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 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 fourth part, meet Manohar Mouli Biswas — a legend in his own right. The current President of Bangla Dalit Sahitya Sanstha, has edited the pioneering bi-monthly literary magazine Dalit Mirror in English for more than a decade. The magazine upholds the cause of the Dalits in Bengal. Some of his famous works include: Ora Aamar Kabita (They are my poetry) poetry collection, Dalit Sahityer Dikboloy (History of Dalit Literature), Dalit Sahityer Ruprekha (Outline History of Dalit Literature), Poetic Rendering As Yet Unborn’ (Translation from his Bengali Poems). He has written more than a dozen books, and has published an autobiography titled, Aamar Bhubaney Aami.

Benche Thaki (Surviving in My World: Growing up Dalit in Bengal by Angana Dutta and Jaydeep Sarangi). The prolific writer with a large body of work continues to present groundbreaking work, his most recent being, An Interpretation of Dalit Literature, Aesthetic, Theory and Movements through the Lens of Ambedkar (2017).

The poems have been translated by Jaydeep Sarangi*


I was born in Dakshin Matiargati in Khulna district in Purba Banga (East Bengal) in 1943. Having suffered dire poverty in my childhood, and perhaps that's because I was born in the untouchable Namashudra caste, none of my forefathers had the privilege of going to school. I saw the pains suffered by my illiterate masses and the humiliation faced by them. I have no shame in the fact that I am a first generation learner in my family. It is all this pain pent up within my heart that has forced me to become a writer. It was during my stay in Nagpur in 1968-1969 that I came in close contact with Dalit people and the Dalit Literary Movement in Maharashtra that changed the course of my life as a writer too. I’m very glad to say that I’m born a Dalit. But, to call me a writer or a Dalit writer is a choice left for the reader to make.

ফুলন দেবী

চব্বিশবারের বদলা নিয়ে ছিলে একুশটি

ইচ্ছা তো ছিল চব্বিশটির

এই সাহস তোমাকে কে দিয়েছিল?

অপমান, না লজ্জা ঢাকার পণ?

শুনেছি, হে ফুলন, তুমি শূদ্রা ছিলে

দূর গাঁয়ের দরিদ্র দুর্বলার

যারা বলাৎকারী

জেনে নিক এই সত্য

বেহড়বাগী ফুলন প্রতিটি রমনী।

Phoolan Devi

At the age of twenty four

She gun fired all

Against humiliation

Her determination registered

Oh! Phoolan, you have come from

The lowest caste

From a marginalised village.

Oppressors of women, be aware of it—

She resists at some points;

Every woman is a Phoolan in spirit.



আমার শরীরের জ্যান্ত মাংসের মধ্যে

কিল বিল হাঁটে, কাটে, পোকা?

ভিনসার অলিতে গলিতে ক্যান্‌সার, খরার

গোটা শরীরটাকে টুকরো টুকরো-

হায়রে, খান্‌ খান্‌ ঝরে কেন?

লাল পতাকা রক্তের নেশা

প্রতিরোধ কনিকার প্রয়াস

তরতরে তাজা ব্যক্তিতে আমার

গোটা শরীরটার প্রয়োজন ওই

সংগ্রাম প্রতিটি ক্ষয়িত কোষের বাঁচার।


In the flesh alive of my body

The worms eat up, bit by bit.

Why does the cancer spread in streets of the whole body?

Red flag has thirst for blood;

A rose of revolt.

All my decaying cells

Restore the spirit I have

To live as rails of protest.

*Jaydeep Sarangi has translated both the poems, Phoolan Devi and Warfare, appearing in this column. Jaydeep is a bilingual writer, academic, editor, interviewer, translator and author of a number of significant publications on Dalit discourse. He is the Vice President of GIEWEC (Guild of Indian English Writers, Editors and Critics). Sarangi has delivered keynote/plenary addresses on Dalit studies in several national and international seminars and conferences in several continents. He interviews Dalit authors and reviews Dalit works for reputed journals regularly. He has recently edited Stories of Social Awakening: Reflections of Dalit Refugee Lives of Bengal, Authorspress, 2017. He is an Associate Professor in English at Jogesh Chandra Chaudhuri College (University of Calcutta), Kolkata.

Read the other segments of the series here.