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.
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
জেনে নিক এই সত্য
বেহড়বাগী ফুলন প্রতিটি রমনী।
At the age of twenty four
She gun fired all
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.