Mahasweta Devi’s ‘The Hunt’ is a story of gender roles and their reversal as a form of seeking justice to gender inequality and oppression. It is also a story of one woman’s triumph over her vulnerability in a patriarchal system and male-dominated society. At the most, it is a critical response to a macho culture.
The oppression of woman in a patriarchal society is brutal, to say the least. The story seems to validate the action that a reprisal against this oppressive male society should also be equally brutal. No better person to enact this revolt than Mary, a physically strong and powerful woman, who if one looks at it closely could have been a male’s equal. The only factor that tips the balance in the macho culture of Mary’s society is the social norm of gender inequality.
‘The Hunt’ is part of three-story trilogy entitled ‘Imaginary Maps: three stories.’ It was written in 1995. Mary is half-white, though a tribal woman in India. She is half-Anglo and half-tribal. Her father, a white planter, left for Australia after impregnating her mother.
Mahasweta Devi, however, is a political activist and although ‘The Hunt’ is a study of revolt against gender oppression and resistance to the exploitation of women in postcolonial India, the political statement does not end with gender politics. The story is also a scathing statement on the role of women in resisting the reality of dispossessed tribal communities and destruction of the environment and tribal traditions. The literary piece is as much an activist perspective of how to challenge the dominant structures of middle-class and upper-caste social machinery. The sexual aggressor Tehsildar is a wealthy land developer from the city.
Through a story of the primordial disempowerment of tribal women, it takes a half-tribal female who enjoys the independence brought about by her outcast status to somehow create and instigate a level playing field in the socioeconomic terrain of her land.
The story is a celebration of tribal traditions, too. The indigenous practices of tribes such as the gender-reversal ritual during the annual spring festival’s twelfth year still becomes a viable and opportune time to wield the tribal myth into a weapon that combats the oppression of contemporary times. The ritual is the fertile ground for the extraction of justice. The tribal sexual oppression may be Third World India but the story of gender justice is universal. Devi, like her protagonist Mary Oraon, challenges the colonial system of violence that is replete with repression and injustice