☛ Submission for October, 2024 issue (Vol. 5, No. 2) is going on. The last date for submission is 30 September, 2024.

An Exploration of Suppression, Confrontation and Emancipation of Dalits in Bama Faustina’s ‘Karukku’


An Exploration of Suppression, Confrontation and Emancipation of Dalits in Bama Faustina’s ‘Karukku’



Dr. Kamalakar Baburao Gaikwad

Head and Assistant Professor in English

Mahatma Gandhi Vidyamandir’s

Arts, Science & Commerce College

Nashik, Maharashtra, India



‘Subaltern literature’ is meant for its upheaval and resistance of lower caste people against the high class community. Dalit literature reveals several facets such as distress, anguish, insurgence, confrontation and communal advancement of Dalits. It basically reflects the life of subjugated, crushed and outcast. It is the voice of all the unvoiced and wrecked men of our society. Bama Faustina has imprinted her own position  in Tamil Dalit literature through her investigational and path breaking novel ‘Karukku’ where she has projected the caste and gender discrimination, patriarchy, exploitation and victimization of Dalit women. Here Dalit woman is projected as most oppressive and mute sufferer and she is rightly hailed as ‘Dalit among dalits’ due to her subjugation attributes. She becomes the object of ridicule, satire and discrimination. This discrimination appears before her as a dalit community, poor in status and simply a helpless woman. Novel portrays the major transformation from a Dalit girl to Dalit woman who offered her dedication for the upliftment of Dalit community. It projects the aspects such as crimes, sufferings and victimization. The main objective of the paper is to explore the suppression, exploitation, marginalization, poverty, slavery, confrontation and emancipation of Tamil Dalit Christian women and their continuous struggle to liberate from the orthodoxical notions of the patriarchal society. The research paper also creates the awareness about the lifestyle and education of Dalits.

Keywords: Dalit Christian women, Exploitation, Discrimination, Suppression, Confrontation, Emancipation, Marginalization


About the Author:

Bama Faustina Soosairaj is a well known Dalit feminist campaigner, writer and educator. She was born on 4th March 1958 in a Roman Catholic (RC) family. Basically she belongs to Paraiyar society from Puthupatti, Chennai, India. Her original name is Faustina Mary Fatima. Afterwards she christened her as ‘Bama’. Her father, Susairaj was an officer in Indian Army and her mother’s name was Sebasthiamma. Raj Gauthaman, a famous Dalit writer, is Bama’s sister. Bama’s were originally Hindus but later, they got converted into Christianity. They were Dalits who worked hard as farm labourers. Bama Faustino took her education in a small community. Later she graduated from St. Mary's College Tuticorin. After her graduation, she acknowledged a job as a teacher. She decided to enter the church at the age of 26 and accepted vows to become a nun. She remained a nun in the Church for seven years. She preferred to acquire holy orders in order to avoid the caste-based discrimination. She read the holy scriptures of the Bible and tried to imbibe the faith and principles of Christianity among Dalits.

            Bama demonstrates the ground-breaking features of Christianity, equal principles, social justice, and consideration for all. In ‘Karukku’, Bama delineates her solitary self exploration through principles of Christianity. Later, she was given the opportunity to help Dalit youngsters. She was confronted with the same caste discrimination in Christianity, so she left her position.  Finally, she finished her B.Ed. and enrolled in college as an instructor. She shares her experience,

I appreciated being myself freedom and select out for all humans. However, my lifestyles…I have experienced insults and suspicions for deciding on to be single’.

Later she served as a nun for seven years. As far as her literary career is concerned, she penned the novels such as ‘Karukku’ (1992), an autobiographical novel, ‘Sangati’ (1994), ‘Vanmam’ (2002), ‘Manushi’ (2013) second part of ‘Karukku’ and short stories like ‘Kusumbukkaran’ (1996), ‘Oru Tattavum Erumaiyum’ (2003) and ‘Kandattam’ (2009)


·         Introduction:


            Dalit literature is the literature of practicality and experienced-based. Experience and speculation goes hand in hand. Authenticity and liveliness are the prominent features of Dalit Literature. Dalit writers used the language of the outcastes and under-privileged in Indian society. Dalit literature has the base of ‘Varna’. It is about the wretchedness, distress and humiliation of losers who are not considered as human beings with flesh and blood. The main gradients of Dalit literature are: embarrassment, resentment and unconquerable anticipation. Dalit women are exploited and subjugated in their domestic life. Also they become the object of ridicule and exploitation for the society. During their exploitation, caste and religion plays a crucial role of double edged sword. According to Bama, only education can eradicate the label of untouchability and bring the status to Dalits. If they remain illiterate, caste will become prevalent from their birth to death. The word ‘Dalit’ is derived from Sanskrit ‘dala’ means ‘rooted in the soil’.   In this way, the word dalit stands for: conked out, demoralized, invulnerable, subjugated and oppressed. The researcher would like to focus on the key aspects such as suppression, confrontation and emancipation of Tamil dalit women with reference to Bama’s ‘Karukku’. These terms will definitely help the readers to comprehend Faustina Bama’s perspectives about Dalit Christian women in particular.

Ø  Discrimination:

‘Discrimination’ means treating a number of people in a different way from others. Discrimination can be done on the basis of race, color, faith, gender, nationwide origin, age, disability, conjugal status, or political association.

Ø  Suppression:

It means to put down someone by power. Its purpose is to satisfy the obstruction caused by the commencement of irrelevant, gratuitous, or unfortunate information.

Ø  Confrontation:

A confrontation is an irritated divergence, disagreement, struggle, or encounter between two groups of people.

Ø  Emancipation:

 The term emancipation means to set free to someone from the command of other. Emancipation of woman is an association which helps to ensure liberty in order to get self-fulfillment and self-development for women.

·         Literature Review:


1.      G.D.Suresh, ‘Dalit Autobiography: Portrayal of Caste Discrimination in Bama’s ‘Karukku’, IJCRT, Volume 8, Issue 2, February 2020, ISSN: 2320-2882

            This paper delineates the cast and gender discrimination of Dalit Christian women in church and outside church. It also projects the attitude and behaviour of society towards these untouchables.

2.      Shukla, Kaushik. ‘Impact of Poverty on Gender and Caste in Bama’s ‘Karukku’, Journal of Advances and Scholarly researches in Allied education, 2018

Here the researcher has attempted to show the impact and influence of poverty on gender and caste in Bama’s both novels named ‘Karukku’ and ‘Sangati’.

3.      Thakur, Pallavi. ‘Choosing the Margin as Space for Resistance in Bama’s Karukku and Sangati’, IJCRT, 2018

The paper portrays the Dalit women as the marginalized entity and it also focus on the space provided to them in this patriarchal society.   

4.       Mol, Arya. ‘Demystification of Theological Elements in Bama’s Karukku’, IJISSH, Vol-2, Issue-3, March 2017

The ultimate purpose of the research is to highlight the wretched condition of Dalit women through religious point of view. The researcher uses religion as the weapon to bring reform in the society.

5.      Kumar, Vijay. Suppression and Domination in Bama Faustina‟s Karukku’, SSRG, Vol-4, Issue-6, Dec 2017

Researcher has discussed three fold subjugation and oppression through Bama faustina’s karukku. For this, he has explained origin and history of Dalits and their status in society considering above said parameters. 

·         Suppression, Confrontation and Emancipation of Dalit women: 


Bama Faustina’s ‘Karukku’ (1992), an autobiographical novel, is first written in Tamil and later translated into English with the same name by Lakshmi Holmstrom in 2000. It is honored with ‘Crossword Book Award’ in the year 2000. The word ‘karukku’ means the self reflection of the inner self. This path breaking work mainly focuses on the joys and sorrows experienced by Dalit Christian women in the state of Tamilnadu. Bama faced injustice in her life so she dared to write this novel. The novel explores the various facets of Dalit community, especially of the ‘Paraiyars’ in the state of Tamilnadu. Bama highlights the several aspects such as suppression, resistance, caste and gender discrimination and emancipation of Dalits on the basis of caste and religion. She is the mute sufferer of oppressive force of Dalit community. She reveals her identity and narrates how religion and caste shaped her life during her journey from childhood to adulthood.

            Being a Dalit teacher, she portrays caste discrimination practiced in both Hindu and Christian community. Here she takes the privilege to share the experiences of Dalits as her own people. She considers this as her duty and responsibility to become the voice of voiceless. She dominantly uses her writing ability as an effective and powerful tool to fight against the dehumanizing caste practice. She exhibits her anger about the unfulfilled hopes of Dalits who are still in the surrounding of discrimination and exploitation. She becomes the beacon of voiceless, enslaved and marginalized dalit people.

Faustina Bama expresses her intense desire that these Dalits should be liberated from all pain, sufferings and struggles. Her narrative art creates a prominent position in the history of contemporary Indian writing in English. Her creative energy boosts her imaginative expression to the unsympathetic authenticity of scarcity and monetary, political, and communal exploitations of today’s society. The main focus of the story lies in its subaltern appearance which gives influence to practices experienced by herself and those fatalities of communal and rhetorical ostracization. The novel deals with the internal investigation for Bama's self-awareness.

            ‘Karukku’ is the pathetic story of a Christian dalit woman who recognizes that her Christian identity is greatly influenced by her Dalit identity. Here her internal and external conflict appears in the form of struggling inside and outside of the church.

Bama courageously reveals the discrimination, hypocrisies and double standard nature of Catholic Church. She solely wishes to overcome discriminative traditions. This discrimination acts as a wound inflicted on Bama’s and millions of Dalits conscience. She uses the reference of ‘karukku’, the serrated edges on both sides of Palmyra leaves as double edged sword.  Like ‘Karukku’ she wants to eradicate caste and gender discrimination from both religions such as Hindu and Christian. Bama here juxtaposes the caste oppression of dalit Christians by Upper Class Society as well as Catholic Church.


Faustina Bama records the experimental reality of Dalits through her Tamil Dalit autobiography ‘Karukku’. She wants to be a spokesperson of voiceless Dalits and to reflect their agonies, pains and sufferings to the audience. She highlights the manipulative politics and corruption of upper class politicians. In order to expose the cruelties of these so called politicians, Bama takes a stand to empower the Dalit women by using an effective tool of education. She boldly highlights several issues of Dalit women such as domestic violence, abuse, suppression, confrontation, exploitation, sexual harassment, emancipation etc. Bama’s ‘Karukku’ is a fragmented autobiography in which the events are not arranged in a logical flow. The entire narrative is in first person. It helps to understand the meaning of being a Christian Dalit woman. ‘Karukku’ deals with the life of a Dalit woman and their poverty, struggle, oppression, exploitation, injustice, misery, identity crisis, quest for self etc.


            Bama battles against the discrimination and humiliation of Dalits. In her writing, she has delineated the communally marginalized Dalits, sexually subjugated and cursed women, and thriftily disadvantaged. Bama here attempts to create female empowerment and to raise their status in male dominated society. She fights against the tyranny faced by Dalit downtrodden muted women and how their emancipation built in them. Bama being a feminist writer portrays the image of women against the environment of restraints. Here Bama highlights a wide range of harsh realities of Dalits such as favoritism against Dalit women, violence on poor Paraiyars, police atrocities, sexual aggravation, struggle for their self-respect etc. She documents the experiences of struggle and discloses the social inequality of Dalit women.

            The discrimination is done on the basis of caste hierarchy, entry of Dalits in Roman Catholic churches. It creates an issue of identity crisis and subjugation for Christian Dalits.  They are discriminated by the state, by the church and by the non-Dalit Christians. For a Dalit Christian, the Dalit identity overshadows the Christian identity.  They are treated as marginalized and underprivileged. Even they live separately and their cemeteries are separate which shows their inferior status. These untouchables (Shudras) carry out all domestic works of upper caste people like Naicker. These Naicker’s expect highest position and respect from low caste people. They live on the stale food and eatables offered by these so called upper class people. Even Bama also experienced the same experience in her schooling days. The treatment given to her at Naicker’s house was ridiculous and shameful. She could not bear the ill treatment given to her grandma. She hides their superior status and says,

‘There people were Maharajas who feed us our rice without them how will we survive?’ (Karukku: 17)            

At school, Bama is scolded by her teacher and realized her status as ‘paraya’ by him. He did not allow her to enter into the class due to the accusation of plucking coconut from the tree which was actually not plucked by Bama. Finally headmaster abused entire Christian community and allowed her to enter into the class with the recommendation of priest.

            In another incidence, a Bama was travelling by bus; a Nicker woman humiliated her on the basis of caste discrimination. Nicker woman moved to a different place. When she joined a job of Mathematics teacher, another nun showed strange expressions on her face. Later she joined as a Nun and would like to serve for dalit women. Bama thinks that if she becomes a nun and enters into a convent, she can work for the poor children of her community. Thus she took a wrong decision of becoming a nun. She shares her experience,

‘There was a yearning in my mind to facilitate other children for their better prospect. I born into the same caste had been able to do, because of my learning. I truly wanted to educate such children.’ (Karukku: 77)

She was totally confused by witnessing strange attitude and behaviour of nuns with rich children at convent. She expresses her regret in her own words,

‘I became frustrated. My mind was disturbed. My conscience was battered and bruised. At last I asked myself, is this life for me? I left the convent. The convent was well endowed with gifts…It was not possible for me to bring gifts in nunnery after vacation. Because I was from poor family and it was not affordable to me as well.’(Karukku: 78)

But her dream very soon shattered because of the rich lifestyle of other Nuns. The so-called spiritual people believe that the low caste populace is the second standard human beings. She realized the mentality of these religious people and considers that every moment of her life is a moment of struggle. During her job at convent, she realized the hollow mentality of upper caste people. Her mind was filled with innumerable and incurable wounds on which there was no medicine.  In ‘Karukku’, Bama has portrayed the oppression of Dalit life and their discrimination by the upper caste People. She is unable to change the system set by upper caste people and she doesn’t have solution for the same. She only reflects her anger through her work. D.T. Muraleeswari in his paper ‘Broken World of Dalit- A Critical Study on Bama’s Karukku’ says,

‘Karukku highlights the mistreatment and repression faced by Dalits at the hands of the church, the police, the upper castes and the Panchayat.’

·         Conclusion:  


            In Faustina Bama's ‘Karukku’the readers witness the scenario of suppression, confrontation and emancipation of Dalit women. This emancipation is possible only through education. The education is the tool which can defeat the social ills such as subjugation, harassment, oppression, exploitation, resistance and empowerment. Even it helps to understand how to rebuke to the church members and priests, nuns to protect from sufferings and humiliation and how to achieve the status in society. Bama tells us that one can overcome on identity crisis and question of self discovery by empowering themselves and good education. As a Dalit, one must liberate themselves from the clutches of castism and slavery and not consider as marginalized. They are not supposed to classify them on the basis of gender, faith and any justifiable legitimate battle. In every circumstance, they should not lose their patience and should avail the privileges like others with great pride. It is the self-esteem which makes them to held their head high. They have the right to come together and fight against the bias society to gain their identity and look for self-discovery.

Works Cited


Faustina Bama’s ‘Karukku’ New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1992.


Faustina, Bama. Karukku. Trans. Lakshmi Holmstrom. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012.


George, Sobin. ‘Dalit Christians in India: Discrimination, Development Deficit and the Question of Group- Specific Policies’. Working Paper Series. New Delhi: Indian Institute for Dalit Studies, 2012. 


Lobo, Lancy. ‘Visions, Illusions and Dilemmas of Dalit Christians in India: Dalit Identity and Politics’ Ed. Ghanshyam Shah. Delhi: Sage Publications, 2001.


Louis, Prakash. ‘Caste based Discrimination and Atrocities on Dalit Christians’,  Working Paper Series. New Delhi: Indian Institute for Dalit Studies, 2007.   


Prasad, Amar Nath, ‘Dalit literature: A Critical Exploration’, Sarup & Sons. p. 69, 2007.


Angela Kalloli, ‘Bama’s Karukku as a Testimony of the Triple Jeopardized’, Lux Montis, 2019, Vol 7. Issue-2, p. 105-117.


Bhargava, Rajeev. ‘Multiculturalism, Liberalism and Democracy’, New Delhi: Oxford University Press. 2009.


G. S. Reddy, ‘Position of Religion in Dalit Literature: A Case Study of Bama’s Karukku’ Shanlax International Journal of English, 2018, Volume: 6. Special Issue-1, p. 94-96.


G.D.Suresh, ‘Dalit Autobiography: Portrayal of Caste Discrimination in Bama’s ‘Karukku’, IJCRT, Volume 8, Issue 2, February 2020, ISSN: 2320-2882


Kamila, A. ‘Marginalization and Discrimination of Subaltern in Bama’s Karukku’, Shanlax International Journal of English, 2018, Vol-6, Issue-6, p.103–107.


Shukla, Kaushik. ‘Impact of Poverty on Gender and Caste in Bama’s ‘Karukku’, Journal of Advances and Scholarly researches in Allied education, 2018


Kumar, Satendra. Preface. ‘Unheard Voices of Dalit Literature’. First ed. Jaipur : Y King, 2012. Ix


Kumar, Vijay. ‘Three-fold Subjugation and Oppression: A Study of Bama Faustina‟s Karukku’, SSRG, Vol-4, Issue-6, Dec 2017