Response to Gopika Jadeja ‘You keep the cow’s tail: The Dalit Movement and Dalit Poetry in Gujarat’ (by Daniel Bilton)

Gopika Jadeja ‘You keep the cow’s tail: The Dalit Movement and Dalit Poetry in Gujarat’

8 February 2017

by Daniel Bilton

As part of the School of Arts and Humanities English Research Seminar Series, PhD candidate Gopika Jadeja (National University of Singapore) recently presented a paper titled ‘You keep the cow’s tail: The Dalit Movement and Dalit Poetry in Gujarat’ at NTU. The first part of the title ‘You keep the cow’s tail’ is a paraphrased version of a slogan which has recently appeared in Gujarat: ‘You can keep the cow’s tail. But give us our land!’. As Gopika explained, the symbol of the cow’s tail came from a Hindu story where the cow was used to assist people to the afterlife, with the tail being used like a rope as a guide. This symbol of Hindu orthodoxy is attacked by this statement, as it is in a poem by B.N. Vankar which was shared with us. In this poem, titled ‘Overbridge’, Vankar writes that instead of being guided by the cow, he will build a bridge into the afterlife instead. This rejection of the symbol of the cow is a powerful statement, as the cow is such as central and important figure in Hinduism. It was part of the argument of Gopika’s paper that this rejection of the cow was also a rejection of the greater Indian identity which had been formulated on the grounds of Hinduism. She noted that this could be seen as an example of a ‘monolingual order’, a society which did not recognise any idea of nationhood other than the one to which it subscribed. In the formation of identity, Gopika pointed to the idea of vegetarianism as an important factor to this monolingual order. She noted that vegetarianism became a defining factor of Hindu nation building, which in turn excluded Dalits and Muslims. As Dalits have historically been forced into jobs such as the removal of animal carcasses and leatherwork, the whole idea of pollution is ultimately based upon the handling and consumption of animals, and cows in particular. It is this handling and consumption of meat which places Dalits outside of the monolingual order and the imagined idea of the Indian nation. Gopika noted however that the protection of the cow in the constitution of India was based on agricultural practices rather than a religious standpoint. The constitution offers a secular view on the protection of cows which is why the constitution, alongside one of its main contributors Dr Ambedkar, is important in the formation of the Dalit social imagination. Dalits are able to hold onto the constitution as its secular nature is able to help fight against the monolingual order of the Hindu nation state.

Gopika ended her paper with a reading of a selection of brilliant Gujarat Dalit poetry, many of which she had translated. She noted that she went through a very Westernised education system growing up; being taught in English and reading English novels and poetry were central parts of this. This prompted her to search for poetry in her own language as this was not offered on her curriculum. What she discovered was poetry which excluded voices such as women and Dalits, which again prompted her to find this poetry. One of my favourites out of the range of poems that she read is called ‘My Poetry’ by Sahil Parmar, which she translated from the Gujarat, which can be found below. Alongside her presentation here at NTU, Gopika will also be presenting at the upcoming BASAS conference, which will be co-hosted by NTU and UoN. Information for this can be found here http://basas.org.uk/news-events/calendar/basas-annual-conference-2017

 

 

My Poetry

My poetry

dressed in its dirty clothes

poor like me

still awaits acceptance

from the silky pages

of magazines

Still seen thorough critical eyes

Unseen

Unheard

it lies half conscious

My poetry

Rustic like me

stands at the threshold

of Indian literature

Still prohibited entry

for its different clothes

Copper red

like my angry face

it stands at a distance

Alone

Excluded

 

My poetry

Mad like me

wanders in the street

neighbourhood, crossroads

and dirty lanes

Like the backward village

neglected by the feudal bureaucratic

civilisation

My poetry

Like my tongue

is uncivilized

And like me

it is untouchable

Relegated to the margins

by the sterile civilized

critics

My poetry

Forgotten

Disregarded

 

Source: https://cordite.org.au/poetry/dalit-indigenous/my-poetry %5BAccessed 23/02/2017]