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Abstract

In the patriarchal milieu of Kerala, the woman’s world is overshadowed by male suppression and cowed silence; the Dalit woman, however, seems to never take it lying down. As is evident from the Channar revolt of the 19th century, Dalit women have never been silent victims in history. This is in stark contrast to the upper-caste women who tend to succumb to caste patriarchy in silence. Drawing on the Channar or Shannar women’s historic revolt for the right to cover their breasts, this paper engages with the question of Dalit women's agency in the social reform movements during the period of the Kerala renaissance. Dalit women have been essentialized into silence in Dalit and ‘Dalitist’ writings. The writings of gendered Dalits characterize the emergence of Dalit women’s voices in literary discourses. This paper seeks to demonstrate that the newly emergent Dalit feminism in Kerala has an unrecorded and unrecognized tradition of its own in the early caste struggles such as the Channar revolt. By problematizing the elite historians’ sanctioned silence regarding the revolt, the role Dalit women played in it and arguing how it amounts to the erasure of Dalit women’s agency in history, this paper explicates how the Dalit as female is catapulted historically into the liminality of (non- )existence. This paper seeks to rectify the erasures by surfacing the tradition of the historical assertion of the gendered caste subaltern. It is hoped that such an epistemological effort will strengthen the cause of Dalit Feminism.

Note on the Author

Dr. Binu K D is an Associate Professor of English at Govt Law College Thrissur in Kerala, India. His area of specialization is “Subaltern Studies”. He has published numerous articles and edited a book titled Subaltern Speak: Perspectives on Malayalam Dalit Representations.

Manosh Manoharan is a Ph. D. Scholar working in the field of Malayalam Dalit Literature under the supervision of Dr. Binu K. D at the Department of English, St. Joseph’s College (Autonomous), Devagiri, affiliated to the University of Calicut in Kerala, India.

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