Sunday, July 31, 2011

Emergence of Dalit Novel

Changing Notion of Freedom

P.Kesava Kumar

In Telugu society, one must accept that the new millennium started with the celebration of dalit novel. The birth of dalit novel has significance in many ways - culturally, historically and ideologically. Dalit novel emerged in a unique way by challenging and shattering the existing genres and canons of Telugu literary world. The novels of dalits are enriched with the content and descriptions of dalit struggles for human dignity. There has been a constant effort from dalit writers in translating the condemned life styles and practices of marginalized people into symbols of protest and pride. Altogether, these dalit writers gave the rich meaning to dalit life that brought respect for them. Dalit writers had a forceful attempt in constructing the social history of "an historical" people, whose struggles were not recorded in the so-called history texts. In words of a dalit writer, we have to dig more to unravel the past as well as to bury the constructed history of the dominant social groups. In the process of writing their own history, they thoroughly interrogated the existing histories of dominant caste/class groups in their literary writings. Their novels arc much more realistic and political in nature to overturn the hierarchy. Ideologically, they declared uncompromising war against brahminism /upper caste social and literary hegemony. At the same time, they are critical about other alternative political streams. The criticism reached a definitive stage and the political positions are getting consolidated. Dalit novel is culminating point of all these discourses that internalized all the arguments from the perceptions of gender, class, region and sub-caste.

In tact, Dalit life has been found its highest expression in folk songs and other mass per formative arts like street/stage plays. Most of their literature is in oral tradition. However, only in post independent period, considerable number of dalits got access to education, therefore were late to enter into the print mode. This gave the way to enter into the literary modes of dominant social groups. It took almost hundred years for dalits lo enter into the literary genre of novel writing.
The production of novel as a form of expression is obviously linked to the rise of middle class that happened only during colonial period and their need to articulate their problems and consequent social struggles they had to carry on. In the west, novel emerged as a new genre to represent the social aspirations of middle classes created by industrial revolution. In India, novel came into existence as a logical outcome of the colonial influence. The first novel in almost all the vernacular languages came into existence in last quarter of the nineteenth century. Western rational ideas influenced middle class, those who later played a major role in moudling the nationalist struggles, involved in the production of this new literary form-novel writing. It is obvious that only the educated upper caste perceptions and aspirations reflected in literature too. The social groups, which are acquired political and economic dominance, had also enjoyed the privileges creation of culture and cultural production. The other voices were existed less articulate.

Over the period, there was a significant change in themes and politics of novels with changing socio-historical conditions. There were only few novels to talk about dalits and their life. These novels came out either as a sympathetic treatment of upper caste writers or as a part of the class struggles. In most of the novels, the protagonist is from superior caste groups. He, therefore, shoulders the responsibility to reform/educate dalits. These kinds of novels lack the authentic dalit life and their experiences. In examining the novel, we have to see the connection between particular literary form and the consciousness of that particular social group associated with it. The ideological structure of social groups that give the birth to particular form has to be noted.

In post independent India with given opportunities, dalits too emerged as a middle class. This class started organizing the dalit masses and started questioning every sphere of the public activity, in which so far they were either humiliated or marginalized. Most of the questions raised through literature and constantly engaged in a dialogue with civil society. In late eighties, issue of caste came into the forefront in Andhra Pradesh. This can be seen symbolically in massacre of Karamchedu. As a consequence of conscious mobilization of dalits, the issues related to caste got articulated in literature in late nineties. Many anthologies of poetry came out in this period. In the initial days, the dalit literature mostly in the form of poetry came to limelight. The quest for the search of their own dalit identity makes them to broaden the literary horizons. As a result, dalit novel took the shape of serious existence reflecting the real dalit aspirations. When dalit novel took an upper hand, the dalit poetry writing started trickling down. Dalit writers questioned not only the basic premises of literature but also the epistemological positions of the existing writers. They supplied the 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. The death of upper caste writer coincided with the emergence of dalit novel in Andhra.
The dalit novels are not only of the authentic life experiences of dalits but also depict the agony of dalit by targeting the hegemony of upper castes in society. The celebrated novels2, which came in the year 2000 are ‘Antarani Vasantam’ of G.Kalyan Rao, Kakka of Vemula Yellaiah, and ‘Panchamam’ of Chilukuri Devaputra and ‘Khaki Bhatukulu of Spartacus (G.Mohan Rao) Though all these novels depict the dalti lives of Telugu society, there is a significant difference between the novels as they are set in different regions and context. These novels are underlined by different political lines within dalit literature.
Interestingly, the literary expression of dalit writers started with poetry, which has enjoyed the 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. Of course, poetry had more emotional value and had the power to mesmerize the masses. However, the poetic form has its own limitation and become an escape route due to its nature as Meta language. Sometimes it could bypass the reality/history. It created confusion in locating the history. Novel and short story not only broadened the canvas of the writers and made them more accountable to history. The characters of the novel have to be situated in specific time and space. The dalit writers probed the history and brought into the literary world many things, which were not touched earlier by other superior caste writers. In fact dalit novelist narrated the submerged culture, philosophy and histories of dalits. The political discourses within the Marxian revolutionary and feminist movements also influenced the Dalit novelists. It made them sensitive to the struggles, while writing about Dalits. Wherever it is necessary, they deferred with revolutionary politics and its practices. After Dandora movement of Madigas, which basically came with the demand for categorization of dalit sub-castes to ensure the benefits of reservations to all the communities within the dalits. The rise of sub-caste consciousness among the dalits helped the writers to speak about the concrete life-styles of dalits sub-castes rather than political rhetoric and language of the given time. Dalit novel is culminating point of all the political movements since dalit novelists had internalized the essence of all these struggles.
During anti-impenalist struggle the nationalists constructed the Indians as a homogeneous community of same ancestry to turn them into nationalists against the British the ‘other’. There was a feeling of threat to Hindu social order by large scale conversion of Dalits in to Christianity. Malapalli of Unnava Lakshmi Narayana is an example of this trend. He tried to establish the ideal of concept of Ramarajya through this novel as a way out for dalits. The background to such need was the tendencies of disunity of various communities became acute in 1930s with surfacing of various identities. There was a considerable social change in socio-political life of Telugu Society with class/caste polarities that have taken place. Writers have started articulating individual problems as part of collective life. Viswanatha Satyanarayana in his celebrated novel Veyipadagalu expressed resurrection of dharma as an answer to this crisis. He tried to establish Hindu dharma as a solution for social problem through a leading character of the novel Dharma Rao. Negative character of the novel, Ranga rao represents a modern man in the 1930s, who opposes desiya vidhya and desiya vydyam (indigenous education and indigenous medicine). Viswanatha emphasizes the need to protect the Hindu family values where as another celebrated writer Chalam argued for a radically opposite ideal. Chalam identifies family itself as a constraint for women's freedom. He vehemently argued for woman liberation from the family and male dominated society. Chlam as a critical traditionalist offered a new conception of freedom that was different from western idea as well as from the Indian tradition. He desired woman to be an autonomous gender in the matters relating to sexual choices and family life. In all these novels, nationalistic hero has been dominant cultural ideal.

By the time, it comes to 1945 most of the novels became psychological in nature. They tried to probe into complexities of individual lives. The basic philosophical question they raised about was meaning of life and human existence. At this juncture society could successfully talk about modern cultural ideal of autonomous individual free from social constraints and traditions. While translating this ideal into practice, writers thought there was an existential crisis to individuals in terms of meanings of these ideals. This can be seen in Gopichand’s asamarduni jeevanayatra and Buchibabu’s vhivaraku migiledi. Butchibabu points out that human existence is based on lovelessncss. Foreseeing the ideals that are difficult to realize, they brought out a new language of humanism expressed through love and compassion for others.

Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao tried to portray the difficult process of realization of imagined cultural ideal of equality and freedom in all its variety and depth as they are practiced in specific cultures. He has x-rayed middle class life from multiple angles and presented realistically. By late 1960s institutionalization of writers took place in literature under the banner of communist ideology. The content of the novels of this are mostly of peasant/tribal rebellions. Prior to the formation of left writer’s organizations, there were novels like prajalamanishi of Vattikota Alwar Swami, Chillaradevullu and modugupulu of Dasaradhi Rangacharya from the Telangana region. In post-independence period, modern state was unable to uphold the promised ideals of good life and better society to the vast number of oppressed masses of the country. In the political novels of this time, there has emerged an upper-caste middle-class man as a protagonist sympathetic to lower classes, articulating and mobilizing the oppressed masses.

Most of the writers came from the Brahmin middle class family. Since they live in their respective caste styles they are constrained to perceive the lives of other communities. A writer and journalist Puranam Subramanya Sharma rightly pointed out that since most of the writers came from upper castes very particularly from Brahmin caste, as a result, only middle-class life of Brahmins reflected in their novels. The life of these Brahmins tough a minority in terms of numbers but become a prototype of middle class values. Thinkers like Gopichand came from non-rahmin family that influenced and led the anti-Brahmin movement. Writers like Chalam, Butchibabu and Gopichand, however, moved towards spiritualism in the latter part of their life. As they could not mobilize the support of their communities to their ideals, they got disillusioned and moved towards spiritualism. In the latter days the communist ideals too failed to capture the dalit imagination and caste pursuits. And thus the question of caste did not find place in their discourse.

Till the 1980s entire literary discourse centred around abstract human being evasive of all cultural markers like caste, colour, religion, region and gender. The radical contribution of entire dalit literary movement is to bring to fore the dalit cultural experiences characterized by humiliation, insult and suffering based on caste. By 1980s there emerged a considerable dalit middle class, which consists of small jobholders like teachers, clerks, constables, nurses and at tenders. Their exposure to education and economic security opened up new possibilities in politics and literature. In Andhra politics, dalit movement is known for the innovation of new category called dalit, making discrimination on the basis of caste explicit. In the left parlance, the amorphous landless masses were being replaced by category dalit, which actively captured the notions of self respect. The Gandhian term, harijan has been pushed aside. The conceptual innovation has opened up new ways of articulating dalit cause. This is clearly visible in every field of activity from theory to art. In literature the questions which are very well debated in telugu society are - who are dalits? And what is dalit literature?

It was defined that dalit constitute SC, ST, BC and other minorities. As per the other definition dalits primarly constituted of labourers who are socially politically, economically and culturally oppressed in the name of caste. Whatever has been written exclusively by dalits with dalit consciousness is considered as dalit literature that may be sympathetic to non dalits too. After a serious debate ensued for some time through literary writings and political debates, on the whole only the Malas and Madigas were considered as dalits. Writings by dalits are naturally considered as dalit literature since it has specific authentic life experience. Writings by non-dalits on dalits are considered as only sympathetic writings to dalit cause. The debate has spread to all forms of dalit literature. There has been an unended debate over the path to be followed for dalits liberation.

A view was presented, mostly under the influence of Marxisism, in the literature that liberation of productive forces automatically leads to the solution of caste problem which is considered a super structural phenomenon. Other perception felt the need to articulate the caste discrimination at various levels and capture the state power in order to democratize the social relations to abolish caste and discrimination. To put it in other words, it is to look at the state as an instrument to attain equality. Regarding the means to capture political power -one section argued that armed struggle of dalits as a means and others disagreed advocating a path of peaceful democratic means.

The dalit novel that came in to existence late the 1990s touches many facets of dalit life. It introduced new idiom and expression to the Telugu literature. The first novel in this period is Kakibatukulu depicts the dalit entry into modern administrative institutions created by the British, for instance Police Department. Kakka, another novel is about the life of Madiga labourers in Telangana villages. The novel Panchamam emphatically presents the view that the caste related problems persist in village life unless and until there is a change in the basic structure of society. In this novel though the hero becomes a deputy collector, problem of caste continue to haunt him. This novel is located in a Rayalaseema village. The novel Antarani Vasantam is an attempt towards writing history, philosophy, politics and culture of dalits in comprehensive form. The writer has succeeded in bringing all these aspects of life by depicting the concrete lives of dalits.

Antaraani Vasantam is a story of seven generations of dalits. This novel is of dalit history, culture and their living worldview. More than that, it is a struggle of dalits at different points of time. In this novel the lead character named Ruthu is a writer. The novel runs with the recollection of repeated memories. These memories are not simply of the past, they are living afresh in the present. The memories are loaded with suffering, pain, agony, anguish and struggle. This is the case with every dalit life. Precisely because of this, author hints that memories are of not the past but they have their continuity in present and also projected into future. The story of dalits narrated for the period of more than hundred years in the form of women's memories. Her memories go back to four generations before and two generations after her. This novel is a significant piece of dalit literature to trace back the dalit struggles to generations. Along with the explicit depiction of dalit suffering in contemporary dalits writings Antaraani Vasantam gives an excellent description of joyful moments as well.

Kakka is the novel about the Madiga community of Telangana region. In the history of Telugu literature this novel has multifold significance. This is the first novel on Madiga community as such by a Madiga writer Vemula Yellaiah. At his 40s Yellaiah stated writing dalit poetry in late the 1990s. The author's quest to capture dalit life as a whole he opted the form of novel as a medium of expression. This piece has been written in the backdrop of Madiga Dandora movement. This novel projects madigaisation (dalitisation) as an alternative to the predominant upper-caste ideology. It also opens up the internal contradictions and violence within the community. The other striking feature is that the whole story runs in Telangana dalit dialect. So far the dominant dialect of costal Andhra has been used in writing of novels. This novel came from the place where revolutionary struggles are prominently took place. The writer seems to be uncompromising with radical dalit identity and indirectly criticizes the prevailing left culture and tries to critically read the left tradition. This may be considered as both strength and weakness of his work. This novel ends up with conscious educated dalits along with civil-rights groups together fighting for the cause of dalit struggles of village.

The idea of freedom described in these two novels differs in a significant way. In hntaraani Vasantam, constraint to freedom of the dalits comes from an enemy who is an upper caste. The idea of dalit itself indicates for Kalyan 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 bom just not to be killed but to live too.

On the other hand the idea of being dalit in Kakka is different. It 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 (caste profession) that is considered a honour in the community. Thus, the constraint within the community that projects a different community and a different kind of self- awareness. And of course, he has to fight a 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 came together and fought valiantly.
These two novels are significant because they involve a deep exploration into dalit culture. They tried to bring out various positive aspects of dalit culture to the fore. Antaraani Vasantam has celebrated rich and vibrant cultural traditions of dalit community by going to origins. The novel Kakka could effectively brought out some of the inhuman social practices of dalit communities, which may be helpful in reforming of them. Thus a deep exploration of dalit life through novel may result in strengthening of dalit cultural identity. There is a scope to come up with much more serious dalit novel in future by touching all aspects of dalit life.

No comments: