& occasionally about other things, too...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hindu - a novel

Before he is murdered, Tatya Kamble, the main character of Sharankumar Limbale’s Marathi language novel Hindu, says, 

“Why do we stay in a religion that does not allow you to enter the temple? Why do you stay in a religion that does not acknowledge your humanity? Why do you stay in a religion that does not allow you even water? A religion that forbids the treatment of humans as humans is not a religion but naked domination. A religion in which touching of unclean animals is permitted but touching of humans prohibited is not a religion but insanity. A religion that tells a group of human beings to not get education, not amass wealth, not carry arms is not a religion but a mockery of human values.”

Arun Prabha Mukherjee’s English translation of Limbale’s novel succeeds quite effortlessly in bringing the reader uncomfortably close to the exploitation that the Dalits of India face every day. It is a remarkable achievement because Limbale’s novel doesn’t follow a linear narrative, it’s a pointillist quilt that darts into different directions. It paints a grim picture of murder and injustice.

Limbale is a prominent Dalit writer and is an activist and his writing is dry and unsentimental. It’s not surprising that Hindu is unrelenting. The novel is set in rural Maharashtra – in Achalpur, but it portrays all that is wrong in India – a country that now boasts of nearly 50 billionaires but despite all the talk of double digit growth and development and prosperity, a majority of the population continue to be denied basic human rights. And this is institutionalised, without any effort to change the status quo.

Mihir Sharma, writing in India’s Business Standard, on Dr. Ambedkar’s birth anniversary (14 April) this year, gave a good perspective to the untrammeled domination of the upper castes in the Hindu society.

He says, “The Indian elite confuse its tiny, mediocre, incestuous world of networks and inherited advantage with true merit, the merit that comes from striving upwards in the night when circumstances are unfavourable. India’s privileged children go to schools where their social assumptions are unchallenged, to colleges where their parents went before them and that most of the country can’t afford, and to jobs where the networks fostered in the exclusivity of those institutions support and nourish them... In post-liberalisation India, that isn’t true at all. Our elite dominate our cultural production, as well, helping it dehumanise everyone else.”

Tatya Kamble’s son Rohit and his activist friends circulate a flyer at a community centre which triggers severe tensions in Achalpur:

“We wanted to convert to Buddhism. We still do. However, converting to a religion related to Indian culture brings about no change in our status in the eyes of the Hindus. It is for that reason that we are converting to a foreign origin religion. It is only then perhaps that the mentality to degrade us will change. We are Indians. We look like Indians. India is our motherland. Preventing our conversion means forcing us to continue living in the confines of the Hindu caste system. The Hindu religion that considers us untouchable is not acceptable to us.”


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