Reflections on Telugu Dalit Women’s Poetry

Dalit literature has contributed to Indian literature fresh experiences, a new sensitivity and vocabulary, a different protagonist, an alternate vision, and a new expression of suffering and a strong desire to revolt. Indian literary criticism has also been impelled to introspect, raising fundamental questions in the minds of readers and critics. Post-Independence era witnessed the spirit of nationalism gaining strength.

A fundamental transformation occurred in the lives of the people as a result of progressive programmes initiated. Common people began to understand the language of entitlements and rights due to the emergence of a democratic form of governance. New writers emerged from various sections of the society. They presented in their writings, their own language, environment, condition and issues.

Dalit literature attracted considerable discussion because of its form and objective, which were different from those of the other post-independence literatures. It gained acceptance and appreciation slowly, yet steadily.

“Dalit writers make their personal experiences the basis of their writing. Always prominent in their writing is the idea that certain notions have to be revolted against, some values have to be rejected, and some areas of life have to be strengthened and built upon. Because Dalit writers write from a predetermined certitude, their writing is purposive. They write out of social responsibility. Their writing expresses the emotion and commitment of an activist. That society may change and understand its problems - their writing articulates this impatience with intensity. Dalit writers are activist - artists who write while engaged in movements. They regard their literature to be a movement. Their commitment is to the Dalit and the exploited classes.” [S.K.Limbale,2010]

As one goes through the creative works of the Dalits, it may be noticed that they have used the language of the quarters rather than the standard language. Standard language smacks of a class, which has been rejected by Dalit writers. Cultured people in society consider standard language to be the proper language for writing. Dalit writers have rejected this validation of standard language by the so called educated and cultured classes as it is felt ‘conceited’. The language of the ‘harijanwada’ is more familiar to them than standard language. In fact, standard language does not include all the words of Dalit dialects. Besides, the ability to voice one’s experience in one’s mother tongue gives greater sharpness to the expression.

Just as the African Americans have scoffed at the word ‘Negro’ and called themselves ‘Blacks’, Dalits also ridiculed the term ‘Harijans’ and named themselves ‘Dalits’.

Creative writing of the sufferers across the continents is a unique reflection of pain and hurt feelings portrayed eloquently, powerfully, and touchingly. Folk forms, folk songs and performing artistes projected the suppressed feelings of the oppressed Dalits effectively. The rankling wound allows not the sufferer live in comfort or peace. Dalit poetry has drawn public attention with strongly worded stunning pictures of dreadful discrimination.

Whatever be the tone, mild or sharp, ferocious or highly confrontational, it is written with a specific purpose, to sting the complacent and the leering into active thought. The idea is to focus attention on the despicable reality, poking them in their ribs to intense soul-searching or, even shocking readers by seething paroxysms of fury with a wiry virulence. The poets stung like bees and danced like butterflies. Flattened noses, black eyes, smashed heads testify to the violent, uncontrollable fury let loose by the wounded pens of the oppressed poets. Quite unsparing in their attack, they sought to register their agony through powerful means of protest and poetry.

Women in India as else where have been treated as a commodity. Though they played a vital role in domestic and social activities they had been mercilessly relegated to a secondary position in a patriarchic society. 

What is conspicuous in the poetry of Telugu Dalit Women is that they always chose and maintained a specific and different path, idiom and experiences portrayed were typically feminine. Prior to 1940 not many women were educated. Some learnt Christian hymns, and expressed their creative force in a spiritual manner. From 1890 evidence of such poems was available.

Philip B.Gnana Ratnamma [1890-1960] was a teacher in Guntur district and wrote devotional songs and hymns. Her songs are much revered by Christians.

A Song

Graceful Esu swamy- come to me
Fulfilling all my needs, shower love on me
Like rain and shine for trees
Pleasure and pain are to my misery
Certainly needed now as never before.
Hands like Martha, mercy of Mariamma
My guide give me, bless with compassion Swamy.
Systematise my life, though a labour
Cleanse me corrupted with illusions.
Father’s censure symbol of love
Father’s castigation for good of the child
If required reprimand, yet save me
Swamy punitive though, saviour you are;
Vindictive Satan ready to devour me.
[Translated by T.S.Chandra Mouli]

Dedicated Writer’Vesapogu Gulbanamma [1905-1971] was born in Warangal and was a pastor when women were not permitted. Her hymns were highly inspirational.

Total Surrender [Raga –Yaman]

Sree Yehova offer do I, welfare at heart
Without parting with my prosperity in your presence
With total devotion dwell I always - Sree Yehova.
Absolute surrender at your feet, offering all my possessions
Serve you without any flaw
Accept me Father, Sree Yehova.
You are my Lord forever, your child certainly
I am Before the Sacred Lord,
I pledge my life
For blessed life, Sree Yehova.
Oh my Lord let me submit, fill my self with devotion
Let auspicious abilities lead me well
Load my life, Sree Yehova.
Psalms of praise, holy hymns
Embellish thy name ever, my savior
You are the protector, Sree Yehova.
[Translated by T.S.Chandra Mouli ].

A careful perusal of Aadi Hindu Movement in Andhra Pradesh reveals that women along with men took active part in creating awareness among people. Rajamani Devi, Eswari Bai among others took leading part. Many Dalit poets took part in freedom struggle and spread the tenets of Gandhism. Post Independence era witnessed more and more women getting educated, employed and asserting their identity. 

’Veenavaani’ Theresa Devadaanam [1937] was born in Guntur and was a teacher for a long time. She took part in freedom fight and she wrote socially relevant poems and articles extensively.

Eradicating Untouchability

Untouchability horrifying than leprosy
If not disallowed progress nil
They called us Adi Andhras then,
Call us Harijans today
Branding us Maalas, Maadigas on this earth
Untouchability attached to us
Untouchable you call, extract work well;
Servant’s work has no untouchability !
Shouting differences, raped our women
Maalas were crushed, Maadigas driven out
Kept us apart, smiles on the faces
Branded sacrificial goats, kept us confined;
Slaves we are, sufferings for us
Trained in bonded labour, toil we always
Destined to suffer, deliverance no where. ... ... 
Stain of Maadiga won’t you carry?
Never say Maadiga even by slip
Jewel like shining, bright star in the sky,
Arundhati her name, your clan lady! ……
Stainless shines your pretty vote
Teach a lesson to the tainted fellows illness you cure,
Ill-treated folks bear not bruises,
Bottom line reached
Ambedkar’s voice stirs us all!
[Translated by T.S.Chandra Mouli]

The enlightened poets realized the value of vote in an evolving democracy and exhorted all to use the power of their vote decisively to end untouchabilty and gain respectability for themselves and the work they do.

Geddada Kasturi [1949] was born in East Godavari district. She won prizes in several competitions conducted by magazines and took part extensively in social reformation programmes.


With notes for votes—
unable to carry weighty promises
arrive with a stoop.
Politicians they are…
They dowse flames of hunger—
with a fire engine, it is said …
... here they come,
politicians come after five years
promising paradise in the palm –
[Translated by T.S.Chandra Mouli]

Leftist ideology and ensuing feminist trends stirred some Dalit women poets to confront vestiges of patriarchic fervour with all their might. Like all women here too exploitation goes on unremittingly. Besides social, domestic oppression, sexual harassment is singularly specific to Dalit women.

Edluri Vijaya Kumari [1951] is a highly accomplished woman and obtained PhD from Telugu University. Her metrical poetry and free verse are equally admirable.

Woman of new Era

It is said lying low lends grace tolerance an ornament
Anasuya, Savitri, Sita icons for all women
Quoting ‘Manu’, unquestioned men handcuffed women
Imposed slavery
Confining to home and hearth,
Invaluable service. …………
… Unlike a scared rabbit,
lunge like a lioness
grasp power on your own
proving your supremacy
not confined to home and hearth alone
unleash authority like ‘Adishakti’!
[Translated by T.S.Chandra Mouli]

Balijepalli Vijayalakshmi[1960] is from Warangal who entered police service and tried to eradicate social inequalities. She portrayed oppression of women in office, at home and in society in her works. She wrote many socially relevant stories and poems. She tried to educate Dalits and others to be pragmatic and understand various strategies employed to keep them blind to realities around.


Genocide won’t Result in Revolution
Blodspilling alone won’t launch revolution
Only with bullets won’t bring revolution
But today
Carried away by distractions
If that is touted as revolution
If taking part in strikes,
Damaging public property
Is called revolution,
If paying a deaf ear to elders’s advise
And feel it is revolution
Absolute abomination! ………
[Translated by T.S.Chandra Mouli]

Jaajula Gowri [1967] was born in Secunderabad. Ambedkar’s life instilled confidence in her and she took part widely in Dalit movement. Her short stories are as well received as her poetry.

I will bash up!

Among annals of history stacked truth
I am standing on precipice of innocence
subjected to societal scorn,
to the charms of cheats and male chauvinism
succumbed dalit woman, I am . ……
Braving innumerable torments,
intolerable insults,
from unbowed audacity of ‘Madiga’
itself declare a revolt!
Societal superciliousness
I will bash up!
[Translated by T.S.Chandra Mouli]

Some Dalit women took part in different movements and emerged as leaders. It is a moot point to question whether movements created leaders or ordinary women sustained movements through their leadership qualities.

Gogu Shyamala [1969] was born in Ranga Reddy district and functioned as a full time activist in Rythu Coolie union. Subsequently she encountered troubles due to police harassment. Under her leadership crimes against women of all hues were taken up by many organizations. She attended third world conference against apartheid in Durban in 2001 as an Indian representative.

Varada Goodu*
[* Halo round the sun or the moon in moist or misty weather]

I am the victim in this country
I am the way to revolution too!
My past lies in suppression
my present and future ensure revolt,
Caste my target,
Durban my triumph!
[Translated by T.S.Chandra MoulI]

Superstitions are bane of any society, more so among uneducated, poverty ridden Dalits.In the name of religion, appeasing an angry village goddess, many Dalit girls are forced to become ‘Jogini’,’Devadasi’,’Mathangi’ or ‘Basivi’ in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. They are, in fact, pleasure givers to all men in the villages. Here, ironically untouchabilty doesn’t matter, since seeking pleasure is the main goal. Religion is used as a ruse to lure or force an innocent girl child in Dalit families in getting married first to a village deity and then become a puppet to satiate carnal desires of men of means. This abominable practice is on the wane slowly due to the relentless efforts of social reformers and educated Dalit women.

Dr Challapalli Swarupa Rani [1980] a highly accomplished lady is credited with bringing out a volume of poetry, a representative work of Dalit Women’s poetry. Her powerful poetry reflects the self- respect of Dalits and the need to assert themselves.

Forbidden History

As a babe in the womb
depicted as an untouchable
stamped with a low caste,
I was born.
That day itself branded a slut
amidst senseless rules
in the cesspools of superstitions cast away, 
I became a forbidden woman.
My childhood
that should grow
amidst pampering, scampering
has prelude of sorrowful songs. …………
Scorns of generations indifference of ages
I carry as a legacy.
In this holy land of ‘karma’
as a newborn infant
yet to open eyes
credit for the identity
as a ‘prostitute’, is mine.
My story that demands
all cyber revolutions
to lower their heads
at once in to stone ages,
will be inscribed in which canto
in the annals of this country’s history?

[In some parts of Karnataka state there is a practice of tender aged girl children from Dalit families forced to become ‘Basivi’s , pleasure givers to village men]

[Translated by T.S.Chandra Mouli]

Categorization of Dalits in Andhra Pradesh virtually created a vertical divide among Maala and Maadiga communities. Those who wrote in defense of their rights earlier now highlighted the differences and discrimination among the Dalit communities. Some of the spirited women joined the underground movement of naxalites and wrote poetry propagating their ideology. 

Poetry written by the Dalit women in Telugu is vibrant, specific and relevant. Many new voices are heard depicting the deplorable conditions in which they live, demanding redress of their grievances. Their efforts and sincerity deserve all compliments and commendation. Poetic excellence of Telugu Dalit women can be assessed from the poems cited above. 

In conclusion it may be stated that Dalit women chose their own idiom and wrote about issues hitherto branded taboo. Dalit consciousness among women found explicit expression in the powerful poetry that emerged subsequently. Initially poets were all concerned with welfare of Dalits in general and women in particular. Telugu Dalit women’s poetry reflects not only social, economic exploitation but highlights sexual exploitation they face silently. The pain and hurt feelings find potent portrayal in moving poetry published by women.


  • Alladi Uma& Sridhar, M (Guest Editors). Dalit Poetry in Telugu. New Delhi:The Book Review, Vol XVI,No 2(Feb.2002), 2002.
  • Alladi Uma, Sridhar,M.etal. The Black Rainbow. Hyderabad:Milind Publications,2002.
  • Ananda Rao,K.Harijanabhyudayam: Andhra Kavitwam.Visakhapatnam:Chaitanya Sahiti Sravanti,1994.
  • Chandra Mouli,T.S. ‘Dalit Poetry in Telugu’. Special Issue on Dalit Literature. Tiruvanantapuram:The Word Plus, December,2005.
  • Chinna Rao, Yageti.Andhra Pradesh Dalita Udyama Charitra. Hyderabad:Hydrabad Book Trust,2007. Enoch, Kolakaluri.Adhunika Sahitya Vimarsa Sutram.Guntur: Maruti Book House,1994.
  • Hanumantha Rao,B.S.L. Bharateeya Samskruthi-Oka Pariseelana.Gunturu:Tripura Sundari Prachuranalu,1994.
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More by :  Dr. T. S. Chandra Mouli

Top | Women

Views: 3833      Comments: 15

Comment Thanks, ma'am for your kind and encouraging observation.Regards.

T.S.Chandra Mouli
12-Dec-2015 09:42 AM

Comment very inspiring and informative article

S Santhi Rajasri
12-Dec-2015 03:24 AM

Comment Thanks,Dr Venkateswar Rao sir for your kind words of encouragement.

T.S.Chandra Mouli
29-Nov-2014 12:27 PM

Comment It is Scholarly Research Paper.Congratulations.Darla Venkateswara Rao

Dr.Darla Venkateswara Rao
29-Nov-2014 02:12 AM

Comment Thanks, Dr Naheed sir, for your observation and encouragement.Regards.

T.S.Chandra Mouli
19-Oct-2012 01:57 AM

Comment Thanks for sharing. It is really a very thought provoking and give insight in Dalit poetry.Good job.

Dr.Naheed Nasir
18-Oct-2012 20:50 PM

Comment I am grateful to you Prof Vishnu for your keen analytical eye and very relevant note.Thanks for your time. You always motivate in a typical way, so unique like you and your poetry.Regards.

T.S.Chandra Mouli
14-Oct-2012 13:39 PM

Comment Thanks Seshu ji for your kind observation and support.Best.

T.S.Chandra Mouli
14-Oct-2012 13:33 PM

Comment Scholarly article ! The renowned professor has provided an authentic account of the gradual flourishing of literature by Telugu Dalit women poets: '... What is conspicuous in the poetry of Telugu Dalit women poets is that they always chose and maintained a specific and different path, idiom and experiences portrayed were typically feminine. Prior to 1940 not many women were educated. Some learnt Christian hymns, and expressed their creative force in a spiritual manner. From 1890 evidence of such poems was available...." He has brilliantly supported his views by beautifully self-translated pieces of the selected poems of the noted women poets. His observations find fit expression in concluding paragraph : "...Dalit women chose their own idiom and wrote about issues hitherto branded taboo. Dalit consciousness among women found explicit expression in the powerful poetry that emerged subsequently... Telugu Dalit women's poetry reflects not only social, economic exploitation but highlights sexual exploitation they face silently. The pain and hurt feelings find potent portrayal in moving poetry published by women." Must read for researchers and lovers of literature!

ashwini kumar vishnu
14-Oct-2012 10:44 AM

Comment Dear Prof Nikhi ji, Thanks for your encouragement.Regards.

Thank you very much Dr Shamenaz for your appreciation.Best.

T.S.Chandra Mouli
14-Oct-2012 02:05 AM

Comment I liked your lucid style in the translations just as the captioned literature goes. Kudos, sir.

14-Oct-2012 01:24 AM

Comment Dear Sir, what a great and scholarly paper, giving us a knowledge of Telugu Dalit Poetry, which many are not aware of.

Dr Shamenaz Sheikh
13-Oct-2012 22:52 PM

Comment Scholarly article!

Nikhil Kumar
13-Oct-2012 12:03 PM

Comment Thanks you so much for your kind words,Prof Sunil ji.Regards.

T.S.Chandra Mouli
13-Oct-2012 10:58 AM

Comment A very heavy spread that made the day for a hungry reader like me. Translations are excellent, capturing the vedna of the poets so well.
Dalit Lit. is very powerful counter-point to our middle-class literate ideology and mainstream Bhasha Sahitya. It brings the lost desires and frustrated still-born aspirations and dreams of a section of Indian society that is still not free of social taboos and unable to cast off the tag of outsider and the perpetual Other.
Well-done, Professor Mouli!

13-Oct-2012 03:27 AM

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