“I had not been aware that there was a right and wrong way to eat food… Slurping, licking fingers, chewing loudly, burping or giving any indication of having enjoyed your meal was not done.”
Worlds are not intermixing and inter-dining here, worlds are colliding and traumatising the female Dalit protagonist of Savitribai Phule and I, as she minutely observes the hypocritical privileged who claim to be progressive and yet demoralise her systemically. Nonetheless, she struggles, survives, shines and then leads as a first-generation learner and a rural girl in the university.
English education and literature in India have hitherto been dominated by the ‘so-called upper-castes’ due to birth-based caste-class privilege and devious gatekeeping. And books such as Savitribai Phule and I, by Panther’s Paw Publication, challenge this with assertive self-representation.
When dominant-caste publishers write about caste, their narratives term it as a bane of the ‘past’, belonging to a “golden bird” which somehow didn’t go aghast seeing inhumane atrocities like ‘untouchability’. They make themselves saviours and Bahujans the victims and look down upon Bahujan literature. Bahujans comprise close to 80% of the country’s population. To relegate their works as ‘offbeat’, and to instead call sexist, casteist, communal, stereotypical nonsense as ‘mainstream’, is literally literary mayhem. Panther’s Paw Publication does not only challenge the status quo, it changes it.
In Of Oppressor’s Body and Mind, Yogesh Maitreya succinctly states that, “Sympathy which derives from ignorance is as dangerous as violence,” as he intricately decodes and further exposes how the dominant-caste society creates discriminatory art and disgustingly believes that it is doing a favour to the marginalised by earning royalty over their atrocity. Art without representation is not art. It is a brazen attempt at lacklustre appropriation best, and grotesque barbarity towards the identity of the marginalised, at worst.
Flowers on the Grave of Caste by Maitreya uncovers the dual-standards of the so-called progressive strata of the society, as well as, the upholders of law who openly practice feudal acts. It manifests that speaking about the oppressor and the oppressed separately, is not “dividing humanity” as some privileged have the audacity to say. Rather, to put the oppressor and the oppressed together in some non-existential universal set together, when they are two opposite Venn diagrams, is inhumane.
When in We, the Rejected People of India, Sunil Abhimaan Awachar strikingly points out the hypocrisy of the elite society, which does not name the labourers who build towers, and which never felicitates the workers who construct bridges, he exposes the false pretence of gated societies which are never open to those who create them. Who, in their atrociousness, measure Dalits as dead bodies, and in their hollow wokeness, caricature them as data devoid of feelings. Originally written in Marathi and translated in English by Maitreya, each poem in this book firmly contends the existence of Dalits as humans.
Also read: Namdeo Dhasal and Poems of the Streets
The book Ambedkarite Movement After Ambedkar by J. V. Pawar, translated by Maitreya, does not just inform us of Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s death as a date and his life as a period. It instead, makes us live his death, and reflect on the revolution he brought to our lives through his own. With extensive details, this book reflects on the politics, struggles and victories of the Ambedkarite movement.
Written by Dipankar Kamble, Dewaji: Making of an Ambedkarite Family, is a detailed account which does not stop at Dalits being ‘given’ meagre rights by those who had snatched it in the first place. It rather reinstates that Dalits have throughout asserted that no ‘so-called’ upper-caste has the authority to give them their rights, that every Dalit is born with their birthrights. Elucidating on outspoken 19th-century Dalit women like Pikabai Bhiwaji Khobragade who had entered the business industry, and successful Dalit entrepreneurs, and professionals, and the support system that they have created for the community, this book is a welcome change.
The female characters of Panther’s Paw Publication are not agency less victims. When they are made to suffer, they retaliate. The so-called ‘mainstream’ literature needs to get its tips and principles from here.
The cover-illustrations by Siddhesh Gautam, Daisy Katta, Sunil Abhiman Awachar, and Malvika Raj are not colours arranged together to suit pre-defined societal constructs of aesthetics. They are the reality in its truest sense, a mirror for us to see what has always been there. And this time, the mirror is placed in the right place.
If at all we have known history, we have known it through words. It is time the pens get into the correct hands, the paper prints the real and the justified. Following the principle of Dr. B R Ambedkar, who while asserting about ‘Annihilation of Caste’, had written, “I would not alter a comma.”
Ankita Apurva was born with a pen and a sickle.
Featured image credit: Facebook/Panther’s Paw Publication