Monday, March 1, 2010

Phoenixes of banishment and oppression

Recently I had the opportunity of reading Changiya Rukh (Against the Night), the first Punjabi Dalit autobiography that has been rendered into English. Changiya Rukh means a chopped tree — a metaphor of mutilation and a symbolic image of enforced stunting — of something made small and inferior so that the others appear larger and superior — an excellent parallel to the position of the Dalits in this deeply divided society.

Balbir Madhopuri movingly describes rural poverty and the hunger in the dry, wintry months, the closely-knit relationships among the Ad Dharm community to which he belonged and the centrality of his 100-year-old grandmother in shaping the lives of not only her immediate family, but almost every woman in that village. Burdened with the stigma of untouchability in the Jat heartland, he grows up to learn that tea is an inferior drink because only the lower castes drink it, whereas milk was the staple beverage of the upper-castes.

In Changiya Rukh, he documents the inner turmoil to which Dalits are reduced whenever they have to conceal their caste identity. We observe instances of how, sometimes, the Dalit people themselves internalise the view of caste-Hindu society and develop a feeling of inferiority. Simultaneously, Balbir reveals how he was so upset with his Hindu-sounding surname that he dropped it and instead took up the name of his birthplace Madhopur. By expunging one identity, and taking on another, he succeeds in rejecting an entire history of oppression.

Full report here Express Buzz

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