Viramma: Life of an Untouchable

Front Cover
Verso, 1997 - Biography & Autobiography - 312 pages
0 Reviews
A raw and vivid portrayal of life as an Untouchable. "I am the midwife here. I was born in the village of Velpakkam in Tamilnadu, and when I married, I came to Karani, my husband's village. I was still a child then. I am a farm worker and, like all my family, I am a serf, bonded to Karani's richest landowner. We are Pariahs. We live apart from the other castes; we eat beef; we play drums at funerals and weddings because only we can touch the cowhide; we work the land. My son Anbin corrects me when I say 'Pariah'; he says we should use the word 'Harijan'. Every day people from the political parties come to the village and tell us to demand higher wages, to fight the caste system. And they mean well. But how would we survive? We have no land, not even a field." - Viramma. Viramma is an agricultural worker and mid-wife in Karani, a village near Pondicherry in southeast India. This extraordinary book is the story of her life, which she told, over ten years, to Josiane and Jean-Luc Racine. Her story is both fascinating and moving. She describes her brief, happy childhood; the ordeal of leaving her village to live with her husband when she had just reached puberty and their subsequently loving marriage: her experiences as the mother of twelve children, nine of whom have died; the oral culture of her community and the interplay between different castes; the divine forces which influence her and the effects of modernization, which are becoming increasingly apparent. Threaded through the personal stories she tells is her sense of profound change, a constant dialogue between the old certainties of the caste system and institutional and political initiatives to improve the lives of her people. Officially Viramma is a Harijan, a member of the "scheduled castes." To emancipationists, she is one of the "dalits," the oppressed. But in her village, she is still what she has always been: an "untouchable," a "Pariah." Taking its place alongside the immensely successful I, Rigoberta Menchu, Viramma: A Pariah's Life is a rare and important publication: the vivid portrayal of a proud and expressive woman living at the margins of society.

From inside the book

What people are saying - Write a review

Viramma, life of an untouchable

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

In this autobiography of an Untouchable, as told to two French researchers, Viramma discusses age-old traditions and encroaching modernism, life as an indentured agricultural worker and midwife, and a happy marriage that led to 12 children, only three of whom survive. Read full review


A childhood in Velpakkam
The marriage is arranged
Becoming a woman

18 other sections not shown

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

References to this book

About the author (1997)

Racine researches popular culture in southern India.

Racine is a director of research at the Centre for Indian Studies as the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris.

Bibliographic information