The struggles of a people are best understood through their writing. For those interested in reading up about caste-based discrimination in India to put the current protests in context, here’s a very short (and by no means definitive) reading list:
1. Annihilation of Caste (1936), BR Ambedkar
Dr Ambedkar’s essay highlights the damage done to Hindu society by the caste system. In it, he critiques Hindu scriptures that propagated caste. He believed, to end the practice, it was vital to do away with the sources of such notions. This essay was written as a speech for an event, but after his invitation was withdrawn for its content, Ambedkar self-published it.
Tiny extract: Among Sikhs and Muslims there is a social cement which makes them Bhais. Among Hindus there is no such cement.... So long as Caste remains, there will be no Sanghatan.
2. Baluta (1978), Daya Pawar
Poet Daya Pawar’s Baluta was among the first Dalit autobiographies in Marathi. Pawar writes about growing up as an untouchable Mahar in Maharashtra of the 1940s-50s. An English translation by author Jerry Pinto was published in 2015.
Tiny extract: We were supposed to run in front of the horse of any important person... We dragged away the carcasses of dead animals. For all this, what did we get? Baluta, our share of the village harvest.
3. Karukku (1992), Bama Faustina Soosairaj
Tamil Dalit novelist Soosairaj writes of caste discrimination within the Catholic Church. Having faced injustice in school and college, she became a nun at 26. But disillusioned with casteism within the Church, she left it after seven years. Karukku was translated into English by Lakshmi Holmström in 2000.
Tiny extract: Dalits have learnt that these others have never respected them as human beings, but bent the religion to their benefit, to maintain their own falsehoods.
4. Joothan (1997), Omprakash Valmiki
Hindi writer-poet OP Valmiki describes life as an untouchable in the 1950s. He writes of the dehumanisation that was part of the everyday for his people – the ‘chuhra’ caste in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. Though Joothan is best read in the original, an award-winning English translation by Canadian scholar Arun Prabha Mukherjee is also available.
Tiny extract: But father’s face and words kept coming back to me: “You have to improve the caste by studying.” He did not know that caste cannot be improved by education. It can be improved only by being born into the right caste.
5. The Ballad of Bant Singh: A Qissa of Courage (2016), Nirupama Dutt
Dalit singer-activist Bant Singh’s biography is a tale of courage as well as social commentary on the oppression faced by Dalit Mazhabi Sikhs in Punjab. Singh was attacked after he succeeded in obtaining convictions for the upper-caste Jat men who gang-raped his daughter. He lost his arms and a leg in the assault, but not his spirit.
Tiny extract: Anyway, what use are my arms and my legs, I have to sing with my throat.
From HT Brunch, August 7, 2016
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