Talking Difference, Weaving Dissent: Urmila Pawar’s Readings of Resistance
Dr Dhrupadi Chattopadhyay
Assistant Professor and Head, Department of English, S. N. D. T. Women’s University, Maharashtra, India
Since the 1990s Dalit literature, fueled by translations,[i] has slowly and often grudgingly made its way into literature classrooms globally. However, it continues to function in the periphery, being routinely read within the discourses of marginalities; in this they rarely move beyond “instrumentality or fusion’.[ii] Riding on a significant body of critical literature in the recent past, Dalit literature continues to question the universalization of the colonial/postcolonial modern subject. Modern Dalit literature, begins in Maharashtra in the 1960s with the Dalit Panther movement and then spreads to the literatures from Southern India, northern India and has most recently made inroads in the East.[iii] Given that a significant part of this literature was produced in the vernacular, its contexts of protests were subsumed within larger universalized configurations of ‘protest’.[iv] Consequently, most of the attention that these literary practices have received have come from reading them as ‘subaltern’ subjects whose autonomous domain of culture and politics merit representation.[v] Reading in this vein has meant highlighting events of caste oppression and the subsequent challenges it posed to age old cultural mores of caste oppression. While these were effective in challenging the ways in which upper caste elite experience was universalized, it simultaneously homogenized Dalit aesthetics.[vi] The multiplicitous nature of ‘Dalit consciousness’ and its ways of presenting a ‘literary revolution’ with its own signifying systems was often overlooked and therefore perhaps “it is difficult not to have the impression that the necessary emphasis on the social and political significance of Dalit literatures has consigned them to the social and political domains, and a quick look at how they are featured at Indian and international workshops and conferences suffices to indicate that Dalit literatures are more often than not used by social scientists in their analyses but not analysed as literatures in their own right.”[vii] Routinely read as a departure, literary criticism rarely employ the understanding of Dalit aesthetics to read Dalit literature. As Limbale says that Dalit literature’s express purpose is to fill the reader with disquiet. Because, “[t]his revolutionary [dalit] consciousness is based on the ideas of equality, liberty, justice and solidarity, rather than pleasure. This is why it is important for Dalit critics to change the imaginary of beauty.”(115)[viii] Problematizing on the reader’s experience of privilege, the aesthetics of Dalit literature worked towards creating unease, assaulting the senses and arousing uneasiness. The very mechanics of Dalit literature resists being read as a monotonous singular expression of ‘protest’ rather it offers to be read as a site of continuous conflict. These struggles get magnified when we add intersecting categories of class and gender.
Never shying away from political action, Dalit women’s narratives pose a serious challenge to the literary establishments. Not only do they take ‘savarna’ women to task for universalizing the plight of the upper-caste/upper-class woman, but most importantly also question the feminist literary readings that flatten the tensions that define Dalit women’s writings. As savarna women ‘add’ Dalit women to the feminist question in India, they blunt the edge of the multiplicitous conflicts that frame this literature. This deliberate slippage of responsibility turns an otherwise outward looking literary practice into an intensely inward looking one. The Dalit woman’s intensely political existence is then conveniently appropriated even as it is consumed and turned into a protest that is contained within the larger framework of resisting a normative citizen-subject. [ix]Dalit women’s self-representation have received a lot of desired attention within literary scholarship lately. They have habitually read within the prescriptive understandings of dual oppressive caste and gender regimes which often work against the ways in which the texts themselves resist reading from the ‘outside’. This paper will attempt to read Urmila Pawar’s memoirs ‘The Weave of My Life’ using strategies of autoethnography that she herself had advocated. The strategies that Urmila Pawar and Meenakshi Moon employ to record and assert Dalit women’s voices across various often overlooked registers in We Also Made History: Women in the Ambedkarite Movement (1989, trans. 2008) will be used as an incentive. In this effort the paper seeks to offer to read the text in its own terms by animating its erasures. In this the memoir appears in a continuous conversation with multiple contexts of Dalit women’s resistance thereby presenting a case for reading complex marginal identities.
[i]Kothari, Rita. “Caste in a Casteless Language? English as a Language of ‘Dalit’ Expression.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 48, no. 39, Economic and Political Weekly, 2013, pp. 60–68, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23528481. [ii] Rege, Sharmila. "Dalit studies as pedagogical practice: Claiming more than just a ‘little place’in the academia." Review of Development and Change 12.1 (2007): 1-33. [iii] Deo, Veena, and Eleanor Zelliot. "Dalit Literature-Twenty-five Years of Protest? Of Progress?." Journal of South Asian Literature 29.2 (1994): 41-67. [iv] Chatterjee, Sreya. "dialectics and caste: rethinking dalit life-writings in the vernacular, comparing dalit narratives." comparative literature studies 53.2 (2016): 377-399. [v] Teltumbde, Anand. “Subalternism vs Dalitism.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 43, no. 52, Economic and Political Weekly, 2008, pp. 22–24 [vi] According to Zelliot the politics of aesthetics was central to the imagination of ‘Dalit literary consciousness’. The Dalit sahitya movement of Maharashtra seems to be unique--- not in the phenomenon of former untouchables writing literature , but in the quality of writing, its variety , its aesthetic considerations, its sense of being a movement, it tie to social action, and in serious attention it receives as a school within Marathi literary traditions. [vii] Abraham, Joshil K., and Judith Misrahi-Barak, eds. Dalit Literatures in India. Routledge India, 2015. [viii] Sharankumar Limbale. Towards an Aesthetics of Dalit Literature. Trans.Alok Mukherjee. Hyderabad: Orient Balckswan, 2004. [ix] See for instance, Sharmila Rege. “ Dalit Women’s Autobiographies” in Arya, S., & Rathore, A.S. (Eds.). (2019). Dalit Feminist Theory: A Reader (1st ed.). Routledge India.