This Dalit History Month and National Poetry Writing Month, when we are surrounded by stories of Dalit struggles and accomplishments and poetry, here are some verses that take an anti-caste stance! These verses are an expression of the historical marginalization of Dalits and are a call for equality. Of course, as Chandramohan tells us, it is not enough to read Dalit poetry but also to understand the politics that inform it.
Here’s what we are reading!
Mother, you used to tell me
when I was born
your labour was very long.
The reason, mother,
the reason for your long labour;
I, still in your womb, was wondering
Do I want to be born—
Do I want to be born at all
in this land?
Where all paths raced horizonwards
but to me were barred.
Extract from ‘To be or not to be born’ by L. S. Rokade (translated by Shanta Gokhale)
I write poems in a language not sung at my cradle
What songs will be sung at my grave?
Words scrubbed and sanitized clean
for a sterile and synthetic history.
Source: ‘The Poems of Resistance by S. Chandramohan’ Leftword Books blog post
You are like a dream of sharp pain,
I don’t have the audacity to look at you.
We were brightened by Buddha’s light,
but you absorbed the dark
until your life was mottled blue and black,
A fragmented life, burnt out,
Extract from ‘Yashodhara’ by Hira Bansode (translated by Jayant Karve and Philip Engblom)
My bodies, our bodies,
Visible bodies, invisible bodies
How does it matter?
Matters is your walk…
Which overlooks my kind
Like a voyeur does
Such is a privilege of distance,
You won’t understand.
Just tail end nibs
Of your rainbow feathers,
What about us? you call–
Your “intimate”, but “others”.
Source: Dhiren Borisa, ‘Hopeful Rantings of a Dalit-Queer Person’ (2020) JLHR
Her eyes two dry hollows bear silent witness
To hundreds of deaths of her mothers, daughters, sisters
Their dreams, respect and their bodies.
Her cracked heels, her wrinkled hair
Tell the tales of living through fears and years
Of centuries and millennia of violations and deaths.
She was told
That she was dirt,
She was filth and
In this sacred land of thousands of goddesses
She is called a Dalit.
Extract from ‘A Dalit Woman in the Land of Goddesses’ by Aruna Gogulamanda (Firstpost)