Dalit Text: Aesthetics and Politics Re-imagined [1 ed.] 9781138494572

This book, companion to the much-acclaimed Dalit Literatures in India, examines questions of aesthetics and literary rep

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Dalit Text: Aesthetics and Politics Re-imagined [1 ed.]

Table of contents :
Half Title
List of contributors
1 Introduction: aesthetics and politics re-imagined
Part I Speaking out
2 Manoranjan Byapari
3 Kalyani Thakur Charal
4 Cho. Dharman
5 Des Raj Kali
Part II Writing from within: genre and gender
6 Author’s notes or revisions? The politics of form in P. Sivakami’s two novels
7 Of subjecthood and form: on reading two Dalit short stories from Gujarat, India
8 Janu and Saleena narrating life: subjects and spaces
9 Mother as fucked: reimagining Dalit female sexuality in Sahil Parmar’s poetry
10 A pox on your house: exploring caste and gender in Tulsi Ram’s Murdahiya
Part III Reading across
11 Dalit literature in translation: a symptomatic reading of Sharankumar Limbale’s Akkarmashi in English translation
12 Translating Dalit literature: redrawing the map of cultural politics
Part IV Looking through
13 Notes on questions of Dalit art
14 (Re-)imaging caste in graphic novels: a study of A Gardener in the Wasteland and Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability
15 Dalits and the spectacle of victimhood in Telugu cinema

Citation preview


This book, companion to the much-acclaimed Dalit Literatures in India, examines questions of aesthetics and literary representation in a wide range of Dalit literary texts. It looks at how Dalit literature, born from the struggle against social and political injustice, invokes the rich and complex legacy of oral, folk and performative traditions of marginalised voices. The essays and interviews systematically explore a range of literary forms, from autobiographies, memoirs and other testimonial narratives, to poems, novels or short stories, foregrounding the diversity of Dalit creation. Showcasing the interplay between the aesthetic and political for a genre of writing that has ‘change’ as its goal, the volume aims to make Dalit writing more accessible to a wider public, for the Dalit voices to be heard and understood.The volume also shows how the genre has revolutionised the concept of what literature is supposed to mean and define. Effervescent first-person accounts, socially militant activism and sharp critiques of a littleexplored literary terrain make this essential reading for scholars and researchers of social exclusion and discrimination studies, literature (especially comparative literature), translation studies, politics, human rights and cultural studies. Judith Misrahi-Barak is an associate professor at University Paul Valéry Montpellier 3, France. She has published widely on Caribbean and Indo- and Sino-Caribbean writers, and diaspora literatures. She is general editor of the series PoCoPages. She co-edited Dalit Literatures in India with Joshil K. Abraham (2015; 2nd edition 2018) and was co-investigator on the AHRC Research Network series ‘Writing, Analysing, Translating Dalit Literature’ (2014–16). She has written several entries on Dalit Literature and Dalit writers for the forthcoming Dictionnaire encyclopédique des littératures indiennes (DELI). K. Satyanarayana is a professor in the Department of Cultural Studies at the English and Foreign Language University, Hyderabad, India. He co-edited two volumes of new Dalit writing: No Alphabet in Sight (2011), Steel Nibs Are Sprouting (2013) and, most recently, Dalit Studies (2016). His research interests are in the fields of Dalit studies, literary history, and cultural theory. He is a regular commentator on Dalit issues in the media and public forums. Nicole Thiara teaches postcolonial and contemporary literature at Nottingham Trent University, UK. She has written Salman Rushdie and Indian Historiography: Writing the Nation into Being (2009) and articles on Dalit literature, contemporary South Asian literature and the British Asian diaspora. She was the principal investigator on the AHRC Research Network series ‘Writing, Analysing, Translating Dalit Literature’ (2014–16).

This book makes a critically important contribution to the growing, but still impoverished, field of Dalit literary studies in two key ways. First, the editors and contributors to Dalit Text refuse an engagement with Dalit literature’s politics in lieu of its aesthetics, and in so doing, rightfully reject the all-too-common sociological approach to Dalit literature that blinds us to the meaningful employment of innovative narrative strategies that has been at the core of Dalit literary production from its earliest stages. Second, the book makes a commitment to highlighting several new voices of Dalit literature and literary criticism, voices that will emerge for the first time in an edited volume that will have extensive transnational reach. Such a political commitment to representing a diversity of voices – in several different languages – from within Dalit literary and scholarly circles in India and its diaspora will play a critical role in contributing to the growth and sophistication of the field of Dalit literary studies. This volume is desperately needed, and most welcome. – Laura Brueck, Associate Professor of South Asian Languages and Cultures, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA This contribution to the extant body of scholarship on Dalits, now a recognized area of academic attention worldwide, forcefully intensifies the field and begins to widen it. Necessary reading for anyone interested in justice in its various forms. This book goes a long way to study newer aspects of Dalit studies. – Aniket Jaaware, Professor, English Department, Shiv Nadar University, Delhi, India A profound inquiry into the relation between the category ‘Dalit’ on the one hand and artistic and literary practice on the other, this landmark volume brings together writers, critics and translators to engage the force of Dalit writing in several Indian languages. The result of an international collaboration, this volume crucially brings questions of translation and universalisation to the very untranslatability of the term ‘Dalit’. – Simona Sawhney, Associate Professor, Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, India

DALIT TEXT Aesthetics and Politics Re-Imagined

Edited by Judith Misrahi-Barak, K. Satyanarayana and Nicole Thiara

First published 2020 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2020 selection and editorial matter, Judith Misrahi-Barak, K. Satyanarayana and Nicole Thiara; individual chapters, the contributors The right of Judith Misrahi-Barak, K. Satyanarayana and Nicole Thiara 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. 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: 978-1-138-49457-2 (hbk) ISBN: 978-0-367-21841-6 (pbk) ISBN: 978-0-367-14903-1 (ebk) Typeset in Bembo by Apex CoVantage, LLC

To Aniket Jaaware (1960–2018) In Memoriam


List of contributors x Prefacexv   1 Introduction: aesthetics and politics re-imagined Judith Misrahi-Barak, K. Satyanarayana and Nicole Thiara



Speaking out


  2 Manoranjan Byapari Sipra Mukherjee


  3 Kalyani Thakur Charal Jayati Gupta


  4 Cho. Dharman R. Azhagarasan and R. Arul Kiran Keshavamurthy


  5 Des Raj Kali Rajkumar Hans


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Writing from within: genre and gender


 6 Author’s notes or revisions? The politics of form in P. Sivakami’s two novels Kanak Yadav


  7 Of subjecthood and form: on reading two Dalit short stories from Gujarat, India Santosh Dash


  8 Janu and Saleena narrating life: subjects and spaces Carmel Christy K. J.   9 Mother as fucked: reimagining Dalit female sexuality in Sahil Parmar’s poetry Gopika Jadeja



10 A pox on your house: exploring caste and gender in Tulsi Ram’s Murdahiya138 Shivani Kapoor PART III

Reading across


11 Dalit literature in translation: a symptomatic reading of Sharankumar Limbale’s Akkarmashi in English translation Arun Prabha Mukherjee


12 Translating Dalit literature: redrawing the map of cultural politics Maya Pandit



Looking through


13 Notes on questions of Dalit art Deeptha Achar


Contents  ix

14 (Re-)imaging caste in graphic novels: a study of A Gardener in the Wasteland and Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability194 Ruchika Bhatia and Devika Mehra 15 Dalits and the spectacle of victimhood in Telugu cinema Chandra Sekhar




Deeptha Achar is a professor in the Department of English, Faculty of Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Gujarat, India. She studied English literature at Bangalore University, Karnataka and Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad, India. She is on the editorial advisory board of the open-access journal Open Cultural Studies. Her publications include The Age of Adventure: Childhood, Reading and British Boys’ Fiction (2010) and she has co-edited Towards New Art History: Studies in Indian Art (2003), Discourse, Democracy and Difference: Perspectives on Community, Politics and Culture (2010) and Articulating Resistance: Art and Activism (2012) as well as catalogue essays. Her research interests include visual culture and childhood studies. R. Arul is a doctoral scholar in the Department of English, University of Madras,

India. He works on the function of realism in European, Russian and Tamil Literature. He regularly writes in Tamil about literature and culture in his blog and in Tamil magazines. He has written scholarly articles on Tamil literature and reviewed Cho. Dharman’s works both for English and Tamil journals. R. Azhagarasan holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature (Tamil-English-folklore)

and teaches at the Department of English, University of Madras, India. He has published articles on issues of cultural politics in national and international journals in both Tamil and English. He has written about the Tamil translations of Alice in Wonderland for the 150th annual celebration of the novel. He has translated (from Tamil to English) a collection of the critical writings of a Dalit activist, Ravikumar, titled Venomous Touch (2009). He co-edited with Ravikumar, The Oxford Anthology of Tamil Dalit Writing (2012). He has translated (from English to Tamil) Poststructuralism: A Very Short Introduction by Catherine Belsey (2009). He has edited an anthology on the concept of ‘Bakhti’ in Tamil culture. His Tamil writings appeared as Utpagai Unarum Tharunam (2017).

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Ruchika Bhatia is an assistant professor at Janki Devi Memorial College, University of Delhi, India. Her key areas of interest are gender studies, issues of sexuality, and studying the representations of gendered identities within a society. Her pre-doctoral dissertation topic was ‘Gender Performativity, Melancholia, and the Issue of Queering: Understanding Judith Butler’; she dealt with the significant idea of gender performativity and its association to the process of gendering, identity formation and cultural identifications. Other areas of interest include the sexual dissidence and its importance in understanding the ideologies of modernism, and how autobiographical writings are integral in understanding the process of subject formation and individuation. She also has a postgraduate diploma in advertising and public relations from the Indian Institute of Mass Communications, New Delhi. Carmel Christy K. J. is an assistant professor of journalism at Kamala Nehru Col-

lege, University of Delhi, India. She completed her doctoral dissertation from the Department of Communication, University of Hyderabad and her postdoctoral from University of California, Santa Cruz as a Fulbright-Nehru Postdoctoral Fellow. Her publications include Sexuality and Public Space in India: Reading the Visible (2017), The Politics of Sexuality and Caste: Looking through Kerala’s Public Space (2015), Why Indian Universities are Spaces where Savarnas get Affection and Dalitbahujans Experience Distance (2018, with Prof. P. Thirumal) and several other articles in journals and books. In addition to her expertise in media studies and city spaces, Carmel is interested in research questions that explore the interconnected nature of caste, space, body, gender and sexuality. Currently, she is an affiliated fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden, working on her project on Kochi which analyses the vitality of city spaces by looking at the narratives of city dwellers. Santosh Dash teaches English at an undergraduate college in Savli, Gujarat, India. His M.Litt. at CIEFL, Hyderabad, India, was on ‘Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality and the question of Enlightenment’. His doctoral research was completed at Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda, India, where he worked on caste critiques of education. His dissertation is published as English Education and the Question of Indian Nationalism: A Perspective on the Vernacular. 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. His area of research is nineteenthand twentieth-century Gujarat. Jayati Gupta was Tagore National Fellow for Cultural Research (2015–17) at Min-

istry of Culture, Government of India, India. She researched a project titled ‘The Cultures of Travel in Bengal’ at the National Library of India, Kolkata. Before this, Gupta was a professor in the Department of English at West Bengal State University, India, where she headed the new department of the fledgling university. Prior to this she had been working for almost 25 years at Presidency College, Kolkata as Reader and then as Head of the Department. Her area of specialisation and doctoral degree from Jadavpur University cover eighteenth-century British literature

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and the European Enlightenment. Though her passion is researching and writing on travel literature, her interests include cultural studies and the literature of the marginalised – women, minorities, tribals and Dalits. She has published academic articles in national and international refereed journals and has presented papers at several international conferences. She also translates from Bangla, and several of her translated stories were included in Bashabi Fraser’s A Collection of Partition Narratives (2006) and The Other Voice(2013). Rajkumar Hans was born in a Punjabi village and graduated from Guru Nanak Dev University, India, in 1977. For his doctoral studies, he moved to the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, India, where he taught history from 1983 till 2015. He shifted his field of research from economic history to social and cultural history. Taking a comparative view of the regional cultural formations of the Indic civilisation, he was studying Gujarat and Punjab. For the last few years, he has focused his attention on the study of Sikhism and Punjabi Dalit literature. His articles and papers on Gujarat and Punjab history have been published in journals and edited books. He was awarded a Fellowship at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, India (2009–11) to write his monograph on a history of Punjabi Dalit literature, which is now being finalised for the press. He has travelled abroad on fellowships and to participate in conferences. Currently, though retired and settled in Amritsar, he is working on a history of Dalits in the Sikh religion. Gopika Jadeja has recently completed a joint PhD in the South Asian Studies Programme at the National University of Singapore and King’s College, London, UK. Gopika edits and publishes a print journal and a series of pamphlets for Five Issues, a performance-publishing project. Gopika’s translations of poetry as well as her poetry have been published in various journals and magazines. A recipient of the Charles Wallace Scholarship for Creative Writing, her writing has been published in various literary journals and magazines including Indian Literature, The Wolf, The Four Quarters Magazine, Asymptote, Cha: Asian Magazine, Vahi, etc. She is currently working on a project of English translations of poetry from Gujarat and a collection of her own poetry. Shivani Kapoor is an assistant professor at the Centre for Writing Studies, O.P. Jin-

dal University, Sonipat, India. She has a doctorate in Political Science from Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her work is located at the intersection of caste, sensory politics and labour and in particular examines the relationship between caste and the senses in the leather industry in contemporary Uttar Pradesh. Kiran Keshavamurthy is an assistant professor of English in the department of

Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati. He completed his Ph.D. in modern Tamil literature in the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, USA. His research

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interests include caste and sexuality studies and modern Indian literatures. His publications include ‘The Figure of the Prostitute in the Works of G Nagarajan and Dandapani Jeyakantan’ (2010) and ‘Violence and the Dalit Woman’ (2012). His book, titled Beyond Desire: Sexuality in Modern Tamil Literature, was published in 2016 (OUP). Devika Mehra is a researcher at Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, India and teaches at

Institute of Home Economics in University of Delhi. She has worked on children’s cinema as a genre in India for her Ph.D. while her pre-doctoral dissertation was on the changing constructions of childhood in select British and American children’s fiction (1940–2010). She is interested in research related to children’s literature, children’s cinema, and texts of popular culture. She has presented papers on construction of childhood in Dalit literature, children’s cinema, children’s literature and graphic novels in various international conferences. Her recent publications include chapters in Childhoods in India: Traditions, Trends and Transformations (Routledge, 2018) edited by T.S. Saraswathi, Shailaja Menon and Ankur Madan, and The Palgrave Handbook of Children’s Film and Television (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming 2019) edited by Casie Hermansson and Janet Zepernick. Arun Prabha Mukherjee did her graduate work in English at the University of

Saugar, India, and came to Canada as a Commonwealth Scholar in 1971 to do a Ph.D. at the University of Toronto. She is the author of The Gospel of Wealth in the American Novel: The Rhetoric of Dreiser and His Contemporaries (2014; 1987), Towards an Aesthetic of Opposition: Essays on Literature, Criticism and Cultural Imperialism (1988), Oppositional Aesthetics: Readings from a Hyphenated Space (1995) and Postcolonialism: My Living (TSAR: 1998). She has edited and written the introduction to Sharing Our Experience (Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women: 1993), an anthology of autobiographical writings by aboriginal women and women of colour. She is a member of York Stories Editorial Collective, which edited York Stories: Women in Higher Education (TSAR: 2000). Her translation of Dalit writer Omprakash Valmiki’s autobiography Joothan: A Dalit’s Life (Samya: Kolkata and Columbia University Press: 2003) won the New India Foundation Prize for ‘the finest book published in India during 2002–2003’. Her translation of Dalit writer Sharankumar Limbale’s novel Hindu was published in 2010 (Samya Publications: Kolkata). As someone who became a refugee as a one-year-old when India was partitioned in 1947, she has an abiding investment in using literature to promote human rights and justice. After teaching at York University, Canada for thirty years, Arun retired in July 2016. Sipra Mukherjee is professor in the Department of English, West Bengal State

University, India. She was student and later research fellow at Jadavpur University, India. Her research interests are modern literatures, religions, caste and power. Her publications include Interrogating My Chandal Life: autobiography of a Dalit (translation of Manoranjan Byapari’s Itibritte Chandal Jeeban, 2018) which won The Hindu

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Non-fiction Award, 2019, The Languages of Religion (Routledge, 2019), Modern English Literature, 1890–1960 (Literary Contexts Series, 2016), Special Issue: Religion and Language, International Journal of the Sociology of Language (2013), The Calcutta Mosaic: Minority Communities of Calcutta (2009). Maya Pandit has been a translator, researcher, teacher of English and a poet in Marathi. She has been involved with feminist and Dalit studies, translation studies, English Language Education and teacher development, areas on which she has published extensively. She has translated plays, autobiographies and narrative fiction by both Dalit and non-Dalit writers from Marathi into English, including G. M. Pawar’s biography of Vitthal Ramji Shinde, Mahatma Jotiba Phule’s Slavery, Baby Kamble’s autobiography The Prisons We Broke, Urmila Pawar’s autobiography The Weave of My Life, Sanjay Pawar’s play Pass the Buck on Brother, Jayant Pawar’s play The Nowhere People and G. P. Deshpande’s play Chanakya. She has also translated Dario Fo’s The Accidental Death and Awakening in Marathi, which have been performed on the Marathi stage. She has directed a film for the Sahitya Akademi on Marathi Dalit women called Voices from the Margin. She has written a book titled Gopal Ganesh Agarkar and two grammar books for schools titled Adventures with Grammar and Composition (OUP). She has published a collection of Marathi poems, Talkhali. She has been a Charles Wallace Trust Fellow and has been actively associated with the women’s movement and experimental theatre in Maharashtra. She has retired as a professor from the EFL University, Hyderabad. Chandra Sekhar teaches English at an undergraduate college in Andhra Pradesh,

India. He submitted his PhD thesis recently in the Department of Cultural Studies at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. He is a recipient of UK-Visiting-Charles Wallace India Trust, and AHRC fellowships 2016–17 and Germany visiting DAAD fellowship of 2017. He has presented papers in national and international conferences. His areas of research interest include History of Christianity in Colonial South India, Dalit Literature, Feminism and Films studies. Kanak Yadav is a Ph.D. scholar at Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru

University, New Delhi, India. Her doctoral research is a study of the representation of Indian megacities in select nonfictional texts. She has also worked as an assistant professor in colleges under Delhi University. Her articles and reviews have appeared in Contemporary Voice of Dalit, Akademos, The New Leam and World Literature Today. Her research interests include Dalit Literature, the Indian English Novel and Writings on City.


Dalit literature and me Judith Misrahi-Barak When I went to India for the first time in 2008 I had never read any Dalit literature, had never met anyone who was a Dalit, had only a distant, abstract knowledge of the kind of political and social struggle Dalits had been going through for centuries and only had a dim, theoretical perception of the struggle they are still going through today, every day. I was like many of my friends and colleagues in the ‘West’, for lack of a better phrase, who still relied on the word ‘Untouchable’ to be able to connect to the reality behind it, if at all, and who needed a translation for the word ‘Dalit’, should they happen to hear it.When I look back, however strange it may be, I am hardly the same person now. What happened in 2008 that changed my perspective so radically? First, I had always been involved in university exchanges, mostly with Europe through the Erasmus scheme. From as far back as I can remember, contributing to students and faculty going abroad on academic exchanges has always been one of the strong motivations behind my academic career, as early as 1996 when I obtained my Doctorate and was hired on my first university post. In 2008, the University PaulValery in Montpellier, where I had been teaching since 2001, asked me to take the responsibility of the exchange programs with the English-speaking world outside Europe. India was one of the countries where individual links had started growing but it was only after 2008 that MOUs were signed with Indian universities. It was for that purpose of developing these university exchanges that I started going to India. Then, also, for conferences, for academic collaborative projects, for personal friendships. More and more often. As often as I could. Serendipity is a wonderful thing if you accept to go with the flow. Everything started to pan out at the same time, and I was ready. I discovered Bama’s Sangati and Valmiki’s Joothan in the

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translations by Lakshmi Holmström and Arun Prabha Mukherjee. It was during a chance visit to a tiny university bookshop where Prof. Sudha Rai had taken me, back in 2009 when she was teaching at the University of Rajasthan, Jaipur. Thank you, Sudha. These were the first two Dalit authors I read. And as always happens in academic life, students helped. They started going to the University of Rajasthan and Delhi University (at the time the University Paul-Valery in Montpellier hadn’t yet signed MOUs with Savitribai Phule Pune University, nor with the English and Foreign Languages University). One of the students wanted to do her Master’s thesis on Dalit literature. I read along with her, we learned together, we helped each other. It was wonderful – I never told her that, I’m telling her now. Thank you, Estelle. Even Montpellier was becoming Indian – in 2010 I started to co-organize an Indian film festival and met Harsh Kapoor who was to design, several years later, the cover for Dalit Literatures in India (2015) and the one for this volume. Thank you, Harsh. Very soon, my involvement with India started to impact my academic research. As a Caribbeanist who had done all my research on twentieth- and twentyfirst-century Caribbean literature in English, I had mostly focused on the ‘Black Atlantic’ dimension of the Caribbean. I was now seeing the ‘Indoceanic’ Caribbean much more clearly. I was also perceiving the connections between the work I had been doing for years on slavery, slavery narratives, neo-slave narratives, migration literature, diasporic and traveling texts on the one hand, and, one that was, if not ignored, at least downplayed, the Indo-Caribbean history and literature, on the other hand. I realised the nineteenth-century migrations that saw some 700,000 Indians leave India to settle in the Caribbean in hope of a better life,1 were an episode that was not claimed as part of the Indian national historiography. Caste had of course a great deal to do with this, and I realised how much as I started going to India regularly. The official discourse was, and still is, that it was low castes that migrated (how could a Brahmin accept to lose caste when crossing the kala pani?), that the women who were migrating were prostitutes (how could an Indian woman leave her family and her community, even if a widow?). This is something I started emphasising when delivering lectures and talks at Indian universities. Not only is the Indian component omnipresent in Caribbean literature once you have become sensitive to it, but caste travels in surreptitious ways even when it is not supposed to. My enthusiasm for Caribbean literature was expanding to include India. I got to India through the Caribbean, and in my eyes, the bond between the two continents was becoming apparent. Academic interests and passions are nothing if they are not nurtured by personal links, human bonds and close friendships. This is what happened next, and it propelled me into a sphere I still find difficult to claim as mine. In fact, I am convinced it is better I never claim it as mine. At one of the seminars I gave at Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi in 2011, I contributed to a Master’s seminar that was taught by Prof. Shyamala Narayan, and gave a paper on V. S. Naipaul and the Indian diaspora. Thank you, Shyamala. One of the elements I included was a mention of caste and Dalit literature, which, coming from a European scholar specialising in

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Caribbean literature and giving a paper on V. S. Naipaul, was surprising enough for one of the Master’s students to come and talk to me at the end. One conversation leading to one email and to more contacts over the following months, Joshil K. Abraham and I decided to embark on an editorial adventure, aiming to bring together a collection of critical essays on Dalit literature and submitting it to a French university press. Thank you, Joshil. After three years of hard work, the volume was ready. We understood its prospective scope and submitted it to Routledge rather than the intended French university press. Aakash Chakrabarty, a young editor starting at Routledge, saw the potential of the book, its importance too, as the first volume of critical essays on Dalit literature, with essays written by Dalits and non-Dalits, Indian scholars and Western scholars, budding and established ones. Thank you, Aakash. Dalit Literatures in India was published as a hardback in September 2015. The second global edition and paperback edition with a new Introduction were published in 2018. The call for contributions that had circulated in order to prompt articles for the volume attracted Dr. Nicole Thiara’s attention. Montpellier and Nottingham were not that far. We met, we talked and we decided to start organising a conference in order to bring people together around Dalit literature. And why not apply for some funding while we’re at it? These early conversations, in Nottingham, in Montpellier, on the phone, through email, in thought as well, led us to a point we had not anticipated we would reach so soon: we obtained a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council for the creation of a research network entitled ‘Writing, Analysing, Translating Dalit Literature’. The grant was hosted by Nottingham Trent University (Centre for Postcolonial Studies), in partnership with the University Paul-Valery Montpellier 3 (EMMA, research centre on the Anglophone world, headed by Prof. Christine Reynier). The conference we had planned for June 2014 in Nottingham had suddenly turned into the launching conference of a series of six academic events spread over 2014 and 2015, over two continents and three countries. Thank you, Nicole. Being granted funding meant we could invite people from India and from other countries, organise events in Europe and in India, and spread the word near and far. Each conference would take a different angle and be an opportunity to bring together scholars who had read each other’s work but had never met, to have writers, academics, translators, artists and publishers encounter each other. And talk, and talk, and talk some more. Get to know one another and look forward to the next time we would meet again. Neither Nicole nor I could have expected what was to happen in 2014 and 2015.The follow-up was so intense, so unique and unfathomable. Our fear was that our endeavour would be misinterpreted, but we knew what our purpose was. We knew we would be criticised and that we had to brace ourselves. Though Nicole has married into a Punjabi family and has been improving her Hindi, going as far as contemplating learning another Indian language so as to be able to read more Dalit literature, we were basically two white women from Western universities who had been reading the works in translation. What possible authority could we have?

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What gave us strength and fortitude was, once again, the people we met, the friends we made, the support they gave us. Prof. K. Satyanarayana had already been one of the contributors of the Routledge volume and when he accepted to be the first keynote speaker at the Nottingham conference in June 2014, we knew another important bridge had been crossed. We could be trusted after all. Thank you, Satya. Many scholars and writers participated in these conferences. A few of them, the hardy and faithful ones, participated in all of them. Nottingham, Leicester, Norwich, Montpellier for the European side. Then came the events in Pune and Delhi. That was quite another story. It was quite a challenge to organise events in collaboration with the local organisers at such a distance and considering university administrative and financial constraints. To Aniket Jaaware, who was at Savitribai Phule Pune University then, and Raj Kumar and Tapan Basu at Delhi University, thank you. Moving funds internationally, and outside Europe to boot, is always complicated but in the case of SPPU at least, funding from the university covered most of the local expenses. Aniket, you wrote one of the endorsements for this volume but passed away suddenly before seeing this book in print. We miss you terribly. All these administrative and financial issues vanished into thin air when the last two events actually happened in December 2015.The conference in Delhi offered a startling conclusion to the series. K. Satyanarayana admitted in his opening remarks it was the first time he was invited to Delhi University. Some Dalit artists and writers had never been in the same room together with academics, translators and publishers all at once. The room was too small to accommodate everyone. People complained afterwards that they had not heard about the event in advance and were sorry they had not known. Papers were given, workshops and collective panels were held, in a format that we had wanted: unorthodox and new, creating different avenues for communication and exchange. Many languages were spoken, few people, if any, understood all of them. No one left the room. There were verbal and nonverbal ways of understanding what was being said, what was happening. Translation was implemented every single minute, and not only in words. There was laughter too, sometimes even tears. Dalit Camera had only filmed the conference in Montpellier – Prof. Vinod Verma filmed the conferences in Norwich, Pune and Delhi. No doubt,Vinod will remember the impression he created when, instead of limiting himself to filming, he opened his mouth and actually took part in the academic conversation that was going on. I remember having goose bumps a lot of the time. When Des Raj Kali was speaking in Punjabi. Manoranjan Byapari in Bengali. Cho. Dharman in Tamil. Many of the writers had not met each other before. All of them were forceful and vibrant, and did not need a translation. Cho. Dharman stayed the whole of the two days at the back of the room, making tremendous efforts to understand as much of the other languages as he could. He was so tired out at the end of the day that he was not even able to come to dinner with everyone. At the end of the two days, he approached Nicole and said that, next time they met, he would speak better English. I remember when Manoranjan Byapari and Cho. Dharman started talking together with the help of an interpreter. When Durgabai

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Vyam and Subhash Vyam presented their art works. Kalyani Thakur Charal was there, as were Satish Chandar and Balbir Madhopuri. When Neeti Singh started to intone a song over dinner, with Koonal Duggal following suit, everybody forgot how mediocre the food at the India Habitat Centre was. It all coalesced with memories of how, a few months earlier at Nottingham and Leicester, Ajay Navaria had read his short stories in Hindi, the translation being read by Laura Brueck. How Urmila Pawar had read in Marathi, the translation being read by Maya Pandit. How Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy had read his poems in Kannada, the translation being read by Rowena Hill. It was the first time these writers were setting foot in England. And I was seeing England as I had never seen it before. Since then, a collection of Chinnaswamy’s poems has been published in the UK by erbacce-press (Before It Rains again, 2016) and is now distributed in India by Yoda Press. This collection of critical essays is an attempt at reflecting some of those events, encounters, performances and happenings. Some of the critical insights and forays that took place in those AHRC-funded conferences are included in this academic collection that seeks to strengthen the status of Dalit literatures as literatures in their own right, to encourage deeper knowledge and better understanding, highquality analysis, and have them cross the oceans – another crossing of the kala pani. The AHRC research network grant on ‘Writing, Analysing, Translating Dalit Literature’ has fulfilled its purpose. We started with fewer than thirty scholars. The mailing list now comprises some three hundred people across all continents. A website and a YouTube channel have been created, a special issue of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature on Dalit Literature was published, this volume is being released. Moving away from emotion and personal history but remembering that emotion and personal history is always at the heart of everything, I am very proud and happy to have been part of this venture. Today, in 2019, after the 2018 major crackdown on politically committed intellectuals and scholars, it seems more urgent than ever to read, write and share the texts that are shaping the world we live in.

The research network and me K. Satyanarayana The present volume is a product of a long, sustained and fruitful academic collaboration proposed and co-ordinated by Dr. Judith Misrahi-Barak and Dr. Nicole Thiara. I remember when Dr. Judith Misrahi-Barak contacted me to be part of the Advisory Board for a projected volume on Dalit literatures, co-edited with Joshil K. Abraham, in 2012. I could not accept the request at the time but a couple of years later I contributed an article to the same volume published in 2015. Dr. Nicole Thiara sent word through someone in 2013 to find out if I would be interested in attending a conference on Dalit literature in 2014. I agreed to go to the conference at Nottingham Trent University. Later I came to know that No Alphabet in Sight

xx Preface

(2011) had some role to play in connecting me to Judith and Nicole. I had never imagined that these early formal and informal conversations would lead to a longterm academic collaboration and friendship. At about the same time their common academic interest in the study of Dalit literature brought Dr. Judith Misrahi-Barak and Dr. Nicole Thiara together. They proposed the idea of a research network for the study of Dalit literatures. It was just an idea at that time. I began engaging with this idea and their research agenda. After several months, the research network ‘Writing, Analysing, Translating Dalit Literature’ received funding from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). I was asked to be a member of the advisory board for the network. I really wanted to find out how serious this initiative would be. I raised a number of questions about the idea of a network and Dalit representation on the advisory board. Judith and Nicole made a conscious effort to make the board inclusive and contacted several Dalit scholars. I was convinced that the collaborative academic agenda of the network was worth pursuing and I became a member of the research network on Dalit literature. The conference at Nottingham turned into the first public event of the network. Why did I agree to be part of the network and its events? I was guided by my own sense of the conscious neglect, indifference, silence and contempt of Dalit literature by several Indian scholars. Dalit literature had not found a place in the academic institutions that are dominated by the upper caste and elite social groups. Its sharp critique of caste privilege, identification of academic positions with caste identities and genuine inability of the non-Dalits to take up research on Dalit literature could have been discouraging factors to take up research on Dalit literature. But the commitment to democratic society is a bigger ideal and goal than these criticisms. Criticism should not deter debate. For this very reason, the idea of a network to study Dalit literatures appealed to me. I was reminded of the work done by Eleanor Zelliot and Gail Omvedt to create a corpus of academic studies on the Dalit movement and Dalit literature to facilitate a global conversation. I believe that there is no better way to appreciate the significance of Dalit literature than through a sustained critical and public debate. The network really brought together a large group of scholars (both Indian and non-Indian) who are committed to the critical study of Dalit literature. The series of conferences, workshops and events conducted by the network formed a context for a global conversation on Dalit literature. Dalit writers and critics played a key role in the public events and debates abroad as well as in India. I make no hesitation in claiming that the network played an important role in mediating, engaging and disseminating Dalit creative thought in the global academic context. Both Judith and Nicole actually tried to gather diverse voices (young and senior scholars, Dalit and non-Dalit, non-Indian and Indian) and worked hard to nurture and shape the critical essays and commentaries. These diverse voices included the Dalit writers, activists and publishers among many others. This volume of essays is a product of the public debates and critical commentary enabled by the network.

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The field of Dalit politics and literature is a highly politicised domain in India. Given the history of negative responses to Dalit literature, the politically correct approach to study Dalit literature would be to create an exclusive study group of like-minded Dalit scholars. This would be an important strategy. But this should not be a substitute for the intervention of a network of scholars of diverse backgrounds in mainstream academia to make Dalit thought globally visible and critical. An open and public network of academics is rightly viewed by some Dalit critics and writers with suspicion. Charges of careerism and appropriation of Dalit literature are some of the valid criticisms one may hear. Equally true, there are a number of scholars committed to the values of democracy and who are interested in a genuine dialogue for social transformation. The way out, I believe, is to be open for a public debate with diverse voices both in India and abroad. With this open approach, the network attracted scholars who are genuinely interested and academically committed to the research agenda. It did not invite any specific set of experts or like-minded academics, and therefore avoided reproducing the existing hierarchies among scholars. This is one of the successes of the network. One of the results is this volume, which genuinely showcases the historical, aesthetic and political significance of Dalit literature. As the volume is getting ready for publication, there have been some recent attempts to silence voices of Dalit and human rights activists in India. An advisory was issued to use ‘Scheduled Caste’ instead of ‘Dalit’. Activists and scholars were questioned, humiliated and arrested. This state-initiated suppression of dissent and public debate included erasing the name, identity and a critical category called ‘Dalit’ from the public discourse. The network is presenting Dalit Text at this very moment of silencing and criminalising the Dalit voices.

Creating a research network Nicole Thiara In December 2015 on a cab ride in Delhi, Judith and I had started discussing writing up a personal account of our experience of starting the research network ‘Writing, Analysing, Translating Dalit Literature’ during the AHRC-funded period in 2014–16 after the final conference had taken place at the University of Delhi. We both felt great relief that the last two conferences of the funded series that we had held within a week’s time in Pune and Delhi had gone very well, and we were particularly pleased about the fact that so many writers had been able to attend both events. From the beginning, we had conceptualised this network to include Dalit writers and Dalit critics as an integral part of the network, but when we started planning the application for funding in 2012, the language barriers seemed at times quite insurmountable as Judith and I do not speak any Indian languages. In the following, I would like to give an account of how the network developed in a relatively short amount of time to include such an impressive number of writers,

xxii Preface

translators, publishers and academics, from a more personal perspective than the introduction will provide. I would also like to say something about the way in which I perceive my role in the network since it could be argued that it is not the place of two white academics teaching postcolonial literature in European universities to convene a research network on Dalit literature. My area of research is South Asian literature. I started as a scholar of Salman Rushdie’s work, but shortly after completing my Ph.D., I became interested in the representation of Dalits in Indian writing in English. However, this interest was gradually replaced by a research focus on Dalit literature because I found the representation of Dalits in literature written by non-Dalits quite problematic and I was also fascinated by the ways in which Dalit literature challenged and changed how I understood literature and its political role. Dalit literature was unlike anything I had read before and I therefore wanted to shift my research into the area of Dalit writing. Before I started the research network with Judith, however, I often felt ‘alone’ in this field in the UK as I did not know who else did research in Dalit studies; I also realised that it was particularly important in the area of Dalit literary studies to talk to other researchers, writers and translators and learn from talking to people because it seemed quite insufficient at the time to rely on published material since so many areas of Dalit literary studies were under-researched. The study of Dalit literature, even though developing rapidly within as well as outside of this network, still has so many gaps. As a German academic working on South Asian literature in postcolonial studies in an English department at a British university, I was quite unaware of how caste and caste discrimination manifested in its full complexity. It was very significant in this context that I started working with Dr. Annapurna Waughray, a colleague in the field of law, while being employed at the Manchester Metropolitan University; we did research on Dalit writing in the UK, interviewed the Dalit poet Daljit Khankhana and the playwrights Rena Dipti Annobil and Reena Bhatoa Jaisiah and held a symposium at the Manchester Metropolitan University in 2011. This wonderful experience and the enthusiastic support by colleagues at my current place of work, Nottingham Trent University, made me more adventurous and I started thinking about a research network that would bring together people interested in studying Dalit literature internationally. It was fortuitous that I then became aware of the fact that Judith and Joshil K. Abraham were editing a collection on Dalit literature; I contacted Judith and things developed very quickly from there. Judith was already well connected due to her work on the previous Routledge volume, and this research network would not have been possible without her and her seemingly unlimited energy and astonishing ability to organise events and keep things on track. So my role within this network is that of a co-convener, which often entails administrative work such as planning events, applying for funding and managing the budget, etc., but I see myself primarily as someone who studies Dalit literature (largely in translation). There certainly was a time when an interest in Dalit literature was hardly seen as a wise career move, be it in India or the West, but in the last few years, the interest in and appreciation of Dalit literature has grown enormously

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both inside and outside of India. In the West, there is a firm recognition that Dalit literature is both politically and aesthetically a body of writing that deserves a wider readership and more scholarly attention, a fact to which our funding success with the AHRC testifies. My career has no doubt benefited from the attention that the research network has received but the primary goal of starting this project has been the desire to create a more international platform for Dalit literature and its scholarship and enable encounters with writers, translators, publishers and scholars in this field. Our work for the network is built on the shared appreciation of Dalit literature and its amazing ability to re-invent literary genres and interrogate everything that I had taken for granted as constituting the literary. My writing on Dalit literature is differently informed now and has in many ways been made possible by the wonderful, argumentative and thoughtful people I met on this journey. The question of appropriation looms particularly large in the context of Dalit studies and we and our motives in convening this network have no doubt been questioned and scrutinised. The events of the research network have often been distinctly academic even though we welcome a broad audience and membership. Being part of, and especially as the convener of, a research network, one has the responsibility to include a wide range of voices. We often managed to bring people involved in the scholarship, production or dissemination of Dalit literature, who might otherwise have been less inclined to do so, into the same room. A network like this needs to be inclusive. The role of the convener of a research network is distinct from that of an activist.Yet the events we organised with the help of many are also politically motivated because we are invested in getting Dalit voices heard in international contexts where there is often still very little knowledge of the complex issues of caste, the Dalit movement and its literature. We do not see this network and its event and initiatives as being in competition with organisations and initiatives that are more specifically activist and Dalit-led, such as Round Table India or Dalit camera; we are situated in the field of Dalit studies with the desire to build bridges between academia, writers, publishers, translators and non-academic readers internationally. We want to give Dalit literature an international platform but we understand that our best efforts can have problematic consequences. The network events inadvertently and possibly inevitably further elevated the use of the English language in this field. Nevertheless, at the Delhi conference, many participants spoke in languages other than English, which proved that communication was possible and rich in a multi-lingual event. It was Judith’s ingenious idea to ask individual scholars of the network to organise panels with writers, publishers and translators in their regional area of research at the conference in Delhi in order to widen the circle of potential participants in a network that problematically largely relies on English as the primary medium of communication. In the end, many languages were spoken, and this could not have felt more appropriate. Events like this will be needed in the future, too. It has been challenging to manoeuvre the Indian academic and publishing landscape without always fully understanding how things work and how caste manifests.

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It certainly has been a steep learning curve. We were very conscious of our problematic roles as gatekeepers in deciding who participates as speakers at the various events organised and who gets included in network publications such as this one. We are grateful to the members of the network’s advisory board and this volume’s advisory committee, who helped make these often-difficult decisions. A huge thanks goes to Manohar Reddy and Maya Pandit, as well as to everybody who patiently answered our questions, made suggestions etc. Lakshmi Holmström was of enormous significance in advising me on tricky issues during the process of writing the network bid and always patiently answered any questions I had; unfortunately, the Nottingham conference was the last event that she could attend and her death leaves a big gap in Dalit studies. Judith, thank you most of all, for going on this exciting journey with me. I cannot quite remember what my life was like before I emailed you several times a day almost every day.Thank you, Satya, for embarking with us on the often very gratifying but also turbulent journey of editing a special issue and an edited collection of essays simultaneously. I have become very reliant on your opinion, which you so generously share. A very warm and heart-felt thanks goes to the contributors of this volume, who have worked very hard to produce these excellent and important essays. My gratitude extends to the writers, colleagues and friends who often were wonderfully generous with their time, advice and help. I’d like to thank my colleagues Katie Holland and Phil Leonard, whose help with writing the research network grant was invaluable. This volume and the events from which it emerged are only possible as a deeply collaborative venture, as the product of a network in the fullest and most meaningful sense of the term. In the summer of 2018, friends and colleagues working in the fields of Dalit studies and activism were the target of the persecution and political harassment. We hope that this volume plays a part in fighting the silencing of dissent.

Note 1 The number soars to 1,250,000 if one adds the Indians who went not only to the Caribbean but also to Fiji and Mauritius between 1834 and 1917.

1 INTRODUCTION Aesthetics and politics re-imagined Judith Misrahi-Barak, K. Satyanarayana and Nicole Thiara

This volume of essays and interviews has grown out of the conferences and events organised by the research network ‘Writing, Analysing, Translating Dalit Literature’, which was created by Judith Misrahi-Barak and Nicole Thiara and received funding from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for two years between May 2014 and June 2016. This funding was granted to create a platform for the international and cross-disciplinary discussion of Dalit literature. It seemed remarkable and problematic at the time that Dalit literature was almost invisible outside of India, given that it is such a significant literary movement and important political phenomenon that has been redefining the literary landscape in India. Few scholars outside of India study Dalit literature and it is still quite unusual to come across university modules that teach Dalit literature in Western academia, even if things are changing. This neglect is all the more surprising, perhaps, considering how crucial the concept of subalternity is in postcolonial studies. The apparent interest in silenced and oppressed people in postcolonial studies sits uneasily with the relative marginalisation of Dalit literature in this discipline. It is therefore important that postcolonial studies engage with this emerging field in order to remain relevant and avoid inadvertently contributing to the silencing of this important and radical literature. The research network was created in the context of an apparent lack of an international forum in which Dalit literature could be discussed.Though Dalit literature was widely debated within India and Dalit literary organisations, we considered it important to provide a wider platform for the discussion of Dalit literature and its analysis in order to complement regional and national discussions of this body of work. In the process, we also hoped to raise the international profile of Dalit literature since many of these texts will speak to other literary contexts and readerships. Caste, caste discrimination and the struggle against it are in many ways the defining

2  Misrahi-Barak, Satyanarayana and Thiara

features of Dalit literature but this does not mean that these topics will not find resonance in struggles against injustice and discrimination elsewhere. 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 and a conference at Judith Misrahi-Barak’s home institution, the Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, in October 2014 with the support of the research centre EMMA (‘Etudes Montpelliéraines du Monde Anglophone’). In July 2015, we held the first international conference dedicated to the significance and challenges surrounding translation and Dalit literature at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, hosted by the British Centre for Literary Translation. The final two conferences were held in India: the conference at Savitribai Phule Pune University focused on gender, and the workshop at the University of Delhi on questions surrounding the publication and dissemination of Dalit literature. For the selection of presenters and keynote speakers, recommendations by the network’s advisory board helped ensure that the academic quality and the originality and urgency of research topics were carefully considered; members of the advisory board included Laura Brueck, Toral Jatin Gajarawala, Aniket Jaaware, Sharan Kumar Limbale, Sanal Mohan, Pramod K. Nayar, Anupama Rao, K. Satyanarayana and John Zavos. A prominent aim of the network events was to engage as wide an audience as possible.We therefore held public readings of Dalit literature and film screenings, including Jayan K. Cherian’s feature film Papilio Buddha, in Montpellier, Norwich and Nottingham. An outward-facing website1 was created, and the network’s YouTube channel ‘Dalit Voice and Vision’2 now hosts recordings of the network’s events as well as new interviews and events. This volume is a reflection of these specific academic and public events and aims to follow up on what has been initiated by the network. Even if they are only a selection, the articles featured here speak to a more general desire to contribute to a conversation leading to a deeper understanding of the aesthetic and political implications of Dalit writing. Dalit literature in India is written by a generation of militant Dalits with a Dalit consciousness. It explores the world with insights that came from the writers who belonged to the untouchable community and had first-hand experience of Dalit life. Dalit life experience, insights and aspirations inform and shape Dalit literature. A new critical perspective, namely, a Dalit perspective, is at the heart of this new literary movement. The key term ‘Dalit’ is a self-identity of the castes formerly designated as untouchable and refers to the untouchables who demand to be treated with dignity and respect. The Hindu society and its literature, Dalit critic Baburao Bagul points out, denied the status of human being to the untouchable, who is described as ‘someone who is mean, despicable, contemptible and sinful due to his deeds in his past life’.3 In contrast to this derogatory view of the untouchable, ‘Dalit’ is a political self-identification that rejects these predestined and imposed identities. It contests the ideology that degrades and dehumanises the untouchables. Dalit consciousness and the assertion of identity constitute the new perspective, the Dalit perspective, which changed the common understanding of untouchability, caste and Indian society as a whole. According to the old approach, caste is viewed

Introduction  3

as a problem of the untouchable social groups and it is a social problem of the past (ancient Hindu society).4 The Dalit perspective redefines caste as a contemporary form of social and cultural inequality and power relations that affects the whole of Indian society. It is this perspective and the understanding that the Dalit writers bring to literature that makes it Dalit literature.5 Dalit literature is ultimately a literary expression of the Dalit movements in India and it contributes to shaping those struggles. It began in Maharashtra in the 1960s and spread to all regions of India. It is a pan-Indian literary movement today in many regional languages in India. The historical conditions of Dalit literature determined its early concerns such as human dignity, self-respect and equality. Early Dalit literature portrayed the anger, rage and protest against the caste society and therefore, it is widely read as a literature of Dalit protest against injustice. The representation of Dalit life in literature is seen as an explicit political act and, therefore, Dalit literature is viewed as political literature. No doubt, Dalit literature is a sociological and political record of Dalit struggles and, as such, it is a significant development. But this excessive emphasis on the sociological significance of Dalit literature relegated it to the social and political domain. Some Dalit critics argue that Dalit literature is a distinct literature with its own aesthetics and politics. In both these readings, Dalit literature is either a sociological reflection of caste society or an exclusive literary expression of Dalits.These approaches undermine the significance of Dalit literary intervention as mainstream modern Indian literature. In the early phase of Dalit literature, the questions of literary representation and aesthetics of Dalit literature were hardly attended to despite the fact that Marathi Dalit writers already raised the question of ‘how to combine creativity with thought’ and how ‘to render more effective the feelings of suffering’ in the 1960s.6 Sharan Kumar Limbale, the Marathi Dalit writer and critic, elaborates on the aesthetics of Dalit literature in his classic study Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature.7 His critique of mainstream aesthetics and proposals for alternative Dalit aesthetics are based on a critical review of literary and cultural debates in the Marathi literary culture. He observes that the framework of classical Indian aesthetics applied to the study of Indian literatures is not appropriate for the reading of Dalit literature. In his view, Indian literatures glorify pleasure derived from beauty (emotions and feelings) and they are addressed to the pleasure-seeking aesthete. Neither the individual-centred modern Western literature (self-contained, timeless and universal), nor the devotional literature share any similarities with Dalit literature. Therefore, Limbale argues that Dalit writers rejected traditional aesthetics of both India and the West and constructed separate aesthetics of their own. He highlights the distinctive features of Dalit literature thus: Dalit literature upholds equality, freedom and justice; it emphasises the centrality of the human being and society and therefore it is revolutionary. Suffering and revolutionary awakening is the basis of Dalit literature. As the concept of beauty is based on the prevailing ideas in a given society, Dalit writers invented their own aesthetics from Dalit life and Ambedkarite ideas. Limbale is successful in outlining a critique of mainstream aesthetics, but the new aesthetic framework of Dalit literature is sketchy, suggestive and rhetorical.

4  Misrahi-Barak, Satyanarayana and Thiara

Limbale’s Akkarmashi and several other Marathi Dalit texts stand testimony to this view. This study has not been given the attention it deserves. The crucial difference between emotionalist writing, which is written by nonDalits about Dalits, and Dalit writing, according to D. R. Nagaraj, a well-known cultural critic, is that in the former, the states of mind (such as pity, anger and melancholy) constitute the major material for a work of art and in the latter, ‘quotidian things’ are elevated to the status of metaphors of social change. . . . The totality of objects is rarely re-created [in the former], whereas in the latter the states of mind are woven with concrete objects of life: the abstract and the concrete are organically linked to each other.8 He further observes that the Western modes of narrative and aesthetic strategies, particularly realism, cannot represent the life of the untouchables and other lower castes (Nagaraj, 229). For example, Devanuru Mahadeva’s novel Kusumabale breaks the models of the European novel, creating a new narrative, kathakava (narrative verse), and powerfully conceives reality at multiple levels by re-examining many secular and rationalist belief systems. It is the genius of Dalit literature to bring ‘the abstract and the concrete together’ (Nagaraj, 220). This volume has some examples of this writing. Nagaraj further suggests that there is a need to develop ‘a new aesthetics’ for ‘Indian culture as a whole’ (Nagaraj, 195). Rejecting certain Western aesthetic strategies, he proposes a return to the lower caste cosmologies to recreate an autonomous aesthetic regime for Dalit literature. The problem with Nararaj’s proposed project is that it does not acknowledge and criticise the Sanskrit and Brahminical cosmologies and myths of Indian civilisation, and the critical role played by Western modern literary aesthetic that gave voice, however limited, to the untouchables during the colonial period. Many Dalit writers share the view that Dalits have their own cultural heritage of artistic creativity in the form of arts, crafts, oral, myths and performative traditions and have enriched Indian civilisation. It is not easy and simple to develop a new aesthetics without a thorough critique of the elite and upper-caste literary and cultural traditions. There has been some critical writing to map the aesthetic strategies of Dalit writers in recent times.9 Contemporary Dalit writers experiment with a variety of literary forms, narrative modes and artistic techniques in their writing. The literary features of Dalit literature cannot be briefly summarised but they have in common that they cannot leave the reader indifferent. Dalit texts take the reader to task, confront them with ethical questions and rule out passive consumption. Dalit literary texts also stun the reader with the sheer audacity with which they subvert and interrogate literary conventions, be it through radical narrative fragmentation, the redefinition of literary genre, experimentation of perspective or a revision of narrative modes of realism and magic realism. Cho. Dharman’s novel Koogai, which is discussed in this volume, is a case in point.

Introduction  5

No Alphabet in Sight (2011), Steel Nibs Are Sprouting (2013), edited by K. Satyanarayana and Susie Tharu, as well as the Oxford anthologies of Tamil and Malayalam Dalit literatures, and other anthologies, have showcased contemporary Dalit literature and facilitated a global conversation. They have been indispensable to raise the awareness that there was a Dalit literature out there, to facilitate access to the texts, or excerpts of those texts and to provide context. It is only thanks to such anthologies that a wide selection of Dalit texts could be circulated and read, in and outside India. Yet they did not include material that paid critical attention to the significance of formal and aesthetic aspects of Dalit literature. A new stage was then reached, with the need for Dalit texts to be critically read and academically assessed, facing the challenge of bringing them to a more global stage while always remembering they were coming from an extremely specific political, cultural, religious and social context. It was to bridge this gap that the volume Dalit Literatures in India (Routledge 2015) was put together and edited by Joshil K. Abraham and Judith Misrahi-Barak, laying some foundations for the critical evaluation of Dalit literature. It was the first major initiative to compile an edited volume of critical essays on Dalit literature, which were specifically written for the volume. These essays brought together Indian scholars based in India and in the diaspora, and Western scholars, showing a strong aspiration to present these literatures to a wider public beyond differences in approach, focus and method. While focusing on the literary and aesthetic aspects of Dalit literature that articulated a new political vision, they were directed at two very different academic contexts in which Dalit literature is read, taught and studied: one in India and one outside India. In one context, readers consider themselves familiar with, and knowledgeable on, Dalit literature, and in the other context, readers, more often than not, discover it for the first time. Both readerships need critical tools to be able to contextualise the literature, read it more astutely, analyse it and possibly teach it. Dalit Studies (Duke University Press, 2016) is another recent volume of essays, edited by K. Satyanarayana and Ramnarayan S. Rawat, that traces the history of Dalit emancipatory activism from colonial to present times, and offers a Dalit critique of the historical and sociological study of India. Some essays on Dalit literature in the volume highlight the political questions and debates within the Dalit literary movement from an interdisciplinary perspective. The present collection of critical essays is a continuation of these first initiatives. The contributors are this time all Indian scholars based in India or in the diaspora. We would lie if we said this had been intentional from the start but it may be significant that this is what has happened. In fact, whether the contributors are all Indian or international as well, may reflect a tension between two different approaches. One approach would emphasise the necessity to globalise the Dalit stage and perimeter while another would insist on the necessity to spearhead the study of Dalit literature within India and in South Asia before exporting it abroad, on the basis that the specificity is such that it cannot be translated into other

6  Misrahi-Barak, Satyanarayana and Thiara

languages and cultures. The response may, of course, lie somewhere in between or in a combined approach: it should be possible to adopt a perspective that would be complex, multifaceted, and more inclusive than exclusive. The volume pays particular attention to the questions of aesthetics and literary representation with reference to a wide range of Dalit literary texts. The essays developed out of papers given at the various network conferences described above, but they have all been carefully peer-reviewed, selected and revised to highlight key concerns in the contemporary analysis of Dalit literature. They draw attention to the specific pitfalls of the discussion of Dalit literature in an international, largely academic arena where people speak English most of the time – except when they do not, as was experienced at the conference at the University of Delhi and described in our prefaces. Thus, as it emerges from a collective endeavour and has been streamlined through rigorous editing, the structure of this volume may appear unusual at first sight. The interviews with the authors have been placed at the beginning whereas one would usually expect them at the end. The interviews also do not stand alone but create productive and thought-provoking dialogues with the essays that accompany them, whether these critical essays have been written by the interviewers themselves (in the case of Manoranjan Byapari, Kalyani Thakur Charal, or Des Raj Kali), or not (in the case of Cho. Dharman). This rather unusual format in many ways reflects the key concerns and the distinct practice of engagement with Dalit literature that emerged out of our network and represents much of what it stands for. This volume aims at establishing a practice of engaging with Dalit literature that is acutely aware of and attuned to the specific requirements demanded by the analysis and discussion of Dalit literature. As was outlined in the prefaces, it is of utmost importance to place Dalit writers first and not have their voices submerged in the academic analysis of Dalit literature. However, it is also of some importance to put the interviews in context, and the accompanying essays by Sipra Mukherjee, Jayati Gupta, Kiran Keshavamurthy, R. Azhagarasan, Arul and Rajkumar Hans achieve that in distinct ways in the first section of the volume, entitled ‘speaking out’. Nothing rigid here, nothing too formal. Rather, we desired to create a certain fluidity of approach and closeness with the writers, their thought-processes and their texts. One will not be surprised to read, coming from the writers, opinions that are very far removed from those of academic scholars and literary critics. Naturally, mediation and translation are at work here in many ways and we brush past, once again, some of the challenges and paradoxes of prising Dalit literature out of its context. If we insist on putting the Dalit writers’ words in the forefront, we also have to accept that their words will have to be mediated, translated for the Indian and non-Indian readers who do not speak Bengali (Byapari and Thakur), Tamil (Cho. Dharman), or Punjabi (Des Raj Kali). The writers’ contributions have all been translated and the critical introductions or essays mediate them further. Translation moves the texts further away from themselves and yet it is also, as always, a life-furthering endeavour, creating another text.

Introduction  7

It is because of such complexities that the section of the volume entitled ‘Reading Across’ has been entirely devoted to translation, in its linguistic and cultural meanings. The two essays by translators who are also academics – or should we say, the two academics who are also translators – critically engage with the practice of translation of Dalit literature, both their own and that of others.The concept of ‘linguistic hospitality’ that Paul Ricoeur applies to translators10 and that Arun Prabha Mukherjee refers to in her essay about translation should probably be adopted by academics, critics and scholars as well: isn’t their purpose precisely to welcome the other into their own language and exile themselves from their own language at the same time? In what Maya Pandit calls ‘a political act of knowledge creation’, the two papers on translation call for a greater self-reflexivity about how meaning is being produced, crafted and transmitted. If the translators, and the whole process of translation, have now been recognised as being too often ‘invisible’ (Lawrence Venuti), book editors and publishers are still too often forgotten as being part of that very production of meaning. Be it in the selection of the primary texts to be published, or not, in the selection of the texts to be translated, or not, in the way the critical texts are being invited, revised, expanded or shortened, organised and reorganised, put together or set apart, publishers and editors do have an important role to play in the production, and mediation, of meaning. It is not haphazard that the writers’ voices shining forth in the interviews are immediately followed by the section entitled ‘Writing from Within’, which showcases different literary genres with a particular emphasis on gender.The fact that each essay analyses a distinct literary genre (Kanak Yadav’s essay the novel, Santosh Dash’s essay the short story, Carmel Christy K. J.’s essay life-writing, Gopika Jadeja’s essay poetry and Shivani Kapoor’s essay the autobiography) highlights still another facet, which may not have been highlighted in the same way otherwise. The traditional emphasis on autobiographies, memoirs and other testimonial narratives has nurtured a certain neglect of other genres.Yet, poems, novels or short stories have just as great a political impact as non-fiction – even if it is more important than ever to continue to listen to land rights activist leaders like Saleena Prakkanam and C. K. Janu (see Carmel Christy K. J.’s essay) and to continue analysing Dalit autobiographies (see Kapoor’s essay), whose importance and popularity as a genre appears to be unrivalled in Dalit literature. Realist and non-realist writing fight stereotypes and produce meaning. The last section, entitled ‘Looking Through’, brings together three chapters by Deeptha Achar, Ruchika Bhatia and Devika Mehra, and Chandra Sekhar, on art, graphic novels and cinema, respectively. It calls attention to the ways visual creation has been instrumental in the staging of Dalit as object or has, in turn, contributed to embody Dalit subjectivity. In the myriad processes of representation, translation and mediation, graphic and visual art still remain to be taken up more widely, and analysed in greater detail. Our volume as a whole represents an intervention in the debate on politics and aesthetics in Dalit literature and visual arts more broadly. An attempt is made to highlight some aspects of the debate on politics and aesthetics. A reading of two

8  Misrahi-Barak, Satyanarayana and Thiara

Dalit short stories from Gujarat offers a creative and critical use of the social realist form of the short story (see Santosh Dash’s essay in the volume). It has been argued that social realism is an aesthetic and narrative strategy of the social reform movement and of modern Indian literatures. Dalits are portrayed as victims of the upper-caste social order in modern Indian literatures, and therefore, they deserve sympathy and support. Following this understanding, Dalit literature is also read as a literature of social reform, and therefore, the dominant representational strategy of this literature is described as the social realist mode. Dalit literature,Toral Gajarawala argues in a recent study (2012), forms part of the lineage of social realism but it revises realism’s history of representational failures. ‘Rakhopana Saap’ is a typical example of a social realist narrative with a difference. In this early short story, Dalit characters are portrayed as voiceless victims of a feudal order. The elucidation of caste and sexual oppression is the main thematic concern of the story. The story is realist in terms of its character analysis, setting and reform agenda. But the narrative action unfolds under the moral and social order of the upper-caste society. The aesthetic achievement of the story lies in exposing the treacheries, deceits and moral defeat of the upper-caste society. The deployment of caste as an analytic category turns the glare on the upper-caste society and problematises the ethical and moral ideals of the society. Instead of sympathy, the narrative evokes anger and solidarity. In contrast, Gadhvi’s story ‘Haanf ’ creates a Dalit character outside the upper-caste moral framework of action. It decentres the obsessive moral concern of the conventional realist short story form in Gujarat. It is argued that the story stages a critical conversation around morality and pushes the limits of the mainstream Gujarati short story. Many Dalit writers revise social realism by extending its scope and use it as a resource for representing complex Dalit life. In Kanak Yadav’s essay on Sivakami’s novels The Grip of Change (1989) and its sequel Author’s Notes (1997), the realist narrative of the former novel and the metafictional critique of the sequel are juxtaposed and it is suggested that Sivakami problematises realist representations of Dalit life.Yet Rajkumar Hans’ essay in the volume presents Des Raj Kali’s Shanti Parav as an experiment in fiction writing across genres and confounding the conventions of realism. Dalit literature invokes the rich and complex legacy of oral, folk and performative traditions of the Dalit communities. It locates the Dalit in the larger universe of other communities, of many legends and of nature. Some early Dalit literary texts, it is rightly observed, have focused on the experiences of agony, anger and protest, and articulated rights and entitlements in a liberal polity (Nagaraj 2010). But this historical preoccupation of Dalit writers should not be read as a repudiation of the traditional culture of Dalit communities, as Nagaraj suggests. The novel Koogai deploys the nocturnal owl as a metaphor for the structural violence of caste society. The owl is a powerful nocturnal bird that is seen as ominous and unsightly by humans. The narrative alternates between the realist depiction of caste oppression, inter-caste violence and resistance on the one hand, and the mythical bonds and fantasies on the other. The owl represents the Dalit who is shunned, weak and vulnerable to attacks in contemporary society, but it is also a symbol of the mythical

Introduction  9

bonds between communities in the Dalit (Pallar) history. Koogai and other texts, it has been suggested, draw on a set of Pallar myths and legends as a powerful cultural resource to portray the intimate relationship that Pallars once had with nature, and signal the ideal possibility of an alternative political order of democracy and equality characterised by the interconnectedness between human society and nature (see Kiran Keshavamurthy’s essay in this volume).This mobilisation of cultural resources for a contemporary analysis of the transformations in the village society and its caste relations makes the form of Koogai very innovative. This formal and aesthetic achievement of Koogai offers a new direction for the Indian novel. The problem of an old anthropological reading of Dalit life (in terms of exceptional customs, beliefs and cultural practices) is not specific to Dalit literature. It has been argued that readings of Dalit art have been relegated to the fields of anthropology and folklore studies (see Deeptha Achar’s essay on Dalit art in this volume). The recent discussions on Dalit art in art criticism and visual culture have taken the direction of the recovery of traditional Dalit art or the idea of Dalit visual imagery in the public sphere. Both of these approaches would reproduce an old anthropological understanding of Dalit culture as unique and unchanging. Therefore, it is suggested that a new category of Dalit art should be forged to investigate the absence of caste in art history. It is through the category of Dalit art that the Dalit challenge to the aesthetics of modern Indian art is rendered visible. It is revealed that the apparently caste-neutral category of modern Indian art is in fact constituted by caste concerns. For example, the upper-caste bodies were set up as the normative bodies by naturalising their contours, colour, stature and positioning. What is interesting in these new ways of reading and thinking of Dalit literature is the dismantling of the traditional opposition set up between the aesthetics and politics of literature. Dalit critic Krishnappa articulates this opposition well when he declares: ‘Refinement cannot be the mainstay of a literature that has revolution and change as its goals’ (109). Contemporary Dalit literature critiques dominant caste notions of aesthetics and false oppositions to create egalitarian literature. Sahil Parmar’s poetry illustrates this point, as is shown in Gopika Jadeja’s article in this volume. Parmar critiques his own role and the role of the social structures in reinforcing the patriarchal gaze (both upper-caste and Dalit male) in order to claim humanity for himself and the women in his poetry. The presentation of women as human beings and companions is a challenging task that involves a self-critique of the poet at many levels. This critique involves rejecting old metaphors, the male gaze and, thus, the aesthetics of canonical Gujarati poetry. The poet consciously distances himself from the mainstream Gujarati literature and early Dalit literature with its expletives and excesses and recreates a new language and aesthetics based on oral speech and folk motifs. The title of the volume, Dalit Text: Aesthetics and Politics Re-imagined, has been crafted to reflect the purpose of the interviews and essays that it presents. Not only are aesthetics and politics re-imagined afresh but also the old opposition set up between aesthetics and politics is dissolved. Literature has ceased to be representation only. It has become a presentation in its own right and for the benefit of all.

10  Misrahi-Barak, Satyanarayana and Thiara

Notes 1 Research network’s website ‘Writing, Analysing,Translating Dalit Literature’ https://dalitliterature.wordpress.com. 2 YouTube channel ‘Dalit Voice and Vision’ www.youtube.com/channel/UCe2s1_7J9XpbsTn8ixRdnQ/featured. 3 Baburao Bagul, ‘Dalit Literature is but Human Literature’, in Poisoned Bread: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Literature, ed. Arjun Dangle (Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 1992), 289. 4 Such a perspective was already questioned by MSS Pandian in his well-known article ‘One Step outside Modernity: Caste, Identity Politics and Public Sphere’, Economic and Political Weekly, 37, no. 18 (4–10 May 2002), 1735–1741. 5 Kannada Dalit activist and critic B. Krishnappa insists that ‘commitment to dalit identity’ is a primary condition for a born Dalit or non-Dalit writer to be accepted as a Dalit writer. See Krishnappa’s essay, ‘Dalit Literature’, in The Exercise of Freedom, ed. K. Satyanarayana and Susie Tharu (Delhi: Navayana, 2013), 106–111. 6 Arjun Dangle, ed. ‘Dalit Literature: Past, Present and Future’, in Poisoned Bread (New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2009), 234–266. 7 Sharankumar Limbale, Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies and Considerations. Trans. Alok Mukherjee (Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 2004). 8 D. R. Nagaraj, The Flaming Feet and Other Essays:The Dalit Movement in India (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2010), 220. 9 Toral Gajarawala’s (2012) and Laura Brueck’s (2014) studies on Dalit fiction, Sarah Beth Hunt’s (2014) and Sharmila Rege’s (2006) analysis of Dalit self-narratives (2006) and essays of Pramod K. Nayar (2011) illustrate this trend of evaluative critical writing. 10 Paul Ricoeur, On Translation [2004]. Trans. Eileen Brennan (London: Routledge, 2006), 22, 23; quoted by Arun Prabha Mukherjee in this volume.

Works cited Abraham, Joshil K. and Judith Misrahi-Barak, eds. Dalit Literatures in India. 2015. Delhi, London: Routledge, 2018. Anand, Mulk Raj and Eleanor Zelliot, eds. An Anthology of Dalit Literature: Poems. New Delhi: Gyan, 1992. Bagul, Baburao. ‘Dalit Literature is but Human Literature’, in Poisoned Bread:Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Literature, Arjun Dangle, ed. Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 1992: 289. Brueck, Laura. Writing Resistance: The Rhetorical Imagination of Hindi Dalit Literature. Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2014. Dangle, Arjun, ed. A Corpse in the Well: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Autobiographies. Hyderabad: Disha Books, 1992. Dangle, Arjun, ed. Poisoned Bread. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2009. Dasan, Pratbha, Chandrika et al. The Oxford India Anthology of Malayalam Dalit Writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 2011. Gadhvi, Praveen. The City of Dust and Lust. Trans. Praveen Gadhvi. New Delhi: BS Publishers, 2010. Gajarawala, Toral Jatin. Untouchable Fictions: Literary Realism and the Crisis of Caste. New York: Fordham University Press, 2012. Hunt, Sarah Beth. Hindi Dalit Literature and the Politics of Representation. New Delhi: Routledge, 2014. Krishnappa, B. ‘Dalit Literature’, in The Exercise of Freedom, K. Satyanarayana and Susie Tharu, eds. Delhi: Navayana, 2013: 106–111.

Introduction  11

Limbale, Sharankumar. Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies and Considerations. Trans. Alok Mukherjee. Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 2004. Nagaraj, D. R. The Flaming Feet and Other Essays: The Dalit Movement in India. Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2010. Nayar, Pramod K. ‘The Politics of Form in Dalit Fiction: Bama’s Sangati and Sivakami’s The Grip of Change’. Indian Journal of Gender Studies 18.3 (2011): 365–380. Ravikumar and Azhagarasan, eds. The Oxford India Anthology of Tamil Dalit Writing. New Delhi: Oxford University Press: 2012. Rege, Sharmila. Writing Caste,Writing Gender. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2006. Ricoeur, Paul. On Translation. Trans. by Eileen Brennan. London: Routledge, 2006. 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. Satyanarayana, K. and Ramnarayan S. Rawat, eds. Dalit Studies. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016. Sivakami, P. The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes. 1989. Trans. by P. Sivakami. Chennai: Orient Longman, 2006.


Speaking out


A short introduction to Bengali writer Manoranjan Byapari Manoranjan Byapari was born in colonial India in what was then known as East Bengal. His family were exceedingly poor, working as share-croppers on others’ lands and doing odd jobs. After the Partition of India following independence from the colonial rule in 1947, the area that had been their home came under the nation of Pakistan (East) and Byapari’s family moved to India, crossing the border with many others around 1950. This was following religious communal riots between the Hindus and Muslims.They led a precarious existence in refugee camps for some years before moving to the city of Calcutta (now Kolkata) in search of income. Manoranjan, now about ten years of age, was unable to bear the pangs of hunger and fled home. Then followed a series of small jobs at tea stalls, police quarters, in cities and towns across North India, where the boy was repeatedly used, abused and exploited. He returned home after about five years of this vagabond life, at a time when the violent Naxalite movement was beginning to spread from the northern hills to the city of Calcutta. Bright young minds from among the educated were swept up into the movement that hoped to bring about the just society that Indians had dreamed of after independence from the British.The young Manoranjan got drawn into this movement, only half-understanding its ideological underpinnings. As a member of this violent movement, he became a man hunted by both rival gangs and the police. He was arrested eventually and thrown into jail. There, in prison, he was taught his letters by a fellow-prisoner and, now that he could read, Manoranjan found himself fascinated by the world of books.

16  Sipra Mukherjee

On his release, he worked as a rickshaw-puller and accidentally met the famous activist writer Mahasweta Devi when she boarded his rickshaw as she returned from her college. This led to his entry into the world of writing. He won the Suprabha Majumdar Prize awarded by the Paschim Banga Bangla Akademi in 2014. The translation of his autobiography, Interrogating My Chandal Life, won The Hindu Non-fiction Award in 2019. Juggling his two identities as a labouring man and a writer, Manoranjan has moved from job to job in his attempt to keep body and soul together and live a decent life. His life vividly reveals the contentious but intimate connections between the Dalit movement and that of Marxism, revealing the complex equations between caste and class. His meteoric rise into the world of letters has caused him to be popularly hailed as the ‘Miracle Man’ in Bengal, and as ‘the rickshaw-puller-turned-author’.

An interview with Manoranjan Byapari The interview emerged out of the ‘Publishing/Disseminating Dalit Literature’ conference, Delhi, December, 2015, that was the last in the series of symposia and conferences of the ‘Writing, Analysing, Translating Dalit Literature’ network. This project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in 2014– 16, and co-ordinated by Nicole Thiara and Judith Misrahi-Barak, brought together academics, publishers, translators and Dalit writers. SIPRA: Let

me begin with a basic question: why do you write? because I cannot kill. I write because I do not know what to do with the anger that I have inside me against the enemies of our society. When I could violently attack the enemies of our society, I did not feel driven to write. But I am no longer into violence, so I use my pen as my weapon. S: You were a part of a violent movement once. What made you move away from it? M:  Let me first tell you why I joined it. Was it because of the ideology? No! I got to know the ideology after I joined the movement. I had been familiar with the name of Naxalbari because as a boy, I had been in the north hills of Bengal when that movement was beginning to spread there. So after I came down to the plains, and found the Naxals were a big name here, I related tall stories to my friends about how I had seen this giant of a leader and his men fighting the police bravely. All this was pure imagination, of course, and very colourfully imagined too. Now these stories inspired my friends who instinctively sided with the Naxals, and one day when we were walking by a wall on which was scrawled the letters ‘CPM’, indicating that the CPM party laid claim to that wall for their graffiti, my enthusiastic friend was led to the inspired act of picking up a burnt piece of charcoal lying on the ground and scrawling an ‘L’ beside the CPM. This effectively ‘gave’ the wall to the Naxalites. A CPM party member who had MANORANJAN:  I write

Manoranjan Byapari  17

been passing by saw us in the act and informed the party. This led the local CPM party members to believe that unless I was taught a public lesson, they may lose out on many of the young whom they could use as fodder. This public lesson consisted of tying me to a lamppost and giving me a severe beating. The limp that I have today is a consequence of that beating. My friend was from a family more established than mine, which was a ‘refugee’ family, and was let off. The beating served to scare off the local boys from the Naxalite movement, and it also carried my name to the ears of the local Naxals, as this young boy who was so courageously and defiantly appreciative of the Naxal ideology. That is how I got drawn into the movement on the side of the groups of students, youths, labourers and peasants who had dedicated their lives to the armed struggle. Most of us were from poor families. Some were rickshaw pullers, some ferried loads at rail stations, some sold kindling as firewood and some worked at repairing tube-wells. Working for the revolution was not an elitist luxury for us. It was a necessary step towards achieving a healthy, decent life. A dream for which we were willing to fight till our last breath. There were many educated youth from well-off families who had sacrificed their futures and their lives to fight for a more just world. To fight for us. But I felt more comfortable with those who were poor like me. Compared to the scholarly language that the educated boys used, I found the poorer boys’ language easier to understand. They spoke of the corruption of the jotedars, the mahajans and the landlords in the villages. We would spend our days and nights in anxiety and fear, keeping watch at night because of the persistent threat of an attack. On one side of the Jadavpur station was Kamarpara, the CPM fortress. On the other side was the stronghold of the Naxalites. The two gangs would line up on either side of the railway station with the railway lines between them and fight each other. We would throw bombs and we would fire shots, killing or maiming each other. After many of such battles, I began to grow weary. Questions arose in my mind. I looked at the boys on the other side. They were from families as poor as mine. I was fighting boys from poor families, and the police was killing us both, or dragging us to jails. Where was the corrupt and the powerful class enemy here? They remained untouched and untouchable. S: So how would you like to introduce yourself to your audience? M:  I come from an impoverished Dalit family. I am a labouring man too. And it is from these contexts that I source my life’s philosophy. I have come to the world of writing to write about these people, ‘my people’ as I call them. Many have written about them, but I would argue that few have written about them successfully. The reason for the failure could be either a lack of willingness or a lack of opportunity to comprehend our lives in totality. If a

18  Sipra Mukherjee

writer has to write of the poor and labouring people, then he has to involve himself sincerely with their lives. He has to be able to feel the pulse of their joys and sorrows. Just as it is impossible for the child to appreciate the keen pangs of hunger by observing a mother keep a fast or vrat on some occasion, or to hover in a helicopter above a flood-stricken zone and feel the terror and misery of the victims of the flood, it is not possible to understand the helplessness of poverty through sympathy. My life has taken me among the deprived and the hungry, and thus I have come upon that great gift of experience out of which literature may be created. I know of the labouring poor, and so I write of them. I do not know of the lives of the babus, and so I do not write about them. As a result, some have called me a writer of the labouring class. Then again, since I write against capitalism and the injustice inherent in this system, some have called me a Marxist and others, a progressive writer. Since I write of people condemned to prejudice and humiliation because of their birth into certain communities, some have called me a Dalit writer. But the way I look at it, it is not for me to fit adjectives to my name. That is the job of the readers. Let my readers tell me what kind of a writer I am. S: Should the non-Dalit writers author Dalit literature? M:  Will a non-Dalit writer be able to author Dalit literature if he wants to? He will not. Because he has not experienced the life of the Dalit. He does not know the pain, the shame, the anger of a Dalit’s life. Nor does he know its romance, struggle, resistance. How will he portray what he has never experienced? A doctor can learn of sickness, can prescribe medicines for that illness, or cure that illness. But how will he know what the experience of that illness is like? No learning or sympathy can bring that experience to him. So we believe that only a Dalit with the talent for writing can write Dalit literature. One needs to possess not only compassion, but also a kinship; not only sahanabhuti (saha + anubhuti) but also samanubhuti (saman + anubhuti). This is not to say that one can be a Dalit writer simply by being born into a Dalit family. One needs to have the Dalit consciousness. There are writers who may be great writers but who lack the Dalit consciousness. Benoy Majumdar, for example. I cannot call his work Dalit literature because there is no consciousness of the Dalit’s pain and social situation reflected in his writings. Nor will I call Manik Bandyopadhyay’s novel Padma Nadir Majhi (Boatman of the River Padma) a work of Dalit literature. It is rather a tale that insults and demeans the Dalits. There is not one Dalit character there who is admirable. If one is a pimp, another deserts his crippled wife to elope with his sister-in-law. It is not that the author does this in a deliberated manner. But being of the upper caste, it is not possible for him to imagine the Dalit mind and its sensitivities. When a non-Dalit writes of the Dalit, this is what will happen. If a Dalit writer had written the novel, Kubir would

Manoranjan Byapari  19

never have run away. He would have turned his boat around, for he had done no wrong, and fought for his rights. If I had authored Premchand’s story ‘Kafan’ (‘The Shroud’), the Chamar father and son, Madhav and Ghisu, would never have squandered the money collected for the shroud to buy liquor. They would have used the money to buy rice, the food that the Dalit poor hunger for. S: It has often been said that caste oppression is absent in Bengal. How would you react to this statement? M:  When compared to many of the other states of India, I would agree that the harshness of caste discrimination seen in other states is far less in Bengal. There have been the Sufi and the Baul movements which have weakened the caste system here, while many among the lower oppressed castes have converted to Islam. It is because of this history that the Communist party could convince the Dalits of Bengal that the real divide was that of class, not caste. If you ask me, that is the divide I believe is still the strongest. The real divide is that between the bhadraloks and the chhotoloks. Which is why the few Dalits who manage to make money and get rich drift away from us poor Dalits. They may still appear to be part of the struggle, but their priorities are different from ours. Does this mean that caste discrimination is absent in Bengal? No, that would be an untruth. There is caste discrimination, – there is no getting away from that. But caste and class mingle with each other to form the identity. My fellow Communist friends from the upper caste and upper classes of society, committed to the cause and humane in nature, would unselfconsciously place the burden of cooking or cleaning dishes upon my shoulders while they discussed the finer points of the movement. I would tend to believe that this was because of caste, and not class differences. And I do not blame them. For we ourselves have internalized this caste discrimination. So the lady from my class and caste, who would make the tea and serve us, would always hand me the chipped cup. It is not that she did not care for me. She did. But she knew that the chipped cup could be given to me for that was what I was used to, while it could not be given to anyone else from the upper caste/class. It is the air all of us have grown up breathing and living. We need to change that air – and that will not be an easy task. S: What has been your experience of caste discrimination? M:  I think I knew my caste as a lowly one only after I ran away from my home as a twelve or thirteen-year-old. I saw my sister Manju die from hunger – you can call it starvation, malnutrition, or any other fancy name. But in reality, it was simply hunger. Hunger had affected my father’s health too, and he was the sole earning member of our family. What had begun as an insignificant ache in his stomach developed into an intense pain. He would lie in bed, thrashing about with agony like a slaughtered goat. We began to starve, growing thinner and thinner. And my sister Manju died.

20  Sipra Mukherjee

I grew scared then. And ran away. Freed from the familiar circle where all of us belonged to the same caste, I recognized my caste. I had fallen asleep on a bench at the railway station after the long walk from my home that night. And was woken up by this man shining a torch into my face. ‘Refugee?’ he asked me, recognizing my identity from the soiled and torn clothes that I wore. He took me to his home with promises of rice to eat if I worked for them. It was at this Brahmin doctor’s house that I first recognised my position as belonging to a lower caste.They gave me food on a plate which was obviously a reject, a bent and old plate. The lady of the house would carefully avoid touching me and would drop the rice and vegetables from a substantial height. I would take that food, sit in a corner of the courtyard and eat. Once I had used that plate, it could not enter the house and I would keep it with me in the cowshed, where I slept on some sacks of dried cowdung cakes. It was not a very nice place to sleep, with the stench and the mosquitoes around me all night. After that, I grew canny. Whenever I took up work, I learnt to change my surname to Dutta, Das, whatever came to my mind. That did not always work, and I was discovered once when we had gone on a contract to cook for a rice ceremony in North 24 Parganas. After one of us was recognised, we could not keep up the façade and his Kaher, and my Namasudra, castes were revealed. Both of us were ‘untouchables’. The young relatives who had ‘discovered’ us took us aside, out of earshot and eyesight of the family, into a nearby banana garden. They made us do sit ups while holding on to our ears, rub our noses on the ground in a show of penitence. They seemed to be having fun, but to us it was terribly humiliating. We left at the break of dawn without telling anybody. We felt so intensely humiliated and ashamed, that it was out of the question to stay back till everybody awoke and take the payments due to us. S: The Matua dharma, created by the Namasudras of Bengal to fight caste oppression, is part of this anti-caste history of Bengal that you speak of.Would you include the Matua literature within the Dalit literature? M: The Matua dharma originated in the resistance against Brahminism by a Dalit community. Since the literature of the Matuas was part of this struggle, there should have been no difficulty in including it within Dalit literature. And much of the early literature has all the seeds of what would come to be called Dalit literature in the twentieth century. But in the later years the authors of Matua songs and hagiographies have displayed a remarkable lack of rationality and scientific temper. Elements of Vaishnavism have infiltrated the minds of the people, and much of the later literature has been authored by Matua disciples who are blind believers and superstitious to boot. This literature has consequently been unable to hold on to its earlier position of Dalit literature. But if we could filter out that original literature, separate the milk from the water, then Matua literature is Dalit literature.

Manoranjan Byapari  21

It espouses the wrongs against the Dalits, builds resistance against caste hierarchy, imagines a free world, and has the potential to become a movement towards that future. It is the function of literature to inspire us. The literature that is unable to do that is not worth being called literature. The Dalit community is struggling for food, education, clothing and shelter. Yet nothing of this struggle is reflected in the modern Matua literature. It has wrapped around itself the veil of a religion that turns away from the materialistic and is, therefore, unrealistic. This drives its poverty-stricken, illiterate worshippers towards religious habits that can be of no help in the struggle to attain the basics of a decent mortal life. S:  Thank you, Manoranjan da. It has been a pleasure talking to you.

Choosing to write anger If there is any consensus regarding Manoranjan Byapari, it is that he is an angry man. Having lived with the identity of a refugee for the greater part of his life, and remained outside the fold of the institutions that mediate the nation-state, Manoranjan Byapari’s writings convey the anger of being repeatedly thwarted by the system.The aesthetics of Byapari’s texts are, consequently, premised upon this anger that the Dalit community feels. Aesthetics has been an area within which the Dalit writers have repeatedly found themselves cornered and accused. Their literature has been termed unaesthetic, monotonous, evocative only of the strain of misery. Byapari’s writings focus on the other dark side of the oppressed and marginalised Dalit community. Even as his writings echo the familiar picture of vulnerable human beings preyed upon by a more powerful society that denies them rights and privileges, they foreground portrayals of people who can best be described by the adjective that the Oxford English Dictionary has recently added to its list of words: hangry, a word made by joining together hungry and angry. The community that emerges through Byapari’s writings is one that recognises the wrongs that have been done to it and fights back, or wants to fight back. Unlike many of the other Dalit writers, therefore, Byapari’s narratives do not portray a consistent picture of the Dalit as the victim. The emotions that dominate the Dalit characters in his autobiography, Interrogating My Chandal Life, veer between victimhood and vengeance: Their body language spoke plainly of the pent up, tremendous anger. It was clear that, in the houses they would attack tomorrow, they would leave not a single brass plate behind from which a meal could be had, not a single piece of cloth behind which could be worn. What they would not be able to carry back they would tear and burn and smash. (Byapari 2018: 176)

22  Sipra Mukherjee

At least a part of the reason for this anger would lie in the history of Byapari and his community as refugees. Manoranjan Byapari’s essay, ‘Is There Dalit Writing in Bangla?’ published with an introductory note by Meenakshi Mukherjee in the Economic and Political Weekly, October 13, 2007, was possibly the first that academia heard about Bengali Dalit writing. On seeking information regarding Dalit writing in Bengal, Mukherjee had been given the impression that ‘such writing has not emerged in a big way because there is very little caste oppression in Bengal, and hence the absence of the urge to raise voices of resistance’ (Mukherjee 2007: 4116). This was, and still is, the general impression regarding Bengal and Dalit literature. Manoranjan Byapari, however, answers this question differently. In attempting to unpack this ‘absence’ of the Dalit writer in Bengal, he writes of a reasonably settled community of East Bengal that faced the turmoil of the 1947 Partition. They were uprooted from the districts of Faridpur, Barisal and Jessore, leading to a ‘demoralised and scattered’ Dalit community who crossed the border to find an even more difficult life awaiting them in the newly independent India.This uprooting and ‘scattering’ may be one reason why the collective community is less visible in Byapari’s texts, which thus lack the usual features of the testimonio so frequently found in Dalit literatures. His characters appear as individuals, solitary and alienated from the world at large, battling the injustices of society. But as they grappled with the harsh realities, literature took a backseat. ‘In their unrelenting struggle for survival and security, creative activities like writing were unaffordable luxuries’ (Byapari 2007: 4117). But this explanation too is possibly only a partial answer to the question. Despite the initial scattering after the Partition of India, the community of the Namasudras had settled down in West Bengal, India, by the 1970s and published a number of journals, novels, anthologies of prose and poetry by the 1980s.1 The establishment of the Bangiya Dalit Lekhak Parishad happened in 1987, followed by the Bangla Dalit Sahitya Sangstha in 1992. Yet decades after these events, the Bengali Dalit writers remained unknown. A 2001 Bangla-edited compilation of India’s Dalit literature published by the popular Dey’s Publishers, Dalit, included writings from Maharashtra, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh but did not mention any Dalit writing in Bangla. The editor/author, Debesh Roy, a much-acclaimed critic and novelist, did come to know of Manoranjan Byapari years later, communicated with him, and went on to author the well-researched Barishaler Jogen Mondal in 2010, a book on this leader. The question consequently is not only one of Bangla Dalit literature being irrelevant due to the ‘little caste oppression in Bengal’ (Mukherjee 2007: 4116) or of literature taking ‘a backseat’ as the Dalits struggled to survive after being uprooted from east Bengal (Byapari 2007: 4117). Dalit literature was revived after the Partition, and has been burgeoning for the last three decades, through their own publishing houses and their presses. It is not the absence, therefore, but the invisibility of Bangla Dalit literature that needs to be explored. This note will attempt to understand the aesthetics and politics of Byapari’s writings within this context. How is it that the culturally conscious Bengali intelligentsia has remained unaware of literature being written right under their noses for more than three decades?

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One possible answer to this is that the worlds of the caste Hindu and the outcaste Hindu are still very far apart in modern Bengal. It is only in the last few decades, as some among the Bengali Dalits have moved into the areas earlier entirely dominated by the upper castes, that the awareness of the presence of the Bengali Dalit has emerged, and mainstream litterateurs have acknowledged the genre. This would not be the first time that such a curious case of blindness regarding fellow provincials has been seen in Bengal. The 1872 Census had surprised many with its revelation that Bengal was a Muslim-majority province. It may not be incorrect to argue that the invisibility of the Muslim and that of the Dalit are linked, as both are occupants of the geographical and economical peripheries of the state. Thus connections between the Bengali Muslim and the Bengali Dalit have been reiterated in the literature authored by Bengal’s Dalits. Sarbani Bandyopadhyay writes that the alienated large section of the Dalit population from mainstream society became visible only ‘when the Hindu bhadralok failed to draw the marginalised castes in adequate numbers into the Swadeshi movement (launched against Curzon’s plan to partition Bengal), which began in 1905’ (Bandyopadhyay 2016: 37). Because the worlds of the two were separated, encouraging the myth that there is little caste oppression in Bengal, the outcaste Bengali’s conflicts with Brahminical hegemony were limited to that area of Bengal which remained outside the arc lights of history. Resistance, however, was nowhere near absent. Bengal has seen a long history of resistance to caste hegemony through many diverse religious sects in the nineteenth century (Chakraborty 2003), and occasionally through secular protests which jolted the upper castes into recognising the ‘invisible’ scaffolding of Dalit labour their privileged worlds rested upon, as when the Namasudras went on strike in 1872–73 (Bandyopadhyay 2011). But the issue of discrimination remained a largely unknown history. Uday Chandra describes this scenario as the ‘hidden history of caste’ in West Bengal (2016: 19) as, unlike in neighbouring Bihar or faraway Tamil Nadu, the domination of the modern liberal bhadralok over the public life of [West] Bengal remained intact for years (Sinharay 2012). Displaced from their lands and disillusioned with the promises made to them by the many political parties, Byapari’s writings reveal a community that seeks to fight the wrongs that have been done to it. They vent their anger through political groups formed under an ideology that permits violence, through groups who exercise extra-governmental power through militancy, or through participation in paid violence mediated through politics or the underworld. Possibly because of an early initiation into mainstream politics, Byapari was introduced to the ideas of egalitarianism and human rights earlier than many others of his community. Of greater significance is the fact that his introduction to these ideals happened through a firsthand experience, and not through school books. Linked to the Naxalbari movement because of his supposed proximity to them in North Bengal, he was pushed into the militant movement in Kolkata by the people around him who believed he was ideologically of ‘the other’ group, the Naxals. The silence and submission that a youth may be coerced into because of the vulnerability of his aged parents or younger brothers and sisters, was a burden that Byapari came to know after a hard

24  Sipra Mukherjee

life had already scarred him, making him a believer in the dictum that offence is always the best defence. Having run away from home to escape fatal hunger, Byapari survived childhood and early youth by fending for himself. When he does return home as the eldest son, and attempts to be responsible to his family, he is already a young man who has weathered bitter and brutal battles, and learnt that servility does not serve the weak. Byapari’s prose is strong and spirited and it is possible that he is not as comfortable depicting victims as he is depicting fighters. This is an insight one gains not just from the characters he creates, but from a narrative strategy of distancing that Byapari uses for his former boy-self in his autobiography. Despite Byapari’s resistance to be tagged a victim, the child Manoranjan who has run away from home, can only be depicted as one such. In portraying this child, Byapari shifts to the third-person narrator to describe how he, as a young boy, faced the most gruesome exploitation and abuse. This is despite the bulk of the book being written in the first person. In these chapters, he gives his younger self the name Jeeban, without offering any explanation whatsoever:‘The Sealdah Railway Station. Apparently the name had originated from a fox (“siyal”) falling into some marsh here. In much the same way that this young boy, call him Jeeban, slipped and fell into dark and harsh times’ (Byapari 2018: 57). These are the years after he ran away from home, unable to face the unyielding hunger that racked his body. Alone as an adolescent among strangers in unfamiliar lands, he was vulnerable and an easy prey. The pain and hunger in these sections of the book were so agonising that Byapari could possibly scarcely have written them in the first person without taking recourse to a prose that would have been filled with a victim’s lamentation and pathos. Distancing himself as a third-person narrator, Byapari is able to convey the ‘ocean of hunger’ (94) that churned inside Jeeban’s stomach and the brutal rape he is subjected to by the stocky havildar (96–97) without surrendering his voice to any hint of self-pity.Within hours, though, Jeeban has surfaced through the ‘overwhelming sense of filth’ (97) that had gripped him and has begun plotting his revenge: Jeeban shook himself out of the torpor that had gripped him since the night. It was as if nothing much had happened. There was no need to look on what had happened as devastating. Just a small misunderstanding born out of a lack of prior planning. Jeeban behaved normally. . . . Happily, the havildar left for work. And Jeeban held the blade in his hands and waited for darkness to fall. (99) Anger, however, is not an emotion that facilitates the making of neat, wellordered stories, and the aesthetics of Byapari’s stories frequently strike the reader as abrupt, incomplete.The short story ‘Caged Birds Also Sing’ speaks of the possibility of peace and comfort within the prison, for the ‘free’ life outside is a killing one of hunger and disease. The story ‘Addiction’ is of a rickshaw puller like Byapari himself, staggering on his feet, weak and starving, mistaken for a reeling drunkard. Since the realities that Byapari writes of have remained outside the historiography of India’s Partition, the city of Kolkata, with its familiar roads and familiar landmarks,

Manoranjan Byapari  25

recedes to reveal a hinterland within the urban space, unknown to the city dweller and unseen in the literature written till date. Unknown lanes and by-lanes open up to tell of the existence of other worlds behind the wall, past the roads, below the bridge, and beyond the map of the familiar city. Set beside the corpus of Bengali novels and films where the city of ‘Calcutta’ is as much a concrete reality as an imagined one, Byapari’s stories offer a different perspective. It is a view of the city from its margins, from inhabitants of the city who struggle every day with poverty, exploitation and the brute power of muscle and money. These are notes from the underbelly of the city. Binayak and Ilina Sen, reviewing Byapari’s autobiography, described it as ‘a remarkable tale . . . in true picaresque tradition’, offering an immense ‘range and depth of experience and emotion’. Above all, it is an attempt to complete ‘the incomplete history, which had for long assumed the partial to be the whole, the sectional to be the national’ (Sen 2013).The tales, often left open-ended, chart a trajectory that presents a ‘dissensual’ narrative that reveals a contrary voice defined by Byapari’s position on the fringes of the bhadralok society. Arild Engelsen Ruud (2003) has suggested that the Marxist movement, despite its successful mobilisation of the masses, particularly lower-caste groups, both behaved and was perceived as the traditional feudal benefactor. The past hierarchy and power structures therefore persisted, with the middle-class bhadralok leadership of the Communist Party adopting the role of the powerful but just patron. This is supported by Dayabati Roy’s study of rural Bengal, where she finds that ‘a division of the society into chhotoloks and bhadraloks, based mainly on caste positions of different social groups, is prevalent in rural West Bengal’ (Roy 2012: 953). Byapari echoes this chhotolok and bhadralok division in his writing, literally the lowly men and the gentlemen: this ‘we’ and ‘they’ division of class. This is a mindset that has polluted the tree from its roots to its highest branches. No poor man can think of himself as a gentleman today. They are scared of doing so; they are embarrassed of doing so. (Byapari 2018: 121) The significance of the chhotolok-bhadralok division narrated by Byapari is that Byapari’s narratives are set not in rural Bengal, but in urban, ‘modern’ Kolkata. Kalyan Das, discussing how Byapari’s success has often prompted a celebration of his story as ‘a rags to riches tale’ in keeping with the possibilities vaunted by the liberal society, points to the differences between Byapari with the ‘Dalit-Brahmins’ or the bhadralok Dalits who have been enabled through education and are now situated in a more privileged economic class (Das 2015).The depths of this divide is indicated in an incident when Byapari went looking for the residence of a bhadralok who was a van-rickshaw driver: My question put the girl in a dilemma. She said, ‘The bhadralok here all live in that Housing. None of them drive vanrickshaws. My father does drive one, but he is . . .’ (Byapari 2018: 121)

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This is not the rural Bengal that Sekhar Bandyopadhyay explores in his essay ‘Does Caste Matter in Bengal? Examining the Myth of Bengali Exceptionalism’ where he describes how the fond notion of ‘Bengali Exceptionalism’ regarding caste had been ‘dramatically blown away by the midday meal controversy in 2004’ (Bandyopadhyay 2014: 32) with the media report that ‘upper’ caste parents of some school students had refused to allow their wards to partake of the food prepared by ‘lower’ caste cooks. This unfortunate truth, implying a less generous picture, is brought into the urban space with Byapari’s literature that is centred on the city he has known since childhood: the city of Kolkata. The problem with cooking food for the upper castes also surfaces in Byapari’s autobiography Interrogating My Chandal Life, a narrative that moves between the urban and the rural with ease, revealing the myriad connections that tie the city to its hinterland. Byapari recounts how, before he secured his job in school, he and his friend would need to disguise their caste identities when they went to work as professional cooks for celebrations at the houses of the rich. When on these jobs, Byapari would always lie about his caste identity so that his services as cook would be acceptable to the caste Hindus (Byapari 2018: 110). As he narrates in the interview above, the ‘punishment’ meted out to Byapari and his partner was done after the food had been cooked and the guests had happily partaken of the food. Presumably, therefore, the punishment was carried out in the privacy of the banana garden so as to not get the people who had eaten the food ‘distraught’ with the knowledge that they had just devoured food cooked by untouchables.Yet Byapari’s opinion that this may have been ‘fun’ for the young toughs is significant. It reveals that caste discrimination here was less of a belief in purity and pollution, and more an issue of power and inequality. Despite the inhumanity of the treatment, the incident reveals that partaking of the food was not an event that brought the heavens crashing down with the fear of ‘losing’ one’s caste. Rather, the inequality was one that could be ab/used to ‘enjoy’ the power of belonging to a superior caste. This is perhaps an indication of how caste has remained a relevant category in Bengal, existing within what has been called ‘the apparently uninstitutionalized world of what may be called politics among the people’ (Chatterjee 1997: 83). It is possible that this would not have created a problem in urban Kolkata for, as Manoranjan Byapari points out, he has been working as a cook in a government school for years and food prepared by him has been eaten by students from the varna Hindu castes, despite the barbs that he has faced.2 The identities of caste and class are, in Byapari’s narratives, shown as determining separate, albeit simultaneous, experiences. Another incident in Byapari’s Interrogating My Chandal Life reveals how caste is imbricated with class (the incident is mentioned briefly in Byapari’s interview above). Caught in an act of apparent defiance towards the Communist Party, the young Manoranjan and a friend are brought before the local leadership to face punishment. The leader picks on Manoranjan to showcase the punishment: Pintu Sen was an astute leader . . . . [The friend] was a permanent resident of the area. He was a good footballer, and so popular with the young of the

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locality. . . . They were Kayastha by caste and his father was reasonably welloff. . . . But that other guy with him – what was his name? His father was a labourer and his mother a maidservant. . . . Low caste too. . . . He was the one to pick on. (Byapari 2018: 125) Like the innumerable stories that are part of the Dalit literary canon, Byapari’s stories too reveal caste identity and class identity as being near-synonymous. The characters in his story suffer for their poverty, which makes them powerless and vulnerable.Yet their caste identity may not be sloughed off because it is this identity that has trapped them within narrow confines of societal custom, compelling them into low-paying jobs for generations. There is therefore no land, no inherited wealth, and little or no education – nothing that can be used to generate the cash necessary for day-to-day living. In the story ‘The Night Knows All Secrets’, for example, we find the young couple, Benda and her husband Dharma, condemned by poverty to a life of darkness, living through a ‘fever of fear’ and vulnerable to abuse by the politically powerful: Benda knew a motorcycle would arrive within fifteen or twenty minutes. . . . Through trees and thickets along the canal’s black shadows, the motorcycle would come and stop in the darkness, and her husband would step down from the veranda and clamber on to the pillion seat in silence. Then the red light at the rear of the motorcycle would gradually fade, taking him far away; swallowed up by the headless, black night’s shroud. (Byapari 2016) In the story ‘Uttaran’ (‘Promotion’), the destitute Habul finds himself waiting with the rich family members of a patient, in a room of a hospital. The patient is in need of blood and, while the necessary blood will be given to the patient by the hospital, the rules require that a relative of the patient should donate a bottle of blood in return so as to keep the blood bank well stocked. The rich relatives, unwilling to donate any of their blood, have taken recourse to hiring poorer people who will agree to pose as a relative and donate their blood for a fee. Byapari’s story fuzzes the caste identity here, drawing our attention to the class difference rather than that of caste between the rich patient and the poor Habul. The patient, whose nephew Habul is disguised as, is named Kanan Mandal by the author, a surname that suggests a shared caste identity between Habul and the patient, emphasising that it is the class identities here that are determining lives. Byapari is in agreement with the ‘Dalit literature by Dalits’ credo, believing that though ‘sahanabhuti’ (saha- with + anubhuti -feeling) may be possible, ‘samanubhuti’ (saman -similar + anubhuti -feeling) would not be possible for those from upper castes. The two words may be translated as sympathy and ‘sim-pathy’, for though writers from the other castes may feel with, they cannot feel as the Dalits do. Since the aesthetics of any work of art are born out of its historical situation, the writings by the Dalit writers have introduced an area of aesthetics quite different from that

28  Sipra Mukherjee

of the mainstream writers.3 Anger has been late coming to Dalit prose literature. Initiated in the 1970s with stories of the pain and agony suffered by Dalits, the dimension of anger had been clearly audible in the poetry authored by Namdeo Dhasal or Tryambak Sapkale or Daya Pawar. This anger has now found its place in Dalit prose literature too as an increasing number of characters reveal the Dalit’s refusal to take their humiliation for granted. The politics of the possible always begins on the pages of literature.

Notes 1 Byapari lists a number of journals, some of which are Gram Bangla (since 1978), Dalit Kontho, Neel Akash, Adal Badal, Ajker Eklavya, Ekhan Takhan, Chaturtha Duniya (since 1974) and Aikyatan. 2 Conversations with Manoranjan Byapari, between August and December, 2015, in preparation for the ‘Publishing/Disseminating Dalit Literature’ conference, of the ‘Writing, Analysing, Translating Dalit Literature’ (AHRC), 2014–16. 3 Baburao Bagul’s Dalit Sahityache Krantivigyan (translatable as ‘Revolutionary Science of Dalit Literature’), Sharankumar Limbale’s Towards an Aesthetics of Dalit Literature and Manohar Mouli Biswas’s An Interpretation of Dalit Literature, Aesthetic,Theory and Movements are a few of the books that have attempted to explain, analyse and theorise the aesthetics of this literature.

Works cited Bandyopadhyay, Sarbani. ‘Another History: Bhadralok responses to Dalit Political Assertion in Colonial Bengal’, in The Politics of Caste in West Bengal, Uday Chandra, Geir Heierstad, and Kenneth Bo Nielsen, eds. Delhi, Oxon, New York: Routledge, 2016. Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar. Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal. New Delhi, Thousand Oaks, London: Sage Publications, 2004. Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar. Caste, Protest and Identity in Colonial India: The Namasudras of Bengal, 1872–1947. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2011. Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar. ‘Does Caste Matter in Bengal? Examining the Myth of Bengali Exceptionalism’, in Being Bengali: At Home and in the World, Mridula Nath Chakraborty, ed. London, New York: Routledge, 2014. Byapari, Manoranjan, trans. Interrogating My Chandal Life: An Autobiography of a Dalit. Sipra Mukherjee, ed. New Delhi, London, Melbourne, Washington: Sage Samya, 2018. Byapari, Manoranjan. ‘Is there Dalit Writing in Bangla?’, EPW 42.41 (October 13, 2007): 4116–4120. Byapari, Manoranjan. ‘The Night Knows All Secrets’ Trans. V. Ramaswamy (2016). http:// raiot.in/the-night-knows-all-secrets/ Accessed 18 November, 2017. Chakraborty, Sudhir. BanglarGouna Dharma: Shahebdhani o Balahari. Calcutta: PustakBipani, 2003. Chandra, Uday. ‘Kol, Coolie, Colonial Subject:The Hidden History of Caste in West Bengal’, in The Politics of Caste in West Bengal. Chandra, Heierstad and Nielsen, eds. Delhi, Oxon, New York: Routledge, 2016. Chandra, Uday and Kenneth Bo Nielsen. ‘The Importance of Caste in Bengal’. EPW, 47.44 (2003): 59–61. Chatterjee, Partha. The Present History of West Bengal: Essays in Political Criticism. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Manoranjan Byapari  29

Das, Kalyan. ‘Caste and Politics of Culture in Contemporary Bengal: Bhadralok’s Celebration of a “chotolok’s story” and the Curious Case of Manoranjan Byapari’. Bangla Journal: A Journal of Bangla and Bangali. 13th Year 21st Issue. Ontario, December 2015. Eaton, Richard. The Rise of Islam along the Bengal Frontier, 1204–1760. Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993. Mukherjee, Meenakshi. Introduction to Byapari, Manoranjan. ‘Is there Dalit Writing in Bangla?’ EPW 42.41 (October 13, 2007): 4116–4120. Roy, Dayabati. ‘Caste and Power: An Ethnography in West Bengal, India’. Modern Asian Studies 46.4 (2012): 947–974. Roy, Debesh. Barisaler Jogen Mandal. Kolkata: Dey’s, 2010. Ruud, Arild Engelsen. Poetics of Village Politics: The Making of West Bengal’s Rural Communism. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003. Sen, Binayak, Ilina Sen. ‘Reading between the Lives’. The Week July 15, 2013. Shelley, James.‘The Concept of the Aesthetic’, in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2017 Edition). Edward N. Zalta, ed. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2017/ entries/aesthetic-concept/ Accessed 19 April, 2019. Sinharay, Praskanva. ‘A New Politics of Caste’, Economic and Political Weekly, 47.34 (2012).


A short introduction to Bengali writer Kalyani Thakur Charal Kalyani Thakur Charal (b. 1965) is one of the recognised Dalit voices from Bengal. Dalit women feel doubly marginalised, as Dalit activism, largely led by men, has not focused on issues that relate specifically to women. Kalyani as an activist articulates through her writing not only her own story but also that of men and women in her community. She has self-published several books of poems, a prose collection of her essays, Chandalinir Bibriti (Account by a Chandalini, 2012) and her autobiography Ami Keno Charal Likhi (Why I Sign as Charal, 2016) that was published in August 2016 by Chaturtha Duniya. She edits a vernacular journal, Nir (Nest), which she sees as the Dalit contribution to mainstream issues like water and refugees. In special issues of the journal she has highlighted the poetry and writing of Dalit women and short stories written by Indian women. I have known Kalyani for several years now. I have seen her struggles – when she opted for voluntary retirement from her stable job in the Indian railways due to irreconcilable differences, retreated from her Sealdah house in the heart of the city to rural enclaves in the Sundarbans in order to come to terms with herself and her creativity in natural surroundings and chose to live a minimalistic life. Her sudden illness brought her back into the fold of her family, who cared for her before she came back to her reading and writing. Kalyani’s search for her Self continues. The imperative need to sustain her creative identity through her forays into rural Bengal and her interactions with underprivileged lower caste communities takes her back to her roots as a Chandalini. Kalyani says that it is imperative to record the parallel histories of the various caste-based communities in Bengal/

Kalyani Thakur Charal  31

India. She herself represents only one such powerful female Dalit voice from Bengal that struggles to be heard and recognised.

An interview with Kalyani Thakur Charal The interview emerged out of the ‘Publishing/Disseminating/Translating Dalit Literature’ conference, Delhi, December 2015, that was the last in the series of symposia and conferences of the ‘Writing, Analysing, Translating Dalit Literature’ network.This project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in 2014–16, and co-ordinated by Nicole Thiara and Judith Misrahi-Barak brought together academics, publishers, translators and Dalit writers. JAYATI:  Kalyani, I want

to begin with your recent visit to Australia – literally and metaphorically, you have made a long, long journey. How does it feel to connect with writers and activists like yourself from other parts of India and with aboriginal writers who belong to another continent? KALYANI: My connection with writers and activists beyond the Indian borders began with the conference at Delhi last year.This trip to Australia too was truly a lifetime’s experience.1 Except for two of the other Indian participants (there were ten, including myself), I had not met the others before. In fact, I travelled with participants from the Northeast who were taking the same flight from Kolkata. Though we spoke different regional languages, wrote in our vernaculars, and followed different cultural practices, somewhere I felt that we stood on common ground. It was also an eye-opener to communicate with Australian aboriginal writers as I was constantly reminded of our own tribals and tribal culture with which I have been closely associated. J:  Did you also feel that you shared common experiences of oppression and injustice from society? K:  I think what I understood was that all of us were voicing concerns that were peculiarly linked to our status and position in society as outcastes. We did not belong to the mainstream or to a dominant culture that determined social practices, attitudes, norms. Inherent within the system is a politics of exclusion, and in India, there may be several laws and regulations to create an inclusive society, but it does not work that way. Even within the ‘Third World’ the Dalits or downtrodden form a Chaturtha Duniya, literally a Fourth World, which by the way, is also the name of the only publishing concern that publishes our work. J:  In recent years Dalit issues and concerns, often expressed through and in Dalit writing, have found wider exposure not only in India but across the world.You started writing when you were only eighteen when there were very few Dalit voices, especially that of articulate women that could be heard. Would you like to recount this trajectory?

32  Jayati Gupta K:  I am

grateful to my father who followed the Matua religion and identified with a sect led by Harichand and his son Guruchand Thakur who worked for the uplift of the Namasudra or ‘Chandal’ community and placed a lot of importance on education. So, my elder sister, my brothers and I all went to the village primary and middle school. Though my mother was only educated till class four, she supported education of girls. During high school I came to the outskirts of Kolkata, to a boarding school – Sri Ramakrishna Ananda Ashram Girls’ School, of which I have fond memories. It was here that I was also made conscious that the title ‘Thakur’ that my family used did not indicate our caste origins. I went on to college education at Bogula Srikrishna college and finally to Calcutta University to get my M.A. degree, which was after I had got my job. I attended evening classes there. It was not easy to juggle a job and studies but I was determined to follow a path untrodden in those times by Dalit girls. Writing came to me as a form of self-expression, I kept a diary and then started writing poems and short stories almost unselfconsciously. I started sending my creative writing to Bangla little magazines and several of my poems were accepted and got published. This gave me an impetus to go on. J: When did you realise that yours was a minority voice and a doubly marginalised one? K:  I think that it was only gradually, as I kept writing that I realised that persons from my community did not write, let alone the girls. As I looked around me I saw the girls I had grown up with in the village when we suffered from poverty and were underfed, under-clothed, as we roamed aimlessly in fields and meadows with cows and bullocks, still caught up in the same underprivileged predicament. When I talk of myself in my autobiography I also talk of childhood friends in my village – Chontu, Choto, Kuti, Anima, Karuna, Chobi, Rina, Jamuna – I remember all of them. They are still oppressed, one widowed, one a mother of seven children, one confined to the home, one a tuberculosis patient, one abandoned by her husband. . . . By some turn of destiny I had been ejected out of that orbit and I could write, or had escaped because I could write. J:  Do you see your role as a writer becoming that of an activist as well? K:  Yes, but this has naturally evolved out of my urge to express myself through my creative writing. When I stayed in a working womens’ hostel, I tried to push my roommates and hostel mates to contribute to a wall magazine that I wanted to put up. The wallpaper was called Nir or ‘Nests’ and was the nucleus of the later journal of the same name. My writing goes back to my days of intense struggle against poverty, shouldering the burden of social/ family responsibilities, anxieties of survival added to the fear of insanity. Life does not listen to my directions, there are ups and downs that I feel within and without me, my writing documents these life experiences. Some of these are confessional, some have a cathartic effect and some spill out of the anger against injustices that I notice. My writing and my life are inextricably linked to each other. I did not consciously conceptualise myself as an activist. It just happened.

Kalyani Thakur Charal  33 J: Tell

us something about your early life and education and how and when the larger world was opened up to you. K:  We were not just outcastes but we were also refugees, the 1947 partition refugees who had been uprooted from their original homes and forced to migrate into West Bengal from erstwhile East Pakistan. My father came to India initially in 1949 and then probably migrated around 1954 from Jessore to settle in Bogula, a village about 57 kilometres outside Kolkata in the Nadia district. I was the youngest of five siblings, two elder brothers and two elder sisters. We lived in a typical village mud house with thatched roof, with a hedge made of stems of jute plants after the fibre had been extracted, and a few cows tied out in the open nearby to the broken remains of a World War II aeroplane that had crashed into the field. What I remember of my childhood is a whole range of rural activities carried out with siblings, friends and my father’s grandmother who had brought up my orphaned father – collecting cow-dung to make the dung cakes that mother needed to light the cooking fire, cutting tender grass to feed the calves, picking edible spinach leaves from the open spaces, uprooting the dried stubs from the harvested fields, carrying the ducks in the yard to the ponds every morning, trying to trap the fish that had got into the surrounding swamps. During these growing up years I also came to notice the segregation within the village.The original inhabitants of the place belonged to the upper castes – Brahmins and the Kayasthas who lived in brick houses and mansions and the settlers like ourselves, Namasudras, who survived on the margins of the village across the swamps on the eastern edges. The upper castes were largely into professions or businessmen and ninety-nine percent of the lower castes were farmers, gatherers or animal grazers. Even the barbers and dairymen treated the Namasudras with contempt as being lowly. So the discrimination that I observed all around was an early lesson that I learnt that did not really surprise me when I came to the city. That poverty and caste went together was also what I learnt from these experiences. Life in the village revolved around seasonal cycles and through these years of childhood, adolescence and girlhood as one grew up, preoccupations in which one was involved changed from time to time. So as children, it was great fun to pick the black berries in summer, arrange these in baskets and carry that to the nearby Railway station to sell it to customers. When one grew older we sold parboiled rice grains, processed at home by my mother, in the marketplace or helped with pulling out the jute fibres from the stems kept to rot in shallow water. This is a life that I may have left behind, but every moment of hardship is etched in my memory. I realise now that what was different in our impoverished household from that of other such homes to which my childhood friends belonged is that our parents emphasised that we had to pay equal attention to our studies. My father prioritised education. To him what was more important was not whether we had enough to eat but whether we were being educated.When my brother got

34  Jayati Gupta

a chance to study marine engineering, and large hearted benefactors helped with costs of his admission, our family had made a breakthrough to becoming economically stable. Then of course I was able to complete my studies against the greatest of odds and get a job in the city. I like to think that the larger world was opened up to me by the formal education that I had access to even as a girl-child from a Dalit community. J:  Did your getting a job really mean the end of discrimination and an easy acceptance of you as an individual? K: All said and done, in India one carries one’s caste identity to one’s grave. So what one is as an individual hardly matters in the case of a lower caste person. B. R. Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution tried to ensure caste and class equality so that the oppression of the lower castes came to an end. The Constitution still ensures that, but the social reality is far different. This will become clear if I recount some of the incidents that I endured at my workplace. It was not easy to adjust to city life, and to life in a city office. . . . It was like Sita entering into the underworld. The Ramayana however does not narrate what Sita saw or experienced there. My entry into this office gave me a taste of all the travails I had not encountered before, one assault after another − it was difficult to survive. But I did. . . . I would fall ill due to the stress, take medicines and try to sleep. It began with the cynical comments of the head clerk, Banerjee babu, the instant mistrust and jealousy of Ms. Bose, the curiosity of the foxy De babu joined by the comments of Bhattacharjee babu. One day I found the two of them speculating about what caste I belonged to . . . since I had overheard them, I volunteered the answer, loud and clear – ‘Chandal’. They smarted, they had not heard such a simple yet clear public acknowledgement of one’s caste from a Dalit, a community of people they had oppressed and dehumanised. Oppression of the lower castes ran in their blood and they missed no opportunity to harass me. Starting from comments that were personal, about my dark skin or the way that I dressed to insinuations about my capabilities and interest in the work at hand. And this came from men who I noticed, shirked their responsibilities at work day after day. There was no work culture, no professionalism, no pride in any achievement, no camaraderie in the environment in which I worked. So at every point I needed to prove myself, I started to assert my rights, I learnt to be firm in my resolves because I believed in them. You may say that my activism was born out of such circumstances and the sheer instinct for survival. This was also the place that I made friends with persons who were willing to listen to me and we entered into heated debates on several issues. A few of them were amazed as I was breaking the stereotype of the ‘scheduled caste’ person by showing my finer creative sensibilities – an intense interest in music and literature, in reading and writing. J: Tell me more about this writing that has been your strategy of survival and for whom exactly you write.

Kalyani Thakur Charal  35 K:  Reactions

to my creative writing and poetry have been mixed. When I wrote my poetry, I did not have any particular audience in mind as I did not know what it was worth. I composed poems because I felt an inner compulsion to express my anxieties and longings, my fears and tribulations, my desires and hopes, my frustrations and anger. Woven into these compositions were my lived moments of sorrow and joy. In some senses these were testimonies of not just my inner life but of an entire downtrodden community. A few critics have said that what I wrote was not poetry but something as prosaic as an account. Maybe I have not followed the rules of composition! Reading poetry is an extremely subjective experience, so I don’t blame my critics for not being pleased.Yet some of my poems have now entered into academic syllabi in Bengal as examples of the Dalit voice. My short stories largely relate to what I have imbibed of life over the years, living initially in the village, coming to the city, living and working there and then going back to my roots from time to time. I can never forget these rural roots and this remains the source of my creativity. I had, and still intend to go back to the Sunderbans where I went for a fair length of time after I gave up my job, lived among the people, trying to enter into their everyday lives, soaking in the natural ecology of the region, to sustain my creative impulses. There lies the nucleus of a novel in the making, and how that is going to emerge and for whom, I have no idea at present. As for my essays, these are usually addressed to a larger general public. I try to add a Dalit voice – whether it is heard or not, I am not sure – to issues that relate to the ethics and morality of human lives not just to what is often dismissed as the politics of Dalit activism. I write about whatever my conscience is affected by, both Dalit and non-Dalit concerns. J:  Let me ask you about your recently published autobiography Ami Keno Charal Likhi (Why I Sign as Charal, 2016). You do talk a lot about women and their lives, their pains, griefs and oppression.You speak of specific persons like your father’s grandmother who brought him up, your own mother, your elder sister who acted as a surrogate mother and of whom you took care later when she was terminally ill.There are widowed aunts, school and college mates and mentors who crowd your narrative. Are you taking the stance of a Dalit feminist? K:  I write from my heart. I write what I have seen. I have seen the deprivation of women in rural Bengal. I have noticed male attitudes in metropolitan Kolkata where I worked. I have lived in working women’s hostels where I have met a spectrum of women from lower middle class backgrounds. Somewhere I felt that these life stories had a similar theme running through them of neglect and repression that came from a patriarchal set up.Though I was lucky as my father was so liberal, I heard stories of how everyone in the family was disappointed that I was born a girl child to my mother who was already the mother of four children – two boys and two girls. As a child I was dressed in shorts and shirt, had a haircut like that of a boy and went out with my brothers, participating in ‘boyish’ activities. My sister, the one closest to me, was unfortunate to

36  Jayati Gupta

have a disastrous marriage that led to lifelong psychiatric problems. Society branded her because she had returned after marriage to her parental home. I was also traumatised by these events, so much so that I realise that my own life was shaped by fear of relationships with men. Marriage is not something that I was ever able to face and so I remained single. Yes, I write as a woman because it is their psyche that I understand best. I also revolt in some ways against the manner in which the destinies of women are moulded by the male perspective. If I have taken up a feminist stance, it is because I identify with my sisters and express my outrage against the subaltern position of women in society. I have not read any feminist literature or theory, I do not understand the politics of feminism, I write entirely from experience and my questioning of that experience. J: You are writing in Bangla, the vernacular that is your mother tongue. How would you want to reach a larger readership in our own country and abroad? Also, does your writing reach your own community of women who are largely illiterate? K:  Readership is a real problem. I am acutely aware that those whom I write about are not usually those who read what I write. Very obviously, I would like to reach my brothers and sisters and spreading literacy among them should be the target of the government. Others come to learn about the Dalit point of view from my writing and this is important because earlier these marginal voices were either silenced by the dominant voice or not heeded at all. The only way to reach a pan-Indian readership is through translations. In Bengal we are lagging behind because till very recently the existence of caste discrimination in this region was completely denied by the Marxists who were in power for more than three decades, talking of class and economic deprivation but not of the caste hierarchies. In western and southern India, Dalit writing was recognised much earlier so translations into English are available. Now academics are taking an interest in translating Bangla Dalit writing to reach wider audiences but sadly many among my own community cannot yet be reached – either they are illiterate, so my writing is inaccessible, or they are not much bothered with literature. J:  And what about publishing your works, how easy or difficult has this been? K:  It has not been easy at all. Finding a publisher for Dalit writing is not easy. Though Dalit writing is being anthologised now, there is a perception that it is not mainstream. I have had mentors who have encouraged my writing from among male Dalit activists and they have helped me to publish my work. Most of my books are self-published and my recent publication is from Chaturtha Duniya which has not been able yet to organise itself like a large economically viable publishing concern. Conditions of publishing have not improved dramatically as the market for such writing needs to be created. J:  All said and done, Kalyani, you have forged an identity for yourself and have created a space of your own. Has this in any way alienated you from your own people?

Kalyani Thakur Charal  37 K:  Things

have changed, I no longer live in the village to which I constantly trace my roots.The pain, experience, small childhood losses had prepared me for the larger deprivations of later life. Because I had this upbringing, I have learnt to endure hardships with as much stoicism in real life as with quiet aggression in and through my writing. I have seen through the hypocrisies of urban, upperclass society that have brought me closer to cherishing the simple pleasures and enjoyments of my childhood and adolescence. Since I cannot cut myself away from my own people, I go back again and again, though the persons who encouraged me to assert my identity – my parents, Parimal babu, the school headmaster, other mentors who helped my father to educate us – are no longer alive. The space that I inhabit now has actually drawn me closer to the experiences from which my creativity stems. To sustain this flow of creativity I need to go back to village life and occupations, the reason why I will return to the Sunderbans, to write my novel. So the question of alienation does not arise. J:  One last point, Kalyani. Even as you see yourself as very much a part of your community, how do you assess your own achievement? K:  I feel that it was necessary for me to tell my own story to the world. I would like to be able to inspire others to do the same. I don’t look upon my work or achievement as an individual success. I consider what I think and what I write as part of an ongoing movement towards social awareness and change. J: Thank you, Kalyani.

The aesthetics of Dalit literature: a case study Using the writing of Kalyani Thakur Charal as a case study, I would like to bring up issues that shape the aesthetics of Dalit literature – matters that pertain to continued social repression and marginalisation, even the self-consciousness of being and writing as Dalits. In the context of regional literatures in India, because of an age-worn social hierarchy, it had been a foregone conclusion that those who wrote were from upper castes which was synonymous with social position and education. As one of the forms of resistance, Kalyani seeks to identify blatantly with her caste identity in and through her writing. In Indian politics, caste and class have played a dubious role. In Bengal which has considered itself a progressive region, the persistence of caste discrimination has been continuously denied and economic disparity has been highlighted. Kalyani writes in her poem No. 33 from her 2011 collection, Chandalinir Kabita: I’ll have to remember There is no dalit in Bengal! Dalits are everywhere in the world NOT HERE!

38  Jayati Gupta

Caste discrimination exists everywhere NOT HERE! They throttle our throat, Train us to say – We are all equal, no caste stratification here.2 So the validity of Dalit literature in the vernacular has been questioned and the visibility of Bangla Dalit writing vis-a-vis Dalit writing from Maharashtra, Gujarat or the southern states of Andhra Pradesh or Tamil Nadu, has been severely limited. Mainstream Bangla publishing has tried to homogenise class and caste, and Dalits have had to create their own publishing outfits like Chaturtha Duniya and Adal Badal. All of Kalyani’s books and journals are self-published largely through Chaturtha Duniya as she has been keen to preserve the caste identity of her poems and writing. Notwithstanding this so-called invisibility of Dalit writing from Bengal, the voices were never silent. The question has remained whether writing by Dalits has been able to move Bangla beyond the simplistic autobiographical and polemical stance to produce more compelling and aesthetically satisfying writing. Manohar Mouli Biswas in one of his essays speaks of ‘the individualistic ethics and aesthetics of Dalit literature’.3 What is this individualism that he refers to? Is it tied up in any way with questions of identity? The Dalit consciousness constitutes Dalit literature and its essence lies in communicating experiences and interactions that are individual, emerging from a world-view that is different from that of the mainstream. In a sense, such writing is expected to play an inspirational and emancipatory role in the politics of caste and class that determines social and economic reality. In the same poem quoted above, the poet questions the way in which Dalit identity is defined by society: My grandfather was prohibited From stepping into the tol premises. My father became literate Using palm leaf and ink of charcoal After a long struggle.4 My mother visited Durga bari With cowdung on her left hand To paste the place where she was standing. Oh! God! Cowdung is holier Than the touch of a dalit!5 This is the new consciousness of marginalisation, the anger of exclusion, the determination to change, that becomes the Dalit voice in poetry, prose and fictional writing.

Kalyani Thakur Charal  39

The critique mounted against the earlier representations of Dalits or Untouchables in Bengali literature by renowned and pioneering novelists of social realism like Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay,6 Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay,7 Manik Bandyopadhyay,8 Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay,9 Satinath Bhaduri10 or even Mahashweta Devi11 is that higher-caste writing can only evoke sympathy and pity because they can only objectify suffering, discrimination, poverty and repression. Dalits who narrate their own story claim that their language and perspective is markedly different from that of mainstream writing. Does that come from extreme self-consciousness or is it supported by the aesthetic ethics of what is written? That ethics is essentially about incorporating activism into literature and using the literary form as a tool to change mindsets and reform society. In the Preface to her 2011 poetry anthology Chandalinir Kabita, Kalyani writes: The protest that I couldn’t vehemently articulate, with fists raised, finds an expression through my pen. How will I survive if I cannot even do this? Enemies multiply. I never wanted to increase the number of foes by writing poetry. I never imagined that I could play around with poetry that had been my refuge, that soothed me in times of great mental turmoil. The poems in Chandalinir Kabita are a mix of love and protest. (Translated by Jayati Gupta) Kalyani, as she confesses in her autobiography, was aware that she was different from the other girls of her community as she had learnt to read and write, had even made a space for herself in a mainstream environment where she had a steady job. This gave her the confidence to dream, to fall in love, to respond to her emotions though she claims her roots were deep, hidden in the soil where an uprooted generation had relocated in the western part of Bengal. Self-exiled from her village home she cries out in despair: O dawn, O plough, O panta rice12 Where have you all gone? I am Drowning in a jungle of crows and Concrete . . .13 Much of Dalit writing, like the poetry of Kalyani Thakur, emerges from lived experience that is documented in an easy colloquial style, that also stands testimony to a more collective experience. Bengali as a vernacular language has its regional and class variations, and traditional literary expression was largely moulded by nonDalit writers. So, the self-consciousness was about using diction that retained the crude earthiness of everyday reality rather than the staleness of much used idioms. The imperative need to say things in one’s own tongue spawned imagery that was distinctive, forms that were experimental, styles markedly non-conformist. Kalyani Thakur through her three poetry collections, Dharlei Juddha Sunishchit (‘To Catch is to Court War’, 2006), Je Meye Andhar Gone (‘The Girl Who Tracks

40  Jayati Gupta

the Darkness’, 2008) and Chandalinir Kabita (‘Chandalini’s Poems’, 2011), attempts to establish her identity not only as a vernacular poet, but also as a distinctive Dalit voice. The question that stares us in the face is whether Dalit writing has at all been able to forge its own language and idiom, imagery and form to confront non-Dalit literature. Moreover, has Dalit writing been able to balance activism with art and craftsmanship? Is the voice a modulated one spanning a spectrum of emotions and sensibilities rather than becoming merely the angry rhetoric of militancy against social norms and practices? Kalyani’s first collection of poems evokes realism in the most de-romanticised terms where ‘love is washed away/ in soap suds of courtesy’ (2006: 14) and ‘men and women frequent/ a bazaar of dreams’ (2006: 14). Disillusionment is writ large in the destinies of the poor and downtrodden who had dreamt of moving towards a new future in the civilised and secularised space called ‘Bharatvarsha’.14 The spirit of protest adopts the icon of Chuni Kotal,15 and the poet, branded by caste stigma calls all Dalits to refashion themselves in independent India by tearing down the masks of social hypocrisy. Arjun Dangle had pointed out in the context of Marathi Dalit writing, that it ‘owes its origin to a revolutionary struggle for social and economic change. . . . Their literature is thus characterised by a feeling of rebellion against the establishment, of negativism and scientificity’.16 Amidst the struggle, it is hope of a future that provides sustenance: Eyes were covered in thick mist Nothing at all was seen As night draws to a close one will learn What has happened across the border In the last hour Danger hasn’t yet ended it seems The day to stand erect is afar there Hidden by the setting sun.17 Hope, both in personal relationships and in social interactions, tinged with sadness and frustration constitutes a dominant mood in several of these poems that erupt into recurrent images from a stark, deprived childhood and youth. The striking realism of the imagery drawn from the everyday, frames intense emotions. Kalyani compares love to naked childhood ‘dancing away dhin dhin, vanishing into the horizon/ as a dark blue spot’ (2006: 13). For her ‘old sorrows jangle’ like the ‘fragile chinaware on the shelf ’ with an assortment of pots and pans in the room (2006: 9). ‘Sometimes thoughts dash against the clouds/and then mountains, then break down/ like jet planes from ceiling fans/ or in kerosene’ (2006: 53) marking a macabre transition from dreams and reflections to change and fatal transformation. The violence of this image is as hard-hitting as that of rape and exploitation that forms the thematic range of Kalyani’s poetry. Her own personal progression from

Kalyani Thakur Charal  41

love and nostalgia to protest on humanitarian rather than political grounds marks the trajectory of creativity that she has pursued: Those who do not think of the country Those who do not think of the community Only their own success, children’s Success limiting their lives Don’t ask me to be like them Mother Ladders to success are also worm-infested.18 While Dalits strive to establish their identity, they simultaneously reflect the tribulations of their community and the exclusions that they endure. Somewhere they yearn for inclusiveness, to participate in concerns that the country, the world, the expanded human community, engage in. The self-centredness of Dalit identity becomes dissipated into a larger consciousness of responsibility that is the crux of Dalit creativity and its underlying ethics. The voice of Dalit protest is not necessarily mere propaganda but one that uses a persuasive idiom to describe everyday realities of human deprivation that need to be exposed. If one has to define Dalit literature, it has to be done in terms of a philosophy and aesthetics that give meaning to the lowly and vulgar, the crude and sensuous, violence and misery. Kalyani’s first poem in the second section, ‘Aswa-series’ (Horse Series) of her 2006 anthology is titled an anti-war poem that absorbs ideas from Buddhist pacifist philosophy popularised by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (1891–1956) who himself converted to the Buddhist faith that was essentially anti-casteist. In this poem, the poet evokes Buddha and races over the war-torn regions Kargil19 and Kandahar,20 the site of the desecration of the Bamiyan Buddha statues,21 Israel and Palestine, and laments: O Tathagata,22 two thousand five hundred years ago The way you had to fight Even today such is our plight.23 Crossing international borders, the poet riding the mythical winged horse ‘Pakkhiraj’ brandishes a flag that changed colours according to the nation or territory being traversed, finally turning white. The colour of peace that stalks the earth (2006: 29). Myths are created, myths fractured, history revoked, history rewritten through poems and language that attempt to shape a new literary lineage that challenges mainstream models. The poet speaks of plundering, like Mahmoud of Ghazni, not temples but her own experience of her lover to write her poems. She feels like a sultan at times, not the physically and metaphorically downtrodden woman (2006: 35). Repeatedly, the poet churns her memory and returns to village life and preoccupations, to tunes and stories that are part of a cultural ethos imbibed through the

42  Jayati Gupta

sights and sounds of a backward rural economy. Dalits who have uprooted themselves, and have chosen exile in an urban slum in order to earn a living, often lose touch with a reality that provides emotional sustenance. Dalit creative artists like Kalyani, are self-conscious about their identity and talk of renewing their bonds to explore and keep their creativity alive. In the Preface to her 2008 anthology, the poet acknowledges that the poems ‘string together emotions, harvesting reality from several different periods of time’.24 Her attitude to writing is like playing a game, picking up words and arranging them, coining her own diction, subverting traditional grammar and syntax, using the colloquial regional expressions alongside more formal linguistic formulations.This experiment with language and expression is the creative edge that gives her identity as a Dalit poet a confident rationale of existence.

Notes 1 The conference was titled ‘Writing Australia-India in the Asian century with Dalit, Indigenous and Multilingual Tongues’. It was organised in April 2016 by Monash Asia Institute, Monash Indigenous Centre at Monash University and the School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics at the Faculty of Arts, Monash University. 2 ‘Chandalini’s Poems’, 41. Trans. Jaydeep Sarangi. www.therecusant.org.uk/kalyanithakur-poem/4587293866 Accessed 15 December 2016. 3 Monohar Mouli Biswas is himself a senior Dalit writer and had been President of the Dalit Sahitya Sangstha. 4 Literacy was not considered to be the prerogative of the Dalits. Therefore the grandfather was not allowed to go anywhere near the tol or village school where Brahmin boys would learn Sanskrit. A generation later, literacy was still denied to lower castes. It was through individual effort that one struggles to read and write. Paper and ink were not affordable. 5 Dalit women were forbidden from entering the abode of the mother goddess Durga. Usually it was a large courtyard in the village with the image of the goddess, not necessarily a temple. Orthodox Hindus believe that cow dung has cleansing properties and it is regularly used in village homes to plaster the clay floor. Orthodox Hindus who crossed the kala pani and lost their caste were taken back into the Hindu fold after the ritual cleansing when the transgressor had to consume cow dung. ‘Chandalini’s Poems’, 41. Trans. Jaydeep Sarangi. www.therecusant.org.uk/kalyanithakur-poem/4587293866 Accessed 15 December 2016. 6 Sarat Chandra Chattopadhay (1876–1938) was a prominent Bengali novelist and short story writer. His domestic novels mostly about undivided rural Bengal are marked by social realism. 7 Bibhuti Bhushan Bandyopadhyay (1894–1950) is best known for his novel Pather Panchali that was adapted into a film version by Satyajit Ray as part of the Apu trilogy. He wrote about Adivasi communities in Aranyak and rural Bengal in Ichamati. 8 Manik Bandyopadhyay (1908–56), was a Bengali novelist and short story writer who was inspired by Marxist philosophy. He gives vivid portrayals of oppressed people of the deprived classes. 9 Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay (1898–1971) is well known for his Bengali novels, plays and stories that are marked by realistic portrayals of characters and scenes. 10 Satinath Bhaduri (1906–65), a novelist and political activist, wrote in Bengali largely about life in Bihar. 11 Mahasweta Devi (1926–2016) is a writer-activist known for her representation of Adivasi/tribal life in Purulia. She worked for the empowerment of these communities.

Kalyani Thakur Charal  43

12 Cooked rice soaked in water overnight. This semi-fermented rice is eaten as a morning snack with salt, green chillies and onions if affordable. 13 Dharlei Juddha Sunishchit, 20. 14 Undivided or precolonial India was often referred to in indigenous texts as Bharat or Bharatvarsha. 15 Chuni Kotal was a Dalit Adivasi or tribal native to the West Medinipur District of Bengal. She was the first woman graduate in 1985 of the Lodha Shabar community. However, succumbing to persistent harassment, she committed suicide in 1992. Mahasweta Devi highlighted her history in her book Byadhkhanda (The Book of the Hunter). 16 Arjun Dangle, ed. Poisoned Bread (New Delhi: Orient Black Swan, 2009), xxii. 17 2006 ‘Satak Sheshe’/‘End of the Century’, 19. 18 2011, Poem 16. 19 Kargil is a city in the district of Ladakh in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir. The Kargil War of 1999 was an escalation of border tensions between India and Pakistan. 20 Kandahar in Afghanistan has seen military action in 2001–2 as part of US action to control alleged atrocities by the Taliban. 21 The fourth- to fifth-century CE standing statues of Buddha were carved into the cliff sides in the Bamiyan valley of central Afghanistan.They were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001 despite appeals from all over the world to save this cultural heritage. 22 Another name of the Buddha. 23 2006, Aswa Series, 29. 24 Translations from the original Bangla poems, Prefaces, Introductions that have not been acknowledged are done by Jayati Gupta.

Works cited Dangle, Arjun, ed. Poisoned Bread. New Delhi: Orient Black Swan, 2009. Thakur, Kalyani. Ami Keno Chanraal Likhi (‘Why I Sign Charal’). Kolkata: Chaturtha Duniya, 2016. Thakur, Kalyani. Chandalinir Kabita (‘Chandalini’s Poems’). Kolkata: Chaturtha Duniya, 2011. Thakur, Kalyani. Dharlei Juddha Sunishchit (‘To Catch is to Court War’). Kolkata: Royal Publishers, 2006. Thakur, Kalyani. Je Meye Andhar Gone (‘The Girl Who Tracks the Darkness’). Kolkata: Chaturtha Duniya, 2008.

4 CHO. DHARMAN R. Azhagarasan and R. Arul

A short introduction to Tamil writer Cho. Dharman Cho. Darman was born in Urulaikkudi, Thootukudi district in southern Tamil Nadu in 1953. He is widely known as one of the Karisal (referring to four southern districts in Tamil Nadu) writers. Cultivation is their family occupation. Writing is his fulltime job. His father, Sollaiyappan, lost half of his farming due to his interest in Oyilatta Kummi (a folk performance). The creative world of Dharman flourishes from the Tamil folk tradition such as Oyilatta Kummi, Villupattu and Katha Kaletchabam. His creative world is the meeting point of three artistic traditions – his exposure to the folk tradition, his interest in the Tamil classical literature and his reading of modern Russian and Latin American literature in Tamil translations. Besides the two short story collections, he has written three novels. His first novel, Thoorvai, appeared in 1995. His second novel, Koogai (2005), has been translated into English and appeared through Oxford University Press. His non-fiction, Villicai Vendar Pichakkutti, appeared in 2002. His last novel, Sool (2016), is situated within environmental politics of the region. Ki. Rajanarayanan, the father of Karisal literature, played a significant role in his writing career. It can be said that Cho. Darman carries the torch of Ki. Ra to explore the world of Karisal. This has helped him to move beyond the identity politics that is in Dalit literature. Cho. Dharman received the Best Short Story Writer award from the ­Chennai-based literary association Ilakiya Cintanai in 1992 and again in 1994, the Katha award for best Indian short story in English translation in 1993, the State award in 2007 and the Ilakiya Thottam Award from Toronto University in 2008. His writing career and his experiments in art are progressive and are

Cho. Dharman  45

situated in the culture of the Karisal soil. Translations of his stories appeared in several journals including Indian Literature, and in the national dailies like Indian Express, Economic Times and in The Hindu. He has served in a textile mill and continues to maintain his farming. At present, he is working on a novel about the Christian missionary movements in India during the eighteenth century. The novel, titled Pathimunravathu Maiyavadi (Thirteenth Avenue), will appear soon.

An interview with Cho. Dharman AZHAGARASAN & ARUL:  Could

you please tell us about your entry into writing? DHARMAN:  If you want me to talk to you about my exposure to and experience in narrative, I can say I am fortunate to have got this experience at a very young age by way of listening to my father’s performances. My first story appeared in Tamarai, a Left magazine. Our mentor, K. Rajanarayanan (fondly called, Ki. Ra) appreciated that story and my writing style. It became a great motivation and I continued writing. A&A:  Could you please elaborate a little on Ki. Ra’s role in your writing career? D:  Our Ki. Ra, like me, is also an ordinary family man. Today if we have about eighteen authors from Kovilpatti, it is because of the fact that we were all nurtured by the inspiration and encouragement that he gave us. Of these, at least fifteen are recognised writers with considerable work. We have four writers on whom were conferred the prestigious ‘Iyal award’ from Kovilpatti itself. There are also Sahitya Academy Award winners and some have received the Kannada literary award. It is our Ki. Ra who is solely responsible for that. I dedicated my second book to him, saying ‘To Ki. Ra, my father’. In those days, there was no telephone or other facilities to communicate. So we walked fifteen kilometres to see him, have lunch and joyfully converse the whole day. We heard a lot of stories from him. His wife was gracious, she used to give us food. On our return, we would pick up all those books that we liked. ‘Take, take!’ he used to say and gave us whatever book we wanted. He would also ask, ‘How was the book?’ If he happened to see our stories in any magazine, he would immediately send a congratulating message in a postcard. If the story had some drawbacks, he would simply say, ‘it could have been better’. If it was not good, he would not let out a word about it. Once when he read my story in the magazine, Thamarai, he was so much impressed with it that he wrote to me, ‘you are given a chair, Dharman. Now you can sit on it and keep writing! No need to ask my opinions!’ To that extent, he used to encourage us. No one would get such encouragement. In the beginning of my writing career, when I meet some writers, they ask, ‘Have you read the Tamil writers, La. Sa. Ra or Mouni? This story of Marquez or that story of Borges?’ ‘If I could read those

46  R. Azhagarasan and R. Arul

writers, why should I come and see you?’, I wanted to tell them but would keep quiet. If we say that these writers would die. A&A:  Quite often you are identified with writer Poomani. Is it because both of you come from the same place, Kovilpatti? Or share a similar tendency in writing? ‌D: Poomani is my maternal uncle. We never ever spoke of literature. He never appreciated my writing. Neither did I talk to him about his writings. Since he is our uncle, none of us dared go near him and talk to him. Of the twenty men and women among the youngsters in our generation, I was the only one who would sit by his side, eat with him and talk to him. When he arrived, no one would talk, light a cigarette. If drunk, they would stand at a distance. He usually stopped with formal enquiries: how do you do. That’s all. So, he never was my inspiration as readers might imagine. A&A: Your writings, along with a few others, are identified as ‘Karisal literature’. What exactly do you mean by ‘Karisal’ literature? Does it mean the red soil? Or the cultural behaviour of the region? Or the dialect? You had mentioned that about eighteen writers have come from this region. Quite often this has been seen on par with the Latin American boom in the 1970s. Is today’s Karisal literature the same as the literature of your time? Could you please enlighten us on this? D: ‘Karisal’ is actually a term used for our convenience. There is no such welldefined region. It doesn’t mean just the colour of the soil as people often think. It generally refers to the agricultural land that depends solely on rain water and no other water source. We don’t have river irrigation like farmers have in Tiruchi or Tanjavur. If it rains heavily, water gets stored in kanmai and oorani, with which we do the irrigation. We irrigate only those (manavari) plants that could survive with less water. We get just two or three rains for one irrigation. Our cattle, like camels, also got attuned to this lifestyle. They manage with less water. This way of life is called Karisal life. So the word Karisal, meaning red soil is secondary. The word has only a symbolic function. Today this life is totally gone.There is no agriculture in this region. People moved to cities.This generation wonders at how we managed the irrigation without water pump and bore wells. They don’t understand. So it is difficult to regard anything as Karisal literature today. The so-called Karisal literature that the generation of writers like our Ki. Ra and Poomani have produced remains as archival records of our regional culture. Now our duty is to transport this knowledge to the young generation. A&A:  How would you locate your writing within the Karisal literature in particular and contemporary literature in general? Explain how you distance yourself from the Left writing. D: If we define Karisal literature in relation to the soil, then we can’t consider writer Alagirisamy as a Karisal writer though he belongs to our region. By strict definition, we can say that only three writers – Ki. Ra, Pa. Jeyaprakasam and Poomani – constitute the proper Karisal literature. Since they all have Left leanings, their works tend to follow the realist mode of writing. I differ from

Cho. Dharman  47

them on two grounds: one, I do not follow a strict realistic mode. I give more importance to fictionality than to a realistic representation. Two, I do not limit myself to the life of the Karisal region. I move beyond it but represent the same in the language of the Karisal region. It is here that I find the Latin American literature and the elements of fantasy very useful. A&A:  How would you relate yourself to other literatures, especially Latin American literature, which is so popular among the Tamil literary circles? D:  We cannot hope to capture in Tamil what Borges or Márquez try to represent in their language.When we try to understand its cultural and narrative nuances in Tamil, it will only create in us confusion. Recently I read a story by Borges. In the story a tiger asks God for a boon for everlasting life. God says, ‘I don’t have that power. Go and ask the poet Dante’. Walking majestically before Dante the Tiger asked, ‘Can you give me everlasting life?’ The poet recorded the tiger’s majestic walk in two lines. The tiger got everlasting life. See how he brings life into language! We can write the same in an essay. But we can’t get that beauty. In literature, it is possible. I borrow such things from others and give a different shape to it my story.You can see that in my story, ‘Sogavanam’. Howsoever people write about the forest, they can never capture the forest. They write about a labyrinthine, dense forest, where even the sun cannot penetrate. Everyone knows about such mysterious, wild representations. I wanted to create a forest just as Borges gave life to a tiger. Dante’s lines will remain forever like our classical text, Tirukkural. I wanted to create one such forest. I tried this in that story in this way: ‘You may have gone a hundred times to the forest to hunt a tiger and returned without even seeing a tiger. But the tiger must have seen you all the hundred times. The tiger must have sensed your body odour’. This is the forest that I created. It is quite unlike other forests.This is also a kind of influence. We must try to capture such representations in our stories. Only then can we take a stand as a writer and invite our readers to revisit the story. Otherwise there will be nothing that can interest the readers. It will read like a newspaper. Today the media is producing so many interesting things. You cannot give the same information in your work in the name of representing reality.You need to take into account all such developments around us. When we narrate such things, we will realise the need to create a new language in our writing. A&A:  Only now is the impact of Latin American literature discussed. But two or three decades back it was the Russian literature that had a huge impact on Indian regional literature. The Russian classics both in English and in Tamil translation printed in good glossy paper, hard-bound and for a low price too, had an unimaginable impact on the general reading public. How do you understand this? D: Without Russian literature, I would not be here talking to you as a writer. Yes, as you said, the Russian stories in glossy white paper, at low cost and good quality production, had a significant role in the rise of a generation of writers like me. I have not been to Russia but I am familiar with the culture through

48  R. Azhagarasan and R. Arul

all the characters in Russian fiction. I strongly remember the goat that appears in Michel Sholokhov’s novel. A goat keeps on chasing an old man, Sukkah, wherever he is seen, like dogs target and chase some people in our villages. All the people make fun of this old man. Finally, he hides himself inside a haystack afraid of the goat. In the morning when he gets up, the goat sleeps by his side. One day the goat goes missing. Everybody keeps searching for it. The old man also joins them. Actually, he should feel relieved, you know, with its disappearance. But he is not. Finally, the villagers find the dead goat inside a well. It had fallen down while trying to jump across the well. The old man becomes inconsolable and cries. Oh, what memorable writings they are! Dostoevsky and Tolstoy’s writings create such an impact. It is actually a great gift for me to read Russian literature. A&A: Do you see any dialogue taking place between Dalit literature and mainstream literature in India? D:  In fact, there is no such thing as Dalit literature. Can there be a literature with only Dalit characters? Can you find any place where only Dalit’s live? In a society, we see people of all caste groups. Take, for example, my recent novel, Sool.You will find all castes. It records how a Dalit mocks at a Pillai caste person. Many such everyday encounters among castes can be found there. If you try to remove the presence of other castes and create a singular Dalit life, it will not be literature at all. One may try to capture that in a short story. Even there the Dalit character has to encounter other castes in a shop or market. But I see a great irony in the contemporary novels that seek to record a community history. They cover a life of three generations, which may cover a century. In such self-claimed Dalit novels, I don’t find a rainfall, don’t find the sound of a bird, a crow, or even a tree. Do they live in a vacuum? In a desert? They don’t represent a life experience. They just got influenced by other cultures and produce literature. It depresses the readers. The very dawn of a Dalit life involves other castes. While there is tension between Dalits and the other castes, there is also an invisible relationship between them. They can’t be seen as two caste compartments. Their relationship is beyond all such boundaries. Writers choose to represent only the tension, the feud between them. But I record all aspects of their relationship. Take for example, the relationship between the character Pechi and Kaali Thevar in my novel Koogai. You can’t reduce that relationship to a question of caste. Some of our own people may even oppose this, saying ‘Who are they? What do they know about us?’ I mentioned that Brahmins had also given lands to Dalits. Some even fought with me for writing that, saying ‘come and see their atrocity in my place’. But how can I not record such experiences, the relationship between Dalits and others? And write only about Dalits? Will it be a good piece of literature? Definitely not. A&A:  Do the story ‘Vanakumaran’ and Koogai differ significantly from your earlier writings?

Cho. Dharman  49 D:  In ‘Vanakumaran’ as

well as in the story ‘Sogavanam’ my style is quite different. I move towards fantasy to help readers imagine and visualise the urban forced to live in wilderness. That may not be the case with Koogai. Here, I could not limit myself to the Karisal language and I had to invent a new language to represent the complexity involved in that experience.   The major shift in my writing is the shift from the use of a Karisal language to inventing a new language to suit new experiences. In that sense, you may see the novel Koogai trying to represent a different kind of experience in a different language. This makes it unique among the contemporary Tamil fictional writings, which either attempt to imitate an experimental style of other literatures or follow a realistic mode. A&A: What kind of a Dalit life do you want to represent in Koogai? How is Koogai different from other Dalit writings? D:  I face this question quite often in the academic forum. Some readers also ask this question. The question shows the assumptions about the Dalit way of life. They understand Dalits as ugly looking, economically deprived, foolish and ridiculous. In Tamil Nadu, the three predominant caste groups – Parayars, Chakiliyars and Pallars – constitute the formation of a Dalit identity, though there are several castes which also come under the scheduled castes. These three caste groups are variously called Adi-dravidas, Arundhathiyars and Devendrars. Parayars constitute a mixture of landless labourers, converted Christians and a section from government services. Arundhathiyars are Telugu-speaking people, many of whom are involved in menial jobs and are beef-eaters. Unlike the two, Pallars are agriculturists.They own land and are economically independent with their own cattle and farms. They are regarded as untouchables only at the level of cultural intermixing and not at the level of socio-economic deprivation. Since they are agriculturists they worship cows, which is regarded as the culture of the dominant Hindus. Among the three caste groups there is no possibility of inter-caste marriage. It is this uniqueness of untouchability faced by Pallars at the cultural level that I wanted to represent in Koogai. For this the realistic mode is not suitable. Hence, I used ‘koogai’ as a symbol and I clearly stated it in my author’s note. A&A:  I am sure you must be following the debates about Dalit literature, about who should write and for whom. Initially you were a little sceptical about the term, then you accepted it. How do see the function of the term ‘Dalit’? D:  True. When the term became popular among academia and media, the problem was: whom does it refer to? Because in Tamil Nadu alone there are a number of castes grouped together as Dalits. Among these, Pallars, Parayars, and Arunthadhiyars are the three prominent castes. Though they are grouped together under one common category, Dalits, there is no possibility of marriage among them. It is still an enigma. Even in politics each caste group has its own leader. But in literature all these groups are brought under a common category, ‘Dalit’. If it serves some such purpose, why oppose the term? This is my stand. But as a writer, I think, I should go beyond.

50  R. Azhagarasan and R. Arul A&A:  Today

the issues regarding Dalit oppression, aesthetics of Dalit literature, Dalit emancipatory politics have been discussed in conferences in India as well as in the Western world. Dalit studies has been included in the curriculum. Dalit writing has been published by prestigious publishing houses. But the stigma of untouchability continues to haunt Dalits and there is an increase of violence launched against Dalits. How do you see this contradiction? D: It was thought that education would eradicate the stigma of untouchability. But even after Dalit slaves secured education, untouchability hasn’t changed its form and function. As you said, the problem doesn’t end when readers start reading Dalit literature and when Dalits get into jobs. For example, take the case of my own son. After completing his postgraduation in biotechnology, when he wanted to register for a Ph.D., he could not get a supervisor. Since we couldn’t get eligible supervisors among Dalits, we had to approach non-Dalit professors and met with various difficulties.This is what we call today ‘modern untouchability’. Very few people know about this. People in the social and political sphere know about ‘honour killing’, ‘custodial death’ and so on, but not about these modern forms of untouchability. Here I should also say that many Dalits who come to this level do not like to fight for others. They even choose anonymity and remain selfish. ‌A&A:  So, what do you think you can do as a writer? D:  When we settle in metropolitan spaces or foreign countries and move out of the village, we lose touch with our people. And we don’t get a chance to record such contradictions in social life. Today’s village doesn’t look like a village at all. Villages have become old age homes as most of the youngsters move out. These elders do not fear death. They are worried about their loneliness. They carry water cans (which have now become big business as people depend only on these drinking water cans), have mobile phones and talk to their children in the US. Keeping thorattukol (barbed hook) in one hand, the elder talks to his son in the US, ‘hey, send me five hundred dollars to finish the house construction.’ He actually doesn’t even know the value of a dollar. That is the relationship they have with their children. If you start recording these experiences, Dalit literature will take a different turn. First of all, the so-called Dalit language will not be helpful to capture this reality. It will not be considered an issue pertaining only to Dalits. This is the impact of globalisation. So we fail to see this mutual relationship between Dalit literature and the mainstream. A&A:  Do you think that the reception of Dalit literature in the academic sphere does any good for the situation? D:  I don’t think so. Because, a writer doesn’t get anything out of this. For a writer, it is enough if they have reading, writing capacity. No need for training in means of achieving sublimity. Dalit literature doesn’t get any benefit from the academic sphere. If Dalits get into the educational sphere, it is because of the fact that education becomes a fundamental right and a political issue for successive governments.

Cho. Dharman  51 A&A:  English

translations of your stories have appeared in magazines and books, through various publishers. Could you comment on the quality of the translation and the translators? D: Translating the literature written in dialects is relatively manageable among the Indian languages. The translator can attribute a similar dialect to a character within the target language. But translating it into a foreign language like English is really very difficult. Because the words are culturally rooted and they don’t have any such words in the target language. Take for example, the word, kanmai. M. S. Sivanathan, a translator of stories, called me and asked about kanmai. There is no such word in English. Because they don’t have kanmai. Now when he searched for the English equivalent in a 150-years-old record of the Public Works Department records, surprisingly he found the same word, kanmai. We have similar problems even within the Tamil language. In Aandaal’s Tirupaavai there is an expression,‘mannikkidanthen madavanai (Lord Krishna)’. In another place there is an expression: ‘mannikkidanthana singangal’ (lions). Now we are not able to even guess the meaning of the word ‘manniko’ as a verb. Any boy in our region would clarify our doubt. It means ‘tie it strongly’. The word ‘manni’ is used in the context of tying a gunny-bag. Now everything becomes clear. Such region-bound terms pose a lot of difficulties for the English translator. They really go through a lot of difficulties while handling these literatures written in local dialects. A&A:  How do you conceive the gender question within the Dalit context? How does it affect your creative universe? D: Today the divide between rural and urban has been erased to a large extent. Now a village girl has several costumes used by cinema stars. They don’t ask others for money to buy these things; they earn on their own and buy whatever they want. It greatly alters the man-woman relationship. And we don’t have to say anything about the impact of the media. Villages are influenced a lot by the media behaviour.They go to the extent of changing their routine in order to be free to watch a serial. Media almost guides and shapes their everyday lives. Women police stations get crowded everyday like a taluk office with pleas for separation from husbands.We also witness families where the husband and wife have not even conversed with each other for decades. All these things must get represented in our writing. A&A: There are also traces of biblical myths in your stories as well as in your fiction – both in Koogai and in the recent one, Sool. I won’t call it an influence but we can see its presence now and then. D: Yes, you’re right. But it is my Bible. I greatly admire the biblical style of storytelling. I still admire it, especially the Tamil translation. No individual can achieve that quality. For Jesus is a great storyteller. A&A:  In the past, you used to talk about issues and the representation of issues. Now you talk so much more about this need to create a new language. Could you please elaborate on your change of concern on the language of literature?

52  R. Azhagarasan and R. Arul D: Today’s

reader is better informed than the writer. Informed about everything. In our time, we had only questions. This generation has answers. Google made it possible. Now I am aware that I write about things that are already familiar to my readers. The other possibility is that I can write about my personal experience in prison. That will attract new readers. Or write about fisher folk or tribal communities; it is here that I should think of a new language of representation. For example, our modernist writer Mouni once casually wrote: ‘Whose walking shadows are we?’ He brilliantly captures the idea of mortality in that expression. I couldn’t get any sleep after reading that. Can’t we bring such philosophical ideas into Dalit literature? I used to think. So I need to look at the language of modern writers of other regions like the Marathi theatre artist Badal Sarcar and Kannada writer Sithalingaiah. I also should look at the artistic developments in Europe and other cultures. We don’t have to imitate them.We should create a new language incorporating all aspects received from all sides and transform it into our own language. Otherwise our writing will not invite a second reading. A&A:  Have you written poetry? Why do you stick to prose? D: When I started writing, I used to write conventional poetry, strictly following metre and prosody.This needs a thorough knowledge of grammar.Without the knowledge of that, our poems will merely have rhyme and metre but won’t be poetry. When I started writing poetry, I trained myself specifically in the ezham vettrumai urubu (seventh case) in Tamil grammar. Such pressures are not there for writing modern poetry. It could also address the issues not addressed in conventional poetry. So gradually grammar became unnecessary. Later on, when I read the Sangam poetry and its brilliant accommodation of grammatical nuances of the Tamil language I realised that my entire body of poetry cannot come near a single line of the classical Sangam poetry. Then I stopped writing poetry and burned all the poetry that I wrote. After that, I chose to remain a reader of Tamil Classical poetry with its commentarial tradition. A&A:  Could you please tell us about your personal book collection, your reading and what literature can do? D:  I have about five thousand books. My sons don’t read those books. ‘We have everything on the net pa’, they used to tell me. To me, literature can sensitise you, take you to the road to justice, broaden your vision; it may provoke you to raise ethical questions. If you want such things, read literature. If you don’t want this, you don’t have to read literature. If you think suicide is the ultimate solution to all problems, you need not read literature. I think literature is part of your social life. You may understand it if you turn towards Dostoevsky’s stories. They function at the same time as therapy for psychological as well as social problems.

Dr. Kiran Keshavamurthy’s input, at the time when this interview was being prepared, is gratefully acknowledged, as well as Daniel Bilton’s, a PhD student in Dalit Literature at Nottingham Trent University, UK.

Cho. Dharman  53

Cho. Dharman: caste and ‘Karisal’ literature in Tamil Nadu Kiran Keshavamurthy

These pages are an examination of the fraught relationship between caste, gender and region in two sequential texts by the Tamil writer Cho. Dharman (1946–). These texts share an engagement with the symbol of the owl that, I argue, is an allegory for the Dalit as a repressed feminine symptom of a fallible masculinist caste order. The owl, as a symbol drawn from Dalit folklore and mythology, symbolises the ambivalent power of the Dalit to blur caste and sexual hierarchies, a power that is contingent on her intimate relationship with the arid environment of the Karisal region of Tamil Nadu. The owl, both as a fictional and rhetorical figure, anticipates and marks the violence that repeatedly reconfigures inter-caste relations, which become occasions for the Dalit to acknowledge and reclaim her repressed power and resilience. I argue later in the paper that the owl is also suggestive of the casteism that is endemic to Dalit castes as it is a symbol of Pallar heroism and benevolence towards other Dalit caste groups that occupy lower positions in the caste hierarchy. The diegetic world of Cho. Dharman’s writings, which include a large collection of short stories, a couple of novels, poems and essays, represents the Karisal region of Tamil Nadu. Karisal is a Tamil word that describes the black cotton soil of the districts of Thuthakudi, Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli, which is capable of retaining water for long periods of time.1 This becomes significant in Dharman’s oeuvre where the wetness of the soil and the compassion that Dharman has for the people of this soil become reigning tropes in his novels and short stories. Dharman belongs to a longer tradition of writers from the Karisal region, who have satirised the exploitation of Dalit castes, primarily Pallar but also Paraiyar peasants and labourers. These writers most famously include K. Alagirisami, K. Rajanarayanan (1922–), who was noted for his historical novels on the fictional village of Gopallagramam, which captured the lives and folklore of the Telugu Naiker caste that migrated to Tirunelveli after the fall of the Nizam’s rule in Hyderabad, Dharman’s maternal uncle Poomani, a writer and Communist party worker like Rajanarayanan and P. Jeyaprakasam among many others.2 The Karisal region also produced arguably the most important forerunner of Tamil modernism, Subramania Barati (1882–1921), and other writers and revolutionary freedom fighters including V. O. Chidambaram (1872–1936) and V. V. S. Iyer (1882–1925). Dharman’s writings are an extension of his precursors in the way they explore the itinerant and marginalised life of the Dalit as she negotiates caste and sexual hierarchies. Dharman belongs to a family of koothu performers and in an interview with the Tamil magazine Tiranadi, remembers growing up watching his father and his troupe of fellow actors perform various roles from the Ramayana and Mahabharata.3 His family’s preoccupation with travelling through various towns and villages performing the Ramayana led them to neglect their agricultural lands, which incurred heavy losses and debts. His family moved from Urulaikudi, the village where Dharman was born and raised and where many of his stories are

54  Kiran Keshavamurthy

set, to the slums of the neighbouring town of Kovilpatti. His earliest stories and poems were published in Tamarai, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) journal. While many of his fictional works describe the toil and exploitation of certain lower castes like the Nadars, who were traditional toddy-tappers and Dalit castes like Pallars and Paraiyars, there is a clear emphasis in most, if not all, of his works on the lives of Pallar men and women and their confrontation with the state as represented by the police who often back the upper-caste landlord. I return to this point later in this paper. Another important trope in his works is the casteism and lack of solidarity between Dalit castes, particularly among Pallars and Arunthathiyars, an even more marginalised Telugu-speaking Dalit caste that, scholars argue, migrated from Telugu to Tamil country either during the fall of the Vijayanagara Empire in the sixteenth century or later during their migrations within the boundaries of the Madras Presidency (including Mysore, Kerala, present-day Tamil Nadu and much of the southern districts of Telugu country) in search of food and employment. Like his literary predecessors and contemporaries, Dharman’s writings are concerned with the poverty and exploitation of Dalits, particularly Pallars, as they struggle to survive a hostile natural and social environment rife with caste violence. But Dharman’s writings also go beyond a simple assertion of Dalit subjectivities in the face of discrimination and humiliation to explore the myths and folklore of his Pallar communities as powerful cultural sources of resistance and subversion. Dharman believes his works beginning with his first novel, Thoorvai (1996), ‘scattered [leftist Marxist and Progressive] images of Dalit portrayals’ where Dalits were represented as those who ‘don’t have any belongings, are dirtily dressed and stink, are prone to having adulterous affairs with women, desire violence, are uneducated, are labourers, are servile and hanker for food’ (13–14). Dharman portrays the dignity of Dalit lives that do not conform to his sense of the dominant impression of Dalits. However, casteism still characterises the relationship both among and between Dalit and non-Dalit castes. Even if his texts gesture towards ideals of love, unity and compassion, this paper will argue that these ideals are premised on caste and sexual hierarchies. This paper is a discussion of two sequential texts by Dharman, a short story named ‘Oozh’ (‘Destiny’) and a novel, Koogai (The Owl, 2015). The owl in both these texts is, I argue, at once an ambiguous symbol of the power and abjection of the Dalit and a mythic marker of the recursive rhythms of inter- and intra-caste and religious violence, which repeatedly subvert and reconfigure the lived and embodied realities of caste. The story ‘Oozh’ opens with the male protagonist, an old Pallar man named Seeni, burying alive an owl in a hole he has dug outside his house. He then stores the owl’s remains in a bag before leaving Uppathur, his village, when he is forbidden to worship the owl. The owl in the story and in the novel embodies the faith of some of the Pallars, which is marginalised by dominant and institutionalised forms of worship like Kali and Christianity. The owl is considered by the upper-caste men of the village to be inauspicious but for Seeni, the owl is the

Cho. Dharman  55

sacred god who, he believes, blessed him with a son. Before leaving the village, he visits Gangaiya Naiker, a landlord who ridicules his faith in the owl and challenges the owl to fulfil his wish for a daughter as he belongs to a lineage of only sons. Seeni asks him to smear the owl’s ashes on his and his wife’s forehead and foretells the birth of a son and a daughter who will not live as a woman. Gangaiya Naiker’s wife, as predicted, gives birth to a son and later a daughter, whom she names Andalammal. But, Andalammal, the story suggests, resists her father and brothers’ attempts to imprison her within the confines of their home. She appears as an inscrutable and idealised force of nature that cannot be domesticated. Her flawless beauty and her imposing presence, the narrator says, defy conventional notions of femininity.When her brothers fail to get her married, they take her to Brahma, the creator of the universe for a solution, but Brahma is baffled by Andalammal’s perfection, which seems to be beyond his creative powers. Seeni returns to Uppathur many years later and learns of Gangaiya Naiker’s death from his younger son Akkaiya Naiker. He also learns of Akkaiya Naiker’s older brother Subbaiya Naiker’s disappearance as he is looking for their sister. Akkaiya Naiker recounts their attempts to chain and imprison Andalammal whose uncontrollable urge to be free of all bonds is insinuated by her refusal to wear clothes. She demands that her burning body be immersed in water. The brothers take her to the Ganga where she disappears into the river’s waters. Subbaiya Naiker disappears while searching for her. Andalammal’s naked body is later discovered on the banks of the river adorned in the jewellery that had been bought for her wedding. She is immersed in a hole full of water and the place where she is immersed, Nandavanam, is transformed into a green forest. Her death has a regenerative effect as it magically replenishes the water in a parched land. Seeni’s meeting with Akkaiya Naiker coincides with the appearance of the owl, a bird Akkaiya Naiker has never seen before. The narrator’s description of the owl suggests the ambivalent power of the owl, which is a symbol that equates femininity with the subordinate Dalit who has become oblivious of her own power and resilience. To be precise, the owl functions as a symptom of the repressed Dalit as a feminine force of nature, which threatens to subvert the dominant masculinist caste order. Ancestral bird. Can’t fly fast. Its descendants, the coloured birds that appeared later, drove the owl out of this forest. The owl implored and cried.You don’t know how to sing or cry, your body has no colours . . . said the coloured birds. . . . It is a wonderful bird that shows its face and appears in the night and hides in holes. . . . Do [these coloured birds] know what the night means? Do they know what it means to wait? The peace of the night is femininity. The sign of patience is femininity. The importance of waiting is femininity. A woman’s life only attains completion in waiting. The owl is femininity. . . . The owl had flown away from Nandavanam. The birds that chased it for a distance have returned to Nandavanam. The owl has forgotten its ability to fight back despite its sharp beak, its wings, its round form. It hides in holes

56  Kiran Keshavamurthy

like a subordinate and fears to come out in the light of the day. . . . [It] has abandoned its forest, its community, and its lineage has diminished. (Dharman 2010: 332) The owl here symbolises a particularly feminine temporality of waiting and patience that suggests the repressed and yet to be realised potential of the ostracised Dalit. The owl, like the Dalit, is represented as a well-adapted bird that once reigned supreme over its nocturnal environment and has now been displaced and threatened by colourful invaders.The owl like the Dalit embodies the repressed feminine that interrupts the continuity of the masculine caste economy. Seeni associates the drabness of the owl with its naked transparency and the possibility of freedom from a male-dominated caste lineage. When Akkaiya Naiker laments that he is his father’s only surviving son, Seeni reminds him of the plants and trees that Andalammal has left behind. He gives Seeni his sister’s jewellery to adorn the naked idol of the owl that Seeni worships, ‘The Owl God’s nakedness is divine. The beauty of birds is indeed their nakedness. Their purity is their nakedness. The owl that doesn’t even like wearing colors is absolutely naked. The path to liberation is nakedness’ (333). Akkaiya Naiker tells Seeni he is condemned to remain unmarried because of a curse placed on his ancestor by his daughter who was stripped and humiliated for falling in love with a man. The woman’s curse threatens the destruction of her father’s lineage, as his sons will long for daughters and women to love, ‘One day your heir will live alone like the owl. . . . With that your lineage will end’ (334). Dharman’s short story is quoted in his novel Koogai (Owl, 2015).The eponymous owl of the novel again connotes the surreptitious power of the Dalit that at once upholds and challenges caste norms. Dharman’s novel, like his earlier one Thoorvai, stands apart from many other Dalit literary texts in the way it suggests the violence and mutual dependency that characterise inter-caste relations. The novel traces a partial transformation in the relationship between the Dalit Pallars and the landed upper-caste Thevars and Naikers from one of ritual dependency to a gradual loosening of rural ties because of access to certain industrial-capitalist forms of factory employment. Different characters in the novel embody subtle and overt gestures of upsetting caste authority. So for instance, Seeni, the older Pallar protagonist of the novel, is a traditional basket weaver who represents an older generation of Pallars who believes in the intimate but unequal ties between castes. But he also embodies a pretence of deference and loyalty that partly secures the trust and faith of the dominant caste landowners to protect the lives and interests of the younger men in his caste community. There are several instances in the novel that suggest the interdependence of and sexual intimacy between the Thevars, Naikers and Pallars that temporarily blurs caste hierarchies. So, for instance, there is a sensuous relationship between Seeni’s wife, Sinnakali, one of the Pallar women, who ritually mourns the death of the Naicker landlord by holding a grinding stone to her chest at his funeral procession. She disappears soon after his death never to return. Seeni is unable to comprehend his wife’s seemingly conjugal longing for the Naiker whenever she

Cho. Dharman  57

gazes or buries her face in the unworn sari he bought her. When Gurusami Pandian, a Thevar landowner dies, for instance, the Pallars insist on attending his funeral and performing their ritual functions despite threats from his relatives. But, as the Pallars claim, it becomes a voluntary act, something they choose to do out of their loyalty to the landowner. Seeni, who takes care of Lingaiyanaiker’s lands, ends up being his caregiver when he contracts a fatal disease. He also has a sexual affair with his wife Patrarajammal Naiker but when Lingaiyanaiker discovers their intimacy, he dies of shock. Seeni’s son Govindan is killed for eloping with Ramalakshmi, the daughter of an upper-caste man. Sanmugam, a Chakkiliyar man, murders Muthaiya Pandian, another landlord, for raping his daughter, Vellaiammal, after tricking her into getting married to Madukkan, a beggar. The Thevars retaliate by setting the Chakkiliyar locality to fire. What interests me is the affinity between the Brahmin and the Dalit, two poles of the caste system, which produces violence between the more intimate and mutually dependent caste groups. The sympathetic and empowering relationship between the sole Brahmin character of the novel Nataraja Iyer, and the Pallars, structures the novel and both upholds and blurs caste hierarchies. Nataraja Iyer initially leases and then wills them his ancestral land, which creates considerable resentment among the landed middle castes, with whom the Dalits have a more intimate and violent relationship. The Pallars, particularly Seeni, revere Nataraja Iyer, who is the last of the Brahmins to leave the village for Kovilpatti, a larger urban centre, where he practices as a lawyer. The Brahmins, partly because of their supreme position in the caste hierarchy and partly because of certain socio-economic changes that enabled them to move to urban centres to pursue professional careers, have no direct role to play in caste conflicts. To Seeni, Nataraja Iyer and his wife Rajalakshmiammal appear as auspicious and idealised embodiments of god, who have blessed him and the other Pallars with land.With the crops they sell, the Pallars now have the money to dig wells in their fields so that they are no longer dependent on the rainwaterfed tank that often dries up. When they strike water, the Pallars are overjoyed to see Pallar and Paraiyar women drawing water from their own well for the first time. With their newfound prosperity, Pallar children begin to go to school on their new bicycles to the resentment of the Naikers and Reddiars. The Naiker and Thevar farmers no longer have anyone to work on their fields or help them cremate their dead. Once Nataraja leaves the village to move to the town of Kovilpatti, they conspire with the local landowner to enjoy the fruits of the Pallars’ labour by harvesting their paddy crop. Although the Pallars are still accustomed to being servile to the Naikers and Reddiars, the novel tracks their increasingly violent attempts to resist caste dominance. From ritual signs of deference (giving way to them as they walk past, lowering their dhotis and lungis or removing their head dresses and folding their arms in deference, keeping separate glasses for Pallars at tea stalls, etc.) to inheriting the Brahmin’s lands to moving to towns to work as construction and factory workers, the Pallars’ lives are transformed by their experience of industrial capitalism. Their inherited status as landowners does not however entirely transform the ritual hierarchy and intimacy between the castes. Although they cease to

58  Kiran Keshavamurthy

work for the landowner, the landowner and his henchmen with the help of the police, which is also characterised by a caste hierarchy, file false charges against some of the Pallar youth for trying to murder the landlord. The novel thus complicates the relationship between caste and class, where the possession or ownership of land does not guarantee freedom from caste. This becomes a common trope in Dharman’s novel and oeuvre and in certain strands of Dalit literature, where dominant castes with the support of the police, which includes Pallar peasants and constables, sow discord both among and within Dalit caste groups in an attempt to suppress their social and economic progress.There is a violent clash between the Pallar farmers and the Pallar men who work for the landowner, which results in bloodshed. Two of the Pallar men, Appusubban and Sinnakuravan, having killed two of the landowner’s men, disappear from their village of Sithirampatti, where the novel is partly set. Following their escape, the Pallar quarters are incinerated. Before the police can capture Appusubban and his son Ayyanar, they appear at the local court in the neighbouring town of Kovilpatti. They secretly meet Seeni at Nataraja Iyer’s house at night to inform him of their plan. But they are then forced to reveal themselves when two Pallar constables who are appointed by an upper-caste inspector to find Appasubban, try to rape Appusubban’s wife when she refuses to reveal his whereabouts. Dalit women often become the sexualised sites of inter-caste enmities between men. Appusubban and his son threaten the constables with handmade bombs and a sword and in the ensuing fight, one of the constables is beheaded for disrobing Appusubban’s wife. The character of Seeni is significant because he is a symptom of the Dalit’s once organic and sacred relationship with nature and endowed with a mythical power, a power that he seems to derive from his faith in the owl, to predict the violent disruption of this relationship. The first part of the novel ends like the story with Seeni cursing Sithirampatti, the village that forbids him from worshipping the owl, with drought and famine. The owl, as a structuring symbol of the novel, connotes the ambiguous power of the subaltern Dalit Pallar, who constitutes the limits of the caste system by virtue of her very exclusion. The Dalit is both transparent, in terms of being one with nature and free of the corruption of power and for the same reason, is able to challenge caste norms through a deceptive semblance of power. An instance of the owl’s magical power is when Ammasi the goat herder’s goats are miraculously revived even after grazing on poisonous grass. The owl, the narrative suggests revived the goats and spared Ammasi’s life from the wrath of the landowner. He is rewarded for his compassion for the goats when his wife also recovers from a difficult pregnancy. He considers his newborn son auspicious and deifies him. His son Sengamudaiyar becomes Aadukathar, the protector of goats and a god of the goat herders. Another instance is that of Appusubban, who is on the run from the police. He is compared to the patient and resilient owl that unlike most other birds is defenceless by day but capable of ambushing its prey by night. Like the surreptitious and strategic owl, Appusubban strips himself naked during the night and deceives some Pallars from a neighbouring village by claiming he is a Chakkiliyar who is

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escaping from a Pallar man to whom he owes money. They give him a veshti and an angavastram or upper-body cloth to cover himself. On the way, he meets Pechi, a Pallar woman, a rice mill worker who sells grass at the Kovilpatti market, with whom he ends up having a compassionate friendship. Pechi immediately recognises Appusubban and offers him refuge from the police while he ensures his family is relocated to Subramaniapuram. Pechi implicitly embodies the feminine spirit of the owl that she worships in terms of her endurance, intelligence and compassion. She is a strong and resilient woman who was once in an intimate relationship with Kali Thevar, with whom she has a daughter named Mari. Like the several other inter-caste intimacies in the novel, this relationship represents the possibility of blurring caste difference. Kali Thevar is ostracised by his fellow Thevars for his illicit relationship with Pechi and for allowing Pallars to draw water from his well. Their daughter Mari is later married to a Thevar man. Like Seeni, Pechi also has a reverential relationship with her natural environment, particularly the crows and the owl, that later come to her help by saving Appusubban from the police. Seeni, Pechi and later even Nataraja Iyer’s de-sacralisation of nature is imagined as an organic and interconnected order that is above the sectarian character of Christianity or Kali worship that become the source of communal violence between the Christian and the Hindu Paraiyars and Pallars. The second part of the novel is apparently disconnected from the first but in certain ways is an extension of the valorisation of nature, which was suggested in the first part, as a potential antidote to the corruption of human politics. It begins like a dream with Seeni waking up to the sight of horsemen from a foreign land called Vembunadu or the ‘Land of Neem’. The land only possesses neem trees, which are worshipped by its people. The land is conquered and ruled by several kings, first by a white man and then an eloquent wanderer who dies of an unknown disease only to be succeeded by an even more eloquent king whose promises to the people are never realised. Disillusioned by the king’s empty talk, the people vote the king’s court performer into power. The performer king does not have any official heirs but has relationships with several mistresses and female performers. The performer king decides to change the way of electing the king by entrusting the function of electing rulers to the trees in the forest. Seeni’s appearance coincides with the king’s sudden death, as preparations are underway to implement the king’s ruling. I quote the ruling below: From henceforth, the king of this land will be chosen by trees . . . the forests of the land must be enclosed by wire fences with four entrances [with] five fortifications . . . occupied by five sentry guards. . . . All the trees in the forest should be tied in all four directions with ropes . . . every tree should be tied to the other trees with four ropes. . . . Only five representatives must participate in the election. . . . If the king is alive, the five members must comprise the king and his four heirs . . . if the king doesn’t have heirs and he is dead, the one whom he declares to be his heir has the right to compete . . . the five competitors must know how to dance or their lives must be connected to

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dance. . . . I [the king] don’t have an heir so after my death, the dancer from my harem, Mokanavalli, has the right to perform . . . for a month after the trees have been tied to each other, the forest should be fiercely protected. . . . After a month . . . guards have to count the trees. All those trees that have not snapped out of the ropes vote for the first competitor. If one of the ropes is cut and the other three are intact, that tree votes for the second competitor. If two of the ropes are cut and the other two intact, that tree votes for the third competitor. If all three ropes are cut and one is intact, that tree votes for the fourth competitor. And if all the ropes are cut, that tree votes for the fifth competitor . . . if no rope tears within the next ten days, the wanderer will be the next king. (246–248) The five competitors include the eloquent man who had earlier lost the elections to the performer king, his three mistresses’ children and Mokanavalli. Attempts are made by the competitors to secretly cut the ropes. Mokanavalli orders bird hunters to capture birds and release them in the forest in order to cut the ropes but a bloody fight ensues between the bird hunters and the wanderer’s men. The birds that are released into the forest are, unlike the owl, unable to cut the ropes, and some of them being short-winged get caught in the ropes. Mokanavalli is determined to win the elections with the help of Seeni’s owl that only obeys his calls and is the only nocturnal bird that, with its larger wingspan and silent agility and skill, has the ability to cut the ropes. She promises to make him minister in exchange for her victory. When the owl is released at night, the wanderer appoints some men to plant poisoned mice, rabbits and squirrels to kill the owl. But the owl is described as a bird that does not scavenge and has the power to control the wind by taking refuge in tree holes. The owl manages to cut most of the ropes with its sharp beak and Mokanavalli wins. Fearing the possibility of losing power, Mokanavalli ensures the owl is killed and its body is scattered in a neighbouring forest full of man-eating trees that smell of human flesh. Seeni is hung upside down among the trees. The above episode, which seems to be unrelated to the rest of the novel, has implications for the internecine caste violence that regularly punctuates the narrative. With Seeni and the owl dead, they become invisible and pervasive signs of disaster. Everyone in Sittirampatti remembers Seeni’s words that if the owl cried four times disaster would be imminent. The owl’s ominous calls anticipate the violent clash between Hindu Pallars and Christian Paraiyars and the death of Peter, a Christian Paraiyar on the day of the chariot festival. It begins with a quarrel between the Christian Paraiyars and the Hindu Pallars over the sacrificing of calves for the former’s chariot festival. The Christian Paraiyars are massacred by the Pallar men who are magically transformed into owls, and in retaliation, the Pallar quarters are incinerated. The novel tries to blur caste hierarchies between Dalit and non-Dalit castes even as it reinstates a hierarchy between Pallars and the other Dalit castes like the Paraiyars and more so the Chakkiliyars.This can be seen in the novel’s portrayal

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of Appusubban as a benevolent hero who protects the lives and economic and religious interests of Paraiyars and Chakkilyars. Pechi and her daughter Mari move to the safety of Subramaniapuram, a neighbouring town, lest they are tortured by the police. Pechi along with Appusubban and Ayyanar who are still on bail and have to report everyday to the local police station, strive to get bail for the Pallars who are arrested and imprisoned by the police for their involvement in the fight. The landowner of Kovilpatti sows further discord between the Paraiyars and the Pallars by promising the Paraiyars various jobs in his matchbox and ginning factories, in road construction and in his auctioned market that sells goat meat. The Paraiyars have customarily given their waste and their goats’ dung to the landowner as manure for his fields. They discover from the landowner that their priest is responsible for mixing a fast-growing thorny weed in the wheat he sold them that finally finds its way in their waste and takes over the landowner’s fields. The landowner threatens to destroy the Paraiayar’s houses and kill them if they refuse to either remove the weed in his fields for free or work in his factories. The priest who is responsible for this impasse disappears. Appusubban realises the landowner’s plan is to either burn their houses if they refuse to work in his factories and blame the Hindu Paraiayars for the destruction or exploit the Paraiyars to work in his factories now that his fields have been rendered fallow.The Paraiyars, the Chakkilayars and Appusubban and Ayyanar’s families finally have no choice but to work in the landowner’s factories in the town. When some of the Paraiyar workers die in a blast as they are working on the landowner’s quarry, Appusubban intervenes and defies the landowner. With the support of the other Pallar and Paraiyar workers from Sithirampatti, he challenges the landowner and his men to a fight. Appusubban notices the landowner escaping in a car, he gathers the other workers in the lorries and pursues the landowner. Pechi blocks the road and prevents the landowner’s escape.The landowner and his men are finally arrested by the police on charges of kidnapping and exploitation and the landowner is compelled to fulfil Appusubban and the workers’ conditions that include taking the injured to the government hospital and paying for their medical expenses. He is made to write a formal statement of his exploitation and provides monetary compensation to the families of those who died. Through this incident, Appusubban emerges as a saviour who rescues the workers from the clutches of an exploitative landowner. He resettles them in Subramaniapuram, which becomes a symbol of inter-caste harmony. Appusubban offers the Paraiyar Christian families who have moved to the village, a part of his land for a church to be built and welcomes the Paraiyars’ desire to consume beef. Appusubban and Pechi are celebrated as heroes and become the sworn enemies of the upper-caste police for exposing and resisting their attempts to create discord among the Pallars, Paraiyars and the Chakkiliyars. Both the short story and the novel deploy the trope of the owl to blur and uphold caste hierarchy. A recurrent trope that unites Dharman’s writings is the complicity between the land owning castes and the state, represented by the equally caste-ridden police, in creating inter- and intra-caste violence between and among Dalit castes. If, on the one hand, the owl embodies a form of Pallar power derived

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from an inherited repertoire of myths and legends that capture the Pallar’s intimate relationship with nature, on the other hand, the novel reinstates inter-Dalit caste hierarchies between Pallars and Paraiyars and Chakkiliyars, even if this hierarchy is characterised by protection and benevolence. The novel begins and ends with the image of the injured and hunted owl that acquires the dimensions of a larger historical force that anticipates the violence that regularly interrupts and reconfigures inter-caste relations without dismantling the very institution of caste.

Notes 1 The Karisal region was in 1910 a part of Tirunelveli district and later included parts of Ramanathapuram district to facilitate governance. It was only in 1986 that Thuthakudi was included. 2 For a list of writers see T. Poovai Subramanian, Sirukathaikal kattum Karisal Kattu Makkalin Valviyal (The Representation of the Life of the People of the Karisal Dry Lands in P Jeyaprakasam’s Short Stories). Ph.D. Diss, Department of Tamil, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Madurai (March 2007), 14. 3 See Cho Dharman Kataikal (Cho Dharman’s Stories), ed. Sibiselvan (Chennai: Sandhya, 2010), 511.

Works cited Aruna, E. Karisal Ilakkiyam Vol. 1. Madurai: Minatchi Puttakalayam, 2003. Aruna, E. Karisal Ilakkiyam Vol. 2. Madurai: Minatchi Puttakalayam, 2004. Dharman, C. Koogai. Nagercoil: Kalachuvadu Pathippagam, 2005. Dharman, C. Koogai.The Owl.Trans. by Vasantha Surya. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015. Dharman, C. ‘Oozh’, in Cho Dharman Kataikal. Sibiselvan, ed. Chennai: Sandhya Pathippagam, 2010: 321–334. Dharman, C. Thoorvai. Nagercoil: Kalachuvadu Pathippagam, 1996. Subramanian,T. Poovai, ‘P. Jeyaprakasam Sirrukathaikal kattum Karisal Kattu Makkalin Valviyal’. Ph.D. Diss. Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Madurai, 2007.

5 DES RAJ KALI Rajkumar Hans

A short introduction to Punjabi writer Des Raj Kali When Des Raj Kali entered the world of Punjabi prose, the language moved away from its roundedness and assumed its sharpness and depth. Kali’s writings brought a new turn to Punjabi storywriting as it entered its fourth generation. His writing is abstract as well as absurd. He was so confident of the novelty of his style that he entitled his first anthology as Kath Kali (Stories of Kali, 1996).The collection quickly attracted the attention of some of the master storytellers. His characters retain their distinct plebeian identity while challenging hegemonic discourses.There are strains of Sufi philosophy and the influence of Islam in their language. Their issues are different, and consciousness is distinct. There is no contempt for anybody; they just seek love. In his second collection Fakiri (Mendicancy, 2006), Kali surpasses his earlier self. He picks up such subjects in which characters leave behind authentic traces of the past. He starts weaving together Dalit characters living in the excluded quarters of central Punjab. He delves deep into the philosophical roots of the Dalit lifeworld. For this, analysing Indian mythology, which he had actually started reading in his school days, became a necessity for him. With the publication of his collection Yahan Chai achhi nahi banti (Good Tea Is Not Served Here, 2015) he gets established as an experimental writer. As Kali moves towards the genre of the novel, his first novel Parneshwari (2008), named after a local peasant goddess, introduces Dalit characters waging a war of existence against the cultural hegemony of Sikhs and Hindus. One confronts a dense picture of the complexity of Dalit culture. With this novel, Kali conceives a series he names Nar-Natak (The Male Play). He thinks whatever

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men are doing in the world is a drama. So far four more novels have appeared in the series: Antheen (Without End, 2008), Pratham Pauran (First Puran, 2009), Shanti Parav (The Book of Peace) (2009), and Shehar vich Sahn honn da Matlab (Meaning of Bull in the Town, 2018). The first two address the traumatic impact of two decades (1980s–90s) of Sikh militancy/terrorism on the new generation. In his latest novel he has taken ‘Bull’ as a metaphor and symbol of the financial world. To him the finance capital has completely taken over people’s life since 1990. It has brought about an atmosphere of insecurity, uncertainty and alienation for the poor. People have turned more towards plastic religiosity, even to superstitions. Kali has experimented with subject and form, giving the Punjabi novel a new meaning. He reinterprets the Indian myth from Dalit perspective and re-presents the marginalised materialistic traditions such as Charavaks, Buddhas, Siddhas and Nath Yogis. One can see the philosophical sparks emerging from his prose. Overall, the politics of his literature focuses on the liberation of women and Dalits. Besides producing four books on historical research of the Gadar Party (a revolutionary organisation founded in America in 1913 to free India from British imperialism), Kali has written numerous essays on Punjabi society and culture. He also edits the literary quarterly Lakeer.

An interview with Des Raj Kali HANS:  Reading

your writings means the reader has to awaken. S/he has to abandon conventional ways of reading fiction in order to comprehend and enjoy the dynamics of your style and narrative. Enlighten us about your thought and writing process. Also talk about its sociology with special reference to Shanti Parav. KALI: Let me commence from my perception of literature rather than respond directly to your question. You seek to gauge my approach, my perspective of literature, how I understand it and what the essence of it is, right? Our great Hindi Dalit writer, late Om Prakash Valmiki has written ‘pure’ Dalit stories. But to my understanding – which I have received from my family, and as I have experienced it socially, culturally and philosophically – my existence, my struggle for sure is that of a Dalit. But I state and emphasise that nothing happens in isolation.You cannot segregate Dalits, or for that matter any other social category from other societal segments. ‘Dalit’ is a historical and a cultural construct. If you completely isolate them from others, the question of caste discrimination does not arise. Dalits are an integral part of Indian society but since they have systematically been downgraded, deprived and incapacitated, we see them in the context of discrimination and oppression by the upper castes. I think if I breathe it affects Obama as well. We are joined together by Nature, by economy, by literature, and by history as well.We are all part of the same flow. That’s how I feel that the Dalits’ existence, their suffering and anguish or even

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their narratives are not isolated. Although, historically they got compartmentalised and segregated by Brahmanical ideology, they did not cease to be part of the whole. My literature is conceived from this thought and perspective. H: Agreed. However, there are still other ‘truths’ in the society. How possible are these other truths? K:  If all narratives are conjoined, then the next step is to identify the Dalit layer in society – the crosspiece where we are positioned. The Dalits stand at the bottom-most rung of the social ladder. Paradoxically, however, the social structure is horizontal, not vertical. Therefore, even though at the bottom, we are still part of the whole structure. The Dalits are not alone in that space at the bottom; women in general have been dominated and suppressed, the Adivasis have also been pushed into the margins and there are yet more that continue to be marginalised. Who are these others? Conceptually in Shanti Parav the mainstream occupies the upper/super text and Dalits the subtext. I have tried to sift other categories that are pushed into the social subtext.The Left became the subtext in our times. Although the upper-caste leaders dominate the Indian Left, politically and ideologically they have been pushed out and down. A similar fate awaited the intellectuals – they too have been cast aside. These three categories that share the same fate have become the subtext in the novel. They constitute the new truth of marginalisation. There are several reasons for this. I hope this also covers your question about the form and style of my writing. This form is a reflection of the distorted form of society. H:  But all of your characters have their own different worlds. How do you explain that? K:  Now, this is a third aspect. Howsoever different we may be, we are all related. We have our own backgrounds. Dalits have their own ways of remembering their past, history and myths. Bhagmal Pagal, a Dalit leader character, is aware of his ancestry, the works his Balmik community were engaged in or the position and powers others wielded over them. He recounts his father’s migration to the canal colonies in the western Punjab during the colonial rule, the encouragement of a British veterinary doctor that prompted him to educate his children, and how the same doctor motivated him in his teenage years, to attend a function of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, whom he described as the messiah of Dalits. Listening to Dr. Ambedkar as a teenager became a turning point in Bhagmal’s life and propelled him to the single-minded pursuit of knowledge and activism. Hence, through this character in the novel, I have tried to chart the trajectory and evolution of Dalit consciousness through time and history. This consciousness is embedded in colonial India. The Brahmanical elite have often fed the myth of Dr. Ambedkar as pro-British and a ‘false god’ of Dalits. But Ambedkar on the contrary was highly critical of British economic policies. However, it must also be acknowledged that Dalits along with large numbers of Shudras, were able to access education due to a space

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created by Colonial rule in India. The British did not do us any special favour and I am not saying they were not exploiters and oppressors. But it is in the broader colonial context that the likes of Ambedkars and Bhagmals were getting educated for the first time in Indian history. In this context an article ‘The Question of Untouchables’ by Bhagat Singh, the martyr is very instructive. As a young revolutionary he perceives the rise of the autonomous Dalit movement, the Ad Dharam(Primeval Religion), as a significant and a radical step by Dalits. Extending his solidarity he asserts that no one else would fight the battles of Dalits. That’s why, in the novel, Bhagmul’s ideology is intertwined with his personal history while the Comrade and Professor hang in there with only their ideologies.Yet they have all become the subtext of Indian sociology. What am I trying to achieve by this? My point is that while the thinking, debating intellectuals have been side-lined, the uneducated sharks have pushed their way to the centre stage, they have become the mainstream. H:  But why do you turn the intellectual discourse into rambling monologues? K:  Interesting question. I could see there was a systematic choking of significant questioning segments that were progressively being marginalised.That brought an end to dialogue. The absence of dialogue gives way to prattle. Therefore ‘rambling’ is a literary device to express the tragedy of the marginalised who resort to talking to themselves as crazy people. They have been rendered irrelevant, half-mad – as Dalits, the Left and intellectuals. I am trying to catch this ‘truth’ of our times. H:  In the novel you pronounce the under text characters as non-fictional while now you proclaim they are fictional. Please explain. K:  I reiterate they are not non-fictional, but I have presented them like that. This is my strategy, a literary device. There is a process of transformation from nonfictional to the fictional. There is an unidentified, invisible character in the ramblings of the Comrade who interrupts the talk with swearwords. Similarly, in Bhagmal Pagal’s ramblings there is his fictional wife. The same way Prof. Johal’s intermittent expressions of anxiety over his mother or wife during his discourse are fictional. My accepting them as non-fictional is a ploy, a play with readers. I was being mischievous− or call it my experiment.You may also call it my politics. In the text I say there are no fictional characters in the novel, now I reiterate no character is fictional. All are real, part of the social world. But that is the beauty of literature, how you fictionalise the real. Shanti Parav was celebrated at the Chandigarh Literature Festival a couple of years ago. Before the segment ‘Conversation with the Author’ (i.e. me) began, the organisers staged a scene from my novel. In this the brother-in-law of the protagonist who is mentally sick is on a hospital bed. That was a painful scene around what had happened to my real sister. The performance overwhelmed me with such intense emotion and pain that I had to make great effort to compose myself because soon after the skit, the slotted ‘conversation’ was to follow. Hence, there is nothing fictional. It is all a part of the literary gamut. I am very

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clear and conscious that I am writing not just literature but also the history of our times. I am not a historian but I know that established history is one-sided and needs to be corrected. A few historians are engaged in correcting it but I know only one way, through literature. That’s why you find fewer fictional elements but more of stark realism in my literature. H:  That’s right. One can see your characters, whether in the city or village, coming alive. But your realism is beyond mere characters.These are your characters and yet beyond you. How do you strike a balance? K:  I would say that a writer has to say something beyond what is real and true because ‘truth’ is not absolute and eternal. That’s why I go beyond the visible reality and enter into abstraction. The more you penetrate the visible, the more you travel beyond the established nomenclature. It all depends on your experience and thought. I try to catch the truth, the emotions that lie behind the real – anger, pity, low self-esteem, lust, greed, pain, joy and dichotomy. All this is formless. Corruption is a formal reality, but the passive apathy of people in the face of lived, widespread anger, is formless. I try to catch the latter, for which reason my narrative moves into abstraction. In view of my experience, thought and vision, I take literature as literature. As Walter Benjamin says, a literary piece can be correct from the political perspective if it is correct from the literary perspective as well. H:  Some insight into the local spiritual context is essential if the reader is to understand and appreciate your writing. What are its secrets? K:  It is a thoughtful question and I would like to be very brief. First of all, I am a lover (ashiq) of Sufis and Sants – their philosophy, their poetry. They inhabit my being, every breath. Sultan Bahu says: ‘That breath when one is forgetful, that breath is false’ (Jo dam ghafil, so dam kafir). That means there is no place for ignorance. They also demolish centuries-old Hindu philosophy as they carry forward the Buddhist principle of impermanence, of the ‘now’ moment. There is no guarantee of the next breath. This thought-frame I have gained from my own life. Sufism has been a family tradition. My father’s guru Sant Pritam Das was from the Chishti Order. I have personally mingled with Sufis, and Sants of the Nirmala and Udasi sects since childhood. Spiritual semiotics has been my life breath, not some foreign implantation. It is my father’s knowledge of nirguna tradition that flows through me and my writing. When I wake up in the morning, some thought of Kabir wakens with me. Namdev comes in the evening while at midday Ravidas embraces me. Bulle Shah travels with me for days together. These powerful thinkers make me up. They are the fonts of my breathing. If all of it is me, then obviously my writing is influenced by it. On reading Kabir I don’t get a single unnecessary word; only thoughts are expressed in tightly controlled words. That’s why I am economical in the use of words. Ravidas is calm and composed, words don’t hurry up.Whenever I get swayed by some idea or get enchanted by a flurry of words, I read him and recite him. I don’t want to say more. H: Why is your writing a writing of thought and not entertainment?

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is my thinking that literature’s function is to shake the sleeping reader, not just entertain him. The words of our old poet Dhani Ram Chatrik reverberate in my ears: ‘Wind up now the stories of Alif-Laila’. I can’t entertain. Another thing, the faces I encounter are either very ugly or scared. Neither can entertain you. H: There is no beginning and no ending in your Shanti Parav. Do you feel you don’t create fiction but instead construct a discourse? K: Yes! The syntax formation is according to my thinking process. I believe in writing small, crisp, healthy, deep but complete sentences. I try to see they bring in a complete history. There is a sentence in one of my stories: ‘A useless man shows his worth by reminding a man his caste and woman her sex.’ If someone reads and gets what it means, he doesn’t need to read my whole stuff. I would think I have succeeded in my mission. That’s why you can read Shanti Parav from anywhere and enjoy it. Every part is complete, so is every paragraph and every sentence. But for this, I work very hard.

Des Raj Kali’s Shanti Parav: experimental Punjabi Dalit fiction The Punjabi novel is a hundred-years-old literary genre and has witnessed many shades of expression during its journey. It has covered various facets of Punjabi life and culture. Des Raj Kali’s novel Shanti Parav charts an untrodden path, both in content and style. The title is borrowed from the twelfth book of the ancient epic Mahabharata called the ‘Shanti Parva’ (‘Book of Peace’). Kali draws a line across the middle of the page such that in the upper half run sixteen stories from the life and locality of the male Dalit protagonist (who is a reasonably educated, liberal minded, married journalist and author) and in the lower part of the page – in the ideological underbelly – lie the rambling discourses of three aged intellectuals who had actively partaken in the politics of nation building. This style of writing has been characterised as hypertextual.The essay first explains this new style and then briefly discusses the content of the novel. Hypertextual fiction is a relatively new phenomenon even in the West. The Argentinean writer Julio Cortázar’s 1963 Rayuela (Hopskotch), written in Paris, has been called the first hypertext novel, though the concept of hypertext hardly existed at the time. Written in an episodic, snapshot manner, the novel is not an engaging story. It is more of a character study, or rather an elaboration of a philosophical position through the depiction of certain people in a particular place and time. Jean Clement proposes a provisional definition of the fiction hypertext which makes it possible to distinguish it from arborescent narratives and pure combinations as well. The hypertext shares with the latter the notion

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of fragmented narrative units. But these fragments are neither totally structured like arborescent narrations, nor totally unorganised like total combination texts.1 The hypertext is therefore a collection of semi-organised textual fragments. But Clement does not bring in Deleuze and Guattari (1987), who philosophised ‘arborescent’ along with its opposite concept ‘rhizomes’. Arborescent is a term to characterise thinking marked by insistence on totalising principles, binarism and dualism. The term comes from the way genealogy trees are drawn: unidirectional progress, with no possible retroactivity and continuous binary cuts. Rhizomes, on the contrary, mark a horizontal and non-hierarchical conception, where anything may be linked to anything else, with no respect whatsoever for specific species. They use the term arborescent (that is, tree-like) to refer to post-Enlightenment Western ways of thinking, acting and knowing. Such structures of thought are linear, hierarchical/vertical, fixed and deeply rooted. In contrast rhizomes are nonlinear, horizontal, non-centred, anarchic and nomadic. Rhizomes are defined by their connections rather than their roots and spread horizontally across time and space. Unlike trees, rhizomes do not have a defining form – they can take any shape or direction and nodes can be connected to any other nodes.Transposing this image onto how personhood might be conceived we have an image that is one of multiplicity. As such personhood can be seen as in a state of permanent becoming as nodes are added to the rhizome and new pathways navigated.2 Kali’s novel, in this understanding, becomes the first hypertext writing in India. Going against the general scare in the panicky world of letters ruled by juridical property rights, Kali opens up Shanti Parav with the declaration that no character or event of his novel is imaginary: ‘If any character per chance resembles you, it is not a coincidence, it is you only’. Kali rationalises the difference between the epic and his writing: As ‘Shanti Parav’ of the epic is a construction to justify the past for the sustenance of ‘power’ in future, my novel is an attempt to ‘interrogate the past’, to ‘reach out to its roots’, and to seek a ‘new thought for the future’. While the epic book is a discourse of the rulers; my novel is a ‘cry of the ruled’. I have tried to voice the masses. I have tried to understand their psychological suffering. I have tried to understand the role of the ‘state’, its machinery in all this.3 Acutely conscious of his experiment in writing, Kali knows he is arguing against the established cultures of thinking and writing: ‘Possibly it would not be liked by many intellectuals, but I believe I want to put my thought with clarity. This is my politics that should emerge clearly. Characters are just an excuse’.4 The upper layer, the super text of the novel, skilfully weaves the reality of dayto-day life as it is lived in the humbler localities of the city of Jalandhar. It carries a freshness of style and perspective, marked as it is by Kali’s unique narrative, objective

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in spirit and poetic in a sombre way arising from the author’s natural orientation, for he writes the way he thinks/speaks – a poetic sort of prose. Kali talks about the seeding of the novel, the time when, in the voice of his protagonist, he got a job as a journalist in a Hindi daily. The office of the newspaper was located in a suburb on the periphery of the city. Quite often, when he could not carry his daily lunchbox to work, driven by hunger, the protagonist would land up at a street-food joints near his office. Situated on the outskirts, the place did not offer many possibilities and the few kiosks around were unattractive. During his frenetic searches, he stumbled upon a food cart on a nearby Ladowal road. It was exceptionally neat and clean; food and water properly covered; the plates and other utensils shining clean; everything artfully arranged; the tall, dark, beautiful woman making chapatis, husband serving the customers, two little daughters, and the son joining them after his school. The customers were usually labourers, poor and him. This complete world captivated the author for nearly a year and half till the day the cart disappeared. He was deeply disturbed and even his journalistic queries led him nowhere as there were no regular or permanent clients, excepting him, whom he could ask for. On the third day a journalist friend informed him that their son was kidnapped and no one at the police station and in the court of law would listen to the poor man’s prayers and hence no one really knew what happened to the family, which place they belonged to or where they could have gone after this tragedy. Here he instructs the reader to switch over to Retired Professor Johal’s rumblings in the lower text that offers a fine critique of bureaucracy, the controlling machine of modern times.5 After introducing the city, the author takes the readers to the centre of the happenings in the novel. It is a crowded place in the older part of the city. From the main road where traffic jams are a daily headache, a street from a gurudwara (Sikh temple) takes you into the inner world. Next a turn on the right side of a doctor’s charitable clinic takes you to the location of the novel. There are uncharitable comments about the sexuality of this old doctor which should not detain you longer from the real narrative. This place includes the old Lambda town that now is part of the enlarged city. One can see an influence of an erstwhile princely state of Kapurthala. Just opposite the author’s house is a surviving fourth part of a palace, beautifully designed by a French architect. Here, an estranged brother of the Kapurthala ruler was forced to live in exile. Today, a widow with leucodermia who works in a bank lives here. Her grandmother-in-law also lives with her.6 Besides the old palace, there are six houses in the street; a house closer to the author’s residence shelters three souls – mother, father and their son. The father is an electrician, mother a retired teacher and the son a medical representative. Around the time of author’s moving here, their daughter, who had a love marriage, used to see her family. She had a son from her love wedlock left with her parents when she was away in another town. When she reappears after a year she showers her father with a volley of male rebukes: ‘you sister-fucker, pimp . . . bastard, be ashamed. The whole life you have been an asshole . . . you dog, pimp, behave yourself ’. Not once, but whenever she comes down swearing would shower from her mouth. No one

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dared intervene. But everyone says that whomever she dismisses as an asshole turns into a wild witch and would tear apart anyone talking to the father; he hurls choicest obscene rebukes, not even sparing innocent young girls of the neighbourhood. When treated by his daughter with the similar medicine, he is frozen to a stony silence.7 The protagonist of the novel occupies a three-storey house in the street. The two rooms at the ground floor are rented to a Brahmin family. Sometimes the elder son of this family comes home fully drunk and grumbles while holding the door. The mother keeps him funded without the knowledge of the younger son, yet to be married. His first wife had abandoned him for his wayward habits. But soon after he enticed a baker (low-caste jheeor) widow’s daughter and moved into their modest dwelling. While the mother-daughter duo makes chapattis the whole day on their handcart at Malika Chowk, quite often he hangs around idly and towards evening pries some money from them for his drinks. The third room on the ground floor is occupied by an old rumbling aunt of the protagonist’s wife.The first floor is occupied by the protagonist’ wife and two children, who live in the two bedrooms.Two rooms on the top floor have been turned into a library and study by the lead character in the novel.8 The protagonist identifies himself as a Dalit on page 31 when he narrates the story of an inter-caste love marriage of the grandson of his chamar (tanner) uncle with a girl from a dominant Jatt (agriculturist) family. The inter-caste love story points to the generality of tension and conflict between the concerned families of the lovers, especially if the boy happens to be from a Dalit family (quite often assuming violent forms even leading to murder of either or both). Generally, Indian marriage, especially among Hindus, has been of an endogamous nature, marrying within the caste group. The system was heavily guarded by the upper castes, with severe punishments given to the nonconformist. Incidentally, the section narrating this episode is entitled ‘Philosophy of Beggars’. The alms-seeker representing a religious charitable institution appears in a small paragraph towards the end of the section. This is followed by analytical statements on the wording of beggar’s call for alms. Fear of God is invoked to achieve his goal to collect money. This assumes importance for the novelist’s critical gaze at his uncle’s family turning to him for legal and political support to manage their crisis. Otherwise the family had been indifferent to him. The implicit relationship between the two is a creative literary device. Rhizomes of Deleuze and Guattari are at work here. The Dalit protagonist’s mobility towards urban middle class through rebellious marriage, his cousin’s equally rebellious but fractious marriage, acceptance of his marriage by his Brahman in-laws but violent resistance by the Jatt family to his cousin’s love affair, are vertically rooted in the sociology and economics of the land but get horizontally connected through basic human desire to connect and love while defying the ideological underpinning of the Brahmanical structure that is oppressively hierarchical. Kali’s women in the novel are postmodern in the sense that they defy gendered norms and expectations of the patriarchal mind, which perceives woman as dependent, servile, pretty or delicate. For an instance, Kali takes us into the arena of lesbian love through the story of two women observed from close quarters by the

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protagonist. It is a fine story of love, possessiveness and jealousy. A mature urbane woman falls in love with a young woman lecturer half her age. The young woman has her own affairs with married men, first with a colleague and then with a lecturer son of a professor friend of the elder woman, besides this love with her. The latter hates the former’s involvement with the married men and gets worked up from time to time. This story appears under the title of ‘She, Me and Space’ which revolves around the question of space as raised by the protagonist who is a close friend of the elder woman. The protagonist, who otherwise fancies himself a psychoanalyst, in exasperation says that he fails to understand the two women in love. The author is unsparing in his characterisation of even the closest relations. While highlighting how ‘money’ has been a determining factor for making or breaking relations, he brings in his father who fancies himself a great ascetic and goes around posturing as one. With regard to money he would say: ‘Be grateful if you receive and if you don’t, be contented. If your anger flares sky-high, flatten it to the ground’.9 This is the same father that has denied his younger son, the protagonist, his fair share in the family property. In pain he cries, ‘All are selfish here. No one is anybody’s. Not even parents’, as he proceeds to narrate an episode when he and his wife were injured in an accident and went to his ancestral home expecting some rest and care from family members. On seeing him, the father was happy that he had arrived on his own, as he was thinking of him. The elder son is about to purchase a plot of land and the father wanted him to raise some money to clinch the deal. The fact that his younger son and daughter-in-law had luckily escaped a fatal accident is barely noticed. Disillusioned and bitter, the protagonist leaves the house immediately in great anger. ‘No, no one is your company without money. Not even your father’.10 The novel is highly autobiographical; it weaves in details from in and around Kali’s lived experiences. The protagonist, who is a well-educated rebel journalist, has not only married a Brahmin girl of his liking but, by doing so, has also challenged the rigid systems of caste and patriarchy. He loves his daily dose of drinks in the evening, enjoys life and forges relationships with women. On the one hand he moves in the company of intellectuals, poets, artists, journalists and politicians, and on the other hand he brings in from his vicinity the daily wage labourers, sweeper women, cycle-rickshaw pullers, family members with selfish and estranged relationships, small families torn apart by unemployment and men addicted to drugs and going crazy as they fail to manage their family affairs. To understand the dynamics of this human tapestry he suggests at different points of the narrative in the text in the upper part of the page that the reader should turn to the babbles located in the lower part of the page – the lower text. The three men in the underbelly of the novel comprise a seasoned Comrade, a loony Dalit activist, Bhagmul Pagal, and a retired academic, Professor Johal. The sombre tone of the three monologues is interrupted sometimes by raunchy humour and eccentric caricaturing of the three speakers, as Kali offers through the three essays profound deliberations on the dynamics of violence, gaps in the mainstream history, the holocaust of partition, state power and terrorism, corruption, capital

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generation and distribution. These veterans in the novel introspect and analyse the political order. Their ramblings in the form of speech, interview, monologue, as if addressing an imaginary audience or talking to a group of people, explain the past while trying to establish their argument from their respective ideological perspectives. The first rambling discourse in the lower part of the hypertext is delivered by the Comrade. He is apparently addressing a small body of interested people on the character of the ‘state’.11 We have Bhagmal Pagal’s monologue at the end of the page where we get a Dalit perspective on Independent India.12 In the retired Professor Johal’s ramblings, the reader encounters a sustained intellectual argument against the deadly hands of bureaucracy in a centralised modern state.13 It is interesting the way the author sees the three different discourses, viz. Marxist, Dalit and intellectual, rendered insignificant by the Indian state as he figuratively consigns them to a footnote, a lower position. And yet in Kali’s reckoning they deserve to be listened to as in his novel they share almost the same space as the main text despite the state’s stratagem of erasure.

Notes 1 Jean Clement, ‘A Fiction Hypertext: Birth of a new Genre’, http://hypermedia.univparis8.fr/anglais/fiction.html Accessed 12 October 2014. 2 Clive Baldwin and Carolyn Hill, ‘Hypertext as an Expression of the Rhizomatic Self ’, in NHT’12: the Proceedings of the 2nd Workshop on Narrative and Hypertext, 25 June 2012 (Milwaukee: Wisconsin, 2012), 23–28. http://nht.ecs.soton.ac.uk/2012/papers/3-cbald win.pdf Accessed 12 October 2014. 3 Des Raj Kali, Shanti Parav (Jalandhar: Deepak Publishers, 2009), 6. 4 Kali, Shanti Parav, 8. 5 Kali, Shanti Parav, 17–19. 6 Kali, Shanti Parav, 20–21. 7 Kali, Shanti Parav, 22–23. 8 Kali, Shanti Parav, 23–24. 9 Kali, Shanti Parav, 11–12. 10 Kali, Shanti Parav, 40. 11 Kali, Shanti Parav, 9–29 12 Kali, Shanti Parav, 29–48. 13 Kali, ShantiParav, 48–73.

Works cited Baldwin, Clive and Carolyn Hill. ‘Hypertext as an Expression of the Rhizomatic Self ’, in NHT’12:The Proceedings of the 2nd Workshop on Narrative and Hypertext, June 25, 2012, 23–28. Milwaukee: Wisconsin, USA. http://nht.ecs.soton.ac.uk/2012/papers/3-cbald win.pdf Accessed 12 October 2014. Clement, Jean. “A Fiction Hypertext: Birth of a new Genre” http://hypermedia.univ-paris8. fr/anglais/fiction.html Accessed 12 October 2014. Deleuze, Gillesand Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. Kali, Des Raj. Shanti Parav. Jalandhar: Deepak Publishers, 2009.


Writing from within Genre and gender

6 AUTHOR’S NOTES OR REVISIONS? The politics of form in P. Sivakami’s two novels Kanak Yadav

The dossier No Alphabet in Sight introduces P. Sivakami’s writing through the controversial nature of her first novel, which shocked the audience by critically portraying Dalit politics and, more importantly, Dalit patriarchies: Pazhayani Kazhidalum [The Grip of Change] was as controversial as it was acclaimed, with reviewers complaining about her representation of the dalit protagonist – and by implication, of dalit politics itself, which she had described unsympathetically – like an outsider.1 It is not just issues of representation which fostered outrage over the novel, but, more significantly,  how they seemed to legitimise an ideology which Dalit politics has held in opposition. The phrase ‘like an outsider’ echoes a similar sentiment voiced in the sequel to the novel, Author’s Notes, when the writer criticises herself for following a dominant trend of representation: ‘A careful analysis shows that you [the writer] have followed their rules of the game’.2 Primarily, Sivakami’s self-criticism relies on the assumption that the first novel gained praise because she tried to appease the upperclass/caste critics. While the novelist acknowledges how she had perpetuated biased stereotypes in the name of critically depicting Dalit lives, she does not comment on the method she adopts to correct it: rewriting the novel with autobiographical elements in the form of a sequel. Much critical commentary on Sivakami’s novels rests on the experience of double subjugation of the Dalit women while vehemently ignoring the formal politics of the text. Such is the inextricable link between Dalit literature and Dalit politics that discussions on Dalit literature either get reduced to the political merit of the text (how the representations assist Dalit identity politics), or Dalit literary texts (especially life-narratives) are read as ‘authentic’ narratives of the self, re-created through experience and memory. The predominance of both overt politics and the ‘uncritical’ reliance on experience in reading Dalit literature

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has disallowed engagement with the form of the text. In this context, Udaya Kumar justly notes the methodological problems in studying Dalit writing: The prominence of personal narratives in the canon of Dalit writing has given rise to the view that Dalit writing needs to be read not in accordance with the aesthetic categories of the literary institution, but in reference to the authenticity of ‘experience’.3 Because of the overemphasis on experience in reading Dalit literature, the form of the text often gets ignored. This chapter, therefore, seeks to underscore how Sivakami’s novels – The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes (English Translations of Pazhaiyana Kazhithalum and Asiriyar Kurippu) – disavow stand-alone readings as the second text rewrites the first leading to ideological and formal alterations and also generic ambiguities, which resist such processes of re-inscription. Even as the two novels purposefully rework the boundary between fiction and lived experience, to seem strategically ‘autobiographical’ yet ‘novels’, they retain their formal ambivalence. The desire to (re)write the text with experience seems to be a significant concern for marginal writing to move towards praxis. However, as enabling it is to document lived experiences in literature, with the demand for authenticity, literariness continues to be overlooked by the gatekeepers of the canon. It is, therefore, pertinent to evaluate how Dalit literature addresses criticism that questions its literary merit and what are the political repercussions of its response. This paper foregrounds that the study of formal experimentation in Dalit literature is significant in interrogating the relationship between the text and Dalit experience. Hence, by examining Sivakami’s politics of revising the first novel and the narrative’s resistance to her political motivations, this chapter purports to analyse Sivakami’s writing in the larger framework of Dalit women’s autobiographical narratives. To examine the ideological shift in the two texts, the first section of the chapter will analyse the politics of the first novel, The Grip of Change. The second section will study how the second novel, Author’s Notes, attempts to rewrite the former.The final part, however, will evaluate if the autobiographical reinscription of The Grip of Change through the metafictional commentary of the sequel, Author’s Notes, is successful in altering the textual politics of the former, or whether the text can resist such control mechanisms and assert its autonomy.

Contextualising The Grip of Change The first book, ‘Kathamuthu: The Grip of Change’, opens to the scene of a Dalit woman Thangam, lying battered and abused outside Kathamuthu’s (the Dalit leader’s) house. In the following scene, she reconstructs the violence inflicted upon her body by the employer/landlord Paranjothi Udayar (who sexually exploited her), and by his kinsmen (who physically beat her up) through a pluralistic narrative, resisting Kathamuthu’s constant attempts towards its containment. Sivakami’s third-person realist narrative captures the plight of Thangam without usurping her agency as she, herself, reconstructs her trauma by giving it a language. Instead of reporting her sufferings, a

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dialogue between Thangam and Kathamuthu narrates the violence without silencing the violated subject. In her convoluted mode of narration, ranging from hurling abuses to cursing her violators,Thangam voices her plight: ‘What can I say? May they be hanged. May they go to hell.The ground will open up and swallow you.You’ll eat mud. Bastards! You abused a helpless woman.You curs!’4 Although Thangam’s body bears markers of abuse, she does not fit into a passive victim stereotype. When Kathamuthu attempts to revise her narrative to provide a story of victimhood that highlights the caste dimension to the violence and overlooks the gendered aspect, Thangam’s performative limitations in delivering her ‘role’ in front of the police inspector subverts Kathamuthu’s official narrative. While he teaches Thangam to perform her marginality by ‘fall[ing] at the feet of the inspector’,5 her inability in executing the ‘role’ is an inherent resistance to his control mechanisms. Not only does she fall at the head constable’s feet, her failure to improvise points to the unconscious modes in which the Dalit woman, in ‘[h]er naivety’,6 resists narrative control. However, it will be nothing less than an overstatement to read this scene as a subversion of the novel’s main plot because Thangam’s body continues to be controlled and exchanged between men even as her clear expression asserts her agency. The fact that Thangam needs to approach Kathamuthu to attain justice, who bends the truth into a casteist clash between women, leads to two inferences. Firstly, as Dalits struggle against caste victimisation by asserting their identity, such assertion of caste in the public sphere can also become a strategic tool to serve their interests. It is incongruous that caste-colouring to the exploitation meted out on Thangam might be the only way for her to achieve justice. Kathamuthu’s role-playing of a victim of the caste system might evoke readers’ contempt rather than sympathy, given his patriarchal control over his household; nevertheless, it throws light on the need to perform one’s marginality for successfully passing through judicial procedures: ‘Sir, I’m not educated like you. I have just studied till class three. Thereafter my mother had to leave me as a bonded labourer in an upper caste household’.7 Kathamuthu’s rhetorical reconstruction of his experiences of caste victimisation strengthens Thangam’s case as the inspector’s authority to pronounce justice righteously is questioned. Secondly, by validating Thangam’s innocence through an authoritative masculine figure, Sivakami projects the paradoxical plight of the Dalit female subject who has to both resist Dalit patriarchies and seek an alliance with Dalit men to ‘protect’ herself. This ironic situation of the Dalit woman is manifest in the eventual outcome. Although Kathamuthu is successful in striking a bargain with Thangam’s perpetrators and providing her with compensation, she hardly attains the amount specified as Kathamuthu borrows it in return for installing her in his house – an arrangement which, while it posits her as the third wife, also co-opts her body and denies her subjectivity. From Paranjothi Udayar sexually exploiting Thangam to Kathamuthu forcing himself upon her, Thangam’s predicament reveals how the Dalit woman is forced into various structures of domination even as she struggles against these forces. As The Grip of Change delineates the double subjugation of the Dalit woman, it also hybridises the form of the novel by creating a distinct language which retains

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the tone of oral Dalit cultures and voices myriad Dalit experiences while remaining situated in historical and political contexts. Countering the liberal-reformist mode of narration which evoked readers’ sympathy for the Dalit characters, Sivakami’s text juxtaposes affective sentiments with a language of political struggles, even if these struggles get thwarted by multiple power structures.8 If the readers’ response to the violence recounted by Thangam is the sentiment of pity, such sentiments are not exemplary for the entire novel, since the language deployed to counter the act of violence is assertive, which is manifest in the scenes where Kathamuthu performs his victimhood in front of the police inspector. Pramod K. Nayar, in his analysis of Sivakami’s The Grip of Change, warns against reading it within a definitive paradigm that traces the journey from social exploitation to narrative redemption as that would ‘run the risk of retaining the same oppressive structures, social as well as narrative’.9 What he attempts to highlight is that if victimhood of the Dalit subject has become a fetishised image, a ‘social novel’ overtly politicising the Dalit cause also gets caught in a similar constraining structure. Hence Nayar reads the novel as resisting ‘ghettoisation under the “authentic subaltern” tag’.10 In his words: Neither Sivakami nor Bama is interested in the mere repetition of the authenticity argument by providing ethnographic narratives or confessional texts. They are not attempting to tell us about Dalit life or reinforce stereotypes of a distinct tribe or community.11 The political potential of Nayar’s argument is that it brings back the question of the ‘literary’, which has gotten overshadowed in the larger politics of the ‘authenticity’ of representations. Moreover, it radicalises Dalit literature by opposing mimetic reading of the text that thrives on validating the ‘lived experience’ of the Dalits; instead, it delineates how Dalit literature hybridises the form of realism. Instilled with a language of rights and local cultures, Nayar reads The Grip of Change as part of a distinct process of ‘narrative hybridisation’.12 Various passages in the novel reveal how the mode of realism gets adapted to depict Dalit lives in a pluralistic language. The passage where Thangam introduces herself to Kathamuthu and his two wives – Kanagavalli and Nagamani − maintains an oral, colloquial tone, bordering on a sense of familiarity: I belong to the Hindu Scheduled Caste community. I am a poor Parayar, an orphan, a widow. I earn my living by working for a daily wage. On the night of the event, I was passing along the upper caste street to attend to a call of nature. At that time, Paranjothi Udayar’s wife . . . what’s her name?13 Thangam’s narrative brings together the complex intertwining of caste, class and gender lines, articulating the violence inflicted upon her body, while also seeking the participation of her audiences in constructing her narrative. The linguistic play allows inclusion of diverse spheres of knowledge within the mode of realism rather than any straitjacketed packaging of the text.

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On another account, when Paranjothi Udayar reflects on the consequences of his illicit affair-cum-exploitation of Thangam, he too articulates his resentment in a language that strategically juxtaposes aphoristic wisdom with a realist tonality: Ungrateful whore! Even if she was hurt, she was hurt by the hand adorned with gold! A Parachi could have never dreamt of being touched by a man like me! My touch was a boon granted for penance performed in her earlier births! And then the dirty bitch betrays me! How can I face the world with my name thus polluted?14 Udayar’s self-justificatory narrative is not devoid of a rational explanation but derives its legitimacy from a ritualistic belief in purity and pollution. The reason underscored by Udayar reinstates the paradoxical belief which restricts any physical contact between Dalits and caste Hindus based on notions of purity/pollution, but sexual intimacy with Dalit women is permissible as they are deemed to be ‘sexually available’. As manifest from the above passages, linguistic experimentation becomes one of the dominant modes through which Dalit literature challenges and adapts the form of realism. Similar to Nayar’s reading of The Grip of Change, as it hybridises the novel form by introducing the language of rights into oral Dalit cultures, Toral Jatin Gajarawala has made a case for ‘Dalit realism’. She refutes critical opinions which label Dalit literature as ahistorical and strategically essentialist based on ethnographic readings, and instead, favours the modes with which the counter-canon refutes and revises the form of protest literature.15 Arguably, Dalit realism gains significance because of its difference from socialist realism, which, while it endeavoured to counter the elision of caste, denied subjectivity to Dalit characters. The debate over Dalit representation in the fiction of progressive writers like Mulk Raj Anand and Premchand has largely pointed to such limits in vision. While Gajarawala addresses such limits that have been significant in marking the rise of Dalit Literature, she locates it in terms of the demands of the realist form rather than a limitation in the writer’s imagination. The term ‘Dalit realism’, therefore, denotes a mode of reading Dalit texts as they intertextually revise the political underpinnings of literary representations of caste: both its erasure and limitations. In The Grip of Change, the coexistence of a narrative of suffering alongside caste assertion portrays its revisionist tendency. While The Grip of Change subverts ‘refined’ language to capture a sense of ‘Dalit life-worlds’,16 Author’s Notes maintains a precarious balance between fictional representation and lived experience and complicates the politics of the first novel. As Author’s Notes acts as a supplement to The Grip of Change, it rewrites the novel by providing it with a confessional layering.

‘Marginal’ notes to a novel Published eight years later than the novel that won fame for Sivakami (i.e. The Grip of Change), Author’s Notes (Asiriyar Kurippu, 1997) has a curious allegiance to the

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first novel. While it blatantly announces its departure (both regarding representation and the textual politics of the first novel), in doing so, it equally plays upon the success of the work that it now aims to modify. This aspect is indiscernible in the English translation as both the novels, published together, form two parts of the same text. However, what is apparent in the English translation (translated by the novelist herself) is the schism present between the narrative of the first book and the metafictional, postmodernist introspection of the second, such that the latter poses an immediate threat to the former’s narrative. Whereas The Grip of Change portrayed caste clashes in the fictional worlds of Athur and Puliyar, highlighting the doubly marginalised existence of the Dalit woman Thangam, who was abused by both upper-caste men and the Dalit leader Kathamuthu, Author’s Notes appropriates a critical voice to challenge these representations. With declarations like ‘Nothing in the novel was untrue. But the novel was false, she felt’,17 the novelist-cum-critic, Sivakami, interrogates her earlier work for its false portrayal of characters drawn from her life. Hence, the novelist attempts to assess and modify the representations through rewriting experiential markers into the text. Author’s Notes opens to a third-person account of the author’s visit to her village, and as she gazes at the surroundings, the critical writer condemns the aestheticisation of experience in The Grip of Change: ‘There had never been samandhis in the garden in the backyard mentioned in the novel’.18 While self-critical reflection allows a glimpse of the constructed nature of the world of fiction, Sivakami’s questioning is a direct attack on the writers’ freedom of expression. In the reference mentioned above, Sivakami critiques the romanticising language she had deployed in imagining the lived spaces of Dalits, which were far from reality. By deviating from early Dalit writing and its staunch political project to shock the bourgeois audience by breaking free from literary sensibility, Sivakami’s literary choices could be perceived more as a stylistic feature than an ideological inclination. Nonetheless, her scrutinising analysis of herself (as a writer) and her novel blurs the line between fictional and autobiographical narrative and privileges experience over creative expression. Since Sivakami critiques her former book by posing questions of artistic standards and how she had succumbed to conventional literary parameters, her criticism corresponds with Sharan Kumar Limbale’s views on Dalit literature. Favouring life over art, she denounces literary criteria and parallels Limbale’s argument in favour of ‘Dalit consciousness’: ‘[y]ou did not comprehend that their [Dalits’] life is literature; therefore, your expression was limited by existing literary standards’.19 According to Limbale, Dalit literature is defined by its ‘Dalitness’, as ‘writing about Dalits by Dalit writers with a Dalit consciousness’.20 Conclusively, Limbale purports to radicalise criticism on Dalit literature by highlighting its aesthetics but adjudicates abstract parameters of ‘Dalit consciousness’ in the very process. By polarising Dalit lived experience/life and literary issues, Sivakami’s emphasis on experience has a striking parallel with the claim towards achieving a ‘Dalit consciousness’. By conflating political motivations with aesthetic issues, Author’s Notes serves to clarify

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Sivakami’s stance within the canon of Dalit literature through processes which also venture to co-opt the narrative of the first novel. According to Gowri Ramnarayan, Sivakami’s attempt to deconstruct her novel ‘is too direct, and naïve, and somewhat contrived’.21 By directly affronting her novel, criticising characters by keeping ‘lived experience’ as a parameter, Author’s Notes relies primarily on experience to make ethical claims. Written in the form of disjointed notes, Author’s Notes does not have an autonomous existence but recounts memories from the author’s past to continually reassess and revise the character formation as well as the narrative of The Grip of Change. What motivates the writer to analyse, contest and rewrite her earlier work is a question that bewilders the readers on many accounts. As Sivakami interrogates herself in the third-person regarding the representations in her novel (and their reception), she concludes that the novelist’s vision was biased. To illustrate: she discusses how the rumour that Kuttaiappan’s wife was Reddiyar’s concubine inspired the writer to create Thangam’s character. Even as these become different registers that triggered the writer’s imagination, Sivakami, based on the notion that fiction must ‘authentically’ represent the real, criticises Thangam’s portrayal: Was there a connection between the character Thangam in the Grip of Change, who had been Udayar’s concubine, and her periamma’s relationship with Reddiyar? Udayar was supposed to have raped Thangam. But where was the evidence? The novel derived from the novelist’s imagination.22 In this instance, like in many others, the writer is critiquing the political ramifications of the first novel. Through the juxtaposition of life experiences with fictional representation, she assesses fictional ‘truth’ in its correspondence with reality. However, far from complicating the idea of novelistic truth, which isn’t just mimetic but also constructive in its approach to reality, she discredits it. In an attempt to pluralise the meaning of The Grip of Change, she depoliticises the narrative by repetitively judging its politics.Whether or not Thangam’s portrayal adhered to her periamma’s personhood, it manifested various structures of power and exploitation which Dalit women encounter on an everyday basis. Hence, more than strict allegiance to real-life experience, it is the recreation of experiences to engage with socio-political issues, apart from linguistic experimentation, which renders The Grip of Change a deeply political novel. However, by questioning the ideological insights of The Grip of Change, Sivakami seems to appropriate the critic’s role and guide readers’ reception of the narrative. Another instance that portrays how Sivakami depoliticises her novel is evident through the rationalisation of Kathamuthu’s character. Kathamuthu’s shrewd, manipulative persona was critically dealt with in The Grip of Change. Not only was he portrayed as the patriarch of a ‘polygamous household’ but also as someone who ‘appropriates her [Thangam’s] money and her body’.23 Critics have gone as far as to claim that through Kathamuthu, Sivakami projected her critique of the Dalit movement and its leaders. K. A. Geetha perceives the novel as an indictment of ‘the shallowness of Dalit politics, and the patriarchy prevailing within the community’.24 If

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The Grip of Change engaged in laying bare the gradations of power within the Dalit community, Author’s Notes reads such immanent critique as an act of appeasement. Sivakami’s dismissal of her first novel upholds such a conclusion: Turn your eyes towards those who applauded your work. They are blessed with the best of opportunities that life can bestow and have carefully established themselves in the field of literature. The upper castes hail you because you accepted their rules of the game, and you mistook that as acclaim for your book.25 Though it is significant to evaluate critical response as even the most laudatory criticism has political motives, Sivakami’s emphasis on the essential difference between her experience and the demands of the literary establishment disallow solidarities across caste/class and, indeed, calls for separate aesthetics. Overcome by guilt, Sivakami redeems Kathamuthu’s character, either by proving the marginal status of her father or else by labelling his portrayal as biased: ‘The author of The Grip of Change had constructed an effigy of her father and burned him in her novel’.26 Because of such drastic revisions, it would not be wrong to conclude that Sivakami’s narrative espouses solidarity based on ‘caste experience’ and loses its sense of criticality as far as gender-based subjugation is concerned. By continuously reassessing the textual politics of the previous novel through the inscription of autobiographical experiences, the sequel tends to empathetically explain character motivations, negating the critical representations of the first text. Dalit politics has relentlessly asserted the experience of being a Dalit to challenge caste hierarchies and discrimination. Narrating one’s ‘lived experience’ becomes an intrinsic part of the process that enables marginal subjects to voice their oppression. Hence, the predominance of life-writing in Dalit literature exemplifies the growing desire amongst Dalit writers to narrate their violent and traumatic pasts. However, uncritical reliance on ‘lived experience’ as an unmediated, authentic account of marginal subjects runs the danger of valorising the subject in question. Dalit intellectuals have invariably argued in favour of ‘lived experience’, as Gopal Guru contends that only Dalits have the right to theorise about the Dalit experience. He contests, on ethical grounds, the position from where non-Dalits theorise Dalit experience: ‘these scholars [non-Dalit scholars] choose to theorise Dalit experience standing outside the Dalit experience. This representation thus remains epistemologically posterior’.27 While Guru’s contention arises as a response to the imbalance witnessed in the social sciences wherein exists a major divide between ‘theoretical Brahmins’ and ‘empirical Shudras’,28 he intends to read experience as a valid counterpoint to theory. Privileging ‘lived experience’ to theorise about Dalit subjects leads to various concerns: first and foremost, any sense of experience being pure is erroneous as it is always mediated, whether in the act of recollection across time or at the juncture of experiencing. Secondly, given that experience is itself reconstructed through language, absolute reliance on experience in theorising Dalit predicaments can lead to the uncritical celebration of the same. In such a context,

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not only is experience essentialised into a singular experience of victimhood and oppression, but also the different responses of the subjects get homogenised. Sudipta Kaviraj has discussed the multiplicity of Dalit experiences, which Gopal Guru and Sundar Sarukkai fail to consider in their dialogue: The multidimensionality of experience creates a number of difficulties for a simple theory based on experience claims. Does the experience of joining the middle class, leaving behind the usual social settings of Dalit life, deplete the claim of intellectuals to represent the “dalit experience”? This is an important issue, because this might lead to a conclusion that dalit intellectuals, whose life is modified by inclusion in the modern economy and its social roles, have less claim to represent that experience because they are already alienated from the authentic experience of a Dalit.29 If ‘authentic’ experience is of oppression alone, then privileged Dalits have already been excluded in such a process.Therefore, Guru and Sarukkai’s endeavour to project Dalit experience as a valid theoretical terrain, as well as critical approaches that eulogise ‘lived experience’ over and above textual/formal politics run the danger of singularising the experience. While experience-based reading of Dalit literature does not consider literary/aesthetic questions, attempts to experientially rework the textual politics (as in Sivakami’s project) also discount literary merits of a text. Therefore, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes raise a precarious question for the reader/critic: either she or he may celebrate the ‘authenticity’ of Sivakami’s introspection, as she denounces what she finds ‘fake’ in her writing, or else favour one text over the other. Neither reading practice might serve justice, as the novels move beyond the claims of the writer to enter into an autonomous realm of their own.

From ethnographic context to hybrid text Sivakami’s narrative retains its autonomy because of the contradictions inherent in the Author’s Notes, as the metafictional commentary is unable to reconcile meaning even as it takes control over the narrative. While the critical analysis rewrites The Grip of Change by humanising character representations based on lived experience, the ambiguous genre of the two texts contests these processes. Author’s Notes provides polyphony in its linguistic failure to harmonise meanings. As illustrated earlier, when Sivakami tried to ideologically redeem her father, who served as an inspiration for Kathamuthu’s character, she exposed herself to the scrutinising gaze of the reader. If, at one instance in the novel, the writer critiques the intentions that drove her to depict Kathamuthu as ‘the nightmare of the upper castes’,30 at another moment she retains her right to representation: You [Sivakami – the critic] say that I have critiqued my father. How are you different from me [Sivakami – the writer]? Have you spun out of the solar system that you cannot be assessed by common standards? . . .

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Why have you [Sivakami – the writer] stopped? You attempt to hide your faults by listing the faults of those who dare criticise you.31 In this – and in many other – battle(s) of words between Sivakami-the-writer and Sivakami-the-critic, the critic noticeably overshadows and silences the writer, yet there remains a conflict in such dialogues which withholds narrative co-option. Another mode in which narrative inconsistencies emerge is in the form of continuous meta-textual breaks in the narrative: ‘Look at her! Here she was, analysing her novel, trying to fit all the pieces into logical patterns. To whom did she owe explanations?’32 This sentence at the beginning of Author’s Notes is highly ironic as the novelist Sivakami’s authorial agency is continuously jeopardised and usurped by the critic Sivakami. Such is the overreaching presence of the critic that even the last sentence of the novel does not upturn power relations: Dear critic, enough, did you have to focus on me, of all people? Why do you play with me, making one half known and the other, unknown? Why do I do it? You silly . . . because you were proud that your novel had been widely discussed . . . self-examination.33 As Sivakami appropriates the critic’s role, she mocks not just her writer’s self but also the part of the critic. By portraying a self-aggrandising critic, who is pleased by quieting dissent through wordplay, the novelist also projects a silent critique of the verbosity of literary criticism. Although the critic silences the writer by putting her at a loss for words, the novel does not privilege a single voice in its narrative but maintains a constant struggle between the writer and the critic. As the narrative resists harmonisation of meaning, it portrays a generically ambiguous narrative which juxtaposes autobiographical experiences with fictional worlds, each providing space for the other. The canon of Dalit literature has faced disagreements over the preferred form of autobiographical writing for a long time now, as Sharmila Rege reviews how many Dalits criticise it for bringing out painful memories whereas many others praise it for resurfacing forgotten pasts.34 In such a scenario, what is the implication of Sivakami’s choice to rewrite the text with autobiographical information, and the hybrid narrative that this creates, for Dalit women’s writing? Invariably, Rege argues how Dalit life-narratives are testimonies that can transform critical readings of caste by serving as testimonies of discrimination, ‘everyday resistance and organised anti-caste struggles’.35 Does this mean, from avoiding her past to claiming responsibility as a writer, Sivakami’s journey, (and her literary counterpart Gowri’s journey) is a movement marked by avoidance of one’s cultural history to a gradual acceptance? Does the sequel serve as a testimonial that aims to foreground the injustices caused due to artistic license? Contrarily, as argued in the previous sections, the testimony rendered in the form of the sequel, while validating life-truths, serves a disquieting trend that aims to autobiographically rewrite the narrative and alter its politics, for the demand to write autobiographically can be as hegemonic

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as it can be enlightening. Sivakami’s narrative, nevertheless, falls short because of its inconsistencies that preserve tension, right until the end of the novel. Hence, despite their shortcomings, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes fail to solely adhere to the generic constraints of either ‘autobiography’ or ‘novel’, producing, in turn, a hybrid narrative. A similar conflict of genres is also visible in other writings by Dalit women. According to M. S. S. Pandian, Bama’s ‘Karukku crosses over genre boundaries. It is neither history, nor autobiography, or fiction; yet it is all of them at the same time’.36 Such generic inconsistencies reveal how Dalit women’s writing radicalise the narrative not only through its political impetus but also in distinct aesthetic modes. These formal aspects do not call for a separate mode of reading or separate aesthetics as argued by Limbale, but they demand a reader who can bring together questions related to the narration, the recounting of one’s experience and the political and aesthetic debates over representation.

Conclusion While raising methodological inquiries about the role of a critic in reading Dalit autobiographies, Udaya Kumar contends that it challenges the critic to locate the agency of the subject ‘in a form of writing that is predicated on the existence of an enunciating subject’.37 Kumar’s argument implies that through the recollection of experiences of stigma, Dalit narratives do not project the arrival of the ‘autonomous subject’ as celebrated in the genre of autobiography, but rather that the Dalit subject is ‘the impossible subject whose agency is constantly annihilated’.38 Sivakami’s narrative dramatises similar conflict over subjectivity, which does not get resolved even when the critical voice slams the authorial voice in the sequel to the novel. Instead, the verbal war between the dual voices maintains a perpetual tension that withholds agency even as it seeks to reveal it. While Sivakami recounts her memories, the narrative voice that bestows agency upon her, in the very process of recollection, denies it. She gains subjectivity by fashioning herself in the twin roles of writer and critic, furthering her authorial power to both disclaim and reclaim her fiction. Nevertheless, unintentional linguistic gaps in the narrative represent how the text obstructs her authorial control, and the dialogues exchanged between the writer and the critic exemplify this conflict. The power of Sivakami’s writing, therefore, lies in its disharmony, dwelling within the ambiguity of part-novel-part-autobiography. Interestingly, critical responses by acclaimed writers – Meena Kandasamy and C. S. Lakshmi − provided as appendices to the novels, have also appreciated the discord in the texts as representative of plurality. In the words of C. S. Lakshmi: ‘[t]he sequel almost tries to take over the novel, but stops short, giving the novel its own space’.39 Similarly, Kandasamy, while mentioning the appropriative tendencies in Sivakami’s novel, such that it captures the space for criticism, praises Author’s Notes for its ‘maturity and perspective’, as the writer is willing to reanalyse, debunk and contest everything that she has established.40 Though, evidently, the sequel is unable

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to establish its outright power over the first novel, it creates an ambivalent, metatextual narrative which is difficult to situate generically. Understanding the aesthetics of Sivakami’s texts in particular, and Dalit women’s writing in general, requires a reading practice then, which recognises and evaluates their structural and linguistic difference from the universalist category called women’s writing, without essentialising such a difference. Sharmila Rege in her seminal essay ‘Dalit Women Talk Differently’ has commented at length on how the history of Dalit women’s struggles gets marked off as different because of ‘The invisibility of. . . [the] lineage’, which they share with other women’s movements.41 Just as universalising women’s experience effaces the particularities of Dalit women in question, by essentialising this difference, the gaps between Dalit women, upper-class/caste women, women of colour, as well as white women, become ever-present. Likewise, such difference also serves as a yardstick to uncritically celebrate their writing, irrespective of literary concerns. The two novels discussed in this chapter also run the danger of being branded for their difference while their formal politics continues to be disregarded by critics. Despite Sivakami’s second novel emphasising on its innate difference of experience, it is unable to profoundly cause ideological alterations, creating a ‘hybrid’ novel which derives its power from the conflict witnessed by the reader. As long as the reader is willing to unravel the shifting relations of power, Sivakami’s narrative would continue to resist the dominance of one text over the other.

Notes 1 K. Satyanarayana and Susie Tharu, No Alphabet In Sight (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2011), 295. 2 P. Sivakami, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2006), 152. 3 Udaya Kumar, ‘Consciousness, Agency and Humiliation: Reflections on Dalit Lifewriting and Subalternity’, in The Political Philosophies of Antonio Gramsci and B.R. Ambedkar: Itineraries of Dalits and subalterns, ed. Cosimo Zene (London and NewYork: Routledge, 2013), 163. 4 Sivakami, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes, 4. 5 Sivakami, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes, 20. 6 Sivakami, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes, 21. 7 Sivakami, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes, 22. 8 Pramod K. Nayar and Toral Jatin Gajarawala have theorised how the presence of Ambedkarite philosophy of struggle in Dalit Literature, counters the belief that it is either only about narratives of oppression, or ethnographic descriptions of Dalit culture. 9 Pramod K. Nayar, ‘The Politics of Form in Dalit Fiction: Bama’s Sangati and Sivakami’s The Grip of Change’, Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 18, no. 3 (2011), 367–368. 10 Nayar, ‘The Politics of Form in Dalit Fiction’, 368. 11 Nayar, ‘The Politics of Form in Dalit Fiction’, 367. 12 Nayar, ‘The Politics of Form in Dalit Fiction’, 368. 13 Sivakami, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes, 11. 14 Sivakami, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes, 31. 15 Toral Jatin Gajarawala, Untouchable Fictions: Literary Realism and the Crisis of Caste (NewYork: Fordham University Press, 2013), 171. 16 Debjani Ganguly in the book, Caste and Dalit Lifeworlds: Postcolonial Perspectives (New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2008), uses the term, ‘Dalit life-worlds’ to capture a sense of

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Dalit lives in all its contradictions. She deploys the term not just to emphasise on the experience of caste victimisation but also to portray other aspects of caste such as the ‘pleasures of daily living’. 17 Sivakami, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes, 150. 18 Sivakami, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes, 131. 19 Sivakami, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes, 190. 20 Sharan Kumar Limbale, Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature, Trans. By Alok Mukherjee (New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2010), 19. 21 Gowri Ramnarayan, ‘Quietly Affirmative’, The Hindu, 4 June 2006. 22 Sivakami, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes, 135. 23 Ramnarayan, ‘Quietly Affirmative’. 24 K. A. Geetha, Contesting Categories, Remapping Boundaries: Literary Interventions by Tamil Dalits (UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014), 109. 25 Sivakami, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes, 151. 26 Sivakami, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes, 148. 27 Gopal Guru and Sunder Sarukkai, The Cracked Mirror: An Indian Debate on Experience and Theory (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012), 26. 28 Guru and Sarukkai, The Cracked Mirror, 10. 29 Sudipta Kaviraj, ‘Why is the Mirror Cracked?’, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 33, no. 3 (2013), 385. 30 Sivakami, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes, 147. 31 Sivakami, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes, 166. 32 Sivakami, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes, 134. 33 Sivakami, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes, 190. 34 Sharmila Rege, Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonies (New Delhi: Zubaan, 2006), 10–11. 35 Rege, Writing Caste/Writing Gender, 15. 36 M. S. S. Pandian, ‘Writing Ordinary Lives’, Economic and Political Weekly, 43, no. 38 (2008), 34–40. 37 Kumar, ‘Consciousness, Agency and Humiliation’, 165. 38 Susie Tharu in the essay, ‘The Impossible Subject: Caste and the Gendered Body’, Economic and Political Weekly, 31, no. 22 (1996), 1311–1315, elaborated on the ‘many . . . deaths’ that the Dalit subject undergoes within the processes of narrativisation. Kumar builds on her argument to point out the process of de-subjection within Dalit lifenarratives. Kumar, ‘Consciousness, Agency and Humiliation’, 165. 39 Sivakami, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes, 200. 40 Sivakami, The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes, 196. 41 Sharmila Rege, ‘Dalit Women Talk Differently: A Critique of “Difference” and Towards a Dalit Feminist Standpoint Position’, Economic and Political Weekly, 33, no. 44 (1998), WS39–WS46.

Works cited Gajarawala, Toral Jatin. Untouchable Fictions: Literary Realism and the Crisis of Caste. New York: Fordham University Press, 2013. Geetha, K. A. Contesting Categories, Remapping Boundaries: Literary Interventions by Tamil Dalits. UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014. Guru Gopal and Sunder Sarukkai. The Cracked Mirror: An Indian Debate on Experience and Theory. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012. Kaviraj, Sudipta. ‘Why Is the Mirror Cracked?’ Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 33.3 (2013): 380–391. Kumar, Udaya. ‘Consciousness, Agency and Humiliation: Reflections on Dalit Lifewriting and Subalternity’, in The Political Philosophies of Antonio Gramsci and B.R.Ambedkar:

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Itineraries of Dalits and Subalterns, Cosimo Zene, ed. London and New York: Routledge, 2013: 158–170. Limbale, Sharan Kumar. Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature. Trans. Alok Mukherjee, 2004, New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2010. Nayar, Pramod K. ‘The Politics of Form in Dalit Fiction: Bama’s Sangati and Sivakami’s The Grip of Change’. Indian Journal of Gender Studies 18.3 (2011): 365–380. Pandian, M. S. S. ‘Writing Ordinary Lives’. Economic and Political Weekly 43.38 (2008): 34–40. Ramnarayan, Gowri. ‘Quietly Affirmative’. The Hindu 4 June 2006. Rege, Sharmila. ‘Dalit Women Talk Differently: A Critique of “Difference” and Towards a Dalit Feminist Standpoint Position’. Economic and Political Weekly 33.44 (1998): WS39–WS46. Rege, Sharmila. Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonies. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2006. Satyanarayana, K. and Susie Tharu, eds, No Alphabet In Sight. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2011. Sivakami, P. Asiriyar Kurippu. Chennai: Puthakalayam, 1997. Sivakami, P. Pazhaiyana Kazhithalum. Chennai: Annam, 1989. Sivakami, P. The Grip of Change and Author’s Notes. New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2006. Tharu, Susie. ‘The Impossible Subject: Caste and the Gendered Body’. Economic and Political Weekly 31.22 (1996): 1311–1315.

7 OF SUBJECTHOOD AND FORM On reading two Dalit short stories from Gujarat, India Santosh Dash

The history of the short story form in Gujarat is not very old. But, what has been agreed upon by literary historians and practitioners of the short story form in Gujarat is that it emerged as an independent art form only in the early part of the twentieth century, even though the formal practice had begun in the early part of the nineteenth century.1 Although the colonial context had created the possibility of bringing this nineteenth-century English-European form close to native writers, it is quite clear that the practice of the short story form in Gujarat took a route separate from the nineteenth-century experiments of Guy de Maupassant in France, Edgar Allan Poe in America, Oscar Wilde in England and Gogol or Anton Chekov in Russia. My attempt in this chapter is twofold. While my primary purpose is to arrive at and offer a critical reading of two Dalit short stories from Gujarat, this I do by quickly laying out the outlines of the significant moments and debates around the short story form in Gujarat. My conceptual push is towards tracking the emergence of the Dalit short story form in Gujarat, the historical circumstances in which it was shaped, the way it has developed in response to its internal requirements as well as in response to the demands from the mainstream. My choice of the two Dalit short stories is also quite in tune with my interest in mapping the distance the Dalit short story form has travelled in the last thirty years in Gujarat, the shapes it has taken and the way it has articulated caste/class issues in the circumstances of what is considered to be a rapidly developing state in India. It has been pointed out by scholars that the short story form was not a settled form in Gujarati language until the 1920s and that until then it remained mostly experimental and it was in search of an independent form.2 The reasons for the neglect of this form in the nineteenth century is attributed to its low purchase among the literary elite who seemed to be invested in more serious forms such as novel, drama and poetry. Another reason could be the general atmosphere of

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reforms (sudhara) in Gujarat, in which the essay form seemed more appropriate for intellection, for logical instruction or what was known in vernacular Gujarati as ‘tarkik bodh’.3 Here, a brief account of the formal practices of the short story form in nineteenth-century Gujarat would not be out of place. In fact, it would help us address issues relating to the form of the short story. The first set of Gujarati vernacular prose stories were written in 1828 written by Bapusastri Pandya and published under the title Aesopnitikatha. A collection of stories called Balmitra was published in 1833. As the title indicates, it was a collection meant for children. It was followed by Gujarati Panchopakshyan in 1840, which included a set of stories edited by A. Vegas. Udayaram Ichharam seems to have written Bodhkatha in 1848. Ranchodbhai Girdharbhai wrote Aesopnitinivato in 1854. The contribution made by Ranchodbhai Udayram and Dalpatram is no less significant. Ranchodbhai Udayram’s Prastavik Kathasamaj published in 1866 is considered by some as a milestone in Gujarati Varta Sahitya.4 Dalpatram’s collection Tarkik Bodh published in 1870 is said to be an equally significant collection. While Ranchobhai’s collection was an attempt to compile Gujarati folk stories circulating in the interiors of Gujarat, Dalpatram’s collection had some originality in the sense that there was an attempt to tell independent stories even though they were heavily interspersed with parts taken from folk and puranic sources. In 1872 a Parsi named Faramji Bamaji published an edited volume of short stories under the title Gujarat ane Kathiavad Deshni Varata. Other significant collections in the last quarter of the nineteenth century were Budhhi ane Rudhini Katha (1883), Tunki Kahania (1885) and Gujaratni Juni Vartao (1893). In fact, there is sufficient indication to believe from the given chronology that literary stalwarts like Dalpatram were aware of what was an essentially antiquarian and didactic strain in the short story form, but the reformist spirit of nineteenth-century Gujarat seems to have determined the scope of the form, as one saw stories written during this time inevitably lapsing into lessons on morality.5 Throughout the nineteenth century, the development of the short story form remained more or less constrained, and publications remained meagre mostly because editors of journals and magazines devoted little space to this art form. The contribution of monthly magazines like Budhi Prakash, Gyanasudha, Sundari Subodh,Vartabaridhi, Sahitya,Vasant and Sudarshan cannot be underestimated, but the publication of Vismi Sadi by Hazimahammad in April 1916 marked a new phase in the history of the Gujarati magazine culture, particularly in the development of the short story form, as it was the first magazine in Gujarati which devoted a separate section to short stories. It is significant that it is in Vismi Sadi that what is considered the first independent Gujarati short story, ‘Govalani’ (‘Milk Woman’) by Malayanil, was published in 1918.6 The publication of ‘Govalani’ marked a new beginning, releasing the short story form finally from the literary imperatives of a reformist age (Sudharak Yug). It also seemed to have pioneered a more down-to-earth form. The raw and down-to-earth character of the Gujarati short story form was conspicuous in ‘Govalani’. The following conversations between Dali Rabari, the Milk

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Woman and Chandanbhai might give an indication to the plot and character of this first original Gujarati short story: I asked: ‘Milk Woman, what is your caste?’ Why, we are rabaris, cattle grazers So, who you are married to? ‘What, Sandanbhai, what are you asking?’, she smiled out of embarrassment. No, no, but still I am married to a rabari like us, we can’t take somebody from a baniya caste. My heart was blooming like a flower, My imagination was running like a stream. My spirit was dancing like the Ketaki flower and Dali, she was going on talking endlessly without any panic, fear or shame as if she was a friend to me. All of a sudden my wife looked out of the upstairs window. . . . Dali, the sly milk woman was laughing holding the sari on her face.7 One can possibly argue that the period between 1920 and 1950 was the age of the short story in Gujarat, not just in terms of mere output but also in terms of the range of representation. The characters were drawn from a diverse section of society. They were drawn from cities as well as villages. They were drawn from various classes, from various parts of Gujarat. In terms of regional representation, the short story seems to be the most representative form in Gujarat during this time.8 The regionalism one discovers in the short stories written during this time was definitely different than the Asmita(self-pride)-driven regionalism which K. M. Munshi was putting together during the same time through the form of the novel. These stories were mostly told either in the context of a city or a village in Gujarat. As far as the issue of representation was concerned, the concerns of the writers in Gujarat came to coincide with the concerns of Gandhi, his crusade against untouchability, his call for rural reconstruction, for return to the village and for more equal and democratic representation of characters in literature.The representation of caste life became a more conscious affair in the short stories of the period.9 The change which came into the short story form was ideological and historical in that it coincided with the decline of the rural countryside, the demise of cottage industries and the slow but systematic setting up of mills and factories across Gujarat. Economic life in Gujarat was increasingly getting tied up with cities like Ahmedabad, Surat and Bombay, and this had an enormous impact on people’s lives in the cities as well as in the villages in Gujarat. Short story writers like Dwiref, Dhumketu, Meghani, Bakulesh, Jayanti Dalal, Sundaram, Umashankar Joshi, Gulabdas Broker, Petliker and Pannalal Patel depicted lives of people against the backdrop of either a village or a city. Some of them were adept at portraying life in the villages, for example, Dhumketu and Meghani. Others were good at portraying life in the cities, such as Bakulesh and Jayanti Dalal. Some among them were romantically inclined in their portrayal of life in the villages. Their stories portrayed the city as

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ugly and artificial. Whereas there were authors like Bakulesh and Jayanti Dalal who had a more complex understanding and portrayal of life in the cities. Further, if one compared writers like Bakulesh with Dhumketu, the short stories of Bakulesh would turn out to be more realistic in the portrayal of life in the villages than Dhumketu’s, whose portrayals were more or less romantic. But, what is significant is that this group of writers produced through their village- and city-centric writing a corpus of short stories whose complexity characterised and marked the nature of social and economic change in Gujarat during the first half of the twentieth century. The years between 1920 and 1950 saw more sympathetic and sensitive portrayals of the lower castes, their lives and their sufferings with the express purpose of reforming the hearts and minds of the upper castes by making an appeal to their conscience. The methods which the short story writers in Gujarat found appropriate to their task was Yatharthavaad (verisimilitude) and Vastavatavaad (realism), which meant portraying life as it is.The characters in these short stories functioned merely as a role, as a patra (person); they never became a vyakti (individual) and attained individuality. They acted more like katputlis (puppets) in these stories and were like devices which the writers seemed to deploy in order to arouse a certain passion or effect in the reader.10 This character-ridden and event-centred short story form came under the critical scanner in the 1960s when the principles of realism were questioned. Writers now sought to present characters not only in relation to the events in the external world but also in relation to the events internal to the minds of the characters, events happening in the deep recesses of the characters’ minds, which made characterisation more nuanced and challenging for the short story writers of this generation.11Organisation and orchestration of character and event rather than mere description or documentation became important in the short stories of the period. The person who was at the forefront of this new movement in the short story form in Gujarat was Suresh Joshi. He not only wrote extensively on the limitations of the short story form12 as it was practiced in his time in Gujarat, but he also, by his own practice, showed the formal possibilities that the short story could achieve. With Joshi, the Gujarati short story entered into an age of formal purity. His crusade was to rid the short story form of all the material accretions which it had acquired through its commitment to the social. He found that the short story form in his time had become hostage to Communist thought on the one hand and the Gandhian thought on the other. He thought that such extraneous allegiance to ideology often led to the dilution of the short story form. He believed that in their attempt to articulate social inequality and give expression to the sufferings of the Dalit and the downtrodden in the society, these writers often became captives of their own passions. They often got swayed by their own powerful feelings. This, according to Suresh Joshi, deprived a whole generation of short story writers of their ability to represent social reality in the context of a deeper, wider and more subtle understanding of life.13 The model of the short story which Joshi practiced was followed by many among the Gujarati writers. This form of the short story

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remained popular until the 1980s. But, what this Joshi model of the short story achieved was that it successfully banished the social as well as the ideological from the ambit of the short story form.14 The 1980s saw the development of Dalit literature in Gujarat. This period also witnessed two anti-reservation riots against Dalits, one in 1981 and another in 1985. The beginning of Gujarati Dalit literature is therefore often traced to these political riots in Gujarat.These riots, it is believed, shook the foundation of a system of ideals, which Gandhi and his literary disciples had carefully nourished around the goodwill of the upper castes. It not only exposed the inadequacy of the upper-caste commitment, of the Gandhian initiative but it also brought back the Dalit faith in Ambedkar.The educated among the Dalits took to writing, which included writers like Dalpat Chauhan, Praveen Gadhvi, Manishi Jani, Nirav Patel, Harish Mangalam, Mohan Parmar, Chandu Maheria, Joseph Macwan, Sahil Parmar and Raju Solanki. This elder generation of Dalit writers is now joined by an equally illustrious group of young and talented Dalit writers, their works together marking an extraordinary moment in Dalit self-representation in Gujarat. It is no less significant that the first Dalit literary collection was a collection of short stories. It was edited and published in 1987 by Mohan Parmar and Harish Mangalam. In fact, the short story form has been one of the most preferred forms among Dalit writers in Gujarat. Dalit writers and intellectuals have more or less appreciated the social concerns of the mainstream short story form. But they have pointed out the limitations of this literary enterprise. For example, Joseph Macwan, a major Gujarati Dalit writer and critic, has noted why the literature of the Gandhi period has not been very inspiring, convincing or optimistic for the Dalit reader. He has shown how these writers are constrained, in spite of their good intentions, by their own attitudes, norms and habits of thought and how that has influenced their writing.15As far as the Joshi model of the short story is concerned, Dalit writers like Dalpat Chauhan and Mohan Parmar have taken issue with this form of the short story. They have argued that while the Joshi model brought newness and experiment into the short story form, it kept writers self-indulgent for decades by embroiling them in formal and technical experiments, disengaging them from the social and the real.16 It is precisely in the context of the caste violence of the 1980s that the literary burden of dealing with the caste question fell squarely on the shoulders of the Dalit writers in Gujarat.What one saw in the decades following the riots in Gujarat is the birth of a committed group of Dalit writers given to the task of self-representation. If the first collection of Dalit short stories, Gujarati Dalit Varta (1987), is of any indication, one could clearly see a marked preference in their short stories for the social realist mode of representation. The Dalit writers found the realist mode more preferable to the casteless form of the short story which Suresh Joshi had put together in the name of modernity in the 1960s. In what follows I attempt to set up a conversation between two Dalit short stories, which I have chosen for the purpose of mapping the distance the Dalit short story form has travelled in our time.This, I hope, will lead to a critical evaluation of

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the possibilities inherent in the social realist form which the Gujarati Dalit writers have consciously chosen as a narrative strategy to tell their stories of caste violence and inequality. One, ‘Rakhopana Saap’ (‘Guardian Snake’) is a short story taken from the 1987 collection written by Arvind Vegda, and the other, ‘Haanf ’ (‘Breathlessness’) is taken from a collection of short stories by Praveen Gadhvi, titled The City of Dust and Lust (2010).17 Here, my concern is to track in the aesthetic concerns of the evolving Dalit short story form in Gujarat the radical proposal for a more productive articulation of the social in literature. Through a reading of these two short stories, I intend to explore the aesthetic and social transactions that are underway in the Gujarati Dalit short story form and the space it leaves for innovation and creativity. My focus in reading these two short stories is to follow the ideas of sex, caste and untouchability and the ways in which they are articulated. However, my point is not simply to reiterate the historical continuity of sexual exploitation of Dalit women and the repetition of this narrative concern in Dalit writing. Instead, I wish to see if the depiction of this aspect of women’s sexual life by Dalit writers has built into the short story any formal properties that, when these stories of sex are made to run along the axis of caste and along the axis of a fast-developing state such as Gujarat, not only yield readings around patriarchy, power and dominance but also introduce a productive discussion around issues of art, aesthetics and formal innovation. Arvind Vegda’s short story ‘Rakhopana Saap’ almost echoes in its title one of the most cited one-act plays of the Gandhian era, Saapna Bhara (Burden of the Snake) written by Umashankar Joshi, a close follower of Gandhi and his reformist project. Joshi’s play explores the underbelly of the sexual life of conservative upper-caste households in Gujarat. Much like his other writings, this play is an aesthetic milestone as far as the use of social realism as a technique for social reform is concerned. But this mainstream aesthetic intervention, in spite of its progressive urge, dwindles into a narrative of the upper-caste self with the Dalit social world serving simply as a reference. Nevertheless, this referencing of the lives of Dalits in mainstream literature has been a positive step, and it has played a significant role in bringing the question of caste relationship into the domain of the short story in Gujarat as well as in other parts of the country through consciously developed aesthetic strategies.18 Joshi’s Saapna Bhara primarily focuses on the plight of young upper-caste widows like Mangala and Meena. In the play, we are told that Mangala, the daughter of a Brahmin named Somanath Shukla, has run away with a low-caste boy, Jiva Tarvad. Meena’s mother, Ambabai, is full of moral hatred for the Shukla family. As the story progresses, we see Ambabai pushed into moral turmoil as she finds out that her widowed daughter, who was staying in the in-laws’ house after the death of her husband, has become pregnant by the father-in-law. Ambabai had kept postponing her remarriage because she was waiting to find a suitable upper-caste boy for her daughter. Nandaram, Meena’s father-in-law, the guardian of the Pandya household, turns out to be the real snake in the house. The morally rigid Ambabai starts thinking of killing her daughter for the sake of family honour. She even curses herself for

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delaying the remarriage of her daughter. Umashankar Joshi’s play finally seems to make a case for widow remarriage among the upper castes with the low-caste Jiva Tarvad appearing only as a guest in the play. Here, we find two Brahmin families seriously contemplating aborting the child and even killing Meena for the sake of family honour. However, the two Brahmin households are finally made to confront a moral dilemma which is typically an upper-caste dilemma born out of its own set of values about sex and marriage. The reformist, moral urge of the upper-caste writer is very apparent in the play, with the character of Jiva Tarvad appearing only on the margins of the play, his name being referred to only in passing, the major thrust of the play being to make widow remarriage acceptable among the conservative upper castes in the society. In such a context, it is possible to downplay Joshi’s positive aesthetic achievements in the play for his preoccupation with the upper-caste lifeworld, but it would be more productive to see in his aesthetic concerns the marks of a struggle to straddle worlds which were earlier left unexplored in mainstream literature. However important it might seem at this point to identify the limitations of the social realist strategies of mainstream writers like Joshi, it is crucial to acknowledge the significance of such strategies during the first half of the twentieth century, particularly in the time of Gandhi and Ambedkar. Arvind Vegda, in fact, acknowledges the significance of the social realism of Gandhian era mainstream literature by consciously choosing to engage with Joshi’s thematics and by choosing to echo the title of his play. Vegda’s short story ‘Rakhopana Saap’ deals, much like Joshi’s play, with the idea of moral guardianship and moral betrayal in its treatment of the character of Jilubha, the upper-caste landowner and his sexual designs on Rudi, the wife of his labourer,Virjee.The story has a social realist beginning with descriptions of an event, namely, the death of Virjee’s father. Vegda begins his story with references to a life of labour, of borrowing and of inheritance of a debt. In fact, the idea of a debt-ridden life is rendered convincingly and in the most plausible manner by the writer with strategic references to sounds of coughing and talks of cremation. In the very first paragraph, the writer has put together all the elements of an impoverished Dalit life making it ready for the story to unfold.The realist gaze of the writer then takes us to one of the busiest places in the village, a central place in the street where all sorts of people gather, smoke and gossip about the women in the village. It is a place for loose talk, for lewd comments, for cracking jokes and having fun. Rudi seems to be the most discussed woman in the village. She is recently married to Virjee and is considered one of the most beautiful women in the village. Jilubha has an eye for Rudi, but he never exposes his desires in public. This aspect of Jilubha’s character is carefully crafted by the writer through a conscious deployment of very fine and subtle tonal shifts and physical description. In fact, Vegda cleverly camouflages Jilubha’s sexual interest in Rudi through narrative strategies that expose him from inside through his many ‘hums’ and mumbles and through references to his sly and half-closed eyes. The snake-like character of Jilubha is further emphasised by gestures, such as his repeated tossing of bidis (native cigarettes made out of leaves) to Virjee, an act which is clearly phallic in nature. In fact, this tossing of the bidi becomes a recurrent

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motif in the story, showing, on the one hand, the power and authority of Jilubha over Virjee and indicating by default Jilubha’s fondness for Rudi, on the other. This act of tossing also serves two crucial purposes: while it signals the distance between Jilubha and Virjee, along the lines of castes, it exposes the deceit which Jilubha’s upper-caste self performs in order to hide his sexual desires. It is through such an architecture of gestures and symbols that the short story writer seems to have pushed the boundaries of the social realist mode of writing, allowing it to map even the inner recesses of the characters’ minds. The excellence of Vegda’s social realism lies in the way he portrays the low-caste life of Virjee. His realism gets credible social salience when he makes reference to chaas (buttermilk) which Virjes’s mother goes to fetch from Jilubha’s house, a familiar practice in the villages in rural Gujarat where Patel households usually give away their surplus chaas to the low castes who work in their fields. The poverty of the Dalit household is further accentuated by the writer with references to the ‘caved in walls’ and ‘makeshift jute curtains’ in the house. However, in the midst of descriptions of poverty and destitution,Vegda has delineated the love and romance of Virjee and Rudi with a lot of narrative care and sensitivity, with references to the light smile, the innocent laugh,‘the dimming of the lanterns’ and ‘the wearing of dreams’. If, on the one hand, the writer has created a space for the playfulness of Rudi’s games of putting wheat chaff into her friend Champa’s petticoat, in an attempt to bring some lightness in the atmosphere in the fields in the rural countryside, he has, on the other hand, brought in a certain heaviness into this atmosphere through references to Jilubha’s unwelcome touch in the fields, through references to Jilubha’s repulsive stare and sly behaviour. The countryside remains almost inseparable from the question of land in the short story. The writer has depicted every event in the land with intensity and verisimilitude so that these events emerge as real and palpable aspects of Dalit life in the villages. There are very matter-of-fact descriptions of the land: ‘The colour of wheat began to change in the fields. Cold was losing its grip slowly and the warmth giving fires were not to be seen. The village was buzzing with the talk of harvesting the wheat crop in a day or two’.Vegda has also woven into the narrative very real and fraught relationships of castes in the countryside. He has depicted the traumatic relationship of caste with intense concern: ‘Jilubha, under one pretext or another, tried to be of help in the farm. He would often touch Rudi while handing her a basket. Once, unable to control himself, he pressed Rudi’s hand. Rudi was sharp enough to understand the message and snatched her hand with force. She was on the verge of abusing him but . . . ’. While Vegda’s social realist mode prods and probes the goings on in the inner recesses of the psyches of the Dalit characters, his portrayals of the characters of Virjee and Rudi remain passive, they come across helpless and vulnerable in this short story. When Jilubha abuses Virjee for declining work in his fields, when he refers to Virjee’s low-caste status, Virjee feels morally outraged but he silently ‘swallows’ his anger. Similarly, when Jilubha touches Rudi, she feels outraged, but she controls herself and stops herself from abusing him in public. She, much like Virjee, seems to be controlled by a moral order which Jilubha has no trouble in

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violating. He wields enormous power over both Virjee and Rudi because they have kept faith in the high moral order of the upper castes. The form of the short story, the way the events unfold, further suggests an aesthetic allegiance on the part of the writer to a moral order, to a framework of values which is violated without any compunction by Jilubha, culminating in the rape of Rudi. This being the formal necessity of the short story form, both Virjee and Rudi emerge in this story as victims of the feudal order, and the character of Jilubha emerges as a figure with enormous power in the conceptual logic of this short story. Here, one can see how the Dalit writer’s appeal to a moral framework and the necessity of reinforcing a moral order in the short story seems to have constrained the social realist form of this early Dalit short story in Gujarat. ‘Rakhopana Saap’ is perhaps a perfect case of a social realist narrative form unfolding under the supervision of a moral imperative, quite unwittingly making an appeal to the upper-caste ideals of morality and moral guardianship. It is also quite characteristic of this early Dalit short story that it functions basically to expose the lies, the deceits and the moral failings of the upper castes, which in itself is no doubt an admirable aesthetic accomplishment. The Dalit characters emerge in this short story as voiceless victims of a feudal order and the exposition of their victimhood seems to be the story’s major aesthetic concern. It is in the context of such a reading of an early short story published in what is considered to be the earliest collection of Dalit short stories in Gujarat that I present a reading of Praveen Gadhvi’s short story called ‘Haanf ’ (‘Breathlessness’ 2010). Since its emergence in the 1980s, the Dalit short story has come a long way. Stories portraying Dalit lives against the backdrop of a rural caste-ridden society were quite familiar. In fact, all the stories in Gujarati Dalit Varta, the first short story collection by Dalit writers, were centred around Dalit lives in the villages. There have been occasional stories in subsequent years where Dalit writers have depicted Dalit life in the cities. But, these mostly remained focused on the issue of untouchability and the continuation of this practice among the educated upper castes.They have mostly dealt with issues of housing in the cities. However, Gadhvi’s The City of Dust and Lust is perhaps the first Dalit short story collection focused entirely on the life of Dalit workers in the cities of Gujarat. Indeed, as the title of this volume indicates, the stories in this collection are all set in the city. Here, the Dalit characters are no longer portrayed as employees in government offices struggling under the disparaging tag of ‘the reserved category candidate’. They are no longer seen in the role of workers in city municipalities. Instead, Gadhvi in his stories painstakingly documents the changing profile of Dalit life in Gujarat. His characters belong to the private sector, mostly to the unorganised sector of the state’s economy. In his stories, the Dalit characters are seen to be at the receiving end of a market-driven economy, which wreaks havoc on their personal lives and renders them vulnerable to moral corruption. Their lives are subject not just to some impersonal market force but also to the wills and wishes of those who wield power over their everyday lives on account of the uncertain nature of their present occupations. What Gadhvi brings to the Gujarati Dalit short story is a set of Dalit characters, portraying their

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desires, ambitions and aspirations in the context of a rapidly developing state such as Gujarat. If his stories are any indication, Gadhvi seems to clearly prefer the social realist form of the short story in order to portray the struggling lives of Dalits in the unorganised sector of the economy. In ‘Haanf ’ Gadhvi describes in great detail the impoverished corner of a city, the corrugated steel roof of the houses in the street, the fumes of frying oil and the scorching sun, the hot air, the sultry feeling, all together leading to a realistic depiction of a working, struggling woman, Darshana, her hurt fingers, damp sarees, perspiration on her neck rendering her image more real, more down to earth. In addition to the description of a bhajiya (deep-fried snacks) shop at the entrance to her house, the passing of scooters, rickshaws, the sounds of tentu, tentu, all add up to the image of a busy street, giving a vivid sense of the locality. The absent ceiling fan, the narrow staircase and the garret upstairs, further accentuate the image of an impoverished household. Darshana’s husband, Ramniklal is illiterate. He could not manage a job in the city where, we are told, even ‘children rubbing snot on their shorts earned wages at tea stalls’ (38). He, therefore, went to Surat, in search of a job, but ended up working as a petty servant in some shop as he had no skills to get a decent job there. Darshana, on the other hand, stayed in her husband’s parental house, sent Batuk to school, worked as a daily wager and rolled out papads (papadum) the whole day for an NGO, but the money she got in return was meagre.The expenses of his son’s schooling and her daughter’s polio treatment was unbearable. Therefore, Darshana’s thoughts of pressing a pillow to her daughter’s face, her mention of police and court proceedings, seem perfectly in line with her plight, which is terribly tragic and dark. But, these dark thoughts are juxtaposed with references to starting of a small business, purchasing of flats, a TV set, and a whole lot of dreams, such as buying dresses and sarees, of being well dressed and presentable. Her present plight and her dreams of a better future, her aspirations, seem incongruent but together they seem to have produced what is called in the short story ‘breathlessness’, perhaps pointing to both a physical and mental agitation, a tumult inside her, creating havoc in her life. Gadhvi’s story captures this tumult and agitation inside Darshana’s mind, the shiver she feels with the thought of killing Manisha, the tears that fill her eyes when she pleads before the bank officer, her forced smile, the boiling of her blood when she thinks of sleeping with somebody, the upheaval she feels in her breast when she thinks of doing the ‘nasty ugly thing’, all these physical attributes are arranged skilfully in the story, reflecting in real terms the mental state of the character. In fact, the word ‘breathlessness’ in the story seems to refer to an overarching state of both the body and the mind, involving both the physical and mental aspects of Darshana’s character. One also knows that these physical attributes, such as the shiver in the body, the tearing up of the eyes, the boiling of the blood, the upheaval in the breast, could have been arranged in a conventional social realist mode as attributes of a moral character, leading to the making of a moral person, but Gadhvi seems to be using these attributes, away from their conventional readings, in order to create a character marked away from any subservience to a moral framework of action. In

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the character of Darshana, therefore, one sees the ebb and flow of all the conventional markers of morality – the agitation, the tumult, the boiling of the blood, the tears, everything that would have saved her formally from what he calls ‘the nasty ugly thing’: ‘What can I do? Where should I go? Who likes such things? How can one do such a nasty ugly thing?’ she says to herself (38). Praveen Gadhvi has portrayed the tumult in the mind of Darshana by carefully and consciously building into the narrative elements of public disparagement which she has internalised and which seem to have been the source of her moral dilemma: ‘See how she goes to her workplace well dressed and pompous! We don’t know what type of fraud and whatever she might have done to get a job in a bank. It’s not easy. She may have slept with some manager or so’. But, this moral burden of the short story is deliberately undercut by a conscious aesthetic investment on the part of the writer when he brings into the character of Darshana an unbelievable amount of strength and self-realisation: ‘You are right.You can’t get a job in a bank without sleeping with somebody. Who prevents you, you bloody whores? Go and sleep with peons’. It is clear that Gadhvi is determined not to sacrifice the social realist form of his short story by making morality the centre of his aesthetic concern. He knows that an upper-caste reader who has grown up on a diet of morality, would find Darshana’s action, her decision to sleep with a person just for the sake of a job, morally despicable. He would find Darshana’s declaration ‘Sir, I am ready to do whatever you tell, anyhow I want a job. Papad rolling is too meagre, Sir’ (38) simply disgraceful and outrageous. Gadhvi’s story decentres this obsessive moral concern, which seems to lie at the heart of the conventional realist short story form in Gujarat, by staging a critical conversation around morality, by pushing its limits, on the one hand, and by provoking and challenging its supremacy, on the other. Gadhvi’s ‘Haanf ’, written beyond the pale of the morality-driven short story form, seems to have put the social realist form of the short story to what constitutes an appropriate historical task of representing Dalit lives in a quickly developing state such as Gujarat, where dreams and aspirations have become major preoccupations over the last ten or so years. What the reading of Vegda’s ‘Rakhopana Saap’ and Gadhvi’s ‘Haanf ’, two Dalit short stories published within a span of about thirty years (1980–2010), makes clear is that social realism continues to be an empowering technique of representation among Dalit writers. It is also worth noting that that the practice of social realism among Dalit short story writers has been quite diverse and that its preoccupations over the years have resulted in significant variations in Dalit aesthetics. Further, the reading of these two Dalit short stories in the context of mainstream practice has revealed how social realism has a discredited history among mainstream writers in Gujarat who have ruled definitely in favour of formal excellence over realism. However, it needs to be emphasised that the mainstream practice in its social realist phase has left in the wake of its plethora of village and city-centric stories a very complex and diverse archive of aesthetic material, where one can find a real historical engagement with the social and material aspect of people’s lives in Gujarat, no

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matter how thin and inadequate that engagement might look now in the face of caste critiques of social realism offered by Dalit writers. The stories under analysis demonstrate that Gujarati Dalit writers have continued to repose their faith in the social realist mode and have produced in their diverse formal practices very powerful internal critiques of social realism. If the aesthetic practices of Vegda and Gadhvi look different in spite of their allegiance to the social realist mode, it is mostly because of the way these two Dalit writers have staged the issues of sex, caste and untouchability in their short stories, extending the very scope of social realism on the one hand and maintaining it as an unfailing resource for representation of lives of Dalits, on the other.

Notes 1 For an exposition of this point see Jayant Kothari, ‘Tunki Varta: Ketlank Drustibinduo’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, ed. Jayant Kothari (Ahmedabad: Gurjar Granthratna Karyalaya, 1977), 1–13. Also see in the same book, Harivallabh Bhayani, ‘Varta, Katha, Tunki Varta’, 140–148. Some have however preferred to look at the short story as an ancient form. See for example Rasiklal Parikh, ‘Tunki Varta: Utpati ane Swaroop’ in the same book, 30–36. 2 See, for example Mansukhlal Zaveri, ‘Gujarati Tunki Varta’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, 197–204. 3 It is noteworthy that Dalpatram, a major nineteenth-century reformist writer and poet, had also tried his hand in writing short stories from around 1865 for the journal Budhi Prakash which were finally published as a collection under the title Tarkik Bodh in 1870. 4 See Dhumketu, ‘Gujarati NavlikanoVikas’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, 165. 5 Dhumketu, ‘Gujarati Navlikano Vikas’, 166. See also Anirudh Brambhatt, ‘Gujarati Tunki Vartha’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, 220. 6 Some have considered Ranjitram Bababhai Mehta’s Hira (1904) and some others have considered Ambalal Sakarlal Desai’s Shantidas (1910) as the first instances of original and independent short stories in Gujarati language. 7 Dhumketu, ‘Gujarati Navlikano Vikas’,176–177. All translations from Gujarati mine. 8 There were representations from Mandali-Dungarpur by Pannalal Patel, Saurastra by Meghani, Charotar by Petlikar, Bhalanakantha by Pushkar Chandravakar, Jhalavad by Devshankar Mehta, Uttar Gujarat by Pitambar Patel and Surat by Suhasi. All of them made use of the dialect of the region in their short stories. See, Chunilal Madia, ‘Gujarati Tunki Varta: Kalni ane Aajni’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, 178–196. 9 A lot of writers in Gujarat came under the influence of Gandhi, particularly those from the upper castes who took to the Gandhian mode of literary practice with the belief that it would ultimately lead to self-purification, meaning the purification of their caste self, or what is called ‘Atma Shudhi’. 10 See Jayanti Dalal, ‘Varta: Juni ane Navi’,in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, 125–129. For a reading of the nexus between ideology and form of the short story, see Suresh Joshi, ‘Gujarati Navalika’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, 205–208. 11 For an exposition of this point about the influence and value of psychological insights on short story form in Gujarat see, Jayanti Dalal, ‘Chetana PrabahonoVartamaUpyog’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, 126–131. 12 See Joshi, ‘Kinchhit’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, 92–96. For a more articulate piece on this issue, see Joshi, ‘Ghatanatavano Lop?’ in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, 101–104. 13 See Joshi, ‘Gujarati Navalika’, 205–206.

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14 For a contrast of the Gandhian model and the Suresh Joshi model see Ajay Sarvaiyav, Borges ane Hun: Gujarati Olakhni Shodh (Ahmedabad: Navbharat Sahitya Mandir, 2008). 15 See Joseph Macwan, ‘Sahityama Vikasounmukh Dalit Chetana’, Hayati (Septem ber 2006), 16–26. Among other things, Macwan talks about the short story Khemi and shows how the writer’s attempt to portray Khemi, the Dalit woman as a ‘loyal wife’, which to the Brahmin writer is a womanly ideal, indirectly indicts the Dalit practices of widow remarriage, ‘diyarbataan’ (marriage to one’s brother-in-law), as something disgraceful. He has similar complaints about Sundaram’s ‘Maja Belanu Mrutyun’ for its depiction of Dalit environment and Umashankar Joshi’s ‘Dedhna Dedh Bhangi’ for its insensitive and mischievous title. For a similar Dalit critique of upper caste classics such as Saraswatichandra and Karan Ghelo, see Dalpat Chauhan, ‘Govardhanram Tripathi Mari Drustiye’, Hayati (March 2007), 34–39. Also see, Harish Mangalam, ‘Editorial’, Hayati (December 2008), 3–5. 16 See Mohan Parmar, ‘Gujarati Dalit Varta: Ek Charcha’, in Gujarati Dalit Varta, ed. Mohan Parmar and Harish Mangalam [1987] (Ahmedabad: Divine Publications, 2010), 125– 130. See also, Dalpat Chauhan, Gujarati Dalit Sahityani Kediye: Dalit Sahityani Itihas (Ahmedabad: Gujarat Dalit Sahitya Akademi, 2008), 81–94. 17 ArvindVegda, ‘RakhopanaSaap’ [1987], in Gujarati Dalit Varta, ed. Mohan Parmar and Harish Mangalam, 66–73; Praveen Gadhvi, ‘Breathlessness’, in The City of Dust and Lust, trans. Praveen Gadhvi (New Delhi: BS Publishers, 2010), 37–41. All translations of RakhopanaSaap are mine. 18 For an account of the strategies developed by progressive Hindi writers and a critical history of social realism in the first half of the twentieth century see Toral Jatin Gajarawala, Untouchable Fictions: Literary Realism and the Crisis of Caste (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013).

Works cited Bhayani, Harivallabh. ‘Varta, Katha, Tunki Varta’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, Jayant Kothari, ed. Ahmedabad: Gurjar Granthratna Karyalaya, 1977: 140–148. Brambhatt, Anirudh. ‘Gujarati Tunki Vartha’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, Jayant Kothari, ed. Ahmedabad: Gurjar Granthratna Karyalaya, 1977: 219–253. Chauhan, Dalpat. ‘Govardhanram Tripathi Mari Drustiye’. Hayati, March 2007: 34–39. Chauhan, Dalpat. Gujarati Dalit Sahityani Kediye: Dalit Sahityani Itihas. Ahmedabad: Gujarat Dalit Sahitya Akademi, 2008. Dalal, Jayanti. ‘Chetana Prabahono Vartama Upyog’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, Jayant Kothari ed. Ahmedabad: Gurjar Granthratna Karyalaya, 1977: 126–131. Dalal, Jayanti. ‘Varta: Juniane Navi’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, Jayant Kothari, ed. Ahmedabad: Gurjar Granthratna Karyalaya, 1977: 125–129. Dhumketu. ‘Gujarati Navlikhano Vikas’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, Jayant Kothari, ed. Ahmedabad: Gurjar Granthratna Karyalaya, 1977: 165–177. Gadhvi, Praveen. ‘Breathlessness’, in The City of Dust and Lust, trans. Praveen Gadhvi. New Delhi: BS Publishers, 2010: 37–41. Gajarawala, Toral Jatin. Untouchable Fictions: Literary Realism and the Crisis of Caste. New York: Fordham University Press, 2013. Joshi, Suresh. ‘Ghatanatavano Lop?’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, Jayant Kothari, ed. Ahmedabad: Gurjar Granthratna Karyalaya, 1977: 101–104. Joshi, Suresh. ‘Gujarati Navalika’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, Jayant Kothari, ed. Ahmedabad: Gurjar Granthratna Karyalaya, 1977: 205–208. Joshi, Suresh.‘Kinchhit’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, Jayant Kothari, ed. Ahmedabad: Gurjar Granthratna Karyalaya, 1977: 92–96.

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Joshi, Suresh. ‘Navalikani Rachana’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, Jayant Kothari ed. Ahmedabad: Gurjar Granthratna Karyalaya, 1977: 96–101. Kothari, Jayant. ‘Tunki Varta: Ketlank Drustibinduo’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, Jayant Kothari ed. Ahmedabad: Gurjar Granthratna Karyalaya, 1977: 1–13. Kothari, Jayant, ed. Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta (The Short Story and the Gujarati Short Story). Ahmedabad: Gurjar Granthratna Karyalaya, 1977. Macwan, Joseph. ‘Sahityama Vikasounmukh Dalit Chetana’. Hayati, September 2006: 16–26. Madia, Chunilal. ‘Gujarati Tunki Varta: Kalni ane Aajni’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, Jayant Kothari, ed. Ahmedabad: Gurjar Granthratna Karyalaya, 1977: 178–196. Mangalam, Harish. ‘Editorial’. Hayati, December 2008: 3–5. Parikh, Rasiklal. ‘Tunki Varta: Utpati ane Swarup’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, Jayant Kothari, ed. Ahmedabad: Gurjar Granthratna Karyalaya, 1977: 30–36. Parmar, Mohan. ‘Gujarati Dalit Varta: Ek Charcha’, in Gujarati Dalit Varta. 1987, Mohan Parmarand Harish Mangalam, eds. Ahmedabad: Divine Publications, 2010: 125–130. Sarvaiya, Ajay. Borges ane Hun: Gujarati Olakhni Shodh. Ahmedabad: Navbharat Sahitya Mandir, 2008. Vegda, Arvind. ‘Rakhopana Saap’, in Gujarati Dalit Varta. 1987, Mohan Parmar and Harish Mangalam, eds. Ahmedabad: Divine Publications, 2010: 66–73. Zaveri, Mansukhlal. ‘Gujarati Tunki Varta’, in Tunki Varta ane Gujarati Tunki Varta, Jayant Kothari, ed. Ahmedabad: Gurjar Granthratna Karyalaya, 1977: 197–204.

8 JANU AND SALEENA NARRATING LIFE Subjects and spaces Carmel Christy K. J.

Introduction Kerala figures in tourism brochures as a lush green land with pristine backwaters and hill stations making it the ultimate destination for leisure. The beauty of the Kerala landscape has been qualified by the phrase ‘God’s own country’ in many of the region’s representations, starting with a tag line in a Tourism Department advertisement. However, these are only the dominant geographical representations of the state.There are counter-narratives that give us insights into how geographical landscape gets socially reproduced through relations of power. For instance, one of the Dalit women land rights activist leaders in Kerala, Saleena Prakkanam, narrates how the land which Dalits in her locality inhabited was arid unlike the geography projected by the state. Saleena’s narrative points to how land becomes a site through which power is distributed and hierarchies maintained. Space, historically and socially produced and reproduced, is instrumental in constituting the subject in its various dimensions. An attempt is made to explicate the constitutive relationship between spatiality and subjectivity by looking at the narratives of spaces at two levels in an interconnected manner – by bringing out how geography becomes a socially produced reality rather than just an administrative region and how this becomes instrumental in the constitution of the subject. This chapter discusses the relationship between land and caste to explain the social production of physical space. In fact, this material production becomes instrumental in the constitution of the subject and vice versa. It is indeed not a linear relationship, but the material/outer space and the inner space of the subject constitute each other in negotiation with relations of power. The debates around ‘interiority’ in life narratives are discussed here to bring out how the dyad of interior and exterior is mutually constitutive rather than exclusive of each other. The site I analyse is the genre of the Malayalam life narrative, exemplified in the life writings of a Dalit

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and an Adivasi woman in Malayalam.1 The selected texts are C. K. Januvinte Aathmakatha (The Autobiography of C. K. Janu, 2001) and Saleena Prakkanam’s Chengara Samaravum Ente Jeevithavum (The Chengara Struggle and My Life, 2013). Both Saleena and Janu are noted Dalit2 and Adivasi women3 activists who have led important struggles for land since the 1990s. It is essential that the Dalit and Adivasi experience not be conflated, as these communities have undergone structural oppression in different dimensions perpetrated by different cultural/state agents. What brings them together here is the fact of landlessness as one of the sites through which they have organised themselves. Throughout their narratives, there is an intricate connection between the questions of land, community and the subject. It is intended herein to explore this connection in the socio-political context of Kerala and its implications for understanding the subject in terms of the spaces that constitute and reconstitute them. While the chapter may broadly seem to feed into the critical tradition of development studies, I am equally interested in bringing out the fragments of a subject through the analysis vis-à-vis the universal imagination of a unified subject. This becomes significant considering the current turn some of the anti-caste studies are taking in India by attempting to evolve a language that exceeds the conceptual frameworks of development and emancipation (see Guru 2012, Mohan 2015, Raj 2013, Thankappan 2015). These studies try to trace the subject through cultural specificities such as caste, religion and gender. This kind of an attempt carries the potential to imagine the marginalised as a subject, instead of analysing them as objects or passive recipients of various state projects and other cultural agents.4 The spike in the number of autobiographies published after the 1990s in India has been read along with the shifts in policy structures, the interpenetration of the market and culture, the flourishing of the publishing industry, the visible articulation of identities and other such processes.5 Minorities, women, sex workers and Dalits, who until the 1990s occupied a minimal presence in public discourse, began to deploy the genre of autobiography to assert their rights and positionalities. However, even in the face of such seemingly encouraging and empowering developments, it is important to note that both of the texts I have chosen for analysis have been transcribed by others; they were therefore not written by Janu or Saleena themselves. Though they are presented as autobiographies, the very nature of the mediation of another agency makes this form a complex genre of analysis. Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson (2010) categorise such writings, which are autobiographical in nature yet take on various forms, as ‘life narratives’. They explain life writing as ‘a general term that takes a life, one’s own or another’s, as its subject. Such writing can be biographical, novelistic, historical or explicitly self-referential and therefore autobiographical’ (ibid., 4).There have been questions posed about the authenticity of such narratives and about authorship. In spite of these questions, these texts are useful cultural texts that provide entry points to the socio-cultural situation in a specific spatio-temporal moment. I have tried to generate a framework that forges connections between the sociopolitical context, identities and constitution of the subject in the contemporary

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times and, thereby, try to look beyond the binaries in the production of spaces and subjectivities. The chapter proceeds through three main sections. The first section contextualises the genre of life narratives, incorporating a discussion about Dalit life narratives, specifically, how the texts under analysis open up questions about the subject of an autobiography/ life narrative.The second and third sections explicate how subjects are spatially produced by elaborating how space/land has been devised to sustain the operations of caste, gender and other structures. Specifically, the second section looks at the interrelationship between caste and land to argue how the geographical ‘realities’ are socially produced to reinforce the social destitution of Dalits and Adivasis. This analysis ruptures the notions about Kerala as a ‘progressive’ region. The last section tries to demonstrate how the conflation of the interior (private) and the exterior (public) is integral in the shaping of Saleena and Janu’s subjectivities, a reality that demands a framework beyond the binary of these spaces in understanding the subject.The emerging women subjects herein are understood as multiple and complex entities, and an effort has been made to see them as such, rather than fix them to or exclude them from a pattern of universal womanhood. This exercise is all the more relevant because the overarching notions around womanhood in certain patterns exclude Dalit and Adivasi women like C. K. Janu and Saleena Prakkanam, who fight networks of oppression at multiple levels.

The genre: beyond the boundaries Life writing has been identified as a genre around which significant political investment was proclaimed by various groups, the feminist movement being one of them. The genre opened up ways of documenting experience as part of the political emergence of the self. It disturbs the notions of the personal as private.The genre of autobiography as a modern form of writing announces the formation of the modern individual subject, rather than a collective identity. The preoccupation with the question of the subject has a long trajectory, and the debate continues in many ways. Modernity presupposed a rational, autonomous and universal individual subject (Kant 1991), a proposition contested by theorists like Michel Foucault (1991), who emphasised the historical specificity of a subject. Postmodern scholars and scholars who developed scholarship beyond modernity critically examined the supposedly integral nature of the subject, arguing that the subject is not prior to anything that constitutes it (Badiou 2008). A subject gets constituted through representations and discourse more than its ‘reality’ of existence, postmodernists have argued. bell hooks responds to these debates: ‘Should we not be suspicious of postmodern critiques of the “subject” when they surface at a historical moment when many subjugated people feel themselves coming to voice for the first time?’ (2006, 194). hooks’s intervention indicates the vast spatial and temporal differences in the process of subject formation for subjects from diverse locations. Many of the philosophical debates on the subject presupposed the individual subject as a ‘man’ and probably all attributes of dominance in terms of race and class were taken for granted. Judith Butler (1992) notes the necessity to complicate

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a ‘universal’ subject rather than view it as a unified, singular subject. The assumed universality of the subject, and failures to recognise the technologies of gender and race in the constitution of the subject have been problematised by several scholars. Butler engages with these debates: The term ‘universality’ would have to be left permanently open, permanently contested, permanently contingent, in order not to foreclose in advance future claims for inclusion. Indeed, from my position and from any historically constrained perspective, any totalizing concept of the universal will shut down rather than authorize the unanticipated and unanticipatable claims that will be made under the sign of ‘the universal’. In this sense, I am not doing away with the category, but trying to relieve the category of its foundationalist weight in order to render it as a site of permanent political contest. (1992: 8) If a subject is always tentative and in process, one always needs to historicise subjects rather than bring them under overarching categories. Scholars have observed that in Indian society, where, due to the influence of the caste system, collectivity is valorised, rather than individual agency, autobiography has not been a popular genre (Arnold and Blackburn 2004). This seems to have changed since the late 1980s for many historical reasons such as liberalisation, which has made access to technology and discourses easier, as well as political assertions increasingly made by diverse groups such as Dalits, lower-castes, women and so on. Studies on Dalit autobiographies have revolved around the contrast these autobiographies offer to a unified subject presupposed in the genre of autobiographies. It has been pointed out how the ‘inner’ self, which is one of the points of narration in autobiographies, is a rather mitigated presence in Dalit autobiographies (Pandit 2008). For instance, one of the first autobiographies of Dalit women published in the 1980s, by Baby Kamble, uses the plural pronoun ‘we’ while narrating her life and it is mostly about the struggles of her community in the fight against caste. Her autobiography originally written in Marathi was translated into English as The Prisons we Broke.This use of the collective subject in her autobiography has been pointed out as contradicting the generic features of autobiography in which the individual ‘I’ is identified as the protagonist. In fact, a certain ‘publicness’ has been read in conjunction with postcolonial Dalit politics by many scholars. Anupama Rao notes that ‘By the turn of the twentieth century, a series of dispersed shifts in Dalit life and labor had begun to crystallize around the public experience of being a stigmatized subject’ (2009: 270).While this is indeed an important aspect of Dalit politics in the postcolonial era, this direction can also lead to imagining the Dalit person as a public subject whose contours of depth as a dynamic being negotiating life and politics in diverse spaces does not get captured. While the discourse about the exteriority of the Dalit subject has triggered significant epistemological and political thoughts, it also confines the Dalit subject to a matter-of-fact exteriority. I argue here that the binary spatial divisions

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of imagining a universal subject gets complicated in the case of Dalit women subjects. Imagining such a subject requires a reading that captures the complex negotiations in these spaces through which Dalit subjects constitute themselves. Dalit feminists pointed out their differences in imagining a private/public dyad for womanhood, as the security of the private was denied to them historically. They have argued that for them, claiming the private can also be an act of resistance (Rekharaj 2011). To register these tensions politically and epistemologically, it is significant that a Dalit subject be explored beyond its exteriority, as Dalit women reimagine their spaces by conflating the private and the public to mark their resistance. This poses political questions for a masculinist political subject centred around the public and for an ‘ideal’ feminist subject’s fight to claim the public. Guru discusses how the victims/objects constitute themselves as subjects in discriminatory spaces ‘by radically discovering oneself as an active or reflective agency’ (2012: 74). Taking cues from Guru, the attempt here is to understand the complex processes through which Dalit women imagine their material as well as conceptual spaces and transform them into spaces of radical politics and being. There is a need to reimagine a Dalit and Adivasi subject not merely as a subject constituting herself through assertions of her political rights in the public space, but also as one reimagining selfhood and politics at various levels. There is a need to be attentive to the ways in which identity politics is re-imagined in Dalit struggles as involving complex realms of negotiation. As in the narratives mentioned above, there are ways in which Dalit and Adivasi subjects negotiate their lives through politics, love, intimacy and the redefinition of identity politics.These would be helpful in understanding Dalit politics as a fluid realm that is lived by Dalit subjects who occupy depth and space in its many layers. The use of ‘we’ in Dalit women’s autobiographies may be seen as an attempt to forge a collective through the threads of activist experience which has not been possible for most of the stigmatised communities in the past.Thus, ‘collectivity’ as in this autobiography becomes a site to register the nebulous formation of a community and activism, which is a significant part of claiming the self as such. ‘I’ in itself becomes the history of the society in several autobiographies of prominent political leaders, while in the autobiography of Baby Kamble, the self is being constituted through the collective ‘we’. In a departure from the hegemonic reading norm, one has to search for the ‘I’ in this autobiography through a careful reading of the ‘we’, along with other ways of understanding the politics underlining its use. The constitution of the ‘self ’ happens in diverse ways, which are also predicated upon the subject’s distinct social positions. For instance, autobiographies of important political figures have been used as texts to understand the political history of the region of Kerala. In those autobiographies, the self is an already recognised one – a progressive ‘self ’ – whose struggle/story assumes the position of political history. The fact that this becomes a pattern for most of the male political leaders’ autobiographies, such as those of Gandhi, Nehru and E. M. Sankaran Nampoothiripad, is also symptomatic of their social positioning, where they are in a hegemonic position vis-à-vis gender, caste or religion. Kamble’s story, on the other

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hand, centralises the community to narrate the hitherto invisible/unnarrativised histories of the self. The right to community formation and assertion, which has been denied in the past, becomes a significant rallying point for the claiming of the ‘self ’ in Kamble’s narrative. Because of this devaluation of the subjecthood historically, the narrator ‘I’ does not transcend into the public ‘we’ automatically in Kamble’s case. Instead, Kamble has to use ‘we’ to assert her being part of the processes of the reconstitution of the community. While the use of ‘we’ in Kamble’s autobiography registers a political assertion, it also indicates a subjugated history through which the self seeks to present itself differently. Janu and Saleena’s life narratives are also marked by the surge in the number of experiential narratives in India. In the preface to Saleena’s text, the transcribers have mentioned that their interest was to make visible the historical role of a Dalit woman activist like Saleena in the Chengara land struggle.6 Janu’s book in Malayalam was published more than a decade ago, just after the famous sit-in strike in front of the Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram, which made her visible in the mainstream as the political voice of Adivasis in Kerala.7 The books are separated by a span of more than a decade and the subjects that emerge out of these narratives are indeed different in many ways. I certainly do not attempt to flatten out these differences. Instead, I try to look at how both, despite the differences between them, enrich the genre and subjecthood in relation to spaces. Saleena’s book begins with her journey from childhood to her transformation as a leading Dalit woman activist. Saleena extensively discusses her experience of being a Dalit and a Christian,8 the differential treatment of the church towards Dalit Christians, her closeness with her women friends – Suma, Shantha and so on – and the discrimination she faced as a Dalit student in school and college, both from students and teachers. Then, she goes on to describe how she understands the link between landlessness and the social destitution of Dalits, which motivated her to become one of the leaders of the Chengara land struggle.9 While Saleena’s narrative describes her negotiation with modern institutions of education and the question of land for Dalits, Janu’s narrative elucidates her becoming an Adivasi leader through her experiences of losing their land and livelihood, and the indifference of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) towards their issues, which drove her into organising them for their rights. While Saleena’s book was published in 2013 when she was in the midst of political activism, Janu’s narrative was written fourteen years earlier, that is, just after she led one of the most important land struggles, but before the Muthanga struggle, both very significant movements for landless Adivasis in the history of post-independent Kerala. In spite of differences, something that is common to both narratives is the sisterhood both Saleena and Janu shared with their close women friends. A strong sense of community rights, especially for land, that leaves its impressions on the kind of subjecthood that emerges out of these books is also a common thread that runs through both the narratives. Janu in her descriptions, interestingly, brings together the experience of community and smell. In her narrative about her childhood, Janu (2001) describes how all children

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used to gather in a hut during monsoons to keep themselves warm. ‘It is impossible to step out during rainy season. . . . It will be too cold. All of us children huddle ourselves together by the hearth. All of us smell alike at that time’ (ibid., 10). There is one more instance where she talks about the community in relation to the sense of smell (ibid). Indeed, a history of the senses would be a useful frame to understand these narratives of Janu. The struggle for the community’s right over land brings the discussion to the interrelationship of caste and land in their narratives.

Experiencing caste through land Saleena narrates an incident that brings out the relationship between land and caste. She was working with the decentralisation scheme of the state government under which people who owned one quarter of an acre of land were offered two goats. She realised that no Dalit in her place had that much land and therefore they would get no benefit whatsoever from this scheme. Only two Nair families in the area would have benefitted from the scheme as only they had the required land (Saleena 2013: 24).10 Saleena also mentions that the land near her house is full of table rocks and bushes and therefore unsuitable for agriculture (ibid., 16).11 Janu’s narrative draws a clear picture of the relationship between land and power by recounting how upper-caste landlords and migrants acquired the forest land made cultivable by Adivasis (Janu 2001: 12). Adivasis never had the practice of obtaining documents for the land, which was promptly taken away from them by the migrants and uppercaste landlords (ibid.).12 Saleena’s narrative strikes a discordant note in contrast to the narratives about Kerala as a lush green land with many rivers and forests. Kerala has appeared as a ‘model’ in the postcolonial development discourse known as the ‘Kerala Model of Development’. Social development indicators such as advancement in women’s health, education and low infant mortality rates, an almost break-even (zero) population growth, all despite the lack of industrial development, earned the state this distinction in terms of development. The state also has high public participation in political processes, which has been attributed to its early exposure to modern education, missionary interventions, the growth of the Communist party in the state and so on. The state is also known for one of the earliest democratically elected Communist governments in the world in 1957. This model of attaining social development without obtaining considerable ‘economic development’ as pointed out by eminent economists came under critical scrutiny in the 1990s by several activist groups as well as scholars (Kapikad 2011; Kurien 1995).13 The land reform bill introduced by the first Communist government of Kerala of 1957 was hailed much for the democratic distribution of land to the landless lower castes. Recently, scholars like Kapikad (2011) have pointed out how tenants living on the land who were non-Dalits have benefitted far more than the landless Dalits and Adivasis from the land reform bill. The relationship between land, power and caste as narrated by Saleena and Janu is in contrast with the euphemistic descriptions about the exceptional developmental

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advancement of the state. Their narratives centralise the question of landlessness which has been one of the sites that was instrumental in the stigmatisation of Dalits and the sustenance of the caste system. Landlessness and bonded labour for the upper-caste landlords have been crucial in the stigmatisation of Dalits. Adivasis have been pushed out of their land by the state and the socially dominant, which has further stigmatised their lives. Such a narrative is at loggerheads with the discourse of Kerala as an already ‘progressive’ state in terms of its socio-cultural advancement.14 The incidents and experiences related to landlessness and social destitution are spread throughout the narrative, pointing to the significance of these factors in the formation of their subjectivity and political emergence as two notable women leaders of contemporary times. Spaces of various kinds constitute the subject in negotiation with its temporality. As Radhika Mohanram remarks, ‘. . . place and landscape are not inert but things which actively participate in the identity formation of the individual’ (1999: xii). Guru (2012) has pointed out how the ‘historically produced and reproduced’ social ghetto has been instrumental in shaping Ambedkar’s conceptual vocabulary around contradictions in social relations. The experience of Saleena and Janu with the spaces they inhabit and interact with, may thus be viewed as instrumental in the evolution of their conceptual language around land, power and caste that constitute their subjectivity. While in Saleena’s narrative, the social destitution of Dalits is intermeshed with their landlessness and being pushed into non-fertile terrains, Janu elaborates how Adivasis had been deprived of their land for different reasons by the state and the socially dominant. This could be better understood given the logic of spatiality through which caste used to operate and continues to do so even today in more subtle ways. In many regions of India, there were precise measurements about the distance each caste group had to keep from each other. Historically, Dalits were also allowed only to build houses in certain parts of the village as the wind was not to touch them before it reached the upper castes.Thus, space has been experienced as a material and abstract entity through which the subject experienced and constituted herself in relation to her social position. In other words, geography becomes a socially produced reality where the subject gets constituted through her experience with land, which is not distinct from her social identity and being.This brings the chapter to one of the most often discussed features of life writings, namely, the formation of the individual subject where the deliberation on one’s inner self (interiority) is understood as one of the integral constituent elements.

Spaces inside and out: shaping the subject Studies on autobiography have always grappled with the complex relationship of the interior self with a represented/reproduced self through textuality. As mentioned earlier, the genre has been associated with the emergence of the modern individual who narrates the self. This in some sense presupposed a coherent and unified self (Scott 1991) who narrates her experiences. There was a sense of progression of the self implicit in this theorisation, which idealised the process of individuation as

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the marker of human attainment. Scott problematised the practice of considering experience as evidence: ‘We need to attend to the historical processes that, through discourse, position subjects and produce their experiences. It is not individuals who have experience, but subjects who are constituted through experience’ (ibid., 779). Watson and Smith also propose that the autobiographical subject is ‘neither unified nor stable – it is fragmented, provisional, multiple and in process’ (2008: 9). The life narratives of Janu and Saleena can also be understood from a framework that presents their subjectivities as getting constituted through their experiences. In other words, the ‘I’ (subject) is not a given that precedes their experiences. The ‘I’ becomes constituted through their experiences and its narration, and there is no definitive moment at which the subject resolves itself fully. Except for a brief section about Saleena’s family, her narrative is mostly about the Chengara struggle, her role in it and the challenges it posed. Janu uses the word nammal (literally meaning the inclusive ‘we’), which is a plural pronoun. Saleena uses ‘I’, though a large part of her narrative is about the Chengara land struggle and her role as a leader of the same. At the outset, the very active public lives of these women constitute a large chunk of the narratives. In discussions about autobiographies written by Dalits, there have been debates around how a certain ‘publicness’ has always been part of their narratives. The compartmentalisation of the subject as inner (private) and outer (public), as a marker of the modern subject, imposes its limits on our knowledge and understanding as the subject is most often constituted through a conflation of both, especially in the case of Dalit and Adivasi women subjects. I argue here that interiority (private) is realised as much as through the exterior (public) in the case of Janu and Saleena. Doing this requires me to read between the lines while also performing a socio-contextual reading to bring out the contours of a subject beyond the exterior. Blunt and Rose point out: Several black feminist historians have also pointed out that the valorization of the difference between the public and the private must be seen as central to the constitution of the 19th-century middle-class as white. . . . Moreover, the definition of the private as a domestic space separate from the public world of commerce was rarely meaningful in black communities; to the extent that it did resonate, the private was understood as a place, often a neighborhood, beyond everyday encounters with white racism. . . . Attempts to universalize its neat distinction between two spaces and two genders erase its implicit class and race specificities. (1994: 4) There are many occasions when Janu also talks about spaces that are intimate to her. For instance, in the first chapter, Janu (2001) mentions her relationship with the forest as something more than that of between a mother and a child: ‘If someone from outside comes, we hide ourselves in the forest. No one knows forest like our people do. Forest is like mother to us. Since forest does not leave you ever, it is more

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than your mother’ (ibid., 10). There are two significant points emerging from this – one is about how the forest figures as an intimate space in Janu’s experience, and the other is about how even mothers had to leave their children behind to fend for themselves due to various forms of deprivation. In this experiential narrative, there is a reversal of what is seen as the middle-class imagination of private and public. Janu’s narrative of forest as an intimate space, sometimes more than that of the protection of a mother as it says, clearly is in contradiction with the idealisation of a nuclear family as an intimate, private space. What constitutes intimate and private space is rooted in the historically specific experiences of women and communities, which points at the need to understand subjects beyond universal frameworks. The forest is not being recognised as constitutive of a private space in the middle-class imagination makes it a public space in the narrative of a binary imagination of spaces for womanhood. Therefore, a contextual and specific analysis of these life writings could be helpful in bringing out the complex processes through which the self is mapped out beyond the binaries of interior/exterior in these books. Partha Chatterjee (1989) suggested that the nationalist imagination resolved the women’s question by earmarking the ‘spiritual/inner’ space as their field of work and life. According to him, this imagination by the nationalists presupposed women as safeguarding the tradition of the inner realm of the family/community. This ‘inner’, ‘private’ imagination of womanhood came to define the ideal notions of womanhood in the modern nation. Dilip Menon critically looks at the inner/outer exposition of Chatterjee: If we place the experience of the subordinated castes at the centre of our understanding of colonial modernity, we are faced with the unresolved dilemma of belonging, which continues into independent India. The simple dichotomies of inner and outer, tradition and modernity that Chatterjee espouses collapse since the subordinated castes are excluded from the inner space of tradition. (2006: 112) J. Indira (2004) along similar lines points out that this resolution of the women’s question is insufficient to understand Dalit women as they have to toil it out in a public realm that has been sexually colonised by the upper-caste men, because of which the inner/spiritual realm as proposed by Chatterjee could be used only to understand upper-caste women. Here it would be interesting to discuss an article by Udaya Kumar (2008) on autobiographies as a way of writing history in the context of Kerala. Kumar explores the reasons why Lalithambika Antharjanam,15 a prominent woman writer in Malayalam, did not write an autobiography at an early stage of her career: ‘She had a more immediate personal reason for her reluctance – whenever she thought of presenting herself in public through autobiographical narration, she felt as diffident as a young Namboothiri woman stepping into the world without the protection of a veil or a shielding umbrella’ (ibid., 440).

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This imagination around the space of tradition, where a Namboothiri woman had to wear a veil and umbrella, restrained Lalithambika Antharjanam from writing her autobiography earlier in her career. Namboothiris are the Brahmins of Kerala, considered the most supreme in the caste hierarchy. In spite of Lalithambika’s efforts to fight the yoking practices of her caste, she found it difficult to disrupt the tradition in the ‘inner’ realm literally and metaphorically, and thereby exemplified the subject of Chatterjee’s proposition. This dichotomous division, the ‘public’ and the ‘private’ constituting the ideals of ‘womanhood’ (streetvam) persisted far into the life of the modern nation.The claim of being ‘private’ implies the chastity of this ideal woman through which the claim for moral/spiritual/cultural superiority is validated. The validation that legitimises certain femininities and sexualities, on the other hand, delegitimises ‘other’ kinds of ‘womanhood’. Dalit and lower-caste women who had to labour in public places and were subjected to organised sexual violence seldom found a place in the ideal notions around chaste, private ideal womanhood. This dichotomous imagination is double-edged, in the sense that, it clearly ousts the majority of the women from Dalit and lower-castes, while it confines the uppercaste women within a very restrained notion of womanhood. Very few women from the subordinated castes had access to or could afford to claim this ‘private’ space and this ideal womanhood dissipated their chances of becoming legitimate citizens of the nation as ‘women’. The significance of spatial politics has been integral to feminist politics historically as reflected in its initial slogans such as ‘the personal is political’. Scholars like Carole Pateman have gone so far as to suggest that ‘the dichotomy between the private and the public is central to almost two centuries of feminist struggle; it is ultimately what the feminist movement is about’ (Pateman, qtd in Blunt and Rose 1994: 3). However, in the case of women like Saleena and Janu, they are not only constituting a conflated space of the private and public through which their subjectivities emerge, but also bringing to the foreground new public spaces that have been at the peripheries of the legitimate public sphere. Thus, they point to the need to understand the shaping of the subject as a complex process in which the inner (private) and the external (public) spaces of their ‘being’ work together rather than function as distinct spaces. This blurring of spaces, especially in the case of Dalit and Adivasi women like Saleena and Janu, happens in contrast to the private space that came to be identified as the respectable space. ‘Privateness’ as such for all women is not a given, but differently accessed and experienced in historically specific circumstances. This sharp distinction of spatiality in imagining womanhood could also be read in connection with Dalit feminist thinker Rekha Raj’s remark that Dalit and Adivasi women activists like Janu get referred to as ‘Dalit activists’, not as ‘Dalit women activists’ (2013: 60), which itself shows how being a Dalit woman and activist is understood as mutually exclusive. The imagination around womanhood as predicated on the ideal domestic realm to ensure caste purity discursively works in an oppositional vector in the case of Dalit women such as Janu and Saleena. As Dalit women had to work for their upper-caste landlords, they were made vulnerable to sexual colonisation by upper-caste men, which delegitimised their womanhood and right to

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dignity. Rekharaj (2011) in another context notes that Dalit women also need the security of homes, which has not always been a reality in their lives historically.16 Thus, there is an effort by Dalit women to reimagine spaces, an effort which evolves through their resistance to oppressive historical structures. Interiority as realised in relation to the exterior would also be different for people who access the exterior differently. For the same reason, the standard tool of understanding ‘interiority’ is not sufficient to understand these life narratives. Given these layers of meaning to the ‘private/public, interior/exterior’ pairings and to the ‘standard’ understandings around private and public, linear readings of interiority in these texts would invariably miss out the complicated strategies through which these women constitute their subjectivities. In the case of Janu, the struggle for the community is not distinct from her own personal goals. At the same time, there are many ways in which she talks about how her women friends are a constant presence in her life, her relationship with her land and so on. Janu also discusses how marriage or separation does not change many things for women in her community as under either circumstance they keep working to feed themselves. Saleena does talk about her family and there is an instance where she goes back home after differences came up during the Chengara land struggle. But then, for her also, the question of community is as significant as her personal life where the distinctions of the personal and the public are not com­ partmentalised. Their engagement with spaces beyond the domestic ideal, which has references to their social location, could be another reason for their intimate spaces to be passed off as public places and the silence about their gendered identity is almost a given in relation to spaces in which they operate. Working within the universal frameworks of understanding the woman subject and the reading of life narratives generates an analysis in which women subjects like Janu and Saleena seem to be expressing the exterior rather than the interior. And merely reading exteriority into the texts of C. K. Janu and Saleena Prakkanam, contrary to the pattern of autobiographies, would foreclose the possibilities of understanding women subjects in their complexity. While their identity assertions have posed significant questions about the modern region of Kerala by problematising caste and gender relations, their narrative techniques also demand readings that upset the conventional traits of the genre of life narratives itself.The thought processes they etch out in their narratives draw a picture of Janu and Saleena as constantly reimagining their struggles for land as part of their selves. This does not mean that their subjectivity lacks interiority; instead, the inner and the outer are in such a complex relationship with each other that these binaries become insufficient as a framework to know the subject.

Conclusion The process of individuation which has been considered as integral to the formation of the subject needs to be understood in a wider framework to capture the nuances that contribute to the formation of subjects in diverse internal and external

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spaces. As in the case of Dalit women life narratives, an approach that could upset the internal/external dyad would not only enable an understanding of the formation of a subject but also politically situate the subject in its specificities and thus come to grips with the everyday experiences of caste and gender. On the other hand, the availability of only certain kinds of narratives from the publishing world is also something that needs to be gauged; the formation of subjectivities is not just an accident of time and space, after all, but is also shaped in relation to the already existing cultural sphere and market economics. For instance, many of the published Dalit autobiographies had to centralise the theme of discrimination and resistance rather than narrate their subjects’ lives as encompassing diverse spheres of life.17 Nevertheless, an approach that registers the idea that the presence of this literature has a place alongside so many other possible stories does provide interesting leads for working with the formation of the subject in its various layers.

Notes 1 Malayalam is the vernacular language spoken by Keralites. Kerala is the southernmost state of India. 2 The term ‘Dalit’ has evolved as a socio-political category under which ex-untouchable castes organised themselves against the ensuing discrimination prevalent in the Indian society. Dalit is used as an umbrella term to denote ex-untouchable castes and Adivasis (tribal people) as well. At the same time, both categories’ experiences of destitution have not been the same, as Adivasis were not directly under the caste system. Adivasis’ subjugation is more related to their encounter with the modern institutions and processes such as the state, migration and so on, which suppressed and imagined them as the ‘primitive’ and the ‘uncivilised’. Experience of untouchability and related oppression has been a significant rallying point for ex-untouchable castes to mobilise themselves. The chapter has made use of the term Dalit for both these categories, but a specific term such as Adivasi has also been used wherever required. 3 Dalit women have been asserting their rights by problematising and questioning mainstream feminist practices as well as patriarchy at various levels including Dalit patriarchy, see Rege (1998), Indira (1999). 4 There is a significant share of scholarly literature on Dalits, reservation and other policyrelated projects in which the agency of the Dalit subject is hardly foregrounded. They are imagined as beneficiaries of these policies rather than as active agents in reimagining their lives and politics. 5 Some of the important autobiographies/biographies in Malayalam during this period include the following: Kallen Pokkudan, Kandalkkadukalkkidayil Ente Jeevitam (My Life Amidst Mangrove Forest), ed. Taha Madayi (Kannur: Media Magic, 2002). Another autobiography by Pokkudan appeared later in 2010. See, Kallen Pokkudan, Ente Jeevitam (My Life), (Kottayam: DC Books, 2010). Jerina, a Malayali Hijada, published her autobiography titled Oru Hijadayude Aathmakatha (The Autobiography of a Hijada) during this period. ‘Dupe’ was the title of the autobiography of Surayya Banu, a junior artist in films. 6 The Chengara land struggle started in August 2007 by around three hundred families demanding cultivable land rather than promises of minimum rehabilitation. Most of these families were Dalits and Adivasis though there were a few Nairs, Muslims and Syrian Christians in the group. They built hutments in the Chengara Estate, which was being held by Harrisons Malayalam Plantation and started living there in protest. Later, the number of the families increased to seven thousand, the protest was intensified and it went on for more than two years before the government came up with a compromise package. A few years after the protest, the participants pointed out that the state promises

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were not yet fulfilled. For further discussion, see, Kapikad 2011.The Arippa land struggle (since December 2012) is another similar struggle for cultivable land by 1,300 Dalit and Adivasi protesters in Arippa, Kollam district. 7 Adivasis held a 48-day-long sit-in strike in front of the Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram demanding land for the landless Adivasis in 2001. Though the state government agreed to resolve their issues in October 2001, most of its promises were not kept. Adivasis occupied the Muthanga wildlife sanctuary to protest against this, which resulted in the violent suppression by the state that killed an Adivasi and a policeman in February 2003 (See, Steur 2009). C. K. Janu was arrested after a few days and her visibly tortured face flashed through the media stood testimony for the state’s differential treatment towards Adivasis. 8 The position of a Dalit Christian subject is fraught with complexities as their positioning within the religion is rather tenuous. Different hierarchical sections among Christians in Kerala belie the promise of conversion itself (Aloysius 1997). While Dalit Christians share the Dalit lifeworld culturally, they are constitutionally outside the Scheduled Caste category. They are not eligible for the Scheduled Caste reservation under which equal opportunities are assured in education and jobs for Dalits. This complex positioning of Dalit Christians, in fact, renders invisible their caste status, but at the same time they (are made to) live a life differently from their fellow Christians. Saleena (2013) also mentions that her family’s relationship with the church has never been easy. 9 Papilio Buddha (Director: Jayan K. Cherian, 2013) is a Malayalam film that features the life of Dalits protesting for land in the Western Ghats. Narrative of this film resonates with contemporary struggles like Chengara land struggle and Chithralekha’s (a Dalit woman auto rickshaw driver) fight against casteist patriarchy. 10 Nair is an upwardly mobile Sudra community who are socio-culturally and economically dominant in Kerala. 11 Saleena (2013) notes that in her journeys to campaign for the Chengara land struggle among Dalits, she realised that most of the places inhabited by Dalits do not have public transport as the terrain is either hilly or rocky in nature. 12 While Janu’s struggles for the land for Adivasis seem to be a claim on the modern idea of ownership, she also complicates modernity in her activism in many ways. In my meeting with Janu in June 2015, she was talking about how she has started alternate training classes for Adivasi school students as she felt that there was a disconnect between the modern education system and Adivasi traditions. Later in 2016, Janu has formed a new political party Janadhipathya Rashtriya Sabha and contested assembly elections in alliance with Bharatiya Janata Party, as part of National Democratic Alliance. Janu has also criticised BJP in April 2017 for empahsising on ‘controversial’ issues such as beef ban than spending time towards the welfare of Dalits and Adivasis. 13 For instance, Kapikad (2011) observes that the implementation of land reforms, which is considered as the cornerstone of Kerala Model, failed to ensure land for Dalits and Adivasis. Kurien (1995: 71) discusses the fishing community as an ‘outlier’ of the Kerala Model of Development in which case ‘one is confronted with the “normal” relationship of low incomes with the associated poor quality of life’ unlike the central tendency of the model where there is a paradox of low income in contrast to the better social indicators. 14 Christy (2015) argues how the progressive claim of Kerala was sustained through an ‘absent-presence’ of caste in the public space. The ensuing presence of caste in cultural transactions was masked in the public discourse by talking about it in a clandestine manner using several markers and codes. 15 Antharjanam is the surname attached to Namboothiri women, who belong to the highest community – Brahmin – in the caste order. The word literally means ‘people who dwell inside’. 16 Dalit feminist thinker Rekharaj notes that ‘Dalit women who have not had a right to domesticity or the privacy of the family thus far, desire it. We want the security of the house, good clothes, an education, time to relax, the possibility of not having to work’ (2011: 571). 17 See, for instance, Jadhav 2003, Kamble 2008 and Pawar 2008.

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Works cited Aloysius, G. Nationalism without a Nation in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997. Arnold, David and Stuart Blackburn. Telling Lives in India: Biography, Autobiography and Life History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004. Badiou, Alain. Conditions. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2008. Bhaskaran. C. K. Januvinte Aathmakatha (The Life Story of C.K. Janu). Kottayam: DC Books, 2003. Blunt, Alison and Gillian Rose. Writing Women and Space: Colonial and Postcolonial Geographies. London: The Guilford Press, 1994. Butler, Judith. ‘Contingent Foundations: Feminism and the Question of Postmodernism’, in Feminists Theorize the Political, Judith Butler and Joan W. Scott, eds. London: Routledge, 1992: 3–21. Chatterjee, Partha. ‘The Nationalist Resolution of the Women’s Question’, in Recasting Women, Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid, eds. New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1989: 233–253. Cherian, Jayan, K. dir. Papilio Buddha. Inner Silence Films, 2013. Christy, Carmel, K J. ‘The Politics of Sexuality and Caste: Looking through Kerala’s Public Space’, in Kerala Modernity: Ideas, Practices and Processes in Transition, Satheese Chandra Bose and Shiju Sam Varughese, eds. Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan, 2015: 126–145. Christy, Carmel. Sexuality and Public Space in India: Reading the Visible. London: Routledge, 2017. Foucault, Michel. ‘The Ethic of Care for the Self as a Practice of Freedom: An Interview’, trans. J.D. Gauthier, in The Final Foucault, J. Bernauer and D. Rasmussen, eds. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1991. Guru, Gopal and Sunder Sarukkai. Cracked Mirror: An Indian Debate on Experience and Theory. New Delhi: Oxford, 2012. hooks, bell. ‘Postmodern Blackness’, in The Feminist History Reader, Sue Morgan, ed. New York: Routledge, 2006: 191–196. Indira, J. Study of Sexual Violence: A Case of Rape against Dalit Women. Unpublished M. Phil Thesis, Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad, 1999. Indira, J. Contemporary Postcolonial Discourse: A Dalit Feminist Critique. Unpublished PhD Thesis, Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad, 2004. Jadhav, Narendra. Outcaste: A Memoir. New Delhi:Viking, 2003. Janu, C. K. C. K. Januvinte Aathmakatha. Transcribed by Bhaskaran. Bhashaposhini. December, 2001: 10–18. Kamble, Baby. The Prisons We Broke. Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 2008. Kant, Immanuel. ‘What is Enlightenment?’, in Kant: Political Writings, trans. H. B. Nisbet and Hans Reiss, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991: 54–60. Kapikad, Sunny. ‘Kerala Model: A Dalit Critique’, in No Alphabet in Sight: New Dalit Writing from South India, K. Satyanarayana and Susie Tharu, eds. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2011: 464–474. Kumar, Udaya. ‘Autobiography as a Way of Writing History’, in History in the Vernacular, Raziuddin Aquil and Partha Chatterjee, eds. Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2008: 418–448. Kurien, John. ‘Kerala Model; Its Central Tendency and the Outlier’. Social Scientist 23.1/3 (1995): 70–90. Menon, Dilip M. The Blindness of Insight: Essays on Caste in Modern India. Chennai: Navayana, 2006. Mohan, Sanal. Modernity of Slavery: Struggles against Caste Inequality in Colonial Kerala. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015.

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Mohanram, Radhika. Black Body: Women, Colonialism, and Space. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. Pandit, Maya. ‘Introduction’, in The Prisons We Broke, Baby Kamble, ed. Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 2008. Pawar, Urmila. The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs. Kolkata: Stree, 2008. Prakkaanam, Saleena. Chengara Samaravum Ente Jeevithavum (Chengara Struggle and My Life). Kottayam: DC Books, 2013. Raj, Rekha. ‘Dalit Women as Political Agents: A Kerala Experience’. Economic and Political Weekly 48.18 (2013): 56–63. Rao, Anupama. The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India. Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2009.Rege, Sharmila. ‘Dalit Women Talk Differently: A Critique of ‘Difference’ and Towards a Dalit Feminist Standpoint Position’. Economic and Political Weekly 33.44 (1998): 39–46. Rekharaj. ‘Rajani’s Suicide’, in No Alphabet in Sight: New Dalit Writing from South India, K. Satyanarayana and Susie Tharu, eds. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2011: 572–574. Scott, Joan, W. ‘The Evidence of Experience’. Critical Enquiry 17.4 (1991): 773–797. Steur, Luisa. ‘Adivasi Mobilisation: Identity versus ‘Class’ after the Kerala Model of Development’. Journal of South Asian Development 4.1 (2009): 25–44. Thankappan, Ranjith. ‘Life, History and Politics: Two Autobiographies of Kallen Pokkudan and Dalit Print Imaginations in Keralam’, in Dalit Literatures in India, Joshil K. Abraham and Judith Misrahi-Barak, eds. Delhi: Routledge, 2015: 192–203. Watson, Julia and Sidonie Smith. Interfaces: Women/Autobiography/Image/Performance. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2008. Watson, Julia and Sidonie Smith. Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.

9 MOTHER AS FUCKED Reimagining Dalit female sexuality in Sahil Parmar’s poetry Gopika Jadeja

According to Gujarati Dalit poet Yashwant Vaghela, ‘Dalit Literature is not just a social and economic struggle but a struggle to establish humanity through cultural values’.1 In emphasising culture as a site for struggle,Vaghela is responding to upper-caste, middle-class culture embodied in canonical Gujarati literature.2 For instance, the novels of K. M. Munshi, one of the most widely read and well loved of Gujarati writers. Harshad Desai suggests Munshi created a mythology for and instilled a sense of pride (asmita as Munshi called it) in upper-caste, middle-class Gujarat.3 This chapter will examine the poetry of Gujarati Dalit poet Sahil Parmar and explore how it seeks to reclaim Dalit humanity and subjectivity through the construction of a new Dalit aesthetics grounded in the political, the oral and trauma, analogous to the aesthetics of African American literature. Parmar also counters the canonical representation of the Dalit woman as victim, reframing Dalit female sexuality in the Dalit male gaze, thus reconfiguring Dalit masculinity and aesthetics, making them a medium for the re-evaluation of Dalit identity. I will first examine Sahil Parmar’s poems and his challenge to established notions of Dalit identity and sexuality and then examine the aesthetics of his poetry, particularly through the use of excess4, that he was compelled to defend when his controversial poem ‘Hun janmyo tyare, balak na hato’ (When I was born, I was not a child), was first published. In the last section I will compare the aesthetics of Dalit poetry with the aesthetics of Black poetry. Born in 1958, Sahil Parmar grew up in the chawls of industrial Ahmedabad. He began writing and publishing his poetry in periodicals of Dalit poetry in the 1980s and was closely associated with the Dalit movement in Gujarat and the Bharatiya Dalit Panthers of Gujarat during this period. He has to his credit two collections of poetry titled Vyathapachisi (Twenty Five Poems of Pain, 1984) and Mathaman (Churning, 2006) as well as a pamphlet, Ek Rakabi Futi (A Broken Saucer, 1991).

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The last being a long ‘report poem’ on an incident of ‘bride burning’. Another Dalit poet, Madhukant Kalpit, has compared Parmar’s poetry to a ‘naked sword’.5 Parmar’s poetry marks a departure not just from mainstream Gujarati poetry in its content and form, but also from Gujarati Dalit poetry. He classifies the collection of his selected works Mathaman (Churning) in the publication details as ‘Dalit egalitarian poetry’.6 This collection is unique in its exploration of the love poem that while being Dalit poetry also departs from the strident, angry mode of other Dalit poetry. Through awareness of the charged male gaze (both upper-caste and Dalit) towards Dalit women, Parmar’s poetry exposes the structures that construct this gaze. His poetry re-casts the patriarchal male gaze, reclaiming humanity for himself and the women depicted in his poems. I borrow the term ‘male gaze’ from Laura Mulvey’s polemical essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, written in the context of film. Mulvey writes, ‘The presence of a woman, is an indispensable element of spectacle in normal narrative film, yet her visual presence tends to work against the development of a story-line, to freeze the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation’.7 According to Mulvey, women in the narratives of Hollywood films are passive and serve merely as sexual objects.They have no agency of their own to take the plot forward.While Mulvey has been contested and her work expanded upon, the ‘male gaze’ is a useful concept for us in order to understand the construction of female sexuality and Dalit female sexuality.8 Talking about a singular male gaze, pinning down heterosexual male desire, may be simplistic but it is still a useful lens from which to view the construction Dalit sexualities, created within a hetero-normative matrix of what Uma Chakravarti terms Brahamanical patriarchy.9 Extending the work on masculinities in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe, there is an expanding field of work on masculinities in South Asia ranging from ethnographies and an analysis of masculine formulations. Earlier work, particularly in the context of colonialism consists analysing the production of hegemonic masculinities of the colonisers as opposed to effeminate masculinity of the ‘natives’.10 Explorations of masculinity of popular Indian cinema have been a strand in studies of masculinities in the region. The study of masculinities in South Asia acknowledges variability and the historical plurality as well as shifts in the concept of masculinity. In the field of historical studies, several studies on the representations of high-caste, middle-class women, exist.11 Connections have been made between violence and masculinity in the context of a resurgent Hindu Right.12 However, there is little examination of masculinity and its role in Dalit identity and politics. An exception to this is the work on colonial representation of Dalits by historian Charu Gupta, who suggests that ‘Dalits too represented themselves in different ways, conceiving a gendered sense of self in social, religious, public and political spaces’: Alternative representations in these sites by Dalits were a performative act, a tool deployed by the underprivileged. . . .These efforts were part of their survival strategies, coping mechanisms and oblique forms of resistance to limited

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structures of opportunity. Such representations produced creaks, cracks and dislocations in dominant representations of Dalit bodies.13 In the 1970s Dalit Literature emerged as one such space where Dalits could represent themselves. Through my reading of the poetry of Sahil Parmar, I study these ‘dislocations in the dominant representations of Dalit bodies’.

Reframing dalit female sexuality The body of the Dalit woman and her sexuality are culturally constructed in opposition to the sexuality of upper-caste women as defined by upper-caste men. Both upper-caste men and women view them as sexually available and of loose moral character. As Charu Gupta writes in Writing Sex and Sexuality: Archives of Colonial North India: The upper-caste Hindu male world also often perceived the Dalit woman’s body as flagrantly sexual, distinct from the emerging ideology of chastity of the high caste woman. . . . The Dalit female body was both at the same time – repulsive and desirable, untouchable and available, reproductive and productive. Sexual exploitation of Dalit women was an everyday fact, which was often expressed in terms of the alleged “loose” character of Dalit women themselves.14 This representation of Dalit women and their sexuality has been constructed through the male gaze of upper-class patriarchy, which simultaneously appropriates the sexual and productive labour of Dalit women.15 Dalit women and the construction of Dalit female sexuality have been explored by various scholars from a range of perspectives, such as the historical and sociological, in the work of Sharmila Rege (in particular her study of Dalit women’s testimonies) and Charu Gupta’s work mentioned above. Also, of interest is Rege’s work on lavani (folk performance form) performers in Maharashtra.16 My attempt here is different in that I draw from literature and explore how a Gujarati Dalit poet overturns these established notions of sexuality. Besides being labelled as sexually available, the portrayal of the Dalit woman in Gujarati Dalit literature has been that of a victim.Whether victimised by women or by men, the Dalit woman suffers and through her suffering remains a passive victim. One such example is the short story Dadro (Staircase) by Chandra Shrimali where the protagonist loses her unborn child by falling off a precarious staircase.17 Or the short story by Jasumati Parmar in which the wife walks out of a marriage where the husband, driven by poverty and desperation is ready to sell his wife’s body.18 Another example is the poetry of Priyanka Kalpit (one of the two Dalit women poets writing in Gujarati) where she sees herself as a dove, blood dripping down the wall.19 Sahil Parmar’s poetry is exceptional in Gujarati Dalit literature in its sensitive portrayal of women without representing them as victims.

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In Mathaman, Sahil Parmar presents a series of love poems and a poem he terms a ‘report kavita’ (report poem). The voice in these poems is that of the Dalit poet drawing us into a personal space, which is intruded upon by the larger social and public space he inhabits.The most strident poem in Mathaman is ‘Hun janmyo tyare, balak na hato’ (‘When I was born, I was not a child’), which examines not the lover or wife but the mother. The love poems in this collection are of interest because Parmar presents the lover as human and with compassion rather than looking upon her with a desire to possess. Another poem, where Parmar employs the persona of a Dalit woman, is the poem ‘Hun tane barobar olkhi chooki cchoon’ (‘I understand you very well now’). This poem is addressed to the upper-caste man. In his introduction to Mathaman, Dr. G. V. Vankar invokes the American poets Carolyn Rodgers and Allen Ginsberg.Vankar quotes from Rodgers’ The Last M. F., ‘i say, / that i only call muthafuckas, muthafuckas/so no one should be insulted’ and also Ginsberg’s declaration ‘I have achieved the introduction of the word fuck into texts inevitably studied by schoolboys’ to introduce Parmar’s poem ‘When I was born, I was not a child’:20 When I was born, I was not a child But a dream The dream dreamt by my mother Who has been fucked for thousands of years A dream of burning revolt Against boiling injustice21 Parmar’s poem possesses both the wit and excess of Rodgers as well as the abandon of Ginsberg in his attempt to challenge upper-caste masculinity and to recast both Dalit femininity and masculinity. Both Ginsberg and Rodgers faced the charge of obscenity − Ginsberg in court and from the critics of the day, while Rodgers was challenged for her use of obscenity by the male practitioners of same the Black aesthetic, with its poetics of excess and the deployment of a hypermasculine persona.22 Rodgers causes affront by using obscenities she is not supposed to use as a woman. Parmar causes affront by using obscenities that must not be uttered at all and that have no place in ‘poetry’. The challenge to the upper-caste male gaze along with a redefinition of the Dalit male gaze is evident in Parmar’s love poems from Mathaman. What is most striking about the poem ‘When I was born, I was not a child’ is the idea of the mother as fucked for thousands of years. Rape here is not only literally rape and sexual exploitation but a metaphor for all kinds of exploitation.While this embodiment of the community in the body of the mother may not seem new, Parmar is attempting to turn that embodiment on its head. He is not emasculated because the mother is fucked, but he becomes a ‘dream’. His masculinity is not posited through the honour invested in the female body, which is the property of a male and has to be guarded as such. The dream is not just of revolt against injustice, but

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also of a masculinity that is different from the one that has ‘fucked his mother for a thousand years’. The poet has centred the poem on the body of his mother, a Dalit woman who labours. When she gives him water to drink, it is not water but her sweat. The heightened realism of the water as sweat brings to the fore what Nayar calls ‘the material and corporeal harshness of everyday Dalit lives’.23 Her labour is invisible to those who have only ‘fucked her’. In Parmar’s poetry we find an awareness of the inequities that makes it politically charged. It is poetry that ruptures reality to reveal the material conditions that lead to inequities. In the poem, the poet has been born as a dream and the dream does not end with him. The poet has a daughter and he lines her eyes with impudence not kohl, again inverting an oft-used, traditional metaphor of beautiful kohl-lined eyes and attributing to the daughter power that does not stem from her femininity: My daughter twists/ the ears of Ganpati/ who is just an animal for her/ I line her eyes with impudence/ not kohl.24 The poet’s dream is of revolt and he does not have to be a ‘man’, but a human, to revolt. In his introduction to Mathaman, Parmar states that he began to write the love poems in this collection to break the perception that he was an ‘angry poet’. This is a charge that has been levelled against many Dalit poets in Gujarat because of their use of expletives and other excesses of language in their poetry. He also explains, ‘When I was writing these poems I was conscious that in my love poems, I will not portray women like the feudal or bourgeois poet’.25 These love poems are then a conscious effort by the poet to recast the patriarchal, upper-caste male gaze and to make his persona the conduit through which this recasting of the gaze takes place. The poet questions his own role in the performance of these gender roles and the construction of sexuality. In an essay titled ‘Ma ek stree chhe, Devhumani deekri chhe’ (‘Mother is a woman, daughter of a phoenix’) he writes: Setting my sense of propriety aside, and picking up some courage, let me add here an incident. The whole family used to sleep in one room. In the middle of a cold winter night, the room was dark. All of a sudden I was awake. I heard Bapa’s voice. In a low voice he was trying to persuade Ma, ‘You are still young . . . these days even old women have desire . . . I can’t control myself ’. Ma could only keep repeating, ‘No . . . no’. I lay there with the quilt covering my head, the creaking of the cot suggesting to me that my father has forced himself on my mother. If I say it in the language I acquired after maturity, my father raped my mother. Given the excess sensuality that I feel I have inherited from Bapa, and Bapa’s advice to me after my marriage to refrain from too much sex, I think that such rape must have been a usual occurrence in their marriage. So, Ma must have been sexually exploited regularly. (If I were to speak metaphorically, when I think of sexual exploitation my mother’s face and my wife’s face become one; if I were to speak literally, I would say that both my mother and my wife have been prey to sexual exploitation in a similar manner.)26

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Contrast this extract of prose with the opening poem of the collection, ‘Tu mari paase hoi chhe tyare’ (‘When you are with me’), where Parmar turns to the wife/ lover for ‘light’ in the midst of darkness. It is not the body of his wife/lover that he desires but her companionship. The beloved widens his horizons and brings him stillness. There is no raving here about the qualities of the beloved, but rather an enumeration of the ways in which she creates his world. He ends the poem with: When you are with me, my love it all happens just so. That is why like the thunder that runs in to save the impatient lightning I need, particularly, your companionship.27 It is not the beauty of the beloved that binds the poet to her, but the companionship they share. When he asks the beloved for companionship in these nonhierarchical terms as opposed to the sequence of marital rape he presents before us in the essay, Parmar succeeds in writing a poem that is ‘egalitarian’.This ‘egalitarian’ poem is made possible because of the poet’s ‘double consciousness’ creating awareness of the charged male gaze (both upper-caste and Dalit) towards women. He exposes the structures that construct this gaze recasting the patriarchal male gaze, reclaiming humanity for himself and the women depicted in his poems. In another poem that he addresses to his wife, ‘Patni saathe vaat’ (‘A conversation with my wife’) he writes: Hira, I am disappointed that we are human beings – like pearls at the bottom of the ocean or diamonds buried at the bottom of the earth not worth as much as a blade of grass. If only we were not human but the blossoms of dhatura then we would have grown freely like your breasts in the bloom of youth. And we would have been able to attract with our pure child-like hearts dark eyes that observe and discern.

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Or even without a microscope we would have been able to teach students lessons in reproduction without convulsions without ravaging. Absolutely naturally, like our Ulka spitting on her slate and rubbing out old, unnecessary letters we would have been able to erase from the minds of people the body of the virat purush.28 Very subtly, Parmar weaves into the poem not just the idea of the sexual exploitation of Dalit bodies, which leads to the disruption of family life and intimacy (convulsing, ravaging bodies in the poem) but also the idea of the annihilation of caste through the erasure of the body of the ‘virat purush’ of the Rig Veda and the origin of caste. The wife here is a companion and a fellow traveller on this journey. Her body, through the mention of her breasts, is not a sexualised body, but a body with human vitality. The poet’s gaze humanising rather than sexualising. A metaphor for the Dalit woman’s body reduced in the upper-caste male gaze to a part of the female anatomy, the wife’s breasts become real, re-claimed by the poet as human, ‘growing freely’.The act of reproduction in the poem, presented as a lesson in biology, is marked by caste. Caste and suffering are transcribed on the body as the poet amplifies the pain of the Dalit body that is exploited for labour and pleasure. In this poem Parmar evokes the history of violence inscribed on the bodies of Dalit women and men.29 In the construct of Brahmanical patriarchy, the Dalit male is emasculated and thus subjugated through the perpetrating of sexual violence on the bodies of Dalit women in his family and larger community. When he mentions ‘convulsions’ and the act of ‘ravaging’ Parmar breaks down and lays bare the mechanism through which his humanity is taken away.30 This consciousness makes it possible for him to reclaim and assert his sense of self and a collective identity for his community by erasing ‘from the minds of the people/ the body of the virat purush’.The ‘virat purush’, literally the ‘great man’, suggests not just a reference the hymn in the Rig Veda that is cited as a basis for the creation of caste, but also the notion of the hegemonic masculinity of the upper-caste Hindu male.

Creating a new Dalit aesthetics Parmar, along with humanising the figure of the beloved, also questions his own mode of writing. In his introduction to Mathaman he writes about his aesthetics and the transition that he made to writing the love poems that have been discussed. He says that the period from the late 1970s to 1985 was that of ‘stage poetry’. By

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stage poetry, he means poetry that is performed or proclaimed. It was the period for stage poetry due to the political climate of the time against the backdrop of the anti-reservation riots in Gujarat. The Dalit movement was gaining momentum in Gujarat and many of the poets, who were also activists, performed their poetry at rallies and protests. After 1986, Parmar felt the need to move away from stage poetry and the use of vernacular language to reach to a larger more mainstream audience.The churning of the title is also that of struggle between beauty and form. Aware of the allegations of sloganeering against Dalit poetry, from 1985 to 1990 he attempted this difficult exercise in equilibrium.31 Most of the love poems in Mathaman are written to his wife or to an uppercaste lover addressed once as ‘Nipa’. In none of the poems does the poet address the beloved as an object that he is looking upon. Parmar does not objectify the woman by naming her parts and yet her sphere is domestic. When he does name her parts in a poem titled ‘Pratipupo ni khoj ma’ (‘In search of new comparisons’), it is in search of new metaphors, rejecting the metaphors of mainstream poetry, and what Parmar calls ‘feudal’ love poetry. The beloved in Parmar’s love poems is seen as a companion, someone equal who shares his pain of being viewed as non-human, not someone to be possessed. In this poem Parmar examines his craft as a poet, which he compares to his wife’s patient exercise of looking for stones in the dal (lentils) before she cooks it.32 The role of the poem and the wife converge into that of a nurturer.The poem is as much about the wife as caregiver and a Dalit woman as the beloved as it is about his search for a new language for Dalit poetry. He wonders what he should compare her face with for the moon has been overused as a simile. Slowly the poet unfolds the comparisons, taking from her everyday domestic labour: Your face may be oval like the pestle to grind chillies [. . .] Your love is warm and refreshing like the water gushing noisily out of the municipal tap on a winter morning33 The poet observes his Dalit wife in her material state of being and relates to her at a human level, not seeking to possess her body. The poet’s gaze is compassionate and endows the figure of the beloved, the woman with the same humanity he claims for himself from her. The repetition and the interrogative mode lead the poet to new metaphors for Dalit poetry that depict the Dalit woman’s daily reality unlike the beautiful metaphors of ‘lalit’ poetry, that compare the face of the woman to the moon or use other tired metaphors. With the poem ‘Pratipupo ni khoj ma’, the poet is not merely describing his wife but creating new aesthetics of Dalit poetry, rejecting the metaphors, and thus the aesthetics, of canonical Gujarati poetry.

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The poet is aware that his poetry, despite its endeavour to reach out to a wider non-Dalit audience, is neglected by the literary establishment. In the poem ‘Mari kavita’ (‘My poetry’) Parmar writes: My poetry Dressed in its dirty clothes Poor like me Still awaits acceptance from the smooth pages of magazines Still seen thorough critical eyes Still unseen [. . .] My poetry Like my tongue Is uncivilised And like me It is untouchable Relegated to the margins By the clean civilized Critics My poetry Forgotten Disregarded34 The poet says that his poetry is ‘uncivilised’. By uncivilised he means poetry that uses language that is not considered civilised – language that is oral/ vernacular, not an urban, standardised language that has become the language of Gujarati literature. It is also language laced with expletives and excesses. This poem is Parmar’s response to those in the Gujarati literary establishment who criticise Dalit poetry for its lack of form and beauty. Dileep Jhaveri in ‘Introduction: Illumination and Disillusionment’, a survey of Gujarati literature written for Indian Literature, acknowledges the erudition of mainstream poets writing in Gujarati, who were well read in Indian and European classics. He also states, ‘None, mark it, none was associated with any political ideology’.35 This is important to note, as it points to the lack of political engagement in the literary environment where Dalit poetry was to take root in Gujarat. The political nature of Gujarati Dalit literature was also questioned by the literary establishment and considered to be non-literary. The oral mode adopted by some Dalit poets in Gujarati also added to these impressions that Dalit poetry has no aesthetic and is not aesthetic (lalit). I suggest later that the ‘literariness’ that Dalit poets create is distinct from Gujarati Lalit (literally aesthetic or beautiful, but here also canonical, established) literature and is indeed an aesthetic in itself.

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In his writing of ‘Dalit egalitarian poetry’ Sahil Parmar is attempting to create a counter aesthetic and counter literature to the Gujarati literary canon, which has rejected Gujarati Dalit literature as ‘non-literary’ and without beauty: ‘Dalit’ as opposed to ‘lalit’. A case in point is the seminar on Dalit literature organised by the Gujarati Sahitya Parishad in 1988 where non-Dalit writers and critics raised questions about the aesthetic and form as well as the content of Dalit literature. In response and in defence, Sirish Panchal (not a Dalit writer), professor of Gujarati at the M S University in Baroda said: if the writing in Dalit Literature is raw and unskilled, do we not find the same in works by the so-called enlightened ones? If on the basis of caste, power and position much unskilled writing finds its place among our best literature then there should be no hesitation in accepting the promising works in Dalit literature. The least we find in Dalit literature is lived experience and honesty – from these an aesthetic would certainly emerge. One of the reasons given for the diversity of American Literature is that its creators do not come from one expected stratum of society but from various strata. Similarly, when our literature emerges from different strata of society it will be enriched.36 While Panchal’s defence of Gujarati Dalit poetry does not actually acknowledge that Dalit poetry has aesthetics of its own, other arguments like Sharankumar Limbale’s suggest that Dalit aesthetics or the aesthetics of Dalit literature are grounded in pain and material suffering. Limbale also emphasises the expression of lived experience. For critics like Limbale this unmediated expression constitutes authenticity. Such arguments are useful in understanding Dalit poetry but I also find Pramod K. Nayar’s concept of ‘Traumatic Materialism’, borrowed from Michael Rothberg’s ‘Traumatic Realism’ in the context of Holocaust representations, important to the study of Dalit poetry.37 Nayar suggests that Dalit poetry cannot be read simply in terms of the material conditions of Dalits. He writes: traumatic materialism reveals that metaphors and symbols of cultural economy within such poetry pull away from the ‘merely material’. It is only when we move beyond realist treatments of bodily trauma that we can bear witness to the unspeakable lying behind and beyond this trauma. I propose that to stay within the domain of the material and the bodily is to confine and relegate Dalit poetry’s aesthetics to the material alone, with little scope for anti-realism, heavy symbolism or metaphorisation.38 Nayar goes beyond Limbale to suggest that the language of Dalit poetry can be symbolic and metaphorical while writing about the everyday trauma of Dalit experience.

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Dr. G. K. Vankar, in an overview of Gujarati Dalit literature responds to the charge that Dalit poetry has no aesthetics: Usually [Gujarati] Dalit poetry is not written in meters (sic); the most important conditions are authentic experience, commitment to dalit fraternity, social justice, vehement opposition to decayed social order and oppression in the name of religion.39 Rita Kothari in her article on the Gujarati Dalit Short story in the Economic and Political Weekly concurs: Protest literature, notes Digish Mehta (1989: 79) has a, ‘a referential load: it implies a content which is specific, being grounded in history. When expressed in a literary mode, it seeks to elicit a response of a specific kind; the bias is empirical and it points, beyond the aesthetic plane, to the plane of praxis or action.’ The argument for privileging a ‘plane of praxis’ over an ‘aesthetic plane’ has implications for the production, reception as well assessment of dalit literature. To put it clearly, it serves not to ask whether dalit short stories discussed above satisfy literary needs, because literary parameters are inadequate for investigating dalit literature.40 While I agree with her that literary parameters are inadequate for investigating Dalit literature, I would add that the literary in Dalit literature exists on a material and experiential level that necessitates the use of an aesthetic very different from that of mainstream literature.There have been attempts at defining this aesthetic but I remain unconvinced by the delineations on the aesthetics of Dalit literature I have come across so far, including that of Limbale. That Dalit literature springs from the agony and anger born of oppression and so is rooted in Dalit suffering and material conditions of being is a given. I agree with Pramod K. Nayar that the aesthetic of Dalit poetry is an embodied aesthetic of suffering and consists not just of the material condition and the suffering body of the Dalit but also something ‘beyond’.41

‘Black is beautiful’: Dalit aesthetics and Black aesthetics In order to understand a moving ‘beyond’ the material condition and the suffering Dalit body, I will attempt to do here what many Dalit writers in Gujarat have done – draw a parallel with Black American poetry, especially the anti-establishment aesthetics of Carolyn Rodgers. Neerav Patel is a Dalit poet and critic who draws such a parallel while also emphasising lived experience like Limbale: Some may question the unique aesthetics of Dalit literature. The efficacy of its aesthetics is relative to its successful expression. Where white is a measure of beauty and others colours ugly, the aesthetic of a rebel literature can only

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be to establish the beauty of other colours.The aesthetics not of ‘Black is also beautiful’ but that of ‘Black is beautiful’ must be made current. Dalit aesthetics does not believe in making literature an artefact for the museum but in the principle of urgency in life lived.42 This identification of Gujarati Dalit poetry with Black poetry and aesthetics is evident in publications as well. Hayati, the magazine published by the Gujarati Dalit Sahitya Academy published a special issue of ‘African-American Literature’ in translation.43 I would argue that ‘uncivilised’ language, the breaking of form and lack of metre, is not the lack of an aesthetic but an aesthetic in itself. Michael Bibby in his study of Vietnam-era resistance poetry quotes Henry Louis Gates Junior suggesting that the Black Aesthetic was forged as a ‘reaction against the New Criticism’s variety of Formalism’ and critics using the Black Aesthetic based their highly contextualized readings of ‘black urban vernacular, expressive culture’.44 If we were to compare the Black Aesthetic in the vein of Amiri Baraka or Carolyn Rodgers with Gujarati Dalit poetry we can find several parallels. This is poetry that is aggressive and menacing, uncivilised as it has been labelled – colloquial, vernacular and personal. Like racial difference that is foundational in the Black aesthetic, Dalit poetry makes caste difference foundational. Like Black aesthetics, it is a political project. And finally, the poetic vision is that of compassion and larger social inclusion.45

Orality in textuality: creating a Dalit aesthetic One of the predominant modes used create an aesthetic of Dalit poetry is that of orality. Parmar employs the modes of the oral tradition in textual/literate poetic expression allowing the creation of a radical aesthetic.The early Gujarati Dalit poets were influenced by oral literature.46 However, the orality used in a more textual/ literate poetry developed during the transition from an oral to more textual poetry written by the first generation of Gujarati Dalit poets who benefited from a university education. This orality in textuality is different from the straightforward use of dialect like in Parmar’s Ek Rakabi phuti (A saucer breaks), which is written completely in the rural dialect of northern Gujarat used by his Dalit community. Orality here is not just the representation of spoken language but a deliberate choice of using the oral mode in the textual. Parmar has moved away from the kind of oral language that prevents him from reaching out to a larger audience, another accusation by mainstream poets against his poetry. For instance, besides the use of dialect in his poems Parmar employs orality through his use of oral forms like that of the song (poems like ‘Mill chhootya ni veda’; Leaving the mill) and names (like Raghlo in the poem ‘Etluj, vishesh kashu nahi’; ‘Just that, nothing in particular’). These oral modes are observed also in the poetry of Neerav Patel. In the poem ‘Tu j mari sahiyar’ (‘Only you are my companion’), a poem about the sexualising of a Dalit woman by both upper-caste and Dalit

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men, he uses motif of the sparrow from a popular oral folk tale. In another poem, he uses the expression ‘e’, which in the oral tradition is a form of address that pulls the listener into the story.47 This deliberate use of orality is a rejection of the straitjacket of ‘literary’ language, which ties the Dalit poet to the injunctions of written language and a tradition that she or he rejects. Employing the oral mode challenges the structure of literariness and the social structure it represents for the Dalit poet, aiding in the creation of a Dalit aesthetic.

Notes 1 Yashvant Vaghela quoted in Pathik Parmar, Dalit Kavita na chaar dayaka (Four Decades of Gujarati Dalit Poetry) (Ahmedabad: Gujarat Dalit Sahitya Academy, 2010), 6. 2 Harshad Desai, ‘Joseph Macwan’s Work: A Look Back with Acceptance – Celebration if a Dalit Childhood and a Dalit World’, in Proceedings of Seminar on Dalit Literature (Centre for Social Studies, Surat, 18–20 February, 1988), n.p. 3 The words asmita refers to a sense of identity tinged with pride. One of Munshi’s popular works is titled Gujarat ni asmita (Gujarat’s Asmita). 4 Excess refers to the use of pejoratives, vernacular language and exaggerated or heightened realism as a rhetorical device. 5 Parmar, Dalit Kavita na chaar dayaka, 23. 6 Sahil Parmar, Mathaman (Ahmedabad: self-published, 2006). 7 Laura Mulvey, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, in Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 837. 8 Mulvey’s essay has been criticised mainly for her conceptualisation of a heterosexual, binary model of spectatorship. 9 Uma Chakravarti, Gendering Caste Through a Feminist Lens (Calcutta: Stree, 2003). 10 For instance Ashis Nandy, The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983); M. S. S. Pandian and Ajay Skaria, eds. Subaltern Studies XII: Muslims, Dalits and the Fabrications of History (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2005); M. S. S. Pandian, ‘Gendered Negotiations: Hunting and Colonialism in the Late Nineteenth Century Nilgiris’, Contributions to Indian Sociology, New Series, 29, nos. 1–2 (1996), 239–263; Revathi Krishnaswamy, Effeminism: The Economy of Colonial Desire (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002); Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Context (New York: Routledge, 1995); Mrinalini Sinha, Colonial Masculinity: The ‘manly Englishman’ and the ‘effeminate Bengali’ in the Late Nineteenth Century (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995); Ruth Vanita, Queering India: Same-sex Love and Eroticism in Indian Culture and Society (New York: Routledge, 2002); Rachel Dwyer and Christopher Pinney, Pleasure and the Nation:The History, Politics and Consumption of Public Culture in India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); Caroline Osella and Filippo Osella, eds. South Asian Masculinities: Context of Change, Sites of Continuity (New Delhi: Women Unlimited, 2004). Also of interest is Anupama Rao, ed. Gender and Caste (Delhi: Kali for Women, 2003). 11 See for example, Tanika Sarkar, Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation: Community, Religion and Cultural Nationalism (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2001). 12 See Gyanendra Pandey, Routine Violence (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2006); and Chandrima Chakraborty, Masculinity, Asceticism, Hinduism: Past and Present Imaginings of India (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2011). Chakraborty examines what she terms ‘ascetic nationalist masculinity’, looking anew at Hindu nationalism in India. 13 Charu Gupta, ‘Embodying Resistance: Representing Dalits in Colonial India’, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 38, no. 1 (2015), 118.

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14 Charu Gupta, ‘Writing Sex and Sexuality: Archives of Colonial North India’, Journal of Women’s History, 23, no. 4 (Winter 2011), 25. 15 Gopal Guru and Sharmila Rege have both written about Dalit feminism and Dalit patriarchy. See Gopal Guru, ‘Understanding Dalit Feminist Identity’, in Women of India: Colonial and Post-colonial Periods (New Delhi: Sage, 2005), 82–93 and Sharmila Rege, ‘Dalit Women Talk Differently: A Critique of “Difference” and Towards a Dalit Feminist Standpoint Position’, Economic and Political Weekly, 33, no. 44 (31 October–6 November 1998), WS39–WS46. Uma Chakravarti also looks at the diversity of patriarchal practices and Dalit Patriarchy in Gendering Caste, 81–91. 16 Sharmila Rege, Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonios (New Delhi: Zubaan, 2013). 17 Chandraben Shrimali, Gujarati Dalit Short Stories, trans. Atul Kumar Parmar (New Delhi: Shanti Prakashan, 2014), 39–55. 18 Jasumatiben Parmar, Queen of Black, trans. Neerav Patel, http://gujaratidalitsahitya.blogs pot.sg/2012/01/queen-of-black-short-story-by-jasumati.html Accessed 2 July 2016. 19 Priyanka Kalpit, Ghasarko (Ahmedabad: Gujarati Dalit Sahitya Academy, 2011), 1. 20 G. V. Vankar, ‘Prastavna’ (Introduction), in Mathaman (Ahmedabad: Sahil Parmar, 2006), 18. 21 All translations of Parmar’s poetry unless otherwise mentioned are mine. 22 Ford, Karen Jackson, Gender and the Poetics of Excess: Moments of Brocade (University of Mississipi Press, 1994), 209–210. 23 Pramod K. Nayar, ‘Dalit Poetry and the Aesthetics of Traumatic Materialism’, Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 22, no. 1 (2015), 4. 24 Parmar, Mathaman, 30–32. 25 Parmar, Mathaman, 23. 26 Sahil Parmar, ‘Ma ek stree chhe, devhumani deekri chhe’ (‘Mother is a woman, daughter of a phoenix’), in Gujarat Dalit Nibandh (Gujarati Dalit Essays), ed. Bhagirath Brahmbhatt (Gandhinagar: Gujarat Sahitya Academy, 2013), 113. An alternative translation by Dr. K. M. Sheriff: ‘Setting aside conventional priggishness for a moment let me relate a childhood experience of mine, the memory of which still troubles me. Our whole family Bapa, Ma and we children used to sleep in the only bedroom we had. Once, in the middle of a cold winter night, I suddenly woke up. The room was in pitch darkness. I heard bapa whispering to Ma: “You are still young. These days even old women want it. I can’t control myself any longer.” “No, no . . .” Ma protested. I pulled the quilt over my head and tried to go back to sleep. From the creaking of cot I could make out that Bapa was having intercourse with Ma, or rather as I learned later, he was raping her. Assuming that I have, for the most part, inherited my intense sexuality from Bapa, and considering the advice he used to give me after my marriage to take it easy with sex, I can say that such rape was a routine affair in their married life. It was the most common type of sexual exploitation. Talking of sexual exploitation, I must confess that today I see the same subdued, resigned expression of Ma’s transplanted on my wife’s face. Perhaps nothing has changed in a generation.’ Sahil Parmar, ‘Mother, I Remember’, in Eklavyas with Thumbs: Selections from Gujarati Dalit Literature, trans. K. M. Sheriff, http://eklavyaswiththumbs. blogspot.sg/2014/12/mother-i-remember-sahil-parmar.html Accessed 2 July 2016. 27 Parmar, Mathaman, 1–3. 28 Parmar, Mathaman, 11–12.Alternative translation by Dr. G. K.Vankar may be found on Muse India, Issue 11, 2007. www.museindia.com/viewarticle.asp?myr=2007&issid=11&id=555 Accessed 2 July 2016. 29 See Laura R. Brueck, Writing Resistance:The Rhetorical Imagination of Dalit Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 54–60, 154–177. Brueck writes about how sexual violence is viewed even by Dalit feminists as constitutive of the subjectivities of Dalit women, and how this view is being contested. 30 For accounts of sexual violence on Dalit women to maintain caste hierarchies see Anupuma Rao, The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2010), 217–240; Anand Teltumbde, Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop (New

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Delhi: Navayana, 2008) and Vasanth Kannaibiran and Kannaibiran, ‘Caste and Gender: Understanding Dynamics of Power and Violence’, in Caste and Gender, ed. Anupama Rao (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 2003), 249–275. 31 Parmar, Mathaman, 23. 32 Parmar, Mathaman, 4–8. 33 Parmar, Mathaman, 4–8. An alternative translation by Dr. G. K. Vankar reads: Your face is oval /Like the pestle for grinding chillies/ [. . .] Your love is like the water /noisily rushing with warm air/ from [a] municipal tap on a winter morning. Dr. G. K. Vankar, ‘Gujarati Dalit Literature: An Overview’, Muse India, 11, 2007 www.museindia.com/ viewarticle.asp?myr=2007&issid=11&id=543 Accessed 2 July 2016. 34 Parmar, Mathaman, 13–14. 35 Dileep Jhaveri, ‘Introduction: Illumination and Disillusionment’, Indian Literature, 54, no. 21 (2010), 48–59. 36 Parmar, Dalit Kavita na chaar dayaka, 19–20. 37 Sharankumar Limbale, Towards an Aesthetics of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies and Considerations, Trans. Alok Mukherjee (Orient Blackswan, 2012), 115–120. 38 Nayar, ‘Dalit Poetry and the Aesthetics of Traumatic Materialism’, 3. 39 Vankar, ‘Gujarati Dalit Literature: An Overview’, www.museindia.com/viewarticle. asp?myr=2007&issid=11&id=543 Accessed 2 July 2016. 40 Rita Kothari, ‘Short Story in Gujarati Dalit Literature’, Economic and Political Weekly, 36, no. 45 (10–16 November 2001), 4309. 41 Nayar, Dalit Poetry, 3. 42 Neerav Patel, Sarvanaam (Swaman Foundation, 1989), 154. 43 Hayati, Special Issue: African American Sahitya (African American Literature), ed. Pritam Lakhnani, July–Sep. 2011. 44 Michael Bibby, Hearts and Minds: Bodies, Poetry and Resistance in the Vietnam Era (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1996), 52. 45 Bibby, Hearts and Minds, 52–53. 46 Rameshchandra Parmar, ed. Anjali (Offerings) (Ahmedabad: Bharatiya Dalit Panther, 1987); and Rameshchandra Parnar, ed. Shramik Kavita (Labour Poetry) (Ahmedabad: Bharatiya Dalit Panther, 1986). These publications of poetry by Dalit mill-worker poets of Ahmedabad are mostly in the oral tradition and take the form of songs or bhajans. 47 Neerav Patel, Bahishkrut Phulo (Ostracised Flowers) (self-published, 2006).

Works cited Bibby, Michael. Hearts and Minds: Bodies, Poetry and Resistance in the Vietnam Era. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1996. Brueck, Laura R. Writing Resistance: The Rhetorical Imagination of Dalit Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014. Chakraborty, Chandrima. Masculinity, Asceticism, Hinduism: Past and Present Imaginings of India. Delhi: Permanent Black, 2011. Desai, Harshad. ‘Joseph Macwan’s Work: A Look Back with Acceptance – Celebration if a Dalit Childhood and a Dalit World’, in Proceedings of Seminar on Dalit Literature, Centre for Social Studies, Surat, 18–20 February, 1988. Dwyer, Rachel and Christopher Pinney. Pleasure and the Nation:The History, Politics and Consumption of Public Culture in India. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Ford, Karen Jackson. Gender and the Poetics of Excess: Moments of Brocade. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1994. Gupta, Charu. ‘Embodying Resistance: Representing Dalits in Colonial India.’ South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 38.1 (2015): 100–118.

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Gupta, Charu. ‘Writing Sex and Sexuality: Archives of Colonial North India’. Journal of Women’s History 23.4 (Winter 2011): 12–35. Jhaveri, Dileep.‘Introduction: Illumination and Disillusionment.’ Indian Literature 54.1 (2010): 48–59. Kalpit, Priyanka. Ghasarko. Ahmedabad: Gujarati Dalit Sahitya Academy, 2010. Kannaibiran, Vasanth and Kannaibiran. ‘Caste and Gender: Understanding Dynamics of Power and Violence’, in Caste and Gender, Anupama Rao, ed. New Delhi: Kali for Women, 2003: 249–275. Kothari, Rita. ‘Short Story in Gujarati Dalit Literature’. Economic and Political Weekly 36.45 (Nov. 10–16. 2001): 4308–4311. Krishnaswamy, Revathi. Effeminism:The Economy of Colonial Desire. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002. Limbale, Sharankumar. Towards an Aesthetics of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies and Considerations. Trans. Alok Mukherjee. Orient Blackswan, 2012. McClintock, Anne. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Context. New York: Routledge, 1995. Mehta, Digish. ‘Differing Contexts: The Theme of Oppression in Indian Literatures’. New Comparison 7 (1989): 79–87. Mulvey, Laura. ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, in Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999: 833–844. Nandy, Ashis, The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983. Nayar, Pramod K. ‘Dalit Poetry and the Aesthetics of Traumatic Materialism’. Indian Journal of Gender Studies 22.1 (2015): 1–14. Osella, Caroline and Filippo Osella, eds. South Asian Masculinities: Context of Change, Sites of Continuity. New Delhi: Women Unlimited, 2004. Pandey, Gyanendra. Routine Violence. New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2006. Pandian, M. S. S., ‘Gendered Negotiations: Hunting and Colonialism in the Late Nineteenth Century Nilgiris’. Contributions to Indian Sociology, New Series, 1996, 29(1–2): 239–263. Pandian, M. S. S. and Ajay Skaria, eds. Subaltern Studies XII: Muslims, Dalits and the Fabrications of History. New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2005. Parmar, Jasumatiben. Queen of Black. Trans. Neerav Patel. http://gujaratidalitsahitya.blogspot. sg/2012/01/queen-of-black-short-story-by-jasumati.html Accessed 2 July 2016. Parmar, Pathik. Dalit Kavita na chaar dayaka (Four Decades of Gujarati Dalit Poetry). Ahmedabad: Gujarat Dalit Sahitya Academy, 2010. Parmar, Rameshchandra, ed. Anjali. Ahmedabad: Bharatiya Dalit Panther, 1987. Parmar, Rameshchandra. Shramik Kavita (Labour Poetry). Rameshchandra Parmar, ed. Ahmedabad: Dalit Panthers, 1986. Parmar, Sahil. Mathaman. Self published, 2006. Parmar, Sahil. ‘Ma ek stree chhe, devhumani deekri chhe (Mother Is a Woman, a Daughter of a Phoenix,)’, in Gujarat Dalit Nibandh (Gujarati Dalit Essays), Bhagirath Brahmbhatt, ed. Gandhinagar: Gujarat Sahitya Academy, 2013: 108–118. Parmar, Sahil. ‘Mother, I Remember’, in Eklavyas with Thumbs: Selections from Gujarati Dalit Literature. Trans. K. M. Sheriff. Ahmedabad: Pushpam, 1999. Patel, Neerav. Bahishkrut Phulo (Ostracised Flowers). Self-published, 2006. Rao, Anupuma. The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India. New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2010. Rao, Anupama, ed. Gender and Caste. New Delhi: Kali for Women, 2003.

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Rege, Sharmila. Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonios. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2013. Sarkar, Tanika. Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation: Community, Religion and Cultural Nationalism. New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2001. Shrimali, Chandraben. Gujarati Dalit Short Stories. Trans. Atul Kumar Parmar. New Delhi: Shanti Prakashan, 2014: 39–55. Sinha, Mrinalini. Colonial Masculinity: The ‘manly Englishman’ and the ‘effeminate Bengali’ in the Late Nineteenth Century. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995. Teltumbde, Anand. Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop. New Delhi: Navayana, 2008. Tobing Rony, Fatimah. The Third Eye: Race, Cinema, and Ethnographic Spectacle. Duke University Press, 1996. Vanita, Ruth. Queering India: Same-sex Love and Eroticism in Indian culture and Society. New York: Routledge, 2002. Vankar, G. K. ‘Sahil Parmar’. Muse India (11, 2007). www.museindia.com/viewarticle. asp?myr=2007&issid=11&id=555 Accessed 2 July 2016. Vankar, G. K. ‘Gujarati Dalit Literature: An Overview’. Muse India (11, 2007). www.musein dia.com/viewarticle.asp?myr=2007&issid=11&id=543 Accessed 2 July 2016.

10 A POX ON YOUR HOUSE Exploring caste and gender in Tulsi Ram’s Murdahiya1 Shivani Kapoor

Women primarily used to cut up the dead meat. According to my grandmother, when the men of the Chamar community used to skin the dead cattle, they often used to be surrounded by hundreds of vultures and dozens of dogs . . . at this time women used to fight with these animals to get their share of the meat. My grandmother was one of them.2 From Murdahiya, Tulsi Ram (15)

Introduction Dr Tulsi Ram, one of the foremost Dalit authors and a renowned academic, passed away early in 2015 and with him ended a still nascent experiment in Dalit life writing within the Hindi literary sphere.3 Tulsi Ram’s incomplete two-part autobiography – comprising Murdahiya and Manikarnika4 – marks a strong departure from what has now become a standard mode of writing life within the Hindi Dalit literary spheres. Perhaps one of the most decisive turns these texts take is located in the carefully detailed phenomenological accounts of Dalit lifeworlds, such as the one about competing vultures and women, which the essay began with signifying a movement away from the strictly autobiographical concerns of the protagonist. While it has been argued that Dalit autobiographies are narratives of the collective rather than the individual, Tulsi Ram’s writing actually provides flesh and blood to that assertion. Tulsi Ram the protagonist is somewhat effaced in a narrative of his own making; he is displaced as the hero, and is in fact in his own admission, ‘a pox marked, one eyed ill omen’.5 It is this displacement of the authorial ‘I’ in the practice of autobiographical writing that forms the central concern for this chapter because of its significance for the questions of gender in Dalit life writing.6 Recovering women’s voices in history and in literature has been one of the predominant academic concerns in

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almost all disciplines.This ‘gendering’ of a discourse becomes even more relevant in contexts such as caste, where the modalities of power are deeply entrenched within larger structural formations as well as in the everyday. Accessing the writings and narratives of Dalit women thus becomes crucial in order to understand the location of their lifeworlds and experiences in the overarching narratives of caste.7 I propose that one method for accessing these female and feminine lifeworlds, and not solely women’s voices, could be through reading the normative male autobiographical narratives against the grain, even if it is for the silences of these texts. More than simply being a literary ploy, this displacement of the authorial ‘I’ also has a powerful political potentiality. By displacing the ‘bio’, the ‘life’, of the autobiographer, as the central moment of the text, space is thus created for the ‘others’ to get in. These proverbial ‘others’ of a male autobiography could be women, ‘lesser’ men, affectual contexts, thick life descriptions and, as is the case with Tulsi Ram’s writings, ghosts, spirits, the mad, the evil and, like himself, the inauspicious. It is these ‘others’ of a Dalit male autobiography that this essay explores in order to open up the gender question in what is otherwise considered to be the exclusionary genre of Dalit male writing. Three relationships of Tulsi Ram’s early life will be explored here, namely, with the ghosts, spirits and gods of the village, in particular with Sitala Mata; with his grandmother; and lastly with a young girl called Nataniya.Tulsi Ram writes about these relationships mainly in the first volume, Murdahiya, and in fact explicitly moves away from the village and its spectral presences by the end of this book. It is thus only the first volume that this essay interrogates. Tulsi Ram was born in 1949, in village Dharampur in the Azamgarh District of Uttar Pradesh. After spending his early years in this village, Tulsi Ram moved to Banaras for higher education in 1966. It was at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) that he encountered both the oppression of caste and its temporal antidote in political resistance.8 Subsequently, Tulsi Ram finished his doctorate in international relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and was working as a professor of international studies at JNU at the time of his demise. Tulsi Ram specialised in the politics of the former USSR and present-day Russia and Trans-Caucasia.9 Murdahiya was initially published as a seven-part series, starting in July 2007, in the Hindi magazine, Tadbhav. In 2010, the first edition of the book-form autobiography was published and covers the period of Tulsi Ram’s childhood and young adulthood till the time he leaves his village. The second part of the autobiography, Manikarnika, was published in 2014 and concerns his life in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and subsequently at BHU. A third part of the autobiography was supposed to provide details of his life in Delhi and at JNU, but Tulsi Ram’s demise put an abrupt end to this project. Even in this sense, his autobiography, incomplete in its narrative, challenges the autobiographical normative.10 Tulsi Ram was intimately connected to the Communist movement, having being influenced by it during his time as a student in JNU. He also had sustained interest in Buddhism for its strong egalitarian and anti-caste positioning. Both these influences are clear in his writings, and provide a distinct flavour to his understanding

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of politics and life histories. He frequently employs Buddhist folklore and scriptural sources in order to look back on his life events, and to contextualise their significance in his life. For instance,Tulsi Ram (Murdahiya 83–84) recalls an episode when as a child he wanted to take a bath at the common water pump before praying to Chamariya Mai before an exam. However, he is interrupted by the harsh castigation of his upper-caste schoolmate, Ramcharan Yadav, who refuses to share the water with a Chamar. This incident leaves a strong mark on Tulsi Ram’s childhood memories. It is only about two decades later when he reads Shudrak’s play, Mrichhkatikam, that this episode resolves itself for Tulsi Ram. In the play a Buddhist monk is ridiculed by Hindu upper castes for polluting the pond meant for dogs and jackals with his ‘malodourous body and dirty clothes’ (Murdahiya, 84). In response, the monk does not react offensively and continues calmly with his journey. Tulsi Ram writes: If at that time I had known about the Buddhist monk from Mrichhkatikam, I would not have felt so much pain. Now that after two decades I have been immersed in Buddhist philosophy, I feel that I am indeed the monk from those centuries ago. I am now free of this age-old suffering. (84) The young Tulsi Ram did not have recourse to the explanatory or emancipatory powers of Buddhism. But the autobiographer Tulsi Ram, in a move of crosstemporal self-reflexivity, uses the Buddhist paradigm to look back at his younger self, often even advising his earlier self, on a possible course of action. The self thus comes across as a layered and complex entity in Tulsi Ram’s writings. The complex non-linear nature of the evolution of the self disrupts the teleological autobiographical impulse. Thus even when the narrative sequence in Murdahiya follows a linear teleology, the self of Tulsi Ram does not. This layered and non-linear presentation of one’s life once again pushes at the boundaries of life writing, by retaining in the reconstruction or recalling, the messiness that pervades actual life events.

Gender and the autobiographical self In order to foreground the importance of this authorial displacement it is necessary to locate Tulsi Ram’s text in the larger universe of Dalit writing and politics. Dalit autobiographies have been an important component of the Dalit movements and literature, ever since the advent of the Dalit Panthers Movement in Maharashtra in the 1970s. Within the Hindi Dalit literary and public sphere, the autobiography is a relatively new type of writing, especially given the long history of the genre in the context of self-writing emerging from the Western Euro-American traditions. These traditions gave rise to several debates about the nature of self, which emerged through autobiographical writing. For the argument here, it is important to consider that this autobiographical self was largely considered to be a detached and self-reflexive individual writing in the confessional mode.11 The perception that

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the autobiographical self is necessarily produced as, and produced from, a detached and self-reflexive individual, faced great challenges, especially with the expansion of self-writing to the marginal and subaltern constituencies, many of whom argued for more complex understandings of the self of the autobiography. The complex heterogeneous genre of Dalit autobiographical writing incorporates aspects from all these traditions, while proposing certain newer trends. In particular, the Dalit male autobiographical writing in Hindi has largely retained the teleological and self-reflexive nature of the genre. However, Dalit autobiographies in general have also posed significant challenges to the individualistic nature of the autobiographical self. This will be discussed later in the chapter. The first well-known autobiography in Hindi was Mohandas Naimishray’s Apne Apne Pinjare (2009), followed by Om Prakash Valmiki’s autobiography, Joothan (2009).12 These two texts are largely seen as the pioneers in the field of Hindi Dalit autobiographies and have been widely translated, read and discussed. Texts such as these, argues Sarah Beth, established a blueprint for writing about Dalit lifeworlds.13 Women have a specific way of featuring in these instances of male autobiographical writing.They appear as characters flattened of all sensuousness, of all affect.They are neither subjects of political struggle, nor are they bodies and selves on which caste leaves its mark. They do not even appear to be aiding in the character growth of the autobiographer. Beth thus rightly argues that the ‘Dalit’ in the Dalit autobiographies is ‘normatively male’.14 In this ‘normatively male’ autobiography, the values of courage, struggle against victimhood and such become the dominant modes of the autobiography. The very mode of autobiographical writing aids this kind of self-fashioning, and this self-fashioning is masculine in nature. Thus, while the male autobiography plays out as a complex performance, it also homogenises – it is a representation of only one act amongst many others available.15 Dalit women’s writing, especially autobiographies have had a more complex engagement with these questions. Communities, whether religious, caste or national are sites which are not just oppressive for women but also tend to homogenise their lives and histories into dominant modes of understanding. For Dalit women’s writing this question becomes much more complex since in the context of caste, the community is simultaneously the site of oppression and the site for shared negotiation of pain and emancipatory politics.16 M. S. S. Pandian, terms this as a ‘community of voices’, while writing about Bama’s Karruku.17 He argues that Bama’s writing crosses the boundaries between autobiography, the history of a village and a novel, to the extent that even upper-caste voices find a place in Bama’s community.This, he argues, disrupts the autobiographical ‘I’ in favour of the collective of the Dalit community.18 However this is not an uncritical acceptance of the communitarian logic by the Dalit women. Gopal Guru argues that this claim to talk differently also assumes that the social location of the speaker will be more or less stable and that this difference can be taken as representative. This may not always be the case since vast differences also exist between Dalit women themselves. Sharmila Rege also argues that the Dalit woman’s position is far from homogeneous and contains within it different and

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even contradictory positions (2003, 2013b). This makes it even more urgent that the question of caste be argued out from every class, caste and gender position possible. Thus while foregrounding Dalit women’s own writings, it is perhaps equally urgent to also locate women’s histories and lifeworlds as (and if) they appear in Dalit male writing in order to challenge the masculine normativity of the latter, from without and within.This impulse to read the Dalit male autobiography for the traces of the female locates itself in the recent challenges to the idea of dominant masculinity from various perspectives (over and above the long-standing feminist and women’s movements) like the queer movement, disability studies and most significantly from subaltern caste formations.19 These challenges force us to look beyond the universality of masculinity, or of a masculine identity, to intersperse this perspective with other subject positions such as caste. Men or male perspectives which then ‘fail’ to achieve the standards of dominant masculinity could then become complicit partners in the project of gendering.20 I argue that in positioning himself against such dominant masculinities, through his autobiography, Tulsi Ram provides us with one such location from which to interrogate not just the silences of a male autobiography but also, and more crucially, its spectral presences.

Reading Gender in Murdahiya Tulsi Ram’s autobiography Murdahiya provides us with a counterfactual to the canonical Dalit male/masculine autobiographical subject. The pox-marked Tulsi Ram, stained by the angry mark of goddess Sitala Mata, is not a great figure for Dalit masculinity as defined by other male autobiographies where conventional ideas of masculinity like courage and valour continue to create not just the Dalit male subject but the Dalit subject at large. Tulsi Ram on the other hand, having been inflicted with small pox as a child, suffered from a pox-marked face and the loss of vision in one eye (throughout the narrative he is referred to by other children as ‘kanva’, one-eyed). These are not simply physical conditions and also depict bad omens and scarring of a higher order, much of which also permanently marks Tulsi Ram’s life. There has been a rich debate within sociology and anthropology on Sitala Mata and her location, especially in rural, lower-caste contexts.21 Sitala Mata (‘The Cool One’) has widely been regarded as the goddess of small pox – she is known to cause small pox as well as provide protection from it. She is thus considered an impulsive and angry female deity, who is also very hard to please. It is significant that Sitala Mata, along with Chamariya Mai and several other such female deities figure prominently in Dalit lifeworlds, structured as they are outside of and sometimes in opposition to Brahmanical practices. It is by foregrounding the mark of the female/feminine on himself and destabilising the demands of conventional masculinity that Tulsi Ram creates a space to bring out affectual histories and practices of women and the feminine in his lifeworld.This is done through various interesting devices and this part of the essay will focus on three such methods. First is the way in which he brings about the thick

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involvement of ghosts, madness and superstition in constituting his world. Second is his archiving (and I am consciously using the term ‘archiving’ instead of ‘describing’) of the Dalit practices around hunger, food collection and preservation and the treatment of illnesses, particularly through his relationship with his grandmother. Lastly is the depiction of his brief relationship with Nataniya, a character so marginal to his own life, yet who becomes a fascinating subject of a history which we find hard to capture by conventional methods. The world of Murdahiya is one constituted entirely by ghosts. Tulsi Ram not only grows up with them and is constituted by them but also chooses to retain that texture in his autobiography.This world of spirits gives meaning and context to the lives of those living in that village, but it also stays with Tulsi Ram as he leaves the village. In fact, in the preface to Murdahiya and in several interviews he mentions the fact that the burial ground in his village along with all its ghosts and spirits has been flattened to make way for the most modern of all contraptions: the road. While understanding the importance of the road, and thus of a modern, rational subjectivity, Tulsi Ram nonetheless does not give up on his ghosts and the spectral subjectivity that they provide his self. He could, and at times he does, find ‘scientific’ explanations for, say, fires in swamps or diseases caused by goddesses, but this does not necessarily lead to a denigration of the meaning that this spectral world has for its other inhabitants. For Tulsi Ram one of the most important of these inhabitants is his grandmother, Musadiya. It is largely Musadiya’s world that a young Tulsi Ram finds himself ensconced in and in the process provides us with a rather rich glimpse of a female Dalit lifeworld around the early- to mid-twentieth century in North India. In his own words, ‘dadi ek tarah ki vaid bhi thin’ (‘grandmother had the knowledge of a doctor’); ‘Dadi ke seengh buddh ki yaad dilate the’ (‘Grandmother’s use of animal horns reminded me of Buddha’); and ‘dadi ek tarah ki encyclopedia thin’ (‘grandmother knew many things’). Through his grandmother,Tulsi Ram creates an archive of sorts, when he begins to convince the reader to believe in her ghosts and her superstitions. Musadiya believes that her husband was killed by a ghost and that a woman’s spirit haunts the community, but she also knows about the curative properties of flowers and the medicinal importance of cattle horns; she has fought vultures to gather meat for her family; and most importantly she knows about Bistorias – colonial silver coins stamped with the image of Queen Victoria, thus Bistoria. This pot of 37 Bistorias is her sole material property, but she cannot count them in the ‘normal’ way. For her 37 is a rather unknown concept, being familiar only with the numerals till 10, and then its multiples as 20, 30 and so on. So for her 40, would be ‘do bees’ (‘two twenties’). And thus thirty seven would be ‘do bees mein teen kam’ (‘three minus two twenty’). Counting in this fashion was the only way to convince her that her property was intact. If we, or, rather, Tulsi Ram were to deny her ghosts, we would also have to deny this rather delightful archive of knowledge practices and Dalit history, which the Bistoria story brings out. In recording these narratives, and not denying them as

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superstition,Tulsi Ram thus establishes a system of knowledges and memories from within the Dalit lifeworlds which are crucial in our understanding of the political and the social in these communities. As readers, we are forced to ask what a female Dalit subjectivity based on the ownership and accounting of Bistorias would look like. A similar question comes up when, again through the grandmother and through other women in the village, especially from the Musahar community,22 Tulsi Ram raises the crucial political and ethical question of food and hunger. Murdhiya can be read as a veritable archive of Dalit women’s battle against hunger – a crucial dimension of caste oppression.The practices of food accumulation – dried up meat hidden in animal horns; the invention of suitable food for tiffin boxes of firstgeneration school goers in the family; the recovery of grain from rat holes – all provide markers for a history waiting to be written. And none of these thick descriptions have to do with the autobiographical subject of Tulsi Ram per se. It is here that the political charge of his writings comes to the fore. He is not simply complicating the authorial ‘I’ of the autobiographical genre, but also complicating what it means to be a Dalit subject of an affective history which has as its concerns hunger, disease, gossip, rumours and ghosts. The question of affective and emotive histories would also find it impossible to ignore Nataniya – the young effervescent girl from the migrant Nat community, who befriends a school going Tulsi Ram in order to learn English from him. While many male Dalit autobiographers have talked extensively about the radical potentials of their schooling, they nonetheless seem to forget the ones who did not make it to school – namely the Dalit women. Murdahiya on the other hand, not only talks about the three upper-caste women in Tulsi Ram’s class, it also contains the fascinating story of Nataniya, who, never having made it to school, yet stakes claims to knowledge. Standing on the margins of society, made inauspicious by her own migrancy, Nataniya seems to unsettle the readers the most, because of her uninhibited laughter, her spontaneous dance and most of all her devout rendition of ‘Vultures are sitting on the tree’ – the one line in English that Tulsi Ram manages to teach her. It is almost prophetic that vultures, the symbols of death and burials and in this case also struggle for food, should mark this narrative. While leaving the village, Tulsi Ram meets Nataniya for the last time in the Murdahiya – the village burial ground. In despair of losing her only friend, Nataniya forgets how to chant her favourite English phrase – the vultures are no longer hers. Tulsi Ram compares her position in his life to that of Amrapali in Buddha’s.23 The characterisation of their relationship as the one between Buddha and Amrapali is quite a nuanced and complex observation on Tulsi Ram’s part. Amrapali or Ambapali of Vaishali, a Nagarvadhu (a royal courtesan) features prominently in Buddhist literature. Amrapali eventually takes up the Buddhist order and becomes one of the closest disciples of the Buddha. Uma Chakravarti argues that the courtesan in these Buddhist states enjoyed relatively more autonomy since she was financially independent and could own property unlike the other women.24 Chakravarti mentions that this autonomy allows Ambapali to not withdraw her invitation to Buddha, in the face

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of competing offers by Lichhavi princes. However, this does not take away from the fact that the choice to become a courtesan was not hers. This is similar to the status of a bhikkhuni (Buddhist nun), who, while experiencing more freedom than the lay woman, is yet confined by norms of patriarchy, such as the preference for the nurturing and caregiving role of women even within the Buddhist order. Thus, the relationship between Buddha and Amrapali constitutes several layers – that of a teacher and a student, of a patron and client, since Amrapali gives her house to Buddha and his retinue, and that of a courtesan who stakes claim to her right to approach the Buddha. It could only be conjectured that the relationship between Tulsi Ram and Nataniya seems to echo the teacher-student modality. However, the relationship also exceeds this flattened description in terms of its affect and politics. In a talk given at JNU in 2012 Tulsi Ram revealed that Nataniya is no longer traceable; possible she could have died.The very fact that both the volumes are framed by the question of death – impending death of the autobiographical subject as well as death as a metaphor for Dalit lifeworlds – is a significant move for the otherwise rather canonical framing of the Dalit autobiographical subject in other Hindi narratives. Borrowing from Udaya Kumar’s reading of C. Ayyapan’s stories as thanatographs, one could then propose that in marking the male autobiographical subject with death, Tulsi Ram exposes this subject to uncertainty, instability and fear.25 In the preface to Murdahiya, Tulsi Ram compares his life, and that of his community, to the burial ground. It is the place where they skin animal carcasses (karmsthali), where the animal and the human worlds come together in competition over animal meat. It is the place of ghosts, which form an integral part of the Dalit lifeworld in the village. It is the place which buries within itself the oppressive histories of the Dalits of the village. Murdahiya is thus a collective title for any one or all of those lives. Tulsi Ram further suggests that the act of writing this life narrative has been an act of excavating the self from this burial ground.26 This uncertainty in the face of a certain death then leaves large gaps in the supposedly continuous and coherent male subjecthood. In these interstices, the ghosts, the goddesses and women seep in and begin to become a part of Tulsi Ram’s autobiographical self.

Conclusion Dalit autobiographies have invoked rich debates in the literary and public spheres. There have been discussions over the ownership of experience and the right to write about this experience, over the reception of these texts by the public at large and about the primacy given to the autobiographical form over other genres of literary expression.27 Dalit autobiographical writings, thus present and also constitute a powerful public Dalit self through the acts of writing, recalling and forgetting. This act of writing and reconfiguring Dalit lifeworlds in and through public debate and circulation of texts is an important political act for the movement. However, after several decades of writing and politics, the Dalit movement is now facing complex issues of identity and representation especially in terms of providing space

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to the voices of Dalit women and to the relatively more marginalised sections amongst the Dalit groups.28 Reading the feminine in Tulsi Ram’s autobiography by no means replaces the need for accessing women’s writings. In fact, it achieves a two things. First, it opens up the feminine in a male autobiography, thus disrupting the homogenised idea of a Dalit man and Dalit masculinity. Second, it destabilises the question of who can represent whom. While these women are not the protagonists of Murdahiya, the autobiography will not hold together without the fabric that they spin around the narrative of this work. These women not only disrupt the maleness of a male Dalit autobiography but also challenge the dominant image of a rational, autonomous, coherent self, which accompanies the autobiographical genre. The female world of ghosts, superstitions and forgotten histories instead create the ‘dividual’ of Tulsi Ram, which marks a break from the ‘urban-male-middle-class’ Dalit of earlier formulations.29 It is this break and Tulsi Ram’s alternative answer to the question of authorship and experience that this essay explores. The larger question here deals with the determination of presence – how does one determine the presence of the female and the feminine in a text or in a moment of politics? The presence of women or a female voice is perhaps just one of the starting points in this exercise. It is rather more urgent to locate the destabilising feminine in what has potential to be read as solely a male/masculine moment, such as a male autobiography. This also has relevance for the form of the autobiography itself. The question for us then is how to read Murdhiya, with a male name on the cover, yet which brings to us Musadiya – the grandmother who is still searching for her corner of history.

Notes 1 The title of this essay derives from William Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, in which Mercutio, utters the phrase, “A plague o’ both your houses” (Act III, Scene I).This phrase has often been quoted as ‘A pox on both your houses’. However, this is not an attempt to map a Shakespearean context and reading on a Dalit autobiography.The phrase has been borrowed to highlight the interplay of pox-marks, ill omen and a sense of humiliation, which seems to, albeit partially, frame the life of the protagonist. This idea will be taken up for a detailed discussion later in the essay. 2 All translations, unless indicated otherwise are mine. 3 According to Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives (London: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 3, life writing is understood as a general term for writings of diverse kinds which take a life as their subject. This can be self-referential, historical or take the form of a novel. Life narratives on the other hand are much narrower in focus and include self-referential writing such as autobiographies. 4 Both these words – ‘murdahiya’ and ‘Manikarnika’ are broadly associated with death. While ‘Murdahiya’ is a generic term for burial or cremation grounds, Manikarnika is the name of one of the more famous burning ghats (bank of a river) in Banaras, where Tulsi Ram spends his young adulthood. Death thus forms an important political and literary trope for understanding Tulsi Ram’s writings and will be discussed later in the chapter. 5 Ram, Murdahiya (Delhi: Rajkamal Prakashan, 2010), 12.

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6 Within life writing, the specific genre of the autobiography only emerges in the period of the European Enlightenment, which privileges the idea of a strong, autonomous individual who can indulge in a public examination of life. Smith and Watson, Reading Autobiography, 2–3.The genre of autobiographies has been the subject of much contestation in India. Bhikhu Parekh, for instance demands a ‘reflexive and reasonably detached account’ – which as the vast corpus of Dalit and women’s writing has shown is an unreasonable idea in itself. The self, within the feminist, queer and disability discourses has been understood variously as fluid, as a performance, as a dividual and/or at the very least as a complex social construction, which cannot and should not provide a coherent account of oneself. See Bhikhu Parekh, ‘Indianisation of Autobiography’, in Colonialism, Tradition and Reform: An Analysis of Gandhi’s Political Discourse, ed. Bhikhu Parekh (New Delhi: Sage, 1999), 272–293. 7 Important theoretical, archival and literary interventions have been made in this regard. Urmila Pawar and Meenakshi Moon’s Amhihi Itihas Ghadavala (We too Made History) archives the narratives of the women who took part in the Ambedkarite struggle in the early 1900s. Sharmila Rege’s Writing Caste/Writing Gender Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonios and Against the Madness of Manu: B R Ambedkar’s Writings on Brahmanical Patriarchy, Anupama Rao’s edited collection Gender and Caste have been some of the important theoretical interventions in this field. Amongst the literary works autobiographies such as ‘Bama’s Karukku’, Urmila Pawar’s Aaydan (The Weave of My Life), Baby Kamble’s Jina Amucha (The Prisons We Broke) and P. Sivakami’s, The Grip of Change and Author's Notes for The Grip of Change amongst others have been significant in foregrounding Dalit women’s voices and experiences. 8 The second part of his autobiography, Manikarnika, deals with the BHU period in detail. 9 His other publications include, The Liberation of Angola (1976), C.I.A.: American Weapon of Political Destruction (1978), The History of the Communist Movement in Iran (1981), Persia to Iran: One Steps Forward,Two Steps Back (1985), Ideology in Soviet-Iran Relations (Lenin to Stalin) (2003). 10 Individualistic autobiographies often focused on a teleological pattern of development in narratives usually written late in life as retrospections on public and/or writing careers. They assumed a concluding point at which some kind of self-understanding through reflection upon past achievement takes place. Smith and Watson, Reading Autobiographies, 121–122. 11 In keeping with this understanding of autobiographical writing, by the 1960s, a canon of autobiographical writing had emerged in the West, which included, St. Augustine’s Confessions, Cellini’s Life, Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, Goethe’s Truth and Poetry, J. S. Mill’s Autobiography, and Thoreau’s Walden. In these texts, the autobiographer was assumed to be an autonomous and enlightened individual who understood his relationship to others and the world as one of separateness in which he exercised the agency of free will. Sminth and Watson, Reading Autobiographies, 121–122. 12 The serialised autobiography of Hazari, which appeared in the newspaper Hindustan as Ek Harijan Ki Ram Kahani between 1952 and 1954 and which was subsequently translated in English as An Outcaste Indian, is widely regarded as one of the first autobiographical narratives to emerge in the sphere of Hindi Dalit writing. 13 Sarah Beth, ‘Hindi Dalit Autobiography: An Exploration of Identity’, Modern Asian Studies, 41, no. 3 (2007), 571. 14 Beth, ‘Hindi Dalit Autobiography’, 571. In a similar vein, Rege argues that there was a masculinisation of Dalithood and a savaranisation of womanhood, leading to the exclusion of the Dalit woman in politics in general. See Sharmila Rege, ‘A Dalit Feminist Standpoint’, in Gender and Caste, Anupama Rao, ed. New Delhi: Kali for Women, 2003: 91. 15 Beth, ‘Hindi Dalit Autobiography’, 571. 16 For a discussion on the interplay between the individual and community in Dalit autobiographical writing, see Sharmila Rege, Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit

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Women’s Testimonios (Delhi: Zubaan, 2013b), 14–18. Rege (Writing Caste, 16) argues that Dalit life narratives are ‘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’. In a similar vein, Pramod K. Nayar, ‘Bama’s Karukku Dalit Autobiography as Testimonio’, Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 41, no. 2 (2006), 87, writing about Bama’s autobiography, Karruku, argues that the fact that the author’s name is not revealed in the text and that ‘Bama’ itself is a pseudonym, suggests a ‘crucial occlusion, or perhaps elision, between the personal “I” who is unnamed/unidentified and the community’. Bama herself (quoted in Nayar, ‘Bama’s Karukku’, 84) writes, ‘The story told in Karukku was not my story alone. It was the depiction of a collective trauma – of my community – whose length cannot be measured in time. I just tried to freeze it forever in one book so that there will be something physical to remind people of the atrocities committed on a section of the society for ages’. In the preface to Murdahiya, Tulsi Ram, also suggests that ‘the village burial ground ensconced within itself the pain and suffering of thousands of Dalits who were buried there. If any of them wrote an autobiography, it would be called “Murdahiya” ’. See Murdahiya, 5. 17 M. S. S. Pandian, ‘On a Dalit Woman’s Testimonio’, in Gender and Caste, ed. Anupama Rao. (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 2003), 132–133. 18 Pandian, ‘On a Dalit Woman’s Testimonio’, 130–132. 19 For instance, see Romit Chaudhury and Zaid Al Baset, ‘Men Doing Feminism’, Economic and Political Weekly (16 May 2015); Sanjay Srivastava, ‘Masculinity Studies and Feminism: Othering the Self ’, Economic and Political Weekly (16 May 2015); and Charu Gupta, The Gender of Caste: Representing Dalits in Print (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2016). 20 The idea of failure and its impact on dominant masculinity has been borrowed from Chaudhury and Baset, ‘Men Doing Feminism’, 30. 21 See Pauline Kolenda, ‘Pox and the Terror of Childlessness: Images and Ideas of the Small Pox Goddess in a North Indian Village’, in Mother Worship: Themes and Variations, ed. James J. Preston (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1982); Edward C. Dimock Jr, ‘A Theology of the Repulsive: The Myth of the Goddess Sitala’, in The Divine Consort – Radha and the Goddesses of India, ed. John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff (New Delhi: Motilal Banarasidas), 1984; and Fabrizio M. Ferrari, ‘Old Rituals for New Threats: Possession and Healing in the Cult of Sitala’, Ritual Matters: Dynamic Dimensions in Practice, ed. Christiane Brosius and Ute Husken (New Delhi: Routledge, 2010). 22 Musahars are a Dalit community from the regions of Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and from parts of Nepal. The name ‘Musahar’ literally means ‘those who eat rats’, signifying the conditions of extreme poverty and stigmatisation that the community faces. Historically, the Musahar community functioned as hunters in the forests, till they were forced into bonded agrarian labour, especially under the oppressive caste practices. In the absence of food, members of the community are known to have consumed rats, as well as scourged for grains stored in rat holes. Today, the Musahars constitute one of the most marginalised groups in these regions in terms of access to developmental resources, educational and employment opportunities and also in terms of social dignity. See Arun Kumar, ‘Culture, Development and the Cultural Capital of Farce: The Musahar Community in Bihar’, Economic and Political Weekly, 41, no. 40 (7–13 October 2006), 4281–4285, 4287–4291, for a detailed discussion on the Musahars. 23 Ram, Murdahiya, 163. 24 Uma Chakravarty, ‘The Rise of Buddhism as Experienced by Women’, Manushi, no. 8, (November–December 1981), 9. 25 Udaya Kumar, ‘Two Figures of Shame: Exposure, Ethics, and Self-Narration’, Etudes Anglaises, 62, no. 3 (2009), 345–357. 26 Ram, Murdahiya, 5. 27 Gopal Guru, ‘Dalit Women Talk Differently’, Economic and Political Weekly, no. 41/42 (14–21 October 1995), in arguing for an epistemologically distinct position for Dalit

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women’s voice and politics started a debate over the authorship over the experience of caste. This debate was carried out further between Guru and Sundar Sarrukai and eventually spanned complex theoretical and philosophical positions on the body, experience and politics. See Gopal Guru and Sunder Sarrukai, The Cracked Mirror: An Indian Debate on Experience and Theory (New Delhi: OUP, 2012). For debates over the public reception of these texts, see Gopal Guru, ‘Review: Jhoothan: A Dalit’s Life by Om Prakash Valmiki’, (Translated into English by Arun Prabha Mukherjee), Seminar, no. 530, October 2003. 28 This contemporary absence is particularly striking because important anti-caste thinkers like B. R. Ambedkar, Savitribai Phule, Jotirao Phule, Tarabai Shinde and Periyar placed significant importance on the relationship between caste and gender. For instance, B. R. Ambedkar, Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development (Jullandhar: Patrika Publications, 1979) argued that caste is sustained and perpetuated through the imposition of caste endogamy on the body of the woman. Through this argument, Ambedkar thus provides an intrinsic linkage between the oppressions of caste and gender on the one hand, and between caste and gender unequal property laws on the other. 2 9 The idea of the ‘dividual’ was first articulated by Gilles Deleuze in his 1990 essay, ‘Society of Control’ where he argues that the move away from disciplinary power converts individuals into entities which can be endlessly divided into smaller units of representable data. For this essay, the term ‘dividual’ is being used in a related but different way. Joanna Latimer, ‘Unsettling Bodies: Frida Kahlo’s Portraits and In/dividuality’, in Un/knowing Bodies, ed. Joanna Elizabeth Latimer and Michael W. J. Schillmeier (Oxford:Blackwell Publishing, 2009), 54–59, in her reading of Frieda Kahlo’s self-portraitures, argues that this self has to be understood in terms different than those framing the Euro-American idea of individuals as discrete bodies. Instead, she argues that the self in these portraitures is a ‘dividual’ – ‘neither as an individual simply in division, nor a divided self ’ but rather ‘the idea of the dividual deconstructs the idea of the subject-self and the perspectives that underpins the individual-society relation itself ’. The dividual in this understanding is then composed through its relationality with the world around it, which never allows it to settle into a discrete entity. It is in this sense that the essay characterises Tulsi Ram’s life and life writing as a performance of dividuality.

Works cited Ambedkar, B. R. Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development in Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, Vol. 1. Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1979: 3–22. Beth, Sarah. ‘Hindi Dalit Autobiography: an Exploration of Identity’. Modern Asian Studies, 41.3 (2007): 545–574. Brueck, Laura, R. ‘Mainstreaming Marginalised Voices: The Dalit Lekhak Sangh and the Negotiations over Hindi Dalit Literature’, in Claiming Power From Below: Dalits and the Subaltern Question in India, Manu Bhagwan and Anne Feldhaus, eds. New Delhi: OUP, 2011: 151–165. Chakravarti, Uma. ‘The Rise of Buddhism as Experienced by Women’, Manushi No. 8 (November–December, 1981): 6–10. Chaudhury, Romit and Zaid Al Baset. ‘Men Doing Feminism’. Economic and Political Weekly (16 May 2015): 29–32. Dimock Jr, Edward C.‘A Theology of the Repulsive:The Myth of the Goddess Sitala’, in The Divine Consort – Radha and the Goddesses of India, John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff, eds. New Delhi: Motilal Banarasidas, 1984: 184–203. Ferrari, Fabrizio M. ‘Old Rituals for New Threats: Possession and Healing in the Cult of Sitala’, in Ritual Matters: Dynamic Dimensions in Practice, Christiane Brosius and Ute Husken, eds. New Delhi: Routledge, 2010: 144–171.

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Gupta, Charu. The Gender of Caste: Representing Dalits in Print. Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2016. Gopal Guru, ‘Dalit Women Talk Differently’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 30, No. 41/42 (Oct 14-21, 1995): 2548-2550. Guru, Gopal. ‘Review – Jhoothan: A Dalit’s Life by Om Prakash Valmiki (Translated into English by Arun prabha Mukherjee)’. Seminar, No 530 (October 2003). www.india-sem inar.com/semframe.html Accessed 23 March 2018. Guru, Gopal and Sundar Sarukkai. The Cracked Mirror: An Indian Debate on Experience and Theory. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012. Kolenda, Pauline. ‘Pox and the Terror of Childlessness: Images and Ideas of the Small Pox Goddess in a North Indian Village’, in Mother Worship:Themes and Variations, James J. Preston, ed. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1982: 227–250. Kumar, Arun. ‘Culture, Development and the Cultural Capital of Farce: The Musahar Community in Bihar’. Economic and Political Weekly 41.40 (7–13 October 2006): 4281–4285 + 4287–4291. Kumar, Udaya. ‘Two Figures of Shame: Exposure, Ethics, and Self-Narration.’ Etudes anglaises 62.3 (2009): 345–357. Latimer, Joanna. ‘Unsettling Bodies: Frida Kahlo’s Portraits and In/dividuality’, in Un/knowing Bodies, Joanna Elizabeth Latimer and Michael W. J. Schillmeier, eds. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2009: 46–62. Moon, Meenakshi and Urmila Pawar.‘We Made History,Too:Women in the Early Untouchable Liberation Movement’, in Gender and Caste, Anupama Rao, ed. New Delhi: Kali for Women, 2003: 48–56. Naimishray, M. Apne Apne Pinjare: Part I. New Delhi:Vani Prakashan, 2009. Nayar, Pramod K. ‘Bama’s Karukku: Dalit Autobiography as Testimonio’. Journal of Commonwealth Literature 41.2 (2006): 83–100. Pandian, M.S.S. ‘On a Dalit Women’s Testimonio’, in Gender and Caste, Anupama Rao, ed. New Delhi: Kali for Women, 2003: 129–135. Parekh, Bhikhu. ‘Indianisation of Autobiography’, in Colonialism, Tradition and Reform: An Analysis of Gandhi’s Political Discourse, Bhikhu Parekh, ed. New Delhi: Sage, 1999: 272–293. Ram, Tulsi. Murdahiya. New Delhi: Rajkamal Prakashan, 2010. Ram, Tulsi. Manikarnika. New Delhi: Rajkamal Prakashan, 2014. Rege, Sharmila. ‘A Dalit Feminist Standpoint’, in Gender and Caste, Anupama Rao, ed. New Delhi: Kali for Women, 2003: 90–101. Rege, Sharmila. Against the Madness of Manu: B R Ambedkar’s Writings on Brahmanical Patriarchy. New Delhi: Navayana, 2013a. Rege, Sharmila. Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonios. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2013b. Rao, Anupama. Gender and Caste. New Delhi: Kali for Women, 2003. Sarkar,Tanika. Words to Win:The Making of a Modern Autobiography. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2013. Srivastava, Sanjay. ‘Masculinity Studies and Feminism: Othering the Self ’. Economic and Political Weekly (16 May 2015): 33–36. Smith, Sidonie and Julia Watson. Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives. London: University of Minnesota Press, 2001. Valmiki, Omprakash. Jhoothan. New Delhi: Radhakrishan Publication, 2009.


Reading across

11 DALIT LITERATURE IN TRANSLATION A symptomatic reading of Sharankumar Limbale’s Akkarmashi in English translation Arun Prabha Mukherjee

The year 1992 is a watershed for Dalit literature translations in English. Arjun Dangle’s Poisoned Bread: Translations from Marathi Dalit Literature and Mulk Raj Anand and Eleanor Zelliot’s An Anthology of Dalit Literature (Poems) were published that year. Since then, a few more translations have appeared. While these texts are circulating internationally, as well as being taught in universities, there is little attention paid to the mediations involved in translation from one language to another. This chapter has emerged from my reading, translating, writing on and teaching of translated Dalit literature over the last two decades. Drawing on my own practice as a translator and an educator, I reflect here on the transmutations a translation brings about in a Dalit literary text and what wider consequences these changes have in our reception of the translated Dalit literary text. On the side of gains, a translation multiplies the readership of Dalit texts, which would otherwise remain limited to their own language community. However, one must also consider the losses that translation entails. Following Paul Ricoeur, we need to renounce ‘the very ideal of the perfect translation’, of ‘a demonstrable identity’, and instead, look for ‘linguistic hospitality’, ‘a supposed equivalence’ (emphasis in Ricoeur).1 I concur with Ricoeur that translations are a necessity and, when carried out in the spirit of ‘linguistic hospitality’, have the power to bring about monumental effects, both literary and worldly. Given that the translator, according to the popular phrase, tradutore/traditore, can simultaneously betray and propagate a text, we as readers must scrutinise translated texts to ascertain how far they have practiced ‘linguistic hospitality’, and measure their successes and shortcomings. I believe that the work of Dalit translation studies should be to bring out these successes and failures into the clear light of day. We should celebrate the arduous work of the translator, which alas, is often undervalued, but we should also examine the shortcomings, and the reasons for those shortcomings. Are they only individual or are they societal, that is, do they emerge from the Jamesonian ‘political unconscious’ of the translator as a member,

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in the Indian context, of a patriarchal, Brahminical social order? In the words of Lawrence Venuti, ‘asymmetries, inequities, relations of dominance and dependence exist in every act of translating, of putting the translated in the service of translating culture’.2 He warns that ‘Translating can never simply be communication between equals because it is fundamentally ethnocentric’.3 In the case of the caste-based Indian society, it is our caste/class-centric blind spots that we need to become aware of when reading, evaluating and/or translating Dalit texts. We would need to do symptomatic readings of translations of Dalit texts to understand the literary, cultural and social implications of these blind spots.To the extent that these ‘failures’ of translation bring to light what had until now remained hidden from us due to our ideological as well as social privileges, we can consider them as felix culpa in the philosophical sense. Being a translator of Dalit literature myself, who learned of my own high-caste blind spots through my interactions with Dalit writer Omprakash Valmiki during the translation of his autobiography, Joothan, I know first-hand that translation is a labour of love.4 Hence my aim is not to quarrel with Santosh Bhoomkar, the translator of Akkarmashi, but to examine the translated text in order to understand our collective blind spots, how the ‘asymmetries, inequities, relations of dominance and dependence’ that Venuti warns against creep unbeknownst to us into the translated text. The germ of this chapter lies in my response to the English translation of Sharankumar Limbale’s Akkarmashi by Santosh Bhoomkar.5 The wide divergences that I found in Akkarmashi’s English and Hindi translations when compared to the source text in Marathi made me aware of the invisible hand of the translator and his or her role as interpreter. Both Hindi and English translators indulged in omissions, truncations and assimilations. However, their divergences from the source text were quite dissimilar, making me wonder whether their dissimilarities had to do with the language they were working with or with the translator’s individual subject positions. As a translator myself, I also wondered about the role of the editor, which is a powerful one and yet remains hidden and therefore unexamined. To refer to Venuti again, ‘no translator . . . can hope to control or even be aware of every condition of its [translation’s] production’.6 The editor of the Columbia edition of my English translation of Omprakash Valmiki’s Joothan, for example, made an extraordinary amount of changes, supposedly for the sake of the American reader, which I believe have diminished the text, and yet, as translator, I am held responsible for.7 So while I speak only of the translators in my chapter, I want the readers to be mindful of the invisible hand of both the editors and publishers. Let me then begin with the most obvious changes in the English translation of Akkarmashi: the outright excisions. The very first one was the truncating of the writer’s four-page long ‘Manogat’ (which can be translated as ‘Speaking from the Heart’) to less than a page in the English translation, subtitled as ‘Author’s Note’, and subsumed under ‘Acknowledgements’. Now, many Dalit writers preface their texts, unlike their high-caste Indian or Western counterparts. Certainly, both the Dalit texts I have translated, have substantial forewords, and they serve as important

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paratexts that contribute invaluably to our understanding of the work. They often contain the writer’s personal statement about the genesis of the text as well as the writer’s general perspective on society, literature and literary theory. Hence, these prefaces help the reader situate the text within the larger literary as well as political debates. Therefore, the decision to drastically cut Limbale’s ‘Manogat’ points towards an embedded attitude in the translator’s and/or the editor’s mind which considers the foreword as extraneous to the text proper. What little is retained is heavily edited as well. Let me provide a few examples. The source text’s ‘Manogat’ begins as follows: Just as a leper keeps his leprous spots hidden, I, too, sometimes wish to hide this life of mine. I can tell my history only up to my mother. At best up to my grandmother. Beyond that I don’t have an ancestry. (My translation)8 The English translation excises this opening sentence and begins thus: ‘My history is my mother’s life, at the most my grandmother’s. My ancestry does not go back any further’.9 By beginning with the second sentence, the English translation censors the shocking image of a diseased body being used by the writer as an analogy for his experiences of growing up as both an untouchable and an akkarmashi and also for telling us that the life that is going to be narrated here will expose a decaying social body that hides its disease instead of treating it. Given that the text uses leprosy as analogy a few more times, and almost identically on page 105, I consider this excision of the author’s very first line troubling. The next paragraph in the source text speaks of the narrator’s village being on the Maharashtra-Karnataka border. He asks if he is of Maharashtra or Karnataka. ‘People speak Kannada in the area but schools teach only Marathi. So what is my real language?’ I believe that this information is a vital piece of knowledge about the writer and the text as he includes his geographic and linguistic fragmentation with his other ones: ‘Village, language, mother, father, caste, religion: regarding all of them I am split into two’ (my translation).10 This fragmentation is a major theme of the text: challenging the purists, whether Mahars or high castes. Later in the text, the narrator compares himself to the Mahabharata character Jarasandha, whose body was violently broken into two by Bhima.11 As fragmentation is a major theme of the text, the erasure of this paragraph from ‘Manogat’ is a loss. In the next two paragraphs of ‘Manogat’ in the source text, the narrator compares his life to that of a raped woman and goes on to ask us to think about a woman who has to first gestate and give birth to the ‘rape’, and then to bring the ‘rape’ up. The word ‘rape’ is repeated four times in the sentence, lending it further emphasis. The writer personifies ‘rape’: ‘And then this rape begins to live a life. The excruciating pain of such a life is encapsulated in my autobiography’ (my translation).12 The English translation skips these two paragraphs, and translates the opening of the next paragraph thus: ‘I consider the immorality of my mother and father a metaphor for rape’.13 I fail to comprehend why the translator has

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used the phrase ‘a metaphor for rape’. A closer translation would be: ‘I consider the immorality of my mother and father a rape’. Another sentence in the same paragraph is softened in the translation: ‘Had she been born into the high caste, or were she rich, would she have submitted to his appropriation of her?’.14 One wonders why the word ‘rape’ has first been metaphorised and then replaced with ‘appropriation’? Does it signify that the translator is uncomfortable with the word, or does he think that Limbale’s mother’s experience does not count as rape? The next excision that is important to learn about is Limbale’s comment in ‘Manogat’ that it was through the Dalit movement and Dalit literature that he learnt to understand his mother’s plight as the victim of a social system. He goes on to declare: ‘Dalit movement is a great war and Dalit literature is its epic’ (my translation).15 I believe this declaration is extremely important in the textual fabric as Akkarmashi rewrites the high caste epic Mahabharata from the perspective of the unwed mother Kunti and her illegitimate son Karna who she was forced to abandon.The text repeatedly uses Kunti and Karna as analogies for the narrator’s mother and her children, including the narrator. And as mentioned earlier, Jarasandha from the Mahabharata, literally ripped apart into two, is another character who is used as analogy for the social violence the Dalit narrator experiences. Akkarmashi and other Dalit texts question the valorisation of the feudal epics of the past and claim to rewrite the genre. For example, after Santamai, the narrator’s grandmother, tells him a story about the atrocities of the past, he says: ‘I thought Santamai’s tears were like an epic. Her agony contained the potential spark of a great war’.16 Due to the removal of this declaration from the ‘Author’s Note’, the claim that Dalit literature is an epic inscribing a great war is not seen as a reiteration but as a new one, thereby losing the force a repetition provides. After the above paragraph in the ‘Manogat’, Limbale compares the Dalit experience with the African American experience of miscegenation during slavery. Here he again uses the word ‘rape’: ‘In America, white men often raped Negro women. Children were born out of that rape. . . . These children ask: “Are we black or are we white?” ’ (my translation). He then claims kinship with African Americans: ‘I feel that my life is similar to theirs. Negroes, therefore, are to me like mother and father, sisters and brothers. . . . Like the Negro, I, too, am constantly tormented by the question, “Who am I?” ’ (my translation. Limbale writes ‘Who am I?’ in English).17 I believe that this excision erases the affiliative relation of Akkarmashi with African American history and literature that Limbale is claiming here. Edward Said alerted us to pay attention to the importance of textual as well as worldly affiliations. For Said, affiliation is a ‘new form of relationship’.18 It is ‘that implicit network of peculiarly cultural associations between forms, statements, and other aesthetic elaborations on the one hand and, on the other, institutions, agencies, classes, and amorphous social forces’.19 For Said, affiliation is a concept that makes ‘explicit all kinds of connections that we tend to forget and that have to be made explicit and even dramatic in order for political change to take place’.20 By snipping off this paragraph, the English translation has erased a very important piece of Dalit literary

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and material history, as well as foreclosed the possibility that African American readers, as well as others, will note the kinship being claimed here. Over the next two pages of the ‘Manogat’, the attitudes and fears of his family members are inscribed along with his reasons for overruling their desire to not be written about.The last paragraphs describe an experience that relates to two similar experiences narrated in Akkarmashi. The manager of the bank where the author wants to open an account insists that the author provide his father’s name. When the author says that ‘I don’t have a father’ (my translation) the bank manager replies that his father died as well, but he still adds his father’s name to his given name.21 Akkarmashi’s attack on the patriarchal system where every bureaucratic form that might entitle one to a passport, a bank account, a mortgage or a piece of property demands that one provide one’s father’s name, is weakened by the excision of this segment, as the very reason for telling this story in the paratext is to demonstrate that the author’s humiliation and disempowerment continue unabated in the posttextual present. As Lawrence Venuti documents in The Scandals of Translation, translators, editors and publishers have often taken liberties with the source text in order to ‘improve’ it, or to make it more easily understood by the readers of the target language. What Venuti says about Western translations holds true for Indian translations as well. A friend of mine once showed me the interpolations in the English translation of Shiv Kumar Batalvi’s Punjabi play Luna. Elsewhere, I have written about the UNESCO translation of Bibhutibhusan Bandopadhyaya’s Pather Panchali, which excised almost seventy-five pages from the source text.22 At least, in that instance, the ‘Introduction’ provided the translators’ rationale for doing so. The English translation of Akkarmashi is silent about the removal of almost three pages from ‘Manogat’. Besides the ‘Manogat’, passages have been excised from the body of the text as well. Both the Hindi and English translation do that, albeit they excise different passages. The example below is from page 106 of the English translation, where the narrator is describing the caste politics plaguing the Ambedkarite movement, contrary to Ambedkar’s call for ‘the annihilation of caste’: A procession in the name of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar was on the march. Dagdu Waghmare was shouting slogans at the top of his voice. Bansodeteacher, Dhaswadikar-teacher, and Kadam-mama were taking care to see that the procession went well. People in the procession were all pure Mahars, but what about me with my impure blood?23 Here is my translation of the excised sentences from the passage above in the source text: I intensely feel my inferior status. When I hear the song ‘Bhim was born in the Somvanshi clan,’ I feel terribly anguished. Even Dr. Ambedkar does not belong to the entire Mahar caste, only to the Somvanshi clan among Mahars. But where am I in all this? I am trapped in a cyclone.24

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We need to ponder about the literary judgment that would consider this passage redundant in the text. It is an important passage in that it shows, through reference to a popular song about Ambedkar, how even the Ambedkarite Dalits and Dalit Panthers discriminate on the basis of internalised caste hierarchy and legitimacy of birth. It provides a stinging internal critique of an anti-caste movement practicing caste and ignoring the sexual exploitation of Dalit women that gives birth to akkarmashi children.Was it taken out because the translator thought that the reader would not understand it without an explanatory note? One would never know, but translation theory needs to deconstruct the ‘general reader’ who supposedly does not like lengthy footnotes. Thus far, I have focused on some of the passages taken out of the source text. This silent pruning amounts to censorship, which alas is much too common in translations of Indian texts.Translation theory needs to think about the implications of such decisions of the translators and editors and the motivations behind them. Now I would like to turn to another problematic aspect of the English translation of Indian language texts in general and of Akkarmashi in particular. It pertains to the problem of what to do with terms that have no equivalents in English. The term akkarmashi, for example, is only used as a subtitle in the English translation: The Outcaste: Akkarmashi. It is never utilised in the body of the text, although explained in the glossary as ‘impure, incomplete, an illegitimate child’. The translation uses ‘bastard’, ‘base born’, ‘illegitimate’, and ‘impure’, interchangeably, in lieu of akkarmashi, which appears multiple times in the source text. I submit that the English substitutions do not have the sting, the abusive power of the expression akkarmashi, which is the antonym of baramashi. The two terms refer to measuring the purity of gold: pure gold is twelve tolas in the Indian system of weights for metals like gold, or baramashi, whereas akkarmashi is eleven tolas, hence impure. Limbale uses the two terms in conjunction, to bitterly mock the ‘baramashi Mahars’ who control Ambedkaraite organisations and do not want ‘akkarmashis’ to contaminate them. In the passage from the English translation quoted above, the source text uses ‘baramashi Mahars’, and not ‘pure Mahars’.25 Akkarmashi and baramashi are terms specific to the Mahar lifeworld, a world whose response to the Ambedkarite anticaste movement is contradictory.These words are incommensurable in English, and should have been imported into it, just as they have been imported into the Hindi translation. In his ‘Translator’s Foreword’, Suryanarayan Ransubhe justifies his use of the word akkarmashi in the Hindi translation thus: ‘In order for Hindi to develop, we must bring into it a vast number of words from other Indian languages’ (my translation).26 Given that English has liberally borrowed from other languages for centuries, I wish that the English translation had retained the word akkarmashi, and its antonym baramashi, rather than use the four terms noted above. The reiteration of the term in the source text functions as a refrain, reinforcing the message about its hurtfulness through the suggestion of inferiority.The translation loses out on the rhetorical power of repetition by using the four terms interchangeably. There are other incommensurable concepts from the Mahar lifeworld that entirely lose their meaning when translated into inadequate English equivalences.

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Let us see how a passage in the source text where the narrator talks about being forced by the teacher to apply cow dung paste to the school floors every Saturday is flattened out in both the Hindi and English translations. In the Marathi original, the narrator uses the word ‘padewar’ in inverted commas to mock this forced labour: ‘Collecting the cow dung and applying it to the school floors earned me praise from the teacher. At home I did not lift a finger, but this “padewar” at school was settled on me’.27 The Hindi translation makes no mention of padewar, and translates it as: ‘At home I did not lift a finger, but this school work I had to carry out without demur’ (my translation).28 The English translation’s way around padewar is as follows: ‘At home I wouldn’t do even the smallest chore, but in the school on Saturdays I was made to do this duty that was allotted to me. A man from my community had to carry out such duties in the village for the high-caste people’.29 Later, on the same page, the translator uses the word ‘contract’ in lieu of padewar. Without underestimating the difficulties of translating involved here, I would submit that ‘contract’, which usually connotes voluntarily entered agreements and monetary payment, does not really explain the customary duties, such as the removal of dead animals, retrieval of bodies from wells, sweeping of village streets, carrying messages to the town court and so forth, that the Mahars have been forced to carry out through an eons-long history of caste oppression. This oppression was so normalised, so commonplace, and yet so well hidden, that words like padewar, jaagla, balutdar, watandar and veskar, that describe the duties and titles of Mahars do not even appear in standard Marathi dictionaries. The source text, by using padewar as a trope to describe the injustice suffered by a Dalit child, powerfully affiliates Akkarmashi with the long, unwritten and unacknowledged history of Mahar oppression as well as with other Marathi Dalit texts like Daya Pawar’s Baluta. I believe that padewar should have been retained in the English translation as an acknowledgement of its key importance to the history of Dalit oppression. To use words like ‘contract’ and ‘duty’ for padewar is both inadequate and incorrect as the English words suggest equality, reciprocity and fair exchange. Another important constellation of words that are unique to Dalit life in Maharashtra is jogwa, pardi, Potraj, Waghya and Murli. Jogwa is used in both the source text as well as the Hindi translation: ‘Santamai served us bhakaris made with the flour she had collected by asking for jogwa’ (my translation).30 In English, it reads thus: ‘for us, she made bhakaris from the flour she had collected as alms’.31 The pardi that Santamai uses to collect jogwa has been translated as ‘a wicker-basket’, whereas its original meaning is ritualistic.32 Jogwa is a special kind of begging, in a special kind of basket, namely, a pardi, carried out by people who were initiated into jogwa by a guru. Santamai, the narrator’s grandmother, was handed a pardi and a pothi (book) by her guru.33 When Santamai goes out with her pardi, she calls out, ‘Ambamai Lakshmi’s jogwa aa aa aa’ (my translation).34 The spiritual and religious beliefs of Mahars regarding pardi, jogwa, Waghya, Murali and Potraj are narrativised in some detail in the latter half of the source text.35 As these terms point to unique rituals and beliefs, they do need glossing.Translating jogwa and pardi simply as ‘alms’

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and ‘wicker basket’, therefore, just does not suffice. Santamai is no ordinary beggar, but one among five in the Maharwada who have a pardi. People fill the pardis because they are considered auspicious and to refuse to put something in them might bring bad luck. Cultures and societies develop specialised vocabularies, which are grounded in their history. Many specialised terms like Jim Crow, coolie, jahaji bhai and dougla cannot be translated as they encapsulate stories and history. Similarly, Mahar cultural historical terms like padewar, balutdar, watandar, pardi and jogwa have to be learnt for the histories they evoke. To translate them as ‘duty’, ‘contract’, ‘alms’ and ‘wicker basket’ is to assimilate the text into the dominant culture, to cut it loose from its unique cultural and historical context. The need is to import them into English so that English can begin to carry the weight of Mahar experience. The text also employs references to more widely known Indian mythology, such as Vetal stories and stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata. Some of these references, such as the ones to Mahabharata characters Karna and Kunti remain in the translation, but others vanish. The comparison of the narrator’s grandmother to King Vikramaditya from Vetal stories disappears from the English translation: ‘Like a ghost riding her, she [Santamai] carried a sack on her back to put the dung in’.36 Here is my translation of the source text, ‘Santamai carried a bag on her back, like Vetal’.37 One can stipulate that the Vikramaditya/Vetal analogy brings a rich layer of meaning to Santamai carrying a bag full of cow dung, whereas ‘a ghost riding her’ does not. Similarly, the comparison of the narrator’s mother Masamai with Sita in the source text is missing in the English translation: ‘Who will rescue my mother? She will die blemished, an object of someone’s lust, but what about us?’38 I would translate this passage thus: ‘Sita was rescued, but who will rescue my mother? She will die emaciated, working at Patil’s fields, being called Patil’s whore. But what will happen to us, her children?’39 Such emptying out of intertextual references as well as erasing of particulars, such as ‘Patil’s whore’ and ‘Working at Patil’s fields’, to merely ‘an object of someone’s lust’ significantly impoverishes the text. If we look at novels by Nigerian novelists like Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, we see them incorporating not only single Igbo words but whole phrases and sentences. The same can be said about the writing practices of many contemporary writers, such as Indian American Amitav Ghosh, Haitian American Edwidge Danticat and Dominican American Junot Diaz, who liberally pepper their English text with Hindi, Bengali, Haitian Kreyól and Spanish. These writers incorporate Igbo, Hindi, Bengali, Kreyól and Spanish in their English texts when English cannot convey the specificity of their characters’ experience. I think that English translations from Indian languages also need not shy away from incorporating culture specific, untranslatable words. While the words I discussed above are culture specific and incommensurable without a detailed excursion into history and religion, there are also word choices opted for in the English translation that look innocuous on the surface but are not innocent. Here is a sentence that comes at the end of a paragraph describing the narrator being kicked out of the class by his high-caste class mates because he is a

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Mahar and, therefore, untouchable: ‘Then the teacher appeared and saved me by accommodating me at the entrance. I sat there burning with rage’.40 The phrases ‘saved me’ and ‘accommodated me’ suggest that the teacher is doing the narrator a favour. However, that is not how the source text describes it: ‘The teacher came. He gave me a space near the door. I went and sat there all by myself. Suffocating inside, still, like Dhruva’ (my translation).41 In fact, many Dalit texts have inscribed the humiliation and exclusion suffered by Dalit children who are made to sit near or outside the door at school. Hence ‘saved me’ and ‘accommodated me’ go against the spirit of the narrative. There is a similar problem with the following passage about the high-caste village landlords: ‘Our villagers have provided us with bread so we owe much to them.They did provide bread but in exchange satisfied their lust with our women’.42 In my reading, nowhere does the source text say anything like ‘our villagers’, or ‘we owe much to them’. My translation would put it differently: ‘The bhakari was in the hands of the high castes, and so was the honour of our Maharwada. With one hand they stanched our hunger and with the other they ravished us’.43 To say that ‘our villagers’ ‘provided us with bread’ and ‘so we owe much to them’ blunts the anger of the text and establishes a donor-donee relationship, which the text intends to challenge as a high-caste ideological construct. The English translation persistently attempts to soften caste identities by calling them ‘communities’: ‘Further down the temple hall sat boys and girls from the cobbler community’.44 In the source text, they are called ‘chambhars’, that is, they are identified by their caste name.45 This substitution of the word ‘community’ for caste happens quite a few times, and we need to ask whether it is not a subtle denial of the existence of caste and caste oppression. I consider it a sabotaging of the Dalit text’s insistence on exposing the workings of caste. It may not be deliberate but it does undercut the text’s protest against the caste system. Now I wish to examine English words and phrases that are common parlance and yet, at times, fail miserably when used to translate a Dalit narrative. A scene that describes the narrator’s foster grandfather’s livelihood as a porter at the village bus stand, and how precarious and dangerous the work is, culminates with the following sentence: ‘Every bus meant bread and butter for us’.46 The problem with this analogy is that both bread and butter are pretty expensive and unavailable to the rural poor. Here is how I would translate the sentence: ‘Every bus arrived as our hungry stomach and left after giving us bhakaris’.47 As the English translation does use bhakari in many instances, I wondered why the translator used ‘bread and butter’ in this case. A few other Marathi words such as Maharwada, jowar, kumkum, Potraj, Lakshagruha, Waghya and Murali are also retained. And yet, a widely prevalent word such as panchayat in the source text is translated, inappropriately, as ‘caste-jury’ more than once.48 Similarly, tambya is awkwardly translated as a ‘round steel vessel to drink with’.49 The source text describes the gift of a stainless steel tambya in the narrator’s wedding at length as it is the very first stainless steel utensil that the narrator’s family has ever possessed. It is so precious that he snatches it away from his sister when she takes it out of Santamai’s wooden chest. There is another place in the text where the translator uses ‘a round

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vessel’ instead of tambya: ‘Sometimes Santamai brought tea to school in a round vessel and called me out to give it to me’.50 Now the problem here is that tambya, called a lota in Hindi, is a utensil unique to India, and does not have an English equivalent. Describing it as a ‘round steel vessel to drink with’ just does not cut it. Retaining tambya might have been more felicitous. Similarly, the translation of wakal, which is a quilt made of rags, as ‘rugs’ brings out the inadequacy of English to voice the experience of poverty.51The use of the word ‘bathroom’ on page 29 also makes us ponder whether an open space where the narrator’s mother and sisters bathe can be called a bathroom. There are certain Indian kinship terms that are very hard, if not impossible, to translate in English. So when the translator says that Chandamai and Santamai were ‘blood sisters’, it grates.52 Perhaps it would suffice if the translator had simply called them sisters. An equally difficult challenge is posed by the phrase ‘Dalit Brahmin’.53 In Dalit discourse, it is a popular expression routinely employed to speak of Dalits who, after achieving middle-class status, adopt high-caste cultural ways. The phrase has the same weight as Uncle Tom in African American discourse. Instead of simply inscribing it as used, and glossing it, the English translation says: ‘I was a Dalit who had become a Brahmin by attitude’.54 As the phrase encapsulates a critique of a whole segment of newly educated and professionalised Dalits, the literal translation in the English version, by limiting it to the narrator alone, erases the irony, intertextuality, and collective self-critique implied in the phrase. Translation is never an easy task. As Ricoeur pointed out, it is endless, and my purpose here is not to find faults but to make us aware of the impoverishments that occur when the target language’s cultural, semiotic and discursive regimes are imposed on the one being translated. As Dalit writers and theorists such as Omprakash Valmiki and Sharankumar Limbale have told us, a vast gulf yawns between the Dalit lifeworld and the high-caste, middle-class urban world of modern India. Let alone English, even the Indian language dictionaries do not include words that articulate this Dalit lifeworld in the fullness of its material and cultural aspects. If a work of translation has to fulfill its mandate, that is, bridge the class, caste and cultural divides, it cannot do so through domesticating and assimilating the source text. It has to defamiliarise rather than normalise. Rather than make the incommensurable vanish, it has to educate the reader through glossing and extensive introductions. I am asking for more introspection and reflexivity on the part of all those who are involved in acts of translation: translators, editors, publishers and readers. We need to question the so-called ideals of fluency and transparency and learn to recognise the ideological designs hidden therein. The comparative exercise that I have undertaken here, I hope, demonstrates that the translator, through his or her interpretation, often imposes his or her caste and class values on the source text. And we as readers are complicit in this domination as we are often closer to the translator than the translated in terms of shared caste and/or class assumptions. I hope that theoretical reflections on acts of translation will lead to more self-reflexive translations that highlight rather than hide the gaps across the various hierarchies we are enmeshed in.

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A comment on the source text The source text I have used here is Akkarmashi’s first edition of 1984, the one used by both the Hindi and the English translators. However, the 2014 edition of Akkarmashi, which is identified as the seventh edition, is significantly different from the 1984 edition.There is a four-page glossary of ‘difficult words’ at the end.55 While the ‘Manogat’, now untitled, is three times as long as the one in the 1984 edition, many passages in the original text have been removed (I have taken care in this chapter to not discuss any passages that are not in the 2014 edition). The 2014 edition also incorporates extensive changes to spellings, removing colloquialisms and slang. This change from colloquial to standard Marathi surprised me as it goes against the assertion about the language of Dalit literature Limbale made in his groundbreaking book, Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: ‘The reality of Dalit literature is distinct, and so is the language of this reality. It is the uncouth-impolite language of Dalits. It is the spoken language of Dalits.This language does not recognize cultivated gestures and grammar’.56 As Akkarmashi is a pioneering text in Dalit literature, it would be worth exploring these changes to the content and language of the text in the 2014 edition and their implications.

Notes 1 Paul Ricoeur, On Translation [2004]. Trans. Eileen Brennan (London: Routledge, 2006), 22, 23. 2 Lawrence Venuti, The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Aesthetic of Difference (London: Routledge, 1998), 4. 3 Venuti, The Scandals of Translation, 11. 4 Omprakash Valmiki, Joothan: A Dalit’s Life [1997]. Translated from the Hindi by Arun Prabha Mukherjee (Kolkata: Samya, 2003). 5 Sharankumar Limbale, The Outcaste: Akkarmashi [1984]. Translated from the Marathi by Santosh Bhoomkar (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003). Hereafter referred to as Bhoomkar. 6 Venuti, The Scandals of Translation, 3. 7 Omprakash Valmiki, Joothan: An Untouchable’s Life [1997]. Translated from the Hindi by Arun Prabha Mukherjee (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003). 8 Sharankumar Limbale, Akkarmashi (Pune: Srividya Prakashan, 1984), n.p. 9 Bhoomkar, ix. 10 Limbale, Akkarmashi, n.p. 11 Bhoomkar, 39. 12 Limbale, Akkarmashi, n.p. 13 Bhoomkar, ix. 14 Bhoomkar, ix. 15 Limbale, Akkarmashi, n.p. 16 Bhoomkar, 79. 17 Limbale, Akkarmashi, n.p. 18 Edward Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 19. 19 Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic, 174. 20 Edward Said, ‘Interview’, in Intellectuals: Aesthetics, Politics, Academics, ed. Bruce Robins (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990), 145. 21 Limbale, Akkarmashi, n.p.

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22 Arun Mukherjee, ‘The Vocabulary of the “Universal”: The Cultural Imperialism of the Universalist Criteria of Western Literary Criticism’, in Arun Mukherjee, Oppositional Aesthetics: Readings from a Hyphenated Space (Toronto: TSAR Publications, 1994), 22–3. 23 Bhoomkar, 106. 24 Limbale, Akkarmashi, 87. 25 Limbale, Akkarmashi, 87. 26 Sharankumar Limbale, Akkarmashi [1984]. Translated from the Marathi into Hindi by Suryanarayan Ransubhe (New Delhi: Granth Akadmy, 1991), 5. Hereafter referred to as Ransubhe. 27 Limbale, Akkarmashi, 3. 28 Ransubhe, 15. 29 Bhoomkar, 4. 30 Limbale, Akkarmashi, 9. 31 Bhoomkar, 11. 32 Bhoomkar, 51. 33 Limbale, Akkarmashi, 76. 34 Limbale, Akkarmashi, 42. 35 Limbale, Akkarmashi, 76. 36 Bhoomkar, 10. 37 Limbale, Akkarmashi, 8. 38 Bhoomkar, 64. 39 Limbale, Akkarmashi, 53. 40 Bhoomkar, 5. 41 Limbale, Akkarmashi, 4. 42 Bhoomkar, 64. 43 Limbale, Akkarmashi, 53. 44 Bhoomkar, 4. 45 Limbale, Akkarmashi, 3. 46 Bhoomkar, 41. 47 Limbale, Akkarmashi, 34. 48 Bhoomkar, 49. 49 Bhoomkar, 100. 50 Bhoomkar, 16. 51 Bhoomkar, 97. 52 Bhoomkar, 17. 53 Limbale, Akkarmashi, 88. 54 Bhoomkar, 107. 55 Sharankumar Limbale, Akkarmashi, 7th Printing (Pune: Dilipraj Prakashan, 2014), 115. 56 Sharankumar Limbale, Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies and Considerations [1996].Translated from the Marathi by Alok Mukherjee (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2004), 33.

Works cited Limbale, Sharankumar. Akkarmashi. Pune: Srividya Prakashan, 1984. Limbale, Sharankumar. Akkarmashi. 7th Printing. Pune: Dilipraj Prakashan, 2014. Limbale, Sharankumar. Akkarmashi. 1984. Translated from the Marathi into Hindi by Suryanarayan Ransubhe. New Delhi: Granth Akadmy, 1991. Limbale, Sharankumar. The Outcaste: Akkarmashi. 1984. Translated from the Marathi into English by Santosh Bhoomkar. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003. Limbale, Sharankumar. Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies and Considerations. 1996. Translated from the Marathi by Alok Mukherjee. New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2004.

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Mukherjee, Arun. ‘The Vocabulary of the “Universal”: The Cultural Imperialism of the Universalist Criteria of Western Literary Criticism’, in Arun Mukherjee, Oppositional Aesthetics: Readings from a Hyphenated Space.Toronto:TSAR Publications, 1994: 17–29, n. 179–80. Ricoeur, Paul. On Translation. 2004. Trans. Eileen Brennan. London: Routledge, 2006. Said, Edward. The World, the Text, and the Critic. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983. Said, Edward. ‘Interview,’ in Intellectuals: Aesthetics, Politics, Academics, Bruce Robins, ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990. Valmiki, Omprakash. Joothan: A Dalit’s Life. 1997a.Translated from the Hindi by Arun Prabha Mukherjee. Kolkata: Samya, 2003. Valmiki, Omprakash. Joothan: An Untouchable’s Life. 1997b.Translated from the Hindi by Arun Prabha Mukherjee. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. Venuti, Lawrence. The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Aesthetic of Difference. London: Routledge, 1998.

12 TRANSLATING DALIT LITERATURE Redrawing the map of cultural politics Maya Pandit

Translation of Dalit literature into English evokes several questions: what is Dalit literature? What does it signify? Why translate it? Which language to translate in: English or an Indian language? Which texts are chosen for translation, and why? Who does one translate for? Is translating Dalit writing different from translating non-Dalit literature? How does one locate it in the ongoing tradition of translation and translation studies in India? These questions represent significant issues regarding the processes involved and the challenges encountered both textually and contextually in translating Dalit texts. As a translator of Marathi Dalit literature into English, I argue that translation as cultural production in India, a country divided along lines of caste, class, class, gender, religion and ethnicity, is situated in regimes of power that legitimise and privilege articulations of Hindu upper-caste patriarchal male writers. Women, Dalits, tribals or minority communities remain on the margins of the social imaginary as invisible or ignored entities. But as Gayatri Chakravarti Spivak argues, it is important to hear the subaltern speak to bring the politics of alterity centre stage.1 Translation of Dalit literature is a cultural and political act which brings the voice of the downtrodden Dalit communities, the subalterns, to a world unaware of its existence. If, as Spivak argues, the West is the Subject, and the colonised rest are the Other, then the Dalits in India are the Other of that Other, a Shadow of the Shadow. It also represents an intervention in the dominant literary-cultural regimes in Indian languages, which have focused on the articulations of dominant upper-caste communities for translation into English. Finally, translating Dalit literature emerges as a testing ground for the theories proposed in the field of translation studies. In the following chapter, I will first discuss the significance of the term ‘Dalit’ and what it signifies; then I situate the translation of Dalit literature in the dominant tradition of translation in India and in the discipline of translation studies. Finally, I discuss the challenges encountered in translating this literature in English.

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The term Dalit in India represents a group of communities which have been ostracised and excommunicated, exploited and suppressed by the dominant Brahmanical ideology and social order called the Varnashram Dharma,2 which represents an ascending order of privileges and descending order of prestige among various castes as social groups. It is a systemic cultural, social, economic and political quarantine to which specific communities in Indian society have been subjected for ages. It has been argued3 that in independent India, the caste system is associated with a premodern way of life, found only in rural or semi urban pockets. But as Rege points out, caste is very much alive everywhere in all spheres of life, social, cultural and political, in both the rural and urban areas.4 As Urmila Pawar, a Dalit writer, says, ‘caste is a prowling beast in a forest that can pounce on you any time’.5 Pandyan argues6 that ‘Dalit’ is a relational identity in the Indian society, considered as the ‘Other’ of the westernised ‘Modern’. Considered as ‘Papayonis’ – born as ‘sinners-by-default’ – in the Hindu Varnashram Dharma for ages, they were redefined in the colonial discourse as inadequate citizens in the making, through a logic of their exclusion from the public domain of material practices. If imitating Western culture was the material domain, caste was part of one’s own ‘spiritual’ domain that signified sovereignty against the onslaught of the colonial powers within the colonial society. Since then, talking about caste openly is supposed to stigmatise the ‘modern’ public sphere. Yet it is always present socially, psychologically and culturally at the subterranean levels of consciousness, an internal colonisation, that excludes from social transactions the Dalit castes as impure and unclean. As Pandian argues (2014), the triumph of dominant nationalism of the upper castes over colonialism also represents their domination over sections of subaltern social groups within the nation such as the Dalits, tribals, women and other marginalised communities. This legacy of inequality and marginalisation continues in contemporary India. Dalit communities remain at the lowest rung in social hierarchies in diverse fields. Though there is a reservation policy for Dalits in jobs and educational institutions, there are wide disparities between the ‘Savarnas’ (upper castes) and Dalits in terms of education, job opportunities and positions of power and prestige. Dalits are equated with inefficiency and incompetence in administration and academic spheres.7 Even their languages remain invisible in the list of Scheduled Languages in the Indian Constitution, which replicates the Chaturvarna system,8 with Sanskrit (a dead language associated with Brahmanism) occupying a privileged position; Hindi follows as the dominant national language and Scheduled Languages of communities that wield political clout in States as India’s heritage, in a descending order of power and prestige. English, the official associate language, is associated with knowledge and power though it is outside the system, but it is also emerging as the language with emancipatory potential. The non-scheduled languages of the marginalised remain excluded and invisible in Schedule of the Constitution. As Agnihotri points out, forced to acquire knowledge through a language they do not know, the Dalits are often termed as ‘dull and incompetent’, and forced to submerge their identities in the dominant regional languages.9

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Dalits are, thus, the subaltern communities in India. Their lives, work, clothes, food, eating habits, dialects, in other words, their very existence, has been stigmatised as polluting, which had forced them into a culture of silence and self-hatred. The agenda of the Dalit movement under the leadership of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, was to give the Dalits an identity, a political voice and to carve out a space for themselves with dignity and self-respect. Dalit literature has been the cultural expression of that protest. Under Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s leadership from the 1920s onwards they emerged as a political force, and especially after the Mahar community among the Dalits converted to Buddhism and relinquished the Hindu religion in 1956, Dalit protest literature blossomed under the dominant leadership of the Dalit Panthers Movement in Maharashtra. In Marathi, their voice of dissent and resistance has resonated in an oral tradition in the form of songs, sayings and folk tales for several centuries but, their lack of literacy skills did not allow them entry into the more prestigious written literary tradition till the 1960s. Dalit literature represents a politics of alterity. It is a live archive of memories of oppression, humiliation and resistant action where the inopportune and the forgotten emerges in diverse literary forms, such as poetry, autobiographies, plays and narrative fiction. It explodes many myths about the Dalits in ‘modern’ India and throws into relief the harsh realities of their existence.Yet this literature asserts an indomitable will to challenge and change the diverse forms of marginalisation, exclusion and disenfranchisement they suffer. Translating Dalit literature is to bring to light the voice of the subaltern which had been forced to remain dormant in the dominant literary and cultural regimes in regional languages. Dalit literary articulations have not traversed a smooth path. Initially, the literary and cultural regimes of power tried to suppress and marginalise them. Gradually, however, their forceful challenges to the established ideological, linguistic and literary domains gained ground, and today Dalit literature exists as an independent entity in its own right. The tradition of translations from regional languages into English, which emerged in India from the colonial period onwards, has also followed a similar path. It might be useful to briefly look at this tradition so as to situate Dalit translations in this context as a radical form of intervention in the translation tradition. Though India had a rich tradition of translations within the Indian languages before the colonial period, translations of regional language texts into English began only during the colonial period when several ancient and medieval Sanskrit and Urdu texts were translated into English by European scholars as part of an exercise in the construction of the Orient which helped circulate ‘idyllic and pastoral images of India severed from their social context’.10 Sometimes, as Devy argues,11 they provided literary inspiration to the West with respect to the translation of Abhigyanshakuntalam, or constructed a spiritual and mystical East for the Western audiences as Kothari argues with reference to Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali.12 Aimed specifically at Western readers, these English translations carried the mark of approval and lent legitimacy and sanction to the cultural superiority of the Hindu male Brahmans. Interestingly, translations of resistant literary voices like Nildarpan,

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Dinbandhu Mitra’s play about indigo farmers’ woes, were banned as they were perceived as a threat to the British government.13 After independence, linguistic reorganisation of states signaled the emergence of strong regional and linguistic identities, and texts from regional languages began to be translated into English, the language of political power and social prestige, as well as the lingua franca of the Indian elite. Prestigious Government bodies, such as National Book Trust and Sahitya Akademi, in their attempts to create a pan-Indian literature, began to publish translations of literary texts drawn from dominant regional languages which belonged to the ‘high’ literary tradition. The Marathi literary tradition also had been dominated mostly by the Hindu, middleclass, upper-caste writers till the sixties, and the subaltern voices belonging to both the oral and written traditions were ignored. The strong working-class cultural movement led by the Communists in Maharashtra in the forties and fifties also remained almost invisible to this dominant tradition. Gradually, however, the scene began to change. Resistant voices in Marathi began to emerge in the sixties through literary movements like Little Magazines, experimental theatre and New Literature, to articulate the angst generated by the repressive, hegemonic cultures that stifled alternative voices.This cultural scene witnessed the emergence of women’s and Dalit literature in spite of vehement attempts to suppress it. Later on, publishers like Harper Collins, Sea Gull and OUP went on to publish English translations of anti-establishment Marathi playwrights such as Vijay Tendulkar and Satish Alekar. The late sixties had witnessed the emergence of Dalit literary assertion which challenged the universalist assumptions and aesthetic norms of the hegemonic literary/cultural regimes. Inspired earlier by Dr. Ambedkar’s movement, and then by the Dalit Panthers’, Dalit literature blossomed with writers like Namdev Dhasal, Daya Pawar, Baburao Bagul and Pra. E. Sonkamble, among others, who highlighted new domains of experience and sites of oppression, and questioned the very notion of ‘literature’ as a domain of the Hindu, upper-class/caste male writers’ sensibility. It soon became a live cultural archive that challenged the dominant linguistic, literary and culture regimes in Marathi. The translations of these voices, however, took a long time to arrive on the scene. Lower-caste medieval poets like Chokhoba, Bahinabai and Janabai in the oral tradition, and nineteenth-century lower-caste and women writers like Tarabai Shinde and Kashibai Kanitkar remained ignored and rendered invisible. Even the writings of Jotirao Phule, the intellectual force behind the non-Brahman and Dalit assertion in the nineteenth century, and of Dr. Ambedkar, the leader of the Dalit movement in the twentieth century, had not gotten into circulation through translations till the late nineties in spite of a strong Dalit movement. All these writers had critically engaged with issues of chaturvarnya, patriarchal ideologies, violence and gender oppression, and exposed the faultlines and fissures, conflicts and contradictions within the caste-ridden society. So, like Nildarpan, they were perceived as dangerous threats by the dominant literary establishments.

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From the eighties on, however, developments in the Indian educational and cultural spheres provided an impetus for translation of Dalit literature. Academics in Indian Universities were getting frustrated with established courses in social sciences and humanities, as well as in English departments dominated by British and American literature, because there was a strong sense of disconnect with Indian social realities and they acutely felt the need to develop interdisciplinary perspectives to study the social/cultural scene. Earlier the field of Indian Writing in English Translation, established by government agencies, had given impetus to some translation activity, though the works translated were not those of the subalterns. Now the need to translate diverse and alternative regional language articulations into English began to be felt acutely by the academics.14 The women’s movement and UNO’s declaration of the Women’s Decade during 1975–85 provided a strong impetus to bring women’s writing in regional languages to the fore. Susie Tharu’s anthology of Women Writing in India15 emphasised the political role of translations and substantially contributed to women’s studies. Two developments in the nineties exerted a profound impact on the establishment of Dalit studies and English translations of Dalit texts. The post-Mandal radicalisation of Dalit masses in the nineties resulted in a strong sense of identity among the Dalits, which formed a strong political-cultural force. Simultaneously, globalisation as a phenomenon brought about a huge change in the perception of English, which emerged as a language of enfranchisement for the marginalised (Kandasamy,16 Chandra Bhan Prasad).17 Translations of Dalit writing across the regions began to appear. Marathi was at the forefront because of its rich tradition of Dalit articulations. Arjun Dangle’s volume of Marathi Dalit writing in English translation, Poisoned Bread, soon became a landmark.18 The Maharashtra Government was pressured into publishing the collected works of Dr. Ambedkar; and a collected volume of Anna Bhau Sathe’s Marathi writings also came out.19 Translating Dalit writing into English is located in this context of power politics. This act cannot be understood as an ‘innocent’ mimetic act, intended to include what was hitherto excluded from ‘Indian Literature in English Translation’ and add Dalit studies to existing academic courses as an extra option on the academic menu. This is a political act which seeks an intervention on behalf of the subalterns in the power politics of academic, literary and cultural regimes. It involves alternative perceptions, reinterpretation of history and creation of ‘new knowledge’ that changes the map of cultural imagination in Indian languages. It also seeks to give ‘afterlife’, to use Benjamin’s words,20 to Dalit literary texts that were ‘killed’, pushed into oblivion, by the dominant literary traditions in Marathi. Baby Kamble’s autobiography Jina Amucha, the first autobiography by a Dalit woman in India, is an example of this. My translation of this significant yet forgotten Marathi text into English as The Prisons We Broke was an attempt to revive it, give it ‘an afterlife’ in Benjamin’s terms. Let me illustrate this with some examples from my own limited experience of translating a few Marathi Dalit autobiographies, fictional narratives and plays into English.

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Translating autobiographies of Marathi Dalit women, such as Baby Kamble’s The Prisons we Broke21 and Urmila Pawar’s The Weave of my Life,22 began as an attempt to provide reading material to Masters students from diverse language backgrounds in my university for a course in Feminism.This was easier said than done. Kamble was the first Indian Dalit woman to write her autobiography and Pawar’s autobiography represented the next stage of Dalit feminist perspective on language, writing and cultural politics within the women’s movement as well as in the Dalit movement. These women’s autobiographies were distinct from such accounts by upper-class men and women and Dalit men. Kamble challenged the ‘official’ accounts of her community from sociologists and presented an alternative perspective. Gavgada,23 an important reference book written by an eminent sociologist in the early twentieth century, presents the intricacies of the village structure and functions of lower castes in its administration, along with some derogatory comments on their nature. But these women’s delineations of a lived Mahar experience were markedly different. They showed how boundaries in personal, social and political spheres had traditionally marked and produced the Dalit body, constructed selfhood and shaped their caste identities. They also demonstrated how these boundaries were demolished by the new consciousness that Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and the Dalit movement had awakened in their personal and social-political lives. This is not to validate ‘experience’ as a category to the detriment of the existing conceptualisations of knowledge. Kamble unconsciously advances the critique of an ‘empiricist notion of experience’ by giving a much more nuanced and complex understanding of how Dalit lives are constructed through constant hunger, humiliating traditions of carrying carrion and eating flesh of dead animals, ritualistic practices born out of ignorance and sustained through superstitions and lack of education, women’s daily chores and the terrible gender discrimination they experience from upper-caste and Dalit men. This is a different way of making sense of Dalit reality, which is constructed by structures of uneven distribution of power, work and wealth both between the savarnas and the avarnas, and Dalit men and women. The body of the Dalit emerges as a complex phenomenon in her language, which disrupts not just the limits of the so-called ‘legitimate’ knowledge but the limits of the standard language itself. Even though I knew standard Marathi intimately, I had to first try an ‘intra-language’ translation, before I embarked upon the English translation. Kamble uses a language that draws attention to multidimensional sites of exclusion. She employs different speaking voices to represent a multiplicity of selves: relational, gendered, familial, mothering and political. In the process, the de-authorised, delegitimised Subject emerges with a strongly political Dalit identity. She breaks the language codes to let the suppressed voices and alternative meanings flow out. For instance, the word ‘wada’ in Marathi means a spacious and rich abode of a powerful man, but when it is combined with the caste word ‘Mahar’ in ‘Maharwada’, it immediately signifies dirt, filth and pollution. This conflictual process of meaning making is difficult to reproduce in English. Through the amalgamation of different locations and diverse dialectal varieties, the writer talks back to the ideologies of

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class, caste, religion and patriarchy. A self-reflexive voice narrating the account of the quaint and exotic, and sometimes downright funny, practices (such as mothers bathing their children) suddenly transforms into a political stance to launch a frontal attack on the Hindu religious ideologies and practices in the form of statements, arguments and logical conclusions. Kamble’s angry outbursts against Hindu religious orthodoxy link her to Phule’s sharp polemical dialogues in his work Slavery, which I had translated earlier.24 Such intertextuality is a tough challenge for the translator simply because she or he has to transfer caste politics into a language which has no caste significations or hierarchies. Take, for instance, Kamble’s description of the superstitious rituals of the ‘Rede Jatra’ (the Buffalo Fair) when a he-buffalo would be sacrificed before Goddess Mari Aai, and when a woman was possessed by her. The Mahar dialect of Marathi with which the events are narrated echoes with cadences of varieties used by old people, women and young men; there is fun and humour in the account. But suddenly Kamble switches mid-sentence over to the standard language; crossing over from her identification with her community, she stands outside of it commenting upon their pathetic condition. Then she takes the role of a fighter for justice and equality and launches a frontal attack on the orthodox brahmanical religious authorities. The pronouns change from ‘we/our/us’ to ‘them’, and then ‘you and them’ in the course of narration and argument. This narrative strategy evokes cadences of Jotirao Phule’s polemical language in the nineteenth century that directly accuses the brahmanical upper castes for their exploitative practices: The entire community had sunk deep in the mire of such dreadful superstitions. . . . Generations after generations our people rotted and perished by following such a superstitious way of life.Yet, we kept believing in your Hindu religion and serving you faithfully. We may be coarse and ignorant, yet you must admit that we have been the most devoted children of Maharashtra, this land of our birth, and it is we who are the true heirs of this great land. You played with our lives and enjoyed yourselves at our expense. . . . We never rebelled against you, did we? You considered the cow holy, we never insulted her; did we? We obeyed every diktat of your Hindu religion, we followed all your traditions – why did you single us out for your contempt? . . . Why, we would have even spread our hands like spittoons for you if you wanted to spit! Then why did you treat us with so much contempt? (Kamble 2008: 37–38) The words could be translated into English but how would one translate the sense of intertextuality with other radical writing? It would be difficult to show this even to the native speakers, because, unless their reading was ‘input rich’, how could they follow this connection? The English translation was sadly unable to evoke this sense of intertexuality for obvious reasons. Kamble and Pawar use direct, indirect and free indirect narration in standard and non-standard varieties, as well as mix registers. The language is simultaneously embedded in rhythms of folk forms such as ‘Kahani’ (story telling), songs, games,

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rituals and the political discourse of the Dalit movement. Kamble uses the form of the folk tale with tremendous political potential. Here is Kamble’s account of the letter a woman wrote to her faraway husband describing to him in a coded language the miserable news of what happened in her hut. The hut actually is nothing but a makeshift shelter that stood on three sticks on the sides, with leaves arranged on the top as roof . . . (with) a makeshift chulhaof three stones. All the wealth of the family lay around this chulha: one big clay pot, one big mud bowl to eat from and a cracked coconut shell with a piece of wood nailed to it to serve as a spoon. (Kamble 2008: 39) The woman uses a coded language in her letter to narrate how some dogs attacked her hut and ruined everything in it, including utensils and food. She describes the hut in Marathi as ‘rajmahal’ (royal hall), dogs as ‘Kuttekhanachifauj’ (a sardonic reference to an invading Muslim army), chulha as ‘Aambernath’ (name of a Hindu god) and the wooden spoon as ‘Champavati’ (name of a princess from a folk tale). The language variety used is a Mahar dialect. Kamble then goes on to comment in standard Marathi on how the women employ high flown terms to refer to their plight of staying in dilapidated huts and use humour as a strategy to hide their pitiable condition. Translation of these cultural connotations in English was a tough challenge. I tried to create a parallel set of cultural signs in the English translation by using terms signifying feudal names and offices: The army of Mr. Hound launched an attack. There was a great commotion in the royal hall. Sir Pot fell down; the Squire Mr. Bowl, was severely injured and Princess Spooneria was taken away. (Kamble 2008: 40) If Baby Kamble’s language shows transitions from her identification with the victimised Mahar community to a strong consciousness of a political activist, Urmila Pawar’s language signifies transitions from nostalgic identification with the women in the community to a strong Dalit feminist consciousness. The smooth linguistic movements from one to another and their occasional fusion poses a challenge to the translator. The autobiography begins with a description of the difficult terrain that Dalit women crossed on their journey to the city, carrying bundles of firewood, grass and vegetables to sell at the market there. The sophisticated literary narrative suddenly changes gear and the narrative space gets thickly populated with the angry, unsophisticated and live cadences of the Mahar dialect used by Dalit women of the Konkan region. Look at the difference in the two styles in the following examples, which are but a pale version of the original richness: It was an extremely difficult and inconvenient terrain as it lay in the obscure ditch in a far-off corner of the hills. Two high hills stood between the village

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and the outside world.The steep climbs, with their narrow winding paths full of jutting sharp stones and pebbles, were extremely slippery. One wrong step and one would straightway roll down to one’s death somewhere in the bottom of the deep valleys.Then there were two big rivers to cross.These rushed down the hills, looping through thick forests and valleys, their bellies carrying who knows what under the deep waters. (Pawar 2008: 1) This smooth narrative flow is interrupted by the Dalit women’s conversation full of abuses: May his dead body rot. . . . Why did he have to come and stay here, in this godforsaken place? . . . ‘May his face burn in the stove’. . . . ‘Was that bastard blind or what? Couldn’t he see this bloody land for himself?’ ‘Didn’t the motherfucker see these deadly hills, paths, forests? How I wish somebody had slapped him hard for taking this decision!’ (Pawar 2008: 3) There are many such descriptions which present a major challenge to the translator because the words and tones do not have equivalents even in standard Marathi, let alone English. Pawar uses language varieties of diverse language communities such as the Brahmans, Marathas, Bharadis and Kulwadis, apart from the Mahar community, which again do not have any equivalents in English, and the translation in standard English language obliterates the diverse rhythms, tones and cadences in them. Sometimes the language is opaque, as in the magic chants her father used to treat possessed people; it defied any attempt to translate and had to be kept as it was in Marathi: Bismillarahema, rahimbajarbajar kaya Hanumantjatilanka, aap bandh par bandh Jakilsakilkidadh bandh Tambyacha coat, nawiki body mastakrakhi (Pawar 2008: 29) Pawar describes women in diverse locations – public spaces (hilly roads, market places, fish markets, ‘chawdi’ meetings, upper-caste women’s conferences), and private spaces (home, kitchen and bedrooms) – to explore the psychology of shame, degradation and humiliation and to assert the identity of a Dalit woman on her way to becoming an agency of liberation. Pawar’s complex and rich language is characterised by a sophisticated feminist voice that weaves the nostalgia and memory of the city and the village, brings alive cultures of food, throws light on the household work of women and their labour in the economy of the village. She balances the accounts of violence and humiliation with the empowering, politically conscious Dalit agency after conversion to Buddhism. The fiery narrative of

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how her mother, ‘Aaye’ in her dialect, demolishes the casteist schoolmaster is a classic in women’s literature in Marathi; its echoes reverberate into the corridors of caste: Guruji, you are so educated and you speak so foolishly? Look, I’m 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?” Aaye was speaking in her dialect in a voice loud and ringing. Then she thundered, “Let me see you lying even a finger on my girl again, and I’ll show you! Let me see how you can pass this road if you do so! (Pawar 2008: 69) The innumerable accounts through diverse language varieties of everyday life, conversations and comments, food, clothes, games, customs, rituals, rites, represent the slices of a ‘different’ lived reality that ‘shows’ from inside how a Dalit body and mind, and more importantly the Dalit resistance, is constructed. Insults, abuses, fight words and even jokes are culture specific. Can the standard variety of Indian English used in translation recreate these meanings? They define the limits of translatability, resulting in ‘gaps’ in the translation. English has no caste system! Then why translate such texts into English, one might ask. The answer is that English as a global language has a tremendous reach all over the world and it automatically gives prestige and supremacy to these authors who were denied that by their own cultures. Besides, one cannot study Indian feminism/s without understanding the struggle of women lowest in the social hierarchy. Western feminists need to know these Other as the Subjects of history. Moreover, as Gentzler argues, the process of transforming such source texts into English is an attempt to extend, enlarge and make both languages grow, a process of passing on the mode of intention of the original in the translated text.25 These women do not see themselves just as passive victims, but as active participants in the struggle to change the world. They emerge from the PhuleAmbedkarite Dalit movement, provide a critique of modernity, class, caste and patriarchal exploitation outside and within the Dalit communities and critique both the upper-caste women’s movement and the Dalit movement. There is historical progression and development in the narrative strategies of these two autobiographical accounts, which is admittedly difficult to show in the translation. The linguistic weaves are difficult to transfer and recreate in Standard English.Yet that was the challenge too. These autobiographies provide a testing ground for the theorisation of forms. There is a plethora of terms for women’s autobiographies: ‘socio-biographies’,26 ‘testimonies’/‘testimonio’,27 ‘gynobiography’28 and ‘autobiographics’,29 which signal the conceptual complexities of the term ‘autobiography’. The autobiographies of Dalit women evidence how the processes of ‘self ’ construction are different, how narrative strategies are distinctive, how women use language in a way different

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from men. They help us renegotiate the definition of woman as a writing subject discursively positioned, rather than as an experiential subject. They also expose the false logic of an egalitarian sisterhood among all women as ‘collectivity undifferentiated in its subordination’.30 They expose the exclusionary logic of alterity embedded in material practices, institutional arrangements and linguistic structures and raise pertinent questions about the moral fabric and fractured modernity in Indian society. Translating Anna Bhau Sathe’s novel Fakira did not pose any linguistic problems for translation. The romantic rural landscape, the simple language of the narrative in standard Marathi (except the conversations) and the uncomplicated characters made the task of actual linguistic restructuring comparatively easy, though the cultural festivals like ‘jognijatra’ were more difficult. What was a huge challenge, however, was the history of subjugation that lay hidden beneath the surface structure of popular fiction. This was a form used by Sathe’s upper-caste contemporaries, such as N. S. Phadke and V. S. Khandekar, critically acclaimed for presenting the idealism, aspirations and dreams of the upper caste, who represented the new nation. But Sathe was rejected as a merely popular writer.31 Kusumavati Deshpande’s prestigious critical account of the Marathi novel, Marathi KadambarichePahileShatak,32 did not even mention his name. Why was Sathe subjected to this treatment? Was it because he was a Communist and activist of the Communist cultural movement in the forties and fifties? Translation is a process of interpretation and knowledge creation. Fakira, I realised, presented a uniquely organic blend of historicity, myth making and revolutionary fervour. Khandekar and Phadke presented the upper-caste hero with Gandhian abhorrence of ‘armed resistance’. The new nation belonged to him. But Fakira, a folk hero from the Mang caste from late-nineteenth-century rural Maharashtra, had organised an armed rebellion against the British and was consequently hanged. He represented alternative values, beliefs, histories, traditions and the collective memory of low-caste, working-class people who constituted the ‘nation from below’. Fakira was Sathe’s answer to the romantic, sanitised, upper-caste world of Phadke and Khandekar, based on the cultural nationalist concept of Ram Rajya, the upper-caste brahmanical God’s kingdom. The narrative of Fakira raised many questions: why did Fakira turn against the British? Why was Savla incarcerated indefinitely at a faraway place? Why was the Mang community called a criminal tribe by the British? They led me to the ‘Criminal Tribes Act’ of 1872 by which the Mangs and many other tribes were branded as criminals. British agrarian and taxation policies, land reforms, land ownership acts and administrative reforms took away their work, land and status and suppressed these communities. The nineteenth century was replete with rebellions like the Tamar revolts (1789–1832), the Khemar revolt of the Santhals in 1833 and 1855 for the protection of their cultural traditions and lands in the new zamindari system; the Bokta Rising, Sardari Larai or Mukti Larai Movement of 1858–95 in Chotanagpur; the Birsa Munda revolt (1895). Maharashtra had witnessed the Waghera revolt in 1820, the Ramoshi revolts under Chittur Singh in

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Satara region in 1825 and 1840, the Bundela revolt in 1842, the Gadkari revolt in Kolhapur region, the revolts of the Ramoshi, Koli, Bhil and Dhangar communities under the leadership of Vasudev Balwant Phadke in 1877–78 in the Vashi to Panvel regions in which Phadke was hanged – the subaltern histories that unfolded before me had remained invisible in mainstream history.33 Sathe was linking Fakira with this subaltern history. The translation had to be made ‘thick’34 with a detailed introduction to situate Sathe, his life history and ideology, the alternative subaltern lineages, copious notes about the revolts and glossaries to bring out Sathe’s politics of alterity. Dalit plays are, similarly, rich forms of creative resistance that present another different challenge for translation. Dalit theatre has a long history yet it remains invisible in accounts of Marathi theatre.35 All theatre texts have a ‘gestic’ dimension located in the culturally specific tradition of performative arts.36 To recreate this gestic dimension between the textual and performative levels in English is a tough task.Theatre translations from English into Marathi are regularly performed on the Marathi stage. But which theatre space does an English translation of Marathi plays have? There hardly exists a tradition of staging English translations of Marathi plays. Translating Dalit theatre texts into English becomes more difficult because their theatre idiom is located in diverse forms: Tamasha, drawing room comedy and experimental theatre, as in the case of Sanjay Pawar’s Kon Mhanto Takka Dila (Pass the Buck on Brother).37 It is a step into the dark because there is no specific viewership/readership.The translation becomes a closet play.When I translated the diverse dialects in Datta Bhagat’s discussion play Wata Palwata as Routes and Escape Routes,38 in contemporary Standard English, I wondered how it would be received on the stage. I do not know whether these translations will ever be performed or will lie in limbo forever. Yet I felt compelled to bring these excellent Marathi plays to a non-Marathi audience because they were critically self-reflexive, comprehensive theatrical statements emerging from within the movement. I believe that Dalit translations have formed an alternative tradition of resistant literature in English. English translations of Dalit writing represent a compendium of writers located in diverse Indian languages: Anna Bhau Sathe, Baby Kamble, Daya Pawar, Urmila Pawar, Sharankumar Limbale (Marathi), Bama, Sivakami (Tamil), Omprakash Valmiki (Hindi), Joseph Macwan (Gujrathi), Arvind Malgathi (Kannada), Baby Halder (Bengali). Their writing talks of pain and suffering; it also projects the agency of the civilizational ‘Other’. This body of translated Dalit texts with their discourses of alterity may help us reevaluate the established canon.Translated Dalit literature may strengthen and re-form the existing domains of resistant writing in English and form alliances of like-minded people across the global village. It may challenge and change the asymmetrical relations of power in the fields of cultural production. It is the translator’s task to aid this process by bringing this cultural, linguistic, political and civilizational history to light, not as ‘quaint’ pieces of ‘exotic’ cultures but as inspiring struggles for equality, self-respect and enfranchisement.

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Notes 1 Gayatri Chakravarti Spivak, ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ in Post-Colonial Studies Reader, ed. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin (London and New York: Routledge, 1995 Reprint 1997), 24–28. 2 A fourfold hierarchy is proposed in the Purushsukta, (ब्राह्मणो यस्य मुखमासीत/बाहू राजन्य: कृत:/ उरूपदे श यद्वै श्य / पादौ शूद्रा: अजायत//. It means that the Brahman is supposed be born from the mouth of the ‘Purusha, Kshatriyas from his arms,Vaishyas from his torso and Shudras from his feet. The Dalits are not even included in the hierarchy represented by the Varna systems.They are a category called ‘Atishudras’, which is the fifth Varna, whose very existence is considered polluting. The theory of ‘Karmavipak’ provided justification for this hierarchical arrangement by arguing that one is born is a particular caste as a prize or punishment for the deeds done in one’s past life. And people born as Dalits or women are called Papayonis. This logic kept on perpetuating the systemic inequalities for thousands of years. Since the Dalits were kept away from access to education, knowledge of any kind, or any power, by the Brahmanism, they have remained imprisoned in this quarantine. 3 Rita Kothari, ‘The Translation of Dalit Literature into English’, in Translation as Interpretation, ed. Jeremy Munday (London: Continuum, 2007), 38–53. 4 Sharmila Rege, Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Dalit Women’s Testimonios (New Delhi: Zubaan, 2006). 5 Urmila Pawar, The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs, Trans. Maya Pandit (Kolkata: Stree, 2008). 6 M. S. S Pandian, ‘One Step Outside Modernity: Caste, Identity Politics and Public Sphere’, in Caste in Modern India, ed. Sumit Sarkar and Tanika Sarkar (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2014). 7 Ramakant Agnihotri, ‘Constituent Assemble Debates on Language’, Economic and Political Weekly, 50, no. 8 (2015), 47–56. 8 Hany Babu M. T. ‘Breaking the Chaturvarna System of Languages: The Need to Overhaul the Language Policy’, Economic and Political Weekly, LII, no. 23 (10 June 2017), 112–119. 9 Anvita Abbi, ‘Vanishing Diversities and Submerging Identities: An Indian Case’, in Language and Politics in India, ed. Asha Sarangi (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009). 10 Rita Kothari, Translating India (New Delhi: Foundation Books, 2006), 15. 11 Ganesh Devi, Of Many Heroes: An Indian Essay in Historiography (Mumbai: Orient Longman, 1998), 78. 12 Kothari, Translating India, 21. 13 Sisir Kumar Das, A History of Indian English Literature: Triumph and Tragedy 1911–1950. (Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1995), 8. 14 Rethinking English: Essays in Literature, Language, History, ed. Svati Joshi (New Delhi: Trianka, 1991). 15 Women Writing in India, 2 Vols, ed. Susie Tharu (New York: The Feminist Press, 1991). 16 Meena Kandasamy, ‘The Language Wars’ On NDTV’s ‘We the People’ http://meenu. wordpress.com/page /2/ Accessed 9 December 2010. 17 Maya Pandit, ‘Global vs Local: Problematizing the Cultural Politics of English’, in English in the Dalit Context, ed. Alladi Uma, K Suneetha Rani and D. Murali Manohar (Hyderabad: Orient Black Swan, 2014). Also David Graddol, English Next (London: British Council, 2010). 18 Poisoned Bread: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Literature, ed. Arjun Dangle (New Delhi: Orient Black Swan, 1992). 19 Lokashahir Annabhau Sathe Nivdak Wangmay, ed. Arjun Dangle, Neela Upadhye, Vasundhara Pendse Naik and Dr. Subhash Savarkar (Mumbai: Maharashtra RajyaSahityaaniSanskriti Mandal, 1991). 20 Walter Benjamin, ‘The Task of the Translator’, in Illuminations, Trans. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), 69–82.

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21 Baby Kamble, The Prisons We Broke, Trans. Maya Pandit (Chennai: Orient Longman, 2008). 22 Pawar, The Weave of My Life. 23 Trimbak Narayan Atre, Gav-gada, 2nd ed. (Pune:Varada Books, 1995). 24 Jotirao Phule, ‘Slavery’, Trans. Maya Pandit, in Selected Writings of Jotirao Phule, ed. Govind Purushottam Deshpande (New Delhi: Leftword, 2002), 23–100. 25 Edwin Gentzler, Contemporary Translation Theories (New York: Routledge, 1993). 26 Maya Pandit, ‘Introduction’, The Prisons We Broke, xiii. 27 Rege, Writing Caste/Writing Gender. 28 Domna Stanton, ‘Autobiography: Is the Subject Different?’ in The Female Autograph, ed. Stanton Domna (New York: New York Literary Forum, 1984), 3–20. 29 Leigh Gilmore, Autobiographics: A Feminist Theory of Women’s Self Representation (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994). 30 Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, eds. Woman Autobiography Theory: A Reader (Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1998), 30. 31 S. S. Bhosale, ‘Pratinidhik Katha: EkPrastavana’, Appendix 3, in Lokshahir Annabhau Sathe: Niwdak Wangmay, 1147–1168. 32 Kusumavati Deshpande, Marathi Kadambariche Pahile Shatak: 1850 to 1950 (Mumbai: Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangha, 1975), first edition 1953. 33 Maya Pandit, Trans., Annabhau Sathe’s Fakira and Other Stories (Kolkata: Thema, in press). 34 Anthony Appiah Kwame, ‘Thick Translation’, in The Translation Studies Reader, ed. Lawrence Venuti (New York: Routledge, 2000), 389–401. 35 Shanta Gokhale, Playwright at the Centre: Marathi Drama from 1843 to the Present (Kolkata: Seagull Books, 2000). 36 Susan Bassnett, ‘The Translation Turn in Cultural Studies’, in Constructing Cultures: Essays in Literary Translation, ed. Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 1998), 123–140. 37 Sanjay Pawar, ‘Pass the Buck on Brother’, Trans. Maya Pandit, in Gender, Space and Resistance:Women and Theatre in India, ed. Anita Singh and Tarun Tapas Mukherjee (New Delhi: Bookworld, 2013), 385–438. 38 Datta Bhagat, Routes and Escape Routes, Trans. Maya Pandit, Drama Contemporary, ed. Erin B. Mee (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins, 2001), 283–343.

Works cited Alcoff, Linda. ‘Cultural Feminism Versus Post-structuralism: The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory’. Signs 13.3 (1988): 405–436. Appiah, Kwame Anthony. ‘Thick Translation’, in The Translation Studies Reader, Lawrence Venuti, ed. New York: Routledge, 2000: 389–401. Atre, Trimbak Narayan. Gav-gada. 1915. Pune:Varada Books, 1995. Bagul, Baburao. Dalit Sahitya: AajcheKrantividnyan. Aurangabad: Disha Prakashan, 2004. Bassnett, Susan. ‘Translation Across Culture’. British Studies in Applied Linguistics 13 (1998): 72–85. Bassnet, Susan. ‘The Translation Turn in Cultural Studies’, in Constructing Cultures: Essays in Literary Translation, Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere, eds. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 1998: 123–140. Bassnett, Susan and André Lefevere. ‘Introduction’, in Translation, History and Culture, Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere, eds. London: Pinter Publishers, 1990: 1–13. Bassnet, Susan and Harish Trivedi. Post-colonial Translation:Theory and Practice. London: Routledge, 1999. Benjamin, Walter. ‘The Task of the Translator’, in Illuminations. Trans. Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken Books, 1969: 69–82.

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Bhagat, Datta. Routes and Escape Routes.Translation of WataPalwata by Maya Pandit, in Drama Contemporary India, Erin B. Mee, ed. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins, 2001: 283–343. Devi, Ganesh. Of Many Heroes: An Indian Essay in Historiography. Mumbai: Orient Longman, 1998. Gentzler, Edwin. Contemporary Translation Theories. New York: Routledge, 1993. Gilmore, Leigh. Autobiographics: A Feminist Theory of Women’s Self-Representation. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994. Gokhale, Shanta. Playwright at the Centre: Marathi Drama from 1843 to the Present. Kolkata: Seagull Books, 2000. Graddol, David. English Next. London: British Council, 2010. Harding, Sandra. Whose science? Whose knowledge? Thinking from women’s Lives. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991. Joshi, Swati. Rethinking English: Rethinking English: Essays in Literature, Language, History. New Delhi: Trianka, 1991. Kamble, Baby. Jina Amucha, 2nd ed. 1986. Pune: Sanman Prakashan, 1990. Kamble, Baby. The Prisons We Broke. Trans. Maya Pandit. Chennai: Orient Black Swan, 2008. Kothari Rita. Translating India, 2nd ed. 2003. New Delhi: Foundation Books, 2006. Kothari. Rita. ‘The Translation of Dalit Literature into English’, in Translation as Interpretation, Jeremy Munday, ed. London: Continuum, 2007: 38–53. Pandit, Maya. ‘Global vs Local: Problematizing the Cultural Politics of English’, in English in the Dalit Context, Alladi Uma, K. Suneetha Rani and D. Murali Manohar, eds. Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan, 2014. Pandit, Maya. ‘Introduction’, in The Prison’s We Broke. Chennai: Orient BlackSwan, 2008: xiii. Pandyan, M. S. S. ‘One Step Outside Modernity: Caste, Identity Politics and Public Sphere’, in Caste in Modern India, Sumit Sarkar and Tanika Sarkar, eds. Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2014. Pawar, Sanjay.‘Pass the Buck on Brother’.Translation Maya Pandit, in Gender, Space and Resistance:Women and Theatre in India, Anita Singh and Tarun Tapas Mukherjee, eds. New Delhi: Printworld, 2013: 385–438. Pawar, Urmila. The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs. Trans. Maya Pandit. Kolkata: Stree, 2008. Phule, Jotirao. ‘Slavery’, in Selected Writings of Jotirao Phule, G. P. Deshpande, ed. New Delhi: Leftword, 2002: 23–100. Quinby, Lee. Geneology and Literature, Lee Quinby, ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995. Rege, Sharmila. Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Dalit Women’s Testimonios. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2006. Sathe, Anna Bhau. ‘Fakira’, in Lokashahir Anna BhauSathe, Arjun Dangle, Neela Upadhye, Vasundhara Pendse–Naik, Dr. Subhash Savarkar, eds. Mumbai: Maharashtra Rajya Sahityani Sanskriti Mahamandal, 2001: 873–1016. Simon, Sherry. Gender in Translation: Cultural Identity and the Politics of Translation. London: Routledge, 1996. Singh, Anita and Tarun Tapas Mukherjee, eds. Gender, Space and Resistance:Women and Theatre in India. New Delhi: Bookworld, 2013. Smith, Sidonie and Julia Watson. Woman, Autobiography,Theory: A Reader.Wisconsin:The University of Wisconsin Press, 1998. Stanton, Domna. ‘Autobiography: Is the Subject Different?’, in The Female Autograph, Domna Stanton, ed. New York: New York Literary Forum, 1984: 3–20. Trivedi, Harish and Meenakshi Mukherjee. Interrogating Postcolonialism: Theory, Text and Context. Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1996.


Looking through


Dalit art is a relatively new category. Investigations of Dalit art have conventionally been found as a part of anthropological or folklore studies and only in the past decade or so have there been discussions on the idea of Dalit art in art criticism or visual culture. These discussions have either taken a recuperative route by invoking traditional Dalit practice or concentrated on the idea of visual imagery in the context of Dalits in the public sphere. In rare instances, there is a focus on a particular artist or work and these have, in many cases, been either very tentative or sharply polemical. My effort in this chapter is to work out what could be the significance of proposing such a term as ‘Dalit art’, and what could be the points of entry into this category in the making. As a category that has not quite found mainstream acceptance in art institutional spaces, what might be the possible functions of such a category, particularly in a context where only very few artists have sought to identify their work within such a framework? Given that art production has been historically located within the domain of the practice of Dalit and other artisan castes, this striking absence of the question of caste in the art discourse of contemporary India is perhaps worth investigating. In my attempt to investigate such absences, I move away from a loss and recovery framework. While studies that seek to recover ‘lost’ Dalit art might well constitute an important trajectory, these work from the assumption that there is an already existing body of work that needs to be found and incorporated into a mainstream account of the history of modern Indian art. Such a move, additive in its logic, imagines the idea of Dalit art as a preexisting body, hidden from view, needing to be uncovered and added to a mainstream corpus. However, such an argument hardly takes into account the function of existing frames, institutional structures and disciplinary apparatus that render the very possibility of Dalit art problematic. Instead, I propose to read the idea of Dalit art as a category in the

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making, speculated upon rather than actually ‘existing’. I believe such a framework enables us to conceptualise Dalit art as a process, an object in the process of becoming, one which in its very absence underlines the unmarked caste structures of modern Indian art. Therefore, this chapter will focus neither on recovering images and practices that can feed into a body of work that goes under the name Dalit art, nor on setting up a program or manifesto. Instead, it will work towards understanding the possibilities and limits of some of the existing modes of engaging caste in the field of art.

Caste and Indian art history A significant presence of caste can be seen in art historical writing of the early decades of the twentieth century. Attempting to construct a lineage for the art of modern India, Ananda Coomarasamy, among others, sought to reorder of the relationship between art and craft such that ancient Indian craft objects/practices celebrated by the British could be reconstituted as art. He does so by recasting the figure of the craftsman, traditionally from the artisan castes, into one whose Brahmin contours are unmistakable. Coomaraswamy sets up an idea of the craftsman in the following terms: The shilpin was one who wears a sacred thread, a necklace of sacred beads, a ring of kusha grass upon his finger: one delighting in the worship of God, faithful to his wife, avoiding strange women, true to his family, of a pure heart and virtuous, chanting the Vedas, constant in the performance of ceremonial duties, piously acquiring a knowledge of various sciences– such a one is indeed a Craftsman.1 He invokes the craft-craftsman connotation of silpa-silpin and yet he sacralises these terms in a manner that allows him to Brahminize the category, transforming craft into Art, and it is this appeal to caste that allows him to recast a Eurocentric art-craft hierarchy. However, dominant discourses of Indian art history have paid little attention to the caste dimensions of these early debates. Almost a century later, during a discussion on caste and art, at a seminar on art and activism at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda,2 a poster displayed by SAHMAT, on the saffronisation of education, came to be critiqued.3 The argument went that the critique of the Hindu right referenced symbolically by the poster, specifically a trishul (trident; Hindu religious symbol) that doubled as the ‘e’ of education, was blind to the caste provenance of those symbols. This exchange pointed towards the possibility of reading the history of art as structured by caste. In fact, the critique of secularist cultural initiatives seemed to suggest that homologies existed between secularist discourse and rightwing cultural nationalism on account of a parallel blindness to caste. Such arguments questioned the foundational principles of disciplines such as art history and suggested that an

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art historical legitimation of the ‘truth’ about art was constituted through a caste notion of beauty. The question of caste dynamics in art as well as caste notions of aesthetics are issues which have largely been marginalised by mainstream art historians. However, these questions have gained significant weight in recent years. Gary Michael Tartakov and Kajri Jain in their writings have highlighted the visual culture of Dalits. Their focus has notably been on the relationship of public monuments to a Dalit viewership.4Critiques of the manner in which existing art historical frameworks have read ancient Indian art, particularly Buddhist sites, are also taking shape. These argue that neo-Buddhist claims on these monuments (particularly Sanchi and Ajanta Ellora caves) need to structure art historical engagement. Y. S. Alone and Tartakov have been at the forefront of attempts such as these. Alone has concentrated on the exclusionary politics of pedagogy and art writing, along with a particular focus on contemporary Dalit artists who contest mainstream representational conventions by bringing into view their own erased histories.5 There have also been efforts to theorise existing contemporary Dalit visual culture. Writers with disciplinary moorings in anthropology such as Nicholas Jaoul and Owen Lynch have focused their attention on aspects of a Dalit visual culture and its resonance in the public sphere.6 Their works have the advantage of locating the visual dimensions of public processions, floats, photographs and other ephemeral visual presentations within a framework drawn from the logics and politics of caste. While such work pays close attention to the semiotics of Dalit public visual presentation and some attention to individual producers of visual images, there is a marked focus on the political, social and emotive rather than the aesthetic effect in these works. These studies seem to take for granted the distance between art as a category and the visual production of Dalits.

Finding Dalit art: studies in art history Studies that attempt to engage the question of aesthetics in the context of caste have tended to take one of two directions – the first, exemplified by the work of Tartakov and the second, exemplified by the more recent writings of Jain.Tartakov’s work focuses on the iconography of Ambedkar’s statues and portraiture, offering readings of the statues, photographs and the like, their historical provenance, and their meanings for a Dalit viewing public. Tartakov is among the first to propose a Dalit iconography that is substantially addressed to a Dalit viewing public. In a similar way, he hunts for Buddhist elements in contemporary Dalit architecture, both monumental and local. Jain, in a recent paper ‘The Handbag That Exploded’, has offered a reading of a public park commissioned by Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati in Lucknow during the time that she was chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Locating her reading of the monument in the rise of Dalit politics in India generally and in Uttar Pradesh more specifically, she makes a case for the monumentality of the architecture and

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plan. She argues that the solidity of stone, the expense of bronze and the extensiveness of scale as well as the specific semiotics of the handbag and chappals (footwear) of the statue of Mayawati herself have been systematically worked out to affirm the sense of Dalit history and political presence. The doubleness of the monument’s function – to affirm a Dalit past to Dalits and asserting Dalit political presence to savarnas (upper castes) – plays a central role in her argument. Both Tartakov and Jain enter the question of visual imagery and Dalit visual culture via interests that lie profoundly within an art historical domain. Tartakov begins to work on Dalit visual imagery following conventional art historical investigations of Buddhist high art; Jain’s work on popular iconography of Hindu gods and goddesses as well as popular visual culture precedes her analysis of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Samajik Parivarthan Sthal.While such works have the value of centreing the idea of a Dalit viewing public, there is a sense in which they are almost anthropological. These works report on the monument, the image and the icon, politicising them, but instituting a gap between these objects and other somehow more modern objects of art historical study. The establishment of a contrast between these monuments and others appears to be the central principles through which the idea of a Dalit art practice is imagined. For example, Jain says: The effect of this sense of lateral spread rather than height is again to invoke the historical sites that I mentioned above, and the raw territoriality of state power – indeed, imperial power – as yet unconstrained by the logic of capital, rather than the more modern type of vertical spectacle inaugurated by the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty in cities with intense demands on real estate. (155) In this argument, there is a sense in which the Samajik Parivarthan Sthal is located in an era before capital and is contrasted to ‘the more modern type of vertical spectacle’. In fact, it is positioned against vertical nineteenth-century monuments of the West despite signifying contemporary state power. In a similar move, Tartakov sets the everyday art practice which subsumes Dalit art production away from and against the ‘unique art of the elite’: ‘The imagery of everyday life is not only the opposite of the unique art of the elite; it is the imagery that is actually the most important for all of us’.7Moreover, the singular lack of individuation in analyses like these, the anonymity of Dalit art production and the absence of empirical scholarship around authorship force us to confront questions that the idea of Dalit art may begin to pose. Given that art history is a discipline where authorship is a constitutive category, why has authorship not been either a focus of analysis or an area of self-positioning? If we look at the trajectory of Dalit art in conjunction with identitarian groupings within the narrative of Indian art history on the one hand, and compare it with Dalit literature on the other, the picture is quite surprising. Dalit writing went almost hand in hand with the Dalit movement. K. Satyanarayana and Susie Tharu argue that

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Although it is possible to identify a few Dalit writers from earlier times, the real originality and force of Dalit writing, which today comprises a substantial and growing body of work, can be traced to the decades following the late 1960s. Thoseare the years when the Dalit Panthers revisit and embrace the ideas of Babasaheb Ambedkar, and elaborate his disagreements with the essentially Gandhian mode ofIndian nationalism, to begin a new social movement. In the following decades, Dalit writing becomes an all-India phenomenon. This writing reformulates the castequestion and reassesses the significance of colonialism and of missionary activity. Itresists the reduction of caste to class or to non-Brahminism and vividly describes and analyzes the contemporary workings of caste power.8 Dalit literature arguably entered the mainstream literary corpus almost twenty years later with the publication of Poisoned Bread: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Literature edited by Arjun Dangle in 1992. Since then writing, translation and publishing of Dalit writing has grown exponentially. Some publishing landmarks that underline the status of Dalit writing include, but are not limited to, Sharankumar Limbale’s Towards an Aesthetics of Dalit Literature (2004), K. Satyanarayana and Susie Tharu’s No Alphabet in Sight: New Dalit Writing from South India, Dossier I: Tamil and Malayalam(2011) and From Those Stubs Steel Nibs Are Sprouting: New Dalit Writing from South India, Dossier II: Kannada and Telugu(2013). However, in the same period, even in 2013, the consideration of Dalit art in the context of the art of modern India seemed almost an impossibility. Writing about art and the public, Kavita Singh comments in an influential book on contemporary art in Asia that ‘Along with its political manifestations, the Dalit movement has resulted in a cultural efflorescence, seen particularly in the field of literature. So far however, there is yet to be an equal flowering in the visual arts’.9 The (non-)place of Dalit art and artist in the context of Indian art history could perhaps be better understood if it were placed in juxtaposition with the trajectory taken in the discipline with regard to the refashioning of the canon of ‘High Art’ in relation to gender. The entry of gender as a category of analysis in the context of Indian art history is tied to the women’s movement, to its hunt for images of women that resonated with lived experience and the desire for self-representation engendered by it. In fact, the shifts from the position that marked women away from high art practice to a recognition of women’s art practice as a minor sub-genre to the present canonical status of women’s art practice can be seen as a testimony to the feminist challenge to mainstream ideas of what was aesthetic, what could be counted as art, as well as to empirical archival work that challenged claims that artists did not practice as women. In the Indian context, the critical and artistic decisions by Arpita Singh, Madhvi Parekh, Nalini Malani and Nilima Sheikh to hold a series of group shows in the 1980s organised around a set of artistic parameters that centred on their gender is a significant event. Sheikh recalls that though they were offered work and visibility by the art institutional networks in place, they were interested in

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reframing their work in such a way that questions of a gendered art practice might be foregrounded. Sheikh comments that the issue was not about individual opportunities or recognition; rather, it was more a question of investigating the manner in which grouping as ‘women artists’ would reposition individual oeuvres in ways that could meaningfully open the field to them.10 In spite of experimental group shows that I discuss later in the chapter, the prospect of the idea of a modern Dalit art exists today only as a conceptual possibility whereas the identitarian consolidation of gender in contemporary art, through moves such as the organisation of group shows, has naturalised the category ‘Indian woman artist’. In a similar way, though, it is tempting to explore the homologies that obtain between Dalit writing and Dalit art, it is difficult to pursue such an idea, indeed even to think about the very idea of Dalit art in the modern Indian context in the absence of a critical mass of self-conscious practice. Savi Sawarkar who practices in Delhi and Chandru (G. Chandrashekhar) from Chennai are the only artists who have positioned themselves as Dalit artists for any substantial period of time such that the political charge of their aesthetics can be read through the question of caste. Attempts to set up art critical readings of their work falter, however, when the analytical tools on which they draw (from iconography, for example) cannot make sense of the aesthetics proposed by the art works that have been ideologically structured by critiques of caste and which have been shaped by sustained engagement with the Dalit movement. As a consequence, the meaning and value of Dalit art work is invariably withdrawn within mainstream discourse from any engagement with its aesthetic properties and is comfortably shifted to the sites of the social and the political. This is evident in Saurabh Dube’s evaluation of Sawarkar where he claims that ‘Savi’s art does much more than interrogate formations of caste and religion in India. Indeed, the critical import of his work derives from its twin dispositions towards terms of power and determinations of difference’.11 Tartakov’s analysis of the response by Chandru and his students to the Ramanathpuran Riots of 1998 withdraws these works from the frame of aesthetics to relocate them within the social world of art institutions when he suggests that There is today a growing acceptance of Dalit involvement in the mainstream art world that fits them into the wider culture. Lacking in critical, political or social content as most of this art may be, it is still of real importance that the art of Dalits is entering the venues from which it was formerly banned.12 Such readings no doubt call attention to the caste dimensions of the art works and, particularly, the insistence on their aesthetic worth is directed against conventional art historical discourse. However, the challenge posed by the works to the historically normed and validated repertoire of images, and indeed the nature and resources that these works draw on, both intellectual and aesthetic, remain under-theorised. Nor are such readings situated in the context of ongoing debates around caste.

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Looking through caste lens There are today studies that move away from a loss and recovery model to focus on the subaltern character of some of the iconic figures of modern Indian art.13 Structured as critiques of art historical practices that have hitherto been blind to the question of caste, these studies offer new readings of art work. For example, S. Santhosh has reread Ramkinker Baij in the interest of a minoritarian aesthetic. In this context, he argues that Even after attaining a political identity such as Dalit and their recent assertions of a presence in the realm of political power, their struggles to participate in cultural practices have not been addressed adequately, and their cultures more or less remain as something that has been accused of ‘contamination’ and regulated by the upper caste intelligentsia. Most subaltern art practitioners who attempt to engage with the larger cultural field are accused of pop cultural betrayal through the regulation/attribution of their practices to authentic folk/tribal culture.14 This process of revisiting art works through the lens of caste has engendered new possibilities of reading art works. To give just one example, I refer to the Roommates 1 and 2 (1980) by B.V. Suresh. Reproduced in the influential text Contemporary Art in Baroda, these works have long stood as evidence of Suresh’s skill as a figurative artist and as a colourist.15 It was only in 2006 that the caste dimensions of the work began to draw critical notice. It was almost impossible to read that painting with a caste perspective before that. B.V. Suresh, too, in an interview, delineated the caste dimensions of the work only after 2005.16 But once the caste framework was in place, it became impossible to miss the clear articulation of caste. Prior to the caste reading, the works gathered meaning through other frames in which the upper-caste bodies were the normative bodies; their contours, colour, stature and positioning were naturalised and self-evident. A person could only understand the normative character of this naturalised representation only if she or he didn’t quite fit within that norm and therefore didn’t belong to that frame. But for those who are schooled into the dominant norm, the struggle with which the artist attempts to represent the non-normative may well remain invisible. In these works, Suresh has systematically used skin colour as a trope of caste and organised the pictorial space through a complex network of dark and fair bodies, suggesting both the systemic nature of power and the violence that it engenders. It is as if Suresh was weaving a web of caste and in the process pointing towards its invisibility. In Room Mates 2, for example, no one is looking at the central figure who sits so dark and grave, completely visible, ironically placed right at the centre of the composition. He may be at the centre of the canvas but in the interplay of gazes, he remains invisible, he does not figure at all, except tangentially. Around the same time (2003) in an experimental assemblage, a group of young artists banded together around the idea of Dalit art.17 Suresh Jairam, commenting

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on the exhibition, pointed out that there seems to be an unspoken consensus on the ‘voice of the victim’ as the undercurrent of Dalit art: ‘Victimisation is largely the narrative through which many speak or represent the issue of Dalit art’.18 Reviews of the exhibition focused on ‘the use of red colour, red, swords, rural scenes, a kite maker trying to make a living, cart pullers and sweepers, folk cut outs, impoverished workers, and the like’. This was seen to evoke images of victimhood; and, by and large, says the reporter G. N. Prashant ‘has been the quickest recourse the Dalit movement has resorted to’.19 This novel attempt at the gallery display of Dalit art that was modern and contemporary met with a lukewarm response, and was not followed by any sort of consolidation of this category. In fact, it was only in 2010 that a comparable attempt was made again, this time in Chennai, at the Malcolm Adiseshiah Centenary Celebration. Organised by the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Dalit Intellectual Collective and Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, Mumbai, the exhibition entitled ‘Imaging Dalit Reality: Politics of Visual Representation’ proposed to showcase documentaries as well as paintings made at a Dalit art camp with the view that the paintings created by the new generation of Dalit artists that portray the submerged reality of Dalit lives – their experiences of pain, misery, hopes and aspirations – will awaken them for the creation of a new world which is free of oppression.20 C. Lakshmanan of MIDS recalls the systematic attempts to derail the exhibition, the difficulties of mounting it and even media reluctance to cover the exhibition. The Dalit challenge to aesthetics is not referenced, and the political charge of Dalit aesthetics receives little attention when the locus of reading remains strongly in the social.The relationship between the aesthetic and the political remains unexplored, and the foundational structure of the discipline remains unshaken by the entry of a category such as Dalit art. Yet, one function of a category such as Dalit art is to underline the idea that the apparently caste-neutral or unmarked category of modern Indian art is in fact constituted by caste concerns and that its thematics, understandings and representations carry a caste dimension. It suggests that what passesfor ‘contemporary Indian art’ is, in fact, an unmarked elite category.The function of the category Dalit art is precisely to problematise the caste dimensions of naturalised terms such as ‘contemporary Indian art’. If, following P.J. Benoy, one argues that ‘Dalit art is seen as a terrain where content and form has to be radically reconstituted through a recourse to politics’,21 one can locate this category as a disciplinary challenge to art history as well as a public argument in the context of the discourse on caste. The advantage of working from such a position would be that one would be able to read the aesthetic as a site of political challenge.

Notes 1 Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, The Arts and Crafts of India and Ceylon (Edinburgh, 1913), quoted in ‘Preface’, Making Things in South Asia: The Role of Artist and Craftsman, ed. Michael Meister (Philadelphia: Department of South Asia Regional Studies, 1988), ix. This passage is also invoked by K. G. Subramanyan,‘The Significance of Coomaraswamy’s

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Ideas in Our Times’, in The Living Tradition (Calcutta: Seagull, 1987), 18, to argue that “few of the thousands of image-makers in traditional society would have conformed to this ideal”; this allows him to bypass the caste implications of the passage. 2 The National Seminar ‘The Issues of Activism: The Artist and the Historian’ was organised by the Department of Art History, Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in 2004. 3 SAHMAT, an acronym for Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, was founded in 1989. It has been a powerful and consistent voice of protest against the communalisation of the national space, and has significantly drawn on both visual and performance arts to critique communal forces. Saffronisation is a term used in the context of Indian politics to refer to processes that recast secular spaces such as education into a Hindu frame. 4 Gary Michael Tartakov, ‘Dalits, Art, and the Imagery of Everyday Life’, in Articulating Resistance: Art and Activism, ed. Deeptha Achar and Shivaji K Panikkar (New Delhi: Tulika, 2012), 146–160; and Gary Michael Tartakov, ed. Dalit Art and Visual Imagery (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012). Kajri Jain, ‘The Handbag that Exploded: Mayavati’s Monuments and the Aesthetics of Democracy in Post-Reform India’, in The New Cultural Histories of India: Materialities and Practices, ed. Partha Chatterjee, Bodhisattva Kar and Tapati Guha Thakurta (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014), 139–179. 5 Y. S. Alone, ‘Neo Buddhist Movement and the Formation of Dalit Identity in Art, Architecture and Culture’, in Articulating Resistance: Art and Activism, ed. Deeptha Achar and Shivaji K Panikkar (New Delhi: Tulika, 2012), 146–160. 6 Nicolas Jaoul, ‘Dalit Processions: Street Politics and Democratization in India’, in Staging Politics: Power and Performance in Asia and Africa, ed. Julia C Strauss and Donal Cruise O’Brien (London: IB Tauris, 2007) and ‘Learning the Use of Symbolic Means: Dalits, Ambedkar Statues and the State in Uttar Pradesh’, in Dalit Art and Visual Imagery, ed. Gary Michael Tartakov (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012), 98–126. Owen Lynch, ‘We Make These Floats So That They Will See What We See/Feel: Ambedkar Jayanti, Hierarchy and the Darsan Effect’, in Dalit Art and Visual Imagery, ed. Gary Michael Tartakov (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012), 179–218. 7 Tartakov, ‘Dalits, Art, and the Imagery of Everyday Life’, 145. 8 K. Satyanarayana and Susie Tharu, The Exercise of Freedom: An Introduction to Dalit Writing (New Delhi: Navayana, 2013), 21. 9 Kavita Singh, ‘Interventions in the Public Sphere’, in Influx: Contemporary Arts in Asia, ed. Parul Dave Mukherji, Naman P. Ahuja and Kavita Singh (New Delhi: Sage, 2014), 154. 10 Nilima Sheikh, personal communication, 2004. For a detailed analysis of this moment see Deeptha Achar, ‘Ascribing Feminist Intent: The Invention of the Indian Woman Artist’, India International Centre Quarterly: Special Issue on Interrogating Women’s Leadership, 39, nos. 3–4 (Winter 2012), 217–213. 11 ‘A Dalit Iconography of an Expressionist Imagination’, in Dalit Art and Visual Imagery, ed. Gary Michael Tartakov (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012), 265. 12 ‘Dalit Painting Seen from the Outside’, in Dalit Art and Visual Imagery, ed. Gary Michael Tartakov (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012), 249. 13 One possible area of study, a direction not attempted in this article, is to examine the caste question in ‘mainstream’ Indian nationalist art, both before and after independence. Such a study could reevaluate not only the individual oeuvre of important practitioners such as Ravi Varma, Abanindranath Tagore, Amrita Sher Gil and others but also revisit work such as Gaganendranath Tagore’s ‘Millstone of the Caste System’ (1917), a line drawing of K. K. Hebbar on ‘Bhangi Strike’ (c. mid C20) and K. Prabhakaran's ‘A Harijan Woman’ (Oil on Canvas, 25 by 16 inch. Artist's collection, 1986) with a new framework that engage contemporary theories of caste. 14 S. Santhosh, ‘Spectres of the “Radicals”, or Where Have All the “Radicals” Gone?’, in Articulating Resistance: Art and Activism, ed. Deeptha Achar and Shivaji K. Panikkar (New Delhi: Tulika, 2012), 188. 15 Gulammohammed Sheikh, ed. Contemporary Art in Baroda (New Delhi: Tulika, 1997).

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16 B. V. Suresh, ‘Ground Under the Feet’, in Facilitating the Beast: B. V. Suresh [Catalogue: Interview with the Artist] (New Delhi:Vadehra Art Gallery, 2006), n. p. 17 Artists in the show included Muthuswamy, Mani, Babu Eshwar Prasad, Shivaprasad, Hadapad, Shivananda, Dilip Kumar Kale, Chandru, Mashalkar, Mohana Kalyani, and others. 18 Quoted in G. N. Prashant, ‘Of Art, Identity, and Politics’, 23 January 2003. www. hindu.com/thehindu/mp/2003/01/23/stories/2003012300470200.htm Accessed 17 February 2014. 19 G. N. Prashant, ‘Of Art, Identity, and Politics’, 23 January 2003www.hindu.com/the hindu/mp/2003/01/23/stories/2003012300470200.htmAccessed 17 February 2014. 20 C. Laksmanan in the Concept Note for the Malcolm Adieseshaiah Centenary Celebrations Film-cum-Painting Festival. www.mids.ac.in/imrconcept.pdf Accessed 10 February 2014. 21 P. J. Benoy, ‘Dalit At and Tribal Art’, in Articulating Resistance: Art and Activism, ed. Deeptha Achar and Shivaji K Panikkar (New Delhi: Tulika, 2012), 170.

Works cited Achar, Deeptha, ‘Ascribing Feminist Intent:The Invention of the Indian Woman Artist’. India International Centre Quarterly: Special Issue on Interrogating Women’s Leadership 39.3–4 (Winter 2012): 217–213. Alone,Y. S. ‘Neo Buddhist Movement and the Formation of Dalit Identity in Art, Architecture and Culture’, in Articulating Resistance: Art and Activism, Deeptha Achar and Shivaji K Panikkar, eds. New Delhi: Tulika, 2012: 146–160. Benoy, P. J. ‘Dalit At and Tribal Art’, in Articulating Resistance: Art and Activism, Deeptha Achar and Shivaji K Panikkar, eds. New Delhi: Tulika, 2012: 163–180. Coomaraswamy. Ananda K. 1913. The Arts and Crafts of India and Ceylon, quoted in Michael Meister, ‘Preface’, in Making Things in South Asia:The Role of Artist and Craftsman, Michael Meister, ed. Philadelphia: Department of South Asia Regional Studies, 1988: ix. Dube, Saurabh. ‘A Dalit Iconography of an Expressionist Imagination’, in Dalit Art and Visual Imagery, Gary Michael Tartakov, ed. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012: 251–267. Jain, Kajri. ‘The Handbag that Exploded: Mayavati’s Monuments and the Aesthetics of Democracy in Post-Reform India’, in The New Cultural Histories of India: Materialities and Practices, Partha Chatterjee, Bodhisattva Karand Tapati Guha Thakurta, eds. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014: 139–179. Jaoul, Nicolas. ‘Dalit Processions: Street Politics and Democratization in India’, in Staging Politics: Power and Performance in Asia and Africa, Julia C. Strauss and Donal Cruise O’Brien, eds. London: IB Tauris, 2007. Jaoul, Nicolas. ‘Learning the Use of Symbolic Means: Dalits, Ambedkar Statues and the State in Uttar Pradesh’, in Dalit Art and Visual Imagery, Gary Michael Tartakov, ed. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012: 98–126. Lakshmanan, C. ‘Concept Note for the Malcolm Adieseshaiah Centenary Celebrations Film-cum-Painting Festival.’ Chennai: Madras Institute of Development Studies, 2010. www.mids.ac.in/imrconcept.pdf Accessed 10 February 2014. Lynch, Owen. ‘We Make These Floats So That They Will See What We See/Feel: Ambedkar Jayanti, Hierarchy and the Darsan Effect’, in Dalit Art and Visual Imagery, Gary Michael Tartakov, ed. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012: 179–218. Prashant, G. N. ‘Of Art, Identity, and Politics’. The Hindu (Thursday 23 January 2003). www. hindu.com/thehindu/mp/2003/01/23/stories/2003012300470200.htm Accessed 17 February 2014.

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Santhosh, S. ‘Spectres of the “Radicals”, or Where Have All the “Radicals” Gone?’, in Articulating Resistance: Art and Activism, Deeptha Achar and Shivaji K Panikkar, eds. New Delhi: Tulika, 2012: 181–200. Satyanarayana K. and Susie Tharu, eds. The Exercise of Freedom: An Introduction to Dalit Writing. New Delhi: Navayana, 2013. Sheikh, Nilima. Personal communication, 2004. Singh, Kavita. ‘Interventions in the Public Sphere’, in InFlux: Contemporary Arts in Asia, Parul Dave Mukherji, Naman P. Ahujaand Kavita Singh, eds. New Delhi: Sage, 2014: 147–157. Subramanyan, K.G. ‘The Significance of Coomaraswamy’s Ideas in Our Times’, in The Living Tradition: Perspectives on Modern Indian Art. Calcutta: Seagull, 1987: 14–21. Suresh, B.V. ‘Ground Under the Feet’, Facilitating the Beast: B.V. Suresh, [Catalogue: Interview with the artist], New Delhi:Vadehra Art Gallery, 2006. n. p. Tartakov, Gary Michael, ‘Dalits, Art, and the Imagery of Everyday Life’, in Articulating Resistance: Art and Activism, Deeptha Achar and Shivaji K. Panikkar, eds. New Delhi: Tulika, 2012: 146–160. Tartakov, Gary Michael, ed. Dalit Art and Visual Imagery. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012. Tartakov, Gary Michael, ‘Dalit Painting Seen from the Outside’. in Dalit Art and Visual Imagery, Gary Michael Tartakov, ed. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012: 235–250.

14 (RE-)IMAGING CASTE IN GRAPHIC NOVELS A study of A Gardener in the Wasteland and Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability Ruchika Bhatia and Devika Mehra

In contemporary Indian society, the graphic novel has gradually gained popularity as an alternative medium of effective critique of social issues such as partition, abuse, casteism and gender discrimination. While these issues have been part of literary discourse within the Indian context, the graphic novel takes ‘the tensions, dilemmas and concerns of traditional [Indian Writing in English] and discusses these in a popular medium, offering, therefore, not only a democratising of forms of socio-political commentary but also a democratising of the language of cultural analytics’.1 By adopting the dual mode of visual-verbal storytelling, graphic novels are able to function as a productive site of negotiating issues of trauma, marginalisation and survival, which continue to be topical. This chapter is a study of two contemporary Indian graphic novels, A Gardener in the Wasteland2 and Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability,3 which deal with the continued caste-based oppression in India and bring forth the Dalit question in an alternative popular form. It begins by contextualising the graphic novel as a Western art form that has gradually gained popularity in India and has evolved as an emergent space that offers new or alternative ways of seeing and negotiating with prevalent contentious issues in the twenty-first century. It goes on to situate these two graphic novels as part of Dalit literature that explores and engages with issues of untouchability. It examines their form and style, use of an indigenous art form and mythic symbols to critique stereotypes and cultural icons and understand how caste and untouchability are still functional. Finally, it highlights how the two texts work on various temporal axes to chart the continuous trauma and suffering of Dalits in India. A Gardener in the Wasteland (hereafter Gardener) is a reworking and adaptation of Jotiba Phule’s Gulamgiri (Slavery). Gulamgiri, one of the seminal works against caste discrimination and gender bias in India, explains how a casteist society and gender inequality resulted in social evils. He advocated the education of all castes as well as

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women as a keystone for any social reform. Gardener as an adaptation of Gulamgiri transforms a historical non-fictional work through the medium of the graphic novel and merges the comic book format with the ‘Socratic dialogues’4 format in order to draw parallels between the past and the present, the historical and the contemporary contexts of caste bias. It is a ‘take on Phule’s writings, not a scholarly history of his role in the Indian anti-caste movement’.5 Similarly, Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability (hereafter Bhimayana) also narrates the key events in the life of Dr B. R. Ambedkar, his struggle against untouchability and his great contribution in providing impetus to the fight for equality and justice. It traces the consequential incidents in the life of Ambedkar that catalysed his fight against untouchability. It also fuses the past (of Ambedkar) and the present (incidents of caste oppression) to posit the continued presence of untouchability in India. This chapter not only examines how the two texts rework the Dalit question through the popular medium of the graphic novel, but in doing so also studies both textual and stylistic elements of each book to bring out the unique aspects of Indian graphic art form. Historical narratives of oppression, biographical details of the three main activists (Jotiba, Savitribai and Ambedkar), stylistic elements of the graphic novel form and use of an indigenous Indian art form (Gond art with explicit Indian motifs and imagery), together, not only foreground the problem of untouchability, but are also used in a subversive way to question the age-old societal set-up that facilitates such a structure.

Graphic novels as an emergent space to visualise resistance Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics highlights how, in comics, ‘icons demand our participation to make them work’.6 Robert S. Petersen posits that ‘graphic narratives rely on representing things in a way that is predicated on our cognition of how we make sense of our own world’.7 As texts, they oscillate between being reduced to commercially viable cultural artefacts and as a site of resistance where the interplay between words and images add to the dynamics of the text as a site for engaging with key socio-political, historical and cultural issues. Quite a few original graphic novels deal with historical, social and contentious issues such as questioning one’s belief in God and dealing with the death of a child in Will Eisner’s A Contract with God (1978), the Holocaust, survival and its impact on future generations in Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and a young girl’s perspective on growing up during, as well as witnessing, political and cultural shifts in Iran in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. These three texts focus on personal accounts of struggle and survival of ordinary individuals while depicting life during major historical events (the Great Depression, the Holocaust, the Islamic Revolution and War in Iran) in the world. On the increasing presence of these narratives in contemporary time, Robert S. Petersen elaborates, In the first decade of the 21st century, these types of publications have expanded faster than any other area in publishing. Unlike earlier growth,

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this time the expansion is not attributable to collectors or a devoted fan base; rather, graphic novels and manga have found a significant number of new readers who have demonstrated an interest for a broad array of genres. The growing number of literary awards that graphic novels have won in competition against other books coupled with an increasing number of book reviews that no longer marvel at the idea that a comic can tell significant stories has demonstrated there is an audience that is willing to give serious critical evaluation to graphic novels. Although the advance of graphic novels has never before seemed more assured, it comes at a time when publishing itself is undergoing an unprecedented transformation with the advent of digital books distributed over the Internet.8 In post-independence India, Indrajal comics, Diamond comics and Amar Chitra Katha gradually created a space for themselves by representing the dominant ideological base and neglecting issues of the marginalised. One can notice a shift in emphasis to the production and purpose of graphic narratives especially with Amar Chitra Katha. One of the primary reasons behind the emergence and popularity of AmarChitraKatha since its inception in the 1960s was to provide an alternative to Western comics. It had a double function – to provide entertainment along with education. It depicted tales from Indian mythology and history while disseminating normative social stratification, dominant ideology and social mores. Petersen remarks, Anant Pai, who had seen the popularity of The Phantom, worried that Hindu culture was quickly disappearing against the steady tide of Western comics and came up with an idea for a Hindu version of Classics illustrated as a way to present the familiar stories from Hindu epics in the new medium of the comic book. Eventually, the publication was picked up by India Book House and published in 1967 under the title Amar Chitra Katha, which means in Hindi either “immortal picture stories” or “our picture stories.” Anant Pai was a shrewd businessman who marketed his comics in urban areas to parents who wanted to bestow Hindu culture on their children in a simple and accessible way. Adopting a paternal view to what he saw as vanishing Hindu culture against Western secularism, Pai promoted his Amar Chitra Katha so that the comics appeared both educational and religious; through these efforts, he now has a legion of children who know him only as “Uncle Pai”.9 This highly popular comic book series became a mode of introducing readers (children and adults) to Indian traditions, history and culture. However, it did not problematise acts of marginalisation or oppression that occurred in the past and chose to offer a more essentialising notion of history. Unlike these texts, contemporary graphic novels in India are engaging with contentious issues such as the Narmada Dam construction and its socio-political

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repercussions (Orijit Sen’s River of Stories, Kalpavriksha, 1994), modern-day alienation in cities (Sarnath Banerjee’s Corridor, Penguin, 2004) and partition (Vishwajyoti Ghosh’s This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition, Yoda Press, 2013) from a different perspective. There is a mix of personal and journalistic accounts against the backdrop of macrocosmic events, be they coercive government development plans, or partition. Through these micro-histories, the reader is introduced to the far-reaching consequences of continual/intergenerational oppression and discrimination on the marginalised. They provide a new mode of seeing which facilitate a re-engagement with history, biography and memoirs. They also open a new discursive space for negotiating issues of untouchability, injustice and oppression. In the introduction to Dalit Literatures in India, Joshil K. Abraham and Judith MisrahiBarak mention, [i]n 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.10 The purpose of Dalit literature is not just to narrate the experiences, pain and suffering of Dalits; it intends to resist and question caste oppression. The focus is not creating a work of art for mere pleasure but one that is motivated to challenge, resist and subvert traditional forms, style and subject matters to create a body of texts that functions as a tool for resistance and creating awareness in order to transform society. The text itself becomes a site for struggle through which the reader is enlightened to unmask the ideological struggle inside and outside the text. As Limbale argues, ‘[t]he aesthetics of Dalit literature rests on: first, the artists’ social commitment; second, the life-affirming values present in the artistic creation; and third, the ability to raise the reader’s consciousness of fundamental values like equality, freedom, justice and fraternity’.11 This is evident in the production of these two texts – where a form of popular culture is used to create an alternate space to discuss Dalit issues. They establish a dialectical relation with cultural norms by means of aesthetically and ideologically engaging with prejudicial hierarchical categories, and then go on to subvert their symbolic value. The graphic mode not only makes these experiences more accessible but also facilitates the reader’s capacity to introspect via visual images.

Tracing the form of the graphic novel in Bhimayana and Gardener The ‘hero’ of the Western comic genre, as presented in DC and Marvel comics, exhibits dauntless bravery, tact and potent morality, and is solely responsible for combating the mayhem caused by a sociopath.This hero with extraordinary powers and a strict moral code fights adversity and stands victorious. There is an emphasis

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on rooting out evil from society in order to make it just, free and egalitarian. The superhero world operates at a larger-than-life format where complexities of urban life unhinge a supervillain and his eccentricities propel the action in an intense urban landscape. Contrary to this construction of a heroic figure, in contemporary graphic novels it is the ordinary and mundane figure who transforms into a hero. The heroism stems from acts of subversion of and resistance to exploitation, and is not aided by any superpower. In contemporary graphic novels, the conflict focuses not on the battle between a hero and a villain to restore social order, but rather on a display of scientific and technological prowess fought in a global arena. The protagonist is not a character of epic qualities but an ordinary person who strives against all odds. Even wars are not territorial but fought to establish racial superiority or religious predominance. Art Spiegelman in Maus archives his father’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor to recount the horrific incidents of the concentration camp. In the Shadow of No Tower, published in 2004, documents the attacks of September 11,2001, on the World Trade Center. Both these works act as memoirs and cultural artefacts, historicising events of mass trauma through the lens of personal accounts of witnessing. While Maus traces personal trauma through collective memory, In the Shadow illustrates national trauma through personal memory. These texts engage with specific acts of trauma and oppression that occurred in history and focus on how individuals dealt with it. Both Gardener and Bhimayana play on a similar convention where the protagonists, Savitribai, Jotiba and Ambedkar, deal with personal and collective trauma and facilitate a social transformation. Their portrayal as ordinary people who fight the evil of untouchability indicates the emergence of a new type of hero. By focusing on specific aspects of Dalit struggle – through recounting Ambedkar’s fight and efforts in Bhimayana and Savitribai’s role and the demystifying uppercaste Brahmin narratives – the two texts introduce the reader to the deep-rooted problem of casteism and untouchability in India. They include personal accounts of oppression that do not represent the issue of anti-caste struggle as an abstract political agenda and lend immediacy to the problem of untouchability in contemporary India. Gardener refers to a land laid waste by caste, gender discrimination and social hierarchy, collectively harbouring the weeds of myth. In fact, the idea of weeding which is recurrent throughout the text is significant. It reinforces the idea that it is an ongoing repetitive process and can succeed to uproot ideas of segregation through education of the lower castes. Both Jotiba and Savitribai, with a sickle in their hands charging at weeds of slavery and oppression, pledge to act together as ‘fierce gardeners in the wasteland of caste’.12 There is an image censoring Savitribai, as a wanted criminal, just because she has opened a school to educate the sudra and ati sudra girls. The next panel that says, ‘Education has always been more elusive for some people than for others’,13 shows the image of African American students being denied entrance to a school in the United States in 1957. The authors are

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using these images to reinforce that social oppression is exercised by denying education to the marginalised. There are two different instances of oppression – one in Pune, India, and the other in Arkansas, America – that occur on the same temporal plane to highlight the struggle of ordinary men and women fighting discrimination through education. Education of the lower castes still applies as the most effective remedy in fighting against caste oppression in present times. Gardener details the struggle of Jotiba and Savitribai to open schools and spread knowledge, which would serve as means for challenging Brahmanical interpretation of scriptures, used to ratify enslavement of lower castes as per divine scheme. The text draws on how the couple are forced to leave their ancestral home and move to Pune, where Savitribai focuses on educating others. The next panel shows Natarajan14 (in 2010) reading Savitribai as a symbol of individual and social change. She portrays Savitribai as a unique female activist who was persecuted and made invisible in historical records because of her resistance to and her questioning of the dictates of Hindu society. The author and the illustrator, Natarajan and Ninan, act as mediators between the past (historical context) and the present (contemporary relevance), elaborating how the trauma is unending and continues to haunt the collective consciousness of the disadvantaged sections of the society. Moreover, their comments on the lives of Jotiba and Savitribai enable the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the struggles faced in fighting untouchability. These incidents force the reader to question why certain revolutionary minds get erased from history whereas some gain recognition. For the upper castes, literacy appears threatening because it is potentially resistive, that is, it not only enables the lower castes to scrutinise the scriptures for themselves but also releases them from any kind of tutelage, physical bondage or intellectual ignorance. This struggle is not that of Jotiba alone. Gardener portrays Savtribai as a role model, a woman as an educator reinforcing the significance of the girl-child as an initiator of change, through the conventional comics’ emanata and tropes such as thought bubbles, different shading and layout in the panels to mark the shift in time. In all the debates between Jotiba and his upper-caste mates, Jotiba’s thought bubbles appear as clouds of change, fragile yet divergent, fighting the winds of religious orthodoxy. The speech bubbles of both Jotiba and Savitribai are marked and pointed, but those of the upper-caste Brahmins are coiled and twisted just like their arguments favouring the caste system. These transitions envisage the interrelationship between socio-cultural and sociohistorical powers in society at a particular time and the narrative that emerges as a result of or in response to these forces. The text reinforces the argument against untouchability, not only through the use of words but also by means of structural representation, by employing ‘pointed’ speech bubbles to critique a society highly stratified based on caste. Gardener ends with Savitribai’s poem, ‘Rise to learn and act’,15 where she is herself addressed as a ‘firebrand’.16 She cries out for a change triggered by education

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that would make lower castes critical of their exploitation in the name of religion. Jotiba echoes in a similar vein how education leads to wisdom, justice and progress. Savitribai’s life as an example unravels the triple-mode of exploitation she suffers from, that is, as a lower-caste, as a woman and as an educator fighting against patriarchal dominance. To commence the transformation of a wasteland (in Indian casteridden society) to an Edenic/Utopian/Egalitarian set-up, both man and woman must work in unison and together bring change. In a powerful image, both, Jotiba and Savitribai plough the weeds of slavery and oppression foregrounding the construction of a female protagonist in subversive and resistive modes marking the presence of Savitribai’s role as a ‘Non-Brahmin Female Activist and Thinker’17 in history. In this image, they both accept the power of knowledge to fight oppression and highlight how caste works as a social stimulant to oppress the lower classes.The narrative reflects her position as an active agent of resistance and her role in the emancipation of women as a subtext/side-narrative through her life and work. The primary narrative is of caste oppression that is interjected by a secondary narrative of gender repression. Bhimayana is a biography, which portrays the experiences unique to the life of Ambedkar and how these life events motivated him to fight against untouchability. The text is enlivened by tracing these memories through visual and verbal combinations. The transformative process in Bhimayana begins with its title, which works as an expository device for the entire text. The parallel between the title Bhimayana that portrays Ambedkar as the champion of the Dalit cause, and Ramayana, a Hindu religious epic narrating the story of Rama, highlights the dichotomy between Dalit literary tradition and upper-caste Hindu literary tradition, as well as between constructions of a Dalit hero as opposed to an upper-caste Brahmanical hero. Bhimayana is carefully divided into chapters: Water, Shelter and Travel. Drawing on selective transformative incidents from Ambedkar’s life, it contextualises them around issues of social inequality, bigotry and injustice emphasising that untouchability continues to be a harsh reality. The focus is more on the ever-present and familiar means of suppression rather than a chronological account of his life. This foregrounds the symbolic value of Ambedkar as an individual fighting untouchability along with the ongoing collective oppression of an entire community. It is an interesting mix of biography and contemporary narratives of anti-Dalit violence, using the recurrent repressive modes: water, food and touch, which help in perpetuating discrimination, foregrounding the importance of the Dalit cause over an individual hero. Bhimayana punctuates these biographical incidents by introducing us to a bus stop conversation between a man and a woman on the issue of job quotas, followed by the recent newspaper reports exposing ‘Untouchability alive and kicking in India’,18 and the narrative soon shifts to young Bhim learning ‘bitter lessons about caste’.19Bhimayana features Ambedkar’s idea to ‘Educate, Organize, and Agitate’, which is simultaneously the dominant trope used, the source of the Dalit movement and one of its overriding themes, describing why education is the crucial way to mobilise Dalits.

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Using indigenous art and stereotypes to (re)image caste There is constant word-image interplay in these two texts where an indigenous art form and different stereotypes are used to augment the meaning conveyed in the verbal narrative. The verbal narrative discussing the issue of untouchability is thereby problematised through a deliberate use of stereotypical and experimental images. A political stance about casteism is foregrounded through a negotiation between verbal and visual elements of the texts. Due to the strong visual element of the graphic novel format, these two texts facilitate a new discursive space in which to represent issues related to untouchability and caste oppression where the text becomes a site of negotiating differences and struggling with tensions. While Bhimayana uses Gond art (a Mesolithic art form of the largest tribes of Central India) to indigenise a Western genre of representation, Gardener plays with stereotypes, iconographic elements, popular catch-phrases, slogans and icons to re-image caste. Scott McCloud identifies the ‘word balloon’,20 the panel and the panel borders as important ‘icon[s]’21 themselves. These Western structural elements intrinsic to graphic narratives are reworked to fit an indigenous context by introducing elements of folk art and a unique font. Bhimayana cleverly reworks Gond art to illustrate an equally ancient tradition of injustice perpetuated through untouchability. This is emphasised in the use of a distinctive style of natural motifs, shading schemes, classic images of wheels and dials punctured by pointed human limbs to expose the reality of casteist violence. The reworking, to accentuate the Indian scene and setting, begins with basic stylistic and formal elements such as a special font, Bhim and the use of Digna instead of the conventional comic book schemata. The font appears to be a relaxed and an unornamental script exemplifying the simplicity of the vernacular. Digna, originally, a Pardhan Gond art form of painting walls and floors of the houses, has been reworked to contruct an indigenous panel format in this text. Hence, it eschews the static panel form of the Western format by making use of a flowing, less compartmentalised and less restrictive structure. Unlike the compact and well-defined panels of Western art, Digna does not rely on fixed boxes and panels. Rather the panels have no fixed space or boundaries and run freely, making the images flow from one into the other. All the images are studded with the large, defined eyes of the characters and animals, and additional watchful eyes and pointing hands are dispersed across panels.The eyes are used to signify the act of witnessing and testifying to modes of oppression. The use of pointed hands is for literal and figurative purposes. Literally, the hands help the readers follow the panels and read them correctly. Figuratively, they play a character’s part in this tense environment of condemnation and humiliation based on caste, thereby enhancing the power of the verbal narrative supplemented by visuals, which situates the reader as a witness to incidents of Dalit shaming. Roma Chatterji elaborates upon Gond art representation, how the PardhanGond artists use patterns to cover their figures, which make both living and nonliving forms full of life.22 The motifs, symbols and use of natural elements as they are

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interwoven into the verbal text signify the cultural reliance on nature and how it is seen as both reverential and significant.Within the Gond tribe, there are storytellers who paint images of their folktales, myths and legends on walls and floors as sacred totems to bring them good luck. Nature is the source of divine inspiration and dominant imagery is of natural origin, painted in vibrant colours. When Gond art is reworked in the graphic novel tradition, it popularises a hidden art and gives it social intent. The tribes have suffered the wrath of social injustice and can use their unique talent in a poignant display of suffering. A case in point is the illustrations of the Chavadar Tank incident in Mahad that portrays water not only as a source of survival but also as a medium of pollution, segregation and perpetuation of caste hierarchy. The huge number of Dalits who came together for this cause is illustrated through Ambedkar making a speech using multiple speakers. The microphone used by Ambedkar as well as those mirrored in the collective group of Dalits doubles up as a tool to assert their voice and that they ‘too are human beings like others’.23 The tranquil image of a fish floating in a water tank belies the tension between the collective upper-caste community and the untouchables taking a handful of water. On the following page, the fish motif further reinforces the casteist divide within and without. It is used for demarcating panel boundaries and becomes indicative of the riots between upper castes and Dalits. Interestingly, the Brahmins are represented by resorting to the stereotypical image of a Brahmin with a tonsured head and the Dalits are drawn as a mirror image of Ambedkar himself, redressing the stereotypes for motives of resistance. Another instance that exemplifies the ability of the Gond art form to ‘address multiple registers of experience and imagination’24 that increases the resistance potential of the entire text is the scene describing the journey of young Bhima with his siblings from Satara to Masur. Each facet of the scene ranging from the wheels of the train, the clock dials and the wheels of the cart highlight the continual oppression of Dalits, becoming symbolic of the unfolding of the truth of being a Mahar and of living its consequences25 (Figure14.1). After the slow, enjoyable train journey, the boys discover that there is no one to receive them at the Masur railway station and take them to Goregaon. There is a change in imagery and giant wheels of the cart, emphasising a big problem, replace the small train wheels. As the stationmaster intercedes and arranges for a bullock cart, Bhim innocently tells him that they are mahars – the lower caste. Bhim is made to drive the cart and pay double the fare because he is an untouchable and even a poor upper-caste bullock driver cannot drive it for fear of being polluted by the boys.This scene of mortification transitions into the next scene depicting drawings of a clock-dial, and of a cock signifying the early hours of the day when the boys are forced to make this journey and also the darkest times of the society when its conservatism verges on cruelty. The drawings are rich in intricate pastoral imagery, interposed with wheels of time and transport, but the beautiful representation of the journey gives a dramatic effect to the trauma that the boys undergo. This interdependence between words and images amplifies the meaning, and makes the counter-use of art offer an alternative perspective: art need not always be cathartic but can be subversive.

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Gardener also encapsulates the basics of ‘Dalit Chetna/consciousness’26 in the verbal narrative enhancing it in the visual form. It has a unique font, Joti, and uses the textual space to negotiate with and re-situate issues related to caste oppression. The cover page of Gardener along with its opening or frame narrative works as an exposition to the text’s visual-verbal interplay. The opening sequence draws upon the familiar figure of the vigilante to deal with social issues that remain unresolvable within the conventional law and order system with its use of and reference to Batman.27 However, the implanted use of an American comic icon in spandex to fight Indian orthodoxy underlines the self-mocking tone of such an image. The cover draws on the classic analogy between a Dalit man such as Jotiba, a woman (his wife, Savitribai), a Rakshasa and a sudra (Figure14.2).The beginning of the text combines and compares an untouchable man and a woman to a Rakshasa – a demonic figure of Hindu mythology. Gradually the text explains through Jotiba’s narrative that Rakshasas represent the aborigines who fought with the Indo-European intruders called Aryans. Jotiba further argues that the Dashaavatar myth, ten incarnations of Visnu annihilating different Rakshasas, is a narrative constructed by Brahmins to legitimise various Aryan invasions of the Indian subcontinent over thousands of years. On the cover page,28 their zipped mouths are symbolic of their repressed state, yet the slight unzipping at the end represents an echo of their choked voices of rebellion and their moment of agency. This is extended to counter-appropriate the Dashaavatar myth, raising the question: who is the Rakshasa (demon), the oppressor or the oppressed? In another image, Aryans are represented as Devas (gods) and the indigenous population is represented as blood-sucking Rakshasas and Daityas who are fighting a territorial war, both, armed with modern weapons. While it relocates the war between the Devas and Daityas as a Brahmanical construct ratifying the Aryan colonisation of Hindu Kush region, it also situates the continuity of such territorial struggle by giving them modern weapons.29 The use of mythic creatures, depicting Rakshasas as ugly horned brutes and Devas as beautiful divine manifestations, exposes how Brahmins used scriptures to promote caste hierarchy by replicating stereotypical Deva/Rakshasa divide with upper/lower castes, hence, asserting their own intellectual and social superiority. Such stereotypes are used to exhibit the fabricated Brahmanical myths and to debunk their religious licensing in the modern times. Another predominant aspect in Gardener is the play with the stereotypical association between the feminine principle of creation, which is nature-based, and the floral motif emphasising the natural cycle of seasonal change, sprouting of seeds, flowering of plants, cutting of weeds and rejuvenation. The recurrent use and presence of floral motifs in the design − Jotiba’s back, the illustrator’s and Savitribai’s earrings − establish them all as sensitive to issues of caste as well as the women’s question. As the title suggests, society is a land laid waste by caste discrimination and the masculine principle of dominance through religious authority. Once it is balanced with the feminine principle of creation, by planting seeds of women’s education, the society will be rejuvenated from its barrenness caused by caste inequality. Education of Dalit women ensures a larger emancipation.The flower then becomes

FIGURE 14.1 

Natarajan and S. Anand, Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability, 37

Source: Navayana

FIGURE 14.2 Natarajan, A

Source: Navayana

Gardener in the Wasteland, cover page

Source: Navayana

FIGURE 14.3 Natarajan, A

Gardener in the Wasteland, 56–57

FIGURE 14.4 Natarajan, A

Source: Navayana

Gardener in the Wasteland, 20–21

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a symbol of transformation and an anti-Brahmin stance, and people who resonate with the cause of educating lower caste women are made to endorse this symbol in some form or other. However, the use of stereotypical icons and images seems to render the resistive potential ineffective. The caricature-like representation of hairy pot-bellied Brahmins is akin to an Amar Chitra Katha representation and is susceptible to undermining the resistive nature of the visuals by reinforcing reductive stereotypes. For instance, Brahmins are always depicted as rotund in a stark contrast to the emaciated ragged figures of the marginalised. In such instances, it remains unclear if these classic images attempt to typify a positive association with the age-old description of a Brahmin figure or to denounce their involvement in the perpetuation of the caste system. These images therefore reflect diffused meanings dependent on the reader’s interpretation and fall short in criticising the traditional injustices. The use of stereotypes is potentially powerful because of mass recognition but also potentially ineffective because of their predictable interpretation. This may sabotage any possibility of critical examination of these stock images by the readers. Hence, the risks involved in using stereotypes is that even though they provide renewed perspectives in studying Dalit literature, they may also fail to produce the desired transformative impact because of their literary recurrence and resultant redundancy.

Visualising trauma through different temporal axes Bhimayana and Gardener trace the continual trauma and suffering of Dalits through different temporal and locational axes. The two texts work at several temporal axes, such as the mythic past, the historical and the contemporary. The mythic past depicting the battle between the Rakshasas and the Aryans is supplemented by the historical narratives of oppression marking a continuous chain of oppression. This is further extended and reconstructed for contemporary readers in the present fictional world of the graphic novel. The mythic past comes to us in the form of scriptures originally written in Sanskrit, which was inaccessible to the illiterate lower castes. The Brahmanical retellings of scriptures have been upheld as sacrosanct, infallible and unchallenged over the other retellings, which were orally transmitted or part of folklore. This makes the Brahmin narratives skewed, disputing their authority to validate oppression, since they provide a single monolithic perspective. Gardener reconstructs the story of a great warrior, the tribal king Bali who was the grandson of Prahlad and was killed by a dwarf priest named Vamana. Hindu mythology constructs Vamana to be the Puranic fifth avatar of Vishnu who punished Bali for his hubris. In present times, Bali is transformed into an asura (malignant being) in the popular narrative, whereas in South India there still exists an alternate narrative that celebrates Bali as a tribal hero and saviour, remembering his reign as times of a casteless unprejudiced society. Jotiba remarks on this legend as an example of upper-caste dismissal of aboriginal strength and sense of ownership30 (Figure14.3). The mythical three steps of Vamana, his gigantic foot wearing a Nike shoe and the graphic design Swoosh ‘squishing’31 the thousands under him

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when his enlarged foot treads the earth is a caricature with a much deeper meaning. The Swoosh is the unmistakable icon of an American product and is indicative of the economic forces at work behind such highly recognised brands. The logo signifies not only social aspirations and prestige but also consumerist exploitation. This is an interesting reworking of a mythic story by juxtaposing it with an anticapitalist ideology which parallels Dalit consciousness of social inequality. With the temporal intersection of these two forces (mythic and modern-capitalist), Gardener opens up a mythic space where the related mythic elements have been overturned upon themselves. These mythic iconological symbols have therefore been incorporated and reinvented for a subversive purpose, which is to unmask culture-specific mechanisms of exploitation and social implications of the segmentary construction of society. Moreover, it further expands the argument by assimilating new forms of exploitation such as the use of sweatshops by global conglomerates. Bhimayana works on different temporal, spatial and locational axes, past and present, rural and urban, to posit the continuum of caste-based oppression. Though most of the action occurs in the Satara district of Maharashtra, with a pastoral quality, a significant turning point is when Ambedkar fails to find shelter in the city of Baroda. The clash between rural and urban spaces is accentuated with the image juxtaposing the face of a self-reflexive Ambedkar struggling with his caste, and an urban park scene suggesting the ubiquitous presence of caste. Ambedkar suffers from caste discrimination in the village, which continues in the city. As the pastoral images of the village are replaced by a park, the old stereotypes are superimposed by new images that continue the same process of oppression. Throughout the text, Ambedkar’s problems of the past are repeatedly reinforced with newspaper clippings of Dalits beaten or their modesty violated even in recent times. This signals how problems of caste still exist and how they have found newer hidden means of manifestation. Therefore, temporality is used in a strategic way to emphasise one of the central views of Dalit literature: to portray the relentless Dalit struggle to overcome oppression and create an identity of one’s own. ‘Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality’, a ruling idea to which Jotiba was introduced on reading Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, was also the slogan of the French Revolution. These ideas also hold importance in Ambedkarite reformist philosophy because as the architect of Indian Constitution he believed that India could be a sovereign republic only if its citizens enjoyed equality and liberty of thought and expression and lived collectively as a fraternity with equal respect for all. Both Gardener and Bhimayana represent these principles as still relevant in present times to construct a nation free from injustice based on caste hierarchy. The image of Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People in Gardener32 (Figure14.4) is a colossal emblematic figure, but the reader may fail to realise the inherent purpose of the image being discussed in the present context. The topical importance of this image is reinforced in another image on the next page depicting the torch of Lady Liberty fizzling out metaphorically implying the dying prospects of emancipation. Here these icons may deteriorate into banal examples of kitsch. However, the fact that counter-appropriation of stereotypes and key cultural elements is achievable

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suggests that in contemporary society older stereotypes can pave the way for new trends. This may introduce new alternate meanings to the original, emphasising its radical and subversive potential.

Conclusion Speaking of American superhero comics, Aldo Regaldo in ‘Modernity, Race, and the American Superhero’, states, ‘Superhero comics, like most comics, playfully challenge the world to be different, without necessarily seeking to subvert established social realities through politics. Instead, they present new ideas for consideration. . .’.33 However, these two texts seek to resist the dominant order that oppresses Dalits. By appropriating a popular art form as a mode of resistance, new avenues are opened for Dalit narratives to communicate several aspects of their lived memories of trauma, and these these issues of tyranny are made more accessible for the readership unacquainted with them. The texts, in a way, become hybrid as they include elements from different genres such as biography, myths and legends, newspaper accounts, slogans and catchphrases, comics and history. Bhimayana presents Ambedkar’s life not as a singular experience but that of an entire community, a community that has been traumatised over generations and are shamed even in the present day on the basis of caste. Pramod Nayar in his essay ‘The Indian Graphic Novel and Dalit Trauma: A Gardener in the Wasteland’ defines Dalit oppression, an ongoing process of traumatisation, as ‘trauma-continuum’,34 which is unlike other episodic traumatic events, such as the Holocaust, because of its prolonged existence. Similarly, Limbale highlights that ‘it is not the pain of any one person, nor is it of just one day – it is the anguish of many thousands of people, experienced over thousands of years’.35In this way, Ambedkar, Jotiba and Savitribai work as metonyms for the anguish of an entire community. Through the visual constructs of Ambedkar, Jotiba and Savitribai as heroic figures, the two texts demonstrate how an amalgamation of a Western form with indigenous art, stereotypes and cultural icons can be used to renegotiate the contentious issue of caste.

Notes 1 Pramod K. Nayar, ‘Introduction: The Graphic Turn in Indian Writing in English’, in The Indian Graphic Novel: Nation, History and Critique (London and New York: Routledge, 2016), 7. 2 Srividiya Natarajan, illus. Aparijita Ninan, A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba’s Fight for Liberty (New Delhi: Navayana, 2011). 3 Srividya Natarajan and S. Anand, illus. Durgabai Vyam and Subash Vyam, Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability (New Delhi: Navayana, 2011). 4 Srividiya Natarajan, afterword to A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba’s Fight for Liberty, Srividiya Natarajan, illus. Aparajita Ninan (New Delhi: Navayana, 2011), 125. 5 Natarajan, afterword to A Gardener in the Wasteland, 125. 6 McCloud, in ‘The Vocabulary of Comics’, in Understanding Comics (New York: Harper Perennial, 1994), 59. 7 Robert S. Petersen, ‘Introduction’, in Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels: A History of Graphic Narratives (California: Praeger, 2011), xvii.

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8 Robert S. Petersen, ‘The Return of Graphic Narratives for Adults’, in Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels: A History of Graphic Narratives, 226. 9 Robert S. Petersen, ‘Graphic Narratives in Asia’, in Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels: A History of Graphic Narratives, 116. 10 Joshil K. Abraham and Judith Misrahi-Barak, ‘Introduction: Dalit Literatures in India: In, Out and Beyond’, in Dalit Literatures in India, ed. Joshil K. Abraham and Judith MisrahiBarak (New Delhi, London and New York: Routledge, 2016), 10. 11 Sharankumar Limbale, Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies and Considerations, trans. and ed. Alok Mukherjee, [2004] (Repr., New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan, 2014), 120. 12 Natarajan, A Gardener in the Wasteland, 27. 13 Natarajan, A Gardener in the Wasteland, 13. 14 Natarajan, A Gardener in the Wasteland, 17. 15 Natarajan, A Gardener in the Wasteland, 123. 16 Natarajan, A Gardener in the Wasteland, 123. 17 Natarajan, A Gardener in the Wasteland, 17. 18 Natarajan and Anand, Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability, 13. 19 Natarajan and Anand, Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability, 15. 20 McCloud, ‘Living in Line’ in Understanding Comics, 134. 21 McCloud, ‘Time Frames’ in Understanding Comics, 98. 22 Roma Chatterji, ‘Words and Images: Storytelling in Gond Art’ in Speaking with Pictures: Folk Art and the Narrative Tradition in India [2012] (South Asian Edition. London, New York and New Delhi: Routledge, 2016), 111. 23 Natarajan and Anand, Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability, 48–49. 24 Chatterji, ‘Words and Images: Storytelling in Gond Art’, 111. 25 Natarajan and Anand, Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability, 37. 26 Limbale, Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies and Considerations, 19. 27 Natarajan, A Gardener in the Wasteland, 9. 28 Natarajan, A Gardener in the Wasteland, cover page. 29 Natarajan, A Gardener in the Wasteland, 34–35. 30 Natarajan, A Gardener in the Wasteland, 56–57. 31 Natarajan, A Gardener in the Wasteland, 56. 32 Natarajan, A Gardener in the Wasteland, 20–21. 33 Regalado Aldo, ‘Modernity, Race, and the American Superhero’, in Comics as Philosophy, ed. Jeff McLaughlin (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005), 98. 34 Pramod K. Nayar, ‘The Indian Graphic Novel and Dalit Trauma: A Gardener in the Wasteland’, in Dalit Literatures in India, ed. Joshil K. Abraham and Judith Misrahi-Barak (New Delhi, London and New York: Routledge, 2016), 322. 35 Limbale, Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies and Considerations, 31.

Works cited Abraham, Joshil K. and Judith Misrahi-Barak. ‘Introduction: Dalit Literatures in India: In, Out and Beyond’, in Dalit Literatures in India, Joshil K. Abraham and Judith Misrahi-Barak, eds. New Delhi, London and New York: Routledge, 2016: 1–14. Chatterji, Roma. ‘Patua Art and the Graphic Novel: An Experiment in Inter-Textual Communication’, in Speaking with Pictures: Folk Art and the Narrative Tradition in India, 174–247. 2012. South Asian Edition. London, New York and New Delhi: Routledge, 2016. Chatterji, Roma. ‘Words and Images: Storytelling in Gond Art’, in Speaking with Pictures: Folk Art and the Narrative Tradition in India, 107–173. 2012. South Asian Edition. London, New York and New Delhi: Routledge, 2016. Eisner, Will. A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories: A Graphic Novel. Kindle Edition. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1978 (2006).

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Limbale, Sharankumar. Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies and Considerations. Trans. and ed. Alok Mukherjee. 2004. Reprint, New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan, 2014. Mackey, Margaret. ‘Playing in the Phase Space: Contemporary Forms of Fictional Pleasure’ (Signal 88 (1999): 16–33), in Children’s Literature: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies. Vol. 1, Definitions and Distinctions, Peter Hunt, ed. London and New York: Routledge, 2006: 220–236. McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics. New York: Harper Perennial, 1994. Natarajan, Srividiya. A Gardener in the Wasteland: Jotiba’s Fight for Liberty illustrated by Aparijita Ninan. New Delhi: Navayana, 2011. Natarajan, Srividya and Anand, S. Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability, illustrated by Durgabai Vyam and Subash Vyam. New Delhi: Navayana, 2011. Nayar, Pramod K. ‘Inroduction: The Graphic Turn in Indian Writing in English’, in The Indian Graphic Novel: Nation, History and Critique. London and New York: Routledge, 2016: 3–12. Nayar, Pramod K. ‘The Indian Graphic Novel and Dalit Trauma: A Gardener in the Wasteland’, in Dalit Literatures in India, Joshil K. Abraham and Judith Misrahi-Barak, eds. New Delhi, London and New York: Routledge, 2016: 320–338. Petersen, Robert S. Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels: A History of Graphic Narratives. California: Praeger, 2011. Regalado, Aldo. ‘Modernity, Race, and the American Superhero’, in Comics as Philosophy, Jeff McLaughlin, ed. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005: 84–99.


The representation of caste and Dalits in Indian cinema has become a topic of recent interest but there has been no discussion of the depiction of caste in Telugu cinema.1 In India, the study of the representation of Dalits in popular cinema has been generally limited to the discussion of positive and negative representations. I argue that the issue of representation should not be dealt with at the level of positive and negative representations alone but that one should inquire into how caste discourses shape a film and how a film can reproduce certain caste discourses. This is what this chapter attempts to do, as the movie I will be analysing gives the impression that it represents the issues of caste, and particularly Dalits, in a positive way. This chapter offers a reading of the film Jayam Manadera: The Voice of Victory (Victory is Ours, N. Shankar, 2000), a film that adopts complex positions on caste which cannot be regarded merely as positive or negative because the film brings up the question of caste while simultaneously relocating the agency of caste protest and struggle onto benevolent upper castes. Jayam Manadera is selected for analysis because it is markedly different from other films which represent Dalits in terms of narrative and language. This movie acquired the reputation among audiences of being a progressive film that explicitly addresses the issues of caste, the empowerment of Dalits and their representation in politics, their temple entry and caste atrocities; furthermore, it was praised by critics for its realistic approach.2 Before analysing the movie, I will provide an overview of how the issues of caste and Dalits were addressed in Telugu cinema before Jayam Manadera was released. The Telugu film industry is marked by the realities of caste and its hierarchical nature; filmmakers, producers, writers and artists are almost exclusively from upper castes. Upper-caste domination of the film industry necessarily influences even sympathetic treatments of Dalit issues and ends up effacing the Dalit voice by assigning the role of reformer or leader to upper castes themselves. Such representations have largely been informed by Gandhian reformist discourse, which declares

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upper-caste Hindus’ practice of untouchability a sin; hence, they have to go through the process of self-purification and a change of heart in order to uplift and accommodate Dalits. The first major attempt to deal with the subject of caste and Dalits was Gudavalli Ramabrahmam’s Malapilla (The Untouchable Girl), which was released in 1938.3 Such films in the Gandhian mode are centrally concerned with the question of caste by focusing on a reformist agenda. In most of these movies the hero is from an upper-caste background but portrayed as casteless, progressive, modern and reformed, and a follower of Gandhian ideology. The narratives of these movies are structured around the element of love between an upper caste and a Dalit. As S. V. Srinivas argues, an upper-caste man’s love for a Dalit girl is a marker of the upper caste’s modernity and the goodness of his heart.4 Furthermore, such films want to legitimise the idea of marriage between the upper castes and Dalits; in order to do that these films mediate caste relations by invoking Gandhi and his ideology of caste, quoting shlokas from Hindu religious books and consequently reforming Dalits as well as upper-caste communities. In most of these films, women become the symbol for this process of accommodating the Dalit into the upper-caste family. Another element in these films is their open endings or conclusions with shlokas from Hindu religious books, statements about the eradication of untouchability, songs about the evil of the caste system or the dedication of the movie to Gandhi. However, Jayam Manadera is different from conventional films even though it was produced by the same industry. This was probably the first instance of the issue of caste being taken up in a movie by a non-upper-caste director. The director Shanker, who came under the influence of a Naxal movement, reads Jyothi Rao Phule and Ambedkar’s writings and has a personal experience of poverty and inequality, wants to convey the idea that Dalits and Bahujans need social, economic and, more importantly, political justice and that they will get justice and empowerment only when they enter into politics.5 To translate this concept onto the screen, he faced many problems, as film is a collaborative enterprise. In my interview with him, he recalled that when he was contacted by the producer and the hero, who were brothers, and their father, who was also a producer, to narrate the story, he did not tell them that the film was about Dalits; rather he told the story to them in a different way by saying the story was about conflict between two families and conflict arose because the hero’s family took sides with poor people and worked towards their betterment.6 Shanker stated that if I say that the movie is about Dalits, no hero accepts to act and no producer comes forward. Being an artist, I have my own limitations because I have to present my concept in a commercial format by having a hero who is from an upper caste (in the film and outside the film also).7 Despite these constraints, the film Jayam Manadera engages with caste and Dalits in a different way: the filmmaker addresses the following issues on screen: (1) Dalits contesting panchayat elections at village level and becoming sarpanch (village president), (2) land distribution to Dalits, (3) Dalits’ temple entry and (4) atrocities

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against Dalits committed by upper castes. In 1985 at the Karamchedu massacre, six Dalits were killed and three Dalit women were raped by upper-caste Kamma landholders in Andhra Pradesh. After this massacre, as S. V. Srinivas points out, cinema attempted to render the caste antagonism invisible or to disavow it. The dominant tendency has been to avoid direct references to caste or to underplay them; for instance, in the veiled allusions that were relegated to the comedy track, specific occupations usually marked the comedians as lower caste.8 After Karamchedu, many new developments took place in the Dalit movement. In 1991, the Chundur massacre took place where nine Dalits were murdered by Reddys and other upper castes.9 The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act in 1992 brought significant changes by granting seats for Dalits for the post of sarpanch in village panchayats. Anti-reservation movements demonstrated against upper castes’ resentment of Dalits entering into spaces which were regarded by upper castes as theirs. However, from 1980s to 2000 there was no discussion in cinema about any of these developments. Thus the significance of Jayam Manadera lies in engaging with some of these issues. The representation of Dalits in cinema has received some scholarly attention. There are, broadly speaking, three kinds of studies on representation of caste or the Dalit persona in Indian cinema. Firstly, most of the studies attempt to categorise the representations of Dalits as positive or negative. The focus is more on negative representations of the characters, the roles they play and how they are made fun of or how they are given an inferior position in the narrative.10 Secondly, studies take a biographical approach; they focus on the life of a Dalit actor and the types of roles he has been given in order to analyse how or whether caste plays a major role in the kinds of opportunities given in the industry.11 Thirdly, some studies revolve around the role of caste in the institution of cinema.12 In all these studies, there is virtually no analysis of Dalits in Telugu cinema and the discourse of caste.This chapter is not only concerned with the representation of Dalits but also on the debate and discussion on how the discourse of caste is generated through cinema. Jayam Manadera is examined to illustrate how film narrative attempts to resolve the complex issues of caste conflicts in ways advantageous to dominant castes. I analyse discursive strategies which are representative of strategies adopted by Indian films more widely. I focus on the kind of debate about caste that the film produces, particularly in terms of the characters, story and narrative.

Caste in Jayam Manadera The whole narrative of the film is about an upper-caste hero giving up his life in the process of his struggle for the empowerment of Dalits and how his son fulfils the mission.13 There are three sets of characters: (1) Dalits, (2) good upper castes and (3) bad upper castes. Mahadeva Naidu and his son Rudrama Naidu are the good

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upper castes.14 Their relationship to Dalits is reformist and sympathetic. Mahadeva Naidu worked for the empowerment of Dalits and championed the cause of their political representation and their right to enter Hindu temples, and he distributes his lands to them. As he is sympathetic and reformist towards them, Dalits become his followers. The bad upper castes are Narasimha Naidu and his three brothers. Their relationship to Dalits is hostile when they contest elections and want to gain entry into the temple. The relationship of upper castes towards each other is hostile even though they are relatives. Mahadeva Naidu’s mingling with Dalits earns him the enmity of Narasimha Naidu. It is this hatred against Mahadeva Naidu for siding with the Dalits that prompt Narasimha Naidu and his brothers to murder Mahadeva Naidu. Upon his murder, Dalit followers want to take revenge on Narasimha Naidu’s family and since the Dalit squad does not succeed, Mahadeva Naidu’s son Rudrama Naidu takes up the cause of Dalits and avenges the death of his father. The narrative features eight Dalit characters, two good upper-caste men and four bad upper-caste men. The whole set of caste relations is staged in three scenes. By analysing these scenes and characters, this chapter attempts to analyse how a film, while appearing to speak on behalf of Dalits to foreground the problem of caste, nevertheless reinforces certain existing caste prejudices; further it explores contradictions and looks at the positions allotted to Dalits in the narrative and the stereotypes they reinforce. I will analyse the film from two related perspectives: the first by considering the work as a thesis film, and the second by looking at the rhetoric through which the film conveys its thesis, and matching it with the visuals to see how they relate to one another.

The film as thesis Jayam Manadera gave the audience the impression that the whole movie is about Dalits by employing long discussions about caste; I call a film that uses this technique a ‘thesis film’. I borrow the idea of the thesis film from Steven Maras to help me to read this particular film as propounding a thesis. According to Maras, a thesis film is one which intends to put forth a thesis or a particular kind of theory or conceptualisation. The thesis film makes the theory its content. It is more than just a film with a thesis: the film is the thesis.The nature of the thesis is inseparable from its mode of expression.15 In the present movie the thesis is of caste; the conceptual practice of caste is represented in and by the film. At the thesis level, the protagonist of the film delivers long dialogues or speeches which are seemingly addressed to other characters on the screen but are in fact addressed to the audience. This kind of filmic technique serves a crucial function as it presents the audience with a ‘real society’ off screen whom the film intends to mobilise into becoming a part of the frame.16 In this kind of thesis film, the narrative is used to convey the message. In such films, there are typically speeches through which the thesis of the film is conveyed. They are not meant to tell the story of a Dalit person or community but to convey a certain kind of message about caste. In the movie, there are three speeches

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by the protagonist through which he intends to highlight the issues of the political representation of Dalits, the importance of land for Dalits, temple entry and the nature of caste system. The first speech is about the Dalits’ political representation. Basavaiah, a Dalit leader, contests the election for the post of panchayat president on the encouragement of Mahadeva Naidu. This infuriates Narasimha Naidu’s brothers who inflicts physical violence on the Dalits, on Basavaiah and his wife Chandramma. Mahadeva Naidu comes to the rescue of the Dalits. The dialogue between good upper castes and bad upper castes begins. The camera situates the person who asks questions in the corner of the frame and the hero who answers is in a close-up shot occupying the whole screen. Janardan Naidu questions how a Dalit, who is meant to sweep the cattle shed, could contest for the president’s post? The protagonist responds with a monologue: Why can’t Dalits contest? With his labour, we increase our wealth, with his sweat we experience luxuries, with his votes we get authority, but why should a weak person be kept away from authority? Votes are theirs, seats are yours, fasting is for them, while positions of power are yours. Furthermore, when the protagonist is asked by Janardan Naidu, ‘who will carry the palanquin if everyone gets into it?’, he states that ‘the shoulders of the palanquin bearers are tired of the burden; we will know that burden only if we carry it once’.17 The second speech is at the house of Mahadeva Naidu. After the naming ceremony of Mahadeva Naidu’s child, the camera follows Mahadeva Naidu while he is walking towards the balcony carrying his child. Over the shoulder of the hero, the camera tilts up, showing the large crowd of Dalits looking at the camera and chanting ‘Long live Rudrama Naidu’. The hero shows his son to Dalits, and says: ‘I thank all of you for coming here to bless my child. To have sufficient food like us, to live an honourable life in a society, you have only stomachs but no land. So you need land. The land which I got from my ancestors, I will distribute it to the poor and landless’. The third speech at the temple is about Dalits’ temple entry. Basavaiah becomes the president of the village panchayat and according to village tradition, the president has to offer pattu vastralu (sacred clothes) to god Rama and Sita in the village temple. But the temple priest refuses to let the Dalit president carry out the ritual saying that the scriptures do not allow a lower-caste person to enter the temple. Mahadeva Naidu tries to convince them by drawing examples from the scriptures (Sastras). The argument goes like this between the two parties: NARASIMHA NAIDU:  Mahadeva

Naidu, bringing a low caste person into the temple and making him offer sacred clothes to god is against tradition. MAHADEVA NAIDU: Who says so? NARASIMHA NAIDU: The sastras.

218  Chandra Sekhar MAHADEVA NAIDU:  Which

sastras are you talking about? The Holy book Mahabharata, worshipped by Hindus was written by Veda Vyasudu who was born in the Besta caste, Valmiki who wrote Ramayanam is from the Boya caste. Srikrishna who gave us the discourse of Geeta is from the Yadava community. All these people are from backward castes. PRIEST:  Basavaiah is not from a backward caste but belongs to the fifth caste, that is, he is a Dalit. MAHADEVA NAIDU:  (After reciting verses from Geeta) God Sri Krishna says that he has created only four castes; then from where did Dalits come and who created them? Elders who felt that Sudras are outnumbering them, divided people in the name of occupations and castes. Three thousand castes were created. However, the priest refuses to give a ritual welcome to the Dalit president, which is the custom of the place. The protagonist then brings the sacred thread (Jhandyam) from the temple, puts it on Sahadevudu, a Dalit who has learnt the shlokas, and asks him to recite the shlokas. As a justification for the action of making a Dalit recite the shlokas, Mahadevva Naidu recites the verse Janmana Jayate Shudrah, Sanskaraat dwij uchatye, which means that at birth everybody is a Sudra, based on one’s character, one becomes dwijah (twice born). The one who reads the Vedas becomes Viprudu (Brahmin) and the one who gains the knowledge of Brahma will become Brahmin. Thus, he makes the point that now Sahadevudu has that eligibility to recite shlokas as he knows the Vedas. In the three scenes recounted above, the protagonist’s speeches arrest the narrative. Every time both parties are engaged in argument, the story does not move forward. The pedagogy about caste is embedded in the protagonist’s speeches; he tells the audience about the nature of caste. Caste is equated with the Varna system. It is not determined by birth but by actions and character; this is in accordance with the Gandhian view on caste. One may be a Dalit by birth but one can move up the caste hierarchy. The film seems to convey the message that caste is not an immobile system. Other characters ask questions in order to anticipate the audience’s questions. In the first speech, the protagonist is not just arguing for the political representation of Dalits but also gives a detailed justification for his action and tells the audience how to understand caste. The people whom he is ostensibly addressing in the film are actually the audience who need to be convinced or told why and within what framework such an action can happen. In this filmic technique, the action is internal to the film, while the language is the pedagogy of caste reform, directed at the film audience. Hence, the audience gaze becomes an integral part of the film as they are the primary target for this pedagogic and aesthetic project. This technique is used because the audience has to be reasoned with; it is the logic of the film that those who will not listen to reason in the movie will be beaten up. The protagonist will use force to make others listen, at least on screen. The words are meant for the audience, whereas the action is meant for villains or people who do not listen to those words. If actions alone could have solved the whole issue, the protagonist could have started acting, beating up those who disagree; there would

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have been no need for him to give those long speeches. However, the speeches are meant to convince the audience, to get them on the side of protagonist, so that whatever he does afterwards will be justified.

Mismatch between rhetoric and action There is a second level at which the scenes work, a mismatch between rhetoric and action – the rhetoric of the protagonist and the action which follows. In the course of the narrative, the protagonist wins the argument. Each time he puts forth the argument, he wins over his opponents, and, ostensibly, the audience. He wins the argument, but he does not win in the story. In the story, those who supposedly speak for Dalits seem to be losing. Mahadeva Naidu is killed before he sees his dreams for Dalits come true. After his death, Dalits are hunted like animals, their huts are burnt, President Basaviah’s wife is stabbed and the whole Dalit community is exiled from the village. At the level of the story, the film is doing a balancing act: the bad upper caste kicks a Dalit woman and, in return, the protagonist makes her slap him back with her slipper.The bad upper caste cuts out the tongue of Dalit, and in return, his hand is chopped off. There is no clear winner emerging. At the level of the discourse or of the argument, however, the party of Dalits is winning. The rhetoric claims that Dalits and those who stand with/for them are the winners, while that is not something that is taking place on the level of the action. For instance, in two previously discussed scenes about Dalits’ entry into politics and the temple, the protagonist wins the argument and enhances the Dalits’ standing; but at the level of action, he does not win on behalf of Dalits as the narrative clearly shows their inferior status and humiliation. The film tries to create an equivalence around action and reaction, but social life does not permit this kind of equivalence when it comes to the atrocity of caste. In the narrative, all the Dalit characters are humiliated. With the protagonist’s encouragement, Basavaih contests the president’s post and for that reason, his wife and he are beaten up. Since the protagonist asked him to, Sahadeva recites shlokas but his tongue is cut off for doing so. And finally, they are hunted by the bad upper castes and exiled from the village.The rhetoric, it seems, does not have any impact at the level of the action. The protagonist still has to beat up the bad upper castes, he still has to create a spectacle through his actions. He is a very progressive, enlightened hero who gives speeches but if we look at the action that follows the speech, there is a complete mismatch.That means the rhetoric is used only for the purposes of enhancing the conflict, for creating the purpose of the conflict. In every scene, the good upper-caste protagonist manages to impress us with his rhetoric, but Dalits are made to pay the price for it. This rhetoric of Dalit empowerment is in line with Gandhian reform since upper castes reform themselves; it is suggested that there is no need to change the caste order. It can remain intact. Upper castes simply would become more accommodating, bringing Dalits into politics, allowing them to enter into the temples; in that sense the film’s discursive strategies are not at all different from Gandhian

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discourse. The only difference from Gandhian discourse is that if others do not reform themselves, the hero will be there to teach them a lesson. I will now problematise a few scenes which reproduce the caste hegemonies. Though the whole story is about Dalits’ empowerment, Dalit characters do not have any significant role in the narrative progression. The dominant structures of representation portray Mahadeva Naidu as politically agential. Dalits are perceived as less agential and incapable. They cannot speak for themselves; they never articulate their denial of accessibility to education, to lands and to political power as examples of the practice of caste. They are not capable of articulating their condition as part of the larger social issue. As Jenson Joseph argues, this ‘reducing’ of Dalit characters to dependents enables the narrative to render the Dalits voiceless and in need of representation by the upper-caste figure.18 The protagonist has to mediate all the time. Out of his generosity, because he is a modern rationalist and reforming figure, he is willing to do something for them. He is not one of them, but he is willing to work for them. That division is clearly maintained. It is Mahadeva Naidu, the radical reformist figure, who is endowed with the authority to represent the issue of political representation and need for land in the language of rational politics. The protagonist takes proactive roles such as spokesperson, saviour, bestower, teacher and, finally, their representative. In a Gandhian way, he retains the agency of the enlightened upper caste and becomes an object of admiration for Dalits. Dalits have no agency in the narrative. Basaviah, though a president, is never shown as angry, resisting or as a leader − he is voiceless. He is a pacifist and all the anger and protest comes from the protagonist on behalf of them. Even when Dalits form an underground hit squad, their actions are motivated by their love for Mahadeva Naidu, their leader, rather than by their own exploitation. The narrative has given reformist agency to an upper-caste figure who is an enlightened one, in relation to Dalits who are positioned as waiting recipients of enlightened kindness. The Gandhian visualisation of ‘Harijan’ is reflected in the representation of Dalit characters by positioning them to be dependent and submissive. A close look at some of the scenes in which Dalits appear on the screen would suggest that their presence within the narrative is expected to show their subservience through their body language, words and physical gestures. I shall try to substantiate this claim by referring to the two scenes in which their subservience has been staged in the narrative. Firstly, when Basaviah’s daughter-in-law Ramanamma is crying because of her husband’s death at the hands of Narasimha Naidu’s people, Basavaih says that he did not die for her sake and his but for their leader. He tells her, ‘You should not cry for your husband’s death but cry that we haven’t got that opportunity to die for our leader’. Secondly, in the scene where Basaviah goes to invite Narasimha Naidu to come to the temple as he is going to give sacred clothes to gods, we find that the language of subservience has been built into his words, as he says: You are all elders! Greetings to all of you! Babu (Sir), I am the one who is not eligible even to climb the steps of the temple, but it’s my luck to offer sacred

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clothes to gods Sita and Rama.This is a great thing not only to me but to my entire community. In the narrative, Dalits are meant to perform their subservience. It is not enough for one to merely state their subservience. They actually have to perform it time and time again, and also accept that subservience has to be conveyed in the narrative, that they have no political agency until the protagonist comes and supposedly awakens and speaks for them. In the course of the narrative, characters cannot transform themselves; they cannot become anything except by the intervention of the protagonist. The protagonist’s name Naidu suggests that he is Kamma by caste, one of the dominant upper-caste communities in the Andhra region, but he is ‘casteless’ in the sense that he is seen as transcending his caste identity. Mahadeva Naidu is an enlightened modern reformed Hindu. He is someone who knows Hindu religious books like Mahabharatham, Bhagavadgita, Ramayanama and Vedas (as he refers to these in the temple entry scene and teaches Vedas to Sahadevudu). He is a strong devotee of Hindu gods, particularly god Shiva. As a part of his attire, he has a chain of beads around his neck. In fact when he is introduced on the screen, the first cut is to the beads around his neck. His ideology for Dalits’ empowerment comes from his knowledge of and devotion to Hinduism.The filmmaker confirmed this during my interview as he said: ‘Mahadeva Naidu’s generosity towards Dalits comes from his understanding of Hindu Dharma’. Mahadeva Naidu does not question Hinduism, which sanctioned the caste system; rather he is a strong follower and becomes an upholder of it by quoting all those verses from Hindu religious books. In the temple entry scene, the protagonist says that ‘The elders who thought that Sudras were outnumbering them, had divided people in the name of occupations and castes. Three thousand castes and untouchability between each caste was created’. The above statement absolves the Hindu scriptures of all responsibility for actively sanctioning and endorsing untouchability, notions of purity and pollution and caste hierarchies. The protagonist does not furnish information about these unmarked ‘elders’ who created the caste system and divided people in the name of caste and who are responsible for discrimination. The narrative uses the strategy of impersonation to create trust in Dalits on the screen regarding the goodwill of the upper-caste protagonist towards them. Impersonation, as Swathi Margaret argues, is a Gandhian strategy ‘through which he reinstalls the privilege of the already privileged twice-born Hindus as icons of social reform’.19 The movie Jayam Manadera succeeds in employing this technique, as manifested in the character of Mahadeva Naidu and later his son Rudrama Naidu. Mahadeva Naidu reiterates his impersonation of Dalits in the narrative through song and speeches which often encourage the caste Hindu orthodoxy to reform. After Mahadeva Naidu announces his land distribution, the song sequence begins with the shot of a camera capturing Dalits beating drums.The song sequence serves the purpose of staging the upper-caste protagonist’s characterisation before the mass audience. These sequences are replete with shots of the hero participating in

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the festival celebrated by Dalits, playing with Dalits’ children, teaching Vedas to one of them, attending a Dalits’ wedding at a Dalits’ house, as a family dines with them by sitting on the floor (though he is offered a chair). He is always with them as the song describes: ‘his smiles made them to utter Vedas, he will come like a relative whenever they call and remember him’. I argue that in the Gandhian imaginary, it is only through the upper-caste impersonation of Dalits that the latter gain ‘human’ status. In the narrative, there is clear language and spatial signifiers of difference between Dalits and upper castes. The film shows Dalit characters talking in the ‘local’ dialect which is associated with the Dalit community, while upper castes speak the formal language. In the panchayat elections scene, the camera tilts down to where uppercaste people are beating Dalits on the premises of the panchayat office. Basavaiah is dragged outside the gate and the camera frames Basavaiah standing between Janardan Naidu and his brother, behind them the panchayat office gate and office building.This shot offers spatial difference that Dalits are not supposed to enter into the power structure, the panchayat office. Janardan Naidu’s furious dialogues support this idea when he says how dare you to contest against us? This is our Panchayat; either I or my brothers must be the president. How dare you turn against us? (While Janardan Naidu is saying these words, his brother snatches the nomination form from Basavaiah and tears it and Basaviaah is thrown to the ground) I will hack you. The framing of this scene clearly illustrates the inherited attitude of upper castes about owning political space as their property: Dalits should not dare to enter into that space; if they do, it will result in hacking them down. The second instance is about Dalits’ place in upper castes’ houses. In the naming ceremony scene, when Narasimha Naidu’s family enters the house of Mahadeva Naidu, there is a cut to the inside of the house where Narasimha Naidu and his brothers want to sit. When they are about to sit, Basavaiah and his friend, who was sitting behind them, greets them. There is a cut to Narasimha Naidu’s face which indicates that he is angry to see Basavaiah there (maybe because Dalits are there in that space or because he became president). Basaviah and his friend (Dalit) are sitting in the last row. In fact it is here that we come to know through a comedic character that Basaviah has become the president when he says there is a glow in Basaviah’s face. Then the camera employs a wide shot in which the protagonist and his relatives are framed. In this frame, Basaviah and his friend are barely visible as they were sitting in the last row. Except Basavaiah and his friend, the whole Dalit community is standing outside; this clearly sends the message that Basavaiah is allowed inside because he is a president. And despite the fact that he is president, in upper caste Mahadeva Naidu’s house, who is their leader, his seating position is in the last row. Dalits are incorporated into the mainstream through Brahmanisation, a process by which Brahmanical practices and ideas influence Dalits who assimilate them

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as the basis for organising their religious life.20 The narrative depicts Sahadevudu, a Dalit, as someone longing for Brahmanism, not as someone who rebels against Brahmanism, which legitimises his community’s oppression in the name of caste. Sahadevudu is shown as desirous of learning the Vedas, and the protagonist makes it possible for him to learn them. In the temple entry scene when the Brahmin refuses to recite shlokas, it is Sahadevudu on whom the protagonist puts the sacred thread and makes him recite shlokas. According to film scholar Madhav Prasad, it is not the whole Dalit community but Sahadevudu (as an exceptional person because he learned the Vedas) alone who can be admitted into a slightly expanded idea of Hinduism by making him an extraordinary and exceptional figure.21 If we do a close reading of the temple entry scene, it provides us with the underlying but clear message that Dalits are not supposed to offer the so-called sacred clothes to Hindu gods. After Mahadeva Naidu puts the sacred thread on Sahadevudu and encourages him to recite shlokas, Dalits enter the temple along with Mahadeva Naidu, who stands in front of them as if he is leading them. As Mahadeva Naidu is in front, he first places the Pooja items in front of the Rama and Sita idols and immediately the screen fills with silence; there is no sound of shlokas from Sahadevudu. The camera cuts to outside the temple where the villains cut Sahadevudu’s tongue off in response to Mahadeva Naidu’s argument and judgement. In the whole scene, though Basavaiah enters the temple along with his community, he cannot offer sacred clothes because a Dalit offering clothes to Hindu gods violates the existing norms. And if a Dalit who is regarded as polluted strives to recite shlokas, the result must be the cutting off of the tongue and the punishment of muteness for the rest of his life.

Caste configured through gender This section will examine how caste relations are mediated by gender. We need to observe how the question of caste is interlinked with the question of gender as it is difficult to understand caste without gender. The social relations of caste and gender are based on the exercise of power through the use of force.22 There is one scene in the movie where the narrative reaffirms authority in terms of both caste and gender. In the panchayat election scene, Basavaiah is beaten up by Narasimha Naidu’s brothers for taking the nomination form for the post of Panchayat President; he is tied to a jeep and dragged around the square. Chandramma, Basaviah’s wife, pleads with Narasimha Naidu’s brother to leave her husband alone but he rubs a burning cigarette on her shoulders, pushes her to the ground, uses abusive language, kicks her pregnant body, crushes her hand with his foot and asks his brother to drive the jeep over her. While the jeep is coming towards her, suddenly, the camera shifts its focus on the Dalit men’s eyes, which look helpless, and on the Dalits who are nodding their heads with sadness (as if it is their fate). She is crying but there is no response from the Dalit men who are standing there. This entire scene draws the attention of the audience towards the increasing violence that imposes the maintenance of order in relations of caste and gender. Dalit women’s bodies become a

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site of exploitation and violence. As Vasanth and Kalpana Kannabiran argue, gender within caste society is defined and structured in such a manner that the ‘manhood’ of the caste is defined both by the degree of control men exercise over women and the degree of passivity of the women of the caste. By the same argument, demonstrating control by humiliating women of other castes is a certain way of reducing the ‘manhood’ of those castes.23 This is why, while Chandramma is being kicked in public, the men of her caste are standing in silence and cannot stop the upper-caste men because the structure of relations in caste society castrates them through the expropriation of their women. They are denied the right to be men; in relation to the upper-caste protagonist and villains, Dalit men are emasculated. In a sense, Dalits cannot speak; they are waiting to be saved and have to be uplifted by the hypermasculine hero.24 The provocation for the upper-caste men who humiliate Chandramma is twofold: first, while her husband Basaviah is dragged along by the jeep, she asks Narasimha Naidu’s brother to leave her husband alone by saying that ‘we (Dalits) are brainless as we could not realise that your parents have given birth to the (president) chair along with you’; secondly, by obeying the protagonist Mahadeva Naidu’s words to bring another application for nomination. In doing so, Chandramma clearly transgresses the limits of her caste status, which is defined by passivity and submissiveness. Exercising control over the Dalit female body signifies the affirmation of upper-caste men’s power. Apart from the violence perpetrated on Chandramma, this entire scene must be seen as an assertion of power over all Dalit men and women. When the protagonist comes, he starts to tell Narasimha Naidu’s brother (and the audience) about the importance of ‘pregnancy’ but not about the importance of ‘women’. Generally, in other films, when women are hurt, mistreated or beaten by the husband, the hero speaks about the importance of woman but here the protagonist speaks about pregnancy as if a Dalit woman is not worthy of being considered as a human being. Usually, the hero would say: ‘do you know whom you slapped, kicked etc.’; but here, in the case of a Dalit woman, it is not whom he kicked but where. The focus shifts from the person to the state of pregnancy. Violence to Dalit women becomes the central conflict in the narrative. The notion that Dalit women can be discriminated against even more than Dalit men has been shown in the scene by positioning her in the narrative to be kicked twice in that scene, and in a later scene, she is stabbed. It portrays the Dalit woman’s body as something that can be easily used, abused, tortured and finally disposed of.

Conclusion Being from the Bahujan community, the filmmaker had to face many obstacles to create a movie on Dalit empowerment. Eventually, when he translated his social concept onto the screen, he could not go beyond the Gandhian reformist framework, which is encoded in the space of mainstream cinema. Neither the domination of upper castes in the industry nor the fact that a particular film is made by a person from a particular caste can directly give us a clue as to the ideology of

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the film. The ideology of the film is determined not only by the caste identities of the industry or the filmmaker but also by established ideologies in society and established formats in film. Jayam Manadera does nothing to change the discourse of caste; rather, as Jenny Rowena argues, it puts forth a ‘pseudo-radical message on the question of caste and reproducing the caste/gender hegemonies’25 by reallotting the positions to the people within this existing discourse. The protagonist does not question the authority of the Vedas or scriptural sanction of the practice and authority of caste.The film certainly critiques all those who are supposedly not following the caste order properly but the system remains untouched. The enlightened upper-caste protagonist’s position is to reinterpret the system in accordance with the somewhat different status of Dalits. Dalits are still voiceless subjects, without self-pride. No leader emerges among them in the film. Even if they do emerge, as with Basaviah and his group, they want to die for their upper-caste leader. The film tries to show the kinds of humiliation that Dalits are subjected to but at the same time the question of who perpetrates humiliation, who protests, who saves and how this whole scenario is staged become important issues. Telugu cinema has dealt mainly with the superficial populist stereotypes of Dalit lives and has hardly entered into the core debate of social realities.

Acknowledgements I would like to sincerely thank Dr. Nikhila H., Prof. M. Madhava Prasad, Dr. Uma Bhrugubanda and S. V. Srinivas for helpful comments and suggestions. I also wish to thank the editors and anonymous referee for important questions and insightful comments which helped me refine the chapter.

Notes 1 The Telugu Cinema industry, also known as Tollywood, is a part of Indian Cinema and produces films in the Telugu language. It is centred in Hyderabad, in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The industry holds the Guinness World Record for the largest film production facility in the world. As per the CBFC report of 2012, the industry is placed second in India, in terms of yearly film production. For an overview of Telugu Cinema see Yves Thoraval, The Cinemas of India (1896–2000), 344–353. 2 The discussion generated around the movie in newspapers was that the hero depicts someone who believes that all human beings are equal and fights for social, economic and political justice.The director’s announced in the press that Jyothi Rao Phule inspired the hero Mahadeva Naidu’s character (Andhra Jyothi, September 3, 2000, p. 4, Vaartha, October 13, 2000, p. 14; Andhra Jyothi, October 13, 2000, p. 4), so many Dalit and Bahujan activists watched the movie and consequently became its advocates. Janga Gautham, a Dalit activist, poet, writer and journalist, criticised the movie: ‘the statement that Phule is inspiration for the movie and for the character of Mahadeva Naidu is a trick of director to attract downtrodden people. There is no comparison between Phule and Mahadeva Naidu’s character.’ I thank Janga Gautham for giving me his unpublished interview of the movie. It was published in one of the Dalit magazines but we could not locate it. 3 Other movies on caste are Pattalu Pattimpulu (1968), Kaalam Maarindi (1972), Balipeetam (1975) Saptapadi (1981), Ananda Bhairavi (1983), Devalayam (1985), Swayam Krushi (1987) and Rudraveena (1988).

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4 S.V. Srinivas, ‘Gandian Natioanalism and Melodrama in the 30’s Telugu Cinema’, Journal of the Moving Image, 1 (Autumn 1999), 19 5 Shanker was born in the Nalgonda district (the Naxalite Movement was active in this district),Telangana. He belongs to the Darji or Meru caste (tailoring is the occupation of this caste), which is categorised as a backward caste in Telangana. His other films are Encounter (1997), Sree Ramulayya (1998), Bhadrachalam (2002) and Jai Bholo Telagana (2011). 6 I interviewed him in his office in Hyderabad on February 18, 2018. The interview was carried out in Telugu and I translated his words. I thank Dr. Laxman Aelay for providing an opportunity to meet the director and I thank director Shanker for giving me his valuable time and sharing with me an unpublished document on this film. 7 Shanker said that after narration, the producer and hero accepted the story because they felt this movie had commercial elements, the potential for a mass movie, and gave mileage to the hero. Their father Ramanaidu accepted because by then he was in politics as a member of parliament and he thought that this film could be useful in its appeal to downtrodden people in Andhra region in coming elections. Hence, they had their own intentions to accept this movie. 8 S. V. Srinivas, ‘Fans and Stars: Production, Reception and Circulation of the Moving Image’, Ph.D. diss., University of Hyderabad, 1997, 133. 9 For more information on the Karamchedu and Chundur massacres, see the introduction of K. Satyanarayana and Susie Tharu, eds. From Those Stubs, Steel Nibs are Sprouting: New Dalit Writing from South India Dossier 2 (Noida: Harper Collins Publishers India, 2013). 10 See Ravi Srinivas and Sundal Kaali, ‘On Caste and Comedians: The Language of Power in Recent Tamil Cinema’, in The Secret Politics of Our Desires: Innocence, Culpability and Indian Popular Cinema, ed. Ashis Nandy (New Delhi: OUP, 1998), 208–227; Dickens Leonard, ‘Spectacle Spaces: Production of Caste in Recent Tamil Films’, South Asian Popular Culture, 13, no. 2 (2015), 155–173. 11 See Sujith Kumar Parayil and Ujith Kumar Parayil, ‘Visual Perception and Cultural Memory: Typecast and Typecast(e)ing in Malayalam Cinema’, Synoptique-An Online Journal of Film and Moving Images Studies, 3, no. 1 (Spring 2014), 67. 12 See Vidushi, ‘Cinematic Narrative: The Construction of Dalit Identity in Bollywood’, in Media, Margins and Popular Culture, ed. Einar Thorsen, Heather Savigny, Jenny Alexander and Daniel Jackson (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 123–135; S.V. Srinivas, Politics as Performance: A Social History of the Telugu Cinema (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2013). 13 This movie has been dubbed in Hindi as Dum: Man of Power (2000) www.youtube.com/ watch?v=EQUgE4EV-YM 14 For various techniques that Indian cinema uses to reinstitute the preconceived cultural notions of Dalit castes, see Parayil,‘Visual Perception and Cultural Memory:Typecast and Typecast(e)ing in Malayalam Cinema’, 67. 15 I use Steven Maras’s article ‘Notes on a Genre to Come: Screen Writing and the “Thesisfilm” ’ to help conceptualise what the thesis film is, even though Steven Mara’s explores the thesis film in the context of screen writing. 16 S.V. Srinivas calls this kind of filmic technique ‘movie mistake’. See Politics as Performance: A Social History of the Telugu Cinema, 117. 17 All translations are mine. 18 Jenson Joseph, ‘Revisiting Neelakkuyil: On the Left’s cul’, TAPASAM (April–September 2012), 48–49. 19 Swathy Margaret, ‘Cultural Gandhism: Casting out the Dalit Woman’, EPW, XLVIII, no. 18 (May 2013), 87. 20 Brahmanisation is the process by which the lower castes seem to adopt the customs and way of life of Brahmins. For a discussion of the notion of Brahmanisation, see M. N. Srinivas’s article ‘A Note on Sanskritization and Westernization’, The Far Eastern Quarterly, 15, no.4 (1956), 481–496. 21 My personal conversation with Prof. Madhav Prasad. Similar exceptional Dalit figures can be seen in the films Malapilla (the character of Kanchanamala) and Saptapadi (the character of Haribabu).

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22 Rape, harassment, exploitation and abusive language are common atrocities perpetrated on Dalit women in a majority of films. But Dalit women have been given very little space on screen compared to Dalit men. 23 Kalpana and Vasanth Kannabiran, ‘Caste and Gender: Understanding Dynamics of Power and Violence’, in Life as a Dalit:Views from the Bottom on Caste in India, ed. Subhadra Mitra Channa and P. Joan (Delhi: Sage Publication, 2013), 288. 24 Devon W. Carbado uses the terms emasculation and hyper masculinity to describe the nature of Black male suffering in relation to White men in his article, ‘The Construction of O. J. Simpson as a Racial Victim’, in Black Men on Race, Gender and Sexuality: A Critical Reader, ed. Devon W. Carbado (New York: New York University Press, 1999), 170. 25 Jenny Rowena, ‘Reading Laughter:The Popular Malayalam “Comedy-Films” of the Late 80s and Early 90s’, Ph.D. diss., CIEFL University, 2002, 36.

Works cited Books Chakrabarty, Bidyut. Social and Political Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi. London: Routledge, 2006. Satyanarayana, K. and Susie Tharu, eds. From Those Stubs, Steel Nibs are Sprouting: New Dalit Writing from South India Dossier 2. Noida: HarperCollins Publishers India, 2013. Srinivas, S.V. Megastar. Chiranjeevi and Telugu Cinema after N.T. Rama Rao. New Delhi: O.U.P., 2009. Srinivas, S.V. Megastar. Politics as Performance: A Social History of the Telugu Cinema. New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2013. Thoraval,Yves. The Cinemas of India (1896–2000). New Delhi: Macmillan, 2000.

Articles in books Carbado, Devon W. ‘The Construction of O.J. Simpson as a Racial Victim’, in Black Men on Race, Gender and Sexuality: A Critical Reader, Devon W. Carbado, ed. New York: New York University Press, 1999: 159–193. Kannabiran, Kalpana and Vasanth Kannabiran. ‘Caste and Gender: Understanding Dynamics of Power and Violence’, in Life as a Dalit: Views from the Bottom on Caste in India, Subhadra Mitra Channa and Joan P. Mencher, eds. Delhi: Sage Publication, 2013: 284–293. Srinivas, Ravi and Sundal Kaali. ‘On Caste and Comedians: The Language of Power in Recent Tamil Cinema’, in The Secret Politics of Our Desires: Innocence, Culpability and Indian Popular Cinema, Ashis Nandy, ed. New Delhi: O.U.P., 1998: 208–227. Vidushi. ‘Cinematic Narrative: The Construction of Dalit Identity in Bollywood’, in Media, Margins and Popular Culture,Thorsen, Einar, Heather Savigny, Jenny Alexander and Daniel Jackson, eds. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015: 123–135.

Articles in journals Joseph, Jenson. ‘Revisiting Neelakkuyil: On the Left’s cul” ’. TAPASAM (April–September 2012): 26–57. Leonard, Dickens. ‘Spectacle Spaces: Production of Caste in Recent Tamil Films’. South Asian Popular Culture 13.2 (2015): 155–173.

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Maras, Steven. ‘Notes on a Genre to Come: Screen Writing and the “Thesis-film” ’. Cultural Studies Review 10.2 (2004): 85–98. Margaret, Swathy. ‘Cultural Gandhism: Casting out the Dalit Woman’. EPW XLVIII.18 (May 2013): 82–90. Parayil, Sujith Kumar. ‘Visual Perception and Cultural Memory: Typecast and Typecast (e) ing in Malayalam Cinema’. Synoptique-An Online Journal of Film and Moving Images Studies 3.1 (Spring 2014): 67–98. Srinivas, M.N. ‘A Note on Sanskritization and Westernization’. The Far Eastern Quarterly, 15.4 (1956): 481–496. Srinivas, S.V. ‘Gandhian Nationalism and Melodrama in the 30’s Telugu Cinema’. Journal of the Moving Image 1 (Autumn 1999): 14–36. Tukaram, Bhakta. ‘Andhra Pradesh lo Dalita Vudyamam – Oka Pariseelana.’ (Dalit movement in Andhra Pradesh – An Observation). Nalupu (May 1992): 4–7.

Unpublished dissertations Margaret, Swathy. ‘Gandhi and The Question of Caste: A Study of select Telugu and English Fiction and Cinema’. Ph.D. diss., EFL University, 2010. Rowena, Jenny. ‘Reading Laughter:The Popular Malayalam “Comedy-Films” of the Late 80s and Early 90s.’ Ph.D. diss., CIEFL University, 2002. Srinivas, S.V. ‘Fans and Stars: Production, Reception and Circulation of the Moving Image.’ Ph.D. diss., University of Hyderabad, 1997.

Newspapers ‘Aadaristhunna Mass ku, Ladies ki Andariki Krutagnathalu:Venkatesh.’ (Thanks to Mass and Ladies for Watching the Movie) Andhra Jyothi (13 October 2000): IV. ‘Daari Ade, Teeru Marcha: ‘Vennela’ tho Darshakudu Shannker.’ (The Way is Same, Style Has Changed: Director Shanker with ‘Vennela’) Andhra Bhoomi (12 January 2001): 11. ‘Dasaraku Raanunna Jayam Manadera.’ (Jayam Manadera Is Coming to Dusserah) Andhra Jyothi (3 September 2000): IV. ‘Jayam Manadera Audio Release.’ (Audio Release of Jayam Manadera) Andhra Jyothi (18 September 2000): IV. ‘Jayam Manadera Sensor Puurthi.’ (Jayam Manadera Sensor Finished) Vaartha (4 October 2000): 14. ‘Jayam Manadera Triple Platinum Disk.’ Andhra Jyothi (27 September 2000): IV. ‘Laksham Dishagaa Saage Jayam Manadera.’ Eenadu (6 October 2000): 18. ‘Mahadeva Naidu patraku Spoorthi Jyothi Rao Phule: Jayam Manadera Success Meetloo Darshakudu Shanker.’ (Jyothis Rao Phule Is Inspiration to Mahadeva Naidu’s Character: Director Shanker in Success Meet of Jayam Manadera) Vaartha (13 October 2000): 14. ‘Powerful Packaging: The Review of Jayam Manadera.’ The Hindu (11 October 2000): IV. ‘V Spells Victory and a Hit Film: First Day, First Show: Jayam Manadera.’ Deccan Chronicle (9 October 2000): 2.

Filmography Telugu Jayam Manadera: The Voice of Victory (Victory is Ours: The Voice of Victory, dir: N. Shanker 2000).


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