The Storeyed House by Waman Hoval seeps into the heart of all and touches that part of sensitivity which knows how incorrect it is to afflict the lower section of the society for no reason at all. Having taken birth in a Dalit society does not snatch away the right to live properly. A human being has the right to live according to one‘s desire; no caste system should interfere into it. But the Indian society, with all its repercussions, continues with the same trend where the reins are in the hands of the upper caste and the Dalit is treated just like an animal under their control.
The story endeavours to capture pragmatically the Dalit predicament recounting to identity crisis and consciousness. Bayaji, a Dalit, had left his native village to work as a labourer in the dockyard of Bombay. Having reached the age of retirement at sixty, he collects his life savings to settle down in his ancestral village. He has imbibed many new ideas through the three decades of his stay in the metropolitan city of Bombay. And he was also enthusiastic in demonstrating to his village community that he has been doing well in the far off place and was successful in life. He wanted to use his life savings into something that he had always wished for his family. With boldness and pride he announced his plan to his children – ‘Look, children, ours is such a large family. Even at mealtime we have to eat by turns or sit crowded, knocking our knees together and wish to build a house out of my earnings and it has to be a storeyed house; the usual three-portioned house won‘t be adequate for us.‘ Throughout the pain of staying clumsily forces Bayaji to take such a decision and he feels that more space in the house will give them the comfort of staying. It is just a common desire and hardly does he know that this ordinary gesture of his might change his fate altogether.
Hearing the decision of Bayaji, the family is overjoyed. The plans are drawn up and the foundation of ̳the storeyed house‘ is laid on an auspicious day. But the news of the storeyed house is not received well by Kondiba Patil, the ‘high caste‘ headman of the village as his was the only storeyed house and no one can even imagine of building the other. And the fact that a Dalit is even thinking of building one equal to his own is not only an insult to his status, but also a devaluation of the accepted form of social hierarchy. Others among the caste community join Patil by murmuring that ̳the untouchables were forgetting their position.‘ The message is absolutely clear and Patil even warns Bayaji in no uncertain terms – ‘You may go for a storeyed house only if you don‘t wish to stay in the village and hope you know what I mean‘. And to make his supremacy felt and emphasize his words he continues with ‘This untouchable worm has got a swollen head. He needs proper handling.‘
But Bayaji sticks to his pronouncement and carries out his efforts in the building of the new storeyed house. After the house is complete Bayaji keeps a house warming celebration and invites everyone of the village to be a part of the happy occasion. Guests throng in and Bayaji is very excited about the arrangements he has done for his guests. While the celebration starts winding down in the early hours of the morning, suddenly Bayaji‘s house is on fire from all sides. Bayaji is hysterical and he runs here and there and then to the first floor to save the pictures of Lord Buddha and the Dalit heroes. Throughout he keeps screaming, ̳My house, my storeyed house! It‘s on tire. My enemy has taken revenge on me.‘ In trying to save the frames of his heroes from being engulfed into the fire, he is badly burnt. His sons surround him and hear him murmur his last words of instruction to them – ‘Sons I want you to build a storeyed house. I have no other wish.‘ To have a storeyed house is his only dream and fascination as he wanted to live a life with no scarcity of space and no congestion. But his enthralment is not eyed well by the upper caste members of the village and his dream unfortunately is shattered into pieces. But even on his death bed he doesn‘t lose hope and expresses his wish to his sons and desires fulfilment of it from them.
The police inquiry is made and the verdict is announced: the fire is caused accidentally by a petromax lantern. Strange are the ways of the society where money and power can win over everything. Even at such instances the cause of death remains unanswered and the culprit finds his own way to escape the bars of prison. After the funeral, while all are resting, Bayaji‘s sons come out with the spade, baskets, a pickaxe and a hoe and start working on the field where the ashes of the old house still remain. When the others want to know the reason behind and question them to know what they are doing, the eldest son replies, ‘We‘re starting on a house, not one with a concealed first floor but a regular two-storeyed house.‘ Bayaji had at least understood the gravity of caste distinction and had decided to make a concealed second floor. But when his wishes are thrashed and Bayaji is killed, having pronounced his only wish to his sons, the sons become coarse in attitude and determined in action. Openly they now want to face the challenges of the caste order. They do not want to conceal the floor any more but openly build a two-storey house.
In Hoval‘s story, for a Patil, the construction of a storeyed house by a Dalit is a symbolic assault on the horde of financial, social, cultural and political privileges which the Hindu society bestows on him as a representative of the caste community. But while the general eminence that Patil benefits from may have had sacred permission, the associations of this to caste privilege are hindered in uncertainty. In the eyes of the caste communities, what Bayaji does represents a destabilization of a whole hierarchical world order that is concretely lived out in the real world of power relationships. The fundamental right of the Dalits to create their own identity in sovereignty and solemnity is completely smeared out by the upper castes. Violation, thus, of the human rights of the Dalits to shelter liberty, equality and fraternity is a serious transgression.