An interview with Manohar Mouli Biswas on the question of Dalit Struggles in Bengali Society

  • Sutadripa Choudhury
  • Wednesday, Feb 17, 2021

For my research purposes, it was important for me to incorporate eminent Dalit writers from Bengal who are yet to be recognized by many. Among them, Manohar Mouli Biswas acquires a predominant space. Manohar Mouli Biswas is a bilingual poet, essayist and a Dalit writer from Bengal. He is also the President of Bangla Dalit Sahitya Sanstha. Among all his works, my research mainly focuses on Amar Bhubone Ami Beche Thaki, (Surviving In My World:Growing Up Dalit in Bengal, translated by Dr.Jaydeep Sarangi and Angana Dutta). His other eminent works include ‘Ora Amar Kabita’, ‘Tarer Kanna : Titiksha’,‘The Wheel Will Turn’ (Translation of Bangla poetry in English),‘Dalit Sahityer Digboloy’ and several other works.

I could manage to interview Manohar Mouli Biswas as he narrated his struggles and also the struggles of the entire Dalit community in Bengal.

Q. What actually pressurised you to narrate on the behalf of the people of your community?

A. Every great literary piece achieves its height when it portrays the sufferings of the downtrodden people of the society. In Bengal, writers have written about the sufferings of the marginal people but being a part of the ‘bhadralok’ community of the society, their views are often seen to be critical rather than showing the unjust acts ushered upon them by the people in power. This has compelled me to write a literary piece from my own experiences in this unjust Bengali society.

Q. What was the condition of the marginal people in Bengal during your childhood?

A. The people, who, according to the evil ‘varna’ system, were at the bottom (i.e.,‘namashudras’), were not treated like human beings by the upper caste people. All the laborious works were imposed upon them and they were denied their money after toiling like animals for the people who treated them as untouchables.

Q. What nature of oppression did the people of your community face?

A. We got the subtitle “namashudras” not very long ago. Our community was originally called “Chandals”. In the Manusmriti, there are sixteen passages where various cruel depictions of rituals concerning ‘Chandals’ are given. There are also descriptions of sacrificing ‘Chandals’ on particular days and hours which are termed as auspicious in the ‘Manu’. So, you can clearly understand what regards the upper castes of the Hindu society in India have had for us for centuries.

Q. Can you enlighten us on any particular incident concerning insult to any marginal person for gaining an education in Bengal?

A. Indeed, I remember the horrific incident concerning a Dalit girl named Chuni Kotal. She was verbally abused by her own teacher at college in front of her classmates for coming from a Dalit background. She eventually committed suicide and the people responsible for her death were not convicted. This is the situation of Dalits in Bengal when it comes to education. The upper castes can never tolerate a Dalit individual climbing up the social ladder.

Sutadripa is currently pursuing her PhD in English Literature from St.Xavier's University, Kolkata, and her interest centers around Bangla Dalit Literature.