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Dalit Personal Narratives: Reading Caste, Nation and Identity

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Autobiography as a literary genre is diverse and complex – and Dalit Personal Narratives is an attempt to understand its multiple meanings expressed and mediated through different identities such as caste, class, ethnicity, religion, language and gender. Raj Kumar's pioneering book primarily examines Dalit autobiographies. It is a historic breakthrough because till recently Autobiography as a literary genre is diverse and complex – and Dalit Personal Narratives is an attempt to understand its multiple meanings expressed and mediated through different identities such as caste, class, ethnicity, religion, language and gender. Raj Kumar's pioneering book primarily examines Dalit autobiographies. It is a historic breakthrough because till recently, Dalits in India were voiceless. These narratives thus symbolise how Dalits are breaking down the age-old barrier of silence. Focusing on multiple marginalities pertaining to caste, nation and identity, the author has followed an inter-disciplinary approach across disciplines such as history, sociology, law, religion, philosophy and gender studies apart from English literature, to bring to the reader the remarkably different personal narratives of both Dalit men and women. The autobiographies are located against a socio-cultural background, along with the emergence of Dalit literature, Dalit life-narratives, while revealing their everyday caste and class exploitations that call for the restoration of dignity and self-respect. In itself, the very emergence of Dalit autobiography is an act of resistance because Dalits are using this opportunity to assert their identities through their writings. Through the autobiographies, one gets a glimpse into the life of a community struggling against deprivation, discrimination and exploitation at the hands of a society ridden with caste biases and unequal opportunities. It also traces the origin of autobiographical writing in the West and follows its development both thematically and structurally by analysing the autobiographies of Saint Augustine, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Benjamin Franklin and J. S. Mill. Also discussed are autobiographies of upper caste Indian public personalities, including M. K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. The personal narratives of upper caste Indian women, however—like Rassundari Devi, Binodini Dasi and others—reveal their under-privileged status in a patriarchal system.


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Autobiography as a literary genre is diverse and complex – and Dalit Personal Narratives is an attempt to understand its multiple meanings expressed and mediated through different identities such as caste, class, ethnicity, religion, language and gender. Raj Kumar's pioneering book primarily examines Dalit autobiographies. It is a historic breakthrough because till recently Autobiography as a literary genre is diverse and complex – and Dalit Personal Narratives is an attempt to understand its multiple meanings expressed and mediated through different identities such as caste, class, ethnicity, religion, language and gender. Raj Kumar's pioneering book primarily examines Dalit autobiographies. It is a historic breakthrough because till recently, Dalits in India were voiceless. These narratives thus symbolise how Dalits are breaking down the age-old barrier of silence. Focusing on multiple marginalities pertaining to caste, nation and identity, the author has followed an inter-disciplinary approach across disciplines such as history, sociology, law, religion, philosophy and gender studies apart from English literature, to bring to the reader the remarkably different personal narratives of both Dalit men and women. The autobiographies are located against a socio-cultural background, along with the emergence of Dalit literature, Dalit life-narratives, while revealing their everyday caste and class exploitations that call for the restoration of dignity and self-respect. In itself, the very emergence of Dalit autobiography is an act of resistance because Dalits are using this opportunity to assert their identities through their writings. Through the autobiographies, one gets a glimpse into the life of a community struggling against deprivation, discrimination and exploitation at the hands of a society ridden with caste biases and unequal opportunities. It also traces the origin of autobiographical writing in the West and follows its development both thematically and structurally by analysing the autobiographies of Saint Augustine, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Benjamin Franklin and J. S. Mill. Also discussed are autobiographies of upper caste Indian public personalities, including M. K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. The personal narratives of upper caste Indian women, however—like Rassundari Devi, Binodini Dasi and others—reveal their under-privileged status in a patriarchal system.

32 review for Dalit Personal Narratives: Reading Caste, Nation and Identity

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rakesh

    "It has been found that a large portion of Dalit literature is in autobiographical form. Whether it is Dalit poetry or novels, theatrical dialogues or critical prose pieces—all these forms bear a 'confessional characteristic' made by the authors themselves. The 'confession' is mostly made to invoke the bitter experiences the authors have gone through in their lives. It is in this sense that they invoke a pain that is mostly personal, and yet they narrate their stories with a realisation that the "It has been found that a large portion of Dalit literature is in autobiographical form. Whether it is Dalit poetry or novels, theatrical dialogues or critical prose pieces—all these forms bear a 'confessional characteristic' made by the authors themselves. The 'confession' is mostly made to invoke the bitter experiences the authors have gone through in their lives. It is in this sense that they invoke a pain that is mostly personal, and yet they narrate their stories with a realisation that the other members of their community also suffer in the same way. This process of realisation is unique in the history of personal narratives which is generally absent in non-Dalit autobiographies."

  2. 5 out of 5

    N S

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tanu Sharma

  4. 4 out of 5

    Conrad Barwa

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ankit Ramteke

  6. 5 out of 5

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  10. 5 out of 5

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  20. 4 out of 5

    Manju

  21. 5 out of 5

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  25. 4 out of 5

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  26. 5 out of 5

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  29. 5 out of 5

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  31. 4 out of 5

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  32. 4 out of 5

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