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Dalit: Then Bodies

Aratrika Das

By Daya Pawar . Translated by Jerry Pinto
Speaking Tiger Publications, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 336, Rs. 350.00


Rohith Vemula’s hanging body; Soni Sori’s swollen face; Kawasi Hidme’s ejecting uterus; Monisha, Priyanka and Suranya’s floating bodies—all have one thing in common—these are Dalit bodies. Living or dead, their faces, uterus, eyes, hands and feet are first Dalit, then parts of a human body. This raises a crucial question: how can a human body, an anatomical subject formed of cells that are always dissolving, regenerating and growing, embody something as non-biodegradable as caste? In other words, how can a face, a uterus and a lifeless body be first Dalit, and then be human and acquire a species-identity? Isn’t our corporeality the most inalienable part of our selfhood? Or does caste as a denominator far exceed our claims to a shared history as a species? These questions plagued me until I read Daya Pawar’s Baluta. Published first in Marathi in 1978, Baluta forces me to recognize the following: caste has pernicious effects not because it is a political, social or a cultural designation. More threateningly, caste is a visceral experience, marked on our bodies, through the acts of speaking, eating, sleeping, and love-making. And while our bodies may die, decay and be erased, caste remains non-biodegradable and cannot be dissolved. The strength of Baluta lies not in providing an alternate critical position to this visceral experience of caste; in fact, the novel eschews any possibility of an alternative. Baluta’s strength lies in laying bare a reality where mining for an alternative is in itself a revolutionary idea. Pawar achieves the slipperiness and pervasiveness of this fraught reality with the use of two voices; one, of an educated-self who is listening, reflecting and trying to find a way beyond the life of a Mahar, and second, of a self who is never able to move beyond his Mahar caste and is angry and dejected. If the former is retrospectively producing a narrative of his own existence, the latter is constantly interrupting, ranting about his more urgent needs. Thus, Pawar moves precariously between an author, a narrator and a protagonist. Instead of a coherent narrative voice, Baluta therefore offers moments of heterogeneous voices. The reader is left to grapple with a range of perspectives—is Pawar critiquing the Hindu-Brahmanical structures when he opts to be educated; is his love for Ambedkar’s writings a critique of the ‘universal’ human values that devalue the Mahars; ...

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