Critiquing the Brahmin Notion of Womanhood: Reading Baburao Bagul’s ‘Mother’ as an
Anti-Caste Narrative of Feminism
Ms Somrita Misra
Assistant Professor of English, Chanchal College, Malda, West Bengal, India
Sheldon Pollock proposes the concept of “literary cultures” to allow for an individual study of separate historical cultures and norms within South Asia. Homogenization under nationalism often persuades readers to view Indian culture and literature as a singular narrative but within the overarching nationalistic culture, there are a wide array of heterogeneous customs and norms, be they tribal, dalit or regional. A large share of non-brahminical literature in India remains outside the preview of the written word, especially dalit feminist writings and tribal women’s writings. The anti-caste discourse has been subsumed within the grander discourses of anti-colonialism, nationalism and post-colonialism. The discourse on nationalism has also done great damage to the identity of the woman, appropriating them as the “Mother Figure” to glorify patriotic sentiments. But what happens to widows and mothers on the margins– the subaltern women who have to shoulder the yoke of motherhood and bear the brunt of caste discrimination? Baburao Bagul’s “Mother” lends voice to such a dalit woman and mother and her deglorified, marginalized existence.
The present paper attempts to read Baburao Bagul’s “Mother” as a critique of the brahminical idea of womanhood. The paper will explore how Bagul, through his story, provokes readers into interrogating the dominant Nationalistic narrative of Motherhood; Bagul shows how a subaltern woman’s voice gets lost amid the universalized ideas and perceptions of an ideal wife and mother. The paper will analyze the dilemma of a dalit mother, trapped between the intersectionalities of caste and patriarchy, juggling her motherly duties and womanly desires. It is significant that the dalit woman in the story is not given any particular name, perhaps to universalize her experiences as being common to all Dalit women. The Brahmin teacher in the classroom plants the idea of “Vatsalya Sindhu” (woman as the river of motherly love) within the psyche of the dalit woman’s son; such patriarchal and casteist narratives can be hugely detrimental for dalit children whose mothers do not have the luxury of remaining within the confines of the home as constant caregivers for their children. Such notions also greatly damage the autonomous desires of women, encasing them within the limited tropes of the mother and the wife. The paper will explore all of these issues and show how Bagul’s “Mother” transcends brahminical and patriarchal overarching narratives to create a Dalit Feminist narrative.
Keywords: Dalit Feminism, Motherhood, Brahminical, Womanhood