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Beasts of Burden: The Dehumanized Dalit Consciousness in Fandry and Kastoori

Ms Sreya Chatterjee

Postgraduate Student, Department of English, Jadavpur University, West Bengal, India


The trend of erasure has slowly, if yet inadequately, made way for foregrounding Dalit narratives in Indian cinema. The degradation of Dalit lives, however, continues to be an overwhelming motif across these movies. This is manifest not just in the systemic oppression of Dalits in a Brahminical sociocultural landscape, but via a conscious act of dehumanization. Already burdened with negative connotations of being primitive, obtuse, inhumane — the Dalit consciousness is stripped of an essential humanity, and reduced to its baser, corporeal elements. This characterization is validated by Brahminical conditioning, for when a hierarchy delineating successively receding levels of humanity posits the Dwija as an intermediary to the divine, the Shudra must be situated among the beastly, the lowest of the low. The Rigvedic myth of the ‘stinking womb’ affirms the notion, that to be Dalit is to be surrounded by beasts, offensive odour and squalor— in a world that is barely habitable or human.

This trope reappears in various forms in the movies Kastoori (2019, directed by Vinod Kamble) and Fandry (2013, directed by Nagraj Manjule). The movies’ child protagonists are indoctrinated in a system where they must bear the burden of an enforced dehumanized consciousness. It is not just about the slurs or the prejudice, caste identity is an embodied reality that permeates to very tangible, physical aspects of oppression. While Jabya (of Fandry) comes from a family of menial labourers and pig-hunters, Kastoori’s Gopi helps his father in manual scavenging and post-mortem. For both of them, sustenance is punctuated with seeking out and living in constant proximity to waste and degeneration. Against this backdrop, Gopi’s search for the elusive deer musk to erase the stench of the Dalit body, or Jabya’s quest for sparrow’s ashes to win over the upper-caste dream-girl reflects an attempt at transcending the bodily reality that has been granted to them, and it is in the subversion of this conferred bestiality that their narratives upend the normative framework of Dalit representation.

This paper will look into the aforementioned movies to study this dehumanization of the Dalit consciousness via its relegation to the realm of the beastly. By implementing a close-reading methodology, it will analyse how characters in the movies reflect and perpetuate the majoritarian Brahminical ethos in recreating the myth of the in(sufficiently)-human Dalit. It will draw from a corpus of texts by Jyotiba Phule, B.R Ambedkar and other Dalit theorists to substantiate the arguments. Finally, it will look into instances where this trope is subverted by the protagonists through the reclamation and reinterpretation of their caste identities.

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