The project, “Dalit Popular Booklets, Democratic Participation and Dalit Public Sphere: A Project for Research, Documentation and Advocacy”, was an attempt to widen and deepen the democratic participation of the Dalits in the democratic arena of the country by expanding the Dalit public sphere, and it created an interface between the writers of Dalit popular booklets and literary mainstream litterateurs and knowledge generators to widen the space of Dalit popular writings.
In the recent past there has emerged a strong urge among the marginalised groups throughout the country to assert their identity and self-respect through their own cultural resources and challenge the cultural hegemony and political hegemony of the upper castes. These communities now feel confident in articulating their experiences of the past submission as well as of the contemporary time period. This urge is powerfully visible in north India, especially in Uttar Pradesh (Uttar Pradesh). Outcome of this situation has been the re-creation of dissenting culture by the Dalits of this state that has helped in strengthening Dalit mobilisation and providing a popular base for their participation in the democratic and political processes of the state and of the country. The most effective strategy they adopt for this purpose is to delve into the collective culture of the downtrodden communities and pick out characters who dissented against the dominant Brahminical thinking. These characters are given a new interpretation by party intellectuals and Dalit politicians in their political speeches and then circulated back among the Dalits to create a new memory and consciousness in them.
The tendency to identify heroes belonging to these communities is not confined to oral culture alone but extends to the written tracts in the form of poems, prose, drama, couplets, etc. These articulations have finally taken the form of ‘popular booklets’. The term ‘popular’ means a type of writing easily comprehended and assimilated by the masses, and which reflects the worldview and aspirations of the people. These booklets are written with an objective of creating awareness among Dalits and Bahujans. They are concerned with building up a society based on equality, justice, freedom, and fraternity. These booklets contain some highly significant socio-political discourses and are characterized by simplicity, receptivity, and acceptability. A majority of them are for Dalits written by Dalits. Thus, this literature is guided by the search for identity as well as for assertion and self-respect. Such endeavours are contributing, to some extent, to create a corpus of counter-literature and cultural consciousness among the educated lower castes in North India. Some such booklets are: Ambedkar Jivan Darshan, Budh Ke Bad, Achchut Virangana, Mool Vansh Katha, Achchut Kaun aur Kaise, Buddh Gitanjali, etc.
Writers and publishers of such booklets come mostly from the lower caste political activists, and intellectuals. These writers are located mostly in small towns and districts in Uttar Pradesh. Many among them are activists of political organizations like Dalit Sena and Bahujan Samaj Party, but some of them consider themselves committed distributors/propagators of this literature. Thus, these booklets play quintessential roles in sensitizing the Dalits to social justice and to the need ofasserting self-respect for developing a culture of their own, along with sharpening their political consciousness for constructing effective political discourses and for mobilizing them for active participation in the democratic process of the country.
In this project, research and documentation of the knowledge base of marginalized Dalit communities, expressed through their popular booklets, are undertaken. The Project caters to the varied nature of activities such as identification, collection and visual documentation of the phenomenon of Dalit popular booklets, documenting the dynamics of their creation, production, dissemination, and studying their influence and role in Dalit mobilization and in increasing the sense of democratic participation among them. Various advocacy and interventionist activities too are carried out in this direction with the aim of expanding their public sphere in the making.
The project’s area of concentration is Uttar Pradesh where the phenomenon of writing and producing Dalit popular booklets for their political mobilization is widely spread. The fieldwork, being the nucleus around which the activities of Dalit Resource centre is carried out was concentrated in four zones of UP, i.e., Central Uttar Pradesh, Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Western Uttar Pradesh and Bundelkhand.
The following types of documentation were undertaken in the project: Conducting interviews and constructing biographical notes of the Dalit popular writers earmarked in the map; making abstracts of Dalit Popular booklets; preparation of anthology both in Hindi and English of few selected booklets; audio-visual documentation of informal meetings, conferences and socio/cultural activities in Dalit communities.