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Celebrating Dalit Souls, Art and Literature – Editor’s Note

May 9, 2021 | Front And Center | 0 comments

Dalit Art

What constitutes the literariness of a work of literature? Literary critics and scholars have tried to answer this question in many ways incorporating literary aesthetics which are a prerequisite for every standard work of art and literature.
In India, the Dalits (etymologically meaning “oppressed” or “broken,” used to refer to people who were once known as “untouchables”) were denied the pen, per the Hindu book of social norms. Positioned at the bottom of the caste hierarchy, they have long been one of India’s most silenced communities. Not allowed participation in celebrations and traditions, it was unthinkable for them to fit into the mainstream Indian literary tradition. So, much of their history is found in oral form, passed on for generations. Their lives were not available to them in written form, and even when available, it was a depiction by those who had no experiential connection with Dalits.
No wonder they rejected the mainstream Indian literary tradition. Inspired by African-American and Feminist literature, they formulated their own literary rules and aesthetics. In independent India, the fight against caste discrimination is closely tied to the development of Dalit literature that seeks to give voice to Dalits and their unique experience of oppression based on concepts of pollution and untouchability. The Dalit writer and critic, Sharankumar Limbale, defines this literature as “writing about Dalits by Dalit writers with a Dalit consciousness.” (Towards an Aesthetic of Dalit Literature: History, Controversies, and Considerations, 2004 )
Language becomes a distinctive tool when it comes to protest/resistance writing. The history and roots of Dalit literature are still in the process of being written and negotiated. While Dalit literature has existed for centuries in the form of oral histories and songs never written down, with time, it started shape-shifting and amalgamating into new forms adjusting to how Indian society’s experience of caste changed. The Dalit narrative has unearthed exclusion, resistance, and victory. The writers from the community have used their lived experiences to write tales of great diversity, anger, sorrow, and joy. And now it is becoming even more inclusive. Writers are letting go of themes such as anger and rejection and embracing newer forms and subjects like beauty, nationalism, and urban discrimination.
Alain LeRoy Locke , the first African-American Rhodes Scholar and the father of the Harlem Renaissance believed that Black art, literature, and the theater were key to the process of self-integration, to produce Black subjectivity that could become the agent of cultural and social revolution in America. Similarly, Dalit art and literature hopes to reveal the unexpressed pain and suffering of the marginalized castes and also to go beyond it and aspire for a caste-free, equalitarian society.
This month we have an excellent collection of poems, short stories, and articles for you focusing on Dalit Souls, Art, and Literature.
The Antonym organized a panel discussion on “Dalit Art and Literature: A Voice of Resistance among Global Literature” with an amazing panel of participants. Dr. Jaydeep Sarangi, Dr. Jayashree Kamble, Angelo Geter and Prashant Ingole.

Sreya Sarkar

Sreya Sarkar

Sreya Sarkar is a public policy professional based out of Boston who has previously worked as a poverty alleviation specialist in U.S. think tanks. Currently, she writes non-fiction articles and  op-eds for Indian policy blogs and magazines.


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