Monday, February 6, 2012

[ZESTCaste] Dealing with exclusion

February 5, 2012
Dealing with exclusion
G. S. Jayasree

The anthology invokes memories of a world that is experienced in a way
different from the present.

Dalit is a condition. Historically it has been willed on one set of
people by another. By taking away their land. By denying them
language. By negating their sense of self — the pre-eminent condition
of ownership. Worst, erasing their memories. Refusing them a place in
history or a history of their own. Even as we recount one by one the
chilling details of such crimes by man against man, we are aware that
we have recourse only to the language of the victor and the concepts
of the victor to narrate them. The lifeworld of the Dalit, the horizon
of all his experiences, stands systematically destroyed by powers that
enjoy dominance. In place of this collective and inter-subjective
ground of perceiving, all that becomes available are the possibilities
put in place by those who have displaced them from history.

The recognition by the Dalits that these possibilities are immense and
can be put to strategic purposes to write themselves into history has
resulted in the outstanding Oxford India Anthology of Malayalam Dalit
Writing edited by M. Dasan, V. Prathibha, Pradeepan Pampirikkunnu and
C.S. Chandrika. The anthology, comprising 55 selections by 36 writers
of poetry, fiction, drama, autobiography, biography and archival and
critical prose, uses the very tools of modernity to conjure a
worldview and construct a subjective experience not organised on the
primacy of the individual or instrumentalist reason. It invokes
memories of a world that is experienced in a way different from the
present, celebrating the wisdom of a community and beliefs that are
other-worldly. In so doing, they erect alternative cosmological and
theological frameworks as Poikayil Appachan does when he says, let me
add something in my own melody and goes on to speak of the ancient
race that made this land fertile and how at one point they became
slaves of this region.

Alternative systems

It is a daunting task — recording alternative systems of knowing — and
the quartet of editors, and supported by the Government of Kerala,
carries it out admirably. They have not compromised by yielding to the
demands of the market or mainstream academia and in so doing have made
possible a collection that will go on to change the existing canon of
Malayalam literature. A galaxy of 19 translators, among them
award-winning translators like K. Satchidanandan, A.J. Thomas, Valson
Thampu and Catherine Thankamma have moved the texts from varied
registers in Malayalam into an English they have boldly crafted for
the purpose. No one can ignore this book — significantly brought out
in the centenary year of Oxford University Press.

Let me explain how such a revisionary exercise of re-drawing the canon
of Malayalam literature can be undertaken. Though methodologically we
can adopt several mechanisms, I limit myself to three: One, an
epistemological revision — in the choice of an explanatory paradigm,
two, an ethical revision — in the choice of strategies by which the
ideological implications of representation are drawn up, in order to
comprehend current social problems and three, an aesthetic revision —
in the choice of narrative strategy.

Till date, the discourses of the Dalits have centered on principles of
exclusion and inclusion or absence and presence. We have several
important texts that examine the modes of exclusion or absence, which
is a political stand, and a whole series of writings that examine the
terms or the language of exclusion, which is an aesthetic stand. If we
examine these texts closely, we can see that both sets assume a
subordinate position — even while employing the polemical language of
resistance. Conceptually and linguistically, they are always already
situated in a position of subordination.

Dalit scholars like Paul Chirakkarod and Kaviyoor Murali who find a
prominent place in the anthology have recognised this and have
contested the tendency to treat caste as the sole instrument of
oppression. They aim to recreate caste as a new identity of self
assertion and pride. I see the historic importance of this book as
marking a move away from what I would call the mindset of the

New concepts

This book opens up new domains of knowledge that not only bring new
objects, new concepts and new techniques to light, but also give rise
to totally new forms of subjects and subjects of knowledge. As is now
well documented, the subject of knowledge itself has a history or, to
put it in a different way, truth itself has a history; not static but
constantly shifting and modifying existing systems. Viewed
objectively, this book marks a radical intervention in truth positions
and the history of truth positions. This calls for reworking the
theory of the subject, because we see before us the happy act of the
Dalit writing himself into subject positions.

Equations of power have definitely shifted as even a cursory look at
the writings of K.K. Kochu in this anthology will prove. If the Dalit
was the object of study earlier — in governmental records or
missionary narratives or high literary texts — he is the determining
subject now. He is the agent of his own change; the master of his own
destiny. This is clear from the introduction, clear from each and
every selection included in this anthology.

In the poem "My Soil" included in this anthology K.K.S. Das puts forth
these ideas in a language that only a poet has access to:

Breaking the chest of hell/ an ember,/ the flowers of thorny plants/
hurl my patrimony/ over the head of dharmashastras.

Breaking the boundary-stones of generations/ in the heart of my father
land/ I am born again.


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