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Paper 68

Title: The Goddess Question: An analysis of casteist bias in the

creation of the Goddess in India with reference to Aruna

Gogulamanda’s “A Dalit woman in the land of Goddesses.”

Ms Anwesha Dey

Undergraduate Student, Department of English, Presidency University, Kolkata


The ideals of Indian women have always been compared to Goddesses as their prime replica- that they should be saints and powerful but always selfless, never sexually overwhelming in the predominant male narrative. However, when the question of a Dalit woman comes, how far that theory stands true is entirely questionable. The archetype of Goddess itself varies between the savarna/bhadralok middle-class family and the marginalized Dalit families. The dichotomy in what these Goddesses represent becomes very stark. While Lokkhi or Laxmi is worshiped by the savarnas as a symbol of fertility or wealth, the Dalit goddesses like Manasa would represent death and snakes, Sitala would represent pox and so on. The marginalised figures of Dalit Goddesses vary throughout the subcontinent but the question the paper tries to explore is whether like the upper class savarna woman, the Dalit woman is also allowed to take the ideal shape of a Goddess, or is she not? How much does her gender and class other control her? And if she is allowed to take the shape, what goddess does she become? In the process, a close look is taken at Aruna Gogulamanda’s poem “A Dalit woman in the land of Goddesses”. Gogulamanda comes from a middle-class South-Indian Christian Dalit family and has been a witness to the double silencing that women of her clan face irrespective of their class position. She notes their sexual vulnerability and writes even though her mother is middle-class she is only a “little better” than the other members who work in fields and construction sites. The Dalit woman’s sexuality has always been a place of discussion more than its upper-caste counterparts so much so that they are often reduced to their mere reproductive parts. This is what Gogulamanda establishes in her poem when she writes explicitly that the dalit woman is a sanitary pad- something taboo but useful. On the other hand, discussing the sexuality of the savarna woman is taboo because she is the seat of family and fertility- the Goddess that protects. Dalit women, as Sharmila Rege notes, talk differently. The idea of “woman” on a whole itself becomes redundant as class, caste, ethnicity and race construct the idea of womanhood differently. There comes a position of both nominalism and cultural feminism which revolt with the predominant male definition of a homogenous womanhood. Hence, this paper will try finding the gaps in the representation of women from the different caste groups and their adhered sexualities, the expectations and burdens society places on them and how they manifest themselves in the ideals that are being forcefully imposed on them. 

Keywords: Goddess dynamics, class and gender dynamics, figure of the Dalit woman, Dalit woman’s sexuality, patriarchal archetypes

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