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    Of caste struggles and women empowerment, a look at Premchand’s short stories

    There has been a century-long debate on whether Premchand was able to articulate the suffering of the lower castes, considering that he was a rich Kayastha.

    HomeFeaturesOf caste struggles and women empowerment, a look at Premchand’s short stories

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    Of caste struggles and women empowerment, a look at Premchand’s short stories

    Of caste struggles and women empowerment, a look at Premchand’s short stories There has been a century-long debate on whether Premchand was able to articulate the suffering of the lower castes, considering that he was a rich Kayastha.

    Deeksha Bhardwaj

    8 October, 2019 08:45 am IST

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    The postage stamp issued in memory of Munshi Premchand | By special arrangement

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    New Delhi: “Looks as though little Dukhi is dead,” says Pandit Ghasiram in Premchand’s short story Sadgati (Deliverance). Dukhi, the sad one, is a Dalit on his way to ask the Brahmin for a favour. Starved of food and stressed about work, Dukhi the tanner falls to the floor while chopping the Pandit’s logs for free, but he never gets up.

    “Out there in the field, jackals and kites, dogs and crows were picking at Dukhi’s body. This was the reward for a whole life of devotion, service and faith,” read the last lines of Premchand’s story.

    Dukhi is the classic example of a Dalit so deeply indoctrinated by the caste system that for him to imagine defying an upper-caste man is in itself a heresy. He doesn’t question, he serves — a portrayal that earned Premchand the ire of many.

    At the other end of the spectrum are Ghisua and Madhav, the protagonists of Kafan (The Shroud). Debauched drinkers and complete wastrels, these two Dalits barely get by in their own lives — so much so that when the latter’s wife passes away, they spend the money they begged for her shroud on drink.

    Premchand wasn’t spared for his characterisation of these two either. However, one crucial difference is that even in their intoxicated state, the story raises the concern of an alienation from labour and the debilitating deprivation of the lower castes who don’t even get two full meals.

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    The debate on whether or not Premchand was able to articulate the pain and suffering of the lower castes in the early 20th century, considering he was a rich Kayastha, has raged on ever since he began writing.

    On his 83rd death anniversary, ThePrint looks at some of the characters in his short stories that defined Premchand’s views as Dalit assertion in India began to take shape.

    Also read: The Maharashtra farmers’ march reminded us of what Tagore & Premchand tried teaching us

    Of caste and conflict

    Can someone who has not experienced exploitation articulate it? This is a question literary theorists have asked time and again. Marxist scholar Antonio Gramsci held the opinion that two kinds of intellectuals exist in society — traditional and organic. Traditional intellectuals, as Premchand is likely to be categorised, are distanced from the economic structure and derive their information from the records of the past and often legitimise power structures. Organic intellectuals, such as B.R. Ambedkar, are deeply entrenched in the economic structure, and thus, are more likely to overthrow the existing structure.

    Premchand, however, deviates from the norm to challenge these structures. His depiction of upper castes, landlords and priests is a scathing indictment of an unequal society that works to keep certain classes deprived of access to basic human resources such as water.

    “Premchand could have written from the point of view of a Brahmin, but he chose the Dalit point of view,” says G.S. Meena, professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University and a scholar on the works of Premchand.

    “He made people realise the follies of the caste system and the oppression it inflicts on those who are relegated to the periphery. That is what makes him a successful author.”

    On the other hand, if one views characters like Dukhi and Shankar, the protagonist of Sawa Ser Gehun (One and A Quarter Ser of Wheat, ‘ser’ being an Indian weight measure that’s slightly less than a kilogram), that sense of complete resignation to Dalit oppression is hard to escape. Both men inevitably cede the ability to challenge the system, letting it exploit them.

    “The stories demonstrate that the Dalits were subjected to daily humiliation by members of the upper castes and this humiliation stemmed from the fact that Dalit inferiority had become embedded in the psyche of the members of the Hindu upper castes, who had developed a vast repertoire of idioms, symbols and gestures of verbal and physical denigration of the Dalits over centuries,” writes M. Asaduddin in his introduction to Premchand’s Stories on Caste, published by Penguin.

    But Premchand’s most interesting interjection comes with his female characters. In Thakur ka Kuan (Thakur’s Well), Gangi is the rebellious Dalit woman who is willing to brave the landlord’s ire only to get clean drinking water for her sick husband. She is defiant and has the ability to question, if not overthrow, the pervading order.

    In Mandir, Sukhiya asks a question whose reverberations can be heard even today — why can’t Dalits enter the temple, is he only “their” God? She dies at foot of the temple, nursing her sick child, denied the right to pray but defiant to the end.

    स्रोत : theprint.in

    11 Books to Read If You Want to Understand Caste in India ‹ Literary Hub

    Caste is not unique to India, and no country should be reduced to a single social category, no matter how intrinsic a part of its reality. Nevertheless, to understand India you have to understand c…

    11 Books to Read If You Want to Understand Caste in India

    A Reading List Anchored by Dalit Voices

    By S. Shankar December 4, 2017

    Caste is not unique to India, and no country should be reduced to a single social category, no matter how intrinsic a part of its reality. Nevertheless, to understand India you have to understand caste, whose intricacies are unarguably difficult. It is not just one of the most prominent social features of India; it is at the heart of many of the past and present fissures of the country.

    I grew up in India living the reality of caste every day. Even so I had to learn, and unlearn, many things about caste while completing my two most recent books: the novel Ghost in the Tamarind, which narrates an inter-caste romance between a Brahmin man and a Dalit woman against the backdrop of powerful anti-caste movements in southern India; and a co-edited collection of academic essays on caste and life narratives.

    What exactly is caste? You might have heard somewhere (perhaps in a high school or college classroom) that there are four ancient and unchanging castes in India ranging from Brahmins at the top, through Kshatriyas and Vaishyas in the middle, to Shudras at the bottom, with a fifth group of so-called Untouchables—the preferred term now is Dalits—even further below. These, though, are only partial truths, for history is replete with examples of the changeability of caste, and in practice there are thousands of castes. One truth about caste, however, is undeniable: in all its manifestations through history it has been the name for a monstrous and irredeemable system of social hierarchy and oppression based on horrific notions of ritual pollution and exclusion.

    The various social groups collected most recently under the name Dalit have felt the power of this irredeemable system with the greatest force. The Indian constitution, adopted in 1950, acknowledged in an enlightened moment that the historically disadvantaged Dalits needed special support to advance socially and economically, and then set out to provide it. Since then, India has had a Dalit President and a powerful woman Dalit Chief Minister of a state. Nevertheless, the oppression of Dalits, ranging from daily humiliation (such as the maintenance of separate glasses for Dalits in some village tea shops) through sexual violence to outright massacre (alas, so many that the name of Khairlanji, where in 2006 four members of the Bhotmange family were brutally murdered, must suffice as stand in) continues till today. Reality is never neat or singular.

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    This is one reason “the Boom in Dalit literature”—as some have called it—of the last few decades is so important. The Boom represents the entrance of new and vital voices onto India’s literary stage—that is into forms of artistic production from which they had formerly been excluded (of course, Dalits, often musicians and performers, have had their own powerful expressive forms going back centuries). Many trace the origins of the Boom back to Dalit writing in Marathi, which began to gather force in the Seventies. From there, the Boom spread to other languages, and now there are significant bodies of work in Tamil, Hindi, Kannada, Telugu and other languages.

    Below are eleven works that may serve as an introduction to caste. The works are not all by Dalits, for the experience of caste, and the need to critique it, is not their burden alone. Nevertheless, Dalit literature and voices help orient this list, which aims not to be representative but rather to present some highlights. All the works are widely available either in the original English or else in English translation.

    R. Ambedkar, Essential Works, ed. Valerian Rodriguez

    It is appropriate to start the list with Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (1891-1956), the most important Dalit leader of modern India. Ambedkar was a brilliant rival of M. K. Gandhi, with whom he tussled over Gandhi’s inadequate position on caste. (Gandhi attacked untouchability but also romanticized the caste system in some of his pronouncements.) A deep and wide-ranging thinker, Ambedkar converted to Buddhism toward the end of his life as a protest against caste. This collection includes the pivotal Annihilation of Caste and some of his writings on Buddhism.

    Premchand, “Deliverance” The World of Premchand, trans. David Rubin

    I am cheating here—this is not a book. It’s a short story, written in 1931, by the greatest figure of Hindi literature in the twentieth century. I read it in my high school Hindi class, where it made an enormous impression on me. You can find it in a standard collection of Premchand’s stories such as The World of Premchand (translated by David Rubin). The story presents the thoughtless and tragic exploitation of Dukhi Chamar by a Brahmin from whom he needs a favor. Premchand is regarded as a master of social realism, but the macabre final scene of the story, juxtaposed to the title, exceeds any tame sense of realism. In 1981, the story was adapted as a TV film directed by Satyajit Ray (available on YouTube with sub-titles)—so read the story, and then compare the film.

    स्रोत : lithub.com

    स्रोत : www.journaltocs.ac.uk

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