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Voicing the Unvoiced: (Re)-Reading Narendra Jadhav’s Outcaste: A Memoir and Omprakash Valmiki’s Joothan as an Alternative Narrative of Protest through (Re)-Formulation of ‘Own’ Identity


Voicing the Unvoiced: (Re)-Reading Narendra Jadhav’s Outcaste: A Memoir and Omprakash Valmiki’s Joothan as an Alternative Narrative of Protest through (Re)-Formulation of ‘Own’ Identity


Dipak Giri

Assistant Teacher of English

Katamari High School (H. S.)

Cooch Behar, West Bengal, India


Abstract: The present paper presents the comparative discussion of two Dalit autobiographies Narendra Jadhav’s Outcaste: A Memoir and Omprakash Valmiki’s Joothan, though written in two different regions, languages and cultures, yet focus similar theme of Dalit’s freedom and emancipation from traditional caste-stigmatised society which believe in sacrificing the interest of marginalized on the altar of tradition. The paper also delves deeper into dalit life and struggle in order to bring into surface those factors which have caused in bringing about a radical change in Dalit’s life forcing them to come in action from their passivity and inertness.


Key words:


Autobiography, Dalit, Idenity, Movement, Narrative, Protest, Rebellion, Voice


            Similar to postcoloniality that brought about a space “for the colonized to write their own histories” (Anand 16-17), dalit movement that occurred in the 1960s when a group of dalit writers took their pen inspired by the message of Mahatma Jyotirao Phule and Dr. Ambedkar, “Don’t let your pen be restricted to your own question,” (Nimabalkar 32-33) too unleashed a new dimension and interpretation of Indian caste-bound society through dalit narratives. To quote Arundhati Roy, “And it is as important for dalits to tell their stories as it has been for colonized people to write their own histories” (Anand 16-17). Just as the poststructuralist views a text as a drastic break away from the hegemonic ways of thought through its deconstruction, likewise dalit authors look upon the grand narratives of past as an epistemic domination of upper caste due to lack of dalit’s own histories related with their bonafide tale of struggle against the dominant repressive authority and so they move away from those grand narratives of past to their ‘own’ dalit mini narratives to discover in them the means ‘strategic narrative’ to protest, to challenge and to create a scope for alternative voice of micro-narrative and understanding the history of their own from dalit perspectives. True to the postmodernist viewpoint which decentres the grand narratives by decentring the mini narrative in order to dismantle the idea of a unitary end of history, dalit narratives aims at historiographical fixations that deconstruct to decentre the mainstream and reinserts the silenced dalit voices. A historical third space is created by this subversion of grand narrative for the mini narrative which creates scope for voices which are unheard to be heard: “You have to construct, so to speak, a new space and a new form, to shape a new way of building in which these motifs and values are reinscribed, having meanwhile lost their external hegemony” (Thomson 304). In this respect, dalit autobiographies reflect the true stories of dalit rebellions through their own language which is free from Brahmin hegemony of ‘Vedas’ and mainstream historiography. These autobiographies subvert the existing narratives through multi-layered meta-narratives and thereby strengthen the subject of submission, humiliation and exploitation resulting in rebellion among dalits. To quote Dangle, “In these autobiographies, relating to different periods of time and set in different levels of society, we see varying facets of dalit movement, the struggle for survival, the emotional universe of dalit life; the man-woman relationship; the experiencing of humiliation and atrocities; at times, abject submission, at other times, rebellion”. Among dalit autobiographies which seek authentic voice of dalit community and present the true picture of contemporary India under the veil of individual story of humiliation and exploitation, Narendra Jadhav’s Outcaste: A Memoir translated into English from Marathi Amcha Baap aan Amhi and Omprakash Valmiki’s Joothan are worth mentioning. The origin of former is Maharastra, one of the important states of Southern India, whereas the later is written in Uttar Pradesh which comes under the territory of Northern India. Though they are written in different regions, languages and cultures, they serve same object and purpose reflecting the plight and struggle of dalits. These two autobiographies assert the real and horrendous history of dalit community which challenges the mainstream autobiographical cannon and prevailing oppressive discourses. The stories of their personal life as narrated in these autobiographies give voice to the mute and offer strength to resist the violence and insult of dominant upper caste with assertion that stories never die rather turn the individual voices as a history of the community and culminating it.


            Narendra Jadhav’s Outcaste: A Memoir is the story of struggle and success of a dalit family in Maharashtra spanning three generations of the family concerned .The autobiography can be read “in two levels- it’s the story of a family on the one hand; it’s also about the social metamorphosis that has taken place over the past 80 years (Anand 32). The book falls into four divisions entitled ‘Up Against Bondage’, ‘Towards Freedom’, ‘The Struggle’ and ‘Making of the Second Generation’. Apoorva, seventeen year old daughter of Narendra Jadhav and the youngest member of the fourth generation of Jadhav family tells the Epilogue of the narrative. The narrative is written from Damu’s viewpoint.  Damu Runjaji Jadhav, father of Narendra Jadhav associates with the first generation of the family and is the central figure of all the incidents described in the narrative. Narrated from the perspectives of father, mother, himself and his teenage daughter, the memoir narrates Damu’s whole struggling journey from a small village in Maharashtra to Mumbai. This journey proves the most crucial event in Damu’s life giving his and his family a true identifiable life from their past anonymousness. The journey is a transition of Damu’s family from poverty-stricken life to a life of dignity and recognition.


            The image of Damu in Narendra Jadhav’s Outcaste: A Memoir is an image of a rebel who is in against of present society which looks upon low born people worse than animals. In his Author’s note, Narendra Jadhav presents us Damu as, “not a leader…but he refused to define himself by circumstances and aimed at shaping his own destiny” (Jadhav xi). The portrayal of Damu goes beyond the ordinary portrayal as it has given force and energy to dalit movement. When the narrative starts, we find Damu as a member of Mahar caste living at Ozar village of Nashik District in Maharashtra. Mahar caste comes under the category of untouchable caste. The people of Mahar caste perform menial works which include dragging the dead animals, conveying the message of death along with guarding and protecting dead bodies. In return they get the stale food from the houses of Savarna people. Inspired by Ambedkarite Movement, Damu stands against the tasks assigned to the Mahars. He protests the duty of ‘Yeskar Mahar’. ‘Yeskar Mahar’ is the privileged Mahar whose duty is to beg for ‘Baluta’, a special right bestowed on a fortunate Mahar to collect the stale food from every Savarna household by begging. He also refuses to obey the order of a Fauzdar even after being beaten severely to get the corpse of the Savarna woman out of the well. When his eldest cousin tries to remind him the conventional duty of Mahars, he came in rage and replied him haughtily: “What kind of a tradition is this that treats Mahars worse than cats and dogs?” (Ibid 10)


            After being humiliated from Fauzdar and Mamledar, Damu decides to leave the village that very night. He flees away with his wife Sonu to Mumbai for new prospect of life: “together, they started walking towards freedom” (Ibid 26). Struggling there hard Damu gives his family and his next generations a life of dignity. He has to work at various places to run his family- in the Railways, the Port Trust and some textile mills. He never compromises with difficulties and hardships and his continuous labour finally gives him everything he has desired in life. He responds to the call of Ambedkar and joins the Ambedkarite Movement for the emancipation of dalits involving himself actively in the Mahad Satyagrah (1927), the Nasik Temple Entry Movement (1930), the conversion movement (1956) and other dalit movements. His participations in these dalit movements give him the sense of dignity as a human being, the sense which he later teaches to his family members. His philosophies become the life-guiding principle to his next generations. His visions of life have a far-reaching influence upon all the members of the family.  Inspired by his father’s vision of life, Narendra Jadhav affirms, Dignity, after all rests in the mind and heart . . . and soul. I have to reclaim it not from outside, but from within. And for that I must cut off the albatross of the caste system from my soul, once and for all” (Ibid 214). Following the foot prints of his grandfather and identifying herself among dalits Apoorva, Jadhav’s daughter forgets her past identity as Mahars. Dalit identity gives her a certain confidence and pride to turn down her assigned status as a low caste Mahars. She feels: “Now I think, I know who I am” (Ibid 263). Frank confession of Sonu to her husband Damu shows clearly how Damu’s decision in being identifiable with dalits has added a new happy chapter in their life: We proudly proclaimed ourselves dalits, with our chin up (Ibid 178).Thus Damu, in spite of having low birth, sets the minds of his family members free from the stigma of caste teaching them the value of humanity.


            Inspired by Ambedkar’s message, Damu takes the weapon of education to fight against the prevalent caste system and this weapon proves very effective. His sons get fame and recognition becoming educated. Education has earned for them a distinctive place in the society. Jayavant is an IAS officer who is striving for upliftment of dalits. Dinesh who is an administrative officer at the Mumbai Municipal Corporation is working for the welfare of dalits. Last but not the least, Narendra, the youngest son of the family is the Vice Chancellor of University of Pune who is trying to keep contributions on the development of dalit community. Damu even strives to give education to his wife Sonu, something that was very rare in those days. His efforts bring colour as his sons attain high positions in their professional fields.


            Omprakash Valmiki’s Joothan, though written in different region, language and culture, conforms to the same tone and temper of Narendra Jadhav’s Outcaste: A Memoir. The very title of Omprakash Valmiki’s Joothan reminds us the custom of begging ‘Baluta’ from Savarna household in Mahar community in Nashik as the very word ‘Joothan’ in Hindi means scraps of food left on a plate, intended either for feeding  animals or throwing into the garbage.  Both ‘Baluta’ and ‘Joothan’ are excess of food left by the eaters. Again, education which is the solution of every problem becomes the main motto in both. Just as Damu works hard to give education to his children to fight against unjust and irrationality, likewise Valmiki’s parents never gave up their struggling life in their noble mission of educating Valmiki. Both these memoirs are inspired by the message of Ambedkar for the empowerment of dalits in India. Both these writing reveal the reality of dalits in the present social set up. Both aim to reform the conditions of dalits. Both inculcate in dalits the spirit of dignity and fill in them the true passion for freedom and equality from foot to the crown.


            Omprakash Valmiki’s Joothan narrates the story of a dalit boy confined into the four walls of a village school which proved for him the caste stigmatized walls of torture and inhumanity and his escape from those walls. Valmiki belonged to Chuhra caste which was known as the lowest caste at Barla village which was the birth place of Valmiki situated in the district of Muzzafarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. Those  who belonged to this caste during Valmiki’s time had to do menial works like sweeping the roads, cleaning the cattle barns, mopping the floor, getting involved into disposal of dead animals, working in the fields during harvests and performing other physical labour for upper caste people, including the Tyagi Brahmins. People of Chuhra community were of low birth and they often became the victims of inhuman treatment. People of upper caste, including the Tyagi’s abused them and instead of calling them by name, they called them out, “Oye Chuhre” or “Abey Chuhre” in insulting way. During his boyhood, Valmiki’s total family worked hard, yet they could not meet “two decent meals a day” as “they often didn’t get paid for their labour” (Valmiki 24).


            Valmiki’s “Joothan” is penned with the tears of pain and anguish of a little dalit boy experienced during his childhood at school. Valmiki suffered ill-treatment both from his fellow students and teachers when he was attending school. “The Tyagi children would torment me by calling the son of Chuhra. Sometimes, they’d beat me up for no reason. It was a strange painful life that had made me an introvert, irritable and short-tempered. If I got thirsty in school, then I had to stand near the hand-pump. The boys would beat me in any case, but the teachers also punished me. All sorts of stratagems were tried so that I would run away from the school and take up the kind of work for which I was born” (Ibid 13). He was not allowed to take part in school activities: “I was kept out of extracurricular activities. On such occasions, I stood on the margins like a spectator” (Ibid 16).


            He did not get permission of entry to experiment in chemistry lab and when he complained the principal against the chemistry teacher, no action was taken. As a result he performed poor in chemistry examination. “Not only did I do very poorly in the lab tests in the board exam, I also got low marks in the oral, even though I had answered the examiner’s questions quite correctly” (Ibid 65). He was not allowed to sit with the children of upper class: “I had to sit away from the others in the class, and that too on the floor. The mat ran out before door” (Ibid 02). Not only had the students and the teachers but other officials of the school also treated him worst than animals.


            The most important side of the book is the educational support of Valmiki’s father which needs to be mentioned.  Just as Jadhav in ‘Outcaste: A Memoir’ is indebted to his father Damu who adopted every means to give him proper education, likewise Valmiki’s father showed great interest in making Valmiki well-educated. He was ready to brawl all odds hindering on the way of Valmiki’s education. At one occasion, when Valmiki was forced to sweep the playground of the school by the head master without the knowledge of his father, his father was passing by the school and seeing his son sweeping the playground he asked him the reason and knowing that Valmiki had been being made sweep for the last three days he faced the teacher and walked away holding Valmiki’s hand saying loudly enough for the head master to hear, “You are a teacher…So I am leaving you. But remember this much, Master … This Chuhre ka will study right here…in this school. And not just him, but there will be more coming after him” (Ibid 06).


          Valmiki’s father was highly ambitious about educating his son. Valmiki had many debts to his father who took every possible means to bring him on the road of success through education. It was only for his father that Valmiki could pursue his higher education after completing his school education.  But stigma of caste left him nowhere. Education added fuel to his smouldering heart but the fire smouldering within his heart found no outlet: “I have struggled for years end to come out of the dark vaults of my life” (Ibid 27). 


            During his stay at DAV College in Dehradun, Valmiki came under reading of Ambedkar which opened a new chapter in his life: “A chapter about which I had known nothing I felt” (Ibid 72). He was forced to leave college for poverty but his interest in reading never stopped. He considered books as his best companions: “Books were my greatest friends. They kept up my morale” (Ibid 79).When he was on his post in Jabalpur and came into his own, he did extensive study on Chekov, Dostoevsky, Zola, Hemmingway, Turgenev and other western writers. He appeared first as a poet and a columnist, next as playwright and short story writer. His present autobiography Joothan was published when he was at his age of maturity as a writer.


            Dalit Autobiography is a distinctive literary form in the sense that it shifts from personal ‘I’ to universal ‘We’. This shifting from individualism to universalism differentiates such autobiographies from mainstream autobiographies where the autobiography only centers round personal experiences of the autobiographer concerned. On the other hand, dalit Autobiographies deal with double aspects– both the individual writer and the community he or she belonged to.  Transformation of individualistic ‘I’ into universalistic ‘We’ makes such autobiographies completely distinctive literary form. Moreover, these autobiographies also surpass other forms of dalit written written by non-dalit writers.  Dalit writings by other non-dalit writers hardly reach to the sensibilities of dalit and often overlook the acuteness of dalit humiliation and act as a distance from self discovery from dalit viewpoint. On the other hand, these dalit autobiographies represent and validate the alternative discourse of ‘dalit-graphy’ to face the regime of non-dalit oppressive discourse. In this regard both Jadhav’s Outcaste: A Memoir and Valmiki’s Joothan, contrary to narratives written by non-dalit writers which, under the cover of dalit life and struggle as their main theme, appear merely a story outside the circle, brings out stories of dalits as well as their social subjugation and naturally pathos turn into protest against the physical and psychological domination in a confessional way.


            Derridean deconstruction has been an effective tool to challenge the multifarious injustices done to the marginalized. Derrida in his essay Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences brings home that western philosophy is logocentric where in its search for a core meaning (i.e. logos) presence is privileged by rejecting absence. In the same way, Indian grand narratives of upper caste written in past is logocentric where upper caste is at the centre and dalits are on the margin and so need to be decentered through mini narratives written by dalits. In Jadhav’s Outcaste: A Memoir and Valmiki’s Joothan, the challenging historiographic strategies comprise questioning, deconstructive readings, reinsertion of the silenced voices and counter historiographical positioning. Both Damu in Jadhav’s Outcaste: A Memoir and Valmiki in Joothan are not mere individuals, rather they represent their community. Their autobiographies turn into the voice of millions. They give voice to those who are unheard; they give action to those who are inactive and they give identity to those who are identity less. They successfully explore those questions which remained unexplored for ages. The age-old concept that the caste stigmatizes one’s life from which one cannot be completely free is challenged by them. They believe if one cannot completely free from the stigma of caste, one can certainly weaken the effect of this stigma if one educates oneself properly as education is the solution of all kinds of problems. Both autobiographies turn the silence of dalits into revolution truly conforming to the message , “Educate, Unite and Agitate”, once given by  Ambedkar, the Messiah of dalits as a summoning message for all dalits to come in action. Transforming dalits from a mere ‘being’ to a powerful ‘becoming’, both Narendra Jadhav’s ‘Outcaste: A Memoir’ and Omprakash Valmiki’s ‘Joothan’ prove more a voice of a class than an autobiography of an individual. Reversing the dominant upper caste and non-dominant dalit binary oppositions and giving the privileged status to the oppressed dalit of the two opposites through deconstruction of grand narratives, both the texts strives to open up a new space of thinking and knowing.


Works Cited


Anand, S. Touchable Tales: Publishing and Reading Dalit Literature. Navayana Publishing, 2003.


Derrida, Jacques. “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.” Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader, edited by David Lodge and Nigel Wood, Pearson, 2007.


Jadhav, Narendra. Outcaste: A Memoir. Viking, 2003.


Nimabalkar, Waman. Dalit Literature: Nature and Role. Translated by Vandana Pathak & Dr. P.D. Nimsarkar. Probodhan Prakashan, 2006.


Thomson, Alex. “Deconstruction.” Literary Theory and Criticism: An Oxford Guide, edited by Patricia Waugh, Oxford University Press, 2006.


Valmiki, Omprakash. Joothan: A Dalit's Life. Translated by Arun Prabha Mukherjee, Samya, 2003.