Dalit author scripts new role in politics By Rumela Sinha

·4-min read

Kolkata, Mar 22 (PTI) Manoranjan Byapari describes himself as 'every man you meet after stepping out of home'.

The former Naxalite-turned litterateur, who has been fielded by the TMC as its candidate from Balagarh seat in Hooghly district, has donned several hats in the last 50-odd years.

However, the award-winning author and Dalit activist contended that he still identifies himself with the rickshaw- pullers and roadside tea-sellers, 'who live by the sweat of their brow.' 'I had to bend over backwards to make ends meet. Over the years, I have worked as a rickshaw-puller, a cremation ground caretaker, a cook and a tea-seller and the experiences that I have gained have made me an empath and gave me the courage to be the voice of the voiceless,' he said.

Byapari, an exponent of Dalit literature, pointed out that all these years he has only written about the marginalised sections, highlighting their woes, 'but it was time to translate words into action, and what better way to start than joining politics at a time when Bengali culture, traditions and literature have come under threat'.

The TMC nominee, who enthralled discerning audiences with his discourses at the Jaipur Literary Fest in 2018 and other gatherings, exuded confidence that he would win the polls as 'voters know that I am one of them'.

Among Byapari's well-known books are 'Itibritto Chandal Jeebon' (Interrogating My Chandal Life), a biographical novel which details his travails as a lower caste refugee, and 'Batashe Baruder Gandha' (There's Gunpowder in the Air), a fictionalised account of his life in jail as a Naxalite.

Asked why he chose to join the TMC and not a communist party, given his brief stint with the Naxal movement in Bengal, Byapari promptly said, 'I was young and disillusioned back then. It took me time to realise the frailty of the (ultra-Left) crusade. It wasn't an informed choice.' Also, the Left parties no longer hang on to the ideals propounded by their founders, he told PTI in an interview.

The TMC, however, 'gave me a platform to express my views, take my ideas to people,' the 71-year-old chairperson of West Bengal's Dalit Sahitya Academy said.

It was TMC adviser Prashant Kishore and his team that contacted him, said Byapari.

'I had long stayed away from politics, but the current political scenario in Bengal gave me enough reasons to take the plunge. I couldn't have sat back and watched divisive politics at play,' he stated.

Talking about the emergence of caste-based politics in Bengal, where parties till about a decade ago largely banked on poll planks and ideologies to fight elections, the septuagenarian Dalit activist said, 'People from the marginalised sections are still looked down upon. Even after 74 years of Independence, they do not enjoy the same rights that the upper-class do.

'Caste politics would cease to be significant when all men are treated equally in society.' He, however, cautioned against 'those with vested interests' who wish to exploit the poor.

'The Matua community, which traces its ancestry to Bangladesh, has become more politically significant, as their leaders, in a bid to serve their own interests, are aligning with different political parties. The members of the community, who comprise a sizeable part of the state's population, are hugely influenced by these leaders,' Byapari, who has over 17 books to his credit, said.

Lashing out at the BJP for 'dangling the Citizenship Act as a carrot in front of voters who trace their origin to neighbouring countries', the Dalit author, who migrated to India from Bangladesh with his family in the 1950s, said, 'Never before this, were we made to feel like outsiders. What is the need for this law when we already have Aadhaar and voter cards?' 'How would the Centre find out if a refugee has fled religious persecution or entered India with some other interest in mind? Also, the BJP government is asking for papers that none of us have. Our parents were not educated, they didn't have everything documented. This law will do more harm than good,' he insisted.

Underlining that 'all commoners want is the fulfilment of basic needs - food, clothes, shelter and job' he signed off, 'Once I win the polls, I will form a committee, which would have members from under-represented sections. Together, we will serve the people of the state.' PTI RMS JRC RBT RBT