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Books > History > Poisoned Bread (Modern Marathi Dalit Literature)
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Poisoned Bread (Modern Marathi Dalit Literature)
Poisoned Bread (Modern Marathi Dalit Literature)
Description

Back of the Book

Silenced for centuries by casts prejudice and social oppression, the Dalits of Maharashtra have, in the last sixty years, found a powerful voice in Marathi literature. The revolutionary social movement launched by their leader, Dr Ambedkar, was paralleled by a wave of writing that exploded in poetry, prose, fiction and autobiography of a raw vigour, maturity, depth and richness of content, and shocking in its exposition of the bitterness of their experiences. One is jolted too, by the quality of writing of a group denied access for long ages to any literary tradition.

When published in 1992, Poisoned Bread was the first anthology of Dalit literature. The writers-more than eighty of them-presented here in English translations, are nearly all of the most prominent figures in Marathi Dalit literature, who have contributed to this unique literary phenomenon.

This new edition includes an essay by Gail Omvedt, a distinguished scholar-activist working with new social movements, Omvedt, who has been actively involved in anti-caste campaigns since the 19705, lives and works in Maharashtra.

About the Author

Arjun Dangle, born in Mumbai in 1945, is an important name in the politics and literature of Maharashtra. A founder member of the militant Dalit youth organisation, the Dalit Panthers, he has also been the president of the State Unit of the Bharatiya Republican Party of India.

Dandle's poetry, essays and short stories, published to critical acclaim, have been translated into several India and foreign language.

Preface

So said Dr B. R. Ambedkar in the conclusion of his 25 December1927 speech at Mahad Satyagraha. It was a day that was concluded with the burning of the symbol of brahminic slavery, the Manusmriti: a day still celebrated in many parts of India as manavmukti din. The entire event had been organised by a local committee headed by a team led by a Mahar mechanic, Sambhaji Tukaram Gaikwad, with a supporting group of young Kayasthas, while the burning itself was at the hands of a Brahmin, Sahrasrabudhe, a man who had called Ambedkar his guru and defied his own family's boycott to be a lifelong part of the Dalit movement. The revolt, in other words, though led by Mahars, was a broad one and later Kunbi (middle caste) tenants joined with the Dalits in the anti-landlord movement which Ambedkar led in the area.

Ambedkar himself called the Mahad satyagraha the beginning of the 'untouchable liberation movement,' and his speech is included in this collection of Marathi Dalit 'literature of revolt' in the 1970s and 1980s because this path-breaking cultural movement takes its inspiration from him. Unlike his predecessor Jyotiba Phule, Ambedkar himself wrote no poetry or short stories, and communicated to the masses only through his speeches. But it was Ambedkar's spirit of revolt, his modernism (identified in this speech with the French Revolution) and his rationalism which provided the philosophical context of the new Marathi Dalit literature.

There were of course predecessors to what emerged as Dalit literature in the 1970s. These have been described in Arjun Dangle's essay and we can note their significance. Aside from pre-20th century writings-Buddhist literature, radical bhakti literature, Phule's own writings and the early writers from the Mahar community-there were several important trends in the era immediately after Ambedkar's death:

First, there were the popular communicators. The Ambedkarite jalsas or wandering street performances, modeled on the tamasha and on earlier movement forms such as satyashodhak jalsas which had begun in Ambedkar's own time. Following his death it was above all the balladeer Waman Kardak who took the message of revolt, education, and caste-class struggle to the masses.

Parallel in time to Ambedkar's own movement and to the work of Kardak and the jalsas, occasionally joining it, often at odds with it, was the leftist cultural movement, linked to the Communist Party. It is significant that the most powerful voice in this was a singer and writer from a dalit community, the Matang Anna Bhau Sathe. Anna Bhau's novels were romantic and powerful stories centered on Dalits and others of the poor-novels that have not been matched by later writing, novels that even today people grab eagerly to read. His powadas or ballads on Mumbai working class life and the sorrows of workers who had to leave their families in the village were equally evocative. However, due to his communist connections, he could write little directly on caste until the brief political unity of communists with Ambedkar's Reublican Party in the movement for a united Maharashtra state. It was then that Anna Bhau wrote the famous song included in this collection, 'Take a hammer to change the world!'

Others who came into prominence due to their art of the Marxist trend include Narayan Surve, a kind of Dalit in so far that he was a foundling brought up in a Maratha family. Surve's poetry and songs (one, 'My field in the hills' is still sung in the women's movement today) were powerful. Bhaskarrao Jadhav, a Mahar who joined the communist movement (and so was never considered part of dalit literature-in fact, in the face of the hostility between Dalits and Marxists during his time, he had to run away from his home to do so!) is also of this era.

Adivasi poetry took some inspiration from Dalit poetry, some from the left movement, but it was a parallel phenomenon; Adivasis could never identify with Ambedkar but found their icons instead in heroes of revolt such as Birsa Munda. Left imagery is used in the poem by Vaharu Sonavane included here.

These precursor movements climaxed with one brilliant writer who united both the left and dalit revolts: Babaurao Bagul, a Mahar who was a member of the Communist Party, Two collections of Baguls' short stories aroused a storm in Marathi literature in the late 1960s and it was Bagul who provided the inspiration and leadership for the first gatherings of the young writers, Namdev Dhasal and others "who spearheaded both the Dalit Panthers (formed in 1972) and the poetry that erupted during the period 1972-8. Bagul's work has spanned the entire period and is represented in this collection by two short stories and a poem that is the most famous expression of a theme found in other poems. One story (by Avinash Dolas) in this collection, stated first in a famous statement by Ambedkar to Gandhi, 'Mahatma, I have no country' also reflects the same theme.

It was on the background of these streams of literary expression that the first major voice of anger and revolt by the new generation of Dalits came-Namdev Dhasal's Golpitha (1972), a collection of poetry taking its name from the red-light district of Mumbai. Following Golpitha, and with the birth of the Dalit Panthers in 1973 came a flood of poetry.

The birth of the Panthers illustrates the situation. The Panthers themselves were born out of a war of uniting words and protest actions. A group of newly educated Mahar youth, gathering for discussions with Bagul and others, had already organised a protest march. Then, at the inauguration of Golpitha the chief guest, a well known writer named Durgabai Bhagwat, remarked in her speech that prostitution was a useful service to society and another hotheaded young poet, Raja Dhale, responded with the remark that this meant that Durgabai wanted respect for the profession but 'prostitutes should remain prostitutes.' In fact these words were only an echo of what some members of Gandhian youth were proclaiming: that caste work should be respected but people should continue to do it as their swadharma. Said Dhale then, 'If Durgabai thinks the profession is so respectable, why doesn't she do it herself?' It was not an abstract issue for the young writers who came out of a social background where their sisters and mothers were often forced into such work. But Dhale repeated this in print along with a tirade against the reality of people being fined as much for 'dishonouring the national flag' as for rape of dalit women: 'what kind of nation is this that we can respect?!' The article was one for a special issue on Dalit problems of a Pune-published socialist magazine, Sadhana. The result was an outburst of anger from the Pune elite, who controlled the media, and apologies by the eminent socialists associated with the magazine. In response to this, the defiant Dalit youth came out with another march in the heart of brahminical Pune, and unfolded the banner of a Panther. The inspiration from the U. S. A. Black movement was not accidental; it had been there since Phule's time; was repeated when Ambedkar chose the Republican Party and its elephant as his last political party (the symbol of the ending of African American slavery); this long-held identification had been somewhat earlier awakened in their consciousness by the speech of a professor who had been to the U. S. A.

Such was the sparking incident. The Dalit Panthers, an expression of opposition to the Dalit and Congress socio-political establishment which were doing nothing to end atrocities and the new fierce, militant and innovative poetry arose together. The poetry was supported first by Bagul's magazine Ahmi, then by a longer-lived magazine devoted to Dalit literature, Gangadhar Pantavane's Asmitadarsh and finally by a publishing house, Sugawa. It was followed by a set of powerful autobiographies as the young writers turned to recounting their own lives; these autobiographies have included not only the most educated and outspoken, the Mahars, but also writers from nomadic tribes, 'begging' castes, castes which were stigmatised and forced into thievery (expressed in the later autobiography of Laxman Gaikwad, Uchalya) and many others. The era of this literature, lasting from the end of the 1960s to about the middle 1980s, might be called the 'golden age' of modern Marathi Dalit literature. It was also accompanied by the beginnings of Dalit art-for the covers of the booklets of poetry that were published were often works of art in themselves, an art that later gained fame with the paintings of people such as Savi Savarkar, who has worked and was educated in Mexico and now teaches at Delhi University. There have also been numerous translations in English, spearheaded first by an American historian, Eleanor Zelliot, then by many others. Dalit literature in fact appeared in the syllabi of many literature classes in the U. S. A. before it was included in the Indian syllabus; and with translations into French, German, Korean and others, it has now acquired world-wide fame.

This new literature of revolt, dalit literature, saw itself as an alternative to the established, dead, middle-class and brahminic Marathi literature-the 'literature of the 3'% as it was mockingly called, in reference to the proportion of Brahmins among the Marathi-speaking population. Its rise provoked a good deal of literary criticism, and comparisons with Black (or African American) literature in the U. S. A. and elsewhere. (Waghltlare's article illustrates this, though some of his comments, and those of Kasbe also show a mistaken tendency to see 'black' and 'white' as fixed, biological characteristics in contrast to 'socially defined' caste). Following the flourishing of dalit literature in Marathi, both the literature and the Panther rebellion helped give inspiration to Dalit literature and assertion beyond Maharashtra.

There were several important characteristics we might note of this literature which remain significant today. It was a literature which expressed grinding poverty and often misery-and yet it reflected pride in the way in which people had survived and sometimes fought under these conditions. Anna Bhau Sathe's romanticised heroes were there; but so were the 'fierce black Mahars' remembered by Daya Pawar in the first extract from his autobiography and by other writers. Other themes pervading the writings collected here include the image of the oppressed mother, the toiling father, both often pushing the son (not so often, sadly, the daughter) to education in spite of grinding poverty; the vulnerability to violence in the form of rape, casual beatings and more vicious atrocities. A new way of seeing appears even in the Buddhist poems. Notable here is Hira Bansode's 'Yashoda,' a poem on the wife of the Buddha-to-be that a Thai Buddhist Once told me 'would be considered heretical in my country!'

However, one of the most significant themes was the forced and humiliating labour represented by caste-based 'duties'-in the case of the Mahars this was in particular the carrying away of dead cattle.

Daya Pawar's autobiographical excerpt illustrates the problem. His fierce Mahars were fighting for their 'rights'; their traditional village struggles centered around 'rights' and 'duties'-the 'rights' of Mahars to a share in the harvest and other Small usually symbolic concessions in return for carrying out their caste duties-dharma or swadharma in traditional terms. Such 'rights/duties' have in reality been the form of bondage of the subordinate castes in the brahminic social system. Describing these, the pain they have caused and rejection of that pain has been an ongoing theme of the literature and of the struggles.  Yet it took an internal struggle to recognize these as bondage. Ambedkar himself, who realised and stressed that 'the slave has to be made conscious of his slavery' had to initiate a movement and strong propaganda with it to end the Mahar vatan; in the process he himself told a story:

A former landlord and his wife, having lost their land and unwilling to put aside their pride and work, could be seen wandering the village, forlorn and hungry yet showing a haughty demeanor. Yet in spite of their obvious poverty, they managed to feed a friend who visited them with great honor, telling him, 'No, no we've already eaten.' The friend, wondering how they managed, could not sleep. In the middle of the night he saw the couple get up, go to a drumstick tree in their courtyard, snap off some of the vegetables, cook and eat them. Seeing this, the friend got up, waited unit they had slept, cut down the tree and left. Two months later, when he returned he saw them healthy from labour and food. They thanked him profusely-'You broke our bondage! We had to work! It's better.

Caste-feudal bondage, however sweetened, is slavery. The mental slavery that lay behind seeing such bondage as a 'right', as Ambedkar pointed out time and time again, was what was holding back dalits and other subordinated castes. The same message is presented powerfully in an African American movie, The Great Debaters. The hero, Denzil Washington, tells his students, after describing graphic atrocities against slaves, they found a better way to keep slaves: feed the slave, keep his body, but take his mind. You've lost your minds. I'm here to give you back your minds!' If Dalits throughout India today revere Ambedkar, it is because he had played that role in their lives-giving them 'minds' to understand and move ahead with.

Yet the incompleteness of this democratic revolution remains stark. The painful reality remains that the renunciation of mental bondage and freedom from the 'forced labour' of caste dharma in India is still only partial. The Mahars of Maharashtra today no longer perform their traditional duties. But similar degrading, filthy and dangerous caste 'duties' continue to exist throughout India, most notably the cleaning of latrines and sewers by the castes known as Bhangis. The greatest shame of India today is the public unwillingness to do away with this degrading task and its assignment to specific birth-defined groups in society. Humans born in a particular caste are still enslaved to excrement in villages where it is a 'private' matter, in modern incorporated cities which continue to rely on human removal of sewage, in the railways financed by government and finally in pilgrimage places such as the Kumbh Mela and the Varkari pilgrimage at Pandharpur where crores of rupees which are donated for pilgrims by state and central governments fail to provide for any modern toilet facilities.

The literary revolution itself remains incomplete. This Dalit literature of the 1970s, and 1980s, reproduced in this collection, called in its day for a new beginning for Marathi literature, and Dalit literature in other Indian languages have represented the same challenge.

Yet, the reality is that, after the first efflorescence, the early promise of Dalit literature in Marathi has withered. Autobiographies continue to appear and poems and a few novels still come out now and then, but that is all. Neither the novels nor the occasional short stories, after those of Baburao Bagul and Anna Bhau Sathe, have been very successful. Modern Marathi Dalit literature has stagnated; and while there has been an upsurge in other Indian languages (including a notable novel by the Tamil woman writer, Bama), Dalit literature throughout also seem to have remained at crossroads.

This may be only part of a general phenomenon of Indian literature; Marathi and other vernacular languages appear to be caught in a kind of impasse as far as novels, plays and history writing are concerned. The great names of Marathi literature are in the past. Is the same true in other Indian languages? If so, this is happening even as 'Indian' writers (mostly, if not always, living abroad) are producing award-winning English language novels. Is this a result of 'globalisation' attack on vernacular languages, or is the cause deeper than that, linked finally to failures of an educational system that teaches only note-taking. Gives little scope for learning and practicing writing-whether in a mother tongue or in the more prestigious English?

As for Indian-written English novels, some-notably Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things-have fashioned Dalit protagonists and taken socially delicate, even 'forbidden' topics ( such as the love affair between a Dalit boy and upper caste girl, incest, etc) as their themes-just as Dalit literature in its time touched on the shadier and more shameful sides of sexuality. But Roy's hero Velutha is romanticised and is a bit unreal. Furthermore, neither Dalits nor OBCs-Other Backword Class (who have often been behind Dalits-intellectually, at least) have been in a social position to produce English language literature. Roy's navel ends in tragedy. This is not social realism, but a clever use of powerful themes. It might be argued, then, that the crisis of Dalit literature in Maharashtra-and in much of India-is a general literary crisis.

There are some problems specific to Dalit literature, though. Among these, the most important is that of identity itself and this is related to the fragmentation that is integral to the caste system, in contrast to the solidarity involved in Black/African American and other minority assertion in the U. S. A. and elsewhere. Dalit was originally given, both by the Panthers and by others of the time, a broad meaning-all the oppressed-at least all those socially and religious oppressed by the caste system as well as by class. In actuality, it was used primarily for those classified as scheduled castes, the very lowest in the traditional caste hierarchy-assuming Adivasis or tribals in be outside that hierarchy. But even here it has become problematic.

Today, though the word Dalit remains the most recognisable word at national level, it is probably true that the majority of people classified as scheduled caste reject it for self-identification. It is rejected for varying reasons. In some cases, as among the new Buddhisis of Maharashtra (mainly, but by no means uniquely, Mahars), Dalit is felt to be negative and confining, while being Buddhists gives a broader, positive and humane identity. At the same time, the differences among scheduled castes have become stark, negating any unity that might be expressed in the use of words like Dalit. In almost every region of India, there are a multitude of castes who were originally considered untouchable and are now classed as scheduled castes; of these, there are generally two large communities, one more educated and first to organise, the other more backward in educational and economic terms. The second group is now mobilising, often in opposition to the first group. The conflict between Malas and Madigas of Andhra has now become notorious; but there are also the Chuhra/Bhangi groups of the north and west, who identify themselves mostly as Valmikis, the Matangs of Maharashtra and others. In most cases the latter group is wooed by various Hindu forces to identify themselves as Hindus, not Buddhists. In Tamil Nadu, the two largest groups have been the one-time Paraiyas and Pallars; the first may call themselves Dalits and frequently identify as Buddhist; the second are taking the name DKVs, Devendra Kula Vanniyar.

Along with the growing hostility between Dalits and OBCs, these differences have made the very term Dalit a symbol of broad revolt problematic.

What then, lies ahead for Dalit literature? This is a question for a new generation, which is already thinking and learning.

This collection records the powerful and rebellious literary expression of such a generation: that of the 1970s and 80s.

Introduction

A unique feature of Indian society is its composition on the basis of caste. A number of Indian and foreign sociologists have put forward theories on the class and caste systems. While space does not permit me to discuss all these theories even briefly, it will be appropriate to present the views of Dr B. R. Ambedkar (1891- 1956), the father of the Indian Constitution. A Dalit himself, he led a fierce struggle for his caste-fellows' rights.

According to the ancient dharmashastras (religious texts) of the Hindus, there were only four varnas (classes). The Brahmins were priests; the Kshatriyas, warriors; the Vaishyas, traders and the Shudras, skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled labourers doing menial work. This hierarchy is primarily a class system and the development of a society based on class is a world-wide phenomenon.

Dr Ambedkar has traced the development of the caste system in his works Castes in lndia-Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development (1916). Annihilation of Caste (1936) and Who were the Shudras? (1948). In his opinion, Hindu society in the early stages was divided on the basis of class, as had happened the world over.

Later, according to Dr Ambedkar, each of these classes became an enclosed unit, accessible only by birth; in other words, a caste. This development was unique to India. The first to enclose themselves were the priests or Brahmins; soon this exclusivity spread to the other classes too. Dr Ambedkar describes the process as the infection of imitation. He rejects the commonly held view that castes were created by God, or that the caste system evolved as the result of a special evolution of Indian society.

Many researchers have been tempted to credit the origin of the caste system to the sage Manu because Manusmriti, a religious text attributed to the sage, justifies the caste system. Commenting on this view, Dr Ambedkar states that castes existed even before Manu who was merely an ardent supporter who canonised the institution, and not the originator, of the system.

Dr Ambedkar realised that to understand the development of the caste system it is necessary to view it as a part of the conditions prevailing at the time and not associate it with religion. He writes: 'Preaching did not make the caste system nor will it unmake it.

While the four castes-Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras-came to be developed following particular conditions, the caste system and later the class system were given religious sanction in the Hindu texts which were written by the Brahmins. The texts emphasised that the class system was God-made and not man-made. The Brahmins spread the theory that they themselves were born from the mouth of Brahma, the Kshatriyas from his shoulders, the Vaishyas from his thighs and the Shudras from his feet. Hence the Brahmins were the most superior, next came the Kshatriyas, and so on. Theories such as this were put forth in the Rigveda which was again claimed to be God-made.

The social, political, economic and religious restrictions laid down by the Brahmins in their religious texts were implemented by the kings or the Kshatriyas. Thus, to follow the duties allotted to a particular caste in the texts became not only a religious obligation but also obedience to a royal order. In other words, religion and the State joined hands and bound the lowest class namely the Shudras into mental, cultural and social slavery and later into untouchability.

The living conditions of these untouchables were shameful. They had no land to till nor could they follow any profession. They did menial work ordered by the higher castes, come rain or shine. Treated like animals, they lived apart from the village, and had to accept leftovers from the higher caste people, in return for their endless toil. Their physical contact was said to 'pollute' the upper castes-even their shadow was said to have the same effect. Hindu religious texts forbade them to wear good clothes or ornaments or even footwear, and prescribed severe and humiliating punishment for violating these orders. Even for a basic necessity like water they were helplessly dependent on the higher castes' good will. The most perverted practice of untouchability was that which at one time compelled the untouchables to tie an earthen pot around their necks so that their sputum should not fall to the earth and pollute it. Another was the compulsion to tie a broom behind them so that their footprints would be erased before others set their eyes on them.

The caste system in India was based on exploitation. An exploiting system always adheres to the philosophy or system which is most favourable to it, while other systems are either destroyed or corrupted. Social inequality and untouchability were convenient, indeed necessary for the earlier rulers, and were hence retained. Religious sanction was perpetuated and the cultural development and philosophy that supported the exploitation were encouraged to flourish. All revolts against untouchability or social inequality failed.

Thus the untouchables lived a life full of poverty, starvation, ignorance, insults, injustice, atrocities-practices totally against humanity. The only thing available to them in plenty was their wretchedness and this was so mingled with every drop of their blood that they forgot their own existence and could hardly dream of freedom or independence. This condition prevailed till the British came to India.

Arrival of the British

The arrival of the British and their establishment as rulers in India severely jolted the social system in India. The British brought with them new knowledge, technology and production processes which in turn led to industrialisation. Most importantly, a new, codified legal system replaced the old one dominated by religious restrictions. With the introduction of English and its spread, a new class of literates began to grow.

Human relations began to be examined in the light of ethical values and by the touchstone of scientific enquiry. The work of social reconstruction gained momentum.

A generation of social reformers came into being during the early days of the British rule. However, their reforms were restricted to evils such as child marriage and superstition, that too among the higher classes of society, that is the Brahmins. While the restricted scope of their reforms was excusable in the early days of social awakening and social reconstruction, it cannot be denied that these reformers were intimidated by religion-based values and by those who jealously guarded these values.

But even in such times there was born a man-Mahatma Jyotiba Phule (1828-1890)-who was not intimidated but ruthlessly examined Hindu religion, fiercely attacked those who supported caste superiority and strongly maintained that the backward classes, untouchables and women in the country must be freed from slavery and be allowed to live a life of dignity.

The credit for taking the brilliant, aggressive ideology of Mahatma Phule one step further and rendering it even more brilliant goes to Dr Bheemrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956).

Dr Ambedkar, Father of Dalit Literature

It is significant that Dalit literature owes its origin to a revolutionary struggle for social and economic change. This explains the various aspects of serious thought in Dalit literature. This literature is closely associated with the hopes for freedom of a group of people who as untouchables are victims of social, economic and cultural inequality. Their literature is thus characterised by a feeling of rebellion against the establishment, of negativism and scientificity. Studying Dalit literature or the role of this literature from only a literary or an academic point of view fails to present a complete perspective in assessing it. Dalit literature must be assessed in the sociological framework. This overall perspective has been conspicuously absent in the review of Dalit literature so far.

A number of researchers have attempted to trace the origins of the Dalit literary movement. Some trace it back to the Buddhist period. For some the originator is the saint-poet Chokhamela (14th C AD). Some give the credit to Mahatma Phule (1828-90) and some to Professor S. M. Mate (1886-1957). The researchers maintain that though the term 'Dalit literature' did not exist during this period, concern for Dalits and about the injustice meted to them is first reflected in the writings of these authors and so they can be called pioneers of the Dalit literary movement.

These statements stretch logic too far. While both Gautam Buddha and Mahatma Phule revolted against the unjust class structure and while it is true their teachings and ideas are inspiring even today, a historical and objective examination of the situation reveals that it was Dr Ambedkar who was the enabling factor in Dalit literature because of his ideas, outlook towards life and his struggle to achieve what he felt just.

The history of Marathi literature indicates that the credit for any new literary stream is given to an author of imaginative literature. In that sense Dr Ambedkar has not done any creative writing. His writing in Marathi is limited to serious articles in some of his own Marathi periodicals like Mukanayak, Bahishkrut, Janata and Prabuddha Bharat, though his major serious writing is in English.

However, through his struggle against untouchability and socioeconomic inequality, he liberated the Dalits in India from mental slavery and abject wretchedness, thus giving them a new self-respect. It is not possible here to trace the entire history of his struggle against social injustice, but the extent of his authority can be well estimated from the fact that his foes included both the British rulers and the Indian National Congress influenced by Mahatma Gandhi.

The Dalit literary movement has today reached various part of India and the literature is now growing in almost all Indian languages. Yet it is no coincidence that its beginning took place in the Marathi language in Maharashtra. Dr Ambedkar was from Maharashtra and the Dalit multitudes there supported him fearlessly and loyally. Dr Ambedkar shaped the tradition of revolutionary thinking of almost a generation of Dalits, who can today hold their heads high thanks to him. The literary manifestation of this social awareness is Dalit literature.

Contents

Contents

 

Literature of Revolt

ix

Dalit Literature Past, Present  and Future

xix

Poetry

 

To Be or Not To be Born

3

Take a Hummer to Change the World

5

That Single Arm

6

Poetry Reading

7

Song

10

Send My Boy to School

11

In Our Colony

13

The Sky with its Eyes Closed

15

Yesterday They have Announced

16

An Ultimatum

18

My Father

20

In the Lush Green Jungle

25

Caves

26

Exhalation

27

No Entry for the New Sun

28

The Unfed Begging Bowl

30

Wall

31

Harvest

33

Tathagata: Two Poems

34

Yashodhara

36

To Dear Aana

38

His House

39

Experiment

41

Mother

43

This Country is Broken

45

The Stains of Blood

46

I will Belong to it

47

Birds in Prison

49

Hunger

50

On a Desolate Night like This

54

Labour Pains

55

Amen

56

Winds

58

Shroud

59

The Death-Doomed March

61

Light Melted in Darkness

62

Which Language should I Speak?

63

The Search

64

Under Dadar Bridge

65

It is Not Binding on Us to Undertake this Journey

69

How?

71

Blood-wave

72

White Paper

74

A Poem

76

Mute Existence

77

Ancient Mother Mine

79

Habit

80

You who have Made the Mistake

81

Autobiographical Extracts

 

A Corpse in the Well

85

Son, Eat your Fill'

91

We are Kings!'

98

NajaGoes to School-and Doesn't

106

The Story of My 'Sanskrit'

110

The Bone Merchant

123

The Bastard

130

The Stragglers

143

This Too shall Pass

156

Short Stories

 

The Poisoned Bread

167

The Storeyed House

176

Explosion

185

Promotion

191

Livelihood

197

Mother

209

The Cull

219

Barriers

226

Gold from the Grave

241

The Refugee

248

Essays and Speeches

 

Dr  Ambedkar's Speech at Mahad

257

What is Dalit Literature?

270

Dalit Literature is but Human Literature

274

Some Issues Before Dalit Literature

295

Dalit Feeling and Aesthetic Detachment

304

Black Literature and Dalit Literature

312

Friend, The Day of Irresponsible Writers is Over

322

Glossary

335

 

Sample Pages
















Poisoned Bread (Modern Marathi Dalit Literature)

Item Code:
NAF979
Cover:
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Edition:
2009
Publisher:
ISBN:
9788125037545
Language:
English
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8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Pages:
392
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Weight of the Book: 430 gms
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Poisoned Bread (Modern Marathi Dalit Literature)

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Back of the Book

Silenced for centuries by casts prejudice and social oppression, the Dalits of Maharashtra have, in the last sixty years, found a powerful voice in Marathi literature. The revolutionary social movement launched by their leader, Dr Ambedkar, was paralleled by a wave of writing that exploded in poetry, prose, fiction and autobiography of a raw vigour, maturity, depth and richness of content, and shocking in its exposition of the bitterness of their experiences. One is jolted too, by the quality of writing of a group denied access for long ages to any literary tradition.

When published in 1992, Poisoned Bread was the first anthology of Dalit literature. The writers-more than eighty of them-presented here in English translations, are nearly all of the most prominent figures in Marathi Dalit literature, who have contributed to this unique literary phenomenon.

This new edition includes an essay by Gail Omvedt, a distinguished scholar-activist working with new social movements, Omvedt, who has been actively involved in anti-caste campaigns since the 19705, lives and works in Maharashtra.

About the Author

Arjun Dangle, born in Mumbai in 1945, is an important name in the politics and literature of Maharashtra. A founder member of the militant Dalit youth organisation, the Dalit Panthers, he has also been the president of the State Unit of the Bharatiya Republican Party of India.

Dandle's poetry, essays and short stories, published to critical acclaim, have been translated into several India and foreign language.

Preface

So said Dr B. R. Ambedkar in the conclusion of his 25 December1927 speech at Mahad Satyagraha. It was a day that was concluded with the burning of the symbol of brahminic slavery, the Manusmriti: a day still celebrated in many parts of India as manavmukti din. The entire event had been organised by a local committee headed by a team led by a Mahar mechanic, Sambhaji Tukaram Gaikwad, with a supporting group of young Kayasthas, while the burning itself was at the hands of a Brahmin, Sahrasrabudhe, a man who had called Ambedkar his guru and defied his own family's boycott to be a lifelong part of the Dalit movement. The revolt, in other words, though led by Mahars, was a broad one and later Kunbi (middle caste) tenants joined with the Dalits in the anti-landlord movement which Ambedkar led in the area.

Ambedkar himself called the Mahad satyagraha the beginning of the 'untouchable liberation movement,' and his speech is included in this collection of Marathi Dalit 'literature of revolt' in the 1970s and 1980s because this path-breaking cultural movement takes its inspiration from him. Unlike his predecessor Jyotiba Phule, Ambedkar himself wrote no poetry or short stories, and communicated to the masses only through his speeches. But it was Ambedkar's spirit of revolt, his modernism (identified in this speech with the French Revolution) and his rationalism which provided the philosophical context of the new Marathi Dalit literature.

There were of course predecessors to what emerged as Dalit literature in the 1970s. These have been described in Arjun Dangle's essay and we can note their significance. Aside from pre-20th century writings-Buddhist literature, radical bhakti literature, Phule's own writings and the early writers from the Mahar community-there were several important trends in the era immediately after Ambedkar's death:

First, there were the popular communicators. The Ambedkarite jalsas or wandering street performances, modeled on the tamasha and on earlier movement forms such as satyashodhak jalsas which had begun in Ambedkar's own time. Following his death it was above all the balladeer Waman Kardak who took the message of revolt, education, and caste-class struggle to the masses.

Parallel in time to Ambedkar's own movement and to the work of Kardak and the jalsas, occasionally joining it, often at odds with it, was the leftist cultural movement, linked to the Communist Party. It is significant that the most powerful voice in this was a singer and writer from a dalit community, the Matang Anna Bhau Sathe. Anna Bhau's novels were romantic and powerful stories centered on Dalits and others of the poor-novels that have not been matched by later writing, novels that even today people grab eagerly to read. His powadas or ballads on Mumbai working class life and the sorrows of workers who had to leave their families in the village were equally evocative. However, due to his communist connections, he could write little directly on caste until the brief political unity of communists with Ambedkar's Reublican Party in the movement for a united Maharashtra state. It was then that Anna Bhau wrote the famous song included in this collection, 'Take a hammer to change the world!'

Others who came into prominence due to their art of the Marxist trend include Narayan Surve, a kind of Dalit in so far that he was a foundling brought up in a Maratha family. Surve's poetry and songs (one, 'My field in the hills' is still sung in the women's movement today) were powerful. Bhaskarrao Jadhav, a Mahar who joined the communist movement (and so was never considered part of dalit literature-in fact, in the face of the hostility between Dalits and Marxists during his time, he had to run away from his home to do so!) is also of this era.

Adivasi poetry took some inspiration from Dalit poetry, some from the left movement, but it was a parallel phenomenon; Adivasis could never identify with Ambedkar but found their icons instead in heroes of revolt such as Birsa Munda. Left imagery is used in the poem by Vaharu Sonavane included here.

These precursor movements climaxed with one brilliant writer who united both the left and dalit revolts: Babaurao Bagul, a Mahar who was a member of the Communist Party, Two collections of Baguls' short stories aroused a storm in Marathi literature in the late 1960s and it was Bagul who provided the inspiration and leadership for the first gatherings of the young writers, Namdev Dhasal and others "who spearheaded both the Dalit Panthers (formed in 1972) and the poetry that erupted during the period 1972-8. Bagul's work has spanned the entire period and is represented in this collection by two short stories and a poem that is the most famous expression of a theme found in other poems. One story (by Avinash Dolas) in this collection, stated first in a famous statement by Ambedkar to Gandhi, 'Mahatma, I have no country' also reflects the same theme.

It was on the background of these streams of literary expression that the first major voice of anger and revolt by the new generation of Dalits came-Namdev Dhasal's Golpitha (1972), a collection of poetry taking its name from the red-light district of Mumbai. Following Golpitha, and with the birth of the Dalit Panthers in 1973 came a flood of poetry.

The birth of the Panthers illustrates the situation. The Panthers themselves were born out of a war of uniting words and protest actions. A group of newly educated Mahar youth, gathering for discussions with Bagul and others, had already organised a protest march. Then, at the inauguration of Golpitha the chief guest, a well known writer named Durgabai Bhagwat, remarked in her speech that prostitution was a useful service to society and another hotheaded young poet, Raja Dhale, responded with the remark that this meant that Durgabai wanted respect for the profession but 'prostitutes should remain prostitutes.' In fact these words were only an echo of what some members of Gandhian youth were proclaiming: that caste work should be respected but people should continue to do it as their swadharma. Said Dhale then, 'If Durgabai thinks the profession is so respectable, why doesn't she do it herself?' It was not an abstract issue for the young writers who came out of a social background where their sisters and mothers were often forced into such work. But Dhale repeated this in print along with a tirade against the reality of people being fined as much for 'dishonouring the national flag' as for rape of dalit women: 'what kind of nation is this that we can respect?!' The article was one for a special issue on Dalit problems of a Pune-published socialist magazine, Sadhana. The result was an outburst of anger from the Pune elite, who controlled the media, and apologies by the eminent socialists associated with the magazine. In response to this, the defiant Dalit youth came out with another march in the heart of brahminical Pune, and unfolded the banner of a Panther. The inspiration from the U. S. A. Black movement was not accidental; it had been there since Phule's time; was repeated when Ambedkar chose the Republican Party and its elephant as his last political party (the symbol of the ending of African American slavery); this long-held identification had been somewhat earlier awakened in their consciousness by the speech of a professor who had been to the U. S. A.

Such was the sparking incident. The Dalit Panthers, an expression of opposition to the Dalit and Congress socio-political establishment which were doing nothing to end atrocities and the new fierce, militant and innovative poetry arose together. The poetry was supported first by Bagul's magazine Ahmi, then by a longer-lived magazine devoted to Dalit literature, Gangadhar Pantavane's Asmitadarsh and finally by a publishing house, Sugawa. It was followed by a set of powerful autobiographies as the young writers turned to recounting their own lives; these autobiographies have included not only the most educated and outspoken, the Mahars, but also writers from nomadic tribes, 'begging' castes, castes which were stigmatised and forced into thievery (expressed in the later autobiography of Laxman Gaikwad, Uchalya) and many others. The era of this literature, lasting from the end of the 1960s to about the middle 1980s, might be called the 'golden age' of modern Marathi Dalit literature. It was also accompanied by the beginnings of Dalit art-for the covers of the booklets of poetry that were published were often works of art in themselves, an art that later gained fame with the paintings of people such as Savi Savarkar, who has worked and was educated in Mexico and now teaches at Delhi University. There have also been numerous translations in English, spearheaded first by an American historian, Eleanor Zelliot, then by many others. Dalit literature in fact appeared in the syllabi of many literature classes in the U. S. A. before it was included in the Indian syllabus; and with translations into French, German, Korean and others, it has now acquired world-wide fame.

This new literature of revolt, dalit literature, saw itself as an alternative to the established, dead, middle-class and brahminic Marathi literature-the 'literature of the 3'% as it was mockingly called, in reference to the proportion of Brahmins among the Marathi-speaking population. Its rise provoked a good deal of literary criticism, and comparisons with Black (or African American) literature in the U. S. A. and elsewhere. (Waghltlare's article illustrates this, though some of his comments, and those of Kasbe also show a mistaken tendency to see 'black' and 'white' as fixed, biological characteristics in contrast to 'socially defined' caste). Following the flourishing of dalit literature in Marathi, both the literature and the Panther rebellion helped give inspiration to Dalit literature and assertion beyond Maharashtra.

There were several important characteristics we might note of this literature which remain significant today. It was a literature which expressed grinding poverty and often misery-and yet it reflected pride in the way in which people had survived and sometimes fought under these conditions. Anna Bhau Sathe's romanticised heroes were there; but so were the 'fierce black Mahars' remembered by Daya Pawar in the first extract from his autobiography and by other writers. Other themes pervading the writings collected here include the image of the oppressed mother, the toiling father, both often pushing the son (not so often, sadly, the daughter) to education in spite of grinding poverty; the vulnerability to violence in the form of rape, casual beatings and more vicious atrocities. A new way of seeing appears even in the Buddhist poems. Notable here is Hira Bansode's 'Yashoda,' a poem on the wife of the Buddha-to-be that a Thai Buddhist Once told me 'would be considered heretical in my country!'

However, one of the most significant themes was the forced and humiliating labour represented by caste-based 'duties'-in the case of the Mahars this was in particular the carrying away of dead cattle.

Daya Pawar's autobiographical excerpt illustrates the problem. His fierce Mahars were fighting for their 'rights'; their traditional village struggles centered around 'rights' and 'duties'-the 'rights' of Mahars to a share in the harvest and other Small usually symbolic concessions in return for carrying out their caste duties-dharma or swadharma in traditional terms. Such 'rights/duties' have in reality been the form of bondage of the subordinate castes in the brahminic social system. Describing these, the pain they have caused and rejection of that pain has been an ongoing theme of the literature and of the struggles.  Yet it took an internal struggle to recognize these as bondage. Ambedkar himself, who realised and stressed that 'the slave has to be made conscious of his slavery' had to initiate a movement and strong propaganda with it to end the Mahar vatan; in the process he himself told a story:

A former landlord and his wife, having lost their land and unwilling to put aside their pride and work, could be seen wandering the village, forlorn and hungry yet showing a haughty demeanor. Yet in spite of their obvious poverty, they managed to feed a friend who visited them with great honor, telling him, 'No, no we've already eaten.' The friend, wondering how they managed, could not sleep. In the middle of the night he saw the couple get up, go to a drumstick tree in their courtyard, snap off some of the vegetables, cook and eat them. Seeing this, the friend got up, waited unit they had slept, cut down the tree and left. Two months later, when he returned he saw them healthy from labour and food. They thanked him profusely-'You broke our bondage! We had to work! It's better.

Caste-feudal bondage, however sweetened, is slavery. The mental slavery that lay behind seeing such bondage as a 'right', as Ambedkar pointed out time and time again, was what was holding back dalits and other subordinated castes. The same message is presented powerfully in an African American movie, The Great Debaters. The hero, Denzil Washington, tells his students, after describing graphic atrocities against slaves, they found a better way to keep slaves: feed the slave, keep his body, but take his mind. You've lost your minds. I'm here to give you back your minds!' If Dalits throughout India today revere Ambedkar, it is because he had played that role in their lives-giving them 'minds' to understand and move ahead with.

Yet the incompleteness of this democratic revolution remains stark. The painful reality remains that the renunciation of mental bondage and freedom from the 'forced labour' of caste dharma in India is still only partial. The Mahars of Maharashtra today no longer perform their traditional duties. But similar degrading, filthy and dangerous caste 'duties' continue to exist throughout India, most notably the cleaning of latrines and sewers by the castes known as Bhangis. The greatest shame of India today is the public unwillingness to do away with this degrading task and its assignment to specific birth-defined groups in society. Humans born in a particular caste are still enslaved to excrement in villages where it is a 'private' matter, in modern incorporated cities which continue to rely on human removal of sewage, in the railways financed by government and finally in pilgrimage places such as the Kumbh Mela and the Varkari pilgrimage at Pandharpur where crores of rupees which are donated for pilgrims by state and central governments fail to provide for any modern toilet facilities.

The literary revolution itself remains incomplete. This Dalit literature of the 1970s, and 1980s, reproduced in this collection, called in its day for a new beginning for Marathi literature, and Dalit literature in other Indian languages have represented the same challenge.

Yet, the reality is that, after the first efflorescence, the early promise of Dalit literature in Marathi has withered. Autobiographies continue to appear and poems and a few novels still come out now and then, but that is all. Neither the novels nor the occasional short stories, after those of Baburao Bagul and Anna Bhau Sathe, have been very successful. Modern Marathi Dalit literature has stagnated; and while there has been an upsurge in other Indian languages (including a notable novel by the Tamil woman writer, Bama), Dalit literature throughout also seem to have remained at crossroads.

This may be only part of a general phenomenon of Indian literature; Marathi and other vernacular languages appear to be caught in a kind of impasse as far as novels, plays and history writing are concerned. The great names of Marathi literature are in the past. Is the same true in other Indian languages? If so, this is happening even as 'Indian' writers (mostly, if not always, living abroad) are producing award-winning English language novels. Is this a result of 'globalisation' attack on vernacular languages, or is the cause deeper than that, linked finally to failures of an educational system that teaches only note-taking. Gives little scope for learning and practicing writing-whether in a mother tongue or in the more prestigious English?

As for Indian-written English novels, some-notably Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things-have fashioned Dalit protagonists and taken socially delicate, even 'forbidden' topics ( such as the love affair between a Dalit boy and upper caste girl, incest, etc) as their themes-just as Dalit literature in its time touched on the shadier and more shameful sides of sexuality. But Roy's hero Velutha is romanticised and is a bit unreal. Furthermore, neither Dalits nor OBCs-Other Backword Class (who have often been behind Dalits-intellectually, at least) have been in a social position to produce English language literature. Roy's navel ends in tragedy. This is not social realism, but a clever use of powerful themes. It might be argued, then, that the crisis of Dalit literature in Maharashtra-and in much of India-is a general literary crisis.

There are some problems specific to Dalit literature, though. Among these, the most important is that of identity itself and this is related to the fragmentation that is integral to the caste system, in contrast to the solidarity involved in Black/African American and other minority assertion in the U. S. A. and elsewhere. Dalit was originally given, both by the Panthers and by others of the time, a broad meaning-all the oppressed-at least all those socially and religious oppressed by the caste system as well as by class. In actuality, it was used primarily for those classified as scheduled castes, the very lowest in the traditional caste hierarchy-assuming Adivasis or tribals in be outside that hierarchy. But even here it has become problematic.

Today, though the word Dalit remains the most recognisable word at national level, it is probably true that the majority of people classified as scheduled caste reject it for self-identification. It is rejected for varying reasons. In some cases, as among the new Buddhisis of Maharashtra (mainly, but by no means uniquely, Mahars), Dalit is felt to be negative and confining, while being Buddhists gives a broader, positive and humane identity. At the same time, the differences among scheduled castes have become stark, negating any unity that might be expressed in the use of words like Dalit. In almost every region of India, there are a multitude of castes who were originally considered untouchable and are now classed as scheduled castes; of these, there are generally two large communities, one more educated and first to organise, the other more backward in educational and economic terms. The second group is now mobilising, often in opposition to the first group. The conflict between Malas and Madigas of Andhra has now become notorious; but there are also the Chuhra/Bhangi groups of the north and west, who identify themselves mostly as Valmikis, the Matangs of Maharashtra and others. In most cases the latter group is wooed by various Hindu forces to identify themselves as Hindus, not Buddhists. In Tamil Nadu, the two largest groups have been the one-time Paraiyas and Pallars; the first may call themselves Dalits and frequently identify as Buddhist; the second are taking the name DKVs, Devendra Kula Vanniyar.

Along with the growing hostility between Dalits and OBCs, these differences have made the very term Dalit a symbol of broad revolt problematic.

What then, lies ahead for Dalit literature? This is a question for a new generation, which is already thinking and learning.

This collection records the powerful and rebellious literary expression of such a generation: that of the 1970s and 80s.

Introduction

A unique feature of Indian society is its composition on the basis of caste. A number of Indian and foreign sociologists have put forward theories on the class and caste systems. While space does not permit me to discuss all these theories even briefly, it will be appropriate to present the views of Dr B. R. Ambedkar (1891- 1956), the father of the Indian Constitution. A Dalit himself, he led a fierce struggle for his caste-fellows' rights.

According to the ancient dharmashastras (religious texts) of the Hindus, there were only four varnas (classes). The Brahmins were priests; the Kshatriyas, warriors; the Vaishyas, traders and the Shudras, skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled labourers doing menial work. This hierarchy is primarily a class system and the development of a society based on class is a world-wide phenomenon.

Dr Ambedkar has traced the development of the caste system in his works Castes in lndia-Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development (1916). Annihilation of Caste (1936) and Who were the Shudras? (1948). In his opinion, Hindu society in the early stages was divided on the basis of class, as had happened the world over.

Later, according to Dr Ambedkar, each of these classes became an enclosed unit, accessible only by birth; in other words, a caste. This development was unique to India. The first to enclose themselves were the priests or Brahmins; soon this exclusivity spread to the other classes too. Dr Ambedkar describes the process as the infection of imitation. He rejects the commonly held view that castes were created by God, or that the caste system evolved as the result of a special evolution of Indian society.

Many researchers have been tempted to credit the origin of the caste system to the sage Manu because Manusmriti, a religious text attributed to the sage, justifies the caste system. Commenting on this view, Dr Ambedkar states that castes existed even before Manu who was merely an ardent supporter who canonised the institution, and not the originator, of the system.

Dr Ambedkar realised that to understand the development of the caste system it is necessary to view it as a part of the conditions prevailing at the time and not associate it with religion. He writes: 'Preaching did not make the caste system nor will it unmake it.

While the four castes-Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras-came to be developed following particular conditions, the caste system and later the class system were given religious sanction in the Hindu texts which were written by the Brahmins. The texts emphasised that the class system was God-made and not man-made. The Brahmins spread the theory that they themselves were born from the mouth of Brahma, the Kshatriyas from his shoulders, the Vaishyas from his thighs and the Shudras from his feet. Hence the Brahmins were the most superior, next came the Kshatriyas, and so on. Theories such as this were put forth in the Rigveda which was again claimed to be God-made.

The social, political, economic and religious restrictions laid down by the Brahmins in their religious texts were implemented by the kings or the Kshatriyas. Thus, to follow the duties allotted to a particular caste in the texts became not only a religious obligation but also obedience to a royal order. In other words, religion and the State joined hands and bound the lowest class namely the Shudras into mental, cultural and social slavery and later into untouchability.

The living conditions of these untouchables were shameful. They had no land to till nor could they follow any profession. They did menial work ordered by the higher castes, come rain or shine. Treated like animals, they lived apart from the village, and had to accept leftovers from the higher caste people, in return for their endless toil. Their physical contact was said to 'pollute' the upper castes-even their shadow was said to have the same effect. Hindu religious texts forbade them to wear good clothes or ornaments or even footwear, and prescribed severe and humiliating punishment for violating these orders. Even for a basic necessity like water they were helplessly dependent on the higher castes' good will. The most perverted practice of untouchability was that which at one time compelled the untouchables to tie an earthen pot around their necks so that their sputum should not fall to the earth and pollute it. Another was the compulsion to tie a broom behind them so that their footprints would be erased before others set their eyes on them.

The caste system in India was based on exploitation. An exploiting system always adheres to the philosophy or system which is most favourable to it, while other systems are either destroyed or corrupted. Social inequality and untouchability were convenient, indeed necessary for the earlier rulers, and were hence retained. Religious sanction was perpetuated and the cultural development and philosophy that supported the exploitation were encouraged to flourish. All revolts against untouchability or social inequality failed.

Thus the untouchables lived a life full of poverty, starvation, ignorance, insults, injustice, atrocities-practices totally against humanity. The only thing available to them in plenty was their wretchedness and this was so mingled with every drop of their blood that they forgot their own existence and could hardly dream of freedom or independence. This condition prevailed till the British came to India.

Arrival of the British

The arrival of the British and their establishment as rulers in India severely jolted the social system in India. The British brought with them new knowledge, technology and production processes which in turn led to industrialisation. Most importantly, a new, codified legal system replaced the old one dominated by religious restrictions. With the introduction of English and its spread, a new class of literates began to grow.

Human relations began to be examined in the light of ethical values and by the touchstone of scientific enquiry. The work of social reconstruction gained momentum.

A generation of social reformers came into being during the early days of the British rule. However, their reforms were restricted to evils such as child marriage and superstition, that too among the higher classes of society, that is the Brahmins. While the restricted scope of their reforms was excusable in the early days of social awakening and social reconstruction, it cannot be denied that these reformers were intimidated by religion-based values and by those who jealously guarded these values.

But even in such times there was born a man-Mahatma Jyotiba Phule (1828-1890)-who was not intimidated but ruthlessly examined Hindu religion, fiercely attacked those who supported caste superiority and strongly maintained that the backward classes, untouchables and women in the country must be freed from slavery and be allowed to live a life of dignity.

The credit for taking the brilliant, aggressive ideology of Mahatma Phule one step further and rendering it even more brilliant goes to Dr Bheemrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956).

Dr Ambedkar, Father of Dalit Literature

It is significant that Dalit literature owes its origin to a revolutionary struggle for social and economic change. This explains the various aspects of serious thought in Dalit literature. This literature is closely associated with the hopes for freedom of a group of people who as untouchables are victims of social, economic and cultural inequality. Their literature is thus characterised by a feeling of rebellion against the establishment, of negativism and scientificity. Studying Dalit literature or the role of this literature from only a literary or an academic point of view fails to present a complete perspective in assessing it. Dalit literature must be assessed in the sociological framework. This overall perspective has been conspicuously absent in the review of Dalit literature so far.

A number of researchers have attempted to trace the origins of the Dalit literary movement. Some trace it back to the Buddhist period. For some the originator is the saint-poet Chokhamela (14th C AD). Some give the credit to Mahatma Phule (1828-90) and some to Professor S. M. Mate (1886-1957). The researchers maintain that though the term 'Dalit literature' did not exist during this period, concern for Dalits and about the injustice meted to them is first reflected in the writings of these authors and so they can be called pioneers of the Dalit literary movement.

These statements stretch logic too far. While both Gautam Buddha and Mahatma Phule revolted against the unjust class structure and while it is true their teachings and ideas are inspiring even today, a historical and objective examination of the situation reveals that it was Dr Ambedkar who was the enabling factor in Dalit literature because of his ideas, outlook towards life and his struggle to achieve what he felt just.

The history of Marathi literature indicates that the credit for any new literary stream is given to an author of imaginative literature. In that sense Dr Ambedkar has not done any creative writing. His writing in Marathi is limited to serious articles in some of his own Marathi periodicals like Mukanayak, Bahishkrut, Janata and Prabuddha Bharat, though his major serious writing is in English.

However, through his struggle against untouchability and socioeconomic inequality, he liberated the Dalits in India from mental slavery and abject wretchedness, thus giving them a new self-respect. It is not possible here to trace the entire history of his struggle against social injustice, but the extent of his authority can be well estimated from the fact that his foes included both the British rulers and the Indian National Congress influenced by Mahatma Gandhi.

The Dalit literary movement has today reached various part of India and the literature is now growing in almost all Indian languages. Yet it is no coincidence that its beginning took place in the Marathi language in Maharashtra. Dr Ambedkar was from Maharashtra and the Dalit multitudes there supported him fearlessly and loyally. Dr Ambedkar shaped the tradition of revolutionary thinking of almost a generation of Dalits, who can today hold their heads high thanks to him. The literary manifestation of this social awareness is Dalit literature.

Contents

Contents

 

Literature of Revolt

ix

Dalit Literature Past, Present  and Future

xix

Poetry

 

To Be or Not To be Born

3

Take a Hummer to Change the World

5

That Single Arm

6

Poetry Reading

7

Song

10

Send My Boy to School

11

In Our Colony

13

The Sky with its Eyes Closed

15

Yesterday They have Announced

16

An Ultimatum

18

My Father

20

In the Lush Green Jungle

25

Caves

26

Exhalation

27

No Entry for the New Sun

28

The Unfed Begging Bowl

30

Wall

31

Harvest

33

Tathagata: Two Poems

34

Yashodhara

36

To Dear Aana

38

His House

39

Experiment

41

Mother

43

This Country is Broken

45

The Stains of Blood

46

I will Belong to it

47

Birds in Prison

49

Hunger

50

On a Desolate Night like This

54

Labour Pains

55

Amen

56

Winds

58

Shroud

59

The Death-Doomed March

61

Light Melted in Darkness

62

Which Language should I Speak?

63

The Search

64

Under Dadar Bridge

65

It is Not Binding on Us to Undertake this Journey

69

How?

71

Blood-wave

72

White Paper

74

A Poem

76

Mute Existence

77

Ancient Mother Mine

79

Habit

80

You who have Made the Mistake

81

Autobiographical Extracts

 

A Corpse in the Well

85

Son, Eat your Fill'

91

We are Kings!'

98

NajaGoes to School-and Doesn't

106

The Story of My 'Sanskrit'

110

The Bone Merchant

123

The Bastard

130

The Stragglers

143

This Too shall Pass

156

Short Stories

 

The Poisoned Bread

167

The Storeyed House

176

Explosion

185

Promotion

191

Livelihood

197

Mother

209

The Cull

219

Barriers

226

Gold from the Grave

241

The Refugee

248

Essays and Speeches

 

Dr  Ambedkar's Speech at Mahad

257

What is Dalit Literature?

270

Dalit Literature is but Human Literature

274

Some Issues Before Dalit Literature

295

Dalit Feeling and Aesthetic Detachment

304

Black Literature and Dalit Literature

312

Friend, The Day of Irresponsible Writers is Over

322

Glossary

335

 

Sample Pages
















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by Balbir Madhopuri
Hardcover (Edition: 2010)
Oxford University Press
Item Code: NAL066
$30.00
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The Scar
Item Code: NAJ206
$18.00
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Caste in Modern India (Set of Two Volumes)
by Sumit Sarkar and Tanika Sarkar
Hardcover (Edition: 2014)
Permanent Black
Item Code: NAG824
$50.00
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The Jews of Andhra Pradesh (Contesting Caste and Religion in South India)
by Yulia Egorova
Hardcover (Edition: 2013)
Oxford University Press
Item Code: NAK113
$45.00
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Government and Politics in India (Set of 7 Books)
Paperback (Edition: 2010)
Indira Gandhi National Open University
Item Code: NAH113
$80.00
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