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Portrayal of Caste in Modern Hindi Poetry: A Sociological Inquiry

Mr Surendra Kumar Jandu

PhD Scholar, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India


The history of modern Hindi literature suggests that the issue of caste has been at the periphery of the imagination of modern Hindi poets except few until the dawn of Dalit literature in 1980s. From Bhartendu period to Nayi Kavita, caste was not an issue of serious concern for the Hindi poets. Critic Manager Pandey writes that “Dalit occupies same place in the Hindi literature as they occupy at the material level in Hindi speaking regions” (Pandey, 2015:20). We see minimalistic representation of the issue of discrimination, humiliation, and exploitation based on caste in the writings of modern Hindi poets. The first expression of Dalit consciousness can be seen in the poetry of Heera Dom who wrote “Achhut Ki Shikayat” (Untouchable’s Complaint) in Bhojpuri language that was published in September 1914 in ‘Saraswati’ magazine published by Mahaveer Prasad Diwedi. Except Premchand’s writings on caste which has an influence of Ambedkar’s Mahad movement in 1927; we don’t see the other writers especially poets who engaged themselves with the problems of Dalits in a consistent and serious manner. Renowned Hindi poet and writer Om Prakash Valmiki in his analysis of aesthetics of Dalit literature draws insights from Hindi fiction writer Rajendra Yadav who stressed upon three important elements that are vital for literature- struggle, suffering, and vision (Valmiki, 2019:48). Valmiki criticizes the mainstream Hindi literature for its failure to represent the pain and agony of dalit lives and argues that Dalit literature characterizes the elements of “mass literature” and “literature of action” through its depiction of anger and struggle of common masses and their human values against feudal mentality (Valmiki, 2019: 15).

It can be argued that the continuous practice of untouchability and caste-based discrimination creates not just “structural suffering” but also “relational suffering” (to use the concept of Michael Jacobsen & Sophia Marshman) to the people of marginalized section. Caste based discrimination humiliates the dignity of people and fill them with the agony and inexplicable suffering. The proposed work seeks to engage in the writings of scholars from literature who have addressed the pain and agony of lower strata from literary perspective. Thus poetry seeks to provide us the literary sensibilities and visual imagination to understand the intensity of human suffering. It also tends to provide the tools/ways to fight against structural and relational suffering embedded in caste/class/gender/religious hierarchies and thus act as cathartic experience or healing in the form of psychological relief from undue suffering.

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