" Democracy was
also a great narrative and not merely a monolithic kind of democratic participation."


National Conference on 20-21 March, 2009

Concept : National Conference Dalit Popular Booklets, Democratic Participation and Dalit Public Sphere G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad

Dalit Resource Centre, a nascent unit of Manav Vikas Sangrahalaya and a part of the Centre for Culture, Power and Change, at G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad is proposing to organize a National meet on 20-21 March, 2009. Dalit popular writers residing in various parts of India will participate in this meet under the project ‘Dalit Popular Booklets, Democratic Participation and Dalit Public Sphere: A Project for Research, Documentation, and Advocacy’ sponsored and funded by the Ford Foundation, New Delhi.

The conference shall be attended both by Dalit and non-Dalit writers, journalists and social activists of UP, MP, Rajasthan, Delhi, Bihar and southern region to create a common platform and form a network of Dalit popular writers, intellectuals and Dalit journalists at the intra-state level. It will provide an enduring base to dalit and non dalit public to articulate their experiences and attitudes.

1) To develop a nation wide network of Dalit popular writers and to evaluate their role in generating a corpus of knowledge on the emergence of Dalit public sphere and the process of Dalit assertion in the democratic processes of the country.

2) To understand the multiple forms of production, dissemination and conjunction of dalit popular writings.

3) To comprehend the influence of their writings on various societies in addition to their role in the struggle for social equality and political participation.

4) To establish an interface between the Dalit popular writers of various regions of India by sharing their liberating ideas and their experiences of humiliation, that is otherwise ignored in the public discourse.

5) To awaken the society towards literary and cultural activities of the various dalit castes of Uttar Pradesh.

The theme of national conference is “Dalit Popular Booklets, Democratic Participation and Dalit Public Sphere”. Since last three years the dalit resource centre has been conducting various activities related to dalit popular writings and dalit public sphere as a consequence of which it has established a strong network of Dalit popular writers across India. Till date it has successfully organized six regional conferences and one regional conference. The national meet will provide a platform wherein the dalit popular writers from diverse regions will get a chance to review all the activities conducted in the past and share their views and expressions regarding untouchability and the stinging pain of humiliation.

Dalit life is excruciatingly painful, charred by agonizing experiences but it is sorry to see that their experiences have not found any room in the literary arena of the country. Dalit literature aptly described as ‘narrative of pain’ by the Dalit writers binds every Dalit entity into a ‘unified community’ of fellow sufferers. These experiences of oppression act like a tool for the Dalit community and aid in mobilizing them against the iniquitous social system.

An important dimension of this venture, that has greatly enhanced the phenomenon of dalit mobilisation, is the publication of booklets written by dalits themselves. These booklets printed on cheap news print , priced at minimal rates and sold massively on footpaths, in fairs, at political rallies and in Chetna Mandaps are primarily bought and read by the literate middle class people to sharpen their political consciousness and disseminate it orally to the illiterate downtrodden section of the dalits.

As a result of the emerging social consciousness, the Dalits, literally placed on periphery in every realm of life are no longer ready to be silent bearers of the age old social discrimination and deprivation. Dalit literature has created its own tradition with anti-caste reformers like Buddha, Kabir, Phule, Ambedkar and Achhootanand as its signposts among which most of them were from untouchable castes.

The dalit literature aims to narrate the sorrows, tribulations, slavery, degradation, ridicule and poverty faced by Dalits to the upper caste Hindus. Dalit writers have used these narratives as a form of political assertion by providing an entrance to the public sphere and a reassertion of control over the construction of Dalit identity. It has also provided them a means of unifying with a larger community thereby creating a powerful group that can lend a hand in fighting against caste discrimination.

The main purpose of these narratives is to expose the occurrence of untouchability in the contemporary times, which is otherwise ignored in the public discourse. The pain of untouchability is a uniting phenomenon for the dalit readers and portrays their real identity while for the non dalit readers it exposes an all together different thing i.e. shame, accusation and hopefully a call for revolution.

The demeaning experiences of the Dalit community act like an instrument for its members to restore their self respect and repudiate those traditions and religion that are obstacles in the way of achieving their self worth.

These booklets play an important role in politicising the dalit mass base of Uttar Pradesh. Written by semiliterate dalits living in small qasbas and villages of Uttar Pradesh, they reflect the grass root aspirations, reactions and criticisms of the dalit population. They contribute substantially in the mobilisation and participation of dalits in the politics of control over democratic institutions, helping to assert themselves in the struggle for state power. Dalit politicians who are engaged in mobilising dalits in electoral politics use the narratives of these popular booklets in their electoral speeches and in their everyday mobilisational discourses.

In a nut shell the Dalit writers through their literary works like poems, novels and other forms of literature are endeavoring to emancipate their fellow beings from the longstanding stinging humiliation and restore their self respect, glorifying Dalit’s own history distinct from meta-narratives. Though Dalit emancipation remains an unfinished project but theoretical underpinnings for carving out paths of liberation are being discovered.

This conference will probe a few vital issues related to the construction of identity in Dalit communities from the dalit popular writers of other regions, such as, how do Dalit writers define Dalit identity through their poems, short stories, etc? How to equalize the status of unequal subjects while maintaining their cultural uniqueness? What are the conditions that provoked social injustice and psychological dishonor of Dalits? What are reactions of Dalit population to such humiliation and harassment caused to them? What type of role these booklets and their writers will play in sensitising both the Dalits and non-Dalit and how will these shape the Dalit vision? How can they create a conductive social environment for establishing self-respect and dignity of the downtrodden through their poems, short stories etc.? What are the obstacles in the way to overcome humiliations and structuring of Dalit identity?

Form of the conference
A three day meet will be organized at GBPSSI in the month of February in which the dalit popular writers from across the nation will share their views on different issues related with dalit public sphere and their struggle for acquiring social equality. In addition to this the cultural performances by different cultural groups participating in the meet will prove to be a successful medium for disseminating the message of dalit assertion among the masses particularly the illiterate class.

This meet will provide a venue where Dalit public will sensitize to express its yearning for a dignified space in different spheres of life and also its assertion in their writings.


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A project supported by the Ford Foundation