In this essay, Isha Sharma explores Om Prakash Valmiki’s Joothan, considered to be a work of Dalit literature painted with Dalit consciousness.
Sharan Kumar Limbale describes Dalits as ‘those living outside the boundary of the village’. The journey of Dalits as subjects and not passive victims began from the point when they took to their identities as ‘Dalit’ or downtrodden as a mark of the oppression the upper castes have hurled at them. Dalit consciousness challenges this subordination and discrimination by its representation in Dalit literature. Om Prakash Valmiki’s novel, Joothan, the autobiographical account of the writer, published in 2008, is a work of Dalit literature painted with Dalit consciousness that highlights the workings of the caste system and voices resistance against it.
Joothan entails Valmiki’s journey from childhood to adulthood. What remains common throughout his journey is caste oppression on various levels. Another facet that remains crucial is the birth of Dalit consciousness on the part of Valmiki which results in him using his writing as a means of resistance to fight and break the shackles of caste. Dalit consciousness involves rebellion and resistance expressed by Dalits against the hegemonic caste order. The same is reflected in Dalit literature that underlines the experiences of caste oppression faced by the Dalits. It is not just central to the literary domain but toward challenging the unjust societal practices and appealing to the consciousness of the readers. In that sense, it does not only remain Valmiki’s story. Valmiki becomes the voice of so many unheard experiences of caste discrimination faced by Dalits in India.