“Depressed Sufferings”: Reading Dalit Life-Writings as Testimonies of Collective Resistance

Paulomi Sharma


Dalit life-writings have often been identified as reified spaces of protest against the Brahmanic oppression continuing since centuries in the Indian society. Banished to a space of invisibility, both metaphorical as well as physical margins of the Social Imaginary, Dalits continue to push back boundaries by transforming the ‘marginal’ space into a space of ‘subaltern resistance’. My aim in this paper is to interrogate the methods of collective resistance in the life-writings of Dalit women authors and show how the peripheral spatial geography becomes the central site of resistance. Both Baby Kamble’s The Prisons we Broke (2008), and Bama’s Karukku (1992) belong to entirely different historical periods, and therefore, inevitably differ in their plot-narratives and manner of expression. However, they converge in their emphasis on how the Dalit segregated spaces in their village assume an important role in awakening their collective consciousness first – as members of a community, and second – as women. 

Both Karukku and The Prisons We Broke refuse to adhere to the Augustinian definitions of the autobiography as a genre and instead become works which elude generic conventions of the autobiography, anticipating a separate literary genre for themselves. In fact, the closest literary referent of these texts is the Latin American genre of the testimonio - social and political narratives of witnessing significant events as a collective -  that emerged in the 1960s. Reading these Dalit life-writings as testimonios of collective resistance is evocative of the on-going struggle of the Dalits to claim a separate space, both social and literary, while lending a voice to their lived-experiences in a paternalistic society that is essentially casteist.    

Baby Kamble and Bama raise pertinent questions against the dominant religious ideology and contribute to a social change in the conditions of women. Thus, my second intention in the paper is to closely look at the resistance offered against religious bias by the two authors. Since the Indian caste system derives its justifications from the Hindu law of divinity that are apparently inalterable according to Hindu purists, challenging the ‘savarna’ customs and rituals has been a persistent preoccupation within Dalit activism. Foregrounding textual instances of such challenges and resistance shall help us in understanding how a society practices coercion against a community when it comes to something as benign and as personal as man’s spiritual connection with the divine force.


Dalit women, oppression, testimonio, resistance

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17951/nh.2021.6.36-50
Data publikacji: 2021-10-10 16:24:41
Data złożenia artykułu: 2021-03-06 04:34:51


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