Bama's 'Karukku' as a Subaltern Testimonial Autobiography
Bama wrote her autobiography quite differently from the usual style. What makes an autobiography different from a testimony is that the former is merely talking about the events in life while the latter is written with a purpose. Bama weaves the two together and it resulted in a testimonial autobiography. It is relevant to study a text which records the oppression faced by a subaltern Dalit woman and how Karukku can be treated as a subaltern testimonial autobiography.
- Chapter 1- An Introduction
- Chapter 2-Subalternity: Phases of Oppression and Celebration
- Chapter 3- Karukku as Subaltern Testimonio
- Chapter 4- Autobiography: With A Purposeful Uniqueness
- Chapter 5- Conclusion
Chapter 1- An Introduction
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews: 4:10)
Bama, the Tamil Dalit woman writer, in her foreword to Karukku, her autobiography published in 1992, presents the text as a double-edged sword before the reader. Hailed as the first Dalit woman writer in India, Bama’s Karukku is the first autobiography of its kind in Tamil Dalit literature. Her family was converted to Christianity way back in 18th century. Bama began to be noted as a writer with the publication of Karukku, her debut work, in 1992.It was immediately translated into English by Lakshmi Holmstrom in 2000 and won the Crossword Award in India in 2001. The works of Bama voiced the emergence of Dalit Literature. Bama is the pen name of Fausthina Mary Fathima Rani. In Tamil, Fathima is pronounced as Bathima and from that name, ‘Bama’ comes. As Bama indicates:
Mary is overtly Christian, Fathima could also be a Muslim name and Rani means ‘queen’ which does not appeal to me. I wanted a different sort of name, so I took the first and last syllables of Fathima and made of this name Bama.
It is said that in the manifesto of Dalit Panthers in 1972, “Dalits are all those who are oppressed, hill people, neo Buddhists, labourers, women, destitute farmers and all those who has been exploited politically, economically or in the name of religion”(Holstrom xviii-xix). BharatiDasan used the Tamil equivalent of Marathi “Dalit” as “taazhthapattor”, when he was working for the Self Respect movement. He uses it in the poem TazhthapattorSamathvappattu(Song for the equality of the oppressed). The new Tamil Dalit writing constantly refers to the anti-caste, anti-religious speeches of E.V.RamaswamyNaicker, founder of this movement. And it is centrally concerned with raising an awareness of the Dalit experience; Bama’s works are among those that are exploring a changing Dalit identity. She, in her works, evaluates the Dalit life style. “Bama seeks an identity but seeks a change which means an end to that identity” (xix).
Literature produced by the members from the elite classes in the society present ideas from their so-called high perspective. Those literary productions would certainly exclude the people from lower classes. The subaltern people usually were not given enough space to represent their ideas and literary creativity. In such a context, the upcoming genre of testimonial literature became the refuge of subalterns. The testimonios became an instrument of retrieving and registering the presence of the subaltern. Usually the image of Dalits, the subalterns, are presented or constructed by the higher classes and therefore testimonios tries to deconstruct that image and creatively picture subaltern life experiences and events. The testimonial literature gain prominence when there is an urgency to communicate, a problem of poverty, subalternity, imprisonment, struggle for survival and so on. Bama’s Karukku becomes a testimonial literature since it handles the issues of oppression faced by the Dalits, especially in Tamil Nadu. When Bama speaks as the representative of the subaltern community, Karukku becomes the testimony which accounts not only her life but also the life of the Dalit community into which Bama belongs. Bama’s unusual way of writing her autobiography demands the immediate response and attention from the readers. Her deliberate attempts to break away the so-called style and diction of autobiographies made it unusual and thereby appreciative.
Karukku can be considered as the childhood memoir written by Bama, which voices the joys and sorrows of her people, oppressed by the higher castes in India. The book reflects the various events happened in her life. She was born into a poor Dalit family. Her grandmother and mother toiled in the fields and the homes of the Naicker landlords. Despite the misery, she had a carefree childhood. Her brother, Raj Gauthaman, also a writer, introduced her to the world of books and inspired her to write. In college, she used to write poetry. Later she turned into writing fiction. After education she became a schoolteacher. Bama portrays the oppression she faced as a student and a teacher. She said that, because she was bright in studying and teaching, she managed to escape from the violent oppression to a certain extent. Her life took a big turn, when at the age of 26, she took the vows to become a nun. But in the seminary and later in the convent, Bama realized the bitter truth that the situation of Dalits will always be the same. Thus seven years later, in 1992, Bama walked out of the convent. Outside the convent, she faced lots of questions arrowed upon her. It is her decision to account the experiences in the form of her autobiography that saved her from ending her life in the midst of all that struggles. Thus with Karukku, Bama shot into immediate fame and was discussed in higher literary circles.
The dissertation entitled “Bama’s Karukku: As a Subaltern Testimonial Autobiography” is intended to study the text as the testimonial expression of a subaltern. As a woman and as a Dalit Christian, Bama’s act of expression can be viewed as a subaltern expression. It came out as a resistance against the ongoing caste and gender oppression. Also the book becomes the testimonio of a Dalit Christian woman’s bitter experiences. Her act of witnessing turned out to be a source of inspiration to her fellow-beings. Bama’s way of writing her autobiography is quite different from the usual style. Her deliberate attempts to deviate from the usual style of autobiographies resulted in a subaltern testimonial autobiography. So it is relevant to study a text which records the oppression faced by a subaltern Dalit woman and how Karukku can be treated as a subaltern testimonial autobiography.
The dissertation is divided into five chapters. This first chapter explains the origin of Dalit and movement and introduces the Dalit writer, Bama. It also contains a gist of the text. The second chapter reveals the condition of Dalits in Tamil Nadu and the celebration of Dalit identity and their cultural life. While the third chapter pictures the author’s personal experiences and thus upholding the notion of considering Karukku as a testimonio, the fourth chapter presents the features of the text as an autobiography. It points out the deviations from the usual style; Bama knowingly made in her work and her contribution to a new genre, Testimonial autobiography.The fifth chapter sums up all the ideas explored in the four previous chapters and concludes that Bama’s Karukku is a subaltern testimonial autobiography.
Chapter 2-Subalternity: Phases of Oppression and Celebration
Dalits are a bloc of castes in the lowest rungs of social hierarchy that stand condemned as untouchables. As published in The Hindu, “every sixth person in the world as an Indian, every sixth Indian is a Dalit. In spite of the guarantee of civil rights and the special law enacted (in 1989) to prevent atrocities against them, the Dalits continue to be the victims of social discrimination and oppression across the country” (15). Dalits are categorized as the subalterns. Different kinds of synonyms are used for the word subaltern, like; common people underprivileged, exploited, weak, inferiors etc. It also means overlooked, neglected, disregarded, and treated with unconcern and indifference. Dalits, in India are also seen indifferently and were denied all opportunities enjoyed by the upper castes.As Bama says:“Many say that Dalits are supposed to live like this and that. Dalits are impure people. They are drunkards. They have no culture. Any interaction with them will defile the body and souls”.
This is the very situation that every Dalit has to pass through in his or her life. They never enjoy freedom in its right sense. Dalits are always under the massive weight of caste and other institutions. The church and its activities play an important role in the community life of Dalits in modern India, especially in Tamil Nadu.Dalit life is excruciatingly painful, charred by experiences: experiences that did not manage to find room in literary creations. Bama’sKarukku discusses various forms of violent oppression upon Dalits, especially on the Paraiyar caste. A significant aspect of the work is the oppression of Dalit Christians at the hands of the church. The religion discriminates Dalits which directly opposes to what they believe and preaches. While Christianity unlike Hinduism does not recognize caste divisions, church in India is casteist in its dealings. Karukku depicts how Dalits are not allowed to sing in the church choir, are forced to sit separately, away from the upper caste Christians, are not allowed to bury their dead in the cemetery within the village, behind the church, but are made to use a different graveyard beyond the outskirts. As Bama says in an Interview:
When foreign missionaries came to India they treated us equally. Things took an ugly turn after the Indians took over. So we became Christians, but the caste did not go off. Even today Dalits are not allowed to sit with other castes inside the churches in Kanchipuram district. Even the graveyards are separated.
The Paraiyars who converted to Christianity in order to escape from the caste oppression in Hinduism were greatly shocked to experience the oppression within the church. Further, reservations benefits were not granted to Dalit Christians as theoretically, Christianity does not recognize caste. The government’s reservation policies fail to take into account the gap between the belief and practice and Dalit Christians face the brunt of it. Bama, personally, was against the reservation system. She says,
Reservation actually dehumanizes us rather than solving our problems. It aggravates our situation. We are objects of contempt in public places. People say, he or she doesn’t have any talent or merit. He or she has found a way in through a quota set aside for him. It shocks us to be addressed as scheduled castes and not as Dalits, as the former is derogatory.
Karukku deals with the Dalit people in Tamil Nadu. Bama expresses her grief over the pathetic and helpless condition of Dalits. Dalit women are easy targets of the non-Dalit men for sexual harassment, mental torture and education. Conversion to Christianity has not reduced the pathetic state of Dalits. The non-Dalit Christians never assimilate the Dalit Christians into their fold. In India, Christians also follow the same caste system of Hinduism, resulting in caste hierarchy, caste subordination and exploitation. Above all, spousal exchange between Dalit Christian castes and non-Dalit castes is very rare. Karukku, among other things, depicts the casteist practices of a Christian priest who shows preconceived notions about Dalit Christians:“The priest’s first response was to say, ‘After all you are from the Cheri (Dalit colony). You might have done it. You must have done it’”. (Bama 19)
Life as a Paraya is hard to live from the very childhood. Everyone has to work in order to earn their living by laboring either for the Naickers or in the fields. Apart from this, they work as construction labourer by digging wells, carrying loads of earth, gravel and stone and even if this work is not available they go to the hilltop to gather firewood. Each Paraya family is attached to a Naicker family as bonded labour. There are Nadar men who have shops in the Paraiyar streets. Paraiyars would exchange the goods, which are brought to them and in return Nadars used to give what the Paraiyars needed. The Paraiyars are badly cheated during their bartering session. They exchange the harvest grain, cotton pods. Every time they take the advantage. But the Dalits are the ones who toil hard to make good.
In the churches, Dalits are the most, in numbers alone. In everything else, they are the last. It is only the upper caste Christians who enjoy the benefits and comforts of the church. Even amongst the priests and nuns, it is the upper-castes who hold the high positions, show off their authority and throw their weight about. And if Dalits become priests or nuns, they are pushed aside and marginalized first of all, before the rest go about their business. It is because of this that even though Dalits might take up the path of renunciation. As Ajay Kumar observes:
The condition of a Paraiya under Catholic Church is not different from the ill treatment that he or she suffers within Hindu society. Irrespective of their religious affiliations or even financial position the lower caste people suffered humiliation from the dominant sections of the society.(131)
The Tamil Paraiyar nuns are considered lowest of the low. The Paraiya caste nuns are not given any kind of respect and positions in the convent. It is a kind of artificiality. Their treatment is different towards Dalit nuns. They do not consider Dalits as human beings. Dalit Christians are fighting against this partiality. The Christian Dalits formed Christian Dalit movement and now they demand equality with upper caste Christians. In Tamil Nadu, eighty percent of the Roman Catholics are Dalits. But in the Tamil Nadu Catholic Church, Dalits are not given high positions.
GayatriSpivak’s, Can the Subaltern Speak? , a seminal work in the theory of Subalternity, discusses the need for a voice of the radical Other to express their experiences. The Subaltern, in her opinion, is one who has no position or sovereignty outside the discourse that constructs him or her as a subject. She argues that one cannot access a ‘pure’ subaltern consciousness because the subaltern cannot speak in a discourse in which he or she has little or no control. And hence there is always someone who is spoken forthe Subaltern. It is through the West’s acknowledgement that the subaltern finds an identity. But Spivak is against this attempt of recovering the voice of the Subaltern by intellectuals because in such an attempt, the intellectual is only a transparent medium through which the subaltern’s voice emerges. Only a subaltern can speak about their bitter experiences in full measure and when others talk about them, which will cover only half of their life. There is an urgent need to create an ethical response to the voice of the subaltern, Spivak argues. She proposes that the subaltern can be represented only in an ethical relation where there is the deliberate creation of a room, a space for the voice of the radical Other(171-172). And here, in Karukku, Bama emerged and established herself as a powerful voice of the subaltern woman. Thus in karukku, it is the “subaltern who speaks”. Bama successfully pictures the cultural, social and familial life of Dalits. It does not confine itself to the oppression and the harsh realities faced by Dalits. It elaborately describes the daily life, language, naming conventions, religion, culture, festivals, food habits, entertainment, games, teasing songs and kinship in the Paraya community. About the religion she talks of the cultural significance of drumming which is highlighted in the way they celebrated the “Pusai”:
During the Pusai, there was only one man who sang out loudly, while quite a few others accompanied him by beating out the rhythm on all sorts of objects. (Bama 66)
Bama pictures the celebrations in her community as: “There were celebrations for Christmas, New Year, Easter and for the Chinnamalai festival” (64). She invites the reader to the food styles:
Usually we had rice and kuzhambu….To go with the kuuzh there would be something or the other-onions, groundnuts, moulded jiggery, green chillies….there might be a side dish of roasted and ground gram, or a pickle from the Nadar shop.(71)
Bama’s portrayal of the games which they usually played is a note of significance and the teasing songs that they sing attracts the attention of the reader:
There were a few games that we played most frequently….we’d play at giving circus shows, or kuuthu performances; sometimes we danced or did a kummi….then we played kabaddi as well….the older girls would play dice games….or other indoor games….and other board games like pallaanguzhi and thattaangal….catching games, games with sticks, spinning tops, marbles.(56-57)
They sang teasing songs to the bride and groom who were usually cross-cousins: ‘As I was grinding the masala, machaan
You peeped over the wall
What magic powder did you cast upon me?
I cannot lift the grinding stone any more’.(63)
In this fashion, the book talks about Bama’s Dalit experience which celebrates a subaltern identity in different areas of her life. There are places where she is proud and happy the way she is, but is angered by the treatment given to her. With the portrayal of the cultural and social life of Dalits, Bama takes the Dalit identity to glorious heights and thus celebrates the Dalit life and its culture. Along with this she deliberately raises her voice against the oppression faced by Dalits. The Dalit world finds their voice proclaimed, in Bama.
Chapter 3- Karukku as Subaltern Testimonio
Testimony is a solemn attestation as to the truth of a matter. The words "testimony" and "testify" both have a root in the Latin testis, which is normally translated “witness”. Some published oral or written autobiographical narratives are considered as "testimonial literature" particularly when they present evidence or first person accounts of human rights abuses, violence and war, and living under conditions of social oppression. As stated in the site Worldlitonlinenet,George Yudice defines Testimonio as “an authentic narrative told by a witness who is moved to narrate by the urgency of a situation like war, oppression, revolution etc”. This usage of the term comes originally from Latin America and the Spanish term "testimonio" when it emerged from human rights tribunals, truth commissions, and other international human rights instruments in countries such as Chile and Argentina. The autobiography of Frederick Douglass can be considered among the earliest significant English-language works in this genre. Testimonios bridge different histories and origins, building cross cultural coalitions and personal relationships. It is also a site of intersection of ethnicity, nationality, race, class, gender, sexuality, age and other markers of diverse identities and communities.
Bama’s Karukku, apart from being her autobiography, becomes the testimonio of a community. Her personal experiences reveal the life that a Dalit has to lead in a caste based society. This chapter talks about the experiences that Bama had in her Dalit life and discusses how Karukku becomes a testimonio of Dalits. Karukku focuses on two essential aspectsnamely: caste, and religion that cause great pain inBama’s life.Bama has bitter experiences at the school: One day Bama and her friends were playing at the schoolin the evening. At that moment somebody has stolen the coconut. The guilt is thrown on her. Everyonesays that it was Bama who had plucked the coconut.Actually she was not guilty but the headmaster treatsher badly. He scolds her in the name of caste. Whenshe protested, the head master tells her: “You thepeople of low caste like the manner you have…we cannot allow you inside this school. Stand outside” (Bama 19).Because of this incident Bama is in agony. She hasbeen ashamed and insulted in front of all the children.After that she gets suspended from the school. Whenshe is crying, a teacher advised her to meet the Churchpriest for an apology letter. When she enters the classroom with the recommendation of the priest, the entireclass looks at her in a strange way. She expresses:“When I entered the class room, the entire class turnedaround to look at me, and I wanted to shrink into myselfas I went and sat on my bench, still weeping” (19).
It isvery shocking incident and she is confused bylistening to the caste name particularly when she isnot mature enough to understand it at all. She does not keep on talking about the humiliation. In the very act ofremembering the scene, she has encoded the mode ofresistance that constructs her in opposition to thehegemonic structure of the caste system.
Bama has never heard of untouchabilityuntil her third standard in school. The first time shecomes to know her community’s pathetic state, whichis ironically tinged with humour. As Bama wasreturning from school, she finds an elder from her street. He was holding out a small packet of snacks.This packet of snacks is tied in a string. The elder wasbringing the snacks by holding the strings withouttouching the packet and was giving it to a Naicker inthe village. Bama was unable to control her laughing,looking at the funny sight. Bama says: “Just then, anelder of our street come along from the direction of thebazaar. The manner in which he was walking alongmade me want to double up” (15). The self-questioning hasbegun in Bama with wonder. Bama writes:
What didit mean when they called us ‘Paraiya’? Had the namebecome that obscene? But we too are human beings.Our people should never run these petty errands for these fellows. We should work in their fields, take homeour wages, and leave it at that. (16)
Bama starts tolook out for means to uplift herself and her community from this pathetic existence. Her elder brother showsher the right path and tells her that education is theonly way to attain equality. Bama’s elder brotheropines:
Because we are born into the Paraiyajati, weare never given any honour or dignity or respect. Weare stripped of all that. But if we study and makeprogress, we can throw away these indignities. Sostudy with care, learn all you can. If you are alwaysahead in your lessons, people will come to you oftheir own accord and attach themselves to you. Workhard and learn. (17-18)
Bama’s elder brother’s counsel makes a very deepimpression on Bama. She wants to prove herself. Eversince her brother speaks to her, she studies hard withall her breath and being. Bama takes her studies veryseriously. She sees to it that she always stands first inthe class. Bama writes: “In fact, because of that, many people become my friends, even though I am aParaichi.” (15).Throughout her period of education, Bama findsthat wherever she goes, there is a painful reminder ofhercaste in the form of untouchability. Thegovernment offers the financial grants and specialtuitions to the Harijans. These grants and tuitions weremore of humiliation than consolation, mainly becauseit singled out her caste identity. Once the identity isrevealed, Bama opines: “Among the other students, asudden rustling; a titter of contempt. I was filled witha sudden rage.”(19). It was against the odds that Bamacompletes her under graduation and B.Ed.Subsequently, she decides to become a teacher. Sheworks in a convent. Bama finds that the nuns workingthere constantly oppress the Dalit children. When sheis in the hostel after completion of her eighth class, Bama painfully recalls the nuns commenting on the Dalit children. Bama expresses her grief:
The wardensisterof our hostel could not abide low-caste or poorchildren. She’d get hold of us and scold us for norhyme or reason. If a girl tended to be on the plumpside, she’d get it even more. These people get nothingto eat at home; they come here and they grow fat, shewould say publicly. When we returned to the schoolafter the holidays, she would say, look at the Cheri children! When they stay here, they eat the fill andlook as round as potatoes. But look at the state inwhich they come back from home just skin and bone. (17-18)
In fact, Bama is very happy teaching the childrenbecause most of the children in the convent are Dalits.She enjoys teaching with some skill and success. Nunsused to suppress Dalit children and Dalit teachers verymuch. On seeing the oppression at convent it is Bamawho is suddenly struck with the idea of becoming anun. She decides to sacrifice her life, help the poorand Dalit children. “I wanted to be like her, living onlyfor the poor and down trodden; so I entered thatparticular order.”(20-21). The Paraiya caste nunsare not given any kind of respect and positions in theconvent. Bama notices the casteism in the convent.She thought convent is the only exceptional place.She starts realizing that one can tolerate outsidediscrimination from society. But it is very hard to facepolitics and casteism inside the convent. Because ofthe purpose of her survival, she has to pretend there.Though the crucial circumstances are like this inthe convent, Bama continues to stay in the conventbecause of her strong determination and perseverancetowards the poor and the Dalit children. Those whoare taking training with Bama to become nuns areanxious to find out to which caste Bama belongs.Whoever asks Bama about her caste, she answers honestly without any hesitation. The religious orderitself has its own reservation about the Harijan womento become nuns. In a particular class a sister tells Bamathat there is a separate religious order for Harijan womento become nuns. Sister says: “They would not acceptHarijan women as prospective nuns and that therewas even a separate order for them somewhere.” (22).Bama is admitted in the religious order only after shegets confirmation from the convent. The convent has asked for her services. The nuns in the conventconstantly threw insults and abuse against the Dalitstudents. Christianity stands for love, service and helping others. Convents are service oriented but theirorientation is different towards upper castes and Dalits.They could not admit Dalit students in their conventschool. Because their standard will fall. Theymarginalize all Dalits as poor quality. The nuns in theconvent speak very insultingly about low caste people.They speak as if they do not even consider low castepeople as human beings. About low caste people thenuns’ notions are: “Low caste people are all degradedin every way. They think we have no moral disciplinenor cleanliness nor culture.” (22–23)
Bama’s shared testimonio typically unfolds her growing up story in episodes and throughout she displays indomitable courage, conquering the dominant forces. Bama explains even the minute experiences that she had throughout her life. She constantly speaks about “dying several times within” (28). The feeling of indifference that she received at school, college, workplace, and convent and in the society as a whole, set fire in the heart of Bama and filled it with a conscious desire to fight against the system. Karukku became her testimony; and thereby a subaltern’s testimony of being a Dalit.
Chapter 4- Autobiography: With A Purposeful Uniqueness
Bama’s Karukku made a profound change in the concept about autobiography. It crushed away the so-called rules of autobiographical writing. Many Tamil authors, both men and women, use the convention of writing under a pseudonym. In this case, this convention adds to the work’s strange paradox of reticence and familiarity. Unlike the usual autobiographies, it leaves out many personal details about the author and her life. The protagonist is never named. The events in Bama’s life are not arranged according to a simple, linear or chronological order, as in most autobiographies. But it is viewed from various perspectives, repeated many times, grouped under different themes like work, Games, food habits etc. As Bama says:
There were many significant things I chose not to recall in Karukku. I was witness to many violent incidents related to caste conflicts. I left them out from my first book because I felt that would deviate from the issues that I wanted Karukku to focus on.
Dalit writers have rejected the standard language which has a definite class. Dalit writers assert that their literature conveys the life that they lived, experienced and seen. A new human being has been revealed in literature for the first time with the emergence of Dalit writing. The reality of Dalit writing is distinct and so is the language of its reality. It is the impolite spoken language of the Dalits. Even though the culture people have chosen the standard language for their writings Dalit writers considers it as arrogant. The language of the Basti seems more familiar than standard language to them. “Bama is doing something new in using the demotic and the colloquial regularly, as her medium for narration and even argument, not simply for reported speech. She used the Dalit style of language which overturns the decorum and aesthetics of received upper-caste Tamil” (Holstrom xix). AsBama says about her use of language:
One thing that gives me most satisfaction is that I used the language of my people- a language that was not recognized by the pundits of literature, was not accepted by any literary circle in Tamil Nadu, and was not included in the norms of Tamil literature.
In Karukku, Bama deliberately breaks away from the usual style of writing an autobiography. Her intense urge to save her people from the clutches of caste oppression is evidently reflected in the work. The style and language she used proves the arrogant attitude that Dalit writers possess towards the standard language and diction. Bama thus became a representative writer of Dalit literature. She thus casts away the bonds made by the upper literary world.
Bama breaks the rules of written grammar and spelling throughout, elides words and joins them differently, demanding a new and different pattern of reading… by using an informal speech style which addresses the reader intimately… As well as this subversion of received Tamil…an oral tradition made up of work chants, folk-songs, songs sung at rites of passage, as well as proverbs…there is often a layering of meaning in certain words…often there is a spin or a turnaround of meaning, a freshness in some of the coinages…breaking a mainstream aesthetic….proposing a new one which is integral to her politics.(Holstrom xix-xx)
Karukku was well received by readers and critics alike. It begins with the first person narration. The narrator moves from the past to the present in exploring the varying manifold sets of different incidents, which have taken place in her life. Bama wants her autobiography to be a “two-edged sword”. While on the one hand, it challenges the oppressors who have enslaved and disempowered the Dalits, on the other hand, it reiterates the need for a new society with ideals such as justice. Bama didn’t make a militant kickback in her work through questioning the oppressors; instead she seeks to emphasize on the importance of education, moral values and unity and to establish a better society for Dalits.
The story is not her own but that of others too. In Bama’s case nobody can interpret her story. It is something that is very personal. Her life is related to her people. She had the opportunity to tell something that others in her community did not have. She documents the reality of the whole people of her community who were not allowed to voice their own story.The act of naming is considered as an exercise of power. So she deliberately does not name her village, the priests, schools and colleges, the nunnery the Dalit headman etc. the lack of distinctiveness harmonizes better understanding of the message. Bama’s text is also marked by absence of adherence to grammatical rules. She conveys a sense of remorse and guilt when she talks about the material benefits she had enjoyed, an elusive dream for others in her community.
Usually, an autobiography present or narrates the author’s life in full detail. It includes his or her personal details, life experiences, relation with others, influences, activities, and so on. But Bama makes her autobiography unusual by deviating from the usual methodologies. She sees autobiography primarily as a weapon for the resistance struggle she is engaged in. Dalits are oppressed all the time and they are not supposed to raise their voice against it. But Bama courageously took that responsibility to save them from the shackles of oppression and carved out a space for Dalits in the literary and social world. Secondly she views it as a means to convey message to her fellow-beings. Through her work, she gives hope to the Dalit community that they can develop dignity in their own identity. It is also a message that gives them comfort since they are dismayed with the experiences that they received throughout the life. Finally it is used as a means to strengthenthe Dalits. The text is a message to make them fight against the ongoing caste oppression and gives them hope and courage for that struggle. Thus Bama’s autobiography works through this manner to make Dalits empowered and developed.
Karukku is not merely a militant voice seeking to liberate the Dalits from oppression. It also does the function of a memoir that has a great cultural value. The book gives an identity to the Dalits by proudly recollecting, the cultural significance of being a Dalit, in the remnants of memories. The very fact that the author is a Dalit who decentralizes the established structures proves that half their victory is won. The book therefore becomes the harbinger of an awakening and a reiteration of the Dalit’s freedom to question, rebel and reinterpret. As Lakshmi Holmstrom puts it,“…Bama’s work is among those that are exploring a changing Dalit identity…” (Holstrom xix)
Bama is not merely trying to politically influence the power structures but wants to communicate with the readers at a deeper level. As readers, we are expected to travel into her reality and empathize with the condition of the Dalits. Karukku is indeed the “two-edged sword” but only mightier. Dalit autobiographies must be treated as testimonio, atrocity narratives that document trauma and strategies of survival.It analyses the strategy of witnessing in Bama’s narrative, arguing that she functions as a witness to a community’s suffering, and calls upon readers to undertake “rhetorical listening” as secondary witness.
Bama’s autobiography is uniquely written with a burned purpose in her mind. It is for the fulfillment of that purpose that she overthrows the established conventions for writing, as dictated by the upper castes.It is neither a pleasure giving work of fine sentiments and refined gestures, nor a narcissistic wallowing in self pity. Being “purposive”, Karukku is, to use an old phrase, “a literature of commitment”. Thus Karukku proves to be a testimonial autobiography of a subaltern.
Chapter 5- Conclusion
At the end of the book, is an Afterword written by Bama, seven years after she wrote the book. She says,“It is a great joy to see Dalits aiming to live with self-respect, proclaiming aloud, ‘Dalit endrusollada; talainimirndunillada’. You are a Dalit; lift up your head and stand tall”. (Bama 138)
Thisis probably what the author aimed for when she wrote her experiences down. Bama’s texts have never worked on the victimhood of Dalits. The agency of Dalits has been powerfully presented in all her writings. Her works lay a lot of emphasis on empowerment of Dalits through education. Karukku is an activist intervention in literary domain and renders Dalit writing as essentially an act of political exercise. As Bama says in one interview about her immense joy that is brought by Karukku: “it is using at the Theological College in Bangalore. That is a matter of great triumph”.
The life portrayed in Karukku throws light on the most agonizing and hapless lives of the Dalits. Bama’s portrayal needs to be understood as representative of the experience. The unpleasant experience and an oppressed soul have to compulsorily undergo a traumatic change. That change had occurred through Bama’s narrative of resistance, Karukku. She introduced a new genre, testimonial literature, through which she make others aware of the situation that is faced by Dalits, especially in Tamil Nadu and also make her people ready for the struggle. She presents her autobiography in a unique way that it might change the condition of her fellow-beings, that it might create a revolution of change. Bama, herself talks about the change happened to her: “I described myself in Karukku as a bird whose wings had been clipped. I now feel like a falcon that treads the air, high in the skies”(Bama xi)
Through Karukku, she is not just revolting against the caste oppression, but celebrating her Subaltern identity also. In the beginning, Bama was ‘nurtured as a Catholic’ but ‘gradually realized herself as a Dalit’. She later became aware of her Dalit identity and began to proclaim it before all. She gives a testimony of her life and for that she breaks the style of autobiographies.Karukku became her testimonial autobiography which enjoys the Subalternity in her and at the same time, boldly and poignantly rises against the upper castes for their indifference. “Bama is writing in order to change hearts and minds”.The reader is supposed to ‘surrender to the special call of the text’”(Holstrom xx). The Dalits are inspired to mark a change upon their lives. Karukku thus asserts itself to be a subaltern testimonio in the form of an autobiography.
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