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Archive for April, 2011

Sounds (be avaj)

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

What sounds are these?

Do fish in water weep

or waves sob?

We lost the way

but kept on, hoping

the way would end

but it's we who will end…

Look at the trees on the shore

lip to lip, whispering 

about us, but the birds

have closed their eyes

with the sun.

The sky garbed

in dark,

searching stars

heart swayed

by swaying waves

now aflame.

Let's plunge in 

and drown then.


Jyoti Lanjewar's poem 'be avaj' translated by Gauri Deshpande. Source: Stri Dalit Sahitya: The new voice of women poets. Images of women in Maharashtrian literature and religion. 

If you were not there…

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

If you were not there..

Those who stitched chappals

would never even have ascended the steps of parliament

Janeu-wearing universities

wouldn't have trembled while grudgingly giving us some space,

Buckets filled with excreta

would never have descended from our head

a Narayanan would never have been crowned president


For this sovereign, democratic republic

you effortlessly wrote a constitution

and as adroitly gave it a direction,

but like no one noticing

the elephant standing in the drawing room

some blind elements still don't seem to have understood you:

as glibly as if he was chanting 'India Shining',

look, how a villain declared

that cows are more sacred

than the lives of Dalits in Gohana..

Look, how in this great civilized nation,

where in Khairlanji 

even Priyanka's corpse was raped,

citizens have become so uncivilized!


Like the Pharaohs of Egypt

supervising, personally, the building of the pyramids

look, how this nation,

speeding ahead with shopping malls and express highways

has risen to the racist status 

of overseeing the rape of a Dalit woman every half-hour

and the murder of a Dalit every three days!


Like the sulking wife who refused food

because she wasn't gifted a sari, when a half-naked fakir

went on an indefinite fast

to oppose separate electorates for Dalits

you consoled him with orange juice,

but  how cleverly you managed to tell the whole country

that what he had drunk was the blood of millions of lower jatis…

Like he had isolated Subhas Chandra Bose

he tried to drive you away from our hearts,

but what did the khaddar old man know

about how you flowed in our veins like good blood

like the perennial rivers flowing across the country,

about how you had built a nest in every Dalit's heart!

Don't understand why people of this country,

who so eagerly try to find out 

why we lost in a cricket match

or when certain Bollywood stars are getting married,

don't wish to know why the Dalits of Nagpur got angry…

The same TV anchors who shut their mouths tight

when crazed goons supervised the burning of Bombay

because Meena Thackeray's statue had been desecrated,

complain loudly that

the Dalits' self-respect movement

over Khairlanji

was unruly…

Why are those who can't distinguish between Lal Salaam and Jai Bhim,

the Janeu skeins wearing Dalit garments,

posing as bearers of the Dalit rath

and cycling around Dalit wadas..

You also know

that just as a warning sign bearing skull and bones stops no one

this war is not going to end with Buddhism;

You might have become the first citizen of Cuba

if you had undertaken this struggle there

In Phillipines

your movement might have inspired many more people's revolts..!

Even in South Africa,

in the race for human rights,

Mandela might probably have trailed behind you..!


Sigh.. you were born in our land..

how could you have bagged the peace prize..

Isn't it because you're a Dalit

that an earthworm called Arun Shourie

can spit venom at you like a serpent..



Now when I look at your statue

standing upright in the Dalitwada

I see a Dalit Messiah

who gathers the lost sheep

Or as the simhaswapnam

who haunts them 

and turns their sacrificial buffaloes and sheep into tigers and lions;

Or you look like you're issuing directions,

like the baptised Christian,

to journey from freedom to freedom

Your index finger seems

like a compass that shows us the way

like a double barreled gun

like an assurance

that we can sleep peacefully

Like Macaulay

who caned brahminical education into discipline

you seem like

you're slapping the grocery-store religion into restraint

Breathing into our ears

the message that education is a weapon

you seem to tell us: it's the Dalit era that shall follow the Christian era.


My effort to translate the Telugu poem 'nuvvE lEkapOtE' by Tullimalli Wilson Sudhakar (from his collection of poetry 'daLita vyAkaraNam').


The Shared Mirror gratefully remembers Babasaheb Ambedkar on his 120th birth anniversary. Also very happy that our 101th post, at the end of the first year of our exciting journey of self-discovery, pays such a fitting tribute to Babasaheb. Jai Bhim to all!


* simhaswapnam: 'lit. the elephant's dream of his mortal foe the lion' (C.P.Brown's Telugu-English dictionary).  

An excerpt from Karukku

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011


Nowadays, now that I have left the order, I am angry when I see priests and nuns. Until I actually entered the convent, I truly did not understand their approach nor any of their procedures. It was only after my sojourn with them that I understood the lack of humanity in their piety. They speak in an empty way of devotion, renunciation, the Holy Spirit, God's vocation, poverty, chastity and obedience; they lead lives which remind me only of Pharisees, Sadducees and High Priests who appear in the Bible. If Jesus were to appear today he would question them much more sharply and severely than he did before. And even if he were to do so, I am not sure whether they will understand. 

When I look at the Church today, it seems to be a Church made up of the priests and nuns and their kith and kin. And when you consider who they are, it is clear that they are all from upper castes. They are the ones who are in the positions of power. Yet when you consider the Christian people as a whole, most of them are lowly people, and Dalits. These few assume power, control the dispossessed and the poor by thrusting a blind belief and devotion upon them by turning them into slaves in the name of God, while they themselves live in comfort. […..]

What kind of piety can this be? They make themselves into gods so that they can exploit others. So where has God gone? The so-called gods walking about here are the priests and nuns and their relations; no other.

How long will they deceive us, as if we are innocent children, with their Pusai and their Holy Communion, their rosary and their novena? Children, growing up, will no longer listen to everything they are told, open mouthed, nodding their heads. Dalits have begun to realize the truth. [….]

Dalits have learnt that these others have never respected them as human beings, but bent the religion to their benefit, to maintain their own falsehoods. But Dalits have also understood that God is not like this, has not spoken like this. They have become aware that they too were created in the likeness of God. There is a new strength within them, urging them to reclaim that likeness which has been so far repressed, ruined, obliterated; and to begin to live again with honour, self-respect and with love towards all humankind. To my mind, this alone is true devotion. 



Source: Karukku. Translated from the Tamil original by Lakshmi Holmstrom. Karukku is the autobiography of the Tamil writer, Bama.

Letter to the Conference of Marathi Authors

Monday, April 11th, 2011

11 June 1885



Dear Sir,

I acknowledge the receipt of your letter regarding the proposed conference of the (Marathi) authors and I was delighted to receive your request that I should participate in this conference. But then esteemed sir, the conferences and the books of those who refuse to think of human rights generally, who do not concede them to others and going by their behavior are unlikely to concede them in future, cannot make sense to us, they cannot concur with what we are trying to say in our books. The reason is that their ancestors, with the view to taking revenge on us, included in their pseudo-religious texts an account of how they turned us into slaves and thus gave our enslavement religious authority. Their dated and decadent texts are witness to this phenomenon. These upper-caste authors who are forever miles away from reality and who can only make ceremonial and meaningless speeches in big meetings can never understand what we the shudras and atishudras have to suffer and what calamities we have to undergo. All this is not entirely unknown to the high-caste founders of various conferences and organizations. They pretend to be modernists as long as they are in the service of the British government. The moment they retire and claim their pensions, they get into their brahmanical touch-me-not attire, become caste chauvinists, incorrigible idol worshippers and, what is worse, treat the shudras and atishudras as lowly and contemptible. If they happen to be in their touch-me-not ritual dress they would not even touch paper notes as if that were a blasphemy! How can these Arya brahmans improve the lot of this unfortunate land? Be that as it may. We shudras do not any longer wish to trust these people and their specious and dishonest stories, for they cheat us and eat off our labor. In a word, we shudras have nothing to gain by mixing with such people. We must think about our situation and how we should relate to these upper-caste people. If these leaders of men are genuinely interested in unifying all people they must address themselves to the discovery of the root of eternal love of all human beings. Let them discover it and may be formulate and publish it as a text. Otherwise to turn a blind eye to the divisions among the human beings at this hour is simply futile. Of course, they are free to do what they like. I would nevertheless be thankful if my short letter is placed before your conference for consideration. In any case accept the salute of this old man.


Your friend

Jotirao. G. Phule.  


Note: The Conference of Marathi Authors was founded in 1878. Its second plenary session was organized by Justice M.G. Ranade on 24th May 1885. Ranade wrote to Phule requesting him to participate in the plenary session. Phule did not. But he sent a reply to Ranade, which was published in the 11th June issue of the journal Dnyanodaya. This is another example of how Phule always related to all problems keeping in mind what in his view was the main contradiction in contemporary society.

An interesting thing about this letter is the last sentence, which is written in a dialect which the Muslims of the western Maharashtra use in their speech:  “Sadhe hoke buddheka yeh pahla salaam lev’. It sounds like Urdu or Hindustani but does not follow the syntax of Urdu and Hindustani. It is Marathi for all practical purposes. His use of this kind of language would certainly have shocked the contemporary brahmans. But Phule clearly seems to emphasize that this ‘Mussalmani’ or ‘Bagwani’ speech is as much Marathi as brahmanical speech!


Translated by G P Deshpande.

Source: Selected writings of Jotirao Phule. Edited, with annotations and introduction, by G P Despande. 


The Shared Mirror celebrates Jyotiba Phule's 184th Birthday. 


Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

by Dashrath Parmar


All of a sudden, I felt as if a thorn was pricking my eye or as if someone was digging a pit with a sharp crowbar…

I stirred a little. I opened my eyes to the horrendous sight of a vulture perched on my chest, with its massive wings spread out, its beak stuck into my right eye….

I shrieked in terror, but the vulture continued to pick at my eye unperturbedly. Using all my force, I tried with both my hands to take it off my chest, but I failed. It had firmly fixed its talons in the gaps between my ribs. All my efforts were in vain.

I began to shout with more intensity, but no one responded. Where had my family members gone? Where were my loved ones? Look how this vulture tortures me!

Blood streamed down my eye into tributaries. One ran down my ear. The warmth…! Another reached down to my lips and into my mouth. The warm salty touch… taste…!

Gradually, my pillow, my quilt, was drenched…. If I bled further, the blood would seep through the quilt on to the floor…

With renewed strength I tried to push the vulture away, but it too resisted with doubled force and began to drink my blood with gulping sounds…

I looked outside with one eye, but its open, monstrous wings obstructed my sight. I lay in wait helplessly, for my eye to be scraped out. There would be no trace of the eye after a while, only a deep, valley-like opening….

Pain crept through every vein of my body. I sprang up from the cot when I could bear it no longer. The cot shook as I got up, it tilted to one side, the vulture lost its grip over my ribs, it fell and I fled.

The door was open. I tripped over the threshold and tumbled. However, I broke into a run again. I ran across the courtyard and came to a stop under the neem tree. There was a deadly silence in the vas, not a soul in sight, except a dog who sat chewing a bone… its mouth smeared with blood. [….]

The blood from my eye just refused to clot; I could hear it falling on the ground as I stood beneath the neem tree…… tip….tap…..tip……tap…… I felt something dangling from my eye-cavity… Oh! It was a lump of flesh! Could it be a severed ligament perhaps some vein or nerve leading to the brain or…

I put the lump back carefully back into the hollow. My hands were covered with blood, my clothes drenched red. I was tempted to kill the vulture with the kitchen knife. Would the taste of its blood be like mine?

I looked at my house from where I stood. The vulture was following the trail of my blood, licking the blood drops as it advanced towards me. For a moment I thought […..]

At the Fuldevi Temple:

I looked all round for a rag to stuff the hollow of my eye with. Perhaps, then the bleeding would cease….

Mataji’s idol caught my sight at that moment and I eyed the bright red chundadi wrapped around the idol, in the faint light of the lamp. Yes. I thought, this is it. The stone idol could do without any covering! […]

What would I ask her (Mataji)? Money… wealth… or a seven-storied mansion, as the greedy merchant had, where on the seventh floor, the son of his seventh son could sleep in a cradle of gold. No, no. I checked myself. Money and wealth would not serve my purpose. I decided I would ask for a ‘a gleaming, pointed, sharp trishul…..!

I rehearsed my request: “Hey ma! If you really want to grant me a boon, give me a trishul, your trishul! You have slain demons with it, I will use it to slay the vulture who is after my life…. and all its heirs… and redeem my…..”


Source: Tongues of Fire: a selection of Gujarati Dalit short stories. Translated and edited by Darshana Trivedi and Rupalee Burke. Dalit Sahitya Publication Series: Book IV.

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