In the voices of these texts I heard a freshness, strength and integrity; these writers and their writings, to a large extent unrecognised outside their immediate circle, held a powerful allure. A mbedkar was born into the Mahar community, a sub-caste of the untouchables, which is considered even lower than the lowest caste in the Hindu Varna system. From until his death in , Ambedkar was the leader of the movement to end untouchability. One of his first actions of note occurred in when he led the public burning of the Manusmriti. Just months before he died, in October , he led the historic conversion of five lakh Hindus to Buddhism in Nagpur, Maharashtra, freeing them from the constraints of the caste system.
From its earliest days, now almost a century ago, literature was a central pillar of the Ambedkar movement.
The first works, written primarily by men, sought to expose and protest their extreme exploitation. At their first Dalit literature conference in Mumbai in , these writers defined what Dalit literature should consist of, and drew the many diverse yet similarly themed efforts into a cohesive literary movement. In , inspired by the civil rights movement in the US, a group of men in Mumbai formed the political organization called the Dalit Panthers named after the Black Panthers in the US.
Pawar—published fiery essays and articles protesting the segregation and dehumanising subjugation of Dalits. At this time, Dalit literature burst out of the confines of its own subgroup to be read by other castes in Maharashtra, and eventually by Indian society at large. Though few women wrote Dalit protest literature circa s, their contributions can be found as early as the s. At that time, Sharda Shewale provoked a debate among readers of the weekly newspaper, Janata , as a result of her statement that members of her caste should replace burial with the more practical method of cremation used by Brahmins.
Writer Saraswati contended that birth control should be the responsibility of both men and women. There is testimony as well to the inspiring influence of Ambedkar. Tears of joy mingled with the sweat on their bodies; what a sweet confluence. The exposure of what life is really like for Dalit women coincides with a powerful shift in the emphasis of Dalit literature.
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I also met with a number of Marathi women writers from non-Dalit communities, as well as with various literary scholars. Nonetheless, it is informed by my encounters with each of these nine writers in some way.
Ambedkar and the Critique of Caste Society - Books & ideas
A pril in Mumbai is wrapped in summer heat and the smell of ripe mangoes. Inside, mantel-tops and dresser ledges are crowded with Buddhist statues, literary prizes, trophies, and photos from ceremonies in which the writers have been honoured. An elderly man selling incense points me toward a staircase behind his shop.
At the top of the stairs, I emerge through a doorway to the first level of a courtyard shaft, into which open hundreds of doors, each revealing its own activity. The walls are water-stained grey and slate green, and intricate patterns of moss dance along their crevices. Each floor seems to melt into the next. Wet clothes are draped along the edges of the shaft like multi-coloured banners, sending heavy drips to its base, dampening the already thick air. Every so often, the flapping wings of pigeons drowns out the rest of the clamour.
I sit with Kavita Morevaonkar and her mother in her living room. At 36, Kavita is poised, expressive and confident, with pleasant features.
She has long dark hair and is attired in casual dress in preparation for a day of work she teaches Marathi and history at a Marathi-medium school , and for her responsibilities as a mother of two young daughters. Her home is longer than it is wide, with a small kitchenette and bathroom that connect to a midsize living room. The walls are lined with neat piles of bedding and other belongings, tucked away during the day. The window at the far end of the room overlooks the road. Today, if a woman is walking on the street late at night, people say lewd things.
I answer back to these comments with my poems. I am trying, in my way, to raise questions and to change people through my writing. I feel that this is my contribution. Her family is smaller than it used to be: her sister died of a terminal illness and her brother committed suicide.
The first of her 70 poems appeared in and her first poetry collection, Mukta , in Mukta is also the name of her oldest daughter. Kavita writes in a variety of genres, but today she tells me about writing fiction. We say, what would happen if this occurred? What would be the repercussions of this if it were to happen? People might start thinking about it.
We cannot read their minds but if we write about our convictions, even if fictitious, it may affect people in a positive way. In this respect she is like Shilpa Kamble, three years her senior. Shilpa says she chose to write a novel because, as critics had noted, Dalit writers had yet to produce one. Overall the book has received positive reviews from readers and critics both inside and outside of the Dalit literary circle.
Shilpa is dressed in a purple T-shirt and multi-coulored skirt. Her thick black hair is curly and shoulder length. She is dynamic, vivacious and attractive. When I ask if I can take her photo, she steps away momentarily and returns, having applied stylish black eyeliner and red lipstick. Shilpa began writing because, as an avid reader, she was not able to find the kind of literature that interested her.
Like many Marathi women her age who had a growing interest in feminism, she enjoyed reading books by the feminist author Gauri Deshpande, whose writing reflects upon her experiences growing up in an upper caste family in urban Pune. In her books, the gents are very gentle, good, loving. Though they have some confusion, they are good. But in real life, if a girl from my community starts to behave like this, she will be abused, thrown out and used. Shilpa discovered Dalit feminism while attending a lecture at Mumbai University.
She felt the topic suited her personality. Even when I am dormant, I am an activist. Shilpa works as an income tax inspector in Dadar, Mumbai and speaks fluent English. She lives with her husband and five-year-old son in an apartment within a housing society paid for by her government job. A small balcony crowded by lush foliage overlooks a courtyard garden. When I arrive at her house in the afternoon, Shilpa is conversing with a young woman in her living room. She spent her adolescence living in a Mumbai slum her childhood was spent in a Dalit locality of slightly better condition.
Her only sibling, a sister, has a mental disability and their father, now deceased, was an alcoholic. It is not until the third time that I meet with her, as we sit eating fried shrimp that her maid has prepared, that she tells me about her background. Dangle, Arjun, editor. Introduction by Arjun Dangle, Orient Blackswan, Dirks, Nicholas. Princeton UP, Dumont, Louis. Fernandes, Leela. Gajarawala, Toral Jatin. Fordham UP, Ganguli, Debjani. Geetha, V.
Samya, Ghurye, G. Caste, Class and Occupation. Gooptu, Nandini.
Swami Achhutanand and the Adi Hindi Movement. Critical Quest, Gupta, Charu.
U of Washington P, Guru, Gopal, and Sundar Sarukkai. Oxford UP, Heering, Alexandra de.
Building a Movement for Dalit Rights: A Conversation with Christina Dhanaraj
Human Rights Watch. Iliah, Kancha. As they write, in Premchand, sometimes, because of this conflation the corruption of the social system spills into the portrayal of corrupt victims as exemplified by the central Dalit characters of Kafan who come across as slothful and immoral. Dharamvir, a noted Dalit Hindi literary critic, in his book Samant ka Munshi The Writer of the Feudal Lord suggests that in Kafan Premchand would have been on the side of Dalits if only at the end of the story he had written that the Dalit woman Budhia, whose painful death in the course of delivering a baby lies at the poignant centre of the story, was made pregnant by the lumpen son of the village zamindar.
One may disagree with the critical stand based on the concept of Dalit consciousness, but its salutary effect in expanding the horizon of literary appreciation of texts can hardly be denied. The same cannot as yet be claimed about Indian English writing, partly because this tool has still to be employed on a large scale. It is bound to become a part of the post-colonial critical repertoire, and thus enrich the critical-analytical scenario of English literature produced by Indians.