In Need of Translation: An Analysis of Sri Lankan Tamil Dalit Literature

By Geetha, K. A. | ARIEL, July-October 2010 | Go to article overview

In Need of Translation: An Analysis of Sri Lankan Tamil Dalit Literature


Geetha, K. A., ARIEL


I. Introduction

The caste or varna system in India has segregated thousands of Dalits from mainstream culture and condemned them to a subhuman and debased existence. After centuries of suppression, Dalits are struggling for emancipation by joining the liberation movement originally spearheaded by Dadasaheb B. R. Ambedkar. Dr. Ambedkar shaped the tradition of revolutionary thinking for almost an entire generation of Dalits, and the literary manifestation of this social awareness is Dalit literature. Dalit literature not only reveals the angst of being Dalit in a caste-driven society but also simultaneously records a revolutionary discourse which challenges the hegemonic caste. The bourgeoning of Dalit literature began in Maharashtra during the 1960s. The literary movement spread to other languages like Gujarati, Kannada, Telugu, and Tamil.

However, the appearance of Dalit literature in Tamil is a very recent phenomenon. Originating in Maharashtra, Dalit literature took nearly three decades to make a mark on the literary map of Tamil Nadu province in India. Nevertheless, the sudden growth of Tamil Dalit literature in the 1990s has led to a corpus of novels, short stories, poems, and autobiographies. The general impetus of these writings is to expose the agonized and marginalized existence of Dalits. However, Dalit literature is not merely a literature of protest, lamentation, and frustration, since the various contexts and heterogeneous experiences of the Dalit communities it describes makes it a rich source of Dalit culture, tradition, and language. As a counter movement against dominant discourses, Tamil Dalit literature provides a space for the assertion of Dalit identity and selfhood.

While Tamil Dalits are discriminated against by the dominant castes, it is growing increasingly important not to make generalizations about the problems they face. The Tamil Dalit community is not monolithic by any means, and there are castes within it that are stratified hierarchically. Among Tamil Dalit communities, the problems faced by Sri Lankan Tamil Dalit communities are markedly different from other Tamil Dalit communities because of the group's geopolitical context. While the Sri Lankan political scene is dominated by the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict, the hierarchy and discrimination that is prevalent within Tamil communities between castes is almost subjugated and gets very little attention. This article discusses the problems faced by Sri Lankan Tamil Dalits through an analysis of some Tamil Dalit literary works by Sri Lankan writers.

II. Sri Lankan Tamil Dalit literature

In Tamil Nadu, Dalit politics and literature became popular in the 1990s after the Ambedkar centenary celebrations. However, in Sri Lanka, Dalit politics became a distinct presence from the 1950s onward. Sri Lankan Tamil society is caste-structured, and the dominant castes are the Tamil Saiva Vellalars, who enjoy a superior status akin to the Brahmins in Tamil Nadu. The Nalavars, Pallars, Parayars, Vannan, and Ambattan, grouped together under the term Panchamar (1) are the "untouchable" communities that work for the Saiva Vellalars (upper-caste Hindus). Starting in the 1950s, certain groups began to put up major opposition against the discriminatory practices of the Tamil Saiva Vellalars, and literature played a very important role in raising awareness about the plight of Dalits among Sri Lankan Tamils. The experiences of untouchables as documented in Sri Lankan Tamil Dalit literature are similar to Dalit experiences in Tamil Nadu.

Though Dalit politics and literature became prominent in Sri Lanka in the 1950s, Tamil literary works focusing on the problems of untouchables were written as early as the 1920s. Neelakandan Allathu Oru Sathi Vellalan was written by Jdaikaadar in 1925 and is regarded as the first novel that discusses caste discrimination in Sri Lanka. A similar trend was followed in novels written by Tamil writers like Muthuthambipillai, Nallaya, Muthathambi Sellaya, and Selvanayagam. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

In Need of Translation: An Analysis of Sri Lankan Tamil Dalit Literature
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.