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Motherhood And Widowhood In Mother By Baburao Bagul

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Author Baburao Bagul, in his short story titled Mother, lends a voice to motherhood and widowhood experienced by a lower caste Dalit woman. It is the depiction of fierce battle for life in an urban slum. Baburao throws light upon the triple burden of discrimination faced by Dalit women along the lines of race, gender and caste, thereby exposing realistic experiences of the Dalit community.

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“Mother” deals with a Dalit widow who lives with her son Pandu. Pandu’s mother is not given any particular name perhaps to stress upon the universality of her experience among all Dalit women.

The story begins with the description of a classroom where the teacher reads a poem about a mother who is like a river of love or a “Vatsalya Sindhu”. The poem reflects the traditional notion of motherhood as constructed by society for brahmanical women. That, the ‘goodness’ of a mother is measured by her ability to shower her children with love, sacrifices, and care, all within the domain of the private sphere of the household. Such a comparison is bound to be detrimental to a Dalit child as the society around him is bent on portraying his mother as a prostitute. Thus Pandu, who for a moment was transported into another world is thrown back into utter darkness and despair again. Few upper caste boys make fun of his mother stating “Don’t touch Pandu, any of you. My mother says Pandu’s mother sleeps with the mukadam”.

The author sheds light on how Dalit children are constantly marginalized and discriminated against even in school by the upper caste, thus leaving no space for them to understand and value their individualistic experiences. Only after upper caste boys label Pandu’s mother as a prostitute, Pandu too begins to scrutinize her whereabouts. Caught in the midst of patriarchy and casteist mindset, Pandu’s mother’s sacrifices to provide her son with a better life are ultimately overshadowed. Trapped in a cycle of eternal oppression, not only from society but also by her own family members, the quest for emancipation for Dalit women becomes difficult to obtain. 

With her husband’s death, it seemed at first that Pandu’s mother would now be liberated. However, such relief is short lived as the situation changes for the worse. Until now, Pandu’s mother had been exploited by her husband in her private domain- her home, but now she has become an object of enjoyment to every male, from her overseer to her neighbor Dagdu.

Being diagnosed with Tuberculosis, Pandu’s father had no other option than letting his wife go outside to seek a job. He blamed her entirely for his disease, his joblessness and his failing strength. He would shower verbal abuses on her and accuse her of being a ‘slut’. Her only sin was venturing into the public domain to keep her household from falling apart. Furthermore, he would assert his rights of being a husband over her and “would strip her and examine her feet, her thighs, her breasts, her sari and blouse, and would carefully scrutinize her lips and cheeks”

Consequently, attempts are made by him to disfigure the mother, with the motive of making her unattractive. Such a narrative reflects the deeply engrained patriarchal mindset in Pandu’s father, where he feels a strong sense of entitlement over ‘his’ woman’s body.

“She froze in horror as she realized that he wanted to brand her naked body with the hot iron.”

This constant attempt of the male figure to deface and disfigure the female reflects the male ego’s constant attempt to control the female body as well as to mark on it an unmistakable stamp of the male authority and ego. It is a way of asserting male privilege on women.Thus Pandu’s mother has to fight a two-fold battle- both in the caste prejudiced outside world as well as in the patriarchal, male dominated household.

On a societal level, Bagul’s story also sheds light upon the exploitation of Dalit widows by upper caste men. In their eyes, Dalit widows are viewed as poor, and ‘sexually available’ due to their widowhood. Due to strong political control combined with high status, any form of agitation by the lower castes is perceived as powerless. As a result, a lot of violence and sexual instances go unreported.

Viewing them as objects of sexual desire, upper caste men satisfy their sexual urge by exploiting them.

“The whore of a slut! You’re shameless enough to make the rounds of the shops with that pimp, with your child sitting alone at home! If that was what you needed you only had to tell me-I’d have obliged. And here I’ve been burning with desire for you, all these years….But now….”

It is not only their male counterparts and the high caste men who assert their patriarchal power on the Dalit women, but they are also alienated and kept aloof by the high caste women, thereby remaining as a scourge on upper caste mentality.

“They tried to rape her and their women waged a war against her.”

It must be noted that the final image in the story is of the struggling mother. Her struggle to get out of the overpowering arms of the overseer and save her boy has a lasting impact on our minds. “She was trying desperately to escape from the bear like hug of the overseer. But like a person stuck fast in a quagmire, she found release impossible…”

Baburao Bagul’s short story thus attempts to pose the ‘Dalit Women’s Question’. It tries to portray the different forces which determine the predicament of a Dalit woman. Despite all her attempts to find a better life for herself and her son, she finds herself in the tyrannical hold of both the male patriarchy and the caste system. Her life becomes a never ending cycle of pain, torture and humiliation. Her final estrangement from her son also reflect how in order to re-invigorate her life as a woman, she as a Dalit widow, has to sacrifice all her other relations including her motherhood.

09 March 2021

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