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Overview of Dalit literary writing in Tamil


The essays reveal the growing self-confidence of Dalit writers

DALIT ILAKKIYAM — Enathu Anubavam (Dalit Literature: My Experience) (Tamil): M. Kannan — Editor; Published by the French Institute of Pondicherry and Vitiyal Pathippagam, Coimbatore. Rs. 100.

An important development in the contemporary Tamil literary scene was the emergence of the Dalit literary movement at the turn of the 1990s. Its genesis coincided with the birth centenary of Dr. Ambedkar and the anti-Mandal agitation.

Dalit literary writing in Tamil, despite its delayed emergence when compared to Marathi and Kannada, flourished through the 1990s and challenged many of the pieties of Tamil literary culture dominated for long by the upper castes. Though initially literary criticism provided the cutting edge to the Dalit literary movement, Dalit creative writers have since asserted themselves.

Autobiographical papers

This volume is the outcome of the seminar `Tamil Dalit Literature: The Challenge and the Response' conducted by the French Institute of Pondicherry in 2004. Ten Dalit writers (one of whom is a Kannada writer, Thumbadi Ramaiah) have contributed autobiographical papers in which they reflect on their writing in the context of the discriminatory practices they have encountered in the course of their emergence as writers. Except for Bama, now internationally known through the translations of her `Karukku' and `Sangati', all the other eight Tamil writers were born in the 1960s — a fact that attests to the newness of the phenomenon of Dalit writing in Tamil. Most of these essays are followed by an excerpt from their creative writing which seeks to be representative.

The essays reveal the growing self-confidence of these writers in that they not only challenge dominant norms of Tamil writings but also are not afraid to be self-critical. Their ability to talk about the rut in which Dalit writing could fall and the desire to rise above agitprop is also evident in the essays by Alakiya Periyavan and Sudhakar Ghatak.


Punita Pantiyan's essay starkly reveals the casteism and anti-Dalit sentiment prevalent in the world of Tamil journalism. Imayam, the author of the classic Koveru Kazhuthaigal (Beasts of Burden), asserts his creative freedom over the choice of theme and subject matter undeterred by passing political fads. N.T. Raj Kumar's account of his bohemian lifestyle in a non-linear narrative form shows the diversity of Tamil Dalit writing.

The excerpts provided give an overview of contemporary Tamil Dalit writing. The fictional writings do not stop with laying bare the day-to-day oppression, for long the staple of much of Dalit writing, but also depict the increasing assertion of Dalits against it as well as their defiance in asserting their self. Though Dalit poetry is yet to flourish, N.T. Raj Kumar's is undoubtedly a new voice in Tamil poetry.

The editor needs to be commended for putting together a volume that provides a critical overview of the Dalit writing in Tamil. One also hopes that Tamil readers, who largely come from upper caste backgrounds, will suffer a sense of guilt on reading this book. The publisher needs to be commended for producing this book at a reasonable price and making it widely available unlike the other publications of the French Institute of Pondicherry. The book carries two introductions in English (with Tamil translation) apart from being prefaced by brief summaries of the essays in somewhat infelicitous English. Further, the notes on contributors are provided only in English. These appear unseemly in a Tamil book and detract from its focus.

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