In sociological terms, India can never get rid of its class and caste configurations. This anthology of select articles evolved from the literary debates that raged in the pages of the Forward Press magazine that began its journey in 2012 , and argued for clubbing all marginalized literature under the broader rubric of ‘Bahujan Literature’. It takes us through the process of preparing a blueprint for propounding the concept of Bahujan literature and introduces us to the bitter arguments and counter-arguments on its various interpretations. In the introductory section Pramod Ranjan writes that the concept of Bahujan literature is simple—literature of the Bahujans as opposed to the elites. Taking the cue from Buddha’s saying ‘Bahujan Hitay, Bahujan Sukhay’ he further explains that it is the literature of the majority, but it is not majoritarian literature. It is not founded on numerical strength but is the representative voice of different sections of society against the collective consciousness built by Manuvad and in favour of those facing social and cultural deprivation.
Labelling the key deprived communities in India today as women, SCs, STs, OBCs, DNTs and all Pasmanda religious minorities, the writer finds that the basic tone and tenor of their literary expressions are the same. In the language of sociology and literary criticism, it does not pit mega narrative and micro discourse against one another but brings them closer and makes them interdependent and complementary to each other. Stressing the need for an umbrella term under which all categories of marginalized literature can be brought together, Forward Press believes that the Bahujan ideology has been dented and bruised due to different reasons and is in urgent need of repair. Thus according to the writer, Dalit literature, Atishudra literature, Shudra literature, Tribal literature, Women’s literature, OBC literature and Ambedkarite literature should be labelled as Bahujan literature and all the different strands mentioned should be included in its internal discourse. The strong belief is that as Bahujan literature gets gradually identified, ‘Dwij’ literature will automatically shift to the margins.
The fourteen essays in the section on OBC literature keep on harping on the same theme of deprivation. According to Abhay Kumar Dubey, unlike the Dalits, the OBCs have neither political unity nor any kind of literary-cultural effort on their agenda. Thus the OBCs do not have their distinct literature, nor do they have their specific cultural expressions. Again, according to another writer, Rajendra Prasad Singh, OBC literature is one groaning between upper-caste and Dalit literature and the situation in which it finds itself is the result of a conspiracy. Questioning the relevance of OBC literature on the other hand, we find Virendra Yadav opining that when mainstream literature is trying to connect with the concerns of the Bahujan society, any concept of OBC literature is neither required nor relevant. Writings can flourish if we just go on following the ideas of social thinkers like Kabir, Phule, Periyar and Ambedkar and there is no need to create a separate clan in literature on the basis of caste.
The ten essays in the third section of the book entitled ‘On Bahujan literature’ end with an interesting entry by Arundhati Roy. Transcribed from the inaugural address she gave in 2015 at a function to mark the sixth anniversary of the Forward Press magazine, Roy states that ‘we cannot ever look away from what is the structure of society, which is a society whose engine is based on caste, a society whose politics, whose idea of everything runs on the basis of caste.’ That is why she thinks we have to look at literature as the means by which we can understand this complexity.
In the appendix a catalogue of Jnanpith Awards in Hindi (1968-2013) and Sahitya Akademi Awards in Hindi (1955-2015) shows that there is not a single prize-winner from the Bahujan category and this raises the question whether only the twice-born have literary merit. Overall, this slim volume will interest anyone who wants to know the way different thinkers are putting in the case for the umbrella genre called ‘Bahujan’ literature.
Somdatta Mandal is Professor of English at Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan.