Caste away

Updated: 18 October, 2020 08:33 IST | P Vatsalya | Mumbai

Short story collection, Flowers on the Grave of Caste, is an original take on the impact of caste and the road to liberation from it

One poet says that caste hides inside you like the flow of electricity that cannot be seen; only when it shocks your entire being do you realise its lethal potential," writes Yogesh Maitreya in Flowers on the Grave of Caste. The book has six short stories, mainly set in the urban milieu, with young, Dalit men as protagonists.

Instead of leaving you with a sense of dismay, the stories provide hope and resistance. Maitreya says, "What could be the intention of a Dalit person from the first generation to earn access to a university space, only to find it subtly hostile to him? To write about it is to free oneself from the burden which the casteist society imposed on a Dalit man like myself. For us, writing is an act of preserving the memory of our mental struggle against this casteist society. For us, writing is resisting," adding that the intention behind writing the book was to proclaim Dalit existence, proudly and loudly, in the face of erasure and oppression.

Yogesh Maitreya
Yogesh Maitreya

The book is scattered with Ambedkarite symbols, whether it's in the names of characters like Siddharth, Gautam and Ashoka; or the texts they are reading like Milind Prashna or Daya Pawar's Baluta. Maitreya explains the reason behind this, "Critics and readers have wrongly understood Dalit literature as purely existential. This is untrue. It is a call from another world, whose vision and moral stamina is absent in the casteist society. The extent of our struggles is unimaginable in the lives of caste-Hindus. Hence, my book is a work of fiction transcending the lived experiences of Dalits, across time and space."

The author's Ambedkarite leanings are evident in his academic and professional engagements. The 34-year-old is currently pursuing his PhD from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, on Ambedkar Shahiri. He is also the founder of Panther's Paw Publication, the first, anti-caste, English publication house in Maharashtra. Maitreya self-published Flowers on the Grave of Caste, in what should be seen as a rightful challenge to the hegemony of the Savarnas in the literary field. "I would like to appeal to all readers to be more open in their reading choices and to read more Dalit literature, so that we can develop a new imagination via fiction. Let's re-imagine a just and fraternal world together."

What: Flowers on the Grave of Caste
Where: amazon.in; WhatsApp Panther's Paw Publication at 9987133931
Price: Rs 199

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First Published: 18 October, 2020 07:39 IST

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