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Report On Fifth Basti/ Village Conference, Shravasti, UP May 3rd – 4th, 2008

Dalit Resource Centre, a nascent unit of Manav Vikas Sangrahalaya, successfully concluded its fifth village conference in the series of six, on 3rd – 4th May, 2008 around the theme ‘Dalit Popular Writing, Emerging Leadership and Social Revolution’ in Shravasti, Uttar Pradesh under the project ‘Dalit Popular Booklets, Democratic Participation and Dalit Public Sphere: A Project for Research, Documentation, and Advocacy’.

This conference was cantered on three popular Dalit writers i.e. Rameshwar Pawan of Baharich, R.B. Trisharan of Basti, and Rahul Katyayan of Basti, each of whom is widely known in and around the region of Shravasti. All these three writers have contributed significantly to popular Dalit literature that has generated enormous awakening among the Dalit masses.

‘Dalit Popular Writing, Emerging Leadership and Social Revolution’– The Theme of the Conference

The theme of the fifth village/basti conference was Dalit Popular Writing, Emerging Leadership and Social Revolution. The concept behind this theme was to explore the role of Dalit popular writers who have emerged as powerful community leaders and are contributing immensely in the direction of inculcating democratic values in local societies, for expanding the Dalit public sphere. It analysed their role in generating knowledge related to the emergence of the Dalit public sphere, in the socio-political mobilization of Dalits, in shaping Dalit vision, and above all, in stimulating the process of Dalit assertion in the democratic processes of the country. It also explored their role in the struggle of the Dalits against the hegemonic cultural domination by the upper castes, which they have been facing since times immemorial under the Brahminical cultural norms that still prevail in many parts of north India. As can be understood from the socio political events that have taken place in recent times, a significant self-assertion has taken place among the so-called lower castes and this process has been catalysed by the dissemination of the emancipatory ideas of Dalit popular writers. These fast emerging contemporary Dalit popular writers are attempting to spread the notions of equality, freedom and brotherhood among the members of their communities in order to enable them to inculcate the sense of dignity, self-respect and self-esteem, in addition to a share in political power. In this process these popular writers are also posing a challenge to the erstwhile dominant Brahminical culture by developing a subaltern Dalit literary culture that assimilates the whole society.

Objectives of the Conference
The conference concentrated on various issues like how these writers deal with the matter of oppression and emancipation through their writings. This was done through in-depth discussions on how their socio economic and cultural environment located within the ambit of the broad socio economic and cultural environment of the Dalits influenced their works. Thereafter a larger perspective was tried to build up on the dynamics of the changes that is taking place in the socio cultural and political scenario of the country, from a Dalit standpoint. These changes raised intricate but decisive questions: will the new Dalit identity that is in the process of being created under the influence of the present Dalit politics sustain the emancipation process of Dalits as a whole? Should it lead to integration into the mainstream of society or must it remain a distinct one that acknowledges a very specific and traumatic experience undergone by the Dalits that calls for a struggle against the mainstream? The issues at stake are not only social and economic but also cultural and political. How these writers managed to carve out a niche for themselves and for the Dalits from the hard experiences of their life formed the focal point of the conference.

Identification of Basti/Village
The place identified for the fifth village conference was Shravasti because it was a hub around which Buddhist repository of knowledge flourished since ancient times, to explore different dimensions of Dalit popular literature. Buddha, who spent 29 years of his ‘Varshavas’, has been a revolutionary role in depluming the inequality from society. Shravasti has recently emerged as an emancipatory cultural centre and has played a quintessential role in awakening the Dalit community. The ruins of Jetvan and ancient city portray its grandeur and glory. Both Buddhism and Dalits have always been dislodged by Brahmanism. Buddhist literature has its origin in deprivation and sufferings of all the beings. The authors identified for the conference were Rameshwar Pawan of Baharich, R.B. Trisharan of Basti, and Rahul Katyayan of Basti, each of whom is widely known in and around the region of Sravasti. All these three writers have contributed significantly to popular Dalit literature that has generated enormous awakening among the Dalit masses. Through their writings they are trying to create a space in a society that is plagued with the evils of caste system and where the untouchables have little or no say in the social, political, economic or cultural aspects of the Indian society.

Basti /Village Profile The ancient city of Shravasti venerated by Buddhist and Jains alike is at present a scattered ruin called SAHET-MAHET, covering the extensive area falling under in the erstwhile of Gonda and Baharaich district of UP. It is situated 17 km. to the west of Balrampur. According to the Buddhist literature Shravasti is introduced as ‘Sabbam atthi’ (everything is there). This was one of the four principle kingdoms of the time of Buddha, the capital of Kosala. But due to the Dark Age that came after the eleventh and twelfth century A.D., the place went into oblivion and in 1863 A.D. General Cunningham brought Shravasti into light again. 1956 A.D. was reckoned as the year of Buddha Jayanti and Bodhisattva Baaba Saheb Ambedkar taught the downtrodden the teachings of Baudhha dharma. Shravasti perhaps was hidden in the womb of darkness, as its status was alive in literature. In this context there was concern among the persons of Buddhist creed and archaeologists. Its ruined mounds were excavated and the ancient ruins drew the attention not only in our country but also in other Asian countries like China, Japan, and Burma etc.

Brief Introduction of the Writers:
Shri Rameshwar Pawan was born on 25th July, 1953 in a farmer’s family at the village Siswara, Bharathapur; which lies in modern Shravasti district. After completing his graduation he completed his post-graduation and LLB from Lucknow. During his education he was stunned by watching a Dalit family working as a bonded labour in place of a debt of just two rupees. Another painful incident that puzzled him was of his student life when his Dalit friend was served in a ‘pattal’ at his own home. This aroused a sense of dissent in him against this iniquitous system. Then he became influenced by Arjak Sangh and to revolutionize the backwards and Dalits he started his mission by 1978. He did this by disseminating the thoughts of Ambedkar to remove superstitions, untouchability and dogmatism. He started the publication of a magazine “Lakshya Sandhan” which was afterwards converted into a weekly magazine. Then he published 40 books. His first book “Dr. Ambedkar aur unka Lakshya” was published in 1987 and became very popular. Presently, with his profession of an advocate he is associated with many revolutionary social and political organizations and his unending struggle for liberation of Dalit community is still going on.

Shri R. B. Trisharan
R.B. Trisharan was born to his parents Shri Panch Gulam and Smt. Ramraji on 28th November 1948 in an illiterate and poor family of village Sakardaha of district Basti. On 22nd October, 1971, at the age of 23, he joined as a clerk in the tax-collection unit of State Public Works department Sisai, Gonda. Being influenced with the sacrifices of Budhha and Ambedkar, he translated revolutionary themes in form of popular folk songs. This resulted in publication of his booklet “Bheem-Sandesh”. Due to the conspiracy of anti-Dalit groups, he was arrested from Balrampur under Defence of Indian Rules commonly known as DIR and sentenced to imprisonment. After one month he was released on bail but was placed under suspension to be reinstated after two and a half years. In 1977, under the regime of Janta Party government in 1977, the case against him was withdrawn. These tribulations further strengthened his mission to work for Dalit uplift even at the cost of his job and sufferings of his family-members. He established Akhil Bhartiya Baba Saheb Dr. Ambedkar Samaj Sudhar Samiti in Basti to support his mission. Under this samiti, Samaj Sudhar Prakashan, Haraiya was established. In 1980 he converted himself to Buddhism. This satiated his long persistent thirst. His main works are: Bheem-Sandesh, Baba Saheb ki Amar Vaniya, Dr. Ambedkar Natak, Hamara Sudhar Kaise Hoga, and many likewise booklets. His energy to serve Dalits has not yet jaded.

Shri Rahul Katyayan
Belonging to an extremely poor Dalit family, Rahul Katyayan was born on 15th May, 1957; 9 km west of Basti District headquarter in Khutana village. The hurdles of his life did not dissuade him from his path of success. Katyayan passed his middle examination from Basti. Moving forward in life he completed his M.A. in Hindi from Awadh University, Faizabad. After the successful completion of his studies he first came into government service on 23rd June, 1978 in Banda district of Uttar Pradesh. The life and teachings of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar inspired him to write books. Fortunately he met Sri R.B. Trisharan on 6th April 1977 while going to Agra. Both of them are now working for the upliftment of Dalits. He became a part of Akhila Bhartiya Baba Saheb Dr. Ambedkar Samaaj Sudhaar Samiti in Hariayya. His published creative pieces include Singh Vijaya Naatak, Sujata Naari Geet, Senapati Naatak, Bhimgeet Manjari, Bhim Shabdavali, Karz, Shramanotar, Gyaanamrit, etc. He is making persistent efforts to awaken the Dalits to fight for their rights.

The first day of the conference: 3rd May, 2008
The first day of the two-day conference i.e.3rd May, 2008 began with the inaugural session. The programme started with Bauddh-vandana by Bhante Sheelratna.

Badri Narayan, Project Director in his introductory speech said that the objective of organizing village conference is to understand how Dalit popular writers, intellectuals and Dalit journalists at the local level are working to facilitate the arousal of a sense of dignity among the deprived. The writers revolutionize the society through their writings. We organize these village conferences through the help of writers in their native place. We organize conferences in identified Dalit villages from where eminent Dalit writers have emerged, in each of the four zones of UP where our study is concentrated. These conferences serve to build bridges between Dalit popular writers, mainstream writers, journalists, book publishers, booksellers, intellectuals, and community leaders of the communities. Common people from both the Dalit castes concerned and from other castes living in the village are invited to attend these conferences. These endeavours help to develop relationships between each section of people, and also provide social respect to the popular writings of Dalit writers within their own habitat. The seminar aims to discuss various issues related to the themes of popular writings like freedom, identity, and humiliation and to document the changes taking place in villages, especially in Uttar Pradesh. Further, it also helps in sensitising the non-Dalit residents. We have successfully organized four village conferences. We believe that the organizing of conferences in the villages will also enhance the honour of the Dalit bastis and writers living there.

Prof. Angane Lal, former V.C., Awadh Vishwavidyalaya, Faizabad and critic of Dalit issues inaugurated the conference and honoured Rameshwar Pawan on behalf of the Institute. Mr. R.B. Trisharan and Rahul Katyayan were honoured by Shri D.P. Varun, Editor, Garima Bharti and Bhadate Pragyananda respectively.

The first session on the theme- Political Activism and Literaturein Context of Social Change was presided over by Prof. Angane Lal.

Prof. Angane Lal in his presidential address deliberated that Shravasti is closely associated with the concept of the conference. This place has been the hub of knowledge from ancient times; in the same manner this place witnessed the emerging leadership of Buddhism and its struggle for social change. Buddha, who spent 29 years of his ‘Varshavas’; has been the heart of this interconnected string of knowledge, leadership and social change. We have to explore the purpose of Dalit popular writing. In fact, in the initial stage Dalit knowledge tradition was oral. It was Buddha who instigated the writing tradition. Leadership emerged through this writing tradition. In Indian tradition there are two kinds of culture: Brahmin and Shraman (labour-intensive). Dalit culture follows the Shraman culture. It is the moral responsibility of intellectuals to sensitise Dalit public about their authors and their work. Only then a new path and a new approach will come forward.

Dr. Ravindra, lecturer, Baharaich said that Dalit literature is the literature of dissent and is full of fighter’s spirit. It endows fruitful results when intellectuals become the solider of this war of dissent ultimately resulting in the emancipation of their community. It was the misfortune of Dalit community that their history was erased from the mainstream documents. To arouse Dalits they need to explore their history, which is prominent in Dalit literature. Dalit writers should be conscious of their approach. They should use the language of self-respect and assertion not the language of begging. Dalit literature is generated by feeling of assertion and fructified in politics.

Dr. Chandeshwar, lecturer, Baharaich alleged that Dalit literature emerged as a revolt against mainstream literature which unintentionally isolated Dalit intellect. Dalit literature has a rich and great tradition. But its not like that mainstream writers have not written anything about Dalit issues. Premchand and Nirala have critically explored the Dalit issues. So mainstream should not always be unreceptive. After 1991 Dalit and women issues became prominent in mainstream literature. Now Dalit and women are striving to achieve parallel platform. Om Prakash Balmiki, Nemisharay, Bechain are considered as mainstream writers. The initiative taken by Badri Narayan to establish dialogue between mainstream with Dalits is appreciable.

Raghuvansh Mani,
Reader, Faizabad said that there are two types of popular literature, one is of the people, for the people and by the people and other is imposed on the people which is profit oriented that is generated by industry and the former one is for sharing emotions and awakening of community. Any movement gets strength when a writer gets involved in it and the writers of Dalit literature are writer activists who are strengthening this movement. That’s why Dalit literature is easily communicable.

Second Session was around the theme Social Consciousness and Popular Religion. This session was presided over by Prof. Tulsi Ram, JNU, New Delhi. Prof. Tulsi Ram in his presidential address opined that Shravasti, a centre of Buddhism has been an emancipatory force for Dalits since ancient times. We need to explore different dimensions of Dalit literature and Dalit consciousness. Buddha by his compassion aroused Dalit consciousness that replicates itself in Dalit literature and is playing an eminent role in dismantling varna-vyavastha. Whenever we talk about Dalits or Dalit consciousness Shravasti cannot be overlooked.

The thought of peace, amiability, and feeling of brotherhood are the greatest achievement of Buddhism. But when we reflect with special reference to India and specially Dalits we find that all the evils are only because of Hinduism. Buddhism tried to dismantle the evils of Hinduism but Hindu priests dissipated all the attempts of Buddhism.

Prof. Raman Sinha, JNU, New Delhi evaluated the role between Dalit literature and social consciousness. The main question was that Dalit literature that is written for social change is literature or discourse. He said that Dalit literature is blamed for not being a serious kind of literature but only a part of discourse. But in his opinion literature should be judged on the basis of experience and pragmatic approach and Dalit literature fulfils this scale. Dalit literature should be evaluated by analysing its role in the mobilisation of Dalit community. What is the role of discourse? It works as a catalyst to enhance our sensibility. There is a difference between creative literature and this type of discourse. It should be measured on special scales like what is the role of such discourses in creating this type of creative intuition?

Buadhhacharya Sanjiwan Nath, Sardar Jagjit Singh and Guru Prasad Madan were the other eminent speakers of the session and furthered this discussion.

The second day of the programme i.e. 4th May, 2008 began with the morning session around the theme Why We Write: Struggle between Popular Literature and Social Change- An Autobiographical Proclamation which was presided over by Rahul Katyayan.

Shri K. Nath briefly narrated the humiliation faced in his life for being born in a low caste Dalit community. He revealed several instances of his life in this regard. Literature, he believes is the most potent weapon for educating the future generations. It is literature that brings about the social transformation. Such a noble hope kept him active and stimulated him to get his books published even though he had to take loans against the wishes of his family members. He believes that this literature would put a stop on the assault faced by his community members. This dream of bright future inspired him to concentrate on literary productions.

Shri Rameshwar Pawan, a Dalit writer from Bahraich shared some of his painful experiences of this society. In the post-Independent India though Dalits have become conscious of their self-respect, nothing much seems to have changed for them at the ground level, as the atrocities on them still goes on unabated. He blamed unjust Varna System as the root cause for the deprived condition of the Dalit communities in India.

He said that Dalit history has become a central focus of Brahminical attack and all this is done to crush the self-respect of Dalits. Dalits are still deprived of education, social, political and economic rights and in order to redeem their lost glory and self-respect, they must attempt to rewrite their history to restore faith in themselves. He appealed to the audience present there to follow the path of education as emphasized by Buddha and Ambedkar, which alone is the key to all success.

R. B. Trisharan, Dalit writer and Publisher, from Basti carrying forward the discussion narrated how Dalit writers suffer when they try to assert their identity. The story of Trisharan reflects how social pressures and exclusion makes a common man a splendid missionary. Being inspired by Buddha and Ambedkar he planned to disseminate the thoughts of these personalities among downtrodden in the common man’s language and in the mode of folk songs, poems etc. and through small and easily comprehensible booklets. He translated revolutionary themes in the form of popular and easy folk songs because this is the most popular and easily comprehensible form. This resulted in publication of his booklet “Bheem- Sandesh”. The book was published in Balrampur, a bastion of Jansangh. Due to the conspiracy of anti-Dalit groups, he was arrested from Balrampur under Defence of Indian Rules commonly known as DIR and sentenced to imprisonment for this work. These tribulations further strengthened his mission to work for Dalit upliftment even at the cost of his job and sufferings of his family-members. During the period of suspension he lived in Basti. And as Haraiya was his birthplace, he established Akhil Bhartiya Baba Saheb Dr. Ambedkar Samaj Sudhar Samiti there to support his mission. Under this samiti, Samaj Sudhar Prakashan, Haraiya was established. Now, he has many tasks ahead for the welfare of Dalits and the deprived.

Rahul Katyayan shared his painful experience that how being a Dalit he faced humiliation. But he never jaded his spirit and completed his studies and got government job. But this materialistic achievement could not satisfy his quest. He started writing because of being influenced by thoughts of Dr. Ambedkar. During his mission he met Trisharan and joined him. He joined Akhil Bhartiya Baba Saheb Dr. Ambedkar Samaj Sudhar Samiti and through this samiti he tried to mobilize various sections of his community for forming a unified community. Despite his growing age he continues to crusade for emancipation of Dalit from bondage of various kinds.

Second session was presided over by Prof. Tulsi Ram around the theme ‘We Should Contemplate- Power, Manpower and Popular Literature: A discussion on Dalit Critical Consciousness’. This session was presided over by Tulsi Ram. Tulsi Ram discussed that Why Dalit literature is written? When casteism was discussed in U N conference at Durban Shri Rajkishore said that it is the defiance of religion when any one discusses caste system anywhere. Is it true that when Dalit emancipation is discussed it is rebelliousness against religion? No, it is only this literature that generates critical consciousness in this slumbering community and making it a dominant factor of society.

Raghuvangh Mani and Raman Sinha patronage these popular writers and gave their valuable suggestions and directions to inspire them. They analysed how, through this type of literature, this community is trying to construct a glorious past and a respectable future very creatively irrespective of all sufferings and humiliation. And definitely this will contribute a lot in shaping and sharpening their vision.

G P Madan said that Dr. Ambedkar converted himself to Buddhism and Buddhism gave Dalits the courage to assert. Brahmins always tried to suppress Dalits either in reality by refusing them in history or in literature. They veiled their heroic deeds of Dalit warriors even if they wrote something about them they only portrayed their pitiable condition. Never had they tried to portray their resentment or anger. This negligence forced them to formulate their own public sphere.

Pujaram Sonakar
deliberated that Brahmins are not so by their caste but by theory approach. Writing about Dalits is totally different from living as Dalits. Exploitation is constantly going on and it is the moral responsibility of an intellectual to vanish it. It is an adorable step of Dalit resource centre that is trying to dismantle this iniquitous system.

D P Varun said that if you tell a slave that he is a slave he would start thinking about freedom. Until and unless the superstitions of Hindus are alive they will overshadow the soul of Buddhism also. It is only the critical consciousness generated through literature that can sort out the problem.

The programme was followed by an active discussion on this form of writing by Dalit and non-Dalits writers, scholars & intellectuals of repute from adjoining region namely Nayantara, executive editor, Garima Bharti, Ashok Bauddha, etc.

Another aspect of the conference was cultural performances by local cultural groups of adjoining areas of Indo- Nepal Border. These cultural performances proved a successful medium for disseminating the message of the theme of the conference amongst the masses particularly the illiterate class.

Cultural Activities at the Conference .
Mela (Fair of Dalit authored booklets and unpublished manuscripts)
Some of the writers attending the conference brought with them books and unpublished manuscripts forming part of their personal collection. The stalls of Garima Bhararti and A.R. Akella displayed a wide range of Dalit popular literature. People enriched themselves with such rare exhibition of booklets and manuscripts and rich archival collection of old Dalit newspapers and magazines. The booklets were sold by the writers on the spot and DRC too added to its archive some rare collection of booklets from this fair. Thus the village/basti conferences promised to be a good source for collecting Dalit popular booklets and unpublished manuscripts of grassroots Dalit writers for our resource centre.

Kavita Goshti (Poetry Recitation) The writers were requested to read out passages on existing social inequality from their popular booklets and recite poems and songs to the audience. Since the writings of these writers of Dalit popular booklets emerge out of their experiences of the socio-cultural milieu in which they interact, the reading of the piece of their own created literature to the people gave it a local context, which is linked with their own existential questions. Some of the writers who read out their poems on the occasion were Tulsi Ram, Raman Sinha and Badri Narayan.

Dalit Cultural Performances Another aspect of the conference was cultural performances by local cultural groups of adjoining areas of Indo- Nepal Border. These cultural performances proved a successful medium for disseminating the message of the theme of the conference amongst the masses particularly the illiterate class. An illiterate Kailash stunned all the guests by his poems, songs, revolutionary thoughts and little knowledge of various foreign languages. He proved that a noble mission like dissemination of Buddha’s noble thought could be carried forward by dedication and courage. Lack of education is not a hurdle in this path.

Overall, Fifth Village Conference provided voice to Dalits. A common platform in the form of this meet was created. It provided Dalit popular writers a powerful medium for disseminating their ideas aimed at establishing social equality and also paved ways to achieve this.

 

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