Search for an Alternative Aesthetic in Bangla Dalit Poetry

Indranil Acharya, Vidyasagar University, West Bengal, India

Savarna critics assert that Dalit literature should be critiqued strictly as literature. They assert that it is totally inappropriate to treat this literature from a reverential or sympathetic perspective simply because it has been created by Dalits. According to them, the literary evaluation of this literature should be based on literary criteria. They say that this may well be Dalit literature, but the reader will read it only as literature. Therefore, extra-literary considerations will have to be disregarded in its appraisal. But Dalit writers reject this point of view. It is their opinion that a middle-class criticism cannot properly evaluate this literature. (Limbale, 2004, 103)
This paper intends to focus on Bangla Dalit literature- a phenomenon that started in the last part of the 19th century and built its structural pattern on Dalit sensibility. In terms of experience and expression, this literature attempts to invade a new space outside and beyond the middle class Bengali sensibility- the Parnassus of Bengali mainstream literature. But the publication history of Dalit literature is one of upper-caste neglect. Leading Bangla publication houses- Ananda, Dey’s, Mitra & Ghosh etc. turned a deaf ear to promising Dalit poets. The situation was so hostile that the Dalit poets finally consolidated to establish their own publication house- Chaturtha Duniya. It was a very powerful statement on the politics of Savarna publishers. Moreover, it was a loud protest against the diseased Bengali psyche that refused to admit the existence of caste discrimination in West Bengal under the influence of Marxist ideologues and in the name of liberalism and progressive intellectualism.
I propose to concentrate my attention on a groundbreaking anthology of Dalit writing, the first of its kind in the language, Satabarsher Bangla Dalit Sahitya (Hundred Years of Bengali Dalit Literature), published in 2011 and edited by Manohar Mouli Biswas and Shyamal Kumar Pramanik. In this anthology we find specimens of what Limbale terms ‘alternative aesthetic’ in the explosive rejection and piercing revolt, occasioned by unrestrained anguish and finding release with aggressive character and insolent, rebellious attitude. I would also like to show, with necessary textual illustrations, the uncharacteristic rhetoric of restraint that completes the construction of an alternative aesthetic.
Dalits of India are farthest from power and hence belong to the lowest stratum of caste hierarchy. The marginalization is based both on the religious principle of pollution and purity and the cultural construction of power. Dalit literature reveals the collective consciousness of people whose voice had been suppressed through long ages of history. It is a protest against the establishment and a commitment to inculcate the new values for ushering in a new order. This revolutionary aim was rooted in anger and sorrow- the two crucial emotional stimuli of all Dalit writing.

Cursed with the stigma of untouchability, Dalits are “treated like animals, they lived apart from the village and had to accept leftovers from the higher caste people, in return for their endless toil” (Dangle, 2009, xxi). Dalit literature reveals the collective consciousness of this community whose voice had been suppressed through the long ages of history. It is seen in the main as a protest against the establishment, as a commitment to inculcate new values aiming at a new order. This revolutionary aim to create a new order is deeply rooted in anger and grief. In ‘Akkarmashi’ by Sharankumar Limbale one discovers ‘a lofty image of grief’- a major construct of the alternative Dalit aesthetic. He defines Dalit literature as something “which artistically portrays the sorrows, tribulations, slavery, degradation, ridicule endured by Dalits” (Limbale, 2004, 30). He sums up his idea with a beautiful expression, “This literature is but a lofty image of grief” (Limbale, 2004, 30). Arjun Dangle is of the opinion that, “Dalit literature portrays the hopes and aspirations of the exploited masses. Their fight for survival, their daily problems, the insults they have to put up with, their experiences and their outlook towards all these events are portrayed in Dalit literature” (Dangle, 2009, xlviii)….Access Full Text of the Article