Dalit Writers: Struggle Against Social Discrimination


dalit literature

Dalit writers are gaining prominence in modern literature. But their beginnings was not all that easy. They had to endure social stigma and isolation from society, especially the upper castes.

Poets and their sufferings

According to en.m.wikipedia, dalit literature started in the 1960s in Marathi language and quickly spread to other languages like Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, Bengali and Tamil. The genre was mostly poetry, stories, articles and autobiographies depicting real lives and the politics of dalits. It is often compared to Africo – American literature which depicted sufferings of blacks and their racial discrimination as seen in ‘ slave narrative” exposing injustice

One of the early known dalit poets is Madara Chennaiah, a cobbler saint who lived during western Chalukyas. He is regarded by some scholars as ‘ father of Vachana’ poetry. Another dalit by birth Dohara Kakkaiah was also a poet whose six confessional poems survive. Origins of dalit writings can also be traced back to Budhist literature: Dalit Bhakti poets like Gora, Raidas, Chokka Mala and Karmamela and the Tamil siddhas or Chittars ( 6 – 13 century CE) might have been dalits going by hegiographical accounts like ‘ Periyapuranam’ (12 century CE). But true sense of dalit writings became popular with sree Narayan Guru, Phule, Ambedkar, Ayyyappan, Appachan and others. They exposed the cruel practice of discrimination vividly in their writings.

The term ‘ dalit literature’ was used in the first conference of Maharashtra Dalit Sahitya Sangha (Maharashtra Dalit Literature Socuety) in Mumbai in 1958. Later, in 1993 , Ambedkari Sahitya Parishad organised the first Akhil Bharatiya Ambedkari Sahitya Sammelan ( All India Ambedkarite Literary convention) with the inspiration of life and writings of Dr. Ambedkar in Wardha. The dalit literature became mainstream literature with English translation of Marathi ‘ An anthology of dalit literature ‘edited by Mulk Raj Anand and Eleanor Zelliot. The work became popular throughout India.

Struggle against all odds

The dalit writers were discriminated against from the beginning. They were not allowed to attend conventions. Even at the time of Phule and Ambedkar, the brahmins did not allow reading and writing of dalits. Their works were published only due to Britishers allowing printing of works.

A Telugu poet Gurram Jashua, was not allowed to share the same dias with other upper caste writers. In his epic poem ‘ Gabbilam’ ( The bat) , he poignantly explains how even a bat is allowed into temple but an untouchable is not allowed to see God. He was later awarded with sahitya academi award and Padma Bhushan. He wrote many poems expressing the plight of lower caste in the society.

Present position

Modern dalit literature is more vocal in its expression of injustice. Many dalit writers are coming forward to explain the harm caused to them by manu order and hindu scriptures that advocate strict following of caste system. Even some non- dalit writers are exposing the exploitative nature of brahminical system. There is rising trend of writings against hindutva and its cruel social impact on downtrodden.

Sheshu Babu is a writer from anywhere and everywhere


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