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Caste Identity and the Situation of Women in Colonial India: Reflections on Matampu Kunhukuttan’s Novel Outcaste

Ms Arpita Dutta

Independent Researcher, West Bengal, India


Caste discrimination has upholded its supremacy in India centuries after centuries. Much before the partition of India in 1947, caste discrimination had in fact created fissures among the people of India. Its far reaching social-economic-cultural-political implications have framed the unique intranational and international identity of India. The desire to get rid of the caste based inequalities and oppression has resulted in the emergence of several reform movements in different parts of colonial India: conflicts between old and new ideologies within and outside a particular caste have often essayed to redefine the characteristics of a caste which in turn has not only challenged the prevailing caste equation of a particular place and time, but has also tried to restrict the dominance of a powerful caste. The members of powerful and dominant Brahmin caste by using their privilege have formulated the caste based code of conduct although at the same time they didn't hesitate to curve those rules to serve their own purpose by exploiting those existing below their caste. Opportunistic measures to please the ruler of the country and to save their own social status have turned these members into puppets of the ruler in one hand and more aggressive supremos of their own family and caste on the other hand. In India, under the grip of colonial British rulers, caste discrimination attained an altogether different level as they with their mindset to trade and expand their colony considered brahminical interpretation of caste based identity as the real one despite being displeased after witnessing the caste discrimination. Caste ridden India was thus not only subjected to the tyranny of the British colonial rulers but also equally to the dictatorship of Brahmins; often under the tutelage of Nationalistic ideology. Considering this backdrop, certain questions arise in my mind: 1.What role did the women play in their caste structure in a particular society in our Mother India? 2. Although it has been seen that during pre-colonial era in India, the brahminical hegemony on women prevailed primarily among the Brahmins and later on other higher caste, yet during the British colonial India, did this male domination over women that included Shudra women too encounter any resistance from the opposite gender to voice their right? I being a woman will try to delve deep into the lives of women of 19th and early 20th century to find the answers of the above mentioned questions. In the first part of my paper, while dealing with the question of the caste based identity of women in colonial India of late 19th and early 20th Century, I will focus on analysing the lives of Antharjanam and /or the women who live behind Purdah juxtaposing them with the position of men. In the second part of my paper, I will interpret the notion of “Outcaste” in today’s globalised world.

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