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My journey towards understanding my identity as Dalit-Dusadh.

The Hindu religious text talks about Divija that means twice-born; according to Hindu texts, a person is born twice, first when they are held physically and secondly when attaining knowledge and born spiritually. Not getting into how the concept of Divija is incorporated in the Varna system, now if we start talking about the origin and evolution of the Varna system, the purpose of this article will be lost, since a lot of things has been written about varna I can take advantage to skip this, the point here to highlight about how in a way Divija emphasises on the importance of knowledge for building personal character. We assume that we are and we all can become Divija; the question is, is it something that happens suddenly spontaneously in one day? or does it take time, effort, and resistance? The reason why I used the word resistance is that since the association of the term the Divija is from the Varna system, which is itself a problematic issue due to its strategies of social stratification and exclusion, to attain knowledge in the society where people is associated with stigma, binary of purity and pollutants becomes complicated. One always has to resist the system based on the relationship of domination and suppression. 

Here I am not going to talk about the issues with the Varna system or how caste has impacted people. Sometimes, constitutional grants seem to be reduced to just pieces of paper instead of being reflected in practical contexts, which is a pressing issue. We claim equality in the eye of the constitution which is very different from reality. What I am going to share is my journey where I realised who I am, which later transformed into why I am. What is identity? Surely, I can give many sociological definitions, but I will not; I want to highlight my idea about identity. Identity, for me, is a reflection of how society sees you and how you see community. It is based on historical experience, social status, economic position, political opinion, and everything in this society; in the crux, identity is wholesome of your social, political, and financial status. Consciousness about identity takes time, a situation, and even location. For instance, if I am from Madhubani, Bihar, and living in Delhi, I have an identity related to my state. Still, if I went outside India, my identity will be Indian; identity is thus dynamic; it changes, it evolves. 

I call myself Dalit-Dusadh Feminist my identity as Dalit-Dusadh is barely one year old. Though my identity was known to me, I have never felt consciously connected with this identity. My Baba always told me of the greatness of Madhubani village, Dusadh community, and legends of Raja Salhesha. I always consider it as localised affection and emphasise that we should not have a regional or cultural identity but only national; contrary to me, he always used to say, “you can’t have a Nation without Regions.”  Every region has it’s own uniqueness owing to its identity, which forms of separate geographic features, social compositions, religion, culture and individual identities. The individual can be considered to be the structural and functional unit of the society, the region and the nation at large. At different levels, the individual faces crisis which might be in conflict with social complexities, religious identities or overwhelmed by forceful imposition of a unilinear national identity.

Last year I got the opportunity to research upon something that I was very familiar with (And realised my own shortcomings and expanded my understanding while learning and unlearning many thighs in the process) Madhubani paintings since my research work focuses more on the Godhna painting, which is a Dalit form of art painted by the Dusadh community of Madhubani district of Bihar, I got the opportunity to understand my society and culture thus my identity. 

During my research, I met a lot of Dusadh women artists, their experiences, and stories. Their stories were a great source of information regarding rural areas, the nature of patriarchy in rural areas, how caste plays essential roles in their respective lives, how even in the caste, there are classes and hierarchy. 

The moment I entered the village of jitwarpur, known as the village of national awardees and called craft village, I noticed that people of the Dusadh community were at the end of the village. I recalled that even my house in Koilakh, also part of Madhubani district, was at the end of the village. I never looked at this factor as a casteist system and symbol in infrastructure. Still, now I can relate to what Gopal Guru quotes in Dalits from margin to margin

“The very location of the Dalit becomes an object of contempt and contamination by the urban base of a caste Elite.”  This location is also stigmatised as they are segregated on the principle of purity and pollution”. 

Gopal Guru in Dalits from margin to margin

This was the first time my inner consciousness and connectivity started with my community. 

As Moggallan Bharti has rightly pointed out in Understanding the Dalit Self: Politics and World View that “Dalit Identity reflects a concern for self-imaging and self-recognition of an individual or community that has been historically socially and culturally excluded by the dominant classes of the society,” I was able to connect it with my area of research, so if we say art and culture have the power to reflect society, it becomes an expression of acceptance and face of resistance.  

The emergence of Godhna art was revolutionary as:

It Gave Dalit their form of art, thus a way to challenge both the patriarchal and Brahmanism. The emergence of local deities in their art challenges the great grand traditions of the upper caste like Rama and Shiva,

Their identity as women turned into Artists who are now capable enough to earn, thus giving them economic independence. In sum, this gives them space for Recognition, Representation, and Resistance. 

In my childhood, I used to ask my Maa (mother) why she has a tattoo on her neck and shoulders. She reluctantly says because “we are from Bihar beta,” after some time when I met my other friend’s mothers from Bihar, I noticed they didn’t have those tattoos, I came again to maa and ask “why they don’t have these tattoos,” now her answer was “beta they are different, above us, we are Dusadh, this is our identity, symbol that we belong to lowest, this is our destiny.”  On questioning why, we do not have siblings who have this tattoo, she just said we were privileged and didn’t have to suffer what people are facing in the rural areas. Thus, our social identities were embedded into us since childhood, that it came consciously to determine the way we viewed ourselves as individuals and related to the society.

Now I can very well assume that by privilege what she meant, should I acknowledge that due to my geographical location as a person belonging to urban areas, I never faced those humiliation, exploitation, and oppression that Maa and Baba faced. I agree with Ambedkar’s thought that,

“What is the village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness, and communalism?”

However, urban areas have their type of caste system and atrocities. Still, the fact was I was never faced such “continuous struggle against Brahminical hegemony”, my mother’s idea that it was their destiny somehow showed how people who are the margin of society internalised and marginalised as they “find themselves helpless frustrated, having lost faith in their ability to comprehend and then confront the marginalisation”.

I also realised how Godna as a tattoo and Godna as a painting transformed Dusadh women’s idea of identity; now, they started seeing Godna as a symbol of self-dignity, self-identity, and self-reliance. Maybe not just me, but these women of the sad community of Madhubani found their identities back in the 1970s when Channo Devi became the first Dusadhwoman who drew Godna on paper and created a historical revolution in the lives of Dusadh women.

Even the gods are segregated in the social stratification. The Godna women artists, while sharing their experiences, talked about how they were respected from painting lord Rama and their upper-caste Brahmin women emphasise that they should draw their own Raja Salhesha, do it was purely their choice to start drawing Raja Salhesha and other local deities the kind of restrictions they faced while drawing Rama was something that reflects how there was Brahmanisation of Indian history and also culture. Since there are inequalities based on the Caste system, which Brahmin dominates, the Hindu culture is transformed into Brahmanism, which is exclusively biased and exploitative. 

During the research, I realize how their inabilities to acknowledge the presence of caste discrimination in the field of art led to more oppression. Thus, consciousness is a significant acknowledgment. 

But why were they deprived of the knowledge of the caste system and its impact?  It is difficult to articulate, but if I can go back into my life and closely look at some point or another, I faced caste discrimination, but if it was indirect discrimination that I didn’t even realise that it is one of the forms of discrimination based on caste. For instance, in my 12th standard, our teacher, while defining the Varna system, emphasised its importance. While answering my question on why shudra are lowest, he said, “because they are pollutants, they do dirty jobs, even you are from that community,” when I scored highest in the history, he credited himself saying, “Brahmin is giving you knowledge that’s why you are scoring good marks,” and was attempting to demoralise the Dalit student. In our school circulars I was never selected after 10th as now teachers were well aware of my caste, if there were some parts left it was given to me a “preference for the leftovers”. Here, I seek to highlight the psychological turmoil it created in our minds and made us doubt ourselves for something that we were born with. While facing my hardship made me a head girl in the school; these comments and remarks continued to bear upon my heart and mind.. 

Even during the research when I was trying to search about the paintings artists associated with this art, very little knowledge was there as compared to other upper caste people, even in the Wikipedia if one’s type Mithila painting major part of upper caste style paintings will appear and significantly less representation of Godna art.

“In the field of information technology and computers Dalits find them said absolutely marginalised they appear on the website of other people as an object of hatred and ridicule and they do not have their own websites. Websites required huge investment, and since the Dalits lack resources, they get marginalised.”

Gopal Guru

Since these women’s heads lack resources, their history got invisiblised from the mainstream. 

Now I realise neglecting your identity is ignorance towards your community, culture, and concerns. My identity reflects my people’s historical experiences; failing identity means losing the identities of oppressed people from generations, erasing their historical contribution of resistance towards casteism. My question of who I am ended up answering how I am and why, from social imposition to the emergence of choice and aspiration, my identity gives me consciousness. I still think that identity is dynamic. It can change. It can evolve what needs consciousness. Since the “construction of their lost identity can only happen after erasing the all-pervasive account of dominant historical discourses that exclude them and their history,” I am trying to use my privilege to showcase the history of Us, as Dalit-Dusadh, is this our legacy and we have to keep this with us, you were true Baba identity comes with consciousness about the regional values, its culture, and community. 

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