The term marginalization refers to individual or groups who live at the margin of society and it is perceived or assumed that these individuals lack certain characteristics, qualities or traits that would make them reach a similar level where other individuals of the society stand. These individuals are not fully integrated in the society as their situation may be historical or cultural wherein they dangle between social classes or cultural groups. Commonly referred to as outsiders, these individuals are kept or pushed at the edges of the society wherein they are barred to be involved in certain social activities with the society. Discrimination, maltreatment and social exclusion are some common issues these individuals face and share in common.
In the modern era, the term marginalization has different connotations and nuances of post-colonial, post- modern period where the world is predominantly driven by market forces. Marginalization in cultural anthropology has become a major subject of study in which ethnic groups and their social situations are studied. It may exist in various forms like class, caste, gender, community and so on at one level while on the other level few mostly all are subjected to economic and social hardships. Forms of marginalization many vary. They are linked to the level of development of society, culturally in relation with economics.
The concept of marginality rose to its high prominence while modernism held its sway in the world during 19th century and: “Man, as the Renaissance slogan had it, was the measure of all other things in the universe: while the Western norms of dress, behavior, architecture, intellectual outlook and so on provided a firm centre against which deviation, observations, variations could be detected and identified as Other and marginal” (Barry: 67).
Indian society witnessed a multi-layered marginality during colonial period and in the postcolonial scenario in the 20th century in terms of socio- political changes.
The subaltern perspective highlights subordination of certain individuals in the society and becomes a key perspective in understanding the plight of women in our country.
Subalterns refer to ‘of inferior rank’. The term was adopted by Antonio Gramsci to refer to those groups in the society who are subject to the hegemony of the ruling class. The school of thought is adopted from the “history from below” approach. Antonio Gramsci used the word ‘subaltern’ for the ‘subordinate class in terms of class, gender, race, language and culture. The perspective brought a new genre of analysis to the Indian Nationalism.
Ernesto Laclau, also addressed as Post Marxist researched and stated that political party;s debate targeted at masses does not indicate that the ideology is simple and means that the conflict is between two people but the perspective is about observing the micro details of a human being like his fight of himself/herself with the society, his/her fight against others ideology and behaviour to understand the concept of unity in an indifferent situation. Here, there exists a possible clash between the society and self, transcendence and secularism, unity and diversity and between holistic understanding and individuality.
The perspective was studied by many scholars in India and a compilation of these studies came to be known as the Subaltern Studies. Imminent scholars who came contributed to the compilation were Ranjit Guha, Gayatri Spivak, Partha Chatterjee, Shajid Amin, Sumit Sarkar and David Hardman among many others.
Gayatri Chakraborty in her revolutionary essay ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ looked into the concerns of subalternity in post-colonial study and stated that the voiceless, the oppressed and the ‘other’ are the subalterns who are not allowed to speak. During the colonial period, the term was used to denote those who were of inferior rank in the army. During the 80s the subaltern study group spoke about the subaltern and described that the term takes into consideration the matters of sex, gender, class, patriarchal dominance, third world feminist discourse and so on. She states that subaltern all over the world are voiceless and marginalised and forced to maintain silence against oppression.
After India got independence a question came up of whether the subaltern can speak. Gayatri Chakraborty elaborated and stated that after the post-colonial discourse, the subalterns were still at the periphery of the society. The aspect of subalternity has been deliberated widely in post-colonial studies during the 80s and is depicted well in the plays of Mahesh Dattani. The quest of critical historiography- Marxist, feminist, anti-colonial, subalternist minority has been reinforced the word subaltern. The individuals who are suppressed, marginalised are sometimes forgotten. The perspective allows us to reinforce the idea that not all humans are born equal but providing them equal opportunities and status is what the society should offer. The post-colonial literary theory moves around the question of subaltern condition. Dattani through his plays brings out the concerns of oppression, marginalisation and subaltern voices closer to the real life experiences. One major issue of the subaltern is that of Identity crisis where the voices of the oppressed are unheard of in the society or choked under domination, social prejudice and myth.