www.hindustantimes.com | March 29, 2019
Dalit writer-activist Eknath Awad’s autobiography chronicles his own life and that of others like him and makes the reader confront her own privilege
Author Chimamanda Adichie warned us of the perils of a single story and many have echoed similar concerns before. I often wonder what would we do without translations or how limited our experience of stories and storytelling would be minus the access that translations offer. Translations offer a new sight, often installing a fresh lease of life to books long forgotten, ignored or unknown. Dalit activist Eknath Awad’s autobiography, Strike A Blow To Change The World translated from Marathi by Jerry Pinto is one such book and it couldn’t have appeared at a better time while the nation tries to negotiate and resist various forms of hatred on a regular basis.
Eknath Awad (1956-2015) was a Dalit Mang activist from the heavily caste stratified Marathwada region of Maharashtra. He suffered atrocities all along but fought a pitched battle against caste oppression in his native Marathwada. Influenced by B. R. Ambedkar and Jyotiba Phule, he made education his weapon to annihilate caste. Another big influence was Karl Marx. Awad remained in Marathwada all through his life to continue his fight for the rights of all underprivileged communities. He made Ambedkar’s educate, agitate and organise his lifelong motto. The autobiography recounts many events that are pivotal in our understanding of the man and his activism - poverty stricken childhood, close involvement with the Dalit Panther Movement, fighting for an education, ignoring family for larger social welfare, earning money by manual labour, suffering attempts on his life, resorting to violence to resist oppression, fighting for land rights of the Dalit amongst other things. His raison d’etre is loud and clear – do what it takes but do not endure injustice.
The prose is austere and raw, devoid of any attempts to beautify and kudos to the translator for trying to retain its sombre tone. Language embodies Awad’s painful lived reality and bears the smells and sounds of his native Dukdegaon. The entire book feels like a prolonged conversation.
What’s new you ask? Haven’t you heard that story before? Isn’t that the stuff of all Dalit autobiographies? What remains if you remove violence and oppression? Awad’s story which also chronicles the lives of many others like him involved in the Dalit movement makes you confront your own privilege. These stories ought to be heard and told to eliminate centuries of silence that envelop them in realisation of how widespread and deep seated caste prejudices are because writing in itself is an act of resistance. Accounts like Awad’s memorialise his humiliation thereby making us aware of our own inhumanity. Towards the end, he writes, “Every week, five Dalit homes are burned, six Dalits are stripped of their clothes. Which is why I am still fighting. Until the Dalit can live a life of self-respect, I will keep on fighting.” And we must keep on reading because these stories matter, many stories matter.
Kunal Ray teaches literary & cultural studies at FLAME University, Pune