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Deep rivers

 | 
Kannan M.
, 
Jennifer Clare

Contemporary Tamil

Tamil dalits in search of a literature1

Texte intégral

  • 1 Some of the material herein was referred to by François Gros in a seminar on 'Some Aspects of Cont (...)

However many gather to pull it,
What of it?
The temple car still hasn't come into the cēri
Atalaracan
Kaḷamputitu (August-October 1993)

Paṟaiyaṉ!
If he remains Paṟaiyaṉ they will burn him alive,
If, as warrior, he uproots
They will worship him with joined hands.
Palamalai
Paṟavīraṉ (Niṟappirikai-November 1994)

Dalits in and out of Tamil Nadu

  • 1 A Dalit Action Committee, which became the Dalit Sahitya Akademi, had existed in Bangalore since 1 (...)

1The untouchable sells abroad but does less well in India. Is an 'alternative literature' of the downtrodden and 'oppressed' thinkable in the land of the Laws of Manu? In Tamil, the phenomenon has only just come into being. The monsoon of dalit literary inspiration that gathered in the west of India during the 1960s has barely crossed the Western Ghats. It was not until 1982 that the first reference appeared and that was only a very casual one, in Paṭikaḷ, a magazine published in Bangalore by a small group around Tamiḻavaṉ.1 At the beginning of the 1990s the word 'dalit' was in widespread use in Tamil, but not without reservations, since even in its local orthography of talit the term is of Sanskrit origin and Tamil intellectuals are nothing if not linguistically touchy. Moreover, acceptance of the word vaguely implies consciousness of participating in a movement that concerns India as a whole.

  • 2 ‘On the whole we could define Dalits as people belonging to castes which, in one way or the other, (...)
  • 3 This was also the occasion for the publication of a Tamil version of his works; from 1991, more th (...)

2From various perspectives, Tamil ideologues set to work to examine the political equation of religious minorities with those rejected by the caste system;2 they referred back to Ambedkar, champion of the cause of the untouchable, whose centenary in 1991 had opportunely brought his writings to mind.3 The outbreak of dalit literary inspiration is thus very recent and its promulgation through the media even more so; further, it is in a state of ideological confusion which can be clarified only by attention to the emergence of the phenomenon and the limitations peculiar to it. The current tendency towards drowning specific aspects of it in what might be called dalit sensitivity (taken here to mean modish, and conforming to the concept of political correctness or self-censorship as it appears in journalistic and anthropological discourse) is appropriate to the Tamil literary temperament which is naturally sober and tends to half-tones. If a writer, dalit by sympathy and origin, turns away from the ideological free-for-all because of his or her humanistic values, fashion forces and official literary circles will elevate the writer in the name of the uncompromised values he or she espouses, thus paradoxically compromising them.

  • 4 Putiya pārvai, 1-15 March 1995, pp. 9-11.

3In 1994 Pūmaṇi, a writer belonging to an untouchable caste, a dalit by birth though not always eager to be so identified, received a literary price awarded by AGNI (Awakened Group for National Integration, a Tamil organisation in Madras with a national network of Congress orientation run by the authors Malan and Sivasankari, AGNI also means 'fire'). On that occasion he read a text, later published in Putiya Pārvai (a now bi-monthly literary magazine managed by M. Natarajan, who was closely involved with local politics at that time), a significant satirical allegory, Ellāmē pērīccampaḻattiṟkuttāṉ ('All for the Dates...').4

4In a village of the karical (black soil) country, on the verandah of his house, a man of some culture is waiting for the rains. He strikes up conversations with passers-by, first a salt merchant who is also a Caṅkam poet whom he admires.

5‘What an amount of knowledge!’ 'Knowledge... where can one buy that...?' replies the poet as he goes his way. He then meets the Āḻvār poetess Andal of pure Vaishnavite lineage:'How does she know so much about the cowherd women and their work?' 'Mayn't I write about other people? Who said I am nothing but an Āḻvār?’ She leaves him dumbfounded. Face to face with Subrahmanya Bharati and his donkey, he questions the relevance of an image in one of the Tamil poet laureate's prose poems. The reply is, ‘You are too big-headed; it's the heart that ought to be big....’ The rain comes and with it the croaking of frogs, an image of our society familiar since Socrates. They croak in Tamil, discreetly ‘brahminism’; more forcefully ‘dravidianism’; even more strongly ‘feminism’, ‘territorialism’ (regionalism, chauvinism of the birthplace reserved for the ‘sons of the soil’), ‘structuralism’; in a hoarse voice 'traditionalism'; in a more confused tone, ‘dalitism’, with many variations, a veritable cacophony: 'tatalittu’, the dalits on themselves; ‘atalittu’ nondalits on the dalits; ‘pitalittu’, the ‘backward castes’ on the dalits; ‘mutalittu’, the ‘forward castes’ on the dalits.... A date-seller comes along who, according to custom, trades his fruit for old utensils. The villager is possessed with a ‘little humanism’ which he doesn't want to exchange but would prefer to have enhanced. The merchant knows nothing about this and grumbles about such an unreasonable individual. Left to himself the man confesses that all his life he has tried to learn and understand but everyone has repeatedly told him that he knows nothing. An old school teacher reassures him, quoting from Ecclesiastes and putting Candide into practice: Qui auget scientiam auget dolorem (He who increases knowledge increases sorrow). 'I'll go back to my garden. 'He proclaims categorically when the date-seller comes back, 'The truth is, I know nothing. Are you satisfied?'

6Faced with this caricature, the scepticism of the writer, whether feigned or disillusioned, acting as a perfunctory anti-intellectualism, sets up a barrier behind which he can take refuge and disrobe with an appearance either of modesty or of having been wounded. What can be concluded from this? Is there, will there ever be, a Tamil dalit literature?

  • 5 Bibliographical details in Eleanor Zelliot, From Untouchable to Dalit: Essays on the Ambedkar Move (...)

7A comparison with other dalit literatures is unavoidable but the numerous works about these make for brevity.5 It was Marathi literature which first drew attention to the term 'dalit' and to the literary genres which, towards the end of the 1960s, were expressing the movements’ essence, with Eleanor Zelliot, Gail Omvedt and other Americans calling themselves 'Concerned Asian Scholars'. If the first dalit literary conference, which passed almost unnoticed, took place only in 1958, the movement did not lack antecedents to vindicate it, from the Buddha himself and, more modestly, the medieval devotee mahar Chokhamela, to more modern exponents of social reform such as Jotirao Phule (1829-90) and to those authors, often linked to the 'peasant' literary renaissance, who drew their inspiration and language from the land, such as S. M. Mate (1886-1957). The Maharashtrians also had before them the prestigious example of one of their own people, B. R. Ambedkar, who helped to engender an 'untouchable' consciousness in response to the Gandhian campaign of 1933-34 in favour of 'Harijan', and who attempted to popularise a large-scale political ideology through the Republican Party whose fragmented pan-Indian vision never managed to evolve into a genuinely unifying reality (various factions may gather for the sake of elections only to split up again immediately afterwards) but which, with great difficulty, made some inroads into Maharashtra in 1966.

  • 6 ‘The language of these writers is one of lament, doubt and scorching rage. And the body of the wor (...)
  • 7 For easy reference, see 'Gujarati Dalit Literature', Indian Literature, No. 159, January-February (...)
  • 8 From Arjun Dangle, Dalit ilakkiyam: Pōkkum varalāṟum, trans. Ti. Cu. Satasivam, Madras, 1992, to P (...)
  • 9 In English see Kalpana Bardhan, Of Women, Outcastes, Peasants and Rebels, Berkeley, 1990. Since sh (...)

8It is therefore not surprising that the brilliant young generation of Marathi dalits in the 1960s took the American Blacks as their model, gave a literary turn to their commitment and founded the 'Dalit Panthers' in Bombay in 1972. Their provocative language often lacked grace but never intensity.6 Gujarati literature followed suit7 with some difficult debuts before beginning the exploration of a pattern which was often to be copied: a rearrangement of poetic forms linked to song and folklore and a foray into subaltern mythology, chosen as an alternative to the weight of classical Hinduism. Several English translations from Marathi appeared in Tamil Nadu well before the Tamil translations based on them. Like some other texts also translated from Marathi, but into French (by Guy Poitevin), they were testimonies rather than works of the imagination, chronicles rather than artistically conceived texts, lived experience rather than poetic experimentation, and a supply of material for the study of anthropology rather than a renewal of the literature.8 A politically aware public drawn from universities in India and abroad kept the movement at arm's length, though without hesitating to overvalue it; its linguistic impact is incontestable but current trends in academic studies of dialects do not seem to have taken this into account. Beautiful poems and some blasphemous outbursts appeared in Marathi although the prose cannot be compared with that of certain Bengali texts, such as those by Mahasweta Devi.9

  • 10 Her novel Cantirakiri Āṟṟaṅkaraiyil, Tamil trans. Ti. Cu. Satasivam, Madras, 1994, with an introdu (...)
  • 11 'One should not reduce the word dalit to signify only a caste. "Dalit" should symbolise suffering a (...)
  • 12 See D. R. Nagaraj,'From Political Rage to Cultural Affirmation: Notes on the Kannada Dalit Poet-Ac (...)
  • 13 Katti Padma Rao, Caste and Alternative Culture, trans. D. Anjaneyalu, Madras, 1995.
  • 14 A village in the south coastal district of Andhra Pradesh where, on 17 July 1985, six dalit Christ (...)

9In Dravidian languages, writers in Kannada seem to be the most prolific, with Devenuru Mahadeva, Govindayya, Chandrashekhara Patila, Baraguru Ramacandrappa, Sara Abubakkara10 and, above all, Siddhalingayya, who appears to keep a distance and to denounce certain ambiguities.11 More balanced of late, Siddhalingayya has discovered that being a revolutionary involves more than wishful thinking and that works by writers 'in revolt' fall flat, being limited by a language of class struggle which is international, homogeneous and entirely antiseptic, and by a narrow imagery. This is the international poetics of poverty and of the proletariat, additionally boxed in by a mainstream that has come to be capable of absorbing various degrees of rage. The political statement of the dalits may be represented today, at least in north India, by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Kanshi Ram, but where is its cultural statement? If the dalits lack the capacity and the necessity to create their own myths there is nothing to distinguish Marxist poetry from dalit poetry. For this creation to take place, two pitfalls have to be avoided: that of becoming closed up in the aesthetic structures of folklore alone and the complete adherence to stereotypes of dalit imagination, both of which are equally ineffective in terms of political realism.12 The aura of myth, resorted to for the sake of its prestige, is thus a common leitmotif in dalit literature. In Telugu also, an ideal prescription for a perfect dalit, written by a militant intellectual of the movement, Katti Padma Rao,13 draws its inspiration from the blood of the victims of Karamchedu,14 certainly, but also from the Indian materialist-philosophical tradition of Carvaka, perceived as egalitarian, as well as from popular art and culture, from songs of fishermen, shepherds, launderers and barbers, and from burrakathā, jakkulakathā, jamulakathā theatre, but apparently never from any particular genre of modern literature. This is all the more surprising in that this literature demonstrates a high level of social and political consciousness and a great deal of receptivity to dialect. Any development in the situation in Kerala would be complicated by the intrusion of the important reformist movement initiated in favour of the Īḻava, within the framework of Hindu society, by Narayana Guru well before Independence and by the presence of an original brand of communism as well as of numerous and active Christian and Muslim minorities. Today, there is no hesitation in seeing in the Synod of Diamper (Udayamperur), the beginning in 1599 of an anticaste movement amongst the Indian clergy while, in fact, it tried to resolve the conflict between a new wave of conversions made by the Portuguese and the old Syrian Christian church which had itself assimilated the caste system. It is a family belonging to that very tradition that is portrayed in The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy who, by giving the proceeds of the Malayalam rights of her novel to the promotion of Kerala dalit literature in February 1999, has shared her limelight with the obscure Kerala Dalit Sahitya Akademi. Yet, in Kerala, as everywhere else, the best writings to be claimed by dalits are the works of non-dalits, from Kumaran Asan to Katammanitta Ramakrishnan, or are translations from Marathi or Oriya. Mention was made in 1998 to a dalit novel by a dalit writer, Kocharayathi by Narayanan.

  • 15 The term needs clarification. The series called 'Subaltern Studies' (in the English language) whic (...)

10These invariables are not lacking in Tamil: a quest for ideological roots and exalted ancestors, a fascination with 'subaltern'15 folklore (as an alternative to classical mythology and literature), attempts made by the best to go beyond realism and the sordid and to find, beyond self-pity, pity for others, invective and insult, the authentic cry which would take them beyond simple documentary witnessing and would fulfil hitherto frustrated expectations.

The Lure of the Dravidian Movement

  • 16 Classical: Eugene Irschick, Political and Social Conflict in South India, Berkeley, 1969; and idem (...)
  • 17 Essentially the 'caiva vēḷāḷar' which may be translated roughly as small landowners (piḷḷai), and, (...)
  • 18 Cf., Tamilnadan, Kavikkō Chennai, 1999: Shanmugam Pillai, Pāppāttikkum Paṟaccikkum naṭanta alaṅkār (...)
  • 19 Vinōta vicittira parci tōṭṭi, tōṭṭicci Paṟaiyaṉ pāṭṭu, Tancavur, 1929.

11The first problem is, naturally, the historical relationship of the Tamil dalits with the Dravidian movement that occupies such an important position in the sensibility and the political life of Tamil Nadu.16 Appearing towards the end of the nineteenth century, the movement first reflected the progressive values of Congress policies and had, at the same time, a strong regional background: Periyar, a Congress dissident, was the hero of the Self-Respect Movement. During the 1930s, however, it was less Gandhian values that counted and more the ancient southern gap between the Brahmins and the non-Brahmin high castes,17 that is, Sudras, as distinct from Harijans. Local and peripheral, the Dravidian movement of protest and opposition, of alternative and counter-culture, hostile to the centre, to Sanskrit and to Brahmins certainly has qualities that give it a resemblance to the Dalit movement, but only by analogy. This is confirmed by two tracts very recently rediscovered by Tamiḻnāṭaṉ who projects them as forerunners of Tamil dalit literature. The first, Shanmugam Pillai's Pāppāttikkum paṟaiccikkum naṭanta alaṅkāraccaṇṭai (The ‘Ornamented Fight between a Brahmin woman and a paṟaiyar Woman’)18 is in the form of an ornate dialogue, between two such women in which the latter exposes the hypocrisy of the former's values and attitude, in the same mode as that of Aritasar's well-known Irucamaya viḷakkam between two women as to the relative merits of Saivism and Vaishnavism. The second tract (Vinōta vicittira pārci tōṭṭi, tōṭṭicci Paṟaiyaṉ pāṭṭu ('The Paṟaiyaṉ Song of Totti and Totticci in the Strange and Wonderful Parsi Style')19 is a song in which a paṟaiyar remonstrates with the upper castes about their ignoring of his noble origins in mistreating him. Without having any significant direct impact upon serious literature, the Dravidian movement was nevertheless to exercise considerable influence upon the language by offering a neutral, standard and syncretic idiom as an alternative to the Brahmin dialect, not identifiable with any caste, and tending to reduce the percentage of Sanskrit vocabulary from approximately 60-70 per cent to 20-30 per cent without, however, sharing the exclusiveness of the 'Pure Tamil' movement. It rather provides, through cinema and political propaganda, a fluid language, capable of emotion and, indeed, of sentimentality, a dramatic spoken language, forged for and by dialogue (films, novels, theatre) and debate. Even though satirised latterly, this language, an instrument in the conquest of power, the language of the writerpoliticians Annadurai and Karunanidhi, will not fade out any more than will mythical references to the past and to its literature. It is forceful enough to affect the imagination but insufficiently profound to have lasting significance.

12The coming to power of the Dravidian movement and the uncontrollable casteism of the upwardly mobile 'backward castes', who benefit from quota and reservation policies prejudicial to the interests of the dalits, can only induce the latter to seek an identity independent of the Dravidian establishment, if not actually organised against it.

  • 20 See Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer, 'Horseplay in Harappa', Frontline, 13 October 2000, pp. 4-14.

13The recent and very powerful Hindu revival, which confirmed its triumph with the election of the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1999, is substituting for the historical myth of the antique Dravidian culture faced by an Aryan invasion, a new myth of Hindutva, a unique entity which regroups several millennia within a single community of language and culture including all Hindus from Brahmins to Dravidians, leaving out only the tribals and dalits who have never been integrated, and the dissidents who are converts to Islam or Christianity. As in the case of the earlier myth, the Hindutva one is based on unproven archaeological and linguistic argumentation— the Sarasvati river archaeology, and Sanskrit-oriented reading of Indus seals.20 The myth will, nevertheless, function as long as Sanskritisation continues to be identified with the social promotion of lower castes. It provides a perfect ideological cover for the unificatory obsession of the majority because it leaves the minorities with no alternative to integration into Hinduism other than the violence which it is the duty of the political majority to prevent.

  • 21 Little is said about the importance of the caste of the Tamil militant nationalists of Sri Lanka, (...)

14Slogans have more impact than poems, yet the emergence of a dalit Tamil literature is perceptible. It is a literature with an unfurnished memory; it is subaltern and it lacks the prophetic charisma of established cultures. It employs a more colloquial and popular language, which it uses even in narrative prose. Matters are further complicated by the fragility that fringe groups are prey to, the ephemeral nature of reviews and magazines, the uncertain agendas of ideologues, the excessive place given to poorly assimilated foreign references and, lastly, the far from negligible creative impact of the Tamil writers of Sri Lanka, traumatised by their internal conflicts and forced emigration.21

In Quest of Ancestors: Ayotti Das Kaviraja Pantitar, A Neo-Buddhism before Ambedkar

  • 22 V. Geetha and S. V. Rajadurai, 'Dalits and Non-Brahmin Consciousness in Colonial Tamil Nadu', EPW,(...)

15The dalit is without influence and is defined by his nakedness, standing as he does as the last and interchangeable link in the chain of social organisation. The dalit has insufficient cultural weight to interact with the Indian cultural renaissance of the twentieth century which is Hindu in essence and functions by negating, silencing or assimilating any attempt at alternatives or dissidence. The dalits have thus been tempted to create ancestors for themselves as well as an ideological past. In Tamil Nadu the contribution of the pañcamar (the 'fifth caste', the out-castes, strangers to the four varṇa), through the construction of a militant non-Brahminism within the reformist nationalism of the final decades of the nineteenth century, is today revivified by dalit ideology as the foremost expression of their consciousness of caste. Although now forgotten, the path and the theses of Ayotti Das Kaviraja Pantitar (hereafter ADKP) have had a distinct impact.22

16ADKP, a pañcamar, was born in 1845 in a village in Coimbatore district and spent his youth in the Nilgiris. Nothing is known of his formative years, although there must have been some contact with British residents and it is known that he came under the influence of a guru whose name he adopted as his own pseudonym, the only name by which he is known. ADKP had a glimmering of Indian and western philosophies in Sanskrit, Pali and English. Midway between being a pandit and an autodidact, he quotes indifferently from classical Tamil texts in the best editions, in those days quite new, and from compilations that are apocryphal and very little criticised. He was married and his son, Pattabiraman, followed in his footsteps. His brother-in-law Rettamalai Srinivasan, was a well-known figure in politics and participated in the famous Round Table Conference in London in 1930. He may have known and even influenced Ambedkar. ADKP, adhering to Advaita Vedanta, founded an Advaitananda Sabha in the Nilgiris in 1870 with the aim of thwarting the noisy proselytising of Christian missionaries; then, in 1881, he founded the Dravida Mahajana Caṅkam whose first conference on December 1881 proclaimed a positive charter along the lines of the Self-Respect Movement, in favour of the rights and social status of the Paṟaiyaṉ, to be called thereafter Pūrva Tami ḻar (the ancient Tamils). Its conclusions, addressed to Congress and Muslim leaders, produced no echo in spite of the creation, in 1886, of a journal, Tirāviṭap pāṇṭiyaṉ.

  • 23 Aka-Puṟa camayaṅkaḷ ('Interior-Exterior Religions'), Kolar Gold Fields (hereafter KGF), 1935.
  • 24 This is a text from the late nineteenth century, but was first published in Tamil in 1925 by KGF.

17ADKP was closely involved with the Theosophical Society and, along with Annie Besant and Colonel Olcott, founded a school for pañcamar in Madras; he accompanied Olcott to Ceylon in 1898, discovered Buddhism and after his return to Madras in 1902, founded the Chakya Buddhist Caṅkam in Royappettah, an active instrument of propaganda. The National Congress of Surat, in 1906, put an end to his remaining illusions about mainstream politics; in 1907 he started a weekly magazine, Oru Paicā Tamiḻaṉ, 'One Paisa Tamilan', later Tamiḻaṉ (at the demand of its readers). After his death in 1914, his son managed the magazine for a year, after which it was started again by G. Appaduraiyar at Kolar Gold Fields, and appeared at least between December 1926 and June 1934. A trust, Sri Siddharta Puttakacalai, continued to publish, as low-priced booklets, his texts and texts of the Self-Respect Movement, right up to the end of the 1950s. The influence of ADKP is even more marked in a brochure by Maduraiyar which reaffirms the connection between the battle for self-respect and a Buddhist past.23 In other cases, such as M. Macilamani Mutaliyar's Varuṇa pēta viḷakkam ('Explication of the Differences between Castes'),24 the original reference to Buddhism vanished and was replaced by the conflict between Śūdra and Brahmin. The references to E. V. Ramasami Periyar and to the Self-Respect Movement are obligatory.

  • 25 Intirar tēca carittiram, 2nd edn., KGF, 1957.
  • 26 Yatārttapirāmaṇa vētāntavivaram, 2nd edn., KGF, 1932.
  • 27 Vēṣapirāmaṇa vētāntavivaram, 2nd edn., KGF, 1932.
  • 28 Puttamārkka viṉāviṭai (Questions and Answers on Buddhism) 5th edn., KGF, 1955; Vivāka viḷakkam (Ex (...)
  • 29 Pūrvattamiḻoḷiyām puttaratu ātivētam ('The Original Veda of the Buddha, Light of Ancient Tamil'), (...)
  • 30 Tiruvaḷḷuvar varalāṟu ('History of Tiruvalluvar'), 4th edn., KGF, 1950.
  • 31 Tirikkuṟaḷ kaṭavuḷ vāḻttu ('Tirukkuṟaḷ, Invocation to God'), 3rd edn., KGF, 1950.
  • 32 Sri Ampikaiyammaṉ aruḷiya tirivācakam ('Tirivacakam given by Sri Ampikaiamman'), 1st edn., KGF, 19 (...)
  • 33 Kapālīcaṉ caritira ārāycci ('The Enquiry of the Skull-Bearer's Story'), 3rd edn., KGF, 1932.
  • 34 Vipūti ārāycci ('The Enquiry of the Holy Ash'), 3rd edn., KGF, 1932.
  • 35 Ariccantiraṉpoykaḷ (‘Harishchandra Lies'), 5th edn., KGF, 1950; Sri Murukakkaṭavuḷ varalāṟu ('The (...)

18In order to appropriate Indian history, ADKP begins with a radical and subversive deconstruction of Hinduism: for the paṟaiyar no compromise is possible, neither historically, with the Brahmins, nor politically, with the reformist nationalism of the Congress, and not with the Muslims either. Moreover, neither Islam nor Christianity can profit from this alienation. The hypothesis of secularism in the western sense is not even envisaged. Buddhism remains the only form of protest and dissidence that allows the Paṟaiyaṉ both to affirm and to light up his subjectivity. All that remains is to accumulate arguments for the paṟaiyar being the first dwellers on Indian soil and for Buddhism as their natural ideology: India is the land of Buddha, whose names it bears –Intirar, he who has mastered the five senses (intiriyam) and Varada, from which are drawn 'India' and 'Bharat'. The Brahmins of today are nothing but false Brahmins, ārya milēcca, barbarian invaders, appearing late on the scene and substituting themselves for the 'genuine ones' whom they then reduced to the condition of Paṟaiyaṉ; these perfidious imposters are all in disguise. It was the naivety of the orientalists themselves, starting with Max Muller, that caused them to accept the texts and myths as given, thereby confirming the occlusion of the authentic Hindu religion. Such, in substance, is the content of Intirar tēca carittiram ('The History of Indirar Desam'),25 and of Yatārttapirāmaṇa vētāntavivaram ('The History of the Real Brahmin'),26 and of Vēṣapirāmaṇa vētāntavivaram ('History of the False Brahmin'),27 presented in the form of brief question-and-answer catechisms,28 and of an indigestible scientific compilation, Pūrvattamiḻoḷiyām puttaratu ātivētam ('The Original Veda of the Buddha, Light of Ancient Tamil'), first published during his lifetime as tracts in supplements to his journal.29 The other half of what we have been able to consult of the works of ADKP reinterpret or reclaim on behalf of his primitive Buddhism a certain number of the glories of Tamil tacitly annexed by Brahminism. He starts with Tiruvaḷḷuvar, the author of Tirukkuṟaḷ30 and continues wth the Tirukkuṟaḷ kaṭavuḷ vāḻttu;31 (read tiri [three] kuṟaḷ in conformity with the tri-pitaka); he adds the popular poetess Auvaiyar, whose poems bear witness in favour of the Buddha, texts with gloss by ADPK'32 and then goes on to tackle Siva-Kapalishvara in the sanctuary of the temple at Mylapore, who is interpreted as being the Buddha with his begging bowl;33 and next, the sacred ash,34 as well as the symbols of worship and the figures popular in Tamil devotion and imagination, such as the guardian of the cremation grounds, the King Harishchandra and the god Murukan whom he turns into a monk.35

19An evaluation of ADPK is difficult. Aside from his magazine, nothing of his that was published during his lifetime was available from the time of his death until the 1990s; yet the posthumous and continuing success of his works is remarkable. Numerous booklets were reprinted, often in as many as five editions, up until the 1960s. From 1993, his works have been being exhumed and interest is again focused on him from two complementary points of view: as the conscience of the Tamil dalit and as a precursor of the neo-Buddhism of Ambedkar. In 1999, two collections of his works have been published, one by the Dalit Sahitya Akademi, Madras, and another by the folklore unit of St. Xavier's College, Tirunelveli under the titles Ayōtti tācap paṇṭitar cintaṉaikaḷ and Ayōtti tācar cintaṉaikaḷ respectively, two volumes each so far. His struggle remained ineffective, however, since he never really abandoned the ideological sphere for that of politics, notwithstanding his contacts with that world and especially with two politicians, — R. Srinivasan (1860-1945) and M. C. Rajah (1883-1947) — both members of the Madras Legislative Council whose roles in the promotion of the untouchables are known throughout India.

  • 36 G. Aloysius, Religion as Emancipatory Identity: A Buddhist Movement Among the Tamils under Colonia (...)
  • 37 Madras, 1907; Ambedkar wrote a preface for the third edn., Bombay, 1948.
  • 38 One of its undeniable practical points is the exhortation of the untouchables to stick to their va (...)
  • 39 A. Fiske, 'Scheduled Caste Buddhist Organisations' in J. Michael Mahar, ed., The Untouchables in C (...)

20A general study by G. Aloysius,36 throws some light on the history of this Tamil Buddhist movement between Madras and Kolar Gold Fields, and traces the link with Ambedkar through a book by P. Lakshmi Narasu, The Essence of Buddhism, for the third edition of which Ambedkar wrote the Preface.37 Aloysius consistently omits the name of R. Srinivasan, though he quotes from his short autobiography;38 this is probably because of Srinivasan's well-argued opposition to conversion to Buddhism initiated by Olcott and ADKP and proposed, later, by Ambedkar. Although well documented, Aloysius' book loses itself in verbose ideology of 'programmatic partnership' between Tamil Buddhism and the Dravidian movement. The author lacks the distance which alone could provide a pan-Indian perspective, as found in an early article by Adele Fiske.39 That perspective is the only one by which may be measured the incompatibilities between traditional, renunciatory Buddhist organisations with roles for the clergy, Indian and otherwise, and the republican trend. Much as these two group's may work together in, for instance, certain social welfare programmes, the republican viewpoint continues to see Buddhism as an ideology, whether politically oriented or not, which may be effectively opposed to Hinduism in the form into which the latter has been welded by the upper castes in their own interests. Moreover, in today's Tamil Nadu ADKP's vision has become inadequate; the dalit Christians are no longer a model nor an object of envy to others, and Buddhism is excluded since it too has become a stigma, not forgetting that Sri Lankan Buddhism has its own caste system. The most recent temptation has been Islam and conversions of dalit villages have been frequent, from Meenakshipuram in 1981 to Kootharampakkam, 90 kilometers from Chennai, very recently. In the light of the incidents in Coimbatore in 1998, fresh suspicion is cast on any such conversions while it is debatable whether the Muslims are really eager to join forces with the dalits.

  • 40 See the theoretical works of Raj Gautaman, or his humourous piece'... pāvāṭai avatāram' ('Incarnat (...)

21Dalits today, however, still manifest the disrespect for, and the questioning of, the Hindu gods that was a hallmark of ADKP.40 We note the most sensational forms of this in the ostentatious blasphemies of Periyar, who belongs to the same intellectual family as those who edited ADKP after his death, and in the more subtle form of the discreet negativism touched with the humour of Putumaippittan, the grand master of modern Tamil in whom there is a resurgence of interest lately. To credit the Kannada author Siddhalingayya with having introduced dialogues of down-to-earth and rational intimacy with the supernatural world of gods and goddesses, in his Avatārakalu in 1981, is to forget that at the meeting in Madras 40 years earlier between God and Kandasami Pillai over 'two cups of coffee', in the celebrated short story by Putumaippittan, the Creator was accused of total inability to adapt himself to the world in which his host was struggling. Already, gods and goddesses were having to fight for survival. The political tone is certainly different but in the long term the like-minded draw together, and it may be that some type of secular humanism will attract sympathy, especially outside India, from those who support the fight against intolerance, but probably still without producing a workable solution for the dalits.

A Detonator with a Long Fuse: The Massacre of Kīḻveṇmaṇi, 1968

  • 41 Kathleen Gough, Rural Change in South-East India: 1950s to 1980s, New Delhi, 1989, pp. 186-189, 44 (...)
  • 42 Sandhya Rao, S. Viswanathan, T. S. Subramanian, 'Dalits and the Politics of Caste', 2 parts, Front (...)
  • 43 W. R. Varadharajan, veṇmaṇi, Madras, 1978, 3rd edn., Madras, 1989.

22In 1933 Henri Michaux believed that the caste system would not survive Indian Independence; yet, 20 years on from 1947, in the east of Tancavur (today Nagai District), the revolt of the 90 per cent dalit farm workers against their mirasdar took a violent turn at the approach of the monsoon: with strikes, reprisals with the complicity of the police, and three murders of communist cadres CPI (M): the Naxalite menace was seen descending from Bengal and Telengana onto the fertile delta of Tancavur. On the night of 25 December 1968, a punitive expedition was sent out by a big landowner, the president of the association of rice farmers of the district, Gopala Krishna Naidu, against Kīḻveṇmaṇi, a village of paḷḷar and paṟaiyar dalits. The men fled; 16 women, five old people and 23 children, terrified, shut themselves in a hut. They were surrounded and burned alive, all 44 of them. Twenty-three people were charged. In 1976 the Supreme Court of India upheld eight convictions; only four were eventually effective. Gopala Krishna Naidu was assassinated in December 1980. The 'progressive' Dravidian government and the press maintained discretion. The searching enquiry by the American anthropologist Kathleen Gough was published in India 20 years later.41 Incidents of this nature still occur; skirmishes on a lesser scale are frequent enough to hold the attention of the more sober sections of the press.42 The extent of the deliberate massacre of Kīḻveṇmaṇi is an example the memory of which is still in evidence: a memorial on the site; a theme for reflection and motivation for leftist militants43 and, lastly, a literary theme whose treatment is of direct interest because of the perspective it provides on the preoccupations of Tamil writers at the time when the 'Dalit Panthers' of Maharashtra were springing up and making their literature happen.

  • 44 Reprinted in Aṉṟu vēṟu Kiḻamai ('That was Another Day'), Sivagangai, 1976, and in Mīṇṭum avarkaḷ ( (...)

23What is most striking is the absence of immediate reaction to the massacre at the very moment when all extreme forms of Marxist-Leninist-Maoists were vying with each other vociferously in intellectual circles, and when the image of the angry young man, personified by the Hindi film actor Amitabh Bachchan, was bursting onto the Hindi cinema screen. Numerous communist poets versified on the class struggle; others, more refined, disputed over poetry (cf. the eight numbers of the literary journal Naṭai). It was left to a Brahmin, Ñāṉakkūttaṉ (born 1938), living in Madras, deeply rooted in his Vaishnavite cultural tradition as well as in the metre of formal poetry, yet disturbed by innovation and critical to the point of sarcasm of the heavy sentimentality of progressive Dravidian politics, to write a short poem in 1969,44 in 13 edgy lines which build towards a calculated effect in the last one. It airily skims over an anonymous area without apparent emotion and with a feigned detachment; only the title gives the key to understanding, and an impetus to become indignant, to whomsoever might take the trouble. Is this then simply a mechanical and dispassionate stylistic exercise?

24Kīḻveṇmaṇi

Huts of plaited palm leaves,
Which seemed to be the pregnant womb
Of the supine earth,
Were turned into a forest of ashes.

When the dawn came in smoke,
The people of the village came and gathered,
They said: these were sparrows.
They said: these were children.

They said: were these women?
And these were the cows of the herd.
Of all that burned that night They found the remains, Except of one thing: civilisation, (our translation)

25Nobody any longer feels like being grateful to a Brahmin for having looked beyond his agrahāram or the office where he works in Madras. Even the choice of the Tamil term nākarikam (civilisation), which expresses not so much fundamental humanity as cultural refinement, was seen here as a contrived understatement inappropriate to the situation. Nowadays, people are less aware of the mastery of the author than they are of his apparent coldness. A rather constrained poet, Gnanakkuttan did not have the necessary gift of communication.

26Where was the event to find its Zola? In 1975, while the guilty verdict quashed by the Madras High Court was in abeyance in the Supreme Court, there appeared a novel, Kurutippuṉal (Streams of Blood), by Indira Parthasarathy, the pen name of Ranganathan Parthasarathi, again a Brahmin, who had been writing for 15 years and was a lecturer in Tamil at the University of Delhi. He was known in progressive literary circles for short stories and novels severe towards the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie, Tamil and otherwise, who reigned in Delhi, and also for his mastery of the art of tracing, through tortuous and introspective dialogues, the intimate innermost secrets of his protagonists. In 1977, one year after the Supreme Court decision, the novel was honoured by the Sahitya Akademi. A seventh edition came out in 1992. Kīḻveṇmaṇi is not named, but the story is the same:

Gopal, born in Delhi of an inter-caste marriage, his father a Naidu and his mother a Brahmin, teaches sociology in Delhi. Frustrated by the atmosphere in the capital, he goes back to his ancestral village near Tancavur. A friend, Shiva, a man of science, comes to spend his leave with him. The two intellectuals-inexile lodge with a communist school-teacher Ramaiyya and have their meals in the eating house of Vativelu. Vativelu is the illegitimate child of a concubine of the father of Kannaiya Naidu, the big landowner who wants to knock down the eating house, a haunt of communists of bad reputation. The confrontation between the feudal oppression of the Naidu and the Harijans who are fighting for their dues forms the core of the conversations between the two men. They involve themselves in the struggle to the extent of talking to the appropriate officials and to a minister; they are shocked by the apathy of these people. Gopal attempts to intervene with the Naidu on behalf of Vativelu, but the interview turns into an exchange of insults on their respective births. Gopal is found beaten unconscious behind the hut of a paḷḷar prostitute called Pāppātti; it is a frame-up, guaranteed to lose him his reputation. He complains in vain to the police. The eating house is demolished and Vativelu and Pappatti disappear. Further complaints are ineffective; even the minister, titillated by the story of Pappatti, will do nothing. The Naidu makes an accusation: a communist plot, masterminded from outside, has incited these day labourer riff-raff against him, a good citizen. It emerges, however, that the Naidu is an impotent voyeur who is forcing Vativelu and Pāppātti to couple while he watches. In the action mounted to free them, a guard is killed and the police arrest the schoolteacher. His friends try to take charge of the agricultural workers' cause but Naidu breaks the strike, lets Pāppātti be savagely killed by his henchmen and accuses Gopal of the murder (a recurring theme in morality scandals: men of higher castes are always supposed to be fascinated by women of lower castes). Shiva is arrested as an accomplice when Gopal and Vativelu flee to Nagappattinam. They return too late to circumvent the plans of the Naidu who has already attacked the village. But they are in time to see his men throwing back into the flames the women and children who have taken refuge in a hut which is then set on fire by the Naidu's men under the indifferent eyes of the police. Gopal, laughed at triumphantly and contemptuously by the Naidu, vomits into the canal whose clear waters had enchanted him when he arrived and in which, today, he sees a stream of blood reflected, wide enough to swallow the whole village....

27The massacre occupies one page out of 231: the streams of blood, designated in more popular terms by iratta veḷḷam ('flood of blood' perhaps not literary enough to serve as a title but certainly direct) which swallow up the village are themselves drowned in the waves of intellectual rhetoric on the subject of class struggle and the role of the Communist Party. The actual protagonists are not the bonded agricultural workers wanting to break their chains but, first, the boss who oppresses them to compensate (on a Freudian model, quite derisory and devoid of social dimension) for his physiological impotence, and then the idealists who attempt to organise the workers and in so doing 'discover' them, as they 'discover' the aesthetic charms of the village after the sophistication of Delhi (without, however, sharing their language, their labours or their limitations). Every subtlety of subjective analysis is given to these intellectuals. Cut off from the rural world, they lose their illusions because they happen to be there at that particular time. Though they receive a number of blows, they remain strangers to the reality over which they pore searchingly while it remains impenetrable to them. This point of view, that of the outside observer, subtle, sympathetic, doctrinaire and ultimately passive, is without a doubt the most common stereotype and persistent curse in contemporary imaginative Tamil fiction, issuing mostly from the urbanised middle-class with which it shares its language, ideas and myopic vision.

28Legitimate emotion and revolt can be felt to vibrate in quite another register. Tīkkuḷiyal ('The Firebath') is an anonymous ballad in the form of the Tamil heroic poetry of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, which has the untouchables as protagonists. The language is modern, the style sentimental and romantic and the declamation geared to moving the listening public to tears and to putting across a direct revolutionary message, as this brief excerpt shows:

On that day, the enslaved people were crammed together, crunched up in corners and clad in the cold wind. On that night the earth was like an immense burning ground, the mountains towered like funeral pyres, the electricity and telegraph poles stood like crosses. The sky, which had taken from her forehead the beneficient sign of the moon, was as empty as the heart of a widow. The trucks of the bosses, crueller than Yamaṉ (the god of death) and their henchmen, charging like a herd of buffalo, were advancing as if the darkness had legs; the bicycle chains were like the lasso of death around this abandoned hamlet, helpless and without hope. Beneath the hooves of these crazed buffaloes, the population of Veṇmaṇi, precious and dear as the pupils of our eyes, scattered like grains of rice and ran and crammed themselves into a hut, full to the brim like a sack of jute. The dwelling, gigantic and demonic, opened its mouth, offered its lips and sat there, indistinguishable from the shadows that rejoiced at having swallowed their prey. Petrol came down in a heavy rain and the hut was plunged into a sea of gas. The henchmen all around like a wall of flesh, firebrands everywhere, were there to dance their cruel dance of ghouls. On the lookout round the hut, the brands hissed in their poisonous fury and threw themselves upon it, beating at it. Then the snake bit the hut with his tongues of flame and the roof took fire and crackled. Masters, bosses, mad dogs, you who chop up the body of Veṇmaṇi like firewood, who build a pyre and set light to it, in years to come, if indeed the years continue to roll on, this fire will burn and will become the pyre you have yourselves built for your own funerals.

  • 45 Recently reprinted under the authorship of Navakavi, Veṇmaṇi (‘Venmani’), Sivagangai, December 199 (...)

29This song has been circulated for 10 years or so among extremist groups in favour of an armed revolution, in order to help sensitise their recruits to the injustices and cruelties of the system. It was published in 1985 as a simple pamphlet of 18 pages of text and 20 pages of an introduction signed by Eritaḻal ('The Firebrand'),45 telling the story of the agricultural workers of Tancavur and calling for vengeance for the massacre of Kīḻveṇmaṇi. It is not by chance that this sole, authentically dalit, inspirational text is also the one most directly modelled, and not without talent, upon a genuine popular tradition with all the power of its images, refrains and rhythms.

Unidentified Dalits: Explorers and Marginal Figures

  • 46 Pumani, Vayiṟukaḷ, Sivagangai, 1975.
  • 47 Pumani, Piṟaku, Sivagangai, 1979.
  • 48 Pumani, Vekkai, Madras, 1982.
  • 49 Pumani, Naivētyam, Madras, 1985.
  • 50 Pumani, Noṟuṅkal, Madras, 1990.

30The literary failure to rise to the challenge of Kīḻveṇmaṇi, even more striking today since the memory and the symbolic weight of the episode has been made so immediate, emphasises the political immaturity of middle-class literature, conditioned by the limitations of its public and those of a cultural heritage that excludes the dalits. At the same time, however, good writers are opening up avenues, their talent or their sensitivity inciting them to explore new subjects without their ever dreaming of claiming the label of dalit. An example is Pumani (mentioned earlier), who belongs to the group of regional authors from the extreme south of Tamil Nadu called karical after its black soil. Without romanticism or tragedy, Pumani has described the confrontation of the poor with their poor soil due solely to the existence of a countryside without recourse or hope: dry land, haunted by poverty and scarcity, a land of cotton and millet, of herds without pasture, of fallow lands without shade, denied irrigation, progress or education for the young. Prose as arid as the soil is used as a scalpel, starting with such titles as 'It Hurts' and 'The Order of Things'. A first collection of short stories, Vayiṟukaḷ ('The Stomachs'),46 by-passes the Marxist formula of oppressors and oppressed with humour in which there is, however, little leniency. A first novel, Piṟaku ('Later On'),47 describes with clinical precision and without pretension the life of a family of cobblers, the lowest of untouchables. The implacable rigidity of the system is suggested only through the austere quest for a little love and humanity on the part of the outcasts whose protest limits them to living the inevitable without complaint while remaining unresigned. A second novel, Vekkai ('Waves of Heat'),48 tells of the inner conflict of an adolescent in a family of small farmers, progressively driven to the brink of violence when his elder brother is killed in the course of a long drawn out confrontation with the big landowners who want to take away the family's land. The limits of Pumani's narrative technique are apparent: mechanical plot links substituted for real plotting, description, automatic and without individuality. The suffocating dryness of the observation quenches the passions and engenders monotony. A dry author who writes very little, Pumani is unlikely to gain wide popularity, but he has been able to create his own style even at the risk of becoming trapped in it. Free of all political allegiance and resistant to any affiliation, he would have been insistently wooed by the dalits had not a third novel, in 1985, asserted his position as an independent writer. Naivētyam ('Ritual Offering')49 describes the degeneration and the sufferings of a Brahmin who survives in a poor agrahāram by leasing his land to low-caste farmers who mercilessly exploit and despise him. This novel is the height of treason from a dalit point of view. Pumani however eschews self-criticism; his third collection of short stories (Noruṅkal, 'Crushed'),50 and his recent works reaffirms his direction: with a little humanity and much disrespect, his peasants remain genuine and so does their language.

  • 51 Asokamittiran, 'Viral' in Muṟaippeṇ ('finger' in Muṟaippeṇ – a kinship term for prospective or pot (...)
  • 52 G. Nagarjan, G. Nākarācaṉ paṭaippukaḷ ('Collected works of G. Nagarajan'), Nagarkovil, 1997.
  • 53 G. Nagarjan, Kaṇṭatum kēṭṭatum (That which is seen and heard'), Madurai, 1971; idem, Kuṟattimuṭukk (...)

31G. Nagarajan (1929-81) was the most marginal of contemporary writers. He was a Brahmin and an atheist, a militant Marxist who broke with the Communist Party, a sensitive and brilliant professor of English, an adulterer, smoker of ganja and other drugs, alcoholic and bohemian. He chose to live apart from his peers, whom he never ceased to defy, in order to be closer to the teeming crowds in city streets and slums, the migrants from villages in search of work, those untouchables, whether genuine or not, who, as prostitutes and pimps, are constantly harassed by the police and who are without scope or future. His ghost still seduces authors whose short stories make of him a mythic figure of rebellion and catharsis in their imagined aspirations towards revolution.51 The theoreticians for their part compete in prattling about him according to a borrowed intellectual schema, nonlinear and post-modern, and to untenable analogies between the man and his legend (as for instance, with Jean Genet), but continue to ignore his works which, rare and somewhat inaccessible, deserve better. A recent reprint has not changed the situation in any noticeable way.52 He published several short stories in his lifetime but only one collection, Kaṇṭatum kēṭṭatum ('Seen and Heard'), two short novels Kuṟattimuṭukku and Nāḷai maṟṟum oru nāḷē ('Tomorrow is Another Day'),53 which the author presents like this:

It is the life of an ordinary man. The base acts you would have committed had you dared, the boldness you would have shown had you been forced to it, the sicknesses you would have caught had you been tempted and the infamy that would have marked you had you fallen: these are what his life is made up of. You need not know what tomorrow will be like for him. For, for him as for most of us, tomorrow is another day.

32For the first time a troubling reality enters Tamil literature: a marginal society which is so close to the establishment that it sticks to its skin in an unsettling way. The two societies are linked by many synaesthetic correspondences and reflect each other at deep levels of Tamil culture and tradition but are unable to help each other. Nagarajan is there, listening for these liminal voices which speak of themselves and dream among themselves, surviving on the edge of the abyss. He neither narrates nor judges; invisible, he lends them his language, the language of Madurai, and his style which is direct, lucid, responsible and aware of bearing the derision of the world. That insubstantial branch of humanity, dwelling on the edges without hope, consecrated to death and nothingness, throws in the face of established order, through the fraternal engagement of the writer and his revealing presence, a question which that order can no longer hide from.

33Indian literature is full of the glamour of palaces and temples. It takes a strong character to introduce therein the excitement of the fringes and the powerful images required to rivet attention on the distress of the humbled. Coming, like Pumani, from the black earth of Kovilpatti, Pa. Ceyappirakacam (who also writes under the name of Curiyatipan), has succeeded in drawing from everyday local customs a telling image of discrimination: paḷḷar women are not allowed to wear flowers in their hair, as is otherwise the custom throughout south India, including among the women of the local landowning reddiyar castes. The paḷḷar wear the flowers suspended from the marriage jewel, the tāli, worn as a necklace. This makes them, if anything, more desirable, and one story begins with the arrival in the village of a young bride and the animated evocation of a dance:

  • 54 Pa. Ceyappirakacam, Tāliyil pūccūṭiyavarkaḷ ('Those Who Wear Flowers in the Tali') in idem Oru kir (...)

The ululation of the paḷḷar women with flowers in their tāli rose up. The flowers, fastened to the end of the tāli, danced on their chests and seemed to draw their perfume directly from their breasts. No women, except the reddiyar women, were allowed to wear flowers in their hair; the simple fact of wearing them on the tāli identified these women as low caste women....54

34As a very beautiful young bride, Taili comes to live in her husband's village and discovers a world of oppression quite new to her. First, there is the most consistent theme of village life: the higher caste men are obsessed by the physical attractions of the untouchable women whom they invariably perceive as desirable and easy, so they harass them unceasingly until they yield. Thus Taili is followed and accosted everywhere, from the lake to the grocery shop. The reddiyar come and fool around in front of her house the better to watch her. Her husband, furious but unable to confront them, turns his impotent rage upon his wife. Taking advantage of the difficult season when agricultural work is over and day labourers have no jobs, a rich, married reddiyar offers Taili work in his house where she can earn the grain she needs. She accepts, and he persecutes her with his advances at the same time as she finds herself up against all the caste restrictions which the jealous reddiyar women throw at her. One day she dares to ask his permission to go directly along the village streets to bring water to his house. He hesitates, then is overcome by passion and agrees. The next day brings scandal: an untouchable is walking along the village street and — even more scandalous — she is wearing sandals. She proudly claims to have her employer's permission, but in vain. The village assembly meets, the reddiyar wriggles out of it and refuses to back her up: she is condemned to drive the village cows and buffaloes to pasture outside the village each day and all alone.

  • 55 The academic study of folklore of the school of N. Vanamamalai has fixed its subject under the two (...)

35A last pathetic image contrasts violently with the first: the solitary, fragile figure of a woman seen from behind, hair unbound, leaving the village at dawn with the herds. Once again, it is only by recourse to popular imagination, heavy with symbols and affectivity, that the laborious dreary poverty of sexual oppression and servitude is transcended. A writer who is not a dalit paves the way, perhaps accidentally, for a dalit literature whose expression takes up a more imaginative element from dalit folklore. Unfortunately this remains to be rediscovered before it can be exploited.55

36A little-known writer, Ekbert Sachchidanandan, born in Madurai and for 20 years a teacher in a public secondary school in Kanchipuram, in 15 stories written between 1986 and 1999 and as yet uncollected, also puts a style and a language at the service of a micro-community, a Protestant sect within the Christian minority which, in terms of dalit politics, has a real importance. Set apart and having neither literary relationships nor involvement in social activism, Sachchidanandan, with disillusioned but effective irony, denounces feudalism as it is maintained by the religious system to which he belongs and in which he believes. His Christian values are in contradiction to the Christian intrigues he describes. His sympathies are with those embers of a religious hierarchy who are oppressed, moulded by bureaucracy and by the spirit of caste. The force and originality of his irony depends upon his using the language of the executioner to speak of the victims, leaving to biblical vocabulary and the phraseology of Christian charity, which always seem foreign and strange in Tamil, the job of denouncing, on his behalf, the travesty that has been made of an ethic and the cold hypocrisy associated with it. The writer conceals himself behind his borrowed words and behind a certain narrative skill which gives the impression, quite falsely, that nothing matters, even if inadmissible things are happening in the story. The misleading impression of confidence and serenity creates both distance and contention, even though the author consistently maintains the constrained reserve and dignity of his heroes. The sacristan is treated as the lowest of domestic servants by everyone from the pastor, his family and the church administration to the schoolmasters in the private school system, who are exploited and tyrannised by the corrupt and easily influenced administration which is imposed upon them. In terms of experience and narrative technique, the world of Sachchidanandan is very much defined and limited and the author does not seem to be moving forward: 11 stories out of 15 have the same theme, yet, in the Tamil and pan-Indian dalit configuration of today, he represents a very active and significant world. He is on the side of the oppressed and it is not impossible that he will one day turn his irony against the noisy, clamorous forms of Christian militantism: the theology of liberation and the socio-religious consciousness-raising which tend to be in the forefront and which give more importance to words than to acts. We should also bear in mind that the essential part of his message is certainly that the Christian idiolect, a markedly Tamil type, proves to be a formidable instrument of irony, ultimately against the church itself.

  • 56 Dominic Jeeva, E ḻutappaṭāta kavitaikku varaiyappaṭāta cittiram ('An Undrawn Painting for an Unwri (...)
  • 57 Cf., Dominic Jīvā Ciṟukataikaḷ, Colombo, 1996. Similarly, Mu. Talaiya Cinkam (1935-73), who was in (...)
  • 58 K. Daniel, Pañcamar, 1972, 2nd edn., Tancavur, 1983, rpt. 1994. In order, and up to the eve of his (...)

37To the extent that the diffused existence of a dalit consciousness gives place to a social vision or to organised politics, we see a reduction of the distance that separates an independent writer and an aligned one. On the borderline between works of literature and political writings, a Sri Lankan Tamil novelist in the 1960s played the role of a significant catalyst despite being, then as now, a controversial figure. K. Daniel (1927-86) belongs to a family of vaṇṇār, launderers, who along with paḷḷar, paṟaiyar, ampaṭṭar (barbers) and naḷavar (toddy-tappers) make up the 'five' groups of Tamil untouchables on the peninsula of Jaffna known as pañcamar. A political activist, won over to the Maoist faction of the Communist Party, he fought the discrimination against untouchables very actively in the Tīṇṭāmai o ḻippu vekujaṉa iyakkam ('Popular Movement for the Eradication of Untouchability'). Dominic Jeeva (b. 1927), an orthodox Marxist writer of essays and short stories (he also publishes the journal Mallikai, formerly from Jaffna and now from Colombo), published the first volume of his autobiography in which he clearly reveals himself as a dalit writer, being an ampaṭṭaṉ (barber) by caste, and claims that all his past writings have, in fact, been dalit literature.56 He also tells of his early days when both he and his friend and colleague K. Daniel faced caste discrimination as writers and struggled against it. Such an image of two young Marxists, a barber and a launderer, both still carrying out their traditional caste activities (as Jeeva continued to do for sometime) while playing an active role in politics and literature, was quite new and unexpected in Tamil Nadu, where they were valued as progressivists and not identified as dalits.57 K. Daniel found himself isolated in an untenable position declaring, in the face of the Tamil struggle for a separate state, that such a state would make no sense if the rights of the untouchables were not guaranteed first. He emphasised, in a manner pertinent but unpopular, that the call for a homogenous Tamil identity and the fight for a separate state were occluding the fundamental reality of the power of the dominant Tamil classes on the peninsula of Jaffna; he never yielded to pressure on this point. For reasons of health and safety he spent the final years of his life at Tancavur in Tamil Nadu. His last works were published in India and it is there that they are currently, reissued. He remains ostracised by Sri Lankan Tamils because of what they call his bias towards caste, but they are, nevertheless, constrained to recognise his value as a writer. Pañcamar remains his most important novel, but a series of five others completes a picture which is still faithful to the struggle of the untouchables in the Tamil society of the island.58 The language alternates between the pañcamar dialect and standard Sri Lankan Tamil with an overabundance of dialect words in the narration and descriptions. This work may be seen as marking the beginning of documentary and ethnographic literature in Tamil dalit literary history. And it is there that the limitations of K. Daniel lie: his stories and novels are essentially documentary and they lack real characters and evocative power. He does not deviate from a schematic formula in which characters embody his ideas and progress logically according to the reasoning of the author who purposely leaves the appropriate literary preoccupations to the Art for Art's sake school (Naṟpōkku ilakkiyam). His chronicles are, however, an honestly rendered account and are the, perhaps somewhat unpolished, vehicle of an ideology which still has its echoes today. Their reissue in the 1990s came about as a result of the impetus given by a group of writers and critics dedicated to the dalit cause and, in Cuddalore, an organisation called kuralkaḷ ('Voices') even created a prize for dalit literature in his name. With K. Daniel we enter into mainstream Tamil literature and find, with regret, perhaps less originality than is to be found on its fringes and among its precursors.

Organised Dalits: Documents for a History

The Power of Words

  • 59 Niṟappirikai, No. 2, Special Issue of Dalit Literature, November 1994, p. 116; contrast with Vityā (...)
  • 60 Dalit Voice, Vol. 2, No. 3, 1-15 February, 1983. The Tamil version, Dalit Kural, appears from the (...)

38In Tamil, pañcamar is now outdated; it is the term adi-dravida (not pūrvatamiḻar, i.e., original Tamilians, coined long ago) which today designates the 'Harijan' in official vocabulary. From 1990, however, the word 'Dalit' has been used in more and more significant ways; today it is breaking in everywhere and its expansion reflects a concomitant transformation of those who employ it, whether to refer to themselves or to others. The infiltration has been slow however. It seems that the first usages came in the 1980s. In 1982, the Tamil literary magazine Paṭikaḷ, published in Bangalore, posed an entirely rhetorical question: is there a place for dalit literature in Tamil? This was not, as was thought, an isolated occurrence.59 Another Bangalore publication, in 1983, was providing an answer. The bi-monthly Dalit Voice,60 published in English, carried an insert for its Tamil version, Dalit Kural, based in Madras. This same magazine reported the repercussions of the inauguration at Madurai of a Tamil Nadu Unit of the 'Dalit Panthers' by the secretary of the all-India movement, Ramdas Athavale, in the presence of Mrs. Ambedkar. On that day a huge procession frightened the shopkeepers, who closed their shops; the orthodox Hindus of the RSS and the dominant castes, nāṭār and tēvar, have not felt at ease ever since.

39After much hesitation the term 'Dalit' has become the standard one to designate the core of the three castes: paḷḷar (agricultural workers and small farmers), paṟaiyar (originally players of the drum [paṟai] at funerals etc., and agricultural workers) and cakkiliyar (leather workers associated with the butchering of animals, the lowest of all); as well as two other castes not strictly speaking untouchable, vaṇṇār (launderers and midwives) and ampaṭṭar (barbers and practitioners of traditional medicine, bone-setters and mixers of herbal remedies) and, lastly, the 'doubtful' groups, communities socially assimilated into the dalits but more or less repudiating the identification: tōṭṭi (sewage-tank emptiers), veṭṭiyār (specialists in cremation) and sometimes Īḻavar and cempaṭavar (fishing communities); at the very bottom there are also the kuṭivaṇṇār (launderers for other untouchables). This list is neither exhaustive nor definitive, and the word 'dalit' does not yet serve to bring together all those it applies to, but it makes constant progress and succeeds in asserting itself as an identifying category.

  • 61 This is a monthly publication edited by S. Samuvel paṟaiyar from Madras; cf., Vol. 1, No. 1, Septe (...)

40Among negative reactions, we note the chauvinistic purism of the 'Young Dalit Movement' of Rajapalaiyam (near Madurai) which renamed itself, in contradistinction, as 'Tamiḻnāṭu paṟaiyar pēravai (Grand Assembly of paṟaiyar of Tamil Nadu). In fact, their gesture was motivated by a provocative pride which had its precedents. In 1930, the paṟaiyar Rettamalai Srinivasan, a member of the Legislative Council of Madras, added his caste to the badge he wore at the Round Table Conference in London and refused, as a self-described untouchable, to shake hands with King George V. Recalling this anecdote, the Tamiḻaka paṟaiyar Kural (The Voice of Tamil paṟaiyar) in 1993 invited its readers to add the 'title' paṟaiyar to their names, as higher castes add their titles.61

  • 62 For example, Kurusami Cittan, Tamiḻ ilakkiyattil paḷḷar (maḷḷar) Tēvēntira kula Vēḷāḷar (aṭippaṭai (...)

41Caste pride is often expressed in a contrary manner. The vaṉṉiyar, a 'backward caste' fiercely hostile to the emancipation of the dalits, recently awarded themselves the degree of nobility, qualifying as Agni kula kṣatriya, 'Royal descendants of Agni'. Today, the paḷḷar prefer to be 'tēvēntira kula vēḷāḷar’, 'Landed gentry of the race of Indra', the god of cultivated land according to ancient Tamil literary tradition. They (the paḷḷar) justify — by all possible quotations from Tamil classical literature and folk-songs — a new 'historical' perspective: that they are the true agriculturists of Tamil Nadu, the heroes of numerous paḷḷu poems which, since the eighteenth century, have extolled these activities, equating them, as uḻavar (agriculturists), with the non-Brahmin group of Tamilians most prominent throughout history, the Veḷāḷa. Moreover, as the word paḷḷar gained currency only after the sixteenth century, it is considered to be a substitute for maḷḷar, the warrior-agriculturists of the ancient Caṅkam age. This convenient phonetic shift upgrades the paḷḷar even more, putting them on a par with their most violent opponents, the tēvar.62

  • 63 Elil Ilankovan, Aruntatiyar varalāṟu ('History of Aruntatiyar'), Madras, 1995, a booklet which tri (...)
  • 64 See Robert Deliege, Les Intouchables en Inde, Des castes d'exclus, Paris, 1995, chap. 4. 'Les myth (...)

42The cakkiliyar go further and give us a unique opportunity to illustrate the recent developments of an etiological myth in the making. In 1994 they claimed as their ancestors the sage Vaśiṣṭha and his virtuous wife Arundhati (who became a star in the constellation of the Great Bear); then, in 1998 they relegated Vaśiṣṭha to the Hindu pantheon in order to keep Arundhati by herself as the symbol of the (Tamil Caṅkam) chaste woman, thus asserting their high Tamil origin and distancing themselves from their Kannda and Telugu ethnic past. While they have already succeeded in imposing the usage of the word Aruntatiyar as a dignified substitute for the infamous cakkiliyar denomination, they now also insist on being called mātiyar, mātaiyar and pakaṭai in the dialects of southern Tamil Nadu. The first nomination, read as (great) plus atiyar ('the foremost', 'the king',) links them with Atiyaman, prince of Takatur, an historical character celebrated in Caṅkam literature; the second term links them to his son Pokuṭṭu Eḻiṉi, and had to be altered to Pakaṭai', another term for grandeur found also in the folk ballad Muttu-paṭṭakatai.63 This grand artificial edifice comforts a proud and powerful consciousness whose assimilation or equation with a dominant non-Brahmin group is always consistent, supported as it is by a pseudo-erudite literature and based on historical and mythological quotations after the style of Ayotti Das Pantitar. Remaining bookish and being, in any case, constructed by the urban intellectuals of the caste, it is in very sharp contrast to the traditional folk tales and songs of the group which normally acknowledge a subordination to the immediately superior groups; in such stories, as in all traditional myths about the origins of the paṟaiyar, we are always told why the paṟaiyar have become the losers and under what circumstances their karma deteriorated, an approach leading to acceptance rather than rebellion.64 Projection of higher lineages remains entirely cultural without there being any question of rocking the boat when it comes to economic status and the reservation policies established by successive governments. If the term 'Dalit', which is not, as 'Harijan' was in past times, bestowed on them as a political euphemism but rather implies free choice and commitment, is made banal in Tamil, being applied both tardily and carelessly, it is because it comes at an opportune moment to express a new dimension in the social and political conflict inherent in local history.

The Density of Associated Networks

  • 65 See Unjai Rajan, 'Tamiḻakattil talit Iyakkaṅkaḷ' ('Dalit Movements in Tamil Nadu'), Āyvaraṅkam, Se (...)

43Social relationships in India are invariably of a particular density, the importance of which, at the level of daily life, may be surprising to outsiders. In order to emphasise the extent to which the dalit universe is criss-crossed by multiple networks which give it muscle and make it more sensitive to fresh perceptions, we present, as very brief examples,65 seven different types which often interpenetrate one another.

Local Private Associations

44Functioning within a street or area, a cēri or kālaṉi ('colony'). Inter-changeable and numerous, these constitute the indispensable connective tissue in all political culture and are potentially available to support any cause. They are usually in the hands of young dalits, often those ineligible for the fan clubs of film stars. They deal with problems of comfort and hygiene in the area, with water and electricity and with education; they manage correspondence and various petitions, conduct temple festivals and arrange film-showings and sports meetings. Their identity is confirmed by their names, often featuring the name of Ambedkar, whether or not associated with the epithet'Dalit'and the name of the locality.

Associations based on Caste

  • 66 This group is still very active, publishing a journal called Maḷḷar malar, other tracts, and also (...)

45Flattering to the caste pride already mentioned, these associations depend, at the local level, upon groups from the majority castes of the dalit world and betray wider political affiliations (at the regional level), the greater part of their membership having no hesitation in entering into double allegiance — with their own caste at the local level, and with the dominant one at the level of regional politics. Whilst occupying themselves with general problems and with political publicity (booklets and meetings), they are used in electoral manipulations and tend to be rather lethargic once elections are over. The paḷḷar, who refuse the stigma of untouchability, have a large number of such associations throughout Tamil Nadu, notably around Madurai and Tirunelveli. It was their association at Coimbatore, led by Dr Kurusamy Cittan and Dr Gnanasekharan, which published work vindicating their identity as Tēvēntira kula vēḷāḷar.66 Perhaps the most important one of these associations, known throughout Tamil Nadu, is the Tyagi Emmanuel Pēravai, named after a leader, a retired soldier who fought prodigiously against untouchability in the 1960s and was assassinated by a tēvar. In contrast, the cakkiliyar, much less well organised, lack political influence. Although spread throughout Tamil Nadu (Coimbatore, Salem, Tirunelveli, Kovilpatti), they mostly have their origins in Andhra Pradesh; the Tamil dalits, far from encouraging their integration, would like to send them back home.

Associations connected with Political Movements

  • 67 His (presumably taped) 'oral' life history has been published as a booklet entitled Cittirai nerup (...)

46These are riding a wave, proliferating and functioning as political pseudo-parties without actually having any direct influence in the corridors of power. Even though they usually present themselves as pan-Indian movements, they are built on the cult of a local personality who brings together the voices of his caste and represents a crucial electoral force. They are essentially at the service of their leaders and have no autonomous political programme, associating themselves with better organised parties as a convenient logistic for mass demonstrations. They are certainly effective in the job market and in the trade unions. Seen as providers of employment, they are often in the hands of those dalits who, through the policy of reservations, have been able to gain access to education, become officers and acquire power. A good example is the Intiya maṉita urimaik kaṭci ('Indian Party for Human Rights') which, despite its name, has nothing to do with any association for human rights. This is a paṟaiyar association, very strong in south Arcot and influential in the Tancavur region, led by Ilaiya Perumal,67 who was the president of the local Congress party and the author of an official report on 'Types of Untouchability in India and the Means of Eradicating Them' (early 1970s). His report had no impact but it served as a platform for his organisation after he left the Congress. Since then he has rallied to any party whatsoever in the interests of opportunism; upon their election as members of legislative assemblies (MLA) his candidates very spontaneously attached themselves to the AIADMK, the party in power at that time.

Christian Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs)

  • 68 The reference here is to the Italian Jesuit Robert de Nobili. Cf., Joseph Thekkedath, History of C (...)
  • 69 A good introduction to this problem is available in Felix Wilfred, From the Dusty Soil: Contextual (...)
  • 70 Mokan Larbeer, ed., Talit viṭutalaikkāṉa Araciyal ('Politics for Dalit Liberation'), Madurai, 1998 (...)

47The caste problem has been present in the Church from the latter's introduction into India, that is from the time of St. Thomas' Christians up to the disputes over the Malabar rites, and to the recent liberation theology and enculturation.68 Christian organisations, strongly structured and without internal democracy, are protean and effective in the short run, directing their efforts towards consciousness-raising on the subjects of education, hygiene, health and environment. Although their policies, whose objectives are immediate, force them to overlook the longer term aspirations of the population, they do concentrate upon the problem of dalit participation in the organisation of the church. For the fundamental paradox remains that, even though the dalits represent the great majority of any Christian congregation, they occupy no influential position. In a restrictive hierarchy dominated by upper-caste Christians, they are 'the children of a lesser God'; this leads to an ever-increasing temptation to turn the debate on liberation into more belligerent action.69 These NGOs, moreover, are often suspect because they are financed from abroad. They are accused of trying to convert dalits, accusations which develop into violent actions against missionaries and churches. In spite of their protests, the dalit Christians have so far been excluded from the reservations which benefit the Scheduled Castes (in Tamil Nadu they are included in the list of Backward Castes) and they are currently trying to get this Hindu-inspired discrimination abolished. Christian associations are numerous, mobile and of varying structures. Founded in 1984, in Madurai, IDEAS (Institute of Development Education, Action and Studies, Camūka Cintaṉai Ceyal āyvu Maiyam), a Christian NGO devoted to dalit studies, has published texts by Pama and Marku and continues to bring out texts of this kind.70 Since 1989, the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement has branched out from Madurai all over Tamil Nadu, led by the Jesuit Anthony Raj who now runs a 'Doctor Ambedkar Cultural Academy' focusing on a dalit Solidarity Centre. Tamil Nadu Theological College in Madurai runs a documentation and research centre for dalit studies, is active in bringing out publications (12 so far) and organises dalit festivals every year. Henry Thyagaraj of Madras, who runs the journal Maṉita urimai Muracu ('The Drum of Human Rights'), is actively involved, through a signature campaign, in the submission to the United Nations of a memorandum highlighting the plight of Tamil Nadu dalits as indigenous people. For some time his association was the patron of the dalit journal Kōṭaṅki, edited by Sivakami.

Leftist Associations

  • 71 D. Selvaraj, Malarum carukum ('Flowers and Dried Leaves'), Madras, 1966; Chinappa Bharati, Caṅkam,(...)

48Stimulated by the centenary year of Ambedkar in 1991, the dalits, and especially those most emancipated by virtue of their education and work, are finding a partisan discipline, a militant ethic and a debate on ideas in the inherited structures of the long-term presence of the Communist Party of India (CPI). These are decentralised in comparison with the bureaucracy of the CPI but maintain unitary preoccupations and the critical concern to propose, in a more or less explicitly Marxist context, a wide-ranging programme combining class struggle, ethnicity and caste consciousness. These never-very-weighty groups spread and attract the young, largely through their flexibility at the local level, which is linked with an ideological content to which only the Christians can offer an equally structured equivalent. As it would be natural to expect, an activist variant has recently turned into a political party (see below). In Tamil Nadu, both the communist movement in the 1950s and the Naxalite Movement (Marxist-Leninist) in the 1970s, worked for the cause of the untouchables but were brutally suppressed, later splitting into factions; their roles in recent local social history are yet to be properly evaluated. A confusion of literary labelling must be cleared up. There exists a general trend to take for granted that anything written on a dalit subject from a leftist point of view can be claimed as dalit writing, but this is definitely not the case: works such as those of D. Selvaraj, Chinnappa Bharati or Melannmai Ponnucami, all being members of the Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers Association (Tamiḻnāṭu Murpōkku E ḻuttāḷar Caṅkam) (affiliated to Communist Party of India-Marxist CPI-M), as well as writers who belong to the Kalai Ilakkiyap perumaṉṟam (affiliated to the CPI), cannot be called dalit works and have not been considered in this article.71

Dalit Organisations as Political Parties

  • 72 Ravikumar, ed., Talit Eṉṟa Taṉittuvam ('Uniqueness of being Dalit'), Coimbatore, 1996.
  • 73 Broken People: Caste Violence Against India's 'Untouchables', Human Rights Watch, New York, March (...)

49Throughout the period 1995-97, in the northern districts of Tamil Nadu there was an attempt to turn the attention of the dalits towards the concept and practice of double electorate,72 that is, a separate electorate — a concept and practice that was earlier argued over by Ambedkar and Gandhi and became the subject of the Poona Pact. A number of conferences were held in various places, but the attempt failed to gather momentum and lost out in the fast-moving social and political developments. Out of the severe clashes between tēvars and dalits in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu,73 there arose the political party Putiya Tamiḻakam ('New Tamilakam') led by Dr Krishnasamy and dominated by paḷḷars of the southern districts. In 1999 the Viṭutalaic Ciṟuttaikaḷ, (Liberation Panthers Association), dominated by paṟaiyars, inspired by the Tamil separatist movements of Sri Lanka and led by Tirumavalavan (a powerful orator and, like Dr Krishnasamy, a controversial figure) also decided to take an active role in electoral politics. The elements which lie behind the forming of these two dalit parties are, first, the development of dalit votes into a single vote bank, separate from the Dravidian and Congress parties and second, an attempt to escape from the arms of the state which works to suppress them by casting them as a violent threat to law and order. What then does the future hold for these two Tamil dalit parties? Will they go the way of other such parties in different parts of India (BSP in UP, factions of the Republican party in Maharashtra), getting lost in the alldevouring electoral process?

Cultural Movements

50The Hindu world does not recognise the cultural identity of the dalits, and they themselves are hardly conscious of possessing an identity even though anthropological observation makes it obvious that they do. Thus we see the birth of short-lived organisations such as the Talit paṇpāṭṭup pēravai (Forum for Dalit Culture), who try to bring together, by way of cultural programmes progressive in inspiration, intellectuals, artists and writers capable of projecting a popular image of dalit 'values' and of putting across a message. Paradoxically, the Tamiḻaka oṭukkappaṭṭa makkaḷ muṉṉaṇi ('Front for the Oppressed Tamil People') of M. Polilan unites dalit activists and the fanatics of 'pure' Tamil. He publishes a monthly magazine, and drew attention to himself at the time of the demolition of the mosque at Ayodhya in 1992 by threatening to destroy the headquarters of the Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram. Booklets and ephemeral magazines accompany these activities.

Deployment of the Media

From Theory to Theatre

  • 74 Talit Paṇpāṭu, Pondicherry, 1993; Talit pārvaiyil tamiḻ Paṇpāṭu (Caṅkam 'period') ('Tamil Culture (...)
  • 75 M. S. S. Pandian, 'Stepping Outside History? New Dalit Writings from Tamil Nadu' in Partha Chatter (...)

51The dalits, originally without an ideology or a voice of their own, have naturally been accommodated, according to a multiplicity of contradictory recipes, by all the literary groups who, whether with horror or with sympathy, see them becoming more important on the social scene. In parallel, a so-called intellectual literature has been created by authors who, though eager for a wider public than for specialist research, are more qualified for abstract discussion than sensitive literary creativity. These intellectual creatures, nourished on ill-assimilated readings of western writings, make an odd masquerade of the dalits, 'a carnival of repressed bodies and their desires' (Bakhtin), of anarchists and rebels (Artaud and Burroughs), of denouncers of the inner circles of power (Foucault) and the dictatorship of dominant signs (Eco), who set out, as their non-linear writings show, to break up the structure of language. A modest echo of these fantasies can be found in the theoretical texts of a dalit who teaches Tamil at the Tagore Arts College of Pondicherry. Raj Gautaman aims at unidimensional historical analyses of how ethics and power were used by higher castes as attested to in Tamil literature74 by way of a rigid structure of binary opposites. Such writings, which may be called English in Tamil garb, when uncritically evaluated and enriched with factual errors and socio-anthropological jargon by professional interpreters such as M. S. S. Pandian75 are put into a sort of disguise which blows out of all proportion their original genuine, if slender, content. To cater to a foreign readership with no knowledge of the Tamil language, these interpreters offer the Tamil reality tailor-made in English versions both overreaching and out of focus which, viewed from inside, conjure up non-existent configurations.

  • 76 See the journal Nikaḻ, published from Coimbatore.
  • 77 Kaṇkāṇippiṉ araciyal ('Watchdog Politics'), Coimbatore, 1995.

52The numerous Marxist groups76 are more sober and adopt a neutral attitude. Rare are those who merge that ideology either with reflection on the heritage of Ambedkar and E. V. Ramasami Nayakkar, or with a concrete involvement in the defence of human rights and a dialogue with other minorities, or with genuine literary projects. This was the ambition of Niṟappirikai ('Diffraction'); when it operated from Pondicherry. Now, from Tancavur, under the editorship of A. Marx, it has adopted the ideology of 'subaltern studies', while its former co-editor Ravikumar (now a full time politician)77 has launched Dalit in 1997, a quarterly issued from Neyveli focusing on dalit literature and politics. The high-circulation magazines, more interested in circulation statistics than in ideas and run by Brahmins or dominant castes, speedily understand the interests of the market and are indistinguishable in their wish to offend no one. The Madras monthly Ciṟukataik katir (which seems to have disappeared) published till 1996 a series of Kālaṉi collum kataikaḷ (Stories from Dalit Colonies) devoted to the dalit world. Two more literary magazines, a monthly, Kaṇaiyāḻi (Madras) and a tri-monthly, Kālaccuvaṭu (Nagarkovil), in the hands of conservative Brahmins, are keen to keep at an equal distance both the (post-) modernist intellectuals who massacre the language and the 'vulgar casteism' of the dalits which erodes true values. Behind their discourses on art and 'good' literature lies an affirmation of solid, traditional prejudice. They have, nevertheless, been the first to come forward to welcome and promote 'good' dalits always, provided that their experience be more universal than disturbing to their own small world; they appear to be more liberal than the caivappiḷḷaimār fierce anti-Brahmins, hostile to Sanskrit and condemned by that fact, in spite of a total lack of affinity, to join the crowd in projecting an image of themselves as favourable to the dalits whom everyone is talking about; this is ultimately the most effective method of preventing those very dalits from speaking out.

  • 78 For example, on the pañcami lands near Senkalpattu, earlier conceded by the British to the harijan (...)

53The oral thus remains the dalits' most reliable vector, and festivals flourish, for instance the Talit Kalai iravu ('Night of Dalit Arts') in Madurai, Tiruvannamalai and Pondicherry during the spring of 1995 alone, on the initiative of the groups already mentioned. Imitating numerous temple festivals and political speeches and processions, these shows are folkloric: songs, dances and percussion music (paṟaiyāṭṭam, tappāṭṭam), theatrical and visual (painting and craft). They do have cultural content but are also socio-political, providing occasions for discourse and for the launching of pamphlets and books. Without being provocative, they create and spread awareness78 and assert the genuine new phenomenon: the dalits are on the scene and from henceforth exist in the Tamil landscape despite, and as a challenge to, all repressive policies.

54The expectations of some kind of dalit theatre naturally arises, but is not fulfilled even though a few attempts have been made by the Pondicherry University School of Drama and Performing Arts: Paliāṭukaḷ ('Sacrificial Goats'), written and staged by K. A. Kunasekaran and performed in several places in 1991-92; Vārttai Mirukam ('Word Animal'), written by Ravikumar based on the recorded testimony of Padmini and staged in Pondicherry and Madurai in 1995; and Taṇṇīr ('Water') by A. Ramasamy, presented in Pondichery in 1995, in Madurai in 1997 and in Tirunelveli in 1998.

  • 79 According to M. S. Ramaswamy Aiyar, Gopalakrishna Bharati: Author of Nantaṉ Carittiram, Madras, 19 (...)
  • 80 Nantaṉār (silent film), 1929; Nantaṉār (film), 1933, 1935, 1942; a satire against untouchability e (...)

55The most popular and much dramatised confrontation of a genuine Dalit with the orthodox Brahminical 'great' tradition remains the story of Nantanar, the only Paṟaiyaṉ (actually pulaiyaṉ) of the 63 Saivite Nayanmar. The legend is narrated in the thirteenth century Periya purāṇam and received a tremendous new impetus in a drama with songs and music (Nantaṉār carittirak kīrttaṉai) by Gopalakrishna Bharati (1811-81);79 it was so successful that it remains popular through stage adaptations, films,80 recordings and Carnatic music recitals.

56Gopalakrishna Bharati with, as background, the paṟaiyar working as tillers in the fields of the brahmins, introduces two new characters who challenge Nantanar. One is an old man from the cēri, faithful to the customs and duties of the paṟaiyar, who resists the missionary attempts of Nantaṉār to convert him to orthodox Hinduism; the other is an old Brahmin, the immediate landlord of Nantanar who, outraged by his espousal of orthodox Hinduism and his determination to go to Chidambaram, challenges him. Siva himself responds to this challenge with a miracle: he sends his bhūta gaṇa to perform Nantanar's duties in the fields in the true tradition of Tiruviḷaiyāṭal Purāṇam and Paḷḷu. So much for the socio-theological conflict which remains as dramatic and burning as ever.

  • 81 Intira Partacarati, Aurankacīp, Madras, 1976, 1993.

57Coming back to modern times, Indira Parthasarathy, mentioned above in relation to the Kīḻveṇmaṇi massacre, wrote a short play Nantaṉ katai (published in 1978 in a collection of his plays).81 Although relying heavily on Gopalakrishna Bharati, he introduces an unimaginative love story between Nantan and Abhirami, a devadasi, thus enabling the conflict between the proselytising role of Nantan and the paṟaiyar whom he is trying to convert to take a new turn, both theatrical and cultural, with the staging of a contest between Bharatanatyam as danced by Abhirami and the paṟaiyāṭṭam performed by the paṟaiyars, with Bharatanatyam as the winner. Siva's miracle is then played as a plot hatched by the Brahmins, the mutaliyār and uṭaiyār, to lure Nantan to Chidambaram where the pyre is waiting for him and Abhirami. After the double autodafe the mutaliyār invites the paṟaiyars gathered there to come forward and become Brahmins through the same initiation; the paṟaiyars panic and run away, ending the play. Once again it is non-Dalit, and even Brahmin, writers who have made dalit subjects into literature. In three performances, directed by R. Rasu, the play took on nuances from the audience reaction beyond the author's intentions and scope:

  • Sponsored in Tancavur in 1986 by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, it merely emphasised technical aspects of staging, that is, adaptation of traditional arts to modern theatre, with accent on neither Bharatanatyam nor paṟaiyāṭṭam;
  • Staged in Vadalur in 1994 during a conference of Pāṭṭāḷi Makkaḷ Kaṭci (a vaṉṉiyar political party), it provoked a very strong protest against the Brahmin conspiracy, seen as a manipulation of a backward caste by a higher one. The key there was obviously caste conflict;
  • At Neyveli on 3 March 1996 during the Night of Dalit Arts, the contest between the two dances had the audience reacting overwhelmingly in favour of the paṟaiyāṭṭam, with dalit consciousness raised against all higher caste conspiracies and moved to pity by Nantanar's vulnerability and innocence. The manner in which the dalits made this play their own bears witness to a strong link with their roots and rhythms.82

Who was not a Dalit by 1995?

  • 83 We thank Mrs Vasanti, the then Brahmin Associate Editor of this issue, for her help.
  • 84 Extract from a lecture published in Centūram, March-May 1994, p. 17.
  • 85 Ti. Ka. Sivasankaran, llakku, August-December 1994, p. 49.
  • 86 Irāvaṇaṉ, Oru Kuṭicayiliruntu...! ('From a Hut'), Madurai, 1994, does not mention the version tran (...)

58A very thick issue of Niṟappirikai (November 1994); the special edition of Tīṉamaṇicuṭar for 31 December 1994; a new quarterly, Kōtāṅki for January-March 1995; in April a special 40-page section in the annual literary edition of 1995 of the Tamil India Today:83 Tamil dalit literature is officially consecrated. Its presentation by Raj Gautaman reveals all the compromises: there is a suppressed dalit inside every non-dalit (except of course for Brahmins) and it is to that dalit that the literature is addressed. The literature, should not aim at realism, which is essentially capitalist and already appropriated by the higher castes, rather it is post-modern and unites all those who are for the abolishment of the caste system. Jeyakantan, the very popular novelist and short story writer, hailed and adulated, had already understood this: 'We speak today of dalit literature: everything I have written has been dalit literature! I am absolutely unconcerned with differences of caste. I have gone beyond all that.'84 A little later, an elderly, orthodox Marxist critic made the great Tamil poet Subrahmanya Bharati (1882-1921), into the founding father of dalit literature.85 Tolstoy's Resurrection would then be the ultimate dalit novel, and the first one would be Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's La chaumière indienne, presented and republished by officially recognised dalits in a new 'translation'.86 It is about time we turned back to a more specific assessment.

Towards a Literary Assessment

Poetry

  • 87 Caṉaṅkaḷiṉ katai ('Story of the People'), Kumbakonam, 1989; Krōṭṭankaḷōṭu koñca nēram ('A While wi (...)

59The first poet to emerge out of a hotch-potch of proclamations and empty rages is not dalit but paṭaiyācci-vaṉṉiyar. Palamalai, a teacher from Viluppuram was born in 1943. He managed to infuse a genuinely rural and oral tone into his poems which are midway between narrative and folk ballad. His four collections87 between 1989 and 1998 have, in poetic form, something of that thrill of folklore that Ki. Rajanarayanan brought to the short story and the novel, but they evince a growing tendency to reduce poetry to mere reporting of facts and news. Further, he identifies, ideologically, more and more with his caste and its manifestations.

  • 88 P. Muthusamy, Oṭukkappaṭṭōr urimaik kural ('Voice of the Rights of the Oppressed'), Salem, 1995; R (...)

60Exploiting the current trend, several collections use the word 'dalit' to market themselves. Samples of self-proclaimed dalit poetry can be picked up from Kaviñar Tamilanpan P. Muthusamy's Oṭukkappaṭṭōr urimaik kural which, under the pretext of 'voicing the rights of the oppressed' as the title has it, puts together heterogeneous translations from all over the world and the author's poems; or from Raja Murku Pandiyan's Cila talit kavitaikaḷum — in fact only five out of thirty are dalit — introduced, not surprisingly, by Mira, an elderly writer of doubtfully engaged, sentimental Marxist poetry as well as love poems.88 However, a notable flow of first collections by poets in their early thirties clearly shows that passions and imagery are very much present though their poetry remains somehow elementary, along the lines of Ēṟpu, ('Acceptance'), by Nagai Madhavan (first published in Ciṟṟuḷi and republished in Putiya Pārvai, February 1998):

Tear the flesh
Leak the blood
If it is sweet, tell us
We'll accept you as higher caste

  • 89 N. T. Rajkumar, Teṟi ('Abuse'), Nagarkovil, 1997; idem, Oṭakku ('Tangle'), Tiruvannamalai, 1999; N (...)

61Two poets from southern Tamil Nadu make the maximum use of orality and their own dialects in their verse: N. T. Rajkumar, a kaṇiyāṉ (more an untouchable tribe than a caste, and having the traditional occupations of sorcery, medicine, performing arts and martial arts) writes poetry full of anger and romanticism, enriched by the imagery and cultural details he brings to it from his background; and Nata. Sivakumar, a washerman from Kanyakumari district who shares the same characteristics while being more restrained and sharp in his works. Two other collections originating from the northern districts (Virutthacalam area) are by A. Vincent Raj, a more subdued and even dull poet (Vaḻipōkkaṉ, introduced by Sundara Ramasami) and Arivalakan with poems full of anger merged with folklore — he also writes songs — but sometimes reduced to punch lines or slogans. Two dalit activists, Talaiyāri, a 'Dalit Panther', and Jeeva also write a poetry of anger with elements of imagery but which is yet to be considered as really fully fledged.89

  • 90 Born in 1955 in the east of Ramnad, singer, actor and theoretician; see also Kunasekaran, Akṉīsvar (...)

62Ka. Cuppaiya is likewise a genuine dalit, but his poems are less striking than his songs which have been given their full value in the musical interpretation of K. A. Kunasekaran. It is, in fact, with the support of folk music and the paṟai drum that the dalits most effectively express their anger and their anguish. The repertoire of Kunasekaran,90 acting head of the Sri Sankaradas Swamigal School of Performing Arts at the University of Pondichery, at present commercially oriented towards dalit cultural programmes, was initially that of a communist engaged in class struggle, but he identifies himself as a dalit artist with his third audio cassette Maṉucaṅkaṭā-Talitpāṭalkaḷ which includes a ballad by Ravikumar on the murder of four dalits at Kurincakulam (Sankarankovil district) by naidus in 1992 — a good example of the link between the popular oral tradition and militant poetry. This is a field where dalits could attempt a really original breakthrough, linked to theatre, thus giving to a deficient contemporary Tamil poetry the popular contact it has lacked since Bharati and the songs of Knnadasan.

Short Stories and Novels

  • 91 Vili. Pa. Itaya Ventan, Nantaṉār teru ('Nantanar Street'), Vilupuram, 1991; idem, Vatai paṭum vāḻv (...)
  • 92 Apimani, Nōkkāṭu ('Pain'), Madras, 1993; the title story describes the shame of an old woman-sweep (...)
  • 93 Unjai Rajan, Ekiṟu, Talit ciṟukataikaḷ ('Ekiru', Dalit Short Stories), Madras, 1996.

63We now introduce nine authors (along with one in a footnote); five are dalits, two are not, and another two could not be labelled. This is a fairly comprehensive sample among overabundant and dispersed sources. Yet it remains easy to get bogged down because the authors never cease to riffle, with the frozen fingers of passive observers, through an eternal dossier of conventional sorrows. This refers to the first three authors, the first of which is Vili. Pa. Itaya Ventan,91 a state government official, from a family of sewage workers, who is involved in a number of social and political movements in his hometown of Viluppuram. Apimani, also a dalit, employed in the port at Tuticorin, is most lively and colourful on the oppression of the dalits by the castes immediately above them ('Backward' and 'Most Backward');92 but in spite of having recourse to dialects, his language does not reach as high as his outrage. His second collection, however, reveals a sense of style and form. Unjai Rajan, a dalit activist and editor of the dalit journal Maṉucaṅka, has also published a short story collection which describes the plight of the dalits with a note of protest.93

  • 94 Devi Bharati, Pali ('Sacrifice'/ 'Sacrificial Victim'), Erode, 1993.

64Devi Bharati, from the region of Coimbatore, is not a dalit but has made himself noticed through the subject which gave its name to his single collection of short stories.94

65A young Brahmin woman who has been reduced to prostitution one day receives as a client a young man from the family which, for generations, has cleaned the latrines in her own household. He recognises her and possesses her, brutally and at length, recalling anew with each assault the sufferings of his ancestors under the haughty contempt of the high castes. She has only one response: 'I am a prostitute.'

  • 95 Devi Bharati, Kaṇviḻitta maṟunāḷ ('The Day After Awakening'), Sivagiri, 1994; idem, Mūṉrāvatu vilā (...)
  • 96 A good example of this fashion is Ñāṉapāratiyiṉ Talit Ciṟukataikaḷ ('Dalit Short Stories of Nanapa (...)

66Instead of dramatic, intimate dialogues, however, the author gives us two degrees of voyeurism, interposing first of all a third-person narrator and, in addition, a running commentary on how the reading is to be used. Finding it convenient to emphasise the sensational side of his plot, he thereby reduces it to a puppet-play worked by a thick-headed showman, a failure to rise to possibility. Although his later works deal with quite different topics, his sensationalism remains.95 Here again the general trend of producing literature with fashionable dalit themes continues with anything on dalit subjects marketing itself under the dalit label, to the confusion of genuinely interested readers.96 Such weeds flourish because there is still the same incapacity to draw anything really original from observations which cannot be detached from their purely documentary interest and are stuck in dry, flat ideological polemics.

  • 97 Pablo Arivukkuyil, 'kiḷukki', Coimbatore, 1995.

67This severe verdict does not spare Pablo Arivukkuyil, a young agent of the Life Insurance Corporation, from a village in Tiruchi district, even though his second short novel, Poti ('Bundle of Linen on the Washerman's Donkey' in Putiya pārvai, December 1994), was awarded first prize by a literary jury in 1994 and his first, Kirāmam nakaram ('Village Town', in Kaṇaiyāḻi, November 1993), telling of the tribulations of a young dalit who has fled his village to find work in Pondicherry, expresses with some subtlety a young boy's view of urban life while the boy's memory is still completely rural. The few short stories published along with these two novellas as his first volume Kiḷukki do not come up to expectations.97

  • 98 Perumal Murukan, Ēṟuveyil ('Mounting Heat'), Madras, 1991; idem, Niḻal muṟṟam ('Courtyard of Shado (...)

68The exploration of the world through the eyes of an adolescent has been, since Dickens, a stereotype which has been overemployed as much by the progressivists as by the realists. This is again the plot of two novels by Perumal Murukan, an author from the Coimbatore region. The first, Ēṟuveyil describes, in language which borrows freely from the Kongunadu dialect, a sorrowful process of urbanisation: a young peasant of the Gounder family leaves the countryside with his dependents for a semi-urban suburb where he suffers while watching his family disintegrate as a result of the migration. The second, Niḻal muṟṟam is a realistic picture of the struggle of a small group of adolescent vendors in a cinema, who camp there as well, to survive from day-to-day in poverty and amidst easy temptations. In the same vein he has also published a short story collection.98

  • 99 Co. Taruman, Nacukkam ('Crushing'), Madras, 1993; idem, Īram ('Wetness'), Madras, 1994; idem, Cōka (...)

69The use of dialect to increase realism also characterises Co. Taruman, a writer who comes, like Pumani, from the Karical region of Kovilpatti and whose short story Nacukkam was selected in 1992-93 for the Katha selection of best Indian short fiction of that year. He has produced two short-story collections (Īram, 'Wetness', Cōkavaṉam, 'Forest of Sorrow') and a novel (Tūrvai,'Sediment'), and it was only after that that he reportedly hinted at a dalit identity.99

  • 100 Arivalakan, Kaḻicaṭai ('Refuse'), Madras, 1992.

70The novels of Arivalakan are without special merit, and this inspector for the Health Services was not born a dalit. His first novel, Kaḻicaṭai almost literally, smells unbearably.100 It concerns the life of a municipal sewage worker, described in terms of sewers and gutters, latrines and stenches, with an insistence on the routine of the sordid and the abject which violates the feelings of readers by forcing them to perceive physically that this is the filthy, day-to-day lot of the protagonist. He soliloquises in rough and straightforward Tamil which rings true. This makes it all the more regrettable that the narration does not maintain this tone but tends to sink into artificiality because of the contrast in the device. The sympathy the effort that has gone into this writing might have inspired is cut off and the impact of this murky irruption into our libraries is muffled.

  • 101 'The Sketch', Katha Prize Stories, Vol. 8, New Delhi, 1998, pp. 159-168.

71A young dalit, born in 1967 and living in Neyveli, Sudhakar Ghathak, had already published, in several small journals, seven short stories in different styles adapted to those journals, when his short story Varaivu appeared in the second issue of Dalit in July 1997. This particular story portrays the condition of a young dalit woman who, finding herself abandoned in the urban world, resigns herself to posing in the nude for artists. The style of minute, impressionistic reflection may betray the influences of the quality Tamil writers, Mauni and Vannadasan, but we nevertheless see here for the first time a fusion of literary sensibility and dalit identity. Varaivu has been selected and translated into English as, ‘The Sketch’ for the Katha annual collection of the best short fiction in Indian languages of 1997-98.101

Women Speaking

  • 102 Sumitra Bhave, Pan on Fire: Eight Dalit Women tell their Stories, trans. Gauri Deshpande, New Delh (...)
  • 103 Annai Virammal, Itu eṉ Vāḻkkaik katai ('This is the Story of My Life'), Tiruchi, 1996.

72Women's writing in India has a dalit division, of some weight. Thanks to patronage, Marathi offers, apart from narratives recorded for social research,102 the biographies of school-teachers who become principals at the end of their careers. In this category, in Tamil, there is the autobiography of Annai Virammal who was born into a dalit family in 1924.103 After struggling through a career in All India Radio and an unhappy marriage, she founded, and still runs, a network of social work organisations based on Gandhian ideas. The autobiography is in the third person and is very pedantic in style.

  • 104 Sivakami, Paḻaiyaṉa Kaḻitalum ('The Old Fades Away'), Madras, 1991; idem, Āṉantāyi ('Anantayi'), M (...)
  • 105 Sivakami, Nāḷum toṭarum (‘it Goes on Day by Day'), Madras, 1993; idem, Kaṭaici māntar ('The Last') (...)

73Sivakami (now a full time politician) is the mouthpiece of dalit aspirations — for men as well as women — in the media and in academic circles. A dalit from the arid lands of Tiruchi who became a member of the IAS (Indian Administrative Service), she owes her position to her career as much as to her works, which consist of novels and collections of short stories and, increasingly, of articles in privately circulated magazines as well as those with wide circulations, including Kōṭāṅki and Putiya Kōṭāṅki, edited by her. Her success lies in her life and in the clear, readable style of her fiction which closely follows everyday reality: the precarious life of the dalits (Paḻaiyaṉa Kaḻitalum), and the oppression of women by omnipresent male dictators, fathers, husbands and heads of families (Āṉantāyi).104 In her more recent works, two short story collections (Nāḷum toṭarum; Kaṭaici māntar), and two novels (Pa ka ā ku; Kuṟukkuveṭṭu) she obscures what is happening by psychologising it with a patina of urban sophistication.105 In her writing she passes smoothly from spoken dialogue to a more sustained but natural descriptive language; to the triumph of standard Tamil she adds the reassuring vision of the eternal dalit woman, strongly rooted in her land and resistant to change. It is, thus, a sure-fire and unsurprising way to bring the dalit world into the best company and to liven up university seminars.

  • 106 Karukku (Palmyra leaves, with serrated edges on both sides), English trans. Lakshmi Holmstrom, Che (...)
  • 107 Pama-Bama (Faustina), Caṅkati ('Happening'), Madurai, 1994.
  • 108 Pama (Faustina), Kicumpukkāraṉ ('The Joker'), Madurai, 1996, Caṅkati, Events, Oxford University Pr (...)

74Two other authors have a less brilliant game plan: secularised nuns, they both emphasise the limitations to the Christian solution to the dalit condition: what is offered in place of education and employment is submission to the conventional and prevalent system of castes and of tenacious prejudice against the 'bad' poor. Strong personalities are broken by this or they leave the orders. Faustina, who is the sister of the dalit academic writer and theoretician Raj Gautaman, was born in 1958 near Srivillipputtur. She was educated exclusively by nuns through boarding school and college up to B.Sc and B.Ed, and, by a natural progression, became an assistant teacher, and then a junior teacher in a convent. In 1985, she took the veil and then spent six years in a convent before giving up her vows to return to teaching. Under the name of Pāmā (Bama), she has written two autobiographical novels which proudly vindicate the name of dalit, Karukku (1992)106 in which she settles her account with the church, even though her six years of convent life take up only six out of a hundred pages, and Caṅkati which goes further back into her childhood.107 Karukku was hailed as the first Tamil dalit autobiography and scored a succès d'estime. Written entirely in standard spoken Tamil mixed with the dialect of Madurai region, the first-person story frequently sacrifices the ingenuity of memory to the adult voice of an educated and angry dalit who substitutes criticism and rebellion for the stuff of real experience. Although the dangers of vindication and of propaganda are not avoided, the documentary interest is evident and the justifiable reproaches uttered in opposition to the hypocrisy of a corrupted church give a polemical and documentary dimension to the text which, nevertheless, does not have the style of her recent short stories.108

  • 109 Viṭivelli (Mary Stella), Kalakkal (‘The Muddle’), Madurai, 1994.

75A more brilliant figure, Mary Stella, a dalit, was born in 1947 and went to Rome to gain a bachelor's degree in theology; she taught for 10 years in Madras and then entered an order which sent her back to Rome as an envoy. After being promoted from the rank of Novice Mistress to that of Assistant Superior General, she left and later, with her Hindu husband, founded her own organisation for social development on behalf of dalits near Tambaram (Chengai district). Under the name of Vitivelli, she published a testimony, Kalakkal.109 This first attempt in her mother-tongue is direct and courageous. It accuses the church especially of alienating those who sincerely want to serve the oppressed by giving them the comforts and pleasures of the middle class. She denounces the artificial side of monastic life, dealing freely with hetero- and homosexual exploitation. These two equally negative eye-witness accounts, whether literary or not, cast light upon the controversial place of the church in the political and cultural life of Tamil dalits.

  • 110 Viramma, Josiane and Jean-Luc Racine, Une vie paria, Le rire des asservis, Paris, 1995, trans. Wil (...)
  • 111 Federation of Human Rights pamphlet, Aṇṇāmalainakar Patmiṉiyiṉ vākkumūlam (Testimony of Padmini of (...)

76Two more women witnesses pose the question from another point of view. The first testimony is known only through the French version by Josiane and Jean-Luc Racine, now available in English translation. It is the autobiography of Vīrammā,110 a pariah woman for whom even a diffused revolt is absent, perhaps because rebellion has tended to implode into daily life for too long. If she has an ideology, she is a Hindu, and even her son has no enthusiasm for the dalit cause. Does this then mean that such enthusiasm is essentially urban, that is to say, an intellectual Utopia without autonomous rural roots? It is rare in Tamil literature with a dalit viewpoint to come across the elements which constitute the theme of Viramma: here is real sensitivity to objects and beings, a wanton sensuality along with folklore, healers' formulae and the songs and legends of professional storytellers. All this provides a framework for a particular life full of fears and of spirits to be avoided. In brief, we find a consistency and density, the absence of which makes previous literary efforts look feeble in comparison. Worse still, the laughter of Viramma makes nonsense of the revolutionary and militant pathos deployed up till now with little result. The second testimony adds meaning at just this point despite its fragility and discreet distribution. This is the transcription of a cassette tape, the story of Padmini,111 a woman of the tōṭṭi nāyakkar caste (sweepers, wage-workers of Andhra origin) who was molested and suffered multiple rape at the Annamalainagar police station, (near the University and next to the temple of Chidambaram), in front of her husband who was suspected of having stolen an electric fan and for that was beaten and tortured to death by the police.

77It is almost unbearable to read and it put more literary stories, with their quest for a moving effect, in the shade. The Tamil dalits, however, did not mobilise and neither was there any reaction from the policewomen involved nor, incidentally, from Sivakami, the recognised messenger of dalit women. Such an incident would never fit into the repertoire of Viramma's songs; and any young dalit from her own village who had — unlikely as that would be — succeeded in entering the police force could well have been one of Padmini's torturers. In the face of such an impenetrable situation, human rights associations and over-urbanised dalit intellectuals recover their effectiveness, and the literary mumblings in favour of greater social justice may at least serve to highlight the silences and timid euphemisms of others.

At Stake: Dalit Literature

78We end this overview of Tamil dalit literary production with two examples which stand at opposite extremes from one another and which ideally illustrate what is, for us, the ultimate question. The first, because it deliberately holds dalit writing above literature, and questions the very possibility of a dalit literature while, the second, by contrast, is a laborious aesthetic vision of literature which undermines the essence of dalit identity. To turn an experience into fiction successfully and to integrate into that fiction a hard and burning ideological message without imagination losing its wings to the force of conviction: this is the challenge faced by all engaged literature. It has not been met as far as the Tamil dalits are concerned, but our two examples demonstrate that it is indeed the major challenge.

79There are three factors in a row that question the very idea of dalit literature. The first is the ideological, anthropological or political traps which keep literature out of most dalit writing. We too may seem to have been on the brink, several times, of political or anthropological commentary in this article. Because it is, in fact, the marginal and non-dalit writers who have given us the best of that literature, while the mass of actual dalit writing, in terms of authors or subjects, has only gratified us with such occasional rays of hope as Sudhakar Ghatak.

  • 112 Gaikwad, Uchalya, p. ix.

80The second factor is exemplified by Laxman Gaikwad, author of a dalit autobiography, which won an award in 1988 and was translated into English in the same year and which is not without its merits. Gaikwad introduces himself in the preface thus: ‘These are the reflections of a non-Matric social worker. Let there be a sociological evaluation rather than a literary one of this work. This is my humble expectation’.112 If this request does not detract from the intrinsic qualities of that 'autobiographical novel', it does challenge the very legitimacy of the present article by refusing, reasonably or not, to figure in a literary framework. It is certainly literature, but the inadequate term 'subaltern' lurks as a value judgement which weighs heavily on its fate in that regard.

  • 113 Marku, Yāttirai ('The March'), Madurai, 1993.

81The third factor is represented by the first of our two examples, a novel presented in the name of a cause and with a didacticism and militant zeal that purposely deconstructs plot and makes an attempt at anti-literature into a process of counter-literature. Marku, a priest, very much committed to action on behalf of the dalits, is also a writer. His fourth novel, Yāttirai, deals with a confrontation between the dalit Christians and the reddiyar minority who control the church at Piccur.113 The story comes to a head with a proposal for a march of dalits against the church. The novel then stops abruptly and the author offers six possible outcomes in a sort of postscript:

  1. The march reaches the village and there is a bloody confrontation. Disgusted and troubled, the two parties stop fighting and enter the church together, thereby inaugurating an era of equality and fraternity.
  2. The dalits circumvent the ambush prepared by the reddiyar and victoriously enter the church: the march towards liberation has begun.
  3. Realising that confrontation leads nowhere, the dalits give up the march and build their own church.
  4. At the edge of the village the front line of dalits are massacred and the rest flee, pursued by the reddiyar. Will the dalits ever join together for a fresh fight?
  5. The bishop decides to lead the dalit procession. At the sight of him the reddiyar willy-nilly join the procession: the whole crowd goes back together into the church which claims them all equally.
  6. The reddiyar seek the help of the police who attack the dalits, killing and imprisoning them. The dalits go on with their 'march' from the police station to the hospital and to the court.114

82The author thus invites his readers to choose between three ideological options: (1) Dalits must be patient and opposition will disappear over time: this is the position of the bishopric. (2) Discrimination will never end for it is of another order, and religion and the caste system should never be linked: this is the position of upper-caste Christians. (3) Victims of discrimination must fight to free the church from the caste system and from untouchability: this is the dalit position. From the reader's point of view, the process used here is less original than didactic, but the aim is to force people to think; literature, if it still exists, becomes anti-literature — a simple tool in the service of a weighty, well thought out ideological commitment, leaving almost no room for aesthetic exploration.

  • 115 Imaiyam, Kōvēṟu Kaḻutaikaḷ ('The Mules'), Madras, 1994; Beasts of Burden, Chennai, 2001, idem, Āṟu (...)
  • 116 For appreciation from Brahmins, see Sundara Ramasami, Kālaccuvaṭu, No. 9, December 1994; for the d (...)

83Our second example is exactly the reverse of the first. The author, Imaiyam, is a dalit born in 1966 into a family of farm workers in a small village in south Arcot. He works in a school run by the Adi Dravidar Welfare Department of the Tamil Nadu government. His brother was elected as a Member of Parliament from Chidambaram, a reserved constituency for dalits. His literary ambitions, perhaps stronger than his political convictions, have been well served by his publisher (Cre-A). His first novel is called (Kōvēṟu Kaḻutaikaḷ [‘The Mules’]; mules carry the washerman's bundles of laundry but are also royal mounts). Painstakingly written and carefully edited, it is now included in the digitalisation project of the University of Chicago and Columbia University, the first Tamil novel to be made available via the Internet, at least at that address. The English translation has been completed and awaits publication, while his second novel is being published.115 His first novel has won him enthusiastic appreciation in Brahmin literary circles otherwise not very favourable to dalits but here enchanted to have found one they can raise above the crowd in the name of both literature and humanism (it received the 1995 AGNI award given, as we mentioned at the beginning of this article, to Pumani in 1994), while the dalits accused him of betraying his paṟaiyar caste by depicting it, for a change, as inhuman and oppressive.116 The popular weekly, Āṉanta Vīkaṭaṉ (31 October 1999) called it the best dalit novel and the Tamil India Today (3 November 1999) said it was one of the best books to make an impact in this decade, the first of which judgements may not please the author and his publisher, whereas the second probably will. In fact, neither author nor publisher ever once use the word 'dalit'. Such an omission cannot be mere chance and, indeed, is perpetuated in the second novel and in its afterword by Sivaraman in a panegyric on how realism becomes art, life literature, etc., conveniently forgetting earlier works which could better have served the theory, for example those of G. Nagarajan (reissued in 1983 by the same publisher and in 1997 by Sundara Ramasami, Imaiyam's most enthusiastic critic). This then is a case of art for art's sake and for the sake of the happy few, far above the vanity and the hopes of engaged literature. This minor, local, Arundhati Roy-like operation calls for closer scrutiny because if it is well-founded then a climax is being reached. But what a sad disappointment if it is not?

84Kōvēṟu Kaḻutaikaḷ is the realistic chronicle of a family of paṟaiyavaṇṇā launderers who wash the clothes of other untouchables, receiving grain and other foodstuffs in return. But, in fact, the family is exploited by mean and insensitive people who refuse to give them their due payment and who molest them to the point of raping their daughter. The dramatic mainspring is the tragic absurdity of the survival of such an outdated economy. The hunger, anguish and powerlessness, the systematic exploitation of the most deprived, are repeated at all levels of society. These accumulated oppressions are expressed in long soliloquies, and lamentations, and in questioning to which there are never answers; and, finally in the mother's litanies of despair and the supplications of her daughter after she has been raped, all are hurled at a world where they strike no echo. This method is interesting at first, but when it turns into an idiomatic repertoire it ends up anaesthetising the reader who lets the words run on whilst the tortured faces of the mother and daughter heavily imprint themselves. It is all very laboured and borrows from the techniques of the popular Tamil cinema (for example that of Bharatiraja and Maniratnam), even including the songs obligatory in the cinematic medium.

  • 117 Cf., Venkat Swaminathan, Indian Literature, section entitled 'Facets of Dalit Life in Recent Tamil (...)

85The first novel's weakest point, the ever-present influence of cheap cinema, is even more to the fore in the second one where it arises from the plot itself which concerns the experience of a young boy, Arumukam, among prostitutes, pimps, rickshaw-pullers and homosexuals in urban slums. Arumukam runs away from his mother when he finds out about her affair with a Dutchman and, at the end, comes across her by chance, and by the light of a match, working as a prostitute, and he himself her client. She then commits suicide, leaving him to his lamentations. This reflects exactly the populist realism of the Indian cinema: brother finds sister, (or father/daughter, husband/wife) working as a prostitute. Along with the scenario and chapter breaks, the dialogue too creates the feeling of a written account of a film without there being any real understanding of the movement and visual style of cinema. All this leads to a sort of voyeurism suffused with derision and moralism. It is striking to see the urban elite, who shun popular cinema, appreciating this projection as literature. This theme and the style exemplify the way in which the deracinated Tamil urban middle class surrenders itself before the visual media. Disappointing as art, the novel also falls down in its realism, unlike the first novel which gets away with it because the time frame and geography are left vague and because of its language, a measured dose of standard Tamil with the dialect of South Arcot. In Āṟumukam, the precise locations filled with real place names — Pondicherry, Auroville, Cekkumetu — clash with contradictory and anachronistic time markers, not to speak of the inauthenticity of the language of various characters. We are constrained to go into this detail by the implied realism of an actual place which, however, develops leaks due to discrepancies in time-markers and idioms. Objectively speaking, this novel is over-rated; more descriptive than denunciatory, more populist than realistic, the novel fails to turn life into art. Successful, such a metamorphosis would have given this article its crowning point. Aborted, it is nothing but a counter-example to the novel of Marku. Marku has rejected literary aesthetics in favour of a more urgent need, the dalit cause, which, for him, is the most important struggle of our time. With Imaiyam, the quest for a style dilutes dalit reality and through his stylistic devices dalit sensitivity is numbed. To see in his novel a reconciliation between dalit reality and literature, in which the first is erased by the triumph of the second, is not just an error of taste but is also a blindness, voluntary or not – here Pierre Bourdieu's approach to the literary milieu would help117 – into which plunges the author, his publisher and the readership who have walled themselves up in fiction, seen as an end in itself, and remain immune to the most ineluctable changes. Once more, it is the long tradition which prevails of middle-class Tamil writers, usually Brahmins, looking down as passive observers rather than as militants.

86In patronising Imaiyam in the name of 'pure' literature, the traditionalist elite obscures the very immediate and shocking density of history behind the conventionally accepted universality of 'genuine experience' and the intrinsic value of art. Such tautological essentialism, painstaking in the afterword of Sivaraman, sterilises all efforts to create new norms or new myths, stifles every scream of defiance and, in brief, puts the dalits back in the ranks.

87Tamil dalit literature indeed remains at stake. When are dalit aspirations going to find their identity or explore a genuine subjectivity? As long as it remains clouded by representations such as those of M. S. S. Pandian and Imaiyam, and of Vīrammās interpreters, the 'real' may go unrecognised. Tamil dalits in quest of a literature may be seen in terms of the Meidosem, the imaginary beings created by Henri Michaux, who share with the dalits both the horrifying fragility of floating ectoplasms inscribed in the 'barbed wire polygon of a dead-end Present' and their extraordinary obstinacy, 'Yes, they will go far, bound to their weakness, therefore strong in a way and even almost invincible....'For what could show them more clearly the traps attached to established literature and to alternative literature (not that there is any real counter-literature) than this text which vanished after it was published, evaporating as if in startled modesty:

  • 118 Meidosems, text facing lithograph #4 in the original edition with 13 lithographs, Le Point du Jour (...)

He's trusting you, paper like gossamer, wall of silk, a peeling off of others. He cries, 'Get me out of here'. 'Get me out of here', he cries incessantly. But what one hears is, vaguely, 'flowers flowers' or perhaps 'love'. But he's only crying, 'Get me out of here, get me out of here.'
Shaky wall which inscribes without listening, which listens without guessing, which guesses without believing, which betrays him who implores saying, 'A little person would like a little freedom.'118

English version originally appeared in South Asia Research, Volume 22, Number1, Spring 2002, Sage Publications, New Delhi/Thousand Oaks/London. This paper has not been updated except for a few instances of bibliography.

Notes

1 A Dalit Action Committee, which became the Dalit Sahitya Akademi, had existed in Bangalore since 1977, led by V. T. Rajshekhar Shetty, archivist, journalist and author of Dalit Movement in Karnataka, Madras, 1978.

2 ‘On the whole we could define Dalits as people belonging to castes which, in one way or the other, are subjected to untouchability and are sidelined by the dominant castes’. Dalit Politics: A Draft Manifesto, Pondicherry, 1994, p. 24.

3 This was also the occasion for the publication of a Tamil version of his works; from 1991, more than 15 volumes at the end of 2000. We note that in 1992, it was on 6 December, the day on which the memory of B. R. Ambedkar has been celebrated for years, that Hindu fundamentalist groups (BJP, RSS, VHP) demolished the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya thus adding, for minorities, a double significance to the date.

4 Putiya pārvai, 1-15 March 1995, pp. 9-11.

5 Bibliographical details in Eleanor Zelliot, From Untouchable to Dalit: Essays on the Ambedkar Movement, Delhi, 1992; Gail Omvedt, Dalits and the Democratic Revolution: Dr. Ambedkar and the Dalit Movement in Colonial India, New Delhi, 1994; also, two anthologies, Mulk Raj Anand and Eleanor Zelliot, An Anthology of Dalit Literature, New Delhi, 1992, and Arjun Dangle, ed., Poisoned Bread: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Literature, Madras, 1992.

6 ‘The language of these writers is one of lament, doubt and scorching rage. And the body of the work is of immense value since it is only now that the Dalits have begun to express, thanks to individual talent and education, for the first time in history what none but they could have ever known. To that extent, this literature takes its pride of place on the literary scene.’ Latika Padgaonkar,'Profiles in Shadow', The Book Review, No. 18, 10 October 1994, p. 35.

7 For easy reference, see 'Gujarati Dalit Literature', Indian Literature, No. 159, January-February 1994, and'Punjabi Dalit Literature', Indian Literature, No. 185, May-June 1998.

8 From Arjun Dangle, Dalit ilakkiyam: Pōkkum varalāṟum, trans. Ti. Cu. Satasivam, Madras, 1992, to Piṇattai erittē veḷiccam, an anthology of Gujarati, Marathi and Tamil writings chosen and translated by Indiran, Madras, 1995, a brilliant 'all-rounder' and officer of the Indian Bank, quick to reclaim his dalit identity when that became fashionable. Sahitya Akademi published two English translations of Marathi dalit autobiographies: Laxman Mane, Upara: Outsider, trans. A. K. Kamat, New Delhi, 1997 and Laxman Gaikwad, Uchalya: The Branded, trans. P. A. Kolharkar, New Delhi, 1998.

9 In English see Kalpana Bardhan, Of Women, Outcastes, Peasants and Rebels, Berkeley, 1990. Since she received the Jnanpith Award in 1996, at the end of 2000, 11 books by Mahasweta Devi have been available in English.

10 Her novel Cantirakiri Āṟṟaṅkaraiyil, Tamil trans. Ti. Cu. Satasivam, Madras, 1994, with an introduction by Toppil Muhamed Miran, the most 'representative' Tamil Muslim writer – though not one who was involved in the Dalit Movement. Since 1996 more translations of Kannada dalit literature have appeared in Tamil: Putainta kāṟṟu, Coimbatore, 1996; Siddalingayya, Ūrum Cēriyum, Coimbatore, 1996; Arvinta Malakathy, Government Pirāmaṇaṉ, Coimbatore, 1998; Devanuru Mahadeva, Pacittavarkaḷ, New Delhi, 1999. All the texts have been translated by Pavannan.

11 'One should not reduce the word dalit to signify only a caste. "Dalit" should symbolise suffering and pain rather than becoming a symbol of exploitation. It should bloom as a symbol which functions against exploitation, cruelty and atrocities. The meaning emphasized by the word dalit ought to be insult, shame, insecurity, rebellion. There are some progressive literary intellectuals and elitists among dalits. They must use the word without any real dalit consciousness; neither do they have any dream for or about dalits. The real dalit issues and problems are quite removed from them.' Niṟappirikai, No. 2, October 1994, pp. 30-31.

12 See D. R. Nagaraj,'From Political Rage to Cultural Affirmation: Notes on the Kannada Dalit Poet-Activist Siddhalingaiah', India International Centre Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 4, pp. 16-26 and idem, The Flaming Feet: A Study of the Dalit Movement, Bangalore, 1993.

13 Katti Padma Rao, Caste and Alternative Culture, trans. D. Anjaneyalu, Madras, 1995.

14 A village in the south coastal district of Andhra Pradesh where, on 17 July 1985, six dalit Christians were killed by members of the upper caste Kamma community. This incident provided a rallying point for the dalit movement in Andhra Pradesh.

15 The term needs clarification. The series called 'Subaltern Studies' (in the English language) which treats subjects as diverse as colonialism, feminism, tribal societies and the anthropology of low castes certainly constitutes an essential contribution to the history of India and is read by the ideologues of the dalit movement, but such studies have no impact on the subaltern consciousness whose cultural baggage is exclusively vernacular in its expression. It should be added that, however eminent the position of the Sudras may be in the Tamil Vaishnavite Bhakti movement and however many harijans may have been canonised and represented by statues in the temples in south India, the academic dialogue exists between the Brahmin and the dominant non-Brahmin castes, the dalits most often being excluded. See Friedhelm Hardy, 'The Tamil Veda of a Sudra Saint (The Srivaishnava Interpretation of Nammāḻvār)', Contributions to South Asian Studies, Delhi, 1979, pp. 29-87; and compare two approaches, the orthodox Shaivite inspiration of M. Arunachalam, Harijan Saints of Tamil Nadu, Tirucirrampalam, 1977, and the militant dalit approach of S. Manickam, Nantanar the Dalit Martyr: A Historical Reconstruction of his Time, Madras, 1990, which concurs with the criticism of Periya purāṇam by Raj Gautaman in Dalit Paṇpāṭu ('Essays on Dalit Culture'), Pondicherry, 1993, pp. 46-87. The epigraph heading our article bitterly makes the claim that the sole problem is no longer the right of entry into the temples but is now the integration of the cēri (area in which untouchables live in a village), into the ritual circuit of the procession.

16 Classical: Eugene Irschick, Political and Social Conflict in South India, Berkeley, 1969; and idem, Tamil Revivalism in the 1930s, Madras, 1986. Accessible: Anita Diehl, Periyar E. V. Ramaswami, Bombay, 1977. Close to texts: S. Saraswati, Towards Self-Respect: Periyar EVR on a New World, Madras, 1994. See also a review of S. Theodore Baskaran, The Message Bearers, Madras, 1981 by Francois Gros, Bulletin de I'École Française D'Extrême-Orient (hereafter BEFEO), No. 70, 1981, pp. 291-303. In Tamil see S. V. Rajadurai and V. Geetha, Periyar: Cuya mariyātai camatarmam ('Periyar: Self-respect and Equal Justice'), Coimbatore, 1996; and idem, Periyar: August 15, Coimbatore, 1998. For a good, short summary of Rajadurai's thesis in English, see V. Geetha and S. V. Rajadurai,'Neo-Brahmanism: An International Fallacy?', Economic and Political Weekly (hereafter EPW), Vol. XXIII, No. 3-4, 1993, January 16-23, pp. 129-36; and for an elaboration of the same, see idem, Towards a Non-Brahmin Millennium: From Iyothee Dass to Periyar, Calcutta, 1998.

17 Essentially the 'caiva vēḷāḷar' which may be translated roughly as small landowners (piḷḷai), and, secondly, mutaliyār, of the regions of Tondaimandalam, Tancavur, Tiruchi and Tirunelveli, attached equally to Tamil and to vegetarian diet (caivam). For an apologia of their role, and implicit response to the works of Irschick, see A. R. Venkatachalapathy, Tirāviṭa iyakkamum vēḷāḷarum, cuyamariyātai iyakkakkaṭṭam 1927-1944 ('Dravidian Movement and the Vēḷāḷar during the Self-respect Movement, 1927-1944'), Madras, 1994, and a review by T. Paramasivan in Kālaccuvaṭu, No. 12, 1995, pp. 51-52.

18 Cf., Tamilnadan, Kavikkō Chennai, 1999: Shanmugam Pillai, Pāppāttikkum Paṟaccikkum naṭanta alaṅkāraccaṇṭai, Thanjavur, 1929.

19 Vinōta vicittira parci tōṭṭi, tōṭṭicci Paṟaiyaṉ pāṭṭu, Tancavur, 1929.

20 See Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer, 'Horseplay in Harappa', Frontline, 13 October 2000, pp. 4-14.

21 Little is said about the importance of the caste of the Tamil militant nationalists of Sri Lanka, perhaps because the 'Tigers' of the 'Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam' (LTTE), the dominant movement, bastion of vēḷāḷa (the majority population in Jaffna since the era of Arumuka Navalar, before 1900), and of karaiyāḷar (caste of the famous leader Prabhakaran) have practically eliminated all other caste divisions in their ranks. For more details see Dagmar Hellmann-Rajanayagam, The Tamil Tigers' Armed Struggle for Identity, London, 1993. Caste feeling remains strong, however, to such a point that Sri Lankan emigrants regroup according to that criterion. There are, increasingly, incidents between the LTTE, and the Muslims and the Tamils of the interior (called tōṭṭattamiḻar) who are always inclined to try and gain recognition of their rights by means other than armed rebellion. These last were represented in the present coalition government by the minister Thondaman (d. 1999). Further, the approach to the problem is changing:
(i) Dalit awareness inspires an intense effort amongst Sri Lankan Tamils to chronicle the movement against untouchability with a more critical evaluation of popular Tamil leaders; see the articles by Paranthaman, Carinikar, No. 168, March 1999, No. 169; April 1999, No. 170; May 1999, and Tamilarasan, Exil, No. 5, January-February 1999, and No. 6, March-April 1999. Further, now the Tigers are forced to recruit from the dalit castes still remaining in Sri Lanka; this change in the composition of forces fighting for Eeḻam is reflected in their ideological views. Lastly, abroad it is Hindu culture and the caste system which prevails in the name of Tamil culture, thus maintaining the traditional religious dominance of Jaffna (Brian Pfaffenberger, Caste in Tamil Culture: The Religious Foundations of Sudra Domination in Tamil Sri Lanka, New York, 1982) against which dalit awareness and protest may even be labelled a betrayal of the Tamil cause.
(ii) The present situation of Tamil Muslims, when they are forced by the LTTE to evacuate their home areas, puts them in a quandary between continuing to play an undefined role in the struggle for Eeḻam and moving towards a separate territory for themselves. This further taints the image of the Tamil independence movement as being responsible for a persecution of a minority within a minority. See Muhammed Salim, Oru Ciṟupāṉmaic camūkattiṉ piracciṉaikaḷ (Problems of a Minority Community), 4 vols, Colombo, 1997-98.
(iii) The aruntatiyar, the lowest among the untouchables who migrated in the recent past, face the problem of their caste not yet being registered in Sri Lanka. Discussions are currently going on about their position vis-a-vis the Tamil independence movement. See the fortnightly columns by Aruntatiyan, 'Talittiyak kuṟippukaḷ' in Carinikar, 1998; and A. Marx, interview with Aruntatiyan, Eḻucci talit muracu, September 1999.

22 V. Geetha and S. V. Rajadurai, 'Dalits and Non-Brahmin Consciousness in Colonial Tamil Nadu', EPW, Vol. 28, No. 39, 25 September 1993, pp. 2091-2098. We thank S. V. Rajadurai for lending us all the primary source material of his own study, which was otherwise inaccessible to us. V. Revathy also kindly allowed us to consult her M. Phil. dissertation, 'The Emergence of Dalits in Tamil Nadu: A Study of Leadership and Ideology', Department of History, Pondicherry University, 1994, published (in Tamil) as Tamiḻakattiṉ talit araciyal muṉṉōṭikaḷ, Pondicherry, 1997.

23 Aka-Puṟa camayaṅkaḷ ('Interior-Exterior Religions'), Kolar Gold Fields (hereafter KGF), 1935.

24 This is a text from the late nineteenth century, but was first published in Tamil in 1925 by KGF.

25 Intirar tēca carittiram, 2nd edn., KGF, 1957.

26 Yatārttapirāmaṇa vētāntavivaram, 2nd edn., KGF, 1932.

27 Vēṣapirāmaṇa vētāntavivaram, 2nd edn., KGF, 1932.

28 Puttamārkka viṉāviṭai (Questions and Answers on Buddhism) 5th edn., KGF, 1955; Vivāka viḷakkam (Explanation of Marriage), 4th edn., KGF, 1926.

29 Pūrvattamiḻoḷiyām puttaratu ātivētam ('The Original Veda of the Buddha, Light of Ancient Tamil'), Madras, 1922.

30 Tiruvaḷḷuvar varalāṟu ('History of Tiruvalluvar'), 4th edn., KGF, 1950.

31 Tirikkuṟaḷ kaṭavuḷ vāḻttu ('Tirukkuṟaḷ, Invocation to God'), 3rd edn., KGF, 1950.

32 Sri Ampikaiyammaṉ aruḷiya tirivācakam ('Tirivacakam given by Sri Ampikaiamman'), 1st edn., KGF, 1927, completed in Srī Ampikaiyammaṉ varalāṟu ('History of Sri Ampikaiamman'), 4th edn., KGF, 1929.

33 Kapālīcaṉ caritira ārāycci ('The Enquiry of the Skull-Bearer's Story'), 3rd edn., KGF, 1932.

34 Vipūti ārāycci ('The Enquiry of the Holy Ash'), 3rd edn., KGF, 1932.

35 Ariccantiraṉpoykaḷ (‘Harishchandra Lies'), 5th edn., KGF, 1950; Sri Murukakkaṭavuḷ varalāṟu ('The Birth of Monk Murugan'), 3rd edn., KGF, 1930.

36 G. Aloysius, Religion as Emancipatory Identity: A Buddhist Movement Among the Tamils under Colonialism, New Delhi, 1998.

37 Madras, 1907; Ambedkar wrote a preface for the third edn., Bombay, 1948.

38 One of its undeniable practical points is the exhortation of the untouchables to stick to their values in order to keep intact the privileges given by the colonial government.

39 A. Fiske, 'Scheduled Caste Buddhist Organisations' in J. Michael Mahar, ed., The Untouchables in Contemporary India, New Delhi, 1998.

40 See the theoretical works of Raj Gautaman, or his humourous piece'... pāvāṭai avatāram' ('Incarnation as pāvāṭai'), Tiṉamaṇi cuṭar, Special Issue on Dalit Literature, 31 December 1994, an amusing and original caricature of a popular heroic ballad but also an example of the artificial creation inspired by 'subaltern' ideology.

41 Kathleen Gough, Rural Change in South-East India: 1950s to 1980s, New Delhi, 1989, pp. 186-189, 446-462; and idem, Rural Society in Southeast Asia, New Delhi, 1981.

42 Sandhya Rao, S. Viswanathan, T. S. Subramanian, 'Dalits and the Politics of Caste', 2 parts, Frontline, 1 December 1995, pp. 106-111, and 15 December 1995, pp. 75-80, a detailed enquiry which concludes that “... it would take more than a stringent law such as the Protection of Civil Rights Act to alter attitudes nurtured over centuries... casteism and prejudice against Dalits were not just alive but practically rule everyday life'. The memory of Kīḻveṇmaṇi is evoked by one of the interviewees, the local secretary of the CPI(M). It was reawakened by the massacre of dalits by the police on the banks of the river Tamraparani in Tirunelvēli in July 1999, and which was equated by the public and the press with the infamous massacre at Jallianwala Bagh; cf., S. Viswanathan, 'Police in the Dock', Frontline, 24 September 1999. Kīḻveṇmaṇi is again used as a plot in the documentary novel by Solai Suntara Perumal, Cennel ('Red Paddy'), Tiruvarur, 1999, written in the Tancavur (Tamil) dialect and from the classic Marxist perspective of class struggle rather than from a dalit point view, see also Appanasamy, Tenparai mutal Veṇmaṇi varai, oral history from Veṇmaṇi, Chennai, 2004 and the documentary DVD Rāmaiyāviṉ kuṭicai by Bharati Krishnakumar, The roots, Chennai, 2006.

43 W. R. Varadharajan, veṇmaṇi, Madras, 1978, 3rd edn., Madras, 1989.

44 Reprinted in Aṉṟu vēṟu Kiḻamai ('That was Another Day'), Sivagangai, 1976, and in Mīṇṭum avarkaḷ ('Them Again'), Madras, 1994, p. 6.

45 Recently reprinted under the authorship of Navakavi, Veṇmaṇi (‘Venmani’), Sivagangai, December 1993, for the 25th anniversary of the Kīḻveṇmaṇi massacre.

46 Pumani, Vayiṟukaḷ, Sivagangai, 1975.

47 Pumani, Piṟaku, Sivagangai, 1979.

48 Pumani, Vekkai, Madras, 1982.

49 Pumani, Naivētyam, Madras, 1985.

50 Pumani, Noṟuṅkal, Madras, 1990.

51 Asokamittiran, 'Viral' in Muṟaippeṇ ('finger' in Muṟaippeṇ – a kinship term for prospective or potential bride/fiance), Madas, 1984; Dilip Kumar,'Aintu rūpāyum a ḻukku caṭṭaikkārarum' (Five Rupees and a Man with a Soiled Shirt), in Mūṅkil kuruttu ('Bamboo Shoot'), Madras, 1985; Konanki, 'Mañcaḷ ūṟṟu' ('Yellow Spring'), in Pommaikaḷ uṭaipaṭum nakaram (Town Where Dolls Break'), Sivagangai, 1992; Pirapancan,'Orunāḷ'('One Day') in Nacukkam (Crushing), Madras, 1993. The last was selected by Ilakkiya Cintanai, a literary forum, as the best collection of short stories for the year 1992.

52 G. Nagarjan, G. Nākarācaṉ paṭaippukaḷ ('Collected works of G. Nagarajan'), Nagarkovil, 1997.

53 G. Nagarjan, Kaṇṭatum kēṭṭatum (That which is seen and heard'), Madurai, 1971; idem, Kuṟattimuṭukku ('Kurattimutukku'), Madurai, 1963, 2 reprints in 1994; idem, Nāḷai maṟṟum oru nāḷē, (Tomorrow is Just Another Day'), Madurai, 1974, 2nd edn., 1983.

54 Pa. Ceyappirakacam, Tāliyil pūccūṭiyavarkaḷ ('Those Who Wear Flowers in the Tali') in idem Oru kirāmattu rāttirikaḷ ('Nights of a Village'), Madras, 1978, pp. 38-39.

55 The academic study of folklore of the school of N. Vanamamalai has fixed its subject under the twofold theoretical rigidity of Marxism and structuralism; aesthetic perception comes later, spontaneously exploited by Sujata and, more systematically, by K. Rajanarayanan who was himself made aware of the values of popular traditions by the great critic and essayist Ti. Ke. Chidambaranatha Mudaliyar (1882-1954).

56 Dominic Jeeva, E ḻutappaṭāta kavitaikku varaiyappaṭāta cittiram ('An Undrawn Painting for an Unwritten Poem'), Colombo, 1999.

57 Cf., Dominic Jīvā Ciṟukataikaḷ, Colombo, 1996. Similarly, Mu. Talaiya Cinkam (1935-73), who was introduced by Sundara Ramasami in Tamil Nadu (cf., 'Taḷaiya ciṅkattiṉ pirapañca yatārttam' ['Universal Reality of Talaiyacinkam']), in Cuntara Rāmasāmi Kaṭṭuraikaḷ ('Essays by Cuntara Ramasami'), Madras, 1984, as a vague philosopher like himself in search of some spiritual truth played, in fact, an active role against untouchability in Sri Lanka and was even assaulted and arrested by the police when, in 1971, an attempt was made by untouchables to take water from the temple well of Kannaki Amman on Punkutu Island, but he has yet to be considered in that perspective. Cf., Ravikumar's interview with Va. I. Ca. Jayabalan in 'E ḻucci talit muracu', Chennai, 1999. According to the same source, Ponnudurai, an 'all-rounder' of some sophistication and considered as an important writer among Sri Lankan Tamils, has yet to identify himself as a dalit.

58 K. Daniel, Pañcamar, 1972, 2nd edn., Tancavur, 1983, rpt. 1994. In order, and up to the eve of his death in 1986, Kōvintan, Aṭimaikaḷ ('Slaves'), Kāṉal ('Mirage'), Pañcakōṇaṅkaḷ ('Five Perspectives'), and Taṇṇīr ('Water'), the last with an introduction, which emphasises the book's ethnographical excellence, by the Japanese anthropologist Yasumasa Sekine.

59 Niṟappirikai, No. 2, Special Issue of Dalit Literature, November 1994, p. 116; contrast with Vityācam, No. 1, 1994, p. 14.

60 Dalit Voice, Vol. 2, No. 3, 1-15 February, 1983. The Tamil version, Dalit Kural, appears from the same academy (Dalit Sahitya Akademi, Bangalore) although it is based in Madras.

61 This is a monthly publication edited by S. Samuvel paṟaiyar from Madras; cf., Vol. 1, No. 1, September 1993.

62 For example, Kurusami Cittan, Tamiḻ ilakkiyattil paḷḷar (maḷḷar) Tēvēntira kula Vēḷāḷar (aṭippaṭaic cāṉṟukaḷ) ('pallar [mallar] Teventira kula velalar in Tamil literature [Basic Evidences]'), Coimbatore, 1993. See also A. Tirunakalingam, 'paḷḷar inakkuḻu varalāṟu' ('History of the Pallar Community'), unpublished paper presented at a seminar entitled 'Caṉaṅkaḷum Varalāṟum' ('People and History'), Pondicherry Institute of Linguistics and Culture (hereafter PILC), 23-24 September 1999. The author provides profuse literary and cultural references but sticks to a Marxist vision of caste and class.

63 Elil Ilankovan, Aruntatiyar varalāṟu ('History of Aruntatiyar'), Madras, 1995, a booklet which tripled in size to become Aruntatiyar varalāṟu viṉāvum viḷakkamum ('History of Aruntatiyar, Questions and Answers'), Mumbai, 1998, as a question-and-answer catechism for the caste. Also, Marku, 'Aruntatiyar Tōṟṟakkataikaḷ' ('Origin Myths of Aruntatiyar'), also presented at the PILC seminar (n. 62 above) collected seven myths from the Virutunagar area, all of which account for the fall of the aruntatiyar from their status of Kampalattu Nayakar. A faint trace of a migration lingers in these myths; other evidence suggests that they came from Andhra during the Nayaka period (seventeenth century). Details of another group of aruntatiyar are found in Arul Dass et al., Koṭaimalai mātariyār ōr aṟimukam ('Kotaimalai matariyar: An Introduction'), Madurai, 1996. Yet another aruntatiyar group from Coimbatore publishes the journal Dalit Urimai kuraḷ.

64 See Robert Deliege, Les Intouchables en Inde, Des castes d'exclus, Paris, 1995, chap. 4. 'Les mythes d'origine des intouchables', pp. 115-40.

65 See Unjai Rajan, 'Tamiḻakattil talit Iyakkaṅkaḷ' ('Dalit Movements in Tamil Nadu'), Āyvaraṅkam, September-October 1994, pp. 5-13. The author runs a small dalit magazine, Maṉucaṅka, which appears irregularly.

66 This group is still very active, publishing a journal called Maḷḷar malar, other tracts, and also commissioning novels and other writings about their caste. To mention only a few: Kurusami Cittan and G. Gnanasekaran, ed., Tamiḻar paṇpāṭṭu varalāṟu ('History of Tamil Culture'), 2 vols., Coimbatore, 1996, 1999; Cu. Venkataraman, Paḷḷu Ilakkiyaṅkaḷil maḷḷar marapukaḷ ('Mallar Traditions in Pallu Literature'), Coimbatore, 1998; A. Arivunampi, Kampar kāṭṭum maḷḷar māṇpu ('Excellence of Mallars shown by Kampan'), Coimbatore, 1999; J. Gnanasekaran, Talit cintaṉai vivātam ('Dalit Thoughts and Debate'), Coimbatore, 1999; Surya Kantan, Noyyalāṟṟaṅkarayiṉile (On the banks of Noyyal), Coimbatore, 1998; Vinoda, ‘Vacanta mullai’ Coimbatore, 1998.

67 His (presumably taped) 'oral' life history has been published as a booklet entitled Cittirai neruppu. L Iḷaiya Perumāḷ pativu ceyyum vāy moḻi varalāṟu ('Summer Fire: Oral History Recorded by L. Ilaiya Perumal'), Neyveli, 1998.

68 The reference here is to the Italian Jesuit Robert de Nobili. Cf., Joseph Thekkedath, History of Christianity in India, Vol. 2: From the Middle of the Sixteenth to the End of the Seventeenth Century (1542-1700), Bangalore, 1982; E. R. Hambye, History of Christianity in India, Vol. 3: The Eighteenth Century, Bangalore, 1997.

69 A good introduction to this problem is available in Felix Wilfred, From the Dusty Soil: Contextual Reinterpretation of Christianity, Madras, 1995.

70 Mokan Larbeer, ed., Talit viṭutalaikkāṉa Araciyal ('Politics for Dalit Liberation'), Madurai, 1998; Fr Isaac Kathirvelu, ed., Talit pārvaiyil Aruḷuraikaḷ ('Sermons from a Dalit Perspective'), Madurai, 1998; Anppukkaraci and Mokan Larbeer, eds., Talit peṇṇiyam ('Dalit Feminism'), Madurai, 1997; Marku, Kiṟisttavattil Tīṇṭāmai ('Untouchability in Christianity'), Madurai, 1994; and Pani. Paul Mike, Tāṇṭavam, Madurai, 1999.

71 D. Selvaraj, Malarum carukum ('Flowers and Dried Leaves'), Madras, 1966; Chinappa Bharati, Caṅkam, Sivagangai, 1985, Hindi trans., Dalit Sangh.

72 Ravikumar, ed., Talit Eṉṟa Taṉittuvam ('Uniqueness of being Dalit'), Coimbatore, 1996.

73 Broken People: Caste Violence Against India's 'Untouchables', Human Rights Watch, New York, March 1999.

74 Talit Paṇpāṭu, Pondicherry, 1993; Talit pārvaiyil tamiḻ Paṇpāṭu (Caṅkam 'period') ('Tamil Culture from a Dalit Perspective [Caṅkam period]'), Madurai, 1994; Poy + Apattam -> Uṇmai ('Lie + Absurdity -> Truth'), Coimbatore, 1995; Aṟam Atikāram ('Ethics and Power'), Coimbatore, 1997.

75 M. S. S. Pandian, 'Stepping Outside History? New Dalit Writings from Tamil Nadu' in Partha Chatterjee, ed., Wages of Freedom: Fifty Years of the Indian Nation-State, Delhi, 1998, pp. 292-309; idem, 'On a Dalit Woman's Testimonio', Seminar, No. 471, November 1998, pp. 53-56.

76 See the journal Nikaḻ, published from Coimbatore.

77 Kaṇkāṇippiṉ araciyal ('Watchdog Politics'), Coimbatore, 1995.

78 For example, on the pañcami lands near Senkalpattu, earlier conceded by the British to the harijans, and since usurped by the higher castes. The dalit agitation (December 1994-February 1995), then violent, was reawakened by the issuing (as part of a festival) of a documentary book on the subject by Marku, Pañcami nilap pōr ('Struggle for Pancami Land'), Madurai, 1995.

79 According to M. S. Ramaswamy Aiyar, Gopalakrishna Bharati: Author of Nantaṉ Carittiram, Madras, 1932, with two editions in 1861-62 and 1862-63 (according to U. Ve. Saminataiyer, Caṅkīta mummaṇikaḷ ['Three Jewels of Music'], Madras, 1936, rpt., 1987).

80 Nantaṉār (silent film), 1929; Nantaṉār (film), 1933, 1935, 1942; a satire against untouchability enacted as 'Kintanar' by comedian N. S. Krishnan in the film ‘Nalla Tampi, 1949.

81 Intira Partacarati, Aurankacīp, Madras, 1976, 1993.

82 A. Ramasami, 'Putiya Araṅkamā? Māṟṟu Araṅkamā?' ('New Theatre or Alternative Theatre?'), Niṟappirikai, No. 1, January 1994, pp. 18-22; idem, 'Etir Araṅkattiliruntu Talit Araṅkirku–kaḷiyāṭṭamāka pōrāṭṭamāka oru pirati' ('From Anti-theatre to Dalit Theatre– A text as a carnival and struggle'), Ūṭakam, No. 2, April-May 1994, pp. 40-44; idem, 'Navīṉa Nāṭakamum Talit Nāṭakamum' ('Modern Theatre and Dalit Theatre'), in Talit Kalai Ilakkiyam Araciyal ('Dalit Art, Literature and Politics'), Neyveli, 1996, pp. 70-83; idem, 'Nantaṉ kataiyum Nāṉum' ('Nantan's Story and I'), in Tamiḻil Navīna Nāṭakam ('Modern Theatre in Tamil'), Chennai, 1996, pp. 223-230. See also K. A. Kunasekaran, Talit Araṅkiyal ('Concepts of Dalit Theatre'), Chennai, 1995.

83 We thank Mrs Vasanti, the then Brahmin Associate Editor of this issue, for her help.

84 Extract from a lecture published in Centūram, March-May 1994, p. 17.

85 Ti. Ka. Sivasankaran, llakku, August-December 1994, p. 49.

86 Irāvaṇaṉ, Oru Kuṭicayiliruntu...! ('From a Hut'), Madurai, 1994, does not mention the version translated from French by Ira. Tecikap Pillai, Intiyak kuṭicai ('An Indian Hut'), Madras, 1968, but was obviously inspired by it.

87 Caṉaṅkaḷiṉ katai ('Story of the People'), Kumbakonam, 1989; Krōṭṭankaḷōṭu koñca nēram ('A While with Crotons'), Tirumutukunram, 1991; Ivarkaḷ vāḻntatu (Lives These People Lived), Madras, 1994; Iṉṟum Eṉṟum ('Now and Forever'), Madras, 1998. The text which heads this article provides a good example of the tone of these ballads.

88 P. Muthusamy, Oṭukkappaṭṭōr urimaik kural ('Voice of the Rights of the Oppressed'), Salem, 1995; Raja Murku Pandiyan, Cila Talit kavitaikaḷum ('A Few Dalit Poems'), Sivagangai, 1994.

89 N. T. Rajkumar, Teṟi ('Abuse'), Nagarkovil, 1997; idem, Oṭakku ('Tangle'), Tiruvannamalai, 1999; N. Sivakumar, Uvar maṇ ('Fuller's Earth'), Nagarkovil, 1997; A. Vincent Raj, Vaḻipōkkaṉ ('Traveller'), Virutachalam, 1996; Arivalakan, Karuppu moḻi ('Black Language'), Virutachalam, 1996; Talaiyari, Eṅkē ematu mukam? ('Where are Our Faces?'), Pondicherry, 1996; D. Jeeva, Ūmacci ('Deaf-Mute Woman'), Tiruvallur, 1998.

90 Born in 1955 in the east of Ramnad, singer, actor and theoretician; see also Kunasekaran, Akṉīsvaraṅkaḷ ('Notes of Fire'), Palaiyankottai, 4th edn., 1993; idem, Nakarcār nāṭṭuppuṟappāṭalkaḷ (Urban Folk Songs), Sivagangai, 1987; idem, Nāṭṭuppuṟa naṭakaṅkaḷum pāṭalkaḷum ('Folk Dances and Songs'), Madras, 1992, among others.

91 Vili. Pa. Itaya Ventan, Nantaṉār teru ('Nantanar Street'), Vilupuram, 1991; idem, Vatai paṭum vāḻvu ('Tortured Life'), Vilupuram, 1994; idem, Tāy maṇ ('Motherland'), Coimbatore, 1996; idem, Cinēkitaṉ ('Friend'), Chennai, 1999.

92 Apimani, Nōkkāṭu ('Pain'), Madras, 1993; the title story describes the shame of an old woman-sweeper, ill and ignominiously thrown out by a status-conscious shrew, hardly superior to her, of a latrine which illness has forced her to use in an emergency whilst working in a backward-caste enclave. His second collection, Paṉai muṉi ('Godly Spirit of the Palm Tree'), was published in Madras, 1998.

93 Unjai Rajan, Ekiṟu, Talit ciṟukataikaḷ ('Ekiru', Dalit Short Stories), Madras, 1996.

94 Devi Bharati, Pali ('Sacrifice'/ 'Sacrificial Victim'), Erode, 1993.

95 Devi Bharati, Kaṇviḻitta maṟunāḷ ('The Day After Awakening'), Sivagiri, 1994; idem, Mūṉrāvatu vilā elumpum viḻutukaḷaṟṟa ālamaramum ('The Third Rib and the Banyan Tree without Aerial Roots'), Sivagiri, 1996.

96 A good example of this fashion is Ñāṉapāratiyiṉ Talit Ciṟukataikaḷ ('Dalit Short Stories of Nanaparati'), Madras, 1996, a cheap collection of noisy portrayals of dalit struggle and protest, published with the blessings of half a dozen figures popular in politics and literature.

97 Pablo Arivukkuyil, 'kiḷukki', Coimbatore, 1995.

98 Perumal Murukan, Ēṟuveyil ('Mounting Heat'), Madras, 1991; idem, Niḻal muṟṟam ('Courtyard of Shadows'), Madras, 1993; idem, Tirucceṅkōṭu\ Chennai, 1994.

99 Co. Taruman, Nacukkam ('Crushing'), Madras, 1993; idem, Īram ('Wetness'), Madras, 1994; idem, Cōkavaṉam ('Forest of Sorrow'), Madras, 1999; idem, Tūrvai ('Sediment'), Sivagangai, 1996.

100 Arivalakan, Kaḻicaṭai ('Refuse'), Madras, 1992.

101 'The Sketch', Katha Prize Stories, Vol. 8, New Delhi, 1998, pp. 159-168.

102 Sumitra Bhave, Pan on Fire: Eight Dalit Women tell their Stories, trans. Gauri Deshpande, New Delhi, 1998. This is part of a militant feminist programme which nevertheless claims for itself a 'literary ear'.

103 Annai Virammal, Itu eṉ Vāḻkkaik katai ('This is the Story of My Life'), Tiruchi, 1996.

104 Sivakami, Paḻaiyaṉa Kaḻitalum ('The Old Fades Away'), Madras, 1991; idem, Āṉantāyi ('Anantayi'), Madras, 1994.

105 Sivakami, Nāḷum toṭarum (‘it Goes on Day by Day'), Madras, 1993; idem, Kaṭaici māntar ('The Last'), Madras, 1997; idem, Pa ka ā ku (This is an acronym of her other novels), Madras, 1997; idem, Kuṟukku veṭṭu ('Cross-section'), Madras, 1999.

106 Karukku (Palmyra leaves, with serrated edges on both sides), English trans. Lakshmi Holmstrom, Chennai, 2000.

107 Pama-Bama (Faustina), Caṅkati ('Happening'), Madurai, 1994.

108 Pama (Faustina), Kicumpukkāraṉ ('The Joker'), Madurai, 1996, Caṅkati, Events, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005, Harum-Scarum Saar and other stories, Women unlimited, New Delhi, 2006, Vanmam, (‘Vendetta’), OUP, New Delhi, 2008.

109 Viṭivelli (Mary Stella), Kalakkal (‘The Muddle’), Madurai, 1994.

110 Viramma, Josiane and Jean-Luc Racine, Une vie paria, Le rire des asservis, Paris, 1995, trans. Will Hobson, Viramma: Life of an Untouchable, London, 1997. Two reviews of this book – François Gros, BEFEO, 1996, pp. 385-389 and M. Kannan, Niṟappirikai, No. 8, May 1996, pp. 65-78, – express reservations about the soothing vision of Viramma as the smiling, wise paria, which they believe is a fusion of the Tamil story-telling tradition with French literary anthropology as flowing from Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, La Chaumière indiene ('The Indian Thatched Cottage'), Paris, 1790, to Jean Malaurie, Les Derniers Rois de Thule ('The Last Kings of Thule'), Paris, 1955, 5th rev. and enlarged edn., Paris, 1989. Malaurie's book has been translated into English several times under the title The Last Kings of Thule, London, 1956, to idem, New York, 1982. To quote from an English translation is not quite relevant for a book which has been translated into more than 20 languages, and continuously enlarged, from about 500 pages to 854 pages (with 190 drawings, 65 photographs, 25 maps, and triple index).

111 Federation of Human Rights pamphlet, Aṇṇāmalainakar Patmiṉiyiṉ vākkumūlam (Testimony of Padmini of 'Annamalainakar'), Pondicherry, 1992. The judgement in Padmini's case was delivered at Cuddalore District and Sessions Court on 4 September 1997; of the 11 policemen accused, five were released and the other six were sentenced to three or 10 years imprisonment and fined. Their appeal is still pending in Chennai High Court.

112 Gaikwad, Uchalya, p. ix.

113 Marku, Yāttirai ('The March'), Madurai, 1993.

114 Ibid., pp. 258-264.

115 Imaiyam, Kōvēṟu Kaḻutaikaḷ ('The Mules'), Madras, 1994; Beasts of Burden, Chennai, 2001, idem, Āṟumukam ('Arumukam'), Madras, 1999; Arumugam, New Delhi, 2006.

116 For appreciation from Brahmins, see Sundara Ramasami, Kālaccuvaṭu, No. 9, December 1994; for the dalit perspective see Raj Gautaman, Ūṭakam, No. 4, September 1995.

117 Cf., Venkat Swaminathan, Indian Literature, section entitled 'Facets of Dalit Life in Recent Tamil Writings', September-October 1999, pp. 15-30. The specificity of the dalit phenomenon has been submerged in the general caste struggle throughout Indian history, and in the broader current of south Indian literature from Shankara and the Periya purāṇam to Putumaipittan, which covers half the article. The critic appraises both dalit and non-dalit writers for their literary merits rather than for the criteria of the dalit 'ideologues' who are supposed to decide wrongly on a purely political basis. All his arguments blindly ignore, the crucial point raised by Pierre Bourdieu on the transformation of the relations between the intellectual sphere and the sphere of power: 'Lorsqu'un nouveau groupe littéraire ou artistique s'impose dans le champ, tout l'espace des positions et 1'espace des possibles correspondants, donc toute la problématique, s'en trouvent transformés; avec son accès à l'existence, c'est à dire à la différence, c'est l'univers des positions possibles qui se trouve modifié, les positions jusque là dominantes pouvant, par exemple, être renvoyées au statut de produit déclassé ou classique.'Cf. Pierre Bourdieu, Les règles de l’art. Genèse et structure du champ littéraire, Paris, 1992, p. 326; English trans. Susan Emanuel, The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, Stanford, 1995, p. 234:'When a new literary or artistic group imposes itself on the field, the whole space of positions and the space of corresponding possibilities, hence the whole problematic, find themselves transformed because of it: with its accession to existence, that is, to difference, the universe of possible options finds itself modified, with formerly dominant productions, for example, being downgraded to the status of an outmoded or classical product.'

118 Meidosems, text facing lithograph #4 in the original edition with 13 lithographs, Le Point du Jour, 1948. This passage was not reprinted in La vie dans les plis, Gallimard, 1949, rev. edn. 1972, but was retained in the English version by Elizabeth R. Jackson (Meidosems), California, 1992, pp. 28, 44, 46. Her translation here is revised by the authors.

Notes de fin

1 Some of the material herein was referred to by François Gros in a seminar on 'Some Aspects of Contemporary Tamil Literature' at Uppsala University, Sweden, 19 May 1995, and we thank the participants for their response. This article originally appeared in French as 'Les dalit tamouls en quête d'une littérature', Bulletin de l'École Française D'Extrême-Orient, No. 83, 1996, pp. 125-153. There was much going on in the field at the time of completion of this article in October 2000 which we did not know, and such developments continue. Social anthropological works on the subject of untouchability are numerous, as is evident from the bibliographical data collected by Eleanor Zelliot, From Untouchable to Dalit: Essays on the Ambedkar Movement, Delhi, 1992, to Oliver Mendelsohn and Marika Vicziany, The Untouchables, Cambridge, 1998. Susan Bayly, Caste, Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age, Cambridge, 1999, provides a good background study. The emphasis in this article is on Tamil sources. It should be noted that dates accompanying the titles of Tamil books are of the commercially determined library distribution date, when in fact the actual publication date is often several months later.

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