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Inequality and Adversity, in Content and Form: The Indian Graphic Novel Bhimayana by E. Dawson Varughese

The Indian graphic novel Bhimayana: experiences of untouchability was published in 2012 by a New Delhi-based company called Navayana. The book charts the life of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891 – 1956) who campaigned for equal rights and an end to social discrimination in particular towards ‘untouchables’ or ‘casteless people’ in India. He was the principal architect of the Indian Constitution. The graphic novel blends biography, Indian legislation, letters penned by Gandhi and primary source material in the form of newspaper clippings of the post-millennial period; the clippings sadly underscoring how important issues of untouchabilty remain in today’s India. Untouchability in contemporary India, like earlier eras, ostracises groups of people by depriving them of their legal mandate and excluding them from social customs and cultures. Ambedkar, one of India’s ‘foremost revolutionaries’ (Bhimayana 2012 – back cover) grew up as an untouchable and faced discrimination throughout his life; this graphic novel explores such instances as he is refused water, accommodation and his right to education.

My most recent work [1] is interested in visuality and ‘new ways of seeing’ in post-millennial India and for me Bhimayana (2012) is part of a larger body of work which invokes new ways of seeing in New India. These new ways of seeing correspond to post-millennial trends in visual cultures and creativity which in turn, often depict India in challenging and inauspicious ways. Much of life in New India today involves new forms of cultural consumption and much of that cultural consumption has to do with ‘seeing’. Lutgendorf (2006) tells us that ‘…‘‘seeing’’ was (and continues to be) understood as a tangible encounter in which sight reaches out to ‘‘touch’’ objects and ‘‘take’’ them back into the seer’ (2006: 231). It has been argued that the role of visuality in Indian culture is defining, given the concepts of darshan and drishti which are usually translated as ideas of ‘seeing’ or ‘gazing’ and are at the heart of Hindu modes of visuality (see Ramaswamy, 2003: xxv). Freitag (2003) argues that the visual realm is a critical component in South Asian modernity because: ‘[A]cts of seeing become acts of knowing as viewers/consumers impute new meanings to familiar images. Such agency enables a civil society to grapple with change through indigenous sociologies of knowledge so that it can be naturalised and accommodated.’ (2003: 366) Lutgendorf (2006) reminds us of the power of darshan/darśan when he writes that ‘darśan is a ‘‘gaze’’ that is returned’ (2006: 233, original emphasis) and in his work, he has translated darśan as both ‘visual dialog’ and ‘visual intercourse’ (2006: 233) in order to emphasise the idea of communication between the gazer and the gazed upon.

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Posted by on 2015/06/15 in Guest Writers

 

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