Participation is new mantra of Dalit writers

NEW DELHI, DECEMBER 6: From literary works and scholarships for Dalit students, from social integration and representation in the media and education sectors to social injustices, the 16th Dalit writers' conference discussed it all. The two-day session concluded in the city today and one of the main issues raised was the need for Dalits to participate in mainstream society.

This conference, an annual feature, provides a platform for Dalits from various parts of the country to get together and exchange ideas and information. Attended by 13,000 writers and representatives from 26 districts, the conference aimed to spread awareness about the various education and social welfare schemes being offered by the government to Dalits and make them aware of their rights.

One suggestion that came up asked Dalits to have an active relationship with the middle classes. Says Chandrabahan Prasad, Dalit writer and activist, ``Only an articulate middle class can help form a fair and free society. Today's Dalit middle class is in the formative stage and most of it is in the government sector. As a result they cannot make any controversial statements. We need people in media and education among others fields since though Paswan and Kansi Ram are covered they are hardly the intellectuals of our society.''

Another question is of identity and assertion says Prasad, adding that they have to fight against the identity of ``untouchables'' given to them. ``We also need to fight the identity of others, that is: Why should someone else be called a Brahmin and given preferential treatment because of that?'' Need for representation in the private sector, including the MNCs, as well as the public sector, was another issue that came up in the conference.

``Moreover,'' said Prasad, ``we even object to the term reservation when it was never used in the Constitution. We need a representation in different sectors of society and not any reservation.'' On mainstream literature, the participants believed it did not reflect or even knew how to reflect their expressions. As a result they stressed that there was a strong need for a parallel literary movement through poetry, book writings and readings to present an alternative world view. The aim is to make it so strong that the mainstream model is forced to consider it.

Participant Karan Singh from Nainital touched upon something that Dalit writers at the district level often encounter. ``Whenever we send in articles or stories, they are completely turned around, giving the wrong impression,'' he said, looking a bit worried about how this quote may be twisted around.

In another situation Shyam Lal Rathi from Haryana narrated what children have to go through to get an education. Education of the girl child is technically free. But, says Rathi, girl children in his district end up paying through categories of building funds and even have to pay for their books.

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