and they, in their turn, cultivated “spirituality” ’ (1918: 357).4 Such re-signification and idealization of stigmatized identities is a sign of subordinated castes’ lack of hegemony and, at the same time, a desire for the same. While not discounting the importance of these moves for the subordinated castes, it is once again necessary to add a cautionary note on the possible contradictory outcomes which this desire to be the universal can 3 4

For a detailed discussion of this theme, see Pandian (2007: 157–66). Often, the desire to make universal claim by the subordinated castes takes the form of producing ‘histories’ of golden ageism, which annexes civilizational claims of a society as their own. See Pandian (2007: Chapter 4).

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produce. As the relationship between the particular and the universal are being mediated by the desire for hegemony, these political moves by the stigmatized castes could be entrapped in networks of power which produce a new consensus. In other words, caste-based contest against power can congeal into new forms of power and exclusion. Let me expand on this a little more. First of all, the attempt by the stigmatized castes to claim themselves as bearers of universal values – as Ilaiah’s descriptions of the Dalitbahujan life-worlds illustrate – is premised on imagining an ontological wholeness and flawlessness to their identity. In a manner of speaking, this forecloses the possibility of empathy – that is, reading the self in the Other and the Other in the self – with the Other. As Connolly notes, ‘The paradoxical element circulating through the relations of identity/difference . . . is that every identity needs a set of differences through which to define itself, while its imagination of wholeness can also translate that affirmative condition of possibility into a primordial threat’ (Connolly 1999: 144). In other words, the claims of the stigmatized castes to a flawless moral wholeness of the identity cannot but lead to ressentiment towards its Other. Attaching an ontological wholeness to stigmatized identities, which is almost a necessity for such identities to make a universal claim, has its own consequences for those who are invited to partake in such identities. Here I take my cue from what Paul Gilroy, writing about Black communities, calls ‘racial narcissism’ (1993: 1). Attributing a homogenized wholeness to caste identities may be, a la Gilroy, called ‘caste narcissism’. ‘Caste narcissism’ imposes a singular point of view on those whom it considers its members, and resents different ways of being in the world. In other words, it refuses to recognize that ‘Homogeneity can signify unity but unity need not require homogeneity’ (Ibid.: 2). In other words, it partakes in a different politics of closure – that is, it denies the space for self-­ criticism within the community. If we have to be ever alert to democracy as a consensus-enforcing system, we will also have to continually deconstruct aspirations for new consensus and new universals. That is, even while endorsing caste-based politics for its interrogative potential against pre-existing consensus, one will need to be watchful about its desire for power. Remedies to injuries can often be revenge. Finally, let me turn to the third of the paradoxes, which informs the relationship between caste and democracy. This relates to the ability of the disciplinary powers of the liberal state to naturalize and render manageable troublesome identities. It is now well known that often identities come into being because of state practices and state-sponsored 44

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categories. Such intimacy between the state and the making of caste identity in colonial India has been explored in detail by Gerald Barrier (1976), Bernard Cohn (1987), Nick Dirks (2001) and others. However, in my opinion, they overstate the power of the state. Categories produced by the disciplinary powers of the state take their own course, and live their own lives beyond the desires and dictates of the state. This waywardness of categories which elude the encoding of the state and produce a new connotation is a moment of the interrogative element of identities asserting themselves. However, such radical assertion of identities is often liable to be re-­ colonized by the disciplinary powers of the state by naming and encoding them as manageable categories of governance. In particular, this is a danger which is part of writing politicized identities such as caste into the regime of the law. Written in law, the meaning of these identities gets circumscribed, and the nature of politics they could spawn gets hugely restricted. After all, the legal regime works, for the most part, with the principle of either/or, and imposes a fixity to identities. Significantly, it attaches identities to the discourse of rights and depoliticizes them. As Wendy Brown notes, rights are more likely to become sites of the production and regulation of identity as injury than vehicles of emancipation. In entrenching rather than loosening identities’ attachments to the current constitutive injuries, rights with strong and specified content may draw upon our least expansive, least public, and hence least democratic sentiments. (Brown 1995: 134) Further, the state – not the popular realm – becomes the arbiter of politics in such cases. The foregrounding of reservation in backward caste politics is rather instructive here. In its act of becoming, if the non-­Brahmin identity opened up a new way of conducting politics by critiquing Brahmin hegemony, today it is tamed as a discrete identity meant for getting quotas in educational institutions and in government jobs. In pointing to this possibility of politicized identities being re-colonized by the state, it is not my desire to make any definite statement about what should be the preferred sites of such politics. After all, the state reproduces itself everywhere, and the law exists as an important form of public resource. Instead, my objective is, once again, to sound a note of caution. This note of caution is important because one cannot practise emancipatory politics which are predicated on fixed identities regulated by the disciplinary power of the state. At this point, I think, Connolly is once again the most helpful. For him, the recognition that there is an ‘excess of life over identity’ 45

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becomes the condition for an ethics of pluralization and tolerance (Connolly 1995: 190). And the governmental re-colonization of politicized identities exactly denies this abundance of life beyond identities by naming them into rigid categories. Writing about the tension between collective existence and selfhood, Veena Das notes, Collective existence is necessary because one’s capacity to make sense of the world presupposes the existence of collective traditions. However, selfhood depends upon our capacity to break through these collective traditions, or to be able to live at their limits. The complete ownership that every community now seems in the process of establishing over its members will not allow the experimentation that is needed to create genuinely new forms. (Das 1996: 158) In the context of my foregoing discussion on democracy and caste, Das’s comment may be interpreted as an insistence on the need both to partake in identities and to maintain distance from them. That is, identity politics needs to strive for new democratic consensus and yet not be trapped by the fiction of fixed identities – produced both by the community in its desire to make universal claims and by the state to discipline. Let me conclude by exploring this possibility by means of a fragment from the real-life story, The Story of My Sanskrit, by Kumud Pawde, a Mahar woman, who becomes proficient in Sanskrit. It is a story of intense struggle, discouragement and ridicule. However, with determination, Kumud Pawde pursues Sanskrit, gets a postgraduate degree and teaches it in a college. Gokhale Guruji, an orthodox Brahmin, was exemplary as a teacher in the early stages of her acquiring knowledge in Sanskrit. Her caste did not matter to Guruji. But when she began her M.A. course in Sanskrit, her own professor – someone other than Guruji – disliked her learning Sanskrit. As Kumud Pawde narrates the events: The Head of the department was a scholar of all-India repute. He didn’t like my learning Sanskrit, and would make it clear that he didn’t. And he took a malicious delight in doing so. . . . I would unconsciously compare him with Gokhale Guruji. I couldn’t understand why this great man with a doctorate, so renowned all over India, this man in his modern dress, who did not wear the traditional cap, who could so eloquently delineate the philosophy of

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the Universal Being, and with such ease explain difficult concepts in simple terms, could not practice in real life the philosophy in the books he taught. This man had been exposed to modernity; Gokhale Guruji was orthodox. Yet one had been shrivelled by tradition, the other enriched by it. (Dangle 1994: 32) Here is an anguished statement of bewilderment from a Dalit woman of great accomplishment about how to delineate the meaning of identities. What looks like orthodoxy is tolerant, and what looks like modern is intolerant. In other words, this is the bewilderment about the incoherence of the subject and identities. Bewilderment as an effect is a moment of exception or of the unusual; yet it is also pervasive in everyday life. Any politics, which invests in the ‘excess of life over identity’, needs to render such bewilderment about the incoherence of the identities as part of itself. That alone can guarantee us a politics based on identities, which is at once uncomfortable with itself.

References Barrier, N. Gerald (ed.). The Census in India: New Perspectives. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1976. Brown, Wendy. States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995. Cohn, Bernard S. ‘The Census, Social Structure and Objectification in South Asia’, in Cohn, Bernand S., An Anthropologist among Historians and Other Essays. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987. Connolly, William E. The Ethos of Pluralization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995. Connolly, William E. Why I Am Not a Secularist. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. Dangle, Arjun (ed.). A Corpse in the Well: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Autobiographies. Hyderabad: Disha Books, 1994. Das, Veena. ‘Cultural Rights and the Definition of Community’, in The Rights of the Subordinated Peoples, (eds.) Oliver Mendelsohn and Upendra Baxi. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996. Dirks, Nicholas B. Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India. Princeton: Princeton University Press and Permanent Black, 2001. Engineer, Asghar Ali (ed.). Mandal Commission Controversy. Delhi: Ajanta Publications, 1991. Fraser, Nancy. ‘Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy’, in Habermas and the Public Sphere, (ed.) Craig Calhoun, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996.

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Gilroy, Paul. Small Acts: Thoughts on the Politics of Black Cultures. London and New York: Serpent’s Tail, 1993. Gorringe, Hugo. Untouchable Citizens: Dalit Movement and Democratisation in Tamil Nadu. New Delhi: Sage Publications India, 2005. Hall, Stuart and David Held. ‘Citizen and Citizenship’, in New Times: The Changing Face of Politics in the 1990s, (eds.) Stuart Hall and Martin Jacques, London: Lawrence Wishart, 1989. Ilaiah, Kancha. Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy. Calcutta: Samya, 2005. Laclau, Ernesto. Emancipation(s). London: Verso, 1996. Moon, Vasant. Growing Up Untouchable in India: A Dalit Autobiography. Trans. Gail Omvedt. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001. Mouffe, Chantal. ‘Feminism, Citizenship and Radical Democratic Politics’, in Feminists Theorize the Political, (eds.) Judith Butler and Joan W. Scott, London: Routledge, 1992. Nagaraj, D. R. The Flaming Feet: A Study of the Dalit Movement. Bangalore: South Forum Press, 1993. Nair, T. M. ‘Caste and Democracy’, Edinburgh Review, October 1918. Pandian, M.S.S. Brahmin and Non-Brahmin: Genealogies of the Tamil Political Present. New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2007. Panikkar, K. M. Caste and Democracy. 1933. New Delhi: Critical Quest, 2004. Saraswathi, S. Minorities in Madras State: Group Interest in Modern Politics. Delhi: Impex India, 1974.

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3 THE POLITICS OF DALIT LITERATURE Ravi Shankar Kumar

The relationship between literature and politics has been a leitmotif in much of the discourse surrounding Dalit literature.1 Literary critics have looked at the issue from different perspectives.2 Let us begin by mapping out the existing approaches in this regard. The most common understanding is that of complementarity. Thus, for instance, Sharankumar Limbale (2010) argues that Dalit literature is aimed at raising the consciousness of the Dalit masses, and making them aware of their conditions. Combining Marxism and Ambedkarism, he suggests that writers play a significant role in the political and ideological contestations involved in making a humanist society. Limbale links the Dalit literary phenomenon with the struggle of the Dalit masses and other working classes to build a humanist society, and rejecting their degraded existence in Indian society. Om Prakash Valmiki (2001) argues that the emergence of a literary movement creates an ideological background for the political movement. 1 I

am thankful to Dr. Amir Ali and Dr. Rajarshi Dasgupta, my teachers at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, whose ideas and insights have helped develop my own understanding over a period of time. I am especially thankful to Dr. Rajarshi Dasgupta and my friend Prem Ram M. R. at University of Hyderabad for their extensive comments and suggestions for this paper. I would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers of my paper who helped me structure my thoughts. My final thanks go to both editors of this volume, Joshil K. Abraham and Judith Misrahi-Barak. Without the suggestions of Judith Misrahi-Barak particularly, it would not have been possible for me to complete the paper. Any shortcomings are mine. 2 Dalit writers do not see literary critics as a homogeneous category, devoid of caste and other social markers. It is important to ask whether such a division of critics result in different or opposing perspectives. Dalit writers like Limbale and Valmiki have argued that a division of critics along these lines is sustainable and helps understand the hostility of of certain critics towards Dalit literature. A discussion on the reception of Dalit literature according to such a framework is beyond the scope of this article.

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For him, the political significance of Dalit literature lies in the ideological contestation with Brahmanical Hinduism, which treats Dalits and other dispossessed groups inhumanly. Dalit writing is the literary expression of this struggling consciousness. Likewise, Dalit literature, according to Pradeep Kumar Sharma (2006), works as ‘catalyst’ for Dalit politics. Such literature has historical roots in the thoughts of marginalized sections, which took a contemporary and distinctive shape in the writings of B. R. Ambedkar. Thus, Arun Prabha Mukherjee suggests that Ambedkar’s thoughts can be considered as the ‘pre-text’ (1998: 45) to contemporary Dalit literature. Tulsi Ram, the author of a Dalit autobiography, Murdhayia, and a stalwart in Hindi Dalit literature, argues that, The literature of a class or a community in any society grows in direct proportion to their political representation or domination. This is a historical fact and is reflected in much of the world history. In the context of India it is the Varna-vyavastha (four-fold caste division), which reflects or represents the class premise of the Indian society. . . . Thus the history of Indian society and its literature revolves around the Varna system.3 (Quoted in Valmiki 2001: 68) Suraj Bartya (2012) argues that Dalit writing brings into literature an entirely new sensibility and experiences of life through new social ­contexts – that is, it charts a new image of labour as well as the caste dimension of that labour. These aspects were largely untouched by mainstream literature in India. Thus, formerly unexplored aspects of life, family, environment and social relationships are major preoccupations of Dalit literature, thus providing the potential for a new kind of realist aesthetics. Kanval Bharti (2004) maintains that Dalit literature has created a unique perspective insofar as earlier literature suppressed the question of caste and untouchability. Particularly, it seems to him that progressive writers represented caste primarily as a question of class. Consequently, the question of Dalit subjectivity was not recognized. This opens up multiple registers of discrimination. The uniqueness of Dalit literature lies in bringing this new subjectivity into literature. This chapter will critically engage with the relationship between literature and politics in the context of Dalit literature. Typically, most theorizations – despite their radical tenor – flow from a somewhat deterministic perspective in which the ‘politics of literature’ is not appreciated on its own terms. Rather, the question is always displaced to what is outside 3

Translated from Hindi by the author.

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literature. However, this essay attempts to suggest that there is no point asking the question along the binaries of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of literature. It is essential for a literary–political analysis to critically renegotiate the inside and outside of literature, and pay attention to both realms at the same time. Moreover, a broad generalization about the relation of literature and politics also does not take us very far. Surely, Dalit literature must be more than a ‘catalyst’ for Dalit politics. Rather, such literature ‘does’ politics at the level of literature itself. It is a politics of fundamental significance, and not a mere supplement to the Dalit movement. Indeed, it may not converge with larger Dalit politics at all points. It is the task of theory to find out the points of convergence as well as divergence between Dalit literature and Dalit politics. An analysis of such a relationship must recognize the politics of literature at the level of language and literary content. Taking a cue from Jacques Rancière, this essay suggests that literature is political in the primary sense in that it reconstitutes the ‘sensible’ realm – that is, a politics performed at the level of texts and various interpretations. Here we see another register of politics, working at the level of articulation or expression, recognition and representation. As Jacques Rancière proposes, The politics of literature is not the same thing as the politics of writers. It does concern the personal engagements of writers in the social or political struggles of their times. Neither does it concern the way writers represent social structures, political movements or various identities in their books. The expression ‘politics of literature’ implies that literature ‘does’ politics simply by being literature. It assumes that we don’t need to worry about whether writers should go in for politics or stick to the purity of their art instead, but this very purity has something to do with politics. It assumes that there is an essential connection between politics as a specific form of collective practice and literature as a well-defined practice of the art of writing. (Rancière 2011: 3) There is, then, a way in which the politics of authors can be separated from the politics performed by the social life of the text – that is, through successive readings and interpretations. It can rescue the work of literature from a kind of social determinism where the meanings are seen as both flowing from the social context and contributing to it. Dalit literature is the articulation of life at the margins of Indian society. A sense of historical injustice and unfair treatment meted out to these communities is the driving force behind it. Hence it is seen as intensely political in nature (Dangle 2009). Understandably, it has had hostile reception in 51

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certain quarters, being criticized for lacking in literary and aesthetic values, and for being ‘propagandist’, ‘obscene’, ‘repetitive’ or ‘univocal’, ‘resentful’ and spreading ‘hatred’ in society (Limbale 2010). The Dalit response has been that the conventional criteria of literature or aesthetics are not adequate to understand the ‘uniqueness’ of Dalit literature. As Sharmila Rege has argued, The entire debate on whether the hateful past should be written and brought into the present suggests the complex relationship between official forgetting, memory, and identity. Dalit life narratives cannot be accused of bringing an undesired past into the present, for they are one of the most direct and accessible ways in which the silence and misrepresentation of dalits has been countered . . . dalit life narratives are in fact testimonies, which forge a right to speak both for and beyond the individual and contest, explicitly or implicitly, the ‘official forgetting’ of histories of caste oppression, struggles and resistance. (2006: 13) Indeed, it is not merely a distant past that is in question; it is also a flattening or homogenizing of Dalit literature that is at stake (This will be discussed in a later section). Dalit writers have also demanded that the analysis of their craft should be done from a sociological perspective (Limbale 2010; Valmiki 2001). In their opinion, Dalit literature is one front in the cultural struggle aimed at building a humanistic society, and restoring dignity to the Dalit community. While Dalit writers often disregard conventional aesthetic values, few discount the literary value of Dalit literature. There is indeed a double evaluation involved in the writing and analysis of Dalit literature: both the idea of literature and the idea of Dalit have to be borne in mind while analysing it. The specificity of Dalit literature has to be seen at two levels. First, it has to be seen by virtue of it being literature. Literature is a distinct field of articulation in the realm of language, a particular form and mode of social expression with its own distinctive features (Williams 1977: 45–54). However, literature does not have an unchanging essence. The very criterion that distinguishes the ‘literary’ from ‘non-literary’ is often a result of operations of power. Williams warns against such abstract notions of literature that reflects truer and uncorrupted social or individual thought. Such operations make literature ‘actively ideological’, which can be unmasked by combining literature with ‘theory’. This requires us to historicize the concept of literature. The second step is to consider the social conditions that make literature possible at different historical junctures. The third is the identification of social forces that exercise domination over social and literary legibility, and legitimize a particular social articulation in the name 52

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of ‘taste’, ‘sensibility’, ‘imagination’, ‘creativity’, ‘aesthetics’, ‘tradition’ and so on. A comprehensive engagement with literature must take critical note of the conditions of its possibility. Literature as a manifestation of ‘immediate living experience’ beyond any temporal, spatial mediations results in ‘an extraordinary ideological feat’ (Williams 1977: 46). Williams suggests a literary analysis, which is inseparably linked with the idea of the social in its dynamic movement. For him, literature must be located as the ‘social development of language’ in keeping with the social conditions that make it possible. Such an analysis moves away from individualistic interpretation. Rather than reading pieces of literature as finished literary products, the point is to read literature as a process of composition within the conditions that facilitate or hinder the process of its creation. Literature can thus be considered, together with other modes of social communication, as a productive force – an important part of human critical activity. A literary text is a realm of production, reproduction and representation as well as distortion of reality and meaning. From this perspective, a text achieves relative autonomy from the superimposition of assumed social reality. Such a perspective allows us to reflect upon the constitutive and performative role of the text in the production of meanings. A literary text in this sense overcomes the supplementary role of mere reflection and representation of the social world and reality. This does not mean literature gets cut off from the ‘world of life’. Rather, it suggests that the ‘world of letters’ and the ‘world of life’ are both ways of experiencing and articulating life. Second, it is the idea of Dalit or Dalitness that adds to the distinctive character of Dalit literature. The idea of ‘Dalit’ has to do with a long excluded perspective of experience. Sharankumar Limbale argues that ‘Dalit literature is precisely that literature which artistically portrays the sorrows, tribulations, slavery, degradation, ridicule and poverty endured by Dalits. This literature is but a lofty image of grief’ (Limbale 2010: 30). Thus, it is Dalit consciousness that defines this literature, which emerges from the experience of discrimination, untouchability, social ostracism and social stigma. How does the history of literature intersect with this consciousness? There is an interesting conversation in Joothan: A Untouchable’s Life which highlights the complicity of the literary in the narratives of caste domination. Valmiki writes: One day in school Master sahib was teaching the lesson on Dronacharya. He told us, almost with tears in his eyes, that Dronacharya had fed flour dissolved in water to his famished son, Ashwatthama, in lieu of milk. The whole class responded with great emotion to this story of Dronacharya’s dire poverty. This 53

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episode was penned by Vyasa, the author of the Mahabharta, to highlight Drona’s poverty. I had the temerity to stand up and ask Master Sahib a question afterward. So Ashwatthama was given flour mixed in water instead of milk, but what about us who had to drink mar, rice water? How come we were never mentioned in any epic? Why didn’t any epic poet ever write a word about our lives? . . . Master Sahib screamed, darkest Kaliyug has descended upon us, so that an untouchable is daring to talk back. As a punishment, the teacher ordered me to squat in the murga, or rooster position. This meant squatting on my haunches, then drawing my arm through my inner thighs, and pulling down my head to grasp my ears, a painful, constricted position. Instead of carrying on with the lesson, the teacher was going on and on about my being a Chuhra. He ordered a boy to get a long teak stick. ‘Chuhre ke, you dare compare yourself with Dronacharya. Here, take this, I will write an epic on your body.’ He had rapidly created an epic on my back with the swishes of his stick. That epic is still inscribed on my back. Reminding me of those hated days of hunger and hopelessness, this epic, composed out of a feudalistic mentality is inscribed not just on my back but on each nerve of my brain. (Valmiki 2010: 23) The back of Valmiki turns into a text and a material historical site which cannot be overlooked in literary analysis – a site where society reproduces itself. Dalit literature calls attention to this other side of literature and society. It is important to maintain this tension between the idea of literature and the idea of Dalit in Dalit literature. The criterion of literary and non-literary is not merely an aesthetic consideration, but carries a social configuration of power which determines linguistic and literary legibility. Dalit writers demonstrate the complicity of the literary, the cultural and the aesthetic with the dominant power configuration. Valmiki’s autobiography has several such instances: ‘Literature can only imagine hell. For us the rainy season was a living hell. The epic poets of Hindi have not even touched upon the terrible suffering of the ­villages. What a monstrous truth that is’ (Valmiki 2010: 24). Dalit writers and critics have pointed out ample evidence to suggest that ordinary working people were rarely the subjects of aesthetic engagement.4 4

The question of labour and the toiling masses came in the forefront in the works of progressive writers and it will be interesting to look at the overlaps between progressive writers and Dalit writers on the question of labour in the Indian context. Interesting as it is, it is beyond the scope of this paper to engage in such an endeavour.

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Indeed, one might say, the aesthetic was itself contrasted to the coarseness of ordinary life. Such understanding of the aesthetic required authors to maintain a distance from the labouring masses which were understood as being the very antithesis of the aesthetic. Dalit literature systematically challenges this elitist model. It establishes a new aesthetic that is closer to the experience of the masses. Dalit literature considers labour, freedom and equality as being more appropriate subjects of the aesthetic rather than mere taste. This is why the question of labour and self-respect is central to Dalit aesthetics. While Dalit castes performed socially essential labour, the upper castes and Brahmins enjoyed a parasitic life. And yet, it was the labouring masses that were seen as being without self-respect and dignity. V. Geetha calls this the ‘curse of labour’, and argues, It is significant that the untouchable is associated in different ways with waste, trash, refuse. . . . the stigma of pollution which attaches to the untouchable is, most cruelly, one which he bears for the well-being of a commonweal that has no use for him. He takes on, literally and figuratively, the weight of what is ejected after use, and thereby becomes himself an object that can be expanded . . . Ironically, the dirt that becomes an untouchable and renders him unworthy of touch is not his. This simple but often disregarded fact shows up the artifice of untouchability, its elaborate fictions and the sophistry they embody. (2009: 103–4) These labouring bodies were condemned to live outside the Hindu fold as bahiskrit (quarantined). However this bahiskar was never complete, for the labour of these communities was essential for maintaining caste society. Thus, they were both inside and outside the fold. It is not surprising, therefore, that the question of the past, or tradition, is a troubling one – and even a politically charged one in Dalit literature. The remembrance of the past opens up new spaces for critiques of the existing order. Dalit articulation also sows the seeds of an alternative, future imagination. Thus, the role of literature, cultural symbols, oral histories, myths, folk tales and songs of the oppressed groups become important here. As Valmiki writes: In the eyes of Dalit literature, past is a dark age, where hatred and hostility is the ruling paradigm. Past is the very negation of the higher values of human relations. . . . Dalit literature is intensely aware of this hollowness of the past. The ideal of the past in the eyes of Dalit literature is illusory. Dalit literature wants to get rid 55

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of it so that the real and lively image and identity of Indian-ness could emerge. Dalit literature has explicitly expressed these higher ideals.5 (Valmiki 2001: 104) Broadly, we see two tendencies at work with regard to tradition in Dalit literature. A dominant tendency abhors everything traditional for its complicity with Brahmanical Hinduism, and its misrepresentation of Dalits. However, there is also another stream that takes serious note of tradition, and draw upon its resources for a critique of Brahmanical hegemony as well as a source in the search for Dalit identity. In fact, the second perspective fragments the so-called homogeneous Indian tradition. It challenges the claim of Brahmanical Hinduism to speak for the entire nation. Thus, a critical revaluation of literary and cultural traditions opens up a space for a critique of nationalism as elitist. Dalit writers extend this criticism to the field of literature, which aids the process of making caste visible in public discourse. M.S.S. Pandian (2002) argues that there are two possible ways to read/write the language of caste in post-colonial6 India. One set of people write about caste in the language of caste itself. The other set talks of caste in indirect terms, or what Pandian calls ‘caste by other means’. These writers, though aware of the social and political function of caste in the construction of public and private spheres, do not allow it to emerge as a legitimate language of politics. In their writing, caste ‘masquerades as something else’. It has to do with the ‘delegitimization’ of the language of caste from the public sphere. This ‘delegitimization’ of the language of caste in public discourse is – to borrow Rancière’s terminology (2004) – a product of the ‘colonial partition of the sensible’.7 It involves a division of the spiritual/material, public/private and inner/outer domains (Chatterjee 1993), where the former elements were seen as distinctively Indian, to be jealously guarded against external interventions and internal

5

Translated from Hindi by the author. I use the term in a chronological sense, in the sense of what comes after colonialism. But my use of the term is informed by a perspective which highlights the centrality of state (both colonial and post-colonial). This is significant given the centrality of state in the Dalit discourse. 7 The term ‘colonial partition of sensible’ signifies a range of social and political processes that emerged during the colonial period and which continue to shape the way postcolonial Indian society is perceived. I have borrowed the idea of the ‘partition of the sensible’ from Jacques Ranciere and used it to explain the new social and political dynamics in colonailmodern India. 6

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deviations. It is well known that this ‘colonial partition of the sensible’ also distinctively shaped the modernity that emerged in post-colonial India. Dalit literary articulation, therefore, does carve out a separate literary– political space. It helps build a critical Dalit public, and a critical reading public in general. Its distinctiveness has to do with making it possible to talk in the language of caste. Thus, it is here that the politics of Dalit literature has to be located. Kancha Ilaiah (2009) argues that caste language is designed for ‘production based communication’. Thus, it is important to resurrect the language of caste not only to de-stigmatize the Dalit but also to contest in the literary domain with a language emerging out of production relations, and the experience surrounding these relations. Dalit testimonials and autobiographies forcefully bring up the question of a silenced life-world in the public domain. Vivek Dhareshwar (1993) argues that the emergence of the ‘language of caste’ ushers in a new kind of ‘politics of caste’ that brings previously repressed social relationships in the formation and fashioning of the modern self. The secular–modern individual in India represents him/herself as if it has transgressed the markers of class, caste, gender, regional and linguistic divisions. It represents itself as truly modern in a society whose modernist credentials are always under suspicion. The question of politics, according to Dhareshwar, has to be rethought in terms of a practical and passionate relationship, and of how far caste shapes these relationships. Caste and class, as they obtain in Dalit literature, are primarily ‘experiential’ categories. There is a politics involved in the recognition of this. However, the political cannot be limited to this recognition; it must overcome the immersion in experience. There is a journey involved from caste as an experiential category to caste as a political category. The experiences must gain the power to transform the social relationship of which it is a product. Dhareshwar argues that caste or class are not pre-given but reconstituted through various techniques of representation. Dalit literature is one important representational sphere where the language of caste is being reconstituted. One of the ways in which this reconstitution is taking place is the autobiographical mode that privileges the register of experience. Dalit literature often speaks as the voice of the Dalit writers’ self. This can, of course, take a number of literary forms apart from autobiography. Dalit literature is, thus, involved in cultural politics, which reconstitutes the terms of cultural and political discourse in India. The act of ‘representation’ in Dalit literature achieves its ‘politicality’ by showing the systematic prejudices of the social order. It opens up new fields of visibility by bringing them into the public domain. One can argue that this act also leads to the expansion and 57

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redefinition of the public domain, making it more democratic. However, it is important for us to pay attention to the fact that the expansion of the public sphere and the literary sphere is not merely an arithmetic exercise in which a perspective henceforth excluded simply adds to the existing structures, or to the meanings of the established categories of the ‘public’ sphere or ‘literary’ sphere. Such a thesis is built upon an understanding of society, the public and the literary, where the form or imaginary of the social is already given. The problem with such a notion is that these frameworks do not take serious account of the conflict involved in the construction of a category. The arrival or emergence of new sensibilities and new traditions is merely seen as adding to the pre-given ideals of the social, cultural, literary and the political. Such a perspective creates an artificial impression of the social or the literary as a cohesive whole, and blinds the reader or analyst towards the contradictions involved in making the social. It also hinders a critical appraisal of the structures of domination in the functioning of the social. Thus, a critical revaluation of the concepts and categories through which we make sense of the world is an equally important part of a critical pedagogy. A radical revision of democratic logic becomes an important political task for a proper analysis of subaltern resurgence. It is much more important in the context of Dalit resurgence that Dalit writings try to break away from this all cohesive social vision. As Namdeo Dhasal, a radical Dalit poet, writer, and the founder of the Dalit Panther party, writes:   Now This city is no longer mine It was only yesterday that you told us That this country belonged to us Tell us now, is this country really ours? The walls of my own house charge upon me They want to assassinate me Digging up dead bodies from the past the enemies are busy Playing the politics of chastisement How can I tell these people That the past is like a gecko’s tail Shed and wriggling by it? (2007: 109) The literary corpus of Dalit literature is written in various literary genres. However, there is a misplaced tendency to equate all Dalit literature with Dalit autobiographies. While recognizing the diversity within Dalit literature, Sarah Beth argues that, 58

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Within this larger trend of literary assertion, autobiography in particular has been one of the most important genres since many Dalit writers of Hindi have launched their literary careers by first narrating their life-story, making autobiography an institutional space through which Dalit writers can first enter the literary public sphere. (2) A political reading of Dalit literature has to be sensitive to the politics of literary genre. A simple normativization of Dalit literature as autobiography does not capture the diversity of articulations. For example, there is an important segment of writing that devotes itself to the revaluation of Hindi literature and its various traditions. Valmiki argues, The feudal values of Hindi criticism are making literature onedimensional. Literature, society and politics are complementary to each other. One of the central concerns of Dalit consciousness is to oppose and rebel against the hollow ideals entrenched in the prejudices, to rebel against society based on the ideals of inequality and to rebel against anti-human values. It becomes essential to re-evaluate the preceding literature, for the roots of a social system are often hidden under the deep layers of life.8 (2001: 102) The compartmentalization of Dalit articulation to merely the autobiography blocks the possibility of a comprehensive critique of mainstream literature. Dalit literature needs to be recognized in its totality. It should also be recognized that autobiography is a restrictive genre in certain ways: it privileges the individual author as the only source of the narrative and its claim to truth. Unless one wants to conflate history with subjectivity, we must pay more attention to the diversity of Dalit literature, and the politics of privileging one genre over the other. This does not mean we deny the significance of Dalit autobiography that has shaped contemporary Dalit discourse forcefully. Indeed, even the traditional way of looking at autobiography has been problematized by Dalit autobiographies. D. R. Nagaraj’s observation in this regard is symptomatic: I am somewhat uncomfortable with the genre of Dalit autobiographies: within one tale, ten sagas are miniaturized. Dalit autobiographies have become important not because of the vast expanse of experience but by its violent bonsaization . . . Bonsai trees are cute, true, but they can never be a substitute for giant woods. 8

Translated by the author from original Hindi Text.

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The poetics of segregation and self-banishment has created its own politics in terms of self-representation. The self-conscious Dalit imagination is forced to adopt the bonsai mode and re-create the woods in this compressed space. Whereas in non-Dalit literary works, the autobiographical self of the author takes a place effortlessly in the dense network of the community but the Dalit writer weaves a tale of the self and the multifaceted community miniatures itself in the limited persona of a writer. The larger tensions of history have hurt Dalits into autobiographies. (2010: 194) Nagaraj especially highlights the complexity of Dalit autobiography, which does not sit easily with conventional autobiography. At the same time, he does not forget to offer a critique of the cultural reality that compresses Dalits into the autobiographical mode. This is the extent to which dominant narratives have silenced the differences and possibilities of other truths and other positions. Bringing these narratives into the open compels one to make life itself as evidence, the site of a counter-memory to power. Dalit life histories have to be read against this background. It now becomes clear how the significance of such writings lies precisely in deconstructing the individualistic self as the locus of autobiographical writing. The presence of ‘Dalit’ in ‘Dalit autobiography’ gives us a perspective that cannot be reduced to the idea of self, embedded in the general assumptions about autobiography. In this sense, one can club ‘Dalit autobiography’ with certain other marginal traditions of autobiographies: for example, autobiographical writing by women, working class writing and Black or African American autobiography. The prefix ‘Dalit’, ‘women’ or ‘Black’ in these traditions is an important source of intrusion in the calm, contemplative, and reflective mode of autobiographical writings. These prefixes are important sources of signification of both the writing self and the written self. Dalit autobiographies are not simply accounts of one individual’s life history. They are also representative of the life lived in a stigmatized community. It is the shared nature of this life that reflects in these narratives. Though there are problems involved in a simple equation between an individual’s account and a community’s account, it is clear that both accounts have significant elements that resist a reading along the line of traditional autobiographies. Discussing the subject in Dalit autobiographies Sarah Beth argues that, Dalit autobiographies are meant to be understood as a representative life-story, where the ‘ordinary’ or ‘representative’ Dalit individual uses his narrative to raise his voice for those who are silenced 60

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by caste oppression. Yet, although Dalit autobiographies certainly invoke multiple subjectivities where the individual ‘I’ is linked to the communal ‘We’, the relationship between the two is neither direct nor unproblematic. Since all individuals hold multiple identities (class, caste, gender, occupation, location, religion, etc.), no one individual can represent the wide variety of identities held by every member of the community he claims to represent. In fact, while discussing the ‘representative’ nature of the subject in Dalit autobiographies, it becomes important to look closely at instances in which the subject ‘I’ has difficulty representing the ‘We’, either of another Dalit individual or the Dalit community. (5–6) There are several other, and similar, silences in Dalit literature. One such instance of silence or elision is the question of Dalit women in Hindi writing. Several times, the contradiction within and in between various Dalit communities is also glossed over. Sarah Beth argues that this glossing over of the contradiction between Dalit communities could be explained in terms of political compulsions of Dalit politics and the Dalit movement, both of which try to construct a homogeneous Dalit identity.9 It is important at this juncture to return to those aspects of Dalit writing that do not allow an easy reckoning of Dalit autobiographies with conventional autobiographical assumptions of self, society and subjectivity. There are at least two factors which introduce the elements of a communitarian life account. One is the very nature of caste discrimination, always directed towards a person as a member of a certain community. Dalit autobiographers have to face violence, and the deletion of their personhood along with the general discrimination being part of the community they were born into. And thus, an account of oneself in Dalit narratives becomes simultaneously an account of the community to which the account giver belongs, and thus his identity gets interwoven with its communitarian aspects. To many Dalit 9

These elisions are important in the analysis of Dalit autobiographies, as it brings rupture in the representative claims of the Dalit writer. These ruptures result from the social distribution of experiences (along the lines of caste, class, gender, occupation, religion, location etc.). The bounded nature of these experiences silently flows into the text. This need not be seen as a drawback of Dalit autobiography, as all experiences are necessarily bounded or limited. However, the extrapolation of these individual experiences into the very conditions of Dalit experience has invited criticism. Sarah Beth suggests that these representative claims need to be read as conscious textual interventions in the making of a homogeneous Dalit community, which otherwise is fragmented. The fact that several Dalit writers claim to be political actors in their own right and see their writings as part of a political and intellectual movement lends credibility to this observation.

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writers, such a situation is not a making of his/her own choice. Rather, it is the impossibility of having any choice in a society that is deeply caste conscious. By describing these discriminations and processes of misrecognition, Dalit writers develop a critique of the unaccounted as well as a critique of the structures of unaccountability in the functioning of the secular. The unaccounted here implies those elements in the functioning of society and state which are either glossed over, or seen as aberrations in a system which is otherwise understood as devoid of discriminatory practices. The critique of unaccountability in Dalit discourse is, therefore, an ethical discourse, aimed at critiquing social structures and state institutions that appear floundering from their ethical standpoint. The idea of ‘(un)accountability’ is an ethical invocation that works as a reminder of the distance between the practices and the principles in the functioning of the secular. I believe another way of reading this critique of ‘unaccountability’ is to read it as the narration of pain, or a complaint, albeit in a literary form. The theme of complaint in Dalit literature is directed towards society for being wronged and violated. A historical map of Dalit literature and Dalit discourse suggests that the idea of complaint is a recurring theme. In this regard, the poem written by Hira Dom is symptomatic. The poem of Hira Dom, one of the first Dalit poets in modern Hindi literature, was published in September 1914 in Sarashwati, and titled ‘Achut ki Sikaayat’, which can be loosely translated as ‘Complaint of an Untouchable or the Untouched’ (see Bharti 2004: 111). A close reading of this poem shows that the author’s complaint addresses several layers. The structure of sikaayat (complaint) in Hira Dom cannot be reduced to the moderate complaints of reformist Hindu writers writing about Dalits. In this sense, what we see in Hira Dom’s poem is a ‘radical complaint’. However, the structure and content of the complaint have also been radically transformed in contemporary Dalit literature as compared to this early twentieth-century example. Though it is in dialogue with upper caste readers, contemporary Dalit literature has moved away from merely appealing to upper castes. Its focus has shifted to consolidating and building a new Dalit identity as a historical entity from an egalitarian historical perspective, and articulates a different and distinct world. These texts constantly remind readers of caste discrimination. Indeed, one can argue that caste in these narratives structures the everyday interaction, personhood and personal relationships of Dalit life. By virtue of its everyday nature, this is often disguised. By highlighting this dimension, these literary texts attract our attention towards the fact that what is often considered as mere aberrations are, in actuality, more frequent and more systematic. Moreover, in trying to highlight the ‘castes of mind’, these texts suggest that it is the very inenarrable nature and the unaccounted 62

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characteristic of these events, howsoever routine, that ensure the smooth functioning of the secular social order. The idea of the unaccounted is closely linked with the idea of order. In giving an account of oneself, Dalit writers simultaneously give an account of the unaccounted and the unaccountable events, people and persons that are often seen as being not worthy of an account. The political dimension of these narratives has to be read in the context of opening new fields of social visibility: they attempt to make the invisible visible, and give an account of something which is so far been unaccounted for. As flagged earlier, this reminds us of the idea of politics as enunciated by Jacques Rancière. Politics is first of all a way of framing, among sensory data, a specific form of experience. It is a partition of the sensible, of the visible and sayable, which allows (or does not allow) some specific data to appear; which allows or does not allow some specific subject to designate them and speak about them. It is a specific intertwining of ways of being, ways of doing and ways of speaking. The politics of literature thus means that literature as literature is involved in this partition of the visible and the sayable. (2004: 10) Thus, much of Dalit literature revolves around the question of caste discrimination and untouchability. Untouchability becomes the central trope in these writings. However, the idea of the political emerging from these writings suggests that even when untouchability forms the central trope, the practices of untouchability may well remain unintelligible to the victims and, one may add provocatively, even to the perpetrator. The very unintelligibility, irrationality and entrenched presence of this act create an attitude of incomprehension and apprehension. Thus, the violence of untouchability also has to be understood in terms of its unintelligibility. Is it the untouchable’s body that is seen and imagined as defiling, polluting? If so, can the untouchable escape the trauma of the stigmatized body even in death? Does the untouchable own and inhabit his/her body? Or does she/he simply carry the inescapable stigmatized social body which caste society has created for him/her, and on which the sanctity of the caste system and notions of purity and pollution are based? This poses another question: can one talk or write at all about the violence of untouchability? What is the language available to the untouchable to express the pain of caste violence? Is it not that the untouchable is also a category in the same language where the Brahmin, the other of the caste hierarchy, exists? Can the untouchable inhabit a different linguistic space? 63

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Or is she/he condemned to live in a hostile linguistic climate as much as she/he inhabits the hostile social climate? Or, do the discourses of rights and citizenship provide the untouchable with a space she/he can inhabit in terms of language and society on equal terms, and with dignity? The last question is far from resolved, despite the fact that the language of rights has opened new possibilities for the Dalits. As far as Dalit literature is concerned with the phenomenology of the body and its plight in caste society, touchability/untouchability is the central marker of its preoccupation with the body question. This Paper will try to link the body question and its centrality to the question of domination and subordination in the context of the Dalit world. The body is not merely a site of subordination, or a prison of the Dalit person. Rather, the body can become an evasive entity, and develop itself as a site of resistance through gestures aimed at transgression. This will imply that speech – and radical speech even more so – combined with bodily transgression can become an important tool for resistance. Thus, Dalit literature often depicts the bodily transgressions combined with radical speech in interesting ways. The significance of the body in caste society is, therefore, an important theme in Dalit literature. The social hierarchy is manifested in two extreme forms, with the Brahmins at the top and Dalits at the bottom. One is the object of respect while the other is the object of contempt, an abject body. A comparative analysis of the Dalit body in contrast to the Brahmin’s body throws up interesting insights (Sarukkai 2009). Mary Douglas argues that ‘the social body constrains the way the physical body is perceived’ (1970: 93). The social forces that valorize the Brahmin’s body also diminish the Dalit’s body to a life of contempt and disgust. The body, thus, becomes the prison for the individuals belonging to the Dalit community. The fragility of this system demands the constant mechanism of surveillance. The lower ones in the hierarchy must bear the markers of inferiority on their body. And, any violation or transgression of the ‘norms’ invites retribution. The violence is often directed against the whole community. Caste atrocities are used as techniques to reinforce power. One can now see the mechanisms of caste violence emanating from the regulation of speech as well as what (following the work of Mary ­Douglas) can be characterized as the ‘social body’. Douglas argues that bodies are inscribed with meaning, and are socially marked. The concerns to preserve social boundaries are closely connected with the concern to control bodily boundaries. As she argues: ‘bodily control is an expression of social control’ (1970: 99). Such observations help us explain certain features of the practices of untouchability. The caste system is centrally based on the maintenance of social distance across the castes. Untouchables lie at the outskirts of this 64

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division of intimacy and distance. The questions of labour, of bodily control and of stigma are interrelated, and produce the mechanism of social control. Dalit literature throws up a new experiential register of this everydayness for analysis of caste society and caste violence, epitomized in the institution of untouchability. It is an interesting circularity of birth, caste, labour and stigma in which the labouring body, which also happens to be a stigmatized body, is inescapably fixated into social hierarchy. This fixity in turn can only be understood in terms of a peculiar organization of labouring masses. The everydayness of caste and untouchability is essential for the caste system to reproduce itself. Hence, Dalit literature resists those patterns and tendencies which represent caste in the public sphere as if caste was merely a remnant of the past. These tendencies camouflage the political nature of caste,10 and are content with describing caste merely in terms of certain affects, a certain primordial identity. A Dalit writer in turn breaks this silence, and exposes the everydayness of caste by resorting to his/her personal experience and writing his/her life history. Parallel to the control over the labouring Dalit body, the disciplinary regime of caste society also ensures spatial organization and segregation of the various communities. Indian villages, a recurring theme in Dalit literature, show the visible markers of caste divisions in society. These structures of segregation and deprivation do not permit people a shared space. There are, of course, a number of other significant elements that are crucial for the analysis of the political embedded in Dalit literature. These are, among others, the choice of subject matter, the self-consciousness of being part of Dalit liberation, the claim of humiliation and the struggle for dignity. From the standpoint of political theory, it may be said that Dalit literature portrays the violent reduction of Dalit life to a bare minimum – a life of mere survival, a life which grows on the joothan (leftovers) of others. The loss of this life is not mournable.11 It is in 10

The Political nature of caste has to do with, apart from things discussed in this article, the ‘distribution of goods’ along caste lines. Such an understanding of caste does not yield to a simple (moral) condemnation or outrage against caste. Rather it attracts out attention to the structures of social relations which reproduce caste relations in our own times. 11 Premchand in his short story ‘Sadgati’ (The Deliverance) captures the loss of Dalit life, which is unmournable. The story captures the plight of a bonded Dalit laborer who dies while performing work at the house of a Brahmin priest. The body of Dalit bonded laborer, in this case, is also an untouchable body. And when he dies his body becomes a source of nausea and abjection in the Brahmin locality, a body devoid of any kind of affectivity. The other Dalit families of the village refuse to remove the body from Brahmin’s locality as they held priest responsible for his death. The priest having no other means to get rid of the Dalit body ties a rope around the body and drags it to the site where animal carcasses disposed of. The priest cleanses his premises and himself with the holy water at the end of the story. The story is also monumentalized into cinematic form by Satyajit Ray.

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this context that the very act of writing becomes political. Through writing or reading, otherwise denied to Dalit communities, they acquire a life of ‘thought and intellectuality’, and refuse the denial of their freedom. An analysis of the relationship between literature and politics in the context of Dalit literature has now to manoeuvre with a complex set of social relationships in Indian society. It also helps us rethink the established notion of literature itself. There is a new logic of ‘democracy’ involved in Dalit writing, which has to be traced aesthetically as well as politically. These writings simultaneously engage with the question of power, knowledge and representation.

References Bartya, Suraj. Satta Sanskriti aur Dalit Saundarya Shastra. New Delhi: Anamika, 2012. Beth, Sarah. ‘Dalit Autobiographies in Hindi: The Transformation of Pain into Resistance’. http://anniemontaut.free.fr/enseignement/coursLitt/hin406/HIN3B18a/ DalitHin_SarahBeth.pdf. Bharti, Kanval. Dalit Vimarsh Ki Bhumika. New Delhi: Sahitya Upakrama, 2004. Chatterjee, Partha. The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Post colonial Histories. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993. Dangle, Arjun (ed.). Poisoned Bread. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2009. Dhasal, Namdeo. Namdeo Dhasal: Poet of the Underworld Poems 1972–2006. Selected, introduced and translated by Dilip Chitre. Delhi: Navayana, 2007. Dhareshwar, Vivek. ‘Caste and the Secular Self’, in Journal of Arts and Ideas, No. 25–6 (December 1993): 119–26. Douglas, Mary. Natural symbols: Explorations in Cosmology. London: Penguin, 1970. Geetha, V. ‘Bereft of Being: The Humiliations of Untouchability’, in Humiliation: Claims and Context, (ed.) Gopal Guru. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009. Ilaiah, Kancha. Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy. Kolkata: Samya, 2009. Limbale, Sharankumar. Towards an Aesthetics of Dalit Literature: Histories, Controversies and Considerations. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2010. Mukherjee, Arun Prabha. Postcolonialism: My Living. Toronto: TSAR Publications, 1998. Nagaraj, D.R. The Flaming Feet and Other Essays: The Dalit Movement in India. Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2010. Pandian, M.S.S. ‘One Step Outside Modernity: Caste, Identity Politics and Public Sphere’, in Economic and Political Weekly. Vol. 37, No.18 (2002): 1735–41. Premchand. ‘Deliverance’, in The Oxford India Premchand, Introduction by ­Francesca Orsini, translated by David Rubin. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004; 241–9. Ram, Tulsi. Murdahiya. New Delhi: Rajkamal Prakashan, 2010. Rancière, Jacques. The Politics of Literature. Cambridge Press, 2011.

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Rancière, Jacques. ‘The Politics of Literature’, in SubStance. Vol. 33, No.1 (2004): 10–24. Rege, Sharmila. Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Reading Dalit Women’s Testimonios. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2006. Sharma, Pradeep Kumar. Dalit Literature and Politics. Delhi: Shipra Publications, 2006. Sarukkai, Sundar. ‘Phenomenology of Untouchability’, in Economic and Political Weekly. Vol. xliv, No. 37 (2009): 39–48. Valmiki, Om Prakash. Dalit Sahitya ka Saundaryashastra. New Delhi: Radhakrishna Publications, 2001. Valmiki, Om Prakash. Joothan. New Delhi: Radhakrishna Publications, 1997. Valmiki, Om Prakash. Joothan: An Untouchable’s Life. Kolkata: Samya Books, 2010. Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

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4 ‘NO NAME IS YOURS UNTIL YOU SPEAK IT’ Notes towards a contrapuntal reading of Dalit literatures and postcolonial theory Laetitia Zecchini

The songs that are blasted on the world’s stage that you hear now they are not ours. – N. D Rajkumar 2010: 34 It will begin as we give names to our children and give names to our inward anger and aches and name ourselves with words of fury. – Meena Kandasamy 2006: 62

The line ‘no name is yours until you speak it’ is taken from an essay by Homi Bhabha (2004: xxv) in which he defines the vernacular cosmopolitanism of migrants and diasporic minorities circulating between cultural and national traditions as a minority perspective, a ‘difference within’ that questions and fractures a number of mainstream narratives. In India, Dalits could be identified to such a ‘difference within’ – a difference to which outcastes have been condemned by one of the most ideologically articulated systems of socio-cultural exclusion and estrangement (Poitevin 2002a), and a difference reclaimed or championed. Dalits have also constructed themselves as a dissident political and cultural non-Hindu minority in the course of the twentieth century. It is from such a marginal position that

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they have dislodged not only conventional discourses on democracy and modernity, but also challenged official representations of the Indian nation, of its culture, literature and founding myths. This decentering perspective from the ‘rest’ (almost literally, here, in the case of Dalits, the ‘refuse’ of Hindu society) seems to lend itself to a postcolonial reading. One of the relevant premises of postcolonial theory is to rethink the ‘center’ from the peripheries; the West from the perspective of the non-West; nationalism from those that nationalism has rendered homeless or stateless; disciplines, modernity, history and other so-called universal or global categories from non-Western locations and narrations. But Dalit literatures1 also disturb or exceed certain generalizations and abstractions of theoretical discourses, and cut across some of the most common colonial/postcolonial binaries. If Dalits have come to represent a convenient trope to address ‘the gaps and elisions in dominant discourse’ (Ganguly 2005: 110), the intractable violence and physicality of many Dalit texts make their theoretical commodification difficult, and also prevent from fetishizing the figure of cultural difference or subalternity. Hence, this essay aims at reading postcolonial theory and Dalit literatures contrapuntally – that is, postcolonial theory ‘against the grain’ and texture of Dalit literatures. I will concentrate here on the political dimension of a literature that has served as a medium for Dalits to reclaim and invent their subjectivity against processes of subjugation. Dalit literature seems to correspond to Jacques Rancière’s definition of the literary as realm of the ‘dissensus’. To Rancière, literature can disturb and redistribute the system of divisions and hierarchies that define what is visible and audible in the aesthetic-political regime (Rancière 2004). It represents the power that tears bodies away from their ‘natural’ destination, from ascribed places and functions. By giving names, inventing singularities and subjects, making visible and audible what was previously invisible, inaudible or ‘unsayable’, and challenging the exclusive system of repartition between what is ‘same’ and ‘other’, proper and improper, noble and vile, but also what ‘counts’ and what does not, this literature is intimately linked to the political. I will also address the tension between differentialism and universalism that runs through a lot of Dalit and postcolonial discourses. 1 The

body of ‘Dalit literature’ has grown to such a considerable extent from the late 1960s onwards, and now concerns so many genres, languages, regions, communities and poetics, that it may be difficult to speak about such a vast body of literature in the singular. Literature produced by Dalits on Dalit ‘experience’ remains, by and large, the one common denominator of Dalit literature(s).

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The reconstitution of a political subject with a voice, a name and an agency is not only a struggle for civil and political rights. Dalit literatures demonstrate forcefully that they imply a formidable effort of assertion and engenderment of the self through language. The political battle for representation is also a battle of and for language; a right to say ‘I’, a right to name and narrate and a right to articulate a claim to ‘difference in equality’ (Bhabha drawing on Balibar 2004: xvii). The dialectical tension between differentialism and universalism and between the necessary retrieval of an identity that has been systematically smothered by centuries of upper caste oppression on the one hand, and the importance of holding on to a universal perspective on the other, is exacerbated by Dalit discourses and literatures. At their best, they invite us to transcend the reductive alternative formulated by Sheldon Pollock: between on the one hand, a national vernacularity dressed in the frayed period costume of violent revanchism and bent on preserving difference at all costs and, on the other, a clear-cutting multinational cosmopolitanism that is bent, at all costs, on eliminating it. (Pollock 2002: 17) Like all distinctive categories, the term ‘Dalit’ has been contested, and has also fueled various controversies, mostly dealing with the tension between the more Marxist approaches to caste, where ‘Dalit’ serves as a ‘comprehensive revolutionary category’ to include all the downtrodden (Poitevin 2002a) and those who consider Dalits as a specific caste, or rather an anti-caste subjectivity. Today, a certain consensus exists on the importance of not entirely diluting the specific anthropological nature of ‘Dalitness’ in the economic sphere. Let us start by acknowledging that Dalit literatures have long been absent from what Neil Lazarus, drawing on Raymond Williams, has called the ‘selective tradition’ of ‘postcolonial literature’ that is often reduced to the triumphant ‘pan-Indian blockbuster’ of the Rushdie-like Indian novel in English (Chaudhuri 2008; Lazarus 2011). Dalit literatures translated into English have slowly started gaining international visibility and recognition since Mulk Raj Anand and Eleanor ­Zelliott’s groundbreaking anthology (1992). But since they have overwhelmingly written in the so-called vernacular languages and initially privileged the genres of poetry, autobiography and short story, they have largely been left out of the ‘postcolonial literature’ canon. What is more, they obviously do not ‘write back’ to a Western or colonial ‘center’, and have often been considered to raise problems indigenous to India (irrelevant though this statement may be). The predominantly Marxist Subaltern 70

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Studies Collective, founded by Indian historians in the 1980s, has likewise been criticized for ignoring the modes of expression and belonging of the outcastes by privileging class over caste. The group was nonetheless motivated by a quest for non-elitist knowledge. It aimed at restoring subalterns as subjects and agents of their own history, at recovering their specific sphere of experience and at reconstructing lost voices and non-­metropolitan narratives. It therefore seemed to correspond to the Dalit ‘agenda’, and to the avowed aims of many Dalit activists and writers. These writers challenge an ideology based on differentialism, and on the many-sided exclusion this differentialism involved on the spatial, social, cultural and discursive levels. The hierarchical caste system traditionally implied a strict partitioning of space and physical segregation, particularly in force in South India, between outcastes and ‘twice-born’ upper castes. Dalits were often relegated outside the village or at its margins. The Dalit critic Sharankumar Limbale includes in the Dalit community ‘all those living outside the boundary of the village’ (2004: 30). This physical apartheid corresponds to a symbolic expropriation of humanity itself.2 This is explicit in the poetry of Namdeo Dhasal, the pioneering Dalit poet in Marathi. Golpitha, the title of his first collection (1973, see Dhasal 2007) – which also designates the Bombay red light district, where prostitutes (often Dalit or tribal) become metaphors of the economic, social, psychological and sexual exploitation of lower castes – is defined by the poet as a second hand, second class underworld. The Marathi dramatist Vijay Tendulkar famously described Golpitha as ‘a no man’s land’ (see Dilip Chitre in Dhasal 2007). A poem like ‘Man, You Should Explode’, to which I return in more detail later, is a litany of dehumanization. It exposes the dehumanization to which the Brahmanical system has subjected Dalits and condemned them to, and the dehumanization to which upper castes condemn themselves, since their exploitation of the lower castes has also stripped them of their very humanness. ‘This poisonous bread will finally kill the very humanness of man’, writes the Marathi writer Bandhumadhav in his short story ‘Poisoned Bread’ (Dangle 1992: 153). Stale crumbs of bread smeared with dung and urine lying on the floor of an animal pen are the only food the upper caste landlord lets the narrator and his grandfather collect at the end of a long day of labor. The poisoned bread ends up killing the old man. It becomes a symbol of the outcasts’ extermination at the 2

As Ambedkar’s famous speech in 1927 at Mahad makes clear, ‘Members of species considered lower than the human, such as birds and beasts’ can drink water from the well but untouchables are prevented to do so. ‘We are going to the tank to assert that we too are human beings like others’ (Dangle 1992: 223–225).

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hands of upper castes, and a symbol of the annihilation of everything that makes the upper castes human. Dalits are often represented as disposable bodies and expendable lives. While discussing totalitarianism in an altogether very different context, Hannah Arendt has reflected on the desolation and worldlessness of individual human beings transformed into faceless and nameless, undifferentiated, interchangeable and thus exterminable material (Arendt 1951). This feeling of a ‘superfluous humanity’ is expressed most forcefully in the writings of women Dalits who are excluded from humanity on the grounds of both their Dalitness and their womanhood. ‘Womanhood, too, is Dalithood’ writes Jyoti Lanjewar (1995: 193), a Marathi poet. In the poetry of Meena Kandasamy, who has become a very public and controversial figure and is often described as the first woman Dalit poet in English,3 it is impossible to dissociate womanhood and Dalithood: ‘For a man, the woman is the Dalit of the house’ (Kandasamy 2008). Caste and patriarchy go hand in hand. The title of her first collection of poems, Touch (2006), precisely demonstrates to what extent the issues of ‘touchability’ and ‘untouchability’ are both gender and caste related. But in this self-consciously defiant, sexual and seductive poetry, the poet, woman and Dalit chooses how she represents herself – whom or what to touch and when to be touched; which words to use, what story to tell and how it is told. She disposes of her body, her language and her identity. The effusive, imperious, at times strident ‘I’ that pervades her poems precisely refuses relegation at the margins of wor(l)dlessness. On the contrary, it claims inclusion and centrality, affirmation and visibility. Dalits have also been excluded at the discursive level, since they have been barred from what has traditionally been authorized as history and culture. In this sense, Dalits can be considered the most explicit subalterns of India, without a voice with which they could begin to exist and represent themselves in the Indian nation.4 Dalit literature demonstrates to what 3

The poetry of the young Dalit woman writer Meena Kandasamy – who writes bold feminist and militant poetry – seems to represent the ‘ideal’ subject for academics working in the field of postcolonial, subaltern or gender studies. The poet may be a little too conscious of that position, with her poems sometimes turning into literal political statements that flaunt her radicalism and unruliness [see her preface to her second collection of poems, Ms Militancy, 2010). She sometimes uses tasteless puns (see the title of the poem ‘Screwtiny’ for instance or expressions like ‘vaginal teeth’). And yet, Meena Kandasamy’s poetry may precisely aim at being distasteful or inappropriate. She refuses to be ‘put in her place’. In their unbridled urge to speak, shock and burn with anger, lust or desire, many of her poems also demonstrate extraordinary strength. 4 Gramsci’s definition of the ‘subaltern’ referred to peasant classes in Italy, characterized as a disunited and dispersed group, who did not speak the language of the Italian nation, were

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extent speech is, in the words of Michel Foucault, linked to desire and to power, but also subjected to rules of control and distribution, surveillance and prohibition. It is not merely the medium which manifests desire, but the object of desire – not simply the verbalization of conflicts but the very object of man’s conflicts.5 Dalit literature first emerged in Marathi in the late 1960s to early 1970s, at a time when atrocities against Dalits were on the rise, but were met with public indifference and political apathy. Dalit autobiographies and short stories initially focused on caste oppression. They represented testimonies of exploitation, narratives of pain and calls for protest. Dalit voices erupted simultaneously on the political and on the literary scene, demanding representation in both spheres. The foundation of the Dalit Panthers (after the Black Panthers) in 1972 by three writers, Namdeo Dhasal, Arjun Dangle and J. V. Pawar, bears witness to a struggle that is indistinguishably literary and political. ‘I had found my weapons and I sharpened them’, writes Namdeo Dhasal, commenting on his eruption into literature (2007: 166). Literature and speech have become the Dalits means of rebellion, and represent the power that must be reclaimed from the Hindu-Brahmin stranglehold. Dalits were not only symbolically expelled from humanity, but also excluded from knowledge and education, and from the cultural, political and religious spheres. They were also excluded from language itself, since Sanskrit, the ‘language of the gods’ was the privileged language par excellence, reserved for upper caste males and for religious purposes. This discursive exclusion went hand in hand with a discursive subordination. The stigmatization of Dalits was entrenched by a whole system of knowledge, which needed to be overthrown. Hindu scriptures,6 of which Brahmins were the only authorized interpreters, sanctified their exploitation. Caste thus needed to be exposed as a discursive and historical category, and not as a natural, ‘god-given’ essence, or an immutable organization of the world. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891–1956), the most important Dalit political leader and thinker whom most Dalit writers acknowledge as their patron, icon excluded from representation and could not become political subjects. The ‘subalterns’ are also defined by their relation of dependence towards dominant groups. Gayatri Spivak has argued that the subaltern is always constituted and mediated by external discourses, and thus in part irretrievable. 5 ‘Le discours . . . ce n’est pas simplement ce qui manifeste ou cache le désir ; c’est aussi ce qui est l’objet du désir ; [. . .] pas simplement ce qui traduit les luttes ou les systèmes de domination mais ce pour quoi, ce par quoi on lutte, le pouvoir dont on cherche à s’emparer’ (Foucault 1971: 10). 6 These scriptures, like the Shastras (textbooks), to which the Manusmriti or the Laws of Manu belong, codified caste hierarchy.

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and inspiration, laid extraordinary stress on education right from the start of the Dalit movement.7 The right to knowledge and its acquisition are the first steps towards emancipation. Because culture – seen as Brahmin, high caste, and Hindu culture – is considered to be responsible for their erasure, Dalits have aimed at showing that caste was a Brahmanical construct. Their aim has also been to articulate a narrative and a body of knowledge about themselves – that is, at inventing, defining and disseminating a counter-culture. Dalit literatures exceed or complicate certain theoretical premises linked to the question of marginality and subalternity in postcolonial contexts, especially the valorization of the pre-modern or pre-colonial, and of everything that seems to have remained ‘immune to the invasion of colonial modernity’ (Pouchepadass 2000: 178). Dalit writers and activists have located their struggle in the framework and idiom of modernity. They have pitted ideas of rationality and universality against the unequal Hindu system of values which they deem superstitious, magical and ritualistic. Early Dalit leaders, most of whom were educated in Christian missionary schools, also continually call on the Declaration of Human Rights and on the Enlightenment. For instance, Jyotirao Phule (1827–90), a prominent low caste social reformer and pioneer of the Dalit movement in the second half of the nineteenth century, was highly inspired by Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man. He dedicated his 1873 book on slavery to ‘the good people of the United States’ for having abolished slavery. In an article entitled ‘Dalit Literature Is but Human Literature’, the Marathi Dalit writer Baburao Bagul celebrates the advent of science and ‘the new awakening of the Western Enlightenment [that] began illuminating minds’ (Dangle 1992: 278). Dalit literatures also counter the pitfall of trying to speak for, mediate or become the authorized spokesperson of the voiceless. This criticism has often been leveled against the Subaltern Studies collective and against Gayatri Spivak. She herself criticizes Foucault and Deleuze for confiscating a voice that is not theirs, but her work on the Dalits and tribals is largely based on the writings of the upper caste Bengali writer Mahashweta Devi. In contrast, Dalits constantly insist on the fact that they have succeeded on their own to make themselves heard. They also criticize all those who speak in their name; the compassionate nationalist-progressive writers like Premchand or Mulk Raj Anand, for instance, have been accused of romanticizing Dalits, and of containing their revolutionary potential. Dalits refuse to let themselves be translated, misused or recuperated by ‘experts’, however well-meaning. This also 7 Although

the consciousness and assertion of a Dalit identity emerged at the turn of the twentieth century, and Ambedkar seldom used the term ‘Dalit’ himself, it was Ambedkar who gave momentum to the Dalit movement in the first half of the twentieth century.

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explains why autobiographies have long been the privileged medium of Dalit writers. The genre indisputably secures narrative authority, but also signals the birth and advent of a subject as a pole of autonomy, assertion and self-reflexivity (see Poitevin 2002a). Although these autobiographies have an exemplary function, they also give specific names, faces and narratives to ordinary lives and to people who had hitherto been engulfed in ‘indifferentiation’. Some Dalit writers also bring to the fore another non-speculative model of knowledge, based on the authority of experience, and argue for the necessity of breaking down the distinction between the subject and the object of the study.8 Dalit literatures counter the essentialization of the oppressed in the status of the voiceless and powerless. Like the Hindu widow committing sati, which Gayatri Spivak has turned into a symbol of the speechless subaltern, Dalits have long been trapped between two irreconcilable discourses: the modern Orientalist discourse, which posits Enlightened Europe against the obscurantist East, petrified in pre-modern essences like caste and religiosity (caste is bad and must be eradicated; Dalits are powerless victims waiting to be rescued), and the Indian nationalist discourse, which argues that Dalits must be assimilated, that they belong to Hinduism which must only be reformed (a position taken by Gandhi). Both discourses are characterized by their faith in modernity and in progress, and by the conviction that untouchability, as a syndrome of backwardness, will eventually disappear. In the meantime, this might also mean putting off equality and making Dalits linger in what Dipesh Chakrabarty has aptly called the ‘waiting room’ of history (Chakrabarty 2007: 8). In contrast, Dalits are trying to articulate their own position (which is related to Bhabha’s ‘difference in equality’) and make their voice heard outside of these dominant discourses. They consider that the caste system is oppressive and must be eradicated, but they refuse to disappear as Dalits and be diluted into the Hindu mainstream. What is more, according to Ambedkar, untouchability is constitutive of Hinduism, which is impossible to reform, and must be abandoned completely. Dalits claim their position as subjects, not passive victims, subjected to external mobilizations and discourses, whether elitist (from upper caste reformers or nationalists) or Western (from the former colonial and British rulers, or from international non-governmental organizations). They also prove that modernity and independence have not always been synonymous with progress, that Dalits continue to be discriminated against and that 8 See

S. Anand’s article ‘On Claiming Dalit Subjectivity’ (2006), wherein he argues that Dalits should be producers of knowledge and not just subjects of research (by non-Dalits). He also quotes an article by Gopal Guru who writes that ‘Indian social science represents a pernicious divide between theoretical Brahmins and empirical shudras’.

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violence may well have been exacerbated in a secular nation-state. Although countless studies have shown how low caste or Dalit communities have in part internalized the caste system and opted for ‘sanskritization’9 to improve their situation (a point also made by Ambedkar), Dalit literatures and everyday practices manifest various ways of assertion, resistance and inventiveness that counter processes of internalization and subordination. The subject is alive even in the most oppressive circumstances.10 Restoring the ‘I’ is the first condition for political inclusion and political action. Through literature, Dalits also reclaim their agency and their subjectivity. But these subjects are in the making. Since they have long been relegated to the margins of history (written by upper castes), and may seem to emerge from a mythological, historical and cultural ‘vacuum’, many Dalit writers have aimed at reconstructing a specific Dalit place and voice in history. They also expose that what had been hitherto constructed as history or ‘bathed in sacrality’ (Ahmad 1992: 261) is either a very partial narrative or plain mythology. They foreground alternative narratives, landmarks and heroes, such as Ambedkar, who is still largely neglected in the official history of independent India in favor of more mainstream anti-colonial figures like Gandhi or Nehru.11 Caste stories about the origin of a particular jati are often staged as symbolic narrations of the lower caste’s struggle against upper castes or as explicit counter-narratives of the great epics. They subvert dominant myths and characters – for instance transforming marginal figures or villains of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana (like Karna, Eklavya, Shambouk, Sita or Draupadi) into central and iconoclastic heroes. The narrative of helplessness and humiliation is converted into a narrative of resistance. In her poem ‘We Will Rebuild Worlds’, which opens on the following lines, ‘We will rebuild/worlds from shattered glass/and remnants of holocausts’, Meena Kandasamy stages the coming of a revolution achieved through the power of naming: It will begin as we give names to our children and   9

Sanskritization designates the process by which lower castes adopt the taboos and practices of high castes (like vegetarianism) to escape the stigma of untouchability, and rise on the hierarchical ladder of ‘graded inequality’. 10 This conviction is at the heart of Guy Poitevin’s outstanding critical and social work. His numerous translations of Dalit texts, songs and folklore also demonstrate their extraordinary resilience and creativity. 11 Almost all Dalit poetry collections have poems on Ambedkar, odes or tributes to him. Ambedkar is also a recurring motif in women grindmill songs, and omnipresent in Dalit autobiographies. His portrait hangs on the walls of most Dalit households and Ambedkar statues have been erected all over India.

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give names to our inward anger and aches and name ourselves with words of fury like forest fires with the words of wrath. (Kandasamy 2006: 60–3) Words of wrath replace words of pain, and poisonous words of Dalit assertion replace the ‘poisoned bread’ of Brahmin oppression. Likewise, in the poetry of the Tamil writer N. D. Rajkumar, the milk-heavy breasts of the angry jungle goddesses who haunt his poems, are filled with poison, and his words carry curses: ‘I have placed curses/on my own words’ (2010: 11). This narrative of resistance and ‘engenderment’ must obviously be correlated to the political and symbolic act of self-definition. The right to name one’s self, to take control of one’s representation, is an act of power. Dalits have named themselves ‘Dalits’. This has implied discarding other official, paternalist or complacent terms like untouchables, parias, Harijans (the Gandhian and Hindu appellation, literally ‘children of Hari/God’), depressed classes or scheduled castes. These terms are often reinterpreted as strategies to confine, domesticate or neutralize outcastes, but also, in the case of ‘harijans’ for instance, to conceal Brahmin violence and present a charitable image of upper castes. In a poem on (Mahatma) Gandhi, characteristically entitled ‘Mohandas Karamchand’ (Gandhi’s actual name), Meena Kandasamy gives voice to her parricidal urge and to her rage: Gone half-cuckoo, you called us names, You dubbed us pariahs – “Harijans” goody-goody guys of a bigot god Ram Ram Hey Ram – boo. (Kandasamy 2006: 54) By recoining the caste name to mean protest, by transforming disgrace, pity or disgust12 into insurrectionary pride and by refusing to be essentialized as victims, Dalits become subjects of themselves. It is as though they 12 Many

Dalits were traditionally forced to take on degrading or obscene names. See, for instance, the initial chapter of Daya Pawar’s autobiography (1990) where the writer explains that, in his community, there are always names like Kacrya (waste) or Satva (crazy), and that he is disgusted by his own name: Dagdu (stone). Hence his adoption of the Buddhist name Daya (meaning compassion).

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were saying: we are the ones that you, Brahmins, have ‘ground down’, ‘crushed’ or ‘broken to pieces’ (a literal definition of the term ‘Dalit’ in Hindi and Marathi) but by reclaiming this name, we also redeem it, and both confront you Brahmins to your violence and to our engenderment. Language as the site of oppression and stigma becomes the site of resistance. In the work of many Dalit writers, it is often uncouth, provocative and impossible to neutralize. These writers reveal the insane violence concealed behind a hygienist ideal of purification, which is social, cultural and linguistic all at once. The obscenity and crudity of a vocabulary that refuses to ‘decorate’, neutralize or camouflage its subject, along with the situations of extreme physical and psychological violence that are often depicted, result in the subversion of the values of respectability and morality that have come to be associated with classical Hindu culture and language. Dalits strip language of its hygienist rules of propriety and correctness, which have often been ways of concealing violence. ‘The Dalit should write as a Dalit’, writes the Tamil writer Bama, and must therefore disturb what she calls ‘the superficial orderliness of the status quo’; the rules of grammar, syntax and prosody, the so-called decency of standard languages, ‘pure, divine, and cultured’ (Bama 1999: 98). This deliberate transgression is at the heart of Namdeo Dhasal’s poetry, which pours forth revolt and anger in the offensive and sexualized language of the Bombay underworld. ‘I am a venereal sore in the private part of language’, writes the poet in the poem ‘Cruelty’ (2007: 100). This sore festers and contaminates. The language of literature is soiled by the refuse of the world, and by the filthiest registers of language. In the poem ‘Man, You Should Explode’, everything which is considered as the privileged medium of corruption (menstruation, defecation, etc.) in the Brahmanical system is the material of poetry itself: ‘Remove sticks from anybody’s fence and go in there to shit and piss, and muck it up/Menstruate there, cough out phlegm, sneeze out goo’ (2007: 35). Dalits have traditionally taken on themselves the pollution of society. They guarantee the purity of high castes by performing the most degrading or impure functions. Even today, for instance, it is they who immerse themselves in clogged sewers and drains. A lot of urban planning and rehabilitation projects in major Indian cities also imply confining or expelling the visibly poor, ousting improper elements, cleansing space. This is especially the case in Delhi and Mumbai, ‘global’ cities which are also showcases of India. Yet, in this literature, pollution is not only made visible, but it is hurled back. It invades the space of culture. According to Dilip Chitre, Namdeo Dhasal’s poetry was launching ‘a guerrilla war against the effete middle-class and sanitised world of his literary readers’ (see Dilip Chitre in Dhasal 2007: 11–12). His writing is literally untouchable. But this untouchability is transformed 78

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into a weapon. The world he portrays, along with the feelings of repulsion it provokes, is uncivilizable, undomesticable and unfit for accommodation by the Hindu mainstream. But it is also unavoidable and impossible to cover up – like the deeply disturbing graphic image of the naked vivisected woman’s body submitted to sexual torture which opens and ends Namdeo Dhasal’s poem ‘Mandakini Patil: A Young Prostitute, My Intended Collage’: On a barren blue canvas Her clothes ripped off, her thigh blasted open, A sixteen-year-old girl surrendering herself to pain. And a pig: it’s snout full of blood. (2007: 56) ‘All culture after Auschwitz including its urgent critique is garbage’, wrote Adorno in Negative Dialectics (1995: 367) at a time when the shock of discovering the extent of the atrocities committed during the Second World War was so overwhelming that it was repressed. Protesting against the post-war climate of celebration, Adorno also argues that we are not done with what happened, and that its implications bear on the possibility of writing literature. In India, after Independence and until the late 1960s, the new Indian nation, freed from colonial domination, was in a celebratory mode, and arguably suppressed uncomfortable realities, especially the violence exerted against minorities (Dalits, women, tribals or Muslims) and the pogroms of partition. Against this form of de-realization, Dalit literature confronts the abyss and exposes the foundations or ‘reverse’ of Hindu culture: the garbage, stench and terror on which this elaborate system of purity and hierarchy rests. Thus, Dalit writers and activists are much more concerned with deconstructing Hindu and Brahmanical knowledge than with deconstructing colonial knowledge. Dalit literatures prevent the consideration of a subaltern voice as a question arising exclusively in the colonizer–colonized framework; they fracture this binary setting. It should by now be a truism to assert that a subjugated society (India under British rule) was also subjugating. The whole system of Homo Hierarchicus (which A. K. Ramanujan translates as ‘everything in its place’) that is associated with the Brahmin vision of the world – by which ‘each ja¯ti or class defines a context, a structure of relevance, a rule of permissible combinations’ (Ramanujan 1999: 47–8) – must be challenged. This contextualized system, exemplified by the division into varn¸as and castes, is also linked to the notion of dharma that rests both on the ethical imperative of righteousness and on the idea of distinctive difference by which each ‘part’ of the world is hierarchically subordinated to a harmonious whole. Dharma indicates the natural order or harmony regulating the universe and the duty that defines the behaviour of each caste. In 79

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Vedic traditions, what challenges dharma and generates disorder is adharma, which is not only ‘the failure in conforming to obligations, but also that one human or cosmic domain encroaches on the neighbouring domain, that elements, men or kings exceed their limits’ (Malamoud 1989: 73). However, in Dhasal’s poetry and in the literature of other Dalit writers, nothing is in its place. In the paroxystic litany of the poem ‘Man, You Should Explode’, all the rules of morality and decency, all prescriptions, taboos and prohibitions are turned upside down, and everything that is considered sacred is trampled and profaned. Dhasal’s poetry aims at disturbing the unchanging ‘orderliness’ of the world and at orchestrating chaos instead of disciplining it, as the Shastras were meant to.13 In Hindu cosmology, the fourth and last stage of the world, the kali yuga or ‘Dark Age’, which is the stage of destruction, is characterized by the inversion of social structures and by the mixing of the castes, from which corruption follows. This ‘dark age’ also seems to be staged in the poetry of N. D. Rajkumar.14 His world is not a subjugated second class world, but an occult and potent counter-world that wreaks havoc and terror. Like the women in Meena Kandasamy’s poetry, his goddesses have nothing of the restraint and modesty traditionally expected of women in India. They are unbridled, sexual and bloodthirsty jungle goddesses, full of ‘dangerous desires’, whose rage refuses to die and who revel in the transgression of Hindu pieties: Our gods do not hide Within the Brahman Or tell stories only In the language known to the few. They enter the loose, Betel-chewing mouth of the Nappy-haired Thangasamy Possess him Jive in him Tell signs in our language Eat pig flesh Drink arrack Smoke a cigar 13

The Shastras ‘set out to hierarchize, to put everything in its proper place, to form, to mold, to repress, to systematize – in a word, to discipline the chaos’ (Doniger 2009: 309). 14 We are told at the beginning of N. D. Rajkumar’s collection, Give Us This Day a Feast of Flesh (2010), that the poet has a day job as a temporary labourer in Tamil Nadu and defines himself as a ‘coolie’.

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And settle down amongst us In the ghettoes Next to sewer ditches In the no-man’s lands. (Rajkumar 2010: 35) Yet, if Dalit literatures (and, beyond them, the whole body of Indian literature) must obviously not only be situated within one of the obsolete postcolonial (and ironically acutely Eurocentric) clichés of ‘writing back’ to the West, they are also inextricably entangled with the historical encounter of colonization and with Western discourses. As briefly suggested earlier, Dalit writers and militants have constantly called on the declaration of the Rights of Man, the French Revolution or the Enlightenment. This intricate weaving of ‘Dalitness’ both with Indian and Western discourses is more complex still. If the invisibility of Dalits has partly been curbed by the colonial encounter, castes have at the same time been fixed as an essence, a label of enforced identification. These ideas are too well known to need rehearsing here; but suffice it to say that the extremely fluid category of caste was constituted by the colonial impulse of classification, especially by the census, which became the basis on which the modern Indian policy of positive discrimination was established. What is more, both colonial and indigenous elites colluded to uphold the established order and consolidate traditional hierarchies (Guha 1998). The Brahmins were the interlocutors of the British who constructed their knowledge of India and of the caste system through their mediation.15 A colonialist, orientalist and nationalist equation was made between Indianness and high culture (ancient, textual, Sanskritic), in accordance with the colonial assumptions of what constitutes a culture, a tradition and also a nation (unified by one – Brahmanical – tradition). Aijaz Ahmad has shown how literary canonicity and religious canonicity have been constructed together, how ‘Indian literature’, ‘Indian tradition’, ‘Hindu/ Brahmanical religion’ and the Indian nation itself16 have been considered synonymous with each other. The lens of religion and metaphysics, the privileging of high textuality and antiquity (see Ahmad 1992; Breckenridge 1993; Pollock 2002) have entirely ruled out the oral, syncretic and folkloric traditions. Oralperformative traditions in the vernacular languages were seen as ‘corrupted’ 15

Louis Dumont, for instance, systematized the caste system according to the Brahmin interpretation, privileging binary antagonisms and intangible a-historical essences. Religious, hierarchical India was constructed as the West’s ideologically irreconcilable Other. 16 ‘The whole of the Mahabharata gets bathed in sacrality and becomes, simultaneously, over a period of time, the constituting epic of the nation and its literature’ (Ahmad 1992: 261).

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versions of ‘original’ literary languages (like Sanskrit) and ‘high’ traditions. In such a context, it is possible to understand the eruption of Dalit voices on the literary, cultural and national scene as a revolution, and to realize why it became urgent for Dalits to clear and claim a space of cultural difference. By foregrounding such a space of difference, Dalit literatures also crystallize the tension between universalism and differentialism, which runs through postcolonial theory. Dalits, as I have suggested earlier, needed to assert their specific identity outside Hinduism, and create an alternative new identity outside of caste. The mass conversions to Buddhism, initiated by Ambedkar, must be understood in this light. Buddhism, which seemed to correspond to an ‘indigenous’ Enlightenment, was re-interpreted as a powerful movement of contestation of Brahmanical authority and as the exact inversion of Hindu culture. The tension between the imperatives of emancipation and integration, between difference and equality, is explicit with regard to the relation of Dalits to the Indian nation. Dalits have often considered themselves to be strangers or outsiders in their own country. The architect of the Indian Constitution, Ambedkar, famously told Gandhi: ‘Gandhiji I have no homeland’ (quoted in Ganguly 2005: 131). In the eyes of many Dalit writers and activists, the Indian nation has always been the political expression of the Hindu majority; nationalism is a euphemism for Hinduism; and as Meena Kandasamy’s poem ‘Mohandas Karamchand’ demonstrates, the so-called fathers of the nation (like Nehru and Gandhi) have never been ‘father figures’ to the lower castes. How could Dalits feel at home in a country that has systematically driven them out of its symbolical frontiers and reinforced their erasure, since narrow ‘segmentary’ identities had to be transcended or made to ‘fit’ in the secular nation-state? How could they belong to a country that continues to ignore their plight, or take real action to prevent Dalit atrocities?17 This ambivalent relationship to the Indian nation was most explicit during the independence movement, when Dalit militants strategically allied themselves with the British to counter centuries of Brahmin oppression and were seen as ‘anti-national’. ‘Equality for all/Or/Death to India’ are the words, in capital letters, that open and close Dhasal’s 1978 ‘Ode to Ambedkar’ (Dhasal 2007: 81). In the poem ‘This Country Is Broken’, the Marathi writer Bapurao Jagtop advocates exile (Dangle 1992: 37); and in the same collection, Baburao Bagul ends his poem ‘You Who Have Made the Mistake’ by the following intimation: ‘Either leave the country, or make war!’ (70).

17 See

Nicolas Jaoul’s thought-provoking article (2008) on the Khairlanji massacre in the state of Maharashtra.

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If this claimed differentialism corresponds to the strategic essentialism defined by Gayatri Spivak as a first and necessary stage towards emancipation, and not as an aim in itself, the risk of defining culture or identity negatively – that is, as resistance or difference, and as radically other – ­cannot be dismissed altogether. Several Dalit writers and intellectuals claim that Dalit literature is not only literature; that it must not be read or taught according to the same values and standards as, say, a Shakespeare play (Limbale 2004: 146). If restoring a Dalit essence often means that this ‘essence’ cannot be represented or written by non-Dalits, it becomes highly hazardous to argue that these literatures cannot be read or interpreted properly by non-Dalits. Essentializing difference culminates in aporia, since it also means legitimizing the object of the struggle itself: the hierarchical system of inequality, at the heart of which lies the obsession of a distinctive difference. Some Dalit intellectuals and activists may therefore run the risk of restoring the radical dichotomy that they contest. Against a form of ‘possessive exclusivism’ (Said 2001: 215), which Edward Said understands as the idea that only women can write about women or Blacks about Blacks, it is important not to police the territory of representation. Works of literature must be restored to the world, and this worldliness is the opposite of separatism or exclusivism. Worldliness is also the acute awareness of the existence and interdependence of other names, places, narratives, histories and literatures. This restoration ‘can only be accomplished by an appreciation not of some tiny, defensively constituted corner of the world, but of the large, many windowed-house of human culture as a whole’ (Said 2001: 384). The Dalit right to ‘difference in equality’ is also, at its best, a difference that opens to a form of universal. But this universal is not only related, in the sense that it is narrated by a multitude of writers and storytellers, but also correlated to other stories and voices. This is also at the heart of vernacular cosmopolitanism, as Bhabha defines it. Quoting Du Bois and a poem by the Dalit poet Prakash Yadav, Bhabha argues that ‘minority only discovers its political force and its aesthetic form when it is articulated across and alongside communities of difference, in acts of affiliation’ (2004: xxii). If ‘no name is yours until you speak it’, and no song is yours until you start singing it yourself, no names and no songs are really ‘yours’ until they become names and songs for/of others.

References Adorno, Theodor. Negative Dialectics. Trans. E. B. Ashton. New York: Continuum, 1995. Ahmad, Aijaz. In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures. London: Verso, 1992.

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Anand, S. ‘On Claiming Dalit Subjectivity’. Seminar 558 (February 2006) www. india-seminar.com/2006/558/558anand.htm. Accessed 1 June 2012. Anand, Mulk Raj and Zelliot Eleanor, eds. An Anthology of Dalit Literature. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing, 1992. Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. 1951. New York: Schocken Books, 2004. Bama. ‘Dalit Literature’. Indian Literature 197 (Sept–Oct 1999): 97–8. Bhabha, Homi. ‘Looking Back, Moving Forward: Notes on Vernacular Cosmopolitanism’, preface to the Routledge Classics Edition. The Location of Culture. London and New York: Routledge, 2004. Breckenridge, Carol A. and Peter Van der veer, eds. Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993. Chakrabarty, Dipesh. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, with a new preface by the author, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007. Chaudhuri, Amit. Clearing a Space: Reflections on India, Literature and Culture. New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2008. Dangle, Arjun. Poisoned Bread: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Literature, Arjun Dangle, ed. Bombay: Orient Longman, 1992. Dhasal, Namdeo. Namdeo Dhasal: Poet of the Underworld Poems 1972–2006. Selection, introduction and translation by Dilip Chitre. Delhi: Navayana, 2007. Doniger, Wendy. The Hindus: An Alternative History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Foucault, Michel. L’Ordre du discours : Leçon inaugurale au Collège de France prononcée le 2 décembre 1970. Paris: Gallimard, 1971. Ganguly, Debjani. Caste, Colonialism and Counter-modernity: Notes on a Postcolonial Hermeneutics of Caste. New York and London: Routledge, 2005. Guha, Ranajit. Dominance without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998. Jaoul, Nicolas. ‘The Righteous Anger of the Powerless, Investigating Dalit Outrage over Caste Violence’, South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal, Vol. 2 (2008). http://samaj.revues.org/index1892.html. Accessed 1 June 2002. Kandasamy, Meena. Touch. Mumbai: Peacock Books, 2006. Kandasamy, Meena. ‘Articulations of Anger’, The Hindu, 6 January 2008. http://www.hindu.com/lr/2008/01/06/stories/2008010650010100.htm Accessed 1 June 2012. Kandasamy, Meena. Ms Militancy. New Delhi: Navayana, 2010. Lanjewar, Jyoti. ‘Dalit Literature and Dalit Woman’, in Dalit Women in India: Issues and Perspectives. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House, 1995; 188–200. Lazarus, Neil. ‘The Politics of Postcolonial Modernism’, in The Postcolonial Unconscious. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011; 21–88. Limbale, Sharankumar. Towards an Alternative Aesthetics of Dalit Literature. Delhi: Orient Longman, 2004. Malamoud, Charles. Cuire le monde, Rite et pensée dans l’Inde ancienne. Paris: La Découverte, 1989.

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Pawar, Daya. Ma Vie d’Intouchable. Trans. Jean-Luc Proffit et Madhuri Purandare. Paris: Editions La Découverte, 1990. Poitevin, Guy. ‘Dalit Autobiographical Narratives: Figures of Subaltern Consciousness, Assertion and Identity’, in Biography as a Religious and Cultural Text. Münster, (ed.) Andreas Schüle. London: Lit Verlag, 2002a; 77–109. http://aune.lpl. univ-aix.fr/~belbernard/misc/ccrss/Dalitautobio.htm. Accessed 1 June 2012. Poitevin, Guy. The Voice and the Will, Subaltern Agency: Forms and Motives. Delhi: Manohar/ CSH 2002b. Pollock, Sheldon. ‘Cosmopolitan and Vernacular in History’, in Cosmopolitanism, (eds.) Carol A. Breckenridge, Sheldon Pollock, Homi K. Bhabha and Dipesh Chakrabarty. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2002; 15–53. Pouchepadass, Jacques. ‘Les Subaltern Studies ou la critique postcoloniale de la modernité’, L’Homme156 (Octobre–décembre 2000). http://lhomme.revues.org/ index75.html. Accessed 1 June 2012. Rajkumar, N. D. Give Us This Day a Feast of Flesh. Trans. Anushiya Ramaswamy. New Delhi: Navayana, 2010. Ramanujan, A. K. The Collected Essays of A. K. Ramanujan, (ed.) Vinay Dharwadker. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999. Rancière, Jacques. The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible. London: Continuum, 2004. Said, Edward. Reflections on Exile and Other Literary and Cultural Essays. London: Granta books, 2001.

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Bama, one of the most celebrated Dalit writers, has had her works translated into a number of languages, including English. Her autobiographical work Karukku came out in English only a short while after the original in Tamil. According to her, this gave her ‘visibility’ as a writer (2008: 157). In the context of multilingual and multicultural India, translation into English has become very important in bringing the writing of marginalized sections of society to the fore. In fact, translation is now seen as a commercially viable activity and Dalit writing has, in the recent past, become widely read by readers both in India and elsewhere. English translations are more widely read, and therefore more easily available. It is important to note that the language used in translated works is an indicator of the world that it is trying to describe. In the case of Dalit writing, this becomes even more important. Dalit writing is, in many senses, a narrative that describes pain, trauma and oppression. The book titled Extremities: Trauma, Testimony and Community has an essay by Rothberg titled ‘Between the Extreme and the Everyday: Ruth Kluger’s Traumatic Realism’ in which he elaborates on what he calls ‘traumatic realism’. Dalit writing embodies individual as well as cultural collective suffering through what Michael Rothberg calls ‘traumatic realism’ (2002: 55–6), an experience in which the reader is shocked into realizing the existence of a world that is vastly and violently different from all his/her previous experience. One of the indicators of this ‘traumatic realism’ is the kind of distinctive language used by the Dalit. It is clear that the language used by Dalits is distinct, and this can be seen in the writing not only of Bama but also of others, like Imayam and Gogu Shyamala.

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In her essay ‘The Politics of Translation’, in the book Outside in the Teaching Machine, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1993) details what she thinks translation really is. Quoting herself from her own Translator’s Preface, she mentions the relationship between the translator and the text: ‘Translation is the most intimate act of reading. I surrender to the text when I translate’ (1993: 180). She details the need for an agent, and the creation of a world for the agent. For this to happen, the translator has to straddle the rhetorical nature of the language as well as the logic of it; the relationship between these two is what will create a world for the agent to live in. According to Spivak, rather than taking translation to be an exercise in syntax and synonym, the emphasis should be on entering a stage as ‘one directs a play, as an actor interprets a script’ (1993: 181). In the same essay, Spivak goes on to declare: ‘Unless the translator has earned the right to become the intimate reader, she cannot surrender to the text, cannot respond to the special call of the text’ (Ibid.: 183). In the Introduction to the second edition to Karukku, Lakshmi Holmström comments on Bama’s use of language. She also suggests that Bama, besides breaking the dominant language norms to establish a new aesthetic, is also putting forward a new one which is closely allied to her politics. Since Bama is showing us a whole new world through her works, both the reader and the translator need to ‘surrender to the special call of the text’ (Bama 2012: xx) Holmström is here using Spivak’s phrase to indicate what the text demands of the reader as well as of the translator. What is expected of the reader is that he/ she enter that world of experience through the realm of the imagination. What is required is an understanding of the gap or difference between the readers’ own experiences and that of the world described to them. Responding to the text sympathetically as human beings and, at the same time, not standing in for the victim is what is expected of us as readers. In the case of Bama’s Sangati, translator Holmström has definitely become intimate with the text. In an interview, Bama speaks of having worked with this translator, and on account of her knowing English, she was in a position to say whether the translator had captured what exactly she felt (2008: 157). In his essay ‘The Poetics of Postcolonial Atrocity: Dalit Life Writing, Testimonio and Human Rights’, Pramod K. Nayar (2011) details the connotations of translation when it comes to Dalit writing. Translation here does not mean only linguistic translation. It also means a ‘transfer between contexts’ (Nayar 2012: 244). The translator is also engaged in bringing the Dalit world to the world at large. Thus, it is common to have introductions, prefaces, lists of unfamiliar words, and so on, provided by both translators and Dalit writers at the beginning of the text, as is the case with Sangati. These suggest a social context as well as a 87

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collaboration between Dalit and non-Dalit ‘agents’, and authenticate the text by conveying to readers that the translation – both linguistic and cultural – has been approved by the Dalit protagonist. Thus, Sangati comes across as earthy and impactful, and gives the reader a clear picture of the kind of language that is used in Dalit villages even in the English translation. The entire range of emotions is presented in a matter of fact fashion – without any kind of ornamentation, and in a language that is both shocking and authentic when it comes to the reality of the lives of the people who are speaking it. Before one goes any further, it is important to examine the representational strategy that Dalit writing uses, namely that of ‘performance’. One of the techniques used in performance is that of ‘staging’. This involves the ‘setting’ of the narrative and its protagonist vis-à-vis the process of publication. ‘Staging’ also includes the bringing together of oral accounts of pain and suffering experienced by the protagonist or the main characters. This process is a space wherein intercultural transactions occur. According to Nayar (in the aforementioned essay), ‘performance’ consists of the ‘staging of authenticity’ in which references to settings, character types and, in this case, the kind of language used lend an air of reality to a space and a set of characters that may otherwise feel strange to the reader. Translation has now come to mean making meaning of one cultural context, and re-inscribing that meaning in another. Cultural theorists suggest that culture itself is the silent language of a community. Getting to know a culture would constitute the act of translating this language, with all its grammar and metaphors. In her Introduction to Translating India, author Rita Kothari informs the reader that [i]t should also be noted that the terms ’translation’ and ‘metaphor’ both share similar connotation of ‘carrying across’ or ‘transferring’ through their etymology. Translations serve as any metaphor of understanding the ‘other’, and metaphor itself acquires a sense of translation. (Kothari 2006: 1) The above definition of translation carries with it the mammoth task of being able to not only get across in grammatically correct language the content of the original text, but also maintain the flavour of the original cultural and verbal transactions. In this context, one is reminded of Lawrence Venuti’s views on translation. According to him, ‘foreignization’ and ‘domestication’ are the two strategies that a translator can choose to use while translating (Venuti 1995). Venuti himself draws on the ideas concerning translation put forward by the German Friedrich Schleiermacher who speaks of these strategies as moving the reader towards the 88

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author or the author towards the reader (1977: 74). Foreignization, therefore, indicates an effort to preserve the culture of the source text – for example, by using calques in the target text for words that are peculiar to the source culture. These views were put forth in a lecture delivered by Schleiermacher in 1813, the title of which was ‘On the Different Methods of Translating’. The English translation of this essay was carried out by Andre Lefevre and published in 1977 in a volume titled Translating Literature: The German Tradition from Luther to Rosenzweig. Domestication, on the other hand, will tend to adapt the source text to the target culture, with the aim of making it simpler to understand for foreign readers who may be unfamiliar with certain notions and practices which may be used in the source text. In terms of the cultural aspects of translation, one needs to only look at the work of Susan Bassnett (Bassnett and Trivedi 1999) who holds that, by the mid-1980s, the field of translation studies took a ‘cultural turn’ (Malmkjar 2005: 36). It is now well known that the translator needs to be well versed in the culture within which the language is spoken because ‘almost everybody agrees that aspects shape aspects of texts, are reflected in aspects of texts, and are also in turn affected by texts’ (Malmkjar 2005: 36). In the Introduction to Postcolonial Translation: Theory and Practice, editors Susan Bassnett and Harish Trivedi point to the opinions of Maria Tymoczko (found in the chapter titled ‘Postcolonial Writing and Literal Translation’). Tymoczko points out that ‘in translation studies, a distinction is always made between whether to take an audience to a text, or a text to an audience’ (Bassnett and Trivedi 1999: 14). She also goes on to state that, by defamiliarizing the language, readers can be brought to see the ‘reality of difference’. In Bama’s Sangati, Holmström takes the audience to the text by consciously retaining a whole lot of concepts, customs, notions and cultural practices found in the source language in her English translation. Raj Gautaman, an eminent Dalit scholar, details the function of Dalit writing. Apart from awakening consciousness regarding the oppressed castes in Indian society, there is also the need for the reader to empathize with the Dalit’s life experiences. This is done through the elaborate description of customs, traditions, religious festivals, social behaviour descriptions and the narration of conflicts both at domestic and at the community level. In Bama’s writing, there is not only the description of a community but also a search for an identity – and, at the same time, a search also for a change of that very identity. The language used can be seen as an assertion of that identity, and perception that Bama seeks to change. The lives that Dalits lead can itself be seen as the text in this case. The language used serves to partly transport the reader into the text. 89

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In his article ‘The Poetics of Postcolonial Atrocity: Dalit Life Writing, Testimonio and Human Rights’, Nayar suggests that Dalit writing employs a representational strategy called ‘performance’; this results in the narrator stepping into the role of primary witness. Therefore, this kind of writing contains the construction of what Nayar terms ‘an abject human subject’ (2012: 239). Holmström states that Bama uses a distinctive Dalit style in Sangati and Karukku, which goes against the ‘aesthetics of received upper class upper-caste Tamil’ (Bama 2012: xix). In doing so, she is also asking the reader to see the new aesthetic that details the hardship and oppression of the average village Dalit. Relevant here is Rita Kothari’s article, ‘Short Story in Gujarati Dalit Literature’ (2006). Kothari quotes Digish Mehta (1989) who details what a writer does when faced with the parameters of what constitutes the literary and the non-literary when writing about anger and oppression. He/she can either adopt and work within the stylistic devices available to him/her within a literary tradition, or he/she can – as a Dalit writer probably would – distance himself/herself from the ‘literary’ and focus on writing in the ‘raw’ by using non-standard forms of speech, including the colloquial. In other words, the choice of writing in this manner in itself becomes a ‘gesture of protest’. According to Raj Gautaman, this is the Dalit world given to the reader ‘from a Dalit perspective’ (quoted in Bama 2012: xii–xiii). Apart from being an eye opener, it is possible that it might provoke the guardians of caste and class to ask if this is really literature. In the aforementioned essay, ‘The Poetics of Postcolonial Atrocity: Dalit Life Writing, Testimonio and Human Rights’, Nayar discusses what he terms ‘the ethics of witnessing’ in Dalit writing (2012: 250). The first is the author-narrator’s own ‘performance’ of suffering. The second is the invitation extended to the reader to be a witness to what is recorded. Thus, the primary witnessing involves the detailing of personal struggles and suffering, and second, the ‘speaking for the Other’. When the protagonist begins to move from the description of his own suffering to that of his community as a whole, he is seeking a platform from which to make a demand on his readers: that is, to read the text, and understand as well as react to the text in particular ways. The narratives of suffering presented in Dalit writing are what Nayar calls ‘claims narratives’ (2012: 239). The narrative in the form in which it appears seeks to show the working of a social system that is unjust and oppressive. Thus, according to Nayar, the body of Dalit writing is constituted of narratives of ‘human rights violations’. The words of abuse and the otherwise violent language used in Sangati seem to point to the suffering that the Dalit undergoes in daily life. Also, since the Dalits have only words of abuse hurled at them most of the time, it is natural 90

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that they would give vent to their pent up feelings through a particular kind of language. Holmström in her Introduction to Sangati gives us an insight into the views of Dalit scholars like Raj Gautaman regarding language used by Dalit writers to write their novels. She refers to the opinions of Gautaman quite extensively throughout the Introduction. Gautaman claims that it is the stated design of Dalit writing to overturn propriety in language, and ‘to expose and discredit the existing language, its grammar, its refinements, and its falsifying order as symbols of dominance’ (Bama 2012: xii–xiii). This is because it is these very touchstones that have often been used to decide that Dalit literature is low-down, obscene, and literally the ‘language of slums’. One needs to keep in mind that, from early times, there has always been a distinction between sen Tamil (literary Tamil) and kodun Tamil (colloquial Tamil), and since the early 1930s, writers of Tamil fiction have used upper class, upper caste Tamil as the norm while writing. Dalit writing goes a step further: it not only uses language generally considered scandalous but also deals with matter normally considered unfit for printing. This kind of ­writing – along with the creation of a new style – also helps the Dalit to take confidence and pride in his/her culture. Thus, Bama’s writing allows the non-Dalit reader to break from a traditional world view concerning Dalits, and to see them as fellow human beings with their own identity. In other words, Dalit narratives also ask for a new pattern of reading. Gautaman refers to Richard Lannoy’s notion of ‘antipodal culture’ in his essay ‘Dalit Protest Culture: The First Stage’ (2012: 264–5). The abovementioned essay by Raj Gautaman appears in The Oxford Anthology of Tamil Dalit Writing edited by Ravikumar and A Azhagarasan. Gautaman refers to this concept in the first few pages of the essay under the subtitle ‘Counter Culture’. This can also be termed the ‘Other Culture’. Lannoy states that the antipodal culture functions in diametric opposition to the hegemonic order. The alternate culture that marginalized peoples already have is often used to set up Dalit protest culture. Gautaman adds that Lannoy termed this ‘antipodal culture’. Thus, it could be said that the language used by Bama in Sangati, and to a lesser extent in Vanmam, is in the vein of antipodal culture. According to Lannoy (1974), hegemonic culture stresses obedience, order and adherence to taboos, differences and distinctions; antipodal culture, on the other hand, stresses community life, the overcoming of differences, unity and living an epicurean life. The antipodal culture is, thus, closer to the lifestyle of marginalized communities. In hegemonic culture, there are a number of indicators that show slavery or subjugation. One of them is language – both of the body and verbal. Certain ways of talking, the tone used and the position of the body as well as the gestures to 91

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be used while speaking to the dominant castes are laid down. If there is even the slightest disobedience on the part of the Dalit, he/she is considered arrogant (Gautaman 2012: 268–9). A good example of this occurs in Bama’s short story ‘Annachi’ (in Harum Scarum Saar and Other Stories). The protagonist of this story is a young man who addresses the landlord as annachi, and refuses to give up his seat in the bus for him. The landlord is furious, and says, ‘Get up, da, and stand aside. While your Ayya is standing, is it right for you to keep sitting, not paying him due respect?’ (Bama 2006: 9). In his essay, ‘Dalit Protest Culture: The First Stage’, Gautaman commands: Speak in your Tamil. Speak in your language that has been despised as cheri Tamil and colloquial Tamil! Transgress the elitist order of spoken language laid down by ‘hegemonic culture’. (Gautaman 2012: 268) In the article ‘Short Story in Gujarati Dalit Literature’, Kothari (2001) writes about the urban Dalit class which is now educated, and is facing an identity crisis. The urban educated Dalit may want to obliterate his past completely. However, as a member of a community that needs to show how different it is from the other castes, she/he needs to retain the link between his past and his identity. Evidence of the predicament that the urban educated Dalit faces can be seen in Bama’s Vanmam where Jayaraju, the young man who has just returned from the city where he is studying, has a problem with many of the village boys whom he has known since childhood. To them he comes across as cold and snobbish as well as supercilious. To him, the village boys now seem unsophisticated and frivolous. While returning to his native village, Jayaraju asks one of the village people the way to the street in which he lives. When he is told where it is, he walks for some time, and then asks for directions again. While walking down the street, he fans his hand in front of his nose, and comments that it is stinking. While all this is recounted amid laughter from the villagers, one old man Irulaandi Thatha says that all this false sophistication is due to his being able to read and write a few words. What he means is not only literacy but also the fact that Jayaraju has gone to the city to get an education which has turned his head. The language that Jayaraju speaks is also much more toned down than the one spoken by the people in the village. In Vanmam, the language of conversation is markedly different from that of her Sangati. It is free of expletives and strong forms of address. Thus, when a sanitized text is translated, it reads like any other text – that is, 92

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without bringing across the flavour of the Dalit lived experience. The sanitization of the language used by the characters leads to the loss of what is culturally specific, and could be interpreted as a censorship of sorts. Thus, it is important that the language of the original text be culturally specific so that the translation also transfers the meaning accordingly. This is important because, as mentioned before, the language of a translated text should be indicative of the world that it is attempting to describe to the reader. Gautaman also says that there is no need for euphemistic language. Euphemisms can be used for a variety of reasons, and one of them is to cover up uncomfortable truths and emotionally distance oneself from reality. In his essay, ‘The Holocaust: One Generation After’, Bruno Bettelheim (1991) takes examples from the vocabulary used to describe the massacre of the Jews during World War II. He claims that the word ‘holocaust’ was coined by the Americans. Describing the deed in artificial and highly technical terms would automatically distance people emotionally from the actual experience. The real meaning of the term ‘holocaust’ is burnt offering. To call a vicious mass murder a burnt offering is to give it utterly false associations. The ‘burnt offering’ notion is part of ancient religious rituals, and what goes by the name of the holocaust is a brutal mass murder. Likewise, euphemisms used to describe the Dalit lived experience is not something either translators or Dalit writers should indulge in. Dalit life can best be understood if it evokes emotional responses in the reader, and for this the reader has to emotionally connect with the text. For this to happen, the tale should be told as it is without any euphemistic language. In an interview, conducted by R. Azhagarasan and titled ‘I Am Part of a Collective Awareness’,1 Bama has said that she received letters of harsh criticism in response to the publication of Karukku. One of the letters was worded thus: ‘Educated women are usually arrogant. And you are an “educated paraichi” ’ (2008: 153). This, she said, led her to be more careful when she wrote her other works. She said that she has now become ‘more conscious of her use of words’, and has to ‘knead and shape them differently’ (2008: 153). Speaking about the editing process in the same interview, she says that she deletes what reads as unconnected, and looks for the right words or phrases to carry her meaning. What comes through very clearly in Bama’s work is that there is a very strong sense of community. The entire village addresses elderly women in a certain way. For instance, one can hear old women being addressed as kizhavi, perimma, paatti, and old men as thatha. Youngsters are addressed in a certain

1

This interview appeared in Vanmam published by Oxford India.

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way. For example, the little girl Seyarani about whom the narrator tells us in Sangati is called ‘Maikanni’ due to her bright eyes that look as if they are outlined in ‘mai’, meaning eye darkener or kohl. A general form of address, especially if the person is a little older than oneself, is akka. Even abuses are hurled with the use of particular terms! Certain terms of abusive address – like ‘donkey’, ‘whore’, ‘cunt’ and munde – seem to be used very often. This is not only because of the sense of oneness that the Dalits feel as a community but also because of familiarity with one another which comes as a result of oneness. One can also see that nobody takes offence to the use of these terms. The language of violence is often used in the narration of domestic conflict or quarrels between/among women. It is important to note that Bama showcases a different kind of woman. In contrast to the traditional image of womanhood that is supposed to uphold values like modesty, timidity and shyness, Bama shows her woman characters to be independent, courageous and straightforward. Thus, the language of abuse comes out as much from the woman as from the man. Despite strong expletives that are used by the woman, it is important to see that she resorts to this only in order to escape physical savagery visited upon her by the man. Therefore, language is used as a weapon to shame the man, and thus combat physical violence. In Bama’s Sangati, the fight between Raakkamma and her husband Paakkiaraj is described in graphic terms. It develops into a street fight, and people from the other streets come to witness it. Raakkamma says How dare you kick me, you low life? Your hand will get leprosy! How dare you pull my hair? Disgusting man, only fit to drink a woman’s farts! Instead of drinking toddy every day, why don’t you drink your son’s urine? Why don’t you drink my monthly blood? (Bama 2005: 61) After saying all this, she lifts up her sari in front of the whole crowd. This makes her husband move away from her. The others in the crowd start commenting on how shameless she is. She retorts angrily: ‘If I hadn’t shamed him like this, he would surely have split my skull in two, the horrible man’ (Ibid.: 61–2). In the above instance, a kind of nakedness or socially disapproved behaviour is resorted to in order to ‘answer back’ the perpetrator of violence. In a sense, this is itself a kind of language: a means of communication. What is revealed is a kind of ferocity that replaces violent action being carried out, and is perhaps the only means of escape from more savage brutality. Needless to say, these conversations and the language used in them are true to real life situations and, therefore, should not be frowned upon because 94

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this, perhaps, points to the way quarrels are dealt with and sorted out in the community. Sanitizing language – as has been done to an extent in Bama’s Vanmam – certainly robs it of its punch as also of its naturalness. It has made it seem artificial and contrived, in stark opposition to the kind of quaint, earthy beauty of the narrative found in the same author’s Sangati – thanks to the use of unedited/unaudited natural language of the natives. In Bama’s work, most quarrels, and even disagreements, are full of expletives and bad words of abuse. The reason she gives for putting them down as said is to convey a kind of bitter comfort these women derive in the otherwise dreary lives that they lead, bereft of any pleasure or satisfaction. Often, the words of abuse used are names of body parts, evocatively suggesting that the body is the site of violence as well as the language of abuse. Another reason behind why this kind of language is used by them rather casually is because they are seething with anger, and are always at the receiving end of the insults hurled at them by their employers as well as their own husbands and family elders. Rather than being labelled obscene, such language should be seen as highlighting the unhappiness, discontent and hurt experienced by Dalit families. Such language should also be retained in translation because it gives a true picture of the kind of lives the Dalits lead on a daily basis Dalit writing uses local proverbs, songs sung at certain festivals and work chants as well as folk songs and rhymes in the narrative. Bama herself says so in her Sangati. ‘Thinking about it, from birth to death, there are special songs and dances. And it is the women who perform them. Rorattu to oppaari, it is the women who sing them’ (Ibid.: 78). Rorattu are the lullabies, and oppaari are funeral songs. Thus, the oral tradition remains alive and plays an important role in Dalit life. Women, in particular, become the custodians of this tradition. In Sangati there are many songs and rhymes that are sung on particular occasions. A rather unique occasion peculiar to southern India is the range of festivities held to mark the coming of age or onset of puberty of a young girl. In Sangati, the old lady, the narrator’s grandmother, remembers and sings for the narrator: On Friday morning, at day break She came of age, the people said Her mother was delighted, her father too – Her uncles arrived, all in a row. (Ibid.: 17) After each stanza there is ululation. The coming of age is called becoming a pushpavathi. The word literally means blooming or flowering – in other words, blossoming into a young woman. It is also the time to advertise the young girl to the community, and declare that she is now ready to 95

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be married. The festivities are conducted primarily by the womenfolk, and songs sung at this time are passed on orally from one generation to the next. If just the phrase ‘coming of age’ had been used instead of the native pushpavathi, the cultural import as well as the connotative meaning of this particular word would have been lost. Phrases/words like this one need to be retained in order to bring the audience to the text because the experience of the Dalits can be accessed best through feeling their lives, and one of the ways this can be done is through the retention of the kind of phrases that need to be explained with reference to the context in the source language. Thus, one could experience the world being described through the use of the original word on the one hand, and on the other, one could become an empathetic listener rather than try and stand in for the character. Sangati is also rich in proverbs. The narrator of Sangati is reminded of a proverb: ‘if a man sees a terrified dog, he is bound to chase it’ (Ibid.: 66). This proverb is especially appropriate when the author speaks of the Dalits who are frightened of upper caste people. It is clear that this proverb warns Dalits that if they continue to be scared, then everyone will take advantage of them. There are numbers of impromptu rhymes and songs in Sangati sung by the women to suit particular situations. Dalit women always make up songs and rhymes to tease one another whether at work, at home or out in the streets. Thus, in Sangati, a young woman is seen grinding masalas when her cousin (whom she was engaged to marry) passes by. At once, Mogurkari – one of the women present – made up a song to tease her. In front of a house made of plaster and lime You were grinding turmeric for a curry. What magic powder did he cast on you You cannot move the grindstone any more. (Ibid.: 76) Bama does not use the tone or language of propaganda. Just by describing her community and its conversations in the most natural way, she is able to hold as well as sustain the attention of her readers. In other words, this can be interpreted as itself being a language whereby she asserts the individuality of the Dalits. It is often observed that Dalit writing is not situated in imaginative realms, and so, despite the fact that it has its share of poetry and short stories, it cannot be described as creative writing. There is always an undercurrent of reality. This seems to be an assertion of sorts: that is, these writers seem to be looking at establishing an independent style, and doing away with norms that determine what is ‘good’ literature. Indeed, Sangati does not read like a conventional novel. It seems to be a cluster of events, 96

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conversations and small anecdotes, and is full of lively conversations, fiery quarrels and storytelling sessions. Bama admits that when she wrote Sangati, she had to stop and think before she could write it. She wanted to write about feisty women who stood up to the atrocities heaped on them instead of just portraying them as victims. Thus, the language she uses in Sangati allows her to portray the streak of rebellion and courage coming through. It is the language of courage and assertiveness, and not of victimhood. Bama’s ‘model storytellers’ are her mother and grandmother. Bama states: ‘When I started writing Sangati, I just thought how my paatti would have narrated this story . . . I never thought about literary style as such. That doesn’t seem so important to me’ (2008: 151). The language used by Bama is also suggestive of the multiple voices of women of all ages. The narrator herself speaks in the voice of a young girl in the first few chapters of the book. Then, towards the middle of the book, she is heard speaking as if she is a young adult. In the interview she gave to A. Azhagarasan, titled ‘I Am a Part of a Collective Awareness’, Bama speaks of what spurred her to write Karukku, Sangati and Vanmam. Throughout Sangati, many old tales and superstitions are recounted by the grandmother. Bama’s Vanmam, in contrast, does not carry her emotions to a very large extent. This is so even though she has said it is a book written as a result of the pain she felt at the terrible carnage and destruction of a thriving village which was turned into a graveyard, a ghost town. In the above-mentioned interview she says, ‘The story came out from a sort of deep pain within me . . . almost like a childbirth’. (2012: 152). About the village she says, ‘It was once an oor . . . and it became a graveyard’ (2012: 152). Vanmam is a stark portrayal of intraDalit rivalry. The rivalry between the Pallars and the Parayars leads to full-blown enmity and this in turn is exploited by upper caste landlords. What follows is a terrible period of revenge and retaliation, with the villagers leaving the village, some others hiding in fields, turning a thriving village into a ghost town. The police hunt down the villagers and atrocities are committed on them. The loss is on both sides; both Pallars and Parayars lose resources, people and peace of mind. The novel is set in Kandampatti, a village in southern Tamil Nadu, and is based on real incidents that took place there in 2002. Vanmam is a much more serious work because it concerns itself with intercaste violence. Even though there is a fair amount of light-hearted talk between people, it is to do with male members of the community talking and making fun of one another. While Sangati has more conversations between women, Vanmam has more conversations between men. It is also more political in nature. Even the tiff that takes place between the Naicker 97

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and the boys of the Parayar community regarding bathing in his well has to do with the politics of territory that hinges on caste identity and superiority. The Naicker shouts angrily at the boys bathing in the well, and asks all of them to come out of it. He asks them sarcastically whether it is their father’s well, and stops in mid-sentence even as he is uttering a threat. One can see in this language the possibility of potential violence. When one of the boys hears this threat, he retorts: ‘Yes! This well was dug by my father. So this is where we will bathe!’ (Bama 2008: 30). In his Introduction to the English translation of Vanmam, R. Azhagarasan discusses the location of the novel. Located firmly in caste-ridden and caste-conscious rural India, Vanmam ‘serves as a critique of our caste culture’ (Azhagarasan 2008: xxiii). It is also important that Vanmam be read in the context of ‘cultural geography’. The geographical categories of ‘street’, ‘field’ and chavady are not just geographical spaces but are also heavily political terms. ‘Street’, for instance, is a space where people of a particular caste live. We read that the Parayar community has to pass through the streets of many other castes like the Naickers, Nadars, Thevars and the Pallars before they reach their own street. There is, thus, a hierarchy denoted here. Even the church that the Parayars attend does not lie in their part of the village, even though they are the only Christians there! The ‘field’ likewise, is the site of conflict, and denotes wealth and power that the Naicker landlords wield. The clashes that take place here are between the servants employed to divert water to the landlords’ fields. Though there is solidarity among the Naickers, there is enmity between the servants belonging to the Parayar community and the Pallar community. This often results in clashes, even leading to murder. The field is also a place where fleeing people can hide as in the case of Vanmam where, in the aftermath of clashes, the people of the Parayar community hid. The chavady is the common meeting point where the celebration of festivals, debates, pronouncements of verdicts and meetings involving the community or the caste elders are held. Thus, it is the nucleus of all activity, be it political, social, economic or cultural – that is, a very important public space. It is essential to see the language of protest in both novels as being articulated in different ways. The language in Sangati is the voice of banter, yet it is loud, strident and spontaneous – whether it is the voice of the women quarrelling among themselves or fighting domestic quarrels with their menfolk. In Vanmam, it is the more sober, yet the protests are audible and very much along political lines. Besides, Vanmam has a very male kind of language whereas Sangati can be seen to be predominantly female in its language. 98

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In this context, it is interesting to read what translator Malini Seshadri has to say about her impression of Vanmam and her experience of translating it. In the Translator’s Note, Seshadri notes: These were not the words that the villagers of Kandampatti spoke, true. But were these the tones in which they expressed themselves? It was the latter aspect that I tried to concentrate on. I read aloud the spoken words of the original and the translation alternately. Did the translation capture the mood, the flavour, the rhythms of the Tamil original? I let that be the touchstone. (Bama 2008: x) Seshadri goes on to give the reader a matter of fact translation. She points out that the original is as matter of fact as the translation. Again, as is the case with Sangati, there is no elaborate artifice in the language in Vanmam. There is no real ‘plot’; the whole is a narrative of intercaste rivalries in a village, and the aftermath of the clashes that take place. It is based on real happenings, and so is told to us in as simple a way as possible. It speaks to the heart directly, and is honest in its depiction of even the most violent scenes. The horror of bloodshed is not conveyed through gory details. Rather, it is the description of the situation that communicates the horror to the reader. This calls for a different kind of reading – a very involved empathetic reading. The impact is stronger precisely because the description is devoid of adornment. This kind of straightforward language is part of the rhetoric of Dalit language and style. The decision on the part of the translator to carry this into the translation is also a political choice. Even though Vanmam is essentially a male-dominated text, one can occasionally read the banter of women. There are various kinds of language in the novel. There is the language of defiance as can be seen in the arguments of the Naicker and Parayar boys. There is the language of mockery and derision in the sarcastic tone of voice Anthony uses while speaking to Jayaraju. When Anthony calls him to join them at the well, Jayaraju replies that he is off to the library. Anthony says: ‘Eppa, O Great Wise One! So you are going to the “lib. . .ra. . .ree”, eh? Go, my good man, go’. Anthony jumps into the water and comments on Jayaraju’s ever-present pair of dark glasses, ‘I wonder where he got hold of those dark glasses. He keeps them on all twenty-four hours! Such a clown’ (Ibid.: 32). When the sound of drums beaten by the Pallars during the Pongal festival is discussed, Siriya Puspam imitates the sound of the drum. ‘Thav . . . vivivivivi . . . takunta . . . takunta . . . takunta . . . kunta.’ She also goes on to say that some mischievous people in the Parayar community would 99

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chant okkavunta, and dance (Ibid.: 53). The word okkavunta is left untranslated in order to the show gentle mockery and some harmless fun that the community has. It is a word that has obscene connotations. Here language does the job of both obscuring meaning and shaping it. The drum as a symbol of the Dalit community is also communicating to the reader. It is the language of proclamation and the language of celebration, especially in the above context. The sounds of the drum are also used as an excuse to have fun at the expense of the Pallar community. Besides, the strident tone of the Parayars’ language can be compared to the clear loud beats of the drum. The language of activism can be seen in Anthony’s speech. He reminds the crowd of the ideals of Ambedkar as well as his words: ‘We must not be afraid to fight. Because we are not goats . . . we are lions!’ (Ibid.: 61). Though Anthony starts his speech in a low voice, his voice goes on to become very loud by the end of the speech. As discussed earlier, the language of violence is put forward without any graphic, gory details. In fact, it is narrated in a very clinical straightforward manner. Thus, the Pallar mob is shown on the lookout for Paraya men to kill, but since they could not find any, they pick on the women: ‘With a single blow one of them chopped off Chandana Mary’s head. They hacked down Amalorbhavam even as she pleaded for mercy, palms pressed together’ (Ibid.: 117). In this narration, the words used for slaughter have more to do with the vocabulary of cutting of trees and vegetation. Yet, they convey the brutality and savagery of the deed in a clinically detached way, without mention of the blood bath that follows as a consequence of this slaughter. It is also easy to see the language of instigation. The upper caste landlords incite the Pallar community to violence against the Parayar community, using religion as the unifying factor. During other times, they conveniently use the high caste label in order to exploit the Dalit castes, whether Pallar or Parayar. This ‘divide and rule’ policy works very well for the upper caste landlords, and helps them further strengthen their position in the caste hierarchy. One of them takes a Pallar man to task because both the castes put up a united front and put up a statue of Ambedkar. Are they such great fellows or what? After all, they are of a lower caste than you . . . Just because they have seen some money recently, they’ve become so arrogant. . . . If we let them go on like this, it’s not good for you and not good for us. (Ibid.: 62) The language of suffering can be seen at its most explicit when the women and children are rounded up and taken off to the police station. The atrocities against them are described in detail. The women put up a 100

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united front and grieve over the miscarriage that one of them suffers as a result of being kicked in the belly. One of them says: ‘They will rot in hell, the murderous brutes!’ (Ibid.: 86). The curse that she utters is a result of intense agony and pain. It is not in the same vein as the conversations in Sangati. Thus, besides having political importance, the events also serve to bring out the various kinds of language used in Vanmam. The implications of yet another untranslated phrase – aadu-puli attam – are also significant. It occurs right at the beginning of Vanmam and means the goat–tiger game. It is played on a grid marked on the ground, and pebbles and shells are used as counters. Looking at the metaphor figuratively, the aadu (goat) symbolizes soft, vulnerable people, while the tiger refers to the fierce, oppressive ones. Here the upper caste landlords are the puli (tiger) and the Dalits, the aadu. In the intra-Dalit clashes, the Pallars are the puli while the Parayars, the aadu. The reference to the goat and the lion (Anthony is quoting Ambedkar’s message) is a different one from the game, as has already been mentioned. Ambedkar led an agitation where he drank from the Mahad tank (Ambedkar 1990). The point of this agitation was not to drink from any tank but to rise against social tyranny. He, at this point, gave his fellow Dalits a specially stirring message about how the Dalits should become lions and not remain goats as lions are never sacrificed.2 Nevertheless, one can easily see the similarity in the metaphors used both by Ambedkar and in the game. In both of them, the connotations are those of the victimizer and the victimized. Thus, the metaphor itself carries a sense of translation, and has the connotation of ‘carrying across’ a meaning. It is easy to see how the phrase translates, both politically and culturally. Politically, the phrase connotes unequal power structures in which the fierce lion-like people are the landlords who prey on the goats who are the submissive Dalits. Culturally, the ways of the lion are the standard, widely accepted ones whereas the ways of the goat are considered less refined and inferior. Thus, translation is undoubtedly extremely important when dealing with a body of writing as rich and varied as Dalit literature. It is essential to note that the choice of English as the language of translation is a normative one and, in a sense, ensures greater accessibility to this literature. One can also see the important part language plays in the construction of a separate Dalit aesthetic, a separate Dalit identity. And consequently, a unique place in the canon of literature so deserved by this rich body of writing.

2

Many of Ambedkar’s short speeches have been collected in the volumes titled Writings and Speeches and have been brought out by the Department of Education, Maharashtra.

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References Ambedkar, B. R. Writings and Speeches. Volume 5. Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1990. Azhagarasan, A. ‘Introduction: Bama in Context’, in Vanmam. trans Malini seshadri. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008; xxiii. Bama. Sangati. Trans. Lakshmi Holmström. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005. Bama. Kusumbukaaran. Trans. Ravi Shankar N. Harum Scarum Saar and Other Stories. New Delhi: Women Unlimited, 2006. Bama. Vanmam. Trans. Malini Seshadri. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008. Bama. Karukku. Trans. Lakshmi Holmström. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012. Bassnett, Susan and Harish Trivedi. ‘Introduction: Of Colonies, Cannibals and Vernaculars’, in Post Colonial Translation: Theory and Practice. London: Routledge, 1999; 1–18. Bettelheim, Bruno. ‘The Holocaust: One Generation After’, in The Bedford Reader, (eds.) X. J. Kennedy, Dorothy M. Kennedy, Jane E. Aaron. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991; 597–9. Gautaman, Raj. ‘Dalit Protest Culture: The First Stage’, in The Oxford India Anthology of Tamil Dalit Writing, (eds.) R. Azhagarasan and Ravikumar. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012; 264–9. Kothari, Rita. ‘Introduction’, Translating India. New Delhi: Cambridge University Press India, 2006; 1–5. Kothari, Rita. ‘Short Story in Gujarati Dalit Literature’. Economic and Political Weekly 45 (November 2001): 4308–11. Lannoy, Richard. The Speaking Tree. London: Oxford University Press, 1974. Malmkjar, Kirtsen. ‘Mapping and Approaching Translation Studies’, Linguistics and the Language of Translation. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005; 36. Mehta, Digish. ‘Differing Contexts: The Theme of Oppression in Indian Literatures’ New Comparison, 7 (1989): 79–87. Nayar, K. Pramod. ‘The Poetics of Postcolonial Atrocity: Dalit Life writing, Testimonio and Human Rights’. Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 42.3–4 (2012): 237–64. Rothberg, Michael. ‘Between the Extreme and the Everyday: Ruth Kluger’s Traumatic Realism’, in Extremities: Trauma, Testimony and Community, (eds.) Miller, K Nancy and Jason Tougaw. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. ‘The Politics of Translation’, in Outside in the Teaching Machine. New York: Routledge, 1993; 180–3. Schleiermacher, Friedrich. Translating Literature: The German Tradition from Luther to Rosenzweig. Trans. Andre Lefevere. The Netherlands: Van Gorcum Comp, 1977; 66–74. Venuti, Lawrence. ‘Invisibility’, in The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation. London: Routledge, 1995; 17–20.

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6 NEGOTIATIONS WITH FAITH Conversion, identity and historical continuity Jasbir Jain

Conversion has a long history in most cultures; however, in contemporary India, right from the beginning of the twentieth century, the conversion of the Dalits has been embroiled in political issues. Moving from the individual to the collective, conversion has played a significant role both in critiquing existing social frameworks and of working towards the empowerment of the Dalit community. Dalits are defined as the fifth varna by ancient Hindu treatises, the other four being Brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya and sudra. They were referred to as the outcastes. Manusmriti devotes a whole section to the varna system (chapter 10, 239–40).1 The untouchables have lived with different nomenclatures ranging from their occupationbased caste names, Harijan, depressed classes and now Dalit. The last is an overarching term used for the oppressed classes, and has several con­ notations such as ‘bruised’, ‘crushed’ and oppressed. The present essay proposes to explore the different aspects of Dalit conversion and the different reasons that have led them to it through political, autobiographical and fictional representations. These representations also reflect Dalit affiliations with cultural history alongside the graph of their aesthetic formulations as they move out of their personal histories towards more experimental, non-linear, historical narratives. The essay 1 Manu

is the name ascribed to the collective authorship of the ancient Sanskrit text, Manusmriti, which lays down the code of moral behaviour. It is heavily discriminatory against women and Dalits. Prior to British rule, it only had customary authority; but when it was used as the base of the Hindu Personal Law for purposes of judicature, it acquired a legal status. It was first translated in the eighteenth century; a contemporary translation by Doniger and Smith is titled The Laws of Manu (1991).

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also asks: is there an inherent ambivalence built into the act of conversion with its oscillation between belonging to a cultural past and the desire to disaffiliate from it? If conversion is one of the ‘most unsettling political events in the life of a society’ (Gauri Viswanathan 1998: xi), another question that arises is: then why does it happen? Generally believed to be a shift in personal faith, conversion is not always so, especially in the larger political context. It is also not always individually initiated. In the case of the Dalits, conversion is often a search for identity, social acceptance, human dignity and equality; it is also a struggle for political representation. The Gandhi–Ambedkar debates of the 1930s took place in a political environment, and represented their different political and cultural concerns. When the British government announced separate electorates for the Hindus and the Muslims, Ambedkar raised a demand for separate electorates (in 1931) for the depressed classes. Gandhi went on a fast unto death as a protest against this mainly for two reasons. First, with the twonation theory already being afloat, he did not want any further fracturing in the nation which would be detrimental to the freedom movement; and second, he wished the upper caste Hindus to self-reflect and transform themselves, and thus bring about a structural change within Hinduism. It is with this in view that he used the term ‘Harijan’ for the lower castes, implying that they were children of (the same) God. In order to reach an agreement, in one of the meetings held between the two, Ambedkar told Gandhi, ‘Mahatmaji, I have no nation’ (quoted by Viswanathan 1998: 219). Finally, Ambedkar had to yield in order to facilitate the breaking of Gandhi’s fast, resulting in the Poona Pact of 1932, which provided for reservations within the general electorate itself. Gandhi had objections to the separate electorates on the grounds that it would lead to further disintegration of the nation. Ambedkar first announced his intention to convert to Buddhism in 1935, a promise he fulfilled only in 1956, a short time before his death. Ambedkar’s act of conversion and the choice of religion were both strategic and consciously entered into decisions. Having considered other options, he turned to Buddhism as he wished ‘to build a cultural politics of dis-identification vis-à-vis Hindu society’, and ‘distance the movement from the Hindu ethos’ (Nagaraj 2010b: 69). There is enough evidence of conversions from the upper castes, especially in nineteenth-century Bengal, and much earlier in Kerala. The point to be made here is that it is not conversion in itself that is/was problematic; it is/was conversion vis-à-vis Hinduism. Anyone who converted to any other religion stood automatically excommunicated and pronounced dead in the civil sense. If the wife did not convert, she was considered a widow. Krupa Sathianathan’s novel Saguna (1895) bears testimony 104

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to this,2 as does Lakshmibai Tilak’s autobiography, I Follow After (originally published in Marathi in four parts as Smriti Chitra between 1934 and 1937, and translated into English in 1998, though the first three parts had been also translated in 1950) wherein she describes how the news of her husband’s conversion had the whole family grieving as if he was dead (Tilak 1998: 135), and the possibility of a divorce is considered (Ibid.: 140). Conversion resulted in an automatic disinheritance. Conversion, however, did not offer a permanent bridge between two cultures. Commenting on Ramabai’s conversion, Meera Kosambi observed that its suddenness remained a mystery (Kosambi 2000: 14). But Pandita Ramabai herself explained it as the need to get away from the shackles of the caste system as it functioned for women. The High Caste Hindu Woman is a critique of Manu’s code and the text of an address she delivered in Philadelphia (see Ramabai 1984: 179; also Jain 2011: 83–6). Yet, conversions took place for a variety of reasons – as a gesture of protest, in disgust at the hypocritical stance of Brahmanical Hinduism, a genuine shift of faith and, at times, romance. In Outside the Fold,3 Gauri Viswanathan spends considerable time on analysing the social issues involved. However, the other side is evident in two essays by Homi Bhabha (1994a, 1994b): ‘Sly Civility’ and ‘Signs Taken for Wonders’ in The Location of Culture wherein he hints at conversion as a political and economic compromise. Bhabha’s references are to the hybridization of language and ritual as part of the missionary effort to bridge the gap between native resistance and colonial authority: ‘You vary our language and tell [the natives that] there must be a second birth’ a reference to the Brahmanical idea of the twice born.4 Though occasionally bridled by civil authority and at odds with it, missionaries played a major role in carrying out the White man’s mission of civilizing the natives, often considered barbarians. In ‘Signs Taken for Wonders’, Bhabha’s focus is on the ambivalence of authority between difference and a mimetic sameness, thus the need for an ambivalent attitude towards conversion and the need for 2 In

Saguna: A Story of Native Christian Life (1895 [1998]) Krupa Sathianathan writes about Radha’s husband Harichandra’s conversion to Christianity (49−53) – an act which was not free of conflict. But his brother tells Harichandra that his conversion would make his wife a widow: ‘Her head would be shaved and she will become an object of scorn’ (56). Both Radha’s (in Saguna) and Pandita Ramabai’s conversion to Christianity (in 1886) were acts concerned with the need for status and freedom, albeit in different ways. The upper class Hindu woman’s bondage to religious restrictions had been dwelt on by Pandita Ramabai in her The High Caste Hindu Woman (1884). By this time she had already converted to Christianity, as during her visit to England in 1883, she had asked to be baptised. 3 See Visvanathan (1998: 75−118, 118−52, 211−39). 4 ‘Sly Civility’. The lines are attributed to Alexander Duff, a nineteenth-century Indian missionary. Emphasis by Bhabha (1994: 101, 93−101).

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discrimination. Referring to this as ‘a metonymy of presence’, Bhabha points out that the existence of two ‘contradictory knowledges (multiple beliefs) split the ego (or the discourse) into two psychical attitudes, and forms of knowledge, towards the external world’. The hybrid object, he elaborates, retains the actual semblance of the authoritative symbol but revalues its presence by resisting it as the signifier of Entstellung, the shift that takes place in the meaning after the intervention of difference bringing about a marked difference in the import of the language (Bhabha 1994b: 115). Conversion was never free of conflict, division or anguish. If, on the one hand, it beckoned with the dream of possible equality, on the other, it held the threat of excommunication and the severance of ties with the community, resulting in an irreversible exile. Conversion as a possible route to a better life for the Dalits has also been a subject of consideration by several writers coming from non-Dalit backgrounds. Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable (1935) is a novel written almost entirely as a stream of consciousness monologue; it has Bhakha consider the various possibilities of release from the burden of his caste. The options are Gandhi and reformed Hinduism, the world of imagination and conversion. He finds that none of them holds the promise of equality. The local missionary’s wife treats him as a lowly creature. Again, Shivaram Karanth’s novel Choma’s Drum (1933) is about a Dalit considering the possibility of conversion to Christianity primarily for the purposes of land acquisition, a right denied to him by the upper castes as it would imply conferring Brahminhood on him (Ibid.: 47–8). He decides to seek help from a Christian priest but is told that all rights would descend on him, only after conversion (Ibid.: 48). Karanth’s novel uses the drum as a very effective symbol of Dalit protest while simultaneously using it to express the storm in Choma’s ­emotions – as if his heart would literally burst. But, despite the empathetic portrayal, Dalits insist that non-Dalits, whose epistemological frameworks are outside the experiential agony of the Dalits, are unable to articulate true Dalit subjectivity: It is not possible for the non-Dalit to create and portray the experiential world of Dalits, as reflected in the stories written by Dalits themselves. Dalit stories are heading off along a different trajectory, distancing themselves from the empathetic portrayal of the Dalits as seen in the works of Thakazhi and the writers who followed. (Dasan et al. ‘Short Fiction’ 2012: 52) The visible face of Dalit resurgence is located in the 1960s with the rise of militant Dalit voices – a good example is the Dalit Panthers. However, 106

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Dalit protest against caste atrocities has persisted for a long time; it was first expressed in oral literature and then also in the written word. Through the act of conversion, the Dalits seek a faith which can accommodate Dalit experience. They objected strongly to the idol worship of the Hindus as well as the multiplicity of churches in Christianity – a multiplicity capable of generating hierarchies and inequalities. No matter to which religion conversion took place, conversion was always problematic as caste was invariably carried over to other religion, and the upper castes within every religious community were the ones who continued to exercise power. Also, the tasks assigned to them in schools, missions and other such bodies were a continuation of their menial occupations. There were other very significant areas from which the Dalits were either excluded or subjected to exploitation, as has been recorded in the autobiographical writing of many of them. Good examples are: Baby Kamble’s autobiography The Prisons We Broke (2009) originally serialized in a Marathi publication as Jina Amucha in 1982 and published in 1986 gives an account of a Dalit woman’s experience, Om Prakash Valmiki’s Joothan (1997) is about a Dalit male’s experience, and Bama’s Karukku (1992) tells the story of a converted Dalit’s experience. The conditions of their life are a daily reminder of their subhuman existence. Bama recounts how the convent she entered in order to become a nun was as discriminatory a space as the world outside it, leading the Dalit to hate her own self (Ibid.: 22–5). Over and above this, the converted Dalit was immediately excluded from the state’s affirmative action list, and ceased to be a beneficiary of those schemes. And more significantly, it ended up leaving the Dalit with the identity crisis deriving from a dual existence. Moreover, often the indigenization of the church was inclined to adopt Brahmanic traditions rather than Dalit culture. In 1935, a memorandum was submitted to the British Parliament, which expressed disgust with upper caste Christians who persisted in following discriminatory practices (Chentharasseri 2012: 221). At the end of it, the epistemology and the organic view of life held by the Dalits, their culture and their oral history were still disowned and invisible. In no case was there any smooth or comfortable sliding into any other institutionalized religion. In a biographical interview with a long-retired teacher, Taha Madayi, a Malayali writer points out that even a profession such as teaching offered no relief. The stigma of caste was carried even there. They were often mockingly referred to as ‘Adiyar Teacher’, meaning low-caste teacher. Sulochana, a Dalit teacher, was forced to resign her job almost right at the beginning of her career, unable to bear calls of ‘Adiyar teacher, Adiyar teacher’. At the age of seventy-eight, when she looks back, she cannot 107

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recollect any pleasant memory. Hers is a willed amnesia. Referring to her decision to become a Christian, she recalls it as having been a community decision; but, it did not really bring them any benefits. The only two things they gained were perhaps education, and a little more social access (Madayi 2012: 236). Conversion was a negotiation that could be entered into both individually or collectively. However, a mass conversion in itself became an effective means of protest, and created space for accommodation. In 1956, the mass conversion to Buddhism led by B. R. Ambedkar – when about 50,000 Dalits converted to Buddhism in a public ceremony – posed a direct challenge to Hindu domination (see Internet reference socialjusticeforall.­ weebly.com/conversion-to-Buddhism.html). This was repeated in 2007 on the fiftieth anniversary of Ambedkar’s conversion (www.the hindu.com/ todays-paper/one-lakh-people-convert-to-buddhism/article1848519; 28 May 2007). Earlier in February 1981, there had been another mass conversion. This time it was at the Meenakshipuram in Tamil Nadu where 200 Dalit families converted to Islam. This mass conversion to Islam set in motion a vigorous process by the Hindu right-wing parties such as the RSS, BJP and VHP for reclaiming them back into Hinduism. The next two decades witnessed violence against the Muslims and, in some instances, also against Christians. The Dalit question has always been contentious primarily because conversion implies change and a dislocation, as well as a re-location. It brings in demographic changes, affects vote politics and threatens the long-­ persisting hegemonic structures. In addition, conversion is viewed as a shift in social rights and positions. In a survey of the Meenakshipuram converts in 2006, the Muslims asserted that ‘we are now respected’, and are interacting with other Muslims on the basis of equality. They can own land, enter into cultivation, have better access to education and intermarry with them. Social and material benefits apart, conversion continues to be a matter of emotional stress. Yet, it needs to be recognized that the missionary education institutions and healthcare establishments have contributed a great deal to raising the social, educational and awareness levels of the Dalits. S. M. Michael observes that the Christian contribution to education has been of immense value to Dalits in raising their self-image (2010: 52–3). However, unfortunately, the areas of discrimination persist. As Bama records in Karukku, even cemeteries are separate and often mission houses are also separate. In Kottayam, converted Dalit Christians have built their own separate colonies. In Punjab, a new phenomenon has sprung up. With better jobs and more money, Mazhabi Sikhs (mazhab is the Urdu word for religion, in this case implying one who practices a faith acquired through 108

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conversion) have set up their own houses of worship (gurudwaras), laden with gold. This is in retaliation to upper caste Sikhs for discriminating against them. Converted communities are now engaged in acts of self-assertion and in gaining political power. There is also a concerted move to reassert ‘their traditional cultural identities’ (Robinson and Kujur 2010: Introduction, 5), while fundamentalist wings are engaged in a double act based on the one hand on reclaiming, and on the other, derecognizing (Ibid.: 8). The history of the conversion of untouchables to Sikhism is not any better. In his essay ‘Scheduled Castes in Sikh Community’ (2003), Harish Puri has traced the fluctuations in the religious situation as it has been responding to issues of power and political representation. At one time in the 1930s, Ambedkar had also posited the possibility of conversion to Sikhism, and 60 million untouchables were considering a mass conversion. But Sikh leadership, wary of being deluged by such a flood of converts, subtly discouraged it. Puri observes that while the untouchables from the lower castes were struggling against the scriptural edicts of Hinduism, in Sikhism the scriptures were not discriminatory; it was only social practice that departed from the ideals of the faith. Histories of conversion, of personal struggles and of the creation of new heroes, myths and legends are recorded not only in official reports but also in auto/biographical narratives, fiction and poetry. The anguish, humiliation and memory of indignities suffered, as well as the sense of being peripheral, are reflected in them as their daily experience of life continues to reinforce this sense of marginality. The journey to and fro between choices available and the nostalgia for the living community culture still beset them. Bama, the Tamil Christian Dalit writer, lives in a township near Chennai, Uthiramerur. She teaches in a Roman Catholic School. When she came to Jaipur for the Literary Festival (21–25 January 2012), she spoke (in a personal conversation) about the discriminatory behaviour of the upper castes of all faiths towards her – to the extent that they even harassed the domestic help she hired. When her permission was sought (24 May 2012) regarding whether this could be written about, she chose to elaborate upon the issue a little further. She could not get any water connection, and was told to fetch water from the public tap. In fact, the discrimination against her was on several counts: she was a woman and single, a Dalit, a converted Christian, and an outsider. And although she did not say it, the fact that she was a well-known writer whose work was now being translated into other languages perhaps attracted the envy of many. Being a bold woman, she felt she was being especially singled out while other Dalit Christians, though discriminated against, bore the discrimination against them with resignation. 109

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The canker of caste is difficult to get rid of: neither education nor conversion and not even success, employment, or reservation can get rid of it. Tolerance, rebellion, resistance – nothing works. Atrocities against Dalits and converted Dalits continue. As Kaviyoor Murali has written in his poem ‘The Gospel for Dalits’:  4. The horoscope of the present   is written, don’t you think,   in stones from the past?   . . .  7. My people they kill and consume   like ants gnawing a dead fly.  8. Kerosene they pour on   our living bodies to set ablaze.  9. My sisters, coerced and pierced   to rape they subject.   . . . 18. And does anyone hasten to you in solidarity? 19. Your redemption: is it not your own duty? (2012: l. 7–8) The social and personal ambitions of Dalits are stalled at every step, conversion or not. In a story titled ‘Nostalgia’, originally written in Malayalam under the title Grihathurathvam in Dalit Pathipu, August 1997, Paul Chirakkarode writes about how even when conversion lifts people out of the tasks of digging and chopping, it does not provide any other openings. The bishop tells Baby to have faith in God and wait; Rosanna, the girl he aspires to marry, informs him that her wedding has been fixed; and the secretary in the reading room advises him ‘Can you not change your name?’ And, Baby thinks, ‘The Dalit Christian is a strange creature. He is not a true Christian. He is depressed. Does he get the reservation granted to the Dalit? No, he is denied that too. He is a social amphibian’. At this, Baby smiles and comes to the conclusion that the Dalit Christian is a ‘social hybrid’ (Chirakkarode 2012a: 64). Even within the Church there is no equality, and power is not equally shared. The new Christians may be elected members, but they are bypassed where decision-making is concerned – only ‘the Father and the Custodian decide. And it happens’ (Chirakkarode 2012b: 124). The more the new believers come to understand the subtle, silent moves that continue to ignore them, the more they feel disillusioned. In ‘The Pulaya Ghetto’, as the women sing melodious hymns during a church festival, Paulose and Outha Pulayan listen intently. Paulose thinks to himself: 110

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Were those women not aware of these troubles? The church that was blessed by their vital music was full of caste-based jealousies; did they not know it? Here there was no light. No spirituality . . . This was an organisation built by rich men who had made God a witness for the prosecution. (Ibid.: 125) Dalit writing expresses both a conscious and an unconscious need to reclaim their myths, histories and culture, to record the lost experiences that have sustained them and to bring out their vitality. At an economic level, their contribution to the production of value is equally stressed. G. Kalyana Rao’s Untouchable Spring (2010), an epic spread over more than seven generations, begins with the myth of creation, and goes on to discuss politics and caste, and the continuing contest, generation after generation, between the power-wielders and the downtrodden. Wading through the lives of different generations, we come to a generation that converts, and the reader is presented with the struggle of the believers within the state of conversion. The narrator/listener/recollector is Ruth, the widow of Reuben, a fifth-­generation Malagi. There is also a silent assessment as to what losses and gains accrue after conversion. Does anything change through the interventions of modernity and of a new faith? Or do things continue as they were? There is a great sense of loss as Ruth (the Biblical reference cannot be missed) sits mourning the past, which is full of memories of struggle and her socio-literary heritage. The narrative refuses to work chronologically, and in its retrospective glance, it refuses to spell out any clear linearity. The reader has to draw alike on the history of the two communities  – Mala and Madiga – as well as the history of the colonial rule in a broader framework. The oral tradition of the Bhakti movement, the feelings of exile which are a recurring motif in every generation as rebels escape to survive the onslaught against them, the persisting power of the landowners and their narrow egos which refuse to look beyond their narrow p­ reoccupations  – all hound them. It is an account of mankind on the run as every attempt of these Dalit communities to gain self-respect and dignity is thwarted. The image of the pursued running away and followed by a crowd of persecutors, armed with hearts of steel and weapons of death, occurs again and again, signifying a persistent attempt to crush them. Yet, again and again the exiles return, at times after years and at times almost at the end of their lives. In the meantime, their children have grown up as semi-orphans, and in households consisting only of women. There is a whole section devoted only to art and culture, to their creative talents and to the performances they give. It is a world excluded by the Sanskrit tradition. 111

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Caste subdivisions are often region specific. In Andhra Pradesh, in which Untouchable Spring is based, Dalits are polarized into the Malas and the Madigas. They ‘observe caste discrimination against one another, equally strongly if not more like all Hindus’ (Azariah 1989, quoted by S. M. Michael in Robinson and Kujur [2010]: 62). In the article, ’Legally Hindu: Dalit Lutheran Christians of Coastal Andhra Pradesh’, Kumar and Robinson point out that the Lutheran Church in Andhra Pradesh is confined to the Dalit community. The Madigas constitute only a small part of this, with the Malas occupying a dominant position. As such, upper caste discrimination does not exist inside the church, though at the social level it still persists (2010: 155–6). The authors point out that the church ‘itself stands as a parallel site for the construction of honour’, parallel to that of the temple (156). The solidarity within the church also enables them to bargain for political and social concessions in their constituency (157). Acts of violence against them persist (160–1), but the consolidation of the community makes them a force to contend with. The fact that the Lutheran Church in Andhra has no outside funding and is wholly dependent on its members is a contributive factor to the solidarity and sense of equality. It is a ‘symbolic, social and political capital that Lutheranism offers’ (162). Another marked feature of the indigenization that has come into the church is that most of the Christians take Hindu names. This is partly a political necessity in order to enable them to avail of the benefits of belonging to the Scheduled Caste category, for which their Christian identity disqualifies them. Thus, the already complex act of conversion is further complicated by the caste factor and continuing prejudices. Untouchable Spring deals with this complexity at several levels. The novel makes a cultural statement first through its structure, and then through its focus on the creative potential of the art forms of the Dalits. The latter are not considered mainstream but constantly appropriated by the upper castes. There is also a comment on the social critiquing that art enables as well as Dalit art’s historical continuity with the Bhakti movement. The Telugu title of Untouchable Spring is Antarani Vasantam. The word vasant indicates spring, but the antarani or ‘untouchable’ refers both to the caste and to the uniqueness, the pristine, pure yet distant spring, Thus, the title has multiple levels of evocation. Ruth, the hospital nurse, is the silent link in Untouchable Spring, carrying the narrative forward from beginning to end. It is a narrative consisting of personal memories, heard fragments, lives lived by people of earlier ­generations – all reflected in the depths of their experiences. Ruth’s husband Reuben was the hospital’s pastor. He is dead, but he is ‘always her present’ (Rao 2000: 1). She is a poet, a storyteller – and so was her husband, ‘He told stories. Wove poems. Laughed and cried as he narrated’ (Ibid.). She recalls his physical presence as her ‘beautiful untouchable man!’ (Ibid.: 2). His narrative 112

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of memory has a mythopoeic quality about it. There is an imaginary Yennela pitta/bird, and Hindu myths of Siva and Parvati are transferred to their world, which is a rich amalgam of religious narratives and ancestral tales, touching both the empirical and the imaginary, and the material and the spiritual. The story of Kamadhenu, the cow whose milk is suffused with honey, is the story of the origin of the Dalits in Andhra Pradesh. They believe that the cowherd Chennaih expressed his desire to drink the honeyed milk. But the moment Kamadhenu hears of this, she drops dead. Before she can be cooked and eaten, she needs to be moved, and Jambavanta is summoned to move her, cut her up, divide her and cook only one part. But Jambavanta disobeys; he cooks the entire meat. Chennaih makes it worse by picking up a piece from the ground and putting it back in the pot. Thus follows the curse that condemns the culprits to spend their lives in Kaliyug, one of the four yugas/ages, the others being Dwapara, Treta, Satya and be sentenced to eating dead meat. Kaliyug is considered to be an age of confusion, violence, rivalries and gross matters. Thus, Jambavanta’s children become the Madigas and Chennaih’s, the Malas. A fictive myth is offered as an explanation for the condition of their lives. First told by Reuben’s grandfather Yellana, the story continues to this day. Yellana was illiterate, but he sang songs and played the flute. These songs travelled both in time and space. With their human birth, their human bodies and their human feelings, it was difficult to comprehend their being condemned to the margins. Even when they watched the village play, they stood on the outskirts of the crowd, just as they lived on the outskirts of upper class habitations. When these boundaries are crossed, they are persecuted, chased and pelted with stones. Once Yellanna, caught in a similar situation in his childhood, runs wildly to escape his persecutors; he gets lost and wanders, driven to despair by fear and physical hurt. Ruth wonders who it is that has created their lives. The finger points to Manu, whom she sees as being a distorted mind that failed to recognize the human in them (Ibid.: 15). As the naked child walks in the dark, he feels the beauty of nature in which the stars look down from the sky, and darkness and light play with each other. ‘There was no untouchability in this union. There was no caste in this movement. There were no four parts within it, no fifth outside it’ (Ibid.: 17). The early part of Untouchable Spring moves forward in short, poetic leaps, and in spurts of creative outbursts. As Yellanna’s feet dance, the reader begins to respond to the rhythm that crosses all barriers, and merges the dark Siva with Yellanna (Ibid.: 21). The child finds himself under the care of Naganna who has a dance troupe. As the narratives of different lives come together, a networking of pasts begins to fall into place. The beginnings of violence are 113

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traceable. There is a strong urge to survive and to defy. ‘We aren’t born only to die . . . we are also born to kill’ (Ibid.: 35). However, every act of survival demands a sacrifice. Naganna’s father is one such sacrifice who, like Yellanna, also came from Yennela Dinni, the same village (Rao 2000: 35–6). Caste politics, colonialism and being condemned to serving as bonded labour to landlords fill the world of the characters in Untouchable Spring even as the qualities of virtue and courage are debated among them. Amongst the various recurring features is also a periodic reference to Reuben who, like his ancestors, had narrated the histories of his family and community, recited poetry and created art. Yellanna marries Subhadra; but it does not stop him from wandering. He creates a dance performance for his community, restoring some kind of a centrality to them, both in its enactment and in the audience (Ibid.: 75–7). Other neighbouring villages invite them; but the upper castes soon intervene, compelling them to dislocate the centrality of the Dalits, a centrality which they had attempted to project through writing, enacting and performing for a Dalit audience, giving them seats in the front and not merely standing on the fringes as observers. Yellana continues to travel, to dance and sing, using everyday language and describing everyday experiences; he comes closer to the travelling Bhaktas, experiencing a sense of freedom. He comes to be known as the Mala Bairagi, the ascetic who has renounced the world. His songs travel all over the area, and are immortalized through other voices. The potter Pedakoteswarudu is another artist who wishes to transfer Yellana’s songs into writing; however, this attempt is foiled by the upper castes, who waylay Pedakoteswarudu, snatch his papers, burn them and kill him, and thus another death is caused by the attempt to break chains (Ibid.: 104–5). Back home in the village, Yellanna’s son Sivaiah grows up, marries Sasirekha and, in turn, become a migrant coolie, still an untouchable, and still cursing the ‘beheaded civilisations’ of his country (Ibid.: 143–4). And then, Sivaiah converts, and takes the name of Simon. Many others also do so and, in their innocence, ask: ‘Now is this body like a brahmin’s . . . [which can] can touch everything? Can touch everyone?’ (Ibid.: 159, 166, 169). Reuben is Sivaiah’s son in the fifth generation. Two other generations follow him, Immanuel and Jesse. But their struggle against the half-hearted accommodation of Gandhian thought by the society, which still denies them access to forbidden spaces despite a provision in the Constitution against Dalits, the fading of the dimly realised hope offered by the communists against police atrocities, the upper class onslaughts, floods and droughts, and hunger and persecution still continues. It is not a small thing to desire dignity and have 114

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choices (Ibid.: 163). However, caught between religion and caste, how far can they run away from their own selves? By the end of Untouchable Spring, things do not seem to have changed much: ‘Everything is a war. A long struggle’ (Ibid.: 261). The multiple strands of the narrative of Untouchable Spring are marked by the circular design of Reuben and Ruth’s dialogic and carried-forward narration, in keeping with the recurring image of the Dalit being on the run perpetually, and then, like the phoenix, rising again and again in resistance. One huge section is devoted to folk art, another to caste politics, a third to political ideologies and a fourth to religion. Yet, their separateness is never clear; their boundaries are blurred. A vision of the miraculous envelops this heroic struggle as new myths and a new epic are created. The continuities of history create a parallel aesthetics of language and style. The dents made by conversion are not deep enough to isolate them from their encroachment of their cultural pasts. Both conversion and resistance have not yet fulfilled the Dalit search for an identity based on equality though the results of their self-effort, the affirmative action of the State and constitutional provisions have opened up some spaces via education and improved economic conditions. As Sobhanlal Datta Gupta has pointed out in his essay ‘Some Theoretical Issues Concerning Social Exclusion and Inclusion in India’, exclusionary spaces continue to pose a threat to both individual identity and the democratic traditions primarily because of their refusal to recognize difference and plurality (2010: 18–20). Thus, the experience of conversion has not really helped Dalits to escape their caste of origins and find rehabilitation in a new ethos, no matter of which faith. Prejudices die hard, and the struggle continues, waiting for a new dawn.

References Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks, 1970. Bama. Karukku. Trans. Lakshmi Holmström. 1992. Chennai: Macmillan, 2000. Baby, Kamble. The Prisons We Broke. Trans. Maya Pandit. Hyderabad: Orient Black Swan, 2009. Marathi original Jivan Amucha, 1986. Bhabha, Homi K. ‘Signs Taken for Wonders: Questions of Ambivalence and Authority under a Tree outside Delhi, May 1817’, in The Location of Culture. London and New York: Routledge, 1994a; 102–22. Bhabha, Homi K. ‘Sly Civility’, in The Location of Culture. London and New York: Routledge, 1994b; 93–101. Bhattacharya, Harihar, Partha Sarkar and Angshuman Kar (eds.). The Politics of Social Exclusion in India: Democracy at the Crossroads. London and New York: Routledge, 2010.

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Chentharasseri, T.H.P. ‘Pampadi John Joseph’ (excerpts). Trans. Ravi Shankar. The Oxford India Anthology of Malayalam Dalit Writing. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012; 218–21. Chirakkarode, Paul. ‘Nostalgia’. Trans. Catherine Thankamma. The Oxford India Anthology of Malayalam Dalit Writing. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012a; 61–7. Chirakkarode, Paul. ‘The Pulaya Ghetto’, in The Oxford India Anthology of Malayalam Dalit Writing. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012b; 122–38. Dasan, M. ‘General Introduction’, in The Oxford India Anthology of Malayalam Dalit Writing. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012; xiii–xxxiii. Dasan M., V. Pratibha, Pradeepan Pampirikunnu and C. S. Chandrika (eds.). The Oxford India Anthology of Malayalam Dalit Writing. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012. Gupta, Sobhanlal Datta. ‘Some Theoretical Issues Concerning Social Exclusion and Inclusion in India’, in The Politics of Social Exclusion in India: Democracy at the Crossroads, (eds.) Harihar Bhattacharya, Partha Sarkar and Angshuman Kar. London and New York: Routledge, 2010; 15–21. Jain, Jasbir. Indigenous Roots of Feminism; Culture, Subjectivity and Agency. New Delhi: Sage, 2011. Karanth, K. Shivaram. Choma’s Drum. 1933. Trans. U. R. Kalkur from the original in Kannada. New Delhi: Hind Paperbacks, 1978. Kosambi , Meera (ed.). Introduction, Selected Works of Pandita Ramabai. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000. Kumar, Ashok M., and Rowena Robinson. ‘Legally Hindu: Dalit Lutheran Christians of Coastal Andhra Pradesh’, in Margins of Faith: Dalit and Tribal Christianity in India, (eds.) Robinson, Rowena and Joseph Marianus Kujur. New Delhi: Sage, 2010; 149–67. Madayi. Taha. ‘Adiyar Teacher’. Trans. T. C. Narayan, in The Oxford India Anthology of Malayalam Dalit Writing. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012; 230–9. Michael, S. M. ‘Dalit Encounters with Christianity: Change and Continuity’, in Margins of Faith: Dalit and Tribal Christianity in India. New Delhi: Sage, 2010; 51–74. Manu. The Laws of Manu, with an Introduction and Notes. Trans. Wendy Doniger and Brian K. Smith. New Delhi: Penguin, 1991. Murali, Kaviyoor. ‘The Gospel for Dalits’, in The Oxford India Anthology of Malayalam Dalit Writing. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012; 7–14. Nagaraj, D. R. The Flaming Feet and Other Essays: The Dalit Movement in India, (eds.) Prithvi Datta and Chandra Shobhi. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010. Nagaraj, D. R. ‘Self-Purification vs Self-Respect: On the Roots of the Dalit Movement’, in The Flaming Feet and Other Essays. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010; 21–69. Nagaraj, D. R. ‘The Lie of a Youth and the Truth of an Anthropologist: Two Tales of Widening Emotional Concern’, in The Flaming Feet and Other Essays. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010b; 61–74. Pandita Ramabai. The High Caste Hindu Woman. With an introduction by Rachel Bodley. New Delhi: Inter-India Publications, 1984.

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Pandita Ramabai. Selected Works. Edited by Meera Kosambi. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000. Puri, Harish. ‘Scheduled Castes in Sikh Community: A Historical Perspective’, Economic and Political Weekly Vol. 38, No 26 (June 28–July 4 2003): 2693–712. Rao, G. Kalyana Rao. 2000. Untouchable Spring. Trans. from the Telugu by Uma Alladi and R. Sridhar. Hyderabad: Orient Black Swan, 2010. Robinson, Rowena and Joseph Marianus Kujur (eds.). Margins of Faith: Dalit and Tribal Christianity in India. New Delhi: Sage, 2010. Sathianathan, K. Rupa. Saguna: A Story of Native Christian Life. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998. Tilak, Lakshmibai. I Follow After: An Autobiography. Trans. E. Josephine Inkster. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998. Valmiki, Om Prakash. Joothan. Trans. Arun Prabha Mukherjee. Kolkata: Samya, 2003. Viswanathan, Gauri. Outside The Fold: Conversion, Modernity, and Belief. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998; 75–152, 211–39. Viswanathan, S. ‘Conversion as Protest’, Frontline Vol. 21, No. 13 (19 June–2 July 2004). www: frontline.in/static/html2113/indexhtm. n.p. Accessed May16, 2015.

Internet References news.bbc.co.uk/2/kip695695, Dalit conversion. 29 May 2007. www.socialjusticeforall.weebly.com/conversion-to-/Buddhism.html. 14 October 1956. www.the hindu.com/todays-paper/one-lakh-people-convert-to-buddhism/article18 48519-ec. 28 May 28 2007.

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7 RESISTING TOGETHER SEPARATELY Representations of the Dalit–Muslim question in literature Nida Sajid

Sparrows of darkness clustered on the eyes are flying away I see the legs of homeless urchins in the graveyard Let’s filter out the Shia and the Sunni dargahs inside ourselves Let’s weep upon every grave. – ‘Allahu Akbar’ (Dhasal 2007: 53)1

Tucked away in a nondescript corner of Dainik Bhaskar, a brief report titled Hey Ram! Chhuachhut ab bhi Zinda (‘Oh God! Untouchability Is Still Alive’) described how the family of a seventy-year-old man called Rameshwar refused to claim his body after he succumbed to his injuries following an accident. The reason for this refusal was that Rameshwar, after his death, had been touched by a cleaner of lower caste working in the hospital. According to the family members, the lifeless body was no longer ‘pure’, and taking it back for last rites would mean spreading the ‘contamination’ to others, which could potentially lead to their ostracization from the community. Despite its brevity, the report took the liberty of deviating from the 1

I quote the English translation of the poem, ‘Allahu Akbar’, from Namdeo Dhasal: Poet of the Underworld. Selection, introduction and translation by Dilip Chitre. Chennai: Navayana, 2007. My thanks to Kshitij Wagh for bringing this poem to my notice from Namdeo Dhasal’s collection of poetry in Marathi, Golpitha. I also acknowledge Professor Indira Athawale, Head of Department. of Marathi at R.N.C. Arts, J.D.B. Commerce and N.S.C. Science College, Nashik, Maharashtra, for providing invaluable resources in Indian vernaculars during my research on Dalit literature.

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journalistic focus of ‘just’ narrating a caste-related incident that ostensibly took place around Gandhi’s birth date in a small village in the Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh. By using Hey Ram – the famous last words of Gandhi – in the title with all its ironical implications, this piece provoked the reader to rethink the meaning of sovereignty and equality in the modern nation-state of India.2 With an elegiac tone lamenting the rigidity of caste structure, the writer managed to express extreme disapproval of practices that reduced living human beings to such deplorable depths that even the dead became ‘untouchable’ in their presence. Given the miniscule size of the report, the fate of Rameshwar’s body, in all probability, would have vanished from both public view and memory with the arrival of fresh newspapers the next day. But the incident was destined to get an afterlife with the Internet’s resourcefulness in recycling and disseminating information. Soon after the appearance of the initial print version, the news piece resurfaced on a blog site called ‘An Indian Muslim’ and, in its new electronic avatar, provided greater details of the events surrounding Rameshwar’s death.3 The blogger explained how, ‘defiled’ by a Dalit’s touch, the body kept lying in wait for a funeral for three days. Finally, the Muslim community in the area, on hearing about this incident, took action, and a local Muslim leader offered to perform the last rites according to Hindu traditions. The deceased’s family, after much resistance, gave their consent and the Muslims conducted Rameshwar’s funeral. At the end of the blog, the writer mentioned that this Muslim community in Khandwa had just recently faced communal riots, and was still recovering from the trauma of Hindu–Muslim clashes. The blogger, to some extent, shifted the focus of the initial report to comment on both caste practices and communal violence and, by describing the benevolence shown by the Muslim community towards a dead Hindu body, tried to counter the negative stereotype of Muslims as instigators of communal hatred in India. The veracity of both the original news report and the blog post can be put into question. However, my intention here is not to debate the truth value of these writings in relation to the actual unfolding of events. Factual or fictional, what these narratives do together is to tie two histories of exclusion that rarely come together in the popular media or the collective Indian imagination. The histories that I refer to here are that of the Dalits 2

Gandhi’s views on the caste system can be best described as ambivalent. For a more detailed discussion on Gandhi’s perception of caste and untouchability, see Chakrabarty (2006) and Kumar (2011). 3 Both the blog and the news piece can be accessed at http://www.anindianmuslim. com/2007/10/defiled-by-dalits-touch-muslims-perform.html. Accessed 30 November 2013.

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as well as the Muslims in India. While terms like ‘Dalit’ and ‘Muslim’ are indelible markers of caste and religion in political discourse, they also carry within themselves a profound questioning of the relationship between the nation-state and the construction of the citizen-subject in postcolonial India. The processes of democratizing India reproduced power structures of colonial rule by using caste and religious identity to promote ideas of universal citizenry on the one hand, and to marginalize the very same population groups on the other. As a result, the nation-state and its technologies of governance often create vacillating overlaps between the construction of Dalits and Muslims as liminal subjects of policy decisions and cultural discourse. As Prathama Banerjee points out, the framing of Indian history through the Hindu–Muslim question has ‘resulted in the glossing over of the fact that religion as a question itself was being radically re-theorized through the caste question in the twentieth century’ (Banerjee 2007: 227). One of the foremost challenges of formulating the Dalit–Muslim question in the Indian context, therefore, is the task of demarcating its limits in both writing and the lived experience. As Shahid Amin acutely observes, ‘The sense of belonging – belonging to the present nation – involves the creation and replication of a sense of “them” and “us” through icons, stories, and narratives’ (2006: 2). Print and electronic recollections of Rameshwar’s encounters with Dalits and Muslims in death do not only chart the map of his posthumous journey; they also blend issues of caste and religion together to offer a glimpse into the notions of otherness in Indian polity. Like these accounts of Rameshwar’s death, this essay elucidates the aporias of the Dalit–Muslim question within the context of communal politics in contemporary India. It demonstrates how Dalit literature has entered a new phase of ethical responsibility by exploring the possible overlap between registers of difference and marginalization beyond an exclusionary Dalit identity. This essay specifically looks at the construction of Dalit–Muslim relations in the poetry of a Dalit writer, Mohandas Naimishraya, to show how Dalit writers are employing the space of literature to articulate a politics of solidarity between different marginalized, disempowered communities. Laced with utopian as well as dystopian visions of intercommunal relations, Naimishraya’s trans-subjective explorations constitute an important discursive intervention for the formation a new ethical subject in Dalit literature. For the past few decades, the popular Indian imaginary has been dominated by a new Hindu sensibility that arrived almost in parallel with the liberalization of Indian economy and its growing ties with globalization. The tail end of the twentieth century saw the public demise of India’s secular Constitution with the rise of Hindu fundamentalism and the Hindutva ideology, which openly demarcated the conceptual boundaries of India as 120

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that of a Hindu nation.4 It is because of this particular crisis around communal identity, as Nicholas Dirks notes, ‘it is well worth directing some attention to the ways in which caste haunts discourses of community and nation in India today’ (2001: 6). While Hindu nationalists achieved unprecedented popular and parliamentary success by replacing the notion of caste with that of religion in the 1990s, they also created a terrain of conflict between Dalits and Muslims by pitting these two marginal communities against each other for the right to inhabit both history and nation. The religious shades of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ equation, briefly, covered up problems of caste discrimination; in fact, caste became a pragmatic tool to represent Hinduism as a ‘noncontestatory form of community to cushion the turmoil of political modernity in India’ (Dirks 2001: 7). Through reinterpretations of scriptures and tradition, Hindutva ideologues introduced a revamped capacious Hinduism in the Indian imaginary in the last two decades of the twentieth century that could absorb the notion of ‘otherness’ based on caste hierarchies. They implemented different strategies to collapse registers of marginality within Hinduism, and replaced caste-based structural inequities with a powerful rhetoric of religious difference. Organizations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) undertook mass campaigns of ‘reconverting’ tribals and other minorities after identifying religious conversion to Islam and Christianity as a symptom of the collective marginalization faced by the Hindu populace over centuries. Hindutva forces also identified the presence of other religious influences in Dalit communities as a threat to the unified essence of a Hindu nation which ostensibly evolved out of a shared cultural ethos comprising of egalitarian caste relations. In order to represent Hinduism as an inclusive religious–nationalist identity, Hindu nationalists further excavated subaltern myths and folklore, and reworked this cultural universe to exploit Dalits’ desire ‘to be accepted by those who had excluded and oppressed them’ (Narayan 2009: 24). In many instances, the collective memory of Dalit communities was linked with the myth of Lord Rama to create a sense of inclusion and to incite aggression against forces projected as anti-Hindu (Narayan 2009: 30). To this end, Dalit modes of self-assertion were also intricately woven into a unified metanarrative of Hindu identity and masculinity. Fabricated intersections of historical and cultural discourses created dubious yet powerful imagery of Islamic oppression and Dalit dissent that further strengthened the militant Hindutva stance of cleansing the nation of the ‘outsider’s’ blood. The 4 For

an analysis of how localized communal practices and discourses gave rise to imaginary conceptualizations of India as a Hindu nation, see Deshpande (1998).

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conceptual schema of such incitation and representation raised its ugliest head during the incidents of communal violence in many parts of north India during the last two decades of the twentieth century. In what is considered to be the most shocking episode of communal violence in the recent history of India, the nation witnessed the participation of disenfranchised Dalits and Adivasis in the anti-Muslim riots of Gujarat alongside Hindu nationalist activists in 2002 (Jaffrelot 2003). The strong presence of the Dalit movement and Muslim activists in the public sphere, however, led to immediate action with the news of the Gujarat carnage trickling into the public consciousness through both conventional and unconventional sources. The continuing terror in Gujarat convinced members of civil society that the violence was a state-sponsored pogrom of ethnic cleansing – not a case of unorganized riots – made possible through the silent complicity of major political parties (Varadarajan 2002). On 2 May 2002, nearly 50,000 people, mostly Muslims and Dalits, gathered in Delhi under the aegis of ‘Save India Front’ to protest against what they saw as the extremist rightwing politics of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological partner, the Sangh Parivar. This gathering was one of the many public meetings and exchanges organized by the Dalit and Muslim leadership to look deeper into Dalit–Muslim relations and the challenges of Hindutva fascism. The need to call for solidarity had greater urgency in the wake of events in Gujarat that shook the complacent claims of secularism made by the Indian nationstate. However, the symbolic power of earlier events such as the anti-Mandal Commission agitation in 1990 and the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 also served as historical hinges to recognize the unconstitutional agenda of right-wing political parties, and to promote the common cause of self-­ determination amongst the marginalized subaltern population comprising of not only Hindus and Muslims, but also Sikhs, Christians and other minorities. Though the participation of Dalits in the Gujarat carnage has been a subject of much debate in recent years, it is still exceedingly crucial to understand why right-wing forces like the Sangh Parivar succeeded in mobilizing disenfranchised social groups through an anti-Muslim Hindutva rhetoric.5 In his analysis of the nature of ethnic violence, Arjun Appadurai offers a fresh perspective on the ways ‘uncertainty’ regarding identity, entitlement and sovereignty can trigger intolerable anxiety, and create conditions where seemingly ordinary people perpetrate unimaginable brutality 5

After the Gujarat riots, it was easier for the state machinery to isolate Dalits and Adivasis as the perpetrators of communal violence and arrest them. Such tactics were accompanied by extensive media coverage of the role played by Dalits during the riots. For more detailed analyses of the Hindutva mobilization of Dalits, see Narayan (2009) and Teltumbde (2005).

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on those with whom they have lived in close proximity and relative amity. When one or more forms of social uncertainty come into play, ‘violence can create a macabre form of certainty and can become a brutal technique (or folk discovery-procedure) about “them” and, therefore, about “us” ’ (Appadurai 1998: 229). Mass-scale violence against an ethic group, hence, can be interpreted as the most gruesome nomenclative procedure for not only naming the other, but also creating a sense of belonging for the self. This macabre truth also applies to India where labels like ‘Hindu’, ‘Muslim’ or ‘Dalit’ do not represent stable, primordial identities and, in times of violence, are largely a product of myth, rumour or propaganda that construct degrees of belonging or separation between individuals and communities. The Hindutva mobilization of Dalits against Muslims and the subsequent critiques of such tactics have brought to the forefront of public activism another aspect of caste which, till very recently, was confined to academic and sociological research. Although caste, by definition, is an institution evolving out of practices labelled as ‘Hindu’, sociologists have recognized it as a structural malaise that also exists within Muslim communities in South Asia.6 Though the ‘spillover effects from caste through class to religious boundaries’ have blended these social categories, their entanglement is constantly ‘counterworked’ by a public rhetoric which insists on portraying them as clear-cut and distinct (Frøystad 2005: 271). Hence, the hyphenated Dalit–Muslim question is not only restricted to the issue of reconciling the experiences of two separate identity groups. The hyphen also designates certain overlaps and blurred borders in monolithic identity labels such as ‘Hindu’, ‘Muslim’ or ‘Dalit’ created by political discourse. While participation in acts of violence against ‘them’ in communal riots may have temporarily simulated a sense of agentive and symbolic ‘us’ for many marginalized groups, such a sense of belonging has been not only treacherous, but also ineffectual. Political empowerment – in any real sense of the word – still eludes masses of Dalits and Muslims alike. In fact, the shared experience of political disenfranchisement further problematizes the hyphen in the Dalit–Muslim question. A decade after the Gujarat violence, Muslims have further ghettoized themselves from the mainstream in a shroud of invisibility and terror, and Dalits continue to face the same ageold socio-economic discrimination and violence on a daily basis, despite all the half-hearted attempts by different political parties in each election cycle to rehabilitate both communities in the national imaginary. 6 For

a detailed study of caste practices among South Asian Muslims and the emergence of Dalit Muslim political movements, see Ahmad (1978), Ahmad (2003), Alam (2009) and Sikand (2004).

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Vigilant and cognizant of constant political manipulation of marginal identities, Dalit writers, in recent times, have made self-conscious efforts to question divisive political agendas based on caste/religion, and to reconcile the cultural universe of both Dalits and Muslims in the space of literature. One such writer is Mohandas Naimishraya who belongs to the Hindispeaking belt in north India, and writes fiction, poetry and non-fiction in Hindi. Before I embark upon an analysis of Naimishraya’s representation of Dalit–Muslim relations, it is important to situate his writings in the larger universe of Dalit literature. His most canonical work is a fictionalized autobiography in Hindi, Apne Apne Pinjre (1995), which critics consider to be a brilliant example of recollecting Dalit experience through the narratives of the self. As Tapan Basu rightly observes, ‘in the so-called “cow-belt” of India, the heartland of Hindutva chauvinism, awareness of Dalit rights has been nebulous even among the Dalits’ (Basu 2002: 192). In a literary landscape otherwise dominated by upper caste sensibilities, the rise of Dalit autobiography in Hindi with writers like Naimishraya and Om Prakash Valmiki has, therefore, ‘created an important literary space for the expression of Dalit cultural identity’ (Beth 2007: 548). In contrast to the representational schema of earlier Hindi literature, the genre of Dalit autobiography has shifted the experiential knowledge of the marginalized castes in north India from the outside to the inside of life narratives. Clearly demarcated by an aura of ‘authenticity’, these narratives ‘herald the emergence of Dalit personhood as a figure of suffering, unsettling the celebratory mood of late modern Indian democracy, and moving towards realising its true potential by demanding due recognition’ (Ganguly 2009: 231). As such, Dalit autobiographies ‘symbolically represent the experiences of every Dalit’, and establish the Dalit protagonist ‘as the representative of the Dalit community and Dalit identity’ (Beth 2007: 551). In the face of the print and visual media’s insouciance towards Dalit issues, the evocative powers of the writer’s inner self describe a ‘severe outer reality that goads the moral imagination of readers, demanding ameliorative action’ (Ramachandran 2004: 30). As an indispensable addition to the ever-growing world of Dalit literature, Apne Apne Pinjre speaks to us in a multivalent voice about the subtle and overt practices of power through the quotidian world of caste relations. Its representational schema holds the same paradox found in many Dalit autobiographies where the ‘writer speaks as a triumphant individual and as a persecuted group member’ (Merrill 2010: 143). Nevertheless, Apne Apne Pinjre contextualizes the formative role played by Dalit chetna (consciousness) in Indian society and reflects on the diverse reasons responsible for the marginalization of Dalits in the national narrative (Chandra 2006: 75). Through a series of serious and light-hearted vignettes 124

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about growing up in the township of Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, Naimishraya heralds the emergence of Dalit subjectivity in an intractable social ethos that creates a huge question mark in front of the democratic claims of the Indian nation-state. Weaving issues of poverty, discrimination, unemployment, disease, lack of education and superstition with the narrative of an individual’s life, Apne Apne Pinjare reveals the shared pain of untouchability in the Chamar community of western Uttar Pradesh. The everyday experience of ignominy in Naimishraya’s life story, however, is not only a symbolic representation of the collective degradation faced by his community. Through unconscious moments of transgression and deliberate statements of protest against caste hierarchies, Naimishraya both evokes and rebukes the spatial delineation of untouchability and its ubiquitous relation to structures of power. Naimishraya deliberately pays close attention to the geography, rather than the history, of discrimination in his autobiography to chart the possibilities of protest against the status quo. The literary affirmation of a Dalit personhood through the routine conflict between body and space rehabilitates Dalit pain and humiliation in the reader’s imagination in order to overcome the silence around untouchability in the official archives of history.7 Such representations of individual and collective pain in the genre of autobiography open up an aporia within Dalit literature on the question of ethical responsibility and the demarcation of boundaries between the self and the other. They pose several pertinent questions regarding the limits of representation in Dalit literature: How do writings that emerge within the representational schema of a Dalit self-engage with the experience of marginalization faced by another community? Is Dalit literature restricted to representing a Dalit personhood and collectivity? Who has the right to represent and conversely, who gets represented in Dalit literature? For instance, Sharankumar Limbale, a noted Dalit critic, conceptualizes Dalit literature as writing about Dalits by Dalit writers with a Dalit consciousness. The form of Dalit literature is inherent in its Dalitness, and its purpose is obvious: to inform Dalit society of its slavery, and narrate its pain and suffering to upper caste Hindus. (Limbale 2004: 19) Limbale’s definition, very concisely, circumscribes the form, content, readership and the authorship for Dalit writings. Taken at face value, the definition seems to perform almost a mirror-like inversion of the exclusionary 7 For

an analysis of Naimishraya’s meta-narrative critique of mainstream inscriptions of Indian history, see Gajarawala (2011).

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caste structure by pitting Dalits against upper caste Hindus and, in the p­ rocess, making Dalit literature solely a project of self-assertion against Brahmanical literature. As Arun Mukherjee rightly points out in her Intro­­­­­ duction to Om Prakash Valmiki’s autobiography Joothan (originally published in Hindi in 1997), the tussle over the question of representation can be traced back to the political arena of India’s freedom struggle where M. K. Gandhi denied B. R. Ambedkar’s claim to be the representative of Dalits, and fashioned his own identity as that of a ‘self-chosen untouchable’ (Valmiki 2003: xxxiv). Given the brutal and subtle mechanisms, discursive or otherwise, of silencing Dalit voices in the public sphere, it would not be surprising if Dalit writers choose to write with the specific purpose of reclaiming their right to literature through self-­representation. However, modern Dalit literature, much like the Indian polity, has been a contested terrain of conflicting ideologies on the question of representation and the emancipatory possibilities of Dalit writings. Limbale himself broadens the aesthetico-political scope of Dalit writings through a universalist-humanist paradigm by asserting that ‘Every human being must find liberty, honour, security, and freedom from intimidation by the powerful elements of society. These values are now being articulated in a particular kind of l­iterature – its name being Dalit literature’ (Limbale 2004: 30). Delimiting Dalit literature or the concept of ‘Dalitness’ to the representations of Dalit selfhood vis-à-vis caste politics, therefore, would almost amount to the dismissal of its potential for reinventing itself and engaging in border crossings. Naimishraya, in his essays on literary criticism, also expresses the need for Dalit writings to broaden their horizons to include issues that look beyond a single jati to become a literature of samanvaya (alliance) and samta (egalitarianism) that reflects upon the entire Indian society (Naimishraya 2008: 103). Through their representation of pain and protest, he adds, Dalit writings have enriched Hindi literature with both aesthetic and humanist values that link one human being with another (Naimishraya 2008: 15). In his analysis of Naimishraya’s autobiography, Dattaraya Murumkar further echoes these humanist sentiments by arguing how Apne Apne Pinjare inaugurates a new sensibility in Hindi atmakatha by transforming the voice of sva (self) into that of samaj (society) (Murumkar 2012: 62). Though Ambedkarite thinkers have heavily critiqued upper caste humanism in their antagonistic dialogue with the mainstream Indian public sphere, Dalit writers like Naimishraya strategically use a humanist vocabulary in their autobiographies to mobilize different constituencies and articulate a politics of difference. As such, Naimishraya’s work speaks to a history of commitment and identification that multiplies beyond itself to relate to the experience of the other. 126

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While Naimishraya’s autobiography, Apne Apne Pinjare, offers both linguistic and ideological resistance to the conception of Hindi language as a sanitized space for exclusionary politics of caste, it also maps the trauma of communal riots in contemporary India. In addition to articulating the experience of a Dalit self, Naimishraya also struggles to present an ethical position on the subject of intercommunal relations. Along with the quotidian world of caste hierarchies, communal violence affects Naimishraya very early in childhood and becomes an inseparable part of the psychosocial topography of his autobiography. Naimishraya narrates an incident where his father, who usually chose silence during riots, reprimands his neighbour for ‘becoming’ Hindu by spreading communal hatred and raising anti-­Muslim slogans in the Dalit basti (Naimishraya 1995: 48). Naimishraya also describes a very different incident where a man from his community tries to save himself from a Muslim mob by claiming he is a Chamar, and not a Hindu (Naimishraya 1995: 47–8). The mob refuses to recognize his identity as separate from Hindus, and the man escapes only because of the timely arrival of police. While narrating these responses to communal violence in his autobiography, Naimishraya constructs Dalit identity in multiple ways – from that of an instigator to that of a victim, or, as in his father’s case, that of a silent observer – in order to avoid a monolithic Dalit subject position in the Hindu–Muslim conflict. In the process of recollecting these ambivalent responses, Naimishraya, nevertheless, underscores his own ethical position by drawing our attention, at times surreptitiously, to the fact that structures of exclusion and exploitation create ambivalent overlaps between caste and religion. In his autobiography, Naimishraya also effectively combines personal memory of caste relations with a literary language that maps the Dalit contestation with traditional centres of literary production in Hindi. His use of bolchaal (colloquial/spoken) Hindi of the Chamars in western Uttar Pradesh performs the ideological function of introducing the ‘polluted’ Dalit body in the interrelated spheres of emotions and sociality in Hindi literature. The language of Apne Apne Pinjare rebels against the elite order of literary discourse and creates proximity between different subaltern communities through a shared idiom which refuses to be contained within the limits of caste politics. For Naimishraya, the concept of transgression is both a political and an aesthetic choice to challenge the rigid literary boundaries of modern Hindi literature which, from its very inception in the late nineteenth century, was conceptualized by upper caste writers as a medium for expressing a ‘pure’ Hindu identity in opposition to the Urdu language and Indo-Muslim literary cultures. 127

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While Apne Apne Pinjre provides an excellent example of both linguistic and ideological resistance to the hegemonic conception of the Hindi language as a sanitized space for exclusionary caste and religion politics, Naimishraya’s recent writings have become more overtly political on the question of literature’s role in articulating the topography of trauma and violence for Muslims in contemporary India. Ever since the Gujarat massacre took place, Naimishraya has also been consistently writing about the ideological content of communal violence and its overlaps with caste oppression.8 In a newspaper article written at the height of Gujarat violence, he points out how the Hindutva rhetoric is not uniformly absorbed across Dalit communities because of the marked disparities among Dalits themselves regarding awareness of their own identity and rights (Naimishraya 2005: 158). Although Naimishraya’s writings on the Dalit involvement in communal riots are, at times, defensive and present Dalit communities as victims of Hindutva ideology, they, nevertheless, underscore the importance of creating stronger alliances between the Dalits and Muslims to resist communal politics in India. Recognizing that the architectonics of exclusion and exploitation is practically the same for both caste and religion, he now attempts to redefine ‘Dalitness’ through modes of literary expression that encapsulate the border crossings of Dalit subjectivity and reveal the commonalities in the Muslim and Dalit experience. Naimishraya’s conceptualization and participation in the political project of solidarity between hitherto divided communities of Hindus, Muslims and Dalits in the space of Hindi literature can be best observed in the aesthetic universe of his poetry. His poems help us imagine a world in which communal boundaries are fluid and permeable, and thus create the possibility of reading ourselves as imaginative citizens of not one or another community, but of interpenetrative worlds that ceaselessly overlap and converge through the experience of pain and loss. In a poem titled Fasal (‘Harvest’), he asks, Why is Jumman’s house set on fire? Who abducts Hariya’s daughter? . . . I ask you again and again around each and every one of us 8

Naimishraya has recently authored a novel on communal violence in Gujarat titled Zakhm Hamare (Our Wounds). In the preface, he describes in detail the impact of the news and images of the Gujarat riots on him and compares the events of 2002 with his own experience of growing up in Meerut amid communal riots.

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this question raises its head why these riots again and again? (Bharti 2006: 116)9 By using the names of a Muslim and a Dalit side by side as the victims of majoritarian violence, Naimishraya reduces the distance between their individual suffering and compels his reader to reflect on the reasons why the most disenfranchised among us have to suffer the most during instances of rioting in India. In a poem titled Andolan (‘Movement’), Naimishraya compels his fellow writers to integrate protest in their work against corporeal and more intangible forms of violence towards all minorities in the following manner: You have to sharpen the edge of words because your wounds can still be reopened You only have words to keep the struggle up they are your energy. (Bharti 2006: 106) Through consistent use of such sentiments about the power of discourse in his work, Naimishraya consolidates a Dalit ‘counterpublic sphere’, which ‘creates a shared space for the reflexive circulation of discourse that has been marginalised from the mainstream public sphere’ and also ‘directly challenges that mainstream to recognise and negotiate this competing discourse’ (Brueck 2010: 127). Naimishraya inaugurates a new phase of chetna in the Dalit counterpublic sphere that questions the limits of its own construction in literature, and exposes the socio-historical axis through which Dalit empowerment creates its own internal mechanisms of relegating certain experiences to the realm of silence. Through the repeated re-visioning of the Dalit self and how its subjective experience of trauma relates to the suffering of the other, this new Dalit chetna in Naimishraya’s work also tries to take into account ‘the simultaneity of subaltern complicity and subaltern emancipation in contemporary Indian politics’ (Wakankar 2010: 9). The rise of a party like Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh, for instance, was instrumental in the political empowerment of the Dalit movement in the past two decades. BSP’s anti-Hindutva stance also helped the party to make inroads into the Muslim electorate, and win its support during elections. However, 9 Samples

of Mohandas Naimishraya’s Hindi poetry have been taken from Kanval Bharti’s edited collection titled Dalit: Nirvachit Kavitayen (2006). All the English translations of his poetry from this collection are by the author of this article.

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despite its emphasis on social mobility and communal harmony, the BSP’s so-called secular progressive agenda does not easily translate into suturing up the wounds of humiliation and violence for the majority of Dalits and Muslims alike. In his journalistic writings, Naimishraya points out how the Dalit rajniti (politics) and Dalit andolan (movement) have had very little in common with each other. Though the politicians used the energy of the andolan for electoral politics, they rarely understood the real meaning of Dalit chetna. Electoral victories for parties like BSP rarely translated into social justice or political empowerment for the disenfranchised; rather, they splintered the andolan by either creating or reinforcing hierarchies among different communities (Naimishraya 2005: 208). Thus, recognizing the absence of any political determination among politicians to address the issue of caste and religion in a meaningful way, Naimishraya has made concerted efforts to use literature as a conceptual apparatus for engaging in a cross-cultural dialogue and creating a pluralistic movement. He reiterates the same sentiment in a poem titled Raat mein Duba Loktantra aur Ve (‘The Dark Side of Democracy and Them’) by describing each election cycle as a time of terror when ‘they’ (that is, the political parties) – irrespective of race, religion, caste, region, language – scare ‘us’ with the singular agenda of gaining more power, and all ‘we’ do in fear and awe is ‘stand in our own cages/trying hard to listen/to our own heart beats’ (Bharti 2006: 114). By using intercultural tropes and by redefining the boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’ through the dynamics of power, Naimishraya outstrips homogenic or insular identity affiliations of Dalit literature, and exposes its potential for productive intercultural explorations of marginalized experiences. In order to open up Dalit public discourse to the pain of the other, the liminal subject position that Naimishraya created in Apne Apne Pinjare returns in his recent poetry to capture the Muslim experience of institutionalized violence. Poetry, ‘because of its peculiar, self-conscious, explicit negotiation with the dynamics and parameters of language’, can also be interpreted as ‘the place where some of the key issues, concerns and debates regarding autobiography studies might be most keenly and usefully played out’ (Gill and Waters 2009: 2). This is particularly true for Naimishraya’s poetry in which the autobiographical ‘I’ merges with the poetic ‘I’ in order to create a more powerful way of achieving an expressive language for a composite political self. The autobiographical mode of writing offers an alternative mode of conceiving a poem beyond the poet’s imagination, and provides a means of constructing a semblance of experienced reality. In particular, Naimishraya uses recollection and personal memory as forms of political intervention to propose a new poetic space that offers 130

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insight into the intricacies of multiple marginalized experiences. In a poem titled Ek Shav ka Bayaan (‘A Corpse’s Testimony’), he uses a poetic version of ‘testimonio’ – a first-person eyewitness account of collective trauma – to speak to the reader in the voice of a man about to be killed by the police for no apparent reason except for belonging to a particular ethnic group. Naimishraya narrates the inner thoughts of a man soon to die through the workings of the state machinery in order to underline the paradox that ‘the symbolic significance and semiotic density of violence are deepened, even as (caste) violence is politicized’ (Rao 2011: 612). In order to underline the significance of one testifying voice against the crushing anonymity of mainstream media and history, the voice of the witness speaks to us about gruesome ethnic killings, and continues to narrate its own death long after the body has been disposed of: Slowly, we were turning into corpses . . . the painful moments of fighting with death and drowning bodies we were all helpless . . . Soon, we were all dead we wrote the history of a living community with rotting cadavers. (Bharti 2006: 105) Through such a vivid remembering of forgotten episodes of violence as subjective suffering, Naimishraya’s poetry becomes a site of un-­ concealment for a desensitized public, and conveys information that transcends the factual content of events one finds in the media coverage of violence against minorities. While his autobiographical self points to the power of personal memory over public and ‘official’ discourses, his poetic self reveals the unstable nature of memory itself. As such, Naimishraya’s poetry becomes a narrative of a partitioned self that refuses to give into the totalizing claims of either fact or fiction in its depiction of ethnic violence. In a poem titled Sach Yahi Hai (‘This Is the Truth’), Naimishraya exposes the trauma of communal riots through an exceedingly poignant and vivid picture of a woman waiting for her husband to return home. Lying on the mud floor of her hut, she tries to listen for her husband’s footsteps; but all that she can hear in the stillness of the night is the police patrolling her neighbourhood: ‘Outside / the earth echoes with the footfall of policemen / Inside her heart shivers in fear’ (Bharti 2006: 109). The palpability of the woman’s 131

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fear and desperation even in the presence of state ­protection – the metonymic boots of patrolling policemen – draws our attention to the defencelessness of populations labelled as the ‘other’ in times of violence. Naimishraya’s description of vulnerable subjectivities gets even more disconcerting when he continues to narrate how, lying awake in wait and fear, the woman does not want to see the ugly truth that Her husband’s intestines slashed by some Rampuriya knife must be lying in a nearby garbage dump or his scorched face and burnt body must be lying near some river or pond. (Bharti 2006: 109) This horrific crime, however, would go unnoticed and unaddressed by the public because Even if Police tries it will fail in its attempts to catch the murderer of this man since within us somewhere or the other in some shape or the other that killer resides this is the truth. (Bharti 2006: 110) After underlining the complicity of each one of us in the spread of ethnic violence, Naimishraya further provokes our sensibilities by saying: We are humans and also killers First we kill then we practice politics because killing and using the dead for politics both have become our destiny This is the truth. (Bharti 2006: 110) Naimishraya also draws the reader’s attention to what Gyanendra Pandey (2006) has termed ‘routine violence’ – the violence emanating from political categories and the writing of exclusionary national histories – through 132

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the following images: ‘Nobody goes house to house/to distribute food/but tridents, knives, guns, sickles, bombs/reach homes without our asking’ (Bharti 2006: 110). By invoking the image of the trishul (trident) – a potent symbol of Hindutva ideology – and juxtaposing it with the lack of political will to provide disenfranchised populations with basic needs like food and shelter, he tries to show how the instigation of contempt for the ‘other’ becomes a weapon in the hands of political parties for deviating from their own constitutional responsibilities. As a word of caution about political tactics that simulate a sense of empowerment in ‘us’ through the dissemination of hatred against ‘them’, Naimishraya reminds us that the story of the slaughtered man and his grieving wife could well be our own if we are not vigilant enough, and continue to absorb discourses of communal hatred without any resistance or reflection. Well aware of the fact his audience comprises mainly of ‘silent’ spectators of communal riots, he leaves his readers with vivid imagery of political double-speak in the hope that it would shake their complacency, and make them reflect on their own complicity in propagating the vicious cycle of ethnic violence: First instigate communal riots then organize a peace march this is the truth like growing flowers on graves. (Bharti 2006: 108) Naimishraya’s stark and disturbing imagery of corporeal pain and bodily mutilation during Hindu-Muslim riots in Sach Yahi Hai draws our attention to the susceptibility and exposure of human flesh to the violent patterns of social discrimination based on religious identity. As Appadurai explains, the violence inflicted on the human body in ethnic contexts is never random or devoid of cultural form. The maiming of the human body can be interpreted as ‘a desperate effort to restore the validity of somatic markers of “otherness” in the face of the uncertainties posed by census labels, demographic shifts, and linguistic changes’ (Appadurai 1998: 242). Nevertheless, as Appadurai continues to explain, the use of the human body as a site for resolving uncertainty through brutal forms of violence is not limited to identifying the ‘other’ amongst ‘us’. It also indicates circumstances where ‘the lived experience of large labels becomes unstable, indeterminate, and socially volatile, so that violent action can become one means of satisfying one’s sense of one’s categorical self’ (Appadurai 1998: 244). Naimishraya’s poetry accentuates this disturbing aspect of ethnic violence where the seemingly mindless destruction of the human body actually participates in a systematic reconstruction of communal boundaries, and becomes a 133

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modality of reaffirming one’s own sense of absolute and coherent identity. By remaining anonymous and unidentifiable in death, the victims of communal violence in Sach Yahi Hai deny their killers the somatic opening for asserting an undifferentiated sense of self in the act of committing corporeal violence. Thus, Naimishraya’s juxtaposition of images of an unnamed man’s mutilated body with the fear and desperation of his wife during communal riots does not only highlight the urgency of reconciling Dalit identity with the Muslim experience of marginality. It also indicates a conscious act of border crossing for constructing liminal subject positions in literature that capture the slippages in identities through the porous boundaries of lived experience. While the act of killing embodies the macabre process of labelling both the victim and the killer under large identity markers, people inhabiting the imaginary landscape of violence in Naimishraya’s poetry are curiously without names. Constructed through the architectonics of personal pronouns such as ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘they’ and ‘we’, the inhabitants of Naimishraya’s literary world constantly escape identification as belonging to one community or the other. Since ‘the ethnic body, both of victim and of killer, is itself potentially deceptive’ in times of communal violence, it is the act of killing and mutilation that ‘evicts the possibility of further somatic change or slippage’ (Appadurai 1998: 232). In his poetry, Naimishraya maintains the deceptiveness of the ethnic body through the namelessness of both the victim and the perpetrator of communal violence. The unidentifiable world of personal pronouns further collapses the boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’ to represent the personal/collective meanings of suffering and loss for everyone, irrespective of imposed borders of identity. By using wellrecognized tropes of Dalit autobiography, Naimishraya locates the indeterminate borders of experiential knowledge of an individual to undermine monolithic discourses of religion, caste and nation. In so doing, he creates an individualized voice of Dalit–Muslim consciousness that oscillates between remembering and forgetting, pain and revolt, suffering and rage, unforgiveness and resignation. Naimishraya’s poems are narratives of vulnerability and victimhood of marginalized Dalit and Muslim subjectivities; yet, they also have the potential of unsettling existing social structures and political practices by opening up spaces for the emergence and purveyance of new relationships between Dalits and Muslims in India. Despite the stark and disturbing imagery of ethnic violence, his representations of pain and death are not just a denunciation of oppressive political systems and unjust constructions of social relations. Naimishraya’s poetry can also be interpreted as a space for both imagination and resistance that blurs rigid boundaries between communities – religious, 134

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national or regional – to forge alliances of political and aesthetic sensibility across cultures and histories.10 His writings suggest an alternate model of belonging and ‘citizenship’ that overcomes the shortcomings of identity labels created by one’s censorial membership in the singular ‘official’ discourse of the nation-state and citizenry. Naimishraya’s goal is not merely to eliminate the tensions of liminality present through a coherent, singular experience of the Dalit or the Muslim self, but to use fluidity and dynamism in language to delineate the borders of an empowered selfhood for a vacillating Dalit– Muslim identity. Therefore, in Naimishraya’s poem Aag (‘Fire’), the liminal subject position of the autobiographical ‘I’ does not simply recollect experiences of exclusion and marginality for itself or, by extension, any named community with a singular identity. Instead, by suffering the double agony of communal and caste violence, the poetic ‘I’ transforms itself into a scorching voice that burns the very limits of hegemonic and homogenic selfhood to embrace the other outside the tyranny of names and labels as just ‘you’ and ‘I’. You are fire Take it in your hands They will burn. . . . Then, you will realize How fire burns people’s bodies and homes . . . Then, inside you, A fire will rise And you will no longer stay quiet. . . . You will gather and fight. Anywhere anytime There can be a fire. To fight it You have to become it. . . . (Bharti 2006: 105–6)11 10 One

significant instance of border crossing in the early years of the Dalit movement has been its repeated efforts towards creating alliances and affiliations with the Black consciousness movements across Africa and America. The Dalit Panther movement in the 1970s, for instance, was formed by Namdeo Dhasal after getting inspired by the Black Panther movement in the United States. For more details on Dalit Panther movement, see Jefferson (2008) and Murugkar (1991). 11 The translation of the poem is by the author of this article.

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Jefferson, Antonette. ‘The Rhetoric of Revolution: The Black Consciousness Movement and the Dalit Panther Movement’, Journal of Pan African Studies Vol. 2 (July 2008): 67–9. Kumar, Aishwary. ‘The Ellipsis of Touch: Gandhi’s Unequals’, Public Culture Vol. 23 (April 2011): 449–69. Limbale, Sharankumar (ed.). Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies and Considerations. Trans. Alok Mukherjee. New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2004. Merrill, Christi. ‘Human Rights Singular-Plural: Translating Dalit Autobiography from Hindi’. Biography Vol. 33 (November 2010): 127–50. Murumkar, Dattaraya. Pinjare ki Paridhi se Bahar ka Atmakathan. New Delhi: Navbharat Prakashan, 2012. Murugkar, Lata. Dalit Panther Movement in Maharashtra: A Sociological Appraisal. Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1991. Naimishraya, Mohandas. Apne Apne Pinjare. New Delhi: Vani Prakashan, 1995. Naimishraya, Mohandas. Dalit Patrakarita: Samajika va Rajnaitika Chintan. Volume I. New Delhi: Nataraj Prakashan, 2005. Naimishraya, Mohandas. Dalit Patrakarita: Sahityika evam Sanskritika Chintan. Volume II. New Delhi: Nataraj Prakashan, 2008. Narayan, Badri. Fascinating Hindutva: Saffron Politics and Dalit Mobilization. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2009. Pandey, Gyanendra. Routine Violence: Nations, Fragments, Histories. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006. Ramachandran, Shalini. ‘ “Poisoned Bread”: Protest in Dalit Short Stories’, Race and Class Vol. 45 (March 2004): 27–44. Rao, Anupama. ‘Violence and Humanity: or, Vulnerability as Political Subjectivity’, Social Research Vol. 78 (September 2011): 607–32. Sikand, Yoginder. Islam, Caste, and Dalit–Muslim Relations in India. New Delhi: Global Media Publications, 2004. Teltumbde, Anand (ed.). Hindutva and Dalits: Perspectives for Understanding Communal Praxis. Kolkata: Samya, 2005. Varadarajan, Siddharth (ed.). Gujarat: Making of a Tragedy. New Delhi: Penguin, 2002. Valmiki, Om Prakash. Joothan: A Dalit’s Life. Trans. Arun Prabha Mukherjee. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. Wakankar, Milind. Subalternity and Religion: The Prehistory of Dalit Empowerment in South Asia. London and New York: Routledge, 2010.

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In the modern world of unequal opportunities, class has often been seen as synonymous with caste. This has been especially true for the state of West Bengal, situated in the east of India, where under the influence of its decades-long Communist rule, class has been repeatedly privileged over caste identity. While the implications of both categories appear to be similar in their outcome of limited access to resources, lesser opportunity and consequent poverty, the replacement of caste by class carries at least one major import. While ‘caste’ is a term associated with tradition and religion, ‘class’ is positioned firmly within the secular modern discourse of state, citizenship and human rights. In keeping with this essential difference between the two, the understanding of and approach to either term will tend to differ. So will the forms of resistance to the two forms of inequity. With its foundations in the writings of Jyotirao Phule in the nineteenth century and Bhimrao Ambedkar in the twentieth, Dalit literature has relentlessly questioned the hierarchy of the caste system. It has argued that such a system has little to do with ecclesiastical matters and more to do with dominance and exploitation. The Dalit literary canon, as it has developed over the past two centuries, has accordingly been along secular lines, within the paradigms of liberalism and constitutional reform. Contemporary Dalit literature from Bengal is also on these lines, reflecting harsh realities and representing the injustices of the social system. But the problem with this modernist stance is that it tends to erase the specifically religious dimension of caste, and of the Dalits’ condition of social exclusion. That this erasure results in a reflection of Dalit realities, which can only be partial is indicated by the forms of resistance, evolved over the past two centuries, which span both the secular and the religious. These suggest the 138

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inadequacy of the discourse that conceptualizes Dalit life experience in uniformizing and purely secular class terms – so typically a feature of the dominant modern discourse. When one looks into the very early Bangla literature authored by Dalits in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one finds a significant religious strand that appears to have been neglected. Remarkably, this religious strand has not died out, but remains a vibrant living present, standing beside the modern secular strand that shares its aesthetics and characteristics with the pan-Indian Dalit canon. Until the beginning of the twenty-first century, Dalit literature from Bengal has remained unknown and unnoticed in the Indian literary canon, unlike its counterparts from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. As Meenakshi Mukherjee writes in her introduction to Byapari’s ‘Is There Dalit Writing in Bangla?’1 ‘journals – not only mainstream journals like Desh but also several little magazines that I read regularly – never made me aware that any such category existed in Bangla’ (Byapari 2007: 4116). Perhaps the single-most powerful factor responsible for the very late entry of Bengali Dalit literature into the Dalit canon is the severe consequences suffered by the Dalits during the Partition of Bengal, which occurred in 1947. Along with the Partition of India into Pakistan and India in 1947, the province of Bengal was also partitioned along religious lines: a part of Pakistan and a part of India. In the exodus that followed to and from the newly formed nations, many of the largest and most well-organized community of the Dalits, the Namasudras, moved from the districts of Faridpur, Jessore, Khulna and Barishal to the Indian nation. They lived as refugees for many years as the West Bengal government attempted to rehabilitate them in various parts of the country. However, these places were both distant from Bengal, and sufficiently foreign and inhospitable in terrain to make it difficult for the community to practice its usual occupations. As a result, most of the rehabilitation attempts were abortive, and many of the Namasudras either refused to go to these places or returned to Bengal later, trying to eke out a survival. Manoranjan Byapari, a famous and successful writer of the Bengali Dalits, writes, some were sent to uninhabited islands in the Andaman region, some were packed off to the forests and the unproductive terrain of Dandakaranya in Madhya Pradesh and other barren pockets 1

Following Meenakshi Mukherjee, the term ‘Bangla’ has been used in this essay to denote the vernacular language of Bengal, and the term ‘Bengali’ to denote the people of this state who would consider this vernacular to be their mother tongue.

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of the country. Thus, an organised and cohesive community got fragmented and lost its strength. (Byapari 2007: 4117)2 This scattering which the Partition brought about is, therefore, one of the principal causes that led to a weakening of this once well-consolidated community. The other reason that seems to have played a role in marginalizing Bengal’s Dalit literature would be the impact of those very forces of liberalism and modernity that have made possible whatever limited progress the Dalits have achieved during the last two centuries. This contrary influence of the empowering forces of liberalism experienced by the Bengal Dalits can only be explained by the very secular understanding invoked by the term ‘modernity’. With religion and tradition viewed as concepts opposed to modernity, the Dalit community’s movement into the ‘modern’ twentieth century has been marked by a growing belief in the imminent death of such premodern modes of society. Since caste was seen as a social structure associated with tradition and religion, the belief that has characterized much of Dalit (and non-Dalit) writings is that this premodern, antiquated mode of society will have no place in a modern society built on secular, liberal values. As Susie Tharu writes, it was believed that the ‘hierarchical, purity–pollution formation specific to Hindu religion’ (Tharu and Satyanarayana 2011: 9) will eventually disappear. The impatience with issues of religion that marks the writings of Jawaharlal Nehru may be found in the writings of other historians and economists as well. I am afraid I cannot get excited over this communal issue, important as it is temporarily. It is after all a side issue, and it can have no real importance in the larger scheme of things. (emphasis mine; Nehru 1941: 411) 2

These attempts at rehabilitation of the Namasudras on intractable land have been seen as an implicit form of discrimination by the Congress government then in power in the state of Bengal. While most of the Hindu upper caste refugees were allowed to build their homes in about 149 refugee colonies in and around the city of Kolkata, most of the Namasudras and other lower caste communities were not given this opportunity. Manoranjan Byapari’s father, who refused to leave for Dandakaranya in the Madhya Pradesh region, stopped receiving the government subsidy upon his refusal. A desperate attempt by these communities to set up home in the dangerous and difficult area of the Sundarban forests was met with harsh repression by state forces, now led by the Communist party. Infamously known as the Marichjhapi massacre, and rescued from oblivion by Amitav Ghosh in his novel, The Hungry Tide, this remains one of the darkest blots in Bengal’s history.

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The ‘larger’ scheme of things was the setting up of a secular, liberal society in which anomalies like religion and caste would be absent. This belief that caste was an anachronism and would eventually disappear took hold from the time when the Hindus and the Muslims appeared as two independent entities, despite a ‘fairly deep linguistic–cultural synthesis’ (Omvedt 2006: 10). This is what Gyanendra Pandey has described as the construction of communalism in north India (Pandey 1990: 235). As Gail Omvedt writes: Once it was accepted that two separate communities existed at an all-India level, there were only two possible courses for creating an overriding national identity. One was taken by Gandhi, the other by Nehru and the leftists. The Gandhian solution involved taking India as a coalition of communities, each maintaining its identity but uniting by unfolding the wealth of tolerance and love which lay in each religious tradition; the Nehruvian solution consisted of forging a secular identity on the basis of modernity and socialism that transcended, and in the process rejected, separate religious communal identities. (2006: 10–11) Thus, both approaches viewed caste as an intra-communal division, as merely of secondary importance besides the more ‘significant’ inter-religious divisions. Yet, to the Dalits themselves, the situation had a significant difference. In Bengal, the Dalits maintained their distance from high caste Hindus and their politics. Sharing as they did the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder with Bangla-speaking Muslims, the Dalits chose to ally themselves instead with Muslims, and often opposed the Hindus actively (Bandyopadhyay 1998: 1). But to the secularists and the leftists, if religion was an identity that could be transcended by modernity, caste was an identity that belonged even further back in tradition, and ‘progressive’ scholars and social scientists focused on the more ‘real’ economic categories such as class. The latter believed that caste would disappear with time, as the forces of modernization took over. However, caste did not disappear, and scholars now need to relocate caste in the domain of modernity, and to reconfigure it as a contemporary form of power. Meanwhile, the paradigms within which discussions and debates on caste may be carried out have been rendered almost irrevocably secular, with the caste–class equation established, and resistance through literature explained as a liberal–democratic enterprise engendered by ‘modernity’. Many of the Dalit writers I interviewed belong to the Namasudra community, a numerically and sociologically strong Dalit community of 141

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Bengal. Significantly, most of them also belong to the Matua faith, which began in nineteenth-century Bengal in opposition to Brahmanical Hinduism. Sekhar Bandyopadhyay writes of the emergence of this ‘protestant’ religious sect in East Bengal (Bandyopadhyay 1990: 2563). This sect has now come to include – besides the Namasudras – many other lower castes, like the Teli, the Mali, the Kumbhakar, Mahishya and Chamar. With its message of equality and dignity for all, the Matua faith has cemented together many lower caste communities marginalized by upper caste domination. These writers author biographies of the Matua founder, edit collections of the teachings of their saints and write volumes of essays on the impact of the Matua faith on the people (Biswas and Thakur 1999; Thakur Chaanral 2010; Tarakchandra Sarkar 2010; Bairagi 2005). The essays deal with the position of women in Matua religious teachings, the ethic of work as preached by Harichand Thakur, the significance of Harichand’s teachings in the light of the Namasudra uprisings, the relation of the Matua dharma to Ambedkar’s writings, the Black American movement and its similarities with the Dalit movement and the Matua faith itself. Generally categorized as ‘religious’, these writings illustrate the interweaving of religious and secular themes. Though these Dalit writers view as separate this ‘other’ religious body of literature that they author or edit, they claim an intimate connection between their faith, their literature and the political presence they command in present times. This can also be gauged from the explicit references, though few, to their faith in their secular writings. The poet Kalyani Thakur, for example, explicitly associates the collective identity and unity achieved by the Dalits with the Matua sect in her poem, ‘They Who Have No King’ For two hundred years you have tried To erase the names of Harichand, Guruchand.3 Today, among their followers, You hold out your beggar’s hand for votes ... Stay, brother Matua. In the name of the Thakur, Let not a single vote go elsewhere. 3 Harichand

was the religious leaders of the Namasudra community who began the Matua faith in nineteenth-century Bengal, inspiring the community towards education and social upliftment. Guruchand was his son who organized the community around this faith, bringing to it a consciousness of dignity and giving it, by the end of the nineteenth century, an organized unity.

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Send this message to every door We want no plough, no land. We want our king. Let your roar be ‘With our votes, our King’. (2008: 53)4 As the poet acknowledges, the words ‘With our votes, our King’ come directly from the teachings of their religious leader Guruchand, who said, Jar dal nei, taar bal nei (‘He who has no group, has no power’).5 Political power becomes a shared goal to be aspired for by a community united through religion. While the process of coming together, made necessary by the common faith, would facilitate ‘opportunities for social mobilization’ and help ‘evolve an articulate community consciousness’ (Bandyopadhyay 2005: 12), the basic principles of equality and fraternity preached by the Matua faith would enable the believer to access a conceptual structure that is different from the theoretical consciousness ‘which he has inherited from the past and uncritically absorbed’ (Gramsci 1999: 641). The emergence of the new faith brings to those dominated and suppressed by the earlier religion/society, an alternative worldview that gives them access to prestige and dignity, thus making the emergence and consequent acceptance of the new faith ‘not unrelated to the process if struggle between dominant and subordinate groups’ (Chatterjee 1989: 171). As Bandyopadhyay writes, the sect was ‘integrally related to the social movement of the Namasudras’, and the Matua songs ‘often contained messages for boosting self-confidence and the collective ego of a depressed community’ (Bandyopadhyay 2004: 96). As Geertz wrote, there are, ‘a multiplicity of complex, conceptual structures, many of them superimposed upon, or knotted into one another’ (1973: 10). The religious and secular perceptions of the community feed into one another, together creating a matrix that makes the seeking after worldly power an acceptable goal through a discourse that promises strength and self-respect. Another example of Dalit literature drawing from religion is the short story ‘On Firm Ground’ by Jatin Bala (Acharya and Singha 2012: 72–7). As the story of a modern day rebellious Dalit youth, this story represents a tale that is very familiar among Bengal’s lower castes. It narrates an incident, perhaps apocryphal, from the life of Balaram of the Haadi caste. 4

This is a translation of Kalyani Thakur Chaanral’s Bengali poem Je Jatir Raja Nai. The translation of the poem is mine. 5 Personal interview with Kalyani Thakur Chaanral on 14 May 2012 at the state-level seminar on Bangla Dalit Literature, West Bengal State University, Barasat, where she was a speaker. She has authored Chandalinir Kabita, Chandalinir Katha, and Je Meye Aandhar Goney. She is the editor of the Dalit journal Neer.

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Believed to possess divine powers, Balaram went on to become the founder of the Balahaadi religious sect – another of the lower caste sects that broke away from Brahmanical Hinduism in the nineteenth century (Chakraborty 1989: 36–7). He is said to have angered the Brahmins of his village by challenging their daily ritual of offering water to the spirits of their ancestors. The story goes that Balaram entered the river along with the Brahmins as they took their customary dip in the river and, imitating them, began to scoop up a little of the river water in his palms and then offer it in the general direction of the village. When asked by the Brahmins what he was up to, Balaram answered that he was watering his crops. If the water offered by the Brahmins could travel all the way to the heavens, surely the water Balaram offered would reach his fields. This story of Balaram, the founder of a religious sect similar to the Matuas, is incorporated into Dalit narratives as yet another story of a Dalit challenge to caste hierarchy. By titling the story ‘On Firm Ground’, Mallick effectively transforms the older tale story into an inspirational one for all who have been oppressed for their lowly caste. It also blurs the differences between the divine and the human. It would be appropriate to cite here the Subaltern Studies project, which repeatedly found religion to be a site informed by subjective agency, and linked to the power struggles of the communities they studied. As Ranajit Guha writes of the Santal rebellion, Religiosity was, by all accounts, central to the hool. The notion of power which inspired . . . [was] explicitly religious in character. . . . It is not possible to speak of insurgency in this case except as religious consciousness. (1988: 78) A remark by Amar Biswas, the president of the Bangla Dalit Sahitya Sangstha (Bangla Dalit Literature Organization), indicates this intimate connection between the secular and their religion: ‘Our group publishes (the journal) Chaturtha Duniya (The Fourth World), which has become very popular for Matua dharma and darshan’.6 Such writings give lie to the enduring dichotomy that has come to exist between religion and politics and, by extension, between religious and the secular discourse. As Ishita Banerjee-Dube writes, this is a lie that ‘owes its origin to the same legacy as that of [the] secularization of Time and History’ (Banerjee-Dube 2007: 1). With the hierarchy of caste being buttressed 6

‘Writing as Resistance’ (No author named), The Statesman, 5 December 2011. http://www. thestatesman.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=392363&catid=89. Accessed 12 May 2012.

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by religion even as it reinforces the secular-worldly benefits of the more privileged, resistance to this complex form of oppression has prompted forms of culture that are as complex. Neither the understanding of caste as separate from religion (when religion is understood as a form of abstract timeless spirituality) nor the understanding of caste as a function of religion (when religion is understood as a premodern archaic social structure) gives a holistic picture of caste. The truth lies somewhere between these extremes, and in the connections that exist between ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ discourses. The contribution of nineteenth-century religious literature to the caste movements among the Haadis, the Chamars, the Telis and also the Muslims is yet to be evaluated. However, the ability to move across the vertical divisions of caste and forge unities across caste lines – and sometimes across class lines within a caste – is in keeping with Sumit Sarkar’s warning against assuming that caste, religion, nation and class persist in the equality of their importance as categories for expressing identity (Sarkar 2002: 79–80). This also agrees with his finding that caste identity does not remain a timeless given, but can imbibe many stranded and highly contextual forms of consciousness (Sarkar 1998, 2002). Popular religious sects like the Sahebdhani, Balahaadi, Khushi, Kartabhaja or Matua had, in the early nineteenth century, been instrumental in unifying, supporting, dignifying and, in the case of the Matua sect, organizing the lower caste communities. This religious culture – kept alive and vibrant through stories, rhymes, songs and parables – made what Christopher Jaffrelot calls, ‘an alternative egalitarian sub-culture’ (2000: 256) available to the Dalits of Bengal. While Dalit writing has been acknowledged as an ‘intensely political’ body of writing (Mendelsohn and Vicziany 1998: 215), it remains to be recognized that the religious writing of the Dalits too is a political discourse, in much the same way as is the discourse of Brahmanical Hinduism. With the spread of a pan-Indian Dalit consciousness in the early twentieth century, and the entry of Bengal’s Dalits into national politics, the ‘secular’ manner of viewing caste had been accepted in Bengal – an equation that was reinforced with the Communists’ rise to power in Bengal in 1977. Caste was viewed in terms of exploitation of one class by another, of the landless by the landed, of the poor by the rich. Ambedkar had, in his masterful analysis of the caste system, viewed caste and class as tools of domination and oppression that were similar in their mode of workings. You are all aware that our Hindu society is based on the system of castes. A rather similar system of classes existed in the France of 1789: the difference was that it was a society of three castes. Like the Hindu society, the French had a class of Brahmins and another 145

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of Kshatriyas. But instead of three different castes of Vaishya, Shudra and Atishudra, there was one class that comprehended these. This is a minor difference. The important thing is that the caste or class system was similar. (Ambedkar 1994: 225–6) Although Dalit writing from Bengal authored prior to the 1990s appeared to agree with this, there is suggestion of a shift in the more recent times. Manohar Mouli Biswas – whose stories like ‘Nanchera Valmiki’ and ‘Krishna Mrittikar Manush’ convey the Dalit experience of injustice and cruelty (Biswas 1988) – admits to a sense of dissatisfaction with the caste–class equation, which he had earlier found acceptable. He is sensitive about the debate (that has currently begun in Bengal’s academia) about whether there is really any literature in Bengal that can justifiably be called ‘Dalit’ literature. With the widespread influence of the Bhakti and Sufi movements over centuries in Bengal,7 and with Bengal’s geographical position on the margins of north India’s Hindu-Brahmanical belt, it is argued that the caste system is relatively mild in Bengal. In his book, Caste, Protest and Identity in Colonial India: The Namasudras of Bengal, 1872–1947, Bandyopadhyay himself records only a few examples of literal untouchability practised in Bengal, although he does maintain that untouchability as a norm did exist (Bandyopadhyay 1997: 17). Debes Roy’s edited Bangla compilation of India’s Dalit literature titled Dalit (2001) has included writings from Maharashtra, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. Based largely on Dangle’s Poisoned Bread, it does not mention any Dalit writing in Bangla. It is difficult to understand whether this is due to the editor’s belief that the category ‘Dalit’ is a misnomer in Bengal, or whether the absence is due to his ignorance of Bangla Dalit writing. Yet, a reasonably large body of literature does exist. 7

Sufism has had a huge influence over the masses of Bengal since the beginning of the independent sultanate in the twelfth century. As the Chishti shaikh Ashraf Jahangir Simnani notes, ‘in the country of Bengal, not to speak of the cities, there is no town and no village where holy saints did not come and settle down’. See also, Richard M. Eaton’s The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier 1204–1760 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993, p. 82). Often seen as a threat to political and religious establishments, this influence merged with the Bhakti movement that swept over Bengal with the coming of Chaitanya in the fifteenth century. These influences together created a viable counterpoint to the sectarian scripture-based institutions of Hinduism and Islam. The appeal of Sufi mysticism and Bhakti egalitarianism was widespread and has, arguably, been responsible for the relatively diminished caste discrimination witnessed in Bengal. For more details, see Hitesranjan Sanyal, Social Mobility in Bengal (Calcutta: Papyrus, 1981); Hitesranjan Sanyal’s ‘Trends of change in the Bhakti Movement in Bengal’ (Occasional papers Series, Vol. 76, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta: 1985); Dineshchandra Sen’s The Vaisnava Literature of Medieval Bengal (Calcutta: Calcutta University Press, 1917); and Jadunatha Sinha’s The Philosophy and Religion of Chaitanya and His Followers (Calcutta: Sinha Publishing House, 1976).

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There are five leading Dalit journals in West Bengal: Chaturtha Duniya, Adhikar, Dalit Mirror, Nikhil Bharat and Neer; other books and journals are published with consistent regularity by small publishing houses like Chaturtha Duniya and Adal Badal. These publishing houses have been created by the Dalits themselves because the bigger publishing houses tend to lump their writings under the larger categories of the literature of the unprivileged, of exploitation and poverty. Dalit writers like Biswas resent these generalized labels that are used to denote their literature when they approach established publishers. He believes that this ‘progressive’ label ‘neutralizes’ the caste angle of the Dalit experience.8 As Susie Tharu has pointed out, all texts by the marginalized that travel into ‘mainstream’ cultures of knowledge and experience are always at risk of being redirected, especially by well-wishers, into familiar formations such as ‘suffering humanity’, ‘literary classic’ ‘postcolonial, identity politics’, and so on. What they lose in the journey is the baggage – of dissensions, events, experiments, discussion, histories, memories, conversations – that comprise the very condition of their emergence and affirmation. It is this baggage that gives form and value to the memories they retrieve, the locations, experiences and relationships that they direct us to, the arguments that they extend, and most importantly, to the new figure of wrong: oppressed, broken, angry, but trailing new interests, new meanings of morality that is being creatively and conceptually elaborated. (Tharu 2010) Kalyani Thakur has been quite militant in her response to the attempts at ‘secularizing’ her poetry. As she said recently in an interview, The belief in class exploitation encourages us to interpret all injustice through the same lens. But that is not the whole truth. Class is only one element of our caste. I will not let them take away the caste–identity of my poems’.9 To prevent this, Thakur has re-introduced the very title Chandal that the Namasudras had officially rejected in the nineteenth century, when they articulated a new ‘caste identity, ‘constructed on the basis of an ideology of protest against caste domination’ (Bandyopadhyay 1997: 239). She signs her name as Kalyani Thakur Chaanral – ‘Chaanral’ being the vulgarized 8

Based on a personal interview with Manohar Mouli Biswas, on 12 April 2011, in the publishing house Chaturtha Duniya, Kolkata. 9 Based on a personal interview with Kalyani Thakur Chaanral, in West Bengal State University, 14 May 2012.

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and slighting form of the caste name Chandal – and calls her recent book of poems, Chandalinir Kabita (‘The Poems of the Chandalini’; 2011). The aesthetics of Dalit literature has often been criticized or questioned for being, among other things, self-pitying, monotonous, overtly ideological, narrow and propagandistic. It has also been viewed as ‘infused more with passion than with concern for literary effect’ (Mendelsohn and Vicziany 1998: 215). Gros and Kannan feel that early Marathi writing is closer to ‘testimonies’ than to works of art, chronicles rather than artistically conceived texts, lived experience rather than poetic experimentation, and material more suited to the study of anthropology rather than that of literature. (Kannan and Gros 2002: 24) Bengali Dalit literature too, both in Bangla and in its associated dialects, is ‘marked by revolt and negativism, since it is closely associated with the hopes of freedom of a group of people, who as untouchables, are victims of social, economic and cultural inequality’ (Dangle 1992). The testimonio element is also marked. As Kalyani Thakur writes in her autobiography, I believe that this self-narrative is not mine alone. It belongs to Duntu, Chhoto, Kuti, Alia, Karuna, Chhabirani, Yamuna, all those girls of my village of those days who grew up on half-filled stomachs, as they roamed the fields with cows and goats. By some strange turn of fate, I have been taken from them and have grasped the pen.10 Despite the much reference to negativism, this hope for change remains the central element in Dalit literature. The choices that the Bengali Dalits have made from among the available discourses, secular and religious, reveal the vital organizing principles that shape their present history. They draw inspiration and strength from the cultures available to them, both religious and secular. Separating these two essentially interlinked cultures is to hope for a totality of vision despite an incomplete perception. The religious literature of the Bengali Dalits is, in fact, marked by the same anger, sadness and rebellion that characterize the secular Bangla Dalit literature. However, the challenge and rebellion are foregrounded by calls to a far wider understanding of the community and by demands for dignity and respect. The cosmic order that is envisaged and projected on to the 10

Kalyani Thakur Chaanral, Chandalini: Why I Write Chaanral. Chapter 2 in the unpublished Bengali autobiography.

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plane of human existence generates hope, as also the demand for dignity, both of which are voiced passionately in the religious parables. The subversion of and the challenge to the domineering hierarchy of caste are voiced through the anecdotes, myths and parables that make up the literature of their religious groups. Much of this used to be oral literature – because being discovered with such written tracts in one’s possession would have meant oppression even more severe. However, in the twentieth century, this literature was already being printed and circulated among the Dalits. In his address to the first Dalit Solidarity Conference in 1992 in Nagpur, Bishop A. C. Lal said that word Dalit ‘is a beautiful word, because it transcends narrow national and sectarian frontiers. It is a beautiful word because it embraces the sufferings, frustrations, expectations and groaning of the entire cosmos’ (Lal 1995: xiii). This element of transcendence over given sects and communities is gradually establishing itself as one of the salient features of Dalit literature. In a seminar paper on ‘Dalit Literature in the Eyes of Dalits’, Om Prakash Valmiki asserts that the term [Dalit] has ‘a more inclusive meaning’ (Savyasaachi 2004: 1659). The term encompasses everybody everywhere who is oppressed and exploited. As Savyasaachi writes, ‘a prostitute is as much a dalit as is the spouse of an upper caste patriarch who is ill-treated, as are the victims of ethnocide and communalism irrespective of whether they are Hindus, Christians, Muslims or Sikhs’ (2004: 1659). This transcendence of sectarian, gender and religious boundaries may be seen in the earliest literature of the Dalits. A song of the Sahebdhani sect, which includes followers from both the Hindu and Muslim communities, dissolves the barriers between the two religions in a song: Allah Muhammad Radha Krishna merge into the same body and soul . . . My father is Allah, and my mother is Allahdini,11 What do I make of this puzzle?12 (Chakraborty 2003: 24) If literature is recognized as a form of culture capable of voicing the community’s protest, religious literature needs to be given a place within the canon. The Namasudra belief in a divinity who is their own – ‘What 11

Allahdini literally means ‘the beloved girl’. In this song, it refers to Radha, the beloved of Krishna. Many Sahebdhani songs include references to Radha, a finding that has led scholars to surmise that one of the foremost teachers of the early Sahebdhani sect may have been a woman (Chakraborty 2003: 23). 12 Allah Muhammad Radha Krishna/Ekange ekatme holo shar. Pita Allah Mata Allahdini, mormo bojha holo bhar (Chakraborty 2003: 24).

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do we care for Brahma-Vishnu-Maheswar, We know only you!’ (Ashwini Sarkar 2010: 311) – conveys the defiance of a community that is placed outside the reach of the mainstream divinities. The acceptance by the lower caste Hindu and Muslim followers of the Sahebdhani god who carries two distinct names – Dinabandhu for the Hindu devotee, and Dinadayal for the Muslim – is an implicit protest against the communal divide imposed by the elders of the more established religions. Similarly, the hagiography of Harichand Thakur, Shri Shri Harililamrita, spells out clearly the reason for the abirbhab (the coming) of this Namasudra religious leader. It is because God failed to spread eternal purity and love among the mortals through His earlier avatars, He has needed to come down to earth again. Thus, I will come as humanity, will connect with humanity, I Will complete my Lila as humankind. That is when you will know me, When I am born again as humanity. (Tarakchandra Sarkar 2010: 20) And again, I will bend low to liberate the lowly, In stooping lower than the lowliest is the avatar’s worth. (Tarakchandra Sarkar 2010: 39) These writings illustrate Talal Asad’s thesis of religion and power being spheres that mutually structure and transform each other (1993: 27–54). Turbulent presents have repeatedly shown that a stark separation of the past from the present as a break occasioned by modernity is usually an over-emphasized concept. Susie Tharu’s critique of the norm of the secular citizen, and of the assumed neutrality of this normative citizen (Tharu and Satyanarayana 2011: 11), conveys the connection with the past that has not disappeared with the coming of enlightened-liberal-democratic modernity. The numerous popular faiths/sects that rose in Bengal over the first half of the nineteenth century have been seen as a consequence of ‘the flux and turmoil of rapid political, social and economic change’ witnessed by the province (Oddie 1995: 328). It is out of this era that the contemporary Matua faith emerged. It began as a small insignificant sect, and grew to one which, in 1872, was sufficiently organized to ‘invoke the notions of communal solidarity as an alternative source of power’ (Bandyopadhyay 1997: 34) as well as to call for a strike that continued for over four months, paralyzing large areas of the Fraidpur-Jessore district. Today, this faith has brought together sufficient numbers of millions among the 150

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lower castes to make it imperative for the political parties to actively court its votes. As we move towards an alphabet that will enable the Dalit tongue to speak, Dalit culture and resistance need to be represented in terms both secular and religious.

References Acharya, Indranil and Sankar Prasad Singha. Survival and Other Stories: Bangla Dalit Fiction in Translation. Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan, 2012. Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji. ‘Dr. Ambedkar’s Speech at Mahad’, in Poisoned Bread, (ed.) Arjun Dangle. Hyderabad: Orient Longman Limited, 1994; 223–33. Asad, Talal. Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993; 27–54. Bairagi, Manimohan. Hari Guruchand Thakur O Matua Dharma. Nadiya: Sobha Bairagi, 2005. Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar. ‘Community Formation and Social Conflict: Namasudra– Muslim Riot in Jessore-Khulna’, Economic and Political Weekly Vol. XXV, No. 46 (17 November 1990): 2563–8. Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar. Caste, Protest and Identity in Colonial India: The Namasudras of Bengal, 1872–1947. New Delhi: Routledge, 1997. Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar. Changing Borders, Shifting Loyalties: Religion, Caste and the Partition of Bengal in 1947, Asian Studies Institute Working Paper 2, Asian Studies institute, Victoria University of Wellington, 1998. Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar. Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. New Delhi: Sage, 2004. Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar. The Namasudra Movement. New Delhi: Critical Quest, 2005. Banerjee-Dube, Ishita. Religion, Law and Power: Tales of Time in Eastern India, 1860– 2000. London: Anthem Press, 2007. Biswas, Manohar Mouli. Krishna Mrittikar Manush. Kolkata: Nirmal Book Agency, 1988. Biswas, Manohar Mouli and Kalyani Thakur. Krishnachandra Thakur Smritisambhar. Kolkata: Bangla Dalit Sahitya Sangstha, 1999. Byapari, Manoranjan. ‘Is There Dalit Writing in Bangla?’ Introduced and trans. by Meenakshi Mukherjee, Perspectives Vol. 42, No. 41, EPW (13 October 2007): pp. 116–20. Chakraborty, Sudhir. Gabhir Nirjan Pathe. Kolkata: Ananada Publishers, 1989. Chakraborty, Sudhir. Banglar Gouna Dharma: Shahebdhani o Balahari. Calcutta: Pustak Bipani, 2003. Chatterjee, Partha. ‘Caste and Subaltern Consciousness’, in Subaltern Studies VI: Writings on South Asian History and Society, (ed.) Ranajit Guha. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989. Dangle, Arjun. A Corpse in the Well: translations from Modern Marathi Autobiographies. Hyderabad: Disha Books, 1992, vii. Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, 1973. Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Trans. Hoare and Smith. London: Electric Book Company, 1999.

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Gros François and M. Kannan, ‘Tamil Dalits in Search of a Literature’, South Asia Research Vol. 22, No. 1 (2002): 21–65. Guha, Ranajit. ‘The Prose of Counter-Insurgency’, in Selected Subaltern Studies, (eds.) Ranajit Guha and Gayatri Spivak. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1988. Jaffrelot, Christopher. ‘Sanskritization vs. Ethnicization in India: Changing Identities and Caste Politics before Mandal’, Asian Survey, VXL, No. 5 (September– October 2000): 756–66. Lal, A. C. ‘Opening Address: Dalit Solidarity Conference, Nagpur, 1992’, in Dalit Solidarity, (eds.) Bhagwan Das and James Massey. New Delhi: Indian Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (ISPCK), 1995. Mendelsohn, Oliver and Marika Vicziany. The Untouchables: Subordination, Poverty and the State in Modern India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Muktibodh, Sharatchandra. ‘What Is Dalit Literature?’ in Poisoned Bread, (ed.) Arjun Dangle. Hyderabad: Orient Longman Limited, 1994; 267–70. Nehru, Jawaharlal. Towards Freedom: The Autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru. London: John Day, 1941. Oddie, Geoffrey A. ‘Old Wine in New Bottles? Kartabhaja (Vaishnava) Converts to Evangelical Christianity in Bengal, 1835–1845’, The Indian Economic and Social Review (1995); 327–42. Omvedt, Gail. Dalit Visions. Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan, 2006. Pandey, Gyanendra. The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990. Roy, Debes. Dalit. Kolkata: Sahitya Akademi, 2001. Sanyal, Hitesranjan. Social Mobility in Bengal. Calcutta: Papyrus, 1981. Sarkar, Ashwini Kumar. Shri Shri Hari Sangeet. Sridham Thakurnagar: Sushila Printers. 2010. Sarkar, Sumit. Writing Social History. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998. Sarkar, Sumit. Beyond Nationalistic Frames: Postmodernism, Hindu Fundamentalism, History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002. Sarkar, Tarakchandra. Shri Shri Harililamrita. Sridham Thakurnagar: Modern Press, 2010. Savyasaachi. ‘Dalit Studies: Exploring Criteria for a New Discipline, Economic and Political Weekly Vol. 39, No. 17 (24–30 April 2004): 1658–60. Thakur Chaanral, Kalyani. ‘They Who Have No King’. Je Meye Aandhar Goney (The Girl Who Counts the Darkness). Kolkata: Chaturtha Duniya, 2008. Thakur Chaanral, Kalyani (ed.). Matua Dhrama Prasange. Kolkata: Bangla Dalit Sahitya Sangstha, 2010. Thakur Chaanral, Kalyani. Chandalinir Kabita, Kolkata: Chaturtha Duniya, 2011. Tharu, Susie and K. Satyanarayan. No Alphabet in Sight: New Dalit Writing from South India, Dossier I: Tamil and Malyalam. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2011. Tharu, Susie. ‘No Alphabet in Sight’: Notes from a Compilation of Contemporary Dalit Writing from Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Workshop on Translation and Nation-building in South Asia: 1947–1977’ (Abstract). Keynote Lecture, 8–11 January 2010, International Network on Postcolonial Translation: The Case of South Asia, Funded by the Leverhulme Trust, http://pre.docdat.com/docs/index148015.html. Accessed 23 April 2013.

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9 CASTE AND THE LITERARY IMAGINATION IN THE CONTEXT OF ODIA LITERATURE A reading of Akhila Nayak’s Bheda Raj Kumar*

‘Voice is a crucial component of the pursuit of social justice.’ – Amartya Sen, The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian Culture, History and Identity, xiii.

Akhila Nayak’s Bheda1 has the distinction of being the first Odia Dalit novel. The fact that Umesh Chandra Sarkar’s Padmamali (1888) is considered to be the first Odia novel, the immediate question comes to our mind is: why did it take so long for a Dalit in Odisha to write a novel? The answer to the question lies, perhaps, in the structural problem of Odia/ Indian caste society, which discriminates against Adivasis, Dalits and women. The main theme of Bheda is caste violence. Thus, the primary focus of this essay is to study closely the nature of caste violence depicted in the novel, which speaks eloquently of how the Dalits in Odisha have been the victims of caste atrocities. Odia society has witnessed several social protest movements in different periods of time. This essay will attempt to bring a contextual relevance to the Dalit movement, and the * I am grateful to Jatin Kumar Nayak, Ashok Kumar Mahapatra, Biswamoy Pati, Indrani Sen, Sumanyu Satpathy and Bedamati Gardia for their help and suggestions while writing this essay. I am also equally grateful to Mini Krishnan of Oxford University Press, Chennai, who is the editor of my English translation of Bheda to be published in 2015 as Bheda: The Target. 1 Akhil Nayak, Bheda. Bhubaneswar: Duduly Prakashani, 2010.

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emergence of Dalit literature in Odisha. However, before addressing the caste questions in the novel, the idea of how caste operates in Odia civil society needs to be examined. Dalits in Odisha, as elsewhere, have been victims of caste oppression over millennia. Predominantly rural and illiterate, they have become one of the most exploited peripheral groups in society. Over the years, they have been living in subhuman conditions and suffer economic exploitation, cultural subjugation and political powerlessness. Even after sixty-six years of Indian Independence, many civic and other amenities are not readily available to them. This is because Odisha is a feudal state wherein many modern and democratic agencies have not been able to overturn traditional power structures. In a report on the problems of untouchability in Odisha, R. K. Nayak highlights the existential conditions of Dalits thus: Out of the surveyed states, Orissa is one where public places were not accessible to the Harijans in almost all the surveyed villages, although violent incidents are not reported in equal measures. The reasons may be the general backwardness and powerlessness as also the low level of awareness of the Scheduled Castes, who continue to bear the social injustices perpetrated on them. (1984: 111) Living in such a hostile environment where insecurity reigns, Odia Dalits always have to work hard, and lead a life of compromise, alienation and resignation. According to the 2011 Census, there are as many as seventyfive Dalit communities across Odisha. They constitute 18 per cent of the total population of the state. Following the Hindu caste structure, there are rigid internal hierarchies among Dalit communities themselves. Due to such rigid caste practices, intercaste eating and intercaste marriages are still not allowed between any two Dalit communities. Dalit politics in the state is fragmented, and the communities are divided into many groups and subgroups. Each group also follows different religious practices. This multitude of problems clearly indicates that Dalits in Odisha cannot come together to voice their grievances. They are split asunder and broken into several pieces, truly carrying the meanings and symbolism implied by the term ‘Dalit’. It is sad that, in the time of globalization, when people everywhere are talking about human rights and social justice, Odia Dalits have not been able to come together collectively to raise their voices against inhuman caste practices. Being feudal in many aspects, Odia society does not allow people from the lower castes to avail themselves of many of the civil and democratic rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution. The traditional 154

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powers are still in the hands of the Brahmins, Karanas and Khandayats – that is, a few upper caste communities who continue to exploit and oppress the Dalits. As a result, the existential conditions of Dalits are miserable. Even today, they live in the outskirts of the villages. Even though they are allowed to move around in every part of the towns and cities, there are several restrictions in the villages. For example, they cannot walk on certain roads; nor can they ride any bicycles for the simple reason that they are perceived as the carriers of pollution. They are not allowed to enter temple premises. Even though they can go to schools, they are not allowed to sit alongside upper caste children. There are separate wells for them to collect drinking water. In the ponds, there are separate ghats for them to bathe. There are separate burial grounds for them as well. These are but some of the discriminatory practices the upper castes impose on the Dalits even to this day. Education is a significant means for Dalits to improve their standards, both socially and economically. However, due to typical structural problems in Odisha, Odia Dalits have never been able to reap the benefits of education on a large scale. The typical social structures that exist in Odisha have been studied in the past by many sociologists and anthropologists. For example, in a study of untouchability in Kapileswar village (now a part of Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha), the American anthropologist James M. Freeman has investigated the ways in which high caste people forcibly prevent the lower castes from attending the most desirable educational institutions. In an interview with Muli, a Dalit from Kapileswar village, Freeman notes: The villagers never forgot, nor did they let us forget that we were untouchables. High caste children sat inside the school; the Bauri children, about twenty of us, sat outside on the veranda and listened. The two teachers, a Brahman outsider, and temple servant refused to touch us, even with a stick. To beat us, they threw bamboo canes. The higher caste children threw mud at us. Fearing severe beatings, we dared not fight back. (1979: 90) Educational opportunities still lag behind for Dalits in Odisha. As a result, the literacy rate among Dalits is quite low even today. Apart from not getting any secure jobs due to illiteracy, the Dalits in Odisha cannot avail themselves of many of the constitutional provisions that guarantee a life of dignity and self-respect. Struggling hard to make their daily livelihood, Odia Dalits, therefore, cannot think of organizing a revolt against their oppressors. That no militant movement or rebellion on the part of Dalits has taken place against upper caste Hindus in the state does not in 155

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any way negate the socio-economic sufferings of Dalits. It only underlines the fact that the Dalits of Odisha have been suffering caste oppression silently, as Muli describes. One reason may have to do with the socio-­ economic life of Dalits in Odisha, which has not undergone the same level of change as has that of Dalits elsewhere – as for example, in Maharashtra. A few cases of unorganized sporadic resistance did take place; but they were swiftly suppressed. In fact, whenever there is any protest against the caste oppression, the upper castes have always appropriated dissenting voices through their manipulative powers. As a result, the voices of the oppressed have died down each time. This is clearly visible in the socio-cultural and literary history of Odisha. While violent eruptions of frustration and anger have been rare, many voices have risen in protest against social inequalities and injustice since the fifteenth century, particularly in literary forms. Sudramuni Sarala Dasa was the pioneer of the social protest movement in fifteenth century in Odisha. He was known for three major works: the Odia Mahabharata, the Bilanka Ramayana and Chandi Purana. He wrote these in the language of the common people, and focused on events of the recent past as well as on sundry mundane affairs of real life situations. Thus, this was also a protest against the poets and the writers of the court, whose medium of writing was Sanskrit, the language of dominance and power, as well as their subject matter which was excessively concerned with royal characters. Sarala Dasa was a Sudra by caste, and it was important for him that a Sudra should try to articulate the voices of the marginalized. In fact, he was critiquing the Hindu social order at a time when Hindu orthodoxies were at their peak. The protest expressed through the writings of Sarala Dasa was given a deeper edge by the writings of the Panchasakha: the five fellow saint poets named Balarama Dasa, Jagannatha Dasa, Achyutanda Dasa, Jasobanta Dasa and Ananta Dasa, who dominated Odia literature for a century (1450–1550 AD). These five fellow poets together rejected the dominance of Sanskrit in literature, and espoused the cause of vernacular languages as the medium of expression. Thus, they made major contributions towards the use of plebeian Odia language in Odia literature. In fact, they followed the path of the pioneer Sarala Dasa by translating the sacred books of the Hindus into the people’s language in order to make them available to everyone. Balaram Dasa’s Jagmohan Ramayan and Laxmi Puran, Jagannatha Dasa’s Odia Bhagabata, Achyutananda Dasa’s Harivamsa, Jasobanta Dasa’s Premabhakti Brahmagita and Ananta Dasa’s Hetudaya Bhagabata are the best examples of this. These poets also protested against the rigidities of life in temples and monasteries, and sought to rise above the dualistic debates which reduced 156

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religion almost to the level of an intellectual polemic and ignorant prejudice. In the process, the poets had to face opposition, criticism and even the conspiracy of the orthodox pundits who incited the kings to create trouble for them. In spite of various repressive measures taken by the establishment, the movement – even if it was forced to compromise eventually with the dominant Brahmanical system – could not be curbed fully. After the Panchasakha, the tradition of writing protest literature written in the language of the people and depicting their lives came to an abrupt end. A remarkable change in the approach of literature, both in theme and in style, is clearly discernible. The lead was taken by the princes of the royal family (e.g. Dhananjaya Bhanja and Upendra Bhanja of the eighteenth century) who were acquainted with the themes and discussions of old Sanskrit works, their forms, their ornate style and their articulations. Their literary works were bound to be aristocratic, and there was no hint of any reform in their writing. Protest literature was once again retrieved from the realm of the purely religious by Bhima Bhoi in the middle of the nineteenth century. Born into a Kondh tribal family, Bhoi was the follower of Mahima Dharma, an autochthonous religious movement, which made its presence felt in Odisha in the nineteenth century, and drew most of its followers from the lowliest and the downtrodden in society – the Dalits and the tribals. Bhima Bhoi was also a poet of distinction. He composed several poems, and also wrote philosophical treaties. His most widely known works are the Stuti Chintamani, the Srutinisedha Gita and the Nirbeda Sadhana. Apart from these, there are scores of Mahima Bhajans whose language is so simple that even an illiterate person can memorize them. Like his predecessors, Bhoi attacked orthodox rituals and customs of Odia society. His literary works sought to redefine and redesign societal norms, manners and behaviour, promising a better world for the poor and the downtrodden.2 However, Bhoi’s message could not flower into multiple expressions due to the existential situation of the Dalits in Odisha that obtained then. For a long time, even under colonial rule, the Dalits in Odisha could not take advantage of the benefits of elementary education as compared to other provinces. In fact, the British came to Odisha quite late – only in 1803 – and thus many modern facilities (like roads, railways, telephones and telegraphs) were introduced in the state only towards the beginning of the twentieth century. Being one of the most feudal states, Odisha did not go through structural changes, especially in economic and political spheres, which

2

For more details, see Raj Kumar’s Dalit Personal Narratives: Reading Caste Nation and Identity (137–9).

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would otherwise have given several opportunities to the most oppressed groups such as the Dalits and the tribals to improve their lives. Even education could not spread sufficiently among them because of structural inequalities, economic imbalances and political chicanery. Unlike other places, the missionary support to Dalit education came to Odisha very late. It was only after India’s Independence that a sizeable number of Dalits made a belated entry into civil society through literacy and education. It is no wonder that while Ambedkar’s ideology had inspired Dalits of many states to launch their movements, the socio-cultural conditions prevented the Ambedkar phenomenon from having any deep impact on the Dalits in Odisha. Although it failed to provoke literary articulation among Dalits in Odisha, it did bring about some political response. However, during the same period, we find some writings on the Dalit life by upper caste writers; however this was mainly within the overarching ideology of nationalism. Kalindi Charan Panigrahi, Godabaris Mahapatra, Radha Mohan Gadanayak, Bhagabati Charana Panigrahi, Sachi Routray, Gopinath Mohanty, Kanhu Charan Mohanty and Basant Satpathy are some upper caste writers who gave representation to lower caste characters in their writings. Whether such a representation of Dalits counts as Dalit literature is a question that needs to be explored. It is only after India’s Independence that a portion of Dalit population in Odisha got opportunities to access education and began to articulate their protest in different forms. It was in 1953 that Govinda Chandra Seth, Santanu Kumar Das, Jagannath Malik, Kanhu Malik and Kanduri Malik came together to set up the Dalit Jati Sangha (Dalit League). Ambedkar was still alive, and he was a source of great inspiration for the Sangha. The Sangha tried to bring Dalit communities together to fight against caste-related exploitation. Since many of these leaders were also creative writers, they tried to bring awareness among Dalits by writing literary pieces. For example, Govinda Chandra Seth wrote a biography of Ambedkar, which instantly became famous. Santanu Kumar Das wrote at least four novels dealing with the theme of caste inequality and social injustice. The titles of these novels were: Awhana (‘A Call’), Vitamati (‘Homestead’), Sania and Pheria (‘Comeback’). Unfortunately, none of these novels is traceable now. Many other Dalit leaders also started writing literature dealing with caste issues. It is only around the 1970s and the 1980s that the Dalits of Odisha began asserting themselves – if not organizationally, at least i­ ndividually – through their writings, which now constitute ‘Dalit literature’ proper. These writings constitute the third phase of Dalit protest, which takes its inspiration from the modern world view which underlines the central importance of freedom and equality. Writers of this new literature are few 158

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in number. Most of them are teachers, lawyers, doctors and other government employees, constituting a small vanguard symbolizing the advanced consciousness of a very backward and divided people. However, a look at the whole spectrum of Odia Dalit literature reveals that the vision of Odia Dalit writers cannot be confined to the geographical boundary of the state of Odisha alone. Their vision is for one and all: to fight against all kinds of oppression, be it social, economic or political. Therefore, they can be heard in any part of the world wherever men and women fight for their liberation. Bichitrananda Nayak can be called a pioneer in Odia Dalit writings. Way back in 1972 when Dalit Panthers in Maharashtra was trying to popularize the term ‘Dalit’ in public sphere, Nayak had already published a collection of poems titled Anirbana (‘Liberation’) using the term ‘Dalit’ in several poems. This is a significant act because the term ‘Dalit’ has radical meanings. Like Nayak, there were other poets and writers who exposed the hypocrisies of upper caste Odia society. They were: Jagannath Malik, Krushna Charan Behera, Govind Chandra Seth and Ramachandra Sethi. Jagannath Malik is best known for his novel Kshudhita Kharavela (1994; ‘The Hungry Kharavela’) where he takes a dig at the historical character of Kharavela, a medieval Odia king, to interpret contemporary issues. Without naming any person but through the character of Kharavela, Malik scrutinizes a modern politician who is corrupt as well as autocratic. Malik’s second important work is The Ramayana where he reinterprets the episodic events of the epic from a Dalit point of view. He considers Rama as an Aryan king whose going to the jungle has a specific goal: to teach the tribals and Dalits a lesson. Other better known Dalit writers and poets are Krushna Charan Behera, Gobind Chandra Seth and Ramachandra Sethi, all of whom have written on the themes of untouchability, caste exploitation, gender inequality and class oppression. They tried to bring Dalit discourse into the arena of Odia literature in a limited way. However, it was only after the Ambedkar centenary celebrations in 1991 that a good number of poets and writers of Odia Dalit communities were motivated to write their own histories. Accordingly, many educated Odia Dalits openly wrote about various facets of caste, class and gender exploitation in Odia society. Of the several poets and writers, the names of Basudeb Sunani, Samir Ranjan, Sanjay Bag, Pitambar Tarai, Ramesh Malik, Chandrakant Malik, Kumaramani Tanti, Supriya Malik, Basant Malik, Akhila Nayak, Anjubala Jena, Mohan Jena, Samuel Dani, Anand Mahanand, Panchanan Dalei and Pravakar Palka are significant. Poverty, powerlessness, untouchability, hypocrisy and corrupt social practices have generated a variety of responses among Odia Dalit writers. 159

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These responses are basically forms of protest aimed at bringing about social change through revolution. Their protest is not against any individual or group, but against society as a whole. They reject the so-called tradition, which helps the upper caste writer to use, misuse and legitimize existing structures of inequality. Thus, all forms of Odia Dalit literature interrogate the world view of the upper castes and their institutions, and demand social practices based upon their change and transformation. Akhila’s Nayak’s novel Bheda (2010) has to be read in this context. Some of the ideas explored in the novel include questions relating to caste and the initiation of dialogue among the different constituencies of caste society on issues of social justice. Bheda has the distinction of being the first Odiya Dalit novel. It is a short novel, only eighty-eight pages long, and comprises seven chapters. Each chapter is named after a character, and in each the novelist addresses caste questions very deftly. Before critically analysing the novel, the etymological meaning of term ‘Bheda’, which is also the title of the novel must be understood. The word ‘Bheda’ has multiple meanings, of which the primary one is ‘difference’. If ‘Bheda’ is used with another word, ‘Bhaba’, it implies the differences that exist among people in terms of caste, class or race. In the Indian context, ‘Bhedabhaba’ denotes the various kinds of caste discriminations practised by the upper castes towards the lower castes, especially Dalits. ‘Bheda’ also means ‘the target’. In the novel, Dalits are the immediate target of the upper castes because, after availing themselves of modern education, Dalits are now mobilizing resistance to protest against the upper caste monopolies. ‘Bheda’ also has another meaning: that is, to properly understand the ‘intricacies’ of an incident or an event. Thus, all the different meanings of the word are, in some way or another, connected to the idea of caste and its corollary meanings: that is, caste discrimination followed by atrocities. By giving this powerful title to his novel, Nayak wants to draw our attention to the intricacies of Indian caste society. He openly condemns the caste system, which perpetuates caste atrocities. He is sympathetic to the victims of caste atrocities who are made into scapegoats through no fault of their own. Finally, it may be argued that by writing this novel, Nayak is able to initiate a dialogue on the questions of human rights and social justice in a backward state like Odisha, all of which are rarely raised in the public domain. For several reasons, Nayak’s novel is a departure from the innumerable novels available in the Odia language. Nayak is clearly experimenting at once with the form, the content, language and grammar in the novel. Even though it is a short novel, Nayak is able to address the various complexities of caste issues in Odia society in great detail. The characters in the novel 160

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come from different communities, representing both rural and urban, rich and poor, literate and illiterate, lower castes and upper castes. Through these representative characters, Nayak brings out their everyday relationship with caste, class and gender identities. Because of the simple narrative structure, the novel flows freely. Nayak uses the folk style very strategically to narrate his story. He engages his characters in debates regarding many socio-political and economic issues before coming to certain conclusions. This suggests that his characters are speaking for themselves. Nayak narrates incidents in such a lively way that readers have the impression of being a witness of the events unfolding before them. He allows his characters to speak for themselves. Surprisingly, Nayak’s language is free from the over-Sanskritized, standard Odia register. He uses the common people’s language to narrate events. As a result, many of the idioms and phrases used by the villagers of the Kalahandi region find their way into – and enrich – the text. Local words such as tungi (cottage), singhen (cleanings of the nose), bididhungia purohit (the tobacco-chewing priest), pangania budha (the old man who is a black magician) and budharaja (name of a local deity) are some examples which are used in the Kalahandi region and enhance the text. It also reveals the novel as expounding a new aesthetics. While dealing with caste questions, the novel focuses on the everyday life of Dalits in Odisha, and their struggle to overcome life’s difficulties. Significantly, the novelist does not give any neat solutions to the problems Dalits face daily. Instead, he moulds his characters in such a way that they finally realize their own worth, and get ready to fight against their adversaries to demand their basic human rights. It is another matter that they eventually lose the caste battles which they fight for the restoration of their human dignity. However, the novelist makes sure that he gives life-affirming values to Dalit characters. Indeed, this is one of the main characteristics of Dalit aesthetics.3 The seven characters of the seven chapters are: Dinamastre, the school headmaster; Baya or the mad lawyer; Laltu, a young Dalit activist; Semi Seth, the businessman; Muna, a school dropout Dalit boy who repairs bicycles for a living; Mastrani, wife of the headmaster; and Santosh Panda, a local correspondent of an Odia newspaper. These are but a few representative characters from the ‘little India’ depicted in Bheda; and yet, they are an active component of a dynamic, modern Indian state, participating in the process of nation-building. Some of them will sacrifice everything for this cause, whereas others will try to grab a mighty share of the ‘national cake’.

3 For

more details, see Sharankumar Limbale’s book Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies and Consideration (2010).

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This national drama, which Nayak presents quite successfully, finally ends in tragedy, with Dalits suffering at the hands of upper caste hooligans. The action of the novel takes place mainly in the remote villages of the Kalahandi district situated in the western part of Odisha. Towards the end of the novel, the action shifts from the villages to the district headquarters of Kalahandi – that is, Bhawanipatna, which is the centre of power and authority. Perhaps Nayak draws attention to this link between the village and the town in order to ask: where should Dalits live? This reminds us of Ambedkar’s call to Dalits to leave their villages and go to the cities, where they will at least be able to live in anonymity. This is in contrast to Mohandas Gandhi’s idea of Gram Swaraj, where he finds peace and harmony among the villagers, irrespective of their caste or class affiliations.4 Even today, Dalits in rural India hardly have any freedom and security. Without material means and opportunities, they still continue to stay on in the villages, although they also choose to organize protests against the monopolies of the upper castes in their villages. The result is that they face severe atrocities. Often their houses and shops are burnt down by the upper caste mobs, finally making them helpless as well as hopeless. They are rendered homeless in their own homeland. Even in Bheda, Laltu, the leader of the Dalit community, is implicated in a false case by the upper castes, and gets arrested. The novel thus raises many questions relevant to the life of Dalits today: What should the Dalits do now? Where should they go? What is their stake in the Republic of India? Bheda was published in 2010 when India celebrated the 60th year of becoming a Republic. Six decades of welfare policies, and equity and justice enshrined in the Indian Constitution should have been enough to eliminate poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and all sorts of ills from India. But this has not happened. The main feature of the novel is that it takes the reader to Kalahandi, one of the poorest of the poor districts of Odisha to narrate its encounter with the discourse of development. Kalahandi came into the limelight in the 1980s when the national dailies carried reports of child-selling and deaths from starvation. Since then, Kalahandi has been notorious for poverty, drought, famine, child-selling and malnutrition. The district has often been described in the media as the ‘Somalia of India’. However, the ground

4

While describing a picture of an ideal society, Gandhi in his book Village Swaraj writes, ‘A picture of a casteless and classless society, in which there are no vertical divisions but only horizontal; no high, no low; all service has equal status and carries equal wages; those who have more use their advantage not for themselves but as a trust to serve others who have less; the motivating factor in the choice of vocations is not personal advancement but selfexpression and self-realization through the service of society’ (9–10). For more details see M. K. Gandhi’s book Village Swaraj (2007 reprint).

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reality is altogether different. After doing thorough research, several social scientists have informed us that the poverty we see in Kalahandi is more a man-made occurrence than a calamitous phenomenon of nature. The 1950s and 1960s were the times when India went through a series of changes under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru. Ironically, in the name of development ‘the worst’ came to Kalahandi region when hundreds and thousands of trucks (plying day and night on its rough and uneven roads) carried away valuable wood – including teak – from its deep, green jungles. This was none other than well-organized looting. The looters were builders, contractors, bureaucrats and politicians. They saw Kalahandi as a ‘goldmine’, and extracted as much as they could to amass wealth for themselves. They stripped Kalahandi of its greenery, and left it barren and useless. Even today, Kalahandi has enough natural resources. If utilized properly, they could be of immense help in developing the region so that people do not die of poverty and hunger. In the past, both the central and the state governments have shown apathy towards this region. This is the precise reason why no major development projects have been initiated in the area. The region also has a dearth of political leadership. That is why people’s voices have not reached the capitals of either Odisha or India where most decisions are made by political leaders. The central government has an ambitious project called Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput, which is aimed at removing poverty from these regions. The money pumped into these areas has gone down the drain. Only bureaucrats and politicians have benefited from this project. Being a resident of Kalahandi, Nayak is an insider who has been a first-hand witness to these so-called development narratives of the region. Thus, his fictional accounts of these developments can be interpreted as an attempt to rewrite the social history of Kalahandi, with a special focus on Dalits. Nayak begins his novel by underlining the significance of education in Dalit lives. His character, Dinamastre, is a primary school teacher who is a member of the Dom community, a subcaste in Odisha. For a Dalit to become a school teacher in Kalahandi must be considered a great achievement, because members of marginalized communities rarely have such opportunities. There is no doubt that the Dalits of Kalahandi have, in recent times, come to occupy several government posts, thanks to modern education and the implementation of the reservation policy. Modern education has made a difference and several social changes have made it possible for Dalits to find a place in upper caste bastions, upsetting the traditional power structures. However, if we look at the realities on the ground, it still seems impossible for Dalits to get jobs in those places where the upper castes have occupied positions for several years. Gauging the ways the upper castes have maintained their caste networks over the years, it still seems fairly difficult 163

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for a poor Dalit like Dinabandhu Duria (Dinamastre’s full name, and Laltu’s father in Bheda) to actually get a job in real life. Dinamastre is a simple, honest, gentle and a humble person. He is a dedicated teacher. After several years of struggle and hard work in public life, he is now the headmaster of the primary school of Firozpur village. Becoming a school teacher brings him economic security of the kind his father and forefathers could never have dreamt of. It also brings him social respect, unlike the other members of his community. His new job brings him opportunities as well as challenges. For example, being the headmaster of a school he enforces new rules and regulations for disciplining the students so that they learn to respect each other irrespective of their caste, class and gender affiliations. He also introduces new pedagogical approaches to teach the syllabus so that the students learn their lessons with interest. He also sees to it that the midday meals among the students are distributed equitably. But he is being controlled by the school management committee headed by the upper caste person. The new position of Dinamastre as headmaster is never accepted by the mad lawyer who, as the son of the village headman, is also an arbiter of the village power structure. Therefore, it comes as no surprise when Dinamastre’s son Laltu becomes a social activist, and tries to organize the youth of his area to break the traditional power structures, the mad lawyer seeks revenge on the Dalits. To achieve this, he takes Semi Seth, a powerful businessman, on board to execute his plans. The novel shows organized caste violence perpetrated against Dalits by the non-Dalits in the village. Due to the hierarchical power structure, there is tension in the narrative from the beginning to the end. Nayak is, of course, very blunt in debating the discourse of power in the novel. He provides several instances of how the upper castes feel threatened whenever any Dalits obtain a better ­position. Nayak traces this symptom to their ‘caste mindedness’, which makes the upper castes think that every public institution in India should be reserved only for them. It is through their ‘castes’ that they are able to accumulate wealth and exercise power over the lower castes. It is through Dinamastre that Nayak begins his caste discourse in the novel. As a Dalit writer, and as someone who has benefited from modern education like Dinamastre (at present, Nayak is a teacher in the Government College at Bhawanipatna in Kalahandi), Nayak believes that ultimately education will free Dalits from the bondage of caste slavery. This is a significant political stand because education has remained the main agenda of Dalit movements, and was advocated by Jotiba Phule and B. R. Ambedkar as well as by presentday activists. While applauding the role of modern education for the Dalit emancipation project, Nayak also notices several cracks and fissures which are 164

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responsible for upsetting and finally demolishing such a noble project. This issue is also depicted in Bheda. Because of his Dalit background, Dinamastre is often mercilessly humiliated by his upper caste counterparts. In the first chapter, Nayak describes how the school inspector, a highly educated Brahmin, deliberately addresses him by his caste name just to insult him. The other upper castes occasionally do the same. On his part, Dinamastre swallows and internalizes such caste insults for the sake of his family. Fearing a backlash, he never retaliates. His foremost aim in life is to bring up his only son Laltu in a peaceful environment and give him the best education possible so that he is placed in a better social position. Instead, Laltu leaves his education halfway, and becomes a full-time social activist. He mobilizes the masses, especially the Dalits and the lower castes, to fight against the monopoly of the upper castes. He becomes a celebrated leader of his cause. At the end of the novel, he goes to jail, implicated in a false case by the upper castes. By drawing a marked contrast between father and son, Nayak hints at the radical side of Dalit politics. He critically evaluates the role of education. For him, one can use education for two purposes: to get a job and to bring a social revolution. While the first purpose is limited to the individual alone (or at best for the immediate family), the second is for the community or society as a whole. Thus, Nayak defines the role of education not in any abstract terms but by the actual role it plays in society. Thus we see that when Laltu grows up to be a young man, he becomes conscious of the plight of his community members. He realizes that, through no fault of their own, they are being treated like animals by caste society. This realization makes him a rebel. As a leader, he is not of the militant kind. He works hard to change the mind-set of the people. To bring about a social revolution, he organizes the youth of his area. His team plays a very significant role in guarding the interests of the ordinary/common people. Apart from fighting against the monopoly of the upper castes, they also fight against corrupt officials, local contractors, politicians and businessmen. With their activism, a few visible changes come to the region. For example, they guard the local forest when they realize that the local businessman, Semi Seth, is exporting wood for his selfish ends. It is when they seize his tractor and report him to the higher authorities of the forest department that Seth’s looting comes to an end. This is but one example of the team painstakingly guarding the larger interests of the people by working day and night. Unfortunately, their activism comes to an abrupt end when the upper caste leaders come together to take revenge on them. The Dalits are beaten up by the upper castes with the full knowledge of the police. Dalit bastis are burnt down. They are forced to desert their homes to save their lives. Semi Seth and Banabihari Tripathy take the lead in organizing the carnage. The 165

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police, suitably bribed, naturally support the upper castes. Nayak condemns the behaviour of the upper castes in no uncertain terms. Nayak also brings alive the insider/outsider dynamic through the characters of Semi Seth and Banabihari Tripathy. While Laltu can be called an insider, the original inhabitant of the land, both Seth and Tripathy are the outsiders. Nayak uses information from history and folklore to establish the ‘foreign’ origin of these two. Semi Seth’s father, Pawan Agrawal, is a Marwari who has come to Kalahandi/Odisha all the way from Rajasthan. He seems to have arrived empty-handed. With his business acumen, he first manages to start a small ration shop in the village of Firozpur, and in no time, he amasses wealth through illegal means. After his death, his son Semi Seth virtually runs an empire in the Kalahandi region. Among his possessions are a rice mill and a fleet of tractors, which ply to and fro, day in and day out, taking away the best wood from the virgin jungles of Kalahandi. Semi Seth also buys all kinds of food grains and forest products at cheap prices from the villagers, and sells them at a profit. His stock never diminishes even during droughts and famines. It may be important to note here that Marwaris have spread their business in every corner of Odisha. With their shrewd business tactics, they have grown richer every year. There is always a love–hate relationship between the locals and the Marwaris. The locals know that the Marwaris cheat them. However, they also rely on them during times of crisis. When they borrow money from the Marwaris, they know that they have to pay a higher rate of interest. But still they borrow from them because they get money from them easily. In the 1980s, the youths of Kalahandi organized movements to evict all the Marwaris from the region. Several riots took place in different towns and villages. However, eventually, the Marwaris stayed back after a peace treaty had been signed by the two warring groups. Banabihari Tripathy’s ancestors come from Uttar Pradesh. It is said that Odisha had no Brahmin population in precolonial times. Being dominated by the tribal and lower caste population, almost all village chiefs or Gauntias in Kalahandi were either from the tribal or from the lower caste communities. Accordingly, the king of Kalahandi was also a tribal. With the Hinduization of the Kalahandi region, Banabihari’s grandfather is shown becoming a temple priest. However, he tries to educate his son, Sachikant Tripathy, who later becomes a forester in the Junagarh region of Kalahandi. Sachikant makes friends with Lochan Hati (the Gauntia of Firozpur village), who belongs to the other backward caste (OBC) called Gouda. Hati dies a premature death, after which Sachikant occupies his place. Banabihari goes off to Calcutta to study law and, after completion, becomes a lawyer. As described in Bheda, it seems the lawyer once lost a case in the court, and got so enraged that he threw his 166

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shoes at the judge and left the court for good. Since his father is a big landlord, he looks after the land. But people call him a mad lawyer because he is quite moody and insensitive as well as oppressive. Semi Seth and Banbihari Tripathy join forces to further their interests. With the Hindutva movement spreading all over India in the 1980s and 1990s, these two gentlemen become the self-styled protectors of Hinduism. They organize the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) shakhas in the village, and join in the hate campaign against Muslims and Christians. They are opposed to any kind of conversion, and mobilize the Dalits and tribals to join in their campaign. It is when Laltu’s activism starts in the region that they find a ruthless opponent in him, and initially try to harass him. But when Laltu, with the support of the people, protests against their misdeeds, they plan to teach him a lesson. They not only implicate him in a false case and send him to jail but also organize mobs to perpetuate violence against the Dalits. The ending of Bheda is quite tragic. Laltu starts writing articles on different problems of his area in order to bring them to the notice of the larger public. In appreciation of his wholehearted devotion to the cause of the people, Santosh Panda – the Brahmin local correspondent of the newspaper the Hastakshep (intervention) – recruits him as a news reporter. Thus, Panda assumes the role of a patron, and supports Laltu’s activism. However, later, when a false case is filed against Laltu (he is accused of mobilizing Dalits to throw the bones of a cow into a Hindu temple), Panda suspects Laltu’s integrity. Laltu tries his best to prove his innocence, but Panda remains unconvinced, especially after his discussion with Laltu in the course of which he learns that, in Vedic times, the upper castes – including the Brahmins – ate beef. Outwardly, he promises all sorts of help. But inwardly he succumbs to the pressure of caste prejudice. Panda, thus, not only supports his upper caste brethren in the fight against Dalits, but also sees to it that Laltu’s arrest is publicized in the first page of the newspaper in bold letters so that people will come to know about his alleged misdeeds. Panda’s diabolic role to destroy the Dalit movement is not unique. This leads Nayak to comment that everyone is against the Dalits: civil society, the state, the police and the media. Social scientists fully support Nayak’s argument. For example, Vidya Devi, a social scientist who has done research on caste-based discrimination, writes: ‘Hindus control the government, the police, the judiciary, the press and all else, including the military. Whenever there is any violence against Untouchables, the whole world comes down on them’ (Devi 2008: 125). The novel tries to show that whenever and wherever Dalit atrocities have taken place, the entire civil society has been up against the Dalits, accusing them of being the ‘real’ culprits instead of helping the victims. Unfortunately, this has so often been proved a reality in Indian life. 167

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Nayak also raises the gender issue in Bheda through Mastrani, Dinamastre’s wife and Laltu’s mother. As a Dalit woman, she represents her class in the novel. But, compared to many poor Dalit women of her neighbourhood who work hard for their survival, Mastrani is in a class of her own. Except for managing her household work, she does not have to go out to work and earn her livelihood. Thus, having economic security at home, she commands some sort of power and social position for which the other community members respect her. Even though she takes pride in Dalit culture, she tries to imitate an upper caste life style by observing religious fasts and visiting the Hindu temple. She is a charitable woman. She gives alms to the beggars and mendicants, and helps the poor and the destitute by giving them both material and moral support. In his narrative, Nayak points out how Dalit patriarchy works to the advantage of Dalit men. Even though Mastrani is a literate person, she sacrifices her career by giving priority to her family. She could have easily become a school teacher like Dinamastre and had an identity of her own. But instead of going out and doing a job, she takes the family responsibilities. She takes pride in sharing Dinamastre’s dream of seeing Laltu in a higher social position, and looks after him from beginning to end. When Dinamastre sends Laltu to a boarding school fearing that he might get spoiled at home, she cries bitterly; however, she pins her hopes on the idea that it will help her son to do well. Laltu’s aborted education and his failure to get a good job bring unhappiness to Mastrani. But she thoroughly supports him throughout his activism. When he comes home late, she is the one who waits for his return. If he is unable to come home for any reason, she stays awake all night thinking about his well-being. Thus, when Laltu sacrifices his life for his community and society as a whole, it is Mastrani who sustains his dream by sacrificing her own life too. Mastrani is a god-fearing woman by nature. Following Hindu customs, she fasts on all religious occasions. She also visits the Hindu temple often, though as a member of the Dalit community, she is not allowed to enter into the sanctum sanctorum. On the other hand, Laltu is an agnostic. He never fails to criticize his mother when she drags him to the religious arena. He also challenges the existence of God when Mastrani tries to convince him of the significance of visiting the temple. He cites many instances from the puranas, sashtras and everyday life to tell her how Hinduism as a religion is discriminatory for Dalits in India. She finally realizes this when she visits the Mahadeva temple in her village. Being a Dalit, she cannot worship the God herself, unlike her upper caste counterparts. It is only through the temple priest, a Brahmin, that she can offer her puja. She is thoroughly disturbed, and wonders: is a Dalit not a human being? But this question 168

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goes more in the direction of her own realization that the caste system is truly a discriminatory provision made by upper caste Hindus against Dalits, rather than her pointing fingers towards them asking for their behavioural correction. Of course, to do that, she would have had to be an activist like Laltu, which unfortunately she is not. Thus, Nayak portrays Mastrani not as a revolutionary Dalit woman but as a devoted wife and a loving mother, who thinks that her family is her priority. Akhila Nayak’s novel Bheda is undoubtedly a moving document on caste oppression. As we have seen, Nayak thoroughly exposes the double standards of Indian caste society by highlighting the different forms of atrocities perpetrated on Dalits by the upper castes. He clearly suggests that the idea of caste is enmeshed with violence, and any form of violence has to be condemned unequivocally by every member of civil society. He then exposes the roles of various agencies of the Indian nation-state – including the police, the administration, the education system and the media – which are hand in hand with the upper castes and become part of the problem. Apart from the caste question, Nayak also brings to our notice several important issues for debate and discussion. These include the role of education, caste and conversion, the role of the media, ecology and development and peace. By raising these issues as a Dalit writer, he would like his readers to at least reflect on them. This is the primary aim of much of Dalit literature.

References Chakraborty, Debashis, Shyam D. Babu and Manashi Chakraborty. ‘Atrocities on Dalits: What the District Level Data Say on Society-State Complicity’. Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 41, No. 24 (2006): 2478–2481. Currie, Bob. The Politics of Hunger in India: A Study of Democracy, Governance and Kalahandi’s Poverty. London: Macmillan, 2000. Dash, Anup Kumar and Raj Kumar. ‘A Study on the Implementation of the PCR Act in Orissa’. Bhubaneswar: National Institute of Social Work and Social Sciences, 1994. Devi, Vidya. Dalit and Social Justice. New Delhi: MD Publications, 2008. Freeman, James M. Untouchable: An Indian Life History. London: Allen and Unwin, 1979. Gandhi, M. K. Village Swaraj. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 2007. Kumar, Raj. Dalit Personal Narratives: Reading Caste, Nation and Identity. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2010. Limbale, Sharankumar. Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies and Consideration. Trans. Alok Mukherjee. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2010. Mallik, Basant Kumar. Paradigms of Dissent and Protest: Social Movements in Eastern India. New Delhi: Manohar, 2004. Mansinha, Mayadhar. A History of Oriya Literature. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1962.

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Mohanty, Janaki Ballabha. An Approach to Oriya Literature. Bhubaneswar: Panchashila, 1988. Nayak, Akhila. Bheda. Bhubaneswar: Duduly Prakashani, 2010. Nayak, R. K. ‘A Study on the Problems of Untouchability with Emphasis on the Incidents of the Atrocities on Harijans in Orissa’. Bhubaneswar: National Institute of Social Work and Social Sciences, 1984. Omvedt, Gail. ‘Worst in a Hundred Years: The Kalahandi Drought’. Manushi, No. 97 (November–December 1996). Pati, Biswamoy. ‘Environment and Social History: Kalahandi, 1800–1950’. Environment and History, No. 5 (1999): 345–359. Pradhan, Jagdish. ‘The Distorted Kalahandi and a Strategy for Its Development’. Social Action, Vol. 43 (July–September 1993): 295–311. Rao, Anupama. The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern Time. New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2010. Samal, Kishor C. ‘Drought and Its Toll in Kalahandi’. Mainstream, Vol. xxxii, No. 14 (19 February 1994). Satpathy, Sumanyu. Reading Literary Culture: Perspectives from Orissa. New Delhi: Rawat, 2009. Sen, Amartya. The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian Culture, History and Identity. Penguin Books: New Delhi, 2005. Teltumbde, Anand. ‘Understanding Existential Castes through Atrocity Metrics’. Countercurrents, 14 November 2009. Tripathy, Rebati Ballav. Dalits: A Sub-human Society. New Delhi: Ashish Publishing House, 1994.

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10 QUESTIONS OF CASTE, COMMITMENT AND FREEDOM IN GUJARAT, INDIA Towards a reading of Praveen Gadhvi’s The City of Dust and Lust Santosh Dash*

All discussions about freedom in India usually go back to the time of the freedom struggle, the time when India got independence from the British. While this has been crucial to India’s self-definition as a nation, we still need to map the other practices of freedom which were/are in place in India before/after Independence in order to have a more engaged and critical relationship with the swaraj (self-rule) we fought for, the swaraj we have put together and the swaraj we still need to imagine. The idea of freedom carries much urgency not only in the context of national liberation in India, but more specifically in the face of struggles raised by the Dalits, tribals, women and others in civil society. In an interview in 1984, Michel Foucault made this point about freedom very clear when he said that while a colonized people’s attempt to liberate themselves from their colonizers is indeed a practice of liberation, this practice of liberation is not in itself sufficient to define the practices of freedom that will still be needed if this people, this society, and these individuals are to be able to define admissible and acceptable forms of existence or political society. (Foucault 2000: 282) * I am thankful to Ramesh Chandra Parmar for sharing his precious material with me, and Atul Parmar for his commitment. To Deeptha, I owe the beauty of thinking through some of the ideas expressed in this essay.

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In the particular context of India, freedom has come to mean not only an unceasing commitment to the struggles of caste, community and gender but also an acknowledgement of these struggles since so many practices of freedom are required for imagining acceptable forms of political existence. Thus, in the years following Independence, one saw the consolidation of a liberal welfare state committed to the well-being of the weak and the oppressed sections of the society. The history of this welfare state – which took upon itself the task of addressing caste, community and gender issues, and of dispensing justice through administrative and bureaucratic measures – is now well known as scholars have consistently exposed the quieting effects of these measures taken by the state on voices of freedom and protest in society.1 This essay attempts to understand the struggles of the lower castes, particularly of Dalits in Gujarat, which is otherwise a vibrant and dynamic state in India. The struggles of the Gujarati Dalits will be examined with reference to their self-expression in literature. Although Dalit struggles in Gujarat have taken many diverse forms – such as protest marches, strikes, legal petitions, art initiatives like painting, street theatre and even hijrath (protest migrations) – this essay will study Dalit expressions in literature, with a particular focus on Dalit short stories. While indicating a long history of Dalit redress in mainstream Gujarati literature2 (and perhaps a longer history of Dalit welfare work in Gujarat, going as far back as to the early part of the nineteenth century),3 this essay will mainly try to put into perspective the urge for self-representation that was seen among Dalits in the 1980s in Gujarat. With the reorganization of states in India, the newly formed state of Gujarat undertook the welfare and empowerment of the Scheduled Castes right from its inception in 1960, and it has been reported as recently as in 2012 that the state is committed to the welfare of this oppressed section of society. In fact, while paying a tribute to India’s Dalit icon Babasaheb Ambedkar on his 121st birth anniversary, the state government released a page-long advertisement in a daily newspaper listing the plans and programs put in place by the Ministries of Education and Social Justice for the empowerment of the Scheduled Castes in the state 1

Partha Chatterjee, The Politics of the Governed (2004), and Sudipto Kaviraj (ed.), Politics in India (1997), are two examples of such histories. 2 Here, I have in mind only the modern forms of redress in literature and not the premodern ones found, for example, in the medieval Bhakti poets of Gujarat. 3 For a critical account of Dalit welfare work in nineteenth-century Gujarat, see Makarand Mehta (1986).

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(Times of India: 14 April 2012). However, in another page, the same newspaper reported how ‘the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) has taken strong exception to the state government for failing to allocate enough funds for the welfare of the Dalits in Gujarat’ (4). What one sees in the interstices of such claims and critiques of state welfarism in India are strong narratives of development but also equally strong narratives of deprivation. The contemporary state discourse on welfare would make one believe that the state has its own internal systems of checks and balances to keep its attention focused on the objective of welfare, and that it is the sole player in the lives of Dalits, tribals and women. However, it is necessary to emphasize that the history of modern welfare goes back to the time of colonial and native state policy in Gujarat.4 Apart from these state initiatives, there were a host of religious sects in nineteenth-century Gujarat working towards the consolidation of castes in native society. Religious sects like that of Vallabhacharya, Ramanand, Kabir, Santram, Jalaram, Dayanand and Sahajanand, along with a whole lot of bhagats, bapus, kakas and pirs were active among the lower castes. They were trying, in their own ways, to reach out to the oppressed castes, arguing in favour of their freedom, asking for reforms and imagining acceptable forms of social contract within native society. However, the language of religious reform was more a borrowing from the questioning traditions of India’s past than being in line with Western ideas of social contract and democracy. Historians and sociologists working on nineteenth-century Gujarat have shown how these religious sects, in spite of their reformist urge, worked within the dictates of the Varnavyvastha and how, on that count, they remained weak on the question of caste, particularly on the issue of untouchability. A good example is the case of the reform movement led by Swami Sahajanand, which culminated in the creation of the Swaminarayan Sampradaya in the early part of the nineteenth century. Although Sahajanand was able to recruit followers from the Ghanchi, Vaghri, Bhil, Koli, Mochi, Suthar, Bhavsar, Darji, Gola, Thakkar, Kanvi and Rathod castes, his movement remained more or less 4 For

most part of the nineteenth century up to the time of Independence, what is today called Gujarat was part of the Bombay Presidency and was administered either by the colonial state directly or by the native states of the region with colonial representatives. The modern welfare work was carried out in the native states by the native kings, whereas in parts which were under the more immediate control of the colonial state, the welfare work was administered from the Presidency town of Bombay. For example, Maharaja Sayajirao III was known for his educational initiatives for Dalit welfare in the native state of Baroda.

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non-committal over the issue of untouchability.5 At best one could say that he maintained a philosophical silence about it. It is, however, necessary to emphasize that the reform movement, which Sahajanand led in the early part of the nineteenth century, created real opportunities of social mobility for a large section of people in local society. Although Sahajanand believed in the tenets of Vaishnavism, intellectually he seemed to move away from the Vaishnava tradition of Vallabhacharya, which, at the time of Sahajanand, was mired in an environment of licentiousness and blind belief. Sahajanand began by installing a more puritanical image of Krishna by taking the focus away from the sexual excesses of the Lord, and this found him many followers among the local population who were sick and tired of the licentiousness and immorality that had crept into the Vaishnava fold – all practiced in the name of the Lord. Sahajanand’s interventions in the women’s issue, though problematic, also provided great social relief to diverse questions regarding women in society. Sahajanand separated men and women in public gatherings. He advocated the abolition of sati, and provided financial help to parents to meet the demand of dowry in the hope that it would discourage female infanticide. He also made fairly remarkable interventions on the issue of caste by allowing into his fold many lower castes that were outside the fold of traditional Vaishnavism. Thus, the early part of the nineteenth century saw a great deal of caste mobility in Gujarat, with many working and peasant castes, especially from the lower strata of society, converting into Swaminarayan Sampradaya for social recognition.6 Apart from the lower castes, this sect also took into its fold people from other faiths. The rise of the Swaminarayan Sampradaya in the first half of the nineteenth century came to coincide with the decline of the popularity of traditional Vaishnavism in Gujarat and, as the century progressed, the sect and the chief priest of the Vaishnava Sampradaya, Jadunathjee Maharaj, got embroiled in a court case against two great stalwarts of the social reform movement in Gujarat: Karsondass Mooljee and Nanabhai Rustamji. By seeking the intervention of the colonial court, the Vaishnava Maharaj practically conceded it the privilege of defending native morality against the corrupt and immoral practices of the Vaishnava gurus. As the case unfolded, the rationality of the court came to coincide with the rationality of the social reformers who also found the institutional practices of the 5

See, for example, the excerpt of a conversation that Sahajanand had with Reginald Heber in 1825 on the issue of untouchability; quoted in Makarand Mehta (1986: 23). See also, Makarand Mehta (1979: 229–48). 6 For an elaborate account of the sect, see Raymond Bardy Williams (2001).

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Sampradaya detestable and obnoxious.7 On the other hand, the Swaminarayan Sampradaya, which was gaining popularity among the people, witnessed a large number of castes moving into its fold, and accepting it as their religion. The British Imperial Government was sympathetically inclined towards it for it helped build the first temple of the Sampradaya in Ahmedabad in 1822 through a generous grant of land. Apart from this newly emerging religion, many other groups of various religious persuasions worked in their own different ways in different areas. These ensured the large-scale penetration of religious reform in the lives of the castes and the tribes in Gujarat. Besides these Hindu religious groups, Christian missionaries also emerged as major agents of welfare activities among Dalits and tribals in nineteenth-century Gujarat (see M. J. Parmar 2005: 58).8 The missionaries were mostly active in areas and among people lying outside the reach of Hindu reformers. However, towards the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the activities of the missionaries came to be positioned in a tense relationship with the elite, upper caste religious groups in society. The issue of conversion became a point of passionate debate, and a rallying point for religious revivalism among local religious groups. The most actively engaged organization in the revivalist activities in Gujarat was the Arya Samaj, founded in 1875 by Swami Dayanand Saraswati. He was born in village of Tankara in Kathiawad.9 The organization got a cold response in Gujarat in the initial years of its foundation and, therefore, shifted its base to Punjab where it worked among the Dalits, mostly to discourage their conversion to other faiths. The reason why it was not received so well in Gujarat could be due to its advaita (non-duality) orientation, and its anti-idol stance, which positioned it in opposition to the influential and popular Vaishnava Vallabhacharya and Swaminarayan sects that practiced dvait (duality) philosophy and were, therefore, disposed to idol worship. The other reason could also be because the educated classes were more tuned to the concept of Arya Dharma made popular by Narmadashankar Lalshankar Dave and Manilal Nabubhai Dwivedi – the two stalwarts of social reform in Gujarat.10 The Arya Dharma not only signalled the  7 For

the full text of the Maharaja Libel Case see: http://www.archive.org/details/ MN40117ucmf_1. For an account of social reform movements in Gujarat and their Western liberal orientation, see Nikita Sud, Liberalization, Hindu Nationalism and the State: A Biography of Gujarat (2012).  8 See also Hardiman (2007) pp. 41–65.  9 Dayanand Saraswati, http://freeindia.org/biographies/dayanand/, accessed 5 March 2012. 10 See Narmadashankar Lalshankar Dave, Dharmavichar. Ramesh M. Shukla, ed. (Surat: Kavi Narmad Yugavart Trust, 1998 [1885]), and Manilal Nabhubhai Dwivedi, Siddhant Saar (Mumbai: Uttarapath Asharam Trust, 1971 [1889]).

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abandonment of the social reform initiative towards the last quarter of the nineteenth century but also marked the inauguration of a religious nationalist discourse in Gujarat, or what is better known in the vernacular as the Swadeshavimaan discourse.11 However, the Arya Samaj did find a foothold in Gujarat when it was invited to open its base in Baroda by one of the most enlightened rulers of Gujarat: Sir Sayajirao III.12 Dalit welfare work, which Sayajirao had started in 1882 soon after his coronation in 1881, picked up great pace after 1905 with the arrival of Swami Atmaramji, an Arya Samaji from Punjab. The number of Dalit schools – only 19 in 1904–05 – multiplied to 247 by the year 1906–07. The Arya Samajis went about establishing ashram schools and orphanages to prevent Dalits and tribals from going into the Christian fold. Moreover, they organized shudhi (purifying) ceremonies to win back converts. The orphanages, which the missionaries had set up for the Dalits, came to be viewed increasingly as mechanisms for conversion. In addition, it was believed that the missionaries, who were quick to extend relief to the Dalits during the famine of 1899–1900, had made good with an enormous harvest of souls. Thus, the first quarter of the twentieth century saw intense welfare activity, with Hindu and Christian groups fighting aggressively over Dalit and tribal souls. But the intensity of this rivalry was compounded when the Hindu–Muslim rivalry took centre stage in the run-up to Independence. As the century progressed, there were many greater political projects aimed at homogenizing communities across religious lines. The Dalit issue also came to a boil around this time, with intense Dalit mobilization in neighbouring Maharashtra in the 1920s as also elsewhere in the country, leading to what is now recognized as a classic confrontation between Gandhi and Ambedkar – the two stalwarts of Indian nationalism – over the caste question. Although Gandhi agreed with Ambedkar on the importance of the issue of untouchability, he differed with Ambedkar’s views on the caste system. Gandhi believed that untouchability was an undesirable historical accretion that needed to be abolished through social reform, even as India continued to stay within the system of castes, which he thought was a unique creation of the Hindu past.13 He carefully modulated his arguments in defence of the Varnavyvastha even as he castigated the 11

For a more engaged account of the Social Reform Movement in Gujarat, see Dash (2005). 1903, in his address to Arya Samajis in Lahore, Sayajirao had urged them to come and teach in Dalit schools in Baroda State instead of cursing the Christians and Muslims about conversion (Mehta 1995: 73). 13 For an ironic exposition of this point, see Jani (1989: 119–37). 12 In

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practice of untouchability.14 Gandhi found many followers among the upper castes/classes, who saw in this Gandhian ideal of self-reform (atma suddhi) as a means to address the untouchability issue. Gandhi sustained his belief in the upper castes through the medieval idea of bhakti (devotion) and the contemporary idea of seva (service). He thought that these were enough to keep the ideals of freedom and equality alive in society. Gandhi mostly fell back upon the Vaishnava idiom of equality made popular by the Gujarati saint poet Narshin Mehta, whose line Vaishnava jana to tene kahiyere/Jo peed paraye jane re (we would only call him a true Vaishnava/Who knows the pain of others) he raised to the status of a nationalist mantra. He also made it an agenda for national self-reform and a real touchstone for upper caste selves. However, Ambedkar was not convinced about the Gandhian argument about the good intentions of the upper castes and their will to reform (Srivatsan 2008: 96–102). If Gandhi had a major influence in shaping social welfare work in Gujarat in the first half of the twentieth century, he had an equally considerable influence on the way literature came to be written in the period before and after Independence in Gujarat.15 Gandhi infused a down-to-earth vision into literature, and called for a more equal and democratic representation of characters and issues. As a result, people earlier derided as bhangis, chamars and dheds came to centrally inhabit the literary world of poems, stories and novels. Umashankar Joshi, Jhinabhai Desai (also known as Sneharashmi), Tribhuvandas Luhar (his pen name was Sundaram), Ramanarayan Pathak, Ramanlal Desai, Ishwar Petlikar, Bhogilal Gandhi, Javerchand Meghani and Pannalal Patel were at the forefront of this kind of revolutionary change in Gujarati literature. Though Gandhian views on literature remained influential, there were apprehensions across the literary world in Gujarat that such a ‘lowering’ of literature – especially in terms of character and language – might hold back the growth of language and literature in the long run. Thus, writers like Rajendra Shah and Niranjan Bhagat consciously kept their creative and critical practice away from ­Gandhi and his influence. However, it is important to recognize that ­present-day Dalit historians acknowledge the Gandhian moment in mainstream Gujarati literature as a powerful and significant period in which 14

See M. K. Gandhi, in Harijan, 11 July 1936, and 18 July 1936. Reprinted in B. R. Ambedkar, The Annihilation of Caste (1936). For Ambedkar’s reply to Gandhi, see ‘Reply to the Mahatma’ in Ambedkar (2002: 306–19). 15 See Joshi, Raval and Shukla (1978: Vol. 3) for a mainstream assessment of Gandhi’s influence on literature.

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Gandhi’s influence infused a sense of literary commitment among upper caste writers (Chauhan 2008: 4). The sense of commitment which Gandhi had generated began to fade after his death and the attainment of swaraj. Literature began to lose the social energy of the Gandhian era in spite of startling advances in new forms, genres and imagination. This, of course, does not mean that the sense of commitment waned completely. Commitment literature continued to be published in upper caste periodicals like Parivartan, Dalitbandhu and Garud. In fact, a strain of commitment continued in Gujarati mainstream literature in the works of Jayant Gadit (Badlathi Kshitij), Pinakin Dave (Pralambpanth), Dilip Ranpura (Aansubhhino Ujass), Chinu Modi (Kalo Suraj), Kishoresinh Solanki (Mashari), Raghuvir Chaudhary (Ichhavar), Manilal H. Patel (Andharu) and Pradeep Pandya (Manjil Haju Dur Che) (Malsatar 2007: 364–408). However, the inadequacy of upper caste commitment became apparent in the 1980s when Gujarat became one of the key states in the antireservation movement in India. This movement shook the foundations of a system of ideals which Gandhi had carefully nourished around the goodwill of the upper castes and their ability to purify themselves and to free themselves of caste by undertaking atma suddhi (self-purification). Under the inspiration of Dalit assertions in neighbouring Maharashtra, Gujarati Dalits started a social movement in the style of the Dalit Panthers in the 1970s. Initially, efforts were made to introduce the Dalit movement in Maharashtra to Dalits in Gujarat. The publication of Dalit Panther, a seminal book written in 1974 by Ramesh Chandra Parmar, marked a major milestone in this direction. Translations of Dalit thought from other Indian languages into Gujarati went hand in hand with original Gujarati Dalit writing. Ramesh Chandra Parmar was at the forefront of this emerging literary movement. The ideas of Karl Marx, Ram Manohar Lohia, B. R. Ambedkar and Periyar (E. V. Ramasamy) were translated by him and his associates into Gujarati.16 He also created a space for Dalit creative expression with the publication of little magazines like Panther (1975) and Aakrosh (1978). During this time, the Buddhist Society of Gujarat and the Bharatiya Dalit Panther Gujarat remained two of the most well-known Dalit organizations. These were later joined by the Dalit Sahitya Sangh and Gujarat Khet Vikas Parishad. However, there is no doubt that this initial churning of the Dalit mind in the 1970s found an internal basis and 16 For

example, see Ramesh Chandra Parmar, Varga-Varna Sangharsha, Samanvit Triji Shakti (1985). This was a Gujarati translation of Class-Caste Struggle: Emerging Third Force by V. T. Rajshekhar.

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connect to Dalit life in Gujarat when the state experienced antireservation riots in 1981, and again in 1985.17 In the 1980s, Gujarat saw the emergence of an assertive and articulate group of Dalit writers and activists who burst onto the literary world through radical self-expression by writing poems, short stories, novels and autobiographies, and by establishing literary and social organizations. The Dalit writers and activists who remained central to the Dalit movement both in the pre- and postreservation period in Gujarat were: Ramesh Chandra Parmar, Jethalal Jadav, Dalpat Chauhan, Praveen Gadhvi, Manishi Jani, Nirav Patel, Harish Mangalam, Mohan Parmar, Chandu Maheria, Joseph Macwan, Sahil Parmar and Raju Solanki, among others. The publication of little magazines was followed by anthologies of poetry and collections of short stories by Dalit writers. These often culminated in their independent individual publications.18 The older generation of Dalit writers has now been joined by an equally illustrious group of young and talented Dalit writers. There is no doubt that their works have together marked an extraordinary moment in Dalit self-representation in Gujarat. One good example of such a moment of self-representation was the publication of the first collection of Gujarati Dalit short stories, Gujarati Dalit Varta, in 1987. Comprising of fifteen Dalit short stories, this collection was edited by two Dalit writers: Mohan Parmar and Harish Mangalam. Significantly, it carried a section devoted to the critical evaluation of the short stories as well as commentary on the book by upper caste critics. Today, what strikes the reader of these Dalit short stories is the language used by the writers. This has surely had no precedence in Gujarati literature. Although portrayals of Dalit lives are not unfamiliar in mainstream literature, the language used is either rustic, peasant-like (as in the work of Pannalal Patel) or sanskritized (as in the writings of Umashankar Joshi and Sundaram).19 However, with the arrival of Dalit writers from Dalit families and Dalitwadas, a different idiom came into literary writing, which was entirely new, and in which the Dalit writers felt at home. This became a resource for their creative expression. If the critical commentaries in the book are any

17 These

riots are also described as caste wars. For an elaboration, see Vijay Tendulkar’s The Gujarat Agitation and Reservations: Fact Finding Report (Bombay: Kobad Ghandy for Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, 1981). 18 For details of publication of Dalit magazines, poetry, short stories, novels, dramas, sketches, criticism and translations between 1974 and 2008, see Chauhan (2008). 19 This point about language in the context of Bengal has been dealt with in Sudipto Kaviraj, ‘Writing, Speaking, Being: Language and Historical Formation of Identities in India’ (1992). Unpublished paper.

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indication, they clearly show that the literary establishment was more or less reconciled to the absence of sanskritized ‘grace’ in Dalit writing (Sharma 2010: 149). Yet, there was a clear sense of disappointment about the absence of principles of Sanskrit Rasa Shastra (poetics) and Saundarya Shastra (aesthetics) in Dalit writing. Many critics seemed to suggest that Dalit writers did not have enough information about traditions and techniques. They expressed the hope that Dalit writing would ‘rise’ in quality once Dalit writers got exposed to literary works and traditions (Panchal 2010: 152). However, Dalit writers in Gujarat responded to such upper caste assessments by evolving strong traditions of internal evaluation and criticism of their own. They also made demands of themselves, taking care to express themselves without losing any of the historical and social energy that had enabled them to write in the first place (Mangalam 1989; Parmar 2012). As far as the critical evaluation of the stories in the book was concerned, upper caste critics seemed to value those stories, which were quiet and not violent, those that were not propagandist, those that did not use the language of protest, those that moved away from anger and aakrosh and those that did not show any caste prejudice or caste antagonism. Such standards of evaluation promoted by established critics in Gujarat legitimized quieter models of Dalit self-expression, and endorsed non-violent forms of expression among Dalits. They also expressed upper caste anxiety about the social content of Dalit writing, which they thought could be morally disturbing. For example, Raghuvir Chaudhary (2010) lauds Mohan Parmar’s ‘Nakalank’ (1991) for its quietism, for not exploding at the edges and for containing the passion and desires of a married upper caste woman, Diva, and a married lower caste man, Kanti, within the bounds of morality, within the wraps of spiritualism and marital trust (Parmar 2010: 98). While commenting upon Hari Par’s ‘Somli’, Digish Mehta points to the nature and limits of upper caste sensitivity; while it recognizes the social content of Dalit short stories as real, it keeps the disturbing social element safe within its own bounds, for it knows from its own experience and knowledge that reality is only more stark and more acute than whatever is portrayed in these short stories (92). The issue of social realism and social commitment has always been an issue in the history of mainstream Gujarati short stories; however, with the advent of Dalit short stories, the element of the social has acquired a specific meaning and value. Dalit historians and writers like Dalpat Chauhan and Mohan Parmar have taken particular issue with the tradition of the modernist short story introduced by Suresh Joshi in the 1970s (Parmar 2010: 125– 30; Chauhan 2008: 81–94). They argue that while the modernist trend has brought newness and experimentation into mainstream literature, it has 180

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kept writers self-indulgent for decades by embroiling them in formal and technical experiments and disengaging them from the social and the real. The social element, which had come in the grasp of upper caste writers under the influence of Gandhi, took a beating in the decades after the 1970s, with writers primarily focused on exploring newer forms and techniques.20 They also argue that Gujarati Dalit writers have brought a special social element into the form of the short story and that, since the late 1980s, the portrayal of the social has taken many vibrant forms in Gujarat, with questions of realism and commitment emerging as the two nodal points of engagement among both Dalit and non-Dalit writers. What most of these stories make amply clear is that Dalit lives are still lived under the whims and wishes of the upper caste characters in society and that their self-worth and dignity are still very fragile, particularly under the given social and economic structures in Gujarat. Indeed, it could be said that Dalit lives have become even more complicated in what seems to be a fast developing state in which opportunities for individual well-being and success have grown significantly. The turn of the century has brought with it the idea of a vibrant Gujarat, and it is in the context of a massive drive towards the good life in the state that the Dalit issue acquires a new urgency and engagement on the part of Dalit writers. The composition of Dalit life seems to have changed beyond recognition. The Gujarat of 2015 is no longer the Gujarat of the 1980s. Dalit welfare is still an affair of the state; however, the equation of the state and the market has changed, and with it there has been a massive change in the social and economic profiles of the people. What Gujarat has witnessed in the last fifteen years is a massive enlargement of the middle class, which has taken into its fold many lower castes which were earlier outside its ambit. Now, it seems of utmost historical urgency to understand the nature and composition of this growing Gujarati middle class, and the place of Dalits in what seems to be a massive consolidation of class identity. It is in the context of this massive change in the social and economic structures of Gujarat that Dalit writers are now trying to grapple with the new social arrangement that is being proposed for the Dalits in the state. A massive religious identity – which was under formation from the 1990s with the demolition of Babri Masjid, and which had congealed into a violent and masculine form in 2002 Gujarat riots – suddenly seems to have entered into a quieter and more creative phase of consolidation in Gujarat. It is seeing a careful deployment of reason and rhetoric around the idea of 20

For a detailed account of the Suresh Joshi model and Gandhi model of writing, see Sarvaiya (2008).

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development on the one hand, and a strategic disavowal of loud and aggressive mobilization around the idea of religion on the other.21 The Dalit writers of Gujarat seem to have recognized this fact of change in the life of the state. Thus, the stories of development that they tell are often tragic ones. They are tragic not because they are stories of exploitation but because the characters in these stories belong to the imaginary of a state that is committed to development in Gujarat. Stories of an emerging middle class in which Dalits feature prominently are quite new and contemporary. What is more, they possess all the resources of caste and class to raise questions which demand answers from the otherwise triumphal discourse of development and welfare in the state. Although the conceptual details of this emerging social class are still hazy and yet to be researched, these stories demand a critical engagement with the emergence of a Gujarati ‘neo-middle class’.22 In fact, while presenting the budget of 2013–14, the Finance Minister of Gujarat talked particularly about how the government is determined to create a skills development corporation as part of its effort ‘to prepare skilled manpower in line with the requirements of international trends and thus fulfil the expectation of neo-middle class youth’.23 In this context of a need to engage with this emerging neo-middle class in Gujarat, Praveen Gadhvi’s (a retired administrative officer) short story collection Malaka seems to provide a conceptual breakthrough. Published in 2010 and later translated by the author himself as The City of Dust and Lust, this collection of short stories gives an insight into the nature and composition of Dalit lives in Gujarat in a striking way. In his introduction to the collection, Harish Mangalam points out that the stories depict the lives of the middle classes in Gujarat – a middle class not only drawn from the lower and the upper castes but also includes labouring migrants from other states. For example, Anjudi from Indore and Mrs. Tambe (who may be) from Maharashtra are now in Gujarat. Other stories feature characters from Gujarat meeting the struggling middle classes in Mumbai and Calcutta. The change in the names of the characters is also significant: earlier Gujarati stories, featured names such as Gokal, Dhana Dala, Jetha, Makwana, Magan and Somli, which immediately identified the castes of their owners; however, Gadhvi takes care to name his characters in such a way that the distinction between the lower and upper castes remains indistinct. Thus, 21

For a similar point of view, see Shiv Visvanathan, ‘Swadeshi Tadka of Masculinity, Nationalism’, in Times of India (21 December 2012). 22 The phrase was used by the chief minister of Gujarat during his election campaign in 2012. For an exposition of this concept, see Tavleen Singh, ‘A New Idea of India?’ in Sunday Express (23 December 2012). 23 See ‘Budget 2013–14 Made in Gujarat, for India’, Indian Express (21 February 2013).

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Pradeep, Nirmal, Vinod, Satish, Sharmaji, Darshana, Deepa, and Maya are not names that in any way mark them as lower castes. Whether they belong to the upper caste is also left ambiguous. In fact, they come across as indistinguishably middle class, marked neither simply by caste nor by class, but having elements of both. Gadhvi’s Dalit middle class, therefore, is a constituency that cuts across caste lines; it also crosses regional boundaries. The novel gathers and paints the lives of a struggling population which is at the receiving end of a great economic upsurge in Gujarat. It is important to recognize the struggles of Gadhvi’s besieged middle classes as a part of Dalit struggles for freedom. It is equally possible to read this collection of short stories as framed by contemporary, new urban structures of caste. While portrayals of Dalit lives in the backdrop of a rural caste-ridden society are quite familiar and still relevant, what Gadhvi brings to Dalit short story is the world of an urban Dalit middle class – a constituency of people with their own peculiar desires, ambitions and aspirations. In story after story, he follows their desires and dreams. He registers quite carefully the social and economic mobility of the Dalits in Gujarat; but he also, simultaneously, points to the fragile nature of their undertakings and accomplishments. The characters in his stories are not the poor and starving Dalit castes. They are shown as employed and earning. However, their lives are also uncertain, unsafe, and at the mercy of a marketdriven economy, which plays havoc in their personal lives. It often makes them vulnerable to moral corruption, and leaves them helpless before a system of exploitation, which they thought they had escaped on account of a little monetary compensation. Their freedom is subservient to the dictates and desires of not just some impersonal market forces but to the wills and wishes of those who wield power over their everyday lives on account of the uncertain nature of their current occupations. The protagonist Satish who runs a small food cart in the story ‘Roopmati’, Kamal who keeps accounts of a real estate dealer in ‘Scarf Snatching’, Ketan who is hurled from one job to another in ‘Dead-Alive’, Vinod who is a marble supplier in ‘A Statue of Marble’, Sharmaji who works in a travel agency in ‘Response’, Sanjay who is always short of business in ‘A Story of the Story’, Lalji who is a peon in a bank in ‘A Bag of Wheat’ – they all have jobs and businesses. However, they lose them in the course of their lives, putting them in great financial hardships. A striking feature of Gadhvi’s middle class stories is that they represent lives at both ends of the class segment. The City of Dust and Lust contains portrayals of both lower and upper middle class lives. In ‘A Statue of Marble’, Maya and Vinod get used to a life of luxury and comfort to such an extent that when Vinod loses his business, Maya starts working in a dubious beauty parlour to keep up their 183

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lifestyle. In ‘The Curse’, Alok collects licenses for businesses in plastics, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and real estate only because he is never satisfied, and wants more and more in life. He and his wife want to tour Europe, America, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Maldives, Sicily and Bangkok. They want to enjoy wining and dining on a cruise for which they would stoop to do anything. The character of Pradeep (which features in ‘Barmaid’, ‘A Stranger’, ‘Breathlessness’, ‘Incense Stick’ and ‘Response’) is also significant: after a swim in a club, he comes home to prepare soda and ice cubes, puts on the music of Ghulam Ali, and then dials for an easy woman to visit him in the absence of his wife and children. His lifestyle seems to be all about living the good life. Gadhvi’s stories would certainly enrage upper caste morality for their candid expressions of sexual excess and trespass. The pleasures these stories summon are akin to gentle porn, although descriptions of sex are more suggestive and evocative. A quality of sensuous indulgence runs through all the stories in the collection, making them the first of their kind in Gujarati Dalit literature. The sexual exploitation of the lower caste woman by the upper caste man is a familiar trope located in the structure of caste. However, Gadhvi extends this trope to equally immediate structures of class and capital. The Dalit middle class men in Gadhvi’s stories work in diamond industries, marble industries, private business units, travel agencies, real estates, banks and shops as cutters, suppliers, telephone operators, brokers, agents, accountants, peons and servants. Their jobs are without security; their salaries are meagre. But their desires are that of the middle class, deeply consumerist. Those who are at the lower end of the class desire houses, TVs, fridges, sofas, dining tables, scooters, cars, electricity and gas. They want to send their children to English medium private schools. They want ice creams and movies. They want life insurance. Those who are upper-middle class have bigger dreams: they want to add and diversify their business all the time. Wherever they are placed in this middle class, dreams of the good life pursue them as incessantly as the market forces. Their desires are legitimate, but subservient to the demands of the market. For example, Lalji in ‘A Bag of Wheat’ embezzles money from somebody’s account when he finds his desires outstretching his salary. Alok and Madira in ‘The Curse’ go from one business project to another, taking one loan after another, all in their pursuit of a good life. Whether it is the housing sector, the banking sector, the insurance sector or the real-estate sector, they all promise a good life to the struggling middle classes, binding them interminably to the grind of capital. The middle class households in Gadhvi’s stories are held to ransom by the desires and dreams of a consumerist society. The worst affected in these 184

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households are the women. As the insecurities in their personal lives become real with their husbands losing jobs on account of uncertain market conditions, they become sexually vulnerable to a host of predators who hunt this site of destitution and deprivation in the guise of benevolent industrialists, bank managers, builders, firm owners and company bosses. The woman characters in ‘A Bag of Wheat’, ‘An Invitation’, ‘Dead-Alive’ and ‘Response’ are offered jobs in lieu of sex. Their men, though loving, caring and upright, are seen as losing their moral strength due to their inability to meet their household expenses, their lack of skills and education playing a major role in the process. All the hard-earned happiness of these struggling families goes for a toss the moment there is a depression in the market. The case of Deepa and Ketan in ‘Dead-Alive’ is a good example of this. Theirs was an intercaste love marriage. Ketan cannot work in one place for more than six months because his employers are more interested in his wife than keeping him in his job. You give Deepa, you will get whatever you want. Give us Deepa, Give us Deepa. She would hear noise from all directions. (44) . . . They could earn two slices of bread. But, how does one cope with the expenses of so many things, the rent of the flat, the electricity bill, the clothes bill and the cooking gas. (46) . . . [Deepa and Ketan finally give in] Doorbell rang. She opened the door. Ketan came in. Somebody was accompanying him. Deepa welcomed them with smiling eyes and stepped back, giving the way to them. (47) The moral ‘laxity’ shown on the part of women characters like Deepa, Panna, Maya, Sarita, Tara, Malini and Sonali would definitely hurt the moral sentiments of the upper caste readers. Sentiments nurtured on high morality would certainly get repulsed at the looseness of character shown by Madira (in ‘The Curse’) who, in her single-minded pursuit of the good things of life, is quite cool about sleeping with any number of men. Though Gadhvi is also concerned about the depleting moral quotient among the struggling middle classes, he is less judgmental and more oriented towards understanding the social and economic forces at work in contemporary Gujarat, which breed such moral corruption. Apart from the structure of caste, which is still strong and relevant in the lives of its people, Gadhvi feels that the movement of capital has penetrated the life worlds of a fairly large struggling population in Gujarat to such an extent that the tragic 185

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moral failings of an entire class of people are seen only as failures of individual lives, and not as the failure of the developmental paradigm. To admit otherwise would mean a rearrangement of class relations as well as a rethinking of paradigms of development and progress. In many important ways, Gadhvi’s stories are stories of development and deprivation, with men struggling to free themselves from the circumstances of an oppressive economy, and women struggling for freedom to choose their own pleasures. The City of Dust and Lust bears testimony to the tragic denial of these freedoms to all the men and women in the stories. Gadhvi’s stories are also conceptually quite important in so far as they make it possible to imagine Dalit life alongside the lives of the struggling middle classes in Gujarat. By keeping the difference between the life worlds of the lower and upper castes deliberately hazy and indistinct, Gadhvi has been able to draw the outlines of a class of people whose lives seem to be bound by common elements of deprivation and exploitation in the private sectors of trade, industry and business in Gujarat. While it is worth researching whether Gadhvi’s idea of the struggling middle classes is sustainable or even productive to the Dalit movement in Gujarat, there is no doubt that his stories quietly underscore issues of exploitation in cities, raising questions regarding commitment and freedom to the triumphant discourse of social welfare and justice on the one hand, and development on the other.

References Ambedkar, B. R. ‘Reply to the Mahatma’, in The Essential Writings of B.R. Ambedkar, (ed.) Valerian Rodrigues. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002; 306–19. ‘Budget 2013–14 Made in Gujarat, for India’, Indian Express, 21 February 2013; 1–2. Chatterjee, Partha. The Politics of the Governed. New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2004. Chaudhary, Raghuvir. ‘Rudyun Kholo to Kaank Khabar Pade’, in Gujarati Dalit Varta, (eds.) Mohan Parmar and Harish Mangalam, 1987. Ahmedabad: Divine Publications, 2010; 95–8. Chauhan, Dalpat. Gujarati Dalit Sahityani Kediye: Dalit Sahityani Itihas. Ahmedabad: Gujarat Dalit Sahitya Akademi, 2008. Dash, Santosh. ‘Dalpatram’s Laxmi Natak and the Question of Reform in Mid-­ Nineteenth Century Gujarat’, in The Discourse of Resistance in the Colonial Period, (ed.) Avadhesh Kumar Singh. New Delhi: Creative, 2005; 297–315. Dave, Narmadashankar Lalshankar. Dharma Vichar: Samaj, Swadeshabhimaan ane Dharmvishe Punarvicharna Nibandho. 1885. Surat: Kavi Narmad Yugavart Trust, 1988. Dwivedi, Manilal Nabubhai. Siddhant Saar athva Sarvamanya Ekdharmna Tattva Suchchavvano Prayatna. 1889. Mumbai: Uttarapath Ashram Trust, 1971. Foucault, Michel. ‘The Ethics of the Concern of the Self as a Practice of Freedom’ in Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, (ed.) Paul Rabinow. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2000.

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Gadhvi, Praveen. The City of Dust and Lust. Trans. Praveen Gadhvi. New Delhi: B.S. Publishers, 2010. Gandhi, M. K. Harijan, 11 July 1936 and 18 July 1936, in B. R. Ambedkar’s The Annihilation of Caste. New Delhi: Arnold, 1990. Hardiman, David. ‘Purifying the Nation: The Arya Samaj in Gujarat 1895–1930’, in The Indian Economic and Social History Review, Vol. 44, No. 1 (2007): 41–65. Jani, Indukumar. ‘Gandhiji Tame Sacha Cho . . . ’, in Sarvanaam, (eds.) Nirav Patel and Chandu Maheria. Ahmedabad: Swaman Foundation for Dalit Literature, 1989; 119–37. Joshi, Umashankar, A. Raval and Yashwant Shukla (eds.) Gujarati Sahityanu Itihas, vol. 3. Ahmedabad: Gujarati Sahitya Parishad, 1978. Kaviraj, Sudipto. ‘Writing, Speaking, Being: Language and Historical Formation of Identities in India’. Unpublished manuscript, 1992. Kaviraj, Sudipto (ed.) Politics in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997. Malsatar, Kantilal Karsanbhai. A Critical Study of Gujarati Dalit Fiction. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Baroda: M.S. University of Baroda, 2007. Mehta, Digish. ‘ “Somli” ni Maag’, in Gujarati Dalit Varta, (eds.) Mohan Parmar and Harish Mangalam, 1987. Ahmedabad: Divine Publications, 2010; 91–2. Mehta, Makarand, ‘From Sahajanand to Gandhi’, in Social and Religious Reform Movements in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, (ed.) S. P. Sen. Calcutta: Institute for Historical Studies, 1979; 229–48. Mehta, Makarand, Samajik Parivarthan Ane Gujaratana Asprushyo: Ugnismo Saiko. Ahmedabad: Dalit Panther Publication–13: National Press, 1986. Mehta, Makarand. Hindu Varnavyavastha, Samaj Parivartan ane Gujaratna Dalit. Ahmedabad: Ami Publications, 1995. Panchal, Shirish. ‘Dalit Vartanu Ek Aitihashik Sankalan’, in Gujarati Dalit Varta, (eds.) Mohan Parmar and Harish Mangalam, 1987. Ahmedabad: Divine Publications, 2010; 151–5. Parmar, M. J. Parivartanni Dishama Dalit Samaj. Ahmedabad: Parshwa Prakashan, 2005. Parmar, Mohan. ‘Gujarati Dalit Varta: Ek Charcha’, in Gujarati Dalit Varta, (eds.) Mohan Parmar and Harish Mangalam, 1987. Ahmedabad: Divine Publications, 2010; 125–30. Parmar, Mohan. ‘Gujarati Dalit Kavitaman Sarjakatanan Navan Parimano’, in Sabdashrusti 344 (May 2012): 67–79. Parmar, Mohan and Harish Mangalam, (eds.) Gujarati Dalit Varta. 1987. Ahmedabad: Divine Publications, 2010. Parmar, Ramesh Chandra. Varga-Varna Sangharsh, Samanvit Triji Shakti. Ahmedabad: Bharatiya Dalit Panther, 1985. Sarvaiya, Ajay. Borges ane Hun: Gujarati Olakh ni Shodh. Ahmedabad: Navbharat Sahitya Mandir, 2008. Sharma, Radheshyam. ‘Vishista Parivesama Mahoreli Sarjakata’, in Gujarati Dalit Varta, (eds.) Mohan J. Parmar and Harish Mangalam, 1987. Ahmedabad: Divine Publications, 2010; 147–50. Singh, Tavleen. ‘A New Idea of India?’ Sunday Express, 23 December 2012; 7.

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Srivatsan, R. ‘From Ambedkar to Thakkar and Beyond: Towards a Genealogy of Our Activisms’, in Economic and Political Weekly Vol. 43, No. 39 (September 27– 3 October 2008): 96–102. Sud, Nikita. Liberalization, Hindu Nationalism and the State: A Biography of Gujarat. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012. Tendulkar, Vijay. The Gujarat Agitation and Reservations. Bombay: Kobad Ghandy for Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, 1981. The Times of India, Ahmedabad Edition, 14 April 2012. Visvanathan, Shiv. ‘Swadeshi Tadka of Masculinity, Nationalism’. Times of India, 21 December 2012; 4. Williams, Raymond Bardy. Introduction to Swaminarayan Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

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11 DALIT INTELLECTUAL POETS OF PUNJAB 1690–1925 Raj Kumar Hans

The ‘Ambedkar Cartoon Controversy’1 that rocked the Indian Parliament on 11 May 2012 raised a number of Dalit2 issues in the ensuing intellectual debate in the print and electronic media. One issue of interest revolved around the Dalit response of feeling ‘insulted’ by the ‘laughter’ apparent in the cartoon. A majority of the non-Dalit participants, including those highly sympathetic to Dalit causes, have argued that this response has been typically ‘emotional’ rather than ‘rational’. While the use of such binaries hardly serves much purpose, Gopal Guru, the eminent Dalit scholar, found it necessary to remind the participants of the long tradition of Dalit rational debates, that the current cartoon controversy was an insult to a long 1

Dalit parliamentarians objected to the reproduction of a 1949 cartoon by K. Shankar Pillai in the NCERT textbook Indian Constitution at Work, which depicts B. R. Ambedkar sitting on a snail, a whip in hand, while Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru stands behind him, also armed with a whip. The cartoon came to be seen by all political parties as derogatory, and its withdrawal was announced by the education minister. For details of the controversy, see http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-05-12/india/31679296_1_ncerthrd-­ minister-cartoon and http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article3409271.ece. Accessed May 21, 2012. 2 The word ‘Dalit’ – meaning ‘broken’ or ‘oppressed’ – has gained popular acceptance not only in academia but also in the wider public domain of South Asia in the past half a century. The word came to be first used in the Marathi language for the ‘untouchables’ of the Indian subcontinent in the nineteenth century. By the 1930s, it became part of Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi and other languages; it gained greater currency in the 1960s with the rise of Dalit Panthers’ movement in Maharashtra. Despite earlier confusion and differences, there is now a fair consensus among Dalit intellectuals regarding its usage only for the erstwhile ‘untouchable’ individuals and caste communities. The word is consciously used by Dalit leaders with its political implication to unite otherwise differentiated untouchable castes. See Bharati (2002): 4339–40.

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tradition of deliberative processes that have remained an integral part of the Dalit public sphere (Guru 2012). Despite historical and social conditions denying the untouchables any access to rational knowledge, Dalits, along with other oppressed sections of Indian society, have found their own ways of discursive reasoning and expression. Surviving specimens of this are available in poetic works in different South Asian languages. This essay explores the engagement of Punjabi3 Dalit poets4 with understanding and getting to know about a wider reality. This literary tradition begins with Bhai Jaita (1657–1704), a close disciple of Guru Gobind Singh who composed the devotional epic Sri Gur Katha at the close of the seventeenth century. After a long gap, we find the sant-poet Sadhu Wazir Singh (1790–1859) prolifically composing spiritual, social and philosophical poetry in the first half of the nineteenth century. Thereafter, Giani Ditt Singh (1852–1901) emerged as a poet, polemicist, journalist, teacher, intellectual, orator and an ardent Sikh missionary who had left more than fifty books to his credit. The last intellectual poet discussed in this essay, Daya Singh Arif (1894–1946), composed his first book of poetry in 1914 when he was twenty, and all his four works of poetry by 1921, by which time he had turned into the most popular poet of modern Punjab. The fact that the work of the last two of the four Dalit poets occurred during the age of print in Punjab (and was widely published) yet failed to find any space in standard histories of Punjabi literature speaks volumes of prevailing caste prejudices. Thus, this chapter also addresses the question of the exclusion Dalits from praxis of historiography. Bhai Jaita was rechristened as Jeevan Singh by Guru Gobind Singh in the 1690s. His family had enjoyed a three-generation-long association with Sikhism. His father, Sadanand, an accomplished musician, became a lifelong companion of Guru Teg Bahadur – just as Mardana was of Guru Nanak. It was Bhai Jaita who had boldly taken the severed head of the executed Guru Tegh Bahadur from Delhi to Anandpur in 1675 under the most violent 3 The

name Punjab or Panjab is derived from the medieval Persian language, in which it means ‘[land of] five rivers’ (Panj (‫)پنج‬, ‘five’; ãb (‫)آب‬, ‘water’. During the colonial era, it was generally spelt as ‘Panjab’; but in postcolonial times, it is generally spelt as ‘Punjab’. In this essay, ‘Punjab/i’ is used, unless textually required otherwise. 4 As explained in the previous note, the term ‘Dalit’ for untouchables came to be used in various Indian languages in the 1930s, and even more so after the emergence and rise of Dr B. R. Ambedkar, the unquestionable spokesman of the untouchables in national and international fora. Post-1930 is also seen as an era of the rise of Dalit consciousness, which raises questions about the application of the term to earlier times. Increasingly, the word has come to be applied as a conceptual tool (by scholars across disciplines) to saints, seers, poets and heroes belonging to untouchable castes in premodern times as much as the latter-day concepts like ‘civilization’ or ‘culture’ or ‘revolution’ are used for ancient times.

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circumstances prevailing under the rule of Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor. Overwhelmed by the episode, the young Gobind had warmly embraced Jaita, declaring Ranghrete guru ke bete (Ranghretas, the untouchables, are the guru’s own sons). Although Bhai Jaita is now given a reluctant space in the Sikh iconography, it is hardly known or acknowledged that he was also a scholar poet. His long hagiographic epic Sri Gur Katha turns out to be an eyewitness description of some important events surrounding the Tenth Master of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh. That he was not just a poet but a thinking poet is evident from the lines below in the opening stanzas of his composition. Not a life without water, not any life in the womb gains knowledge either. As is no intelligence without thinking, thought precedes the birth of all life. Just as the Earth is mother of all thought, so is thought the light to knowledge. As the entire thought sprout from soil, we adore the Earth as mother. (Gandiwind 2008: 133)5 Wazir Singh was born in a village of Firozepur district around 1790, and began moving in the company of sadhus from whom he had learnt reading and writing Punjabi. Leaving his home for good, he settled in Lahuke village in Lahore district, where he lived till his death in 1859. After long contemplative sessions, and a close study of the ancient texts and discussions on Bhakti and Sufi thought, Wazir Singh came to attain the spiritual height of a brahmgyani.6 Of his five identified poet disciples from high castes, one was Vir Singh Sehgal who belonged to a trading family of Amritsar. The other eminent disciple was Nurang Devi, the first Punjabi woman poet groomed under his guidance as a guru. Wazir Singh seems to have been a carrier of the ideas of the tradition of north Indian nirguna bhakti, worshipping the formless deity, devoid of qualities, but he also went beyond it. He was radical and iconoclastic like Kabir as he also brought in the question of gender equality. He was highly critical of establishments, whether social or religious, and boldly lashed out at Brahmanical structures of inequality such as varnasrama dharma and jaat-paat.7 Like Ravidas, he 5 The

translation of the poems by Bhai Jaita and Wazir Singh has been facilitated by Neeti Singh, Assistant Professor of English at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, while that of Daya Singh Arif is entirely by the author. 6 Brahmgyani is the one who has realized and attained knowledge of the supreme cosmic power, the ‘Brahaman, the one non-personal, all-pervading, ineffable Reality’ (Vaudeville 1987: 26). 7 The (Hindu) law regulating the rights and duties of the four varnas according to their station in life (ASRAMA), considered binding for all members of Hindu society (­Klostermaier 2003: 198).

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envisioned Beghampura (literally meaning ‘a city without sorrows’) as having a liberated society. He claimed attaining brahmgyan at several places in his poetry. At one place he asserts: I trudged the desert of despair, washed in exhaustion. I glimpsed the blessed source Divine. The lull of exorcist fire, the gild of sacred ash, holy dips and pilgrimage sufficed but made of life a hash. I skimmed through scriptures shallow and mused the Vedic lore At last the trappings fell! Wazir Singh beholds thy true sublime self! ... The fire of truth blazed, the script of karma was razed. Self realization set me free, dissolved life and death debate. The forests, the mountains, the meadows! all the breath of Brahma. It is He that chased delusions of duality. In the bliss of brahmgyan O Wazir Singh thou burst the bubble of caste fourfold. (Ashok 1988: 42) Being a rationalist, he seems to have a materialist approach to God, as clearly expressed in the 16th stanza of his 19th Siharfi:8 The Lord is omnipresent my friend, come sit, let me explain. Learn from the guru this primeval Truth, break the bond of illusion. If falsehood and sinning be thy lot, take to the construction and plunder of God. Wazir Singh reasons, if God were so imminent, my hands would hold and eyes behold. (Ashok 1988: 83) He is wary of old established religions, and turns aggressive as if he has been confronted by his orthodox opponents. Needless the Quran and other scriptures which we hold as hollow and tear. Neither we desire namaz nor the Sikh prayer of Rehras, we burn the temple as we burn the mosque. 8

Siharfi (si-30 and harf-alphabets) is an Arabic form of poetry; every stanza beginning with sequential alphabet. Siharfi was introduced by Muslims/Sufis in Punjabi language and then picked up by others.

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Pilgrimages we have quit as we do not feed in piety at tombs and pyres. We stand on soil impartial O Wazir Singh, and watch the two at play. (Ashok 1988: 44) He pronounces his liberation in 16th stanza of 12th Siharfi: Heavenly bliss and horrors of hell, both have been cast away. Released from the grip of fear of God, I turned away from Muhammad, Ram. Who cares for religion or faith! Scrolls of their tenets submerged. Released from a self-made cage, Wazir Singh faced his own God in the mirror. (Ashok 1988: 44) His poetry is suffused with the negation of varna (the four classes) and caste (jaat-paat), the two the pillars of Brahmanical Hinduism, which he denounces with force. Self-knowledge and an insight into soul’s nature helped me crack the cocoon of castes-four. Shedding the shame threefold I became shameless, razed lay the heap of self-conceit. Untouched by issues of caste and creed, I rid myself of Hindu-Turk disputes. Distanced thus from the milling masses, Wazir Singh found them all within. (Ashok 1988: 7) Such a bold denunciation of established orders and old practices resulted in equally strong reactions from a range of vested interests. For example, Wazir Singh’s compositions show how his radical preaching invoked hostility and opposition from several quarters. He points out such attitudes in contrasting images observed at his establishment: There are some that thirst for an audience, yet others singe at the very glimpse. Some suffuse with love and devotion, others caper to harm and kill. The devout immerse in adoration, some aimlessly irk and irritate. The devout supplicate in love O Wazir Singh! the fanatics prepare for feud and battle. (Ashok 1988: 52) 193

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Looking at the range of his knowledge from material to spiritual, social to religious, political to philosophical, it is not difficult to see him in the role of a preceptor, guide and sant philosopher. Wazir Singh provides a definition of a ‘sant’: The ropes of propriety bind the world, a sant alone is lacking in shame. Detached from parents, kith and kin, a sant shuns the home as well. Cuts the fourfold cage of caste, he snaps the shackles of shames – three. Freed of worldly trappings he roars as a lion and is fearless of speech. Dead to the needs of the flesh, he exults among truth-seeker mystics. Blessed with the form human, O Wazir Singh, thou art adorned all over. (Ashok 1988: 67) In the context of Punjab, a ‘guru’ stands higher than a ‘sant’ in status – which is what Wazir Singh had come to be in the eyes of his disciples. Vir Singh’s compositions are replete with adoration for him as a ‘guru’: The alpha of detachment achieved, with finding the guru my fortunes full. No fast, no rosary nor any meditation, the guru awakened me in a flash. Disciplined and filled with inner grace, I joined Guru’s luminous company. Vir Singh submits to Wazir Singh who gave him the eyes to see Him. (Ashok 1988: 17) In her moving poetry, Nurang Devi also proclaims Wazir Singh as her guru with élan. My birth was to realize the soul but got entangled I in the swamp of the world. Distanced from the blind, discovering the enlightened guru the test is passed. Destroy O Lord all sinners that mislead the seekers of Truth. Says Nurang Devi to Guru Wazir Singh, let me serve at thy feet my Lord. (Ashok 1988: 25) There are strong elements of the sant tradition in Wazir Singh. As Vaudeville states, much of sant poetry carries strong anti-Brahmanical overtones as the sants appear to be heterodox and ‘heretics’ (21). They reject the authority of ‘books’ – whether it is the Vedas or the Quran – and 194

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of Brahmans and Mullahs. The sant poets stress the necessity of devotion to and the reiteration of the divine name (nama), devotion to the divine guru (satguru) and the great importance of the company of the ‘sants’ (satsang). Wazir Singh’s recognition as Guru falls within this sant tradition. ‘As a manifestation of a higher form of spirituality than most devotees possess, the guru is both the exemplar of behaviour and a revelation of the divine itself’ (Juergensmeyer 1987: 340). Wazir Singh’s public defiance of the established orders and entrenched ideas emboldened a few other voices to speak out in the nineteenth-century Punjab. His contemporary Gulab Das (1809–73) followed in his footsteps, and even went somewhat beyond.9 What was seen as more scandalizing about the Gulabdasi sect was the presence of a bold woman at the dera of sadhus. Peero Preman (1830–72), who came from a Muslim background, had a turbulent life, which included marriage, forced prostitution, life as a concubine and a poet. Ultimately, she became the co-saint and equal partner of Gulab Das’s establishment (Malhotra 2009: 541–78). The (third) intellectual poet and writer, Ditt Singh Giani, was born in a rural Dalit family in the Patiala State. His father was of a spiritual disposition and, when his son was at the age of nine, instructed him to follow his own path. Ditt Singh studied Gurmukhi, prosody, Vedanta and Niti-Sastra, and learnt Urdu. He started his apprenticeship as a preacher and teacher, and earned the title of Giani (the knowledgeable) during his teens (Giani 4; Somal 34). He had his spiritual instruction at the hands of Gubakash Singh Gulabdasi at Teur village in Ambala district and, at the age of seventeen, shifted to the main Gulabdasi centre at Chathhianwala, a great centre for debates. It was here that he composed his first two books of poetry: the love story of Shirin Farhad in the popular Punjabi genre of kissa (a tale) and Abla Nind (Ashok 1963: 3). Not long afterwards, under the influence of Jawahir Singh – formerly a follower of Gulab Das – he joined the Arya Samaj. However, after entering into a dialogue with Swami Dayanand on his visit to Lahore in 1877, he was drawn into the Sikh fold, and eventually became a pillar of the Singh Sabha movement.

9

The Gulabdasi sect emerged as an intellectually vibrant movement in the nineteenth-century Punjab. Gulab Das started his own establishment (dera) at Chathhianwala between Lahore and Kasur. He was an accomplished poet who had attained brahmgyan (realization of the self and the universe). He became an atheist, and advocated an epicurean life. Like Wazir Singh, he shunned caste and gender differences and discrimination. Untouchables and women became integral part of his creed. His dera became a hub of intellectual activity, and soon there were numerous Gulabdasi deras across Punjab. For details, see Sevak (1984), Kapoor (1993), Ghuman (1987).

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Ditt Singh’s scholarly talents came in handy for the Sikh movement. The Lahore Singh Sabha floated a weekly newspaper, the Khalsa Akhbar, in 1886. Ditt Singh became the editor of the paper in 1887, which he continued to be till his death in 1901 (Kapoor 1987: 98–124). Meanwhile, he was also appointed Professor of Punjabi at the Oriental College, Lahore. Bhagat Lakshman Singh, an erudite Sikh educationist and reformer, writes: ‘Bhai Dit Singh Gyani wielded a powerful pen and was a literary giant’ (Singh 1965: 140). He wrote more than fifty books and pamphlets on wide-ranging subjects: about love-lore and Sikh traditions, history and ethics and heroes and charlatans. He also produced a number of polemical works. Following the philosophy of the Sikh Gurus, he was highly critical of the popular religious practices based on what he considered to be ‘superstitious beliefs’ among people. He devoted some of his polemical works – such as Gugga Gapauda, Sultan Puada, Nakli Sikh Prabodh and Mira Manaut athva Sailani Singh – to ridiculing such traditions (Somal 2005: 179–81). Harjot Oberoi applauds his personality: ‘author, publisher, journalist, public speaker, preacher, consultant, teacher, and polemicist, par excellence, Ditt Singh remained unrivalled in his command over print culture’ (Oberoi 1994: 289). Even though a prominent leader, he could not escape the overt and covert assault of untouchability from his fellow Sikhs. Sadhu Daya Singh Arif was born in a landless untouchable Mazhabi10 Sikh family of Firozepur district in 1894. Without formal schooling but with sheer determination and dedication, he learnt Punjabi, Urdu, Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit and Hindi from different teachers, and completed his studies during his teens (Hamrahi 1970: 7–11). Arif’s interest in absorbing the spirit of the major religions and the spiritual practices of the subcontinent deeply shaped his mind towards philosophical reflection. After gaining insights into the theological aspects of religions, he turned to the secular literature of Punjab, especially the kissas (Hamrahi 1970: 12). Long spells of solitude left him ample time for reading and contemplation; but this pursuit also led him to a state of ‘madness’, which ultimately erupted in profound poetry. His first poetical work, Fanah dar Makan (‘Doorstep to Dissolution’), was published in 1914 when he was twenty years old. Due to its difficult language and style of composition, he was advised by his mentors to rephrase it in simpler language. But the force of creative energy produced a fresh kissa titled Fanah da Makan (‘House of Dissolution’), which appeared in 1915, and became an instant hit (Hamrahi 1970: 29).

10 The

word ‘Mazhabi’ literally means ‘of religion’ from the Persian word ‘mazhab’ for faith. The Sikh converts from the lowest untouchable caste-community of sweepers.

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The work Zindagi Bilas (‘Discourse on Life’) – which made Daya Singh a household name through the length and breadth of Punjab – was completed on 23 August 1916. Manifest in this work is his vast repertoire of religious, spiritual and secular knowledge. Following an ancient Indian notion of average human lifespan of 100 years, Daya Singh dedicated lyrical poems to each year. Zindagi Bilas is touching didactic poetry that caught the imagination of the masses, and became the most popular text to be read and heard. Daya Singh produced his last major published poetic work Sputtar Bilas (‘Discourses for the Son’) in 1922. Written in the same genre, this is also a didactic work of great aesthetic value and of supreme poetic vision. Daya Singh succeeded in reinforcing the moral thrust of the medieval spiritual sants in a fast-changing world which was coming increasingly under the spell of acquisitive tendencies. His poetry is full of spiritual knowledge found in established and popular religious and folk traditions. He talks of the unity of human soul with God and throws light on its philosophical dimensions. His poetry emphasizes the transience of life: the reader is constantly reminded of the supreme truth – death. Stressing the importance of good deeds, instructions to follow good moral conduct becomes inescapable. Daya Singh attributes the prevailing listlessness of his times to a decline in spirituality and morality. As an introvert, he seeks answers in the subjective human makeup rather than in objective material conditions. The Punjabi literary critic, Dharam Pal Singal, locates him within the Bhakti movement (1980: 111–12). Like Kabir, his poetry lays great stress on gaining knowledge: the true knowledge about the unity of the universe that makes one humble and yet fearless. Caged in ignorance, man is scared of life beyond death. . . . Meaningless song sings a man pending the rise of intelligence and discernment. Enmity is for fools, the wise stand for Truth. A pure soul gets no pollution with the mere touch of a scavenger. Realization of the self surely leads to ecstasy. Praxis the wise follows is based on knowledge and science. (Arif 2002: Zindagi Bilas, 36) Daya Singh uses poetry as the evocative medium for character building and the cleansing of the inner self via spiritual regeneration. Among moral issues, he lays high premium on the ideal of Truth, as can be seen in his advice to his son in Sputtar Bilas. He emphasizes actually following the teachings rather than repetitively reading scripts which he sees as being 197

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merely empty knowledge. A stress on practicing what one preaches is present in all his works. Preach they but do not practice, immersed they are in readings dull. No point in reciting Koran, if you cannot follow its precepts. (Arif 2002: Fana da Makan, 14) Honour the wisdom of good books by practicing what you read. (Arif 2002: Saputtar Bilas, 34) Load of rituals you carry, deluded you are with arrogance of knowledge. Alienated you stand as such; tell me your gain from the lofty readings. (Arif 2002: Saputtar Bilas, 35) Daya Singh’s poetry is replete with the dismissal of differences, whether of religion, caste or class which to him are all man-made. He looks at ‘caste’ as a uniquely Indian phenomenon which he identifies as a reason for the country’s fall: Humans made of flesh and bones alike, the Lord knows not any discrimination. Of similar frames, all endowed with eyes to see and lungs to breath. Similar parts and elements, with men and women alike. Caste and class! How to know? Bodies sans labels inscribed. Born simply as humans; faith and religion society bestows on men. ... Praise the Lord for not asking our caste and creed. Cares not He of your lineage, deeds is of essence to Him. For delusions of differences, man hates man. Walls of high and low are born of vanity and conceit. Untouchability is nowhere else; it has destroyed India for sure. (Arif 2002: Saputtar Bilas 42) Daya Singh comes to the theme of prevailing communal division again and again. In his discourse on the fifty-sixth year of human life in Zindagi Bilas he says: Unity all around, wherever my eyes rove. Superior claims of faith, Hindus and Muslims fight over. Sheer jugglery of words, Essence of both is the same. Shunning some for their caste, forgetting all are mortal of stuff same. 198

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Bother to think of Origin? Both came from the source same. God they discard for something else, getting nowhere here or there. For salvation o man give up evils, without praxis you are devils Partial to no one, Daya Singh is conscious and free. (Arif 2002: Jindagi Bilas 38) The importance of Daya Singh Arif is manifold. First and foremost, he is the first Dalit Punjabi poet to attain the widest possible popularity in undivided Punjab. Second, he gives the kissa genre a new content by moving from the particular to the general: that is, commenting quintessential human life. Third, he reinforces the moral dimensions of life in the midst of far-reaching social changes under colonial domination. Fourth, Daya Singh’s poetry is free from any kind of sectarianism, and is thoroughly secular in the prevailing communal environment. His concern and message is universal in content; it is libertarian rather than restraining. Last, Daya Singh is not only a notable poet but also an intellectual of his age. Through the study of scriptures as well as the traditions of major religions in the land, he arrives at his own understanding of human existence, which he corroborates with practical examples from his own life and his keen observation. He lays greater stress on practice rather than on theory, on deeds rather than on scriptural knowledge. History writing over the centuries has belonged mostly to the dominant classes and elite groups (Guha 1982: 1–8). In the case of India, many people have been missing from the pages of history because of caste, class, gender prejudice and discrimination. More specifically, exploring the histories of Dalit literature in the different languages of India is to encounter the all too familiar deserts of neglect, silence and exclusion. Alok Mukherjee rightly points out this stark reality: ‘Indian literary history and theory, as well as the teaching of Indian literatures, are spectacularly silent about Dalit literature’ (Mukherjee 2010: 1). In this respect, Punjab is no exception. The tradition of writing histories of Punjabi literature is almost a century old. On studying it, one can understand why Bhai Jaita and Wazir Singh do not figure in it. However, the almost total omission or just passing references to Ditt Singh and Daya Singh – who were massively printed in their life times and continued to be published posthumously – confirms Alok Mukherjee’s reading of Indian literary history. This is best exemplified in the case of Daya Singh whose poetry infused the Punjabi minds for the best of the twentieth century, and yet finds hardly any mention. The first path-breaking history of Punjabi literature – a D.Litt. dissertation submitted to the University of the Panjab by Mohan Singh (1899– 1984) – was published in 1933 (Singh 1956). In the early 1950s, he 199

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published another book titled An Introduction to Panjabi Literature (Singh, n.d.) in which he discussed the new works that had appeared since his first publication. He also produced two books of the history of Punjabi literature in the Punjabi language – in 1948 (Singh 1948) and 1958 (Oberoi 1958). Daya Singh was Mohan Singh’s contemporary, and by the time the latter wrote his history, the former had attained the heights of popularity. It is unlikely that Singh would be ignorant of Daya Singh’s work; and yet he does not mention his name even in his chart of minor poets of the British period. One can give him the benefit of the doubt for the absence in his first edition; but why he omitted Daya Singh in the 1956 second edition of his history – especially when he was trying to cover the literary developments in the interregnum – is not easy to understand. Mohan Singh was not just a pioneer in the historiography of Punjabi literature; his work became the canon. If he included or excluded someone in/from history, his successors would/could not do otherwise. This is remarkable for the culture of history writing in Punjab. A decade after Mohan Singh’s tome, Gopal Singh came up with Punjabi Sahit da Itihas (in 1942) without taking note of Daya Singh, the folk-poet. And, a host of scholars of Punjabi literature followed suit. While Kirpal Singh Kasel devoted three lines to Daya Singh in his Punjabi Sahit da Itihas, he erred on the titles of both the works he cited (Kasel 1971: 202). Mohan Singh’s exclusion, in fact, was followed for decades – indeed, right up to an authoritative work on Punjabi literary history produced by the Sahitya Akademi in 1992. Titled A History of Punjabi Literature, its authors, Sant Singh Sekhon and Kartar Singh Duggal, do not mention Daya Singh even as a minor poet, despite the availability of a wellresearched monograph on the poet (Sadhu Daya Singh Arif) by Atam Hamrahi in two prints: in 1970 and 1990. Moreover, Dharampal Singal had also taken serious note of Daya Singh’s poetry in his 1980 monograph on the evolution of Punjabi poetry in the first quarter of the twentieth century (Singal 1980: 111–21). There is a gap of nearly sixty years between Mohan Singh’s and Sekhon’s histories. In the second volume of his History of Punjabi Literature (1996), Sekhon shows no more generosity than Kasel had done in 1971 towards Daya Singh. Indeed, he seems to have simply picked up from Kasel, for he commits the same errors when he mentions the titles of two works by Daya Singh (Sekhon 1996: 153–54). However, a slight improvement in the situation occurs in Rajinder Pal Singh’s Adhunik Punjabi Kavita da Itihas (2006), where eight lines are devoted to Daya Singh. In a notable advance over previous histories, the work gives the poet’s full name – Sadhu Daya Singh Arif – and furnishes correct dates for his birth and death as also the correct titles of all his 200

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works, including Sputtar Bilas (Singh 2006: 88–89). Thus, in the history of the ‘coverage’ of Daya Singh and his works in the seventy years of the historiography of Punjabi literature, there is clear evidence of a selective ‘silence’, neglect, and above all, exclusion. Being a Dalit becomes sufficient reason to be excluded from the charmed circle of high caste writers and historians. It may be underlined that Daya Singh is not an exception. Another popular Dalit poet, Gurdas Ram Alam (1912–89), meets the same cavalier treatment. The four Punjabi Dalit poets – from Bhai Jaita of the seventeenth century to Daya Singh in the twentieth century – had close connections with Sikhism which, in its heyday, was a powerful egalitarian movement, countering the dominant hierarchical social order of the time. The involvement of these poets with the Sikh religion was not simply that of ordinary followers of faith; it was one of deliberative and critical engagement. Even if Bhai Jaita’s exemplary devotion to Sikh religion is understandable in terms of his day-to-day proximity with the charismatic Guru Gobind Singh, the other three poets use the scale of comparative religions for their Sikh affiliation. Wazir Singh transcends his Sikh lineage; Ditt Singh gradually moves towards Sikhism after exhausting other options; and Daya Singh comes back to Sikhism after long deliberations. Besides, they all are absorbed in the spiritual dimension of religion, involving reading, thinking and reasoning. The poetry of Wazir Singh and of Ditt Singh are full of sarcasm and lampoons: while the former lampoons the established religious and social orders, the latter mocks at popular religious practices entailing superstitious beliefs. Their emphasis on ‘knowledge’ and moral values bind them together as searching for similar goals. On a comparative scale of Dalit literatures in other languages of the subcontinent, the achievement of Punjabi Dalit intellectual poets seems phenomenal. No other language has so far exhibited Dalit literature of such high literary calibre. The poets envision an egalitarian and just social order. Forged from the direct experience of untouchability, they forcefully attack hierarchical varna/caste divisions, using the stock of available ideas – ancient Advaita Vedanta, Nathism, Sufism or Sikhism – to argue that all such divisions are unnatural, man-made and ungodly. Except Bhai Jaita, all the poets were spiritual leaders with individual followings, two of them wielding great popularity across Punjab. Nevertheless, despite their tremendous appeal and popularity – especially that of Daya Singh whose works have been published in Gurmukhi, Persian and Devnagri in thousands of copies – they remain absent in the pages of elitist histories which are not free of caste and class prejudices. 201

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References Arif, Sadhu Daya Singh. Arif Rachnavali: Sadhu Daya Singh Arif di Prapat Prakashit Rachna, (eds.) Atam Hamrahi and Surjit Chander. Amritsar: Bhai Chatar Singh Jeevan Singh, 2002. Ashok, Shamsher Singh. Mazhabi Sikhan da Itihas, 2nd edition. Amritsar: Bhai Chatar Singh Jeevan Singh, 2001. Ashok, Shamsher Singh, (ed.) Shirin Farhad by Sant Ditta Ram urf Giani Ditt Singh. Ludhiana: Punjabi Sahit Akadmi, 1963. Ashok, Shamsher Singh. Siharfian Sadhu Wazir Singh Ji Kian. Patiala: Punjabi University, 1988. Bharati, Sunita Reddy. ‘Dalit’: A Term Asserting Unity’, Economic and Political Weekly Vol. 42, No. 37 (19 October 2002): 4339–40. Gandiwind, Giani Nishan Singh. Shaheed Baba Jiwan Singh: Jeevan, Rachna te Viakhia. Amritsar: Bhai Chatar Singh Jeevan Singh, 2008. Ghuman, Bikram Singh. Kishan Singh Arif: Jeevan te Rachna. Patiala: Punjabi University, 1987. Giani, Ditt Singh. Mera ate Sadhu Daya Nandji da Sambad, n.d. Guha, Ranajit. ‘On Some Aspects of the Historiography of Colonial India’, Subaltern Studies 1. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1982; 1–8. Guru, Gopal. ‘Foregrounding Insult’. http://kafila.org/2012/06/02/foregroundinginsult-gopal-guru/. Hamrahi, Atam. Sadhu Daya Singh Arif. Patiala: Punjabi University, 1970. Juergensmeyer, Mark. ‘The Radhasoami Revival of the Sant Tradition’, in The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India, (eds.) Karine Schomer and W.H. McLeod. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1987; 329–55. Kapoor, Narinder Singh. Giani Dit Singh: Jiwan te Rachna. Patiala: Punjabi University, 1987. Kapoor, Navratan. Sadhu Gulab Das: Jeevan te Rachna. Patiala: Punjabi University, 1993. Kasel, Kirpal Singh. Punjabi Sahit da Itihas (1850–1950), Vol. 2. Chandigarh: Punjab University, 1971. Klostermaier, Klaus K. A Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2003. Malhotra, Anshu. ‘Telling Her Tale? Unravelling a Life in Conflict: Peero’s Ik Sau Sath KafiaN (One hundred and sixty kafis)’. Indian Economic and Social History Review Vol. 46 (October–December 2009); 541–78. Mukherjee, Alok. ‘Reading Sharankumar Limbale’s Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature’, in Sharankumar Limbale, Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: History Controversies and Considerations. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2010; 1–18. Oberoi, Harjot. The Construction of Religious Boundaries. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994. Oberoi, Mohan Singh. Punjabi Sahit di Itihas Rekha. Chandigarh: Panjab University, 1958.

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Schomer, Karine and McLeod, W. H. (eds.) The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1987. Sekhon, Sant Singh. A History of Punjabi Literature. Vol. II. Patiala: Punjabi University, 1996. Sevak, Gian Inder Singh. Gulabdasi Sampardaye: Rachna te Vichar. PhD Thesis. Amritsar: Guru Nanak Dev University, 1984. Singal, Dharampal. Punjabi Kavita da Vikas (1901–1925). Ludhiana: Lahore Book Shop, 1980. Singh, Bhagat Lakshman. Autobiography, (ed.) Ganda Singh, Calcutta: Sikh Cultural Centre, 1965. Singh, Mohan. Punjabi Adab di Mukhtsar Tarikh. Amritsar: Lahiri Book Depot, 1948. Singh, Mohan. A History of Panjabi Literature (1100–1932). 1933. Amritsar: Kasturi Lal and Sons, 1956. Singh, Mohan. An Introduction to Punjabi Literature. Amritsar: Nanak Singh Pustakmala, n.d. Singh, Rajinder Pal. Adhunik Punjabi Kavita da Itihas. New Delhi: Punjabi Sahit Akadmi, 2006. Somal, Karnail Singh. Bhai Ditt Singh Gyani: Jeevan, Rachna te Sakhshiat. 2003. Amritsar: Singh Brothers, 2005. Vaudeville, Charlotte. ‘Sant Mat: Santism as the Universal Path to Sanctity’, in The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India, (eds.) Karine Schomer and W.H. McLeod. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1987; 21–40.

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12 LIFE, HISTORY AND POLITICS Kallen Pokkudan’s two autobiographies and the Dalit print imaginations in Keralam1 Ranjith Thankappan

Can a Pulayan2 write autobiography? What biography? Some people think that what can one talk about a Pulayan who even in death just ‘croaks’ while others ‘die’? – Kallen Pokkudan3

Dalit autobiographical writing has received much critical academic attention of late, besides accolades from the reading public. This essay looks at the emergent Dalit autobiographical writings in Malayalam, and the negotiations with the dominant imagination about Dalits at the capitalistic conjuncture of print culture. This conjuncture is significant as it evokes the possibilities of articulation. At the same time, it is limiting in the sense that it reproduces the existing social inequalities based on class, caste and gender in the mode of cultural production. Historically, the print functions as one of the cultural sites for the political articulation of Dalits. Dalit intellectuals and political leaders have been successful in bringing out magazines, though intermittent in production 1

The generic Malayalam term ‘Keralam’ is used throughout the chapter to denote the region, rather than the anglicized term ‘Kerala’. 2 Pulayan is the member of an ex-untouchable Pulaya caste to which Kallen Pokkudan belongs. Here, Pokkudan points out that, even in death, a Pulayan is described in a derogatory way. 3 See Pokkudan, Kandalka ¯ dukalkkidayil Ente Jeevitam (‘My Life among Mangroves’) (Pazhayangadi: Media Magic, 2002): 30. DC books republished the same in 2005. It is also a prescribed textbook in Kannur University.

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and circulation, which dates back to the early twentieth century. This tradition is still alive, but Dalits are yet to emerge as a force to reckon with in the field of publishing and journalism due to their socially and culturally inferior position and the lack of economic capital. Though ‘Dalit’ occupied the thematic centrality in early Malayalam literature, the Dalit as a writer arrived only in the 1960s.4 The contemporary political significance of print for Dalits lies in the recognition of this new category of the Dalit writer/ intellectual. This has inaugurated the cultural moment of political modernity through which Dalits articulate their agency.5 While autobiography has become the significant cultural mode – especially in Tamil and Marathi – for Dalits to express their life and politics, it has yet to acquire such a position in Malayalam. With the publishing of autobiographies of C. K. Janu, Kallen Pokkudan and Mayilamma, autobiographical writing in Malayalam has taken a Dalit/Adivasi turn.6 The essay attempts to read through two different autobiographies of Kallen Pokkudan: Kandalka¯dukalkkidayil Ente Jeevitam (‘My Life among Mangroves’) and Ente Jeevitam (‘My Life’) published in 2002 and 2010, respectively. Pokkudan is a Dalit activist from north Keralam who is popularly known for his eco-political interventions in planting mangroves in his village. What autobiographical writing means for a Dalit is well illustrated in the way Kallen Pokkudan describes it in his first autobiography. Pokkudan’s question: ‘Can a Pulayan write autobiography?’ is posed as a strong Dalit critique of the dominant public imagination about Dalits. It offers a critique of the institution of publishing, which functions as a cultural site that reinforces the exclusion of Dalits in the mainstream history and print culture.7 In other words, Pokkudan suggests the indispensability of autobiographical 4 T.K.C.

Vaduthala began publishing short stories in the 1960s. For a detailed account see K. C. Purushothaman, Dalit Sahitya Prasthanam (Dalit Literary Movement) (Thrissur: Kerala Sahitya Academy, 2008). 5 A new Dalit intellectual space has emerged in the post-1990s, with critical thinkers/writers such as Kallara Sukumaran, K. K. Kochu, Salim Kumar, Sunny Kapikkadu, K. K. Baburaj and many young Dalit writers – all contributing to critical Dalit thinking. 6 C. K. Janu’s autobiographical sketches were published in 2002 titled Janu: C.K. Januvinte Jeevitha Katha (‘Janu: C. K. Janu’s Life Story’) and were compiled by Bhaskaran. This was later translated into English as Mother Forest: The Unfinished Story of C. K. Janu in 2004 by Jayashankar. Mayilamma, an Adivasi woman, gained international attention with her relentless struggle against the Coca Cola factory at Plachimada, Palakkadu district in Keralam. Her autobiographical account Mayilamma: Oru Jeevitam (‘Life of Mayilamma’) was published in 2006. 7 In an interview (in Mathrubhumi Weekly, Book 90, Issue 9, 13 May 2012 8–15), Dalit intellectual and historian K. K. Kochu critiqued E. M. Sankaran Nambudirippadu, the Marxist leader and intellectual, and M.G.S. Narayanan, the historian, for excluding the history of

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writing in registering the political articulations of Dalits not only as a personal memoir but also for the construction of an alternative history. A figure like Pokkudan and the writing about his ordinary life become significant in this renewed historical context of the cultural turn of Dalit assertions. Using Paul de Man’s argument against considering autobiography as a distinct genre, Udaya Kumar has cautioned against imagining autobiography as ‘a unified genre with a distinct identity’ (2008: 420). Kumar stresses the usefulness of placing personal narratives at the intersection of autobiography and history, and argues that large numbers of Indian self-narratives written in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were obsessively preoccupied with the experience of historical change, thereby providing the reader with ‘slice of history’ (2008: 421). Dalit autobiographical writings emerge as a counterhistorical narrative, challenging the canonical history of the region with their own ‘slice of history’. This gets undermined in the capitalistic mode of production and the dissemination of the idea of Dalit autobiography and is popularized as a cultural product uniformly rendering Dalit experience to the national and international reader public. Sharmila Rege has critically evaluated various debates about the nomenclature for Dalit experiential writings, and notes that ‘reading Dalit “autobiographies” minus the political ideology and practices of the Dalit movement does stand the risk of making a spectacle of Dalit suffering and pain for nonDalit readers’ (2006: 15). These narratives violate the parameters set by bourgeois autobiography, and create testimonies of caste-based oppression, anti-caste struggles and resistance (2006: 14). Foregrounding the epistemological significance of Dalit writings, M.S.S. Pandian points out that, ‘not bound by the evidentiary rules of social science, the privileged notion of teleological time, and claims to objectivity and authorial neutrality, these narrative forms can produce enabling redescriptions of life-worlds and facilitate the re-imagination of the political’ (2008: 35). Following Gopal Guru’s phenomenological contention posing Dalit experience as a theoretical necessity/possibility, it seems quite clear that Dalit autobiographical writings render possible the critical re-imagination of Dalit experience.8 Thus, the Dalit self-narratives of lived experiences function in such a way as to (a) make visible the life and politics of Dalits, (b) problematize the existing canonical knowledge produced about society and (c) render possible Dalit perspectives to understand society.

Dalits and Adivasis. Also see, C. Ayyappan’s interview (2008) in his short story collection to understand the kind of neglect he felt from the literary critics in Malayalam. 8 For a detailed discussion, see Gopal Guru and Sundar Sarukkai (2012).

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At the conjuncture of memory and history, Dalit autobiographical writings have tried to imagine a narrative of counterhistory by invoking personal and community experiences. The realm of the collective social experienced as caste becomes the epicentre of political action and imagining community formation. Valerian Rodrigues cites B. R. Ambedkar as an example, and argues that Ambedkar’s life and writings are intimately associated, and that ‘scattered in his writings are a few autobiographical reminiscences’ (2002: 19). Christi Merrill has noted that the translation of Dalit autobiographies into world languages – such as Indian English and American English – carry the history of Dalit oppression and victimization to broader audiences, inviting empathetic readings and political solidarity with Dalit liberation (2010). However, one should note that the narrative space for political solidarity has been envisaged within the capitalistic marketdriven space of publishing. The translations of many Dalit autobiographies into English stand testimony to the concomitant capitalistic mode of the structuring of the Dalit autobiography.9 The idea of ‘Dalit autobiography’ thus formulated gets translated to other linguistic regional literary spaces. They result in the predominance of form over content, and the discursive ways of expressing the lived experiences tend to get homogenized within the form. The genre of Dalit autobiography is born at this capitalist juncture. The Dalit life-world and politics get an aesthetic expression with the textual production of the lived experiences of Dalits in the form of autobiography. These expressions of creativity and politics not only are confined to the modern communitarian collective self but also inaugurate the moment of the arrival of the individual/intellectual Dalit. I argue that it is through this historical attempt to enter the modern with a simulated collective self of the ‘We’ that the modern Dalit individual is born. The space of the community acts here in two ways: at first, it helps in rooting the self within the national/regional space where the marginalized self gives him/ her access to citizenship, and thereby helps the individual in becoming part of the national/regional imagination; Second, it enables the Dalit to place his/herself within the community at a complex praxis where she/he can negotiate with the communitarian caste core. This individuated self is a non-Western variegate of the modern Dalit, and it is through this sociocultural process of individuation creating the modern Dalit that the imagining of Dalit as political community becomes possible. However, in the registers of community, the body of individual suffering and pain is 9

In an unpublished research paper on Dalit autobiographies, Ashley Tellis (2011) has looked at some of the titles of Dalit Marathi autobiographies and highlighted problems with the English publishing world’s account of ‘Dalit Literature’.

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registered as that of the collective self, making it impossible for the individual Dalit to rebel against the communitarian hegemony. The tussle between the communitarian and individuated selves of the Dalit is illustrated subtly at the textual juncture of autobiography. The first autobiography, Kandalka¯dukalkkidayil Ente Jeevitam (‘My Life among Mangroves’), published in 2002, was a unique endeavour. In the note, the publisher claims that it represents the life of a pacha manushyan (raw human being). This description embodies yet another politics – the politics of imagining a Dalit in modern Keralam. The phrase pacha manushyan signifies the imagined ‘real Dalit’. The editor’s note10 distances Pokkudan from Dalit intellectualism by making it clear what kind of ‘real human’ or ‘real Dalit’ he would like to represent through the structuring of autobiographical writings. This is made easy for the editor because the life story is told and reproduced from the manuscripts given to him by the author. In other words, there is politics involved in the re-telling of a life story in the form of autobiographical writing. It determines some of the dominant ways of imagining both the category of the Dalit and the emerging print space of Dalit autobiography. In this case, the politics of publishing Dalit autobiography structures it in such a way that it dehumanizes the Dalit subjectivity, and frames it in the mode of being a ‘subject-tobe-humanized’ through modern civilizing projects or radical politics. Often, Dalit autobiographical writings disseminate this subjugated figure of the Dalit to the reading public. This idealized human self is rooted through the word pacha, which also means ‘green’ in Malayalam. A green cover page, with the photograph of the bespectacled Pokkudan, his half-naked body submerged in mangroves, invites the reader to the imagined autobiographical life-world. This strategic framing of the body of Pokkudan in the cover page helps to invoke the existing common sensical notion about Dalit and Adivasi communities as naively close to the nature. This attribution of ‘naiveté’ and the reproduction of the image of karshaka thozhila¯li (agricultural labourer) constitute the dominant ways of imagining Dalits. The publishing of the life story of Kallen Pokkudan arouses a sense of novelty, as it is the first of its kind in Malayalam language. The autobiography is structured in an interesting way. Out of the total 115 pages, only 45 are dedicated to Pokkudan (29–76). Spread across more than ten chapters, each being one or two pages long, the life of Pokkudan is told in simple words. 10 In

his editor’s note to Kandalka¯dukalkkidayil Ente Jeevitam (My Life Among Mangroves) 2002, Taha Madayi writes, ‘Pokkudan neither chatters like Dalit intellectuals nor does he become the spokesperson of any caste groups’ (110).

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Throughout the autobiography, the word ‘Dalit’ never appears; instead the Gandhian term ‘Harijan’ is used. Pokkudan’s caste and caste occupation is objectified, and fixed symbolically on the Kandal (mangrove)11. Moreover, when the autobiography claims that Pokkudan desires to be known as ‘Kandal Pokkudan’ instead of ‘Kallen Pokkudan’, the politics of attributing this objectified romantic notion of the metaphor of Kandal on to Pokkudan gives a new dimension to the business of writing and publishing Dalit autobiography. The second autobiography of Pokkudan does not talk about this romantic dream and demonstrates an altogether different politics. The left liberal space in Keralam has rendered any discussion regarding the political Dalit structurally invisible by assimilating it into the reductionist framework of class, and patronizing the notion of karshaka thozhila¯li as the objectified radical self of the proletariat. The autobiographical textual narrative and imageries place Pokkudan within the frame of karshaka thozhila¯li – that is, as the apolitical premodern caste self of an agricultural labourer engaged in planting mangroves.12 This image fixes him to the caste frame by accruing his caste occupation on to the new eco-political act, but sans the political content. The envisioned eco-politics of Pokkudan gets sidelined and the caste figure of agricultural labourer, epitomized in its place. This fits well with the civilizing/patronizing frames of both the Gandhian environmentalists and the leftists. For the Gandhian environmentalists, it fixes Pokkudan to nature, an objectified traditional premodern notion of the Dalit that they would love to revive as antimodern. This whole notion celebrates and attributes Pokkudan’s naiveté to his caste self – but under the newly imagined garb of ‘farmer’. For the Marxists, the figure of karshaka thozhila¯li helps to revive the class reductionist proletariat subject. Both these narratives conveniently mask the question of caste and, therefore, are dear to them. Thus, by invoking the figure of a Dalit as a karshaka thozhila¯li, the political dimensions of the Dalit may be appropriated, assimilated and nullified. The politics of this newly imagined modern figure of landless agricultural labourer rekindles the same caste structure that determines the social power relations and political imagination. At the intersection of the grand narratives of communism and environmentalism, the image of Pokkudan as

11 Mangroves

are expansive medium height plants that grow in saline coastal sedimented habitats in the tropical and subtropical areas. These dense varieties of plants have roots submerged in water and deemed to be useful in reducing the harmful effects of natural calamities such as tsunami. 12 Tilling the land and planting mangrove are two different agricultural practices. The first one invokes the caste occupation, whereas the second is a modern political act associated with Pokkudan’s eco-politics.

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naively redefining his modern life as agricultural labourer gets registered, nullifying the eco-political dimensions of his Dalit activism. The popular print space of autobiographical writing reproduces the same. The first autobiography is structured as follows. It begins with N. Prabhakaran’s long preface that places the autobiographical narration in the leftist perspective, followed by Jaffor Palot’s study on mangroves, Babu Kambrath’s script of his documentary on Pokkudan, P. Anandan’s interpretative note on Cha¯thore Ko¯lam (a particular form of Theyyam, the ritualistic performing art carried out by Pulaya community of KannurKasargode), and the editor’s endnote. These studies are envisaged as explanatory notes that can fill the lack of intellectualism in Pokkudan’s writing. For example, the intention behind adding Jaffor Palot’s study on mangroves as well as P. Anandan’s note on Theyyam are, as claimed, to enrich the autobiography with in-depth scientific/intellectual content. The footnotes at the end of these studies stand as proof of the same. For example, the editor claims that the note Chathore Ko¯lam has been included ¯ tmakathayile Pooram’ in order to provide as an extension of the chapter ‘A the reader with more information as well as a critical interpretation of Pokuddan’s writing and context (108). Thus, Pokkudan remains mere filler in his own autobiography. The political self of Pokkudan gets marginalized within these additional narratives and the idea of Dalit as naïve and ignorant is communicated. The second autobiography, Ente Jeevitam (‘My Life’), offers a new dimension to Dalit autobiographical writings. In the preface titled ‘Enikku Paraya¯nullathu . . .’ (‘What I have to say . . .’), Pokkudan elaborates on what made the second autobiography inevitable. First of all, Pokkudan acknowledges the efforts of the enthusiastic book publishing group of Pazhayangadi. But he politely refutes the content of the first autobiography by stating how it ignored many poignant incidents and political experiences of his life. However, he does not cite any direct political reasons for the omission of his very significant lived experiences and the political perspectives from the first autobiography. He feels that the act of excluding his political life from the autobiography might have occurred due to the ‘insightful insistence’ on seeing it only as a textbook for children, and that the political tone would not jell well with it (7). Pokkudan has revealed that the first autobiography was prepared, to a great extent, under the supervision of Malayali Marxist intellectual and writer, Professor M. N. Vijayan and writer N. Prabhakaran, and was edited by Taha Madayi. What made these politically enlightened Marxist intellectuals exclude ‘Dalit politics’ from the autobiography? Or, in other words, what kind of politics did they want to exclude from Pokkudan’s 210

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autobiography? In defence of his act of omitting the political opinions and incidents from the first autobiography, the editor Taha Madayi argues: There are two phases in Pokkudan’s life. The first phase is that of political struggles and disappointments; and the second, that of environmental activism. The second phase, where he has come out of the dubious political phase, is what the new world needs. A textbook with rivers, fishes, birds and mangroves. Why should there be politics in a book meant for housewives and children? (Madayi 2003: 34)13 At the end of the response, Madayi categorically predicts: ‘There is scope for another autobiography of Pokkudan. I pray that such a book full of political poison that no one wants to read should not get published. Amen!’ (Ibid; italics mine). Thus, in the intellectual world of the leftists, Dalit politics is deemed poisonous, whereas the politics of communism or environmentalism assumes normative status. The second autobiography of Pokkudan challenges these normative notions – so apparently dented in the caste equation – and brings to light more nuanced aspects of his life. Thus, the political self of Pokkudan gets re-defined within the print imagination. The second autobiography differs right from the title and the cover. The new cover portrays a mature and bespectacled Pokkudan. He sports long hair and wears a white shirt. He is placed in contrast to a crumbling pink wall, symbolizing the broken past into which the author delves and unearths another history and politics. This relieves Pokkudan from the traditional imagery of a karshaka thozhila¯li. And it suits the new title Ente Jeevitam (‘My Life’), suggesting a fresh narrative signifying the life and politics of Pokkudan. It is worth noting that the title omits the old metaphor of Kandal that had completely engulfed the first autobiography. My Life illustrates the striving life-world of a Dalit structured within the caste determined social fabric of his village, Aezhom. And it connects the eco-politics espoused by Pokkudan to the cultural specificities of the Pulaya community. These are expounded through the narration of his lived experiences. In the chapter entitled titled ‘Ayitham’ (untouchability), Pokkudan shares the humiliating experiences of untouchability, the discriminatory 13

Taha Madayi, ‘Pokkudan Ezhuthatha Atmakatha’ (‘The Unwritten Autobiography of Pokkudan’) in Samakalika Malayalam Weekly, 13 January 2003; 33–4. Madayi’s article was written in response to Rupesh Paul’s feature on Pokkudan in the supplement ‘Sree’ of the Malayala Manorama dailies, 8 December 2002. In this article, Rupesh Paul criticized the publishers for omitting the political part of his life from Pokkudan’s first autobiography.

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apartheid practiced within the caste-ridden social order prevailing in modern Keralam. The caste experiences of Pokkudan – especially the tea shop experience of humiliation and the instance where he has to pretend as an upper caste person to get food from a feudal caste Hindu house – illustrate the way caste remains a social factor in the day-to-day interactions of modern Malayali life. How caste determines capitalistic business formation is illustrated in the incident at the Nair’s tea shop. After the ruckus and reconciliation following Pokkudan’s refusal to wash the glass, Nair cleverly counsels Pokkudan. He cites the Tiyya’s practice of untouchability towards the Pulayar as the reason for insisting that Pokkudan should wash the glass. In this way he categorically hints that even the modern capitalistic business ventures are affected by caste norms.14 This may also be read as a clever strategy of burdening the lower- caste Tiyya (Tiyya is lower in caste status than Nair) with the blame of practising caste and, at the same time, convey the significant presence of caste in the public sphere to the rebellious Pokkudan. In the post-social reformist phase in Keralam, the void created by anticaste/Dalit movements was filled by the grand narrative of communism. The consolidation of the same occurred with the linguistic re-organization of the region in 1956, and later in 1957, when the Communist Party was elected to power. Communism offered not only a co-opted radical universe for the Dalits, but also a statist agency to redress their problems caused by the structurally oppressive caste-bound social system. Like many Dalits, Pokkudan also became an active member of the Communist Party. While most of the Janmi were Congress supporters, the major chunk of the working class Pulaya community remained the mass support of the Communist Party. Pokkudan became a communist by caste, as caste and class-consciousness conflated mutually in the peculiar social context in which caste determined the base of the social structure. Pokkudan stood with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) after the split in in 1964. However, he began to distance himself from the party as castebased discriminatory experiences burgeoned, and community consciousness became stronger. Pokkudan’s individual self may be seen trying to negotiate with the stifling bindings of the communist and communitarian self, the former his past and the latter defining his contemporary political identity. In both cases, he evolves with it critically, rather than succumbing to its overarching political frames. His political estrangement from communism results in 14 The

Nair told Pokkudan: ‘I don’t practice untouchability. The Tiyya community people from Cheermakkavil will not come to the shop if a Pulayar pollutes or will not wash the tea glass after using it. I may have to shut my shop.’ See Pokkudan (2010: 25).

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a newer understanding of the need for community, and it became stronger after reading Ambedkar. The caste-based discriminatory practices of party cadres and the ideological apathy shown by communist intellectuals towards the caste question made him realize the limitations of the communist ideology in addressing the Dalit life-world. Community bonding came to his rescue when party goons were after his life. But the same community does not support him when he ventured out with the idea of planting mangroves. He was defeated on many occasions by his two strong political faith systems – communism and community. And yet he fought back with his Dalit eco-politics. The land reforms initiated by the first communist ministry are hailed as the significant contribution to the ‘Kerala model of development’.15 Pokkudan’s experience as a party comrade engaged in the activities of land distribution at the local level addresses the issue of the exclusion of the Dalits from these land reforms, and exposes the tall claims made by the Left. After the tenancy bill was passed, the party decided not to mediate in any tenant-related cases, and not to agree to less than ten cents of land for tenants. However, at the end of the day, except in a few cases – such as that of Pouthan who received ten cents of land after the intervention of the court – others were given five or six cents of barren land, and the rest of the cases remained unattended for a long time. Pokkudan writes that, like the majority of Dalits, he did not get a single cent of land after land reforms. Until recently in Keralam, the term ‘Harijan’ was more popular than the radical term ‘Dalit’. The village school where Pokkudan studied was called Harijan Welfare School. It was built in 1907. Most Dalit children from nearby villages studied in this school. The headmaster of the school was a Brahmin named Ptaran Ma¯sh (Ma¯sh is the Malayalized version for school master). All the other teachers were from lower caste communities. Ptaran Ma¯sh used to bathe in the temple pond after the class, purifying himself from the pollution of interacting with the lower caste students. Dalit children were not allowed to wear chuvanna ko¯nakam (red-coloured one-piece long loin cloth worn by men as underwear) which, as per the caste norms, were only worn by Nairs and Tiyyas. Dalit children used to wear the koomba¯la (underwear made of tender palm leaves). This was the only dress they wore to the school. It took years for the school authorities to provide tho¯rthu (cotton towel) to the Dalit students. Even at the resurgent 15 The

euphoric Kerala model, showing social development with high social indicators but without economic growth in an industrially dead region, was an academic invention of the 1980s. Of late, the Dalit and women scholars from the region have questioned this celebrated model.

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historical moment of communism in the 1950s, the non-Dalit communities did not send their children to the Harijan School, as they do not want their children to get polluted by the Dalit children. Though it is meant to be a modern secular public space where students from different sociocultural backgrounds can come together to gain knowledge, the school was also affected by caste norms. This purity and pollution rules continue to define interpersonal relations and the way the newly emerged public sphere gets constituted even today either overtly or covertly. Both autobiographies were born out of an extended version of the manuscript written by Pokkudan himself. Whereas the first one denies the political and intellectual agency of Pokkudan and presents it within a class-reductionist frame, the second one explores the nuances of his self and acknowledges the political agency. The first one places caste as a premodern entity, which can be resolved with the resurgence of the communism. The very act of Pokkudan to plant mangroves is exoticized and read as an apolitical environmental activity. In this way, the caste question is purged out. However, in the second autobiography, Pokkudan looks at it as an eco-political act through which he re-asserts the intricately connected eco-social system of the Dalits, with the mangrove signifying the politics of Dalit life-world. By placing the caste question in the contemporary, the caste critique of the modern is presented through the elaboration of the tension between his personal and collective selves. In the preface of his second autobiography, Pokkudan notes: Some people feel and opine that Pokkudan does not deserve to write a book as he is born to a lower caste mother. They like the subservient Pokkudan . . . I think writing a book is important. It is not for fame or wealth. This is to mark that someone like me lived here. I can see many who think that it is problematic. Many of my own village and community people also share the same feeling. Somehow they cannot think that it is the life and book of someone among them. (Pokkudan 2010: 7) It is posed not only as a caste critique of modern print cultural practices but also at the rigidity of identity politics, which essentializes the idea of community. Pokkudan redeems his political self as a critique of both these, and moves closer to Ambedkarism, in which the political agency of the Dalit acts as the epicentre of social change and progress. This essay has attempted to see how Pokkudan, a literate Dalit, negotiates with the dominant cultural imaginations of Dalit life and politics with his autobiographies. The newly formed political subjectivity of the Dalit 214

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embodies the tension between a community-in-the-making and the individuated modern Dalit self. Pokkudan’s autobiographies illustrate these subtle tensions and offer cultural resistance to the common sense that Dalits are the passive inheritor of the modern.

References Ayyappan, C. 2008. C. Ayyappante Kathakal (‘C. Ayyappan’s Stories’). New Delhi: Penguin (in Association with Manorama); 167–92. Guru, Gopal and Sarukkai, Sundar. The Cracked Mirror: An Indian Debate on Experience and Theory. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012. Kumar, Udaya. ‘Autobiography as a Way of Writing History’, in History in the Vernacular, (eds.) Raziuddin Aquil and Partha Chatterjee. New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2008; 418–48. Madayi, Taha. ‘Pokkudan Ezhuthatha Atmakatha’ (‘The Unwritten Autobiography of Pokkudan’), Samakalika Malayalam (13 January 2003): 33–4. Merrill, Christi. ‘Human Rights Singular-Plural: Translating Dalit Autobiography from Hindi’, Biography Vol. 33, No. 1 (Winter 2010): 127–50. Pandian, M.S.S. ‘Writing Ordinary Lives’. Economic and Political Weekly Vol. 43, No. 38 (20–26 September 2008): 34–40. Pokkudan, Kallen. (ed.) Taha Madayi. Ente Jeevitam (‘My Life’). Kottayam: DC Books, 2010. Pokkudan, Kallen, compiled by Sreejith Paithalan. Kandalkaduka¯lkkidayil Ente Jeevitam (‘My Life among Mangroves’). Kannur: Media Magic, 2002. Purushothaman, K. C. Dalit Sahitya Prasthanam (‘Dalit Literary Movement’). Thrissur: Kerala Sahitya Academy, 2008. Rege, Sharmila. Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonios. New Delhi: Zuban, 2006. Rodrigues, Valerian, (ed.) The Essential Writings of Ambedkar. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002. Tellis, Ashley. ‘Dalit Women’s Autobiography in Marathi and the Politics of Language’, XIII IAWS National Conference, Wardha: 2011.

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13 DALITS WRITING, DALITS SPEAKING On the encounters between Dalit autobiographies and oral histories Alexandra de Heering*

Before that it was difficult [with water]. And difficult means – [the elders] would go to one place. And the caste people might be there, a lady might be there. So the caste people will use the water which is above and we had to use the below water, which would be dirty. So whether it is good or bad, they used to drink that water. – Personal interview with young women, 9 April 2011 The high-caste villagers filled their water pots and their women wash their clothes upstream. Downstream the kunbies and shepherds collected water in their vessels and carried them off. They also washed their clothes and bathed. Those who looked after the grazing cattle washed the buffaloes and bathed themselves. The water at the lowest end was meant for us. I used to stand in the river, collect water in my cupped palms and drink it. – Limbale (2003: 7)

Dalit autobiographies and oral history narratives open a partial window into their inner worlds and subjective experiences. Unlike other sources * The author is grateful to the FSR (Fonds Spécial de la Recherche) funding she received from Namur University and to the AUF (Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie) for their support. She also thanks the French Institute of Pondicherry for its warm welcome and scientific support.

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that are limited to the description of Dalit realities from an external point of view, Dalit oral and written testimonies, despite their specificities, allow access to their inner feelings, and gain an understanding of the condition they were faced with. Dalits’ reflexivity is at stake in these narratives. Narrations allow Dalit witnesses to depict their social realities in their own words, true to the way they experienced them (Dangle 2009: xlii). The use of the first person (I or we) is clear evidence of the ‘interiority’ of the narration; it also reveals witnesses’ sense of belonging. This essay is an exploration of what emerges from a comparison of written and oral Dalit testimonies. Drawn from a close analysis of oral testimonies collected among the Cakkiliyar community in Tamil Nadu and selected Dalit-written autobiographies, the relationship between these two types of testimonies will be addressed, and the findings of the combined analysis, discussed. To what extent, how and why do Dalit oral and written testimonies relate to each other beyond the visible differences between them? The content and the tone of each type of testimony will be compared. The essay will also discuss some of the reasons that make a combined analysis of these two types of narration interesting and relevant. What can each type of testimony bring to the study of the other? Many variations (described later) distinguish oral and written testimonies; yet, the major difference – that is, the most blatant one, or the one that theoretically might have a greater impact on the narration – lies in the identity of the witnesses. The backgrounds and lives of the Cakkiliyar oral witnesses and writers vary a great deal. In short, Dalit writers are generally well educated; they have left their villages and the agricultural work of their ancestors, and have embraced service sector careers. The majority also share a comprehensive understanding of various cultural, social and political issues. In contrast, people interviewed in the villages are generally very poor agricultural labourers, and are mostly illiterate. Their exposure to social, political and activist issues remains very limited even today. In other words, while Dalit writers represent the comparative minority of Dalits who were able to get an education – probably helped by reservation policies – and have taken a step outside traditional caste oppressions, the vast majority remain poor, backward and mostly illiterate. This difference in identity is not inherent in the oral or the written testimonies; oral history does not limit its focus to illiterate people; it could also concentrate on the elite – that is, Dalit writers might very well have been interviewed in an oral investigation. Nevertheless, in the framework of this essay, the difference between Cakkiliyar witnesses and Dalit writers constitutes one major factor of analysis. Does the witness’s background affect the content of the testimony? Are major differences or commonalities to be 217

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observed between oral (uneducated) and written (educated) testimonies? One might expect the narrator’s background to have an important impact on the manner and content of his/her narratives. However, this essay demonstrates their similarity in terms of content even though when narrating their past(s) as Dalits, the way they position themselves in their narration regarding the condition of their own/community are quite different. So far, despite the promising potential of this kind of analysis, no attempt at comparing and contrasting oral and written Dalit testimonies has been made; they have only been the subject of distinct studies (Dangle 1992; Aston 2001; Franco et al. 2004; Arnold and Blackburn 2004). Reading between the lines, and through the ideas developed here, this essay argues that the study of one type of testimony will enrich the understanding of the other. More attention to the broad array of Dalit testimonies available could contribute more significantly not only to the documentation of Dalit pasts and their ‘lifeworlds’ (Ganguli 2005), but also to widen the understanding of the way(s) they themselves interpret their experiences. In other words, such an exercise would clearly reveal how Dalit people ‘make sense of their past . . . connect individual experience and its social context . . . [and] interpret their lives and the world around them’ (Perks and Thomson 2006: 36). Oral historians gather testimonies by interviewing their subjects creatively and cooperatively in order to gain insight into the interviewee’s life and past (Wallenborn 2006: 46). As such, it is oral testimonies that are elicited most of the time. Yet, resulting from the joint collaboration of informants, witnesses and the historian (possibly also the interpreter), they are viewed as co-constructed. Written Dalit autobiographies, on the other hand, are inspired by the writer’s own conviction and need to share and are, thus, ‘conscious literary affirmations of Dalit thought. They strive to restate, through concrete personal experiences, the Dalit stand against tradition’ (Bhushan Upadhyay 2010: 31). As such, oral and written testimonies differ in many respects. To name a few – the trigger: an interviewer or the writer himself; the mode of communication: oral or written; the method of production: mediated/with an interviewer or unmediated/alone; the topics: initiated by an interviewer’s question or following the author’s inspiration; the reflection time before the testimony: almost non-existent, or whenever the subject feels ready; the form: an achronological and scattered narrative or a more linear and organized one; the level of depth: providing raw materials and facts or going into a detailed description of the context; and the style: stream of consciousness storytelling or articulated and detailed. Therefore, besides identities, the context of the production and the reasons underlying the narration are important differences between oral and written Dalit 218

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testimonies, undeniably impacting on their form and depth. The question of the reception of those testimonies also ought to be addressed; published Dalit-written autobiographies have a much larger reach than archived oral testimonies even as they clearly shape the popular perception of those fates. However, there are several common factors shared by Dalit oral and written narratives. Both are testimonies and have a common language – the spoken language of Dalit colonies – and they can be seen as an act of defiance on the part of the witnesses. In general, a testimony consists of a first-person experience emerging from the critical examination – to varying extents – of an individual’s (or a community’s) own life. Testimonies are usually characterized by the desire for authenticity which is very strong. Dalits are praised for their efforts to ‘expose various aspects of the “truth” of [their] life experiences’ (Brueck 2010: 126). The language purposefully used in Dalit autobiographies is another reflection of this desire for authenticity. Polished literary language has not been considered apt when depicting their experiences and emotions. Thus, Dalit writers choose to write their testimonies in the language of Dalit reality – that is, the spoken language or the language of the colony (Limbale 2010: 33). This choice of a literary style made by early Dalit autobiographers soon came to characterize the genre,1 with only a few exceptions. Due to their written words being so closely tied to the spoken Dalit vernacular, written autobiographies and oral testimonies are more easily comparable. It also prompts one to wonder to what extent Dalit writings can be assimilated into oral history. Nevertheless, be it oral or in writing, speaking out in India is a demanding exercise for any Dalit as it means going against the pervading rule of silence society imposes on their subaltern lives and culture. Always kept at the periphery, Dalits should not speak; their voices should not be heard (Ahmad and Bhushan Upadhyay 2010). The oral testimonies analysed in this essay were collected in two different Cakkiliyar colonies of the Palni Hills (generally referred to as Kodaikanal Hills) in 2010 and 2011. Cakkiliyars form the third largest Dalit group in Tamil Nadu, after the Pallars and Paraiyars. Their ‘non-Tamilness’ – they are said to originate in Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh – as well as their traditional occupation of scavenging and working with leather has subjected them to greater denial, and they are despised by the other Tamil Dalit communities who consider them their inferiors. Research also shows a lack of interest in documenting Cakkiliyars’ lives and traditions as compared to the significant number of studies published in English about other Dalit communities in Tamil Nadu (Moffatt 1979; Deliège 1997; Basu 2011). 1

This way of using the spoken language in writing was actually introduced earlier, in dialect literature. However, it gained favour through the expansion of Dalit literature.

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The two groups of Cakkiliyars were interviewed in their colonies, outside the main villages. These two hill villages differ from each other in terms of location: one is close to the main town Kodaikanal, and its inhabitants mainly eke their living as coolies in certain industries such as construction, restaurants and hotels. The other village is further away from the town, and relies mostly on agriculture. While most of this Dalit community comprises agricultural labourers, or coolies, some of them are small landowners. This means that they are relatively better off – generally owners of some cents to two acres of land. Seven to ten different jatis coexist in both villages. For the study, only Dalits were interviewed to avoid jeopardizing their trust; and they were interviewed irrespective of age, gender or level of education. Interviews were conducted in Tamil with the help of an interpreter. More than sixty testimonies were collected. For this analysis, three Dalit autobiographies were selected on the basis of certain criteria: they had to be written in or translated into English, they should not have been mediated and they had to be varied in terms of location to get a diversified picture of the Indian scenario. Ideally, one should have been authored by a Cakkiliyar; but such an autobiography is yet to be written. Among the existing books, the first autobiography selected is The Outcaste, published in 1984 by Sharankumar Limbale under the title Akkarmashi. This Marathi autobiography has become a landmark in Dalit literature.2 The second autobiography, The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs, was written by Urmila Pawar and published in Marathi in 2003.3 The third and last autobiography is My Father Baliah, written by Y. B. Satyanarayana and published in 2011.4 It is actually a combined biography of his father and an autobiography of himself. Dalit lives vary from one region to another, one Dalit caste to another, one Dalit family to another, from one individual to another. Their lives, and the narration of their conditions, are multifaceted, with their world seldom being reduced to only the oppressive nature of their condition. Indeed, 2

Limbale recounts his childhood as the son born out of wedlock between a Dalit woman and a high caste man, the chief of the village. He narrates the exclusion he suffers from for being a Dalit; he also expresses his feeling of illegitimacy among Dalits for having some caste blood flowing in his veins. 3 Pawar, as the title clearly indicates, delivers the perspective of a Dalit woman suffering from double discrimination. Through her writings, the reader enters the Dalit women’s world and becomes acquainted with their preoccupations, their pain and their anecdotes. 4 Y. B. Satyanarayana covers his family history over three generations in Andhra Pradesh. While his grandfather changed the destiny of the next generations by leaving their village to become appointed as a railway worker, his father – a class IV railway employee – is depicted as the one who, by making many sacrifices, made education possible for his children.

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witnesses often make the decision to speak about their hopes and the strong spirit that inhabits their community (Moon 2002: xi). The various sets of memories Dalit testimonies display – school time, food, labour, humiliation and resistance – are tightly interwoven (Pawar 2008). In view of this diversity, the focus in this essay is on the lessons drawn from the combined analysis of oral and written testimonies in terms of what strikes the Dalits as being important specifically because they are Dalits. As such, specific attention is given to inter-caste relations – in the way they recount them – and the subordinate position Dalits hold. Despite the diversity of identities and background, both types of testimonies reveal a large number of meaningful encounters in terms of content which are worth being analysed. Dalits testimonies allow one to get a glimpse of the grim and dutiful daily life prevailing in the colonies. When you date back to those days, right from my father’s time, even dating till his father’s time . . . mm . . . in the rich people’s houses, we had to go to graze his cows. . . . [We] had to sweep their house entrances; from his house, we had to bring the food and eat and feed our children. Such was the situation that we lived in earlier. The first thing we had to do in the mornings was to go to his house and proclaim him as God. . . . And when we proclaim him as God, that’s when we will get maybe one glass of coffee, we had to take our own glasses.5 (Personal interview with old men, 12 March 2011) Food – and hunger – plays a large part in most Dalit narratives, whether oral or written. Food was a perpetual struggle: ‘So we learnt to eat whatever was given to us without complaining. We could not say “I’m not hungry now; I’ll eat it later” for the simple reason that one could never be sure whether any food would be left over to eat later’ (Pawar 2008: 95). Many Dalit families had no option but to beg for food outside, mainly from their dominant caste masters, their landlords. In any case, they had to content themselves with what they could scavenge or what they could save from a previous meal: ‘They will give us the old food, there will be flies or lizards in it; whatever falls, we eat, cockroaches fell, we throw them and then we eat, during those days’ (personal interview with young men, 27 March 2010). ‘We stored bhakaris in the wooden chest and ate them with the curry from time to time. The chest was full of cockroaches in the curry kept in clay pots. We threw the cockroaches away, and ate the curry’ (Limbale 2003: 42–3).

5

All interviews were conducted in Tamil, and then translated into English.

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Although the food practices referred to in the first extract talk about the lack of consideration dominant caste people have for Dalits, both reflect a high degree of hunger and deprivation. Dalits had to content themselves with whatever was given to them. Dalit testimonies reveal more similarities when it comes to untouchability practiced against them. Considered to be polluted and polluting, Dalit people have been physically kept in isolation. They have separate colonies, separate temples and separate water sources. Their access to certain community areas was also restricted, and sometimes banned. In the situation of unavoidable proximity, derogatory practices of untouchability have been applied in order to avoid or minimize ‘pollution’. Any type of touch – direct or indirect – has long been avoided and feared (Alex 2008). Satyanarayana recollects how the simple fact of being seated on the couch of an upper caste family at a friend’s home infuriated the Brahmin cook who was later scared of being polluted. The bitterness he felt that day is palpable. ‘You dirty pig, you untouchable! Get off! How dare you sit by our babu?’ It was the Brahmin cook roaring . . . As I looked back from the gate, I heard my friend shouting at the man, ‘Why did you yell at my friend?’ ‘He is an untouchable! Go and bathe or I shall tell your father!’ I saw my friend chasing him, and the servant running away from him yelling, ‘Don’t touch me, Babu, you are polluted! Go and take a bath!’ I walked away from the bungalow, cursing myself and wondering why I was an untouchable. I was very angry with the servant: how did I cause pollution? (Satyanarayana 2011: 104) Dalits were instructed to stay outside the houses of people belonging to other castes. This soon became a habit: when necessary, water would be sprinkled to ‘clean’ things or people from the spread of Dalit impurity. In teashops, the ‘two tumbler system’ would prevail. So like this . . . in the caste system . . . we had two tumblers. They used to keep glasses outside, we used to pour [coffee] and drink. There was a well, just for us. We used to wash around it, drink our coffee and everything, wash and leave. That was our state. (Personal interview with M., 4 May 2011). 222

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The cup and the saucer outside Shivram’s teashop were an insult to our entire community. Old people from our community drank tea from that cup and saucer without any protest. Rambaap used to go to Shivram’s teashop and drink tea from it . . . Rambaap used to drink water as well as tea, and had to wash the tumblers too before he put them back in their place. He had to put the money for the tea on the ground, or drop it from a height into the hands of the owner because for a Mahar or a Mang to hand money directly to anyone was a sin. (Limbale 2003: 77) For a long time, Dalit communities were forced to follow the rules imposed upon them by dominant castes. These practices were followed generation after generation, and most of the people would pursue them, loading the Dalits with feelings of helplessness – and sometimes not even realizing that there was scope for change. Often, they were actually afraid of the upper castes as the latter would not hesitate to resort to force, curses or threats. Their high dependency on dominant castes for work, food and loans worked as a counter force to their emancipation. When Dalits, who nowadays assert their rights as human beings, look at their past conditions, they are tempted to compare their forefathers to animals successfully silenced. And so in those days, they did not even respect us as humans. As I told you in the . . . beginning, we were people who had to protect whatever they did, like their dogs. But dogs are faithful. But they do not have that gratefulness at all . . . the upper castes! . . . So even a sheep or a cow will be treated better. (Personal interview with young men, 14 April 2011) Ithal Kamble was a farm worker on a yearly contract to a landlord. . . . He worked hard, day and night, on the fields as well as in the house of the landlord. He was one of the beasts that toiled on the farm. The animals in the shed he looked after were no different from this bonded labourer. Ithal Kamble’s poverty was his sad lot, like the yoke-inflamed shoulder of an ox. He worried perpetually about his food. His ribs looked like marks of a whip on the skin of an ox. His stomach was so shrunken that it seemed to suck his back like a lap fly. His life has turned into a cattle shed. (Limbale 2003: 35) The literary style used puts metaphors and comparisons to good use; and yet, it does not affect the similarity of the perspectives presented here. For those Dalit witnesses, who actually distance themselves from the lives and 223

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experiences of their elders by asserting their differences and the changes that have come about, to continually remember the inhuman treatment their parents were subjected to by their dominant caste masters who considered them animals unable to think, and unable to resist, is unbearable. Societal transformations have followed in recent decades. Due to changes in education, work, clothing and lifestyle that have taken place, Dalits have taken on the outward appearance and speech of any other caste person. Some of them are not recognizable as Dalits since the typical Dalit ‘signs’ do not apply to them anymore. In reaction to the discrimination and the change of behaviour that results when their identity is uncovered, many Dalits recount – some with embarrassment – their attempts to conceal their Dalitness. See, whatever we say, we try to control our Telugu.6 But it would come out of our mouth, spontaneously . . . and they would stamp us as Dalit people, from the way we speak. . . . The Dalit people. I am saying that if they change their clothes and talk in Tamil, no one will identify that they are Dalit people. . . . Our mother tongue is Telugu. And that comes so fast out of our mouth . . . And they easily identify that we are Dalit people. . . .Yes, whatever be the crowd, we will utter some word, by mistake. (Personal interview with middle-aged women, 14 April 2011) If I happened to see a Dalit friend approaching, I quickly altered my route. If he abruptly appeared in front of me, I greeted him with a ‘namaskar’ instead of ‘Jai Bhim’. Even if someone said ‘Jai Bhim’ to me, I responded with a namaskar. If I happened to be going with a high-caste friend, and someone greeted me with a ‘Jai Bhim’, I felt like an outsider. I was worried that my caste would be revealed. (Limbale 2003: 104) In the cities, things were fine as long as house owners or landlords, belonging mostly to the higher castes, were unaware of your Dalit identity; but once it was known, you would be harassed until you vacated the house. Concealing our caste was difficult, for although our ways had changed, our relatives, who were frequent visitors, had distinctly Dalit features. This disclosure therefore happened quite often, and then we would be asked to move. (Satyanarayana 2011: 186)

6

Telugu is the mother tongue of the Cakkiliyar communities we interviewed.

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While they attempted to hide these exterior indications of their caste to remain incognito, their habitus prevailed. It is interesting that, however hard one strives to conceal one’s caste, one rarely manages to achieve the goal of caste anonymity; one detail or the other will give it away. Habit and spontaneity will always regain the upper hand. How, for example, can a person hold back from speaking in his/her mother tongue? When focusing on the juxtaposition of the depictions of caste relations in both the oral and the written word, none of the differences between oral and written testimonies – neither the background of the witnesses nor the context of the production of the testimonies – completely transforms the experiences of caste discrimination, that is, their content; yet the way they are described – that is, the form – belies the differences. In other words, there is a strong consistency in terms of what they experienced that can be observed in all Dalit testimonies, despite geographical and background differences. They often choose to speak about the same obstacles, thus contributing to the creation of a ‘meta-narrative’; one could also say of a collective memory. Whether they are urban or rural, educated or illiterate, Dalits encounter hindrances to living an equal life. These hindrances might not be consistently the same in all testimonies; but their essence and the origin of the discrimination lie in the caste system. Many commonalities in each one’s paths emerge in the testimonies. This can be put down to the strong homogeneity of practices at the pan-Indian level. They are also the consequence of the very nature of Dalit testimonies that are not limited to the ‘self’, or to personal experiences; most soon switch to the collective memory of the larger social group (Arnold and Blackburn 2004: 21). The peculiarity of Dalit narratives is their metonymic stance; each witness sees him/herself standing for the whole community, and not only for him/herself. Sarah Beth has argued that autobiographical expression of marginalized groups, such as the Dalits, differs from other autobiographies in that they ‘are written by individuals who emphasize the ordinariness of their life rather than their uniqueness in order to establish themselves as representative of their community’ (quoted in Kesharshivam 2008: xxv). To this extent, we could call them ‘Dalitographies’. Writers use their own experience to illustrate their community’s fate and the survival strategies used by it. Often this is embodied in the interchangeability of the ‘I’ and the ‘we’ in the narratives. The singular becomes universalized (Nayar 2006: 89). The structure of the narration or its framework is carried by the community – it is also its raison d’être, just as it is for oral testimonies. Thus, the collective spirit of the ‘community’ and the virtual constancy of discriminatory practices against them have an undeniable effect on the content of the testimonies. 225

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Historians are interested in the double-layered information presented in the testimonies: the content as well as the meaning given to it. This aspect, which allows the reader/listener to somewhat access Dalits’ inner world(s), is explored in this essay. How do Dalit witnesses look at, refer to and speak about their discriminated past? The perspective that has been adopted by the witnesses and the representations enclosed in the different testimonies are of major importance. Through the observation of the style and the tone of narration, what the witness does with the narrative, and what kind of message he/she intends to convey while narrating, one can analyse a Dalit’s representation of his/her condition. This can take numerous shapes, ranging from strong dissent and expression of agency to resignation and moaning. Are those shapes related to the type of testimony (i.e. written or oral), or to some other criteria? When it comes to Dalit autobiographies, the tone of testimonies is rather even. Dalit literature is a literature of protest. By denouncing its evils and bringing it into the public domain, Dalit-written testimonies protest against untouchability and the system of the caste. ‘The form of Dalit literature is inherent in its Dalitness, and its purpose is obvious: to inform Dalit society of its slavery, and narrate its pain and suffering to upper caste Hindu’ (Limbale 2010: 19). Contesting and overstepping in many ways the canons of hegemonic Brahmanical literature, Dalit writers show their willingness to perfect their own style. Consequently, the sounds of protest and rallying cries echo out from all the autobiographies. Those days, when we went around the village and walked with pride, the high-caste people hated our confidence. They didn’t want us to enjoy any self-esteem. But we had realized that selfesteem had unusual strengths. We loathed the low esteem that was imposed on us as our lot. (Limbale 2003: 76) But the word ‘cultured’ pricked me like a thorn. What exactly did he mean? Which culture were they talking about? Whose dominance were they praising? Patriarchy? Caste system? Class? What was it? And why was our writing termed uncivilized, uncultured? How? These questions raged in my mind. (Pawar 2008: 233) Dalit writers express a high level of awareness and self-consciousness when articulating their life experiences. Most of them demonstrate a good ability to critically analyse; they also claim the self-respect they inherited from B. R. Ambedkar and Periyar. Aside from being a protest, writing is also an act of agency and assertion (Ahmad and Bhushan Upadhyay 226

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2010: 1). At the all-India level, not all Dalit communities have managed to take this forward step as yet; only the most ‘conscious’ and organized have done so. It is not a coincidence that most of the published Dalit autobiographies come from Maharashtra, where Dalits are politically better organized as well as deeply and posthumously marked by Ambedkar’s guidance. In Tamil Nadu, Cakkiliyars are still struggling to create a sense of community, and to mobilize themselves at the state level. Late political mobilization and a steadfast rejection by other Dalit communities for not being ‘real’ Tamilians have delayed their self-assertion. This situation certainly explains why they are yet to produce a proper autobiography, unlike Pallars and Parayiars (Vitivelli 1994; Bama 2000; Kautaman 2002; Kunacekaran 2005). Some novels have been written about them (Arivalakan 2003; Malarvati 2011); but nothing by the Cakkiliyars themselves. Oral history, in some situations, compensates for the lack of a written testimony. It also reveals that self-consciousness and protest need not be seen as the prerogative of educated writers; some Cakkiliyars do share this sense of self-respect – but they do so orally. At first glance, considering the ways in which oral testimonies were produced – they are usually triggered – and the backgrounds of oral witnesses, it might seem that the general tone of the testimonies will be less assertive. And, indeed, minimal outside exposure and widespread illiteracy could be seen as paving the way for an average lack of consciousness and the absence of feelings of revolt. And yet, it would be far too simplistic and reductive to come to this conclusion. In fact, Cakkiliyar testimonies display a large heterogeneity of views, irrespective of gender and generation. In the same community, low self-esteem, resilience and fatalism can be found side by side with self-respect, assertion and the denunciation of caste practices. Then, [high caste people] paid good attention to us, we can’t say no. We can’t say that their behaviour was prejudiced back then, even if it wasn’t always good. For the past 10 to 40 years it’s been fine without any changes, and they took proper care . . . Only if we work hard they look after us . . . Only if we do that will we get paid. Only if we go to work they will give us coolie and food. (Personal interview with K., 17 May 2011) In those days, [high caste people] had used our Dalit people. So they would say that they have some cultivation and [ask us to] take care of it. ‘You (Dalits) should guard it’. And so our people used to think that they should be grateful to them, and so they would do . . . And so they would guard it and carry home the produce as 227

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well. But the ones who guarded their place would not be let inside their houses (laughs with sarcasm). And since that was the situation, our ancestors stuck to doing the same. And they were not educated too, right? . . . And they did not reflect upon what and how the world is today. They did not have any thoughts on how to change to this world and these kinds of things; they did not have and they did not act upon any of this, right from the beginning. (Personal interview with young men, 14 April 2011) The Dalits denounce the iniquitous behaviour of dominant castes; but neither do they spare their own community members for never having questioned anything, and remaining subordinated to upper castes without protesting, for generations. This indignant approach to the past, and to life conditions, once again brings together some Cakkiliyar oral testimonies and written autobiographies. However, this critical stance that characterizes most autobiographies (if not all) applies only to some oral testimonies; many others express only a sense of helplessness – instead of denunciation or resentment – for what they had to face. To translate faithfully these differences of usage, tone, awareness and commitment in the narrations, it seems necessary to create a suitable categorization that would surpass the oral/written or illiterate/educated ones. One way to do this is to distinguish between testimonios and testimonies. The level of self-consciousness and the desire for change are actually what differentiate one stance from another. In spite of its demotic and heterogeneous form, a concise description of the features of a testimonio will facilitate our understanding of its relevance in the Indian context in reference to Dalit narratives. The use of this Latin American designation (which, unsurprisingly, means testimonial narrative in Spanish) encloses the idea of ‘[telling] the unofficial story, [constructing] a history of people, of individual lives, a history not of those in power, but by those confronted by power, and becoming empowered’ (Perks and Thomson 2006: 502). Some scholars, like Pandian (1998), Rege (2006) or Nayar (2006), have already employed this notion when analysing Dalit testimonies. Thus, testimonios can be summarized as subaltern narratives articulating life experiences (Pawar 2008: 323), and encompassing a strong sense of agency. In a testimonio, the intention is not one of literariness but of communicating the situation of a group’s oppression, imprisonment and struggle. The narrator claims some agency in the act of narrating and calls upon the readers to respond actively in judging the situation. (Rege 2006: 13) 228

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So far, the use of the term testimonios has been limited to studies on Dalitwritten narratives. However, some of the explicitly critical and engaged sequences drawn from oral interviews corroborate the view that their use should be extended to oral narratives as well – just as in Latin America. There, most of the testimonios are, in fact, transcribed versions of oral accounts resulting from the functional illiteracy of most of the narrators. For this occasion, [They use] (in a pragmatic sense) the possibility [offered by the interlocutor] to bring his or her situation to the attention of an audience . . . to which he or she would normally not have access because of the very condition of sub-alternity to which the testimonio bears witness. (Beverley 2005: 548) Similarly, a certain number of Cakkiliyar witnesses use the testimony – testimonio – as a creative tool for telling their truth, communicating their lot, decrying the condition they were subjected to and suggesting new practices. [We] should not go to his house for slavery work, [we] should not go to his house to eat . . . all of us. Every one of us felt the realization. He is a man, we are men too . . . like he has got lands, we also have. So we should work too. Like him, we too should live. Why should we go and sit in his house? Why should we wait for coffee from his house? Why should we graze his cows? Why should our wives sweep his entrance? Such kind of thoughts started pondering in all of us . . . Nobody triggered us. It was just us. We did it ourselves. We realized it ourselves. (Personal interview with old men, 12 March 2011) The idea of emancipation due to a shared humanness, channelled to them through social workers, education and outside exposure, was palpable among some of the members of the community – albeit unevenly so. For example, youngsters (but not only them), imbued with a newly acquired self-respect, are keen to recount in order to denounce, sometimes with fury. They summon their memories to highlight the changes that have taken place, and also insist on what must still happen to improve their lot – in the same way Dalit writers attempt to do when they put their lives into writing. Thus, besides the content, the tone Dalits adopt in their testimonios is another connection between oral and written narratives. Yet, in the same Cakkiliyar community, testimonios appear side by side with other testimonies by Dalits, which merely recount their lives, without using it as an opportunity to express their discontent. The same registers of memory are used: hunger, heavy work, sometimes enslavement, indebtedness. However, 229

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the tone and the ways of looking at these life events are completely different: no critical stance is taken. Some actually continue to perceive the dominant caste people – their masters – as their saviours, their gods. And like in those days, ‘vada poda, Cakkiliya, Paraiya’,7 they shout. Hmm . . . Sometimes they shout at us like that. They talk like that, ok? They talk so . . . They won’t say, please eat; instead, ‘eat da’. And actually, however much they yell at us; they would also feed us after that. Yes, we should not forget all those. They will yell, and at the same time feed us with food. That is what happened to us. (Personal interview with old men, 15 April 2011) Among testimonies, a wide range of style and points of view exists. As such, besides the ‘fatalists’, many show a nascent consciousness of the inequality of their situation, but resilience regularly overtakes denunciation. A rhetorical question is often asked: ‘What can one do?’ A certain degree of confusion is palpable in some testimonies. Some Cakkiliyars are unable to position themselves regarding their past and present situation, and often ask: ‘Was life better now or then?’ A lack of self-consciousness also makes them unable to pinpoint and qualify the changes that have happened. In their lives and in their narrations, they carry on their shoulders and memories, the burden of their community. Since discrimination still exists, how can one speak about it in the past tense? Silence regarding caste relations is commonplace in testimonies. When not asked specifically about castes, some Dalits would just conceal – consciously or not – all the collective ignominious situations. This form of denial can be explained by the fact that caste inequity is something they have been taught not to complain about. Others might also be unable to reflect on their conditions in those terms. As such, while Dalitwritten narratives can (almost?) always be considered as testimonios – writing itself being an act of agency, assertion and self-reflection – in oral history, testimonies and testimonios coexist; mere narration and claims coexist. At the content and ‘positional’ levels, many encounters between Dalitwritten and oral testimonies were revealed. Consistency of content clearly emerges from the two types of testimonies. Whatever their background or current situation, the same iniquitous treatment was meted out to the Dalits, and this is reflected in their relating strongly comparable experiences. Similarly, the position held by oral witnesses and writers regarding their condition

7

This way of calling is considered extremely disrespectful.

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and the meaning given to their testimonies share common factors, though this is not always the case. When the narrators use the narratives – be it orally or in the written form – as tools for denunciation and protest, they are called testimonios. On the other hand, when they adopt a neutral and uncritical tone to speak about their lives, they remain testimonies. Undeniably, new directions and questions require further exploration. Some similarities – based on my personal research interests – have been underlined here in order to highlight the relevance of a combined analysis. Oral and written testimonies share a common ground: all Dalits share a common pathos. Yet, from many angles, owing to their distinctiveness, these testimonies are complementary, and throw interesting light on each other. The rawness and the roughness of oral narratives come up against the much more refined style of written autobiographies, even though the latter ‘imitate’ spoken language in their writings. Also, the chronology and the long descriptions one can observe in written testimonies are not echoed in the chronological and content fragmentation of the oral ones. Thus, with a combined consideration of oral and written testimonies, a broad diversity of information is provided on a long ignored history, each type filling the gaps left by the other in the narration and multiplying the perspectives. Just like for the Cakkiliyars, sometimes the autobiographies of some specific castes are missing. Their oral narratives, by means of oral history, present a useful alternative to the complete lack of direct and ‘genuine’ information on a specific caste. When it comes to the confrontation of oral and written testimonies, it is naturally more relevant to compare those originating from the same community/caste. Unfortunately, this ideal situation is seldom the case in reality. Hence, combining different types of Dalit testimonies – whatever the specific community (jati) may be – appears to be a more satisfactory, if not a desirable, solution. Sharing a range of commonalities, and yet steeped in distinctiveness, combining the various types of Dalit testimonies allows one to enlarge one’s perspective, and deliver a more nuanced and detailed picture of their past/present struggles and challenges. The different trajectories and current concerns in oral and written narratives undeniably modify (to some extent at least) the way their authors bear witness. Accessing both types of narratives gives an opportunity – as has been briefly attempted in this essay – to reflect on the underlying reasons why Dalits recount the stories of their lives in so many different ways. Moreover, given the Cakkiliyars’ (on occasion) elliptic speech and the frequent twilight zones of meaning existing in their stories, it is useful to have a close look at Dalit autobiographies to enhance understanding of some situations, and/or the logic behind past behaviour or decisions. Written narratives – due to the writer’s state of mind as well as the time it took 231

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for him/her to deliver his/her testimony – often offer an intense reflexivity, and many more details to the reader. On the other hand, reading Dalit autobiographies in the light of (oral) testimonies from the ground – by people shaped by other realities – enhances and nuances the understanding of what a Dalit’s fate can be. In real life, Dalit realities are far more diverse than that depicted in their literature. In such a case, any attempt at trying to capture Dalit world, the existence of a collective Dalit memory and the inclusion of a variety of profiles is, undoubtedly, a more fruitful choice. Oral and written Dalit testimonies are complementary; further investigation in this direction needs to be undertaken.

References Alex, Gabrielle. ‘A Sense of Belonging and Exclusion: “Touchability” and “Untouchability” in Tamil Nadu’. Ethnos Vol. 73, No. 4 (2008): 523–43. Arivalakan. Kalicatai. 1992. Chennai: Palkalai, 2003. Ahmad, Imtiaz and Shashi Bhushan Upadhyay (eds.). Dalit Assertion in Society, Literature and History. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2010. Arnold, David and Stuart Blackburn (eds.), Telling Lives in India, Biography, Autobiography and Life History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press and Permanent Black, 2004. Aston, N. M. (ed.). Literature of Marginality: Dalit Literature and African-American Literature. New Delhi: Prestige, 2001. Bama. Karukku. Trans. Lakshmi Holmström. 2000. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012. Basu, Raj Sekhar. Nandanar’s Children: The Paraiyans’ Tryst with Destiny, Tamil Nadu 1850–1956. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2011. Beth, Sarah. ‘Dalit Autobiographies in Hindi: The Transformation of Pain into Resistance’, http://www.sasnet.lu.se/EASASpapers/4SarahBeth.pdf, accessed 5 January 2015. Beverley, John. ‘Testimonio, Subalternity and Narrative Authority’. The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research, 3rd edition, (eds.) N. K. Denzin and Y.S. Lincoln. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2005; 547–57. Bhushan Upadhyay, Shashi. ‘The Meaning of Work in Dalit Autobiographies’. Studies in History Vol. 26, No. 1 (2010): 31–60. Brueck, Laura. ‘Good Dalits and Bad Brahmins: Melodramatic Realism in Dalit Short Stories’, South Asia Research Vol. 30, No. 2 (2010): 125–44. Dangle, Arjun (ed.). 1992. Poisoned Bread; Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Literature. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2009 [1992]. Deliège, Robert. The World of the ‘Untouchables’: Paraiyars of Tamil Nadu. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997. Franco, Fernando, Jyotsna Macwan and Suguna Ramanathan. Journeys to Freedom: Dalit Narratives. Kolkata: Samya, 2004.

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Ganguli, Debjani. Caste and Dalit Lifeworlds, Postcolonial Perspectives. Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 2005. Kautaman, Ra¯j. Ciluvaira¯j Carittiram. Chennai: Tamilini, 2002. Kesharshivam, B. The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth: A Dalit’s Life. Trans. Gita Chaudhuri. Kolkata: Samya, 2008. Kunacekaran, K. E. Vatu. Na¯karko¯vil: Ka¯laccuvatu Patippakam, 2005. ˙ Limbale, Sharankumar. The Outcaste: Akkarmashi. Trans. Santosh Bhoomkar. 1984. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003. Limbale, Sharankumar. Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies and Considerations. Trans. Alok Mukherjee. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2010. Malarvati. Tu¯ppukka¯ri. Karun·kal: An.al Vel.iyi¯tu, 2011. ˙ Moffatt, Michael. An Untouchable Community in South India, Structure and Consensus. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979. Moon, Vasant. Growing Up Untouchable in India: A Dalit Autobiography. Trans. Gail Omvedt. New Delhi: Vistaar Publications, 2002. Nayar, P. K. ‘Bama’s Karukku: Dalit Autobiography as Testimonio’. Journal of Commonwealth Literature Vol. 41–2 (2006): 83–100. Pandian, M. S. S. ‘On a Dalit Woman’s Testimonio’. Seminar 471, November 1998, 53–6. Pawar, Urmila. 2003. The Weave of my Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs. Trans. Maya Pandit. Kolkata: Stree, 2008. Perks, Robert and Alistair Thomson, (eds.). The Oral History Reader. London: Routledge, 2006. Rege, Sharmilla. Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonios. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2006. Satyanarayana, Y. B. My Father Baliah. New Delhi: HarperCollins, 2011. Sharma, Aradhana. Logics of Empowerment: Development, Gender and Governance in Neoliberal India. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. Vitivelli. Kalakkal. Maturai: Camuta¯ya Cintan _ai Ceyal Ayvu Maiyam (Aitiya¯ s), 1994. ˙ Wallenborn, Hélène. L’Historien, la parole des gens et l’écriture de l’histoire, le témoignage à l’aube du XXIè siècle. Bruxelles: Editions Labor, 2006.

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14 A LIFE LESS ORDINARY The female subaltern and Dalit literature in contemporary India Martine van Woerkens*

The French version of A Life Less Ordinary, the autobiography of Baby Halder, appeared in 2007. Her work had already been translated into twenty-seven other languages. In India, this phenomenal publishing success story was characterized as ‘one of the best subaltern autobiographies ever written’, by K. Sachidanandan, a member of the prestigious Sahitya Academy; it was subsequently also praised in similar terms by the intellectual elite and by the English language Indian media.1 ‘Subaltern’ would, thus, characterize a literary genre of which A Life Less Ordinary would be a prime example. But what are the stories that it surpasses, and in what way does it surpass them? In the reception of the work, these questions remain unanswered. The silence points to a paradox. My objective here is to clarify the paradox, and to try to understand its significance. Given the historical meaning of the concept of ‘subaltern’, Baby Halder’s life story can be described as such for at least two reasons: she belongs to the ‘dominated masses’, and her story testifies to her so belonging. But the intellectual elite and the media have focused elsewhere. While the former has lent A Life Less Ordinary literary precursors from earlier periods, the media have homed in on the last twenty-five pages in which, thanks to her employer, the narrator is rescued from her social position.2 The ‘subalternity’ of Baby Halder’s story has virtually disappeared, and the subaltern literary genre under which it is subsumed appears to be an empty shell. * Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris. Translation from the French by Conor Joyce. This is a revised version of an essay that was first published in van Woerkens (2010: 279–99). 1 The quote is from the cover jacket of the 4th print of the English edition. 2 The book runs to 163 pages.

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In fact, in its original meaning, ‘subaltern’ includes untouchables and, by extension, female Dalit literature.3 In neglecting, mistakenly, this latter aspect, the elite and media propose a re-definition of subaltern literature that is in sync with postmodernism, and with the ideological orientation of shining contemporary India. The celebrity of the concept of subaltern is associated in India with a collective of Indian historians who wanted to break with the elitism of dominant historiography and to re-establish the people in its agency, in its capacity for initiative. In its manifesto, the leader of this group, Ranajit Guha, adopts the Concise Oxford Dictionary definition. ‘Subaltern’, he writes, means ‘of inferior rank and will be used in these pages as the word referring to the general attributes of subordination in South-Asian society, be they expressed in terms of class, caste, age, gender, work or in any other way’ (1982: vii). Thus, subaltern does not designate a social entity but refers to power relations between the dominant and the dominated who consent to, or resist, their subordination according to their degree of autonomy in relation to the dominant. Between 1982 and 1989, Subaltern Studies, the series of volumes inspired by this programme, destabilized the ‘grand narratives’ of the struggle for independence, irrespective of whether the narrative was of colonialist, communist or nationalist inspiration. By re-centring history on the people, on their universe of thought and experience, and on their capacity for action and resistance, this collective of historians gave a new impulse to the emergence of the ‘voiceless’ – that is, of people ‘deprived of history’ (the untouchables, low castes and women) in the Indian, and in the international, academic world. According to Ranajit Guha’s definition, Baby Halder reunites three ‘attributes of subordination’ (Guha 1982): her sex, her poverty and her caste. From childhood, she has known the depths of hunger, and it is because her mother is unable to feed her three eldest children that she abandons them, taking the youngest with her. Four years of age at this point, the little girl falls under the authority of Baba, her alcoholic father, and of his mistresses who abuse her. ‘After all, what had Baba given us except fear?’ (Halder 2006: 11). At the age of twelve, he marries Baby Halder off to Shankar, fourteen years her senior. With him she is subject again to blows, fear and hunger (he starves her when she is pregnant), and to the restrictive rules of 3 Dalit,

from the Marathi, means crushed or divided. This word, charged with revolt, was forged by Ambedkar to refer to untouchables, and was taken up again in the 1970s by the first untouchable writers. Dalit literature now refers primarily to literary works produced by the writers belonging to the ex-untouchable castes, now better known as Dalits.

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behaviour that are applied to the feminine sex – repository as the woman is of the honour of the line of descent in the patriarchal Indian system. She has to cover her head in his presence and to wait for him at home to serve his meals, and she does not work – as tradition requires her not to do, a tradition that is, above all, followed by the higher castes. Baby Halder is lower caste: witness to this is Baba’s series of jobs as well as the potters’ caste to which Shankar’s father belongs. But, the practices of sanskritization – the principle according to which lower castes imitate higher ones in the hope of raising their status, and of thus mounting the steps of the caste hierarchy – make the seclusion of women an ideal shared by all. Baby Halder’s mother prefers abandoning her children to working in order to feed them; but for the daughter, economic imperatives are more important than those of status. When her three children grow up and money is short, she takes a job. Shankar neither prevents her, nor does he approve; but he takes advantage of her doing so, and reduces his financial contribution to the life of the household even more. Mean, taciturn, a liar, brutal, limited by his instincts, he rapes his young wife of twelve, and hits her on any pretext. She owes a particularly painful miscarriage to his blows. ‘He treated me as if I were an animal’, she writes (Halder 2006: 64). She tells of how three women died in terrible conditions because of their husbands, and explains that trance sessions have as their aim delivering the possessed of sufferings that are mainly of conjugal origin. For all women, patriarchy aggravates considerably the constraints and incapacities that are linked to their caste and class. In Bama’s Sangati (2005), the story of a community of Christian untouchables, the majority of the women dig deep to find the strength to do their daily tasks, to earn their living and to put up with the domestic tyranny, thanks to an exuberant female solidarity (van Woerkens 2010: 233–4). Baby’s resilience also comes from her female neighbours who comfort her, and find her work (first as a servant, and then as an auxiliary in a hospital), and who dare to berate Shankar, and give him examples of happy forms of life that fall outside the norm, such as the three married sisters who live together without their husbands (Halder 2006: 74). Her female neighbours also offer her hospitality, inviting her to watch TV which is, along with the cinema, a cherished entertainment of the people in the Durgapur area where Baby lives. While her accommodation is without water (that is supplied to her by her friends), this female solidarity – which helps her to survive and to wish for a better life – is forbidden by Shankar. The dichotomy between the elite and the subaltern, between domination and resistance, has led historians of the subaltern to privilege ‘the virile form of a deliberate and violent onslaught’ (O’Hanlon 2002: 180), while there 236

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exist kinds of resistance that are very modest, that are inscribed in small daily acts and that are carried out in areas of life that appear to be disconnected from the political as the latter is ordinarily understood (Ibid.: 169). The advances made by Baby Halder are of this kind. The suffering she undergoes, the disappointments, the disgust that Shankar inspires in her and the paralysis in their relationship lead her to secretly imagine that she should escape. Despite the silent disapproval, or disagreement, of her husband, she works, and her children go to school; she also breaks his diktats despite the punishments awaiting her (she sees her friends; she encourages Dulal, her childhood friend, to pay her a visit). After yet another public scene in which Shankar ‘shouted the vilest of abuses’ at her and began to beat her up (Halder 2006: 111), she leaves, taking her three children with her. From out of the tiny bits of autonomy that she has won in her married life, there follows independence. She works and becomes the head of a family. In order to free herself from her husband and her father – the two men who have devastated her life and are putting pressure on her to return to it – she flees Durgapur for Delhi, her three children still in tow. In the register of virility, her flight is considered an act of cowardice. In this case it means courage. The twenty-sevenyear-old young woman only has the address of her brother scribbled on a bit of paper for sustenance on her journey. In Delhi, Baby Halder enters the cohort of almost 5 million housemaids working in the Indian metropolis. Mainly internal emigrants – most often illiterate or semieducated – the majority belongs, like Baby Halder, to the low castes or to the untouchables. These ‘silent slaves’, as they are called, are part of the black economy and have no legal rights. Baby Halder’s first employer, a sadist and quite mad, requires her employee to be available at all times. Baby Halder leaves her, and gets herself hired by Prabodh Kumar. The hiring scene that she describes is emblematic of the feudal power that he holds.

‘The woman who works here is paid Rs 800. I will see how you

work and then decide on what to pay you’. ‘All right’, I said, and asked what my timings would be. ‘As early as possible, because I am an early riser’. The next day, when I came to work, I saw a 35–40 year old widow heading into the same house to work. Sahib was outside watering the plants. The moment he saw me, he went into the house and told the woman that she should leave, he had found someone else. She came out and started abusing me. (Halder 2006: 138)

Prabodh Kumar, a retired professor of ethnology and the father of two grown-up sons, lives alone. His servant works well and quickly. Her liveliness, 237

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good nature and the difficulties against which she struggles move him. He convinces her to move into his house with her two youngest children. He finds them a school close by. Look, Baby: think of me as your father, brother, mother, friend, anything . . . My children call me Tatush. You can also call me by that name . . . You’re like my daughter, and you’re now the daughter of this house. (Ibid.: 141) Baby Halder loves to while away time in his library. Prabodh asks her about her education, and admires her extraordinary memory. He lends her a book, Taslima Nasrin’s Amar Meyebela, and makes sure that she reads it. Encouraged by all these signs, he gives her a copy book and a pen: ‘Here. Write something in this notebook. If you want, you can write your life story in this. Whatever has happened in your life since you can remember, and you became aware of yourself’ (Ibid.: 143). In saying this, the professor adopts the aim of the subalternist historian by entrusting his young employee with the task of reconstructing the alterity that she incarnates. Prabodh deploys the weapons of seduction to make her progress. He multiplies the signs of equality between them, insisting on serving her when they eat together, encouraging her to go out and enjoy herself, and he exhorts her to give less importance to her domestic tasks: ‘There is no need to run around so much’ (Ibid.: 151). Enthused by the first results of the debutante, he involves his Calcutta friends in this adventure. They encourage her and recommend that she do nothing else: ‘Remember that God has placed you on this earth to write’ (Ibid.: 154). Prabodh then proposes that he become her patron. Baby Halder takes up the challenge and resists at the same time. She writes, reviving the meagre baggage of skills acquired during her chaotic education. Her relationship with her employer is transformed, but not to the point of immediately calling him Tatush, like his sons do. In the form Prabodhji that she still uses, the ji suffix indicates respect and admiration. Nor does their relationship change to the point of her accepting his support without reciprocation. She works during the day, and dedicates her evening to writing and reading. She appropriates the symbols of her domination, while maintaining her position and class. She privileges role flexibility. In resisting ‘modestly’ by avoidance, she organizes her existence on her own terms. In a total break with the brutal authority that he exercised at the hiring scene, Prabodh Kumar gives in to the wishes of his employee. In 238

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opening a path to a deep and desirable social change, the two extremes of the social hierarchy collaborate, support each other, exchange services and knowledge and yet display reciprocal respect for the difference between them. However, Prabodh Kumar’s enthusiasm, and that of his circle of intellectual friends, is, within circumscribed limits of a cannibal order. They try to integrate Baby Halder into their world, to shape her according to their norms, to affectionately impose their material and cultural domination. They propose that she dedicate herself to only writing, and to renounce her economic independence, in the image of the traditional model of the highcaste women. They even attribute literary precursors who belong to their intellectual world. In one of his numerous letters, Jethu, a friend from Calcutta, writes to her: Your Tatush must have told you about Ashapurna Devi, the writer who used to finish all her housework and then write in secret . . . Your Tatush and I, who do not have even an inch of writing in us, know a little bit about this world of writing, and our hope is that you will be the new Ashapurna Devi. (Halder 2006: 156) Contrary to the portrait that Jethu draws in this letter, Ashapurna Devi – the famous, cultivated writer, from the Brahmin caste, and remarkably prolific – wrote neither ‘in secret’ (as he claims) for her husband encouraged her, nor did she write ‘after having finished her domestic tasks’ (as he pretends), which she was certainly happy to supervise given her affluence. In her novels (almost 150 of them), women ‘are her principal characters . . . Rebellion, deviance, anger, resentment and passion are portrayed . . . but the old order is always carefully restored’, write Susie Tharu and K. Lalita in their opus on Indian women writers (Tharu and Lalita 1991: 476). However, in order to suggest Ashapurna Devi as a model for Baby Halder and to claim closeness between them, Jethu distorts the writing conditions of the great writer, and says nothing about the conservative nature of her female characters as well as their high social origins. As for Prabodh Kumar, what paths does he not take to mention the Diary of Anne Frank in connection with A Life Less Ordinary? After having opened a textual space where subalterns speak for themselves in their distinctive voices, subalternist historians have often made them say what preoccupies them (that is, the historians), and have represented them in their own image as autonomous subjects: free and sovereign – that is, as the Enlightenment conceived them (O’Hanlon 2002: 164). It is this devouring, and only apparently altruist, slope that Prabodh and Jethu 239

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descend. The illusion of Indian feminists from the middle and upper classes of the second wave – who assumed that the domination they were undergoing was universally the case – proceeds from the same reflex (van Woerkens: 2010). In these elitist, well-intentioned discourses, the voices of the ‘voiceless’, of ‘people deprived of history’, of subalterns, women writers, and women in general, become prisoners of their mediators’ voices. The media, for its part, has applauded the very fecund meeting between the generous intellectual and his employee. Many journalists have detailed the chain of participants who gave birth to A Life Less Ordinary (the editorial work, translation from Bengali to Hindi by Prabodh Kumar in 2002, then its translation from Hindi to English by Urvashi Butalia in 2006), creating some doubt about the authenticity of the work. As no research has been undertaken on the different states of the manuscript, which would be the only way to silence, or to back up this suspicion, the latter remains, mixed with the homage paid to Professor Kumar, grandson of the illustrious writer Munchi Premchand (1880–1936), as also with the celebration of the lucky break from which Baby Halder has benefited. More or less shorn of her agency and of her status as woman, her profession is presented as an enigma. Is she servant or writer? The choice most often made is that she is a servant, whose talents as a writer are found wanting. ‘Her direct and simple way of writing’ (Times of India), her ‘uneven and jerky’ story (New York Times), her ‘flowing story that flows, crude and undigested’ (Arunima Mukherjee) – all such statements imply the absence of culture, refinement and reflectiveness, in terms that could by metonymy be applied to the person herself. In Hindu thought, this means inferiority of women as well as that of the low castes – and of untouchables – which is inherent in their nature, and which comes from their innate impurity and which is so polluting that no ritual can remove it. This subtext, which recalls Baby Halder’s humble origin, goes hand in hand with her exclusion from high literature whose conventions and canons she does/cannot respect. However, the media also proposes another precursor for Baby Halder’s work. This one is not from an earlier period; nor is she as learned as the one Jethu and Prabodh Kumar had suggested. This one is related to popular culture. By highlighting the event, it becomes a scoop in which Prabodh becomes the generous king who turns Cinderella into a rich and famous woman – one that the media can easily link A Life Less Ordinary to the fairy story tradition that is illustrated in its cinema version today by the film Slumdog Millionaire.4 After a particularly sordid 4

This British film, directed by Danny Boyle, which came out in 2008, is based on a novel by Vikas Swarup, Q & A; it won eight Oscars.

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life as a ‘dog of the slums’, the young hero Jamal gets rich with a few strokes of the magic wand, thanks to a TV game show; at this point, usually, a few quick lines are enough to mention the less spectacular trajectory of Baby Halder. While the elite admires her style and aims to sanskritize her, to raise her status (Prabodh integrates her into his family, encourages her to write, propels her into his circle of friends, etc.), the media allude to her origins in order to further celebrate, it seems, the elite, and to glamourize the staggering ascension of a housemaid cum writer, who is still faithful to her job as an employee. No reason is put forward to explain in what way this autobiography is subaltern, and in what way it is superior to others. Might this literary genre be an empty shell? This is not so. In any case, at the very least, the genre includes, of course, the autobiographies of Dalit women. Clearly, what is in question here is a very particular kind of subaltern – that is, one from the untouchable caste. And, public opinion (including, ultimately, the opinion of the interested parties themselves) wants their writings to constitute a domain all of its own, without a yardstick to compare it to other domains. It is true that, at first sight, the differences do seem irreducible between A Life Less Ordinary and, for example, The Prisons We Broke (2008)5 by Baby Kamble. The Prisons We Broke is a masterpiece of female Dalit literature. The author’s writing is galvanized by a lyrical quality, by courage and fervour. Haunted by the destitution and the abject misery of the Mahars in the 1930s, and overcome by horror and pity for them, the author bursts out in indignation when faced with the same people fifty years later. They are now ‘sanskritized’ – a state of affairs brought about by the reservations policy. She reminds the affluent who have become forgetful of their less fortunate fellows. Remember, what you are today is solely because of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. This life of luxury has been possible for you because of him. But for him, you would have had to spend your life in some hut with earthen pots. You would have been begging around for food, and biting into carcasses to fight the pangs of hunger. (123) . . . ‘If Bhim had not come and raised us up, all you would have is a hut with some earthen pots’ [and your children] ‘with their empty stomachs, would be moving around, wailing in a fetid hole’. (264)

5

In the French translation by Guy Poitevin, 1991, it is titled Notre Existence.

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Baby Kamble writes in the name of her native community of Maharashtra, and above all in the name of its women.

In my personal life, I had to suffer like many other women. But

how do you go and talk about it when everybody is suffering? (154) . . . I wrote about what my community experiences. The suffering of my people became my own suffering. Their experiences became mine. So I really find it difficult to think of myself outside of my community. (130)

Her penetrating eye, curiosity and empathy are put to work with meticulous care while describing the material culture and the social and religious customs of the Mahar. A peerless observer of the high castes which starve this virtually free workforce, pushing it back to the margins of humanity, she also regrets the hatred and envy that eat away at the dominated. A militant, in revolt, and a radical, Baby Kamble rejects Hindu gods, believing only in the Constitution prepared by Bhim (Ambedkar) whose values she defends: ‘Character is the pillar of this Constitution, truth is its roof, and morality, its foundation. This is the home of humanity. This is our house, decorated with these three jewels’ (123). Baby Halder does not write in the name of her caste; nor does she deliver any political message. She ‘outlines her desires to attain and enjoy the quality and privileges of a ‘respectable’, bhadra, life (Banerjee 2011: 204). When she mentions cultural facts (e.g. the ceremonies of her marriage and of the rituals carried out at the time of her first pregnancy), essentially religious ones, they concern her directly. The world only exists through the filter of her personal experience. Her characters are those close to her – family, female and male neighbours – they are part of her story, and have marked her by their behaviour or words. Added to the contradictions, ambiguities and perplexities that this immediate circle provoked in her as a child, and then as an adult, there is the enigma she represents for herself. Thus, when she meets her mother again years after having been abandoned, she feels only indifference and incomprehension. But, at the end of her story, her mother suddenly comes back into her memory, and the emotion is so great that the ‘I’ of the narrator gives way to the third person form: Baby looks at the sky, as if searching for her mother, as if to say to her, ‘Ma, come and see once, I still want to read and write, I want my children to read and write. They need your blessings, Ma’ (162). Baby Halder’s privileged field of investigation is psychology, the fluctuations in interpersonal relations and the intrigues in which she is caught up 242

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and through which she discovers herself. She describes admirably how Prabodh Kumar becomes fond of her, how he progressively encircles her with its acts of consideration and how she gives in and resists these at the same time. Her father – brutal, terrifying, inconsistent and, in bouts, loving and tender – is a model of the mercurial. Even simple Shankar has his mysterious side: why is it that he beats his wife but never raises a hand to his children? The narrator’s interest is directed towards the hard core of her existence: the family drama, her relationships with others and the enigmatic powers of her inner life. Her minimalist, often cutting, writing goes hand in hand with the meandering path of her quest with its almost novelistic inspiration. This comparative sketch testifies to the immense diversity of representations of the subaltern. This is due not only to the distance between periods (the 1930s to 1980s for Baby Kamble, the 1970s to 1990s for Baby Halder), but also to the different registers of their writing, the almost opposite personalities of the two writers, and to their different castes. However, here one can ask: is the difference between them as irreducible as it appears? Curiously, Baby Halder suggests that it is not in her story. When she notes that her Brahmin employers let her ‘do everything’ in the house while they respect ‘all the customary practices of purity and pollution’ (Halder 2006: 102), she assumes that her condition and her status are not very distant from that of the untouchable women whose impurity by birth forbids them to access the homes of the upper castes. A few paragraphs further on, she says the opposite, when the behaviour of one of the members of this Brahmin family inspires in her the following reflection: ‘Just because we are poor doesn’t mean we can’t be touched’ (103). This protest – the way in which she regards herself and just as the way in which she looks at others – implies proximities between the lower castes and untouchables. The confusion between them is due, she writes, to poverty. The latter blurs – wrongly, according to her – the boundaries that tell them apart. This is indeed so for, in the conventional sense of the term, Halder’s story is apolitical, and says nothing about the forms of submission and oppression6 which haunt The Prisons We Broke. However, it is also not so since the two works are witnesses to common female experiences: to vulnerability (hunger, the marriages and the early pregnancies; the anaemia, indeed the depressed dejection of the women and children), to the lack of skills (the summary education, the servile jobs) and to domestic violence. Blows, 6 These

are tending to disappear nowadays for the urban untouchables; see Deliège (2007: 34–41).

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sadism, mutilation – sometimes even murder – are the ordinary and tolerated forms of men’s power over women among the Mahars of the Maharashtra of Baby Kamble. This is similar to the fate of Christian Dalits in Tamil Nadu as described by Amba, the narrator of Sangati. In the Indian slums, most people have a single room without water or a toilet, just like Baby Halder in Durgapur. In Delhi, there is no other solution than the vague areas ‘where there are pigs and many other animals’ (Halder 2006: 141) to relieve natural needs. Promiscuity is a burden. After having been hit, Baby Halder says to the neighbour who has taken her in: ‘I am not going there any more . . . If I go back, the same thing will start all over again and my life will not only be a living hell but it will become a sideshow for anyone who wants to watch’ (Ibid.: 112). Finally, without any notice being given, bulldozers twice destroy the area, scattering her belongings. ‘Who has done this? . . . What was I to do now? Where were we to go? How would I find a new place so soon, at this time of the day?’ (Ibid.: 146). These experiences are not only true for the lower castes. Moreover, they also affect the trajectories of people who are buffeted about by the labour market, by neo-liberal globalization, by the massive and anarchic urbanization. This is described by the anthropologist Jonathan Parry in ‘The Marital History of “A Thumb-Impression Man” ’ (Parry 2004: 281–318). In his article, Parry reconstructs the marital life of Somvaru, his illiterate and untouchable informant in the township of Bilai in Chhattisgarh. Baby Halder’s experiences as well as her neighbours’ in the town of Durgapur and the city of Delhi echo the breakdown of family ties, the reconstituted families, the sexual freedom (serial marriages, the sudden disappearances of husbands or wives) are also narrated by Somvaru. Baby Halder’s way of conveying this is more discreet, and more in keeping with her gender; but the great beneficiaries of this freedom are the men, her father included. However, some of her women neighbours have secret relationships while others, like Nisha, are open about theirs. The authors of Dalit Women Speak Out (Irudayam et al. 2011: 1–24) compare Dalit women to other women, and write that the kinds of oppression undergone by the former are ‘worse’ than those by the latter. This difference of degree, not of nature, breaks away from the identity politics to which Dalit women had recourse in the 1990s. During this period, they organized themselves into Dalit women’s groups to fight against the caste and economic discriminations they were suffering from and which were until then ignored by the mainstream middle class Indian feminists (van Woerkens 2010: 205–6). Twenty years later the exaltation of difference is attenuated. This ‘worse’ refuses any exaltation of differences, and encourages one to notice the continuities when class 244

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and gender are the same, and enlarges the horizon of women’s struggles to beyond that of caste interests. Amba, the narrator of Sangati, writes that few women have ‘the guts’ (118) to choose their life, contrary to herself who decides to never marry and to teach. ‘Shine by your knowledge’, recommended Ambedkar to the Dalits. This recommendation was followed devotedly by Baby Kamble (1991), Shantabai Kamble, Kumud Pawade (2006), as also Baby Halder who flees Shankar less for the blows she receives than, it seems, for the hostility that he manifests in connection with the education of the children. What unites these women writers is linked to their victory over illiteracy to which their ‘attributes of subordination’ (Guha 1982) had condemned them. Contrary to the nineteenth century, when only highcaste women were educated and wrote, subaltern women are now writing. There is no need for historians to reconstruct their mental universe and experiences. They are entering history by writing their lives, by transforming their experiences and their combats into stories. They are resisting powerful determinist forces, the grip of poverty and of patriarchy by their actions, and they are grounding their conquest in the freedom of writing. As it appears here, female, subaltern literature is, thus, for the most part made up of life stories that reflect the subalternity of their authors. A wider definition encompasses those who make themselves into the spokespersons of ‘subaltern voices’, such as Mahashveta Devi. Whatever way it is done, the transfer of a grid of historiographical reading onto a literary genre seems to convert the concept of the subaltern into a cultural quasiinstitutionalization of inferiority and subordination. However, whereas for the pioneering historians of Subaltern Studies, this inferiority and subordination were the levers of social transformation, A Life Less Ordinary is a fairy story in which the two protagonists open a desirable political space, but one as fleeting as the luck contained in a lottery ticket. In the reception of this first autobiography of a housemaid ever written in India (Banerjee 2011), no attention has been given to the exploitation of this professional category that is indispensable to the well-being of the middle and upper classes, to the relations of force between the dominating and the dominant, to the violence between men and women, to the ‘modest’ forms of resistance and, more generally, to a social critique starting with a female experience that is similar to so many others – in short, to what one can call the alterity of ordinary women’s lives. The evolution of the concept of the subaltern seems to follow an analogous pattern. Historians like Jacques Pouchepadass (2000), David Ludden (2002), Rosalind O’Hanlon (2002) and Sumit Sarkar (1998) who describe, 245

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and sometimes deplore, the evolution of subaltern studies say more or less the same thing. Under the influence of postmodernism and postcolonialism and of their disenchantment with universal values, and with the end of social utopia, these studies privilege the local and the fragmentary, culture and difference, community (often religious) and identity politics. The particular, unique, incomparable and ‘subaltern’ trajectory of Baby Halder refers, in point of fact, to the fragmentation via the heroization of the ‘piece of luck’, of an individual destiny. It refers implicitly to the recognition of irreducible differences and of homogenous and exclusive identities, since female Dalit writing is not made an issue. And, it also refers more widely to a decontextualizing bias, given the historicity of female autobiographies. Nowadays, an academic nebula, national and international, claims to be subalternist; and, the importance of this current has no doubt contributed to the success of A Life Less Ordinary, and to its translation into more than twenty languages. By glorifying this work with this scholarly concept, and then annexing it to the literary establishment and to the contemporary mythology of ‘success stories’ that celebrate the ascension of the Indian middle classes (Varma 2005), the elite and the media draw the new contours of subaltern female literature. Uprooted, hybridized, inscribed in globalized culture, this literature appears finally to be just another avatar of women’s writings, a subaltern illustration of their supposed common ability to make their lives ‘less’ ordinary. 7

References Bama. L’Assemblée. Trans. from Tamil by Josiane Racine. Paris: Ed. de l’Aube, 1994. Deliège, Robert. Intouchables. Entre révoltes et intégration. Paris: Albin Michel, 2007. Banerjee, Swapna. ‘Risking Life, Writing Selves: From the Trailblazer P. Wadder to the Rebellious Baby Halder’, in They Dared: Essays in Honour of Pritilata Wadder, (ed.) Simonti Sen. Kolkata: Anima Biswas, 2011; 198–220. Guha, Ranajit. Subaltern Studies I, Writings on South Asian History and Society. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1982. Halder, Baby. A Life Less Ordinary, Trans. from Hindi by Urvashi Butalia. New Delhi: Zubaan/Penguin Books, 2006. Irudayam, Aloysius S. J., P. Jayshree Mangubhai and G. Joel Lee. Dalit Women Speak Out: Caste, Class, and Gender Violence in India. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2011. Kamble, Baby. ‘Notre existence’, Parole de femme intouchable, Trans. from Marathi by Guy Poitevin. Paris: Côté-femmes, 1991.

7

In the Hindu tradition, power and status are disassociated, and kings and Brahmins constitute different castes in the hierarchy, with status carrying the day, in theory, over power.

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Kamble, Baby. The Prisons We Broke. Trans. from Marathi by Maya Pandit. Chennai: Orient Longman, 2008. Ludden, David. ‘A Brief History of Subalternity’, in Reading Subaltern Studies: Critical History, Contested meaning and the Globalization of South Asia, (ed.) David Ludden. London: Anthem Press, 2002. O’Hanlon, Rosalind. ‘Recovering the Subject: Subaltern Studies and Histories of Resistance in Colonial South Asia’, in Reading Subaltern Studies: Critical History, Contested meaning and the Globalization of South Asia, (ed.) David Ludden. London: Anthem Press, 2002. Parry, Jonathan. ‘The Marital Life of “A Thumb-Impression Man” ’, in Telling Lives in India: Autobiography and Life History, (eds.) David Arnold and Stuart Blackburn. New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2004; 281–318. Pouchepadass, Jacques. ‘Les Subaltern Studies ou la critique postcoloniale de la modernité’. L’Homme Vol. 156 (October–December 2000): 161–86. Pawade, Kumud. ‘Antasphot’, Writing Caste, Writing Gender: Narrative Dalit Women’s Testimonios, (ed.) Sharmila Rege. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2006; 227–54. Sarkar, Sumit. ‘The Decline of the Subaltern’, Writing Social History. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998; 82–108. Tharu, Susie and K. Lalita. Women Writings in India, 600 BC to the Early 20th Century. London: Harper and Collins, 1991. van Woerkens, Martine. Nous ne sommes pas des fleurs. Deux siècles de combats féministes en Inde. Paris: Albin Michel, 2010. Varma, Pavan, K. Le Défi indien. Pourquoi le XXIe siècle sera le siècle de l’Inde. Arles: Actes Sud, 2005.

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15 WITNESSING AND EXPERIENCING DALITNESS In defence of Dalit women’s Testimonios Sara Sindhu Thomas

Indian society has a unique stratification that is based on ritual purity, a fallout of the caste system which places the Brahmin on top, and the shudras at the bottom of the four-tiered caste structure.1 To this structure is added one more category after the shudras – the ati-shudras or the Dalits, who are looked down upon by all the other castes and, as a consequence, end up occupying the lowest position on the social ladder. From this low subservient position, Dalits further acquired the additional status of ‘pollutants’ and ‘untouchables’ which, once again, relegated them to the margins of society. In this complex and convoluted scenario, Dalit women also found themselves marginalized in double ways: as a Dalit and as a woman. This double marginal status was accorded to them in literature too, which eventually propelled Dalit women to write about their experiences. Over the years, Dalit literature has been inundated with autobiographical writing as it is considered to be personal and, therefore, more authentic. Dalit women have also made use of the testimonio as it provides them the opportunity to record their experiences in print – their own subjective experiences both as victims of oppression and as witnesses to the Dalit experience as undergone by others (including Dalit women) in their community. Moreover, in the Indian context, there is a need for a multiplicity 1 Indian

society is based on the class system mentioned in the ancient religious texts of the Hindus. According to them, there were only four varnas (classes): the Brahmins (priests) were placed in the highest rank, followed by the Kshatriyas (warriors), then by the Vaishyas (traders) and lastly by the Shudras (skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labourers doing menial work) who occupied the lowest position in this hierarchical structure. This classbased hierarchy gradually evolved into caste-based distinctions.

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of perspectives to widen and modify our academic pedagogies. The use of the genre of testimonio would require critics/readers to move beyond the traditional genres of literature in order to understand the subjective experiences of Dalits, and to make the upper castes more sensitive to the anguish of Dalit experience and Dalit existence. The testimonio as a genre has been very popular with Latin American women writers, which has led to many of them claiming that it belongs exclusively to women as they render a more ‘true’ and ‘authentic’ account, in contrast to other testimonies in general (Armstrong 2005: 2). John Beverley has defined a testimonio as a novel or novella length narrative in book or pamphlet (that is, printed as opposed to acoustic) form, told in the first person by a narrator who is also the real protagonist or witness of the events he or she recounts, and whose unit of narration is usually a ‘life’ or a significant life experience. (1992: 92–3) As a narrative, it is relegated to the margins of literature, along with its subject. The testimonio is also the voice of the witness who speaks collectively for a marginalized group that remains silent. Bama’s Karukku (translated into English with the same title in 1992) and Urmila Pawar’s Aaydan (2003; translated into English as The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs in 2008) are two books that fall under the testimonio rubric.2 Though Bama and Pawar represent different states and different socio-cultural milieus in India – the former hails from the state of Tamil Nadu in south India and the latter hails from the state of Maharashtra in western India – the two writers deal with similar predicaments as experienced by them in person as Dalits and also by the people of their community, especially Dalit women. In her Foreword to Pawar’s testimonio, Wandana Sonalkar states that the genre ‘combines witnessing and experiencing in an 2

Karukku: In Tamil, karukku means palmyra leaf. These leaves, with serrated edges on both sides, are like double-edged swords. The serrated edges are sharp, like saw blades, and can hurt one if care is not taken. Bama herself remembers the innumerable times she has experienced the pain of being torn by karukku while collecting firewood in her childhood. Bama finds it appropriate to give the title of Karukku to her testimonio as she feels that, just as the double-edged karukku hurt her, she too intended to keep her oppressors slashed by fighting for a life free of bondage and subjugation.   Aaydan: In Marathi, aaydan means bamboo baskets. It is the main caste-based occupation of the Mahar community in the Konkan region. Pawar belonged to this community. Pawar finds a lot of similarities between her mother’s weaving of aaydans and the complex weave of Dalit women’s lives.

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act of sharing that gives it a political force’ (Pawar 2008: viii). The testimonio examines Dalit women’s issues entering the public sphere. This essay discusses the testimonios of Bama and Pawar not merely as texts that document the experiential realities of Dalit women, both as victims and as witnesses, but also as innovative cultural texts that engage in creating spaces for confronting and contesting established notions of identity that is problematized by the intersection of caste and gender for the Dalit woman. The testimonios under consideration in this paper recount the manifold ways in which caste abuse is experienced by both Bama and Pawar as subjects/experiencers (Sarukkai 2007: 4045) and as witnesses to caste injustices inflicted on other Dalit women; however, they also simultaneously challenge and subvert ‘the singular communitarian notion of the Dalit community’ (Rege 2006: 14). The severity of caste oppression which manifests itself in the practice of untouchability, casteism, illiteracy, religious exploitation and superstitions inflicted on the Dalit woman is the same as it is for Dalit men and, thus, the subjective experience assumes immense significance in Dalit women’s testimonios. This subjective experience includes what Gopal Guru has called ‘lived experience’, and it is considered to be the most authentic experience as it encompasses the notion of the lived experience. The ‘lived experience’ of Dalits is one in which the Dalit has no control over a particular experience; on the contrary, she/he as a Dalit ‘will have to live with that experience’ (Sarukkai 2007: 4045). This means that they will have to also experience the resultant fear, the will to survive, the understanding that is generated by being in such a situation – all of which then become a part of this ‘lived experience’. In other words, it entails that, as Dalits, they become/are subjects who experience Dalitness or ‘differentness’ (Dangle 1994: viii). Dalitness includes all that is negative, ugly and the seamier side of life that encompasses ignorance, drunkenness, violence, internal rivalry, struggle for survival and death. And, despite all efforts undertaken by them to overcome their hardships, to survive and to succeed, their ‘Dalitness’ is something that does not leave them. According to Limbale, Dalits may attain educational, economic, social and political success, but their unique Dalitness remains . . . The uniqueness of the Dalit experience . . . rests in the fact that the core of Dalit materiality is untouchability, which results in the naming the Dalit as the unclean impure Other. (Limbale 2004: 12) Dalitness ensures that the Dalit will always have the outsider status accorded to him/her. 250

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The subjective experiences recounted by Bama and Pawar give an account of the caste injustices and gender-based atrocities suffered by them in person, and those inflicted on other Dalit women in their everyday life. For the Dalit women, ‘lived experience’ includes the everyday lived experience, which, in turn, reflects the texture of their everyday life, with its struggles, toils and tales of survival. Significantly, the texts do not merely record the sordid sagas of Dalit women at the individual and collective levels; they almost become exposés as far as detailing the squalor and brutality of their experiences is concerned. The writers do not compromise on their language of expression but insist on a truthful narration, in all its gory and gruesome detail (Limbale 2004: 10). In her introduction to the translation of Bama’s Karukku, Lakshmi Holmström writes, ‘This is certainly not comfortable reading for anyone’ (Bama 2000: vii). But, despite the unpleasantness in the descriptions of their experiences, Bama and Pawar attempt to turn their testimonios into works that seek to analyse the realities and complexities of living as the marginalized. The writers resist both silence and the distortions that are offered to Dalit women in dominant discourses. They have dared to bring out in the open ugly truths: the all-pervading casteism in society and the sexism exercised within and outside their community. In Karukku, Bama recounts an incident witnessed by her as a young child wherein her grandmother, Paatti, was humiliated by a Naicker (upper caste) lady in whose house she worked. After a hard day’s toil comprising of filthy chores, Paatti would place her vessel that she had brought with her near the drain. The Naicker lady would hold her vessel filled with leftover food at a good distance, and pour it into Paatti’s vessel, taking care all the time not to let her vessel touch Paatti’s, lest it got polluted. When Bama tells Paatti that she should not expose herself to this kind of humiliation, Paatti’s responds saying, ‘These people are the maharajas who feed us our rice. Without them, how will we survive? Haven’t they been upper-caste from generation to generation, and haven’t we been lower-caste? Can we change this?’ (Bama 2000: 14). There is a note of resignation in Paatti’s words: it is as if Paatti and her ilk have come to accept their low subservient position, and that is where they are doomed to remain. There seems little hope for people like Paatti to break free from such a situation. However, there are others who refuse to be passive recipients of castebased subjugation and humiliation. Bama’s brother, Annan, is an example of one who tries to resist the inhuman treatment meted out to Dalits, and he tries to instil the seeds of resistance in Bama too. As he explains to her, Because we are born into the Paraya jati, we are never given any honour or dignity or respect. We are stripped of all that. But if we 251

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study and make progress, we can throw away these indignities. So study with care, learn all you can. If you are always ahead in your lessons, people will come to you of their own accord and attach themselves to you. Work hard and learn. (Bama 2000: 15) Education is considered to be a great uplifting factor and a great leveller among Dalits to attain respectability. And, it is this very tool that is consciously denied to them by the upper castes. In schools, Dalit children were made to realize their separateness from mainstream society. The inferiority and humiliation are ingrained in them from childhood, and they grow up internalizing this inferiority and humiliation. The consequence of such treatment is so damaging to their self-esteem that they are very often – even after they mature into adults – unable to pull themselves out of that mental make-up. They go about believing and accepting their condition as something that is inevitable to those belonging to the lower caste. In particular, Dalit girls are easier targets for victimization by both upper caste teachers and students in educational institutions. They are shunned and ridiculed, and even physically abused in classrooms. Bama recounts the psychological trauma inflicted on her in school when she was falsely accused of stealing a coconut from the school premises: she was ‘shamed and insulted in front of all the children’ (Bama 2000: 17). Since she belonged to the Paraya caste, it was taken for granted that only she could have committed such an act. She remembers the insufferable humiliation when the headmaster ‘abused me roundly, using every bad word that came to his mouth and then told me to go to my classroom’ (Ibid.). Worse was the subsequent agony when she entered the classroom, and ‘the entire class turned around to look at me, and I wanted to shrink into myself as I went and sat on my bench, still weeping’ (Ibid.). Dalit girls were even subjected to physical cruelty, as in the instance when Pawar was slapped by her upper caste teacher for refusing to clean the animal waste in the school grounds. If there had been no Dalit girls in the class, the master would have probably meted out a similar punishment to Dalit boys. However, the presence of a Dalit girl provides them the option of selecting her because it is easier to insult a girl. In both these instances, caste combines with gender in playing a role in the humiliation of the Dalit girl. But despite these obstacles, many Dalit girls seek to educate themselves in the hope of a better future, as in the case of Bama who takes her brother’s counsel seriously, studies hard and stands first in class which in turn wins her many friends ‘even though [she was] a paraichi’ (Bama 2000: 15). While denial of education was a means of preventing Dalits from attaining respectability and equality, in the case of Dalit girls this move meant 252

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limiting them to the private realms of the home and family. Even in the face of poverty, it was the Dalit girls who were pulled out of schools first, and kept at home. Bama recalls: ‘It was always the girl children who had to look after all the chores at home. The older women would come home in the evening after a day’s hard work, and then see to the household jobs’ (Ibid.: 45). Young Dalit girls are forced to give up playing with other Dalit children and are, instead, required to carry out household work. As Bama herself explains, ‘In the face of such poverty, the girl children cannot see the sense in schooling, and stay at home collecting firewood, looking after the house, caring for the babies, and doing household chores’ (Ibid.: 68). Thus, the subaltern woman gets entrapped in the familial set-up, and is reduced to carrying out only reproductive and domestic roles, perpetuating the public and personal/domestic divide. And, since this type of work is considered unimportant and is unaccounted for, this role is deemed less dignified. Prevalent cultural practices also confined the Dalit woman to the domestic sphere. Her primary place is considered to be the home where she is allowed to ‘rule’ though, in truth, it is something akin to ‘domestic slavery’ (de Beauvoir 1993: 57). Though she is supposed to be the master of her home, it turns out that it is her husband who is the ‘tyrant’, for he is the one who lays down the rules for others in the family to follow (Donovan 1993: 46). In this context, the family turns out to be another means of extending patriarchal and social control over the woman. Since the Dalit man has access to the public, he is entitled to exercise power and control over the Dalit woman, and it is he who determines her place in society – that is, relegates her to the private space of her home. According to Gopal Guru, ‘the moral code imposed by Dalit patriarchy forced Dalit women into private spheres and denied them public visibility’ (1995: 2549). Dalit women and Dalit girls are subjected to gendered spatial division. Within the Dalit community itself, Dalit men enforce strict gender roles on their women. It is clear that Dalit men dominate the outdoors or the public space, while Dalit girls and women are restricted indoors, that is, within the four walls of the house – or worse still, the kitchen. Thus, for the Dalit woman, while caste prescribes the role, her gender assigns her duties and responsibilities. And, when she attempts to move beyond her prescribed role, it makes Dalit men grow increasingly uneasy. They fear their women taking on public roles, which would make them more independent. By limiting Dalit women to the private sphere, Dalit men are guaranteed control over their wives and their subordination. Thus, the Dalit woman’s personal life becomes the site of her oppression. This takes place in various ways. For Pawar, it was her husband Harishchandra who made it extremely difficult for her to carry out both her personal 253

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and her public roles. In Bama’s case, the Church acted as an impediment in preventing her from doing good for her community. This reveals how Dalit women are resisted by entrenched holders of political power whose reluctance to accept a Dalit woman in a position of power has both caste and gender aspects of oppression. However, ultimately, both women reject these attempts, and seek a greater role for themselves in the public domain. And in this, they set themselves as examples for other women in their community. Pawar joins Dalit women’s organizations like Maitrini and Dalit Mahila Sahitya and works towards the upliftment of Dalit women. She makes use of these public platforms to debate issues that directly concern Dalit women. Bama, on her part, leaves the Church and its community of women, and goes back to join the women of her community. Women are the most vulnerable and the worst affected members of castebased societies. They bear the multiple burdens of caste, class and religion, apart from gender discrimination. Dalit women claim that there is strong male dominance and patriarchy within the Dalit community itself. Domination by Dalit men manifests itself in the physical abuse of their women. In the testimonios discussed in this essay, both Bama and Pawar describe the violent domestic quarrels that are carried on publicly; however, at the same time, these incidents do display the women fighting back. Moreover, patriarchal oppression within the Dalit community is not the only type of oppression experienced by Dalit women. They are also constantly vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of men belonging to other castes. In Karukku, Bama narrates the vulnerability of Dalit women to sexual threats. On one occasion, in a fight between the Chaaliyar and the Paraya castes (the latter are considered Dalits and are therefore lower than the former, who form the weaver caste) in her village, the policemen round up all the Dalit men, and lock them up in jail. Despite having taken away all the Dalit men, the policemen return to the village and barge into Dalit homes, looking for Dalit men who may be hiding there. As expected, they do not find anyone. However, they make use of this opportunity and behave deplorably towards the Dalit women who are now left behind in the village with their young children. Dalit women become unresisting and accessible bodies for the policemen at that moment, and the fear and the passivity displayed by them reveal their inability to stand up against such threats. The policemen swear at the women, hurl sexual abuses at them and pass many lurid remarks heavy with sexual innuendo. [T]he police behaved deplorably towards the women as they went from house to house. They used obscene language and swore at them, told them that since their husbands were away, they should 254

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be ready to entertain the police at night, winked at them and shoved their guns against their bodies. (Bama 2000: 35) What emerges clearly from this incident is that it is their Dalitness that makes Dalit women vulnerable to sexual threats from men belonging to other communities. They would not have behaved so if the women had belonged to the upper castes; but since they are Dalits the policemen take the liberty to outrage their modesty. This is another reason why women in Bama’s village were prevented from watching movies in public cinema halls: it was feared that they would be sexually abused or assaulted by men from other castes, and this would end in dreadful fights between the men of the castes involved. The threat of sexual violence was, thus, equally forbidding in other places as well. Women’s sexuality is considered to be an uncontrolled beast that unknowingly triggers off lustful tendencies in men. This, coupled with the cultural notion that the female body is a site where social respectability is maintained, works against the Dalit woman. Dalit men fear that the women would be reduced to sexual objects and this, in turn, compels them to limit the girls and the women to the confines of the home. As one critic has said: ‘[A]ll issues related to sex and sexuality become the extension of male authority and power and get replicated as relations of dominance and submission’ (Rekha 2010: 157). Here, once again, though matters related to sexual exploitation did not get them the support of other Dalit women, hey joined together at crucial times to stave off and resist threats from upper caste men. The collective role that the writers take on for themselves also enables them to fulfil the next requisite for a testimonio – that of witnessing. As witnesses, they relinquish the ‘I’; instead, the first-person narrator speaks collectively for a marginalized group. Unlike in an autobiography, where the ‘I’ represents a strong personal assertion, in the testimonio, the ‘I’ represents a collective social identity while simultaneously maintaining the significance of the individual subject. As a representative of the collective voice for a marginalized group, the first-person narrator naturally takes on the role of a witness, as one who speaks for another. According to Sarukkai, an experience that is external, which includes what the experiencer observes as a witness, may also be included as the lived experience of Dalits (2007: 4046). As Dalits, both Bama and Pawar have experienced Dalitness, and as witnesses they understand similar experiences in their fellow men. Both writers, thus, become spokespersons for their people who have been rendered voiceless, and therefore, the ‘I’ stands for many; but the ‘I’ is also replaced by the common ‘we’. The ‘self’ expressed in a testimonio cannot be defined in individual terms. It is best understood as a collective self, engaged in a common struggle. 255

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Instead of privileging their own voices, Bama and Pawar use a plethora of voices, especially those of Dalit women, criss-crossing from within their own community, to inform us of the various experiences of Dalits. Pawar begins her testimonio by using several Dalit women’s voices as they make the arduous climb of the harsh mountainous region in order to reach the markets at Ratnagiri where they sell their wares and earn a few rupees. Just like the rough regional terrain, so also the Dalit women in this region lead very harsh and difficult lives. But, at the same time, these journeys up and down every day also became occasions for the women to vividly describe, and share with one another, their daily ordeals/routines/experiences. They sometimes also narrate stories about the exploits of their ancestors who had challenged Brahmanical practices, or resisted exploitation in their native village of Phanswale. However, it must be noted that, as witnesses, while Bama and Pawar consider it significant to voice the trials and tribulations of Dalit women, they are also keen to depict Dalit women as agents in bringing about change, both in their own lives and in the lives of other Dalit women. In Pawar’s The Weave of My Life, her mother, despite being a widow, would string together aaydans not only to make ends meet but also to make sure that her children could get educated. She did not allow poverty to prevent her children being educated, and confronts all those who pose impediments in the way of their progress. A good example is when Pawar complains to her mother about the physical abuse suffered at the hands of the upper caste teacher. She waits for the teacher to pass by their home and accosts him, daring him to beat her child again. She screams at him saying, ‘I am a widow; my life is ruined. Yet I sit here, under this tree and work. Why? Because I want education for my children so that their future will be better. And you treat my girl like this? How dare you?’ (Pawar 2008: 69). Sure enough, after this incident, the master never beats Pawar again. Pawar also reminisces how Dalits in her village paid heed to Babasaheb Ambedkar’s call to the Dalit community to educate themselves so that they may not be suppressed by the higher castes. This saw many Dalit families send their girls to towns to study since the schools in the villages did not admit girls. This enabled Dalit girls to participate in Savarkar’s programme of interdining among upper castes and the untouchables.3 Dalitness is, thus, not only about hunger, poverty, oppression and subjugation; Dalitness is also about the resistance of the disempowered lot against all those negative forces that have been put in place by the 3 Vinayak

Damodar Savarkar (1883−1966) was a revolutionary, reformer, freedom fighter and politician. He started a movement for religious reform advocating the abolishment of the caste system in Hindu culture.

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dominant group. So, while Bama’s and Pawar’s testimonios record tales of Dalit subjugation and misery, they are tales of Dalit resistance and survival against all odds. In their testimonios, they portray how Dalit women are dehumanized by what has been done to them. They try to find an authentic existence in a world that treats them inhumanly. Despite these odds, Dalit women seek to empower themselves, and improve their socio-economic and political circumstances; and, education was one way out of these limiting circumstances. Resistance also takes the form of rejecting all those elements and practices that reduce the Dalits to being the subjugated ‘Other’. For the Dalit community in Pawar’s The Weave of My Life, it means doing away with the gods and rituals that Hinduism propagates, and which they have been following. Hinduism had put in place a hierarchical order that left the Dalits at the bottom of the social order. Pawar vividly remembers the scene of Dharmaantar where all the people of her community converted to Buddhism. They gathered together the images of their gods and goddesses, and discarded them in the river. This brings to an end the religious authority of Hinduism, which has signified a life of subjugation, oppression and humiliation. They began a new life which will ensure dignity and self-respect. For Bama, dignity and self-respect could be achieved only by resisting the efforts of the Church to smother Dalits into submission. Her predicament with religion begins when it dawns on her that the supreme religious institution – the Catholic Church – is itself casteist in its dealings. It is ironic that the Parayars – who had converted to Christianity in order to escape casteist oppression at the hands of high caste Hindus – are unable to escape oppression within the Church. It is with very noble intentions that Bama joins the religious order: it was to truly help Dalit children, and with the single purpose of serving the underprivileged. But, she is shocked when, within the confines of the Church, nuns and priests – who claim that their hearts are set upon the service of God – also discriminate on the basis of caste. Bama is confronted by the truth that it is caste which is the cause for the humiliation and abuse of the Dalits even within the Church. Bama’s first stint was with a Christian order which considered Tamils inferior, and amongst Tamilians, the Tamil Parayar was considered the lowest of the lot, and held no esteem. The convent was not devoid of caste consciousness. Bama comes to believe that the teachings of the Church were such that they instilled more fear than love. According to her, religion was forced on Dalit children, and they were made to learn Bible verses by rote. Attendance for Church service was compulsory, and no one could be absent. For Bama, life in the convent as a nun shattered all notions of a just and loving God. She was tormented with her stay in the convent, and began asking, ‘How long can one play-act this way? Anyway, it wasn’t possible for me. I had to 257

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leave the order and come into the world’ (Bama 2000: 93). Bama reveals her personal disappointment and disillusionment with the Catholic Church when she walks out of the convent after seven years of service as nun. Once Bama leaves the religious order, she feels a sense of fulfilment and ‘belonging’ to the community of Dalit women. According to her, in the Church ‘[t]hey go on and on about the vow of “obedience”, and force us into submission so that we can scarcely lift up our heads. We are not even allowed to think for ourselves in a way that befits our years’ (2000: 98). In Karukku, Bama highlights how the Church perpetuates casteism within its order; and Dalit women like Bama are expected to be meek, subservient and docile – all of which are totally opposed to the teachings of Christ. As Dalits, they have no right to defend themselves; and if they do so, they are further humiliated and abused. In response to this, Bama urges Dalits to seek education, and have a personal understanding of Christ and his teachings. Thus, both writers take on the roles of activists, advocating and charting a plan of action for the others in their community to follow. The oppressive caste structure, combined with gender discrimination, lock Dalit women into oppressive positions within the social construct. However, despite the double oppression, Dalit women refuse to accept the status of victims. They seek to seize a greater role for themselves in the public sphere, which is dominated by men. Bama and Pawar make use of the genre of testimonio to challenge the casteist and patriarchal subjugation inflicted on Dalit women by giving voice to these simultaneously silenced women. Thus, their testimonios come close to becoming activists’ intervention through the literary domain, and project Dalit writing as being an essentially political act. The testimonios also become innovative cultural texts that re-invent and re-assess the presence of the Dalit woman in the social and political scenario. The testimonios under consideration in this essay are proof of Dalit women’s activism in building public platforms for Dalit women to articulate their life stories and struggles. Through them, they also re-inscribe their histories, thereby garnering more space as political subjects. What is evident is that the writers have not set about creating a monolithic identity, but instead present the construction of an identity that is at once individual and collective, of a Dalit and of a woman.

References Armstrong, M. Swathy. ‘Dalit Feminism’, 21 July 2005. http://www.sammaditthi. com/INSIGHT/editorial swathy margaret.asp. Accessed 23 August 2011. Bama. Karukku. Trans. Lakshmi Holmström, (ed.) Mini Krishnan. Chennai: MacMillan India Limited, 2000.

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Beverley, John, ‘The Margin at the Centre: On Testimonio (testimonial narrative)’, in De/Colonizing the Subject: The Politics of Gender in Women’s Autobiography, (eds.) Smith and Watson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992. Dangle, Arjun (ed.). A Corpse in the Well: Translations from Modern Dalit Autobiographies. Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 1994. de Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. Trans. and ed. H. M. Parshley. London: David Campbell Publishers Ltd., 1993. Donovan, Josephine. Feminist Theory: The Intellectual Traditions of American Feminism. New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1993.  Guru, Gopal, ‘Dalit Women Talk Differently’, Economic and Political Weekly Vol. 30, No. 41/42 (14–21 October 1995): 2548–50. http://www.jstor.org Accessed 16 January 2011. Limbale, Sharankumar. Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature. Trans. and ed. Alok Mukherjee. New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2004. Nubile, Clara. The Danger of Gender: Caste, Class and Gender in Contemporary Indian Women’s Writing. New Delhi: Sarup and Sons, 2003. Palmer, Paulina. Contemporary Women’s Fiction: Narrative Practice and Feminist Theory. University of Mississippi Press, 1989. Pawar, Urmila. The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs. Trans. Maya Pandit. Kolkata: Stree, 2008. Rege, Sharmila. Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Reading Dalit Women’s ‘Testimonio’. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2006. Rekha. ‘The Poetics of Space: A Reading of Maheshwata Devi’s Subaltern Stories’, Indian Literature Vol. 260 (November/December 2010): 143–60. Sarukkai, Sundar. ‘Dalit Experience and Theory’. Economic and Political Weekly Vol. 42, No. 40 (6–12 October 2007): 4043–8. Smith, Kathryn M. ‘Female Voice and Feminist Text: Testimonio as a Form of Resistance in Latin America’. Florida Atlantic Comparative Studies Journal Vol. 12 (1 October 2011). http://www.home.fau.edu/peralta/web/FACS/testimonioresistance.pdf. Accessed 18 October 2011.

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16 LITERATURES OF SUFFERING AND RESISTANCE Dalit women’s Testimonios and Black women slave narratives – a comparative study Arpita Chattaraj Mukhopadhyay

[A] people with a past infused by oppression and suffering is charged with a special responsibility, to remember and remind: to redeem that past with a creative meaning to recognize and insist that we must treat one another as equally human, beyond differences of race or nationality, religion or culture, if we are not to become mere beasts that talk. – Ronald Segal (1995: 4)

Dalit existence and the Black American existence are both suffused with a past and a present of ‘oppression and suffering’, of marginalization and exclusion, of segregation and inferiorization. Clearly, this makes for definite correspondences/affinities in their experiences and expressions. The comparability of caste and race has been historically problematic. As Andre Beteille points out in his influential essay, ‘Race, Caste and Gender’, thinkers such as Gunnar Myrdal and Gerald Berreman have foregrounded the inevitability of this comparison, with the understanding that the connotations of ‘race’ are more physiognomic, while ‘caste’ has a socio-economic basis (Beteille 1990: 490). ‘Dalit’ literally means poor or downtrodden; but also attached is the specific connotation of traditionally disadvantaged lowcaste Indian minorities, including the indigenous tribal. This specificity of ‘casteist’ implications of the term ‘Dalit’ is due to its use by B. R. Ambedkar in 1928 in his Bahshkrut Bharat (or ‘India of the Ex-communicated’) (Rege 2006: 11). The term ‘Dalit’ runs the danger of being inundated with oversimplification that does not address the issues of diverse and pertinent 260

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historical, linguistic and religious conditions influencing it. In his The Weapon of the Other: Dalitbahujan Writings and the Remaking of Indian Nationalist Thought 2010, Kancha Ilaiah underlines the denial of and indifference towards the caste question by the Brahmanical nationalist discourse. He observes: Quite surprisingly, Basava, Phule, Periyar and Ambedkar do not figure in any text of nationalism. Their absence is not accidental but well-designed; the design of constructing a Self into nationhood and to make the Other totally invisible in that very nation. (2010: xxx) Protest and resistance against this hierarchical, hegemonic, exclusionist discourse has taken many forms, Dalit literature being a significant one. ‘Dalit Sahitya’ emerged as a deliberate rhetoric of radical challenge to the established perceptions almost concurrently with the rise of the ‘Dalit ­Panthers’ in the 1960s. As the nomenclature suggests, the Panthers derived their inspiration from the Black Panthers of the United States, and shared their revolutionary aspirations of establishing their autonomous identity and culture. The experiences conveyed in both Black American and Dalit writings have surfaced from life based on inequalities and discriminations; both prefer the idiom of protest and resistance against the social system which oppresses them on the basis of racial or caste constructs. What is common to both Black American and Dalit literature is a quest for cultural identity based on the confrontation and rejection of social hierarchies. For the African American author, the project of writing not only is to confront and challenge a discriminatory past, but also entails an initiation of a process of self-definition and identity formation. In the Introduction to The Cambridge Companion to the African American Novel, Maryemma Graham insists that, for the African American author, ‘the act of writing is part of a larger process of cultural revisionism, of redefining history and historical memory, and of confronting the past in innovative and provocative ways that are intentionally self-reflexive’ (2004: 5). Dalit literature manifests a comparable subversive intention, wherein it seeks to establish a Dalit consciousness, which is distinct and unique. In his Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature (2004), Sharankumar Limbale emphasizes the social character of Dalit literature (31), underscoring the ideas of revolt and rejection inherent in it. Dalit literature represents most intensely the suffering of Dalit existence, and, the representation is authentic since it is exclusive/subjective to the Dalits. The agony that is 261

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manifest in Dalit literature is not imagined, but a ‘lived’ experience, and the expression of this experienced pain becomes a quest for construction of Dalit ‘selfhood’ or identity. However, to merely restrict Dalit literature to ‘narrative of suffering’ would be a restrictive perception of the issue. The bitterness that is consequent upon a continued, inexorable cycle of discrimination determines the Dalit experience to be conveyed in the idiom/language of revolt and resistance, which is directed against the Manuistic, Brahmanical social order of subjugation and abuse. Dalit literature also entails a process of ‘negation’, by which it debunks/rejects the Brahmanical, hegemonic ideological framework that colonizes/enslaves their consciousness. Dalit literature is also engaged in an attempt towards ‘ethnic discovery’, which is again a different quest for the African Americans. In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois refers to a peculiar sensation of double-consciousness: the sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of other, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness – an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. (2008: 6) In Black American literature, there is an underlying sense of loss for the lost homeland, ancestors and culture; but in Dalit literature the inhumanity that is exposed is not due to a lost homeland but because of being the ‘other’, or peripheral, in their own country and silenced by a discriminatory cultural heritage. Both Black American and Dalit literature share a sphere of convergence since both are oppositional and resistant to the exploitations and persecutions imposed on them by the ‘superior’ race and caste. ‘Woman writing’ as a phenomenon implies the act of writing by women, which becomes the medium of interrogation, formation, resistance and selfassertion. Writings by women refer to distinctive cultural positions and attitudes, which debunk the patriarchal perception of seeing women in the singular. The repressive experiences of women are usually conceived to be common to all women. However, the subalternity of Dalit or Black women is symptomatic of greater discrimination, violence and torture not only at the hands of patriarchy but often times in complicity with women of upper caste and dominant race. Deborah Gray White points out that the African American woman ‘stands at the crossroads of two of the most well-­developed ideologies in America, that regarding women and that regarding the Negro’ (White 1999: 27). Black women writing encouraged a close scrutiny of the 262

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position of Black women with reference to her community in general and Black men in particular, and in the process revealed the reality of dual colonization they are subjected to, both within and without the community. In her Black Women Novelists, Barbara Christian argues that Black Women’s literature is not just a matter of discourse, but a way of acknowledging one’s existence: ‘it has to do with giving consolation to oneself that one does exist. It is an attempt to make meaning out of that existence’ (quoted in Bobo 2004: 189). Helen Washington has also put forward the claim that Black American women writers accurately reflect the lives of African American women. In the Introduction to Black-Eyed Susans: Classic Stories by and about Black Women, she insists that, Only (African American Women Writers) knew my story. It is absolutely necessary, that they be permitted to discover and interpret the entire range and spectrum of the experience of black women and not be stymied by preconceived conclusion. Because of these writers, there are more choices for black women to make, and there is a large space in the universe for us. (1979: xxxii) In the preface to In Search of Our Mothers’ Garden, Alice Walker enunciates a ‘womanist’ aesthetics: ‘Womanist is to feminist as purple to lavender’ (1983: xii). This statement exposes the deep lines of division drawn between Black and White feminists. Walker sets up (Black) womanism and (White) feminism in a binary opposition from which the former emerges a privileged, original term, and the latter a devalued, pale replica. A more intense colour than lavender, purple is not merely adding black to lavender; it also symbolizes the position of Black women in American society who must find ways of resisting multiple oppressions related to race, class, gender and sexuality. Like the Black women, Dalit women challenge the complacency of the feminists in their project of seeing ‘woman’ as a homogenous category, without noting the differences in historicity, class, caste, race and sexuality. Dalit women depict a similar kind of mistrust towards ‘Indian feminism’, which they find to be ideologically savarna and upper middle class. It would be pertinent to mention that savarna denotes the members of the Hindu four-tier ‘varna’ or the caste system. In the present context, ‘savarna’ are the forward castes such as Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas. This excludes the Dalits and the scheduled tribes. Gopal Guru terms Dalit feminism as the ‘politics of difference’ (2005: 80) since it is directed against dual patriarchal structures that tend to oppress Dalit women: Brahmanical patriarchy that discriminates against them on the basis of caste as well as patriarchal exploitation perpetrated by Dalit men themselves, 263

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which operates on more insidious and intimate levels. Dalit feminists have formulated the position of the three-way oppression of Dalit women: (a) as subject to caste oppression at the hands of the upper castes; (b) as labourers subject to class-based oppression, also mainly at the hands of the upper and middle castes; (c) as women who experience patriarchal oppression at the hands of all men, including men of their own caste (Chakravarti 2003: 142–3). The NGO Declaration on Gender and Racism, adopted by NFDW in the World Conference Against Racism held in Durban in 2001, is crucial in understanding the real nature of their oppression, their vulnerabilities and their fears: ‘We recognize that the relationship between gender and distinct forms of racism, therefore in the Asian, and particularly Indian context, typifies the particularity of condition of women belonging to the Dalits’ (Rao 2005: 365). Therefore, Dalit feminism marks a shift from the preoccupation with ‘woman’ to an awareness and inclusion of ‘women’ in the scope of feminist theory, underscoring the importance of acknowledging ‘feminisms’ instead of ‘feminism’. Dalit feminism tackles the issue of identity politics in widening the scope of feminism to include the several differences in approach and attitude. As Black American feminism is a repositioning of the relationship between race and gender, Dalit feminism is about rethinking of the relationship between caste and gender. It follows naturally that the forms of artistic/literary representation/ articulation of the gendered marginality of the Dalit and the Black woman cannot be accommodated within the conventional forms. In his Against Literature, John Beverley points out the inadequacy of the known forms of literature in representing different kinds of experience, especially that of protest and resistance. He equates the rise of the bourgeoisie, with the corresponding rise of specific literary forms such as sonnets, autobiography and short story; the emergence of the testimonio with the rise of the minority movements such as the gay, poor, women’s, and the ecological (Beverley 1993: 70). The testimonio becomes a crucial agent of bearing witness to and inscribing into history those lived realities that could otherwise be erased. It emphasizes popular oral discourse in which the narrator portrays his or her own experience as a representative of a collective memory and identity, and in the process rectifies and redeems his/her own history as against official history. The centrality of the narrator’s perspective, and the insistence on his/her memory as being valid, often raises questions regarding the authenticity of the testimonio and debates the reliability of the ‘history’ presented by the narrative voice. In her Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Soshana Felman tries to negotiate this predicament by interrogating the validity of the apparently simple, empirical, documentary mode of the testimonio, and 264

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argues that it uses the realist narrative form to provide insights into a history that the narrator is not in full possession of. One does not have to possess or own the truth, in order to effectively bear witness to it; that speech as such is unwittingly testimonial, and that the speaking subject constantly bears witness to a truth that nonetheless continues to escape him, a truth that is, essentially, not available to its own speakers. (1992: 15) This addresses the question of authenticity that often plagues the genre of the testimonio by insisting on the value of the narrator’s ‘testimony’. As Menchu in I, Rigoberta Menchu1 insists in her testimony, ‘My story is the story of all poor Guatemelans. My personal experience is the reality of a whole people’ (1984: 1). Here, the ‘I’ is displaced by the collective ‘we’ by becoming a site of knowledge enhancing the multiplicity of experience by registering and retrieving the marginal. Any attempt towards studying Dalit women’s testimonios and Black women’s slave narratives comparatively may apparently seem implausible since they depict disparate sets of historical experiences. However, a patient exploration reveals striking correspondences of suffering, anguish, articulation and resistance in both cases. Dalit testimonios do not share the immediate historical context of slavery of the slave narratives, but the pattern of discrimination, abuse, exploitation and negation of identity and selfhood as is manifest in the institution of slavery is also discernible in the slave–master dialectic of the savarna–dalit relationship. While examining the same forms of exploitation operative in both caste and race, André Betaille focused on the most striking similarity between racial and caste discriminations: that is, their reliance on gendered forms of contrast which is, again, predicated on the axis of the purity–pollution dichotomy. Slave narratives tell of the horrors of family separation, the sexual abuse of Black women, brutalization and the inhuman working conditions. At the same time, however, these narratives are also about escape, heroism, and the invincibility of the human spirit. Slave narratives are first-person accounts; they therefore present a cultural space for self-representation. Interestingly, they also use the same tropes of the newly formed Republic: Christian faith, the centrality of the family, the notion of the freedom that encompasses individualism and independence in order to foreground the necessity of abolishing slavery.

1

This was first published in Spanish as Me Llamo Rigoberta Menchu in 1983 with later English translation in 1984.

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The slave narratives had a background of cultural, social and religious changes; Enlightenment philosophy and revolutionary ideas regarding individual rights provided the impetus for the segregated community to articulate their lived experience. The tradition initiated by Olaudah Equiano in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (in two volumes, 1789) emerged as a distinctive genre, which combined the nuances of ’history’, ‘autobiography’, ‘adventure tale’ and the testimonio. The Black American woman slave narrative is especially significant. In her Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (published under the pseudonym Linda Brent in 1861), Harriet Jacobs writes: ‘Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women. Superadded to the burden common to all, they have wrongs and sufferings, and mortifications peculiarly their own’ (2003: 262). The female slave narrative recounts the specific subjugation of the slave subject on the basis not only of race but also of gender. The negation of identity and personhood endangered by slavery conflates all of the following: the indignity of women, violence, abuse, sexual exploitation, forceful reproduction, denial of motherhood and separation from children. Black women had a crucial role to play in slave narratives, for it was they who debunked the stereotypical roles assigned to them by providing a counternarrative, protesting against viewing them as primitive barbarians, beasts of burden, slave breeders, mammies, jezebels or tragic mulattos. In her Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality, the Sure Foundation on Which We Must Build (printed in Boston by William Lloyd Garrison in 1831), Maria W. Stewart demanded freedom and justice for the Black American woman; what is interesting, however, is that she seeks to launch a struggle against racism and discrimination with intellectual resourcefulness. Jarena Lee’s The Life and Religious Experience of Jarena Lee, a Coloured Lady, Giving an Account of Her Call to Preach the Gospel (first printed in Philadelphia in 1836) is, arguably, more radical than Stewart’s text, since she considers her own life as a worthwhile study. Her spiritual experiences were not in contradiction to her enslaved, impoverished, Black female identity. Her insistence on documenting her life signifies a departure from the hegemonic discourse that denies the Black woman agency and subject position. Sojourner Truth’s Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Northern Slave (1850) is reflective of the ‘multidimensionality’ of the Black woman, subverting the stereotype of a Black American slave woman, which faces the risk of emerging from the slave narratives. Despite being illiterate, there is sufficient proof that she influenced the textual production of her narrative. As Santamarina states in her ‘Black Womanhood in North American Women’s Slave Narrative’: ‘in her narrative, Truth drew from 266

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textual sources and rhetorical goals that exceeded, and even provided, the narrow parameter of the 1850 slave narratives’ (2007: 236). The appropriating of agency by the marginalized woman is a common trait in both the slave narratives and Dalit testimonios. In her testimonio titled Ratrandin Amha (‘For Us – These Nights and Days’), Shantabai Dhanaji Dani (1990) recounts her participation in the protests against the British colonial authority in response to the call of B. R. Ambedkar, which led to her arrest and detainment in the Yerwada jail in 1946. She was the secretary of the Nasik branch of Scheduled Caste Federation at that time, a formidable accomplishment for a Dalit woman who was denied dignity even within her own community. In her narration, she asks: [W]ho among Dalit was the most Dalit? Babasaheb used to say that the Dalit woman in your homes is the most Dalit of all. A Dalit woman’s husband could impose his male ego on his wife. I am well educated, but still a woman born in the Mahar caste after all. (quoted in Rege 2006: 113) A significant aspect about these narratives is that not only they register individual pain, resistance, and the struggle against brutalization and the atrocities perpetuated by supremacist hegemonic power structures, but there is also an amalgamation of the individual ‘I’ into the collective ‘we’. In her essay ‘African American Women and the United States Slave Narratives’, Jocelyn Moody points out: The slave woman’s narrative functioned then, as a space in which to document the African American women’s moral, mental, intellectual and psychological strength, their capacity to endure the horrors of slavery as well as to develop and maintain a strong and abiding sense of self-respect and self-determination. (Moody 2009: 119) Dalit women’s writing suffers from the same kind of condescension that is experienced by Black women’s writing in that they are seldom considered mainstream. Even in academia, there is a tendency to include this body of work as modules or add-ons, indicating the difference in its treatment from ‘major’ or ‘canonical’ literature. In this context, Dalit women employing the strategy of narrating personal lives to be articulate and so refute such ‘invisibility’ are comparable to the slave women choosing to narrate their own lives. While slavery is manifest in the life of Black slave women as a legally sanctioned institution, the fundamental paradigm of economic exploitation, chattel serfdom, sexual violation and the trampling of 267

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personhood are all applicable to Dalit women as well. Thus, the testimonios of both challenge the official forgetting of the histories of oppression, and manifest resistance and identity formation. Life narratives, or Atmakathan, form a major part of Dalit literature. Unlike conventional autobiographies, Dalit life narratives do not reveal the individual’s tendency toward self-glorification or even self-indulgence; on the contrary, these life narratives reveal the plight of individuals caught in the maelstrom of caste-based oppression and discrimination. These narratives trace not only individual journeys but also collective journeys; they indicate a movement from Dalit individual to Dalit community. They can be treated as signifiers of the historically and culturally specific understanding of memory, experiences and identity. When the narrating voice is that of the woman, it adds further significance since concerns of gender oppression enter into the rubric of investigation. As Sharmila Rege points out in her Writing Caste/Writing Gender (2006), ‘Dalit women’s testimonios offer[ed] counter narratives that challenge[d] the selective memory and univocal history both of the Dalit and the women’s movement’ (75). The attempt at finding coherence between the two genres – of slave narratives and of Dalit testimonios – may be accused of over-systematization – of trying forcefully to fit together disparate experiences. However, the fact remains that the identification and the investigation of both the similarities and differences can be fruitful in enhancing the understanding and disseminating of these two kinds of marginalization. Just as the production and publication of slave narratives were triggered by distinctive socio-­cultural forces, Dalit life narratives found their impetus from the ideology and lives of Phule and Ambedkar. Another valid point of association is the Dalits’ embracing of Buddhism as a religious, political strategy to assert the principles of liberty and equality, and thus challenge discriminatory and stratified social structures. This is comparable to the Black Americans’ Christian moorings that are manifest in the slave narratives, which can also be read as spiritual autobiographies. Evangelical Christianity provided Black Americans a sense of comfort and support amid the torment of their lives with the slaveholders. Their narratives reveal that the slaves identified themselves with the Exodus story. In Emma J. Smith Ray’s autobiography Twice Sold, Twice Ransomed (1926), the narrator Emma articulates this connection. I heard them speak so much about ‘Marse Abraham’ in their prayers, and sermons, and talk, and about ‘resting in Abraham’s bosom’ that I thought for a long time that Abraham Lincoln and Abraham in the Bible were the same man, until I began to go to Sunday school and learned the difference. (2000: 22) 268

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A similar overlapping of iconography is discernible in Urmila Pawar’s Aaydan (2003) when she narrates her childhood experience of witnessing a mass conversion of her community to Buddhism. The members of the community took the figurines of gods and goddesses to discard them in the water in a ritualistic procession. However, the incantation issuing from the crowd is striking. ‘O you God . . .’ ‘Yes Maharaja . . .’ Go back to your homes’ ‘Yes Maharaja’. ‘Victory to Dr. Ambedkar’. ‘Victory to Bhagwan Buddha’. (Pawar 2003: 93) Thus, Dalit women’s life narratives encompass social, political, and religious dimensions. Kumud Pawade’s Antasphot (‘Thoughtful Outburst’), originally published in Marathi in 1981, clarifies that her outburst must not be misunderstood as an emotional one; rather her attempt is to analyse the experience of individuals and communities. Dalit women, she underlines, are the victims of double exploitation. When a culture based on hierarchy, as in the case of Indian society, literally bites the flesh off the minds of individuals and communities and wounds them, then how do I see my life and that of my wounded community as human beings? This question keeps eating at my brain. Because of this, I begin to feel as if my brain will burst, and when this state expresses itself in words – the thoughtful outburst happens. This is my position on Antasphot. (Rege 2006: 227) She asserts that Antasphot is not an ‘autobiography’ but a critical narrative of her experiences. In fact, she feels that all Dalit life stories are critical narratives and not autobiographies. Baby Kondiba Kamble’s (1986) Jinne Amuche (‘Our Lives’) underscores this inextricability of the individual and the collective in Dalit narratives by contextualizing her life against the backdrop of the five decades of history of the Mahar community. Janabai Kachru Girhe is the first woman teacher, and the first woman of Gopal community, a nomadic set, to write her testimonio. In the Preface to Deathly Pains (1992), she says, Wherever there is a village, there is a pala (groups of nomadic families who set up temporary camps on open grounds outside village boundaries), wherever there is water, there is pala. The sky 269

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as the roof and earth as the floor, food to assuage the immediate hunger – this is the way of life. (quoted in Rege 2006: 309) To be born a girl in such a community, she says, is like a ‘boon’ to suffer eternal pain or marankala (deathly pain) – pain that takes one almost to the gates of death. This is uncannily resonant of Harriet Jacobs’s lamentation at the vulnerability of the girl child in slavery. As Jacobs states in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: I would rather see them (her children) killed than have them given up to his (slave owner’s) power . . . When I lay down beside my child; I felt how much easier it would be to see her die than to see her master beat her about. (Taylor 1999: 595–9) Janabai Kachru Girhe’s book is dedicated to her parents, as well as to her sisters in the nomadic communities. She writes: To them who begged from door to door Who cared for me, through sun, rain and bitter cold and storm Did more than they did for their own lives, Who crossed mountains of hard labour to put a pen in my hands rather than the customary begging bowl, I dedicate this book at the wounded and tired feet of my parents and sisters, who move from field to field, forest to forest, leading thorny lives. (Rege 2006: 309–10) Faustina Bama, whose Karukku (in Tamil, 1992) was first translated in French before it was translated into English, asserts that caste, class and gender are important markers for social exclusion. In a colloquium organized by Women’s Word India, a free speech network of feminist writers addressing issues of gender-based censorship, Bama vehemently voiced her opinion which, perhaps, sums up best the ethos of all literatures of suffering and resistance: I am a Dalit woman writer. The challenge for a writer is to remain rooted; to have experienced pain, hunger – and contempt. My story is my people’s story . . . Through my writing, I allow the militancy of the victimized persons to emerge. I believe the life experiences of people can be conveyed only in their own language. My writing has been called bawdy and immoral. It has broken a lot of taboos. I did not write for publication; my first book, I write for my 270

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own healing . . . I feel satisfaction when a ripple of consciousness surfaces in my community due to my writing. Writing has helped me break down a thousand barriers. (The Hindu, 25 May 2007) In Aaydan (‘The Weave of My Life’), Urmila Pawar compares her act of writing about her life with her mother’s weaving of bamboo baskets: ‘The weave is similar. It is the weave of pain, suffering and agony that links us’ (2003: x). The same trope is operative in the comparison of Black women slave narratives and Dalit women’s testimonies: the fundamental/original ‘weave’ in both expressions is the same. Both are unflinching presentations of the misery of the subaltern existence – idioms of protest and resistance as well as corresponding assertions of subjectivity and identity formation.

References Bama. Karukku. Trans. Lakshmi Holmström. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000. Berreman, G. D. “Stratification, Pluarlism and Interaction”, in Caste and Race (ed.) A. De Reuck and J. Knight. London: J & A Churchill, 1967. Beverley, John. ‘The Margin at the Centre: On Testimonio’, in Against Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1993. Bobo, Jacqueline, Cynthia Hudley and Claudine Michel (eds.). The Black Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 2004. Beteille, Andre. ‘Race, Caste and Gender’, Man, New Series Vol. 25, No. 3 (September 1990), published by Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland: 498–504. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2803715?origin=JSTOR-pdf. Chakravarti, Uma. Gendering Caste: Through a Feminist Lens. Calcutta: Stree, 2003. Christian, Barbara. Black Women Novelists: The Development of a Tradition. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980. Dani, Shantabai Dhanaji. ‘For Us – These Nights and Days’, in Writing Caste/ Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonios (ed.) S. Rege. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2006. Du Bois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. Radford: Wilder Publication, 2008. Felman, Shoshana, and Dori Laub. Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis and History. New York and London: Routledge, 1992. Graham, Maryemma (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to the African American Novel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Guru, Gopal. ‘Dalit Women Talk Differently’, Gender and Caste, (ed.) Anupama Rao. New Delhi: Kali for Women, 2005. Ilaiah, Kancha. The Weapon of the Other: Dalitbahujan Writings and the Remaking of Nationalist Thought. New Delhi: Pearson, 2010. Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Classical African American Woman’s Narratives, (ed.) William L. Andrews. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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Limbale, Sharankumar. Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature. Trans. Alok Mukherjee. New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2004. Mehrotra, Deepti Priya. ‘It’s Her Word’, The Hindu, Business line Edition, 25 May 2007. http://www.thehindubusinessline.in/life/2007/05/25/stories/2007052500100400. htm. Accessed 19 July 2012. Menchu, Rigoberta. I Rogoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. Trans. Ann Wright. New York, London: Verso, 1984. Moody, Jocelyn. ‘African American Women and the United States Slave Narratives’, in The Cambridge Companion to African American Women’s Literature, (eds.) Angelyn Mitchell and Danille K. Taylor. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Myrdal, G. ‘Chairman’s Introduction’. Caste and Race, (ed.) A. De Reuck and J. Knight. London: J & A Churchill, 1967. Pawar, Urmila. Aaydan: The Weave of My Life. Trans. Maya Pandit. Kolkata: Stree, 2003. Rao, Anupama (ed.). Gender and Caste. New Delhi: Kali for Women, 2005. Ray, Emma J. Smith. Twice Sold, Twice Ransomed: Autobiography of Mr & Mrs L. P. Ray. Electronic Edition, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000. http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/rayemma/rayemma.html#p20. Accessed 19 July 2012. Rege, Sharmila. Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonios. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2006. Santamarina, Xiomara. ‘Black American Womanhood in North American Women’s Slave Narrative’, in The Cambridge Companion to The African American Slave Narrative, (ed.) Audrey Fisch. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Segal, Ronald. The Black Diaspora. London: Faber and Faber, 1995. Taylor, Yuval (ed.). I Was Born a Slave: An Anthology of Classic Slave Narratives. Vol. 2. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 1999. Walker, Alice. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983. Washington, Helen (ed.). Black-Eyed Susans: Classic Stories by and about Black Women. Garden City: Anchor Books, 1979. White, Debora Gray. Aren’t I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South. New York: Norton, 1999.

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17 POLLUTING THE PAGE Dalit women’s bodies in autobiographical literature Carolyn Hibbs

In Hinduism, the concept of spiritual pollution regulates daily life, particularly with regard to the sacred. Other Indian religious traditions share the concept of pollution, drawing on both scriptural interpretation within traditions and the adoption of Hindu practices through syncretism. Pollution is attributed to Dalits and to all women at some point in their lives. As the central figure in the contemporary Dalit movement, and a Dalit himself, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar resisted depictions of Dalits and women as polluted.1 He focused on rational thought expressed through conversion to Buddhism to challenge the depiction of Dalits and women as polluted bodies, and he meant his conversion to support women’s rights as well as Dalit rights. The sect of Buddhism that arose from his activism is popularly known as neo-Buddhism. Dalit women’s autobiographies take up the challenge against the polluted identity defined for them in Hinduism, and as the polluted roles re-emerge in the Dalit liberation movement. Dalit women bear the embodiment of pollution doubly: through their status as outcaste and through their female bodies. As Dalits, their caste, assigned at birth, carries untouchability through polluting occupations which mark their bodies, regardless of a change in occupation. As women, their female bodies, also assigned at 1 Ambedkar

was active during the Indian Independence movement in the first half of the twentieth century and was the first Law Minister of independent India, the chief author of the Indian Constitution, and a prolific writer. He is best known for his fight for Dalit (­ex-Untouchable) rights, which included government and educational reservations for Dalits, and a prohibition against caste discrimination in the Indian Constitution. He is less known for his fight for Indian women’s rights in all castes.

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birth, carry untouchability through biological functions including menstruation and childbirth. Dalit women are doubly untouchable. This essay will focus on Baby Kamble’s autobiography The Prisons We Broke (2009) and Urmila Pawar’s memoirs The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs (2008). It will also draw on the excerpts of Kumud Pawade and Janabai Kachru Girhe’s autobiographies in Arjun Dangle’s collection A Corpse in the Well: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Autobiographies and in Sharmila Rege’s book Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Reading Dalit Women’s Testimonios (2006). These women are all Maharashtrian Dalit women, and all participate in the neo-Buddhist or Dalit liberation movement in Maharashtra, where Dalits have been most strongly influenced by Ambedkar’s efforts to secure rights for Dalits and for women. Maharashtra is also the location in which the first organized Dalit literary movement arose, as part of the Dalit Panthers Movement in the 1970s. Beginning with the history and context of the religious sources that define Dalit women’s bodies as polluted, this essay will then consider how Dalit women writers use their bodies in autobiography in order to disrupt this definition. Their challenge to religious scripture is also a challenge to the construction of women’s bodies as polluted within their own Dalit political and intellectual communities. Finally, it will consider the ways in which violence circumscribes the polluted body inscribed in religious texts. In writing their autobiographies, Dalit women seek to claim the truth of their experiences outside of the elite Indian experience, which is predominantly male and, until only recently in literature, upper caste. The universalization of the individual relies on the exclusion of women, thus leading to the universal male subject of the autobiographical genre. Sharmila Rege writes the following about Dalit autobiography: In consciously violating the boundaries set by bourgeois autobiography, Dalit life narratives became testimonies that summoned the truth from the past; truth about the poverty and helplessness of the pre-Ambedkarite era as also the resistance and progress of the Ambedkarite era. (13) Dalit women’s autobiographies further violate the boundaries set by Dalit male autobiography. Where the universal subject remains male, Dalit women’s autobiographies seek to represent the truth as prevailing in the present as well: the truth about sexism and patriarchy in the Ambedkarite movement. Specifically, Dalit women write their female bodies into their autobiographical texts. This act disrupts the universal male self, which is free from the limitations of the body (Smith 1993). In this inclusion, they 274

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challenge the concept of a universal male subject, which is upper caste, and they challenge the understanding of the rational mind as a counter to the polluted female and Dalit body. At the same time, Dalit women refuse to erase their (polluted) gendered bodies from the text: ‘To the extent that woman represses the body, erasing her sexual desire and individual identity . . . she positions herself as a proper lady who surmounts her negative identification with the body through selflessness’ (Smith 1993: 16). The inclusion of polluted female and Dalit bodies undermines claims to rationality and universality, which arise through the exclusion of Dalit women as polluted bodies. As a representation of a group rather than an individual, the genre of the ‘autobiography becomes both a way of testifying to oppression and empowering the subject through its cultural inscription and recognition’ (Anderson 2001: 104). Analyses of Dalit autobiographical literature note the disruption of the individual, as contrasted with elite modes of autobiography: ‘Dalit testimonios have not only washed out the “I”, an outcome of bourgeois individualism, and displaced it with the collectivity of the Dalit community; but by bringing details of lives into the public domain, they have also challenged the communitarian control on the self’ (Rege 2008: 323). Where autobiography makes the claim to the representation of truth, these writers appeal to a tradition of Dalit autobiography, which seeks to represent the Dalit experience. In representing their female bodies through autobiographical text, Dalit women connect the sites of truth and sex: ‘The body is usually thought to provide compelling, even irrefutable, proof of sex and gender, and ultimately of unique identity. The body coalesces under the name of sex’ (Gilmore 2001: 131). At the same time, Dalit women have been represented as unable to speak for themselves. In discussing the collusion between patriarchy and imperialism, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak discusses the ways in which women’s bodies have been the only site at which a woman can represent herself. The subaltern cannot speak. There is no virtue in global laundry lists with ‘woman’ as a pious item. Representation has not withered away. The female intellectual as intellectual has a circumscribed task, which she must not disown with a flourish. (1988: 308) Patriarchy and imperialism intersect in ways similar to patriarchy and caste hierarchy – as a context where women’s bodies have been taken up as the only evidence they may give. Uma Chakravarti discusses women’s inability to testify in the context of Brahmin patriarchy, where a woman is 275

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legally unable to consent, and where her sexed body is the legal code on which her silence is marked. In practice, since women’s consent was regarded as invalid, patriarchal power in the field of marriage reconstructed (with the aid of the law) a girl who eloped as having been ‘abducted’ from the custody of her legal guardian. (2006: 135) In response to the various means of silencing and misrepresentation, the Dalit women writers represent the truths of their bodily experiences through the medium of autobiography. Through autobiography, Dalit women writers seek to represent the truth of their experiences as women and as Dalits, and seek to reclaim representation of their own bodies, and not merely through them. Many aspects of their lives which women depict are absent from men’s autobiographies, such as the experiences of menstruation, female sexual desire, and gendered violence. They are absent, on the one hand, because these are predominantly female experiences. On the other hand, this omission occurs because these subjects fall under a wider mystification of women’s sexuality (Friedan 2001). As discussed, the universal subject is excused from bodilessness because women take up the role of being bodies; and then, proper women seek to avoid the intrusion of their polluted body. In response to regulations on their bodies, Dalit women reject those patriarchal values by writing about their bodies in positive ways, or in neutral ways. Dalit women represent practices of bodily untouchability in Hindu culture, and their resistance to, or subversion of, the practices of untouchability as they re-emerge in neo-­Buddhist culture. Dalit women reject untouchability as women also and not only as Dalits. Hindu religious texts assign the status of pollution to low caste and to women’s bodies. According to the Manusmriti, the religious legal code compiled between 200 BCE and 200 CE, men and upper caste women may ritually purify themselves after contact with a polluted person or object, or after sexual activity, menstruation or childbirth: ‘When he has touched a Kandala, a menstruating woman, an outcast, a woman in childbed, a corpse, or one who has touched a (corpse), he becomes pure by bathing’ (Manu 5.85). Furthermore, Manu and his successors define and insist on the separation between the polluted body and the sacred text, formally requiring illiteracy among low castes and women. Manu’s successors prescribed violence against the low castes of any gender who came into contact with the Vedas: ‘Now if he listens intentionally to (a recitation of) the Veda, his ears shall be filled with (molten) tin or lac./If he recites (Vedic texts), his tongue shall be cut 276

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out./If he remembers them, his body shall be split in twain’ (Sacred Laws XII. 4–6). Low-caste women and men have no access to rituals of purification, nor do women experiencing a bodily process. The connection between female sex, caste and pollution is persistent. These polluted states are inherent to the body, even if they are temporary for upper caste women. Though the pollution assigned to bodies comes from ancient texts, untouchability against women is practised today. Both women and men commonly express the understanding that women’s bodily processes are polluting: ‘The process of menstruation was described as the expulsion from the body of ganda khoon (dirty blood), which is why it leads to segregation and untouchability’ (Garg, Sharma and Sahay 2001: 18); ‘menstrual blood, sexual fluids, and the lochia of childbirth have been regarded as pollutants which threaten the well-being of the community, and men in particular’ (Garg, Sharma and Sahay 2001: 22). These attitudes are expressed in religious texts, and affect women’s religious practices: ‘[r]eligious practices, such as visiting holy places or touching religious texts, were avoided during menstruation by both Hindu and Muslim women’ (Garg, Sharma and Sahay 2001: 21). Since men can be polluted by women – both through physical contact and through knowledge – women regulate themselves and each other for the ritual purity of men. At the same time, women perpetuate the silences around such topics. While the Dalit movement challenges the practice of untouchability against Dalit bodies, Dalit women still face untouchability practices against women’s bodies within their own communities. Ambedkar believed that Buddhism offered a tradition that effectively challenged the caste system and sexism in Hinduism. However, in the early Buddhist religious texts also, women are constructed as living in polluted bodies. The Therigathas and Theragathas, some of which date from the earliest years of Buddhism, represent the earliest texts from female and male monastics. Katherine R. Blackstone notes that although the monastics, and particularly men, describe bodies as impure in general, they target women’s bodies more often. [D]epictions of all bodies and bodily processes are not uniform: women’s bodies are more frequently described as impure and defiling than are men’s bodies; women are often presented as inherently more physical, that is, as tied more closely to bodily processes than are men; and, concomitantly, women are commonly defined by their sexuality. (1998: 60) The behavioural codes of Buddhism canonized in the Vinaya texts do not define women’s bodies as polluted. Instead, women observe rituals 277

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which recognize their bodies as polluted based on other cultural codes: ‘Buddhism relied upon prevailing Hindu and Confucian social codes, with their strongly defined gender roles, particularly with regard to lay Buddhists (Gross 1993: 213). As such, Hindu social codes became embedded in Buddhist culture, and Dalit women face not only a Hindu condemnation of their bodies, but a Buddhist one as well. Dalit women’s bodily pollution meets their doctrinal illiteracy in the Manusmriti. The written texts define them as polluted and polluting; their pollution prevents their access to the written text, both as readers and writers. In their autobiographies, Dalit women defy the rules of untouchability which define them. Baby Kamble describes how she and another girl decide to pollute the god: ‘You don’t know how that spirit hates things that pollute. Even women are polluting for this spirit god’ (2009: 130). In this case, their Dalit bodies are the source of the pollution. The purpose of defining pollution is the same: to restrict, exclude and dehumanize. Kamble achieves several outcomes with her inclusion of this incident in her autobiography. First, she names the rules of untouchability; she represents the Dalit experience through an individual experience. This experience is based on both caste and gender. Second, she demonstrates the possibility of defying the rules of untouchability. Third, she further challenges the limitations on autobiography as an intellectual project by the inclusion of her own body. Pawar expresses her concerns about untouchability in the caste system and for women, in the specific context of her first menstruation: ‘As it was, people in the class kept me at a distance because of my caste. Now, because of this, even my own people in the house would keep me away!’ (2008: 124). Menstruation in particular marks sex and gender on a body, just as Pawar’s autobiography marks her sex and gender on the page. She represents her status as untouchable to her own community as well as to the larger Indian community. In her autobiography, Pawar joins the tradition of Dalit men – including Ambedkar – who represent the Dalit experience of segregation in the classroom based on their caste. However, Pawar expands on this tradition to remind her own community that Dalit men also practice untouchability against Dalit women; this experience is also of the community and the individual. Dalit women also counter Hindu religious values in the neo-Buddhist community with blasphemy centred on their bodies and writing. Gauri Viswanathan describes how these challenges create new communities and ways of knowing. When not resolved by expulsion and excommunication of the offending heretic, doctrinal conflict produces nothing short of the paradigm shifts that create new structures of knowledge. A 278

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simple, yet unacknowledged, notion is that blasphemers may blaspheme without undermining the content or truth of any proposition because blasphemy’s enemy is not a text or a creed but a community, along with the codes and rules it employs to sanction membership within it. (Ibid.: 242) In Dalit women’s writing, blasphemy and humour often target both caste and religion. Kamble begins her autobiographical narrative by creating an analogy for children’s clothes so full of holes that they barely cover the body. These strings were our holy threads, the markers of our birth, our caste – like the janeu [sacred thread] of the Brahmins. These strings had to be there because on these strings we would hang the intestines of dead animals in order to dry them! (8) She references the caste-based and polluting occupation of disposing of dead animals and using them as a food source, and the caste-imposed poverty that results in bodily exposure. At the same, time she mocks Brahmin ideology by proposing the inverse of Brahmin purity; Dalits hang the markers of their pollution – the entrails of dead animals – on the sacred thread, while their polluted bodies preclude the possibility of wearing the sacred thread. Pawar also subverts untouchability practices. In a context that relates to sexuality, desire and sexual relations between Pawar and her husband, Pawar breaks two related restrictions when she discusses her sexuality. During her first intercourse with her husband, she experiences bleeding, and so segregates herself because she believes she is menstruating. When her true menstrual cycle comes later, her sister-in-law helps her to hide it, and so avoid the embarrassment of discussing her sexual activity: ‘In the meantime, I freely roamed about everywhere . . . When our eyes met, Mai and I would break into peals of laughter’ (Ibid.: 187). As with Kamble’s inversion of the sacred thread, Pawar’s blasphemy is humorous. At the same time, Dalit women’s autobiographies themselves constitute the blasphemy, since Dalit women are barred from literacy on two grounds in Hindu religious texts: on their caste and on their sex. Kumud Pawade discusses this blashphemy in her autobiography, in her efforts to study ­Sanskrit – the sacred language prohibited to Dalits and women. The school where I went, supported Brahminical prejudices. All sorts of indirect efforts were systematically made to prevent me from learning Sanskrit. ‘You won’t be able to manage. There will be no one at home to help you. Sanskrit is very difficult,’ etc., etc. (Ibid.: 29) 279

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Dalit women interweave the autobiography of their bodies and of their texts, whereby both contain the markers of untouchability which they reject. Dalit women’s blasphemy, in their breach of multiple untouchability observances based on both their bodies and their access to knowledge, breaks down the hierarchical binaries of body and mind, and physicality and rationality. Through this approach, women demand their rights in their profane and sacred lives, despite the intersecting pressures of a patriarchal and a caste-biased culture. The practice of untouchability exists in the contemporary period, though it traces its roots to, and is justified through, the use of historical texts. The neo-Buddhist movement challenges the practice of untouchability through Dalit autobiography. Raj Kumar argues that ‘[b]y writing their autobiographies Dalits are mobilising resistance to fight against all forms of oppression’ (2010: 4). Ambedkar called on Dalits to ‘Educate! Organize! Agitate!’, and burned the Manusrmiti as the religious justification for the caste system. The autobiographical approach seeks to challenge elite concepts of personhood, which devalue Other representations of the self. So far as autobiography is concerned, the deconstruction of it as a genre which privileged a white, masculine subject, gave way, as part of this same moment of diversification, to a sense of its potential or use as political strategy by these new social groups. (Anderson 2001: 103) In this context, the autobiographical text may be understood as a political statement, as well as an explicit challenge to dominant narratives, whether Hindu, upper caste or male. The openness of Dalit women writers about topics such as sexuality risks drawing public condemnation for obscenity. Indian legal codes against obscenity are persistently applied to women who speak about sexuality, and particularly about women’s desire outside of social norms such as the heterosexual monogamous marriage. These legal codes reflect restrictions against speaking about women’s polluted status as a means to protect men from inadvertent pollution, with the greater purpose of mystifying women’s bodies. Pawar uses autobiography to break the silence surrounding women’s sexuality and female bodies. She indicates the opportunities in feminist movements, which educate women about their bodies. I was made aware of the biological aspects of male and female bodies. This was quite different from the titillating yellow books one got on the streets. Here I found books containing information on 280

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male and female reproductive organs with illustrations, presented in an objective, clean, and scientific manner. Just as the disciples of Lord Shiva never see the Shivalinga as a representation of Shiva’s penis in Goddess Parvati’s vagina, these pictures did not create any different feelings in our minds. (2008: 245) Here, she uses autobiography in two connected ways: to represent the truth of education about women’s bodies as well as to represent the truth of the oppression and silencing of Dalit women experience. She also references religion, at once demystifying female sexuality and the Hindu gods with regard to female bodies. The use of autobiography by Dalit women – traditionally understood as an intellectual pursuit – breaks down the genre of autobiography as opposed to the polluted body. These autobiographies undermine the distinction between the rational and bodily. Traditional Hindu and Buddhist philosophy proposes that one can only achieve enlightenment in a male body. This philosophy reinforces the male body as the universal human ideal in South Asia. An appeal to rational thought excludes some groups, since women, lower classes and certain racial groups are associated with emotion, and face limited access to institutions which value rational thought (Martin 1982; Smith 1993). The genre of autobiography itself has been limited to the elite, who have historically been allowed to claim objectivity. In worship, anthropomorphic iconography is often devalued in favour of abstract imagery – this attitude persists in Buddhism as well – through a gendered insistence on the abstract as the highest form of worship. Abstract often implies rational or intellectual; thus, the abstract often excludes women in practice and in theory. Where ‘woman’ as a concept has been defined as emotional and bodily, and their rational and intellectual capacities undervalued and institutionally underdeveloped, value placed on rationality and the intellect poses a binary and hierarchical opposition which devalues women through the devaluation of emotion and the body. Dalit women also challenge the hierarchy in which rationality is privileged over emotion. Dalit women include their emotional and bodily experiences in their autobiographical writing in the process of revaluing these aspects of human experience. Pawar discusses her grief over the death of her son under caste related circumstances, and negotiates the connection between emotional and intellectual labour. In the past, my writing did not allow me to sleep. Now I could not sleep and therefore started writing. I was drowning my grief in my work. And yet, the painful reality kept breaking through every barricade, and flooded my brain. (299–300) 281

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While these writers demonstrate their access to intellectual production as women and as Dalits, they do so without devaluing or erasing their bodily and emotional experiences. In this revaluing, they create a middle ground between the intellectual and the bodily, the rational and the emotional, thus undermining binary hierarchies. Pawar recognizes her mother’s labour as equivalent to the intellectual labour of writing and literacy which is usually more highly valued than physical labour. She likens her mother’s weaving and her own writing in the title of her memoirs, The Weave of My Life, or Aaydan in Marathi. Aaydan is the generic term used for all things made from bamboo . . . My mother used to weave aaydans. I find that her act of weaving and my act of writing are organically linked. The weave is similar. It is the weave of pain, suffering and agony that links us. (x) While Dalit women writers participate in Brahmin and British institutions in which the written word is the only accepted representation of knowledge, they acknowledge the importance of labour and bodies within those texts. Through her pursuit of higher education, Kumud Pawade learns to critique the myth of objectivity upon which that education is based: ‘My dream of the Outsider’s detachment seems laughable now. With a shock I realise that it is hard to behave with complete detachment. Impossible. Emotions always flow through our veins’ (253–4). Through their writing, Dalit women challenge the hierarchies in rationality and emotion, intellect and body, and revalue their own experiences. As Dalit women claim their place in the realm of intellectual production through autobiography, they simultaneously refuse to exclude their polluted bodies from the text. Though women speaking and writing about women’s bodies face threats of legal charges of obscenity, they also face physical violence. In their claims to represent the truth in autobiography, Dalit women face both institutional and physical violence. Pawar recognizes this risk. She represents an incident in which a Dalit intellectual seeks to delegitimize the representations of Dalit women in a Dalit man’s autobiography: ‘Adsul said, “In this book, Daya Pawar has torn to shreds the dignity of our mothers and sisters! Had Babasaheb Ambedkar been alive today he would have kicked this book out!” ’ (229–30). In her autobiography, Pawar dares to represent not only the Dalit experience, but also Dalit women’s experiences with the full knowledge of the social repercussions within her own community. These experiences serve to demonstrate the repercussions of breaking the rules imposed on Dalit women. However, more importantly, they also 282

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demonstrate them being a preventive measure: the use of the violent language of kicking the book, which is at once the polluted body and forbidden literacy to discourage Dalit women from representing themselves at all. Chakravarti argues that the threat of violence has been used to silence women since the Vedic period (2006). These repercussions go beyond the social. Religious scholars often define ‘untouchability’ in terms of interdining (the prohibition against upper castes eating with lower castes) and endogamy (the prohibition against marriage between people of different castes). However, Dalit writers point out that untouchability goes beyond these ritual observances: ‘Any contact with members of this group, even their sight, sometimes even their shadow, was held to be ritually polluting and abhorrent; elaborate purifications would be undertaken if such occurred’ (Teltumbde 2010: 14). Again, it is the Dalit – and women’s – bodies which are understood as being inherently polluting. Anand Teltumbde argues that religious caste observance has declined, such as prohibitions against interdining. He argues that caste violence has intensified in response to the social advances made by Dalit individuals and communities. This violence manifests in specifically religious ways. The Hindus would argue that this violence is against evil and is hence reassuring to those who are virtuous. The definition of virtue and vice, however, rests on caste ideology, as we saw in Khairlanji. Those who abide by this ideology are supposed to be virtuous, and those who defy it evil. Those who challenge this framework are reminded by the weapon-wielding gods of the violent end they would face. In Khairlanji, the caste Hindus wielded these weapons. All this is embedded in and communicated through what could be summarily put as ‘Hindu culture’. (2010: 42) An androcentric reading understands the expression of caste through violence as abuse, torture and murder; however, the understanding of women’s bodies as polluted remains embedded in Teltumbde’s book – that is, in the expression of pollution through sexual assault. Dalit women face disproportionate sexual violence. They are often forced into sex work and experience violence in the form of rape. Sexual violence is one means of ensuring women’s silence. Statistics on rapes committed against Dalit women are unreliable, and are based on Brahmin patriarchal culture: that Dalit women are expected to be sexually available, that an upper caste man would not risk pollution through contact with a Dalit woman and that the concept that purity is marked on the bodies of uppercaste women, while Dalit women have no honour (Rege 1994; Chakravarti 283

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2006). Moreover, the imposition of pollution on women’s bodies remains, since women within and outside the Dalit community remain untouchable and since pollution has been assigned specifically to women’s bodies regardless of caste. An understanding that women’s bodies are polluted leads directly to violence against women’s bodies through rape. In a context where upper caste men may easily regain ritual purity, contact with doubly ‘polluted’ Dalit women via sexual violence asserts the ‘pure’ status of upper caste men in relation to Dalit women’s polluted status. In turn, low-caste women reproduce these values and restrict each other, protecting men from women’s pollution. In Rege’s analysis and compilation of Dalit women autobiographies (in Writing Caste/Writing Gender), she summarizes the autobiographical representation of Dalit women harassing Janabai Kachru Girhe because she pursues education: ‘The gopal women often taunted her and sang dirty songs when they saw her going to school’ (2006: 332). These women have internalized Brahmin patriarchal ideology in terms of the restrictions on women’s bodies and sexuality, exercised through limitations on education and mobility. They gain perceived power when they police other women and girls using the same system which oppresses them, and imply the threat of violence through sexual assault – the central coercive force against women. As in Pawar’s discussion of sex education, and institutional bans on sex education, including in Maharashtra, restricting girls’ and women’s education directly produces female shame and ignorance regarding their own bodies, which I would term as ‘bodily illiteracy’. The representation of these experiences claims them as truth; but the form of autobiography also rejects the experience of illiteracy. Furthermore, Dalit women’s representation of these experiences through autobiography makes a political statement about the nature of truth, again through the connection of the body and autobiography. Consider that first-person accounts of trauma by women, for example, are likely to be doubted, not only when they bring forward accounts of sexual trauma but also because their self-­ representation already is at odds with the account the representative man would produce. (Gilmore 2001: 23) Through the autobiographical genre, Dalit women reclaim both the ­literacy – the truth of the written text and of their own bodies. Women’s bodies, including their experiences of menstruating, sexual desire or violence, are constructed in religious texts as apolitical; they are excluded from intellectual–political and spiritual–religious spaces as a deviation from, and a threat to, the universal and ritually pure male body. 284

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Reintroducing women’s bodies undermines patriarchal and Hindu authority. Dalit women writers both expose oppressive aspects of culture and reconstruct their own experiences, breaking down the distinctions between bodily and intellectual, profane and sacred, literary and political. Dalit women challenge caste practices in the Dalit movement with their own bodies, and with their specific experiences of being women with polluted or untouchable bodies even within their own untouchable communities. The resistance to rituals that maintain untouchable status becomes ritual itself, whereby Dalit women combine the ritually ‘pure’ religious space with the ritually ‘impure’ religious space in the temple and in daily life. The idea that autobiography can become ‘the text of the oppressed’, articulating through one person’s experience experiences which may be representative of a particular marginalized group, is an important one: autobiography becomes both a way of testifying to oppression and empowering the subject through their cultural inscription and recognition. (Anderson 2001: 104) In this act, Dalit women redefine women’s bodies as worthy of participation in the sacred spaces refused to them in Brahmanical patriarchal restrictions as well as in the intellectual spaces refused to them in Brahmanical spaces and in Dalit intellectual spaces. They disrupt the model of the universal male body as well as the imposed identity of pollution as it appears in Hindu doctrine, and as it is reproduced in the genre of autobiography in both upper caste and Dalit autobiographical traditions. In their writing, Dalit women include their bodies as human bodies, and reject the concept of their female bodies as polluted and polluting. As the Dalit women claim their place in the realm of intellectual production and truth-telling, they simultaneously refuse to leave their polluted bodies out of the text.

References Anderson, Linda. ‘Autobiography’, in The New Critical Idiom, (ed.) John Drakakis. London: Routledge, 2001. Blackstone, Kathryn R. Women in the Footsteps of the Buddha: Struggle for Liberation in the Therigatha. Richmond, UK: Curzon, 1998. Chakravarti, Uma. ‘Gendering Caste through a Feminist Lens’, in Theorizing Feminism, (ed.) Maithreyi Krishnaraj. Calcutta: Stree, 2006. Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2001. Garg, Suneela, Nandini Sharma and Ragini Sahay. ‘Socio-Cultural Aspects of Menstruation in an Urban Slum in Delhi, India’, Reproductive Health Matters Vol. 9, No. 17 (2001): 16–25.

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Gilmore, Leigh. The Limits of Autobiography: Trauma and Testimony. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001. Gross, Rita M. Buddhism after Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993. Kamble, Baby. The Prisons We Broke. Trans. Maya Pandit. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2009. Kumar, Raj. Dalit Personal Narratives: Reading Caste, Nation and Identity. Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan, 2010. Manu. The Laws of Manu 1500 BC. Trans. George Bühler. Sacred Books of the East, 1886. Martin, Jane Roland. ‘Excluding Women from the Educational Realm’, Harvard Educational Review Vol. 52, No. 2 (1982): 133–48. Omvedt, Gail. Dalits and the Democratic Revolution: Dr. Ambedkar and the Dalit Movement in Colonial India. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1994. Pawade, Kumud. ‘Antasphot’. Trans. Maya Pandit, in Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Reading Dalit Women’s Testimonios, (ed.) Sharmila Rege. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2006. Pawde, Kumud. ‘The Story of My “Sanskrit” ’. Trans. Priya Adarkar. In A Corpse in the Well, (ed.) Arjun Dangle. Hyderabad: Disha, 1992; 24–34.2 Pawar, Urmila. The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs. Trans. Maya Pandit. Kolkata: Stree, 2008. Rege, Sharmila. ‘Caste and Gender: The Violence against Women in India’, Dalit Women, (ed.) P. Jogdand. New Delhi: Gyan, 1994. Rege, Sharmila. Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Reading Dalit Women’s Testimonios. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2006. Rege, Sharmila. Afterword, Urmila Pawar’s The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs. Kolkata: Stree, 2008. The Sacred Laws of the Aryas as Taught in the Schools of Âpastamba, Gautama, Vâsishtha, and Budhâyana: Part I Âpastamba and Gautama. Trans. Georg Bühler. Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879. Smith, Sidonie. Subjectivity, Identity, and the Body: Women’s Autobiographical Practices in the Twentieth Century. Bloomington, IL: Indiana University Press, 1993. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, (eds.) Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988: 271–313. Teltumbde, Anand. The Persistence of Caste: The Khairlanji Murders and India’s Hidden Apartheid. London and New York: Zed Books, 2010. Viswanathan, Gauri. Outside the Fold: Conversion, Modernity, Belief. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.

2

Kumud Pawade’s name is transliterated into English as Pawade or Pawde depending on the translator.

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18 INTIMACY ACROSS CASTE AND CLASS BOUNDARIES IN ARUNDHATI ROY’S THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS Maryam Mirza

Velutha and Ammu’s passionate liaison and the extraordinary bond that Ammu’s Dalit lover shares with her children lie at the heart of Roy’s novel and its preoccupation with social divisions. To varying degrees, both these relationships violate ‘the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much’ (31).1 In this essay, I will attempt to demonstrate that the transgressive nature of the two relationships stems from stark caste as well as class differences. Roy’s depiction of these affective ties reveals not only the convergence but also the tension between the two systems of social stratification, and brings to the fore their implications for human intimacy. While the novel illustrates the capacity of intimate, tactile relationships to shift rigid social hierarchies, I will argue that it also underscores their limitations. Finally, the poetics of narrating cross-caste, cross-class intimacy from a non-Dalit, upper class perspective will be explored. Ammu and Velutha’s nocturnal trysts are clearly their most transgressive act: the erotic coming together of an upper class, upper caste Syrian Christian woman2 and a Paravan carpenter.3 However, even before they 1

All quotations from Roy’s novel are from the 1997 IndiaInk edition. Syrian Christians in Kerala are regarded as a high caste community as they claim descent from the thirty-two Brahmin families that are said to have been converted to Christianity by Saint Thomas (Tickell 2007: 19). 3 As Roy explains, with the arrival of the British in Malabar, some members of the lowest classes, including ‘a number of Paravans’ converted to Christianity hoping to escape the ‘scourge of Untouchability’. However ‘it didn’t take them long to realize that they had jumped from the frying pan into the fire. They were made to have separate churches, with separate services, with separate priests’ (74). 2 The

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begin the affair, the two can be characterized as ‘liminal entities’ as they seem to ‘elude or slip through the network of classifications that normally locate states and positions’ in society (Turner 1969: 95). Ammu’s unorthodox choices in life as a woman (her love marriage to a Hindu, subsequent divorce and unceremonious return to the parental house with two children in tow) have made her something of a social outcast, and her marginality is compounded by her ‘untamed’ personality: ‘They sensed somehow that she lived in the penumbral shadows between two worlds, just beyond the grasp of their power. That a woman that they had already damned, now had little left to lose, and could therefore be dangerous’ (44). If Ammu’s independent thinking is a cause for much suspicion among her family members, Velutha too does not subscribe to the culturally designated code of conduct for a young man of his caste and class. Unlike his father, Velutha rejects the prevailing ideology that defines him as an innately inferior being: Vellya Paapen feared for his younger son. He couldn’t say what it was that frightened him. It was nothing that he had said. Or done. It was not what he said, but the way he said it. Not what he did, but the way he did it. Perhaps it was just a lack of hesitation. An unwarranted assurance. (76; italics original) It is not just Velutha’s quiet self-confidence that sets him apart from other men in his social position, but also his skills and ability. In addition to his talent for carpentry, Velutha has ‘a way with machines’ (75). He is hired by Mammachi as a carpenter and is also put ‘in charge of general maintenance’ of the family-owned pickles and preserves factory. Velutha has to bear the brunt of his ‘Touchable’ colleagues, according to whom ‘Paravans are not meant to be carpenters’ (17). They resent him for not practicing a profession befitting a Dalit: one of the several occupations often associated with death and filth, which have historically been the lot of the lowest castes in India. Roy’s text, thus, reveals the tension between caste and class identities: Velutha’s profession (and the corresponding salary) would seem to accord him a higher working class position than what would be compatible with his Dalit status. While caste and class are certainly two distinct systems of social stratification, and should not be collapsed into each other, it is also important to note that there exists a ‘broad congruence’ between the two (Chakravarti 2003: 13). Furthermore, as Gail Omvedt (1982: 14–15) has pointed out, caste ‘still is a material reality with a material base’ and it ‘continues to have crucial economic implications today’. In The God of Small Things, Roy reveals the 288

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measures taken by the upper caste, upper class élite to consciously align class and caste categories, thereby severely limiting social mobility. In an attempt to restore the ‘natural’ order of things which Velutha’s talent and expertise have disrupted, Mammachi pays him a salary that is lower than what would be commensurate with his job description. As the following passage shows, she does not perceive her behaviour as unjust or exploitative, instead she finds it completely rational: To keep the others happy and since she knew that nobody else would hire him as a carpenter, she paid Velutha less than she would a Touchable carpenter but more than she would a Paravan . . . She thought he ought to be grateful that he was allowed on the factory premises at all and allowed to touch the things that Touchables touched. She said it was a big step for a Paravan. (77) In addition to Velutha’s caste and class identities, his political convictions are crucial to our understanding of his character. His membership of the Communist Party and active participation in the workers’ march is an expression of his discontent with the status quo. It is his presence at the march that leads Ammu to realize that the two might share a common sensibility and an aversion to the established order, be it socio-economic or patriarchal: She hoped it had been him that Rahel saw in the march. She hoped it had been him that had raised his flag and knotted arm in anger. She hoped that under his careful cloak of cheerfulness, he housed a living, breathing, anger against the smug, ordered world that she so raged against. (175–6; italics in original) However, as the author reveals, even at the heart of the Communist Party, a distinction is made between ‘touchable’ and ‘untouchable’ workers, and Velutha’s contribution to party politics is far from appreciated. Roy’s novel includes a biting satire of the brand of Marxism practiced by the Communist Party of India, and its dissident offshoot, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which rose to power in Kerala in 1967 as part of a sevenparty anti-Congress coalition. Instead of striving to dismantle crippling caste differences under an egalitarian party agenda, its leaders – whom Roy lampoons ferociously – maintain and capitalize on existing social cleavages: The real secret was that communism crept into Kerala insidiously. As a reformist movement that never overtly questioned the traditional values of a caste-ridden, extremely traditional community. 289

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The Marxists worked from within the communal divides, never challenging them, never appearing not to. They offered a cocktail revolution. A heady mix of Eastern Marxism and orthodox Hinduism, spiked with a shot of democracy. (66–7) Comrade Pillai, the communist leader in Roy’s text, refuses to help Velutha when he is falsely accused of rape, abduction and murder. Indeed, the accusations are an opportunity for Pillai to get rid of Velutha whose participation in party politics is a source of discomfort for the leaders. Roy highlights the upper caste feudal identity and loyalties of the communist party heads, describing E.M.S. Namboodiripad as the ‘flamboyant Brahmin high priest of Marxism in Kerala’ (67). Historically, these ‘priests’ of Communism, not unlike those of Christianity, did little to dislodge caste prejudice in the region: like ‘Caste Hindus’ and ‘Caste Christians’, card-holding party workers too were socially defined in terms of their caste identity. In the novel, Pillai’s inclusive public stance and his ostensible defence of the rights of untouchables (‘Caste is Class, comrades’, 281) are in sharp contrast with his real convictions, which become evident in his private discussion with Chacko: You see, Comrade, from local standpoint, there caste issues are very deep-rooted . . . It is a conditioning they have from birth. This I myself have told them is wrong. But frankly speaking Comrade, Change is one thing. Acceptance is another. (278–9) Ironically, for Baby Kochamma, who is ridiculed and forced to wave the party flag in the march, and having always despised Velutha for being a Paravan, begins to hate him vehemently for his association with the party. In her eyes, he grows to ‘represent the march’ (82). Perhaps she senses the new, ‘Naxalite’ edge to the procession, which gives it a different complexion from the usual activities of the ruling communist party in the region (69). The Naxalites who were mostly ‘peasants, untouchables and people of the local Santal tribe, angered by years of empty government promises’ staged an armed uprising in the north-west Bengal village of Naxalbari in March 1967. They were condemned by the Communist Party of India, and by E.M.S Namboodiripad in Kerala, for being politically and organizationally ‘bankrupt’ (Tickell 2007: 32). As we know, Velutha’s very physical affair with Ammu and Sophie Mol’s subsequent accidental drowning would later provide Baby Kochamma with a much welcome pretext to completely annihilate Velutha, thus punishing him for the personal indignity that she was made to suffer by the demonstrators. While in the novel Velutha’s murder is not portrayed as a direct response to his possible ‘Naxalite’ 290

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affiliations, the Dalit character’s brutal death does parallel the ‘notorious violence meted out to the Naxalite revolutionaries, who were tortured, raped and executed by police in the pay of coalitional communist state governments’ (Tickell 2007: 33). Undoubtedly, Roy’s portrayal of Velutha and Ammu’s erotic liaison and the representation of the Dalit character’s body are tied in with the subalterncentred sensibility of the novel. The text includes numerous detailed descriptions of Velutha’s physical beauty, as perceived by Ammu. The following passage is one such example: She saw ridges of muscle on Velutha’s stomach grow taught and rise under his skin like the divisions on a slab of chocolate. She wondered how his body had changed – so quietly from a flat-­ muscled boy’s body into a man’s body. Contoured and hard. A swimmer’s body. A swimmer-carpenter’s body. Polished with highwax body polish. (175) Sujala Singh finds that Velutha’s body in the novel is ‘described obsessively’ (Singh 2006: 190). Indeed, the focus on Velutha’s body has invited a number of criticisms, especially in the context of the observation that he is often bare-chested, dressed only in a mundu. As Vinita Bhatnagar (2001) explains, ‘men and women of the lowest castes were not allowed to wear clothing above the waist’ (96). This historical fact, according to Victor Li, seriously problematizes Roy’s portrayal of the subaltern body. It is one thing, for example, to have our gaze directed at the eroticized beauty of Velutha’s subaltern body (an eroticization not unlike that visited on the punkha-wallah’s body in A Passage to India); it is another to learn that the author’s gaze ignores the fact that subaltern nakedness is a mark of social humiliation. (Li 2009: 287) In a similar vein, Roy’s characterization of Velutha could also, perhaps, lend itself to criticisms of gratuitous eroticization of the working class male body. As the following passage clearly demonstrates, Ammu attributes her lover’s muscular beauty to his occupation as a carpenter: As she watched him she understood the quality of his beauty. How his labour had shaped him. How the wood he fashioned had fashioned him. Each plank he planed, each nail he drove, each thing he made, had moulded him. Had left its stamp on him. Had given him his strength, his supple grace. (334) 291

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In his essay on the eroticization of the working class in gay literature and pornography, Stephen Donaldson (1990) contends that the psychological source of the attraction that the working classes exert on the élite comes from the perception that the upper classes have lost their masculine vitality. Men from the leisured classes are seen to be ‘removed from the exercise of physical power, while the (young) males of the lower class are more robust, earthy, grounded, more in touch with their sexuality, more physically aggressive, in short, more macho’ (1405). While it is difficult to deny that the subaltern’s body in the text bears the stamp of his physical labour, it is important to note that the portrayal of Velutha’s masculinity does not conform to stereotypical notions of a working class masculinity that is overtly aggressive and macho. On the contrary, in the final lovemaking scene, it is Ammu who initiates physical intimacy with him: She went to him and laid the length of her body against his. He just stood there. He didn’t touch her . . . She unbuttoned her shirt. They stood there. Skin to skin . . . She pulled his head towards her and kissed his mouth. A cloudy kiss. A kiss than demanded a kiss-back. (335) Far for ascribing him a clichéd ‘working class’ virility, the text accentuates Velutha’s gentleness: ‘He stroked her back. Very gently. She could feel the skin on his palms. Rough. Calloused. Sandpaper. He was careful not to hurt her’ (335). His relationship with Estha and Rahel too is an exceptionally tender one. Rahel considers him her ‘most beloved friend’, and he appears to play the part of a substitute father for the twins (71). Indeed, as Jani points out, the four of them together form a ‘virtual family’ (209). But, in this context too, Velutha’s manner with Ammu’s children does not subscribe to conventional notions of masculinity, and his paternal attitude is not based on authority or distance. He is remarkably at ease with the children, and his multiple talents defy traditional masculine/feminine divisions: he not only cooks for them but also teaches them to use a planer and to fish (79). In particular, Rahel’s relationship with Velutha is intensely tactile: ‘She knew his back. She’d been carried on it. More times than she could count. It had a light brown birthmark, shaped like a pointed dry leaf’ (73). Skin-to-skin contact is central to their intimacy, humour and play. To cite another example from the text: ‘Rahel lunged at his armpits and tickled him mercilessly. Ickilee, ickilee ickilee! (177). Rahel and Velutha’s bond is an affront to the dictates of untouchability and, even though the little girl’s young age mitigates the breach, her physically demonstrative relationship with Velutha does not go unnoticed. We are reminded, for 292

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example, of Baby Kochamma reprimanding Rahel for being ‘over-familiar with that man’, which highlights the awareness of the elite characters of the disruptive power of physical intimacy (184). The skin as an organ in Roy’s novel is very much, to quote Sara Ahmed (2000), ‘the locus for social differentiation’, registering both familiarity and otherness (50). Note also that when Velutha is arrested, the policemen remark that his nails have been painted red, resulting in cruel jokes about his sexual orientation: ‘That was when they noticed his painted nails. One of them held them up and waved them coquettishly at the others. They laughed. “What’s this?” in a high falsetto. “AC-DC?” ’ (310–11) Velutha had allowed Rahel to decorate his hands, which is a poignant reminder of not only his indulgent affection for the twins but also his relaxed attitude towards his masculinity. To return to Roy’s depiction of Velutha’s bare body – unlike Li, I would argue that the author appears to be very much aware of the abasement associated with the nudity imposed on the lowest castes. It is worth noting, for instance, that when he publically voices his disaffection with the established order during the workers’ march, Velutha’s chest is, in fact, covered, and he is dressed in a white shirt. Moreover, the Dalit character’s near naked body in other parts of the novel works to underscore his close bond with nature. Particularly, in the final scene of the text, when he meets Ammu on the banks of the Meenachal river, Velutha appears to her as an organic part of his natural surroundings. As he rose from the dark river and walked up the stone steps, she saw that the world they stood in was his. That he belonged to it. That it belonged to him. The water. The mud. The trees. The fish. The stars. He moved so easily through it. (334) Divya Anand finds a description such as this reduces Velutha to the figure of the ‘noble savage’ (Anand 2005: 97). However, I would contend that this portrayal takes on an entirely different meaning when we read Velutha’s affinity with nature as part of Roy’s critique of rampant capitalist development, and the environmental devastation that it brings in its wake. In fact, Velutha’s violent death underscores the degradation of the Meenachal river, which the adult Rahel cannot but notice upon her return to Ayemenem. Pranav Jani makes a similar point when he argues that: The critique of capitalist modernity in Roy’s novel often develops through representations of a deteriorating nature; the possibility of transforming that modernity, likewise, is projected through (lost scenes of) lush, natural beauty that are crucially, linked to (the loss of) Velutha himself. (Jani 2010: 216) 293

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Furthermore, it is important to note the focus on Velutha’s body and his near nudity, instead of objectifying him, allows the text to uphold a specific kind of beauty. Given the significance of skin colour in the Indian subcontinent, the repetitive references to Velutha’s ‘black’ body are particularly worthy of analysis. As Amali Philips explains: The concept of skin colour in India, and more generally in South Asia, embraces much more than chromatic qualities, for the semantics of colour include cultural perceptions and judgments about associated moral and behavioural qualities, health and appearance, and individual and collective identities. (Philips 2004: 253) More specifically, a cultural association exists between dark skin and a lower caste status. Tickell has observed that this identification of dark skin with the lowest castes may well be the result of the work of some European scholars who ‘racialized caste’ in their widespread assumption that caste divisions had developed after advanced Aryan races had invaded northern India in the pre-Vedic period and subjugated darker-skinned native Dravidian peoples, excluding them from ‘twice-born’ caste status. (Tickell 2007: 25)4 The social perception of the inferiority of dark skin is reinforced by its association with the lower classes in the region: dark skin also evokes the physical ravages of toiling ‘long in the hot sun’ (Philips 2004: 355). Moreover, as Priya Menon has remarked: ‘Whiteness is spectacularized, played out aloud, encoded and articulated, in every walk of life in contemporary Kerala. It’s no secret that Kerala’s touchstone for its standards of beauty is largely governed by whiteness’ (Menon 2010: 135). Physical beauty, then, is closely tied in with social hierarchies and, in this cultural context, is very much colour coded. Ammu’s lover’s skin is ‘so black’ that his parents named him ‘Velutha’, meaning ‘White’ in Malayalam (73). Generally speaking, the physical beauty or ugliness attributed to a character in a work of literature is hardly ever ‘neutral but is predicated on ideological considerations’ (Davis 1987: 124). Indeed, Roy appears to make a conscious effort to insist on the beauty of Velutha’s blackness – of his ‘dark legs’ and ‘smooth ebony chest’ (334–5). Thus, the novel seems 4

This biased view of Indian history was in keeping with ‘nineteenth-century European theories about racial evolution and made the further conquest of India by the British seem inevitable and beneficial’ (Tickell 2007: 25).

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to echo the political sentiment encapsulated by the slogan ‘Black Is Beautiful’ through which the African American community sought to modify established notions of beauty. As bell hooks5 points out, this slogan ‘worked to intervene in and alter those racist stereotypes that had always insisted black was ugly, monstrous, undesirable’ (hooks 1996: 120). Although the critic Dirk Wiemann concedes the antiracist element in the portrayal of Velutha’s body, he nonetheless insists that the Dalit character’s ‘desirable athleticism’ is marked by a facile, normative idealization, which depends on ‘readily available, over-determined images of bodily perfection’ (Wiemann 2008: 291). On the contrary, I would argue that Velutha’s physical attractiveness is far from conformist or conventional: in fact, so unconventional is his beauty that it is invisible to most members of the élite who have been schooled for centuries to see only ugliness in the members of the lowest castes. Velutha’s body – indeed his entire ‘Dalit’ being – produces a feeling of deep-seated disgust among Ammu’s family. To quote one example: Baby Kochamma is filled with physical revulsion – and not envy – when she learns of Velutha and Ammu’s liaison: ‘How can she stand the smell? Haven’t you noticed, they have a particular smell, these Paravans?’ (78; italics original). Mammachi’s reaction is, perhaps, even stronger: ‘She thought of her naked, coupling in the mud with a man who was nothing but a filthy coolie . . . His particular Paravan Smell. Like animals, Mammachi thought and nearly vomited’ (257–8; italics original). In these sentences, the categories of class and caste inferiority mutually reinforce Velutha’s subalternity. Mammachi perceives (or insists on perceiving) Velutha as a ‘coolie’: a term laden with deeply pejorative connotations, and employed to refer to an unqualified, unskilled labourer. Thus, Roy reveals the rigidity of caste and class boundaries: despite his training and skill as a carpenter, Velutha remains a ‘coolie’, and is deprived of social mobility. Ammu’s awareness of Velutha’s beauty and her response to it are a testament to her liminality, and her refusal to subscribe to dominant ideologies. As we have seen, the focus on Velutha’s body and the insistence on his beauty – particularly during his intense sexual encounters with Ammu – work to reclaim culturally acceptable notions of beauty and male/female sexual desire. Indeed, according to Kancha Ilaiah, ‘beauty and ugliness are both culturally constructed notions that gradually transform our consciousness’, and thus ‘it is important that these notions be recast to change the hegemonic relations that have been brought into force in the process’ (quoted in Amin and Chakrabarty 1997: 169).

5

‘bell hooks’ is the pen name of Gloria Jean Watkins (born 25 September 1952), American author, feminist and social activist.

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Ammu and Velutha’s liaison lasts no longer than thirteen nights; but it has devastating consequences for the lovers and the twins. The text highlights the disruptive power of erotic intimacy, and the challenge that it can pose to rigid social divisions. However, the limited textual space given to the actual exchanges between Ammu and her Dalit lover seem to underscore that a relationship as transgressive as theirs – which breaches patriarchal, casteist and class-related codes – cannot but exist in a temporally and spatially limited frame. The final love-making scene is perceived by some critics as an alternative, utopic ending to the novel’s tragic conclusion. Aijaz Ahmad, in particular, has criticized Roy’s emphasis on sexual desire, maintaining that the author depicts the erotic as a ‘sufficient mode for overcoming real social oppressions’ (Ahmad 2007: 116). Ahmad perceives Ammu and Velutha’s relationship as an exercise of a ‘libidinous drive’, which reduces them to ‘pure embodiments of desire’, and renders them oblivious to concrete social realities (Ahmad 2007: 116). On the contrary, I would contend that the lovers never lose sight of these very concrete, deeply oppressive realities. It is worth recalling, for instance, the feeling of ‘terror’ that seizes Velutha after making love with Ammu (337). Moreover, as Kalpana Wilson points out: The relationship between Ammu and Velutha is from the outset permeated with an inescapable awareness of history and the social relations within which they have interacted with each other since childhood. Even Velutha’s first word ‘Ammukutty’ (‘Little Ammu’), when they finally meet on the riverbank, takes us back to the time when Velutha, though several years younger, used this pet-name while offering his hand-made gifts on his outstretched palm, as he had been taught, so Ammu would not have to touch him. (1998) Indeed, Ahmad overestimates the emancipatory power attributed to Velutha and Ammu’s liaison in Roy’s text; he also simultaneously undervalues the political significance of sexual desire in general. It is especially difficult to deny the political ramifications of the sexual act if we recall Mammachi’s uncontrollable rage at her daughter for having ‘defiled generations of breeding’, and having ‘brought the family to its knees’ by making love to a Dalit and a ‘coolie’ (258). Mammachi’s reaction to her daughter’s affair is in sharp contrast to her indulgent attitude towards her son Chacko’s many dalliances with subaltern women. In her eyes, by acting on her sexual impulses, Ammu has not just contravened the ‘sacred’ laws of untouchability but also those of patriarchy. Therefore, as Armstrong and Tennenhouse insist: ‘we must see representations of desire, neither as reflections nor as consequences of political power but as a form of political power in 296

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their own right’ (Armstrong and Tennenhouse 1987: 2). However, while it is important to acknowledge the politics of erotic touch, it is also crucial not to exaggerate its liberating power in the novel, as Brinda Bose (2001) appears to do.6 Even though sexual intercourse is intended to be an act of resistance against social oppression in Roy’s text, it is an ultimately inadequate form of rebellion. Despite the lyricism of the closing passages, the reader is never lulled into forgetting the tragic destiny of the lovers. In particular, the non-linear chronology of the novel never allows the reader to lose sight of the obstacles that stand in the way of so very transgressive a love affair, or of the price that will have to be paid for it. According to Jani: ‘The novel succeeds in its project precisely because it portrays the inability of sexuality to smooth over oppression of the subaltern’ (2010: 210). Velutha’s loving friendship with the twins also ends under painful circumstances: Baby Kochamma emotionally blackmails and terrifies the twins into identifying Velutha as Sophie Mol’s kidnapper to the police, and the guilt over this manipulated betrayal scars them for life. As we have seen, Roy has created a text that is centred on the lower class Dalit subaltern and this, despite her own non-Dalit, ‘privileged’ position in real life. A number of formal techniques are instrumental in lending the novel this sensibility. Given the élite siting of the English language in India, the techniques deployed by the Anglophone author in the Indian subcontinent to render the non-English-speaking subaltern’s direct and indirect speech can be particularly revealing. In Roy’s novel, Velutha and the twins, and Velutha and Ammu communicate with each other, in principle, in Malayalam, and the dialogue is then rendered or ‘translated’ into ‘standard’ English. By the term ‘standard’ English, I am referring to a variety of English that is close to Standard British or American English with respect to syntax and grammar, even if it bears certain obvious lexical markers of ‘Indian’ socio-cultural realities.7 It is important to remember that the ‘indianized’ English usually attributed to non-English-speaking Indians and Indians from 6

See Bose, Brinda. ‘In Desire and in Death: Eroticism as Politics in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things’, (eds.) Alamgir Hashmi et al., Post-Independence Voices in South Asian Writings, 223–225. 7 Crystal (1994) suggests defining ‘the Standard English of an English-speaking country as a minority variety (identified chiefly by its vocabulary, grammar and orthography) which carries most prestige and is most widely understood (24). The oft-employed markers of the ‘Indianised’ English used for narrating dialogue in Anglophone fiction from India include: echo-words, article absence or presence different for standard forms of English, and use of the progressive tense with stative words. See Kalaivahni Muthiah, ‘Fictionalized Indian English Speech and the Representations of Ideology in Indian Novels in English.’ Doctoral Thesis (University of North Texas, 2009): 146–262.

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the lower classes in Anglophone literature from the Indian subcontinent is a strictly poetic idiom (Guilhamon 2009: 226). It is a device used to create an illusion that the authors are transcribing ‘authentic’ Indian experiences (Muthiah 2009: 2). However, where grammatically incorrect English is used to ‘translate’ the subaltern’s speech, it often has the – perhaps entirely unwitting – effect of further accentuating his or her social inferiority. As Khair has warned: ‘The ploy of creating a stylized Indian English remains suspect and actually replicates the staged English of colonial literatures . . . One is faced with the problem of superior reportage, of appropriation from a position of domination’ (Khair 2001: 125). The following passage is an example of the ‘standard’ English used by Roy to narrate Velutha’s exchanges with the twins. ‘I don’t want you playing any silly games on this river.’ ‘We won’t. We promise. We’ll use it only when you’re with us.’ ‘First we’ll have to find the leaks . . . ’ Velutha said. ‘Then we’ll have to plug them!’ the twins shouted, as though it was the second line of a well-known poem. ‘How long will it take?’ ‘A day’, said Velutha. ‘A day! I thought you’d say a month!’ (213) As Christine Vogt-William (2003) explains, ‘Velutha, an Untouchable, would not have had access to the kind of English Roy uses in his speech’. Yet, Roy reports his direct and indirect speech in ‘standard’ English, devoid of grammatical errors and other distractions. This lends his ideas and words a certain dignity, and ‘contributes to the reader’s perception of Velutha not just as an Untouchable, but rather as a person with rights’ who is capable of coherent thought (402). The text, thus, consciously avoids reproducing Velutha’s societal subalternity within the narrative. It is important to note that Velutha’s is not the central perspective, and a large part of the novel is narrated from the point of view of an upper class character, Rahel. Moreover, it is only after Roy has already evoked the trauma of the upper class non-Dalit characters that she reveals to the reader the price that Velutha had to pay for his ‘transgressions’. And yet, Velutha remains resolutely central to the novel. The structure of the text and the gradual unfolding of Velutha’s tragedy compel the implied readers to reconsider and revise their understanding of the relationship between the characters, and the agency that they actually possess. We learn, for instance, that despite her privileged origins, Ammu is a victim of patriarchy: she is financially exploited by her brother and has severely limited choices (57). 298

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Rather than conceal it, the text recognizes the chasm between Velutha (and by extension his caste and class) and the implied reader. As Jani explains: [T]he narrative constructs an implied audience that is unable to approach Velutha’s story except from a distance, slowly working through the trauma of Ammu’s family and discerning the various, overlapping sites of violence and brutality. Rather than producing an elite-centered narrative, however, this progression allows for a complex rendering of power relations in postcolonial society and a lesson in how subalternity is produced through the selective processes of storytelling. (Jani 2010: 199) In employing Rahel’s perspective and binding the implied reader to her moral sensibilities, Roy’s novel creates a discursive space that is rare in Anglophone literature from the Indian subcontinent: she allows for the possibility of élite characters to reflect on the status quo, and acknowledge their own complicity (Jani 2010: 208). They are able to feel genuine empathy for and solidarity with the Dalit subaltern. Instead of usurping Velutha’s voice, these characters become ‘vehicles for the recovery of subaltern stories’ (Jani 2010: 208). Roy’s novel brings to the fore the complex intersection of sometimes conflicting, sometimes mutually reinforcing, systems of social stratification based on caste, class and patriarchy, and their devastating consequences for human relationships. By locating a Dalit at the centre of the emotional universe of three upper caste/upper class characters, Roy reveals that human intimacy can shift oppressive hierarchies, even if such a victory is short-lived and the punishment meted out for it breathtakingly brutal. The God of Small Things also proves that a work of literature, despite its ‘privileged’ position, can be unequivocally and unashamedly committed to the subaltern worldview, be it Dalit or otherwise.

References Ahmad, Aijaz. ‘Reading Arundhati Roy Politically’, Arundhati Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things’, (ed.) Alex Tickell. London: Routledge, 2007; 110–19. Ahmed, Sara. Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality. London: Routledge, 2000. Amin, Shahid and Dipesh Chakrabarty (eds.). Subaltern Studies: Writings on South Asian History and Society. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997. Anand, Divya. ‘Inhabiting the Space of Literature: An Ecocritical Study of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and O.V. Vijayan’s The Legends of Khasak’. Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment Vol. 12, No. 2 (2005): 95–108. Armstrong, Nancy and Leonard Tennenhouse (eds.). The Ideology of Conduct: Essays on Literature and the History of Sexuality. London: Methuen, 1987; 2.

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Bhatnagar, Vinita Dhondiyal. Readings in Indian English Literature: Nation, Culture and Identity. New Delhi: Harman Publishing House, 2001. Bose, Brinda. ‘In Desire and in Death: Eroticism as Politics in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things’, in Post Independence Voices in South Asian Writings, (eds.) Alamgir Hashmi et al. Islamabad: Alhamra 2001; 223–5. Chakravarti, Uma. Gendering Caste through a Feminist Lens. Calcutta: Stree, 2003. Crystal, David. ‘What Is Standard English?’ Concorde (1994): 24–6. Davis, Lennard J. Resisting Novels: Ideology and Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1987. Donaldson, Stephen. ‘Eroticization of the Working Class’, in Encyclopaedia of Homosexuality, (ed.) Wayne R. Dynes. New York: Garland Publishing, 1990; 1405–6. Guilhamon, Lise. ‘Indian English ou Masala English: quelle variété d’anglais pour le roman indien anglophone’, La modernité littéraire indienne: perspectives postcoloniales, (eds.) Anne Castaing et al. Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2009; 210–36. bell hooks. Killing Rage: Ending Racism. New York: H. Holt and Co., 1996. Jani, Pranav. Decentering Rushdie: Cosmopolitanism and the Indian Novel in English. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2010. Khair, Tabish. Babu Fictions: Alienation in Contemporary Indian English Novels. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001. Li, Victor. ‘Necroidealism or the Subaltern’s Sacrificial Death’, Interventions Vol. 11, No. 3 (2009): 275–92. Menon, Priya. ‘Liminal Resistances: Local Subjections in My Story, Vidheyan, and The God Of Small Things’, Doctoral Thesis. Georgia State University, December 2010. Muthiah, Kalaivahni. ‘Fictionalized Indian English Speech and the Representations of Ideology in Indian Novels in English’, Doctoral Thesis. University of North Texas, August 2009. Omvedt, Gail. ‘Class, Caste and Land in India: An Introductory Essay’, in Land, Caste and Politics in Indian States, (ed.) Gail Omvedt. Delhi: Authors Guild Publication, 1982; 9–50. Philips, Amali. ‘Gendering Colour: Identity, Femininity and Marriage in Kerala’. Anthropologica Vol. 46, No. 2 (2004): 253–72. Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. New Delhi: IndiaInk, 1997. Singh, Sujala. ‘The Child and the Nation in Contemporary South Asian Literature’, in Peripheral Centres, Central Peripheries: India and Its Diaspora(s), (eds.) Martina Ghosh-Schellhorn and Vera Alexander. Münster: Lit, 2006; 183–94. Tickell, Alex. Arundhati Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things’. London: Routledge, 2007. Turner, Victor. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. 1969. Piscataway; Aldine Transaction, 1995. Vogt-William, Christine. ‘ “Language Is the Skin of My Thought”: Language Relations in Ancient Promises and The God of Small Things’, in The Politics of English as a World Language, (ed.) Christian Mair. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2003; 393–404. Wiemann, Dirk. Internationale Forschungen zur Allgemeinen und Vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaft. Volume 120: Genres of Modernity: Contemporary Indian Novels in English. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2008. Wilson, Kalpana. ‘Arundhati Roy and the Left: For Reclaiming “Small Things” ’, Liberation, January 1998. http://www.cpiml.org/liberation/year_1998/january/books.htm. Accessed 2 September 2012.

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19 CASTE AS THE BAGGAGE OF THE PAST Global modernity and the cosmopolitan Dalit identity1 K. Satyanarayana

Narendra Jadhav, a Dalit and an economist, remembers what his father Damu said when he was leaving for America to pursue his doctoral studies: ‘Our ancestors have never even crossed the boundaries of our little village in India . . . and today, his son is all set to cross the seven seas!’2 This comment sums up the theme of Narendra Jadhav’s Outcaste: A Memoir published in 2003. The book is about the journey of a Dalit family from the small village of Ozar, to the big city of Mumbai, and then to far-off places like the United States. It presents the story of a Dalit family. It depicts both the oppressive and exploitative village life and the successes of the three generations of this family. The central narrative follows the transformation of this family into a very successful one of eminent scholars and officers in the country and abroad – all within a span of three generations. The locational shift of the Dalit family from the village to the cities and to the spaces beyond ‘the seven seas’ is critical to this transformation and the remarkable success of the family. By and large, the nation state has been the representational space of Dalit life in Dalit writing of the 1970s and 1980s (Dangle 1992; Bama

1

I thank Susie Tharu for commenting on early drafts of this chapter and also for helping me to sharpen my arguments. Madhava Prasad and Yesudasan gave me useful feedback to revise this paper for publication. I also thank audience at South Asia Institute, Columbia University, for their critical remarks and suggestions. Manohar, Satish, Jangam Chinnaiah and Shefali Jha and other friends offered valuable comments. However, I am responsible for the views expressed in this paper. 2 All page numbers refer to Narendra Jadhav, Outcaste: A Memoir (New Delhi: Viking, 2003).

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2000; Limbale 2003). However, Outcaste: A Memoir represents Dalit life in a global space whose boundaries extend beyond the nation. This essay attempts to analyse the global context within which Narendra Jadhav locates the transformation of his family. My argument here is that Outcaste constructs a new Dalit identity, a cosmopolitan identity.3 It is this identity that drives the story of transformation or ‘The Triumphant Journey Out of the Caste System in Modern India’.4 Jadhav claims that it is also a story of the social transformation of India. This conception of Dalit identity is at the heart of the new historical project of Dalit emancipation in the era of globalization. What is also suggested here is that this new identity and the project of emancipation structured around it are shaped in the context of the globalization of the caste question in the 1990s, and the global discourse of human rights. This discourse is often referred to as the ‘Durban discourse’ because it is most fully exemplified in the presentation of the Dalit case at the UN Conference held in 2001 in Durban.5 Jadhav’s Outcaste counterpoints a global cosmopolitan identity with a caste identity that is tied only to the nation. His critique of caste in the nation is structured by a desire for a cosmopolitan identity. Drawing on the new human rights discourse centred on the notion of the autonomous individual and the neo-liberal emphasis on self-reliance and self-help, Jadhav fashions a cosmopolitan Dalit identity grounded in the domain of global civil society. He constructs a new hierarchy of identities – the national as ‘inhuman’, and the cosmopolitan one as ‘human’. What this formulation sets up is global citizenship as being the ideal and the normative – that is, one in which caste somehow just melts away. What are the conditions and constitutive features of this new identity mediated through the universal discourse of human rights? Outcaste was published, and very successfully circulated in the context of the globalization of the Indian economy in the 1990s. It is a text that articulates the new agendas of emancipation in the context of this globalization. This essay locates the publication and the reception of Outcaste in this new global context. It has been strongly argued that the process of globalization would lead to the democratization of our social, political and cultural life.6 Partha 3

For want of a better term, I use the term ‘cosmopolitan identity’ in the simple sense as an identity of global citizenship that invokes and draws on global discourses, and locates itself outside the nation. The specific content of this identity as forged in the text is analysed in this essay. 4 I refer here to the title of recently released American edition of Outcaste, which was published as Untouchables: My Family’s Triumphant Journey Out of the Caste System in Modern India (2005). 5 See Thorat and Umakant (2004) for a collection of articles and reports on the Durban Conference. 6 Dalit scholar Chandra Bhan Prasad, among others, has argued that capitalist globalization will weaken the caste order and help the Dalit community.

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­ hatterjee succinctly sums up the two important arguments in ‘the celC ebratory literature on globalisation in the 1990s’ (Chatterjee 2004: 4157). The first argument is that the process of globalization results in the removal of trade barriers by national governments, the greater mobility of people, global information flows, democratic forms of government and democratic values in social life. The second argument is that, in the new global conditions, the international community (of states and institutions) would protect human rights and promote democratic values in all the countries in the world. Chatterjee further points out that globalization is seen as a condition that enables the ‘free, unrestricted flow of capital, goods, people and ideas’ (4157). Undoubtedly, globalization has opened up new spaces beyond the nation, and has enabled the mobility of people, goods and ideas. However, whether this opening up of new spaces, the mobility of goods and ideas and the protection of global civil society would contribute to the democratization of society is a claim that needs to be critically examined. Even so, my suggestion here is that the opening up of the new global spaces is crucial to the understanding of the circulation of Dalit writing in general, and the success of Outcaste, especially with its particular articulation of a new politics of identity. Outcaste has attracted wide critical acclaim all over the world. It is worth investigating the reasons for the success of this book. It was first published in 1993 in Marathi, and was titled Amcha Baap Aan Amhi (‘Our Father and Us’). It was highly appreciated. Although Outcaste is based on the Marathi original, its English version is a new book in that it was, in the words of Jadhav, ‘suitably amended and restructured’ (xi). Commenting on the changes in the English version in an interview, the author says: I wrote this book during my stay in Washington DC for four years, with a global readership in mind. That is precisely why the social context, which was implicit in the Marathi book, has been fully spelt out in the English version. (Anand 2004: 30) The English version has detailed notes. It includes a long essay on ‘Untouchability, Caste System and Dr Ambedkar’ as well as a glossary at the end of the book. These notes and the glossary are addressed to the global audience. In his ‘Author’s Note’, Jadhav locates the Dalits in a global context. Every sixth human being in the world today is an Indian, and every sixth Indian is an erstwhile untouchable, a Dalit. India’s 3,500-yearold caste system remains a stigma on humanity . . . Around 165 million today, Dalits are almost three times the population of the UK 303

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or France . . . This is a story of one such family, my own family. (xi; emphasis added) Locating Dalits in the world today, Jadhav discusses the Dalit situation in the global context highlighting the size of the population of Dalits in comparison with the populations of some countries in the West. The shift from the Indian national context and its constitutional framework to the global context is an important move Jadhav makes. In this narrative of Outcaste, Dalits are described as Indians and the struggle of the Dalits and of Jadhav’s family is presented as a struggle for human rights. This is, perhaps, the most striking aspect of the work. The representation of the Dalit situation within the new paradigm of human rights in the context of economic globalization led Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to applaud Jadhav’s vision of ‘fighting discrimination along with pursuing modernization’ in Outcaste.7 ‘Discrimination’ has acquired a new currency in the global discourse on human rights while ‘modernization’ suggests the global processes of economic modernization.8 In other words, Jadhav inserts the Dalit struggle for emancipation in the 1920s to 1950s into the narrative of the global struggle for human rights. The emergence of the subaltern cultures and the insertion of these cultures into the global culture is not – as has been argued by Arjun Appadurai and other scholars – a simple process of correspondence and standardization (Appadurai 1990). One needs to study the complex interactions between the local, the national and the global cultures and identities. The emergence of the new discourses of the subaltern groups beyond the nationstate structures and into the global public sphere is often seen as a process of homogenization. In the context of the breaking up of national boundaries, the emergence of alternative or hybrid identities of oppressed groups, races, genders and ethnicities is celebrated in the discourse of globalization. Some commentators have argued that there is a distinction between the Dalit literature of the early years – 1970s and 1980s – and the new Dalit literature inaugurated by Outcaste after the 1990s. It has been observed that while old Dalit literature narrated the insults and the indignities and the inequalities of the caste system with hysterical rage, Jadhav records similar experiences with more restraint. In a review in The Hindu, Shanta Gokhale made a similar comment: while early Dalit autobiographies ‘revisit and 7

See Singh (2007) in his speech delivered while releasing Narendra Jadhav’s books Outcaste and Re-emerging India. 8 Dr. Manmohan Singh further says: ‘We have to pay attention to questions of equity and social justice as we continue to pay attention to issues of modernization and liberalization and de-bureaucratisation of our economy.’ See Singh (2007).

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relive the horrors of Untouchability’, Outcaste goes beyond narrating ‘the horrors of Untouchability’ (Gokhale 2003). Leaving behind the experience of untouchability as belonging to his life in the past, Jadhav looks forward to the future of the Dalit community. It is interesting to note here a shift in the notion of untouchability. While the Dalit writers of the 1970s and 1980s portray untouchability as a symptom of structural inequalities based on caste, Jadhav depicts untouchability as a form of human rights violation – that is, as ‘incidents’ of caste discrimination. Marathi Dalit literature of the 1970s expressed the anger of the untouchable castes and articulated a new and positive Dalit identity inspired by Babasaheb Ambedkar (Dangle 1992). Marathi Dalit writers (as well as other Dalit writers) located the social oppression of Dalits in the castebased social and religious structure of Hindu society in Indian villages. Critics have argued that Dalit self-narratives link the individual to his/ her community as a way of gaining power and support in a group struggle against oppression (Beth 2007: 4). For instance, Sharankumar Limbale’s autobiography Akkarmashi presents the violence involved in caste experience, and its importance in the construction of Dalit identity. Limbale, who was born to a Mahar mother and fathered by a Patil, decides to discuss his life story publicly to argue that he cannot be dubbed ‘a bastard’ and his mother ‘a whore’. Drawing on Ambedkar’s struggles and insights on caste society, Limbale criticizes caste Hindu society for making his mother a victim. Through his writing, he negotiates his identity, reinvents himself as a Dalit and reconnects himself to the community. Similarly Bama, in her Karukku, narrates how she joins a Christian convent and becomes a nun, but returns to the Dalit community after she realizes that her Christian identity is not a liberating identity (Bama 2000). Both Akkarmashi and Karukku speak for an emerging Dalit consciousness in their villages and in the country. The identification with Dalit identity is important to launch a critique of the identity of the unmarked Indian citizen figure as upper caste identity in the Indian public sphere. As Pandian puts it: ‘It is evident that Indian modern, despite its claim to be universal – and of course, because of it – not only constitutes lower caste as its ‘other’, but also inscribes itself silently as upper caste’ (Pandian 2002: 1738). Outcaste proposes delinking the individual from the community as a possible way out of caste oppression (214). The shift from Ozar village to Mumbai city allows Damu, Narendra Jadhav’s father, to give up his Mahar identity and to adopt a Dalit identity through his participation in Ambedkar’s struggle, and by taking up modern jobs in the industry and the public sector in Mumbai city. In the generations that follow, both Narendra Jadhav and his daughter Apoorva become cosmopolitan citizens. They do not 305

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deny their identity as Dalits; but neither do they flag it. They are simply Dalits and cosmopolitan citizens simultaneously. This essay will first discuss the representation of the village as a place of untouchability and caste violence as well as the mode in which this representation takes place; second, it will re-interpret B. R. Ambedkar as a symbol of global modernity, and appropriate his struggle as a story of human rights in the context of globalization; and lastly, how the representation of village life and the Ambedkarite movement feed into the construction of cosmopolitan Dalit identity is discussed. Damu gives an account of his village life in minute detail: he describes the Maharwada,9 his family hut, conditions of poverty, incidents of humiliation and untouchability, as well as the ritual and cultural life of the Mahars. Through Damu’s recollection of childhood memories in Ozar, Jadhav presents the joys and the atrocities of village life. The account includes a few anecdotes of Damu’s childhood. The author’s purpose in the portrayal of village life seems to be to highlight the hunger, the poverty and the suffering of the Mahars. What is striking in this recollection is the documentary mode of representation of village life. For instance, Jadhav portrays the hut of his father’s family in vivid detail. He describes the roof, the entrance, the walls, the floor, the oil lamp, the Gods, and other cooking items inside the hut (34–5). Significantly, the author offers no comment on this detailed description of ‘mud huts with thatched roofs’. The Maharwada is described as being isolated (36) from the rest of the village. Never do we see the entire village and its spatial organization into different castes. The untouchables, particularly the Mahars, are the central characters of the story. They are shown existing in isolation, and not in relation to the upper castes in the village. The matter of fact description of famine, plague, the death of his cousin Shankar due to plague as well as the death of his father, are all done in the tone of an outside observer, reflecting on the past of the village and of the Mahars. Jadhav’s portrayal also includes a detailed description of how the Mahars would share dead cattle meat, how a bull belonging to the Patil was poisoned as revenge against his ill treatment of the Mahars, the celebration of jatras and the offering of a buffalo to the Goddess, and so on. In this narrative voice, the subjective and emotional 9

The Maharwada is the designated locality for the Mahar caste people in the outskirts of the village. A typical Indian village is divided into localities where each caste lives in a particular locality. This social division of village is based on notions of caste hierarchy and status. The upper castes and other dominant castes live in the main localities of the village, the untouchable communities such as Mahars, Mangs and others live outside the village in their specified localities. This geographical division of castes in the village is changing in the modern context. The broad pattern of residential arrangement is still noticeable.

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dimension of Dalit experience and its politics is completely absent. This description presents a static picture of Mahars. Jadhav’s representation of the instances of discrimination and untouchability are vivid. In the opening scene of Outcaste set in the village Ozar, we see Damu, the Mahar, performing his Yeskar duties10: escorting the Mamledar (a senior revenue official) to the house of Patil, the village headman. Jadhav narrates this scene in the village in great detail, highlighting the abuses, the inhuman treatment and the violence perpetrated by the police and the high castes. Damu runs away to Mumbai. It is noticeable that Damu is different from the other Mahars, and that he talks back to the police officer. It is also clear that Damu knows the language of human rights. When the police are beating him, Damu cries ‘see the entire village is witnessing your atrocities’ (9). Refusing to be loyal by following the tradition of Mahars to perform the Yeskar duty, Damu shouts, ‘I spit on these inhuman traditions. I am a man of dignity and I will not go from house to house begging for Baluta’11 (10). His references to ‘atrocities’ and ‘dignity’ illustrate his self-assertive nature. The assertion that he is ‘a man of dignity’ is explained by citing his migration to Mumbai. The effect of this scene is both to reify the village as a space of inhuman traditions and to indicate the need for rebellion against caste practices. Damu has experienced untouchability as a young boy. Jadhav’s narration here presents the event like a scene in a play. ‘Baba’, I said to my father, ‘I want to drink water’. Baba looked scared. He looked around. ‘Just wait’, he said, ‘Someone will come soon’. ‘I didn’t understand’. ‘But why do we have to wait?’ I whined. Just then, a man came by. ... The man was dark and his clothes were dirty. He went near the water and picked up an iron tumbler lying near it. A dog was resting under the shade of the tree. The man kicked the dog aside and dipped the tumbler in the water. I looked at him expectantly, but he drank it himself. Some of the water spilled, matting the dark hair on his chest. He washed his face, and then wiped it off with the end of his mud-streaked dhoti. Then he dipped the tumbler again and turned to me. 10

The duty of the Yeskar (village servant) was to assist the Patil, village headman and be at his service in colonial Maharashtra. 11 Payments (often in kind) paid to village servants or bonded labourers for services in rural Maharashtra.

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‘Eh boy, come here!’ he barked, ‘Sit there!’ I squatted on the ground and stretched my hand out for the ­tumbler. ‘Son of a bitch!’ The man screamed at me. ‘How dare you try to touch this? You think you can take this from my hand?’ (46–7) Damu’s father explains later that the water touched by the Mahars gets polluted, and then no one else can drink this water. Here again, Jadhav presents the scene of an untouchable drinking water with great visual effect. He draws our attention repeatedly to the dirty clothes and the dark complexion of the upper caste man. He also contrasts the upper caste man’s treatment of the dog to that of the untouchables. The untouchable boy, who is ignorant of the practice of entouchability, was taught how to squat on the ground before the upper caste man, ‘cupping’ his hands and ‘dipping’ his face in his palms (47). Jadhav envisions this scene as the experience of Damu as a child. But the consciousness of an educated, middle-class Dalit is evident in looking at the dirty clothes and the dark complexion of the upper caste man and in asserting the humanness of the Mahars. Sonu’s (Damu’s wife) first experience of untouchability is yet another instance of violation of human dignity (48). The visualization of the first experiences of untouchability is to mark the village as a space of untouchability. The implied reader in this visual description is an outsider to the village, and it could be the foreign readers (diasporic communities or international agencies). Jadhav selects some events that stage the violations of human rights of Dalits before the reader. Representing untouchability and other issues of discrimination in carefully selected events, anecdotes, rituals and memories all contribute to the objectification of Mahars and the essentialization of their culture (34–6). It must be noted that Damu gives an account of his village life in minute detail – Maharwada, his family hut, conditions of poverty, incidents of humiliation and untouchability and ritual and cultural life of Mahars. The narrative point of view, the objectification of untouchable life and the human rights consciousness are striking features of this narrative. It is important to note that poverty, hunger and other problems of Mahars are not foregrounded as serious concerns of the Mahar community or of the narrator. They are simply facts. The ‘matter of fact’ description of famine, plague, the death of his cousin Shankar due to plague as well as the death of his father, are all done in a tone which is that of an outside observer, reflecting on ‘the past’ of ‘the village’ and ‘of the Mahars’. The isolation of the Maharwada and the context of upper caste society reveal the experiences of untouchability as examples of inhuman cultural traditions, or indeed human rights violations. The similarity between such 308

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representations and the details of the Durban discourse is enlightening. In their representations at Durban, Dalit activists listed a series of incidents of caste violence to the global and the Indian public, urging them to respond to the issue of human rights violations against their community. Outcaste describes two historical processes: the migration of Damu from his village to the urban space of Mumbai and the Dalit movement, both of which are central to the making of modern Dalits. Damu is presented as a representative of modern Dalits. This essay will first examine the migration of Mahars to colonial Mumbai, and then analyse the representation of Ambedkar-led Dalit movement as a site of the new identity of Damu, and of other Mahars like him. The city in Outcaste is represented as a space of freedom. Jadhav suggests repeatedly that the social mobility of his family is possible because of their migration to Mumbai. He contrasts Ozar as a place of inhuman traditions with Mumbai which is ‘heaven’. Looking at the pictures Tulsirambaba brought from big cities, Damu says: The pictures took us to a very different world. There were so many new insights from Mumbai – wide streets, high-rise buildings, trains, planes, and big steamer ships. We believed that these places must be the heaven that people described. (63) Mumbai is a powerful symbol of freedom in Outcaste. As a colonial city, it provided a lot of job opportunities to the poor from the villages, as well as anonymity to the untouchables. Mumbai was a centre of Dalit movement spearheaded by Ambedkar. Jadhav locates the shaping of a new identity for the Mahars in colonial Mumbai in the context of the Dalit movement. He writes: [Damu] had worked in Mumbai for several years, and the city had brought touchability into his life, along with an awareness of his rights as a human being. As a participant in Babasaheb Ambedkar’s social movement, he was reluctant to perform Yeskar duties. (6; emphasis in the original) Damu comes to Mumbai for the first time in 1919 at the age of 12. He visits several places in the city without experiencing any form of caste discrimination. He is allowed to sit at a table in the teashop (89), he is asked to sit on the chair in the school (94), he is treated as a human being by a Gora Saheb (101) and he is able to get odd jobs like selling newspapers, and working as a construction labourer or in factories. The author repeatedly reminds us that the city is a better place for the Mahars than the village. 309

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Describing the celebration of the Ganapati festival in Mumbai, and the attack of the upper castes on the procession, Sonu asserts, ‘We won’t let them bully us in Mumbai. This is a big city, not a village’ (120). What is problematic in this valorization of the city is the total absence of any complex or historicized sense of caste inequality and discrimination. In other words, caste discrimination is both a rural and an urban phenomenon. The trend of suicides of Dalit students in the recent times in elite educational institutions in metropolitan cities like Delhi is a case in point. Both Damu and Sonu are aware of Ambedkar’s struggle for untouchables in this period. Damu was dismissed from GIP Railway for participating in a strike around 1929. He reluctantly accepted the Yeskar duty in his village out of desperation. After a few months of this duty, Damu escapes from his village, along with Sonu. They become Dalits in Mumbai and begin to participate in the Ambedkarite social movement. As Sonu says: ‘Truly, we sensed a change in the way we carried ourselves. We proudly proclaimed ourselves Dalits, with our chin up, and we looked everyone in the eye’ (178). In other words, these Mahars transform themselves into Dalits. The Dalit movement in colonial Maharashtra was a significant social process that shaped the identity of Damu as a Dalit and a neo-Buddhist. Jadhav devotes an entire section titled ‘The Struggle’ (125–99) to present the Ambedkar-led Dalit struggle and the involvement of ordinary Mahars like Damu and Sonu. We find vivid descriptions of Dalit struggles such as the Mahad Satyagraha in 1927, the Nashik Kalaram Temple Entry Movement in 1930, the establishment of the Independent Labour Party in 1937, Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism in 1956 and Ambedkar’s death in 1956. Ambedkar appears as a character in the text, and is represented both as a historical figure and as a symbol of Dalit assertion. Jadhav portrays many historic events in Dalit history in some detail to construct Ambedkar as a great leader, and to emphasize the consciousness of human rights generated by Ambedkar’s movement. During the Mahad Satyagraha, Jadhav tells us, Damu sees Ambedkar in person. Damu recollects: When Babasaheb spoke, everyone listened. He urged the untouchables to do away with the humiliating and enslaving traditions of village duties like carrying away dead cattle. ‘It is utterly disgraceful to sell your human rights for a few crumbs of bread’, he said. ‘We will attain self-elevation only if we learn self-help, regain our self-respect and gain self-knowledge’, Babasaheb said. What touched me the most were his thoughts about raising a ­family. 310

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‘There will be no difference between parents and animals if they do not desire to see their children in a better position than their own’. What a man! What a leader! (22) In this scene, Ambedkar is a modernizer, asking the untouchables to give up humiliating and enslaving traditions. He also emphasizes the values of self-help and self-knowledge to attain self-respect in society. He also underlines the importance of human rights and the raising of the status of the family. Jadhav reinforces this notion of modernization (human dignity, education, upward mobility, secular life, etc.) through the narration of a series of events in the text. Thus, the Mahad Satyagraha ‘kindled in us untouchables the flame of dignity and self-respect. It was the beginning of our awakening’ (24). In the Nashik Kalaram Temple Entry agitation, the Mahars reinforce their faith in the leadership of Ambedkar. They raised slogans such as ‘Jai Bhim, hail Babasaheb!’ Sonu’s words sum up the elevation of Ambedkar to the status of a god. ‘He had a glow, a halo around his face, just like the gods and goddesses’ (191). It is important to underline the construction of Ambedkar as an exceptional individual. In other words, the focus of Jadhav’s story is not the Dalit movements themselves but the emergence of Ambedkar as a great individual, as well as Damu as a Dalit activist and a remarkable individual. There are many implications of the representation of Ambedkar and Damu and their relationship in the text. Jadhav’s objective history of the Dalit movement draws on existing academic studies. Yet, it is also a new model of history that re-inscribes known events into a global logic in the current context of neo-liberal expansion. Jadhav represents Ambedkar as an American educated scholar, a former untouchable with a PhD from Columbia University, a master’s in Economics and Doctor of Science from London. He thought that education is really the way out for Dalits. He dominated India’s life from 1924 to 1956.12 The key aspect of this version of Ambedkar is that it locates the roots of his rebellion in his Western education. He is also a messiah who guides the Dalits in all the agitations. Ambedkar’s elevation to the status of a saviour, as well as a symbol of selfrespect, dignity and equality, is directly related to the portrayal of Damu becoming an independent and assertive Dalit character. Damu says that Ambedkar inculcated ‘the flame of dignity’ and ‘self-respect’ in him during the Mahad Satyagraha. Damu attributes his assertive and rebellious nature 12 Based

on Jadhav’s interview aired on American public broadcast by KQID public radio, USA. See also, Krasny (2005).

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to Ambedkar: ‘The movement inspired by Babasaheb Ambedkar had fully seeped into me. I was now imbued with new courage and self-realization. It had given me the power to question, reason and act’ (25). Thus, the capacity for self-realization is the most important contribution of the Ambedkarite movement. Because of Ambedkar, Damu realizes that he is a human being. He imbibes ‘the power to question, reason and act’ in the course of his participation in the Dalit movement. In other words, the principal contribution of the Ambedkarite movement is regarded as the making of self-assertive individuals like Damu. As Damu says: ‘circumstances brought us to Mumbai, and that city brought Babasaheb into our lives. He changed our lives and those of millions forever’ (199). Jadhav highlights the struggle, agony, depression and determination of Damu in his struggle for survival in Mumbai. Damu survives through the Great Depression in the 1930s. He participates in all the major agitations led by Ambedkar while working hard to bring up his family. Through his struggles for survival in Mumbai and his participation in the Ambedkarite movement, Damu evolves as a distinct individual. In his ‘Author’s note’, Jadhav describes Damu, the central character of his memoir, with these words: ‘Damu was an ordinary man, they said . . . but he did an extraordinary thing: he stood up against the tyranny of the caste system’ (xi–xii). He believed in himself and declared that he is the master of his own will (122). What is striking here is the construction of Damu as an autonomous individual who is able to carve out a life of his own. There is no doubt that Damu is different from the other Mahars. In the very first scene of the text, we meet a Damu who thinks very differently from the other Mahars about the Yeskar duty. We are told ‘he [Damu] was not willing to conform to tradition’ (122). The transformation of Damu’s family is complete when it acquires education and middle class values (178). Jadhav’s family also evolved into a new middle class family and became part of the global middle class in the 1990s. His mobility from Mumbai, the financial capital of India and a metropolitan city, to Washington, DC, USA, a cosmopolitan city, is suggestive of the transformation of a Mahar family into an urban middle class one. Also significant here is that Jadhav’s ‘mobility’ is closely linked to the liberalization of the Indian economy which made it a part of the processes of globalization. This required various forms of structural adjustment, including India’s subjective transformation from a mood of dependence to self-reliance and self-help. Jadhav’s deputation to IMF from RBI is made possible because of the new institutional arrangements between India and international financial institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. Theorists like Saskia Sassen point to ‘the overlapping and intersecting dimensions of the global 312

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and the national’ through institutional arrangements, and to the fact that the national institutions can become home to some of the operational rules of the global economic system (Sassen 2000: 228). Sassen further suggests that ‘major cities have emerged as strategic sites not only for global capital, but also for the transnationalization of labour and the formation of transnational identities’ (217). The significance of the opening up of new institutional spaces and the emergence of ‘a new geography of centrality’ that connects major international financial centres like Mumbai and Washington, DC, needs to be emphasized here. It is in the context of globalization and the restructuring of the Indian economy that Jadhav configures the spatial hierarchies in his Outcaste. While the village is the centre of the nation in the national order, the city is the centre of the global order of the 1990s. This reorganizing of the spatial hierarchies of the local, national and global is crucial for an analytic understanding of the transnational identity that Jadhav constructs in Outcaste. Partha Chatterjee suggests that the visions of global modernity are derived from the failure of the nation state and the assumed existence of a global civil society that mediates between globality and modernity framed by a universalist notion of rights. As he states: Many United Nations agencies, non-governmental organisations, peace keeping missions, human rights groups, women’s organisations, free speech activists, operate in this moral terrain. As such, they act as an external check on the sovereign powers of the nation-state and occupy the critical moral position of a global civil society assessing the incomplete modernity of particular national political formations. (Chatterjee 1997: 33) Jadhav invokes this global society when he employs the category of human rights and indeed of what is human in Outcaste. In the presentation of village life, the narrative viewpoint is that of an outsider – an urban middle class individual who is not familiar with village life or the Mahar world. This narrator’s perspective is informed by a certain notion of universal human rights. This is evident in the repeated comparisons between the animal and the human, as well as in the idea that this humanity is somehow natural, something inherent in all people. The normative human figure in the discourse of universal human rights is the free individual, with no markers of caste, race and gender, ethnic, religious and national identities. Jadhav simply assumes that Dalits will be accepted and treated as global citizens within the framework of universal human rights. In other words, 313

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Jadhav’s notion of human rights discourse is a moral one that invokes the neutrality and moral authority of global civil society. How do the Dalits, who are not treated as human beings and are denied civic status in civil society, benefit from global citizenship? What is meant by the new Dalit human rights discourse? I suggest it emerged in the context of Dalit mobilizations against caste at global forums such as the 2001 Durban conference and other international conferences. In this Third World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, Dalit activists argued for United Nations’ recognition of caste on par with race as institutionalized forms of discrimination (Thorat and Umakant 2004). It is then that one form of Dalit discourse articulates the language of human rights, particularly Dalit rights as human rights. Framing caste and race as comparable forms of human rights violations, Dalit activists redefined caste as a universal form of discrimination. Both the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) established in 1998 and the International Dalit Solidarity Network in 2000 facilitated the consolidation of a diverse range of international organizations, institutions and individuals in this framework. The framing of caste as a universal form of human rights violation in human rights discourse is a recent invention in the context of global mobilizations against caste in Durban and other international conferences. Commenting on the constitution of Dalit rights as human rights in International human rights law, Clifford Bob (2007) observes: Until the late 1990s, the daily violence, exclusion, and humiliation suffered by millions of people in low caste groups were not treated as human rights issues by United Nations organs or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). (168) Jadhav employs the discourse of human rights in Outcaste to represent issues of caste discrimination as seen from the perspective of the formation of a transnational Dalit identity. Drawing on Deepa S. Reddy’s study on the transformation of caste discourse in the context of global mobilizations against caste discrimination, one can argue that Jadhav’s notion of caste is a global category (as opposed to caste as a form of custom linked to Hinduism in India), and caste discrimination is a violation of human rights in the domain of international law (Reddy 2005). This new formulation of caste as a universal form of discrimination is very different from the earlier conceptions of caste as a form of inequality linked to Hinduism and the caste system, or current notions of caste discrimination/power as embedded 314

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in the institutions and discourses of Indian modernity. It is also very different from the notion of civil rights in the sense of constitutionally guaranteed legal provisions of nation states. Further, in this re-configuration, caste discrimination is reified, and located in the village and the nation (Reddy 2005: 570). Jadhav’s notion of his identity as a cosmopolitan citizen is predicated on the essence of caste discrimination in the village.13 The last section of the book portrays the successful and happy second generation of the Dalit family. We see Jadhav and his entire family members, along with some relatives, in Mumbai International Airport on 22 December 1997. Jadhav was leaving for Washington, DC, to join the International Monetary Fund. We see Jadhav’s old mother and his entire family (205). It is crucial to note that Jadhav shows us his family in the International Airport in the context of his appointment in the IMF – an international financial institution. Jadhav’s mobility in society as a member of English-educated, professional middle class is an indication that he is able to acquire a new identity through his achievements. Jadhav’s cosmopolitan Dalit identity draws on the suffering, joys and failures and the struggles of the untouchable Mahars. What is distinctive about this identity is that it articulates a new relationship between the untouchable community and the individual. Jadhav’s middle class identity differentiates his relatives from the people of the village. In the airport, Jadhav describes his relatives who were ‘dressed in their frayed and yellowed traditional garb’ and claims them as his people (206). The relatives represent the Mahar community as being at ‘different stages’ in their life. Jadhav stands out as a successful person who has managed to get out of the oppressive conditions of Mahar life. Jadhav is agonized by the fact that he is judged on the basis of his social origins. He feels that his caste background should be treated as his past, and he should be accepted as he is. He questions, ‘Have I not reclaimed my dignity through my achievements? Why should the caste into which I was born count now?’ (207). He recollects how an old man from his village, his high caste school teacher and well-educated neighbour, reminds him that he is from a Mahar caste. Remembering the scene of his visit to the shrine of Vithoba at the famous temple in Pandharpur, and his reception as a VIP by the priests, Jadhav becomes very emotional. He hugs the boulder in front of the temple, the boundary beyond which his untouchable forefathers were not allowed. He resolves the agitation within his mind by realizing that he has crossed the boundaries of caste. In Jadhav’s words, 13 We

must note that a large group of Dalit intellectuals criticized and rejected the idea of caste as ‘tradition’ and shaped a new concept of caste to understand the reconfiguration of caste order in the modern society in the 1990s (Satyanarayana and Tharu 2011: 9–10).

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‘I had crossed the caste lines. I had beaten the system’ (213). He further explains, If others look down on me in their belief that my caste is low, it is their problem, not mine. I certainly don’t need to torment myself over it. I pity them, for they are the victims of their own obsolete prejudices . . . Dignity, after all, rests in the mind and heart . . . and soul. (214) Jadhav feels that he has crossed caste lines through his achievements. Two aspects of Jadhav’s narration of his success story are significant. One is the description of the caste system in terms of human rights violations. The other is the assertion of individual autonomy through a newly acquired international middle class identity. The structural logic of caste and its ideology as well as the impossibility of a large section of the Dalit population to move out of the nation state are ignored in Jadhav’s story. Jadhav represents himself as a deracinated individual self in his desire for freedom from caste. He insists on the capacity of each person to realize his desire to become a global citizen. Jadhav’s desire for self-realization and his identification with a cosmopolitan ideal set himself as a distinct individual, unlike his relatives and Dalits in the village. Jadhav and his family desire to become normal people. The construction of cosmopolitan Dalit identity is an important strategy to undermine untouchable identity and to imagine a transnational identity with no markers of caste and location. In his review of Outcaste, the former editor of the Times of India and columnist Dileep Padgaonkar (2007) comments on the epilogue written by Apoorva, Jadhav’s daughter, who is studying in Maryland, USA. He observes: It is young Apoorva, Jadhav’s young daughter, who reveals in the epilogue what emancipation truly means: it does not matter one whit to her that she is a Dalit for, in a resurgent India, she has no reason to flaunt that tag or to suppress it. She has become what her forebears had always aspired to be: just normal people who are neither aggressive nor apologetic about their identity. (emphasis added) In a span of three generations, an untouchable Mahar family becomes normal people. This is a claim that Jadhav makes repeatedly in the book and in his interviews. He insists that the process of globalization, and the new spatiality it represents, is central to this transformation of untouchables into normal people. 316

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Jadhav repeatedly refers to his past, his village and his caste identity, as a burden that he needs to throw off to become a modern person. In one radio talk, he has said, I am not able to throw off the baggage of the past. I carry that baggage. My daughter is able to throw off the baggage. If someone looks down at her, my daughter would say, it is his problem, not my problem. Jadhav’s desire for a democratic society and a liberating identity is based on his notion of an individual who is able to move beyond the village and the nation through education and through social struggle. His global identity (i.e. of a normal person) is not a result of the breaking down of the traditional caste order and its modern forms. It is formed as a contrast to the reified Mahar identity. The insertion of the local Mahar identity and the national Dalit identity into the global Dalit identity is a process that is at work in Outcaste. This global Dalit citizen identity acknowledges its past – its ‘descent’ (birth based) – but easily merges into a certain kind of global/multicultural identity. In this narrative, Mahar identity is reinforced as caste identity and village culture as Indian tradition. In the new hierarchy of identities, the cosmopolitan citizenship of Apoorva stands for a generic identity. This dichotomy of tradition/modernity is simplistic, and does not explain the complexity of caste in modern Indian society. In Jadhav’s story of cosmopolitan identity, there is no attempt to negotiate with global modernity. It is assumed that the project of global modernity is given, natural and liberating. This narrative represents an elite Dalit family as global citizens in the teleological programme of global modernity, and reproduces the village and the nation as spaces of human rights violations. Jadhav’s assertion of humanity, individualism and a change of mind-set produce as a norm the global citizen who is elite, English-educated, upper middle class and male. The ideal of global citizenship is predicated on the migration from the village to the global locations. But this choice is not available to a vast majority of poor untouchables who have to live and struggle in the villages.

References Anand, S. Touchable Tales: Publishing and Reading Dalit Literature. Pondicherry: Navayana, 2004. Appadurai, Arjun. ‘Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy’, in Global Culture Nationalism, Globalisation and Modernity, (ed.) Mike Featherstone. London: Sage, 1990.

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Bama. Karukku. Chennai: Macmillan, 2000. Beth, Sarah. ‘Dalit Autobiographies in Hindi: The Transformation of Pain into Resistance’, 8 May 2007. http://www.sasnet.lu.se/EASASpapers/4SarahBeth.pdf. Accessed 4 June 2007. Bob, Clifford, ‘Dalits Rights Are Human Rights: Caste Discrimination, International Activism, and the Construction of a New Human Rights Issue’, Human Rights Quarterly Vol. 29 (2007): 67–193. Chatterjee, Partha. ‘Beyond the Nation? Or Within?’ Economic and Political Weekly, 4–11 January 1997; 30–4. Chatterjee, Partha. ‘Empire after Globalisation’, Economic and Political Weekly, 11 September 2004: 4155–64. http://www.epw.org.in/epw/uploads/essays/8165.pdf. Accessed 12 July 2007. Dangle, Arjun (ed). Poisoned Bread: Modern Marathi Dalit Literature. Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 1992. Gokhale, Shanta. ‘Forging One’s Own Destiny’, Review of Outcaste by Narendra Jadhav, 2 November, 2003. http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/lr/2003/11/02/stories/ 2003110200310300.htm. Accessed 5 June 2007. Jadhav, Narendra. Outcaste: A Memoir. New Delhi: Viking, 2003. Krasny, Michael. ‘Interview with Economist Narendra Jadhav’, Forum, KQED public radio, California, 20 October 2005. http://www.kqed.org/epArchive/R510200900. Accessed 8 May 2007. Limbale, Sharankumar. The Outcaste: Akkarmashi. Trans. Santosh Bhoomkar. Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 2003. Padgaonkar, Dileep. ‘Look Back in Languor’, 8 May 2007. http://www.outlookindia. com/full.asp?fodname=20030922&fname=Booksa&sid=1. Accessed 1 July 2007. Pandian, M.S.S. ‘One Step Outside Modernity: Caste, Identity Politics and Public Sphere’, Economic and Political Weekly, 4 May 2002; 1735–41. Reddy, Deepa, S. ‘The Ethnicity of Caste’, Anthropological Quarterly Vol. 78, No. 3 (2005): 543–84. Sassen, Saskia. ‘Spatialities and Temporalities of the Global: Elements for a Theorization’, Public Culture Vol. 12, No. 1 (2000): 215–32. Satyanarayana, K., and Susie Tharu (eds.). No Alphabet in Sight: New Dalit Writing from South India. New Delhi: Penguin, 2011. Singh, Manmohan. ‘Lessons for Shaping India of Our Dreams’. Speech delivered at New Delhi, on 16 November 2005. http://indiawritingstation.com/narendrajadhavs-untouchables/. Accessed 4 August 2007. Thorat, Sukhadeo and Umakant (eds.). Caste, Race and Discrimination: Discourses in International Context. Jaipur: Rawat Publications, 2004.

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20 TENSE – PAST CONTINUOUS Some critical reflections on the art of Savi Sawarkar Santhosh Sadanandan

This essay is an attempt to trace the casteist undercurrents of Modernism in Indian art through the critiques proposed by the works of one of the most prominent Dalit artists of contemporary India: Savi Sawarkar. It proposes a critique of the nationalist historiography (both Left and Right Wing) by arguing that the history of Modernism (and the experience of modernity) in Indian art is primarily defined through the rubric of the elite practitioners’ angst in relation to the hegemony of Western dominance. Due to this overarching canonical framework, the struggle of the subalterns in India to register their presence in mainstream cultural practices faces multiple hazards. Even after attaining a political identity such as Dalit and their recent assertion and distinguishable presence in the realm of political power, their struggles to participate in cultural practices have not been addressed adequately. Indeed, their cultures have, more often than not, been accused of ‘contamination’, and are regulated by the upper caste intelligentsia. This is most evident when many of the attempts made by the practitioners of subaltern art to engage with the larger cultural field are accused of pop cultural betrayal through the regulation/ attribution of their practices at the level of authentic folk/tribal culture. In this historical context, I would argue that the subalterns in India have to face a dual challenge: to counteract the hegemonic and overarching discourse of upper caste national bourgeois intelligentsia on the one hand and global imperialism on the other (not to mention that, very often, their identities are indistinguishable). A brief biographical note about Sawarkar may help us locate his practices within the larger discourses on culture and politics in India. He was born in 1961 at Nagpur in a locality called Garoba Maidan, one of the 319

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strongholds of the Ambedkarite1 movement in Nagpur. He was brought up in a strong Ambedkarite environment. He completed his undergraduate studies in painting from Chitrakala Mahavidyalaya, Nagpur, and his postgraduation in print making from the Faculty of Fine Arts, M. S. University of Baroda, in Gujarat. His relationship with the Ambedkarite movements and neo-Buddhist ideologies were central to his intellectual and artistic development. This is evident from the fact that one of his early series of drawings and paintings – made just after the completion of his postgraduate studies – is based on the Hindu devadasi2 tradition. Sawarkar stayed in many villages where this barbaric Hindu ritual tradition is practiced, and the traumatic experience derived out of his deeplevel engagement with the socially deprived and exploited, led to the creation of this series on devadasis. These works undoubtedly bear the marks of Ambedkarite/Neo-Buddhist critiques on the exploitative socioritualistic practices of Brahmanical Hinduism. In order to recognize the historical nature of Sawarkar’s interventions, we have to locate his artistic practices within such contexts. As a cultural practitioner, he positions himself in the interstices of culture and politics or, in other words, between art and activism. He is not professing any alternative; nor is he claiming to be avant-garde. Instead, his works subvert the existing discourses on aesthetics by raising questions about the casteist nature of the alphabets and grammar that constitute these discourses. While the socalled mainstream avant-garde favours modernist puritanical concepts like ‘truth’, ‘goodness’ and ‘harmony’, Sawarkar favours an aesthetics of mistakes, or what Rabelais called the gramatica jocosa (laughing grammar) wherein artistic language is liberated from the stifling norms of correctness.3 In this sense, his works are anticanonical; they deconstruct not only the canon, but also the generating matrix that produces canons and grammaticality. Sawarkar’s quest for a new linguistic idiom is an outcome of the recognition 1

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (1891–1956), popularly also known as Babasaheb, was an Indian political leader who has worked consistently against the caste system in Indian polity. He spent most of his political life for the emancipation of the untouchable (later Dalit) communities. In the later part of his life, he converted to Buddhism, and had a mass following. The peo­ ple, communities and movements that follow Ambedkar’s political philosophy are known as Ambedkarite. He was also the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution. 2 Devadasi (the servant of god) is a Hindu religious tradition in which girls are ‘married’ and dedicated to a deity or to a temple. This practice in fact is a Brahmanic way of producing religious/ritualistic sanction for the sexual exploitation of lower caste women. 3 See Shohat, Ella, and Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and Media (1994); 295–306.

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that most of the existing linguistic options are inadequate to communicate the expressive needs of an oppressed yet multivocal/multicentered (or ‘polyphonic’ in the Bakhtinian sense) community and culture. In the case of India, the entry of subalterns into mainstream art practices through hybrid, transcultural engagement has been prevented till now by hegemonic institutions primarily through the attribution of an authenticity (such as living/ folk tradition) that locates them in an ahistorical world. On the one hand, these cultural elites act as the gatekeepers who prevent any contamination of the ‘authentic subaltern’ through interaction with other traditions, including modernity. On the other hand, these elites appropriate the attributed qualities of subalternity – the cultural forms devoid of specific content and context – as supplements in their practices in order to claim themselves as authentically modern in the postcolonial Indian condition. The ‘speaking subaltern’ who, expelled from the paradise of subalternity, is accused of (moral and ethical) contamination, and is systemically marginalized as the one seduced by ‘outside’ sins. One should consider the simplistic yet not innocent way of understanding the taxonomy between subaltern identity and non-identity, between folk cultural authenticity and pop cultural betrayal, as an outcome of this discourse. In this context, tracing the history of oppression as a subject matter in modern Indian art would be of use. It was, in fact, always a part of the representative politics of visual art in general. Early instances of these forms of representation can easily be traced back to the works of left/progressive artists such as Chittaprosad Bhattacharya, Zainul Abedin and Somnath Hore, whose efforts in this direction are commendable, considering the historical time and location of their activities. For instance, Chittaprosad’s sketches of the Bengal Famine4 or Somnath Hore’s Tebhaga Diary5 exemplify the historical significance of such works. The Left intelligentsia has celebrated these artistic achievements as the epitome of politically committed art practices. However, it is this very intelligentsia that has neglected or overlooked the politically committed works of an artist like Savi Sawarkar. 4

The Bengal Famine of 1943 was a man-made disaster, which wiped out between 1.5 and 4 million people from Bengal’s 60.3 million population. Most of them died of starvation, malnutrition and disease, and this is considered as one of the biggest human catastrophes of pre-independent India and the world at large. 5 The Tebhaga movement was a militant campaign initiated in Bengal by the Communist Party of India and its peasant front in 1946. The peasants (mostly tenants) demanded the possession of two-third of the portion of the harvested crops instead of the half each imposed by the landlords. Somnath Hore, as a cultural worker of the Communist Party, painstakingly recorded this struggle through his drawings and detailed diary notes. For a detailed account, see Hore, Somnath, Tebhaga: an Artist’s Diary and Sketch Book (1990).

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For instance, it suffices to mention here that if we go through the nearly 450 pages of Geeta Kapur’s When Was Modernism: Essays on Contemporary Practices in India (2000) – which has acquired an almost iconic status in Indian Art History, and is, for my purposes, exemplary of the progressive take on Indian modernism – Sawarkar has remained an absent presence. His name is mentioned twice in the book (once as a caption to a painting of his, and second as part of a list of artists who have worked in and around the narrative/allegorical axis); but there is not a single line about the nature of his practices. One cannot even postulate the primary reason behind the presence of his name in the text. All the same, the presence of Sawarkar’s name in the body of the text also signifies the emergence of the Dalit as a political subject in the public sphere as well as the counter discourses initiated by these new political subjects. I would argue in this context that the reluctant (mis)recognition of Sawarkar exemplifies the postcolonial Left/ progressive intelligentsia’s inability as well as their ideological limits that prevent them from engaging with the question of caste. I further argue that, what makes Sawarkar’s intervention a ‘discomfort’ is his direct engagement with the question of caste oppression and his attack on Brahmanical ideologies, which are completely overlooked by the progressive narratives. One can clearly observe that, in the entire course of his artistic career, Sawarkar has engaged with the lived reality of the world of subaltern communities with a vigorous critical energy. His is a world that is extremely oppressive and suppressive, a world in which resistances and contestations have multiple layers and take multiple forms. Through this cultural intervention he has also proposed that by not depicting this reality and acknowledging this fact, most of the progressive cultural practitioners have displayed their subservience to dominant discourses. His refusal to translate caste oppression within the parameters of the grand narratives of economic oppression was his declaration of becoming part of the newer knowledge and community formations that identify themselves as Dalit. It is imperative to mention here that this newer community formation is not merely the unification of oppressed castes against the oppressive castes. Dalit formation is not the traditional liberal view of interaction of different preconstituted communities. But Dalit as a newer knowledge and community formation resists this traditional liberal view because Dalit is something other than the sum or the relation among castes. This is similar to individuals and their relations with communities because both individuals and communities are not preconstituted entities. In fact, becoming Dalit is an act of positioning oneself against being part of any pregiven caste identity. It works against the ‘graded inequalities’ that constitute and sustain the caste hierarchies among, and between, various castes and subcastes. 322

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It is important to engage with the complex character of caste in order to understand the significance of Dalit as a new community formation and its social, political and historical relevance. The operativeness of the caste system is primarily predicated upon its ability to continually produce divisions among caste groups, and reproduce these micro level hierarchical distinctions within and among caste groups as a part of natural social formations. Ambedkar’s observations regarding the complex nature of the caste system, and his analysis of the technologies of power which produce the operativeness of caste as a system, may be useful here. Ambedkar proposed a category termed as ‘graded inequality’, in addition to the existing categories of equality and inequality in order to explain the structure of the caste system. For Ambedkar, inequality is not half as dangerous as ‘graded inequality’. In a state of inequality – like in the case of class divisions, for instance – the working class can challenge the domination of the bourgeoisie by organizing themselves as a group. But in the caste system, the oppressed are deeply divided so as to be unable to form a singular group against the oppressors. Ambedkar elaborates on this structural peculiarity of the caste system, and states that, [I]t may not be an exaggeration to say that not many people understand the significance of this principle [of graded inequality]. The social system based on inequality stands on a different footing from a social system based on graded inequality. The former is a weak system which is not capable of self-preservation. The latter, on the other hand, is capable of self-preservation. In a social system based on inequality, the low orders can combine to overthrow the system. None of them have any interest to preserve it. In a social system based on graded inequality, the possibility of a general common attack by the aggrieved parties is non-existent. In a system of graded inequality, the aggrieved parties are not on a common level. This can happen only when they are only high and low. In the system of graded inequality, there are the highest (the Brahmins). Below the highest are the higher (the Kshatriyas). Below the higher are those who are high (Vaishya). Below the high are the low (Shudra), and below the low are those who are lower (the Untouchables). All have a grievance against the highest and would like to bring about their downfall. But they will not combine. The higher is anxious to get rid of the highest, but does not wish to combine with the high, the low and the lower lest they should reach his level and be his equal. The high wants to overthrow the higher who is above him, but does not want to join hands with the low and the lower, lest they should rise to his status 323

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and become equal to him in rank. The low is anxious to pull down the highest, the higher and the high, but he would not make a common cause with the lower for fear of the lower gaining a higher status and becoming his equal. In the system of graded inequality, there is no such class as completely unprivileged class except the one which is at the base of the social pyramid. The privileges of the rest are graded. Even the low is a privileged class as compared with the lower. Each class being privileged, every class is interested in maintaining the social system. (Ambedkar: 101-102) This lengthy citation from Ambedkar’s writing sheds light on the complexities of the caste system. Further, each of the four varnas (that is, Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra) and the Untouchables comprise of various castes and subcastes, ordered in graded inequalities. Such subdivisions (in the form of castes and subcastes) within the low caste (Shudra) and the lower caste (Untouchable) have worked as the major hindrance against the possibilities of a newer community formation. The newer identity formation under the nomenclature Dalit (meaning ‘broken men’ in Marathi)6 by various caste groups (of Untouchables), in fact, was/is a political strategy to transgress the pregiven and preconstituted caste identities in favour of a new social, political and cultural formation. Sawarkar’s interventions in the sphere of mainstream art practices have to be located within these new cultural politics, which identifies its first goal as a struggle for equality. The larger revolutionary impulses it carries can only accompany this struggle. This new cultural politics is not simply oppositional; it does not contest the mainstream for inclusion. It recognizes the politics of inclusion as a politics of subjugation: the becoming of a group is no longer conceived of as open but as the becoming of some specific essence. This new cultural politics is also not transgressive in an avant-garde sense of shocking the bourgeois culture. Rather, it attempts, through distinctive practices and by collective insurgency, to target the de-centering of the very premise of logocentric thought itself. Oppressed people worldwide now are sceptical about the dialectical oppositional modes of thought (such as that of the avantgarde) because these discourses hardly consider the subaltern as a discursive agency. The potency of ‘avant-garde’ claims of ‘higher’ cultural practitioners lies in the construction of the idea that they have the resource, ingenuity and (self-assigned) right to make value judgments above and beyond all social and historical values and realities. However, the emergence of new subject groups 6

For the genealogy of the term ‘Dalit’, see Jaffrelot, Christophe, India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Lower Castes in North India (2003).

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(and Sawarkar undoubtedly exemplifies this emergence in the field of the visual arts) and newer populace discourses indicates that the doubts raised by the people are valid, especially those who are depicted in all social theories as aphasic, evident through appellations such as ‘opposite’, ‘alternative’, ‘queer’, ‘secular’ and ‘parallel’. Simultaneously, it confirms that the Untouchability/ absenteeism constituted by the native elite is in the process of being destabilized in the same manner as the Othering constituted by Eurocentric systems of knowledge regarding non-European forms of knowledge.7 The recent interest shown by the mainstream/conventional cultural institutions in Dalit literature and art is not a product of a desire that allows Dalit discourses to take part in knowledge formation and cultural production. Instead, it was/is mostly an attempt to preserve the conservative institutions from destruction and de-centering. It is not coincidental that the people who are engaged in the kind of arguments that bracket off and define Dalit literature/art as ‘this’ or ‘that’ appear to be interested only in alienating the life condition of the Dalit from its contemporary location, and constructing it as something that is of the Chaturvarnya time. In other words, the historical memories of Dalits are often sedimented in their cultural forms and social practices that are not amenable to investigation under the auspices of discursive reason. Thus, in order to address the significance of Dalit society and culture, it is necessary to reorient one’s hermeneutic interest: away from models of linguisticality, discursivity and textuality and towards the ‘phatic and the ineffable’ (Gilroy 1993: 73). Therefore, a discourse that de-centers the object and reinvents the subject – not as another homogenous center but as a presence of plural discursivity – can only hold the subalterns’ ‘double consciousnesses’.8 An examination of Sawarkar’s usage of the human body may offer critical insights into the way in which he engages with questions of representation. For instance, the manner in which human bodies have been rendered in many of Sawarkar’s works displays an uncanny sense of resistance against 7 I

am indebted to the Dalit writer, philosopher and activist K. K. Baburaj for the ideas expressed in this paragraph. Baburaj’s numerous writings in Malayalam and my own personal conversations with him are the source of these ideas. See Baburaj, K. K., Mattoru Jeevitam Sadhyamanu (‘Another Life Is Possible’; 2008). 8 Gilroy (1993: 71). This concept derives from the work of W.E.B. Du Bois, who began The Soul of Black Folk (1989) with the observation that ‘one ever feels his twoness, – an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder’ (quoted in Gilroy 1993: 126). Du Bois’s purpose in mobilizing the concept of ‘double consciousness’ was ‘to convey the special difficulties arising from black internationalism of an American identity’ (quoted in Gilroy 1993: 126); but Gilroy wishes to generalize its applicability, according to its authoritative status with respect to black Western subjectivity.

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all kinds of standardization or canonization. The bold lines which produce the contours of the bodies are not used as the limit that marks the ‘natural’ resemblance to the ‘universal’ human body. We are obliged to note here that these bodies are local in their specificity and, at the same time, imagine a possibility of becoming, which produces the prospect of political alliances through the recognition of multiple layers of sufferings and struggles. Or, in other words, the unfinished, elastic bodies in many of his paintings transgress their own limits, and keep open the possibilities of conceiving newer bodies. These paintings counterpose the mutable body, the passing of one form into another, reflecting the ever incomplete character of being. As in carnivalesque aesthetics, by calling attention to the paradoxical attractiveness of the grotesque body, these paintings also attempt to reject what might be called the ‘fascism of beauty’.9 Many of the human bodies in Sawarkar’s works are fragmented – and some of them are even mutilated and amputated. Most of the figures display the agonies of their complex social existence. Many bodies bear the traces of the histories of casteist humiliation and torture. The surfaces and visual atmosphere of almost all the works clearly display the way in which their lives are fragmented through histories of exclusion and discrimination. The important point here is that the surfaces of Sawarkar’s paintings are not mere backdrops to the figures; on the contrary, they are very much part of the figures, and represent the battlegrounds of human sufferings. In most instances, the violence unleashed on the human bodies is not represented through any graphic representation of acts of violence. The lethal combination of direct colours, bold brush strokes and rough textures makes the surface vibrate with the agonies of violence. In many instances, like in the case of Dark Day I, the figures are etched onto this surface, indicating the fact that their bodies are the physical bearers of this casteist violence. The recurring presence of human bodies in his works attempts to register the dialectical movement between the individual and social bodies, and the centrality of this movement in the operation of casteist bio-politics and governmentality. In some other instances, like Banaras and Ganga, the propagators of heinous casteist violence, the muscular face which represents Brahmanic ideologies comes out of the surface, and stares at the spectator with arrogance. The presence of the structures which represent industrial outlets suggests the contemporaneity of this violence. It is imperative to mention here that, by representing the holy Hindu city and the river (Banaras and Ganga) as the backdrop of

9 See

Shohat, Ella, and Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and Media (1994); 302–303.

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the drama unleashed in the surface, Sawarkar’s work indicates the religious underpinning of this violence. More importantly, such framings of violence also indicate the simultaneous presence of mythical and historical time and space as well as the intersections of spiritual and material domains. His works argue that the production of such simultaneities and intersections are central in preserving, validating and perpetuating casteist supremacy. The vibrating red surface of the painting on which pictorial inscriptions are made evokes the intensity of this historical oppression.10 The screaming female figure, crushed under these muscular forces, also suggests the gendered nature of this violence. The violated and dejected female figures – like in his representation of devadasis – also speak about the histories of sexual oppression. These representations also pose the question of the role of caste in gendering the bodies, and the way in which this gendering re-establishes the rationale of caste itself. The miserable plight of the devadasis is a recurring thematic in Sawarkar’s works. This thematic explores the way in which the anatomies of Brahmanic religious practices are structured around casteist and sexist oppressions. His other works – like Untouchable with Dead Cow – also draw attention to recent incidents of caste violence wherein a number of Dalits were brutally lynched by the upper caste militia, being accused of cow slaughtering.11 These representations expose the nature of the brutal violence unleashed against Dalit communities, the casteist arrogance that sanctions the treatment and the social status of the members of the ‘lower’ castes as being lower than animals. Sawarkar’s inclination towards Buddhist philosophy as well neoBuddhist politics works as the inspiration for his series of paintings on Zen masters and Buddhist monks. These paintings bear the historical mark of Ambedkar’s legendary challenge to the Hindu varna–jati system through the massive conversion to Buddhism of his followers. The manner in which Sawarkar represents these figures exemplifies the extent to which this massive conversion brought dignity to the lives of the Untouchables. 10 The

overwhelming presence of the colour red is a recurring phenomenon in many of Sawarkar’s paintings. His works like Dark Day I, Three Sisters and Waiting for You exemplify this aspect. He uses the contrast between the colours red and black as a device to intensify the effects of the representation. 11 For instance, on 15 October 2002, a mob lynched five young men, all Dalit, at Dulina in the Jhajjar district of Haryana. Three of the five victims traded in animal skins as a caste occupation. The five were first beaten up by a group that claimed to have caught them slaughtering a cow on the Gurgaon – Jhajjar road, and then taken to the Dulina police post. Instead of protecting the five men from further assaults and arranging for medical attention, the police allowed a mob to assemble over three hours, and then stood by as it lynched the men in the presence of scores of onlookers.

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These works pay tribute to the political philosophy of Ambedkar and neoBuddhist movements, and register how these historical initiatives transformed the lives of millions of people forever. Sawarkar’s representation of the thinker also deserves a special mention here by the reason that his Thinker declares the arrival of a new subject and knowledge formation. To imagine these formations, he has not followed the canonical Thinker of Rodin. Sawarkar’s Thinker is not the idealized thinker of Western White male subjectivity. Unlike Rodin’s sculpture, Sawarkar’s Thinker is not positioned on any pedestal, neither is shown in isolation. He is very much a part of the community he belongs to, and refutes all the logics of an idealized thinker. He could be anyone on the street; he is not an armchair intellectual. The aesthetic standards which regulate the notion of intelligentsia as the upper caste male alone are countered by these representative tactics. One of the other factors that is easily recognizable in Sawarkar’s artistic practice is the aspect of repetition in terms of thematic choice. There are multiple representations of devadasis, Untouchable with Dead Cow, Brahmin priests, Manu, etc. at different points of time in his career. Every time he has questioned caste oppressions of various sorts through multiple tongues with a renewed energy. Sometimes this is done with a vengeance, as in the case of the representation of the Brahmin priests and Manu; at others, in a gesture of solidarity with the struggles of the systematically marginalized communities. This act of repetition has to be read not in the conventional sense of repeating the same-old-thing, but as a politico-linguistic strategy. Differing from many of his critics, I would argue in this context that Sawarkar’s act of repetition is not the recurrence of the same-old-thing over and over again. For him, to repeat something is to begin again, to renew, to re-question and to refuse remaining the same. Gilles Deleuze has observed that repeating the past does not mean parroting its effects, but repeating the force and difference of time, and producing art today that is as disruptive of the present as of the art of the past (Deleuze 2004). These works ‘repeat’ not in order to express what had gone before, but to express an untimely power – the power of language to disrupt the flow of dominant notions of identity and coherence. One of the semantic components central to Sawarkar’s critical artistic positioning is the usage of the language of excess, which problematizes the dominant notions of beauty, harmony, aesthetics and skill in art. His unconventional usage of colours and modes of figuration raise concrete scepticism about such binaries as high art and popular art, figuration and abstraction, drawing and caricature, and so on by blending their boundaries. This move also postulates that, in the context of India, the concept of caste and the casteist notion of purity have played a significant role in the 328

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construction of normative aesthetics which is quite akin to the manner in which binaries such as White/Black have operated in the Western cultural imagination. I would like to end this essay by stating that the return of ‘caste’ as an analytical category does not envisage it as an agency that transplants itself as a new centre. On the contrary, it foresees the possibilities of de-centring, differentiation, relationality, liminality, sharing and linkage. Sawarkar’s aesthetic and artistic initiatives have to be located as a counterinstitutional mode of cultural production, which rediscovers the possibilities of a newer cultural politics.

References Ambedkar, B. R. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol. 5. Bombay: Government of Maharashtra, 1989. Du Bois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Bantam, 1989. Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993. Hore, Somnath. Tebhaga: An Artist’s Diary and Sketch Book. Calcutta: Seagull Books, 1990. Shohat, Ella, and Robert Stam. Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and Media. London and New York: Routledge, 1994.

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21 THE INDIAN GRAPHIC NOVEL AND DALIT TRAUMA A Gardener in the Wasteland Pramod K. Nayar

Since the mid-1980s and Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1986, 1991), historical trauma has found a new medium of representation: comics journalism and the graphic novel/memoir. With the work of Joe Sacco and Marjane Satrapi, and the increasing number of Holocaust memoirs in graphic form, the medium has now become an industry. Inaugurated by Mulk Raj Anand’s early twentieth-century novel, Untouchable, Indian fiction has attempted to showcase the historical trauma of caste. This has been often by non-Dalits (‘Dalit’ being the new term for the untouchable castes) and, since the 2000s, also by Dalit writers like Bama and Sivakami. From the mid-1990s onwards, many anthologies have also brought together translations of Dalit poetry. Since the 1990s, memoirs and autobiographies by Dalits – originally under the aegis of publishers like Macmillan, and now from Oxford University Press, India, shepherded by the translation editor Mini Krishnan – have begun to provide curricula and the general reader with a vast body of writings from India’s caste subalterns. Sociological and historical tracts have provided a considerable corpus of work on the theme of caste. In 2011, India’s most persistent instance of historical trauma – that is, caste-based oppression and violence – ­discovered the medium of the graphic memoir. Srividya Natarajan and S. Anand’s Bhimayana (2011), illustrated by Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam, was a radical experiment in the form: a graphic novel about the early life of Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891–1956), maker of the Indian Constitution and reformer, and whose campaign for the empowerment and betterment of the Dalits have made him both a hero for the Dalits and one of India’s most significant modern thinkers. Bhimayana relied on Ambedkar’s Autobiographical 330

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Notes, but also ensured that his life story was constantly yoked to contemporary India by carefully noting the continuities of caste-based oppression and anti-Dalit violence. Bhimayana demonstrates that historical trauma does not lie in history alone. Bhimayana was followed by Srividya Natarajan’s A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba Phule’s Fight for Liberty, with art by Aparajita Ninan (2011). In an earlier essay (Nayar 2012a), I argued that the form of Bhimayana fits into an already existing Indian interocular field. It situates debates about caste and human rights in the popular cultural realm, and demands a postcolonial critical literacy from the reader. This essay expands on some of the themes regarding form and content already addressed in the earlier essay, but this time through a close reading of Natarajan’s A Gardener in the Wasteland (hereafter GW). The essay argues that GW and other such graphic novels seeking to convey massive historical trauma in the popular register escape the crisis of authenticity that marks all other works dealing with genocide and historical trauma. More than a thematic account of the work, this essay’s overarching aim is to see how historical trauma around the caste system in India might be represented. This focus on representational strategies is important for several reasons. First, these graphic texts are not produced by survivors, or even secondgeneration inheritors of what Marianne Hirsch famously designated ‘post-memory’ (2002). Hence they are, or have to be, even more alert to questions of either exoticizing or trivializing the horrors of the past. Second, if it is assumed that the question of authentic experience remains at the forefront of concerns for all creators of novels, memoirs or commentaries about such events, then the creators of graphic novels cannot claim such ‘authenticity’. I argue that the creators of graphic novels escape this imminent threat through a spectacular shift in the nature of their representation of historical trauma. The intention in this essay is not to explore trauma’s psychoanalytic and social dimensions (this has been done already in the work of Cathy Caruth [1996], Hirsch [2002], LaCapra [1997, 1999], among others), but to analyse the narrative strategies used in graphic writing. Trauma serves as an overarching theme to describe the concerns of GW wherein oppression, pain, suffering and humiliation of/on subaltern bodies and psyches – individual and collective – constitute the focus of the narrative. The quest for an appropriate medium/narrative form to comprehend trauma is not new, as is evident in the plethora of narrative fictions, cinema, memoirs and now graphic novels which have for their theme various kinds of trauma – ranging from racism to the Holocaust. Like any major examples from these – W. G. Sebald, Toni Morrison, Primo Levi, Eli Wiesel, Charles Lanzmann, Steven 331

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Spielberg, Art Spiegelman, Joe Sacco, among others – GW is also an attempt at what Roger Lockhurst has termed, not inaccurately, ‘the manic production of retrospective narratives to explicate the trauma’ (2008: 79). The difference in the case of GW is that, unlike narratives seeking to explicate, say, the traumatic events such as the Holocaust, this story of Phule’s life and work seeks to narrativize a continuous and ongoing process of traumatization. The very nature of caste oppression, its continuities from history into the contemporary and its all-pervasive nature means that it cannot simply be deemed a horrific event (which by definition is circumscribed in time and space), but must be treated as a trauma-continuum. Hence, GW’s strategy, like Bhimayana’s before it, of merging past and present trauma, predecessor narratives (Manusmriti, Ambedkar’s text, Phule’s text) with contemporary ones (the news coverage of anti-Dalit violence), is a narrative mode demanded by the very structural condition of the trauma-continuum. It is within narratives that a ‘trauma identity’ – survivor, victim, oppressor, witness – emerges. Trauma thus becomes linked to identity politics (Lockhurst 2008: 62) wherein the elaboration or affirmation of, say, the victimization of Dalits within the social order constitutes their identity.1 GW is the story of Jotiba Phule, the nineteenth-century Indian social reformer who fought against the pernicious caste system within Hinduism. His wife, Savitribai, campaigned for women’s education. Both of them were at the receiving end of much criticism – and even threats – from their conservative brethren during their lifetimes. Phule’s book on slavery, Ghulamgiri, was an impassioned appeal against the caste system, and this is the source of much of GW, which weaves a personal narrative about the Phules’ lives around the arguments of Phule’s own text. The ‘graphic’ turn to historical trauma such as caste is, I believe, a significant moment in society’s larger pursuit of the language of human rights and emancipation as expressed in Indian narratives. Drawing upon a longer tradition of comic books, most notably the Amar Chitra Katha, the graphic novels from Navayana2 seek a popular format or medium for their social agenda. This makes the graphic novel an important addition to Indian writing in English in general, and to trauma studies in particular. Recently, the medium itself

1

There are, of course, arguments claiming that narrative normalization of trauma-events such as the Holocaust is futile because, as Robert Eaglestone puts it, ‘[trauma] will overcode accounts of the Holocaust with a discourse of healing analysis or therapy, and so pass over both the epistemological and ethical impossibility of comprehending the survivor’s testimony by seeming to grasp and resolve it’ (2004: 33). 2 Named after Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s interpretation of Buddhism, ‘Navayana’ was the name chosen by India’s first publishing house to focus on the issue of caste from an anticaste perspective.

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has come in for some attention in India (Chandra 2008; Nayar 2009; Khanduri 2010), though this attention is far from adequate. In this essay, the term ‘graphic novel’ is to be understood in terms of Lila Christensen’s definition: ‘in contrast to superhero comic books, graphic novels are more serious, often nonfiction, full-length, sequential art novels that explore the issues of race, social justice, global conflict, and war, with intelligence and humour’ (2006: 227). Critics have noted the serious functions of this ‘populist art’ (Wolk 2007: 23) and medium when dealing with horrific events such as the Holocaust (Doherty 1996). There also seems to be a consensus among commentators that one must pay particular attention to the form of graphic novels for their evocative politics of affect, pedagogy and literacy (Schwarz 2007; Seyfried 2008; Yang 2008). This essay on GW is located within this critical tradition of reading graphic novels, and its focus is the narrative form and representational techniques through which the storytellers deliver the Phule story as well as its political critique. Of these techniques, one of the most striking is self-reflexivity and irony. GW opens with a self-reflexive and metanarrative move in two moments. In the first moment, in a paratextual instance, we are told that Aparajita Ninan is working on a graphic book on Jotiba Phule’s book, Slavery. Natarajan and Ninan then discuss the status of the GW script. In the second moment, while Natarajan and Ninan are walking through a neighbourhood they witness a man abusing a child, calling him a ‘son of a chamar whore’. The sight makes both women yearn for a superhero who would deal with such bullies with equal brutality (9). These two moments set the scene, literally. The superhero comic is by far the most popular genre within the graphic novel medium, and GW pays rightful homage to the dominant form. By doing so, it locates itself within the tradition of the comic book (a Batman Begins film poster is also inserted into the frame here) even as it draws itself away from this tradition by opening with the caste issue. Ultimately it moves away, I believe, from the comic book and becomes closer towards the graphic novel as defined above. I propose that we see this as a chiasmatic narrative strategy. We have seen comic books that helped define (White) superheroes; we will now see superheroes define the comic book. Jotiba Phule, it is implied, is the superhero whose time is at hand, and his arrival will redefine the medium and the form itself. This self-reflexive, metanarrative opening ensures that we are immediately put on our guard regarding matters of form. Batman here is the superhero who flings – or threatens to fling – casteist people from rooftops. Our expectations regarding the superhero storyline and the comic book as a medium are both radically altered. The scene shifts to the 1840s in western India. The narrative fictionalizes caste-based oppression in rural India. The first visual (I use the term to refer 333

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to both image and text in the panels), however, is a montage that merges timelines. In the corner of the visual depicting the luxurious lifestyles of the Brahmins, we have Srividya asking: ‘How different are we now from how we were, say, in Jotiba Phule’s time?’ (10). The rhetorical question is directed at the reader as well, and indeed GW is the answer to this question for, as it demonstrates, the persistence of the caste system in various guises means that our age is not significantly different from that of Phule’s. The incorporation of the storyteller into the story set in another time frame – a strategy popularized by Art Spiegelman in Maus and taken up by Joe Sacco – ensures that readers start acquiring the critical literacy required to read on. Critical literacy treats texts as situated within unequal social fields – caste or class conflicts, racial and ethnic tensions, gender and patriarchy – and demands that the reader become alert (a condition that Vaidehi Ramanathan calls ‘metaawareness’ [2002]) to the position she takes vis-à-vis not just the text but the social domains represented in it. It refuses to see the reader – text relation as that of subject (reader) and object (text), but sees all subjects as subjects-inprocess, where it is the reading of the text that produces the reader. The opening pages (9–10) of GW generate the critical literacy when they effect the collapse of temporal frames: 1840s’ Pune, India, and twentyfirst-century New Delhi, India, with Natarajan hoisted into the panel where the Brahmins are picturized. It is also important to note that Natarajan is herself shown looking into the panel, watching, as though on a screen, the unjust social order of 1840s’ India. We are, therefore, viewing the storyteller viewing the events in a very self-conscious metaviewing format. This also contributes to the critical literacy because we see Natarajan herself as acquiring literacy about the past. By incorporating herself into the image-text, the storyteller Natarajan positions herself not as a reliable or authentic narrator but as one who shares with the reader the shock of discovery: the discovery of continuities in social inequity. If critical literacy is an awareness of the social locations of texts and textual production, then the opening pages of GW foreground the distant yet intimate location of the storyteller: she narrates the story to us even as she unravels the horrific story for herself. More importantly, it calls upon the readers to note the continuity of social contexts: when the narrators of the tale see parallels of their (and our) time with Phule’s age, we see through their eyes the same continuity, and thus attain critical literacy. Immediately after this, we have a major shift in registers that, once again, enables the making of a critical literacy. On page 10, we are given a disquisition in formal prose about the caste system, and the second visual on the page speaks of theocracy, the use of scriptures to bolster the myths of Brahmin supremacy, and the Maratha cultures of power. The next visual, on 334

Figure 21.1  Reproduced with permission from Srividya Natarajan, A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba Phule’s Fight for Liberty. Art by Aparajita Ninan. New Delhi: Navayana, 2011. p. 11

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page 11, shows a Brahmin relaxing. In the same panel, to the right is a visual of a couple working away on a field: the woman is planting, the man is hacking away at the ground – and the sun blazes on them both. The Brahmin thinks out: ‘running the farm is a breeze. The shudra slave labourers do the grunt work’ (11). Having given us a synoptic view in formal prose of the unequal division of labour in India’s casteist society, we are shown the difference the labour system engenders: the scrawny ‘untouchable’ couple slave away in the fields; the rotund Brahmin relaxes. But this surely is a tame visualization, for it is very direct. What is startling is the register in which the Brahmin is made to think: ‘grunt work’ and ‘breeze’ take the register of contemporary yuppie culture, and give it to the 1840s’ Brahmin to articulate. This jars, assuredly. But it is in the incongruity between the registers of Brahmin supremacy – cast in the language of scriptures or law (‘caste is merely the division of labour’. 10) – and the yuppie slang that we understand something else: the continuity of inequality in labour or employment from 1840s to the present. As the book will later show us in the account of the Mandal Commission Report, and the protests against affirmative action that followed (102), the protests often foregrounded issues of the nature of work, which was of course the hinge on which the caste system turned.3 By giving the nineteenth-century Brahmin the lingo of the present-day capitalist, and a globalized workplace we, once again, have a telescoping of temporal frames, thereby indicating a continuum rather than a disjuncture. This too adds to the critical literacy of the reader: the contemporary jargon accesses a historical reality believed to be only in the past. Posters of Savitribai as a ‘wanted woman’, a commonplace modus operandi used by law enforcement agencies to catch criminals, are also shown (13). Since Savitribai Phule’s focus in 1840s’ Poona was women’s education irrespective of their caste, the storyline also aligns it, predictably, with the campaign for the rights of African Americans to education (13). Surely there were no posters of the type GW represents. But the point about nineteenth-century India’s intolerance for change or social reform is made in the register of everyday culture: a social reformer is very often despised, hunted down and even killed by the conservatives who do not want change. By mixing registers of the diatribes against Savitribai and of the law (the wanted poster), and later (17) with the icon for ‘prohibited’ (Savitribai’s face within a circle and a ‘/’ across it, resembling signs which tell us ‘No

3

On the theme of labour and how the Indian caste system has valorized the work of the mind over the work of the hands, see Kancha Ilaiah’s Turning the Pot, Tilling the Land, a nonfictional essay in the graphic novel format (2007).

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smoking’ by having an image of a cigarette with the ‘/’ across it), the message is powerfully conveyed in the language of the contemporary. This telescoping and ‘view-from-the-present’ strategy that the creators of GW adopt is repeated. Ninan is shown texting Natarajan, ‘I’m seeing Savitribai in my head’, and immediately, in the next panel, the scene shifts to Poona 1848 and Savitribai’s encounter with ‘caste-Hindus’ (12).

Figure 21.2  Reproduced with permission from Srividya Natarajan, A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba Phule’s Fight for Liberty. Art by Aparajita Ninan. New Delhi: Navayana, 2011. p. 12

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One is led to believe that it is Ninan seeing the events of 1848 – yet again, a metanarrative strategy. All panels that depict Natajaran and Ninan also have a datebox that marks the time in the present, thus clearly distinguishing the present from the past (which has its own date boxes as well). This technique of montage used in GW not only telescopes time and historical events, but also introduces a fair amount of irony. The irony is dramatic, and contingent upon our acquiring the critical literacy whereby we can recognize the limited nature of the storyteller’s authority. That is, this irony is not implicit in the narrative; it lies in our recognition of the nature of the storyteller’s ability. By suggesting that Ninan conjures up, visualizes and dreams up the events in Savitribai’s life – not very differently from Saleem Sinai (in Midnight’s Children) saying that the Indo-Pak war happened because he dreamed of it – the narrative generates dramatic irony. We acknowledge here that surely the narrators cannot be certain of their own access to Savitribai’s story, just as surely we come to recognize the limited nature of all access to historical events and figures. GW converts this dramatic irony into a principal narrative device, thereby escaping the need for authenticity and accuracy of representation. The storytellers draw our attention to the mediated nature of their own, and thereby our, access to 1840s’ Poona. I propose, therefore, that this kind of montaging and irony sharpen critical literacies by emphasizing the constructed nature of all narratives and histories, whether it be Phule’s age or anything else. I am making a larger case for the metanarrative style of GW where the montage’s dramatic irony might be seen as calling for a critical literacy that rejects any argument about direct, unmediated access – and understanding – of the historical past. All pasts, GW suggests, are mediated by the present’s needs and politics. GW not only shows histories of oppression as continuing into the present but also demonstrates a global history of trauma in its montage form. In a visual spread across two pages (20–1), we have juxtaposed together a whole group of revolutionaries, radicals and liberal thinkers. Lenin, Marx, Mandela, Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Che Guevara, the Buddha and others constitute this incredible – if motley – group that is supposed to function as the backdrop to Jotiba Phule, who is represented on the very next page (22) delivering commentaries on the caste system. This is presentism at its best, wherein the need to locate Phule within a radical generation – severely circumscribed by the graphic novel’s format (no footnotes where this connection can be elaborated with crossreferences) – is achieved through the chaotic montage. Later, there are more fascinating juxtapositions: of Phule with Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman (23), and the Brahmins with the Ku Klux Klan (24–5). Also, 338

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Figure 21.3  Reproduced with permission from Srividya Natarajan, A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba Phule’s Fight for Liberty. Art by Aparajita Ninan. New Delhi: Navayana, 2011. pp. 20–1

continuing a pattern from Bhimayana, GW also drags the present-day cultures of cruelty into the narrative about nineteenth-century India. Newspaper headlines about atrocities against Dalits – which are used to great effect in Bhimayana – are worked into the montage in GW well (26). Later, comparisons would be made to the Gujarat riots of 2002 (62–3) and the antiminority wave that led to the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid (110). This montage style telescoping past and present is instrumental in producing a critical literacy. The critical literacy generated and demanded by the work makes the reader aware of the widespread nature of oppression. This critical literacy, I now propose, is the making of a narrative imagination where the reader’s imagination is forced to see links between tortured and hung Black bodies (the visual on 25) and tortured Dalit bodies (24). The graphic novel allows storytellers to pull together diverse histories into the same panel and, therefore, impose upon our visual field an intercultural history of trauma, suffering and cruelty. This, in my view, is one of the most significant contributions of the form of GW. Within one visual we see African American and Dalit victimization. The power of the visual triggers a narrative imagination through which we, for ourselves, picture these contrasting yet similar, singular yet universal, histories of oppression. This is the narrative imagination of a cosmopolitan reading practice engendered 339

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Figure 21.4  Reproduced with permission from Srividya Natarajan, A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba Phule’s Fight for Liberty. Art by Aparajita Ninan. New Delhi: Navayana, 2011. pp. 24–5

by the critical literacy we acquire as we move through GW. A cosmopolitan reading, in the case of victim narratives, is not universalism but a response built on ‘shared judgments about particular cases’ (Appiah 2001: 223). A cosmopolitan reading entails ethics because it is the encounter with the suffering (of the) Other. Through GW, I propose, we are called upon to ‘respond in imagination to narratively constructed situations’ (Ibid.: 223). Writing about imaginative literature, Appiah suggests that what makes a cosmopolitan reading possible is not that we share beliefs, but an ‘entirely different human capacity that grounds our sharing’: ‘the grasp of a narrative logic that allows us to construct the world to which our imaginations respond’ (Ibid.: 223.). Appiah insists that we agree upon particulars: cosmopolitan reading is not about universals. It is the ‘narrative imagination’ that we build on when we read about the Other (Ibid.: 223). However, it must be immediately noted that such a work of the narrative imagination is not a disavowal of the particular. It is the narrative imagination that, as I have argued elsewhere via Appiah, makes us understand that the stranger is not abstract or imaginary, but real (Appiah 2006: 99). When we read of Khairlanji, we do not see the brutalized Dalits as mere representations – we imagine the realities they faced. The narrative logic drives this quest for particulars about the Other – What happened? Why? How? – and not universals (Nayar 2012b). When we read GW’s montages – which is 340

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the representational mode – that ‘fix’ caste-based oppression alongside the racism of America, the narrative imagination within a critical literacy that we have begun to acquire, makes the links between victims, even as we seek (and are provided) particulars about individual forms of tyranny. In other words, the narrative logic of GW, with its immersion of the past in the present and the merger of socio-political contexts (race in the United States, caste in India), drives our narrative imagination where we are called to be witnesses to the continuity of historical trauma in the present. We are also invited to see the history of, say, the contemporary horror of Khairlanji in ancient India or Phule’s times, and to imagine how it was then. GW does not abandon the storyline’s focus on caste even when it speaks of race in America: rather it draws our attention to it through the montage because it is now the critical literacy of the reader that is able to make intercultural links without abandoning the particulars of each instance of trauma. All moments of self-reflexivity are not always those involving the storytellers. In some cases, the characters themselves serve the purpose of generating metanarratives. For example, just before we are offered Jotiba Phule’s radical and revisionary myth-making (in which he retells the Manusmriti and Hindu mythology), we are told by Savitribai: ‘Listen to Jotiba argue his case with his friend Dhondiba’ (31). The revisionary myth-making that is so central to the politics of Phule’s text offers the present graphic format enormous potential for visual grotesque. I now turn to this technique, making a case for grotesquerie as a component of the politics of the narrative. The grotesquerie mentioned above is drawn from a comic countertradition and from the caricature tradition, which effectively demolishes the mainstream, oppressive scriptural tradition of the Manusmriti and the Ramayana. That is, it takes the caricature form, and subverts the ‘high’ canonical traditions of the texts that have reinforced Brahmin supremacy in the Indian social order. The grotesquerie – which was Phule’s own tone – works at two levels: it overturns the otherwise serious tone of GW as well as undermines the rhetoric and stylized textual tradition of the Ramayana and Manusmriti. I would go so far as to say that once a critical literacy has been acquired by the reader, the horror of history is brought home more effectively through the grotesquerie (the muscular Brahmin bodies, the twisted physiognomies, the cartoonish style) rather than by realistic representation. The mimetic adoption of Brahmin rhetoric, professions, their obsession with superstition, magic and textual learning and the destruction of the Dalits helps the storytellers to show the vulnerability and dehumanizing nature of the caste system: the Brahmins are less human than brutal savages; the Dalits are less human than animals. That is, it is in the strange mimesis of similar-yet-different, representative-yet-singular 341

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grotesquerie that GW delivers its punch. The caste system dehumanizes both the Brahmin and the Dalit.4 The grotesque ‘human’ figures, as I see it, are ciphers. The critical literacy of the reader must (might) ensure that she/he gets past the grotesque ciphers that are the hairy, scowling Brahmins and the emaciated Dalits to the real people behind them (once again we see the necessity of the narrative imagination at work: can we imagine the real Dalits behind the stick figures of GW?). The figures are physiognomic and corporeal exaggerations (in the case of the Brahmins), and reductions (in the case of the Dalits) of the real people in India’s iniquitous society. I propose that the exaggeration and reduction that constitutes the grotesquerie of GW is itself a narrative device to index the dehumanizing, animalizing nature of the caste system. In other words, this narrative (both verbal and visual) strategy serves to show (literally) the ugliness of the social order. The storytellers foreground the impossibility of realistically capturing the horror of history and the caste system precisely in this strategy of dehumanized figures. It is in what Huyssen presciently calls the ‘estranged visualization’ (77) of its dehumanized figures that GW generates its political critique. Mimetic approximation evades the thorny issue of authenticity in historical representation. Andreas Huyssen (2000) writing about Maus has argued that Spiegelman’s text embodies not mimesis but mimetic approximation. Readers have to get past the ciphers (mice and cats) to the people behind (the Nazis and the Jews). Huyssen is interested in the traditional debate: how best to present/represent historical nightmares such as the Holocaust. As Huyssen writes, ‘although there is widespread agreement that, politically, the genocide of the Jews must be remembered . . . by as large a public as possible, mass cultural representations are not considered proper or correct’ (60). This rejection of mass cultural forms, argues Huyssen, is because of the dichotomy of high art versus mass art where the former is seen as the appropriate vehicle for conveying historical trauma, but the latter is not (69). It is precisely this dichotomy that Maus undercuts, according to Huyssen, through its strategy of mimetic approximation. Huyssen’s argument has considerable resonance for my reading of GW. Mimetic approximation of the sort GW embodies allows it to sidestep the charge of aestheticizing the horror of the history of casteism as also of trivializing it through the use of a mass culture medium (the comic book but sliding towards the graphic novel). The montage, the self-reflexivity (metanarrative), 4

This grotesquerie could, indeed, be considered a flaw in the image/text narrative of GW as well: readers are equally likely to dismiss the whole as typical cartoonish narrative, or as simply grotesque, and thus miss the political import of the dehumanized ‘figures’.

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the irony and the multiple registers and texts ensure that GW is at once a comic book of the traditional variety (with the panels, speech and thought bubbles) but also mixes this up with history texts, documentary fiction, autobiography, biography and, most significantly, the comic book countertradition (characterized by irreverence, politically incorrect tone, etc.). This last is visible in the revisionary myth-making of GW (although it must be noted that GW does not carry it through fully because it simply makes use of Phule’s text rather than create such a text of its own). Further, as I have already proposed, the careful intrusion of metanarrative into the Phule narrative underscores the mediated nature of the text and history. It alerts us to the limited nature of the storyteller’s access to this history, and thereby evades the issue of authenticity. I shall now expand this argument. Take the narrative levels first. There is the narrative level of Natarajan and Ninan talking about caste, about Phule and about their writing about Phule. Within this is Phule’s story, narrated very often with the storyteller located within a visual frame (as noted above). This is the second narrative level. Finally, within the Phule story, we have Phule delivering his revisionary myths to his friend, Dhondiba. The intrusion of the metanarrative in the form of the storytellers’ presence in the visual is not just an aesthetic device that helps them evade the question of authenticity. Two points need to be made here. First, I propose that it shows Natarajan and Ninan seeking to be a part of the past, thereby mimetically approximating to history but also to personal experience and to being eyewitnesses to similar trauma so that various temporal levels are knotted together. When they see the child being beaten and abused for being untouchable (the opening pages of GW), we see the next generation’s trauma lying in mimetic affinity with the previous one. By showing themselves as shocked, the narrators of the book cast themselves as onlookers and witnesses who deliver the story of 1840s’ India to us. Rather than authentic representations of social injustice, we have a mimetic approximation to the events of (i) social inequality, and (ii) the shock of witnessing. To adapt Huyssen’s argument, mimesis here means ‘a making similar’, or ‘a reaching for’. Thus, on the one hand, the storytellers refuse a direct mimesis because they are aware – and we are made aware as well – that whatever they do, the past is inaccessible except through mediated representations, and that their work is bound to be inauthentic. Second, for the better part of their tale, the storytellers rely on Phule’s book, Gulamgiri (‘Slavery’) published in 1873. Indeed, GW opens with a facsimile reproduction of the cover page of Gulamgiri. This page constitutes the first page of GW, on the obverse of which is the colophon page. This is a brilliant narrative and structural device. While the book jacket gives us A Gardener in the Wasteland, the first page we see inside is Gulamgiri’s 1873 cover page. 343

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What this achieves is at once a distancing into the past but also a palimpsest: we are made aware that GW is a reworking, a writing over, a writing into, [of] the older text, Gulamgiri. This alerts us, yet again, to the mediated nature of the text of GW (it reworks Gulamgiri), and thus questions about its fidelity to the past are evaded. GW makes no claims about historical accuracy: by foregrounding its reliance on an earlier text, it makes a larger theoreticalnarrative claim: all history is mediated, and their book is no different. However, to merely state and demonstrate this would erode the political purchase of GW itself. While a mimetic distancing has been achieved, a mimetic approximation to the past is also sought. This is done by extensive montages of speeches and documents that are historically coterminous with Phule’s age: Savarkar, Ranade, Tilak and Gandhi are quoted selectively (88–89, 91) as well as Phule’s own speeches, most notably the speech to the Hunter Commission of 1882 (106). Extracts from Phule’s texts are also scattered across the work (122). Clearly, since we cannot gain a clear access to, nor represent, historical trauma, the nearest we can come to it, it can be argued, is through a mimetic approximation where rather than authenticity one seeks authentication. The grafting and montaging of documents are instances of this process of authentication. This also quietly but effectively erases the visual estrangement that might be produced by the grotesquerie of GW’s visuals: the exaggeratedly obese or muscular Brahmin bodies, the twisted physiognomies, the cartoonish feel of many visuals (the Dalit carrying a bucket of grease, thus literalizing the idiomatic expression ‘to grease palms’, 116) and even Phule’s own mock-epic style of speaking about the Manusmriti or the Hindu epics. Authentication and its correlate, mimetic approximation, are also achieved through the deployment of multiple sources of the Phule story. We can see in the pages of GW documents and registers that are historical, autobiographic, literary and testimonial. Just as the use of contemporary lingo with the nineteenth-century context telescopes past and present, the use of multiple sources and variant registers enables the storytellers to reach out to both the past and the present. At one point, we have a full-page panel that shows Ninan reading out a poem by Savitribai. The poem is inserted into the bottom right corner of the panel, so we get a sense of the ‘original’ text. But, what is important here is the metanarrative structure of this panel: Ninan is reading out the poem to Natarajan; but also overhearing the recitation are four college kids, a woman in a sari and a balding man (123). This too is an instance of mimetic approximation. On the one level, it enables the listeners to reach out to the past in the words of Savitribai’s poem. On the second level, it shows how the past seems to resonate powerfully for an entirely different, varied generation of people. Once again, the mimetic approximation 344

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Figure 21.5  Reproduced with permission from Srividya Natarajan, A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba Phule’s Fight for Liberty. Art by Aparajita Ninan. New Delhi: Navayana, 2011. p. 88

becomes a political strategy where a continuum and continuity is established between Phule’s time and his concerns and the present. Thus, the mimetic approximation of GW with its overdone portraiture ensures that we are made aware of its critique even in the supposedly ‘common’ medium but do not seek immediate and one-to-one correspondence with 345

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Figure 21.6  Reproduced with permission from Srividya Natarajan, A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba Phule’s Fight for Liberty. Art by Aparajita Ninan. New Delhi: Navayana, 2011. p. 106

historical figures, events or places. Thus, the ‘comic’ element’s shading into the graphic novel form is the key strategy in this awareness project which is GW. I further propose that this mimetic approximation enables the storytellers to foreground the tenuous nature of history writing and memory, and deal 346

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with the sheer terror of the events they do recall or revisit when reading Phule’s (or other) texts from the past. Take, for example, the historical accounts of the massacre of Buddhist monks where the monks are being crushed in oil presses by the Brahmins (83), or the activities of the Satyashodak Samaj which rejected Brahmin supremacy and encouraged rational thinking (96). When uncertain about the nature of the historical event, the storytellers prefer to simply take recourse to documentary evidence from the past (the speeches of Savarkar or Gandhi already referred to). But the terror of coming to terms with what they have discovered in these documents would have to be conveyed to the present readers as well. After telling us about the massacre of the Buddhists, the full horror of the events are visualized for us in the form of the representation of the Hindu right wing and the demolition of the Babri Masjid (110). In the second example, the storytellers continue Satyashodak Samaj’s rhetoric against Brahmin control over education and learning (96) into the controversial debates over affirmative action and the anti-Mandal riots (102). In order to convey their horror at the exclusivity of education access of the past, the narrative of GW swiftly situates the Satyashodak agitation as a contrast to the anti-Mandal one (which also sought to retain this exclusivity of the upper castes in education). Appropriately, the section where the anti-Mandal issue is raised is titled ‘Seeds of Change’, and the previous section ended with Satyashodak Samaj’s call for change, mainly in the domain of education (96). The storytellers seem to suggest that the reader see the continuities between the horrors of exclusion that the Satyashodak Samaj was battling in the nineteenth century, and the very recent horrors of the anti-Mandal agitation (the same twisted physiognomies characterize the Brahmins and upper castes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in GW’s visual rhetoric). Similarly, the horror of the massacre of the minorities (Buddhists) in ancient and medieval India is brought home to us with the ­follow-up visuals of the Babri incident in the twentieth century. Thus, the narrative of GW suggests that History is marked by a tenuous recall; but the horrors revealed to the discerning reader are no less authentic for all that.

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Christensen, Lila L. ‘Graphic Global Conflict: Graphic Novels in the High School Social Studies Classroom’, The Social Studies Vol. 97 (2006): 227–30. Doherty, Thomas. ‘Art Spiegelman’s Maus: Graphic Art and the Holocaust’, American Literature Vol. 68, No. 1 (1996): 69–84. Eaglestone, Robert. The Holocaust and the Postmodern. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Hirsch, Marianne. ‘Marked by Memory: Feminist Reflections on Trauma and Transmission’, in Extremities: Trauma, Testimony, and Community, (eds.) Nancy K. Miller and Jason Tougaw. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002; 71–91. Huyssen, Andreas. ‘Of Mice and Mimesis: Reading Spiegelman with Adorno’, New German Critique Vol. 81 (2000): 65–82. Ilaiah, Kancha. Turning the Pot, Tilling the Land: Dignity of Labour in Our Times. Illustrations by Durgabai Vyam. 2007. New Delhi: Navayana, 2010. Khanduri, R. G. ‘Comicology: Comic Books as Culture in India’, Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics Vol. 1, No. 2 (2010): 171–91. Lacapra, Dominick. ‘Here There Is No Why’, Critical Inquiry Vol. 23 (1997): 231–69. Lacapra, Dominick. ‘Trauma, Absence, Loss’, Critical Inquiry Vol. 25 (1999): 697–727. Lockhurst, Roger. The Trauma Question. London and New York: Routledge, 2008. Natarajan, Srividya. A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba Phule’s Fight for Liberty. Art by Aparajita Ninan. New Delhi: Navayana, 2011. Natarajan, Srividya and S. Anand, with Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam. Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability. New Delhi: Navayana, 2011. Nayar, Pramod K. ‘The Visual Turn: Affect, Autobiography, History and the Graphic Narrative’, ICFAI University Journal of American Literature Vol. 2, Nos. 3–4 (2009): 58–72. Nayar, Pramod K. ‘Toward a Postcolonial Critical Literacy: Bhimayana and the Indian Graphic Novel’, Studies in South Asian Film and Media Vol. 3, No. 1 (2012a): 1–22. Nayar, Pramod K. Writing Wrongs: The Cultural Construction of Human Rights in India. New Delhi and London: Routledge, 2012b. Phule, Jotirao. Slavery, in Selected Writings, (ed.) G. P. Deshpande. New Delhi: LeftWord, 2002; 23–100. Ramanathan, Vaidehi. The Politics of TESOL Education: Writing, Knowledge, Critical Pedagogy. New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 2002. Schwarz, G. ‘Media Literacy, Graphic Novels, and Social Issues’, Studies in Media and Information Literacy Education Vol. 7, No. 4 (2007): 1–11. Seyfried, J. ‘Graphic Novels as Educational Heavy Weights’, Knowledge Quest Vol. 36 No. 3 (2008): 44–8. Spiegelman, Art. Maus, A Survivor’s Tale I: My Father Bleeds History. New York: Pantheon, 1986. Spiegelman, Art. Maus, A Survivor’s Tale II: And Here My Troubles Began. New York: Pantheon, 1991. Wolk, D. Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean. Cambridge, MA: DaCapo, 2007. Yang, G., ‘Graphic Novels in the Classroom’, Language Arts Vol. 85, No. 3 (2008): 185–92.

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Primary Sources1 Anthologies Anand, Mulk Raj and Eleanor Zelliot (eds.), An Anthology of Dalit Literature: Poems. New Delhi: Gyan, 1992. Dangle, Arjun (ed.), A Corpse in the Well: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Autobiographies. Hyderabad: Disha Books, 1994. Dangle, Arjun (ed.), Poisoned Bread. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2009. Dasan, Pratbha, Chandrika (et al.), The Oxford India Anthology of Malayalam Dalit Writing. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2011. Devy, G. N. (ed.), Painted Words: An Anthology of Tribal Literature. New Delhi: Penguin, 2002. Mee, Erin B. (ed.), Drama Contemporary: India. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. Ravikumar D. and Azhagarasan R. (eds.), The Oxford India Anthology of Tamil Dalit Writing. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012. Satyanarayana, K. and Susie Tharu (eds.), No Alphabet in Sight: New Dalit Writing from South India. Dossier 1: Tamil and Malayalam. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2011. Satyanarayana, K. and Susie Tharu (eds.), Steel Nibs Are Sprouting: New Dalit Writing from South India. Dossier 2: Telugu and Kannada. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2013.

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The first date given is the date for the publication in Indian vernacular languages, the second for the translations. For reasons of space, it has not been possible to include references to the original text and to all its translations, even though it would have made sense in this volume.

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Bama, Sangati: Events. 1994. Trans. from the Tamil Lakshmi Holmström. 2005. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009. Bama, Sangati (L’Assemblée). 1994. Trans. from the Tamil Josiane Racine. Paris: Editions de l’Aube, 2002. Bama, Vanmam: Vendetta. 2002. Trans. from the Tamil Malini Seshadri. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008. Bama, Harum-Scarum Saar and Other Stories. Trans. from the Tamil by N. Ravi Shankar. New Delhi: Women Unlimited, 2006. Bhagat, Datta, Routes and Escape Routes. 1987. Dangle, Arjun, No Entry for the New Sun: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Poetry. Hyderabad: Sangam Books, 1992. Dhasal, Namdeo, Namdeo Dhasal: Poet of the Underworld Poems 1972–2006. Selection, Introduction and Trans. from the Marathi by Dilip Chitre. New Delhi: Navayana, 2007. Gadhvi, Praveen, The City of Dust and Lust. Trans. from the Gujarati by Praveen Gadhvi. New Delhi: B.S. Publishers, 2010. Gaikwad, Laxman, The Branded: Uchalya. 1987. 1998. Trans. from the Marathi by P. A. Kolharkar. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2009. Halder, Baby, A Life Less Ordinary. Trans. from the Bengali by Urvashi Butalia. New Delhi: Zubaan/Penguin Books, 2006. Halder, Baby, Une Vie moins ordinaire. Trans. from the English by Nathalie Bourgeau. Arles: Editions Philippe Picquier, 2007. Paris: Poche, 2009. Hazari 1951, Untouchable. The Autobiography of an Indian Outcaste. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1969. Ilaiah, Kancha, Turning the Pot, Tilling the Land: Dignity of Labour in Our Times. New Delhi: Navayana, 2009. Jadhav, Narendra, 1997. Untouchables: My Family’s Triumphant Journey Out of the Caste System in Modern India. New York: Scribner, 2005. Jadhav, Narendra. Outcaste: A Memoir. New Delhi: Viking, 2003. Kale, Kishore Shantabai, Against All Odds. Trans. from the Marathi by Sandhya Pandey. New Delhi: Penguin, 2000. Kamble, Baby, 1986. The Prisons We Broke. Trans. from the Marathi by Maya Pandit. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2011. Kamble, Shantabai, Baby Kamble, 1991, Parole de Femme Intouchable. Trans. from the Marathi by Guy de Poitevin. Paris: Editions Indigo et Côté-femmes, 2007. Kesharshivam, B. 2002, The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth: A Dalit’s Life. Trans. from the Gujarati by Gita Chaudhuri. Kolkata: Samya, 2008. Kondvilker, Madhau, Trans. from the Marathi by Guy Poitevin. Inde: Le Journal d’un Intouchable (1969–1977). Paris: L’Harmattan, 1985. Limbale, Sharankumar, 1984. The Outcaste: Akkarmashi. Trans. from the Marathi by Santosh Bhoomkar. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003. Macwan, Joseph, The Stepchild: Angaliyat. 1987. Trans. from the Gujarati by Rita Kothari. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004. Mane, Laxman, Oupra: L’Inde des Intouchables et des Maudits. Trans. from the Marathi by A. K. Kamat. Paris: Maren Sell and Cie, 1987.

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Mane, Laxman, 1980. Upara: An Outsider. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1997. Mistry, Rohinton, A Fine Balance. 1995. Toronto: McLelland and Stewart, 1997. Moon, Vasant, Growing up an Untouchable in India: A Dalit Autobiography. Trans. from the Marathi by Gail Omvedt. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001. Natarajan, Srividya, S. Anand, Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam, Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability. Incidents in the Life of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. New Delhi: Navayana, 2011. Natarajan, Srividya, S. Anand, Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam, Bhimayana: Histoire de vie de Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. Trans. from the English by Laurence Vilaine. Paris: Editions MeMo, 2012. Natarajan, Srividya, A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba Phule’s Fight for Liberty. Art by Aparajita Ninan. New Delhi: Navayana, 2011. Navaria, Ajay, Unclaimed Terrain. Trans. from the Hindi by Laura Bruek. New Delhi: Navayana, 2013. Pawar, Daya, Ma vie d’intouchable. 1990. Trans. from the Marathi by J. L. Proffit and Madhuri Purandare. Paris: La Découverte, 2007. Pawar, Urmila. The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs. 2008. Trans. from the Marathi Maya Pandit. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. Rajkumar, N. D., Give Us This Day a Feast of Flesh. Trans. from the Tamil by Anushiya Ramaswamy. New Delhi: Navayana, 2010. Roy, Arundhati, The God of Small of Things. New Delhi: IndiaInk, 1997. Sivakami, P., The Grip of Change: And Author’s Notes. 1989. Trans. from the Tamil by P. Sivakami. Chennai: Orient Longman, 2006. Tilak, Lakshmibai, I Follow After: An Autobiography. Trans. from the Marathi by E. Josephine Inkster. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998. Valmiki, Om Prakash, 1997. Joothan: A Dalit’s Life. 2003. Trans. from the Hindi by Arun Prabha Mukherjee. Kolkata: Samya, 2007. Valmiki, Om Prakash, Amma and Other Stories. Trans. from the Hindi by Naresh K. Jain. New Delhi: Manohar, 2008. Viramma, Life of an Untouchable. Trans. from the French by Josiane and Jean-Luc Racine. New York: Verso, 1998. Viramma, Life of a Dalit. Trans. from the French by Josiane and Jean-Luc Racine. Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan, 2005. Viramma, Une Vie paria : le rire des asservis. Trans. from the Tamil by Josiane and Jean-Luc Racine. Paris: Omnibus, 1995.

Secondary sources Books Amin, Shahid and Dipesh Chakrabarty (eds.), Subaltern Studies: Writings on South Asian History and Society. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997. Anand, S. (ed.), Touchable Tales: Publishing and Reading Dalit Literature. Chennai: Navayana, 2007.

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Ghurye, G. S., Caste and Race in India. Mumbay: Popular Prakashan, 2008. Hardtmann, Eva-Mari, The Dalit Movement in India: Local Practices, Global Connections. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010. Gorringe, Hugo, Untouchable Citizens: Dalit Movement and Democratisation in Tamil Nadu. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2005. Gramsci. Antonio, Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Trans. by Hoare and Smith. London: Electric Book Company, 1999. Guha, Ranajit, Dominance without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998. Heuzé, Gérard, Des Intouchables aux Dalit: les errements d’un mouvement d’émancipation dans l’Inde contemporaine. Pondicherry: Institut français de Pondichéry; La Courneuve, Aux lieux d’être éd., 2006. Ilaiah, Kancha, Buffalo Nationalism: A Critique of Spiritual Fascism. Kolkata: Samya, 2007. Ilaiah, Kancha, Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy. Kolkata: Samya, 2009. Ilaiah, Kancha. The Weapon of the Other: Dalitbahujan Writings and the Remaking of Nationalist Thought. New Delhi: Pearson, 2010. Jadhav, P. B., Dalits and Human Rights: Emerging Scenario. Jaipur: Vital Publications, 2010. Jaffrelot, Christophe. La Démocratie en Inde : Religion, caste et politique. Paris : Fayard, 1998. Jaffrelot, Christophe. La Démocratie par la caste : Histoire d’une mutation socio-politique (1885-2005). Paris : Fayard, 2005. Jaffrelot, Christophe and Jules Naudet. Justifier l’ordre social : Classe, race, classe et genre. Paris: PUF, 2013. Jaffrelot, Christophe. L’Inde contemporaine. Paris: Fayard, 2014. Jogdand, P. G. (ed.), Dalit Women: Issues and Perspectives. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House with University of Poona, 1995. Kothari, Rita, ‘Introduction’, Translating India. New Delhi: Cambridge University Press India, 2006; 1-5. Kumar, Raj. Dalit Personal Narratives: Reading Caste, Nation and Identity. Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan, 2010. Limbale, Sharankumar, Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies and Considerations. Trans. from the Marathi byAlok Mukherjee. New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2004. Montaut, Annie, Littérature et poétiques pluriculturelles en Asie du Sud. Paris: Editions de l’Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, 2004. Modi, S. K., Dalits: A Low Caste of Hinduism. New Delhi: Navyug, 2008. Moon, Vasant (ed.), Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches. Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1989. Mukherjee, Arun, Postcolonialism: My Living. Toronto: TSAR, 1998. Nagaraj, D. R., The Flaming Feet and Other Essays: The Dalit Movement in India. Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2010. Namishray, Mohan Dass, Caste and Race: Comparative Study of B.R. Ambedkar and Martin Luther King. Jaipur: Rawat, 2003.

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Narayan, Badri and A. R. Misra (eds.), Multiple Marginalities: An Anthology of Identified Dalit Writings. New Delhi: Manohar, 2004. Nayar, Pramod K., Writing Wrongs: The Cultural Construction of Human Rights in India. New Delhi and London: Routledge, 2012. Nehru, Jawaharlal, Towards Freedom: The Autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru. London: John Day and Co., 1941. Nubile, Clara, The Danger of Gender: Caste, Class and Gender in Contemporary Indian Women’s Writing. New Delhi: Sarup and Sons 2003. Omvedt, Gail, Dalits and the Democratic Revolution: Dr. Ambedkar and the Dalit Movement in Colonial India. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1994. Omvedt, Gail, Buddhism in India: Challenging Brahmanism and Caste. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2003. Omvedt, Gail, Dalit Visions. Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan, 2006. Pandey, Gyanendra, Routine Violence: Nations, Fragments, Histories. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006. Pandey, Gyanendra, A History of Prejudice: Race, Caste, and Difference in India and the United States. New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pandian, M. S. S., Brahmin and Non-Brahmin: Genealogies of the Tamil Political Present. New Delhi and Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2007. Pandian, M. S. S., The Political Economy of Agrarian Change – Nanchilnadu (1880– 1939). New Delhi, Sage Publications, 1990. Pandian, M. S. S., The Image Trap: M. G. Ramachandran in Film and Politics, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1992. Panikkar, K. M., Caste and Democracy 1933. New Delhi: Critical Quest, 2004. Phule, Jotirao, ‘Slavery’, in Selected Writings (ed.) GP Deshpande. New Delhi: LeftWord, 2002, pp. 23–100. Poitevin, Guy, Sortir de la sujétion, Essais sur la désubordination des parias de l’Inde, femmes et intouchables. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2001. Poitevin, Guy, The Voice and the Will, Subaltern Agency: Forms and Motives. New Delhi: Manohar/CSH, 2002. Prasad, Amar Nath and M. B. Gaijan (eds.), Dalit Literature: A Critical Exploration. New Delhi: Sarup and Sons, 2010. Prashad, Vijay, Untouchable Freedom: A Social History of a Dalit Community. New Delhi: Oxford India Paperbacks, 2001. Ram, Fakir, Dalit Awakening Moving Upward. New Delhi: Swastik, 2010. Rancière, Jacques, Le Partage du sensible: Esthétique et politique. Paris: La Fabrique, 2000. Rancière, Jacques, The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible. London: Continuum, 2004. Rao, Anupama (ed.), Gender and Caste. New Delhi: Kali for Women, 2005. Rao, Yagati Chinna, Dividing Dalits: Writing on Sub-Categorisation of Scheduled Castes. New Delhi: Rawat, 2009. Ravidas, Ajay, Ambedkar and the Dalit Movement. Jaipur: ABD Publishers, 2010. Ravikumar, Venomous Touch: Notes on Caste, Culture and Politics. Trans. By R. Azhagarasan. Kolkata: Samya, 2007.

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Rege, Sharmila, Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Reading Dalit Women’s Testimonios. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2006. Rodrigues, Valerian (ed.), The Essential Writings of B.R. Ambedkar. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002. Sadangi, H. C. (ed.), Emancipation of Dalits and the Freedom Struggle. New Delhi: Isha Books, 2008. Sen, Amartya Kumar, Inequality Revisited. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1992. Sharma, Ghanshya, Social and Political Empowerment of Indian Dalits. New Delhi: Jnanada Prakashan, 2009. Sharma, Pradeep K., Dalit Politics and Literature. New Delhi: Shipra, 2006. Shyamlal, Untouchable Castes in India: The Raigar Movement (1940–2004). Jaipur: Rawat Publications, 2010. Teltumbde, Anand (ed.), Hindutva and Dalits: Perspectives for Understanding Communal Praxis. Kolkata: Samya, 2005. Tharakam, Bojja (ed.), First All India Dalit Writers Conference: A Commemorative Volume. Hyderabad: Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Memorial Trust, 1994. Tharu, Susie and Lalita, K., Women Writings in India: 600 BC to the Early 20th Century. London: Harper and Collins, 1991. Umakant, Shukareo Thorat, Caste, Race and Discrimination: Discourses in the International Context. Jaipur: Rawat Publications, 2009. Viswanathan, Gauri, Outside the Fold: Conversion, Modernity, and Belief. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998. Wakankar, Milind, Subalternity and Religion: The Prehistory of Dalit Empowerment in South Asia. London and New York: Routledge, 2010. Wasnik, Krupakar, Lost People: An Analysis of Indian Poverty. New Delhi: Isha Books, 2009.

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Beverley, John, ‘The Margin at the Centre: On Testimonio’, in Against Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1993. Beverley, John, ‘Testimonio, Subalternity and Narrative Authority’, Strategies of Qualitative Inquiry, (eds.) Denzin, Norman K. and Lincoln, Yvonna S. London: Sage Publications, 2003. Bokil, Milind, ‘De-notified and Nomadic Tribes: A Perspective’. Economic and Political Weekly 12 January 2002, pp. 148–54. Brueck, Laura, ‘Good Dalits and Bad Brahmins: Melodramatic Realism in Dalit Short Stories’. South Asia Research 30, July 2010, pp. 125–44. Burra, Neera, ‘Was Ambedkar Just a Leader of the Mahars?’ Economic and Political Weekly 21.10/11, March 1986, pp. 429–31. Charsley, Simon, ‘ “Untouchable”: What Is in a Name?’ Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 2, March 1996, pp. 1–23. Clarke, Sathianathan, ‘Hindutva, Religious and Ethnocultural Minorities, and Indian-Christian Theology’. The Harvard Theological Review 95.2, April 2002, pp. 197–226. Constable, Philip, ‘Early Dalit Literature and Culture in Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Western India’. Modern Asian Studies 31.2, May 1997, pp. 317–38. Constable, Philip, ‘The Marginalisation of a Dalit Martial Race in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century’. The Journal of Asian Studies 60.2, May 2001, pp. 439–78. Contursi, Janet A., ‘Militant Hindus and Buddhist Dalits: Hegemony and Resistance in an Indian Slum’. American Ethnologist 16.3, August 1989, pp. 441–57. Contursi, Janet A., ‘Political Theology: Text and Practice in a Dalit Panther Community’. Journal of Asian Studies 52.2, May 1993, pp. 12 May 2011. D. N.,‘Gandhi, Ambedkar and Separate Electorates Issue’. Economic and Political Weekly 26.21, May 1991, pp. 1328–30. Deliege, Robert, ‘The Myths of Origin of the Indian Untouchables’. Man, New Series 28.3, September 1993, pp. 533–49. Deo, Veena and Eleanor Zelliot, ‘Dalit Literature : Twenty-five Years of Protest? Of Progress?’ Journal of South Asian Literature 29.2, Summer, Fall 1994, pp. 41–67. Deshpande, Sudhanva, ‘Subaltern Fantasies’. Economic and Political Weekly 38.23, June 2003, pp. 2310–11. Devakumar, J., ‘Caste Clashes and Dalits Rights Violations in Tamil Nadu’. Social Scientist 35.11/12, November/December 2007, pp. 39–54. Dharwadker, Vinay, ‘Dalit Poetry in Marathi’. Indian Literatures: In the Fifth Decade of Independence, World Literature Today 68.2, Spring 1994, pp. 319–24. Dunn, Dana, ‘Gender Inequality in Education and Employment in the Scheduled Castes and Tribes of India’. Population Research and Policy Review 12.1, 1993, pp. 53–70. Ganguly, Debjani,‘History’s Implosions: A Benjaminian Reading of Ambedkar’, in Benjamin and Bakhtin: New Approaches – New Contexts, (eds.) John Docker, Subhash Jaireth, Journal of Narrative Theory 32.3, Fall 2002, pp. 326–47. Ganguly, Debjani, ‘Pain, Personhood and the Collective: Dalit Life Narratives’. Asian Studies Review 33, December 2009, pp. 429–42.

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Gautaman, Raj, ‘Dalit Protest Culture: The First Stage’, The Oxford India Anthology of Tamil Dalit Writing, (eds.) R. Azhagarasan and Ravikumar. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 264–69. Govinda, Radhika, ‘The Politics of the Marginalised: Dalits and Women’s Activism in India’, Special Issue on ‘Marginalised People’, in Gender and Development 14.2, July 2006, pp. 181–91. Holmström, Lakshmi, ‘Introduction’ to Bama’s Sangati – Events. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005, pp. xi–xxiii. Ilaiah, Kancha, ‘Caste and Contradictions’. Economic and Political Weekly 29.43, October 1994, pp. 2835–36. Jaffrelot, Christophe, ‘Sanskritization vs. Ethnicization in India: Changing Identities and Caste Politics before Mandal’ in ‘Modernizing Tradition in India’. Asian Survey 40.5, September/October 2000, pp. 756–66. Jain, Jasbir, ‘Dalit Women’s Autobiographies: A Counter Discourse’, in Writing Women across Cultures (ed.) Jasbir Jain. Jaipur and New Delhi: Rawat Publications, 2002, pp. 282–93. Jaoul, Nicolas, ‘Le Point de Vue des Fonctionnaires Dalits sur les Quotas d’Embauche de la Fonction Publique’. Droit et Cultures 53, January 2007, pp. 1–26. Jaoul, Nicolas, ‘The Righteous Anger of the Powerless, Investigating Dalit Outrage over Caste Violence’. South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal 2, 2008. http:// samaj.revues.org/index1892.html. Jaoul, Nicolas, ‘Learning the Use of Symbolic Means: Dalits, Ambedkar Statues and the State of Uttar Pradesh’. Contributions to Indian Sociology, Vol. 40–2, 2006, pp. 175–207. Jodhka, Surinder S., ‘Nation and Village: Images of Rural India in Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar’. Economic and Political Weekly 37.32, August 2002, pp. 3343–53. Kapoor, S. D., ‘B. R. Ambedkar, W. E. B. Dubois and the Process of Liberation’. Economic and Political Weekly 38.51/52, December 2003–January 2004, pp. 5344–9. Kothari, Rita, ‘Short Story in Gujarati Dalit Literature’. Economic and Political Weekly 36.45, November 2001, pp. 4308–11. Lanjewar, Jyoti, ‘Dalit Literature and Dalit Woman’, Dalit Women in India: Issues and Perspectives. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House, 1995, pp. 188–200. Merrill, Christi, ‘Human Rights Singular-Plural: Translating Dalit Autobiography from Hindi’. Biography 33.1, Winter 2010, pp. 127–50. Morkhandikar, R. S., ‘Dilemmas of Dalit Movement in Maharashtra: Unity Moves and After’. Economic and Political Weekly 25.12, March 1990, pp. 586–90. Mouffe, Chantal, ‘Feminism, Citizenship and Radical Democratic Politics’, Feminists Theorize the Political, (eds.) Judith Butler and Joan W. Scott, London: Routledge, 1992. Mukherjee, Alok, ‘Reading Sharankumar Limbale’s Towards an Aesthetics of Dalit Literature: From Erasure to Assertion’, in Sharankumar Limbale’s Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies and Considerations. Delhi: Orient Longman, 2004, pp. 1–18. Mukherjee, Arun, Introduction to Om Prakash Valmiki’s Joothan. Kolkata: Samya, 2007, pp. xi–xlii.

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Mukherjee, Arun, Alok Mukherjee and Barbara Godard, ‘Translating Minoritised Cultures: Issues of Caste, Class and Gender’. Postcolonial Texts 2.3, 2006, pp. 1–23. Nadkarni, M. V., ‘Broadbasing Process in India and Dalits’. Economic and Political Weekly 32.33/34, August 1997, pp. 2160–71. Nadkarni, M. V., ‘Is Caste System Intrinsic to Hinduism? Demolishing a Myth’. Economic and Political Weekly 38.45, Nov 2003, pp. 4783–93. Nayar, Pramod K., ‘Bama’s Karukku: Dalit Autobiography as Testimonio’, Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 41–2, 2006, pp. 83–100. Nayar, Pramod K., ‘The Visual Turn: Affect, Autobiography, History and the Graphic Narrative’, ICFAI University Journal of American Literature 2. 3–4, 2009, pp. 58–72. Nayar, Pramod K., ‘Poetics of Postcolonial Atrocity: Dalit Life Writing, Testimonio and Human Rights’, Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 42.3–4, 2011, pp. 237–264. Nayar, Pramod K., ‘Towards a Postcolonial Critical Literacy: Bhimayana and the Indian Graphic Novel’, Studies in South Asian Film and Media 3.1, 2012, pp. 1–22. Omvedt, Gail, ‘ “Twice-Born” Riot against Democracy’, Economic and Political Weekly 25.39, September 1990, pp. 2195–201. Omvedt, Gail, ‘The Downtrodden among the Downtrodden: An Interview with a Dalit Agricultural Laborer’, in ‘The Labor of Women: Work and Family’, Signs 4.4, Summer 1979, pp. 763–74. Omvedt, Gail, ‘The Anticaste Movement’, in Reinventing Revolution: New Social Movements and the Socialist Tradition in India (Socialism and Social Movements) (ed.) Gail Omvedt. New York: ME Sharpe, Armonk, 1993. Pandian, M. S. S., ‘One Step Outside Modernity: Caste, Identity Politics and Public Sphere’, Economic and Political Weekly 37.18, May 2002, pp. 1735–41. Pandian, M. S. S., ‘On a Dalit Woman’s Testimonio’. Seminar 471, November 1998, pp. 53–6. Poitevin, Guy, ‘Dalit Autobiographical Narratives: Figures of Subaltern Consciousness, Assertion and Identity’, in Biography as a Religious and Cultural Text, (ed.) Andreas Schüle. London: Lit Verlag, 2002, pp. 77–109. Pouchepadass, Jacques, ‘Les Subaltern Studies ou la critique postcoloniale de la modernité’. L’Homme 156, october–décembre 2000, pp. 161–86. Rao, Anupama, ‘Arguing against Inclusion’ Economic and Political Weekly 32.8, February 1997, pp. 427–8. Rao, Anupama, ‘Violence and Humanity: Or, Vulnerability as Political Subjectivity’, Social Research 78, September 2011, pp. 607–32. Rao, Parimala V., ‘Gandhi, Untouchability and the Postcolonial Predicament: A Note’, Social Scientist 37.1/2, January–February 2009, pp. 64–70. Reddy, Deepa S., ‘The Ethnicity of Caste’, Anthropological Quarterly 78.3, Summer 2005, pp. 543–84. Rege, Sharmila, ‘Dalit Women Talk Differently: A Critique of “Difference” and Towards a Dalit Feminist Standpoint Position’, Economic and Political Weekly 33.44, October–November 1998, WS39–WS46. Rege, Sharmila, ‘Caste and Gender: The Violence against Women in India’, in Dalit Women, (ed.) P. Jogdand. New Delhi: Gyan, 1994.

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Satyanarayana, A., ‘Dalit Protest Literature in Telugu: A Historical Perspective’, Economic and Political Weekly 30.3, January 1995, pp. 171–5. Satyanarayana, K. and Susie Tharu (eds.), Introduction, No Alphabet in Sight: New Dalit Writing from South India. Dossier 1: Tamil and Malayalam. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2011, pp. 1–69. Sebastian, J. Jayakiran, ‘ “Can We Now Bypass That Truth?” – Interrogating the Methodology of Dalit Theology’, Transformation 25.2/3, April–July 2008, pp. 80–91. Sivanarayanan, Anushiya and N. T. Rajkumar, ‘Translating Tamil Dalit Poetry’, World Literature Today 78.2, May/August 2004, pp. 56–8.

Dissertations Dondon, Estelle, ‘Dalit Literatures in Translation: An Exploration’, Master 2 Dissertation. Paul-Valéry University Montpellier 3, 2012. Jaoul, Nicolas, ‘Le militantisme Dalit dans la région de Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh: genèse et transformations d’une entreprise de représentation communautaire’, 2004EHES0044, Dissertation. Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Centre d’Etudes de l’Inde et de l’Asie du Sud, Paris: 2004. Palaka, Pravakar, ‘Teaching of Dalit Literature in Higher Education’. Dissertation. University of Delhi, 2007. http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Teaching+of+Dalit+lit erature+in+higher+education.-a0165971990 Poitevin, Guy, ‘Dalit Autobiographical Narratives: Figures of Subaltern Consciousness, Assertion and Identity’. Centre for Cooperative Research in Social Science, Pune, India, 2002. http://www.ccrss.org/dalitautobio.htm. Rani, K. Suneetha, ‘Does Translation Empower a Dalit Text?’ Dissertation. University of Hyderabad, 2007. http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Does+translation+empo wer+a+Dalit+text%3f-a0165971995

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