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Thursday, 31 December 2015

Limbale's last-minute-sex-change novel

Just finished reading a 2003-4 novel by Sharankumar Limbale, called Hindu. It is a dalit novel and, being such, it is novel of collectives and is interestingly mostly about public space events. It is about how dalits are forced by multiple powers to accommodate within the Hindu (and often Hindutva) order even years after the Ambedkar's struggles and the help of some legislation and federal institutions. The plot starts with the murder of a dalit leader and ends with the judicial acquittal of the savarna's perpetrators. In the meantime there are two elections, a lynching of a dalit women by savarna villagers, some episodes of betrayal and loads of soul-searching of dalit groups mostly around the convenience and efficacy of converting out of hinduism. The novel revolves around Gopichand and Manikchand, two brothers who act like one and appear as a double - two but acting as one, savarnas close to Hindutva and at the same time hanging out with dalits and providing money for their campaign, electing dalits and making they play the establishment (or the Hindutva) game etc. They make money out of the savarna-avarna conflict - as they say, dalits have to revolt, there is no reason for them to stop the conflict. The conflict is, for the duo, the source of their living and, at the same time, what give them prestige. Also the story is narrated both in third person and my Milind Kamble who is part of the dalit movement but takes part of the night adventures of Gopichand and Manikchand that often involve raping and abusing dalit women. It is a portray of the dead end dalit situation involving most ingredients of their state of affairs: Hindutva, conversion, Ambedkar, avarna women, money and Indian election politics, the lot.

However, up to the very end there are no appearances of hijras (eunuchs, in the English translation). Hijras live like avarnas and are the worse of from the outcast community. In the very end of the book, Milind, the narrator, is inside a car with a woman, Gopichand and Manikchand as they meet the hijras who ask for money and kiss Gopichand's hands (or was Manikchand's?). Then Milind undergoes a sex change. As the narrator, he feels humiliated as his body becomes different piece by piece and comments that he lost his masculinity because he left the dalit movement - gradually seduced by Gopichand and Manikchand's way of life. Confronted with the sudden sex change, the brothers and Shaila Satpute, the woman in the car, laugh at Milind. Then comes the last phrase of the novel: "I held Manikchand's hand, kissing it loyally".

What is this about? Maybe it is about castes really, and women are sometimes portrayed in the book as almost an outcast even when they come from a savarna background. Maybe it is about the domineering role figures like the brothers have, they have money and power and that make them hypermales that feminize whatever touch them. In a desperate novel, though, it is a final touch of desperate misogyny: the sex change makes Milind even more subservient to the double powers that be.

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