Tag Archives: Dalit writers

Disgraceful: how the Sahitya Akademi allowed a Dalit poet to be silenced

I was appalled at the treatment meted out by India’s National Academy of Letters (the Sahitya Akademi)  to the Dalit poet, ND Rajkumar, at an event this week. Mr Rajkumar himself describes the incident here, on the website of Navayana (an independent press and publisher based in India).*

Mr Rajkumar says he was invited  to speak on the topic, ‘My Poetry and I’ by the Sahitya Akademi on November 16th. He was introduced as part of a tradition of Tamil writers. In his speech, Mr Rajkumar took exception to being part of that tradition, and clarified that he did not believe himself to be part of it. He said,

I began by saying: “The respected Isaac Samuel Nayagam introduced me as being of the same tradition as KannadasanMu. Mehta and Vairamuthu [all respected Tamil poets, past and present]. I would like to humbly suggest that I do not place myself in the same literary tradition. I function in a radically different literary field. I have no opinion on their literary work. Fine.

This is what happened next:

Immediately, five members from the audience stood up and shouted deeply hurtful imprecations at me, humiliating and silencing me. One of the five, the advocate Radhakrishnan, president of a charitable organization named after the late chief minister Kamarajar, as well as an outfit called Sivaji Charitable Organization, stood up and made a fist at me. Pointing his finger at me in a threatening fashion, he asked whether I would be able to leave the hall safely after having ‘insulted’ Kannadasan. The others with Radhakrishnan also stood up and shouted threats, not allowing me to continue with my speech.

I did not criticize Kannadasan or even speak about him. I merely pointed out that I did not belong to his tradition. I requested in a calm, soft voice that I be allowed to speak on the topic given to me. Yet, they kept shouting threats at me, creating such a racket that I could not speak. I turned to the organizers and asked them to provide me with the appropriate environment so I could speak. But they, ignoring the rioters, came up on the stage, grabbed me and forced me to sit down

How long will Dalit voices be silenced?

Add your name to Navayana’s protest here

Read S Anand’s (of Navayana) post, about the incident, here

*corrected. I originally called it a Dalit press, but that’s not accurate.

Poet Theresh Babu Pydi passes away

Telugu Dalit poet, Theresh Babu Pydi (known as “Pydishree”) passed away yesterday. He died of liver disease. A biography by Susie Tharu in the anthology, Steel Nibs are Sprouting, Dalit Writing from South India suggests that he adopted the pseudonym to avoid associations with his caste and religion, and so that more people would read his work. The son of a carpenter and an agricultural labourer, he was educated in a local school but worked in the fields until he was published by Telugu daily Andhra Jyoti. He then won a scholarship to work in a research centre, Amruthavani, did his masters, and worked with All India Radio as an announcer. Soon after, he returned to publishing under his own name.

I couldn’t find any of his works in English translation, but he has published several volumes of poetry in Telugu: Sharasandhanam (Aiming Arrows) in 1995; Alpapeedanam (Depression in the Ocean) in 1999; the epic poem, Hindu Mahasamudram (The Great Hindu Ocean) as a recording in 1999 and a book in 2010, and Nalugu Prapancham (Fourth World) in 2010. He was the AIR National Poet in 2007. If you understand Telugu, you can hear him recite Hindu Mahasamudram on Soundcloud. And you can find a translated excerpt of the same poem, by K Satyanarayana, in the same anthology I mentioned earlier. Additionally, a documentary he made, called ‘Me and My Wonderful World’, is available online (with English subtitles).