Dismayed by the vitriolic attack on the idea of 'commitment in literature', Sartre thought it fit to write in defense a whole treatise: ‘What is literature? ’ Any new genre or movement of literature is thus made to answer and justify its existence, particularly when it aims to disturb the status-quo and challenge the mainstream. Again this is more so for those that come with disturbing 'contents' and 'ideologies' rather than those that come with disturbing 'forms' and 'modes of expressions'. Black Literature in America, Feminist Literature in most parts of the world and Dalit Literature in India are the examples of our time.
Dismayed by the vitriolic attack on the idea of 'commitment in literature', Sartre thought it fit to write in defense a whole treatise: ‘What is literature? ’ Any new genre or movement of literature is thus made to answer and justify its existence, particularly when it aims to disturb the status-quo and challenge the mainstream. Again this is more so for those that come with disturbing 'contents' and 'ideologies' rather than those that come with disturbing 'forms' and 'modes of expressions'. Black Literature in America, Feminist Literature in most parts of the world and Dalit Literature in India are the examples of our time.
Inspired by the works and writings of Mahatma Phoole and Dr Ambedkar, the movement of dalit literature in india began from the Indian state of Maharashta in the later half of the last century. It is now spread to other parts of India like Gujarat, Karnataka, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Kerala et al but has to still face repetitive questions both from cynical critics as well as genuinely curious general readers: What is ‘Dalit Literature’? Who can be called ‘dalit writer’? What are the historical and contemporary circumstances that gave birth to the movement of Dalit Literature? Why does it claim for a separate and distinct identity? Does it have any literary heritage or tradition of its own? What are its salient features? What are its styles and techniques? What is its ideology? What is its aesthetics? What is its impact on literature and society? What are the challenges ahead? What direction it will take in the future?
First and foremost, the terms ‘dalit literature’ and ‘dalit writer’ therefore need to be elaborated upon for the purpose of this anthology.
For Gujarati dalit literature that emerged in the late seventies of the last century under the indirect influence of the neighboring state, these are some of the valid questions that need to be raised and answered for its own benefit. The questions are same but the answers are varied and it is all due to the fundamental problem of defining 'Dalit Literature'. Obviously it should have been very simple and easy to define: the literature that aims at uplifting the dalits by abolishing the caste system, the social system that segregates people into low and high, to the extent that a large section of it is rendered ‘untochable’ without having sany human rights and human dignity.
But a lot of confusion prevails on what the qualifying term 'dalit' would or should or could mean in the context of its current socio-political and literary use.
Originally a Sanskrit word, etymologically meaning 'ground' as in phrases like 'ground to dust', 'ground to ashes', 'ground to pieces', 'ground to flour' and by connotation meaning 'depressed', 'downtrodden, 'broken', 'crushed'; is adopted by all Indian languages in the same meaning.
But journey of the word 'dalit' takes interesting turn when Britishers in the Government of India Act 1935 used its English translation as 'Depressed classes' to mean downtrodden people of India who were hitherto referred as 'Harijan' by the grace of Mahatma Gandhi. These are the people stigmatized as ‘untouchable’ and made ‘outcate’ by the high-caste hindus, suffering from oppression, exploitation and segregation.
Sensing the loaded nuances Dr Ambedkar takes up the word to construct a new, respectful identity for the untouchables of India in preference to the patronizing term 'Harijan' literally meaning children of God. Some found Gandhi's euphemism derogatory too, as they traced a far-fetched connotation to Devdasi system when dalit girls were used as prostitutes by the Brahmin priests in the temples and their illegitimate off-spring were called 'children of God', that is Harijan ! It is sad to indict Gandhi however, as the word is used in many bhajans of the medieval Bhakti poets including Meera and Narsinh Mehta with the meaning of 'virtuous man', 'righteous man', 'God fearing man' as against its antonym 'Durjan'. Gandhi indeed borrowed the 'term' from one of the bhajans of Gujarati saint poet Narsinh Mehta. But the journey of the word 'dalit' doesn't end there.
In the post-Ambedkar era of political activism, and new-found awareness the term 'dalit' is stretched to its extremes to include all those downtrodden and depressed people who are historically victims of both caste and class exploitation. Armed with this interpretation, the proponents plead for the inclusion of Adivasis (tribals) as they are the 'depressed' people who were defeated, dispossessed and driven out into jungles and hills by the invading Aryans, present-day Brahmins. The servile class of Shudra now known as OBCs (Other Backward Classes) was also exploited by upper-castes and reduced to its present lowly social status in Hindu Caste hierarchy. Religious minorities think they were compelled to convert themselves to egalitarian religious like Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism to escape caste oppression and to seek equality and dignity in their new religions. And hence they are also part of 'depressed classes' i.e. dalit. Women are also exploited and oppressed by the paternal hegemony prevalent in all religions and societies and therefore they are the real 'depressed class'. Last but not the least, all 'have-nots' believe they are exploited by the capitalist class and are 'actual' depressed class! This amounts to about 85% of Indian population, leaving only the dwija (twice-born) upper-castes from its ambit that would, should and could qualify as 'dalit'.
There are a number of definitions based on this political construct. It will be interesting to quote several such definitions compiled by Ashok Chavda, a researcher while taking personal interviews of dalit writers and activists:
Rameshchandra Parmar, President of Gujarat Dalit Panther and editor of panther and akrosh magazines defines dalit literature as “that which provides a platform for the formation of casteless and classless society is dalit literature. It is also necessary that it should also give expression to the exploitation and injustice of the world"
Valjibhai Patel, editor of Dalit Mitra magazine and director-activist of Council for Social Justice has the broadest definition: that which portrays reality of human life and its sufferings is dalit literature.
Praveen Gadhvi, another major dalit poet defines that: “That which artistically expresses the joys and emotions and rights and dignity of the dalits is dalit literature."
Bhi Na Vankar defines the idea of dalit literature as: that which expresses dalit sensitivity and dalit consciousness is dalit literature.
Raju Solanki, a young dalit poet with left-leaning ideology says: that which expresses dalit sentiments, dalit consciousness, dalit sensitivity and has in its centre the dalit but that which also encompasses the poor and depressed classes of the world is dalit literature.
Indukumar Jani, Editor of Naya Marg, the progressive magazine that has played bigger role in publishing Gujarati dalit literature has this to offer as definition of dalit literature: That which expresses anguish against the present social system, that which aims for change in the unjust social system, that which protest against the slavish traditions, that which voices the sufferings of the depressed classes is dalit literature.
Chandu Maheriya, editor of Dalit Adhikar and activist-journalist says: Dalit does not merely mean Scheduled Castes. But dalit is an effort that believes in the equality of all human beings, treats everybody at par, that struggles against inequality. That what is written for human dignity, human rights, and human identity is dalit literature.
A very senior dalit poet, Dalpat Chauhan voices his opinion as thus:
That which expresses sufferings of dalits, that which guides their aspirations, and that which has negation of god, revolt, unity and equality of man, new awareness is dalit literature.
Manishi Jani, one of the editors of the, first anthology of Gujarati Dalit Poetry, Dalit Kavita published in 1980 declares: For us, Dalit Kavita has a very large scope. We do not see Dalit Kavita with any narrow, castiest perspective, but we believe that Dalit Kavita is one that gives voice to the people, who are oppressed culturally and socially and economically, that which strives to establish their identity.
In 'The Silver Lining', an anthology of Gujarati dalit poetry translated in English, Gangadhar Pantavane is quoted as saying : To me, dalit is not a caste. He is a man exploited by the social and economic traditions of this country. Harish Manglam, a poet, novelist and editor, says in an interview published in 'Eklavya with Thumb', another anthology of Gujarati dalit poetry translations: ' Literature written about dalits is dalit literature. But only literature written by writers that come from dalit communities has the authority of experience and the ring of truth. Deepak Mehta in the preface to yet another Gujarati dalit poetry anthology 'Visfot' writes: ' we should not interpret Dalit Literature as the one that is written about dalits or written by the dalits. Dalit Literature doesn't belong to any particular caste / varna or class. It is the Literature that joins the oppressed and exploited of the world, wherever they are, emotionally and rationally.'
And to top it all, the Dalit Panther Manifesto published in Bombay in 1973 defines ' dalit' in these words:
'Members of Scheduled Castes and Tribes, neo-Buddhists, the working people, the landless and poor peasants, women and all those who are exploited politically, economically and in the name of religion.'
The confusion is confounded, but for this anthology, those who were known in the past as ‘untochable‘ and now can be, at least officially, called ‘ex-untochable’ after the constitutional provisions, are taken to mean as ‘dalit’ out of these myriad interpretations and definitions.
But even if we somehow zero in on who can be called ‘dalit’, the question – who can speak or rather write for the dalits? becomes more baffling.
Who can give voice to the woes of the dalits and who has the right and the authority and the obligation to speak and write for them? Although the debate can go a long way, it is obviously the victims who have the natural right, or rather privilege to speak for themselves over the ‘others’. This anthology makes just one exception and includes the writers who belong to ‘ex-untouchable’ community.
But even without my recalling them, the following incidents come to my mind while trying to ponder over this confusion:
It was anybody’s guess: the speaker was a Jew activist and would speak about the persecution of the Jews right from the days of exodus and holocaust and Diaspora till regaining their promised land of Israel. But the Ahmadabad assembly of local NGO activists was wonder-struck to listen how cruelly the Palestinians who have lost their motherland are made to suffer from deprivation and indignity , how grossly their human rights are violated by the Israeli government. Someone so innocent and naïve in the audience rose to ask: Jews and Arabs are arch enemies and being a Jew yourself, how come you speak so sympathetically and favorably for the Palestinians? He replied: it is both my duty and right to speak for the suffering humanity. I hate violation of human rights occurring anywhere. He continued further giving examples that it is not him alone speaking for them; there are many Jew writers and artists speaking for them and pleading for peaceful and rightful co-existence in their part of land to the embarrassment and annoyance and anger of the Israel government. A scene in the one of their plays symbolically depicts a dramatic reality to highlight the chasm between two nations: the Israeli government erects a “separation wall” through the center of one Arab family’s home, dividing their living quarters in halves and requiring them to seek permission at the checkpoint to move between the living room and bed room of their apartment.
Narmada dam is being built since 1950 and two generations of adivasis have died building it for the benefit of the people who own agricultural land to irrigate. And the tribals are made to pay for the development and progress of these people by getting uprooted and evacuated from their ancestral land that provided them livelihood. Medha Patkar, a Brahmin lady then a scholar at a little-known SETU-CENTRE FOR ACTION AND KNOWLEDGE couldn’t bear much and decided to speak for them and launched the historic agitation which is still on to give justice to the tribal made homeless and jobless. Moved by the continued historic struggle, another lady not belonging to tribal community decided to support the struggle. And decided to speak for the tribals. The result was a laborious study of this huge problem of human rights violation of the poor and helpless tribals: the book called THE GREATER COMMON GOOD. The gesture sensitized much of the civil society and thousands of young men and women and the struggle for justice got a great boost. Not only that, she chose imprisonment for her bold and fearless eloquence which was judged by the apex judiciary as the contempt of court.
The historically famous exclamation of Abraham Lincoln that this little white lady brought civil war in America is yet another reminder to come to mind at this juncture. Moved by the plight of the black slaves, Harriet Beecher Stowe decided to speak for them in her own way. She wrote a novel of her size - UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, which is universally acclaimed as the all time classic. Equally important is another novelist, again not black but white, Alan Paton who chose to speak for the South African blacks through his CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY.
In 1981, during the anti-reservation riots dalits of Gujarat suffered destruction and death in large scale and non-dalits activists and advocates like Achyut Yagnik, Girishbhai Patel, Ghanashyam Shah, Indukumar Jani, Mahesh Bhatt, Manishi Jani and others were the ones who not only countered the anti-reservation and meritocracy media successfully but also helped in organizing/demanding the resistance, rescue, relief and redress for the victimized dalits. The sense of loss and bereavement and helplessness was so great, dalits found themselves fumbling for words.
The most recent is the post-Godhra genocide of Gujarat muslims – again the people who are so-called Hindus like Tista Setalwad, Mukul Sinha, Tarun Tejpal, Hiren Gandhi, Saroop Dhruv, Anand Yagnik, Fr Cedric Prakash are in the forefront to speak for the persecuted Muslim minority. Compounded by the global circumstances, Muslim have turned defensive and find it difficult to speak for themselves and ask for justice and protection of their life and property.
Jews speaking for Palestinian Muslims, Brahmin and Hindu speaking for dalits,Non-tribals speaking for the tribals, whites speaking for the blacks, children of former slave owners speaking for the children of former slaves, rich speaking for the poor, men speaking for women and vice versa! This seems to be a most apparent and utter contradiction in terms but nonetheless it is a benevolent reality and holds out a greater hope for humanity.
So when I come to think of the specific question – who can speak for the dalits – I find a great hotch-potch, different set of people and organizations claiming to speak for the dalits. The hardcore Hindu nationalists and communalists and sworn enemy of the dalits like BJP, RSS, VHP, SHIV SENA, BAJARANG DAL all occasionally claim to speak for the dalits. And they have their separate platforms like anusuchit jati wings or samrasta manch to speak for them. Not that others calling themselves leftist, ultra leftists, centrist, secularist, feminist, socialist, rationalist are left behind in the claim. NGOs are also not left behind: Bindeshwari Pathak of Sulabh Shauchalaya and Ishwarbhai Patel of Safai Vidyalaya are easy to come to mind. Different sects of Hindu religion, the religion that is responsible for the problem called ‘dalit’ have also raised their spokesmen to do speaking for the dalits.
And there are dalits - individuals and their organizations, claiming to speak for themselves. Dalits of different castes and class, of different ideologies and action programmes, of different competence and commitment, of different integrity and intentions. There is BSP and RPI and Dalit Panther. And there is Ram Vilas Paswan and Mayawati and Meera Kumar.. They say it is their natural right, it is their birth right, it is they who have suffered and are suffering and the proverbial truth is only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches. They may not always claim to know that why the shoe is pinching, they may not always be able to find out the self-serving trademan’s trick. They claim they have the swanubhooti as against the mere sahanubhooti, anubhav as against the anumaan of others. They have therefore the sole right to speak for them. Even if they may or may not know how to speak, (let aside how to express with argument and appeal), suppressed and silenced as they are by the Hindu scriptures and custom for the centuries.
The question assumes greater importance and is really worth pondering seriously in such contrast of claims: who can speak and write for the dalits?
Gayatri Chakravorty-Spivak‘s famous quote attaches lot of importance on the ability to speak for self: ‘if the subaltern can speak then, thank God, the subaltern is not a sub-altern any more.’ Yes, there was a time when it was asked: can dalits speak? And now is the time to ask: who can speak for the dalits?
It was in 1978, on the birth anniversary of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, Gujarat Dalit Panther launched its poetry magazine AKROSH to formally declare the movement of dalit literature in Gujarat. Its editor-poets had made a defensive but honest admission: that they are petty clerks and leaving aside the hereditary legacy of tools of their fathers and forefathers, they have to urgently pick up the pen. With little knowledge of language and much less of poetics-aesthetics, they have plunge into this creative medium to sing their song of grievance and anguish and tell their story of oppression and exploitation. They were afraid they might hurt someone with their raw and crude and direct speech and they sought solace in Victor Hugo’s wisdom: “… society is culpable in not providing instruction for all but it must answer for the night which it produces. If the soul is left in darkness sin will be committed. Guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.” And as was the apprehension, the pundits of mainstream literature got furious and expressed their sense of offence through all sorts of allegation – poetry is so sophisticated and elite a profession, dalits can’t write a line worthy of calling it poetry. At the time, there was another activist-writer, a decaste Brahmin named Bhanu Adhwaryu who welcomed this new genre of poetry giving an anecdotal analogy : it is like the rejoicing of the mother of a child who was born dumb and now after so many years could speak the first word. It must matter little to her the first word he spoke was a word of abuse! Rejoice that the dalits can speak, and can speak for themselves, can speak for others too.
It also never occurred to the editors or readers or Dalit Panther: who can speak for the dalits? The AKROSH poets were a group of young college-going friends and shared the honest angst and urge to give voice to the plight of the dalits – the dalits who were denied human rights and human dignity for all these years. On hindsight however, it has only now become manifest that the social composition of these poets had the most fitting answer to our question. All the 4 poets to the debut issue belonged to different castes and varna – 2 were avarnas and 2 were savarnas. The more interesting fact is both the dalit poets belonged to two different scheduled castes and both the savarna poets belonged to two different varnas – one Brahmin and one OBC Shudra. That almost answered the question – who can speak for the dalits. Everybody and anybody can speak for the dalits. All contributions are welcome if they aim at resolving the problem called ‘dalit’.
But it is not as simple and easy as that.
This particular question in fact is being discussed since 1932; the time both Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Ambedkar first put forward their exclusive claims to speak for the dalits as their sole representative and leader in the second round table conference in London. But it was to the wisdom and diplomacy of the British that both were allowed to speak so that they can reach a more informed decision on the merit of different perspectives on dalit issue.
I have to dwell upon this famous clash in more details, for it the unique case and has answer to our question.
Mahatma Gandhi, although born as and high-caste Hindu, had tremendous credentials and antecedents as a national leader but also claimed he was champion of the harijans by his acts and thoughts. He wrote in his autobiography that he was sympathizer of the harijans since early childhood. As early as 1915, he admitted one harijan family in his ashram in Ahmedabad. In 1933, he thought of a most respectful name –harijan, the children of god - for the untouchables and popularized it so successfully that all untouchable castes lost reference to their individual caste-names and assimilated and united them into a single identity. He engaged in the programmes of abolition of untouchabilty, temple entry of harijans and other campaigns of civil rights and liberties. He made a vow of giving blessings to only those couples where one of the spouses would be a harijan. He uttered some very pious and bold words during the challenging period of proving his leadership of the harijans. : ‘I may not be born again, but if it happens, I will like to be born into a family of scavengers, so that I may relieve them of the inhuman, unhealthy and hateful practice of carrying night soil.’
Dr Ambedkar on the other hand was a born untouchable and had thus personal experience of being an untouchable as also the knowledge of miserable condition of the millions of his caste-brethren suffering from casteism. Not only that, having studied social sciences like history, economics, anthropology, law, religion et al he had made himself intellectually well equipped with the necessary information and right knowledge required to become the spokesman of the dalits. Last but not the least; he had fully and honestly committed himself to the cause of the dalits sacrificing all other aspirations of personal advancement.
Notwithstanding these apparent qualifications, there is ample literature available to judge the merits of both the claims and thereby set the guidelines to answer for all time - who can speak for the dalits? Mahatma Gandhi’s thoughts on the issue of harijan and his different campaigns to secure civil rights and civil liberties for them are scattered in several books and journals but for our reference the compilation called VARNAVYAVASHA is most important. And so is WHAT CONGRESS AND GANDHI HAVE DONE TO THE UNTOUCHABLES by Dr Ambedkar from his great corpus. Mahatma Gandhi’s claim falls apart and he gets fully exposed when we juxtapose both the texts and face the unpleasant but all important question: Whether Gandhi’s concern for the harijans were born on account of political compulsion or on genuine call of the conscience ? Let us ponder over his orthodox views and queer convictions with regard to the harijan issue:
‘I hate the ruthless exploitation of India even as I hate from the bottom of my heart the hideous system of untouchability for which millions of Hindus have made themselves responsible. But I do not hate the domineering Englishmen as I refuse to hate the domineering Hindus. I seek to reform them in all the loving ways that are open to me.’
‘Varna and ashram are institutions which have nothing to do with castes. The law of Varna teaches us that we have each one of us to earn our bread by following the ancestral calling. It defines not our rights but our duties. It necessarily has reference to callings that are conducive to the welfare of humanity and to no other. It also follows that there is no calling too low and none too high. All are good, lawful and absolutely equal in status. The calling of a Brahmin - spiritual teacher – and a scavenger – Bhangi- are equal, and their due performance carries equal merit before God and at one time seems to have carried identical reward before man.’
To idealize the calling of Bhangi, to believe in callings as per one’s varna and thereby justify the Manuvad in letter and spirit and ultimately keep the hegemony of Brahmins and priveleges of the dwijas and assign the Shudras and dalits to their perpetual slavery, poverty is a dangerous scheme of thought and action of Mahatma Gandhi who takes pride as self-proclaimed champion of the dalits . Dr Ambedkar who believed in abolition of caste and abolition of caste system means death of Hinduism, finally cautioned in no uncertain terms: Beware of Mr. Gandhi who is masquerading as the champion of dalits. What is gandhism in social context? Dr Ambedkar quotes Gandhi in answer:
“I believe that if Hindu society has been able to stand, it is because it is founded on the caste system.’
‘Dr Ambedkar is a challenge to Hinduism.’
‘A community which can create the caste system must be said to possess unique power of organizatiobn’
His early South African actions and thoughts expressed in ‘Indian Opinion’ were very controversial and made him look a believer in racism. During his time in South Africa, Gandhi protested repeatedly that the social classification of blacks with Indians, who he described as “undoubtedly infinitely superior to the Kaffirs”.
‘Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilized – the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live around like animals.’
‘We believe as much in the purity of race as we think they do. We believe also that the white race in South Africa should be the predominating race.’
This kind of malicious thinking of Mahatma Gandhi hardly qualifies him to speak for the dalits. But this historic confrontation of Dr Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi helps us to come close to the answer to the all important question – who can speak for the dalits?
The other extreme is the case of yet another non-dalit claiming as post-ambedkar spokesman of the dalits. It will be a gross omission if I go on speaking about ‘who can speak for the dalits’ without mentioning V T Rajshekar, the non-dalit editor of ‘Dalit Voice’, vociferously calling itself ‘the voice of the persecuted nationalities denied human rights’. Born as caste Hindu Shetty of Karnataka but possessed by a zeal and frenzy of a crusader to kill casteism and its mother Brahmanism, he plunged into the mission of speaking for the dalits from 1981, the year Gujarat launched its most violent anti-reservation agitation against dalits. He wrote ‘MERIT MY FOOT’ in reply to the agitationaists’ argument. And ever since he is spitting fire through books like APATHEID IN INDIA, BRAHMINISM, CASTE, A NATION WITHIN NATION, A RECIPE FOR REVOLUTION, DALIT, BRAHBINISM THE CURSE OF INDIA and HOW MARX FAILED IN HINDU INDIA and through his mouthpiece fortnightly , exposing all and sundry that practice and perpetuate casteism to exploit the dalits and maintain their power and hegemony – all the collaborators in different guise , socialist Brahmins and sacred Brahmins , naxalites and socialists, Congress and BJP , RSS and VHP, elite converts to Sikhism, Christinity, Islam and Buddhism. When he refers to anybody in his magazine or speech or writing, he never fails to identify the person by his caste, like Jaylalita, the Bangalore papati, Gandhi the Hindu Bania, Adwani, the Sindhi Khatri, Manmohan Singh, the Sikh Khtri, Narendra Modi, the Hindu Ghanchi, etc. His intention, though seemingly provocative and deriding, is to point at his pet theory that the prime identity of an Indian is his caste, he speaks to serve his caste interests, there is no permanent ideology but permanent caste interests and therefore Jyoti Basu, Mamta Banerjee, Nambudripad, Atal bihari Vajpayee, Prachanda, for example, are all Brahmins serving the same cause and purpose. He claims he is an authority on caste and to end casteism there is no second course to kill brahminism which ids the mother of casteism. He internationalises the issue by calling the Brahmins as cousins of Jews and whites as their capitalist collaborators. He prescribes caste war and bloody revolution to kill the brahminism and racism and Zionism once and for all with the help of a united front of blacks, muslims, yellows and all the ‘persecuted nationalities denied human rights’.
Then who can speak or write for the dalits? dalits only ? or non-dalits too? Anybody and everybody? One and all?
Although it is not absolute and is subject to certain limitations, the right to freedom of speech and expression is recognized as a human right under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The concept of civil liberties / free speech and expression thus universally accepted, the seemingly simple question ‘who can speak or write for whom?’ can be answered with similar ease: anybody can speak or write for anybody including of course for himself. When one speaks for himself, it is he who is to generally enjoy or suffer from its consequences. But when one speaks for other than himself, huge caveats come into force. Are you competent and qualified enough to speak for others? Are you authorized to speak and are you authentic in your speech? Are you responsible and accountable enough to speak for others? Are you concerned and committed enough to speak for others? Are you speaking for the welfare and progress of those others? Or are you speaking being a Satan’s advocate?
A friend speaks for his friend, a mother speaks for her child, a man speaks for his wife, a pleader speaks for his client, a teacher speaks for his student, a leader speaks for his followers, a legislator speaks for his constituency, a representative speaks for the members of his union-association, a stranger speaks for the stranger. Similarly, a writer or an artist speaks for his characters. In such circumstances, one assumes as one’s humanitarian duty and responsibility to speak for those who are not allowed to speak, or unable to speak or unable to speak effectively for themselves.
There are sections and sections of such marginalized people who suffer from such disabilities: blacks suffering from slavery, apartheid, racism, colonialism; dalits suffering from untouchability, humiliation, oppression, casteism ; proletariat suffering from joblessness, poverty and hunger; aborigine and indigenous people suffering from loss of nationality; lesbians and gays who suffer from sexual prejudices; the tribals suffering from dispossession, dislocation and loss of identity et al. And all these subaltern groups are in search of people who can speak for them. For them, the more the merrier.
Like Alex Haley’s ROOTS, we are yet to have the suffering saga of dalits that can tell the whole story. Many early voices must have been silenced by the suppressers. But right from the medieval saint-poets to the present day dalit writers, there is an effort to collect their roots and branches to weave out the long saga of suffering. In attempt to speak for themselves, writers like Daya Pawar, Sharan kumar Limbale, Namdev Dhasal, Joseph Mackwan, Dalpat Chauhan,Om Prakash Valmiki, Moandas Naimishray have emerged in each Indian language.
Under the influence of Gandhism and Marxism, many non-dalit writers took upon themselves to speak for the dalits : Munshi Premchand, Tagore, Mulk Raj Anand, Amrutlal Nagar, Mahashwetadevi, Ramnika Gupta, Girish Karnard, Vijay Tendulkar, Arundhati Roy, Umashankar Joshi, Sundaram, Zaverchand Meghani, Ramanlal V Deasi, Praveen Gadhvi in English and other regional languages. They could speak on the strength of some sympathy, imagination, observation, ideology and lot of craftsmanship.
All these examples simply suggest anybody and everybody can speak for those who can not speak for themselves, who are ill-equipped to speak for themselves, who are suppressed into silence by the dominant groups, who are vulnerable and marginalized, who are victims of social injustice, who are deprived and discriminated, who are hated and humiliated, who are exploited and oppressed, who is not allowed to complain and protest. Their only qualification is their humanitarian belief _ their conviction that all men are equal, all must have equal opportunity, all must share the legacy of the mother earth, all must live in peaceful coexistence without any prejudice on the basis of caste, colour, creed, gender, sexual preferences, nationality or ideology. They are to believe in human dignity, human rights for all.
But quite a few of them resulted in insensitive representation hurting the sentiments of the dalits. Munshi’s story and Umashankar’s play generated controversies, so did Tendulkar’s play. So hurt by his comments (yesterday’s victim is today’s victimizer. If he has been shot at all yesterday, he shoots today… therefore, there is no hope for a man’s gaining nobility through experiences, he can only become a greater evil.) Angry dalit writers publicly disgraced him! The stereotypes generated out of prejudice took their toll, the unkindly idiom did much damage to the dalits, the generalization was unjust to the dalit individual, the lack of Statuesque ‘righteous indignation’ against the unjust and oppressor, the absence of protest and revolt – all these made them less authentic spokesman of the dalits.
Not that dalit writers understand dalit issue any better. Not that they are mature in their vision and ideology, not that they are free from prejudices and bias. Not that they are master craftsmen, not that their commitment is beyond doubt, not that they have experienced all the sufferings themselves, not that they are not exaggerating, not that they are not fictionalizing, not that their diction is not offending, not that they are not playing politics. Quite a few falter and fail, causing irreparable damage to victim communities. The writers whose mission is to resist, assert, rebel, revolt, destroy, rewrite, reconstruct.
It is everybody’s knowledge that dalit is not a homogenous community; it is divided in different castes and sub-castes, one above the other and one below the other with the notion of superior or inferior status. There is no unity or fraternity among them; they are equally loyal to their caste as are other Hindu castes. They practice segregation and untouchability. They have their own separate housing societies, their own separate caste councils, separate bhajan mandalis, mahila mandalis. Admission to their ghetto is restricted and reserved for their caste.
As per the Navsarjan- RFK Centre for Justice & Human rights report updated to as recent as 2010, they could document 98 variables representing untouchability practices directed at the dalit community from non-dalits (vertical discrimination) and 99 variables directed at dalit community from within the dalit community itself (horizontal discrimination) in Gujarat. This speaks volumes for the gigantic problem called ‘dalit’. That also indicates that many more speakers are required to combat casteism practiced both by non-dalits and dalits.
There are sincere concerns for defining dalit literature through other parameters like content, ideology and commitment. Whether creating only dalit milieu in, say a poem or novel, is sufficient to qualify as 'dalit literature' or expression of protest against the unjust social order, demand for social justice and human rights, assertion of human identity with dignity are the essential pre-requisites? Can African Literature, Caribbean Literature and Black Literature pass as synonyms just because they are written by 'blacks'? The radical idea of assertion of human identity and aesthetics of ‘Negritude’, 'black power', 'black is beautiful' may not be there in all these literatures except the Black Literature. It is equally applicable in defining dalit literature.
Whether ideology is necessary for the dalit literature, and if yes, what is that? There are all shades of practitioners – Ambedkarite, Gandhian, Marxist and even RSS brand 'samrastawadi' Hinduism! Is it possible to write dalit literature with Gandhian ideology that believes 'untouchability is the curse of Hinduism' but also believes that "Varnashram system is the soul of Hinduism' and Division of labour is good for society and therefore hereditary profession of sweeping and scavenging is not inglorious for the Bhangis'. Is it possible to write dalit literature with the Hindu Ideology which sanctions discrimination and segregation on the basis of caste and varna? Which has scriptures and codes like Manusmriti that prescribe bondage for the Shudras? Whether full and genuine commitment to the dalit cause is essential or any amateurish, careerist, professional's wordplay / verbal construct can pass as 'Dalit Literature'?
And finally who can qualify as 'dalit writer: the one who is born 'dalit', as one of the scheduled castes erstwhile known as untouchable castes, with or without commitment, with or without ideology ? Or anybody who is committed to the cause of the dalits – a decaste Brahmin or a black American or a South African white woman who condemns discrimination and exploitation on the basis of caste, who believes in equality and fraternity of all human beings?
Since Gujarati dalit poetry came in the precedence to prose, it should be worthwhile to study it to know what answers it can offer:
'Akrosh', a Gujarat Dalit Partner's poetry journal launched on 14 April 1978 (Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar's birth anniversary) which marks the beginning of the movement of dalit literature in Gujarat had an unusually brief but telling editorial:
'Leaving aside our traditional tools of looms and brooms and flaying knives, we have to pick up pens and become verse-makers. We are the first generation to know ABC of language and literature. We know, to master any art or craft, we need to master its intricacies – as we know full well how to clean spick-and-span your stinking toilets, how to weave dreams in the 'savarna' bride's sari, how to tan the hard hides so that your rosy soles do not get the pinch. We have urgency to express ourselves – our miseries, humiliations, injustices, oppressions, prejudices, poverty, hunger, exploitation, persecutions. We are yearning for human dignity, human identity.
But we take solace in the wisdom of Victor Hugo: "If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness."
The joy for the mother is boundless: thank God, the child is not dumb. Doesn't matter the first word it uttered was a word of abuse! '
One can notice, this poetic introduction carries immense sense of wrongs committed on dalits. The frank admission of their ill-preparedness, the inadequacy of the tools of expression at their disposal, and yet the urgency to express, the sense of apprehension of 'hurting' someone and the solace that they are not guilty for the 'offending' expressions but those who have created the darkness for them, the yearning for identity with human dignity…
Voiceless as they were for centuries, now they have found the 'word' god, the word that liberates – sa vaacha ya vimuktaye. The mother is worried for the child as it didn't know how to speak a word for all these years. Now she is happy and overjoyed that the child uttered the first word, and gave a sign that it is not dumb, it can speak. It is not at all worrying that the first word it spoke happens to be the word abuse!
With this frank, fearless and naïve beginning of dalit poetry, the movement of Gujarati dalit literature announced its arrival. The angry outburst of these pioneering poets was quite shocking to the mainstream Gujarati Literature. Its diction was unfamiliar, its tone was rude and provocative, its construction wad crude, its idiom was offending, and its theme was eye-opening. As if taken by surprise, everybody including dalits themselves started asking those all-important questions, started seeking for answers.
Yes, dalit literature has reasons to take birth like the incarnation of that Hindu God who announced yada yada hi… To kill the darkness caused by the oppressors of mankind and restore dignity and equality and liberty and fraternity for all human beings that inhabit the earth. One must know how dark is that darkness, that darkness that turns man into slave, man into beast.
Dalit poets tried to answer in their own ways. Burning from both ends9 a slim volume of dalit poetry published in 1980 had a little longer preface than the one cited above:
"o where are you, my midas;
those people refuse to touch me!
they do not allow me to forget for a moment that i am neerav patel, alias harijan. i wonder why and how i am a harijan ! because i don't dress like 'them', speak like 'them', behave like 'them'? because my father his father were harijans? no, i know this silly sequence ends somewhere in the past, for everybody is born as adam and eve – naked, free and equal. i would rather like to die than dwell upon the plea that nobody can select one's parents.
yes, it is because of 'them' that i am a harijan. i wish i could call myself in algebraic sign, like np : no clue to clan, colour or creed ! i know little of english and less of poetry. having been born in a harijan ghetto, nursery school or k.g. are still fascinating dreams of deprived childhood. no girl in jeans is my companion. i overhear the yankee accent and mannerism at the elite campus of st.xavier's, read every piece of paper written in english that comes my way – be it a folio a bank ledger or an ad of cosmetics and eavesdropping eklavya !
prof. bhambhi consoles that i am a poet potentially, though ill-equipped. but I don't wait for miracles. for i can't afford this. i am burning from both ends. i am afraid, before I get perfection in medium or art, i might get killed or commit suicide. let my successor weed out the slips. meanwhile you may take it as a poet's privilege.
i wish i could attack and appeal at the same time ! the urban intelligentsia is insensitively unaware of the harijan experience and the problem.
they have tourtured me for too long. i have deliberately decided not to give a glossary of our desi diction. at least to tease 'them' to annoy 'them'. yes, a childish revenge ! i shall be a glad if you are not one of 'them'. oh, i forget my father's advice – when one is modest by birth, one is expected to be modest. here are then a few originals and several translations from Gujarati. my anguish and my agony. bear with me –'
Selected from the first phase of Gujarati dalit poetry, these two excerpts try in their own ways to provide answers to what's and why's of dalit literature. It is the same sense of deprivation, the ill-equipped poet's sense of urgency for expression, his anguish and agony. Being the first generation to acquaint with ABC of the language and literature, one can understand the struggle to express oneself and that too in a literary form!
But the scholars and critics are rarely satisfied by the sentiments and therefore one has to borrow the language of a critic. While welcoming the nascent movement of Gujarati dalit literature, K.Satchidanandan10 penned down his reflections in Sahitya Akadami journal, 'Indian Literature' in 1992 in these words:
'There are many who argue that it is improper to divide literature on the basis of caste, class or gender. They do have a point as all literature, ultimately is a verbal construct which is at the same time a human document. However, literary history has also been a history of those vital explosions of creative energy we call 'movements' whose impact is seldom confined to literature alone: it encompasses the entire society and transforms its ways of comprehending reality …
He further elaborates:
'It is as if the paradigms and the epistemes undergo a sudden shift; a social group emerges from darkness into light and discovers a new idiom to lend voice to its long-silenced experience: the wordless grow tongues as has happened with the Blacks, with women or with Dalits in our time. Each of such authentic movements enlarges the scope of literature and redraws its nap by discovering and exploring a whole new continent of experience as also by revitalizing language with new tempers, tones, timbers, styles and even words and phrases so far kept out of literacy use…
And finally he sums up:
'They serve a purpose by helping literature to overcome stagnation throng a process of cleansing and renewal similar to the thaw after the winter and the spring that follows. It also disturbs the sterile complacency into which societies tend to fall from time to time by challenging their set mores and fixed modes of looking at reality, their whole stale habits of ordering knowledge, beauty and power, and their established literary canons bringing to focus neglected, suppressed or marginalized aspects of experience, vision, language and reality forcing the community to refashion its tools and observe itself, perhaps, critically, from a fresh and different angle.'
Having listened to the language of both poets and critic in above citations, now it is time to turn prosaic and look at the stark realities, both historical and contemporary, that created the dalit problem as also dalit literature.
Social discrimination and consequent exploitation of the dalit is well known throughout the ancient medieval and modern times. The commandments were too cruel: thy will not have knowledge, thy will not have properties, thy will not have arms to protect yourself, they will not have human dignity. If a Shudra listens to a recitation of Vedas, his ears shall be filled in with molten lead or lac. If he recites Vedic richas, his tongue shall be cut off. He who teaches law of living to a Shudra and he who teaches him religious observance, he indeed together with that Shudra sinks into the darkness of hell. Declared untouchable, he would live in the crematorium, clothe himself with the shroud of the corpses, and feed himself of the left-overs. To avoid further pollution, he will carry a spittoon around his neck and tie behind his back a broom to sweep away marks of his own footprints.
The miseries of the hero of 'Les Miserable' or the sufferings of Uncle Tom and his family in black literature are a poor match to the agony of the untouchable of India.
How barbaric and dehumanizing were the social sanctions against the dalits! Centuries old excesses like these robbed them of their human rights and civil liberties, reducing them to mute herds of animals. They had lost their glorious civilization and culture and were turned into beast of burden and bonded labour. Life was all tears and toiling. The penalties and punishments for any violations were brutally inhuman: an Eklavya lost his most efficient thumb and a Shambuka lost his most erudite head! It is not for nothing that V. S. Naipaul, a writer of Indian origin titles his books on India as: 'Area of Darkness', 'India: A wounded civilization', 'India: A million mutinies Now'. Mulk Raj Anand's modern classic is titled 'Untouchable' and Gandhi's journal was also titled ‘Harijan’! Even Arundhti Roy's 'The God of Small Things' has a tragic dalit hero. They all speak of the magnitude of the problem called the dalit problem.
A long saga of suffering is buried in the mounds of Mohen – jo – dero, Harappa, Lothal and Dhola Veera and many more sites yet to the discovered. Forget about the history or the distant past, atrocities and exploitation and discrimination of dalits in our own times are all too evident in our day-to-day life. A tiny part of it gets documented in the reports of Indian newspapers as well as in the reports of international human rights organizations like UNO, Amnesty International, Human Rights watch et cetera. The atrocities go on uninterrupted, incidents of rape and killing and burning their busties and looting their belongings, forcible migrations, social boycotts and marginalization… It is a sheer fun to gun down 33 dalits in Jehanabad of Bihar, just as they burst 33 balloons for fun! It's bravado for them to wipe off a whole dalit family in Khairlanji of Maharashtra!
With the official census figure of 16% of Indian population as Dalit, it can be said that every 7th Indian is a Dalit, 'the ex-untouchable' so to say as Indian constitution has abolished untouchability from its pages but the society continues to practice. With the population of about 8 million dalits, the story of Gujarat is no different. Story has it that Mayo was the first dalit martyr, who was killed by King Siddharaj (12th Century), in the name of human sacrifice. Atrocities suffered by dalits in the name of human sacrifice are poignantly featured in Ketan Mehta's classic Gujarati Film 'Bhav Ni Bhavai'. Skipping a large part of history and coming back to modern times from the medieval, one finds caste violence at its peak in Gujarat in 1981 and 1985 – the gruesome mass murders and burning of dalit localities in anti-reservation riots and communal riots.
With such social scenario, one can hardly expect better climate in the literary world too. However, there were happy exceptions in Bhakti Age and Gandhi Age of Gujarati literature. Saint poet Narsimha Mehta was the one who suffered social boycott by his Nagar Brahmin caste for going to harijan bastis and singing devotional songs. He preached equality of all human beings before God, and discarded discrimination and untouchability.
Under the influence of Gandhi and limitation of Gandhian Ideology, Zaverchand Meghani, Umashankar Joshi, Sundaram, Karasandas Manek and Shridharani wrote poems of progressive nature – sympathetic occasionally on dalits too. But the modern age, particularly the post independence period lost all sensibility for the common man. In blind imitation of western isms, the Gujarati poet plunged in to individualism experimenting on forms and techniques. But even with the new modes and diction of expression, he remained tied with the age old theme of Krishna bhakti to the extent that one wonders whether this is a modern or Post-modern Age or Bhakti Age of medieval times! Despite the new isms, their content never changed. It was bhakti, beauty of nature, love and romance, personal problems. The society, the community never entered in their psyche. They could never think why sections of people are not allowed to live as human beings, why large sections of people are unable to earn their daily bread, even after the drudgery. Why they are not able exercise their right to live, and right to live happily as fallow human beings. Why people are discriminated against and exploited. Why the society is structured on caste line and class line. The poet was just a singer of bhajans and sonnets and gazals for entertainment and escapism. The lofty ideal of a poet as a rebel and reformer was nowhere to be seen. It seems they were bound by their orthodox traditions and they played their role as defenders of the status-quo. Maybe it was their caste interest, their class interest to preserve the Hindu society as it is. Modern Gujarati poetry couldn't produce its Meghani or Narsimha.
But the forces of history were at play eternally, the forces of change were at play, slowly but surely.
It is not that the dalits never gave expressions to their agonies and hopes and dreams. Even in the darkness of ignorance, they must have cried and cried in wilderness. May be before birds, rivers, hills and Mother Nature. If not 'richas', they must have sung their own 'gathas', as are found in Therigathas of Buddhist nuns! These first voices of dalit literature have been lost for ever, thanks to the suppressive culture of Brahminism. There were a number of Harijan saint poets like Dasi Jivan in the medieval times who sang bhajans to spread the message of human equality and harmonious living .
But the medieval poets like Raidas, Kabir, Nanak, Dasi Jivan did sing bhajans that advocated equality before God. Raidas gave a golden verse to the dalits: apno paras aap! Be thy own parasmani – the mythical stone that turns anything that comes into its contact gold. Dalits, you need not yearn for the magical touch of your oppressors – as did the boatman in Ramayana. Don't think you are untouchables. You have all the potential of a human being. You touch yourself, you will turn into gold.
Kabir ruthlessly attacked caste and creed that were sanctioning discrimination and exploitation:
Tu turak agar turakdi jaaya,
Bhitar khtana kyon na karaya?
Tu baman bamani jaaya,
aur na marag kyon na aaya ?
You call yourself a son of Muslim. Then why weren't you born circumcised? You call yourself a son of a Brahmin woman. They why didn't you come through a more holy route?
Western ideologies that supplied several isms to experiment on form and technique also provided ideals of high humanity and ideologies to combat exploitation. But the post-independence main stream writers in Guajarati generally remained aloof. Gandhian influence produced some literature sympathetic to the dalits but it did not take roots and withered away for the reasons best known to caste Hindu practitioners. Their priorities were different: they were busy writing poems on leaves, flowers, beautiful girls, eatable delicacies. Even the latest poem written with the help of latest diction of Dot.com, the Gujarati poet doesn't find any other theme than Krishna, and Radha and their romance!
But the dalit writer is absorbing the influences both of heritage and tradition as well western ideologies and revolutions. He is sufficiently inspired by the all-around circumstances. Together with the general neglect in society and literature, the cumulative effects of winds of change blowing through catalytic agents like post-independence opportunities in the fields of education, employment, politics, industrialization and accompanying migrations from villages to cities, teachings of Ambedkar—all these brought tremendous awareness of the injustices in the first generations of the educated dalits who were equipped with the angry word.
With the launching of the first ever magazine of dalit literature, 'Akrosh' in 1978, Dalit Panther, the militant organization of the dalits provide the long-desired opportunity of such expression. Although there were isolated poems occasionally published on dalit theme, even elegies composed by the illiterate and semi-educated mill-workers way back in 1956 to mourn the death of Dr.Ambedkar, their Messiah hadn't take the form the dalit literature nor the distinct identity.
And it turned out to be a great beginning of movement of dalit literature.
To focus on the cold-blooded murder of a dalit youth in Jetalpur, a village not very far from Ahmedabad, Akrosh brought out a special issue in 1981 which coincided with bloodshed and arson of the now infamous anti-reservation riots also called first caste war after independence by Dalit Voice editor. In a way, power of dalit poetry was first felt by the State for the first time. The special number of 'Akrosh' was confiscated and its poets were arrested and put behind bars. As if the floodgates were opened, and the word suffocating for centuries was let loose to condemn, to indict, to protest, to attack, to appeal, to argue, to persuade, to expose, to explain, to destroy and to reconstruct – without fear or shame. The saga of suffering began to be written verse by verse.
The initial negation of new genre of dalit poetry on the basis of its nomenclature, its distinct tools of expression like use of coarse and at times vulgar language, its militant and offending tone, its iconoclastic attitude, its radical ideologies and agenda, its challenge to mainstream literary fads like modernism and post-modernism, its focus on social reality as against magical of psychological realism and surrealism, community and society as against the individual – turned into reluctant acceptance by the mainstream gujarati literature. It provided occasional space to dalit poetry in its prestigious literary magazines. But the dalit poet was happy publishing his poetry in little dalit journals – Samajmitra, Dalit Mitra, Panther, Akrosh, Kalo Sooraj, Sarvanam, Swaman, Vacha, Hayati, Aahavan, Halchal etc. as well as in some progressive magazines – Naya Marg, Nirikshak.
With recognition, also came into play the processes of co-option of dalit literature by the mainstream. Some works were awarded prizes and awards, some were prescribes as text books. Professional publishers, who were hitherto turning their nose at the stink of dalit literature, were now thought it profitable to publish dalit literature. It no doubt gave boost to the growth of dalit literature but it also work as diluting agent. The militant tone of the writer was found mellowing on the influence of the main stream criticism. Movement of dalit literature got split into several camps, with its own affiliation of ideology and patron from the mainstream.
Mohan Parmar12, a born dalit and a successful fiction writer in the mainstream Gujarati literature has divided dalit writers in four groups:
1. Those who are committed to give voice to the fundamental problems of the dalits. They believe in bringing social revolution through their writings to resolve the dalit issue. They insist on vivid description of oppression, exploitation, sufferings and all types of social injustices in their literature. They engage in documentation and least care about the mainstream measures of appreciation. They aim to create their own aesthetics. Joseph Macwan, Neerav Patel, Chandu Maheria, Shankar Painter, Babaldas Chavda, Yashvant Vaghela, Jivan Thakor, Sahil Parmar, Shankarbhai Bu Patel, Kantilal Makwana Katil, Nilesh Kathad are the main proponents of this group.
2. Some writers are committed to the dalit consciousness in their creations but are also careful of the art in the literature. Literature is literature in the last analysis, they argue, and therefore it shouldn't be inferior in artistic value. Main among this group are Dalpat Chauhan, Harish Mngalam, Raju Solanki, B Kesharshivam, Arvind Vegda, Bhi Na Vankar, Purushottam Jadav et al.
3. Some writers write only with 'literature' in their mind and exhibit artistic approach in their works. Like art for art's sake. They sometimes use dalit milieu and diction and characters and also at times try to depict dalit problem consciously or unconsciously in their creations. In the effort to create an artistic piece, they fail to merit for dalit literature. Mangal Rathod, Dan Vaghela, Pathik Parmar, Kisan Sosa, Raman Vaghela, Shyam Sadhu, Madhukant Kalpit, Mavji Maheshwari, Dashrath Parmar, Dharmabhai Shrimali, Manish Parmar, Mohan Parmar are such writers.
4. Those born as non-dalits but write out of sympathy for the dalits belong to the fourth group. They are Raghuvir Chaudhari, Chinu Modi, Jayant Gadit, Praveen Gadhvi, Pinakin Dave, My Dear Jew, Ramchandra Patel, Rajnikumar Pandya, Keshubhai Desai, Kishorsinh Solanki, Baldev Patel, Yogesh Joshi, Ramesh Ra Dave, Harshad Trivedi, Anil Vyas, Sumant Raval, Dhiraj Brahmabhatta, Nazir Mansoori etc.
This classification and the lists of its proponents appear arbitrary and overlapping and made to belittle some and glorify others. In Gujarati dalit literature there are but only two camps of dalit poets, one committed to the cause of dalits and seriously engaged in creating powerful dalit literature as they believe it is a means of social change and the others engaged to make a career and earn fame out of the genre that is in fashion.
A vast number of writers have emerged, both with 'panther' spirit and from outside its influence. A number of poetry and fiction volumes of individual writers, anthologies in English translation have appeared in this phase of Gujarati Dalit literature. Even after this ill-effect of co-option, difficulties of defining it, the dalit writer has come to a broad consensus – that despite their all-inclusive or narrow definitions, the issue of the 'untouchables' remains as the foremost focus while creating dalit literature.
Then who can speak for the dalits? To be concise and yet precise, let me remind that I referred above to article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the right to speech and expression and I will end with the reference of article 1 that says that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’ and article 2 that says that ‘everyone is entitled to all rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status’. Let us believe and hope one who wants to enjoy the former must abide by the later. And only then each and everybody, one and all can have right to speak and write for the dalits.
Not finding the ideal speaker, an anonymous poet finally entrusts the speaking to the mango tree who he feels could speak much better and more honestly for him and his suffering community; let us listen to him with hope and despair:
If the Mango Tree Could Speak
If the mango tree could speak, it would be honest.
It would tell us how it feels inside.
It would touch our hearts and we would know what is good and bad.
It would talk about my people and say how they live.
It would talk about my broken heart of memories,
my broken heart of my past,
my broken heart hearing people cry for their relatives.
If the mango tree could speak it would weep with the fear of thousands of years.
It would cry for all the suffering of the people.
It would say what happened a long time ago.
It would speak about what has been lost.
It would teach numbers by counting how many people it has seen killed.
It would tell how the people are suffering.
This anthology is spread in five sections namely, poetry, short story, novel, drama and autobiography. It represents 25 poets, 8 short story writers, 5 writers of autobiography, 4 novelists and 4 playwrights- both male and female. They are too large and diverse to comment upon individually but as we read along, the reality of dalit world emerges in its myriad ways expressing anger, protest, sufferings, struggles but ultimately the urge for human identity that can have both rights and dignity.