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Omprakash Valmiki’s Joothan
|by Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee|
An Untouchable’s Narrative of An Untouchable's Life
The name ‘Untouchable’ always brings to our mind Mulk Raj Anand’s book. But Omprakash Valmiki’s Joothan is written from the personal experiences of dalit who rises to prominence from his marginalized presence. Omprakash Valmiki’s voice is today recognized as an empowered voice of a writer who works on behalf of Dalits. Himself born in a desperately poor family in North India, the lowest caste in Indian society, a community of the illiterate Untouchables, he describes from his personal experiences the torments of the Dalits who even have no right to fight for education or food. He describes how these people are subject to an institutionalized slavery.
Viramma is an agricultural worker and midwife in Karani, a village near Pondicherry in southeast India. Viramma is a member of the caste called Untouchable. Of her 12 children, only three survive. Viramma's story--told over the course of 10 years--is a vivid portrayal of a proud and expressive woman living at the margins of society. Basically the focus is on untouchability which was abolished in 1949 only in paper. For decades after that, the dalits continued to face discrimination, economic deprivation, violence, and ridicule. Valmiki shares his heroic struggle to survive a preordained life of perpetual physical and mental persecution and his transformation into a speaking subject under the influence of the great Dalit political leader, B. R. Ambedkar. A document of the long-silenced and long-denied sufferings of the Dalits, Joothan is a major contribution to the archives of Dalit history. Told as a series of piercing vignettes, Joothan is also a remarkable record of a rare Indian journey, one that took a boy from extremely wretched socioeconomic conditions to prominence. It is a rare glimpse into that other history of India, of marginalized section of people about whom few talks and almost nobody writes. Omprakash Valmiki describes his life as an untouchable, or Dalit, in the newly independent India of the 1950s.
Untouchable is Mulk Raj Anand's first novel and it brought to him immense popularity and prestige. This novel shows the realistic picture of society. In this novel Anand has portrayed a picture of untouchable who is sweeper boy. This character is the representative of all down trodden society in pre-independence of India. The protagonist of this novel is the figure of suffering because of his caste. With Bakha, the central character, there are other characters who also suffer because of their lower caste. They live in mud-walled cottages huddled colony in which people are scavengers, the leather-workers, the washer men, the barbers, the water-carriers, the grass-cutters and other outcastes. The lower castes people are suffering because they are by birth outcaste. But Mulk Raj Anand had depicted the hypocrisy of the upper caste people that men like Pt. Kali Nath enjoy the touch of the Harijan girls. Mulk Raj Anand exposes all this hypocrisy and double standard or double dealing. In this novel Bakha is a universal figure to show the oppression, injustice, humiliation to the whole community of the outcastes in India. Bakha symbolizes the exploitation and oppression which has been the fate of untouchables like him. His anguish and humiliation are not of his alone, but the suffering of whole outcastes and underdogs.
But Jhootan of Omprakash is a novel of the untouchable, by the untouchable and yet not merely for the untouchable but for everyone’s reading. Omprakash’s narrative voice in Jhootan brims with a quiet sense of outrage at what he had to endure as a human. We can see his memoir as a form of Satyagraha. The book veritably becomes ‘the axe for the frozen sea inside us.’ More Indians ought to read Jhootan and let its sharp edges get to operate inside them.
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