Dalit Literature & The Politics of Representation

Article Posted in: Research Articles

Politics of Representation: A Study of Concerns and Mission of Dalit Literature

by – MK Shamsudheen, Vol.II, Issue.XXII, November 2016

Introduction to the Author:

The author of this paper, MK Shamsudheen, is a research scholar in the department of English at AMU, Aligarh.    


This paper aims at analysing the concerns and mission of Dalit Literature. Dalits were considered the lowest and have the fewest advantages in society. They were denied access to public amenities, like wells, schools and even they were restricted from entering the temples. Dalit literature emerged out of this resentment and humiliation. Dalit literature creates a parallel literature against master literature. A sort of revolution has been created to mark their protest against age-old segregation and mistreatment.

Key words: mission, resentment, humiliation, revolution, segregation


  The main concern of Dalit Literature is the emancipation of Dalits from the ageless bondage of oppression. The agony, represented by Dalit writers is not that of an individual but of the outcast society. The word Dalit drives from the Sanskrit language that means suppressed or crushed. The Oxford dictionary defines Dalit as a member of the caste that is considered the lowest and that has the fewest advantages. Untouchable was denied to participate in religious ceremonies. They were denied prestigious job and had to cope up with menial occupation, like leather works, butchering, and lower grade works. And they were also denied to access public amenities, like wells, rivers, and schools. They were even restricted from entering temples. Socio-religious movements in India advocated for the liberation of the Dalits from the oppressive forces. DR B.R Ambedkar also strongly stood for the eradication of exploitation and for the equal status in the society. Generally, Dalit writers do not adhere to any conventional narrative technique. In Dalit literature, a Dalit expresses his anger and resentment of Dalit against the social inequality. Limbale, a famous Dalit literary critic and writer, observes that:

To start with, there will have to be a definite explanation of the word ’Dalit’ in Dalit Literature. Harijans and neo-Buddhists are not the only Dalits, the term describes all the untouchable communities living outside the boundary of the village, as well as Adivasis, landless farm labours, workers, the suffering masses, and nomadic and criminal tribes. In explaining the word, it will not do to refer only to the untouchable castes. People who are lagging behind economically will also need to be included (Limble 30)

Dalit works indeed have created its own parallel aesthetics in mainstream literature. All these writings attack the social snobbery and preoccupied reservation on downtrodden sections of society. Dalit literature often touches upon the themes of caste oppression, question of identity, poverty, untouchablity and revolution. Dalit literature questions master literature, which they call as Hindu literature, and always poses a challenge to it. The ultimate purpose of Dalit literature is to ensure the uprooting of caste oppression; it rejects Varna order of Hindu belief. Dalit literature is a kind of literature, which realistically draws the attention to the sorrows, tribulation, slavery, humiliation, poverty, etc. experienced by Dalits.

 The Hindu religious order considered Dalit as Untouchable and impure. Dalits were not allowed to accommodate properly or wear valuable ornaments. In addition to it, they should partake of food only in clay utensils and denied  having a good name. The propaganda that God created Dalits to suffer left Dalit behind all other communities. Baburao Bagul opines that “The established literature of India is Hindu literature. But it is Dalit literature which has the revolutionary power to accept new science and technology and bring about a total transformation ‘ Dalit’ is the name of a total revolution, it is a revolution incarnate” (Bangal 281). Dalit literature is distinguished from mainstream literature due to former’s denial of Indian tradition based on caste and class. Limbale points out that “Revolt is the stage that follows anguish and rejection. I am human, I must receive all the rights of a human being – such is the consciousness that gives birth to this revolt. Born from unrestrained anguish, this explosive rejection and piercing revolt is like a flood, with its aggressive character and an insolent, rebellious attitude”(Limbale 31)

Mission and politics of Dalit Literature:

Dalit literature is not a mere fiction. It is part of the larger movement to bring about changes. Dalit writings are based on real life experience. Some critics have the view that writers, like Mulk Raj Anand and Prem Chand do not represent the Dalit life as it is, but they represent Dalits as hapless and mischievous who are unable to take their own decisions and action. One of such an examples is Bakha in Untouchable who concedes to Gandhi’s pacifism rather than to go for revolution. Post independent events and fundamental transformation changed the life of people. Democratic form of government and different welfare schemes helped common people to understand their own rights and laws of the country, but by the course of time new movements in post-independence emerged against rampant corruption, poverty, and unemployment, atrocities against ethnic and religious minorities. Unfortunately, the spirit of education spread among people has not helped the society to change the narrow-mindedness towards weaker sections of the society. Widespread discourse on resistance literature intensified a sort of consciousness of liberation in Dalit’s quest for dignity and social justice. Limbale rightly gives a summation of background for the origin of Dalit literature. According to him

There was a tremendous awakening in Dalit society due to knowledge, science and law, and on other hand poverty and the caste system trapped them in a state of decrepitude. Spread of education, pressure of the Dalit movement, and the struggle against conditions of existence caused Dalit youth to express their aversion for and anger against the established unequal social system in their writings. This writing, specifically, should be termed; Dalit Literature (Limbale 25).

 Dalit writers refuse to accept the established tradition as they think that they do not belong to this tradition, while they firmly believe that, the tradition of Budha, Kabeer, Phule, and Ambedkar was part of their tradition. That was a resistant tradition against established tradition and the hegemonic nature of the established tradition. Dr. B.R Ambedkar fought against segregated attitudes of upper-class Hindus both in India and abroad. Dr. BR Ambedkar’s thoughts helped Dalits society to understand their misery and their fundamental rights. This subjugation is the progenitor of Dalit literature. The Politics of collectiveness is visible in the most of Dalit writings. It is a collective social voice, a social voice for equality, liberty, fraternity, and justice. Their consciousness to free Dalits from the intensified bitter experience and expression of their anguish is a kind of revolt. Dangale points out that “The established class always tries to establish a convenient tradition that does not damage its vested interests. The weak groups in society are tired of this tradition, in fact, all our traditions so far whether religious, social, literary or cultural, have been imposed on the marginal by a handful”(Dangale 261).

  Another important political aspect of Dalit writings lies upon its language and its narrative style. They reject upper-class language, they always lash out the so-called standard language, validated by upper-class people, because they think that this is a language of oppression and subjugation. Moreover, standard language lacks many unique cultural vocabulary of Dalit lives. Dalit writers do not bank upon the existing symbols and metaphors of Hindu sacred literature, instead they construct new myths, in case they use the symbol from Hindu scriptures, this would be a deconstructed myths or symbols with new meaning. Dr. Ambedker’s view on literature is also important to be highlighted. He asserts that writers should take inspiration from the experience of common people.

Through your literary creations cleanse the stated values of life and culture. Don’t have a limited objective. Transform the light of your pen so that the darkness of village is removed. Do not forget that in our country the world of the Dalits and the ignored classes is extremely large. Get to know intimately their pain and sorrow, and try through your literature to bring progress in their lives. True humanity resides there. ( qtd in Limabale 50)

Dalit writers are from different sects and some of them were not converted to Buddhism. Writers from different castes, sub- castes and tribal group enriched Dalit literature with original creation and experience, thus it is obvious that it not only talks about Buddhist Literature, but it also talks exclusively on non-Buddhist philosophy, often the way of Dalit propaganda is akin to Marxism. Marxism is a kind of humanist thought with a vision of forming an exploitation free society. It is based on an egalitarian philosophy and Dalit writers also stand for equality and they raise voice against exploitation. Another major resemble of Marxism with Dalit writings lies in its portrayal of the life of common man. The protagonist often belongs to lower strata of the society. Dalit writings deal with not only social affairs but it also deals with an economic matter, this economic condition paves the way for social exploitation. Dalit autobiographies are the recollection of Dalit experience with a mission. Events are returned with an intention. Most of the Dalit autobiographies have helped to interpret socio-cultural aspects of Dalit life. The narrative reconstruction is a creative assertion of one’s identity. Dalit literature is an image of grief and plight. It is exactly the creative portrayal of bitter experiences of Dalits, hoping for a total metamorphosis in thought and minds sets of the society towards underprivileged sections of the society. “Dalit literature is one which acquaints people with the caste system and untouchability in India. It matters with a sociological point of view and is related to the principles of negativity, rebellion, and loyalty to science, thus finally ending as revolutionary” (qtd in Das 265)

 A medieval attempt to castigate against segregated attitudes was from Bhakthi poets, like Ravidas NamDev, Kabeer they inspired Dalits consciousness. All these poets have always questioned the orthodox and repressive Brahminical face of Hinduism. According to Narayana Das, Kabeer often highlights in his poems the contrast between high caste and low caste community as well as the differences that arise between the two entities. Kabeer is the best-known voice for equality of caste and religious divisions in poetic, picturesque fierceing strong terms (Das 268). He also observes that “Kabeer is the best-known voice for equality of the caste and religious. He composed his verses in the ordinary language of the people”(268).There are a number Dalit writings in contemporary Dalit literature which have enriched Indian writing. Some works like Joothan: A Dalit’s Life, have debated widely among literary critics. Joothan by OM Prakash Valmiki has been counted as one of prominent works in the Dalit canonical discourse and it is told as a serious of piercing vignettes. It tells the metamorphosis of a boy from rampant social economic conditions to forefront as social critics. Asserting the importance of Dalit Literature, Arundhati Roy observes that “ I do believe that in India we practice a form of apartheid that goes on noticed by the rest of the world. And it is as important for Dalits to tell their stories as it has been for colonised people to write their own histories when Dalits literature has blossomed and is in full stride, then contemporary upper caste. Indian literature’s amazing ability to ignore the true brutality and ugliness of the society, in which we live, will be seen for what it is bad literature, it will become irrelevant. (Quoted on Wikipedia)

All genres of Dalit writings, especially Dalit autobiographies are a kind of political movement, voiced for the liberation against old discrimination and exploitation of Dalits by upper caste Hindu. An article in Times of India points out that “The first generation of Dalit writers questioned the idea of India ; says Rajkumar, a professor at DU ’They felt they were not a part of it and rejected it. Later writers like Valmiki have a more natural approach. They engage with and explore the possibilities of Dalits being a part of India. They see hope in Ambedker’s goal of annihilation of caste. The contemporary Dalits autobiography is an inclusive exercises. The Dalits are trying to write themselves into the India narrative (Times of India )

In short, Dalit literature represents the miseries and oppression, experienced by Dalit communities for centuries in India. Though there are different genres of Dalit literature, each represents bitter experience of Dalit with a mission to liberate Dalit from the yoke of oppressive forces and their exploitation. On the other hand, non Dalit writers, who pinpoint the agony of Dalit in India, infact have represented Dalit as helpless victims and their writings often lack the spirit of emancipation from the oppression and exploitation.



  • “Dalit Literature”Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.,21,July2016.web.23,July,2016<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dalit_literature>
  • Bagu,Baburao.”Dalit Literature is But Human Literature.”Poisoned Bread.Ed.Arjun Dangle.Mubai :Orient Loman,1992
  • Dangle,Arjun.”Dalit Literature:past present and future.”Poisoned Bread.Ed.Arjun Dangle.Bombay:Orient Longman,1992.
  • Das,Narayan.”Dalit Literatuire Contents,Trends and Concerns.” NewDelhi : Centrum press, 2014.print
  • Limbale,Sharankumar.Towards an Aesthetics of Dalit Literature:History,controversies, and consideration. Translated by Alok Mukharjee,Oriental Blakswan,2004
  • Mart and Kaishik.Newspaper report.Times of India,April.5 2015
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