Crux of Dalit writing

The Hindu
18th July 2000

THE PUNJABI AND DALIT IMAGES IN INDIAN LITERATURE: Anmol Publications, 4374/4B, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 500.

DALIT SAHITYA KE AGRADOOT, GURU RAVI DAS (Hindi): Both by Chaman Lal; Adhar Prakashan, Panch Kula. Rs. 80.

DALITS, THE so-called suppressed segments in the Indian society, have been looming large on the literary horizon for quite sometime. Noticed initially in Marathi literature during the 1960s, the concern for these classes has travelled to Gujarati, Kannada, Telugu, Hindi, Punjabi and some other Indian languages by the 1980s. It has now evolved itself into a considerable movement and the Dalit writing has acquired a distinct character of its own.

There is substantial volume of verse and fiction devoted to this theme. What, with the Mandal and the Mandir controversies, it has reflected itself no less in Indian politics, making and unmaking governments at the Centre.

We have witnessed a similar trend in Indian writing in the late 1930s and early 1940s when progressive writers, in their passion for socialist realism, started highlighting the seamy aspects of life.

The pendulum swung so much to the extreme that they would rip open the drains and display the filth flowing underneath. Ignoring the drawing room altogether, they were preoccupied with toilets. With the view to aligning themselves with the poor, the progressives started deifying poverty in their writings. Luckily the realisation of this flawed concept came to them sooner than later and they started making amends.

Dalit writing is still steady on rails and hopefully it is not going to repeat the mistake the progressive writers made in the 1940s when Saadat Hasan Manto and Ismat Chughtai were dragged into courts by the do-gooders of the society.

The two volumes under review seem to exploit the popularity of the Dalit wave insofar as they have linked the titles of the books with the movement. Otherwise both the works are critical encounters by a learned pen. The first book has besides a few pieces on Dalit theme, an array of highly scholarly essays on various aspects of Indian literature, the author having taken extensive pains to collect information and project it meaningfully. Some of the chapters that come to the reviewer's mind are: ``Issues before humanist cultural movement'', ``Whither progressive literature?'' and ``Looking at the sociology of literature''.

And calling Ravi Das a ``Dalit'' as Dr. Chaman Lal has chosen to do in his Hindi work entitled Dalit Sahitya Ke Agradoot Guru Ravi Das is a misnomer. Though born in a so-called low caste, Guru Ravi Das glorified the class of Chamars and their avocation. For did he not shout from the top of the house time and again - Kahe Ravi Das Chamar (So says Ravi Das, the Chamar)? Here is a rendering of the hymn of Guru Ravi Das quoted by the author in the original from Sri Guru Granth Saheb:

You are in me; I am in Thee,
Where is the difference, I crave?
We are like gold and gold bangle
Or the water and its wave.
If I had not sinned
my Limitless Lord!
Who would call You
the Redeemer God?
You are the Know-all Controller.
The master must have a servant and the servant a master.
Pray grant me the sense that on You I meditate.
Ravi Das, a commoner seeks the message to restate.

There is hardly any sense of inferiority in this writing. The so- called high caste needs the so-called low-caste as much as the latter needs the former. This is the crux of Dalit writing.


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