Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Probing the angst and anguish of dalit women

She worked in the rice fields alongside them, had meals in their homes and even learned some traditional dances. And not for a single moment did British author Valerie Mason-John get the feeling that she was doing something wrong by mixing with women of an inferior caste – the dalits.

“I simply don’t understand why we cannot look at all humans as humans instead of dividing them on the basis of colour, caste, creed and whatever,” she says, in the course of an interactive session after a reading from her book: Broken Voices in Pune.

Published by India Research Press, the book is a series of interviews in which dalit women have recounted in detail the injustice and discrimination meted out to them simply because of their caste.

For Valerie, the research for this book was the result of her fascination for Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar and his work.

“That’s what attracted me to India in the first place and then one thing led to another and I found myself getting deeper and deeper into this whole issue of ostracism of the dalits,” she states.

Along with a Marathi interpreter, Valerie toured Maharashtra between September 2006 and January 2007, talking to dalit women in the age group of 18 to 75.

“The stories that emanated from these prolonged discussions were so touching and so full of angst and anguish. It set me wondering about what makes us so cruel as to bring about this disparity between people and then use it as a tool to torture certain classes,” she states.

Valerie Mason-John was born in 1962 in Cambridge. She is a playwright, author and performance poet.

After having studied at Leeds University, she did a Masters in Creative Writing at Sussex University and then worked as an international correspondent that led her to cover Australian aboriginal land rights.

“During my work as a journalist, I discovered that problems of women in different continents vary according to socio-political scenarios. In Africa, the poorest women are victims of slavery while those in Australia are victims of genocide. In India, dalit women suffer because of religious bias,” she narrates.

Valerie’s writing includes articles for various publications, including The Guardian, The Voice and The Pink Paper besides working for the BBC, Channel 4 and the Arts Council.

In 1998, she wrote and produced her first play: Sin Dykes. Since then her theatre writing credits include: Brown Girl In The Ring and The Adventures Of Snow Black And Rose Red, the former a sole woman show and the latter a family pantomime.

Her first novel: Borrowed Body (2005) is told in the voice of Pauline, a young black girl of Nigerian descent, growing up in white foster homes and orphanages, then reclaimed by her mother.

It won the 2006 Mind Book Of The Year Award. She has also authored: Detox Your Heart (2006), a non-fiction book dealing with anger, fear and hatred.

In 1997, Valerie was named Britain’s Black Gay Icon and in 2000 won a Windrush Achievement Award for her contribution to the Black British community.

Elaborating on the challenges she faced while researching for her book on dalit women, Valerie confides that what she feared the most was losing out on subtle nuances of the life stories since she was totally dependent on the interpreter.

This she balanced out by living with the dalit women for extended periods of time to actually understand their emotional responses to living in a subjugated society.

“I was truly appalled by what I saw and I wish it was within my power to change their lives,” she states, hoping that the book will at least open some eyes and help focus on the issue anew.

By Huned Contractor


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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