Pramod K. Nayar University of Hyderabad, India Abstract This essay argues that Dalit autobiographies must be treated as testimo- nio, atrocity narratives that document trauma and strategies of survival. This act of recording trauma and witnessing, the essay proposes, is one of subaltern agency. Curiously, while Dalit writing in India has been compared to Black writing there has been no comparison made to what I believe is its closest literary relation — testimonio. Dalit texts document the sufferings of and atrocities committed upon a large section of the population. The writing proceeds from a lived experience of poverty, violence, rejection and suffering.
|Country:||Sao Tome and Principe|
|Published (Last):||28 March 2012|
|PDF File Size:||16.2 Mb|
|ePub File Size:||7.18 Mb|
|Price:||Free* [*Free Regsitration Required]|
Pramod K. Nayar University of Hyderabad, India Abstract This essay argues that Dalit autobiographies must be treated as testimo- nio, atrocity narratives that document trauma and strategies of survival. This act of recording trauma and witnessing, the essay proposes, is one of subaltern agency.
Curiously, while Dalit writing in India has been compared to Black writing there has been no comparison made to what I believe is its closest literary relation — testimonio. Dalit texts document the sufferings of and atrocities committed upon a large section of the population.
The writing proceeds from a lived experience of poverty, violence, rejection and suffering. DOI: It reveals the structure of the traumatic experience caste in India while also gesturing at the ways in which the victims have fought, overcome and survived the event. Dalit life-writing is about the re-construction of the self after the traumatic event.
I treat trauma throughout this essay as a structure that induces this destruction and provokes a reconstruction of the Dalit self. It is through this process of recovery that, I suggest, Bama produces a testimonio. It details the life of an individual Dalit woman and in the process reveals the casteism of an Indian village. Karukku is a powerful critique of Indian civil society itself: the educational system, the church and the bureaucracy and highlights the complicity between class and caste in post-independence India.
Testimonio is a genre commonly associated with Latin American atrocity narratives. The testimonio is the voice of one who witnesses for the sake of an other, who remains voiceless. That is, the speaking subaltern subject of the narrative gives voice to the lived experiences of herself and of those who are victims of social and linguis- tic-literary marginalization. Bama described Karukku this way: The story told in Karukku was not my story alone.
It was the depiction of a collective trauma — of my community — whose length cannot be measured in time. I just tried to freeze it forever in one book so that there will be something physical to remind people of the atrocities committed on a section of the society for ages. Karukku as testimonial life-writing enables Bama to share her tale of pain, so that personal testimony becomes accurate historical witnessing of a social structure of traumatic oppression.
The Individual and the Communal Autobiography presupposes an autonomous individual subject. Testimo- nio, on the other hand, is a genre where the narrator stands in for the whole social group. Unlike autobiography where the narrator is a person of some social stature, testimonio is about the common wo man, but a common wo man who metonymically stands in for the community. Karukku is thus both the title of her personal autobiography and an account of the whole community.
Bama has clearly stated the genre here — it is not a personal autobiography alone, but a collective archive of suffer- ing. Bama is the narrative voice through which the sufferings and atroc- ities of two communities, Dalit and Christian, are addressed to us.
Chapter two is divided into two sections. The first details her personal experiences as a Dalit woman in a casteist society. The second section, interestingly, uses the personal pronoun only once in four pages.
The entire section is a passionate plea for the Dalit cause, social reform and change. It is almost as though Bama moves from the individual to the collective by 86 Journal of Commonwealth Literature expanding her identity — her self into the world. We must not accept the injustice of our enslavement by telling ourselves it is our fate, as if we have no true feelings: we must dare to stand up for change.
The movement from indi- vidual to communal is a retrieval of trauma, but one that is shared with other Dalits: what holds the community together is trauma. Bama writes: Today I am like a mongrel-dog, wandering about without a permanent job, nor a regular means to find clothes, food and a safe place to live.
I share the same difficulties and struggles that all Dalit poor experience. I share to some extent the poverty of the Dalits who toil far more painfully through fierce heat and beating rain. Life is difficult if you happen to be poor, even though you are born into the upper-castes. In the opening chapter Bama undertakes both the narrative strat- egies identified with Australian Aboriginal autobiography especially that written by women the sense of communal life evoked through the individual story; and the intimate relationship with the land.
In fact, we get almost no personal details of the narrator in the opening chapter. Bama spends considerable narrative space describing the topography of the village, the landmarks or the seasons pp.
Four complete pages devoted to the setting and descriptions of people follow only later. One entire chapter chapter four is devoted to a detailed description of Dalit labour in agricultural activities of her village pp. The use of a pseudonym is common to atrocity narratives.
First, the Series Editor, translator and the author herself authenticate the narrative. Rather than seek to know anything more about her as a person, we are asked to pay attention to the structures within which a Bama functions and lives. Pseudonymity is at once a mode of distanciation from Bama-the-person and intimacy Bama-the-Dalit- representative. Personal humiliations, suffering and feelings are recorded. That is, caste inscribes itself into and on the Dalit body. Bama had already rooted her narrative in the corporeal in her Preface when she writes: 88 Journal of Commonwealth Literature Not only did I pick up the scattered palmyra karukku in the days when I was sent out to gather firewood, scratching and tearing my skin as I played with them.
The driving forces that shaped this book are many: events that occurred during many stages of my life, cutting me like Karukku and making me bleed. Atrocity victims are often called upon to show evidence of torture and suffering, almost as though the scars are texts that speak the language of oppression.
This is precisely what Bama does. And here she achieves that difficult move — of conjoining corporeal pain which is singular with collective oppression and suffering. Instead of being more and more beaten down and blunted, they unite, think about their rights, and battle for them.
But I had already seen, felt, experienced and been humiliated by what it is. She then sees some Naicker women give water to her grandmother: The Naicker women would pour out the water from a height of four feet, while Paatti and the others received and drank it with cupped hands held to their mouths. I always felt terrible when I watched this. They look at us with the same look they would cast on someone suffering from a repulsive disease. Wherever we go we suffer blows. And pain. Dalit bodies are hurt and brutalized because social structures allow even enable the brutaliza- tion.
They then proceed to engage in acts of sheer physical violence upon the Dalits pp. As Annan [elder brother] had urged, I stood first in my class. This experience of suffering is a collective one, where social, historical and political structures oppress all Dalit communities.
Bama suggests that one suffers as a Dalit, even though the pain is singular to the suffering individual body. There is thus a critical narrative tension here, where descriptions of localized, individual corporeal suffering are located within larger historical contexts of collective pain.
Bama interprets her own life in terms of her social identity. Karukku — as the quote from pp. Confessional writing and testimonio are haunted by the question of where to draw the narrative line when describing bodily distress or trauma.
It is precisely this prob- lematic of what to say and what to leave out that Bama calls into question when she describes atrocities. Two crucial instances of this are her revelation of the casteism within the church and the caste- based violence perpetrated by the police. The injunction to remain silent about such matters is precisely what Bama breaks.
But that is just a sham. See also pp. The second instance reveals the complicity of state machin- ery — the police — with caste- and class-oppression. The Chaaliyar community invites the police, feasts them and then unleashes them on to the Parayas pp. So how will the police or the government be on our side? The law also discriminates between communities and favours the wealthier Chaaliyars. Karukku is significant because it takes into the public domain shameful secrets.
Witnessing The testimonio is a narrative of witnessing. The narrator is the witness recounting the trauma. The genre thus acquires the power of resistance through two means in the Dalit autobiography. The second is an injunction upon the reader to bear witness to whatever is recorded. Knowledge is predicated upon validation and the evidentiary process. Karukku uses specific rhetori- cal strategies to create a space of intersubjectivity, of bearing witness.
There are two levels of witnessing at work in Dalit testimonio: the primary witnessing by the victim here, Bama and the secondary witnessing by the reader. The primary witness is the victim, a witness to herself, who engages in a retrospective testimonial act. The move between these two forms of primary witnessing occurs through narrativization and advocacy.
The narrative is a retrospective account of her experiences. The sheer singularity of events is recorded as they occurred to her. I suggest that the primary witness in Dalit testimonio makes a move from seeing to voicing. This is the first part of her function as primary witness. In the course of her narration of her own experi- ences, Bama moves from individual to collective, experiential testimony to polemics.
What Bama has done here is to engage in an act of advocacy, of proposing a programme of action for the entire community. She moves into the role of advocate within the role of witness. Bama has already documented her problems that result from her social identity. What is significant is that, like the figures in autobiography who document momentous changes in their lives, Bama charts the significant moments of her life.
She, for instance, details how she left the church. Admittedly, her sufferings do not end pp.
She has published three main works: an autobiography, Karukku, ; a novel, Sangati, ; and a collection of short stories, Kisumbukkaran Karukku means palmyra leaves, which, with their serrated edges on both sides, are like double-edged swords. By a felicitous pun, the Tamil word Karukku, containing the word hare, embryo or seed, also means freshness, newness. In her foreword, Bama draws attention to the symbol, and refers to the words in Hebrews New Testament , "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.
‘Karukku’: An Autobiography By Bama Exploring Her Tamil, Dalit And Christian Identity
So it was natural for me to by this autobiography by Bama, a Tamil Dalit woman while I was in Chennai for three weeks recently. Bama is the pen name of a Dalit Christian, a former nun who decided to renounce her habit and come out of the convent to fight for the rights of her community when she realised that in India, even the hallowed halls of the Roman Catholic church was contaminated with the I have recently decided to read more of Indian literature, and subaltern literature in particular. Bama is the pen name of a Dalit Christian, a former nun who decided to renounce her habit and come out of the convent to fight for the rights of her community when she realised that in India, even the hallowed halls of the Roman Catholic church was contaminated with the poison of caste. In her introduction, translator Lakshmi Holmstrom says Karukku means palmyra leaves, that, with their serrated edges on both sides, are like double-edged swords. By a felicitous pun, the Tamil word karukku, containing the word karu, embryo or seed, also means freshness, newness. And this has got nothing to do with the sincerity of the writer, let me assure you at the outset. The living condition of the Parayas, as Bama describes it, is pitiful; and the way they are abused by everyone up on the caste ladder they happen to be on the lowest rung with even the police colluding is horrific.