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Writers stand up for India's downtrodden

Indian Social Institute honors magazine contributors who promote the rights of tribals, Dalits and women

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Writers stand up for India's downtrodden

Father Denzil Fernandes, director of the Indian Social Institute, speaks at the awards ceremony in New Delhi on Nov. 13. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/ucanews)

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The Jesuit-run Indian Social Institute in capital New Delhi has awarded its first awards to contributors to a Hindi magazine that features issues related to tribals, Dalits, women and the downtrodden.

The institute has been publishing the monthly magazine for 13 years under the name Hashiye ki Aawaz (Marginal Voice). Its former name was Hamdalit (We are Dalits).

“Through this magazine, the only objective is to bring the rights of the deprived, tribals, Dalits and minorities to society through writing,” Father Vincent Ekka, who heads the institute’s department of tribal studies, said in his keynote address at the Nov. 13 event.

Father Ekka, an Oraon tribal priest, said the literature of the disadvantaged class was suppressed for centuries.

“Even today, Dalit-tribal literature is accused of having no aesthetic science. It is necessary to understand that Dalit-tribal literature is not the literature of entertainment. Hashiye ki Aawaz is becoming the literature of those classes,” the Jesuit priest said.

He said the emergence of Dalit and tribal literary trends has its roots in the modernization and democratization of India. With increasing globalization, this has meant a loss of literary outpourings that link today's India with its past.

There is a need to collect documents and translate and publish them in Hindi, India’s official language, along with documentation of oral traditions and cultures as sources of sustainable knowledge.

The scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are officially designated groups of historically disadvantaged people. They comprise about 17 percent and 9 percent respectively of India's population, according to the 2011 census.

“The aim of this magazine and the awards was to generate awareness of the socioeconomic, political and cultural issues pertaining to the disadvantaged,” institute director Father Denzil Fernandes said in his welcome address.

“Literature is a reflection of society and the popularity of Dalit and tribal literature has increased over time.”

Culturally rich community

India's northeast region, comprising eight states, is one of the country’s most colorful and culturally rich communities. It contains more than 200 fascinating tribes and many have rich literature. Tribals make up 27-28 percent of the northeast region's population of 45.58 million, he said.

The Jesuit priest said the Indian Social Institute was established 1951 in response to the challenges of nation building and an emerging social order in an independent India.

Its vision is to build a just, humane, secular and democratic society where poor and marginalized communities enjoy equality, dignity, freedom, justice, peace and harmony.

“Even after more than 70 years since India got independence, the patriarchal system still exists. The practice of the caste system is no exception, so awards like this will encourage many writers to write good articles and information that will help tribal and Dalit communities,” said Kaushal Pawar, one of the award panelists.

“With modern technology, many tribals and Dalits have some access to education, though limited. The magazine will build a bridge with other societies who usually see this community as weak.”

Awards were given to Rai Bhadur Singh and Nandlal Bharti for their contributions to the magazine.

“It will encourage many more people like me to bring the original voice of the people, which will force other people in society to change and see our people from a different angle,” said Bharti, a Dalit.

“This kind of magazine will become a medium to awaken the poor and educate them about their rights, which are often violated due to lack of knowledge.”

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