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Karukku- ‘A Dalit Testimony’


By Aurosikha Priyadarshini

Being a student of literature, I buy a novel every month. It so happened that I came across this book last week in my shelf. The name of the book is ‘KARUKKU’ by Bama. Before giving my opinions on the book, let me introduce the readers to the author.

Bama is originally known as Faustina Mary Fatima Rani. Bama is the pen-name of a Tamil Dalit woman, from a Roman Catholic family. She was born in 1958 and has written many novels, including the autobiographical novel ‘Karukku’. The book was published in 1992 and was written in Tamil. Later, it was translated into English in 2012 by Lakshmi Holmstrom. The book portrays the journey of a woman and how she struggles to raise her voice against the suppression faced by her and her community.

Karukku refers to Palmyra leaves which are like double edged swords. The novel acts as a double -edged sword in two ways. The novel archives the repression, atrocities, faced by the people of low stratum of the society. The novel is written from the perspective of a Dalit woman, Bama who was agonized and suffered under the dominant Hindu social structures. The book is the first Tamil Dalit literature of its kind. The book is more of a memoir than an autobiography because it voices the joys, sorrows of the people of her community who were oppressed by the higher and the elite class of the society. She even talks of the sufferings she faced after being converted to Christianity. She believed that shifting her religion to Christianity will put an end to her troubles, but it did not happen so.

The converted Christian Dalits were even treated inhuman, and she realized the truth that the situation of the Dalits will always remain the same. Being a Dalit woman she was marginalized, but she mastered over her will and worked hard to emancipate the fate of the Dalits. The book is a semi autobiography because it talks more of the people of her community, their culture, the food habits, and traditions. It gives voice to the silence and oppressed sections of the society. She uses simple narrative techniques and the style is different from the writing style of the mainstream literary texts. It is written more out of her own experiences as a suffered Dalit woman. It basically deals with the Dalits of Tamil Nadu. She grieves over the pitiable conditions of the people of her community. She talks about how the Dalit women were subjugated in the hands of the so called ‘pure’ Brahmins.

Through her writing, she raises the voices of those who are pushed aside and marginalized. The book can even have a different reading. Women should not shut their mouth and should rise against the ignominy of sexual torture, subjugation, or any other forms of violence because women are not objects to be consumed. Bama was influenced by her brother to study hard because education is the only way to gain dignity in the society. The book talks of the travails and trauma faced by a dalit woman. She becomes the representative of the entire community. It is not only the tale of Bama, but hundreds of such other deprived and ostracized people under the Brahmanic hegemony.

The book is a call to the oppressed sections of the society to unite and fight for their rights. It supports the clarion of Dr. B.R Ambedkar, “Unite, Educate, and Agitate”.

The author is a student of University Of Hyderabad. Twitter handle –

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What BR Ambedkar visualized on Casteism in India?

As per Ambedkar's views, the caste system was a mere tool to guide inequalities in the society.

BR Ambedkar is the father of Indian constitution. Wikimedia Commons
BR Ambedkar is the father of Indian constitution. Wikimedia Commons

NEW DELHI: The architect of the Constitution of India, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was also an economist, politician and social reformer. He was also known as Baba Saheb and was appointed as India’s first Law Minister. Ambedkar was posthumously decorated with Bharat Ratna in 1990.

He was the front face of the campaign against social discrimination and also pioneered Dalit Buddhist movement. Due to his own sufferings, he was very much related to the people considered as untouchable’s in the society.

In his speeches and works, he raised his voice for equal rights in favour of women and labour union. It was only his idea for chalking out reservations for Dalits and other suppressed religious caste. Ambedkar even opined for a separate electoral system for the Untouchables. It was only after his efforts through which the lower classes were designated as Scheduled Class and Scheduled Tribe.

Through his newspaper “Mooknayaka”, he wanted to spread his views in people on the drawbacks of ongoing social evils of that time. In the year1927, he came forward with full-on campaigns for equal rights for Dalits and wanted the availability of water resources for all classes of the society.

Have a look at some of the quick bytes from his life:

  • Ambedkar was the mastermind behind the set-up of Reserve Bank of India in 1935. The idea of the bank was weaved on the basis of his book, ‘The Problem of the Rupee – Its Origin and Its Solution’.
  • He was responsible for the shortening of working hours in India from 14 hours to 8 hours. He introduced this reform at the 7th Session of Indian Labour conference.
  • He also helped in the establishment of the National Employment Exchange Agency in India.
  • He played an important role in the technology behind dams in India. He extended support in the construction of Damodar, Hirakud and Sone river dam projects.
  • He was very much averse to the Article 370 of the Indian constitution, according to which Jammu & Kashmir was granted special status.

Ambedkar’s aspect of caste system

As per his views, the caste system was a mere tool to guide inequalities in the society. There were no equal rights for the people belonging to the low class. The people of high class were enjoying the benefits of these disparities.

BR Ambedkar being sworn in as Independent India’s first Law Minister. Wikimedia Commons
BR Ambedkar being sworn in as Independent India’s first Law Minister. Wikimedia Commons

He also opposed the system of selection for occupation as per the class grade. The people belonging to higher class drew the undue benefits of easy and respectable jobs, where the Dalits and untouchables were meant to do petty jobs.

Individuals were assigned jobs as per the social status of their family, irrespective of merit and aptitude of the person.

He viewed the Hindu social order as a way to exploit a certain lot of people so that the rich and high-class people could reap the inappropriate benefits. Thus, Ambedkar voiced the annihilation of the caste system.

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