Daya Pawar’s book, one of the first autobiographical works of Ambedkarite literature to be published, drew both admiration and criticism for the frankness with which it depicted Dalit pain.
Iconic Marathi novel Baluta, written by Daya Pawar, completed 40 years since its publication recently. The first autobiographical work in Ambedkarite literature, it vented the pain and struggle of the Dalit community post-Independence.
Before Pawar, Annabhau Sathe and Baburao Bagul had contributed to Ambedkarite literature through their stories. Pawar managed to bring into the written form the community’s frustration, along with the aspirations of newly educated members. His book also paved the way for other Ambedkarite autobiographical works, such as ‘Upara’, by Lakshman Mane and ‘Uchalya’ by Lakshman Gaikwad.
Dagdu Maruti Pawar, born in 1935 to a family in Dhamangaon, Ahmednagar district, spent a few years in areas near Mumbai’s Kamathipura. The depiction of the area and the commercial sex workers who live there, created ripples. Pawar spent a few years in the village, where he could not escape caste discrimination. His first job was at a veterinary college taking blood and urine samples of animals, which nobody else was willing to do. He quit that job and joined the Western Railway as a Class-3 officer.
“The book destroyed the stereotype of Marathi literature, which then was dominated by upper-caste writers. By portraying the life of an oppressed community, it imbued established writers with guilt, and sent shockwaves through the Dalit community for its frankness about life,” said noted writer Jayant Pawar.
“It was a period when the first generation of Dalit was educated, and they, too, started dreaming about their future. The literature then did not mention the suffering of the community. The book has one incident where the Diwali food the Pawars shared with their neighbours was left untouched. Untouchability was abolished by law, but existed in reality. We provided them with a platform to express these feelings,” said senior journalist Dinkar Gangal, who published Baluta under Granthali Publications for the first time.
Gangal, senior journalist and Congress MP Kumar Ketkar, and late journalist Arun Sadhu, all of whom were associated with Granthali Movement, encouraged Pawar to write the book in its current format.
The 40th anniversary of this influential work of literature comes at a time when the government has sought to prevent the use of the term “Dalit”. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting recently issued an advisory to the media to refrain from using the nomenclature “Dalit”, and, instead, use only the Constitutional term “Scheduled Caste”. However, several Dalit rights groups have opposed this, contending that the community should have the agency to decide what to call itself, and that the term “Dalit” carries a certain political significance and sense of identity.
Prashant Pawar, the author’s son, said his father’s writing should be referred to as Dalit literature. “It is an important part of Dalit or Ambedkarite literature. There is nothing wrong in using the word Dalit,” he asserted.
The name of the book is also significant in that it indicates the grief of a suppressed community. “Baluta” is the share of labour given to every caste. The work of the Dalit community was to skin dead animals.
“Pawar was simultaneously influenced by Dr Ambedkar’s philosophy and the rebellious mood of the Dalit Panthers during the 1970s, when the ideology of Karl Marx was dominant. After Independence, the Ambedkarite movement and its struggles gave rise to a new sensibility within the community. of which Baluta is a reflection — shame and pride, aspiration and frustration, hope and hopelessness all lived together,” said Ketkar.
However, there are voices of disagreement. Bharip Bahujan leader Prakash Ambedkar said, “Baburao Bagul had written Dalit literature much before Pawar. It was only after PL Deshpande reviewed the book and gave it recognition did Balutabecome famous.”
The book has been criticised for its too-frank depiction of characters, the plight of the community, and for its self-examination. “After the book was published, we as a family received appreciation in society for its newness and rebelliousness. But we had to face many consequences in the community too. There were allegations of obscenity, as the book depicted life in the redlight area. But then that was reality,” said Pawar’s son, Prashant.
The family is scheduled to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Baluta’s publication on September 20, at YB Chavan centre, by holding discussions on the book.
– Shruti Ganapatye
(With Gratitude from Daya Pawar Pratishthans Facebook Page)