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

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A Milestone in Dalit Writing

Omprakash Valmiki, who contributed so much to Hindi literature, and especially to dalit literature, was a contemporary of another great dalit poet, Namdeo Dhasal, who wrote in Marathi. Even their deaths were separated by just a month. However, Valmiki's writings and death, unlike that of Dhasal were largely unnoticed by the English media. Valmiki's account of dalit life in his autobiography Joothan is unsurpassed in its portrayal of the pain and humiliation that casteism infl icts on its victims.

Omprakash Valmiki may not be a widely known name on the Indian literary scene outside of Hindi literature. His contribution to dalit writing, however, is definitely not less than that of writers like Namdeo Dhasal and Kancha Ilaiah. It is not too well known either that Valmiki translated Ilaiah’s book Why I Am Not a Hindu which is considered to be one of the biggest contributions to dalit literature by any writer in Hindi. Valmiki made a major contribution to dalit literature through stories, poetry and his autobiography and right up to the last days of his life was actively involved in it; he was a fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), Shimla in 2013.

In 1989, Valmiki published his first collection of poems under the title Sadiyon Ka Santaap (centuries of suffering). His writing is a mirror to the suffering that the dalits had to undergo due to caste discrimination. It was mainly through his efforts that dalit writing found its place in several seminal Hindi magazines, one of them being Hans edited by the late renowned Hindi writer Rajendra Yadav. Not only did he help give dalit writing its deserved place in Hindi literature but also provided it with the best autobiography that one can possibly find in Hindi till date.

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