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Caste away

Raghav Chandra's Kali's Daughter spotlights how social inequalities impact the everyday lives of the marginalised in India

By Rahul Kumar

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Published: Thu 7 Nov 2019, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 8 Nov 2019, 1:00 AM

A gritty, modern-day story of a young girl from small-town India navigating her way through the class and caste labyrinths of Indian society, Raghav Chandra's Kali's Daughter (published by Pan Macmillan) is a no-holds-barred critique of a society where social inequalities become a hindrance to the growth of an individual. The plot is as simple and straightforward as it gets - Deepika Thakur is an outstanding diplomat who hails from the Dalit community. Through her eyes, the novel peeks into the rarefied lives and lofty mindsets of the young men and women who join the prestigious Indian Administrative Service.
One of the most poignant aspects of the novel is its gritty takedown of the cultural elite, who are not only disconnected with the lives of those they aim to serve, but even look at them with disdain. Today, caste divisions are deeply ingrained in the mindsets of most Indians, a fact that the fictional universe of the novel manages to depict objectively. Chandra paints a vivid picture of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, where the trainees gather to learn the ropes. It also becomes a vehicle for the author to highlight the caste prejudices and class consciousness that exist among these young recruits, apart from their ruthless plotting of career advancements even before said careers take off. Also laid threadbare are corrupt practices and nepotism that exist in a highly-regimented Indian bureaucracy.
Some of the characters may seem predictable at first, but they undergo a change as the story evolves and many veer off the course. Their inherent biases also come to the fore as they meander through a rigorous training process and job postings.
Chandra is a senior bureaucrat himself, who has served in different parts of India. His observation of people, society and everyday struggles is as astute as it gets. He clinically peels off various layers of caste divisions in both rural and urban spaces. In subtle ways, the novel keeps reminding the reader of the harsh circumstances under which 20 per cent of the Indian population lives. Even as the author portrays the life of the underdog, a parallel track runs, highlighting his protagonist's conscious-but-valiant efforts to rise above oppression and prove herself through sheer hard work in order to lead a life of dignity.
The setting shifts from rural India to the international arena and sweeps the Hindi heartland, particularly Madhya Pradesh, spotlighting its enduring poverty and social inequity. The central Indian state was the setting of Chandra's earlier novel, Scent of a Game, in which he exposed wildlife trafficking and hunting of India's national animal - the tiger. Despite the fact that both novels draw inspiration from Madhya Pradesh, highlighting the enormous challenges confronting India, they are diametrically opposite. While Scent of a Game focused on environment and conservation matters, Kali's Daughter turns its gaze towards birth- and profession-based discrimination that still pervades Indian society. Given the two burning issues he has dealt with thus far, it's safe to assume that the writer will continue to let his pen speak truth to power.

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