The Birth of the Dalit Protagonist

Born as a reaction to caste violence, the figure of the Dalit protagonist has come full circle—no longer hateful, it is creative and begets life.

In 1877, Friedrich Engels wrote, “Each mental image of the world system is, and remains in actual fact, limited, objectively by the historical conditions and subjectively by the physical and mental constitution of its originator.” Close to 150 years later, this still holds true for Indian literature, where the caste system and Brahminical culture can be understood as being the objective and subjective conditions.

Whether in literature or cinema, we find that Dalit characters have almost never been centre stage, even in stories about caste oppression. Whether a Dalit character is portrayed as a victim or a fighter, is a matter of politics and the sociopolitical reality of the storyteller. In Brahminical culture, which prohibits the literary aspirations of certain castes, the caste of the storyteller is bound to play a role in their story. When a marginalised protagonist’s character is developed and shaped by a privileged upper-caste writer, from a position of oppressive power and with no understanding of the Dalit struggle, the very meaning of “protagonist” becomes infertile, flawed, and bogus.

To read the full text Login

Get instant access

New 3 Month Subscription
to Digital Archives at

₹826for India

$50for overseas users

Updated On : 18th May, 2020

Comments

(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Having lost a dear friend, the author reflects on the nature of friendship, and its relationship with memory.

As mounting performance pressure on students lays the ground for increasing malpractice, what can academic administrators do differently?

At the root of sexual harassment in the arts is an unquestioning culture of subservience.

Could the lived experiences of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, shared with millions of Americans, be their ticket to the White House?

As the concert stage is left empty, what can music and musicians do differently for the art form?

Amitav Ghosh’s novel goads us to seriously rethink our world, and finds new relevance under current circumstances.

S P Balasubrahmanyam’s influence on the Telugu people extends beyond singing and cinema.

Back to Top