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​Heralding the Anti-caste Aesthetic

Yogesh Maitreya ( is a poet and translator. He is currently pursuing a PhD at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, on the history of Ambedkarite Shahiri in Maharashtra.

Marathi poet Loknath Yashwant’s work is an example of how Dalit literature can provide the anti-caste “sensible.”

Jacques Rancière in his provocative essay, “The Distribution of the Sensible: Politics and Aesthetics,” says,“Artistic practices are ‘ways of doing and making’ that intervene in the general distribution of ways of doing and making as well as in the relationship they maintain to modes of being and forms of visibility.”

He illustrates what is “sensible” (that which is fathomed by the senses), through his “theory of disagreement” between two dialectically opposite agencies which produce literature within the same society.

In the case of a caste society like India, I must argue that what is “sensible” depends upon and is determined by the caste-agency of a writer. Let us reasonably think that if “Brahminical” literature, which imagines a society through an unequal gaze and from the divisive location of one’s caste, reaffirms and solidifies the Brahminical aesthetic, then, Dalit literature, if it has to become “sensible” and eventually reflect the sensibilities of social life, has to be disseminated widely, across different linguistic societies.

To this end, translation of Dalit literature becomes imperative as it will likely increase the reach of an anti-caste “sensible.” Dalit literature is informed by the equitable and humanitarian values of Dalit writers—who acquire these from their social ecology that is fundamentally shaped in the presence of non-Brahminical aesthetics—which promote values of liberal and rational social life, such as equality, liberty and fraternity as proposed by Babasaheb Ambedkar.

Dalit literature from Maharashtra has been used in bits and pieces in translation—a poem here or a paragraph there—or there have been translations of relatively smaller texts for reference by upper-caste translators. Despite Dalit literature forming a large part of writings in Marathi, it has never been translated as a substantial body of literature, a process that is necessary to introduce and create the egalitarian “sensible” that is found missing in Brahminical literature.

Only recently has Dalit literature grown into a large saleable commodity because, if translated for the vast readership of English, it promises not only revenue, but also recognition for upper-caste translators of Dalit literature. The fact that most translators of Dalit literature belong to the upper castes has largely gone unexamined.

Loknath Yashwant is a prominent Marathi poet. His poems undoubtedly represent a transition in the domain of non-Brahminical aesthetics. Marking a shift in style and content in Dalit literature, his poems are sharp and impressive, and provoke readers with a sense of discomfort. His ability to see the subject through a critical perspective carries the potential to provide the anti-caste “sensible,” which isn’t provided by Brahminical literature.

The caste system has been defined or elaborated by many in both prose and poetry, but here’s how his poem looks at it:

The jailor slipped into a nap



Of late, prisoners have started

Keeping a watch on each other

His poems illustrate the almost government-like mechanism that the caste system follows, all in a few words that overpower and dismantle the jargon-based elaborate theories on the caste system that are, at best, only loosely articulated by upper-caste writers whose caste location promotes Brahminical aesthetics. The translation of his poems, therefore, paves the way for introducing non-Brahminical aesthetics among readers of English as well. I must emphasise on the fact that translation as a process and a literary practice is a challenge and always will be. What connects a translator to an author or their text is the vision, which is often politically motivated.

What compelled me to translate Loknath Yashwant was the effect of his poems, which gave a language to my own experiences of growing up as a Dalit. The common sense he reconstructed through his poems is what most Dalits aspire to acquire. His poems elevate one from the cosiness of reading to finding a purpose in reading. In one of his poems, he says:

People are very stupid

They pluck beautiful flowers

Early in the morning

From trees and shrubs

As offerings to statues

Made of rock

The “common sense” he wants to distribute through his poems is rarely given space by upper-caste publishers. Translating and publishing his poems is my attempt towards distributing an anti-caste “sensible” in a caste society. Such attempts are necessary in the literary domain to make our society more inclusive as well as rational, because it is only such literary narratives that contribute to the evolution of a civilised society.


Updated On : 20th Aug, 2018


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