Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

Talking Difference: The Defiant Cartography of Dalit Women's Poetry in Telugu and Marathi

Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

Talking Difference: The Defiant Cartography of Dalit Women's Poetry in Telugu and Marathi

Article excerpt

Introduction

The chilling portrayal of the "dismembered" and physically "torn" heroine Dopdi in Mahasweta Devi's1 short story "Draupadi" passes beyond the allegorical significance of mutilation and apportionment. This miniatures not only the case of violence enacted by men on women but also of postcolonial nation-states on their own citizens, armed forces on civilians, canonical on noncanonical cultures, classical norms on folk practices, and those in power on those who offer resistance. Representations such as these by non-Dalit writers were rejected as "upper caste" paternalism by Dalit thinkers. As Christopher (2012, 9) observes, "Despite the sense of solidarity that informs the work of non-Dalit scholars . . . their representations are nevertheless paternalistic and tend to preempt Dalit responses."

There had been a categorical shift in the twentieth century verse in Indian languages, which Dharwadker (1992) accounts for. Three contexts had gained prominence of expression: "the history of various local, regional, and national literary movements; the web of Indian and foreign influences which provides the intertextual basis for poetic writing; and the social backgrounds of the poets and their audiences, including their involvements in some social movements on the subcontinent." Referring to his argument with an extended view, in 1993, К Satchidanandan-a major Malayalam poet and also a former editor of Indian Literature, the official journal of the Sahitya Akademi, India's highly revered body of letters-centers four kinds of "poetic nations" that broadened the Indian literature of the times. The first one was the poetry of the 1950s and the 1960s which asserted the individual identity against the commodification of the individual; the second was that of women's movement which, by all means, subverted the phallocentric order; the third was the "insurrectional poetry" of the Dalit movement in Maharashtra and Gujarat, and the Bandaya movement in Karnataka; and the fourth was the "still-emergent . . . uttar adhunik kavita," the postmodern poetry in Bengali, Kannada, Oriya, and Malayalam which sought to provide an indigenous alternative to the "Eurocentric modernism" of the fifties (quoted in Dharwadker 1992).

In the postcolonial decades, Indian writing showed mixed trends of literature: one produced by the dominant-urban, educated, upper-caste-section, and the other by the subaltern groups, such as middle-class women that are recently literate, and lower caste men and women on the fringes of the middle class. Of the movements led by the subaltern, disenfranchised, and oppressed groups, two movements stand predominant. One was the feminist and women-centered literature by women and some male writers like Raghuvir Sahay in Hindi and A К Ramanujan in English. The other was the Dalit writing, by the former untouchables of the Hindu society, in Marathi, Gujarati, Kannada, and Telugu. As is the case, subaltern writers produce an attacking middle-class literature, in contrast to middle-class literature by the urban, upper-caste group. At the base of this literary pyramid is the Dalit women's writing.

Dalit literature is not merely about the people who were once subjected to untouchability and denied social, economic, political, and cultural rights, and who, with the attainment of the alphabet as a weapon, attacked the oppression and revolted against the exploitation and the suffering.2 Dalits generally reject the upper-caste writings about the sorrows of casteism or the heinous acts committed against them, despite the awakening they try to bring in caste Hindus. The term "Dalit," first used in the 1930s, means the "downtrodden" and "crushed, pushed down" in Marathi. Dalits reject the poems and songs of Chokamela, the Dalit saint from Mahar caste (Maharashtra), because of the suggestive acceptance of the caste system and Hindu culture in the art forms. The accepted view is that only those who suffer oppression can rightly represent oppression. …

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