This article will consider two Hindi-language autobiographies by Dalit women, to explain how we can emphasize the collective, relational, and specifically gendered character of Dalit women’s life writing without simplistically categorizing them as testimonio, “witnessing”. Nor should we over-privilege their gendered specificity, thereby effacing the very real narrative authority, purposefulness, and perspectival control of their authors. Instead, we must be especially attentive to the language of a text and understand how the relationality and collectivity of experience is not accidental or necessarily organic to a woman’s view on her world, but is actively, politically, and consciously constructed in the course of a narrative. Predicated on a reasonable concern over the appropriation of a revolutionary new literary voice, attention to narrative form has been slow in coming to the critical and scholarly analysis of Dalit literature, somewhat paradoxically resulting in the rendering of this literature too as “untouchable”. In exploring what is therefore only a nascent formal criticism of the Dalit autobiographical genre, I believe it is important to express a note of caution against replicating the same kinds of essentializing processes of differentiation (the kind we have seen before in the critical reception of life writing in other cultures and languages) between men’s and women’s Dalit life narratives as ego-driven and individualistic linear progressions to political awakening versus relational, community-based, politically and purposefully diffuse “witnessings”. In this exciting moment in which we have the opportunity to engage with a critically important and rapidly expanding rhetorical movement such as Dalit literature, it is, I believe, a diligent recourse to textual analysis that may yet save us from such facile stereotyping.
- Kausalya Baisantry
- Susheela Thakbhaure
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Literature and Literary Theory