Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Song of Protest:
Voice of the Voiceless


Dr. P. Kesava Kumar

The changes in a society are always carried out by the political struggles. Politics as a value facilitate to understand the culture, history and politics of a social group. The power of politics expressed through the social and cultural practices of society. In other words, culture plays a key role in upholding the hegemony of the particular social group or community. From late eighties onwards, with the Dalit movement came against the hegemony of the upper caste and argued in favour of casteless society. It is very well evident that dominance of upper caste brahminical class) carried through their literature and cultural forms. Even till today, the brahminical ideology sustained through its music in the name of classical, in the public sphere. It has celebrated as elite culture and pure/real musical form. As a feudal cultural form it had loyal to god and religion, and confined to temple. In other words, shows its loyalty to feudal lords or kings and help in maintaining status quo of the system. This brahminical culture propagated through festive occasions of temple and especially in modern times through Ganasabhas. As Dalit movement came against this dominant brahminical ideology and tried to establish its distinct cultural forms and experiences of life in a celebrating way. The literature and culture of dalits emerged as protest against the dominance. Dalit song as a cultural genre made an attempt in resisting hegemony of brahminical class and in mobilizing dalits for a political purpose.
In this paper I would like to explore the rise of Dalit song as a protest against the dominant upper caste hegemony. This maps the struggles of dalits against the feudal, capitalist and brahminical cultural forms in a process of self discovery and self assertion of their culture. Dalit song not only countered the brahminical culture but also made a difference with existing alternative cultural struggles as in the case of political struggles. In a cultural front there is a powerful tradition of capturing the peoples culture (folklore) and politicized for the propaganda of political ideology. The cultural organizations like Praja Natya Mandali, Jana Natya Mandali, Aurunodaya Samskritika Samstha worked with a mission in this direction. In their cultural production, there are many songs about the dalits in the name of workers, labourers, and agricultural coolies. They were tapped from their cultural repository and politicized with a social purpose. Dalit song, though it is not established its autonomy like existing ‘revolutionary song’, but it had forced to talk about caste, naked reality of Indian society in much more concrete fashion. In comparison with other literary genres, like poetry, story quantitatively less in production. Though there is a conscious effort to build a cultural movement of dalits by establishing cultural organizations like ‘Dalita Kala Mandali’ and ‘Lelle’, but they are not with hold for a long time due to the set back for Dalit movements in recent times. The paper will emphasis on the strength of Dalit song as a protest against the dominance of upper castes and its weakness in organizational level in mobilizing people and in strengthening the Dalit movement.

The cultural genre ‘song’
The cultural form song had always advantage over other literary and cultural genres. The song entertains instantly and involves its audience emotionally. Song survived in all times though society had undergone many changes either socially or politically, from feudal to capitalist society. The song had centrally located in all cultural forms from folklore to films. Song is a collective act and social phenomenon. Song situated in a place that gathers writer and its audience. For song, the writer himself has to play a role of singer, or at least he has to move along with singer. Song needs a platform to gather people at one place. The audience will correct the song. The songs of the writer who doesn’t fulfill these conditions will be unproductive. Where as the writer engaged in other literary forms like poetry could retain his place as a writer, without fulfilling any of the above conditions.
The song goes along with performance. The song which is linked up to the everyday life activity, generally goes with the movement of the body and the movements will ultimately form a performative action. This natural performative action spontaneously involves the audience into its fold.

Social character of song
The song had been established as a most powerful cultural medium of the modern world. From the beginning song is the central to most of the cultural forms as marked with- Padas, Kritis, Kirthanas, Javalis, folk songs , bhajana, Harikatha, women songs drama music, film music etc. It had undergone into a remarkable transformation. However, it maintained its social character. The music had distinguished and identified with a social category. One may find lot of changes with the early decades of 20th century to the second of the century. Broadly it is divided into classical and folk lore. Former represents the elite brahminical class and came with the grammar of music and centered around temple. The folklore identified with masses, the lower castes, and it is spontaneous act of labourers while engaging in the labour and entertains them in a leisure time.
In modern times, technology brought tremendous changes in the cultural medium The Gramphone record, Cinema, Radio, TV facilitated this change and carried the song with it.. The film music, not only popularized and democratized the music but also culminated the both the elements of classical and folk. With further technological innovations, especially information technology, Globalization has influenced the culture. With rapid increase of satellite channels and digitalization popular film music had total grip over its audience than any other cultural form. Music becomes a commodity than ever before.

The folk song has changed a lot by falling in the hands of bourgeoisies and feudal lords. The real content of the folk song has got distorted. One can see the feudal culture in today’s popular songs. The popular song got patronized by the feudal and capitalist classes to meet their political ends. There may be no significant change in the tunes of folk song, but it may have ideas of conservative content. The solution the songs offered for the suffering masses looked at God, fate, or devil. It did not have political message. Some of the songs on women subordinate them to the system and are vulgar, and insulting. However, even today the culture of folk songs is still alive in the lower strata of society like Dalit, Adivasi and artisan communities. (In other words they are alive where the feudal relations are strong enough.)

Dalit movement and Dalit song
With the rise of Dalit movement, Dalit literature came to forefront in telugu literature by questioning the existing canons of telugu literary world. Dalit aesthetic creation mostly took in the form of poetry with newly emerged educated middle class. This is confined to only to that section and generated a debate in literary circles of telugu society. This form has its limitations since majority of Dalits are illiterates. With an intensified Dalit struggles, to mobilize the people they are forced to revive the tradition of song. The cultural phenomenon of JNM under the leadership of Gaddar and Vangapandu already established powerful tradition of revolutionary song by exploring the folklore of the people. In a similar fashion, dalits are in search of song for the propagation of Dalit ideology.
Dalit movement brings the special recognition for Dalit song. Though they are good number of songs about the life and struggles of dalits narrated by dalits, they are not identified with a name of Dalit. In academic discourse, they are known as folklore in contrast with elite culture/classical song. With the political intervention of left politics through Praja Natya Mandali and Jana Natya Mandali these kinds of songs are popularly known as peoples song (Praja pata) or Viplava pata. The folklore got politicized by them. Most of the songs on dalits are written from the political perspective of class struggle. Dalits are looked as labourers or working class. Still there is a debate going on weather the songs under the influence of revolutionary politics by the Dalit singers on the subject of Dalit to be treated as Dalit song or not. This has to be understood in the context of assertion of Dalit politics in ideological differentiation with Marxist revolutionary politics of telugu society. Dalit movement contributed significantly by pointing out the characterization of Indian society reality as casteist in nature. In defining the Dalit song, the literary critics encountered the situation same in the case of definition of Dalit and Dalit literature. This conflict reflected in the controversies centred around Chikkanavutunna Pata and Dalit Manifesto. Chikkanavutunna Pata proposes that SC, ST, BC and Minorities to be treated as dalits and the literature written by them are Dalit literature. Ambedkar-Phule and Desiya Marxism should be the philosophical basis for Dalit movement. The other extreme considers the labourers those who are exploited by the caste are dalits. Carried by this they excluded muslim writers and included upper caste writers who sympathesised with Dalit cause. The struggle is the only means for the liberation of dalits from exploitation. In course of time, Dalit literature identified only Mala and Madiga sub-castes, and B.C communities are identified with Bahujan. They brought their poetry collection and it is happened same with muslim writers by identifying with muslim literature. With Dandora movement of madiga community, which demanding categorization of SC based on subcastes, and Mala Mahanadu movement of Malas in opposition to this categorization of reservation, the common Dalit identity has at stake.

Song as a centre of Discourse
In the year 1994, the first collection of Dalit literature came with a name of ‘Chikkanavutunna Pata’ (Thickening Song). There is a compliant about this book that it does not contain any songs though the title indicated with song. At the same time, another book named ‘Dalit Manifesto’ had the good number of songs along with poems. Of course, there is a different view points emerged on the questions of who are Dalit? What is Dalit literarure? However, everybody recognized the song as the powerful cultural medium to reach the Dalit masses. The debate went to the extent by telling poetry (vachana Kavita) is not a medium for Dalit literature.[i]Some Dalit scholars stretched the point by saying written culture is brahminical since it had predominantly helps to establish the elite brahminical hegemony by marginalizing the oral culture of illiterate dalits.[ii] This issue got resolved with acknowledging the both forms and its contextual importance. One may argue that the form of song is better than poetry without bringing the distinction of Dalit or non- Dalit. It is not right indirectly negating the space for Dalit writers in poetry by branding that space as brahminical. Dalit poetry reflects the upward mobility of dalits and everybody has to welcome this trend. Song is the revolution of sound. Poetry is a silent revolution. Song is the war of man over. Poetry and Story are war of position. Both have to be done.[iii]

Dalit song: An historical view
In this backdrop let us examine the Dalit song historically. Dalit song is mostly available in oral form. There is no recorded evidence for their songs. But one can listen their songs by invoking the social memory. Though there are countless composers and singers, but no name got institutionalized. Written culture had succeeded in marginalizing the singers of lower caste groups since these groups are illiterate. Even after technological innovation, no voice of these singers got recorded. On the other hand the singers of brahminical culture like Kshetrayya, Tyagaraja, Annamaya, Ramadas are not only institutionalized and revered as legendary figures in the musical tradition. By overcoming the limitations imposed on the Dalit artists/writers, in telugu history one may find some songs of the life of dalits.
The first song in print on Dalit issue with a name of Malavandrapeta (The Song of Malas), was appeared in the year 1909 in Andhrabharathi with anonymous name. Later it was appared in Mungipudi Venkata Sharma’s Nishidhabharatam (1915) .The song appeals to others to treat equally since all of them born to same mother hindummma:

Andaru puttiri hindumma talliki
andaru okkatai vundali sakkanga
vernal yekkuva puttanga ledayya
mammela kridiki krummeru ma noru
yettagu yekkuva byammarlu makante
tammulamani meeru mammula judandi
ammoru deevinchi iswaryamichunu

The first generation Dalit writers are responded to the context of the nationalist movement. Nakka China Venkaiah, Kusuma Dharmanna and Jala Rangaswamy are prominent figures. Kusuma Dharmanna’s (1930s) song Maa Kodde Nalla Doratanam (We don’t want this native black hegemony) is popular in the time of Dalit consolidation under adiandhra mahasabha. This song is direct response to the celebrated Garimella Satyanarayana’s song of nationalist movement, Maa Kodde Tella Doratanam (We don’t want this white man’s hegemony). Dharmanna wrote this song foreseeing flight of dalits in the independent India under native hindus. The legendry figure in telugu literature, Jashua with the influence of Gandhi’s nationalist movement wrote many poems on the subject of Dalit life. In 1950s, the literary organization Abhyudaya Rachayalala Sangham (Progesssive Writers’ Association) and cultural organization Praja Kala Mandali articulated the Dalit question in the name of class in support of communist party. In 1970s in support of radical Naxalite movement, writers association ,Viplava Rachayatala Sangham (Revolutionary Writers Association, RWA) and cultural association named Jana Natya Mandali (JNM) brings many artists of lower castes in forefront. The JNM contributed a lot in reviving the tradition of song. The folklore of the lower caste groups got politicized and used for the purpose of spreading the revolutionary messages. These songs basically targeted labourers to join the armed struggle for classless society by keeping the differences of caste and religion. From late 1980s with the rise of Dalit consciousness, Dalita Maha Sabha under the leadership of Katti Padma Rao and Bojjatatakam changed the political discourse of telugu society by articulating the issue of caste explicitly as dominant social reality of Indian society. Many young Dalit writers started questioning the brahminical dominance in one hand and upper caste monopoly in the alternative movements. Under the leadership of B.S.Ramulu, Dalita Rachayatala, Kalakarula,Medhavula Iykya Vedika (Da.Ra.Ka.Me, United front of Dalit writers, artists and intellectuals) in 1990s.At the same time under the leadership of Sikhamani, Dalit Rachayatala Sangham, (Darasam, Dalit Writers Association) got formed. Almost at the same time Dalita Kala Mandali , the cultural organization formed under the leadership of Masterjee. In the late 90s, Lelle ,a cultural organization formed with an initiation of Suresh and Mallepalli Laxmaiah, who are sympathetic to Naxalite movement. On the other hand, the JNM artists namely Gaddar, Vangapandu further contributed to the Dalit song. The influence of Dalit movement could be seen in these artists in their recent songs.

Under the influence of Dalit movement many songs are composed by the young artists and performed in many occasions. A few audio cassettes and compilation of books of songs has seen the light. K.P.Ashok Kumar and Jayadheer Tirumala Rao collected songs came with a name of Dalit Geethalu (Dalit Songs) in the year 1995.[v]This includes the songs of older generation Dalit writers, sympathetic upper caste writers, writers of progressive and revolutionary writers, and recent Dalit songs dated from 1985 onwards. The editors explains that these songs are included by locating the struggles historically as nationalist, progressive, revolutionary and Dalit movements. Karimnagar Dalita Patalu (1993), and, Dalita Geethalu (Dalit songs,1993) of Masterjee are some of the anthologies of songs got published.

Politics of Dalit Song
There are many political streams with in the Dalit movement and different political positions on the Dalit issue. This has reflected in the Dalit song. One stream reflects the influence of Naxalite movement. Dalit liberation linked up with armed struggle and considers Dalit issue as a part of class .The liberation of Dalit struggle has linked with the struggles of land.The songs of Gaddar, Vangapandu, Guda Anjaiah, reveals this position. However, one finds significant change in their political orientation on the issue of caste after Karamchedu massacre (1985). The other political stream counters this position and treats Dalit question differently. It argues the necessity of taking note of where the Dalit song differs with the revolutionary song in understanding the autonomous political stand of dalit. It forcefully argues that laborers liberation is linked up with Dalit liberation and struggles of land liberation linked up with caste annihilation rather than the other way.[vi] They explore the other alternatives to capture the political power rather than armed stuggle. This position could be seen in Masterjee and others.
Being a dalit, Gaddar is an internal critique of Maoist party on the issue of caste. Being nurtured in Maoist political struggle, he is critical about the Dalit movements and its strategies to reach out to the powers. Gaddar emerged as link between Naxalite party and Dalit movement, not only as singer but also as a theoretician with commitment. In comparison with the language of political rhetoric of Marxists, Gaddar’s cultural language comes close to the life styles of toiling masses. In the backdrop of dalit movement he too changed his language from identifying people earlier with ‘coolie’ and ‘labourer’ to Malas and Madigas. The significant transformation can be seen from his earlier songs calling with coolanna (Coolie brotherhood) to his songs of eighties with ‘Dalita pululamma’(Dalit tigers).It is true that his early songs centered around coolies, peasants. He sings for ‘Coolie Rajyam’. It does not mean that, Gaddar is not sensitive about issues of caste. Even prior to dalit movement, he came with a song ‘Yelaro ee Madiga batukulu/ Mottukunte dorakadura methuku’. In the song ‘Rajyadhikaraniki Malanna’, he categorically explains there will be no change in the lives of dalits unless and until you get political power. Even if you change your caste or religion, there will be no change in your life .For this armed struggles is the only way:

‘Bhanchan bhanchanantu
Guloponni dora antu
Yennalu bhatukutavu Malannaa
Yeduru tiragavemiro Madiganna
Nuvvu Matam marchukunna
Nee batuku maradanna
Neevu Kulam marchukunna
Neeku kudu dorakadanna
Neevu rajyamekunda
Nee rata maradanna
Rajyadikaranki -Malanna
Neevu riflundunkovaro- Madiganna’
(In this song he appeals to the Dalit community of Andhra especially Mala and Madiga caste groups saying that converting into different religion won’t change their lives, even if they change their caste also their fate wont change.)
Gaddr’s Dalita Pululamma (Dalit Panthers) is a power song that reached the people. This is about the courageous struggles of dalits of karamchedu :
Dalita Pululamma
Karamchedu Bhooswamultone
kalabadi nilabadi poruchesina
dalita pululamma
In continuation with this, Gaddar composed many songs on the lives of dalits. He translated the condemned life styles as symbols of protest:
Yenta Chakkagunnado Naa chettakundi..[viii]

In the same line of Gaddar, Vangapandu is known for his songs in the dialect of northern coastal Andhra. He composed songs on miserable lives of dalits, and their role in knowledge production, and against the atrocities committed on dalits.
Vundarra mala peta
Kaastalunna chota’
(Dalitwada(hamlet of Malas) is there, Where the problems are there)
In response to anti- Mandal agitationon the question of reservations for backward castes:
Jnanokadi sottukadanna
adi sarva jatula sampadoranna’ (
Knowledge is nobody’s property, It is the wealth of all jatis)
The songs of vangapandu, Gandara ganda, yendaka chuddamuro invokes the feeling of revoltof dalits against the upper caste hegemony.
Gandara gandara ganda
dalita biddalevaro
kattulu goddalu batti
kaksha terchukovaro
sunduru hatyalu
mandinchi gundelo
narikinodni pattukuni

Yendaga juddamuro chaduvula dalitannalara
ika yegabadadamuro sevala kulannalara
Neerukonda hatyalakee
neetulenno seppema
karamchedu papulakee
kadhalenno jeppenu
maalolu savulakee
yemulolla rajyamide

Guda Anjaiah’s song of Vurumanadira fills the confidence of dalits by declaring this village is ours by questioning the Dora of villages:
Ee vurumanadira
ee vada manadira
palle manadira
prati paniki manamra
sutti manadi!katti manadi! Palugu manadi
paara manadi
bandi manadi
bandedlu manayira
vadi peekudendiro…sanghapolla jendakinda-sangamokati pettale
manila doche ee dorala-makkeliragadannale

Charabanda Raju is sympathetic to dalits and important literary figure in Digambara Kavitvam and revolutionary literature. He questions why all these differences in the name of caste and appeals the toiling masses to come together:
maa de matamabbi….kulalanee kulam loni
sakhalanee verujeste
chematodje manushulamoo
cheyi kalipi nilabadite

B.N.B in a same tone condemns the practice of untouchability and sings for the pedollarajyam:

maalollamantavu madigalamantavu
maata matadite duramundamantavu
nee rakta mettundiro orori
maa rakta merupundero… kulamu, matam leka peda prajalandarito
kalasipothu memu kadili vastunnamu
vunna valla rajyamu- orori
vudagottestamu orori
pedavalla rajyamu orori

On reflecting the atrocities on the dalits, Gorati Venkanna appeals dalits not to spare this and be ready for the struggle :
yenni sarlu eegoralu
yentamandimi orugudamu
dalitanna dandu kattakunte niluvalemu
dalitanna baditetthakunte bhatakalemu.

K.C. sings for dalita rajyam:
Ore ore ore dalitanna inkalevaro-mayannalevaro
eedopdi dongala gulcha-parugu deeyaro….dailajana rajyamkoraku porujeyara

Mastarjee is the founder of Dalit Kala Mandali and composed number of songs exclusively Dalit in nature. He gave many performances and a cultural force for Dalit movement. His political position too differs from the earlier noted singers. His song on Ambedkar is popular all over andhrapradesh: ‘Anduko dandalu baba ambedkara.. ambarana vunnatti’. His song goes with the political arithmetic of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to capture the power, as he sings in Manamenabaiyadusatam (we are eighty five percent):
Padihenu mandi leni-dopidi agrakulamu
desanni dostavunte-sustetlavurukundam
kusundimestavunte-kastetla vurukundam
In another song Ee Desavasulam, he tries to establish the fact that dalits are the sons of the soil:
Eedesavasulam-eebhumi putrulam
memu aadi jatulam-asalu mulavasulam
batukochina badavaryulu-brahmanagra kulamantoo
bharatadi mulajanula-banisalu meerantoo
In the same line he continues:
Madigodni malonni madigodni
adilone eedesannelinonni
mayadari manumalochi..vinnava annayya

Vu.Sa in the light of Dalit movement argues for the rewriting history:
Tiragarayora mana charitranta
tiragarayaro mulla charitranta
manaku teliyani mana charitra
pusa guchinatuu rayi, malle rayi, tirigi rayi

K.G. Satyamurthy known as Sivasagar, onece the secretary of PWG Naxalite party and a legendry figure in revolutionary literature came out of the party and actively engaged in Dalit politics and Dalit literary movement. His song Nallati Sureedu (Black Sun) highlights the Dalit aesthetics :

Nalla nalla sureedu
nallati sureedu
Nalupu nalupu sureedu
Gelupu dari sureedu

Andala sureedu
Andamaina sureedu
Andamaina sureedu
Aaku seppula sureedu

The strength of Dalit song lies in countering the brahminical culture and in celebration of Dalit culture in public. Dalit song is a turning point in articulating the life of dalits in a concrete form than the earlier as it was in the name of ‘class’, ‘labourers’. Dalit song is at low phase today due to the weakening of Dalit movement in Andhra. It implies that the Dalit song won’t survive without a strong Dalit political movement. In this situation, interestingly many of the young singers identified with Dalit movement contributed later to Telangana Pata.

End Notes:

[i] Mo. Dalita Kavitvaniki Vachana Kavita Vahika Kadu. Andhra Prabha Sahiti Gavaksham September 14, 1994
[ii] Surendra Raju, Iliah refered in HRK
[iii] HRK. Vachana Kavithakoo Samajamlo Space vundi. Aa spacelonoo dalita kavulaku chotundi Sunday Andhra Jyothy ,25 May 1997 p.7

[iv] ---- . Malavandra pata, quoted by S.V.Satyanarayana, Dalita sahitya parinamlo jashua In Jashua Sahitee Prasthanam , Vishalandhra : Hyderabad, 1999, pp.106-107
[v] Thirumala Rao, Jayadheera and K.P.Ashok Kumar (Ed.), Dalita Geethalu, Hyderabad: Sahithi circle,1995.
[vi] Laxminarasaiah, G. , Charitralo Nilichipogala Dalita Geethalu , Aadivaram Andhrajyothi, October 29,1995.
[vii] Gaddar (Ed.) ‘Rajyadhikaraniki Malanna’ Jana Natya Mandali Patalu JNM: Secunderabad, 2001 p.71-72
[viii] Gaddar, Gaddar Galam Audio CD
[ix] Anjaiah, G., Ooru Manadira, Ooru Mandarin (patalu) , Hema Sahiti publications: Hyderabad,1999 p.1
[x] Cherabandaraju . Ye Kulamabbe , Dalit Manifesto, p.2
[xi] B.N.B. Mallollamantavu, Dalit Manifesto, P.9
[xii] Masterjee. Manamenabaiayudu satham , In Jayadheera Tirumala Rao and K.P.Ashok Kumar (ed) Dalita Geethalu
[xiii] Mastejee Ee desavasulam , Dalit Manifesto p.32
[xiv] Siva Sagar, Nallati Sureedu In Siva Sagar Kavitvam (1968-2004) , Swecha prachuranlu: Khammam , 2004 . p.268


డా.వి.ఆర్ . దార్ల said...

It is an wonderful essay

siddharth said...

So very touching!!!
Really moved by the literature.