In Karukku, Bama has
narrated her own life in Tamilnadu, where inequality and
untouchability is practiced at its zenith. Though Caste system was legally
abolished by Dr.Ambedkar, it still has its roots in certain areas of India.
Bama’s Karukku is a microcosm of various societies in Tamilnadu where
the caste system still prevails. Bama, as an autobiographical writer expresses
how she was marginalized and discriminated because of her caste
and how injustice was done to her. Her anguish and pain is reflected through
each pages of the text. The marginalization and discrimination experienced by
the author is evident that still the caste system prevails in India. The work Karukku
is an attempt of the author to express herself. Both as female and Dalit,
she experienced double discrimination throughout her life. Finally, the Subaltern
begins speak through her writings. 

 

Dalit
literature deals with the writings written by the authors who are Dalit. Dalit
Writers are the writers who have been oppressed by the Indian caste
system. Indian caste system, in other words called as Varnas, exists
more than three thousand years. The system divides Hindus into hierarchical groups
based on their work. Manusastra also provides guide lines to divide
castes further more. Brahmins are on the top of the hierarchical chain. The
people belongs to lower stratum are supposed to be labours to those who are in
upper stratum. Dr.Ambedkar tried to abolish this system. But, still the
division is obviously seen in rural villages of India, particularly in southern
parts of India. Dalit writings began in Marathi at first then spread to kannada
and Tamil.   

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Bama
is the pseudonym of tamil Dalit feminist writer Faustina Mary who belongs to a Tamil
Roman Catholic family. She has published three works including her
autobiographical work Karukku (1992). After Om Prakash Valmiki’s Joothan, a dalit
autobiography, Karukku can be considered as a milestone of Dalit
writings. As a Dalit who has undergone various discrimination, she expresses
her sufferings through the work. Being a Catholic Christian she is even
marginalized in church. As a result, she attempts to travel towards the ways of
liberation. This novel Karukku is her attempt to find an identity among
the caste based context that she lived. In the Novel, she reveals the true
nature of the society she lived. She has expressed the way how she was
marginalized and discriminated to the core.

Even in the beginning of the novel she has mentioned how
Dalits are marginalized in the affairs of religion. She says, in her village,
there is separate temple for high caste people, where the subaltern or
low caste people are not allowed to worship God. “On the top of another peak is
a perumal sami temple. A temple where the naicker community worships” (Bama 1)
It clearly visible that even in the affairs of God they are marginalized. It is
evident that every caste is known for the job they do. “It is full of Nadars
who climb palymra palms for living. To the right there are the Koravar who
sweeps streets. (Bama7) Thus, based on their work their living place was
determined. Parayar community, which is considered as the least of all, is
marginalized and forced to live near graveyard. “To the east of village lies
the cemetery. We live just next to that” (Bama 7). Moreover, she says that
Naicker people won’t even come to the place where Dalit people live. Because,
all the facilities like post office, church and school are there in Naicker Street.
Whereas, low caste people are forced to depend upon higher class people. In
certain schools they only allow high-caste children. Thus, lower caste children
are denied good education. “There was a big school in the Naicker Street which
was meant only for the upper caste children” (Bama 7). Moreover, when upper
caste people scold somebody they will scold as “you are only fit to collect
sniggers and slippers like chakkili boys.” (Bama 8). They were not even given
proper respect. Thus, Dalit people are marginalized and discriminated in Karruku.

There were Separate Streets for Pallas and Parayas.
Narrator/ Author belongs to Parayar community. She experiences discrimination
even before she knows what is discrimination is all about. In the Novel, Narrator
sees a low-caste man holding a parcel of vadai with its string by not touching
the packet. The parcel is handed over to naicker. The reason for the lower
caste man’s act is unveiled to narrator by her brother. “Naicker were upper
caste and therefore, must not touch Parayas. If they did, they would be polluted”
(Bama 15) the lower caste people are considered as uncultured and untidy. They
are discriminated and seen as source of pollutant which causes pollution. In
chapter two, she expresses her trauma of how badly her grandmother is treated
just because she is a Dalit. “Even tiny children, born the other day, would
call her by her name and order her about, just because they belong to Naicker
caste.” (Bama 16). Narrator’s patti is humiliated and discriminated by Naicker
family throughout the novel. They are only given wasted foods of previous
evening. “Naicker lady came out with her leftovers, leaned out from some
distance and tipped them into patti’s vessel, and went away.” (Bama 16) Thus, in
this manner, Naickers treat Parayar people like dog which eats scraps and
wastes.

The
unnamed narrator, probably the author, is discriminated by Upper caste people’s
generalization. As Westerns generalized Orients as uncultivated and
barbarians, here, narrator is generalized by her Head master as a thief because
of her caste. When the narrator is blamed of stealing coconut from coconut tree,
she is generalized by the Head master as “You have shown your true nature as
Paraya” (Bama 19). When Priest is asked permission, he also generalize Narrator
because of her caste by saying “After all, you are from Cheri. You might have
done it” (Bama 19). She experiences marginalization and untouchability even in public
places like bus stand. Naicker women expresses their contempt and
untouchability by refusing to sit with girls from cheri. They would even prefer
to stand all the way than sitting with cheri girls. “They’d prefer then to get
up and stand all the way rather than sit next to me or to any other women from
cheri. They’d be polluted.” (Bama 20) Thus, they are marginalized. Moreover, in
school, every caste has different rules for taking leave. When the narrator
asks permission for her siblings’ first communion she is denied permission by
saying “What celebration can there be in your caste, for the first communion?”
(Bama 22). She expresses her hatred on the higher caste society through her
writings. Karukku can be taken as a satire on the society which
marginalizes the Dalit people.

The
discrimination goes further traumatic when upper caste people do not even
consider lower caste as human beings. Narrator recounts her experience in the
Convent as “And in the convent, as well, they spoke very insulting about low
caste people. They spoke as if they didn’t even consider low-caste people as
human beings” (Bama 25). As what was done to Orientalists, here, High-caste
people put an imaginary line between them and Dalit people by saying Us and
Them. As Orientalists were thought as uncultivated, here, Low-caste people
are also considered as uncultured and dirty. “They think we have no moral
discipline nor cleanliness nor culture…In this society, if you are born into a
low-caste, you are forced to live a life of humiliation and degradation until
death.” (Bama 26).

  Moreover, in at most stage, marginalization continues
even after death. Chapter three begins with a dispute between two castes for a
burial ground. Even after death, not even the cemetery was given to low-caste
people. “The Upper-caste Christians had their own cemetery elsewhere” (Bama 29).
Moreover, Higher-caste people consider Subaltern, the lower-caste as a
community which was born to work for them. “This is a community that was born
to work. The same broken grain gruel” (Bama 55). All the facilities are
provided to Upper castes, whereas, lower caste is marginalized. “The church,
the school, the convent and the priest’s bungalow were all in the place where
the upper-caste communities lived.” (Bama 88). When upper-caste people are
asked about Dalit people, they say, “How can we allow these people to come into
our houses? There is nothing we can do for these creatures.” (Bama 115).

Thus,
throughout the novel, the narrator and her brother are terribly humiliated by
the high-caste society.  They were discriminated
in the name of caste. The only sin they did was to born in a low-caste society.
Because of the caste, they were marginalized at village, street, school and even
at bus and church. Bama, as a young girl, determines to become an educated woman
to get out of the caste system. Even though she studied well and become a
teacher in a convent, she could not get out of caste discrimination and
marginalization. Therefore, the subaltern begins to speak through
her writings. Like other Dalit writings, Bama’s Karukku also has got a
prominent place in Dalit literary arena. Thus, the subaltern, Bama could
speak. Therefore, by using Karukku, the double edged sword, she could
cut off the roots of marginalization and discrimination of the society she
lives.   She managed to talk about how she was
marginalized and discriminated in the hands of high-caste Naicker community. Though
the places and characters seem fictional, there is an underlying truth under
every fiction. Thus, Karukku reaveals the marginalization and
discrimination of Dalits.