ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Mothertongues vs. other tongues: A postmodern poetics of language in Dalit and Adivasi literatures


Shailendra Soumya - Northwestern University, Comparative Literary Studies, Evanston, United States


35 – Postmodern Narratives of Caste and Indigeneity


 In Annihilation of Caste, Ambedkar discusses the need to “civilize” aboriginal tribes by incorporating them into institutions of postcolonial modernity. Ambedkar’s patronizing remarks on Adivasi inclusion, in a speech dedicated to uprooting caste, points at Adivasi and Dalit cultures’ differing relationships to the promise of modernity, which in turn reconfigures the postmodern as an aesthetic and temporal category. In this paper,I compare Santhal poet,Jacinta Kerketta’s Hindi poem, “Matrubhasha ki Maut” (2016), in which she laments the death of indigenous languages, with Savitribai Phule’s ode to western education in “Learn English” (1854).Adopting diverging postures on the language debates surrounding Hindu fundamentalism and colonial education, Kerketta and Phule reject the superiority of Sanskrit, Hindi, and English as sacred, national,or global languages. In this way, Dalit and Adivasi literatures’ critical engagement with language ideologies reflects their capacity to navigate categories of global prestige, such as the postmodern, while simultaneously rewriting its aesthetic codes from minoritarian standpoints. Dalit and Adivasi literatures’ treatment of modernity participates in a worlding critique by systematically disrupting Brahminical, postcolonial, and nationalist conceptions of time.Postmodernism here does not follow modernity,but features as a condition of possibility through which Dalit and Adivasi writing mediate their relation to caste, race, and coloniality.