Eminent names from the field of Dalit literature attended the conclave organised by the Ministry of Culture to mark B R Ambedkar’s birth anniversary on Tuesday.
Among those present at the conclave, which was organised at Sahitya Academy complex in the Capital, were Vijay Surwade, Laxman Gaikwad, J V Pawar, Namdeo Kamble, Arjun Dangle, Girish Prabhune, Ishwar Nandapure, Madhu Peraje, Ravindra Gole, A Shanmukha, K Enoch and R N Joe D’Cruz. While the event witnessed a confusion on the ministry’s part on whether it was Ambedkar’s 124th or 125th birth anniversary, the discussion that ensued was noteworthy.
Most writers started their address with a note of thanks to the Indian government for taking such an initiative for the first time.
Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma, who was supposed to preside over the event, couldn’t attend it owing to “unforeseen circumstances”. Senior BJP leader Vinay Sahasrabuddhe chaired the event. Himself an author and political scholar, Sahasrabuddhe stressed upon the need to “mainstream Dalit literature” by including it in school textbooks. “Of course, nothing should be made compulsory,” he added.
Latur-based writer Gaikwad, who has written an award-winning novel on the Uchalya tribe (the community of ‘pilferers’, a term coined by the British who classified the tribe as criminals), said, “Today, Dalit literature is part of world literature. We should not consider it as external or outside literature. It has emerged from our society, so it is very much a part of our mainstream literature.”
Tamil writer and filmmaker D’Cruz, who hails from the fishing community, argued that Dalit voices should be spread around the world through translation of Dalit literature. “We need to stress our importance to the world. After all, literature is the voice of the voiceless,” he added.
Gole, who in 2010 wrote Deepstambh, a book of success stories of Dalit entrepreneurs, said new-age Dalit literature should reflect the growth of the community, rather than harping on its agony and pain. His point was echoed by Kamble, who said Dalit literature should extend beyond deprivation and talk about aspirations.
Many referred to the role of DICCI (Dalit equivalent of industry body FICCI) in the course of their address. During the event, many writers argued for honouring Ambedkar through stamps, coins and even naming a train and a literary award after him. Towards the end, representatives of the Sahitya Akademi and the Culture Ministry revealed their plans of holding such conclaves all over the country every year to mark Ambedkar’s birth anniversary.