Omprakash Valmiki’s essay ‘Joothan’: A Critical Analysis

–Menonim Menonimus

‘Joothan’ is an autobiographical essay written by Omprakash Valmiki, an Indian Hindi Dalit writer. In the essay, the author has narrated his childhood sufferance as he often became the victim of caste discrimination prevailed in Indian society. 

First, he gives a vivid description of the locality where he spent his childhood. The environment of the locality was full of odds and adverse to civilised human living. He narrates that their house was adjacent to Chandrabhan, Taga’s ( an upper caste people) cowshed.  Next to it there lived the families of Muslim weavers. Right in front of Chandrabhan Taga’s cowshed was a little pond. The pond created a sort of partition between the Chuhras’ (lower caste community) and the village.  The name of the pond was Dabbowali. It is hard to say how it got the name of Dabbowali. The author guessed that as its shape was like that of a big pit so it might get that name. On one side of the pit, there were high walls of the brick homes of the Tyagis (upper-class community).  At the right angle, there were clay walls of the two or three homes of the Jhinwars (lower caste community). After these, there were more homes of the Tagis.

On the edges of the pond, there were the homes of the lower caste community. All the women of the village young girls, older women, even newly-married brides, would sit in the open space behind their homes at the edged of the pond to take a shit. Not just under the cover of darkness but even in the daylight. The purdha (veil) observing Tyagi women, their faces covered with their saris, shawls around their shoulders, found relief in this open-air latrine. They sat on Dabbowali’s shores without worrying about decency, exposing their private parts. All the quarrels would be discussed in the shape of a Round Table Conference at the same spot. There was muck strewn everywhere that one would choke within a moment. The pigs wandering in narrow lanes, naked children, dogs, daily fights etc. were the environment of the author’s childhood.

This description shows us how poor and vulgar the people of the village were. People living in such an environment cannot have a rich mentality. The people living in such a condition can hardly draw the sympathy of common people.  Later on, in the essay, we see that the author and the other children of the lower castes suffer a lot in the school but their sufferance fails to draw the sympathy of the readers. The sufferance that the children of the lower castes faced seems worth them. It seems that they were responsible for their own sufferance because they were not conscious of a better way of life.

Secondly, after giving a vivid description of the author’s childhood environment, he tells us about his family. Their family lived in Chuhra basis. The author had five brothers and one sister. Besides this, he had two uncles and one tau and his family. Everyone in the family did some or other work, but they did not manage to get two decent meals a day.  They did all sorts of work for the Tagas, including cleaning agricultural work and general labour.  They often had to work without pay. Nobody dared to refuse this unpaid work for which they got neither money nor grain. Instead, they got sworn at and abused. They did not call them by their names. If the persons were older, then he would be called ‘Oe Chuhre’. If the person were younger or of the same age, ‘Abey Chuhre’ was used.

Thirdly, the author tells us about his sad and disgusting schooling experiences. He says that untouchability was rampant in society. The people of the upper caste considered the lower classes of people to be no humans.  If the people touched dogs, cats, cows, buffaloes, it was no matter, but if they touched a Chuhra (lower caste of people) then they thought to get contaminated. The Chuhras were thought to be things for use. Their utility lasted until the work was done. They use the chuhras and threw them away. 

The author says that a Christian used to frequent their neighbourhood. His name was Sewak Ram Masihi. He would sit with the children of the Chuhras around him.  He used to teach them reading and writing. The government school did not allow these children to get enrolled. The author’s parents sent only him to Sewk Ram Masihi. His brothers were all working. There was no question of sending the girls to school.  The author learnt the alphabet in master Sewak Ram Masih’s open-air school, a school without mats and rooms. The author narrates that one day, Sewak Ram Masihi and the author’s father had an argument. After that, his father took him to the Basic Primary School. There his father begged the master Har Phool Singh to teach him in his school. Master Har Phool Singh asked him to go to school the next day. Accordingly, the author went to school. After several days, he was enrolled in the school. It was eight years after India got independence. Gahdhij’s upliftment of the Untouchables was resounding everywhere. Although the doors of the government schools had begun to open for the Untouchables, the mentality of the ordinary people had not changed much. The Chuhra children had to sit away from the others in the school and that too on the floor. The author had to sit away behind everybody, right near the door.

In the school, he became the victim of class distinction even in the hand of his classmates. The Tyagi children teased him by calling him ‘Chuhre ka’. Sometime they would tease him without any reason.  This was an absurd tormented life that made him introverted and irritable.  If he got thirsty in school, then he had to stand near the hand-pump. All sorts of stratagem were tried so that he would run away from school. Among his classmates, there were Ram Singh and Sukkhan Singh. Ram Singh was a Chamar and Sukkhan Singh was a Jhinwar. Ram Singh’s father and mother worked as agricultural labourers and Sukkhan Singh’s father was a peon. The three of them grew up together, experienced the sweat and sour moments of childhood together.  All three of them were very good in their studies, but their lower-caste background dogged them at every step. The Muslim tyagis were also tormented them.

Fourthly,  the author tells us about an incident that happened at the school rounding him. When he reached fourth class, the headmaster Bishambar Singh was replaced by Kaliram. Along with him, there came another teacher. After the arrival of the two Omprakash and his two classmates fell on more trouble.  They would thrash at the slightest excuse.  They were got beaten almost daily. Some good looking students were sexually tormented by the teachers.

One day the headmaster Kaliram called him to his room and asked his name. He told his name. Then the teacher compelled him to make a broom with the twigs of a tree. He did it. Then the teacher set him to clean all the rooms and the verandahs. Just when he was about to finish, the teacher came to him and compelled him to sweep the playground while the other children were studying. The playground was a large one and he was so tired that his back was aching. He headmaster was watching him.  He was not even allowed to get a drink of water.  He swept the whole day. Even on the second and third day, he was set to do the same work.

On the third day when he was cleaning the playground, his father happened to pass by. Seeing his son doing the job, stopped abruptly. The author was weeping and tears were falling from his eyes. His father snatched the broom from his hand and being angry went to the teacher. His father’s voice had echoed through the whole school. All the teachers were also with the headmaster. Kaliram, the headmaster threatened his father and called him names. But his threats had no effects on him. 

His father took his hand and started walking towards their home.  As he walked away, he said loudly for the headmaster, ” You are a teacher….. So I am leaving now. But remember this much, Master… This  Chuhre ka will study right here in this school.  And not just him, but there will be more coming after him.”

His father had faith that the Tyagis of the village would chastise the master Kaliram. But what happened was the exact opposite.  His father told the event to his community, But he got no favourable response. 

The next day, the author’s father took him to the pradhan, Sagwa Singh Tyagi and narrated to him what was happened to his son at the school. He supplicated the pradhan with tears in his eyes. The pradhan called the author near him and asked him to go to school tomorrow.  Accordingly, he went to the school but he was in great dread of undergoing the punishment of the headmaster Kaliram. 

Thus in the essay, the author gives a vivid picture of how he became the victim of caste discrimination during his childhood.

The above analysis shows that Omprakash Valmiki’s style and presentation along with his outlook of seeing things is a difference. He does not blame the upper caste people only but along with doing so he also gives a vivid picture of the weakness of the lower castes. The reality is that the lower caste people are also responsible for their own pathetic plight as they are not conscious of having their rights. The environment that they live in evokes sufferance for them.

    The title of the essay ‘Joothan’ is a Hindi word. It means a scrap of food leftover after a meal. The author uses the word to refer to the lower caste of people who are considered as useless as a scrap of leftover food by the upper caste people in Indian society.  0 0 0

 

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