Sunday, April 10, 2011

Voices Of The Oppressed And The Excluded In Nepali Literature

Ram Dayal Rakesh
SAARC Festival of Writers and Literature was organized in Siri Fort in New Delhi, India by the Foundation of SAARC writers and litterateurs from 25th March to 27th March 2011. The first ever SAARC writers’ conference was organized in April 2000. From then on it is organized every year in one of the SAARC countries. It is declared in 2000 Resolution, "We are the mad dreamers of the SAARC region. Let governments do their political and diplomatic work. Let us, the writers and the creative fraternity of the region, endeavour to create bridges of friendship across and beyond borders."

The Foundation of SAARC Writers and Litterateurs (FOSWAL) is the only organization in eight SAARC countries - India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, Afganistan - legally authorized to use the acronym ‘SAARC’ and the SAARC Logo to organize literary and cultural interactions, seminars, conferences, festivals, youth outreach programmes, and all else. FOSWAL launched its vision of cultural bonding among the neighboring countries in 1986, and emerged as the first and the only non-government organization working for Track II cultural connectivity through a think tank of intellectuals and writers, creative fraternity and peace activists, folklore Buddhist and Sufi scholars, folk and tribal scholars, folk performers and artists, theatre and film artistes, and painters, dancers and musicians who have common sensitivities and common concerns for the socio-cultural, political-economic and tribal-gender issues of the region. Besides the participants of eight SAARC countries, poets from Burma (Myanmar) also participated in SAARC Festival of Literature in Agra in 2009.

This time, the focus of the academic seminars were on contemporary creativity and political social conflicts, voices of the oppressed and the excluded, literary legacy of Tagore, Nazrul Islam, Faiz, Ghalib, new voices of young writers, SAARC identity and global culture, literature and ground realities.

I had an opportunity to present a paper on voices of OBC in Nepali literature. OBC people in Nepal are mostly the inhabitants of Nepal’s Terai Madhesh. They make up 18 per cent of the total population of the country. They are living in 26 districts of Nepal. They speak Mathili, Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Magahi and Urdu in their respective places. Hindi is used as their link language. There is very little literature written on the problems and challenges which they face in their day to day life. There are also OBC people in India. They also face the same problems and challenges. There is a Minority Commission in Delhi which looks after their problems. The Nepal government has also constituted a central committee to look after the welfare of OBC. There is a lot of literature about Dalits in India but there is little literature on OBC. I would like to quote some lines of poet N.D. Rajkumar which has been translated by Anushiya Sivanarayanan. It was written originally in Tamil:

"We have to wash all the dishes,

The menstrual clothing,

It is the way we survive.

If the master is at home

His wife or children

Cannot laugh out loud.

You cannot touch the master

At other times

Even when he asks for water.

You serve him

Then duck by the wall

And hide.

The anguish has been described very well by the poet and this is the pitiable plight of OBC in both Nepal and India.

One Punjabi poet Surjit Patar is right to express his ideas here:

"Words do not always liberate

Sometimes they also imprison

I am in search of such a line

That will set me free

From the web of suffocating sentences.

Words cannot express fully the grievances of the other backward castes and there is no literature on OBC in Nepal. Some writers have tried their level best to express their grievances and demands in the genre of novel and short stories. In this context, one masterpiece collection of short stories has been published which has been named Tarai Madhesh Ka Katha (Stories of Tarai Madesh) in which there are many short stories by Madheshi writers like Bhavani Bhikshu, Dhireshwor Jha Dhirendra, Rajendra Vimal, Ram Bharoskapadi Bhramor, Gopal Ashka and Ramesh Ranjan. Likewise, there are several famous Nepali writers who have raised their voices in favour of minority people. They are Bisheshwor Prasad Koirala, Madanmani Dikshit, Ramesh Vikal, Manu Brajaki, Murari Adhikari, Dhruba Chandra Gautam, Parshu Pradhan, Bhaupanthi, Binod Dikshit, Shailendra Sakar, Sanat Regmi, Ram Mani Pokharel, Banmali Nirakar, Punya Prasad Kharel, Gorakh Bahadur Singh, Hari Adhikari, Rishi Raj Baral, Chandra Prasad Bhattrai, Pradeep Nepal, Rajab, Narayan Tiwari, Ismali, Kishor Pahadi, Indira Prasai, Vivas Pokhrel, Sita Pandey, Krishna Dharabashi, Dhir Kumar Shrestha, Rajendra Parajuli, Mahesh Vikram Shah, Nayan Raj Pandey, Sharmila Khadka (Dahal), Vasu Jamarkattel, Trishna Kunwar, Ratna Mani Nepal.

This collection has been edited by Parshu Pradhan and Narayan Tiwari. This has appeared in second edition very recently. These short story writers have very keenly observed the wretched conditions of the OBC people and have expressed their concerns about them. They have also used their languages. So this is a testimony to the poverty, racial discrimination and racial sufferings of these people. They have been oppressed and suppressed for so many centuries. They have been deprived of their democratic rights. They are not in a position to enjoy their human rights also.

There is a novel named Mayur Times written by Narayan Wagle. Parag Yadav is the protagonist in it; she is a true representative of OBC.

Sanjeev Uprety has also written a novel named Ghanchakkar (Quagmire) in which he has picked up a character from his native district Jhapa. He is a black rickshaw puller who comes to Kathmandu and faces many problems. Most of the OBC people are black complexioned.

There is another novel named Lal Chudi (Red Bangles) by Krishna Aviral in which he has raised the problem of dowry system which is still prevalent in Terai Madhesh. This is a good novel which throws sufficient light on various problems which OBC people face in their daily lives.

Trishna Kunwar has raised multifarious problems of Madhesh in her short stories collection named ‘Seraj Ahmed’. There are 19 stories in this collection. Most of the stories are the mouthpieces of the Muslim community which also belongs to OBC. There are few good short stories namely, Seraj Ahmed and Burka, which throw sufficient light on OBC problems. Most of her stories depict the deplorable financial condition of these people.

Rishi Pandey has written a beautiful story entitled Nikah in the latest issue of Garima, a Nepali varnacular monthly. It sheds light on the burning issue in the Muslim community.

Banira Giri in her collection of essays Parbat Ko Arko Nam Parbati (The Other Name of Parbat is Parbati). There is one essay named Bipatiya Mantutiya Dukhak Jad Aachi (Bipatiya Mantutiya is the Root of Sorrow). Essayist Giri has expressed the impoverished situation of the people living in a village named Kapileshwor in Dhanusha district.

Dhirkumar Shrestha in his novel ‘Ghur’ (Fire Place) where generally OBC people gather, tell folktales and talk about their own genuine problems under the starry sky, written on the basis of experience during the Madheshi Movement, has described the ground reality of Terai Madhesh. Shila Yadav, protagonist of the novel belongs to OBC. She narrates her own painful tale as well as the tale of racial discrimination which is prevalent till today. Though we celebrate international day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on 21st March, there is still rampant racial discrimination in the whole Terai Madhesh region.

Some writers have distorted the culture of OBC. Dhrubchandra is one of them. He, in his novel Alikhit (Unwritten), has condemned the very culture of OBC. He has only phony sympathy for them. Some other writers also claim that they write about the prominent problems of OBC but they are not justifying the genuine problems in their writings.

S.T. Hertige has written in his article ‘The Subaltern Speaks the Literature of the Marginalized,’ "Today many of these groups do not need enlightened and sympathetic non-subaltern interpreters to highlight their predicament. This does not mean that there are no voiceless, powerless and oppressed subaltern groups in these societies. It seems that production and reproduction of subaltern groups through cultural, social, political and economic process is an unending process in the contemporary world. This is what we learn from literary and other writings from around the world. We witness such process through these writings." But this is not true in the context of OBC groups in Nepal because they are still voiceless, powerless, oppressed and suppressed. No prominent Nepali writer has touched upon their prominent problems in their writings. Most of the literary works that we read dealing with OBC groups are written by non-OBC writers. This disparity may be critical from the point of view of postmodernist writers.

Postmodernism is the pillar of pluralism in any society of the world. According to postmodernist principles, OBC group would remain alienated from the mainstream and would have no access to channels of communication and public discourse. It is true that Marxist literature played a historically vital role in bringing the proletariat to the foreground in many parts of the world and provided the basis for racial, social reforms and even social revolutions that often empowered the voiceless workers and enabled them to speak through their own channels of communication, such as political parties, trade unions, etc.

Hertige is right in his opinion when he says and supports the causes of backward castes and tribal groups, marginalized racial and ethnic groups, women, disadvantaged youths and a host of others. Today many of these groups do not need enlightened and sympathetic non-OBC, interpreters to highlight their predicaments. Now OBC people are trying to come up with new courage, new energy and new conviction in the centre of polities. Likewise, their culture is also crossing its limited border and joining the mainstream culture. They are also fighting for their right to languages. Sanskrit was dominating language once upon a time, which was meant for forward people but now Sanskrit is considered as a dead language and other regional languages are flourishing rapidly because they are spoken by the majority of the people of OBC groups.

So their literature is also becoming rich day by day. These writers are writing in every genre of literature. Other writers are also motivated towards the moving situation of these groups. So they are bound to write about their genuine problems which are plaguing OBC people. These writers and concerned intellectuals are empathetic to the prominent problems of OBC. This is an unending agendum. They are narrating their sorry state in their stories, essays, novels and poems but these volumes do not speak everything about OBC people’s sufferings. Nobody knows the language of their griefs and grievance. Kahlil Zibran has rightly expressed the exact ground reality of OBC groups in the following lines:

"I am a stranger

In this world,

And there is no one

In the universe

Who understands

The language I speak."

Chinese scholar Chuang Tzu has also expressed the agony and anguish of the oppressed and the excluded groups in the following lines:

"Where can I find a man

Who has lost words

He is the one I would like to talk to."

Therefore I draw the attention of SAARC writers to highlight the genuine problems of OBC in their writings. FOSWAL can be a good forum for discussing their problems and writing about their wretched condition. There are countless people who suffer in silence, denied of their opportunities to tell their stories.

Many prominent writers of today see and describe their pains and pleasures, ups and downs, trials and tribulations, smiles and tears with jaundiced eyes which is not appreciable. They should be fair and impartial in their writings, only then OBC people will get proper justice.

source: risingnepal,10 april 2011