'Of Oppressor's Body and Mind': How caste privilege influences cinema, literature

Yogesh Maitreya's book deals with exposing the Savarnas’ intentional caste-blindness and their caste privileges that continue to reflect in language, literature and cinema.
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Language, literature and cinema are three significant areas where ideologies are produced to reinforce established socio-cultural practices. They act as accelerators in conditioning the public to develop a perspective that upholds the cultural ethos of dominant and hegemonic groups. The book Of Oppressor's Body and Mind (Panther's Paw Publication, September, 2020) by Yogesh Maitreya, deals with exposing the Savarnas’ intentional caste-blindness and their caste privileges that continue to reflect in language, literature and cinema.

Discussing his experiences of approaching these three areas of language, literature and cinema, the author unravels the treacherous Brahmanical ideology that has been lobotomizing the Bahujan masses, and manufacturing their thought process to accept the oppressor's oppressiveness without their consciousness.

How does the Savarna think about Bahujan lives? How do they sympathetically humiliate the Bahujan existence? How do they exercise their authority over the bodies and minds of Bahujan communities, using print and visual forms? Such questions are dealt with in this carefully crafted work. The book opens a new window in articulating texts that are overtly popularised by the Savarna networks.

The book is a reflection of the lived experiences of a multitude of first generation Bahujans who access the hub of elite educational institutions that ridicule the 'language' spoken by them. The discriminatory academic spaces and the authoritative professorial chairs that undermine the thinking capacities of the Bahujans are highlighted in this text. Yogesh writes how the inherited English language is used by the elite as a tool to assert their dominance 'shaped by the Brahmanical upbringing'.

Speaking about Savarna translators of dalit literature, the book allows you to look into the profit and popularity that savarna translators have gained by translating dalit literature. Yogesh examines 11 Marathi Dalit texts that were translated to English (from 2000 to 2018) by Savarna writers, and are being used as Dalit texts in literature courses in foreign universities. When the first Marathi non-fiction book titled Dalit Sahityache Saundarya Shashtra', 2004, (Towards an Aesthetics of Dalit Literature) by Shankarao Limbale (translated by Alok Mukherjee) made its way abroad, Savarna academicians and publishers felt the need for more and more English translations of Dalit literature. In Yogesh’s words -  'precisely for the reason constructed by the material dialectics of demand-supply equation, Savarana publishers have started to commission more and more English translations, but only to Brahmin or Savarna translators'. The translation of Dalit literature by Savarna academicians and publishers is just a profit making opportunity with hardly any responsibility towards nurturing an anti-caste ideology.  Dalit literature argues for a fraternal and just society which necessitates a social transformation, and hardly falls in the category of a revenue oriented market. 'The temporal dimension of growth in the publication of English translations of Marathi Dalit literature indicates towards the market-oriented phenomena rather than social and cultural needs or social transformation via literature which is the objective of Dalit literature in any form', writes Yogesh.


The cinema section in the book explores the visual form that is being used by the Brahmanical sections in snatching away and reducing the genuine anger of the Bahujan masses to a mere screen character who fights against the state and feudalism, but not caste. Establishing a connection between Babasaheb’s writings and the rise of Hindi cinema in the late 1980s, the book speaks about this crucial time period in Bahujan history, on how the alluring medium distanced the proletariat class from the idea of liberation.

The text titled Riddles in Hinduism authored by Dr BR Ambedkar, and published by the Maharashtra government in late 1980s exposes the deep-rooted problems in Hinduism which became a threat for Brahmins and their hegemony over mythological narratives. Yogesh writes that when this book could have changed how Indians perceive their gods, broadcast media like Doordarshan, which is under the control of Brahmanical thought, produced Ramayana and Mahabharata serials with an agenda to push forth their ideology in the visual form around the same time. 'The Bahujan masses were conditioned by the Cinema to glorify mythological narratives which they mistook for history', writes Yogesh.

The book highlights the racist, casteist and sexist characteristics of hugely popular Bollywood movies. Taking films such as Dilwale Dulhaniya Le JayengeVicky Donor and Court as examples, the book talks about the Savarnas’ intensive love towards their caste practices and their hypocritical behaviour. Yogesh says, 'Bollywood develops their movie characters based on their association with a lineage of racial superiority'. The obsession with even sperm from a body belonging to the 'purest of the pure' caste to glorify the muscularity of 'Aryan race' is reflected in the movie Vicky Donor. This is a 'mirror-image' of the dominant proportion of Bollywood, says the book.

Talking about Court, Yogesh's argument invites the reader to critically think about the overwhelming presence of Brahmins in the structurally unstructured justice delivery institutions in the country. The Brahmin presence in the domain of the judiciary allows them to maintain their status-quo, and encourages them to approach Bahujan issues sympathetically. Even as the movie try to show fault with the institution of the court failing to provide justice, it ignores the monopoly of the Brahmin existence, from whose bodies and minds came the discriminatory caste practices.

In the literature section, Yogesh deconstructs the Brahmin tragic stories written by popular Savarna writers who lament the loss of land which they never ploughed or tilled, but enjoyed the benefits from. For most of the Savarna writers, caste was never a social issue in their novels and they were totally blind to their caste-privilege. Their characters worry about the progress of the lower castes in Post-Independent India due to affirmative action policies. The book also unearths the justification of the Savarna authored male characters’ deep rooted sexual desires towards lower caste women. Referring to Sadat Hasan Manto's Boo (Smell), Yogesh identifies the absence of agency for lower caste women in Savarna writing and how they reduce the lower caste woman to just a body without an identity.  Yogesh writes: 'Manto's Boo satisfies Savarna guilt. It violates a woman's sense of dignity. It erases women's agency, replaces it with the adventure of a privileged man. This is evident in its depiction of the quest of a Savarna male character for sexual congruence with a supposedly lower caste women, who, reduced to an object, remains nameless in story'.

Concluding with a Fanonian reading of Baluta and Revolt, Yogesh focusses on the necessity of freedom for Bahujan lives from everyday humiliation, inferiorisation, victimisation and oppression.

Overall, the book opens up a discussion to carefully analyse and re-articulate celebrated works in literature and cinema through an anti-caste lens. It acts as a guide to a new perspective to uproot the Brahmanic hegemony over language, literature and cinema. 

Shiva Thrishul has been teaching media studies to undergraduate students in Hyderabad for the past four years and pursuing Phd from the Dept of Journalism, Osmania University. His areas of research include Film & Gender Studies, Media & Cultural Studies,and Semiotics. He's currently working at Bhavan's Vivekananda College of Science, Humanities and Commerce, Hyderabad.

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