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ISSN: 0974-892X


Jul '19 & Jan '20



How Many Prisons: Portrayal of Margilization in The Prison We Broke

Dr. Keshav Nath, Assistant Professor English, Manipal University Jaipur



The proletarians have nothing to loose but their chains, said Karl Marx. Two classes – Bourgeoisie and Proletariats have been constantly indulged at the same position in class struggle since ever. Analogous is the case with women, if they oppose the established social norms to achieve their freedom, only the boundaries that control them will be lost. The present paper is an attempt to investigate the Marxist concern in the work of Baby Kamble Prison We Broke.

Key Words: marginalization, Marxian concerns, class struggle, Dalit class struggle


Today the higher, middle and lower classes can be seen with similar tension redefining Marxist concerns. And similar has been the position of women in society. The upper and lower classes can be seen as the roots of inequality in the society and gender inequality is also similarly distinguished in ancient issues it is just that, until the nineteenth and early twentieth century, when under “First Wave Feminism” people fought for women’s right to vote, it did not get much more attention. But this is just a recognized incident that we have known as scholars of women’s rights. Feminism has set its footprints as early as other socio-economic issues of the world. “As such, gender oppression is closely related to class oppression and the relationship between men and women in society is similar to the relations between proletariat and bourgeoisie” (defined in Marxist feminism). A feminist mind can understand that males are equilibrated to upper class and females to the lower class. Whatever were the constraints they were to be imposed on lower classes (or in the house on the females) but the upper class were at the blissful end (so have been males).

But if we talk about Indian dalit women the case was much more worse (it might have been similar at the other tribal ends of the world). In her book “The Prisons We Broke” Baby Kamble has portrayed the state of her community that she has witnessed in her lifespan. Though she has discussed her community overall in this book, but one notices that majority of her lines have brought out the women’s condition in her times. Glimpses of higher caste women can also be noticed with her community women showing that the former were also not that privileged.

Introducing her family Kamble says-

The honor enjoyed by a family was in proportion to the restrictions imposed on the women of the house…people would tell… PandharinathMistry kept his wife completely hidden in the house and how even the rays of the sun didn’t know her. This helpless woman was Baby Kamble’s mother and the so called honorable man Pandharinath is her father. Women caged in their own houses were symbols of pride for the rest of the family. Mahar, the community that Kamble come from is another untouchable dalit caste of India, found in Maharashtra. She defines her mother’s state far better than the other Mahar women around her. Women were colonized at different places sometimes in the name of honor and sometimes virtue.

Mulk Raj Anand in his work Untouchables calls women of Dalit communities Doubly oppressed but if zoom in to their world we see that tribal females likeMahar women are thrice deprived of their rights. Firstly as they are poor, then because of caste and lastly for they are born as the Second Sex.Their misery is severe as they are born in a community which is already considered untouchable. Kambleelaborates,Hindu philosophy had discarded us as dirt and thrown us into their garbage pit, on the outskirts of the village. That is not something new to us and we have been hearing of such things since we remember.

Instead of respecting the Hindu religion Kamble throughout the book disrespects it and several times she uses ‘you’ and ‘your religion’ instead of using our religion, needless to say that she doesn’t have anything else to blame it all upon. Age old suffering, in a row going several days without any food, people not being provided with any medication, no source of education ,did not even knew that they were sick and instead took it all as a result of some spirit’s possession on their body, women not having anything to eat or for sanitation after delivery (not even rags), and so on the list might never end.

Superstitions have so occupied these people that they never tried to find out any medical remedy for the disease but would always mould it into some spiritual mishap; Women played the major roles in such spiritual games. It can be justified because they were all frustrated from the poverty stricken life, no house, no food, no clothes and above that husband’s torture made a woman psychologically unstable. The mental illness resulted into the possession of evil spirits/Gods or Goddesses. In the book there are instances where the mothers-in- law would falsely accuse their son’s wife of spiritual possession which would result into the separation of the couple.Many such couple fights would become matter of honor and any kind of violence by the husband was completely acceptable by the society , one of such usually happening incident is told by Kamble that after the mother father provoked their son in the name of brave lineage and reminding him that he can get married again anytime he wants (call it ego or enthusiasm) the son would immediately want to do whatever his parents desired to be done to his wife ,then “at night, he would sit on her chest and taking his own time, cut off her nose. Then would drive the poor girl out of the house, with blood pouring from the mutilation.”After  this incident there is nowhere the mention of the girl again, no actions were taken by the girl’s family or the society against this kind of cruelty. Also women appear to be enemies of themselves not only in this novel but in real life too. From ages the dalits have been inflicted with such superstitions in their blood because of the distortion and agony induced by the upper caste that it was almost impossible for them to think the other way round. And so was the condition of dalit women, they took all by heart that it was their duty to serve their husbands but with  this patience that they had put in all this process they lost the basic human empathy for their daughters-in-law and other younger women. They would do anything to bestow same kind of pain and misery upon the newlyweds ignoring that how much they hated ‘that phase’ of their lives.But as kamble says:

“The other world had bound us with chains of slavery. But we too were human beings. And we too desired to dominate, to wield power. But who would let us do that? So we made out our own arrangements to find slaves—our very own daughters-in-law! If nobody else, then we could atleast enslave them.”

When humanitarians ponder upon such issues of domestic violence and women rights they can trace the circle of frustration, as in how it starts and where it ends.

‘Kumkum’ is said as the most precious ornament for mahar woman(which is possibly true for every Hindu woman), but the next line kinds of opposes this feeling of virtuous wife which say “It’s another thing that these masters of kumkum generally bestow upon us nothing but grief and suffering”. Now the time has changed, but men in Kamble’s story like any other rural downtrodden, careless of their wife and children. Their has to be a certain responsibility when one is the father or eldest in the family but we noticed that men have played a really negligible role here, as Kamble has talked about women mostly.
Lack of education and the ancient trends of caste and class hierarchy has made these men and women slaves of the upper caste. A Mahar would clean the dirt, arrange several things for the upper caste “masters’ ” functions of all kinds but he was never appreciated for his great efforts, hard work and loyalty. The Mahar who was assigned the duty of the village was called ‘Yeskar’. “The higher caste had created an illusion among the Mahars that the Yeskar’s stick was like a royal staff…His wife would worship it with Haldi and Kumkum and pray to it with folded hands… then he would dress for the job…tie a tattred turban…he would feel proud…once he reached Chawdi… his place was at a distance…he was made to stand  for whole day… wasn’t even allowed to stand straight…he had to bend down…he had to bend down…and say ‘Johar Mai Baap’…” But after all the work, he did there from cleaning of the pandal to take care of the horses of the carts “…he was not sure of being given any food.” Now once knowing the agony these Mahar men had to go through like a custom the frustration has obviouslybe showered upon the women in their house.

Even severe diseases like tetanus (which women mostly had after the delivery because of lack of hygiene) was treated as some spiritual mishap. Several Mahars would get in the act of possession, on by one and accuse the new mother of being possessed by a bad spirit and this was not one case, Kamble says, even slight fever was a curse for a person but as the women were only at home while men went out the former were both the constant participants and accused of this process. Kamble compares Mahars to animals, “We were just like animals but without tails”. For they have to go without food for several days they sometimes even ate seeds of cactus fruit, which is really sad when we think about it (because cactus is something not even animals eat and they are not digestible). Their families were distinguished by the amount of beggary they brought, the stale old chapattis or “bhakris” were the symbol of their pride. The house which had more beggary than others was a prestigious one for food was all they dreamt of, these poor beings were reduced to this level of suffrage that they had nothing in their life other than dreams of food. This was the case of family but still Mahar women were really strong as they had really progressive thoughts. There are many such characters of women whom we come across in this novel.“They like anybody else, aspired for a better life. But they were bound byt the chains of slavery. It was on the Mahar’s labor that the idle parasites lived.”AndKamble herself is one of them, after all the odds she took part in all the “morchas”, went to party meetings and protested against many things like untouchability.
Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar rising as the social reformist had a great influence upon Mahar community as well as all other dalit/tribal/downtrodden. Kamble introduces him in her novel by thanking him for the Hindu Code Bill (that aimed to codify the reform of several hindu laws like hindu ,marriage act, hindu minority and guardianship act etc.) as she says:

“The man who gave birth to Hindu code bill was my king Bhim, the son of morality, saviour of the world. It is because of him that my pen can scribble out thoughts…It is because of him that I got the inspiration to join the struggle against oppression and contribute my small might to it.” Legend that he was, Dr. Bhimrao completely changed the social norms and thoughts about caste/class differences. He influenced the poor to educate themselves and young boys were of course the first people to go school but kamble says that many girls of her generation too got enrolled to school. In Kamble’s school majority of teachers and students were upper caste and therefore kamble and the kids of lower castes were treated as some leprosy patients who would infect other people and therefore should be seated at a proper distance from other people at school. The Mahars were treated as pollutants and  The upper caste people  would have got impure if they touched mahars intentionally or unintentionally and mahars themselves did not try to “pollute” any place where these upper castes went. The upper castes even owned the God and temples in such a way that the lower castes like mahars would fear to visit temples, it was almost like dream for them to see an idol of any God. Well  such oppression, (that one’s mind was imprisoned with superstitious thoughts all on the false base of untouchability), could not let down the spirit of people Babasaheb Bhimrao inspired. Mahar women were example of such spirit. They were great admirers of Dr. Ambedkarthey would do anything but stop their kids from going to school, Kamble in an interview with Maya Pandit tells how even not a single Mahar family could afford the school feels but the women have understood the value of education so they decided to do anything that could get their kid’s education. Kamble in this interview tells a story of a woman who has to pay ninety rupees which of course she didn’t have and “She couldn’t talk about this to her husband” because “he would have put an end to their sons’ education” so without telling her husband she sold the jowar which they had saved for the rainy season. “When her husband came to know this, he of course, thrashed her. Besides they had to starve throughout the rainy season”.

Women with such spirit could never have failed their families, but the awakening was too late to happen if there had been some Dr. Bhimrao born thousand years back, the casteism, racism and classism would not of have actually spoiled the society and culture we were so proud of and we would have of course been living in a better world better India today. It is really very painful to see Baby Kamble scorn upon Hindu religion, blaming the culture and society for all what her community has been through. She even disowns all the house hold gods that the Mahars worshipped seven times a day. All because their souls were now empty they have lost all the patience, faithfulness towards the upper caste and the norms set for them by upper castes.

Disconnecting from the roots seems just a consequence and a better end when objectively the sufferings are noted. The marginalization and domination that Mahars and all Dalit/tribal people have suffered could never be brought to an equal level of living that others have enjoyed until or unless we go back in time. Or if we give them that much time and years to enjoy such position. Kamble in her interview even puts out an idea for reservation that scheduled caste/tribes get, she suggests that thousands (and who knows how many) years of suffering could atleast now be privileged by some priority and extra oridinary care. She shouts out to her people to take care about this reservation and use it for better purpose, to empower their community and nation. She says that the new generation should work for their people and help the poor and never let the dark history to repeat itself. She seems really upset with new boys and girls of her community who do not worry about their people’s well being and education, morally who should pay attention to every man around them and try to support the poor by any means they can. Kamble argues that even Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar has made it all really easy but it is still not enough because as the population grows the demand will grow and every single person has to take some responsibility for that matter. Empathy is needed along with the help.

India is one of the largest growing economies of the world. Kamble’s suggestion (or orders) to her people are actually applicable throughout the nation because we have states like Kerala, where the literacy rates are almost 100% and states like Haryana, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand with really poor literacy. There is no uniformity in the culture and society all over india other than the poverty stricken people. So, everyone should work on this. Different government plans and budgets for girl child’s education, free basic education and employment programmes can be only useful when people are aware of it, or else it will all get lost in politics. It should be made sure that the poor should know about it all. This could only happen through enlightenment, the light of knowledge can only help people to overcome the class and caste differences and become equal to all. On the surface level the steps have been taken but if the people who are to be facilitated are not aware, no change would come. The people at the consumer’s end should be concerned about their rights.

The prison we broke is a book in which the same bush is beaten again and again by Kamble, that if awareness and education were there in her societyevery misery would have ended long ago. Clever rich upper castes didn’t let them do so, but now times have changed there are so many powers embedded in a civilian of India that such things could be easily put to an end.But again the system has to change from within , which means not only political bodies but our own mental subconscious state too. Government might or might not care about it but we who form the government should take care of it. Kamble reminds us of that time when “BABA” was active saying,“ a small community shook the whole world in the 1940’s under Baba’s leadership. Today , the community is huge but has become completely ineffective and feeble…Discard your cowardice and unite in the spirit of Brotherhood that Baba desired.” When she says today community is huge we can think that the population has grown so has the percentage of poor people since then. According to Wikipedia ,“India had 20.6% share of world’s poorest in 2011”.Which is really a matter to worry about. Equally significant is the issue of gender equality and women’s rights because if are thinking of progressive economy we have to think about poor and women too.As the women of Mahar community had limited weapons to attack the darkness of illiteracybut they finally did bring a drastic change today’s women can also do it.

Karl Marx said: “Anyone who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without feminine upheaval. Social progress can be measured exactly by the social positions of the fair sex, the ugly ones included.”

Coming again to the poor and underprivileged it is essential to empathesize or else only more and more naxalities are to be found fighting for their rights. Government bodies will never go out of their way to get the country in its better shape (because they have some really big scams to do) but we the general public has to bring some changes in our behavior. The pro-poor growth of India has to change, because the whole economy of India only relies on it. Education is the first initiative to be taken for that matter.Vladinirllyichlenin enlightens us how we should figure this out, as he says:

“People always have been the foolish victims of deception and self-deception in politics, and they always will be until they have learned to seek out the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases declarations and promises.”

Gender equality that is fundamental for forming base for equality for all other differences to be demolished. It is not something new it is as old as the other problems like racism or casteism and had been infecting the society like them too. We hear great stories of how in ancient India women were equally treated as men but its, not the same story since we remember. This autobiography of Baby Kamble has presented several women emerge as heroes for their family and community and indirectly for the nation. Baby Kamble herself comes out as the inspirational woman who out of all the odds managed to pen down her story, even when she knew that there would be a huge  mess if her husband finds out about her writing she somehow managed her passion. In the form of autobiography she had penned down her urge of telling the story how has her community and other downtroddens managed to survive because of Dr. Ambedkar. Being such a enthusiast and humanitarian she too suffered the male dominance and patriarchy.  She was beaten by her husband because some stranger were looking at her and in her interview she says to Maya Pandit about such situations “…I had to suffer like many other women. But how do you go and talk about it when everyone is suffering?...All my life I had to face this violence.”

If we want the condition of women to get better then sure we have to focus on the downtroddens as there are the ladies in between them living all it and have accepted every unjust action as their fate.

Woman lean on to a man’s shoulder to get love and compassion, but as the time passed this action has been synonymies of dependency, well it is not so. To prove this right women have to be a little less emotional and much more self confident. The capability of women should never be questioned because they might have never been acknowledged for it but they have been the sole performers in all kinds of struggles from the battles to grocery shopping. If the aim of gender equality is achieved, if the women take their positions at the frontier, then no one would dare to molest or dominate them (but we have to make sure that all the other differences would be neutralized too).

“The most important thing women have to do is to stir up the zeal of women themselves.” -J. S. Mill



Kamble,Baby. JinaAmucha. Stree,1982.

Pandit ,Maya. The Prisons We Broke. Orient Blackswan Private Limited,2008. quotes j.s.mill