Monday, September 19, 2011

[ZESTCaste] A Dalit Feminist Reading of “Sangati”

A Dalit Feminist Reading of "Sangati" (part-4)

Academic Papers

| September 15, 2011 - 8:40pm | By C.N.Sanoop
A Dalit Feminist Reading of "Sangati"


Bama's "Sangati" drastically gives an account of Dalit women's dual
oppression on account of gender and caste as well as other
discriminated situations of womanhood in Tamil Dalit culture.
"Sangati" explores the female subjugation and subordination in a great
way. This pure narrative work becomes more feminist concerned when it
is handled by Bama. Bama regards herself as a Dalit feminist and has
emphasized the importance of Dalit feminist standpoint. Through this
Dalit black literature Bama, like other writers of rape, sexual
assaults, physical violence at work place, in public arena as well as
violence at home.

Bama exposes caste and gender problems both outside and inside the
community. The Dalit women, like their counter part black women all
over the world, suffer from both racial and gendered forms of
oppression simultaneously. Dalit feminist works and black literature
and Dalit women's works speak about the wretched condition women all
over the world.

Bama Faustina Mary writes in simple language, of Dalit converted
Christians. It breaks all barriers of oppressed norms of decency and
dismantles the masks of middle class morality. Bama's second work
"Sangati" focuses generally on Dalit women on various issues such as
gender, sexual discrimination and Dalit women and Dalit culture. Bama
says about Dalit feminism in an interview:

"All women in the world are second class citizens. For Dalit women,
the problem is grave. Their Dalit identity gives them a different set
of problems. They experience a total lack of social status; they are
not even considered dignified human beings. My stories are based on
these aspects of Dalit culture........ the hard labour they have to do
all their lives. Other problems are the same for all women. The
Dalits particular caste......more agony and hard labour can be
attributed to them. Dalit women have to put up with a triple
oppression, based on class, caste and gender. They die in order to

The book "Sangati" encapsulates the author's experience of working
within a heterogeneous and oppressed society and the series of several
interconnected anecdotes, experiences, news and events as narrated in
the book, from an autobiography of a community. This short narration
accommodates more than 35 characters most of whom are female. But in
the conventional sense there is no individual who may be tagged a hero
or heroine.

In the deep level of their mind she has kept black female
marginalization and oppressed condition of the Dalit women in the
converted Dalit Christian society. Bama clarifies her acknowledgement
of the work:

"My mind is crowded with many anecdotes: stories not only about the
sorrows and tears of Dalit women, but also about lively, rebellious
culture their eagerness not to let life crush or shatter them, but
rather to swim vigorously against the tide……. About their hard labour.
I wanted to shout out these stories".

This novel or the community's autobiography unfolds the story through
past and present experiences of several women under patriarchal
dominated society. Bama, through the black feminist perspective, very
assiduously illustrates the impact of discrimination, caste, colour
oppression and above all some sort of hesitance which has been taken
up by the female characters.

It is remarkable that Bama is formulating a Dalit feminism which
redefined woman from the socio-political perspective of Dalit
converted Christians and she assiduously examines caste and gender
oppressions. The economic inequality plays a major role in the life
sphere of Dalit women-hood. The characters presented in "Sangati" are
as wage earners as much as men are, working as agricultural and
construction labourers, but earning less than men do. Though men get
more earnings than women, they spend it as they please. They do not
even care for the family, whereas women bear the financial burden of
running the family, often singly. Those females are also constantly
vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse in the world of work. The
power structure of their society mainly concerned with men or
patriarchy. The caste courts and churches are male dominated and
rules for sexual behavior are very different for men and women. Hard
labour and economic precariousness lead to a culture of violence.
This is the theme, which Bama exposes boldly throughout the
community's picturisation in "Sangati". She writes about the violent
treatment of women by father, husbands, brothers, and other higher
caste patriarchal. Above all, she describes a violent domestic
quarrel, which is carried on publically.

This book is rooted in every day happenings of women who work
together: preparing and eating food, celebrating and singing, bathing
and swimming. "Sangati" is in the voices of many women speaking to and
addressing one another as they share the incidents of their daily
lives. Through these voices they are raising questing in anger or
pain, and their predicaments against their oppressors. Bama very
explicitly writers about the oppression, marginalization and
subjugation of woman-hood in the converted Christian Dalit
communities. She, here, adopts the Dalit feminist approach. Feminism
always concern with women in inferior position in society and with
discrimination encountered by women because of their sex. Including
Bama all writers could argue for the changes in the social, economic,
political or cultural order, to reduce and eventually overcome this
discrimination against women. Feminism becomes a term that speaks
against the inferior status and demanding amelioration in their social
position. Bama's feminism, the Dalit feminism, has a parallel
connection with the black feminism which emerged in African American
Diasporas. The American journalist Susan Faludi argues that "over the
last ten years an undeclared war" has been waged against women's
rights. "Yes", she says, "many women are unhappy but not because
feminism failed: the true cause of their misery is that Feminism has
not gone far enough". The founding feminist Betty Friedan warns that
women now suffer from a new identity crisis and new problems that have
no name. Here Friedan's words have a close connection with Bama's
Dalit feminism where women become the scapegoat of identity crisis.
Bell Hooks says, "even a 'gaze' becomes more dangerous". The politics
of slavery, of radicalized power relations, was such that the slaves
were denied their right to gaze.

Even if the Dalit are converted to Christianity the prevalent system
in Christianity did not practice what Christians say of equality
before God. It is against this caste practice of Catholic
Christainity's partiality, that Dalit converted Christians fight. Bama
describes in "Sangati" how deeply the Christian church and its
hegemonic power as well as the class discrimination play on Dalit
converted. Bama substantiates this through the character's speech

"Sothipillai shouted angrily, just look at what goes on in our church
as well. It is our women who sweep the church and keep it clean.
Women from other castes stand to one side until we have finished and
then march in grandly and sit down before anyone else. I have stood
it as long as I could, and at last I went and complained to the nuns.
And do you know what they said? It seems we will gain merit by
sweeping the church and that God will bless us specially"

Even in front of God the Dalit female becomes mere marginalized. They
are the cleaners for the higher class or caste people. But Bama makes
clear the resistance that emerges in the minds of Dalit women.

"See how they fool us in the name of God! Why, don't those people need
God's blessing too?"

This is the realization of Dalit women. Bama lucidly explains the
partiality of the Church and the recognition of partiality in the name
of God by the higher caste people.

Bama mainly speaks about the gender discrimination, which unabatedly
takes place in converted Dalit Christian Paraiya's culture.

To read part-3, click here


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