Dalit and socially engaged writing
#1
I came across a small note in the mainstream "Outlook" magazine about seven years back about a publishing house based in Pondicherry, "Navayana", Publishing for Social Change. The note was by S. Anand, a journalist who wrote for Outlook. At that time, they were going to send all books to be published in 5 years for an advance sum of Rs.5000/-.
The first book I received was "India Stinking", Manual Scavengers in Andhra Pradesh and Their Work, by Gita Ramaswamy.
I was shocked and ashamed that I did not know or ever think about manual scavenging though I had travelled a lot in India. I read the book in bits and pieces as it was too disturbing.

Recently read an excellently researched and compiled book, "Seeking Begumpura, The Social Vision of Anticaste Intellectuals", by Gail Omvedt.
There are chapters on Kabir, Ravidas, Tukaram, Phule, Ramabai, Periyar, Ambedkar and others. It is startling to discover that Kabir's writings in the 14th century are atheistic.

Dalit writing in India through the centuries even without the support of science, is the closest thing to atheistic writing.

Check out the mission statement and titles available at Navayana:
http://navayana.org/
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#2
I recently finished reading Omprakash Valmiki's Hindi autobiography 'Joothan'.

The author does a commendable job exposing the festering underbelly of the much vaunted gramya jeevan ( rural life). His simple , matter-of-fact but lucid style ensures that none of the gruesomeness of the original situations is lost in delicious turns of phrase or witty constructions. Some humiliations were all the more shocking for having been inflicted upon him as a matter of course, almost unthinkingly. It is disturbing how many of the book's derogatory , rustic-Hindi references are still used by some 'educated' members of the North Indian middle-class.

The book is not set in the 'interiors';most of the action takes place in post-Green-Revolution western UP - in the fertile patch that lies between Delhi and Dehradun. Discerning readers would notice that almost all the villages that find mention in the book are now towns that are situated along the Delhi-Dehradun highway.

The author also describes practices and rituals that set the Dalits apart from the 'upper-caste' Tyagis. Dalits could eat pork freely. Their deities had no Puranic or Vedic antecedents. No temples or images were consecrated to these animistic spirits.

There are passages where the author gives expression to his disillusionment with cloyingly sentimental descriptions of villages as blissful idylls. He recalls having read romanticized descriptions of rural life in textbooks( e.g. the poems of Sumitranandan Pant) He observes that the reality was worlds apart. The vivacious village belles, farmers brimming with enthusiasm and golden swathes of wheat ripening in the hot sun concealed a far more sinister world of malice, oppression and feudalism.
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