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Dalit women face triple oppression in the form of caste, class and gender which keeps them at the bottom most position in the pyramid of power hierarchy. This power dynamics and oppression faced by them is described by a dalit woman P. Sivakami in her Tamil Novel Pazhaiyana Kazhithalum (She has described a dalit woman’s situation based on the experiences from her own life and from the lives of those who were close to her. Sivakami shows oppression of women, not only by the upper caste but also by dalit men. She shows that tyrannous use of power exists at all levels and women become the one who suffer the most. Her work is divided into two parts: Book 1, titled as Kathamuthu: The Grip of Change. Book 1 is a fictional representation of caste-infested rural society. Book 2 is titled as Gowri: Author’s Notes, which is a record of author’s motive behind writing Book 1.

The book starts with the story of Thangam, a Parayar[1] widow woman, who comes running from Kanagu[2] to Kathamuthu’s (a dalit leader) house, seeking his help. In the story, she is portrayed as a young widow, who never gets her husband’s share of land as she has no children. She is sexually assaulted by her brothers-in-law and because of family quarrel she decides to live alone in a separate house and starts working at a sugarcane field of an upper-caste landlord. Knowing about Thangam’s economic vulnerability, the landlord once takes Thangam deep inside the sugarcane field and rapes her. The landlord makes it a habit to keep exploiting her. She is beaten badly by the landlord’s brothers-in-law, when they find out about this abusive relationship and that was when she comes running to Kathamuthu for help.

Thangam’s story depicted how a dalit-woman gets oppressed by Patriarchy, Caste and Class. Thangam is “blamed” for having committed adultery by people in the village. Thangam is blamed by her in-laws to have “seduced” the landlord. No one pays heed to the fact that she is raped and that she is the real victim of the situation. She even told this to Kathamuthu: “I remained silent, after all, he is my paymaster.”  No one blames the landlord the way they blamed Thangam. The landlord on the other hand, feels that his touch is a “boon” granted for penance for her earlier birth, his underlying assumption being that a Parachi should be happy to be touched by a man of his upper-caste stature.

Thangam story shows us the patriarchal and casteist mindset of our society. Her story shows that our society does not recognize and respect the self-identity of a woman. Her identity is always linked with her father or her husband. Her in-laws tried to take sexual advantage because she was a widow.

The book shows a clear depiction of a casteist mindset of people. People would unite based on caste, judge someone based on caste and even think according to their caste convention. The author mentions a municipality school is called as a Parayar school because it only had Parayar students and hence the upper caste families hesitate from sending their children to such school. The landlord, who is highest in the hierarchy of caste, class and gender, is not afraid to face rape charges, but he is afraid of facing a society which knows that he had sexual intercourse with a Parachi woman. The first questions that Kathamuthu asks after finding Thangam in the verandah are “Where are you from? What is your Caste? And your name?” The order in which these questions were asked gives us the idea that a person’s social identity is more important to know than his/her self-identity.

The book shows oppression on dalits by their very own leader. Kathamuthu is portrayed as an arrogant, egoistic and patriarchal person. On the one hand he is a helpful leader who tends to the problems of his community but then on another hand he is shown as a diplomatic person who is looking for his own gains. The story shows us that, Kathamuthu tailors the complaint made by Thangam in such a way that it benefits his political vote bank even though he is aware that by making such complaint there will be caste clashes. Kathamuthu’s character shows us that dalit-leaders exclude the interest of woman while fighting against the upper-caste’s domination. On one hand, he aids Thangam on her land dispute case but on the other hand, due to his doings, the landlord who had raped her was never really punished for his actual crime. Moreover, Kathamuthu takes advantage of Thangam’s inebriated state by having sexual intercourse with her. Kathamuthu’s character lets Sivakami communicate through her book that corrupt way of using power exists among both the upper caste and lower caste.

Gowri, (Kathamuthu’s elder daughter) is portrayed as an educated girl who wants to get out from the grasp of society, but she faces a lot of criticism for going against the will of the society. Gowri is always scolded by her father for her dressing sense. She is afraid of failing her exam because she knows that if she fails, her father will marry her off to some stranger. Being a smart girl, she often challenges the order of the society and bears the brunt for the same. Gowri is often portrayed as a silent observer of her father. She never approves of her father’s polygamous relationships. We see that Gowri’s disapproval of his father is inspired from Sivakami’s disapproval of her own father.

Sivakami’s work is very important for dalit movement because it was the first time that a Tamilian Dalit Woman came out to write about her experience. Her motivations behind writing the fictional story, are based upon her life incidents. Book 2 has an account of various incidents, which becomes the reason behind writing certain events in the fictional story. For example, Thanagam’s rape is based upon a similar incident which took place with her friend Valina.

The Grip of Change is a book which should be read by every Indian to understand how women gets oppressed in our caste-infested society because it shows how caste and gender play together to shape our society. The most important aspect of the book is its representation of dalit-woman and misuse of power by male Dalit leaders. P. Sivakami’s message should stay alive not just in our minds but in our actions by fighting against this social order.

 

[1] An oborginal Agricultural community which was forced to do menial jobs such as burning the dead. They are considered untouchables.

[2] Name of a Village.

[3] A woman of Parayar community.

Picture Reference: https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/81-L95rkQCL.jpg

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Written By Surya Kiran Singh

2nd Year Law student at OP Jindal Global University.

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