Dalit Literature in Rajasthan: A Voice Lost in Wilderness

Dalit Literature in Rajasthan: A Voice Lost in the Wilderness
Rajasthan, as the name itself suggests, has been ‘a land of the Kings’. Before the formation of a United Rajasthan in 1948 A.D. it was divided into nineteen princely states like Mewar (Udaipur), Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner, Kota, Bundi, Jhalawar, Bharatpur etc. The dynasty of Mewar, with a recorded history of one thousand five hundred years is said to be the oldest one in Rajasthan. The glorification of the past assumes new dimensions with a reference to Maharana Pratap and the battle of Haldighati which is compared to the battle of Thermopolis in Europe. Pratap is presented as an icon of freedom much celebrated in the literature across the country.
Apart from this political history , if one decides to look at the social stratification and the dynamics of caste , he would be appalled to learn that even today it is at the top of the list of states where atrocities against the weaker sections, particularly, the Dalits are on the rise. According to a report in The Hindu, Rajasthan has emerged as the state with the highest incidence of registered atrocities against Dalits across the country. In 2010, the state recorded 51.4 cases of atrocities against Dalits per lakh population under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act. It had registered a similar figure in 2009 too. The latest data from the Union Ministry of Social Justice show that five states namely Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh account for around seventy percent of registered atrocities against Dalits. The feudal traditions continue to exist even sixty five years after the independence , though it is also said that the democratic institutions have grown mature.
The Dalits constitute about eight percent of the population of Rajasthan. Sub-castes of the dalits in Rajasthan like Bairava, Meghwal , Bhangi, Dhanuk, Jatav etc. suffered social exclusion because of their traditional occupation . Some castes as Guar, Kantar, Bavaria etc. were labeled as criminals and had to suffer the stigma for centuries. If the population of scheduled Tribes is added it comes to around seventeen percent of the total population of the state. Due to the feudal dominance the Dalit movement did not emerge as a strong voice in Rajasthan. Those Dalit leaders who got elected to the Parliament, Legislative Assemblies and other bodies of local self government remained confined to their political association but did not care much to organize the Dalits as a movement. As a consequence unlike Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu and Kerala Dalit literature did not gain much ground in the state of Rajasthan.
Dalit Literature is, in fact, the writings that are about dalits. Dalit (Oppressed or broken) is not a new word. Apparently, it was used in the 1930s as a Hindi and Marathi translation of ‘depressed classes’, a term the British used for what are now called the Scheduled Castes. In 1970s the ‘Dalit Panthers’ revived the term and expanded its reference to include scheduled tribes, poor peasants, women and all those being exploited politically, economically and in the name of religion. So Dalit is not a caste. It is a symbol of change and revolution. The Primary motive of Dalit literature is the liberation of dalits. Dalit struggle against casteist tradition has a long history. For example, in Kannada, it goes back to the first Vachana poet of the 11th century, Chennaiah, the cobbler. The 12th century Dalit saint Kalavve challenged the upper castes for making false accusation against them.
In modern times, because of the legacy of Mahatma Phule and Babarao Ambedkar, Dalit literature got impetus in Maharastra. But before the name came into being in the 1960s, such people as Baburao Bagul, Bandhu Madhav, Shankarao kharat were already creating Dalit literature. In its formal form it sprouted out of a progressive movement called Little Magazine which was a kind of rebellious manifestation of the educated youth of those days against the establishment. These Dalit youths found inspiration in the movement of Blacks in the distant land of North America; their Black Literature and Black Panther became the role models of sorts for them. This protest gained its first expression in the form of a new literature called Dalit Literature. Poems, short stories, novels and autobiographies written by Dalit writers provided useful insights on the question of Dalit identity. Now the subaltern communities found a new name by coming together with the perspective ‘Dalit is dignified’ thereby rejecting the sub-human status imposed on them by the Hindu social order.
Dalit literature is experience – based. In this literature anubhava (experience) takes precedence over anumana (speculation). Thus to Dalit writers, history is not illusionary or unreal as Hindu metaphysical theory may make one to believe. That is why authenticity and liveliness have become hallmarks of Dalit literature. These writers make use of the language of the out-castes and under-privileged in Indian society. Shame, anger, sorrow and indomitable hope are the stuff of Dalit literature. Because of the anger against the age-old oppression, the expression of the Dalit writers has become sharp.
In their search for alternatives, Dalit writers have rediscovered the low caste saint poets of the Bhakti movement. In Rajasthan too, the Dalit consciousness is ingrained in the folk deities who became so because of their selfless service of humanity at large. Folk deities like Ramdev, Dhanna , Tejaji ,Gogaji and Peepaji have been very popular among the Dalits. The shrine of Ramdevji at Ramdevra in Jaisalmer is very popular shrine where thousands of Dalits visit every year. By the side of the main shrine of Ramdevji is a Temple of Dali Bai , who is considered as a deity of Meghwal community. Raidas the Bhakti poet , also known as Ravidas was a Chamar by birth. The great saint poet Meera Bai accepted him as Guru on his arrival in Chittorgarh.
Most of the Dalit writings available in Rajasthan pertain to the folk deities which are worshipped by these communities. Ram Devji is one of them. There are songs, tales and Bhajans related to the deity. Interestingly enough He is also called “ Ram Sa Peer” and is worshipped by the Muslims as a Sufi saint. Swami Gokul Das is a Dalit author who wrote Meghvansh Itihas which depicts the evolution of Meghwal community and also about the deities Ram Devji and Dali Bai. It is interesting to note that all of these deities have lived a human life and became so popular through their heroic, chivalric and philanthropic deeds that people started worshipping them. They had a non-Brahminical World view and did nurture a religion of inclusion with little care for the Brahminical practices of sanctity associated with purity and cleanliness. These deities formed a non-Brahminical cult of worship which developed as an alternative faith drawing millions of people to their shrines irrespective of religion, caste, creed and gender. The social hierarchy of Manusmriti stands irrelevant in these centers of people’s faith. The songs, hymns and stories associated with these deities are composed and sung in the dialects which the people of the “Lower” strata speak. Most of these are available in the oral form only.
Rajshri Dhali of University of Delhi in her research paper traces the identity formation of Meghwal, a dalit community through the reading of oral tradition and written literature especially Meghwansh Itihas written by Swami Gokul Das in 1994. In her perceptive paper she relates the three versions of the story of the birth of Dali Bai who was a disciple of Ram Devji and is worshipped as a deity by Meghwals in her own right. According to one version of the story Bhoj Meghwal had two sons- Sayer and Adsi. Sayer had no issue but Adsi had a son named Munja and a daughter Dali. Adsi died when the children were very young. So Sayer took care of them and brought them up. As she grew up Dali became devout disciple of Ram Dev, a Rajput warrior who had become a saint. She used to accompany Ram Dev to sing Bhajans. One day Dali was looking after the cattle grazing in the fields, she heard some music and singing. On inquiry she learnt that Ram Dev had decided to take Samadhi. She rushed to the spot and insisted on taking Samadhi before Ram Dev did. They argued a lot but could not come to a conclusion. Finally Dali said that let the pit be dug. If during digging, things used by women like combs, bangles etc. appeared she would take the Samadhi first and if things used by men like conch, Jhalar etc. appeared first, Ramdev ji will take the Samadhi first. While digging bangles and comb appeared and Dali Bai took the Samadhi first while Ram Dev ji kept singing hymns near her Samadhi for three days and finally took Samadhi himself.
Swami Gokul Das describes the second version of the story in which Dali Bai is depicted as a daughter of a sage named Bhrigi. Once when the sage was in a state of meditation, a nymph succeeded in distracting his attention by dancing in a seductive manner. Driven by passion the sage released his semen. Feeling guilty for his weakness the sage kept the semen in a cleaved branch of a “Jal” tree and went away. After one year when he returned he saw a girl child born on the cleave of the branch. He picked up the child blessed her, put her in a basket, covered her with his shawl and left the basket in the river afloat. The Tanwar Rajput ruler Maharaja Ram Dev was riding by the side of the river with his attendant Sayer. He spotted the basket and asked Sayer to fetch that. They found a baby girl playing in it. Maharaja Ram Dev said that since Sayer had no issues, God had sent him a daughter. Sayer brought her up and gave her the name Dali Bai, ( Incidently “Dali” means branch) and thus her name could be related to the branch where she was born.
The third version seems to be a latest construct in which Dali Bai is depicted as a victim of Islamic invaders who convert people to Islam. Ram Dev and Dali Bai are described as champions of Hinduism who re-convert the converted Hindus by performing “Shuddhi” or “Purification rites.” It is interesting that except the first one, the remaining two are constructs of the Hindu Brahminical order which conspires to keep the Dalits in their fold and at the same time treats them as untouchables. The second version tries to prove that Dali Bai is not a descendant of Meghvansh. She is the daughter of a Sage, a Rishi. This denotes that she belongs to the Brahminical tradition. It is only the first story which does not hide the birth of Dali Bai and rejoices in her rise as a deity.
Rajshri Dhali makes a very insightful analysis when she says :
The The story firmly establishes Dalibai as a deity and even attempts to free her from dominating influence of Ramdev. Dalibai is no longer a disciple of Ramdev, but a deity with enough miraculous powers to astonish her Guru. It is only through superior miraculous powers that she ensures the discovery of articles used by women when samadhi was being dug and succeeded in taking samadhi before Ramdev. Such a construction was an attempt to attribute a higher status to Dalibai in popular perception.
The History of Meghvansh has been recorded in a number of writings by prominent Dalit writers. Meghvansh : Itihas Aur Sanskriti written by Tararam is a set of two volumes. The author traces the history of Meghwals to a ruling clan called Meghvansh which existed somewhere around 220 – 320 AD. Prof. Angane Lal, in his preface to the book states that “Koshambi” has been the centre of the Meghvansh’s territory. The relics discovered from the nearby archaeological sites suggest that the Meghvanshis were followers of Buddhism. The Meghvansh declined with the rise of Gupta dynasty. The author describes in details various symbols, icons, coins associated with the Megh dynasty during their rise as a power in some parts of the country. Tara Ram writes in this book, “After the Nirvaan of Buddha, he has been represented by the symbols of a tree, foot marks and the religious Wheel ( Dharmcakra). We find these symbols in Avraavati during the regime of Meghwan dynasty. Similar symbols are found in Koshambi, Bandhogarh and Bheeta. Thus, it is clear that Meghwan dynasty and Megh dynasty were the same; they had the same origin and the same religious beliefs.
Most of the Historians consider them Brahmin – born followers of Buddha. But a historical analysis proves it wrong because the Varna system which is so emphasized upon in the Vedic period gets slackened in the Upanishad Era and in the Mauryan period which follow it. In the Smriti Age the existence of all the Varna’s is seen. In the meanwhile, it was assumed that the king will be either a Kshatriya or a Brahmin. As a consequence even the Buddhist rulers were dubbed as Kshatriya or Brahmin. In reality they were followers of Buddhism, opponents of the Varna system and the supporters and propagators of Pali tradition. Thus it is clear that the rule of Meghvansh continued for a long time but due to their faith in the idea of a society without the hierarchical division of the Varnas, their dynasty could not be sustained for long. ( Tararam 62-63)
Another book about Dalit in Rajathan which also talks about Dalit literature is Samanti Jati vyavastha ke virruddh Rajasthan ke Daliton ka Mukti Sangharsh. Edited by Kamalkant Prasad and Dr. Prakash Louis published by Bhartiya Samajik Sansthan, New Delhi. The book contains thirteen articles on various facets of Dalit life, thought and literature. Sajjan Kumar Jaidiya’s article on Dalit literature talks of its various Characteristics and criticizes the writings of caste Hindus. Talking about the importance of Dalit literature because it is based on the experiences of the people who are rooted in the soil,” ( Jadia, 147) Dr. Kusum Meghwal’s article on Dalit Women is another important chapter of the book in which she has traced the condition of women in India right from the Vedic Age to the modern times. She suggests that the domestic work of Dalit women should be evaluated in economic terms. She alleged that women’s welfare agencies are governed by upper caste women who are not sensitive to the plight of Dalit Women. Dr. Kusum Meghwal is the chair person of Rajasthan Dalit Sahitya Academy and has authored several books on the issues of Dalit emancipation. Another important work on Dalit history is Bharat Ka Itihas : Shraman, Brahmin Sanskritiyon Ka Sangharsh. This is written by B. L. Meghwal “Bhagirath,” an officer of Rajasthan Administrative service and also the husband of Kusum Meghwal. The book is an attempt to re-examine and interrogative the Hindu scriptures as well as epic of Sanskrit classical tradition. He presents an in depth study of the Vedas and Quotes a number of couplets describing the methods of hegemony exercised by the Brahmins over the toiling masses. Bhagirath questions the British historians who always portrayed the invaders as the victorious. He maintains that if the Aryans were victorious then how does one account for the Nand Dynasty, Mauryan Dynasty, Gupta Dynasty and vardhan dynasty as rulers? (Bhagirath, 48)
The author examines the text of Rig-Veda and Yajurved to prove that these scriptures allowed the subordinate position of women and provided for their sexual exploitation not just by their husbands but other males including Brahmins who referred the vagina of women as a place of sacrificial fire ( Yagnya) and prayed that they may pour their organs into it as sacrificial wood, suggesting metaphorically an extra marital sexual union as a religious rite. ( Bhagirath 97 )
Other majors writings of the author include “ Ujjale Ki Agwani ( 1991), Shramikon Ke Muktidaata ( 1992 ), Peeda Ke Setuband ( 1996 ), Chaandi Ri Aadhi Roti ( 1996 ), Swatantra Bharat Me Sahi Shiksha Neeti ( 2004 ), Vedadi Dharamgranthon mein Mool Nivasiyon Ka Itihas ( 2005 ), Asur Lok Nayak Krishna ( 2005 ). Dr. Meghwal’s books have been awarded and published by National Book Trust.
Another important work comprising Dalit Literature in Rajasthan is a collection of short stories written by Ratna Kumar Sambhariya. The book is called Dalit Samaj Ki Kahaniyan. The book is published in 2011 by Anamika Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi. Ratna Kumar Sanbhariya is an established author with a progressive outlook. He has a command over language and a style of his own. He is an author of robust optimism and defines it as a necessary characteristic of Dalit Literature. An author of about ten books he has been honoured and awarded by several prestigious institutions and organizations. His attitude to Dalit Writings is inclusive and liberal. In his preface “Meri Baat” he states, “Often this illusion is spread that a Dalit story can be written by a Dalit only. In fact, this can be ascribed to the narrow mentality of those driven solely by the motive of reservation. Just as a person born in a Dalit community can write a general story, in the same way a person born in a general community can write a Dalit story provided that story has a deep sensibility, pain for Dalits and a feeling of awakening. ( Sabhariya 9 )
Witing about the stylistic features of a Dalit story Sambhariya states, “The language of a Dalit story is rooted in its own ground, has its own specialty and its limitation. The language should be colloquial; behavior should be sober and should have a regional touch. The abundance of ‘Deshaj’ ( rustic ) words cannot be denied in a dalit story. There are twenty-four stories in this collection. “ Phulwa”, the first story of the collection was published in the reputed literary magazine Hans in 1997. The story depicts the reversal that has taken place in the social order. The kshatriyas of one time, due to their orthodox views and false pride have lost their past glory and economic power while the Dalits who were serving them have reached a position of power by dint of their hard work and progressive outlook. “ Phulwa “ is a Dalit woman who lost her husband, when an ox hit him with his horns. Despite her poverty, she focused on the education of her son. The story describes the reversal – Phulwa’s son has become an S. P. while the Zamindar’s son is looking for a job for his son. He happens to visit the bungalow of Phulwa and feels envious at her good fortune. But the caste prejudice is so strong that he does not drink even a glass of water. Later his experience at the Pandit’s house is also not happy. At several places Sambhariya makes very subtle remarks at this social transformation:
“ Phulwa “ addressing him again and again as “ Rameshwar” had offended him and he spat on her pitcher. Phulwa broke the pitcher and returns home weeping. Suddenly the memory of this incident brought tears to Phulwa’s eyes. As if two hands had reached the money box ( Gullak) simultaneously. Time is a trader. Rameshwar draws water drom the same well today, Phulwa’s pitcher has running water.” ( Sambhariya 20 )
In another instance Phulwa says, “No Rameshwarji, she is not my daughter-in-law, she is a maid. Kunwar is her name. We did not ask her what her caste is but the poor lady says that she is Rajput. There are thirty six castes in villages. In cities these are only two- the rich and the poor.” (Sambhariya 23 )
The story titled “ Mukti” suggests emancipation of the Dalits through their own act of valour. Nanak Ram, a Dalit takes the responsibility of clearing the path for the cart carrying the statue of a deity. There is a huge Bison blocking the road. No one dares drive him away. Nanak Ram asks his wrestler son to force the Bison move away. He goes but the angry Bison lifts him on his horns and smashes down. He is badly hurt. But the path gets cleared. The cart reaches the temple. People join to unload the statue. Nanak Ram also move to join but the priest stops him angrily saying “The hands that sweep the floor can not touch the statue.” Nanak Ram gets furious and draws a sword to smash the priest who runs to save his life. Sambhariya’s Dalit heroes are not pitiable, weak and miserable beings. They are good human beings – polite and obedient. But when it comes to their honour they are ready to take stand and fight back.
Sambhariya has written Samaaj ki Naak ( One Act Plays ), Baang aur Anya Laghukathayen, Hukam Ki Duggi, Kaal Tatha Anya Kahaniyan, Khet Tatha Anya Kahaniyan ( Short Stories ), Munshi Prem Chand Aur Dalit Samaj ( Criticism ), Dr. Ambedkar : Ek Prerak Jeevan ( Edited ) and Beema Natak. His stories have been made into Radio – plays and one story has been made into a tele – film.
Charan Singh Pathik is a teacher in a primary school in Karauli, North East Rajasthan. He has a keen insight in the rural life and expresses with great lucidity the vicissitudes of village life. Baat Yeh Nahin Hai is a collection of his stories published by Surya Prakashan Mandir, Bikaner in 2005. Charan Singh Pathik also depicts the incongruities of a village society divided into castes. His story “ Dangal “ is a picturesque description of the upper caste and lower caste divisions in the rural society. There is a group of singers in the village which always wins the Dangal. The main singer is Peeru Teli, who belongs to the lower stratum of the society. At some occasion the upper caste members of the group insult him for his lower caste. He with his other friends decides to have his own group of singers. The story ends with the dominant caste group exercising their supremacy by using money. Unlike Ratna Kumar Sambhariya’s stories in which Dalits are depicted as having an upper hand, in Charan Singh Pathik’s story “Dangal”,the lower caste group of singers get defeated.But here too ,they do not fail in voicing their concerns:
Peeru said in a sarcastic tone, “We are ‘Pai’ (Lower caste) .What do we have in this village which we can call ours? This air,this soil,this water and this our sweat- all is yours.In the Dangal of Salavad when the audience praised me and offered a garland of currency notes,lifted me in their arms and tied a turban to honour me-me ,Kajodya and Ramjani, in the eyes of Thakur Nathu Singh and Pundit Fattu became ‘Aai-Pai’.Became ‘Katawe and Mulle ( An abusive word for Muslims).Till then we had never felt that we and our religion were different.( Charan Singh 64)
The story depicts helplessness and desperation of the Dalits who are endowed with higher artistic qualities but are insulted only because of their birth. They do make an effort to assert their identity but the power of money overpowers them. Thus Charan Singh succeeds in indicating that the capitalist system helps in deepening the gulf between the caste groups.
Dr.Gopal Sahar is another young story – writer from Rajasthan who has depicted very realistically the caste hierarchy in rural parts of the state. He has published two collections of stories _ Shabdon Ka Saudagar and Bhor Uge Sanjh Dhale . The stories of the two collections reflect Dalit realities and the atrocities they are face to face in the feudal system. His story “ Saabun Ki Batti “ is one such story in which the central characters “ Dalludi,” an adolescent Bhil girl is sexually exploited by the young son of the village Thakur. In spite of independence of the country and democratic governance the feudal authority continues in village. “ Dalludi “ suffers exploitation and harassment. A young man of her own class Maangu who had some liking for her, knowing fully well her sexual abuse by the Thakur’s son, decides to adopt her and they escape together from the village. Though the writer finds class solidarity as an alternative but the idea of escape could have been developed further to register some kind of resistance also.
In another story “ Kal Koi Mar Jaye,” the author depicts the plight of a Harijan family suffering immense cold. When a person dies, a cotton quilt is prepared for the dead body. When the body reaches the crematorium, the quilt is thrown away. The Harijan protagonist, suffering bitter cold, starts imagining if some body dies, be can use that quilt to save himself from the cold. The stories shows that poverty sometimes dehumanizes people and makes them think in an unusual way.
There is a famous autobiography by the former vice-chancellor of J. N. Vyas University, Jodhpur Dr. Shyam Lal Jaidiya. This autography is an important Dalit text in which the author has recorded his struggle in the academic world. Jai Prakash Pandya “ Jyotipunj “ has written a number of poems and stories about the tribal life. Kasak Bhukhe Bhil Ki is one of his famous works. Some of these writers are Dalits, while others are not. There could be other writers as well but Rajasthan lacks an organized Dalit movement and therefore Dalit writing as a movement, could not make a dent in the otherwise feudal society. Those writers who are committed to Dalit ideology and politics confine themselves to writing prose books about B. R. Ambedkar and other ideologues. There is much scope of creative writing, translation and documentation of Dalit literature available in oral form in folklore.
Works Cited:
Bhagirath, Bharat Ka Itihas : Shraman, Brahmin Sanskritiyon Ka Sangharsh, Udaipur : Mool Niwasi Prakashan, 2005.
D.Sila Khan.Conversion and Shifting Identities: Ramdev Pir and the Ismailies in Rajasthan.New Delhi: Manohar.1997
Gokul Das.Meghvansh Itehas.Ajmer:Phoolchand Bookseller.1994
Pathik, Charan Singh .Baat Yeh Nahin Hei . Bikaner : Surya Prakashan Mandir. 2005
Prasad Kamalkant and Prakash Louis. Samanti Jaati vyavastha Ka Viruddh Rajasthan Ke Daliton Ka Mukti Sangharsh : New Delhi : Bhartiya Samajik Sansthan. 2001
Sahar, Gopal, Bhor Uge Saanjh Dhale .Jaipur : M. B. Publishers and Distributors. 2003
Sambhariya, Ratna Kumar Dalit Samaaj Ki Kahaniyan. New Delhi: Anamika Publishers and Distributors. 2011
Tara Ram Meghvansh : Itihas Aur Sanskriti. New Delhi: Samyak Prakashan .2011

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