Ink & Papyrus - BLOG

Celebrating Dalit History Month: Anger and Justice

                        I am a venereal sore in the private part of language. The living spirit looking out of hundreds of thousands of sad, pitiful eyes Has shaken me. I am broken by the revolt exploding inside me. ...a venom-like cruelty spreads out from my monkey-bone. It’s clear and limpid: like the waters of the Narmada river...   - “Cruelty” by Namdeo Dhasal, in Dilip Chitre’s translation
  Dhasal’s poem belongs to a major literary movement that stood out due to its stark portrayal of the realities of Dalit lives. The term “Dalit” was popularized by Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar to describe the outcasts and untouchables who have been the victims of India’s caste-ridden society. Borne out of this oppression, Dalit literature emerged in the Marathi language in the 1960’s, and soon gained pan-India prominence in various literary forms such as poems, short stories, autobiographies, memoirs, etc. As the term ‘Dalit’ gained currency in the 1970’s by the Dalit Panther Movement of Maharashtra, it became more nuanced in its addressal—writers such as Namdeo Dhasal, Imayam, Shantabai Kamble, Daya Pawar, etc. use the term as a reminder of all the oppressed people in India. Their works seek to voice the anger of this oppression, the major concern of these writers being the liberation of their people from the caste-based subjugation. These works often allude to the ideas of Ambedkar, elaborating on his discussions with Gandhi that mark the beginning of a new social movement in India. Dalit history month is celebrated by the Dalit community in April to note the birth anniversaries of two great leaders—B.R. Ambedkar and Jyotirao Phule. Let us look at some books that deal with the issues of caste oppression and Dalit anger this week:   Beasts of Burden by Imayam is an intimate portrayal of a Mahadalit family. He has won many awards for his work, including the Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers Forum Award (1994) and the Sahitya Akademi Award (2020). His work continues to be thought-provoking for its depiction of caste oppression within Dalit communities. Beasts of Burden portrays the difficulties that an impoverished family of bonded agricultural labourers goes through while trying to adapt to modernity in a time of diminishing circumstances.     Samboli! is an autobiography by the social activist Lakshman, which documents his efforts to redeem his self-worth by redeeming the self-worth of his people. Autobiographies are typical of Dalit literature; indeed, some of the well-received works of Dalit literature are autobiographical in nature. Samboli! is yet another addition to the growing body of texts that have developed into a distinct genre of ‘self-writing’. The narrative is infused with rich details and images, steeped in the dialect of the Dalit community. In a conference organized by Sahitya Akademi in New Delhi, Imayam noted the differential treatment that Dalit writers face in interviews and conferences, where they are asked questions pertaining to their primary education, family, and the suffering they have faced in life. This focus on the writers’ life challenges forces them to adopt the autobiographical mode of narration. The forthcoming title Two and a Half Rivers by Anirudh Kala does not necessarily talk about the Dalit experience, in that the book mainly deals with the “Punjab Problem” of dead bodies appearing in increasingly unlikely places. Caught in this vortex, however, is a young Dalit girl named Shamsie and her Beau Bheem, who elope to Bombay in an attempt to leave behind their caste-based identity. The novel offers a poignant commentary on the turbulent connection that revolution and religion have. Without essentially turning into a Dalit narrative, it also delves into the problems of caste-based oppression in Indian society. By vividly describing and analyzing the contemporary workings of caste power, these works resist the reduction of caste to a hidden aspect of society, exposing it through the power of shock value. At the same time, works such as Dhasal’s poem, quoted at the beginning, force us to question the idea of justice in a society where millions are forced to stay at the bottom of the social strata to serve those at the top.  
Madulika | 14-Apr-2021