(Last Updated on : 16/08/2012)
Dalit literature is always marked by revolt and negativism, as it is intimately linked with hopes for freedom of a group of people who, as 'untouchables', are unfortunate bunches of social, economic and cultural inequality. Dalit literary movement therefore is just not a literal movement but is the logo of change and revolution where the primary aim was the liberation of dalits. Dalit literary movement thus has a long history which ideally unfolds the secret struggle against casteist tradition. The history of Dalit literary movement goes back to the 11th century, to the first Vachana poet , chennaiah who was a cobbler.
In the 12th century the Dalit poet, Kalavve challenged the upper castes in the following words:
"Those who eat goats, foul and tiny fish:
Such, they call caste people.
Those who eat the Sacred Cow
That showers frothing milk for Shiva:
Such, they call out-castes".
However, the history of Dalit literary movement is century old, yet in its formal form the movement sprouted out as an immediate effect of the historical movement called the Little Magazine movement. It was a type of seditious expression against the establishment of the educated youth of those days. The Dalit youths gained motivation from the black movements of the far land of North America. Their literature,' Black Panther' then became the role model for them. The protest against establishment of the Dalits gained the very first expression amidst the Dalit literature. In the midst of the cobweb of poems, fiction, novels and autobiographies the age-old questions of Dalit identity was addressed. Although started in an unorganised way, Dalit literary movement gained pace with the active support of B,R. Ambedkar. History bears witness that it was Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, who is still esteemed as the pioneer of Dalit literature. It is thus no twist of fate that the Dalit literary movement sowed its first roots in Maharashtra, the birthplace of Dr. Ambedkar's movement. His revolutionary ideals stirred into action all the Dalits of Maharashtra and lent them with self-respect. Dalit literature is nothing but the literary expression of this consciousness.
The Dalit Literary movement however, was not one that had begun with a bang and also had faded into the curtain call without anybody taking heed to the cry of sensitive response. This very movement is still very much on and moving with great momentum, however with one that possesses its roots in the then Indian society of 1970s. For instance, during 1970, the Dalit Panther Movement in Maharashtra began to egress forth, only to champion the cause of dalit in creative interests and hobbies, established by writers like Namdeo Dhasal and Raja Dhale. The Panther Movement had borrowed its moral support from the writings of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, who was firm to lay his accentuation that "the root cause of untouchability lies in a pronounced cultural or racial difference of contempt and hatred coupled with a close dependence of the inferior society on the superior one." The term 'Dalit literature' bears its first trace to the first Dalit Literary conference in 1958, which had passed a motion defining the exact term. However, this conference had passed off almost unnoticed, thus establishing that the Dalit class was indeed facing cases of neglect and desertion. The sixties for dalit literary movement was a decisive and crucial time, with several things happening in Marathi literature (the Dalit community is an integral part of the state Maharashtra and hence, a group of Marathis). For the first time a poet, Narayan Surve, had penned about the quandary of workers. The Little Magazine Movement, yet another inherent pressure group activity for Dalit movement, had made its acquaintance with the concept of 'Angry Young Man' in the then recovering Indian populace from the shadow of Indian Independence and its ensuing Partition. In Dalit literature, Anna Bhau Sathe and Shankarrao Kharat were already established, but the dailt literary movement had gained colossal momentum from the short stories of Baburao Bagul. His collection of stories, Jehva Mee Jaat Chorli Hoti (When in had Concealed My Caste) had created such undulating rhythm in the Marathi literary world, that a group of critics hailed it as the epic of the Dalits, while others compared it to the 'jazz music of the Blacks'. Baburao Bagul's stories had taught Dalit writers to give creative rendition to their experiences and feelings.
With the gradual passage of time and advancement of the Indian judiciary and administration, it was witnessed that the Dalits could no longer be notified as just a mere community with little or no cultural history. On the contrary, they had sprung up their heads to exhibit their magnificence in all aspects of life, including cultural society and literary sections. The emergence of Dalit literary movement in Telugu is intimately associated with the rise of Dalit Movement in Andhra Pradesh. The developing process of mass killings or genocide of Dalits in Andhra Pradesh began with the infamous Karamchedu massacre in 1985. Later, Neerukonda, Thimma Samudram, Chundur, Vempenta, Y. Cherlopally and several other appalling and horrifying barbarities took place in backdrop of the 1980s and 1990s. These barbarities gave rise to a disputation on caste and caste-related violence in the public sphere, yet another significant endeavour by the Marathi community towards Dalit literary movement. The Backward Caste reservation movement in 1986 and the pro-Mandal agitation in 1990 provided a background for fuller debate on contemporaneous forms of caste at the national level.
A substantial development in the contemporary Tamil literary scene was the emergence of yet another Dalit literary movement at the turn of the 1990s. Its coming into complete formation had coincided with the birth centenary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and the anti-Mandal agitation. Dalit literary penning in Tamil, in spite of its deferred emergence when placed side-by-side with Marathi and Kannada literature, indeed had boomed all through the 1990s and challenged many of the virtuous righteousness of Tamil literary culture overshadowed for long by the upper stratum of society. Though initially literary criticism provided the required vanguard to the Dalit literary movement, Dalit creative writers have since, asserted themselves in a majestic manner.
Indian Dalits during post Independent India had sought new avenues of liberation, which was to later turn into an integral a part of the Dalit theology. One of the best representatives of this new wave of Dalit liberation and literary movement was the Dalit Panther Movement in Maharashtra, which made the term 'Dalit' a household name in nearly every Indian region. Further, as has been witnessed before, there was also seen a rise in Dalit literature during the 1960s. Black American Literature indeed had immensely influenced Dalit literary movements. One of the salient features of the Dalit theology is that it is an out-and-out theology about the downtrodden, "the theology which they themselves would like to expound". One of the major generators of the Dalit theology is the Dalit experience of torment and ache. The theology has a two fold function. Firstly, it acts in harmony with the aim of liberation. This liberation is an emancipation from both the religio-cultural and socio-economic bondages. The theological movements, secondly, also possess a lot of psychological dimensions which are of equal importance.
The Dalit movement has emerged in response to the numerous injustices suffered, mostly in silence, by Dalits for centuries. The term "Dalit" itself represents their struggle for humanity. Before this term, Dalits had to endure the stigma associated with the patronizing names imposed on them by caste-Hindus. These included "Pariah," and "Untouchable;" even Gandhi's term "Harijan" (children of God) was negative, disguising the subordination of Dalits.
The idiom "Dalit" represents a political identity rather than just a caste name. And this precise idea is the nucleus to the Dalit movement, which aims to raze down the caste system and earn for Dalits the rights and freedoms they deserve. Part of this innate movement for Dalit liberation also stands the Dalit literary movement. Together with serving in the literary sections, the movement is also a social and cultural movement that portrays the dreams and ambitions, as well as the angst and affliction of thousands of Dalits. Many Dalit writers, comprising Omprakash Valmiki, M.D. Naimishray and Bandhumadhav, take active participation and endeavour to become part of the Dalit literary movement, identifying themselves with pride as being 'Dalit'. While the Dalit movement has emerged in response to Dalit oppression, much continues to be fulfilled.
Dalit authors presently are able to show not only the hostile circumstances in which Dalits live, but also their struggle for emancipation from caste. However, non-Dalit authors - such as Premchand (a high-caste Hindu) and Khushwant Singh, are authors based more on a benevolent level as opposed to one urging change and abolishment of caste. Religion has role-played a decisive part in the writings of both Dalits and non-Dalits. In one short story (called The Poisoned Bread), a young boy enquires from a Brahmin man supporting Hinduism's caste system, "if a religion can't tolerate one human being treating another simply as a human being, what's the use of such an inhumane religion?" Millions of Dalits have precisely wondered the same thing. Thus, in the hope of breaking away from their inferior status, millions of Dalits have converted from Hinduism to other religions, yet again leading to a series of Dalit literary movements perhaps ending in no fruitful consequence.