The Wrongs of the Subaltern’s Rights: a Critique on Postcolonial Diasporic Authors

Abida Younas

University of Glasgow, USA. Orcid id: Email:

Volume IX, Number 3, 2017 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/rupkatha.v9n3.14

Received August 09, 2017; Revised September 14, 2017; Accepted September 18, 2017; Published September 20,  2017.


My article discusses propagation of the project of orientalism in the arena of contemporary postcolonial fiction written in English by diasporic authors. In the contemporary world, the project of orientalism is no longer perpetuated by the occidentals but ironically by orientals, albeit diasporic authors, through Re-orientalisation. Like orientalism, the process of Re-orientalism distorts the representation of the natives, seizes their voices and consigns them an inferior rank or in other words, the position of subalternity. Instead of giving voice to their own people, diasporic authors authenticate the project of orientalism by giving inside voices to the global world. While perpetrating the project of orientalism, they wrong the subaltern’s rights as well. It is because, these writers claim to be ambassadors for their own people and foreground their issues. But instead of accentuating the plights of their own people, these writers seem to work for global capitalism, where they are required to write according to the demands of the global market. My paper aims to present a critique on those diasporic writers, who instead of resisting the orientalist agenda in their writings by highlighting the wrongs of subaltern’s rights in the Third world countries, are more engaged in the project of Re-orientalism with special reference to Aslam’s Maps for Lost Lovers, Adiga’s The White Tiger and Abouzied’s Years of the Elephant. Drawing on the theories of Gayatri Spivak, Lisa Lau, Vanessa Andreotti and Ilan Kapoor, the hypocritical role played by diasporic writers is investigated in order to emphasize that how these authors write from Eurocentric perspectives to affirm the Western hegemony over the postcolonial world even after the European decline in this part of the world.

Key Words: Subaltern, Righting Wrongs, Diasporic Writers, Re-orientalism, Eurocentric.

The Subaltern Voice in Kylas Chunder Dutt’s A Journal of Forty-Eight Hours of the Year 1945

Paromita Sengupta

Sovarani Memorial College, Jagatballavpur, Howrah. ORCID: 0000-0002-3381-0726. Email:

 Volume 9, Number 2, 2017 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/rupkatha.v9n2.23

Received April 11, 2017; Revised July 12, 2017; Accepted July 15, 2017; Published August 11, 2017.


This paper reads Kylas Chunder Dutt’s short fictional text A Journal of Forty-Eight Hours of the Year 1945 (1835) as a postcolonial voice, engaged in the act of representation, and of interrogating colonialism much before postcolonialism took formal shape as a theoretical practice. The text represents the injustice of subaltern oppression, and, what is more crucial, more vital, prophetically uses the word “subaltern” in its present post-modern signification. Dutt’s writing enclosed within it the inescapable multi-tensions of the Bengal-British cultural negotiation, of which it was the product, but it was simultaneously implicated in the process of indigenous identity formation and in the formulation of subaltern consciousness.  The text not only suggests armed conflict as a tool of opposing colonialism, it is also prophetic in its use of the concept of the subaltern as far back as 1835- about a hundred and fifty years before Subaltern Studies was formally born.

Keywords: Identity, India, Nationalism, Subaltern

Dalit Writings and the Critique of the Mainstream Public Sphere

Nisha Mariveetil, University of Calicut, Kerala
W. S. Kottiswari, University of Calicut, Kerala

Volume 7, Number 3, 2015 I Full Text PDF


Dalit writings from India have been read as trauma narratives. They have also been treated as “cultural apparatuses” of the human rights discourse. This paper proceeds with these two approaches to Dalit writings and shows how they have contributed to the strengthening of what Nancy Fraser (1990) has termed the “subaltern counter- public.” This would be done by showing how writers highlight the presence of a “dysfunctional” public sphere by writing about the experiences of dalits. Through articulating about this “dysfunction,” dalit writings align themselves with a literary counter public print sphere which in turn strengthens the discourse of the “subaltern counter public.”

Keywords: Dalit writings, public sphere, human rights, subaltern counter public


What are the implications of the publication and circulation of Dalit Writings from India? A huge corpus of criticism has emerged in relation to Dalit Writings ranging from the demand for “alternate” aesthetics, to treating them as discourses on Human Rights violations. Contemporary scholarship on human rights has highlighted that it is not enough to focus on the legal or the juridical language of human rights alone to gain a better understanding of human rights violations. Instead, it requires a “cultural apparatus” which may include literary forms also (Mc Clennan & Slaughter, 2009, p.1).Mc Clennan and Slaughter have also pointed out how critical attention has been directed to literary forms of writing which can supplant the human rights discourse like the spy novel in the context of post 9/11(p.13), the relationship between sentimental novel and human rights as explained by Sarah Winters (p.15). Following Sidonie Smith, Kay Schaffer, Ron Eyerman and Jeffrey C Alexander, Pramod K Nayar has treated Dalit Writings as trauma narratives and established their connection to the Human Rights discourse. He has shown how “newspaper coverage, documentation of violations” (Nayar, 2009, p.1), victim life narratives all constitute the “cultural apparatus” of human rights discourse. This paper takes off from this juncture and attempts to show that dalit writings, by articulating about gross violations, have strengthened what Nancy Fraser (1990) has termed “subaltern counter public.” The paper achieves this by examining certain themes that constantly appear and reappear in Dalit Writings, linking these themes to the “dysfunction” of the public sphere.

“Subaltern Counter Publics” according to Nancy Fraser are “parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated groups invent and circulate counter discourses, which in turn permit them to formulate oppositional interpretation of their identities, interests and needs” (1990, p. 67). In this essay, Fraser points out the desirability of several counter publics that compete with each other because it “means a widening of discursive contestation” (p.67). The inability of the mainstream public sphere to cater to the “public” makes it a dysfunctional public sphere. Through grouping themselves under a subaltern counter-public, dalit writings create a platform from whence the mainstream public sphere can be critiqued. Dalit Writings have been treated here as a literary counter-public which is a part of the subaltern counter-public.

The paper limits the choice of Dalit Writings to two genres namely that of the autobiography and the fiction. It is presumed that these two genres are able to incorporate a plethora of “voices” which are very essential for any critique of the public sphere. Additionally, the genres of autobiography and novel have been the most utilized and the most translated genres in Dalit writing. Autobiography as an elite genre was appropriated by dalits to suit their needs. Autobiography became an important genre in Dalit writing because it could be used to contextualise the lives of Dalits in the larger socio historical process. Individuals through their life stories were able to raise voices for the muted. Studies have demonstrated how the narration in dalit autobiographies is similar to the Latin American testimonio due to the shift between the “I” and the “we.” Being able to accommodate a plethora of voices within a single text, the dalit autobiography provides the scope for poly-vocality. Studies like that by Joseph Slaughter have linked the notion of public sphere and human rights through the genre of the novel. According to him, the realist novel is the “predominant narrative form that abstracts and regulates the communicative social relations of the national public sphere” (2007, p.155). As Edward Said observes, it also provides the bourgeois reading public a sense of the limits of their aspirations and the possibilities of their growth in the nation (1993, cited in Slaughter, 2007, p.156).Thus, Slaughter argues that the choice of the novel explored the “possibilities of and boundaries of emancipation of the individual in the new political formation of the rights-bound nation state” (2007, p.156). Instead of being conventional realist novels, dalit novels explore how the public sphere in the nation state occasioned what Slaughter terms as “systemic exclusions” (2007, p.156), yet by the exercise of the choice of the novel sought to expand the notion of the public sphere…Full Text PDF

Indian Feminist Publishing and the Sexual Subaltern

Elen Turner, Independent Researcher, Australia


The discussion of queer politics, identities and “sexual subalterns” in India has, after 2009, entered a new phase. Discourse on sexuality was once largely focused on law and health policies; now, such discourse is better able to address positive identities and their multitude of articulations. The relationship between queer and feminist discourse has become more productive. This article examines independent feminist publishers as a representative of Indian feminist discourse on sexuality and sexual subalternity. Such publishers are significant mediators of feminist scholarship and discourse, so analysing their work can reveal much about ‘mainstream’ forms of feminism. The December 2013 Supreme Court judgment to uphold Section 377 is concerning to many, but in the four and a half years that homosexuality was effectively legal in India, the visibility of the sexual subaltern broadened to the extent that it may be difficult to return to a pre-2009 state.

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalised “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”, usually interpreted as sodomy, was read down by the Delhi High Court in 2009. The Indian Supreme Court, in December 2013, overturned this judgment, effectually re-criminalising homosexuality. Section 377’s reading down was widely celebrated within the queer community as an important milestone, and the Supreme Court judgment lamented. But the four years in which homosexuality was in effect de-criminalised saw large shifts in public awareness and acceptance of homosexuality, shifts that the judgment of the Supreme Court will likely have little effect upon.

This article suggests that the discussion of queer politics, identities and “sexual subalterns” has, after 2009, entered a new phase, one that is not primarily focused on law and health policies, but is able to look towards positive identities and their articulation in a variety of forms. Furthermore, the relationship between queer and feminist discourse has become more productive. I specifically examine independent feminist publishing outlets as a representative of Indian feminist discourse on sexuality and sexual subalternity. By ‘independent’, I mean groups that may or may not operate with not-for-profit status, but that are not owned by large publishing corporations, or are subject to the editorial intervention of individuals detached from the main operations of the group. Such publishers are by no means the sole producers of feminist scholarship and discourse, but they are significant mediators of them, so analysing their work can reveal a lot about ‘mainstream’, urban forms of Indian feminism. While in the last decade or so, an increasing amount of online activism and publication has been occurring in India as elsewhere, such work falls outside the scope of this paper as that emerging media warrants a case study in its own right. Book publishing was a form of Indian feminist activism and knowledge production that began in the 1980s, and although it has always claimed to at the forefront of progressive feminist knowledge production, the contradiction between this self-belief and its interactions with the “sexual subaltern” makes it a genre worthy of especial attention…Access Full Text of the Article


Mary Magdalene or Virgin Mary: Nationalism and the Concept of Woman in Bessie Head’s A Question of Power

Sayyed Rahim Moosavinia, Seyyede Maryam Hosseini & Shahid Chamran

University of Ahvaz, Iran

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Foucault believes that people live in systems of power different from one era to another. He applies the term “power archives” to demonstrate that those inside an institute cannot be aware of the subtle ways of power imposed on them. Likewise, it would be oversimplification to think that with the apparent end of colonialism, the colonized subjects will be free from subjugating contexts. In the case of women, the situation is even worse since they are repressed by both the colonialist and the post-colonial nationalist. “Under the anxiety of the influence” of the former colonial father, the once-belittled colonial men turn to support their females in terms of their body and soul, and in this way define them inside a strictly demarcated roles of good wives, mothers, and households or vicious prostitutes. Bessie Head in her semi-autobiographical masterpiece subtly examines this idea and through her coloured protagonist, Elizabeth, attempts to re-deconstruct this notion.

Representation of the ‘National Self’— Novelistic Portrayal of a New Cultural Identity in Gora

Dipankar Roy,Visva-Bharati, India


Any colonial rule involves a systematic and ruthless attack on the culture and heritage of the colonized race. This often results in a total loss or at least maiming of the sense of ‘self’ for the colonized people. The masculinist self of the colonizer labels the self of the colonized as ‘effeminate’. In reaction to this, the nationalist consciousness of the colonized people often tries to replicate the macho virility of the colonial masters in an act of fashioning a ‘nationalist self.’ In the context of Indian colonial history we see development in similar lines. But, the codification of the dominant strand of the nationalist consciousness in overt masculinist terms often have strange reverberations. This paper is about such an act of fashionning selves and its after-effects. To study the issue in the Indian colonial contexts I have chosen Rabindranath Tagore’s novel Gora as a case-study. The conception of this novel’s central character is largely modelled on the issue of an ‘ideal’ national self.  The author, however, by observing the dialogic principle consistently in the text, problematises the dominant ideas connected with the figure of ‘nationalist self’. How he does it will be my main concern in this article. Whether it is possible to arrive at a general tendency of the nature of India’s colonial encounter with the British in relation to the issue of the development of the national character will be dealt with in the concluding section of this essay.

“The Noble Savage and the Civilised Brute: Nature and the Subaltern Angst in Swarup Dutta’s Machh Master (The Expert Angler)

Sajalkumar Bhattacharya, Ramakrishna Mission Residential College, West Bengal, India


Parallel reading of history from the subaltern point of view is not only possible, but it also often proves to be revealing. It often unearths a new discourse, which challenges the canonized history or even subverts it. This paper offers a reading of a recent Bhasa (Bangla) novel Machh Master (The Expert Angler) where the Naxalite Movement that rocked Bengal in the sixties, has been narrated and analysed from the viewpoint of one dalit subaltern. The novel attempts to create a binary between this ‘uncorrupted’ world/mode of existence and the civilized, sophisticated, intellectual, but essentially ‘corrupted’ urban world. In this natural savage world and its eco-system, the urban, elitist Naxalite movement turns out to be nothing but an imposition and an intrusion. At the end, disillusioned Neul detaches himself from this movement, goes back to, and embraces Nature in a desperate bid to get back his pre-lapserian mode of existence. Neel, chief agent of the Naxalite movement, too is influenced by these children of Mother Nature, and undergoes a transformation. This paper explores this interesting role of Nature in this new reading of the history of mankind.

Giving the Lie: Ingenuity in Subaltern Resistance in Premchand’s short story ‘The Shroud’

Somdev Banik, Government Degree College, Tripura, India


It is not always that the subaltern cannot speak, though their authentic representation is often more pronounced in the regional literatures, rather than in Indian Writings in English. The subaltern in Premchand’s story ‘The Shroud’ not only resists the forces of exploitation, but subverts dominant social mores and traditions to gain an advantage over the master class, forcing them to shell out money which they wouldn’t have otherwise in ordinary circumstances. This glory of victory is attenuated by the realization that the subaltern in turn is also an exploiter of the woman in the family, who in life and death is used for sustaining self-interests of the males of the family.