Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Book Reviews

Writing and reflecting on Dalit literature
-By M.N. SANIL
  • Touchable Tales: Publishing and Reading Dalit Literature. Edited by S.Anand (Navayana publishers: Pondicherry)

The book Touchable Tales: Publishing and Reading Dalit Literature delineates the undercurrents of the consumption of dalit literature in India. Anand, the editor of this book consider dalit literature as a product of 1970s intentionally written literature. According to him, it directly or indirectly searched dalit realities in a cultural manner. Dalit literature in India is an autonomous dalit intellectual tradition which exposed the pitfalls of casteist Indian society. At the same time, it can be also be read as responses to the works of Dr. Ambedkar. Anand considers the opinions of dalit writers like Arjun Dangle, Bama, Lakshman Mane and Narendra Jadhav. He has also interviewed intellectuals like Eleanor Zelliot and Gail Omvedt.

Anand exposes the paradoxical behaviour of the Indian upper-caste academicians towards dalit literature. Most of them used to consume dalit literature. They used to present papers on the dynamic dimensions of dalit literature. But, casteist intellectuals are not ready to address the real dalit issues. A kind of untouchability is practiced in the day to day life of casteist academic community. Intellectual subordination of dalit issues by the nondalit groups should be examined with this cultural change. Anand converts the opinions of dalit-non dalit intelligentsia to a healthy dialogue.

S.Ravikuamr, an activist-cum-theoretician gives excellent observations on the nondalit consumption of dalit literature. He considers the growth of dalit literature as an offshoot of globalization. According to him, dalit literature should be more revolutionary in its practices. At the same time, he is conscious of the pitfalls of economic globalization. According to him, dalit literature which used Marxian or pro-nationalist canons is accepted by the nondalit writers. Those dalit writers who deviate from those two streams are not accepted by nondalit readers. He considers this deviance as a mentality of the Indian brahminical civil society based on the negation of Ambedkarite philosophical tradition.

When a dalit intellectual Satyanarayana (Teacher in CIEFL, Hyderabad) offered Dalit study as a separate course, diku students were not ready to take that course. They considered it as an amateur course. They considered it as a course provided by an unknown person. The student community represents the microcosm of neo-casteist academic platform. Sisir Kumar Das reduces the definition of dalit literature as the narratives of pain. Satyanarayana criticizes Sisir for his reductionist definition of dalit literature. According to Satyanarayana, Sisir considers caste as a theme and suppress it as theoretical tool to explain Indian literature. Satyanarayana is trying to resist the macro-micro untouchability of the brahminical Indian educational institutes.

The book is problematic but readable and a pioneering work in an under-focused area of the movement.
  • Vasant Moon, Growing up Untouchable in India (Vistaar Publications: New Delhi 2001)
Dalit debates in India emerged as an ideologically loaded response to the casteist Indian society. Vasant Moon’s autobiography is recognition of this fact. In this book, Moon tries to historicize dalit realities and convert it into political ethno methodological record. His writing is a political deviance from the mainstream/eclectic/Marxist writings of India. Vasant is a socially mobile dalit bureaucrat who had the opportunity to cooperate with the pluralist dalit political discourses of Maharashtra. In his hands Dalit autobiography becomes a political weapon which threatens the statusquoist claims of the diku intellectual discourses.

Eleanor Zelliot, the noted sociologist gives an historical explanation to this autobiography through her well-written preface. Zelliot considers Vasant’s attempt as a maneuver which traces the roots of the caste system rather than the depiction of marginalized urban life. Ambedkar’s impact on the lives of dalits is explained in the preface.

Moon begins his biography from his native place i.e. vasti/ghetto. The vasti appears as a terrain of social backwardness. Moon depicts the day-to-day casteist existence of vasti. Dalit biography is converted in to micro dalit history through the vivid portrayal of wretched life. Moon’s autobiography is translated from Marathi to English by renowned scholar Gail Omvedt.

Moon realizes the dalit political moves to discard the caste based occupations. Moon considers it a paradigm shift to the world of modernity. He recollects the political practices of the dalit activists like Dasarath Patil. At the time, dalits tried to appropriate market for their mobility in the monetized Indian society. Moon considers the above mentioned shifts as redemption from the social backwardness. His mother is portrayed as an agent who fought with the casteist dalit Indian patriarchy. His mother and sister become frames of reference which undermines the knowledge /power relations of the diku womanhood.

Moon’s description of educational institutes debunks the representation of dalits in such brahminical institutions. Due to the casteist implication of the word harijan, Moon rejected the scholarship of Harijan Seva Sangh.
Buddhism is represented as a counter ideology to the hindutava forces. Conversion and dalits become the major themes in the autobiography. After the conversion to Buddhism Maharpura becomes Ananda nagar. Moon traces the political connotations in the etymological reversal. Ambedkar’s charismatic leadership transforms Vasant Moon’s political life. Moon documented the micro-macro details of the pan Indian dalit assertion. Moon last chapter reverses the dalit patriarchal discourses. Narrative jumps from a dalit male subjectivity to that of female subjectivity. His wife continues her life as a dalit activist. Moon gives an interdisciplinary touch to his autobiography by mixing the socio political cultural aspects of dalit politics.

[M.N. Sanil, is pursuing his MA in Sociology at the Hyderabad Central University]

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