Against Brahminical Tradition:
A Philosophical view of Dalit critique of Modernity
A Philosophical view of Dalit critique of Modernity
The decade of eighties in Andhra Pradesh is known for a radical assertion of Dalits, women, adivasis and the Telangana people. These struggles are not only critical about dominant philosophical thinking, but also put a responsibility to record the past based on these foundations. They made a conscious attempt to interrogate the dominant traditions in order to liberate them. They have raised several questions relating to the nature of State and developmental strategy pursued by it. They created a new universe with alternative value system. Mostly, the knowledge about them could be in their literary and cultural articulation. Their literature is overshadowed by the philosophical inquiry into the conditions of the good society, the good person and, the good life. Literature is a primary means by which a community situates itself in place. The literature in the written form as established ‘the literature’ with the advent of print technology. The print culture not only succeeded in marginalizing the oral forms of larger social groups and also facilitated modern public sphere. For a long time this sphere is mostly dominated by educated brahminical class, though theoretically this space is available to everybody. The recent entry of dalits in to this modern space not only created tension, but also provides alternative philosophical insights through literary and cultural works. This gives the opportunity to read the politics of modernity in Telugu literature. On one hand, Dalit literature blatantly opposed the brahminical tradition, and other hand further radicalized the politics of alternative struggles.
The Karamchedu massacre of 1985 and the Pro-Mandal agitations in 1991 shattered the modern secular pretensions of various social and political institutions. One of the features of contemporary Dalit movement is that engaged with the politics of modern public sphere, which is seen as secular space (in the spheres of literature, cinema, university and political party etc.). It is the Dalit struggles and their assertion that showed the casteist brahminical character of these spheres. From the decade of eighties onwards, a considerable number of Dalit middle class is visible in Indian society. Their presence was felt in the public sphere for the first time. They are resisting the hegemony of the upper castes in these spaces by asserting themselves in all possible ways. For the upper caste people, it was as if the space which was so far reserved for them exclusively, suddenly became uncomfortable and they are becoming irritated with the entry of Dalits into their spaces. One can see the antagonism between these two in Universities, literary and cultural fields. The University, the city, cinema and literature are predominantly urban spaces where the above said encounters are very often witnessed. The upper castes have suddenly picked up a liberal language to corner the Dalits.
With the entry of Dalits into the various public institutions, one common response is that the objectives of these public institutions have been subverted. To put it in other words, the universe of values constituting these public institutions has been thwarted. To make sense of this, one has to find a relevant conceptual framework. Partha Chatterjee offers one. According to him, there are two worlds: a world of middle class constituted by modern norms of freedom of speech, voluntary associations and individual capable of choice; another is a world of subalterns constituted by other concepts which does not come under this modern bourgeoisie rubric. There is a relationship of pedagogy between the former and the latter. The entry of Dalits into modern public institutions, cause a rupture between two universes. The universe of public institutions is underpinned by modern rationality and concomitant values as created by modern-nation-State. The introduction of the universe of Dalits into public institutions results in, broadly, two consequences. It questions the nature of translation and application of modern values of liberty and equality in modern public institutions. Secondly, the visions of public institutions enter into a phase of crises of understanding and coherence. This interpretation helps us to understand the nature of hatred and conflict in public institutions. But, it also sets in other agendas of shedding the potential of modernity to liberate Dalits from the shackles of tradition. Dalits share an ambiguous relationship with modernity.
When modernity entered India, the Indian traditional intellectual community had seen it as a threat to the Indian social structure. To protect the age old brahamnical societal structure, the upholders of the tradition moved to keep the tradition intact. They started the process of monopolization of modernity by embracing the epistemologies of modernity - such as the basic sciences and technical education. Initially, when modernity opened up new opportunities, with its inherent economic viability, the Brahmin intellectuals given up traditional epistemologies and embraced modern epistemology purely for the material prosperity.
The writings reveal that Dalit relation to modernity is complex. It is also, in some sense critical about the general understanding of modernity, i.e., modern development, science and reason. Dalit politics refuses to get incorporated into the binaries of nationalism/colonialism and secularism/communalism. It also resists Universalism, the unmarked and abstract citizen as a centre of the emancipatory discourse of modernity. It is equally critical about the abstract 'working class'. In other words, it constantly speaks with and against both the liberal and the radical conception of man and society.
Indian Renaissance and valorization of Brahmanism
In the nineteenth century and early twentieth century there occurred a renaissance in India, which was significant movement in Europe in fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. With changed socio- political situation, there emerged social elite (liberal brahminical class) and started thinking critical about their religious and cultural traditions. In India, this renaissance movement began with the realization that hindu society was anachronistic, that there was a need for its reform and reorganization to adjust obsolete social relationships. This impulse for reform did not come from the oppressed classes or lower castes, but from persons who belonged to the upper classes, studied western science and literature and understood the needs of their contemporary world. It was soon found that without religious reform there could be no social reconstruction. The essence of the fundamental beliefs which form the core of Hinduism was identified, reexamined and reinterpreted. The social reformers Raja Ramohan Roy, Dayananda Saraswati, Vidya Sagar, and Vivekananda identified as contemporary Indian philosophers in philosophy text books are classic example.
The intellectuals of the Indian renaissance to resist the hegemony of the colonialism interpreted the past for their immediate demands. The rise of national consciousness coincided with the revival of interest in Indian philosophy. The nationalist intellectuals happen to be elites of the Brahminical class and reflected from their own social imagination in constructing the Indian philosophy. 'In their search for internal principle of unity to the past, religion was given a foundational position by both orthodox and reformist Brahmin intellectuals'. This can be seen in torch bearers of modern India like Rajarammohan Roy, Dayananda Saraswati, Sri Aurobindo, Tagore, Vivekananda, Tilak, Gandhi, Radhakrishnan etc. The hindu nationalists started the tradition of dressing up the spirit centred metaphysics of orthodox Hinduism in modern scientific clothes. As Radhakrishnan argues that Indian wisdom is needed today not only to rejuvenate the Indian nation but to reorient the entire human race’. P. T. Raju offered that ‘the East can impart the spiritual basis to the west. The future of mankind depends on conciliation and synthesis.’ There are many writers engaged in this project by saying cultural synthesis of east and west or of dialogue of India with west’. The Oriental Scholars like Max Muller, Duessen, Schopenhauer too fascinated by it. They promoted or over-exaggerated Indian irrationalism and mysticism.
The modern hindu intellectuals are very much aware of the social contradictions of the Indian society, but they never attempted seriously to change the society. They responded to the situation indirectly in such a way that it does not effect their socially privileged position. To conceal the contradictions of the Indian society, the renaissance and nationalist intellectuals were clever enough to invent a new language that works well. One may find equality in spiritual realm and inequality in material world or social world. It promises equality in other world by negating affairs of this world or by projecting it as māya. The grand philosophies constructed on this line, ultimately helps in maintaining the status quo and hegemony of brahminism.
Marginalization of Non Brahmin intellectuals
The vast majority of bourgeois scholars (Brahminical scholars) ignore the central place of the question of the relation between existence and thought-between matter and consciousness-among the philosophical problems and decisive significance of its solution for characterizing the nature of every philosophical school. As a result, they are incapable of properly interpreting the history of Indian philosophy as the history of struggle between materialism and idealism, between atheism and religion. Bourgeois scholars either totally deny the conflict of ideas in Indian philosophy or admit such conflict only within the framework of idealism by viewing it as the struggle between the three major religions of India-Hinduism, Budhism and Jainism.
The main reason for distorted interpretation of Indian philosophy, the scholars idealistic bias in their outlook, they ignore the social significance of philosophy and do not comprehend the truth that philosophy is the product of concrete social environment. They tried to understand through textual and linguistic analysis of its sources. The contemporary Indian philosophy projected exclusively as idealistic. Almost the entire first generation of philosophers to come out of Indian universities were idealists, influenced by advaita Vedanta and some form of European idealism derived from Kant and Hegel. Consequently, the older Indian academic philosophers were more or less favourable to religion and in the thought of every one of them there was a place either for the Absolute or God.
The dominant idealistic outlook as most prominent philosophical view renders materialistic world as unreal and its metaphysical approach which renders concept of change untenable. As they are blindfolded to look at the antagonistic social relations of contemporary India, it is obvious for non development of moral, social and political philosophy in India. Philosophers have to reflect on the social and cultural practices in which they lived. In India, caste is the fundamental social reality that shapes and influences everyday life. It is determining force in one’s perception of the world. As Pratima Bowes rightly observed, "....The philosophers in India failed in their task in as much as they did nothing towards developing political, social or moral philosophy in India. One reason for this non-development may be that philosophical thought was a monopoly of the Brahmin caste, whose privileges would have been under attack if questions were to be asked about the social system.”
The brahminical philosophy consciously keeps away from the contemporary social situation and cleverly banks on classical past. The brahminical philosophy never internalizes the change. It maximum tried to assimilate it as a part of its own tradition. One may accept it or not, it is the struggles of the people paves the way for new ideas and new thinking. We have seen that brahminical intellectuals succeed in caricaturing Indian philosophy as mainly idealistic, spiritualistic and religious through their writings. It is not surprise that one may not find any thinker in their whole spectrum of contemporary Indian philosophy from outside this tradition. One may argue that it failed to see the differences within this tradition in relation to its social and moral implications. But these intellectual elites never consider the other political currents both in colonial and post independent India. We didn’t find any thinkers of contemporary India from sudra and untouchable communities though the thinkers like Ambedkar, Jyothibha Phule, Narayana Guru and E.V. Ramaswamy Periyar in the books of contemporary Indian philosophers. Hardly we find anybody from the other than hindu religion. Though India is known for diverse social groups, languages and regions, no where we will find these markings in packaging Indian philosophy. This is same with the intellectuals of lower castes responded in literary and cultural fields with an alternative to brahminical knowledge system.
Dalit critique of Modernity
When modernity entered India, the Indian traditional intellectual community had seen it as a threat to the Indian social structure. To protect the age old brahamnical societal structure, the upholders of the tradition moved to keep the tradition intact. They started the process of monopolization of modernity by embracing the epistemologies of modernity - such as the basic sciences and technical education. Initially, when modernity opened up new opportunities, with its inherent economic viability, the Brahmin intellectuals given up traditional epistemologies and embraced modern epistemology purely for the material prosperity. At this juncture, the whole process of embracing modernity by the intellectual community of the times, raises very interesting questions. For instance, it asks why Brahman community embraced modernity? What were the reasons for the monopolization of modernity? Did they allow modernity to go into corners to transform the basic structure of the society? If it was not the case, was it the fault of ‘other’s, who were not able to absorb modernity?
If we asses the impact of modernity on Indian society, the under-privileged sections of the society hardly benefited from it. If one thinks of possible reasons for this, one can easily come to the conclusion that the modernity project, in the nineteenth century, was monitored by the social elites of the times, and came from the Brahmin community. Apart from monitoring and controlling the whole process of modernization, there were constant conscious interventions by this community to ensure their interests are secure by not allowing the fruits of modernity into other sections of the Indian society. This resulted in the halting or postponing of societal transformations. To reserve the fruits of modernity for them, they constantly realized the price of modernity. Apart from providing new avenues, modernity has implications for social transformation. The elites have to overcome their own traditions and cultural beliefs. To resolve this kind of a situation they had started defending their cultural traditions and simultaneously enjoying the material benefits of the modernity at colonial times.
The relationship of the Dalits to the modern State, both colonial and post colonial, is ambiguous. It is important to re-look at political /cultural practices of Dalits to understand the Dalit response to State and modernity. If one emphasises the discursive aspects of modernity, it offers enormous possibilities to talk about Dalit suffering/ humiliation and oppression. It can also be said that Ambedkar’s argument for creating a moral community is possible only if one emphasizes the discursive aspects of modern experience.
Ambedkar tried to overcome the tradition-modernity dichotomy. The critique of the tradition is accompanied in his refusal to accept ready made alternatives manufactured in the west. His philosophy is essentially ethical and religious and he keeps away from western thought. And at the same time, he attacked Hinduism and its claims as religion .he upholds the moral basis of life while allowing critical reason to operate. He considers Buddhism as the only religion which can respond to the demands of modernity and culture. Buddhist teachings he believes, appeal to reason and experience. in this sense he is critical of modernity and high lightened that priority of social reconstruction can not be achieved without taking into account the legacy of tradition .He further considers that legal and political institutions do not have a capacity to reconstruct social solidarity, and therefore tries to provide a social basis for the liberal and political ethos which does not mean an uncritical acceptance of western modernity or indigenous traditionalism.’
Further, modernity, as imposed on the third world countries has been attacked from many fronts. Modernity is considered as a necessary extension of colonialism. Modernity in India came as a package with colonialism. There is an attack on the general philosophical beliefs of modernity such as notions of Universalism and its truth claims. There is an attack on the very values of post-Enlightenment thought, on its conception of secularism and rights etc. As observed by Javeed Alam, people readily reject terms like secularism on the grounds that they are alien to and lack any affinity with ‘Indian culture or traditions. However, other terms such as democracy or equality are readily acceptable.’ This may give a clue to understand modernity which has taken roots in the Indian context and its complexity.
Modern is historically embodied form of enlightenment. Whatever is entailed under enlightenment as values, beliefs, principles, ethics, morality and so on, has been thought of as universal – not just in an abstract sense but as something universalizable in the thinking and practices of all human beings. Colonialism has a historical connection with capitalism and therefore also what we have referred to as entrenched modernity. The capitalism in the colonies have demonstrative with all the features of distorted consciousness, racial superiority, arrogant cultural exclusiveness, and intellectual condescension over and above political control of those inferiors whom it has subjugated.
The writings reveal that Dalit relation to modernity is complex. It is also, in some sense critical about the general understanding of modernity, that is modern development, science and reason. Dalit politics refuses to get incorporated into the binaries of nationalism/colonialism and secularism/communalism. It also resists Universalism, the unmarked and abstract citizen as a centre of the emancipatory discourse of modernity. It is equally critical about the abstract 'working class'. In other words, it constantly speaks with and against both the liberal and the radical conception of man and society. Ambedkar doesn't believe in mere individualism, whereas the individual is the centre for liberal and modern life. He believes in community life that is rooted in a moral society and is based on the ideals of modernity. He makes differences with other communitarians like conservatives (Hindutva forces) and Marxists.
The trajectory of modernity in post-colonial India is a very complicated one. The Brahminical Hindu elite's engagement with the modernist project is quite interesting. The liberation of the self/nation is imagined in the spiritual and cultural domains. In its initial phase, Hindu nationalism started internal social reforms. The project of modernity pursued by these social elites of post-colonial India has ended up as anti-modern . As Partha Chatterjee notes: “…the search for the post colonial has been tied, from its very birth, with its struggle against modernity'. The modernization process carried the tag of the tradition. This ultimately led to the confrontation of secular state and the Nehruvian ideal of modernity by the Hindutva forces in contemporary times. In Post-independent India, the Nehruvian project of 'modernity', 'development', and ' progress’ through big dams, heavy industries and scientific institutions benefited the upper caste groups more than anybody else. This lead to the generation of capital in India but it did not develop a capitalist culture and its values. The upper caste groups didn't come out of their feudal mindset. On the other hand, Dalits are marginalized and dislocated. This situation often meets with conflicts and tensions in the nation. Any radical assertion of Dalits is suppressed by the State. The political institutions become s oppressive. Secular democracy may become a farce. Further, the governability for ruling class becomes a serious problem until and unless it attends the situation in a real democratic spirit.
On the other hand, the Dalit’s involvement with the colonial-mediated modernity project was too complex. In a feudal set up, where Dalits are degraded and humiliated in the name of caste and social norms, colonial modernity, to a certain extent, facilitated to become conscious of their objective condition. The institutions set by the colonialsts promised political, legal and social equality at least theoretically, if not practically. In this respect, Ambedkar is in favour of the active intervention of the State to bring Dalits into the modern sphere. In early days, Brahminical social elite too felt the need for modernizing Dalits. For this, they prescribed habits of 'purity' and the need for 'education' for Dalits. When more Dalits are entering the public space so far reserved for upper castes, through State-sponsored developmental programmes, it creates antagonism and conflict. With an increased assertion of Dalits and their struggles, and the marked visibility of Dalits in post-independent India has frustrated the upper castes. They pick up a new liberal language to counter the Dalits against the spirit of liberalism. For instance, when Dalits are fighting against the hegemony of caste, the upper castes dismiss this struggle as casteist. Dalits talking about caste is considered as parochial and anti-modern by them. Further, they argue for an economic basis for any emancipatory project of the State. In the anti- Mandal agitation this attitude can be witnessed. Upper castes find various strategies like this to maintain the status quo in society. Casteism of the upper castes took modern incarnation in the public sphere, and started articulating their interests in modernist discourse like, purity and pollution, 'hygiene', 'efficiency' and 'merit'.
One more interesting point is that, the upper castes started discrediting the modern political institutions in the context of the entry of Dalits into it. They go on propagating that these institutions got 'corrupted' by blaming the lower caste people. They even go on opposing the very foundations of the secular democratic State of the nation. They argue that this secular democracy based on the 'rationality' of western colonial model, is not based on indigenous cultural and philosophical traditions. At this point, Dalits came to the rescue of secular democracy. The Upper caste intellectuals, by taking the post- modernist position, that 'science is a social construct', started justifying the philosophies of irrationality and dogmatism as science. It had a negative implication for Dalits. In this context, Ambedkar and Dalits of post-colonial India, are arguing in favour of the 'scientific reason' of modernity that is rooted in indigenous traditions.
Literature as a tool of modernity
With the advent of print culture the literary and cultural forms of oppressive social groups such as Dalits, women, adivasis, Telangana, Muslims got marginalized and literary elite (happened to be brahminical class) managed to establish their social experience and their literary imagination as ‘the Telugu literature’ in whatever the form it may be. With intensified struggles of these submerged groups, there comes a new literary consciousness with the emergence of middle classes from these sections. It will focus on how the struggles of society marked the literature, and especially in contemporary times from the decades of late eighties. On the one hand they are resisting the brahminical hegemony and on the other questioning the existing abstract idea of ‘class’ and ‘progressive’ literature by enriching their literature with the concrete life experiences/struggles.
The struggles in the name of class, caste, gender, region, nation has provided the social context for implicit politics of Telugu literature. Added to this, the policies of liberalization of economy, hindu communalization and globalization further brought about changes in social structure and its value system. Inequalities have become sharpened in these times of globalization. Insecurity prevails among all sections of society. To transform these inequalities into politicization requires a kind of cultural intervention. Literature has played a significant role in this political process by narrating a slice of the larger complex reality.
Literature is a creative rational knowledge generated by an individual/author about collective/society. In the case of Dalits, the problem of caste has influenced them very much. For Dalits, access to natural resources and opportunities for wellbeing were denied naturally or socially, because of their caste. The denial to access, restricts the Dalit individuals to a particular set of social relations for many generations and this forces them to struggle against such restrictions and change the oppressive relations. This is generally identified as a caste contradiction or the problem of caste. The conscious Dalit individuals responded to this kind of social situation and offered a creative solution to the problems. This creative ideal model takes the form of a story, a novel, a poem or a song and is introduced back into the society. Dalit struggles around him/ her influenced the Dalit writers and made them conscious of their subjective positions and in assessing the world around them objectively.
Historically, the social groups, which had acquired political and economic dominance, enjoyed the privilege over cultural production and others got silenced. Western influenced middle class, those who later played a major role in moulding the nationalist struggles, involved in the production of literary writings. It is obviously, the upper caste group’s ideals and aspirations and their worldview reflected in literature too. In the post independent India, modern State was unable to uphold the promised ideals of good life and better society to the vast number of the oppressed of this country. In the political writings of literature of this time, there emerged an upper caste middle-class man as a protagonist. He is sympathetic to the lower classes and he articulates their needs and is seen to be mobilizing the oppressed masses. There are very few writings which talk about Dalits and their life. Those that exist come out as the sympathy of the upper caste writers towards labourers as a part of the class struggles. The protagonists in the literary writing are always from the upper caste groups. They are portrayed as shouldering the responsibility to reform/educate Dalits. This completely lacks knowledge about the authentic Dalit life and their experiences. These upper caste writers have constrains to perceive the lives of other communities. These socially sensitive upper caste writers could not mobilize the support of their communities to their imagined ideals and many of them moved towards spiritualism. Most of the writers came from Brahmin middle class families. In latter days, the intensified struggles aspiring the communist ideals too failed to capture the Dalit imagination and the question of caste remained immune to their discourses. Till the 1980s, the entire literary discourse centred on the concept of the abstract human being, erosive of all cultural markers like caste, colour, religion, region and gender.
However, the modernity in Telugu literature reflected through the reformist agenda of intellectuals of telugu society. Modernity is identified with the spoken language than textual language. The modernity articulated through the genres like drama, novel, short story and free verse than classical poetry. The issues identified are practice of untouchability, problems of women, importance of education. For this, either they negotiated within tradition or to reform the tradition in the backdrop of colonial education. In later days, the progressive agenda of the communist movements are taken up the project of the modernity in the name of class struggle. They are not explicit in their articulation about caste or patriarchy. Special reference to this considered as pre modern and celebrated an identity of the class. The idea of class not only conceals these realistic social identities but also indirectly helps in maintaining the hegemony of caste and patriarchy. The social agency mediated the modernity through their writings is mostly brahminical class or broadly upper caste men. With the emergence of conscious intellectuals from the lower castes and women exposed the shallowness of the above said modernity. They problematized the writings of their predecessors on the issues of ‘authenticity’ and ‘representation’. They evaluated them from the unchanged social life of contemporary times. In other words, the new intellectuals are assessing the literary modernity through its social functioning. In this process, not only questioned the canons of literature but also dismissed the celebrated telugu modernists like Gurujada and Sree Sree. Celebration of Jashua, the dalit writer could be seen as a Mahakavi as against the progressive writer Sree Sree. Normatively the modernity manifested through the dalit literature is different from the earlier telugu literary writings.
An overview of Dalit Literature
The radical contribution the entry of the Dalit literary movement was to bring is to foreground the Dalit cultural experiences characterized by humiliation, insult and suffering based on caste. By the 1980s, there emerged a considerable Dalit middle class which consists of small jobholders like teachers, clerks, constables, nurses, gang men, hamalies and attenders. Their exposure to education and economic security opened up new possibilities in politics and literature. In the Andhra politics, Dalit movement is known for the innovation of a new category called Dalit, making discrimination on the basis of caste explicit. In the left parlance, the amorphous landless masses, an agricultural coolie is being replaced by category Dalit. In Gandhian terms, the word harijan has been pushed aside. The conceptual innovation has opened up the new ways of articulating the Dalit cause. This is clearly visible in the field of activity from theory to art.
In India, Dalit people’s condition is the same cutting across the regions. There is not much difference in their social suffering and economic status. At the ground level, the forms of untouchability practiced by the upper castes are same. They have to face humiliations, insults and discrimination in everyday life. In case of the Dalits, intervention by the State is minimal, weather it is police or judiciary, in protecting the rights of the Dalits. They have to struggle even for constitutionally guaranteed rights. There is no option left for them other than fighting against caste hegemony. From their struggles, a literature came into existence. In late eighties, the issue of caste came to the forefront in Andhra Pradesh. This can be seen symbolically in the massacre at Karamchedu. As a consequence of the conscious mobilization of Dalits, the issue related to caste got articulated in literature in late nineties. Many anthologies of poetry in the form of poetry came into the limelight. The quest for the search of their own Dalit identity makes them broaden the literary horizons. Dalit writers questioned not only the basic premises of literature but also the epistemological positions of the existing writers. They supplied a new prism to perceive the crude reality of casteist society. With the well-debated question of representation and subjectivity, the upper caste writers were either silenced or sidelined.
Dalit literature is very much enriched in oral forms and transmitted from one generation to other. It is in the form of social memory and collective memories. The written culture or literature of Dalits may owe its existence to recent times. The pre-requisite for written culture is education. Most of the Dalits are illiterate even today. This is not their fault. They are not allowed to learn for generations. However, with limited opportunities, they have managed to enter educational institutions and have managed to get at least some small jobs. In post-independent India, a considerable Dalit middle class has emerged, though the number is small but it is significant in Indian history. This has paved the way for Dalit literature in the print word. Dalit writers have jolted the literary world. They raised many questions about the basic assumptions of literature on the question of authenticity and representation. Their entry, dismantled all the literary canons. They declared that we will write about ourselves. Telugu literary society has witnessed the silence of the existing upper caste writer, weather it is Brahminical or progressive writer. Any new struggle or literature, brings new symbols and new language. It is same with the Dalit movement and Dalit literature. It is in Andhra that Dalit writers are confronted with the ideologies of alternative struggles in the issue of caste. Here serious debates, confrontations and negotiations in civil society are taking place among different literary and political camps.
Mostly, the questions centred on who are Dalits? What is Dalit literature? What is the ideology of the Dalit movement and Dalit literature? One Dalit anthology of poetry named Chikkanavutunna Pata(1995)came with a proposition that SC, ST, BC and Minorities are also called Dalits. At the same time, another anthology named Dalit Manifesto (1995) proposed that, the labourers who are suppressed culturally, politically and economically are called Dalits. They didn't include Muslim writers in their anthology by justifying that though Muslims are victims of Hindu religion as Dalits, they cannot be considered under the category of Dalits. Secondly, whatever is written by the Dalits are considered as Dalit literature. Dalit Manifesto argued that, whatever was written with Dalit consciousness could only be considered as Dalit literature, but not the other way. The Dalit Manifesto become controversial by considering the latter and for inclusion of progressive upper caste writers who are conscious of Dalit problems. In course of time, this controversy resolved itself by considering whatever is written by the Dalits with their social experience is only qualified to be Dalit literature. The non-Dalits writings about Dalits may be treated as sympathetic for the cause of Dalits, but not considered as Dalit literature. For the liberation of Dalits, Dalits will have to achieve political power only through the struggle but not by appealing to the State. Some others consider that it is not necessarily through the means adopted by radical left parties but also through various other means like capturing power through parliamentary means. On the question of ideology, there are different opinions. Desiya Marxism is one such dominant opinion, the Marxist philosophy that is internalised thinking of Ambedkar and Phule.
Later came the Padunekkina Pata(1996) an anthology of poetry. It declared that Ambedkarism is the only ideology for the liberation of Dalits. In all these controversies, one can see the confrontation or negotiation with the then existing alternative political struggles. One of the responses was that Dalit literature was saying that it is a part of revolutionary literature. Some of the scholars of the Marxist camp considered the problem of caste as a class problem. There is another argument that both are different literary movements. “Dalit writers consider the caste as an economical, social and political system. Where as revolutionary writers consider caste as a social problem.” Dalit literary movement is autonomous and is no way related to Marxism. “The aim of revolutionary literature is economic equality and it is a casteless society for Dalit literature. For the emergence of Dalit literature, revolutionary literature may have facilitated; but it is improper to say that both are the same.” There emerged another opinion that though both of them are not related, there is a need to struggle in a united way against oppression.
The literary expression of Dalit writers started with poetry, which has enjoyed power over other forms. To suit the authentic expression of their lives they also selected the other forms like ‘short story’ and ‘novel’. The inner urge or struggle within them has propelled them to write short stories and novels. This is a significant transformation of Dalit writers. At least, it creates confusion in locating history. Novel and short story not only broadened the canvas of the writers and made them accountable to history. The Dalit writers probed the history and brought into the literary world many things, which were not touched earlier by other the upper caste writers. In fact, Dalit writers narrated the submerged culture, philosophy and histories of the Dalits. The political discourses of Marxian revolutionary and feminist movements also influenced the Dalit novelists. It made them sensitive to other struggles, while writing about Dalits. Wherever it is necessary, they differed with Marxian revolutionary politics and its practices. The rise of sub caste consciousness among the Dalits helped the writers to speak about the concrete lifestyles of Dalit’s sub-castes rather than political rhetoric and language of the given time. Dalit novel may be said to be the culminating point of all the political movements since Dalit novelist has internalised the essence of all these struggles.
However, in the decade of the nineties, a good number of Dalit writers have come to the forefront. Most of them are of the age group of 25-35 years. They have touched all the spheres of life from a caste point of view. For example, early writings in Telugu consider the life of riksha pullers and prostitutes and treated them sympathetically for their low economic status. Dalit literature depicted the same from a Dalit point of view. Through literature, Dalit writers gave attention to concrete life experiences of Dalit lives that had so far not been touched by any one in Telugu literature. Some of the newspapers have encouraged Dalit literature. Where the Dalit movement is at a low profile, there the Dalit writers kept the Dalit issue alive. Dalit literature introduced fresh tones to Telugu literature. The idiom and expression is new to Telugu literature. They brought the respect to native Dalit dialect. The Dalit writers shattered the constructed myths in literature both in form and content. Literature came close to their life. It occupied the political space and even tried to articulate all the problems.
The Madiga Dandora movement for the categorization of SC reservation proportionate to the population of sub caste triggered a new kind of articulation in the Dalit movement as well as in Dalit literature. The logic of representing one’s own self led tofragmentation in Dalit literature. It is understood that writing about one’s caste experience is the only authentic representation. Dalit writers were forced to write/represent their own caste. In one way, this atmosphere enriched Dalit literature by representing themselves. On the other, it weakened the force of Dalit writings. Most of the Dalit writers of Mala community become silent within no time. Some time, the madiga writers were on the centre-stage when they wrote about their life struggles. Chandala Chatimpu, Madigodu (The Stories of Madiga’s life) of Nagappagari Sundar Raju and Mallemoggala Godugu (The Umbrella of Jasmines) of Yendluri Sudhakar are worth mentioning. Writers, who belong to backward castes too got separated from the earlier Dalit identity and became confined to their own community life. They brought an anthology of poems with a name of Ventade Kalalu (Haunting Pens). Muslim writers also made a conscious attempt to assert their own identity. They came with a poetry collection named Jaljala. Dalit women too started questioning the oppression of caste and patriarchy of Dalit males and this got articulated in literature. Nallapoddu (The Black Dawn) is an exclusive collection of Dalit women’s writings.
At end of the decade of nineties, Dalit writers who are active in writing poetry are slowly disappearing from Telugu literary scene. There are other reasons for the silence of Dalit literature. One is that, there is no significant Dalit movement and political leadership. The Dalit writers, who mostly came from the middle class, are limited to their urban life and somewhere lost their roots. There is competition among Dalit writers and their career orientation is also responsible in diluting Dalit literarure. There is no political or public check on Dalit writers since there is no political struggle. Thirdly, Dalit writers, are mostly confined to poetry and they didn’t take effort in other forms like story, novel, song and autobiography forms. They succeeded in tapping their rich literature from oral traditions. Finally, the upper caste media was not showing interest like earlier days in encouraging Dalit literature.
At this historical juncture, some of Dalit writers shifted to the other genres like story, song and novel to construct their cultural past and struggles of the community. They too realized that nothing is available about them in government documents and literary, cultural works. To win the political struggles Dalits need to be armed culturally. Kalyana Rao’s novel Antarani Vasantham(2000) is a landmark in Dalit literary and cultural history from the Dalit point of view. The novel recorded the collective social experiences and struggles of Dalit community. The social memory of a community, transmitted over generations, has been put in a written form. The novel is a written social document of Dalit culture, which is predominantly in oral tradition. This novel is an attempt to search a collective identity of the Dalit community. It is the chronicle of life of six generations of Dalits. This records a hundred years’ struggle of the Dalit communities. In the context where the elite scholars do not consider lower caste peoples’ struggles, culture, philosophy, life styles and history, this novel becomes the source book for culture, history, politics and philosophy of Dalits. Kalyana Rao explained how the Dalit culture is born from the lower caste peoples’ involvement in labor. They spontaneously and naturally composed the songs from their life. Apart from the value of entertainment, the Dalits used cultural performance symbolically as a social protest against the dominance of hegemony of upper caste social groups. It explains Dalit struggles in various forms in a given social conditions. The novel depicts not only the sufferings of Dalits but also joyful moments in their life. This novel is an attempt towards writing history, philosophy, politics and culture of Dalits in a comprehensive form. In Antarani Vasantham, constraints to freedom of Dalits, comes from an enemy who is an upper caste. The idea of freedom itself indicates for Kalyana Rao, a perpetual flow of resistance by Dalit community to an upper caste community. Dalit community has been described as a focal point of creativity, resistance to oppression and a character of purity.
Yendluri Sudhakar’s Malle Moggala Godugu is a collection of autobiographical stories from the Dalit community. It is the Dalit poet Sudhakar’s search for his community roots where a rich cultural tradition and indigenous knowledge systems were enlivened. To write these stories he went to his native village and recorded the social and cultural experiences of older generations. Vemula Yellaih’s novel Kakka is a Dalit boy’s struggle for madigization. He learns to play Dappu from the community’s head as a symbol of pride of the community. This novel, not only discuss the Dalit struggle against the upper caste hegemony but also finds the problems within Dalit community. In the Telugu literary world, the Dalit novel is the culmination point of all the alternative struggles. It internalized the struggles of Dalit sub castes, women and Naxalite movements.
The questions raised through literature are fresh and haunts the political movements of our contemporary times in all possible ways. All the upper caste writers ranging from Brahminical to progressive writers has compelled to take note of it.
Manifested modernity in Dalit Literature
‘I don’t know when I was born/but I was killed on this very soil thousand years ago/ ‘dying again and again to be born again’/ I don’t know the karma theory/I am being born again and again where I was dead.’ 
History!/ all these years how could you hide/ the fire in our mouth…./how could you tolerate/inequality and inhumanity
An ideal society should be mobile and it should be full of channels for conveying a change taking place in one part to other parts. In an ideal society there should be many interests consciously communicated and shared. There should be varied and fee points of contact with other modes of association. In simple terms, Ambedkar viewed that an ideal society would be based on liberty, equality and fraternity.’Ambedkar favors for a democratic tradition that stand for reason rather negating it. He felt for hindu religious tradition need to undergo a radical reform. Caste is a natural outcome of certain religious beliefs which have the sanction of shastras. To abolish the sanctity and sacredness of caste, one has to destroy the authority of the shastras and Vedas. For this, one has to destroy the religion of both sruti and smriti. Ambedkar not only proposing the indigenous tradition that stand for reason, but also tries to link up that tradition with the governing principle of politics. As Ambedkar is the source of inspiration for Dalit movement and so reflected his thought in dalit literature.
Dalit intellectuals negotiated their philosophical views to the larger society through the medium of literature than any other form. They are organic intellectuals in strict sense of Gramsci, having the elements of thinking and organizing the community as against the traditional brahminical intellectuals. In this sense Dalit literature has to be seen as the process in creation of counter hegemony against brahminical hegemony. Dalit literature has significant in many ways-culturally, historically and ideologically. Dalit literature enriched with content and description of dalit struggles for human dignity. There has been constant effort from dalit writers in translating the condemned life styles and practices of marginalised people into symbols of protest and pride. Dalit writers gave rich meaning to dalit life that brought respect for them. In the process of writing their own history, they thoroughly interrogated the existing histories of dominant caste/class groups in their literary writings. As Dalit writer, Sivasagar marking the assertion of dalits in writing their own history against the brahminical history centred around advaita of Sankara. With a smile on his face/Shambhuka is slaying rama/ with his axe/Ekalavya is cutting drona’s thumb away/with his small feet/ Bali is sending Vamana down to pathala/ With needles in his eyes/ and lead in is ears/Manu, having cut his tongue is seen rolling on the graveyard/standing on the merciless sword of time/and roaring with rage/The chandala is seen hissing four houndson sankaracharya/ Oh..!/ The history that is occurring today/Is the most chandala history
In the process of writing their history, are collecting the memoirs of the collective suffering. Dalit writer through his writings interrogates the brahminical past, which has the character of humiliation, atrocious for dalits. Yendluri Sudhakar in his poem : ‘I am still a prohibited human being/Mine is an expelled breath/ Trying a barb tree leaf to my aist/And a tiny spittoon to my mouth/Manu made me a wretched human animal among others/The moment he left a mark of prohibition on my face/My race/Was gradually murdered… history pinched my thumb/Present history is asking all the fingers/Now we want a voice of our own/We want a voice that can choose what can do good to ourselves’.
The suffering of the dalits for generations is identified with the very nature of brahminical society. ‘For me the Wound is not new/Only the way I got wounded is new/The experience is as past as yesterday/Only the way I got experienced is new’. The struggle for the human dignity and self respect could be seen as in all the writings of dalit literature. Human dignity and self respect are the primary source of modernity. As the young dalit writer, Kalekuri Prassad asserts : ‘Twenty years ago my name was kanchikacherla kotesu/My birth place Keelavenmani, Karamchedu, Neerukonda/Now the hardened cruelty of the landlords/Tattooed on my chest with a plough’s point-Chunduru/Hence forth Chunduru is not a noun nut a pronoun/Now every heart is a Chunduru, a burning/ …Don’t shed tears for me/If you can/Bury me in the heart of the city/Rendering the tune of life, I will bloom like a bamboo garden/Print my corpse on the page of this country/I will diffuse into the pages of history a beautiful feature/If you can/Invoke me to your hearts/Again and again I shall take birth in this very country/By becoming a struggle of wild flames.’
The Human dignity could be attained only through fulfilment of social and economic equality. In democracy, citizenship is prerequisite for its functioning. In case of dalits, it is negated due to its casteist nature. The craving for the citizenship could be seen : In this Country we want a piece of land/These clouds has to be vanished/These walls must be collapsed/This silence/ must be bursted / this gum/ must be dried up/ O man/ I want real citizenship /Could you give me! ..what do I want/I want you/ I want a place/ In your heart/ I must wash my hands/ at your home/you must come to my hut/ and ask our girl for marriage/we must become /relatives/friend! This country/must become ours/as we walk hand in hand/this uneven earth/must become smooth/will you come? What we want now is not bloody cash/ A fearless voice that discerns what we want/ A new constitution, a new state/A new earth and a new sky.
Against the monopoly of knowledge by the brahminical class, dalits argues that ‘Knowledge is nobody’s property; It is the wealth of all jatis’. In fact, Dalits are productive class. The real knowledge produced out of their collective labour. ‘When hands/ From over the ‘Mala’ hamlets/ and ‘Madiga’ huts / Throw themselves on the fields/Banks of the fields blossomed/Trees flowered/And fields fragrant with crops’
The idea of freedom described in the novels Antarani Vasantham and Kakka is significant. In Antarani vasantham, constraint to freedom of dalits comes from an enemy who is upper caste. The idea of dalit itself indicates for Kalyana Rao a perpetual flow of resistance by dalit community to an upper caste community. Dalit community has been described as a focal point of creativity, resistance to oppression and a character of purity. This is effectively indicated through central character Yellanna who eloquently represents a creative, upright and assertive individual. This is one way of expressing dalit freedom or a mode of being dalit. One of the characters, in difficult times of community life says, we have born just not to be killed but to live too. Kakka identifies that constraint to freedom to dalits is not just from an outsider but also from the very community. The central character Kakka faces too many hardships from within community as well as outsiders. For instance, the mother of kakka was accused of an illicit relation and was subjected to social boycott by the community. Kakka was denied an opportunity to take up the duty to perform madigarikam that is considered a honouring the community. This reflects the constraint within community that projects a different community and a different kind of self-awareness. And of course, he has to fight valiant battle against the other communities, which has traditionally been dominant in the village. It is also shown that in times of struggle against upper castes, dalits come together and fought valiantly.
Further, dalit women writings’ reveals the problems within by problematizing the patriarchy of dalit men. ‘When has my life been truly mine/in the home male arrogance/sets my cheek stinging/while in the street caste arrogance/splits the other cheek open.’
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.
In continuation with this, Gaddar composed many songs on the lives of dalits. He translated the condemned life styles as symbols of protest: How beautiful/ my dustbin.. He composed songs on miserable lives of dalits, and their role in knowledge production, and against the atrocities committed on dalits. The songs of Dalit singers invokes the feeling of revolt of dalits against the upper caste hegemony. 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’.
Guda Anjaiah’s song of Oorumanadira fills the confidence of dalits by declaring this village is ours by questioning the Dora of villages: This village is ours/This hamlet is ours/We are for every work/Then Who is this Dora /Why this hegemony.There is an attempt by the Dalit writers to establish the historical fact that they were the sons of the soil and once even ruled the nation by pointing out the foreign origin of Aryans/ Brahmins/ Manuvadis. In a song Ee Desavasulam, tries to establish the fact that dalits are the sons of the soil: We are natives of this country-sons of this soil/we are of adi jatis-the real inhibitors/you fellows came for livelihood- in the name of upper caste brahminism/by saying the natives of Bharat as slaves.
The throat that’s uniting all/will pluck a new tune for a new song/ the society/ that made their life a death/should be carried as coffin/this time/ much before the cock crows/the limbs/turn into rays that rise with liberty
To cut my thumb and give/do you think I am a gullible ekalavya/do you think I am shambuka/ to bend my head and do penance/do you think I am vali/ to be knocked down with a foul arrow/ I am the one who breaks the sinews of manu/ I hang colours/ I peel the skin of gods who made me lame. Now/ I am writing this history/With Ekalavya’s sliced thumb/The reasons you give may be right to you/ But to me/ They are lies higher than Himalayas/The poet is determined to fight the literary hegemony/Hereafter/ The black slogan begins to dawn upon this land.
Modernity has connoted with many meanings such as ‘value’, ‘rationality’, ‘western’, ‘colonialism’, ‘development’, ‘capitalism’, ‘secularism’ ‘humanism’ and so on. Dalit relation to modernity is complex and even ambiguous. Dalit modernity has to be understood in the context of Dalit liberation from humiliating, exploitative, oppressive brahminical tradition. Dalit modernity centred on the value of human dignity and self respect. In persuasion of this, it interrogates the irrational, unjust and dogmatic practices of hindu social order on the basis of scientific reason. And at the same time tried to assert its own self, upholds its indigenous tradition by claiming the elements of humane democratic practices. Dalit modernity overcomes the tradition –modernity dichotomy that has been set in the interests of the Western. In India, the fruits of modernity is enjoyed and monopolized by the brahminical class in the material level, and at the same time maintained intact with their traditions in spiritual / religious level. This has been continued from colonial to post colonial times. Dalits are systematically excluded in this project. Dalits as the victims of the project of ‘development/ progress’, of post independent India, are negotiating with larger nation from its fringes. The modernity appropriated by dalits is ‘rights’ centred and argued in favor of democratization of indigenous tradition. They are negotiating with the ideals of modernity to overcome the social exclusion, exploitation, suffering and humiliation imposed by hindu tradition.
 Murthy, Sachidananda , Modern India and philosophy, In K. Sachidananda Murthy and K. Ramakrishna Rao (ed.) Current trends in Indian philosophy, Waltair: Andhra University Press, 1972
 Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) considered father of modern Indian philosophy, at first concluded that Upanishadic teachings, rightly interpreted, contains eternal truth relevant to all ages. (xxix). Roy for the first time tried to show that only a correct interpretation of Upanishads could be true hindu religion, and that only such religion could reconciled with modern world and science.`
 Khilnani, Sunil. Idea of India. London: Penguin, 1999, p.154.
 Rajaram mohan Roy's Brahmasamaj (reformed Hinduism, and seeks reinterpretation of Upanishads) Dayanada Saraswati's 'going back to vedas' Gandhi's religion as a source for interconnectivity and for community life.
 Aurobindo's theory of evolution of spirit, Vivekananda- ‘Hinduism not just as fulfillment of all other religions, but also as a fulfillment of all sciences'.
 P.A. Shilipp.(Ed.) “Fragments of confession” In The Philosophy of Radhakrishnan, New york, 1952, p.11
 P.T.Raju Radhakrishnan’s influence on Indian thought in Philosophy of Radhakrishnan, p.518.
 ‘Fusion between modern and tradition’, ‘Meeting East and West’, ‘Truth is one, the wise call it by different names’, ‘Truth is God’ (Gandhi) ‘Integral Consciousness’ (Aurobindo) ‘Holistic approach’ and ‘Religious revolution’ (J.Krishnamurti) ‘Unity in diversity’ (Radhakrishnan) ‘Inner and outer’ ‘tolerance’, ‘scientific spirit' etc. – the language used by the contemporary modern philosophers.
 Ibid. p.51
 Murthy, Sachidananda , Modern India and philosophy, In K.sachidananda Murthy and K. Ramakrishna Rao (ed.) Current trends in Indian philosophy, Waltair: Andhra University Press, 1972 p. xxxviii-xxxix
 Bowes, Pratima. "What is Indian about Indian Philosophy?" S.S.Ramarao Pappu and R.Puligandla (Eds.) Indian Philosophy: Past and Future, New Delhi: Mothilal Banarsidas, 1982. Pp.8-9
 Kesava Kumar .P., Jiddu Krishna murti’s Conception of Tradition and Revolution : A Critical Study. Ph.D dissertation submitted to University of Hyderabad, 1997. p.232
 Alam, Javeed. India: Living with Modernity, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1999. p.4
 Laxmi Narasaiah, G. and Tripuraneni Sreenivas (Eds.) Chikkanavutunna Pata(Thickening Song), Vijayawada: Kavitvam ,1995.
 Kesava Kumar and K.Satyanarayana (Eds.) Dalit Manifesto, Hyderabad: Vishpotana, 1995.
 Laxminarasaih, G. (Ed.) Padunekkina Pata(Sharpened Song), Vijayawada: Dalita Sana, 1996.
 Satyanarayana ,K. Eee Potee Venaka Vunnadi Kutra ,Andhrajothy Daily, Sunday, January 28, 1996.
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 Kalyana Rao, G. Antarani Vasantham(Untouchable Spring), Hyderabad: Virasam, 2000.
 Prasad, Kalekuri, ‘Pidekedu Atmagouravam Kosam Talettinavadni’ Am Raised for a Fistful of Self-respect) In Kesava Kumar & K. Satyanarayana (Eds.) Dalit Manifesto. Hyderabad: Vishphotana, 1995. (Translation Lakshminarasiah) p.20
 Gowrisankar, Padasmudra , Tenali: Poetry circle, 1994
 Moon, Vasant. (Comp.).‘Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches’ Vol.1 p.57
 Sivasagar. Nadustunna Charitra (Tr. Laxminasaiah) G.Laxminarasaiah, The Essence of Dalit poetry ; A socio- philosophic study of telugu Dalit poetry, Hyderabad: Dalitsana publications, p.34
 Sudhakar, Yendluri .Nettutiprasna (the Bloody question) (tr. Laxminasaiah)p.14
 Ramulu, P.C. “Gayam Kotthakadu.” (The Wound is not New) In Kesava Kumar & K. Satyanarayana (Eds.) Dalit Manifesto. Hyderabad: Vishphotana, 1995.
 Prasad, Kalekuri. ”Pidikedu Atmagauravam Kosam Talettina Vadini.” (Am Raised for a Fistful of Self-respect) In Kesava Kumar & K. Satyanarayana (Eds.) Dalit Manifesto. Hyderabad: Vishphotana, 1995. (Translation Lakshminarasiah)
 Nagesh Babu, Madduri. Yem kavali, Meerevultu (tr.Laxminarasaiah) p.74
 Sudhakar.Yendluri. Nettuti prasna p.75
 Gowri Shankar, Juluri. Padamudralu, p.35-36 (Tr. Laxminarasaiah) In ‘Dalit Manifesto’, Hyderabad: Vishphotana, 1995
Challapalli swaruparani, Mankenapuvu In ‘ Dalit Women’s Writings in Telugu’ , Economic and Political weekly April 25,1998, p.WS-22
 Gaddar, Gaddar Galam Audio CD
 Anjaiah, G., Ooru Manadira, Ooru Manadira (patalu) , Hema Sahiti publications: Hyderabad,1999 p.1
 Mastejee Ee desavasulam , Dalit Manifesto p.32
 Gowrisankar. (Tr. Laxminarasaiah) quoted in ‘The Essence of Dalit poetry ; A Socio- Philosophic Study of Telugu Dalit Poetry’, Hyderabad: Dalitsana publications P.69
 Varadayya (Tr.Laxminarasaiah) quoted in ‘The Essence of Dalit poetry ; A Socio- Philosophic Study of Telugu Dalit Poetry’, Hyderabad: Dalitsana publications p.40
 Afsar, quoted in G.Laxminarasiah , ‘The Essence of Dalit poetry ; A Socio- Philosophic Study of Telugu Dalit Poetry’, Hyderabad: Dalitsana publications p.50