Defining the terrain of the novel of Dalit consciousness in Jai Prakash Kardam’s Chappar (Thatched Roof): A study of Hindi Dalit Literary Counterculture
Mr Abhinav Piyush, Assistant Professor of English, Tagore Government Arts and Science College, Puducherry, India
The sudden spurt in Hindi Dalit novels in the 1990s is seen as an immediate consequence of the formation of the Dalit middle class. Inspired by Marathi Dalit literature and the anti-caste movements elsewhere in India, and as the beneficiaries of the reservation policy in public education and employment, a group of well-educated and employed individuals who represent the emergence of the Dalit middle class in select north-Indian cities visualized identity assertion through literature as a means to contest the social and political marginalisation in the Hindi region. In the post-Mandal era, this new middle class of writers began to employ the Dalit identity as a literary operative, Dalit or Ambedkarite Chetna (consciousness) as a critical and conceptual framework and also participated in the caste-activated social and political sphere as community intellectuals. While the economic forces of globalization and liberalization altered the landscape of rural and urban economy in India and brought the market economy, there also arrived a globalised vocabulary of human rights in the discourse of power and marginality. While certain Dalit families have benefitted from public education and government employment, unequal access to education and employment for Dalit women, Dalit underclass, and certain Dalit sub-castes have been raised often in the Hindi Dalit literary sphere.
In this paper, I attempt to read this early Hindi Dalit novel Chappar (Thatched Roof) by Jai Prakash Kardam as the repository of Dalit consciousness where experiences of humiliation, the quest for social justice, assertion through education, newly acquired social mobility, middle-class aspirations and negotiations with Indian modernity have found their articulations with the questions of representation and identity. In treating the elements of the experiential as the epistemic basis, Kardam aligns himself with the tradition of self-writings in Dalit literature. In its understanding of constitutionalism and modernity, this novel is also an affirmation of the centrality of the emerging Dalit middle class to the evolution of the Dalit novel in Hindi as a form. Dalit experience mediated through Dalit consciousness allows the growth and spread of anti-caste countercultural ideological positions in the Hindi Dalit novels, and thus also defines the representational politics of the Hindi Dalit literary sphere.