Marginalization and The Indian English Literature

In a world when issues relating to human rights have been under critical focus, literary depictions of the experiences of marginalized groups have acquired great significance. The modern spurt in Dalit literature in India is an attempt to bring to the forefront the experiences of discrimination, violence and poverty of the Dalit. Expression of these experiences have long been buried in silence, often with religious and social sanction and relegated to the margins as non-literary. More recent is the trend to deny their existence altogether. The growing corpus of Dalit texts, poems, novels and autobiographies, however, seek to rectify this phenomenon by examining the nuances of Dalit culture. Dalit literature is one of the most important literary movements to emerge in post-independence India. The transformation of the stigmatized identity of these so called ‘untouchables’ to a self-chosen identity as Dalit is a story of collective struggle waged over centuries. Mahatma Jyotirao Phule and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, two towering figures in the pantheon of Dalit history, were the first to appropriate the word.

The voice of the marginalized and the oppressed is a great tool to recognize the obscured conditions that exist in the world around. With the knowledge gained from marginalized literature, we will be able to fight ignorance surrounding the lives of these people and the prejudice that is a result of that ignorance.

20180718_234500_0001One of the important objectives of Indian English writers of fiction has been the creative interpretation of Indian society and its culture and the ‘formulation and projection of the Indian image. The Indian society is broadly classified into three main communities, namely, the upper-caste, the non-upper-caste and the depressed classes. Among them, there existed many castes and sub-castes, which followed numerous practices and usages; surprisingly each of them is unique. The influence of upper-castes is greatly felt in the socio-religious and cultural lives of the marginalized sections over the years.

Projection of Marginalization in the Indian English Literature

India is a multicultural and multi lingual country where ethics and morals are its core. One of its basic tenets is unity in diversity. But the contemporary world witnessed rapid decline of India’s pluralistic credentials. Who are representing the marginalized and with what motives?  The very question arises are the marginalized really powerless to represent them in intellectual environment? The literary and cultural texts are well examined as a mode of discursive articulation to give voice to the marginal.


In the modern global research scenario, subaltern theme has become so prominent that it is used in various disciplines such as history, sociology, psychology anthropology and literature. The word ‘subaltern’ is derived from a German word which means ‘inferior rank’ or ‘secondary importance’. The genealogical study of ‘subaltern’ refers to three outstanding thinkers. They are: Antonio Gramsci, Ranjit Guha and Gayatri Chakravorthy Spivak. The concept of ‘subaltern’ is also defined by Julian Wolfreys:

“It contains the groups that are marginalized, oppressed and exploited on the cultural, political, social and religious grounds”

Thus Marginalized literature reflects various themes such as oppression, gender discrimination, subjugation of lower and working classes, disregarded women, deprived sections of society.  In the era of globalization, ‘Third World ‘countries are encountering the state of poverty and oppression. Subaltern literature is one of the subdivisions of post colonialism.” Post-colonial lays down conjectures in philosophy and literature that wrestles with the legacy of colonial rule.

It is true to say that marginalization is the unjust treatment of minority or  minorities and      weaker individuals or groups by the majority or stronger group of the rest of the society for the supposed benefit of the concerned stronger  groups of that society

The pioneer of the Indian English novel writing, R.K. Narayan came on focus when Graham Greene helped him find a publisher in England. Narayan created the fictitious town of Malgudi as Thomas Hardy created Wessex where they set their novels. Though it is considered that stories of Mulk Raj Anand were harsher, and engaged, sometimes brutally, with divisions of caste, class and religion, Anand received recognition for his bright creations in English language set in rural India.

From the marginalized section of the society, Women poets proved their presence in the spectrum of Indian writing in English. From Toru Dutt to Kamla Das reveal the mind-boggling variety of theme as well as style. Poetry composed by women need not be viewed only as feminist poetry. It delivers   how marginalization occurs in a society depicting   examples such as the segregation of depressed classes in India. The way society influenced the protagonists in each novel is explored emphasizing on the conditions of the communities these characters live in. However, literature by women tends to get marginalized because of the disparate tendencies of reception to their writings. In patriarchal society women are allotted personal but not public space, a private but not a political or rhetorical voice in writing in general and composing poetry in particular.

In 1873 Jyotirao Phule, a Marathi Dalit (then known as an Untouchable), published his book Gulamgiri (Slavery) and dedicated the treatise to the then Negroes in America as a “‘token of admiration for their sublime disinterestedness and self-sacrificing devotion in the cause of Negro Slavery,’” as noted by S.D. Kapoor in Dalit’s and African Americans: A Study in Comparison (13). The example of the growth of African American consciousness and its expression in literature, especially in the slave narratives, functioned effectively as a model for Phule to resist the oppressive caste system that had left the ati-shudras (the untouchables) without a sense of self-identity and consciousness in India. Phule’s life-long work to raise awareness among the lowest castes about their degraded condition as affected by the Brahmin caste system remains an inspiration today.  Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, perhaps the greatest Dalit leader in India who drafted the Constitution of a free and new India and was the country’s first Law Minister, acknowledged Phule’s work by dedicating his own book, Who Were the Shudras? to Phule. Ambedkar, who was actively involved in the national politics of India and drafted the Constitution of independent India, also highlighted the comparison between African Americans and the Dalits. As a graduate student at Columbia University from 1913 to 1916, Ambedkar witnessed the growing consciousness among the Blacks and their struggle to claim their identity and humanity against the white supremacist oppression. Such first-hand experience helped him develop a “framework” for the “issue of caste segregation back home” (Kapoor 15). When Lala Lajpat Rai, a famous Indian activist against British Raj and a “founding member of the Hindu reformist movement, Arya Samaj” (14), compared the lynchings of Negroes in America with the attitudes of the Brahmins toward the pariahs, the untouchables, and found the former more atrocious and more inhuman, Ambedkar retorted that the Brahmin torture of Untouchables was never known, unlike the lynchings, because all “Hindus” conspire to keep their shameful and inhuman acts a secret (Kapoor 16). Ambedkar believed that the existence of an American conscience allowed the ex-Negroes to publish their suffering in the form of narratives to expose the horrors of slavery. But in India, he argued, the “Hindus” have no conscience that prohibits them from recognizing the injustice in the caste system that they adhere to (Kapoor 14).

25c8c51Sudarshan Kapur in his critically acclaimed book, Raising Up a Prophet: the African-American Encounter with Gandhi, traces the history of the well-known relationship between Gandhi’s Satyagraha (non-violent resistance to British Rule in India) and Dr. Martin Luther King’s nonviolent Civil Rights movement in the USA during the 1950s-1960s to much earlier connections between the African American community and Gandhi’s activities through the 1920s. As Kapur argues, such a rich history of connections prior to King’s “‘discovery’ of Gandhi in his seminary years in 1950 (two years after Gandhi’s assassination)” not only illustrates the early awareness in USA that :

Struggles for transformation may be shared across cultural and political boundaries

When we introspect in the history of 1940’s we discover the great novel on life of Bhaka, the hero of the “The Untouchable” by Mulk Raj Anand and another novel; “Scavenger’s Sons” of Shivshankar Pilai . More social reformer and less literary figure. Anand’s greatest work emphasising on the life of untouchable in 1953 received deep criticism because it was written by a non- Dalit and it was a kind of disgrace to the Dalit Community. But if we criticize works on false notions then it can’t be defined as a good literature and the charm of the writing is lost.

The act of non- Dalit is not to attack Dali Literature but to bring change to get their writings accepted. The real aim of these writers is to have close grounds to reality by depicting the oppressive conditions.

The Primary motive of Dalit literature is the liberation of Dalits. Dalit struggle against casteist tradition that has a long history. For example, in Kannada, it goes back to the first Vachana poet of the 11th century, Chennaiah, the cobbler. The 12th century Dalit saint Kalavve challenged the upper castes in the following words:

Those who eat goats, foul and tiny fish: Such, they call caste people. Those who eat the Sacred Cow That showers frothing milk for Shiva: Such, they call out-castes”.

Poems, short stories, novels and autobiographies written by Dalit writers provided useful insights on the question of Dalit identity. Now the subaltern communities have given a new perspective ‘Dalit is dignified’ thereby rejecting the sub-human status imposed on them by the Hindu social order.

Today, Dalit Literature, has seen a new dimension that includes not only the writings about Indian suppressed people but also other groups throughout the world that are relegated to a secondary position by the privileged. Dalit Literature might include writings about the exploitation of nature and environment , the racial discrimination of Afro Americans in America, the women subordination , the rights of homosexuals , the negligence of old age people . The word Dalit has a large periphery and a great healing power. The key issue interwoven into the Dalit fabric is the radical rejection of the religious legalization of poverty and untouchability by those who had suffered at its hands since the imposition of the caste.

Thus the contribution of Dalit literature has been immense:

 (i) First and foremost, it effectively threatened the Brahmanic hegemony from literature

(ii) Second, are conscentized Dalit masses for assertion, protest and mobilization?

 (iii) Third is evoked up thinking in Dalit intellectuals and catalyzed creation of organic   intellectuals of Dalits.

 (iv) Fourth, given that the level of literacy been particularly low among Dalits, the emergence of Dalit literature where both the writers and readers are mostly Dalits, is itself an evidence of a profound change taking place in Indian society.

Dr. M. B Gaijan evaluates the outcaste in the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore. He shows that Tagore has typically poeticized the stories on outcaste with a view to accepting the insulted as fellow human beings. The quest for life and research for the individual identity are the crux of M. R. Annand’s novels. His protagonists, the downtrodden don’t suffer from tragic flaws but they are the prey of society and their destinies are determined by heredity.

images (4)Women Writers in the Margin:

In the realms of Modern Literature, Kamala Das holds a significant position as a rebel against the tradition of marginalization of women in the Indian society. She received a wide acclamation as a revolutionary poet for raising voice against the patriarchal dominance which is a common factor in the Indian society. In order to eradicate this citadel of age old tradition of patriarchal supremacy over the matriarchal section of the society Kamala Das denounced overtly in her poems the tradition that empowered the male to subject women to subservience and circumscribe their individual rights. The writings of Das have candidly and outrageously voiced her wrath and reaction against the patriarchal superiority and dominance that begot sex discrimination and led to marginalization of women in their social, cultural and family relationship.

In order to establish and justify this observation, it is vital to refer to the lines of the poems which are revelatory of her sentiment as an iconoclast of a tradition.

In most of her poems Kamala Das has portrayed herself as a frustrated woman in love in her marital and extra marital life. She attributes her disillusionment and disappointment in love to male ego. As she depicts in her poems, her husband as well as her lovers are equally selfish, fleshy hunger, sex monger and above all betrayers. According to Julie Mullaney, Roy’s writing in The God of Small Things uses a range of options and choices, whether complicit, resistant or both in dominant order which structures each of their individual life stories and their relation to familial and cultural histories.

The Afro American writer Toni Morrison and Arundhati Roy both make their survivor characters, Claudia and Rahel, respectively, bear witness to the acts of silencing of their traumatized counterparts. Pecola and Estha. Both authors represent the mesh of social, economic, and familial circumstances that brutalize the subaltern children. They depict their characters like: Claudia holds the African American community responsible for the fascination with white ideals that adults cannot negotiate and that destroy subaltern children. In The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy portrays Rahel as one who survives the horror of caste-based violence and death she witnessed in her childhood and revisits her twin brother. Estha who is shocked into silence by the adult world’s .Roy explores how Ammu, the mother of the twins, having married outside the community and then committing the most transgressive act of loving a Dalit man , embodies the pariah in the community because endogamy forms the founding principle of the caste system.  As her children , too young to understand the conventional laws and hierarchies , the twins are relegated to the periphery of the family and as subaltern children are traumatized by the legacy of exclusion their mothers has had to embrace .

Why ‘Subaltern’ Crept in?

In The Modern Prince and The Prison Notebooks Antonio Gramsci defines the subaltern’ classes as those excluded from any meaningful role in a regime of power that subjugates them. Through consent these ‘subalterns’ participate in the hegemony created and controlled by the dominant group. The subalterns have no independent space from which to articulate their voice because hegemony conditions them to believe in the dominant values. Gramsci believed that the intellectual has the responsibility to “search out signs of subaltern initiative and class consciousness and effective political action”

The Ranajit Guha-led Subaltern Studies group established a field of historical inquiry ‘from below’ of South Asian, specifically Indian, historiography. Guha defines the ‘subaltern’ as the demographic difference between the “dominant indigenous elite” and the masses. The “elite” comprises the “feudal magnates industrial and mercantile bourgeoisie and recruits to the uppermost levels of the bureaucracy”

Marginalized Literature in the English Classroom:

The voices of the marginalized and the downtrodden are lacking in canonical literature for the English classroom and our students need to get acquainted to their voices. By listening to these voices, our students will be able to recognize the obscured conditions that exist in the world around them and further empathize with the situations of the oppressed.

Marginalized literature shows students the different perspectives that exist in the world in which they live. Once students uncover these perspectives, they are able to interpret the unique situations that encourage people to act in the ways they do. This knowledge helps deepen students’ empathy for and acceptance of others.

Literature of the oppressed is also an excellent way to help students analyse and give meaning to the elements of literature that commonly accompany the study of more canonical texts. Students are often eager to discuss cultural issues and to explore the study of literary elements comes easily into the discussion of texts. The literature of the oppressed is also a window to unique viewpoints that make for even engaging literary discussions.

To have a glimpse, Marginalization and Indian English Literature gives a message about their community not individuality, about revolt not passivity, about progress not backwardness. This message is conveyed to the entire world about their status in society by portraying the exploitive, helpless, and engrossed with grief, suppressed and enslaved and a subaltern state. To some extent, Dalit in India can be compared with African American regarding the mutilation. The shared political position of these authors is against the hegemony of upper and middle class Hindu beliefs and for the power of the human beings against oppressive social rules. Dalit author questioned religion and Identity throughout their literature. It could be said that Dalit literature achieved a firm foundation in the mid-20th century; but its framework was established in the early 19th century. Today Dalit writers have their literary foundation with ideology and publish numerous journals.

The Social Complexities that further Accentuate Inequalities

Thus, the unequal position of men and women that is being maintained and further intensified in Independent India is due to faulty approach in implementing laws and policies. Also, this sex based inequality cannot in reality be differentiated from variety of social, economic and cultural inequalities that existed in Indian society for generations. This is because inequalities inherent in our traditional social structure based on caste, community, religion and class have a significant influence on status of women. The multifaceted, multi-layered and diverse social situations that existed within the country require a different kind of intervention to lead to social transformation that benefits all sections of population; however this fact has been neglected for decades.

Further, modernization, and globalization in the independent India, have affected women from different background in differing degrees resulting in in-egalitarian distribution of opportunities and resources, and non-uniform pattern of social change not only among men and women, but also among `women’ from different social ranking, hierarchies and backgrounds. In fact, modern development processes resulted in deepening disparities further subjugating `women’ as a larger category, and also different subgroups within this category. The structural economic changes, expanding markets, the cutting edge technology, wider avenues for education and steps taken to bring `development’, all have combined to produce mixed and uneven results. On the one hand, these have created space for participation of women in social, economic and political processes and created wealth and opportunities for a section of population, yet on the other hand these have also resulted in deepening poverty, intensifying social crisis and enhancing vulnerabilities for large spheres of society. Currently, the situation is that the changing social processes have resulted in removal of certain restrictions in women’s life yet; these have also created centres of resistance to the desired change in women’s status.

The future of Dalit literature is embarked on the present status of Dalit and their sensibility. And certainly new reforming waves are blowing for the radical development in Dalit literature as literature of protest. Thus Dalit literature is a new dimension in the day today and used up literature. With great amaze, people fascinate towards this new charismatic dimension in literature i.e. Dalit literature.

Works Cited:

Wolfrey, Juluian. Key Concepts in Literary Theory

Guha, Ranjit. Ed. Subaltern Studies, Vol, VII, Oxford, 1982

Gayatri Spivak’s Interview in US Journal Polygraph 1980

Voices of Minorities and The Marginalized in Indian English Literature –Anju Bala Agarwal and Mati. P. Sharma

Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. HarperPerennial, 1997. Print.

Kapoor, S.D. Dalits and African Americans: A Study in Comparison. New Delhi: Kalpaz Publications, 2004. Print.

Kapur, Sudarshan. Raising Up a Prophet: The African American Encounter with Gandhi.Boston: Beacon Press, 1992. Print

Untouchable : Mulk Raj Anand , 1935

Chaturvedi, Vinayak, ed. Mapping Subaltern Studies and the Postcolonial. London andNew York: Verso, 2000. Print.

Rodrigues, Valerian,ed. The Essential Writings of B.R. Ambedkar. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.


Categories: Dalit Literature, Indian Writing in English, Literary Criticism, Literary Theory, Literature, Postcolonialism, Research Papers

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Copy Protected by Chetan's WP-Copyprotect.
%d bloggers like this: