Over the last several decades – in fact centuries – various ideological movements have tried to define literature. Some have said literature portrays the real society; others have said it reflects society; still others have insisted that ideology is literature. Then there are activists who say that whatever is being written about society is literature. Similarly, there are those who say that literature is just the ordinary flow of life and others who say it is a mix of emotions and thoughts. But what is important to decide is what actually literature is and whether it is necessary to define it. In the 1990s, the implementation of the Mandal Commission report set in motion a process of sociopolitical change. This prompted a large section of Indian society to start describing its writings as Dalit literature.
Famous fiction writer and editor of Hans Rajendra Yadav and Marxist critic Manager Pandey welcomed and supported this new genre of literature and tried to analyze it historically in the context of Aswaghosh’s Vajra Suchi. But when, at a literary conference, Rajendra Yadav advocated divorcing Dalit literature from the Scheduled Castes and linking it with a bigger canvas, he had to face stiff opposition. This, when his clear objective was to broaden the ambit of Dalit literature by bringing under its umbrella the literature of all the exploited and deprived communities.
The concept of Bahujan literature, which FORWARD Press has been seeking to promote, may become established as a new literary concept some day provided it takes under its wings other exploited and deprived sections such as Shudras, Atishudras, Tribals and women. But here we must also consider whether “Bahujan” will include only these social groups and whether caste will be the sole determinant of who is a Bahujan and who is not.
Secondly, what will be the ideology of Bahujans? The reason why this question assumes importance is that a long historical process lies behind the development of any concept. At the centre of this process are the basic problems of individuals and society. Society persistently grapples with these problems, trying to free itself from them, but inertia is so deeply rooted that it takes ages for a new concept to develop. The Dalit community, in the Indian context, and the coloured people internationally are examples of this. Kabir and Nagarjun are two instances of Hindi litterateurs whose writings are not cited for their literary value but for their sharp and unsparing assault on the inertia gripping society and for developing social consciousness. These writers even risked social opprobrium in the pursuit of their mission. There are many such writers and individuals in society. Rajendra Prasad Singh argues that OBC criticism is needed for a rational and just evaluation of such writers. But what kind of criticism should we demand for evaluation of Nagarjun? While Kabir had many critics, several Marxist, traditional and progressive critics do not even consider Nagarjun a poet. Some conservative critics even brand him as a pamphlet writer of a political party. What I feel is that there is a need to develop a logical methodology that evaluates not the writer but his writing.
Sometimes, besides historical and social circumstances, geographical hurdles also come in the way of rational evaluation of writers and thinkers. At times, such hurdles are artificially created. But literature or thought with social concerns finds expression one way or the other.
The movement launched by Jotiba Phule and Savtribai Phule against brahmanical inertia and the caste system had a profound impact on society. In Hindi, their thoughts were reflected in the writings of authors like Radhamohan Gokul. In the Hindi belt, Radhamohan Gokul not only praises the work of the Phule couple but also insists on its importance. But after the advent of Gandhi and Ambedkar, during the freedom struggle, the ideology of the Hindi belt became infused with nationalism. It would, however, be wrong to say that issues related to the social system entirely disappeared. Many movements arose in the beginning of the 1940s that were clearly inspired by Ambedkar and Phule.
The fact is that the literature and thought basically engage with contemporary questions. Sometimes, some issues are missing from these questions but that does not mean that these issues are of no importance. Many a time, when we are trying to develop literary concepts we forget that the fundamental thrust of a society is not based on any particular caste or community but on the basic problems of that society. Humanism is its core and all ideologies and literatures aim at preserving this humanism. Writers like Kabir, Jotiba Phule, Bhartendu, Mahaveer Prasad Dwivedi, Maithilisharan Gupt, Mahadevi Verma, Mahatma Gandhi, Ambedkar, Periyar, Bhagat Singh, Premchand, Rahul Sankrityayan, Phanishwarnath Renu, Rammanohar Lohia, Charu Mazumdar, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Mahasweta Devi and U.R. Ananatmurti – all worked to create this fundamental thrust so that humanism is preserved and society marches ahead with collective consciousness. If the concept of Bahujan literature develops, at its core should be this feeling of humanism so that society retains its rationality and judiciousness.
Literature always stands by those truths that can take society forward. Truth has many forms. Needless to say social deformities are also very much a reality of our society. The new literature is taking on this reality and is trying to develop a consciousness that can preserve our humanism. If humanism survives, so does our society and the world will become a better place to live in.
Published in the May 2014 (Bahujan Literary Annual) issue of the Forward Press magazine
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