Objecting to Otherness in One’s Own Land:
The Stepchild as a Marginal Testimony


The Indian Dalit writing is not a new genre. It is a crusade against the discrimination in name of caste. Today, Dalits are both asserting their identity and challenging a society that had earlier excluded them, by writing about their lives themselves. Joseph Macwan comes forward as a prophet of Dalits’ welfare in Gujarat. In 1986, he wrote The Angaliyat which was later translated into English as The Stepchild by Rita Kothari and published by the Oxford University Press. The novel criticizes systems of internal colonization that exist within the Hindu caste system, which is far more difficult to fight than the British colonization of the land. The Stepchild represents the recently emerged genre of the Dalit novel. The Stepchild, with its true sense, demystifies the dalitness. The text challenges the otherness in one’s own country.

Key Words: Dalit Literature, Marginalization, Discrimination, Joseph Macwan

Since ages, human has been experiencing various strata based on gender, race, colour of skin, religion, class and so on. None wants to be identified as a part of marginalized group. Rangrao Bhongle defines marginality as follows,
The term applies to those areas of human interactions and activities which had only peripheral values, which were relegated to and looked upon as irrelevant and insignificant to the mainstream interest, and which appeared occasionally either to entertain or as an object of pity and sympathy in the so-called mainstream literature. (25)

These marginalised people are frequently treated inhumanly. They are by definition kept on the periphery. They are rather outside. Dalits have forcibly been put into ‘margins’ since the ancient India. The Indian Dalit writing is a revolt against ages-old discrimination. It is a crusade against the marginality in the name of caste and social class. Today, Dalits are both asserting their identity and challenging a society that had earlier excluded them, by writing about their lives themselves. Joseph Macwan comes forward as a front-runner for Dalits’ welfare in Gujarat.

During his early years, Macwan had to suffer from many family disputes along with economic and social upheavals. As a chamar by birth, Joseph Macwan has himself experienced distress and anguish of life lived by any down trodden. He was deeply rooted in his culture of oppression which resulted into his conversion to Christianity.

He wrote his first story in 1952 which was published under a pen name. Later, in 1964, his short story, “Ghar no Divo” was rejected for the publication which made Macwan abandon the writing hopelessly till 1979. Under the influence of Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, he again took up the pen as a weapon and began writing seriously, this time with much vigour and spirit. His Vyatha Na Vitako gained him fame, name, a lot awards and established him as a very mature writer. His maturity as a writer was reflected in his best novel Angaliyat in 1986.

In Maharahstra, Dalit writers have mostly written poems, dramas and essays but have not attempted to write a novel till date. Angaliyat is considered to be the first Dalit novel written in any language in India. This novel firmly puts Macwan on the national literary field. In 1989, this novel received the Kendriya Sahitya Akademi Award. In 2004, it was skilfully translated by Rita Kothari from Gujarati into English as The Stepchild and published by Oxford University Press (OUP). It has the honour of being the first Gujarati novel translated into English and published by OUP.

It works on many levels. It is an interwoven tale of love, heroism, humiliation, revenge and death. It is a vividly coloured picture of the lives of two neighbouring villages in the Charotar district of central Gujarat. It is a document of the politics of the pre- and post-Independence years, as seen from the perspective of the downtrodden; and finally, it is an account of the struggle of one Dalit community against its upper-caste oppressors. Umashankar Joshi, a well-known Gujarati writer, told Joseph Macwan that, “You haven’t popularized Angaliyat but Angaliyat has popularized you” (Joshi 205). Bhagwatikumar Sharma, a renowned author says in this regard,
Joseph Macwan who has experienced the harsh reality of life and described it exactly without any bitterness doesn’t have only documentary strategy but also fragrance of creativity. … He describes fire but doesn’t harm. He wants to extinguish the fire. (15)

Joseph Macwan has Teehabhai Parmar alias Teeha as the protagonist who is like a tragic hero, a larger than life character, uncommon among the commonest Dalits and stronger among the weakest Dalits. His motive of life is very clear: not to accept marginality advocated by the Patels, the upper castes. He sacrifices his life for the same motto. Teeha is a man with distinct qualities. He lives for his identity and dies defending it.

The structure of the society in Gujarat is depicted in the text very minutely. It is the set up of the categorized society through which the Dalits are pushed into the margins by the upper castes. Restrictions on their freedom were basically conceptualized and later exercised through their religious dogmas. This is one of the worst forms of oppression. In the name of religion, the element of untouchability has been practiced in the society since ages. Politics has joined hands with religion as an ill-attempt to keep the Dalits more oppressed. Macwan has personally witnessed the deadly combination of political power and upper caste control. And this is aptly manifested in the character of Dehlavala Sheth, a representation of the upper castes. Besides political suppression, social exploitation is also one of the striking themes found in the text.

In the text, one can witness the element of exploitation and, due to it; the presence of existentialism. These Dalits have been facing aloofness, detachment, isolation and what not. Teeha, Bhavaankaka and other characters experience their isolation from the main stream society. They are confined in a very restrained group. These Dalits are groping in the darkness for their self-recognition. They are constantly searching for the stability and acceptance of their humanness.

Their existence is no existence at all in the society. They fear the high castes. Though their identity is openly stolen from them, they are strong enough to protest. Their protest against the ages old suffering is a result of their intense desire to have a respectful existence. The upper caste leader Dehlavala Sheth, the antagonist, defines them as:
It’s a good-for-nothing caste. Among themselves they display power, but never unite to think of their own welfare. We get away with what we do because of their failures! The day they achieve self-recognition, the sun will set on us. (Macwan 100)

Macwan convincingly expressed their disgust at the hypocrisy of the oppressors. Dehlavala’s hypocrisy is revealed after he becomes a prominent political leader. He tries to prove himself as a true Gandhian and proclaims, “‘I follow the footsteps of Baapu. My driver is a Harijan!’ He would announce proudly, impressing his listeners” (Macwan 120). His false idealism is sharply contrasted with his lust for his driver’s wife and her body. He wants to show the world that he follows the principles of Gandhiji but in reality he is a big hypocrite. The end of the novel establishes him a hard core hypocrite when he prevents anyone from helping Teeha who needs medical treatment. Thus he takes his revenge and reveals his true colours.

The Stepchild is remarkable for its triple conflicts: the internal conflict, the Dalits-Upper Castes conflict and finally the conflict amongst the Dalits. Teeha passes through all these three conflicts. His mental restlessness is due to all these dilemmas. Valji and his wife, Kanku try to convince him for the marriage, but any how he is not ready. When he is ready to marry Methi, circumstances are against their will. Even till the end Teeha and Methi are unable to unite in marriage. With much persuasion from Methi, Teeha agrees to marry Vali. This marriage too proves to be a reason of his suffering. Teeha’s life is nothing but a long struggle. He tries to find support in his various conflicts. Even when the Dalits support, they have to suffer a backlash from the upper castes. In fact, many Dalits try to discourage him by becoming obstacles in his struggle. The conflict between human being and the Destiny is also present in the novel. Man proposes and God disposes.

Joseph Macwan, having experienced marginally and suffering - psychologically, socially, politically - has drawn the sketches of his own experiences with the use of words. Marginality and suffering are proved as universal traits. Out of this traumatic life, he creates his own space. His writings have become extremely focused. Rangrao Bhongle holds the view that Dalit is not ‘marginal’ (11) but ‘mainstream’ (11) literature by virtue of their focus on the fundamental questions of human life, which embraces every cross-section of civilized society. Joseph Macwan also confesses for the element of realism in his novel, “Angaliyat is a tale of a culture that is extinct and pushed into oblivion on purpose. It is not an attempt to re-establish its prestige but to acknowledge and sing of its strength and character” (Macwan vii).

One should not curse darkness but the real solution is to lighten a candle to spread light. Macwan depicts the disease and proposes its solution : moving on into the future with the past firmly in its place. In The Stepchild, Macwan’s vision of the united society is seen when at the end of the novel, Dehlavala Sheth proposes to make a high school in the village, the ‘angaliyat’ Gokul gives donation of rupees seven thousand and one in the name of Teehabhai Parmar. Dhirendra Mehta notes, “It introduces the creator’s vision by imagining the victory of the Dalits in such a way and by elaborating their feelings and sentiments” (Mehta 230). It is also envisioned that in his work, like other Dalit writers, their voices of suppression and oppression and later aggression change into voices of assertion. Dalitness, with the touch of reality, is artistically de-mystified in his literary work.

Bibliography :

1. Bhongle, Rangrao. “Dalit Literature and African-American Literature: A Comparative Study.” Literature of Marginality: Dalit Literature and Aftican-American Literature, ed. N M Aston. Prestige Books, 2001, pp. 25-36.
2. Joshi, Umashanker. “Gujarati Katha Sahitya Pravah ma ek Vishisth Rachana: Angaliyat.”
3. Angaliyat. Joseph Macwan. Divine Publications, 2009, pp. 205-207.
4. Macwan, Joseph. The Stepchild. Rita Kothari, tran. OUP, 2004.
5. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 8th edition, Modern Language Association of America, 2017.
6. Salve, J. “The Theme of Marginality in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.” Literature of Marginality: Dalit Literature and Aftican-American Literature, ed. N M Aston. Prestige Books, 2001, pp. 137-143.
7. Sharma, Bhagwatikumar. “Joseph Macwan: Gujarati Bhasha Sahitya ni ek Dhanyata.”
Angaliyat. Joseph Macwan. Divine Publications, 2009, pp. 13-15.