Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Review of Urmila Pawar's 'The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman's Memoirs' , trans. Maya Pandit, 2008, pp. 348 and Ravikumar's 'Venomous Touch: Notes on Caste, Culture and Politics', trans. R. Azahagarasan, 2009, pp. 298

"The two volumes under review offer important insights into the lived realities of Dalits in contemporary India,   though they each approach the issue from different angles. While Pawar's autobiography is at times unnervingly optimistic in tone, Ravikumar is withering in his criticism and his assessment of the Dalit condition.

... Venomous Touch is filled with blood curdling, stomach turning examples of the humiliations and travesties to which Dalits are subjected, as in this description of a brutal attack on a group of dalits who had dared to contest (and win) a local panchayat (village council) election...Worse was the seemingly nonchalant response of the Indian justice system, and the people at large, to such a massacre, and Ravikumar rails against this with a mix of despair and righteous indignation.

Pawar's memoir recounts her journey from a small hamlet on the West Indian coast to Mumbai where she has become renowned as a Dalit and women's activist and as a Marathi writer. The story is replete with instances of everyday violence.

... Pawar's tenacious resourcefulness makes her account the perfect complement to Ravikumar's observations, for it leaves readers with the scope to imagine a better future. It is, of course, up to readers to take up the cause. Both books need to be widely read."

Review by: Manu Bhagavan
Hunter College and the Graduate Center
The City University of New York

Read the full review at:
The Indian Economic and Social History Review, 49, 4 (2012): 591-612

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