Saturday, 13 August 2016

Dalit Literature in Gujarat- some reflections

After having written two blog posts on Gujarati literature, I wished to write the third on the Dalit literature in Gujarat. The wish grew stronger with the shocking incident of public flogging of Dalit youths in Una, Gujarat, my home state. However what would I write? I know very little about Gujarati Dalit literature! While I have read Dalit literature of writers from Maharashtra, I must admit that my knowledge of Gujarati Dalit literature and its history is extremely limited. I felt terribly ashamed of this fact and decided to make a beginning and get familiar with Dalit literature in Gujarat. 

I began by turning the pages of the books in my possession on Gujarati literature and its history. I was taken aback that none of the books that I have, had anything substantial on Dalit literature and/ or its history! In fact, some books with me give information in detail about Jain, Parsee, women, Muslim, Christian literature in Gujarati and its history, but not Dalit literature! I contacted some of my friends in Gujarat to recommend some books on the subject but there too, I came to a dead end. I searched the web and there is substantial material on the subject but it requires considerable time to come to the right information.

Therefore to begin with, I limit myself here to a song that has touched my heart deeply. I had heard this song first when it was sung by the well known singer-activists of Gujarat, Charul Bharwada and Vinay Mahajan. The song is about the life of a Dalit man and is written by the poet Sanker Painter. After hearing this song, it had reverberated in my mind for a long time and I had learned it by heart. However the song had faded from my memory as years passed by till the Una incident. 

The poet, Shanker Painter has described the life and work of Kaliyo Dholi (a drummer named Kaliyo[1]) and I make an attempt to translate this heartrending song here. Traditionally in Saurashtra, Gujarat, Dalits have been excellent musicians/drummers and even singers.  Donning several responsibilities in a village, the Dalit man -invariably an excellent drummer, his work, life and condition are expressed intensely in this song.

 Please note that the translation by me here is not accurate and does not do justice to the original song in Gujarati by Shanker Painter.   I also wish to thank Vinay and Charul for having sung this song several decades back, a song which has remained with me since.

Kaliyo Dholi (Drummer named Kaliyo)

Drum as his pillow, under the peepal tree, sleeps that Kaliyo dholi; 

In a democracy the rulers are elected, by this Kaliyo dholi!

While the maidens are dressed in finery, in tatters is that Kaliyo dholi;

When the richly dressed maidens dance[2] , the drums are played by Kaliyo dholi!

There are ripples in the heart, as maidens’ dance to the tune of that Kaliyo dholi;

Courageous men are filled with heroism, with the booming of the war drums by Kaliyo dholi!

On every auspicious occasion, without fail in ones court yard, stands this Kaliyo dholi;

When the end is near, invariably accompanying the pall-bearers[3], his feet bare, this Kaliyo dholi!

He is the one who takes the shroud to cover his own self, that Kaliyo dholi; 

He is forever cleaning the lanes with a broom, that Kaliyo dholi!

At dinner time he begs for leftover food to fill his stomach, this Kaliyo dholi;

Habituated to abuses, rudeness and insults, this Kaliyo dholi!

And yet, with folded hands he calls them his providers, this Kaliyo dholi;

Beaten with a shoe, cleans and returns it back, this Kaliyo dholi!

Laughs at meaningless talks and indulges in flattery, this Kaliyo dholi;

Just a glance of the upper caste, and he shivers in fright, this Kaliyo dholi!

Toils all day and night without remuneration, that Kaliyo dholi;

He has mud, grass bundles and straw as his hut, this Kaliyo dholi!

To forget all his sorrows he drinks excessively, this Kaliyo dholi;

For no rhyme or reason he beats his wife and children with dhoko[4], this Kaliyo dholi!

In democracy, the rulers are elected by this Kaliyo dholi;

Drum as his pillow, under the peepal tree, continues to sleep that Kaliyo dholi!

Bhim Kranti Gaan, by Shanker Painter.   

For those interested in Dalit literature from Maharashtra, I recommend Upara by Lakshman Mane, Aydan by Urmila Pawar, and writings by Namdeo Dhasal. Their writings are available in translations also.

And finally, on this Independence Day, I salute the struggle of the Dalits in Gujarat against their oppression over centuries. While I cannot be at Una in body, my mind and heart will be there.



[1] Kaliyo in Gujarati means the one who is dark/black in skin.
[2] Perform Garba- the traditional dance of Gujarat.
[3] Those carrying the dead on a bier.
[4] A piece of wood used to beat clothes for cleaning.