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Dalit literature is the forum and the medium of expression of the experiences of the communities that have been excommunicated, marginalized, exploited and humiliated for ages in the Indian caste-ridden Hindu society. (The term dalit literally means the downtrodden, depressed and underprivileged.) Dalit literature reflects dalit experience and sensibility, attempting to define and assert dalit identity from a primarily dalit point of view. In many ways, it is a protest literature which faithfully mirrors the stark realities of the dalit situation and becomes an important weapon to strengthen the dalit (political) movement. The dalit author Sharankumar Limbale calls it ´the burning cry of untouchables against the injustices of thousands of years.µ The first known dalit writer is the thirteenth century untouchable Bhakti poet of Maharashtra, Chokkamela. The origins of dalit literature in the contremporary usage of the term, which is largely written and published in regional Indian languages, are in the late nineteenth century. In modern times, because of the legacy of Mahatma Phule and Babasaheb Ambedkar, dalit literature got impetus in Maharashtra and Ambedkarist thought is still the lifeblood of much dalit literature. Although most of the pioneering works have been produced in Maharashtra and the adjacent Gujarat, dalit literature has today taken substantial shape in a variety of Indian languages such as Kannada, Tamil, Hindi and Malayalam. A large number of these texts are also available in English translations for a wider audience. Some of the most widely read writers of dalit literature available in English translation include Laxman Gaekwad (The Branded), Bama (Karukku and Sangati), Naredra Jhadav (Untouchables: My Family·s Triumphant Journey Out of the Caste System in Modern India), Sharankumar Limbale (The Outside: Akkarmashi), Joseph Macwan (The Stepchild), Om Prakash Valmiki (Joothan: A Dalit·s Life), Baby Kamble (Our Existence) and Imayam (Beats of Burden). Kumud Pawde, Daya Pawar, Arjun Dangle, Sachi Rautray, Rabi Singh, Basudev Sunai, Namdeo Dhasal, Lakshman Mane, Abhimani, Poomani, Marku, Mangal Rathod, Neerave Patel, Perumal Murugan, Palamalai, Sudhakar, D. Gopi, T.K.C. Vaduthala (T.K.C. Vaduthalayude Kathakal) and Narayan (Kocharayathi) are the other prominent dalit writers. (The identity of a dalit writer is a highly debated one. Some dalit critics like Limbale argue that dalit literature is the exclusive forte of writers who are by birth dalits and that upper caste writers like Mahasweta Devi (Breast stories), Sara Joseph (Thaikulam), Kumaran Asan (Chandalabhikshuki), Mulkraj Anand (Untouchable) and Premchand (Kafan), though chroniclers of the dalit experience, cannot be categorized as dalit writers as they never undergo the trials and tribulations of dalit existence.
with whom he lives. Although dalit literature comes in all genres ² poetry. traces this popularity to the fact that when a group of people who have been denied a voice for centuries begin to talk. Sharan. Narendra Jadhav.As Limbale has put it. and theatre ² the autobiographies are the most popular. Dalits are no longer the inconsequential figures in the metanarratives of chaturvarnya but actors with a distinct sense of agency. the young protagonist is marginalized because his mother. but also show how economic deprivation and poverty go hand in hand with caste discriminations.. dalit writers subvert the Brahmanical. The agonizing poverty of his childhood is described in simple. Drona becomes a favourite in dalit writing. classical aesthetics and the popular images that have been the hallmarks of Indian literature monopolized by the upper castes and classes. the natural tendency is to tell their own stories. Further. Thus. fiction. dalit literature is ´purposiveµ«. a dalit author. Dalits are no longer portrayed as a people without history ² no demonization of Ravana or mutilation of Surpanaka. Unacknowledged by his high-caste Patil father. selfhood and history. universalist literary tradition. is a low-caste Mahar. By lencing a certain voice to the dalit writers step across the Lakshmanrekha of caste and challenge the vaunted purity of the savarna discourse. Sharankumar Limbale·s ¶The Outcaste· (originally in Marathi titled Akkarmashi) shows how much the caste-system and its attendant poverty and social stigma follow a dalit everywhere. the dialect that is specific to dalits of a region. It uses the uncouth. Inauspicious images like that of the bat and unappealing colours like black are positively interpreted in dalit literature. The reality of dalit literature is distinct so is the language of this reality. This is a deconstructive enterprise that forces the savarna world to negotiate the realities foregrounded in dalit literature. yet evocative language«. These autobiographies deal not only with the institution of caste as a means of oppression.the most vivid being when his grandmother eats bhakris made . Images from classical literature are also adopted to show how dalits have always been exploited. Very often. liberational and transformatory. It asserts the dalit·s agency. dalit writing prioritizes subjective narratives in contrast to the norms of the existing standard literature that concentrates on the objectivity and the universality of literature. Its central purpose is the realization of the full humanity of the dalit. the character of Ekalavya from the Mahabharata who was made to surrender his right thumb as gurudakshina by the Brahmanical guru.revolutionary. Dalit literature also resists literary conventions and language rigidities and tries to create its own poetics against the set politics of the classical literature of the upper castes. wherever possible and emphasizes the faithful reflection of the heartrending dalit experience in terms as simple as possible. impolite spoken language.
however. Koveruk Kazhudaigal and The Outcaste also delineate the intractable poverty of dalit communities. The narrative is a polemic between the self and the community and deals with the issue of caste oppression specifically within the Catholic Church and its institutions. demanding an alternate way of understanding her polemical text. the confessional mode. Bama·s autobiography ² novel Karukku deals with the experiences of a dalit woman in a variety of social institutions like the village. the educational system. patriarchy and caste. dalit literature has been accused of expressing resentment. Other texts like Karuku. Another charge is that the collective/social nature of the experience presented often results in the erasure of the individual from dalit literature. desire. The identical nature of the tyranny of untouchability everywhere also leads to this monotony. the family.out of millets taken from cow dung. univocal and negativeµ. and pain of centuries of caste struggle. In short. dalit literature expresses the anxiety. and the creative visions of social justice put forward by writers of the dalit movement should inspire and shape the consciousness of local and transnational participants. It has been decried for being ´propagandist. in battles against all oppressive and exploitative systems. the church and the clergy. Bama also breaks the rules of written grammar and spelling. Dalit literature. Lakshman Gaekwad·s ¶The Branded· contains one of the most depressing illustrations of poverty. Drawing form the oral tradition of folk songs and work-chants. Critics accuse this literature of getting carried away by the ¶frenzy of the movement·. These books not only raise important questions but also narrate the ability of the people on the margins to fight against all odds. . the author-protagonist eats gruel in which worms wriggle. And finally. This novel does not follow the linear mode and often uses as its narrative strategy. has been criticized on several counts. the novel uses colloquialisms to oppose the formalities of the written language. the author examines her own experiences first as Roman Catholic and then as a woman and as a dalit. In this novel structured as a series of memories and recollections. The condition of the dalit women protagonists is even worse ² thrice alienated by class. establishing economic inadequacy as a handmaiden of caste hierardchies. The expression of an ideological view common to all dalit writing has contributed to the charge of this literature being univocal. without being objective or neutral so much so that it ends up being propagandist. qualities which incline one to read dalit literature. What links the various dalit texts written in different languages is the sense of awareness of the injustice of the caste system as well as of the social and political institutions that sustain it. it must be noted that it is precisely these qualities that make dalit literature what it is ² these are the qualities that make its natural disposition. However.
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