(Re)casting Caste: Dalit Literary Consciousness in Ajay Navaria’s Unclaimed Terrain and Goyu Shyamala’s Father may be an elephant and mother only a small basket but…

Paul Giffard-Foret


The essay critically examines two recently translated collections of short stories by Indian Dalit authors Ajay Navaria and Goyu Shyamala. Navayana Press published Unclaimed Terrain (2013) and Father may be an elephant and mother only a small basket but… (2012) in English. The creation of Navayana as an independent press in 2003 has represented a unique channel for the promotion of anti-caste writing beyond the Indian sub-continent. It also filled a much-needed space within the Indian Anglophone literary scene. Shyamala's and Navaria's fiction encourages us to see the necessity to approach Dalit literary consciousness in a dialogic association with other minoritarian voices, in particular women's, so as to resist institutionalising trends. The essay reviews how Navaria and Shyamala respectively tackle the issue of untouchability in novel, original ways in their collections. Although springing from divergent locales (Navaria’s Hindi/North Indian city, and Shyamala’s Telugu/South Indian rural, settings), both collections foreground the discursive, iterative, and performative nature of caste. Hence, the recounting of caste is also its re-casting as part of the realm of fiction, imaginative creativeness, and cultural translation.


Dalit literature; India; caste; untouchable; translation; women's oppression

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