The Wretched of Our Cities
Himansu S Mohapatra
HARIJAN: A NOVEL by Gopinath Mohanty Aleph Book Company, Delhi, 2021, 322 pp., 599.00
October 2022, volume 46, No 10

The troubling question in writing about Harijan, both the original Odia novel by the renowned Gopinath Mohanty as well as its meticulous and detailed English translation of the same name, is this: how does one write about an event in which the experiencing person is the one who has contributed directly to the degradation of a fellow human being? The question may be put in a more direct way like this: how does one write about a people whom he/she, enabled by a caste-differentiated social structure, has literally consigned to ‘to a level lower than the lowest beast’ (p. 86)?

A corrosive poem by Dalit Odia poet Basudeb Sunani writes back to babu society, giving a bottoms-up view of the so called high-born who blithely void excreta upon fellow humans even as they posture and pontificate in public.  It will surely be a self-defeating and dubious literary exercise. When it comes to Harijan, it has to be admitted that the writer, the translator, and the present reviewer find themselves ranged on the same side as ‘savarna’ oppressors.

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