One of the three books in the first set is titled Bahujan Sahitya Ki Prastavna. Most of the articles in the book have been already published in different issues of the magazine. But a systematic compilation of the articles was the need of the hour. Pramod Ranjan and Ivan Kostka, the editors of the book, deserve congratulations for its timely publication. A book is more effective and lasts longer than a magazine. If FP Books continues publication even for, say, five years and even if it sells half of the copies the magazine used to sell, it will not only help develop an ideology of Bahujan literature but also contribute immensely to the shaping of powerful opinion in favour of a parallel people’s culture to challenge Brahmanism.
The book is divided into three sections – “OBC Sahitya Vimarsh” (Discourse on OBC literature), “Adivasi Sahitya Vimarsh” (Discourse on Adivasi literature) and “Bahujan Sahitya Vimarsh” (Discourse on Bahujan literature). The book traces the journey from an “OBC literary discourse” to a “Bahujan literary discourse” – although it is still early days in this journey. The contents of the book are thought-provoking, especially the articles by Kanwal Bharti and Premkumar Mani.
A reference to two other articles would be relevant here. The first is by well-known linguist Rajendra Prasad Singh. He has done an indepth study of OBC litterateurs and is considered the progenitor of the stream of OBC literature. For the Brahmanvadis, caste has always been more important than god and religion. That is why Brahmanvadis, who hold different views on god and religion, become one when it comes to caste. The Hindu religion has changed beyond recognition over the past 2000-2500 years. Some of these changes were the result of lifestyle changes. But the institution of caste has remained unaffected and intact. Taking advantage of the ignorance of the masses, the Brahmins interpreted culture as they wished. They were at the top then, they are at the top now. Dr Singh exposes this Manuvadi conspiracy. The second article is by writer and critic Dr Chauthiram Yadav, who reminds us of the contribution of OBC writers. Both emphasize the role of OBCs in the development of Dalit literature. But this is not acceptable to the Dalit litterateurs, who have built an independent identity for themselves in parallel to the so-called mainstream literature. And why should it be? When the Dalit writers, who suffered the most under casteism, were struggling to build a parallel stream of literature, the OBC writers were in two minds. The Dwij writers were not ready to accept them and they were not ready to join the camp of the Dalit writers. The Dalit writers were talented and diligent and, through their consistent struggle, managed to build a new stream of pro-change literature in parallel to the so-called mainstream literature. If they are proud of their achievement, they have every right to be so. That is why they are not ready to allow anyone to usurp Kabir, Phule, Periyar and others who already have a place of honour in Dalit literature, merely because these great personalities were OBCs. Tribal litterateurs also think, more or less, along the same lines. And they are right. Dalit literature represents the growing consciousness against oppression. It expresses the consciousness of the classes that were the worst victims of caste atrocities. Some articles in the book welcome the idea of Bahujan literature but reading some of the others, one gets the feeling that instead of merging themselves with the stream of Bahujan literature, Dalit litterateurs would prefer to play the role of an elder brother within it. If the established litterateurs have reservations about a nascent stream, even the outlines of which are not very clear, there is nothing unusual about it.
What is good, however, is that the ifs and buts of Dalit and Tribal litterateurs about OBC literature can be resolved on the broader canvas of Bahujan literature. We can only hope that as the outlines of Bahujan literature become sharper and as mutual understanding improves, the internal contradictions will automatically disappear. However, the crisis of identity facing some Bahujan litterateurs may persist. The problem is that among the proposed components of Bahujan literature, while the streams of Dalit, Tribal and women’s literature are quite mature, the concept of OBC literature lacks clarity. The same is true of another component of Bahujan literature – the literature of the primitive tribes.
It is true that many personalities, whom Dalit writers consider their sources of inspiration, were OBCs. It is also true that wittingly or unwittingly, OBCs have, in the past, joined the upper castes in oppressing Dalits. But then, as they say, let bygones be bygones. Let us look towards the future. Understanding the bulwark of the caste system would make this endeavour easier. Manusmriti is widely considered a religious scripture. But this is an incorrect understanding. Manusmriti is not merely a book that promotes and validates social inequality. It also justifies the monopoly of a handful of people on all resources. It declares Brahmins “the owners of all resources on this Earth” (Manu 1/100). In an age when the economy was based on farming and animal rearing, on the one hand, the world was said to be a “maya” (mirage) and people were sermoned to shun it but on the other hand, Brahmins were designated the sole owners of all resources. It was this contradiction that kept Indian society weak for thousands of years and the region remained enslaved for long periods of time. This was done as part of a well-thought-out strategy. It was done to make Brahmins central to all activities of life and the socio-cultural discourse. Why Manusmriti was never critiqued as a treatise that promoted economic inequality? That was because the early critics of Manusmriti came from the classes that believed in leading one’s life with minimum resources and considered satisfaction as the biggest wealth; for them, social equality was more important than economic equality. They felt that once social equality was achieved, economic equality would follow.
With time, society turned more ritualistic. The itinerant rishis were replaced with an institutionalized priestly class. As long as Varna system was ashram-centric, there remained some possibility of transcending the boundaries of Varna. Satyakam Jabal, Matang, Kardam, Mahidas, Raikv, Vishwamitra and others were admitted to higher varnas on merit. The first five of these rishis were Shudras. If their names survived in Brahmin scriptures, it was because they were mentally Brahmanvadis and had become mouthpieces of the Varna system. Ajit Keshankbali, Kautsa, Purna Kasyap and Makhali Ghoshal were also Shudras and brilliant philosophers of their times. They challenged the intellectual dominance of Brahmins and made fun of the Vedas, describing them as the writings of Machiavellians, buffoons and noctivagants. Barring Kautsa, their names are missing from Brahmin scriptures. The name of Kautsa could not be effaced as Yask had mentioned him in the 15th chapter of Nirukta. A disciple of Panini and a great grammarian, Kautsa considered Vedic verses “meaningless”. “A logical analysis would reveal that the Vedic richas are meaningless poetry” (Nirukta, chapter 15). Subsequently, yagnas and other rituals, which were hitherto confined to the ashrams, started becoming a part of the daily life of families. That gave birth to a new class of self-seeking, frog-in-the-well priestly class. Initially, only the Brahmin and Kshatriya families organized yagnas and other rituals. The priests took them to the other classes of society. To perpetuate their dominance, they declared that the castes doing menial jobs were untouchables. They began maintaining a distance from these castes. Brahmins could not enter the homes of untouchables. Hence, the responsibility of extracting work from the untouchables fell on the shoulders of lower and middle castes. The lower and middle castes themselves victims of Brahmanism but lacking understanding, they began regarding their exploiters as their benefactors and emancipators. As this system took root and their agents began getting their work done, the Brahmins started keeping away from even the shadow of the untouchables. But that was only for public consumption. They had no problems in enjoying the bodies of Shudra women. That led to the emergence of hundreds of mixed varnas and castes. The untouchables, gradually, came to believe that what they were facing was their destiny. From time to time, many great souls tried to awaken them. But it happened in bits and pieces and there was no period of radical transformation in Indian history.
With time, the needs of society grew. The artisans perfected their art and learnt how to get the maximum price for their products. The Aajivaks were opposed to rituals. Buddha also endorsed this view. The shackles of caste began loosening. As sacrificial yagnas became out of fashion, more animals survived and prosperity grew. The influence of the Aajivaks and Buddha weakened the caste system. The norms of social behaviour and purity became flexible. As a result, members of different castes and communities began working together. The artisans realized the benefits of organization and of working as a group. The Aajivaks were known as such because they earned their livelihood through their labour and skills. This was their religion. Makhali Ghoshal, Purna Kasyap and Ajit Keshankbali were their guides and gurus. After the rise of Buddhism, a section of Aajivaks were drawn towards it but it stuck to their organizations and trade. With their skills and hard work, the groups of artisans scripted many a success story and within a short period, their business spread to far-off countries. But their progress was halted during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya.
There is no historical evidence to suggest that the organizations of artisans, which astonished the world with the excellence of their craft and their acute business sense, ever challenged the authority of the state or became a threat to state power. But Chanakya still had reservations about the communities of artisans. He was a votary of a strong centre of power. He did not want any power centre parallel to the state that could even remotely challenge its supremacy. Chanakya was adept in palace politics but the communities of artisans were so crucial to the economy of the state that he could not dare take direct action against them. Hence, he kept these communities under surveillance. The fallout was that the members of the Aajivak community, who, at one time outnumbered the disciples of Buddha, became scattered – this. when its founders Makhali Ghoshal and Purna Kasyap had attained Buddhahood much before Mahaveer Swami and Gautam Buddha did. This benefited the class which had no role in production but made money only through trade and business. Sensing a great opportunity, it began appeasing the officers of the state and the priests by paying tributes to them and managed to win the patronage of the state. In the time of Buddha, the business organizations were co-operatives of sorts but slowly, Vaishyas began emerging as a superior class. They started getting invitations from the state on special occasions. In return for gifts, they were allowed to run their businesses without any hindrance. A web of middlemen emerged and started fixing the prices of goods produced by the labour of others. This had already happened in the field of religion where the priests played middlemen between the god and the devotees. As the elite class started gaining ground, the communities of artisans started losing their primacy. They became dependent on the elite class for selling their products. This must have happened around the time when Manusmriti was written. In short, as long as political power was decentralized, economic power was also decentralized. It was during this phase of centralization of power that the Mahabharata got its present form and the Gita was written. Brahmins wrote Purush Sukta, which validated the Chaturyavarna system. The Smritis, Puranas and other scriptures in support of the Varna system were written during this period. The Aryans had brought the idea of the Varna system from their motherland Persia. The Persian society was divided into four Varnas – Athravas or priests, Rathaesthas or warriors, Vastrya Fshuyants or producers and Huitis or manual workers. In India, they became Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras, respectively.
The communities of artisans scrupulously kept away from politics. But as the Shudra artisans held great sway, the Brahmins feared them and they took away all their resources and economic rights from them. The Shudras were told that they were only meant to serve and that they should not expect any reward for their contribution. The Gita was used to propagate the concept of “Nishkam Karma: (work without any expectation of reward). They were told that they only had a right over work, not on its rewards. They were told that even if they had the capacity to accumulate wealth, they would have to refrain from doing so. The Brahmins were given the right to take away the wealth earned by the Shudras with the help of their masters (landlords, emperors, etc). All this led to a situation where Shudras were forced to give their services for free. As they had to be kept alive to extract work from them, gifts were given to them on special occasions like marriages and festivals and at the time of harvest. But these gifts were more like alms. To ensure that the Shudras do not see through this nefarious game, they were barred from acquiring knowledge. But this ban applied only to attempts to logically analyze and interpret the Vedic literature, not to reading and teaching their brahmanical interpretations. Despite being Shudras, Mahidas and Satyakam Jabal were called “Vedpati” because they accepted brahmanical superiority and surrendered to it.
This detailed exposition is an attempt to explore the means of uniting the Bahujans. Bahujan Sahitya Ki Prastavna does not dwell on the foundations of the ideology of Bahujan literature. If it is accepted that the Bahujans were active and hardworking members of toiler castes and artisan communities, it will not only help clarify the concept of Bahujan literature but also help discover the lost thread of history. There is enough evidence to show that despite being deprived of all resources by the Varna system, the artisan communities did not completely lose hope. Through their hard work, skill and organizational capacities, they grew so strong that it became impossible for the state to ignore them.
In those days, artisans formed their different organizations. Instead of working individually, they preferred doing business jointly. The Jatak Kathas mention 27 types of organizations of artisans and workers. They included communities of wood- and metal-workers, goldsmiths, leather-workers, gem-polishers, ornament-makers, makers of ivory ornaments, those who make water equipment, bamboo- and brass-workers, weavers, potters, dyers, makers of baskets, food-grain traders, fishermen, farmers, butchers, barbers, animal-rearers, soldiers who protected convoys of traders, moneylenders and even thieves. Dr Ramesh Majumdar refers to them in his book Corporate Life in Ancient India. In that era, they were known as Aajivaks. They did not believe in the brahmanical religion. Subsequently, all of them were branded as Shudras. Chanakya has even talked about organizations of Kshatriyas. These organizations were completely autonomous and the state did not interfere in their affairs. Since they formed the foundation of the economy, even the emperors maintained cordial relations with them. These workers considered their livelihood as their religion and god. The era in which India was known as “sone ki chidiya” (golden bird) was the era when these organizations were at their zenith. We can only imagine how important their contribution to the economy was.
Buddhism to saint-poets to reform movements to Jotirao Phule to Ambedkar – whosoever tried to clip the wings of the caste system – attacked religion, either directly or indirectly, showing that the caste system and Hinduism were inseparable. They could not have done anything else. Caste system is the umbilical cord of Hindu religion. They have a symbiotic relationship. If you attack caste, religion will come in between and if you attack religion, caste will come in the way. Buddha had boycotted caste but after him, Buddhism came to be dominated by those who were Savarnas by birth. They had no problems with Buddha’s religion. They had problems with Buddha’s opposition to caste. So, they adopted the religion, gave their life and time to it but ensured preservation of caste. At the first available opportunity, they began giving a brahmanical veneer to the revolutionary thoughts of Buddhist culture. They declared that Buddha was an incarnation of Vishnu, even adding, “A Buddha is born into either a Brahmin or a Kshatriya family.”
The brahmanical elements are known for shunning logical thinking and the conclusions born out of it. Immediately after the demise of the first “Shasta”, Buddhist writers began thrusting their casteist mindset on society. They did not spare even Buddha, who spent his life propagating equality and “Sangha”. Theirs was a retrograde interpretation of Buddha philosophy of life.
The organizations of artisans had one major weakness. They solely focused on business. They did not realize the power of knowledge and remained apathetic to acquiring knowledge, taking it to be the exclusive privilege of the Brahmins. Mahatma Jotiba Phule and Dr Ambedkar succeeded in their missions because they posed an intellectual challenge to Brahmanism. Both emphasized the economic aspect of life. That triggered demands for social, cultural and economic equality.
The experiences of society can come in handy in developing the concept of Bahujan literature. The first question that should be and would be asked of those who want to give shape to a new stream of Bahujan literature in parallel to the so-called mainstream literature is, what their views on the basic concept or theory of Bahujan literature are. What will be the role of caste in it? Can a movement based on caste move forward even an inch without it? If not, what will be the difference between other literatures and Bahujan literature? No one can deny that caste is a bitter truth of India society. Caste will bind the proponents of this concept, too. But can we rely on the poisonous vine of caste to lay the foundations of an alternative culture and society? Caste cannot be the primary and permanent identity of a person. When we talk of the proletariat of Marx, it conjures up the image of an exploited person who is being cheated by everyone and is a victim of the dog-eat-dog industrial economy. Caste is much more vicious. Capitalist economy, at least theoretically, gives the proletariat the right to become a capitalist. But the caste system does not allow anyone to change his caste – not only in this generation but also in the seven coming generations. That is why caste can never be the springboard of a major reform movement. In this respect, “Bahujan” is a better word. It sounds democratic. In the name of Bahujan, we can readily accept a literature that awakens people towards democratic ideals.
A touchstone of literature is that it should be imbued with a feeling of common good. It is a human limitation that one cannot see both sides of a coin simultaneously. To see the other side, one has to stop looking at the first one. The most a broad-minded writer can do is to ensure that his thinking is as all-encompassing as possible. Viewed from this angle, most of the literature has been written by Brahmanvadis and it promotes Brahmanism. It seeks to promote and preserve the interests of the Dwijs by hook or by crook. The beneficiaries of Brahmanism are not more than a fifth of the total population. Evidentially, the minority powers that be have written what is called the mainstream literature with the interests of the elite in mind. This literature has played a key role in giving a classical form to social stratification. Tulsi, Surdas, Valmiki and Kalidas can be described as the representative authors of this stream. Women, minorities, Dalits, poor, rich – all kinds of characters abound in their writings but all of them are used to glorify Dwij characters. This was done to ensure that the common man gave their tacit approval to the system based on social discrimination. They only promoted a society based on inequality and helped it flourish. The Brahmanvadis can argue that if women, minorities, Dalits, poor, rich – all kinds of characters – figure in their literature, then where is the need for a new stream? They could also contend that there is no literary stream that can challenge them even remotely and so, what is the problem in accepting that theirs is the mainstream literature? We can tell them – if they are willing to listen – that for any writing to be treated as literature, the primary condition is that it does not ignore those on the margins. It tries to bring those on the margins to the centre of the discourse. If they believe that their literature is mainstream, they will also have to admit that there are many literary streams that have been deliberately or by default left on the margins or are being ignored, and also that have no problems with it. Even when efforts were made to bring them into the mainstream, they were in the nature of philanthropy – as if they were doing some favour, as if they were the saviours. This argument is more than enough to place brahmanical scriptures out of the pale of literature. Far from coordinating with the rival streams or building a dialogue with them, over the past 2000 years, brahmanical literature has only tried to deny their existence or extinguish them.
The concept of Bahujan literature is centred on Dalits, OBCs, Tribals and primitive tribes. They all make a living through toil. They are known for their hard work and for their skills. But caste and Varna inequalities and lack of resources made them prey to many kinds of atrocities and deprivations. If Bahujan literature also confines itself to caste boundaries, there will always the possibility of it splintering into small groups. So, it should respect the culture of labour. That would reduce stratification of society. Bahujan literature should endeavour to be sarvajan-oriented. The ultimate objective of Bahujan literature would be elimination of caste. It would struggle to end all types of inequalities – social, economic and cultural. If the so-called Savarnas, who represent the elite of Indian society, try to enter the portals of Bahujan literature, they will be welcomed provided they are true believers in equality and culture of labour. Giving importance to labour culture does not and should not result in separation from other streams of knowledge. Bahujan literature believes in democracy of knowledge and would welcome all streams of thoughts. But it would have no place for the separation of labour and knowledge, as is the case in the brahmanical tradition.
The idea that Dalit and OBC literatures should be called Bahujan literature is inspired – whether willingly or unwillingly – not as much by society and culture as by politics. There are two reasons for this. First, in today’s fast-paced life everyone wants quick results and that seems to be possible only through politics. But politics has one primary feature – it always has a power centre. Whosoever is at the power centre starts believing that those who are away from it are inferior. Unless it is guided by society and culture, those wielding power quickly become a part of the ruling classes. In 1930, three key OBC castes of Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh had joined hands to constitute Triveni Sangh. Its members wanted to achieve equality with the Dwij classes through the path of politics. Initially, their efforts met with a fair measure of success. But for want of social consciousness, the experiment ultimately failed. The reason was the poison of caste filling the minds of the people. At the same time, politics does have an important role to play in pro-change societies. From the ancient period, the Dwijs have been dominating society, culture and politics. Dalits and Bahujans have had to struggle at social and cultural levels for the status that they finally have achieved or dream to achieve. Society and culture both have been used to exploit Dalits and the OBCs. One reason for their plight is the belittling of their role in the building of society and culture. In this respect, the post-Independence politics of India has given them a better deal. That is why giving importance to politics or using politics to better one’s socio-cultural status has been the core inspiration of their struggles.
Dalit literature is also a victim of the same tragedy. A ruling class has started emerging among the Dalits primarily due to the folly of giving society and culture less importance than politics. Slogans like “The 20th century will be century of the Ambedkar” are the outcome of this mindset. The sloganeers dream of a state in which the Manuvadi forces are on the wane. But the decline of Manuvadi forces is not the same as the decline of Manuvad or Brahmanism. That decline of Manuvadi forces but the persistence of Manuvad in new forms was not Ambedkar’s dream; and neither should it be the dream of any mature, intelligent and socially conscious person. Decline of Manuvad is impossible without the decline of caste. Phule and Ambedkar both realized this and therefore, in their own ways, opposed caste. Ambedkar makes this point again and again in Annihilation of Caste.
Dalit literature has definitely served to enhance the confidence levels of the people. Those who thought it prudent to hide their identity today flaunt their caste-identifier surnames like Valmiki and Jatav. This kind of confidence will aid in elimination of caste. I am again reminded of Paulo Freire who said that the oppressed want to assume the role of the oppressors. Everyone watches those who are at the top and hence there is instability at the top. Those who cannot reach the top hover around it. Premchand had said that literature is the lamp that shows politics its way. For this, it is essential that there should be as little a distance between the two as possible. Bahujan literature till try to inspire politics but it will keep away from politics.
One objective of literature is to bring about equality and harmony between different human identities. That is why it should always look towards the lower and ignored classes. Brahmanical literature has been mainly power-centric. It is another matter that the power centres propped up by it have been tilting towards politics on some occasions and towards religion on others. That is why the writings of brahmanical writers cannot be described as mainstream literature. An apt nomenclature would be the literature of dominance of the elite classes. We should readily admit that identity-based movements, whether of the Dalits or the OBCs, have been unable to storm the bastion of caste. One should remember that there are as many sub-castes in India as there are castes. There are gotras among Savarnas and they also discriminate against each other. Till some time ago, there were dozens of sub-castes among Brahmins and the so-called superior Brahmins not only did not break bread or did not have marital relations with the others but also did not sit with them. To say that casteism is as pervasive in India as it was earlier would be grossly erroneous. Casteism has weakened, and the credit for this must go to the democratic set-up and to the lower classes acquiring education and challenging the Dwijs.
Title: Bahujan Sahitya Ki Prastavna
Editor: Pramod Ranjan and Ivan Kostka
Publisher: The Marginalised, Sanewadi, Wardha, Maharashtra – 442001, Phone: 9968527911
First edition: Rs 100