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Jatin Bala's journey from a labourer to an award-winning Dalit writer
Jatin Bala, one of the leading Dalit writers, has played a significant and pioneering role in shaping Dalit writings in today's West Bengal. Born at Parhiyali, Manirampur in Jessore in the then East Pakistan on 5th May, 1949, the award winning writer is a symbol of revolutionary Dalit voice in West Bengal.

He had lost his mother in 1950 and his father also died in 1953.Like a rootless wanderer, he spent his childhood amid utmost poverty, sorrows and sufferings. At a tender age, sometimes, instead of going to school and playing with his companions, he worked as a daily labourer in a paddy field and got beaten by the owner.

He then learnt a lesson and at that time he took an oath that he will read a lot of books, and he will establish himself in the society even at the cost of his life. Due to the communal riots in Bangladesh, he left the land and migrated to India and took shelter in Kunti refugee camp in Hoogly. From there, he came to Bongaon (north 24 district, West Bengal) and permanently settled there.

His camp life was terrible because he had to spend days without food, and at nights under the open sky. After a long struggle, finally the poet, famous short story writer, novelist obtained an M.A degree in Bengali Literature from the University of Calcutta. He started his career as a teacher and later joined the West Bengal government’s Youth Welfare department as an officer. He retired from his service, and as a dedicated soul has been giving all his time to his creative writing. He has already written 13 books and an autobiography.

In an interview with citizen journalist Santanu Haldar, the award-winning poet and author Jatil Bala speaks about his struggle and how he got associated with Dalit literature. Excerpts.

What made you think you can write and what is the inspiration?

I write for expressing myself. The long trouble tossed road of my life inspires me to write. The sorrows and pangs of life motivate me to write. So the life which I lead is the inspiration of my writings. I get peace through my writings because I can ventilate my emotions, pains, inhuman sufferings, agonies, disappointments, defeats, humiliations, oppressions and depressions through my creations. And, if I am to contribute to the development of our society, it is only through my writings.

Tell us about your childhood days?

I have spent my childhood amid sorrows and sufferings and excruciating pains. My parents died when I was just six-years-old. So a little child became an orphan and then at the same time he witnessed the horrible trauma of communal riots and pains and sufferings of the Partition. And with my brothers, I left the country Purba Banga without knowing all these. After coming to India, I stayed in three refugee camps. Reading books, going to a Pathsala was a luxury to me. I suffered inhuman tortures and being half-fed I spent my childhood. And the most pathetic thing is that after visiting six primary schools, I finally passed class IV.

What, according to you, is Dalit Literature?

Dalit literature is the literature written by Dalit people and the literature bloomed in the light of Dalit consciousness, and where there is the message of liberation of the Dalit people. And finally it is a literature in which the social history, the oppressions, pangs, sorrows and the struggles of Dalit people will be revealed.

Do you think yourself as a Dalit writer?

Yes, I consider myself as a Dalit writer because I write for the starved, poverty stricken people, for those people who are being oppressed daily in our society. Being a representative of them, I write for the people, of the people. Previously, while I was writing without being properly conscious of Dalit Literature, the same issues of our society I had been dealing with which I have been focusing nowadays. But this time, I am writing more consciously from within. These writings were about the liberation of long oppressed Dalit people. Dalit liberation means imagining a progressive society which will be free from caste systems, oppressions etc. and only will be guided by unending love, liberty, fraternity, equality and justice.

When did you come to know about Dalit literature in West Bengal?

Basically, the idea of Dalit writing came to me in 2000.In that very year one of my short stories had been published from Bankura (West Bengal). Reading this story, Bangla Dalit Sahitya Sanstha (the Dalit Literature Academy/Association of West Bengal) sent a letter to me. They requested me to join their society and told me about their journal on Dalit Literature named “Chotutha Duniya”. Then I joined the association of Bengali Dalit Voices and became a life member and continued my writings.

Do you think that Dalit literature has a separate identity?

Yes, obviously. What we wanted to portray in the so-called progressive literature of our society, we could never do that. So getting fully enlightened by the light of consciousness, Dalit literature emerged and it is very relevant. Hence, it has a separate identity and more progressive than the so-called progressive literature of our country.

What is the speciality of your writing which is absent in so-called literature?

A literature should mirror a panoromaic view of a society. As a mouthpiece of the society, it should depict the struggles of every class of people including the Dalit oppressed people. But unfortunately, in the so-called literature of ours, these things are not wholly present. The life long struggle of Dalit and oppressed people, their way of living, their problems, their sorrows and agonies are totally absent in our so-called literature. And here lies the speciality of my writing because my books sing the uncared, untold songs of their lives of which the so-called writers of our civilized society have paid least attention. But our Dalit literature is progressive and it asserts the history of long oppressed people. So, Subaltern studies are a kind of examination and assessment of life from the bottom of the society.

Do you think to be a Dalit writer one has to be a Dalit writer by birth?

A very critical question to answer. Only a Dalit can properly depict the pangs and oppressions of his life in a true manner. Because they are the sufferers. But a non-Dalit cannot do it in that way because he sees everything from the distance. I am not telling that the others cannot write Dalit Literature. There are so many non-Dalit people who are successfully working in the field and creating excellent literature but that is sympathetic literature. So there is a difference and the difference lies in the consciousness of our souls. We have to accept it.

At present, some people are writing about the Dalits. Can they be categorized as Dalit writers or Dalit literary critics?

Yes, why not? Because the field or the stratum of our society they are working on, has been long unrevealed and untouched in Literature, especially in Bengali Literature. They are introducing new faces, new voices, characters and writers in the geography of our literature. Through their writings we can see a complete India in future.

Tell us about other Dalit writers in West Bengal.

There are so many writers. Mentions may be made of Kapil Krishna Thakur, Shyamal Pramanik, Gautam Ali, Nakul Mallick, Kalyani Thakur (female), Manju Bala, Dr Achnita Biswas, Manohar Mauli Biswas, Manoranjan Bypari. These people are coming to mainstream of our Bengali Dalit Literature and occupying a significant place in our Dalit writing in West Bengal.

You may have been involved in Choturtha Duniya.Tell us a bit about its activities, span, and its importance in the cultural perspective?

Presently, the importance of Choturtha Duniya in the perspective of Bengali culture is immense. In recent times, in Bengali literature there is no such journal which acts as a mouthpiece of Bengali Dalit Writers. They have been publishing the works of the Dalit Writers for 21 years. The Bengali Dalit voices are echoing through their journal.

Mahasweta Devi worked on different marginalized people and their lives.Has she successfully portrayed the inner consciousness of your race?

I think she could not wholly portray the pictures of our race. But she worked wholeheartedly in the field and got success and for that, she deserves praise. We appreciate her endeavours and from the bottom of heart we thank her but the matter is that, she could not fully reveal the stories of inner homes and inner beings of Dalit people. Her attitude towards us is very sympathetic. The words which secretly reside in the inner hearts of the Dalit communities which the Dalit people only know are not touched in her works. It is my very personal opinion.                                         

Have you ever read the lives and writings of B.R Ambedkar and Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, the two great pathfinders of Dalit communities?

Yes, I have read a lot about both of them. Especially the life and the works of B R Ambedkar influenced me so much from the early years of my life. The books on him which had been published from Maharastra are in my personal library. And I am well aware of the philosophy of B R Ambedkar and Phule and I am influenced by them.

How do they influence Bengali Dalit Literature?

In Bengali Literature, especially in Dalit literature, the influence of B R Ambedkar and Phule is immense. These two great people are our inspiration. Besides, our Bengali Dalit literature is being enriched by recent Marathi Dalit Writers and their writings. Because we think that Dalit literature is Literature of Whole India. In the new horizon of all Indian Literature, if we can expose ourselves in a good way, then I think the national integrity of our country will be strengthened.

Have you written any autobiographical work? If any, please tell a bit about it.

Yes, in the very last year my autobiographical novel has been published named Sikorh Chhenrha Jibon. It outlines the tender days of my long suffering life from Jessore, Purba Banga (Bangladesh) to the refugee camps in India where I came after partition and took shelter. I have thrown light on the historical aspects of the then society as well as on the sacrifices, pangs and agonies of the people during the partition of which the Bengali writers of today have not paid enough attention so far.

I have accumulated the incidents from the real life and so far as my memory is concerned I have framed these unforgettable incidents in the pages of my book. Though one of my friends, Manaranjan Bypari has written on the same issues, but he focuses on the other sides of the issues. In future, I want to write the part-two of my autobiography and for that I am preparing a draft of the book.

Tell us a bit about your recent writings and where are they getting published?

Very soon my new book named Itihasher Aaloke Sri Hari Guruchand o Matua Aandolon is going to be published. I have been working on the book for last three months. And most recently, we have formed a Dalit literary association named BANGLAR DALITA LEKHOK SHILPI SANGHA in West Bengal. People from Tripura and Bangladesh joined our society and we are publishing a journal on behalf of our society named Dalit Monon (Dalit Mind). I have been elected the vice president of the society. The journal will soon be published.

Do you think Dalit literature should be included in bachelors and masters courses in Indian universities?

Yes, I strongly recommend it. Because our society is made of different people, different strata and different cultures. Our social history is incomplete with a detailed knowledge about all of them. If writers from different strata do not contribute to the social fabric of our literature, then tell me Mr. Halder, will it be called a complete literature? What do you think? So it is my request to the syllabus makers of the Indian universities, please include Dalit Literature/Subaltern Studies in our syllabii so that the students get enough scope to know about all the strata of society, their people and their cultures in their academic studies.

You are a teacher, a retired officer, a Dalit Bengali writer. How do you look at your identity?

I want to see myself as a writer. Because nothing remains at the end of life except the literary creations. I want to serve our society as a writer.

Are you familiar with the Indian Dalit writers?

Yes, with some of them. In a national seminer on Bengali and other Dalit Literature organized by the Dept. of Jogesh Chandra Chaudhuri College, I got acquainted with a few Dalit writers outside our state and there I met Dr. Jaydeep Sarangi who is working for us.

Tell us a few words about your famous poetry collection Aamar Swabdoi Shanito Astro?

The main weapon of literature is poem. Through poems, we can express a lot of things. I have entered into the realms of literature riding on the vehicle of poetry. These poems are written in the light of Dalit consciousness. We dream of changing our society through the medium of words, which means literary creation. My anthology of poems carries the same message of revolutionary change through the medium of good poetic words.

How about translation of your works into English?

Yes, my poetry anthology Aamar Swabdoi Shanito Astro has been translated into English as “A Verse as a Sharpened Weapon” by Satya Debnath.

How do you pass your idle moments?

I have no spare time. I am a full time writer.

How do you rate yourself as a poet?

I think, as a poet I could not express my emotions, my messages wholly but as a short story writer, I think I am more successful and it has given me awards, and appreciations.

Any memorable incident of your life.

Yes, when I was reading in class six at Jirat High School in Hoogly District, I got an offer of reaping paddy in the fields. I had to do the work of a laborer due to the sheer poverty. And then the government was not helping us…So a very miserable state we were in. The owner agreed to give Rs.5 if we (me and my friend) could reap the paddy and could bring the bundles of paddy on our heads to his courtyard. We gladly accepted the offer. Carrying the burden on my head when I reached the courtyard, suddenly I slipped and fell on the ground with the load. And then the owner of the paddy field came to me in a hurry and kicked me on my back with his heavy boots. For that he also rebuked me without paying the money. I was crying and could not buy food for that day. It was a very pathetic experience I could not express in words. Those horrible days I will never forget in my life. From that moment I decided firmly that I will read and establish myself in the society. The incident inspired me to study more and more in my later years.

Do you have any regrets?

So many things to mention. I am a life-long sufferer. In my childhood, I lost my parents and 24 year ago, I lost my wife as well. If she were alive, it would have been a happy moment for her to see me in this place now. She would surely appreciate and love me more seeing my literary endeavours.

His works:

- Jeebaner Naam Jantrana (The name of Life is Pain) - A poetry anthology

- Minati Keu Rakheni (Nobody Has Kept Request) - A poetry anthology

- Nepo Nidhan Parba (Nepo Slain Episode) - Selected short stories

- Gondir Bandhe Bhangan (Dissolution in the Barrage of Circle) - Selected short stories

- Aamriter Jiban Kotha (Life of Elixir)- A Novel

- Dalita Sahitya Aandalan (Dalit Literary Movement) - A collection of research articles

- Bastu Badi Motua Aandalan(Materialistic Motua Movement) -A collection of research articles

- Satya Aannetion (In Search of Truth)- A collection of research articles

- Vanga Banglar Dui Mukha (Two faces of Broken Bengal)-a collection of short stories

- Aamar Shabdai Shanita Astra (My Words as Sharpened Weapon)-An anthology of poems

- Shikarh Chhenrha Jeeban( Root- severing Life)-An autobiographical novel

- A Verse as a Sharpened Weapon-A translation of his poetry anthology from Bengali by Satya Debnath

- Samaj Chetanar Galpo (The Story of Consciousness of Society)

- Itihasher Aloke Sri Hari Guruchand o Matua Aandalan (Sri Hari Guruchand in the light of History and Matua Movement) - A collection of research articles


- Nitish Smriti Sahitya Award

- Kobi Nikhilesh Smriti Award

- Sahittyik Moni Mondal Smriti Award

- Dabdaha Patrika Award

- Ambedkar Literary Award by The University of Calcutta

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