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Manohar Biswas: A revolutionary Dalit voice in Bengali Dalit Literature
Of the great writers of Bengali Dalit Literature, Manohar Mouli Biswas stands out as an outstanding figure. He was born and brought up in a remote village Dakshin Matiargati in Khulna district in Purba Banga (East Bengal) in 1943. He passed matriculation in 1959. After passing Intermediate Science in 1961 with National Scholarship, he took admission in C.U and completed graduation in 1963.

His is a great revolutionary voice. His poems speak of the sorrows and sufferings of the oppressed Dalit people in the caste-ridden Indian society. For his excellent literary creations, he has been awarded Baba Saheb Dr. B R Ambedkar National Fellowship Award-2009 by Indian Dalit Literary Academy, New Delhi.

At present, he is the President of Bangla Dalit Sahitya Sanstha. He has been editing a famous pioneering bi-monthly literary magazine named “Dalit Mirror” in English for more than a decade. During his stay at Nagpur in 1968 for his Departmental Training as Engineering Supervisor in P and T Dept. of Central Govt. he came in contact with Dalit people and Dalit Literary Movement. That changed the course of his life as a writer.

His poems, short stories are of special flavor. His works are illuminated in the light of Dalit consciousness. Some of his famous works include: Ora Aamar Kabita (They are my poetry) poetry collection, Dalit Sahityer Dikboloy (History of Dalit Literature), Dalit Sahityer Ruprekha (Outline History of Dalit Literature), Poetic Rendering As Yet Unborn’ (Translation from his Bengali Poems). He has written more than a dozen books, and lately he has been writing his autobiography named-Aamar Bhubaney Aami Benche Thaki (I Live in my own world).

In a detailed interview, Manohar Mouli Biswas tells citizen journalist Santanu Halder about his love for the poetry and the significance of Dalit Literature. Excerpts.

Tell us a bit about your childhood days?

My childhood days were something unique and unparallel because of the fact that in those days I worked as a labourer in agricultural fields along with my father and great uncle. My schooling started late and as one with secondary in the scale of importance in life. Upbringing of cattle was the primary one.

Why do you write?

To be a writer is not my motto in life. What is there inside, I feel, life is full of lot of odd experiences, uncommon with others. The same I should share with people through penning.

Do you think of yourself as a Dalit writer?

Why shall I go to call myself a Dalit writer? What is fact I’m born in a Dalit caste and I write about my own people and their sufferings. That is the reason why people call me a Dalit writer.

What according to you is Dalit Literature?

It’s a new kind of literature that evolved recently in the field of Indian literature where the Dalit people themselves are directly expressing their own sufferings and feelings by writing novels, short stories, poetries, dramas, autobiographies etc. After going through a detailed study into the subject, once in my book of ‘Dalit Sahityer Digboloy’, published in 1992 I had defined it as “Dalit Sahitya is the introspection of the Dalit focussed by the Dalit themselves in the perspective of their retrospective misfortunes under the casteism of Hinduism.”

Let us know about the other Dalit writers in West Bengal.

In West Bengal, Dalit writers have a history different from the rest of India. They have their history of writings from hundred years back. Recently I’ve compiled a  book titled “Shatobarsher Bangla Dalit Sahity” where I’ve accommodated about hundred Dalit writers whose books had been published from1911 to 2010, on choosing and covering mostly all the genres of writing such as essays, short stories, novels, dramas, poetries and autobiographies. Beyond this group of writers there are more writers left out.   

Are you familiar with Indian Dalit Writers?

I do feel myself as one of the family members of Indian Dalit writers, because of the fact I keep myself in touch with the Dalit writings and writers of the states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andra Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, Tripura, Assam and Uttarakhand. Sometimes in the national level seminar I do have interactions with them. Some of the Dalit writers are at present writing in English even. In the last Jaipur Literary Festival, you know, a Telegu writer, very favourite to me, Kancha Ilaiah’s novel ‘Untouchable God’ has been released. Om Prakash Valmiki known to me, a writer from Uttarakhand has written his autobiography in his mother tongue and the English version of the same has been published by a publisher in Kolkata.

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

At present, I’m working as President of Bangla Dalit Sahitya Sanstha which we had formed in 1992 after the sad demise of Chuni Kotal, a university student of Vidyasagar University and it happened due to caste hatred in West Bengal. This Sanstha is an organisation of Dalit literary and cultural movement in the state. Chaturtha Dunia is a quarterly Dalit literary and cultural magazine published in Bengali since 1994, two years after the formation of Bangla Dalit Sahitya Sanstha as its mouth-piece, and at the initial stage I was working as one of the assistant editors. I’m still attached with it. Sometimes in between I had worked as its editor too.

Do you think being a Dalit writer one has to be a Dalit by birth? Is it compulsory to be a Dalit writer?

Literature and none of its activity is related with the birth. Anybody can write about the Dalits. If you talk about the Dalit literature, then of course we find its creators are coming from the Dalit background.

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

Writer and critic are two different things. A critic has his authority to criticise any kind of literature whether it is a mainstream literature or Dalit literature.

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

The mainstream writers depict the Dalit-life in their own seeing them and a Dalit writer describes his own sufferings which are mostly becoming autobiographical in nature.

When did you get acquainted with Dalit Literature in West Bengal?

In the late sixties, I had been in Nagpur for a quite some time and became acquainted with the term ‘Dalit Literature’ and subsequently I could have traced out it in Bengal in the Charya poets. That I may term as old Dalit literature and what is being written at present is modern of the kind.

Do you think that Dalit literature has a separate identity?

The Dalit literature may be otherwise termed as, what I believe as a critic of literature, a kind of identity literature.

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

You know our literary magazine is named Chaturtha Dunia and we have a small publishing shop in the same name at Stall 22, Bhabani Dutta Lane of Kolkata-73. Most of our writers are getting their books published from the same place at their own cost. The recent writings what I have just completed is my autobiography named “Aamar Bhubaney Aami Benche Thaki” which may be published soon. You know Calcutta publishers are not much interested in Dalit literature.

Do you have any autobiographical work? If any, please tell a bit about its speciality?

I’m a man born in a remote rural Bengal village abounded with marshy lands. In my autobiography, I have told of my life and livelihood what I enjoyed therein. It’s nothing but an untold story, a hyacinth floats unstably sometimes in favour of current and sometimes against the current.

Have you ever read the lives and writings of B.R Ambedkar and Phule, the pathfinders of Dalit communities? How do they influence Bengali Dalit Literature?

The life and writings of Dr. B R Ambedkar, Mahatma Jotiba Phule, E. V. Ramaswami Naicker are undoubtedly thought provoking in the minds of Dalits all over India. I’m also influenced by them in the formation of ideas. But what I feel every writer has his own way of moving forward. In Bengal, the Buddhist kings of the Pala dynasty had ruled Bengal for more than four hundred years at a stretch and Charya poets of Dalit castes came up at that time.

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

I do have great regards for Mahasweta-di. I can now remember that my book of short stories ‘Krishna Mrittikar Manoosh’ which was published long back was dedicated to her. She has nicely talked about the tribal people. Her studies about them has inspired all other writers, mine too. But she has not gone to the best of details about the Dalits. However, I get her bliss all the time and she has written the foreword of my book ‘Dalit Sahityer Ruprekha’ published from Bani Shilpa of Kolkata.

What is the future of the Dalit writings in India?

The more and more the Dalits are becoming educated and knowing the art of expression the future of this kind of literature is becoming bigger and brighter.

Do you have any message in your writings?

All writings, I believe, carry some message and the message of becoming conscious of their position in the social spectrum. They can locate themselves and can find out the way how they should move on and survive.

What is your opinion on Brahminical system in Bengal?

The discriminations what are exercised in West Bengal in different fields due to the exigencies of this system are not outwardly visible and understandable but it works in very refined manner under the carpet. Only the sufferers know inner truth.

How about translation of your works into English?

India is a country of different federal states. Unless any writing is translated into English the people of the other states and people beyond India cannot know it. I’m happy to say that some critics and good translators have come forward to translate the Bengali Dalit writings into English. Dr. Joydeep Sarangi, Dr. Sipra Mukherjee, Dr. Sankar Prasad Singha and some other good translators are befriending me in this regard. A good number of my poems are translated and published with title ‘Poetic Rendering As Yet Unborn’.

Any memorable incident in your life?

I’d started my service career in Nagpur and perhaps that had provided me a turning point in my life.

Do you think Dalit Literature should be included in the B.A, M.A syllabus of our Indian universities to make it more relevant to the students?

At present, lot of Indian universities have introduced Dalit Literature in their syllabii. State University, Barasat had taught one of my short story (Nanchera Valmiki) for one year in M.A. (English) course. Some Brahmins, however, removed it out of the syllabus.

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