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This article was first published 18 years ago  » News » Small booklets leaving big imprint on Dalit psyche

Small booklets leaving big imprint on Dalit psyche

By Nachiketa Narayan in Allahabad
December 18, 2005 22:44 IST
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While the emergence of backward classes as a social and political force has been made possible by the efforts of their leaders, credit also goes to the Dalit literature to complement the efforts by infusing a sense of dignity in these sections, says a study.

The study conducted by Dalit Resource Centre, funded by the Ford Foundation, has found that voluminous literature produced by Dalit writers, has contributed towards bringing self-respect and the motivation to move ahead into the lives
of the "depressed" classes, Director of the project Badri Narayan Tiwari told PTI here.

Tiwari, who is a faculty member at the G B Pant Social Science Institute here, said a characteristic feature of this "literature of sell respect" is that it is brought out mostly in the form of cheap and small booklets, which can be procured at any of the political or cultural gatherings of the Dalits.

He said through these booklets, the Dalits have sought to question "the politics of silence" which has resulted in hardly anything. "This has also resulted in the emergence of an alternative history which has been rejected by the mainstream historians," he said adding that Dalit literature must be analysed in the context it has been written in.

"We can take "Pasi Samrajya" authored by R K Chaudhary, which seeks to trace the descent of Rajbhar Pasis from a royal dynasty of the medieval period which was allegedly dethroned by the Mughals in collusion with upper caste Hindus," Tiwari said. "Instead of scornfully pointing towards the historical improbability of this theory, one needs to understand that this is an attempt by an oppressed community to take some pride in its past. The alleged role of the upper caste Hindus, in fact, reflects the anguish of a community that has for ages suffered exploitation and humiliation," he said. The authenticity of the facts in the booklet may be questionable but they have an "irresistable" appeal for those who have been at the receiving end of an inequitable social order," he said.

"A similar case in point is the booklet on Lakhan Pasi written by one Rajkumar. This booklet deals with a mythical figure, after whom, the writer claims, the city of Lucknow is named. "Here again, we can see a very strong attempt to protest the prevalent social ethos. That have been a cause of torment for the Dalits. The attempt is not only to establish that a modern city is named after their hero but also to counter the claims that it was named after Ram's brother Lakshman seen as a representative of the upper caste hegemony," said Tiwari. "And these are only two samples. There are many others widely circulated booklets that pose new questions before Hindu mythology," he added.

 Valmiki and Ravidas, the great saint poets, are extolled as symbols of Dalits' selflessness. There are writings that assert that Eklavya's promptness in offering his thumb to Dronacharya is an example of the Dalit ideal of service and reverence for their masters, a virtue that has been rarely respected by the elite class," Tiwari said. "From here on, we can see more pro-active attempts to confront and challenge what Dalit writers may term as manuvadi ethos.

It is well-known that learning of the Vedas was forbidden for the shudras. So, now the Chamar community can be seen asserting with a vengeance the existence of Chamarved, a holy book composed by holy men from their community," he said.

This quest for asserting themselves through intellectual means also led the Dalits to re-write modern history from their own perspective, said Tiwari. "While there is little dispute over Dalits' participation in the freedom struggle copious writings are available depicting their role in even in the first war of independeence. Booklets by Bauddhacharya S Rao Sajivan Nath on Matadin Hela, a scavenger whose taunts impelled Mangal Pandey to rebel and Bhavani Shankar Visharad's work on Jhalkari Bai, projected as the motivator of the Rani of Jhansi, are a few examples," he said.

Tiwari, who has travelled to hundreds of villages across Uttar Pradesh as part of his project, claimed these booklets, which have a surprisingly large circulation despite not a very high literacy rate and purchasing power among the trageted community, have considerably shaped recent political movements as well. "In their hay days, Kanshiram and Mayawati have admitted having referred to one or more of these booklets to add an extra punch to their speeches. In fact, one of the most popular booklets doing the rounds is BSP Ke Geet by one Shiv Prasad Dohre, containing verses propagating the party's ideology.One hear activists reciting the verses at almost all gatherings of the party," he said.

"Similar attempts to arouse Dalit consciousness have been made in other states as well - for example by Ram Vilas Paswan in Bihar. The Dalit movement may not be as strong every where but nowhere is it now feeble enough to be ignored," he added. However, Tiwari cautioned it would be "too simplistic" to see these booklets as mere political tools developed by interested parties.

"Our study shows there is a direct correlation between the level of social and political awakening in a community and its contribution to the development of Dalit literature," he said. "For example, Chamars and Pasis have been the most prolific in producing booklets on their heroes and they also happen to be the most vocal among the depressed castes. On the other hand, Jogi, Rangrej and Tatwa are some of the communities that have not been able to build their own legends and they are hardly considered a force," he added.

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Nachiketa Narayan in Allahabad
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