• The Politics of Caste and Textual Cleansing: A Case of Babu Rajab Ali’s Poetry

    Amandeep Kaur, Jasdeep Singh (see profile)
    Law, Oral history, Publishers and publishing, Panjabis (South Asian people)--Social life and customs, Panjabi literature
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    Right to Write: Cultures of Literary Controversies and Controversial Literature
    Conf. Org.:
    Conf. Loc.:
    Kakatiya University, Warangal
    Conf. Date:
    22-24 January 2016
    20th Century Literature, censorship, Punjabi, Caste, Dalit, Publishing, Punjabi culture, Punjabi literature
    Permanent URL:
    On September 15, 2012, some Punjabi book publishers and editors1 were arrested under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act for reprinting some works of the 20th century Punjabi poet and kavishar Babu Rajab Ali that allegedly contain derogatory caste names for the Dalits. The police had arrested these publishers suspecting the books could cause unrest in the state and could lead to rioting or division among communities. While one of the publishers chose not to circulate the books in the market after the controversy, in the subsequent editions of two other publications, the texts of Rajab Ali were changed, sanitized of the alleged caste names included in them, with terms more acceptable in contemporary times. We examine the deeper reasons behind this zealous and reactionary response to reprinting texts written more than seventy years ago. It becomes imperative to analyse if it is correct to reproduce old poetical texts through the process of “cleansing” and if the textual cleansing subverts the original meaning the poet wanted to convey, in his particular spatial-temporal context. The political, social and cultural dynamics behind the caste-based and censor-filtered purging of text reproduction need to be probed into, along with the role of state agencies and institutional structures that allow it to exist. Should the publishers be held responsible for the content they publish? Should the debate of cleansing/sanitizing, when understood in the context of the prevalent caste relations in Punjab, be reduced only to the notions of ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘freedom of individual’? Further, we analyse the significance of Rajab Ali’s writing on its own merit, while also demonstrating and critiquing his proclivity to perpetuate existing caste norms. These are the questions this paper seeks to address, while also conveying how poetry can be used as an alternative historical source for early-twentieth century Malwa.
    Published as:
    Journal article    
    Last Updated:
    6 years ago
    All Rights Reserved


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