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 sixth part of this series, meet Bangla Dalit author Jatin Bala, whose poems hold truth; the truth of a life oppressed by social machines. His works include Jeebaner Naam Jantrana (The name of Life is Pain) a poetry anthology, Nepo Nidhan Parba (Nepo Slain Episode) selected short stories, Aamriter Jiban Kotha (Life of Elixir) a novel, Dalita Sahitya Aandalan (Dalit Literary Movement) a collection of research articles, Vanga Banglar Dui Mukha (Two faces of Broken Bengal) — a collection of short stories among others. His works appearing in this column have been translated by Jaydeep Sarangi. He has received the Nitish Smriti Sahitya Award, Kobi Nikhilesh Smriti Award, Sahittyik Moni Mondal Smriti Award, Dabdaha Patrika Award and Ambedkar Literary Award by The University of Calcutta.

Bards of Resistance

I was born in Parhiyali, Manirampur in Jessore in the then East Pakistan on 5 May 1949. Partition forced my family to immigrate to India, and take shelter in refugee camps. I had to live in three refugee camps in West Bengal under dismal conditions. My poems capture life's black holes at different points; the life of a refugee struggling for survival. I have experienced two-fold marginalisation: as a Dalit and as a refugee.

My poems are not just the experiences and realisation of life, rather, through them I am moving towards freedom, not just physical, but also spiritual. My journey in life is nothing to something. At present, I am the owner of 22 books, my latest being Stories of Social Awakening: Reflections of Dalit Refugee Lives of Bengal, edited by Jaydeep Sarangi, Authorspress, New Delhi.

ঘুরে দাঁড়িয়েছি

অত্যাচার আর অবিচারে

অসংখ্য দিন গেছে কেটে,---

লাখো লাখো গেছে প্রাণ,

আমাদেও কুঁড়েঘরে---

এখনও জমাট আঁধার---

চোখে তবু স্বপ্ন অফুরান।

আঘাতে আঘাতে

আমাদেও ভেঙেছে ভুল,

চেতনায় এসেছে জোয়ার---

ওঠো, জাগো এবার

এই তো সুবর্ণ সময়

শতাব্দীর আঁধার পেরিয়ে যাবার।

অনেক ঘাম আর---

চোখের জল ঝরিয়ে---

রক্তের নদী সাঁতরে একসাথে

আজ ঘুরে দাঁড়িয়েছি---

অন্যায়ের মুখোমুখি---

নির্ভীক আমরা, অস্ত্র নিয়েছি হাতে...।


I lived so many years

Under heavy torture and injustice

So many lives lost

In my tiny hut

Full of inky dark

But eyes spark in dreams.

Pain to pain, I move

We erased us

Conscience brought us back, like high tides.

Arise, awake for once

We can cross the country’s dark

Passing our sweat and tears

Swimming across the river of blood.

Together, we turned back.

Face to face with the machine

We are a brave brand,

Weapons in our armoury.

Translator’s note: This poem is loaded with the experiences of a Dalit refugee in Bengal. He thinks he is in ‘no-where land’. But he has dreams and potential to tide over all of the odds in life. He prepares himself to ‘write back’ with a discourse of power and vitality.


এই মহান ভারতবর্ষে আমি জন্মেছি---

অথচ আমার কোনো স্বদেশ নেই,

আমি ভাসমান,

আমি উদ্বাস্তু।

আমার পায়ের তলায় কোনো মাটি নেই,

এ-দেশে কোথাও আমার ঠাঁই নেই,

শিকড়হীন এক পরগাছা আমি,

আমার কবন্ধ নিঃশ্বাস নেবার জন্য---

কোথাও একফোঁটা ছায়া নেই।

এখানে কোনো আত্মীয়তার জমিতে---

এক মুহূর্তেও জন্যও দাঁড়াতে পারি না---

সারা জীবন আমি কেবল ভেসেই চলেছি...।

এই উদ্বাস্তু জীবন---

¯্রােতে ভাসা শ্যাওলার মতন,

স্থির হয়ে কোথাও শিকড় বসাতে পারি না,

কোনো ভিটায় আমি ঘর বাঁধতে পারি না,

সুনিশ্চিত আঁধারের ভেতর---

আমি শুধুই খুঁজে চলেছি--- আমার আস্তানা

আমার ঠিকানা...।

কে আমার শিরায় আগুন জ্বেলে দিয়েছে!

অনিশ্চিত এক ভূখ-ে আমি নির্বাসিত;

কার জন্য এই দেশভাগ---

কেন সীমান্তে কাঁটাতারের বেড়া?

কেন আমি আজ, দেশহীন মানুষ!

কার অদৃশ্য আঙুল হেলনে---

আমি হলাম ভিটে-ছাড়া?

অভিশপ্ত জীবনে ওঠে দাবাদাহ, জ্বলে অন্তহীন আগুন---

ঝড়ো হাওয়ায় দাউ দাউ কওে পোড়া আমার উদ্বাস্তু-হৃদয়...।

আমাকে বলো--- আমার স্বদেশ কোথায়?

যে-দেশে আমি জন্মেছি---

সেখানে কেন আমি ভিনদেশী!

আমার একমাত্র পরিচয় আমি অনুপ্রবেশকারী?

আমার স্বদেশ বলতে কিছু নেই!

উদ্বাস্তু-জীবনের বোঝা কেবল বয়েই চলেছি---

তোমরা আমাকে বলে দাও ঃ

আমার স্বদেশ কোনটি,---

যেখানে আমি দু’দ- দাঁড়াবো---

আমার চোখেও সূর্যোদয় হবে...।


I was born in this land, India

But I have no home land

I float, I move on

Like a refugee.

There is no soil under my feet

I don’t associate with things.

I’m rootless, unwanted

No place for my own

No shadowy balm to heal my pains.

I can’t stand here with the family around.

I’m a floating thing

This refugee life is like weeping moss, floating in streams

No permanent root

No home I make

Always in dark

I have been searching for an address,

A home somewhere.

Someone has injected fire

In my veins

I’m a damned man.

Why is this partition?

Why is the wire boundary?

Why am I uprooted, without a country?

Who created all this?

My life is spent in vain, fire

Burns all my bones

My heart is raising flames in a gust wind.

Tell me, what is my country?

The country where I was born

Why am I a foreigner?

I have only one name: refugee.

I have no nationality

I carry my baggage as a refugee

Tell me,

What is my land?

Where can I stand for a while?

My eyes will shine like the sunrise?

(Translated from Bangla by Jaydeep Sarangi)

Translator’s note: Here, the poet grapples with the social and political problems that have led to his condition. His life as a refugee and a Dalit in West Bengal struggling for stability and rootedness. The poet reveals to the readers, the injustice, oppression, helplessness and struggles of many of the disadvantaged populations in India. Bala explores the predicaments of refugees (and Dalits) in Bengal as victims of the worst infringement of human rights.

Jaydeep Sarangi has translated both the poems, Writing Back and Refugee, 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.