Editor's Note: Naked display of dissent straddles the boundary that separates fear from revolution. For India's Dalits, this proclamation of dissent has assumed many forms, both passive and combative. It has  mutated over the millennia before BR Ambedkar prodded the word Dalit into mainstream consciousness, and transformed anew since then. Some things have not changed — songs remain the sinew of Dalit protest in almost all its configurations. And the lyrics that sew these together continue to serve as a manifesto of resistance. The ten poems in this series, drawn from Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi and curated by Krupa Ge, founding editor of The Madras Mag, represent the prosody of contemporary Dalit literature. They are accompanied by Chennai artist Satwik Gade's illustrations.

In the second part, Neerav Patel, pioneer of Dalit literature in Gujarat, poet extraordinaire, editor and translator, highlights structural inequalities and injustice suffered by Dalits. Rita Kothari has translated two of his poems exclusively for this column. 

I was born in 1950 in a village called Bhuvaldi in the Ahmedabad district of Gujarat state. I write only Dalit poetry, mainly in my mother tongue Gujarati and in English occasionally. You may know me for my Gujarati Dalit poetry collection Bahishkrut Phoolo; Burning from Both Ends, What Did I Do To Be So Black and Blue are collections of my English translations and original work. I started writing poetry while I was in college, in 1967.

I thought that I should write about the plight of my people, the Dalits, who are suffering atrocities, exploitation, discrimination, segregation. And inclined as I was towards poetry, I chose the medium.

Dalit poetry eventually emerged as a new genre with its own distinct identity. Akrosh, the first ever Dalit poetry magazine in Gujarati was launched in 1978 by us, the Panther Poets.

To promote Dalit literature, we founded an organisation called Swaman Foundation of Dalit Literature, where I worked as General Secretary and as one of the editors to its magazines Sarvanam and Swaman.

કાળિયો

બાપડા કાળિયાને શી ખબર

કે આપણાથી શૂરાતન ના થાય?

ગાયના ગૂડા ખાઈને વકરેલો

એ તો હાઉ...હાઉ...હાઉ કરતો

વીજળીવેગે દોડી

દીપડાની જેમ તૂટી પડ્યો.

એણે તો બસ ગળચી પકડી રહેંસી કાઢ્યો મોતિયાને-

એનો દૂધનો કટોરો ઢોળાયો ચોકમાં,

એનાં ગલપટ્ટાનાં મોતી વેરાણાધૂળમાં.

એની લહ...લહ...નીકળી ગઈ વેંત લાંબી જીભ.

મોઢામાંથી ફીણના પરપોટા ફૂલવા લાગ્યા

ને ફૂટવા લાગ્યા.

ગામ આખ્ખું વળ્યું ટોળે:

‘ઢેડાનો કોહ્ય્લો કાળિયો ...

બાપડા મોતિયાને ફાડી ખાધો.

હેંડો બધાં-

હાળા આ તો ફાટી ગ્યા કૂતરાંય આ તો!’

ને કાળિયાની પૂંઠે પડ્યાં

કણબાં ને કોળા ને ભા ને બાપુ.

ભાલા ને બરછી ને દાંતી ને ડાંગ,

ને થયું દળકટક ને ધીંગાણું !

પણ કાળિયો તો જાણે કાળ ,

એ તો ધોડ્યો જાય ઊભી કોતરે ...

પૂંઠે કંઈ કેટલાંય ગોટમણા ખાય

ને ચાટે ધૂળ.

પણ કાળિયો તો કાળિયારની જેમ

બસ ધોડ્યે જાય, ધોડ્યે જાય...

કહેવતમાં કીધું છે કે ભાંગી ધા ઢેઢવાડે જાય-

ધીંગાણું તો થાકીને ફર્યું પાછું

ને વિફર્યું વાસમાં.

નળિયા પર પડે ધબધબ લાકડીઓ.

ઝૂડી લેંબડી ને ઝૂડી પેંપળી.

ઝૂડી શીકોતરીની દેરી ને ફોડી પૂર્વજિયાંની માટલી,

ઝૂડી મેઠલી ને ઝૂડી માંનડી,

ઝૂડ્યો ધૂળિયો ને ઝૂડ્યો પરમો.

ખમા! બાપા ખમા!

કાળિયો તો જનાવર

પણ તમે તો મનખાદેવ,

બાપડા કાળિયાને શી ખબર

કે અમારાથી શૂરાતન ના થાય?

Kaaliyo

Poor Kaaliyo

How was he to know

That we cannot show off valour?

Fed upon cow’s marrow

He raced, screeching away

Hauhauhauhau

At the speed of light

With the pounce of a panther

He fell upon Motiyo

And tore his neck apart

Motiyo’s bowl of milk lay spilt on the ground

His long tongue lolled out

He frothed and foamed at his mouth,

Frothed and foamed.

The entire village now rose in rage:

“The dhedha’s rotten dog

Has torn apart our beloved Motiyo

Chalo everyone, now even their dogs

Have begun to rear their heads!”

And they went after Kaaliyo

Kanbis and Kolis and Patels and Darbars

With spears and sticks and dhariyas and sickles,

Waging a war against the dog.

But Kaaliyo was like Kaal himself

He ran faster and faster

Along the bank of the river

While they fell and stumbled

Fell and stumbled in the dust

Kaaliyo was like a blackbuck

He ran and he ran

The crowd returned, tired and frustrated

And as the saying goes,

‘the losing dacoits turn to harijans’ homes’

They smashed the roof tiles of their huts

They brought down the neem and the peepal trees

They razed the small temple of Mata Shikotari

And burst open the ancestral urn of memories

They beat up the women and the men

Methli and Maandi

Dhulio and Parmo

Khama! Baap Khama!

They begged for forgiveness

Poor Kaaliyo

He is but a beast, our Masters,

you are divinely human!

How was he to know

That we cannot show off valour?

Translator’s Note: At the heart of the poem is the dog Kaaliyo — a colloquial, if not slightly abusive way, of referring to someone who is dark. Reared in the Dalit slums and ghettoes, upon bone marrow of cows and buffaloes, Kaaliyo is a strong dog. It takes him nothing to vanquish Motiyo — the dog of the upper-castes. Moti (pearl) is weak compared to Kaaliyo. The poem shows how his milk and pearls lay splattered when Kaaliyo attacked him. The two dogs also represent two abstracted and individual situations of Dalit lives, and serve a metonymic purpose to demonstrate how Motiyo is backed by oppressive traditions, structures and systems that make his humiliation bigger than both, dogs and humans, belonging to Dalit society. It was to avenge him, and by extension themselves, that upper-castes in the poem unite and wreak destruction upon the Dalits. The opening and closing lines of the poem hint at this structural violence and inequality weighted against Kaaliyo, and what he represents — the Dalit society.

Resistence-2

અમે ખૂબ વરણાગિયા જાતિના લોકો છીએ.

અમારા વડવા તો

ત્રણ બાંયનું ખમીસ પહેરતા હતા.

એમના વડવાના વડવા તો

કફનને જ કામળીની જેમ અંગે વીંટાળતા હતા.

એમના વડવાના વડવાના વડવા તો

નરી ચામડીને જ ઓઢીને ફરતા હતા.

હું ય કાંઈ ઓછો વરણાગિયો નથી –

સી.જી. રોડના શૉ રૂમ સામેની ફૂટપાથ વળતો હતો

ને શેઠે આપ્યું કાંઠલા વગરનું, બાંય વગરનું

એક બાંડિયું.

તે સલમાન ખાનની જેમ છાતી કાઢીને ફરું છું

ને સંજય દત્તની જેમ બાવડાં બતાવું છું સવર્ણાઓને.

જાતવાન જુવાનિયા તો

મારા લિબાસનું લેબલ જોવા અધીરા થઈ ઊઠે છે,

બિચ્ચારા...

મારી અસ્પૃશ્ય બોચીને અડક્યા વિના કેમ કરી ઓળખે

કે આ તો ઑડ-સાઇઝનું પીટર ઈંગ્લેંડ છે!

અમે તો ખૂબ વરણગીય કોમ છીએ.

Peter England

We are a very fashionable lot, Sir.

You see, our forefathers wore three-sleeved shirts.

Their forefathers wore shirts made out of shrouds

As for their forefathers, they wore their own naked skin.

You think I am any less stylish?

A hand-me-down from the Sheth on CGRoad

Where I sweep the footpath nearby.

I loiter bare-chested like Salman Khan

And flaunt my biceps like Sanjay Dutt

Showing off to the high-caste women

Who crane their necks to see the label on my shirt.

Poor things!

How would they know

Without touching my untouchable neck

That this is an odd-sized

Peter England!

Translator’s Note: Dalits in medieval Gujarat were forced to wear three sleeved shirts so that they were identifiable to the upper-caste Hindus, who could then stay away from them. According to the folklore in Gujarat, a Dalit named Mayo sacrificed his life to bring this practice to an end.

The poems have been translated from the Gujarati by Rita Kothari. She is currently with the Humanities and Social Sciences Department at the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar. She has worked extensively on borders, partition, language politics in India, as well as translation. She is the author of Translating India: The Cultural Politics of English; The Burden of Refuge: Sindh, Gujarat, Partition, and Memories and Movements: Borders and Communities in Banni, Kutch. Her translations of note also include Angaliyat: The Stepchild, Modern Gujarati Poetry: A Selection, and Fence written by Ila Arab Mehta. Her forthcoming work includes Agniparkisha: Ordeal Remembered, a memoir based on 1969 riots in Ahmedabad.