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Nov 28, 2013

Dalit Literature


If the forth world emerges in the world map then its literature would be the Dalit literature which is not structured or entertaining like the ones conforming to Bhraminical ideological theories. Contemporary mainstream literature might not find it suitable but this literature was the realistic reflection of those oppressed classes. What is dalit literature (composition on the basis of caste) is always a question of question which still needs answer as it is very hard to define the exact time and place of its beginning. We only can guess its history from the written source based on “Manusmirity” or Ambedkar’s essay “Who were Shudras?” but one is religious document while other is historical so not comes in the tag with literature because many writers/critics never include religious document in literature. First of all let us go through the beginning of modern Dalit Literature. The jhalsa and oral literature are its important part but still in the waiting under the literature.

One group of literary critics and researchers defines its times to the Buddhist Age while second to the saint poet Chokhamela (14th C) whereas next to Mahatama Phule (1828-90) and there are some who prefers to S.M. Mate (1886-1957). Here one can add that term dalit was first used by Ambedkar in 1928 in his journal “Bahishkrit Bharat” (Outcaste India), thus we can say Buddha and Phule were making the pavement for dalit literature which is turned into a layer of concrete by Ambedkar through his periodicals “Mooknayak”, “Bahishkrut Bharat”, “Janata” and “Prabudha Bharat.” Beside it, the main aim of the dalit literature is described by Bandhumadev in article “Prabudha Bharat” (Feb 15, 1958) is that “Just as the Russian writers helped the revolution by spreading Lenin’s revolutionary ideas through their works. Our writers should spread Dr. Amdedkar’s philosophy to the villages.” (Dangle 242)

Modern Dalit Literature is detected in 1969 with the article “A Discussion: Literature of Dalit: Consciousness, Direction and Inspiration” by M.N. Wankhade wherein he mentions the Buddhist writers such as Keshav Meshram, Shankarrao Karat, Sukharam Hivrale and the Dalit writer P.M. Shinde. Again the emergence of “Dalit Literature” or “Dalit Sahitya” is seen in “The Times Weekly Supplement” of November 25, 1973 with the term Dalit Panthers (founded by Namdeo Dhasal and Raja Dhale). It comes against the physical reaction to the violence against untouchable or Buddhists. It is low caste Marxist movement of literature begins with Annabhau Sathe and Narayan Surve. It can be well understood by the words Bagul who famously writes “Dalit Sahitya is not a literature of vengeance. Dalit Sahitya is not a literature which spreads hatred. Dalit Sahitya first promotes man’s greatness and man’s freedom and for that reason it is an historic necessity.... Anguish, waiting, pronouncements of sorrow alone do not define Dalit Literature. We want literature heroically full of life for the creation of a (new) society.” Sathe’s speech spelt out the purpose of Dalit literature but not successful to bring any motion in literary world. In fact, there were no Dalit writes of calibre at that time, except few ones.

Most famous Buddhist poet is Namdeo Dhasal writes in a mixture of Buddhist and Marxist. The history of Dalit Literature and its theme are the part of Mahar Movement and chiefly connected with hero Ambedkar. Modern Dalit poet K.K. Damle, pseudonym Keshavsut, writes in the concluding part of the poem that published in 1974 “The First Question of the Untouchable Boy” about the status of how “low and high they are” and wonders when her mother told him all this about their position in social order and he questions to himself “How would she know/ that highness in this world is built/ on sin and glory on/ the degradation of others.” During his time other famous writers can be mentioned with the name M.G. Ranade, G.G. Agarkar, Gopal Baba Walangkar, Pandit Khodiram, and the social reformer Jotibha Phule but the literature of the time mainly centres on Keshavsut, and, after him, there was a long gap for the literature of untouchables until the rise of B.R. Ambedkar, the only highly educated untouchable.

When we peep in the history of 1940’s we find the great novel on life on Bhaka, the hero of “The Untouchable” by Mulk Raj Anand and another novel “Scavenger’s Sons” of Sivashankar Pillai. More social reformer and less literary figure, S.M. Mate’s two important works “Asprishyavicar” (Thoughts on Untoucbales, 1922) and “Asprishatancaprashna” (The Question of those who are Untoucbales) are enough to earned him the title “Mahar Mate.” The next literature in list is 1935’s book of Sane Guruji’s “Syamchi Ai” (Shayam’s Mother) and in the next book “Devala Saru Priya” (All are Dear to God) comes to conclusion that “to God all forms are holy. God is in the body of the Brahman, the fish and even the Mahar.”

In 1950’s and in 1960’s Dalit writing saw the emergence of literature with the publication of Sathe’s “Fakira”, and “Savala Mang”; and Shankarrao Karat’s “Manuskichi Huk” (The Cry of Humanity) and “Bara Balutedar” (The Twelve Balutedar). When we read the literature of all these writers we find a revolt against the old notions based on “Manusamiriti” or are the part of old brahim society. It was at its peak during the time of Ambedkar but after it its decline begins and witnesses an anticlimax in 1970s. Since there is steady or no progress in movement but literature was produced in a large number by various literature. Now, like Ambedkar, more dalit person goes abroad for higher studies and returns to India with a great zeal and begins to improve the situation of Dalit through their writings.

Not only in literature, we also noticed the emergence of political greatness and the political leader like Mayawati from Uttar Pardesh, Arjun Munda from Chattisgarh, fro, Bihar we have Lalu Parsad Yadav. They not provide the great space for the dalit but also the greater opportunities for them to make the success for their education which enables them to be the important part of society.

Shashi Bhushan Upadhayay pointed out that “Dalit literature is not a literary movement in ordinary sense of the term. It is, like Black literature, a product of an identity as well as constitutive of that identity... dalit literature, therefore, is not the literature written by anybody on the dalits, but only by those who are by birth dalits. Anyone else, not born as a dalit, even though writing on the socially downtrodden with sympathy or empathy, can-not be considered as a dalit writer nor will his/her literature be taken as dalit litera-ture.” ('Representing the Underdogs: Dalits in the Literature of Premchand') This is perhaps a restricted understanding. Raj Kumar pointed out that non-dalit writers are selective in their portrayal of the dalit situation. For instance, upper caste Hindu writers have not taken into account several important issues. "Even as late as the early part of the twentieth century, the untouchables had no access to public facilities such as wells, rivers, roads, schools, markets. The most perverted practice of untouchability was that which, at one time, compelled the untouchables to tie an earthen pot around their neck so that their sputum’s should not fall to the earth and pollute others. Another practice was the compulsion to tie a broom behind them so that their footprints would be erased before others set their eyes on them" (Dalit Literature: A Perspective from Below).

Now let us move to the some controversies regarding dalit literature. In this sense, the greatest work on the life of untouchable is Anand’s “Untouchable” (1935). It is criticised because it was not written by a Dalit writer as Anand belongs to Kshatriya caste and was considered a shame for the dalit community. But if we criticised a work only because it was written by a non-dalit writer then nothing could become good literature. They can criticised Shakespeare for writing about kings when he was not a king, and Milton about God or Angel when he was not the same. They can criticised Arvind Ghosh for writing about slaves simply because he was not a slave. If criticised literature or writings on these false notion then the originality of its loss its real value. The literature of this type can never be enjoyed by the critics. The real aim these writers is not to bring the lowness of dalit society but they are presenting the situation as they saw or reported to them by the others; and in doing so, they brings a close and real imagery and this is obviously true in the case with “Untouchable” and “Coolie” by the same writer.

The act of non-dalit is not an attack on the dalit literature but they perform to change the scenario by their writings which are not accepted by them. In fact, “non-dalit writers viewed dalit literature in a particular way but the dalit elite saw it with their own angle.” (Dangle 250) That is why the controversy arise. The class-war has always been between the oppressors and the oppressed differed markedly in different historical periods and this is also the case with the dalit and the dalit literature. All and everywhere we saw the conflict in between the ideas of Brahmin and dalit persons. All the conflicted are taken its counterpart from the writings of Marx and Engles.

Poems, short stories, novels and autobiographies written by Dalit writers provided useful insights on the question of Dalit identity. Now the subaltern communities found a new name by coming together with the perspective ‘Dalit is dignified’ thereby rejecting the sub-human status imposed on them by the Hindu social order. Dalit literature is experience – based. This ‘anubhava’ (experience) takes precedence over ‘anumana’ (speculation). Thus to Dalit writers, history is not illusionary or unreal as Hindu metaphysical theory may make one to believe. That is why authenticity and liveliness have become hallmarks of Dalit literature.

The well-received Dalit autobiography Karukku by Bama portrays, in a Dalit discourse and language, the prevalence of untouchability in the Catholic Church and its nunneries. The book is an unabashed expression of Dalit language. But as every body seems to be enjoying this language, we may suspect some weakness in this. The sorrow, tragedy and disappointment of Dalit experience have become objects of excessive pity and sym pathy. It does not seem to have evoked any sense of guilt or anger. Self-pity is of no use for the protest literatue of Dalits. Daya Pawar wrote his autobiography — Baluta — (a reward for the Mahar community in Maharashtra in return to the various services offered to the highcastes) when his poetry was widely appreciated. It was published in 1978. P.E. Sonkamble's Athwaniche Pakshi (Birds of Memories) came in the following year. Then came out a spate of Dalit autobiographies — Mukkam Post Devache Gothne (At Post Devache Gothne) by Madhav Kondvilkar, Taral Antral (The Sky and Heights of the Soul) by Shankarrao Kharat, Gawaki (A Village Profession) by Rustam Achalkhamb, Fanjar (A Thorny Bough) by Nanasaheb Zodge, Abhran (stripes of cloths worn around the waist by Potraj - a devotee who tortures himself in the name of God) by Parth Polke, Mitleli Kawada (Closed Doors) by Mukta Sarvagod, Majya Jalmachi Chittarkatha (The Illustrated Story of My Life) by Shantabai Kamble, Jina Amcha (Our Life) by Baby Kamble, Antasphot (Inner Explosion) by Kumud Pawade, Udhwasta Vyayacha Mala (I want to be Ruined) by Mallika Dhasal.

Besides these autobiographies narrating the experiences of caste based social structure, there are others narrating the tribal experiences. Living out of the well-bound limits of the society, the tribal com munities were never a part of the Indian ethos though they followed the same religious practices prevalent within the Hindu fold. They were always looked upon as aliens by the society. This feeling of being alienated is effectively illustrated by Laxman Mane in his autobiography entitled — Upara (An Outsider), by Laxman Gaikwad in Uchalya (A Lifter) and by Kishor Shantabai Kale in Kolhatyacha Por (Son of a Kolhati), Sham Kumar Limbale's Akkarmashi (Being Illegitimately Born) narrates a unique story of being illegitimately born. The narrator is a son of a Dalit woman who is lured into physical intimacy by a rich landlord and was deserted by him and consequently by the society. Limbale delineates what it is to be a son of deserted woman, how painful and agonizing is the process of growing up in a society in which sexual exploitation and casteism are the prevalent trends.

Dalit is poetry is an effort to use symbolic images based on the experience and they break many old poetic conventions of literature. In the images they neither follow Eliot nor Pound or Freud. Instead they choose historical references and myths from a dalit point of view. The Primary motive of Dalit literature is the liberation of dalits. Dalit struggle against casteist tradition has a long history. For example, in Kannada, it goes back to the first Vachana poet of the 11th century, Chennaiah, the cobbler. The 12th century Dalit saint Kalavve challenged the upper castes in the following words:

“Those who eat goats, foul and tiny fish:      
Such, they call caste people.  
Those who eat the Sacred Cow         
That showers frothing milk for Shiva:           
Such, they call out-castes”.

Kondiram's description of the Mahars' lifestyle thereby functioned as a caustic indictment of the Manusmriti's Brahmanic Hindu laws. Such laws, he says, not only made the Mahars wear a black thread around their necks as a sign of their non-human status, but excluded them from all social contact. Kondiram writes in his poem:

Live in a hut which you must build outside the village!        
That is what the Brahmans write in their books.

As non-humans, Kondiram points out, the Mahars could have no wealth or valuable possessions. He writes:

Ati-Shudras cannot tend cows and buffaloes,          
But how on earth can they ever obtain anything like a horse or        
an elephant!                
Their wealth is dogs and asses, rats and mice.           
They can keep the clothes from corpses,       
But can't have any new clothes.        
They must eat out of broken clay pots,          
And dress up finely by wearing iron ornaments!

Devibharati's short story 'Bali' is a noteworthy piece of Dalit writing. Through its narration, discourse, transgressions, counter aesthetics, and signification, it has become a brilliant piece of Dalit literature.

In 1867, Alexander Grant provided the first English translation of thirty-eight of Tukaram's abhangs, which in choice and exegesis suggest a strong line of juxtapositioning and comparison of bhakti Hinduism with Non-conformist Protestant theology. Firstly, in his translations and commentary, Grant laid particular emphasis on Tukaram's devotional faith and his individual sense of inner religious experience. He cites Tukaram's individual devotional experience in the following abhang:

Sing the song with earnestness, making pure the heart,        
            If you would attain God, then this is the easy 'way'.
            Make your heart lowly, touch the feet of the saints. 

Grant interprets this devotionalism as the essence of Tukaram's religious belief. In Grant's opinion this experience conformed closely to the Non-conformist Protestant insistence upon the value of individual inner experience as the ultimate religious authority.

Grant was one of the first, but by no means the only Non-conformist Protestant in Maharashtra to be struck by this alleged similarity of bhakti devotionalism to Non-conformist Protestantism. What Grant describes with regard to the Shudra bhakta-sant Tukaram, Rev. Alexander Robertson (Wesleyan Church) also found characteristic of the Mahar untouchable bhakta-sant Chokhamela. Robertson translates Janabai's abhang on Chokhamela in a similar fashion to Grant:

Famous as a saint was Chokha, God was much enamoured of him.
Whosoever showeth great devotion, him doth God assist in danger.           
Chokhamela gained such power, that e'en God became his debtor.
Lay firm hold, saith Nama's Jani, on the lotus feet of Vittal.

Secondly in their translations and commentaries, both Grant and Robertson argue that, like Non-conformist Protestantism, Tukaram's and Chokhamela's bhakti rejected all ritual and the intermediary role of the Brahman priesthood.

It is true that one major theme of dalit poetry is rural oppression, but not only is the writer urban middle class but the attitude is also middle class. This was reflected in the lackadaisical manner in which the discussion on language was conducted. That dalit literature, after more than a decade of existence, is not very serious in coming to grips even with the primary contradiction between writing for the oppressed and yet using the sanskritised language of the educated is indeed surprising. If dalit writers had come to grips with this problem they would have discovered—as revolutionary poets in Andhra have discovered—that there is a whole sea of new problems awaiting them.

Dalit writers sparkled their ink in short stories, novels and drama but its richness lies in poetry, autobiographies and biographies with the crying theme of “new past, new future.” Dalit literature find its root in black literature and this is quite true the Pawar’s poem “Harlem.” Baburao Bagul short story “When I had Concealed my Caste” creates a stir in Dalit Literary world. Narayan Surve’s poetry is a mixture of Marxism which makes him Angry Young Man of sixties whose work “Fakta” is published in “Little Magazine.” His collection of two anthologies “Aisa Ga Mi Bramha” and “Majhe Vidyapeeth” gives a new direction to the dalit literature. A new kind of point of view is seen in “Golpitha” by Namdeo Dhasal—the portrayal of explosive expression of the acute pain of dalits. “Doha” of Shrinivas Kulkarni is the another side of the same coin. The autobiographies highlights caste, class and gender bias during the oppression of Dalits and majority of these writings brought a small change in the outlook in the society, though many of the practices still continue in the society today.

Vizhi Pa. Idhayavendan's collection of short stories, Nan danar Theru revolves around Dalits. As these stories are modelled on genres of both mass culture and intellectual culture, its Dalit aesthetics is somewhat diluted. Moreover, they also make it suited for left cultural politics. Yet it is still possible that he may ultimately produce some good Dalit literature.

Valangkar (who was the principal author of the Vinanti Patra), likePhule, saw varna and jati divisions as a historical (and not divinelyordained structure) which had been developed by the Aryan Brahmans to extend their control over Hindu society. Valangkar argued that varna distinctions originated as a result of the conflict between the indigenous Dravidian inhabitants of India and India's Aryan invaders. Drawing on Phule's Gulamagiri (I873), Valangkar envisaged an Aryan Brahman accession to socio-religious power in southern and western India as a result of successive waves of Aryan conquest of the indigenous Dravidian inhabitants. Within this process of Aryan invasion and conquest, Phule had argued that the creation of the Mahar jati and untouchability was a punishment for those Dravidian inhabitants who had most persistently resisted Aryan authority.

The cry of dalits are “We shall write the way we feel; who are you to dictate to us?” While reviewing the past the Dalit find that there is no literature for them so, like Blacks, they revolt and produced their own literature through which they present their problems. The magazines like “Asmitadarsha” and “Pratishthan,” “Satyakatha”, “Marathwada,” “Amhi,” “Magova” and newspaper of Ambedkar and conferences like “Buddha Sahitya Sabha” helped them in doing this. The first collection of dalit poems by dalits entitled “Akar” was published by “Buddha Sahitya Sabha” in 1967.  In their search for alternatives, Dalit writers have rediscovered the low caste saint poets of the Bhakti movement. Even they found relevance in Buddhism. Referring to folk lore, they make an assertion that Dalits were members of an ancient primitive society and were uprooted by the alien Brahminical civilization. These writers make a fervent plea for a complete overhaul of society. As Arjun Dangle, the Marathi Dalit writer put it, “Even the Sun needs to be changed.” Dalit literature should represent the original, particularly the historical and the struggling, Dalit. It should not be a simple, superficial and empirical collection of the Dalit life. It should probe the deep, psychological underworld of the oppressed. It should avoid supplying any kind of moral compensation for the real struggle. Dalit literature should avoid the unpleasant distortion of 'Dalit Salvation' through the leadership provided by the patronage offered by the oppressors. The poems of 'Inquilab', the short stories of Vizhi. Paa. Idayavendan, Sivakami, Abhimani, Bama and the novels of Daniel, Poomani, Imayam, Arivazhagan, Marku, Bama are recognized as Dalit literary works.

Though the first collection of poems failed but the collection of short stories “Death is Getting Cheaper” by Baburao Bagul come like a revolution. In the past, white-collar writers shows the slum life with their point of view but Bagul totally changed it as Arjun Dangle remarks in the Maharastra Times (Oct 15, 1972) “it is difficult to write about Baburao’s stories. Their shrewd rusticity and their jolting experiences take his stories much beyond the normal limits of the short story. These stories can be set in the framework of traditional values of art. The rationale for separate standard of criticism for Dalit literature can be found there.” (Dangle 248)

Beings with Marathi language, dalit literature is growing in every regional and international language in different parts of India now-a-days. It is fact that it emerge with Ambedkar in the form of songs, ballads through tamasha and jhalsa but in writing it was very small. Dalit literature is successful in regional or national level but on international grounds it fails when compared with Black literature. Many reasons are pointed out for its backwardness such as (1) The critics thinks that it is a blend of Marxism and Ambedkarism which demands both class and caste. (2) Dalit literature is always confusion between Buddhist and Dalit Literature as some prefers Buddhism rather than Dalit. (3) There is always tension whether it is literature of social or political or both. Beside it, Dalit literature is rejected by the high class critics like W.L. Kulkarni, D.K. Bedekaar, R.G. Jadhav, And Sharatchandra Muktibodh. Not only this, it was also discarded by their native readers and critics as they wanted to forget their past. Arjun Dangle named them “Dalit Brahmins” as for them dalit literature is dirty. These “Dalit Brahmins” criticised the Bagul’s novel “Paushya” because of the pitiable conditions of the dalit.

In 1993, "Dalit Sahitya (literature) transform into "Ambedkari Sahitya" after the name of its modern age hero and inspiration Ambedkar. In a society, the Dalits were demographically sidelined and their writings did not border on romanticising the issues, but resisted it strongly, he observed. The writings may not be imaginative, but were able to make the world sit and think. University Rector K. Viyyanna Rao presented a memento to the participants in the plenary session. Their main point very correctly is that the mainstream literatures in our country relate to a world of experience which is quite small and narrow. The Lokayan seminar (Gujrat 1981) made  that point once again. But, as Economic and Public Weekly published, the Dalit writers are blissfully unaware of a bigger world of which even their areas of experience are a part. This seminar was yet another testimony to this lack of awareness or indifference. One- wishes that the Dalit writers extend their analysis and vision to areas beyond the ones they have been handling. If they did they might come up with almost revolutionary answers. They certainly have the potential. Arun Kamnble says: "aim of the movement is humanism; liberty, equality and fraternity; absence of exploitation". Arjun Dangle is even more inclusive: "all the revolutions that have happened anywhere - Ambedkar, Phule, Alarx, Mao, Lenin..."

Dalit literature questioned the mainstream literary theories and upper caste ideologies and explored the neglected aspects of life. Dalit literature is experience – based. This ‘anubhava’ (experience) takes precedence over ‘anumana’ (speculation). Thus to Dalit writers, history is not illusionary or unreal as Hindu metaphysical theory may make one to believe. That is why authenticity and liveliness have become hallmarks of Dalit literature. Unfortunately dalit have seen too many expansive 'total revolutionaries' to be happy with such formulations, especially when Dangle adds: "class antagonism of the Marxist model does not exist in India". But perhaps what was more striking was their indifference towards the whole question.

Dangle Arjun. ed. “Poisoned Bread: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Literature.” Bombay: Orient Longman. Print
Rao, Anupama. The Caste Question: Dalit and the Politics of Modern India.” University of California: 2011. Print
D, G. P.. “ Dalit Literature”. Economic and Political Weekly, 17. 3 (1982): 61-62. Print
Savyasaachi. “Dalit Studies: Exploring Criteria for a New Discipline.” Economic and Political Weekly, 39.17 (2004): 1658-1660. Print


  1. Sir I want to research on dalit literature, could you please call me within 3 days my no is 9926933445

  2. I want to copy n paste it on my desktop to read

  3. I am a writer of research oriented articles. I have written one artilce on WDalit women Autobiography. i am to write another article on Dalit men Autobiography. as i would like to quote what Shashi bushan has said. based on the definition What democracy is, i have written Dalit literature is for the the Dalits, of the dalits and by the dalits. when i search for other articles on Laxman Mane, i came across your blog. Shashi Bushan has also said what i have written modifying the definition Democracy is for the people, of the people and by the people. as i have to doucment my saying , shall your blog and the name of Shashi bushan Upadhyaya?

  4. Literature is of experience and from experience. As such, Dalit Literature is of Dalit experience and from Dalit chaos and predicaments. There is much to explore the Dalit psyche and much more to be written. Dalits have to write about their experiences through autobiographies. I tried my best to record my experience in my novel, Dalit Street', and many Dramas. The links for my Dalit Creative works are below:

    Novel 'The Vulnerable Dalit street'
    The Trilogy of One Act Plays
    1. The Native Lion and the Deer
    2. The Vain Sacrifice of Dalit Martyrs
    3. Humanity: The Sole Divinity
    4. The Extremes
    5. He-She (Hijra)
    6. Follies Fall Apart
    7. The Wife of God

  5. Thank you for this article, it is such an important work of documenting the history of Dalit Literature.


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