Rise of Dalit Movements: Background
The seeds of Dalit Movements were sown in the Indian sub continent with the arrival of those Arayans who frequently shifted places, the wanderers and shepherds in this region in about 1800 BC. They entered Punjab (the land of five rivers, the Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Chenab and the Jhelum) from Central Asia in the North of undivided India through the Khaibar Pass. Even though those white complexioned, grey and brown eyed and grey and black haired Aryans were far less in numbers but they were strong willed with self determination and a well built body. It was quite natural that the sons of the soil, the aboriginals violently resisted the Aryan invaders, plunderers and domineers in their expansionist and land grabbing tendencies in greater Punjab, Sind, some regions in the Himalayas, Rajasthan, west Uttar Pradesh etc. As a result those Aryans struggled to their hilt, to destroy the World’s richest and the most ancient (2500 BC) Sindhu Valley civilization and the Harappan culture and civilization. They destroyed the aboriginals most developed Harappa and Mohenjodaro cities who had laid the foundation of growth of civilization in the world. They tried to shatter the economy and destroy natural resources in the region. For example, river Saraswati, is abundantly mentioned in many of the ancient scriptures, including the Rigveda. However, there is no mention of the drying up of the river Saraswati in the Vedic literature or the Mahabharata epic. Instead, there is evidence in these scriptures of its flowing in full stream. The findings during the last over 100 years have established that river Saraswati was flowing at the dry bed of the Hakrha/Ghagar. The litterateurs and historians working tirelessly on this subject were of the opinion that the reason for the drying up of the Saraswati could be the change of course by river Sutlej. As a result, it stopped merging with the Saraswati and started pouring into Sindhu river. The change of course of the Yamuna (joining the Ganges, flowing into the East instead of the West) was another reason propounded by them for this change. (Jansatta, Sunday the 18th December 2011 – The River that was Lost – Saraswati by Bishan Tandon).
The reason for narrating the above is to present facts for understanding the socio-economic conditions in the Indian sub continent before and after the arrival of the Aryans due to which those wanderers used every possible means to establish themselves firmly and grab power. They tried to make local population their slaves. They divided the society into four classes/groups- Brahman, Khatri, Vaish and Sudra to cause rift and discord among the aboriginals. They made the Sudras responsible to serve the other three upper castes and declared that the caste system has been established under a proclamation of God and no caste or individual can deny it. The Sudras were ridiculed by giving them the names of Naga, Raksh, Asur, Dravid, Danav, Nishad, Kinner etc. They propagated that the women folk, who formed half of the population, were immoral of the lowest rung in social status. There was no end to bullying and coercion. The Aryan groups started the practice of human sacrifice and the women sacrificing themselves at the pyre of their husbands to terrorise and intimidate the locals and to give a proof of brutality and being fierce. They used to sacrifice hundreds and thousands of animals and birds in the name of Yajna. Its resistance was quite natural by the aboriginals as animal husbandry was the main source of their subsistence. Drinking, gambling, prostitution, illegal relations was quite prevalent among the Aryans. (For details see Glimpses of Dalit Literature by V. Munivenkatappa and published by Vicharvadi Prakashana).
In order to further strengthen their superiority by way of classification of different classes in the society as well as introduction of caste system, the Aryans further humiliated the aboriginals of Indian sub continent by propagating it through their religious scriptures. The scripture ‘Manu Smriti’ corroborates these facts in detail. For example, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had written in the preface of his book ‘Who Were the Shudras’ (Page No 17-18, Published by THACHERS, First Edition in 1946, Reprinted in 1947 and 1970, Forward by Jagjivan Ram, Union Minister, Govt. of India) regarding such books:
“…. the name of sacred books contains fabrications which are political in their motive, partisan in their composition and fraudulent in their purpose. I do not propose to take any notice of their vilifications of threats. For I know very well that they are a base crew who, protesting to defend their religion, have made religion a matter of trade. They are more selfish than any other set of beings in the world, and are prostituting their intelligence to support the vested interests of their class.”
The question therefore arises – Who were these Aryans? The simple, brief and straightforward answer to it could be traced in the autobiography of the German despot Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) – My Struggle (Mein Kampt) which has dozens of pages full of detailed description of these facts. It has detailed references of Aryan occupation of large tracts in India. It can be described here by way of an example about the Aryans which can be seen mentioned in ‘My Struggle (autobiography, Chapter 11, Page No.121), Publisher: Great Britain for Harsat and Blackcat Limited, Paternoster House, London, 1938, as follows:
“If we divide mankind into three categories—founders of culture, bearers of culture, and destroyers of culture—the Aryan alone can be considered as representing the first category....The Aryan races—often in absurdly small numbers overthrow alien nations, and favoured by the numbers of people of lower grade who are at their disposal to aid them, they proceed to develop, according to the special conditions for life in the acquired territories fertility climate, etc.”
The aforesaid references give a clear picture of the mentality and intentions of the Aryans. In the Indian sub continent, their oppressive policy remained centred around the social fabric to achieve their political agenda. The aboriginals in this area put up stiff resistance against them with their full might and continued their struggle to maintain their identity and to protect their land, properties and religion (Adi Dharam, the humanistic religion of the aboriginals) from their onslaught. This confrontation has been continuing for centuries.
Bhakti Movement opposed casteism
In the medieval times, the Bhakti Movement propounded a systematized campaign against the false, superstitious, pretentious, hypocritical and deceptive behaviour of caste system, untouchability, Brahmanism and ritualism. Sant Namdev (1270-1350) from Maharashtra was among the leading figures of this movement. He made shrewd attacks through his discourses in northern India and greater Punjab against the treacherous moves to divide the society based on classes – religion, colour discrimination, caste system and untouchability. For example:-
Of thousands of universes one sole Lord is there-
The Divine king of Swarthy aspect (3)
– Translated in English by Gurbachan Singh Talib,
Vol. II, Page No. 1512 , Adi Granth, Page 727.
Thus Kabir Sahib out rightly rejected the Vedas and other scriptures and Samirities which had pushed humanity into blind alleys of narrowness. He gave a crushing blow to this thinking with solid arguments. Similarly, Guru Ravidas also propounded the creation of such a society which challenged class division of Brahmanism. For example:-
If Thou dost claim to be a Brahmins by the birth
From a Brahmin woman,
Why was thy birth not from a different source? (way, path)
Translated in English by Gurbachan Singh Talib, Vol. 1,
Page No. 679, Adi Granth, Page 324
Brother! Smriti is daughter of the veda,
That has arrived holding in hand chains and thongs. (1)
Page No.329, Adi Granth
Similarly, his contemporary Guru Ravidas and Guru Kabir, both advocated among the low castes and Sudars that all human beings have similar types of skin and bones, veins, skeleton and other organs and red coloured blood runs in the veins of all of them and therefore all human beings are similar. The upper or lower classes in society, caste system and untouchability are the creation of a section of the people. Kabir Sahib sarcastically commented on this imaginary social structure. For example:
Beighampura shahar ko naun:
The City Joyful is the name of that city-
Suffering and sorrow abide not there.
Neither is there worry of paying taxes, nor does Sany hold property;
Neither fear of punishment for error nor of decline. (1)
This fine place of habitation have I found:
Brother! There weal perpetually reigns. (Pause 1)
Eternally fixed is the kingship therein:
No second or third are there; all are alike.
Ever fully populated, famous is that city.
Those abiding therein are prosperous, opulent. (2)
There people disport themselves as they please-
All are inmates of that mansion; none bars any.
Saith Ravi Das, the cobbler, freed from all bonds;
Whoever of that city is denizen, is our friend. (3) (2)
-Hawley and Juergensmeryer, p.32, Seeking Begumpura, p.107, Adi Granth p.345
Which means, a city which is free of pain and suffering, which has a society free of casteism and classism, a modern society, free of the garb of temples, urban society, an area where no tax is to be paid for free movement or which has no worry of any other kind, where there is no classification of humanity and all are equal. At the end of this hymn enshrined in Guru Granth Sahib, poet Ravidas says that he belonged to Chamar caste but enjoyed freedom of movement with his friends, he had the right to go anywhere, be it a city or a village. In another poem (hymn), he gave a message to those classified as low caste:-
You are the white and yellow threads of silk,
and I am like a poor worm
O Lord, I seek to live in the Company of the Saints,
like the bee with its honey. ||2||
Page No. 486, Adi Granth
The brief explanation of these hymns from the aboriginal point of view is that: the groups of aboriginals/the original residents should live in a harmonious manner as honey bees live in a honeycomb. They achieve their target by obeying the orders of the Queen bee. They collect honey with great effort bit by bit, flying far and wide. With this hereditary habit, they fill peoples’ lives with sweetness for their welfare. They exemplify the behaviour of a collective effort. But if any outsider attacks them, they treat him as their enemy and pounce on him from all directions. They do not tolerate anyone having intentions of dislodging them from their beehive and make a fatal attack. Unity has blessings and unity is like an iron rod. Thus poet Ravidas has defined the way and the formula to protect the rights and to gain the lost rights back. He thus made his best efforts to unite the aboriginals and the artisans. This fact is worth noticing that compositions of 15 anti casteism and anti classism saint poets of medieval age who belonged to Bengal, Rajasthan, Punjab, Maharashtra, Sindh, Uttar Pradesh and Avadh etc. are enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The Gurus propagated the concept of Bhakti movement and with their gurus’ precepts. From this angle, many learned persons look at the entire text of Sri Guru Granth Sahib as Dalit text. The Sikh Gurus did not accept Sanskrit and its cultural heritage and rejected idol worship and rituals. They propagated their deep thoughts in their local dialect Punjabi/Gurmukhi and gave the message to convert into reality, the slogan ‘Consider the entire humanity as one’.
Adi-Dharam Movement in Punjab and social conditions
In the 1920s, Punjab, like entire India was tightly gripped in the merciless clutches of upper and lower strata, casteism and defilement by touching. The untouchables/Adi-Dharmis, today’s scheduled castes or Dalits were considered worst than even the hated crows, dogs and cats. They were subjected to many types of forced labour. For example, carrying of bedding and other baggage of a policeman, from and to the police station, if he was required to visit the village on official duty, to arrange fodder for the mare of the Chowki In-charge, hold the reins of the trotting mare of village headman (Lambardar), white collared person or head of a group of villages (Zaildar) and walk or run with them and if any one of them was smoking a hookah while on the back of the mare, walk or run with him holding the hookah on head. If the religious head, Syed of the Muslims, visited the village, it was part of the duties of the untouchables to lift him bodily on their back and take him to the next village. If any of the so called upper castes or land lords died during infighting among themselves, their bodies were also to be carried to the district headquarters by them. In many cases, the distance used to be more than thirty kilometres. In the event of a male member of an untouchable family being sick or not being at home, the body was to be carried by female members of that house along with other untouchables. If their body part or their apron touched any upper caste, it was treated as defilement, which led to thrashing of the untouchable. The untouchables were not allowed to sleep on the roof tops of their houses even during the peak summer in Rajput dominated villages. They were not allowed to play band or serve sweets to guests at their marriage ceremonies and the bride was not allowed to be carried in the palanquin. In Hamirpur area in Kangra, the untouchables were not allowed to wear turbans or red coloured clothes. In the event of marriage of a son of a Rajput, a large kettle drum was tide on the back of an untouchable. The drum used to be beaten by an upper caste Hindu during the ceremony. The untouchables were not allowed to take water from the village well and at many places they were not allowed to take water even from the ponds and water pools. They were not allowed to enter the temples or schools. The barbers did not give them a haircut. They were also not allowed to eat from a restaurant even after making payment for it. Even their very shadow was a taboo.
The British regime made some laws and rules and regulations at the instigation of those who propounded class system in the society. For example, Land Alienation Act 1900 made under the Land Revenue Act, 1887and the Government of India Act 1919 gave rights to the landlords to sell or buy land but denied it to untouchables who were not allowed to buy land to construct a house. This fact is worth mentioning that the land of the houses where the untouchable had their houses belonged to the landlord (which was called his inherited property). Whenever anybody defied the orders of the landlord, he was asked to vacate the place for not willingly do forced labour. If any untouchable raised a tree in his courtyard like his own progeny, the landlord would cut it for his use. The land for the house was given under a forced agreement.
The untouchables were being tortured in many ways but the women folk of the untouchables were beyond untouchability. Incidents of their rape were very common. Like the Hindus, Varna-Dharma, class conscious Sikhs believed in defilement, untouchability and casteism. The untouchables were not allowed to pay their obeisance to Sri Guru Granth Sahib in the village Gurudwara. In the 1920s, the priests at the Durbar Sahib did not accept the offerings from the Sikhs belonging to the so called backward classes. Despite that the untouchables among the Sikhs, remained close to the Sikh culture with a feeling that the creations of their saints and holy persons were enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. They used to elucidate in religious congregations that the tenth Sikh Guru, the great saintly figure Guru Govind Singh by serving the nectar to all castes and creeds from the same bowl gave the revolutionary message of equality in humanity. For this very reason, a large number of Sudras and untouchables remained on the side of the Guru Sahib and sacrificed their lives for the cause. Still they could not achieve social equality.
On the other hand, the Arya Samaj which was established in 1875 by Swami Dayanand Saraswati took up the cudgels to ‘purify’ the untouchables who had joined other religions and assimilate them among the Hindus. During those days, Radha Swami Satsang, Beas was set up in 1861 and Dev Samaj in 1887. The American missionaries stepped up their activities in Jallandhar, Ambala, Lahore and Sialkot. The Ahamdiya sect came into being in 1879. It had no hatred or discrimination for the untouchables like the Hindus and the Sikhs. The untouchables were drawn towards other religions and sects as thousands of years ago, the Aryans had snatched away the land, property and religion of the aboriginals.
In the beginning of the 20th century, the Adi Movements began in the entire country. Many leaders of the untouchables started campaigning to unite the aboriginals (Dalits, Sudras, and extreme Sudras). They propagated and spread the demand for human rights among the untouchables. Contemporary leaders of the untouchables in various provinces were: Ayyankali in Kerala (1863-1941), M.C. Raja in Madras (1883-1943), Srinivasan, Guru Chand in Bengal, Swami Achhutanand Harihar in Uttar Pradesh(1879-1933), Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in Maharashtra (1891-1956), Babu Mangu Ram Mughowal in Punjab (1886-1980), etc. All these leaders protested against being called the Hindus. They were making strenuous efforts to get self recognition by setting up their own religion and philosophy. For example, in 1938, Guru Chand spread the rebellion to entire Bengal and setup ‘Matua sect’.In Punjab Babu Mangu Ram established Adi Dharm in 1926. Lord Lothian Committee visited India in 1932 and during its meeting in Lahore in April, Babu ji got recognition for the Adi Dharm with the help of Baba Sahib Dr. Ambedkar. Matua sect and Adi Dharm continued efforts for their recognition, rejecting Hindu religion. This gave rise to sharp voices of revolt at many seminaries of the untouchables in Punjab against social classification, casteism and untouchability. Just at that time, a self respecting valiant youth of the Ghadr Party Mangu Ram (Mugowal) emerged on the scene in the undivided Punjab of North India. This son of the soil travelled to the United States to join the farmers from his village.
While residing at different places in America, he felt that the scourge of untouchability and the social stigma of high or low was nowhere to be found in the United States, unlike in India. The blacks residing there usually won over the whites in their favour legally in the disputes against them. When the whites taunted the Indians residing there calling them ‘Hindu slave’, he felt deeply hurt. This reminded them of the three types of slavery of the untouchables back home. According to Babu Mangu Ram, it was the slavery of the British regime, the Hindu Chieftains and Hindu society.
Adi-Dharam comes into Being
Babu Mangu Ram Mugowal set Adi-Dharam Mandal Punjab at a largely attended conference at his home village Mugowal on 11/12 June 1926. More than 5,000 scavengers, cobblers, Chamars, Ravidasias, Sansi, Bhanjras, Ghadile, Bararh, Megh, Kabir Panthi, Mahashe, Dom, Jatia etc., Participated in the conference. The Mandal announced that they belonged to 36 so called untouchable and low castes and were not from among the Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims or Christians. Nor do they belong to us and neither, we belonged to them. We are the aboriginals of this country and the invader Aryans, who had come from Central Asia had forcible occupied our country. We face three types of slavery – i) Slavery of the British, ii) Slavery of the Hindu Chieftains and iii) in the fiefdoms, slavery of the Hindu society. A major announcement was made that from that day onwards, all of them join together to form ‘Adi Quam’ and be ‘Adi Dharmi’ to get rid of that scourge. The aboriginals were to have their own ‘humanistic religion’ which meant that all people in the country and living abroad are equal.
It is pertinent to mention here that Adi Dharm was registered with the British India government on 26th February 1930 and in the 1931 census, about four and a half lakh persons registered themselves as ‘Adi Dharmi’ in the Census Column related to religion. In the Assembly elections in Punjab in British India in 1937, eight MLAs belonging to Adh Dharam were elected. The Adi Dharm had demanded a different electoral process. The recognised Adi Dharam was deleted from the religion column in the 1951 census.
The Adi-Dharam Mandal got the ill tradition of forced unpaid labour and the Property Mutation Registration Act of 1900 abrogated which empowered the untouchables and non upper caste people in North India, especially in Punjab to acquire lands. It got the subjugation agreements or accords of wilful labour abolished enabling the Adi-Dharmis to become owners of their houses. It fought and got the right to vote and the right to become members of District Boards and Legislative Assembly for Adi-Dharmis. Doors were also opened for untouchables/aboriginals (Adi-Dharmis) for recruitment in armed forces and police. They also got the right to become members of Panchayats, Panchs and Sarpanchs. It got remission of school and college fees for the children of Adi Dharmis. It gave the message to Adi Dharmis to establish relations among themselves and to follow Guru Ravidas, Guru Kabir, Satguru Namdev, Satguru Sadhna, Guru Sain, Shambuk Rishi and Rishi Balmiki as their only religious gurus. It is pertinent to mention that Babu Mangu Ram went to America in 1909 like any other person to earn a fortune. He joined the Ghadr Party there, established in 1913 to free India from foreign yoke. He worked in the printing press of the Ghadr in San Francisco. He was in the most dangerous persons list, according to government records. He was arrested along with four other hardliner patriots on the way while smuggling arms to India from America for freeing the country from foreign rule. He was jailed and death warrants were issued against him but he got reprieve many a time from being eliminated. He returned to India at the end of 1925. He had well understood the meaning of independence and slavery during his stay in America. According to his writings, it was for this reason that he started the Adi-Dharam movement for the protection of human rights of the untouchables. His poetry Adi Dukhre (Sorrows from Begning) and his other writings are worth reading and rapt attention.
Dalit Literature in Punjabi
The word ‘Dalit’ and ‘Dalit Literature
It is absolutely necessary to briefly discuss the Dalit word being frequently used in the Dalit literature and the social impact of the Dalit literature written in different languages in India, the motive in their background, purpose, the ancient caste system, feudal system and social and cultural values in the changing perceptions of capitalism and globalization. The use of Dalit word is found in Sanskrit language, its religious books and culture which had political aim and their motive was exploitation of the entire populace of the country, especially the aboriginals. The aboriginals were given many names to humiliate them and finally because of their birth caste, they, especially the Pancham, the lowest of low fifth caste people were declared as untouchables and ostracised socially. In the modern times, the leader of the Hindus and the Congress Party Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi, showing sympathy towards the untouchables, called them Harijan. The untouchables in India considered it as most degrading name for them as it meant the progeny of the Devdasis, their illegal offspring from the Brahmans and the priests. The word Harijan was stoutly opposed during the first two decades of the twentieth century in the entire country. But the use of this word is now approved by the apex court and has become part of history. The untouchable castes are now known as ‘scheduled castes’, according to the Constitution of India. So far as the meaning and the use of Dalit word is concerned, it is necessary to have a cursory look at it also.
The Dalit word connotes a person who is socially boycotted and is ostracised. As per the social fabric and conditions, being the oppressed, backward and low caste by birth, it is the politically alternate modern nomenclature of aboriginals/untouchables/Harijans/scheduled castes which symbolises logical consciousness and humanistic approach for the social change, social revolution. It embraces the entire class of untouchables/scheduled castes and binds them and encourages them to jointly fight against their economic exploitation, racism and racial discrimination and to get social recognition and respect till they fully achieve human rights along with socio-economic and political awareness. It recognised the entire society as one single class.
The use of Dalit word could be traced to March 1928 edition of the Punjabi paper ‘Desh Sevak’ when it published the Punjabi rendering of memorandum given to Simon Commission by the Chairman of Adi-Dharam Mandal, Punjab Ghadrite Baba Mangu Ram and his associates in Lahore about the social conditions of the untouchables and their fight for human rights. Dalit word is used for depressed and oppressed classes. Furthermore, during 1938, a magazine ‘Dalit Bandhu’ was published whose Editors were Yashwant Rai and Prithvi Singh Azad. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar used the word Dalit in his early Marathi writings.
The only solid definition of Dalit literature, which is prevalent for the last few years and which has got a place of pride in mainstream literature, is the “literature written by Dalits which portrays the socio-economic suffering, anger, frustration of the Dalits and creates awareness about societal change and social equality.” The beginning of such a literature could be traced to Babu Mangu Ram’s poetry Adi Dukhre and Adi Pegam-Sant Ram Bohan and from the tracts published by Adi-Dharam Mandal, Punjab in 1929-30, in which Dalit word was used. These volumes propagate education and unity for social awareness and are thematic poetry for inspiration.
Contemporary Dalit Literature Punjabi Dalit Poetry
The contemporary Punjabi poetry has, from the third decade of the twentieth century began a poetic revolution to create awareness among the untouchables and their deprived sections. The possibilities of its growth have always remained. Initially, this poetry was called the Adi-Dharam poetry and the poets were known as Adi-Dharm poets. The practice of presenting and listening to poems and other forms of poetic renderings from the stage is still prevalent. The agony, sensitivities and the mental under currents of a Dalit person are portrayed in these poems as multi pronged awareness. Many a time, even though these may be individualistic but these tend to engulf the entire Dalit class under their spell. In these classics, a Dalit woman suffers as much agony and physical and mental torture as a man or even more than him. This poetry while loves the entire community, nature and natural resources, looks at everyone with equal grace. It provides platform to equal rights of Dalits and non Dalits, a subjugation free society and everyone’s right over natural resources. Sant Ram Udasi and revolutionary Dalit poet Lal Singh Dil follow the early poets, Mangu Ram Mugowal and Gurdas Ram Alam.Lal Singh Dil presents a very delicate sarcasm:
‘Oh lady from the other caste, you love me so much
But our people do not fire even the pyre of their dead at one place.’
Look at the poetry of Balbir Madhopuri, which is in the form of a dialogue:
‘He said I had walked behind you for a long time
Now you walk behind me
He said, I have the ‘mouth’ but you have ‘feet’
The ‘feet’ are destined to walk.’
In this process, there are more than 50 Dalit poets and among them Madan Veera, Gurmit Kalarmajri, Buta Singh Ashant, Mohan Tyagi, Kamal Ved Pal, Jai Pal, etc. are prominent mainstream poets. Many of their poems have been translated in to Indian and foreign languages and are part of school and college syllabi. The entire Dalit poetry is a source of inspiration and a motivation for establishing a new humanistic social structure.
Punjabi Dalit Fiction
Many awared Dalit writers are making their regular special contribution towards enriching the Punjabi Dalit fiction. The cruel reality, which had struck deep in their hearts, shows the cruel face of the society to it just as it is reflected in their autobiographies. For example, Dr. Gurcharan Singh Rao writes in his novel Mashalchi that the untouchables, meaning Dalits are in minority in villages and they are economically dependent on the landlords. They bear the physical and mental torture inflicted upon them by the hard subjugation tendencies of these landlords. The novelist points at the intellectual limits of the traditional progressive literati and Marxist critics. ‘Mashalchi’ is proud to be the first realistic and classical novel projecting Dalit life.
Prem Gorkhy, Atarjit, Bhagwant Rasoolpuri, Sarup Sialvee, Des Raj Kali, Makhan Mann,Gurmeet Karhialvi, Ajmer Sidhu, Nachhatar etc. have a dignified place in the field of Punjabi story writing for their unique Dalit thinking. The socially realistic characters in their stories could be found distinctly fighting for their rights, truth and justice. The incidents are portrayed so vividly in a heart rendering tone that the reader is attracted towards them, leaning aside from his normal self and is seen eager to take sides with these depressed and oppressed people. Some of the Punjabi films are based on the stories of these story writers.
The Movements for the cause of untouchables during the end of 19th century and beginning of 20th century attracted and inspired the literati to pen Dalit literature. They wrote poems, stories, novels, dramas, biographies, autobiographies and essays. The contributions of all these creators are available in the market in book forms. The agony, anger and rebellion of the Dalit, the societal reality and badly needed social equality were vividly portrayed in these autobiographies which showed its real and cruel face to the society. Some portions of the autobiography of Ghadrite Baba Mangu Ram were published in 1971 in ‘Ravidas Patrika’ under the banners ‘Mera Jiwan Birtant te Meri Videsh Yatra’. These have heart rendering details of slavery, forced labour, rapes, torture and cruelty. Revolutionary poet of Adi-Dharam Gurdas Ram Alam got published 15 chapters of his autobiography in 1988 in the newspaper ‘Jantak Lehar’ under the banner ‘Mera Jeevan Pandh’. The autobiography of story writer Prem Gorkhy ‘Gair Hajir Admi’ (1995) gives a detailed account of the injustice being meted out to Dalit society. Naxalite poet Lal Singh Dil (11.4.1943-14.8.2007) wrote in his creation ‘Dastan’ (1998) that the police used to cane him all the more as they knew that he belonged to ‘chamar’ caste. Many a time, he had to listen to the taunts of fellow students in school for his low caste. Initially, Lal Singh Dil embraced Sikhism but caste discrimination and the high and low sarcasm did not spare him there also. He turned Muslim as an active naxalite during the rise of this movement (1968-72). The famous poet led a life in hiding in Uttar Pradesh, sometimes as a daily wage labour, a watchman or ran a small tea shop. But he continued writing uninterruptedly. He remained unmarried and the end came in Samrala town of Ludhiana district in Punjab. The autobiography of Sarup Sialvee ‘Zalalat’ has countless instances of traumatic life of a Dalit family who shifted to East Punjab after being uprooted from Pakistan. The family suffered humiliation of not getting any roof over their head to stay on, refusal to draw water from the village well by the upper caste, uprooting repeatedly by landlords from the common land and repeated filing of cases against them and their regular teasing continued. Even while being a Sikh, the torture inflicted by the Sikh community depicts the miserable plight of the sufferers. Atarjit’s ‘Ak da Dudh’ and the autobiography of Meet Khatrha ‘Tinka Tinka Ahlna’ are worth reading.
Balbir Madhopuri’s ‘Chhangia Rukh’ (2002 in Punjabi) brought out by the Oxford University Press (Changiya Rukh- Against the Night) got a special place of pride in literature at home and abroad when it was published in Pakistan in Shahmukhi in 2010 and in Hindi in 2007. Learned critics described it as the first Punjabi Dalit autobiography with deft portrayal of Dalit culture and Dalit social issues and a unique text.
It is the Dalit autobiographies which have played an important role in carving out a special niche for the Punjabi Dalit literature and set standards for a separate Dalit literary scripture and presented a unique alternative to original traditional pre- determined notions. These brought out a set of own standards for the formation of an ideal classless society by seriously and deftly presenting the issues of caste, class, religion and race along with their social conditions.
The commonality worth mentioning in all these autobiographies is that these are different in scripts but not in situations. All these autobiographies bleed in anger and rebellion and harp on the same tune of social transformation. The future of Dalit literature appears to be very bright from the study of the contemporary Dalit literature and autobiographies of Dalit literati, just like the future of aboriginal thinking in India. At a time when anti humanitarian notions of race, colour, caste, untouchability and defilement by touching or in other words, the social order of contemptuous attitude by man against man is prevalent uninterrupted in the entire Indian subcontinent, it appears that only the Dalit literati are propagating awareness about human rights or alternately, it can be said that it is only the Dalit literature which is putting up the role of a solid opposition to the ancient traditional Hindu culture. Comparatively, when we look at these facts of inhuman behaviour through the prism of modern black literature, we find that the spread of tone and tenor of the Dalit literature could easily be traced to and is similar to that of 58 countries of South Africa. For example, the way the abolition of custom of slavery has been presented in the ‘Spartacus’ novel by the US author Haward Fast (1914-1992) in a leftist context is unique. The biggest source of inspiration for a big fight is – Till the achievement of Human Rights. When we read the literary works of Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Ben Okri, Richard Rive, Alex La Guma, Allen Patton, no doubt these reflect the constituents of autobiographies but the entire social and economic fabric was completely under the spell of racial disposition of white authoritarianism for which they were alienated from natural resources, principles of co-existence with nature, their mother tongue and cultural heritage in its entirety like the aboriginals of India. If just for an example, we consider the autobiography of the 44th President of the United States of America Barrack Obama, ‘Dreams from My Father’, it stirs a sensitive person, presenting racism and heritage before the entire world as a sharp conflict between facts and rights. I am reminded of the novel ‘Sell Out’ by Afro-American writer Paul Beatty under whose pretext, gist of the book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou explains the whole situation as to what is the ugliest cruel face of racism and colour distinction.
In the end, I would say that at present only Dalit Literature and Black Literature are being considered world literature. This fact also needs rapt attention that non Dalit literature ‘Dharti Dhan Na Apna’ by Jagdish Chander cannot be written off, by any count from a place of pride in the Dalit literature just as Haward Fast from Black Literature as these writers have full sympathy for humanistic sensitivities. It is a separate issue that only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches. Alas, our non Dalit literati could also have such a vision.
The non Dalit literati are not able to present the Dalit life as acutely, in depth and in reality as much as Dalit literati have been able to as they believe that it is only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches. Their Dalit literature remains an instrument of showing sympathy or to become famous. It is also true that none of the non Dalit scholars, thinkers or philosophers have ever spearheaded a movement against the hatred prone class system, casteism and untouchability. Instead, they appeared to be supporters of the prevalent social system by remaining silent spectators. Dalit society has its own humanistic philosophy, which rejects class system in its entirety. They believe that The Dalits are not part of the Brahmans, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Muslims but they are a large society of India’s aboriginals whom the selfish people have subjugated. Dalit thinkers lose their lives struggling for their cause but the non Dalits do not support their humanitarian approach. For this very reason, there is no substantial progress in the development of the entire populace in India in a holistic manner. The class system is a big stumbling block in its way. Exposing all these greedy, deceitful and inhuman tendencies, the philosophical epic ‘Mahan Ajeevik: Kabir, Raidas aur Gausal’ came out in January 2017. Its writer is Dr. Dharamvir.
In conclusion, it would be proper to say that the present is the base for the past and the past always works for the future. Looking through this prism, it is felt that literature, especially the Dalit literature is playing a great unique role in social transformation in its entirety. What is meant is that the Punjabi Dalit literature, through its ceaseless contribution to a lasting growth in thinking and awareness of the Indian Dalit literature, is inspiring non-Dalit literati and the entire Indian social structure to adopt a humanistic approach.
Adi-Dharam, actual name of this movement was: Ad-Dharam Mandal Punjab.
Eminent Punjabi writer, translator and Editor: Samkali Sahit, a quarterly prestigious Punjabi magazine.
Punjabi Bhawan, Punjabi Sahit Sabha, (Regd.), New Delhi,
10,Rouse Avenue, Institutional Area, New Delhi-110002
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Mob: 9350548100
This paper was read on 02-March-2017 at Central University Hyderabad, Telengana.
This novel’s stow, refined and esthetic language is an example that enables it to take a significant place in the Indian Dalit Literature. This text is a great achievement of the year-2020.
Changiya Rukh (Autobiography) by Balbir Madhopuri A powerful literary testimony to the angst, suffering and attempted rebellion of a dalit community in Punjab…
My Caste-My Shadow (selected poems) by Balbir Madhopuri The poet desires that his poetry should have a direction and provide meaningful guidance to the people and hopes to inspire others despite being ‘dark-skinned’ that has an explicit message for the society. And the English version by T.C. Ghai recreates the same intense emotions and delivers humanitarian message to awaken society towards stimulating Dalit consciousness.