Different Strands of Marginality

Marginality and Subaltern Issues
in African American and Indian Dalit Writings


This study is undertaken in the light of previous researches done on the marginal class Dalit in India and called by different names in the various parts of the world based on their colour, caste, eating-habits and working profile. The present attempt of this paper is to compare the issues of caste, class, community, race and gender in the African, Australian, American and Indian Dalit marginal writings. The concept of Dalit is not centered to a particular ethnic group, class or country now it has its diabolic roots worldwide. This paper tries to give a comparative analysis of the roots of marginality and its associated challenges not only in India but different parts of the world. Here, the focus is on the different strands of marginality. Issue of apartheid in Africa, aboriginal roots in Australia, black and white skin-discrimination in America and untouchability in India, are the different aspects on which this paper centers around. This study is an effort to bring back the dream of Ramrajya[1] in which there is no inequality on the name of caste, community or economy and everybody enjoys the life whatever profession the person adopts. Dream is to have equal rights for all to whatever category s/he belongs. These suppressed, depressed, oppressed and the exploited people should be given some fringe benefits to get back normalcy in their lives as said in Ramrajya. These marginalized classes have a suppressed desire to emerge from that suffocated environment to get justice, job equality, education, economic status, and right to get liberty to equal participation in the administration and democracy of their country or abroad.

Key Words
Dalits, Untouchablity, Scheduled-caste, Jats, Aborigines, Apartheid, Identity, Racism, Culture, Religion, Sex, Inequality and Post-colonialism.


Social and economical inequality is a global phenomena and everybody has to adapt himself/herself accordingly. This economical gap across the world produces the horrendous ignominy. Almost every country has some classes, communities or groups of people who are economically backward and thus deprived of the basic amenities of the life and are neglected by the upper and lower-middle classes. These people are socially alienated and are not allowed to mix with others in any social activity. These people live separately from others. In this context, this paper is the study of the fifth category of varnas (colours) called Dalits or untouchables; the four varnas are Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras according to ancient Hindu scriptures. The present work is an effort to highlight and analyze the issues of Apartheid in Africa, Aborigines in Australia, Blacks in America and Dalits in India and how these marginalized classes have a suppressed desire to emerge from that suffocated environment to get justice, job, equality, education, economic status, and right to get liberty to equal participation in the administration and democracy. A conceptual framework of castes of all these four countries produces a clear comparative picture of Dalits in India, Igbo community in Nigeria, aboriginal Noongar people in Australia and the Black-white discrimination in America.

What is Literature of Marginality?

Literature of Marginality is the literature that deals with the marginalized class of the world who are kept devoid of their fundamental rights to participate in the social, religious, cultural, political, educational and economic spheres of their lives and are kept aloof, alienated, or segregated physically from the general public called the sophisticated Hindu or the elite classes of the world. Literature of marginality expositarily unravels the strands how the marginalized classes live a miserable life and how even the developed and developing countries are unable to solve the issue of caste and untouchability in the era where every country is claiming to solve the economical, sex and caste-based discriminations and a large amount money is being consumed on these socio-economical backward classes. These people are fringed with their fundamental rights and live a half-lived life because these people are called the indistinguishable part of the country but in the name of facilities they have nothing and it is very difficult to keep their body and soul together. If somebody peeps into their private lives, one can easily discover that sometimes these people live hand to mouth and sometimes it is very difficult to manage three scores meal for their family and children. The literature of marginality, in brief, tries to highlight the hardships of the marginalized people so that the marginality may be uprooted from the world and the government can take adequate steps to resolve this burning problem of marginality.

Who are Dalits or Untouchables?

The term ‘Dalit' has roots in Sanskrit where the root 'dal' means 'to split, crack, open'.[2] The adjective of ‘dal’ is Dalit[3]. The term “Dalit” means “those who have been broken and ground down by those above them in the social hierarchy in a deliberate and active way”[4]. Untouchables, burst, split, scattered, dispersed, depressed or crushed classes, underprivileged, downtrodden, ground-down and Harijans are generally called Dalits. Dalits are those ‘outcastes ’ which fall outside the traditional four-fold caste system consisting of the hereditary Brahmin, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras classes; who are considered impure, impious and sometimes even ominous, and are therefore sent out or isolated from the society due to their being Dalits or untouchables. The Britishers called the Dalits 'the Depressed Classes' and ’the Scheduled Castes', in the Scheduled Caste Act of India, 1935. Mahatma Gandhi named them 'Harijans' which means 'children of God'.

Different Names of Dalits in Indian Context

Dalits are called by different names like Dasa, Dasysa, Raksasa, Asura, Avarna, Nisada, Panchama, Chandala, Harijan, Untouchable and many more. These marginalized people are called by different names in India i.e. Chura in Punjabi, Bhangi or Lal Beghi in Hindi, Mahar in Marathi, Mala in Telugu, Paraiya in Tamil and Pulayan in Malayalam. The Dalits are called by different names in different parts of the country. These names were given by the caste-builder people as expressions of contempt. Besides these names, there are a number of other titles or names which have been given to them at the level of the regional language. For example, to give themselves a name and this is 'Dalit', which refers to the hardship of their condition of life. This name is a constant reminder of the age-old oppression. The term is also an expression of their hope to recover their past self-identity. If today the Dalits are reduced to a life of abject poverty and treated as polluted human beings, it is the non-Dalit that must be seen as the agent of their dehumanization.

Prevalence of Dalitism in Different Forms

There is in Hebrew a root 'dal' meaning low, weak, poor. In the Bible, different forms of this term have been used to describe people who have been reduced to nothingness or helplessness. The present usage of the term Dalit goes back to the nineteenth century, when a Marathi social reformer and revolutionary, Mahatma Jyotirao Phule (1826-1890), used it to describe the outcastes and untouchables as the oppressed and the broken victims of our caste-ridden society. Under the charismatic leadership of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (1891-1956), this term gained greater importance and popularity. During the 1970s, the followers of the Dalit Panther Movement of Maharashtra gave currency to the term 'Dalit' as a constant reminder of their age-old oppression, denoting both their state of deprivation and the people who are oppressed. This term for them is not a mere name or title: for them it has become an expression of hope, the hope of recovering their past self-identity. The term has gained a new connotation with a more positive meaning. According to news[5] many of the saints and avtars (incarnates) worshipped in India are from lower classes: Maharshi Ved Vyas, who wrote the Mahabharta, which also contains the Bhagwadgita, was the son of a fisherwoman; Valmiki, once a highway robber, who composed the Ramayana, was also from a fisherman’s caste; Chandragupta Maurya of the Maurya dynasty originates from Muria, a tribe which used to collect Peacock (Mor) feathers; and today’s Amrita Anandamayi who hails from Kerala fisherman caste and has millions of followers, many of them upper caste Indians. This news denotes that Prevalence of Dalitism is not only for humiliation but also as a position of dignity, up to the extent of worshipping.

Sea Change in the Position of Dalits in India in Present Time

The situation of Dalits in present time is much better than the 1940s or earlier. That time they were not allowed to take part in social activities. Jats, Brahmins, Baniyas etc. high caste did not go to eat in their matrimonial ceremonies. But now a sea change can be noticed in their position and a lot of improvement can be seen in their building material. Pucca houses have replaced the mud-built houses in the villages. Now Dalit houses are seen but not so many. Dalits now run administration and are on reputed posts due to reservation system and the efforts taken by them and the government. In the near future Dalit families will not be socially or economically backward and due Dalit awareness they are coming forward to participate in the social and democratic system of society.

Dalits Voices in Indian Literature

“Only ash knows the experience of burning”[6] - Jai Prakash Kardam

Dr. Jai Prakash Kardam born in a poor Dalit family in Ghaziabad, Uttarpradesh is pioneer among Dalit writers. He has worked in many state/central government jobs. At present he is working in the High Commission of India in Mauritius as a second secretary. Much research work has been done on him. He has worked for Dalit reformation and liberation.

The above statement by Dr. Kardam indicates that only Dalits know the experience of burning­- burning in the fire of sorrows, miseries, hatred, disrespect, injustice, inequality and untouchability. Non-Dalits do not have this experience. Dalits have specific experiences of their lives, which non-Dalits do not have. Only Dalit writers can express their experiences in an authentic manner and others fail in their attempt. Non-Dalit writers may be sympathetic to the Dalits, they may be their well-wishers but their experiences about Dalits are not of secondary level because they describe somebody else’s saga of sorrow. They are the only observers or spectators of torture and exploitation of Dalits, they are not sufferers. This difference of experiences between Dalit and non-Dalits makes the difference between the writings of Dalit and non-Dalit writers.

This term ‘Dalit literature’ was introduced first in 1958 by Maharashtra Dalit literature Society in Mumbai presided over by Mahatma Jyotirao Phule Jyotiba Phule and Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar. One of the first Dalit writers was Madara Chennnaiah, an 111th-century cobbler-saint who lived in the reign of western Chalukya[7] and Dohara Kakkaiah is another earlier name in the Dalit History. Om Prakash Valmiki, Arun Prabha Mukherjee, Joseph Mackwan, Dalpat Chauhan, Namdeo Dhasal, Gayakwad P. Shivakami, Ajay Anavaria, Deshraj Kali, Iqbal Udasi, Sambhaji Tukaram Gaikwad, Laxman Maruti Gaikwad, Laxman Mane, Arun Kamble, Shantabai Kamble, Raja Dhale, Daya Pawar, Annabhau Sathe, Bandhu Madhav, Ambadad Shinde, Murlidhar Bansode, Kishor Shantabai Kale, Heera Bansode, Mallika Amershekh, Baburao Bagul, Bandhu Madhav, Shankarao Kharat, Mahashweta Devi, Basudev Sunani, Bama, Abhimani, Poomani, Imayam, Marku, Mangal Rathod, Neerave Patel, Perumal Murugan, Palamalai, Sudhakar, D. Gopi and Munshi Premchand. Baburao Bagul’s work, ‘When I had Concealed My Caste’ published in 1963, brought a new momentum to Dalit literature. Namdeo Dhasal is the founder of Dalit Panther.

Laxman Gaikwad, a famous Dalit writer who lives in Mumbai, is the author of Uchalaya (the Branded). He himself has fought for the rights of labour, farmer and slum-dwellers. At present he is working as Convener of Sahitya Academy, and President of all India Denotified Nomadic Tribes and his real agony is expressed in his autobiographical book The Branded.

Anybody can feel the pain in the starting lines of the novel The Branded: “My name is Laxman Gaikwad. I was born in a vagabond family with no home, no land to plough, not even a caste to call our own.”(p.01)

L.S. Rokade’s poem ‘To be or not to be born’ translated by Shanta Gokhale describes the Dalit visions in a lucid way:

I still in your womb, was wondering
Do I want to be born-
Do I want to be born at all
In this land?
Where all paths raced horizonwards
But to me barred
All of you lazy, eyes fixed on the sky. (p. 01)[8]

In the another poem That Single Arm translated by Priya Adarkar in which a rich person beats and then is about to kill the poor describes the helplessness of a poor in front of a rich though the latter has only a single arm but cannot attack:

No they cannot attack him
For the vision of the single arm
Will remain before them. (p.03)

In the poem Send my Boy to School translated by Priya Adarkar, Waman Kardak appeals to the master to sent his /her child to school to become a great man in life and she is ready to stitch his suit by his/her needle. She appeals:

Send my boy to school
lord and master
I tell you
Send my boy to school. (p.08)

Vllas Rashinkar: No Entry for the New Sun translated by Priya Adarkar tells the very pathetic plight of separation of Dalits and untouchables who are not considered the part of the society. They entry is prohibited in those so-called people:

There is no entry here
for the new sun.
This is the empire
of the ancestor worship
of blackened castoffs,
-of darkness. (p. 24)

Omprakash Valmiki’s own experiences in his book Joothan move the readers. This is how he describes his community:

No native place. No birth-date. No house or farm. No caste, either. That is how I was born. In an Uchalya community, at Dhanegaon in Taluka Latur. (p.01)

At another place he writes about untouchability, “Untouchability was so rampant that while it was all right to touch dogs and cats or cows and buffalos, if one happened to touch a chuhra, one got contaminated or polluted. The Chuhras were not seen as human” (p.02) Om Prakash Valmiki’s school experiences are very bad. When his father says other Dalits to send their children to school, they blatantly refuse him saying, “What is the point of sending him to school? When has a crow become a swan?” (p.06)

The Joothan or the left over remnants of the food were eaten by Chuhras, “What sort of life was that? After working hard day and night the price of our sweat was just joothan”(p.10) By sending him school his father was trying to change his caste i.e. his work of cleaning the dirt but about caste Om Prakash Valmiki had different notions. According to him, it cannot be changed by education, “It can be improved by taking birth in the right caste.’’(58)

Besides humiliation in the school, Om Prakash had to do the work of sweeper in the school in order to get education. His teacher used to give him abuses of mother and sister which cannot be given place herein due to the obscenity. Yet he did not tell his story of torture in the family. His father incidentally notices him at cleaning work in the school and objects. Only then he gets rid of this mean act of his school teacher. Despite of all these hardships of life and his objections O.P. Valmiki knows that this revolt can neither change the plight of Dalits nor caste system will be uprooted by it. That’s why he concludes his novel with a reality that caste is inseparable part of our lives, “‘Caste’ is very important element of Indian society. As soon as a person is born, caste determines his or her destiny” (p.134)

Australian Aboriginal Literature

Kim Scott, the descendant of the Wirlomin Noongar people, has his aboriginal roots and he has depicted his painful experiences, though an indirect way, in his books. He has won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Pacific for his bestselling book That Deadman Dance (2011). He is author of the Miles Franklin Award Winning Benang (1999) and True Country (1993). Born in Perth, Western Australia, but moved to Albany when he was three or four years old and did all his schooling there. He works at Curtin University, in the Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute.

That Deadman Dance explores the early contact between the Aboriginal Noongar people, European settlers and American whalers. The novel's hero, a young Noongar man, named Bobby Wabalanginy, is forced to take sides: he must choose between the old world and the new, his ancestors and his settler friends. His book also has the same theme in which the central character Billy is a school teacher and belongs to the aboriginal community called Kanarma in Australia. He struggles to search his identity in the oddities of life.
Kim Scott's Benang subtitle From the Heart is a story about Australia's history of white subjugation of indigenous people. It depicts the story of the first white man born. This deeply poignant and haunting story of the novel is narrated by Harvey, who describes himself as the first-born-successfully-white-man-in-the-family-line.

Subaltern perspectives in American Literature

Race-discrimination and alienation are two equally forceful elements of Tony Morrison’s works. These two elements have been presented as two sides of a single coin and the theme of alienation emerges due to bias done with the blacks by the white community. Blacks are economically backward and their social, political and practical situation also is not good. It is all because of their colorless. The blacks have debts and in an effort to get out of that they succumb to their masters and live a miserable life of slaves. These people are double slaves – slaves of their souls and slaves of the whites. They have to work hard to live a normal life but despite of their strenuous efforts, they are unable to get back normalcy in their lives.

Morrison's Beloved is a heart rending tale of race discrimination. In this novel, Sethe has to undergo a physical pain that she does not want to repeat with the other blacks. Not even this she wants to kill her child because she has fear if she does not do so her child may be the victim of her master like her. She wants to keep her children safe from her owner. She considers death better than this life of humiliation and disrespect. Sethe speaks out the long rooted brutality of whites over the blacks in the novel. Her daughters, son and other characters also feel that they are victim of the race discrimination. All of their life is spent in a shameful and the inhuman behavior done by their masters.

According to Moglen (1993), "Beloved's story is a story of personal and collective loss: the deprivation of home, abandonment by an enslaved mother, the erasure of a disinherited father, the alienation of her body in rape and of her mind in the shattering of the mirror of identity" (p. 23).. According to Berger (1996), "The accounts in the novel of life at Sweet Home and of Sethe's and Paul D's escapes from slavery lead unswervingly toward Beloved's death; likewise, the events the follow the murder remain charged with its horror and cannot be interpreted apart from it" (Berger, p. 409).


There are so many instances of racism in this novel and the depiction that Morrison is able to develop through the way that she writes. "Beloved's narrative spirals around, is ordered by, a traumatic event whose model is historical" (Berger, p. 409).

Sethe is a single mother working at a low-paying job. She suffers a mental breakdown and loses her job, and the community must support her. Her sons leave home, never to be seen again. One of her daughters is in capable of leaving home, and Sethe murders the other one. Sethe's family is certainly dysfunctional, if not...pathological. (Berger p. 411).

Morrison creates the character of Sethe in this light for the mere reason that she is trying to address the race issue present in the United States. By writing the character this way, she is acknowledging the fact that most white Americans believe all black families live similar to the way of Sethe and her family, and are therefore stereotyping. It is the belief of white people during this era that most black families do have single mothers, males who abandon the family, and one or more illegitimate children. The single mother is manifested in Sethe, the male abandonment is the result of Howard and Buglar leaving 124, and the illegitimate child shows itself in Beloved. Segregation occurs because of ideas like these, and because white parents instill a sort of fear of the black race in their children. Also, there is the overlying issue of white superiority from the slave days, and the idea of ownership. "Schoolteacher, the slave-master who inherits Sweet Home along with Sethe, Paul D, and Halle, beats one of his blacks "'to show him that definitions belong to the definers, not to the defined'" (Moglen, p. 190). Morrison also addresses this race issue in Beloved when talking about the schoolteacher and the sheriff's arrival in Baby Suggs' yard.

The repeated returns of the murdered child's ghost in the North during Reconstruction suggest that racial violence will inevitably return at any time and in any place as long as the systemic nature of racism is not addressed. (Berger, p.411).

James Berger's quote explains that if we do not address racism, nothing is ever going to change. We may try to sweep it under the rug and deny the presence of our prejudice, but if we don't try to fix the wrongs that we do, nothing will ever be more than superficial.

Apartheid in African Literature

Apartheid[9] was a system of racial segregation enforced through legislation by the National Party governments, who were the ruling party from 1948 to 1994, of South Africa, under which the rights of the majority black inhabitants of South Africa were curtailed and white supremacy and Afrikaner minority rule was maintained. According to free online dictionary apartheid is “an official policy of racial segregation formerly practiced in the Republic of South Africa, involving political, legal and economic discrimination against non-whites.[10]

Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart presents a different idea on race, class and colour. Achebe in this novel describes that the people of Umuofia are drawn together into frenzy by the “intoxicating Rhythm” (p.33).Okonkwo’s life in the village is just as a man of exile and when he comes back in the village again he finds the colonial rule and the arrival of the whites in the village.

The second missionary to Umuofia is a man of discrimination who thinks about even the things as black and white: “He saw things as black and white. And black was evil. He saw the world as battlefield in which the children of light were locked in mortal conflict with the sons of darkness.(p.130).Things Fall Apart is not only novel that deals with racism, cultural clash and traditional society. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness also has the same undertones which is overlap between racial consciousness and identity. The black skin in Africa was considered as an identifying mark of mercenary.


The global scenario has now completely transformed and there are so many developments in the world and there is not much discrimination in the name of race, caste, religion or colour. The subaltern communities have become much aware and they have rejected the sub-human status imposed on them by the high class society. Another aspect of segregation emerges through the study that Dalits people are non-vegetarian and the rigid Hindu class who don’t use onion and garlic, that’s one of the reasons they do not entertain them due to fear of loss of their religion. When the disputes arise on the basis of eating habits, these marginalized people prefer to live their life independently. Second reason of the change is that many Hindus have also started eating non-vegetarian food and many Dalits don’t take non-vegetarian diet. All sit together and discuss their social issues without any hesitation. But one thing is clear; it is bad to call somebody Dalit or sub-human. One more important thing, reservation system in a country should be based on the economical status of the person and not only to the Dalit and backward category but to the real poor sections of society and should be benefitted accordingly. The Brahmin cult should be uprooted from one’s mind. Now the era of Gandhism is over and the revolution era has begun to uproot this evil- the era of Ambedkarism. Another point to keep in mind is, if ‘Black is beautiful’ then ‘Dalit is also dignified’. So, let us take pride being Dalit or marginalized class of the world because many of the gods and great persons also belong to this dignified category.

Works Cited and Consulted
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Knopf, 1987.
Moglen, Helene. Redeeming History: Toni Morrison's Beloved. 1993. Cultural Critique, (24), 17-40.
Berger, James. Ghosts of Liberalism: Morrison's Beloved and the Moynihan Report.1996. PMLA, 111(3), 408-420.
Valmiki, Omprakash. Joothan: A Dalit’s Life. Translated by Arun Prabha Mukerjee. Kolkata: Samya.2007.

[1] In Hindu scriptures and especially in Valmiki’s Ramayana, Lord Rama is called an ideal king of restriction in the Raghu ancestry whose kingdom is considered ideal where there was no discrimination or bias on the name of their work or caste and everybody had equal rights whether king or a beggar.
[3] The origin of this word can be found in the Oxford Sanskrit English Dictionary, new edition, 1964, edited by world-renowned Sanskrit scholar, Sir Monier Williams.
[6]This quote is taken by Dr J P Kardam original from Dr Manager Pandey, a renowned Hindi critic, who wrote in the preface to a collection of Dalit short stories edited by Ramnika Gupta.


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Views: 3474      Comments: 1

i have read this article which i found an appealing one..



vinod kumar
21-Jan-2014 15:54 PM

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