7 February 2010

The Dalit Deliberations

TRISHA GUPTA traces the Dalit thread at the Jaipur Literature festival

IN A festival where discussions often hovered in the most rarefied literary realms, the Dalit literature panels served as a useful and necessary corrective. Going back to the basics of the written word, the opening session pointed out the inherently privileged position of the writer in India. If Kancha Ilaiah (author of the seminal Why I Am Not a Hindu, 1995) stressed that writing on the subcontinent had long been the preserve of the upper castes, Hindi Dalit writer Om Prakash Valmiki wondered aloud why there are still disgruntled rumblings about the idea of a Dalit literature when such categories as Vedic literature or Marxist literature are taken for granted. Earlier mainly poetry or autobiography, and thus seen as being limited by its “confessional” mode, Dalit literature has now expanded into fiction and criticism. Academic Christophe Jaffrelot suggested at one panel that Dalit autobiography, like Lakshman Gaikwad’s hard-hitting Uchalya, had provided an answer to Gayatri Spivak’s question ‘can the subaltern speak?’ Meanwhile, newer work, represented at Jaipur by Ajay Navaria and P Sivakami alongside Valmiki and Gaikwad, showed that Dalit writing — while still clinging to the power of rhetoric — is ready, too, to embrace a variety of literary aesthetics.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 05, Dated February 06, 2010

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