Tamil Dalit literature: an overview
Dalit studies in Tamil has its foundational stage. Historically, Dalit literature witnessed a rather late start in Tamil as compared to its counterpart in Marathi or Kannada. As a result, theorization of Dalit writing or a systematic critical corpus has not been developed yet. The author urges the literary critics to start a critical exercise so that justice can be done to properly evaluate the vibrant, multi-faceted, articulate and radically innovative Dalit creative writings in Tamil which we have witnessed in recent years. The present paper critically evaluates the various themes and trends present in Tamil Dalit writings and suggests for certain curative measures.
Dalit studies in Tamil is at a nascent stage. Critical reception to Dalit literature in Tamil is not rooted in a well-articulated critical paradigm. A nuanced, theorized reading of Dalit discourse is imperative in a context of impressionistic responses and biased readings governed by caste identity of writers. Dalit literature witnessed a rather late start in Tamil as compared to its counterpart in Marathi or Kannada. As a result, theorization of Dalit writing or a systematic critical corpus has not been yet put in place. Such a critical exercise requires to be evolved at the earliest to keep pace with a vibrant, multi-faceted, articulate and radically innovative Dalit creative output in Tamil in recent years.
Dalit voice in literature could not find its distinct place in Tamil literary domain until late 1980s or early 1990s. The Dravidian politics that made its presence felt in Tamil Nadu during the nationalist movement and the subsequent coming to power of political parties consumed by Dravidian ideology in the period ranging from the sixties to eighties of the twentieth century led to an effective silencing of the Dalit voice in literary/cultural domain. The self-respect movement of the Justice Party in the twenties and thirties of the last century sought to subsume the Dalit category (categorized as Harijan at that point of time) into the backward castes. The benefits that accrued to the backward castes following an agitation for better representation in legislature and in the job sector were not allowed to reach the Dalits among the backward castes.
Similarly, the anti-Hindi agitation of the sixties, spearheaded by Dravidian political parties subsumed caste identity within a linguistic identity. It was a mass agitational movement but the linguistic agenda of the movement contained the caste frictions and divisions embedded in Tamil social, cultural space. Literature influenced by Kzhagam ideology, while foregrounding social inequalities and economic disparity did not allow caste discrimination within a homogenous linguistic community to raise its head. The Dalit voice remained submerged and Dalit consciousness did not find a favourable ground to break free of the Dravidian fold dominated by other backward castes.
The seventies and the eighties witnessed a generation of writers whose writings were influenced by Marxist ideology and were marked by experimental narrative structure and positing of debates concerning ethical, social issues that influenced "Tamil culture." The Dalit identity was subsumed, by these writers within...
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