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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Poetry of the enlightened Ambedkarian age By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Part 1

Poetry of the enlightened Ambedkarian age

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

S. Chandramohan's poetry reflects the brilliance of his thought process and the rebel inside him. The seer diversity and variety of issues that he has taken up shows his concern for human values that transcends the boundaries of nation state, caste, class, gender and religion. In true sense only a humanist could do so.

I had the privilege of close association with legendary Mulk Raj Anand, whose first novel 'Untouchable' with an introduction from E M Forster created ripples internationally and exposed the hidden caste hatred including the issue of manual scavenging prevalent in our society, even when I was just a village boy from Uttarakhand as he would pronounce, where I was fortunate to have met many laureate of Indian writings who took up the issue of the marginalized but very few coming from the communities. During the Mandal's war in 1990, we saw English language media was used as a tool to spread hatred against the Dalits and marginalized. They were mocked and there were absolutely negligible numbers of writers who could pose a counter cultural question to the brahmanically corrupted intellectual elite which looked secular in their mask yet uncomfortable to the core question of social justice but in the Mandal two, we saw the Dalit OBC students were writing their own blogs, had learnt to use social media strongly and numerous websites and journals emerged to counter the 'merit' propaganda unleashed by the 'devotees' of corporate culture in India who never ever saw 'wrong' in the corrupt practices by these in educational institutions in the name of 'donation'.

In the following ten years after Mandal, we saw counter narratives taking bigger shapes. Alternative media grew with web portals like "" providing space to the forces struggling against all forms of exploitation including brahmanical cultural subjugation and capitalist onslaught on socialism and state's accountability. Magazines like 'Forward Press' energized debates on Bahujan literature and enlightened us with stunning Bahujan cultural discourse with number of emerging young writers. With growing new young writers challenging the popular brahmanical discourse the contempt and assault on them is also visible throughout the country. But, the Rohith Vemulas in our universities have refused to play Eklavya today and therefore consciously proving that Ambedkarism and legacy of Dalit Bahujan consciousness, which refused to be part of brahmanical structure has finally arrived.

'Forward Press' initiated this debate as what is Bahujan literature and last few years they have brought wonderful collectors editions. There are various definitions for literature. One, which raises your consciousness while for many, it must come from those who suffer and are historically exploited, neglected and subjugated socially and culturally. True, those who suffer will definitely provide a different insight than those who sympathise with their cause and are standing with them yet both are necessary. For me the Dalit Bahujan literature can not just be autobiographical sketches as each one of us has a different narratives but also posing ideological questions that have emerged from the heroic work of Phule Ambedkar and Periyar apart from the great humanist legacy of Raidas, Kabir, Nanak, Tukaram, Namdev, Ayyankali, Ayothidas, Narayan guru and many others who not just fought against injustice but provided a much better and humane alternative to brahmanical caste based 'graded inequality' as described by Baba Saheb Ambedkar where dominant castes have always suppressed the others. We must desist from compartmentalization and regimentation of diverse Dalit Bahujan's thoughts, which are multicultural and multi lingual. If we try to create a monolith of it, the beauty of it would be lost. Hence it is important to have narratives of diverse communities who built our society. A Dalit narrative can not be just urbanized 'educated' construct but also the story of a Dom in Varanasi's ghats or Mushahars fighting for their battle or Nats, Kalandars, Kushwahas, Rajbhars, Kols, Tharus, Balmikis (and they too have diversity among themselves), Kanjars, Sansis, Banzaras, and so many others who are not known in popular discourse and are out of bound from the 'writers circle'. The Dalit Bahujan popular discourse must challenge the 'meritorious' brahmanical discourse from an alternative path and not through becoming part of that discourse which attempt to create a monolith of everything under artificial construct of 'Hinduism' simply because they have similarities in certain things. As research have shown there were over 300 versions of Ramayanas and each different than the popular one of Tulsi Das's 'Ram Charit Manas' which imposed a patriarchal Rama on all other version and was further popularized by Ramanand Sagar's magnum opus Ramayana on Doordarshan. The counter narratives of the Dalit Bahujan discourse are as diverse as Ramayana or Mahabharata. There are thoughts influenced by Ambedkar-Periyar's ideological construct, which demolish the brahmanical myths woven around negative and pathological characteristics of Asuras or Rakshasas and talked of a modern secular society based on rational humanist principles of French or Russian revolutions.  But one has to understand that it was not merely ideological constructs of the legends that shape Bahujan-Dalit literature as various communities celebrate different festivals in diverse ways. So, every festival in India has a counter perspective but the brahmanical mainstream in India actually suppressed these narratives and placed the upper caste brahmanical narrative as the sole identity of cultural India.

As I mentioned young dynamic youths of the Dalit Bahujan communities are challenging the brahmanical hegemonic narratives today. Not only are they getting empowered by the strong thoughts of Dr Ambedkar, Phule and Periyar but are taking inspirations from their friends too who have been supporting and participating in the global resistance movement against culture of monopoly and private control over the public resources. Chandra Mohan represent a well defined modern poet who want to stand with all forms of discrimination and has got a language which many will definitely envy. Moreover, Chandra Mohan's brilliance in poetry has surpassed any one that I have come across so far in terms of variety of issues that he takes up. He has not just spoken against caste violence and untouchability but subject likes gay rights, Soni Sori, Irom Sharmila, Mujaffarnagar, unfair globalization have come under his scrutiny resulting some of the finest poetry of our time that touch the inner chord of your heart.

The whole country shouted loud for Nirbhaya and the 'establishment' responded with a 'Nirbhaya Act' but news of rape and murder of Dalit or tribal girls do not prick our conscience. There is no protest; no dharanas for the safety and security of the Aadivasi girls are victim of highhandedness of our security agencies in Bastar. His poem, ' Rape of a tribal girl' exposes the duplicity of our sensitivities and the farce that our 'intellectuals' and 'media' play.

'No newspaper carried a headline or a photo feature,

No youth were roused to protests,

No city's life came to a standstill,

No furore in the parliament,

No nation's conscience was haunted,

No Prime Minister addressed the nation,

No TV channel discussions,

No police officials were transferred or suspended,

No candlelight marches,

No billion women rising,

A tribal girl was raped and murdered!'

The pain of migration result in loss of identity and a majority of those migrate to cities are Dalit Bahujans like the blacks of Africa. One has to just feel how  Chandra Mohan explain it beautifully in his poem, ' Black Migratory'

'Birds Migratory birds

most of them have dark feathers

sing mostly Bhojpuri, Bengali, Odiya

fly towards floating clouds

lives lost in transit'.

Chandra Mohan is not short of words. He possesses an extraordinary quality of weaving his narratives and ideas in shortest yet impressive ways. As a poet his worldview is as wider as possible and modern in the absolute term of Ambedkar's vision of enlightened India and therefore he questions the traditions and wrongs happening in the name of traditions. We need to counter the brahmanical narrative through questioning them and demolish the myths woven around them. Therefore, issues of Khap Panchayats and killings of innocent lovers in the name of traditions and morality come under sharp attack in his verses.

'Moral Police '

when lover couple

hid in a hood of a tree

they chanced upon love letters

some of them half burned

some of them centuries old

along with a picture of Shoorpanaka

sans her nose, ears and breasts!

Capitalism and religious fanaticism or theocracy work together and compliment each others. In India capitalism has come handy for Brahmanism to push its agenda to suck our resources and subjugate the Dalit Bahujan-aadivasis further and that comes for an excellent narrative in his poetry, 'A Neo-liberal Miscarriage'

'Every drill driven into the earth

for oil punctures

holes into her womb

gangrenes of depletion

mushrooming clouds of subatomic fury

a miscarriage of neo-liberal development'

Chandra Mohan has rightly termed Dalit literature as the literature of resistance and biggest movement world over and he is placing both Dalit-Bahujan literature together. Today, the Bahujans too are questioning the history and historical wrongs.  It is important for them to write their own history as beautifully mentioned by him in the interview, '  

As the African proverb goes ', Until the lions have their own historians, the story of the hunt will glorify the hunter', Dalit literature is the documentation of the resistance of Dalit Bahujans against Brahmanical Social Order. It is one of the world's oldest resistance movements. Dalit literature aims to complement the larger civil rights struggle of Dalit Bahujans the world over and I believe we are at the cusp of a big change. Our voices are beginning to be heard.

His poem ' History' speak of that thinking that every historical 'document' of the brahmanical construct need to be questioned and rewritten by the Dalit Bahujan historians.


What is history?

Its a declamation

delivered on a podium

on a pedestal that rusts away

My poems are steel arrows

that pierce the podium from below'

Ambedkarite scholar Rohith Vemula's institutional murder agitated all the right thinking persons in India particularly those hailing from Dalit Bahujan communities. The incident actually exposed the brahmanical structure inside our campuses and how those who questions and want to live an independent life, live with their own understanding face obstacles at ever level. Chandra Mohan deserve fullest applauds for this wonderful narration of students suicides inside our campuses in his poem, ' Killing the Shambookas'.

'Jim Crow segregated hostel rooms,

Ceiling fans bear a strange fruit,

Blood on books and blood on papers,

A black body swinging in mute silence,

Strange fruit hanging from tridents'

As Bahujan magazines such as 'Forward Press' find it difficult to sustain in the absence of solid financial and advertisement backing, the movement it has launched for a counter Bahujan perspective will continue in the greater interest of society. Chandra Mohan reflect the coming of the Ambedkarite age of articulate young Indians who will not only throw open challenge to the brahmanical literature and their falsified constructs but will go far ahead of them in terms of quality and sincerity of the issue. One of my dear Ambedkarite friends late N.G.Uke had a favorite quote about the quality of an Ambedkarite, ' We have to be better than 'their' (brahmanical's) best'. I think this age has finally arrived with the remarkable verses of Chandra Mohan which will not just questions the wrong done to them or to any one else but also participate in all the international movement for human rights, human values, social justice and equality. The modern Dalit Bahujan literature need not just be 'reactionary' but provide alternatives of a better world and respond to the crisis of our time and Chandra Mohan's verses are doing that impressively. There is pain for closure of 'Forward Press' which gave new ideas to Bahujan literature and empowered young Bahujan talents into writing and resisting the popular brahmanical myths yet there is happiness when we see hundreds of youngsters coming up, challenging and resisting at all the levels including social media. And this will keep the movement growing as the whole Dalit Bahujan age has arrived as the new young are taking up social media and firing through their blogs, alternative platforms and it is they who will continue to carry the torch of resistance and revolution. It is here the success of the movement. We hope these young minds will continue to revolutionise the web-world and more importantly bring voices from diverse communities, hitherto unknown to us and keep the flame of change going. Chandra Mohan's poetry reflects that positive change among the youths of Dalit Bahujan communities which is definitely a great hope for future.

Part II

A revolution in poetry

Vidya Bhushan Rawat had an email interview with one of the brilliant poets of our times S Chandra Mohan who believes that the age of Dalit Bahujan literature has now arrived and people are listening to them seriously.

1. About your childhood, parents.

I was born in Palakkad , a district in Kerala bordering TN. Palakkad merely remains my native place. My father was a bank officer and my mother a housewife. I can claim to be third generation English literate. My grand father was an employee of the postal services, could read, write and speak English. We have been a bit fortunate to be educated and enjoy government jobs.

2. Your education etc.

Since my father was in transferable central government service, I was schooled in Kendriya Vidyalayas English medium schools. Later on I joined the bandwagon to do Engineering. All these institutionalized education have done very little to awaken my spirit to channelize some of my energy towards building an understanding of doing something for people in the margins.  Ambedkar/Martin Luther King/Nelson Mandela rarely gets even a passing by mention in the syllabus where as Gandhi is eulogized to our discomfort.

As part of a reading assignment, a friend of mine had suggested THE INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison. This book did have a profound impact on me. I heard the word "Dalit literature" from my teacher for the first time then. But apart from Poetry, Dalit literature is literally on the margins in Kerala.

3. Where did the inspiration come? Who were the people who might have encouraged you and who were those who created obstacles?  No need to name if it is uncomfortable.

Up to this point in time, the best inspiration for me is Meena Kandasamy. She has introduced us (English speaking Dalit Bahujans) the subversive power of this language, how poetry can provoke some revolutionary changes in our lives. Her You-tube page had this word "Caste provocateur" .I think she remains the only writer, writing directly in English in the themes that concern the Dalits and other oppressed people and claims a caste ancestry similar to that of mine.

There is no dearth of English literate middle class Dalits hailing from the state of Kerala, but it was Meena who took the pains to write a biography of Ayyankali in English. She has been an outspoken spokesperson of the opposition to the establishment, be it the dalit, or the working class or women.

Some paintings and writings of Ajay S Sekhar; a young cultural critic and academic base in Kerala has inspired my literary activism. He had excelled at critiquing the saffron fascist hegemony in cultural spaces.

After my first book was published K Satchidanandan had made the following mention in his article.

in his article on Changing landscape of Indian literature; K Satchidanandan has noted the following.

"Writers like U.R. Ananthamurthy who had earlier complained that there is no dalit writing in English and there cannot be, are likely to be proved wrong very soon with writers like Meena Kandasamy and Chandramohan S emerging on the scene and many more certainly in the making. "

I have mostly been appreciated very well and encouraged by senior poets like K Satchidanandan ,Jaydeep Saarangi, Neerav Patel,Ananya S Guha ,Subodh Sarkar etc. Many have described my poems as "very powerful."

The forces fighting neo -liberal establishment in India also had found a friend in me. A reputed magazine from Australia by name Green Left Weekly had carried my anti war poem on Gaza conflict. Ms.Kavita Krishnan, an activist based in Delhi had shared my poem protesting the plight of sales in textile shops.

I had the inspiration to write something, a poster in fact, in the aftermath of the infamous Delhi gang rape. I wanted to write one or two slogans in a poster inspired by many creative posters/slogans put up at he 

4. When did you write first? And what was that..

The first ever poem was a satire against the leftist narratives of our state.(Kerala) The poem had lines like 

"Do talk about workers and owners

 Do not talk about caste

 Do talk about haves and have-nots

 Do not talk about caste"

5. What perturb you the  most ?

What perturbs me most is "cultural slavery" , how educated, empowered wealthy OBCs and Dalits are more brahmanical than the brahmins themselves. This is our curse. We need to awaken ourselves and uproot Hindutva (now resurgent) to build an India free of social hierarchies.

6. Any comment on Dalit or Ambedkarite movement in India in general or Kerala in particular..

I am very happy to witness the extra ordinary posthumous resurgence of Ambedkar post the Mandal-Masjid agitations and the demise of grand narratives like Marxism. Today India and the world has been reading and deliberating on caste and we have surely come a long way. Since problems of the Dalits are primarily cultural and social as well as economic, the neo liberal policies of the successive governments will do a lot of damage to the weakest sections of India like Dalits. If government is washing its hands of all welfare schemes, and let the market forces fight each other out, the historically marginalized will be the first to be guillotined. 

The present state government of Kerala has not initiated any new appointments in its entire term. What is the point in reservations if no new appointments are being made? Ambedkar believed in state socialism with the state controlling 

7. Are you hopeful that the discrimination against dalit will end in near future? How should we fight against caste discrimination ? You can say in verse..

I sincerely hope that Dalits can hope for relatively better future in the times to come.

8. Did you face caste biases during your studies.. What was it ? 

There might have been many instances of implicit bias that I may have been a victim of. My life has been in urban areas of caste anonymity. Now I have chosen to be a caste provocateur. The battle starts now for me.

9. As a poet who are your role models as far as Indian writing in English is concern ?

My role models in Indian English poetry are Vivek Narayanan, Michelle Cahlil and Meena Kandasamy. They seem to have a sharp sense of purpose in their writing in addition to their mastery over the craft of poetry.I am a big of "Viswarupa" by Ms.Michelle Cahlil.

Globally speaking 

The poets of the negritude movement are my heroes. I am deeply inspired by Nicolas Gullien and his directness. I feel his style of poetry makes poetry accessible to a larger audience than its conventional reader.

The rage of Namdeo Dhassal too is iconic.

10. Among the mainstream writers do you think people have done justice to Dalits in their writings?

Most of them have used Dalit characters in a romanticized fashion. Today Dalit literature is a fad in the academia. Lots get PhDs and earn a tenure track positio, will Dalits remain in the slums? Does it change the perception of who we are? 

Hope increasing interest in Dalit literature is not divorced from our larger civil rights movements.

There is a novella in Malayalam by B.Jeyamohan on a dalit theme, the story has a subtle trap of indoctrinating Hindutva ideology. Most of the time writings on Dalit themes by non- dalit writers is on what is convenient for the "system" than for the Dalits. Thus they compromise on the content and excel in craft.


11. Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao, R.K.Narayanan were the initial trioka of Indian writing. Did any one of them impressed you and why ?

I have not read the first two. I have read RK Naryanan. But I connect better with the English translated short stories of Hindi Dalit writer Ajay Navaria.

There is a lot of assertion and a voice of empowered dalit male that does cut some ice with the third or fourth generation Dalit, very much vocal in many forums. I see a lot of hope in the future..

12. Why did you opt to write in English ? Why not in your native language ?

I didn't have a choice. Kendriya Vidyalayas were English medium schools. I am still illustrate in my mother tongue, but I sincerely believe English empowers people like us,I can tell stories of mine as well as of  my ancestors to a much wider audience than my predecessors who wrote in their respective vernaculars.

13. Your next venture after this publication?

I have a few projects lined up.

1.I am constantly patrolling Facebook to form a collective of English Dalit Bahujan poets/writers/critics to start a South Asian Negritude movement of socially engaging poets.

2.I wish to take up translating Malayalam Dalit poetry.

3.I am serious about my commitment to literature, I hope to find a publisher for my collection of short stories in a few months.

14. What is Dalit literature for you ?

As the African proverb goes ', Until the lions have their own historians, the story of the hunt will glorify the hunter', Dalit literature is the documentation of the resistance of Dalit Bahujans against Brahmanical Social Order. It is one of the world's oldest resistance movements. Dalit literature aims to complement the larger civil rights struggle of Dalit Bahujans the world over and I believe we are at the cusp of a big change. Our voices are beginning to be heard.

15. What is the impact of Baba Saheb Ambedkar on your life ?

Dr Ambedkar inspires Dalits to strive for excellence. It is about embracing the emotional with in the intellectual. He is a beacon of light on what we should strive for and moral compass for us and our movement. We should caution ourselves against deification though.


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