Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 11 : 4 April 2011
ISSN 1930-2940

Managing Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.
         Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.
         Jennifer Marie Bayer, Ph.D.
         S. M. Ravichandran, Ph.D.
         G. Baskaran, Ph.D.
         L. Ramamoorthy, Ph.D.



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Dalits and Indian Literature

Prasanta Chakraborty, Ph.D.

Cover page of No Entry for the New Sun

Traditional Caste Hierarchy and Atrocities Committed Against the Dalits

Besides the four main castes, there is a fifth group - the Dalits treated as the untouchables in the society. Oppressed, downtrodden and exploited, the Dalits are hardly considered to be part of the human society even some time ago. When the Constitution of India assures everybody equal rights and opportunities, many among the Dalit community are yet to receive and exercise such natural rights. The Dalits were seen as polluting the society and were generally banned and segregated physically from participating in Hindu social life. While some change has taken place, the lot of the majority of this section of Indian society continues to be woeful, to say the least.

The Dalit Movements

Against these atrocities, the subalterns, especially the Dalits, initiated several movements in Indian history. Today, a majority of these discriminated subaltern communities identify themselves as Dalits, thereby acquiring a new identity by coming together with the perspective that "Dalit is dignified".

The Dalit movements, aimed at the liberation of Dalit folk from the oppressive structures in Indian society, are directly connected to subaltern movements. They reject the sub-human status imposed on them by the Hindu social order. Sathianathan Clark remarks that "the subordination and subjection that marks the life of Dalits in India bring them into the contours of a particularly contextual assembly of subalternity. (Dalits and Christianity, p.6)

Oliver Mendelshon and Marika Vieziany express similar opinion, 'Untouchables (Dalits) have retained their identity as a subordinated people within Indian society, and by this we mean to identify a condition that is far more severe than merely being bottom of an inevitable hierarchy.' (The Rights of Subordinated People, p.115)

Explaining the term 'subaltern' Homi Bhabha, a key postcolonial scholar, emphasizes the importance of social power relations in his working definition of 'subaltern' groups as "oppressed, minority groups whose presence was crucial to the self-definition of the majority group: subaltern social groups were also in a position to subvert the authority of those who have hegemonic power. (The Post-Colonial Question, p.210)

Questions Focused in This Article

Given these circumstances, a question may be naturally raised: How are the Dalits introduced and portrayed in Hindu upper caste dominated Indian literature? How do the Dalit litterateurs look at themselves in the post-independent India? How are Dalits observed by the non-Dalit Hindu, Muslim and Christian writers as well as by the Dalits themselves?

The Dalit issue has an added new dimension as well, in its close proximity to issues concerning the feminist literature, within Indian literature.

This is only the beginning part of the article. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE IN PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION.

Prasanta Chakraborty, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of English
Women's College
Agartala 799 002
Tripura, India

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