About the Book:
The Outcaste is the emotionally violent and noisy autobiography of a half-caste growing up suffers from not belonging fully to it.
An acknowledged masterpiece in the Mahar dialect (of Maharashtra), this first-person narrative is the numbing account of the humiliation of a community at the hands of an unthinking privileged class. Sharan, the protagonist, is haunted by the question of his fractured identity,' Am I an upper caste or an untouchable?
A reflection of the darker side of Indian society, this book is a bitter critique of the lack of compassion that the lower castes have endured for centuries. Silenced for generations of prejudice and oppression, Dalits found expression in a wave of writing which exploded in poetry, fiction and autobiography, providing critical insights on the question of their identity
A true milestone that publicized the Dalit cause, the Marathi original went through four editions. This translation is of the first edition which eschewed standard Marathi. It will appeal to students and general readers interested in regional Indian.
About the Author & Translator:
Sharankumar Limbale is the Regional Director (Pune Division) of the Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University, Nashik. A well-known Dalit activist writer, editor and critic, he has worked successfully with several literary genres and is he author of 24 books.
Santosh Bhoomkar the translator, is Reader, Department of English, Shri Saraswati Bhuwan Arts and Commerce College, Aurangabad. He writes poetry in English and has translated modern British poetry into Marathi. His translations have featured in the Sahitya Akademi journal Indian Literature.
Implicit in every literary work of significance is a serious critique of the society within which it takes birth. However, rarely do a number of such works get produced within a relatively short span of time. Rarely do they change not just the established literary idiom but also the thought processes and the social ethics of the community of readers. When this does happen, literary history describes the phenomenon as a literary movement. A movement strikes the heart of a social issue in such a manner that it becomes impossible for any sensitive reader to return to the old values with any sense of comfort. A movement goes much beyond a mere style-shift and spearheads a great social change too. In the rich history of India's numerous languages one can think of the great Bhakti movement, initiated by a series of saint-poets who posed profound metaphysical questions as a literary movement bringing about a seminal social reform. Bhakti was a phenomenal literary movement spread over several centuries of India's medieval history. The Dalit literary movement that has been flourishing in Marathi-as in several other Indian languages such as Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and Gujarati-during the last four decades will probably be recognized by the future historians of Indian literature and society as another such movement.
The Dalit Movement
If one had to draw a comparison between the Dalit literary movement and any movement in world literature, the proper candidates for comparison would not be the Anglo-German Romantic movement or the French-German-English Modernist movement. For, despite their greatness, depth and impact, neither shows the concern with social justice as explicitly and sharply as does the Dalit movement. Perhaps it stands a better chance of being understood if it is compared with Russian literature at the turn of the nineteenth century or the Black Literature movement of Afro-American origin during the twentieth century. It may even be justifiably compared with the great Protestant movement in Europe at the beginning of the Renaissance. While the Dalit literary movement has made Marathi society think afresh about religion, justice, dignity and social relationships, the single most important concern on which it has expended its energy has been ‘caste’. In order to understand the nature of the movement and the achievements and failures of every writer involved in it, it is necessary to state what the notion of caste has been and how it has conditioned Indian society. Caste and Identity The phenomenon of caste as a status marker has probably been the most unique feature of Indian society. The origin of the notion of caste is so obscure and its manifestation in social life is so complicated that it is almost impossible to think of it as a 'system' with 'rules' that can be articulated and reasoned out. Questions, such as 'Can one change one's caste?', 'Is the caste hierarchy defined in any absolute terms?' and 'Does a given caste originate in a given social function?' can be answered both in the negative and in the affirmative. Sociologists acknowledge that while caste identities have continued to deepen, there is also at work a process called ‘Sanskritization’ in Indian society which permits caste groups to evade their identity and achieve an upward social mobility. For instance, a whole class of peasants that included several ‘lower’ castes claimed the Patel caste during the nineteenth century in Gujarat owing to its economic progress. Besides, while it is true that one's caste continues to stick to one’s identity throughout one’s life, there also occurs a continuous fragmentation of a larger caste group into numerous sub-caste groups, creating in the process a hierarchic stratification within what had been a single caste. All in all, ‘caste’ is a lived social experience in India more than a prescribed mode of social classification. At its source has been a series of scriptural sanctions (varna system) unfortunately read without their original metaphysical content. On the other hand, at the tapering end of the concept of caste is its ability to gel with the notion of economic class, which allows it to come off at the edges and permits individuals to gradually acquire a new caste identity. Yet it cannot be denied that for a variety of very complex reasons Indian society has kept the caste-convention alive; and despite the massive changes brought in by industrialization, urbanization and migrations, the caste-convention is showing no signs of decline or slackening. Besides, the policy of positive discrimination enshrined in the Indian Constitution has led to a further crystallization of caste identities even if the goal of that policy was to eliminate inequality arising out of the marginalization of certain castes.
The social stratification and injustice arising out of the concept of caste attached to the accident of birth have been faced and questioned repeatedly by thinkers and social reformers throughout the history of India. In the Indian tradition, all functions involving labour, leaving aside the function of governing, learning and trading, were reserved for the Shudras. The menial nature of the work, the exclusion from the forms and institutions of learning, the perverse notion of pollution attached to the occupations in which the Shudras were engaged, and the perpetual economic inequality, all of which continued to exist for centuries, made the life of the Shudras a relentless story of suffering and injustice. The deprivation of the Shudras continued endlessly since the economic motives received a religious sanction from the Brahmin class that had been entrusted with the upkeep of the scriptures. It was natural, therefore, that every attempt at rescuing the sanctity of the scriptures also became an attempt at challenging the varna system. During medieval times, in every part of India, such attempts were made by social reformers and spiritual leaders, whom we now recognize as the saint-poets. However, given the eclectic and retentive nature of Indian culture, their efforts at challenging the varnas resulted in adding to the fold many new sects without replacing the varnas altogether. In the course of time, the more powerful among the sects acquired the form of a new religion such as Sikhism; but in most cases such newly founded sects absorbed the characteristics of the old varnas and came to be recognized as many new castes. Even Islam and Christianity did not escape the fate of being fragmented in caste terms when they were received in India. Besides, though the saint-poets had a purely humanitarian agenda before them, and propagated the equality of beings, the basis of their world view was metaphysical rather than material. The Bhakti movement therefore did not succeed in reforming the Indian society and its caste-based character.
It was Dr B.R. Ambedkar who, in the twentieth century, took up the most comprehensive and rational crusade that India has ever seen against the injustice and deprivation resulting from caste discrimination. The Dalit literary movement is a result of his powerful articulation of the place of the Dalits and the need to recognize their human dignity, which remains a seminal contribution to the social discourse of pre-independence India. Himself a Dalit born in the Mahar community, Ambedkar rose to a position of eminence as a social activist, an educationist, a legal expert and a nationally respected leader of Dalits in India. His approach to the question of religion was that of a democratic rationalist; and towards the end of his career as a leader of Dalits, he embraced Buddhism in order to free millions of his followers from the tyranny of caste discrimination.
When one thinks of a modern-day inheritor of the legacy of the medieval Indian saints, one naturally thinks of Mahatma Gandhi. He did agitate against the evils of untouchability throughout his life. He did everything to lift the scavengers who were forced into the occupation of cleaning latrines and carrying the night-soil on their heads. He faced great opposition from his orthodox supporters when he admitted untouchable persons as inmates in his ashram. The term Harijan, meaning ‘God’s people’, used for the so-called ‘low’ castes, was popularized by Gandhi. However, Ambedkar preferred the term Dalit which means ‘the oppressed'. He thought that Gandhi was not prepared to go far enough in the direction of the emancipation of the Dalits. Ambedkar felt deeply anguished by the reluctance of the nationalist movement led by the Congress and Mahatma Gandhi to confront the caste problem head-on and eliminate the caste discrimination altogether. In What Gandhi and Congress Have Done to the Untouchables (1945), Ambedkar claimed that Gandhi never wanted to ‘hurt’ the interests of the upper-caste Hindus.
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