Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Joothan: A Dalit’s Life

Joothan: A Dalit’s Life
Omprakash Valmiki
Translated from the Hindi by Arun Prabha Mukherjee
demy octavo pb 134pp ISBN 81-85604-63-3 Rs 260 2nd rpt 2010

Winner of the Best Book Prize of the New India Foundation 2004
Although Valmiki has devoted only a small part of his autobiographical narrative to ‘joothan’, it emerges as a very powerful metaphor encapsulating the pain, humiliation and poverty of his community, which not only had to rely on joothan but were forced by circumstances to relish it. ~Badri Narayan, Biblio.

For the first time, Dalits are writing about their lives themselves. They have been long written about by others, by anthropologists, historians and novelists––who have often portrayed them as tragic figures. Dalit writers challenge the hegemony of high caste Indians and give voice to their aspirations for achieving equality and justice. Very few texts have been translated into English.

'Joothan' refers to the scraps left on plates that are then given to Dalits to eat. In some ways it is a symbol of the demeaning existence imposed on the Dalits, for whom autobiography is the preferred genre since it enables them to write of themselves and their communities, of their lived reality. In this book, the second autobiography in Hindi by a Dalit, readers are drawn into world where cruelty and deprivation seem to be the only reality, and they become aware of the complexities of caste oppression. Omprakash Valmiki talks of growing up in a village in north India in an untouchable caste, Chuhra, well before the defiant term 'Dalit' was coined. It is a story of survival, of terrible grief and oppression, of surmounting great odds to emerge as a freer human being.

‘How come we were never mentioned in any epic? Why didn’t an epic poet ever write a word on our lives?’

Omprakash Valmiki is an established name in Hindi literature. He has put together two collections of poetry and two of short stories. He works at the Ordnance Factory, Dehradun; Arun Prabha Mukherjee is Professor, Dept of English, York University, Toronto. She is a well-known scholar of postcolonial studies and a literary critic.

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