An Apology for Dalit Literature


by- Pandurang V Barkale


Dalit literature is sometimes referred to be unbelievable and exaggerated. Most people even take a stand of such-things-don't-happen-here'. Valmiki says that the sting of pain is known to only the person who has to suffer it.

Dalit literature has been criticized to be of life propagandist owing to its commitment to social change. Arguments have been made that dalit literature does not provide enjoyment because it is mostly written out of the dalit writers' confrontation with the agony born of exploitation.


To some authors the traumatic moments in dalit literature appear to be 'cinematic'.Valmiki makes a plea for this cinematic description in the pref-ace to the Hindi edition of his novel Joothan (2010). He argues that the ordinary imagination cannot appreciate the cinematic details in dalit literature. He believes that the melodrama that springs out of the overwhelmingly traumatic details is actually the poetics of dalit literature.


What is melodrama for non-dalits is the lived reality for the dalits. It is also contended that dalit literature does not describe human being per se and it is full of anger. Valmiki makes a plea for the anger in dalit literature. He says that it is impossible to represent the never-ending torments of dalit life in "mellifluous po-etic stanzas" (Valmiki2010: xxvii).


It cannot be ruled out that the anger and ve-hemence in dalit literature is in due proportion to the atrocities meted out to them by the high caste people. The voice that was suppressed for centuries when finds vent can't sing in admiration to the perpetrators. The natural feeling of vengeance is but viable. Frantz Fanon quotes Sartre in his Black Skin and White Masks (1968). Sartre begins his 'Orphee Noir' with the follow-ing statement which is quite apt in the context of Indian dalits gaining voice. Sartre says: "What you expect when you unbound the gag that had muted those black mouths? That they can chant your praises? Did you think that when those heads our fathers Had forcibly bowed down to the ground were raised again, you would find praise adoration in their eyes".


Dalit writers' protest against the mainstream author's handling dalit issues is many times construed as reverse discrimination. Dalit writers, on the contrary, finds fault with mainstream literary values. They charge the mainstream authors of ignoring the suffering and exploitation of dalits. M.N.Wankhede.a famous Marathi dalit writer calls mainstream Marathi literature "artifi-cial and false like a paper flower". He notes that a Marathi writer's understanding of life is limited be-cause he has rarely seen the "vast world-a suffering, distressed, struggling, howling world burning with anger from within like a prairie fire" (Wankhede in Dangale1992:316). Omprakash Valmiki finds similar problems of caste and class prejudice in contemporary Hindi Literature. In his book 'Dalit Saahitya Ka Soundaryashastra', he explains his perspective on the writing of non-dalit writers. He says: "If the non-dalits are unfamiliar with the burning mis-eries of dalit life, it is because of the distance between dalits and non-dalits that has been created by Indian social order. When they don't know the reality of this dalit life, whatever they write about It will remain super-ficial, born out of pity and sympathy, and not out of desire for Change or repentance" Valmiki2001:34)


Valmiki rules out the possibility of a dalit ex-perience being described by a non-dalit writer. He as-serts that it is impossible for a non-dalit writer to de-scribe an experience of dragging and cutting dead animals just by the power of imagination. A.P.Mukherjee, in his translators note to Valmiki's novel Joothan (2003), discusses an interesting debate be-tween Valmiki and his Hindi Writer Kashinath Singh. Singh argues "one does not have to be horse to write about one".

Valmiki counters this view while he says "only the horse, tethered to its stall after whole days exhausting labour knows how it feels and not its owner" (Valmiki 2003;:x)


Dalit writers do not agree with the rosy picture of village life that one may come across in the works of mainstream writers. Valmiki attacks the portrayal of village life in Hindi nature poetry. This description of village life, done with a romantic sentiment, he juxta-poses with the harsh reality and exploitative economy of it. He cites an example of a famous poem by canonical Hindi poet Maithili Sharan Gupt that he studied in his school days.


The poem goes "Ah! How wonderful village is this village life?".Valmiki finds each word of the poem "artificial and lie" (xxvii). A.P.Mukherjee calls 'duel addressivity' of dalit literature its merit. Accord-ing to him this 'duel addressivity' problematizes read-ers' class and caste. Its irony, satire, harangue and anger are addressed to non-dalit readers while dalit readers are viewed as fellow sufferers.


Narendra Jadhav whose life narrative 'Amach Baap Aani Amhi'(Our Old Man and We) has been translated in to English (Jadhav 2003) and French argues that the "first person account generates empathy among non-dalits"(Jadhav in Rege 2006:10). While Anand Teltumbde finds the autobio-graphical narratives too individualistic, often glorify-ing the author, romanticizing dalit backgrounds and failing to represent collective pain.


Mukherjee clarifies that pronoun 'we' in such works means 'we dalits'.In such texts the uppercaste and upper-class characters are distanced by according them a pronoun 'they' and 'them' as well as the rhetorical use of the interrogative statements sans subject.

Dalit Literature represents the struggle with the external enemy with the enemy within. The internal-ization of uppercaste brahmin values that follows their access to middleclass economic status by dalits is viewed as an enemy within. Dalit literature is highly critical of the superstitions in dalit villages, the patri-archal oppression of dalit women by men. Dalit writers also resent the financially sound fellow dalits' passing as high castes and their being oblivious of their roots.


This self critique has earned brick bats from many dalits who find the truthful portrayals of dalit society to be humiliating. Laxman Mane, fearing the wrath of com-munity, publishes his novel 'Upara'(An Outsider) only after the marriage of his two sisters (Mane 1997:6 ). The relatives of some dalit writers even demanded their share from the money of awards and accolades from them. They dub themselves the claimant of the money because they believe that the writer has received the awards by washing their dirty lines in public.


Dalit literature is often discussed in terms of the vivid description of the agonizing experience of the dalit characters. This vividness comes in the literature be-cause of authenticity which follows the lived experi-ences. The pains and pangs of dalit life could be best described by the one who has undergone it.


Omprakash Valmiki terms writing as a serious and responsible task. By being authentic in literary representation one re-mains accountable to what he writes about and the community he claims to represent. In his article 'Writing and Responsibility'(2008) he puts his views about the responsibility of a writer:


When it is claimed that only a dalit can know and express the pain and misery of dalits in all its rawness and immediacy, it cannot be glibly dismissed because a dalit writer himself or herself has been through all those dehumanizing experiences of humiliation and deprivation and he or she alone can do full justice to such experience and authentically filter them through his/her literary sensibility."



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