Caste, Gender and Sexuality: On the Figure of The Dalit Woman in P. Sivakami’s Fiction

Kiran Keshavamurthy, South and Southeast Asia Studies

The narratives of P. Sivakami’s novels The Grip Of Change(1989) and Author’s Notes: Gowri (1999) critique the sexualized and supposedly violable caste body of the dalit woman. In The Grip of Change the battered body of the dalit woman frames the opening scene; her past is constituted by her widowhood that in some sense makes her a ‘surplus’ or ‘sexually available’ woman subject to sexploitation by her caste Hindu landlord and harassment by her in-laws; the assault on her by caste Hindu men owing to her apparent sexual/social misdemeanor.

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"Caste, Gender and Sexuality: On the Figure of The Dalit Woman in P. Sivakami’s Fiction ," Kiran Keshavamurthy, South and Southeast Asia Studies

The narratives of P. Sivakami’s novels The Grip Of Change(1989) and Author’s Notes: Gowri (1999) critique the sexualized and supposedly violable caste body of the dalit woman. In The Grip of Change the battered body of the dalit woman frames the opening scene; her past is constituted by her widowhood that in some sense makes her a ‘surplus’ or ‘sexually available’ woman subject to sexploitation by her caste Hindu landlord and harassment by her in-laws; the assault on her by caste Hindu men owing to her apparent sexual/social misdemeanor. Even her struggle for her husband’s share of land is linked to her body and fertility- she does not have children and so her brothers-in-law refuse to give her a share in the family land. When she is sheltered by Kathamuthu, a dalit patriarch and ex-panchayat leader, her vulnerability is exploited; she is forced to physically yield to his desires. Her oppressed and subjugated body, that she is unable to claim as her own is the only available option for her to acquire the power to gain ascendancy in Kattamuthu’s house that gives her dominance over his wives.

Author’s Notes: Gowri written a decade later assumes the form of a critical reexamination of the earlier novel that explores the disjuncture between the fictional world of the earlier novel and the author’s social circumstances that enabled the creation of the novel. Author’s Notes: Gowri redraws our attention to the ideological tensions inherent in casteism and patriarchy. The novel shows how casteism is as endemic to the dalit community as dalits are perpetrators of caste violence. Further, through the autobiographical character of Gowri, she critiques her earlier representation of patriarchy as a monolithic system even as she questions and rejects the very structures of patriarchy- heterosexual, polygamous marriage, family and the village council of elders - that perpetuate misogyny and curtail female empowerment.

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