ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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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.

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Updated On : 18th May, 2020

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