By Bama

Released : 20/02/2021
Reviewed : 23/01/2021
Reviewed by : Sylvish Waikhom

Karukku is the first autobiography written by a Dalit woman. It is translated from Tamil by Lakshmi Holmstrom. It is a classic of subaltern writing. In Karukku, Bama not only writes about her struggles and oppression but also about the many problems that plague her community. The events of Bama’s life are not arranged in a linear or chronological manner, but written according to different themes and perspectives. For example, chapter four of the book deals with the nature of livelihood of the people of Parayar community. The writing is in first person narrative. Karukku chronicles the life of the author from childhood to adult life.

In Bama\’s village, the upper caste communities and the lower caste communities live in different parts of the village. The upper caste people marginalize the Dalits as poor and dirty. They look at the Dalits with same look they would caste on people suffering from appalling diseases. The feeling of inferiority is destructive .Dalits have been enslaved from generations to generations and been reminded repeatedly of their degradation. They never reflect upon their own state of affairs and have come to believe that they are degraded.

Most of the people in her community are agricultural laborers. The Parayars would work for the Naicker families (higher caste) from dawn until dusk for the same meal every day. Even the author’s two grandmothers were proper servants for the Naicker families’ .But the lives of the people never improve even though they toil hard every day from morning until night.

After completing her education with great difficulties, Bama worked as teacher in a school run by nuns. However, the school was nominally for the sake of the poor children .The nuns made the children perform menial tasks and did not even bother to make them aware of their situation. Instead, they reinforced the idea that Dalits were inferior.

Bama wanted to alleviate the sufferings of the dalits by working for them .So, she joined a convent to become a nun .However; she realized the bitter truth that there is great rift between the Christian beliefs and the actual practice. There were no traces of poor in the convent .In fact; the nuns were indifferent to the sufferings of the poor. They spoke that they should love everyone but they admitted mostly rich kids in the school. After spending seven years in the convent, she chose to abnegate her life as a nun. She wrote in the preface that this book was written as a means of healing herself. The oppressed are not taught about Jesus, but rather, are taught in an empty manner about humbleness, patience and gentleness .The Dalits join Christianity in order to escape the evil cage of caste system however, their caste identities always overshadows them being Christians.

There are too many repetitions. Perhaps, the author wants to discuss about her experiences from different perspectives. This is one of the most thought provoking books that I have ever read as it provides a deep insight into the oppression of the dalits within the society as well as within the Church. This book shows the evil side of humanity. It really weighs me down to know that this is not a work of fiction but, lived experiences of people .Even in contemporary times, the sick mentality towards the Dalits has hardly changed.

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