Their names marked them out. Kachrya (dirt), Dhondya (stones), Bhikya (beggar), among others. They sounded like invectives, not names. They left no doubt about where the bearers belonged in the hierarchy of caste.
Dagdu (stone) Maruti Pawar rebelled against this, in his path-breaking autobiography, Baluta, which shook the world of Marathi literature in 1978 with its thematic brazenness and linguistic impudence. “The Manusmritihas a list of names for Shudras. It requires that our names should reflect society’s contempt,” he wrote. He had become Daya Pawar. The titleBaluta, too, was symbolic. It meant the share thrown the way of lower castes by those higher up the order.
The autobiography or the memoir, in the hands of Pawar and other Dalit writers of that era, went beyond self-expression and historical record. It was a vehicle for Dalits to assert their identity, challenge the social order and protest against the oppression of centuries. Before them, Annabhau Sathe and Baburao Bagul, among others, had tested the waters with memoirs and other forms to signal the wretchedness of Dalit life, but in the 1960s and 1970s, Dalit writing turned into a compelling socio-political tool.
Poetry also served the same end. Searing and sharp in tone, stripping social niceties to shreds, hurling words as if they were weapons of the wronged and the vengeful. Namdeo Dhasal was but one example. “All my poetry is political poetry,” he once said. His Golpitha (1978) shocked the quiet charm of classical and romantic Marathi poetry…..