Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Memories of Childhood, the lesson, describes Cultural Chauvinism as a scourge

The Lesson, Memories of Childhood, found in the grade twelve CBSE textbook for English describes how cultural chauvinism as experienced by Zitkala - Sa and felt by Bama during their childhood forced them to rebel against the injustice of exploitation. Zitkala-Sa experienced discrimination on the basis of culture, colour, and language. Gertrude Simmons Bonnin was born in 1876 - she was put into the Carlisle Indian School where she was forced to adopt a Western culture and thus forego her native Indian culture. She was taught that the western culture and language were better than her native Indian culture. Her experience in the Carlisle Indian School was akin to a process of 'brain washing, radicalization' or even 'indoctrination,' a process where one is stripped of previous memories and made to start anew. The process of, 'unlearning' her native Indian culture however did not work well as Zitkala-Sa became a rebel who fought for the justice of native Indians living in America.
The process of learning the western culture at the Carlisle Indian school was however a humiliating and painful experience for Gertrude Simmons Bonnin. The first day at the school was a veritable culture shock for her. The loud sound of the bell came, 'crashing' into their sensitive ears, the shoes of other students had an 'annoying clatter', added to all this was 'the constant clash of harsh noises'. It is important to note how the author makes use of onomatopoeic words to describe the disruptive, confusion and pain that she was going to suffer from as a result of being literally stripped of what was Indian to her. She felt as if the bedlam  was something 'within which I was securely tied. And though my spirit tore itself in struggling for its lost freedom, all was useless.' Zitkala-Sa felt trapped and helpless on the first day in school. 
During the following days Zitkala-Sa would be steadily stripped of her dignity and and freedom as a native American who was living in the land of her forefathers. Her hair was forcibly cut, a travesty for native Indians since the cutting of hair symbolised cowardice, subservience, and grief. Her traditional clothes, gowns that covered her modesty were taken away and instead she was made to wear skirts. Her moccasins were taken away and replaced with shoes that squeaked. They did not even let her keep her blanket! What made everything worse for Zitkala-Sa was that her consent was not deemed necessary. Her mother was not there to comfort her and the way she was being 'processed' was as if she 'was only one of the many little animals driven by a herder.' This is how she felt about Cultural Chauvinism, the way an alien culture was being imposed on her forcefully, as if she did not have a right to say 'No!'
Bama, back at home, felt the pain of being a Tamil Dalit when as a child she saw one of her community elders bowing low in subservience to a man who was much younger to her. The older man was holding a packet of vadais by the string so that his hands would not come into contact with the food. Bama felt like laughing at the scene because it was simply absurd-the older man bowing to a younger man, his holding the packet by the string. Bama's desire to laugh at the incident however swiftly changes into a rankling anger and a fury about how the Dalits, members of  a marginalised community were being exploited my Upper Caste members of the mainstream community. In her own words, 'I felt so provoked and angry that I wanted to touch those wretched vadais myself.'
Another incident narrated to Bama by her brother was about how one day her brother who had come home from university was stopped by one of the landlord's men. He was going to the library in the neighbouring village to borrow some books.The man asked him who he was, what his name was. When Annan told him his name, the other man who was with the first man asked, "Thambi, on which street do you live?" The point of asking the second question was that the man wanted to know the Caste to which Bama's brother belonged! The village was divided, the upper caste members lived on one side of the street, wile the lower caste members lived on the other side of the street. One can see how neatly the two communities were divided. 
It became clear to Bama that her community was not given any 'honour or dignity or respect' by the other community. In fact members from her community were expected to run errands and do petty jobs for free for the other community members because it was expected from them. The community members to which Bama belonged were supposed to be subservient, and passive, servile and humble; obedient and ready to take orders from members of the upper caste community ever if the one who was doing the ordering was half the age of the one being ordered. To add further insult to the injury of belonging to a lower caste community was the expectation that all this service was free, and nothing would be paid for doing errands!
In both the accounts however, education is the common tool that leads to the emancipation of the two women from the scourge of Cultural Chauvinism. Education however is not only a  tool that leads to emancipation, it is in fact also, a weapon that both Zitkala-Sa and Bama used to fight cultural, social and religious dogma. Both of the women used education to fight the 'evils of oppression', Cultural Chauvinism, and manner in which the society is divided on the basis of caste, culture, colour and creed. Zitkala-Sa would write numerous articles that criticised the Carlisle Indian school, and the absurdity of Cultural Chauvinism as relfected in the way the native Indians were being treated by the white settlers in America. Bama too would write an autobiography, a novel, and a collection of  short stories that expose the absurdity of casteism in India - the way the Dalit are being treated by the upper caste community members in India.


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