CHENNAI, March 20, 2012
Tamil Dalit writing set to go English
From the fringes of literature to the portals of the Oxford University
Press (OUP), it has been a long march for Dalit writing in Tamil Nadu.
At a time when Dalit assertion is making itself heard in the political
sphere, the OUP is bringing out an anthology of English translations
of Tamil Dalit writing, seeking to give a clear picture of the
different phases of writing and activities of Dalits in the State over
The anthology, featuring the works of 40 writers, is divided into four
sections: poetry, fiction (short story and novel), drama and prose
(autobiography, speeches, biography and archival materials); and will
be released on April 10.
Along with Bama, whose novel Karukku portrayed Dalit life in the
authentic language of the people, Imayam, whose Koveru Kazhuthaikal
told the story of puthirai vannar (dhobies working for Dalits), K.A.
Gunasekaran, a writer and singer, former IAS officer P. Sivakami, Cho
Dharman, Azhagiya Periyavan, and many others writers, Dalit leaders
such as Dr. K. Krishnasamy, Thol Thirumavalavan and Athiyaman have
found a place in the collection.
"Being part of modern Tamil writing that has touched enviable heights
among Indian regional languages, Dalit writing, in terms of form,
content and aesthetics, has witnessed great literary achievements.
Moreover, Dalit writing in Tamil Nadu has a conscious political
continuity since the 19th century, when the political discourse of the
marginalised was dominated by scholars such as Pundit Iyothee Thass,
Rettamalai Srinivasan and M.C.Rajah," explains Ravikumar, former MLA
and one of the editors of the Anthology.
Pundit Iyothee Thass was a great Tamil scholar, who wrote commentaries
on classical Tamil literary works from a Buddhist point of view. "His
writings comprise all elements of modernity," points out Mr Ravikumar.
Pundit Iyothee Thass and Rettaimalai Srinivasan had run their own
magazines. The subscription of "Paraiyan" (1893-1900), a magazine run
by Srinivasan, enjoyed a circulation higher than mainstream magazines
and newspapers. The same was the case with Tamizhan (1907-1914) edited
by Iyothee Thass. If Srinivasan believed strongly in emancipation of
the depressed classes through political participation, the 1940s saw
the emergence of Swami Sahajananda, a staunch Saivite, who sought to
achieve the objective within the fold of Hindu religion.
"The pieces of literature selected for this anthology will show a
marked shift in the canon of Dalit literature that prioritises only a
subjective and confessional mode. These stories show a deep concern
about representing the function of caste as a mode of power and
foregrounds the challenges involved in writing creatively about it,"
says Mini Krishnan, Editor of OUP Translation.
Mr Ravikumar says all the 40 writers are Dalits by birth, while
explaining that the term 'Dalit' is not an identity, but a form of
"Dalit is a consciously chosen ideological position against the caste
system. An untouchable alone can be a Dalit because caste defines a
person by birth. It is like feminist position. Every woman is not a
feminist, but only a woman can be a feminist," Mr. Ravikumar further
Mini Krishnan notes that the prose aims not just to reconstruct the
history of century-old Dalit struggle in Tamil society, but to also
point out issues addressed by Dalit intellectuals.
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