We have hundreds of stories of lovers sacrificing everything for their love but none parallel that of Madai Dubey or Madai Dom. Madai was a Brahmin who willingly gave up his caste and converted himself into a Dom for his ladylove Sugmona. In the stratified Hindu caste structure, where everyone aspires to go up the ladder, their tale is unique.
Madai Dubey was born in Salempur, a small village in Bhojpur district of Bihar, in a rich, orthodox Brahmin family. They had agricultural land on the outskirts of the village where Madai used to spend much of his time guarding the harvest. Beyond his farm was a cremation ground where Sugmona’s father served as a Dom. Doms as a caste were considered to be the lowest as they assisted in cremation and survived on the alms they received in return.
Everyday, Sugmona used to go through Madai’s farm taking lunch for her father. But since they belonged to two opposite social strata and class, Madai and Sugmona hardly had any communication between them. One day, it so happened that Sugmona, under a scorching summer sun, fainted near the hut of Madai Dubey. According to the prevalent social norms, Sugmona was untouchable. But Madai did not bother about the taboo. He brought her into shadow of his hut and saved her life by providing water and care.
This was the beginning of an affair that was to bloom into a unique love story comparable to that of Heer Ranjha or Sohni Mahiwal. Both started loving each other without caring for the rigid caste system of India and that too some 100 years ago!
The entire society stood up against them. The affair, according to social norms, was incongruous. The village and the Brahmin community strongly objected to a love between a Brahmin boy and a Dom girl. They pressured the family of Madai Dubey to force him out of the relationship and threatened to ostracise them. Hence, the family warned of disowning him and to write him off from any claim over his paternal property. But Madai refused to budge. Besides, he announced his decision to marry Sugmona. Maintaining a low caste woman as a concubine was common and almost an acceptable practice in those days but marriage between a Brahmin and a Dom? Impossible. His family members drove him away from the home. But nothing could force Madai to betray his love. This was one part of the episode.
The toughest test was yet to unfold. In Sugmona’s view, Madai was different from those young men of the upper caste who entertained themselves with the young girls of the poor and then discarded them. And she was right. He was sincere in his love and, despite being a Brahmin, had the courage to propose marriage with a Dom girl.
When Madai approached Sugmona’s father, he said the same thing. In his opinion, upper caste boys played with the chastity of low-born girls just to ruin them. Even when Madai replied that he wanted to marry Sugmona and had severed his relationship with his family, her father was not convinced. He said: “Sugmona is a Dom. She has been reared in the Dom culture which is totally different from that of a Brahmin. She eats non-vegetarian food and is in the habit of living with pigs. How can she feel comfortable with a Brahmin? Can you convert yourself into a Dom?”
Madai said, “Yes, I can.”
The Dom community too was against their marriage. The elders of the community put certain conditions before Madai and said that if he wanted to marry Sugmona, he would have to undergo a process of conversion into a Dom and would have to fulfil the following conditions:
— Eat non-vegetarian food — pork and mutton,
— Drink alcohol,
— Assist in the cremation of the dead as the Doms do,
— Beg in the village,
— Drink the water spoilt by Dom women after their bathing,
— Adopt pig rearing and bamboo cutting, i.e., the profession of the Doms.
Madai, born and brought up in an orthodox Brahmin culture, had never eaten non-vegetarian food, never taken alcohol and had that natural abhorrence for filthy water and dead bodies. But his love for Sugmona was greater than his inhibitions. He accepted the conditions and fulfilled all of them to win his lady love.
Finally, his conversion from the highest born to the lowest caste was solemnised with due rites. Not only that, he changed his name from Madai Dubey to Madai Dom. For the rest of his life he lived like a Dom in the Domtoli without ever repenting for his decision. Whenever anybody greeted him and paid reverence due to a Brahmin, he used to fold his hands with humility expected of a low-born and said, “No sir, I am not Madai Dubey anymore. I am Madai Dom, sir.”
Later on, he left his native village Salempur and shifted to Gajrajganj, another village in the same district as the Brahmin community there never forgave him for the ‘blot’ he had brought to the caste.
A British King abandoned his throne to marry a commoner. Shahjahan built Taj Mahal in the memory of his beloved. There are many who sang songs and sacrificed their lives for the sake of their love. Madai Dom built no Taj Mahal. He had no kingdom to abandon and he did not sing any songs but he sacrificed the cultural heritage he was born to, his ego and his class to dissolve his identity completely into his love.
It is difficult to believe that it is a real story and that such a lover did exist only a few decades ago. Madai showed the courage to stand up against the traditional shackles almost 100 years ago when the caste system was much more rigid than it is today.
The pair lived in love for the rest of their life and died around 1965 leaving their children who still live in Chhotki Sasaram village. But, alas, they do not have any grand memorial for their great parents.
(Dr. Kavita Arya is Assistant Professor, English, Arya Mahila PG College, Varanasi. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)