Mahasweta Devi is a major literary force in contemporary literature. Born on 14th of January, 1926 in Dhacca, in a privileged middle class Bengali family. She is an extraordinary woman who has written and fought for the marginalized tirelessly for the past six decades. She is culmination of an activist and a writer working for the betterment of subaltern in her own way of protesting against the atrocities on downtrodden by the main stream society. She stands at the interaction of vital contemporary question of politics, gender and class, she has emerged as an important figurein the field of socially committed literature. Her writings show her concern for the poor landless labourers from lower castes of eastern Indian. Before going to trace the theme of subalternity which is prevailing in Mahasweta Devi’s literary composition, let me explain What subalternity is? What subaltern is? Literarlly subaltern refers to any person or groups of inferior rank and station, whether because of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or religion. Subalternity is subordination, inferiority, exploitation, hegemony by the superior on the inferior which became inevitable in the present capitalist society.
Mahasweta Devi shows that women have always been exploited and suppressed by the rich. If they are from the low caste, they are doubly oppressed and marginalized. Rudali records the transformation of sanichari and empowerment. sanichari, the principal character on whom the story concords around is ganju woman. She is the representative of the gendered subaltern, the subject who is both low caste and woman at the same time. The life of sanichari is used by the writer as metonymy torepresent the life of community altogether which at the same time the reality in Indian villages. Economical and social status of an individual depends on the caste and family they are born in. They have their own limitations and are forced to abide by the rules and regulation of the village.
Sanichari was ganju by caste like the other villagers her life too was lived in dersperate poverty. Mahasweta Devi with the help of the life of sanichari makes the to get an idea of the picture of the whole community. How the upper class Brahmins dominate the the life of lower class people of the community. The desperate poverty suffered by them makes sanichari as well as the subalterns who are dominated by the ruling elite in every aspect of their life. Even psychological aspect of grief is dominated by the upper class in the modes of religion and rituals. Sanichari don’t cry when her mother-in-law died, sanichari’s husband and his brother were in jail, she had no time to shed tears because “tears are a luxury for poor people.” Ramavatar singh’s callous nature is revealed enraged at the loss of some wheat, he had all the the young dhshad and ganjub males of the village locked up. It was a threat to the community altogether that they will be thrown out of the village.
The same psychological subalternity keeps recurring in her life with the death of her brother-in-low and his wife. Sanichari is afraid of religious rituals and ceremonials to be under taken after their cremation. This resists her to control her grief. Death becomes relief to sanichari as at least their own stomache would be full. Even Spartan offering of sand and sattu cost her precious rupee and a quarter. And once she returned to her village. Mohanalal, the priest of Ramavatar’s presiding deity, scoffed. What! A mere offering of sand, that too in river water! Is Budhua Lord Ramachandra, repeating. His act of offering a panda of sand for his father, King Dasharatha! Can a Tohri Brahmin know how a Tahad villager’s kriya is done? By obeying him you’ve insulted your local priest!
In this way, the novelist tried to show that paralleling the economic stranglehold of the malik mahajans the social oppression of a religious system which controlled through fear and superstition. In order to appease Mohanlal she was forced into debt to Ramavatar. She received Rs.20 and put her thumbprint on a paper stating that she would repay Rs.50 through bonded labour on his fields over the next 5 years(Rp74,75). Capitalist ideology of dominating the low class people with debts is shown when Mahasweta Devi writes that Ramavatar singh faced a lot of criticism when he wipes out the debt of sanichari at his uncle’s death. Dominant class in the society wan t the subaltern to work like a cattle. Throughout the story her mind is occupiedin finding a way to feed their stomache which dominates these sensitive feelings she has. Burning stomache makes her to find means of feeding it not to find emotional satisfaction by weeping before the corpse of her family. While hauling sacks of wheat for Ramavatar’s son Lachman, Budhua, sanichari’s son contracted the wasting fever and hacking cough of tuberculosis. Though they are aware of the impending danger by working in Lachman singh’s godown, there is no other means of employment to survive for the subaltern. with the co-operation given by Dulan’s wife inbringing up Horoa by letting him drink milk from Dhatua’s wife and sharing means shows the way subaltern shares the owes of other subaltern. While searching for her grandson in a companion to sanichari. From then on the story undergoes a transformation where both the friends become professional Rudali. Here we need to discuss an interesting character Dulan, a knowledged subaltern and his perception towards the social system of the village and his capacity to guide his co-villagers to find a means of livelihood makes him important in his story. He empowers and eblightens sanichari and Bikhni to find an easy means of employment to feed them using the hypocratic social rituals of elite class, sanichari who was resisted to express her grief through out her life for her family’s collapse finally wails, laments, roars before the corpses of rich man in the society for her own survival. Subalterns forced grief is used by the ruling elite to increase the reputation of their own family. Slowly they prosper with Rudali work. The death of feudal lord is the for establishing caste honor and supremacy.
They couldn’t get get time to lament for their own family members and appoint Rudali’s for wailing before them but they worry about their supremacy on lower castes. Subaltern perception towards their relationship is, they are busy in fiding the keys of dead man instead of lamenting for his death. Amongst us, when someone dies, we all mourn. Amongst rich, family members are too busy trying to find the keys to the safe.they forget all about tears.(Rp91)This system is used by sanichari and her friend Bikhni to survive. Her fate secludes her once again with the death of Bikhni . subaltern is not only dominated by the dominant class but also the nature and fate deceives her. With the death of Bikhni she is forced to go to the Tohri market to find co-rudalis where she accepts her daughter-in-low who became a whore after leaving home.
The author narrating the story of sanichari reveals the life of other women who succumb to the temptation of becoming whores to malik mahajans to enjoy the comforts of life when they are young like her daudhter-in-low. These subalterns and their children are thrown away to the whore market when they become old. Subalterns in Rudali silently bares the brutality if elite class in no way they think of a better world of themselves. They lead life according to the wish of elite class and struggle for their survival. It’s the malik mahajans who’ve turned them into whores, ruined them, then kicked them out, isn’t that so?(Rp115). Finally the story sanichari leads the term of Rudalis to wails before the corpse of Gambir singh turning more empowred in sustaining in a dominant society.