In another blow on academic freedom, the Oversight Committee of the Delhi University removed two dalit authors — Bama and Sukirtharani — from the English syllabus. The Committee also decided to remove author Mahashweta Devi’s story Draupadi from the syllabus.
Draupadi is the story of a dalit woman. Bama is a Tamil dalit feminist writer and Sukirtharani, a dalit Tamil poet.
The Indian Cultural Forum condemns this evident exclusion of women writers and marginalised voices from curriculum.
“I am more angry than upset. I feel they are trying to strangulate our voices. But we will shout and continue to shout!” said Bama, fearless and insightful writer of dalit lives and women’s lives.
Writer Githa Hariharan speaks to Tamil writer Bama on her groundbreaking work as a dalit feminist, and the difficulties she faced after the publication of her autobiography Karukku in 1992. Bama speaks of the lives of dalit women, vulnerable on the three levels of caste, gender and class. They must build, she said, on the collective strength of “community living” to resist exploitation.
The well-known writer Bama is also a school teacher. She taught school children from 1979 to 2015, when she retired. In this interview with the Indian Cultural Forum, she recollects the ways in which inequalities persist in the education system. “The education system does not care for an egalitarian society or social justice… Instead of changing the existing unequal system, it justifies it.” But Bama also has a message of hope: teachers can do wonders if they commit themselves to shaping the future generation.
Written in Tamil by Bama and translated into English by N. Ravi Shanker, The Ichi Tree Monkey is a collection of short stories that speak about everyday acts of dalit resilience and resistance in the face of upper-caste discrimination. Set in the Tamil countryside and dalit colonies, these stories are filled with energy and vitality of a raw, unique kind, articulated through humour and defiance. The collection is a mix of writer Bama’s older short stories as well as some new ones. Read an excerpt from the collection: the story titled “Annachi”.
Bama on 2019 elections, “Educational institutions that should be independent are becoming factories to simply mint money. Religion, caste, language and colour are used to decimate the lives of students who fight for social justice. When economically depressed dalits, struggle to reach the threshold of higher education, they are mentally tormented, their thoughts and emotions deliberately killed. They are ground down by many powerful agents.”