Bhimayana: An Attempt to Reconstruct Dalit Memory and Dalit Consciousness
Mr Atmadeep Das
Independent Researcher, West Bengal, India
Employing the aesthetics of the comic medium to encapsulate and represent historical realities marked by segregation, subjugation, and structural and physical violence, the graphic novel Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability (2011), authored by Srividya Natarajan and S. Anand and illustrated by Gond artists Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam, presents the biography of Dr B. R. Ambedkar through a conversation that occurs between a man and a woman at a bus stop. It starts with the frustration of the man from general category over the caste-based reservation and it is followed a story told by the woman containing several episodes of Ambedkar’s life to contextualize the ongoing caste-based injustice and inequality in India and the book further morphs these episodes into a cultural memory which is “a collection of individual/personal memories and stories that often deliver different perceptions of the same event(s)” (Nayar 190) and counters the macro tendencies of writing history with hegemonic memory. To form Dalit consciousness, this book comes up with a collection of newspaper reports from contemporary India and highlights that the caste-based problems, violence, segregation, which Ambedkar experienced almost a century ago, are still there in every little corner of our society. “Bhimayana" is a small effort to address (this) anomaly and make Ambedkar’s story universal. If the lives and experiences of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X could resonate universally, Ambedkar’s—and those of millions of Dalits in India— ought to as well”
–S. Anand writes at the end of the book to state the purpose of writing Bhimayana.
In Indian history as written by the Savarna historians, Ambedkar is just the father of Indian
constitution, textbooks hardly mention his importance in India’s democracy, Dalit movements, women rights, and folk cultures. India has been the prey of casteism since the Vedic period and it is still openly practiced from villages to metropolitan cities, from tea stalls to luminous institutions, and this apartheid of the lower-caste/outcaste people, the marginals, unfortunately rarely attains global concern. In history, in mainstream narrative, these people’s struggle to secure a place in society and to live respectfully has always been neglected, forgotten just like the contributions of Ambedkar as a social reformer. Bhimayana as a graphic novel, with its simple and graphic story telling, is that attempt of reshaping the history, memory, and consciousness; and it does that not only reconstructing the history through the narrative, but also challenging the traditional art style of comics/graphic novels and using the indigenous Gond art instead. This paper explores the representation of Dalit memory and consciousness in the graphic novel Bhimayana. As Hans-Christian Christiansen has suggested, “Comics have inherently unique features which would tend to promote formal play of potentially disruptive kind: for instance the anti-naturalistic iconography and the deconstructive or conflictual play between word and picture and picture-sequence”(Magnussen and Christiansen 2000, 118), the paper will examine the way this graphic novel represents personal, political, social, and historical memories of Dalits, and will argue over how Indian graphic novels can help in recovering marginalised and minority voices from the peripheries of exploratory, experimental, and unorthodox modes of representation to raise readers; awareness of social, political, and historical issues, and ontological approaches to these concerns.
1. Vyam, Durgabai, SubhashVyam, Srividya Natarajan, and S Anand. Bhimayana: Incidents
in the Life of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. New Delhi: Navayana Pub, 2011. Print.