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Untouchability and Humanity

Madhav Vaze

By Premanand Gajvee. Translated from the Marathi by M.D. Hatkanangalekar
Seagull Books, Kolkata, 2005, pp. 88, Rs. 150.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 12 December 2006

Emergence of the dalit theatre is consid- ered as one of the prime aspects of the post-independence Marathi theatre. Marathi theatre which was centered around the middle-class sensibility till then, witnessed for the first time, the low-born, the underdogs of the society, giving vent to the unprecedented humiliation and persecution that they were subjected to, down the centuries. The leit-motif of dalit theatre was the attack on the caste system, its cunning. It sought to provoke fellow members to assert their identity. In a frenzy of profound hatred for the high-born, dalit theatre, more often than not, turned impulsive; consequently, arbitrary content, episodic structure and derogatory language came to be known as the main features of dalit theatre. However, considering the immediacy of the problem, such inarticulateness was but natural.   Whereas the then leading playwrights of dalit theatre, such as B.S. Shinde, Texas Gaikwad and the likes of them confined themselves only to the rift between the brahmans and the dalits, the then young Premanand Gajvee, to the utter dismay of his contemporaries struck a rather discordant note. He looked at the centuries old problem of untouchability in a wider perspective. His short play, Ghotbhar Paani (A Sip of Water), for example, depicts how the high-born don’t allow the dalits to fetch water from the wells in villages and thus deprive them of even a sip of water. It is significant that he does not give his characters any names or make a specific caste his target. He continually suggests that in the larger context and in the final analysis untouchability concerns humanity. It’s not without reason that that the line, Maatich Maatila Milu Det Nahi Ghobtbhar Paani (Soil itself doesn’t allow the soil to have a sip of water), occurs repeatedly as the theme-line in the play. It is suggestive of the humanitarianism that forms the core of Gajvee’s writings. This rather radical approach to the sufferings of dalits marks Gajvee as a playwright with a difference. But then Gajvee felt alienated from the literary coterie of both the dalits and the brahmans. Dalits marked him off as the dalit brahman and for the brahmans he was forever a dalit! However, Gajvee was not deterred from his humanitarianism, such snubs notwithstanding.   In his endeavour to point out what man has made of man, Gajvee by chance came to know a factual story wherein a ...

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