Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, May 7, 2011

"Scorn" by Bama Faustina -leading woman Dalit Tamil Author

"Scorn" by Bama Faustina (2004, 3 pages, in translation from Tamil)

Caste Discrimination in Elementary Schools
A Story by a Leading Dalit Author

Bama Faustina is one of the first Dalit Tamil writers to achieve international attention for her work.   I confess I did not know what the word "Dalit" means when I first encountered it.   A Dalit person is one whose ancestors were members of discriminated against castes.    The Indian government has classified about ten percent of the populace of India as being of Dalit descent.   (The common western parlance for this   is "untouchable".)    Caste discrimination is illegal in Indian but it is still very widely practiced, especially in rural areas.   Members of Dalit castes by practice and custom live among themselves and face great prejudice.    There are 3000 plus recognized castes, 49 of them are considered Dalit castes.   

Seventy five percent of Christians in India are of Dalit caste background.  When Christian missionaries first entered India, they had their best success among the poorest of people, the untouchables.   I know this is a very complicated and sensitive issue which many prefer to sweep under the rug, but writers like Bama Faustina are bringing international focus on the problems of Dalits.    Oxford University Press has published translations of her novels and she has also published a successful collection of short stories.   She is a teacher in Uthiramerur.   She is a Roman Catholic (75 percent of Roman Catholics in India are of Dalit background.)

"Scorn" opens with a child and his mother arguing.   The boy, he seems about 10, does not want to go to school today.   He wants to go into the forest with his mother who works as a charcoal maker (once a very common occupation for members of Dalit castes in a country where most people still cook on charcoal).      His mother tells him that she and her father are working very hard and sacrificing to send him to school so he will not have to be a street sweeper, a charcoal cleaner,  or house boy.   She wants to know why he does not want to go and he will not give her a straight clear answer.   She finds out from her neighbors (everybody on her street are Dalits) that he was beaten by higher caste children at school because he forgot his lunch box and ate food  (with permission) from the lunch  box of a higher caste child.   When he went to complain to the teacher, the teacher beat him and said he is  was just an ignorant Dalit that does not even know the customs of his country.   

The next day the mother and the boy's father go to the school.   The father was terribly upset by what happens.    He accepts that he has always been treated as the lowest type of person by accident of his birth but he will not accept this as the fate of his son.

The next day the parents go to the head master of the school to complain.   They are told that what happened to their son is their fault.   If they had only taught him his place in life this would never have happened.     The parents begin to talk to other parents on their street.   They find out that one time money was missing and they searched only the Dalit Children.     The headmaster even tells them that the Dalit children at school are always assigned clean up duties as cleaning up after their betters is part of their heritage.   The headmaster tries to be nice about this and says, meaning it as a compliment, "Well the children from your street are just naturally made for clean up work".      Here is how one teacher explained it all to the  head master:

"Kattari ran and hugged his father and started crying. Meanwhile, a teacher came to the headmaster and said something to him. At once the headmaster told the headman of his street, “Let them be. Why should you beat a dog and earn the burden of sin? Why do you want to deal with them at all? Just touch these people and they’ll make trouble. These people are not like they used to be. Let them be.”

One of the very saddest aspects of discrimination is that children of discriminated groups begin to believe it is true.   There are even terrible TV commercials run here in the Philippines (by big international companies) selling skin whiting cream for early teenage girls.   

"Scorn" is a simple story that puts a whole world in a few pages.   It was translated from Tamil by Sarsa Rajagopal).     I suspect it took real courage to write it.   For sure it is worth the minute or two it will take you to read it.

You can read it online at The Little Magazine.

Mel u 


Song said...

Thank you so much for this, Mel. I live here, and still I am not very aware of the writers who write in the regional languages. I'm glad I've been introduced to atleast one of them here.

As regards the caste's really complicated. On paper castesicsm might be illegal, but it is practiced even in the government. Every single person, when filling in official forms, have to write down the caste they belong to.... However, the government as, what is called a quota system, for all 'backward and tribal castes' (the Dalits also fall under this) that these castes get a good education in schools AND in colleges.

Caste is an evil in our country that's so deeply rooted in the culture and people that it's proving very hard to eradicate...but it's being done slowly and surely.:D

BTW, our former president, Dr Abdul Kalim, is a Dalit. He's been an incredible inspiration to Dalits and non-Dalits alike.:)

Song said...
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Anonymous said...

Thanks for the background about Dalit. I had heard of "untouchables" but didn't realise some form of this is still current.

I'll have a look at the link.

Anonymous said...

It is so sad that caste discrimination would be practiced by Christians even though it directly goes against what Christ thought us. Now if it were only Hindus only doing it I would not be too surprised (since traditional Hinduism mandates such discrimination). This system is simply a "tradition of men" that should has no place in the Church (or just about anywhere else).

Anonymous said...

all the communities are ready to accept or feel proud to be theirs caste. except the dalit. dalit may say ' we are the sufferes' but they don't know that suffer should take the solution