People’s literature: Devendra Choubey

Prof. Devendra Choubey2The last two-three decades have witnessed a change in the literary discourse in our country. The issue of social identity has forced the writers and thinkers to discuss and debate upon questions that were hitherto not a part of the mainstream literary discourse; although it is difficult to say whether only the rise of the issue of social identity has brought about this change. For, there are some internal processes that not only impact the society but also all its decisive elements and it is these processes that determine the issues that decide the future of any institution or power. Some people come out with the easy explanation that this or that social group or community is behind whatever is happening in society and politics. But this is not correct because when the internal streams are examined, it is discovered that the real cause is something else.

The perceptible changes in the Indian society and politics over the last two decades, that began with the implementation of the Mandal Commission report in 1990, are, of course, important. But if we juxtapose the Indian situation with the global scene, we will realise that the process of change had begun right after the Second World War, when the oppressed classes stood up against their oppression in the name of the race in Germany and Italy and the colour of the skin in Africa and Latin America. This resistance gradually became a powerful parallel stream. In the Indian context, the year 1947, when the country got partitioned and a new socio-economic-political order arose, was a point of departure for the cultural order. Things could have improved from here on, as Renu hints in his novel ‘Maila Aanchal’, published in 1954. The novel depicts how the political forces and the Establishment, which were destabilising the rural India, were pushing the society towards a situation where the struggle between the mainstream and the marginalised sections (tribals) threatened to assume the form of an unending struggle. Had it wanted, the political apparatus could have set this right but this was not done and as a result, we witnessed Ambedkar quitting Hindu religion and embracing Buddhism with his 3.80 lakh followers in 1956, Naxalbari movement in 1967 and JP’s total revolution in 1974. Thus, the undercurrent of the process of change that became visible in 1990 was an old one, though its wider impact in the world of ideology and literature could only be seen after 1990. On closer examination, we will realise that these movements and struggles led to the emergence of such personalities in the society and politics who began the process of structural change. Among them were Kanshiram in the context of Dalits, Charu Majumdar in the context of Naxalism and Karpoori Thakur as a key catalyst of social change vis a vis the backward classes. There are many such persons – or heroes if you like – who tried to bring about fundamental changes in the Indian society, politics and thought process. By 1990, it was clear that a major transformation was in the offing. The agitation against Mandal commission, the demolition of Babri masjid, economic liberalization and globalization were the key factors that brought about this transformation.

The fact is that for a social thinker, it is a very challenging task to determine the nature of these processes. Especially, when one knows that the caste identities of a nation or society are centric to these processes. And the identities of different kinds are clashing and struggling with one another and getting destroyed but at the same time; the possibilities of dialogue between them are also clearly visible, thus making regeneration a possibility. Literature emerges out of this regeneration. The concept of new literature emerged from the post-1990 literary discourse. It is not that this literature did not exist earlier or that nothing was being written about those communities or societies earlier. Debate and discourse on women, dalits and tribals were part of the world of literature in the past too. Others apart, the literature of Premchand and Phanishwarnath Renu represents the entire Indian society. What changed post-1990 was that the writers of the communities concerned themselves occupied the central place in what was being written about their communities. Thus, women writers came at the centre of women literature, Dalit writers at the centre of Dalit literature, tribal writers at the centre of Tribal literature and NRI writers at the centre of NRI literature. The advent of, among women writers Krishna Sobti, Mannu Bhandari, Mridula Garg, Chitra Mudgal, Prabha Khaitan, Maitreyi Pushpa, Anamika, Gitanjalishri etc.; among NRI writers of Abhimanyu Anant, Ramdev Dhurandhar, Venimadhav Ramkhelawan, Raj Hiraman, Bhanumati Nagdaan, Gulshan Sukkhlal, Vinayee Guddari etc.; among Dalit writers of Tulsiram, Omprakash Valmiki, Dharmaveer, Mohandas Naimeshrai, Kanwal Bharati, Jaiprakash Kardam, Surajpal Chauhan, Sushila Tankbhaure, Sheoraj Singh Bechain, Ratna Kumar Sambharia, Guruprasad Madan, Rajukumar Itihaskaar, AR Akela etc.; among Tribal writers of Ramdayal Munda, TV Kattimani, Peter Paul Ekka, Nirmal Pratul, Roz Kerketta, Hariram Meena, Vandana Tete etc was a big change. It shook the world of traditional literature and ideology. Till, then, the centres of literature and ideology were dominated by writers who are described as ‘Dwija” or “Savarna”. In a way, these writers were in command of the mainstream while those whom the society describes as exploited, deprived and oppressed were at its margins. That is why, the writings of women, dalit and tribal writers were centered on their own experiences and thoughts and they expanded the world of literature. Till then, literature was confined to a particular section of the society. But this expansion paved the way for it reaching the entire society. In a sense, this literature took the form of, what is called people’s literature and what belongs to the people.

This was a revolutionary change in the field of Indian literature and thought, which changed the very concept of literature. I feel that when we refer to women’s literature, dalit literature, NRI literature written by ‘Girmitiya’ labourers or literature of deprived communities, we mean thereby, the literature which some thinkers see as ‘Bahujan literature”. Though this question is an old one and it is being answered in the same vein for centuries – that literature is literature, not women’s literature or Dalit literature or Tribal literature etc. But it is also true that this new literature, written over the last couple of decades, brought forth the truth, as perceived by these communities or groups. Hence, this is also literature, new literature, important literature—to dwell on which should be a matter of pride for any thinker.

Here, I deem it necessary to talk about a literary theme which is being discussed in parallel with women’s or Dalit literature. For instance, how do we classify the literature penned by a person who is neither a Dalit, nor a Savarna; neither a woman, nor a tribal. Here, for the sake of argument, the names of Phaniswarnath Renu, Rajendra Yadav, Madhukar Singh, Surendra Snighddha, Ramdhari Singh Diwakar, Sabjeev, Chandrakishore Jaiswal, Premkumar Mani, Dinesh Kushwaha etc. can be taken, whose names were mentioned some time back by Rajendra Kumar Singh in an article of his, in context of OBC literature and writers. Rajendra Prasad Singh is a serious Hindi writer, who, despite living in a small town like Sasaram in Bihar, has been an influence on Hindi literature. He has given a serious thought to the history of literature. Though Rajendra Prasad Singh’s concept of OBC literature is new in the realm of litterateur and thought but the problem is that the entire concept is based only on caste. The problem is that while opposition to Varna and caste-based social system is at the centre of Dalit literature, there is no logical notion or idea at the centre of OBC literature. The society and its problems form the subject-matter of literature. Literature is also about the struggle between social classes and groups, about what they build and re-build. But the concept of OBC literature is devoid of any such thing. At the centre of Renu’s literature is the Indian rural society, its problems and the political consciousness of the rural society. It is also replete with many forms and ideologies of resistance. But it is not related to any particular caste. “Maila Aanchal” could the story of any village of India. Similarly, the entire literary corpus of Rajendra Yadav is based on the social consciousness of India Middle class, which is taking shape and is in the process of creating some new identities.  Similarly, the writings of Premkumar Mani force one to dwell on the pressures and fears of the contemporary society. That is why; it is difficult to classify these litterateurs as OBC writers and their writings as OBC literature. What they are writing is, in no way, different from the writings of other writers who have the same concerns.

The fact is that ideologies and literature are products of the historical process of social change. The literature of the last two-three decades is born out of the socio-political order that emerged after the Second World War and the partition of India. Many challenges face us in the times in which we live; the chief among them being how to protect the existence of mankind. Should the responsibility of protecting the mankind be left to organisations of writers and political and social organisations or should battling against the destructive forces that are blocking the building or re-building of human consciousness and identity be treated as a collective social responsibility? This is a very important question of our times. And dwelling on it is essential for every conscientious human being.

(Courtesy: Forward Press)

(Image: Chandigarh Tribune)


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