Scheduled caste writers

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.

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An overview of 2016

Three prominent SC writers active in 2016

Avijit Ghosh, These unsung Dalit writers fuelled BSP's culture politics, Nov 01 2016 : The Times of India

Avijit Ghosh meets the activist-authors who have lit the torch of rebellion in N. India

There was a 72-hour non-stop recitation of Ramcharitmanas at his village Pahadipur, near Aligarh in western Uttar Pradesh. A Yadav friend egged him to sing a few quatrains; everyone knew his voice had wings. “I was about to start when the priest, also a Yadav, stopped me. He said a Jatav cannot recite the Ramcharitmanas. I couldn't sleep that night,“ recalls Anant Rao `Akela'. The pain and rage born of that humiliation found a lifetime of expression in Akela's critiques of traditional religious texts, and his writing on the life and thoughts of BR Ambedkar.

Akela belongs to a bunch of popular Dalit writers who have fuelled and nourished the Bahujan Samaj Party's cultural politics. Guru Prasad Madan, Rajkumar Itihaaskar Pasi and Kanwal Bharti are some other couriers of political consciousness and shapers of cultural identity, whose works can be found in homes across north India.

Exact figures are not available but from all accounts, these works (mostly booklets), cassettes and CDs, have sold in the thousands. In 1980, Akela hawked his first work, an eight-page pamphlet provocatively titled Ram Rajya Ki Nangi Tasveer, for 60 paise each at village fairs and kasbah bazaars. “The buyers were mostly Jatavs like me.Some paid Re 1, others Rs 5, a fantastic amount then, only to encourage me,“ remembers Akela. That they were reading something written by one of them was a warm but barely conceivable feeling for many .

Yet for millions of cosmopolitan Indians, these activistauthors and their works remain unknown. You won't find them in upscale bookstores and they are unlikely to be mentioned in the wine-andcheese book launch circuit though their works are sold at rallies. “Their works are read and respected in a certain public sphere. But their writing isn't something that is likely to get discussed at litfests,“ says Badri Narayan, who has written extensively on Dalit social history.

Literature and songs have always been integral to BSP's cultural politics. But the process of creating a common politico-social consciousness among the oppressed classes began much before the BSP was founded by Kanshi Ram in 1984, even before the founding of the Bamcef organisa tion (1978) and the `quasi-party' DS4 (1981).

Dalit intellectual-entrepreneur Chandrabhan Prasad points out that the Republican Party of India, a votary of Ambedkarite politics, won 10 seats in the 1967 UP state assembly elections. “This means that there was already a degree identity-based political consciousness among Dalits before the BSP ,“ he says. Prasad says that the cul tural foundation for bahujan politics was moored in the Ravidas movement which began in the 15th century. But as Lucknow University's research scholar Raj Bahadur writes in a recent article, Swami Achhootanand, a Dalit poet-activist, was crucial to raising awareness among the marginalised castes in the early 20th century .

In post-Independence In dia, Chandrika Prasad Jigyasu and Lalai Singh Yadav (an OBC) were pivotal in shaping a consciousness among Dalits and other marginalised sections. In his acclaimed biography Joothan, Om Prakash Valmiki writes that Jigyasu's biography on Ambedkar carried him to a new world of thought. Jigyasu's printing press, Bahujan Kalyan Prakashan (1960), became an agency for disseminating Ambedkar's philosophy .

Policeman-turned-activist Lalai Singh Yadav wrote plays such as Shambhuk Vadh, which gave its readers an alternative perspective on mythology . “Lalai Singh created a rebel consciousness among bahujans against brahminism,“ says Kanwal Bharti, author of the seminal Dalit Vimarsh ki Bhumika.

These people inspired the next generation of activistauthors. Bharti describes Jigyasu as his guru. “I was not writing for Kanshi Ram or BSP specifically. I was just writing against social inequality and brahminism. We created the social condition and political awareness that bahujan politics needed. We helped the movement stand on its feet,“ says Bharti.

In its first phase under Kanshi Ram, BSP formed the jagriti dastas (cultural units to spread political awareness which also included singersongwriters). Madan's pamphlets were devoured by the masses. “I have no idea how many editions were published.Some people published my work on their own,“ he says.

Some writers allege that under Mayawati, the party has deviated from the principles of its founder Kanshi Ram.Bharti says that bahujan politics was about raising social consciousness. “Her politics is about power, not social change,“ he says. Akela points out that unlike other parties, the BSP doesn't nominate author-activists or poets to Rajya Sabha or make them MLCs in the assembly . “It has no place for those who dedicated their life to bahujan politics,“ he says. This year, he joined the Bahujan Mukti Party .

Despite their personal disillusionment with BSP , their works continue to be sold at rallies, says Narayan. “For the public, only their work matters,“ he says. And their books continue to lead a new generation of readers to a new world.

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