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Towards a postcolonial critical literacy: Bhimayana and the Indian graphic novel

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Abstract:

This article argues that the graphic novel of BR Ambedkar's life, Bhimayana, generates a postcolonial critical literacy. Critical literacy forces the reader to link personal experiences with socio-historical and institutional power relations, and alerts us to reflect on issues of otherness in the text. In the first section, the article argues that Bhimayana's innovations of form and content, and its extensive metaphorization and multiple registers serve to combine a personal story with the history of a condition – of caste-based discrimination. In the second section of the article, I focus on the critical literacy the text initiates and demands of its readers. I suggest that the work fits into an already existing interocular (where the visual intersects with images from other visual media, such as television) field, and draws upon a popular register. It is this everyday register of comics – commonplace in the form of the comic strips in newspapers and periodicals but also as comic books – that enables Bhimayana to debate social issues in a medium that is far removed from other forms and genres such as newspaper reportage, commentaries and Amnesty reports where human rights issues are mostly addressed. The text is therefore significant in that it situates debates about caste and human rights in the popular cultural realm. A postcolonial critical literacy is the demand made on the reader to recognize, in this supposedly non-serious medium, a social problem.

Keywords: Ambedkar; Bhimayana; Dalits; critical literacy; graphic novel; postcolonialism

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/safm.3.1.3_1

Affiliations: The University of Hyderabad

Publication date: March 1, 2012

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  • Studies in South Asian Film and Media (SAFM) is the most promising new journal in the field. This peer-reviewed publication is committed to looking at the media and cinemas of the Indian subcontinent in their social, political, economic, historical, and increasingly globalized and diasporic contexts. The journal will evaluate these topics in relation to class, caste, gender, race, sexuality, and ideology.
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