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Curated and translated from the Hindi by Ambrish

Editorial note: This is not an essay, but a work of curation. It contains a brief introduction of the poets, translation of eight poems from Hindi, and contextual notes on the poems. The original Hindi poems can be found at the archival website kavitakosh.org. 

Dr. Omprakash ‘Krityansh’ is a physician and litterateur. He was born in Bihar and graduated in Medicine from Ranchi. He has published poetry and fiction in various magazines and anthologies. He was awarded the Sant Kavi Ravidas Kavi Ratna by Ujjain Sahitya Akademi. His poetry collection Bahut Bura Aadmi was published in 2019.

The following poem narrates a quick drama around the moustache of a peon figure. This year in March, Jitendra Meghwal of Pali district in Rajasthan, was stabbed for keeping a moustache, which to many upper castes is an intolerable assertion and aspiration of the Dalit man. The headlines of newspapers tell us that violence and killings for keeping a moustache or riding a wedding-horse, in effect for aspiring for the ‘higher’ lifestyle, is not uncommon in India. The caste order is deeply invested in showing people their places (aukaat) both through subtle behavioural monitoring as well as through explicit violence. The winner of the JCB Prize for Literature in 2020, S Hareesh’s Malayalam novel Moustache, weaves an enigmatic tale around the Dalit moustache and the disruption it can cause.

Ramtahal’s Moustache/Omprakash ‘Krityansh’

Ramtahal chaprasi, the peon, 

Whenever he encountered

The Bada Sahib 

Head bowed/ slackening his taut moustache 

Dishevelling his hair 

Arranging the gamchhi on his shoulder

And putting on reins of decorum 

On his tongue/ but 

Damn/ he had forgotten that day 

To slacken his moustache 

And that’s it, such a trivial matter, 

The Sahib went all haywire 

All his pride crumbled to dust

For him, then, Ramtahal’s chest 

Seemed like a frightening rock

Ramtahal, appeared colossal

And sure enough that made

The Sahib turn into 

A volcano/ spewing fire 

And then 

Ramtahal brought his hands together

Perhaps he thought/ the moustache is not 

More important 

Than the bread!


The following are two poems by Rambharat Pasi. We could not find any details about him anywhere online. Only a few of his poems are available on Kavita Kosh. In these short verses, we see a fierce warning against the changing times and a call to reflect on our politics. In the second poem, the Hindi phrase “thehra hua aadmi” has been translated as ‘a neutral person’; although, it has connotations of stillness, stagnancy, apoliticalness, indifferentism.

In Time/ Rambharat Pasi

Bury in time 

Deep in the ground 

All those rotten traditions 

Before they stink up 

Like a corpse 

Otherwise it’ll be 

Impossible to refute –

Unlike the word ‘fire’ 

On a bucket full of sand or water –

This hideous stain 

On your robe

A Neutral Person/ Rambharat Pasi

Those harbouring delusions of supremacy 

May create as many classes as they want--

For this much is certain 

That humans belong to only two groups now

Which side will you pick?

To remain alive

You have to decide 


The blind victim of

A violent mob is

A neutral person!


Mohandas Naimishray has contributed immensely to the evolution of Dalit Literature to its modern form. He was born in 1949 in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. After acquiring an education against all odds, he briefly worked as a lecturer in a college in Meerut before going on to devote the rest of his life to Dalit journalism and literature. As a journalist, he raised issues related to Dalits and the problems they were facing in many national newspapers and magazines. He was equally frank and fearless as an author. His short stories expose the cruelty of feudalism and caste-based exploitation. His autobiography is published in three parts: Apne-Apne Pinjare (Part 1), Apne-Apne Pinjare (Part 2) and Rang Kitne Sang Mere (Part 3). Among his published works are Awazein (1998), Hamara Jawab (2005) and Dalit Kahaniyan (collections of short stories); Kya Mujhe Kharedoge, Muktiparva, Aaj Bazar Band Hai, Jhalkari Bai, Mahanayak Ambedkar, Jakhm Hamare and Gaya Mein Ek Adad Dalit (novels); Adalatnama and Hello Comrade (plays); and Safdar Ek Bayan and Aag Aur Andolan (anthology of poems). In addition, he has authored Dalit Patrakarita Ek Vimarsh (four volumes), Dalit Andolan ka Itihaas (four volumes) and Hindi Dalit Sahitya. He was the editor at Dr Ambedkar Foundation, Government of India, for almost six years. He has also edited the Bayan magazine. In 2011, he was honoured for his exemplary social and literary contributions by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar National Institute of Social Science, Mhow, Madhya Pradesh. [Source: forwardpress.in]

In the poem below, the poet makes an overt reference to the Gandhi-Ambedkar ‘debate’. In a matter of few lines, we’re made to realize the subterranean conflict in the anti-caste politics today-- that between Gandhian reformism and Ambedkarite radicalism-- the revisionism versus complete ‘annihilation’. Words are not mere expressions in language but the very mechanisms to recognize (or alter and manipulate) the truths of oppression and the oppressed. To recognize this in our literary endeavours and in our politics is very crucial.

Words/ Mohandas Naimishray

Words strike hard -

As Dalit against Harijan

And Harijan against Dalit 

Words are represented by men 

As Ambedkar against Gandhi 

And Gandhi against Ambedkar 

When the chests of Dalits 

Are riddled with holes 

Words emerge 

Words become sharp-edged 

Words indeed

Were written in Manusmriti 

Ramraj has long departed 

But Shambooka’s screams still echo

Like the cut marks whipped on Dalits’ backs 

Words don’t sob, they speak 

They strike hard--

As Dalit against Harijan 

And Harijan against Dalit


Ramnika Gupta (1930–2019) was an Indian writer, activist and politician. She was the founder and president of Ramnika Foundation, member of the CPI(M), a tribal rights champion, former trade union leader, politician, writer and editor. She was the coordinator of the All India Tribal Literary forum. She was a member of the Bihar Legislative Assembly from 1979–1985. Gupta was an activist for labour rights, women rights, Dalit and tribal rights focusing on coal mine workers of Jharkhand. Some of her published works are on these topics. Her autobiography is titled Haadsey aur Aaphudri. She published a novel called Sita Mausi, a collection of stories titled Bahu Juthai. Some of her poetry works are Tum Kaun, Til Til Nootan, Main Azaad Hui, Aadam Se Aaadmi Tak, Vigyapan Bantey Kavi. In prose she has written Dalit Hastakshep, Kalam Aur Kudaal Ke Bahaane, Dalit Chetna, Assam Narsanhaar- Ek Rapat, Dakshin Vaam Ke Katgharey, Rashtriya Ekta.

The poem here is a creative attempt, in terms of vigorous imagery and allegories both of oppression and of resistance. The poet’s refusal to carry the oppressor upon her shoulder, like the mythical burden of Betaal upon the adventurous Vikram, is a forceful casting away of the oppressed’s passivity and a recognition of their active socio-political agency.

A Donkey’s Head/ Ramanika Gupta

I’m an elephant for the hands 

A horse for the legs 

On my head you’ve planted

The head of a patient donkey 

Like an ox labouring at a crusher

You covered my eyes with leather blinders 

Hammered over my mind horseshoe of passivity 

That’s why 

I toil like a donkey at yours’

I am ploughed like an ox 

You had told me that 

I too am a progeny of God 

Who is also your father 

But I have a bitter fate to endure 

For several life cycles 

That’s why 

I am a forced labour 

And labour on I must 

Till the end of eighty-four crore birth cycles 

But now I have learnt 

Not of God’s

But a progeny of the Ape I am 

Who is not just mine but your father too

I have suffered not a bitter fate 

But your harsh conspiracy

I have ploughed- bearing the yoke of your social order

Powered by these very elephant of my hands

The horse of my legs

Gave it speed and momentum

The donkey-head

The hard work

Without any thought or ever realising

Carried your load on my back

My own slavery I accepted to be

My fate

Like the Betaal

You latched 

On to my shoulders

Upon answering questions

You hung my intellect - upside down

And yet, to carry you—

Upon my shoulders

I return again and again


I won’t return now/ for carrying you

Upon my shoulders

I won’t let you hammer

Horseshoe of passivity

Upon my intellect!


Navendu Maharshi (1955-) is a writer and poet from Bijnour, Uttar Pradesh. He is known for his anti-caste works of great sensibility. Some of his works are Kavita Mein Ghar, Mook Manav, Bharat Dalit Kranti. In the following poem, he ridicules the casteist originary myth of the four varnas and reads the birth of Shudras in a different light.

Out of Brahma’s Mouth/ Navendu Maharshi

You have described quite 

system of caste

That Brahmins are born

Out of Brahma’s mouth

That is why they

Find pleasure in food

Kshatriyas- born out of the hands

That is why they

Have a thing for looting

Vaishyas- born out of the stomach

That is why they’re

Inclined towards hoarding

And Shudras- born out of the feet

That is why they

Know being industrious!


Asang Ghosh is a representative Dalit voice in contemporary Hindi poetry. From a young child helping his father mend shoes as a family vocation, Asang Ghosh went on to complete his PhD. He eventually became a civil servant in Madhya Pradesh government and is presently working with All India Administrative Services. He has authored 8 books of poetry and has short stories published in multiple Hindi journals. Besides numerous Indian cities, he has also been invited to Sri Lanka, China, Egypt, and Bali to recite his poetry. He has won numerous awards, which include Madhya Pradesh Dalit Sahitya Akademi Award (2002), Srijangatha Samman (2013), Guru Ghasidas Samman (2016), and Bhawani Das Singh Award (2017). [Source: Bengaluru Poetry Festival]

In the following poem, the Earth is addressed and the blame is put upon the dwijas, or the twice-borns, the upper castes. The analogy of ‘seed’ is used to paint a picture of horrific injustice that has largely been the history of the subcontinent. It is a pressing question that the Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi protests cry of everyday in different contexts: ‘Will you still remain silent?!’

Will You Still Remain Silent?/ Asang Ghosh


O Earth!

Your dear dwija sons

Harassed us and then

Kept trampling upon you!

They raped you

And impregnated

Your womb

With seed of injustice

Of which I have been a witness

For centuries

Brought atrocities upon me

Tied my legs

With casteist chains

They kept me

From giving my testimony

But you still, silently

Kept on watching

And that monstrous seed

Inside your womb

Attaining moisture

Will germinate

Bloom into a plant and

Will carry on the atrocities even today

Just like yesterday

Will you

Even now

Remain apathetic!

And keep silent?


Susheela Takbhore, born in 1954 in Hoshangabad of Madhya Pradesh, is one of the leading female voices in Dalit literature. Her struggles against caste as a woman inform her work. She obtained her PhD in 1992 and then taught at a college till 2012. Her novels Neela Aakash, Vah Ladki, Tumhein Badalna Hi Hoga are deeply influenced by Ambedkarite values. Her poetry collections are Swati Boond aur Khare Moti, Yah Tum Bhi Jaano, Hamare Hisse ka Sooraj; the plays she wrote are titled Rang aur Vyangya, Nanga Satya. Her autobiography Shikanje ka Dard was published in 2011. Many of her works are included in university syllabi. She was honoured with the Savitribai Phule Samman by the Ramanika Foundation.

The poem here is an excruciating cry of the Dalit, who can no longer bear the casteist suffering. The reference to Rama, Sita, Kans, Shambooka are a reminder of the connection between our oral mythologies (and therefore the practiced religion) and our moral codes. ‘Shambooka’ was a Shudra ascetic, mentioned in Valmiki Ramayana, who was beheaded by Rama as punishment for doing penance/ meditation, which a brahmin had claimed was the cause of his son’s death. Ambedkar in Annihilation of Caste mentions that such transgression (of a Shudra attempting to be a Brahmin) was a threat to the varna system and therefore, Rama killed him out of a sense of duty; since Rama-rajya was based on the ideals of varna system.

Harvests of Pain/ Susheela Takbhore

Earthquake causes agony--

I am tormented

Of the inhuman behaviour

Of human towards human

Which like an earthquake


The foundations of humanity

Centuries have passed

You haven’t let us become humans--

Pains kept harvesting

Along with the crops

The more we slash them

The wilder they grow

O Shabri’s Rama!

Stop showing sympathy

With your eyes averted

It was indeed you who

Compelled Sita to sink into the earth

Since then

Sita, full of faith, devotion and love

Again and again

Has been buried in the earth

That’s why

The crops of pain

Have been harvesting

But today

Janaki has figured it all out

Not in the earth but

The sky is where she wants to go

Like the daughter of Devaki

Wants to, blazing like a lightening,

Send a message about-

The end of your Kans-like mentality

Hey Rama!

Stop with this discrimination

Between two humans

Stop murdering Shambooka

Because as of now

We will search for our own morning

We have learnt to hold the sun in our eyes

We have learnt to contain

The moon in our fist

Soon we will learn

To put time itself in captivity!

Ambrish is a past student of science. He is currently jobless, living in Dehradun with his mother, and is trying his hands at creative writing. He spends most of his time in random reading and film watching. He currently feels that he wants to make films in the future.

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