Monday, 28 April 2014

JOOTHAN: A DALIT’S LIFE - Omprakash Valmiki

Omprakash Valmiki is a great poet and short story writer in Hindi Dalit Literature. “Joothan” is an autobiographical account of his miserable birth and life. Omprakash traces his lineage to Valmiki, the great author of ‘Ramayana’ and proves that even Valmiki belongs to the sweeper caste. Joothan literally means scraps of food left on a plate. It is related to the word jootha which means polluted. The sweeper caste (untouchables) has been forced to eat jootha for centuries. The word shows the pain, hurt, humiliation and poverty of the untouchables.
 Omprakash Valmiki’s family was in the colony of the village where the untouchables lived. Chuhra, Chamar and Jhinwar are the caste names of the untouchables. Tyagi, Taga are the upper caste people of both Hindus and Muslims. Valmiki’s home was in front of the stinking cowshed of an upper caste family. On the one side there was a pond and the other side there were high walls of the brick homes of the Tagas. In his family there were five brothers, one sister, two uncles and the elder brother of his father. All of them worked hard, yet they couldn’t get two decent meals a day. Most often they had no payment for their work. Instead they got only abuse from the upper caste people. They never thought of these untouchables as human beings. If one happened to touch a Chuhre (untouchables), the upper caste people got polluted. But if animals touched them, it was not pollution!
 The first teacher who came to Valmiki’s childhood days was Sewak Ram Masihi. He was a Christian who would sit with the children of the untouchables and taught them reading and writing. It was an open air school and Valmiki learned the alphabets. One day there was an argument with Valmiki’s father and Valmiki’s father took him to the Basic Primary School. As per Mahatma Gandhi’s advice, the government schools allowed the untouchables to study. Valmiki’s father begged the master of the school to teach his child and he would be forever in his debt. Master asked him to come the next day and Valmiki and his father kept going for several days and one day he was admitted to the school.
 Valmiki had to sit on the floor and there was not a mat even. Sometimes he had to sit near the door and he could not read the letters on the blackboard! The children of the upper caste used to tease him by calling him ‘Chuhre ka’. Sometime they would beat him without any reason. This tormented life made him introverted and irritable. If he was thirsty, he would run to the hand-pump to drink water. All the teachers belonged to the upper caste and they hated this untouchable boy and used to punish him. Both the students and teachers used all sorts of dirty tricks to force Valmiki run away from the school. They thought that he had no right to education and he must do the work of sweeper in the village. He had two classmates of the same caste.They were Ram Singh and Sukkhan. They were very good in their studies. But they were always insulted by both the teachers and students of the school. When they wore neat and clean clothes, other students teased them and their words were like poisoned arrows pierced their hearts. If the three boys dressed in old and shabby clothes, others would ask them to get out because they were stinking! They were humiliated whichever way they dressed.
 When Valmiki reached fourth class Kaliram became the Headmaster. He and his teachers tried their best to humiliate and punish Valmiki and his two companions. Almost every day Valmiki was cruelly beaten up in the class. One day the Headmaster asked Valmiki to climb the teak tree and break some twigs and make a broom. When the broom was made, the headmaster asked Valmiki to sweep the whole school. He also added that sweeping was his family occupation. When other students had been learning in class rooms, Valmiki alone swept all the class rooms and play grounds. His face and mouth were covered with dust. He was not allowed to drink even water. The second day also the headmaster asked Valmiki to do the same work. He swept the whole day.
 On the third day Valmiki tried to hide in a corner of the class room. But the headmaster found him out and asked him to sweep. The boy was terrified with fear and tears rolled through his cheeks. He began to sweep and other boys and teachers enjoyed watching it. Just then Valmiki’s father passed by the school and saw his son sweeping the ground. The father snatched the broom from his son and threw away and rushed to the headmaster and shouted at him. Kaliram threatened the old man but he was fearless and determined. He warned Kaliram that his son Valmiki would study there itself and many other students like him would follow him there. Pitaji took Valmiki’s hand and walked to the Tyagis of the village and begged them to let his son study in the school. The old man went door to door of each of the upper caste people and begged for the right of his son’s education. But they all opposed the idea of letting a sweeper’s son study in the school. In spite of all these insults, the old man was not disappointed. He sat up all night without food or drink and thought of many ways to get education for his youngest son Valmiki. At last he went to the house of the Pradhan of the village and begged him to let his son study in the school. Pradhan was kind hearted and allowed Valmiki to study in the same school.
Dear students: I have answered in this note all the questions given in your text page 44-45. Study the note well and prepare answers to all the questions in your own style. May God bless you!



  1. Discuss the obstacles that Omprakash Valmiki faces in his attempts to get educated?

  2. Discuss the obstacles that Omprakash Valmiki faces in his attempts to get educated?