Book Reviews

Bama’s Sangati: A Study of Dalit Women’s Hardship

Bama walked the first major step of success and popularity with her work Karukku. She witnessed all the hardships of her own paraiyar women community. Her second work Sangati is an ambience of dalit women particularly paraiyars community, it draws a real picture of this community.

Sangati means news, events, happenings, and the book is one of the interconnected anecdotes.

Bama makes clear her intention in her acknowledgement: My mind is crowded with many anecdotes: stories not only about the sorrows and tears of Dalit women, but also about their lively and rebellious culture; their eagerness not to let life crush or shatter them, but rather to swim vigorously against the tide; about the self-confidence and self-respect that enables them to leap over their adversities by laughing at and ridiculing them; about their passion to live life with vitality, truth and enjoyment; about their hard labour. I wanted to shout out these stories (Sangati xvi).

Discussing the social evils of this community this book also throws light on the tyranny, exploitation, injustice, the cruelty, the trauma and disparity taking place in the paraiyars community.

In Sangati Bama is successful to draw a real picture of growth, decline, culture and liveliness of dalit women. She also lays emphasis on the fact that the women of paraiyar community lead a happy life in time of trouble and depression. All kinds of difficulties of dalit women their boldness and weakness are described by Bama in her Sangati.

This paper also presents a summary of gender equality and caste and gender oppression described by Bama in her Sangati with the special reference to the paraiyar community in India. In Sangati Bama describes the women character of paraiyar community. Their lives stories have been described by her in a full-fledged way. The novel starts with the quote; “if the third is a girl to behold, your courtyard will fill with gold” (1). These words said by the narrator’s grandmother show the theme of gender discrimination. Here the narrator is a little girl Bama herself. She says that in her family there is no great difference between the boys and the girls at the time of their birth but as they grow up, family members take more concern for boys than girls. She talks about that her family members believe in the fact that it is a lucky thing for a girl to belong to the odd number and for a boy to belong to the even number. She says that her grandmother was an expert in the work of confinement and she never took anything for this work, though she was never called by upper caste as she belonged to a paraichi community or to lower caste.

As Bama writes; “in my village it was my grandmother who attended every child birth. Only the upper caste never sent for her because she was a paraichi”(1). She says that her grandmother was very beautiful and she never fell ill but she never bore ornaments because her husband had gone. Because “she told herself she had become a corpse without a husband, and struggled single-handedly to care for two children”(1). Girls are not allowed to play boys game if they do so then the people abuse them: When they are playing too, girls must not play boys’ games. The boys won’t allow the girls to join in, girls can play at cooking or getting married; they can play games with stones or shells such as thattaangal or thaayam. But if they go and play boys games like kabadi or marbles or chellaangucchi, they’ll get rounding abused. People will say ‘who does she think she is? She’s just like a donkey, look. Look at the way she plays boys’ games (7).

Bama raises the issue of gender discrimination by writing; “if a boy baby cries, he is instantly picked up and give milk. It is not so with the girl. Even with breast-feeding, it is the same story; a boy is breast fed longer, with the girl, they bear them quietly, making them forget the breast” (7) Bama wants to say that everywhere women are given second position and men have higher position. When we played ‘buses’ there were always boys at the start and finish of the rope as driver and conductor, who allow the girls to enter in the middle, and shouted at them. And when we played husband and wives they were the ones in authority; they took the role of policeman and ship-owners (31).

In this novel Bama focuses on dalit women’s lives and their hard work. Men are free they have no sense of any responsibility. But the women of this community have to do great labour or toil in the field as well as at home. The women of this community are self-dependent. Because all women earn their wages, they work in the field, in the match factory though they did not get equal wages like men. They are paid lower wages than men for the same work. Bama describes the ceremony of coming age it means that a girl is able to do marriage. After coming age for a girl it is necessary to marry because people believe that it is the best way to protect a girl from bad persons. Sometimes women of this community lead a very hard life in a very pitiable condition. Everything about women is expressed in this novel in a colloquial language. When a girl comes of age there is a celebration for sixteen days. And the girl has to put an iron rod with herself to escape evil spirits. The mother of that girl goes to door to door to inform everybody about that her daughter came to age; Meanwhile, Paatti and Amma chatted with each other. Paatti said, just see whether she doesn’t come of age in two, three months. Have you noticed the bloom on her face? As soon as she gets her periods, you stop her from studying, hand her over to some fellow or the other, and be at peace (9).

Girls do not have the right of education like boys. They have to suffer not only at the work field but also at home mentally and physically. And when they revolt it causes of violence or their death. When Bama asks her Pattii about the violence she says in angrily: You ask me why? Because the man was crazy with lust. Because he wanted her every single day. How could she agree to his frenzy after she worked all hours of the day and night, inside the house and out? He is an animal, that fellow. When she refused, he practically broke her in half (10). Women do not speak among the men and they dare not to speak about right or wrong. They cannot eat before their husband: “…the husband beat her up so much even though she was carrying a child- and all this torture just because she caught some crabs from the wet field and made a curry and ate it before he came for his meal” (30). There is no justice for them.

In the case of Mariamma, she has not only humiliated but fined also. She tries to tell the truth but nobody believes her. They have to bear their insult without making complaint. Here Bama give the example of Mariamma whom an upper caste fellow tries to molest her and when she escapes from his hand she told everything to her friends they said to her; “it is best if you shut up about this. If you who will get the blame; it is you who will be called a whore”(24). They are humiliated “at church they must lick the priest’s shoes and we his slave while he threatens them with tales of God, Heaven, and Hell (35). They dare not to complaint. They used to humiliate by upper caste’ fellows and say nothing to anybody; Arokkyam said, ‘look how unfair the fines are. Even last week, when my granddaughter Paralokam went to pull up grass for the cow, the owner of the field said he would help her lift the bundle on to her head. That was his excuse for squeezing her breasts, the barbarian. He’s supposed to be the mudalaali’s son. He is supposed to be an educated fellow. The poor child came and told me and wept. But say we dared to tell anyone else about it (26).

It is common in men of paraiyar community that they do not have the courage to revolt against upper caste people. She describes that women do not have a single moment of rest for themselves. Always they have to lead such a life in which they work without taking rest. Bama writes about them; “When they come home in the evening, there is no time even to draw a breath” (59) because all day they remain busy with other domestic works like: to collect water, to cook food, to fed hungry children and husband etc. after doing all this they do not sleep soundly as at night they have to satisfy to their husband. As she writes; “night after night they must give in to their husbands’ pleasure. Even if a women’s body wracked with pain, the husband is bothered only with his own satisfaction” (59).

So the writer asks to her Paatti; Why we be the same as boys? We aren’t allowed to talk loudly or laugh noisily; even when we sleep we can’t stretch out on our backs nor lie face down on our bellies. We always have to walk with our heads bowed down, gazing at our toes. You tell us all this rubbish and keep us under your control. Even when our stomachs are screaming with hunger, we mustn’t eat first. We are allowed to eat only after the men in the family have finished and gone. What, Patti aren’t we also human beings (29)?

Through the characters of Mariamma and Thaayi she presents the theme of universal gender issues, unhappy married life, humiliation and oppression. Their husbands also humiliate them by beating them mercilessly and cutting their hair. But they never revolt against it. When the narrator asks about it to her mother, why she does not leave this fellow her mother replies; “It’s not so easy to get away, once you are married. Once you’ve put your head in the mortar, can you escape from the pestle? No, she must continue to suffer until her head rests on the earth at last”(44).

She says that sometimes in her community, women are free to select a life partner or to do remarry: Some women marry a second time after the death of a husband. That is quite normal among us. On the other hand, among the other communities of our village, you can see straight away, the indignities suffered by widows. In our street though, everyone is held the same: widows are not treated differently (90). Women in other community have no choice to do love marriage and if someone tries to do so it may have a terrible or inhuman consequence.

As Bama described the story of a girl who has seven brothers and they killed her mercilessly: …but they took her away, you see, deep into the forest. There are hardly any sign of human beings there. Only wild animals like elephants and lions and tigers. There they dragged her out of the cart and without even caring that she was a full term pregnant woman, with one sweep of a sword they separated her head from her body. They sliced open her stomach, took out the baby, twisted its neck, and killed it. (53) Men spend their money according to their wish while the women have to support their family. If man goes off money he has earned, drinks as much as he likes, and eats in coffee-stands and food-stalls, then how can a woman go out to work and earn enogh money to fill her children’s bellies and do whatever else is necessary in the house? How can she manage everything with just her wages? (63)

In this novel Bama raises the issue that even a little girl of this community does not lead a happy or free life. She gives the example of Maikkanni, a little girl whose father comes at home when he wants he never cares for his family. When her mother goes to work in the field, the poor girl has to do all the works like; From the time she woke up, she sprinkled the front yard with water and swept it, and then carried on with all the house work: swept the rest house, scrubbed the cooking pots, collected water, washed clothes, gathered firewood, went to the shops, cooked the kanji. She did it all, one after other. (70) She goes to match factory to do work when her mother is pregnant. She has moved from the window seat by the boys as she is a girl. She has beaten by her father because she spent one rupee on ice from her wages. But still she leads her life happily. Here Bama suggests; We must be strong. We must show by our own resolute lives that we believe ardently in our independence. I told myself that we must never allow our minds to be born out, damaged, and broken in the belief that this is our fate. Just as we work hard so long as there is strength in our bodies, so, too, must be strengthen our hearts and minds in order to survive. (59)

In Sangati Bama portrays the real picture of dalit paraiyar women. She describes all aspects of paraiyar women from their birth to their death. Having so many troubles they lead their life happily. Bama says that Dalit women are not only oppressed by their men but by upper castes also. Bama here makes a comparison between upper caste women and the women of her community. So she writes; “it is not the same for women of other castes and communities. Our women cannot bear the torment of upper caste masters in the field, and at home they cannot bear the violence of their husbands”(65). She says that in her community women are not depending on their husbands like other castes women fully depend on their husband. Paraiyar women are economically self-dependent because they earn their own money by doing work in the field. These women have some freedom, which upper caste women do not have.

Bama describes the story of Raakkamma whose husband beats her badly and she replies in the same manner by using obscene language: Paakkiaraj was abusing her in a vile and vulgar way, and was just about to hit her. And raakkamma was giving it back to him word for word. Even before his hand could fall on her, she screamed and shrieked, Ayyayyo, he is killing me. Vile man you’ll die, you’ll be carried out as a corpse, you low-life, you bastard, you this you that….(61). On this her husband says to her “….shut your mouth, you whore! Otherwise I’ll stamp so hard on your stomach, your guts will scatter everywhere!” (61). Listning this Raakkamma says; “go on,da, kick me, let’s see you do it, da! Let’s see if you are a real man…. She spat at him” (61). When she says this her husband’s fury was beyond everything and he says “… keep all your arrogance in your parents’ house….than he dragged her by her hair, pushed her down, and kicked her lower belly. But she has courage to reply him back. She cries with pain but she replies him; She shouted obscenities, she scooped out the earth and flung it about. How dare you kick me, you low life? Your hand will get leprosy! How dare you pull my hair? Disgusting man, only fit to drink a women’s farts! Instead of drinking today everyday, why don’t you drink your son’s urine? Why don’t you drink my monthly blood? And she lifted up her sari in front of the entire crowd gathered there. (61)

Bama describes another scene of women’s pitiable condition; Suddenly a woman thudded past us, running as fast as she could. She was pregnant….her husband came chasing, a stick of firewood in his hand….he caught up with the women and dragged her along by the hair….how dare you to defy me!’ Because she was heavily pregnant, her whole stomach dragged on the earth as he pulled her along. Shocked at the sight, people shouted at him, you brute, you animal, haven’t you got even a dorp of human feeling or compassion in you? How can you torture her like that, without even caring that she is pregnant? (62)

In this novel through different narratives Bama draws a pathetic picture of dalit women’s lives. She says that the women do not know to whom should they vote for? They vote to the person who was suggested to them by their husband. Bama throws light on the different aspects of Dalit women’s life style like various issues regarding separation in marriage, child labour, and status of women across the society, through the characters of Mikanni, Muukkkama, Irulaayi, and Pecchiamma. Every aspect of society related to women is revealed here by Bama because here she describes the theme of gender discrimination, caste based oppression, sexual violence, the condition in which dalit women grow up and men and upper castes’ treatment with dalit women. Women are not allowed to see cinema, they cannot do inter-caste marriage though they are literate; “a girl who has a little education and has progressed somewhat, is not allowed to seek a like-minded man, and certainly not marry anyone of her choice” (109).

Bama defines dalit women as; Everywhere you look, you see blows and beatings; shame and humiliation. If we had a little schooling at least, we could live with more awareness. When they humiliate us we do get furious and frustrated…..because we haven’t been to school or learnt anything, we go about like slave all our lives, from the day we are born till the day we die. As if we are blind, even though we have eyes (118). After describing all troubles and difficulties she suggests something for the welfare of women. We must bring up our girls alike, showing no difference between them as they grow into adults. We should give our girls the freedom we give our boys. If we rear our children like this form the time they are babies, women will reveal their strength. Then there will come a day when men and women will live one, with no difference between them; with equal rights. Then injustice, violence, and inequalities will come to an end, and the saying will come true that ‘ women can make and women can break’ (123). Bama in her Sangati describes autobiographical elements in a very bold and realistic way, which she saw in her life by using colloquial language, abuses used by women in their daily life. She ends her novel with an optimistic point of view. At the end of the novel Bama says that she has a hope; “I am hopeful that such a time will come soon” (123).

Works Cited

  • Ambedkar, B.R. Annihilation of Caste. Bombay: The Bharat Bhusan Press, 1945. Print.
  • Bama. Sangati. Trans. Lakshmi Holmstrom. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.
  • Beteille, Andre. Caste, Class, Power : Changing Patterns of Stratification in a Tanjore Village. Delhi : Oxford University Press, 1996. Print.
  • Clarke, Sathi. Dalits and Christianity : Subaltern Religion and Liberation Theology in India. New Delhi : Oxford University Press, 1998. Print.
  • Cuddon, J.A. A Dictionary of Literary terms and Literary Theory. Delhi: House, 1998. Print.
  • Dangle, Arjun, ed. Homeless in My Land: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Short Stories. Bombay : Disha Books, 1992. Print.
  • Heilbrun, Carolyn G. and Catharian R Stimpson. Theories of Feminist Criticism Dialogue”. Feminist Literary Criticism. Ed. Josephive Donovan. Kentucky: Lexington University Press,1975. Print.
  • MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Paper. 7 th ed. New Delhi: East- West Pvt. Ltd., 2009. Print.

(This review got published in the off line Anthology " Breakingthe Shackles: The New Women in Contemporary Literature." In 2015)


More by :  Durga Patva

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