Joothan: An Untouchable's Life (2024)

Rajat Ubhaykar

Author1 book1,875 followers

December 30, 2016

Heartbreaking, painfully honest read. Should be instituted as mandatory reading in schools to sensitise city slickers to the moral & material need for caste-based affirmative action. Will also work well to establish caste oppression a matter of recent historical record and not some pre-independence anachronism.

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Usha Alexander

Author3 books17 followers

January 17, 2010

Anyone interested in Indian culture or history or social justice issues should read this book. It is a rare glimpse into that other history of India, the one that everybody knows is there and nobody wants to talk about.

Omprakash Valmiki grew up in Northern India in the decades just after Indian Independence, and in this book he sets forth a collection of scenes from his life. He begins as the son of a desperately poor family from the lowest caste in Indian society, a community of illiterate Untouchables, who fights to gain an education and becomes, today, a respected playwright. His tells of the torments he suffered along the way (and occasionally still suffers), as well as of his political awakening and the development of his consciousness and morale. He describes, by example, how India's thousands-year-old system of institutionalized slavery has actually worked on the ground and upon the lives of real people, how it manifests its power over their hearts, minds, and stomachs. He gives us an anatomy of oppression.

But while the darkness that pulled Valmiki down is relentlessly bleak, his life-story is stunning. That a person could pull himself up from such poverty, such abject powerlessness, to advance himself in the world and become recognized as a writer and an empowered voice, working on behalf of Dalits, is nothing less than amazing. His is one of those inspired lives, the kind we want to hear about to remind ourselves how much adversity the human mind and spirit are able to overcome, to remember that we can thrive despite all.

While Valmiki's prose doesn't entirely conform to the modern Western literary sensibility, the content of his account is breathtakingly honest and brave. We are reminded in the foreword that the highest purpose of Dalit writing is not beauty of craft, but authenticity of experience. And as we put together the realities of his life, we come to understand why.

Most significantly, though, Valmiki's story is a voice from the half of India that has been voiceless for countless generations. In the latter decades of the 20th century, Valmiki and a few others like him have breached an opening for our understanding and knowledge about a people so marginalized that they disappeared from the world's awareness, their cultures, lifestyles, folk knowledge, and aspirations represented nowhere in mainstream or scholarly sources. For thousands of years, the oppressed of India had only been spoken about and spoken for by outsiders lacking any real knowledge of their lives—indeed, usually by those with a vested interest in preserving the status quo, with its imbalance of power against the Dalits.

Even today, most Dalit writing is unavailable to the English-speaking world because Dalits usually write in Hindi or another indigenous Indian language. "Joothan" was translated from Hindi by Arun Prabha Mukherjee, a professor of English at York University in Canada. In making this work available to a wider audience, and in illuminating the book with her thoughtful and insightful foreword, which provides historical, cultural, and literary context, she has done the world a great service.

Rural Soul

504 reviews77 followers

January 22, 2019

زیرِ نظر کتاب، جناب اوم پراکاش والمیکی کی سوانح حیات ہے. کسی جگہ سنا تھا کہ سانحہ (جس کی جمع سوانح ہے) ایک غلط العام لفظ ہے کہ اسکا مطلب پُر درد واقعہ لیا جاتا ہے. جبکہ اصل میں سانحہ کا مطلب خوشگوار واقعہ ہوتا ہے.
اوپر دیے گئے لفظ کا مطلب جو بھی ہو مگر والمیکی صاحب کی یہ سوانح حیات مرقع درد ہی درد ہے

تعریف کیا کروں کہ کیونکہ پانچ ستارے پیش کرنا ہی اس بات کا ثبوت ہے کہ کتاب دل میں اتر گئی ہے. خود نوشتوں کا تو راقم بہت شائق ہے

کتاب بھارت میں موجود مخصوص ذاتوں کی لئے نفرت اور استحصال کی ایسی داستان ہے کہ دورانِ ڈیوٹی، مشینوں کے شور میں کچھ پل چرا کر پڑھتے ہوئے، بارہا آنکھیں تر ہوئی ہیں. اوم پراکاش والمیکی غربت، افلاس، ظلم اور نفرت کے اندر سے جنم لینی والی ایک کونپل تھے، جو آج ایک تناور درخت بن جانے کے باوجود معاشرتی بگاڑ کے سینک کو بھر نہیں پایا

اب بھارتی نوجوان جاگ رہا ہے. وہ جانتا ہے کہ دنیا کی سب سے بڑی سیکولر ریاست بن جانے کے باوجود کرتا دھرتا ابھی بھی وہی مخصوص سوچ عوام میں برقرار رکھنا چاہتے ہیں
انکو جاگنا پڑے گا

کتاب نے ایک اور عظیم شخصیت سے بھی متعارف کروایا. جنھوں نے معاشرے کی پسی ہوئی ذاتوں میں سے جنم لیا، دنیا کی نفرتیں سمیٹتے ہوئے، آگے بڑھتے ہوئے اعلیٰ مقام پر پہنچ کر بھارت کے دستوری آئین سازی میں اہم کردار ادا کیا

اور اپنی کمیونٹی کے نوجوانوں کو ایک راہ دکھائی. اگر وہ نہ ہوتے تو شاید والمیکی جیسے سورما جنم نہ لیتے
ڈاکٹر بھیم راؤ رام جی امبیڈکر، المعروف بابا صاحب امبیڈکر.

کتاب جب نستعلیق خط کی بجائے عربی رسم الخط میں دیکھی تو تھوڑا مزہ کرکرا ہوا مگر بعد میں وجہ سمجھ آگئی. کتاب بہت ساری خوبصورت ہندی اصطلاحات اور ناموں سے بھری پڑی تھی. عربی رسم الخط میں انکا تلفظ آسانی سے سمجھ آجاتا یے.
کتاب کے اختتام سے ایک اقتباس پیشِ خدمت ہے

طرح طرح کے افسانوی تصورات رچے گئے. بہادری کے، آدرشوں کے. کل ملا کر کیا نتائج نکلے؟ شکست، مایوسی، غربت، تنگ نظری، مذہبیت، مذہبی جمود اور گھٹن کے چنگل میں پھنسا، ریتی رسوم میں الجھا سماج، جو ٹکڑوں میں بٹ کر کبھی یونانیوں سے ہارا، کبھی شکوں سے، کبھی ہُنوں سے، کبھی افغانوں سے، کبھی مغلوں، فرانسیسیوں، انگریزوں سے ہارا، پھر بھی اپنی ویرتا اور مہانتا کے نام پر کمزور اور بے یار و مددگار کو پیٹتے رہے گھر جلاتے رہے. عورتوں کی توہین کر کے ان کی عزت سے کھیلتے رہے. انانیت میں ڈوب کر سچائی سے منہ موڑ لینا، تاریخ سے سبق نہ لینا، آخر اس خطے کی تعمیر کا تصور ہے

برصغیر پاک و ہند کی قسمت میں نجانے کیا لکھا ہے. گورا اپنے دیسوں کو کہاں سے کہاں لے گیا ہے اور ہم ابھی تک چھوٹے چھوٹے مذہبی، سیاسی اور معاشرتی گروہوں میں بٹ کر آپس میں دست و گریباں ہیں

Chandana Kuruganty

206 reviews59 followers

April 14, 2021

" How will those who have never suffered the needle pricks of hatred and jealousy feel my pain? Who have never endured humiliation, how will they know what it feels like? Dreams like sand dunes, do not make a sound when shattered. At times, I feel like I grew up in a cruel and barbaric civilization."

Author's non-linear narration of incidents, his detailed information on family, relatives, social settings of his village, humiliations during his education and employment times along with talking bravely of emotional scars of the tormenting past provide an important key to understanding the social evil of "untouchability" ( both in action and thought) from the heart and mind of Dalit who was at the receiving end.

To people who think this might not be relevant in current day society, they cannot be more mistaken. Omprakash Valmiki's book is as relevant today as it was in the past for the mere fact that even in 2021 " one can somehow get past poverty and deprivation, but it is impossible to get past caste."

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172 reviews41 followers

July 26, 2023

[3.5 stars]

This is definitely a book that every Indian should read. A look into how casteism affected the author — the writing is succinct and evocative, and the imagery is gruesome and painful. Omprakash Valmiki is unapologetic and straight to the point; he doesn't brush away the horrors that he'd faced as an untouchable to "keep the peace". Neither does he let go of his caste-identity as many of his peers had done, but he instead spoke out against the blatant discrimination.

This book has one of the strongest starts, but the long bits specifically about his education in various subjects, and parts of the country were a bit tiring to get through.


Karan Taneja

17 reviews8 followers

August 18, 2020

An autobiography of a man facing discrimination from the day he was born because of his caste. This sentence... hardly does any justice to the haunting brilliance that is this book. It is filled with incidents that will bore through you because of your privilege, the sheer fact that as a child, you saw some of this happening and when you grew up, never bothered to question it. This book is an eye-opening experience for someone that has been shielded from the idea of caste and its consequences. You need to go through every page to try and fathom it. The matter of fact way the author's experiences are written will make you question the fabric of our present society and question your own inaction.

A must read.


6 reviews7 followers

January 18, 2019

It's a pretty relevant reading given the ongoing agitation on reservations. It is an autobiographical account of Valmiki’s journey from his birth and upbringing as an untouchable in the newly independent India of the 1950s to today. And after reading it, I feel nothing much has changed over the 70 years - especially when one looks at the rural areas. Caste still holds its 'importance' in the society and continues to divide us.

Education is one of the solutions to most our problems, but when the teachers themselves actively discriminate and abuse their students on the basis of caste, I am not sure where we are going...

Khyati Gautam

796 reviews190 followers

October 6, 2023

Joothan by Ompraksh Valmiki is an autobiographical account of the author's journey
that attempts to shed light on the struggles of what we now call as 'erstwhile untouchables.' It
effectively traces Valmiki's life, right from his birth to years of adolescence, to living the life of
an untouchable in post-independent India.

In Joothan, Omprakash Valmiki reflects on his experiences of caste-based
discrimination, poverty, and social exclusion. He emphatically discusses his and his
community's challenges in accessing education and fundamental human rights. The incidents
portrayed in Joothan cannot be found in any other literary work, especially which represents his
dwelling place, his home town 'Barla', his birth in the Chuhra community, his struggle for his
education, corporeal and psychological harassment, his conversion into a speaking subject,
recorder of the oppression and exploitation he endured, not only as an individual but also as a whole for his oppressed community.

The strength of Joothan lies in its unapologetic honesty. Valmiki's prose is
straightforward and devoid of any sugarcoating, making the reader acutely aware of his
indignities and atrocities as a Dalit. His vivid descriptions of the degrading practice of joothan
(leftover food) and Dalits' social exclusion are eye-opening. Valmiki's narrative skillfully paints
a vivid picture of the stark disparities in Indian society, where caste determines one's worth.

Furthermore, the non-linear writing style and well-intentioned use of words and expressions
evoke a feeling of deep sympathy and genuine concern among the readers.
While "Joothan" is a powerful and essential read, some readers may find the narrative
style stark and abrupt. However, it effectively conveys the author's raw emotions and

In a nutshell, the book is an essential work in the realm of Dalit literature and serves as
a powerful tool for raising awareness about the struggles faced by Dalits in Indian society.

Translated from Hindi by Arun Mukherjee.


247 reviews30 followers

March 20, 2016

Another book I have been meaning to read for a long time, this is the biography of one of the most important voices in Hindi Dalit literature. I had read a collection of short stories by the same author sometime back and acquired this book shortly afterwards.

Having read Lakshman Mane's Apara, the book has a very similar arc. A childhood spent in utter poverty and misery in rural areas, an inclination for education which helped the author break out of his surroundings and connect with the growing Dalit movement in cities. More then the incidents of outright violence, the most heart wrenching incidents are those where initial affection and cordiality is shattered once the caste is reveled. Consider the eternal suspicion in the mind. Is the other person nice because he does not actually care about the caste or has he misunderstood? This is specially relevant today when you find a large number of people claiming they are caste blind, that they do not even know the caste of their friends and colleagues. As this book makes you realize, they might be leaving their friends in great deal of internal turmoil.

There is an interesting discussion about the surname 'Valmiki' and by proxy about the problem of hiding or reveling your caste with your surname. The double life that people are forced to live once they have made a little life for themselves and moved to cities.

Having lived in western UP and having done my schooling there, I could relate with the amount of violence described in schools. I have vague recollections of master sahib raining blows on a student's back while sitting on a chair and holding his head between his knees. In fourth or fifth standard. But I don't recall any explicit caste based discrimination. May be because things have improved in the 40 odd years since. But also may be because I went to a Jain school where 80% of the students in the school were Jains.

The language of the book is a bit jarring, what with all those additional "the", "tha", "thi" at the end of the sentences! The narrative also jumps back and forth many times. Better editing would have made it much better reading. But despite all that, I think it is an important book that everyone would do well to read at least once.


7 reviews

September 10, 2022

"Why didn’t an epic poet ever write a word about our lives?".

I'm really grateful that I got to read this autobiography, which is such an important part of Hindi Dalit Literature. Valmiki's narrative paints a vivid picture of our distorted social order. Brahamanical Hinduism thrives on oppression politics for maintaining its 'superiority'. Through the cruelty of caste system, Savarnas maintain their dominance over everything, starting from basic human rights to crucial resources. Valmiki's journey from childhood to adulthood echoes Ambedkar's words 'Educate. Organise. Agitate.' With his family, especially his father's support, Valmiki gets educated and becomes a crucial part of Dalit Movement. However, despite being educated, Valmiki's worth is undermined because of his caste identity. He talks about this identity crisis and inferiority complex that Dalits have to go through. It also brings us to questions like is it possible to "improve" one's caste? Is it possible to attain selfhood within a social order that propagates casteism at every step? Valmiki's narrative takes food politics and dalit patriarchy into account. More often than not, conventional upper caste Hindi writers have tried to invalidate Dalit writings as not "literary enough" because it lacks the 'nobility' factor and threatens to unravel the reality of Brahmins. Valmiki doesn't step away from using curse words and raw and real dialogues. Furthermore, the romanticisation of nature, village life and rain by upper caste Hindi writers is questioned by Valmiki. They provide the readers with a hom*ogenous picture which deliberately overlooks Dalit occupied spaces. 'Joothan' as a piece of Traumatic Realism sticks with a literary aesthetic. Most of it felt like a punch in the gut- and Savarnas like me can't even imagine the amount of pain associated with the instances Valmiki talks about. The awakening of Dalit Consciousness is missing in the caste related stories written by Non-Dalit Writers. Valmiki's love for literature and theatre, his constant political involvement and efforts lead to the rise of his Dalit consciousness.

This book is immensely relevant even today, caste based atrocities are often overlooked by mainstream media but casteism still exists. I can go on and on, because it's an IMPORTANT read. Time to come out of your privileged bubbles and pick up Dalit Literature.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.

Sunil Saroa

2 reviews

March 16, 2023

I have read innumerable book reviews on Instagram by book reviewers. However, most of them don't read or entirely ignore Dalit literature or marginalized literature. This is not right! A student of literature or an ardent reader can feel the pain, emotions, sufferings, and everything that characters go through. If you don't feel, then what's the purpose of your readings? Enjoyment? Oh please. He, she, or they should also feel the pain of Dalits and must contribute to their upliftment in Indian society.

Jhoothan has left an indelible mark on my consciousness. Omparkash Valmiki's contribution to Dalit literature will always serve as inspiration to other writers who are aspiring to become one, including me.

In Jhoothan, Om Parkash Valmiki's childhood is portrayed as being spent eating leftovers. Simply put, his family and community lacked access to food. They were dependent on those from the upper caste and worked tirelessly without anything in return but deprivation.

This autobiographical work also exposes the brutal reality of feudal Indian society, where caste discrimination still persists. No matter what and where they (the lower castes) go, this caste identity sticks with them.

This book shows the real India. Not the India we see in movies, on Discovery channels, or in books, which are mostly written by elite or upper-caste Indians. On the other hand, it is an India that endlessly dehumanizes a section of society.

Valmiki talks about self-respect and dignity, both of which are routinely violated. The Chuhra caste, also known as Valimkis and Chamars, and those at the bottom of the Varna system are humiliated both in educational settings and in the workplace. "They are helpless and have an inferiority complex till the day they die," says Omparkash Valmiki.

According to OV, because of their unwaged labor, untouchables are doomed to live in poverty. They are therefore completely dependent on the upper caste for everything, including clothing (Utran), left-over food, and other necessities.

This book is filled with sorrow, helplessness, poverty, superstitions, caste discriminations, and Ambedkarite movements in Bombay.

I believe that this book can change the minds of many people. It can help many Dalit students and people who suffer from identity crises throughout their lives.

Shimmi Kelly

175 reviews30 followers

February 4, 2022

A very informative read.

“One can somehow get past poverty and deprivation, but it is impossible to get past caste.”

I’m Indian-Canadian, with Brahmin grandparents. I know that my grandparents, and their parents before them, rejected the caste system as unjust. In India, my grandfather was involved in a school for Dalit people. I’m proud to come from a progressive family, yet at the same time, I recognize the privilege that comes with being from a progressive Brahmin family.

Reading about the oppression that Omprakash Valmiki faced throughout his life, even at the mere mention of the fact that he was a Dalit, opened my eyes to an integral side of India that I had not yet begun educating myself on (from my cushioned seat of privilege over here in Canada).

Yet, this is three stars because, while I found Valmiki’s memoir to be touching and informative, I thought the writing and execution was very simple / standard. This may just be due to the translation from Hindi to English, but even then, I generally didn’t like the translator / editor’s style choices throughout the novel anyway.

Nonetheless, I will definitely be reading more about India’s history with the caste system and the oppression that Dalits face in India. Valmiki’s story of love, pain, family, and culture, is both moving and heartbreaking.

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7 reviews

October 1, 2022

Good read. Equally traumatic. Equally enlightening. It gave the crimes which were done in the heartlands of villages and bastis a podium to be displayed naked. Hopefully things will change some day.

Varsha Bang

8 reviews

February 28, 2021

The book makes the reader understand how much we are fixated on caste and the harsh realities of the Dalit people in India. Each and every line of this memoir is a gut wrenching episode portraying the ugliness of the caste based social ecosystem. I now understand my privilege better!

Neha Sharma

36 reviews8 followers

July 13, 2016

"भारतीय समाज में 'जाति' एक महत्वपूर्ण घटक है। 'जाति' पैदा होते ही व्यक्ति की नियति तय कर देती है।पैदा होना व्यक्ति के अधिकार में नहीं होता।यदि होता तो मैं भंगी के घाट क्यों पैदा होता ? जो स्वयं को इस देश की महान सांस्कृतिक धरोहर के तथाकथित अलमबरदार कहते हैं,क्या वे अपनी मर्ज़ी से उन घरों में पैदा हुए हैं? हाँ,इसे जस्टीफाई करने के लिए अनेक धर्मशास्त्रों का सहारा वे ज़रूर लेते हैं।वे धर्मशास्त्र जो समता स्वतंत्रता की हिमायत नहीं करते,बल्कि सामंती प्रवृत्तियों को स्थापित करते हैं।"
'ओमप्रकाश वाल्मीकि' की आत्मकथा 'जूठन' सामाजिक भेदभाव और छुआछूत जैसी कुरीतियों को उजागर करती है..शिक्षा,भोजन और जीने के लिए भी निचले तबके के इंसान को किन-किन परिस्थितियों का सामना करना पड़ता है..ये बात इस किताब के ज़रिए समझी जा सकती है और यक़ीन मानिए जानकार शर्मिंदगी का ही अहसास होगा..एक इंसान को इंसान ना समझना..हमारे समाज का एक पहलू ये भी है..अब शायद स्थिति थोड़ी बदल रही है पर पूरी तरह तो अब भी बदलाव नहीं आया है।दिल पर चोट करती एक मार्मिक कहानी है..और किसी ने ये सब सच में झेला है जानकार बहुत दुःख होता है..जाने अब भी कितनों को ये सब झेलना पड़ता होगा।


397 reviews11 followers

December 6, 2020




Vishakh Unnikrishnan

24 reviews2 followers

December 20, 2017

Valmiki thrashes canonical Hindi literature that we cherished so much in school and does so marvellously. When Hans editor Rajendra Yadav informs the translator of the book that this is the only Dalit writing he could find in Hindi, he knew how important it was. For Valmiki, his caste remained a part of his identity no matter where he went. His love for writing, books and Ambedkar however, helped him remain persistent in fighting casteism.


Prashant Chandra

1 review

January 30, 2022

In my personal opinion the main objective of the writer of this book Mr. Omprakash Valmiki is to inform the general public about the various atrocities, subtle and out-loud form of discriminatory actions of the "Upper Caste" he himself has endured, or seen happening around him from the time he started understanding various people and their actions, raise 3 simple questions in his mind:

Q1) If the "upper caste" can behave however they want with people just because the "Upper Caste" deem others unworthy then why is the country considered secular?

Q2) Is this the "Culture" of India which allows a section of society to be treated in such a horrific manner based on the traditional practices and thinking?

Q3) The so called "Learned and Cultured" People discriminate against a whole section of society and no one stops them, so is the society really changing?

The Books begins by describing a scene where woman, children and dogs from the surrounding areas formed in his childlike mind a Round-Table Conference every morning at a pond. Valmiki believes that if the people who are staunch believers in the caste system and that it is the best way to live, had to suffer the odor of the land surrounding his basti on a daily basis they would certainly change their opinion.

This train of thought according to me is his way of saying that those who live privileged lives need to step into the lives of the "untouchables" to realize what all they go through on a daily basis.

Valmiki states that what he encountered in school and college went against everything his father had been telling him since birth.

Valmiki's father was a staunch believer in the theory that all one had to do in order to break the proverbial chains of one's caste is to become educated. That is exactly what Valmiki's father wanted him to do and consequently it was the one of the many things the Tyagi's(Upper Caste People) of his village were passionately against, because as far as they were concerned the only type of work people like Valmiki were good for was skinning and disposing of dead animals and the people like Valmiki had no right to better themselves or their conditions like studying as they was only meant for the rich, privileged and the upper castes.

Valmiki recites a few incidents notes a few incidents that left a note in his mind ranging from the Principal Kanihya Ram making him clean the classrooms and the playground while all the teachers and kids watched, or a teacher beating him back and blue just because Valmiki had asked the teacher a simple question.

The most notable account which to me tells exactly how deeply rooted the habit of discriminating against people runs in the blood of the "Upper Caste" is when Valmiki becomes friends with Khureshi who incidentally in India happens to be a member of another minority and discriminated class. One day Khureshi convinced Valmiki to accompany him and meet a commandant that had recently moved next to his house. The commandant happened to be from the same state,district and town Valmiki was from. Since Khureshi believed that the Commandant being a Officer of law would be above discriminating against someone based on something as trivial as a name he and Valmiki went to meet him, but unfortunately that was not the case.

The habit of discriminating against someone based on their caste,class,race, religion and gender is still prevalent today no matter how much one does in life. For instance a while back a minister who was a "Dalit" went into a temple and he wasn't allowed inside by the priests. Somehow he managed to get in there and once he left the first thing the priests did was clean the entire temple in order to make it pure again.

Valmiki correctly states that until and unless people read Dalit literature there is no possibility of them understanding the lives of the Dalit people.

Jhootan by Omprakash Valmiki raises 3 questions in my mind:

Q1) Are we as the people really that afraid of change?
Q2)Is the belief that anyone is superior to the other just based on the fact that that they were born into a caste/community which is supposed to be superior to the other(s) because the learned Brahmans wrote about it and passed it of as the way the world is supposed to run, while ensuring that their own lives were the most benefited from the prescribed distinctions. Is this practice never going to change in this so called Secular India?

According to Valmiki when it came to the situation of the Dalit society "Gandhi
was a hypocrite,on one hand he claimed that the Dalits were "Harijans" which means the
"Sons Of God" but at the same time he wanted the varna system to be intact and work the same way it was supposed to.

I would recommend that everyone should read this book at-least once as it raises valid questions in the mind of the reader.

Prabhat sharma

1,523 reviews12 followers

June 17, 2021

Joothan - PDF Free Download (
Joothan – A Dalit’s life by Om Prakash Balmiki- Hindi- English translation by Arun Prabha Mukherjee- (30-06-1950 death 17-11-2013) I follow autobiographies- Dalit autobiographies also. I studied in Maharashtra so Marathi is unknown to me. In Marathi, I read (1) Wating for Visa by Dr B R Ambedkar, (2) Baluta by Daya Pawar, (3) Majha Jalmachi Chitra Katha by Shantabai Krishna Kamble and others open about search for identity in main stream of social life in India. Author is from Chuhra caste. He was born in village Barla, Purkaji Block, District Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. In the Introduction to the book, the author narrates that Mr Rajkishore, Publisher of a book “Harijan se Dalit” offered him to write about himself in a Chapter “Aaj ke Pashan”. Author came in contact with noted Hindi writer Rajendra Yadav who helped with the book and its title. Author has thanked Mr Kanwal Bharti, Dr Shyoraj Singh Bechain, Mr Ashok Maheshwari. Book brings to light Equality not only before the law but also in all spheres of life. Many inequalities challenge the person. The challenges faced are caste system in India during 1950s. one chapter of this book has been included in NCERT Class 7 Civics Text Book. Author expresses that about discrimination and exclusion in school Class 4. He sat separate from other students on the ground while other students sad on a cotton mat. His Headmaster asked him to sweep the school and playground. His father witnessed this and complained to the Headmaster. Reading the book creates empathy in the reader. Readers are able to relate because they have witnessed inequalities towards Dalits in their life time. In his village, Tyagi, Jats, Muslim weavers and Dalits reside. Ramsewal Masih taught him to read and write. In 1954, author was admitted to school on the request to headmaster of Government school by his father. Ram Singh, Sukkhan Singh & both Dalits were studying in his class. Author narrates that Tyagis, Muslims both behaved badly with them. Author was in Class IV. During agricultural season, Dalits worked in their fields for annul grain remuneration. Author understands the importance of education. He was a bright student, once the teachers started liking him, he learnt fast and stood first in class. Though still some teachers were unfriendly towards him. As a child the author thought that he could improve his caste by education so he worked hard on studies. Before his Maths exam, he was forced to sow seeds in the fields. Still, he qualified in the exam. His name appeared in newspaper, first educated person from Chuhra caste. Chamanlal Tyagi from his village came to his house to congratulate him on his success. Author read books by Premchand, Tagore, Saratchandra and Bhagwad Gita. For Class XII, his Chemistry teacher Brijpal did not let him enter Chemistry Lab. Thus he failed in Chemistry Practical Exam. His elder brother asked him to come to Dehradun where he was living with his uncle. Author got admission and found the atmosphere better for studies. His friend Hemlal introduced him to writings of Dr B R Ambedkar. He got the job of an apprentice on Ordinance Factory with monthly scholarship of Rs. 170/-. After one year, he appeared for a competitive exam and qualified. He was selected for further training at Ordinance Factory, Jabalpur, MP. Author stayed in hostel with a capacity for 500 students. Rooms were large and 10 to 12 students shared a room. Author came in contact with Marxist ideals. He read Chekov, Gorky, wrote poems, short one act plays and participated in them. Author appeared for draftsman training and was selected for training at Bombay. Mr Thomas, Senior Lecturer helped him financially and he joined training at Mumbai. At the Institute Library, he read books by Boris Pasternack, Ernest Hemingway, Victor Hugo, Tolstoy, Pearl S Buck, Turganev, Oscar Wilde to name a few. Author read Marathi Dalit literature Daya Pawar, Namdev Dhasal, Raja Dhale, Gangadhar Pantawane & others. These books opened before him a new thinking in life as it comes- world of inequalities, to write the truth and face it. After completing training, he was transferred to Ordinance Factory, Chandrapur. Here author married Chanda. Author informed his father who after initial difficulty, accepted her as his daughter -in -law. After this the book narrates about his life towards Dalit Panther movement- fighting for the rights of Dalits. Today things have changed because of education to all and jobs for all. Important turning point is education of women, population explosion and awareness that if a young man has a proper job to take care of himself, a daughter can be married to him. The book is an account of changing India.


Rudradeep Mukherjee

64 reviews61 followers

December 18, 2017

"Joothan" means leftovers from someone's plate. If someone gives such a title to his autobiography, you can easily expect what to find inside. The book is not an easy read, as it gives a personal account of one of the greatest evils of Indian society. No one expects a teacher to use one's mother's name to abuse him. No one expects to eat leftovers from someone's marriage ceremony. No one expects to be forced into sweeping a school in front of all classmates. No one expects to be cheated in the payment of labor, year after year. Yet, all these things happened to the author. Only because of his "lower-birth". The book questions how a society can treat a group of people, so inhumanely - year after year, generations after generations. You think Nazis were the worst? Monsters, wearing the hide of humans still live. Maybe, a monster lives inside you. How do you keep it in check? By accepting your wrongdoings and working on your guilt.


12 reviews1 follower

August 27, 2020

"Only he or she who has suffered this anguish knows its sting." This line stayed with me long after I finished reading the book. I picked this book to understand first-hand about a life of Dalit and how the work of manual scavenging is pinned only to a particular caste.

This book rattles you and makes you aware of your privileged life and how you cannot imagine what it is like to be born a Dalit. What it is to be called chamar or deprived of your fundamental right as a human being. Joothan is an overwhelming, and visceral account of what struggles the author had to go through in his growing up years.

I think the Hindi edition would have been a better read than the English. However, the translation is not bad either. Nonetheless, give it a read if you want insights into the life of a Dalit.

Amrutha Subbukrishna

65 reviews1 follower

April 26, 2022

As an autobiography, it captures the reality of the Chuhra existence and the oppression of the caste system. It narrates incidents in the life of the author which led him to choose the surname 'Valmiki and what it signifies. The caste system is so pervasive that it does not allow escape. Joothan consists of incidents where the author's relatives have changed their surnames in order to escape oppression by the higher caste. The author disagrees with hiding in plain sight. He believes that people should be trated equally regardless of cate. He appropriates the name Valmiki which is a caste-marker and asserts his identity as a Chuhra.

Vanshika Verma 03

2 reviews

August 15, 2022

'Joothan' highlights the Dalit oppression orchestrated by the upper caste people and how deep-rooted the varna system is in our societal structure without providing any justification for the horrendous acts against the minor communities. It further highlights the double standards and multifaceted personalities of highly educated people tearing down their fabricated mannerisms and educational values they show off. In addition, it raises the question of embracing one's identity to eradicate the million-year-old caste system designed to dominate a community fearless by raising and connecting it to contemporary issues.


6 reviews

January 16, 2021

This book gives an appropriate description of untold truth of the early days of this nation.
As the time passes by, boundaries of the caste is getting weak. People can eat outside, from the hands of the person whose caste they are not aware of. But this bad practises keep raising there heads every once in a while whenever there is some holy occasion occurs such as marriages. This book give you something that you no longer observe in your surroundings but they exist in the background and comes very openly when you try to make some life changing decisions.

Anjali Rao

8 reviews9 followers

January 17, 2018

Omprakash Valmiki's book raises some sharp questions surrounding savarnas and their garbled justification of varna system. How can a social marker like one's caste serve the basis of respect, merit and superiority when this identity is not in one's control? This is an obsolete social order that has lived way past its shelf life and needs to end. However, like Valmiki said, this battle won't be won in a day.

Heeren Darji

10 reviews7 followers

July 25, 2020

This heart-wrenching autobiography made me cry while reading it. The author narrates his hardships as Dalit and extreme discrimination faced in the complete spectrum of life. He dismantles the arrogance of Indians who believe casteism is a myth, or justified and the idea of Hinduism to an extent. I strongly believe no one should be treated inhumanely.

The book should be a mandatory read for every student in India. It talks of where have we gone wrong in the process of building our nation.



94 reviews36 followers


December 2, 2022

I would personally recommend that everyone in the subcontinent read the book to gain a better understanding of their own caste location. Those who resonate with Valmiki’s story would find solidarity and a sense of being understood and those who are aghast would realise the inherent inhumanity of the caste system. Together, one hopes that these visions would overlap in imagining a better and just world and our roles in the anti-caste movement.


12 reviews

November 25, 2019

It puts one to shame for still being unable to let go the age old caste system, how even the most sensible and educated have the feeling of caste deep rooted in them, and in omprakash valmiki's words, "only those who have gone through will no the pain" yet this book makes an attempt to put the harsh reality in words.


58 reviews

March 7, 2020

I appreciated the content of this book and his message but this is poorly translated mess. Everything in this book, except the names of countless relatives and friends of Valmiki was already known to me from newspaper articles and from wikipedia. That's a sad thing to say about a book that is supposed to be an autobiography. Highly disappointed and saddened at the praise this has received.

Joothan: An Untouchable's Life (2024)
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