Wednesday, December 21, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Dalit journey of three generations

Dalit journey of three generations

"This excellent book brings out not only the existential situation but
also the inherent potential of people to struggle and succeed against
all odds and obstacles. Such narratives serve as inspiration for other
members of the community to use education to overcome massive social
and economic impediments.

It holds out hope that it is possible to work your way up the social
ladder" said the Late Mr. S. R. Sankaran, IAS (Retired), in a foreword
to the book, "My Father Baliah", written by Dr. Y. B. Satyanarayana,
which has been published by Harper Collins India. This is a memoir
chronicled for three generations of a Dalit family.

The story begins from a small village, Vangapalli, in Karimnagar
district. It is a long journey stretching almost two centuries and it
was set by author's great grandfather, Narsiah, against struggles,
indignities, insults and all types of odds.

The summary of the story is to overcome the obstructions to continue
the struggle to achieve success in one's life. This story is a
reflection of thousands of dalit families moving from small villages
to cities and from slavery to liberty and these lives created history.

Professor Satyanarayana, teaching chemistry, had stayed away from
literary work, but after retirement started taking keen interest in
social studies that resulted in the writing of this memoirs straight
into English; it must be the first book in Andhra Pradesh. Long back
the novel, 'Malapally', came out and, recently, books like 'Panchamam'
by Devavrat from Rayalaseema, 'Antarani Vasantam' by Kalyan Rao from
Coastal Andhra and 'Kakka' by Vemula Yelliah have come up.

These novels vividly portray the lives of Dalits. But this is the
first book that narrates the life of a single Dalit family stretching
into three successive generations. Hitherto Marathi writers wrote such

The story continues only with a single family and it describes the
inhuman practice of untouchability, specifically in Telangana, on a
Madiga family, and the author's description is touching. The story
begins with the life of Narsiah from the first generation of the late
19th century.

Narsiah presents a beautiful pair of shoes, made from the hide of a
young calf which fits the Nizam's feet very well, and looking at the
silken well-crafted shoes, the Nizam gifts 50 acres; the landlord Dora
summons Narsiah, abuses him and confiscates 48 acres of the land
gifted to him.

Narsiah had a son, also named Narsaiah. Junior Narsaiah gets married
at the age of 14 years. The author beautifully describes every detail
of a marriage solemnized in untouchable families. Junior Narsiah's
wife is Abbamma. The son of Junior Narsiah and Abbamma is Ramaswamy,
alias Baliah; the story is based on him.

In those days, cholera used to kill many people in villages. On a day
people die in large number, including the parents of junior Narsiah.
This shocks the couple who leave the village; the Dora's son also
harasses them to take away the two acres of land they possess.

Meanwhile, Abbamma also dies of cholera. Narsiah, with his young son,
Ramaswamy, leaves the village carrying the dead body of his wife on
shoulders. Cremating the dead body of his wife, digging a pit on the
shore of a stream, sets his journey to the maternal uncles of

There Narsiah gets a small job in the Railways and remarries when his
uncles force him. Even after his marriage, Narsiah pays much of his
attention to the motherless Ramaswamy. He even gets a railway job for
his son, and to get the job even changes his name to Balaiah. Baliah
shows more interest in getting education for his children. He
accomplishes his childhood dream of being literate through his

This changes the entire direction of the Yelukati family of
Ramaswamy/Baliah. The children of Baliah go for higher studies in the
universities and become professors; one of them, Dr. Y. B.
Satyanarayana, is the author of this book. This has become possible
because of their migration from the small village.

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the saviour of the untouchable communities and the
architect of the Indian Constitution, rightly says, "The Indian
village is the very negation of a republic. If it is a republic, it is
a republic of the touchables by the touchables and for the touchables.

The untouchables have no rights. They are only to wait, serve and
submit. In this republic, there is no place for democracy. There is no
room for equality. There is no room for liberty and there is no room
for fraternity."

Every village, as the author rightly points out, has the perfect Hindu
set-up with all the characteristic features as codified by Manu having
two types of dwellings, varna houses and avarna huts separated by
either a boundary or a well- maintained distance. Had Narsiah not
migrated from the village along with his son, the Yelukati Narsiah's
family even today could have been the victim of untouchability and
inhuman caste system.

In this memoir, vital issues like land, migration, education and
employment of Dalits are well narrated. Hazardous jobs in the railways
are always held by Dalits; they work to build the economy of the
country risking their lives.

In the memoirs the narration of a grave accident met by Baliah is the
reflection of thousands of Dalits who meet such accidents and many
times succumb to. This story reminds us of the village and the caste
structure as explained by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar.


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