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The Wave of My Life: Dalit Woman’s Memoir

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Indian women voices have been silenced for ages due to various reasons. The contemporary Indian women are bold and well-educated. They are thoroughly aware with their rights and duties. They need to spread their voices in order to strengthen the female perspective. Through memoir genre, they are able to write from a female perspective and create a strong voice for feminism. By sharing the reality of the female experience, the memoirist ultimately reveals truth about her own life. When women communicate personal, they break the silence of oppression and create a powerful force. Urmila Pawar is a noted Dalit writer and feminist. Her memoir “Aaydan” (The Wave of my life: Dalit woman’s memoir) is originally written in Marathi language and later translated in English by Dr. Maya Pandit and Urmilatai become an international personality. In this bold and intimate memoir Pawar share her personal tragedy including interpersonal and inter communal relational clashes and tolerance. It problematizes major issues of cast, class and gender in the Indian context.

Dalit in India are voiceless and marginalized. Even in this scientific new era most of the Dalits are still surviving under uncongenial and hostile atmosphere like subjugation, caste based oppression and discriminations. It is said that Marathi Literature is the forerunner of all modern Dalit Literature in India because of the legacy of Mahatma Jyotiba Govind Phule and Bhim Rao Ambedkar. Under the influence of these great personalities, many Dalit writers have been consciously contributing to spread of Dalit Literary Movement. They have written about the social reformation movements and movements for the upliftment of Dalit. Through their writing, they have proved themselves as a reformer of Dalit caste.

The present day, Dalit literature is a literature of the depressed oppressed and suppressed people of India, and such it is one of the most significant developments in modern Indian literature. 1 “Still today it is often asked, who is Dalit? And what is Dalitness? Can these be a Dalit literature? A few years back the word ‘Dalit’ was not accepted even by some of the leading Dalit writers themselves. They preferred to use the term ‘protest literature’. But now the term ‘Dalit’ is accepted with pride and very concept of ‘Dalit Literature’ is also recognized in the university syllabus.”

In 80s and 90s most of the Dalit autobiographical writers emerged on literary scene and raised big rebel and protest against the upper cast communities. Dalit autobiographies were written as an emergent mode of Dalit Discourses with the collective consciousness of their assertions and perceptions about the exploitations. It is well assumed fact that this suffering is due to the age old ‘Varna System’ that created cast based hierarchy in the contemporary society. The system was responsible to force the lower cast people to undergo great humiliation and exploitation. Therefore, basically, Dalit literature contains seeds of rebellion and protest against such dreadful and inhuman practice.

In Dalit literature many Dalit scholars he/she have written their autobiographies. Through women’s autobiographies one can easily understand that still a huge portion of the society are fighting against all sorts of exploitation, gender discrimination and deprivation by upper cast. The situation of Dalit woman comparative to Dalit male seems to be more tragic as they are doubly subjugated. They become victims of the exploitation and operation of upper class as well as they own. The autobiographies of Shantabai Kamble, Babytai Kamble, Kumud Pavade and Urmila Pawar disclose the worse living condition and exploitation of the Dalit women in the contemporary situation. They narrate Dalit women as degraded, demoralized, exploited and least educated in our society. They have been socially and culturally, economically and politically subjugated and marginalized. 2According to Dr. S.K. Paul, “Dalit literature is ultimately, a declaration of independence. It is impossible to understand the revolutionary quality of Dalit literature without understanding the people to whom it is addressed.”

We are enjoying the new millennium epoch though in our society, Dalit women are the worst affected and suffer the three forms operation – caste, class and gender. The caste system disgusts Dalit women. This is a complete violation of women’s human right. The constitution of India also guarantees the equality of rights of men and women. However, in the sphere of women’s human rights in India, there is a big gap between theory and practice. The constitution of India has granted equal rights to the men and women. According to Article 14 – “The state shall not deny to any person equality before law or the equal protection of laws within the territory of India.” And Article 15 states – “State shall not discriminate against any citizens on ground only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth, or any of them.”

But today, it seems that there is a big gap between theory and practice. The Dalit women in India have always been considered subordinate and treated as untouchables, as outcasts, due to their caste. According to the Hindu caste hierarchy, there are four castes namely the Brahimins (priestly cast), the Kshatriya (warriors), the Vaishyas (traders) and the Shudras (menial task workers). Below these four tiers caste leader is another stage, who is called the untouchables. (panchamas). It has been repeatedly said these days that all women are enjoying right of equality. But in reality, the Dalit women (panchamas) have been the sufferers from past. Not only in earlier time s but even now days also, Dalit women have to face discrimination, injustice and dishonor.

M.K. Gandhi fights against British with two great weapons namely Truth and Non-violence and give us independence. The upcoming generations of Dalit women writers have chosen self-narrative genre – autobiography to fight against the inequality and liberty for their existential claims like the identity of self and individuality. These autobiographies carve a new image of Dalit women far different from the elite class women. Among the published women’s autobiographies the most acclaimed and prominent is, viz. Shantabai Kamle’s ‘Majya Jalmachi Chittarakatha’ (Kaleidoscopic Story of My Life), Babytai Kamble’s ‘Jinne Amuche’ (The Prisons We Broke), Kumud Pawade’s ‘Antaspot’ (Thoughtful Outburst), Janabai Girhe’s ‘Marankala’ (Deathly Pains) and Urmila Pawar’s ‘Aayadan’ (The Wave of My Life: Dalit Women’s Memoir).

Mostly all these biographies narrates the evils of oppressions and exploitations. They tried a lot to fill autobiography with individualistic feelings subjugation and exploitation. P.P. Ajay Kumar remarks, “Autobiographies have always been a popular form of writing because the unique experience of an individual has instructing values. The entire Dalit literature pretends to be autobiographical because Dalit writing refuses to soar on the wings of imagination. Yet Dalit autobiographies retain their significance as a genre because they add to the growth and development of Dalit literature as a whole”. (2009, 33) DISCUSSION

Urmila Pawar is a literary personality, known for her short story writings in Marathi literature. She was born and brought up in Kokan region of Maharastra state. She was born in the year May 1945 at Adgaon village of Ratnagiri District. Today, she is known as a feminist writer and leader of Women’s lib movement. As a Dalit writer, she has established herself after Daya Pawar, Baby Kamble and Shantabai Gokhale as the prominent voice of Dalit literature. Her memoir ‘Aaydan’, which was published in the year 2003 and was translated by Dr. Maya Pandit as The Weave of my life: A Dalit woman’s Memoir’. ‘Aaydan’ means weaving of cane baskets. It was the main economic activity of the mahar community, whom, she belongs. There is another meaning to the word Aaydan; it is utensils used by them. Pawar writes, “My mother used to weave “aaydans,” the Marathi generic term for all things made from bamboo. I find that her act of weaving and my act of writing are organically linked. The weave is similar. It is the weave of pain, suffering, and agony that links us.”

In May 2004, the Maharastra Sahitya Parishad (Marathy Literary Conference) awarded the Laxmibai Tilak award for the best published autobiography to Urmila Pawar ‘Aayadan’. Urmilatai refused to accept the award and wrote to the Parishad to explain her political stand thus, 3 “The metaphors, images and symbols in Marathi Literature have remained tradition bound, fundamentalist and continue to emerge from fantasy, rarely ever generating in human beings a faith in their own agency…… In the devotional offering to goddess Saraswati, what does the goddess Saraswati symbolize? Is Saraswati another river like Ganga and Sindhu? Is the daughter of Bhrama the so-called creator born of the navel of lord Vishnu? Or, is she the woman character in the Puranas, the one who drowned Vadnaval the demon of fire? How is she related to literature and creation? These and other questions trouble me…….. I believe that there issues have to take the form of a movement in Marathi literature……I hope for social transformation and so this letter clarifying my position.”

Pawar has given very minute details of oppression and exploitations of girl child and women. Sometimes the humiliation is so much that it is biting to the reader with his/her sensibility. Pawar describes in this following quotation both the insult and hunger of the girl child. Whenever they get good dish or complete food, it is difficult for them to control. As Pawar narrates the incident, “Once, I went to attend wedding at my sister-in-law’s place, along with two of my nieces. However, when we three spout girls set down to eat and begun asking rice repeatedly, the cook got angry, ‘Whose daughters are these anyway? ‘He burst out. ‘They are eating like monsters’ then someone answered ‘they are from our’’ Sushi’s family! Daughters of Arjun master!’ On hearing this, the host came forward. ‘Oh! Are they? All right, all right let them eat as much as they want! Serve them well!’ The cook returned with more rice but being called monster was not easy to digest and we politely declined.’’ She has narrated her experiences of sexual exploitation at her early adulthood and about her schoolmates.

This narration and incidents of sexual exploitation are evident in her memoir, “My maternal uncle plays dolls with me and pretends to be my husband drags me into an alcove and presses me hard.’’ Pawar shows the distinction of male female positions and titles awarded to them. She says when any man is promoted he would become a ’Bhaushaeb’ or ‘Raosaheb’ but a woman officer will remained only a ‘Bai ’without the title of Sahib. As a Dalit writer, she felt much as it is an insult to her position and caste. Due to English language, today all women are called ‘Madam’ irrespective of their position. This has generated the question of self-respect among the women. Pawar also accepts the harsh reality of household work done by the husband in the presence of the guests, whether with understanding or just for the sake of pretention. It was difficult for her to judge her husband’s intentions, “Once, both of us were at a function. Mr. Pawar had been was very reluctant to attend it and I had literally dragged him there.

When it was time for drinking session, he got up to go .A sensitive artist sitting there asked him, why you are leaving. Oh yes, Mr. Pawar answered easily we have to leave. This is the time we get water in the house. So I have to go fill it up.’’ After some days, that artist was narrating the story to someone, “The poor husband was going to store water at home and this shameless woman was laughing. How easily, men appeared poor and women shameless.’’ In the concluding paragraphs of her Memoir Urmila Pawar writes, “Life has taught me many things, showed me so such. It has also lashed it me till I bled, I don’t know how much longer I am going to live, nor do I know in what form life is going to confront me let it came in any form; I am ready to face it stoically. This is what my life has taught me. This is my life and that is me.”

In conclusion, it may be stated that this autobiography has emerged as embodiment of protest and rebel. The feminist discourse may encourage to initiate a new feministic movement of Dalit consciousness and to bring social transformation. In this regard Sharankumar Limbale argues,4“Dalit consciousness is an important seed for Dalit literature, it is separate and distinct from the consciousness of the other writers. Dalit literature is the demarked as unique because of these consciousness.” (2004,32)


1. Pawar, Urmilla. Aayadan (tran.) Maya Pandit. The wave of My Life: Dalit Woman’s Memoir, Colambia University Press, 2009 2. Sodhi Meena. Indian English Writing – The Autobiographical Mode, New Delhi : Creative Books, 2004 3. Reghe, Sharmila. Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Reading Dalit Women’s Testimonies’, Zubban: An Imprint of Kali for Women, New Delhi, 2006. 4. Limbale, Sharankumar. (tran. and ed.) Mukharjee Alok, Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit literature: History, Controversies and Considerations. Hydrabad:
Orient Longman, 2004. 5. Kumar, Raj. Dalit Personal Narratives: Reading Cast, Nation and Identity. New Delhi: Orient Black Swan, 2010. 6. Sinha, P.C. Women and Psychology. Jaipur: Prism Books. 2011.

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