Thursday, 1 January 2015

Dalit Responses to Caste, Discrimination and Untouchability: A Study of Outcaste by Narendra Jadhav

Suresh Kumar

Dalits have been positioned on the absolute bottom of social hierarchy in India. They are subject to the social, political, cultural and economic exploitation. The caste prejudice kept the dalits poor and marginalized for centuries as they have no access to power and knowledge. To read and write was not in the rights of dalits. Dalitism or to be dalit in India is a sort of slavery. Dalits are social and religious slaves and live a miserable life of poverty and deprivation. Dalits are denied even the basic necessities of life and servitude is the only duty to be performed by them. The present paper is focused on dalits view of caste and their responses to the discrimination based on it. The study attempts to display the changing condition of dalits and their changing point-of -view due to the impact of education and modern scientific researches. Dalits have started to organize themselves to counter the casteism on various fronts as social, cultural, political and literary. The dalit academia that expanded vastly on the literary horizon of India, after 1970s challenges the conventional views of caste and untouchability. There is a call for unity, education and agitation in dalit writings. The changes in attitude, behaviour and status of dalits due to the education and economic self-dependence are shown in this paper with the illustration from Outcaste: a Memoir by Narendra Jadhav.It further shows the efforts of a dalit family to come to the centre from social, cultural, economic and literary margins.

Key Words: Hierarchy, Exploitation, Marginalized, Knowledge, Power, Miserable and   Academia.

            The dalits have been silenced for centuries by caste prejudice and atrocious social oppression in India. The caste divides society into various discriminatory social groups and the dalits have been positioned on the absolute bottom of social hierarchy. The caste operates as one of the most powerful means of domination in the hands of high-caste Hindus. Joan P. Mencher writes, “caste has functioned (and continues to function) as a very effective system of economic exploitation” (3). The problem of caste continues to plague Indian society in several forms as it denies the social, culture and religious equality to dalits. Not only this, dalits are not granted the right to property and have no access to education. Melody Lalmingthani observes, “The Brahmins have kept the lower castes in ignorance for decades by using the religious scriptures. Since the lower castes were not allowed to receive education or even read the Hindu scriptures, the only access they had to these religious works were through the Brahmins. These people misinterpreted the sacred texts to suit their desires, needs and temperament and in this way manipulate the lower castes. They even use these scriptures to justify their actions and behaviour” (17). The caste system in India is seen as a divine order and its religious interpretations make it more complex and rigid for dalits. The dalits have been exploited in the various spheres of life on the name of such religious belief as ‘prabhu icha’ (the will of god). Dalits are assigned the filthy and unhygienic works as skinning, tanning and cleaning the toilets. Even the shadow of a dalit can pollute the non- dalits, especially, the Brahmins. In order to keep the high castes pure and clean, the dalits have to live on the border of the village or at the corner, where the wastes of the village accumulate. The entry of a dalit in the village was an offence and his arrival was always indicated by beating the piece of wood. The Hindu religion has many rules and restrictions for dalits as their entry in the Hindu temple is strictly prohibited and they cannot drink the water from a public tank or well. Dalits cannot be the part of any religious ceremony and cannot worship the Hindu gods by themselves.
Dalits have seen the repression and humiliation of centuries on the name of caste, god and religion. But it does not mean that, the dalits never opposed it anywhere in history. There have been the various revolts against this in- human practice since antiquity. But the movement initiated by Ambedkar in modern India has the greater and wider influences. He was the man to awaken the dalits from the sleep of centuries. Emphasizing the contribution of Ambedkar in dalit movement Jenifer Aomi writes, “Over the years, the Hindu caste system had perfected itself into a self-sustaining mechanism of exploitation and in process had completely robbed the labouring masses like untouchables of their human identity. He had reclaimed for them this identity, breathed political consciousness and galvanized them into a vibrant movement that changed the course of Indian politics. In the epic battle against the veil and complex caste system, he had single-handedly performed the role of a researcher, a theoretician, an organizer, a journalist, a politician and a leader etc.” (1). B. R. Ambedkar stressed the need of unity and agitation and advised the dalits to leave all the practices that mark them as untouchables. As a result, dalits became aware of the causes of their misery and suffering. They comprehended the fact that, the Hinduism and its principle of untouchability have kept them poor, miserable and deprived. With the course of time, dalit start to oppose Hinduism as a divisive, repressive and partial religion. They reject the conventional definition of religion and god. The modern dalits have developed their own views of religion and opine that the god belongs equally to all so there is no question of discrimination by him. They condemn casteism as an upper-caste way of having authority on them. The caste has no religious relevance. Dalits question the notion of caste on the basis of Hindu philosophy which defines soul as immortal and the particle of God that resides equally in all human beings. The soul is an abstract entity and has no caste and gender etc. The human body, just is a drapery to the soul, so how is it possible to categorize the human beings as superior or inferior. They have their own religious understanding based on their own love and spirituality as against empty ritualism of Brahmins.
            Dalits are discriminated and maltreated in numerous ways and still are the victims of violence and mass-murders by upper-caste people in India. Sometimes, they are forced to eat human waste and drink urine. S.L. Virdi opines that these atrocities on dalits are due to caste hatred against them. If they refuse to obey non-dalits or protest or aspire for better position then, all sorts of in- human atrocities and organized crimes are committed on them without any protection for their lives (125). Most of the crimes against dalits remain unnoticed because of this caste prejudice. They fail to find the mention on front page or raise any significant media coverage. The women of dalit community are the victims of extreme atrocities. They are raped and then murdered by upper caste men. They are beaten, paraded nude and then burned alive by them. In the certain parts of country women are not allowed to cover the breast and their men folk cannot use even umbrella. The dalits are forced by poverty to work as agriculture labourers, where, they are exploited both physically and economically. They have to work from dawn to the dusk but do not get the proper wages of their labour. This is the reason why dalits eat the meat of dead animals in the various parts of country. There is the unequal distribution of the national wealth and resources in India. Joan P. Mencher writes that the 5% population of country is enjoying the 22% of the national income (82). Majority of the dalits are too poor to effort the food, cloth and shelter. It is obvious that such poor dalits are the victims of more atrocities and crimes.
            The present paper is focused on Outcaste, the autobiography of Narendra Jadhav. As a critique of casteism and untouchability, it exposes the in-civil social behaviour of the high-caste Hindus and records the voices of dalits for social justice in India. The study analyses the way that dalits perceive, understand and then respond the caste and discrimination based on it. Through his life narrative, writer shows the progress of the movement of dalits for emancipation and their changed attitude and outlook for caste and untouchability. The attempt is made to analyze the effects of casteism on the individual, social and cultural status of dalits through the literature of their own. Dalit literature as a whole is written out of social commitment and to view their dissatisfaction against the unequal social treatment is the main concern. Writes Darshana Trivedi, “The aim of dalit writers is to expose the evil of caste system and injustice done to them by higher caste. The dalit writers write what they see, feel and think in the social environment” (4).
Out Caste deals with the four generations of a dalit family from Mahar Community in ‘Ozar’ village of Maharashtra. It shows the changes that occur in the social, cultural and economic status of the family. Narendra Jadhav emphasis that, to escape the caste based identity is really difficult in India. Dalits may be educated, salaried and intellectual but they cannot change their caste. The stigma of casteism continues to effect even the fourth generation of Jadhavs. When the daughter of Narendra goes to school, the teacher asks her, “Are you the daughter of Narednra Jadhav? The Dalit scholar” (261). The writer himself faces such type of names and humiliation. He was often described as the son of Damu Mahar. There always are serve identity crisis in dalit literature. S.P. Punalekar writes, “Dalit literature - short stories, novels, poetry, critical essays, autobiographies and plays, etc. provides the critical insight on the question of dalit identity. Emerging as a special stream in literary landscape, it tends to cover a wide range of ideas and insights governing the social mindset of Dalits. It also contains a critical evaluation of prevailing social and cultural practices” (214). Like the other dalit autobiographies Outcaste too opens with a note of oppression and protest. Raj Kumar in his Dalit Personal Narratives writes, “Dalits used the autobiographical mode as a sense of assertion of their hitherto neglected selves” (157).
            As the bildungsromans of marginalized and alienated beings, the dalit autobiographies emphasis the need of education, unity and agitation. Outcaste is not merely the writing of vengeance to spread hatred against the caste Hindu, but it also tries to promote the dalit heritage. Dalits re-define and re-construct the self identity and claim an authentic space in culture, art and literature. In the words of Raj Kumar, “The writing of autobiography was used by the members of this oppressed group to achieve a sense of identity and mobilise resistance against caste and class oppression” (157). The first generation of Jadhavs in Outcaste is passive as represented by the mother of Damu, the protagonist. She is illiterate and accepts caste as the fate of millions of untouchables in India. Her son Damu too is illiterate but he could understand the causes and the consequences of cateism. He defies the conventional duty of ‘yesker’ and runs away from his village to Bombay in pursuit of career. He does various jobs including a domestic servant in a British household and a coolie in railway. A man of strong dalit consciousness, Damu is always ready to change the existing repressive social order. As a true follower of Ambedkar, Damu finds education and self-respect as the most powerful weapons to fight against caste and to win social equality in a schizophrenic social set-up.  He has self-respect and refuses to live by begging. He says:  “We must have self respect. We must have dignity as human beings. How can I take to begging from door to door” (18).
Dalit autobiographies are not only the tales of suffering but there is also an assertion of identity, voice and agency.  There is a strong protest and a rejection in dalit writings. Sharnkumar Limbale writes, “This rejection is aimed at the unequal order which has exploited dalits. Its form is double edged -rejecting the unequal order, and demanding equality, liberty, fraternity and justice. To use a legal concept, the rejection in dalit literature constitutes a just remedy” (31). Damu too is a rebellious figure, who rejects the authority of high-castes. He finds Hinduism hostile to lower castes. He says, “If Hindus do not treat us as equal, what is the point in subscribing to the Hindu religion” (130). Finally, Damu abandons the Hindu faith by the means of conversion in to Buddhism.  This conversion of an illiterate dalit is a revolutionary step against social injustice and the supremacy of Hinduism. He wants to save his children from humiliation and discrimination on the name of caste. He says:  “I want my children to grow up and have a dignified life. I want them to be respected and I am sending them to school just as Babasaheb has said… and if they remain Hindus, they will always be treated as inferior. They will never have a respectable place in society” (174).  
Damu never loses his way towards self-esteem and emancipation. He knows that the equality can be attained only through struggle, unity and agitation. He educated and brought up his children in a way that they can counteract the casteism in a better and effective manner/way.
            Dalit movement in India is not an individual effort for acceptance but a mass movement for the absolute social independence. According to Nandu Ram, the members of dalit community believe in absolute social equality, which in their view is possible only in communist society or Buddhist socio-religious system (40). Under the virulent social oppression, many thousands of dalits embraced the different faiths as Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. But later, the dalit leaders and activists realized that the conversion is not the solution to casteism. They felt that the Hinduism needs to be reformed from within. The imposed caste identities bring humiliation to dalits and multiply their sufferings. Subhadra Mitra Channa writes that in order to hide their caste and identity the dalits are adopting the clan names of high-castes as ‘Verma’ or ‘Sharma’ etc. (XXVIII). But it is obvious that, such type of escapes cannot be the solution to the trauma of casteism. Through their writings, dalits abuse untouchability and denies the authority of religion. They are concerned not only with the annihilation of their social disabilities nor the caste system alone but with the acquisition of equal status outside the caste system in modern civil society. Narendra Jadhav shows how the upper castes made the dalits to face insult, humiliation, physical and psychological violence and ultimately a sense of alienation from mainstream society. He shows the dalits radically questioning their exclusion from education, and finally coming out of what may be termed as the ‘Dronacharya Syndrome’. Narendra Jadhav illustrates it through his own example. His emphasis that the dalits should not be ashamed of their identity as untouchables rather they should try to prove it through their achievements that they are no way inferior to the high castes. The writer learns this lesson of hard work and practicality from his father, who believes in doing something progressive in life. He says, “A man should do something useful with his life” (241). For him, real life is to live with dignity. Dalits have nothing to celebrate in their literature. Instead of the romantic dreams, there is always a struggle for survival in such writings. The social liberty through education and financial self-dependence is the key concern in Outcaste by N. Jadhav. The higher castes control the resources and the means of production in India. So dalits are always in conflict with these castes or the non-dalits. Joan P. Mencher writes that the high caste Hindus often try to keep the political and economic control by dividing the lower castes (22). Dalits are the victims of two-fold discrimination based on caste and class. Casteism promotes the economic exploitation and deprivation of dalits. Writes Sharnkumar Limbale, “The Dalit question is not only social, it is economic as well. The economic aspect of dalit question cannot be dismissed. Today, untouchables are ill-treated, and chief cause of their ill-treatment is their economic powerlessness. In order to survive, they have to depend on a sector of society that guards its self-interest. A large section of today’s dalits are landless farm- workers, they have no means of their own to produce goods or engage in business. Until they are able to stand on their own feet, they will be compelled to take up the dirty jobs. They will have to fight strongly against economic as well as social inequality. That is, they will have to simultaneously fight a class war and a caste war” (77-78). 
            The high castes Hindus often treat dalits as the miserable sub-human beings. But now the time has changed for them. They do not accept the views of religion imposed on them by higher castes. They have come out of the dark circles of inferiority and helplessness. A dalit can have a successful career if he is given the equal facilities and chances. This is what Jadhav emphasis to articulate in his life narrative. Thus Outcaste by Narendra Jadhav is not only the story of his own struggle and success but also an inspirational discourse or more a prologue to the social revolution by the dalits. Satish Barbuddhe observes, “This book is a saga of positive search for excellence of a person who spent his childhood in the slums of Mumbai” (299). The voice of Damu in Outcaste is not a simple cry of pain and discontent but an echo of liberation that shows the way to untouchables in India. D. Murali Manohar writes, “This book is definitely a response to non-dalits commenting on dalit literature. He has given a befitting reply through writing a creative and artistic book. Interdisciplinary text such as this has literary elements as well as dalit movement in general. His fight against the rights of dalits such as temple entry, drinking water, separate electorate for dalits, little tradition of Khandoba Temple, a family deity, Goddess Maraii, worshipping Ambedkar along with Lord Ganpati during Vinayak chaturthi, rejecting the Hindu religion at the time of death, call for conversion are some of historical events integrated with the memoir” (51). Dalit autobiographies are the social documents that show how difficult it is to grow and survive in the caste based Indian society. Dalits sometimes prefer to be the criminals than to be the servants in the upper-caste household. In his narrated autobiography Muli tells us how he became a pimp but refused to continue the caste based occupation of skinning or tanning etc. Dalits find both religion and politics insufficient as religion degrade and politics marginalize them. Some parties have even the negative view of daltis. Such parties oppose the reservation for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Daltis are not sure even the sufficiency of Marxism in India. They conclude that the Indian Marxism has adopted the brahmanic view and interpretation of culture and society. Media, police, non-dalit literature and cinema treat the dalits unfairly. Even some administrative units and other public agencies discriminate the dalits. This is what, Meena Kandasamy in her Gypsy Goddess and Arundithi Roy in The God of Small Things show minutely. Narendra Jadhav shows the in-human behaviour of high castes in the opening of his life narrative when Damu is guarding a corpse in the village well. He is not allowed to eat or even drink water. All this makes Dmu to have a fight with high caste officer. He faces many other ill-treatments and hardships but finally he wins respect and a sense of freedom through hard work. All other dalit writers of fiction and autobiographies have expressed the view that the political freedom has no meaning for dalits as they are the social slaves. In this sense, the dalits find the colonial rule better. Hazari in his life narrative shows the equal treatment of Britishers and this fact has been proved later by Damu in Outcaste by Narendra Jadhav. The dalit autobiographies have a wider appeal of humanism in them and condemn the narrow authority of caste, religion and god. The dalits are in a search of self and try to create a history and culture of their own.  E.V. Ramakrishanan writes, “The narrative of a dalit autobiography puts the caste body at the centre problematising the relationship between individual and society. While the self is an elusive entity which can be conceived in transcendental terms, the finitude of the body cannot be reduced to anything other than that and in that sense forms an absolute condition that cannot be transcended. Dalit autobiographies can contest the prevalent historical discourses because they are engaged in recovering the discourses of history centred on physical abuse and oppression” (48).
            In the form of conclusion it is obvious to be argued that the dalits of modern India are no more ready to be enslaved and tied on the name of religion. The education has changed the course of their life. They are aware of their social, political and economic rights. Damu, the father of the writer is the representative of the modern dalits. He is illiterate but still has the strength and courage to resist the caste domination strongly. Narendra Jadhav (Dhruv) himself   represents the new generation of dalits who take the caste question seriously and pursue the education wholeheartedly to beat the casteism and overcome the social gape. Apurva is an independent child who pays no attention to the superiority of caste. She feels herself free to celebrate as a human being without any caste identity. She is a confident girl and behaves as other non-dalit girls do. Today the dalits held many very important or prestigious positions as politicians, government officers, writers, philosophers, thinkers, actors and sportspersons. But the practices like casteism and untouchability continue to exist. It is really very surprising that, the dalits cannot change their position in spite of reservation and the constitutional safeguards for them. Most of the dalits are illiterate and unemployed. Just a few dalit can avail the facilities granted by the constitution. One important thing to be focused is the implementation of government schemes for the upliftment of the dalits. They should be made aware of their rights. In Outcaste through his own mother Sonu, Narendra Jadhav shows the changing image of the dalit women. The dalit women find relevance in the education of their children and are aware of their dominated position in society. For the education of her children, Sonu kills her hunger and compromises all her dreams as a beautiful woman. The inter-caste marriage system and inter-dinning system are two other ways suggested by the author to abolish the casteism and untouchability .In this sense Outcaste in a manifesto of caste struggle for equality. This book displays the dalit perspective and their way of responding the caste, religion and untouchability in modern India.         
Primary Source:
Jadhav, Narendra. Outcaste: A Memoir. Viking: New Delhi, 2003. Print.
Secondary Sources:
1.     Aomi, Jenifer. “B. R. Ambedkar’s Autobiographical Notes”. Critical Essays on Dalit Literature. ed. D. Murali Manohar. Atlantic: New Delhi, 2013. Print.
2.     Barbuddhe, Satish. “Narendra Jadhav’s Out Caste: A Memoir A Saga of Positive Search for Excellence”.  Dalit Literature A Critical Exploration .ed. Amar Nath Prasad and M.B. Gaijan. Sarup and Sons: New Delhi, 2007. Print.
3.     Channa, Subhadra Mitra. Introduction. Life as a Dalit Views from the Bottom on Caste in India. ed. Channa and Joan P. Mencher. Sage: New Delhi, 2013. Print. 
4.     Kumar, Raj. Dalit Personal Narratives Reading Caste, Nation and Identity. Orient BlackSwan: New Delhi, 2010. Print.
5.     Lalmingthani, Melody. “From Oppression to Liberation through Education”. Critical Essays on Dalit Literature. ed. D. Murali Manohar. Atlantic: New Delhi, 2013.
6.     Limbale, Sharnkumar. Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature. trns. Alok Mukherjee. Orient Longman: New Delhi, 2004. Print.
7.     Manohar, Murali D. “Dalit Autobiography as a Social Epiphany”. Critical Essays on Dalit Literature. ed. Manohar. Atlantic: New Delhi, 2013. Print.
8.     Mencher, Joan P. “The Caste System Upside Down”. Life as a Dalit Views from the Bottom on Caste in India. ed. Subhadra Mitra Channa and Mencher. Sage: New Delhi, 2013. Print.…., “Being an untouchable in India: A Materialist Perspective”. Life as a Dalit Views from the Bottom on Caste in India. ed. Subhadra Mitra Channa and Mencher. Sage: New Delhi, 2013. Print.
9.     Punalekar, S. P. “Dalit Literature and Dalit Identity”. Dalit Inentity and Politics. ed. Ghanshyam Shah. Sage: New Delhi, 2001. Print.
10. Ram, Nandu. “Atrocities and Segregation in an Urban Social Structure”. Life as a Dalit Views from the Bottom on Caste in India. ed. Subhadra Mitra Channa and Joan P. Mencher.Sage: New Delhi, 2013. Print.
11. Trivedi, Darshana.“Literature of their Own:Dalit Literary Theory in Indian Context”. Dalit Literature A Critical Exploration .ed. Amar Nath Prasad and M.B. Gaijan . Sarup and Sons:New Delhi,2007.Print.
12. Virdi, S. L. Casteism The Eighth Worst Wonder. Dalit Sahitya Academy: Phugwara, 2001. Print.
Ramakrishanan, E.V. “Self and Society: the Dalit Subject and the Discourse of Autobiography”. Beyond Boarder. 6.2-1. (2010): 46-52. Print.  
Suresh Kumar
Research Scholar (Ph.D.)
Deptt. of English,
Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla- 171005,

Himachal Pradesh.