" Democracy was
also a great narrative and not merely a monolithic kind of democratic participation."

Sixth Village Conference Report

The sixth village conference in the series of six village conferences organized by the centre during the course of the project was held at Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh, for a period of two days i.e. 24th and 25th December, 2008.

Badri Narayan, Project Director, Dalit Resource Centre, welcomed the participants and opined that this conference would prove very beneficial in generating a dialogue between the Dalits and non-Dalits. The sharing of the experiences of marginal communities at the conference provided new insights on the seemingly complex issues of culture.

The theme of the conference was ‘Folk Culture and Written Culture: In Context of Dalit Public Sphere’. The concept behind this theme was to provide a platform to contemporary Dalit popular writers who are attempting to propagate equality and brotherhood through popular folk traditions among their communities both to attain higher social status for the Dalits and to secure political power. The author identified for the conference was Shri Mata Prasad, former Governor (A.P) and a native of that region. Shri Mata Prasad has written a large number of Dalit popular booklets on the history and culture of the Dalits which have generated enormous awakening among the Dalit masses not just in Jaunpur but all over UP. Through his writings he is trying to create a space in a society that is plagued with the evils of caste system and where the untouchables have little or no say in the social, political, economic or cultural aspects of the society. Among the so many great personalities of India Mata Prashad Ji is one who has struggled a lot to fulfil the aspiration of Dalits to achieve respect and equality. His contributions are immense in the construction of Dalit Public Sphere. He is a man with versatile personality. He has contributed both in politics and in literature.

First Day of the Conference:

The theme of the first day conference was ‘Dalit Folk Culture, Literature and Social Change’. Mata Prasad ji deliberated that this programme is based on folk culture, which is basically oral tradition. But what this folk culture really is? In fact, civilization and culture go together. Civilization provides physical satisfaction while culture provides internal contentment to human beings. In our Indian society there are two cultural streams: Vedic and Lokayat. Lokayat was the opponent of Vedic culture. Vedic culture gave birth to Vedic literature while the systems like Buddha, Jain etc emerged from lokayat culture, which were against discriminatory system. Vedic culture culminated as idol worship in reaction to which Sant culture emerged. Folk culture was present in unwritten form, in orality. It has various forms: Lokgeet, Lokgathayen, Loknatya etc. Folksongs were the most important part of folk culture. There is a huge reservoir of cultural resource of marginalized communities. Chamar, Dhobi, Pasi all have their own cultural dance forms with their specific musical instruments but the sad part of the story is that these cultural forms are not getting protection as other Brahmincal classical art forms are getting as heritage. Dalits, more than any other group in India, have suffered cultural exclusion. Technology and the use of English may give some means and scope to Dalit culture, but is a hindrance to its substance. The substance of Dalit culture lies in local languages and dialects, in direct observation, contemplation of reality, assessment and sometimes celebration of the physical, biological, and social world. The contemporary Dalit interest in creativity is fully within the modem structures of Indian cultural activity, and critical recognition of Dalit accomplishments by the moderators of culture, who are generally high caste, is expected by Dalits.

He also shared his personal experiences with audience. After facing various humiliating incidents of discrimination and hatred for being an untouchable, he came to know that he belonged to a community, which is despised by everyone in society. During his student life, he read biographies of Napoleon Bonaparte, Abraham Lincoln and James Garfield. He was very much inspired by Napoleon Bonaparte’s saying that “Nothing is impossible in life”. He pondered that if these great people achieved a lot in spite of facing many hardships in life then why not he? He decided to do something great and work for the community and society. Jyotiba Phule and Ambedkar enlightened his path and never let him dissuade from his mission.

Guru Prasad Madan, a popular Dalit writer from Allahabad shared his experiences that being an activist he had some glimpses in his memory about how Dalits used to express their feeling though the folk form of culture. Even Swami Achhuatanand the great reformer used folk language for awakening the Dalit community. He persuaded his fellow Dalits for maintaining reminiscence of their rich historical past and condemned them for forgetting their rich cultural heritage.

Kanwal Bharati, famous Dalit writer from Rampur, added that Achhootanand and Hira Dom both were the eminent poets, who wrote to awaken Dalit community. One wrote in Bhojpuri language and another wrote in Hindi language. But Hira Dom was much more assertive towards expressing the pain and humiliation of Dalits. He said, ‘in my opinion, Hira Dom was the first who blamed god for being discriminatory against Dalits, whereas Achhotanad ji did great effort in exploring the Dalit history. Mataprasad ji entered in the realm of literature with his book on folk songs. Kanwal Bharti said that the songs of his book stirred him up completely. He found that there is a tradition starting from Hira Dom to Acchootanand, which is against pampered culture and calls for a new cultural tradition. The book of Mataparasad ji provided a new dimension to Dalit literature. His contribution to Dalit plays is commendable. His insight contributed new angle to social dimensions. His book reflects the aspirations of the subjugated voices of the Dalit communities and shakes the conscience of depressed communities to rise up in life and fight for their rights.

Sheoraj Singh Bechain, eminent Dalit academician from IIAS, Shimla said that Dalit literature represents the aspirations and emotions of Dalits very well. This is true that we cannot face the challenges regarding art, aesthetics and language of mainstream. It is true that do not write like mainstream writers like Vidya Niwas Mishra, we write like Bihari Lal Harit and Mata Prasad, the popular Dalit writers. It means our autonomous identity and distinctiveness must be recognized. Our cultural background, our history is inherited in our culture and literature. With the passage of time caste discrimination seems to have arisen and the cultural art forms and the skills became the profession and monopoly of certain communities. Later, when these folk arts took some concrete shape, a wave of Brahminisation of the cultures, and communities took place. This was considered as the sanctification of people’s culture and their art forms. Most of the gestures and postures from the folk arts were transplanted into a new fabrication with extreme polish known as the classical art. The classical arts were framed to please the aristocrats and high class. Thus classical arts were owed for the aristocrats, whereas folk art remains as the life-expressions of marginalized community. In this process the history and tradition or cultural ethos of various ancient communities disappeared.

Second Day of the Conference

The theme of the second day was ‘Folk Struggle of Dalits’. Prof. Kalicharan Snehi of Lucknow University said that Dalit popular writers have come to realize of late, that one of the fundamental causes of their social banishment is the rejection of their rich cultural heritage. Now they are challenging the old historical narratives and are trying to reconstruct their own culture, by deconstructing the age-old traditional imposed culture. They use metaphors rooted in their own experiences and perceptions to arouse the sense of self-respect among Dalits.

Satyanarayan Shartendu of Jaunpur asserted that Folk arts are overt expression of pain and humiliation of Dalits. It is Hindu system, which originates the discrimination between humans and cultures.

Kiran Devi Bharti, a Dalit folk artist narrated the pain that due to the subversive attitude of police towards her community and due to the discriminatory attitude of society, the art of nautanki has been crushed.

Badri Narayan, shared that we feel delighted in honouring Mataprasad ji, who is serving society as a writer, Dalit community and as a mobiliser, and enriching Indian culture by using folk culture as a tool to mobilize his own community and serving the nation as a politician. The conference analysed the role of Mata Prasad in generating the knowledge base of forgotten cultures, in the socio-political mobilization of Dalits, in shaping Dalit vision, and above all, in stimulating the process of Dalit assertion in the democratic processes of the country. This conference also explored the role of Dalit veterans like Hira Dom in the struggle of the Dalits against the hegemonic cultural domination by the upper castes that they have been facing since time immemorial under the Brahminical cultural norms that still prevail in many parts of north India.

Other main discussants of the conference were Rajkumar Itihaaskar, K.Nath, Jawahar Kaul Vyagra, A.R. Akela, Sangam, Moolchand Sonkar etc. They deliberated that in the old days,folk songs and drama were the most popular and powerful means of awakening Dalits. But nowadays, with the spread of education, prose and serious books have replaced folk songs and plays.
The style of this writing is powerful, passionate and easily comprehensible by the masses.
K. Nath said “But this literature manifests what we were called and how we were
treated” He also added “Those are not our words. They are the words that were used on us.”

Kavita Goshti (Poetry Meet)

In this programme, poets recited and sang their compositions, on Dalit discourse. These poems emanate from their own cultural encounters, experiences and questions faced by their fellow beings, which shape their poetic sensibilities.

The recurrent themes in these poems were about Dalit experiences of humiliation, suffering, dominance, exploitation, etc., and their dissents, subversions added with their democratic aspirations.  Guru Prasad Madan moderated the poetry session.

The poem of Dr. Anoop, Hindi department, BHU, dealt with the helplessness of an innocent, poor person. He is blamed for the crime that he never committed. He, thus, exposed our corrupt system.

Dr. R. N. Singh Sahil’s (T.D. College, Jaunpur) composition depicted how helpless a person feels. Instead of fighting, he meekly accepts his miseries, as his destiny.

On the contrary, in the poem of Kanwal Bharati, a person revolts against deprivation, exploitation and injustice. He revolts not because of restiveness but because of his consciousness or his deeper urge for emancipation.

A.R. Akela said that the Bahujan had to wage a battle. He (singular, as class representative) got everything after a long struggle. From Shambbok to Eklavya this exploitation is going on.

Sheo Raj Singh Bechain poem warned that we should not be mistaken that Dalit leaders will lend their hand to help grassroots Dalits. Their aspirations are very different from those of the margalised masses.

Other poets who recited their compositions were Moolchand Sonkar, Ramraj Gautam, Behosh Jaunpuri, Dr. P.C. Vishwakarma, Jawaharlal Kaul Vyagra, et al.

The crowning glory of the evening was the cultural programme, ‘Chamar Nachana’, a vanishing folk dance, which is a rarity these days. Artistes of this dance were Ram Lotan, Ram Soorat, Ram Lakhan, Rampher, Niraml and Ramesh (he amused the audience as a clown).

Mata Prasad presided over the function, while Badri Narayan proposed the vote of thanks.


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A project supported by the Ford Foundation