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Tales of Fortitude

Maitrayee Chaudhuri

Sharmila Rege
Zubaan, an imprint of Kali for Women, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 388, Rs. 495.00


A persistent lament of sociology in our parts of the world has been that our works are often captive of western theories and categories. Women’s studies have had their own share of ‘captivity’. Cultural studies have often had more than theirs. Sharmila Rege’s Writing Caste/Writing Gender marks a refreshing and clear break with this captivity. She also breaks away from the more domestic ‘upper caste’ captivity of categories and concepts- a break she explicitly theorizes. The two breaks are essentially interlinked, a point I will return to later. At the same time, and this is important, Rege draws the best analytical skills from extant practices in sociology, women's studies and cultural studies. The volume can be acclaimed for many other good reasons. And I could as well have begun from any other point. Critics can well contend that in a sense invoking the 'us and west' framework itself emerges from a 'captive mind'. I do so because I believe that an international division of academic labour not only still persists but has also been acquiring more subtle and insidious forms in recent times.   Rege's fine introductory essay on debating the consumption of Dalit 'Autobiographies' displays an informed engagement with such issues. She looks at some possible reasons for a spurt of interest in mainstream English publishing in dalit life narratives. And also asks how should one read these Dalit narratives. She responds by bringing in an array of voices: from a publisher's view that though it is now fashionable and politically correct to publish dalit books this can only have positive outcomes; to the view that saw this development leading to a weakening of the linkages between the movement and literature; to a very different take that this growth can be seen as a consequence of a more global alliance made by dalits since the Durban World conference against racism. Rege own argument is:   …dalit life narratives are in fact testimonies, which forge a right to speak both for and beyond the individual and contest explicitly or implicitly the 'official forgetting' of histories of caste oppression, struggles and resistance. (p.13)   In presenting these testimonies as political acts, she veers away the reader who may be tempted to reading these narratives as objects of pity and pathos, instead of stories of struggles and resistances. Stories of the ‘hateful past’ of the Dalits, Rege contends is ‘one of the ...

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