Bama, the untouchable
Similar was the case with Bama, an Indian writer from Tamilnadu. She too was a human being but the richer and privileged society didn’t consider her so. She was a happy girl but once she witnessed a scene of discrimination. A much respected elder of her society was once made the victim of untouchability. This infuriated her. She wanted to react. She knew the only weapon to fight ostracism was acquiring equal status through education.
Bama was a happy girl but until she heard that she belonged to the caste of untouchables! She took a lot of time to reach home from school. She looked at the following scenes, people, happenings:
- Performing monkey.
- Snake charmer’s snake-show.
- Cyclist’s stunts.
- Spinning wheels.
- Maariyaata Temple
- Dried fish stall, sweet stall, snack stall.
- Narikkuravan hunter gypsy with his lemur (nari)
- Vendors who sell needles, clay beads, ear-cleaners
- Politicians who shout through loudspeakers
- Magic shows, puppet show, street plays, stunts, etc.
- Coffee clubs
- People chopping onions
- Almond tree and its fallen fruits
- Mango, cucumber, sweet potato, gram, palm-syrup, guavas, jack fruits, etc.
One evening she was returning from school, watching all the above happenings. When she reached her village, there were so many workers in the threshing-floor. The landlord was seated there, instructing and ordering the workers. As she watched, an elderly man of her caste (a low caste) came from the bazaar with a small paper parcel that he held far away from his body.
Questions & Answers
- How was Bama’s innocent childhood ruffled up by the sight of an elderly man handing the parcel to the landlord at the threshing-field?
Bama was an innocent girl. She lived in a discriminated society with landlords above them and her community working for them. The first instance of class discrimination Bama experienced in her life was the incident of an elderly man of her caste carrying food for the landlord. The man had to carry the packet in the most shameful manner, holding the hand away from his body as a mark of untouchability.
- What made Bama laugh at the sight of the elderly man handing the parcel to the landlord at the threshing-field?
Bama saw an elderly man of her society carrying a very small and light parcel to the landlord. The way the man held the parcel with its strings, the special respect the man showed towards the parcel and the way he offered it to the landlord without supporting it from the bottom made Bama laugh.
- What did Bama feel when her annan explained to her why the village elder had to carry the parcel in a funny manner?
When Bama saw the elderly man from her society carrying a small parcel of eatable to the landlord, she laughed a lot but when her Annan told it was an instance of caste discrimination, she could not laugh any more. She grew angry with this social evil and wanted to touch the eatable herself and make it dirty. She felt helpless about her being untouchable and angry with the rich people who considered her so.
- “Because they had scraped four coins together…” What did Bama mean?
According to Bama the cause of the rich people’s superior attitude and behavior is the possession of money. Money makes a man feel superior over the poor and it makes him blind. While the ordinary people have a little wealth in their hands, the rich ones have a lot.
- What was the point of the question raised by the landlord’s man to Bama’s elder brother, “On which street do you live?”
The people of Bama’s time believed in untouchability and social discrimination. Some people were considered privileged while the majority of the others suffered from the shame of being backward class. People gave respect or disrespect to each other on the basis of caste, religion and being rich and poor. The landlord’s men wanted to know if Bama’s brother was touchable or untouchable and therefore he asked where he lived.
- How did Bama fight against discrimination in her life?
Bama lived in a discriminated society with the evils of untouchability playing havoc. When she was aware of it, Bama determined to fight it in her way. She was told by her Annan that education only could liberate her from being looked down by the society. Bama studied in a frenzy and stood top in the class and fought the class discrimination.
- Power leads to dominance and reaches oppression and ends up in rebellion and failure. How is this statement true in the case of the rebellion raised by Zitkala Sa and Bama?
One of the most irrevocable human tendencies is domination. Everyone wants to impose some sort of dominance over the other and if one doesn’t do so it is because he is weaker than the others or that he is educated. Both Zitkala Sa and Bama lived on two opposite ends of the world yet they experienced this social evil in their early life.The Red Indians were the true inhabitants of America. With the discovery of this new continent the European world converted it into their mines for resources. The European colonists considered educating the rest of the world to be the white man’s burden. They established schools for the backward and taught them their culture, their language, their whims, their fancies, their funs but failed to respect the values of the people they oppressed and ruled. The Red Indians too had their own sacred culture and practices. They considered cutting of one’s hair equal to death but all the students were forced to get their hair cut. The school cut short the decency of dressing and curbed personal freedom by imposing uniform system. They brought in rules for eating.The same was the case with the privileged landlords of India. Because they were richer than the peasants, the landlords restricted their freedom. The poor peasants had to accept their state of being untouchables in the public. The mortification that this status brought to them was beyond sheer shame. The blindness that extreme possession of power brings makes anyone do the worst activities including suppressing the weak ones. But this power is always temporary. One day the weaker ones will gather power of resistance and fight back the oppressors.
- Bring out the extreme orthodox, blind racial beliefs that Zitkala Sa had held close to her heart.