Bahujan literature: Beyond the arguments or debates

Bahujan literature has been written for a long time but a discussion on its concept has begun only recently. The Bahujan literary movement is aimed at raising consciousness of the exploited, the oppressed, the backward and the Dalit castes

The concept of Bahujan literature is very simple. It is the literature of the majority, in contrast to the literature of the elites. As Buddha had said more than 2500 years ago, “Bahujan hitay, bahujan sukhay”. Bahujan literature is the literature of the majority but not of majoritarianism. Its strength does not lie in numbers. “It is the representative voice of different sections of society as a resistance to the communal consciousness created by Manuvad. It is the literature of the last man, who is facing any kind of deprivation.” These words of Pramod Ranjan in the preface to the book Bahujan Sahitya Ki Prastavna (The Case for Bahujan Literature) truly exemplify the identity of the Bahujan literature. There is a long tradition of writing in Hindi and other languages with a focus on the oppressed and the deprived sections; for example, the Dalit literature of Maharashtra, which has brought to light the life of the oppressed sections with admirable authenticity. One reason for this was that the writers came from the same background and had personally experienced the pain that they went on to depict in their works. That is why this literature drew the attention of not only India but of the entire world.

Just look at the Bhaktikaal and you will discover that all the key poets came from the deprived castes. Besides Kabir and Raidas, many other leading poets were from the Dalitbahjuan castes. This literature can be classified as Bahujan literature because it awakens the people against feudal exploitation and oppression. The anti-feudal writings of the Bhaktikaal poets from Dalit and oppressed castes, in a way, formed the historical background of Bahujan literature. The struggle of the Dalit castes during the Independence movement formed its social foundations. Pramod Ranjan writes: “Bahujan literature is a big umbrella genre, under which fall Dalit literature (for convenience, we can describe it as Atishudra literature), Shudra literature, Tribal literature and Women’s literature. Terminologies, thoughts and points of view like Ambedkarite literature and OBC literature are a part of its internal discourse.” He adds: “In Hindi, the concept of Dalit literature has gained acceptance only over the past two decades. But there are two contradictions inherent in it. First, it has only been accepted as a marginal literary genre, which means that ‘some other’ literature constitutes the mainstream. Communist writers call this other literature Progressive or People’s literature whereas Rajendra Yadav and all writers and supporters of Dalit literature insist that ‘What is not Dalit literature is Savarna literature’. Thus, according to them, the mainstream Hindi literature is Savarna literature. On the other hand, many Dwij writers’ works, a major part of the contents of which is dominated by their ‘‘Dwij’ consciousness, are also counted among progressive literature.” These two quotations of Pramod Ranjan can help us understand the concept of Bahujan literature.

Dwij literature has been dominating the world of Hindi literature in the name of “Progressive literature”. The Progressive literary movement launched by the Community Party of India was also influenced by it. This literature remained cut off from the exploited and oppressed ordinary people and was confined to the drawing rooms and the libraries of Hindi departments of universities. A vacuum was created in the literary world in the sense that the common man drifted away from it. That made the rise of Bahujan literature – representing the new political consciousness among the Dalit, Tribal and OBCs and born out of sociopolitical stirrings – inevitable. Bahujan literature has been written for a long time but a discussion on its concept has begun only recently. The Bahujan literary movement is aimed at raising consciousness of the exploited, oppressed, backward and Dalit castes. Its relevance lies in the fact that the progressives’ literary movement, led by the communist parties, has become elitist and has lost touch with the people. The Bahujan literature has emerged to fulfil a historical need.

Bahujan Sahitya ki Avdharna discusses the historical, ideological, philosophical, aesthetical and other aspects of this literature. The discussions are crisp and to the point. Pramod Ranjan and Ivan Kostka of Forward Press have edited the book. Both are associated with the literary-cultural movement of the Bahujans and their commitment to the movement is beyond doubt. Apart from articles by leading litterateurs, critics, editors and journalists, the book also includes interviews with Rajendra Yadav and some other prominent writers.

The book is divided into three sections. The first section is on OBC literature and discusses the concept of OBC literature and the development of Dalit consciousness in all its aspects. Among the contributors to this section are Abhay Kumar Dubey, Rajendra Yadav, Sharan Kumar Limbale, Rajendra Prasad Singh, Premkumar Mani, Bajrang Bihari Tiwari, Virendra Yadav, Hare Ram Singh, Chauthiram Yadav, Harinarayan Thakur, Jaiprakash Kardam and Sudhish Pachauri. All of them are well-known names in the literary world and generations of readers are aware of their writings and their thoughts. Leading journalist and thinker Abhay Kumar Dubey has written on the renaissance of the Backwards while Rajendra Prasad Singh has dwelt on the concept, origin and relevance of Bahujan literature. Rajendra Prasad tries to look for the roots of this literature in the writings of the Bhakti era. This exemplifies his understanding of the historical processes and his deep thinking. This section also contains an interview of famous Marathi writer Sharan Kumar Limbale with Prema Negi. This interview is a must-read for understanding Dalit literature and consciousness. Limbale has made many revealing comments about literary concepts. This section includes two articles by Rajendra Yadav – “OBC literature doesn’t exist. But it must be discussed” and “This is your time, not mine”. Both the articles raise some fundamental issues and reading them will enhance one’s understanding of the concept of Bahujan literature. Premkumar Mani makes a very sharp analysis in his “Caste discourse in literature” and in “The decline of Hindi criticism”. These articles have long-term value. Critic Virendra Yadav has written on the relevance of the concept of OBC literature. Prof Chauthiram Yadav’s well-thought-out and thought-provoking piece is about OBC heroes and development of Dalit consciousness. Harinarayan Thakur argues as to why OBC literature has the widest range. Jaiprakash Kardam’s piece is also important. Sudhish Pachauri’s satire “A snake in the grass wreaks havoc” is also eminently readable.

The second section is dedicated to Tribal Literature. In his article, “Tribal literary discourse: Challenges and possibilities”, Dr Ganga Sahay Meena has raised very pertinent and important questions. Writing about Tribal literary discourse, he says, “It is a discourse which relates the tales of injustice, humiliation and exploitation faced by this community and its traditions and culture.” He writes, “Tribal literature is marching ahead, imbued with the rebellious sentiment of Birsa Munda, Sidho Kano and other revolutionary Tribal leaders and their movements.” Dalit thinker Kanwal Bharti’s article, “Bahujan literature and Adivasis” is also important. Dalit writer and poet Musafir Baitha, in his article “Bahujan identity and scientific consciousness”, exposes the pro-Savarna thinking and sentiments of writers wearing the mask of progressiveness. He makes brief but pithy comments on the Dalit literary movement and its consciousness. Ashwini Kumar Pankaj links the concept of Bahujan literature with oppressed nationalities.

In the third section of the book, which is on the Bahujan literary course, Premkumar Mani’s reminiscences titled “Remembering Renu” are important. We must not forget that Renu was one of the most prominent litterateurs with a Bahujan consciousness. Kanwal Bharti in his “Bahujans should become mainstream” underlines the key challenges confronting OBC literature. Arvind Kumar comments on the proletariat identity of the Bahujans. Here, it might be pertinent to mention that the real nature of caste consciousness in India cannot be understood unless we break free from the stereotyped concept of the proletariat as peddled by the leftists and associate it with the Dalit and the OBC castes. Devendra Choubey’s piece, “Will only caste be the basis of Bahujan?” is also thought-provoking. Journalist and social activist Sanjeev Chandan clarifies important concepts in his article on the aesthetics of Bahujan literature. Sandeep Meel attacks brahmanical or savarnavadi literature while dwelling on the revolutionary tradition of Dalit literature in his article titled “Everything else is pulp fiction”.  This section also contains a speech titled “I believe in the idea of Bahujan literature” delivered by Arundhati Roy. Arundhati rightly goes hammer and tongs against communal forces. She tries to show how the RSS is a staunch opponent of the Dalits and the lower castes and how destroying the RSS is a big challenge before the Bahujans. Besides, the articles of Anita Bharti and Waman Meshram also force one to reflect. The books ends with a list titled “Do only the twice-born have literary merit?” It makes for interesting reading. It shows that all the winners of Jnanpith and Sahitya Academy awards were savarnas. None of them was a Dalit or an OBC. The list includes Sahitya Academy award winners from 1955 to 2015 and Jnanpith award winners from 1968 to 2013. To sum up, this is a thought-provoking book that everyone must read.

Title: The Case for Bahujan Literature

Editor: Pramod Ranjan and Ivan Kostka

Published: The Marginalised Publications, Wardha, Maharashtra

Price: Rs100

To order, contact The Marginalised Prakashan, Wardha/New Delhi. Mobile: 9968527911. Or visit Amazon and Flipkart. The Hindi edition of this book is also available on Amazon and Flipkart  

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