A Feminist Reading Of Baburao Bagul’s Mother: A Story Of Dual Oppression

Author Baburao Bagul, a pioneer of Marathi Dalit literature, in his short story titled Mother, lends a voice to motherhood and widowhood experienced by a lower caste Dalit woman. Baburao throws light upon the dual discrimination faced by Dalit women along the lines of gender and caste, thereby exposing realistic experiences of the Dalit community. Filled wit feelings of pain and loss, the author attempts to provoke readers with questions such as— whose experience of motherhood is universalised? Does motherhood differ along the lines of caste? Can the voice of a subaltern mother be heard? If so, is there any form of emancipation possible for her?

As a response to the complexities of gender, violence, and caste, Bagul’s story is focused around the life of an ‘unusual’ mother (unnamed), and her son Pandu. The father is diagnosed with tuberculosis, and as a result, the pressure on Pandu’s mother to be the sole breadwinner of the family is immense. Things take a turn for the worse, when the father, in his perpetual drunken state, abuses Pandu’s mother verbally, physically, and emotionally as he suspects her of infidelity.

Consequently, attempts are made by him to disfigure the mother, with the motive of making her unattractive. Such a narrative reflects the deeply engrained patriarchal mindset in Pandu’s father, where he feels a strong sense of entitlement over ‘his’ woman’s body. This need to conquer, control, and confine a woman’s body is a way of asserting male privilege on women.

india-art-fair-2_650_020115112644

Things take a turn for the worse when Pandu’s teacher recites a poem on motherhood, where a mother is referred to Vatsalya Sindhu (a river of mother love). The poem reflects the traditional notion of motherhood as constructed by society for brahmanical women. That, the ‘goodness’ of a mother is measured by her ability to shower her children with love, sacrifices, and care, all within the domain of the private sphere of the household. Pandu tries to fit in his mother in this idealised image of a motherhood, however his thoughts are interrupted when a few upper caste boys make fun of his mother stating “Don’t touch Pandu, any of you. My mother says Pandu’s mother sleeps with the mukadam (pimp)” (Bagul 1990).

With this we see, how untouchability and impurity remain as markers of Dalit identity, thereby remaining as a scourge on upper caste mentality. Moreover, since Pandu’s mother happens to be a Dalit woman, the degree of mistreatment is two fold. Why is it so difficult for society to accept a mother to be a widow, and still be ‘pure’ in her relations with people?

Moreover, with the demise of Pandu’s father, his mother has no choice but to venture out in the public domain to earn a living. As a result, this does not permit her to stay in the private realm of the household mostly, thereby, not allowing her to nurture her child.

So does that imply that Pandu’s mother is a ‘bad’ mother? No, the cultural representation of women as mothers is so unidimensional, that mothers having different experiences of maternity appear as an anomaly in the paradigm of motherhood altogether.

The author also sheds light on how Dalit children are constantly marginalised and discriminated against even in school by the upper caste, thus leaving no space for them to understand and value their individualistic experiences. Only after upper caste boys label Pandu’s mother as a prostitute, Pandu too begins to scrutinise her whereabouts. Caught in the midst of patriarchy and casteist mindset, Pandu’s mother’s sacrifices to provide her son with a better life are ultimately overshadowed. Trapped in a cycle of eternal oppression, not only from society but also by her own family members, the quest for emancipation for Dalit women becomes difficult to obtain.

On a societal level, Bagul’s story also sheds light upon the exploitation of Dalit widows by upper caste men. In their eyes, Dalit widows are viewed as powerless, poor, and ‘sexually available’ due to their widowhood. Viewing them as objects of sexual desire, upper caste men satisfy their sexual urge by exploiting them. Due to strong political control combined with high status, any form of agitation by the lower castes is perceived as powerless. As a result, a lot of violence and sexual instances go unreported.

Bagul’s story attempts to blur the line between the personal and the political, by giving women from the margins a voice. It is only when perspectives of people who face instances of political inequality and oppression are incorporated in everyday discourse that the reader is brought closer to the subaltern lifestyle.

Published on: https://feminisminindia.com/2017/05/25/feminist-reading-baburao-bagul-mother/

Can The Dreams of Secular Education Ever Be Achieved By Indian Society?

As citizens of India, we are citizens of a secular nation. “Secularisation is the process whereby religious institutions and practices become peripheral or almost invisible in a society in which they were perceived to be central and pivotal” (Copley, 2005:7) However, in the case of India the definition of secularisation takes a different turn. India rests on the principle of “dharma nirpekshta” which means indifference to religion to be observed by the State. As Gandhi said, it was vital for India to have respect and tolerance for all the religions in India and that was crucial to govern on bases of common citizen interest, permitting free expression of religious practices.  Having understood this, it is a precondition for a secular nation to promote secular education. Unfortunately, the Indian state is far from promoting secular education.

Education is a social institution which plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of India, through the youth, who are the agents of social change. Education goes beyond the domain of classroom learning and can be inculcated through experience, debates and different modes of conversation. What holds importance in education, is the power relations and the quality of content involved.

Karl Marx, has spoken about the ‘superstucture’ in society that comprises of the people who hold immense power and are capable of moulding nearly all social institutions, the most important being education. In India the educational system is controlled either by the government or by elites. What goes into what we call ‘book knowledge’ is governed by the ideologies of what the people in power follow.

Andre Beteille claims that the Indian education system has suffered from the ‘bad advocacy’ of academics. Hence the educational system becomes defective and encourages the people to think in terms of groups and communities and promoting feelings of ethnocentricism or having the view of being superior against another culture. This practice further encourages feelings of communalism and alienation amongst the citizens of India.

Today in many schools, especially in the rural areas (in the urban as well) of India one can find the textbooks being dominated by pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses and slokas from Hindu scriptures. There is barely any other representation of other religions of the country.  The aim of education is to foster critical thinking and broaden the vision of individuals, this is not being done with the current practices being followed by the educational system of India. Instead the schools are encouraging conservative thinking which is inclined towards going back to barbaric stages of evolution rather than civilised. This also leads to a vicious cycle where the teacher who was once a learner, was placed in an environment which encouraged sectarian thinking, propagates the same ideologies to his or her students. Hence the claims of ‘educated’ people promoting sectarian ideologies does not come across as much of a shock in todays day and age.

Many textbooks till date still promote casteism. There is difference between understanding the ideology of caste and promoting the ideology of caste. Many teachers purposely label the Dalits who belonged to the lower strata of caste, in a more negative light. Their status in many books is linked to that of a crow whose lifestyle thrives on living in garbage. How is it possible to cultivate broad thinking when the malleable minds of young children are getting brainwashed to believe in a particular way? Many have questioned this stand.

India has innumerable tribal population living in its interiors. They constitute 8.61% of the total population of the country, figures go upto 104.28 million and cover about 15% of the country’s area. (2011 Census). Very conveniently textbook authors has ben ignorant about this fact and have labelled them as a part of Hindu tradition. Many tribals have different Gods, rituals, ceremonies and many do not have the concept of caste, but this goes unnoticed. Their tradition has been labelled as an inferior ‘local’ tradition compared to the ‘great’ dominant tradition of Hindus. Hence their have been claims that the tribals have been “sanskiritsed” into the folds of the great Brahminical tradition. The unfortunate part is that the tribes due to their isolated lifestyle are completely unaware of the exploitation done by the people in power.

Education not only revolves around text but is also achieved through various discourses. The religious discourse of Hindutva, has in recent times intensified the struggle to achieve secular education. This ideology glorifies Hinduism and one of the principles which it adheres to is that of “pitra bhumi”, meaning an individual’s forefathers must be born in India for him or her to call it ones land. According to them, Muslims and Christians have their lineage originated from else where and hence are ‘foreign elements’ to India. Thus being ‘foreign’ is given the status of an outcast encouraging feelings of communalism. This ideology is being promoted in various rural areas of India where there are high levels of illiteracy, leading to the moulding of the minds of the villagers.

As every nation envisions itself as being successful, India is no exception. If a modern India has to be built, the government has to have a broader outlook with aims of encouraging healthy thinking and achieving a society which is not based on caste. The panel for framing the syllabus in schools all over the country should themselves have an open mind and not just get elected on the basis of religion. Critical thinking is the key to achieve progress, existing societal structures and epistemological claims to knowledge theories should be questioned by the citizens themselves. With these fundamental changes, India as a country will no longer be far from achieving progress in terms of secular education.