First of all, weather it is Andhra, Tamilnadu, Maharastra or Gujarat, dalit people’s condition is same. There is no difference in their social suffering and economic status. At the ground level, the forms of untouchability practiced by the upper caste are same. Only the names of the upper castes differ. In our Andhra if it is Kamma and Reddy land lords, in Tamilnadu may be some other castes. In all cases, intervention of state is minimal, whether it is police, judiciary in protecting the rights of dalits. We are living in a state where dalits have to struggle to even constitutionally guaranteed rights. We have to fight to implement the reservations in educational institutions, or reservations in Panchayat elections. From our experience, we understood that this battle is not so easy. We are witnessing lot of sacrifices, Aalisamma to Melavalavu Murugesan, and issues from Karamchedu to recent Keerapatti . Today dalit youth are never afraid of anyone. They decided to fight against caste hegemony. From this struggle, literature came into existence. In 1985, there is a famous dalit song from our Andhra touched many dalits,
Song is the medium of communication for dalit literary and cultural movements from so many generations. Universities and literary pundits are telling that dalit literature newly came into existence in nineties. I don’t think in this way. Dalit literature or culture is very much there in the lives of dalits. In history there are struggles of dalits in various forms. The Dalit literature is very much enriched in oral forms and transmitted from one generation to other. It is in the form of social memory, collective memories. In written culture, literature of dalits came into existence very recently. We have awaited for such a long time! To write/ read dalit literature, one has to be educated. As you know most of dalits of our country are illiterate till date. This is not our fault. We are not allowed to learn for centuries. Any how, with limited opportunities we are managed to enter into Universities. We are managed to get some small jobs. However beating all the hurdles, Dalit middle class has emerged, though is small but significant at this historical juncture. It paves the way for dalit literature in written form. It created lot of trouble to literary world. It raised many questions about the basic assumptions of literature on the question of ‘authenticity’ and ‘representation’. Dalit writers dismantled all the celebrated literary canons. They declare that we will write about ourselves, we don’t need your (upper caste writers) sympathy. We have seen in Telugu literary society, the death of the ‘upper caste writer’, whether he/she is a ‘Brahminical’ or ‘Progressive’ writer. Any new struggle or literature brings new symbols and new language. It is same with dalit movement and dalit literature. It will definitely confront with existing alternative movements. If it is here in tamilnadu, dalits are differing with Dravidian politics and philosophy of Periyar and bringing Ambedkar and the issue of caste in much radical way. It is in Andhra, dalit literature confronted with left movement from parliamentary left to radical Naxalite politics on the issue of caste. There took place serious debates, confrontations, negotiations in civil society among different literary and political camps.
Mostly the questions centred on who are dalits? What is dalit literature? What is the ideology of dalit movement and dalit literature?
One dalit anthology of poetry named ‘Chikkanavutunna Pata’ edited by G.Laminarasaiah came with an idea that, SC, ST, BC and Minorities are called dalits. With other opinion came another anthology named ‘Dalit Manifesto’ edited by university students (Kesava Kumar and Satyanarayana), the laborers who are suppressed culturally, politically and economically in the name of caste are called dalits. In that anthology they didn’t add Muslim writers as dalits. The argument is clear that though Muslims are victims of hindu religion same as dalits, but not consider under category of dalits. They have to be treated differently.
The next question is, whatever written by the dalits are considered as dalit literature. Other opinion is that whatever written with dalit consciousness only considered as dalit literature. In that fashion it included even the progressive upper caste writers who are conscious of dalit problems. This view is objected by literary critics and consider that , the uppercaste writers writing about dalits is not at all dalit literature. This may be treated as sympathetic literature towards dalits rather claiming it as Dalit literature. From this perspective, the debate concluded that whatever written by the dalits from their social experience is only qualified to be dalit litetature. On the question of liberation of dalits, dalits will achieve political power only through the ‘struggle’ but not by appealing to the state. All these points reflected in dalit literature. There are many young writers came into telugu literary scene, university students, some employees, some of the people came out of the revolutionary politics. All are in between 25 and 40 years. At initial stage mostly literary expression is in the form of poetry. Later they switched over to short story and novel.
There is not only the celebration of dalit literature but also carried bitter experiences with it. At initial stage many B.C writers identified with dalit literature. Their tone is even little bit aggressive and more critical about left parties. In later stage, with strengthening of identity politics. They are excluded from dalit literature. They too realized to talk about their own cultural and social experiences. They too brought the literary anthologies in the name of ‘Bhahujan’ or ‘B.C literature’. In later days Muslims writers established their own identity in the name of Muslim ideology. As a consequence, dalit literature is exclusively identified with Mala and Madiga sub communities of Telugu society.
With emergence of Madiga Dandora movement, which demanding the categorization of SC reservation, dalit literature took new turn. Some Madiga writers came with the idea of madigization in their literary works. It came with the assertion of ‘beef eating’ and celebration of musical instrument ‘Dappu’. On the other hand most of the Mala writers are sympathetic to Dandora movement, but they pushed into a crisis. They become silent. There is no much writing further. Altogether, there prevails some silence. News papers too not entertaining dalit literature like earlier times. Some of the conscious writers shifted to short story and novel. In 2000, internalizing all the debates, Dalit novel emerged as important genre in dalit literature. Vemula Yellaiah’s ‘Kakka’ talk about the Madigization of telangana dalits, ‘Panchaman’ of Chilukuri Devaputra came with the plot, without structural change in society, dalit reaching the higher positions are no use. G.Kalyana Rao’s ‘Antarani Vasantham’ is a landmark in Telugu dalit literature. The novel is recollection of memories of dalit life. It is a conscious creative effort of the writers in writing history, culture, philosophy, politics and struggles of dalits for a period of hundred years. It emphasized that dalit struggles are in different forms in different periods. So far dalit literature centred on the suffering of dalits and writers by showing suffering expected sympathy from others. But this novel, holds that not only suffering but there are joyful movements in the life of dalits. All the characters in this novel are assertive. It ends up with the message- ‘there is no other way for dalit liberation except struggle. It is an historical necessity’.
Let me conclude with a note, as Dalit revolutionary writer Kalyana Rao upholds in his ‘Untouchable spring’ – ‘we the dalit are not born to die. But are also born to fight, end to exploitation and live as dignified human beings’. This urge will definitely create a cultural revolution in the country:
Dandu kattakunda bhatakalemu.
(This is based on the talk on telugu Dalit literature delivered at Madurai)
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
We are not born to die …