Omprakash Valmiki. Joothan: An Untouchable's Life. Translated by Arun Prabha Mukherjee. New York: Columbia University Press,

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Omprakash Valmiki. Joothan: An Untouchable's Life. Translated by Arun Prabha Mukherjee. New York: Columbia University Press, Reviewed by Mohd. In that Country the laws of religion, the laws of the land, and the laws of honour, are all united and consolidated in one, and bind a man eternally to the rules of what is called his caste. In recent years, a vibrant field of Dalit literature has appeared in India, and some works are beginning to be translated into English.

Autobiographical writings constitute a significant subgenre of Dalit literature, conveying the firsthand, raw experience of the writers who were, themselves, subjected to the scorn and contempt of the people who had no other qualities or distinctions in life except that they were born into upper-caste families. In Joothan , Omprakash Valmiki deals with the issue of humiliation meted out to the Dalits by Indian society, no matter where they lived. This humiliation stems from the fact that Dalit inferiority has gotten embedded in the psyche of the upper caste, the members of which have developed an extraordinary repertoire of idioms, symbols, and gestures of verbal and physical denigration of the Dalits over centuries.

It is embedded in the literary and artistic imagination and sensibility of the upper caste. Even the Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata , are replete with examples of this denigration where the shudras and the chandalas are shown to be treated as less than human.

Dalit writers feel that the mainstream literature in Sanskrit and many other Indian languages foster these built-in assumptions of Dalit inferiority and thus they need be critiqued, subverted, and deconstructed. These books shocked the readers of mainstream literature into the realization of the inhuman and morally repugnant ways in which Indian people continued to treat segments of society.

Before this body of literature came out, the Dalits were the proverbial invisible men and women of India who were compelled to live on the margins of society, never entering the vision of high-caste Hindus, the arbiters of art, literature, and good taste, in any significant or positive way. Valmiki begins his chronicle from his childhood. The tenement clusters where they lived stood on the periphery of the village inhabited by the upper-caste Tyagis who felt that they had absolute power over them and their labor.

If the Dalits dared to refuse unpaid labor, severe retribution would follow. The surveyors needed some people for clean up work, for which they would not be paid. As always, it would be unpaid labor.

For days on end hungry and thirsty people would work to clean the kothi [big house]. When they refused this unpaid work, they were severely punished. Fifteen days after their refusal, two policemen came and arrested whoever they could lay their hands on and took them to the office of the village panchayat council where they were made to squat in a rooster position and beaten mercilessly.

In another similar incident, the boy Valmiki himself was forcibly dragged to work by Fauza Singh Tyagi in the field while he was preparing to appear in the math exam the following day, as though he was a bonded laborer.

I was then an adolescent and a scratch appeared on my mind like a line scratched on glass. A fire engulfed my innards that day.

Probably the most painful aspect of this humiliation is the fact that his teachers were not only a party to it but also often aggravated it. These fellows who were sold to the idea of caste hierarchy were a blot to the fair name of teachers.

Valmiki was admitted to the school with great difficulty, he was made to sit apart from Tyagi boys, he was made to squat on the floor while other students sat on the benches, he was not allowed to participate in extracurricular activities, and he was made to sweep and clean the school and adjoining field.

During examinations he could not drink water from the glass when he was thirsty. Each day brought new torture and humiliation from his teachers. More than once, he was beaten mercilessly. Despite being one of the few good students in the class, he was given such low marks in the chemistry practical test that he failed the Board exam, which spelled doom for his promising career. Moving from childhood to adolescence when my personality was being shaped, I had to live in this terror-filled environment Caste followed him like an albatross around his neck.

He was taken as a decent, educated, and respectable human being as long as people did not know about his caste. The moment they got to know about it they recoiled from him as though he were a lump of shit. The hatred of thousands of years had entered our hearts. These instances underline the fact that the sense of caste hierarchy is so ingrained in the Hindu mind that it cannot be erased overnight simply by formulating laws of affirmative action, but that a revolutionary change of mind and heart is required.

Being repulsed thus, time and again, he developed an antipathy toward people who, he knew, had only contempt for him despite the masks they wore of outward decency. They keep on burning inside me to this day. Valmiki recreates the period when Dalit literature was emerging as a radical and subversive, if controversial, genre that would gradually shape what is known today as Dalit aesthetics.

The Dalit literary movement started in Maharashtra, the home state of Dr. Their voices exhilarated me, filled me with new energy. These writer-activists waged a valiant struggle against the deeply entrenched caste prejudices and oppression by creating awareness through art and literature. Reading their work reignited the literary spark in him that was already there. He began writing short plays and staging them. He also began to write poetry and fiction. However, even his considerable literary reputation did not change things much for him as far as his caste was concerned.

Experiences that did not manage to find room in literary creations. We have grown up in a social order that is extremely cruel and inhuman. It goes to his credit that he does not simply give a univocal account of the caste prejudices harbored by members of the upper caste, but also deals with the internal divisions within the depressed classes that point to the fault lines within the movement and draws attention to the ways in which the depressed classes themselves have internalized these prejudices against the castes they consider a notch below themselves.

The movement must address this urgently. However, we should keep in mind the fact that Dalit literature has emerged out of specific historical and social circumstances, that protest and testimony are inalienable parts of it, and that it has to be judged by a different yardstick or literary aesthetics than we do in case of mainstream literature.

Valmiki himself grapples with this question adequately in his nonfictional and critical writings. Translating Dalit literature presents the translator with the stiffest challenges because of the linguistic nuances that seem almost untranslatable. Dalit writers make extensive use of the dialect or idiolect spoken by the particular caste group, and when the work is written in standard Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, or Telugu, it undergoes a process of normalization and standardization, if only to make the text accessible to mainstream readers.

Translation into English involves a further, and often deeper, degree of normalization that flattens out the roughness, apparent sloppiness, and rawness of the text, all of which make up the flavor of the original and contribute to its appeal. When one compares Dalit texts with their English avatars, the result is often disappointing.

Arun Prabha Mukherjee has done a commendable job in this regard. She has been able to retain some of the flavor of the original while attaining a good measure of readability in English. Moreover, her comprehensive introduction provides a good context for the study of the specific text under review, and also for Dalit literature in general.

Cited in Nicholas B. Citation: Mohd. H-Asia, H-Net Reviews. April, Asaduddin Jamia Millia University Published on H-Asia April, Commissioned by Sumit Guha Chronicle of an Outcast e from India In that Country the laws of religion, the laws of the land, and the laws of honour, are all united and consolidated in one, and bind a man eternally to the rules of what is called his caste. Note [1]. Add a Comment. Michigan State University Department of History.


Om Prakash Valmiki

Om Prakash Valmiki provides a chilling account of caste oppression in the newly independent state. His autobiographical account brings into light one of those rare, detailed and lived accounts on Dalit lives. Joothan marks as a first Dalit autobiographies in Hindi literature and later translated into English by Arun Prabhas Mukherjee in Om Prakash through his work highlights the importance of literature in providing a platform for disseminating knowledge about Dalit lives and their experiences. His work stands out as extraordinary for its sheer realistic detail of caste oppression but still struggles to be included into the mainstream literature in the country. With its non linear style of writing, his work is a collection of memoirs, of detailed accounts of caste violence during his school and adult life.


Joothan By Om Prakash Valmiki – Book Review

Add to Cart. Omprakash Valmiki describes his life as an untouchable, or Dalit, in the newly independent India of the s. India's untouchables have been forced to accept and eat joothan for centuries, and the word encapsulates the pain, humiliation, and poverty of a community forced to live at the bottom of India's social pyramid. Although untouchability was abolished in , Dalits continued to face discrimination, economic deprivation, violence, and ridicule. Valmiki shares his heroic struggle to survive a preordained life of perpetual physical and mental persecution and his transformation into a speaking subject under the influence of the great Dalit political leader, B. A document of the long-silenced and long-denied sufferings of the Dalits, Joothan is a major contribution to the archives of Dalit history and a manifesto for the revolutionary transformation of society and human consciousness.


Joothan: An Untouchable's Life



Asaduddin on Valmiki, 'Joothan: An Untouchable's Life'


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