One accent at this year's Jaipur Literature Festival is on Dalit writing. S Anand, a co-founder of Navayana, an independent imprint that focuses on issues of caste inequalities and Namita Gokhale, founder-director of the JLF are coordinating A Million Suns. The festival runs from the 21st to the 25th.

India commemorates 60 years of being a Republic on 26 January 2010, and we are still a far distance from being an inclusive society. The session on Dalit writing at this meet, which has been called The Greatest Literary Show On Earth by Tina Brown, is one way of drawing attention to the fact that although our Constitution was piloted by Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, a Dalit and one of the architects of modern India, Dalits seem to hardly figure in sectors where there is no affirmative action. Consequently, beyond representation in jobs in the government sector (which too is begrudged to them) and in politics, they continue to be shunned in the realms of culture, literature and the arts. Dalits, who constitute 17 percent of the India’s 1.2 billion population, are subjected to everyday violence and brutalities. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, every hour two Dalits are assaulted, every day three Dalit women are raped, two Dalits are murdered, and two Dalit homes are torched. Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in 2009: “Caste is the very negation of the human rights principles of equality and non-discrimination. It condemns individuals from birth, and their communities, to a life of exploitation, violence, social exclusion and segregation.”

It is from such a context of hidden apartheid that Dalit literature emerges. The opening panel in the Dalit focus, Outcaste: The Search for Public Conscience, befittingly derives its title from Ambedkar’s anxiety over the lack of a public conscience in India when it comes to the issue of discrimin
ation against and oppression of Dalits.

In four sessions spread over five days, Dalit writers from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Delhi and Maharashtra will share platforms with nondalits who have worked on the caste question to debate issues related to identity, literature and representation. P. Sivakami, Om Prakash Valmiki, Kancha Ilaiah, Ajay Navaria, Desraj Kali, Iqbal Udasi and Laxman Gaikwad shall be the key speakers/ performers. Christophe Jaffrelot, Nirupama Dutt, S.S. Nirupam and S. Anand shall play the role of interlocutors during these sessions.

  • On 22 Jan from 11 a.m. to 12 noon in the Durbar Hall, a panel consisting of Om Prakash Valmiki, Kancha Ilaiah, P. Sivakami and S. Anand will discuss Outcaste: The Search for Public Conscience
  • On 23 Jan 2010. 11 a.m. to 12 noon, Ajay Navaria and Om Prakash Valmiki in conversation with S.S. Nirupam. The theme is अब और नहीं: An End to Suffering

  • On 24 Jan, in the Baithak from 2.30pm – 3.30 p.m. Baithak P. Sivakami, Laxman Gaikwad and S. Anand discuss caste, patriarchy and literary liberation.
  • The baithak on the 25th Jan from 2.30 p.m. to 3.30 p.m. is entitled A Million Suns: A Celebration of Punjabi Dalit Literature with Desraj Kali, Iqbal Udasi, Nirupama Dutt participating. Nirupama will also read from the works of Lal Singh Dil. Iqbal Udasi will sing the songs of her late father, revolutionary Punjabi poet, Sant Ram Udasi. Des Raj Kali will read from his work and discuss the provocation for his art.

For interviews with the writers related to the Dalit sessions and further information on the Dalit focus at JLF 2010, please contact anand@navayana.org and on +91-9971433117 or namita.jlf@gmail.com.

And visit the JLF website as well.