Literally enslaved | Daily News

Literally enslaved

(This is an excerpt from the Keynote address made at the International Conference “Redefining the Margin: A Literary Perspective” at the Rabindra Bharati University, India)

The word Margin is used most often today as a pesudo-civilized term to mean the earnings of filthy lucre by traders, to mean profits or ill-gotten gains. It means unscrupulous exploitation of humanity driven by insatiable greed. Unreasonable high profit margins cause the widening gap of inequality, pushing more and more people into the margins of society.

Pushing the majority to the margins would have begun with the gradual division of the haves and have-nots. The result of this would have been the outsourcing of services and labour, when those who were used and exploited for outsourced work were considered lower in the social standing, and thus pushed away from the center of higher social status.

The differences between those in the center and the margins are sometimes real, based on social and economic conditions, but most often the differences are imaginary, and are determined by those who control such groups. Often those who are different are pushed towards the periphery, while sometimes there are those who volunteer to remain in the margins.

Marginality begins at home. It begins when the ‘man of the house’ pushes the women and children to the margins. Then the women push the domestic employees further out. It begins at school, based on wealth, social status, or performance. It is found in the work place, based on language, qualifications, political contacts, in addition to race, creed or caste. It is also sometimes found in religious institutions.

Marginality is a result of inequality, and inequality breeds further inequality. What is required today is the eradication of inequality, leading to the eradication of marginality. This is a necessity for all, not just for those suppressed and oppressed by their caste, creed or language, but for women and children as well who are marginalised by those in power. There are also those who are marginalized due to physical or mental handicaps or because they are comparatively ‘less normal’ than the majority.

Even animals are marginalized. We pamper, love and pet a few animals, while we abhor, fear, or ignore certain others. There are also animals we breed and feed, not for their welbeing, but for us to consume their rotting flesh. Some animals we have enslaved, just as we have ensalved human beings, in industry, farming and domestic chores.

People are also marginalized through the inhuman concept of Nation and Nationality. It contradicts the concept of Humanity. Language too marginalize people, leading to language and literary chauvinism.

It is literate chauvinism, which makes us feel so superior to a farmer in a remote village who has to place his thumb print because he does not know how to sign his name: Superior to a child who had his education in a village school, or even a Maha Vidyalaya: Superior to a person with just a high school education, or only a bachelor’s degree: Superior to a person who had not read Kafka and Sartre and Plato. Though for others it might be Coelho and Allende and Murakami.

Like the male chauvinist, who lives in a dream world believing he is superior to women, all forms of chauvinistic behavior is an illusion created by man’s own ego. Literacy is really nothing to be proud of. The pre-historic man who did his symbolic paintings in his cave was able to express with a few lines, what would take a thousand words for us to convey now. But still we think of them as “primitive”, as “barbarian”, as “subhuman”, even though they would have been more intelligent, more capable and would have had superior memory capacity.

These pre-literate humans had a memory capacity far greater than all the capacity available in today’s computers. They had to store all their data in their brain and process them and store the processed knowledge in their own brains, and also be able to pass it on to the next generation. They did not have digital storage devices, or cloud storage facilities, or backups. Even today the Adivasi in India, or in Sri Lanka, have been marginalized, but I believe they are in many ways stronger, more intelligent and capable than most of us, to be able to survive in their surroundings.

Some of us feel superior because we have mastered the ‘white man’s language’ and anyone who does not speak English is a semi-literate. In multilingual countries, those who believe their language is superior to that of others, would look down on the other languages used in their country. They would also look down on the ‘link language’, which often happens to be English, thus taking chauvinism to create greater conflict.

Taking these factors into consideration it is clear that the time has come for us to erradicate marginality by becoming humane, once again. In order to achieve this there are many things we have to do, we have to give up, and we have to accept. One method is to use creative literature to narrow the gap between the center and the periphery.

In India we have Dalit literature, since the late 50s. And perhaps these writers have achieved something by non-violent means, in not only creating awareness of their plight, but also encouraging others to follow them. Dalit at present means the scheduled castes in India. It is now accepted by many, that the people in India too descended from the African migrants, and there would not have been any caste differentiation among them. There would not have been any Ukkattha Jati or Hina Jati then.

I believe that we could use Dalit for the literature of all the marginalized, suppressed and oppressed people in the world, the native Americans and Afro-Americans in the United States, Rohingiya in Myanmar and all minorities, the women and children around the world, and the gay community.

Even within literature it is sad to note that certain works of art have become commodities for book sellers to keep high margins. As a result most writers are also pushed into the margins. It is the fast selling “popular” literature, or which appeals to the immoral cravings of the readers that the publishers seek, as another Fast Moving Consumer Product or FMCG. The writer who strives to produce genuine creation of art, a product of true Sahitya, is ignored or pushed to a corner, or not published at all.

And yet, Sahitya is the way out. Let us use Sahitya to do away with all margins, to bring equality in to our society. Let Sahitya draw the people in the periphery into the center.


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