Limbale is a prominent Dalit author, poet and literary critic. The following is an edited version of the paper he read at the Festival of South Asian Literature and the Arts’ session on One World, One English, the Many Languages of Imagination.
am an Indian Dalit writer. I have written 35 books in Marathi, three of which have been translated into English. I started writing in 1982 and for the last 30 years I have been writing on the problems of Dalits.
I am an activist writer. I am committed to my movement that was started by Dr. BR Ambedkar to emancipate India’s Dalits. This movement is an integral part of my being. Without the movement, I cannot write. The movement is an ink for me. My literature is the literature of protest because of my commitment to the Dalit movement and the inspiration of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s thoughts.
I never have and never will write for entertainment. I am a writer of people. How can I forget problems of my people? How can I neglect the cry of my people? The unrest of my people charges me – to think and to write. Dalit literature is not the literature of imaginations. It is a literature of atrocities inflicted on the Dalits by high caste Hindus.
Dalit writer’s objective is to explain to people his own pain, problems and questions. We are educated and we know the roots of exploitation of our community. If we stay quiet, it would be crime against humanity and crime against our movement. It is our birthright to protest against inhumanity.
For me and for other Dalit writers, writing is a form of rebellion. Our protest is both on the streets and on paper. My words are my weapons. For me, struggle is the paper and people are the contents. Literature is Parliament for me where I want to discuss my rights and demands, which have been neglected for thousands of years.
When I wrote my first poem, I wasn’t aware of the form and content of literature. Like me, many Dalit writers didn’t know the features of literature. We didn’t know the meaning of writing. We wrote because we wanted to share our pains with others, share our sorrows, depict the atrocities we face, share and our problems with the people and ask them to recognize us as human beings.
Our readers were shocked by our words. For them our experience was new and bitter, and our tongue was very rude. This was a new, strange and shocking experience for the middle class readers. Dalit literature is the mirror of the caste society. The traditional reader of the literature is shocked by this literature. It is through Dalit literature that the reader became aware of the social reality and inequality.
Not surprisingly, the traditional reader didn’t enjoy literature, at least initially. After all, how anyone can enjoy atrocities? How anyone can enjoy the pains and pangs of others? The traditional reader wants to enjoy the arts and literature. However, Dalit literature is radically different. There is a conflict between the author and reader.
Dalit literature creates huge social tension. This is the tension between haves and have-nots. The haves asked to the Dalit writer not to write this type of literature, because it would lead to tension and division in the community. The have-nots ask the Dalit writer to write about their honest and noble struggle for equality, justice and freedom.
Not surprisingly, in the initial phase of Dalit literature, the mainstream literary critics questioned the very basis of Dalit literature. They asked in all seriousness: Can Dalits write literature? Can Dalit be subject of literature? They attacked Dalit literature saying that the dirty experiences of Dalit life would spoil the literary mainstream.
Their contention was that Dalit literature is not literature. According to them, “It was the drainage of dirty water;” it was slang literature. It had to be stopped otherwise it would harm the religious feelings of the higher castes.
We didn’t care for such allegations. We didn’t stop writing. For us, it was very simple to write in our own language and write about the tragedy of our life. And by writing the way we did, we changed the definition of writing and the writer.
Dalit literature’s distinct language, its revolutionary ideology, its aggressive character, its refusal to quietly accept inequality, and the human values ingrained in it has led to many proponents and opponents of Dalit literature.
Dalits haven’t been portrayed truthfully or with fairness right from the time of Hindu religious literature to contemporary Indian literature. As a Dalit writer, I reject this alienating literary tradition.
am often asked about the future of the Dalit literature. I find this ironic because we are worried about our future and our critics are worried about our literature. Dalit literature is a response to the exploitation and the humiliation of the Dalits, and as that is unlikely to end soon, Dalit literature will flourish.
Whenever there is inhumanity and discrimination in the world, then there will be Dalit literature. Dalit literature has expanded the horizon of Indian literature and criticism and transformed people’s preferences. Dalit literature has awakened many new social strata and made new literary contributions.
Equality, freedom and social justice are the basis of Dalit literature. Dalits have been deprived of these. These people were silent and mute in the history. The Hindu philosophy and ideology is based on inequality. The Hindu religion, Hindu Gods, Hindu culture and Hindu social fabric deny equality, justice and freedom to Dalits.
For thousands of years Dalits politely served the high caste society. It was the destiny of Dalit people. They never revolted against God, religion and social structure. They believe that this was the way of life for them.
Dalit has been humiliated and exploited for thousands of years. Dalit is rejected by high caste as human. The touch of Dalit, the shadow of Dalit and the voice of Dalit treated as impure. Dalit lived out of village, out of city and in separate sections. Dalit cannot enter in the temple of high caste. Dalit cannot drink water on the river bank of high caste. Dalit cannot cremate the dead body in the graveyard of high caste. Dalit cannot marry, cannot eat, and cannot live with the high caste. He was only slave. He had no rights.
After independence and thanks to the revolutionary movement of Dr. Ambedkar, Dalits became aware of their self-respect and equality. Now, the Indian caste system is changing but not fast enough. The speed of social change is very slow, but there is change.
Over the years, Dalit literature has been able to break down barriers, overcome opposition and gain acceptance and popularity. Why is Dalit literature so popular? Why it is well received by readers? What is the cause of Dalit literature?
The answers to these questions are straightforward: Dalit literature is the rebel against exploitation and humiliation. A common man is the hero of this literature. He revolts against the inhuman oppression. He wins in his struggle of self-respect. This is the real beauty of this literature.
Irrelevant of caste, class and colour, the reader loves the brave tongue and gets motivation from the struggle of common man. The common man becomes searchlight for him to find way of life. I believe, the common man is brave and faithful. Dalit literature gives this message to the readers.
If you want to understand the literature of movement, if you want to learn struggle of emancipation, if you want to listen the cry for humanity, I think, you have to read Dalit literature. It is the literature of life.
Here are some lines from a poem:
The church bell rang
Everyone entered in
The ajan heard from mosque
Everyone entered in
The bell of temple rang
Some entered in
And some stood out.
Photo: Basharat Mirza