Literary Shelf

Dalit Literature

My mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but O! my soul is white;
White as an angel is the English child:
But I am black as if bereav'd of light.

My mother taught me underneath a tree
And sitting down before the heat of day,
She took me on her lap and kissed me,
And pointing to the east began to say.

Look on the rising sun: there God does live
And gives his light, and gives his heat away.
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in morning joy in the noonday.

And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love,
And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

For when our souls have learn'd the heat to bear
The cloud will vanish we shall hear his voice.
Saying: come out from the grove my love & care,
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice.

Thus did my mother say and kissed me,
And thus I say to little English boy.
When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy:

Ill shade him from the heat till he can bear,
To lean in joy upon our fathers knee.
And then I'll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him and he will then love me.
– William Blake in ‘The Little Black Boy’

I like to meet a sweep -- understand me -- not a grown sweeper -- old chimney-sweepers are by no means attractive -- but one of those tender novices, blooming through their first negritude, the maternal washings not quite effaced from the cheek -- such as come forth with the dawn, or somewhat earlier, with their little professional notes sounding like the peep peep of a young sparrow; or liker to the matin lark should I pronounce them, in their aerial ascents not seldom anticipating the sun-rise?

I have a kindly yearning towards these dim specks -- poor blots -- innocent blacknesses-- -

I reverence these young Africans of our own growth -- these almost clergy imps, who sport their cloth without assumption; and from their little pulpits (the tops of chimneys), in the nipping air of a December morning, preach a lesson of patience to mankind.

When a child, what a mysterious pleasure it was to witness their operation! to see a chit no bigger than one's-self enter, one knew not by what process, into what seemed the fauces Averni -- to pursue him in imagination, as he went sounding on through so many dark stifling caverns, horrid shades -- to shudder with the idea that "now, surely, he must be lost for ever! " -- to revive at hearing his feeble shout of discovered day-light -- and then (O fulness of delight) running out of doors, to come just in time to see the sable phenomenon emerge in safety, the brandished weapon of his art victorious like some flag waved over a conquered citadel! I seem to remember having been told, that a bad sweep was once left in a stack with his brush, to indicate which way the wind blew. It was an awful spectacle certainly; not much unlike the old stage direction in Macbeth, where the "Apparition of a child crowned with a tree in his hand rises."

Reader, if thou meetest one of these small gentry in thy early rambles, it is good to give him a penny. It is better to give him two-pence. If it be starving weather, and to the proper troubles of his hard occupation, a pair of kibed heels (no unusual accompaniment) be superadded, the demand on thy humanity will surely rise to a tester.

– Charles Lamb in ‘In Praise of Chimney-Sweepers’

When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry " 'weep! 'weep! 'weep! 'weep!"
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.

There's little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curled like a lamb's back, was shaved, so I said,
"Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head's bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair."

And so he was quiet, & that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping he had such a sight!
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, & Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black;

And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins & set them all free;
Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing they run,
And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.

Then naked & white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds, and sport in the wind.
And the Angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy,
He'd have God for his father & never want joy.

And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark
And got with our bags & our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm;
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.

– William Blake in  ‘The Chimney Sweeper: When my mother died I was very young’

Dalit literature, what do you mean, what do I? What is Dalit literature? How the base of it? What is it Dalit, non-Dalit? What the motto, agenda behind?  But can literature be Dalit, non-Dalit? Is it of the Dalits, not of the non-Dalits, as I take it to? With no intention of doing politics or profiting from, I want to put it plainly, the things of my heart in this perspective. Dalit literature is of the Dalits, for the Dalits and by the Dalits, a Dalit matter and let the Dalits write, but whatever they write they must be kept for open constructive criticism as one is not complete in oneself.

What is Dalit literature? How the base of it? What does it form the crux of it? Dalit as a word means, trodden, crushed, downtrodden, have-nots, exploited, oppressed and suppressed and who have been and for what?

Dalit literature is that type of literature which deals with prose, poetry and drama it all. Why to talk of literature? First, it was in our society and they bore the brunt of, but for what?

Actually, what is the word Dalit, not Dalit literature the thing of our concern? First, Dalit matters, not Dalit literature. If the Dalit had been it not, would Dalit literature have come?

Dalit literature is actually a thing of the vernacular and society and it can be observed rather than written and the local languages and dialects would work as feeder media. But one should not take it for granted that the non-Dalits not, the Brahmins are guilty. Actually, all are guilty. The system too is guilty. If you go deep into, you will come to feel it.
Before we explain it, we need to read and mark different societies, Brahmin society, Kshatriya society, Vaishya society, Shudra society, how their culture, how their protocol and nomenclature? Did one need another or not? How had it been their relationship over the ages?

How were the specific qualities of communities and societies racial and ethnic and sociological? The Brahmins worked as priests and godmen, the Kshatriayas guarded and saved us from foreign incursions and invasions, the Vaishyas remained lost in business and bargain and the Shudras with menial and physical work.

But in dealing with religion, god and godliness, papa and punya, they aggravated it, landing into untouchability which was but their mania and misunderstanding as ground realities, connections with the earth cannot be dismissed.

The Kshatriyas in dealing with outsider and their attacks and invasions turned they aggressive and hard of heart as one dealing in weaponry, arms and armour.

The Vaishyas so lost in economy  and finance, food supply, business and bargain and money-lending turned into the Shylocks of some sort.

The Shudras just left with menial and lowly works and their merry-making to carry and continue with. Was Kabira not? Was Tukaram?

But I criticize them, were they really godly? Does God keep anyone? Who is but a Brahmin? One who knows Brahman or something is it different from what I say to? The next thing, is there any religion greater than service? If they take ganja, bhang and daru, get morally degraded and fallen, deviated from, will they remain so? The Shudras did the things of their own liking, remaining lost in low culture, eat, drink and be merry or go hungry. But it does not mean that they did not. They did their part with the stroke of their spade, cultivated the farmlands and did every type of menial work they could. Or, was it the Aryans came it from outside? Is Kali a non-Aryan goddess?

But in every caste there were some sub-castes in the higher and the lower strata and they tried to maintain the hierarchy. The higher Brahmin will accept the daughter from the lower Brahmin, but will not his daughter in the lower stratum.

Do not say the Brahmins are bad. Do not say the higher castes. The lower caste people were so and so. Where does the fault lie with? I cannot say that. Who is guilty and who not? What we ought to have this much I can assure you.

I wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear

How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls

But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse

– William Blake in ‘London’

How did the falconer, hunter shoot the kronch male bird leaving the female fraught with misery and bloody death, bringing to an end their amorous flirtation? The lines of verse came it gushing out of the heart of Valmiki and he sought to jot down and scribble the feelings of his heart.

King Sivi’s story of maya, daya, karuna still does the rounds, how one day the falconer came up to as for claiming the wounded bird lying fainted and fallen into the court of his and he demanding for it, but the king asking him to take the ransom for it otherwise.

The same scene I noticed it when the twilight was to change into the dusk into the highlands when a tribal falconer came and shot dead the big male grey bird, but the female took a short flight, nudged it not and gave her life too by being stoned. That scene still hangs over and I remember how gruesome the scene was, the pair of birds in affection when separated sacrificed it itself the other partner.

While on the other occasion I found when a shot with a stone piece flung from the sling, the crane fell it unconscious which but when was administered water drops over came to senses and flew it away.

But Sivi’s case was with me when I found the tribal hunters with bows and arrows and stones driving the wild cat away from the bushes, it tried to hide behind my house, but they came to directly, spared it not, killed to hang it onto the bamboo pole placed over the shoulder for a feast campfire.

Her arms across her breast she laid;
She was more fair than words can say;
Barefooted came the beggar maid
Before the king Cophetua.
In robe and crown the king stept down,
To meet and greet her on her way;
'It is no wonder,' said the lords,
'She is more beautiful than day.'

As shines the moon in clouded skies,
She in her poor attire was seen;
One praised her ankles, one her eyes,
One her dark hair and lovesome mien.
So sweet a face, such angel grace,
In all that land had never been.
Cophetua sware a royal oath:
'This beggar maid shall be my queen!'

– Alfred Lord Tennyson in ‘The Beggar Maid’

Everything in Dalit literature is okay and in Brahminical literature wrong, it can never be. Classics and classicism is good, but earthly connections can never be dismissed. Had it been not, the dancers would not have taught Buddha otherwise about the Middle Path? Do not take in the bad spirit the Amrapali of Vaishali.

Are the Brahmins not poor? Do the village Brahmins not do politics? They definitely do it as other Indians and rural people do not. Pride over your culture, but your pride should not trespass the limit so that it turns inhuman. How have the child widows been treated? How much ostracised felt they?

How foolish and illiterate had we been? The village danda still the intellectuals fear it. Tinmudiya’s danda, Three-forked Fellow’s robust stick, mustard oiled and seasoned bamboo thick stick, where will it fall? God even cannot say it about the Indian fools, be they Brahmin or Dalit fools.

How the tales of India’s hunger, India’s thirst? How the stories of the hungry belly? How did we live as poor people over the ages? How did it revel into the mire of poverty, underdevelopment, scarcity, unemployment, hunger, superstition, illiteracy? How did fatalism, black art, inaction, lethargy take us over? How much superstitious and backward had we been? How did the foreign invaders loot and exploit it? How did the invaders, plunderers and barbarians? But we were divided over issues which but we could never feel it.

The rigidity of Indian society, the pagaletpanti of it, we have not forgotten it. How paglets had we been? How superstitious? We too had been segregated as the area too was a large-encompassing one so varied in custom, culture, thought, idea, attire, geography and climate. How did we boycott socially Dr. Satchidanand Sinha for crossing over the saat samudras, seve seas for his study? The ground was he would have mixed with and taken food. How did the villagers come not to help Adi Shankaracharya for his mother’s funeral in South India? How was Ambedkar treated otherwise? But on the other hand, the King of Baroda managed for to send him to foreign for his studies. What treatment did we mete out to Mira? Could we her mixing with the sadhus and saints? Was Kabira the son of a Brahmin widow thrown out of shame? How Yasoda’s love for Krishna? How Kunti’s love for Karna?

Nirala’s The Beggar tells an untold saga which we often come across but without any remedy to do away with the evil. How does the por beggar with the dog come to asking for alms and left-overs for which the dog too competes with?

That Which Breaking Stones is a poem of a stone-breaker woman, how does she keep struggling with, hitting hard to break with the hammer under heat and dust, doing hard labour to build the roads?

What it more to say about the widow, the Indian widow bearing the tragedy of fate and living? How the zigzagged paths of her life? How the fate-lines carved upon her palm? Bereft of it all, she keeps going her way silently. Just as a candle burns, keeps struggling with the wind so is she who has nothing but to serve.

Live and let live should be our motto of living. Unity in diversity is our agenda. How to encompass a large territory and tract of land so varied and so wild where languages change from land to land?

A sociological matter, how to discuss it in literature? The autobiography of a Dalit girl, how to read it? The architecture of a hut, how to carve it? How did the caste grow in India? Is it only in India or elsewhere too? How to write the biography of a Dalit girl?

To talk of Dalit literature is not to do politics. To talk of Dalit literature is not to get the Ph.D. awarded for professorship in some college or university. But how to be a man is the main thing. We have failed to comprehend, Charity begins at home, Service to man is service to God.

To talk of Dalit is go deep into the matter. Why were the Dalits? What were the reasons sociological, political, historical and psychological?

Only the Dalits were not tortured. The women too were, the daughters were, children were. Our mentality too had been as such. The old mentality was as such. The time too had been old and obsolete. Did the classical pundits not keep their wives under ghumta? Did the medieval foreign rulers impose it not upon the purdah and the ghumta? Did the Dalit drunken people not beat their families? Were some of the tribal not adamant and rampant? But Kali the Goddess of dacoits, bandits, goons and the badmash too got inducted in, the non-Aryan Goddess into the Aryan order. The dreaded dacoits and bandits used to go for after their specific worships of Kali. The medieval time barbaric invaders too had been involved in the loot of gold from temples and the women.

Why could the Europeans not settle it here? The White sahibs bearing the slaps of Indian heat and dust, scorching sun of the summer so full of humidity and heat? Why could they not with the ismic Indians? But not sure of their drivers and cooks, where did they get it from? How was their love marriage? How was it their love life? Did they with the Indians? How their relationship story?

The village councils and village elders were very conventional people to be dealt with keeping their hawkish eyes on everything around and dumping sins and vices wisely to come clear off. Were the Brahminical men not so so much full of punditism and after religiosity and holy living and holy thinking? Indian astrologers are but the thugs of some sort. Where will you true people? They are but the friends of gemmologists and stone-dealers. To find is to search within, you should search it here, in your heart first before moving elsewhere. Were the tribal elders not stubborn? Were the Dalit communities not so? For any sort of negotiation and dispute, wine was a must with meat ten everything. The tribal people used to round off the man of their community for going off the community ghetto. The Brahmins used to boycott for inter-caste marriages dooming the fate of yet to be the new born.

The village Brahmins we have seen it can make one sell their properties, mortgage lands and ornaments as for the funeral feast, five types of sweets and dana to be given. Such a thing we never appreciated it. Yatha shakti tatha bhakti is the thing, live within your means, cut your coat according to your cloth, as you are able so show you your bhakti. If the body is not yours, God too is not yours. The foolish, illiterate Brahmins I have always feared them and their lathis as do the Indian fools, rustics, litigants and illiterates do it. Only the Brahmins not, but all the villagers are alike. The fools and illiterates are same in vidya and buddhi. 

Let us see how the things go on in between the disciple of Buddha, Bhikshu Ananda and Prakriti the Chandal girl in Rabindranath Tagore’s Chandalika:

“PRAKRITI. It was the other day. The palace gong had just struck noon and it was blazing hot. I was washing that calf at the well—the one whose mother died. Then a Buddhist monk came and stood before me, in his yellow robes, and said, ‘Give me water’. My heart leaped with wonder. I started up trembling and bowed before his feet, without touching them. His form was radiant as with the light of dawn. I said, ‘I am a chandalini, and the well-water is unclean’. He said, ‘As I am a human being, so also are you, and all water is clean and holy that cools our heat and satisfies our thirst’. For the first time in my life I heard such words, for the first time I poured water into his cupped hands—the hands of a man the very dust of whose feet I would never have dared to touch.

MOTHER. O, you stupid girl, how could you be so reckless? There will be a price to pay for this madness! Don’t you know what caste you were born in?

 PRAKRITI. Only once did he cup his hands, to take the water from mine. Such a little water, yet that water grew to a fathomless, boundless sea. In it flowed all the seven seas in one, and my caste was drowned, and my birth washed clean.

MOTHER. Why, even the way you speak is changed. He has laid your tongue under a spell. Do you understand yourself what you are saying?

PRAKRITI. Was there no other water, mother, in all Sravasti city? Why did he come to this well of all wells? I may truly call it my new birth! He came to give me the honour of quenching Man’s thirst. That was the mighty act of merit which he sought. Nowhere else could he have found the water which could fulfill his holy vow— no, not in any sacred stream. He said that Janaki bathed in such water as this, at the beginning of her forest exile, and that Guhak, the chandal, drew it for her. My heart has been dancing ever since, and night and day I hear those solemn tones— ‘Give me water, give me water’.

MOTHER. I don’t know what to make of it, child; I don’t like it. I don’t understand the magic of their spells. Today I don’t recognise your speech; tomorrow, perhaps, I shall not even recognise your face. Their spells can make a changeling of the very soul itself.”

The Chamars, cobblers, taxidermists we called them untouchable as for their culture and meat taking as for they used to do leather works. But think you, who will make the shoes if make they not? You will have to make it. Who will dispose off the dead animals? May I ask, are they not men?

The Brahmin is not a representative or agent of God. He just tries to be closer to with reverence, respect and purity of mind and heart. Was Vivekananda not a non-Brahmin? He was a greater Brahmin. Are the Naga sadhus not greater? Who can be a better sadhu than a saint? Are there not some priestesses of Kali the non-Brahminical ladies? The priests of some of the sacred spots where there dwell in the God of Hills and Woods are but the Dalit people.

Even now they have been doing and if they do not, you will have to do their work. Instead of being obliged, you go on criticizing them . How Can it be? Change your mentality. Your paglertpani you keep with you, but do not make others turn into paglets with your thoughts and ideas. The work may be lowly, but what to do? This is life, human life and we have to live in this world.

The Doms used to weave bamboo baskets and used to beat drums. The washer men used to wash our clothes, but they might be untouchables but heir ass was it not at all which too have gone out of sight now in this age of laundry and washing machines.

The Mushahars used to hunt fat rats and their hushed paddy into the holes of the fields. The rat catchers used to control the rats and their holed cereals. Hunger used to wreak havoc in villages where the people used to go half-fed, half-clothed. The people used to quarrel for food in joint families.

We may agriculturists, but food for two times had not been in our lot. Had we sufficient oil to burn lights? At night the country used to reel in darkness. Our houses had been mud houses thatched with straw with the scorpions and snakes.

The Hadis used to work as nursing maids of the new born, but were welcome in families though were untouchables. The Mehatars were but the scavengers, cleaners. What man needs most is the bathroom. We must thank the British as for the sanitary lavatories.

The oil pressers were but the backward but had to remain concerned with oil pressing. The barbers had just to look after their business of hair cutting and shaving. If they cut it not your hair, how will you? How long will they go on serving you? The Suris who used to drip wine and to deal with the drinkers was no mean job. What will the drinkers do none can say it. Now the bar tenders are bearing the brunt of, especially the bar dancers and singers.

A Dalit’s autobiography where shall we find? A Dalit’s biography? Why was I a Dalit? The pain of being a Dalit? How to understand it? Oh-my-God, Casteist India, Paglet India, Ismic India I could not understand it! There is of course something as culture, but to be humane is it all. There is no religion greater than humanism. There is no religion than this service we do it to sick and ailing humanity.

Dalit literature, one may record the talks, speeches, opinions in Maithili, Bhojpuri, Magadhi, Angika, Dalit literature. How was it U.P.? How was it Bihar? How had it been the caste system all over India? How were they in South India?  But Lord Jagannatha’s bhoga, prasad was for it all irrespective of caste, creed and class. What the reasons behind? How did the social evils creep in like the dowry system? To be affected with some disease or problem is not at all the result of papa and punya and bhoga. It is just a mentality matter. Why to apply the karma concept here, as you sow, so you reap?

The Brahmins may not keep pigs, but the tribal men and the Dalits keep it. But may I ask in this regard, is the pig not an animals? The pig too has been created by the same Almighty. It does not matter whether you love or not, but I love them most, the small-small piglets sucking the breasts of the big motherly black pig lying flat by the bushes of the red soil roadside.

Were there not temple entry movements? Were the Dalits permitted to enter into the temples? Dalit literature is like Black literature though it has nothing to do with the Black and the White, literature is li literature. To talk of Black literature is not to dislodge and dismantle the White legacy. To talk of Black literature and civil rights is not to indulge in disruptive arrogant activities mindlessly. Try to cut the ice with your understanding. Try to come to the negotiation table.  Before calling others racists, think you whether you are or not. Vandalize not the historical statues branding them what you take to now, but they must be evaluated keeping in mind the time-spirit. They were not the hooligans and miscreants as you seem to be now. Some of the Whites supported it the civil rights movements. Some of the masters of the slaves were very sympathetic and humanly. Mark it, I do not speak about all. I am not here to discuss it White supremacy or Black supremacy as no supremacist am I.

Who is humble and meek? None can say it. Even a Dalit woman may be crooked. To be sympathetic to the Dalits does not mean at all that all will be good. Human nature differs from man to man. Their abuses you do not know it, their belief in witchcraft. Why is there pain in abdomen? Perhaps somebody saw me eating. Who can be he or she? Village politics, you do not know it. Why is the child crying? Someone has seen him with bad looks. Why did you smile on seeing my daughter?

The Sabrimala case I am trying to take up, understand it to plead. Should it be not for all? Was there not something like the caste system in England? How were the Catholics? How the Catholic nuns? Can sex be suppressed? How the abortion laws of Ireland? Why were the women not permitted to abort? But it took the life of Savita Halappanavar.  The child is God, a glimpse of the Divine Face, but too many children, how to rear them is also a problem as it tells upon the life of the mother. Did Edward VIII not abdicate his throne for his ladylove Wallis Simpson? For many the woman is a child-rearing machine and the gentleman is not aware of the skeleton body of his wife and instead of goes fathering more and more in the name of the Almighty, but where will he bring food for them? Leaving the matter at bay, he says it God gives it all. She is not Patita, but Puntia, Punita. Take you not the agni-pariksha of hers, draw you not the Lakshamanrekha around the courtyard. Take you not her pariksha, get you examined first. What justice do we mete out to rape victims? Instead of dealing with the psychological matter, we drag the matter to courts and law and justice. First, life comes then justice. First, we should give priority to survival strategies rather than litigation and complicating the issue.

The maid servants, have you thought about their life? How little do they get from washing plates and sweeping and washing clothes? What have we for the widows? What have we for the fatherless boys and girls? Do we give pension in time? Why do the pensioners remain lined near the treasury?

Have you seen a Dalit boy fathering even at the age of thirteen plus? This is India, a hot country. He is still not moustached, but is going to be a father.

If you are away from the village community and you need someone to show candle and incense sticks when not at home, will gods not the offering of the Dalit caretaker? Who will bring the Brahmin or the Brahmini from the country to offer prayers for one day to the town? What it in a body? It can never be impure.

There is definitely something of culture and its refinement, but it is not all everywhere. Something needs to be purged and purified. If something does not suit it, try to make it suitable.

For taking eggs, what have we born we cannot say it. Even onion, garlic and mansur dal too are non-vegetarian things. Just for  the feathers of the cock carried by the wind, the floors sued to be washed and cleaned. A Brahmnin’s  not, an India’s pagletpani, you do not know it. Without seeing the panjika, you cannot go, step out.

The Thakurs’ fights with the Dalits we did not appreciate it the landlords and their landlordism. But sometimes the same Thakurs used to align with the Dalits as for dacoity with rifles and pistols and hors-rides going to undisclosed destinations. The dreaded dacoits of India you know them not and their horses galloping at night, passing through with the hip-hop. Open the Chamabal chapter and read the rivalry story.

It is said that Adi Shankaracharya saw it Shiva in the form of a kangal boy, a poor and destitute being  with the dog coming to and he envisioning it to be enlightened with the vision of Kangalrupa as He is in it all. The  Creation is His and we are just the agents of doing our karma.

Image of Dalit (c)


More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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