In Amar Ujala Today, Kripashankar Chaube has written a pithy piece on Ittivritte Chandaal, the autobiography of the Dalit writer Manoranjan Vyapari. Chaube calls the book as the first Dalit Autobiography in Bangla.
What makes the piece special, is the recognition of the atrocities on dalits in Bengal. According to Chaube, unlike the common perception, Bengal (both West Bengal and Bangladesh) is neck-deep in the sludge of Dalit discrimination. The discrimination against the Dalits exists there; and that too in a very violent form. Manoranjan Vyapari and his family had seen that all. He was born in Bangladesh in a poor dalit family. Before becoming a writer, he had worked as a truck cleaner, a coolie and a Rickshaw puller , pulling rickshaw near Jadavpur University. He had seen his younger brother beaten up mercilessly after being suspected of stealing an upper caste’s duck, which got missing. The duck was later found roaming around. He himself was beaten mercilessly, ten times.
Chaube’s article, points a very different picture of Bengal. A picture, which has its own share of discrimination against Dalits. Even when Communists ruled the state for sizable period post independence.
Chaube’s article resonated with me to some degree, because that reminded me of a Bengali movie which I stumbled upon many years ago on Doordarshan. The movie had subtitles in English. The movie was about famine in Bengal. The story revolved around a Brahmin couple. There was acute shortage of food. The only place to find rice piled up was at the godown of the Sahukar or money lenders. To get the rice, exorbitant prices were charged. Dalits were shooed away. No mercy at all. When the Brahmin man reaches the money-lender for rice, the sahukar not only promises him rice free of cost to take home, but also requests him to rest in his home and prepare some lunch for himself (Brahmin). Although, this doesn’t conclusively prove the existence of discrimination itself; but still it infers something. That even hunger was seen as having shades to it.
Chaube informs us that Bengal has rich Dalit literature. Looking at the Life of Manoranjan Vyapari, it seems so.