Dalits or the Untouchable caste of India faced a lot of hardships in the pre Independence era; well that’s what most of us think isn’t it? But not a whole lot has changed even with enforcement of the Quota system and other amenities, can we expect centuries of discrimination to fade away with a few laws? I am doubtful about this, which was not the case a mere 3 weeks ago.
I believed that we were all equals back home in India, because I had a few classmates with the surnames which were of the Dalit caste and we never discriminated against them, it really wasn’t something you thought about and our teachers never treated them differently to us. Isn’t it stupid to think that we still discriminate people because of the surname or caste they were born in? I was oblivious to the sad facts of the life lead by the Dalit class in some parts of my motherland. Event today people are being killed because of their castes, inter-caste marriages are forbidden in some parts till today. In my interaction with Arun Prabha Mukherjee, a Professor of English at York University in Toronto, I came to know of the facts and life of the present day Dalits in India.
Prof Mukherjee is the author of The Gospel of Wealth in the American Novel: The Rhetoric of Dreiser and His Contemporaries (1987), Towards an Aesthetic of Opposition: Essays on Literature, Criticism and Cultural Imperialism (1988), and numerous books and articles on postcolonial literatures, women’s writing and critical theory. She moved to Canada in 1971 from Madhya Pradesh, India as a Commonwealth Scholar at the University of Toronto.
She has translated two books on the Dalit into English one is ‘Joothan’ in 2008 which was written by Omprakash Valmiki. Valmiki deals with the issue of humiliation meted out to the Dalits by Indian society, no matter where they lived. This humiliation stems from the fact that Dalit inferiority has gotten embedded in the psyche of the upper caste, several recollections of calamities faced by the author brings out the scars that the modern day Dalit still has to face.
‘Hindu’ is a novel by Sharankumar Limbale, reflecting contemporary conflicts in India, this novel, translated from the Marathi into English for the first time, is set in a village in Maharashtra, where panchayat elections are due. Under the rules of reservation of seats in politics, the post of the village sarpanch falls to their share, and a Dalit candidate is successfully fielded by his upper caste employers, leaving the upper castes frustrated and angry. What happens to caste relations, the new political consensus that emerges slowly, if violently, are defined intuitively.
Sharankumar Limbale is a well-known Dalit activist writer, editor, and critic who has worked successfully with several literary genres and is the author of some 24 books and who serves as the Regional Director of the Yashwantrao Chavan Mararashtra Open University, Naashik in India. Omprakash Valmiki has published three collection of poetry – Sadiyon Ka Santaap(1989) Bas! Bahut Ho Chuka (1997), and Ab Aur Nahin (2009); and two collections of short stories – Salaam (2000),and Ghuspethiye (2004). He has also written Dalit Saahity Ka Saundaryshaastr (2001), and a history of the Valmiki community, Safai Devata (2009). These two writers have different flair of writing and different life experiences yet they have the same anger and contempt in their voice against the inhuman practice of caste system.
Dalit literature has come into its own in India and has become a powerful tool of protest. It opens new dimensions of experience, so dark as to be unimaginable for anyone not born into the Dalit community. A vibrant field of Dalit literature has appeared, and some of the works are beginning to be translated into English. The firsthand unadulterated writings of hardship and discrimination by people, who looked down upon them only because they were born into the upper classes, is an eye opening experience. People being discriminated and differentiated not by any merit but merely by birth. The Dalit writers of Tamil, Marathi and Hindi have given a voice to the atrocities faced by their people and translators like Prof Mukherjee has allowed these stories a new audience and a much wider awareness of the present day situation in Post Independent India.
It’s ironical that this caste was considered untouchable, yet the women were beddable for these so called Upper castes, most of the time they were forced into the beds of these so called upper caste men. What double standards can one have? The wells made by the pain and sweat of the Dalits would become impure if its own creator would touch it! The life of a Dalit is still not easy. If you thought you knew everything about the Indian Society because you’ve lived there for several years, well read these books and come to know ‘Incredible India’ a little bit more closely. India has the good, the bad and well this is an ugly truth that still lingers on almost 6 decades post-independence.
Our very own Torontonian Prof Mukherjee is one of the voices of the oppressed who have helped get the necessary attention to this atrocity that our motherland continues to cultivate in different regions.
What is it like to grow up as an impoverished outcaste in modern India? Perhaps the best way to find out is through the words and emotions of those who have lived through the experience and who have the education and talent to write so expressively about it.
Valmiki seems to declare his final judgment in the opening lines of the preface to Joothan: "Dalit life is excruciatingly painful, charred by experiences. Experiences that did not manage to find room in literary creations. We have grown up in a social order that is extremely cruel and inhuman. And compassionless towards Dalits"