Dalit Literature Essay

3901 words - 16 pages

A person’s being a Bengali, Kashmiri or Panjabi may become as central to his conception of himself as a person who deprived of this, might feel bare of his personhood itself. So if India is a nation then most of us would like to think it as “one nation with one culture”. This is nation with many cultures and these cultures defined in profound ways the kind of quality of life people live in this country. In India cultures are deeply rooted in religion and social structure. Each culture has different kind of caste and sub-caste system which categorizes people in mainstream and marginal group. In 1873 Jyotirao Phule, a Marathi sudra, published his book Gulamgiri (Slavery), the book was about the oppression of dalits in India. This slave account functioned effectively as a model for Phule to resist the oppressive caste system that had left the sudras and ati-shudras (the untouchables) without a sense of self-identity and consciousness in India. Phule’s life-long work to raise awareness among the lowest castes about their degraded condition as designed by the Manu’s caste system remains an inspiration today. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the greatest Dalit leader in India who drafted the Constitution of India and was the country’s first Law Minister, acknowledged Phule’s work by dedicating his own book to Phule. Ambedkar, highlighted the state of Dalits struggle to claim their identity and humanity against the mainstream society.
Although slavery and the caste system as institutions were abolished in 1950, the legacy of classified systems based on labor and discourses of supremacy has continued in the Indian society. Moreover, the caste system’s official negation has not erased the system from the cultural ethos of India. The caste system in India is not unique with respect to its hierarchical structure because hierarchies of different kinds define several other cultures. To understand the caste system, one must note the following terms: “varna,” “endogamy,” “pollution”,“purity” and “untouchability.” During the Vedic times, the four ‘varnas’ (literally meaning “color”) were supposed to have originated from the four parts of the Cosmic Man: the priestly class, (from the mouth), the warrior class, Kshatriyas (from the arms), the business class, Vaishyas ( from the thighs or loins), and the menial class, Shudras (from the feet). People could change their identities by changing their professions. Over time, however, the divisions became more rigid and one’s birth became the sole determinant of one’s identity. The first three ‘varnas’ were supposed to designate the light-skinned Aryan origin while the fourth and last one would imply the darker-skinned Dravidian origin. The Brahmans developed their own rituals of purity and maintained their superiority among the castes. They had access to the religious texts and scriptures and interpreted them for the rest of the society. Thus, the caste system is also known as...

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