Dalit women are often the victims of double standards of the society. Being a Dalit and then a woman worsens the plight of Dalit women in the country. They are termed as “Dalits among the Dalits and the downtrodden among the downtrodden” (Sivaprakasm 131). They are exploited and discriminated both inside and outside their community. Plenty of Dalit women are being raped, abducted and killed in the name of caste and gender, and perpetuators of the atrocities committed against them are mostly from the upper caste men. They are identified as the most vulnerable group among the Dalits. Though Dalit women play an integral role in their struggle to be liberated from caste biases, they are often unacknowledged by their community. There are no many Dalit female characters in the novel and the main Dalit woman is Valli, Chudalamuttu’s wife. Pillai has portrayed Valli as a powerful character. Unlike other Dalit women in the novel Valli is the new liberated woman. Her liberation is in terms of her gender and not in terms of caste. This chapter will look at Valli, as an influential character in the novel. And she, unlike the rest of the Dalit women, is not depicted as a victim of discrimination.
Valli and Chudalamuttu had a love marriage. Love marriage during those times and to some extend even today is still a taboo. Valli is one bold woman who decided to marry the man she loved. Valli was a strong independent woman even before her marriage. She lived with her father’s sister who brought her up after her parent’s death. Being the sweeper of the ward and an occasional scavenger, Valli was economically independent. She earned enough for her aunt and herself. Marrying Chudalamuttu was a pride moment for this woman. She was getting married to a successful (at that point of time Chudalamuttu’s living condition was better off than the other scavengers) independent man. “Valli was filled with pride. Not only there, but also in the scavenger colony near the beach where she had been brought up, there was no house as fine as this. Her husband was not without money; he commanded respect” (Asher 34). Valli, unlike other women of her time, is not a traditional stereotyped woman. She had a job, fell in love and married the guy whom she wanted. She was audacious enough to steal a kiss or a hug at the night soil depot from her lover. She was also not into the habit of praying to god and other superstitious beliefs. It is from Chudalamuttu she learnt to light the lamp and pray to god:
It was then that Valli said a prayer for the first time. For a long time she looked at her husband as he sat there with legs crossed, eyes closed and the palms of his hands together. From where had he learnt all this? He repeated a verse in praise of God. She tried to say it after him and made mistakes in many places. He corrected her. (Asher 35)
Here we see a subversion of male-female roles. There are specific roles that are constructed by the society for a man and a woman. Though the society expects a female to do things like lighting a lamp and praying to god, we see a scavenger woman being ignorant of such womanly duties. It is the male who does the chores of a female.
Marriage for Valli was a realisation of many realities. When the initial love and romance of the couple had waned off, Valli realized the perils of Marriage. Marriage did have a restriction of freedom. Valli was not allowed to mingle with other scavenger women and had to let go of her job as a sweeper. Her life was cut off from the outside world and was confined to the four walls of her house,
In her new home Valli experienced a lack of freedom that she was unable to put her fingers on. It was not the sweetheart who spoke to her where the roads met, asked for her love at the depot and who had caused her womanhood to blossom, whom she now saw, but a husband. There was no change in his outward appearance. His body is still strong. Even now he has his crop of wavy hair. There is manliness in his face. But these are not the only things a woman needs. (Asher 39)
Marriage constrained Valli’s freedom as an individual. She experienced several difficulties as Chudalamuttu’s wife. Though she tried to be a good wife according to the norms of Chudalamuttu, he always found fault with her. She keeps the house neat and clean, does not spend money unnecessarily yet Chudalamuttu finds fault with Valli. She is accused of not being clean, god fearing and devout according to Chudalamuttu. And soon Valli becomes dissatisfied with her marital life. She compromised on many things for her husband’s sake and often turned a blind eye towards Chudalamuttu’s ignorance. She had no voice on anything and this was a suffocating situation for Valli. So until she reached her saturation point Valli confidently confronts Chudalamuttu, “Do you think marrying me was a mistake?” (Asher 41). Her questions were so sharp and it did have its effects on Chudalamuttu. He was confused and did not even imagine that Valli would question him on their marriage. She makes neither her stand clear by saying that she is not a wife to be taken for granted nor a slave to be treated like filth. She asserts her identity as Chudalamuttu’s wife and commands respect from her husband. She makes it very clear to him that she is not someone to be fooled around with and that he can’t take out his frustration at her. She literally warns him of the consequences that he might have to face if he ever thinks of another woman she says, “I remember it all, everything. I have not forgotten a single word you said. Just you let me down: I ‘ll show you!” (Asher 42).
Her confrontation was a realization to Chudalamuttu. He was shaken from his delirium of trying to be superior to his wife. He understood that he was caught in a dangerous situation, and that the woman he loved has started to question his chauvinistic attitude. He realises that he was utterly defeated by his own wife and admits the fact that Valli was very essential to him and that she is a woman who understands his weakness. Then on Chudalamuttu never treated his wife badly nor did he ignore her. Valli has a n equal say in the family matters that they discussed. She once again regained her freedom as a woman. After this episode she also took decisions in the family. One of the crucial decisions of hers was bringing back her ailing auntie to live with them.
Thus we see Valli as a confident and independent Dalit woman. She is a Dalit woman who stands up for her freedom and voices for her rights. She was never submissive and was in par with Chudalamuttu.
Pillai, Takazhi. Scavenger’s Son (Tottiyute Makan).Trans. R. E. Asher. Oxford: Heinemann, 1993. Print.
Sivaprakasam, M. N. “Identification of Dalit Community”.Dalits and Social Mobilisation. New Delhi: Rajat Publications, 2002. Print.