"Caste System and Dalit Oppression in Rural Punjab through the Lens of Balbir Madhopuri’s Against the Night”
Ms Parmjeet Kaur
Assistant Professor of English, General Shivdev Singh Diwan Gurbachan Singh Khalsa College, Patiala, Punjab, India
The present paper entitled ‘Caste System and Dalit Oppression in Rural Punjab Through the Lens of Balbir Madhopuri’s Against the Night’ studies Balbir Madhopuri’s autobiography, Against the Night (Originally written in Punjabi) which is the story of a dalit’s angst of deprivation, social exclusion, and humiliation, as well as of resistance, achievement and hope. The paper will explore how the subjective narrative of a dalit writer tends to universalize the caste based experience of his community. It will shed light on the plight of dalits in Punjab.
Nearly 90 per cent of dalits have moved out of their hereditary occupations, no more than 15 per cent work as agricultural labourers any longer. Education, urbanization, modernization, and jobs in higher civil services have given them a consciousness of self - respect and hope. Yet, a dalit , even after a high level of achievement in secular and material terms , apprehends a subtle form of caste prejudice . The emotional experience of insults in public spaces - the village , the school , the rented house - or in the company of colleagues in the higher civil service , represents a kind of apprehension that non - dalits are generally unable to understand . The school is , in fact , often the first major site of assault on a dalit child's psyche where , like Madhopuri , he is reminded of his vulnerability . The only thing they were taught was about their low origin. Madhopuri poignantly describes this sorrow. Ram , the founder of the Bahujan Samaj , emphasized that , ' Our problem is humiliation , not deprivation . What could dalits , individually or collectively , do to deal with such insular ' caste mindedness ' which robs a person of his dignity ? This is an issue Madhopuri takes up in his book.
Madhopuri wants dalits to raise their status by their individual effort but at the same time suspects that an individualistic mobility syndrome negatively impacts their desired collective struggle for justice and dignity. The mounting salience of an insular kind of jati ( caste or sub caste ) identity and the politics of feuding political groups have come to hound the protagonists of dalit solidarity . Given the persistence of caste prejudice in the non - Hindu religious communities, it is difficult to sustain the ' myth that the root cause lies only in the Hindu ' religious sanctions’. Madhopuri's dilemma is that while he seeks his identity in his dalithood , his Ad Dharm caste , he yet looks forward to a kind of social change whereby an individual would not be identified by his caste . He believes that howsoever slow and difficult it may be , the only rational course of struggle for dalits is both modernization and their solidarity with the non - dalit poor and oppressed , in order to create a new social order to match Ambedkar's dream.