Untouched Voices: Dalit Women’s Autobiographies in Dalit History


This paper will engage with the idea of the self as a narrated, social identity, as this is explored and articulated in Dalit women’s autobiographical writing.The category ‘Dalit’ came into use sometime in the nineteenth century to denote the oppressed and exploited ‘untouchable’ communities of India, traditionally considered so ‘impure’ that they were ‘out-castes’; and yet, simultaneously, integral to defining the system, in being its ‘lowest’ component. However, this liminal position and status predates the emergence of the appellation ‘Dalit’ by millennia, is as old as the caste-system itself. ‘Dalit’ is a construction of singular political identity, out of large variety of ‘outcaste’ communities, based on the commonality of their oppression. This paper will examine Dalit women’s autobiographies as the multi-layered articulations of their engagements with (a)oppressions effected by the commonality of being Dalit;(b) oppressions effected by the fact of being women in a profoundly patriarchal order;(c)the tensions generated in the intersections of these two.Analyzing the writings of Baby Kamble, Sumitra Bhave and Kaushalya Basantrai, this paper will explore how, by virtue of these intersections, the routine narrative imperatives of the autobiographical confessional mode – e.g., emphasizing first-person perceptions and experiences – morph from individual stories of pain, into gendered narratives of oppression, and thereby into ineradicable archives of the suffering and injustice that constitute the histories of the community. The paper will thus reflect on the dynamics between gender, caste and class identities on the one hand, and on their narrativizations into histories of community.

Author Information
Payal Madhia Sahay, University of Delhi, India

Paper Information
Conference: ECAH2017
Stream: Humanities - Literature/Literary Studies*

This paper is part of the ECAH2017 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon