Namdeo Laxman Dhasal
(b. February 15
) is a Marathi
writer and Dalit
activist. He was awarded Padma Shri
for his contribution to literature in 1999
and in 2004
, Sahitya Akademi
awarded him with its 'Golden Jubilee Life Time Achievement Award'.
Namdeo Laxman Dhasal was born on February 15
, in a village near Poona
. As a member of the Dalits
, the casteless, he grew up in direst poverty. Dhasal spent his childhood in Golpitha, a red-light district in Mumbai
, where his father worked for a butcher. Following the example of the American Black Panther movement, he founded the Dalit Panther
with friends in 1972. This militant organisation supported its radical political activism with provocative pamphlets. Dhasal was one of the most famous and most outspoken members of this group.
In 1973 he published his first volume of poetry, Golpitha, which caused an uproar in literary circles. It was followed by further poetry collections, among them Moorkh Mhataryane (The Foolish Old Man), inspired by Maoian thoughts; the volume Tuhi Iyatta Kanchi? (How educated are you?); the erotic poems Khel, and Priya Darshini about the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Apart from two novels he also published pamphlets such as Andhale Shatak (Century of Blindness) and Ambedkari Chalwal (Ambedkarite Movement), a reflection on the socialist and communist concepts of B.R. Ambedkar, the founder of the Dalit movement.
Later, he published the two collections of poetry Mee Marle Suryachya Rathaache Saat Ghode (I killed the seven Horses of the Sun King) and Tuze Boat Dharoon me Chalallo Aahe (Holding the father's finger the child is following him).
Recently, Dhasal has started writing columns for the Marathi daily Saamana. Earlier, he worked as an editor for the weekly Satyata.
As an activist
In 1982 cracks began to appear in the Dalit movement. Ideological disputes gained the upper hand and eclipsed the common goal. Dhasal wanted to engender a mass movement and widen the term Dalit to include all oppressed people, but the majority of his comrades insisted on maintaining the exclusivity of their organization. Serious illness and alcohol addiction overshadowed the following years, during which Dhasal wrote very little. During the 1990s he became more politically active. Dhasal currently holds a national office in the Indian Republican Party, formed by the merger of all Dalit parties.
The Dalit literature tradition is very old, although the term was only introduced officially in 1958. Dhasal was greatly inspired by the work of Baburo Bagul
, who employed photographic realism to draw attention to the circumstances which those deprived of their rights from birth have to endure. Dhasal’s innovative poems broke away from formal and stylistic conventions. His use of vulgar language offended literary taste. He wrote in Marathi, the official language of the state of Maharashtra
, but included many words and expressions which only the Dalits normally used. In Golpitha
, for example, he adapted his language to that of the red-light milieu, which shocked middle-class readers.
The Establishment’s assessment of Dhasal’s political, as opposed to his artistic, achievements may differ drastically, but for the writer they are inextricably linked. In an interview in 1982 he said that if the aim of social struggles was the removal of unhappiness, then poetry was necessary because it expressed that happiness vividly and powerfully. Later he stated, "Poetry is politics." Dhasal adheres to this principle in his private life. He told the photographer Henning Stegmüller, "I enjoy discovering myself. I am happy when I am writing a poem, and I am happy when I am leading a protest of prostitutes fighting for their rights."
Awards and honours
He received Soviet Land Nehru award (1974) for his poetical work Golpitha
named after the red light district of Mumbai
, where he spent his childhood. He also received the Maharashtra State Award in 1973, 1974, 1982 and 1983 and Padma Shri
award for literature in 1999
. In 2004, he received the Golden Life Time Achievement Award by the Sahitya Akademi.
He married Malika Amar Sheikh
, the daughter of poet Amar Sheikh
- Golpitha (1973)
- Tuhi Iyatta Kanchi
- Moorkh Mhataryane
- Priya Darshini
- Ya Satteth Jiv Ramath Naahin
- Gaandu Bagichha
- Mee Marle Suryachya Rathaache Saat Ghode
- Tuze Boat Dharoon Me Chalallo Aahe.
- Ambedkari Chalwal (1981)
- Andhale Shatak (1997)
- Hadki Hadavala
- Ujedaachi Kali Dunia
- Savva Kaahi Samashtisathi
- Buddha dharwa: Kaahi Shesh Prashna.
translated a selection of his poems into English under the title Namdeo Dhasal: Poet of the Underworld, Poems 1972-2006