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Language of Anticasteism: Satyashodhak Literature, Satire and Dalit Aesthetics

Dr Madhura Damle, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Presidency University, Kolkata, West Bengal, India


The Dalit literature of 1960s not only depicted the lives of Dalits in the Marathi literature for the first time but also challenged the existing literary norms and ideas of morality. Earlier, Jotirao Phule, who initiated the non-Brahmin movement in western India (also known as satyashodhak movement) was criticized by his contemporary literati for not conforming to the grammatical and metrical standards. Similarly, the Self-Respect Movement challenged the ideas of middle-class respectability by employing ‘vulgar’ words and imagery (Pandian 2007). In other words, the language of anti-caste movements and literature was a radical departure from the standard/ literary/ Brahminical/ refined language.

The scholars argue that question of literariness of Dalit literature should be bracketed and that the focus shall be on politics of naming and description that politicizes key aspects of subaltern life (Rao 2017). Dalit aesthetics considers so-called uncivilized, sexual, abusive, violent language not only as an expression of everyday life of Dalits but also as a critique of universalizing morality.

However, anti-caste literature has also employed other linguistic strategies. For instance, Mukundarao Patil, a leading figure in the satyashodhak movement, wrote a novel (serialized in 1913-15) which uses satire to criticize Brahminical modernity. The proposed paper aims to revisit the concept of Dalit aesthetics by looking at the satyashodhak literature which uses satire for critiquing the caste system.

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