Authored by Bela C Baby, Assistant Professor Nirmala Arts and Science College, Mulanthuruthy
Exploitation or oppression of women by men is as old as mankind itself. Unlike other sections in society, the struggle of women relies heavily on literature. Their protest at bottom is against the underlying ideology of the society and as a result they are destined to face it. Literature turns out to be the only available vehicle for their self-expression. Thus women of dalit community also emerged into this art of writing and their by expressing their oppressed emotions. They also flagged off the women’s movement or feminism. If the women belongs to dalit community they suffered of two types: first being a woman, second belongs to the lowest community and said to be “double oppressed”.
Dalit feminism points out repeatedly that the dalit struggle has tended to forget a gender perspective. In dalit society every women live under the power of caste and patriarchy. Women are considered as a symbol of sex and object of pleasure. A study of dalit feminist writing reveals a tale of endless miseries, inhuman victimization and shocking gender discrimination. Being a Tamil dalit Christian women and dalit feminist, she is able to express emphatically the women’s identity.
Sangati by Bama contributes both to the dalit movement and to the women’s movement in India specially Tamil Nadu. Bama only chooses a woman protagonist for every story in her novel. She gives a lot of respect to women. She addresses the women of the village by using the suffix ‘amma’ (mother) with their names. In this novel the language of women is rich and resourceful giving way to proverbs, folklore and folksongs.
Bama protests against all forms of oppression and sufferings faced by dalit women in the first half of Sangati. But later part of the novel moves away from the state of depression and frustration. Instead it presents a positive identity to dalit women focusing their strength. She also attracts our mind towards the education system about dalit community. The paraiya women were converted to Christianity for getting education provided by them. But they were not interested to go to the school. She gave the example of Pecchiamma, who belongs to the Chakkili community, studied only up to fifth class.
But Bama’s grandmother Vellaiyamma’s husband Goyindan deserted her and went to Sri Lanka as tea plant labourer and never returned back. But Vellaiyamma managed her family and two daughters. She is the first revolutionary woman of traditional India that Bama ever met. She gave a little education to Bama’s mother Sevathi ( Sebasthiamma) up to fifth class, but her first daughter was married without education. Bama’s mother also gave education to Bama up to B.Sc. Maths and B.Ed at St.Mary’s College, Tuthukkudi.
In Sangati, as a child, Bama is shown questioning the unequal treatment meted out to her at the hands of her own maternal grandmother. The boys are kept free from all sorts of responsibilities where the girls are over-burdened with numerous endless activities.
She also raises the issues related to patriarchy in a very heroic manner. Her book Sangati teases out the way patriarchy works with dalit women. As Bama feministicaly voices out the grievances of the paraiya women, and questions against economic inequality. The money that men earn is their own and can spend as they want, whereas women bear the financial burdens of running the whole family and are always subjected to a lot of sexual harassment in the world of work. Bama suggests that sometimes a sharp tongue and obscene words are women’s only way of shaming and escaping extreme violence which give a violent and sexual nature to language. It’s the result of internalizing patriarchy based on sexual dominance and power which rests with men.
There are many strong dalit women presented in this novel who had the courage to break the shackles of authority. Bama, a bright girl, seems to have inherited her grandmother Vellaiyamma’s (Paatti) spunk. Her courageous grandmother serves as the spokesperson for the village women in dealing with the landowners when requesting for farm work. Even in these humble inquiries however, Paatti is humiliated, for instance, they force her to “walk up and down ten times a day” between their distant neighbourhoods in order to receive work orders or to collect wages for the women (8). Then when teenaged cousin Mariamma is framed against the advances of a landowner, the tribal condemns Mariamma. However she remains strong and doesn’t make any apology to them, but fined for her misbehavior. She also portrays the strong child Maikanni who after many sufferings and subjugations alone go for work and look after her mother and siblings.
From being beaten, dragged by hair, trampled upon, to forcible rape “most of them put up with all that violence and suffer a life of hellish torment” (67). This is a culture developed to break the oppressed; depending upon individual stamina, only the strongest can survive while many other women surrender to various forms of madness, the most frightening among which is “possession by spirits”.
Despite this, there are swimming holes in which the paraishi girls are free to swim, so they learn how to swim; this contrasts with the upper caste girls, who apparently lived scheduled life styles. Finally, towards the end, we can see that Bama escaped the clutches of her village and is working and living by herself. Of course in Tamil society, a young unmarried female living by herself is subject to all kinds of questions, and she faces it till the end and throws away the fear to disclose her identity as a dalit Christian woman. Bama is a powerful feminist who always fought against the patriarchal society with vengeance using Sangati and many other works.