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“Mapping Dalit Childhood: A Multimodal Analysis of Select Indian Picturebooks”

Ms Sridipa Dandapat and Dr Priyanka Tripathi

PhD Scholar and Associate Professor of English, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Patna, Bihar, India

Being a diverse country, India is home to a complex social system with differences of language, religion, class, caste and a myriad of heterogeneous cultures. In socio-political, cultural and academic discussion, caste has captured the similar importance in India as race in the United States, class in the United Kingdom, and faction in Italy. The picturebooks as selected in this article, have challenged the genre of traditional children’s literature by interrogating caste, the lopsided hierarchy of caste and disclosed the ambivalent heterogeneity to voice the alternative documentation of hitherto unaddressed Dalit childhoods. Indian literature representing Dalit lives is long-standing but the contemporary visual-verbal narratives of picturebooks have revolutionised the genre by shifting their position from periphery to centre. Through a critical reading of Bhimrao Ambedkar: The Boy Who Asked Why (2015) by Sowmya Rajendran and Satwik Gade, Rinchin and Sagar Kolwankar’s I Will Save My Land (2017) and C.G. Salamander and Samidha Gunjal’s Puu (2018), this study explores contemporary picturebooks’ take on Dalit childhood. These texts, even though address the similar theme of Dalit childhood, vary in the representations of multitudinous Dalit issues. It ranges from depicting the historical biography of Dalit legend Ambedkar in Bhimrao Ambedkar: The Boy Who Asked Why (2015) to address the theme of “triple oppression” in I Will Save My Land (2017) by Rinchin and Kolwankar that portrays a low-caste girl raising voice for her rights to own land and struggles to save it against rapid industrialization to Salamander and Gunjal’s Puu (2018) that introduces another hard-hitting reality of Dalit by addressing manual scavenging. These texts’ stance on caste/ism and a rigorous evaluation of Dalit subjectivity and sensitivity in relation to the authoritarian upper-caste, reveals and challenges fundamental caste stereotypes that are often implicit even in modern India. This article primarily draws on Rudine Sims Bishop’s concept of “mirror, windows and sliding glass doors” as the theoretical framework to analyse how the selected texts reflect Dalit lives to Dalit readers and aids non-Dalit readers to build a perspective of Dalit lives with an attempt to call for inclusivity, empathy and respect for the outcast. With a multimodal approach, this paper examines a critique of Dalit consciousness to challenge and address the plurality of oppression behind the monolith of caste inequality and establishes the significance of inclusivity of social justice concerns before the child of the future. Moreover, the Dalit experiences through the rhetoric of suffering, fear and loss, dignity and ignominy of labour are laid bare before the next-generation readers that stir up the comfort zone of knowledge with unfamiliar realities to acknowledge an integral part of Indian society.

Keywords: Dalit childhood; Indian picturebooks; intersectionality; caste, class and gender; Dalit consciousness; visual-verbal.

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