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Bama’s Vanmam: Vendetta, focuses on how caste, a cluster of sub-castes creates intra-caste division that becomes the impediment for Dalit uprising. The novel explores the intensity of the rivalry between two Dalit communities, the Pallars and the Parayars. The novel shows how the upper caste society uses wealth, power, and the ‘upper class status’ to create indifference within the Dalit communities and in turn uses that intra-caste division as a tool to marginalise and oppress the even lesser-fortunate Dalits – Parayars in this case.

Vanmam contains various small incidents regarding the life of Pallars and Parayars and the indifference existed between them, narrated by various characters in the story, similar to Bama’s other novel Sangati. Bama has foregrounded the theme of inter-caste rivalry by chunking together all the experiences she has come across. The novel is centred on the conflict within Dalit communities whereby it reflects the reality of Dalit situation and experience. It gives a detailed account of how Pallars and Parayars get along with each other for few days and start fighting and rebelling against each other within next few days.

The novel is centred on the conflict within Dalit communities whereby it reflects the reality of Dalit situation and experience.

Vanmam portrays caste as a major reason for weakening human relationships and a real hindrance for sustainable growth of downtrodden. Bama recounts the time when both Parayars and Pallars maintained peaceful and harmonious relationship and in contrast she also portrays how the caste causes indifference and lack of concern among them. For instance, Bama refers to early incidents of people from both the castes coming together and celebrating festivals like New Year, Christmas, Easter and Pongal. The character Gnanapoo recounts the past saying, “Every time Easter festival came around, we’d all celebrate in a grand manner. People of various castes used to come and watch…. People of other religions would also come and watch”. This clearly proves how they lived in unity.

But caste enters as a major issue into this peaceful relationship and tries to create division among Pallars and Parayars who start fighting in the name of their respective leaders Immanuel Sekaran and Ambedkar. It clearly depicts how self-assertion of separate identities within caste leads to in-fights. The cultural programs held by the youngsters of the each caste had both advantage and disadvantage. It created awareness of the prevailing caste system but at the same time it also intensified the rivalry and jealousy where the risk of riots got worse.

Also read: Read and Resist: Why I Find Feminist Reading Groups Important

Bama also explores how caste is used by upper caste people as a strategy to stifle the growth and development of Dalit communities. The upper caste society uses the enmity between Pallars and Parayars for their own advantage. There are many instances in this novel that depict how Naickers, the upper caste people encourage Pallars to fight against Parayars. The upper caste society instigates the enmity between those two communities in order to preserve their status and power.

The characters Marraasu, a Parayan working in the fields of Ranga Naicker and Karuppusamy, a Pallan working in the fields of Palanivelu Naicker have constant quarrels regarding irrigation and they are provoked by their londlords, the Naickers. The line, “Ranga Naicker would instigate Marraasu, while Palanivelu would stir up Karuppusamy… On top of all this Palanivelu seems to have further encouraged Karuppusamy to be aggressive”, explains the role of Naickers in creating violence and Karuppusamy kills Marraasu brutally. We are told that the Naickers were the one who instigated the enmity between Dalit communities in few other instances too. The old man Abraham says, “But it was the Naickers who really made us such bitter enemies”.

Vanmam portrays caste as a major reason for weakening human relationships and a real hindrance for sustainable growth of downtrodden.

The author also shows how upper caste people use religion in order to create problems between Parayars and Pallars. The line “You and we are Hindus, and we Hindus must stick together”, shows how the Pallars are provoked in the name of religion. The fact that religion intervention escalating the caste rivalries is brought to light here. Naickers thus seem to never miss a chance to destroy the unity between the Pallars and Parayars.

The Naickers don’t stop at that but they go to the extent of creating problems to the people from other castes who try to develop a friendship with the Parayars. When Anthony from Parayar community goes to collect donation from Chakkiliyars, they refuse saying that it would anger the Naickers. Thus, they are scared of their unity since it will unquestionably contribute to the social, political and economic development of the Dalits. It also exemplifies Parayars as the Dalits of Dalits, lowest in the social ladder.

Bama gives clear picture of how caste plays important role in creating violence; in weakening the human relationships; in depriving marginalised people of social, political and economic development and at the same time benefitting the people who has wealth, power and upper caste status.

Vanmam also depicts the transformation in Dalit’s life and society. The novel has many actions and incidents portrayed and strategies and approaches that have been deliberately used in order to resist hegemony and exploitation. Bama’s treatment of the characters in the novel is unique in the sense that they seem to be aware of their rights and choices. The best example would be the women in the novel who raise their voice against violence and injustice. They are also capable of standing on their own while men of the village are living in exile.

The idea of overcoming the differences and mingling together is also explicated through the aspect of resistance. We have few elders in the novel who seem to be aware that this rivalry is unnecessary and it was mainly caused by the upper caste and thus they try to retain peace and harmony.

Bama also expresses her perspective of education and explains how it serves the purpose of liberating Dalit community. She views education as a tool for resistance and achieving liberation whereby it establishes a voice to the downtrodden section of the society. Many characters in the novel are seem to be aware of the necessity of education and also looks at it largely as a means to regain their self-respect and dignity. The best example would be the characters Anthony, Saminathan and Jayaraj. In the very beginning chapter of the novel, Saminathan talks about the importance of education.

Also read: ‘Karukku’: An Autobiography By Bama Exploring Her Tamil, Dalit And Christian Identity

Bama’s highlights the importance of community and kinship among the Dalit groups by foregrounding the theme of intra-caste rivalry in this novel. She reinforces the fact that marginalised people who have been pushed to the very edges of society by the people in power should put away their internal enmities if they are to reclaim their self-respect and rightful place in the society.

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