ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

How the revolting turns into a piece of art: Imagery of disgust in Hindi Dalit autobiographies


Rimscha Marina - Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Asian Studies, Jerusalem, Israel


35 – Postmodern Narratives of Caste and Indigeneity


 This paper examines the usage of bībhatsa rasa or the aesthetic of revulsion in Hindi Dalit autobiographies. Laura Brueck has pointed out that early Marathi Dalit writers have used bībhatsa rasa quite extensively. The Dalit Panther writer Namdeo Dhasal’s poetry is one famous example of a literature that, as Dilip Chitre puts it, “zooms in on the contents of sewers” and hits the reader with “almost palpable filth and stink”. My paper will demonstrate that while Kausalya Baisantri and Omprakash Valmiki, who were among the first Hindi Dalit autobiographers in the end of the 1990ies, do use the aesthetic of revulsion in their narratives, their usage of it is minimal and directed at the achievement of goals similar to those of early Marathi Dalit writers, but with strategically shifted connotations. When Dalit writer Tulsiram writes his autobiography fifteen years later, he takes it further and in a postmodernist stance re-interprets the revolting as beautiful. His imagery of disgust looks like a rare painting – I suggest that while this strategy is in direct opposition to that of Dhasal and his contemporaries, it is far more powerful: instead of forcing the reader to smell the stench of Dalit life, he makes it look stunning, rare and worthy of an artist’s brush.