I read a quote today written by author Nayomi Munaweera –
‘We are always interlopers into history, dropped into a story that has been going on before we are born.’
It’s true isn’t it? The generations that precede us have taken it upon themselves to write the first chapters of our own personal novels. We are born into a certain storyline and continue the saga ourselves. Throughout life, we do out best to make things better for our children and future generations. No matter what journey we take, the story continues to unfold.
Consider if you will, begin born into a horrible storyline that is said to be ‘eternal’. No matter how hard you try, no matter what you do in life, this is your story, you cannot change it. Now consider if your story is that of a ‘Dalit’ from India, you are a person born into and meant to eternally endure the hardships of being born into the lowest caste. You will be treated as the lowest cast, only gaining employment in jobs offered to the lowest caste (usually street sweepers, tannery workers, sewerage cleaners – you get the idea). You shall face discrimination and violence, you will not enjoy basic human rights and your own dignity may only be a glimmer in the face of your own life’s adversity.
Today’s India has abolished ‘untouchability’. Unfortunately, the reality of the storyline refuses to change. A lack of training and education, as well as discrimination in seeking other forms of employment, keeps traditions and their hereditary nature alive. Once a Dalit, always a Dalit.
Dalit is derived from a Sanskrit word ‘dalita’, meaning oppressed. Having been born Hindu, and into lowest caste, Dalit’s arrive into a story of an impoverished life in every facet. Even though India is changing for the better, the stigma of ‘untouchability’ in likely to remain for hundreds if not thousands of years to come. There are over one hundred and seventy million Dailt’s in India, meaning poverty will remain right alongside their daily lives.
While we Westerners, complain about our houses being too small, too much choice for dinner, or what success and life are all about, being born a Dalit is inescapably simple. You will always be the lowest caste and therefore you will never have anything more than self. The same applies for your family. Learn to accept it, not question it, not fight it. Not so easy an ask.
The Rise of Dalit Literature
Although it is said that Dalit literature has been around for many centuries, in modern times it wasn’t until the nineteen sixties voices began to stir. Among with a movement to acknowledge the life’s hardships Dalit’s had to face, came poetry.
When reading Dalit poetry you are entering the pained soul of the writer. Their words have a rawness, yet we immediately feel the authenticity, no fancy frills, no airs or graces. Life, eternal life with the eternal questions of why? Why are the Dalit’s different to anyone else? Why, when the history books and scriptures were written, were so many condemned to living life in the mud and muck at the bottom of the scrap heap? Why are they Dalit’s?
It is easy to sense the anger and desperation when reading the works of Dalit poets. You can feel the refusal to accept the finality of untouchability, yet a comprehension that life must be lived at a much deeper level for one to even bother to understand the injustice. A cry for recognition put forth through words pushed up from the soul to enter the monsoon of life. They watch on as their words go unnoticed and washed into the great expanse of ocean. Gone, forever forgotten, just like the Dalit’s lives become.