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Dalit Literature: Moving to Maturity


Gail Omvedt

TOWARDS AN AESTHETIC OF DALIT LITERATURE: HISTORY, CONTROVERSIES AND CONSIDERATIONS
By Sharankumar Limbale Translated from the Marathi by Alok Mukherjee
Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 2004, pp. 176, Rs. 175.00

MULTIPLE MARGINALITIES: AN ANTHOLOGY OF DALIT WRITINGS
Edited by Badri Narayan and A.R. Misra
Manohar Publications, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 296, Rs. 600.00

JOURNEYS TO FREEDOM: DALIT NARRATIVES
By Fernando Franco , Jyotsna Macwan and Suguna Ramanathan
Samya, 2004, pp. 400, Rs. 600.00

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 10 October 2004

 “Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram is a foolish     aesthetic concept.  There is no truth and beauty in the world comparable to that found in human beings.  Therefore, it is essential to discuss the equality, liberty, justice and fraternity of human beings.  In my opinion, that will be the discussion of the aesthetics of dalit literature”.  So Sharankumar Limbale begins his discussion of dalit aesthetics, rejecting the seemingly noble concepts of traditional aesthetics as “untruth” “because it spreads lies and fosters disregard of the actual lives of dalits and Adivasis; “unholy” because the dalit is considered defiled for doing the defiling work necessary to maintain the purity of Hindu society and “unbeauty” because of the brutal and ugly realities of their lives.  Dalit literature has to be true to such realities.         For values, Limbale opts instead for the humanism embodied in the ideals of the French revolution, the “liberty, equality and fraternity” which Ambedkar had taken as his main theme throughout his life.  Dalit literature is oriented to change, to revolutionary transformation.  He stresses the similarity to Marxist literary theory:  positively, literature should be a guide to action; negatively, just as Marxist criticism derives from Marx whose philosophy was not primarily literary, so dalit criticism and literature derives from the overall philosophy of Ambedkar.  Indeed, dalit literature according to Limbale dates from Mookanayak, Ambedkar’s first journal published in 1920 for a brief period.       Limbale is a well-known Marathi dalit writer.  His own autobiographical novel, Akkarmashi, has already been translated into English though its English title, Outcaste, does not capture the flavour of the original, which really means illegitimate.  He was in fact the child of a woman whose father was not known, not really a full-fledged member of even the dalit castes of the village he grew up in.  His most recent novel, Hindu, deals with dalit politics.  His work on aesthetics is thus an extension of his own writings.         There is one important ambiguity in Limbale’s writings: he focuses on dalits as Scheduled Castes, ignoring the “shudras”; in this he is similar to the other proponents of contemporary dalit literature.  Yet he refers to Phule as one of the founder of such literature.  Phule, as a Mali (gardener caste), was not a dalit, though he wrote ferociously against caste and untouchability, and is considered still a revolutionary founder of the anti-caste movement in Maharashtra; one of the “gurus” honoured by Ambedkar.  ...


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