On Page and on Stage: Celebrating Dalit and Adivasi Literatures and Performing Arts

Lead Research Organisation: Nottingham Trent University
Department Name: Sch of Arts and Humanities

Abstract

The Network 'Writing, Translating, Analysing Dalit Literature' was created in 2014 by Dr Nicole Thiara, Centre for Postcolonial Studies at Nottingham Trent University (NTU), UK, and Dr Judith Misrahi-Barak, research centre EMMA at Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3 (UPVM), France, following the award of an AHRC grant. The research conducted during the 2014-16 grant period explored and analysed Dalit literature in international, multi-disciplinary contexts for the first time since Dalit literature, produced by artists formerly labelled 'Untouchables', emerged as the most significant, prolific and controversial literary movement in India in the last 30 years. Despite the quality, vibrancy and experimental nature of this burgeoning literary tradition, it had received scant attention from the general public or in academia. To raise its profile, in Europe and globally, and to stimulate academic research and public interest, Thiara and Misrahi-Barak organised six academic and public-facing events in the UK (at Nottingham Trent University, University of Leicester, University of East Anglia), France (at UPVM) and India (at Savitribai Phule Pune University and Delhi University). They were a resounding success (450 participants in total) and the network produced a website, a digital communications channel and several publications.
Follow-on funding will allow a series of festival events to be organised that focus on Dalit and Adivasi literatures and the performing arts in India, France and the UK. During the period of network funding, it became apparent that further collaboration is needed to ensure that work by socially precarious, economically challenged, and culturally marginalized artists becomes visible and is valued in both national and global contexts. It emerged that drama and poetry were among the most marginalised of genres, and received the least attention from scholars, even though these genres are among the most significant in Dalit and Adivasi activist circles and the most prominent in voicing resistance to continued caste discrimination and social exclusion. Even more significant was the insight we gained into the widespread perception amongst Dalit and Adivasi writers and performing artists that their literary and artistic output requires larger and more varied audiences in order to sustain its creative and experimental development. Dalit and Adivasi folk art forms are in danger of disappearing if they do not receive more support from a pan-Indian Dalit and Adivasi audience, and from cultural and state organisations, and can be both supported and enriched by new 'mainstream' audiences and international recognition.

Planned Impact

The festivals will enable the sustainable development of marginalised Dalit and Adivasi arts by raising their prestige and international profile through performances in well-connected venues in India where, in the spheres of politics and culture, the continued existence of caste discrimination is still largely denied and Dalit and Adivasi artistic production is sometimes appropriated but nurtured or funded only rarely. The festivals will create new audiences for neglected genres of Dalit and Adivasi artistic production, notably poetry and drama, by hosting performances in a range of prestigious international venues, to stimulate the commercial viability of Dalit and Adivasi performance arts, both in India and internationally. A manifesto based on our research will be created collaboratively with participating artists, cultural and Indian government organisations to include cultural policy guidelines on how these cultural practices should be supported in the future.
One of the principal outcomes of this project will be the creation of a readership for Dalit and Adivasi literatures and more diverse audiences for their performance arts to ensure that these establishing and emergent art forms do not continue to suffer neglect as the result of discrimination and repression. The project intervenes in this situation to co-create change with artists and to support endangered artistic forms that could otherwise sustain communities that remain marginalised, not only in India but also internationally.
Festivals in Nottingham, Pune, Bangalore and Paris, co-hosted with high-profile cultural organisations, will create a positive and transformative impact on Dalit and Adivasi folk art and theatre troupes, writers and performers.
This project supports the wider Dalit and Adivasi activist movements in their fight against caste discrimination and for equality and dignity by enhancing recognition of their cultures more widely by providing spaces where creative and critical responses to caste discrimination can be shared and artistic responses seen to be valued in India and Europe. It will demonstrate to Dalit and Adivasi artists and audiences that their cultural heritage is widely respected to enhance self-esteem and support social agency.
Third and cultural sector organisations, including IAPAR, NAE, the state-funded theatre Ravindra Kalakshetra and the Alliance Française will benefit from hosting important international festival events, developing activities with societal impact and forging new networks of cultural practitioners and researchers.
A key objective is to maximise community engagement and interrogate social exclusion by reaching four specific audience groups: an ethnically diverse European audience to include South Asian communities at NAE and the Paris libraries; a majority non-Dalit Indian audience at IAPAR; and a majority Dalit and Adivasi audience in Bangalore. Changes in audience attitudes will be measured by questionnaires and qualitative interviews following performances.
In the UK, South Asian communities, in particular Dalit communities, will develop a better understanding of the practice of caste discrimination in India in order to address its continuation in the wider diaspora, through specifically designed workshops, becoming better equipped to challenge it.
The wider public will benefit from engaging with this rich and revolutionary body of literature. The extensive marketing expertise of our external partners will draw in a range of communities who will experience and learn from art inspired by the battle against caste discrimination and designed to foster solidarity across communities. As impact-focused workshops held in Nottingham in April 2018 demonstrated, audience members from all walks of life are empowered by tapping into affirmative, activist-oriented literatures and artistic practices, when they are supported by workshop activities and informative supplementary materials which we intend to provide.

Publications

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Description Due to the pandemic, we were able to host only one series of planned events before we had to postpone the remaining festival events by 12 months in the first instance and then by another 12 months. The series of events on Dalit and Adivasi poetry in three Paris libraries in March 2020 was the first event of this kind that provided a platform for Indian poets from low-caste and marginalised backgrounds and discussed their work in relation to their marginalisation in these prestigious venues in Europe. Two of the poets, Jacinta Kerketta and Jameela Nishat, elaborated on the intersectionality of marginalisation that they experienced as women as well as their activist and literary strategies to resist this marginalisation. These events were well attended and warmly received by a varied audience and created new audiences and widened dissemination of Dalit and Adivasi literature in France. A key finding of this series was the importance and significance of providing platforms for writers and performers from diverse backgrounds (regional, cultural, caste, Adivasi and gender) that also enabled a productive engagement and exchange among the performers themselves as they shared a stage and stories of oppression and resistance.
While we had to postpone the planned in-person events by 24 months, we managed to organise online events as part of the Nottingham Mela, the Hyderabad Literary Festival and our Open Borders webinar series; in other words, we strengthened existing partnerships and established new partnerships while we have been planning on delivering in-person events from September 2022 onwards. Due to political changes and the continuing problems caused by the pandemic, we decided to move the planned festival in Bengaluru to Auroville, for example.
Exploitation Route This practice to provide platforms on which marginalised writers from diverse backgrounds can engage in a dialogue among themselves as well as with the audience is designed to create a new trend of showcasing Dalit and Adivasi literature and performing arts together for our cultural partners and others.
Sectors Creative Economy

 
Description The writers showcased in the first series of events in Paris libraries in March 2020 have benefitted from performing their work and discussing their literary activism in such prestigious venues and by gaining new audiences for their translated, bilingual and trilingual publications. The close exchange and dialogue among the Dalit and Adivasi poets also enabled both the writers and the audience to develop a new understanding of the different experiences of marginalised communities in India but also their common goals of justice and equality for all. The writers and the Paris libraries expressed a commitment to participate in and host further events of this kind. A recording of one of the events is available on the YouTube channel created for this grant. This festival events was also conceived and developed with the view of providing opportunities for female Dalit and Adivasi poets as two of the three showcased writers were women. One of the aims of this project is to reduce gender inequality and provide equal opportunities for all genders in the area of Dalit and Adivasi literatures and performing arts. One of the poets, Jameela Nishat, was subsequently invited to perform her work at the prestigious Hyderabad Literature Festival in January 2021. As a result of our ongoing collaboration with Nottingham's New Art Exchange, this organisation is now much more sensitised to questions of caste in relation to inclusion and equity. As a result, they have increased their support for our co-delivered events and have drawn on our expertise in the field of caste on a number of occasions. The established Hyderabad Literary Festival is a new partner and, after we started collaborating, they have committed to supporting Dalit and Adivasi writers and performers to a greater extent in the future.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Creative Economy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

 
Description Collaborating on the Nottingham MELA with New Art Exchange 
Organisation New Art Exchange, Nottingham
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We approached a writer, film-maker and a cultural organisation in India and planned and organised online events for the Nottingham Mela's online programme at New Art Exchange.
Collaborator Contribution New Art Exchange was responsible for marketing, streaming and recording the events as well well as managing all technical aspects. New Art Exchange also facilitated the delivery of the online, live programmes and contributed to the payment of the artists.
Impact We co-organised three events: a conversation between the Dalit writer Anjali Kajal from Punjab with Kavita Bhanot who recently translated some of Anjali Kajal's Hindi short stories into English; the Shaheeen Women's Resource and Welfare Association's musical ensemble performed Qawwali with a feminist message; and a film screening of the work of Seral Murmu, an Adivasi filmmaker from Jharkhand in India, followed by an interview with the film-maker.
Start Year 2021
 
Description Webinar series: Open Borders for Adivasi and Dalit Literature and Performing Arts 
Organisation Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Country Israel 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The webinar series, 'Open Borders for Adivasi and Dalit Literature and Performing Arts', was launched in October 2020. This online workshop series is organised by the Network 'Writing, Analysing, Translating Dalit Literature', hosted by the Postcolonial Studies Centre, UK, and the research centre EMMA at Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3 (UPVM), France with Marina Rimscha from the India-Indonesia Program at the Hebrew University Jerusalem. The PI and Co-I from the On Page On Stage Follow-on award initiated this partnership as a means of keeping up the momentum of the festival events started in Paris 2020 after the pandemic forced us to postpone the following events by several months. This series of webinars is designed to maintain and increase the interest in the AHRC-funded festival events until we can continue with the in-person events from September 2022 onwards.
Collaborator Contribution Marina Rimscha from the India-Indonesia Program at the Hebrew University Jerusalem co-hosts and co-organises the webinar series and its publication on our YouTube channel. She also edits videos and curates links between the network's YouTube channel, the On Page On Stage YouTube channel and our partners' channels.
Impact Events included a talk and performance by the Dalit Bengali playwrights and actors Raju Das and Namita Das, a poetry reading and by the Dalit poet Satish Chandar and talks by the ECR Malarvizhi Jayanth (independent scholar) and J. Balasubramaniam (Madurai Kamaraj University, India). In 2021/22, we organised research seminars for early-career researchers and a seminar dedicated to the work of the Adivasi film-maker Seral Murmu.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Webinar series: Open Borders for Adivasi and Dalit Literature and Performing Arts 
Organisation Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Country Israel 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The webinar series, 'Open Borders for Adivasi and Dalit Literature and Performing Arts', was launched in October 2020. This online workshop series is organised by the Network 'Writing, Analysing, Translating Dalit Literature', hosted by the Postcolonial Studies Centre, UK, and the research centre EMMA at Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3 (UPVM), France with Marina Rimscha from the India-Indonesia Program at the Hebrew University Jerusalem. The PI and Co-I from the On Page On Stage Follow-on award initiated this partnership as a means of keeping up the momentum of the festival events started in Paris 2020 after the pandemic forced us to postpone the following events by several months. This series of webinars is designed to maintain and increase the interest in the AHRC-funded festival events until we can continue with the in-person events from September 2022 onwards.
Collaborator Contribution Marina Rimscha from the India-Indonesia Program at the Hebrew University Jerusalem co-hosts and co-organises the webinar series and its publication on our YouTube channel. She also edits videos and curates links between the network's YouTube channel, the On Page On Stage YouTube channel and our partners' channels.
Impact Events included a talk and performance by the Dalit Bengali playwrights and actors Raju Das and Namita Das, a poetry reading and by the Dalit poet Satish Chandar and talks by the ECR Malarvizhi Jayanth (independent scholar) and J. Balasubramaniam (Madurai Kamaraj University, India). In 2021/22, we organised research seminars for early-career researchers and a seminar dedicated to the work of the Adivasi film-maker Seral Murmu.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Hyderabad Literary Festival: Dalit writer Desraj Kali in conversation with Rajkumar Hans 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Hyderabad Literary Festival

We supported the well-established Hyderabad Literary Festival 2022 (28-30 January), which took place online due to COVID restrictions.

We specifically sponsored the event 'Shanti Parav: Des Raj Kali in conversation with Rajkumar Hans', which took place on Saturday 29 January 2022. In this online conversation in Hindi, the well-known Dalit writer Kali and the Dalit scholar Hans discussed the novel Shanti Parav, which was published in English translation with Orient Blackswan, and is the only text available in English from Kali's substantial oeuvre in Punjabi. This event was meant to raise the profile of this exceptional experimental regional writer nationally and internationally.

This event was the only one that specifically focused on Dalit writing at the festival but we have been in conversation with the festival organisers to include more Dalit and Adivasi writers and performers in future festivals. We are already planning a more substantial collaboration with the Festival in January 2023.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfrWGcE1l1o&t=4069s&ab_channel=HLF
 
Description Nottingham Mela: Feminist Qawwali performance and conversation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact SONG OF THE CAGED BIRDS: QAWWALI PERFORMANCE AND Q&A (Saturday 11 September)
The Shaheeen Women's Resource and Welfare Association's musical ensemble recorded two songs in advance (with our financial contribution) and discussed their revolutionary Dalit feminist practice in this session to raise awareness among the Mela audience.

Qawwali is a musical ensemble associated with Sufi culture. Originally performed by groups of men, the themes of the songs are generally linked to spirituality or love. The Shaheen organisation has successfully adopted Qawwali genre to break the stereotype of the Qawwals (singers) to be only men and to create social awareness in the patriarchal community, through its gender-sensitising lyrics. It is an exclusive effort on the part of the organisation to promote women's empowerment in society.
We part-sponsored the recording of two songs, which were premiered at the MELA and which continue to be accessible via the NAE website.

The online discussion with the Shaheen founder Jameela Nishat and the lead singer Puja was facilitated by the translator and scholar Uma Damodar Sridhar. At the end of the sessions, Jameela and Puja answered questions from the audience that came in via the YouTube chat function.

The Shaheeen Women's Resource and Welfare Association subsequently won the 5th Martha Farrell Awards 2021 (under the category of Best Organisation for Gender Equality) from the Martha Farrell Foundation and was felicitated at the 5th Martha Farrell Award Ceremony on 20th November 2021 in India.

I incorporated this session in my teaching to demonstrate that feminist practices need not be western-oriented. The students' response was very enthusiastic.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-f-_-c59mOU&t=1547s&ab_channel=NewArtExchange
 
Description Nottingham Mela: Film screening of Seral Murmu's short films and interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact ADIVASI LIFE AND FOLKLORE: SHORT FILMS BY SERAL MURMU (Sunday 12 September)

The PI and Co-I together with two NTU Doctoral Candidates interviewed Seral Murmu online to provide an international platform for this exciting emerging talent for the first time. He is one of only very few Adivasi film-makers and set to be a trailblazer in his field.

Seral Murmu is an Adivasi filmmaker from Jharkhand in India whose films draw on oral Adivasi narratives, magical realism and experimental cinematography. His film Sondhayni (2019), for example, is a modern folktale that critiques the exploitation and destruction of the forest. Dissatisfied with the way Adivasi or 'Tribals' are depicted in Indian film, Seral Murmu makes a powerful statement about the urgent necessity to shift our perspectives and embrace creatively the diversity of the world we live in, here and there, beyond discriminatory and oppressive discourses.

We screened three of Seral Murmu's short films, namely Sondhayni, Rawaah and Remains and the last two films are still available to be watched on NAE's website. At the end of the sessions, he answered questions from the audience that were submitted via the YouTube chat function.

The response from established director Jayan Cherian, who watched the event, was very positive and we are planning to organise a dialogue with both film-makers in the in-person event in India in December 2022.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_MQxVSFrck&t=1887s&ab_channel=NewArtExchange
 
Description Nottingham Mela: a conversation with the Dalit writer Anjali Kajal 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact THE POLITICS OF READING AND WRITING: A CONVERSATION WITH ANJALI KAJAL AND KAVITA BHANOT (Friday 10 September)
Anjali Kajal is a short story writer from Punjab, and Kavita Bhanot recently translated some of Anjali Kajal's Hindi short stories into English. Kajal's feminist and anti-caste stories explore desire, abuse, silence, love and oppression. Kajal was honoured by Punjab Hindi Sahitya Academy, Jallandhar for her contribution to Hindi literature in 2003. Birmingham-based Kavita Bhanot, edited the anthology Too Asian, Not Asian Enough and Book of Birmingham and is currently editing an anthology on decolonising translation with Jeremy Tiang (Tilted Axis). She is a research fellow at Leicester University and a founder of the Literature Must Fall Collective.

Anjali and Kavita talked about Kajal's feminist Dalit writing and the politics, aesthetics and activism of Dalit writing more widely to raise awareness among the Mela audience. At the end of the sessions, both answered questions from the audience that came in via the YouTube chat function.

I had a lot of positive feedback and the event resulted in an invitation by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where Kajal's short stories will now be taught in Hindi.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFSBo3pRZ24&t=3480s&ab_channel=NewArtExchange
 
Description Open Borders webinar with Seral Murmu 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Open Borders webinar with Seral Murmu on 7 March 2022

The second webinar series of 'Open Borders for Adivasi and Dalit Literature and Performing Arts', organised by our network, Nottingham Trent University's Postcolonial Studies Centre and the research centre EMMA at Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3 (UPVM), France, with the India-Indonesia Program at the Hebrew University Jerusalem, was launched in December 2021. Beside showcasing the research of early-career researchers, we also provide a platform for Adivasi and Dalit writers and performers such as Seral Murmu on 7 March 2022.

The PI, Co-I and Marina Rimscha were delighted to to be able to continue the conversation with Seral Murmu as part of the Open Borders webinar series that was started during the Nottingham MELA event at New Art Exchange in September 2021 to raise awareness of this exceptional talent among our network and the general public. This session was uploaded to our YouTube channel 'On Page On Stage'.

Seral Murmu is a filmmaker who graduated from the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune. His films focus on tribal issues, identity and struggle for equality and against injustice. He sees his films as a means to give strength to the tribal resistance happening in different parts of India.
Belonging to the Santhal tribe, Seral Murmu was born and brought up in Ghatshila, a small town near the bank of the river Subarnarekha. He started his journey assisting documentary filmmakers while studying as an undergraduate in Mass Communications at St Xavier's college Ranchi in Jharkhand. During his work as an assistant, he was able to observe closely how powerful the film medium is. He thus decided to be a filmmaker telling his own stories to the world. Ranchi was the epicentre for tribal activists fighting for tribal rights and justice. He became closely associated with the activists, joining hands with them and making documentaries to give voices to those who are often unheard.
He has collaborated as a cameraman and an editor and made eight documentaries and short fiction films. His short films Rawaah and Sondhayni have been screened at national and international film festivals and received numerous awards. He is currently working on a feature length documentary on the history of Santhali cinema. He is assigned to make two documentaries for Ramdayal Munda Tribal Research Institute in Ranchi and works on an ongoing project on Megaliths of Jharkhand and Tribal Resistance. He is deeply interested in tribal folklore, myths, arts and folk songs, all of which form the basis of his storytelling. He is the most promising emerging Adivasi filmmakers and we are delighted to be able to support his work and provide a platform for his films and message.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfHdcRhOzFE&t=1758s&ab_channel=ONPAGEONSTAGE
 
Description Poetry events in Paris 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Paris events (12-14 March) were designed to precede the Paris Book Fair and benefit from the publicity generated by India being the guest of honour that year but the Book Fair was cancelled at short notice due to the pandemic. The three evenings at different Paris libraries and multimedia libraries were nevertheless well-attended despite the fact that these were the final events before the libraries closed due to the pandemic; in other words, our cultural partners were so passionate about the importance of our events that they kept the libraries open just for us. The three events showcased different facets of Indian Dalit and Adivasi poetry and the importance of translation.

The Dalit and Adivasi poets Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy, Jacinta Kerketta and Jameela Nishat read from their work and were in dialogue with each other and with their translators Annie Montaut, Uma Damodar Sridhar and Johannes Laping. We also planned to show Nicolas Jaoul's documentary on Dalit Panthers, Sangharsh (2018) but this proved unfeasible due to pandemic restrictions.

The schedule was as follows: The event 'Les littératures dalit et adivasi: des littératures indiennes à la marge de l'Inde? / Dalit and Adivasi Literatures: Indian Literatures at the margin?' took place at the Médiathèque Hélène Berr on 12 March and was designed to introduce a general audience to the poets and their work and its contexts of caste and marginalisation. The second event 'La poésie dalit et adivasi au croisement des langues / Dalit and Adivasi literatures at the crossroads of languages' at the Médiathèque Françoise Sagan on 13 March focused on the dialogue between the poets and their translators. The third event 'Les voix de la poésie: à l'écoute de la littérature dalit et adivasi / Indian Literatures: the Poet's Voice' at the Bibliothèque Marguerite Audoux on 14 March was designed to focus on the literary and activist work of the poets more specifically.

All three events sparked a lively discussion in the Q&A sessions at the end, which continued beyond the allocated time. Members of the audience from diverse backgrounds included members of the Indian diaspora in France, translators, publishers and writers; all of them were keenly interested in the work and context of the poets, bought their publications or inquired after them, and reported a new and deeper understanding of inequalities in India but also a greater appreciation of the wealth and diversity of marginalised Indian literary traditions and practices. This was the first series of events that showcased Dalit and Adivasi writing at the Paris libraries and the libraries had both stocked relevant material in advance of the events and also expressed a firm commitment to include further Dalit and Adivasi writing in their libraries, a commitment that is necessary to stimulate the production of further translations into French.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrMryNWLDn9H7EJTk7PWbpQ/playlists