Class war exposes India’s dark heart

Kavita Bhanot reviewsThe Gypsy Goddess by Meena Kandasamy in The Independent:

KandasamyThis is not an easy novel to read. There is no intention to entertain. It is, as the blurb tells us, a “novel about the impossibility of writing a novel about a real-life massacre.” The massacre in question took place in 1968 in Kilvenmani village, in the Tanjore district of Tamil Nadu, South India when 44 landless Dalit agricultural labourers, including women and children, were locked in a hut by a group of landowners and burnt alive. This reluctant novel fictionalises the events that led up to the attack – a long-standing battle between powerful landlords and the Communist party, who organised resistance against landowners, demanding better wages and working conditions. It was over the demand for an additional half-portion of rice that the labourers in Kilvenmani were crushed so brutally.

In some of the novel's most stunning passages, the attack itself is described, as the fire “lick[s] away” at its victims. Then there is the battle for justice, an impossible fight when the police are on the side of the landlords, when the political and legal system are disconnected from the lives of those at the very bottom. The long trial, in a language they don't understand (English) is like an absurd play for the villagers who seek justice: “How can they sit for so long in one place and silently listen?” asks one of the characters. “Even my buttocks have fallen asleep on this bench.”

More here.