ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Is There Dalit Writing in Bangla?

Dalit writing in Bangla does not appear as well known as similar writing in Marathi, where dalit literature served as a vehicle and repository of underprivileged angst. However, as this article articulated by an upcoming dalit writer in Bangla argues, dalit literature in Bangla took root in the 1930s and 1940s and had early precursors in movements such as the Matua Sahitya. Dalit creative writing did encounter disruption following Partition, but the decades since then have seen an outpouring of literature that focuses on the underprivileged and those on the margins, even as it shows awareness of movements for social justice elsewhere.

Perspectives

Is There Dalit Writing in Bangla?

Dalit writing in Bangla does not appear as well known as similarwriting in Marathi, where dalit literature served as a vehicle and repository of underprivileged angst. However, as this article articulated by an upcoming dalit writer in Bangla argues, dalit literature in Bangla took root in the 1930s and 1940s and had early precursors in movements such as the Matua Sahitya. Dalit creative writing did encounter disruption following Partition, but the decades since then have seen an outpouring of literature that focuses on the underprivileged and those on the margins, even as it shows awareness of movements for social justice elsewhere.

MANORANJAN BYAPARI (INTRODUCED AND TRANSLATED BY MEENAKSHI MUKHERJEE)

I Introduction

By Meenakshi Mukherjee

I
have occasionally been asked the question “Is there dalit writing in Bangla?” in literary gatherings in Hyderabad (where I live) or Bangalore or Pune (places I sometimes visit) where I often happen to be the only one with some acquaintance with Bangla literature. It is natural curiosity in regions where dalit writing is a vibrant segment of contemporary writing. The movement began in Marathi nearly four decades ago but today Telugu and Kannada (also some other languages of India) have substantial amount of writing that falls in this category. For a while I was not sure of the answer because living away from the publishing centre of Bangla, my knowledge is limited to journals to which I subscribe. And certainly these journals – not only mainstream journals like Desh but also several little magazines that I read regularly – never made me aware that any such category existed in Bangla. This could either mean nothing is published in Bangla that can be separately labelled “dalit literature” or that there is a collective reluctance in mainstream discourse to recognise as literature any writing that is done outside the upper caste literary establishment.

Off and on during my infrequent visits to Kolkata I have raised this issue with friends who are knowledgeable about Bangla literature. The general consensus has been that such writing has not emerged in a big way because there is very little caste oppression in Bengal, and hence the absence of the urge to raise voices of resistance. If one accepts the truth of this claim, it will be necessary to probe the historical circumstances that resulted in this relative indifference to caste identity among Bengalis. Or one could challenge the statement as a comforting platitude perpetrated by the upper castes who dominate the literary world of Bangla.

To follow up either of the two alternatives one needed to do some research. Before I could embark on that I had a fortuitous meeting with Manoranjan Byapari who answered some of my questions even before I could ask him. The essay that follows is written by him as a response to my request. I have merely translated his Bangla account into English with some editing and abridgement done with his consent. My only regret is that I was unable to translate the lines Manoranjan had quoted from dalit poetry to illustrate his points. Bereft of the rhyme, sound effects and word play of the original lines, my incompetent rendering in English seemed rather flat. So I decided to leave them out.

I am tempted to add a few details about my meeting with Manoranjan because it happened in an unusual manner. It was at the launch of my Bangla translation of Alka Saraogi’s Hindi novel Shesh Kadambari in 2004. The place was Oxford Book Store in Park Street, Kolkata. Sunil Gangopadhyay launched the book and as the Bangla translator, I was asked to speak a few words. After the formalities were over there was tea – and while I was biting into a delicious cheese tart a shy young man of slight build came and dived at my feet in the usual Bengali way of doing ‘pranaam’. I was taken aback – more so when he told me his name. Manoranjan Byapari happens to be the name of a fictional character in the novel I had just translated. Alka Saraogi uses this character in her novel in an intriguing manner. He appears in all kinds of unlikely places in different roles: sometimes as a ‘chaatwallah’, sometimes as a gas cylinder delivery man or as a rickshaw-puller and plays a crucial part in the story. “But how can you be Manoranjan Byapari? He is a character in a novel”, I exclaimed. He smiled, “Alka didi put me in her novel. I am going to put her in one of my novels.” “You write novels?”, my surprise continued. Bashfully he handed over to me two thick journals, the titles of which were un familiar to me – both of which, he said were annual numbers and, contained one novel each by him along with writing by others. “Please read them, didi, and tell me what you think”.

That was the beginning of my acquaintance with Manoranjan Byapari which has continued since then through correspondence. I realise now that when I met him he had already published quite a bit – but in journals that were not available to me. Since then several books by him have come out and the two released in the Kolkata Book Fair, 2006 have brought him some recognition and media coverage.

Manoranjan Byapari

Manoranjan Byapari’s family came to West Bengal after Partition and lived in a refugee camp. When his father refused to go to Dandakaranya (Madhya Pradesh) where the refugees were being forcibly sent, he stopped receiving all government subsidy. Thereafter the family faced dire

Economic and Political Weekly October 13, 2007

poverty and sometimes no food was cooked at home. Manoranjan did not get a chance to go to school, his childhood was spent in grazing goats and cows. When he was a little older he tried to earn – sometimes as a helper in tea shops, at other times as sweeper, car cleaner, coolie, cobbler, and for a while he even begged on the streets to collect money for an orphanage, a percentage of which he was allowed to keep. At some point he got involved in militant politics and thereafter drifted towards an anti-social way of life. As a result he had to spend some years in jail. It is in jail that he learnt to read and write from some of the other inmates. This was a skill that excited him and he practised writing regularly by using a stick on the dusty jail yard. By the time he came out of the jail he had got into the habit of reading magazines even though he could not always understand all the words. He became a rickshaw-puller for a while and would sometimes ask his passengers the meanings of words that baffled him. At this point a serendipitous event changed the course of his life. That day he had been wondering about an unfamiliar word ‘jijibisha’ (a word of Sanskrit origin, in Bangla it means “the desire to live”) when he had a passenger who looked like a school teacher. While dropping her at her house he asked her if she could help him with a word. The lady was surprised because it was an unusual word, not likely to be part of a rickshaw-puller’s vocabulary. “Who are you?”, she asked, “where did you find this word?”. His passenger and the lady in question happened to be Mahasweta Devi, the well known writer who works with tribals and edits a journal called Bortika which highlights the voice of the people from the margins. It was in this journal that Manoranjan first appeared in print. This was a piece titled ‘Riksha chalai’ (‘I Pull a Rickshaw’) and he used the pseudonym “Madan Datta”.

Since then Manoranjan’s short stories and poems have appeared in dozens of journals and he has published the following books: Britter Shesh Parba (Last Section of the Circle) 2001 (collection of 22 short stories), Jijibishar Golpo (Stories about the Desire to Live) 2005 (collection of 17 short stories) and Anya Bhuban (Another World) 2006 (novel).

The novels serialised in journals and awaiting publication are Chandal Jiban (Chandal’s Life), Chhanna-chhara (Rootless), Batase Buruder Gandho (The Air Smells of Gunpowder), and Amanushik (Inhuman).

II Dalit Literature in Bangla

By Manoranjan Byapari

The body of writing that is today designated as “dalit literature” began less than half a century ago in Maharashtra. The term was first used in 1958 and took some time to gain currency. This literature is part of a protest movement against the caste-based inequality that has been ingrained in our society for centuries. The language of this writing is direct, blunt and explosive – devoid of stylistic elegance

– and creates a problem for the literary establishment by challenging its aesthetic standards.

In West Bengal dalit writing began nearly 20 years after Maharashtra, although the central figure of the dalit movement, Babasaheb Ambedkar, had a close relationship with this eastern region. He was elected to the constituent assembly from Bengal through the enterprise of Jogendra Nath Mandal. The Bengalis are a politically conscious people, but to understand the late emergence of the dalit movement here one has to examine closely a certain sequence of socio-political development.

The most organised, developed and populous section among the dalits in Bengal are the namahshudras who were earlier known as chandals. The name of the community was changed as a result of a petition made by them to the British government in 1911. The present population of namahshudras is nearly two crores. Prior to 1947 almost 90 per cent of them lived in East Bengal in the districts of Khulna, Faridpur, Jessore and Barishal. Their history after Partition is well known. The fear of communal violence drove them away from their villages. In the darkness of night they crossed the border, leaving behind their land, houses and all material possessions. Year after year they lived under trees, on pavements, on railway platforms, in refugee camps – existing at a subsistence level. In the name of rehabilitation, some were sent to uninhabited islands in the Andaman region, some were packed off to the forests and the un productive terrain of Dandakaranya in Madhya Pradesh and other barren pockets of the country. Thus an organised and cohesive community got fragmented and lost its strength.

Some people see a design in the differential treatment meted out to the upper caste refugees and the dalit refugees in Bengal. When the upper caste people uprooted from East Bengal set up some 149 unauthorised new colonies in and around Kolkata – in Jadavpur, Dumdum, Sodepur, etc, the state did not take any action against them. But when the namahshudras attempted to occupy an uninhabited island in the Sunderban area called Marichjhapi, unspeakable atrocities were committed by the state machinery to evict them from there. (The Marichjhapi Massacre is one of the darkest events of Bengal history. It was conveniently erased from national memory until the novelist Amitav Ghosh recreated it in vivid detail in his novel, The Hungry Tide, in 2004

– Translator’s note.)

Thus for decades after independence the dalit community in Bengal was so completely demoralised and scattered (some of them stayed on in East Pakistan) that there was no collective life to speak of. In their unrelenting struggle for survival and security, creative activities like writing were unaffordable luxuries. Dalits in other states did not have to lead such a precarious existence and they could organise themselves to initiate social and literary movements.

It is only decades later that the dalits in Bengal began to piece together their broken lives and today one finds substantial number of novels, short stories, essays and poems written by them. Some people are unwilling to grant this recent writing a separate status by designating them as “dalit”. They point to the long tradition that existed in Bengal of writing about the deprived and the underprivileged. The writers who have contributed to this tradition include names like Rabindranath Tagore, Bibhutibhusan, Tarashankar and Manik Bandopadhyaya, Satinath Bhaduri, several other “progressive” writers and those who belonged to the Kallol and Kalikalam groups in the 1930s and the 1940s. What the dalit writers are doing today are seen by these critics as merely an extension of that tradition.

It is true that many of these earlier writers focused on the sufferings of the socially deprived without any condescension. They might have been sincere in their sympathy but could not have written from felt experience. They were like humane doctors who can locate the source of the pain and try to cure it but only the person who has been through the suffering can understand the true nature of the pain. There is a well known aphoristic line in Bangla which encapsulates this difference,

Economic and Political Weekly October 13, 2007 “If you have never been bitten by a snake, you will never know the agony of poison in your blood”. For the dalit writers recording the agony is not an end in itself, it is part of their movement for change.

All those who suffer economic exploit ation are victims of our inequal system, but if one is born outside the Hindu ‘chaturvarna’ structure, the economic deprivation is compounded by social humiliation. Behind every civilisation there is the hard work of invisible groups of people who are deprived of human dignity. These are the tillers of land, producers of food, the cleaners of dirt, makers of implements, etc. They live outside the rituals of religion, surviving on leftover food. They are like the lampstand which carries the light of civilisation. Those who are above receive the glow, whereas, they, the underprivileged, receive only the sooty oil that oozes down on them. The Hindu scriptures ordain that the killing of a shudra is tantamount to the killing of a thief, or cat or a dog, a donkey or a crow. The sin can be atoned by fasting for a day and a night and doing appropriate “pranayamas”.

In the name of religion the shudras were forbidden to read and write, wear decent clothes, or save money. Centuries of such repression was bound to erupt in protest some day. It is not surprising that the first generation of people to articulate their feeling would think of literature as a social movement rather than an aesthetic activity.

Before talking about Bangla dalit literature today, we need to look back to a phenomenon called ‘matua sahitya’ which emerged in the 19th century under the influence of the Vaishnava movement started by Sri Chaitanya. The moving force was Harichand Biswas (1812-1878) who belonged to the namahshudra community and lived in East Bengal. His followers called him Harichand Thakur, and his son Guruchand Thakur (1847-1937) brought a new dynamism to the ideas of his father by emphasising the importance of education in social change. At that time there were no schools for namahshudras. Guruchand got in touch with an Australian missionary called Mead and the first school for the namahshudras was started in a village called Odakandi.

Although the initial impulse was religious, the matua movement soon began to emphasise education in a big way. Guruchand Thakur knew that consciousness building is the first step towards self-respect and education is the only means for achieving it. Matua creativity expressed itself in three ways: ‘kathakata’ (story-telling in large gatherings), ‘jatra’ (folk plays) and ‘kobi-gaan’ (rhymed couplets) composed in traditional ‘payar’ rhythm and orally presented in public. Most of these compositions were a combination of poetry, history and popular philosophy expressed in an easily intelligible language, geared towards raising people’s awareness. Some of these verses are now available in print

– for example several collections of Harichand Thakur’s compositions were compiled after his death variously by Nityananda Halder, Narayan Gosai, Manindra Ray, Upendra Nath Biswas, Tarak Chandra Sarkar and Bhagaban Chandra Biswas. But a great deal is lost to us because initially these were part of an oral culture.

In 1911 in an essay titled, ‘Dharmer Adhikar’ (The Right to Religion), Rabindranath Tagore wrote about the condition of the namahshudras in rural Bengal:

I saw in the villages that no other caste would plough the land owned by the namahshudras; no one would harvest their crop; no one would build their houses. In other words, the namahshudras are not considered fit to receive even the minimum cooperation that is needed for living in a human society. For no fault of theirs we have made their life difficult at every step. From birth to death they are made to serve a sentence of punishment.

Elsewhere in the same essay Tagore pointed out that this was done in the name of religion.

It is not human nature to stoop so low. It was religious injunction that forced people to behave like this. Men and women of our country were being tortured and discriminated against in the name of religion.

The rise of the matua movement has to be seen as a reaction to this condition. And this movement needs to be recognised as the first organised dalit activity in Bengal.

Journals

One of the distinctive features of any movement in Bengal – literary or cultural – is the production of small magazines. There is a long tradition of publishing such journals, which often, because of limited funds, look shabby and ordinary. The pages may be few, the cover unattractive, but the intention and commitment behind the publications are clear. From 1912 to 2000 there have been over a hundred such magazines that published writings by dalits and their news. Among the earliest are the Namahshudra Suhrid that started publication in 1912 from the village Odakandi where the first school for this community was founded, followed by Pataka from Kolkata in 1914. Pataka was edited by an unusual man called Mukunda Bihari Mullik (born in 1888). He had managed to get himself educated and realising the importance of collective action, had founded All Bengal Namahshudra Samiti; Pataka was the flagship journal of this association. Jagaran was started in 1943 in Kolkata. The energy as well as funding for this journal came from Jogendra Nath Mandal who was an associate of B R Ambedkar. Mandal struggled to get an education and after becoming a lawyer involved himself in organisational work and activism. After Partition when he became the law minister of Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), Jagaran shifted from Kolkata to Dhaka. Many dalit journals that came out in the late 1940s – like Namahshudra, Sadhak, Prachar were from East Bengal. Partition created an upheaval in the lives of the dalit refugees and there was a temporary lull in literary activities but by the late 1960s and 1970s there was a new spurt of journals – most of which still continue, e g, Nabaarun and Nabarupa (both edited by Raju Das, a poet, short story writer and the author of some 20 plays), Bahujan Darpan, Bharatbasi, Samaj Chetana and Purba Bharat. Nakul Mullik who, following the model of Maharashtra, established the Bangiya Dalit Lekhat Parishad (Bengal Dalit Writers Association) in 1987, has been running a journal Gram Bangla since 1978. Many more journals began coming out in the 1990s: Dalit Kontho, Neel Akash, Adal Badal, Ajker Eklavya. In 1996 a journal called Chhiyanobboi (Ninety-six) was launched to commemorate 96 villages of East Bengal. Manjubala, one of the major women writers in the dalit movement has been editing Ekhan Takhan since 1996. Today the major magazine of the dalit movement is Chaturtha Duniya (The Fourth World) that started publication in 1974. Another journal worth a special mention is Aikyatan (Orchestra), primarily a research-based journal that carries essays on society, culture, literature and initiates informed debates.

Novels

On the whole fewer novels stand out in Bangla dalit writing when compared

Economic and Political Weekly October 13, 2007

to poems and short stories. Among the noteworthy novels mention must be made of Maati Ek Maya Jane (The Soil Knows Magic) by Mahitosh Biswas who has also written Paye Paye Path (Footsteps Make a Path). Sudhiranjan Haldar (born in 1946) wrote three novels of which Aranyer Andhakar (Darkness of the Forest) is the most well known. Mani Mandal, who belongs to the malo community, wrote Murmu, a novel about the love between a santhal young man and a Hindu girl which has been widely acclaimed. Brajen Mallik’s (born in 1939) Rakte Ranga Rupasi Bangla (Beautiful Bengal Turns Blood Red), a major novel in three volumes that is set against the Bangladesh liberation struggle of 1971. Samarendra Baidya’s novel Pitr-irin is set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when a group of socially deprived people worked hard to make an arid region cultivable. The novel is remarkable both for its regional flavour and universal human appeal. Kapil Krishna Thakur – eminent as a poet and as an essayist – has also written a successful novel Ujantalir Upakhyan (The Story of Ujantali).

A dalit novelist who needs to be specially highlighted is Advaita Mallabarman (1914-1951) whose only novel Titash Ekti Nodir Naam (available now in English translation by Kalpana Bardhan as A River Called Titash) was published five years after his death. This novel has secured him a durable place in the history of Bangla literature and many readers do not even remember his caste identity. More than 10 editions have appeared since the book came out in 1955. It is an epic saga of the malo community in east Bengal to which the author belonged. He writes about the love, hopes and tribulations of this fishing community and their daily struggle for existence but the novel transcends mere documentation and sometimes touches the level of poetry. Titash is not just a river in this novel, it is the very source of life, the means of sustenance of the people who live along its banks. The river is drying up, threatening to wipe out an entire way of life. The novel weaves into its texture this subtext of impending tragedy.

Born in a village in east Bengal, Advaita Mallabarman was orphaned in childhood but finished his high school education through the help of neighbours and wellwishers in the village. Unable to study any further, he went to Kolkata in search of a living. He worked for various journals – big and small – and devoted whatever spare time he had to his own writing. When Buddhadeb Bose included his poems in his Ek Poisay Ekti series, the literati of Kolkata took notice of him. But money was never enough: overwork and malnutrition took their toll on his health. Tuberculosis was a dreaded disease those days, treatment was expensive and proper care could at best prolong life, not necessarily lead to a cure. The Ananda Bazar Group of Publications got Advaita Mallabarman admitted to a tuberculosis hospital, but as soon as his health improved a little, he discharged himself and began work on his epic novel, Titash. The intense effort he put in writing this novel aggravated his condition and he had to be hospitalised again. He knew his days were numbered, and without telling anyone he left the hospital to put all his energy in completing the novel. He managed to finish the novel but died soon after.

When Mallabarman was writing Titash, Manik Bandopadhyay’s famous novel Padma Nadir Majhi (available in English translation by Humayun Kabir as Boatmen of the Padma) had already been published. That too dealt with a river and those who lived by the river. Mallabarman’s friends sometimes discouraged him from burning himself out by trying to write a novel which would probably not do anything new. They doubted if he could write better than Manik Bandopadhyaya, Mallabarman only replied, “The son of a brahman has written from his point of view. I will write from mine.”

Manik Bandopadhyay’s novel remains an outstanding work. But Mallabarman’s claim of writing as the son of a malo had its own vindication. “I will write from my point of view” is the central articulation of the agenda of dalit writing and remains valid to this day.

Short Story

There is a large crop of short stories by Bengali dalit writers but these are hardly noticed by the literary establishment of Kolkata. One does not have to go very far to seek the reason. In mainstream writing short stories have been the site of a lot of experimentation in recent years – in style, language and narrative techniques. In some cases the borderline between prose and poetry has become blurred. But the dalit writers have stayed away from such innovations – preferring to represent life in a realistic mode and choosing to write in a language that would be intelligible to the people of their community. Quite understandably the highbrow critics have looked down on such writing or ignored it completely. But scores of dalit writers carry on nevertheless in the pages of small journals – with energy and confidence and a sizeable number of them have also brought out collections of short stories. Among the scores of published volumes of short stories by single authors, only some titles are mentioned here at random: Anya Yehudi (The Other Jews) and Madhumati Onek Door (Madhumati Is Very Far) by Kapil Krishna Thakur (who is also one of the major poets), Bratya Janer Golpo (Stories of the Excluded People), Aakash, Maati, Mon (The Sky, the Soil and the Mind) by Bimalendu Haldar and Biplaber Maa (The Mother of Biplab) by Dhirendra Nath Mallik. There is an anthology titled Chaturtha Duniyar Golpo Sankalan (Stories from the Fourth World) which includes dalit writing from Bangladesh, West Bengal and Tripura.

Poetry

Poetry by far is the most popular genre in Bangla dalit literature and the list of published poets runs into hundreds. Among the poets who deserve special mention are Anil Sarkar, Anil Ranjan Biswas, Kapil Krishna Thakur, Shyamal Pramanik, Achintya Biswas, Manjubala, Manohar Biswas, Mohan Tanu Mandal, Amar Biswas, Narendra Das, Shanti Biswas and Benoy Majumdar. Anil Sarkar has written at least six volumes of poems: Bratya Jane Kavita, Swajaner Mukh, Shesh Dalil, Batashe Payer Shabda, Ashwamedher Ghoda, Hira Singh Harijan and five books for children. At present he is the education minister for the state of Tripura. (I have attempted below translating only one extract from Anil Sarkar’s work out of the many poems by various writers that Manoranjan Byapari had used as illustrations in his original Bangla essay – Translator’s note.)

Beneath my dark skin runs a red riverRaging with the waves of burning tearsMy mother was the daughter of a slaveMy father a chandal, not of the Aryan race Since birth I am branded because of them.

Benoy Majumdar (1934-2006) is an unusual name in the context of dalit literature.

Economic and Political Weekly October 13, 2007 Like Advaita Mallabarman his name is well known to readers of mainstream Bangla literature and most people know him not as a dalit poet but as part of the rebel group of poets of the 1960s of whom Sunil Gangopadhyay, Shakti Chattopadhyay and Sarat Mukhopadhyay (incidentally, brahmans all) are the best known. Benoy Majumdar studied for two years in Presidency College, the premier institution of Kolkata and then went on to get a first class degree in mechanical engineering. He became a cult figure through his unusual poems and their striking imagery. In the 30 years from 1958 to 1988 he published some 10 volumes of poems – in between bouts of insanity during which he would be institutionalised. The last years of his life he lived alone and in obscurity in a village. Three of his volumes are addressed to a woman variously called Gayatri and Ishwari – Gayatri-ke (1961), Phire Esho Chaka (1962) and Ishwarir Kobitaboli (1964). (This woman, according to literary grapevine of Kolkata is none other than Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, an academic icon today based in Columbia University, USA, who left Presidency College to go abroad in 1962

– Translator’s note.)

There is nothing in Benoy Majumdar’s themes to identify him as a dalit poet, but for the majority of the other poets outside the charmed circle of the upper caste literary establishment, the awareness of exclusion remains a persistent ingredient of their creative work. Some deal directly with rebellion, making their poems seem like fists thrown up in the air; some arrange their alphabets in fire, some attempt to pluck the moon from the sky. Some breathe despair and lament their fate. But while most of their lines smoulder with anger sometimes they also resonate with dreams. Many of these poets are little known outside the dalit circle. Some have published slim volumes from small presses, but most of their work remains confined to the pages of little magazines. They do not have money, power or resources, but they have creative energy and an amazing staying power. Collectively the voice of resistance dominates. Some poems are against temples and their rituals, some rail against the Sankaracharyas, some raise their voice against superstition. But underlying most of their work is also the hope of a future where inequality of birth would cease to matter. In any country, in any society, the poets are the heralds of change. The Bangla dalit poets, let us hope, will not be an exception.

Non-fiction Prose

One of the noticeable features of nonfiction prose by Bengali dalit writers is an awareness of the all-India dimension of the dalit movement. Nakul Mallik has written a biography of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, Pradip Ray has written a book about Periyar Ramaswami and more than half a dozen books by different writers are available on the life and ideas of B R Ambedkar (e g, Ranjit Kumar Sikdar, Dhurjati Naskar, Neetish Biswas, Sukriti Ranjan Biswas, Jagadish Mandal and others). In 1992 Manohar Biswas compiled a volume called Dalit Sahityer Digbalay (Horizons of Dalit Literature) in which 13 essays from different Indian languages were brought together in a Bangla translation to create a wider consciousness. Arjun Dangle’s English anthology of Marathi dalit writing Poisoned Bread also became available in Bangla translation in 1997.

Another distinctive trend is the focus on the history and culture of the underprivileged sections of Bengali society. Kapil Krishna Thakur has published a study of the matua movement and its effect on the lower caste and deprived people of Bengal. Kiranmayi Talukdar also has written a book on the matua movement. Her other book is a biography of the dalit leader Mukunda Bihari Mallik. Gopal Biswas has edited a volume called Banglar Kobigaan O Lokekobi Bijoy Sarkar – about kobi-gaan, a form of folk entertainment in rural areas where poets present their work orally and also about one particular poet who was the most popular performer in the genre. Dhurjati Naskar has a book on the folk culture of the Sunderban region and Bimalendu Haldar has written on the spoken language of South 24 Parganas and the culture of its people. Naresh Chandra Das has a book tracing the vicissitudes of the namahshudra community. Anil Ranjan Biswas has written a book on the question of reservation in a democracy and collected his essays on current topics under the title Tarka, Bitarka O Kutarka (Debates, Discussions and Bad Logic).

Apart from books some journal articles also indicate the intellectual ferment among the dalits. Many of the essays on literature are self-reflexive; for example, Manohar Biswas’s path-breaking essay on the aesthetics of dalit writing appeared in the journal Manaslok (1996), Kapil Krishna Thakur’s theoretical reflections on the uniqueness of dalit writing was published in Utsab Bhumi. In the journal Adhikar, a two-part essay (published in December 2001 and January 2002) gives a useful overview of dalit writing. Chatutha Duniya, the main organ of the dalit movement in Bengal has published several seminal essays on related subjects.

The list of theoretical essays on dalit literature will remain incomplete if mention is not made of the work of some non-dalit writers on the subject. The research journal Aikyatan published a special issue on dalit literature in 1998 in which Hiren Mukherjee wrote an essay titled, ‘Duniyar Dakhal Nebe Daliter Dal’ (the Dalits Will Claim Their Share of the World). Another major study was by Jyotiprakash Chattopadhyay in the autumn number of the well known literary and cultural journal, Anustup in 2000. In the tenth issue of the Bangla Akademi journal Jyotirmoy Ghosh wrote ‘Sahitye Pratibad O Pratibad Sahitya’ (‘Protest in Literature and Literature in Protest’). Finally in 2005 we have an entire book on the subject by Sandip Bandopadhyaya, Daliter Akhyanbritta (The Narrative Circle of Dalits). In the ‘Introduction’, the author writes “I am the disobedient son of a respectable and conservative brahman family of Kolkata who has thrown away his sacred thread. In order to atone for the sin of my ancestors I dedicate this book to the dalits of my land.”

At the beginning of the 21st century it is clear that dalit literature in Bangla can no longer be wished away or consigned to invisibility or relegated to the margins. Whether one likes it or not, this sapling has taken root in the soil.

EPW

Email: meenakmuk@yahoo.co.in

Economic and Political Weekly

available at

Alter Media Bookshop

Brahmaswom Madom Bldg, M G Road Trissur 680 001 Kerala

Email: info@altermediaindia.com

Economic and Political Weekly October 13, 2007

To read the full text Login

Get instant access

New 3 Month Subscription
to Digital Archives at

₹826for India

$50for overseas users

Comments

(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top